Durandus de Saint-Pourçain

Does God act immediately in every action of a creature?

       1. Concerning the third principal point two questions are posed. The first is whether God acts immediately in every action of a creature. The second is whether it is appropriate for God to act for the sake of an end. As for the first question, it is argued on behalf of the affirmative answer that God does indeed act in every action of a creature, since God is related to creatures in the manner of an agent cause in the same way that unity is related to the constitution of numbers in the manner of a material cause. But unity is related immediately to the numbers that it constitutes by its addition to other numbers--every number except two, which it constitutes by itself or by being repeated in itself. For when it is added to two it constitutes three, and when added to three it constitutes four, and so on for all the others. Therefore, God likewise immediately produces with other agents every effect except for the first effect, which He produces by Himself alone.

       2. Likewise, acting is related to acting in the same way that being is related to being; but a creature would not exist at all if God were not immediately present to it; therefore, a creature would do nothing if God were not immediately acting with it.

       3. The argument for the contrary position is that if God acted immediately, then every action on the part of the creature would be superfluous; but this is absurd; therefore, etc.

       4. Response. This question presupposes one thing and asks another. It presupposes that acting belongs to both God and creatures. Otherwise, the question would be inappropriate. And, indeed, there is no doubt as far as God is concerned, since it was demonstrated by the Philosopher that the whole universe comes to be from one principle, which we call God. On the other hand, as far as creatures are concerned, even though a few thinkers at one time maintained that creatures do nothing at all (e.g., that fire does not produce heat, but that instead God creates the heat, and so on for all other creatures), nonetheless, this view is now rejected by everyone as implausible, because it denies of things their proper operations and also denies the sensory judgment by which we experience that created things act on one another.

       5. Presupposing, therefore, that both God and creatures act, it is asked whether God acts immediately in every action of a creature; and some say that the answer is yes. And these thinkers are divided into two groups. For some claim that such effects are brought about by God insofar as they have being, whereas they are brought about by the creature insofar as they have determinate being. They support this claim with the argument that it is not the case that the total being of anything has any creature as its principle, since matter contributes to the being of a thing--matter, which is created by God alone. But as far as the differentiation of beings is concerned, nothing is contributed by matter, but only by form, which the creature as well induces in the presupposed matter. From this it follows that God, by creating the matter, acts immediately to bring about the being of the thing, while the creature, by contributing form, brings about the distinct sort of being. But being is more intimate to an entity than are those things through which the being is made determinate; this is why being remains when those other things have been removed, as is asserted in the first proposition in the Liber de Causis. Therefore, in all things God is operating more intimately and more immediately than is any creature.

       6. However, this response does not seem to be appropos. What's more, it assumes something false.

       It is obvious that it is not appropos, since it is one thing to say that God immediately produces something which is in the creature, viz., the matter that is one of the two parts of a composite substance--this is certainly true, but not what the question is about. It is quite another thing to say that God immediately produces each thing that a creature produces. For given that the creature's action attains to the form as the terminus of its action and not to the matter (as they themselves claim), we ask whether a natural thing's very form, which the creature's action immediately attains to, is also such that God's action necessarily attains to it immediately. However, they go on at great length about the first point, but not about this second point, as is clear from the argument they adduce; and thus their response is not appropos.

       What's more, something false is being assumed; for they claim that being is more intimate to an entity than are those things which make the being determinate. If this is understood to mean that being in potency is more intimate to a thing than is the actual being through which it is made determinate, then the claim is false. For just as each thing is more truly what it is through its form than through its matter (as is said in Physics 2), so too actual being is more truly and intimately the being of a thing than is potential being. On the other hand, if the claim is interpreted to mean that actual being, understood as something common, is more intimate to an entity than are those things through which it is determined to this or that being, e.g., living being or intellective being, then the question is being altered, as is evident in itself. In addition, this last claim does not seem true, since things which are wholly the same are such that no one of them is more intimate to a thing than are the others. But in one and the same thing--say, in a plant--being and determinate being are really identical, for in living things to be is to live. Therefore, the one is no more intimate to a thing than is the other, speaking of the real order--even though, conceptually speaking, being in common is more intimate to a thing than are the perfections which make it determinate, and even though, according to our mode of understanding, being in common comes before everything else and is the last thing to be removed. For it is separated conceptually from the other things because it is more common, as is asserted in the proposition alluded to above. But from this it cannot be inferred that God operates more immediately in all things than do creatures--indeed, it cannot even be inferred that He operates in them immediately, since universals do not come to be except by the making of singulars. And thus things are not from anything insofar as they have being except because they are from that same thing insofar as they have determinate being. But the view in question posits the opposite of this conclusion.

