Suarez on God's Causal Involvement in Sinful Acts
Alfred J. Freddoso
1 Introduction: Evil and God
In this paper I will explore certain key features of Francisco Suarez's account of God's action in the world, with an eye toward explaining his view of the precise way in which God concurs with--that is, makes an immediate causal contribution to--free action in general and sinful action in particular. Suarez agrees with his mainly Thomistic opponents that God is an immediate cause of every effect produced by creatures--including every free act and, a fortiori, every sinful act elicited by creatures with a rational or 'free' nature. But he differs markedly from them in his account of how it can be plausibly maintained that God permits sin without causing sin or, to put it somewhat differently, how it can be plausibly maintained that the moral defectiveness of a sin is not traceable to God as a source.
The heart of the paper will be drawn from sections 2-4 of Disputation 22 of the Disputationes Metaphysicae, but I want to begin by defining the problematic in light of Suarez's general discussion of the metaphysics of evil in Disputation 11. Suarez agrees with traditional writers that what is 'evil in itself' is either (a) the privation of some good that ought to belong to a given subject in view of its nature and powers or (b) the subject itself insofar as it suffers such a privation. Beyond this, however, he notes that a positive entity can be 'evil for another' in the sense that its presence in a particular type of subject entails the absence of some good which that subject ought to have. Such an entity might be a natural evil, that is, a positive entity that deprives its subject of some natural good it ought to have according to the standard set by its own nature. For instance, from the perspective of Aristotelian science heat is a positive entity that is naturally bad for water, since water is by its nature cold; again, a sixth finger on one hand is a positive entity that is naturally bad for a human being, since by their nature human beings have five fingers on each hand; and, more generally, pain is a positive entity that is naturally bad for animals. In addition, some positive entities that are 'evil for another' are moral evils, that is, entities that are bad for a free nature precisely insofar as it is free. Moral evil is divided into the evil of sin or fault (malum culpae) and the evil of punishment (malum poenae), a distinction that Suarez characterizes as follows:
Thus, a sinful act, while good to the extent that it is a real quality of a rational will, is defective because by its nature it induces a privation of the due ordering to God that its subject--a free and rational creature--ought to have. An evil of punishment, on the other hand, can itself be either a sin that is causally connected with other sins or some other type of suffering that God directly inflicts or at least permits.We can say succinctly and clearly that the evil of sin (malum culpae) is a disorder in a free action or omission--that is, a lack of due perfection as regards a free action--whereas the evil of punishment (malum poenae) is any other lack of a due good that is contracted or inflicted because of sin.(1)
Although Suarez concedes that from outside the Christian perspective it seems that human beings suffer natural evils that are in no way connected with sin, he nonetheless notes that, according to the Faith, all the natural evils that befall us as human beings in fact stem ultimately from sin and especially from original sin, since God's antecedent intention was that we should be free from sin and suffering and death:
(In this connection, though, it is important to note in passing that punishment, strictly speaking, is contrary to the will of the sufferer. So within the Christian dispensation the evil of punishment loses its character as punishment when it is willingly embraced in atonement for sin out of supernatural love for God and neighbor and is in this way joined to the redemptive suffering of Christ.)Even though, leaving aside divine providence, one could conceive of some natural evil in a rational creature which was not inflicted because of any fault and which would thus be neither a sin nor a punishment, nonetheless, we believe that in conformity with divine providence no lack of a due perfection can exist in a rational creature unless it is a sin or else takes its origin from sin. It is for this reason that Augustine, In Genesim ad litteram, chap. 1, says that every evil is either a sin or a punishment for sin. In fact, it is not only the evil that exists formally in human beings, but also that which exists in irrational and inanimate things, to the extent that it results in harm for human beings themselves, that pertains to the evil of punishment--not punishment with respect to the lower things but with respect to the human beings themselves, because of whose sin it is inflicted or permitted.(2)
Having laid out this taxonomy, Suarez turns to the causal origins of evil and, more specifically, to the role of the First Cause in the genesis of evil. His discussion is subtle and complex, and so I will limit myself to just a few relevant points. Some natural evils are the per accidens or incidental byproducts of the 'perfect' action of unimpeded and non-defective created (or secondary) agents on non-defective patients, and as such they are traceable to God's immediate influence in the same way that they are traceable to the immediate influence of their proximate secondary causes. By contrast, other natural evils find their direct source in a defect of power in the agents that cause them or in various external impediments that keep their agents from 'perfectly' producing the effects at which they are aiming. Such evils are not causally traceable directly to God, but they are traceable to him indirectly and in the final analysis, since the various defects from which they originate always have their ultimate source in 'perfect' actions of the sort just described.(3) What's more, both natural evils and evils of punishment are such that God, as an intelligent and provident agent, can directly intend them for the sake of some good, even if he cannot be a per se and immediate cause of them.(4) So on Suarez's view there is in principle no metaphysical or moral problem with God's being a causal source in some way or other of natural evils and evils of punishment.
Sinful actions, however, are a different story because they constitute a free agent's rejection of God's unfailing love and impede the agent's union with God and with other rational creatures. As such, they have a special repugnance to God's goodness and are directly contrary to what he intends. Thus, even though God might use our sins as instruments in bringing us to true humility and repentance, he cannot directly intend sin or be a causal source of sin or in any way induce us to sin.
Suarez summarizes his discussion in this way:
So as far as the causal origin of evil is concerned, the only daunting general metaphysical problem, according to Suarez, is to explain in a precise and persuasive way how God makes an immediate causal contribution to each sinful act without its being the case that the moral defectiveness of such acts is causally traceable to him in any way.Because of its depravity, the evil of sin cannot be intended or willed by God, but only permitted. On the other hand, the other kinds of evil, wherever they come from, can be directly willed and intended by God, as long they do not include sin. For they do not have a depravity that is incompatible with his great goodness. And so it is only the evil of sin that God cannot be a cause of, whereas he can be a cause of the other kinds of evil.(5)
2 God's General Concurrence: The Basic Account
In order to grasp Suarez's solution to this problem, we must begin with his account of God's general concurrence in Disputation 22 of the Disputationes Metaphysicae. By the end of Disputation 21 Suarez takes himself to have established that every effect depends on God per se and immediately for its conservation. One way to broach the topic of Disputation 22 is to ask whether every effect likewise depends on God per se and immediately for its production. When the production takes place directly through creation ex nihilo, the answer is obviously affirmative. But the more problematic case is production through the communication of an accidental or substantial form, since such production is normally effected by the action of secondary causes.
