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First published in Dialogue: A Canadian Philosophical Review, Vol. 6, 1967, pp. 74-88; anthologized in Aquinas: A Collection of Critical Essays, Anthony Kenny, ed., Notre Dame University Press, 1976, pp. 237-254.  

Plotinus scholar John N. Deck decomposes Thomistic "composition" unanswerably in his 1967 essay, "St. Thomas and the Language of Total Dependence."  William Vallicella thinks otherwise, I reply, and he (and others) rebut. (See links after Deck's article.)  Deck followed up his line of reasoning in “The Itself: In-Another Pattern and Total Dependence” elsewhere on this site.


St. Thomas Aquinas 

and the Language of 

Total Dependence

 John N. Deck

What are the implications of total dependence?  What is involved in saying that one thing depends entirely upon another?  What can be said in respect to cases of total dependence, and what can not be said?

Before these questions there is a prior one:  Is there any total dependence, as a matter of fact?  We readily observe that in the world one thing depends, or at least seems to depend, upon another.  But total dependence, dependence such that everything that the dependent in any way is, is due to that upon which it depends—this is not readily observable.

Historically, total dependence has been “seen” almost exclusively in the relation of other things to a first cause, of creatures to God.  The relation of other things to a First has been described in this way by Plotinus and St. Thomas Aquinas, among many.  Now if God does not exist, of if he exists in such a way that creatures do not totally depend on him there is, perhaps, no actual case of total dependence.  Nevertheless, it seems interesting to work out the implications of total dependence, not only because it is the core of a persistently influential view of creatures and God, but because it is at least the limiting case, the abstract pole, of dependence, an inescapable feature of the world of which philosophy must take account.

I take total dependence to entail (1) that B is dependent upon A, but that A is independent of B (that there is no reciprocity, no reciprocal action), (2) that B is dependent on nothing else than A, and (3) that there nothing in B which is independent of A.

Total dependence entails non-reciprocity.  Some philosophers and theologians have regarded and do regard the relation between God and creatures as one in which there is given-and-take, perhaps “dialogue.”  Creatures are dependent upon God, but God is also—probably in another way—dependent on creatures.  The fact that only dependence, and in some cases interdependence—never total dependence is—prima facie observable is an invitation to conceive the creature-God relation as reciprocal.  Such treatments, whatever they may have to recommend them, cannot directly concern a discussion of the theoretical implications of total dependence.  If, however, such accounts of creature and God proved to be true, they would be strong indications that the consideration of total dependence has no actual application.

Total dependence entails non-reciprocity, but not vice versa.  Thus in Aristotle’s philosophy, according to a plausible interpretation, the “first causes,” the prime movents, cause material things to be in motion but are not themselves acted upon by material thingsbut the material things are based on a “matter” which is not due to the causality of the prime movents.  That is to say, requirement (1) is satisfied here but not (2) and not (3).

At first glance, it might seem easy to speak the language of total dependence.  If B is to be regarded as totally dependent on A, B can (it would appear) be described in a way that will satisfy the three requirements stated above.  But in significant historical instances, I believe it can be shown that thinkers who “meant” to portray things as entirely dependent on a First were not ultimately successful. In Plotinus, for example, there is no reciprocity between the One and the Intelligence.  The One is the father, the maker, of the Intelligence.  There is not, according to Plotinus’ apparent intention, any other cause for the Intelligence but the One.  And yet I believe it can be found that there is something in the Intelligence which does not depend on the One.

In this paper I will concentrate upon St. Thomas Aquinas, taking his treatment of creatures as a paramount case of the attempt to speak the language of total dependence.  For him, “Everything that in any way is, is from God.”1  For him, creatures are related to God, God is not related to creatures.  Everything is dependent upon God, and upon nothing else, as an originative source of existence.  But does St. Thomas, after all, have something in the creature which is independent of God?  The discussion of this last, specific point will lead us into the technicalities of his doctrine, and into a criticism which can remain largely within the texture of his philosophic vocabulary (Part I).  The investigation of St. Thomas’s doctrine will reveal, I believe, something that can not be said if one wishes to speak the language of total dependence, and this will be developed more generally, and in a less specific idiom, in Part II.




