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CHAPTERS XCV, XCVIThat the Immutability of Divine Providence does not bar the Utility of Prayer

AS the immutability of divine providence does not impose necessity on things foreseen, so neither does it bar the utility of prayer. For prayer is not poured out to God that the eternal arrangement of providence may be changed, — that is impossible, — but that man may gain what he desires of God. It is fitting for God to assent to the pious desires of His rational creatures, not that our desires move the immutability of God, but it is an outcome of His goodness suitably to carry out what we desire.

4. It is proper for friends to will the same thing. Now God loves His creature (B. I, Chap. XCI) and every creature all the more that the said creature has a share in His goodness, which is the prime and principal object of God’s love. But, of all creatures, the rational creature most perfectly partakes in the divine goodness. God therefore wills the fulfilment of the desires of the rational creature. And His will is effective of things.

5. The goodness of the creature is derived in point of likeness from the goodness of God. But it is a point of special commendation in men, not to deny assent to just requests: thereupon they are called ‘liberal,’ ‘clement,’ ‘merciful and kind.’ This therefore is a very great function of divine goodness, to hear pious prayers.689689To say that in man nature attains its highest perfection, that there is nothing beyond nature, and consequently nothing in existence higher than man, is atheism. To make out a God, all intellect and no will, all law and no love, a being admirable indeed, but unloving and unlovable, is to make God less good than man, — as though what Holy Writ calls ‘lovingkindness’ were a sort of ‘bend sinister,’ a shade of inferiority in being. The argument in the text, — by adversaries dubbed ‘anthropomorphic,’ — goes to establish what present-day philosophers call ‘a personal God,’ meaning a God who has in Him something corresponding to what in man are called ‘feelings,’ and that something not ineffective or impotent in this world of law; a God consequently whom there is some use in praying to.

Hence it is said: He will do the will of them that fear him, and hear their prayers and save them (Ps. cxliv, 9): Every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and the door shall be opened to him that knocketh (Matt. vii, 8).

690690What follows is the second part of Chap. XCVI. I have appended it to Chap. XCV, to which in subject-matter it belongs, and without which it is in complete as leaving the most serious difficulty unresolved. Indeed, seeing how the Bergamo autograph in the Vatican consists of loose parchments tied together, I suspect that the order of them has got deranged, and that what follows was meant by the Saint to belong to Chap. XCV.From what has been said it appears that prayers and pious desires are causes of some things that are done by God. It has been shown above (Chap. LXXVII) 258that divine providence does not bar the working of other causes, nay, rather it directs them in the work of imposing upon creation the order which providence in its own counsels has determined upon. Thus secondary causes are not inconsistent with providence, but rather carry providence into effect. Thus then prayers are efficacious with God, not however as breaking through the order of divine providence, because this very arrangement, that such a concession be made to such a petitioner, falls under the order of divine providence. Therefore to say that we should not pray to gain any thing of God, because the order of His providence is unchangeable, is like saying that we should not walk to get to a place, nor eat to support life.

Thus a twofold error concerning prayer is excluded. Some have said that there is no fruit of prayer. This was said as well on the part of those who denied divine providence, as the Epicureans did; as also on the part of those who withdrew human affairs from divine providence, as some of the Peripatetics did; as also on the part of those who thought that all things happen of necessity, as the Stoics did. From all these tenets it would follow that prayer is fruitless, and consequently all divine worship in vain:691691The prayer of petition would be fruitless, certainly; and that is the prayer, the cry of distress, which bursts most rervently from heart and lips: but even the chant of praise would die away except for operatic purposes. Who would ‘give thanks’ to the law of gravitation, or ‘bless’ Maclauren’s theorem, or ‘glorify’ Boyle’s Law, or ‘adore’ the whole concatenation of the laws of thought and things? which error is referred to in Malachy iii, 14: Ye have said: he laboureth in vain who serveth God, and what profit is it that we have kept his ordinances, and that we have walked sad before the Lord of Hosts?

