The Asymmetrical Relation of God and Creatures

Editor’s Note: This is the third installment of four articles on the doctrine of creation. For the first article, see here, for the second, see here.

We now come to the relation of God and creatures. We might build off of or expound Aquinas’s seemingly scandalous statement: “In God relation to the creature is not a real relation, but only a relation of reason; whereas the relation of the creature to God is a real relation.”[1] In a short manner, “a relation of God to creatures, is not a reality in God, but in the creature.”[2] Here, we can understand “real” in the sense as constitutive, essential, or fundamental, ontological, or intrinsic to being what something is.[3] “Logical” relations are relations such that one of the participants is dependent on the other, but this dependence is not mutual. For example, I can think of Bob. My thinking of Bob is a “logical” relation. Bob’s existence does not depend on my thinking of him, but my thinking of him is dependent on Bob’s existence. With this in mind, we might speak of the relation of God and creatures through recapitulation (what we have already discussed).

Creatures have a real relation to God. By their nature, they depend on God—they need God. Without this relation, they would not be. Aquinas adds, “Now all creatures are ordered to God both as to their beginning and as to their end . . . Therefore creatures are really related to God, and this relation is something real in the creature.”[4] This relation wherein the creature has life from God comes to be in the creation of the creature. Creatures, once again, have a real relation with God by which they are constituted as living beings who have their existence from God ex nihilo.

We can speak of God’s relations in two ways: ad intra (internal) and ad extra (external). Concerning the relations ad intra, the divine persons are subsisting relations. Again, because these relations are in God, they are God’s very own life.[5] And so, God’s own trinitarian relations—the divine processions—are intrinsic to his perfection. They are not accidental; they are essential. God is who he is in and of himself Father, Son, and Spirit and he is not otherwise. God has real relations in himself.

God’s relations ad extra—to creatures—are not “real,” but they are logical relations.[6] God’s relations to creatures or outward communication, for him, are not necessary or natural nor do they “follow from his perfection.”[7] We can also draw this from simplicity. Because God is simple, he cannot be ordered to anything else nor can he be categorized in any genus. We can further draw this from aseity: God’s life is from himself, not from creatures—creatures do not establish him, he simply just is. Thus, creatures neither bring change in God nor do they constitute him as the one he is.[8] God’s relation to creatures does not constitutively order him to that which is constitutively ordered to God. Such a relation can be seen in Anselm’s words: God “is the supreme good needing no other and is He whom all things have need of for their being and well-being.”[9] Hence, relations in God are real; relations ad extra—to creatures—are not.

[1]Aquinas, STIa.45.3 ad. 1.

[2]STIa.6.2 ad. 1.

[3]If we are to state anything that has been demonstrated above drawn from Scripture, we would say: God needs nothing other than himself because he is fully perfect and happy in himself (STIa.73.2, from Webster, “‘Love is also a lover of life,’” I:107).

[4]Aquinas, De PotentiaVII.9, quoted in Webster, “Non ex aequo,” I:123.

[5]Webster, “Rector et iudex super omnia genera doctrinarium?” I:160; cf. Webster, “Life in and of Himself,” I:20.

[6]ST Ia.45.3 ad. 1; cf. Ia.13.7.

[7]Webster, “Non ex aequo,” I:124; cf. Webster, “What Makes Theology Theological?” I:214; though this is the case, we do know that uncreated being creates created being, and this is somehow fitting for God (Webster, “Trinity and Creation,” I:92).

[8]See Aquinas, ST Ia.43.2 ad. 2–3 for this notion.

[9]Anselm, Proslogion, in Anselm of Canterbury: The Major Works, Oxford World’s Classics, eds. Brian Davies and G. R. Evans (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 82.