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Aquinas and the Metaphysics of Creation, by Gaven Kerr

26 February 2021

Andrew Davison enjoys a study of the Angelic Doctor on creation

GAVEN KERR — a Dominican Tertiary who teaches in Limerick — has a strong track record with books. In 2015, Oxford University Press published his compelling study of Aquinas’s early masterpiece On Being and Essence (Aquinas’s Way to God: The Proof in De Ente et Essentia). The focus was Aquinas’s argument for the reality of God (to my mind the strongest across his corpus): that God alone is his own being; any creature only has being from another; and that having-from-another leads us back to God.

In Aquinas and the Metaphysics of Creation, Kerr now offers the best overview of Aquinas on creation which I can think of. We have books on creation of broadly Thomist inspiration: this is more resolutely an exposition of Aquinas. We also have various excellent book-length discussions of specific aspects of creation for Aquinas (such as Blanchette on perfection, or Doolan on divine ideas): this is more comprehensive, although surprisingly succinct.

Kerr’s principal themes are carried over from the first book: participation in God as a relation of dependence, the priority of being in the metaphysics of Aquinas, and a fascination with causal sequences (a slightly more idiosyncratic choice, but usually deployed with grace and insight).

His chapters cover “Philosophies of Creation” (on Aquinas’s historical interlocutors), the “Agent of Creation” (a brisk walk through relevant aspects of the doctrine of God), the “Meaning of Creation” (the heart of it), the “Causality of Creation” (mainly the distinction between primary and secondary causes), the “Object of Creation” (a splendid summary of Thomas on the composition of created things), the “History of Creation” (on how process features), and the “End of Creation” (bringing things round to Christ, redemption, and the beatific vision).

Most pages lay out what Aquinas wrote. This is expertly done, drawing on a notably wide range of Thomas’s output. Occasionally, Kerr explores slightly more on his own terms, as, for instance, in a couple of valuable pages on what Aquinas’s thought has to offer for thinking about evolution.

Only towards the end of the book did I find some comments that looked exposed, more than they need be, for all but the most fervent Thomist: that a flame exists in order to cause heat, or that a biologist need not be ruffled by the proposal that higher human functions have no natural basis. I would also have liked even more on God as exemplary cause, but these are minor quibbles: Aquinas and the Metaphysics of Creation is another triumph.

Points are backed up throughout, with quotations from Aquinas in the footnotes, in Latin. Some knowledge of Latin will also prove helpful in navigating the body of the text. The cost while in hardback is cruelly high.

The Revd Dr Andrew Davison is the Starbridge Lecturer in Theology and Natural Sciences in the University of Cambridge, Fellow and Dean of Chapel at Corpus Christi College, and Canon Philosopher of St Albans Cathedral.


Aquinas and the Metaphysics of Creation
Gaven Kerr
OUP £64
Church Times Bookshop £57.60

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