Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

APPENDIX I. St. Thomas and Premotion.

WHEN treating of physical predetermination,{1} we remarked that we were by no means prepared to admit that St. Thomas is rightly interpreted by those who find it laid down in his works, and we now submit our reasons for taking him to sanction the Molinists rather than the so-called Thomist teaching. Our object in doing so is to satisfy those of our readers who are specially interested in the views of the great Doctor. In order to prove our point we have only to refer to his doctrine on the way in which God moves the human will, on the nature of moral freedom, on the origin of free volitions and on the Divine foresight of these volitions.

A. And first, as regards the Divine motion by which human wills are influenced, the Angelic Doctor discusses this subject under the heading, "Utrum voluntas moveatur a Deo solo sicut ab exteriori principio."{2}

There he teaches that the human will is moved from without, and that the external principle by which it is moved, is no other than God, and this for two reasons: first, because He is the Creator of the rational soul; and secondly, because He is the universal good.

Against this doctrine he puts the following objection: "God does not cause anything but what is good, according to Gen. i. 31, 'God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good.' Therefore, if the human will were moved only by God, it never would be moved to anything bad; and yet, as St. Augustine says, 'it is the will that sins and it is the will that acts rightly.

In answer to this difficulty 5. Thomas says: "God moves the will of man as universal mover to the universal object of the will, which is good taken in general; and without this universal motion man cannot will anything; but man determines himself under application of his reason to the volition of this or that thing, which is really or apparently good. Nevertheless, sometimes God moves some to a determinate particular volition of something good. This is the case with those whom He moves by His grace." Comparing these clear words of Aquinas with the expositions of those who defend physical predetermination, we are struck by a considerable difference.

On the one hand St. Thomas teaches that God commonly does not cause the acts of the human will except in so far as they involve a craving for something good. The determination, which particular good shall be chosen to satisfy that craving, is, according to him, not due to God but to man, who by a free consent to a particular practical judgment of his reason, moves his will, now to this, now to that object.

Those on the contrary who maintain physical predetermination, tell us that the motions of the human will towards precisely those particular goods which we choose, are predetermined by God, and therefore come about infallibly. Again, St. Thomas teaches indeed that God sometimes premoves men to some particular good, but the holy Doctor does not specify how this is done. He leaves it therefore open to us to explain that motion, as we have explained it, in solving the Thomistic difficulty drawn from the nature of efficacious grace. (Cf. p. 379.)

B. If we now turn to the idea of freedom as explained by St. Thomas, we find him again opposed to the predeterminists.

Contra Gentes, iii. c. 112. -- St. Thomas is explaining the different relations of rational and irrational creatures to Divine Providence. God, he says, governs rational creatures for their own sake, the irrational for the sake of the rational. His first reason for this doctrine is the existence of freedom of will in the rational, and the absence of it in the irrational world. In what then consists that freedom? These are his own words: "Free is that being which can rule its own action; for free is he who is the cause of himself; whereas that which by a sort of necessity is driven to action, is in a state incompatible with freedom."{3} As regards this passage, we know very well that the adherents of physical predetermination say explicitly that the predetermined creature really rules its own action under God, and that the predetermining motion of God by no means necessitates the creature to a certain action, but only draws it to the same infallibly. Let all this pass, however difficult it may be to understand. But we beg leave to ask one question: In what sense does St. Thomas say that the free being is the cause of himself? We all know that he does not mean to imply that man, on account of his freedom of will, must have in himself the principle of his existence. Nor can his saying be explained in this sense, that the free rational creature causes its own action independently of God; for he teaches expressly that God operates in all operations of His creatures. Is it then his meaning that the free creature causes its action in dependence upon God? No, because thus understood, he would say nothing of the free creature that would be at all peculiar to a free creature as such. All creatures depend upon the Creator in their actions. There remains, then, only this interpretation, that the free creature, whilst dependent upon God for action, depends proximately upon itself alone as regards its determination to this or that action. This interpretation thoroughly agrees with another saying of the Angelic Doctor: "It is peculiar to the rational nature that it tends to an end in such a way as to move and lead itself thereunto, whilst an irrational creature must tend to it as moved and led by another."{4} Who this other is, St. Thomas says clearly immediately before, in the words: "The whole of irrational nature stands to God in the relation of an instrument to its principal cause."{5} The inference to be drawn from this is, manifestly, that rational creatures, acting as rational creatures, that is to say, using their freedom of will, are not set in action by God as instruments by their principal causes. On the contrary, he represents them as principal causes of their own self-determination, on the supposition that they actually enjoy the use of freedom.

