Alfred J. Freddoso
University of Notre Dame

After an exposition of some key concepts in scholastic ontology, this paper examines four arguments presented by Francisco Suarez for the thesis, commonly held by Christian Aristotelians, that God's causal contribution to effects occurring in the ordinary course of nature goes beyond His merely conserving created substances along with their active and passive causal powers. The postulation of a further causal contribution, known as God's general concurrence (or general concourse), can be viewed as an attempt to accommodate an element of truth present in occasionalist accounts of divine causality.

1. Introduction

The sacred writings of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity proclaim with full voice that God is the transcendent and provident Lord of nature; as the First or Primary Cause, He has created the physical universe, sustains it in being, and is always and everywhere active in it by His power. Prompted by this basic conviction, theistic philosophers have through the centuries fashioned deep and subtle metaphysical accounts of God's causal activity in nature. Significantly, these accounts do not limit such activity to the miraculous. On the contrary, the dominant presumption has been that the metaphysics of miracles can be coherently expounded only against the backdrop of a philosophically and theologically adequate account of God's constant causal involvement in the ordinary course of nature. It is this more general component of a theistic philosophy of nature which will be the focus of my attention here.

To set the stage for what follows, I will first describe briefly and informally what have emerged from the historical debate as the three principal theistic accounts of God's causal influence in the ordinary course of nature:

a. Occasionalism. According to occasionalism, which was espoused by several important medieval and early modern thinkers, God alone causes effects in nature; natural substances, contrary to common opinion, make no genuine causal contribution at all to any such effect. In short, there is no creaturely or "secondary" causation in nature; /554/ created substances are incapable of transeunt action, i.e., action that has effects outside the agent. So, for instance, the gas flame on your stove does not heat the kettle of water placed over it; rather, it is God alone who heats the water on the occasion of its being proximate to the flame. The flame counts as a "cause" only in the attenuated sense that God acts in accord with a firm, though arbitrarily decreed, intention to heat water when it is brought into proximity to a gas flame of a given type under a given range of circumstances; and so it is for all the effects produced in nature. (Occasionalism will figure only tangentially in this paper; I have, however, discussed it at some length in another place.1)

b. Mere Conservationism. Occasionalism is in many ways congenial to scientific anti-realism, according to which the natural sciences aim only to attain "empirical adequacy" and not to discover "real" causes and causal structures in nature. By contrast, mere conservationism is closer in spirit to some forms of scientific realism. According to mere conservationism, God contributes to the ordinary course of nature solely by creating and conserving natural substances and their accidents, including their active and passive causal powers. For their part, created substances are genuine secondary causes which can and do causally contribute to natural effects on their own, given only that God preserves them and their powers in existence. When such substances directly produce an effect, they alone are immediate causes of that effect, whereas God is merely an indirect or remote cause of the effect by virtue of His conserving action; consequently, the actions of created substances are in some straightforward sense their own actions and not God's actions.2

c. Concurrentism. Concurrentism, which flourished among the late medieval Aristotelian scholastics and certain figures in the early modern period, occupies a middle position between what its advocates perceive as the unseemly extremes of occasionalism and mere conservationism. According to concurrentism, a natural effect is produced immediately by both God and created substances, so that (pace occasionalism) the latter make a genuine causal contribution to the effect and indeed determine its specific character, but (pace mere conservationism) they do so only if God cooperates with them contemporaneously as an immediate cause in a certain "general" way which goes beyond conservation and which makes the resulting cooperative transeunt action to be in all relevant respects the action of both God and the secondary causes. This cooperation with /555/ secondary causes is called God's general concurrence or general concourse.

At first glance concurrentism appears eminently sane from a theistic standpoint, since it allows for secondary causation in a robust sense while at the same time sustaining a strong interpretation of the theological tenet that God is intimately involved in the production of effects in nature. However, lurking below the surface are some intricate philosophical problems concerning the nature of cooperative transeunt action. William Durandus, an early fourteenth-century Dominican bishop and theologian who espoused mere conservationism, argued in effect that any detailed explication of God's purported general concurrence with secondary causes will either suffer from incoherence or else collapse back into occasionalism or mere conservationism.3

I plan to deal elsewhere with Durandus's arguments and the concurrentist response to them. Here, however, I will concentrate instead on the arguments propounded by concurrentists against mere conservationism.

Although mere conservationism has enjoyed the status of an unspoken and unsupported assumption among some recent Christian thinkers, almost all the important figures in the history of philosophical theology have rejected it as philosophically deficient and theologically "unsafe". According to Albert the Great, writing in the thirteenth century, the opinion that secondary causes are sufficient by themselves to produce at least some effects without God's direct causal influence "has all but disappeared from the lecture hall and is regarded as heretical by many moderns."4 Indeed, Durandus himself is the one and only well-known medieval proponent of mere conservationism, or at any rate the only one cited as a champion of this position by sixteenth- and seventeenth-century writers.

The four arguments I will examine are found in Francisco Suarez's Disputationes Metaphysicae [hereafter: DM], Disputation 22, with some parallels appearing in Part II, Disputation 25 of Luis de Molina's Concordia.5 Although Suarez and Molina, both late sixteenth-century Spanish Jesuits, disagree sharply with their Thomistic opponents about the exact character of God's general concurrence, this disagreement is not reflected in the arguments I will be considering.6 So these arguments can plausibly be taken to represent the reply of mainline Christian Aristotelians in general to what they see as Durandus's deviation from the truth about God's causal involvement in nature. /556/

The first two of Suarez's arguments presuppose some relatively technical reflections on efficient causation in general and on creation and conservation in particular. On the whole, Suarez's metaphysics is broadly Aristotelian in the central role it accords to efficient or "agent" causation and broadly Thomistic in the pivotal use it makes of the notion of esse to develop an account of efficient causation and to clarify the concept of divine transcendence. I myself have become convinced that this metaphysics is fundamentally rightheaded and worthy of serious study by contemporary philosophers in general and philosophical theologians in particular. So in sections 2 and 3 I will take a first and admittedly halting step toward making some of the key concepts accessible to contemporary readers, not only in order to clarify Suarez's attack on mere conservationism but also with an eye toward recommending these concepts and the metaphysical framework in which they are embedded as fruitful and sound in their own right. This discussion will also enable me to give a fairly rigorous characterization of the difference between concurrentism and mere conservationism. Then, with this background in place, I will proceed in sections 4-7 to lay out Suarez's four arguments and briefly comment on them.

2. Efficient Causation and the Giving of Esse

The medieval Aristotelians, Durandus included, all take efficient causation to be a relation holding between substances which act (agents) and substances which are the recipients of actions (patients). In a typical case (excluding creation ex nihilo and divine conservation, which will be treated in section 3) one or more agents act upon a patient in such a way as to produce or conserve an effect, where the effect is itself either a substance or an accident, i.e., an intrinsic determination of a substance.7 So both agents and patients may properly be said to contribute causally to the existence of various substances and accidents, and both acting and being acted upon may properly be thought of as modes of causal contribution. What's more, since causal contributions involve the complete actualization or exercise of causal powers, we can also distinguish active from passive causal powers. The active causal powers of a substance delimit the range of its "proper" effects, i.e., the effects the substance is capable of producing or conserving directly through its own power when it /557/ acts upon suitably disposed patients in appropriate circumstances; the passive causal powers of a subject delimit the range of effects that might be produced or conserved in it when it is acted upon by suitably situtated agents in appropriate circumstances.