For St. Thomas, creation can be taken to mean the “present” dependence of all other things upon God, without reference to a possible temporal beginning of the world.  That is to say, it can be taken to mean the simple causal dependence of the creature upon the Creator.  (This is the sense in which I will use the word in this paper.)  The creature is dependent on God in the sense that the creature is receptive of existence from God.  The creature is thus a recipient of existence, and in this way St. Thomas sees a “composition” within the creature in reference to its dependence upon God. The creature, or the substance or essence of the creature is a recipient, a potency; the existence of the creature is an act.  This composition, the composition of essence and existence, is in the creature itself, and not only in someone’s thought about the creature.  The latter point is often expressed by saying that for St. Thomas there is a “real distinction” between existence and essence in a creature.2  The creature’s existence is a received existence, received from the creator who is unreceived existence, pure existence.  This is expressed by saying that in God existence and essence are the same, “not distinct.”

What I am interested in is the “picture” presented in St. Thomas’s work: God as Existence, creatures as totally dependent on God and dual because of this dependence: composed of existence and essence.  The method by which one can hope to sees what is “right” or “wrong” with this picture cannot be the method which St. Thomas himself uses to present his doctrine.  St. Thomas’s statements about the identity of existence and essence in God, and their composition in creatures, occur in many contexts.  It will be necessary to attend sufficiently to the context of a statement to ensure that no purely verbal mistake is made about the meaning of the statement.  But then it may be necessary to take––not to “wrench”––the statement out of its context, subject it to philosophic analysis, see what it can or must imply, and confront it with other statements from other contexts and their implications.  A less radical technique will yield something that is basically only a transcription of the doctrine—a collation of mutually supporting and reciprocally clarifying texts which may give the illusion of a basic consistency not actually present.

More specifically, St. Thomas’s statement about existence and essence occur in proofs.  The internal order of these proofs, what is being concluded to in them, or their interconnection are not necessarily of concern.  The proofs will not necessarily be treated as proofs. Individual statements and at times connected statements in them will be taken as manifestations of St. Thomas’s view of creatures vis-à-vis God.

Certain central texts in two of St. Thomas’s major works, the Summa Theologiae and the Summa Contra Gentiles, bear upon the composition of existence and essence (substance) in creatures.  In these texts there are statements and arguments which treat the existence-essence composition of creatures in function of the causing of creatures by God.  The exegesis of such statements will lead directly to a confrontation between the existence-essence composition and creation.

(In St. Thomas’s texts, these statements and arguments bearing on the causal relation of creatures to God are mingled freely with statements and arguments which treat the existence-essence composition as involved in the “diversification” or “limitation” of being.  Although St. Thomas seems to see no difference between the two types of statement, the diversification-limitation perspective is considerably different from the causal.  If essence is said to “diversify”3 or to “limit”4 existence it would appear that existence is being taken as a logical universal.  The relation of essence to existence becomes analogous to the “diversification” and “restriction” of a generic term, such as “animal” by a specific difference, such as “rational,” in classical logic.)

Because of the theological nature of the two Summas, the existence-essence distinction in creatures occurs first in each of them as something to which allusion is made while treating explicitly the identity of existence and essence in God.

In the Contra Gentiles (I, 22, 6), St. Thomas states that if the existence of God is not identical with his essence, it cannot be a part of his essence either, since the divine essence is simple.  So if it were not identical with his essence, it would have to be in addition to his essence.  But “Everything which is not of the essence of something, and yet belongs to that thing, belongs to it through some cause.”  On this basis he argues that if God’s existence were caused by his essence, then, since it is substantial existence which is in question, this would mean that God would be the cause of his own existence, while if his existence were caused by some other cause, God would not be the first cause.

“Everything which is not of the essence of something, and yet belongs to that thing, belongs to it through some cause.”  Does this statement reveal anything of St. Thomas’s view of the essence-existence situation in creatures?  It is true that that focus here is upon God.  It is granted that both God’s existence and his essence are uncaused.  It is granted that God’s existence “belongs” to his essence.  The reasoning, in brief, is that what belongs to an essence but is in addition to that essence is caused: God’s existence is not caused; God’s existence is not in addition to his essence.

