THE ARCHITECT AT WORK
The story of the world
HISTORY has been described as a blend of art and philosophy. Too much history has been, in actual practice, a blend of fiction and fact. Whatever its components or mode of procedure, it usually makes for comfortable reading even when its matter is unpleasant; we can be calm, detached, judicious about it. After all, these men are not going to rise from the dead and challenge us to debate or duel; the past is securely dead and we can look on its face as securely as we would on the corpse of an enemy, totalling up its mistakes, jibing at its incompetencies, smiling at its pretensions, stifling its protests as easily and majestically as we silence a radio commentator.
A story that must be told
We can be entirely impersonal about history, that is, about most history. Detailed accounts of men, of nations, of races, even of hundreds of centuries can pass before our eyes, as thousands of cases pass before a judge’s bench, leaving our lives untouched, our appetites unimpaired, our satisfaction with ourselves undisturbed. When we dig a little deeper and strike the rock bottom of the story of activity, it is an altogether different question; we cannot shrug off the fundamental history of the world for this is an intensely personal matter.
The mere contact of the world of reality with a human intellect arouses difficulties; and no one, as yet, has succeeded in avoiding that contact. Nor is it a matter of specialized difficulties particularly prepared for the palate of an historian or a philosopher; some of these difficulties plague the steps of every man and woman born into the world. They clamor for an answer with an insistence that is almost uncouth; they will not be put off, silenced, brushed aside and on their answer depends the whole course of human life in every age. Men have to know how the world came about; of what it was made; what was the model for this stupendous work; why it was made at all and when; whence comes the immense variety in the world and why; what keeps it going.
Clearly the answers to such questions cannot fall into the classification of a soothing bedtime story with which we calm our hearts in preparation for death, as we calm the children before sending them off to undergo the mysterious risk of sleep’s oblivion. This cannot be the pleasant fiction with which we dissipate the isolation of a cold winter evening, peopling the house with shadowy guests. This is not a tale of the past buried with the past; it is a story of the past that molds the present. On the basis of it, men live their lives wisely or insanely, hopefully or despairingly, courageously or cringing in cowardice, successfully or in miserable failure.
A story from which the architect cannot be omitted.
It might reasonably be objected that this book, as a companion to the Summa, is a theological book. If that means anything, it means a book about God: why not stick to the proper subject matter of such a book and leave the consideration of the world to scientists and philosophers? It is certainly true that this is a theological book and that theology deals with God. Let the objector be assured that the proper subject matter of theology will be closely adhered to in this book, as it is in St. Thomas’ masterpiece; here, as there, whatever the immediate matter of discussion, be it heaven or hell, sin or virtue, mud or stars, saint or sinner, the youth of the world or the agelessness of Cod, everything will be treated precisely in its reference to God.
It is less astonishing that a theological book should treat of the world than that a book about the world should attempt to omit a consideration of God. As a matter of fact, God has something to do with, some part to play in, the unfolding of every act in the drama of the universe. Indeed, nothing in the whole universe is adequately considered, nothing is truly seen, truly located, truly evaluated, until it is considered in relation to God. Like everything we say about God, calling Him the architect of the universe is decidedly inadequate. After all, an architect is responsible only for the form of the house; if he has left his plans handy, the construction of the house can get along very well without him. The house once finished, the architect slips away into the obscure regions of his office; the rest of the story of the house and the human drama that unfolds within it is completely outside the scope of a blueprint. God is the architect of the universe; but He is also its builders its sustainer, its governor, the source of its life, and its activity, its goal.
A philosopher looks at the world in the flickering light of human reason, tirelessly carrying on his endless search for the last answers as they are open to the human mind. Theology too looks for last answers. But it is much more than human wisdom. It is the supreme wisdom which, gazing down from the far horizons of eternity, with the background of infinite experience and under the floodlight of the first Truth gives that mellowed, rounded judgment that is the last, the adequate, the satisfying answer to the world and its smallest detail.
