CHAPTER XVI. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS
The cathedral, then, is built, and God is built into it, but, thus far, God is there alone, filling it all, and maintains the equilibrium by balancing created matter separately against created mind. The proportions of the building are superb; nothing so lofty, so large in treatment, so true in scale, so eloquent of multiplicity in unity, has ever been conceived elsewhere; but it was the virtue or the fault of superb structures like Bourges and Amiens and the Church universal that they seemed to need man more than man needed them; they were made for crowds, for thousands and tens of thousands of human beings; for the whole human race, on its knees, hungry for pardon and love. Chartres needed no crowd, for it was meant as a palace of the Virgin, and the Virgin filled it wholly; but the Trinity made their church for no other purpose than to accommodate man, and made man for no other purpose than to fill their church; if man failed to fill it, the church and the Trinity seemed equally failures. Empty, Bourges and Beauvais are cold; hardly as religious as a wayside cross; and yet, even empty, they are perhaps more religious than when filled with cattle and machines. Saint Thomas needed to fill his Church with real men, and although he had created his own God for that special purpose, the task was, as every boy knew by heart, the most difficult that Omnipotence had dealt with.
God, as Descartes justly said, we know! but what is man? The schools answered: Man is a rational animal! So was apparently a dog, or a bee, or a beaver, none of which seemed to need churches. Modern science, with infinite effort, has discovered and announced that man is a bewildering complex of energies, which helps little to explain his relations with the ultimate substance or energy or prime motor whose existence both science and schoolmen admit; which science studies in laboratories and religion worships in churches. The man whom God created to fill his Church, must be an energy independent of God; otherwise God filled his own Church with his own energy. Thus far, the God of Saint Thomas was alone in His Church. The beings He had created out of nothing - Omar's pipkins of clay and shape - stood against the walls, waiting to receive the wine of life, a life of their own.
Of that life, energy, will, or wine, - whatever the poets or professors called it, - God was the only cause, as He was also the immediate cause, and support. Thomas was emphatic on that point. God is the cause of energy as the sun is the cause of colour: "prout sol dicitur causa manifestationis coloris." He not only gives forms to his pipkins, or energies to his agents, but He also maintains those forms in being: "dat formas creaturis agentibus et eas tenet in esse." He acts directly, not through secondary causes, on everything and every one: "Deus in omnibus intime operatur." If, for an instant, God's action, which is also His will, were to stop, the universe would not merely fall to pieces, but would vanish, and must then be created anew from nothing: "Quia non habet radicem in aere, statim cessat lumen, cessante actione solis. Sic autem se habet omnis creatura ad Deum sicut aer ad solem illuminantem." God radiates energy as the sun radiates light, and "the whole fabric of nature would return to nothing" if that radiation ceased even for an instant. Everything is created by one instantaneous, eternal, universal act of will, and by the same act is maintained in being.
Where, then, - in what mysterious cave outside of creation, - could man, and his free will, and his private world of responsibilities and duties, lie hidden? Unless man was a free agent in a world of his own beyond constraint, the Church was a fraud, and it helped little to add that the State was another. If God was the sole and immediate cause and support of everything in His creation, God was also the cause of its defects, and could not - being Justice and Goodness in essence - hold man responsible for His own omissions. Still less could the State or Church do it in His name.
Whatever truth lies in the charge that the schools discussed futile questions by faulty methods, one cannot decently deny that in this case the question was practical and the method vital. Theist or atheist, monist or anarchist must all admit that society and science are equally interested with theology in deciding whether the universe is one or many, a harmony or a discord. The Church and State asserted that it was a harmony, and that they were its representatives. They say so still. Their claim led to singular but unavoidable conclusions, with which society has struggled for seven hundred years, and is still struggling.
Freedom could not exist in nature, or even in God, after the single, unalterable act or will which created. The only possible free will was that of God before the act. Abelard with his rigid logic averred that God had no freedom; being Himself whatever is most perfect, He produced necessarily the most perfect possible world. Nothing seemed more logical, but if God acted necessarily, His world must also be of necessity the only possible product of His act, and the Church became an impertinence, since man proved only fatuity by attempting to interfere. Thomas dared not disturb the foundations of the Church, and therefore began by laying down the law that God - previous to His act - could choose, and had chosen, whatever scheme of creation He pleased, and that the harmony of the actual scheme proved His perfections. Thus he saved God's free will.