Summary Against Modern Thought: God’s Will Is Not Chance

This may be proved in three ways. The first...
This may be proved in three ways. The first…
See the first post in this series for an explanation and guide of our tour of Summa Contra Gentiles. All posts are under the category SAMT.

Previous post.

We reach a minor goal today, in understanding God’s Will is not chance. But I think this is enough about God’s will, except for one or two other matters, which we’ll clear up next week. And then move to free will (again).

Chapter 77 That The Multitude Of Things Willed Is Not Inconsistent With The Divine Simplicity (alternate translation)

[1] HENCE it follows that the multitude of things willed is not inconsistent with the oneness and simplicity of the divine substance.

[2] For acts are distinguished according to their objects. If, then, the plurality of things willed by God indicated any kind of multitude in Him, it would follow that there is not only one operation of the will in Him: and this is contrary to what has been proved.[1]

Notes Return to the idea of act and potential. If God was not simple in the technical metaphysical sense, He would be made of parts, and then what would account for the operation of these parts? Whatever it was couldn’t be in God ultimately, it would have to be outside Him, and therefore that which is not simple couldn’t be God. Well, that’s rough shorthand for what we proved before. Review the material on what God is simple means.

[3] Again. It has been shown[2] that God wills other things in as much as He wills His goodness. Wherefore things stand in relation to His will for as much as they are comprised in His goodness. Now all things are one in His goodness: because other things are in Him according to His mode, to wit material things immaterially and multitude unitedly, as we have shown above.[3] Hence it follows that the plurality of things willed does not argue plurality in the divine substance…

Notes There is a level of impenetrable mystery here. God is outside time; we are stuck in it. God is immaterial; we are a fusion of the material and immaterial. God is the First Cause of every change. And God is simple, as we have just reminded ourselves. God is changeless, but the material is change; time is change. How, then, does God interact with the material? How is something that is all-at-once with God perceived as change by us? Behind some technicalities and some hints that infinite power, i.e. omnipotence, is required, I don’t know. The mind boggles. All the analogies we create for ourselves are ultimately unsatisfactory.

The truth is, as St Thomas told us at the beginning of this book, that we can’t know the Mind of God fully. We can only speak analogically. We have some small proofs that God must exist, must be changeless, must be simple, must be omnipotent, omniscient, all loving and all that, but none of this answers the why. As a race, even after a few thousand years (more or less), we haven’t been able to probe very deeply. Keep reading.

Chapter 78 That The Divine Will Extends To Particular Goods (alternate translation)

[1] IT is also evident from the foregoing that in order to safeguard the divine simplicity it is not necessary for us to say that God wills other goods in a kind of universal way, in so far as He wills Himself to be the source of the goods which can flow from Him, and that He does not will them in particular.

[2] For the act of willing is according to a comparison of the willer to the thing willed. Now the divine simplicity does not forbid God’s being compared to many things, even to particulars: for He is said to be best or first even in comparison with singulars. Therefore His simplicity is not inconsistent with His willing things other than Himself even in special or particular…

Notes So here is a partial answer. In mathematics, we’d call this an existence proof. We know the thing of which we speak exists, but we have no idea how to get to it or why it is what it is. For that, we need a constructive proof—and that, I think, is not ours to have. And note the next argument.

[4] Moreover. According to the Philosopher (11 Metaph.) there is a twofold good of order in the universe: one consisting in the whole universe being directed to that which is outside the universe, just as the army is directed to the commander-in-chief: while the other consists in the parts of the universe being directed to each other, as the parts of an army: and the second order is for the sake of the first. Now God, through willing Himself as end, wills other things that are directed to Him as their end, as we have proved. Therefore He wills the good of the order of the whole universe in relation to Himself, and the order of the universe as regards the mutual relation of its parts. Now the good of order arises from each single good. Therefore He wills also singular goods.

[5] Further. If God wills not the singular goods of which the universe consists, it follows that the good of order is in the universe by chance: for it is not possible that some one part of the universe arranges all the particular goods so as to produce the order of the universe; and only the universal cause of the whole universe can do this, which cause is God Who acts by His will, as we shall prove further on. But it is impossible for the order of the universe to result from chance: since it would follow a fortiori that other things which come afterwards are the result of chance. Therefore it follows that God wills even each particular good…

Notes By “further on” St Thomas means the next book, which is still a few weeks away. And St Thomas doesn’t say it, but nothing can be the result of chance. Chance is not a force, a field, or a physics. Chance is entirely epistemological and in no way ontological. Whatever is changed is caused to be changed by some real thing. Thus at base it has to be God and not Chance.


  1. Shack Toms

    I struggle with this one.

    Either God’s will is completely constrained by prior truth or it isn’t. To the extent that it isn’t, then it is random, i.e. that lack of knowledge about its antecedents is essential.

    In particular, to claim that the Good constrains God’s will puts things the wrong way around. The Good cannot be a prior constraint on God’s will because the Good is defined by God’s will. God’s will is prior.

    It is because randomness cannot be a cause that randomness doesn’t deny God as first cause, although any complete constraint on God’s will would do that.

    It also seems strange to claim that God is outside of time and also is unchangeable. Not only does this seem self-contradictory, it seems to deny the reality of the present moment, and thus the reality of subjective awareness. I think we got off on a wrong path by taking efficient cause as ontologically fundamental, when it is a pattern whose origin is in material cause. Efficient cause is a name for a pattern that unfolds in time, and thus likely doesn’t really apply to God, the eternal first material cause.

  2. tom0mason

    IMO, God is the beginning and the end of the universe.
    The fact that our minds can not understand all in the universe is our problem not God’s. Because of our inability to understand all of the universe and the way it works, makes it appear chaotic, however it is not chaotic, it is following the way of God.
    So we should humble ourselves, God is the beginning and the end, the fact we can’t understand is our problem, denying God because we don’t understand is as foolish as the child that does not believe in gravity.

  3. Shack Toms

    “The fact that our minds can not understand all in the universe is our problem not God’s. Because of our inability to understand all of the universe and the way it works, makes it appear chaotic, however it is not chaotic, it is following the way of God.”

    Yes, I think that is insightful.

    But, although it approaches the subject a little differently, it also reminded me of this…

    “The right method of philosophy would be this: To say nothing except what can be said, i.e. the propositions of natural science, i.e. something that has nothing to do with philosophy: and then always, when someone else wished to say something metaphysical, to demonstrate to him that he had given no meaning to certain signs in his propositions. This method would be unsatisfying to the other—he would not have the feeling that we were teaching him philosophy—but it would be the only strictly correct method.”—Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, proposition 6.53

    And this…
    “Those whom Heaven helps we call the Sons of Heaven. Those who would by learning attain to this seek for what they cannot learn. Those who would by effort attain to this, attempt what effort can never effect. Those who aim by reasoning to reach it reason where reasoning has no place. To know to stop where they cannot arrive by means of knowledge is the highest attainment.”—The writings of Chuang-Tzu, Book 23

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