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

SECTION 3. -- Controverted question about physical premotion and predetermination.

Thesis XXXVI. -- The theory of physical predetermination in the sense in which it is understood in the Catholic schools is not supported by any cogent reasons, and it makes the explanation and defence of moral freedom unnecessarily difficult.

216. Whilst all Catholic philosophers and theologians assert unanimously that every action of creatures depends simultaneously upon God, they differ in their explanation of the nature of that simultaneous dependence. The doctrine enunciated in the thesis is that of Molina. The opposite doctrine is generally called Thomism, on the plea that it is that of St. Thomas, although we are by no means prepared to admit that the Saint is rightly interpreted by those who impute to him this sense.{8} It is necessary to give an outline of this famous controversy, because it appertains to a question concerning which some conclusions must be reached in any treatise on Natural Theology which aims at being complete. We must be understood, however, in advocating our own conclusions, to speak with all becoming deference of the views of our opponents, many of whom bear names worthy of the highest honour among Catholic philosophers.

What, then, is meant by physical predetermination? It does not signify Divine "premotion" in general -- that is to say, any sort of Divine moral or physical help towards action which precedes the action, but it denotes quite a particular sort of Divine premotion. As we shall explain below, Divine premotion in general cannot he denied by any Catholic. Not only does God premove His creatures morally, He premoves them also physically. At least He exercises such an influence upon them as may rightly go by this name. But physical predetermination, as upheld by its advocates, is a transitory impulse to action produced immediately by God in the faculty of a creature as often as the latter is to act, an impulse so perfectly adapted to the nature of the agent that a certain particular action will infallibly result. And so far is this said to be the case that God, as the adherents of this doctrine explain, knows the future action of a creature by knowing the premotion that He has decreed for it. Nevertheless, while maintaining thus much, they are far from denying the moral freedom of rational beings.

According to them the physical predetermination, which draws the free-will of a man to a particular choice, causes this choice infallibly, but not necessarily. Our self-determination, they say, is both the certain result of Divine predetermination and the outcome of the use of moral freedom granted by that very predetermination. God predetermining the creature does not lead it to a necessary, but to a free self-determination, and at the same time He leads it infallibly to that choice to which His predetermination, taken together with the disposition of the creature that receives it, naturally tends. Nevertheless God does not predetermine any one to a sin. True, His predetermination causes the free choice which is sinful, but He does not cause it as sinful. Its sinfulness is caused by the bad disposition of the created will in which the Divine predetermination is received.{8a}

If we object to this that it is exceedingly difficult to understand how a creature thus predetermined can possibly have the actual use of its freedom, our opponents do not deny that there is some mystery in this. But they refer us to the incomprehensibility of Divine causation at once most sweet and most efficacious. Its sweetness manifests itself in this, that the predetermining Divine premotion causes the creature to act, not anyhow, but only in such a manner as is in keeping with its nature. Therefore in an irrational creature God causes a necessary action, but in the rational will of angels and men He causes free actions, as often as the use of freedom is due to their nature.

217. But why insist upon this predetermination? Why refuse the doctrine stated in the thesis? Chiefly, they reply, for these reasons:

(1) Without physical predetermination the supreme dominion of God over His creatures and the infallibility of His Providence cannot be sufficiently explained. The Molinists, who teach only a simultaneous concurrence, and do not admit that God premoves free creatures otherwise than morally, by showing them certain actions in a pleasing or displeasing light, make the Creator a simple co-operator with His creatures -- nay, in a certain sense they subordinate His action to the action of the creature; for, if God does not predetermine the action of the free creature, then the free creature must predetermine the Divine concurrence, as the latter in itself does not tend to this or to that free volition. How, then, can it remain true that God is the first free cause?{9}

(2) As Catholic Philosophy has for its guiding star Catholic Theology, a philosophical opinion which agrees less well with the teachings of the Fathers of the Church and with common Catholic doctrine should not be favoured, although the Church has not condemned it. But the teaching of the Molinists on Divine concurrence does not well agree with the doctrine of St. Augustine, who teaches expressly: Deus de voluntatibus hominum, quod vult cum vult facit{10} -- "God makes of the wills of men what He wills, when He wills it." And does not the Church represent to us the special benefit of efficacious grace as a physical predetermination when she directs her priests to pray: Ut Deus nostras etiam rebelles compellat propitius ad se voluntates; ut convertat nos, &c. -- "That God may compel our wills, even when they are rebellious, to Himself; that He may convert us," &c.{11}

218. We hope the summary given here of the view of our opponents is a fair one. Let us, then, now give our answer, which will be done best by following the tenor of our thesis.

