Friday, May 26, 2006


Thomas Aquinas on Eternal Law

Thomas Aquinas wrote:

Whether the eternal law is the supreme pattern of all things existing in the mind of God
Just as the pattern of something made by an artist pre-exists in the artist's mind, so in the mind of any governor there pre-exists a pattern of the things to be done by his subjects. Moreover, just as the pattern of things to be made through art is called the art or exemplar, so the governors pattern for the activity of his subjects takes on the nature of law provided that the other above-mentioned characteristics of law are also present.

God, through his wisdom, is creator of all things and related to them as artist to work of art. He is also governor of all actions and activities found in individual creatures. Thus, just as the divine wisdom, insofar as all things were created by it, has the character of art, exemplar or idea, so also divine wisdom as moving all things to their proper end has the character of law. Accordingly the eternal law is nothing other than the pattern of divine wisdom according to which it directs all acts and motions.

Whether the eternal law is known to all
A thing can be known in two ways: First, in itself; second, in its effect, in which some likeness of it is found, just as someone who does not see the sun in its substance may at least know it by its rays. Thus it must be said that only God and the blessed who see God in his essence can know the eternal law as it is in itself; yet every creature knows it according to some of its greater or lesser radiations.

Every knowledge of truth is a certain radiation of and participation in the eternal law, which is the unchangeable truth, as Augustine says. Everyone knows the truth to some extent, since at least the common principles of natural law are available to him. As for the rest, people know it in greater or lesser degree and thus know more or less of the eternal law.

Whether all law is derived from the eternal law
Law is a certain plan directing acts to their end. Wherever movers are ordered to one another, the power of the second mover must be derived from that of the first, since the second mover operates only insofar as it is moved by the first. We see the same thing in all governors. The plan of government is derived by the secondary governors from the primary governor, just as the plan of what is to be done in a state derives from the king through his command to lesser administrators. It is the same in construction, where building plans descend from the architect to the lesser craftsmen who work with their hands.

Therefore, since the eternal law is a plan of government in the supreme governor, all plans of government in lesser governors must be derived from eternal law. All laws besides the eternal law are plans of this sort devised by inferior governors. Thus all laws are derived from eternal law insofar as they participate in right reason. That is why Augustine says that "in temporal law nothing is just and legitimate which men have not derived from eternal law."

Whether the contingent acts of nature are subject to the eternal law
Certain distinctions should be made between human law and eternal law, which is the law of God. Human law extends only to rational creatures subject to man. the reason for this is that law governs the actions of those who are subject to the government of someone. Thus no one, properly speaking, imposes a law on his own acts. Whatever is done regarding the use of irrational things subject to man is done by man himself moving these things, since these irrational creatures do not move themselves but are moved by others. consequently man cannot impose law on irrational creatures, no matter how thoroughly these creatures may be subjected to him. He can impose law on rational creatures who are subject to him, however, insofar as by his precept or command he impresses on their minds a rule which becomes a principle of action.

Just as man, by such precepts, impresses a kind of inward principle of actions on whoever is subject to him, so God imprints on the whole of nature the principles of his own proper actions, and thus he is said to command all of nature. As the psalmist says, "He has made a decree which will not pass away" (Ps. 148:6). For this reason all the movements and activities of nature are subject to eternal law. Thus irrational creatures are subject to eternal law inasmuch as they are moved by divine providence, though not by understanding of divine commandment as in the case of rational creatures.

Whether all human affairs are subject to eternal law
A thing can be subject to eternal law in two ways: First, insofar as it participates in the divine law by way of knowledge; second, through acting and being acted upon, insofar as it participates in the divine law as an interior motive principle. Irrational creatures are subject to eternal law in this second way, as was said above.

Since a rational creature, in addition to what it shares in common with all creatures, has some special characteristics precisely because it is rational, it is subject to the eternal law in both ways. It has some knowledge of the eternal law, yet at the same time there is implanted in every rational creature a natural inclination to that which is consonant with eternal law. As Aristotle says, "We are naturally adapted to receive the virtues."

Each manner of participating in the eternal law is imperfect and corrupted in the wicked, for in them the natural inclination to virtue is corrupted by vicious habits and the natural knowledge of good is overshadowed by passions and sinful habits. Each manner is found in a more perfect condition in the good, for in them natural understanding of the good is supplemented by knowledge through faith and wisdom, while natural inclination toward good is supplemented by the inner power of grace and virtue.

Thus the good are perfectly subject to eternal law in the sense that they always act according to it. The evil are also subject to eternal law. They are imperfectly subject to it as far as their own actions are concerned, since they know the good imperfectly are imperfectly inclined to it. Nevertheless, this deficiency in their action is made up by the way they are acted upon, for they suffer the penalty decreed by the eternal law for those who do not fulfill its commandments.