In what follows I will employ three undefined causal locutions. The first is 'x causally contributes to y's existing at t', where x is a substance, y either a substance or an accident, and t a time. As I am using this locution, it implies that y in fact exists at t. But note that, taken just by itself, this locution does not require that causal contributors be capable of acting freely, or that they be endowed with sentient powers, or even that they be living. Indeed, the medieval Aristotelians, sensibly to my mind, conceive of the whole created world, inanimate as well as animate, as a dynamic system of interrelated and interacting entities endowed by nature with causal tendencies and always poised to produce their proper effects in the appropriate circumstances. It follows that "agent causation" is a pervasive feature of the physical universe and is not limited just to substances endowed with freedom of choice.8

Again, this first undefined locution says nothing either about the time at which x makes its causal contribution or about the specific nature of that contribution. So, for instance, x might make its causal contribution to y's existing long before t and not even exist at any time proximate to t. Similarly, x's causal contribution to y's existing may be more or less direct or immediate, more or less closely connected with x's proper causal tendencies or (in the case of rational beings) intentions, and more or less determinative of the specific character of the effect. Finally, x's causal contribution might be either wholly active, wholly passive, or active in one respect and passive in another. (This last alternative may occur, for instance, when a substance brings about changes in itself, or when a substance is deployed as an instrumental cause by some "principal" agent.) In this paper I will be interested mainly in active causation:

    x is an active cause of y at t if and only if

      (a) x causally contributes to y's existing at t, and
      (b) x's causal contribution to y's existing at t is at least in part active. /558/

Whereas occasionalists hold that God is the only active cause in nature, theistic Aristotelians all accept a form of naturalism according to which every created substance has and exercises its own active causal powers; some of these powers are "inseparable" accidents that flow directly from the substance's essence as definitive of its natural kind, and some of them are "separable" accidents that are consonant with its essence but not endemic to it.9

The second undefined locution is 'x is an active cause of y at t only in virtue of the fact that x causally contributes to z's existing at t* (at or before t)', where it is assumed that z is distinct from y. This locution allows us to characterize more and less direct or immediate modes of causal contribution relative to a given effect, a desirable result in view of the fact that the dispute between concurrentism and mere conservationism hinges in large part on the question of whether or not God is an immediate cause of all natural effects. What the locution captures is a certain causal distance or indirectness in x's causal contribution to y's existing at t. So, for instance, x might be a temporally remote active cause of y at t by virtue of its having acted long before t to initiate or sustain a causal chain that terminates in y's existing at t. In addition, x might be a metaphysically remote cause of y at t by virtue of its preserving z in existence while it is in a state of causal activity at t, with the result that y exists at t. More formally,

    x is an immediate cause of y at t if and only if

      (a) x exists at t, and
      (b) x is an active cause of y at t, and
      (c) there is no set M such that (i) neither x nor y is a member of M, and (ii) each member of M is an active cause of y at t, and (iii) x is an active cause of y at t only in virtue of the fact that x causally contributes to the members of M existing at t* (at or before t).

    x is a (merely) remote cause of y at t if and only if

      (a) x is an active cause of y at t, and
      (b) x is not an immediate cause of y at t.

Concurrentists maintain that God is an immediate cause of every effect in nature, whereas mere conservationists contend that God contributes to effects in nature only remotely or mediately by virtue of the fact that He conserves the relevant agents in existence for /559/ as long as is required for them to be immediate causes of their effects.10

The third undefined locution is the Thomistic 'x gives esse to y at t'. According to St. Thomas, esse is a principle of actuality or perfection, where the notion of perfection is broadly construed to encompass any sort of positive determination or 'form', including active and passive causal powers and the entities that come to exist through the exercise of such powers. So giving esse entails giving perfection of some sort or other, i.e., giving existence to a substance by actualizing a particular concrete nature with the set of "specifying powers" endemic to its natural kind, or giving existence to an intrinsic accidental determination of a substance.

A finite created entity is said to "participate in" or "have a part of" esse as such. This is because all created entities have some proper part of, or finite share in, the whole gamut of possible perfections; in other words, they have esse as limited by their natures to what we might in general call such-esse and to what in each particular case is the sort of esse proper to the entity's essence and accidental determinations. So, for instance, a white oak tree has white-oak-tree-esse and, subordinated to it, the sorts of esse proper to its various separable and inseparable accidents. Again, a human being has human-esse, a photon has photon-esse, and so on. This explains the spirit behind St. Thomas's claim that for a living organism to exist is for it to be alive, i.e., to have a sort of esse or actuality appropriate to living organisms. Thus the term 'esse', unlike the term 'exists' in at least one common use, admits of degrees or at least of distinct grades, even though 'to have esse' and 'to exist' are equivalent in the sense that an entity exists if and only if it has some sort of esse.

Given this general metaphysical picture, one might naturally think of created entities as being partially ordered from the less perfect to the more perfect according to the type of actuality (including causal power) they have. Such an ordering reflects the degrees or grades of esse, i.e., lesser and greater shares in the plentitude of perfections. What's more, as "beings by participation" or "participated beings," created entities are such that they need not exist at all and hence must receive esse from causes distinct from themselves; in St. Thomas's terminology, there is in them a real distinction between esse and essence.11 Only God is such that in Him there is no distinction between esse and essence; He is subsistent esse itself (ipsum /560/ esse subsistens), and so He cannot fail to exist and cannot fail to be "unparticipated"--or, as it were, "unpartitioned"--esse, a being with all possible perfections possessed to an unlimited degree.12 Hence, the notion of esse enables St. Thomas to give a clear account of the ontological chasm that separates the transcendent creator of the world from His creatures. What's more, just as each created entity has its own proper effects, i.e., types of esse or actuality which it can be an immediate "principal" or "perfecting" cause of, so too God as unparticipated esse--esse that is not delimited to any particular species or genus--has His own proper effect, viz., esse-as-such. I will return to this point in section 3.

So giving esse to an entity is itself a form of active causal contribution. Indeed, Suarez's first two arguments presuppose that the production or conservation of any effect in nature involves some agent's giving esse of some sort to some recipient.13 However, we must carefully distinguish x's causally contributing to y's existing at t from x's giving esse to y at t, since even though every instance of causal contribution is either a withholding of or a giving of esse to some substance and/or accident, it is nonetheless possible for x to causally contribute to y's existing by giving esse just to a substance or accident distinct from y.

Before I proceed to expound some further causal notions, I should say a few more words of clarification about the background ontology presupposed by my use of the locution 'x gives esse to y at t'. As above, I am assuming that x is an agent and y a recipient of an action; y is either a substance or an accident, where an accident is conceived of as an intrinsic perfection or determination of a substance, a perfection or determination which is an individual entity in its own right with its own "accidental" (as opposed to "substantival") esse. In general, an entity which has accidental esse is apt by its nature to "inhere in" or "belong to" a substance that has substantival esse of a sort consonant with its being the subject of such an accident. In the present context I mean to circumvent disagreements about just what sorts of accidents there are or about whether every term associated with a given Aristotelian category signifies a distinct type of accident.14 So I will simply assume (i) that terms which import intrinsic modes or states of a substance signify some accident or other, and (ii) that a genuine causal contribution involves the giving of esse unless it consists merely in the withholding or withdrawing of some /561/ action. (One consequence of this last assumption is that the corruption or dissolution, as opposed to annihilation, of a composite material substance occurs when active causes give esse to one or more entities with the result that the substance in question ceases to exist.) Also, when I speak of the "constituents" of a substance, what I have in mind are not only material constituents but also formal constituents, e.g., the internal organization of the material constituents, their functional interrelations with one another, various physically or mathematically describable structural features of a substance, and, generally speaking, any other characteristics that fall under the broad Aristotelian notion of a perfecting form.15 I also assume that some accidents are spatially extended and thus have constitutive parts.

We are now in a position to articulate the notion of a per se cause. According to Suarez, "a per se cause is a cause on which the effect directly depends with respect to the proper esse that it has insofar as it is an effect ... and this alone is a cause in the proper and absolute sense" [DM 17, sect. II, § 2]. Simply put, a per se cause of a given entity is an agent that gives esse to that entity. More precisely,

    x is a per se cause of y at t if and only if

      (a) x exists at t, and
      (b) x is an active cause of y at t, and
      (c) x gives esse to y at t.16

So per se causation requires a certain intimacy between cause and effect that is not required for causal contribution as such. For even though every agent that contributes positively to a given effect E is a per se cause of something or other, it need not communicate the form or perfection that constitutes E. According to concurrentists, God is a per se as well as an immediate cause of every effect produced in nature. Mere conservationists deny this, even though they do agree that God must give esse to entities after they have been produced if they are to remain in existence and causally contribute to effects of their own.

