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CHAPTER LXVThat God preserves things in being

FROM God’s governing all things by His providence it follows that He preserves them in being.631631It is more usual to argue the other way about, as St Thomas himself does as quoted in the last note, that because God has created this world, and keeps it all in being, He must have His own designs about it and be managing it to His own ends. For everything whereby things gain their end is part of the governing of them. But to the last end which God intends, namely, the divine goodness, things are directed not only by their activities, but also by the fact of their existence, because by that mere fact they bear some likeness to the divine goodness. Therefore it is proper to divine providence to keep things in being.

5. As a work of art presupposes a work of nature, so a work of nature presupposes a work of God creating: for the material of artificial things is from nature, and the material of natural things is through creation of God. But artificial things are preserved in being by virtue of natural things, as a house by the solidity of its stones. Therefore natural things are not preserved in being otherwise than through the power of God.632632   By way of illustrating the importance of physical science to the theologian, I note two propositions of St Thomas in the fourth argument, here omitted:
   (a) “No corporeal thing acts otherwise than through being in motion.” So Aristotle, Physics, VIII, v.

   (b) “It is impossible for the motion of anything to continue, when the motor action of the moving cause ceases to be.”

   The first proposition has not been reconciled with the laws of gravitation and of electric and magnetic attraction: the second is a denial of the inertia of matter. St Thomas took them both from Aristotle.

6. The impression made by an agent does not remain in the effect when the action of the agent ceases, unless that impression turns into and becomes part of the nature of the effect. Thus the forms and properties of things generated remain in them to the end, after the generation is done, because they are made natural to the things: in like manner habits are difficult to change, because they turn into nature. But dispositions, bodily impressions, and emotions, though they remain for some little while after the action of the agent, do not remain permanently: they find place in the subject as being on the way to become part of its nature.633633Insunt ut in via ad naturam, as one might say of an undergraduate inest ut in via ad gradum. “A habit is a quality difficult to change, whereby an agent, whose nature it was to work one way or another indeterminately, is disposed easily and readily at will to follow this or that particular line of action. Habit differs from disposition, as disposition is a quality easily changed. Thus one in a good humour is in a disposition to be kind. Habit is a part of character: disposition is a passing fit” (Ethics and Natural Law, p. 64). Unfortunately, the word disposition in English is used to signify natural or congenital character, the Latin indoles. We might perhaps say mood. But the plural, good dispositions, expresses St Thomas’s dispositio. But what belongs to the nature of a superior genus in no way remains after the action of the agent is over, as light does not remain in a transparent medium after the source of light is taken away.634634Or as learning does not remain in the mind of an ignorant and unintellectual pupil in the absence of his teacher. When the pupil is becoming capable of private study, then learning is growing into something of a habit in him: “it is turning into nature” (vertitur in naturam), as St Thomas says. But being is not the nature or essence of anything created, but of God alone (B. I, Chapp. XXI, XXII). Nothing then can remain in being when the divine activity ceases.635635This is truly a magnificent argument. — In these idealist days, there is no difficulty in bringing any theist to avow that things could not be at all, if they dropped out of the thought of the Supreme Mind. But God’s mere thinking of them is not enough to raise them out of the order of pure possibilities, and transfer them into the region of actual being. To give them actuality, God must will them; and to keep them in existence He must will them continually. Cf. B. I, Chapp. LIII, LIV, LXXXI.


7. Concerning the origin of things there are two theories, one of faith, that things had a first commencement, and were then brought into being by God; the other the theory of sundry philosophers, that things have emanated (fluxerint) from God from all eternity. On either theory we must say that things are preserved in being by God. For if things are brought into being by God after not being, the being of things must be consequent upon the divine will; and similarly their not being, because He has permitted things not to be when He willed and made things to be when He willed. Things therefore are, so long as He wills them to be. His will then is the upholder of creation. On the other hand, if things have emanated from God from all eternity, it is impossible to assign any time or instant in which first they emanated from God. Either then they were never produced by God at all, or their being is continually coming forth from God so long as they exist.

Hence it is said: Bearing up all things by the word of his power (Heb. i, 3). And Augustine says (De Gen. ad lit. iv, 12): “The power of the Creator, and the might of the Almighty and All-containing, is the cause of the permanence of every creature. If this power ever ceased from governing creation, all the brave show of creatures would at once cease, and all nature would fall to nothing. It is not like the case of one who has built a house, and goes away, and still the structure remains, when his work has ceased and his presence is withdrawn. The world could not endure for the twinkling of an eye, if God retired from the government of it.”

Hereby is excluded the theory of some Doctors of the Law of the Moors, who, by way of sustaining the position that the world needs the preserving hand of God, have supposed all forms to be accidents,636636To St Thomas, ‘forms’ were some ‘accidental,’ others ’substantial.’ and that no accident lasts for two successive instants, the consequence being that the formation of things is always in the making, — as though a thing needed no efficient cause except while it is in the making. Some of them are further said to hold that the indivisible atoms,637637Corpora indivisibilia, so the Editions. But the Bergamo autograph, if we may trust the printers, has corpora invisibilia. That a body may have accidents impervious to sense, a microscopic composition quite other than what appears to the eye, does not seem usually to have been recognised by the schoolmen. Their ‘accidents’ are the sensible phenomena of bodies. Here again the progress of physics has seriously affected metaphysics. The use of reading a mediaeval book about ‘accidents’ is to enable you to understand mediaeval authors and to interpret mediaeval formularies. But when you have caught the meaning, it remains for you to apply it to the ulterior conditions revealed by later science, — no easy task. out of which they say that all substances are composed, — which atoms, according to them, alone are indestructible, — could last for some short time, even though God were to withdraw His guidance from the world. Some of them further say that things would not cease to be but for God causing in them an accident of ‘ceasing.’638638Read desitionis (from desino) not decisionis. This accidens desitionis may after all perhaps be no other than the forma cadaverica, supposed by some school men to replace the soul as the ‘form’ of the body after death. These ‘Moors’ (Arabian commentators on Aristotle) evidently were in possession of the atomic theory of Leucippus and Democritus, a theory embraced by Epicureans, but no favourite with Aristotelians. All which positions are manifestly absurd.

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