Dear Father Angelo,
I take the opportunity to thank you for your precious service and, together with it, to thank your religious order, which for centuries has defended our faith and its reasonableness. After a long time away from the Church, in the last five years I have returned to being a practicing Catholic and I have rediscovered the love of Christ, moreover I have started to study Theology. Being young and studying this subject, I often find myself arguing with many of my peers, unfortunately non-believers and also with those who study natural sciences or philosophy (obviously many people who study science or philosophy are also believers, but those who tease me are atheists). The problem is that I am neither a physicist nor a philosopher ( the bachelor’s degree in Theology gives a good basic education, but alone is not enough to face specific topics), therefore sometimes I find myself embarrassed and I realize that I do not possess the suitable tools to account for my faith. Lately I found myself unprepared over two specific questions. I realize that these questions are very complex, but if you could even hint at an answer or give me directions to find it, I would be infinitely grateful to you.
1. I was told that Emanuele Saverino’s thought is a real bomb launched to philosophy and over christianity itself, specific regarding the creatio ex nihilo concept. Is it true? Can the Christian Thought answer to it somehow?
2. I was told that for modern cosmology a Creation is made superfluous, because what probably caused the Big Bang was a fluctuation of the quantum vacuum that could be eternal and therefore infinite, without a beginning. I am aware that Science and Religion should be intended as in two different levels, and that therefore this affirmation is totally arbitrary as well as based on speculation and not on evidence, but I want to ask you: if creatio est relatio, as Thomas said, how to frame this truth in the contemporary debate? I anticipate my apologies for these long questions, I would be satisfied with just some general indication.
I remember you on my Prayer and I greet you with great esteem.
First of all I am pleased with the Lord and I thank him because again it broke into your heart to such an extent that you started studying theology. I will gladly answer your two questions that make us fly high with philosophy. And I apologize to our visitors for the abstract nature of the topic.
1. You tell me that you have been told that Emanuele Severino’s thought is a real bomb thrown over the occidental philosophy and over the christianity itself. In particular about creation ex nihilo concept. With all respect for Emanuele Severino, I have the impression that this bomb that he would have launched almost sixty years ago has yet to explode because no one has noticed, no one talks about it.
If it were such a devastating bomb, at this point we would not talk about anything else.
2. Apart from this consideration, what does E. Severino essentially say? From what I understand, he says that everything, and therefore the Being itself is in perennial becoming. Consequently, he says that there is no necessity to make a distinction between a Creating Being and a Created Reality, because the Being itself is perpetually changing by nature.
The whole history of the Philosophical Thought, starting from Plato (with his distinction between the highest good and the mutable good formed by a demiurge in the image of what is perennia) and continuing with Aristotle (who made a distinction between the motionless motor, also called pure act, and the becoming beings) would have deviated from the principle sanctioned by Parmenides that the entity (what exists) is an entity (existing) and cannot be non-existent.
Hence the eternity of the world.
Hence the denial of the reality of the act of creation.
Hence the denial of a transcendent life.
Hence the denial of an ethics, that is, of a moral law. We are not surprised to find this among his most “famous phrases”: “Ethics is one of the extreme forms of violence, because it is the administration of becoming, in view of the realization of the purposes that are considered suitable for the full realization of a man”.
3. Severino also says that Parmenides himself was wrong because after having said that the entity is an entity, he denied the movement, the becoming. Instead, for Severino the movement would be structural to the Being itself. With this Severino does not say to return to Parmenides, but to restart from the intuition of Parmenides and rethink the Being, of which almost no one would have understood anything since then(evidently not even Jesus Christ).
4. Let’s focus on what Severino thinks when he says that the Being is eternal. I wonder which Being he is talking about. Because in front our eyes there is not the Being itself, but only things, existing realities. All these existing realities are limited and finite and none of them possesses its being on its own. Each of them received the being, and each one is destined to lose it despite a very strong inclination to preserve it. Now, how could you conceive a world of beings who received their existence, if there is no one who has given it to them?
5. If Severino then said (but he does not say so) that there is a Being, independent from the individual beings that exist, we should wonder what would be the difference between this Being thus conceived and God. Because there would always be a distinction between the Being (which in itself is the existing one) and the individual beings who have the existence.
6. Let’s now speak about the possibility of world’s eternity.
Saint Thomas recognizes that the world could be eternal. In fact, he says that no one can rationally affirm or deny the eternity of the world. However, even if it were eternal, it should be reminded that the concept of eternity does not exclude that of creaturality. This world, even if it were eternal, would have to justify its existence because it could even not exist. But if it exists and could not exist, it means that it does not have existence by itself, but has received it from another. Otherwise it would have always had it and it would keep it forever.
7. According Saint Thomas “I answer that, By faith alone do we hold, and by no demonstration can it be proved, that the world did not always exist, as was said above of the mystery of the Trinity (Summa Theologica, I, 46,2) With this St. Thomas means that from a philosophical point of view there are no convincing arguments either to say that the world has always been and still is eternal, or that it had a beginning.
8. Previously St. Thomas wondered as an objection whether the universality of the creatures that we call the world is eternal. Here is how he presents his objection (if you pay attention, the words seem to be the ones of E. Severino or Parmenides): “It would seem that the universe of creatures, called the world, had no beginning, but existed from eternity. For everything which begins to exist, is a possible being before it exists: otherwise it would be impossible for it to exist. If therefore the world began to exist, it was a possible being before it began to exist. But possible being is matter, which is in potentiality to existence, which results from a form, and to non-existence, which results from privation of form. If therefore the world began to exist, matter must have existed before the world. But matter cannot exist without form: while the matter of the world with its form is the world. Therefore the world existed before it began to exist: which is impossible.” (Summa Theologica, I, 46,1, ob. 1).
9. On this objection, really specious, St.Thomas answers: “Before the world existed it was possible for the world to be, not, indeed, according to a passive power which is matter, but according to the active power of God; and also, according as a thing is called absolutely possible, not in relation to any power, but from the sole habitude of the terms which are not repugnant to each other; in which sense possible is opposed to impossible” (Summa Theologica, I, 46, 1, ad 1).
In fact, for St. Thomas there is no rational or philosophical evidence to say that the world had a beginning. There are neither from creatures nor from God. On the part of creatures: because the world considered in itself was always possible: the intrinsic possibility of a thing is founded on its nature and nature as such abstracts from time. Likewise if we consider the free and omnipotent will of God, the efficient cause of the world, it is outside and above all time. God could have drawn it out of nowhere ab aeterno.
Neither is repugnant that the effect is coeval with the cause, if the cause is such that it can act instantly, as it is in the case of God who is omnipotent.
10. In conclusion, it would not be difficult to say that the world is ab aeterno, because even being etern it would always be a creature. We know that it had a beginning only by faith, as for example our Lord has affirmed it in an indirect way when he said : “And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began” (John 17,5).
But even if it were ab aeterno, the concept of eternity must be distinguished from that of creaturality. While it is possible in itself that the world is eternal, it is not possible that it has not been created.
And this is because the individual realities that exist have existence, but they are not existence.
If they were existence, the individual realities would have always had it and would keep it forever. It would be so intrinsic to them as to be unmissable, inalienable.
So here is the bomb that did not explode.
St. Thomas had already defused it.
I thank you for the questions you asked me, I gladly remind you to the Lord and I bless you.