       7. Others hold to the same conclusion, but in a different way as far as some points are concerned. For they maintain that there are two sorts of effects. Some are from God alone without the cooperation of any creature, e.g., an angel or the heavens, and such effects are from God immediately and totally, i.e., in every way; but the question does not have to do with these effects. The others are the effects of secondary causes and not of God alone, and it is these effects which the question is concerned with. They claim with respect to these effects that they are from God as wholes and immediately, but not totally, i.e., not in every way. They assert this last point because, as they put it, God acts uniformly in all things as far as He Himself is concerned, so that all the diversity in the effects is from the diversity of the things receiving the divine influence, in virtue of the diversity of their natures. And so the effects are distinct from one another to the extent that they are from the secondary causes and not because of God. Thus, the things have being insofar as they are from God, since in this they are not distinct from one another; but insofar as they have distinct being they are from the secondary causes, through which they are differentiated. For example, in a living thing being and living are altogether the same, and thus as a whole the living thing is immediately from God and as a whole it is immediately from the secondary agent--but not in the same way. For with respect to being itself, there is no distinction among things, but through the difference living one thing is differentiated from another. For this reason God makes the thing to be and to live, but only under the concept of being itself, in which nothing is distinct from anything else. But the creature brings about that whole thing under the concept living, a concept with respect to which there is a differentiation among things.

       8. Now a remark of Aristotle's in Physics 2, chapter on causes, seems to support this opinion, where he says that a particular effect is traced back to a particular cause, and a universal effect to a universal cause. But being is the most universal effect; therefore, it is traced back to a universal cause, which is God. Living, on the other hand, since it is a particular effect, should be traced back to a particular secondary cause, so that the concepts of the effects correspond to the concepts of the causes.

       9. But this view is defective in itself as well as in its arguments. For what it claims is false, viz., that God acts uniformly in all things and that there is no diversity in things except from the secondary causes. For on this view it would be impossible that many distinct things should be made by God without secondary causes, and so God would not be able to create diverse things--which is false. And it contradicts their first assertion, viz., that effects which are from God alone are from Him as wholes and totally, i.e., in every way, insofar as they have being as well as insofar as they have distinct being.

       10. Again, always to act uniformly and in no way non-uniformly is the mark of a natural agent and not of a voluntary one; therefore, to say that God for His part always acts uniformly and in no way non-uniformly would be the same as saying that God acts from a necessity of nature and not by free choice--which is false. Also, the argument which they use to prove their claim is not sound. For what they assume, viz., that a particular effect is traced back to a particular cause and a universal effect is traced back to a universal cause, should be understood in exactly the same way of (i) what is particular and universal by predication and of (ii) what is particular and universal among causes and effects, as is clear from the examples which the Philosopher uses in that same place. For instance, a certain man making a statue is a cause of a statue, while this man is a cause of this statue, so that, just as a statue and this statue are not really but only conceptually different, so too they are traced back to causes which are not really diverse but only conceptually diverse, as are a sculptor and this sculptor. And similarly in the case under discussion, since in the same entity being and living differ only conceptually, they should be traced back to causes which differ conceptually, so that there is in reality only one cause which gives being and life immediately, but under diverse concepts, viz., it gives being insofar as it is an actual being and the other thing exists only potentially, and it gives life insofar as it is actually living and the other thing has life potentially. For it is always the case that what is such-and-such potentially comes to be from what is such-and-such actually. And so it is not necessary that, because their concepts are different, being and living in the same thing should be traced back immediately to causes which are really diverse, viz., living to a secondary cause and being to the First Cause, which is God.

