Summary Against Modern Thought: God’s Providence Applies To All

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There is no escaping providence.

THAT GOD’S PROVIDENCE APPLIES IMMEDIATELY TO ALL SINGULARS

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).

16 Thoughts

  1. This editorial note is at least confusing if not misleading: [quote] In other words, demons are just following orders. But orders from the supreme authority.[/quote]

    One clever bod (whose name I forgot long ago) made a very plausible metaphor for the interaction of omnipotence, omniscience and omnibenevolence with disorder in His Creation as so:

    Creation is like a great symphony where the creator is also the conductor and if the players play a wrong note (whether by malice or ignorance) the wrong note is incorporated into a new melody and harmony and the show goes on. (Presumably until the cacophony of wrong notes is so great that the music is unsalvageable and the orchestra will chastised with wars and disasters or wiped out in a great flood or some such).

  2. “no intellect can understand anything unless by divine power”

    If God is responsible for my understanding, then isn’t it his fault if I don’t understand that he exists?

  3. No, Fishy, it means that you have freedom of will to reject any information, knowledge, understanding that you see as a threat to your egomania, as in the childish protest: “I don’t care what you say, I’m not going to listen”.

  4. I don’t believe in free will as it doesn’t make sense. If the universe is deterministic, then our decisions are determined, if it’s non-deterministic, then are decisions are random. In neither case do we have any control over those decisions. If you have a way out of this perfect dichotomy, I’d be fascinated to hear it.

    I’m not rejecting God due to an alleged threat to my ego, I just don’t believe any religious claims.

    PS: You seemed to disappear for a while, so it’s nice to hear from you again.

  5. Whew! Fishy! Inherent contradictions are the watermark of self-supremacists who despise reason constrained by the science of logic because logic interferes with an entirely self centered notion that reality is a construct of subjective perception.

    If decisions are random or deterministic then there is no reason or justification for you to argue one way or the other; because what will be will be, and you cannot influence it in any way.

    That you ” just don’t believe any religious claims.” is a contradiction to your claim of either random or determined because it clearly implies that you could but you don’t… and your use of the term “religious” requires definition. If it simply means something accepted by a “faith” in some ideology detached from observed reality then your assumptions are “religious” according to your own claims. However, we Christians necessarily accept that there is a coherent reality that may be more-or-less perfectly perceived.

    But that we have a “religious faith” in the consistency and thus intelligibility of a transcendent reality is what makes any kind of science even possible.

  6. I don’t understand your first paragraph.

    “If decisions are random or deterministic then there is no reason or justification for you to argue one way or the other; because what will be will be, and you cannot influence it in any way.”

    If we don’t have free will, we can’t influence events differently to how we actually influence events, but we’re still actually influencing events.

    “That you “just don’t believe any religious claims.” is a contradiction to your claim of either random or determined because it clearly implies that you could but you don’t… and your use of the term “religious” requires definition.”

    I don’t see how someone not believing something contradicts reality being deterministic (or random). By ‘religious claims’, I mean anything supernatural, such as gods, souls, or miracles.

    “But that we have a “religious faith” in the consistency and thus intelligibility of a transcendent reality is what makes any kind of science even possible.”

    We don’t need ‘faith’ in the consistency of reality to be able to understand it, we just need it to behave consistently, which it does.

  7. Are you a lawyer trying to detach from responsibility by claiming “I didn’t, couldn’t do anything else because “the Fates” done it”?

    “we can’t influence events differently to how we actually influence events, but we’re still actually influencing events.” !!!?? No comment required.

    “By ‘religious claims’, I mean anything supernatural, such as gods, souls, or miracles.”
    You need to define “supernatural”. If your “supernatural” means anything immaterial then, to you, there is no difference between any pile of organic chemicals and a live organism.

    “We don’t need ‘faith’ in the consistency of reality to be able to understand it, we just need it to behave consistently, which it does.”

    Can you “prove” the inherent consistency of reality with only the assumptions of Materialism and without any reference to metaphysical requisites such as powers of observation, reason and understanding?

    “I don’t see how someone not believing something contradicts reality being deterministic (or random).”

    That you don’t see does not extinguish or invalidate everything beyond your myopia.

  8. “Are you a lawyer trying to detach from responsibility […] ?”

    No, I’m someone who’s trying to understand reality to the best of my ability. Our lacking free will doesn’t make any practical difference to responsibility, as far as I can see.

    “You need to define “supernatural””.

    That’s more up to the people claiming that supernatural gods, souls, or miracles exist, but I’d say something like “not part of nature”.

    “If your “supernatural” means anything immaterial then, to you, there is no difference between any pile of organic chemicals and a live organism.”

    The difference is like that between a pile of scrap car parts and a working car, so it’s the way the parts are arranged.

    “Can you “prove” the inherent consistency of reality with only the assumptions of Materialism and without any reference to metaphysical requisites such as powers of observation, reason and understanding?”

    No, it’s an assumption. You can’t prove anything using metaphysics, either.

  9. [quote=Fishy] No, I’m someone who’s trying to understand reality to the best of my ability. Our lacking free will doesn’t make any practical difference to responsibility, as far as I can see.[/quote]

    You’re claiming that no one is responsible for anything because “the Fates” or “chance” have already determined everything?

