Divine Simplicity and Divine Knowledge

by Thomas M. Cothran

The classical Christian tradition is more or less unanimous that God is simple. Strong affir­mations of divine simplicity characterize not only Western writers like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, but also Eastern fathers like St. Gregory of Nyssa, St. Maximus Confessor, and St. John Damascene. These affirmations are not vestigial philosophical speculations inherited from the pagan philosophers, nor feeble affirmations that God is a fellow of steady temperament. The development of Trinitarian and Christological dogma correlates with the rising prominence of divine simplicity precisely because, without divine simplicity, the Trinitarian and Christological dogmas are not coherent. 

But if God is simple, he is pure act without potency. There is nothing he could be, but failed to become; and there is nothing he is but might not have been. Some theologians have worried that such a God cannot suffer along with us nor could we move him by our pleading. A God that cannot change cannot engage with us personally, and while such a God may appeal to philosophers, he could hardly be the God of the Scriptures. 

In this article, we consider the problem: If God is simple, unchanging, and necessary, how is it that God knows what goes on in the world? God cannot be different on account of the world, for if he were he would be mutable, contingent, finite and composite. This generates a paradox. God knows everything. Some things are contingent. But contingent facts, by defini­tion, may have been otherwise. It is possible that other events could have happened, in which case God would have known those other events. Therefore, God’s knowing of contin­gent fact is itself a contingent fact. But there is, in God, no unrealized potential. Therefore, there can be no difference in God knowing contingent fact A and God knowing the alter­na­tive contingency B. The existence of the world cannot make God different than he would otherwise have been. The cosmos, and we as its citizens, make no difference in God. 

Consider the historical fact that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. God, being ominiscient, knows that Caesar crossed the Rubicon. Yet Caesar might have decided otherwise. If Caesar decided otherwise, God would have known that Caesar did not cross the Rubicon. But there is no contingency in God. If God were different because of Caesar’s choice to cross the Rubicon, then there would be some contingency in God. Therefore, whether God knows of Caesar’s crossing or does not know of it makes no difference in God. 

We consider two common answers to this dilemma. First, that God knows what happens in the world because he causes it. Second, W. Norris Clarke’s theory that God is unchang­ing in his real being, but mutable in his intentional being. The first answer turns out to be incom­plete and possibly mis­leading, and the second answer is incorrect. The paradox is generated by assumptions about what knowing is, and I will argue that these assumptions are mis­guided. To answer the question of God’s knowledge of the world, I will summarize what knowing is, the difference this account makes with respect to material and immate­rial knowers (human beings on the one hand, angels and God on the other), and finally to finite and infinite knowers (humans and angels being finite, God being infinite). 

  1.  1. God Knows What He Does 

One approach to reconciling divine knowledge and simplicity is to assert that God knows the world because he causes it. Divine causation, standing on its own, does not adequately explain divine knowledge. To illustrate this point, consider several versions of this hypothesis. 

    1.  1.1. God does not forget 

On the naive interpretation, the notion that God knows the world because he causes it is grounded in an analogy. I know my car is running because I started it, and I have not forgot doing so. Analogously, God knows everything in the world because he made it, and he has a good memory. Or at least, he lacks a faulty memory, given that he has no time to forget. But it does not follow from the fact that A caused B, that A knows it caused B. And God is not in time, so he does not remember the past. 

    1.  1.2. The Divine Architect 

Of course, few philosophers would make the previous argument. It falls short because it does not connect causing to knowing, and it places God in the flow of time. A more plausible argument might seem to be that, while not all causes know their effects, intelligent causes do. The architect plans the temple, and so knows what it will be. However, a couple might plan to have a child, and make plans for what their child will be. Unlike the architect, they do not really know what their child will be like, and they certainly do not determine the child’s nature. The architect can direct the formation of inert materials, while the child has an inner principle of self-determination. And even this attributes too much to the architect. The architect cannot know whether there will be material shortages, creative differences, labor strikes, or funding snafus. 

God does not merely create inert matter, he creates a non-deterministic universe. From the sub-atomic, through the chemical and biological levels, chance and probability run riot. The universe unfolds, to borrow Bernard Lonergan’s terminology, according to schedules of probabilities. Rewind the tape to the big bang and the next world would turn out wildly differently. 

The metaphor of the divine architect breaks down for several reasons. First, the human architect forms mental intentions that have a building as object. Divine simplicity, on the other hand, does not permit discrete divine cognitional acts directed towards creatures. For this reason, Aquinas maintains that God has a single real cognitive act, of which he is the object. Second, God’s understanding conceptualized is the Logos, the second person of the Trinity. Were God to form other, distinct, concepts, the Divine Word is one among many. Third, the human architect does not know the planned building either fully or infallibly–else the architect could never learn anything about it by inspecting it and architectural plans would never fail to be carried out. Fourth, the architect’s plans are efficacious to the extent that things unfold according to a predetermined plan. But God’s plans are fulfilled through contingencies that are not controlled, through possibilities which are open. Divine providence, as St. Thomas maintained, does not impose necessity. 

    1.  1.3. Determinism 

One could reject the premise that the universe is not entirely determined by the divine plan. To resolve the paradox that God’s knowledge is not contingent, one can deny contingency–i.e., the real possibility of being otherwise. This determinism tends to be of the theological, rather than the physicalist variety. This strategy is common in the traditions either of Banez (exemplified in the 20th century by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange) and of a Wittgenstein-Thomist hybrid (including Hugh McCann, probably Herbert McCabe, and perhaps Denys Turner). My previous article, “All God’s Instruments,” addresses and rejects this sort of determinism. 

The reasons for declining determinism may be stated briefly. In the first place if God causes every human action to be just so and not otherwise, this including evil actions. But if human beings could not do otherwise they are not ultimately responsible for their actions. At least they would be no more responsible for an evil action than for suffering a seizure and causing an accident. St. Thomas Aquinas designated this view heretical.1 Harsh though St. Thomas’ judgment may be, it is at least a view that if followed consistently undermines moral conduct in theory and practice. 

Second, what causes evil is rightly named evil, just as we call amino acids healthy because they bring about health in us. If God brings about the course of history with the same inevitability as an author develops a plot in a novel, God brings about many evil actions. Just as a human will is designated evil because it intentionally brings evil about, so God would be accurately designated as evil. 