The question can be put in a slightly different way by asking whether God acts per se and immediately in every action of a created or secondary cause. To be sure, God per se and immediately conserves created agents with their active powers at the very time when they are engaged in their productive activity. But from this it follows only "that God's influence is required ..... remotely and per accidens for the action of any created cause."(6) The question now being posed is whether every action of a created agent is literally a single cooperative action with the First Agent, an action in which both God and the created agent are per se and immediate causes of the very same effect at the very same time.
Suarez's affirmative reply to these two questions can be captured in five 'concurrentist' tenets that he shares in common with his Thomistic rivals. These constitute what I will call the 'basic account' of God's general concurrence.
The first tenet is that God is a per se and immediate cause of any effect produced by a created agent, while the second is that in producing such an effect, God and the created agent act by the very same cooperative action. Given these two tenets, it follows that in each case of secondary causality, a unitary effect is immediately produced by God and the relevant secondary cause through a single cooperative action. In other words, the effect is not divided into a part caused by God and a part caused by the created agent; nor do they act by separate actions. There is just a single effect produced by a single action, and that action belongs to both God and the secondary cause.
The third tenet is that even though there is just a single action, God and the secondary agent act by different powers within diverse orders of causality. More specifically, the secondary agent acts by its created or natural powers as a particular cause of the effect, whereas God acts by his uncreated power as a general or universal cause of the effect. (Hence the designation 'general concurrence'.)
This tenet requires careful unpacking. Concurrentists are committed to the view that when God cooperates with a secondary agent to produce a given effect, God's immediate contribution and the secondary agent's immediate contribution are complementary. The problem is to formulate a satisfactory metaphysical characterization of this complementarity that will not render superfluous either the secondary cause's immediate contribution or God's immediate contribution.
The only viable way to do this is to claim that certain features or aspects of the unitary effect are traceable exclusively or primarily to God and that certain other features of the effect are traceable exclusively or primarily to the secondary agents.(7) Accordingly, the concurrentists claim that God acts as a universal cause whose proper effect is being or esse as such, while the secondary cause participates in God's universal agency by directing it toward its own proper effect, that is, toward a particular effect to which its intrinsic powers are ordered in the relevant concrete circumstances. This should not be understood to mean that God's concurrence is exactly similar in every instance of secondary causality or that it is, as it were, an 'indifferent' influence that is somehow 'particularized' by the secondary cause. To the contrary, in each instance God's action and the secondary cause's action are one and the same action, and so just as the actions of secondary causes are obviously multifarious in species, so too God's concurrence varies in species from one circumstance to another.(8) Rather, the point of calling God a universal cause of the effects of secondary agents is, in part, that any communication of esse by a secondary agent is a participation or sharing in God's own communication of esse as such, and that God's manner of allowing for this participation is to tailor his proper causal influence in each case to what is demanded by the natures of the relevant secondary agents.
An analogy might be useful here. Suppose that I use my favorite pen to write you a letter. It seems clear that both the pen and I count as joint immediate causes of a single effect, though in different 'orders of causality'. More specifically, I am a principal cause of the letter, while the pen is an instrumental cause.(9) Yet the fact that the letter is written in black rather than in some other color depends primarily on the causal powers of the pen as an instrumental cause rather than on any of my powers as a principal cause. (Remember that we are concentrating on my action just insofar as it is identical with the pen's action; my further reasons for choosing this particular pen do not enter into that.) On the other hand, the fact that the word 'philosophy', rather than some other word, occurs at a certain place on the piece of paper--or, even better, the fact that there is any word produced at that place rather than none at all--depends primarily on my influence as a principal cause rather than on the pen's as an instrumental cause.
Similarly, it seems reasonable to claim that one and the same effect is primarily from God insofar as it is something rather than nothing and primarily from its secondary cause insofar as it is an effect of one particular type rather than another. For example, a newly conceived armadillo is from God insofar as it is something rather than nothing and from its parents insofar as it is an animal of the species armadillo rather than some other sort of effect.(10) This formulation seems to capture both (a) the idea that a secondary cause's communication of esse presupposes God's contribution and (b) the idea that the particular type of esse communicated in any instance of secondary causality stems from the natures of the relevant secondary causes. In summary, then, the effect is undivided and yet such that both its universal or general cause and its particular causes contribute to its production in distinctive and non-redundant modes.
By contrast, if God had acted by himself to create the baby armadillo ex nihilo, then he would have been a particular cause of the new armadillo.(11) As it stands, however, his cooperative influence is merely general or universal in the sense that he allows the active powers of the relevant secondary agents to determine the specific nature of the very same effect that his own influence plays an essential role in producing. In short, the manner of his concurring is adapted in each case to the natures of the relevant secondary agents and is different from the mode of acting he would have engaged in if he had caused the relevant effect by himself. A secondary agent, on the other hand, cannot act at all or communicate esse to any effect independently of God's general concurrence, since its power, even if sufficient for the effect within the order of secondary causes, needs God's concurrence in order to be exercised. As Suarez puts it, God's readiness to grant his concurrence to a created agent in a set of concrete circumstances is one of the prerequisites for that agent's acting in those circumstances. But an agent is 'proximately able' to act, or 'in proximate potency' for acting, only when all the prerequisites for its acting have been posited in reality. It follows that even though a created agent might have a power which is sufficient within its own order for a given effect, it is not proximately able to produce the effect without God's readiness to grant his concurrence for that very effect.(12)
Thus, in holding that God acts as both a universal and immediate cause of the effects of secondary agents, the concurrentists delineate a mode of cooperative action that defines a middle position between occasionalism, which in essence holds that God is a particular cause of every effect produced in the world, and the position according to which God is only a remote--that is, non-immediate--cause of the effects produced by secondary agents. What's more, the distinction between universal and particular causality gives concurrentists the resources to explain how two agents, operating by different powers and in different orders of causality, can produce one and the same effect by a single cooperative action.
