St Thomas Aquinas and Free Creaturely Agency

Listen to this talk and then ask yourself this question (which the speaker, Dr Taylor Patrick O’Neill, does not ask): If God wills the universal salvation of all human beings, is it within his capacity to infallibly move the will of every human being to freely embrace him as the Good?

https://sed-contra-a-podcast-of-catholic-theology.simplecast.com/episodes/untitled-4jIIQckF

Video | This entry was posted in Aquinas. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to St Thomas Aquinas and Free Creaturely Agency

  1. malcolmsnotes says:

    Aquinas, following Augustine, simply affirmed that God did not will the salvation of all creatures. Therefore even though some were lost, God still got what he wanted – he just didn’t want all to go to Heaven. Many try to get God off the hook by calling this a “permissive” or “passive” decree. God “allows” many to go to Hell, which evidently is the “default” end of creatures – yet how “default”, without God already creating? Is it an eternal, a necessary default? Then God must already be creating the default, in which case it is not default, but a creature – a creation, a creative-existent of God.

    To those that God passes by: these cannot be happy unless God intends their salvation. God does not intend their salvation. Therefore they cannot be happy. Therefore God intends them to be infinitely, eternally unhappy.

    Can God create creatures that can be happy without him? If no, then, necessarily, everything God makes is miserable unless God intends the creature to be at one with him. But God does not (on this scheme) intend each creature to be at one with him. Therefore he intends to create beings who necessarily desire union with him, and cannot but be happy unless they are in union with him, but withholds this union: withholds the actual thing that they necessarily must have to be happy.

    The problem is: whether or not God moves the created will salvifically (which evidently God may or may not do), still, necessarily, the created will cannot be complete unless he *does* so move the will salvifically. Thus, on such a scheme, God’s creative act becomes the essence of uncreation: he creates a nature fit to blossom, but then withholds the very thing necessary for the blossoming to occur. And then punishes the creature for being what he made it.

    Anyway, one could go on. If one is satisfied with the God such pictures give them, I’ve probably only wasted my time anyway. But it does feel good to bring the absurdity of such a being into the light. I daresay it may be a duty to defend the real God, and therefore denounce the demon-god such a system gives us, every opportunity we have.

    Like

    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Right. Unfortunately St Thomas appropriated, as did most theologians at the time, St Augustine’s conviction that only a part of humanity is predestined to salvation. But what if we were to replace that conviction with the universalist conviction “All are predestined to glory in Jesus Christ”? Now run that through the metaphysics of divine and creaturely agency as described by Dr O’Neil.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Dr. Taylor Patrick O'Neill says:

        If I may, while I do not myself adhere to universalism (in part because St. Thomas was not a universalist), universalism is a quite separate doctrine to that which I tried to outline in the above podcast. ‘The number of which’ is entirely separate from ‘that mode by which.’ I am entirely convinced that, even if universalism were true, the above still explains precisely how God elects and moves men infallibly to cooperate in their own salvation without in any way injuring their freedom.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Thanks, Taylor, for weighing in. Following Austin Farrer, I have often used the term “double agency” to describe Aquinas’s understanding of divine and creaturely agency. Do you think the term accurate?

          Like

          • Dr. Taylor Patrick O'Neill says:

            I do, although the Thomistic commentatorial tradition tends to use the term “subordinated causality” instead, though I think we mean roughly the same thing. In other words, God and the creature work together, but not as two equal causes (coordinated causality), but rather as a primary and secondary cause, wherein the secondary cause is truly causal but receives all of its causal power from God. In this way, one can maintain both that man can cooperate in his salvation and even merit the beatific vision, but that such merit is in no way as distinct from a gratutious gift from God (I think this was a crucial point which Luther missed).

            Like

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          I should also add that I did not intend to attribute to you the universalist hope. I know that the dogmatic teaching of the RCC excludes that hope. I agree with you that the “number of the elect” (if we may speak that way) and the mode of electing grace (if we may speak that way) are two different questions.

