Summary Against Modern Thought: Providence’s Plan

Summary Against Modern Thought:  Providence’s Plan

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1 From the points set forth above it may be seen clearly that the things which are disposed by divine providence follow a rational plan.

2 Indeed, we showed that God, through His providence, orders all things to the divine goodness, as to an end; not, of course, in such a way that something adds to His goodness by means of things that are made, but, rather, that the likeness of His goodness, as much as possible, is impressed on things.

However, since every created substance must fall short of the perfection of divine goodness, in order that the likeness of divine goodness might be more perfectly communicated to things, it was necessary for there to be a diversity of things, so that what could not be perfectly represented by one thing might be, in more perfect fashion, represented by a variety of things in different ways.

For instance, when a man sees that his mental conception cannot be expressed adequately by one spoken word, he multiplies his words in various ways, to express his mental conception through a variety of means. And the eminence of divine perfection may be observed in this fact, that perfect goodness which is present in God in a unified and simple manner cannot be in creatures except in a diversified manner and through a plurality of things. Now, things are differentiated by their possession of different forms from which they receive their species. And thus, the reason for the diversity of forms in things is derived from this end.

Notes This is why there are so many stars and beetles. Also pay strict attention to the idea of form in the next argument. Forms must have a designer. This simple deduction has enormous implications.

3 Moreover, the reason for the order of things is derived from the diversity of forms. Indeed, since it is in accord with its form that a thing has being, and since anything, in so far as it has being, approaches the likeness of God Who is His own simple being, it must be that form is nothing else than a divine likeness that is participated in things.

Hence, Aristotle, where he speaks about form in Physics I [9], quite appropriately says that it is “something godlike and desirable.” But a likeness that is viewed in relation to one simple thing cannot be diversified unless by virtue of the likeness being more or less close or remote. Now, the nearer a thing comes to divine likeness, the more perfect it is.

Consequently, there cannot be a difference among forms unless because one thing exists more perfectly than another. That is why Aristotle, in Metaphysics VIII [3], likens definitions, through which the natures of things and forms are signified, to numbers, in which species are varied by the addition or subtraction of unity; so, from this, we are made to understand that the diversity of forms requires different grades of perfection.

This is quite clear to one who observes the natures of things. He will find, in fact, if he makes a careful consideration, that the diversity of things is accomplished by means of gradations. Indeed, he will find plants above inanimate bodies, and above plants irrational animals, and above these intellectual substances. And among individuals of these types he will find a diversity based on the fact that some are more perfect than others, inasmuch as the highest members of a lower genus seem quite close to the next higher genus; and the converse is also true; thus, immovable animals are like plants. Consequently, Dionysius says [De div. nom. VII, 3] “Divine wisdom draws together the last members of things in a first class, with the first members of things in a second class.” Hence, it is apparent that the diversity of things requires that not all be equal, but that there be an order and gradation among things.

Notes It follows that equality is false.

4 Now, from the diversity of forms by which the species of things are differentiated there also results a difference of operations. For, since everything acts in so far as it is actual (because things that are potential are found by that very fact to be devoid of action), and since every being is actual through form, it is necessary for the operation of a thing to follow its form. Therefore, if there are different forms, they must have different operations.

5 But, since each thing attains its proper end through its own action, various proper ends must be distinguished in things, even though the ultimate end is common to all.

6 From the diversity of forms there also follows a diverse relationship of matter to things. In fact, since forms differ because some are more perfect than others, there are some of them so perfect that they are self-subsistent and self-complete, requiring no sub-structure of matter. But other forms cannot perfectly subsist by themselves, and do require matter as a foundation, so that what does subsist is not simply form, nor yet merely matter, but a thing composed of both.

Notes E.g. angels.

7 Now, matter and form could not combine to make up one thing unless there were some proportion between them. But, if they must be proportionally related, then different matters must correspond to different forms. Hence, it develops that some forms need simple matter, while others need composite matter; and also, depending on the various forms, there must be a different composition of parts, adapted to the species of the form and to its operation.

8 Moreover, as a result of the diversified relationship to matter, there follows a diversity of agents and patients. For, since each thing acts by reason of its form, but suffers passion and is moved by reason of its matter, those things whose forms are more perfect and less material must act on those that are more material and whose forms are more imperfect.

9 Again, from the diversity of forms and matters and agents there follows a diversity of properties and accidents. Indeed, since substance is the cause of accident, as the perfect is of the imperfect, different proper accidents must result from different substantial principles. In turn, since from different agents there result different impressions on the patients, there must be, depending on the different agents, different accidents that are impressed by agents.

10 So, it is evident from what we have said that, when various accidents, actions, passions, and arrangements are allotted things by divine providence, this distribution does not come about without a rational plan. Hence, Sacred Scripture ascribes the production and governance of things to divine wisdom and prudence.

