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

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

Previous post.

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].


  1. Ye Olde Statistician

    Quod divina providentia non excludit arbitrii libertatem.

  2. DAV

    Where I come from a Free Willy would.get you on the sex offenders list.

  3. swordfishtrombone

    “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.”

    I don’t see why. A person could stop punishing their child but continue to praise them. God could remove hell, but keep heaven. There, that was easy.

  4. Nate

    @swordfishtrombone – what do you mean by ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’?

    I think this is where there’s some major differences between Protestants, Orthodox, and Catholics. Fire and Brimstone ‘punishment hell’ is mostly preached by the fundamentalist strains of Protestantism, which teach that Jesus died so that he could be punished in place of us, because God is angry. Johnathan Edwards – “They are now the Objects of that very same Anger & Wrath of God that is expressed in the Torments of Hell: and the Reason why they don’t go down to Hell at each Moment, is not because God, in whose Power they are, is not then very angry with them; as angry as he is with many of those miserable Creatures that he is now tormenting in Hell, and do there feel and bear the fierceness of his Wrath. Yea God is a great deal more angry with of an angry G O D. Great Numbers that are now on Earth, yea doubt-less with many that are now in this Congregation, that it may be are at Ease and Quiet, than he is with many of those that are now in the Flames of Hell.”

    There seems to be some of this in Catholic teaching as well, but it is more nuanced, talking of penance and the “double consequence” of sin. The catechism says “these two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin.” Temporal punishment for sin and Purgatory enter the picture as well.

    As far as I understand the Orthodox position, they teach that forgiveness of sin cancels out the punishment (but not necessary the temporal *consequences* of the sin), and see Hell as the orientation of the person away from God but nonetheless aware of God’s love. So to the Orthodox, Hell is not a separate place, but simply the result of the free rejection of God’s love. Without that free rejection, one cannot experience God’s love by accepting grace.

    I’m not a theologian so I probably got a lot wrong but that’s my general understanding.

  5. I can imagine no torment as horrible as being eternally separated from He That Is and knowing that can’t be remedied. That’s not necessarily a place. It is, necessarily, a state of Being. Hell is a state of Being, as is Heaven. Heaven is being eternally with God/He That Is. Again, not necessarily a place. On Earth, we are separated from He That Is, but not eternally. We have the opportunity for salvation. Reject it in this life, too bad. Remember, you were warned. You still have time to come to Him.

  6. swordfishtrombone

    @ Nate,

    “what do you mean by ‘hell’ and ‘heaven’?”

    I mean the (imaginary) places where people’s (imaginary) souls go to be punished or rewarded after they’ve died. For the purposes of my argument, the exact nature of the punishment in hell is irrelevant. I’ll agree with cdquarles (above) that eternal separation from God isn’t supposed to be a soft option, but I’ve also argued online with fundamentalists who think the fires of hell are real, literal fires.

    There’s less disagreement about heaven, but that seems to be because Christians are unable to come up with one which sounds appealing. (No pets!)

  7. Joy

    They’re wrong about that, too!
    Atheist friend, who lost her dog, you know the one that gets under your skin and into your soul, everybody that’s had a dog or a pet at one stage has one like that.
    Well, she maintained that she felt the dog climb onto the foot of the bed (big dog) and lie down. Clearly felt it. She was not asleep.
    Stories of people encountering some ONE, i.e. a person, sitting on the edge or side of the bed while they were awake. *both women telling the story.
    Three men, only one related, (and atheist) claims to have seen a person next to their bed. Only one did not recognise the individual they saw but swear they were awake.
    One was a ‘catholic’, the other a ‘protestant’.

    The atheist still doesn’t budge.
    Nor should they if they don’t believe it’s caused by anything than a figment of the imagination.
    If it’s that, it ought be nobody else’s problem.
    When something actually happens that involves more than one person and both parties know it, such as a physical event, it becomes harder to argue about ‘figments’, or wierd ‘waking dreams’.

    To me the subject is interesting on it’s own. Outside of politics or other biases.

    So, from that, doggies go to heaven!

    Found a wooden novelty bought by the same lady who felt the dog on her bed.
    She’s passed away herself now. It reads:
    “The more I learn about people, the more I love my dog.”
    Was just looking at it yesterday.

  8. swordfishtrombone

    @ Joy,

    “Well, she maintained that she felt the dog climb onto the foot of the bed (big dog) and lie down. Clearly felt it. She was not asleep.”

    I’ve had similar experiences. Just last night I was watching YouTube when I heard/felt something behind me. I looked around expecting to see one of my cats, but there was nothing there. If one of my cats had died recently, and I believed in such things, I might have interpreted this as the ghost of my cat.

    “The atheist still doesn’t budge. Nor should they if they don’t believe it’s caused by anything than a figment of the imagination.”

    I hate to say this, but even if it could be established with certainty that spirits exist, that wouldn’t provide evidence for heaven, hell, or God.

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