|van Gogh: “Man writing, facing left”
(primary and secondary causality)
Sunday of Easter, John 15:1-8
remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do
you can do only a few things,” nor “Without me you scarcely can do even little
things,” but rather Without me you can do
nothing (John 15:5).
Calvinists who so emphasize the divine causality as to diminish free will.
Indeed, their doctrine of double-predestination makes man to be nothing more
than a donkey, ridden either by Satan into hell or by God into heaven.
classical Jesuits (like St. Robert Bellarmine and Fr. Francisco Suárez)
generally struggle to give sufficient acknowledgment to the role of divine
providence. Certainly, the Jesuits are not semi-Pelagian heretics, yet their
writings often tend to lean toward an over-emphasis of the human will and a
de-emphasizing of God’s causal powers.
Both the Jesuits and the
Calvinists see man and God as competing forces in a battle over who is the
“cause” of any given action. This is their fundamental flaw.
problem of Divine Causality and Free Will
of “grace and free will” – the Church’s answer to this dilemma of how grace and
free will co-exist was largely formulated by St. Augustine, the “Doctor of
period, the discussion entered a new phase – one which is far more profound.
The real question is not so much about the relationship between grace and free
will, but rather: How God can be the cause of all things (including the freedom
of the human will) while man is still a truly free agent?
causing it to exist, and nothing is moved without God acting as the first Mover
– how can we avoid concluding that every human choice is wholly and entirely
caused by God and that the human will is moved infallibly by God’s providence?
In short, if God causes all things, how can man be truly free?
answer of the Calvinists
rigorous answer. He was surely one of the most brilliant thinkers of Western
Civilization, but he was brilliantly wrong.
(especially in the order of grace) must be wholly directed and ordered by God’s
providence, Calvin so expanded the doctrine of Divine Causality as to destroy
Calvinism is that while one man is damned and another saved, neither decree is
given in relation to the works of each man (whether good or bad) but is wholly
and solely dependent upon the Divine Will which, from the beginning, has
infallibly foreordained each man either to heaven or hell.
difficult to see how a Calvinist can maintain any real freedom of the human
will, at least in those matters pertaining to salvation.
answer of the classical Jesuits
attempted to reconcile God’s causal powers with human freedom by introducing a
complicated distinction regarding the divine foreknowledge of future
contingents. In short, the classical Jesuits seek to emphasize the co-operation
of the human will with divine causality – claiming that, especially in supernatural
matters, God gives grace but then it is up to man to chose to accept that
is that man most certainly cannot accept grace without the assistance of God –
for the acceptance of grace is itself a supernatural act, and Jesus said Without me you can do nothing.
the right answer (since they do not explicitly deny either free will or God’s
providence), their theory is much less philosophically rigorous than that
proposed by John Calvin.
underlying problem of both
Jesuits and the Calvinists – and with most modern approaches to the question as
well – is that they see man and God in a competition.
act, man and God take away from each other the causal agency. Hence, if an act
is 50% from man, then it must only be 50% from God. Or if it is 70% from God,
then it can only be 30% from man.
both view man and God as co-workers on the same LEVEL of causality. It is as
though man and God are working together to row a boat – if either God or man
rows too hard the boat will go in circles.
the same level of causality. God is a primary cause, while man is a secondary
cause. Thus, there can be no competition between God and man in terms of causal
genius of Thomism
Thomists (from the Angelic Thomas, through Fr. Banez and, in our own day, to
Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange) have constantly emphasized: God is the primary cause of
every action, while man is the secondary cause of those acts which proceed from
his free will.
may consider a man writing with a pencil. Which is the cause of the written
word: The man or the pencil? Surely, it is both. 100% from the man, and 100%
from the pencil. And none can say that the pencil isn’t really important –
since the word would not be on the page without the co-operation of the pencil!
king sending a message through his servant. If the servant goes to the queen
and reads the message, “I give you all my love,” surely it is the king who is
speaking those words to his wife. None would say that the servant is professing
his own love for the queen, but
rather all recognize that the king is speaking through his servant. So, who said the words: The king or the
servant? Surely, it is both – 100% the king and 100% the servant.
meant to explain free will, but rather are offered as an explanation of the
difference between primary and secondary causality. The king and the writer are
analogous to primary causes, while the servant and the pencil are analogous to
secondary causes. And, from these analogies, we can see that secondary causes
are true and real causes which are in no sense “competitors” with primary
causes all things, even human freedom
of all things, including even the free choices of men and angels. Of those
actions which proceed from human freedom, man is a secondary cause – but he is
still a real and true agent, with moral responsibility as well.
of a mystery how God can be a primary cause of a free human act, but it will do
NO GOOD for us to set man and God as opposing forces. It would be better to
stand in awe of the mystery of divine providence, than to try to war against it
(and this, it seems to me, is something of what the Calvinists and even the
Jesuits tend to do).
powerful that he can not only cause human actions, he can even cause them to be
free. The fact that he does this shows not only his greatness, but also our
dignity in his eyes.
very readable) book on this subject, please consider: “Ecumenism
and Philosophy” [here] by Charles Morerod, op (now the successor
of St. Francis de Sales as bishop of Lausanne, Genève et Fribourg)