Theology has indeed something to say of the world. As a matter of fact, we started off our theological considerations with the world. That primary consideration, however, took the world merely as a starting point, a jumping-off-place for an expedition into divinity. We have not, as yet, attempted to consider the created world in itself; rather, talking a small, obvious fact of the world — such as the movement of an eyelash, the perfection of a stone, the order revealed in a human eye — we mounted to the heights of the life of God
The unfolding of the story
In this chapter we start a detailed examination of the world. A plunge into the mass of detail in that world might easily cost us proper perspective, trapping us into mistaking an ant-hill for a mountain. It will be much better to stand off a little, trying for a general view of the country we are about to invade, tracing its main outlines, fitting its salient features well in our minds, familiarizing ourselves with the topography of the country, at least in a rough fashion, before we set out on our journey. That general view is the goal of this present chapter.
Beginning with the next chapter, and continuing through all the rest of the book, we shall examine the world in detail. We shall look thoroughly into the spiritual world, the material world and into that doubly mysterious world that is part spirit and part material, the world of man. Throughout this chapter and all the others, we shall be considering God: not God as He is in Himself, His nature, the Trinity of divine person — that has all been done; but God as creatures proceeded from Him. God the Creator and Governor of the world.
The cause of the world
The story of the world is not a detective thriller. Consequently the purpose of such a story is not to confuse the mind, hide the answers, or appeal to impossible explanations. It is a story that must be told quickly, clearly and completely; for all men must have all of it accurately before they can begin the absorbing task of human living. Yet it is by no means a simple story; the created world it explains furnishes the philosopher with such fundamental problems as the many proceeding from the one without injury to that unity, and the action of the first cause, and purpose in a world too big for the philosopher’s mind to grasp its plan. The difficulties of the man who is no philosopher and the mysteries that besiege the mind of the man who is trying hard to be a philosopher are not, as a matter of fact, wholly different things. They coalesce in the central problem of the cause of the created universe: what is its efficient cause and how does this cause work; what was its material cause; its formal or exemplary cause; its final cause or end? Along the lines of this fourfold question the story of the world must unfold.
The fact of the cause
In the second chapter of this book, we have seen that the efficient cause of the world can only be God. There we saw that the only possible explanation of the existence of the created world was a completely independent first cause upon which every creature, every activity, even motion, every mark of intelligence, every bit of order depends. The question here, then, is not one of God’s existence and His first causality; rather it is a question of penetrating into the manner of operation of God. How did He work? How was the created world actually produced?
The manner of the worlds production:
Dualistic explanations: A principle of perfection and of imperfection
Many philosophers jumped at the obvious answer of dualism. There was much perfection in the world; and there was much imperfection. They proceeded to their solution as a man might conclude there was a masculine and a feminine influence at work in an apartment where one room was a model of neatness, everything folded and packed away so that nothing could be found, while another room showed a cluttered desk, heaped chairs and littered floors with everything in instant reach of one’s hand. These philosophers decided that there were two first principles one of complete perfection, the other of complete imperfection; from the principle of imperfection, the principle of perfection worked out the creatures of the world. The solution was quick, obvious and worthless.
As a matter of fact, there simply cannot be two first principles, as we have seen in treating of the existence of God. Moreover, this principle of imperfection, while dependent on another for every development, is yet independent in existence; which is like saying that a man has everything but humanity, or a dog lacks nothing but canine qualities A dependent first principle of being comes as close to reality as a hollow shell without an external surface.
A principle of good and of evil
This, however, does not discourage the dualists. They come forth with another variety of solution that seems more plausible but, actually, is just as hopelessly contradictory. Because there was good in the world and also very much evil, and because evil is so unalterably opposed to good, the universe was explained by two principles, each supreme in its own field: one of good, the other of evil. These two do not work together, nor one upon the other, bust against one another; good is the triumph of the principle of good, evil is a memorial of a battle where the principle of good was defeated by the principle of evil. It sometimes happens that the Christian truths of God and the devil are given this interpretation; perhaps Satan relishes this sort of thing, but it is empty of truth. But, then, truth must be a bitter dose to one in the devil’s position.
