In Part II of Metaphysics, Adrian Pabst builds on Aquinas’s notion that creation is not a true change. He highlights two key passages from Aquinas in attempting to establish the priority of “relationality” within theological metaphysics:

Creation is not a change, but that dependence of created being on its source whence it is set forth. And so it [creation] is of the category of relation” (SCG II.18.2, quoted in Pabst, 247).

And this from De potentia:

“Creation is really nothing other than a relation with God with the newness of being” (De potentia q.3.a.3, corp., quoted in Pabst, 255).

As Pabst reads Aquinas, creation is primarily a category of relation, as God is “the universal origin and end of everything.” Moreover, this concept of relationality is fundamentally dynamic. Relationality “describes God’s act of being by which brings everything into actuality, makes it what it is, and sustains it in being” (248). In turn, God’s act of being entails a “real presence of the divine act of being in beings,” which the mind is able to perceive (235). This intimacy, at once transcendent and immanent, also means for Aquinas that God’s activity is not limited to efficient casualty but extends within secondary causes.

What then grounds this relationality or the real presence of God in things? For Aquinas, it is the self-diffusive nature of the good in God – bonum diffusivum sui (252). The good communicates and manifests itself within ens commune. And it is because creation ex nihilo represents a metaphysical relation rather than a relation of physics that created entities cannot be isolated self-subsisting entities. Like Augustine, Aquinas does not view material beings as passive bits of matter that simply are.  Rather, to be is to be fundamentally in relation.

Pabst is not saying that everything is relational or sacred in some simplistic sense. Although the divine doxa is disclosed in being, it is not something that can be locked down as it were or translated into some general sacramental principle . As noted above, relationality in light of creation ex nihilo is a dynamic category, a teleological drive toward perfection. As Pabst writes, “the act of being which actualizes and individuates all things is anagogical (perfective and elevating), not casual or indifferent” (209).

It will be interesting to see how Pabst builds upon Aquinas’s notion of secondary causality in providing an account of a politics seeking to get beyond the dualism of the one and the many.

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