The distinction between universal and particular causality also provides concurrentists with at least a foothold for the claim that the moral defectiveness of a sinful action is traceable exclusively to the rational agent who is its secondary cause. Revert for a moment to the example of the pen, and suppose that the term 'philosophy' is barely visible because the pen is running out of ink. This defect is traceable to the pen as an instrumental cause and not to my influence as a principal cause. In like manner, the fact that a sinful action exists at all is traceable primarily to God, whereas the fact that it is morally defective is traceable exclusively to the rational agent. (Indeed, Suarez himself takes it to be distinctive of rational agents that they are capable of being the sole originating source of their own moral defects, whereas the defects of natural agents must always be derived in the final analysis from the positive action of some other agent or agents.(13)) However, as noted, the distinction between universal and particular causality provides only a foothold for the claim that God is not a source of the moral defectiveness of sinful actions. For the basic account of concurrence needs to be fleshed out more precisely, and it remains to be seen whether the other elements in a full account of God's general concurrence will themselves cohere with this claim.
The fourth tenet is that the secondary cause's contribution to the effect is subordinate to God's contribution. Suarez explains this subordination as follows:
Later I will raise the issue of whether this account of subordination is strong enough as it stands, but all parties would agree to at least as much as Suarez asserts here.If we draw a conceptual distinction between the action insofar as it is from the First Cause and the action insofar as it is from the secondary cause, then the action can be said to be from the First Cause in a prior and more principal way than from the secondary cause; and, similarly, the First Cause will be said to have his influence on the action prior in nature to the secondary cause's having its influence on it. For, first of all, the First Cause is a higher cause and influences the effect in a more noble and more independent way. Second, the First Cause is related to the action per se and primarily under a more universal concept, since the First Cause has an influence on every effect or action whatsoever precisely because every effect or action has some share in being. The secondary cause, on the other hand, always has its influence under some posterior and more determinate concept of being.(14)
The fifth and final tenet is that in any given case the cooperative action of God and the secondary cause with respect to a given effect is such that the influence actually exercised by the one would not have existed or effected anything at all in the absence of the influence exercised by the other. This follows from the fact that a secondary cause is unable to effect anything without God's concurrence, taken together with the fact that in any given concrete situation God's general concurrence complements the particular concurrence of the secondary cause and hence does not overdetermine the effect.
This, then, is the sort of divine cooperation with secondary causes
that both Suarez and his opponents are concerned to defend.(15)
I want to turn now to the differences between them that emerge from the
attempt to fill out this basic account.
3 The Thomistic Gambit
In section 2 of Disputation 22 Suarez tries to show, against unnamed "later Thomists,"(16) that God's general concurrence involves nothing other than his actual influence on the secondary cause's action and effect. More specifically, he argues at great length that God's general concurrence has no effect within the secondary agent itself that is in any way prior to the cooperative action by which that agent's own effect is produced; rather, God's concurrence is just his contribution to that cooperative action, that is, to the cooperative production of the joint effect. In the words of the title of section 2, Suarez's claim is that God's general concurrence is "something in the manner of an action" and not "something in the manner of a principle of action."
But what is it to claim that God's concurrence involves "something in the manner of a principle of action"? And why do many Thomistic authors make this claim?
To answer these questions, we should begin by noting that the theories opposed to Suarez's take their inspiration from a model that many scholastic thinkers associate with certain traditional axioms regarding the subordination of finite agents to God, namely, that of a craftsman using a tool in order to produce an artifact--not unlike the example of the pen and the letter I used above to illustrate the difference between universal and particular causality. The craftsman fashions the artifact through the tool as an instrument, and this in turn suggests that the craftsman does something to the tool even while using it in the production of the effect. In other words, the craftsman is not only engaging in a cooperative or joint action with the tool, but is also unilaterally imparting to the tool a principle of action that is causally prior to that cooperative action.
But what sort of 'principle of action' are we speaking of here? There are two possible answers to this question, corresponding to the two theories that Suarez criticizes in section 2.
According to the first answer, in using the tool the craftsman imparts to it a power that 'completes' or 'perfects' its intrinsic power and makes the tool proximately able to act on the relevant patient in such a way as to produce the artifact. So on this view the tool's intrinsic power is insufficient for the effect even within its own order of causality--namely, instrumental causality--and so that power needs to be supplemented by a 'higher agent', the craftsman. Moreover, the power conferred by the craftsman is best thought of as temporary in the sense that it is not a type of power that could be had by the tool as an accidental form or characteristic that endures beyond the temporal interval during which the craftsman is using it; that is, it is a type of power that the tool has when and only when it is being moved by the higher agent in the cooperative action by which the artifact is produced.
According to the second answer, in contrast, the craftsman does not empower the tool, but simply applies the tool's intrinsic power to the patient in such a way as to produce their joint effect. On this view, the tool's power is antecedently sufficient within the order of instrumental causality and does not need supplementation. Instead, the tool, with its preexistent power, simply needs to be moved or directed in the appropriate ways by a higher agent in order to be proximately able to participate in the production of the effect. In technical terms, this motion is variously called an 'application' or 'pre-motion' or 'predetermination' which has the tool as its subject and is prior in some obvious sense--even if not temporally prior--to the cooperative action by which the artifact is produced.
So the answer to the original question is this: The relevant principle of action conferred on the tool by the craftsman is either a power or the application of a power. And it is the reception of this principle of action that constitutes the tool's subordination to the craftsman during the time of their cooperative action.
