Chapter 11 - The Created Universe
GOD'S nature is one in utter simplicity; Yet the created universe in which He has chosen to mirror His nature is multitudinous and complex. God did not need to see Himself thus mirrored with all the perfections of the Infinite, and though that was HOW He created, it was not WHY He created. He created because He conceived all sorts of creatures capable of enjoying Him, and out of love for them He willed that they should have the chance. The multiplicity of the created universe seems to suit the abundance of His love, as the simplicity of the Infinite is reflected most glowingly by the vast complexity and variety of the finite.
Yet a merely chaotic complexity would not have conveyed God. The universe is not just a heap of things, each one showing the power of God in some measure. It is an ARRANGEMENT of things, ordered in their relations to each other by the amount of God's power each expresses. In short, the universe has a shape; its various elements have a place and a function:
underlying the multiplicity of things is the unifying design of God making one universe of them.
We see one vast principle of differentiation producing the two major divisions of created being. All things are made by God: but some things He has made IN HIS LIKENESS: other things not so. The things made in His likeness are spirit. The rest is made of matter. And there is one being, man, in whom both sorts are combined.
The universe God has made is of these two sorts. Material things God simply makes; but when He comes to the making of man, He says: Let us make man to our own image and likeness
and this He can say because man's soul is a spirit as God Himself is.
He might well have said this already of the angels, for they also are spirit. Yet this must not lead us to any contempt of matter, for it is His workmanship too. He has uttered it, and it can utter Him to us. The heavens show forth the glory of the Lord, so does everything - from dust to archangel – by being what God made it to be, but the heavens more spectacularly than either, and you and I have never seen an archangel at all.
In order to see why created spirits are in the likeness of God, as merely material beings are not, we must return to the meaning of spirit. Spirit is that being which has a permanent hold upon its own nature, which cannot be changed into anything else, which can be only itself. Spirit is the being that knows and loves. Both statements, with limitations proper to the finite, are true of angels and the souls of men; and are not true of matter. Material being cannot know or love; and has no permanent hold upon what it is at any given moment: it can always be changed into something else.
What we have here are real differences of being. Spirit has more being than matter. We are more accustomed to think of what things do than of what they are; that is the ways in which they act upon our senses or our mind, in plain words what they do TO US. So that even our consideration of what they are is still a consideration of what they do. It might help if we realized that BE-ing is a kind of doing, like thinking - but a profounder doing. If we could say "Spirit BE-s more than matter BE-s", the truth there stated would hit the mind more powerfully. Anyhow, spirit IS more than matter IS, there is more TO it, it HAS more being, it DOES more being.
The amount of anything’s being is the amount of its response to the power of God: and this response depends upon what God conceives it as having and wills it to have. As what He IS, God is present to all things equally, sustaining them in existence; but as what He DOES, He is present to them variously according to the amount of being He wills that they shall have. He wills that some things shall have more being than others: the measure of every creature's being is the power God gives it to reflect God. Spirit has more BE-ing than matter. For the moment let us consider these two major divisions as a whole.
We might at this stage consider our concept of being as at three levels:
Infinite Spirit, Created Spirit & Matter.
Infinite Spirit, the Absolute, does not belong in the same series as finite spirit. Strictly speaking, we are not rising step by step from matter to angels to God. The gulf between infinite and finite being is so vast that differences between one finite being and another, be it between the highest and lowest, are derisory by comparison. We can see this by seeing how far even the beings made in God's likeness fall short of that God in whose likeness they are. Spirit, remember, has a firm hold upon its own nature. Angels and human souls are immortal. And by comparison with matter's transience this is a great glory. But their hold upon existence depends upon their, having been brought into existence and being continuously maintained in existence, for they too were made of nothing; and in them as in all created things there is a certain element of nothingness. God, on the other hand, possesses His nature by no gift but by its own necessity; and there is no negative element to dim His utter positivity. But, this said, we can return to consider the glory of spirit in the created order. Its permanence is conditional, but the condition will not fail. Its permanence is as certain as matter's transience.
This transience of matter is worth a second glance. We have already seen that any material thing can become some other material thing because it does not possess its being in one single simple reality, but dispersed in parts in such a way that one part is not another. This dispersion in parts has two consequences: matter occupies space: and again, its parts can be broken up, subtracted, added to so that it is no longer the kind of material being it was, but some other kind; and this other kind is just as much subject to change, and so on endlessly. From the moment matter begins to be, it begins to change.
We have already seen things graded according to the amount of being in them. Equally they can be graded according to their subjection to change. The two gradings will give the same order because they are two aspects of the one fact. Change is always due to something lacking: the more defective a thing is in being, the more it is subject to change; the more perfect the being, the less it is subject to change. Thus, the INFINITE BEING having all perfections is utterly changeless. Nothing else is. Every created being, however glorious, contains a certain negative element, lacks something, from the fact that it is made of nothing.
And the Council of Florence tells us that creatures are
good, of course, because they are made by the Supreme Good,
but mutable because they are made of nothing.
But all are not subject to change to the same extent.
CREATED SPIRIT, having no parts, cannot suffer SUBSTANTIAL change; that is to say it can never become something else. Yet it is not therefore totally exempt from change. It can, for instance, have a change of operation, as when an angel is sent to announce the birth of Christ, or a human soul passes from one intellectual activity to another; it can change its relation to other beings, God above all, but finite beings too; it can receive new knowledge, it can love more, or less. All these are what we call accidental changes, changes in a creature's qualities or operations or relations which leave it still itself.
