Friday, June 01, 2012

Maker and Father of the All

This is the passage from the Timaeus (28b-28c) to which Justin was alluding in the previous post (this is the Zeyl translation):

Now as to the whole universe or world order [kosmos] -- let's just call it by whatever name is most acceptable in a given context -- there is a question we need to consider first. This is the sort of question one should begin with in inquiring into any subject. Has it always existed? Was there no origin from which it came to be? Or did it come to be and take its start from some origin? It has come to be. For it is both visible and tangible and has a body -- and all things of that kind are perceptible. And, as we have shown, perceptible things are grasped by opinion, which involves sense perception. As such, they are things that come to be, things that are begotten. Further, we maintain that, necessarily, that which comes to be must come to be by the agency of some cause. Now to find the maker and father of this universe [to pan] is hard enough, and even if I succeeded, to declare him to everyone is impossible.

In the older and looser Jowett translation:

First then, in my judgment, we must make a distinction and ask, What is that which always is and has no becoming; and what is that which is always becoming and never is? That which is apprehended by intelligence and reason is always in the same state; but that which is conceived by opinion with the help of sensation and without reason, is always in a process of becoming and perishing and never really is. Now everything that becomes or is created must of necessity be created by some cause, for without a cause nothing can be created. The work of the creator, whenever he looks to the unchangeable and fashions the form and nature of his work after an unchangeable pattern, must necessarily be made fair and perfect; but when he looks to the created only, and uses a created pattern, it is not fair or perfect. Was the heaven then or the world, whether called by this or by any other more appropriate name-assuming the name, I am asking a question which has to be asked at the beginning of an enquiry about anything-was the world, I say, always in existence and without beginning? or created, and had it a beginning? Created, I reply, being visible and tangible and having a body, and therefore sensible; and all sensible things are apprehended by opinion and sense and are in a process of creation and created. Now that which is created must, as we affirm, of necessity be created by a cause. But the father and maker of all this universe is past finding out; and even if we found him, to tell of him to all men would be impossible.

'Created' is not really the right word to use, because Plato's origin of the cosmos is different from Jewish/Muslim/Christian creation; those are creation ex nihilo, but Plato is talking about formation of a cosmos, an order of things, out of an eternal chaos. Nonetheless, it's not surprising that so many Christian platonists liked this passage.


  1. Eric M.9:57 PM

    <span>Further, we maintain that, necessarily, that which comes to be must come to be by the agency of some cause</span>

    Interesting, I wonder if Timaeus here (through Plato) is giving one of the earliest instances of the principle of causality, which by Thomas' time would be "that which moves is moved by another."


    On a side note, I've been meaning to mention to you something I read in The Silmarillion, specifically in the opening “Music of the Ainur” chapter. I first talked to Alfredo Watkins, when I got the chance to meet him at Biola, about the Thomistic elements I noticed in Illuvatar’s speech to Melkor, but since Alfredo isn’t a Tolkien geek (I was as disappointed to hear this as when Feser said he couldn’t stand Star Wars), he pointed me in your direction. As you’re a “‘Silmarillion'-level geek,” I’d really be interested in your thoughts.

    The passage that strikes me is how Illuvatar responds to Melkor’s rebellion:

    "Mighty are the Ainur, and mightiest among them is Melkor; but that he may know, and all the Ainur, that I am Ilúvatar, those things that ye have sung, I will show them forth, that ye may see what ye have done. And thou, Melkor, shalt see that no theme may be played that hath not its uttermost source in me, nor can any alter the music in my despite. For he that attempteth this shall prove but mine instrument in the devising of things more wonderful, which he himself hath not imagined."

    I haven’t studied Tolkien’s theology in any great extent, but here he seems to portray Eru in a manner close to the classical theist view of God held by Aquinas, where God, as Being itself, is the cause of everything other than himself and thus can bring good out of any evil.

    I’m immediately reminded of your post on Pullman and Rowling where you mention that in Paradise Lost God has the skill of the storyteller, and, “being Almighty, can let the tale unfold, unworried about the outcome.”

  2. branemrys7:55 AM

    I've wondered the same thing about the principle of causality. For practical purposes it probably is, since what we know of Greek philosophy on this subject prior to Plato is mostly shreds. Plato's Timaeus is an interesting read in this light, incidentally: you see the first rough-draft beginnings of a number of Aristotelian and Neoplatonist ideas, like the four causes.

    In the original draft (which Christopher Tolkien provides in The Book of Lost Tales 1), Iluvatar's speech is a bit more expansive, and he goes on to say a little later, "Yet is this through him [i.e., Melkor, who is Melko at this stage] and not by him; and he shall see, and ye all likewise, and even shall those beings, who now must dwell among his evil and endure through Melko misery and sorrow, terror and wickedness, declare in the end  that it redoundeth only to my great glory, and doth but make the theme more worth the hearing, Life more worth the living, and the World so much the more wonderful and marvellous, that of all the deeds of Iluvatar it shall be called his mightiest and his loveliest."

    Tolkien is always very careful to depict Iluvatar in a way consistent with Catholic theology, although, of course, the whole thing is set up so that he doesn't explicitly come into the matter much. Some have suggested, actually, that the Ainulindale is influenced by Augustine's Literal Commentary on Genesis; as it was originally written, of course, it was supposed to be a cosmogony from medieval England.

    If you haven't read it, you should read the "Athrabeth Finrod ah Andreth," which is a short dialogue Tolkien wrote at some point about Finrod's first discovery of Men, and its companion tale "The Tale of Adanel"; Christopher Tolkien published them in Morgoth's Ring. Also, you might like the following weblog, if you haven't seen it:

  3. Eric M.3:35 PM

    Thanks for the link, Brandon. I'll definitely look through the "Flame Imperishable" blog.

    I have to admit that I've yet to read the "Histories of Middle Earth" books, but you've just given me another good reason to move up in Tolkien geekery.


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