Michael Chase

Abrahamic creation and neoplatonic emanation in Greek, arabic and latin. reflections on a recent paper by richard taylor



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(Apologies but I was unable to fix the tables in this presentation to be sufficiently readable. RCT)

La Sorbonne, Université de Paris 1, 31 May 2012: conference link click HERE.

Michael Chase (CNRS, Paris)

“Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanation in Greek, Arabic and Latin.

Reflections on a recent paper by Richard Taylor”


This paper is conceived as a critical discussion of paper presented by Richard Taylor at a conference last Fall in Mexico City, in which he investigated the notion of creatio in the Liber de Causis and Thomas Aquinas, concluding that Neoplatonic emanationism may indeed be described as a kind of creation. In response, I study Taylor's definitions of creation and necessity, then proceed to a critical examination of two central claims: that Plotinus, Proclus, and the Arabic tradition that depend on them allow for the causing by the primary cause of something after nothing, and that the main distinction between Abrahamic and Neoplatonic creationism is the role of the Creator's free will in the former and its absence in the latter. Finally, I return to the Late Antique debate between Simplicius and Philoponus, to evaluate whether Abrahamic and Christian doctrines of “creation ” are really as compatible as Taylor claims.

Michael Chase (goya@vjf.cnrs.fr) Charge de Recherche, Paris-Villejuif

Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanation in Greek, Arabic and Latin.

Reflections on a recent paper by Richard Taylor”

0.1 Introduction

One of the most important and most frequently occurring questions in both ancient and modern philosophy is, of course, the following : has the world always existed, or did it come into being at a specific moment of time ? The former was the position of Aristotle and, following him, of most pagan philosophers down to the closing of the Platonic Academy in 529AD. The latter was the view of a few renegade pagan philosophers in Antiquity – especially such Middle Platonists as Plutarch, Atticus and Galen – who gave a literal interpretation of the passages in Plato's Timaeus in which the Demiurge seems to create the world in time – and of some Christians such as John Philoponus, who were concerned to defend the literal truth of the Biblical account of creation as narrated in the Book of Genesis.

In the controversies between Pagans and Christians at the end of Greco-Roman Antiquity, as exemplified by the debate between Philoponus and the Neoplatonist philosopher Simplicius, these two positions were usually considered both exhaustive and mutually exclusive1. On the one hand, one could agree with the pagans represented by Simplicius, and maintain that the world comes into being through eternal emanation (in Greek, aei), usually conceived as originating in the supreme principle (designated as the One, the Good, or God), and continuing through the intermediaries of hypostasized Intellect and Soul until it reaches the stage of Soul's insertion of forms into matter, thereby bringing about the formation of the sensible world. Or else one could believe, with the Christians, that God created the world in time or at a specific moment (Greek pote), including matter, out of nothing by a one-time act of his benevolent will2. According to Philoponus at least, although this act took place at a specific moment it time (pote), it was nevetheless instantaneous in the sense that various kinds of change were held to be so in Aristotelian natural philosophy : acts of intellection and touching, the flash of a bolt of lightning, and the freezing of water, the curdling of milk and other “phase transitions” as they're known to modern science, to mention just a few of the standard examples3.

This debate had an important impact on Islamic philosopy, with al-Kindi, the Plotiniana Arabica, al-Ghazali and the Kalam basically adopting the broad outlines of Philoponus' approach to the question of creation, while Farabi, Ibn Bajja, Avicenna, and Averroes (at least in some phases of his thought) maintained different variations of the position defended by Simplicius.

Eternal emanation or temporal creation ex nihilo : the battle lines seem to have been drawn, and all that's left is to choose one's camp.

Very recently, however, Richard Taylor4 has argued that these two seemingly incompatible viewpoints can be reconciled, and that both can rightly be called instances of “creation”. This view has a long and exemplary pedigree, including no less an authority that Thomas Aquinas. In what follows I will try to contribute some elements toward an evaluation of this claim.

1.0 Taylor on creation

In his article, Taylor, following Hasker, sets forth a definition of what he calls creation1 or Abrahamic creation (I will henceforth call it the latter). This type of creation, opposed to Neoplatonic-style emanation (which Taylor designates as creation2), is characterized by the following features.

1. It is ex nihilo, rather than being either a fabrication out of pre-existing material or an outflow from God's own nature.

2. It is a free act of God, who was not obliged to create but did so out of love and generosity.

3. God not only creates the world in the beginning, but continues to sustain it at every moment of its existence.

Summing up this notion of Abrahamic creation, Taylor writes5 that it

involves a single primary cause or First Cause originating all reality other than itself by bringing forth all ex nihilo as ontologically after absolute nothingness in an action somehow including freedom, will and choice such that there is neither external nor internal necessity compelling creation1.

What Taylor calls creation2 or emanative origination, and I will henceforth simply call Neoplatonic emanation, is, he claims, characteristic of such Medieval Arabic works as the Plotiniana Arabica – that is, the so-called Theology of Aristotle, the Sayings of the Greek Sage, and other such works, which are based largely on extracts from the work of Plotinus – and the Liber de Causis, based mostly on propositions from Proclus' Elements of Theology. Here, Taylor explains, the creation or origination of reality takes place from the First Cause, or God, without any act of will or any other intermediary, but by the very being of that Cause (Greek autôi tôi einai, Arabic bi-annīyati-hi). The existence of that Cause immediately and automatically entails, by a process of emanation, the existence of all subsequent levels of reality. This form of ‘creation’, Taylor writes6,

... entails the negation of will, choice, the necessity of nature characteristic of things having nature or form (which is necessity2), and also external compulsion (which is necessity3).

Taylor7 thus introduces a distinction between three kinds of necessity. Proceeding from the lower to the higher forms, we have (Table 1) :

Necessity3, which takes place by external compulsion.

Necessity2, which indicates what follows for a thing on the basis of its nature or form. Finally, there is

Necessity1, or transcendent necessity, in which the effect follows immediately upon the positing of the cause.

Now Neoplatonic emanation, Taylor wants to claim, is free from necessity3 (nothing external can force the First Cause to create) ; and from necessity2 (the first cause has no form or nature8 that might compel it to do something), but not from necessity1, or transcendent necessity. Thus, in Neoplatonic ‘creation’, the emanation of all reality follows immediately upon the being of the First Cause qua Good. This conceptual scheme, Taylor argues, characterises the thought of Plotinus, Proclus, the PA, the LDC, al-Farabi, and Avicenna. Abrahamic creation, by contrast, is free from all three types of necessity.

Basing himself on no less an authority than Thomas Aquinas9, Taylor now goes on to make what might be deemed to be his most controversial move : both Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanation can, he claims, be considered as creation tout court. Let us recall that, according to Taylor, the main difference between Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanation is that the former involves a free choice of will on God's part, and the latter does not. In Taylor's words10 :

It appears then that it is quite appropriate to consider creation to be of at least two sorts, creation2 which is based on the notion of primary causality involving necessity1 resulting from the First as the Good, and creation1 which is also based on primary causality but adds the Abrahamic understanding that the First creates without any sort of necessity, need not have created at all, and acts by will, in some understanding of that term.

Let me begin my critical discussion of Taylor's theses by saying that I find his paper exceptionally dense, profound, and stimulating, so much so that I have been wrestling with it since I first heard an initial version of it last Fall. My initial reaction was that there is something wrong with the final conclusion, or at least missing in the argumentation leading up to it. I must confess, however, that the more I think about the issues involved, the less sure I am of my position. In what follows, therefore, is by no means intended as a definitive refutation of Taylor's position, but more as a Confessio of the doubts I have had about it, and continue to have to some degree.

I'll group these doubts under three headings.

1. How solid are Taylor's initial axioms and definitions ? Do his categories of creation1 (Abrahamic creation) and creation2 (Neoplatonic emanation) accurately designate two clearly identifiable positions, neither neglecting any essential element nor including anything superfluous ?

2. Subsidiary to this first question : how cut-and-dried are the positions of the various thinkers Taylor assigns to the two camps ? I will leave aside the case of the Plotiniana Arabica and the Liber De Causis, assuming that Taylor, one of the world's leading experts on both works, knows what he's talking about and has given an unimpeachable account of their doctrines. But is it really the case, as Taylor claims with regard to creation2 or Neoplatonic-style emanationism, that Plotinus, Proclus, Farabi and Avicenna accept “the causing by the primary cause of the existence of something after nothing”11 ? With regard to Abrahamic creation : it is really so straightforwardly clear that God's creative act, for Thomas Aquinas, is the result of a completely free act of will ? And as far as Neoplatonic emanation is concerned : is it quite so certain as Taylor asserts that it involves no element of will ?

