Sunday, 10 June 2012

Question 74 - The Seven Days as a Whole

Why this Question Matters.

Aquinas has given us an account of the individual days of creation; all that remains for him to do in this question is to wrap up a number of issues that do not naturally fall into the account of any one particular day of creation. Here we get an account of the sufficiency of the days of creation and of the language used to describe the creation events. Also, we get a final examination of the account of St Augustine compared to what may be called the majority view of the other Fathers of the Church.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: The first article is dedicated to the question of whether seven days were sufficient for the creation of the world. In a structure unusual for the summa, a first group of objections are made for the seven days not being enough time followed by a second group of objections that suggest that seven days was far too long!

The first set of objections are all based on assertions that, frankly, God should have spent much longer on various components of creation because the time allotted to these components was unbalanced relative to the other things mentioned in the creation account. Against this position arguments are then put that some of the seven days were a bit superfluous.

In answer, Aquinas reiterates his description of the structure of the creation story. From an initial undifferentiated creation two groups of three days are identified wherein the basic structures of the world are formed and populated. Quoting Aristotle quoting the Pythagoreans, a perfect harmony is found in having a beginning, middle and end.

Augustine’s position on the creation in their causes of some elements of the world is revisited as well as his observation about the nature of the number six. (Six is a perfect number, being equal to the sum of its divisors).

A2: Aquinas has paid careful attention throughout this treatise to the differences between the interpretations of the Genesis account of creation according to St Augustine on the one hand and the majority of the Church Fathers on the other. This article is devoted specifically to a critical examination of Augustine’s position; are all the “days” referred to in the Genesis account really referring to temporal succession or are they rather a cipher for the structural organization of a world fully created in one instant?

In favour of instantaneous creation, Aquinas quotes a passage from Genesis immediately following the account of the seven days that appears to support such an interpretation: “These are the generations of the heaven and the earth, when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the heaven and the earth: And every plant of the field before it sprung up in the earth, and every herb of the ground before it grew”. Here it appears that the preceding seven days are subsumed under “the day that the Lord God made the heaven and the earth”. Similarly, Ecclesiasticus 18:1 states that “He that lives forever, created all things together.” Another point in favour of instantaneous creation is the fact that the creation event on each “day” appears to be instantaneous: what purpose then would the rest of each day serve? There seems to be no point in God inserting any time between the creation events.

Against these objections, however, the sed contra points out that the text of Genesis appears to be very clear in establishing some sort of temporal succession in the events of creation.

Aquinas does not attempt to adjudicate between Augustine’s interpretation and that of the other Church Fathers. His intention appears to be to show that both interpretations are consistent with the literal meaning of the text; in so doing, he is content to give a brief exposition of these different approaches. According to Aquinas, Augustine interprets each of the “days” of the creation account as corresponding to some angelic knowledge. So, for example, the first “day” of creation corresponds to angelic knowledge of the (ontologically) first creation event. In this way, the seven days of creation correspond to seven “layers” of angelic knowledge about the structure of creation. The other Church Fathers, however, take the view that the Genesis account is relating a real succession in time of the events of creation.

Aquinas makes the following curious observation. He claims that when these two accounts are compared as interpretations of the text, they differ considerably from one another; but when they are interpreted according to the manner in which things were produced, there is no great difference between them. What he has in mind here appears to be that, although Augustine takes the Genesis account to be describing the structure of an instantaneous creation and the other Church Fathers take it to describe the temporal unfolding of that creation, what actually happens in the development of those things is the same. So, for Augustine, the Genesis account describes the forms of matter as a structural layer upon its unformed state and the creation of certain beings in their causes rather than actually; what will happen next (i.e. after the events related in Genesis) will be a development of this world that corresponds to the account given by the other Church Fathers.

Even with this attempt at a harmonization of the different accounts, Aquinas admits that there are differences between them that cannot be reconciled in this way. He is content to merely list those differences and to reply to the objections without prejudice to either account.

