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.


HOME | Contents | Spirit (likeness) & matter (imprint) | grades of IS | Eternity, Aeveternity, Time | Creation in time


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.

When God mirrored Himself in the infinite,
He produced one Image with all the perfections of the Infinite;
we might have expected that when He mirrored Himself in the finite,
He would have produced one single being with the highest perfections that the finite can have.
But, even if this had meant a more perfect mirroring of Himself,
God did not need to see Himself thus mirrored,
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.
Such a theoretically best mirroring in one single finite being would have left out all of us human and only moderately admirable beings, all angels less than the highest, to say nothing of cats and dogs and such-like:
all of them getting their measure of enjoyment out of existence
and so, though they may not know it, out of God.
Thus the multiplicity of the created universe seems to suit the abundance of His love,
whether it mirrors Him so well or not.

In fact it mirrors Him better.
The simplicity of the Infinite
is reflected most glowingly
by the vast complexity
and variety of the finite.

It is true that no multiplication of finite beings at any level of splendour is any more adequate to express the Infinite than the most microscopic piece of fluff:
but to our finite minds the sheer multiplicity and variety of things can convey the sense of the Infinite -
especially of infinite power and richness - most overwhelmingly.

Yet a merely chaotic complexity would not have conveyed God but betrayed Him.
The universe is not just a heap of things or a whirl 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:

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underlying the multiplicity of things
is the unifying design of God
making one universe of them.

We progress in our knowledge of God
and His universe alike,
as our minds grow in the mastery of the order of things.

To begin with,
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.

It is impossible to exaggerate the importance of this distinction or exhaust its fruitfulness.
Everything that any maker makes has a certain resemblance to him:
HIS mind conceived it.
HIS workmanship made it.
From anything at all that is made you can learn something of its maker:
it bears his imprint we say: it is physiognomical of him.
But for all that there is a world of difference between the resemblance a thing cannot help having to its maker and the resemblance where the maker has definitely set out to produce his own likeness.
A chair is something like the carpenter; but Rembrandt's self-portrait is much more like Rembrandt.

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.
And this, or something like it, He might well have said already of the angels, for they also are spirit.
But if this consideration leads us to see a special splendour in the world of spirit,
it must not lead us to any contempt of matter,
for it is His workmanship too.
It bears the imprint that is only His.
He has uttered it, and it can utter Him to us.
The heavens show forth the glory of the Lord.
So indeed does everything - from dust to archangel - by being what God made it to be,
but the heavens more spectacularly than either,
for only the most powerful mind sees dust as glorious,
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 as set out somewhat lengthily in chapter II.
Of spirit we make two positive statements:
one as to what it is, one as to what it does.
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.
Again spirit is the being that knows and loves.
Both statements are verified to the utmost limit of their meaning only in God.
But with limitations proper to the finite, they are true, too, of angels and the souls of men;
and they are not true of matter.
Material being cannot know or love; and it has no permanent but only the most precarious 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, what we may call grades or measures of being.
Spirit has more being than matter.
This will be to many an unfamiliar and therefore un-luminous way of talking.
We are more accustomed to think of what things do than of what they are; and even when we are by way of concentrating on what they are, we usually stop at the ways in which they make themselves known to us, 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 than that "doing to us" which fills so much of our horizon.
We could probably manage this better if only the verb TO BE were a regular verb.
If we could say "Spirit BE-s more than matter BE-s",
the truth there stated would hit the mind more powerfully for having first hit the ear.
But we have to say "Spirit is more than matter is" and it is the hardest thing in the world to take the word IS seriously.
It is the richest and the most dynamic of all words,
it is the key word in the name of God Himself,
but it is surely the most miserable and meagre-SOUNDING of all words.
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.
Within these two orders there are further grades of being still, and these we shall come to later.
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:

but we must never let such an ordering of things trick us into the idea that we have here some kind of mathematical progression.
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.

Indeed we have here another way of grading things.
We have already seen them 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.

So St. Augustine writes (De Natura Boni) :

All the things that God has made are mutable because 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, only too often realized, of substantial change,
of being so changed that it ceases to be what it was and becomes something else.
So much is this so, that change is almost matter's definition.

Thus 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;
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 practise it:
for it means practising 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.
We have already seen enough of what time is to save us from certain cruder misconceptions as to what the present inquiry is about.
Time is the duration of that which changes; again, time is a measure of change.
Either way, unless there is in existence a being that changes, there is no time either.

The reader new to this kind of discussion should pause here to make sure that he has grasped the point.
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 and moment by moment.
The fact about the material universe which we express in the phrase part by part
accounts for its being spread out in space;
the fact about it which we express in the phrase from moment to moment
accounts for its being spread out in time.
Space and time express its finitude.
There is the one limitation by which its being is dispersed over parts which are not each other so that it is nowhere wholly itself;
there is the other limitation by which it works out its reality gradually and is at no one time all it can be.
As has already been noted, we may if we 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.
Space is simply the arrangement that matter makes for the convenience of its parts:
space is that which surrounds and lies between material objects:
if there were no material objects there would be no space either.
Similarly, time measures the changes of beings that are subject to change,
and if there were no such beings, there would be no time.
As we have seen, time may be, somewhat crudely perhaps, thought of as the ticking of the universe as it works out its existence from moment to moment.
Thus we see the fallacy of conceiving a running stream of time into which God suddenly dropped the universe.
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.

Thus 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?
How far back do we have to go before coming to that first moment before which there was no moment, that first moment in which something existed where nothing had been, something which in that first moment had no past, though in the next moment it had one, one that has never ceased to lengthen?

Was there indeed such a FIRST moment?
Did the material universe have in any sense a beginning?
As we look forward, we know that for the human soul at least there is no limit in the future;
might our gaze backward through time similarly find no limit in the past?
There are Catholic philosophers, though they are in the minority, who hold that reason alone cannot settle the question.
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.
But whatever the unaided mind might make of such a question, it is not left unaided.

[The question whether the universe had a beginning in time, a first moment, does not touch the question whether the universe has a creator.
It is not because the universe once was not and now is that we argue that God must have brought it into being.
It is because 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.
There are theists who hold that it is impossible to prove from reason that the universe does not go back endlessly into the past.
But just as this does not destroy the need of a self-existent being to give the universe existence and maintain it in existence, so it does not mean that in this hypothesis the universe would be eternal.
We have already sufficiently seen that endlessness in time does not constitute eternity.]

God Himself has told us.
We shall discuss later the question of the divine inspiration of Scripture.
Here we need only remind ourselves that 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
[deinde] 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.
That God is personal and distinct from His creation (as against pantheism),
that there is one God (as against polytheism),
that Evil is not a separate creative principle but arises in a misused will (as against dualism),
that God created sun and stars and sky and earth (as against nature worship);
that man is created by God,
that there was a first man, that woman like man is made in God's image,
what God planned for man, how man reacted to God's plan,
the effect upon the whole human race of man's reaction?
these things are of towering importance.
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.