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Category: SAMT

A tour through Saint Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles.

April 14, 2019 | 1 Comment

Summary Against Modern Thought: Divine Providence Does Not Exclude Fortune & Chance

Previous post.

God exists. So go ahead and break out the dice! As long as we understand that chance only means lack of knowledge of cause.


1 It is also apparent from the foregoing that divine providence does not take away fortune and chance from things.

2 For it is in the case of things that happen rarely that fortune and chance are said to be present. Now, if some things did not occur in rare instances, all things would happen by necessity. Indeed, things that are contingent in most cases differ from necessary things only in this: they can fail to happen, in a few cases. But it would be contrary to the essential character of divine providence if all things occurred by necessity, as we showed. Therefore, it would also be contrary to the character of divine providence if nothing were to be fortuitous and a matter of chance in things.

3 Again, it would be contrary to the very meaning of providence if things subject to providence did not act for an end, since it is the function of providence to order all things to their end. Moreover, it would be against the perfection of the universe if no corruptible thing existed, and no power could fail, as is evident from what was said above. Now, due to the fact that an agent fails in regard to an end that is intended, it follows that some things occur by chance. So, it would be contrary to the meaning of providence, and to the perfection of things, if there were no chance events.

4 Besides, the large number and variety of causes stem from the order of divine providence and control. But, granted this variety of causes, one of them must at times run into another cause and be impeded, or assisted, by it in the production of its effect. Now, from the concurrence of two or more causes it is possible for some chance event to occur, and thus an unintended end comes about due to this causal concurrence. For example, the discovery of a debtor, by a man who has gone to market to sell something, happens because the debtor also went to market. Therefore, it is not contrary to divine providence that there are some fortuitous and chance events among things.

Notes Failure to understand all aspects and condition of a cause is chance. As is also proved in the next argument. Remembering, of course, cause is not only efficient cause.

5 Moreover, what does not exist cannot be the cause of anything.

Hence, each thing must stand in the same relation to the fact that it is a cause, as it does to the fact that it is a being. So, depending on the diversity of order in beings, there must also be a diversity of order among causes.

Now, it is necessary for the perfection of things that there be among things not only substantial beings but also accidental beings. Indeed, things that do not possess ultimate perfection in their substance must obtain such perfection through accidents, and the more of these there are, the farther are they from the simplicity of God. From the fact, then, that a certain subject has many accidents it follows that it is a being accidentally, because a subject and an accident, and even two accidents of one substance, are a unit and a being accidentally; as in the example of a white man, and of a musical, white being.

So, it is necessary to the perfection of things that there should also be some accidental causes. Now, things which result accidentally from any causes are said to happen by chance or fortune. Therefore, it is not contrary to the rational character of providence, which preserves the perfection of things, for certain things to come about as a result of chance or fortune.

6 Furthermore, that there be order and a gradation of causes is important to the order of divine providence. But the higher a cause is, the greater is its power; and so, its causality applies to a greater number of things. Now, the natural intention of a cause cannot extend beyond its power, for that would be useless. So, the particular intention of a cause cannot extend to all things that can happen.

Now, it is due to the fact that some things happen apart from the intention of their agents that there is a possibility of chance or fortuitous occurrence. Therefore, the order of divine providence requires that there be chance and fortune in reality.

7 Hence it is said: “I saw that the race is not to the swift … but time and chance in all” (Sirach 9:11), that is, among things here below.

April 7, 2019 | 8 Comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Divine Providence Does Not Exclude Free Will

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God exists. And, as promised, so does your freedom of will!


1 From this it is also evident that providence is not incompatible with freedom of will.

2 Indeed, the governance of every provident ruler is ordered either to the attainment, or the increase, or the preservation of the perfection of the things governed. Therefore, whatever pertains to perfection is to be preserved by providence rather than what pertains to imperfection and deficiency.

Now, among inanimate things the contingency of causes is due to imperfection and deficiency, for by their nature they are determined to one result which they always achieve, unless there be some impediment arising either from a weakness of their power, or on the part of an external agent, or because of the unsuitability of the matter. And for this reason, natural agent causes are not capable of varied results; rather, in most cases, they produce their effect in the same way, failing to do so but rarely.

Now, the fact that the will is a contingent cause arises from its perfection, for it does not have power limited to one outcome but rather has the ability to produce this effect or that; for which reason it is contingent in regard to either one or the other. Therefore, it is more pertinent to divine providence to preserve liberty of will than contingency in natural causes.

