THEOLOGY AND SANITY - by F. J.  Sheed - Sheed & Ward London & New York. First published 1947 - by Sheed & Ward Ltd.  110-111   Fleet Street  London,  E.C.4 - & Sheed & Ward Inc  830 Broadway  New York - 5th impression 1951. This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2004.

CREATURES

CHAPTER 10 - GOD AS CREATOR

HOME | Contents | Why God created | What it means to be created | Creation is by the Trinity

I

GOD is infinite, the utterly sufficient All.
There is no need of His nature that is not satisfied by what He is.
Not the smallest chink through which anything can be added to His fullness of existence,
to the limitless perfection of His happiness.
Beside Himself He needs no other being.
There is no way whatever in which any other being can bring Him the most infinitesimal gain.
Yet other beings exist, and exist because He brought them into existence.
Why?
Not only did creation provide nothing that His nature needed, it provided, so to speak, no luxury either;
it brought Him no profit, no increase,
for there was nothing in it that was not already in Himself in greater, because uncreated, perfection.
Why, then, is the created universe here at all?

The answer that leaps to our lips still leaves our precise question untouched.
The created universe exists, we say, for God's honour and glory,
each thing necessarily glorifying God simply by being what it is:
neither creation as a whole nor any element of it
could have any other reason for existence that is not subordinate to that first reason.
It is the glory of every being that in some way it serves the Supreme Being;
if it served only some lesser being and not the Supreme Being,
that would be sheer servitude and, if we ponder over it, a nightmarish degradation.
Thus created beings achieve their own perfection in glorifying God:
but it still remains that they do not add anything to His:
so that our question likewise remains:
Why did God create the universe at all?
Obviously because He knew that we should like it.
It brings Him no gain, but it can bring us tremendous gain.
And apparently it goes with the infinite goodness of God that our gain can be a motive for Him.
It is of the nature of goodness that it wants to spread outwards, to confer itself, and God is Supreme Goodness.
In some ways one of the most staggering phrases in all Scripture
is St. John's statement (John iii.16) that God loved the world,
yet St. John had come to know God's love so well
that he could make a statement so breathtaking almost casually and in his stride.
God could love things less than Himself and could act to give them pleasure.
So he brought them into existence.
He knew that there were possible beings capable of enjoying Him, and He made them.

The Lord has made all things for Himself
(Prov.xvi.4):

apart from Himself there existed nothing to make them for.
He made them for His own sake, for His own pleasure.
But it was His pleasure to bring into existence things that could take pleasure in existence.
For our sakes He made us for His sake.
To us there is something mysterious in an altruism so total, but something exciting in the mystery.
Among all the mysteries, many are greater, but it is hard to think of one more pleasing.

II

We have thus caught some glimpse of why the created universe exists.
That must always be the primary question.
Until we know WHY a thing exists,
we cannot properly know anything else about it.
Whatever details we can discover by studying it,
our interpretation of the details must always be governed
by our understanding of WHY THE THING EXISTS AT ALL.
If we are wrong about that, the details we do know are as likely to mislead us as not.
But if WHY is the primary question and its answer the key to all knowledge,
there are other questions to be answered in due order.


Image: Galaxy NGC 4414 - 60m light years away.
Hubble Image.  Story - http://hubblesite.org/gallery/

The question WHY is followed by the question HOW?
The universe exists because God loved the very idea of it.

But how did the universe come into existence?
This, of course, is not at all the same as the scientist's question about the origin of the universe.

Science always starts with something in existence,
and its efforts to explain the origin of that something simply mean looking for some earlier something of the same created order.
This study is of immense value,
but our present inquiry undercuts it.
Quite simply we are asking how is it that anything is here at all.
When philosophers and theologians ask why anything exists,
the alternative they have in mind is nothing.
There might have been nothing, why is there something?
This is a question that quite properly science does not put.
If in his backward progress from cause to earlier cause
the scientist suddenly found himself faced with nothing,
he would be inexpressibly startled.
Neither his instruments nor his scientific methods are made to cope with nothing.
If he found nothing in his series he would have to call upon philosophy and theology.

But a question is nonetheless a question
and none the less urgent because science cannot cope with it.
If one may venture a criticism of the scientists one meets,
one does sometimes feel that they have a tendency to treat questions which science cannot handle
as if they were by that very fact not questions at all.
But the question how anything exists
is second only in importance to the question why anything exists;
and we must consider both in the light of philosophy and theology, which can answer them,
not blaming science because it cannot,
but not treating the questions as unimportant because it cannot.