Third, whereas physicalist determinism at least puts forward some causal account, theological determinism typically has none whatsoever. Without a causal account of God’s action, the bare assertion of divine omnipotence substitutes an empty verbal formula for an explanation. As I tried to show in “All God’s Instruments”, St. Thomas Aquinas couches his notion of providence squarely in terms of his account of imminent causes (form, matter) and extrinsic causes (efficient and final causality). Theological determinism, on the other hand, substitutes imaginative metaphor for explanation. Herbert McCabe imagines God as a novelist, making his characters perfectly express the author’s intent. Neil Ormerod imagines God choosing from among possible worlds whose details are all baked in, much like a consumer shopping for a freezer meal. But metaphors are cheap. While they may provoke insight, they can as easily provoke the wrong insight as a correct one. Worse, however, they do no explanatory work. One could as easily say that if it is possible for a wizard in a novel to control another’s mind, so it is possible for God. What happens without explanation is indistinguishable from magic. It is an assertion of power without intelligibility. 

St. Thomas Aquinas’ account of God’s providence, by contrast, is a direct application of the causal principles he has already established. God is the infinite act of being; creatures, by contrast, are finite and receive their being from him. Therefore, God causes (provides) all that is. But while creatures exist because of an extrinsic cause, they are determined because of imminent principles. And free creatures are distinguished by the fact that, although they bring about determinate forms, they are not constrained in their free choices to bring about this or that one. Every action, every form, must receive being to be at all, but being does not make actions or things what they are. If St. Thomas had anything at all to say, it was that being, unlike finite form, is not inherently limited or determined. So it is that while God causes all, things are determined by their imminent principles, and free things remain free. 

If we are to hold to a doctrine of immutability and moral responsibility, we may conclude at least this much. God does not know the world because he made it and has not forgotten doing so. God does not know the world because he determines it to be just so and not otherwise. God may know the world because he is an intelligent cause, but without further clarification of the significance of intelligence we do not yet know what this means. 

  1.  2. W. Norris Clarke: Intentional and Real Being 

W. N. Clarke offers another means of reconciling divine knowledge and divine simplicity. According to Clarke, there are in God two “orders of being”: real and intentional. God’s real being is immutable. But God cannot be entirely unmoved, for he is personal. And so God does change, but only in the order of intentional being.2

Clarke’s most fundamental mistake is misconstrual of the relation between real and intentional being. Intentional being is opposed not to real being, but to natural being. If, contra Clarke, intentional being is not something outside real being, then God’s changing (or else determined) mind would be mutable. 

In order to clarify the relation of real and intentional being, we begin with what this relation is not. It is tempting to divide thinking beings into their mental aspect and their “real” aspect, roughly as Descartes divided res extensa and res cogitans. When we imagine something, our imagination takes place outside the order of what really exists, and we might designate that “intentional”, as opposed to “real”, being. One might think of anything, but the realm of imagination and speculation differs from the unyielding objects of the real world. The intentional order refers to the thinking, non-material aspect of the person, while the real order refers to what exists outside our subjective thoughts, “out there”. 

The difficulty with this position is that it opposes the real with the mental. The real is what should be affirmed by correct judgment. The opposite of intentional being is not real being, but natural (i.e., intrinsic) being. If I say that “John had an idea about soccer”, and I am correct, then John’s idea is real: for one is correct to affirm John’s idea exists, and incorrect to deny it. We tend to think of ideas as unreal to the extent we suppose (however reflexively) a corpuscular materialism. But our ultimate criterion for the real is not extension, resistance, or standing outside the mind, but true judgment. Were we to know everything, that which we judge to be the case is what is real – and nothing else. 

Clarke obfuscates the question to which the intentional being is the answer. Suppose I show you a photograph, and you recognize what is depicted therein. You might say, “why that is the Notre Dame.” What does “that” refer to: the real Notre Dame or the photo­graph? What is the subject of the judgment? It is the depiction of Notre Dame, which involves both the Notre Dame itself and the photograph. Yet, the photograph is not really a building, and the Notre Dame will not fit in my pocket. The two are not equivalent. What we need is a distinction. 

The photograph is not really the Notre Dame, and yet the church is in the picture. It is not in the picture the way the picture might be in a pocket. It is not a part of the picture the way that a blotch of color is part of the picture. And that is more or less what intentional being means: a thing as exists in another. The Notre Dame exists as itself, but it also exists in depictions, memories, laser scans, poems, and blueprints. Natural being refers to sort of being the Notre Dame has by virtue of itself, intentional being refers to the kind of being it attains by its manifestation in others. 

The real features of the media in which a thing appears facilitate its intentional existence. The framing of the photograph of the Notre Dame, the vibration of the airwaves by which the cello appears to the audience, reflective bits on a disk, the slope chart in which frequencies of sub-atomic events are depicted. A thing might even have intentional being without natural being. Nor is intentionality the “mark of the mental”: intentional being may occur in a photograph, a reflection, a story, the air insofar as it is a media for light or sound, and so on. Intentionality is relevant to the mental, but it is neither necessary for it nor can it distinguish intelligence from mere matter. 

Thus, W. Norris Clarke’s Cartesian solution will not work. Intentional being belongs, not to the a thought, but to the thing represented in the thought. Acts of the mind are real, and things may exist intentionally in them. Insofar as one’s thinking changes, moreover, the thinker changes. The question remains whether God’s single act of being is sufficient for him to know contingent things, or whether he requires, in addition, further acts to reach a state of omniscience. If God is infinite, if he is act without potency, we cannot very well assert that his central act of existence is limited and requires supplementation by further contingent acts. 

  1.  3. God Knows All Contingencies because He Knows Himself 

So far, we have rejected several possible solutions to the question how God knows the world. It is not enough to say simply that God made the world. It is incorrect to say that he determines the world. And we cannot appeal to mental acts that supplement God’s central act employing a Cartesian distinction between the mental and the real. But these answers are all negative, and they fail to say how it is that God knows all contingent things. 

The answer may be briefly. God is both infinitely intelligible and infinitely intelligent, and in God there is no difference between himself as knower and that by which he knows. But if God knows himself, and he is infinitely intelligible, there is nothing further for him to know. Therefore, he knows all things. 

Of course, this requires elaboration. That the premises follow inexorably one from the other is clear. But the answer requires us to reflect on our own knowing, and extrapolate from our limited mental abilities to an unlimited mental act. Misunderstanding our own nature as intellectual creatures leads necessarily to our misunderstanding of God as pure intellect. 

