God, however conceived by those who speak of Him, is generally thought of as in some way the cause of the world. His causality has in fact been expressed in terms of all four causes, pantheists seeing God as immanent and identical with the world, others seeing Him as an extrinsic source affecting the universe through efficient causality and final causality. This article restricts itself to God's influence as the agent, or efficient cause, of the existence and activity of His creation and the relationship of secondary causes to His primary causality.
Antiquity. Historically it is quite evident that until God was known through Christian revelation as the Creator, the divine causality was only partially and hesitatingly grasped. Early Greek philosophers simply assumed the existence of the world and attempted to explain it through material principles. Only with anaxagoras was a type of divine causality introduced to explain the universe. This philosopher's concept of the Nous, the intelligent source of the order in things, was a giant step beyond the theories of his materialist predecessors. While recognizing in such an Intelligence the source and continuator of order, however, Anaxagoras still thought in terms of a causal contact that was somehow physical and local; his Nous was a kind of world soul, a demiurge. The concept of the demiurge is to be found too in socrates, for whom God is the organizer of the cosmos and the provident cause of ordered finality.
The concept of God advanced by plato has been variously evaluated by historians. The demiurge seems to perdure in his explanation of the actual causality of the sensible world. This is the supreme efficient cause of the world of appearances, but it is subordinated to its exemplar in the world of Ideas and to the Idea of the Good as to a final cause. The kind of efficient causality conceived is imperfect; it seems to include a localized contact with effects, making God again a world soul and dependent on higher causes. In his perception of the exemplarity of Ideas, however, and in the notion of efficient causality producing participations in the world of Ideas, Plato provided themes that were later to be fruitfully developed.
aristotle had an exalted concept of God, but one conditioned by (and perhaps derived from) his conception of the eternity of the heavenly bodies. Because such bodies are perfect and eternal, they require a First Mover who is the source of such perfection and thus is pure act. The life of this First Mover is described as the activity of subsistent intelligence contemplating itself (Meta. 1074b 15–1075a 11). But the relations of such an intelligence to the material world are very remote. His causality is primarily final, since all tendency in nature is toward God as end. Simply because of the divine perfection, providence is so impersonal as to be nonexistent; there is no contact with the world, and the finalism averred is fatalistic. God is efficient cause of the movement of the first heaven; from its movement the rest of the universe revolves, obeying in its processes the rigid laws of finality. Both Plato and Aristotle were seen by St. Thomas Aquinas, however, as having conceived the problem of the universe in terms of the causality of its very existence (Summa Theologiae la, 44.1–2).
The Stoics assumed much of the terminology of their predecessors but used it in a basically materialist sense (see stoicism). Their God was a Logos whose fundamental attribute is providence; but they described Him literally as the soul of the corporeal world, entering into composition with its effects. Providence is the inexorable and immutable unfolding of the necessary laws of being of the Logos. Opposed to their view was the teaching of epicurus, who posited the clinamen, or principle of deviation within the atomic realm. For him, motion in the cosmos is an effect of pure chance, stable enough for practical living, but prevented by the clinamen from being a rigid destiny oppressing men.
These influences were synthesized and refined by the Romans, who were largely eclectic in their philosophizing but who favored Stoic doctrines, particularly in the fatalistic aspects of their philosophies (see fate and fatalism).
The final significant phase of ancient thought on God's causality was neoplatonism. The presuppositions of this movement were avowedly theological, since it considered the visible world only in its relationship to God. Neoplatonist thinkers regarded God as utterly transcendent, and thus it became necessary for them to posit intermediaries to allow for some type of contact with the cosmos. philo judaeus was a precursor, naming the angels of the Old Testament as such intermediaries. With plotinus, however, the doctrine of emanationism characteristic of Neoplatonism came to be fully articulated. God is the One, from which Intelligence emanates as a kind of necessary creation; then Soul proceeds in its turn, and finally matter. It is from Intelligence that the world emanates, corresponding to Intelligence's contemplation of the Platonic Ideas. The entire explanation, being based on a necessary emanation from the perfection of the One, leaves the system open to the charge of pantheism. Nor does Plontius explain the kind of causality exercised on the world, except as an inevitable consequence of the perfection of the One and as an influence of Intelligence, its immediate cause.
Thus the Greco-Roman world, in various ways, recognized a causal relationship between God and the universe. The primary emphasis was not so much on the concept of source or origin as it was on providence. Nor was the causality explained in very precise terms, and this for want of knowledge of the manner of origin of things from God the Creator.
