Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Toward a Recapture of Nature in its Fullness

FOLLOWERS OF ST. THOMAS linked God's knowledge of vision (his scientia visionis) with the knowledge of future free acts of man; they were loathe to separate them. This foreknowledge in God, the Thomist argued, necessarily implies a congruent act of God's will or divine decree that such free act happen. The future free act is known by God in virtue of, in fact in that very decree; accordingly, no future act can exist unless God has also decreed its existence.

The fact that man's freedom operated under the divine causality did not bother the Thomist. Thomists felt secure with the notion that human freedom was created freedom, and so, being created, human freedom was to be measured relative to created causes or relative to divine causality. For St. Thomas Aquinas no man was free from divine causality. Human freedom, therefore, was exercised within the umbrella of divine causality or divine providence. In short, there was no concept of freedom from God or outside of God. Freedom was always seen as under God. In fact freedom from God or freedom outside God, was not seen as freedom at all, but as a fall into the abyss of slavery, and a vain one at that, for no one could outrun our outmaneuver God and his providence. A man could be relatively and yet truly free, and nevertheless be fully under the rule of God: "[B]ecause the same act of free choice is reduced to God as to a cause, it is necessary that whatsoever happens from the exercise of free choice be subject to divine providence. For the providence of man is contained under the providence of God, as a particular cause under a universal cause."* Even more directly: "[I]t is not repugnant to liberty that God is the cause of the free act of the will." Et sic non repugnat libertati quod Deus est causa actus liberi arbitrii. De malo, q. 3, a. 2, ad 4. See Long, 38-39.

God as First Cause: End of Human Nature

Molina, however, thought that the Thomist doctrine subverted man's freedom, and human freedom was a highly regarded commodity in the Renaissance. Pico de Mirandola had already published his famed Oration on the Dignity of Man, the manifesto of the Renaissance. With respect to future events, therefore, Molina sought to find some means to explain how God can know a future free act before it happens and yet assure that that act occurs freely, without being decreed or caused by God. Molina thus attenuated the causal role of God in the area of human liberty. While he tried mightily to reconcile human freedom and providence, Long--a committed Thomist--sees Molina "falling as it were by accident into the error whereby freedom is defined in respect to God rather than with respect to its finite and contingent effects." Long, 39.

In analyzing the concept of human freedom, Molina distinguished between different kinds of knowledge in God. In God, this knowledge is one and simple; however, this knowledge may be distinguished in reference to the objects of that knowledge. There are, Molina says, such things as necessary truths, which are naturally known, and which even God cannot change. An example would be the truth that bachelors are not married, or circles are round. These really are not at issue when it comes to the foreknowledge of future events. They are prevolitional, or perhaps better, supravolitional, i.e., they were outside of the will of God because God, by their very nature, could not change these truths. By definition, these truths are established by the way things are and have to be. God could not causes these things to be other than what they are. They were outside God's causality.

As to future events, Molina distinguished two sorts of events and the knowledge of God had arising out of them. Molina divided future events into contingent events and conditional future contingents or futurabilia. Contingent events were those which depend upon God's will alone, and the knowledge God has of these is absolutely free. When a contingent event is involved, God is the primary cause of it. An example of this would be God creating Adam. God could have or could have not created Adam, and that fact that God created Adam makes it true. And so this event is known by God because God caused it.

There is, however, in Molinist thought a concept of knowledge that relates to a situation that is midway between contingent truths and necessary truths. There are future events which, given certain conditions, would exist, but because of future conditions, will not, in fact, exist. These are events that depend upon the autonomous choice of the creature and relate to the future. These events involve futurabilia (future subjective contingents) or futura conditionata (future contingents). God is not their primary cause. Like the necessary truths they are prevolitional, outside of God's will and providence. The creature is their primary cause, so, from the divine perspective they are caused by secondary causes. They are outside God's causal order.

These future contingent events are known by God through what Molina, in his distinctive doctrine, called "middle knowledge" (scientia media). These events (called counterfactuals)** need not be come to pass, and if come to pass they do so not through God being their primary cause, but they come to pass depending on the choice of the creature.

The classic source text of this sort of knowledge is in the Gospel of Matthew:
Woe to you, Chorazin! woe to you, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes . . . And you Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You shall be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Matt. 11:21, 23.

