Saturday, 2 June 2012

Question 71 - The Work of the Fifth Day

Why this Question Matters.

“And God created the great whales, and every living and moving creature, which the waters brought forth, according to their kinds, and every winged fowl according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. And he blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the waters of the sea: and let the birds be multiplied upon the earth. And the evening and morning were the fifth day.”

This question and the next are unusual in that there is only one article in each of the questions. In this question the topic under consideration is whether the account of the fifth day given in Genesis is consistent with medieval science. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this question from a modern point of view is to see where the medieval understanding of the generation of life agrees with modern understanding and where it disagrees.

The Thread of the Argument

A1: The objections state the case that the account of the fifth day is inconsistent with the scientific understanding of life processes of the middle ages.

In his answer, Aquinas returns to the theme of the division of the structure of the Genesis account into a fundamental creation, the work of diversification and the work of adornment. Here he concentrates attention on the parallel accounts of the work of diversification and the work of adornment: for each day during the work of diversification in which the basic structures of the world came to take their final form there corresponds a day of adornment in which each of these structures receives its mobile contents. The fifth day is the second day of adornment, corresponding to the second day of diversification in which the waters came to take their final form. Therefore the Genesis account is quite consistent when taken in terms of what the author intended to communicate.

As a coda, Aquinas mentions that Augustine, having believed that the luminous heavenly bodies were actually created on the first day of adornment, returns to the idea that the creatures created on the second day of adornment were created in their causes rather than actually.

Turning his attention to the first of the objections, Aquinas points out that as far as nature is concerned, any generation involves the interaction of an active and a passive principle. The passive principle is matter and the active principle is either semen or the power of the sun (the latter in the case of spontaneous generation arising from putrefaction). However, the natural scientific understanding of the matter is, as far as the creation account is concerned, beside the point. In creation, the active power involved is the Word of God; it is the second Person of the Trinity that is bringing things to be by acts of supernatural creation. The rest of the objections are dealt with by careful attention to the possible meanings of the text of the creation account.

Handy Concepts

  • The account of creation in Genesis parallels the days of the work of diversification and the days of the work of adornment. The creation of animals on the second day of adornment parallels the second day of diversification in which the waters are given their final form.
  • Objections to the creation account of Genesis based on an understanding of natural science have to beware of the fact that the active principle in creation is the Word of God.

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