    “Understanding reality” presupposes that there is a reality and that it is “understandable” (I prefer the term intelligible) which requires a metaphysical thing or stuff quite different to an assemblage of physical parts. A “pile of scrap car parts” cannot assemble itself or function without an intelligently devised order directed to a functional end.

    [quote]”No, it’s an assumption. You can’t prove anything using metaphysics, either.”[/quote]

    Orrite, a consistent physical reality is a commonsense premise without which no observation or measurement has any validity at all. Moreover, all observations and measurements are dependent on consciousness, cognisance and comparisons that are way beyond an assemblage of “scrap car parts”… that do not create themselves and cannot assemble themselves into a functional vehicle of any sort.

  10. “You’re claiming that no one is responsible for anything because “the Fates” or “chance” have already determined everything?”

    What I mean is that even if it’s the case that a serial killer has no choice other than to become a serial killer, we’d still have to lock them up, both to protect the public and deter other potential serial killers. So, criminal responsibility would remain the same for all practical purposes. In any case, you can’t argue that free will must exist because you don’t like the implications of it not existing. I’m still not hearing any argument as to how there’s any gap between determinism and non-determinism in which free will could operate.

    “A “pile of scrap car parts” cannot assemble itself or function without an intelligently devised order directed to a functional end.

    It’s just an analogy. Living things can “assemble themselves” (really, copying themselves) by a series of chemical reactions. Their apparent design is down to the effects of natural selection. Living things do not have any functional end, they just do whatever they can to survive.

    “Moreover, all observations and measurements are dependent on consciousness, cognisance and comparisons that are way beyond an assemblage of “scrap car parts”… that do not create themselves and cannot assemble themselves into a functional vehicle of any sort.”

    All the evidence suggests that life arose and evolved according to entirely natural processes.

  11. No, Fishy, there is no evidence that “All the evidence suggests that life arose and evolved according to entirely natural processes.” It is purely an ideological assumption with no real evidence. It is the underlying absurd superstitious assumption that Nothing can, and does, relentlessly turn itself into Everything by no mechanism observable in the real, observable Natural Laws for no purpose.

    I propose for your consideration a condensation of a “scientific method”. Something is seen to happen; observation. Question; why is this so? etc.

    Contrast that with the dogmas of scientism that claim that this is what happened and their entire “investigation” is confined to try to find “evidence” that can be interpreted to support the assumptions.

    Reason constrained by observation and the science of logic says that it is impossible for “a thing that does not exist to cause itself to exist” and the corollary that “an effect cannot be greater than its cause(s)”.

    Your scattered car parts cannot create themselves nor assemble themselves into a machine without an orchestrated interactivity directed toward a functional end of some sort.

    All the evidence so far is that biological “Evolution” is always and only in the direction of entropy.

  12. Your opinions on evolution are so out of touch with reality that they’re embarrassing. Schoolkids know more about it than do you. It doesn’t even have anything to do with free will. ‘Bye.

  13. [quote]It doesn’t even have anything to do with free will.[/quote]

    Wrong, Fishy. The superstitious dogmas of Naturalism are crucial to your deterministic randomness claims, which is why you doggedly assume it as your base premise.

    That many, or most, impressionable children can be indoctrinated by a relentless barrage of impossible scientistic dogma in no way validates the irrational anti-science that is assumed.

    Real science depends for its very existence on consistent, coherent reality.

  14. “Real science depends for its very existence on consistent, coherent reality.”

    Free will depends on reality being unpredictable, and therefore inconsistent.

    “The superstitious dogmas of Naturalism are crucial to your deterministic randomness claims, which is why you doggedly assume it as your base premise.”

    It’s pretty obvious who out of the two of us is clinging to “superstitious dogma”, and it isn’t me. If you want to have a go at refuting my argument, please explain how something can behave in a way which isn’t predictable, but also isn’t unpredictable?

  15. A superstition is an “unreasonable belief”.

    I claim that the belief that Nothing can and does, turn itself into Everything is an unreasonable belief; it is a superstition.

    Predictability is based on the reasonable assumption that known causes produce consistent results. No science or engineering can work otherwise.

    Your gripe is based in the assumption that everything is temporal… and the product of a “before”. Great thinkers grappled with this “problem” of contingency and determination.

    However, free choice is only possible to us/those in a temporal situation with a more-or-less known before and a presumed after. That is the guts of free will.

    The other, the eternal, is a bit harder to grasp. It’s where there isn’t any before and after. Past, present and future are always NOW! Will be, is, has been are omnipresent but not determined. The only influence a temporal being can have is to have inducements placed in the way of another much as a parent tries to influence their children but they may still be accepted or rejected. In fact, no one can create their own goodness, we can only accept or reject that which is presented to us.

  16. “I claim that the belief that Nothing can and does, turn itself into Everything is an unreasonable belief; it is a superstition.”

    Fine, but I don’t believe in Nothing.

    “However, free choice is only possible to us/those in a temporal situation with a more-or-less known before and a presumed after. That is the guts of free will.”

    I’ve absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. Anyway, it’s been fun. ‘Bye.

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