Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

SECTION 4. -- The manner in which God knows the free acts of His rational creatures.

Thesis XXVIII. -- 1. Whereas God infallibly knows what any given rational creature would do if left to exercise its freedom under given circumstances and in regard of a given object, this infallible knowledge must not be traced to any Divine decree predetermining the creature to act in that way.

2. Nor must it be traced to the adequate comprehension which God has of the nature of the creature, and of all the influences which under the circumstances would bear upon its free will previously to its actual choice.

3. The true reason why God has a distinct intuition of conditionally future free actions is because His infinite intellect must represent those truths which pre-exist in their causes contingently only, no less than other truths which follow from their causes by natural necessity.

4. Hence the infallibility of the Divine foreknowledge of free acts, as not merely conditionally future, but really future, is to be explained thus: Knowing what use the creature would make of its freedom under certaIn circumstances, God has decreed to allow those circumstances to come about. Thus He knows the free act as absolutely future, because knowing it as conditionally future, He further knows that He has decreed to realize the condition.

167. In the preceding section we have proved that God knows not only all that is possible, but also whatever either is actually existing, or will be actually existing, or would be actually existing under certain circumstances. We have seen that even the future free acts of rational creatures, whether they be absolutely or only conditionally future, are objects of the Divine Intellect.

Now the question arises: In what relation do the objects known by God as distinct from Himself stand to the knowledge He has of His essence and His free-will? The answer to this question is easy enough, so long as we confine our consideration to things and events purely possible, and to those actual things and events which depend upon His will alone, so that the free-will of rational creatures does not interfere with them. If God did not know whatever is possible, He could not have a comprehensive knowledge of His essence; and again, if He were unable to discern the natural effects of the causality of creatures who owe their existence to His decrees alone, He would have an imperfect knowledge of what He decreed. So far there is no special difficulty about the explanation of the Divine knowledge. The difficulty begins with the free volitions of rational creatures. Much labour has been spent upon this question by Catholic philosophers, especially since the latter half of the sixteenth century. In the three first parts of the thesis we are concerned about the explanation of the knowledge which God has of free actions as conditionally future, and in the fourth about the explanation of His knowledge, inasmuch as it represents free actions as really or absolutely future.

168. We say then in the first place that the knowledge God has of the conditionally future existence of free actions cannot be explained by saying that He knows them by reason of His decree to predetermine creatures under certain circumstances to the performance of them. By this assertion, we express our disagreement from an opinion which has every claim to our respect on account of the renown of its author and of the many illustrious and learned theologians who have adopted it. Bannez, who was the first who taught explicitly the opinion we reject, was the founder of a distinguished school of theology. The predetermination which they allege is called physical premotion. According to the explanation given of this premotion by those who follow Bannez, it influences the free-will previously to the self-determination of the latter, and in such a way that by the very nature of its influence the free-will is infallibly drawn to the predetermined choice, which, nevertheless, is genuinely free. This explanation supposes God's knowledge of the conditionally future free act to be contained in the comprehensive knowledge which He has of His decree of physical premotion.

The defence of free-will in this hypothesis becomes extremely difficult. "Predetermination," writes Cardinal Pecci, "includes a determination which precedes human deliberation. But a determination made by the Divine will must be fulfilled. Consequently necessity precedes human deliberation. Such deliberation can no longer be free."{8} The solutions that are offered of this difficulty seem to us by no means clear.{9} And we shall argue later (in Bk. III.), that the reasonings upon which the assertion of a physical predetermination of free acts is based are not more convincing.

169. The earliest opponent of Bannez was Molina. The explanation of the way in which free acts are knowable to God, is found by Molina in what he calls the supercomprehension which the Divine intellect has of the free creature.{10} By this supercomprehension he understands the adequate knowledge of the nature and faculties of the free created being, and of all the attracting and repelling impulses to which it will be subjected previously to its choice. That there is a knowledge of all this cannot be denied; but it does not appear how we can thereby explain the knowledge God has of the free choice itself. As it seems repugnant to the nature of free acts that they should be foreseen in the comprehension of predetermining decrees, so neither does it harmonize with their nature that God should know them from eternity by supercomprehending the created beings from whom the free acts proceed. Nothing that is seen by God as preceding the free act, can imply an infallible knowledge of the free act itself. Neither the nature of the creature nor its faculties, nor any attractive or repellent motives brought to bear upon its free-will, can prevent this will from choosing or refusing a given object. Consequently an infallible cognition of its choice is in no way implied in the cognition of anything preceding it. But the knowledge God has of the conditionally future choice must be infallible. Therefore it cannot be based upon a supercomprehension of the creature in the sense of Molina. Molina had the merit of pointing out that a Divine knowledge of free acts must be admitted independently of predetermining decrees. But the positive explanation he gives of this knowledge only takes us from Scylla into Charybdis. On these grounds those who are called Molinists, as following Molina in the rejection of predetermining decrees, commonly do not follow him in admitting what he substitutes in their stead. They might, in fact, more properly be called Suarezians, for Suarez is the great representative of the teaching they defend, and which we shall advocate in the third and fourth part of our thesis.

170. We maintain in the third place that God sees the conditionally future free actions of creatures, because they are objective truths and His infinite intellect sees all objective truth. If a truth is predetermined in its cause, God sees it by comprehending that cause. But if it has no predetermining cause, as a free act really has not, God sees it nevertheless. But He sees it as something which is, or will be, or would be, caused in fact, though it is in no necessary connection, but only in a contingent connection with its causes. Saying this we do not commit ourselves to the statement that God foresees a conditionally future free action as an event out of all connection with His decrees. On the contrary, we hold most firmly with Suarez that a conditionally future use of freedom supposes a Divine decree to grant the use of freedom, which decree by the scholastics of the three last centuries is commonly called "the decree of immediate Divine concurrence." But this decree is a decree not to predetermine the creature to the acceptance or rejection of a certain object, but simply to render it perfectly able as well to reject as to accept. Thus the free choice of the creature, inasmuch as it is the act of choosing between two alternatives, depends upon God; but inasmuch as this act of choosing is a self-determination of the creature to accept rather than to reject, it depends upon the creature. We shall say more on this subject in the Third Book.

171. Hence it is readily inferred that God foreknows those free actions that will in fact be future, in that He comprehends His actual decrees. These decrees are formed in the light of the knowledge which He has of the conditionally future. For instance, God knows that a man, whom we will call Peter, under such and such circumstances would give an alms to a poor man, if He granted him the actual use of his freedom of will as regards this object. In the light of this knowledge He decrees either not to grant Peter the requisite use of his freedom or to grant it. If the decree is not to grant it, He will see the omission of the free act of almsgiving as really future and its performance only as conditionally future. But if He decrees to grant it, He will see the omission as conditionally future and the performance as really future. In other words: The free act, which will be really future, God knows as really future, because He knows it as conditionally future, and He further knows that He has decreed to realize the circumstances under which it will be really future. This is just what we have stated in the fourth part of our thesis.

{8} Lehre des heiligen Thomas über den Einfluss Golles auf die Handlungen der vernünftigen Geschöpfe, &c. (Translated from the Italian by G. Triller, D.D.), Part II. § 16, pp. 39, 40.

{9} Cf. Zigliara, Summa Phil. ii. p. 391, at the bottom of the page.

{10} Molina in Part I. Divi Thomae, q. 14. a. 13. d. 15. p. 257.

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