According to Mr. De Wulf, the essential characteristics of the Scholastic system of ethics may be reduced to two heads: it is eudemonistic and libertarian.
In order to form a clear conception of the nature of this eudemonism, a few considerations about the necessary conditions underlying the activity of all beings will not be out of place here.
Waiving all other considerations, it must be admitted that all agents act for a definite end. This is true not only of conscious beings, but likewise of inanimate objects. It follows as a necessary consequence from the fact that our cosmos presents us with distinct individuals, each of which is endowed with a peculiar nature. When dynamite blows up an edifice, it acts towards an end as well as the acorn when it becomes an oak. Like the acorn, it possesses an essential character, definite potentialities which, under proper conditions, will forcibly become actual. The only difference that exists between the potentiality of the inorganic and of the organic world lies in the fact that inorganic agents do not possess any principle of self-actuation, and therefore they do not act except when moved by some external cause. Organic beings, on the other hand, are endowed with an inner principle of self-determination. It is in this very principle that the essence of life consists: "The living being," says St. Thomas, "is the one that can move itself," "Vita est substantia cui convenit secundum naturam suam movere seipsam."
Plants, however, although self-determined, are not conscious of the end toward which their own nature compels them to tend. They are thus inferior to sentient beings, whose essential characteristic is a more or less clear consciousness of their own peculiar activities. Man alone possesses an intellectual knowledge of his end, because he is the only being endowed with reason and capabile of forming universal concepts. He alone properly knows his end and can adopt the most suitable means to reach it. He alone is a moral being.
Ends may be divided into proximate and ultimate. Proximate ends are those that are not desired for themselves; but only in so far as they are steps towards the attaining of ultimate ends. Strictly speaking, they are not ends, but means. Ultimate ends are desired for their own sake and therefore they are not subservient to anything else. If we consider health as the ultimate end a sick man has in view -- an end which cannot be ultimate for him in so far as he is a man, but only in so far as he is a sick man -- the acquiring of the remedies which he is obliged to take in order to get rid of his disease will be a proximate end.
Proximate ends being thus properly means, an infinite series of such ends becomes absurd, and we must admit that rational beings not only act for an end, but for an ultimate end.
The great question of morality consists therefore in the determination of the ultimate end of man. All actions subservient to this end will be good; all actions inconsistent with this end will be bad. Now, if this world of ours is rational, we must admit that the end of all beings is true to their nature. It can, not be but the actualization of the potentialities they contain, the unfolding of the latent perfectious which constitute their very essence.
This most important truth has been relegated to oblivion by all that put the foundation of morality on a mere external principle.
Whether we build our ethical system upon the common consent of mankind, as Saint Lambert did, or upon the civil law, as Hobbes, or upon the will of God, as Crusius, we remove rationality from our world, and, by so doing, we destroy morality itself. All external systems of ethics imply that no action is good or bad in itself; that an act we now regard as good would be bad if some determinate free agent had willed it so; might become bad this very day if the will or the caprice of the lawgiver should vary. Under such conditions no science of ethics is possible.
The end of man is thus the complete actualization of his nature -- or to use a term current in ancient Greece -- perfect happiness.
Here Scholastic ethics meets a powerful adversary which, under a variety of forms, has controlled modern thought, has assumed different garbs according to the varying circumstances, and, repeatedly unmasked, has appeared again and again, its appearance being the signal for prolonged applause; a system which, under the specious names of hedonism, Epicurianism, utilitarianism, is to-day perhaps more vigorous than ever and prides itself upon its able defenders and legions of adherents.
The difference between hedonism and Scholasticism lies in this: Hedonism inculcates that pleasure is the ultimate criterion of morality, and that an action is good only in so far as it is pleasurable; whereas for Scholasticism goodness lies in the nature of the act itself, and pleasure is simply an eftect which mav follow from a moral act, which will necessarily accompany the good in the long run, but which is not the good.
As hedonists often allege the authority of Plato and Aristotle in support of their theory, it will be worth while, before exposing the prime defect of Hedonism, to quote a few passages which clearly show that Plato and Aristotle did not confuse the pleasurable with the good, and that furthermore they held, in regard to the final end of man, the very beliefs that characterize the ethical system of the Scholastics.