    1.  3.1. Infinite potential: The desire to Know 

Human knowledge is characterized by a process of learning, both at the individual and historical level. We begin on a level of mere stories, whether the mythologies that characterizes the infancy of the human species, or the fantasy world that characterizes childhood. But eventually, we become dissatisfied with the whimsical or the imaginative, and we demand the truth. A perplexity about what is actually the case arises. A wonder emerges – not merely an irrational astonishment, but a demand for the truth. In this wonder, as Aristotle observes, science (in the broad sense) is born. 

The transition from storytelling to explanation involves several distinct levels. There is on the one hand the experiences that we wonder about. Why do the planets move in ellipses with certain detectable irregularities? Why do different animal species have features that are both different and similar? 

We are propelled by our demand for explanations beyond the level of what we experience to possible explanations. Newton proposed a model of classical mechanics to explain the movement not only of the heavens, but of bodies on earth. Darwin proposed an expla­na­tion not merely of finch beaks, but of the entire relation between species. Beyond experi­ence, we move to a level of possible explanations. We proceed from a moment of insight (aha!) to a theoretical explanation. 

But even the insight of a Newton or a Darwin is not enough. Brilliant ideas are mere possibilities until they are proven to explain the real world. Newton’s own theories proved to fall short, and were supplemented by the later development in physics. Darwin’s natural selection required the causal account provided by genetics, and revision continues to this day in fields like epigenetics. 

It is clear that one makes no headway by attempting to know everything at once. At the historical level, we require particular problems (falling bodies and the movement of planets, or the geographical distribution of finches or their attributes). The process is both critical and iterative. Often we can only say that a theory is probably true, or that it has no plausible contestants. At the individual level, we reach a proficiency in a particular discipline only with great labor. It is clear at every step, that we do not know everything; but despite the difficulty of discovery, we press on. 

    1.  3.2. Infinite actuality: Being 

Our knowledge is always limited. However, our desire to know is entirely unlimited, and presses us beyond any particular achievement to further questions. To assert that our desire to know is limited both contradicts the historical facts and is self-contradictory. For if we ask whether, in addition to what we know, there is what we do not know, the range of our questioning extends beyond any particular limit. 

The potential infinity of the desire to know provides the basis for an extrapolation to an actually infinite act of knowing. What is it that, if grasped, would satisfy our desire to know? Several features can be immediately deduced: 

  1.  1. Its state is not contingent on anything else. If it required something else to acquire some state (e.g., an emotional state, a state of knowledge, etc), it poses further questions (and thus does not terminate the desire to know). 
  2.  2. Its existence is not contingent on anything else. For it required something further to exist, we could ask about that prior cause. 
  3.  3. It is not merely possible, but necessary. If it were merely possible, the sort of thing that could exist, there is the further question why it exists. Nor can its state be contingent, for then there would be the question why it is in this way rather than another. 
  4.  4. It lacks no intelligibility. It cannot fail to be perfectly, completely, and infinitely intelligible. It if had any defect or limitation in its intelligibility, the desire to know would seek that further intelligibility. Its intelligibility is, therefore, unified; for it was merely an association of separate intelligibilities, there is the question of how they coalesce. 
  5.  5. It cannot be for the sake of something else, since it would pose the further question what it is for. 

(Readers may note the isomorphism with St. Thomas’ five ways.) 

The traditional name for this ultimate object of intellectual desire is being. But what can we say about the act of knowledge which understands being? The act of understanding must be identical to being. It cannot exclude anything from being, else it does not fully understand being. Nor can be it any more than being, for being is not limited. This conclusion is strengthened by the Aristotelian insight that understanding is identical with its proper content.3 It follows that being is not only an infinite, absolute, necessary intelligible principle, but that it is an infinite, absolute, necessary intelligence. 

We have said what we mean by being, and offered a second-order definition. But why think that being exists? Why believe in an absolutely necessary, infinitely and completely intelligence actually exists? Perhaps it is the case that the notion of God as absolute aims much too high. We should settle not for the greatest that might be, but merely for what we happen to have. Just as the materialist might argue that the entire world may be traced back to something short of being, something that “just is” (a singularity, quantum fields, etc), so the theistic personalist can argue that God may be an ultimate explanation while distinguishing God from being. 

However, the denial of being is a denial of our own cognitive faculties. It rejects the validity of human knowledge. For we proceed to the truth by inquiry in various domains, but each particular inquiry is part of the broader trajectory set by the desire to know. If being itself does not exist, then there is no possibility of an understanding from which everything is explained. But then it follows that there is something that exists or occurs, but for which there is no reason. Inquiry terminates in brute facts. 

The denial of being, then, entails that some point the “why?” questions arbitrarily come to a halt – else it ends in an understanding of being. There is no reason that why questions stop where they do; for if there were a reason, this reason would answer the “why?” question. For example, one cannot say that explanation stops with certain kinds of things (say virtual particles) or in certain conditions (such as the moment of the big bang or in quantum fluctuations in space time). In that case, one explains why certain sorts of things exist (by appealing to their nature or their circumstances), which is to answer the immediate “why?” question and pose a further unanswered question. 

But if there can be no reason why inquiry stops with certain things or in certain condi­tions, then there is no reason why inquiry need ever start. All understanding proceeds on the premise that things call for an explanation. If they do not need explanations, the business of explaining things is entirely superfluous. To the question: “why do things fall to the ground?”, the answer “they just do!” can be perfectly sufficient. 

More fundamentally, the activity of intelligent questioning pre-supposes that reality is such that where it poses a problem, it admits of an answer. Deny that notion of reality, and questioning becomes an arbitrary activity and knowledge impossible. If we deny that reality is what is grasped when one understands correctly, and that, conversely, what one correctly understands is the real (not a useful fiction), then we cannot claim to speak the truth. And those who deny the truth cannot claim to be speak it. 

We cannot suppose that only particular acts of knowledge are possible, without asserting that an infinite, final act of knowledge is necessary. For we must assert that an infinite act of knowledge is not impossible, since that entails brute facts. But an infinite act of knowledge cannot be merely possible; it is impossible or necessary. Therefore, it necessarily exists.4

    1.  3.3. Some Consequences 

If the previous argument is successful, we have shown that being exists. Being is an unrestricted act of understanding, it is immutable, necessary, and perfect. Philosophers identify this as God. So too must theologians, unless they are willing to place the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in a subservient position to this ultimate mind. However, the argument does not yield an understanding of what being is, since understanding what being is and being God are the same thing. 

