Matter, Theology of
MATTER, THEOLOGY OF
Matter is a key word in the language of the modern technological culture, for it is intimately associated with man's increasing scientific knowledge of the phenomenal universe. theology, on the other hand, is discourse about God, supposing both revelation and the knowledge of faith. Yet what is denoted by the word matter in its modern usage comes within the orbit of revelation in the scriptural categories of heaven and earth (Gn 1.1) or things visible (Col 1.16) and within the orbit of theology in the metaphysical category of material being. This article deals first with the teaching of revelation and theology on matter and then with the theological questions arising from man's new scientific knowledge of matter.
Teaching of Revelation and Theology. Matter comes within all three articles of the Christian faith.
In the first article, concerning God the Creator, the Church, against dualism in the form of manichaeism (H. Denzinger, Enchiridion symbolorum, ed. A. Schönmetzer (32d ed. Freiburg 1963) 1336) and of priscillianism (ibid. 463), has defined its doctrinal statement of the teaching of revelation that God is the sole author of material being (ibid. 3002). In this same context the Church has further defined that matter is an integral part of God's one work ad extra: the supernaturally elevated natural order. Therefore matter has its role within the divine purpose of the cosmos, which is the manifestation of the glory of God [ibid.; see glory of god (end of creation)]. And so the Church rejects (ibid. 433) the Gnostic position taken up by Origenism that matter's place in God's work is incidental, relative to the fall of spiritual being, and will, with the final restoration of spiritual being, disappear (see origen and origenism). Also included in the Church's understanding in faith of revelation's teaching concerning matter is the divinely instituted relation between matter and man. It is one dimension of man's being (Gn 2.7); it is the object of the divine imperative placed on man (Gn 2.16); it is the meaning given by God to secular history (Gn 1.28); and it is involved in man's situation within the salvation history (Gn 3.17; Rom 8.19–23; see man). The Church has defined certain points of its doctrine concerning the relation between matter and man (Enchiridion symbolorum 461–464;3002).
Matter comes within the second article of the Christian faith, which is concerned with God the Redeemer. Against Docetism revelation proclaims the reality (1 Jn4.2) and the primacy within God's work of the human nature with its material dimension of jesus christ [Col1.19–20]. Revelation also teaches (Jn 16.11) that one of the effects of God's redemptive work in Christ is the liberation in principle of matter from the power of sin; not that the ontological goodness of matter is in any way lessened by man's sin; but that, as a consequence of man's sin, matter is a sphere in which the power of sin, hostility to God, is operative.
Finally matter comes within the third article of the Christian faith, concerning God the Sanctifier. That matter is included within the divine work of sanctification is testified by belief in the paradisiacal state of Adam (Gn2.8), by the Resurrection of Jesus (Rom 1.4), and by the expectation of a new heaven and earth (Rev 21.1) at the end. Then God's Lordship (1 Cor 15.28), the meaning of the divine work ad extra in its unity as a work of creation, Redemption, and sanctification will stand fully disclosed.
To make intelligible what is known from revelation concerning matter, scholastic theology uses the metaphysical concept of potentiality (see potency and act). This concept, together with its correlative concept of actuality, is applied to created being; and the distinction between material and spiritual being is seen as that between potentiality of being and actuality of being. Within the unity of the cosmos, matter and spirit are degrees of being, ordered participations of absolute Being, each in its own manner manifesting the perfection of absolute Being. The theological conception of matter as potentiality of being implies that the proper cause of matter is absolute Being; and so matter in its first production depends immediately on God (Summa theologiae 1a, 65.4). It also implies that matter, as part of the cosmos, has its proper end in God; therefore the final perfection of matter depends immediately on God (Summa theologiae 1a, 66.3). Lastly it implies that the passage of matter from its first production to its final perfection is dependent in the first place on God as author of nature and of grace (Summa theologiae 1a, 73.1 ad 1).The content of this theological conception of matter is drawn from the divine economy, the theology of the divine work ad extra. Because it establishes the limits containing further theological speculation on matter, this conception of matter worked out in scholastic theology retains its usefulness.
Theological Questions. That matter as made known by modern science raises theological questions is evident from the writings of John XXIII, P. Teilhard de Chardin, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It is not primarily a question of reconciling scientific theories, such as those purporting to explain the origin of the universe, with Christian belief (Mascall, 162) but of recognizing the authenticity of matter as a dimension of man, a dimension in which the salvation history is operative, and a dimension in which the Church, the instrument of God's Lordship, is called to work. With this recognition goes the need for a reappraisal of the traditional Christian attitude to matter and to temporal values. In the past this attitude has been influenced by an excessive dichotomy between matter and spirit. The recognition of matter also calls for a theological statement of Christian belief in categories that give an understanding of that belief in its existential reality (Scheffczyk, 151). And with this recognition of matter the need for a new understanding of the Church's catholicity is apparent. The theological conception of the Church's catholicity needs to be enlarged to include the depth of human existence revealed by scientific knowledge of the phenomenal universe.
See Also: matter; matter and form; creation, articles on; soul, human; time.
Bibliography: m. schmaus, Gott der Schöpfer (his Katholische Dogmatik 2.1; 6th ed. Munich 1962). l. scheffczyk, Schöpfung und Versehung (Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte 2.2a; Freiburg 1963). e. l. mascall, Christian Theology and Natural Science (London 1956). p. overhage and k. rahner, Das Problem der Hominisation (Quaestiones Disputatae 12, 13; Frieburg 1961) 44–55.
[e. g. hardwick]