The flrst passage is taken from Plato's Gorgias:
"Listen to me, then, while I recapitulate the argument: Is the pleasant the same as the good? Not the same. Callicles and I are agreed about that. And is the pleasant to be pursued for the sake of the good? or the good for the sake of the pleasant? The pleasant is to be pursued for the sake of the good. And that is the pleasant at the presence of which we are pleased, and that is good at the presence of which we are good? To be sure. And we are good, and all good things whatever are good when some virtue is present in them? That, Callicles, is my conviction. But the virtue of each thing whether body or soul, instrument or creature, when given to them in the best way, comes to them not by chance, but as the result of the order and truth and art which are imparted to them. Am I not right? I maintain that I am. . . . And is not the soul which has an order of her own better than that which has no order of her own? Certainly. And the soul which has an order is orderly? Of course. And that which is orderly is temperate? Assuredly. And the temperate soul is good? No other answer can I give, Callicles dear. . . . If the temperate soul is the good soul, the soul which is in the opposite condition, that is the foolish and intemperate is the bad soul.
"And will not the temperate man do what is proper, both in relation to gods and men; for he would not be temperate if he did not what is proper? Yes, certainly. And in his relation to other men he will do what is just, and in his relation to the gods he will do what is holy; and he who does what is just and holy cannot be other than just and holy? Very true. And he must be courageous, for the duty of a temperate man is not to follow or to avoid what he ought not, but what be ought, whether things, or men, or pleasures, or pains, and patiently to endure what he ought; and therefore, Callicles, the temperate man, being, as we have described, also just and courageous and holy, cannot be other than a perfectly good man, nor can the good man do otherwise than well and perfectly whatever be does; and he who does well must of necessity be happy and blessed, and the evil man who does evil miserable."
As we see, happiness is by no means identified with pleasure. It consists in a certain virtue, in an order which characterizes the soul of the good man. The temperate soul is the good soul; the foolish and intemperate is the bad soul.
A similar doctrine is held by Aristotle. In the first book of his Nicomachean Ethics, he teaches that happiness is neither pleasure, nor honor, nor wealth, but "an energy of the soul according to virtue." These are Aristotle's own words:
"Men seem not unreasonably to form their notion of the good, and of happiness, from observing the different lives which men lead. The many and most sordid class suppose it to be pleasure, and therefore they are content with a life of enjoyment.
"But, perhaps, to say that happiness is the greatest good, appears like stating something which is already granted; and it is desirable that we should explain still more clearly what it is. Perhaps, then, this may be done, if we take the peculiar work of man; for as to the musician, and statuary, and to every artist, and in short to all who have any work or course of action, the good and excellence of each appears to consist in their peculiar work; so would it appear to be with man, if there is any peculiar work belonging to him . . .
"What, then, must this peculiar work be? For life man appears to share in common with plants; but his peculiar work is the object of our inquiry: we must, therefore, separate the life of nutrition and growth. Then a kind of sensitive life would next follow; but this also he appears to enjoy in common with the horse, the ox, and every animal. There remains, therefore, a certain practical life of a being which possesses reason; and of this one part is, as it were, obedient to reason, the other as possessing it, and exercising intellect. But this life also being spoken in two ways (according to energy and according to habit), we must take that according to energy; for that appears to be more properly so called. Now if the work of man, and of a good man, is the same generically, as in the case of a harper, and a good harper (and so, in short, in all cases, superiority in each particular excellence being added to each particular work); for it is the work of a harper to play, of a good harper to play well: and if we assume the peculiar work of man to be a kind of life, and this life an energy of the soul and actions performed with reason; and the peculiar work of a good man to be the same things done well, and honorably; and everything to be complete according to its proper excellence: if, I repeat, these things are true, it follows, that man's chief good is "an energy of the soul according to virtue"; but if the virtues are more than one, according to the best and most perfect virtue; and besides this, we must add, in a perfect life: for as neither one swallow, nor one day, makes a spring; so neither does one day, nor a short time, make a man blessed and happy."
Let us now directly examine hedonism itself.
In the first place, it sounds like a truism to say that the words "good" and "pleasurable" cannot be unqualifiedly taken as convertible terms. The common belief of mankind looks upon as good many actions that do not bring any real pleasure to their authors. The payment of a debt, charity to the poor, self-sacrifice, are praised all over the world. On the other hand, many acts bringing great pleasure are universally condemned. The drunkard and the libertine are objects of contempt to every right-thinking man.
Hedonists meet this objection by saying that the pleasure given as the basis of our conduct is not the particular pleasure of the moment, but the pleasure in the long run. The presently expected satisfaction is a worthy motive of action only in so far as it does not make impossible the attainment of a satisfaction more remote. Although in some particular cases, the pursuit of a proximate satisfaction is not to be considered as inferior to that of ultimate gratifications, it is none the less a fundamental principle that the guidance by simple and immediate feelings must be subordinated to the authority of higher and more complex feelings.