God as Trinity: Man's Supernatural End

God knows through "middle knowledge" what would have happened in Tyre and Sidon and Sodom had miracles or mighty works been done there. Because God has this knowledge, Molinists say God has some control (but not total control) over the future. God knows through "middle knowledge" infallibly that, if Adam enters the store on April 5, he will buy galoshes instead of Wellingtons. He knows that if Adam were to enter the store on April 4, he would buy Wellingtons instead of galoshes. If God wants Adam to buy Wellingtons instead of galoshes, he will work things out (if He can and if He wills) so that Adam does not go to the store on April 5, but instead on April 4. In this manner, God achieves what he wills, but man remains entirely free and autonomous. God does not cause Adam to chose galoshes over Wellingtons on April 5. The cause of that choice is entirely Adam's autonomous. But God decrees the circumstances*** so as to achieve the result he wills without interfering with the freedom of his creature. The point is that "middle knowledge" represents God's knowledge without control. That means that within this middle knowledge there is no law.

And that's where the rub is. What Molina's theory does, unfortunately, is to exclude, at least speculatively, a huge part of man's activity outside of the causal order and providential governance of God, that is, outside his law. "The Molinist account unwittingly carries the implication that the domain of human action is outside divine providence insofar as outside divine causality." Long, 39. Molinism, especially if taken out of its Christian context, therefore leads to a concept of human freedom that focuses on freedom with respect to God rather than to the contingent and finite effects of God's providence, that is, secondary causes. And it is this theory that has led theologians not rooted in Thomistic doctrine to see freedom as necessarily meaning freedom, not from secondary causes, but from God's causality. Whether a cause is "contingent [and hence free] or necessary [and hence determined] is a function of that cause's relation to God." Long, 38. "That is, it is assumed that, to be free, a cause must possess the liberty of indifference with respect to divine causality." Long, 38. In fact, Long suggests that the "libertarian account of freedom as an absolute capacity outside of the governance of the omnipotent God is prevalent even among believers."**** Long, 39.

The Molinist proposition in the hands of the secular political or moral philosopher becomes a wicked notion indeed:
[I]f the human will is not subject to divine providence, then it is not ruled and measured by the eternal law. . . . Hence, if we affirm the theonomic conception of natural law, we need also to affirm that the human will is autonomous [of God] neither in being nor in action, but is moved to its act from without [by God], yet in such a manner that this motion is truly its own motion. That is to say that the very motion that is received by the will from God is that whereby it moves itself in free self-determination. Like existence itself, the positive substance of may action is most my own, yet also most a gift.
Long, 40. Ultimately, if we believe that the natural law participates in the eternal law (that is, is thenomic), we must believe that the human freedom is relative freedom, created freedom, and is a true freedom that is exercised under the Providence of God. Providence extends only to where there is power and no further. Wherever God's power is not exercised, that is, where there is freedom from God's causality, there can be no providence and no law.

Molina erred by creating an envelope of human freedom from God, and, while that thought may not have borne ill fruit while the social body was healthy and vigorous with Christian mores, it, like some sort of virus, waited until the body was weak to flare up into a feverish concept that man is not free unless he is free from God. To be sure, Molina had patched up his system with the notion of scientia media or middle knowledge. "The formulation of Molina has sadly outlived the profound Christian context of his work, which limited the ill effect of this formulation and prevented its worst implication from being drawn." Long, 39. This concept, in any event, is contrary to the received tradition. Its implication is that human action is outside divine providence, since, to be free, it would have to be outside of divine causality; that is, human freedom would have to be outside of the eternal law.

For Steven A. Long, Molina's "negative treatment of the dependence of human freedom on divine causality seems in historical terms to be one large stride in the direction of undifferentiated libertarianism of a sort that implies that the created will is a being a se," to itself, that is, self-regarding and autonomous. The consequence of such a position is disastrous:

A separate jurisdiction of human liberty is thus created that is literally beyond divine governance, so that it becomes difficult to imagine what difference even divine revelation could make to the situation.

Long, 41.

So it would appear, that the Molinist tradition as well as the Enlightenment positions "each carved out," in their various ways, "a dominion for natural human agency as absolutely independent of God. . . . tend[ing] toward making the natural realm--and particularly the natural realm of human agency--an utterly separate jurisdiction sealed off from providence." Long, 41.