A3: The final article of this treatise is devoted to the way in which scripture expresses the work of the creation. Its structure is unusual in that it is composed of a number of objections to the language used in scripture together with their replies; there is no master’s determination of the answer. It gives the appearance of Aquinas tidying up a number of loose ends not previously dealt with. There are seven objections; most of them take the form of objections to things omitted (where is the creative Word of God so familiar from the opening of John’s Gospel, for example), or to expressions used.

The answers to these objections are mostly straightforward. We will only illustrate with the answer to the third objection: there appears to be no reason for omitting the refrain “God saw that it was good” from the work of the second day. The answer allows Aquinas to discuss the Trinitarian aspects of creation; although the Trinity is not explicitly mentioned in the Genesis account, Aquinas argues that strong hints are dropped. For example, the person of the Father is implied by God creating, the person of the Son is implied by the beginning in which He creation (remember the opening of John’s gospel); and the Holy Spirit is the spirit that moves over the face of the waters. “God saw that it was good” is omitted from the account of the second day because the work of differentiating the waters is completed on the third day; the refrain for that day should be taken as applying to the work of the second day too.

Handy Concepts

  • The description of the days of creation in the Genesis account are sufficient for what the author wished to communicate and show a fitting balance and coherence.
  • Six is a perfect number, being the sum of its divisors. In Aquinas’s text, an aliquot part of a number is a number that divides it leaving no remainder (i.e. an exact divisor).
  • In Augustine’s account, the days of creation correspond to layers of angelic knowledge about the structure of the world.
  • To a certain extent what will happen to the world after the events of the creation story (according to Augustine) will correspond to what happens during that story (according to the other Fathers of the Church).
  • Although the Trinity is not explicitly mention in the creation account, its Trinitarian structure is clear.


  • The second article appears to have four objections but five answers to objections. What is happening here is that Aquinas is not so much replying to objections as showing that the objections and their contraries are consistent with scripture. So the fifth reply to objections is actually a reply to the sed contra.
  • It may appear surprising that Aquinas is not willing to come to a decision about whether St Augustine is correct in his interpretation of Genesis. After all, we may be used to the idea of the scholastic approach as one that grinds out correct answers. This example is a good illustration that such a view is a parody. In like manner, the magisterium of the Church has always been loath to determine a particular meaning of individual scriptural passages; such teaching has been restricted to the exclusion of incorrect interpretations in times of doctrinal crisis.
  • Likewise, having set up a critical examination of St Augustine’s account, it seems that Aquinas doesn’t really go into the question to the depth it deserves. Perhaps his intention is to get his readers to read De Genesi ad litteram for themselves!
  • This last question of the treatise on the hexaemeron seems a bit of an anti-climax. Instead of a culminating survey of all creation we get a loose collection of issues not dealt with in the questions about the individual days of creation.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Question 73 - The Work of the Seventh Day

Why this Question Matters.

“So the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the furniture of them. And on the seventh day God ended his work which he had made: and he rested on the seventh day from all his work which he had done. And he blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.”

The events of the seventh day of creation were always considered something of an enigma in the commentaries. Did God really just give everything a blessing, sit back and take it easy? Such a picture is too anthropomorphic, of course. St Augustine famously differed from the other Church Fathers in his account of the seven days of creation, but some aspects of his thought – the creation of things in their causes, for example – did enter the common tradition. If we think of the last day of creation as the first day of the unfolding of the potentiality of the newly created world, we will get closer to how the medieval commentators saw the meaning of this day. Aquinas’s task in this question, therefore, is to explain the function of the last day of the Genesis creation account keeping close to the letter of the text whilst avoiding anything too simple minded.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: How are we to understand the claim that the universe was complete by the end of the Genesis creation account? Aquinas points out that completion of something can be interpreted in a number of ways. In particular, one can talk about the initial completion of something wherein it is brought to be what it is. But one can also talk about its final completion insofar as it achieves its final end. One might talk about completing a house after one has finished building it; but equally one might prefer to consider it complete after it has served its function as the home for many generations of families. This second form of completion is, in a sense, caused by the first because it is in the first that the thing concerned receives its form; this latter is what gives it the power to be what it is.

