Purgatorio Canto XVI

It was a debate in the days of the Old Covenant, it was a debate for the early Church, for St. Augustine and his contemporaries, for those during the time of the Reformation, and with for us still today. It is a debate within Islam, and a debate within Christianity, and even a debate between the secular theories of spiritualism and materialism. In what way (if any) is man free, and in what way (if any) is he determined?

“Mankind sees in the heavens alone the source of all things, good and evil; as if by Law they shaped all mortal actions in their course. If that were truly so, then all Free Will would be destroyed, and there would be no justice in giving bliss for virtue, evil for pain.” (Canto XVI)

Just as God cannot make “square circles” He cannot be a God who “justly rewards or punishes” those who had no free will in the matter. To say that He justly punishes those who had no ability to do otherwise than they do is not to glorify God by proclaiming “His ways are above our ways” but to annihilate all coherent thought of Him, claiming He is a God of logical contradictions.

“You are free subjects of a more immense nature and power which grants you intellect to free you from the heavens’ influence. If, therefore, men today turn from God’s laws, the fault is in yourselves to seek and find.” (Canto XVI)

God moves man’s will, as the Universal Mover, to the universal object of the will, which is good. And without this universal motion, man cannot will anything. But man determines himself by his reason to will this or that, which is true or apparent good. (STh., I-II q.9 a.6 ad.3)

I wrote in my blog a while back that:

‘If one were to ask the question “why does a rock fall when released from the hand,” it would, no doubt, be a true yet odd answer to say that “God wills it.”  Yet, we must not argue that indeed, the falling of the rock does not escape God’s providence.  It certainly did not catch Him by surprise…However, when asking the question, we are usually seeking the more proximate answer.  To say that “the rock falls because of gravity,” that still hardly understood force that draws massive objects toward one another, is to in no way infringe upon God’s power and providence.’

The point of all this is summed up by St. Thomas in STh., I q.23 a.8 resp., when he speaks of predestination during the section of the Summa on the One God, and in the following article, when speaking of the primary mover of man’s free will:

“As Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv.) it belongs to Divine providence, not to destroy but to preserve the nature of things. Wherefore it moves all things in accordance with their conditions; so that from necessary causes through the Divine motion, effects follow of necessity; but from contingent causes, effects follow contingently. Since, therefore, the will is an active principle, not determinate to one thing, but having an indifferent relation to many things, God so moves it, that He does not determine it of necessity to one thing, but its movement remains contingent and not necessary, except in those things to which it is moved naturally.” (STh., I-II q.10 a.4 resp.)

And this final thought takes us to the poetry of the following Canto, where Virgil speaks of man seeking good, loving always, but often loving lessor goods with great zeal, while loving God, if at all, with much too little…always oriented to good, but freely oriented.


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