Perfect Will Theology: Divine Agency in Reformed Scholasticism As Against Suarez, Episcopius, Descartes, and Spinoza by J. Martin Bac (Brill's Series in Church History: Brill Academic) This book revisits four early-modern debates of Reformed theology concerning the will of God. Reformed scholasticism advocated a particular relationship between divine knowledge, will, and power, which was altered by Jesuits, Remonstrants, Descartes, and Spinoza. In all these debates modal categories like contingency and necessity play a prominent part. Therefore, these positions are evaluated with the help of modern modal logic including possible world semantics. The final part of this study presents a systematic defense of the Reformed position, which has been charged of theological determinism and of making God the author of sin. In modern terms, therefore, the relation of divine and human freedom and the problem of evil are discussed.
The act of God as Spirit by which he has by himself established from eternity most freely and wisely what and how everything in time will be unto his glory.
The eternal and effective purpose of God guides his entire agency in time and extends itself over all things in past, present, and future. This concept of the decree or decision of God has provoked much resistance, both in the past and the present. The Remonstrants and Jesuits feared theological determinism, which would rescind all divine commands and promises and turn God into the author of sin.' Modern theology has often rejected the Reformed position as betraying a distant idea of God and making history a shadow play. Moreover, a theological view of God as purposefully and objectively acting within reality has become problematic in modern culture and its closed worldview.
In this study, we will explore and assess the place of divine will within Reformed thought in order to develop an actual systematic position. Therefore, the main research questions are:
The answers to these questions will be sought especially in -what we will call- the model of divine agency: the interrelation of God's knowledge, will, and power. Systematically, this model appears both in the doctrine of God in the so-called communicable attributes of God and in the doctrine of the decision or eternal providence of God.' In both loci, a specific interplay of divine knowledge, will, and power occurs. This model of divine agency displays a particular relation of divine being and agency and equally a specific relation of God and reality, making it the systematic centre of the doctrine of God. Moreover, in the major early modern debates with Jesuit, Remonstrant, Cartesian, and Spinozist thought, the Reformed appear to work with their own model that differs from all these other positions. Therefore, Antoon Vos has called it "the identifying paradigm of systematic reformed theology."' He identifies Franciscus Gomarus (1563-1641) as its first explicit advocate (in 1595), but claims that it was soon generally accepted by all Reformed theologians within Europe.
In order to answer the research questions, several provisional hypotheses have to be tested. Regarding the first question of the systematic place of divine will within Reformed scholasticism, these hypotheses are:
1.a. The Reformed model of divine agency is the main framework in which the systematic place of divine will is articulated
1.b. The detailed aspects of the model of divine agency appear especially within the major seventeenth-century debates
1.c. The Reformed model is a contingency model
1.d. Tradition historically, this model is best explained in Scotist terms
1.e. Reformed scholasticism is Perfect Will theology
We have already seen that the model of divine agency is explained within the doctrine of God both under the divine attributes and with the decision or eternal providence. Still, one might also study divine agency within the doctrines of creation or God's interaction with human willing within actual providence in order to answer the first question. Although we will devote attention to these issues, the main point will be the model of divine agency." The possibility to reconstruct the Reformed theory of divine will on this basis will confirm or invalidate this hypothesis.
This study will focus on the four major debates of Reformed scholasticism in order to trace the implications of the Reformed model of divine agency. Since all other positions adapt this model because it is deemed theologically or philosophically impossible, it is important to consider how the Reformed cope with this criticism and how they evaluate the alternatives. As will appear, the alternative Jesuit and Remonstrant models modified the model of divine agency in order to reconstruct the relation of God and reality, whereas Descartes and Spinoza adapted the model in order to alter the relation of divine being and agency.
Vos has called the Reformed model of divine agency a contingency model. The modal background of this proposal is discussed, but the main point is that there is a contingent relation of God to creation, which is itself contingent in virtue of God's decision. This hypothesis will be evaluated by analyzing the modal implications of the Reformed model of divine agency, its modal language and distinctions. In addition, the tradition-historical background of Reformed thought also has to be evaluated here. Reformed scholasticism shows profound awareness of medieval precursors, but the exact relationship remains complex. Vos has argued that conceptually the Reformed doctrine of God closely resembles the work of John Duns Scotus, whereas its basic patterns deviate from the Thomist or Nominalist position.'3 This evaluation goes against the dominant Thomistic interpretation of Reformed thought and more recent eclectic tendencies. Our study of the model of divine agency will examine Scotist influences by assessing relevant terminology and conceptual structures."
