Is God's general concurrence an action on the causes, so that
they act after having first been moved, or an immediate
action with the causes on their natural actions and effects?

1. In Summa Theologiae 1, q. 105, a. 5, St. Thomas teaches that God is said to operate with secondary causes in two ways. First, He gives them their powers to act and conserves these powers in existence, just as Durandus claimed. Second, He moves them to act in such a way that He in some sense directs their forms and powers to the operation, not unlike the way in which a craftsman directs his axe to that which is to be cut. He gives as the reason for this that it is always true that when there are many agents ordered among themselves, the second acts by the power of the first in such a way that it is moved by it to act.

2. However, there are two things about this teaching of St. Thomas' that raise difficulties for me.

The first is that I do not understand why in the world there should be such a motion or direction in the secondary causes by which God moves and directs them to act; I would think, to the contrary, that the fire, without any change in itself, induces heat in the water brought near to it. For instruments are of two kinds. There are some which do not have the full power to operate, such as the instruments of the artist. And these require the motion and direction of some other agent in order to effect anything. For even though an axe might have the sharpness and hardness by virtue of which it is fit for cutting, nonetheless, since that power is not sufficient to produce the effect, it is necessary that there be an additional motion, both in order that the power and force necessary for cutting be impressed upon the axe, and also in order that the axe be directed toward the different parts of the wood to produce an artifact in accord with the rules of the art. On the other hand, there are other instruments which either have the full power to act, e.g., semen from a father, or are themselves a complete power, e.g., the heat of a fire and other natural powers. And if instruments of this sort are aptly positioned, they require no additional motion or direction from the principal causes. For when the semen acts, it is not moved by the father, whose instrument it is, since of course it could happen that the father no longer exists. Likewise, when the heat of the fire makes the water hot, it is not moved and directed to make it hot by the fire in which it exists and whose instrument it is, but instead it produces the heat by itself without any other motion. Thus, I confess in all candor that it is extremely difficult for me to understand this motion and direction which St. Thomas requires in secondary causes.

3. In Contra Gentes 3, chap. 70, Ferrariensis claims that this sort of direction is a kind of force in the secondary causes which is, as it were, an intentional existence of the divine power, in the way in which the species of colors in the medium are called an intentional existence of the colors. This force, as he sees it, is something added to the powers of the secondary causes and exists in them as long as they are bringing about their operations--and when the operations cease, he takes it that this added force immediately ceases. But this is plainly a fabrication and has absolutely no support, and it multiplies entities to no purpose.

4. The second thing which engenders difficulty for me is that according to this doctrine of St. Thomas' God does not concur immediately, by an immediacy of the suppositum, in the actions and effects of secondary causes, but only mediately, viz., by means of the secondary causes. For both the powers of secondary causes which God confers and conserves and also their motion and direction are in the secondary causes themselves. Thus, if God concurs in just these ways, then He certainly does not act immediately, by an immediacy of the suppositum, on the acts and effects of the secondary causes. But although Ferrariensis concedes this in the place already cited, still, the contrary seems to be effectively proven by the things which were said above, in this and the preceding disputation, against Durandus' position--as I will now make clear.

5. Accordingly, it must be said that God immediately, by an immediacy of the suppositum, concurs with secondary causes in their operations and effects, in such a way, namely, that just as a secondary cause immediately elicits its own operation and through it produces its terminus or effect, so too God by a sort of general concurrence immediately acts with it on that same operation and through the operation or action produces its terminus or effect. It follows that God's general concurrence is not an action of God's on the secondary cause, as though the secondary cause acted and produced its effect after having first been moved; rather, it is an action immediately with the cause on its action and effect.

Now whatever might be said of the passage cited a little while ago, perhaps not even St. Thomas disagrees with us. For Cajetan, who preserves St. Thomas' way of talking, interprets q. 14, a. 13 and St. Thomas' position in such a way that it entirely agrees with us, as we will see in Disputation 34. Indeed, even Scotus, who seems much more obviously to be opposed to us, entirely agrees with us in Sentences 4, as will be clear from the passages we will cite from him in Disputation 34.

In a short while we will explain what sort of action this is and why neither it nor the action of the secondary cause is superfluous. Right now we will prove what has just been claimed.

