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

CHAPTER V. The Divine Will.


174. IN every being on this earth we find a natural tendency to follow a certain way of action that suits its nature, and to avoid other ways out of harmony with or altogether repugnant to its nature. Thus every element of matter has a certain chemical affinity and atomicity, which it satisfies in all combinations as well as circumstances will allow. Every plant works upon the nourishment which it takes up from the soil in such a way as serves its specific evolution. The instinct of animals leads them with astonishing accuracy to the food they stand in need of, to arrangements for their future offspring, and to avoidance of danger.

In man, the head of the visible creation, there is not only a longing for things that suit the physical organism, as in brute animals, but an insatiable appetite for truth.

That which in one way or another is in harmony with the nature of a thing is called its good. The tendency of a thing to obtain what suits its nature is in scholastic language called its natural appetite (appetitus naturalis), although this appetite is not always a desire or craving in the strict sense of the word, but often only a natural tendency in some sense analogical to a desire or craving. Where this natural appetite is directed by knowledge, its scholastic name is elicited appetite (appetitus elicitus), because it is roused to action (elicited) by the knowledge of good. Of elicited appetite there are two varieties which essentially differ from one another -- organic or sensitive appetite (appetitus organicus vel sensitivus), which is an inclination to good as apprehended by mere sense-perception, and spiritual or rational appetite (appetitus spiritualis vel rationalis), which tends towards good as presented by intellectual knowledge. This rational appetite is what is commonly called will.

175. It is evident that in God there can be no merely natural appetite or appetite without knowledge, nor any sensitive appetite or appetite following organic perception; for He is essentially Intellect, and therefore cannot be without knowledge; He is also essentially simple, and therefore without the composition of material parts involved in sense-perception. He is the most pure Spirit in which being and knowledge are really one. The question then arises, Shall we predicate "will" of Him? The answer to this depends upon whether "will" denotes a pure perfection or not. If it does, God must be infinite Will. But there can be no doubt that "will" in its abstract meaning signifies nothing but perfection. It is love for good consequent upon knowledge of it. We cannot conceive that intellectual being as other than imperfect which should know good and yet not approve it as good. Some love of good is inherent in every intellectual nature. Intellect is by its very nature directed towards truth. Truth, therefore, is the good of intellect, being in harmony with its essence. From this it follows that there is no act of intellect which does not carry with it an act of will. And as God is infinite Intellect, so also He must be infinite Will.{1}

The truth that God is endowed with will, not merely metaphorically, but in the strict sense of the word, may also be indirectly shown from the fact of creation. Creation is production out of nothing, and such production is inconceivable, unless it be conceived as the effect of infinitely powerful volition. Thus the Psalmist expresses it, comprising the whole history of the origin of the universe within the compass of these few words: Ipse dixit et facta sunt: ipse mandavit et creata sunt -- " He spoke, and they were made; He commanded, and they were created."{2}

It will now be our duty to explain the truths which by the light of natural reason can be ascertained concerning the Divine will.

Our investigation will fall into three branches; we shall have to consider the necessity and freedom of the Divine will, its holiness and other moral attributes, and, lastly, its quality as supreme life and beatitude.

SECTION 1. -- Necessity aud freedom of the Will of God.

Thesis XXIX. -- God loves Himself with absolute necessity, infinitely, and for the sake of His own goodness. His love towards creatures is an outcome (or outpouring) of the love which He bears to His own Being. He loves them with a love not absolutely necessary, but generous and free; and His decrees about them are at once free and irrevocable.

176. Self-respect is not self-conceit, and there is a well-ordered love of self, quite a distinct thing from selfishness. The self-conceited man, over-estimating his own importance, assumes a position of superiority or authority not due to him. The selfish man cares for nothing but his own satisfaction and enjoyment. But the man who is possessed by a noble self-respect will not stoop to anything incompatible either with his dignity as a man or with the post assigned to him by Providence. A well-ordered love of self leads a man to utilize all his faculties and all his surroundings for the perfection of that in himself which is noblest in human nature.