I accept that there is an underlying order to things and we live rightly when we live according to that order.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006


Slate blogs the Bible

What happens when an ignoramus reads the Good Book?
By David Plotz

Good stuff.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006


US Citizenship for Jesus Christ

US Citizenship for Jesus Christ: Boycott The Petition



Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Boethius on the problem of omniscience vs. free will

In his De consolatione philosophiœ, Roman philosopher-theologian Boethius posits the following solution to the apparent incongruity between God's omniscience and free will:

‘Since then all judgment apprehends the subjects of its thought according to its own nature, and God has a condition of ever-present eternity, His knowledge, which passes over every change of time, embracing infinite lengths of past and future, views in its own direct comprehension everything as though it were taking place in the present. If you would weigh the foreknowledge by which God distinguishes all things, you will more rightly hold it to be a knowledge of a never-failing constancy in the present, than a foreknowledge of the future. Whence Providence is more rightly to be understood as a looking forth than a looking forward, because it is set far from low matters and looks forth upon all things as from a lofty mountain-top above all. Why then do you demand that all things occur by necessity, if divine light rests upon them, while men do not render necessary such things as they can see? Because you can see things of the present, does your sight therefore put upon them any necessity? 164Surely not. If one may not unworthily compare this present time with the divine, just as you can see things in this your temporal present, so God sees all things in His eternal present. Wherefore this divine foreknowledge does not change the nature or individual qualities of things: it sees things present in its understanding just as they will result some time in the future. It makes no confusion in its distinctions, and with one view of its mind it discerns all that shall come to pass whether of necessity or not. For instance, when you see at the same time a man walking on the earth and the sun rising in the heavens, you see each sight simultaneously, yet you distinguish between them, and decide that one is moving voluntarily, the other of necessity. In like manner the perception of God looks down upon all things without disturbing at all their nature, though they are present to Him but future under the conditions of time. Wherefore this foreknowledge is not opinion but knowledge resting upon truth, since He knows that a future event is, though He knows too that it will not occur of necessity. If you answer here that what God sees about to happen, cannot but happen, and that what cannot but happen is bound by necessity, you fasten me down to the word necessity, I will grant that we have a matter of most firm truth, but it is one to which scarce any man can approach unless he be a contemplator of the divine. For I shall answer that such a thing 165will occur of necessity, when it is viewed from the point of divine knowledge; but when it is examined in its own nature, it seems perfectly free and unrestrained. For there are two kinds of necessities; one is simple: for instance, a necessary fact, “all men are mortal”; the other is conditional; for instance, if you know that a man is walking, he must be walking: for what each man knows cannot be otherwise than it is known to be; but the conditional one is by no means followed by this simple and direct necessity; for there is no necessity to compel a voluntary walker to proceed, though it is necessary that, if he walks, he should be proceeding. In the same way, if Providence sees an event in its present, that thing must be, though it has no necessity of its own nature. And God looks in His present upon those future things which come to pass through free will. Therefore if these things be looked at from the point of view of God’s insight, they come to pass of necessity under the condition of divine knowledge; if, on the other hand, they are viewed by themselves, they do not lose the perfect freedom of their nature. Without doubt, then, all things that God foreknows do come to pass, but some of them proceed from free will; and though they result by coming into existence, yet they do not lose their own nature, because before they came to pass they could also not have come to pass.

‘“What then,” you may ask, “is the difference 166in their not being bound by necessity, since they result under all circumstances as by necessity, on account of the condition of divine knowledge?” This is the difference, as I just now put forward: take the sun rising and a man walking; while these operations are occurring, they cannot but occur: but the one was bound to occur before it did; the other was not so bound. What God has in His present, does exist without doubt; but of such things some follow by necessity, others by their authors’ wills. Wherefore I was justified in saying that if these things be regarded from the view of divine knowledge, they are necessary, but if they are viewed by themselves, they are perfectly free from all ties of necessity: just as when you refer all, that is clear to the senses, to the reason, it becomes general truth, but it remains particular if regarded by itself. “But,” you will say, “if it is in my power to change a purpose of mine, I will disregard Providence, since I may change what Providence foresees.” To which I answer, “You can change your purpose, but since the truth of Providence knows in its present that you can do so, and whether you do so, and in what direction you may change it, therefore you cannot escape that divine foreknowledge: just as you cannot avoid the glance of a present eye, though you may by your free will turn yourself to all kinds of different actions.” “What?” you will say, “can I by my own action change 167divine knowledge, so that if I choose now one thing, now another, Providence too will seem to change its knowledge?” No; divine insight precedes all future things, turning them back and recalling them to the present time of its own peculiar knowledge. It does not change, as you may think, between this and that alternation of foreknowledge. It is constant in preceding and embracing by one glance all your changes. And God does not receive this ever-present grasp of all things and vision of the present at the occurrence of future events, but from His own peculiar directness. Whence also is that difficulty solved which you laid down a little while ago, that it was not worthy to say that our future events were the cause of God’s knowledge. For this power of knowledge, ever in the present and embracing all things in its perception, does itself constrain all things, and owes naught to following events from which it has received naught. Thus, therefore, mortal men have their freedom of judgment intact. And since their wills are freed from all binding necessity, laws do not set rewards or punishments unjustly. God is ever the constant foreknowing overseer, and the ever-present eternity of His sight moves in harmony with the future nature of our actions, as it dispenses rewards to the good, and punishments to the bad. Hopes are not vainly put in God, nor prayers in vain offered: if these are right, they cannot but be answered. Turn 168therefore from vice: ensue virtue: raise your soul to upright hopes: send up on high your prayers from this earth. If you would be honest, great is the necessity enjoined upon your goodness, since all you do is done before the eyes of an all-seeing Judge.’

According to Boethius, with respect to God's frame of reference, there is no past or future, only present. So, what seems like divine foreknowledge is actually God witnessing the event as it instantaneously occurs. Thus, the concept of free will is not violated because God's knowledge of human actions is derived from direct observation of free agents and not foreordination or predestination.


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