Patristic Era. In the Christian Era the creative causality of God was explained by St. justin martyr, among others; he used but corrected Platonic concepts. He maintained the idea of creation ex nihilo and avoided so exaggerating the divine transcendence as to cut God off from His creatures. Like Justin, St. irenaeus opposed gnosticism, with its Neoplatonic emanationism and its hierarchy of eternal intermediaries or aeons that went to form the pleroma. By the doctrine of creation Irenaeus excluded both pantheism and the conception of God as cause of the continued existence of creation. clement of alexandria, while employing Platonic elements in his writings, defended the doctrine of creation. origen rejected the eternity of matter, but his maintaining the eternal creation of spirits gave occasion for error. tertullian, also denying the eternity of matter, was a strong defender of the creation of the world in time.
In St. augustine is to be found the fullest explanation of the divine causality by any Father of the Church. Augustine saw all being, unity, truth, goodness, and beauty as participations of the Subsistent Word. These participations are not Neoplatonic, necessary emanations, but a true creation as taught by Scripture, ex nihilo and beginning at a definite point in time. Time itself is a part, a mode, of this creation. No change in God is implied, for God is above time and is its cause, planning through all eternity for creation to take place and for time to begin. Augustine saw divine conservation as the continuation of creation, with all things continuing in existence as dependent reflections of Uncreated Truth. Typical of Augustine is the exemplarism he taught as part of the divine causality. The Ideas of Subsistent Truth are the exemplars of all beings in the universe. They are not the separated Ideas of Plato, consulted by the demiurge; they are the content of the divine mind itself. They are at once exemplary and efficient, since God puts them into existence in His creatures. Augustine also defended divine providence as the conscious source of the order and goodness of all things; God wills their perfection and His will is effective. Vexed by the problem of evil, he formulated his basic principle for addressing the problem: "The cause of evil is not efficient but deficient, for evil is a defect, not an effect" (Civ. 12.7). (see patristic philosophy.)
Early Scholasticism. In the centuries before the zenith of scholasticism, there were reflections both of Neoplatonism and of Aristotle. john scotus erigena represents the Neoplatonic line. Creation is the evolving of the being of God (natura increata creans ), first in Intelligence (natura creata creans ), then in the visible world (natura creata non creans ). God, as it were, creates Himself in the world by these necessary emanations, and the world, in its turn, returns inevitably to Him (natura nec creata nec creans ). The Arab philosophers were important for their interpretation of Aristotle. In avicenna there was a reassertion of the Neoplatonic hierarchy, but now expressed in terms of the Aristotelian heavenly spheres. The Avicennian concept of providence is fatalistic. averroès reaffirmed the necessary eternity of the universe, holding that the heavenly spheres and matter are coeternal with God, who is the cause of their movement as final cause exclusively. God has no knowledge of anything outside Himself, and the laws of the universe are expressions of a deterministic finality. (see arabian philosophy.)
Among the scholastics, it was primarily Augustinian teaching that served to express the theology of God's causality. St. anselm of canterbury restated the doctrine of creation and conservation as found in Augustine. St. bonaventure significantly developed Augustine's concept of exemplarity. But it was in the grand synthesis of St. thomas aquinas that the fullest and most satisfying analysis of divine causality was finally achieved.
Thomistic Analysis. God's causality as efficient, or productive, is required by Aquinas on three counts: the initial production of the universe, the conservation of all things in their existence, and the actual exercise of causality by all agent causes.
Production and Conservation. As to the initial production, St. Thomas deals first with the procession of all beings from God (Summa Theologiae la, 44) and then with creation itself (la, 45). God is the efficient cause of all, including matter; He is the exemplar above whom there is no further model; and He is the final cause of all. There is here an obvious echo of positions adopted throughout history, an echo that is particularly pronounced in the treatment of efficient causality. The argument Aquinas uses, found in various forms in Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine, is briefly, this. All being apart from God must come from Him, for God is Subsistent Esse; esse is uniquely an effect of God, and therefore all other beings must participate in esse from Him. While invoking both Plato and Aristotle in support of this argument, Aquinas is more profound—if only because of his knowledge of the revealed truth of creation. From this truth comes his insight into the meaning of God as Subsistent Esse and the implications of this concept for an understanding of divine causality.