3 Moreover, it is proper to divine Providence to use things according to their own mode. Now, the mode of acting peculiar to each thing results from its form, which is the source of action. Now, the form whereby an agent acts voluntarily is not determined, for the will acts through a form apprehended by the intellect, since the apprehended good moves the will as its object.

Now, the intellect does not have one form determined to an effect; rather, it is characteristic of it to comprehend a multitude of forms. And because of this the will can produce effects according to many forms. Therefore, it does not pertain to the character of providence to exclude liberty of will.

Notes This implies the removal of imagination, perhaps through ignorance, limits the options of the will.

4 Besides, by the governance of every provident agent the things governed are led to a suitable end; hence, Gregory of Nyssa says of divine providence that it is the “will of God through which all things that exist receive a suitable end.” But the ultimate end of every creature is to attain the divine likeness, as we showed above. Therefore, it would be incompatible with providence for that whereby a thing attains the divine likeness to be taken away from it. Now, the voluntary agent attains the divine likeness because it acts freely, for we showed in Book One [88] that there is free choice in God. Therefore, freedom of will is not taken away by divine providence.

5 Again, providence tends to multiply goods among the things that are governed. So, that whereby many goods are removed from things does not pertain to providence. But, if freedom of will were taken away, many goods would be removed. Taken away, indeed, would be the praise of human virtue which is nothing, if man does not act freely. Taken away, also, would be justice which rewards and punishes, if man could not freely do good or evil. Even the careful consideration of circumstances in processes of deliberation would cease, for it is useless to dwell upon things that are done of necessity. Therefore, it would be against the very character of providence if liberty of will were removed.

Notes Those who deny free will often speak of punishment and its horrors, but they always seem to forget that if we remove punishment we must necessarily remove praise.

6 Hence it is said: “God made man from the beginning and left him in the hand of his own counsel”; and again: “Before man is life and death, good and evil, that which he shall choose shall be given him” (Sirach 15:14, 18).

7 Now, by these considerations the opinion of the Stoics is set aside, for they said that all things come about by necessity, according to an irrevocable order of causes, which the Greeks called [sinful].

April 5, 2019 | 8 Comments

How Might Angels (Good or Bad) Work?

First best and truest answer to the titular question is: I do not know. That non-material, i.e. spiritual beings, are real is, in my mind, indisputable. So is whether they are active. They are. I know for a certain fact that I have interacted with non-material beings, beside God, and it is likely you have, too. Here is how this might work.

The argument I give today is no way conclusive. I tried looking up these ideas, which are surely not unique or original, but my ignorance on the technicalities of the subject is profound, and my search inadequate. At any rate, let’s push on!

Cast your mind back to Chapter 13 of the Summary Against Modern Thought. We learned that God must exist or no change or movement could take place. The link has the full details, but briefly they are this.

Right now—not in some distant past—but right here, right now, as you hit the scrollbar, the scrollbar moves. The muscles in your arm and hand flex. The chemicals in your hand and arm act and react to cause the flex. The electrons in the chemicals move in certain ways to cause the chemical interactions. Whatever is inside the electron changes state to cause the electron to move.

What is inside whatever is inside the electron again changes to cause the change “above” it. And so on. But not and so on ad infinitum. The process must terminate at some finite point. If it didn’t, no movement or change would ever occur. That finite termination point is God. God is therefore the unmoved mover, the uncaused cause, the first cause in every change. Every as in every.

I do not mean this slight review as the full proof. The details, again, are in Chapter 13.

Here is what is interesting. There is a causal chain, a here-and-now change which is actual and which turns a potential into an actuality, i.e. makes a change. There is the first or primary cause, which is God, followed by the series of secondary causes.

Could these secondary causes include acts by angels (good or bad)? Certainly.

God is immaterial, the scroll bar and your hands and arm are material. So are the muscles, chemical, electrons, and some other things below that. But as we get lower, we get further from materiality. Quantum materials exist as both actuality and potentiality. Strings, they say, are only two-dimensional curls of strange matter. What’s below strings? Something one dimensional? Why not? And what’s below that? The non-material. Given that God is at base, and God is immaterial, yet the material moves, there must be some way for the two to interact.

God could set the chain in motion, to make a pun, and assign the real labor of secondary causes in the immaterial to angelic beings. Every time? I have no idea.