3. Creation and Conservation

As noted above, according to St. Thomas God's proper effect is esse-as-such rather than, as is the case with created agents, some limited type of esse. This claim stands at the heart of the Thomistic /562/ account of divine creation. Of course, no entity receives esse unless it receives esse of a determinate sort, and St. Thomas does not mean to imply otherwise. So what is it to give esse-as-such? The reply, as I understand it, is that the giving of esse-as-such involves both an intensive and an extensive aspect.17

The intensive aspect is this: To give esse-as-such to an entity is to give it esse from the bottom up, as it were, i.e., to give esse to it and to each of its constituents and accidents. It follows, according to St. Thomas, that only an agent which is, in Aristotelian terms, "pure actuality," i.e., lacking in any sort of perfectibility, can give esse-as-such. For an agent which is not pure actuality can be rightly understood to be composed of a perfectible subject and that which perfects this subject. For instance, a corporeal entity is a composite of material constituents and a formal principle according to which those constituents are organized, interrelated, and otherwise unified into a single substance. It follows, according to St. Thomas, that such a substance can be a per se cause only of perfections which, like its own substantival and accidental perfections, modify a perfectible subject. Consequently, a composite substance requires for its action an already existent subject that has an intrinsic capacity to receive the sorts of perfection or types of esse which the agent is able to give or communicate. Only an agent that is itself lacking in any perfectible element can produce effects outside itself without presupposing an already existent subject to act upon.

As for the extensive aspect, to say that an agent gives esse-as-such is to imply that it is not confined to causing just one or another limited range of perfections. That is, even though we might be able to conceive of or imagine an agent that is capable of giving esse from the bottom up just to, say, quarks or pigs and nothing else, it is, according to St. Thomas, metaphysically impossible that there should be such an agent.18 It follows that an agent which gives esse-as-such must itself be, in the idiom of neo-Platonism, "unparticipated esse" and hence capable of giving esse to any possible participated being.

The following explication captures both the intensive and the extensive aspects:

    x gives esse-as-such to y at t if and only if

      (a) x is a per se cause of y at t, and
      (b) for any z such that z is either a constituent of y at t or an accident of y at t, x is a per se cause of z at t, /563/ and
      (c) x has the power to give esse to any possible participated being.

St. Thomas simply identifies the doctrine that God is the creator of all entities distinct from Himself with the claim that God gives esse-as-such to all of them. That is why he can plausibly maintain that the physical world would still be created ex nihilo by God even if it existed from eternity. However, he also makes use of the more restricted notion of de novo creation, which adds to giving esse-as-such the condition that neither the entity in question nor any of its constituents or accidents existed beforehand:19

    x newly creates y ex nihilo at t if and only if

      (a) x gives esse-as-such to y at t, and
      (b) either (i) y is a substance and neither y nor any of the constituents of y exists immediately before t, or (ii) y is an accident and the substance which is the subject of y at t does not exist immediately before t.

So x newly creates something ex nihilo only if x gives esse from the bottom up to an entity that was literally nothing beforehand.

Let us now turn to conservation. Suarez, following St. Thomas, distinguishes several modes of conservation, each of which incorporates the following basic notion:20

    x conserves y at t if and only if

      (a) x is an active cause of y's existing at t, and
      (b) for some temporal interval i that includes t but begins before t, y exists throughout i.

In this broad sense of conservation, x may conserve y at t even without giving esse to y at t, since x may simply counteract or eliminate agents whose action would otherwise result in y's being corrupted and thus passing out of existence. In such a case x would conserve y but only, as it were, per accidens. A stronger mode of conservation is per se conservation:

    x conserves y per se at t if and only if

      (a) x conserves y at t, and
      (b) x is a per se cause of y at t. /564/

However, this is still not sufficient by itself to capture the sense in which conservation is a divine prerogative, since, as Suarez points out, secondary causes can be said to conserve a created substance per se but remotely when they "bring about the influx or inpouring of certain dispositions or forms which are required in order for that thing to be conserved in esse" [DM 21, sect. III, § 2]. That is, such causes directly effect various formal or structural features through the mediation of which the type of esse characteristic of the substance in question continues to be sustained. Take the case of a living organism. Suarez has in mind, I take it, various agents (e.g., the sun and other providers of heat and light, oxygen, foods, liquids, etc.) which preserve the organism's health and well-being in a way required for the continuation of its life. In general, once a created entity exists, secondary causes--more specifically, secondary conservers--are able to cooperate with God in maintaining various internal dispositions and conditions without which the entity cannot long survive as a member of its natural kind.21 As St. Thomas puts it, "In the very creation of things God institutes an order such that some of them depend on others through which they are secondarily conserved in esse."22

Still, even though secondary causes may conserve the whole thing conserved, they do not and cannot constitute the whole conserving cause of any created entity. Or so, at least, theistic philosophers have argued. According to Suarez, to get something akin to divine conservation properly speaking, we have to say that x conserves y immediately and not just by producing or conserving certain formal constituents of y. He himself characterizes this more direct type of conservation as "the persisting influx or inpouring of the very esse which was communicated through the production" of the entity in question [DM 21, sect. III, § 2].

But what exactly does per se and immediate conservation add to simple per se conservation? Is it sufficient to append to our account of per se conservation just the condition that x is an immediate cause of y at t, in the sense of 'immediate cause' defined above? I think not. First of all, it may well be that the secondary per se conservers of y at t themselves count as immediate causes in that sense.23 Second, and more important, Suarez seems to be using the term 'immediate' here in order to emphasize the intimacy of the conserving action in question; the discussion following the passage just cited /565/ strongly suggests that an immediate and per se conserver of a given entity provides a type of conserving action in the absence of which that entity, along with all its constituents and accidents, would instantaneously be reduced to nothingness. We might reasonably conjecture that this can be so only if per se and immediate conservation is conservation "from the bottom up," the giving of esse to an entity and to each of its constituents. This conjecture would help explain why Suarez considers it utterly obvious that only God can be an immediate and per se conserver of those things which have no potentiality for undergoing dissolution or corruption, viz., immaterial substances (e.g., angels and human souls) and incorruptible material things (e.g., celestial bodies on an Aristotelian cosmology, physical atoms in the classical sense if there be such, and the more elusive "primary matter," i.e., principle of bare physical potentiality from which material substances are fashioned). Such things can cease to exist only if they are annihilated rather than corrupted, and so no secondary cause conserves them from potential extrinsic or intrinsic corrupters. In addition, Suarez argues at some length for the less evident thesis that only God can be a per se and immediate conserver of corruptible material substances, a position which seems at least plausible on the assumption that per se and immediate conservation involves the giving of esse to all the constituents of the conserved entity.24 With this in mind, I propose to explicate per se and immediate conservation as follows:

    x conserves y per se and immediately at t if and only if

      (a) x conserves y per se at t, and
      (b) for any z such that z is a constituent of y at t or an accident of y at t, x is a per se cause of z at t.

Condition (b) puts us in a position to see clearly the connection between divine conservation and God's giving esse-as-such to all created substances and accidents. In fact, we can delineate a special instance of the above formula for God's conserving action:

    God conserves x per se and immediately at t if and only if

      (a) God conserves x at t, and
      (b) God gives esse-as-such to x at t.

This dovetails nicely with the traditional view of philosophical /566/ theologians that the same basic divine activity lies at the heart of both creation and divine conservation. Indeed, as will become more evident in the discussion of Arguments One and Two below, concurrentists conceive of God's general concurrence with secondary causes as yet another instance of God's giving esse-as-such, viz., His giving esse-as-such to an effect or form while it is being brought into existence by secondary causes.

