De Sacramentis 1.2.2

1.2.2 “On the primordial causes and their effects.”

This and the chapters to follow involve Hugh in a discussion of good, old-fashioned Neoplatonic metaphysics.

The order and disposition of all things from the highest even to the lowest in the structure of this universe so follows in sequence with certain causes and generated reasons that of all things that exist none is found unconnected or separable and external by nature.

First, reality is something “ordered” and “disposed.” Things do not exist in a state of isolation from or indifference towards each other, but have been purposely arranged into an intelligent, articulated structure. This structure, while mutually beneficial for all, is not democratically arranged, but involves a clear and highly delineated hierarchy in which lower orders of reality depend upon the higher, and yet the higher, while comparatively independent, serve to bring the lower to their own measure of completion or fulfillment (and so exercise their own sort of indirect dependence on the lower). Thus, creation comprises a kind of grand “eco-system” in which everything is connected to everything else in a vast and complicated web of symbiotic, even if unequal, relationships, one thing helping another to reach its end, to fulfill at once both its own being and its broader function in the cosmos.

The point may seem an obvious one, but this hierarchy of beings is primarily understood in terms of its specifically causal relations: “For all things, whatever there are, either are found to be the causes of subsequent effects or the effects of preceding causes.” It is not just one’s form, nature, and therefore objective degree of being that determines one’s place in the hierarchy, but also the link one forms in the causal chain that one runs both “horizontally” (within a given level of the hierarchy) and “vertically” (down and across the hierarchy). The direction of causality flows downward (from higher to lower) and, if you will, from “left to right” (i.e., from past to future), meaning that causes can be prior to their effects in both a logical and ontological sense than transcends time, and in a temporal sense.

Because reality is a hierarchy, it follows that some things are only causes and not effects of some prior cause, while other things are effects without being themselves causes. As for “intermediate things,” the more prior they are (whether logically/ontologically or temporal), the more they are causes, and the more posterior they are, the more they are effects. Hugh says that “the first things are the most causal,” by which he might mean no more than the fact that by virtue of their ultimacy they are the causes of everything that follows after them. It is possible that Hugh may also have the first principle of the Book of Causes in view here, according to which any first or ultimate cause is more the cause of any of its remote effects than any of the intermediate causes, for prior causes cause not only the intermediate causes, but also the causality or power of the intermediate causes as well. This means that remote effects are not only just as much, but are more the cause of their remote effects than are those intermediate causes that may seem “nearer” the effects in the chain of causality.

Hugh says that “some first causes are created, and these are first in their kind; others are uncreated, and these are universally first.” This reference to uncreated causes in the plural may seem odd, but is characteristically Neoplatonic: although the uncreated cause is single and unified absolutely or in itself, because its effects are multiform or diverse, and have their own, distinct line of causality running from them to the first cause, the first cause may be (or at least is) viewed from the vantage point of that diversity. As Hugh goes on to say, “For those which are first in their own kind are first in relation to something, but are not universally first, since although they precede all things that follow, yet they themselves also have something to which they are found to be posterior, in as much as they do not precede all things.” Examples of these universally first, uncreated causes would presumably be the divine ideas in the mind of God: they are the ultimate causes of the respective things they produce, while having no “cause” of themselves.


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