University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
7 occurrences of Dictionary of the History of Ideas
[Clear Hits]
expand section 
expand section 

expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse section 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 

7 occurrences of Dictionary of the History of Ideas
[Clear Hits]


1. Saint Augustine's God is self-identical, immutable,
not in any way changed by the created world. The
Ideas are God's ideas; they constitute eternal perfection
imperfectly mirrored in all individuals and species. God
did not have to create. He did so, in order that crea-
tures might share in his goodness.

The material world, therefore, is not intrinsically
bad. God endowed it with seminal principles (rationes
) which can be brought to fruition under
appropriate conditions by created agents. The creating
of the seminal principles is always the work of God.
A mother and father, for example, do not create the
child, but their “creative” action brings the form of
the child as created by God into fruition.

In this view, God allows persons to make a difference
in the actual history of the world. Yet, at every point,
Augustine protects the insuperable glory, goodness, and
creativity of God against any alternative that might
even seem to limit his power. Thus, the doctrine of
seminal principles enables Augustine to deny that any-
thing kept God from creating the world and all it could
become “from the beginning.” Nor is God limited by
time since he created time with the world.

Yet tension exists in this view. Augustine attributes
free will to man. Man is responsible for whatever
changes for good or evil depend upon his use of free-
dom. The goodness in the world and in man are not,
therefore, a reflection of God only. But if God does
create human freedom, must it not be possible for
persons to contravene God's purpose? Augustine, intent
on preserving God's sovereignty, holds that the outcome
of human existence is predestined. He even adds that
men cannot believe in God except as God in his grace
moves them to do so, with no regard for their present
and future merit. Thus Augustine's emphasis on both
freedom and predestination, on both the immutability
of God and his immanence in the changing world,
raises difficulties which such theism must confront.

2. All the more fascinating, then, is Scotus Erigena's
attempt to clarify both the Unity of God and the
interrelated orders of existence (ca. ninth century). God
is the Being who creates but is not created. To Him
no categories of existence, even self-comprehension,
apply. He is Nothing, that is, nothing like anything
else. From this Nothing comes all else. Nevertheless,
the essence of this intrinsically invisible God is manifest
in creation. God without any world would be only a
possible Creator, hence this world is not accidental to
God's being. Just as the sun must shine, so the creative
eternal Goodness must create; there can be no chasm
between God's will, his thought, and his being. Yet God
and the world are not one.

The stress is clear: creation must not be a divine
fiat that is arbitrary, or unrelated to God's essential na-
ture. Hence God is not one being alongside of other be-
ings. As James Ward suggests (1935), words like “super-
essential, super-rational, super-personal, nay, super-
absolute unity” are intended to express the fullness
of “inexhaustible positivity” (p. 35). God does not know
himself (if to know is to know what some other is).

Erigena's problem is to link his full Nothing with


the realms of immaterial and material beings and their
composites. The Logos, created and creating, is the
first manifestation of the Nothing of God. The Logos
lures the created and uncreated realms “below” it, thus
unifying the manyness of being with the One.

The traditional creationist will insist that such at-
tempts do nothing ultimately to bridge “the ugly broad
ditch” between the One and the many. Nor is the
distance between the Unity of God and the manyness
of the world decreased by introducing many grades
of being that are lured by the immaterial Logos (or
“Ideas”) without which they would be nonexistent.
Such juxtaposing of emanationism with creationism is
not in fact helpful. For if it helps to argue that man's
knowledge of Nature is possible because his mind
“participates” in the mediating primal Ideas, it does
not help us understand the existence of human freedom
and natural evil. For the many, including man, still
exist in the Absolute, Self-Determining, God. Nothing
that appears to be evil, including man's misuse of his
freedom, has reality apart from God. Thus, a high price
is to be paid for unifying all Being and Goodness, for
holding that evil is ultimate Harmony misunderstood.

3. In Thomas Aquinas the temptation to emanation-
ism is overcome, and creationism is more clear-cut.
Aquinas' God is changeless, transcendent in being and
in self-knowledge. He is, nevertheless, immanent in the
world without its changing Him in any respect. Noth-
ing but God's own being and free decision determine
the “moment” of creation or the duration and quantity
of the created world. For Aquinas the question whether
God can be God without the world is not answerable
with logical necessity.

Aquinas concentrates on understanding how the one
eternally perfect God can maintain his Unity and Per-
fection in creating both the many individuals and their
forms of being. The controlling analogy here is that
of an artist whose quality is expressed not in one work
alone but in a variety that express his quality, and
together display the many aspects of his perfection.

