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CHAPTER XCIV—Of the Certainty of Divine Providence684684In reading this chapter, which I have not translated in full, one feels like an observer at work with a telescope out of focus. The thought of the Angelic Doctor is blurred by that fatal misconception which it was reserved for Newton to dissipate, that, in the heavens above, physical nature works necessarily and uniformly, but, on the earth beneath, contingently (so that the effect might be otherwise) and with some anomaly and irregularity. We must say boldly that the case is not so; that throughout all time and all space physical nature works necessarily and uniformly. The difference between astronomy and such sciences as chemistry and biology comes merely to this, that the elementary phenomena of astronomy, the orbits of the planets, and the rotation of the earth, depend, at first approximation, upon an extremely simple combination of causes, and therefore are readily calculable: whereas in the rest of nature complexity of causes and intermingling of effects is enormous, and our reckonings are continually thrown out by our ignorance of coexistences. The heavens are seen from a distance, and to the naked eye are visible only in their most general outlines. The earth would be a simple body enough to study with the naked eye ninety million miles away. Such an effect as the death by lightning of a sheep in a thunderstorm, which St Thomas would call ‘contingent,’ is really a complex physical effect, as necessary a part of the pre-established order of physical causation as the alternation of day and night. Positis ponendis, and leaving man out of the case, it is as impossible for that sheep to escape death as for the sun not to rise tomorrow: the only difference between the two cases is the multitude of ponenda. Cf. Chap. LXXIII, with notes.
IT will be necessary now to repeat some of the things that have been said before, to make it evident that (a) nothing escapes divine providence, and the order of divine providence can nowise be changed; and yet (b) it does not follow that the events which happen under divine providence all happen of necessity.255
(a) Our first point of study is this, that as God is the cause of all existing things, conferring being on them all, the order of His providence must embrace all things: for He must grant preservation to those to whom He has granted existence, and bestow on them perfection in the attainment of their last end. In the case of every one who has to provide for others there are two things to observe, the pre-arranging of the order intended and the setting of the pre-arranged order on foot. The former is an exercise of intellectual ability, the latter of practical. The difference between the two is this, that in the pre-arrangement of order the providence is more perfect, the further the arrangement can be extended even to the least details: there would be not many parts of prudence in him who was competent only to arrange generalities: but in the carrying of the order out into effect the providence of the ruler is marked by greater dignity and completeness the more general it is, and the more numerous the subordinate functionaries through whom he fulfils his design, for the very marshalling of those functionaries makes a great part of the foreseen arrangement. Divine providence, therefore, being absolutely perfect (B. I, Chap. XXVIII), arranges all things by the eternal forethought of its wisdom, down to the smallest details, no matter how trifling they appear. And all agents that do any work act as instruments in His hands, and minister in obedience to Him, to the unfolding of that order of providence in creation which He has from eternity devised. But if all things that act must necessarily minister to Him in their action, it is impossible for any agent to hinder the execution of divine providence by acting contrary to it. Nor is it possible for divine providence to be hindered by the defect of any agent or patient, since all active or passive power in creation is caused according to the divine arrangement. Again it is impossible for the execution of divine providence to be hindered by any change of providence, since God is wholly unchangeable (B. I, Chap. XV). The conclusion remains, that the divine provision cannot be annulled.
