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The Lord is a great God, and a great king above all gods. For the Lord will not reject his people, because in his hands are all the ends of the earth, and the heights of the mountains he beholdeth. For the sea is his, and he made it, and his hands have formed the dry land. (Ps. xciv).
IT has been shown above (B. I, Chap. XIII) that there is one first of beings, possessing the full perfection of all being, whom we call God. Out of the abundance of His perfection He bestows being on all things that exist; and thus He proves to be not only the first of beings, but also the first principle of all. He bestows being on other things, not out of any necessity of his nature, but by the free choice of His will, as has been shown (B. II, Chap. XXIII). Consequently He is master of the things that He has made: for we have dominion over the things that are subject to our will. This His dominion over the things that He has brought into being is a perfect dominion, since in producing them He needs the aid of no exterior agent, nor any subject matter to work upon, seeing that He is the universal efficient cause of all being. Of the things produced by the will of an agent every one is directed by that agent to some end: for some good and some end is the proper object of the will: hence the things that proceed from will must be directed to some end. Everything attains its last end by its own action, which is directed by Him who has given to things the principles whereby they act. It needs must be then that God, who is by nature perfect in Himself and by His power bestows being on all things that are, should be the ruler of all beings, Himself ruled by none: nor is there anything exempt from His government, as there is nothing that does not derive being from Him. He is then perfect in government, as He is perfect in being and causation.
The effect of this government appears variously in various natures according
to the difference between them. Some creatures are brought into being by God to
possess understanding, to bear his likeness and present His image. They not only
are directed, but also direct themselves by proper actions of their own to their
due end. If in the direction of themselves they remain subject to the divine guidance,
they are admitted in course of that guidance to the attainment of their last end.
Other beings, devoid of understanding, do not direct themselves to their own end,
but are directed by another. Some of those are imperishable; and as they can suffer
no defect in their natural being, so in their proper actions they never deflect
one whit from the path that leads to the end prefixed to them, but are indefectibly
subject to the rule of the prime ruler.505505 St Thomas instances “the heavenly bodies, the movements of which ever proceed
uniformly.” So men from Plato’s time to Newton’s contrasted the vicissitudes of
the sublunary world with the uniformity of the heavens above. Newton showed that
the same forces are at work in the starry heavens as on this earth. In our day the
spectroscope has shown that the materials of our earth, or sundry of them, enter
into the composition of the stars. The same instrument reveals stars still in process
of formation, stars even colliding and exploding. There is uniformity in the heavens
above and on the earth beneath: not more in one than in the other. The ancients
under-estimated the regularity and uniformity of nature on earth. Their gaze was
fixed on catastrophes befalling living creatures and man in particular. Yet even
in catastrophes nature is still uniform, although working to an effect which we
had not expected. What crosses our expectations, that we call evil. But what right
have we to expect? Man is not the measure of all things, nor is human expectation
a law to nature.
The ‘heavenly body,’ corpus coeleste, built of matter fully actuated by its form, and therefore imperishable and unchangeable (B. II, Chap. XXX, n.1, with note: Sum. Theol. 2-2, q. 24, art. 11, corp.), played a great part in the metaphysics and psychology of the Middle Ages. See Chapp. LXXXII-LXXXVII of this Book. Little did St Thomas think that if he could have altered the point of view of his eye by some millions of miles, he would have beheld our planet Earth, the native region of generation and corruption, turned into a corpus coeleste, serenely resplendent as Venus and Mars, sweeping out in its orbit with the same accuracy, neither morning star nor evening star more wonderful. Yet the reader of St Thomas will find him not altogether credulous of the popular astronomy of his time. He attributes less to the corpus coeleste than many of his contemporaries. Other creatures are perishable, and liable to 184the failure of their natural being, which however is compensated by the gain of another: for the perishing of one is the engendering of another. In like manner in their proper actions they swerve from the natural order from which swerving however there accrues some compensatory good. Hence it appears that even apparent irregularities and departures from the order of the first rule escape not the power of the first ruler. These perishable bodies, created as they are by God, are perfectly subject to His power.
The Psalmist, filled with God’s spirit, considering this truth , and wishing to point out to us the divine government of things, first describes to us the perfection of the first ruler, — of His nature, when he says God; of His power, when he says, is a great Lord,506506θεός μέγας κύριος (LXX), where κύριος represents Adonai, and Adonai is for Yahweh, clearly the subject, not the predicate. Deus magnus Dominus then means Yahweh is a great God. needing no co-operation to work the effect of His power; of His authority, when he says a great king above all gods, because, though there be many rulers, all are subject to His rule. Secondly he describes to us the manner of government, — as well in respect of intelligent beings, which follow His rule and gain from Him their last end, which is Himself, and therefore he says, for the Lord will not reject his people, — as also in respect of perishable beings, which, however they sometimes depart from their proper modes of action, still are never let go beyond the control of the prime ruler: hence it is said, in his hands are all the ends of the earth, — likewise in respect of the heavenly bodies, which exceed all the height of the earth and of perishable bodies, and always observe the right order of divine rule: hence he says, and the heights of the mountains he beholdeth. Thirdly he assigns the reason of this universal control, which is, because things created by God needs must be ruled by Him: hence he says, For the sea is his, etc.
Since then in the first Book we have treated of the perfection of the divine nature, and in the second of the perfection of God’s power, it remains for us in this third Book to treat of His perfect authority, or dignity, in as much as He is the last end and ruler of all things. This therefore will be our order of procedure, to treat first of God, as the final end of all things; secondly of His universal control, whereby He governs every creature; thirdly of the special control which He exercises in the government of creatures endowed with understanding.185
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