When we turn now to God's general concurrence with secondary causes, this model, articulated in one of the ways just explained, yields the standard interpretations of the following scholastic axioms: (a) 'A secondary cause does not act unless it is moved (or: pre-moved) by the First Cause', (b) 'A secondary cause is applied to its action by the First Cause', (c) 'A secondary cause is determined (or: predetermined) to its effect by the First Cause', (d) 'A secondary cause acts in the power of the First Cause', and (e) 'A secondary cause is subordinated in its acting to the First Cause'. And it is precisely these standard interpretations that give rise to the two theories of God's concurrence that Suarez finds wanting.(17)
According to the first of these theories, by his concurrence God first 'completes' the secondary cause's power and then proceeds to produce the effect in cooperation with the secondary cause, where the completion of the power is causally (rather than temporally) prior to the cooperative action. Suarez gives two descriptions which, taken together, capture the most plausible version of this theory:
The concurrence is a certain entity that emanates from the First Cause and is received in the secondary cause, bringing the secondary cause to final completion [as an agent] and determining it to produce a given effect. The reason why this concurrence is said to be something "in the manner of principle" is that it is the secondary cause's power to act or, at least, it formally brings that power to completion.(18)
Suarez begins his critique of this theory by insisting that the powers of secondary causes are usually complete or perfect within their own order of causality just in virtue of God's having created and conserved them. Hence, secondary agents do not normally need a supplementary power of that same order--that is, a special power that is contemporaneous with their action. To put it in technical terms, secondary agents are as a general rule 'perfectly constituted in first act within their own order' prior to the time when their power is exercised.The First Cause's concurrence is something in the manner of a principle and infused power ...... The concurrence begins, as it were, with the conferral of this power and yet does not consist in this conferral [alone], but rather proceeds further right to the creature's very own action, with the result that what influences the action immediately is not only the power communicated to the secondary cause but also the divine and uncreated power itself.(19)
Moreover, even if it is true that in some cases the power of a secondary cause needs to be supplemented by God or some other higher agent at the very time of the action, this supplementation is naturally prior to God's general concurrence and not a part of it:
In other words, God's general concurrence always presupposes that the secondary cause's power is complete and sufficient within its own order of causality, regardless of how or when this completion is accomplished. It is only when the secondary cause proceeds from 'first act' into 'second act'--that is, only when it proceeds from already having sufficient power to actually exercising that power--that God's concurrence comes into play.It is true that God sometimes, at least supernaturally, makes up for a secondary cause's imperfection by supplementing its power to act; he does this especially in our own case when he infuses the supernatural habits. But this falls outside of our present topic, since such an infusion of power has to do not with the First Cause's concurrence, but rather with the secondary cause's being elevated or perfected through the First Cause's action. Accordingly, if we are speaking of a secondary cause that has been perfectly constituted in first act within its own order, then it is pointless to add to it some other principle of acting that is received within it.(20)
And in reply to the objection--again inspired by the model of the craftsman and the tool--that the power conferred by God on the secondary cause is indeed part of his general concurrence because that power is an instrument through which he himself acts, Suarez asks whether or not God's contribution to the effect is exhausted by his producing this 'instrumental' power within the secondary cause. If the answer is yes, then God is merely a remote cause of the secondary agent's effect, since the only power by which he acts is a created power that inheres, even if only briefly, in the secondary cause. On the other hand, if God's contribution to the joint effect is not exhausted by the production of this alleged instrumental power, but includes as well an independent and immediate exercise of his own uncreated power, then any instrumental power is wholly superfluous:
At this juncture the objector might concede Suarez's point, but insist that even if God does not confer any power on the secondary cause, he must at least apply or pre-move or predetermine that cause, with its own intrinsic power, in order to make it proximately capable of producing the joint effect. For surely, the argument goes, the secondary cause's essential subordination to God can be preserved only if God is thought of as acting on and through it.If ..... in addition to the influence of this instrumental power, God is also said to influence the secondary cause's action immediately by his own uncreated power, then it is at once evident per se how pointless the alleged instrumental power that remains on God's part would be. For the divine power is intimately present there through itself. And by its own eminence this power is sufficient to have, and proportioned for having, a per se influence on the action; indeed, it must necessarily have such an influence in order for the creature to be able to effect any action whatsoever. Therefore, an instrumental power of the sort in question on God's part is unnecessary; therefore, such a power is wholly irrelevant to the First Cause's concurrence, which is necessary per se and pertains to the secondary cause's essential subordination to the First Cause.(21)
This brings us to the second and more sophisticated theory, which corresponds to the second opinion about the craftsman's relation to the tool. Suarez characterizes this theory as follows in two different places:
The second position is that the First Cause's concurrence is something in the manner of a principle within the secondary cause itself and is ordered toward its action, though not as a per se principle of that action [that is, a power], but only as a necessary condition for acting. This seems to be the position of all those who claim that God's concurrence occupies itself with the secondary cause prior to the latter's action, by applying or determining it to that action.(22)
So on this theory God's concurrence does not produce a power within the secondary cause, but instead produces a motion by which God applies the secondary cause to its action. Still, this application or premotion must be "at least causally prior" to the secondary cause's action.(24) For even though the application is temporally simultaneous with the action by which God and the secondary cause cooperate in the production of the latter's effect, it has the secondary cause itself as its subject and hence cannot be identical with the cooperative action. This is why Suarez calls the application a "necessary condition" for the cooperative action.The First Cause's concurrence begins (as I will put it) with the motion or application of the secondary cause, but is consummated in the immediate and per se causing of the very effect or action of the secondary cause itself.(23)
Each of the arguments for the second theory invokes one of the scholastic axioms noted above, and the model of the craftsman and the tool looms prominently in the background throughout. Like the tool, the secondary cause must be pre-moved or applied to its action; that is, it must be directed or determined by the art and power of the divine craftsman to produce the effect that its own intrinsic power is proportioned to. And just as the tool acts in the power of the craftsman, so too the secondary cause acts in the power of the First Cause. Again, just as the tool is elevated by the craftsman's application so that it can participate in producing the craftsman's proper effect--namely, the artifact--so too the secondary cause is elevated by the First Cause's application so that it can participate in producing God's proper effect--namely, esse. Or so, at least, argue the proponents of the second theory.
Suarez, however, is not impressed with these arguments and goes so far as to call the alleged application (or pre-motion or predetermination) "neither necessary nor fully intelligible."(25) He argues in effect that while the model of the craftsman and the tool might help us to appreciate certain general features of God's general concurrence, it is badly misleading in the details.
First of all, the craftsman's application of a tool typically aims at putting the tool into the appropriate spatial relations with the patient. By contrast, God's general concurrence already presupposes that the secondary agent is suitably proximate to its patient. For this proximity is one of the prerequisites for the secondary agent's action, and God's general concurrence presupposes that all the necessary conditions for acting are already satisfied.