But in the context, St. Thomas does not seem to have in mind only the theoretical possibility of existence belonging to something and yet not being of its essence, but the actual state of creatures––as he envisages them.  “For those things which are not per se one, if they are joined, are necessarily united through some cause.  Existence therefore belongs to that essence through some cause . . . Therefore, that essence which acquires existence from another, is not the essence of God.”  Apparently he refers here to creatures, to which existence belongs through their cause.

Is anything implied about the essence of a creature?  The existence, which is not of the essence, belongs to the creature through some cause.  What of that which is of the essence?  Does that belong to the creature through some cause, or is it causeless?

It is obvious that to say that what is not of the essence is caused does not imply logically that what is of the essence is uncaused.  But why single out that which is not of the essence and say precisely that it is caused existence and that which is of the essence, which is just “there,” so to speak, uncaused?  There appears to be a contrast between what belongs to a thing through a cause and what just belongs—without a cause.  Can there be anything causeless in a creature?

In the parallel passage in the Summa Theologiae (I, 3, 4c), the preliminaries are omitted; a statement that “. . . whatever is in anything in addition to the essence, must be caused . . .” is placed at the head of the argument.5  This is used to show that “It is necessary that that, the existence of which is other than its essence, have existence caused by another.”  To possess caused existence and to possess existence in addition to essence, then, go together––and this is the metaphysical situation of a creature.  The existence must be caused when it is in addition to the essence.  Again, is that which is not in addition to the essence, but rather is the essence, uncaused?6

A caused existence for an uncaused essence?  In C.G. II, 52, 6, we read:

The substance of anything is to it through itself and not through something else; whence to be lucid in act is not of the substance of air, because it is to it through something else.  But the existence of any created thing is to it through something else, otherwise it would not be caused.  Therefore the existence of no created thing is its substance.

“The substance of anything is to it through itself and not through something else.”  The meaning here is unmistakable.  A created, caused thing has its existence through something else (its cause), but its substance is to it through itself.7

“To it through itself” contrasts with “to it through something else.”  Although in the latter expression the “through” expresses causality, St. Thomas probably does not mean that the substance, which is “through” the created thing, is caused by the created thing.  The statement is intended to mean, rather, that a created thing “just has” or “just is” its substance.

And yet the whole force of the argument derives from the contrast between “through itself” and “through something else.”  If there is no distinction intended between the “through itself” and the “through something else,” the argument could not begin to prove a distinction between substance and existence.  The “through itself” expresses something about the substance which renders substance different from existence in terms of what substance is “through”––which means in terms of cause.  Substance is “through” nothing else––that is the point of the contrast.  Thus the uncausedness (or self-causedness!) of substance is not just a manner of speaking, but is functional in the argument.

It might be urged that to say that the substance of a created thing is from itself, which phrase would safeguard the thing as an entity distinct from its Creator, need not mean that its substance is uncaused.  Perhaps the substance “of itself” is not such that it can be caused or uncaused, since “of itself” a created substance is nothing.8  But to say that a created substance is in or of itself nothing has, ultimately one of two meanings: (1) that some “nothing” enters into the composition of created things.  This view is indefensible and, once one has moved above the level of imagination, incomprehensible; or (2) that there is no created substance which is not caused.  This latter is an obverted way of saying that the created substance is caused, which, in turn, contradicts the statement that the substance of a created thing is “to it through itself.”

St. Thomas’s account of the creature is thus inconsistent.  For the substance or essence of a created thing to be “to it through itself” is incompatible with the total dependence of the creature upon the Creator.  The essence-existence composition must be taken, in the light of the three texts discussed, as a composition of the causeless with the caused.  As such, it cannot be the composition of a creature, which is meant to be entirely, totally caused.


But even in the face of “the substance of anything to it through itself and not through something else,” it may be objected that St. Thomas’s position has nothing to do with causeless essences.  Does he not repudiate the notion that there are eternal possibles, possible essences, to some of which God gives existence, enabling them fully to be?9  Is it not his position that the essence is nothing before it receives existence, that the essence “is” in any sense whatever only while it is receiving existence?10  In the case of essence and existence there is no receptor prior to the receiving.11 Existence actuates now a substance distinct from existence.

It should be noted that the mere removal of the notion of a temporal priority for essence does not remove the difficulty.  The essence might not be “just there” when it is not receiving existence, and still be “just there” “to it through itself” when it is receiving existence.

