JMC : Christian Philosophy / by Louis de Poissy

Special Metaphysics.

1. Special Metaphysics treats of tke world, of man, and of God; it is therefore divided into Cosmology, Psychology, and Natural Theology. -- While General Metaphysics studies being in its general characteristics, Special Metaphysics studies beings in particular. Now, on the one hand, there is the Uncreated Being, and, on the other, there are created beings, among whom man, as occupying a privileged place, claims also a special study. That part of philosophy which treats of created beings other than man is called Cosmology; that which treats of man is called Psychology, or Anthropology, and lastly, that which treats of God is called Natural Theology.


2. Cosmology is the science of the corporeal world in its first or ultimate principles. -- Cosmology is defined, according to its etymology, as a discourse about the world, and thus understood would embrace also a discourse about man. But because man occupies a place apart in creation, philosophers make him the object of a special science, and in Cosmology study only the first principles of the world, considered at first in general, and then in particular with reference to non-living and living beings, or to inorganic and organic beings.

Chapter I. The World in General.


3. It is a gross error to admit with Demoeritus, Epicurus, Lucretius, and the materialists of all times, that matter is eternal, and that the world was formed by the fortuitous concourse of atoms, i.e., of indivisible particles of matter, diverse in figure and size, and endowed with motion. -- The theory of atomism has at all times provoked the contempt of philosophers, and has always been rejected by common sense, for its absurdity is manifest. For, if the world has been produced by the fortuitous concourse of atoms, we must admit that it is the product of chance. But chance cannot be the cause of the admirable order that reigns throughout the universe among the various beings whose special ends are all co-ordinated and all made subordinate to one supreme and general end. Chance{1} is of itself blind and indifferent; it never works according to universal and constant laws. How then could the constancy and harmony of the universe spring from such a cause Chance, moreover, is an empty word which we use to hide our ignorance; it is because of our limited knowledge, that not knowing their true cause, we refer certain things to chance. But even supposing the production of the world possible by the fortuitous meeting of atoms, atomism would be none the less absurd, because it is impossible to admit the eternity and independence of matter. For such matter would necessarily be infinite. But that cannot be, because matter is composed of parts, each of which is finite, and no addition of finite to finite can make the infinite.

4. It is absurd to admit, with Plato and Aristotle, an eternal and indeterminate matter out of which God produces the world when He clothes it with determinate forms. -- From the very fact that matter cannot be eternal and independent, the falsity of this system is manifest. But it appears equally so if we grant the possibility of eternity and independence in matter. For that which is independent in its being must be independent also in its operation, since operation follows being; therefore, if matter were independent of God in its being, it would still be so when, by its transformations, the world would be made; whence it would follow that God could not even have put order in the universe.

5. God is the absolute and universal cause of the world. -- If matter is not eternal and independent, and if the world is not the result of the fortuitous concourse of atoms, it is evident that it was made by the action of God alone. It will not do to say that the world made itself, for it must have being before it can give it. Much less, in order to dispense with God as its necessary cause, can it be asserted that the world, though it did not make itself, yet proceeded from an infinite series of contingent causes, i.e., from an infinite series of beings, each of which can exist only by the action of another being. Such a series is only a chain of effects without a cause, and is manifestly absurd.{2} Nor can it be asserted that the world was made out of some pre-existing subject; for this subject must have been either uncreated matter or the divine substance, God Himself. But the first hypothesis has been shown to be untenable and contradictory. The second is equally absurd, since the divine substance, as being infinitely perfect, is spiritual and therefore incapable of division. Since, then, the teaching of both materialists and pantheists as to the origin of the world, must be rejected, we must admit that the world was created by God, that is, that by His divine power He gave it its whole existence.


6. The world is relatively perfect, i.e., it has all that is necessary to attain the end proposed by its Author. -- The perfection of a work is measured by the end which the agent proposes, and the manner in which the means answer to the end. In both these respects the world may be called perfect; it is perfect as to its end, which is none other than the glorification of God; and perfect as to the means of attaining its end, since the world, being the work of infinite wisdom and power, must have all that is suited to the integrity of its nature, in order to attain the end intended by its Author. Hence when the world is said to be perfect, there is no question of absolute perfection, but only of a perfection relative to its nature and end. This is true optimism, and has been embraced by the greatest philosophers, such as Plato, St. Augustine (354-430), St. Thomas, Bossuet (1627-1704), and Fénelon (1651-1715).

7. It is false to maintain, with Malebranche and Leibnitz, that the present world is absolutely the best possible. -- This form of optimism was held by the Stoics, by Abelard, and by Descartes. It is founded by Malebranche on the almost infinite perfection which has been imparted to the present world by the mystery of the Incarnation. It is based by Leibnitz on the principle that God, who does nothing without sufficient reason, could not have preferred the present world to the other possible worlds, if this were not the best possible, and therefore this is the most perfect possible. But both these forms of optimism are absurd.

(1) For even though it is metaphysically impossible for God to raise a creature higher than He has raised the created human nature of Christ, or even as high as He has raised that nature, yet this world remains intrinsically finite, and therefore is not in every respect the most perfect possible. (2) It is true that God, who is sovereignly intelligent, wise, and free, does nothing without a sufficient reason; but this sufficient reason is to be found not in the object, the term of divine action, but in the agent, God himself; otherwise God would not be sovereignly free and independent.

