QUESTION 66: ON THE ORDER OF CREATION TOWARDS DISTINCTION
We must next consider the work of distinction; first, the ordering of
creation towards distinction; secondly, the distinction itself. Under the
first head there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether formlessness of created matter preceded in time its
(2) Whether the matter of all corporeal things is the same?
(3) Whether the empyrean heaven was created contemporaneously with
(4) Whether time was created simultaneously with it?
Article 1: Whether formlessness of created matter preceded in time its formation?
Objection 1: It would seem that formlessness of matter preceded in time its
formation. For it is said (Gn. 1:2): "The earth was void and empty," or
"invisible and shapeless," according to another version [*Septuagint]; by
which is understood the formlessness of matter, as Augustine says
(Confess. xii, 12). Therefore matter was formless until it received its
Objection 2: Further, nature in its working imitates the working of God, as a
secondary cause imitates a first cause. But in the working of nature
formlessness precedes form in time. It does so, therefore, in the Divine
Objection 3: Further, matter is higher than accident, for matter is part of
substance. But God can effect that accident exist without substance, as
in the Sacrament of the Altar. He could, therefore, cause matter to exist
On the contrary, An imperfect effect proves imperfection in the agent.
But God is an agent absolutely perfect; wherefore it is said of Him (Dt. 32:4): "The works of God are perfect." Therefore the work of His creation
was at no time formless. Further, the formation of corporeal creatures
was effected by the work of distinction. But confusion is opposed to
distinction, as formlessness to form. It, therefore, formlessness
preceded in time the formation of matter, it follows that at the
beginning confusion, called by the ancients chaos, existed in the
I answer that, On this point holy men differ in opinion. Augustine for
instance (Gen. ad lit. i, 15), believes that the formlessness of matter
was not prior in time to its formation, but only in origin or the order
of nature, whereas others, as Basil (Hom. ii In Hexaem.), Ambrose (In
Hexaem. i), and Chrysostom (Hom. ii In Gen.), hold that formlessness of
matter preceded in time its formation. And although these opinions seem
mutually contradictory, in reality they differ but little; for Augustine
takes the formlessness of matter in a different sense from the others. In
his sense it means the absence of all form, and if we thus understand it
we cannot say that the formlessness of matter was prior in time either to
its formation or to its distinction. As to formation, the argument is
clear. For it formless matter preceded in duration, it already existed;
for this is implied by duration, since the end of creation is being in
act: and act itself is a form. To say, then, that matter preceded, but
without form, is to say that being existed actually, yet without act,
which is a contradiction in terms. Nor can it be said that it possessed
some common form, on which afterwards supervened the different forms that
distinguish it. For this would be to hold the opinion of the ancient
natural philosophers, who maintained that primary matter was some
corporeal thing in act, as fire, air, water, or some intermediate
substance. Hence, it followed that to be made means merely to be changed;
for since that preceding form bestowed actual substantial being, and made
some particular thing to be, it would result that the supervening form
would not simply make an actual being, but 'this' actual being; which is
the proper effect of an accidental form. Thus the consequent forms would
be merely accidents, implying not generation, but alteration. Hence we
must assert that primary matter was not created altogether formless, nor
under any one common form, but under distinct forms. And so, if the
formlessness of matter be taken as referring to the condition of primary
matter, which in itself is formless, this formlessness did not precede in
time its formation or distinction, but only in origin and nature, as
Augustine says; in the same way as potentiality is prior to act, and the
part to the whole. But the other holy writers understand by formlessness,
not the exclusion of all form, but the absence of that beauty and
comeliness which are now apparent in the corporeal creation. Accordingly
they say that the formlessness of corporeal matter preceded its form in
duration. And so, when this is considered, it appears that Augustine
agrees with them in some respects, and in others disagrees, as will be
shown later (Question , Article ; Question , Article ).
As far as may be gathered from the text of Genesis a threefold beauty
was wanting to corporeal creatures, for which reason they are said to be
without form. For the beauty of light was wanting to all that transparent
body which we call the heavens, whence it is said that "darkness was upon
the fact of the deep." And the earth lacked beauty in two ways: first,
that beauty which it acquired when its watery veil was withdrawn, and so
we read that "the earth was void," or "invisible," inasmuch as the waters
covered and concealed it from view; secondly, that which it derives from
being adorned by herbs and plants, for which reason it is called "empty,"
or, according to another reading [*Septuagint], "shapeless"---that is,
unadorned. Thus after mention of two created natures, the heaven and the
earth, the formlessness of the heaven is indicated by the words,
"darkness was upon the face of the deep," since the air is included under
heaven; and the formlessness of the earth, by the words, "the earth was
void and empty."