Aquinas' God, accordingly, creates individuals within
species, but the individuals are concrete, graded ways
that bring out the richness possible in each species.
For example, eyes are eyes; they perform their limited
function in all beings. But they, with other limited parts
of the body, go to make up the harmony of the body.
Similarly no species can express the perfection of God,
for each species is limited. But the hierarchy of limited
species, each with its imperfect but definite members
are—all taken together—concrete manifestations of the
perfection of God. God, in freely creating, perforce
creates finite forms of his perfection; but their rich
variety and hierarchical gradations together express the
perfection of his handiwork.

There is a certain power in this argument once it
is seen that the Creator and the created cannot be of
the same quality in every respect. In Gilson's words:
“No creature receives the whole fulness of divine
goodness because perfections come from God to crea-
tures by a kind of descent” (p. 155). But must the
Perfection, expressed in limited creatures, also include
their imperfections? Must the eyes be imperfect eyes?
Granting that evil has no independent power but is
the absence of good as defined for a given kind of
creature, does the actual distribution of natural good
and evil add up to perfection?

But Aquinas' main metaphysical model is clear. A
self-sufficient God expresses his perfection in creating.
The creative activity changes the Creator no more,
presumably, than the knowing process changes what
is known. God is not a member of any genus but he
is the principle and cause of every genus. Were He
incapable of creating in accordance with his will and
reason, he would not be perfect. Only this kind of
being, never Himself nonbeing, can create ex nihilo.
Yet to create is to create some limited order of being
as distinct from every other. This entails at best the
creation of mutually supporting beings and of mutually
supporting parts within them. These beings come into
being and go out of being, within the limits of the
divine plan. Their ultimate nature is not theirs to
constitute or reconstitute; they affect and are affected
in accordance with their particular created consti-
tutions. Persons, however, have limited freedom, which
can be strengthened by God's grace, which is respected
by God even when it is abused.

4. This Thomistic theism has an outstanding coun-
terpart in F. R. Tennant's Philosophical Theology
(1930). Tennant argues that there is no denying the
finite self, but that as regards all other philosophical
questions, probability is the guide of life. He concludes
that a cosmic Person is the most reasonable hypothesis
for interpreting man's cognitive, aesthetic, moral, and
religious experience as a whole.

Tennant struggles with the problem of the divine
immanence in Nature. God, in creating, delegated
spontaneous activity to unities (“substance-causes”) in
the subhuman world. A gradation, as biological evolu-
tion shows, eventuates in human self-consciousness,
desire, reason, and free will. The facts of moral and
natural evil are most intelligible if we hypothesize both
the delegating of limited spontaneity to subhuman
orders and the “planting out” and “positing” of per-
sons. With such metaphorical expressions, Tennant
stresses the fact that things and persons are no part
of God.

More specifically, God is the Creator of the primary
collocations of the world. He is transcendent insofar


as the constitutive elements in Nature exhibit some
spontaneity and persons enjoy limited moral freedom.
Is God, then, a deistic spectator of the created world?
Is he immanent as a painter is immanent in his paint-
ings? Or does God, as in the Augustinian and Cartesian
view, create from moment to moment and thus provide
continuity in his creation?

Tennant answers each of these questions negatively.
The Augustinian view does not take seriously enough
the “planting out” of beings-for-themselves. Tennant
thinks that evils in Nature, like cyclones and cancer,
may be seen as an inherent, but not predetermined
consequence of the delegated spontaneity at the sub-
human level. Such evils and disorder, however, must
be seen within the context of prevailing order and the
possibilities for goodness in things. At the same time,
Tennant urges, “through God's immanence all things
consist” (II, 212). Purpose-foiling tendencies in the
subhuman realm are not allowed to disrupt the pur-
pose-realizing cosmos because of God's appropriate
directive and creative activity in keeping “the world
with all its differentiated detail and its ever emergent
products” one whole (II, 216). Tennant reasons, ac-
cordingly, that “divine action upon the world-
elements,” be it occasional or continuous, is coherent
with the intricate adaptations required for our under-
standing of cosmic evolution, including man (II, 215).
The how of this direction, like the original act of
creation, is not open to human analogy; but it contra-
dicts nothing we know. Tennant leaves it as an empiri-
cal question whether interference with such law as we
know in Nature has actually taken place when God
acts to preserve the dependable unity of Nature. In
any case, Tennant's God is no spectator; he is no artist;
he is no continual creator (Augustine). God delegates
autonomy, but does not remain helpless as he directs
and creates in order to maintain and enrich the created

Tennant distinguishes between God's action upon
subhuman beings and his action on persons capable
of reasonable, moral, and religious response. He rejects
any theory of God's action upon man that suggests
indwelling possession; no quasi-physical, impersonal
coercion by God—even if it be called God's grace—is
acceptable in a universe intended to support man's
moral development.

