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The MOST Theological Collection: Grace, Predestination and the Salvific Will of God: New Answers to Old Questions

"Pt. 4: Divine foreknowledge - Ch. 23: Synthesis of conclusions on divine foreknowledge"


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480. Since we have, up to this point, seen so many elements of the problem and solution in so many sources and authors, it will be worthwhile to try to make a synthesis of those points that are sufficiently established. At the same time, we will be able to see that God is not passive in His foreknowledge.

I. Foreknowledge of futures

It will be easiest to compose a synthesis by presenting a concrete example, in which God foresees what Mark is going to do at a certain time.

481. Prevision of the beginning of the movement: First, God decreed to create Mark, and to conserve him in existence, and to send to Mark, at a set time, a movement in the natural order, and a specified grace in the supernatural order, e.g., a grace to move Mark to visit the Blessed Sacrament at 3 P.M. on March 25, 1963.

God knows the existence of Mark, and the conservation of Mark, and the beginning of the natural and supernatural movement in Mark, that is, the simple apprehension of good in Mark's intellect, and the initial complacency in Mark's will. God knows these things in two ways:

1) Knowledge through causality: By the very decree of creating and conserving Mark, God knows the creation and conservation of Mark. By the very decree of sending the natural and supernatural motion to Mark at this time with this specification, He knows the effects in the intellect and will of Mark. For these effects are produced by a physical motion sent by God, and infallibly without Mark's having done anything at all up to this point. Certainly, there could be no question of passivity in God up to this point.

2) Knowledge through the divine transcendent intellect: God knows the same things through His transcendent intellect. This way of knowing presupposes the divine decrees mentioned above, but not as means of knowing. They are solely prerequisites for the existence of beings. If the entities did not exist, they could not be foreseen. God can know these things merely by His transcendent intellect. God is not passive in this kind of knowledge, because His intellect is transcendent. Just as according to St. Thomas,1 "The divine will is . . . outside the order of beings . . . [and] transcends the order of necessity and contingency" so that2 "He could produce this mode [contingency] in things even without the use of [contingent] causes as intermediaries," so similarly the divine intellect so far transcends the order of beings that it can know all things that are knowable without passivity.

482. Prevision of the negative determination: Once these effects have been produced in the intellect and will of Mark by grace alone, Mark can resist or not resist, in this first logical moment.

1) If Mark resists:

a) God knows it through His causality: In the present of eternity, God has already begun by His movement to produce a simple apprehension of good in Mark's intellect, and an initial complacency in his will. Yet, God permits Mark to resist, and by resisting, to remove these effects if Mark so wishes. If Mark resists, God knows that He is no longer causing these effects. God can permit Mark to resist without being passive in the line of causality of His will, as even the Thomists concede (for they say that everyone always resists all sufficient graces, unless an efficacious grace is added). Actually, in resistance there are two elements: the evil specification, which is the falling away from the good specification;3 and the exercise of the act. The evil specification is a mere deficiency: it is non-being in itself. God surely is not passive because man is deficient: there is no efficiency (causality) in deficiency. Neither is God passive in the exercise of the act of resistance: God Himself moves the man to this exercise, if man has first freely been deficient. Therefore, if God is not passive in the line of causality neither is He passive in the line of the knowledge that comes through causality.

b) God knows through His transcendent intellect: God's transcendent intellect does not know the negative, the bad specification, directly, but He knows that the good which had been present is no longer present. Nor is God passive in this knowledge. He was not passive in His knowledge of the good, while it was present, because the divine intellect is transcendent and, of course, He knew that which He was producing. Nor is He passive in knowing the absence of good. For the absence of good is a negative, a non-being. Now there is no ontological truth in a non-being. For ontological good and ontological truth are interchangeable terms. Hence St. Thomas says:4 ". . . negations and privations that occur outside the mind do not have any form through which they could imitate the exemplar of the divine art, nor do they bring the knowledge of themselves into the human intellect. . . ." But, if they do not bring truth into the human intellect, much less do they bring truth into the divine intellect. So on this score, the divine intellect is not passive. Nor do negatives produce an image in the divine mind, for they are not represented by images, but by the absence of an image.5 However, we need to note that, even though there is no ontological truth in a negation in reality outside the divine mind, yet, there is truth in the proposition about the negation, e.g., "It is true that this good is no longer present in Mark." But yet, as St. Thomas teaches, non-beings are not the cause of the truth of negative propositions:6 ". . . non-being is not the cause of the truth of negative propositions, as if it produced them in the intellect; but the mind itself does this, conforming itself to the non-being that is outside the mind; hence, the non-being occurring outside the mind is not the efficient cause of the truth, but it is as it were the exemplary [cause].7 The objection [which said that God is not the cause of the truth of negative propositions] proceeded from [the question about] the efficient exemplar. Therefore, since the non-being does not produce the truth of the negative proposition, but rather, the intellect itself makes this truth, it is clear that God is not passive in knowing these negatives.