This historical background also has consequences for the analysis of the four debates. For the Jesuits, we have selected Francisco Suarez, who did not write against the Reformed. Yet, he extensively discusses Scotus, which presents an opportunity to test Vos' interpretation:
The model of Duns Scotus' doctrine of God set the agenda for centuries. Later alternative models, for example, the Nominalist model, the scientia media model of the great Jesuit thinkers such as Fonseca and Molina, Suarez and Bellarmine, and the Socinian, Arminian, and Cartesian models—were all dependent on the Scotist model. Even Spinoza derived his system from the Reformed doctrine of God by abolishing all shades of contingency.
The alternatives have had a major influence, but surprisingly they all started with the Reformed position as the basic type. One of the explanations may be the medieval background of Scotism.
The analysis of the Reformed model of divine agency and its modality finally serves to evaluate the last and most important hypothesis: Reformed scholasticism is Perfect Will theology. Perfect Will theology is perfect being theology in which divine agency centers on God's will.'' So, it acknowledges God's necessary existence and has a definite conception of the divine essence and attributes, like eternity, immutability, omnipotence, and omniscience. Still, divine agency is best explained by his will, which informs his foreknowledge and guides his power. Only a doctrine of God in which divine being is explained in terms of perfect being and systematically acknowledges the central place of divine will within the model of divine agency can be called Perfect Will theology." This concept delivers an understanding of divine willing as the perfect agency of a perfect being. Obviously, divine willing can be different if it is free, but it cannot be better.
Regarding the second question, the main hypotheses concern:
2.a. The Reformed position is modally consistent, since it can be articulated properly in terms of possible worlds
2.b. The Reformed position is theologically consistent, since its articulation of divine agency fits a Perfect being
2.c. The Reformed position is theologically consistent, since its articulation of divine providence and foreknowledge evades both determinism and chance
2.d. The Reformed position is relevant, since it confesses God's power, goodness, and activity and our abiding dependence upon him, which relates faith to all life
A remarkable feature of the four early modern debates is the dominant use of modal categories. Moreover, the other positions were not discarded merely as unbiblical or unlikely to be true, but dismissed as simply impossible. So, modal logic is decisive for the acceptance or rejection of models of divine agency. In the last few decades, modal logic has been revolutionized, partly by the introduction of possible worlds semantics. All early modern positions can be translated and evaluated in these terms, which we will do in order to evaluate the modal consistency of Reformed thought.
The second and third hypotheses consider the theological consistency of Perfect Will theology. It has to be shown that it both agrees with a proper concept of God and divine agency, and with created being and agency. The first aspect requires that divine agency be articulated as the agency of a perfect being, which can be explained further in terms of possible worlds. Regarding this hypothesis an important question that remains is the relation of divine freedom and goodness, and whether the Reformed doctrine of predestination is coherent. The second aspect demands that created contingency and freedom be maintained, and that evil within creation be both under God's guidance and without his fault. Here, the modern problem of evil also has to be addressed.
The relevance of Reformed thought supposes its truth, but even if truth can be found, it might be appropriate to spell out its actual meaning. The Reformed have often appealed to Paul's explanation of the ongoing work of the Creator:
He determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us: For in him we live and move and have our being.
God is always near, for in him we live. This providential thrust should also guide us. today. As was said, this should also help us in the struggle against suffering and evil.
A current systematic articulation of divine will starts with the consistency and relevance of classic thought, but cannot stop there. Present issues like the secularization of modern culture, the global context of systematic theology, which brings other religions near, or the dominance of science and technology within modern culture were not at stake within early modernity. Actual theology should address these issues. In this study, we can only give a start, but regarding the third hypothesis, the main hypotheses are:
3.a. Contemporary theology must build on the classic position and subsequently strengthen it by modern theological or philosophical developments
3.b. The modern debate in Science and Theology can be furthered by (modal) insights from Perfect Will theology
The first task is to consider how Perfect Will theology itself can be expanded by modern tools. For instance, it was developed without the modern tools of symbolic logic and possible worlds. Likewise, the notion of divine agency within (salvation) history was devised before history itself became an important category." The rise of biblical theology and historical research may improve revealed theology and its understanding of divine will.
The second task is to confront Perfect Will theology with new challenges and modern issues. Only one issue was mentioned already, the problem of evil. In addition, the science and theology debate will be addressed, but it might also be confronted with Islamic theology, or ecumenical dialogue.