Tennant also differs from other theists in holding that
it is unempirical, and therefore unreasonable, to speak
of God as creating the best possible world from an
infinite number of contemplated possibilities. “God
without a world is a superfluous abstraction, and a God
who might have 'chosen' a different seminal world from
this, or different 'primary collocations' would be a
different God” (II, 183). Since this world is the only
world we know, for us to talk of God's entertaining
other eternal ideas is to talk as if we had some other
evidence for thinking about God's nature other than
this world with man in it. For Tennant, God has “no
empty capacity which somehow hits upon definite
modes of activity” (II, 184). “The world is what it is
because God is what he is” (II, 184). It is this particular
evolutionary world, not a “static perfection,” which
calls for a World-Ground.

In Tennant, the relation of the unchanging eternal
God of classical theism to the temporal world is stated
very cautiously. On the one hand, he does not wish
to restrict God to the conceptual time of scientific
description; on the other, he wishes to keep God func-
tionally related to the created changing world. So he
finally says, somewhat enigmatically, “We have no
right to regard God as not supra-temporal. I admit that
He cannot be regarded as supra-temporal” (P. A.
Bertocci, The Empirical Argument, p. 255).

5. Theists who have less faith in such reasonable
theorizing, and who hold to creation as an article of
nonrational faith, tend to reinterpret creatio by em-
phasizing man's commitment to his own freedom. They
are suspicious of any doctrine of transcendence that
makes God one being alongside of others, or that con-
ceives man as a thing and not creative in God's image.
Hence they see creatio not as in any way separating
man, world, and God, but as symbolizing both man's
freedom and his dependence on unconditioned Being.
John MacQuarrie's Principles of Christian Theology
(1966) gives expression to this existential-ontological

MacQuarrie's conclusion is that the term “letting be”
best expresses the meaning of creativity. The specula-
tive questions about whether time had a beginning give
way to the existential meaning of time. A creative,
loving Being “lets be... only at the risk to itself, only
by giving itself and going out into openness” (p. 200).

In this view man can understand himself as that
being among dependent beings who, most open to
fulfillment, is also most responsible for his development
as part of the risk of being itself. What this view
emphasizes is expressed in MacQuarrie's belief that
creatio overstresses the difference between God and
his creation, thus tending to make creation an arbitrary
act. Hence MacQuarrie moves toward the image of
emanation which “stresses affinity” and suggests “that
God does really put himself into the creation so that
the risk of creation really matters to him” (p. 202).

Clearly MacQuarrie uses emanation to avoid what
could be arbitrary chasms between beings and Being.
Like Paul Tillich he stresses the participation of con-
ditioned beings in the unconditioned Being. At the
same time, he has God “going out of himself” and


“risking” the creation of the evolutionary order of
subhuman and human beings who uniquely share in
being and nonbeing. The stress remains on man's con-
tinuity with the subhuman world, and on the “leap”
that differentiates man as rational, as responsible for
his own development, and as capable of participation
in Nature and in cooperative intimacy with God.

The contrast between Tennant and MacQuarrie is
significant. Both stress human autonomy in particular,
but Tennant would be suspicious of images like “par-
ticipation” as inconsistent with creation, despite
MacQuarrie's insistence that participation must never
mean “absorption.” MacQuarrie does say that creation
means “the coming out or emergence of particular
things” (p. 214). With what Tennant would approve
MacQuarrie continues: “The more multiple the created
beings, the richer is the unity, or at least the potential
unity [of God], and all this richness would be shattered
and destroyed by the collapse of everything into the
stillness of an inert monolithic Being” (p. 214). There
may seem to be only a verbal difference between
Tennant's speaking of “planting out” and “positing”
or “delegating” autonomy, and MacQuarrie's “creation
where being confers itself, gives itself to the beings
who have been called out of nothing” (p. 214). But
MacQuarrie's concern for inner kinship inspires other
images which for Tennant weaken both transcendence
and mutual responsibility. Still both Tennant and
MacQuarrie are not far apart when MacQuarrie says:
“time is in Being rather than Being in time,” and
“Being must remain at once stable and dynamic”
(p. 320).