483. 2) If Mark does not resist:

a) God knows through His causality: In the present of eternity, God has already begun to produce the effects in the intellect and will of Mark, as we said above. If Mark does not resist in this first moment,8 he merely does nothing against these effects. God would have permitted Mark to destroy these effects if Mark had so wished, as we have already explained. But Mark did not do this. Therefore, the effects continue, and they continue not through any act on the part of Mark, but through divine causality: Mark does not move himself at all. Therefore, God knows that He is still producing or sustaining these effects. Surely, He is not passive in this way.

b) God knows through His transcendent intellect: The divine intellect still knows the good effects that God is continuing to produce. Mark has not destroyed them. But God is not passive, because the divine intellect is transcendent, and because He Himself is producing these effects: Mark is doing nothing. Further, non-resistance is non-being. Hence, the explanation we gave of the absence of passivity in the knowledge of the evil specification also holds for non-resistance, which is also non-being.

484. Prevision of the positive determinations: If Mark does not resist, God physically moves Mark's will to positive consent, but in such a way that Mark is no longer passive, but is both moved by grace, and moving himself by the power received from the grace. But if Mark resists, God moves him to the exercise of the evil act.

1) God knows through His causality: The motion that is given after non-resistance or after resistance is a physical motion,9 and so is infallible. God can certainly know through such a motion.

2) God knows through His transcendent intellect: This way of knowing presupposes the divine motions by which God physically moves to the consent or to the exercise of the evil act. These motions, however, are presupposed and needed not as means of knowing, but as prerequisites for the existence of beings. Once these beings exist, God can know them merely through His transcendent intellect. Nor is He passive because He is transcendent. And, of course, He Himself is the cause of these beings.

485. No truth is prior to God's knowledge: We note that the negatives (the evil specification in resistance and non-resistance) are logically prior to the knowledge of God, but the positives (the exercise of resistance and the positive consent) are beings and are posterior to His knowledge:

1) It is clear that St. Thomas puts the negative determination by the creature logically before the divine knowledge,10 for he says that futures as futures are unknowable, since they are not yet determined. They become knowable only after the determination. The determination could be made through infrustrable decrees, but, because this is not done regularly within ordinary providence, St. Thomas has recourse to eternity, so that through eternity these futures may become present. In the present, they are determined, in a negative way, by the creature.

2) It is also clear that St. Thomas puts the positive determination after God's knowledge, for he says:11 ". . . the knowledge of God is prior to natural things. . . ." Now since negatives are not "natural things"-because they are not things at all, but are non-beings-this statement does not contradict the statement that St. Thomas puts negatives before the knowledge of God.

486. Negative determinations, since they are non-beings, do not have truth in them, nor do they convey truth to the intellect-not even to the human intellect, much less to the divine intellect.12 Because they do not have truth in themselves nor convey truth into the divine intellect, nor make the truth of negative propositions, it remains true that no truth is prior to the knowledge of God, just as it is also true that no thing or being is prior to the knowledge of God. Non-beings are not things.

487. The knowledge of God does not grow: In the explanation that we have given, nothing is added to the knowledge of God during the course of time, because God always possesses all these things, since He is eternal, and all things are present at once to Him.