Again the explanation is quick, obvious and worthless. A principle of evil supreme in its own field would be essentially evil, that is, it would have no good in it. That statement sounds rather solid, if a man stops thinking immediately. The trouble is that evil is not something positive, something one can put a finger on; the very essence of evil demands that it elude your finger, it is something missing, a defect. To have an evil at all, there must be a good capable of having holes in it for evil is precisely the hole in good. Immediately we concentrate on evil in any one order, the absurdity of a supreme evil becomes manifest. Evil, for instance, in the moral order, is a violation of reason, an unreasonable act; if, then, moral evil be absolutely complete, reason itself is destroyed to the destruction of the very possibility of moral evil. In a word, evil, if it be complete, destroys itself. Of course there is always something good to say about a bad thing; a filthy book will always have something good about it — it will be beautifully written, have a strong binding, or at least be cheap. There has to be something good in it or there could be nothing bad; the outstanding characteristic, then, of a first principle of evil would have to be, from the very nature of evil, its non-existence.
Evil cannot be a first principle for evil supposes good, in which alone it can exist; it cannot be independent, existing of itself, for that is its destruction. Moreover, evil does not appear suddenly, for no reason and from nowhere, like the words that pop out of a giddy, empty head. Evil must be brought about, it must have a cause. Of course it has no formal cause, it is the defect or privation of form to some degree. Neither has it a final cause, for it is essentially a privation of order to an end. To look for a material cause of evil does not mean looking for something from which to make evil, like hunting for the material for paper dolls; it means searching for some apt location for evil, a location that can be nothing else than a good. As for efficient cause, well, evil is always a by-product; it is never produced directly. It cannot be an efficient cause itself, for it is a defect; it cannot have an efficient cause, except indirectly, as the death of a carrot has its cause in the rabbit’s direct action to nourish itself. In other words, evil’s outstanding quality is one of complete dependence; whereas a first principle is outstandingly independent.
If we place evil in the human order as a first principle, we are establishing as a first cause either sin or punishment; for evil affecting man is either a defect of integrity or a defect in act, the first a punishment, at least of original sin, the second, sin itself. Strange qualities, indeed, to propose as ultimate explanations of anything. But, as far as that goes, all dualism is strange, as strange as a myopic man stubbornly insisting that there is nothing beyond what he can see. That is, in fact, the fundamental error of dualism: it is near-sighted. It focuses on particular causes, blinds itself to universal causality; it cannot see over the hill, so there is nothing beyond the hill. It sees only particular effects and makes its sweeping judgment from them, or it sees the contrariety of particular causes and concludes to contrariety in the very fundamentals of causality. These are the blind who insist on leading others; the marvel is that they can find so many ditches to fall into.
Dualism attempts to explain the diversity of the world by a diversity of principles; at the other extreme is monism, explaining that diversity on the basis of a single principle. Of its multiple forms, three which are fundamental are worth detailed consideration.
Pantheism solves the problem by denying it. It is the original sin of Eastern philosophy and the proud child of ultra-modern American philosophical parents. To its mind there is no question of the world coming from God, or from anything else; the world is God, a manifestation of the absolute that is identical with it. The world is an internal evolution of the divine substance.
The ancient philosophers advanced this denial of the problem to avoid what seemed to them a rupture of the unity of being; it was an escape from the apparently unbridgeable chasm between the finite and the infinite, it side-stepped the apparent contradiction of the addition of Created beings to the sum of the infinite to the impossible total of more than infinite being. The moderns advance it as a necessity for the philosopher who would keep pace with science, as a means of the preservation of the unity and hierarchy of being, and as the essential condition for keeping knowledge where it belongs — in the realm of science. The older cause of this explanation of the universe was intellectual cowardice: in face of the difficulty of a solution, the problem was denied; this led, as most cowardice does, to still more awesome difficulties. The modern adoption of the same explanation is rather an intellectual betrayal, an assassination by strangulation of the one faculty that could recognize the problem and find an answer for it.
Both lead to the same absurdities: the identification of the perfect and the imperfect, the contingent and the necessary, the free and the forced, matter and spirit, ani mal and angel. Both have so perverted the intellect as to have it swallow calmly the identification of opposites which normally nauseates it. In doing away with the difficulty they do away with God; in explaining away the necessity of the first cause, they destroy the cause itself. They do not meet the problem courageously; faced with it, they collapse and blow out their brains.
