Man cannot possibly be good unless he stands in the right relation to the common good,

Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica

By , on May 5, 2013

The Universe

Cicero says:

There is, then, an element which holds together and maintains the entire universe, an element, moreover, which is not without sensation and reason. For it is necessary that every element which is not isolated or simple, but which is joined and linked with something else, should have in itself some ruling principle, as, for instance, mind in the case of man, and in the case of animals something similar to mind, which prompts their desires. In trees, and in things which spring from the earth, the ruling principle is supposed to be placed in their roots. By ruling principle I mean the principle which the Greeks call ἡγεμονικόν, which cannot but hold, and which ought to hold, the highest place in each genus. Consequently the thing in which the ruling principle of the whole of nature is contained, must in the same way be the most perfect of all, and the most worthy of power and dominion over all existence. Now we see that in parts of the universe (for there is nothing in the entire universe which is not a part of the whole), sensation and reason exist. These qualities must therefore exist, and exist more vividly and to a greater extent, in that part in which the ruling principle of the universe resides. Consequently the universe must be intelligent, and the element which holds all things in its embrace must excel in perfection of reason; the universe, therefore, must be divine, and so must the element by which the whole strength of the universe is held together. This fiery glow which the universe possesses is also far purer, clearer, and nimbler, and on that account better fitted to arouse sensation, than this heat of ours, by which the objects known to us are preserved and made strong. Since, then, men and animals are maintained by this heat, and through it possess motion and sensation, it is absurd to say that the universe is without sensation, when it is maintained by a burning heat which is unmixed, and free, and pure, and at the same time in the highest degree vivid and nimble, especially considering that the heat which belongs to the universe is moved by itself and its own action, and is not stirred by anything distinct from itself, or by impact from outside. For what can be mightier than the universe, so as to act upon and set in motion the heat by which the universe is to be held together? (The Nature of the Gods, Book 2, XI)


Let us hear Plato on this question, Plato, the god of philosophers, as he may be called. He holds that there are two kinds of motion, one self-imparted and the other derived, and that a thing which is self-moved by its own action is more divine than that which is set in motion by impact from something else. The former kind of motion he declares to exist in soul alone, and he is of opinion that it was from soul that the first principle of motion was derived. Consequently since all motion arises from the heat possessed by the universe, and since that heat is moved by its own action, and not by impact from anything else, it must of necessity be soul, by which means it is proved that the universe is possessed of soul. It may also be understood that intelligence exists in the universe, from the fact that the universe is undeniably of greater excellence than any form of being. For just as there is no part of our body which is not less important than ourselves, so the whole universe must be more important than a part of the universe. If that is so, the universe must be intelligent, for if it were not, man, who is a part of the universe, would, as participating in reason, necessarily be of more importance than the entire universe. If, again, we wish to trace the advance from the first and rudimentary stages of being to the final and perfect, it is to a divine nature that we must come. For we observe that the first things maintained by nature are those which spring from the earth, to which nature has assigned nothing more than protection by means of nurture and development. To animals she has given sensation, movement, an impulse, combined with a certain desire, towards what is beneficial, and an avoidance of what is hurtful. To man she has given more in having added reason, which was meant to regulate the desires of the mind, at one time allowing them their way, and at another holding them in check.


The fourth and highest stage consists of beings who are created naturally good and wise, in whom right reason in an unchanging form is innate from the beginning, that reason which must be regarded as more than human, and must be assigned to what is divine, that is, to the universe, in which this complete and perfect reason must needs exist. For it cannot be said that in any order of things there is not something final and perfect. Just as in the case of vines or cattle, we see that, unless some force interposes, nature arrives by a way of her own at perfection, and just as a certain attainment of consummate workmanship exists in painting and architecture and the other arts, so it is inevitable that in collective nature there should much more be a progress towards completion and perfection. Many external influences can prevent the other kinds of being from reaching perfection, but nothing can stand in the way of universal nature, because it itself limits and contains all kinds of being. That, therefore, must be the fourth and highest stage, which no force can come near. Now it is in that stage that universal nature has its place, and since it is the characteristic of that nature that all things should be inferior to it, and nothing able to stand in its way, it necessarily follows that the universe is intelligent, and more than that wise. Besides, what is more foolish than that the nature which embraces all things should not be declared supremely excellent, or that, being supremely excellent, it should not be in the first place animate, in the second possessed of reason and forethought, and lastly wise? In what other way can it be supremely excellent? For if it resembled plants, or even animals, it would not deserve to be considered of the highest degree of excellence, but rather of the lowest, while if it participated in reason, and yet were not wise from the beginning, the condition of the universe as compared with that of man would be the lower of the two. For man can become wise, but if the universe during the limitless course of past time has been destitute of wisdom, it will assuredly never acquire it, and will therefore be lower than man. Since that is absurd, the universe must be regarded as wise from the beginning, and as divine.


It was, indeed, an ingenious remark of Chrysippus that just as the cover was created for the shield, and the sheath for the sword, so all other things with the exception of the universe were created for the sake of something else, the crops and fruits, for instance, which the earth produces, for the sake of animals, and animals for the sake of men, as the horse for carrying, the ox for ploughing, and the dog for hunting and keeping watch. As for man himself, he was born in order to observe and imitate the universe, being in no wise perfect, but a particle, so to speak, of that which is, for it is only the universe to which nothing is wanting, and which is knit together on every side, and is perfect and complete in all its numbers and parts. Now since the universe embraces all things, and there is nothing that is not contained within it, it is perfect at every point. How, then, can that which is of most excellence be lacking to it? There is nothing more excellent than mind and reason, so it is impossible that these should be lacking to the universe. Chrysippus, therefore, is again right when he declares, adding instances, that in what is matured and perfect everything is of higher excellence, in a horse, for example, than in a colt, in a dog than in a whelp, in a man than in a boy, and in like manner that whatever is best in the whole world, must reside in something that is perfect and complete. As there is nothing more perfect than the universe, and nothing more excellent than virtue, it follows that virtue is an attribute of the universe. Human nature is not indeed perfect, yet virtue is attained in man, so how much more easily in the universe! Virtue, then, does exist in the universe, which is therefore wise, and consequently divine. ((The Nature of the Gods, Book 2)

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