C. If we now ask the Angelic Doctor to explain himself more fully, and name the agency that carries the free-will to one alternative rather than another, he answers quite frankly that it is none other than the free-will itself. The passage to which we refer is Sent. ii. d. 39, q. 1. art. 1. in corp. St.Thomas teaches there that the human will, through man's own fault, may fall into sin. He adds that in the will we must distinguish between the faculty and the act. "The will as a faculty," he says, "is not from ourselves, but from God, and therefore cannot be sin in us, but the act of that faculty may be sin, because it is from us."{6} He wishes, however, to make us understand that the act of which he here speaks is not the actual use of freedom as such (this no doubt is also from God), but the actual use of freedom inasmuch as it means the actual preference of one alternative before another, when the creature is actually free to choose either. To leave not a shadow of doubt regarding this his real meaning, he adds expressly, "That the will embraces this or that determinate particular action, is not owing to any agency other than the will itself."{7}

It would seem that this passage of St. Thomas is not only implicitly but explicitly opposed to physical predetermination. For the predeterminists maintain that each particular determination of the free-will is predetermined by God, and that the knowledge God has of the infallible future existence of the free acts of men is involved in the knowledge of the decree by which He has settled the exercise of His predetermining influence upon human wills.

D. In the latter part of this statement we find another contradiction between so-called Thomism and St. Thomas. Aquinas teaches that the reason why God knows future free actions is this, that they in themselves are present to Divine intuition, not only in their causes. "Further, events considered in their individual future existence, can only be known by God, to whom they are present even then, when in the course of things they are still future, inasmuch as His eternal intuition extends itself by one act over the whole course of time."{8} Of course this must in the first place be true of those future events which do not follow necessarily from their causes; consequently, of free actions. These actions are in the most proper sense of the word contingent effects, and therefore it is certain that, according to St. Thomas, future free actions of creatures are known by God directly, not in the decrees by which they are caused.

Nay, he goes so far as to exclude the possibility of the latter knowledge, when he says: "A contingent event may be considered inasmuch as it has pre-existence in its cause; and thus it is considered as something both future and not determined as yet to one definite issue (because a cause which acts not necessarily may turn to this or to that of two alternatives opposite to each other); and under this aspect a contingent event cannot be known for certain by any knowledge whatsoever."{9}

Then the Angelic Doctor goes on to say that God knows nevertheless future contingent events, because not only their causes, but their future particular existences are open to His eternal intuition. The reader will remember that this doctrine coincides with the teaching of the Suarezian Molinists given by us in Book II., who advocate the scientia media, which is nothing else than an immediate intuition of the conditionally future existence of free actions. St. Thomas certainly does not seem to hold that the future free actions of rational creatures are known by God in His predetermining decrees, as in the real and infallibly operating causes of those actions.

E. Among all the passages which Thomists love to quote from St. Thomas in favour of predetermining premotion, there is none which really proves physical predetermination to be his doctrine, although there are many which prove premotion in general, and even in particular, inasmuch as it can be conceived without physical predetermining influence. We are the last persons to deny that this sort of premotion, which we have explained and approved (p. 374, § 218), was before the mind of St. Thomas, when he compared the operation of God in created agencies to the motion by which an artist applies his instrument to cut something.{10} The truths really contained in this simile may be stated thus:

1. As the natural aptitude of an instrument for cutting is without effect unless it is applied by the artist to some material, so the natural faculties existing in creatures to produce changes in other creatures are of no avail, unless God by His Providence brings them mediately or immediately into relation with matter to act upon. What is, for instance, the best orator without an audience, the best master without pupils?