177. Now ascending from the image of God to its original, we see at once that in Him there can be no self-conceit nor selfishness. It is impossible that He should over-esteem His own being or His authority, for He is infinitely perfect and the only Lord of all. Neither can there be in Him an inordinate and exaggerated seeking after His own advantage. In His essence He finds the source and fulness of everything grand and excellent, loveable and enjoyable. He finds it there established on the immoveable rock of His eternity, not liable to decay from within nor open to aggression from without. Consequently, care for Himself in the proper sense of the word, care for His own aggrandisement or for the increase of His own happiness, is as inconceivable in God as the loss of His existence. And as all selfishness is the outcome of such care, nothing is more remote from the Creator of all things than selfishness. Yet well-ordered esteem and love of self belong to Him in an infinite degree. If He did not value His nature in proportion to its goodness, if He did not esteem and love Himself in proportion as He is worthy of esteem and love, He would be wanting in knowledge of or due affection for good. His nature is infinitely good, and therefore infinitely worthy of esteem and love. Hence God has necessarily an infinite esteem and love of Himself for His own goodness.

178. From this it follows that His love for creatures is an outcome (or outpouring) of His love for Himself. It is necessarily so, for no creature is loveable of itself. All its goodness is based upon the being that it has, and that being is a free creation of God. The creature, then, is indebted to the Creator for whatever it possesses worthy of esteem and love. Again, the grounds on which rests the creature's claim for love consist either in its natural perfection or (in the case of a rational creature) in its moral goodness. Its natural perfection is the handiwork of the Creator; and its moral goodness, though in a certain sense due to the exercise of the creature's own freedom, is worked out after the ideal set before the creature's mind by the natural or supernatural law of God, manifested in the voice of conscience or through the teaching of revelation. In any case, God sees no perfection in any creature which is not derived from Himself, the source of all good. Now a created rational being, however enlightened about this dependence of creatures upon their Creator, may wilfully withdraw its understanding from paying attention to the fact. Hence men who have learned much about God sometimes do not rise to His love, but make a creature the centre of their affections. No such inordination can possibly exist in God, whose intellect and will are infinitely perfect. Hence all the love He bears to creatures must be based upon His love towards Himself. This truth is compatible with another, of which we shall say more in the Third Book, that He loves His rational creatures in a certain sense for their own sake, inasmuch as He wills their happiness on condition that they co-operate with His benevolent intentions.

179. As the Divine mind cannot abstract from the natural relation in which each finite nature stands to its infinite prototype, and as the Divine will can nevei 1)e displeased with His own production, God necessarily loves everything He has created, and is pleased with its natural goodness. How far this love must lead Him to take care of the well-being of His creatures, we shall see later on. For the present we wish to show that the love of God for creatures, though necessary in a certain sense on the supposition of their existence, nevertheless is to be called a free and not a necessary love. God being infinite has no need of any creature, nor would He be less good if He had created none. He has given existence to finite beings because He freely willed so to do. He willed to give them a share in His goodness, though He knew that He might be infinitely happy by Himself alone. This has been proved in Book I. Thesis XVIII. § 97. Hence it follows that the love God bears to creatures does not suppose any attraction or loveableness belonging to them independently of the exercise of Divine freedom. On the contrary, if they possess anything to attract God to love them, it is due to His free decree of creation. But for this decree all creatures would have been eternal nothingness, unworthy of being loved. In the free volition by which God chose to produce beings different from Himself, there is included the free decree of all the natural and supernatural good that creatures ever enjoy. Consequently, all and each of them are indebted to their Creator for everything good they are and have. We may justly put to every creature St. Paul's question: "What hast thou that thou hast not received?"{3}

180. Having thus proved that the love God bears to His handiwork is an overflow of pure generosity, and not a constraining natural affection, we are still to show that His decrees regarding creatures are at once free and irrevocable. In saying that the decrees by which God rules the fate of His creatures are free, we by no means wish to imply that they are not referred to any standard whatsoever. Certainly they are. The standard to which they are necessarily referred is the infinite wisdom and righteousness of the Creator. It is impossible that He should decree anything about His handiwork that would appear unwise or unjust in the light of the eternal truth of His understanding. But of the many ways by which He may lead the creature without acting against wisdom or justice or any other of His Divine perfections, He chooses one way or another according to His good pleasure without any necessity from within or without. Such necessity would betoken either dependence upon the good of creatures or want of supreme power over them, defects inconceivable in the infinite and absolute Lord of all things.