       11. Therefore, we must respond otherwise, viz., by claiming that the things which are done by God through the mediation of secondary causes are not done by Him immediately, just as the very concepts expressed by the terms seem to imply. This is apparent, first, because if God acted immediately in the production of the effect of a secondary cause (as when fire generates fire), then He would act either by the same action as that by which the creature acts, or by a different action. But not by the same action, for two reasons. For first of all, a creature can have that action without God's special influence (assuming the conservation of its nature and active power), since an action that does not exceed the power of the agent's species is sufficiently elicited by just the power of the species; therefore, it would be superfluous to posit another immediate principle eliciting such an action.

       12. Second, it is impossible for numerically the same action to be from two or more agents in such a way that it is immediately and completely from each, unless numerically the same power is in them. But numerically the same power cannot be in God and in a creature; therefore, it is impossible that numerically the same action should come from both of them immediately and completely. Now a creature's action is immediately and completely from the creature, since it does not exceed the power of its species; therefore, that same action is not immediately from God. The minor is evident in itself, while the major is proved as follows: It is possible that numerically the same action should be from two agents and from each completely, but from one immediately and from the other mediately; for the same action that a proximate cause brings about immediately a universal and remote cause brings about completely (since it gives the proximate cause its power and conserves the power once given) and yet only mediately. In another way it is possible for numerically the same action to be immediately from two agents but from neither completely, as when two people are dragging a boat or when two candles are causing one light; for the movement of the boat is not completely from either one, and the illumination of the air is not from either candle by itself and completely. For in such cases two incomplete agents take the place of one complete agent. But there appears to be no possible way for the action to be immediately and completely from each without its being the case that numerically the same principle or numerically the same power is in both of them. This is why we say that among the divine persons the Father and the Son spirate the Holy Spirit by numerically the same spiration and each completely, since there is in them numerically one spirative power. Therefore, the major proposition is true, viz., that the same action cannot be from two or more agents in such a way that it is from each of them completely and immediately, unless numerically the same power is in them. But the minor premise is manifest in its own right. So the conclusion follows, viz., that in the production of the effect of a secondary cause God does not act immediately by the same action as the creature does.

       13. Likewise, neither does God act by a different action, since either it would be the case that one of the actions effects the thing that is produced before the other does, or else this would not happen, but instead both would effect it simultaneously. It is not the case that the one effects it before the other, say, the action of God before the action of the creature; for if God by His action produced the whole thing first, then the creature would bring about nothing by its subsequent action--and vice versa, if the creature's action were to precede God's. Nor can it be said that God produces a part and the creature a part. For then we will ask whether that very part which the creature produces immediately is also such that God produces it immediately. For it was conceded above than in each material creature there is something which is from God immediately, viz., the matter.

       14. Likewise, it is not the case that both actions effect the thing produced simultaneously, since if that were so, then one of the two actions would be superfluous; for the other would be sufficient to produce the whole. And, besides, actions seem to be really the same as their termini and thus take their denominations from them. Therefore, it is impossible that there should be diverse actions with respect to the acquisition of numerically the same form. So it is clear that those things which are produced by a creature's action are not produced immediately by God. Still, God could produce them immediately if He so willed, but in that case the creature would do nothing there.

       15. Second, the same point is made clear as follows: The order of agents corresponds to the order of ends. But there cannot be two immediate and complete ends of one thing. Therefore, neither can there be two agents--unless perhaps they take the place of one agent, as described above in the case of the two people dragging a boat, since in such a case there could likewise be two immediate ends.

       16. As for the first argument (§ 1 above), one should respond by denying the minor premise. For it is not the case that unity causes numbers by being added to other numbers; rather, it causes every number materially simply by being repeated. For six things are not five and one, but six all together or six unities, since a number has no matter other than unity. For a number is a multitude collected from unities. And, in the same way, God would produce all things immediately if He did not communicate to other things the power to produce effects.

       17. As for the second argument (§ 2 above), there is a difference between being and acting. For the being of a secondary cause (say, of an intelligence or a heavenly body) is an immediate effect of the First Cause, which is an immediate cause not only in bringing it into being but also in conserving it in being. And thus the secondary cause would not exist if the First Cause did not immediately coexist with it. But the secondary cause's acting is not an immediate effect of the First Cause. And, therefore, it is not necessary that God should immediately cooperate in such an action. All that is necessary is that He should act mediately by conserving the nature and power of the secondary cause.

Translated by
Alfred J. Freddoso
University of Notre Dame