This does, however, answer the question why we should think that God both knows everything and is the same regardless of whether he knows one fact or another about the world. For God does not know by grasping separate facts and putting them together. He knows everything because he knows himself. If he is perfectly and infinitely intelligible, there be nothing he does not know. God does not need to know by forming propositions about the world, observing creation, forming some inner intention or image whereby he observes the world in his own intentions, or registering discrete facts in his mind. God knows in one simple, self-sufficient, and omniscient act. 

As we do not understand God, we cannot know exactly what this is like. Any objection that one cannot imagine how it is to be God only proves the point. Nevertheless, there are analogues in our own experience. For our knowledge grows by scientific progress, and science advances by attaining higher acts of understanding that grasp in its sweep both the true elements of previous theories and a larger array of data. 

Children initially learn addition as separate facts. 1 + 1 = 2 requires a different understanding than 1 + 2 = 3. As arithmetic is grasped, however, all separate cases of addition fall under a single understanding, because one grasps the operations of addition and subtraction, which is the generative principle of the integers. This discovery sparks the transition to algebra. One moves on to the higher forms of mathematics insofar as one has a higher insight with a broader sweep. Thus abstract algebra moves beyond particular operations to discover laws shared not only by elementary mathematics, but logic. 

Such higher order understandings proceed by abstraction, and part of the price is a certain abstraction. God’s knowledge, however, is not abstract. Abstraction apprehends some formal intelligibility and omits the inessential and the material. Thus, the law of gravity explains the motions of bodies in a way that prescinds from their exact location. God, however, does not know by a particular formal principle which must be distinguished from the material conditions in which it is embedded. Rather, all distinct forms of intelligibility must be present in a higher, unified, simple way in God as subsistent being. This simply follows from his unlimited intelligibility. 

Though we do not understand being, nor do we have a strong sense of what it is like to be God, nevertheless we can know that subsistent being exists, that it is an unrestricted act of understanding, and that it is identical with God. And this both answers the question how God knows everything while being intrinsically unchanged and demonstrates that it must be so. 

  1.  4. Conclusion 

That God knows things not in themselves but in himself may be objectionable both by those who insist that God is all to familiar, or that he is a total mystery. As to the former, many like Richard Swinburne conceive God as a troupe of essentially human consciousness liberated from certain constraints, but still mutable and finite. If the insistence is that such is the God of the Bible, it is quite natural to be more interested in who caused that God. 

As to the latter, an anti-intellectualism that yearns for God as an intrinsically irreducible mystery (i.e., unintelligible) is a poor similitude of a true apophaticism. For the mystery of God is evident not in spite of our drive to know, but precisely because of it. Intellectual inquiry takes us toward God as the truth; longing for a non-rational mystery merely leads to a void. 

Mystery is not the non-rational, but the completely rational which, because of absolute nature and unrestricted intelligibility, eludes our limited minds while drawing us onward. Though we do not know what God is, and have only an inadequate knowledge of what God is like, we can have perfectly certain knowledge that God is both immutable and an infinite act of understanding. 



[1] .De Malo VI, art 1.
[2] W. Norris Clarke, The Philosophical Approach to God (2nd ed.).
[3] This is the deeper point, but a difficult one to spell out fully here. Bernard Lonergan offers the premier treatment in his formidable Insight.
[4] For a more thorough form of this basic argument, see Bernard Lonergan, Insight ch. 11 and Robert Spitzer’s New Proofs for the Existence of God ch. 4. For a similarly structured argument from the side of the object, see St. Thomas’ On Being and Essence and its exposition in Joseph Owens, St. Thomas Aquinas on the Existence of God ch. 5.

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Thomas Cothran is a sometime writer and Orthodox catechumen living in Kentucky.

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43 Responses to Divine Simplicity and Divine Knowledge

  1. Jack H says:

    Not to suggest that there is a completely opaque side to God, but could we not say that He is simultaneously infinite mystery and infinite disclosure? What is always hidden is always revealed, and both the mystery and the knowledge are inexhaustible?

    Liked by 1 person

    • thomas says:

      I certainly think God is infinitely mysterious, but I would want to say that i) mystery is a relative term, and ii) mystery is not opposed to intelligibility or explanatory power.

      A mystery is a manifestation of something for which one lacks an explanation. Thus, who D.B. Cooper was is a mystery, not because it cannot be understood, but because it is as yet unknown to us.

      This is in contrast to the use of the term “mystery” to refer to what is beyond rational understanding. God is mysterious to us, because we do not understand him. He is not beyond rational understanding, for he understands himself perfectly and exhaustively.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Calvin says:

    I simply take the view that divine simplicity is itself incoherent with core Christian claims about God. If God is absolutely simple, he is by definition invulnerable to anything happening in or because of creation. But if God is indeed love, then that simply cannot be. As C S Lewis once put it, to love at all is to be by definition vulnerable. To love, at its most basic, is to identify oneself so thoroughly with the beloved that the beloved’s own interests, joys, and sorrows become identical to, or at least inseparable from, one’s own. A “love” that is equally content when the “beloved” is getting their eyes gouged out with hot pokers as when they’re having a pleasant stroll by the lake is no love worth talking about.

    “Whatever you have done to the least of my brethren, so you have done it to me.” If one accepts an absolutely simple, this is manifest nonsense.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      Calvin, you fundamentally misunderstand what the classic and ancient Christian claim of divine simplicity entails. It is indeed very easy to think of it in terms of deprivation alone, as simplicty would be for diastematic creatures. Traditionally Christians have understood divine simplicity of God in terms of fullness, of that which does not have unrealized potential, of pure act without remainder, of overflowing fecundity ecstatically going forth in in erotic exitus-reditus of love. Only then, and only then, can we start the deprivative – for that fecund Pure Act is also without division, without fragmentation, without loss, without addition, without parts, and so forth.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Calvin says:

        You can feel free to understand it as you like, however the core contention remains that simplicity as defined necessarily strips love of a fundamental identification which is essential to it. In order for God to genuinely consider acts done to the least of the brethren to be genuinely done to himself without simply lying, he must in some way have been affected by the contingent acts of the people in question, and could have been affected in a contrary had the people behaved differently. Which in turn would completely overthrow the idea of an absolute simplicity.

        Liked by 1 person

    • thomas says:


      Thank you for reading my article. A few thoughts occur to me:

      1. I think Robert is correct to focus on plenitude. That is what allows a robust account of God’s love for us, without compromising on immutability. (If God were limited, “immutability” may entail indifference. But he is not.)

      2. Defining love in terms of vulnerability or suffering has eschatological consequences: the elimination of suffering would inhibit our ability to love. Inability to share in others’ sorrows would be a defect.