This study aims at systematic explanation of the will of God. Yet, it also involves theological-historical enquiry of early modern thought, in particular Reformed scholasticism. Before we turn to the systematic aspects, let us first consider the history of research."
The thesis of this study of Reformed scholasticism as Perfect Will theology is vindicated in three parts. The first part constitutes a tradition-historical enquiry into the major debates of the seventeenth century. Chapter Two starts with a basic outline of the Reformed theology of Melchior Leydecker. In this way, the dynamics of perfect being theology are laid out as the proper context of the model of divine agency. The next four chapters demonstrate that the Reformed volitional model distinguishes itself from the Jesuit, Remonstrant, Cartesian, and Spinozist models. For various reasons all other seventeenth-century positions modify the Reformed model, which was until then the dominant one.
Chapter Three describes the first major debate with the Jesuit Counter-Reformation. Franciscus Suarez (1548-1617) introduced a conditional knowledge by which God foreknows how created wills would act in a given situation. This intuitionist model is criticized by the Reformed William Twisse (1578-1646) as being unable to account for divine foreknowledge of future contingents.
Chapter Four analyzes the Remonstrant thought of Simon Episcopius (1583-1643) who rejects an unconditional divine will regarding human choices, and tries to safeguard freedom by making divine will general: God sets consequences on human agency, but does not influence it itself. Gisbertus Voetius (1589-1676) rejects this regulative model and extensively refutes the Remonstrant charge that an unconditional divine decision introduces fatal necessity.
Chapter Five studies the Creation Doctrine of Rene Descartes (1596-1650) that God freely chooses even the necessary truths and what is possible. This omnipotence model radicalizes the function of divine will by subjecting God's own essence to it. Leydecker examines its consistency and presents the alternative Reformed view on divine essence and agency.
Chapter Six considers the philosophy of Baruch de Spinoza (1632-77) in an early work from his youth, the Short Treatise. Spinoza dismissed indifferent freedom as unbecoming of God: he is maximally perfect and therefore necessarily realizes all his possibilities. Leydecker had no access to this unpublished manuscript, but reacts to his later Ethics. He mainly dismisses the absolute concept of substance, which underlies Spinoza's plenitude model, but also discusses this alternative model itself.
In the second analytical part, the various models are analyzed and evaluated with the help of modern modal logics. The descriptive part shows that all positions extensively utilize modal concepts in order to qualify their own model and to refute the alternatives. In the last decades, modal logic has been extensively renewed, especially by the concept of possible worlds. Chapter Seven introduces modern modal logics and possible world semantics in order to develop an analytic tool to evaluate the seventeenth-century models. With the help of this modal instrument, the five historical positions are analyzed and evaluated in Chapter Eight. The third part consists of a systematic-theological inquiry. Chapter Nine systematically presents a modal proof of the Reformed position, both regarding divine existence and divine agency. Here, the idea of God as the Best Possible Person and the conceptuality of possible worlds are shown to agree very well. Chapter Ten and Eleven discuss the two main objections against the Reformed theology of the will: its articulation of human freedom and the problem of evil. In a short Epilogue, the contemporary relevance is treated.
The Reformed model of divine agency centers on divine will, resulting in a Perfect will theology. Before discussing this model and its seventeenth-century alternatives, a general overview of the systematic essence of the doctrine of God within Reformed scholasticism might be helpful. A nice introduction is presented by Melchior Leydecker, in his The Truth of the Gospel Triumphant and On the Truth of the Reformed or Evangelical Religion.' In this series, Leydecker systematically explains Reformed theology. The first part deals with natural theology, discussing divine being, and providence, whereas the second deals with the doctrine of the Trinity and the history of salvation. For our purposes, the first part especially, gives a unique insight into the nature of Reformed theology.
Leydecker presents a fascinating method of demonstration for Reformed theology. It proceeds by two hypotheses for natural and revealed theology, divine and even Trinitarian existence and agency mutually sustaining each other. Natural theology centers on the concept of divine nature as the Best Possible Person, in this way entailing necessary and independent existence as the highest mode of existence and free and independent agency as the most perfect mode of agency. The model of divine agency appears both in the discussion of the living or active nature of God and of his eternal providence.
Leydecker confidently concludes his chapter on the method and demonstration of Reformed theology with a wink at Spinoza:
We justly believe that these two mentioned principles never will be suppressed by others that mutually demonstrate each other, and therefore this point of revelation having been fixed and established, our evangelical truths are more than mathematically certain."