6. It can be proven, first, as follows: As we have said, the fire, entirely unmoved in itself, heats the water brought near it; nor is it possible to understand what de novo motion there might be through which it would be moved and directed by God, while it was heating the water; nor is such a motion necessary. But since through every motion or action some terminus is produced which is at the very least really distinct from that action, and since no terminus of the alleged motion or direction can be imagined other than a quality, it would doubtless have to be conceded that as often as the fire produces heat, a certain quality is produced by God in the fire along with that motion--which seems implausible. Also, if the fire needed that antecedent motion and direction for every action, then there would be as many motions by which it was moved and directed by God simultaneously to the numerically distinct heatings emanating from it as there were subjects brought near to it which it was simultaneously heating--which seems implausible. The same argument can be made in the case of any other similar secondary cause.

7. Second, as was shown clearly enough in the first argument by which we impugned Durandus' position in the preceding disputation, God's general concurrence is necessary for every action and effect of a secondary cause because every created thing depends for its conservation on God's immediate influence, and because what is required for its conservation is all the more necessary for its first production. Accordingly, the need for God's general concurrence with a secondary cause in each of its actions and effects has its source in the need which the action and effect perpetually have for God's influence on them for as long a time as they exist in reality, even after the influence of the secondary cause has ceased. Therefore, God's general concurrence with secondary causes is not an immediate action on the causes themselves and a mediate influence through the causes on their actions and effects, but is rather an action which is immediate, by an immediacy of the suppositum, on the actions and effects themselves.

8. Third, since it cannot be denied that each effect of a secondary cause needs God's immediate influence on it in order to be conserved, even after the influence of the secondary cause has ceased, and since it needs this influence all the more in order to be produced de novo, certainly either (i) it would have to be granted that God's general concurrence with secondary causes vis-a-vis their actions and effects is not an influence on the causes but is rather an influence with the causes immediately on the actions and effects (which is what we mean to show), or else (ii) it would have to be affirmed that in the production of each effect God acts by two sorts of general concurrence, one immediately on the cause and mediately through the cause on the effect, and the other immediately on the effect. But no one would say this.

9. Fourth, suppose that God's general concurrence with secondary causes were an influence on the very causes themselves, an influence by which God moved them, directed them and rendered them more capable of acting. Then, since such an influence in a secondary cause, along with whatever would be produced in it by the action, would be something created and would supplement the proper power of the cause, e.g., the power of the fire to produce heat in the water, certainly the action itself would be no less a secondary cause than that very power of heating had by the fire. Thus, it would need another concurrence on God's part no less than the power of the fire does, since the need for God's general concurrence in order to act is something common to all secondary causes, even supernatural ones, with no exceptions. Hence, either an infinite regress among concurrences of this type would have to be countenanced, in which case no effect of this sort could be produced, or else it would have to be acknowledged that God's general concurrence is not an influence on the cause, but instead acts immediately with the cause on the action and effect.

10. Lastly, the Scriptural passages by which we showed against Durandus in the preceding disputation that a general concurrence on God's part with secondary causes has to be conceded are clearly consonant with an immediate influence by God on their actions and effects.

11. Now neither of these influences, viz., God's general concurrence or the secondary cause's particular influence, is superfluous.

For by His general concurrence God acts as a universal cause with a kind of influence which is indifferent with respect to various actions and effects, and this influence is channelled to the various species of actions and effects by the particular influence of the secondary causes, influence which varies according to the differences among the powers had by each for acting--or, if the cause is a free one, it has the power to operate in such a way that this action rather than that one is produced, e.g., willing something rather than willing its opposite, or walking rather than sitting; or this effect is produced rather than that one, say, this artifact rather than another; or it even has the power to suspend its operation altogether, so that there is no action at all. Moreover, God's general concurrence is channelled by the particular concurrence of the secondary causes in a way not unlike that in which the influence of the sun, which is also universal, is channelled by the action of a human being in order to generate a human being and by the action of a horse in order to produce a horse; for the sun and the man generate a human being, as is said in Physics II, and in the same way the sun and a horse generate a horse.