3. Finally, with regard to Taylor's conclusion, if there really is not that much of a difference between Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanationism, a large chunk of the history of philosophy, and of the Pagan-Christian debate of Late Antiquity in particular, becomes incomprehensible. The Christian Church fathers virulently opposed the Neoplatonic doctrine of emanation for centuries, as can be seen, for instance, in the 6th-century debate between the Christian John Philoponus and the pagans Proclus and Simplicius in their debate over the eternity of the world, while the pagans opposed, with equal violence, the Christian doctrine of creation within time. Yet if these two views are really so close as to be ultimately compatible, what was all the fuss about12 ?

1.2 Taylor's definitions

Let us begin by examining Taylor's definitions of Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanationism, which he takes over from Hasker. Abrahamic creation does indeed take place ex nihilo, as least, as Gerhard May has shown13, from the second century on, when Christian theologians came up with the idea, which is by no means self-evident in the Bible (any more than it is in the Qur’ān)14, as a result of confrontation and controversy with Gnostic views. Nicene orthodoxy also denies, as Taylor points out, that creation is an outflow of God's nature, since this character is reserved for the Son15.

There is nothing to argue about in the third point of Taylor's definition of Abrahamic creation, either : God's continued sustinence and preservation of the world is accepted not only in Abrahamic thought, but also by a wide range of ancient philosophers, from Alexander of Aphrodisias to Proclus, Ammonius and beyond16. We have here, in fact, none other than the question of divine providence, on which reams of excellent scholarship have been written17, but which I won't have time to go into here.

Taylors's point 2, however, which emphasizes God's freedom as he creates the world out of love and generosity, is perhaps more problematic. This is once again orthodox Nicene doctrine – for Athanasius, god's creation of the Word is eternal, natural and independent of his will, while His creation of the world is contingent, temporal and dependent on His will (Table 2)18. Many Christians, however, like virtually all pagans, were deeply influenced by Plato's account of the Demiurge's motives for creation in the Timaeus. God, according to Plato, creates because he is good, and what is good always desires to share its goodness, and to make its products as similar to itself as possible. Yet if God's essence is goodness, and His goodness manifests itself in His creation, then it seems to follow that God can never not create, on pain of acting contrary to His essence, and this seems to rule out, or at least render problematic, the notion of a one-shot creation in time. This, at any rate, was the conclusion Origen drew, and it led him and many of his correligionaries to be condemned for heresy19. Such considerations would seem to shed at least some doubt on whether the Abrahamic God really is unconditionally free to create or to refrain from creating.

Let us re-read Taylor's summarizing statement : Abrahamic creation, he writes,

involves a single primary cause or First Cause originating all reality other than itself by bringing forth all ex nihilo as ontologically after absolute nothingness.

At first glance, this statement seems to come close to tautology : if divine creation is ex nihilo, then it cannot help but be “ontologically after absolute nothingness”. Surely everything that exists is automatically “ontologically after absolute nothingness”, since absolute nothingness could be defined as that beneath which nothing is ontologically. But one suspects the addition of the term “ontologically” is here to rule out another possible sense in which created reality might be “later” than nothingness : the temporal sense.

I do not believe, however, that what Taylor describes is in fact the standard Abrahamic position, although it may be the standard Thomistic position. For the former, the sense in which creation is after nothingness is not, or not merely, ontological, but temporal. It is the Abrahamic tradition, or at least the great majority of its representatives20, that argues relentlessly for the temporal or chronological nature of the divine act of creation, and the Neoplatonists who argue for a version of ontological posterity, in the sense that for them, as we shall see, the world is created or generated (Greek genêton) not temporally but in the sense of causation (kat'aitian). This omission, or at least downplaying, of the temporal nature of Abrahamic creation is, I believe, perhaps the most questionable element in Taylor's argumentation21.

1.3 What is creation, anyhow ? Taylor on St. Thomas

As good philosophers we ought, insofar as is possible, to define our terms at the outset. Taylor does not fail to do so, of course : for him, the word ‘creation’ primarily translates the Arabic ibdā’, itself a rendering of the Latin creare. Taylor does not discuss the Greek equivalent of creare/ibdā’, but I think there can be little doubt that these terms correspond to the Greek verb gignesthai/genesthai and to the verbal adjective genêton, which one could render either as “generated” or as “generable, subject to generation”. This will prove to be of some importance as we proceed.

One of the texts on which Taylor bases his claim that Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanationism can both be called ‘creation’ is a text from St. Thomas' commentary on the Sentences22. Famously, Peter Lombard had written : creare proprie est de nihilo alquid facere23. While Thomas sometimes seems to be willing to accept this definition24, in the text quoted by Taylor he brings in important qualifications :

the notion of creation involves two things. The first is that it presupposes nothing in the thing which is said to be created . . . creation is said to be from nothing because there is nothing which preexists creation as uncreated. The second is that in the thing which is said to be created non-being is prior to being, not by a priority of time or duration . . . but by a priority of nature in such a way that, if the created thing is left to itself, non-being would result. For it has being only from the influence of a superior cause.

Taylor goes on, somewhat rashly I'm afraid, to claim25 that

These two criteria [ sc. that creation presupposes not-being and that the non-being of the created thing is not temporal but ontological - MC] are precisely those found in the account of primary causality in the LDC derived from Proclus and common to the teachings of Plotinus, Proclus, the PA, the LDC, al-Farabi, and Avicenna.

I'm afraid that as far Plotinus and Proclus are concerned, this statement requires a good deal of qualification. Quite apart from the question of whether or not these Neoplatonists had a concept of creation at all – this is of course the thesis that needs to be established – it seems at first glance false that they would assent to Thomas' assertion that creation “nihil praesupponat in re quae creari dicitur”. Indeed, this seems to amount to imputing to them a doctrine of creatio ex nihilo which neither Greek philosopher would have accepted, although, as Endress has shown, the Arabic adapter of Proclus' Elements of Theology does interpolate the doctrine into his version of Proclus' Proposition 7626.

Thomas' notion that creation presupposes nothing in the thing which is said to be created is, however, similar to one of the seven meanings of creation distinguished by Greek Middle- and Neoplatonists, where it is attributed to Aristotle and denied of Plato. The second sense of creation mentioned here by Thomas here, moreover, corresponds another of the seven senses in which Greek exegetes of Plato explained the gegonen at Timaeus 28B7f. I therefore propose a brief return to the land of Hellas, so that we may better understand the background of Thomas' conception.

1.4 Calvisius Taurus and Porphyry on the meanings of genêton

In commenting on the Timaeus, the Middle Platonist Calvinus Taurus27 of Beirut (fl. c. 145AD) distinguished four meanings of the Greek word “generated” (genêtos).

As we can see in Table 3, these meanings include (1) what is not generated but has the same genus as generated things ; such things are genêta in the sense that an object hidden in the center of the earth can still be said to be visible (Greek horaton), even if it will never actually be seen. The second meaning (2) covers what is notionally but not actually composite : things, that is, that can be analysed in thought into their component parts. The third meaning (3) of genêtos concerns what's always in the process of becoming ; that is, according to Platonic philosophy, the whole of the sublunar world, which is subject to constant change. Finally (4), genêtos can mean what derives its being from elsewhere ; in other words from God. In a similar sense, the moon's light may be said to be generated by the sun, although there has never been a time when this was not the case. Note that the important feature here is that cause and effect are simultaneous and co-eternal (Greek sunaidios).

Slightly more than a century later, the Neoplatonist philosopher Porphyry (c. 234-c. 310) added additional meanings of genêtos (Table 4) : these include (5) : what has the logos of generation, i.e. what can be analysed in thought28. Meaning no. (6) covers sensible objects like houses, ships, plants and animals, which obtain their being through a process of generation. Finally, the seventh and last meaning (7) of genêtos is what begins to exist in time after not having existed. It's this last meaning of ‘generated’ that Porphyry denies is applicable to Plato's creation story in the Timaeus29.

It seems clear, then, that in the passage just cited, Thomas first takes up Porphyry's definition no. 7 (“What begins to exist in time, after having not existed”), and then, when discussing the second meaning of creation in the text cited above, he follows Calvisius Taurus' meaning no. 4 : the world is created (Greek genêton) in the sense that it derives its being from elsewhere (Thomas : “For it has being only from the influence of a superior cause”). According to Proclus, this sense is equivalent to being generated causally (kat'aitian)30. This idea, originating in the interpretation of Timaeus 29E4-30A1 and formulated by Plotinus31 and then by Porphyry (see Text A below)32, amounts to claiming that the world is not autonomous as far as its existence is concerned, but always implies a causal principle superior to itself33. To say the word is generated kat'aitian is equivalent to saying it has its being in becoming, as was held by a number of Middle Platonists34, and by Plotinus himself35. The kat'aitian interpretation is, moreover, equivalent to the interpretation of genêton as designating that which is composite or at least analysable into its parts (Tauros' meaning no. 2 = Porphyry's meaning no. 5), insofar as what is compound implies the existence of a higher cause (aitia) that put it together36.