The second monistic explanation is a widespread favorite today, the explanation of evolution. Let it be well understood that evolution, as an explanation of the universe, is not a working scientific hypothesis but a philosophic thesis; and it is precisely under its philosophical aspect that we are dealing with it here. Logically it is pantheism; it is admitted as such by many of its modern adherents. To others, that logical connection is not evident; they insist it is not pantheism, either because there is no God or because the god they admit has none of the attributes of the first cause, that is, their god has everything but divinity. We shall go into this philosophical evolution later on in this book, in treating of the origin of man.
For the present it will suffice to point out that evolution like pantheism, is not an explanation but a denial of all explanation. Some primary stuff, eternal or mysteriously giving birth to itself, slowly and inexorably developed, by chance and an equally mysterious environment, into the complicated world we know as the universe. Or, in another form, a mysterious life-force, utterly imperfect, has blindly, necessarily surged its way up through matter (which is unexplained) into the perfections we know to day. In this second form, there is no universe, no material world; only the process of perfection without a perfected substance, a process that does not stop long enough for us to know it. It is a river of undetermined origin ceaselessly flowing to undetermined seas; or, rather, the flowing without the river into seas without water.
Both these philosophical forms of evolution are very, very old; both have undergone face-lifting operations, both now travel by plane and dress in adolescent clothes to prove they are modern. The immediate, and modern, cause of this evolutionary explanation has undoubtedly been the mistaken effort to make a philosophy out of a scientific method. More profound reasons were the intellectual suicide of philosophy, following the devastating assumptions of a chasm between the mental and physical world, and the religious rationalism of Reformation times whose logical conclusion was the exaltation of human nature to the pinnacle of the universe by debasing it to the level of the material universe.
Whatever the explanation of its origin, evolution, as an answer to the questions evoked by the created world, fails. In its scientific form, it offers a highly plausible explanation of how the universe unfolded; in none of its forms does it offer an explanation of why the universe unfolded at all, or why and how there was a universe. A process is not an explanation but a demand for an explanation. Piling millions of years on a question does not smother the insistent query; it merely betrays fear of the question and despair of the answer. Slowing up the process to a hobbling pace does not change the problem nor its demand for a solution.
Creation, the third monistic explanation, is offered us by our faith and forced on us by our reason. It is commonly defined as “making something out of nothing”; a description that, while not inaccurate, is subject to misunderstanding. More properly, creation is defined as the production of an effect independently of any pre-existing subject; it is, in a word, the production of the whole being of a thing. The world was produced by the first cause in the way proper to that first cause, that is, with complete independence; if we maintain that there was anything upon which to depend, we have simply pushed the problem back and denied that this particular cause was first. Complete independence in action means production independently of any pre-existing subject.
The proofs for this explanation of the universe are those already given for the existence of God. Either this was the way things were produced or there are no things; there is no other way to account for the universe. Nor is this merely a question of accounting for the big things, mountains, continents, planets and stars; the question extends to the smallest of things, a speck of dust, the wink of an eye. One cries out the existence of the first cause and His mode of action — creation — as loudly as the other, or as all together. Either there is a first cause or there are no effects; either that first cause created (if He acted at all) or He is not first.
Though creation is the only reasonable explanation of the universe, men have consistently fought it throughout the ages. Such resistance to reason obviously needs clarification. One cause undoubtedly has been stiff-necked intellectual pride which refuses to bow before a mystery; and creation, from the side of God, precisely as His divine action, is a mystery. It is the infinite operation of God, the same as His divine essence; the comprehension of this action of creation would be comprehension of divinity itself. We can prove the world cannot have come into existence any other way and we know it has come into existence; nor are we at all reasonable in rejecting creation on the grounds that all truths must fit into the mould of our finite minds. In fact, we confess to the unreasonableness of this demand in our easy acceptance of such mysteries as life, solar action on the planets and many others in the purely natural sphere.
