De Sacramentis 1.2.3

1.2.3 “Of the production of the primordial causes.”

This chapter is concerned with the nature of the causality or productive power exercised by the “primordial causes.” Although Hugh doesn’t explicitly enumerate and distinguish the Aristotelian four causes, each of these nonetheless makes its appearance in Hugh’s effort to characterize the productive power of the first cause(s).

First, Hugh characterizes the efficient causality of the first cause’s production as being without any diminishment, reduction, or loss of itself. In my comments on the previous chapter I suggested that perhaps the divine ideas are examples of what Hugh means by a plurality of universal, first causes. In this chapter, however, his example of these things that cause or create without sufering in themselves is that of eternity, whose proper, created effect is that of time: “eternity did not fail in its state by ordaining time, nor did it minister substance from its own store”; “remaining what it was… it did not degenerate by creating lower things, so that its nature descended into those very things”; it “did not diminish itself”; “after things were made, it remained unfailing without movement.” And in a flourish of Augustinian rhetoric, Hugh finally describes the first cause as “assuming nothing new, losing nothing old, giving all and casting away nothing.”

Related to the efficient causality of the first cause is what Hugh has to say about the material causality of its production. The reason there is no tragic diminishment of the first cause’s being in producing its effects has to do with the first cause “not taking from itself the matter of what was made.” The first cause, in other words, is not the material cause of what it makes, meaning that none of the substance of the first cause is “used up” in its act of production. Put differently, “the work and the maker could not be the same by nature.” If the effect of the first cause was not made out of the first cause, then what was it made out of? As Hugh has already explained, it is not made out of anything; it is made of nothing.

Third, Hugh may be seen to address the formal causality of the first cause’s production when he says that “[t]his first cause of all things performed its own work according to itself…., since it did not receive the form of its work from without… For it made to its own likeness what it disposed to participation in itself, so that from itself that which with it was to possess the same good might take the same form.” This is virtually the same point that Augustine makes, for example, in the Confessions, namely that when God created the world, he did not look to anything outside himself, in Platonic, demiurgic fashion, for the form or exemplar of what he made, but rather looked to his own eternal mind. This means, of course, that God himself is the “likeness” by which creatures are made: their forms are ultimately nothing other than God himself, so that in possessing their own good (namely their form), they are possessing nothing other than God himself.

Lastly, Hugh addresses the final causality of the first cause’s production when he says that the “first cause of all things performed its own work… on account of itself…, since it did not have the cause for operating from any other source.” Nothing outside of God, in other words, was the goal or good “moving” God, so to speak, to create. This Hugh relates to the point about God’s formal causality, since God himself is the form of creation, he is also the good for which all creatures strive. But Hugh will develop this point in the next chapter.

One further point Hugh makes in this chapter that is worth dwelling on is his statement that the universally first, uncreated causes act “without movement and produce without transference.” Motion is a physical act, involving time and the communication of form or actuality to the effect, but the causality of universal causes is a metaphysical act, transcending or acting outside of time and expending none of its own resources or being. It is a real act, but it is not an observable process.


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