By adopting meanings no. 4 and 7, Thomas Aquinas is thus picking up on the tradition of the Late Antique Neoplatonic commentators, as exemplified by Simplicius. According to the latter in his Commentary on the Physics37, by ‘generated’ (genêton) Aristotle means what previously does not exist, but later comes into existence or is generated (i.e., meaning no. 7). Plato, in contrast, means by ‘generated’ what has its being in becoming (meaning no. 6) and derives its being from another cause (meaning no. 4).

What follows from these considerations, then, as far as the legitimacy of the conclusion reached by Taylor, following Thomas, is concerned, viz. that both Abrahamic creationism and Neoplatonic emanation can legitimately be considered forms of “creation” ?

I think we can say that Simplicius would not have been impressed. He would have objected against T&T that they are committing the same error, or tactical ruse, as Philoponus. By playing on the ambiguity of the term “created”/genêton, they are conflating two quite different meanings of the term and claiming that these meanings are, caeteris paribus, the same thing. In a sense, of course, they are the same thing, or rather they are closely related. The two meanings of genêton : “ coming into existence after not having existed ” (Aristotle) and “ owing its existence to a higher causal principle ” (Plato) do in fact bear a kind of Wittgensteinian family resemblance, which is why they can both be designated by the same term. But to go on to deduce from this that the two phenomena have anything substantial in common besides their name is to commit a fallacy of equivocation. Plato and Aristotle do *not* mean the same thing by genêton, Simplicius would say, and it is *not* the same thing for a thing (a) to exist after having not existed (Latin post nihil), and for it (b) to owe its existence to a higher causal principle. Pagan Neoplatonists would assert (b) and deny (a) ; orthodox Christians, such as Thomas, might very well assert both (a) and (b) conjointly.

Finally, before leaving the passage from Thomas cited and analysed by Taylor, it is worthwhile returning to the continuation of the passage quoted above :

However, if we take a third <consideration> to be required for the notion of creation so that in duration the thing created has non-being before being so that it is said to be from nothing because it is temporally after nothing, creation cannot be demonstrated in this way nor is this conceded by the philosophers, but is supposed by faith.

I take it that Thomas is acknowledging here that there is a third definition of creation in addition to the two he has just enumerated. This one insists that the sense in which created things are “after” nothing is temporal, and this meaning, as Thomas acknowledges, rejected by the philosophers. Yet this third definition, which Thomas mentions almost in passing, is surely the standard Abrahamic position : it is the one Philoponus defended at great length, first against Proclus, then against Aristotle, and which Simplicius in turn attempted to refute in his commentaries on the De Caelo and the Physics. It is also the position of Bonaventure, against whom Thomas may well be reacting here.

Thomas' position, then, seems to amount to saying that Christian creation and Neoplatonic emanation are compatible if we leave the question of  time out of consideration. This also seems to be Taylor's position. Whether or not such a bracketing is legitimate is, however, quite another question38.

2. 1 Free will and necessity

We have not yet dealt with the question of free will and necessity ; yet we must, for we recall that according to Taylor, although both Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanationism are forms of creation, they are distinguished, presumably exclusively, by the fact that Abrahamic creation is a free act of divine will, free of every kind of necessity, while Neoplatonic emanationism involves no act of will at all, and is subject to at least one of Taylor's three kinds of necessity.

As far as Neoplatonist creation is concerned, Taylor stresses, as we have seen, that created reality emanates directly from the First Principle “ without any act of will or any other intermediary, but by the very being of that Cause (Greek autôi tôi einai, Arabic bi-annīyati-hi) ”. He concludes from this that the very existence of the first cause “immediately and automatically entails, by a process of emanation, the existence of all subsequent levels of reality”.

We are on very slippery territory here, for there are clearly tensions within the Neoplatonism itself, and especially Plotinus, as far as the question of will is concerned, so my discussion will make even less claim here than elsewhere to be definitive. On the one hand, it cannot be denied that creation autôi tôi einai is a key element in post-Plotinian Neoplatonic thought, not just since Proclus and the Pseudo-Dionysius, as Cristina D'Ancona has often argued, but since Porphyry39. Plotinus does indeed sometimes speak as if the One, the Good, or the First lacked will40. It is just as undeniable, however, that the Neoplatonists, following Plato himself in the Timaeus, devote a great deal of discussion to the role of the Demiurge's will in the process of the world's creation41.

At this juncture, it is perhaps worthwile studying in detail a couple of very densely argued pages of Taylor's paper42, which I believe are key to his entire thesis. In what follows I will quote selections from these passages and intersperse them with my responses.

Transcendental necessity or necessity1, argues Taylor, is beyond the nature of will “where will might denote deliberation, choice, or weighing of alternatives, characteristics of human will and action. It then does not involve a selection between alternatives”.

MC : So far, so good. For Plotinus and Proclus, the One clearly does not deliberate or hesitate. Yet all we are entitled to conclude from this, I would argue, is that if the One has a will, it does not resemble human will, any more than human intellection resembles the hypernoêsis (Enneads VI 8, 16, 32) of the Good43. This does not, however, prove that the One/Good/First lacks any and every kind of will.

Rather, Taylor continues,

reality under necessity1 involves what cannot be otherwise than the overflowing of reality from the First as the Good (...) This form of origination or ibdā‘ (creatio) then, does not allow for the possibility of a stopping or denial of the emanation of reality from the First.

MC: “Cannot”, “does not allow”, and “possibility” are the key terms here ; we shall investigate their possible meanings more closely below.

After adding that the First Cause, since it lacks form, does not act through the necessity of a nature or form44, Taylors goes on to add :

To this extent, then, it [sc. causal activity under necessity1, and hence Neoplatonic-style emanation] does not fit under Hasker's conception of creation1, which he characterizes as “common to the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam [...] a free act on God's part ; he has no ‘need’ to create but has done so out of love and generosity”.

M.C. A couple of remarks seem in order here. Hasker, whom Taylor is following here, seems to be presupposing that either God has a need to create or he does so out of love and generosity ; only in the latter case would God's act be “free”. Now, for Taylor, the fact that it takes place autôi tôi einai excludes Neoplatonic emanation from this category of creation1. This must be because he considers that such emanation is not free, or, in Hasker's terminology, that it implies or entails a need to create on the part of the First Principle.

For Plotinus, however, there can be no question of the First Principle's having any “need” to create. As perfect and self-sufficient, the One has no needs at all, not even the need to reveal or manifest itself, and not even to create. Plotinus consistently describes the One/Good as anendeês “without need”45. Indeed, the One can be described as “that which is most without need” (anendeestaton)46. And as Augustine reminds us, where there is no need, there can be no necessity47. Perhaps, then, the dichotomy “free act of creation vs. necessitated act of creation” is more complex that Hasker thought.

As far as the alleged absence of divine will in Neoplatonic emanation is concerned, for Plotinus, God's boulêsis is the cause of the eternal world48, or of the nous49. The difficult paradox that creation occurs automatically and at the same time through the will of the First Principle is, of course, the subject of Plotinus' Ennead VI.8, and the role of the Demiurge's will as a factor in creation is stressed even more in such fifth-century pagan Neoplatonists as Hierocles and Proclus50. For Plotinus, in a word – and here one cannot avoid betraying the subtlety and complexity of a truly profound work – the will of God or the One is identical to his substance, essence, and freedom51. The One does not exist just any old way, but as it wills ; likewise, it produces not randomly, but as it wills52.

The role of divine will in Neoplatonic emanation can probably not be stated with more clarity than it was by the late Matthias Baltes :

The Will of God is nothing other than the fulfillment [teleiôsis, one might also translate by ‘perfection’ or ‘completion’ - MC] of his essence (ousia), that is, his goodness (agathotês), which realizes itself (energei) in willing (boulêsis) and creation (poiêsis). For God is goodness that wills to communicate itself, and does so53.

As far as the Abrahamic tradition is concerned, although God creates through a free decision of his will, uninfluenced by any kind of necessity, he must still, like every rational being, have a motive for his actions. Thomas' master Albertus Magnus makes this clear 54:

when something is produced not by natural necessity, but through freedom of will, the knowledge and power of the agent do not suffice for production (...) but it is necessary that the appetitite of the will be inclined toward the production of the thing (...) but that by which the will is inclined to action is the goodness of the first agent ; and therefore it is proper to his goodness to educe things by creation.

