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The Creation of a Becoming World


Breviloquium, Book II, chapts. I-II

Saint Bonaventure lays out his thoughts on the creation of the world in this short theological work focusing on some key concepts. Particularly, in light of the biblical account, the author points out the importance of understanding creation in temporal terms, made from nothing and originated from a unique principle, God. In the following chapter he continues his argument on creation contextualizing it even more in the world's temporality. In first seven days of creation, the manifestation of God's power, wisdom and goodness can be recognised, along with the beginning of the unfoldment of the present time and - in a seminal way - of the future time.

1. The Production of the Universe

1. Now that we have presented a summary review of the Trinity of God, we need to say a few things about the creation of the world. Concisely put, we should maintain the following belief concerning this: namely, that the entire world machine was brought into existence in time and from nothing by one First Principle, unique and supreme, whose power, though immeasurable, has arranged all things in measure, number, and weight. 

2. Generally speaking, these are the points regarding the production of things that we ought to comprehend, for through them the truth is ascertained and error refuted. By saying 'in time,' we exclude the error of those who posit an eternal world." By asserting 'from nothing,' we exclude the error of those who hold the eternity of a material principle. When we say 'by one First Principle,' we exclude the error of the Manicheans, who posit a plurality ofprinciples". When we say 'unique and supreme,' we exclude the erroneous idea that God produced the lower creatures through the ministry of [created] intelligences. And finally, when we say in measure, number, and weight, we indicate that the creature is an effect of the creating Trinity by virtue of a three-fold causality: efficient, through which there is in the creature unity, mode, and measure; exemplary, from which the creature derives truth, form, and number; and final, from which it is endowed with goodness, order, and weight. These, as vestiges of the Creator, are found in all creatures, whether corporeal, spiritual, or composites of both.

3. This is the reason for what we have said. In order that there be perfect order and repose in things, all of them must be led back to one principle, which has to be first so that it might grant rest to other things, and which must be most perfect so that it might perfect all the others.' Now there can be only one First Principle possessing such rest. Therefore, if this Principle produces a world, since it cannot produce that world from itself, it must produce it out of nothing. Moreover, creation from nothing implies, on the part of the creature, a state of being subsequent to non-being, 'and, on the part of the principle, a limitless productive power, which is found in God alone.' Thus it follows necessarily that the creation of the world must have been accomplished in time by this same limitless power, acting by itself and without any intermediary.

4. Now this utterly perfect Principle, from which flows the perfection of all things, must act from itself, in accordance with itself, and because of itself, since in none of its actions does it need anything beside itself. Hence, this Principle must have, in respect to any creature, the role of a threefold cause: efficient, exemplary, and final. As a result, every creature must bear within itself this threefold relationship to its first Cause. For every creature is constituted in being by the efficient cause, is patterned after the exemplary cause, and is ordained to the final cause. For this reason, every creature is one, true, and good; limited, beautiful, and well ordered; and has measure, distinct existence, and weight - for weight is defined as an ordered inclination. All this applies to every creature in general, whether corporeal, spiritual, or a composite of both, as is the case with human nature.

2. How Physical Nature came into Existence

1. We must now consider corporeal nature with relation to its production, its being, and its operation. With regard to its production, we must hold specifically that physical nature was brought into existence over the course of six days in the following manner. In the beginning, before any day, God created heaven and earth. Then, on the first day, the light was formed; on the second, the firmament was established in the midst of the waters; on the third, the waters were separated from the land and gathered together into one place; on the fourth, the heavens were adorned with lights; on the fifth, the air and the waters were filled with birds and fishes; on the sixth, the land was furnished with animals and human beings. On the seventh day God rested, not from activity and work, since he continues to work to this very hour, but from the production of any new species. For God made all things then [during the six days of the Genesis account] - either in their prototypes, as is the case with those that propagate themselves, or in a seminal reason, as with other things that come into existence in a different way.

2. The reason for this is as follows. Because all things flow from the first and most perfect Principle, who is omnipotent, all wise, and all-beneficent, it was most fitting that they should come into being in such a way that their very production might reflect these same three attributes or perfections. Therefore, the divine operation that fashioned the world machine was three-fold: creation, particularly reflecting omnipotence; distinction, reflecting wisdom; and embellishment reflecting unbounded goodness. Because [the work of] creation is from nothing, it therefore was in the beginning, before any day, as the foundation of all times and beings.

3. Now there is a three-fold qualitative distinction among corporeal substances; therefore, [God's work of] distinguishing them extended over three days. For there is a distinction between the luminous nature and the translucent and opaque natures; this was brought about on the first day by the separation ofthe light from the darkness. There is a distinction between one translucent nature [water] and the other [air], and this was accomplished on the second day through the separation of the waters. And there is a distinction between translucent and opaque natures, and this was brought about on the third day through the separation of land from water. We shall later see how the distinction of the celestial bodies from the worldly elements is implicitly included in these three. Therefore the work of distinction was fittingly accomplished in the space of three days.

4. And because [God's work of] embellishment parallels distinction, it also was accomplished in three days. The embellishment of the luminous nature was brought about on the fourth day through the forming of the stars, the sun, and the moon. The embellishment of the translucent nature occurred on the fifth day, when fishes and birds were made from the waters to ornament the water and the air. And there was an embellishment of the opaque nature, that is, of the earth, when on the sixth day the beasts and reptiles were made, and finally, as the consummation of all things, human beings.

5. Now God could have done all of these things simultaneously, but preferred to accomplish them over a succession of times. First of all, this would serve as a clear and distinct manifestation of God's power, wisdom, and goodness. Secondly, there was a fitting correspondence between these operations and having various 'days' or times. Finally, the primal production of the world ought to contain the seeds of all things that would later be accomplished, as a prefiguration of future ages; thus, these seven days would contain seminally, as it were, the division of all times to come, as we have already explained above through the succession of the seven ages of history. That is why, to the six days of work was added a seventh day of rest: a day to which no dusk is ascribed [in Scripture] - not that this day was not followed by night, but because it was to prefigure the repose of souls that shall have no end. Now, if from another point of view, it is said that all things were made at once, this is simply considering the work of the seven days from the perspective of the angels. At any rate, the first manner of spaking is more in keeping with the Scripture and with the authority of the saints, both those before and after Saint Augustine.

Breviloquium, engl. tr. Dominic V. Monti (Ohio: Franciscan Institute Publications, 2005), pp. 59-66.