I described Aristotle's Four Causes yesterday in what I hope was a not-too-boring fashion. Sarah, from Just Another Day of Catholic Pondering, kindly said it "may sound like a bunch of philosophical hooey, but it's really intriguing and worth trying". With that boost to my confidence, let's look deeper into the four causes at ourselves.
A thing's material cause is its physical makeup - the paint and canvas used for the artist's masterpiece. When it comes to human beings, this is a cause that we spend a lot of time, collectively, thinking about. We cure disease, restore sight, and lengthen life by understanding our own material. We also kill unborn children, rape, scar, and savage each other with greater efficiency each year. Commercials fill the air for pills, machines, and surgeries that will improve on our physical material. Plastic surgeons make millions of dollars correcting the "mistakes" made (or, really, perceived) in our material.
In the Eucharist, we take Christ very physically into ourselves. Our bodies take on Christ, physically, materially. We also call this Communion because we are communing with each other, with the saints in Heaven, and, most importantly, with God. We become a physical, material part of the Body of Christ. Our body - our material body - is the Body of Christ.
Remember what Jesus says in Matthew's Gospel:
"For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a
stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for
me, in prison and you visited me." (Matt
When you feed a body, you feed Christ. When you clothe a body, you clothe Christ. And when you harm a body - your body or another's - you harm Christ. Our ultimate material cause is Christ.
The efficient cause is the force behind the material taking on its form - the painter that moves the brush to create his masterpiece.
The Church has spent a lot of time, especially recently, focusing on our bodies. Pope John Paul II's Theology of the Body leaps to mind as an excellent example. Our material is a focus of the Bible, too, even in the very first book. Genesis is about our genesis - our creation - the force behind our being.
Why do we have these bodies? In the beginning - of the Bible and of creation - we get an answer: "Then God said, 'Let there be light,' and there was light. " (Gen 1:3) God spoke. He spoke His Word, and His Word created the light... and everything that came after.
What is God's Word? John answers this question clearly: "All things came to be through him" (John 1:3). All things came to be through Christ, the Word that was with God and was God, in the very beginning.
Christ is our material cause - our very body - and also our efficient cause, the force that wills our bodies into being. No one lives or dies without His will (Matt 10:29-31).
God's active will holds us in being. We are each alive at this very moment because God wants us to be, and that is a comforting thought.