The point of revelation is Trinitarian Perfect Will theology, by which the entire theology can be demonstrated. Its systematic center is the model of divine agency, which is a foundational and necessary structure of the doctrine of God. By its modal implications, it also constitutes the relation between God and reality. Within seventeenth-century thought, however, various alternative models arose. Let us now consider them in more detail.
Contemporary Dominican opponents of Suarez therefore called his views on foreknowledge Nominalist. The main target of Suarez is Duns Scotus, who grounded the determinate truth-value of future contingents in divine will. Rangel Rios notes the Scotist terminology
Metaphysical Disputations but concludes about his alleged contra- Suarez view of Scotism:
Suarez' doctrine of conditional knowledge is rather a direct rejection of the Scotistic doctrine, according to which God foreknows future contingents solely in the decision of his will.
Divine will cannot establish determinate truth-value,
since it would
obstruct human freedom. The function of divine will as the foundation Suarez explains divine knowledge by relating its object (determinately true propositions) and subject (the infinite divine understanding) in the mode of knowledge (simple intuition of truth).
By stressing the aspect of determinate truth-value,
Suarez introduces a logical foundation of conditional knowledge
instead of the
psychological Molinist one. He presents a logical and a chronological
argument for the determinate truth-value of future contingent propositions: from any pair of contradicting propositions, necessarily one is true because both cannot obtain and once a state of affairs obtains, its corresponding proposition does not merely become true, but only appears to be true, which must have been so eternally. As Klaus Reinhardt concludes, Suarez here continues the Nominalist tradition:
The course of the history of the problem of determinate truth-value of future propositions was foremost determined by the theological question of the foreknowledge of God. At least in relation to God also the future contingent has to be determinately true (Boethius, Bonaventura, Thomas, Duns). That led to the consideration whether the future contingent also in itself could be determinately true. William of Ockham and Gregory of Rimini have made this view break-through, denying a determination of the future contingent by the will of God (Duns Scotus) and positing a logical determination of the future event in itself. In the sixteenth century this truth was rediscovered and made the foundation of the doctrine of divine foreknowledge. New in this is especially the move from determinate truth-value of the absolutely future to determinate truth-value of the conditionally future. Whereas the new definition of the problem of divine foreknowledge of conditionally future events goes back to Molina and Fonseca, Suarez was the first to join the doctrine of determinate truth-value with the one of middle knowledge.
Since God can only will alternatively if he antecedently knows which means will be effective. Divine will is further limited by extending it only to the requisites for human acting, and not to the effected act itself: God knows the effected act will occur if he will supply the requisites for acting, so he can will it only indirectly by willing to lend concurrence.
The Scotist insistence on divine will is replaced by an intuitionist model of divine knowledge. I call this model intuitionist, since the relation between God and reality is primarily by his knowledge. God knows how to act in order to achieve his aims and even knows how he shall will before he actually wills. Suarez' model of divine agency can be reconstructed as follows.
Suarez admits God's absolute power and knowledge of plain under- standing. Next, his conditional knowledge follows, by which God knows both what created wills and his own will shall do. Consequently, in the case he wills to fulfill the conditions for created beings, he simultaneously has knowledge of vision of their actions. Hence, conditional knowledge properly relates to things not enabled by God, and God has unconditional knowledge of future contingents before his decision. Thus, Suarez does not speak about middle knowledge, since ,his conditional knowledge does not intercede between knowledge of understanding and knowledge of vision. Suarez holds that this knowledge belongs to God's perfection and therefore is essential. The next structural moment relates to the decision of the will: although it is foreknown in the former moment, it actually follows it. In the last moment, God effects by his ordained power what he knows and wills. According to Twisse, this model implied a more than Stoic fate.
The contingency argument is the cornerstone of Twisse's position. It explains the relation between contingency and determination by start, ing with the hypothesis of synchronic contingency. On the basis of this simultaneous and real possibility, a determination in itself is impossible. Since contingency implies indetermination towards futurition, futurition has to be derived from some cause that actualizes one of the possibilities. The next step is to claim that this determination is from eternity, since God foreknows it from eternity. So, the cause that intends to actualize this possibility has to be eternal too. The only eternal cause is God. Moreover, in God only his will can be the cause of this determination. This contingency argument is the explication of Twisse's own position, connecting the futurition of future contingents to divine will. It provides a certain foundation both for divine providence and foreknowledge, since God effectively guides and knows everything.