181. The exercise of Divine freedom we are speaking of, is necessarily an eternal act. God could not delay any decree without a wise reason. But no such reason could exist for Him. A resolution cannot be reasonably put off to a later date, if he who is to approve or reject it, knows already beforehand which side he will take. God knows this of necessity. Consequently He cannot delay His resolve: such delay in Him would be setting Himself against His own wisdom. Nor can He retract the course once settled by His eternal decrees. They are irrevocable. A decree cannot be repealed without a motive, nor wisely repealed without a reasonable motive. But for God there can be no reasonable motive ever to recall what He has once decreed. A reasonable revocation of a decree is always based upon a better knowledge or a fuller consideration of the matter and circumstances. Neither the one nor the other is conceivable in God, whose essence is identical with infinitely perfect intuition of all truth. Hence in God there is properly speaking but one free decree abiding for ever. This one decree, however, is equivalent to an innumerable multitude of decrees, which according to our way of thinking are contained in it. It is formed in the light of infinitely perfect knowledge of all possible contingencies. Consequently in it God has also regard to the free volitions of His rational creatures. It abides in the Divine will, not only in this sense that it never is retracted; but it is an eternally-lasting, never-changing, actual determination of that will. In other words, what God has decreed from eternity, that He approves now and wills now actually, and that He will approve actually throughout the future.

182. Against this doctrine the following objection is often made.

If my fate has been settled once for all, why should I trouble myself about the performance of religious and moral duties, since no performance of mine can move God to arrange anything for me better than that which He has already decreed?

Those who raise this difficulty forget that the decrees of God are not formed without regard for human freedom. God does not settle the fate of a reasonable creature without paying attention to the way in which that creature will use the freedom of its will. As His decrees cannot violate justice, He certainly has not decreed that the faithful observance of the moral law which He has stamped upon your heart, should lead you to final misery. On the other hand, if you reason rightly, you must conclude from the common consent of mankind; from the desire of happiness craving for fulfilment in the breast of every man, and never perfectly satisfied in this life; and finally, from the necessity of a sufficient sanction of the moral law, that there is another life to follow beyond the grave. As your soul is spiritual and incorruptible, you have reason to believe that this future life will last for ever. A little reflection shows you, moreover, that it would be absurd for an infinitely just and holy God to have decreed that it should not make any difference throughout all eternity, whether a man had finished his time of probation here on earth in a state of rebellion against his Creator, or in humble submission to His will. Consequently, even if you were not favoured with the light of Christian revelation, under the guidance of reason alone you might know enough about the nature of the eternal decrees of God to become convinced that the only safe course a man can take is to comply as accurately as possible with the law of God, manifested by the voice of his conscience, and to bear in his heart and to express by his whole external behaviour those feelings of reverence, of trust and love, which it behoves a reasonable creature to entertain with regard to a Creator of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness. As God from eternity would not but decree to lead every rational creature who freely and perseveringly obeys the voice of conscience, to final happiness, so He decrees it now at this very moment, whilst you are anxious about your final fate; for His decrees are now, as they were from eternity. From this undeniable truth it follows evidently that it depends upon your free co-operation with the benevolent intentions of your Creator, whether eternal happiness or final misery will be your lot. If against this conclusion the objection suggests itself: How can I be free, if God foreknows my future actions, we beg the reader to ponder again what was said in answer to this objection, § 166. Although Philosophy, as such, does not rest on the teaching of revelation, it is as well here to remember that Christians have that other source of knowledge to confirm them in their philosophical belief that they possess a true liberty, upon the right exercise of which their future depends. According to the Christian doctrine, it is an eternal decree of God that every one shall receive his reward according to his works, that God will render "to them indeed who, according to patience in good works, seek glory and honour and incorruption, eternal life:" but also that there shall come "tribulation and anguish upon every man that worketh evil."{4} According to the same doctrine, it has been decreed by God that every prayer made with confidence for really "good gifts" shall be heard, that Heaven shall rejoice over the conversion of a sinner, that the ministers of Christ shall have power to forgive all sins, however grievous and numerous: that after death judgment shall follow, and the wicked shall be condemned to everlasting punishment and the just be rewarded with never-ceasing glory.{5}