But is it not plain that the reception of existence is exactly the causing of essence?  Does not existence, incoming from the cause, constitute its own receptor for itself?  Can a doctrine, in which the reception of existence is necessary for an essence to be in any sense, justly be charged with involving a notion of causeless existence?  Is not Thomas’s meaning that the very essentially of essence is due to existence?  As he says himself “. . . all other substances have existence from the first agent: and through this the substances themselves are caused, because they have existence from another.”  (C.G. II, 53, 3).  This statement cannot stand with “the substance of anything is to it through itself” (from the immediately preceding chapter in the Contra Gentiles!).  But is it not closer to what St. Thomas “really meant”?

What is basic here is the belief that the existence of creatures is “received” by the creatures.  God creates creatures; creatures receive existence from God.  Since the existence of created things is received, it is received by or into some receptor.  The creatures “in themselves,” then, seem to be recipients of existence.  The essence or substance of the creature is a receptor of existence.

Put in the form that “possibles wait for existence,” the fundamental belief is crudely expressed.  Perhaps the phrase “The substance of a created thing is from itself; its existence is from its creator” is less crude.  To say that the existence projects its own receptor appears sophisticated.  But in each case the necessity for a receptor is recognized.

This notion is the fundamental metaphysical error in St. Thomas’ account.  Quite possibly the fact that the instances of causation with which we are familiar are, in St. Thomas’s language, cases of a cause acting upon a potential principle whether a substance or matter, encourages one to construe creation after the same fashion.  But if to create is to cause ex nihilo,12 that is, with no matter upon which the cause works, why is something strictly analogous to matter, a potential principle receptive of existence, being posited?  If it is seen to be absurd that a creator should work upon a pre-“existent” matter, why is it not seen as absurd that there should be a potency present to receive existence when existence is being given?

If the creature, or the essence or the substance of the creature, is considered as a receptor of existence, a semi-independent term of the creature-Creator relation has been posited.  The creature, or its essence or substance, is being considered as something which has some shade of being in its own right and receives existence from the Creator.  Notice that it makes little difference whether we say “and then receives” or “concurrently receives.”  The assertion that it is constituted as a receptor only by receiving does not negate the semi-independence of its receptivity.

Therefore, for the same reason that a creator cannot act on a pre-“existent” matter, he cannot act upon any “matter,” upon any potential principle.  If there is creation, it must be without qualification ex nihilo.

St. Thomas holds, however, that the act from the agent—even when this agent is the Creator—must be received into a potency:

 What is in anything from the agent, must be act: for it is the role of the agent to make something (to be) in act.  But it was shown above that all other substances have existence from the first agent: and through this the substances themselves are caused, because they have existence from another.  Existence itself, therefore, is in caused substances as a certain act of theirs.  That however which act is in, is potency: for act, insofar as it is act, if referred to potency.  Therefore in any created substance whatever there is potency and act. (C.G. II, 53, 3)13

In this argument the initial phrase “what is in anything from the agent” predetermines the result.  At the outset a distinction has been presupposed between “anything” and “what is in it from the agent.”  The effect of the agent is already being viewed as in somethinga recipient, a subject, a “matter,” and in this Aristotelian atmosphere it is no surprise that, as the effect of the agent is act, that which it is “in” is potency.  Now when the agent in question is the first agent, the total cause, is it proper to say that the effect of this agent is in anything?  The effect of the total cause must be the total caused.  How is the total caused in anything?

But still it might seem that, according to the text just quoted, God is the total cause and the creature totally caused.  “. . . all other substances have existence from the first agent:  and through this the substances themselves are caused, because they have existence from another.” Is he not saying clearly that all that is in the creature is caused by the Creator, since the act (existence) is from the agent (the Creator) and the potency (essence) is caused through the act?  This appears also to be in line with a text in which St. Thomas says explicitly that the essence is created: 

Argument:  Since therefore the essence of the thing is in addition to its existence, it seems that the essence of the thing is not from God.  Reply:  It must be said that from the fact that existence is attributed to the essence, not only existence but the essence is said to be created:  because before it has existence, it is nothing. . . (De Pot. III, 5, arg. 2).