      3. It certainly does not follow from immutability that God is content with evil. In fact, I would argue that it belongs to God’s nature to eliminate all moral evil and abject suffering.

      But I want to make the argument from another direction: is it acceptable, in your view, to view the Christian God as a subordinate being dependent upon a higher creator?

      I have made the case that everything depends ultimately upon an immutable act of understanding. If that argument is successful, then either your notion of a composite God would have to be abandoned, or else it would be itself created and dependent.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Calvin says:

        1. Immutability requires indifference because it necessitates that contingent states of affairs can have no affect on the state of the immutable, which can only translate to indifference. An immutable God would not find the experience of being crucified in the least bit off-putting, because he would fundamentally be incapable of being affected by it.

        2. No, love is fundamentally linked to *identification*. The lover feeling the beloved’s pain a derivative property of this melding of identities, but it is only as “essential” as you believe suffering itself to be. However, a failure to feel the beloved’s pain in the event of such suffering would be a failure of identifying oneself with them, and therefore a defect.

        3. It follows from immutability that God cannot ever be or become discontent with anything, or any state of affairs whatsoever. That would be a change in his emotional state, which in turn would overthrow immutability. Thus he cannot, except by lying, claim to be any less perfectly content no matter what is happening.

        The problem with understanding as so defined is that it leaves no room for us as us. If you take believe that we exist and that we are not God, there must be something somewhere that he is not. A conceptual absence must, to some degree, be possible. Moreover such an act of knowing simply doesn’t mesh with the concept of the God-Man we worship, who seems to be surprised by or at least regretful by how things go on several occasions. I don’t know the conceptual root of everything, but I believe your identification is incorrect nonetheless.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Calvin there’s a disagreement about key points. But perhaps even worse, there’s no exchange of ideas here. You are tilting at windmills. The absolute simplicity you denounce is not the divine simplicity Thomas argues for, nor do I, nor by the church fathers.

          I do agree that the absolute simplicity which you protest against is indeed indefensible.

          Liked by 3 people

        • thomas says:


          Your first point, as I read it, is that Christ cannot really suffer because he is God. Christ can suffer on the cross, not because he is divine, but because he is human. Much ink has been spilled on the person/nature issue, which you are not taking into account.

          It is true that God’s beatitude is not disturbed by evil in the world, but this is not inconsistent with the truth of the statement that God hates evil. The latter is true by extrinsic denomination.

          You also simply assert your notion of love, which is not even plausible as applied to us, and which is, I’m afraid, pathological.

          Love as identification is not plausible as applied to us. If one has a family member suffering depression, ought one try to be depressed oneself? If one’s child has suffered a traumatic injury requiring urgent care, ought one attempt to experience debilitating pain oneself? Or is love better expressed by acting quickly and with a clear head?

          Love as identification is pathological. Loving someone requires embracing the ways in which the beloved is different; it means accepting and reveling in those differences. If love is as you say, the beloved is reduced to an extension of the lover, or vice versa. What it really means is either by elimination of the self (as for de Sade love can be expressed in death) or the elimination of the beloved (either by subjugation, the elimination of their autonomy, or worse).

          You are confusing an accidental or circumstantial feature of love with what love essentially is.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. Robert Fortuin says:

    Thank you Thomas for your work on this!
    When reflecting on this and related theological proper, I come back to this astounding claim made by Gregory of Nyssa regarding the perfect coincidence of both desire and possession in God. God desires what he possesses and has what he desires. Perfect satiation, perfect longing. This of course is unlike the creaturely realm of unrealized potential, of the imperfect and the limited.

    Liked by 1 person

    • thomas says:

      Contra Eunomius is a large background influence on me, though I’m very much the amateur with Gregory of Nyssa. I have enjoyed your essays on EO and found them very useful for thinking through these questions.

      I do think my essay here this is incomplete insofar as it operates on the intellectual level and doesn’t directly address the related questions of divine will and love. The two are connected, but Gregory is much stronger on the divine love than St. Thomas. (Unfortunately for St. Thomas, God’s love is not unlimited, while for St. Gregory it is. However, the two can be synthesized, I believe.)

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Samwise says:

    God as “pure act” contradicts the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo. It also logically implies emanationism. Therefore it is false.

    These pagan metaphysical concepts are not applicable to God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Robert Fortuin says:

      OK I will bite.

      How is it that you understand God as Actus Purus contradicts ex nihilo creation? Please elaborate.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Samwise says:

        Creatio ex nihilo states that God could have not created the universe if He chose. But according to “pure act” theory, quoting this article: “There is nothing he could be, but failed to become.” There is the contradiction.

        -Ex nihilo: God could have NOT created the universe
        -Pure act: God count NOT have NOT created the universe (because this implies unactualized potency)

        And that’s how you get emanationism as well.

        Pure act theory also contradicts the doctrine of the Trinity and implies unitarianism, since pure act theory implies that *being incarnate* is a feature of the Ousia, which would imply that all persons of the Trinity must be incarnate in accordance with their purely actualized Divine essence. It should not be surprising that pure act implies unitarianism, since Aquinas copped most of his ideas from Platonists, Islam, and Judaism.

        The solution to these paradoxes is to accept that the premises leading to them are flawed. God is not “Being,” God does not “be,” and trying to apply pagan concepts (mental and verbal constructs) of being to God is something like a category error.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Whew, for a moment I thought you were also going to invoke the modal collapse argument, too. 😜

          Liked by 1 person

        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Samwise, I’m going to wait until Thomas and Robert responds to your above broadside, but I’d like to leave you with this thought: those who first articulated and developed the two doctrines you cite–creatio ex nihilo and the Holy Trinity–did not believe that their commitments to the classical attributes of immutability, simplicity, and divine aseity in anyway contradicted or compromised the creatio ex nihilo and the Nicene confession of the Trinity. They did not see the problems that you see. That alone should invite you to reconsider your position.

          If you are going to throw out the classical divine attributes, then that means you are going to have to also toss out most theology from the second century on and start from scratch. Neither the doctrine of the Trinity nor the Incarnation makes any sense at all apart from the radical understanding of divine transcendence which underlies and informs them. Are you proposing a back to the Bible theology? Is that what this is all about? I confess I tad confused.

          Liked by 3 people

          • Samwise says:

            I believe they did see the problems that I see, because the core of these arguments came from them (Athanasius particularly).
            The Christian understanding of these attributes is different from the classical pagan understanding. Also it is different from the Islamic/Judaic/Unitarian understanding.