Again, the craftsman's application of the tool has as its direct formal terminus or effect a series of spatial locations that belong to the tool as accidental forms. By contrast, there is no plausible analogue for such an effect in the case of God's putative application of the secondary cause:
So unlike the craftsman's application of the tool, God's alleged application of the secondary cause has no obviously relevant effect within the secondary cause. Suarez's conclusion is that God's concurrence does not, after all, involve an 'application' of the secondary cause in any non-metaphorical sense.If [the application] is an instance of real efficient causality, then it will be a real movement or change belonging to the secondary cause. What terminus, then, does it have? Not a spatial terminus or a terminus in any category other than quality, as seems per se evident. But neither can the terminus be a quality. For if this quality is bestowed as a power of acting ..... the arguments made above [against the first position] will be brought to bear again. On the other hand, if the quality is not bestowed in order to effect anything, then it has nothing to do with acting, and there is no possible reason why it should be called a necessary condition. You will object that it is necessary for conjoining the secondary agent to the First Agent in the way that an instrument is conjoined to the principal cause. But this and similar claims, which can be expressed in words, cannot be explained in terms of realities. For the conjoining in question is neither a real union nor a more intimate presence, but only some new effect, the role of and need for which in the secondary cause's action is what we are scrutinizing.(26)
Again, whereas the tool's acting in the power of the craftsman is perhaps identifiable with the craftsman's application of it, a secondary cause's acting "in the power of God" is nothing more than its acting "through a power that participates in a higher power and ..... with a dependence in [its] action on the actual influence of that power."(27) But this is compatible with the claim that by his concurrence God acts with the secondary cause rather than, literally, on or through it.
The model of the craftsman and the tool is especially troublesome when applied to the free actions of rational creatures. According to Suarez, an agent is free just in case, with all the prerequisites for acting having been posited, that agent is (a) able to act--that is, to will--and also able not to act (freedom with respect to exercise) and (b) able to will an object and also able to will some contrary object (freedom with respect to specification).(28) His charge in the present context is that because the pre-motions or predeterminations posited by his opponents are causally prior to the secondary cause's action and ordered toward a single effect--in this instance a single act of the rational agent's will--they are destructive of both freedom with respect to exercise and freedom with respect to specification:
As we shall see below, the rejection of predeterminations does not by itself guarantee freedom as Suarez defines it. But the affirmation of predeterminations does seem to destroy freedom so defined, since, according to Suarez's opponents, the predeterminations are themselves necessary prerequisites for a secondary cause's acting in any way at all. But if that is so, then Suarez's arguments seem to be right on the mark. First of all, the premotion or predetermination is always ordered toward the exercise of the relevant power, in this case the faculty of the will. It seems to follow that if the predetermination is in place, then the rational agent is unable to refrain from acting--which undermines freedom with respect to exercise. Second, any predetermination is ordered toward a particular species of effect. And here it seems to follow that the agent cannot will any object other than the one toward with the predetermination is ordered--which undermines freedom with respect to specification.The condition called a 'predetermination' is not only unnecessary for a free cause in light of its peculiar mode of acting, but is also for that very reason incompatible with it if it is going to act freely with respect to both exercise and specification. For the use of freedom would be impeded on both these counts by such a predetermination. This claim is explained, first, for the case of indifference with respect to the specification of the act: Since the First Cause alone is said to effect the predetermination in question, the will is merely in passive potency with respect to it; hence, the will is not free with respect to it, but is instead passively or negatively indifferent, in the way that matter is indifferent with respect to various forms. For, as we showed above, there is no freedom in a passive faculty as such. Therefore, it is not within the will's active and free power to receive this or that determination; therefore, since it is determined to only one act, it is able to effect that act and no other.(29)
The problem is, needless to say, exacerbated in the case of sinful actions:
The Thomists posit predeterminations in part to sustain the doctrine that God is the principal originating source of being and goodness, including moral goodness. Suarez is charging in effect that their theory has the unintended consequence of making God the primary source of moral defectiveness as well and of obliterating the distinction between God's merely permitting sin and his being a cause of the defectiveness of sin. What's more, given the doctrine of predeterminations, it is futile to invoke the distinction between universal and particular causality and to claim that only the material element of a sinful act--namely, its being as a quality of the mind--is primarily from God, whereas its formal element--namely, its moral defectiveness--is exclusively from the secondary cause. For to predetermine just this act in just these circumstances involves willing the act by an absolute volition. As Suarez puts it in a related context:If [the will] receives a determination to will an evil object, why should it be imputed to it that it does not receive a determination to will against that object? For this cannot be imputed to it because of some prior act, both because it is possible for there not to have been any prior act, and also because the prior act could not have been effected without some other predetermination, with regard to which the same problem arises again; nor, again, can it be imputed to the will because of the absence of some act, both because (a) the predetermination to that act is likewise not within the will's power and so neither can the absence of the act be imputed to it, since without exception the primary root of the will's not operating, even when all the other prerequisites have been posited, is that it does not receive the predetermination in question--for if it did receive it, it would operate--and also because (b) it is not always the case that a positive evil act is preceded by the absence of some required prior act; rather, [in some cases] the one act is omitted at the very same time the other is being chosen.(31)
The distinction between universal and particular is metaphysically useful in the case of sinful actions only if one's full-blown account of God's concurrence with sinful acts absolves God of predetermining the sinful act with which he concurs or of willing it 'absolutely' in some other way. Otherwise, it will render God guilty of "carrying the created will along with him into the exercise of the act." Or so, at least, claims Suarez.The [formal] element follows from the [material], since the created will's free act with respect to this object in these circumstances cannot exist without having the badness that is concomitant with it. Therefore, if someone wills by an absolute volition that such an act be elicited by a created will with respect to this object in these circumstances--and especially if he wills this in such a way that he carries the created will along with him into the exercise of that act--then it is clear that (i) he morally or virtually wills the badness that is necessarily conjoined with the act and that (ii) he is a source and cause of that badness.(32)
Needless to say, the Thomists have standard replies to arguments of this sort, including an alternative account of what freedom consists in. According to this account, free acts cannot be predetermined by any temporally antecedent causal activity but are compatible with God's contemporaneous predeterminations, which are coordinated by divine providence with the rational agent's own intentions and choices. Hence, it is not the case that an act is free only if all the prerequisites for action are compatible with its not being exercised or compatible with some other contrary act of will being exercised; rather, an act is free only if all the prerequisites for action other than God's contemporaneous predeterminations are compatible with its not being exercised or with some other contrary act of will being exercised.(33) What's more, the Thomists contend, it is still the rational agent's own intentions and choices that serve as the root of moral defectiveness, despite God's predeterminations.
