Aquinas: Is God Hot?

We’re still working with Q105 this week. Last week we did 105.4, on whether God can change human will, and this week it’s 105.5, on “whether God is active in every agent cause.” There’s quite a lot from 105, which is why I decided to end with it – there’s still another two posts after this one. Plus Aquinas lays out 106-119 as a group of questions – so 105 is the last in its own grouping. Anyway, let’s deal with this will question.

If you’ve been around for a while, you might remember this really early post on Augustine’s De Doctrina Christiana. Augustine is dealing with this issue of agency in teaching – he’s trying to determine where that agency stems from. He phrases the question like this: Does the Apostle [Paul] in any way contradict himself, when, though he says that men are made teachers by the operation of the Holy Spirit, he yet himself gives them directions how and what they should teach?” We can think about the issue like we think about medicine: does medicine heal an individual, or is it God? Most people would say it’s God through the medicine, but that’s a bit wimpy – you’ve still got to nail down where the power to heal resides. Does God impart some inherent qualities into the medicine so that the medicine has the power to heal within itself? Or does God hold everything within Himself and merely use the medicine as a fundamentally hollow prompt for His own action? According to that second option, the medicine is essentially just a trigger, like a flag that says to God ‘yo come heal this bitch.’ Part of what we’re asking is therefore also whether the physical world has some degree of autonomy.

Anyway, 105.5 is Aquinas’s take on that issue. He doesn’t quote Augustine directly, but that’s where my mind went on reading this article. The first point reiterates the stuff we’ve already gone over about hollow medicine: “If He [God] is active in everything that acts, His action suffices. Accordingly it would be useless for any created cause to act at all.” If God is healing people directly Himself, then the medicine isn’t really doing anything. It’s not directly contributing anything, other than basically just being a conduit. The second point moves further with that argument, and then the third moves in the opposite direction: it basically argues that if God makes shit, He makes it with the power to act, and if it’s got the power to act, it doesn’t need His bloody interfering in order to perform all the time. “Consequently He would not seem to be further involved in a creature’s acting.” We’re kinda moving more towards the cosmic watchmaker theory of God here, right. God could just make everything and then go on holiday and it’d all still function fine, because God has given things the ability to act on each other.

Alright then, so Aquinas has two different theories to argue with. The first theory, according to my footnotes, is called occasionalism. The second is basically the cosmic watchmaker theory, like I say. In his rebuttal, Aquinas rephrases occasionalism with another example: “For example, it would not be the fire giving heat, but God in the fire.” By this logic, fire itself isn’t hot. God’s hot, and God’s in the fire giving out heat, and really fire’s just a silly hat that God wears when He wants to chuck heat around. Aquinas ain’t got no time for that shit: “But this is impossible, and first because it would deprive creation of its pattern of cause and effect, which in turn would imply lack of power in the creator, since an agent’s power is the source of its giving an effect a causative capability.” If you can’t act in your own power, cause and effect breaks down, which – well, I mean, you can forget free will if that happens. But Aquinas is suggesting that it also reflects badly on God, because God isn’t able to give humans (or any other thing in the universe) their own ability to cause shit. If God can’t make us cause shit, that’s a lack of power on His part, and therefore He’s not omniscient. So God has to be able to make us cause shit. Medicine has to heal you, because if it doesn’t, it’s God’s fault.

Of course there’s a few other different points that Aquinas is willing to concede. Obviously God works in every active cause in the sense that He’s upholding your existence. In a sense, He’s working in you to make you exist and allow you to act. Sure, no worries. Also, every lower cause is dependent on the higher causes – so, uh, for instance if you fall off a building the impact causes you pain, but it only causes pain because of the ‘higher’ cause of gravity which causes you to fall down in the first place. From that perspective, again, God is the first mover, so arguably He’s also acting in literally everything. He is the highest cause, and therefore all the lower causes are to some extent dependent on Him. Again, fine, it’s the same general point again.

Aquinas then uses those general points against the watchmaker theory. The watchmaker theory says that God created everything and wandered off. Aquinas suggests that no, actually God’s still quite involved. He’s upholding your existence, He’s the highest cause, and He’s the goal that you’re ultimately chasing. In those three senses, God is active in every agent cause. He just doesn’t take away your free will. That one’s still on you.


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