Some men have seen creation as a glorified bit of magic, with God pulling worlds out of nothingness as a magician pulls rabbits out of a hat. The real difficulty here is not that something is produced from nothing; that, in fact, is a fundamental dogma of the evolutionary thesis on emergent perfections. The learned among the moderns do not shrink from this sort of thing; they rush to embrace it, especially if something is produced from nothing without adequate cause. Real intellectual repugnance lies rather in the admission of the production of something without a cause; in the mystery of creation, there are absolutely no grounds for this repugnance, for here the supreme cause is operating.
Other men hare rebelled at the effortless ease of God’s action in creation, refusing to accept such a notion as the motionless action by which the universe sprang into being, the omnipotence of the whispered command of God. They would, no doubt, feel better if the work of creation had cost God effort. Yet these same men are fairly reasonable when the same philosophical principle is at stake in other matters. They do not chase flies with a spray of machine gun bullets nor close their fist to punch their way through a fog; in these cases, they see clearly that the dominance of the agent proportions the movement and effort necessary to his action. They expect an ant to stagger under the weight of a bit of grass; if a stalwart athlete staggers into a stadium under the same weight, they can be sure they are witnessing comedy or insanity. But they rebel at the notion that absolute omnipotence should produce effects by mere command.
The creation of finite beings in no sense destroys the unity of being, as the pantheists feared. That unity is to I be found in God Who has all perfection eminently. Created beings do not add something to the sum total of being; they participate being. They do not limit the infinite, marking off the spot where the Creator ends and the creature begins; for limitation is not so much by points of distinction as it is by subsistence or independence. My being, for example, is not limited by the being of my hand or my arm, but rather limits their being. If the thousands who listen to an orator were dependent on him for their very being, then they would not limit his being, rather he would limit theirs for they are dependent on him, not he on them; precisely because these listeners are not dependent but independent of the orator, they do limit his being. If a search of the universe were to uncover one being independent of God, then there would be a limitation of God; until such a time, no multiplicity of created things adds to or limits the being of God.
There is one last point to be noted about creation. It is not only the only way in which the world could have come into existence, not only the only way in which the first cause could act to produce the world; it is an act uniquely proper to the first cause. Only God can produce something independently of any preexisting subject. This might be made clear by insisting that only a whole cause can produce the whole of being, that we can expect no more than partial effects from partial causes; and only God is a whole cause in the sense of possessing the full perfection of causality. The same truth comes out from a consideration of the effect of creation, namely, being. Thus a damp rag cannot produce all the soddening effects of a summer shower, for the rag only participates the sopping wetness which belongs essentially to rain; in the same way, no total effect such as creation demands can be expected from a cause that only participates being.
We can push this truth still further to point out that not only can no secondary cause of itself create, absolutely nothing in the universe, from the highest angel to the least of things, can be used by God as the instrument of creation. The closest anyone or anything comes to taking part in creation is the human mother who cooperates with God in the production of His masterpiece of humanity; she prepares the material destined for union with a spiritual soul that can come into being only by the direct action of God. It is not divine snobbishness that excludes all created causes from creative activity; there simply is nothing in the act of creation for a created cause to do. Given a choice between a sponge and a hammer for the work of driving a nail, we would, of course, select the hammer as the proper instrument, knowing well that an instrument must have its proper effect or there is no sense in using it. It would be too much to expect the sponge to stiffen up sufficiently to drive the nail; that simply is not the effect of a sponge. It is much too much to expect a Created cause to produce its proper effect when there is nothing, absolutely nothing, on which it might produce that effect.
The stuff of the world
With the efficient cause of the world determined and something of its nature and manner of operation understood, the rest of the story of the world tumbles over itself in its eagerness to get down on the pages before we write finis to the book. IF we appear to start off on another avenue in search of the stuff of the world or its model, we know very well that we are simply taking a circular stroll that will bring us back to the same delightful spot that is divinity.