It cannot be denied that hedonism thus explained contains a great deal of truth. The egoistic element of all our acts must be frankly recognized. The poor workman who trods under foot his inordinate thirst for intoxicating liquor in order that his wife and children may have some bread to eat, relinquishes an immediate good to obtain a more distant good, the welfare and happiness of his family, and, as a consequence, his own peace and joy at home. The sister of charity, who leaves her home and parents, who renounces forever the roost legitimate joys of life, the pleasures that the matrimonial state and the rearing of children would bring to her; who spends her days and her nights at the bedside of a poor sick man whom she has never met before, to whom she feels attached by no earthly bonds, whom nevertheless she attends with all the painstaking cares of a most devoted mother, whom she finally snatches from the claws of death, expecting no earthly reward, knowing full well that the only prize of her self-abnegation will be an untimely death; this sister of charity, whose whole life seems to be a glowing impersonation of altruism, is, from a hedonistic point of view, just as selfish as the most vulgar man. She renounces the pleasures of this world to enjoy the pleasures of the world to come. She abandons relatives, riches, life itself, all finite and perishable goods, to secure the possession of treasures that never fade nor grow old. The prize she covets is none less than God himself.
Pleasurable actions, however, can be made co-extensive with good actions only in assuming there is a future life. As many hedonists would be loath to take such a life into account, would rather profess with Hegel that this every-day world, what is here and now, has been a very good exchange for the shadowy other- world about which ancient philosophers worried themselves sick, there will come in their way a great many facts which their system -- in the form we are at present considering -- will be unable to explain. No future gratification, if we simply consider this actual world of ours, can possibly accrue to the soldier who, in a brave fight against the foes of his country, dies the death of a hero on the battlefield. If he is unknown to the world, he will not even reach the glory of having his name recorded in the annals of his country; he will not be held Lip to the school-boys of future generations as the ideal citizen. Obscure in life; still more obscure in death. No man, however, would call into question the intrinsic worth of his heroic death.
Facts of this kind have caused the downfall of individual hedonism and given birth to the celebrated formula, so universally admitted by hedonists to-day: "the greatest good for the greatest number." In this new form of the system, not only must immediate satisfactions give way to satisfactions more remote, but the present and the future pleasures of the individual must be subordinated to the pleasures of the whole community. All forms of self-sacrifice are thus easily justified. The sister of charity will die in her prime of life at her post of duty, but the hundreds of unfortunate people whom she has rescued from death will live and society will be benefited. The hero will be killed on the battlefield, but his country will be saved.
Scholastic moralists would admit that pleasure and good are co-extensive. If good actions are those performed in harmony with our nature, they must needs produce pleasurable results at the present moment or at some future time. We cannot deny this principle without denying the rational character of our world. And as here below many deeds, universally regarded as good, do not give rise to any pleasurable consequence, there must exist a more perfect world, in which whatever seems irrational in this will be rectified. But, although pleasure and good are co-extensive, they are far from being identical terms. Pleasure bears to good the relation of an effect to its cause. A good action will produce pleasurable results; but it will produce them on account of its own inherent nature. The goodness will belong to the elements of the action itself, regardless of the consequences that may possibly follow from it. A ripe apple will give rise to pleasant gustatory impressions, but those impressions will be due to the peculiar nature and disposition of the atoms of the apple itself, which will thus possess an intrinsic goodness, independently of the sensations ii may produce. And if the apple decays, it is in the apple itself that a change from good to bad will occur: it will be bad even if nobody ever tastes it. What is true of an external object is likewise true of all that belongs to the inner nature of man. All our acts possess a value of their own, which must be regarded as primary, while the ensuing consequences are looked upon as only secondary. The good is thus identifiable with what is in harmony with our nature. But as we are endowed with several orders of faculties, as we are made up of body and soul, and thereby possess a sensuous, and an intellectual appetite, the gratification of our lower impulses must be subordinated to our nobler energies. We must live according to our nature, but to our whole nature. The satisfaction of a sensuous desire is thus good in itself, but becomes bad if the exercise of a nobler faculty is thwarted thereby:
"Delectationes corporales," says St. Thomas, "sunt secundum partem sensitivam, quae regulator ratione: et ideo indigent temperari et refraenari per rationem."