II. Foreknowledge of futuribles

488. It is clear from Scripture that God knows the futuribles, not only conjecturally, but certainly and infallibly. But the explanation of how He does this is not found in Scripture, nor in the Fathers, nor in St. Thomas himself. St. Thomas has not one word about futuribles even though he could hardly fail to know that God knows these, for it is so clear in Scripture that He does know these. It is also so clear in some of the Fathers, especially St. Augustine.13

It is obvious that the explanation of the foreknowledge of futuribles cannot be found in the system of the older Thomists. For they say that God knows them since He has made an almost infinite series of decrees deciding in which ways He would or would not move each individual creature in each circumstance conceivable. This explanation is to be rejected not only because it leads to some absurd consequences,14 but more specially, because it presupposes the older Thomists' system of infrustrable decrees and infallible permissions to sin: but, as we have often seen, this system contradicts both revelation and St. Thomas.15

489. Therefore, since the foreknowledge of futuribles cannot be explained by decrees of the divine will, it must be explained by the divine intellect. Precisely how the divine intellect knows these, we cannot determine: certainly the explanation must be such as to avoid supposing any predetermination or determinism in man. Therefore we can say only this: The transcendent divine intellect knows what determination a creature would make, even though it would make it entirely freely, and even though there is no determinism within the creature. So, we are merely attributing this knowledge to the transcendent divine intellect, of which St. Albert the Great wrote well:16 ". . . the light of the divine intelligence, which is of infinite power, penetrates into hidden parts, I mean, hidden in themselves and in [their] cause. . . . from [His] infinite power of foreseeing whithersoever that which is mutable may turn itself."

490. The validity of the Aristotelian principle of the unknowability of future contingents: As we have seen, St. Thomas holds that a future contingent, as future, is altogether unknowable, since, he says, as future it is not determined. As we also know, St. Thomas took this principle from Aristotle, not from revelation. Now if we follow out the implications of this statement in regard to the futuribles, we arrive at this: Futuribles as such are not yet determined by the creature: they only express what that creature would determine if placed in these circumstances with these graces. Nor are they determined by God, in the first logical moment in which He knows their negative determinations. For it is only in the system of the older Thomists that He would determine them before the negative determination by the creature: but we have proved that their system is not true. Therefore, since the futuribles do not yet have any actual determination from a creature, nor from God, according to the Aristotelian principle they should be metaphysically unknowable, even to God. (Nor would it help to have recourse to eternity, for eternity makes present only the things that actually will be). So, we would have to conclude, on the basis of the Aristotelian principle, that God does not know the futuribles or that He would know them only conjecturally.

491. But we are not permitted to conclude that God does not know the futuribles: it is revealed that He does know them. Nor are we permitted to conclude that He has only a conjectural knowledge of them: that would be an imperfection. Hence, we are forced to at least doubt the validity of the Aristotelian principle. Actually, many theologians today, influenced by this sort of reasoning, deny the Aristotelian principle and say: If Mark is now doing this thing, it was true also in the year 100 B.C. that Mark was going to do this, even though in 100 B.C. Mark had not yet determined it, nor had God determined it. If it was true, then the transcendent intellect of God was able to know it, and did know it. Similarly about the futuribles, if this statement is true: "In such circumstances, with such graces, Mark would do this,"-then the transcendent intellect of God can know the truth of this proposition, and can know what determination Mark would make, even though there is no determinism within Mark. From the fact that we do not know the how, we must not deny the fact. Rather, we must merely say with Scripture:17 "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it."

492. So we can at least suspect now why St. Thomas said nothing about the futuribles: He did not hold the system of infrustrable decrees; he saw that according to the Aristotelian principle, the knowledge of futuribles would be impossible even for God. He did not like to deny the Aristotelian principle, and he could not deny the revealed truth that God knows the futuribles. Therefore, not knowing how to reconcile the two points, he humbly kept silence.

493. So let us at least imitate St. Thomas in this humility, and say that God certainly knows the futuribles. We know He does not know them through the system of infrustrable decrees. We do not know the real explanation. So let us simply attribute this foreknowledge to the transcendence of the divine intellect.

494. The relations of the futuribles to divine causality: The futuribles presuppose a hypothetic divine causality, not as a means of knowledge, but for the existence of the beings that are presupposed before the hypothetical negative determination. We do not say that God actually exercised this causality. We say only that it would not be true that Mark, in these circumstances, with this grace, would make this negative determination, unless on the supposition that God had first created and conserved Mark, and put him in these circumstances, and had begun to move him with this grace. On these presuppositions, it can be true that Mark would make a negative determination (by the evil specification in resistance, or by non-resistance).18 After the evil specification, God would move him to the exercise of resistance. After non-resistance, God would move him to positive consent.