We have seen why God exists:
He exists because what He is demands existence, cannot not-exist.
But this created universe does not thus demand existence.
How then does it exist?
It can exist only because God, Who alone possesses existence as of right, confers existence upon it.
God made it.
And He made it of nothing.
What else was there for Him to make it of?
He could not make it of Himself, for He is utterly simple and changeless:
there are no parts in Him that could be subtracted from Him and set going as a universe that was not He.
In one sense, then, the act of creation can be stated quite simply.
God willed that things that had not been should be.

He spoke and they were made;
He commanded and they were created
 
(Ps.cxlviii.5).

To create is to make a thing in its totality, that is, to make the whole of it.
A carpenter does not make the whole of a chair - the wood is not of his making;
a poet does not make the whole of a poem, the words already existed;
but God does make the whole universe,
there is nothing in it that is not of His making,
nothing that already existed.

We must not misunderstand the statement that God made the universe of nothing.
It does not mean that God used nothing as a kind of material that He proceeded to shape into a universe.
It means that God used no material whatever in the making of the universe.
That He could do this goes with His infinity.
We have some faint glimpse of what this means when we see a human agent in action.
It is the measure of human power to be able to make a little go a long way.
It is the measurelessness of infinite power that it can make a universe with no material at all.
If we honestly focus our minds upon the act of creation,
really and honestly consider what making something out of nothing means,
we find it almost totally baffling.
The mind seems unable to see anything at all.
But this is not that the mind is blinded by sheer darkness,
but dazed both by too much light and by its own lack of habituation to moving by its own strength.
Upon the act of creation our habit of relying upon the imagination lets us down most evilly.

We think we are THINKING about the production of something from nothing by infinite power,
whereas in fact we are trying desperately to FORM SOME MENTAL PICTURE of the process.
Such an attempt is forever doomed to failure,
because one of the terms in the process, nothingness, has no image.
If we are to come to any understanding at all of creation
we must insist that our mind handle the concepts concerned,
without the distraction of trying to picture them.
And the concepts concerned are very simple.
God is infinite.
There is no limitation to His being, there is no limitation to His power.
Because there is no limitation to His power, there is no limitation to His power of making.
But it would be a great limitation to his power of making if it needed material to work upon.
God does not need things at all;
He is not dependent upon them in any way whatever.
We have already seen (chapter iv) that God does not depend upon things for His knowledge of things:
As St. Augustine says (De Genesi ad Litteram):

He made the things He knew:
He did not get to know the things He had made.

His power of making is as independent of created things as His power of knowing.
The most skilful carpenter is dependent upon the wood,
and without it would be a very helpless carpenter,
sitting with folded hands and all his skill within him.
But that would be a very meagre figure for the omnipotent God.

He can send His call to that which has no being as if it already was
(Rom.iv.17).

This fact that God made us and all things of nothing by a sheer act of His will, is not simply a fact of history,
something that happened an immeasurably long time ago.
We may very well think of it as something that happened, because it did happen.
But it implies as its corollary something that is happening here and now,
happening from instant to instant and of the most vital importance to us.
BECAUSE GOD MAKES US OF NOTHING,
THEN WE CANNOT CONTINUE IN EXISTENCE
UNLESS GOD CONTINUOUSLY HOLDS US IN EXISTENCE
.
There is an emptiness at the centre of the being of every created thing, which only God can fill;
not an emptiness merely in the sense that it cannot be happy without God;
but in the sense that it cannot be at all without Him.
God does not simply make us and leave us.
To return for a moment to the carpenter:
he can make a table and leave it and the table will continue,
none the worse for his absence.
But that, as we saw in chapter I, is because of the material he used, namely wood.
Wood is so constituted that it will retain a shape given to it.
Similarly, if God, having made the universe, left it,
the universe would have to rely for its continuance in existence upon the material it was made of:
namely nothing.

Another comparison from human experience may help.
If I stand in front of a mirror, my image is in the mirror, but only while I stand there.
If I go, it goes.
Only my continuing presence keeps the image in being.
The reason is that the image is not made OF the mirror but only IN the mirror.
The mirror contributes nothing but receptiveness: it is purely receptive, purely passive.
So of the nothingness in which God mirrors himself:
we may figure it as receptive or passive?
carrying receptivity, passivity to the ultimate power.
Thus the image is sustained by my continuing presence:
the universe is sustained by God's continuing presence.
Take me away and the image ceases.
Take God away and the universe ceases.

Whatever illustration we find helpful, the point to be grasped is that if God abandoned anything He had made,
it would simply cease to be.
In the words of the Roman Catechism (part I, chapter II:

Unless His continuing Providence were present to the things He created,
and preserved them by the same power by which they were established in the beginning,
they would instantly lapse back
[into their original nothingness].

