-by Br Nicholas Hartman
“What is the difference between God’s causing something to be and my causing something to be? Francesco Silvestri, a.k.a. Ferrariensis (1474–1528), gives us some helpful tips to isolate these two main kinds of cause-and-effect—God’s causing something and a creature’s causing something.
There are a lot of different kinds of beings, and these beings don’t always have a lot in common. Sure, polar bears, ostriches, and earthworms are all animals, but how the moon or the wind or fire are all alike isn’t obvious. Furthermore, what about the kind of being that the act of scratching your head has? Or your posture? Certainly, actions and positions exist—sort of.
What absolutely everything has in common is that they all are, or they exist somehow, even though what that means in each case—for animals, actions, positions, colors, and anything else you can think of—can differ widely. Everything is alike insofar as everything has being. If something is not—it does not have being—then there’s nothing to talk about. It doesn’t share what everything else has, but it’s also not included in everything—it’s nothing (no + thing).
With this in mind, now consider what kind of cause God is. God produces things out of nothing. That means that by creating, he gives something existence—he gives something what it needs to be anything at all. He gives it being. No creature does this.
But suppose you, in your budding artistic practice, paint a canvas red to include in a museum of abstract art. You cause, not being, per se, but redness. Yet you would also seem to cause being; you cause the canvas to be red. And this should seem strange. God is absolutely the cause of being; but you also seem to be a cause of being. Is there a conflict?
Ferrariensis helps clarify how mere creatures cause being in a rather intriguing way. He explains that nothing at all can truly be separate from its being or its existence. Everything, insofar as it is anything, is. That is not to say that there is no distinction between what a thing is (essence) and its being (existence). But a thing’s essence relies on its existence at least in some way if you want to talk about anything at all.
Therefore, when you, a creature, cause a canvas to be red, there’s no way to understand your causing redness without your causing the redness to be. That is, you cause the canvas to be red. Otherwise, you would not cause anything at all. How could you cause redness in a canvas without causing the canvas to be red?
This does not mean that you, mere creature that you are, cause being out of your own resources—out of nothing. You really cause the canvas to be red, but that whole process of creaturely cause-and-effect depends on God’s causing the whole chain of causes to be at every moment.
Ferrariensis helps us to understand how we creatures cause being as a secondary effect. For you, the artist, redness is the primary effect of your painting, but being is a secondary effect, because by causing red in a canvas you cause the canvas to be red. But God causes all of it—you, your act of painting, the canvas, and the red in the canvas—to be absolutely. He holds everything in being: Being is God’s primary effect. And because you cannot cause something without causing it to be—being is a secondary effect of anything you cause—you depend on God to cause anything at all.
This means that at every moment and in everything we do, we depend fully on God to act. But it also means something very beautiful. We’re not like mere characters in a fictional book, who are not only dependent entirely on the author, but also do not have any real causality (unless you suspend disbelief). We creatures are real causes of our effects. We depend on God completely, but our actions are, in a very real way, our own.”
Summa Catechetica, "Neque enim quaero intelligere ut credam, sed credo ut intelligam." – St Anselm, "Let your religion be less of a theory, and more of a love affair." -G.K. Chesterton, "And above all, be on your guard not to want to get anything done by force, because God has given free will to everyone and wants to force no one, but only proposes, invites and counsels." –St. Angela Merici, "I want a laity, not arrogant, not rash in speech, not disputatious, but men and women who know their religion, who enter into it, who know just where they stand, who know what they hold and what they do not, and who know their creed so well that they can give an account of it."- Bl John Henry Newman, Cong. Orat., "We cannot always have access to a spiritual Father for counsel in our actions and in our doubts, but reading will abundantly supply his place by giving us directions to escape the illusions of the devil and of our own self-love, and at the same time to submit to the divine will.” —St. Alphonsus Ligouri, "The harm that comes to souls from the lack of reading holy books makes me shudder . . . What power spiritual reading has to lead to a change of course, and to make even worldly people enter into the way of perfection." –St. Padre Pio, "Screens may grab our attention, but books change our lives!" – Word on Fire, "Reading has made many saints!" -St Josemaría Escrivá, "Do you pray? You speak to the Bridegroom. Do you read? He speaks to you." —St. Jerome, from his Letter 22 to Eustochium, "Encounter, not confrontation; attraction, not promotion; dialogue, not debate." -cf Pope Francis, "God here speaks to souls through…good books“ – St Teresa of Avila, Interior Castle, "You will not see anyone who is really striving after his advancement who is not given to spiritual reading. And as to him who neglects it, the fact will soon be observed by his progress.” -St Athanasius, "To convert someone, go and take them by the hand and guide them." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP. 1 saint ruins ALL the cynicism in Hell & on Earth. “When we pray we talk to God; when we read God talks to us…All spiritual growth comes from reading and reflection.” -St Isidore of Seville, “Also in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions that they might do me no harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or my own; that He would have them as His own and employ or not employ them as He should see fit. And this I believe is heard.” -GM Hopkins, SJ, "Only God knows the good that can come about by reading one good Catholic book." — St. John Bosco, "Why don't you try explaining it to them?" – cf St Peter Canisius, SJ, Doctor of the Church, Doctor of the Catechism, "Already I was coming to appreciate that often apologetics consists of offering theological eye glasses of varying prescriptions to an inquirer. Only one prescription will give him clear sight; all the others will give him at best indistinct sight. What you want him to see—some particular truth of the Faith—will remain fuzzy to him until you come across theological eye glasses that precisely compensate for his particular defect of vision." -Karl Keating, "The more perfectly we know God, the more perfectly we love Him." -St Thomas Aquinas, OP, ST, I-II,67,6 ad 3, “But always when I was without a book, my soul would at once become disturbed, and my thoughts wandered." —St. Teresa of Avila, "Let those who think I have said too little and those who think I have said too much, forgive me; and let those who think I have said just enough thank God with me." –St. Augustine, "Without good books and spiritual reading, it will be morally impossible to save our souls." —St. Alphonsus Liguori "Never read books you aren't sure about. . . even supposing that these bad books are very well written from a literary point of view. Let me ask you this: Would you drink something you knew was poisoned just because it was offered to you in a golden cup?" -St. John Bosco " To teach in order to lead others to faith is the task of every preacher and of each believer." —St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. "Prayer purifies us, reading instructs us. Both are good when both are possible. Otherwise, prayer is better than reading." –St. Isidore of Seville “The aid of spiritual books is for you a necessity.… You, who are in the midst of battle, must protect yourself with the buckler of holy thoughts drawn from good books.” -St. John Chrysostom