Scholion on recourse to eternity

495. As we have seen, some witnesses of tradition, beginning with Boethius, have recourse to eternity to explain foreknowledge. They do this precisely because they think, following the Aristotelian principle, that future contingents as future are not yet determined by the creature, and are not yet determined by God. Hence, they say that it is necessary that these become present to God through eternity, so that they may be knowable, for they are determined only in the present.

However, there is strong reason, as we have seen,19 for at least doubting the validity of the Aristotelian principle. For it seems to prove that God cannot have certain knowledge of the futuribles. But, he who proves too much, proves nothing. God certainly does have certain knowledge of the futuribles, as we know from Scripture. So the argument given by Aristotle does not seem valid. Furthermore, as we have noted above, if Mark is now doing this, it was equally true in the year 100 B.C. that Mark was going to do this, even though at that time Mark had not yet made the determination, nor had God made a determination through an infrustrable decree.

496. Now if it is not true that future contingents are unknowable as future, then it is not necessary to have recourse to eternity to explain how God knows the future. It will be enough to say that His transcendent divine intellect knows all the determinations that creatures will make or would make.

497. Of course, we do not say that these things could be true before they happen without a divine mind in which they can be true, nor without a First Cause to decree the prerequisities for the existence of beings. But the precise reason because of which these propositions can be true is not that the divine mind is eternal, but that there is a divine mind (prescinding from eternity). For eternity is not required in order that they may be true.

498. If we wish to explain foreknowable only by causality exercised in a frustrable way, prescinding from the transcendent intellect, then, precisely because the frustrable exercise of causality is not transcendent, it will be necessary to have recourse to eternity. As we saw earlier in this chapter, frustrable causality together with eternity can explain foreknowledge.

499. Objection 1: There is a dilemma: Either God by causal knowledge determines man, or the knowledge of God is determined by man. There is no third possibility.

Answer: As we saw in chapter 23, God can foresee in two ways, namely, through His transcendent intellect and through frustrable causality within eternity. In neither way is He passive.

In foreknowledge, without the use of causality as a means of knowing, God is not passive because His divine intellect is transcendent and because, by the will of God, all things are conditioned through negatives (the evil specification in resistance, and non-resistance). These negatives are non-beings. In non-beings, there is no ontological truth, nor do negatives convey truth into even a created mind, not to say a divine mind. Further, the truth of a proposition about these negatives, even when it is known by a creature, is not received from the negative, but is made in the mind in which it is known, as St. Thomas himself explains:20 ". . . non-being is not the cause of the truth of negative propositions, as if it produced them in the intellect, but the mind itself does this. . . ." Therefore, the truth is made by God, and God does not receive the truth from creatures. Now, if He does not receive the truth, but rather He himself makes it, He is not determined by creatures, nor is He passive. But neither does God determine the negative conditions: He permits them to be determined by creatures. Hence, the dilemma rests on a question that is not well put, and on an incomplete disjunction: Neither does God determine the creature, nor does the creature determine God. Rather God permits the creature to make a negative determination, but God Himself produces the truth and determines Himself to move or not to move the creature to the positive determination, according to the resistance or non-resistance of the creature.

When one explains foreknowledge through causality, the difficult question is not about passivity in foreknowledge, but about passivity in permissive causality. For if God can, without passivity, permit a creature to frustrate the effect of a frustrable decree, then, obviously, He can know, within eternity, that He is acting or not acting. If God is not passive in the line of the causality of the decree, neither is He passive in the knowledge that comes through this causality. But, as we have already shown,21 God can permit a frustrable decree to be frustrated without His being passive. Therefore, He can know through this causality, without passivity.

It is good to add this: Even if we were unable to give any explanation for this point, it would not follow that we would have to say that everything is controlled through infrustrable decrees. For we cannot accept that system simply because, as we have shown many times, it contradicts revelation. Nothing that contradicts revelation can be true. Nor should we pay more attention to human reasonings than to divine revelation. Therefore, even if we had no explanation to the difficulty proposed in the objection, we would still have to say: A thousand difficulties do not add up to one doubt. Just as a Catholic who encounters an objection against the faith that he cannot solve, is not logically obliged to give up his faith or to call it into doubt-actually, he is strictly obliged not to do so-similarly, even if we were not able to give any solution to the objection, we would still be obliged to say that the system of the decrees is false, because it contradicts revelation.

