I’m departing from the usual format for this and next week. In Aquinas’s next six chapters, the first three are arguments for the eternal existence of things; the following three are his refutations of the same. I’m doing one of the arguments today; rather, highlights from it. The A reference are those arguments in favor of things existing eternally from the point of view of God, and the B reference are Thomas’s refutations. I’m highlighting only the most interesting arguments on both sides, else this post would run to 4,000 words.
A Every agent that acts not always, is moved either per se or accidentally: per se, as fire which was not always burning, begins to burn, either because it is newly lit, or because it is newly transferred so as to be near the fuel:–accidentally, as the mover of an animal begins anew to move the animal with some movement made in its regard; either from within,–as an animal begins to be moved when it awakes after its digestion is complete,–or from without, as when there newly arise actions that lead to the beginning of a new action. Now God is not moved, neither per se nor accidentally, as we proved in the First Book. Therefore God always acts in the same way. But created things are established in being by His action. Therefore creatures always have been.
B For it does not follow that God is moved either per se or accidentally if His effect begin to be anew; as the first argument pretended. Because newness of effect may argue change of the agent in so far as it proves newness of action: since it is impossible for a new action to be in the agent, unless the latter be in some way moved, at least from inaction to action. But newness of effect does not prove newness of action in God, since His action is His essence, as we have proved above. Neither therefore can newness of effect argue change in God the agent.
A Again. The effect proceeds from the active cause by the latter’s action. But God’s action is eternal: else He would become an actual agent from being an agent in potentiality: and it would be necessary for Him to be reduced to actuality by some previous agent, which is impossible. Therefore the things created by God have been from eternity.
B And yet it does not follow, if the action of the first agent is eternal, that His effect is eternal, as the second argument inferred. For it has been shown above, that in producing things God acts voluntarily. Not, however, as though there were an intermediate action of His,–as in us the action of the motive power intervenes between the act of the will and the effect,–as we have proved in a foregoing chapter: but His act of understanding and willing must be His act of making.
Now the effect follows from the intellect and the will according to the determination of the intellect and the command of the will. And just as every other condition of the thing made is determined by the intellect, so is time appointed to it: for art determines not only that this thing is to be such and such, but that it is to be at this particular time, even as a physician determines that a draught is to be taken at such and such a time. Wherefore, if his willing were per se efficacious for producing the effect, the effect would follow anew from his former will, without any new action on his part. Therefore nothing prevents our saying that God’s action was from eternity, whereas His effect was not from eternity, but then when from eternity He appointed.
Notes Don’t forget “eternity” means outside of time, not existing on a time line indefinitely. Time is change; if everything were always actual and changeless, like God, there’d be no potentiality, and no time. So God exists necessarily and is outside of time, but His creations are in time, and so there can be a beginning of time. Some of A’s premises are true (the implied one about God not being in potential).
A Moreover. Given a sufficient cause, its effect must necessarily be granted. For if, given the cause, it were still unnecessary to grant its effect, it would be therefore possible that, given the cause, the effect would be or not be. Therefore the sequence of the effect to its cause would only be possible: and what is possible, requires something to reduce it to actuality. Hence it will be necessary to suppose some cause whereby it comes about that the effect is made actual, and thus the first cause was not sufficient. But God is the sufficient cause of creatures being produced: else He would not be a cause; rather would He be in potentiality to a cause: since He would become a cause by the addition of something: which is impossible. Therefore it would seem necessary, since God is from eternity, that the creature was also from eternity.
B Hence it is also clear that, although God is the sufficient cause of bringing things into being, it is not necessary to suppose that because he is eternal His effect is eternal; as the third argument contended. For if we suppose a sufficient cause, we suppose its effect, but not an effect outside the cause: for this would be through insufficiency of the cause, as if for instance a hot thing failed to give heat. Now the proper effect of the will is for that thing to be which the will wills: and if something else were to be than what the will wills, this would be an effect that is not proper to the cause but foreign thereto. But just as the will, as we have said, wills this thing to be such and such, so does it will it to be at such and such a time.
Wherefore, for the will to be a sufficient cause, it is not necessary for the effect to be when the will is, but when the will has appointed the effect to be. On the other hand, it is different with things which proceed from a cause acting naturally: because the action of nature is according as nature is; wherefore the effect must necessarily follow if the cause exist. Whereas the will acts, not according to the mode of its being, but according to the mode of its purpose. And consequently, just as the effect of a natural agent follows the being of the agent, so the effect of a voluntary agent follows the mode of his purpose.
Notes A is a clever counter-argument and it ought to be studied for its form, to show how easy it is to be confused when discussing infinities/eternities and chains of causes, and in particular the tacit arguments about the primary and all secondary causes. Now just how (and why) God, who is timeless, causes things to be in time I have no idea.
I left off four other arguments, which you can and should read. I don’t include them because I think the point is already well made, and because next week we have another group of similar arguments and rebuttals (from a different perspective).