The assertion that the satisfaction of a sensuous desire is good in itself puts Scholastic moralists in conflict with the author of the Critique of Practical Reason. According to Immanuel Kant, a work is good when it is done, not only from duty, but from pure duty. Whenever some natural impulse furnishes the motive of a good deed, this deed is thereby deprived of its moral worth. Our actions must spring from duty alone, and not from any natural inclination whatsoever:
"To be beneficent when we can is a duty," says Kant, "and besides this there are many minds so sympathetically constituted that, without any other motive of vanity or self-interest, they find a pleasure in spreading joy around them, and can take delight in the satisfaction of others so far as it is their own work. But I maintain that in such a case, an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth, but is on a level with other inclinations, e. g., the inclination to honor, which, if it is happily directed to that which is in fact of public utility and accordant with duty, and consequently honorable, deserves praise and encouragement, but not esteem. For the maxim lacks the moral import, namely, that such actions be done from duty, not from inclination."
Kant's system of morals, perfectly correct in so far as it recognizes that moral actions must spring from our own individuality, not from any external principle, correct also when it points out the insufficiency of hedonism, fails to recognize the legitimacy of our natural inclinations. Inconsistent when he divides our mind into two compartments, and sets the practical against the pure reason, the solitary of Koenigsberg is guilty of a similar inconsistency in his practical realm. He splits up, as it were, our intimate self, opposes one part to another, cherishes one fragment as genuine and praiseworthy, rejects the other as spurious and baneful. He prostrates himself before the categorical imperative, which indeed originates from the very depths of our soul, is God himself speaking to our heart and making us know our duties through the voice of our own nature; but, at the same time, he condemns, as adequate moral motives, those cravings, those natural aspirations which form, as well as the voice of pure duty, a constituent part of our own selves. His system, repulsive to the ordinary man for its barrenness, incongruous with the common beliefs of mankind in so far as it deprives of moral worth not only the charity of the good-natured man, but the sacrifice of the hero who dies for his country, is inadmissible in the world of thought because it makes man a mere bundle of contradictory elements.
The second characteristic of Scholastic ethics is its libertarianism.
The doctrine of free will has been so often misrepresented, and rejected on that account, that a few explanatory remarks will not be out of place here. It is quite absurd to call a free volition a causeless cause or a motiveless act. Libertarians are far from teaching that free actions are done without a motive: they simply contend that the motive does not necessarily determine our will. Our will, they say, is a rational faculty whose object is the good. Now a good determines our will only if it is good in every respect. As long as there remains in it some undesirable aspect -- as is the case with all the finite things of this world -- our will has not what it naturally tends to, perfect happiness, and is not therefore necessarily determined:
"Si proponatur aliquod objectum voluntati, quod sit universaliter bonum, et secundum omnem considerationem, ex necessitate voluntas in illud tendit, si aliquid velit: non enim poterit velle oppositum: si autem proponatur sibi aliquid objectum, quod non secundum quamlibet considerationem sit bonum, non ex necessitate voluntas fertur in illud."
The laborer who, after toiling laboriously for long hours every day, brings his wife the fruit of his toil and fatigue instead of spending it in a grog-shop, certainly acts with an end in view. He is determined by a motive; but his own consciousness eloquently testifies that this motive did not determine his will necessarily, that he might have acted otherwise.
Scholastics are unanimous in regarding free will, thus understood, as an indispensable presupposition of all morality. The recognition of this truth does not belong solely to them. Kant, whose philosophy lies open to criticism in many other respects, joins here in perfect harmony with the teachings of the School. Free will has a conspicuous place in his system of ethics, is indeed its corner-stone. He regards it as an essential condition of all true morality.
If we start from fatalistic principles, if we regard all our acts as necessarily determined by our character and surroundings, all possibility of acting differently from what we did disappears, and the words merit and demerit lose all their significance.
It will perhaps seem strange that a philosophy professing to be a revival of Thomism should defend any thesis of free will. Many non-Catholic writers, indeed, look upon St. Thomas as an angry determinist. We will limit ourselves to two quotations:
"In the first place," says Fullerton, "it may help one to realize how erroneous is the current notion that this doctrine (of free will) has some natural connection with religion and good morals, and that they may be expected to be found in conjunction. When Stoic and Epicurean are placed in contrast, it is certainly not to the advantage of the latter. And surely no man can regard Augustine as less religious than Pelagius, St. Thomas as less religious than Duns Scotus, Luther as less religious than Erasmus, and Jansenius as less religious than his Jesuit opponents. A glance at the history of human thought tempts one to maintain that men of strong religious feeling are less likely to become "free-willists" than other men. Their peculiar danger appears to be a lapse into some sort of fatalism."