We can now give a more precise characterization of the difference between concurrentism and mere conservation. Both accept the following principles of conservation and secondary causation:25

    (CON) Necessarily, for any participated being x and time t such that x exists throughout a temporal interval that includes t but begins before t, God conserves x per se and immediately at t.

    (SC) In general, created substances causally contribute, both actively and passively, to the existence of various entities at various times.

What distinguishes mere conservationism is the claim that God is not an immediate and per se cause in the production of the effects of secondary causes:

    (MC) Necessarily, for any entity x and time t, if any created substance produces x at t as an immediate and per se cause, then God is a (merely) remote cause of x at t and not an immediate and per se cause of x at t.

Concurrentists deny (MC) and affirm the following principle of divine general concurrence:

    (DGC) Necessarily, for any entity x and time t, if any created substance produces x at t as an immediate and per se cause, then it is also the case that God is an immediate and per se cause of x at t.

We are now ready to look at Suarez's arguments.

4. Argument One: From the Symmetry between Esse and Fieri

Each of Suarez's first two arguments is aimed at showing that it /567/ is incongruous for mere conservationists to affirm (CON) while denying (DGC):

    [The true] position is that God acts per se and immediately in every action of a creature, and that this influence of His is absolutely necessary in order for a creature to effect anything ... [This] truth can be proved sufficiently by natural reason. First, it seems to be clearly entailed by what has been said about conservation, in such a way that by this argument it is almost as certain in the faith that God effects all things immediately as that He conserves all things immediately. [DM 22, sect. I, § 6]

The thrust of the arguments is that (DGC) follows straightaway once we take the natural step of generalizing (CON) to

    (ESSE) Necessarily, for any created entity x and time t such that x exists at t, God gives esse-as-such to x at t.

Suarez will argue in effect that any good reason for accepting (CON) will also be a good reason for accepting (ESSE), and that any good reason for rejecting (ESSE) will be a good reason for rejecting (CON). But to accept (ESSE) is tantamount to rejecting (MC) and thus to affirming that God is an immediate and per se cause of any entity produced by secondary causes. For according to (ESSE) any entity produced by a secondary cause is such that God gives it esse-as-such at the very instant at which it comes into existence. In short, by means of the first two arguments Suarez tries to demonstrate that there is a deep tension between two of the defining principles of mere conservationism, viz., (CON) and (MC)--a tension that can be resolved only if mere conservationists abandon their position either for concurrentism on the one hand or some form of deism on the other.

The initial argument for what Suarez calls this "first line of reasoning" from conservation to concurrence is the more perspicuous:

    The first line of reasoning is proved, first, from the fact that if it is not the case that all things come to exist immediately from God, then neither is it the case that they are conserved immediately, since a thing is related to its existing (esse) in the same way that it is related to its coming to exist (fieri). For the existence of a thing cannot depend more on an adequate cause after it has come into existence than it did when it was coming into existence. Likewise, if the cause depends on God in its existing, then the effect will, too, since both are beings by participation ... Therefore, every effect of a secondary cause depends on God in its coming to exist, and as a result a secondary cause can do nothing without God's concurrence. [DM 22, sect. I, § 7] /568/

Molina presses the same general point in these words:

    No effect at all can exist in nature unless God by His influence in the genus of efficient causation immediately conserves it ... But since that which is necessary for the conservation of a thing is a fortiori necessary for the first production of the thing, it surely follows that nothing at all can be produced by secondary causes unless at the same time the immediate and actual influence of the First Cause intervenes. [Concordia, pt. II, disp. 25, § 14]

Mere conservationists, recall, hold that God conserves each created entity per se and immediately once it has been produced. So they agree with Suarez and Molina that God gives esse-as-such to every created entity after it has come into existence. But their position entails the negation of the intuitively appealing principle of symmetry asserted here by the Jesuits, viz., that a created entity depends on God for its coming into existence in exactly the same way it depends on Him for its continuing to exist. So the alternative picture painted by mere conservationists must follow the lines suggested by Suarez:

    Perhaps Durandus will reply that ... when the action of the secondary cause ceases, then God conserves the effect immediately by Himself even if it was produced immediately only by the secondary cause, since no created thing can either have or retain existence without an efficient cause; and, therefore, as long as the secondary cause is immediately acting, it suffices [by itself], but when it ceases to act, then in order for the thing to remain in existence it is necessary that God act by conserving it. [DM 22, sect. I, § 7]

How might Durandus arrive at this picture? We can imagine him reasoning as follows: "I am convinced that no coherent account of God's general concurrence can be given, but I do believe both (i) that there is genuine secondary causation in nature and (ii) that no created entity produced by secondary causes can continue to exist after its production unless God conserves it per se and immediately. Therefore, there must be an asymmetry between the sort of dependence it has on God while it is being produced and the sort of dependence it has on God after it has been produced. While it is being produced, its secondary causes are alone per se and immediate causes of it; afterwards, God conserves it per se and immediately."

But this will not do. Mere conservationists take their own theory to be the only one which coherently accommodates the naturalistic conviction that there is genuine secondary causation in nature. However, /569/ as intimated in section 3, the belief that there are secondary conserving causes is epistemically on a par with the belief that there are secondary producing causes. After all, it would be anomalous to assert that, say, the gas flame on your stove produces heat in the kettle of water placed over it and yet to deny that the food you eat or the air you breathe helps conserve you in existence. So if mere conservationists want to insist that when secondary causes produce an effect, God is not an immediate and per se cause of that effect, then the very same line of reasoning should lead them to admit that when secondary causes conserve an entity, God does not conserve that entity per se and immediately. In short, since secondary causation is found in both production and conservation, mere conservationists have no plausible epistemic grounds for treating secondary production and secondary conservation asymmetrically.

It follows that mere conservationists have no good reason to affirm the strong conservation principle (CON) once they deny the general principle (ESSE) in light of their account of secondary production. They should instead claim that a created entity requires God's immediate and per se conservation only when and to the extent that secondary causes are not sufficient to conserve it per se. But this is just to abandon mere conservationism for a more deistic account of God's causal influence in nature, an account that repudiates (CON) while retaining (SC) and (MC).26

5. Argument Two: From the Nature of Transeunt Action

The second argument for the "first line of reasoning," though ostensibly uncomplicated, plunges us deep into the fascinating, though recondite, scholastic controversy over the ontology of transeunt action, a controversy in which Suarez himself ends up taking a minority position. However, despite the fact that Suarez presupposes his own account of the nature of action in presenting Argument Two, the argument itself depends only a certain feature which that account shares in common with most of the rival positions, viz., the existential claim that transeunt action essentially involves the existence of a participated entity that is distinct from the agent, from the agent's active power, from the patient, and from the effect or form produced in the patient. In order to provide some background here, I will begin with a brief sketch of Suarez's position on the ontology of transeunt action. /570/

We can look at a created agent's transeunt action from two sides, that of the agent and that of the patient. From the side of the agent, the existence of an action requires the fully actualized state of, or exercise of, a certain accident, viz., an active causal power which inheres in the agent, and it is by virtue of this exercise of power that the effect is said to "emanate" or "flow" from the agent.27 From the side of the patient, a transeunt action requires the passive reception by the patient of the causal influence of the agent, resulting in a real modification or form in the patient which is said to "terminate" the action. So a simple transeunt action such as the acid's turning the litmus paper red involves at one and the same time the exercise of an active power possessed by the acid and the reception by the paper of the acid's causal influence, resulting in the paper's redness, which terminates the action. These two aspects of a transeunt action are metaphysically inseparable. That is, it is metaphysically impossible for there to be an action emanating from an agent without there being a form which is produced in some patient and terminates the action. This is the basis for the common scholastic adage that a transeunt action exists in the patient ("Actio est in passo").