Creation is the production of the total being of the universe from nothingness, that is, from no subject that exists anteriorly. This total production is not a necessary emanation; rather it is a free act accomplished by the divine fiat. It is not eternal but takes place in time. The implications of this for clarifying what is meant by God's own perfection and causality are clear. The very being of things is conferred on them from God as from a primal source; whereas there formerly was God and nothing else, other beings suddenly began to exist. God as the source is the fullness of being—His own an unreceived, limitless being; the being of all else an effect that He produces. Thus what the divine causality explains is the very fact of existence. This means that God alone is the first and proper cause of esse. It means that the divine causality does not work physically on a preexistent matter, that God's causality does not require His physical contact or His immanence in creation. Rather this causality is a pure communication; the First cause is perfective of its effects without being itself perfected or changed in any way. On the other hand, the creature is totally dependent on such divine causality; this dependence makes all the difference between its existing and its not existing.
Through his concept of creation, Aquinas was able to clarify the nature of creatural dependence on God. The pagan philosophers, it is true, were able to discern the relationship between limited being and a primary unlimited source, but they did not appreciate its significance or the precise dependence it implied. Once the revealed fact of the absolute emergence of all existents from God was understood, on the other hand, the concept of God as Subsistent Esse, with all its implications, became clear. God alone is His being; He created other existents from nothingness. This revealed truth thus guided the Christian interpretation of the meaning of God's subsistence. If any other being exists apart from God, it can only be a participated being and must receive its esse from the One who is being without limitation. When God causes, His initial causality must be a bestowal of existence as such. There is no other source, nor can anything be presupposed to the divine causality.
The knowledge of creation thus led to a formulation that applies to the whole range of divine causality, viz, "esse is the proper effect of God." That God did produce the universe from nothingness makes clear the basis of the statement that God is His own esse, that "to be" is, as it were, the very nature of God. Therefore esse, wherever it is found outside of God, is an effect—an effect that God alone can produce. Every existent, as a consequence, actually and continually depends on God. Thus could Aquinas adopt and explain in his own way Augustine's teaching that conservation is the continuation of creation. Any effect that is dependent on its cause not only for its coming-to-be but also for its actual being is continually dependent on such a cause. All creatures, because they exist and for as long as they exist, actually and continually receive their existence from God (Summa Theologiae la, 104.1).
Exercise of Causality. The teaching that esse is the proper effect of God need not entail a rejection of creatural causality. St. Thomas was at pains to preserve the reality of both divine and created causality, rejecting an error of his own times that would eliminate either type and even refuting a position later to be adopted by durandus of saint-pour, ain (De pot. 3.7; Summa Theologiae 1a, 105.5). The production of creatures, for Aquinas, means the communication of being in various and limited ways. Since God willed to create, His creatures must be limited and cannot themselves be Subsistent Being. Their limitation is in their essence, which is made to be actualized by esse; in this way God is the cause of the entire being of His creatures. But the perfection of the divine causality precisely as communicative embraces the production of certain creatures that are more perfect than others in that the former can contribute actively to the development of creatures, whereas the latter cannot. Stated somewhat differently, God makes at least some things to be efficient causes (Summa Theologiae 1a, 103.6).
Aquinas explains, moreover, how God's causality does not eliminate the causality of secondary causes but rather causes them to be themselves causes actually causing. Efficient causality is always the active communication of existence to an effect. Because esse is the proper effect of God, every other agent in causing must participate in the influence of divine causality. Not only does it do this in view of its essence and its power to operate, received initially from God, but also in actual subordination to God's influx in the very exercise of its causality. The power actually to share in God's proper causality is communicated as a passing force, one that can be received only transiently and subordinately to God. But it is this power that is the ultimate completion of every created cause and renders it capable of actually causing. Only through this power can it impress its proper likeness on its effect, thus functioning on its own level of causality. The completion of its power to cause enables it to make its effect exist, since it communicates esse, the ultimate actuality of all perfections. The particular kind of existence is made actual by esse, and the power received from God to enter into this communication makes the secondary cause actually the cause of its own effect. Because this ultimate power derives from its subordination to God, both God and the secondary cause are total causes of the entire reality of the effect—God as primary, the created agent as secondary, cause.