When considering the universe as a whole, its ultimate completion lies in the perfect beatitude of the blessed at the very end of the world; however, its initial completion was realized on the seventh day. Perfect beatitude requires both nature and grace; the initial completion of nature occurred on the seventh day and the initial completion of grace lay in the incarnation of Christ. The consummation of nature and grace at the end of the world pre-existed causally in these two events.

One might object to the account of the seventh day given in Genesis because it is unclear in that account that God actually does anything; after all, He simply stops and rests! But Aquinas claims that although God did not create any new things after the sixth day, He set the completed creation on its course with its proper operations. The work of the final day of creation is to set the world on its course towards its final completion. This also accounts for the fact that God did not cease creating thing after the seven days of creation; for example, He creates new souls daily. Those things that are made by God after the seven days of creation are not so new that they do not in some sense pre-exist in the work of the seven days. As Augustine observed, many things are created in their causes and we can also observe that many things pre-exist materially in the sense that they come to be naturally out of the matter created in the first seven days. The creation of new souls may seem an exception to this pattern, but Aquinas argues that they are not new as a kind of thing. Similarly, the incarnation is rightly seen as a unique event but the components out of which it comes to be already exist either in God Himself or in the work of the sixth day.

A2: In what sense can it be said that God rested on the seventh day? After all, God is not a corporeal body capable of hard labour in the ways that humans or animals are. Aquinas identifies rest as the opposite of movement; but we still have to identify what movement means in the context of a spiritual being such as God. The word movement can be applied in a transferred sense to spiritual beings in two ways: on the one hand it can refer to any sort of operation; on the other it can refer to the tendency towards the fulfilment of a desire. So rest refers to either the cessation of operation or to the fulfilment of a desire.

Both of these two possibilities can be applied to God’s resting on the seventh day. The operation of creating new beings has ceased by the seventh day; in addition, God has completed what He willed the creation to be.

Aquinas also makes the important point that God has no need for creation, being complete in and of Himself. This is the reason, he claims, for the text reading that “He rested from them” rather than “He rested in them”; God gains nothing from creation and therefore would be wrong to visualize Him resting amongst what He has created deriving pleasure from it.

A3: As we have seen in the second article, God’s rest on the second day can be taken in two senses: ceasing to create new things; and in having completed what He willed. Corresponding to these two modes of resting there are two ways in which God’s blessing of creation on the seventh day can be taken. Reference to Genesis 1:22 suggests that the blessing is associated with their governance whereby they “increase and multiply”. On the seventh day God is turning to the governance of what He has created in the first six days; therefore we can understand the blessing of the seventh day in the sense of this governance. The second sense of blessing can be seen when we consider that the things created by God themselves rest in God; to bless is to make holy which is precisely to be dedicated to God, to rest in Him.

The objections to the idea that this blessing is appropriate to the seventh day suggest that in creating each thing God is already diffusing His goodness and that the act of creation in itself provides an individual blessing on each created thing. The seventh day seems to be a time when nothing like this should be done, as it has already been done. Aquinas’s answer has indicated the ways in which the blessing of the seventh day should be understood. From this answer it is clear that the blessing of the seventh day is associated with the divine providence whereby things that are either created, or created in their causes, unfold their being.

Handy Concepts

  • The work of creation is complete by the seventh day in the sense that all the components that make the world what it is are in place. This does not exclude the evolution of the universe or the addition of new things later on; nothing radically new, however, is added to the world after its initial creation.
  • God’s resting on the seventh day can be understood in two ways: God has ceased his operation of creating new beings by the seventh day; in addition, God has completed what He willed the creation to be.
  • God’s blessing of creation on the seventh day can be understood in two ways: His blessing is expressed through His governance whereby things increase and multiply; and those things created by Him rest in Him.


  • Aquinas makes no effort in the third article to connect God resting on the last day of creation with the requirement that man should rest on the seventh day. This seems a little odd, but he returns to this theme in IIaIIae.q122.a4.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Question 72 - The Work of the Sixth Day

Why this Question Matters.