500. Objection 2: Nothing will be present in eternity without divine causality. Therefore, God knows all through causality.

Answer: The objection rests on forgetfulness of the distinction between positive things, beings, and negatives, non-beings. God is not the cause of non-being. Non-beings presuppose that God has made and conserved a creature and, in the case of human actions, that He has begun to move the creature. But presupposing these, whether or not there will be a deficiency or an absence of resistance depends on the creature.

Return to the objection: Garrigou-Lagrange says:22 "Most certainly, if this future contingent were present in eternity independently of the determination of the divine will, it would be something necessary and not contingent."

Reply: The statement implies that all must be determined either by God or by the nature of things. But the disjunction is incomplete: for some things can be negatively determined by man, as we have explained in chapters 18 and 23. Nor is it true to say, even when a creature determines something negatively, that it is present in eternity "independently of the determination of the divine will." Before the creature can make a negative determination, God creates, conserves, and begins to move the creature. Only after this can the creature either be deficient, in the evil specification of resistance, or do nothing, i.e., non-resist. The positive determination is made by God, according to these negative determinations which He wills to permit.23 As we have seen,24 there is no ontological truth before this positive determination, and the logical truth of negative propositions is made by the divine mind.

501. Objection 3: St. Thomas says:25 "[God's idea] of the things that are, or will be, or were to be produced is determined according to the decision of the divine will. . . ." Therefore, all things are determined by the First Cause before they happen, and through these determinations, God has these ideas.

Answer: God has ideas only of positive things, of beings. God is the cause of all beings. Hence, the divine ideas of these beings are really determined by the divine will. But God is not the cause of negatives, of non-beings nor does He have an idea of negatives, as we have already explained,26 though of course, He does know the negatives. Because He does not have ideas of negatives, therefore the words cited from St. Thomas do not apply to negatives. But, as we have seen, according to the free decision of God, all free acts of man are conditioned by negatives, that is, God, within ordinary providence, does not will to move a man as far as positive consent except on condition of the man's non-resistance, nor does he will to move the man to the exercise of resistance except on condition of the evil specification. So God does have ideas of positive things, and these ideas are determined according to the decision of the divine will. But He does not move as far as these positives except on the negative conditions, and He does not have an idea of negatives.

(Cf. also other texts of St. Thomas on foreknowledge, in objection 1 of chapter 7).27


1 Cf. n. 41 on Chapter 22.
2 De veritate 23.5.c.
3 Cf. § 345.
4 De veritate 1.8.c.
5 Ibid., 2.15 ad 1.
6 Ibid., 1.8 ad 7.
7 It is to be noted that in the passage cited above, St. Thomas says that the non-being is "as it were the exemplary [cause]." By this he does not imply that the human mind is passive-still less, the divine mind. For he explicitly denies any efficient causality to this "as it were exemplary [cause]." It remains true that the mind itself acts, and produces the logical truth.
8 Cf. §§ 82, 346-348.
9 Cf. § 353.
10 Cf. § 470.
11 ST I. 14.8 ad 3.
12 Cf. § 482.1.b.
13 Cf. § 429, 4 and 6
14 Cf. § 395.2. We note also that many of the older theologians who held the system of decrees denied that God had certain knowledge of the futuribles, because of the consequences of this theory. E.g., cf. P. de Ledesma, De divinae gratiae auxiliis, a.18.
15 Cf. §§ 118-122 and chapter 18.
16 Cf. texts 5 and 6 of St. Albert the Great, in § 455.
17 Ps 138:6.
18 Cf. §§ 482-83.
19 § 490.
20 § 483.
21 §§ 144, 482.1.a.
22 De Deo uno, Desclee de Brouwer, Lutetiae Parisiorum, 1938, p. 356.
23 Cf. §§ 482-84.
24 §§ 485-86.
25 De veritate 3.6.c.
26 § 482.1.b.
27 § 129.3.

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