Saturday, 25 February 2012

Question 61 - The Creation of the Angels

Why this Question Matters.

This question summarizes a number of questions about the creation of the angels and ties up a few loose ends about their creation, allowing us to turn in the next question to consideration of grace and glory in the angels.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: After all that Aquinas has said about God being the source of the being of all things, it might seem strange for him to ask whether angels have a cause for their being. The question does, however, allow Aquinas to summarize the argument so far and to clear up one or two loose ends. For we have seen that there is a unique self-subsistent existence and that therefore if anything else exists, it can only participate in existence and this participation must have come from the self-subsistent existence.

One might have tried to argue that there is no composition of matter and form in the angels as they are pure form, so there is no call for anything to cause a non-existent composition. Aquinas argues that neither do they have any agent transforming their matter from potency to act. But this is irrelevant; they do not have an agent cause or a formal cause, but they do have an extrinsic efficient cause that creates their whole substance.

A2: Are the angels co-eternal with God? They seem such perfect beings that it might be thought fitting that they exist with God from eternity. Aquinas dismisses this as simply contrary to the Christian faith. Referring back to Ia.q19.a3 and to Ia.q46.a1, we recall that God produces creatures by His act of will and that will is not necessitated. God can create whatever creature He wishes whenever He wishes it. As with the previous article, this one seems somewhat superfluous in the light of what Aquinas has already shown. Perhaps, this is included here as a recollection; perhaps it is aimed at Averroism, which was growing in popularity at the time Aquinas was writing.

A3: Were the angels created before the material world was created. The account in Genesis “In the beginning God created heaven and earth” would seem to suggest that the angels were created at the same time as the material world. This is the position that Aquinas argues for; the angels should not be considered as a separate universe of things. However, Aquinas is not willing to condemn the contrary point of view, because the great Father of the early church, St Gregory Nazianzen held this latter opinion. Aquinas indicates that if this opinion is to be held then the opening words of the Genesis account have to be interpreted differently; “in the beginning” as “in the Word” or as “at the beginning of time”.

A4: The empyrean heaven is the highest reaches of heaven. Aquinas asks whether this is where the angels were created. Aquinas argues that as angels were created with material creatures in one universe and as they preside over the whole of the material part of creation, it is fitting that they were created in the highest part of heaven.

Handy Concepts

  • The angels, like all other created entities receive their being from God.
  • The angels are not co-eternal with God.
  • Whether the angels were created at the same time as the material part of creation is open to theological opinion, but the most probable opinion would affirm this.
  • The angels were created in the highest reaches of heaven, reflecting the ordering they have to preside over the material parts of creation.

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