First of all, we admit that God in more than one sense premoves all His creatures to action, inasmuch as premotion designates a direction to a certain kind of activity, and the actuation of created faculties in harmony with the eternal decrees of Providence. Is not the very fact of creation and preservation a sort of Divine premotion? No creature can perform any other species of action than that for which it has faculties from the Creator; and on the supposition of its preservation, it needs must act in harmony with the natural tendency of its faculties so far as natural actions are concerned. If we turn to those which are supernatural, the creature can perform none of them save in agreement with the supernatural powers added to its nature by the Creator. All this is true premotion, and no Molinist denies aught of it.

Nay, as appears from our exposition in sect. 2, Molinists do not shrink from saying with St. Thomas -- Deus est causa nobis non solum voluntatis sed etiam volendi -- "God causes in us not only our faculty of will, but even our actual volition." And again: Deus est causa omnis actionis -- "God is the cause of every action."{12}

But all these phrases are easily explained without physical predetermination. God's concurrence at the moment of our free volition consists in our opinion precisely in this, that His power grants us not only the faculty of choosing, but the actual exercise of free choice. By His causality our will is impelled to the desire of good in general, whenever our intellect represents any particular good either real or apparent; but He causes this desire in such a way that we ourselves alone determine whether we will accept or reject this or that particular thing which seems good to us.

The issue of our choice is from eternity known to Him, simply because it is one of the objective future truths, all of which must be present to the intuition of His eternal infinitely perfect intellect. This knowledge, inasmuch as it represents the action of the creature conditioned by the decree of simultaneous concurrence under any given circumstances, we have called in Book II. scientia media.{13} The simultaneous concurrence of God with acts of free-will coincides with the causation of the actual longing for good in general, which longing is included in every volition of a particular good, as the genus in the individual, or as "animal" is included in "Peter."

It is not therefore true that in the Molinist system God does not cause the creature's action, especially not the actual volition of free creatures. All that can be said is that, according to Molinists, God does not cause free action under such an aspect as to make it imperative on the creature by its very nature.

219. We return to the objections of the adherents of physical predetermination.

Their first objection was that with the negation of a predetermining premotion the guidance of created activity, essentially belonging to the supreme Lord of all things, is denied to Him. From the explanations already given it appears that this objection lacks weight. It was started in the Thomist schools on the occasion of Molina's celebrated but perhaps not very dignified comparison of the simultaneous concurrence of God with creatures, to two men towing a boat or carrying a burden. Molina's aim was to show that creatures, especially rational creatures, exercising their natural activity, are in their own order really principal causes of those effects to which their faculties are proportioned.

Let us show this in a concrete instance. God concurs with the action of the writer, He concurs also with the action of the pen. Is not the writer then a principal cause in the order of secondary causes, and the pen an instrument? True, compared with God the First Cause, the writer himself may be likened to an instrument, in so far as in the exercise of his activity he depends altogether upon the supporting power of His Creator. Yet He certainly cannot be said to receive from God an impulse for action perfectly like that given by a writer to his pen. To say that would be to deny human freedom. It is idle, therefore, to appeal with Goudin{14} and others to this illustration of Molina, as a proof that Molinists conceive the Divine concurrence as a sort of help collateral and co-ordinate with the operation of the creature. Nor can it be shown that our doctrine is opposed to St. Thomas on the ground that he rejected the same illustration which Molina used. His rejection was based upon the well-grounded anticipation that it might easily be misunderstood. Molina made use of it because he thought that his meaning would be sufficiently gathered from the context. But if you will have it to mean that God causes one part of the action and the creature another part, just as two men towing a boat cause each a part only of the total motion, the illustration does not hold. And thus St. Thomas took it. If, however, you apply it to free creatures, to indicate that the action of a creature really depends upon two causes, neither of which is physically predetermined, the illustration cannot be considered as a mark of a false conception of Divine concurrence.