“And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth, according to their kinds. And it was so done. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and cattle, and everything that creeps on the earth after its kind. And God saw that it was good.

And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moves upon the earth. And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done.

And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.”

As with Ia.q70 this question comprises only one article which asks whether the work of the sixth day has been adequately described in scripture. Perhaps the most noticeable thing about this article is that it omits any discussion of the creation of mankind. This, however, was quite conventional; accounts of the hexaemeron left out the creation of man so that it could be discussed in a separate treatise. In the case of the summa, this discussion will appear in Ia.q90-q102.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: The first four objections that criticize the adequacy of the account of the sixth day may strike one as extraordinarily pedantic. Only the fifth and sixth objections appear to contain any barbs. The fifth objection is founded on the fact that medieval science asserted the possibility of some animals arising from putrefying matter, which seems quite out of place in the primordial stages of creation. The sixth objection finds it strange that dangerous and poisonous animals, those that can be harmful to man, should arise before the entry of sin into the world.

Aquinas’s reply continues the pattern set by the answer to the last question: the account of the sixth day is perfectly apposite as it describes the third day of adornment paralleling the third day of diversification. Again, Augustine’s opinion is stated in contrast to the other Church Fathers: the animals created on the sixth day are created in their causes rather than actually.

Aquinas meets the fifth objection by agreeing with the objection that animals that are produced from the putrefaction of other animals could not have happened actually at this stage of creation; such animals would only have been created in their causes. However, animals produced from the putrefaction of lower created (inanimate objects or plants, for example) were produced at this stage of creation. The answer to the sixth objection is a largely made up from a delicious quotation from St Augustine: someone entering the workshop of an artisan would find many dangerous tools there; the artisan knows how to put them to their proper use even if the visitor does not. Aquinas adds that before sin came into the world man would have used the things of the world in an appropriate fashion and none of the dangerous animals would actually have posed a threat to him.

Handy Concepts

  • The sixth day corresponds to the third day of adornment which in turn is parallel to the third day of diversification.
  • Oddities in the creation account may sometimes be explained by our lack of comprehension of the purposes for which things were created.


  • The idea that some animals are produced from the putrefaction of other animals is not one retained in modern science. This knowledge would actually have made Aquinas’s task of commentary easier.

Question 71 - The Work of the Fifth Day

Why this Question Matters.

“And God created the great whales, and every living and moving creature, which the waters brought forth, according to their kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And he blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the waters of the sea: and let the birds be multiplied upon the earth. And the evening and morning were the fifth day.”

This question and the next are unusual in that there is only one article in each of the questions. In this question the topic under consideration is whether the account of the fifth day given in Genesis is consistent with medieval science. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this question from a modern point of view is to see where the medieval understanding of the generation of life agrees with modern understanding and where it disagrees.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: The objections state the case that the account of the fifth day is inconsistent with the scientific understanding of life processes of the middle ages.

In his answer, Aquinas returns to the theme of the division of the structure of the Genesis account into a fundamental creation, the work of diversification and the work of adornment. Here he concentrates attention on the parallel accounts of the work of diversification and the work of adornment: for each day during the work of diversification in which the basic structures of the world came to take their final form there corresponds a day of adornment in which each of these structures receives its mobile contents. The fifth day is the second day of adornment, corresponding to the second day of diversification in which the waters came to take their final form. Therefore the Genesis account is quite consistent when taken in terms of what the author intended to communicate.

As a coda, Aquinas mentions that Augustine, having believed that the luminous heavenly bodies were actually created on the first day of adornment, returns to the idea that the creatures created on the second day of adornment were created in their causes rather than actually.

Turning his attention to the first of the objections, Aquinas points out that as far as nature is concerned, any generation involves the interaction of an active and a passive principle. The passive principle is matter and the active principle is either semen or the power of the sun (the latter in the case of spontaneous generation arising from putrefaction). However, the natural scientific understanding of the matter is, as far as the creation account is concerned, beside the point. In creation, the active power involved is the Word of God; it is the second Person of the Trinity that is bringing things to be by acts of supernatural creation. The rest of the objections are dealt with by careful attention to the possible meanings of the text of the creation account.