            You linked an article on this topic, here: https://afkimel.wordpress.com/2014/11/07/florovsky-on-st-athanasius-and-the-doctrine-of-creation/

            The sixth paragraph here addresses how pure act schema leads to belief in eternal creation.

            Liked by 1 person

          • DBH says:

            It sounds more like the weird analytic “critique” of “Western” metaphysics that has arisen in the American Orthodox converso world. It consists in attributing to the Eastern fathers positions they would have abominated and accusing Western mediaeval Christian tradition of having invented the very categories that Western theology learned from the Eastern fathers (principally through John Damascene). The result is a fantasy theology based on a profound misunderstanding of both Eastern and Western traditions but wholly consonant with the “monopolytheism” of Craig or Swinburne.

            Another consequence of the Evangelical exodus to Orthodoxy.

            Liked by 2 people

        • Robert Fortuin says:

          Samwise, is it not a rather unorthodox (peculiar?) way of conceiving of God’s perfection as, of all things, restrictive and lacking in His will, intention, power, knowledge, nature? God is perfect therefore could not have not created? It simply doesn’t follow. I posit that God is perfect and therefore everything He does is what He always, eternally, does. Only god as man-writ-large, a creature among creatures, would have problems of the sort you describe, of missed “could have’s” or failed “could have not’s”. In my estimation there’s no deliberation, succession of choices, reaching of the “shall we do this or that today?” in God’s existence.

          God as pure act denotes divine perfection (and I should add, simplicity, immutability).

          You claim in response to Father Kimel that “the Christian understanding of these attributes is different from the classical pagan understanding.” What then is in your estimation the Christian understanding of these divine attributes (i.e. simplicity, immutability, aseity, perfection)? For simplicity sake, let’s just take one, perfection.

          Liked by 4 people

        • DBH says:

          What utter nonsense. The doctrine of actus purus–necessary for any but an entirely mythological concept of God–simply means that God is unalterable in his essence and nature by any “real relation” to a finite thing (ie, any relation by way of pathos or qualification). It does not make the contingent necessary; it merely affirms that whatever the contingent is is always already possessed supereminently in God, and therefore does not add to him, modify him, or qualify him. God does not become other by creating, or else he is not God. Do you actually imagine that God might have deliberatively elected not to create, and in doing so would have been someone else than he now is?

          That said, creation is eternal, in the sense that there is nothing before or after it and it belongs to God’s eternal counsels, and it is not a matter of deliberative choice between equally plausible options lying outside the divine nature, like a choice between blue and white carpeting. Therefore its contingency is logical but not necessarily metaphysical. And the difference between emanation and creatio ex nihilo is nothing at all, metaphysically speaking.

          Liked by 2 people

  5. Stuart Kenny says:

    This post suggests a question I’ve had for a long time:

    God was able to prevent Mary from being born with the stain original sin. Like everyone else, Mary was created directly by God as a sinless soul. But instead of ensoul her in an embryo stained with Adam’s sin, He removed the sin from the embryo so she could enter the world sinless.

    If God can do this with one person, He can do this with everyone. This suggests that God forces everyone but Mary, against their free will, to be born by means of an embryo tainted the stain of original sin. He creates us as sinless souls, and then ensouls us in embryos which He knows in advance will stain us with Adam’s sin.

    We do not freely choose to be born with the stain of original sin–we do not freely choose to place our souls into human embryos. God chooses that we are born with original sin even though He has the power to prevent it.

    He creates us sinless, and then He forces us to be stained with original sin.

    And then He threatens us with eternal damnation for something which we did not freely choose, which He did to us.

    Is this true? Or am I missing something?

    Liked by 1 person

  6. David says:

    Thanks very much for this Thomas.

    I think this is a superb statement of the case for why God must be a simple – and why God also, precisely because he is simple, must also be said to be an infinite act of understanding – and therefore must know all contingent facts. Bravo!


    However I did want to note that I find the phrase “God knows everything because he knows himself” to be not very helpful and potentially misleading. I know it is fairly common in the tradition but I think this language risks implying that God looks at himself and – on account of what he ‘sees’ in His nature – knows what is going on in the world, as though something were different in God which tells him ‘what’s what’ about the world. However the whole point of simplicity is to say that God there is nothing in God that is different as a result of the world – that God is not specified by the world. And if there is nothing in God that is different on account of the world, then it seems that there isn’t anything in God from which one could ‘read’ what is going in the world (unlike, say, how knowing the current velocity of a ball allows me to ‘read’ where it will be in ten minutes – and that I can therefore know both what the ball is doing now and what it will be doing in the future in just one act, without having a separate act of understanding or a distinct observation of the ball in ten minutes). Or to put it another way, if a human being – per impossible – could understand see the divine nature, they wouldn’t automatically know everything. Why? Because the divine nature is the same whether X happened or not-X happened – and therefore knowing the divine nature reveals diddlysquat about X.

    Now I don’t *think* that’s what you’re saying. I guess ‘God knows himself’ could be seen as a kind of circumlocution for ‘God knows the infinite (which is Himself)’ and from there we get the argument that that which is infinite cannot exclude the finite, embraces all things, is infinite being, an infinite act of understanding, etc. and therefore God must be omniscient. Which I think is correct. Do you think that’s fair?


    Likewise I don’t think the comparisons regarding arithmetic – that the better you understand, the more you are grasping everything in one underlying act, rather than separate acts of reasoning – is helpful. I agree that it is true as far as it goes. But the reason why we can grasp all individual sums in one act, simply by understanding the idea of numbers more generally, is because the very nature of logic and numbers implies that all those individual sums are necessarily ‘built in’ to the nature of numbers – or to put it another way, the nature of numbers automatically includes and determines all finite mathematical operations. This is how we only need one act of understanding numbers to understand all sums.

    However the same if not true of the relationship between contingent truths about the world and the divine nature. The totality of contingent truths – the whole finite world – is not ‘built in’ to the nature of God. Or at least it’s not unless the divine nature automatically and necessarily determines the world.

