The Mystery of Matter

Chapter 5: A Thomist Story of Creation


Before there was even a beginning there was God. And God was peaceful and contented, as is only fitting when you possess the fullness of being which is identical with the fullness of knowledge, love and consciousness. There was nothing to want and no way to be lonely.

One day - in those days before there were any - God had a brilliant idea. God said, "I am enjoying existing so much, what would it be like if someone else existed and enjoyed their own existence and mine?" So God thought about this strange idea for a while, and being very reasonable, decided that the more the person created was like God, that is, the more being it had, the more it would enjoy itself and God, too.

So God created the first creature in the form of a spiritual being who could know and love, and was the highest spiritual being that it was possible to create. Now how did God do this? Since there was nothing outside of God, the Thomists say that God created out of nothing, but this nothing was not like some preexisting material. It was simply nothing. (Nor was it a nothing like the nothing of the mathematician, or the empty space, or vacuum, of the physicist.) And since there was nothing outside of God, the model God used was God's own self. God couldn't create something equal to God, but God chose some aspect of God's own being, and modeled the creation of this first creature after that. So God created the first and highest creature, according to God's own image, and God enjoyed the whole process, and presumably, so did the creature.

But then God saw that the job was over. There could only be one, first and highest creature. It filled up the idea that God had of its being. Let's say that it filled up the first rung of the ladder of creation completely. There could only be one purely spiritual creature of a kind, for if there were another identical one, what would separate them? (This is what Thomas Aquinas thought, and he was not called the Angelic Doctor for nothing. The study of angels for a metaphysician like St. Thomas is something like the study of pure mathematics. In fact, each angel could be compared to a different whole number, which represented its distinctively different nature.)

God so enjoyed this first act of creation that God decided to create someone else. And so God did, and filled the second rung of the ladder of creation. Once God got into it, God kept on going. Why not? It didn't cost any more. So God, after the model of God's own being, which was the fullness of existence itself, created one spiritual creature after the other, filling up the myriad of rungs of the ladder of creation. Finally one day God had created all the spiritual beings, at least, all God wanted to. God had mirrored the major aspects of God's being and had represented, as it were, all the major whole numbers, and had no desire to go into fractions. God had filled the ladder of creation, putting a creature on every rung. It had been fun, and it was fun to have these creatures about. But now it looked like the fun of creation was over. The whole point of creating something was so that it could enjoy existing, and enjoy the fact that God existed, and this demanded self-awareness and the ability to love. But now God saw that all the major kinds of spiritual beings had been made.

But one day God was admiring the beautiful ladder of spiritual beings, with each of the beings glowing on its own rung, and God happened to notice that the bottom side of the bottom rung of the ladder had nothing on it. It was, of course, of no possible use. Or was it? This was the most interesting problem that God had faced in quite some time. Obviously it was not possible to make another purely spiritual being, for all the rungs of the ladder were filled. Then God had a daring insight. What about making a creature that was a potentially spiritual being. It would have the capacity to become actively spiritual. But how would such a spiritual being in potency ever get activated? It couldn't pull itself up by its own bootstraps. It would have to get the assistance of something below it. But there was nothing below.

In this way God came face to face with a very strange possibility. Spiritual beings, even this hypothetical spiritual being in potency had a transparency to themselves. They grasped themselves with a tenacious grip on their own natures in such a way that they would never let go, and never cease to exist. But what if there were a creature that wasn't transparent to itself, and wasn't in potency to being a spiritual being, but was in potency to its own nature and existence? It would simply lack the ontological density to be once and for all what it was. Naturally, God had never thought about such things before. There had been no reason to. But now they exercised a certain fascination. If such a non-spiritual creature would not even be potentially spiritual, but would be in potency to its own nature and existence, then this meant it could cease to be what it was and become something else! Furthermore, if it didn't exhaust its whole nature, why couldn't there be more than one thing of the same kind! Perhaps there could even be more than one spiritual being in potency. This was truly bizarre, but exciting.

But more problems immediately came up. If this spiritual being in potency needed to be activated by something just below it, what would activate the thing that activated it? It, too, would have to be activated by something just below it, and on and on. God saw that in order to make these spiritual beings in potency, it would be necessary to make the simplest and most elemental things possible, and let them interact and build each other up into more complex and more conscious systems until they had all evolved to the degree necessary that this spiritual being in potency could then take its place.

This was certainly a very bold experiment, but one day, just before the first day, God decided to try it. The most elemental and simple being came sizzling out of real nothingness, and immediately began to interact and organize, and move toward their distant goal where they would some day help the spiritual beings in potency realize their natures.

But as soon as creation began, God saw that it was stranger than God had imagined. So used to infolded being was God that it was mind-boggling to see that these new beings, because of their lesser ontological density, outfolded instead. They were not present to themselves and where they acted, like spiritual beings, but literally folded out into part outside of part, and the relationships between the outfolding of one being to the outfolding of another gave rise to space, and the interaction of these beings gave rise to motion and time.

Thus came about these strange beings with a fundamental capacity towards their own natures and existence, which capacity the Thomists call matter, and these material beings were all part of one system, as the very word universe implies, and all work together to finally produce the complex and increasingly conscious material creation that could help bring forth the spiritual beings in potency, and help activate them to realize their spiritual natures so that they become the awareness of the universe, that we are.



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Chapter 6