Morning research trail

1.) While reading various responses to Edward Feser’s critique of Colin McGinn, I was bothered by yet another occurence of the idea that to relate to God as Pure Act is to fall short of, or even negate, the possibility of the sort of relationship we have with him by faith.

2.) I figured that the best spin that can be put on the argument is the opposition between the immutability of God and the efficacy of petitionary prayer – or, as it is usually put, an immutable God does not seem to be easy to square with the biblical God who answers prayers, and sometimes is said to change his mind in response to them.

3.)  St. Thomas answers (ST II-II q. 83 a. 2. ) by trying to position himself between two extremes: 1.) some things do not fall under the divine plan, therefore 1a.) some things do not come about by necessity; and 2) All things fall under the divine plan, therefore 2a.) all things come about by necessity. St. Thomas, rather ambitiosly, wants to make the line of causality run like this: All things fall under the divine plan, therefore some things do not come about by necessity. Contingency is a result of the absolute determination of the divine plan.

4.) The basis for the opinion is ST I q. 19 a. 8. “whether the will of God imposes necessity on all things”

5.) Cajetan’s commentary takes occasion to frame the question as a fundametal dispute between Thomas as Scotus about the root of contingency. For Thomas, Contingency reduces to the superefficacious power of God, for Scotus it reduces to the contingency of the divine will in its power to choose or not choose.

6.) This remined me of the startling but fascinating arguement of the Neo-Scotist Fernand Guimet, who argues that the existence of evil is rooted in the divine natureas that which God is eternally overcoming in himself.This is just a reminder that, when it wants to, Scholastic theology can say things so controversial as to make modern controversies look inconsequential.

More on Cajetan’s account of the problem later.


  1. lee faber said,

    June 22, 2012 at 7:02 pm

    Who is this Ferdinand Guimet, and is the argument you mention supposed to be Scotist? Thanks.

    • June 22, 2012 at 9:58 pm

      I’m not the one to ask about Guimet. I doubt I could tell you much more than a Google search, though most of the hits will be in French. If you got nothing, make sure you’re spelling his first name right: Fer-nand.

      The argument is not one any Medieval -Scotus certainly included – ever gave or ever would give. But I think there is something in comparing it to the dispute about the ground of contingency. That’s not to call it a development or a logical consequence or anything of the sort. I don’t think it’s a crazy theory, although the problems with it are obvious.

      Part of the problem is that I came to Guimet from having long conversations about his ideas with someone who has gone very deeply into his Existence et éternité, and so now I’m looking for texts to catch up with what I was told.

  2. AS said,

    June 23, 2012 at 1:32 am

    A theory – If God is “beyond” time, then all our prayers are known in this eternal knowledge before we made them, and all answers to prayer (healings, averted disaster, conversions, etc..) are “built in” to creation from eternity. Our prayers do not change a pre-arranged plan of God, they are already within the plan of God. He has not changed His mind.

    • Trev said,

      June 23, 2012 at 3:50 am

      Of course. We do not see that in the future but God’s providence is clearly seen from the past and so we can have hope.

  3. Kristor said,

    June 23, 2012 at 3:24 pm

    Except that if God is eternal, there is for him no such thing as a time before our prayers are made. Nor likewise is there any after. Rather, his knowledge of our prayers and his responses to them, are coincident with those prayers. For an eternal being, all creaturely acts are coincident with his own.

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