          Thanks again for commenting.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. John H says:

    This brings to mind the story of St. Thomas Aquinas’ mystical vision while saying Mass a few months prior to his death. After experiencing a foretaste of the Beatific Vision, the Angelic Doctor is said to have remarked to his assistant that he would write no more and that everything which he had written was like straw. I have absolutely no idea what Aquinas may have experienced during his vision, but I like to speculate that, among other things, perhaps God revealed to him that He indeed unconditionally wills the salvation of all souls and that therefore all would be saved in the end. And, because all of his writings are predicated upon the traditional Augustinian notion of limited election, he considered them to be of no value.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr. Taylor Patrick O'Neill says:

      See my response to malcolmsnotes above. Even if this were true, it would no way change the veracity of the above, which deals with how God saves those who are saved. The number here is incidental.

      Like

  3. Thomas says:

    This is mostly a repost of my comment about this podcast on the other post, since it’s more fitting here.

    These arguments rest on several premises St. Thomas rejects:

    1. The will necessarily chooses a perfect good (i.e., happiness).
    2. The movement of the will refers to a determination to an outcome.
    3. God necessarily moves the will such that it inevitably makes a particular choice, yet because God does not do so coercively, the will is said to be free.
    4. Although God infallibly binds the will to choose one option over the others, nevertheless the will retains a real potency to do otherwise. Yet it is not possible for it to do otherwise, given God’s will.

    All four contradict the texts, and the last contradicts itself.

    With respect to the first, St. Thomas says that while we necessarily tend toward happiness, nevertheless we do not necessarily choose it. To use St. Thomas’ analogy, just as the eye necessarily sees color when it is seeing, but we can always close them to avoid an act of sight, so with the will. He does not say, as the host says (at about the 8 and 10:30 minute marks), we would necessarily choose it. (See ST I-II, q. 10, a. 2. So God while God is the primary final cause, we do not necessarily choose God as the perfect good, though we necessarily tend toward him.

    With respect to (2), when St. Thomas speaks of motion, he’s talking about an actuation of a potency. God actuates all that is by giving everything existence. Our choices exist, and anything that exists receives its existence from God. But existence does not determine a thing to be one way rather than another. Therefore, by making our decisions exist, God does not specify or determine them (as he repeatedly asserts, e.g., at ST I-II, q. 10 a. 4.). All God’s Instruments makes this argument in more detail.

    With respect to (3), the notion that God (or anything) determines our choices to A or B, without being a form of coercion is exactly the position St. Thomas condemns in the De Malo as heresy:

    “Some of held that the human will is necessarily moved to choose things. But they did not hold that the will is coerced, since only something from an external source, not everything necessary, is coerced… But this opinion is heretical. For it takes away the reason for merit and demerit in human acts … It is also to be counted among the oddest philosophical opinions, since it is not only contrary to faith but also subverts all the principles of moral philosophy.” IV.1

    St. Thomas vehemently rejects the view that our decisions may be determined by God (or our own natures) yet still be free because the necessitation is not a form of coercion. God acts as an existential cause in creating us, and a final cause in drawing us to him (including through instrumental means), but neither form of causality necessitates our choices.

    With respect to (4), the statement is self-contradictory. Potencies aren’t some kind of stuff which we might store in our pockets or get stuck to the bottom of our shoes but be never be able to use. If a thing has a potency to do otherwise, it is possible that the alternative could have occurred. Now, either it is possible we could have chosen otherwise or not. If God’s infallible will means that it is not possible, then there exists no potency to choose otherwise. If, however, it is possible we could have chosen otherwise, God could not have determined our decision. It’s a straightforward contradiction to say there both is and is not the potentiality to do otherwise.

    Like

  4. John Grinnell says:

    I’ll take Charles Williams over Thomas Aquinas any old day!

    Like

  5. John H says:

    Dr. O’ Neil: I agree that God saves whom he will save, but isn’t it true that Scripture unequivocally affirms that God wills the salvation of all? In addition, assuming that hell is in fact eternal, doesn’t that make evil itself eternal and unredeemable? Consider this quote from St. Thomas Aquinas:

    God would not allow any evil to exist in His works unless His omnipotence and goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil. This is part of the infinite goodness of God that He should allow evil to exist and out of it produce good.

    ST, First Part, Q1 Article 3, Reply to First Objection

    But how is an eternal Hell good? Certainly not to the souls of the reprobate who are condemned to conscious torment for all eternity. And it is difficult to conceive how the souls of the saved could possibly experience eternal damnation as a good, at least not if they still love the lost. Indeed, eternal Hell is not good for God Himself since it represents a final victory of evil and misery over the good end that God desires for all creatures.

    Like

Comments are closed.