The position is disastrous, as I said, because it spells the death knell for a traditional notion of natural law as a participation in the eternal law:
Within such a world, natural law, far from being what it was for St. Thomas--namely, nothing other than the rational participation of the eternal law--becomes instead the demarcation of a realm outside the governance of the eternal law. Natural law becomes, as it were, the "stalking horse" of secularism and naturalist reductionism. A more complete inversion of the character of the doctrine of the natural law cannot be imagined--indeed a transvaluation of all values. . . .

The convergent implication of secular and Molinist thought seems indeed to be the loss of nature and natural order as theonomic principles, and the loss of natural law as nothing else than a participation of eternal law. Once this theonomic character of natural order and natural law are lost, then sustaining the distinction of nature and grace simply formalizes the boundaries consequent upon the loss of God.
Long, 41, 43.

It really doesn't matter, then, whether a theologian speaks of the autonomy of man from God's causality, or whether the materialist speaks of there being no such thing as God's causality, or whether a Kantian speaks of both man's autonomy and the "causal closure" of matters physical to matters metaphysical. In any event, whether a corrupt Molinist, an Enlightenment thinker, or a Kantian, God no longer is ruler of man and of his day-to-day life. God in all three cases is banished. If God is not dead, he is irrelevant. This is practical atheism in its three strains.

It was this practical atheism that led de Lubac to "overstress teleology" and adopt the erroneous doctrine that human nature has not real natural end, but only an ultimate supernatural end, the beatific vision. De Lubac refused to keep man within the "terrestial cage" where he had been placed, a cage stored somewhere outside of the loving reach or knowledge of God. Long, 42-43. De Lubac was, in some sense, right. He was right to try to re-inject teleology in nature. He was right to want to try to tie the natural order into the divine one. But he was wrong in trying to "shoehorn" the supernatural order into the natural order, as if stuffing food down the gullet of a goose to change goose liver into foie gras. What de Lubac did was nothing less than a sort of theological gavage or force-feeding, making nature into something it was not intended to be. It did not solve the problem, the loss of the theonomic principle in nature, but confused it. Nature's theonomic order in its own right, separate and apart from the theonomic order in the supernatural calling of man, is not established by the de Lubacian solution. "[T]he loss of the theonomic character of natural order and law in its own right and not merely by analogy of attribution with supernatural order is an error of decisive importance." Long, 45.

What then is really needed, the de Lubacian proposal being wrong?

[T]he greatest need of contemporary thought is to rediscover the theonomic character of natural law, and more extendedly of natural order as such--which will require a vigorous return to metaphysics, natural theology, and ontology of nature.

Long, 47. This is the only medicine for the problems of the day. It is the answer to the fideist, the fundamentalist, the rationalist, the nihilist, the empiricist, the scientist, the materialist, the atheist, the agnostic, the relativist, the espouser of excessive human autonomy, the fatalist and determinist, the deist, the pantheist. Let the dead bury their dead theories. Let us, on the other hand, recapture the Thomist synthesis, the delightfully true balance, between the natural order, which is ordered ad unum Deum, to the First Cause, and the supernatural order, which, presupposing the natural, is ordered ad Deum unum et trinum, to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, the one true and only God, to which Jew, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, and whatever man holding whatever varietal of religion and philosophy of his own device, is called to worship into perfect freedom.

*S.T. I, q. 22, a. 2, ad 4. (Sed quia ipse actus liberi arbitrii reducitur in Deum sicut in causam, necesse est ut ea quae ex libero arbitrio fiunt, divinae providentiae subdantur; providentia enim hominis continentur sub providentia Dei, sicut causa particularis sub causa universali.); Hastings; see also S.T., I, q. 14, art. 9.
**This is the Achilles Heel of Molinism, the metaphysical status of "counterfactuals." Counterfactuals are writtten in the form, if x, then y, an antecedent and a consequent. If the antecedent is false, then how can the counterfactual consequent be regarded as true. Where is the metaphysical ground of the counterfactual being a truth that can be known if its antecedent is false?
***This, as Long notes, "treats the divine causality like that of a creature, neglecting the dependence of all created reality in being and action upon God." Long, 39. It also requires man to be autonomous from God so as to be considered free. It ignores the difference between being free as to secondary causes (finite and contingent effects, what Long calls elsewhere "terrestrial requirements"), versus being free as to primary causes (God).
****This raises another problem for Molinists that critics point to. Are we really free if our acts are determined by the circumstances into which we are placed? This is the so-called "determinism of circumstance." Long, 40.

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