12. Similarly, moreover, just as for the generation of a horse the influence of the sun is not sufficient without the influence of the horse, nor the influence of the horse without the influence of the sun, so too the influence of God through His universal concurrence alone is not sufficient for any effect without the influence of the particular secondary cause by which it is channelled; nor, vice versa, is the influence of the particular secondary cause sufficient without God's influence through the universal concurrence by which the secondary cause is assisted and which God according to an ordinary statute has decided never to withhold. Rather, these two influences mutually depend on one another for their existence in reality, since neither is an action or a production of any effect without the other. Indeed, there are not two actions but numerically one action, which, insofar as it is from God acting in just this way, is called God's general concurrence, and which, insofar as it is from the secondary cause, say, from the fire which is producing heat, is called the fire's concurrence or influence.

Nor does the action have the character of belonging to this species (say, heating rather than cooling) because it is from God via His universal concurrence or because it is a universal concurrence on God's part; rather, it is an action of this species because it is from the fire, which cooperates with God through its particular power and determines it to the species heating and because on the fire's part it is a particular influence or concurrence. For, given that God for His part acted in exactly the same way, if water were to concur with God in the way that fire is now concurring with Him, then a cooling and not a heating would be produced. And corresponding to the differences among the various other particular agents that might concur, actions differing from one another in species will result, with the particular agent always channelling God's universal concurrence by means of its particular power and influence to an action and effect proper to and peculiar to itself.

This is analogous to the generation by which the sun and a horse generate a horse. For, in fact, one and numerically the same generation of a horse, insofar as it is from the sun, is called an influence of the sun and an action by which the sun as a universal cause generates the horse; whereas insofar as it is from the horse through the power of the semen coming from it, it is called an influence and action by which the horse as a particular cause generates the horse which is its son. But the action does not have the character of being the generation of a horse because it it is from the sun or because it is an action of the sun's. For if the sun, acting in exactly the same way for its own part, had a lion instead of a horse concurring with it, then the specifically distinct generation of a lion would occur. Rather, it is because the action is from a horse and because it is the action of a horse that it has the character of being the generation of a horse. For whenever the universal cause concurs not as a particular cause but as a universal cause, it is always the particular cause that channells the influence of the universal cause to a given species of action or effect. For when God produces an effect by Himself, or when through His particular concurrence He makes that effect to be of a different species, in the way that He is wont to render supernatural those works of ours which are conducive to eternal life, then He is acting not as a universal cause, but as a particular cause of those effects. And so since God's general concurrence and the particular concurrence of the secondary cause mutually depend upon one another for their existence in reality, it follows that just as when God ceases to act via His universal concurrence (e.g., when He ceased to act with the Babylonian fire so that it would not consume the three young men, and when He ceased to act with the eyes of those from whom He was hiding and escaped from the Temple), the influence and action of the secondary cause immediately ceases, so too when the secondary cause ceases to act through its particular concurrence, the divine influence also ceases and no action follows.

13. However, there is a difference between God's general concurrence and the sun's general concurrence--not only because the former, to the extent that it comes from a maximally universal cause, is thereby much more universal and extends to many more effects than does the concurrence of the sun, but also because from the sun there first comes light or other similar imperceptible qualities, which either through themselves or through the heat produced by the occurrence of the light in the generation of, say, a human being or a horse, assist the power of the semen and along with that power appropriately dispose the matter for the sort of form which is to be introduced; and, lastly, both the generation, i.e., the introduction of the substantial form, and the previous alteration together are effected by the power of the sun and of the semen, as has been explained. By contrast, God's general concurrence with secondary causes emanates immediately onto each of their operations and is indifferent of itself, so that various actions and various effects result because of the differences among the cooperating secondary causes.