The argument also reveals the inconsistency of conditional knowledge. Contingent states of affairs require a cause that produces them and makes the corresponding conditional true. Before divine decision no such cause can be imagined, so no truth and no knowledge can obtain.
The contingency argument also discloses Twisse's traditional-historical background. Sarah Hutton depicts him as a staunch Aristotelian the context of the natural knowledge of God, Twisse succinctly buts basic problem of Aristotle's philosophyreveals:
Nay, this great teacher into the secrets of Nature, denyed his Omnipotance for they could not [have been] drawn to believe that he was able to produce any thing out of nothing, this was the generall opinion of them all in a manner. Thence hee proceeded to deny that the world had a beginning: and to maintain that God wrought all that hee wrought by natural necessity, and not by freedom of will. Yet, this eternall power and Godhead they did acknowledge, and that hee was to bee worshipped for the dignity of his nature.
Aristotle was not only ignorant of God as Redeemer and Author of grace, but even in his statements of God as Creator he could not allow contingent causation, and so in fact denied both Creation and Providence. Twisse charges the Jesuits of escaping Aristotle's determinism by denying any definite causation to God at all, but if they are consistent, they have to deny the determinate truth-value of future contingents as well.
Instead, Twisse is better viewed as a Scotist, systematically exploiting the notion of contingent causation in a volitional model. Synchronic contingency presents a balanced view on divine freedom and foreknowledge, but likewise enables human freedom. The contingency of divine decision and the structural possibilities for created agency always secure alternativity (potestas ad opposita). Therefore, conditional knowledge is not needed to secure human freedom.
The intuitionist model cannot explain the determinate truth-value of future contingents. Instead, Twisse founds the knowability of respectively possible and future things on divine essence and will, resulting in three kinds of knowable being:
1. essential = knowable being absolute power possibles
2. known being knowledge of plain understanding
3. voluntative = knowable being decision of the will
The Reformed model of divine agency is clearly supposed in this distinction of intentional and actual being. The known being of things is founded in their knowable being, which is linked respectively to divine essence (absolute power), will, and ordained power. So, possibles are knowable because they are possible in virtue of divine omnipotence, future things are knowable because they are future in virtue of divine decision, and actual things are knowable because they are actually effected by divine power. On the contrary, conditional knowledge lacks a basis for certainty and Suarez rejects voluntative being, consequently being unable to uphold knowledge of vision either. The only way to grant certainty is to attribute essential being to future events, introducing a determinate truth-value by a more than Stoic fate.
Episcopius rejects the Reformed position, because it would introduce a fatal necessity of all things according to him. The Reformed reply that only a necessity of the consequence is at stake, which agrees with the contingency of the effect itself, but the Remonstrants vehemently dismiss this." In this respect, necessity and contingency cannot apply in various respects. Even the contingency of the decision itself does not solve the problem, since when God wills something, it cannot happen otherwise.
In order to save human freedom with respect to divine will, Episcopius introduces a conditional decision that is dependent on the freedom of the human will. So, the actual decision is determined by the conduct of individual persons. The Remonstrant Church-historian Joannes Tideman has pointed to the special meaning of "conditional" in this respect: "the issue is whether grace works by means of human freedom or not ... Conditio in the proper meaning of 'state' would fit better." In that sense, a conditional decision supposes a certain state of being in the decided thing. The common meaning of condition as prerequisite that must be fulfilled is dismissed. So, Episcopius' conditional decision means something different than Suarez' conditional knowledge does.
To my mind, the nature of this conditional decision can be clarified more by inquiring how it mediates between the Jesuit and Socinian position.` Episcopius claims that both alternative opinions advocate a conditional decision. Yet, according to the Jesuits, the decision itself is unconditional, but based upon eternal middle knowledge. Moreover, it is made individually (God determines the end of Peter's life to be at the age of fifty), whereas for the Socinian, it is made in general (God establishes a long life for the godly) and divine knowledge is only temporal. The Remonstrant position mediates by accepting middle knowledge and affirming a general decision.
The Remonstrant model of divine agency can be reconstructed as follows. Like the Jesuit position, middle knowledge is crucial for God's providential agency. In contrast to both Jesuit and Reformed thought, divine decision applies only conditionally or in general to human agency.