For Thomas Aquinas as well, as for the Neoplatonists, it is of the nature of the Good to communicate itself55. Ultimately, for Plotinus, God wished to produce the world precisely because he was good and was without any kind of need, and this motivation is ultimately not terribly far removed from that adduced by Thomas56. It is true that Plotinus often says that creation takes place by the nature of necessity57 but he may be referring58 by this only to the law that all that is perfect produces an image similar to itself : natural things necessarily, spiritual beings consciously and deliberately on the basis of purely moral necessity.

2.2 Leibniz on free will and necessity

We recall that for Richard Taylor, Abrahamic creation is free of all the three kinds of necessity, while Neoplatonic emanation, although free from the necessity of external compulsion (necessity3) and the necessity characteristic of things having a nature or form (necessity2), is still subject to transcendent necessity (necessity1), in the sense that no possibility exists of stopping or denying the emanation of reality from the First.

Klaus Kremer has an alternative discussion of necessity, which he takes from Leibniz. For Leibniz, there is logical or metaphysical necessity in the fact that the angles of a triangle are equal to two right angles, and this is the way God produces the world according to Spinoza59. Unlike such absolute necessity, physical necessity, the kind by which fire warms and ice cools, does allow its contrary. Finally, moral necessity does not eliminate freedom, but presupposes it. It is this kind of necessity according to which the most perfect beings, since they act in the most perfect way, “must” choose what is best, and wise, virtuous people “must” act in accordance with their wisdom and virtue. Such necessity, although it presupposes knowledge and will, is not opposed to freedom. If what is contrary to God's choice implied a contradiction, then this would imply metaphysical necessity and eliminate His freedom. In the words of Leibniz :

Il y a donc en Dieu une liberté, exemte non seulement de la contrainte, mais encore de la nécessité. Je l'entends de la nécessité métaphysique ; car c'est une nécessité morale, que le plus sage soit obligé de choisir le meilleur60.

(...) c'est la bonté qui porte Dieu à créer, afin de se communiquer ; et cette même bonté jointe à la sagesse le porte à créer le meilleur : cela comprend toute la suite, l'effect et les voyes. Elle l'y porte sans le necessiter, car elle ne rend point impossible ce qu'elle ne fait point choisir.

Applied to Plotinus, then, Leibniz's thesis would mean that the One, as highest good, “mut ” communicate its goodness to other things in a way analogous to that in which a moral person “must ” behave morally, but this “must” does not mean absolute necessity or necessitation, since there would be no contradiction in supposing that God did not choose to communicate himself61. Plotinus' One, argues Kremer, is free in the same sense as Thomas' God : since it is already perfect and without no need, it creates non-necessarily.

3.0 Conclusion : Porphyrian Neoplatosism on temporal vs. causal creation

Finally, since I've often stressed, throughout this presentation, that Taylor underestimates the importance of the distinction between temporal and timeless creation, I'd like to briefly discuss a few Neoplatonic texts to back up my claim. They all interpret Plato's account of the Demiurge's creation in the Timaeus as occurring in a causal, not a temporal sense. The first one is explicitly attributed to Porphyry, and Matthias Baltes62 has argued persuasively that the others go back to him, too. In Text A, Porphyry denies that Plato gives the world a temporal origin. In things that are causally dependent (i.e., presumably, everything except the First Cause, and therefore including the world), existence need not presuppose a temporally pre-existent state of nothingness ; note the direction contradiction here with the claim of Thomas Aquinas as cited by Taylor). This is another way of asserting, as in our texts from Augustine and Philoponus, that in the sensible world some effects co-exist eternally with their causes. In turn, this amounts to claiming that the world is generated in a causal, not a temporal sense (kat' aitian, all' ou kata khronon).

In Text B, taken from the same book of the City of God in which he summarizes Porphyry's Letter to Anebo, Augustine affirms that some Platonists interpret Plato as saying that the creation of the world takes place not in time, but from eternity, just as an eternal foot might leave an eternal footprint : both would exist simultaneously, and yet it would be clear that one was a cause, the other an effect. It is thus quite possible for a cause to be co-eternal with its effect63.

In our Text C, Philoponus, who believes God did create the world in time, explains how God can always be good even if he does not always create. If he does not do so, it is not because of God's unwillingness or inability, but because the very nature of creation requires it to come into existence after not having existed. He attests the Neoplatonic image of sun emitting light and bodies casting a shadow, an image, probably deriving from Porphyry, intended to illustrate the simultaneity or co-eternity of cause and effect64.

This analogy also shows an important difference from Christian notions of creation, as we see in Text D. Here, Aeneas of Gaza confirms, that the Platonists hold the world is generated causally (genêton kat'aitian). They deny, however, that the Demiurge made (pepoiêken) the world, any more that my body makes its shadow : on the contrary, as a shadow follows upon or accompanies (sunakolouthêsen) my body, so the sensible world follows upon the Demiurge65. Here, at any rate, Abrahamic creationism and Neoplatonic emanationism seem far apart, so much so that it does not seem licit to speak of the latter as “creation” at all.

Our Text E, from the dialogue Ammonios by Zacharias of Mytilene, gives reasons why God's creation cannot be co-eternal with Him : if it were, it would be equally worthy of worship (homotimos).

Finally, our Text F, from a lost work On Providence by the Alexandrian Neoplatonist Hierocles, a contemporary of Proclus, is interesting in that Hierocles raises against the Middle Platonists who gave a literal interpretation of the creation story in the Timaeus the same, or at least very similar, arguments that Proclus and Simplicius raised against the Christine doctrine of creation within time. If the Demiurge, according to Timaeus 42E, remains in his customary state (en tôi heautou êthei kata tropon menôn), then he must remain unchanging66, which rules out any temporal act of creation, since this would imply a change or shift on his part from non-creation to creation67. If it was better not to create, then how could could the Demiurge shift (metabainein), as it were, into creation mode ? If it were better to create, why didn't he create from perpetuity68 ?

In conclusion, then, I have to say that I disagree with Taylor's assertion that both Christian creation and Neoplatonic emanation and usefully and legitimately be called “creation”. Creation, as it is usually understood in the Abrahamic world, is usually understood as ex nihilo and temporal. For the Neoplatonists in contrast, as for virtually the entire millenium-long Greek philosophical tradition, ex nihilo nihil fit, and emanation neither takes place within time nor does it begin from a temporal starting-point. Finally, the role Taylor and many others assign to divine will in creation as a specific difference between Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanation is a bit of a red herring. It is doubtful that God's will is entirely free for thinkers like Thomas Aquinas, and it is false that will plays no role in Neoplatonic emanation. It does indeed seem paradoxical to maintain, as does Plotinus, that the First Principle creates both by free will and by its own being or essence. In fact, however, as long as we recall that we are not talking about the same kind of will in the case of the First as in the case of human beings, this paradox can be understood : for in the case of the One or the Good, will and being are simply identical69.


Table 1 : Taylor on types of necessity

Type of necessity


applicability to Abrahamic creation

applicability to Neoplatonic emanation


external compulsion




necessity of nature, characteristic of things that possess a nature or form




transcendent ; effect follows necessarily upon positing of cause



Table 2: Athanasius on the generation of the Son and the creation of the world

Type of creation

relation to God's essence

relation to God's will

relation to time

poiêma (world)

outside divine essence


in time

gennêma (Son)

idion tês ousias gennêma/ex autou phusei gennômemon

not dependent


Table 3

Calvinus Taurus apud Philoponum aet. mundi, p. 145, 13-147, 25 Rabe on the meanings of genêton :

Meanings of genêtos


1. what was not generated, but belongs to same genus as generated things

body in center of the earth (visible, but will never actually be seen)

2. what is composite by virtue of a thought experiment, even if not composite in actuality

middle note of the musical scale from the highest and the lowest, flowers, animals

3. what is always in a process of becoming

sublunar elements

4. what derives its being from elsewhere (viz., from God)

moon derives its light from the sun (although there's never been a time when it did not do so)

Table 4

Porphyry apud Philoponum aet. mundi, VI, 8, p. 148, 7 ff. Rabe on the meanings of genêtos :

meanings of genêtos


5. That which has the logos of generation

(= Taurus meaning 2?)

words, syllables (decomposable into letters) ; geometrical figures (rectilinear figures decomposable into triangles), compounds of matter and form

6. What receives its being through generation and becoming

house, ship, plant, animal (snap of fingers, flash of lightning : come into existence without any process of generation)

7. What begins to exist in time, after having not existed

most familiar meaning, but Plato didn't apply it to the world

Chase, Abrahamic creation and Neoplatonic emanation

in Greek, Arabic and Latin.