This notion of the essence as the recipient of existence is close to the surface here:  this text accords perfectly with the picture of the essence as the recipient of the creative influx.  Thus, while it affirms that the essence is created, it involves the notion that the essence, as the recipient of the creative influx, is simultaneously constituted by the influx it receives.  In effect, this text affirms that the essence is both a recipient and is created.

This is all very well, but it hardly answers the question whether there can be any recipient at all—even a created recipient—of the creative influx.  According to what was quoted just above from C.G. II, 53, the act, existence, is what is in the creature from the creator. The potency, essence, is the recipient of what “comes” from the agent, that is, of the effect of the agent.  Now if the total effect of the agent is the act, and the potency through the act, how can the potency receive the effect—the total effect—of the agent?

If, on the other hand, the potency is not included in the effect of the agent, the essence is not included in the effect of God, then the essence must be uncaused, uncreated.

In short, it is inconsistent to hold that there is a created recipient of what is in creatures from God.  If there must be a recipient, it would have to be the “substance” which is “to the creature through itself and not through another.”  But this view, in turn, as we have amply shown is inconsistent with creation altogether.  There cannot be a recipient—if we are to have creation, there cannot be an essence in creatures receiving existence from God.

In a widely different context, St. Thomas says something which tends to show that he himself recognizes that the creature cannot be a recipient subject:

It must be said that not everything which is accepted, is received in some subject, otherwise it could not be said that the entire substance of a created thing is accepted from God, since there is no receptive subject of the entire substance. (S.T. I, 27, 2 ad 3)14

Exactly.  The entire substance of the creature is the effect of the first agent.  For the effect of this agent, “there is no receptive subject.”  Therefore (what is not said here, certainly), the creature can be, or have, no essence––since essence has been called, exactly, a receptive subject.  Or––to save something at this point––the creature cannot be, or have, an essence distinct from its existence.  There can be no essence-existence composition in the creature.




In one noteworthy instance, the composed creature has come to grief.  If he is composed of essence and existence as St. Thomas explains them, he cannot be totally dependent.  I should like to suggest that if he is “composed” at all––if there is any duality in him with respect to his relation to his Creator, he cannot be totally dependent.

A total-dependence theory of creature and God must make some sense of “God creates the creature.”  Now this phrase presents at once two terms, God and creature, and invites the notion that the creature is somehow “there,” being acted upon by God, receiving something from him.  What the creature is said to receive from the Creator—form, order, goodness, unity, existence—does not matter.  “The creature receives X from the Creator”––this very phrase suggests a creature standing over against the Creator, receiving something from him, being acted upon by him.  In this fashion the patent grammatical duality in the expression “God creates the creature,” has become metamorphosed into a duality in the creature.  The duality of God and Creature has become reflected into the creature itself.  Two “parts” have now shown up in the creature:  One part is “his” or “him,” the other part is “from the creator.”  By moves such as these (a) “God creates the creature” has not been explicated at all:  the creature-God relation has been simply reproduced within the creature and (b) the presence, within the creature, of the “him” or “his” in contrast to the “from God” has compromised the total dependence of the creature.

What can be made of “the creature is related to the Creator” if the relation is total dependence?  It cannot be that the creature is one and his relation to the Creator a second.  If the creature is to be totally dependent, there can be nothing in him other than his relation to the Creator.  Perhaps one should say that the creature cannot be a term of the relation (for then, cut it as you will, he will be in some fashion independent), he must be the relation15  If the notion of relation is relevant here, it would seem that “total dependence” cannot be said in any other way.

Those who wish to say that the creature is totally dependent must take account of “otherness.”  If the dependent is not other than that on which it depends, dependence itself disappears.  So it might appear that the creature is composed of otherness and dependence.  But, once again, dualizing the creature hurts rather than helps.  The otherness between the creature and God, by being “explained” in this way, merely reappears at once as the contrast between two parts in the creature.  Meanwhile, one part, the “otherness from God,” by being contrasted to dependence, begins to escape from dependence.

The otherness of the dependent cannot be different from the dependence of the dependent.  There can be no dependent which is not other.  Conversely, otherness for a creature is itself totally dependent.  Thus, for a creature, otherness and dependence cannot be two distinct parts or the cause, or effect, of two distinct parts.