With MATTER we have of course ceaseless accidental change and the ever-present threat, of substantial change, of being so changed that it ceases to be what it was and becomes something else. Change is almost matter's definition. We have three relations to change - the utter changelessness of God; the substantial permanence combined with occasional accidental change that belongs to spirit; and the liability to substantial change and the continuous accidental change that goes with matter. To each of these three corresponds its own kind of duration. For the changelessness of GOD there is ETERNITY; for the continuous changefulness of MATTER there is TIME. Time is the duration of that which changes, as eternity is the duration of that which does not change. But what of spirit? Because it knows change at all, even if only accidental change, it is not in eternity; but because the changes it knows are not continuous, it is not exactly in time, either. The spirit does indeed know a before and after. If God gives an angel a particular revelation, for instance, then something in the angelic mind is aware of his state when he did not have the revelation and his state when he has it. But there is nothing in the nature of spirit that requires these changes; they happen when they happen, they do not bring change into his nature itself; and in between, the spirit rests in the changeless possession of what he has. His NOW is more closely akin to the abiding now of eternity than to the flowing now of time. For his duration, too, there is a word - the word aevum or AEVETERNITY, the duration of that which in its essence or substance knows no change: though by its accidents it can know change, and to that extent is in time too, but a sort of discontinuous time, not the ever-flowing time of matter.
Aeviternity is the proper sphere of every created spirit, and therefore of the human soul. But the soul's special relation to the matter of the human body gives it a necessary and proper relation to continuous time (which is the body's duration) which other spirits are not troubled by. At death, this distracting relation to matter's time ceases to affect the soul, so that it can experience its proper aeviternity. But during this life, time presses upon the soul, if only by way of the heartbeats that never cease. The soul can become too much immersed in matter, in the limitations of time and space and change. Love of change is a disease that the soul contracts from the body - one sure symptom of it is the inability to contemplate. During contemplation, time really does stand still for the soul, which is one reason why we should practice it: for it means practicing the soul in its own proper element.
We have discussed WHY God created the universe and HOW, and we have had a first glance at WHAT He created. Before going on to a fuller examination of WHAT, we might glance at the question WHEN - that is to say at what time did God create the universe. Time is the duration of that which changes; time is a measure of change. Either way, unless there is in existence a being that changes, there is no time either.
There is in existence a kind of being, namely MATTER, which is in ceaseless change. TIME is the measurement of CHANGE. Apart from a being whose changes time measures, time is nothing at all. Creation means that God, who is infinite and possesses the whole of His being in one single act of being, brought into existence a universe which does not possess its being thus in one single act, but part by part, spread out in SPACE and moment by moment, spread out in TIME. Space and time express its finitude. As has already been noted, we may like think of both space and time as ways of expressing the division of our universe into parts: SPACE is the division into parts which coexist; TIME is the division into parts which follow one another. But either way space and time are not realities that can exist apart from the universe. As we have seen, time may be thought of as the ticking of the universe as it works out its existence from moment to moment. Time and the universe began together. From the moment the universe existed, it began to tick. Naturally there was no ticking before there was anything to tick.
We may say quite literally that there never was a time when the universe did not exist, which does not at all mean that the universe did not have a beginning, but only that when the universe did not exist, time did not exist either, time began when the universe began.
In St. Augustine's phrase,
Obviously, the world was made not IN time but WITH time.
So that the question when was the universe created, can only mean HOW LONG AGO was it created? Did the material universe have such a FIRST moment, in any sense a beginning? Personally, I feel that even if the mind had to make its decision without aid from God, it would opt for a beginning. A succession that did not begin bothers the mind, as it is not bothered by a succession that will not end.
Whether the universe had a beginning or not, it does not contain within itself the reason for its own existence, so that its existence can be accounted for only by a being who is in Himself the sufficient reason for His own existence. God must have made it, and made it as to its totality. God Himself has told us. The human writers wrote what God willed them to write so that He is Himself the guarantor of the truths they set down. And the first book of Scripture in its first sentence tells us:
In the beginning God made the heavens and the earth.
The Church has amplified this. The Fourth Council of the Lateran defined that God
by His almighty power created together in the beginning of time both creatures,
the Spiritual and the Corporeal, namely the Angelic and the earthly, and afterwards] the human, as it were a common creature, composed of spirit and body.
So, there WAS a first moment. But how long ago? Genesis does not say: nor does the Church.
Men have thought to get a scriptural statement as to the age of the world by taking the age at which each of the patriarchs, from Adam onwards, begot a son and have worked out something like four thousand years as lying between the creation of Adam and the birth of Our Lord. But we have no reason to think that the writer of the first book of the Old Testament was any more concerned to give us all the intervening names in the genealogy of Abraham than was the writer of the first book of the New Testament to give us all the intervening names in the genealogy of Christ Our Lord. St. Matthew, as he tells us, makes a pattern of generations, fourteen from Abraham to David, fourteen from David to the captivity in Babylon, fourteen from the captivity to Christ.
To keep the numbers equal he omits names. He knew, and his Jewish readers knew, and he knew that they knew, that his word "begot" occasionally jumps three or four generations. He was not giving a measure of time. His object was to establish a line of descent. There is no reason why the writer of Genesis should not likewise have omitted names, and some reason to think that he did. For he, too, has a pattern: ten generations from Adam to the Flood, ten generations from the Flood to Abraham. His object, too, was to establish a line of descent, not to give a measure of time. The truth is that Genesis is concerned with the things that matter vitally in God's own nature and in His dealings with the human soul, and the "date" of creation is not one of them. But how long ago did it all happen? It would be interesting to know, of course - but it would be almost frivolous to think that it matters very much in comparison with the things that Genesis does tell us.