Text A

Porphyry ap. Sharastani p. 492 = t. II, p. 357-358 Jolivet-Monnot

Porphyry, fr. 459, p. 529-351 Smith.

wa yada‘a anna allaḏi yuḥkī ‘an Aflāṭūn min al-qawl bi-ḥudūṯ al-‘ālam ghayr ṣaḥīḥ qāl fī risāla ilā Anābānū : wa-ammā mā faraqa bihi Aflāṭūn ‘indakum min annahu yaḍa‘u li-l-ālam ibtidā’ zamāniyyan fa-da‘wā kāḏiba.  wa-ḏalika anna Aflāṭūn laysa (yarā) anna li-l-‘ālam ibtidā’ zamāniyyan lakinna ibtidā’ ‘alā jiha al-‘alla, wa yaz‘amu anna ‘alla kawnihi ibtidā’uhi, wa-qad ra’a anna al-mutawahhim ‘alayhi fī qawlihi anna al-‘ālam maḫlūq wa-innahu ḥadaṯa lā min šay’, wa-innahu ḫaraja min lā niẓām ilā niẓām fa-qad aḫṭa’ wa ġaliṭa, wa-ḏālika annahu lā yaṣaḥḥu dā’imān, anna kull ‘adam aqdamu min al-wujūd fī-mā ‘alla wujūdihi šay’ āḫar ġayrihi wa lā kull sū’ niẓām aqdam min al-niẓām wa-innamā ya‘nī Aflāṭūn anna al-ḫāliq aẓhara al-‘ālam min al-‘adam ilā-l-wujūd, wajada innahu lam yakun min /493/ ḏātihi lakinna sabab wujūdihi min al-ḫāliq.

And he claimed that the statement attributed to Plato concerning the world's coming into being is not correct. He said in his letter to Anebo : what separates Plato from you, viz. that he gives the world a temporal beginning, is a mendacious assertion. This is because Plato did not think that the world has a temporal origination, but an origination with regard to a cause ; and he claimed that the cause of its existence is its origination. He was of the opinion that whoever had the illusion that his view was that the world was created and that it had come into being ex nihilo, and that it had emerged from disorder into order - such a person has erred and been deluded. That is because it is not always true that all non-existence precedes existence in that which has the cause of its existence in something else ; nor is all lack of order prior to order. But by saying that the creator revealed the world from non-existence into existence, Plato merely meant that it does not exist by itself, but the cause of its existence is from the creator.


Text B

Aug., civ. dei 10, 31.

Cur ergo non potius divinitati credimus de his rebus, quas humano ingenio pervestigare non possumus, quae animam quoque ipsam non Deo coaeternam, sed creatam dicit esse, quae non erat ? Ut enim hoc Platonici nollent credere, hanc utique causam idoneam sibi videbantur adferre, quia, nisi quod semper ante fuisset, sempiternum deinceps esse non posset ; quamquam et de mundo et de his, quos in mundo deos a Deos factos scribit Plato, apertissime dicat eos esse coepisse et habere initium, finem tamen non habituros, sed per conditoris potentissimam voluntatem in aeternum mansuros esse perhibeat. Verum id quo modo intellegant invenerunt, non esse hoc videlicet temporis, sed substitutionis initium. « Sicut enim, inquiunt, si pes ex aeternitate semper fuisset in pulvere, semper ei subesset vestigium, quod tamen vestigium a calcante factum nemo dubitaret, nec alterum altero prius esset : sic, inquiunt, et mundus atque in illo dii creati et semper fuerunt, semper existente qui fecit, et tamen facti sunt.

Why, then, should we not rather believe the divinity about these things which we cannot investigate with human ingenuity, that divinity which tells us the soul itself is not co-eternal with God, but that it was created after having not existed ? In order for the Platonists to refuse to believe this, they thought they adduced this adequate cause : unless something has always existed previously, it cannot be perpetual subsequently. However, Plato openly says both of the world and of what he writes as the gods in the world made by God, that they began to exist and have a beginning, but by the most powerful will of the creator he testifies they will remain for eternity. Yet they found a way to understand this, i.e. that this is not a beginning of time, but of subsistence. “ Just as, they say, if a foot was in dust from eternity, a footprint would always be under it, yet no one would doubt that the footprint was made by someone treading, so, they say, both the world and the gods created within it always existed, since He who made them always exists, and yet they were made.


Text C

Philop., De aet mundi, 4,  p. 13, 12 ff. Rabe

δʹ. Καὶ ἄλλως. εἰ ὁ θεὸς ἀγαθός, ἀγαθῷ δὲ οὐδεὶς περὶ οὐδενὸς οὐδέποτε ἐγγίνεται ὁ φθόνος, ὡς ὁ σοφός φησι Πλάτων, καὶ διὰ τοῦτο εἰς τὸ εἶναι πάντα παρήγαγεν, (...) καὶ ἡμεῖς ἄρα μὴ εἶναι τὸν κόσμον ἀίδιον ὑποτιθέμενοι οὔτε τὸ εἶναι τὸν θεὸν ἀεὶ ἀγαθὸν ἀφαιρούμεθα οὔτε ἀσθένειαν τῆς δημιουρ-


γικῆς αὐτοῦ κατηγοροῦμεν δυνάμεως, ἀλλὰ τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι ἀεὶ εἶναι τὸν κόσμον δι’ αὐτὴν τὴν τοῦ γινομένου φύσιν ὑποτιθέμεθα, ὅτι τε τὸ ἄπειρον κατ’ ἐνέργειαν ὑποστῆναι ἢ διεξιτητὸν εἶναι ἀδύνατον ἦν καὶ ὅτι συναΐδιον εἶναι τῷ ποιοῦντι τὸ γινόμενον


φύσιν οὐκ ἔχει·

(...) ἃς γὰρ


ἡμῖν τοῦ συναΐδιον εἶναι τῷ θεῷ τὸν κόσμον εἰκόνας παράγουσιν δεικνύντες, ὡς οἴονται, ὅτι ἔστιν τινὰ αἰτιατὰ ἅμα τοῖς αἰτίοις ἑαυτῶν συνυπάρχοντα, οὐδὲν ὁρῶ κοινὸν ἐχούσας πρὸς τὸ ζητούμενον· ὁ γὰρ ἥλιος, φασίν, αἴτιος ὢν τοῦ φωτὸς αὐτῷ τῷ εἶναι δημιουργεῖ αὐτὸ καὶ οὔτε


τοῦ ἡλίου τὸ φῶς οὔτε τοῦ φωτὸς ὁ ἥλιος οὔτε πρότερός ἐστιν οὔθ’ ὕστερος· καὶ τὰ ἐν φωτὶ δὲ ὄντα σώματα αἴτιά ἐστιν τῆς ἐξ αὐτῶν γινομένης σκιᾶς συνυπαρχούσης ἀεί.

4. And another argument. If God is good, and no jealousy with regard no anything ever comes to be within what is good, as the wise Plato says, and this is why he brought all things into being, (...) we, too, who suppose the world not to be perpetual, neither eliminate the fact that God is always good, nor do we predicate


weakness of his creative power, but we suppose that the world cannot always exist because of the very nature of what comes into being : that it was impossible for an actual infinity to exist or to be traversable, and that what comes into being does not have the nature to be co-eternal


with what makes it.

(...) for I cannot


see how the images they adduce for the fact that the world is co-eternal with God, which they think prove that there are some caused things that co-exist with their causes, have anything in common with the issue under discussion. The sun, they say, which is the cause of light, creates the latter by its very being (autôi tôi einai), and neither is


light prior or posterior to the sun nor the sun to light. The bodies in light, moreover, are the cause of the shadow that is brought about from them and always co-exists with them.

Text D

Aeneas of Gaza, Theophrastus sive de animarum immortalitate et corporum resurrectione dialogus, ed. M.E. Colonna, Enea di Gaza. Teofrasto. Naples: Iodice, 1958, p. 45, 20-22 = p. 55 Boissonade

Οἱ τοῦ Πλάτωνος μυσταγωγοὶ τὸ γέγονεν οὐ γέγονεν λέγουσιν, ἀλλὰ κατ’ αἰτίαν ἐγένετο, οἷον τῆς ἐμῆς σκιᾶς αἴτιον τοὐμὸν σῶμα, ἀλλ’ οὐκ πεποίηκεν αὐτήν, ἀλλ’ ἐκείνη τούτῳ συνηκολούθησεν.

The mystagogues of Plato say that what has come into being has not come into being, but had come into being causally (kat'aitian), as my body is the cause of my shadow, but it did not make the latter, but the latter followed from the former.


