God, Freedom, and what we moderns don’t know about Will

Pretty decent question from a student on Reddit:

I am doing an undergraduate exposition of the Free Will of God, as examined by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa, Question 19.3. I have been reading this over and over again, as well as looking into other questions of the Summa. Does anyone have a simple explanation, and/or some links to articles, books, or lectures written on this subjects?


To which I reply as follows:

Make sure you carefully understand the response to I.19.1 before you try to deal with 19.3, among other things. It sounds like you’re wrestling with this the right way. The challenge is that almost every relevant term is defined differently in the “default” philosophy of our day than in St. Thomas’s work.

Look at http://www.newadvent.org/summa/1019.htm#article1

Notice that will follows intellect, and is analogous to the “natural appetite,” that is, the tendency for everything to be what it is. Rocks are rock-like by “natural appetite,” that is, they tend to be rock-like as long as something else does not supervene on their nature and convert their rock-like-ness into something else.

Intellectual natures are more complicated; they have a “natural appetite” to consider their circumstances and habits and choose things that may alter them, so they may in many cases be capable of “converting” themselves, though not so as to cease to be that kind of intellectual being.

When an intellectual nature, with all this “natural appetite” for considering and choosing and potentially converting, acts according to that nature, it does so according to that nature; moral freedom is not a rupture of nature, but the act proper to an intellectual nature.

With God, the situation is even more interesting–at once more complicated and far, far more simple.

For God, the contemplation and the choosing are all perfect in their beginning, so that when God contemplates He is not really considering before acting, and only acting when the consequences are predictable; rather, God contemplates and actualizes all things (including all the contingencies and the natures according to which those contingencies are resolved, in almost endless complexity) in the same act as God exists. God, just in being God, also considers all possibilities and also actualizes all actualities, and is never in any of His considerations balked or given reason to convert any of His perfect habits in any way.

And therefore God is absolutely free, as He considers and actualizes all things according to His own act of being God, and in that same act of being a God who is good considers and actualizes what is best, including all the layers of possibility and contingency (and folded within those all the back-and-forth of Creation, Fall, Redemption, calling, conversion, Heaven, Hell) that resolve themselves according to the participation of some natures in that freedom of God.

Our own freedom is far less than God’s, because it is essentially the portion of God’s total freedom that He has, because it is perfectly in accord with His considering and actualizing all good things, allotted to us; He has decided that, whatever we make of it, our degree of participation in His freedom is an essential good of creating us. This does not constrain His freedom; it is His freedom, in making us, participated by us as our more limited and contingent freedom.

And we cannot have this freedom except as participation in His freedom, which means that when we choose to abuse His gift of opportunity to cooperate with Him, to enter freely into His friendship, we choose the loss of continued capacity to choose and a gradual descent into a more merely, almost subhumanly, appetitive and irascible state of being.

Hope that helps. Also, I’m going to blog this, so be honest with your prof when you work on your paper.