Aquinas on art as “con-creation”

The eighth and final article of question 45 of Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae, on the nature of creation as the “emanation of all being from the universal cause,” inquires into the relationship between creating and making, and asks “whether creation is mingled with works of nature and art” (utum creatio admiscetur in operibus naturae et artis). One of the concerns Thomas gives expression to in his set of objections is that if creation is defined as the bringing into being something from nothing, then art and nature—inasmuch as they produce new forms in things, forms which, taken by themselves, are not made from any previously existing material—would seem to involve a kind of “creation.” In his response Thomas draws upon a number of the arguments he made earlier in the course of question 45. Forms, not being subsisting, existing things in themselves (contra Plato), cannot therefore be the proper objects of creation (ST 1.45.4). Instead, the proper objects of creation are individual substances which are composed of both form and matter (excepting angels, of course, which according to Thomas have no matter). Citing Aristotle’s argument from book seven of the Metaphysics that forms, not being subsistent, do not so much exist (in the proper sense of the term) as co-exist in the substances they inform, Thomas argues in an analogous fashion that neither should it be said that forms are created, but are rather “con-created” (Sicut igitur accidentia et formae, et huiusmodi, quae non subsistent, magis sunt coexistentia quam entia; ita magis debent dici concreata quam creata). The forms produced by art and nature, therefore, are not a creation, but a con-creation, a designation that points to the radical contingency and dependence of art and nature upon the divine act of creation, inasmuch as their forms cannot exist by themselves but only in substances, the absolute being of which is directly caused by the Creator alone. The conclusion of the matter in ST 1.45.8 is that creation is therefore not “mingled with” art and nature but is rather “presupposed” by them.

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