The Metaphysics of Creation: Aquinas's Natural Theology in Summa contra gentiles II.
This second volume is a study of creation from the top down; that is, it is a study of creation from the point of view of the creator. Presupposing the previous volume's treatment of God in se, it begins with a consideration of how God's transeunt activity in creation is consistent with God's immanent perfection. While it belongs to a perfect being to act outside himself, such action must involve no imperfection in means or motive. The very same act which God is, is itself the single source of God's activity; in God, power, action, and substance are all identical in accord with the demands of divine simplicity. The second and third chapters contain a treatment of creation as "doubly universal production" in the sense that it is distributively universal, insofar as God is the cause of all being, and it is intrinsically universal in the sense that it presupposes nothing. In establishing God as universal creator, Kretzmann focuses especially on the argument establishing the need for a per se necessary being in SCG II, 15. The intrinsic universality of God's creative activity is established through an analysis of creation ex nihilo as involving no antecedent subject in such a way that God is always absolute origin; creation and conservation are different ways of expressing the ongoing dependence of all things on God for their very being. The fourth chapter considers creation's modalities and includes discussions of how divine omnipotence and goodness govern the act of creation; notable here is Kretzmann's claim, already staked in the first volume, that Aquinas's commitment to the principle that bonum est diffusivum sui should have resulted in the acknowledgment that God's perfect goodness provides necessitating metaphysical grounds (not moral) for creation. The fifth chapter is an extended consideration of the possibility of a beginningless creation. In Aquinas's day, all parties in the debate believed that the world had begun to exist on the authority of revelation, but there was deep dispute about whether this truth was also rationally necessary; Kretzmann describes Aquinas's account as "judicious" rather than "audacious" because Aquinas did not think the rational evidence necessitated a temporal beginning. The sixth chapter is a discussion of the distinction of creation or why God produced this world with its ordered arrangement of natural kinds. Kretzmann's discussion of this usually ignored question is illuminating especially for its presentation of Aquinas as noncreationist and as avoiding the necessitarianism of the best possible world constraint.
The rest of the book focuses on one particular facet of creation, intellect, as the most important manifestation of the meaning of creation. Chapter seven is a general discussion of created intellective substances, treating such questions as the meaning of will, freedom, and immateriality in such creatures; it also includes the most extended metaphysical section of the book, wherein creaturely composition is parsed out in terms that ultimately culminate in what Kretzmann describes as the substance-being distinction (traditionally known as the essence-esse distinction). Chapter eight turns specifically to the human as a "metaphysical hybrid" of intellect and body. The main focus here is establishing, against the Platonic view, that the soul is united to the body as substantial form to matter; it is the single soul as substantial form that ultimately explains why the body is the way that it is. The ninth chapter turns to psychological or philosophy of mind considerations, and Kretzmann pulls together diverse strands to provide a systematic overview of Aquinas's position with a stress on formal identity in sensation and intellection and on the necessity of the phantasm. The book concludes with a consideration of souls before birth and after death. Kretzmann provides a detailed analysis of Aquinas's arguments against any naturalistic account of a single developmental soul, and in favor of the claim that God must create and directly infuse the rational soul into an appropriately developed fetus. As for the rational prospects for life after death, Kretzmann judges the arguments for the incorruptibility of the human soul to be of "poor quality" because the alleged organlessness of human intellection appears to be at odds with what Aquinas has previously established regarding the need of the soul for the body.
The shining virtue of this masterful book is its analytical rigor. Kretzmann provides an extraordinarily clear, fair, and tough-minded analysis of Aquinas's argumentation. It succeeds admirably in its overall aim to present Aquinas's natural theology so as to make it attractive to a contemporary philosopher. The book should therefore be especially appealing to philosophers of religion, but medievalists also have much to learn from it, even though they will doubtless wish that he had done more to situate Aquinas's thought within its historical context. Specialists in Aquinas will find themselves disagreeing with Kretzmann along the way as he steps into areas that have long been debated, and they will wish that he had referenced those interpretive debates more systematically. Ironically, given the book's title, its principle weakness is precisely in its treatment of Aquinas's metaphysics. Kretzmann never works through Aquinas's vocabulary of being in such a way as to make the central doctrines clear; for example, his description of the esse-essentia relationship as the "substance-being" distinction is confusing, and his account of esse as signifying primarily the instantiation of a nature is inadequate. Kretzmann ends his book with a touching and prescient reference to Aquinas's account of life everlasting. One likes to think of them as enjoying it together now, where metaphysics gives way to vision.
--Brian J. Shanley, O.P., The Catholic University of America.
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|Author:||Shanley, Brian J.|
|Publication:||The Review of Metaphysics|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Mar 1, 2000|
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