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

SECTION 2. -- Simultaneous Concurrence of God in the actions of creatures.

Thesis XXXV. -- God concurs simultaneously in the actions of finite beings.

209. Hitherto we have treated of the continual direct action of God whereby He sustains creatures in their existence. Now we are to consider His operation regarding their activity. This subject is known in the schools of Catholic Philosophy under the name of concursus divinus, or Divine concurrence. Instead of "concursus" the Angelic Doctor uses constantly other terms. He denotes the Divine co-operation with the actions of finite beings by the general term "operation" (operatio); and he specifies it by saying that God moves creatures to action (Deus movet res ad operandum), by which he means that this motion to action is exercised inasmuch as God directs, as it were, the active principles and forces of created natures, to their operation (quasi applicando formas et virtutes rerum ad operationem), and that, inasmuch as the created activity being thus influenced by Divine motion, all things act in virtue of the Divine power, so much so that He is the cause of all the actions of every agent (secundum hoc omnia agunt in virtute ipsius Dei; et ita ipse est causa omnium agentium).{4}

It is difficult to say which of the two modes of expression is better. Whether we use the modern term "concursus" or whether we follow the terminology of St. Thomas, and say that God's influence upon the activity of creatures is a sort of motion or application exercised upon their faculties, that He operates in their operation, and that creatures act in virtue of Divine power: all these technical terms may be easily misunderstood unless accurately explained. Misunderstanding of terms is here the more to be guarded against, because there is something in the dependence of finite activities upon the action of God, which has become a subject of controversy among Catholic philosophers, although they agree with one another up to a certain point. That all actions of creatures, simultaneously with their dependence upon created causes, have also a certain dependence upon the action of the Creator, nobody denies. The difference of opinion is about the nature of the dependence.

To the best of our ability we shall first put before the reader the doctrine held by ourselves on this subject, and afterwards the controversy about the necessity of what is called physical premotion or predetermination.

210. Let us begin by distinguishing various Divine operations or concurrences regarding the activity of creatures.

(a) Natural and supernatural concurrence.

By the concurrence which is merely natural God helps creatures to act and work in harmony with their natural faculties; whilst by supernatural concurrence He elevates them to a way of acting to which their nature with its faculties is inadequately proportioned, although it may be raised to the same by a special Divine operation. Thus God concurs naturally with material things, in that they act in agreement with the chemical, mechanical, and biological laws which rule the energies of their nature. He concurs also naturally with the spiritual faculties of man, intellect and will, as often as their operation is proportioned to the psychological laws inherent in the human soul. But He concurs supernaturally with the forces of His creatures, when He makes use of them as ministerial or instrumental causes for the extraordinary Divine operation known by the name of miracle, which we shall consider in chapter iii. We may remark also by the way -- though this is a truth which lies beyond the cognizance of reason and is only guaranteed by revelation -- that God exercises a supernatural concurrence in those actions which, according to Christian revelation, are performed under the influence of His actual grace, which consists in supernatural illumination of the intellect, and comfort, encouragement, and strength of the will. Thus a good preparation for and devout reception of the sacraments of the Church, an effectual prayer, in fine every action by which a reasonable creature positively prepares itself for final union with God (and a fortiori, every good work meriting reward in Heaven) requires a supernatural concurrence of the Divinity.

(b) Mediate and immediate concurrence.

By mediate concurrence God prepares the creature for a certain action: by immediate concurrence He causes it to act really either with necessity or with freedom according to its nature. In mediate concurrence several stages are discernible, which we may best illustrate with reference to a particular free action, say an alms bestowed by a charitable person on a man in need who has offended him. To this action God has concurred mediately (alpha) by creating that man, (beta) by preserving him, (gamma) by helping him to acquire the habit of kindness and generosity, (delta) by directing through supernatural or natural causes his attention to the reasons for which he should practise charity precisely just now. The last sort of mediate concurrence is called moral concurrence, and thus we arrive at a third distinction:

(c) Moral and physical concurrence.

Moral concurrence is only possible with regard to free acts. It consists in the suggestion of motives to good actions, and in making such actions appear desirable. Thus by moral concurrence God draws the will, but He does not force it. We may distinguish a natural moral concurrence, exercised through the medium of rational creatures, and a supernatural exercised immediately by God Himself.

