De Potentia Dei 3.6

On the Power of God, Question 3, Article 6

Whether there is only one principle of creation.

It seems that there is not. Objections:

3. An incidental effect of a causes happens outside of the intention of the cause, and is not made. If, therefore, good were the incidental cause of evil, it would follow that evil is not something made. But nothing is uncreated except the principle of creation, as the previous article has shown. Therefore, evil is a principle of creation.

4. Nothing harmful occurs in an effect outside the intention of the agent, except because of the ignorance of the agent who did not foresee (it), or because of a lack of power which it cannot avoid. But God who is the Creator of good, neither lacks power nor is ignorant. Therefore, evil, which is harmful, cannot happen to the effects of God outside his intention. For Augustine says that something is called evil because it causes harm.

14. Intensity and remission are said in respect to some term. But something is found worse than another. Therefore, there must be found something which is the worst, in which there is the term of evil things. And this must be the principle of all evil things, just as the highest good is the principle of good things.

16. Genesis I, 2 says that in the beginning of the creation of things there was darkness over the face of the abyss. But from a good, which has the nature of light, there cannot be the creation of darkness. Therefore, the creation which is there described, cannot be from a good principle, but (must be) from an evil one.

20. Every agent acts from the presupposition of the first agent. But free will, when it sins, does not act from the presupposition of divine action. For there is some sin, such as fornication and adultery, which cannot be separated from their deformity, and which cannot be from God. Therefore, it is necessary that free will be a first agent or that it be reduced to some other first agent than God.

I respond:

As was said, ancient philosophers, who only took into account the particular principles of nature, from a consideration of matter fell into the error of believing that not all natural things are created. Hence, from the consideration of contraries, which with matter are given as the principles in nature, they came to the conclusion that the first principles consisted in two things. They did so because their consideration of contraries was flawed in three ways.

First, because they considered contraries only according to the fact that they are diverse with respect to species, but not according that there is something common to them with respect to genus, given that contraries are in the same genus. Wherefore, they did not attribute to them a cause according to the respect in which they agree, but according to the respect in which they differ. And because of this, they reduced all contraries to two prime contraries, as to two first causes, as Physics I relates. But among them, Empedocles posited first agent causes as the first contraries, namely love and strife; and as Metaphysics I relates, he was the first to posits good and evil as principles.

The second flaw came about because they judged each of the contraries to be equal, whereas, it would always be necessary for there to be one of two contraries with the privation of the other; because of this, one is perfect and the other imperfect, and one better and the other worse, as Physics I relates. And accordingly it happens that they posited good, as well as evil, to be distinct natures, which they saw to be more general contraries. And therefore it happened that Pythagoras posited two genera of things, namely good and evil; and in the genus of good he posited all perfect things, as light, the masculine, rest and other such things, and in the genus of evil he placed all imperfect things, as shadow, the feminine and other such things.

The third flaw came about because they judged about things according to a consideration of themselves alone, or according to the order of one particular thing to another, but not in comparison to the whole order of the universe. And so if there is found some thing which is harmful to another, or which is imperfect with respect to another perfect thing, they judged it simply evil in its nature and not to owe its origin to a cause of good. And because of this, Pythagoras placed the feminine, which an imperfect thing, in the genus of evil. This is the root of the Manichaean doctrine that because corruptible things are imperfect compared to the incorruptible, and visible things compared to the invisible, and the Old Testament compared to the New, they are not from the good God, but from a contrary principle. They believed this principally because they saw that some good creatures, man, for instance, come to some harm from some of the visible and corruptible creatures.