Therefore we must see the universe and everything in it (ourselves included)
as held in existence from moment to moment by nothing save God's continuing will to hold it (including us) there.
This is the plain truth about all created things:
not to see it is to be in error, tragic or comic or sheerly farcical, about ourselves and everything else.
The failure to see it, is what causes man to play such fantastic tricks before high heaven as make the angels weep.
So far this is no more than a summary of the truth already stated about the presence of God in all things.
But we can now add something enormous.
The God Who is thus continuously present in us as in all things is the Blessed Trinity.
At the very centre of our being,
Father Son and Holy Ghost are living their infinite life of knowing and loving.

Thus the formula for everything from Adam to the Archangel
is nothingness made into something and kept in being by the infinite power of the Blessed Trinity.
Note especially the phrase MADE INTO SOMETHING.
Things are not simply thoughts in the mind of God.
He has given them real existence, real BE-ing.
He does not simply think them:
He has made them.
The universe is not a system of ideas thought by God,
it is a system of things made by God.
The universe really IS.

But not as God is.
Here we may pause to make the effort already made once or twice in this book
and to be made once or twice again before the end,
to distinguish between the absolute being of God and the relative being of created things,
what philosophers call the analogy of being.
God alone wholly IS with all that IS can mean.
You can say of the universe that it is, but you cannot leave it there:
you have to keep adding words, and every word you add subtracts.
Thus you must say of the universe:
"It is, because...";
 "It is, but it was not";
"It is, but it might not have been ";
"It is, so long as...";
"It is this or that - e.g., man or cat, little or big".
Every one of these and a thousand other additions one must make to the simple statement IT IS are limitations,
subtracting something from the fullness of what IS can mean.
Each thing IS, but dependently, but conditionally,
but as this or that limited selection of limited excellences.
It is, but relatively, partially.
But when you have said of GodHE IS,
in the first place you have said everything,
and in the second if you still want to add words?
e.g., He is infinite, He is omnipotent, He is all-good, He is omniscient?
the added words subtract nothing,
but merely draw out for consideration some special perfection already contained in the fullness of IS.
Nothing else is, with all that IS can mean. It is only some of what IS can mean.
Nothing else is good with all that goodness can mean.
Only God is absolute Good, absolute IS.

Because it is created of nothing the universe does not add to God.
God plus the universe does not total up to something greater than God,
in some such way as we might feel that a man plus his image in the mirror is not greater than the man.
The created universe contains nothing that is not the result of His power,
a power needed not only to bring it into existence, but to maintain it in existence.
Nothing else is in the finite save what God puts there and keeps there.

Observe how delicately the truth treads in this matter.
The created universe really is,
not with the fullness of being that is God's, but existing in the real order all the same,
not simply thought or dream or illusion.
It is really something, not simply nothingness masquerading as something.
Yet in a matter so delicate we can understand the error of the pantheist who thinks the created universe is simply a mask of God and no more, or the not so very different error of those who think that the created universe is an illusion.
Both have the wrong solution to the right difficulty:
both have realized the inferiority of created being in comparison with the majesty of infinite being.
What they have failed to grasp is the majesty of created being in comparison with nothingness.

We must keep both truths steadily in mind, if we are to see reality right.
Created being is small enough in comparison with the uncreated:

All nations are before Him as if they had no being at all,
and are counted to Him as nothing and emptiness:

so says Isaias.
But all the same God looked upon what He had made of nothing, and found it good (Gen. i. 31);

all the same God loved the world.
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Wisdom we find the two truths perfectly balanced:

The whole world before
Thee is as the last grain of the balance,
and as a drop of the morning dew that falls down upon the earth;

but all the same:

Thou lovest all things that are,
and hatest none of the things which Thou hast made:
for Thou didst not make anything hating it.
And how could anything endure if Thou wouldst not?
or be preserved if not called by Thee?

III

Our first answer to the question how God created the universe is that He brought it into being from nothingness by the sole act of His will.
So much we might have reasoned out for ourselves, assuming that our reason was as good as reason theoretically can be.
In any event, whether we could have ARRIVED AT IT by sheer reasoning or not,
we can now show that it is so by sheer reason without appeal to any direct statement by God on the matter.
But there is a further answer to the question how, which we can give only because God has given it to us.

Creation is the work of the Blessed Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.
So we should know once it has been revealed to us that God is Three Persons in one nature:
for the nature is the principle of operation,
that BY WHICH God acts,
and this principle is wholly and in utter equality possessed by all Three.
The Fourth Council of the Lateran (1215) speaks of Father, Son and Holy Ghost as

one principle of all things, creator of all things visible and invisible.