Whether, then, we consider the eternal decrees of God from the standpoint of reason or from the standpoint of Christian faith, they in no way favour indolence and indifference. To him who does not allow himself to hold as true every vagary of thought that can suggest itself, but takes suggestions for what they really are, the very irrevocability of these decrees, far from offering an excuse for idleness or bad morals, will rather be the strongest stimulus to guard against sin and to practise diligently prayer and good works. Such a one knows that, according to the unchangeable will of God, it depends upon the use of his moral freedom during life, whether after death that misery is to befall him which is the unavoidable doom of those who end their days in obstinate wickedness, or whether he shall have a share in the happiness held out by unfailing promises to those who die in loving submission to the laws of their Creator.

183. Still another difficulty concerning the eternal decrees of God is to be discussed here. How can God, being immutable, have any free volition at all? If He cannot change, His will remains always in the same state in which it is by virtue of His essence. How then can He will anything but with absolute necessity?

To this difficulty we may answer in the first place that a puzzling how is never a solid reason for doubting an evident that. We have proved that God is both immutable in Himself and free in His decrees. Nay, a denial of Divine freedom would lead us logically to a denial of our own moral liberty, indeed to a denial of virtue and truth itself.

However, we further submit the following considerations.

Volition is an immanent action in the strictest sense of the word. What we express when we say, "I will this or that," is not a change either in ourselves or outside ourselves, but an actual state of our mind bearing a definite relation to a certain object, a relation the nature of which can only be understood by him who knows from self-consciousness what it is to will. Thus the most competent philosophers, from St. Thomas down to those of our own age,{6} are of opinion that the action of volition considered in its essence does not imply any change added to the actuality prerequired in the subject in order that volition may become possible. This holds good of all volitions of all rational beings whatsoever. It is true that in us men there is no volition without change going before and coming after. We cannot will anything without actual knowledge of the object willed. This actual knowledge is not included in our essence, but is acquired through a series of changes. Again, in consequence of our volition of any object, our mind is necessarily modified by being, as it were, bent upon that object -- to say nothing of the accompanying changes in the nervous system. However, these changes do not touch the essence of volition. They do not prove that volition precisely as volition adds anything to the internal state in which a reasonable being exists when it is perfectly able to decide whether it wills or refuses a certain object. If I am now perfectly able to accept or to reject the object A with my free-will, the act of self-determination proceeds in one direction or the other without any further physical change. If it did not, there would be no truth in the saying that I am now perfectly able to embrace either of the two alternatives. Nevertheless, my self-determination, as it proceeds, does carry a physical change with it; yet not because it is self-determination or free volition, but because it is free volition having a place in a being essentially changeable, and unable to persevere in its self-determination without undergoing some modification of its being.

Let us now apply these observations to the solution of our difficulty. God is infinite. By virtue of His essence He possesses whatever actuality is required for any volition compatible with His perfection. As we have explained, volition does not imply change essentially. Consequently, God can will any object without any real modification of His being. Does it follow from this that whatever He wills He wills with absolute necessity? By no means. It follows only that the internal act of His will, which is really identical with His essence, can without change either involve, or not involve, that relation to an object which we call choosing and willing. Whether God wills the object with absolute necessity or not, depends therefore only upon this, whether He understands it to be on every supposition loveable for its own sake. But apart from His decree to create, no finite being is loveable in itself. The conclusion is that without any internal change, God can will or not will any finite existence: consequently all finite beings are indebted for their existence to the free choice of His eternal unchangeable will. To express this shortly in scholastic terminology:

The will of God in its relation to creatures is absolutely necessary in its entity (i.e., in its internal actual state), but not in its term (i.e., it does not necessarily bear to creatures that relation which we call volition).

{1} Cf. St. Thomas, Contra Gentes, i. c. 72, § "Ex hoc enim quod Deus est intelligens, sequitur quod est volens," &o.

{2} Psalm cxlviii. 4.

{3} 1 Cor. iv. 7.

{4} Romans ii. 7, 9.

{6} Cf St. Thomas, disp. De Veritate, q. 8. a. 6.; Suarez, Metaph. disp. 48, sect. 2. n. 2. et sect. 4. n. 14. "Dico quarto;" Kleutgen, Phil. Schol. n. 21; Lahousse, Theol. Nat. n. 209, p. 173.

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