8. The world is not eternal. -- I. If the world were necessarily eternal, it would follow that, since it is created (§ 5), God was from all eternity necessitated to create it. But since God is infinitely perfect and therefore sovereignly free, as will be shown in Natural Theology (§ 21), this hypothesis must be rejected. II. The world is not contingently eternal, for the traditions of all peoples point to its beginning. Moreover, the generally accepted nebular hypothesis, the different strata of the earth's crust, and the fossil remains of the animal and the vegetable kingdom, all imply succession, and therefore a beginning. The exact duration implied in the nebular hypothesis is, however, only matter of speculation; for it must be granted that the agencies then at work were much more powerful than those of the present time. The periods, also, assigned by geologists for the formation of the earth's strata, with their embedded fossils, are based in general upon the assumption that the forces employed were the same, and energized with no greater momentum and velocity than they do today. But it is possible, and even probable, that in the world's primeval age they were far greater in momentum and efficiency.

Although the possibility of an eternal creation of the universe is affirmed by St. Thomas, it is denied by St. Bonaventure (1221-1274) and Petau (1583-1651), Toletus (1532-1596) and Gerdil (1718-1802), on the ground that thereby creation is confounded with preservation, and that the succession of changes in the world necessitates a beginning. Both parties agree that the world is not actually eternal. As to the days of creation there are three leading schools: the Allegorical school of Alexandria, made illustrious by the names of Clement (150-220?), Origen (186-253), and St. Athanasius (296-373), taught that all creation was simultaneous, and that the succession of the Scriptural record is one of order only. The school of Cappadocia held that the elements only were created simultaneously, and that the successive transform ations were real. This was the opinion of St. Basil (329-379), and in the Latin Church of SS. Ambrose (340-397), Hilary (300-367), Augustine (354-430), and Gregory the Great (542-604). Finally, there was another school, of which St. Ephraim of Edessa (d. 378), and St. John Chrysostom of Antioch (347-407), were exponents, that interpreted literally the Mosaic record of creation.

As to the age of man no attested discoveries of geology have yet invalidated the authority of the Sacred Text, nor can they do so, since the genealogical tables of Scripture are not complete, generations being omitted here and there, the one purpose of the Inspired Writers being "to follow the direct line."{3}


9. The order of the universe has its source in the subor dination of the special ends of the various kinds of being to a common end, and in the manner in which each being constantly attains its own end, and thereby the common end. -- Experience proves that every being works for an end, and reason also tells us that God, who is infinite wisdom, must appoint an end for each of His creatures. But experience further shows us that the special ends of the various kinds of being tend to one universal end; and reason likewise shows that God, having created the world after one single prototype, must by the very fact have given it one single end. On the other hand, the subordination of ends presupposes a subordination of the agents that concur to these ends; for since the end is reached by the action of the agent, the ends that are subordinated must necessarily be attained by the action of agents subordinated one to another. All creatures are, therefore, bound together by this double subordination of end and action; and this bond constitutes the order and harmony of the universe.

10. There is a natural gradation in created entities, so that what is highest in an inferior order borders on what is lowest in a superior order, and all beings form as it were a ladder by which even from the lowest we ascend to God. -- Since all creatures are subordinated to one another, it is evident that they must constitute a hierarchical order and a natural gradation. Thus man by his intellectual life is associated to the angels, and by his sensitive life to mere animals; brutes approach to man by sensitive life, and to plants by vegetative life; plants are allied to brutes by vegetative life, and to minerals by their purely chemical and physical properties. (See Special Ideology, § 51-55).

11. The law of continuity, as set forth by Leibnitz, as false, viz., that to unite one species with another there must be a species which possesses the qualities of the other two. -- These intermediate species, destined to unite one class of beings with another, would have the qualities essential to both, and would necessarily be self-contradictory. Thus an animal-plant would be both sensitive and not sensitive; sensitive as an animal, and not sensitive as a plant; but such a being is impossible. Without doubt, among the species of the same genus there is such a gradation that the intermediate serve to join the lower with the higher species. So also the less perfect species of a higher genus help to connect it with a genus of a lower order. Yet in spite of these links there is always an essential difference between one species and another, between one genus and another; and this essential distinction of beings is not less necessary than their gradation, to constitute the admirable order of the universe.

12. It is false to assert, with Geoffry Saint Hilaire, that there is unity of composition among entities, so that, in spite of multitudinous individual differences, all are referred to one and the same prototype. -- Since the system of unity of composition is only a consequence of the law of continuity, its falsity is demonstrated with that of the law on which it depends. Besides, the consequences of this law suffice to show its error. For the doctrine that there is no other than an accidental difference among beings, and that all substances are really identical, leads by logical sequence to pantheism. On the other hand, if there is but one prototype which exists in all beings, materialists are not in error when they regard life, nay, intelligence itself, as differing from brute matter only as the greater from the less.

{1} See Ontology, § 82.

{2} On Creation and the End of Creation, see Nat ural Theology § 27 -- 29.

{3} See Apologie de La Foi Chrétienne. pp. 416-423.

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