Here, as earlier in Disputation 19, Suarez tries to show that the Thomistic
replies to his arguments are unsatisfactory. However, I will not pursue
the dispute over predeterminations and the nature of free agency any further
here, except to note that it cannot be understood in isolation from the
whole nest of interrelated issues involving providence, predestination,
foreknowledge, and grace that set Dominican and Jesuit thinkers at odds
with one another in the last half of the sixteenth century.(34)
In any case, Suarez has his own distinctive way of dealing with free actions
in general and sinful actions in particular, and to this I now turn.
4 God's Concurrence and Free Action according to Suarez
Broadly speaking, Suarez's account of God's general concurrence runs parallel to the account published by Luis de Molina a few years before the appearance of the Disputationes Metaphysicae.(35) However, with respect to free acts of will Suarez's account represents a genuine advance in precision and detail.
Suarez begins section 4 of Disputation 22 by explaining how God concurs with secondary agents that act naturally, or by a necessity of nature, rather than freely.(36) These natural agents are necessarily such that they act in a given set of circumstances to produce a given effect when and only when all the prerequisites for their acting are satisfied in those circumstances. These prerequisites include both (a) 'internal' conditions such as the potential agent's possession of enough power within its own order of causality to produce the effect and (b) 'external' conditions such as the receptivity of the patient, its proximity to the agent, the absence of impediments, and, as we have seen, God's concurrence in first act--that is, God's offer of, or readiness to grant, his concurrence for the action.(37)
Given that God always accommodates his concurrence to the nature and requirements of created causes, the manner in which he concurs with naturally acting causes is straightforward. In each case, he simply gives the relevant secondary agent the sort of concurrence that it requires in order to produce the type of effect to which its nature is determined in the relevant circumstances. And although God does this freely, he also does it, says Suarez, "in the manner of a nature"--that is, he does it as a matter of course.(38) For having willed to create and conserve naturally acting causes as part of his providential plan, God freely adopted from eternity a general policy of granting them the concurrence which is 'owed' to them by a "debt of connaturality"--that is, a concurrence that satisfies the requirements of the natures with which God has endowed them.(39)
To be sure, this general policy admits of exceptions, as when God works miracles by simply withholding his concurrence (as well as the offer of concurrence) from secondary agents. (This is the way in which the scholastics generally interpret the miracle of the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, to cite just one example.) But in addition to the general policy, God's providential plan includes his willing 'efficaciously', in each particular case of natural secondary causality, to concur with this particular natural agent in these particular circumstances for this particular action in order to produce this particular effect:
Moreover, because natural agents act from what we might call 'deterministic natural tendencies', their actions occur by a necessity of nature.(41) For this reason, God wills "in an absolute and determinate way" to concur with both the exercise of their power and the species of action to which that power is uniquely determined in the relevant circumstances.(42) That is, each action of a natural agent is such that God (a) wills it unconditionally and (b) offers for it only a concurrence that corresponds to the agent's deterministic natural tendency in the circumstances. Thus, it is a necessary truth that God offers his concurrence to a natural agent for a particular action and effect if and only if the agent actually produces that very effect by that very action. In technical terms, God's concurrence with a natural agent exists in first act only if it exists in second act as well.Just as God decided from eternity to produce these particular [naturally acting] entities and not others, and to produce them at this particular time and in this particular order and with these particular motions, etc., and not in any other way, so too he also decided to concur with these same entities in their actions according to their capacity. And just as God has an absolutely distinct and particular knowledge of all things, so too his will decides all things distinctly and in particular, and it extends to each individual thing according to its capacity and need; therefore, in giving his concurrence, he decided from eternity to concur with this cause, in this place, and with respect to this subject for this individual action and effect in particular, and to concur at another time for another action, and so on for all actions.(40)
Suarez argues, however, that if God offered his concurrence in this very same way to agents capable of free action, their freedom would be destroyed with respect to both exercise and specification, even in the absence of the sort of pre-motions or predeterminations posited by his opponents. For if God offered his concurrence to a free agent for just a single act of will in a given set of circumstances, and if he willed "in an absolute and determinate way" the one act for which that concurrence were offered in those circumstances, then the agent in question would, first of all, have to elicit an act of will, and so would not be free with respect to exercise:
Second, since God would be granting his concurrence for just one act of will, the secondary agent would have to elicit just that act of will for which God was offering his concurrence, and so would not be free with respect to specification.In order for two free causes to concur per se and in a fixed order with respect to a single action, the antecedent intention or volition of just one of them is not sufficient unless it has enough power over the other cause to carry it along wherever it pleases. Therefore, if, in the case of the concurrence under discussion, the only thing that precedes it is the divine act of will by which God efficaciously wills to concur with the secondary cause for a given effect, then in order for that effect to follow per se, this act of God's will must have enough power over the free secondary cause to carry it along with it into action. And so the free cause's indifference in the exercise of the action is destroyed.(43)
Suarez notes that there have been two principal ways of dealing with this problem within the Catholic intellectual tradition. Some authors, accepting a single account of divine concurrence for both natural and free causes, have claimed that the freedom of rational agents is preserved by the mere fact that God gives his concurrence freely. Suarez rejects this reply outright, contending that the cooperative action in which God concurs can be free with respect to God and yet not free with respect to the relevant created cause. As we saw above, this is exactly how things stand with regard to the actions of natural agents; God freely concurs with such actions, and yet they occur by a necessity of nature. So this way of responding to the problem fails to preserve creaturely freedom.