Reply to Objection 1: The word earth is taken differently in this passage by
Augustine, and by other writers. Augustine holds that by the words
"earth" and "water," in this passage. primary matter itself is signified
on account of its being impossible for Moses to make the idea of such
matter intelligible to an ignorant people, except under the similitude of
well-known objects. Hence he uses a variety of figures in speaking of it,
calling it not water only, nor earth only, lest they should think it to
be in very truth water or earth. At the same time it has so far a
likeness to earth, in that it is susceptible of form, and to water in its
adaptability to a variety of forms. In this respect, then, the earth is
said to be "void and empty," or "invisible and shapeless," that matter is
known by means of form. Hence, considered in itself, it is called
"invisible" or "void," and its potentiality is completed by form; thus
Plato says that matter is "place" [*Timaeus, quoted by Aristotle, Phys.
iv, text. 15]. But other holy writers understand by earth the element of
earth, and we have said (Article ) how, in this sense, the earth was,
according to them, without form.
Reply to Objection 2: Nature produces effect in act from being in potentiality;
and consequently in the operations of nature potentiality must precede
act in time, and formlessness precede form. But God produces being in act
out of nothing, and can, therefore, produce a perfect thing in an
instant, according to the greatness of His power.
Reply to Objection 3: Accident, inasmuch as it is a form, is a kind of act;
whereas matter, as such, is essentially being in potentiality. Hence it
is more repugnant that matter should be in act without form, than for
accident to be without subject.
In reply to the first argument in the contrary sense, we say that if,
according to some holy writers, formlessness was prior in time to the
informing of matter, this arose, not from want of power on God's part,
but from His wisdom, and from the design of preserving due order in the
disposition of creatures by developing perfection from imperfection.
In reply to the second argument, we say that certain of the ancient
natural philosophers maintained confusion devoid of all distinction;
except Anaxagoras, who taught that the intellect alone was distinct and
without admixture. But previous to the work of distinction Holy Scripture
enumerates several kinds of differentiation, the first being that of the
heaven from the earth, in which even a material distinction is expressed,
as will be shown later (Article ; Question , Article ). This is signified by the
words, "In the beginning God created heaven and earth." The second
distinction mentioned is that of the elements according to their forms,
since both earth and water are named. That air and fire are not mentioned
by name is due to the fact that the corporeal nature of these would not
be so evident as that of earth and water, to the ignorant people to whom
Moses spoke. Plato (Timaeus xxvi), nevertheless, understood air to be
signified by the words, "Spirit of God," since spirit is another name for
air, and considered that by the word heaven is meant fire, for he held
heaven to be composed of fire, as Augustine relates (De Civ. Dei viii,
11). But Rabbi Moses (Perplex. ii), though otherwise agreeing with Plato,
says that fire is signified by the word darkness, since, said he, fire
does not shine in its own sphere. However, it seems more reasonable to
hold to what we stated above; because by the words "Spirit of God"
Scripture usually means the Holy Ghost, Who is said to "move over the
waters," not, indeed, in bodily shape, but as the craftsman's will may be
said to move over the material to which he intends to give a form. The
third distinction is that of place; since the earth is said to be under
the waters that rendered it invisible, whilst the air, the subject of
darkness, is described as being above the waters, in the words: "Darkness
was upon the face of the deep." The remaining distinctions will appear
from what follows (Question ).
Article 2: Whether the formless matter of all corporeal things is the same?
Objection 1: It would seem that the formless matter of all corporeal things is
the same. For Augustine says (Confess. xii, 12): "I find two things Thou
hast made, one formed, the other formless," and he says that the latter
was the earth invisible and shapeless, whereby, he says, the matter of
all corporeal things is designated. Therefore the matter of all
corporeal things is the same.
Objection 2: Further, the Philosopher says (Metaph. v, text. 10): "Things that
are one in genus are one in matter." But all corporeal things are in the
same genus of body. Therefore the matter of all bodies is the same.
Objection 3: Further, different acts befit different potentialities, and the
same act befits the same potentiality. But all bodies have the same form,
corporeity. Therefore all bodies have the same matter.
Objection 4: Further, matter, considered in itself, is only in potentiality.
But distinction is due to form. Therefore matter considered in itself is
the same in all corporeal things.
On the contrary, Things of which the matter is the same are mutually
interchangeable and mutually active or passive, as is said (De Gener. i,
text. 50). But heavenly and earthly bodies do not act upon each other
mutually. Therefore their matter is not the same.
