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

"Pt. 4: Divine foreknowledge - Ch. 20: The teaching of Sacred Scripture on foreknowledge"


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402. Since absolutely no one denies that Scripture teaches that God knows all things, even the hidden thoughts of minds, even future contingent free acts, it will be enough to cite one passage from the Psalms:1 "O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me! Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. . . . Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. . . . Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it. . . . Thy eyes beheld my unformed substance; in thy book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them."

The Psalmist does not even attempt to explain how God can foreknow. He admits he does not know: "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me. . . ." Nor does any passage of Scripture attempt to explain God's foreknowledge.

403. Texts of Scripture on the futuribles: Scripture makes it equally clear that God knows even the futuribles:

1) When David was fleeing from Saul, he came into the city of Keilah. But, on hearing the report that Saul was going to come there, he consulted the Lord:2 "Will the men of Keilah deliver me into his hands? Will Saul come down, as thy servant has heard? . . . And the Lord said: He will come down. Then David said: Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul? And the Lord said: They will surrender you."

2) The Lord Himself said in the Gospel:3 "Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. . . . And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day."

3) The constant teaching of Scripture that God provides wisely for all men implies that He knows the futuribles. For if He did not know what this man would do in these circumstances etc., He could not wisely provide for him; and especially, He could not wisely grant or deny petitions in prayer. For He will not give us what we ask if He knows it would be harmful if given. Hence, the faithful, following the ordinary teaching of the Church, believe that God acts this way in granting or denying the things asked in prayer.

404. Comments on the Scriptural texts:

1) Perhaps someone might wish to try to explain God's reply to David by saying that Saul had already made a decision of coming to Keilah, and that the men of Keilah, having heard that Saul was coming, had already made a decision to give up David-and that out of this knowledge of already present dispositions, God knew that if David remained, Saul and the men of Keilah would carry out the plans they had already formed. But the explanation does not suffice, because out of a knowledge of a present decision in the hearts of Saul and the men of Keilah, it would not be infallibly certain that they would carry out these plans if David remained. For men can always change their minds, or even be impeded from without in carrying out their plans. And, most certainly, this sort of explanation would not hold for the words of Christ about Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom, nor would it explain how God can wisely grant and refuse things asked in prayer.

2) Nor could the words of Christ about Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom be explained by saying that the resistance of all the men of whom He speaks is either past or present, and so is definite, so that out of a knowledge of this resistance, Christ could know how much or how strong a grace would be needed to overcome such resistance. A knowledge gained in such a manner would be conjectural knowledge. Even if the explanation would suffice in cases where there is question only of a stronger or more intense grace (as it were in a quantitative category), it certainly would not explain the case of the Tyrians and Sidonians. For in that case, the grace of which Christ spoke would differ not only in intensity of power, but also in kind, from the grace actually given to the Tyrians and Sidonians. The latter had received internal graces of ordinary providence, but the miracles of Christ are external graces of extraordinary providence. External grace affects a man in a much different way than does internal grace. So, from a knowledge of the resistance of a man to internal grace, no infallible conclusion could be reached about the grace required in a different category. Further, such an explanation would not hold for the reply of God to David, nor would it explain how God can wisely grant or withhold things asked in prayer. For things that are denied in prayer are not always denied because of a present resistance or other present disposition, but often because of a resistance or other disposition that merely would arise if a thing were given.

3) Nor would it be permissible to say that God has and manifests, in these cases, only a conjectural knowledge. For that would be an imperfection which we cannot suppose in God.

Conclusion: Scripture shows that God truly knows both future contingent free acts and futuribles, but does not explain how.


1 Ps 138:1-2, 4, 6, 16.
2 1 Sm 23:7-12.
3 Mt 11:21, 23; Lk 10:13.