A second ploy is simply to claim that in giving his concurrence God wills not only the action but the mode or modality of the action, so that in the case of free agents he wills that their acts be elicited freely. Suarez agrees with this sentiment, but argues that it is not sufficient by itself. The metaphysician must give a coherent account of just how it is possible for God to concur causally with an act that is elicited freely, that is, an account of just how it is possible for a rational agent's free act to be God's act as well:
Having completed his brief survey of other views, Suarez proposes his own ingenious alternative. Stated simply it is this: When God offers his concurrence for a particular free act of will A, he, first of all, makes this offer conditionally on the free agent's cooperation, so that even with the offer of concurrence in place, the agent is still able not to elicit A; and, second, he simultaneously offers his concurrence with respect to at least one other particular act A* that is contrary to A, so that even with the offer of concurrence for A in place, the agent is still able to elicit A* instead. The first point preserves freedom with respect to exercise, while the second preserves freedom with respect to specification. I will now elaborate on each in turn.This teaching, thus taken in a general way, is absolutely certain; yet it is also certain that when God wills something to happen in a certain determinate mode, it pertains to his wisdom and efficacy to apply causes that are suited to that mode of acting. For he would be at odds with himself if he willed something to happen in a given mode and then in some other way impeded or removed the causes for that mode of operating. Accordingly, what we are asking in the present context is this: When God wills that a secondary cause act freely and with indifference, how he is able to make his concurrence determinate without this involving a contradiction? Thus, it is not enough to claim that the two things blend together in the efficacy and agreeableness of divine providence. Rather, one must either explain how it is that there is no contradiction between them--which the present reply does not do--or else look for some other mode in which God can move the creature "efficaciously and agreeably" in such a way that it acts and acts freely.(44)
When God offers his concurrence for a particular free act of will that lies within the power of a rational agent, he does not will that act in the "absolute and determinate way" in which he wills the actions of secondary causes that act by a necessity of nature. Rather, as far as his own causal contribution is concerned, he wills a free act only conditionally:
So in the case of a free act, God's offer of concurrence does not--as it does with acts that occur by a necessity of nature--automatically result in the cooperative action; in technical terms, the concurrence can exist in first act even if it never exists in second act, that is, even if the act of will for which it is offered is never exercised. Still, because God's readiness to give his concurrence completes the prerequisites for a free act of will, the agent is in the strict sense proximately able to elicit the act even if, as it may turn out, the act is never elicited. Hence, Suarez's definition of freedom with respect to exercise is satisfied, since the agent is able to refrain from eliciting the act even though all the prerequisites for action--including the concurrence in first act--have been satisfied. This, he contends, is the way in which God's concurrence is accommodated to rational agents as far as the free exercise of their acts is concerned.God does not, through the act of will by which he decides to give his concurrence to a free cause, decide altogether absolutely that the free cause will exercise the act in question; nor does he will absolutely that the act exist. Instead, with a sort of implicit condition he wills the existence of the act to the extent that the act proceeds from him and from that concurrence of his which he has decided to offer. And by virtue of that volition he applies his power to the act in question, but on the condition that the secondary cause--that is, the created will--should likewise determine itself to that action and issue forth into it. For by its freedom the will is always able not to issue forth into the act.(45)
What's more, Suarez argues that only this mode of concurring with free acts can preserve the truth that even though God is a cooperating cause in acts that are sinful, he is not a cause or source of the defectiveness of such acts. Like any other effect of a secondary cause, a sinful act cannot occur without God's general concurrence. Indeed, in order for God to have creatures who can freely love him in this life, he must offer his cooperation with respect to acts that are sinful; otherwise, created rational agents would never be proximately able to turn away from him. Nevertheless, God's offer of concurrence for such acts does not imply that he intends them or approves of them or in any way induces free creatures to elicit them. In technical terms, the fact that he offers his concurrence for a sinful act does not itself entail that if the act is in fact elicited, God wills it by his "providence of approval" (providentia approbationis); rather, in offering his concurrence he wills such an act only conditionally and, if it is elicited, it falls only under his "providence of permission" (providentia concessionis). So God's permission of a sinful act consists precisely in (a) his willing it only conditionally, (b) his offering his general concurrence with respect to it in the manner just explained, and (c) his doing nothing positive to induce the agent to elicit it.
Suarez stipulates that God's conditional willing applies only to the offer of concurrence, because it is important to keep in mind that God's general concurrence is not his only contribution to free acts.(46) Out of love he almost always prompts us antecedently toward good acts by various means, both natural and supernatural, even though he allows us to reject this assistance and, as it were, to abuse his general concurrence. According to Suarez, it is precisely the fact that this sort of special divine assistance--over and beyond general concurrence--is offered prior to every good act of will that preserves the thesis, so dear to his opponents, that God is the originating source of all moral goodness and that he antecedently intends the good even while permitting the sinful.
In summary, then, any free act of will for which God offers his general concurrence is such that the secondary agent is proximately able to refrain from eliciting it. And Suarez is able to give a coherent metaphysical account of how this is possible.
Let us turn briefly to freedom with respect to specification. When God offers his concurrence to a free agent, he offers it for two or more distinct acts that are contrary to one another:
In keeping with what was said above, a free agent is proximately able not to elicit any of the acts of will for which God offers his concurrence in a given set of circumstances. The further point that Suarez makes here is that in any such set of circumstances God offers a free agent numerically and specifically distinct concurrences for numerically and specifically distinct acts of will, so that the agent is proximately able to will any one of those acts. This preserves freedom with respect to specification.God offers concurrence to each secondary cause in a mode accommodated to its nature; but the nature of a free cause is such that, after all the other conditions required for acting have been posited, it is indifferent with respect to more than one act; therefore, it must also receive the concurrence in first act in an indifferent mode; therefore, it must be the case that, from the side of God, the concurrence is offered to a free cause not just with respect to one act but with respect to more than one act ..... If this were not so, then the created will would never be proximately capable of effecting more than one act; therefore, it would never be free with respect to the specification of the act.(47)
Once again, then, the way in which God offers his concurrence to a free agent is accommodated to the secondary cause's mode of acting. And what was said about sinful acts in the discussion of freedom with respect to exercise applies, mutatis mutandis, to freedom with respect to specification. In particular, given that one or more of the acts for which God offers his concurrence on a given occasion is sinful, it follows that if any one of those acts is actually elicited, God can plausibly be said to permit that act rather than to induce it or to be a source of its moral defectiveness.
This, then, is the way in which Suarez understands St. Thomas's claim
that while an act that is sinful is from God, God is not a cause of sin.(48)
To revert to the manner of speaking introduced above, the fact that a sinful
act is something rather than nothing is traced back primarily to God as
a universal cause, but the fact that it is morally defective rather than
morally upright is traced back entirely to its secondary agent as a particular
cause. And, according to Suarez, it is only his own full-blown account
of God's concurrence with sinful acts that succeeds in fleshing out this
claim in a metaphysically adequate way.
5 Conclusion: Subordination and Middle Knowledge
One lingering question is whether Suarez's account of God's concurrence with free acts preserves the claim that in such acts the rational agent's causality is subordinate to God's causality. Suarez, of course, claims that it does. But recall that his own explanation of subordination limits it to God's acting "in a more noble and more independent way ..... under a more universal concept." Is this strong enough? Isn't it rather the case that on Suarez's view God's concurrence is subordinated to the rational agent's influence, since it is ultimately up to the rational agent (a) whether or not God actually concurs with an act and (b) just which act he concurs with? To be sure, God freely and independently offers his occurrence, but it seems to depend wholly on the rational agent whether or not that offer is accepted. Suarez's opponents will point out that this is precisely one of the results that their premotions or predeterminations were designed to prevent.