I answer that, On this question the opinions of philosophers have
differed. Plato and all who preceded Aristotle held that all bodies are
of the nature of the four elements. Hence because the four elements have
one common matter, as their mutual generation and corruption prove, it
followed that the matter of all bodies is the same. But the fact of the
incorruptibility of some bodies was ascribed by Plato, not to the
condition of matter, but to the will of the artificer, God, Whom he
represents as saying to the heavenly bodies: "By your own nature you are
subject to dissolution, but by My will you are indissoluble, for My will
is more powerful than the link that binds you together." But this theory
Aristotle (De Caelo i, text. 5) disproves by the natural movements of
bodies. For since, he says, the heavenly bodies have a natural movement,
different from that of the elements, it follows that they have a
different nature from them. For movement in a circle, which is proper to
the heavenly bodies, is not by contraries, whereas the movements of the
elements are mutually opposite, one tending upwards, another downwards:
so, therefore, the heavenly body is without contrariety, whereas the
elemental bodies have contrariety in their nature. And as generation and
corruption are from contraries, it follows that, whereas the elements are
corruptible, the heavenly bodies are incorruptible. But in spite of this
difference of natural corruption and incorruption, Avicebron taught unity
of matter in all bodies, arguing from their unity of form. And, indeed,
if corporeity were one form in itself, on which the other forms that
distinguish bodies from each other supervene, this argument would
necessarily be true; for this form of corporeity would inhere in matter
immutably and so far all bodies would be incorruptible. But corruption
would then be merely accidental through the disappearance of successive
forms---that is to say, it would be corruption, not pure and simple, but
partial, since a being in act would subsist under the transient form.
Thus the ancient natural philosophers taught that the substratum of
bodies was some actual being, such as air or fire. But supposing that no
form exists in corruptible bodies which remains subsisting beneath
generation and corruption, it follows necessarily that the matter of
corruptible and incorruptible bodies is not the same. For matter, as it
is in itself, is in potentiality to form.
Considered in itself, then, it is in potentiality in respect to all
those forms to which it is common, and in receiving any one form it is in
act only as regards that form. Hence it remains in potentiality to all
other forms. And this is the case even where some forms are more perfect
than others, and contain these others virtually in themselves. For
potentiality in itself is indifferent with respect to perfection and
imperfection, so that under an imperfect form it is in potentiality to a
perfect form, and "vice versa." Matter, therefore, whilst existing under
the form of an incorruptible body, would be in potentiality to the form
of a corruptible body; and as it does not actually possess the latter, it
has both form and the privation of form; for want of a form in that which
is in potentiality thereto is privation. But this condition implies
corruptibility. It is therefore impossible that bodies by nature
corruptible, and those by nature incorruptible, should possess the same
Neither can we say, as Averroes [*De Substantia Orbis ii.] imagines,
that a heavenly body itself is the matter of the heaven---beings in
potentiality with regard to place, though not to being, and that its form
is a separate substance united to it as its motive force. For it is
impossible to suppose any being in act, unless in its totality it be act
and form, or be something which has act or form. Setting aside, then, in
thought, the separate substance stated to be endowed with motive power,
if the heavenly body is not something having form---that is, something
composed of a form and the subject of that form---it follows that in its
totality it is form and act. But every such thing is something actually
understood, which the heavenly bodies are not, being sensible. It
follows, then, that the matter of the heavenly bodies, considered in
itself, is in potentiality to that form alone which it actually
possesses. Nor does it concern the point at issue to inquire whether this
is a soul or any other thing. Hence this form perfects this matter in
such a way that there remains in it no potentiality with respect to
being, but only to place, as Aristotle [*De Coelo i, text. 20] says. So,
then, the matter of the heavenly bodies and of the elements is not the
same, except by analogy, in so far as they agree in the character of
Reply to Objection 1: Augustine follows in this the opinion of Plato, who does
not admit a fifth essence. Or we may say that formless matter is one with
the unity of order, as all bodies are one in the order of corporeal
Reply to Objection 2: If genus is taken in a physical sense, corruptible and
incorruptible things are not in the same genus, on account of their
different modes of potentiality, as is said in Metaph. x, text. 26.
Logically considered, however, there is but one genus of all bodies,
since they are all included in the one notion of corporeity.
Reply to Objection 3: The form of corporeity is not one and the same in all
bodies, being no other than the various forms by which bodies are
distinguished, as stated above.
Reply to Objection 4: As potentiality is directed towards act, potential beings
are differentiated by their different acts, as sight is by color, hearing
by sound. Therefore for this reason the matter of the celestial bodies is
different from that of the elemental, because the matter of the celestial
is not in potentiality to an elemental form.