Aquinas explains the subordination of secondary causes to God by teaching also that God "applies" the power of the secondary cause to its exercise. This point became the occasion for acrid controversy between Thomists and Molinists in the 16th and 17th centuries (see congregatio de auxiliis; bÁÑez and baÑezianism; molinism; premotion, physical; concurrence, divine). St. Thomas maintains simply that God applies all causes to their actual operation because they are moved movers and He is the First Mover. Yet even this is but another facet of the dependence of the creature, as composed of essence and existence, on the unique Subsistent Esse. It is because, in their ontological structure as substances, created causes are so composed that they cannot be identical with their own operation (Summa Theologiae la, 54.1–2). Their exercise of operation is the acquisition of a new accidental esse to which, as created, they are merely in potency. This potentiality cannot be actualized unless through the intervention of God, who is First Mover and Pure Act precisely because He is Subsistent Esse. The communication of motion by God is not the bestowal of a reality distinct from the transient power by which the created agent participates in the production of esse. It is simply another facet of the dependence of creatural causality on God's causality.
The causality of God, particularly with regard to conservation and concurrence with secondary agents, is considered by Aquinas an effect of God's government (Summa Theologiae la, 103). This, in turn, is simply the execution of divine providence (ibid. la, 22). God acts intelligently, and His causality follows a plan. In defending the rightness and goodness of this causality as it extends to every single entity and to every mode of being, Aquinas treats also the problem of evil. He does so by invoking and elaborating upon the teaching of Augustine noted above (ibid. la, 49; 1a2ae, 79). Arguing that the whole of creation and the causality of God is an act of His intelligence and free will, he further rejects all types of fatalism and determinism from God's causal influence on creatures.
Later Scholasticism. Apart from those who continued and explored the insights of Aquinas (see thomism), several notable figures in the era before the age of modern philosophy contributed to thought on the divine causality. In his critical assaults on Thomistic teaching, Duns Scotus maintained that St. Thomas's insight to the effect that God is the sole proper cause of esse is indefensible; he likewise rejected the notions of the ubiquity of the divine causality and the action of God on all created causes. He did not, however, offer any positive rational substitute for the Thomistic positions on these subjects (see scotism). william of ockham also introduced a skeptical theme concerning reason's power to know God and His action on His creation (see ockhamism). F. suÁrez, while professing to comment on Aquinas, actually sought a middle way between Thomism and Scotism; in his eclecticism, however, he rejected the key notion, the real distinction between essence and existence. His theories of divine causality are built rather on what may be called the factual or contingent aspect of the creature and on the grandeur of the universe, leading him to accent the notion of divine providence (see suarezianism).
Modern Thought. Two features regulate the conceptions of the divine causality in modern philosophy. One is that the object of thought is the idea; the other, that the content of knowledge matches only sensible phenomena, which are usually explained mechanistically. These assumptions, in various combinations and applications, run throughout modern philosophical systems and so qualify them that in fact they are not concerned with problems of the real but with problems of thought. This general concern conditions and often characterizes what is said about divine causality.
Rationalism, Empiricism, and Idealism. The God of R. descartes is one of his clear and distinct ideas, postulated a priori by the very existence of the thinking self. God is involved in the creation of movement—the local movement typical of Descartes's concept of the corporeal universe. This movement is initiated when created by God in a constant and determined degree; through it the corporeal world develops according to mechanical laws, which guarantee the conservation of this constant energy.
In the spirit of Descartes, N. malebranche developed his occasionalism, according to which God alone is a true cause. This basic concept follows from the clear idea of God as infinite, since in Malebranche's view the finite is utterly dependent on the infinite. Further, for him all corporeal creation is contained in the idea of extension, which is pure passivity. God acts where His creatures are present; they do not truly act, and thus they are not causes.
For B. spinoza, God is the sole substance. Spinoza explains the world as a series of emanations from the divine attributes, which proceed from God by natural necessity and are coeternal with Him. There is no efficient causality; creatures are formal effects of a fatalistic evolution. G. W. leibniz, on the other hand, stays within the world of ideas. His monad is the primordial substance of all being. From the order of possibles in the divine mind, God chooses the best possible world; this is the only sufficient reason for His action (see sufficient reason, principle of).
The phenomenalistic strain is particularly stressed by T. hobbes, who is agnostic with regard to God and thus puts any knowledge of Him beyond the reach of mind. Hobbes is content simply to call God the omnipotent source of all the mechanistic movement by which the world of impressions is explained. Caught up also in an examination and classification of ideas, J. locke presents an argument for God's creative power, but the very notion of causality is so invalidated by his system that the argument reduces to mere assertion. I. kant has in fact nothing positive to say about the divine causality; rather his critique renders any such affirmation impossible (see agnosticism).