Text E

Zacharias Mytilenaeus Rhet., Ammonius sive De mundi opificio disputatio, ed. M. Minniti Colonna, Zacaria Scolastico. Ammonio. Introduzione, testo critico, traduzione, commentario. Naples, 1973, sect. 2, 508 ff. = p. 105 Boissonade

    ΧΡΙΣΤ. Εἰ συναΐδιον τῷ θεῷ τὸν κόσμον εἶναι φήσομεν, ἔσται που πάντως κατά γε τοῦτο καὶ ὁμότιμος αὐτῷ. οὗ τί ἂν γένοιτο πρὸς ἀσέβειαν μεῖζον, εἰ τὸν περιγεγραμμένον καὶ ὁρατὸν καὶ ἁπτὸν καὶ σῶμα ἔχοντα ὑλικὸν ἐς ταὐτὸν δόξης καὶ τιμῆς τῇ ἀπεριλήπτῳ καὶ ἀοράτῳ καὶ ἀνωτάτῳ πασῶν ἀναγάγωμεν φύσει;

Christian: If we are to say that the world is co-eternal with God, it will necessarily, in that respect, be somehow equal in value to Him. [And what could be more impious], than if we were to raise what is circumscribed, visible, tangible, and possesses a material body to the same degree of glory and honor as the uncircumscribed, invisible nature which is above all natures ?

Text F

Hierocles, De prov., apud Photius, Bibl. cod. 251, p. 461a-23

Καὶ μᾶλλον ἂν εἴη τῆς ἀληθείας ἀφεστώς, εἰ πρὸς τῷ ἐνδεεῖ τῆς ὑλικῆς ἐνεργείας καὶ ἀπὸ χρόνου τινὸς κοσμεῖν ἤρξατο, ὅπερ οὐκ ἐᾷ μένειν αὐτὸν ἐν τῷ αὑτοῦ ἤθει. Εἰ γὰρ ἄμεινον μὴ ποιεῖν, πῶς εἰς τὸ ποιεῖν μεταβέβηκεν; Εἰ δὲ τὸ ποιεῖν, τί μὴ ἐξ ἀϊδίου ἔπραττεν,

And it would be even farther from the truth if, in addition to making him needy of material activity, he also began to set <the world> in order from some specific point in time, which would not allow him to remain in his own habitual state. For if it were better not to create, how could he have shifted to creating ? And if not creating <were better>, why did he not do so from perpetuity?



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1 As they continued to be for Kant, in his first antinomy of pure reason (Critique of Pure Reason, Transcendental Doctrine of Elements, Transcendental Logic, 2nd division, Transcendental Dialectic, book two : Dialectical Inferences of Pure Reason).

2 Cf. Philoponus, Against Aristotle, fr. 115 Wildberg = Simplicius, In Phys., 1141, 22 : ετε γρ ε π θεο γίνεται λη ετε ποτέ ; Hierocles, De prov., apud Photius, Bibl. cod. 251, p. 461a-23 : ετε ξ ϊδίου (...) ετε π χρόνου : Proclus, Investigation of Aristotle's objections to the Timaeus, ap. Philoponus, De aet. mundi, VI, 7, p. 138, 24-25 Rabe : τὸ δὲ γινόμενον διχῶς λέγεσθαι· ἢ γὰρ τὸ ἀεὶ γινόμενον ἢ τὸ ποτέ.

3 On all this, see M. Chase 2011.

4 R. Taylor 2012.

5 Taylor 2012, 115.

6 Taylor 2012, 130.

7 Taylor 2012, 130 ff.

8 This seems highly questionable in the case of Plotinus, for whom the first Cause, otherwise known as the One or the Good, may have no form, but can be, and quite often is, said to have a nature. See the numerous attestations in Sleeman-Pollet, Lexicon Plotinianum, s.v. φύσις b6, col. 1095. Already in an early Christian context, Clement of Alexandria (Strom. I, 86, 3) speaks of doing good (to agathopoein) as “as it were, the nature (phusis) of God, as it is the nature of fire to heat and of light to illuminate”. Cf. Dörrie-Baltes 1998, 472 n. 47. That the First Cause lacks a nature does not even seem to be true of the Liber de Causis, which, in proposition 8 as cited by Taylor (2012, n. 36) says of the Good or First Cause that “its individual nature is the Pure Good emanating all goodnesses upon the intellect and upon the rest of the things through the mediation of the intellect”. As in Plotinus, then, it is precisely because the One is good that it creates. Taylor seems to assume that at least as far as the Neoplatonic One is concerned, having nature is equivalent to having a form. I do not believe that is the case.

9 Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (1252-56), at Book 2 d. 1, q. 1, a. 2, resp. See below.

10 Taylor 2012, 132.

11 Taylor 2012, 131. The key word here, is, of course, “after” : in what sense are we to understand it ? There is, after all, a difference in Latin between ex nihilo and post nihil, as Bonaventure points out (Commentary on the Sentences, II, d. 1, p. 1, a. 1, q. 2, II, p. 19 ff. Quaracchi), and the formulas of Catholic orthodox enshrine the formula ex nihilo, not post nihil.

12 Likewise, on Taylor's hypothesis it becomes hard to understand the conflict between Avicenna and Ghazali, and between the latter and Averroes, to say nothing of the debate between Bonaventure and Aquinas himself on the question of creation, which is inseparable from the question of the eternity of the world ; cf. Michon et al. 2004, 35 f.

13 G. May 1994.

14 Cf. O. Lizzini 2009.

15 As Wolfson 1970 has shown, however, there were a number of efforts to alter Christian doctrine in this sense, making the world a temporal emanation ex deo (Gregory of Nyssa, the Pseudo-Dionysius, John Scot Eriugena).

16 Cf. Kremer 19712, 305.

17 See, for useful bibliographical orientations and assessments, G. Leroux 1990, 32 ; R. Sorabji 2004, vol. 2, 79-133 ; C. Steel 2007, 1-37.

18 Thomas takes up this doctrine at In Sent., Bk. II, dist. 1, q. 1, a. 2 (trans. Baldner-Carroll, p. 75) : “In this way creation differs from eternal generation, for it cannot be said that the Son of God, if left to Himself, would not have being, since he receives from the Father that very same being which the Father has....” Following Richard of St. Victor, Philip the Chancellor had proposed there must be an intermediary between the eternal procession of the Son and the temporal procession of perishable beings : the production of beings with a beginning in time but an eternal duration (angels, human souls, etc.) ; cf. Michon et al. 2004, 44 f.

19 On this, cf. M. Chase, in press ; M. Wacht 1969.

20 Excluding Thomas Aquinas, of course. Cf. Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, 3rd ed. 1997, p. 429 : “Though a doctrine of Creation does not as such require that the world took its beginning in or with time, Christian theologians in general have decisively rejected the eternity of the universe. But they have commonly held that its temporal origin is capable of being established only through revelation”. This, of course, was the position of Aquinas (Cont. Gent. 2, 38, etc.). See also First Vatican Council, Sess. 3, can. 1 : Hic solus verus Deus bonitate sua et omnipotenti virtute non ad augendam suam beatitudinem, nec ad acquirendam, sed ad manifestandam perfectionem suam per bona, quæ creaturis impertitur, liberrimo consilio simul ab initio temporis utramque de nihilo condidit creaturam, spiritualem et corporalem, angelicam videlicet et mundanam, ac deinde humanam quasi communem ex spiritu et corpore constitutam. The formula ab initio temporis dates back at least to the Fourth Council of the Lateran of 1215, according to which God is creator omnium visibilium et invisibilium, spiritalium et corporalium : qui sua omnipotenti virtute simul ab initio temporis utramque de nihilo condidit creaturam, spiritualem et corporalem (Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum, no. 800). Michon et al. (2004, 353) translate ab initio temporis as “au commencement du temps”.

21 In Taylor's paper, mentions of time as a factor in either Abrahamic creation or Neoplatonic emanation are restricted to a couple of footnotes and a brief mention at the very end of the article. At p. 131 n. 38, we read that al-Kindi's “understanding of Divine creation as willed and as creation in time separates him from the others listed above”, where the “others” include the PA, LDC, al-Kindi and al-Farabi. One could deduce from this, I suppose, that in Taylor's view these last-named philosophers do not view creation as taking place in time, but Taylor has, at least here, no more to say on the subject. At n. 39, Taylor writes that “The criterion of temporal creation indicated in the third [variety of creation mentioned by Thomas] is shared with al-Kindi, though here Aquinas considers it something known only through Christian faith”. Finally, in the very last parapraph of his article (p. 136), Taylor again points out that “ al-Kindi embraced not an eternal emanative creation2 but a doctrine of temporal creation by a divine willing in accord with Islamic religious teaching ”. This is, unless I'm mistaken, the only explicit acknowledgement in the entire article that Neoplatonic creation2 or emanation is eternal, while Abrahamic creation/creation1 is temporal. Yet this point is of absolutely fundamental importance, as I shall try to show.

