You are here

On Creation and Time


Summa Contra Gentiles, Book II, cc. 17-19

Chapter 17: That Creation is neither motion nor change

1. In the light of what has been proved, it is evident that God's action, which is without pre-existing matter and is called creation, is neither a motion nor a change, properly speaking.

2. For all motion or change is the "act of that which exists potentially, as such."[Aristotele, Physics, III, 6 (201a 10)] But in the action which is creation nothing potential pre-exists to receive the action, as we have just shown. [See above, ch. 16] Therefore, creation is not a motion or a change.

3. Moreover, the extremes of a motion or change are included in the same order, either because they fall under one genus, as contraries- for example, in the motion of growth or alteration and of carrying a thing from one place to another-or because they share in one potentiality of matter, as .do privation and form in generation and corruption. But neither of these alternatives can be attributed to creation· for in this action no potentiality is present, nor does there exist anything of the same genus as this action and which is pre­ supposed for it, as we have proved. In creation, therefore, neither motion nor change exists.

4. Again, in every change or motion there must be some­ thing existing in one way now and in a different way before, for the very word change shows this. [Aristotele, Physics, V, I (225a 1)] But, where the whole substance of a thing is brought into being, there can be no same thing existing in different ways, because such a thing would not itself be produced, but would be presupposed to the production. Hence, creation is not a change.

5. Furthermore, motion or change must precede that which results therefrom; for in the being of the made lies the beginning of rest and the term of motion. Every change, then, must be a motion or a terminus of motion, which is successive. And for this reason, what is being made is not; because so long as the motion endures, something is coming to be, and is not; whereas in the very terminal point of motion, wherein rest begins, a thing no longer is coming to be; it is. In creation, however, this is impossible. For, if creation preceded its product, as do motion or change, then some subject would have to be prior to it; and this is contrary to the nature of creation. Creation, therefore, is neither a motion nor a change. 

Chapter 18: How objections against creation are solved

1. Now, what has been said makes apparent the fruitless effort of those who impugn creation by arguments derived from the nature of motion or change- the contention, for example, that creation, like other motions or changes, must take place in a subject, or that in creation non-being must be transmuted into being, just as fire is changed into air.

2. For creation is not a change, but the very dependency of the created act of being upon the principle from which it is produced. And thus, creation is a kind of relation; so that nothing prevents its being in the creature as its subject.

3. Nevertheless, creation appears to be a kind of change from the point of view of our way of understanding only, namely, in that our intellect grasps one and the same thing as not existing before and as existing afterwards.

4. But, clearly, if creation is some sort of relation, then it is a certain reality; and neither is it uncreated nor is it created by another relation. For, since a created effect depends really upon its creator, a relation of real dependency, such as this, must itself be something real. But everything real is brought into being by God; it therefore owes its being to God. It is not, however, created by a creation other than that whereby this first creature itself is said to be created. For just as accidents and forms do not exist by themselves, so neither are they created by themselves; creation is the production of a being a Rather, just as accidents and forms exist in another, so are they created when other things are created. Moreover, a relation is not referred through another relation, for in that case we would fall into an infinite regress; but it is referential of itself, because it is a relation by essence. Hence, there is no need for another creation by which creation itself is created, and so on to infinity.

Chapter 19: That in creation no succession exists

1. From the foregoing it is also clear that all creation is successionless. 

2. For succession characterizes motion. But creation is not a motion, nor the term of a motion, as a change is; hence, there is no succession in it.

3. In every successive motion, furthermore, there exists some mean between the extremes of the motion; for a mean is that which a continuously moved thing attains first before reaching the terminal point. But between being and non-being, which are as it were the extremes of creation, no mean can possibly exist. Therefore, in creation there is no succession. 

4. Again, in every making involving succession, a thing is in process of becoming prior to its actual production, as is shown in Physics v1. [ Aristotle, Physics, VI, 6 (237b 10).] But this cannot occur in creation. For the becoming which would precede the creature's actual production would require a subject. The latter could not be the creature itself, of whose creation we are speaking, since, before being made, the creature is not. Nor would that subject lie in the maker, because to be moved is an act not of the mover, but of the thing moved. It therefore remains that some pre-existing matter of the thing produced would be the subject of the process of becoming. This is contrary to the idea of creation. It is therefore impossible that creation should involve succession.

5. And again. Every successive making must take place in time· since before and after in motion are numbered by time. [Aristotle, Physics, IV, 11 ( 219b 1)] But time, motion, and the thing that is in motion are all simultaneously divided. [Cf. Aristotle, Physics, VI, 4. ( 235a .15)] This, indeed, is manifestly so n local motion; for, if the motion is regular, half the motion Will occupy half the time. Now, the division in forms corresponding to the division of time is in terms of intensification and diminution; thus, if a thing is heated to a certain degree m so much time, it is heated to a less degree in less time. Hence, there can be succession in motion, or in any making, so far as that which is affected by motion is divisible, either in point .of quantity, as in local motion and in growth, or as regards intensity and remission, as in alteration. The latter [Divisibility of motion according to intensity and remission.] however, takes place in two ways: in one way, because the form, which is the term of the motion, is divisible with respect to intensity and remission, as is evidently the case when a thing is in process of motion toward whiteness; in another way, because a division of this kind occurs in dispositions to such a form; thus, the process whereby the form of fire comes to exit is successive on account of preceding alteration in the dispositions towards the form. But the very substantial being of the creature is not divisible in this way; for "substance is not susceptible of degrees." [Cf. Aristotle, Categories, V ( 3b 33).] Nor do any dispositions precede creation, since there is here no pre-existing matter, and disposition is on the side of matter. It follows that in creation no succession is possible.

6. Successiveness in the making of things, moreover, derives from a defect of the matter, which is not suitably disposed from the beginning for the reception of the form; so that, when the matter is already perfectly disposed for the form, It receives it immediately. For instance, because a transparent body is always in a state of complete readiness to receive light, it is illuminated at once by the presence of a luminous object; nor is there here any antecedent motion on the part of the illuminable thing, but only the illuminating agent's local motion by which it becomes present. But nothing having the character of matter is prerequisite to creation; nor for the accomplishment of His action does God as agent lack anything which might accrue to Him afterwards through movement, because He is immobile, as we proved in Book I of this work.[ Summa Contra Gentiles, I, Ch, 13] It therefore remains that creation is instantaneous. Thus, a thing simultaneously is being created and is created, even as a thing at the same moment is being illuminated and is illuminated.

7. And so it is that holy Scripture proclaims the creation of things to have been effected in an indivisible instant; for it is written: "In the beginning God created heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1). And Basil explains that this beginning is "the be­ ginning of time"; [St. Basil the Great, Homilia I in Exameron, V (PG, 29, col. 14)] and is necessarily indivisible, as Aristotle proves in Physics VI. [Aristotle, Physics, VI, 3 (233b 33)]

Summa contra Gentiles, Book II, cc. 17-19, translated by Vernon J. Bourke (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975),  “Providence”, vol. 3, pp. 83-87.