This error is in all ways impossible. It is necessary, instead, to reduce all things into one first principle which is good. This is clear from the following three arguments. First, because whenever in diverse things there is found some one thing in common, it is necessary to reduce them to a single cause with regard to that common thing, because either it is the case that one of them is the cause of the other or there is a common cause for both. For it cannot be that each having something in common happens because of something peculiar to each of them, as was said in the previous article. Now all contrary and diverse things which are in the world are found to have some one thing in common, either a specific or generic nature, or at least the notion of being (ratione essendi). Wherefore it is necessary that there be one principle of all these things which is the cause of being for all of them. To be, however, as such, is good, which is clear from the fact that every single thing desires to be, in which the notion of the good consists, namely that which is desirable. And so it is clear that above all diverse causes, it is necessary to posit some one cause, just as with natural philosophers above these contrary active causes in nature there is posited one first active cause namely the heaven, which is the cause of the diverse motions of these inferior things. But because in this heavenly sphere there is found seated a diversity, to which cause the contrariety of lower bodies is traced, ultimately it is necessary to reduce (this diversity) to a first mover which is moved neither in itself nor incidentally.

The second argument: Every agent acts according as it is in act, and consequently, according as it is in some way perfect. Now according as something is evil, it is not in act, since a thing is called evil from the fact that a power is deprived of its proper and due act. But according that a thing that is in act, it is good because according to this it has perfection and being (entitatem) in which the nature of goodness consists. Therefore, nothing acts insofar as it is evil, but every agent act insofar as it is good. Therefore, it is impossible to posit some active principle of things except a good one. And since every agent causes something similar to itself, nothing is produced except according that it is in act, and by that fact, according that it is good. Therefore, from both sides the position is impossible which posits evil to be a principle of the creation of evil things. And this reasoning agrees with the words of Dionysius who says that evil does not act except by the power of good, and that evil is outside its intention and generation.

The third argument: If diverse beings were in all ways from contrary principles, not being reduced to one principle, they would not be able to come together in one order except by accident. For, from many things there will not come about a coordination except through some ordering cause, unless many things come together in the same thing causally by chance. However, we see the corruptible and the incorruptible, the spiritual and corporeal, the perfect and the imperfect come together in one order. For the spiritual things move corporeal ones, which is clear at least, in man. And the corruptible are disposed to be moved by the incorruptible as is clear in the alterations of the elements by the celestial bodies. Nor can it be said that these things happen by chance, for they would not happen in this way always or for the most part, but only in fewer cases. It is necessary, therefore, to reduce all these diverse things to some one first principle from which they are ordered toward one thing. Wherefore, the Philosopher concludes that there is one ruler over all.

Replies to Objections:

3. Evil is incidental to effects, but properly speaking, it is not something made, which is clear from the fact that it is not intended. Nor does it follow that it is a first principle, unless it be granted that evil has a certain nature (of its own). For just as evil lacks the proper nature of an effect, from the fact that it is not a being but the privation of being, so much more does it lack the nature of a cause, as has been proved.

4. According to Augustine, “God is so good that never would he allow evil to exist, unless he were so powerful as to be able to draw good from evil.” Wherefore, it is due neither to a lack of power, nor to ignorance, of God that evils occur in the world, but it is from the order of his wisdom and the greatness of his goodness. From this it comes about that diverse grades of goodness are multiplied in things, many of which would be lacking were he to permit there to be no evil. For there would not be the good of patience unless the evil of persecution took place, nor would there be the good of the preservation of life in the lion unless there was the evil of the corruption in the animals from which he lives.

14. Evil is not intensified by approaching to some term, but by receding from some term. For just as something is called good through participating in some good, so is something called evil through receding from good.

16. The darkness that was said to be in the beginning of creation was not a creature, but the simple the absence of light in the air. It was not, however, evil; it merely lacked a good, while the notion of evil implies that (some good) is able to belong to a thing and should be in it. For there is no evil in a stone which does not have sensation, or in a new born child who cannot walk. Nor, however, was it from an imperfection of the agent that the air was created without light, but from its wisdom in ordaining that something be led from the imperfect to the perfect.

20. That which in the act of sin belongs to being (entitatis) or action is reduced to God as first cause, while what is there of deformity is reduced to free will as its cause. For example, what there is of walking in limping is reduced to the motive power as first cause, but what there is of leaning comes from the curvature of the leg.

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