In general, a two-part structuring of the dependent (for convenience, “the creature”) is incompatible with total dependence.  The two parts will be rendering some internal difference within the dependence of the creature upon the Creator.  It would be pointless to regard the creature as double if the two parts are considered on a par, and no one in fact has done this.  This would too obviously be a multiplication without necessity.  If the two parts are unequal, what can make them unequal?  Only their connections with the Creator.  Perhaps one is “closer” to the Creator—another more remote?  Is it a partial eluding, an escaping however humble from the Creator’s agency?  Or is the more remote a radically deficient being that “really needs” a boost from the Creator?  Then what about the more proximate part?  Can this, in this respect, be any different?

If the creature is taken as dual, there will be an uneasy shuffling between these two positions:  the more remote part needs the Creator more, or the more remote part needs the Creator less.  If it needs him more, the more proximate part needs him less––and here there will be a tendency to take the more proximate part of the creature as part of the Creator, to the detriment of the whole notion of creature.  If the more remote part of the creature needs the Creator less, this can mean only that it has a trace of independence.

In short, a totally-dependent creature cannot be dual.  If the creature as a creature is composed of two unequal parts (act-potency; form-matter; existence-essence; dependence-otherness; the “from God” and the “its own”), one part must escape from the divine causality and so from dependence.  If there is any total dependence anywhere, either of creature upon God or of anything upon anything else, the dependent must be a one in respect to that upon which it depends.


1 Summa Theologiae I, 44, 1c.; Contra Gentiles II, 15.  (Summa Theologiae will be abbreviated hereafter as S.T.; Contra Gentiles as C.G.)

2 The doctrine of a real distinction between essence and existence in creatures is commonly held to be the kernel of St. Thomas’s metaphysics.  E.g.: Gilson speaks of “the central place of this thesis in Thomistic metaphysics.”  The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, (New York) 1956, p. 11; “This doctrine, whose place in Thomism is central . . .”, ibid., p. 34.  For Maritain, the “real distinction between essence and existence in all that is not God” is “The most fundamental and most characteristic metaphysical thesis of Aristotelianism as re-thought by Thomas Aquinas.”  Existence and the Existent, (New York) c. 1948, p. 35.

3 As in C.G. II, 52, 2:  “But existence, insofar as it is existence, cannot be diverse:  but it can be diversified through something which is in addition to existence; as the existence of a stone is other than the existence of a man.”

4 As in De Potentia I, 1, 3c:  “The existence of man is limited to the species of man, because it is received in the nature of the species of man, and the same is the case with the existence of horse, or of any creature at all.  But the existence of God, since it is not received in anything, is not limited to any mode of the perfection of existing but has all existence in itself, and so, just as existence taken universally can extend to an infinite number of things so the divine existence is infinite . . . “  Cf.  S.T. I, 50, 2 ad 4; C.G. I, 43, 8.

5 Note that here the word “essence” is used directly, enabling us to avoid the cumbersome circumlocutions needed in dealing with the argument the Contra Gentiles, in which the phrase “that which is of the essence” has been employed.

6 Against the suspicion that a causeless essence, or a causeless what-is-of-the-essence is involved here, it may be objected that St. Thomas’s doctrine is that, for caused things, the existence makes the essence to be: the causing of the essence and of what-is-of-the-essence is precisely the causing of existence to accrue to the essence.  It must be pointed out that this explanation assumes some basis for an essence-existence distinction (perhaps potency-act) while it destroys the basis implied in noting that the existence, precisely, belongs to the thing through a cause.

7 Cf. the following expressions in another argument from this same chapter: “Existence itself pertains to all other things from the first agent by a certain participation.  But that which pertains to something through participation, is not the substance of that thing.” (C.G. II, 52, 9).

8 “Each and every created thing, just as it does not have existence, except from another, and considered in itself is nothing, in the same way needs to be conserved in the good appropriate to its nature by another.”  S.T. I-II, 109, 2, ad 2.  (Italics mine)

9 Cf. S.T. I, 9, 2c; S.T. I, 46, 1, ad 1.

10 De Potentia III, 5, ad 2:  “. . . before it the quiddity, the essence has existence, it is nothing.”  It should be noted that such statements may tend to give the imaginational picture of a “nothing” which receives existence and so becomes a “something.”  The notion here would probably be better expressed by saying “there is no essence before it has existence.”

