CT 96: Voluntariness of God’s Activity

Having discussed the unity of the soul, and how God creates it from nothing, Thomas takes (what seems to be) an abrupt left turn, and is back talking all about God again. The point he makes in this chapter is that whatever God does is done, not by necessity, but because God wills to do it.

The truth set forth in the preceding chapter also discloses the fact that God has brought things into existence not through any necessity of His nature but by His will.

When Thomas says that something is necessary, he means that it couldn’t have possibly been otherwise. To say that a thing does something from the necessity of its nature is simply to say that it’s the thing’s nature to behave in such a way; the thing can’t help it. A stone is hard, and falls when it is dropped; it can’t help. It sounds odd to modern ears to say that a stone falls because it is its nature to do so; surely it falls because of gravity? But the Law of Gravity simply says that it is the nature of things that have mass to be attracted to other things that have mass proportionally to their mass.

God is not like this. He has created because He has chosen to create. How do we know this?

A single natural agent produces immediately but one effect, whereas a voluntary, agent can produce a variety of effects. The reason for this is that every agent acts in virtue of its form. The natural form, whereby a cause operates naturally, is limited to one for each agent. But intellectual forms, whereby an agent operates through his will, are many.

I’m not persuaded here. A stone, for example, simply lies there and does nothing, unless something else moves it. One agent, one effect. But a dog has no intellectual form, and can cause many effects. Can a dog be said to choose? Perhaps not. But perhaps I’m not understanding Thomas.

Therefore, since many things are immediately produced by God, as we have just shown, God evidently produces things by His will, and not under the impulse of natural necessity.

Why doesn’t this apply to a dog?

Besides, in the order of causes, an agent operating through intellect and will is prior to an agent operating by the necessity of its nature. For an agent operating through his will predetermines for himself the end for the sake of which he acts, whereas a natural cause operates on account of an end predetermined for it by another. But, as is clear from all that has gone before, God is the first agent. Hence He acts through His will, and not by a necessity of His nature.

An agent which acts by necessity has no choice in what it does; it is deterministic. Now, something caused it to do what it’s doing. That something is either also acting by necessity, or it is choosing to do what it’s doing. Ultimately, we get back to either God, the First Cause, or to some other intellect, as a true Secondary Cause.

Moreover, we demonstrated above that God is infinite in power. Consequently He is not determined to this or that effect, but is undetermined with regard to all effects.

Nothing can make God do anything. None of his actions are deterministic.

But what is undetermined regarding various effects, is determined to produce one of them by desire or by the determination of the will. Thus a man who is free to walk or not to walk, walks when he wills. Hence effects proceed from God according to the determination of His will. And so He acts, not by a necessity of His nature, but by His will.

This seems to be saying that actions are either free or determined, and that free actions must be chosen by a will. Since none of God’s actions are determined, He must have willed them.

This is why the Catholic faith calls the omnipotent God not only “Creator,” but also “Maker.” For making is properly the action of an artificer who operates by his will. And since every voluntary agent acts in virtue of the conception of his intellect, which is called his word, as we indicated above, and since the Word of God is His Son, the Catholic faith professes that “all things were made” by the Son.

Very nice.

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