The thought of our time almost makes it necessary to talk of the stuff of the world, the very phraseology implying, erroneously, that there was some pre-existent subject upon which divinity worked. In this erroneous sense, it is said that God Himself is the material cause, the stuff, of the world. But this is to slip back into the unhealthy, primeval slime of pantheism or evolution where both God and the intellect must die to keep a monster alive. It is true that only God is the sufficient explanation of the existence of the material of the universe. Even though we take this material in the sense of extreme imperfection which the philosophers designate by “prime matter”, it must still be traced to the first cause, the more so because of its utter dependence. It is positively childish to picture the material of the universe as the stuff from which God fashioned the universe much as a child fashions muddies from a handful of mud. That material is itself a part of the universe and can actually exist only as a part of the concrete things that make up that universe. It is not a prerequisite of creation but an effect of it; it is not something with which God must have started off, but something that must have started off from God’s act of creation.
The model of the world
The search for the model of the universe leads us even more directly to God. As intelligent effects do not pop out of nowhere without rhyme or reason, it is obvious that there must be a model for the universe. Now and then, when we drag our tired eyes above the dust and confusion of the moment to let the fresh winds of the future and the dry breezes of the past wash and refresh them, we catch some insight into the truth that only God could be the model of the universe. Some detail of the masterpiece — the minuteness of love’s thoughtfulness, the magnitude of a mountain, the power of a smashing wind — brings out the genius of the craftsman and we are almost ready to fall down in adoration. If the model were anything other than God, then He would not be first, He would be dependent; that is, He would not be God.
Primary and secondary models
In spite of the suffering, the vice, the ugliness, the evil in the universe, the scale to which it is drawn, the plan upon which it is built, its blueprint is the eternal knowledge of Cod. It is not these defects that are difficult to explain; but the beauty, the joy, the perfection, the virtue, the happiness, the very existence of the universe can be conceived in no other way than as participations of that divine perfection. Who but God could know the possible participations of that divinity, the myriad mirrors that could reflect the divine excellence. We have seen this in some detail in an earlier chapter on the knowledge of God. Here it is only necessary to point out that the divine character of the model of the universe is not a denial of all other models. Of course an architect can have, in his mind, a model of the house he is building; of course a boy can choose a model upon which he builds his character. These are not excluded but rather made possible by the fact that the supreme architect is in possession of the first and absolutely universal model to which everything in the universe responds.
Without such a model, the divine action would not be the intelligent operation of divine wisdom but the stupidly haphazard wanderings of a drunkard or an idiot; deter mined forms of things can come only from the determined plan of their maker. Even the so called “accidental” discoveries of scientific research are the inviolable results of a determined divine plan giving determined qualities to the elements that enter into that research. The scientist can repeat the “accident” again and again, precisely because the only accidental thing involved was his discovery that there was no accident at all.
Source of order and law
These divine ideas, the model of the universe, are, then, the source of all order, an order that extends not merely to the physical outlines of the universe but to the essential principles of all natures, to the details of all acts. This order, which brings the benediction of peace and precludes the chaos of madness, embraces not only the physical and spiritual world of being but also the moral world of men’s acts. To all these worlds it gives standards as stable as the divine mind. It is as impossible for the morality of men’s acts to fluctuate from age to age as it is for the nature of angels, of men or of water to change. The moral laws are not the result of a caprice, not even of a divine caprice; they cannot be changed even at the pleasure of God. That divine model of the universe is immutable; so also is His law which is the ultimate root of the order which governs the universe, for the model is one of the roots of the law.
The goal of the world
Why were these things of the universe created at all? Why did God extend His activity beyond divinity itself? What was His purpose; what is the end of it all? Surely there must have been some goal; God, above all cannot act for no reason at all for that would be a disorderly act, a violation of His divine intelligence. Rather, the absence of an end, the complete indetermination thus involved, would result in no act at all. An act does not saunter aimlessly about the universe, or about the walks of eternity; it is going some place or it does not start at all.