14. In order to understand better (i) what sort of thing God's general concurrence is in itself and (ii) how it emanates from the highest and most perfect God, we should keep in mind that God is a free cause and that the free and eternal determination of the divine will, both with respect to the time and place of His action and with respect to the quantity and manner of His action, insofar as that action is accommodated to the various things to be produced and insofar as it either sufficies by itself for the things to be produced (if it is great) or is only accommodated to the secondary causes to be assisted (if it is not so great) and is thus such that if those things act at the same time, then it emanates, whereas if they cease to act or never begin to act, then it does not emanate, either--this sort of determination of the divine will or the divine volition itself, I repeat, freely determined in this way, is a cause and principle of things, a cause and principle from which the divine influence or action emanates immediately, as will be shown below in Part I, q. 25. For without any change or shadow of alteration in God, when the time arrives at which He has decided from eternity by the free determination of His will to create the things and to effect or to assist this or that thing in this or that place in one or another way, then God's external action and influence follows from that very act of the divine will so determined, without any other command and without the application of any other executive power which exists in God--the action follows from that act of the divine will as from an immediate efficient cause, in this rather than another place, in order to create this or that rather than some other thing, and in order to effect or assist things in one or another way. For by that eternal decree and determination He has spoken and they were made, He has commanded and they were created; and in this way He willed all things whatsoever, and He made them in the way He willed in heaven and on earth, in the sea and in every abyss. For the measure of the divine power is the free will of God, which not only is an immediate principle of divine action, but also prescribes the time and place at which it acts and the quantity and manner of that action; and as the will prescribes and determines, so it acts.

Now God, who not only has infinite power but is absolutely omnipotent, does not act infinitely and does not do all that He is capable of, as if He acted by a necessity of nature, since of course this would imply a contradiction; rather, by the free and eternal determination of His will He prescribed in accord with His own choice the influence to be communicated at predetermined times--manifold and varied, yet always finite, now more, now less, in the measure demanded by the nature of each thing to be produced. For an angel requires one action in order to exist, while the heavens, the sun and the different stars require still another; human beings and various living things require one action, other things require another action. In exactly the same way, since God perceived that the secondary causes on which He had decided to confer various powers for acting would not be able to effect anything unless He acted along with them on their operations and effects, He decided by His eternal will to accommodate and, as it were, to time His influence and in this way to confer assistance and aid on them, not in order that He might produce the actions and effects by Himself in their presence, but rather in order that He might allow them their own place and influence in such a way that their operations and effects might be their own--which enhances the dignity of created things. On the other hand, by a sort of influence common to all things, which was able to be divided up and adapted according to the different sorts of concurrence on the part of the secondary causes with respect to their various operations and effects (for which reason it is called God's general concurrence), He would make up for their weakness vis-a-vis both the production and the conservation of their effects. And for this reason He decided by His eternal will to be present to all secondary causes through this sort of general concurrence in such a way that whenever secondary causes cooperate (either by a necessity of nature or by their own will and freedom), then influence of the sort in question will perpetually follow from the determination of His free will and by His ordinary and established law, just as if He were a cause acting by a necessity of nature--but still with a few events excepted, events in which He who foreknows all future things has by the eternal determination of His will decided to suspend the influence in question and in the service of some higher end to miraculously withhold that influence from the secondary causes.

15. From what has been said it should be easy to see that if we use the term "complete cause" in a sense that includes every cause necessary for an action, be it universal or particular, then God through His universal concurrence constitutes with the secondary causes one complete cause comprising many causes which are non-complete with respect to a given effect, so that neither God through just His universal concurrence without the secondary causes nor the secondary causes without God's universal concurrence are sufficient to produce the effect. Yet when we say that God through His universal concurrence and the secondary causes are not complete but partial causes of the effects, this should be understood to imply the dividedness of the cause, and not the dividedness of the effect. Indeed, the total effect is both from God and from the secondary causes; but it is neither from God nor from the secondary causes as from a total cause, but instead is from each as from a part of a cause, a part which simultaneously requires the concurrence and influence of the other part--not unlike the way in which, when two men are dragging a boat, the total motion comes from each of the men doing the dragging, but not from each as from a total cause of the motion, since each of them simultaneously effects, in conjunction with the other, each and every part of that same motion. But if we are speaking of a total or complete cause, not absolutely but within a certain category of cause, then through His universal concurrence God is the complete cause in the category of maximally universal causes, since no other cause concurs with Him within that category of cause. In the same way, the various secondary causes can be complete causes of the same effect, each in its own category, just like the sun and a horse in relation to the generation of a horse, the sun as a universal cause, the horse as a particular cause.

16. From what has been said it can be seen, further, that when causes are subordinated to one another in such a way that some are more universal, some less universal and others particular, it is not necessary that the higher in that ordering always move the lower--even if they are essentially subordinated among themselves and mutually depend upon one another in producing a given effect; instead, it is sufficient that they act immediately on the effect.

Translated by
Alfred J. Freddoso
University of Notre Dame