The competing positions on the ontology of transeunt action by and large agree with what has been said thus far. However, Suarez differs from some of his rivals in denying that the term 'action', taken just in itself, signifies a real accident (whether a quality or relation) that inheres in the agent and is distinct from the relevant active power. And he parts ways with the rest of his rivals by insisting that an action is "nothing other than that special sort of dependence which an effect has on its efficient cause" [DM 48, sect. I, § 15]. This same relation of causal dependence is signified, albeit in different ways, both by the term 'action' or 'acting' on the one hand and by the term 'passion' or 'being acted upon' on the other:

    I maintain ... that the same dependence and emanation of the form from the agent is called (i) a passion insofar as it affects the subject intrinsically and (ii) an action insofar as it denominates the agent itself as actually acting. [DM 49, sect. I, § 8]

Suarez thus conceives of this relation of causal dependence as a participated being which is a real accident inhering in the patient but which nonetheless involves an intrinsic and essential reference to the agent as actually acting; therefore, it exists as long as, and only as long as, the agent is actually exercising the relevant causal power with respect to the patient. Accordingly, the relation of causal /571/ dependence is an entity distinct both from the agent and the agent's causal power on the one side and from the patient and the form produced on the other side. In contrasting his view with certain other accounts of the ontological status of an action, Suarez puts it this way:

    From what has been said here against the other opinions one is easily persuaded that an action is not the thing which does the producing, nor the thing produced (i.e., the terminus of efficient causality), nor is it those two things taken together, nor a denomination arising from their coexistence; rather, it is something that mediates between them. [DM 48, sect. I, § 15]

Other scholastics insist to the contrary that the relation of causal dependence, far from constituting the ontological reality of the action, is a further reality which presupposes the existence of the action and which itself continues to exist even after the completion of the action. However, I will leave this objection to one side, since my primary aim for now is to present Argument Two as Suarez understands it.

Given his own account of action, he begins by asserting the conditional thesis that if, as mere conservationists hold, the effect or entity produced does not require God's immediate and per se influence in order to come to exist, then the action itself, conceived of as an entity distinct from the agent and the effect, does not require God's immediate and per se influence in order to exist. For, according to mere conservationism, the action has its immediate origin solely from the secondary agent and not from God.28 He then argues that if the action does not depend on God's conserving it per se and immediately while it exists, then by parity of reasoning there is no basis for insisting that the form or effect produced by the agent depends on God's conserving it per se and immediately in order for it to remain in existence once it has come into existence:

    Second, ... the first line of reasoning is proved from the fact that if God does not have an immediate influence on every action of a creature, then a created action itself does not of itself require God's influence essentially in order to exist, even though it, too, is a certain participation in being; therefore, there is no reason why the form that comes to exist through such an action should require for its conservation an actual influence of the First Cause. For it does not require this influence in order to come to exist (ratione sui fieri), according to the position in question, since this coming to exist is not itself immediately from God. Nor does it require this influence in order to exist (ratione sui esse), since [if it did, this /572/ would be] mainly because it is a participated being--but this reason is not judged sufficient, according to the position in question, in the case of the action itself; therefore, neither will it be sufficient in the case of the form, i.e., the terminus of the action. [DM 22, sect. I, § 9]

So whereas Argument One concentrated on the entity or form that terminates the action, Argument Two focuses on the action itself. But the theme is similar: If mere conservationists deny (ESSE) and affirm that some created entity or other can exist at some time without God's giving it esse-as-such at that time, then they will be hardpressed to maintain the strong conservation principle (CON).

Argument Two is less obviously compelling than Argument One just because it presupposes the controverted contention that a transeunt action essentially involves the existence of an entity that is distinct at once from the agent, from its active causal power, from the patient, and from the form produced in the patient. Still, as I noted above, the argument will have a purchase on those who accept this existence claim, even if they reject Suarez's own peculiar elaboration of it. For anyone who accepts the existence claim will be forced to concede the key premise that if the transeunt action of a secondary cause is its own immediate action and not God's immediate action, then God does not give esse-as-such to that action; and, once this premise is granted, the argument is compelling. So in order to uphold their position in the face of Argument Two, mere conservationists must construct and defend an account of the ontology of transeunt action which does not entail the existence claim in question. This in itself constitutes an interesting result, since it is by no means clear that any such account of the metaphysics of action can be made plausible. But if this is so, then the force of Argument Two will, once again, be to push mere conservationists toward giving up the strong conservation principle (CON) and adopting instead some form of deism.

6. Argument Three: From Contra Naturam Miracles

The final two arguments, both of which invoke deepseated theological postulates, are more indirect in intent than Arguments One and Two. Unlike the latter, these two arguments are not aimed at establishing that there is a deep tension among the defining tenets /573/ of mere conservationism. Instead, they purport to show that even if mere conservationism does not suffer from irremediable intrinsic defects, it nonetheless cannot do full justice to the theological tenet--affirmed by occasionalists, mere conservationists, and concurrentists alike--that God is absolutely sovereign over nature.

Argument Three is propounded by Molina as well as Suarez. Both draw attention to a certain proper subset of the miracles recorded in Sacred Scripture. The distinguishing feature of these miracles is that even while God produces the effect by Himself alone in the relevant circumstances, the secondary agents involved in those circumstances retain their causal tendency to produce an effect directly contrary to the effect produced by God. St. Thomas, in distinguishing such miracles from miracles that are supra naturam and miracles that are praeter naturam, labels them contra naturam miracles:

    [A miracle] is said to be contra naturam when there remains in nature a disposition that is contrary to the effect which God produces, as when He kept the young men unharmed in the furnace even though the power to incinerate them remained in the fire [Daniel 3], and as when the waters of the Jordan stood still even though gravity remained in them [Josue 3].29

Suarez and Molina both light upon the miracle of the three young men in the fiery furnace, arguing that mere conservationism fails to give a theologically satisfying metaphysical account of contra naturam miracles. For mere conservationism entails that in order to perform a contra naturam miracle, God must act to thwart His creatures by impeding their action from without, as it were. But this, the Jesuits claim, is demeaning to God's sovereignty over the created world. What we need instead is a theory which, like concurrentism or occasionalism, is consistent with the claim that God brings about such miracles by omission rather than by commission, even while all the relevant creatures remain in existence. Thus Suarez:

    Just as God can deprive a created thing of its existence simply by withholding His action, so too He can deprive a created thing of its natural action simply by withholding His concurrence; therefore, just as from the former power one infers evidently an immediate dependence in existing, so too from the latter power one infers an immediate dependence in the action itself. The antecedent30 (as I certainly concede) is not evident from any natural experience. However, it is sufficiently evident from supernatural effects. For God deprived the Babylonian fire of its action /574/ even though no impediment was set against it from without; therefore, He accomplished this by taking away His concurrence. For how else could He have done it? And this is what is meant in Wisdom 11 [16:23 in modern editions], when it is said that the fire was forgetful of its own power--since, of course, it was not able to exercise that power without God. And this is of itself wholly consonant with the divine power, since that power has within its control the actions of all things in the same way that it has within its control the existence of all things. [DM 22, sect. I, § 11]

Molina is more explicit about how mere conservationists are constrained to deal with contra naturam miracles:

    If God did not cooperate with secondary causes, He clearly would not have been able to bring it about that the Babylonian fire did not burn the three young men except by opposing it, as it were, and impeding its action either (i) through some contrary action or (ii) by placing something around the young men or conferring on them some resistant quality which would prevent the fire's impressing its action upon them. Therefore, since this derogates both the divine power and also the total subjection by which all things submit to and obey that power, one should claim without doubt that God cooperates with secondary causes, and that it was only because God did not concur with the fire in its action that the young men were not incinerated by it. [Concordia, pt. II, disp. 25, § 15]

Notice, even though Argument Three assumes that the miracle of the fiery furnace is itself best construed as a miracle by omission, this specific assertion about how one ought to interpret the third chapter of Daniel is not absolutely crucial to the point that Suarez and Molina want to make. What is crucial is the claim that God at least can bring about contra naturam miracles by omission, i.e., by withholding His immediate causal concurrence with the action of those created substances that are poised to produce a contrary effect.31

To get a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding this claim, we should take note of the occasionalist charge that any form of Aristotelian naturalism will turn out to be inimical to the doctrine of God's sovereignty over nature. And it is precisely contra naturam miracles--or, more neutrally, what theistic naturalists call contra naturam miracles--which, in the eyes of occasionalists, undermine Aristotelian naturalism and its attendant essentialism.