Necessity of the goal
From what we know of the nature of God, it should be clear that there is only one goal, one end, possible to Him: if He acts at all, He must act for Himself. God created the universe for Himself; His goal was God; the end of the universe is the same as its beginning, God. Anything else is simply unthinkable. If God were working to a goal other than Himself, divine independence would be a myth as would the primacy of the first cause; God would, through the long life of the universe, be creeping up on something He lacked, mapping out a campaign for the capture of something outside Himself. There simply cannot be anything outside of God that does not come from Him, He cannot lack anything and still be God. Aside from the divine nature, the divine action cannot tolerate any other end than God: God, the absolutely perfect agent, must act in a perfect manner, not in the imperfect manner of an imperfect agent striving to perfect himself. The perfect agent, having all perfection, can act only for him self.
Objections against the goal
This truth has caused many a sniff at God by high-minded pagans. The idea! This is the God Who demands complete unselfishness and self-denial from us, yet, having all things, He cannot in the least of His works act for anything but Himself. This is a mean, petty, grasping God that a man can enjoy cheating. Like many another sniff, these protests of outraged nobility are entirely due to a misunderstanding; indignation stamps out, slamming the door, before it can be explained that the phrase “for himself” is equivocally used of man and God. A man, because he is an imperfect agent, reaches out to get something when he acts for himself; God, because He is a perfect agent, reaches out to give something away when He acts for Himself. We act to obtain or insure our perfection; God acts, in the only way He can act having all perfection, only to communicate His goodness. This is the perfect act — communication of goodness; this is the exact meaning of God acting for Himself.
Let us suppose these noble pagans had their way with God and He decided not to act for Himself, what would happen? Obviously, nothing would exist, for God cannot act any other way. But on the impossible hypothesis that God created the world and then washed His hands of it, as an ultra-modern mother gives birth to a child then turns it over to household and institutional servants, what would happen? Such a world would not be directed to Him, men and creatures would push God entirely out of their lives, out of their actions. The result? A howling chaos; a world full of creatures with no possible end in view; heartless brutality; men remorselessly driven by a desire for love and knowledge of God, a desire doomed to hopeless frustration. The whole thing would be a humorless practical joke on a cosmic scale, a mass of whirling worlds going nowhere, like a man driving himself insane by marching about the living room in a perpetual circle.
For the perfection, the end, of anything is the same as its beginning; the effect comes from the cause faith something of the excellence of the cause — certainly no more, usually very much less — and it approaches its perfection as it approaches the excellence of its cause. All things coming from God reach their perfection as they approach the divine likeness which is the peak of that infinitesimal participation of divine perfection which makes them what they are.
The variety of the world
The end or purpose of creation was to communicate the divine goodness so on every side of us we see something of the family likeness of God. The staggering variety of the universe is the result of divine ingenuity’s struggle to paint, in the stiff medium of creatures, a likeness of the gracious beauty of God. Of course even the divine artist failed. No finite creature is capable of receiving all of divine goodness, no one creature is capable of perfectly mirroring that divine perfection. It is more perfectly mirrored through the multiplication of different species of creatures; but even indefinite multiplication through all of an eternity fails to give back an adequate likeness of the face of God. The divine likeness, perceptible to the keen eyes of a saint in the lowest creatures of the world, is like the image given back to a woman by the one faulty mirror in her room; the bewildering beauty and inconceivable variety of the angelic world gives the effect of many mirrors each giving back a particular view, but no one of them nor all of them together, do more than catch a mood, a passing gesture, the light of a smile. Worlds could have been multiplied, as mirrors can be multiplied, but the results would be no more adequate. Nor, for that matter, would they be any more disparate; whatever the number of worlds created, the whole of creation would still be bound tightly together by an order to the only possible end, God Himself. Whatever God does must be orderly and there can be only one principle of that order, one end, God.
The age of the world: From reason
The story of the world, as the story of the likeness of God on earth, is a beautiful story. It is also a long, long story; how long we do not know. Our faith assures us that it is not as long a story as eternity, that it is not coeternal with God. Many modern scientific discoveries are taken by their discoverers as proofs from reason of the beginnings of the world at some definite time, such discoveries, for example, as the breakdown of radio active substances, the laws of thermodynamics tending than equilibrium of energy, the account of the years graphically written in geological strata, and so on. These may indeed be indications of a fact and a decided embarrassment to those devotees of a scientific method as a philosophy who have found their place among the evolutionists. But these discoveries are not proofs of the necessity of the fact. Neither the eternity of the world nor its beginning in time can be proved by human reason.
