There is no escaping providence.
1 Now, some have conceded that divine providence extends to singulars, but through certain intermediary causes. Indeed, Plato asserted a threefold providence, according to Gregory of Nyssa [Nemesius, De natura hominis, 44]. The first of these is that of the highest God, Who primarily and above all provides for His own things, that is, for all things spiritual and intellectual, but subsequently for the whole world, as far as genera and species go, and the universal causes which are the celestial bodies.
Then the second type of providence is that by which provision is made for individual animals and plants, and for other generable and corruptible individuals, in respect to their generation and corruption, and other changes.
Now, Plato attributes this kind of providence to the “gods that circulate about the heavens.” Aristotle, on the other hand, attributes their causality to the “oblique circle.” Finally, he assigns a third kind of providence to things that pertain to human life. So, he attributes this function to certain “daemons living in the region of the earth” who are caretakers for human actions, according to him. But still, according to Plato, the second and third types of providence depend on the first, for the highest God has established the ones on the second and third levels as provident agents.
Notes As we discussed in other material, this is perfectly possible and not at all fanciable, subject to the proviso our good saint introduces next.
2 Now, this theory is in agreement with the Catholic faith, in so far as it traces the providence of all things back to God as its first author. But it seems incompatible with the view of the faith, in regard to this: it says that not all particulars are immediately subject to divine providence. Now, we can show from the foregoing that they are.
3 In point of fact, God has immediate knowledge of singulars, not merely in the sense that He knows them in their causes, but even in themselves, as we showed in Book One [65ff] of this work. But it would appear inappropriate for Him to know singulars and yet not to will their order, in which their chief good consists, for His will is the source of goodness in its entirety. Therefore, just as He knows singulars immediately, He must also establish order for them immediately.
4 Again, the order that is established by providence among things that are governed arises from the order which the provident agent decides on within his own mind. For example, the artistic form that is produced in matter proceeds from the form that is in the mind of the artist.
Now, where there are many overseers, arranged one under the next, the order that is conceived by the higher one must be handed down to the lower one; just as a lower type of an receives its principles from a higher one. If, then, the second and third provident agents are claimed to be under the first provident agent, Who is the highest God, they must receive the order that is to be established in things from the highest God.
Now, it is not possible for this order to be more perfect in them than in the highest God; on the contrary, all perfections come to other things from Him by way of descent, as appears from things said earlier. The order of things must, then, be present in the secondary agents of providence, not merely universally, but also in respect to singulars; otherwise, they could not establish, order in singulars by their providence. Therefore, the ordering of singulars is much more under the control of divine providence.
5 Besides, in the case of things regulated by human providence we find that a certain higher overseer thinks out the way in which some of the big and universal matters are to be ordered, but he does not himself think out the ordering of the smallest details; rather, he leaves these to be planned by agents on a lower level. But, as a matter of fact, this is so because of his own deficiency, either because he does not know the circumstances for the individual details, or because he is not able to think out the order for all, by virtue of the effort and length of time that might be needed.
Now, deficiencies of this kind are far removed from God, because He knows all singular things, and He does not make an effort to understand, or require any time for it; since, by understanding Himself He knows all other things, as we showed above. Therefore, He plans even the order for all singular things. So, His providence applies to all singulars immediately.
6 Moreover, in human affairs the lower overseers, through their own efforts, plan the order for those things whose direction has been given them by the chief executive. Of course, they do not get this ability from the man who is in charge, or even its use. Indeed, if they did get it from him, the ordering would already be accomplished by the higher executive, and they would not be the agents responsible for this ordering, but simply the ones who carry it out.
Now, it is obvious from things said above that all wisdom and understanding are caused in intelligent beings by the highest God, and that no intellect can understand anything unless by divine power; just as no agent can perform any operation unless be act by this divine power. Therefore, God Himself is the disposer of all things immediately by His providence, and whatever beings are called agents of providence under Him are executors of His providence.
Notes Repeat “no intellect can understand anything unless by divine power” and memorize it.
7 Furthermore, a higher providence gives regulations to a lower providence, just as a statesman gives regulations and laws to the leader of an army, who gives laws and regulations to the heads of larger or smaller military units. If, then, there be other providences under the first providence of the supreme God, God must give these secondary or tertiary overseers the regulations for their commands.
So, He gives them either universal regulations and laws or particular ones. But, if He gives them universal regulations for their commands, since universal regulations cannot be applied in all cases, to particulars, especially in the case of variable things that do not always remain the same, these secondary or tertiary overseers would have to give orders at times that are contrary to the regulations given them for the things subject to their control.
So, they would be able to pass judgment on the regulations that they have received, as to when action should accord with these regulations and when one should overlook them.
Now, this could not be, for such judgment belongs to a superior. Indeed, it is the prerogative of the one who establishes the laws to interpret them and issue dispensations from them. So, this judgment over universally given regulations must be carried out by the supreme overseer. Of course, He could not do this if He refused to involve Himself immediately in the ordering of these singular things. So, according to this, He must be the immediate overseer of these things. On the other hand, if the secondary and tertiary overseers receive particular regulations and laws from the highest overseer, then it is quite obvious that the ordering of these singulars is done immediately by divine providence.
Notes In other words, demons are just following orders. But orders from the supreme authority.
8 Again, the superior overseer always holds the power of judgment over the orders issued by inferior overseers, as to whether the orders are properly given or not. If, then, the secondary or tertiary overseers are under God as the first overseer, God must hold the power of judgment over the things ordered by them. In fact, He could not do this if He did not consider the order of these singulars. Therefore He Himself takes care by Himself of these singulars.
9 Besides, if God does not immediately by Himself take care of these inferior singular things, this can only be either because He despises them or because His dignity might be lowered by them, as some people say. But this is unreasonable. It is indeed a matter of greater dignity to oversee the planning of the order for certain things than for it to be produced in them. So, if God works in all things, as we showed above, and if His dignity is not diminished thereby, and if this belongs rather to His universal and supreme power, it is in no sense something to be despised by Him, or something that might besmirch His dignity, if He exercises His providence immediately over these singulars.
10 Moreover, every wise being who uses his power providently sets limits on the use of his power, when he acts, by ordering the objective and the extent to which it goes; otherwise, his power would not keep pace with his wisdom in such action. But it is obvious from the foregoing that the divine power, in operating, reaches to the lowest things. So, the divine wisdom is in control of ordering what, bow many, and what kind of effects proceed from His power, even down to the lowest things. Therefore, He is Himself planning the order for all things immediately by His providence.
11 Hence it is said: “The things that are from God are well ordered” (Rom. 13:1). And again: “You have done the things of old, and have devised one thing after another; and what You have willed has been done” (Judith 9:4).