Edwards on the Necessary Dependence of God’s Will upon His Wisdom

Edwards ManuscriptJonathan Edwards makes a good point concerning the necessity of God’s Wisdom against voluntarism, or those who consider God’s freedom usurped by a doctrine that “anchors” his character to necessity. Edwards replies that if God’s will is not guided by his wisdom then his very being is subject to evil:

If God’s will is steadily and surely determined in everything by supreme wisdom, then it is in everything necessarily determined to that which is most wise. And certainly it would be a disadvantage and indignity, to be otherwise. For if the divine will was not necessarily determined to that which in every case is wisest and best, it must be subject to some degree of undesigning contingence; and so in the same degree liable to evil. To suppose the divine will liable to be carried hither and thither at random, by the uncertain wind of blind contingence, which is guided by no wisdom, no motive, no intelligent dictate whatsoever (if any such thing were possible), would certainly argue a great degree of imperfection and meanness, infinitely unworthy of the deity. If it be a disadvantage, for the divine will to be attended with this moral necessity, then the more free from it, and the more left at random, the greater dignity and advantage. And consequently to be perfectly free from the direction of understanding, and universally and entirely left to senseless unmeaning contingence, to act absolutely at random, would be the supreme glory. (Freedom of the Will, 266)

Edwards continues, noting that the necessary dependence of God’s will upon his wisdom is the same as the necessary dependence of God’s being upon his existence:

It no more argues any dependence of God’s will, that his supremely wise volition is necessary, than it argues a dependence of his being, that his existence is necessary. If it be something too low, for the supreme Being to have his will determined by moral necessity, so as necessarily, in every case, to will in the highest degree holily and happily; then why is it not also something too low, for him to have his existence, and the infinite perfection of his nature, and his infinite happiness determined by necessity? It is no more to God’s dishonor, to be necessarily wise, than to be necessarily holy. And if neither of them be to his dishonor, then it is not to his dishonor necessarily to act holily and wisely. And if it be not dishonorable, to be necessarily holy and wise, in the highest possible degree, no more is it mean or dishonorable, necessarily to act holily and wisely in the highest possible degree; or (which is the same thing) to do that, in every case, which above all other things is wisest and best. (ibid., 267)

The Magistrate Should Encourage Virtue

(I’ll preface this post by saying that my knowledge of political science is meager.  I also must admit complete ignorance about the economic workings of the stock market.  Just thinking about it intimidates me and reduces my being to the level of a primate – much like those in 2001: A Space Odyssey who when faced with the obelisk could do nothing more than screech and bang the ground with clubs.)


I agree with Ron Paul, who was interviewed by Neil Cavuto this past Thursday, that our society does not need the government to act and act now to correct the perilous economic situation that is upon us.  Paul said we must change our philosophy of government in toto.  I agree in at least one respect:  the philosophy of government that says the citizen must ultimately depend on Washington for the worth of his hard earned money is the same philosophy that leads Washington to encourage the vice of frivolity among businessmen, congressional leaders, and the citizens themselves.  I received an economic stimulus check back in May (I think that’s when it was).  I was very tempted to spend the money in a different country just to prove the contradiction in the philosophy that on one hand says “the government must regulate the economy (by handing out cash)” and on the other hand says “the citizens must regulate the economy (by spending money).”  What the government really wants is a virtuous citizen who will invest in the businesses of his country out of a genuine love for that country.  This is why Peter Martyr considered ethics to be more primary than economics and politics.  He says:

Among these moral subjects, the first place is surely held by ethics, then economics, and finally politics.  I see this order as circular.  Through ethics, those who are its students will, one by one, become good men.  If they prove upright, they will raise good families; if the families are properly established, they will in turn create good republics.  And in good republics, both law and administration will aim at nothing less than each man becoming a good citizen, for they have eyes not only for the body but also for the spirit, and they will take care that citizens live according to virtue. (Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, p. 12)

But, our government does not want virtuous citizens.  They say “here’s a check for $600!  Now, don’t spend it in Mexico or by paying off your credit card because that will not help your country.”  I think it is great that they do not want me spending my stimulus check in a different country, but why shouldn’t I use it to pay off debt? Well, because if everybody used their stimulus check to pay their credit card debt or student loans then there’d be no new money pumped into the economy and businesses would be forced to close their doors and men and women would lose their jobs and then nobody would be happy.  They’ve made the vice of frugal spending a virtue and wedded this vice to the virtue of patriotism!  Anyone who knows anything about ethics knows that virtuous living is the essence of freedom.  So, can we really say that our government leaders promote the freedom of their fellow citizens whom they’ve sworn to protect when they not only sit passively by while we all become slaves to debt but join in the fight, taking the side of the banks and credit card companies – even becoming their spokesmen by encouraging people to spend money that is not theirs instead of being wise by saving for the future?  

They show no regard for the future and no common sense when they preach that deficit spending is the only option to get our nation out of financial trouble!  That’s like saying “I should take out a $200 loan because I can’t afford groceries,” but instead of buying the essentials I go lay the whole thing down on a craps game. Where have all the wise men gone?  I don’t know much about politics, but I do know that when leaders decide to redefine virtue they stand on a precarious ledge. They are in danger of destroying the very thing they’ve sworn to protect.