We might imagine an occasionalist reasoning as follows: "Those who, like the Aristotelians, insist that the basic causal powers of a /575/ created agent are essential to it must hold that it is metaphysically necessary that under the appropriate conditions such agents produce their characteristic effects unless they are impeded from without. In the case of the fiery furnace, for example, the Aristotelian naturalists seem bound to hold that human flesh (the flesh of the three young men) is essentially or by nature such that if it is exposed to extreme heat (the heat of Nebuchadnezzar's furnace) in the absence of natural impediments (e.g., asbestos clothing, protective shields, etc.), it will be incinerated. So according to the Aristotelians, it is metaphysically necessary that, in the circumstances described in Daniel 3, the flesh of the three young men should be incinerated when brought into contact with the fire of the furnace.32 (Remember, by the way, that according to the biblical story the soldiers who threw the three young men into the furnace were themselves incinerated.) What's more, it is not enough to reserve to God the power, say, to change the flesh into a heat-resistant substance for the duration of its sojourn in the fire or to miraculously interpose a natural impediment by, say, creating a heat-resistant shield between the flesh and the fire or by endowing the flesh with some special heat-resistant quality. Why is this not sufficient? For the very reason Molina cites. God does not have to counteract His creatures from without in order to make them do His bidding; He does not have to vie with them in order to exercise control over them. Rather, he controls them from within as their sovereign creator and governor. They are beholden to His word: He can command the fire not to incinerate the flesh even while it remains fire; He can suspend the flesh's susceptibility to being incinerated without changing it into a different substance or altering its natural kind."

Occasionalists, of course, go on to assert that the doctrine of the absolute subjection of creatures to God requires theistic philosophers to repudiate naturalism altogether and to subscribe instead to the theory that God is the sole active cause in nature. Only on such a theory is it clear that miracles like that of the fiery furnace occur when God refrains from being an immediate cause of effects that He would under ordinary circumstances produce. Or so, at any rate, occasionalists claim.

As we have just seen, Molina and Suarez agree that mere conservationists are vulnerable to this occasionalist objection. But they demur at the suggestion that naturalism must therefore be abandoned. They reply instead that naturalism and theism can coexist /576/ with and indeed complement one another as long as the theistic naturalist is careful to stipulate that God's immediate and per se concurrence constitutes a necessary condition for the action of any secondary cause. To return to the fiery furnace, what is metaphysically necessary is that, in the circumstances related in Daniel 3, the flesh should be incinerated by the fire in the absence of natural impediments on the assumption that God grants His contemporaneous general concurrence to all the relevant secondary causes. Once this stipulation is added, theistic naturalists can take the miracle of the fiery furnace to be a miracle by omission even while preserving the naturalistic claim that the fire remains fire and that the flesh remains flesh and that all of the relevant secondary causes retain their characteristic causal inclinations and susceptibilities. In this way the concurrentists can accommodate the occasionalist claim that God controls created agents from within, with the result that He is able to make them "forgetful of their power" even while they retain that power.

This strikes me as a very powerful objection to mere conservationism. However, at least some in my acquaintance remain unpersuaded by it. A large part of the problem, I believe, is that there are two distinct ways to understand the dialectical intent of the argument.

On what I will call the strong reading, Molina and Suarez are using Argument Three to show that any acceptable theistic philosophy of nature must have as a consequence the thesis that God does (or at least can) bring about contra naturam miracles by withholding His immediate causal influence with respect to the relevant effects. According to this reading, if the argument is successful, then, taken just by itself, it rules out mere conservationism as a viable philosophy of nature from a theistic perspective. It follows that if concurrentism can be shown to be false or incoherent, then theists will have no recourse but to abandon naturalism altogether and embrace occasionalism.

On the weak reading, by contrast, Molina and Suarez are using Argument Three to show only that a philosophy of nature according to which God does (or at least can) bring about contra naturam miracles by the sort of omission in question is, ceteris paribus, preferrable from a theistic standpoint to one according to which this is not so. Thus Argument Three, taken just by itself, does nothing more than establish a defeasible presumption in favor of concurrentism 577/ over mere conservationism. So even if concurrentism were proven to be false or incoherent, theistic naturalists would still have a prima facie viable alternative to occasionalism, viz., mere conservationism.

The passages quoted above suggest that Molina undoubtedly has the strong reading of Argument Three in mind and that Suarez probably does, too. However, in reply to the argument so taken, someone might reasonably wonder just how obvious it is that the mere conservationist account of contra naturam miracles "derogates the divine power and the total subjection by which all things submit to and obey that power." While I myself think that it is obvious enough, I see no easy way to convince someone who disagrees.

I do believe, however, that the concurrentist can rest content with the weak reading of Argument Three. First of all, on this reading the argument invokes only the relatively plausible claim that the sort of sovereignty attributed to God by the thesis that contra naturam miracles are wrought by God's withholding His general concurrence is prima facie more impressive than the sort of sovereignty accorded Him by mere conservationism. And so, even on the weak reading, the argument, taken just by itself, provides anyone who accepts this claim with a powerful motive for not abandoning concurrentism too early in the game. Second, as we already know, Argument Three need not stand on its own, but can be seen as simply adding force to the already strong case against mere conservationism built by Arguments One and Two.

So the safest course is to see Argument Three as aimed at the modest goal of providing all theistic naturalists, those who lean toward mere conservationism as well as those who lean toward concurrentism, with a strong motive for seeking a coherent account of God's general concurrence. With Argument Four Suarez tries to strengthen this motive even further.

7. Argument Four: From the Breadth of the Divine Power

Argument Four is unquestionably aimed at establishing an a priori predilection for concurrentism over mere conservationism. The claim is that, in general, theistic naturalists should be antecedently disposed to countenance in nature the maximal degree of divine activity compatible with the thesis that there is genuine secondary causation. Suarez, in something of an overstatement, calls this his best argument: Finally, the best argument: /578/

    This manner of acting in all things and with all agents pertains to the breadth of the divine power, and it presupposes on God's part a perfection untainted by imperfection; and even though it does bespeak an imperfection on the part of the creature (whether we are thinking of the secondary cause or of the action or of the action's effect), this imperfection is nonetheless endemic to the very concept of a creature or participated being as such--as the arguments already given make clear. And, for the rest, in this way a perfect and essential ordering intercedes between the First Cause and the secondary cause, and there is nothing impossible here, as will easily be seen from the replies to their arguments; therefore, this general influence should not be denied to God. And this is why it seems not to have been altogether ignored even by philosophers, as we intimated [above] concerning Aristotle's view; and in the Liber de Causis, whether this work be judged to belong to Aristotle or to Proclus, there are various propositions by which this truth is expressed ... [DM 22, sect. I, § 13]

This argument does not require much comment; indeed, it is hard to imagine mere conservationists resisting it. After all, their primary purpose is to safeguard the claim that created substances are true causal contributors. If they became convinced that a coherent version of concurrentism were available, they would, it seems, lack any good philosophical or theological reason for not embracing it. Of course, this argument by itself does nothing to establish that such a version of concurrentism is in fact available. But like Argument Three taken on the weak reading, it does at least provide theistic naturalists, including mere conservationists, with a powerful incentive to work hard at the project of producing an adequate account of God's general concurrence.