By natural moral concurrence God causes those influences of created beings, for instance of parents, teachers, good friends, upon our intellect and will, which incline us naturally to choose what is right and to reject what is wrong. But incomparably more excellent is the supernatural moral concurrence, known to Christians under the name of Divine illuminations and inspirations, by which the Holy Ghost moves our souls to saving actions, in such a way that it depends upon the free-will of man whether he chooses to follow his Heavenly Guide or "to kick against the goad."

In contrast with this moral concurrence, God's immediate influence upon the creature in the moment of its action, and precisely upon its faculties considered as acting, is called physical concurrence.

To signify that all capabilities of creatures for action must be reduced to Divine creation and preservation, and that the exercise of these capabilities can never take place but with dependence upon Divine volition, scholastics say that God concurs with His creatures in action as the first cause, whilst the creatures are second causes.

211. To prove the existence of a supernatural concurrence of God belongs to apologetic and dogmatic Theology. We shall show its possibility and harmony with reason in chap. iii. when treating of miracles. As regards natural concurrence, it is enough to prove that every action of every creature depends immediately upon God. From this it will follow that all the influences by which one creature impels another to action must be considered as a mediate Divine concurrence; which concurrence will be moral, if the influence exerted proceeds immediately from a rational creature and consists in the suggestion of motives to a good action.

But what of suggestions to evil? Why cannot the harangue of a disloyal demagogue exciting people to rebellion against their lawful sovereign be held as a suggestion made to them under mediate moral concurrence on the part of God?

In order to give to questions like this a satisfactory answer, we have to weigh carefully the relation of God to moral evil. We shall do this in chapter ii., and from the explanations given there it will become evident that God neither intends sin, nor approves of sin, nor helps to sin, nor in sustaining the natural activity of creatures, does anything which He should omit in order to prevent sin.

These explanations presupposed, we may answer in short to the question proposed, no man is rightly held responsible for suggestions to evil which in some way arise out of his action as out of their mediate cause unless he either intends to bring about the suggestion by his way of acting, or shows his approval of the suggestion, or does not hinder it, although he not only could but also should do so. Now, no one of these conditions is realized in God when He concurs with rational creatures in their suggestions to evil. Therefore He cannot be said mediately to suggest it.

212. As appears from what we have said, our task of proving the existence of Divine concurrence philosophically, reduces itself to the demonstration of an immediate or physical influence of the Creator upon the action of His creature. When we speak of an immediate influence we do not mean to say that the action of the creature depends under all aspects immediately upon God. This assertion would be a virtual denial of created activity, and particularly of that activity known under the name of free volition.

In order that the reader may understand under what aspect we argue the action of a creature to depend mediately upon God, and under what aspect we say it depends immediately upon God and the acting creature together, we must recall some truths regarding action already touched upon in Book II., when we were occupied in showing the harmony of Divine freedom with Divine immutability, and again when we treated of the life of God.

What we do assert is that, although under one aspect the action of a creature is truly its own action depending on its own activity, under another aspect it is at the same time dependent upon God, and this not only mediately but immediately. In other words, the creature in action depends upon a causal exercise of the omnipotent Divine Will, not only for the existence and preservation of its nature and faculties, but also for the actual exercise of those faculties; so much so that it can use none of them unless the Creator in the very moment when the faculty is used, supports it with the efficacy of His Divine power. To this power the creature owes not only its faculties as applicable for action, but also as applied to act.

If the former of these two different ways of dependence existed without the latter, Divine concurrence would only be mediate. It then could be likened to what a watchmaker does for his watches. His concurrence with the continual motion of the watch is manifestly only mediate. Whether he wakes or sleeps, whether he thinks of the watch or not, the watch goes for as long as the laws of mechanics and dynamics will allow. But neither can the watch go, nor the watchmaker work in its construction, nor any creature do anything whatsoever, unless in the very moment in which the action takes place God wills that the faculty from which it flows be really exercised.

213. This it is what we mean by immediate Divine concurrence. But no sooner is the position stated than we feel obliged to guard it against misunderstanding. We said just now that God by the power of His will, is a true cause of every action at the very moment when it proceeds from the faculty of His creature. Above we said, and every Christian believes, that God cannot approve of sin. How are these two statements compatible? The answer involves a fuller explanation of our position.