22 Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (1252-56), Book 2, dist. 1, q. 1, a. 2, solutio.

23 Sententiae lib. II, dist. 1, c. 2, vol. 1/2 p. 330.

24 Other Thomistic definitions of creation include “producere simpliciter ens” and “producere totum ens subsistens, nullo praesupposito” (De pot. dei III, I, c ; In VIII Phys. 974 f.). Yet the Angelic Doctor can also simply identify creation with emanation (hanc quidem emanationem designamus nomine creationis [S. th. I, 45, I, c] ; ...productio universalis entis a Deo non sit motus nec mutatio, sed sit quaedam simplex emanatio [In VIII Phys. no. 974]). Cf. Kremer 19712, 419 n. 46 ; 421.

25 Taylor 2012, 132.

26 Cf. Endress 1973 and Chase, in press, where I also suggest that Porphyry may have accepted some variety of the doctrine of creation ex nihilo. Another interpretation may be possible, however : perhaps by his use of the verb praesupponat Thomas may be referring to the Greek idea that the Demiurge's creation of the world in time in the Timaeus is merely kath'hupothesin (by hypothesis) or didaskalias heneka (for the sake of instruction). That is, as the Neoplatonists held, Plato may have meant to present eternal realities as occurring within time – after all, Plotinus informs us that this is always the function of myth – like geometers describe the construction of geometrical figures although their existence is eternal, in order to show what great benefits the world receives from the World Soul. See, for instance, Enn. IV 8 [6] 38-42 : ἃ γὰρ ἐν φύσει ἐστὶ τῶν λων, τατα πόθεσις γενν τε κα ποιε ες δεξιν προάγουσα φεξς τ ε οτω γιγνόμενά τε κα ντα ; III 5 [50], 9, 24 ff.

27 Cf. W. Baltes 1976, 105-121 ; M.-L. Lakmann 1995.

28 It must be admitted that it's not terribly clear what the difference is between this meaning and Taurus' meaning no. 2, except that Porphyry adds the crucial example of what is composed out of matter and form.

29 If one can judge from the fragments cited by Philoponus, Porphyry himself believes that “constituted (suntheton) of form and matter” is the most appropriate interpretation of genêtos in Plato's Timaeus ; cf. Dörrie-Baltes V, 1998, 440.

30 Proclus, apud Philop., De aet. mundi, VI, 8, p. 148, 5-7 οὕτως γὰρ καὶ αὐτός φησιν τὸν Πλάτωνα γενητὸν λέγειν τὸν κόσμον ... καὶ ἔτι γενητὸν ὡς ὑπὸ θεοῦ γενόμενον καὶ οὐκ αὐτὸν ἑαυτῷ τοῦ εἶναι αἴτιον ὄντα, ὅπερ ἐστὶν τὸ κατ’ αἰτίαν γενητὸν εἶναι. Proclus is probably, here as often, following Porphyry, who declares in his Sentence 14 that “everything generated has its the cause of its generation from something else” (Πᾶν γενητὸν ἀπ’ ἄλλου τὴν αἰτίαν τῆς γενέσεως ἔχει).

31 Enneads II 4 [12], 5, 25 ff. ; IV 3 [27] 8, 30 ff. ; V 2 [11], 1, 5 ff. ; V 6 [24], 5, 5 ff. Cf. W. Baltes 1976, 126 ff. ; Dörrie-Baltes V, 1998, 428.

32 Ap. Philop., De aet. mundi 6, 17, p. 172, 5 ff. Rabe ; ap. Proclus, In Tim., I, 277, 10 ff. Diehl. Cf. Porphyry, Sent. 14 ; fr. 459 Smith ; Baltes 1976, 143 ff.

33 On this view, which goes back to Xenocrates' student Crantor of Soli, see Dörrie-Baltes V, 1998, 437 ff.

34 Philo, Plutarch, Tauros, Alcinoos, the anonymous Plationists cited by Alexander of Aphrodisias and Philoponus. For references cf. Dörrie-Baltes V, 1998, 438 and notes.

35 E.g., VI 7 [38] 3, 1 ff.

36 Baltes 1976, 144, who points out the Middle Platonic antecedents to this view (Albinus, Tauros, Hippolytus).

37 Simpl., In Phys., 1154, 2 ff.

38 The Taylor/Aquinas position would seem to amount to one of the doctrines identified as heretical, or at least dangerous, by Étienne Tempier and condemned in 1277 (vol. I, p. 549, no. 99 Denifle/Chatelain = 83 Mandonnet/Hissette) : “Quod mundus, licet sit factus de nichilo, non tamen est factus de novo ; et quamvis de non esse exierit in esse, tamen non esse non precessit esse duratione sed natura tantum” (The world, although created out of nothing, was nevertheless not originated ; and although it emerged from not-being to being, yet not-being did not precede being with regard to duration, but only with regard to nature”.

39 See Chase 2011 ; in press ; Dörrie-Baltes 1998, 472 and n. 46. Creating through being what a thing is is characteristic of entities whose being is pure actuality (energeia).

40 V 1, 6, 15-27 ; VI 9, 6, 40. With regard to the latter passage, however, Georges Leorux (1990, 57) specifies that “ce n'est donc qu'une volonté de besoin et de désir, volonté de fins particulières, qui est niée”. For Leroux, the will that can be attributed to the One, in a positive theology that provides the necessary counterpart to the negative theology that denies it, is a will that is “intransitive”, i.e. that has itself as its primary object.

41 The role of the will of the Demiurge is accentuated even more in Plotinus's successors that it is in Plotinus. Porphyry and Iamblichus (ap. Proclum, In Tim., 1, 382, 18 ff. Diehl) reject the doctrine of Atticus and Plutarch because, among other reasons, it completely eliminates the Demiurge's benevolent will (tên agathoeidê boulêsin autou to parapan anairousan).

42 Taylor 2012, 129-130.

43 According to Iamblichus, De Myst. I, 12, the divine will of the Good “surpasses the life of ordinary deliberation and choice” (hê t'agathou theia boulêsis tês proairetikês huperekhei zôês), translation Clarke/Dillon/Hershbell, who remark (p. 51 n. 76) on the difficulty of translating this phrase.

44 See my objections to this claim, above n. 00.

45 I 8, 2, 4 ; III 8, 11, 42 ; V 6, 4, 1 ; VI 7, 23, 8 ; VI 9, 6, 35 ; VI 8, 6, 35.

46 VI 9, 6, 18

47 Aug. De div. quaest. 83, quaest. 22, p. 26 Mutzenbecher : Ubi nulla indigentia, nulla necessitas : ubi nullus defectus, nulla indigentia. Nullus autem defectus in Deo ; nulla ergo necessitas.

48 II 1, 1 (40), II 1, 1, 2-4 ; II 1, 1, 34-37 ; III 8, 9, 16 ff.

49 VI 8, 17, 20 ff. ; VI 8, 18, 38-43.

50 Already for Plotinus' assistant Amelius (ap. Proclus, In Tim., I, 361, 25), one of the three Demiurges acts “ by will alone ” (boulêsei monon) ; Proclus corrects him by affirming that one and the same Demiurge “makes everything through his goodness by means of his will” (ὁ γὰρ αὐτὸς (...) διὰ τὴν ἀγαθότητα βουλήσει πάντα ποιεῖ), thus solving, or rather sidestepping, the problem of the relationship between divine freedom, goodness, will and necessity in one fell swoop. For the Middle Platonist Alcinoos (Didaskalikos X, p. 164, 42-165, 1 Whittaker-Louis), the First Principle has filled all things with himself according to his will (kata gar tên hautou boulêsin empeplêke panta heautou) ; see the parallel passages (Philo, Atticus, Ps.-Plutarch, Calcidius, Marcus Aurelius) adduced by Whittaker ad loc., p. 104-5 n. 193. Finally, in the Chaldaean Oracles, highly influential on the thought of Porphyry, the First Principle, as Father and King is called self-willed (autothelês), and develops into the triad Intellect-Power-Will. See G. Leroux 1990, 46-47 n. 33.