Our second quotation will be taken from the Swiss philosopher, Charles Sécrétan:
"Il (St. Thomas) attribue la coulpe au libre arbitre de la volonté: 'Hoc enim imputatur alicui in culpam, quum deficit a perfecta actione cujus dominus est secundum voluntatem. . . . Deus est auctor mali paenae, non autem mali culpae.' Ces déclarations semblent précises, mais elles ne sauraient tenir devant le déterminisme absolu qui forme la base de tout le système."
And a little further on he continues:
"Le libre arbitre n'est, aux yeux du dernier Père de l'Eglise, que la faculté de s'écarter de la raison. Il n'est donc pas question de libre arbitre en Dieu."
Sécrétan, however, does not feel perfectly at ease. He feels no doubt about St. Thomas's strict determinism. Nevertheless, he is compelled to recognize, in the works of the Angelic Doctor, some teachings sounding very much like an admission of free will. He concludes that a contradiction permeates the whole system:
"En contradiction flagrante avec son déterminisme, avec son optimisme absolu, avec ses doctrines sur l'étendue de la causalité divine et sur la prescience de tous les futurs, Thomas professe catégoriquement le libre arbitre."
Let us now turn to the works of St. Thomas himself and see whether he would accept as his the doctrines thus imputed to him. We shall confine ourselves to a few striking passages, and refer those who should desire more abundant information to the Summa Theologica, the Summa contra Gentiles and the Opuscula, of which a thorough study is necessary for a complete understanding of the philosophy of St. Thomas, and in which the point which interests us at present is repeatedly and adequately discussed.
In the Summa contra Gentiles, St. Thomas teaches that all intellectual substances are endowed with free will:
"Caput XLVIIL. -- Quod substantiae intellectuales sunt liberi arbitrii in agendo. Ex his autem apparet, quod praedictae substantiae sunt liberi arbitrii in agendo. quod enim arbitrio agant, manifestum est eo quod per cognitionem intellectivam judicium habent de operandis. libertatem autem necesse est eas habere, si babent dominium sui actus, ut ostensum est (c. 47). Sunt igitur praedictae substantiae liberi arbitrii in agendo."
He gives his view on Divine Providence, and professes that it does not interfere with the free will of man:
"Caput LXXIlI. -- Quod divina providentia non excludit arbitrii libertatem. Ex quo patet quod providentia divina voluntatis libertati non repugnat. . . . Per gubernationem cujuscumque providentis, res gubernatae deducuntur ad finem convenientem; unde et de providentia divina Gregorius Nyssenus dicit (De philos., 1. 8, c. 2) quod est 'voluntas Dei per quam omnia quae sunt convenientem deductionem accipiunt.' Finis autem ultimus cujuslibet creaturae est ut consequatur divinam similitudinem, sicut supra (c. 17) ostensum est. Esset igitur providentiae repugnans, si alicui rei subtraheretur illud, per quod assequitur similitudinem divinam: agens autem voluntarium assequitur divinam similitudinem in hoc, quod libere agit: ostensum est enim liberum arbitrium in Deo esse: non igitur per providentiam prohibetur voluntatis libertas."
In the same chapter, he formally condemns the determinism of the Stoics:
"Per hoc autem excluditur opinio Stoycorum qui secundum ordinem quendam causarum intransgressibilem, quem Graeci ymarmenen vocabant, omnia ex necessitate dicebant provenire."
In his Summa Theologica, his most perfect work, the fruit of his maturer years, in which the thought of his whole life is condensed, the same truths are again and again enunciated. In the 83d chapter of the first part, he unequivocally admits free will in man:
"Respondeo dicendum, quod homo est liberi arbitrii: alioquin frustra essent consilia, exhortationes, praecepta, prohibitiones, praemia, et poenae. Ad cujus evidentiam considerandum est, quod quaedam agunt absque judicio, sicut lapis movetur deorsum; et similiter omnia cognitione carentia. Quaedam autem agunt judicio, sed non libero, sicut animalia bruta. Judicat enim ovis videns lupum, eum esse fugiendum, naturali judicio, et non libero: quia non ex collatione, sed ex naturali instinctu hoc judicat: et simile est de quolibet judicio brutorum animalium. Sed homo agit judicio: quia per vim cognoscitivam judicat, aliquid esse fugiendum, vel prosequendum. Sed quia judicium istud non est ex naturali instinctu in particulari operabili, sed ex collatione quadam rationis, ideo agit libero judicio, potens in diversa ferri: ratio enim circa contingens habet viam ad opposita, ut patet in Dialecticis syllogismis, et Rhetoricis persuasionibus: particularia autem operabilia sunt quaedam contingentia et ideo circa ea judicium rationis ad diversa se habet, et non est determinatum ad unum. Et pro tanto necesse est, quod homo sit liberi arbitrii ex hoc ipso, quod rationalis est."