Nature/Grace Union In Proof-Text Mode

Aquinas did not create a nature/grace dichotomy.  Read de Lubac, Pinckaers, O’Meara, etc.  Heck, even read Copleston.  There’s no such thing as “pure nature”, most Thomas scholars agree. Ergo, I shall resort to proof-text mode but just this one:

For the affection of charity, which is the inclination of grace, is not less orderly than the natural appetite, which is the inclination of nature, for both inclinations flow from Divine wisdom. (ST II-II, 26. a.6)

If you didn’t catch that I’ll paraphrase:  Both natural inclinations and inclinations of grace come from God. As Pinckaers points out it was the prerogative of Ockham to change the meaning of “nature” by separating nature from freedom.  He had the idea that true freedom was not the ability to choose what makes one more human but the capacity to choose not to choose.  Thus human nature lost those gracious natural inclinations and instead became subject to the will.  Nature was no longer seen as including gracious elements but actually became a nuisance to free will. Posse peccare was better than non posse peccare. This was part of the new “science.” The objective eclipsed the subjective.

The harmony between humanity and nature was destroyed by a freedom that claimed to be “indifferent” to nature and defined itself as “non-nature.” The consideration of the nature and spiritual spontaneity of the human person was banished from the horizons of thought. (Servais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics, p. 333)

For Aquinas the will of man is naturally attracted to the good which finds its end in God.  “… all persons do share in the same last end, because we are all seeking happiness, understood as the ultimate and complete fulfillment of all that we are seeking in our lives … there is objectively only one thing which can provide us with this happiness, and that is God Himself.” (Jean Porter, “Right Reason and the Love of God”, in The Theology of Thomas Aquinas, p. 172) All men participate in God’s Eternal Law through the innate first principles of the Natural Law. I think we tend to forget that all men were created in his image.  And yes, that does apply to more than the material nature.  Grace does not destroy nature precisely because nature is graciously predisposed to grace.

Medieval Architecture and the Summae: Theology’s Aesthetic Counterpart

Notre DameThe Middle Ages fashioned summae in stone and stained glass as well as in theology.  In the twelfth century a new architecture (what would later be called pejoratively “Gothic” in contrast to the earlier “Roman” style) produced a building out of freedom and synthesis.  Sharp arches pointed toward heaven and, since the arches could sustain more weight, the wallspace was free.  Some creative personality suggested filling it with windows of red and blue, yellow and green glass.  Colored light poured in.  The artists with their theological consultants faced in the rose windows of the cathedrals the same questions of multiplicity and order as did the university professors in planning their summary works of theology.  Just as light comes from the sun and pours into the church through colored windows, so God passing through the events of salvation-history pours grace into the individual spirit. (O’Meara, Thomas Aquinas: Theologian, p. 47)

God’s Will Does Not Exclude Secondary Causes

The will of God, as it is the first and universal cause, does not exclude intermediate causes that have power to produce certain effects. Since however all intermediate causes are inferior in power to the first cause, there are many things in the divine power, knowledge and will that are not included in the order of inferior causes. Thus in the case of the raising of Lazarus, one who looked only on inferior causes might have said: “Lazarus will not rise again,” but looking at the divine first cause might have said: “Lazarus will rise again.” And God wills both: that is, that in the order of the inferior cause a thing shall happen; but that in the order of the higher cause it shall not happen; or He may will conversely. We may say, then, that God sometimes declares that a thing shall happen according as it falls under the order of inferior causes, as of nature, or merit, which yet does not happen as not being in the designs of the divine and higher cause. Thus He foretold to Ezechias: “Take order with thy house, for thou shalt die, and not live” (). Yet this did not take place, since from eternity it was otherwise disposed in the divine knowledge and will, which is unchangeable. Hence Gregory says (Moral. xvi, 5): “The sentence of God changes, but not His counsel”—that is to say, the counsel of His will. When therefore He says, “I also will repent,” His words must be understood metaphorically. For men seem to repent, when they do not fulfill what they have threatened. (Thomas Aquinas, ST. I, Q. 19, a. 7)

When the biblical authors speak of God “relenting” this obviously does not mean that God became something different than he was before. His eternal plan is not thwarted by the evil acts of men.  His eternal love for those whom he has created is mediated through temporal reality, including those events which God has foreknown to take place through the will of men. This cooperating principle is the Love of God. This “relenting” in God Thomas says should be understood metaphorically; that is, we should understand that when God seems to be affected by the persecution of his people or the evil of men he is much more than what we consider from the definition of “affect.” He is not eternally being affected from the outside – that would not be greater.  He is infinitely willing the good.  The suffering of God’s people has meaning for him so that he acts on their behalf.  In this sense “affect” is a metaphor for the fact that God really cares about his creatures.  

St. Augustine on Being Christian

… At the same time you are slave, and free; slave, because you are created such; free, because you are loved by God, by whom you were created:  yes, free indeed, because you love Him by whom you were made.  Do not serve with discontent; for your murmurs do not tend to release you from serving, but to make you a wicked servant.  you are a slave of the Lord, you are a freedman of the Lord:  do not seek to be emancipated as to depart from the house of Him who frees you … (Commentary on Psalm 100)