Handy Concepts

  • The account of creation in Genesis parallels the days of the work of diversification and the days of the work of adornment. The creation of animals on the second day of adornment parallels the second day of diversification in which the waters are given their final form.
  • Objections to the creation account of Genesis based on an understanding of natural science have to beware of the fact that the active principle in creation is the Word of God.

Question 70 - The Work of the Fourth Day


In the patristic and medieval understanding of the days of creation, the days that we’ve seen so far were considered as devoted to the creation of the basic structures of the universe. In this question and the next three we see an account of how those basic structures were filled out in the work of adornment, before the final questions of this section of the summa that consider the seventh day, God’s day of rest, and the six days of creation as a whole.

Why this Question Matters.

“And God said: Let there be lights made in the firmament of heaven, to divide the day and the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years: to shine in the firmament of heaven, and to give light upon the earth. And it was so done. And God made two great lights: a greater light to rule the day; and a lesser light to rule the night: and the stars. And he set them in the firmament of heaven to shine upon the earth; and to rule the day and the night, and to divide the light and the darkness. And God saw that it was good. And the evening and morning were the fourth day.”

In this question Aquinas discusses the work of the fourth day of creation, the creation of the luminous heavenly bodies (that is, the sun the moon and the stars). As before, he argues that the place allotted to this act of creation in the general scheme is commensurate with that general scheme. He also discusses what these luminous heavenly bodies were created for and touches upon a medieval debate concerning whether they are animated.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: Following the pattern of earlier questions, Aquinas asks about the appropriateness of allotting the creation of the luminous heavenly bodies to the fourth day. The first four objections find arguments against this that are based on thinking about the general temporal order of what must have been produced before what. The fifth objection attacks the idea that the Sun and the Moon should be described as “two great lights”, on the grounds that medieval astronomers already considered other stars to be larger than the Sun and Moon.

Aquinas answers by giving a summary of the general structure of the account of creation given in Genesis. This structure is threefold: a work of creation in which an unfinished heaven and earth are produced; a work of distinction in which heaven and earth are completed in themselves; and a work of adornment in which things are put into heaven and earth. In particular, Aquinas identifies the second three day period of creation as describing the filling of the earth and heavens with moveable things. First among these moveable objects are the heavenly bodies that produce light: the sun, the moon and the stars. Aquinas pays special attention to the account of Augustine. In many ways Augustine’s account differs from the majority of the other Fathers of the Church; but here he is in accord with them. Augustine holds that the Sun, moon and stars are actually produced on the fourth day, not merely produced in their causes.

In answering the objections Aquinas identifies that in Augustine’s account the problems associated with temporal succession simply do not arise; Augustine considers the creation account as describing the natural structure of the world, not the temporal order of its coming to be. In the account of the other Church Fathers the objections are met by recognising the split between the work of creation and the work of distinction; things that might seem to be created too late in the Genesis account are actually created in inchoate form earlier on. Aquinas also makes mention of the teaching of John Chrysostom and of Basil the Great to the effect that some of the creation account takes into consideration the weakness of man in his propensity to fall into idolatry. If Moses had described certain things like the luminous heavenly bodies very early in the account of creation, this would have risked providing motivation for them to be considered as divine.

Finally, although other heavenly bodies might actually be larger than the sun and the moon, the sun and the moon have much greater influence on earthy things and they subtend a greater angle in the sky; it is quite appropriate for them to be described as the “two great lights”.

A2: What were the luminous heavenly bodies created for? The Genesis account gives a number of reasons for their creation, but the objections raise difficulties with each of these. Aquinas explains this passage by turning to a passage from Deuteronomy 4:19 where Moses warns of the danger of idolatry that may arise from an over-estimation of the role of these heavenly bodies. We recall from Ia.q65.a2 that there are four fundamental types of reason for any corporeal body: for its own proper activity; for the benefit of another creature; for the good of the cosmos as a whole; and for the glory of God. Aquinas explains that Moses only touches upon the benefits that accrue to the creature man from the luminous heavenly bodies in the Genesis passage, precisely to draw people away from the danger of idolatry.