There were others on the contrary who said that the divine arrangement was reversible by prayer. And the prima facie rendering of certain texts of scripture seems to favour this view. Thus, after Isaias by divine command had said to King Ezechias: Put thine house in order, for thou shalt die and not live; yet upon Ezechias’s prayer the word of the Lord came to Isaias, saying: Go and tell Ezechias: I have heard thy prayer, lo I will add to thy days fifteen years (Isa. xxxviii, 1-5). Again it is said in the person of the Lord: I will suddenly speak against a nation and against a kingdom, to root out and pull down and destroy it. If that nation against which I have spoken shall repent of their evil, I also will repent of the evil that I have thought to do to them (Jer. xviii, 7, 8); Turn to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful: who knoweth but he will turn and forgive? (Joel ii, 13, 14.) But against construing these texts to mean that the will of God is changeable, or that anything happens to God in time, or that temporal events in creation are the cause of anything coming to exist in God, there are other authorities of Holy Writ, containing infallible and express truth. Thus it is said: God is not as man, that he should die, nor as the son of man, that he should change. Has he said then and shall not do? Has he spoken and shall not fulfil? (Num. xxiii, 19): The victorious one in Israel will not spare, and will not be moved to repentance: for he is not a man that he should repent (1 Kings xv, 29): I am the Lord and change not (Malach. iii, 6).

On careful consideration it will appear that all mistakes in this matter arise from failing to note the difference between the system of the universe and any particular system (universalem ordinem et particularem). There is nothing to hinder any particular system being changed, whether by prayer or by any other means; for there is that existing beyond the bounds of the system which is capable of changing it. But beyond the system that embraces all things nothing can be posited whereby such system could possibly be changed, depending as it does on the universal cause. Therefore the Stoics laid it down 259that the system established by God could nowise be changed. But they failed in a right appreciation of this general system in supposing that prayers were useless, which was taking for granted that the wills of men, and their desires whence their prayers proceed, are not comprehended in that general system. For when they say that the same effect follows whether prayers are put up or not, — follows, that is, as part of the univeral system of things, — they manifestly reserve and except prayers as not entering into that general system. Supposing prayers included in the system, then effects will follow from them by divine appointment as from other causes. One might as well exclude the effects of other every-day causes as exclude the effect of prayer. And if the immutability of the divine plan does not withdraw the effects of other causes, neither does it take away the efficacy of prayer.

Prayers then avail, not as changing a system arranged from eternity, but as being themselves part of that system. And there is no difficulty in the efficacy of prayer changing the particular system of some inferior cause, by the doing of God, who overpasses all causes, and who consequently is not bound by the necessity of any system depending on any cause; but on the contrary every necessity of system dependent on any inferior cause is checked by Him, as having been instituted by Him.692692In the above passage, inadvertently perhaps, St Thomas admirably hits off the real meaning of what he and Aristotle called ‘contingent’ events, συμβεβηκότα. An event is ‘contingent’ in reference to a particular system, but (apart from the doings of free will) every event is ‘necessary’ in the ‘general system,’ on the hypothesis of that system being. The killing of a sheep by lightning (see note, p. 254)is a contingency unprovided for in ovine economy, but pre-arranged in the general system of the universe, in which general system it is an hypothetical necessity: it must be, if the system is to stand as it is. Inasmuch then as pious prayers avail to alter some points of the system of inferior causes that was established by God, God is said to ‘turn,’ or ‘repent.’ Hence Gregory says that God does not change His counsel, though He sometimes changes His sentence, not the sentence which declares His eternal arrangements, but the sentence which declares the order of inferior causes, according to which Ezechias was to die, or some nation to be punished for its sins. Such change of sentence is called in metaphorical language ‘repentance,’ inasmuch as God behaves like one repentant, to whom it belongs to change what He has done. In the same way God is said metaphorically to be ‘angry,’ inasmuch as by punishing He produces the effect of anger. (B. I, Chap. XCI ad fin.)


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