Summary Against Modern Thought: God Can Product Effects Without Proximate Causes

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Miracles are possible. This chapter is only an introduction. In two weeks, we get to the meat of miracles.

THAT GOD CAN WORK APART FROM THE ORDER IMPLANTED IN THINGS, BY PRODUCING EFFECTS WITHOUT PROXIMATE CAUSES

1 It remains to show now that He can act apart from the order implanted by Him in things.

2 Indeed, there is an order divinely instituted in things to the effect that lower things are moved through higher ones by God, as we said above. Now, God can act apart from this order; for instance, He may Himself produce an effect in lower things, with nothing being done, in this case, by a higher agent.

In fact, there is a difference on this point between an agent that acts by natural necessity and one that acts according to will; an effect cannot result from one that acts by natural necessity except according to the mode of the active power—so, an agent that has very great power cannot directly produce a small effect, but it produces an effect in proportion to its power.

But, in this effect, there is sometimes less power than in the cause, and so, by means of many intermediaries, there finally comes to be a small effect from the highest cause. However, the situation is not the same in the case of an agent working through will. For one who acts through will is able at once to produce without an intermediary any effect that does not exceed its power. For instance, the very perfect artisan can produce any kind of work that the less perfect artisan could make. Now, God operates through will, and not through natural necessity, as we showed above. Therefore, He can produce immediately, without special causes, the smaller effects that are produced by lower causes.

3 Again, the divine power is related to all active powers as a universal power in regard to particular powers, as is evident from our earlier statements. Now, universal active power can be limited in two ways for the purpose of producing a particular effect.

One way is by means of a particular intermediate cause: thus, the active power of a celestial body is limited to the effect of generating human beings, by the particular power which is in the semen; so, too, in syllogisms, the force of the universal proposition is limited to a particular conclusion, by the inclusion of a particular premise.

Another way is by means of understanding, which apprehends a definite form and produces it in the effect. But the divine understanding is capable of knowing not only the divine essence which is like a universal active power, and also not only of knowing universal and first causes, but all particular ones, as is clear from the things said above. Therefore, it is able to produce immediately every effect that any particular agent can bring about.

4 Besides, since accidents result from the substantial principles of a thing, the agent who immediately produces the substance of a thing must be able immediately to cause, in relation to this thing, anything whatever that results from the thing’s substance. For instance, the generating agent, because it gives the form, gives all the properties and resultant motions. Now, we showed above that God, at the first establishment of things, brought all things immediately into being by creation. Therefore, He is able immediately to move anything to any effect without intermediate causes.

Notes In other words, God does not need to use physics, say, to cause water to change into wine. He can do it by willing the nature of the water changes. Or He can form a man without biology, as the next example shows.

5 Moreover, the order of things flows forth from God into things, according as it is foreknown in His intellect. We observe, for example, in human affairs that the head of a state imposes on the citizens an order that is preconceived within himself. But the divine understanding is not determined by necessity to this particular order, in the sense that He can understand no other order; because even we can apprehend intellectually another order. For instance, it can be understood by us that God may form a man from the earth without the use of semen. Therefore, God can bring about the proper effect of these causes without lower causes.

6 Furthermore, although the order implanted in things by divine providence represents in its own way divine goodness, it does not represent it perfectly, because the goodness of a creature does not attain to equality with divine goodness. But that which is not perfectly represented by a given copy may again be represented in another way besides this one. Now, the representation in things of the divine goodness is the end for the production of things by God, as we showed above. Therefore, the divine will is not limited to this particular order of causes and effects in such a manner that it is unable to will to produce immediately an effect in things here below without using any other causes

7 Again, the whole of creation is more subject to God than the human body is to its soul, for the soul is in proportion to its body, as its form, but God surpasses all proportion to creation. Now, as a result of the soul imagining something and being moved by strong emotion in regard to it, there follows at times a change in the body toward good health or sickness, independent of the action of the bodily principles that are present from birth in the body, in order to affect sickness or health. Therefore, by all the greater reason, as a result of divine will, an effect can be produced in creatures without using the causes that are naturally brought into being for the purpose of producing such an effect.

8 Besides, according to the order of nature, the active powers of the elements are subordinated to the active powers of the celestial bodies. But, at times, celestial power brings about the proper effect of the elemental powers without the action of the element. An example is the sun heating, independently of the action of fire. Therefore, the divine power, for a much greater reason, can produce the proper effects of created causes without the action of these causes.

9 Now, if someone says that, since God did implant this order in things, the production in things of an effect independently of its proper causes, and apart from the order established by Him, could not be done without a change in this order, this objection can be refuted by the very nature of things.

For the order imposed on things by God is based on what usually occurs, in most cases, in things, but not on what is always so. In fact, many natural causes produce their effects in the same way, but not always. Sometimes, indeed, though rarely, an event occurs in a different way, either due to a defect in the power of an agent, or to the unsuitable condition of the matter, or to an agent with greater strength—as when nature gives rise to a sixth finger on a man.

But the order of providence does not fail, or suffer change, because of such an event. Indeed, the very fact that the natural order, which is based on things that happen in most cases, does fail at times is subject to divine providence. So, if by means of a created power it can happen that the natural order is changed from what is usually so to what occurs rarely—without any change of divine providence—then it is more certain that divine power can sometimes produce an effect, without prejudice to its providence, apart from the order implanted in natural things by God.

In fact, He does this at times to manifest His power. For it can be manifested in no better way, that the whole of nature is subject to the divine will, than by the fact that sometimes He does something outside the order of nature. Indeed, this makes it evident that the order of things has proceeded from Him, not by natural necessity, but by free will.

Notes Again, miracles happen. And this is as good a definition of miracles as you can find.

10 Nor should this argument, that God does a thing in nature in order to manifest Himself to the minds of men, be regarded as of slight importance, because we showed above that all corporeal creatures are, in a sense, ordered to intellectual nature as an end; moreover, the end of this intellectual nature is divine knowledge, as we showed in earlier remarks. So, it is not astonishing that some change is made in corporeal substance in order to make provision for the knowing of God by intellectual nature.

2 Thoughts

  1. (In the title, why “Product” and not “Produce”?)

    It’s easy to argue that your God can work miracles when you’ve previously defined him as being omnipotent. It’s on the same level as arguing that Thanos can kill 50 % of all living things because the Infinity Gauntlet gives him the power to do so.

    “For instance, it can be understood by us that God may form a man from the earth without the use of semen.”

    Aquinas was a Genesis literalist. Remember this the next time a sophisticated theologist claims that only a few modern-day evangelicals take Genesis literally.

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