Aquinas Day By Day


Aquinas’s Topic: The history of progress in philosophy

Scripture: “In times past, God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through the son, whom he made heir of all things.” Hebrews 1: 1-2.

Aquinas’s Text: ST I.44.2


Aquinas sets out his doctrine about the creation of the universe by adverting to the development of philosophy over time.

Art. 2 asks “Is primary matter created by God or is it an independent co-ordinate principle?”

In his “response” Br. Thomas says:


The ancient philosophers entered into knowledge of the truth little by little, as though taking one step at a time. At the beginning they remained sort of gross and did not think any beings existed but sensible bodies. Now those among them who admitted motion discerned only accidental changes in matter, for example, concerning the rare and the dense they recognized connection and separation. Assuming that the very substance of bodies is uncreated, they assigned certain causes for accidental changes of these kinds, for example, love and hate [Empedocles], or mind [Anaxagoras], or some cause like these. Proceeding further through intellectual knowledge, they distinguished substantial form from the matter they held to be uncreated and they perceived changes to happen in bodies due to their essential forms. And for these changes they posited more universal causes, such as Aristotle’s oblique circle and Plato’s ideas. But one must consider that by form matter is contracted to a determinate species, just as by an accident coming to it a substance of some species is contracted to a determinate mode of being, as a human is contracted by white. Therefore, each of these views considered being under some particular consideration, either as this being or as such a being; and consequently they assigned to things particular agent causes And further some [Avicenna] raised themselves up to consider being as being. Now they considered the cause of things, not merely as they are these [substances] or such [substances determined by accidents] but in so far as they are beings. Therefore, that which is the cause of things in so far as they are beings must be the cause of things, not merely as they are such due to accidental forms nor as they are these due to substantial forms, but also in all that pertains to their being in any way whatsoever. And in this way it is necessary to hold that prime matter, too, is created by the universal cause of beings.


Respondeo dicendum quod antiqui philosophi paulatim, et quasi pedetentim, intraverunt in cognitionem veritatis. A principio enim, quasi grossiores existentes, non existimabant esse entia nisi corpora sensibilia. Quorum qui ponebant in eis motum, non considerabant motum nisi secundum aliqua accidentia, ut puta secundum raritatem et densitatem, congregationem et segregationem. Et supponentes ipsam substantiam corporum increatam, assignabant aliquas causas huiusmodi accidentalium transmutationum, ut puta amicitiam, litem, intellectum, aut aliquid huiusmodi. Ulterius vero procedentes, distinxerunt per intellectum inter formam substantialem et materiam, quam ponebant increatam; et perceperunt transmutationem fieri in corporibus secundum formas essentiales. Quarum transmutationum quasdam causas universaliores ponebant, ut obliquum circulum, secundum Aristotelem, vel ideas, secundum Platonem. Sed considerandum est quod materia per formam contrahitur ad determinatam speciem; sicut substantia alicuius speciei per accidens ei adveniens contrahitur ad determinatum modum essendi, ut homo contrahitur per album. Utrique igitur consideraverunt ens particulari quadam consideratione, vel inquantum est hoc ens, vel inquantum est tale ens. Et sic rebus causas agentes particulares assignaverunt. Et ulterius aliqui erexerunt se ad considerandum ens inquantum est ens, et consideraverunt causam rerum, non solum secundum quod sunt haec vel talia, sed secundum quod sunt entia. Hoc igitur quod est causa rerum inquantum sunt entia, oportet esse causam rerum, non solum secundum quod sunt talia per formas accidentales, nec secundum quod sunt haec per formas substantiales, sed etiam secundum omne illud quod pertinet ad esse illorum quocumque modo. Et sic oportet ponere etiam materiam primam creatam ab universali causa entium.

[Introductions and translations © R.E. Houser]