[asa] eternity of the world

From: Ted Davis <TDavis@messiah.edu>
Date: Tue Mar 11 2008 - 20:13:04 EDT

The following comment is only partly correct:

"In the day of Thomas Aquinas, Genesis was read as pure metaphor, simply
because philosophers agreed with theologians that the universe was more
or less eternal. ‘Creation’ then, referred to an ontological dependence
of Creation on its Creator."
----someone named Daniel


Most of this is wrong. In the 13th century, when Aristotelian natural philosophy was making its way fully into the curricula of the newly founded universities in Western and Southern Europe, such as Paris (where Aquinas studied & taught theology), the masters of arts who taught the undergrad curriculum sometimes, apparently, followed Aristotle in teaching the eternity of the world--I say apparently b/c it's very hard to know how much this took place, but we can infer from some documents (such as the various condemnations of certain ideas issued by the bishops of Paris during that century) that at least some people were doing this.

Most theologians probably did not teach this, although the Augustinian theologian Giles of Rome (probably a student of Thomas at Paris) allowed that possibility prior to the condemnation of 1277 (while denying that Aristotle had proved it).

The most famous advocate of the eternity of the world was the radical Averroist, Siger of Brabant, a master of arts at Paris (whose ideas were specifically targeted by some condemnations, and also by Thomas). He flatly declared that the world was eternal, according to natural philosophy, but not eternal according to theology. The CHristian could affirm both of these together, he claimed, an idea known as the "double truth" that was expressly condemned at Paris in 1277 by Etienne Tempier, the bishop of Paris who was legal overseer of the university. Siger probably believed the world really is eternal.

But Aquinas did not. Aquinas taught that yes, natural philosophy concludes that the world is eternal, but the Bible trumps natural philosophy with its teaching of divine creation. At the same time, he was willing to say that the doctrine of creation is really about the utter dependence of the world on God for its very existence, whether eternally or not. To see his views in detail, go to http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/aquinas-eternity.html .

Generally speaking, the theologians, who constituted a graduate faculty at Paris and other universities, denied the eternity of the world, as Aquinas himself did on the basis of revelation. Much has been made of his willingness to countenance the idea of an eternal created world, perhaps too much. It's hard to know just how much to make of this.


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Received on Tue Mar 11 20:14:22 2008

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