God is a simple unity and it therefore seemed reasonable to philosophers and theologians that such unity would be reflected in what He created. However, one must ask about the extent of such unity; after all, there simply is diversity and inequality in the world. Have these come about directly caused by God’s intention or have they come about indirectly? Aquinas argues that there is unity in the world, to the extent that we can say that there is one world, but that it would be a mistake to say that the world is one, in the sense of lacking diversity or inequality.
The Thread of the Argument
A1: Aquinas asks whether God is the source of multiplicity of things. This may seem a rather odd question, but it is motivated by opposition to the Gnostic and Neo-Platonist belief in the essential oneness of things. (Indeed this latter belief lives on today in some New Age and Neo-Gnostic sects and can arguably be seen to lie behind occult beliefs such as astrology.) After going though a number of faulty arguments about diversity and its origins, Aquinas argues that diversity comes about by the intention of God to communicate His goodness to creatures and to represent His goodness though them. As any one creature is finite and therefore cannot provide an adequate representation of God’s goodness, God produces diverse creatures so that the inadequacy of the representation of any one may be made up by others.
In response to the objection that agents tend to produce just one effect (and therefore God acting as efficient cause would produce a unity of effect), Aquinas argues that a voluntary agent like God acts though a form conceived in the intellect (Ia.q19.a4); God’s simplicity is not in contradiction to that form being of diverse things (Ia.q15.a2) and so it is quite reasonable to consider God as the cause of diversity in creatures.
A2: A consideration of God’s justice might lead one to think (as it apparently did Origen) that God would have created all things equally and that therefore any inequality that exists in the world would have to be explained by something other than God’s actions. However, Aquinas points out that this reasoning is faulty: justice presupposes the differences in merit that lead to the differences in reward; but anterior to creation there are no differences in merit that might lead to differences in reward. There is nothing upon which justice can be founded in the act of creation. Rather, inequality exists in creation for the benefit of the whole and must be attributed to God’s wisdom in the same way as diversity is accounted to God.
A3: There seems no particular reason to suppose that God’s creative activity is limited to the creation of just one world. Aquinas however sees the ordering of all things in creation as an argument that the world is indeed one. Things in creation have an ordering both to one another and to God as their creator and this ordering is a sort of “glue” that provides unity. Indeed, one might argue that the world is all that God has created and so is by definition a unity.
- God is the source both of the diversity of things and of their inequality.
- God has created diversity and inequality in order to show forth better His goodness and for the greater good of the whole.
- From Aquinas’s answer to the third objection of the third article it appears that he is taking the word “world” in a very limited sense as suggested by the medieval understanding of cosmology. In the light of more recent understanding of the extent of the created universe, it is interesting to speculate how Aquinas might re-write the answer to this question. He might address physical theories of the so-called “multiverse” or he might address metaphysical “many-worlds” theories. I suspect he would find the first fascinating and would give the second short shrift.