The Council of Florence (1439) gives us a further clarification:
it compares the fact that Father and Son are not two principles but one in the spiration of the Holy Ghost with the fact that Father, Son and Holy Ghost are not three principles but one in the creation of the universe.
It may be worth a moment's pause to consider the sequence (realizing that it is not a sequence in time but in order of being) -

The Father generates the Son;
Father and Son as one principle spirate the Holy Ghost;
Father, Son and Holy Ghost as one principle create the universe.

But though creation is the work of the Three Persons,
it comes under the Law of Appropriation in two ways.
In the first place the Father is always called Creator;
we find this in all the Creeds and indeed universally.
The fitness of this is obvious.
To Him who is Origin within the Godhead,
the origination of all things external to the Godhead is naturally attributed.

But there is an appropriation of creation to the Second Person as well, and this is worth most careful examination -
not only in itself, but as showing us why it was to be the Second Person who should become man to restore the created order from the profound catastrophe into which it was plunged by Adam's sin.
Consider first the FACT of this appropriation to the Son.

We have already looked at the opening words of St. John's Gospel:

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
All things were made by Him,
and without Him was made nothing.

This had already been foreshadowed in the Old Testament, where Wisdom says:

I was with Him, forming all things.
(Prov.viii.24.)

And indeed before St. John wrote his Gospel, the same thing was already clearly stated in other books of the New Testament.
We find in Hebrews (i.2):

His Son,
Whom He hath appointed heir of all things,
by Whom also He made the world;

and again in Colossians (i.14-17):

In the Son of God,
in His blood,
we find the redemption that sets us free from our sins.
He is the true likeness of the God we cannot see;
His is that first birth which precedes every act of creation.
Yes in Him all created things took their being, >heavenly and earthly...

There is at first something puzzling here.
The fitness of attributing creation especially to the Father is obvious:
He is Origin and Omnipotence within the Godhead,
and the origination of the finite universe is naturally appropriated to Him.
But in that event why the appropriation to the Son?

Clearly Scripture envisages two elements in creation, and appropriates one to the Father and one to the Son.
The Father creates:
He creates BY or THROUGH the Son.
We may see this as
the Father's WILL to create,
EXECUTED BY the Son.
Or again as the Father creating,
that is, bringing the first elements of being out of nothingness -
the direct work of Omnipotence -
and the Son as forming those first elements into the created order we know -
the work of Wisdom as distinct from Power.
This may be the explanation of the wording of the first chapter of Genesis:

In the beginning God CREATED the heavens and the earth.

The verb CREATED is not used again except for MAN (whose soul is in fact a fresh creation) and whales (if there is any significance in this, I do not know what it is).
With these two exceptions, the verb used is MADE.
However this may be, we can see that creation involved both Omnipotence and Wisdom:
Omnipotence was needed to make something from nothing;
but that it might not be just anything, but an ordered purposeful system of things,
Wisdom was needed too.
As a work of Omnipotence, it is attributed to the Father,
as a work of Wisdom to the Son.
[The Holy Ghost is also called creator - e.g. in the hymn Veni Creator Spiritus.
This refers directly to the creation of the NEW MAN in grace.
But in so far as the creation of the universe was to express divine love,
there may be an appropriation to the Holy Ghost also.]

Veni Creator Spiritus-New College Oxford.asx Listen to this arrangement of 'Come Holy Ghost'. Music details HERE.

Under these and all other possible explanations, lies a great truth, God made the universe.
But what does making mean?
Two things we can say:
First, that all making is in some way self-expression:
the maker expresses himself in the thing he makes.
Again we can say that the maker makes in accordance with an idea or image in his mind.

But, as to the first,
the making of our universe was not the first fruits of God's infinite productivity,
or God's self-expression.
The Father had already uttered Himself,
expressed Himself wholly as the Son, the Word, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity.
God is not only infinite activity but infinite productivity, too,
the infinite productivity from which proceeds the Word and the Holy Spirit;
and since it is the same God, His finite productivity mirrors His infinite productivity.
He had expressed Himself once in the uncreated?
that is as the infinite nature could receive the expression of Him?
and thereby produced the Word;
He now expressed Himself in the created order?
that is as nothingness can receive the expression of Him?
and thereby produced the universe.
We can catch some glimpse of the relation between God uttering Himself in the uncreated as the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, and God uttering Himself, so far as He can be uttered in nothingness, as Creation.

And, as to the second,
if making is according to an image in the mind of the maker,
the image already in the mind of God was the Second Person of the Trinity:
and it is now relevant to add one further truth to what has already been said of the Second Person as the image of the First.
In the Word, the Father utters Himself totally:
therefore in the Word He utters His knowledge, all His knowledge:
and this means His knowledge not only of Himself, but of all the beings He can create.
Thus the Second Person expresses the idea of all creatable things as they are in the Divine Nature.
That is why St. Thomas can say that in the Word God utters both Himself and us.