This regulative model is more intellectualist than voluntarist. I call this model regulative, since it sets consequences for human agency by laws, promises, admonitions etc. without influencing it itself. It stimulates good and discourages evil by proclaiming respectively to reward and punish it. Consequently, Episcopius' care for freedom is mainly caused by its indispensability for obedience. Divine will is a threat for it, especially the specially in the Reformed position. The only way to safeguard middle knowledge.
Divine foreknowledge is a delicate point, since it also seems to make the laws and promises void. Episcopius feels sympathy for Socinus, 1314 finally accepts foreknowledge. Regarding the certainty of middle knowledge, he admits the necessity of the consequence, since this knowledge supposes the free agency of creatures. Hence, God foresees how human agents will act in certain circumstances. So, God foreknows by his middle knowledge that if he were to create Adam, Adam would sin. Now, these circumstances are unconditionally predefined by God, like the creation of Adam and giving him a law. So, God foreknows the acts of human willing, not by predefining them but by constituting the circumstances by his decision. Moreover, middle knowledge being founded upon the choice of human will itself, does not imply determinism. In other words, the effect being determinately future does not exclude the indifference of the cause. When pressed on how God knows the, determinate truth-value of future contingents when the human will does not yet exist, Episcopius refers in a Suarezian fashion to the law of the excluded middle, implying that the determinate truth-value of future contingents obtains apart from divine will.
Voetius' extensive discussion of the terminus of life is structured by the metaphysical division of first and second causes. Voetius reduces the terminal point of someone's life to the will of God as the cause of all causes. God decides according to his free pleasure and therefore it is impertinent to seek motives for divine willing that move his will. Hereby, the scholastic Voetius unmasks the so-called biblical theology of Episcopius as a false kind of speculative theology that does not respect the limits of human understanding. The scholasticism of Voetius, on the other hand, reveals a balanced connection of exegetical, theological, and philosophical argumentation. Salvation history is universally extended as (the decision regarding) the death of Christ becomes a model of human dying in general. The main reason is that the decision and concurrence of the Creator as first cause is essential for all secondary causes: they cannot live or act without him.
The Reformed model of divine agency is not presented in clear detail, but it is clear that divine will has a crucial place. Occasionally, Voetius mentions the other elements like absolute power, natural and free knowledge, and ordained power.'" The logic of this dual power and knowledge is its centering on the decision of the will, which determines which possibles become actual. The foundational assumption j5 logical and real possibility. Moreover, it is important to note that the real possibilities of God and his decision to actualize one of them do not alter the real possibilities of created agency regarding both alternative options. The necessity of immutability that follows the decision is
a necessity of the consequence that does not change the intrinsic possibility of things, but only its factuality. Moreover, if God wills contin- gent things, he sustains their contingent mode of being and acting. In order to show the modal implications of divine willing, Voetius starts With the actual existence of possible things. When they exist, they may not be, and when they do not exist, they may be. Their (non-)existence does not change their modal nature and divine decision only concerns this existential aspect: it cannot make the counterpart impossible, as the Remonstrants object.
Like Episcopius, Voetius distinguishes the possibility of cause and effect. The indifference of the cause is not removed by the determination of the effect. Yet, Episcopius only relates it to divine knowledge. So, the effect is determined as object of divine knowledge, but still the indifference of the cause makes its opposite possible. The same strategy suits the determination of divine will. One could even argue that it fits divine will more than his knowledge, since his knowledge is necessary and his will contingent. Episcopius also argued that determinate knowledge of the effect does not spoil contingency, since it remains outside the thing, being an immanent act in God. Voetius justly objected that the same applies to divine will. Whereas Episcopius may object that the execution of divine decision in actual concurrence harms freedom, Voetius replies that the decided effect is worked by the concurrence of two free agents.
Voetius also mentions the tradition-historical background of this theology of will, calling Duns Scotus the "main patron of this truth." Scotus situates the determination of future contingents in divine will In this way, their contingent nature and their determined truth-value combine, and Voetius is confident that only this theological tradition secures both. Hence, he presents the model of divine agency in specifically Scotist terminology.
In this view, middle knowledge can only hamper things. Voetius' analysis of it centers on the consequence between the involved circumstances and the effect. In the case of Adam's sinning, how could the effect be certain? There simply is no certain connection between both and its certainty can only be secured by fate.