When considered from the point of view of the benefit of humanity, the account given in Genesis is seen to be coherent. The heavenly bodies aid the sight of humans and guide their work; they drive the changing seasons; and they forecast favourable and unfavourable times for certain human occupations.

A3: The subject of the third article, whether the luminous heavenly bodies are animated, would seem to be fantastical to modern sensibilities. Why ever is Aquinas even asking this question? The reason for this question is that the idea that the heavenly bodies were in some sense alive or that they participated in some sort of world soul had a long history in platonic and neo-platonic thought; the reception of Arabic writings into the West renewed interest in the question.

Aquinas presents five objections that support the notion that the heavenly bodies are animated. The first three of these objections are based on various ways in which the heavenly bodies should be considered more noble than inanimate bodies: the luminous heavenly bodies adorn the heavens rather than the earth; the forms of the luminous heavenly bodies are clearly more noble than those of plants and animals; the sun and the moon are the causes of life on earth and a cause is more noble than its effects. This position in the hierarchy of nobility should be reflected by a corresponding position in the hierarchy of forms. The final two objections are based on the heavenly bodies as moving bodies: the movement of the heavenly bodies is a natural movement coming from within; they are in some sense self-moving. Therefore, as it is only living things that are self-moving, the heavenly bodies should be considered as associated with a living body.

After a very swift historical review of pre-Christian and Christian opinions on the matter, Aquinas attacks the thesis that the heavenly bodies are alive by analysing the reason for the union of soul with body in living things. The union of the soul with the body is for the benefit of the soul, not for that of the body in the same way that, more generally, form and matter unite for the benefit of form rather than matter. We must also recall that the nature of a soul is discovered through its activities; these are what it is for. The soul requires a body in order that the body may carry out some of the activities of the soul. So the nutritive soul requires a body to gain nourishment; a sensitive soul requires a body in order to sense. Similarly, a body provides the sensory images which lie at the foundation of intellective activity in the human being.

But these activities are simply not appropriate to a heavenly body. A heavenly body does not undergo growth through nourishment, so it makes no sense to claim that it has a nutritive soul. Similarly, there is no reason to associate a sensitive soul with a heavenly body (especially if, as Aquinas points out, it is formed from the fifth element that has nothing sensible in common with the earthly four elements). The only two operations of a soul that could be associated with a heavenly body are movement and understanding. Aquinas easily rules out the latter, so only the former, that of movement, is a possibility.

Having shown that movement is the only property of a soul that can be associated with the heavenly bodies, Aquinas argues that movement does not require the composition of a soul with a body. All that is required is some contact of power between an intellective soul and the heavenly body. What Aquinas is thinking here is that the heavenly bodies should be considered as the object of the prime mover; the unmoved first mover moves the heavenly bodies but there is no reason that these movements require that the first mover be united with the heavenly bodies as form is to matter. The apparent self-moving nature of the heavenly bodies should only be associated with the notion of a living body in an equivocal sense; Aquinas is willing to assert that the disagreements between those who assert that the heavenly bodies are living and those that do not is actually only a verbal disagreement due to this equivocation.

Handy Concepts

  • The work of creation is threefold: the creation of the universe leads to the completion of its basic structures in the work of diversification and this in turn is followed by the work of adornment in which the universe is filled with moveable things.
  • Augustine agrees with the other Fathers of the Church in that the luminous heavenly bodies are actually created on the fourth day rather than just being created in their causes.
  • Some of the features of the creation account in Genesis may be explained by the author’s wish to avoid accidentally leading his readers into idolatry.
  • The account of the creation of the luminous heavenly bodies in Genesis focusses on the benefits that accrue to mankind from them.
  • Aquinas rules out the animation of heavenly bodies by arguing that out of all the things that an animating soul is for, the heavenly bodies only display movement. Furthermore, movement does not require the union of a soul, as form, with matter, as movement can be explained by some contact of power.