8. Conclusion

As the last two sections make clear, the concurrentist case against mere conservationism must, in order to be complete, go beyond the arguments discussed in this paper to deal adequately with the objections that mere conservationists raise against concurrentism itself. This is the positive project that awaits concurrentists, a project which I hope to explore historically and systematically in another place.

Nonetheless, it does seem to me that Arguments One and Two go a long way toward establishing that mere conservationism is itself plagued by grave internal tensions that push it forcefully in the /579/ direction of a form of deism which, however weak, falls beyond the pale of theistic orthodoxy.33 What's more, Arguments Three and Four establish, if nothing else, that concurrentism is theologically preferable to mere conservationism as long as it itself can be shown to be free of serious intrinsic deficiencies. In either case, mere conservationism appears not to be an attractive resting place for theistic naturalists. Indeed, I find it difficult to resist the conclusion that the arguments of Suarez and Molina have narrowed the field for theistic philosophies of nature to occasionalism and concurrentism. In short, it is not entirely surprising that in the history of the theistic debate over God's causal activity in nature mere conservationism has not been able to attract much of a following.34


1. See my "Medieval Aristotelianism and the Case against Secondary Causation in Nature," pp. 74-118 in Thomas V. Morris, ed., Divine and Human Action: Essays in the Metaphysics of Theism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988).

2. The common scholastic view is that actions are individuated by their effects and that, as will become clearer in section 5, an action is an intrinsic modification of the patient rather than the agent. Accordingly, it is possible for an action to emanate immediately from both God and a secondary cause, so that the action belongs to both of them in all relevant respects, even though they are acting by distinct powers.

3. See Durandus de Saint-Pourçain, In Sententias Theologicas Petri Lombardi II, dist. 1, q. 5 (Venice, 1571; reprinted at Ridgewood, N.J., 1964), pp. 130d-131d.

4. Albertus Magnus, Commentarii in II Sententiarum, dist. 35, sect. I, art. 7, in Opera Omnia (Paris, 1894), vol. 27, p. 575. Albert's comment occurs within a discussion of whether every act, good or evil, is immediately from God. In order to exonerate God of any responsibility for evil acts, some had claimed that secondary causes produce evil effects on their own without God's immediate causal influence:

    Some have claimed that the will is sufficient of itself for an evil act, but not for a good act ... Since the moderns have seen that it is more perfect to act than to exist, they have seen that that which does not exist on its own (a se) cannot remain in existence on its own, either--and much less can it act on its own. And this is the reason why that other opinion has all but disappeared from the lecture hall and is regarded as heretical by many moderns.

5. The general references to Suarez and Molina are as follows: Francisco /580/ Suarez, Disputationes Metaphysicae, vols. 25 and 26 of Suarez, Opera Omnia: Nova Editio, edited by Carolo Berton (Paris, 1866; reprinted in two volumes at Hildesheim, 1965); and Luis de Molina, Liberi Arbitrii cum Gratiae Donis, Divina Praescientia, Providentia, Praedestinatione et Reprobatione Concordia, edited by Johann Rabeneck, S.J. (Oña and Madrid, 1953).

6. In particular, these arguments are neutral with regard to whether God's general concurrence involves a "premotion" in the secondary agent itself by which God moves it to act; hence, the arguments do not presuppose the truth of the unrestricted principle, rejected by both Molina and Suarez, that whatever is in motion is moved by another.

7. Most scholastics agree that what is caused by an efficient agent is always some "form", i.e., formal perfection, be it a form which constitutes a substance as a member of a natural kind or a form which is an accident of a substance. However, the minority who insist upon a deflationary account of accidental being, which posits fewer types of accidents as distinct beings, will presumably prefer to say that intrinsic states of substances count as effects in many cases. (See note 14 below.) I will presuppose the majority view here. I am also presupposing the Aristotelian thesis that entities other than elemental ones are true substances and that living, sentient, and rational beings are in fact paradigmatic substances. There are possible versions of mere conservationism and concurrentism which are based on more reductionist ontologies, but I will leave it to others to defend them.

8. It does not follow that from an Aristotelian perspective talk about so-called "event causation" is utterly wrongheaded; it follows only that every instance of event causation involves, at the deepest metaphysical level, the exercise of causal powers by various agents and patients.

9. What I have just said should caution contemporary readers against assuming that substances have all of their accidents contingently rather than necessarily or essentially. According to the scholastics, a substance's inseparable accidents are such that the substance cannot exist without them. The scholastics thus use the term 'accident' in a way different from that in which the term 'accidental property' is normally used in contemporary analytic metaphysics, where an accidental property of a substance is one which the substance has but can lack even while remaining in existence.

10. A question: When a principal cause employs another substance as an instrumental cause in bringing about a given effect, is the principal cause itself a merely remote cause of the effect? The explication of an immediate cause given above allows for an ambiguity between what St. Thomas (De Potentia, q. 3, art. 7, corpus) calls an immediacy of power and an immediacy of suppositum, where, to answer the question just posed, the principal cause is immediate to the effect in the first mode but not in the second, and the instrumental cause is immediate to the effect in the second mode but not in the first. All concurrentists claim that God is an immediate cause of every natural effect, but they differ as to which of these two modes of immediacy is involved. /581/

11. It does not follow that in a given creature esse and essence are separable; it follows only that it is metaphysically possible that there should be no such participation in esse. Also, I admit that what I have said here presupposes--and thus is not an argument for--the thesis that finite entities are radically contingent beings whose constituents would all revert to nothingness without a continuing "adequate cause" of their existence. For an extremely interesting, though to my mind not wholly successful, discussion of some of the relevant issues, see Jonathan L. Kvanvig and Hugh J. McCann, "Divine Conservation and the Persistence of the World," pp. 13-49 in Thomas V. Morris, ed., Divine and Human Action, op. cit.

12. The claim that God possesses all possible perfections requires careful unpacking, since there are many formal perfections, e.g., quantitative accidents, which can, strictly speaking, be possessed only by limited or finite beings. Nonetheless, the divine nature is said to contain such perfections "eminently" by virtue of the fact that (i) all such perfections are in some way or other reflective of the divine nature and (ii) God is able to produce all such perfections ex nihilo.

13. This is true even when a patient comes to suffer some sort of privation of esse as the result of an agent's causal influence--as, for instance, when someone is blinded by being struck in the eye. What occurs in such cases is the introduction into the patient of a form which is incompatible with the form that the patient is thus deprived of. Such examples should make us aware that even though every instance of active causal contribution involves a giving of esse or perfection, this does not mean that the patient is itself more perfect absolutely speaking as a result of the agent's influence.

14. Scholastic accounts of accidental being range from the highly inflationary (e.g., Scotus's) to the highly deflationary (e.g., Ockham's). While everyone agrees that causal powers are distinct accidents signified by terms in the category of quality, there is a dispute about whether terms in the categories of quantity and relation signify entities distinct from substances and qualities. For a fine treatment of this dispute as it bears upon relations, see Mark Henninger, S.J., Relations: Medieval Theories 1250-1325 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), and for a revealing look at the internal dispute among Thomists over the status of accidental being in St. Thomas's metaphysics, see Barry Brown, Accidental Being (New York: University Press of America, 1985).

15. Of course, the material elements of a bodily substance are themselves composites, and so any such substance will include a nesting of appropriate material constituents. Indeed, according to almost all the scholastics, "primary matter" cannot exist as such, and so there can be no material constituent of a corporeal substance which is not itself formed in at least some primitive way. For each such constituent itself involves both a principle of perfectibility or potency (matter) and a principle of perfection or actuality which actualizes the relevant potentiality (form). I should note in passing that the Aristotelian distinction between matter and form is itself a species of the more generic distinction /582/ between potentiality (or perfectibility) and actuality (or perfection). So even if, as is sometimes alleged, the concept of matter/form composition has no place in the far reaches of contemporary particle physics, it does not follow forthwith that the more esoteric physical entities posited by contemporary physical theories cannot be understood as having a potency/act composition. I hope to develop this idea in more detail elsewhere.