    For reasons related to the above, I’m also not convinced that you’ve demonstrated that determinism is not a worry. You’ve shown that God is infinite and that God knows everything, but I don’t see a strong demonstration for how these two facts actually hold together. For example one might hold:

    1) God is an unrestricted act of understanding, and therefore must know everything.
    2) But at the same time one could hold to a theory of knowledge which says ‘the of understanding X’ is intrinsically different to ‘the act of understanding not-X’.
    3) One would then have say ‘hmm, in that case – assuming the world is at some level undetermined – God could not know all contingent facts just ‘by knowing himself’ – because ‘himself’ is the same regardless of whether X happens or not-X happens, and therefore reveals no information about X.
    4) And he also can’t know contingent facts by some contingent act of looking at the world which is different depending on what actually happens – because that of course would require two acts and so undermine simplicity.
    5) Therefore everything that happens must necessarily follow as a result of the divine nature (i.e. the divine nature does indeed tell us what happens, because there is only one set of truths which can/do happen)

    I think this conclusion follows *unless* we can find sound reasons to reject those standard theories of knowledge – in which the act of knowledge is intrinsically different depending what is actually known – and actually properly explain how the same ‘act of knowledge’ could be the same regardless of what the facts actually are. I therefore think a fuller presentation of your case needs to have more detail on this – Thomistic epistemology certainly has some clever conceptual resources to make a strong case for this anyway!

    Speaking for myself, I hold to simplicity, omniscience and indeterminism, so I guess I’d better hope that Thomistic epistemology holds up! 🙂


    Okay actually I think there may be a few other options – mainly around reconsidering what happens to our notion ‘necessity’ and ‘contingency’ when we are talking about God, who perhaps in some way surpasses both – but that’s perhaps even more confusing that Thomistic theories of knowledge – who knew such a thing was possible? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • David,

      Thank you for the thoughtful response. This article was initially stimulated by objections you had raised in the comment section a few years ago.

      It is certainly true that if the phrase “God knows all things because he knows himself” would be misunderstood if it were taken mean discursive process whereby God moves from knowing himself in one act, to knowing other things in a distinct act.

      It is, rather, intended to mean that there is something the knowledge of which yields an understanding of everything (limited and unlimited, material and spiritual, contingent and necessary, possible and the actual) in a single act. The principle, the direct content of that act of understanding is being, which is identical both to God and that act of understanding.

      The mathematical examples were meant to answer the question how understanding of one thing can include, virtually, a secondary understanding of many other things. The point is just that there are higher-order acts of understanding that comprehend what had previously been grasped in several lower-level acts of understanding.

      I do disagree on grounding mathematical operations in numbers rather than vice versa. I would regard numbers as the material constituent of most mathematical operations, while the operations themselves are the higher intelligible component. (Thus, rational numbers are produced by division, complex numbers by taking the square root of a negative, etc.) Perhaps I am wrong about this. But this is just an illustration of higher-order knowledge, and the point can be made without resolving the mathematical issues.

      The difference between the way that our intellects grasp many things in a single understanding and the way that God understands all things is that the universality of our knowledge is by abstraction (because we grasp forms), whereas God’s knowledge is of being and is therefore not abstract but comprehensive.

      It is for that reason that I do not believe necessity is a concern. If the principle of God’s understanding was not being, if his knowledge was not a matter of identity but of some vantage of a subject on a distinct object, then perhaps he would know by inferring or deducing the world from his nature.

      But because God’s nature is being rather than delimited form, creation cannot be inferred from his nature. Because his knowledge is by identity rather than a subject-object distinction, he does not know creation deductively. The account I’m presenting, in my view, effectively rules out necessitating the world — precisely because of its account of divine, immutable knowledge.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. DBH says:

    “Nor is intentionality the “mark of the mental”: intentional being may occur in a photograph, a reflection, a story, the air insofar as it is a media for light or sound, and so on. Intentionality is relevant to the mental, but it is neither necessary for it nor can it distinguish intelligence from mere matter.”

    This is simply false. What exist in a photograph are either analogue intensities or digital pixels; there is no meaning–no image with interpretable content–in the photograph itself. The intentional existence of the object Notre Dame exists wholly and solely in mental intentionality as such.


    • Robert Fortuin says:

      David what is your take on Fr Clarke’s distinction between divine real and intentional being? I am not fully understanding why he felt the need to make such a distinction, why he felt simplicity warrants this.


      • DBH says:

        I agree that Clarke was wrong. But I reject the claim made here that intentional being is ever anything but mental, and in a qualified sense I agree with Brentano’s claim that intentionality is the mark of the mental.


  8. DBH says:

    So this is quite excellent, of course, but I do have to wonder why Lonergan’s name is absent except in a passing reference to a subordinate matter, since the latter half of the essay is more or less a straightforward and even verbatim précis of Insight ch. XIX. It’s all right to name names, and it looks a bit odd not to do so.

    I should also point out that, while the argument is entirely sound and to my mind correct (with the exception of one claim regarding intentional existence), it still might fail to persuade the analytic theistic personalist even in its own terms. He, she, or it is very likely to say that, even if God knows all things by knowing himself, if that state of knowledge mysteriously encompasses concrete particulars along with abstract laws in a single act of mind, this raises a modal question anent God’s own nature. To wit, does God’s own essence–the unrestricted act of knowledge that he is–include contingencies or only necessities? And is what he knows in knowing himself in itself contingent or necessary? I am still not convinced that the issue of necessity is not an issue here. The question of causality does not really disappear when one says that God knows all things in one infinite act of understanding, or even when one says God himself is convertible with that act–unless, perhaps, one simply grants that all possibilities are always already actual in the actuality of God, and that the absence of unrealized possibility in him is in fact simply the ultimate actuality of all possible worlds.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DBH,

      The footnotes appear not to have made it, eaten by WordPress’ text editor perhaps. Footnote 3 originally read: “This is the deeper point, but a difficult one to spell out fully here. Bernard Lonergan offers the premier treatment in his formidable Insight.”

      I would argue that the connection between necessity and knowledge arises from reducing knowledge to the paradigm of deductive inference or abstract classical laws. But — as Lonergan argued in his exposition of statistical, genetic, and dialectical method — knowledge is not essentially bound to necessity, even for us. I take this to be a large part of his criticism of both Aristotelian science and modern determinism.

      Even if we were not to accept Lonergan’s appropriation of the modern sciences, I think it’s fair to say the tight relation between necessity and knowledge arises from modes of thought particular to us: inference, propositions, etc. God doesn’t know the world in this way, nor does the world necessarily follow from him.

      We need inference, representation, formulation of laws, and so on because our knowledge can only be universal by abstraction. But, if being is, and if there is an act of understanding that grasps it, then it doesn’t know by abstraction or inference.

      In other words, I think the counter-argument against necessity may be a deconstruction of why we tend to think that an understanding of being would involve necessity in the first place.

      It’s perfectly fair to say these points are not spelled out at an adequate length here.

