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CHAPTER XXXHow Absolute Necessity may have place in Creation

ALTHOUGH all things depend on the will of God as their first cause, and this first cause is not necessitated in its operation except on the supposition of its own purpose, not for that however is absolute necessity excluded from creation, need we aver that all things are contingent.

1. There are things in creation which simply and absolutely must be. Those things simply and absolutely must be, in which there is no possibility of their not being. Some things are so brought into being by God that there is in their nature a potentiality of not being: which happens from this, that the matter in them is in potentiality to receive another form. Those things then in which either there is no matter, or, if there is any, it is not open to receive another form, have no potentiality of not being: such things then simply and absolutely must be. If it be said that things which are of nothing, 96of themselves tend to nothingness, and thus there is in all creatures a potentiality of not being, — it is manifest that such a conclusion does not follow. For things created by God are said to tend to nothingness only in the way in which they are from nothing; and that is only in respect of the power of the agent who has created them. Thus then creatures have no potentiality of not being: but there is in the Creator a power of giving them being or of stopping the influx of being to them.240240   By “beings in which there is no matter,” St Thomas meant pure spirits. By “beings in which the matter is not open to receive another form,” he meant the heavenly bodies: if he had written in our time, he might be well taken to mean those primitive atoms or molecules, which have been termed “the building stones of the universe.” He has in his eye the whole class of natural objects, animate and inanimate, that can neither destroy themselves nor ever be destroyed and broken up by any of the ordinary processes of nature, but are permanent from age to age, whether existing apart or in composition. In the physical order, of which St Thomas here speaks, the existence of these beings is “absolutely necessary”; no physical force can destroy them. One might say the same of the total store of energy in the universe, according to the principle of the ‘conservation of energy.’
   St Thomas’s acquaintance with Plato was through the Neo-Platonists; and their favourite Dialogue was the Timaeus, the following passage of which (Tim. 41) well illustrates his meaning. The Platonic Demiurge is addressing the minor deities whom he has compounded, them and their offspring: “Ye gods, god born, works of my fatherhood and constructive power, what has been made by me is indissoluble, so long as it has my consent to its being. Whatever is bound and put together may indeed be loosened: but it were ill done to undo a work fairly compacted and well made. Therefore, made as ye are, ye are not absolutely beyond death and dissolution: still ye shall never be dissolved nor meet the doom of death, finding in my will a tie greater even and more potent than the ties wherewith your being was originally bound together.”

4. The further a thing is distant from the self-existent, that is, from God, the nigher it is to not being; and the nigher it is to God, the further it is withdrawn from not being. Those things therefore which are nighest to God, and therefore furthest removed from not being, — in order that the hierarchy of being (ordo rerum) may be complete, — must be such as to have in themselves no potentiality of not being, or in other words, their being must be absolutely necessary.

We observe therefore that, considering the universe of creatures as they depend on the first principles of all things, we find that they depend on the will (of God), — not as necessarily arising therefrom, except by an hypothetical, or consequent necessity, as has been explained (Chap. XXVIII). But, compared with proximate and created principles,241241That is, with physical causes. we find some things having an absolute necessity. There is no absurdity in causes being originally brought into being without any necessity, and yet, once they are posited in being, having such and such an effect necessarily following from them. That such natures were produced by God, was voluntary on His part: but that, once established, a certain effect proceeds from them, is a matter of absolute necessity.242242Unless the effect be neutralised by some further effect, which God may produce either by direction of some natural agency or by special interposition (or perhaps abstention) of His own. What belongs to a thing by reason of its essential principles, must obtain by absolute necessity in all things.243243Or the thing must cease to be. Sint ut sunt, aut non sint, as was said in another connexion. The interest of this chapter lies in the spectacle of a thirteenth century writer cautiously and tentatively dealing with principles so familiar to us as the permanence of matter and the uniformity of nature. I have omitted much that brings in mediaeval physics to little profit for our time.

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