But Suarez does not lack the resources for an interesting reply. First of all, he will insist that the dignity of rational agents lies, at least in part, in their ability to be self-determiners--though always, of course, with God's concurrence. So it is hardly an embarrassment to have propounded an account of God's concurrence with free action that captures the distinctiveness of rational agents. Indeed, from Suarez's perspective it is a weakness in the position of his opponents that their full-blown account of God's general concurrence treats both natural agents and free agents in exactly the same way.
Second, as we have seen, Suarez joins with his opponents in accepting the Catholic doctrine that God exercises particular providence over the world, so that every particular action--including every free act--effected in the created world is either (a) explicitly and knowingly intended by God from eternity or (b) explicitly and knowingly permitted by God from eternity. In answering objections to his account of God's concurrence with free acts, Suarez acknowledges that in order for this account to cohere with the orthodox understanding of God's particular providence, it must be the case that from eternity, and naturally prior to his willing anything with respect to creatures, God has so-called 'middle knowledge'--or, as Suarez refers to it, "conditional foreknowledge"--of how all possible free agents would act in any possible situation in which they were offered divine concurrence for their free acts. Such knowledge is necessary because God's conditional offer of concurrence for free acts does not by itself settle the question of just which free acts will be elicited. And so because he does not know exactly how free creatures will act just on the basis of his own intention to offer his concurrence for their actions, God needs middle knowledge in order for his providential plan to be complete-- that is, in order for him to be able to intend or permit particular free acts antecedently.(49)
Given this picture, the points most relevant in the present context are (a) that God's offer of concurrence is independent of the rational agent's causal contribution to any particular free act, (b) that it is ultimately up to God whether to allow particular rational creatures to be in the circumstances in which, as God foresees, they will elicit particular free acts of will, and (c) that God antecedently provides for the very acts which will in fact be elicited. So even though Suarez's account of the subordination of the causality of free agents to God's causality is weaker than that of its opponents, his complete account of God's general concurrence is nonetheless strong enough to allow for God's complete sovereignty over the free acts, including the free sinful acts, of his creatures.
Notice, too, that the doctrine of God's middle knowledge solves the problem of how God's causal contribution to a free act can, without constituting a predetermination or premotion, be temporally simultaneous with the rational agent's contribution--as indeed it must be if the act in question is from both God and the secondary cause. We should not imagine that on Suarez's account the free agent begins to act temporally prior to God's causal contribution and that this initiation of the act is, as it were, a sign to God of how he himself should act. Rather, God always knows exactly which act the rational agent will elicit in the relevant circumstances, and so he himself is able to act simultaneously with that agent.
One final point. Suarez denies that God's having middle knowledge renders
otiose his offer of concurrence for free acts that are never in fact elicited.
For, he argues, unless the concurrence is actually offered for such acts
in the way stipulated above, no act that is in fact elicited will be free--and
this because it will not satisfy the causal prerequisites for freedom.(50)
10. According to Suarez, another aspect of the effect that is traced back to God's concurrence is the fact that the form produced is this singular form rather than some other exactly similar form. So while the kind or species of the effect is traced back to the secondary cause, its singularity is traced back to God.
12. See DM 22.4.6. Suarez calls this readiness on God's part "the concurrence in first act," as opposed to "the concurrence in second act," which is the actual concurrence and identical with the cooperative action between God and the secondary cause. This distinction will become important below in the discussion of free action.
15. I will not rehearse Suarez's arguments for God's general concurrence, but I have examined them at some length in "God's General Concurrence with Secondary Causes: Why Conservation is Not Enough," Philosophical Perspectives 5 (1991): 553-585, and in Part 7 of "Suarez on Metaphysical Inquiry, Efficient Causality, and Divine Action," in Francisco Suarez, On Creation, Conservation, and Concurrence: Metaphysical Disputations 20-22, translation, notes, and introduction by Alfred J. Freddoso (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine's Press, 1999.)
17. Suarez is willing to accept the axioms. However, he rejects the standard interpretations of them, in part because they are obscure and in part because, as he sees it, they undermine the relative autonomy of secondary agents--an issue that becomes especially important in treating God's concurrence with the free acts of rational creatures. For Suarez's own interpretations of the axioms, see DM 22.2.47-51.
33. See DM 19.4.2-7. There Suarez attributes to his opponents the claim that a free faculty is one that remains 'indifferent', given that all the things required on its own part--or just on the part of the rational intellect and will--have been posited, but not all the things required on God's part.
34. For an overview of the debate between the Jesuits and Dominicans, see the introduction to Luis de Molina, On Divine Foreknowledge (Part IV of the "Concordia"), translated, with an introduction and notes, by Alfred J. Freddoso (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1988). Also, the interested reader should look at DM 19.2 and DM 19.4-9 for Suarez's extensive discussion of free agency.
36. Unlike some scholastic authors, Suarez denies that natural or non-rational agents can act indeterministically, and so he does not distinguish natural agents from agents that act by a necessity of nature. However, the focus of this part of section 4 is on actions that occur by a necessity of nature. If some natural agents are able to act indeterministically, Suarez would have to deal with them in a way analogous to the way in which he deals with free agents.
41. I have analyzed the notion of a deterministic natural tendency at some length in "The Necessity of Nature," Midwest Studies in Philosophy 11 (1986): 215-242. Notice that God concurs freely in actions that occur by a necessity of nature. Suarez expresses this by saying that the actions are free for God but necessary for the relevant secondary agents. So the whole framework of natural modality presupposes God's free actions of creating, conserving, and concurring with secondary agents.
43. DM 22.4.10. It is a bit unclear here just how God's efficacious will would "carry [the secondary agent] into action" if it involved no antecedent action on the secondary agent itself. What Suarez probably has in mind is that in such a case the rational agent would in effect become a natural agent with respect to the act in question.
50. Sections 2-4 of this paper contain material
from Part 7 of "Suarez on Metaphysical Inquiry, Efficient Causality, and
Divine Action." I thank Sarah Beyers and Robert Sleigh for their helpful
comments and questions at the conference on which this volume is based.