(b) Now to our second point of study. Every agent intends good, and better so far as it can (Chap. III). But good and better do not have place in the same way in a whole and in its parts. In the whole the good is the entire effect arising out of the order and composition of the parts: hence it is better for the whole that there should be inequality among the parts, without which inequality the order and perfection of the whole cannot be, than that all the parts should be equal, every one of them attaining to the rank of the noblest part. And yet, considered by itself, every part of lower rank would be better if it were in the rank of some superior part. Thus in the human body the foot would be a more dignified part of man if it had the beauty and power of the eye; but the whole body would be worse off for lacking the office of the foot. The scope and aim therefore of the particular agent is not the same as that of the universal agent. The particular agent tends to the good of the part absolutely, and makes the best of it that it can; but the universal agent tends to the good of the whole: hence a defect may be beside the intention of the particular agent, but according to the intention of the universal agent. It is the intention of the particular agent that its effect should be perfect to the utmost possible in its kind: but it is the intention of the universal agent that this effect be carried to a certain degree 256of perfection and no further. Now between the parts of the universe the first apparent difference is that of contingent and necessary. Beings of a higher order are necessary and indestructible and unchangeable: from which condition beings fall away, the lower the rank in which they are placed; so that the lowest beings suffer destruction in their being and change in their constitution, and produce their effects, not necessarily, but contingently. Every agent therefore that is part of the universe endeavours, so far as it can, to abide in its being and natural constitution, and to establish its effect: but God, the governor of the universe, intends that of the effects which take place in it one be established as of necessity, another as of contingency; and with this view He applies different causes to them, necessary causes to these effects, contingent causes to those. It falls under divine providence therefore, not only that this effect be, but also that this effect be necessarily, that other contingently. Thus, of things subject to divine providence, some are necessary, and others contingent, not all necessary.
Hence it is clear that this conditional proposition is true: ‘If God has foreseen this thing in the future, it will be.’ But it will be as God has provided that it shall be; and supposing that He has provided that it shall be contingently, it follows infallibly that it will be contingently, and not necessarily.
Cicero (De divinatione ii, 8) has this argument: ‘If all things are foreseen by God, the order of causes is certain; but if so, all things happen by fate, nothing is left in our power, and there is no such thing as free will.’ A frivolous argument, for since not only effects are subject to divine providence, but also causes, and modes of being, it follows that though all things happen by divine providence, some things are so foreseen by God as that they are done freely by us.
Nor can the defectibility of secondary causes, by means of which the effects of providence are produced, take away the certainty of divine providence: for since God works in all things, it belongs to His providence sometimes to allow defectible causes to fail, and sometimes to keep them from failing.
The Philosopher shows685685St Thomas refers to Aristotle, Metaphysics,
V, 3, a brief and obscure passage which he expands. that if every effect
has a proper cause (causam per se), every future event
may be reduced to some present or past cause. Thus if the question is put concerning
any one, whether he is to be slain by robbers, that effect proceeds from a cause,
his meeting with robbers; and that effect again is preceded by another cause, his
going out of his house; and that again by another, his wanting to find water; the
preceding cause to which is thirst, and this is caused by eating salt meat, which
he either is doing or has done. If then, positing the cause, the effect must be
posited of necessity, he must necessarily be thirsty, if he eats salt meat; and
he must necessarily will to seek water, if he is thirsty; and be must necessarily
go out of the house, if he wills to seek water; and the robbers must necessarily
come across him, if he goes out of the house; and if they come across him, he must
be killed. Therefore from first to last it is necessary for this man eating salt
meat to be killed by robbers.686686St Thomas evidently considers this conclusion
absurd. The only absurdity that I see in it arises from free will entering in as
an element in some portion of the conduct of the robbers and their victim. Substitute
a terrier and a rabbit, and the chain of physical causation, from eating salt vegetables
to being worried by a dog, is necessary, so long as all the relevant antecedents
in the case, positive and negative, remain unaltered. The philosopher concludes
that it is not true that, positing the
257cause, the effect must be posited, because
there are some causes that may fail.687687‘Fail,’ some of their conditions not being
present, as when a pistol misses fire; or a counteracting cause being present, as
medical skill (or miraculous power), to save a patient who must otherwise have died.
Nor again is it true that every effect has a proper cause: for any accidental effect,
e.g., of this man wishing to look for water and falling in with robbers, has no
cause.688688 ‘No cause,’ when you consider the case in the abstract, but how if it be taken
in the concrete, a man going to look for water in a region infested with robbers?
In speaking of a ‘necessary cause’ St Thomas is in fact thinking of a physical cause which is not likely to be counteracted, or to have any of its requisite conditions fail, e.g., the rotation of the earth producing sun-rise. In speaking of a contingent cause, — so far as the phrase may be used without bringing free will into the field, — he has in view a physical cause, the action of which may readily be counteracted by the interference of other physical causes, or may fail of effect because some one of its many requisite conditions is not present. A contingent physical cause, uninterfered with and having all its conditions present, works as a necessary cause.
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