2. As the artist can freely drop the instrument, and thus put a stop to its cutting, so God by His absolute power could, save for His free decree to act otherwise, efface any creature from the order of existing things, and thus abolish its activity. He can also make creatures cease to act without subtracting their preservation, simply by not willing that they shall be in a state fit for certain actions. Thus, for instance, He destroyed the influence of Elymas by striking him on a sudden with blindness.{11}

3. As the action of the instrument is directed by the artist's intellect and will to the end that he intends, so every action of creatures is turned by Divine Providence into a means to the last end of all creation, the external manifestation of God's perfections.

We should have good hope of harmony between Molinists and Thomists, if Molinists would bring their true doctrine regarding premotion more explicitly to the front, and if Thomists would distinguish carefully between premotion to free action in general, and premotion to this or that particular free election; and again between the Divine knowledge of a particular future free action, as possible to the will under a certain condition, and the Divine knowledge of the same action, as infallibly to come about under that condition. It is true, in order that a free volition under a given condition may be really and adequately possible to us, God must have decreed from eternity to concur with us by granting us the actual use of freedom. But the decree to grant this actual use is not a decree to influence the free-will in such a way that by the physical nature of the said influence our free choice in one direction is predetermined. On the contrary, according to reason and to St. Thomas's teaching, it is a decree, physically thus to influence the free-will (naturally or supernaturally) that in virtue of its actual physical state it must exercise its freedom, that is to say, must accept, or omit to accept, any object proposed by the understanding as eligible.


{1} Natural Theology, p. 371.

{2} St.Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. 2ae. q. 9. a. 6. ad 3m. "Deus movet voluntatem hominis, sicut universalis motor, ad universale objectum voluntatis, quod est bonum; et sine hac universali motione homo non potest aliquid velle; sed homo per rationem determinat se ad volendum hoc vel illud, quod est vere bonum vel apparens bonum. Sed tamen interdum specialiter Deus movet aliquos ad aliquid determinate volendum, quod est bonum, sicut in his quos Inovet per gratiam."

{3} "Quod dominium sui actus habet, liberum est in agendo; liber enim est qui sui causa est; quod autem quadam necessitate ab alio agitur ad operandum, servituti subjectum est."

{4} "Proprium est naturm rationalis, Ut tendat in finem, quasi se agens vel ducens ad tinem, naturm vero irrationalis, quasi ab alio acta vel ducta." (Sum. Theol. Ia. 2~. q. s. a. 2. in Corp.)

{5} Tota irrationalis natura comparatur ad Deum sicut instrumentum ad agens principale." (Ibid.)

{6} "Voluntas potentiae, cum a nobis non sit, sed a Deo, in nobis non potest esse peccatum, sed actus ejus qui a nobis est."

{7} "Quod determinate exeat in hunc actum vel in illum, non est ab alio determinante, sed ab ipsa voluntate."

{8} "In se ipsis quidem futura cognosci non possunt nisi a Deo, cui etiam sunt praesentia, dum in cursu rerum sunt futura, in quantum ejus aeternus intuitus simul fertur supra totum temporis cursum." (St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 86. art. 4. in corp.)

{9} "Potest considerari contingens ut est in sua causa et sic consideratur ut futurum, et ut contingens nondum determinatum ad unum (quia causa contingens se habet ad opposita); et sic contingens non subditur per certitudinem alicui cognitioni." (St. Thomas. Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 54 art. 13. in corp.)

{10} St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 505. art. 5. in corp. et ad 3; De Potentia, q. 3. art. 7. in corp. § Sciendum namque." et ad 7.

{11} Acts xiii. 11.

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