      Liked by 1 person

      • DBH says:

        I do not disagree. My point is only that you will find analytical personalist theists wondering whether you are equating God’s knowledge with merely a perfect *understanding* of all that is (in the sense of knowing perfectly and immediately why those contingencies that occur do in fact occur), or whether instead in God’s knowledge there are no contingencies as such. I’m not talking about deductive necessity. I’m talking about that famed issue of modal collapse.

        I don’t myself think it a very great problem, but for reasons not worth going into here. But I’m sure that the question would still be there for, say, Hasker or Craig.


  9. Taylor Patrick O'Neill says:

    A very interesting post. I agree that the argument put forth by NC is not, ultimately, tenable.

    To say something of the Báñezian position, however, I would argue that the following is incorrect:
    “But if human beings could not do otherwise they are not ultimately responsible for their actions.”

    What the Báñezian claims (and, indeed, what St. Thomas himself claims, though I digress) is precisely that the creature *could* do otherwise. The most proper understanding of necessary and contingent events is determined by the mode by which an effect comes forth from its created cause. (The distinction between necessary and contingent is hardly ever used to refer to being itself, for the distinction would then fail to have any real import, since the only necessary thing would be God.)

    What the Thomist claims, rather, is that, if God wills Peter to do X, then it will be the case that Peter does X. But this is to say something distinct from making a statement about the mode by which the act takes place. Given that man is free, i.e. that he possesses an intellectual appetite which is ordered necessary only to universal goodness, every movement of liberum arbitriuum could either be or not be, could will this thing or that thing, etc. The mode by which the effect comes forth from the free creaturely cause is contingent.

    St. Thomas agrees that an act which loses its contingency would thereby lose its moral culpability and could be neither meritorious nor demeritorious.

    Another way of putting this is that necessity and contingency within the created order are real, and they are upheld as real even while a non-fallible agent upholds the created order as a whole. Providence governs all things but does not remove the contingency of things. Moral actions can truly (i.e. metaphysially, ontologically, etc.) be other than they are, even though they end up, as it were, (in our future and in God’s eternity) determined or resting in one choice among many.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Dr. O’Neill,

      Aquinas readily speaks of things other than God as necessary. God is necessary in one sense, angels in another sense, propositions in yet another sense, and your having raised the objections you did in still another. This last sense is hypothetical necessity. Given that I read your comment, it is necessary that you wrote it. Or, to use St. Thomas’ example, given that I see Socrates sitting, it is necessary that he sits.

      There is a kind of necessity that follows from God willing that some event occur. If it is hypothetical necessity, it is quite fair to say that, given that God wills X it will necessarily occur. But of course, given that I see X occur, it is necessary that it occur. My seeing does not account for its being so and not otherwise.

      Nor, I would argue, does God’s willing account for a choice being so and not otherwise. God’s will is identically the same whether alternative X or Y can occur. Either X or Y could in fact occur and in either case God would will them. The only thing that would be different is the occurrence of either X or Y, and the truth or falsity of our propositions about God’s will (which are true by extrinsic denomination).

      But there is an alternative that is also compatible with hypothetical necessity. Gasoline, considered in itself, does not necessarily burn, but does burn when a lit match is applied to it. Given the application of a match, it is impossible that the gasoline fails to light. Similarly, human beings are by nature open to one or another possibility. But God’s will guarantees a specific choice be made.

      In that case, the notion of contingency is compatible with an extrinsic cause securing a certain result (fire, a choice) and preventing the occurrence of the alternate possibilities.

      If you hold to the former position, I agree with you. The latter position, however, falls within St. Thomas’ denunciation in De Malo. On the merits, I would argue that it not only undermines our moral agency, entails that God is evil, and lacks any plausible causal account.


      • Taylor Patrick O'Neill says:

        Could you clarify what you mean by the former and latter positions?

        When you say, “But God’s will guarantees a specific choice be made,” I still think that there is a necessity to further distinguish what is meant. As someone holding to the traditional Thomistic account, my response to that statement would be, “Well, yes in one sense and no in another.”

        God acting as extrinsic cause of the free motion of our will is not the same as time determining what was a free choice now be determined to one effect, but it functions in much the same way precisely because the mode by which the effect comes forth from the cause is not disrupted by the now composite necessity that the act did not take place in some other way.

        That’s probably a confusing formulation. To put it in another way, if one can imagine how a past action was contingent and yet is now determined to be just as it was, then one is at least beginning to contemplate the distinction between that something happened and how it happened which is at the heart of the Báñezian/Thomistic position.


        • “Could you clarify what you mean by the former and latter positions?”

          In the former case, the particular conditioned is not determined to be so and not otherwise by the condition. In the latter case it is.


        • Logan(mercifullayman) says:

          I daresay, that if we are going to look for telelogical examples of acts that are pre-supposed and yet free, it is not going to be Thomas one looks to, but rather some areas of Plotinus, arguably St. Maximus, definitely middle Schelling, and Hegel. At least there, the human is freely choosing his character and becoming what he has already chosen to be in actu, so that acts themselves are not “contingent” but that the meaning that gives truth to those moments is determined back to front. They were free then, and still are, yet only receive meaning in reverse. Contingency AND freedom are now tied by the causal joint of the word ‘and.’ Being becomes the conjunction of essence of an act and its actual existence. Theodicy and freedom make no sense with Thomas. I’ll stand on that hill. We can argue all day about the grounds, but there is a keen point to the fact that Freedom as a reflection of the divine is in itself the image we are made in, and thus, it must truly be free( in the proper way of course) to function as the term itself engenders. Now what that looks like, we can dance around who is more correct, but there is no arguing the main point.


      • DBH says:

        You are of course correct, Thomas. Bañez’s logic is an entirely perverse one, assuming that it is enough to claim a causal contingency for one’s choices to exculpate God of the evils that he “irresistibly” if “permissively” decrees. But he is clear that God does not merely ontologically uphold a result he does not predetermine, for that would render God reactive to a reality merely foreseen, in the Molinist sense. This God is of course morally more contemptible than Satan, who can at most causally cooperate in attempting to prompt an evil result. But trying to get a Thomist (or a Calvinist) to recognize how monstrous the god he worships truly is is like trying to teach a spatula to appreciate Bach. There is no potency there to actuate.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. It would seem then that for God and in God, all outcomes, even if these outcomes are mutually exclusive, are actual.


  11. Fr Aidan Kimel says:

    Footnotes have been added! My apologies to Thomas and readers for unintentionally omitting them. Not sure what happened.


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