16. Three points are in order here. First, even though characterizing causation in the proper sense as the giving of esse might initially sound impious to modern philosophical ears, some such account seems needed to undergird familiar distinctions like that between "real" changes and so-called "Cambridge" changes. Second, the present account is meant to apply both to what St. Thomas (Summa Theologiae I, q. 104, art. 1, corpus) calls a cause of coming to be (causa secundum fieri) and to what he calls a cause of being (causa secundum esse). This distinction will become more evident in section 4. Third, the notions of immediate causation and per se causation are not, as defined here, extensionally equivalent. For, as will be adumbrated below, an agent can be an immediate cause of an entity's continuing to exist without conserving that entity per se.

17. Here I follow St. Thomas's discussions in De Potentia, q. 3, arts. 1-4 and Summa Theologiae I, q. 45, arts. 1-5.

18. One might be tempted to ask the following rhetorical question in support of this claim of St. Thomas's: If such an agent could give esse to something from the bottom up, how could its creative power be limited at all? One possibile reply is that the agent is deficient in knowledge and is hence incapable of directing its creative intention to more than just a limited range of creatable entities; or perhaps the agent acts by a necessity of nature and is limited by nature to a single effect or range of effects. St. Thomas himself was well acquainted with neo-Platonist emanationist cosmogonies in which the First Cause, acting by a necessity of nature, creates just a single effect, viz., the first intelligence. Against such cosmogonies, he tried to show that God has perfect knowledge and acts freely in creating.

19. In order not to beg any interesting questions, I have explicated de novo creation in such a way as to leave open the possibility that an entity might be newly created more than once.

20. In what follows I draw upon Suarez, DM 21, sect. III, §§ 1-13, and St. Thomas, De Potentia, q. 5, arts. 1-3 and Summa Theologiae I, q. 104, arts. 1-3.

21. It may not always be easy for us to distinguish cases of per accidens conservation from cases of per se conservation. For instance, while it is clear that the food ingested by a living organism conserves it per se, it is not clear what to say about the conserving action of an antibiotic.

22. Summa Theologiae I, q. 104, art. 2, ad 1.

23. The reason is that the forms and dispositions which they effect and which mediate their influence on the substance in question do not themselves seem to be further efficient causes of that substance. /583/

24. See DM 21, sect. III, §§ 4-8. There remains, of course, the task of showing how God's action as a per se and immediate conserver is consonant with the action of secondary conservers. But this is just a special moment in the overall concurrentist project of laying out a coherent account of secondary causation. The concurrentist must try to show that, in general, God's giving esse-as-such to an entity, either to produce it or to conserve it, is not incompatible with a secondary agent's simultaneously giving it esse.

Suarez maintains, by the way, that certain types of accidents can be conserved per se and immediately by secondary causes. These include, among others, thoughts conceived of as immaterial mental accidents; for thoughts exist only as long as the intellect that has them gives them esse. But God's action as a per se and immediate conserver is also required in such cases.

25. At one point in the discussion of Argument One below Suarez imagines Durandus giving up the strong conservation principle (CON) for the weaker principle that God conserves every created entity either immediately or mediately. However, in my reconstruction of this dialectic in section 4 I will assume that Durandus wants to hold on to (CON). The reason is that repudiating (CON) leads directly to at least a weak form of deism, according to which God conserves created entities only when or to the extent that secondary conservers are unable to.

26. Philip Quinn has suggested to me that Durandus might be able to escape deism by retreating in the face of Suarez's objection to a weaker version of (CON) on which God is a per se and immediate conserver just of substances and not of accidents. But this seems unpromising for two reasons. First of all, Suarez's argument talks about effects just insofar as they are participated beings, and both substances and accidents are equally participated beings. Second, even this weaker conservation principle would be in tension with (MC), since the mere conservationist is constrained to hold that God does not give esse-as-such to a substance while it is being produced by secondary causes. And no full-blooded naturalist will dispute the claim that secondary causes are capable of effecting substances as well as accidents.

27. Though Suarez freely uses terms like 'influx' and 'flow' to describe the causal influence of an agent on a patient, the scholastics generally deny that transeunt action involves the transfer of some entity from the agent to the patient. This is the way St. Thomas replies to one standard objection against transeunt action:

    It is ridiculous to claim that bodies do not act because no accident passes from one subject into another. For a hot body is said to produce warmth not in the sense that numerically the same heat which is in the heating body passes into the heated body, but rather because by virtue of the heat which is in the heating body a numerically distinct heat comes to exist actually in the heated body--a heat that previously existed in it in potentiality. For a natural agent is not something that transfers its own form into another subject, but is instead something that brings (reducens) the subject which is acted upon from potentiality to actuality [Summa Contra Gentiles III, chap. 69]. /584/

28. Neither Suarez nor his opponents claim that an agent causes its own transeunt actions in the sense that a transeunt action might itself be the proper terminus aimed at by the exercise of an active causal power. Instead, an agent gives esse to its own actions concomitantly with causing its proper effect.

29. De Potentia, q. 6, art. 2, ad 3. Supra naturam miracles involve effects that no created agent is capable of producing in any way, and praeter naturam miracles involve effects that created agents are capable of producing but not capable of producing as quickly or as directly or with as much abundance as God produces them.

30.The antecedent includes everything that precedes the semicolon in the preceding sentence.

31. Peter van Inwagen points out that mere conservationists can construe the miracles in question as wrought by omission if they claim simply that God ceases to give esse to the relevant creatures. For instance, in the case of the fiery furnace, "as the photons are on their way from the fire to the flesh, God ceases to sustain most of the energetic ones in existence" ("The Place of Chance in a World Sustained by God," pp. 211-235 in Thomas V. Morris, ed., Divine and Human Action, op. cit., p. 216, note 7). One important reply to this suggestion is that the intellectual, scriptural, and liturgical traditions within which the present debate occurs place a premium on the idea that obedience to the will of God is a prerequisite for the flourishing of any created being; even inanimate substances give glory to God by being subject to His will and in this way fulfill the ends for which they were created. This general picture, it seems to me, fits best with the thesis that in contra naturam miracles God suspends the action of such entities rather than their esse. Perhaps a more philosophically satisfactory reply is that acting and existing are distinct perfections in a created entity and so, ceteris paribus, should be thought of as being subject to God's will in distinct modes, with the result that such an entity can become "forgetful of its power" even while it remains in existence. Also, the concurrentists' account of such miracles allows them to admit the truth of the occasionalist (and positivist) claim that there are no non-trivial conceptual constraints on what sorts of causal sequences are possible. For instance, the concurrentist can accept the Humean claim that it is metaphysically possible that when one billiard ball makes contact with another, the second ball simply stays put--and this precisely because God does not cooperate with the normal movement of the second ball. The mere conservationist must presumably claim that this can happen only if God withholds esse from the first ball (or from relevant parts of it) when it makes contact with the second ball.

32. Interestingly, this very same claim is insisted upon by the contemporary naturalists Rom Harré and Edward Madden in their book Causal Powers (Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Littlefield, 1975), pp. 46-47.

33. I am assuming as before that mere conservationism is the weakest account of divine causation which is even arguably compatible with theistic orthodoxy. Some may wish to contest this assumption. If so, it /585/ seems evident that, in light of the religious and intellectual tradition handed down to us on this matter, the burden of proof lies with the dissenters.

34. Earlier versions of this paper were read to the Society of Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy and to the Notre Dame Philosophy Colloquium. I want to thank David Burrell, Michael DePaul, William Hasker, John Jenkins, John Nieto, John O'Callaghan, David O'Connor, Alvin Plantinga, David Quackenbush, Mark Webb, and especially Philip Quinn for their help.