He even teaches that free acts are the only acts that may properly be styled human:
"Respondeo dicendum, quod actionum, quae ab homine aguntur, illae solae proprie dicuntur humanae, quae sunt propriae hominis inquantum est homo: differt autem homo ab irrationalibus creaturis in hoc, quod est suorum actuum dominus; unde illae solae actiones vocantur proprie humanae, quarum homo est dominus; est autem homo dominus suorum actuum per rationem et voluntatem; unde et liberum arbitrium esse dicitur facultas voluntatis, et rationis; illae ergo actiones proprie humanae dicuntur, quae ex voluntate deliberate procedunt: si quae autem aliae actiones homini conveniant, possunt dici quidem hominis actiones, sed non proprie humanae, cum non sint hominis, inquantum est homo."
He discusses the relations of God to man more closely still than in the Summa contra Gentiles, and reaches the same conclusions:
"Quia igitur voluntas est activum principium non determinatum ad unum, sed indifferenter se habens ad multa; sic Deus ipsam movet, quod non ex necessitate ad unum determinate sed remanet motus ejus contingens, et non necessarius, nisi in his, ad quae naturaliter movetur."
Therefore, there cannot be the slightest doubt as regards St. Thomas's libertarianism. It must be admitted, however, that a peculiar doctrine of his, universally accepted by his modern followers, seems, at first sight, to be hardly reconcilable with human liberty it is the doctrine of prescience, predestination and reprobation. St. Thomas asks whether men are predestinated by God, and he unreservedly answers that they are:
"Deo conveniens est homines praedestinare."
He adds that God reprobates some men; that the elect are chosen by Him:
"Unde praedestinatio aliquorum in salutem eternam praesupponit secundum rationem, quod Deus illorum velit salutem. Ad quod pertinet electio, et dilectio";
that the number of the elect is certain not only formally, but materially; that is to say, God does not only know how many men will be saved; but he also knows whether John, Peter and Thomas will be saved:
"Respondeo dicendum, quod numerus praedestinatorum est certus. Sed quidam dixerunt eum esse certum formaliter, sed non materialiter: ut puta, si diceremus certum esse, quod centum, vel mille salventur, non autem quod hi, vel illi. Sed hoc tollit certitudinem praedestinationis, de qua jam diximus. Et ideo oportet dicere, quod numerus praedestinatorum sit certus Deo non solum formaliter, sed etiam materialiter."
It is thus clear that, according to this view of St. Thomas, God knows all future events; that, his knowledge being immutable, all things will necessarily come to pass as he actually knows them; that the number of the elect is thus determined; that God knows, with regard to any man, not only whether he will be saved or damned, but what the determination of his will will be in each particular case; that there is not the slightest possibility for any one of us to change in the least degree God's eternal and immutable decrees in our regard.
We do not deny that there is here an apparent clash with St. Thomas's teaching about free will. The opposition of the two doctrines, however, exists only in appearance, and disappears as soon as we grasp St. Thomas's conception of God. His theory of the Divine Being has been exposed in our chapter on Natural Theology. Suffice it to recall that God being eternal, there is no future for him, but a perpetual present. He has not existed through an infinite temporal series, a series of successive instants of which there was no beginning and which shall know no end; he even does not properly exist: He is. What is a future for us is thus not a future for God, and it is only an imperfection of our language that compels us to speak of God's prescience. He does not know our acts before we perform them; he knows them as actual. His knowledge is not logically anterior, but posterior to the free determination of our will. It is hard for us, of course, limited as we are to our temporal series, to have a clear conception of a knowledge of this kind. We may, however, have an idea of it -- though imperfect -- by considering our own knowledge of the present and of the past. We actually know that John has done this and Thomas that, and our knowledge does not interfere in the least with the freedom of their actions. It is in a similar way that God knows our future deeds. He knows them as done. He predestinates some men because they freely act in accordance with the moral law; he reprobates others because they freely disobey his precepts; he knows how many men will be saved just as we might know the exact number of soldiers who were slain at Gettysburg.
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