Article 3: Whether the empyrean heaven was created at the same time as formless matter?
Objection 1: It would seem that the empyrean heaven was not created at the
same time as formless matter. For the empyrean, if it is anything at all,
must be a sensible body. But all sensible bodies are movable, and the
empyrean heaven is not movable. For if it were so, its movement would be
ascertained by the movement of some visible body, which is not the case.
The empyrean heaven, then, was not created contemporaneously with
Objection 2: Further, Augustine says (De Trin. iii, 4) that "the lower bodies
are governed by the higher in a certain order." If, therefore, the
empyrean heaven is the highest of bodies, it must necessarily exercise
some influence on bodies below it. But this does not seem to be the case,
especially as it is presumed to be without movement; for one body cannot
move another unless itself also be moved. Therefore the empyrean heaven
was not created together with formless matter.
Objection 3: Further, if it is held that the empyrean heaven is the place of
contemplation, and not ordained to natural effects; on the contrary,
Augustine says (De Trin. iv, 20): "In so far as we mentally apprehend
eternal things, so far are we not of this world"; from which it is clear
that contemplation lifts the mind above the things of this world.
Corporeal place, therefore, cannot be the seat of contemplation.
Objection 4: Further, among the heavenly bodies exists a body, partly
transparent and partly luminous, which we call the sidereal heaven. There
exists also a heaven wholly transparent, called by some the aqueous or
crystalline heaven. If, then, there exists a still higher heaven, it must
be wholly luminous. But this cannot be, for then the air would be
constantly illuminated, and there would be no night. Therefore the
empyrean heaven was not created together with formless matter.
On the contrary, Strabus says that in the passage, "In the beginning God
created heaven and earth," heaven denotes not the visible firmament, but
the empyrean or fiery heaven.
I answer that, The empyrean heaven rests only on the authority of
Strabus and Bede, and also of Basil; all of whom agree in one respect,
namely, in holding it to be the place of the blessed. Strabus and Bede
say that as soon as created it was filled with angels; and Basil [*Hom.
ii. in Hexaem.] says: "Just as the lost are driven into the lowest
darkness, so the reward for worthy deeds is laid up in the light beyond
this world, where the just shall obtain the abode of rest." But they
differ in the reasons on which they base their statement. Strabus and
Bede teach that there is an empyrean heaven, because the firmament, which
they take to mean the sidereal heaven, is said to have been made, not in
the beginning, but on the second day: whereas the reason given by Basil
is that otherwise God would seem to have made darkness His first work, as
the Manicheans falsely assert, when they call the God of the Old
Testament the God of darkness. These reasons, however, are not very
cogent. For the question of the firmament, said to have been made on the
second day, is solved in one way by Augustine, and in another by other
holy writers. But the question of the darkness is explained according to
Augustine [*Gen. ad lit. i; vii.], by supposing that formlessness,
signified by darkness, preceded form not by duration, but by origin.
According to others, however, since darkness is no creature, but a
privation of light, it is a proof of Divine wisdom, that the things it
created from nothing it produced first of all in an imperfect state, and
afterwards brought them to perfection. But a better reason can be drawn
from the state of glory itself. For in the reward to come a two-fold
glory is looked for, spiritual and corporeal, not only in the human body
to be glorified, but in the whole world which is to be made new. Now the
spiritual glory began with the beginning of the world, in the blessedness
of the angels, equality with whom is promised to the saints. It was
fitting, then, that even from the beginning, there should be made some
beginning of bodily glory in something corporeal, free at the very outset
from the servitude of corruption and change, and wholly luminous, even as
the whole bodily creation, after the Resurrection, is expected to be. So,
then, that heaven is called the empyrean, i.e. fiery, not from its heat,
but from its brightness. It is to be noticed, however, that Augustine (De
Civ. Dei x, 9,27) says that Porphyry sets the demons apart from the
angels by supposing that the former inhabit the air, the latter the
ether, or empyrean. But Porphyry, as a Platonist, held the heaven, known
as sidereal, to be fiery, and therefore called it empyrean or ethereal,
taking ethereal to denote the burning of flame, and not as Aristotle
understands it, swiftness of movement (De Coel. i, text. 22). This much
has been said to prevent anyone from supposing that Augustine maintained
an empyrean heaven in the sense understood by modern writers.
Reply to Objection 1: Sensible corporeal things are movable in the present state
of the world, for by the movement of corporeal creatures is secured by
the multiplication of the elements. But when glory is finally
consummated, the movement of bodies will cease. And such must have been
from the beginning the condition of the empyrean.