51 VI 8, 13, 7 f. : hê boulêsis autou [tou henos] kai hê ousia tauton estai.

52 Kremer 1987, 1006.

53 Dörrie-Baltes 1998, p. 469 n. 21.

54 Albert De cael. hier. c. 14, 1 d. 1 sol. XIV 99 Borgnet, cited by Kremer 1987, 996.

55 Cf. Kremer 1965, 262-263, citing In DN nr. 136 ; 36 ; nnr. 213 ; 227 ; 229 ; 269 ; S. th. 1 11 1, 4 ad 1um ; 2 II 117, 6 ad 2um;  I 106, 4, c. l C.G. II ; I 37 (fin.) ; III 24 ; I Sent. IV 1, 1, so. ; II 1, 4 contra ; S. th. III 1, 1, c.

56 Kremer 1965, 264, citing De pot. Dei I 5 ad 14 um : Optima ratio, qua Deus omnia facit, est sua bonitas et sua sapientia, quae manerent, etiam si alia vel alio modo faceret. Cf. Kremer 1987, 1029, citing S. th. I 19, 4 ad 3um : bonitas est ei ratio volendi omnia alia.

57 phuseôs anankêi III 2, 2, 8 ff. ; III, 2, 3, 35 ; II 9, 8, 20-29 ; II 9, 8, 3.

58 Kremer 1987, 1015.

59 Spiniza, Ethics, note to prop. 17.

60 Leibniz, Théodicée, 230.

61 Indeed, in at least one passage (Ennead IV 8 [6] 6, 1-8), Plotinus, says not that the procession of beings cannot be stopped, but that it ought not to be stopped (ouk edei stêsai), as if it were circumscribed by jealousy. Again, the impossibility of stopping or refraining from creation is moral, not logical or metaphysical in nature.

62 Baltes 1976, 163 ff.

63 Origen also held that God's creation was sunaidios with him, a position that was duly anathematized. See Chase, in press.

64 This analogy of divine emanation or creation to such natural processes as the sun emitting light or bodies casting shadows was dangerous for the Neoplatonists, in that it could tend to imply the kind of automatic and necessary nature of emanation with which the Christians reproached them. On the Neoplatonic use of this image, see M. Wacht 1969, 73-74. W. Theiler 1966 traces it back to Porphyry.

65 Basil of Caesarea comes dangerously close to this view when he speaks (Homiliae in hexaemeron, I, 6-7) of how the world “comes into existence timelessly, together with the will of God” (ὁμοῦ τῇ βουλήσει τοῦ Θεοῦ ἀχρόνως συνυφεστάναι τὸν κόσμον). Yet Basil comes down hard on those who refuse to concede “that the world was generated by Him, but came into existence as a kind of shadow of his power, as it were automatically” (Καὶ καθότι πολλοὶ τῶν φαντασθέντων συνυπάρχειν ἐξ ἀϊδίου τῷ Θεῷ τὸν κόσμον, οὐχὶ γεγενῆσθαι παρ’ αὐτοῦ συνεχώρησαν, ἀλλ’ οἱονεὶ ἀποσκίασμα τῆς δυνάμεως αὐτοῦ ὄντα αὐτομάτως παρυποστῆναι). Basil's text was translated more or less word for word in Ambrose's Hexaemeron (I, 1, 5, 18), whence it was no doubt known to Augustine.

66 For this doctrine in Plotinus, cf. Kremer 19712 4-5, with references n. 18. Only the soul is altered as it creates.

67 Dörrie-Baltes 1998, 470 ; Baltes 1996.

68 Cf., with Dörrie-Baltes ad loc., Augustine, Conf. 11, 10, 12, probably following Porphyry.

69 Dörrie-Baltes 1998, 472 n. 46.

70 I have considerably modified the translation by Wasserstein (in Smith, Porphyrius Fragmenta), in the light of the alternative versions by Jolivet-Monnot (Livre des religions et des sectes, trad. avec introd. et notes par Daniel Gimaret, Jean Jolivet et Guy Monnot, 2. vols., Leuven : Peeters – Paris : Unesco, 1986-1993 [Collection Unesco d'oeuvres représentatives. Série arabe, vol.1]) (J/L) and by Gabrieli (in A. R. Sodano, ed., Porphyrii in Platonis Timaeum commentariorum fragmenta, Napoli 1964) (G).

71 « Ce dont on accuse Platon chez vous » (J/L), « quanto a ciò di cui presso di voi si è a torto accusato Platone » (G)

72 « commencement temporel » (J/L).

73 « la cause de son existence est son commencement » (J/L), « e che la causa del suo nascere debba considerarsi come suo principio » (G)

74 « il n'est pas vrai toujours que toute sorte de non-être précède l'existence en ce qui a sa cause en une autre chose que lui » (J/L).

75 « s'il est patent que...» (J/L) ; « Platone col dire che il Creatore trasse il mondo dal non essere all'essere volle solo intendere che il suo essere non fu di per sé stesso » (G). The latter is the interpretation I have followed.

76 Sodano believed this reference was incorrect, and that the quotation in fact comes from Porphyry's Commentary on the Timaeus. Yet there seems to be no good reason to doubt Šahrastānī's express testimony. The Letter to Anebo was well known in the Arabic-speaking world, as it was to Augustine, who gives an account of it in civ. Dei 10, 11.

77 For the translation of ibtidā’ by “origination” I follow Zimmermann 1986, 198, who remarks on the term's frequency in the Theology of Aristotle. Cf. also al-Kindi, Epistle on the quantity of Aristotle's books, p. 410 f. Guidi-Walzer, who translate the term by “creare dal nulla”. Lizzini 2009 prefers “far iniziare”. Compare the Latin factum esse de novo, above, n. 00

78 By this phrase, Porphyry may have meant something analogous to Augustine's non esse hoc videlicet temporis, sed substitutionis initium (see text B) : in the Timaeus, Plato depicts not a temporal origin for the world, but the origin of its hypostasis/substitutio : that is, its concrete existence. On this meaning of hypostasis, cf. Chase 2009-2010.

79 A reference to Timaeus 30A, where Plato depicts the Demiurge's imposition of order on the disorderly motion of the khôra. In Porphyry's preserved comments on this passage, Porphyry denies that what appears to be described as preceding and subsequent stages in Demiurge's creative activity can be understood as temporal : this is merely a pedagogical tactic on Plato's part to enhance the clarity of the exposition. As Baltes comments (1976, 152) : “Es folgt daraus nichts für ein reales Früher oder Später im Schöpfungs-geschehen : alles ist vielmehr immer zusammen”.

80 In things that are causally dependent (i.e., presumably, everything except the First Cause), existence need not presuppose a temporally pre-existent state of nothingness. This is another way of asserting, as in our texts from Augustine and Philoponus, that in the sensible world some effects co-exist eternally with their causes. In turn, this amounts to claiming that the world is generated in a causal, not a temporal sense (kat' aitian, all' ou kata khronon).

81 sunaidios.

82 Plato, Timaeus 28B7 ff.

83 Ibid., 41B 2.

84 A difficult phrase. Some translations : Combès : “ Les platoniciens, il est vrai, ont leur manière de comprendre : il s'agit évidemment, disent-ils, non pas d'un commencement d'un temps, mais d'un commencement d'un être sous-jacent à un autre ”. Madec : “ Les platoniciens, il est vrai, ont leur manière de comprendre : il s'agit évidemment, disent-ils, non pas d'un commencement temporel, mais d'un commencement constitutif ”. “ Allerdings haben sie einen Weg gefunden, wie sie das Gesagte verstehen : damit sei natürlich nicht ein Anfang der Zeit gemeint (initium temporis = arkhê khronikê), sondern das Prinzip der Existenz (initium substitutionis = arkhê hupostaseôs”.

85 Cf. Augustine, civ. dei XI 4, I, p. 515, 18-24 Hoffmann (quoted by J. Pépin 1964, 90-91 n. 6) : “ Qui autem a deo quidem factum fatentur, non tamen eum temporis volunt habere sed suae creationis initium, ut modo quodam vix intellegibili semper sit factus, dicunt quidem aliquid, unde sibi deum videntur velut a fortuita temeritate defendere, ne subito illi venisse credatur in mentem, quod numquam ante venisset, facere mundum, et accidisse illi novam voluntatem, cum in nullo sit omnino mutabilis.

86 Bonaventure (Commentary on the Sentences, II, d. 1, p. 1, a. 1, q. 2, vol. II, p. 19 ff. Quaracchi) cites this example with approval, taking it to be a good illustration of the eternal existence of matter.

87 Bonaventure (loc. cit.) uses the same image of God's production of creatures as the body's projection of a shadow, once again on the presupposition of the eternity of matter.

88 Timaeus 42E5 ff.

89 In what precedes, Hierocles has denied the Middle Platonist view that the Demiurge requires some pre-existent matter in order to create.