Voetius deems a conditional will unworthy for God. The ultimate decision of God would be dependent upon the creatures, which reverts the order between first and second cause. Likewise, the concurrence of first and second cause is determined by the creatures and not by God, who is only involved with a general will. Moreover, a general decision would introduce a succession in God of an eternal, general, and undefined decision to a temporal, individual, and defined one. Yet, the decision of God relates directly to particular things and individuals. According to Voetius, divine will is related primarily to individual persons, whereas Episcopius starts with human nature in general.
The Creation Doctrine is the keystone of Cartesian Nominalism. Extending God's absolute power, interpreting his will by indifference and appealing to divine simplicity are coordinated steps to magnify divine will as against divine essence. Whereas Descartes' modification of absolute power and his concept of indifference liberate the will from the traditional embedment in divine essence, simplicity frees it from the scholastic notion of essential knowledge. Essentialist categories like simplicity, immutability, and perfection, however, are not dismissed, but simply swallowed by divine will itself. Descartes identifies God's absolute power with his free will, and extends it even to divine essence itself. This omnipotence, model wipes out all essentialist traces by the power of the will. Still, Descartes' application of essentialist categories to God's will have occasioned doubts by Reformed thinkers, such as Burman, as to whether or not the philosopher could unite their necessity with divine indifference.
Descartes displays the opposite tendency towards divine willing compared to Jesuits and Remonstrants. Whereas they label divine will as the source of necessity and anxiously try to diminish the damage, Descartes readily acknowledges it as the root of both necessity and contingency, hardly managing to uphold any necessity at all. The Reformed option to connect necessity to divine essence and contingency to divine agency, points out a middle course.
Leydecker does not welcome Cartesian voluntarism as an ally for Reformed theology, although both center on divine will. His principal objection is the Nominalist reduction of divine essence, which is reflected in the identification of divine power and will, and the reduction of possibility to divine will. Will supposes power to fulfill and the possibles of its power as willable objects. Moreover, the attribute of will supposes the powerful divine nature to which it is predicated. In fact, Descartes reduces the essence to its acts, making it impossible to maintain a divine essence or even its attributes like intellect, will, or power. Leydecker argues that the will of God is not magnified by ignoring whose will it is or by converting all other attributes to it.
Possibility is aptly defined by non-repugnancy to existence, which does not need a divine decision to be established. By acknowledging their dependence on divine essence, the Cartesian care for divine independence is perfectly met. Instead, the founding of possibility in divine will supposes another kind of possibility and impossibility from which God may choose and so on into infinity. This problem can only be overcome by limiting the possible to what God actually chooses, which destroys all freedom.
Necessity and impossibility cannot be founded upon a contingent choice, since even an immutable and eternal will only makes things hypothetically necessary or impossible, which agrees well with intrinsic contingency. Created essences are finite reflections of divine essence and his will only governs their actual existence. In this way, both their_ essential character and possibility are safeguarded, whereas Descartes makes them accidental.
Descartes' insistence upon divine will implies that all knowledge of God is knowledge of vision. Leydecker objects that God kit° himself structurally before he knows what he wills and by knowing his almighty nature, he also has knowledge of plain understand) n Instead, this magnification of divine will fights the Styx and Fates l too drastic means.
1 The "radical enlightenment" of Spinoza does not start with secularization, but with an all-determining doctrine of God." There can only be one, necessary, infinite, and independent substance, which is the necessary cause of all that it is able to produce. Remarkably, the most natural background to explain Spinoza's development is not his Jewish background, Cartesian influence or Collegiant relations, but the common intellectual environment of Reformed thought. As Graeme Hunter has remarked:
Spinoza's religious thought remains ... closer to the
rejected him than to the atheists of the Enlightenment who adopted him as their own. More importantly, it remains closer to traditional Protes, tant Christianity than is usually recognized by scholars today.
Surprisingly, Spinoza adapts the Reformed model of divine agency rather than the Cartesian one. I put forward three arguments for this unusual claim:
First, the starting-point for Spinoza is the doctrine of God, following even the common scholastic procedure of An sit Deus and quid sit Deus. This is very un-Cartesian, since Descartes wants to start anew doubting everything and by his Cogito only finally arrives at divine existence. Moreover, Spinoza's concept of God itself must be interpreted as a reworking of the scholastic view, and not of the Cartesian one. Like the Reformed, it operates with a strong doctrine of divine essence and natural knowledge, but Descartes makes both dependent upon God's free will.