There is no place for such a proof to start. If we begin the argument from the side of God, there is the obvious fact that since this creative action was free and He existed from all eternity, He could have created from all eternity or He could have created in time. If we decide to build up the argument from the side of the created world itself, we are blocked by the fact that the essential natures within the world do not, in themselves, include any reference to or against time; they contain merely a reference to a cause, an insistence that they did not produce themselves.
It is to be noticed, however, that even if the world were eternal, the problem of its cause would remain unchanged; the world’s dependence would not be destroyed by its eternity, nor would its ageless existence make of it a first cause. In other words, the problem of the cause of the world is not to be dismissed by hiding it in the vast spaces of eternity any more than it can be destroyed by heaping the centuries upon it. We can know without faith that the world has its causal beginning and what is its end; faith alone can assure us that it had its temporal beginning.
Even so, the story of the world is a long, long story; a story that is never finished and never untold. It has been told from the beginning of the lives of men. In the telling, it has passed through the minds, the hearts and the hands of all the countless millions of men who have looked out upon the world up to this time. Some were simple, others sophisticated; there were wise men and very foolish men; cowards and men of courage; the far-seeing and the blind; the humble and the proud. The story has done something to all these men; and many of them have done something to the story. The centuries still to unfold will not vary the variety of men who listen to the story and tell it to their children; it will do things to them and many of them will do things to the story.
Fictions and facts of the world
The story, however, will not be changed; there will merely be some spurious versions of it circulated with great popularity for a moment, then the old, old story will go on. There are bound to be spurious versions, as there have been in the past, because the story itself will not be to the liking of everyone. For one reason or another, men make their own changes in the old tale, as if their telling of it could mold the world. To some, the beginning of the story will be absurd because they did not witness it; they will do away with the beginning and start in the middle. To others. the end will be too hard and strong a thing to face; they will do away with the end, keeping something of the end’s gift of order, as a murderer will do away with a man but hold fast to his fortune. Others will be displeased with the way the world started and call on their own distorted imaginations for versions that are not so much mysterious as grotesque and absurd. Still others will be quite content with the world and the way it runs along, but insulted by the idea of an architect of it all; they will make the most of the house and laugh the architect into oblivion.
Purposes and failures of fiction
These, of course, are fictions, playthings of the mind of children whose greatest value is that they make no change in the facts. It is still true that the world had a beginning and has an end; that it sprang from nothing at the command of an omnipotent Creator. The madness and chaos that should flow From a causeless world whirling to no purpose clever crimes about; the despair that should saturate the lives of men in a meaningless world never displaces the hope established by the facts of the World. The fictions might have been concocted that the sophisticated might revel in their superiority, that the foolish might clown with impunity, that cowards might run away from life, the blind enjoy their darkness and the proud lord it over their little world. But it never is kindness to cater to and encourage the weakness of men; it is merely hurrying the half-reluctant suicide over the abyss he has been flitting with. The fictions fail as substitutes for the truth of the story of the world, for truth has no substitutes; the more heartily they are hugged to the breasts of men, the more completely do they betray men. In his heart, the superficial, cynical sophisticate has a deeper knowledge of his own pettiness than ever another man will have; the coward knows well his lack of courage; the blind, his lack of light; and the proud, the lowliness of the throne he occupies.
Comfort and significance of the facts
The story of the world is a hard story only to weak men who are very proud. To all others, it is the solid bedrock on which a man can build the towering spires of his human life. The omnipotent Creator is an assurance upon which a man can begin his life with the unwavering confidence of strong youth; the source of the world’s material is a dash of common sense that protects man from the absurdities of puritanism and hedonism, from irrational gloom and senseless ecstasy; the divine model is his explanation of the beauty, the order, the peace that links all of creation to the family of God. The goal of the world explains his present restlessness, his incredible hopes and courageous efforts, the values that make life a cheap coin to be spent extravagantly in the attainment of this last thing that gives meaning to the world, to life, to struggle and even to failure.