Indeed, it is stated in Proverbs (3:19-20): “The Lord by wisdom bath founded the earth; He has established the heavens by prudence. By His wisdom the depths have broken out, and the clouds grow thick with dew.” And in Wisdom (8:1) it is said of the wisdom of God that “it reaches from end to end mightily, and orders all things sweetly.” Again, it is said in the same book: “You have ordered all things in measure, and number, and weight” (Wis. 11:21).

Thus, we may understand by measure: the amount, or the mode, or degree, of perfection pertaining to each thing; but by number: the plurality and diversity of species resulting from the different degrees of perfection; and by weight: the different inclinations to proper ends and operations, and also the agents, patients, and accidents which result from the distinction of species.

11 Now, in the aforesaid order, in which the rational Plan of divine providence is observed, we have said that first place is occupied by divine goodness as the ultimate end, which is the first principle in matters of action. Next comes the numerical plurality of things, for the constitution of which there must be different degrees in forms and matters, and in agents and patients, and in actions and accidents. Therefore, just as the first rational principle of divine providence is simply the divine goodness, so the first rational principle in creatures is their numerical plurality, to the establishment and conservation of which all other things seem to be ordered. Thus, on this basis it seems to have been reasonably stated by Boethius, at the beginning of his Arithmetic, that: “All things whatever that have been established, at the original coming into being of things, seem to have been formed in dependence on the rational character of numbers.”

12 Moreover, we should consider the fact that operative and speculative reason partly agree and partly disagree. They agree, indeed, on this point: just as speculative reason starts from some principle and proceeds through intermediaries to the intended conclusion, so does operative reason start from something that is first, and go through certain intermediaries to the operation, or to the product of the operation, which is intended.

But the principle in speculative matters is the form and that which is; while in operative matters it is the end, which at times is the form, at other times something else. Also, the principle in speculative matters must always be necessary, but in operative matters it is sometimes necessary and sometimes not. Indeed, it is necessary for a man to will felicity as his end, but it is not necessary to will to build a house.

Likewise, in matters of demonstration the posterior propositions always follow of necessity from the prior ones, but it is not always so in operative reasoning; rather, it is only so when there can be only this single way of reaching the end. For instance, it is necessary for a man who wishes to build a house to get some lumber, but the fact that he tries to get lumber made of fir depends solely on his own will, and not at all on the reason for building the house.

13 And so, the fact that God loves His goodness is necessary, but the fact that it is represented by means of creatures is not necessary, because divine goodness is perfect without them. Hence, the fact that creatures are brought into existence, though it takes its origin from the rational character of divine goodness, nevertheless depends solely on God’s will.

But, if it be granted that God wills to communicate, in so far as is possible, His goodness to creatures by way of likeness, then one finds in this the reason why there are different creatures, but it does not necessarily follow that they are differentiated on the basis of this or that measure of perfection, or according to this or that number of things. On the other hand, if we grant that, as a result of an act of divine will, He wills to establish this particular number of things, and this definite measure of perfection for each thing, then as a result one finds the reason why each thing has a certain form and a certain kind of matter. And the same conclusion is obvious in regard to the things that follow.

14 So, it becomes apparent that providence disposes things according to a rational plan; yet this plan is taken as something based on the divine will.

15 Thus, a double error is set aside by the foregoing points. There is the mistake of those who believe that all things follow, without any rational plan, from God’s pure will. This is the error of the exponents of the Law of the Moors, as Rabbi Moses says; according to them, it makes no difference whether fire heats or cools, unless God wills it so. Also refuted is the error of those who say that the order of causes comes forth from divine providence by way of necessity. It is evident from what we have said that both of these views are false.

16 However, there are some texts of Scripture that seem to attribute all things to the pure divine will. These are not expressed in order that reason may be removed from the dispensation of providence, but to show that the will of God is the first principle of all things, as we have already said above. Such a text is that of the Psalm (134:6): “All things whatsoever the Lord hath willed, He hath done”; again in Job (9:12): “Who can say to Him: Why dost You so?” Also in Romans (9:19): “Who resists His will?” And Augustine says: “Nothing but the will of God is the first cause of health and sickness, of rewards and punishments, of graces and retributions.”

17 And so, when we ask the reason why, in regard to a natural effect, we can give a reason based on a proximate cause; provided, of course, that we trace back all things to the divine will as a first cause.

Thus, if the question is asked: “Why is wood heated in the presence of fire?” it is answered: “Because heating is the natural action, of fire”; and this is so “because beat is its proper accident.” But this is the result of its proper form, and so on, until we come to the divine will. Hence, if a person answers someone who asks why wood is heated: “Because God willed it,” he is answering it appropriately, provided he intends to take the question back to a first cause; but not appropriately, if he means to exclude all other causes.

Notes Thus all physics begins with God. And that a physics which excludes God must necessarily be incomplete.


  1. “Forms must have a designer.”

    No, a natural bridge was not designed, a meandering river is not designed.

  2. Alan Wostenberg

    17…”because beat is its proper accident”.. beat? is that a typeo?

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