11 “Simultaneously with giving existence, God produces that which receives existence.”  De Pot. III, 1, ad 17.

12 According to S.T. I, 45, 1 ad 3, “ex nihilo” can have two legitimate meanings when applied to creation.  It can refer to the order of creation:  there is no existence of creatures preceding creation.  Or it can mean that there is no matter upon which the creator works, no “material cause”: “Something is made from nothing, that is, it is not made from something.”  Our concern is with the latter meaning. “. . . creation is the production of some thing according to its entire substance, presupposing nothing which is either uncreated or created by anything.” S.T. I, 65, 3c.

13 “First agent” does not mean first in time, but first in order.  God is called the first agent because there is no agent in order above him.  He is the agent who does not have an agent acting upon him.  The expression is equivalent to “first cause,” which means “uncaused cause.”

14 The quoted passage occurs in an article in which St. Thomas is arguing that in the Blessed Trinity the Son is “generated” by the Father.  Encountering the objection that the existence of anything generated is received existence, he answers that the existence of the Son is not received in a subject, but is “accepted” from the Generator.

15 For St. Thomas, characteristically, there is a duality here also:  the creature cannot be the relation: “. . . according as creation is truly a relation, the creature is its subject, and is before it in existence, as a subject to an accident.  But it has a certain ratio of priority on the part of the object towards which it is said, which object is the source of the creature.”  (S.T. I, 45, 3 ad 3.)


Deck Page




Total Dependence and the Essence/Existence Distinction [Bill Vallicella revised the October 20, 2004 essay, previously linked here, and sent me the link to the revised blog posting on June 21, 2006]

William Vallicella attempts to answer what I found "unanswerable."  

William Vallicella, October 20, 2004


How Does Onto-Theological Personalism Avoid Pantheism? A Record of My Incomprehension of William Vallicella's "Total Dependence and Essence/Existence Composition" 

Anthony Flood, November 4, 2004


Aquinas vs. Plotinus

"Really interesting post from the philosopher Anthony Flood more or less critiquing Bill Vallicella's view of creation ex nihilo. The basic argument is the creation ex nihilo ends up being incoherent or leads one naturally to a kind of pantheism. Of course it ends up being more of a neoPlatonic critique of the late ancient and medieval Christian revampings of the neoPlatonic conception of creation."

Clark, November 5, 2004


On Flood's Reply to Vallicella 

"It's always possible that I'm missing something key in the movement here; but the moves seem to be far too quick. And when one looks more closely at them, it's difficult to find any good reason for those moves, or, at least, I find it difficult."

Brandon, November 6, 2004


Pancreationism, Accomodation, and creation ex nihilo

"I was recently reading a post by the  . .  William F. Vallicella . . . His essay attempts to argue that Aquinas' view of creation ex nihilo is unproblematic. Near the end, he says, "God creates ex nihilo in this precise sense: God creates, but not out of something distinct from himself. . . .Vallicella's essay that I linked to was critiqued by Anthony Flood"

Prosthesis, November 7, 2004


Creation: Ex Nihilo or Ex Deo? Preliminary Response to Flood

". . . Flood is wrong in his radical thesis in which he ‘out-Decks Deck’ by maintaining that total dependence of A on B entails identity of A with B. Deck didn’t go that far. His point was merely that total dependence of A on B is incompatible with essence/existence composition in A."

William Vallicella, November 11, 2004


Creatio Ex Deo and Pantheism 

". . . One question prompted by Anthony Flood's critique of my post on essence/existence composition is this: Does my construal of creatio ex nihilo in terms of creatio ex Deo commit me to pantheism? If so, how does that comport with my avowed onto-theological personalism? . . . , I cannot, pace Flood, see that I am committed to pantheism in any of the three senses lately distinguished.

William Vallicella, November 18, 2004


Preliminary Response to Deck

"John Deck's thesis ... is that any composition in a creature is completely incompatible with a creature's total dependence on God; i.e. one or the other can be true, but not both. This claim is more than idle hair splitting: almost nothing of St. Thomas's natural theology could survive the success of this critique. This is not to say that all of St. Thomas's language would disappear, or all his proofs fall into ruin, but many, if not most of them would either have to be redefined, or be placed in the service of very different conclusions." Shulamite, a Thomist, comes to the Angelic Doctor's defense.  December 11