- The Perfection of the Universe According to Aquinas: A Teleological Cosmology by Oliva Blanchette (review)
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 59, Number 3, July 1995
- pp. 485-489
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS The Perfection of the Universe According to Aquinas: A Teleological Cosmology. By OLIVA BLANCHETTE. University Park, Penn.: The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1992. Pp. xvii + 334. $35.00 (cloth). This work represents a significant and most welcome contribution to Thomistic interpretation as well as to the broader study of medieval philosophy . While its tone is unpretentious, its theme, the structure and purpose of the whole created universe, is crucial for Aquinas's philosophy. Those familiar with Thomas's corpus know how often this theme appears-frequently supplying the foundation for the argument-and know equally well how elusive it becomes when one seeks an extended treatment of it. Hence, to have recognized the chief elements of the larger picture, to have identified and collected the pertinent texts, and to have ordered and synthesized them as this book has done represents a major and lasting scholarly achievement. Moreover, while primarily concerned with Aquinas's own philosophical thought, the book also places him in conversation with a number of classical and modern thinkers, from Plato and Aristotle to Hegel and Collingwood. Blanchette begins his study by clarifying the very notion of perfection (Chapter 1). It first refers, in the order of our conceptions, to the completion of a process. A thing is perjectum, "thoroughly made," when its process of generation is finished. Motion, in fact, is precisely a passage from imperfection to perfection. By extension, the term can then be applied apart from motion to anything which lacks nothing it should have, or, as in the case of God, which lacks nothing at all. Analyzing the Greek and Latin terms connected with generation and perfection (poiein/facere; genesthai/fieri; teleion/perfectum; telos/finis; teleiosislperfectio) Blanchette shows why it is that for the Greeks the infinite usually signified imperfection, while Aquinas was able to conceive of an infinity which was perfection. For the present study, a crucial distinction among the kinds of perfection is that between first and second perfection, i.e., between a being's "ontological " perfection, the complete generation of its nature with all its natural powers , and its "operational" perfection, the activities carried out by means of those powers. Only in its operations does a being attain its ultimate perfection , which always lies in a relation to something exterior to itself. This fundamental distinction between first and second perfection underlies the basic 485 486 BOOK REVIEWS structure of the book. Part One describes the universe in its first perfection, i.e., the constituent parts whose presence gives it its integrity. Part Two takes up the activities of the parts which taken together constitute the order within the universe and by which the universe attains to its external good, God himself . At the level of first perfection, the universe is considered to be perfect first of all simply because it is the universe, i.e., the whole of what is (Chapter 2). As a whole, it is perfect (complete) in comparison to any of its parts. Thus it is a priori impossible to have plural universes, since each "universe" would in fact be only a part of the whole which was the universe. Second, simply as a body, the universe enjoys the perfection of having all three dimensions. Third, not having any bodies outside it, the universe does not share the imperfection of being limited by bodies external to it, as does every particular body. Finally, in containing the perfection of each kind of being, the universe possesses a universal perfection not shared by any one kind of being. These perfections belong to the universe simply qua universe. Beyond these, however, we can speak of the perfection of this universe. As Blanchette points out, for Aquinas there is no "best of all possible worlds" in the sense that God could not create a better one. Yet we can speak of the perfection (or completeness) of this world that God, for reasons not accessible to human reason, actually chose to create. The perfection of this universe is such that were any new essential parts, i.e., new species, added, it would no longer be the same universe, but rather a new universe of which the old now constituted a part...