For G. W. F. hegel, the extreme idealist, everything real is rational. The world is but the evolution—through a dialectic of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis—of the Infinite Idea. The world is distinguished from this Idea only as a step in its evolution. Since the evolution is conceived as rigidly deductive through the process of dialectic, Hegel's system is one of determinism. God is in truth measured by the necessity of the laws of Hegelian logic.
Positivism, Evolutionism, and Subjectivism. On the positivist level, the influence of F. bacon is important because of the mentality his scientific method engendered. The sound procedures of experiment, hypothesis, and verification he proposed, when extended to the investigation of metaphysical problems by later thinkers, led to agnosticism. So too did the success of I. newton in applying the laws of mathematics to nature; from this arose the conviction that scientific knowledge is alone valid knowledge. These positivist beginnings matured into the materialism and naturalism of the Deists, both French and English, of the 17th and 18th centuries (see deism). God was acknowledged only as a blind impersonal force behind a purely mechanistic universe. positivism itself has its foremost spokesman in Auguste comte, whose system, if not atheistic, is at best a materialistic pantheism—although later positivists preferred to classify themselves as agnostic.
With C. R. darwin and his theory, evolutionism came into ascendancy as a monistic explanation of the universe through the development of matter. Herbert spencer, its outstanding spokesman, explained everything by the law of evolution; for him an Absolute exists and is the object of religion, but it is for the human mind completely unknowable. Another evolutionary thinker whose view of divine causality is noteworthy is the French Jesuit Pierre teilhard de chardin. Although professing orthodoxy in matters of faith, Teilhard seems to limit God's causality to that of the "Omega Point"—a type of final cause that terminates the evolutionary process [The Phenomenon of Man, tr. B. Wall (New York 1959) 271]. He speaks of the universe as "a mysterious product of completion and fulfillment for the Absolute Being Himself" [see C. Tresmontant, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin—His Thought (Baltimore 1959) 93]. Again, his attitude toward evil is somewhat unorthodox, for he sees this as physically inevitable in the world, arising through a type of statistical necessity (ibid. 94).
An attempt to escape the positivist and the materialist spirit of modern science characterized the Modernist movement of the 19th century. modernism avers an absolute agnosticism with respect to intellectual efforts to reach God but asserts an immediate experience of divinity immanent within the soul. Such experience is regarded as the source of all philosophy and theology. Affirmations about God have no absolute value; their value is their meaningfulness to the person. Another philosophical system that relies heavily on subjective elements is that of H. bergson. For Bergson, the real is pure becoming; in such becoming, intuition discovers the explanation of all things. God is the Creator by a loving energy that must express itself and must produce creatures, especially men, who are able to love. Like the thought of Teilhard de Chardin, which it undoubtedly inspired, that of Bergson seems to favor a form of pantheistic evolution.
Conclusion. From the foregoing survey of the concept of divine causality, it becomes clear that the full grasp of the concept depends on two factors. First, only with the revelation of the fact of creation can the tentative insights, even the most profound metaphysical discoveries, of philosophers receive their full understanding and application. It was the concept of creation that enabled Aquinas to see the full import of God's being the unique Subsistent Esse, and thus to appreciate the subordination of all creation to Him in being and action. Second, modern philosophers cut themselves off from the real problem and from a genuine metaphysical insight simply by so distorting the power of intelligence as to turn it away from being and concentrate it on itself. Certainly, to evaluate the dependence of the world on God pertains to the highest reaches of human wisdom; it needs not only the assistance of God's revelation but also every resource to be found in the soundness of human reason.
See Also: god in philosophy; creation; providence of god (theology of).
Bibliography: r. garrigou-lagrange, God: His Existence and His Nature, tr. b. rose, 2 v. (St. Louis 1934–36); The Trinity and God the Creator, tr. f. c. eckhoff (St. Louis 1952). j. d. collins, God in Modern Philosophy (Chicago, Ill. 1959). j. f. anderson, The Cause of Being: The Philosophy of Creation in St. Thomas (St. Louis 1952). l. r. ward, God and World Order (St. Louis 1961). n. del pra do, De veritate fundamentali philosophia christianae (Fribourg 1911).
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