That in this sense it was not rejected by the Angelic Doctor, is to us quite evident.

220. And now as to the objection that in our system the creature must predetermine the concurrence of God, because that concurrence is in itself indifferent. This difficulty would have force, if we affirmed the simultaneous concurrence of God without asserting at the same time the scientia media. By this knowledge God foresees from eternity which choice any rational creature under given definite circumstances would make on the hypothesis that He on His part decreed simultaneously to concur with it in the actual exercise of its freedom.

In the light then of this knowledge God freely decrees from eternity to grant the use of freedom requisite for the creature to act and make its choice. He comprehends also from eternity the alternatives that are open to the choice of the created free being. Moreover, by virtue of the scientia media, He foresees the choice, in so far as it depends proximately upon the creature alone, or in other words, is an actual preference of one alternative to the other, based upon the actuality necessary for choosing, which actuality is granted by the free decree of the Creator.

Nor can it be said that Molinism mars Christian humility and leads men to neglect to pray for efficacious graces for the performance of saving and meritorious actions. Molinists teach that every salutary and, a fortiori, every meritorious action we perform is due to a premoving, though not predetermining grace of the Almighty, which by the scientia media He foresaw that we would use. He could have granted another grace perfectly sufficient for the performance of the good work, but one which He knew we would freely despise. Why did He give us the one rather than the other? Because He loved us with a special love.

A Molinist then has the strongest motives to ask for those graces of which God foresees he will make a good use. Such a prayer would be equivalent to that of Holy Church: Converte nos Deus salutaris noster -- " Convert us, God our Saviour." Nostras etiam rebelles compelle ad te voluntates -- "Compel to Thee our rebellious wills."

It would seem, therefore, that there is nothing in the supreme dominion of God and the Catholic doctrine of efficacious grace to make us shrink from Molinism.

Let us see now whether the harmony between human freedom and Divine concurrence be indeed as apparent on the theory of physical predetermination as upon that of scientia media and simultaneous concurrence. Let us take a concrete instance, and imagine a human being making the first free choice in his life, and that a choice deliberately sinful. How this could come about in the system we defend is clear enough. In the moment of choice the free creature owes to God the actual use of freedom. But the determination to the one alternative rather than to the other, included in that use of freedom, is, according to Molinists, not predetermined but only foreseen in the case of a sinful choice. In the case of a good choice, it may have been absolutely intended, but was not physically predetermined. How does the same choice come about in the system of the Thomists? Whether it be a good or a bad one, it is physically predetermined. And yet they say, and must say, that God does not predetermine a man to sin as sin. Whence then, we ask, does the first sin a man commits take its rise? We ask about the first, in order to preclude at once the evasion, that a man by his sin might have deserved to receive a predetermination to a choice that would infallibly be sinful, although it would always be sinful through the man's own fault. Such a solution of the difficulty we are proposing is in itself very obscure, and certainly not applicable to the first sin. If it be true that the sinful choice must infallibly follow from the combination of the physical predetermination with the disposition of the will that receives it, at the moment when it receives it, the reality of the use of freedom under such a predetermination is indeed an insoluble mystery.

{8} Cf. Appendix I. pp. 439, seq.

{8a} See Goudin in Philosophia, Pars IV. q. 4 (Edit. Parisiensis, 1851, pp. 224-283, especially pp. 228-239 and pp. 264-267.

{9} Goudin. Ibid. pp. 263, 264, § 11, "Probatur ultimo praemotio ex inconvenientibus.

{10} De Correptione et Gratia, c. xiv. Cf. Prov. xxi.: Sicut divisiones aquarum, ita cor regis in manu Domini est, quocumque voluerit, inclinabit illud -- "As the divisions of waters, so the heart of the King is in the hand of the Lord; whithersoever He will He shall turn it."

{11} Cf. Goudin, Ibid. pp. 245, 246.

{12} Contra Gent. 1. 3. c. 89.

{13} We here beg the reader to remember that in the positive explanation of the scientia media we do not stand by Molina, but against him with Suarez. (Cf. pp. 282, seq.)

{14} Philosophia, Pars. IV. p. 232.

<< ======= >>