6. It is clear that classical, absolutistic theism has
produced uneasiness even in its more refined attempts
to reconcile the transcendent, unchanging God with
the God immanent in a changing world and presuma-
bly affected by the moral growth and sin of persons.
When struggling with this problem classical theism has
veered toward monism and emanationism: God's na-
ture can be expressed in, but not affected by, change
and suffering in all its finite centers.

Indeed, the classical God who creates ex nihilo sug-
gests an omnipotent, sovereign King, the benefactor
of his obedient creatures. But this image does not
cohere with the image of God as cosmic Lover sensitive
to all sentient creatures, and to overcoming sin and
suffering in man. For some thinkers, such as S. Alex-
ander, H. Bergson, C. Hartshorne, A. N. Whitehead
and H. N. Wieman, this seems to mean the bankruptcy
of the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. They therefore
supplant creatio with an ultimate creativity, congenial
with the emergence of novelty in biological evolution
and moral worth in man. The dominant model now
is creative emergence within a temporalistic, teleo-
logical reality guided and directed in different degrees
by a God whose very being is involved with that of
the world.

But all such views, despite their protestations to the
contrary, are faced with the problem of protecting the
nature of the individuality of both God and man. Their
stress on human autonomy and independence of the
world tends to be lost in a polarity between God and
his creation. Such is the critique that underlies tempo-
ralistic personalism. E. S. Brightman, in particular,
resists any blurring of creatio, individuality, and free-
dom, even as he takes both time and the problem of
nondisciplinary suffering seriously (1958). The sugges-
tion is that the working out of the purpose of the
Creator-God is affected by changes in the world and
by the free choices of persons. This suggestion may
be expressed in four theses that at once summarize and
develop the basic themes in this essay.

First, God in his metaphysical structure is a Person,
aware of his own being and purposes. In creating, God
brings into being what could not be apart from his
willing it into being. Created beings are “posited”
with their own quality and degree of activity-passivity
(or, at the subhuman level, they may be identical with

Second, in creating free persons especially, God is
both limiting his own power and the particular way
in which he will affect them. Persons, with limited
freedom, operating within the collocated structures
that make the world a cosmos, cannot change these
structures; but they can select among possible alterna-
tives allowed by these structures. In so doing they
influence the quality of their own experience and
God's. The contrast with this classical theism is ex-
pressed in the next three contentions.

Third, God is not the stern cosmic Potentate, impas-
sive to the suffering and enjoyments of men; nor is he
the beneficent Overseer. He is indeed the Creator who
in creating expresses his own being. The created world
is indeed one in which co-creators arrive, survive, and
are basically responsible for the quality of the respon-
sive-responsible community involving God and man.
God indeed continues to create without infringing the
dependable order of being and in cooperation with
human choice. And God can never become less than
real, being a self-caused Person. But his creative acts
in the evolution of world history, including man, make
him a participant in, but not victim of, all that occurs.
He responds creatively and mercifully to what is
effected in the realm of delegated agency at all levels.
This cosmic Creator is the redeeming Lover who is
concerned that nothing valuable be lost as shared crea-
tion continues.

Fourth, God does not create the world and time
together, for the Creator himself is temporal insofar
as he creates and responds to his co-creators. The


historic process is integral to the very being of the
Creator, who, in creating any specific beings, expresses
the nature of His own being in that specific way. Thus,
the model of an unchanging Creator is supplanted by
the model of a unified Creator who is self-continuous
in creating and knows the agony and ectasy of all
creativity and destruction.

Fifth, in this perspective, the notion that there is
no model for creatio ex nihilo in the finite world is
challenged. Man is indeed usually an artificer in a
material given to him and in him. But the counter-
suggestion is that man does create ex nihilo when, given
his created nature, he does bring into being what was
not. This is so when he creates in the realms of knowl-
edge, ethics, art, and religion. Obviously this creation
is within limits, but what comes to be would not be
to the extent, and in the way that, a person wills it.
There is an experiential person-model for creatio ex

Accordingly, temporalistic personalists reject deism,
emanation, monism, and a dialectical polarity. They
seek to harmonize transcendence and immanence in
a cosmological model of a Unified Person, who creates
without being transformed, who maintains his unity
and continuity as he creates and undergoes the conse-
quences, good and bad, of his creations. This creationist
model must be seen teleologically. A loving Person
purposes a cosmic community of mutually responsible
co-creators—the present and continuing goal of all
creative activity. This view of God underlies the ethics
and social philosophy not of authoritarian fascism or
communism, but of communitarian personalism.