Summary Against Modern Thought: Divine Providence Applies To The Contingent

Summary Against Modern Thought:  Divine Providence Applies To The Contingent

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Contingency is that which is not (logically, metaphysically) necessary.


1 It is obvious from what we have shown that divine providence reaches out to singulars that are generable and corruptible.

2 Except for the fact of their contingency, and the fact that many of them come about by chance and fortune, it does not seem that providence is inapplicable to them. For it is only on this basis that they differ from incorruptible things, and the universal natures of corruptible things, to which providence does apply, as people say. But contingency is not incompatible with providence, nor are chance or fortune or voluntary action, as we have shown. Therefore, nothing prohibits providence from also applying to these things, just as it does to incorruptible and universal things.

3 Again, if God does not exercise providence over these singulars, this is either because He does not know them, or because He is not able to do so, or because He does not wish to take care of them. Now, it cannot be said that God does not know singulars; we showed above that God does possess knowledge of them. Nor can it be said that God is unable to take care of them, for His power is infinite, as we proved above.

Nor, indeed, are these singulars incapable of being governed, since we see them governed by the use of reason in the case of men, and by means of natural instinct in the case of bees and many brute animals that are governed by some sort of natural instinct. Nor, in fact, can it be said that God does not wish to govern them, since His will is universally concerned with every good thing, and the good of things that are governed lies chiefly in the order of governance. Therefore, it cannot be said that God takes no care of these singulars.

Notes Recall, as always, that chance and fortune are not ontic. They speak only of knowledge, and therefore what is chance to one is determined for another.

4 Besides, all secondary causes, by the fact of being causes, attain the divine likeness, as is evident from what we said above. Now, we find one thing in common among causes that produce something: they take care of their products. Thus, animals naturally nourish their young. So, God takes care of the things of which He is the cause. Now, He is the cause even of these particular things, as is obvious from our previous statements. So, He does take care of them.

Notes Not all animals care for (or even care for the fate of) their young, of course, so this argument fails.

5 Moreover, we showed above that God does not act in regard to created things by a necessity of His nature, but through His will and intellect. Now, things done by intellect and will are subject to the care of a provident agent, for that is what such care seems to consist in: the fact that certain things are managed through understanding. And so, the things that result from His action are subject to divine providence. But we showed before that God works through all secondary causes, and that all their products may be traced back to God as their cause; so it must be that the things that are done among singulars are His works. Therefore, these singulars, and also their motions and operations, come under the scope of divine providence.

6 Furthermore, foolish is the providence of a person who does not take care of the things needed by the things for which he does care. But it is obvious that, if all particular things vanished, their universals could not endure. So, if God be only concerned with universals, and if He be entirely negligent of these singulars, then His providence will be foolish and imperfect.

Notes And, as proved earlier, God’s existence is necessary to sustain these contingent singulars in existence. Which our good saint reminds us next.

7 However, suppose someone says that God takes care of these singulars to the extent of preserving them in being, but not in regard to anything else; this is utterly impossible. In fact, all other events that occur in connection with singulars are related to their preservation or corruption. So, if God takes care of singulars as far as their preservation is concerned, He takes care of every contingent event connected with them.

8 Of course, a person could say that the mere care of the universals is enough for the preservation of particulars in being, for in each species there are provided the means whereby any individual of the species may be preserved in being. For example, organs for the taking in and digestion of food have been given to animals, and also horns with which to protect themselves. Moreover, good uses of these cannot fail to be made, except in rare instances, because things that are from nature produce their effects in all cases, or frequently. Thus, it is not possible for all individuals to fall, even though a particular one may do so.

9 But according to this argument all events that occur in connection with individuals will be subject to providence, in the same way that their preservation in being is, because nothing can happen in connection with the singular members of any species that cannot be reduced in some way to the sources of that species. And so, singulars come no more under the scope of divine providence in regard to their preservation in being than they do in regard to their other aspects.

10 Furthermore, in the relation of things to their end, an order appears, such that accidents exist for the sake of substances, in order that substances may be perfected by them; on the other hand, within substances matter is for the sake of form, for it participates in divine goodness through form, and that is why all things were made, as we showed above. Consequently, it is clear that singulars exist for the sake of the universal nature.

The sign of this is the fact that, in the case of beings whose universal nature can be preserved by one individual, there are not plural individuals of one species, as is instanced by the sun and the moon. But, since providence has the function of ordering things to their end, both the ends and the things that are related to an end must be a matter of concern to providence. Therefore, not only universals, but also singulars, come under the scope of providence.

11 Again, this is the difference between speculative and practical knowledge: speculative knowledge and the functions that pertain to it reach their perfection in the universal, while the things that belong to practical knowledge reach their perfection in the particular.

In fact, the end of speculative cognition is truth, which consists primarily and essentially in immaterial and universal things; but the end of practical cognition is operation, which is concerned with singulars. So, the physician does not heal man as a universal, but, rather, this individual man, and the whole science of medicine is ordered to this result. Now, it is obvious that providence belongs to the area of practical knowledge, for its function is to order things to their end. Therefore, God’s providence would be most imperfect if it were to confine itself to universals and not extend as far as singulars.

Notes Which is to say, the end of speculative cognition should be truth.

12 Besides, speculative knowledge is perfected in the universal rather than in the particular, because universals are better known than particulars.

Because of this, the knowledge of the most universal principles is common. However, that man who has not only universal, but also a proper, knowledge of things is more perfect in speculative science, for, the man who knows only universally merely knows a thing potentially. This is why a student is led from a universal knowledge of principles to a proper knowledge of conclusions, by his teacher who possesses knowledge of both —just as a thing is brought from potency to act by an actual being. So, in practical science, he is much more perfect who directs things to act, not only universally, but also in the particular case. Therefore, divine providence, being most perfect, extends to singulars.

Notes Universals are better known than particulars. Ponder this truth. Animals only know particulars. Men know universals.

13 Moreover, since God is the cause of actual being because He is being, as was shown above, He must be the agent of providence for being, because He is being. Indeed, He does provide for things, because He is their cause. So, whatever a thing is, and whatever its mode of existing, it falls under His providence. Now, singulars are beings, and more so than universals, for universals do not subsist of themselves, but are only in singulars. Therefore, divine providence also applies to singulars.

14 Furthermore, created things are subject to divine providence inasmuch as they are ordered by it to their ultimate end, which is divine goodness. Therefore, the participation of divine goodness by created things is accomplished by divine providence. But even contingent singulars participate in divine goodness. So, divine providence must extend even to them.

15 Hence it is said: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing: and not one of them shall fall on the ground without My Father” (Matt. 10:29; see 6:26). And again: “She reaches from end to end mightily” (Wis. 8:1), that is, from the noblest creatures down to the lowest of them. So, also, we oppose the view of those who said: “The Lord has forsaken the earth, and the Lord does not see” (Ez. 9:9); and again: “He walks about the poles of heaven, and He does not consider our things” (Job 22:14).

16 By this conclusion we set aside the opinion of those who said that divine providence does not extend as far as these singular things. In fact, some attribute this opinion to Aristotle, even though it cannot be gathered from his own words.


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