In every action that proceeds from a morally free faculty two characteristics are to be distinguished. The first is the use of liberty or the act of choosing. This act considered precisely as such is not due to the exercise of created freedom, but it is that very exercise itself, and follows necessarily from the free nature of the creature, so long as God wills that that nature shall have its proper play and field of action. The free creature is not free to exercise its freedom or not to exercise it, it is only free to exercise it with regard to any particular object proposed as eligible, either accepting or not caring to accept that object. It is then clear that the free act of the creature, in that it is an exercise of freedom, can depend immediately both upon God and the creature, and can nevertheless depend immediately upon the creature alone, in that it is rather acceptance than neglect of a particular object. God willing the exercise of freedom at the moment when it is exercised, implicitly wills that there be a choice made by the creature. This choice is not a change, but an immanent act of the will, consisting in what we may call the fixing or clamping of one or other of two alternatives, namely, the refusal or the acceptance of this object, this thought, this desire, this deed, this word, here and now eligible to me. By the fact that God grants the actual use of freedom, He grants the action of choice without determining its issue. So St. Thomas teaches expressly when he says: "The act, as determined to be this or that, is from no other agent than from the will itself."{5}

These explanations will enable the reader to understand how far the free volition of a rational creature is due immediately both to God and to the creature, how far it is immediately due to the creature alone, how far that which is the creature's own doing is approved of by God, and how far it is disapproved of by His will without being prevented by His power.

Inasmuch as free volition is the use of a faculty natural to rational creatures, or, as scholastics are wont to say, an actus physicus, it is the immediate effect both of God willing the use of the free-will, and of the creature having this use actually under God, as a natural result of its faculty of freedom. Inasmuch, however, as the use of freedom with regard to a certain object, say an alluring imagination, is acceptance and not refusal or vice versa, it is a self-determination immediately due to the creature alone. If the acceptance or refusal the free creature makes is in harmony with the moral law laid down by the Creator, it is approved of by Him. If it is against that law, He disapproves of it, and cannot be said to will it, unless by this phrase be signified that He wills not to impede it. In other words, at the moment of the free choice He wills positively that His creature shall have the actual use of freedom; and willing this, He leaves it to the creature to determine whether this use shall be such or such with regard to the object in question, whether eventually it shall be virtuous or sinful. The creature determines this, not by producing a reality independently of God -- this would be absurd -- but simply by immanent volition or nolition, neither of which means production, in the sense of the effecting of a new physical actuality. Both volition and nolition are only productions in the sense of causing a definite relation of will to a certain object apt to be chosen, and at a moment in which the will has sufficient actuality for choosing. The will itself alone causes immediately this its relation to the object; in other words, it alone is the proximate cause of its free self-determination, but only in virtue of an actuality, upon the bringing about of which God as Prime Cause has immediate influence. (Cf. pp. 266 and 302.)

Thus it remains true that there is no actual being in the creature independent of God, at the same time the free action of the creature, considered precisely as self-determination to one alternative out of two or more, depends immediately upon the creature alone as a consequence of moral freedom.

Having cleared away the danger of misunderstanding as regards the immediate concurrence of God to all operations of creatures, we may now proceed to prove that there is such concurrence.

214. In the preceding section on Divine preservation it was shown that no created being can last even for a moment without being kept in existence by the continuation of the same omnipotent Divine volition that caused it to be. As Father Faber has beautifully said: "The home of the creature is the hand of the Creator." From it there is no escape, so long as the creature exists. The pen may drop from the hand of the writer, it does not lose thereby its existence, though it be no longer applied to the work of writing; but the creature is so absolutely under the sway of Divine omnipotence, as to have no being at all apart therefrom. Now the omnipotence which preserves the creature is not a blind force. No, God knows from eternity the nature of every creature that He preserves, from the tiniest piece of matter up to the loftiest spirit. Decreeing its existence and its preservation, He foresees what will naturally follow, if He chooses to preserve the creature in a state harmonizing with its nature. He sees that such a state is impossible without actual operation on the part of the creature. Moreover, He comprehends perfectly the relation between nature and action, and thus He foresees that under certain conditions of existence a certain natural action of the creature will either be inseparably connected with its existence or not. In the former case{6} He knows that decreeing its existence implies decreeing its action; in the latter case He sees that it depends upon Him to prevent, if He will, the natural outpouring of the activity of the creature, at the same time that He preserves the creature in being. In either case He cannot decree the existence of a creature for a certain moment, together with the existence of the natural conditions prerequired for action, and the existence of its unchecked natural activity, without decreeing thereby the actual use of the faculties of the creature, or in other words the action itself considered precisely as actual exercise of created activity.