Consider angels have to make a living, too. So it could very well be that certain non-material beings are assigned specific duties, duties regarding types of act or in definite places. There is holy water, relics, other blessed items. Meaning, perhaps, the assignment of particular non-material individuals to the secondary causes associated with these items. We also have the idea of guardian angels, which are beings that follow each of us about and, at times, interact with us, at least with our non-material intellects.

This idea is no different. And accords with ideas and notion every culture save our own, deep as it is into scientism, has had.

We, even the atheists among us, tend to view angels as bewinged beings that show up with soft glows behind them, speak in thee and thous, use cushy vowels, and dispense greeting card wisdom. Demons are rare but inveterately evil, ugly with snotty gleaming features, their whole being bent on corrupting or damning us.

This is a rather boring story, unlikely to be true. Instead, like us, non-material beings have personalities. Everyone but us has always thought so, though we do not call these beings “gods” as they did. Why should each and every demon care in just the same way about your demise? Could not some instead be incorrigible, pranksters, imbued with twisted senses of humor? Could some angels be a trifle bored with being just on this side of tears? Could not some, albeit in complete accord with God’s will and acting well within orders, carry out their task with more or less assiduity or with regard to your feelings?

We don’t see, often, what we don’t look for.

March 31, 2019 | No comments

Summary Against Modern Thought: Divine Providence Does Not Exclude Contingency

Previous post.

God exists. And so does secondary causes. And, next week, it is proved So does your freedom!


1 Just as divine providence does not wholly exclude evil from things, so also it does not exclude contingency, or impose necessity on things.

2 It has already been shown that the operation of providence, whereby God works in things, does not exclude secondary causes, but, rather, is fulfilled by them, in so far as they act by God’s power. Now certain effects are called necessary or contingent in regard to proximate causes, but not in regard to remote causes. Indeed, the fact that a plant bears fruit is a fact contingent on a proximate cause, which is the germinative power which can be impeded and can fail, even though the remote cause, the sun, be a cause acting from necessity. So, since there are many things among proximate causes that may be defective, not all effects subject to providence will be necessary, but a good many are contingent.

3 Again, it pertains to divine providence that the grades of being which are possible be fulfilled, as is evident from what was said above. But being is divided into the contingent and the necessary, and this is an essential division of being. So, if divine providence excluded all contingency, not all grades of beings would be preserved.

4 Besides, the nearer certain things are to God, the more they participate in His likeness; and the farther they are away, the more defective are they in regard to His likeness. Now, those that are nearest to God are quite immobile; namely, the separate substances which most closely approach the likeness of God, Who is completely immutable. But the ones which are next to these, and which are moved immediately by those which always exist in the same way, retain a certain type of immobility by the fact that they are always moved in the same way, which is true of the celestial bodies.

It follows, then, that those things which come after them and are moved by them are far distant from the immutability of God, so that they are not always moved in the same way. And beauty is evident in this order. Now, every necessary thing, as such, always exists in the same way. It would be incompatible, then, with divine providence. to which the establishment and preservation of order in things belongs, if all things came about as a result of necessity.

5 Furthermore, that which is necessary is always. Now, no corruptible thing always exists. So, if divine providence required this, that all things be necessary, it would follow that nothing corruptible exists among things, and, consequently, nothing generable. Thus, the whole area of generable and corruptible things would be removed from reality. This detracts from the perfection of the universe.

Notes In short, death is part of life.

6 Moreover, in every motion there is some generation and corruption, for, in a thing that is moved, something begins and something ceases to be. So, if all generation and corruption were removed as a result of taking away the contingency of things, as we showed, the consequence would be that even motion would be taken away from things, and so would all movable things.

7 Besides, the weakening of the power of any substance, and the hindering of it by a contrary agent, are due to some change in it. So, if divine providence does not prevent motion from going on in things, neither will the weakening of their power be prevented, nor the blocking of their power by the resistance of another thing. Now, the result of the weakness in power, and the impeding of it, is that a thing in nature does not always work uniformly, but sometimes fails in regard to what is appropriate for it naturally; and so, natural effects do not occur by necessity. Therefore, it is not the function of divine providence to impose necessity on things ruled by it.

8 Furthermore, among things that are properly regulated by providence there should be none incapable of fulfillment. So, if it be manifest that some causes are contingent, because they can be prevented from producing their effects, it would evidently be against the character of providence for all things to happen out of necessity. Therefore, divine providence does not impose necessity on things by entirely excluding contingency from things.