Saturday, 2 June 2012

Question 72 - The Work of the Sixth Day


Why this Question Matters.

“And God said: Let the earth bring forth the living creature in its kind, cattle and creeping things, and beasts of the earth, according to their kinds. And it was so done. And God made the beasts of the earth according to their kinds, and cattle, and everything that creeps on the earth after its kind. And God saw that it was good.

And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moves upon the earth. And God created man to his own image: to the image of God he created him: male and female he created them. And God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon. And it was so done.

And God saw all the things that he had made, and they were very good. And the evening and morning were the sixth day.”

As with Ia.q70 this question comprises only one article which asks whether the work of the sixth day has been adequately described in scripture. Perhaps the most noticeable thing about this article is that it omits any discussion of the creation of mankind. This, however, was quite conventional; accounts of the hexaemeron left out the creation of man so that it could be discussed in a separate treatise. In the case of the summa, this discussion will appear in Ia.q90-q102.


The Thread of the Argument

A1: The first four objections that criticize the adequacy of the account of the sixth day may strike one as extraordinarily pedantic. Only the fifth and sixth objections appear to contain any barbs. The fifth objection is founded on the fact that medieval science asserted the possibility of some animals arising from putrefying matter, which seems quite out of place in the primordial stages of creation. The sixth objection finds it strange that dangerous and poisonous animals, those that can be harmful to man, should arise before the entry of sin into the world.

Aquinas’s reply continues the pattern set by the answer to the last question: the account of the sixth day is perfectly apposite as it describes the third day of adornment paralleling the third day of diversification. Again, Augustine’s opinion is stated in contrast to the other Church Fathers: the animals created on the sixth day are created in their causes rather than actually.

Aquinas meets the fifth objection by agreeing with the objection that animals that are produced from the putrefaction of other animals could not have happened actually at this stage of creation; such animals would only have been created in their causes. However, animals produced from the putrefaction of lower created (inanimate objects or plants, for example) were produced at this stage of creation. The answer to the sixth objection is a largely made up from a delicious quotation from St Augustine: someone entering the workshop of an artisan would find many dangerous tools there; the artisan knows how to put them to their proper use even if the visitor does not. Aquinas adds that before sin came into the world man would have used the things of the world in an appropriate fashion and none of the dangerous animals would actually have posed a threat to him.


Handy Concepts

  • The sixth day corresponds to the third day of adornment which in turn is parallel to the third day of diversification.
  • Oddities in the creation account may sometimes be explained by our lack of comprehension of the purposes for which things were created.


Difficulties

  • The idea that some animals are produced from the putrefaction of other animals is not one retained in modern science. This knowledge would actually have made Aquinas’s task of commentary easier.

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