Let us now call to mind what we have proved in Book II., that the decrees of God stand unchangeable, and that His Will is by itself infinite power. In virtue then of the same omnipotent volition by which God from eternity has decreed the existence of the unchecked activity of the creature, He causes that activity at the moment when the creature operates, not as a Divine operation, but as an operation natural to a finite faculty. Therefore we say that He causes it simultaneously with the creature as the primary cause, whilst the creature is the secondary cause of the same. Seeing and willing beforehand any given natural operation of any creature, He forms what we call technically the decree of simultaneous concurrence with the action. When the creature comes to exercise this activity, God sees what this exercise means, and wills at the same time that it shall take place. This is His simultaneous concurrence with the creature to its action, in so far precisely as that action is an outcome of the natural being which the creature possesses at the time.

Evidently, therefore, there is no action of any creature independent of the Divine Will, or that would take place at all, if that Supreme Will did not intend the action efficaciously and simultaneously, inasmuch as it is an exercise of a natural faculty.

The efficacious intention of the Divine Will which influences the created agent is not directed merely to the existence of the agent with its faculties and habits, but to its existence precisely as acting in harmony with its natural exigency of action. In other words, the action of the creature is not only mediately dependent upon Divine volition, but immediately, because not only in its source, but in its own reality, it is foreseen and decreed by God from eternity; and as it has been decreed, so it is willed and produced in time by God as the first cause and by the creature as the second cause. Thus one of the schoolmen, Durandus, who will only admit a mediate concurrence of God to the actions of creatures, does not express the full truth. On the other hand, the Divine concurrence is mediate in this sense, that between God (who efficaciously wills the action of the creature, not as His action, but as the action of a finite being) and the actual action of a created faculty, there exists really the creature with its faculty as proximate cause of the same action which is attributed to God as its First Cause. He is its First Cause, in that the creature owes the actual exercise of its faculty to the fact that God, at the very moment when the faculty acts, intends (what indeed He has intended from eternity) that it shall not only have a potential or habitual fitness for actual application, but shall really proceed to that actual application. St. Thomas expresses this truth in the words: Omnia agunt in virtute ipsius Dei, et ita ipse est causa omnium actionum agentium -- " Every being that acts is in the exercise of its action dependent upon an influence proceeding from God Himself, and thus He is the cause of all actions of active beings."{7}

215. Against the doctrine of immediate Divine concurrence thus explained and proved, two difficulties occur.

(1) If the action of the creature is also God's action, it would seem that nothing remains for the creature to do. For God does what He does sufficiently well, and consequently we may reason thus: If God concurs in the operation of the creature, this operation is sufficiently explained by His causality alone. But what is sufficiently explained by one causality, is not to be attributed to another. Therefore what is called the action of the creature is properly not attributable to it, but to God, which is equivalent to saying that the creature does not act at all.

Answer. God could, of course, produce without the intervention of any created agent the same physical effects which He enables them to produce by His concurrence with their activity. He could for instance thus make a steam-engine, but in that case the steam-engine would not have been the work of man, whereas this latter is what, on the supposition of creation, God wills, and what is in itself a worthy object of Divine volition. If, however, He chooses to have created agents, He must "concur" with them in their activity in such a way as not to suppress the application of it, but rather to grant this application by the nature of His concurrence.

(2) The statement that there exists no action of any creature, unless supported by an efficacious Divine volition which has for its term that very action, implies that even sinful actions are efficaciously willed by God, which is absurd, as being in evident contradiction with the Divine holiness.

Answer. All that the said statement implies is that God wills to grant the actual use of freedom with regard to the objects by which creatures are tempted to sin; not that He efficaciously draws them into sin or helps to sin as sin.

{4} Cf. St. Thomas, Sum Theol. Ia. q. 105. art. 3. 4. 5; Ia. 2ae. q. 10. art. 1. and 4.; De Potentia, iii. a. 7; Contra Gent. iii 67-70.

{5} "Quod determinate exeat in hunc actum vel in illum, non est ab alio agente sed ab ipsa voluntate." (Sent. II. d. 39. q. 1. a. 1.)

{6} We put this case only hypothetically. We do not state that there is really any individual action of a finite being, not only continually and connaturally, but inseparably connected with its existence, though perhaps the self-consciousness of an angel may be such an action. See St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 56. art. 1. in corp. etc. ad 3.

{7} St. Thomas, Sum. Theol, Ia. q. 105. art. 5. in corp. De Potentia q. 3 art. 7.

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