Reply to Objection 2: It is sufficiently probable, as some assert, that the
empyrean heaven, having the state of glory for its ordained end, does not
influence inferior bodies of another order---those, namely, that are
directed only to natural ends. Yet it seems still more probable that it
does influence bodies that are moved, though itself motionless, just as
angels of the highest rank, who assist [*Infra, Question , Article ], influence
those of lower degree who act as messengers, though they themselves are
not sent, as Dionysius teaches (Coel. Hier. xii). For this reason it may
be said that the influence of the empyrean upon that which is called the
first heaven, and is moved, produces therein not something that comes and
goes as a result of movement, but something of a fixed and stable nature,
as the power of conservation or causation, or something of the kind
pertaining to dignity.
Reply to Objection 3: Corporeal place is assigned to contemplation, not as
necessary, but as congruous, that the splendor without may correspond to
that which is within. Hence Basil (Hom. ii in Hexaem.) says: "The
ministering spirit could not live in darkness, but made his habitual
dwelling in light and joy."
Reply to Objection 4: As Basil says (Hom. ii in Hexaem.): "It is certain that the
heaven was created spherical in shape, of dense body, and sufficiently
strong to separate what is outside it from what it encloses. On this
account it darkens the region external to it, the light by which itself
is lit up being shut out from that region. "But since the body of the
firmament, though solid, is transparent, for that it does not exclude
light (as is clear from the fact that we can see the stars through the
intervening heavens), we may also say that the empyrean has light, not
condensed so as to emit rays, as the sun does, but of a more subtle
nature. Or it may have the brightness of glory which differs from mere
Article 4: Whether time was created simultaneously with formless matter?
Objection 1: It would seem that time was not created simultaneously with
formless matter. For Augustine says (Confess. xii, 12): "I find two
things that Thou didst create before time was, the primary corporeal
matter, and the angelic nature. "Therefore time was not created with
Objection 2: Further, time is divided by day and night. But in the beginning
there was neither day nor night, for these began when "God divided the
light from the darkness. "Therefore in the beginning time was not.
Objection 3: Further, time is the measure of the firmament's movement; and the
firmament is said to have been made on the second day. Therefore in the
beginning time was not.
Objection 4: Further, movement precedes time, and therefore should be reckoned
among the first things created, rather than time.
Objection 5: Further, as time is the extrinsic measure of created things, so
is place. Place, then, as truly as time, must be reckoned among the
things first created.
On the contrary, Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. i, 3): "Both spiritual and
corporeal creatures were created at the beginning of time."
I answer that, It is commonly said that the first things created were
these four---the angelic nature, the empyrean heaven, formless corporeal
matter, and time. It must be observed, however, that this is not the
opinion of Augustine. For he (Confess. xii, 12) specifies only two things
as first created---the angelic nature and corporeal matter---making no
mention of the empyrean heaven. But these two, namely, the angelic nature
and formless matter, precede the formation, by nature only, and not by
duration; and therefore, as they precede formation, so do they precede
movement and time. Time, therefore, cannot be included among them. But
the enumeration above given is that of other holy writers, who hold that
the formlessness of matter preceded by duration its form, and this view
postulates the existence of time as the measure of duration: for
otherwise there would be no such measure.
Reply to Objection 1: The teaching of Augustine rests on the opinion that the
angelic nature and formless matter precede time by origin or nature.
Reply to Objection 2: As in the opinion of some holy writers matter was in some
measure formless before it received its full form, so time was in a
manner formless before it was fully formed and distinguished into day and
Reply to Objection 3: If the movement of the firmament did not begin immediately
from the beginning, then the time that preceded was the measure, not of
the firmament's movement, but of the first movement of whatsoever kind.
For it is accidental to time to be the measure of the firmament's
movement, in so far as this is the first movement. But if the first
movement was another than this, time would have been its measure, for
everything is measured by the first of its kind. And it must be granted
that forthwith from the beginning, there was movement of some kind, at
least in the succession of concepts and affections in the angelic mind:
while movement without time cannot be conceived, since time is nothing
else than "the measure of priority and succession in movement."
Reply to Objection 4: Among the first created things are to be reckoned those
which have a general relationship to things. And, therefore, among these
time must be included, as having the nature of a common measure; but not
movement, which is related only to the movable subject.
Reply to Objection 5: Place is implied as existing in the empyrean heaven, this
being the boundary of the universe. And since place has reference to
things permanent, it was created at once in its totality. But time, as
not being permanent, was created in its beginning: even as actually we
cannot lay hold of any part of time save the "now."