Second, Spinoza's aim is to overthrow freedom and contingency by divine perfection. Spinoza accepts the scholastic interpretation of the absolute power, natural knowledge, and essential goodness of God, but he believes that a free decision is inconsistent with it and argues very precisely against it. Freedom of exercise is dismissed by an explicit rejection of synchronic contingency with the help of diachronic means. Divine immutability and eternity rule out any change in God or any division of structural moments, so synchronic contingency and structural freedom are impossible. Freedom of kind is rejected by a similar appeal to divine perfection in combination with a diachronic train of thought. The impossibility of contingency is even demonstrated with the help of specific scholastic distinctions like the divided and composite sense. The whole argument is a very precise attack at the heart of Reformed thought: the contingent decision of God. On the other hand, the argument does not make sense in the Cartesian context, i since for Descartes its foundation (the divine essence and its idea) s supposed to be established by a contingent decision as well. .
Third, Spinoza sometimes betrays his Cartesian background, but 11 arguments more often suppose Reformed opponents. His rejection. of finite substances as uncreated essences, the insistence upon the thin that are present in God's Idea and that consequently can be produced by him, the scholastic terminology of creatable things, and the discussion of efficient causation with the help of a common (Reformed) scholastic handbook all suppose that the dominant intellectual culture of Reformed thought was his main objective.
Conceptually, the main target of Spinoza is contingent causation, which is ruled out in a very precise way. Instead, divine freedom is interpreted as spontaneity in producing everything God knows. Divine perfection is the main foundation for this plenitude model of divine agency. It secures that God can and must produce all that he knows by his Idea. Thus, the key is no longer divine will, but natural knowledge is governing the model of divine agency. This essentialist plenitude model banishes contingency as imperfection.
As Wolfson has observed, this plenitude model is a recurrence of ancient philosophy:
In its most essential feature, the theology of Spinoza may be regarded as a return to the theology of Aristotle, with its conception of an impersonal deity devoid of will and acting by necessity, against which the mediaevals constantly argued."
Leydecker does not discuss Spinoza's unknown Short Treatise, but discerns the definition of substance in the Ethics as the main issue. According to Leydecker, Spinoza's basic fault is the interpretation of the scholastic distinction of substance as existing by itself (per se) and accident as existing by something else (per aliud). By excluding all efficient causality in the definition of substance and ignoring the opposition with accidents, Spinoza makes God the only substance and reality its proprium, or necessary accident. In fact, the distinction between substance and accident and many other scholastic distinctions making room for contingency are systematically rooted out.
Instead, Leydecker argues from the same starting point as Spinoza: I God's natural knowledge of the infinite possibilities of his power, but Leydecker arrives at the possibility of freely creating contingent substances apart from himself. The concept of diminutive being explains how creatures are dependent and still distinct from God. Leydecker maintains that God as infinite and perfect being is able to produce other substances that exist by virtue of him.
Leydecker even claims that Spinoza was insecure about the foundation of his own philosophy, being unable to refute the cosmological argument that turned upon contingent causation.
Clearly, Leydecker does not embrace Spinoza as an ally against less absolutist positions like the Remonstrants. Although he agrees about God's necessary existence, he firmly rejects a necessitarian divine agency, God freely creating contingent substances. He is cautious that the Reformed doctrine of divine decisions should not be interpreted in a necessitarian way. God's deciding will does not exclude his will of command and our own freedom. So, Spinoza's eternal order is far different from the contingent decisions of God.
The five dominant positions of seventeenth-century thought express different modal intuitions about divine knowledge and will. Modern logic enables a more detailed appraisal, which shows that the Reformed model is the only consistent position.
The various models can be compared by the relation of divine knowledge and will to the modal world-system in general and to Actua in particular. The Reformed relate the world-system with its modal sets of possibility, necessity, and impossibility to the natural knowledge of God. The realm of possibility within the world-system is the proper domain of divine will, from which God freely chooses Actua as the actual world. Consequently, God foreknows Actua by his free knowledge.
Suarez introduces conditional knowledge, by which God has pre volitional knowledge of Actua and knows which world would have resulted if he had chosen otherwise. Limiting the domain of divine willing by introducing a separate creaturely domain of possibilities that are realized independently by human agency, God nevertheless knows which creaturely world will be realized in any given circumstance. Yet, Suarez' arguments against Molina that free human choices cannot be foreknown certainly also apply against him, so foreknowledge based upon determinate truth-value right away can only obtain if the future is not contingent but necessary.
Episcopius adapts the model of divine agency even more, making not only divine knowledge, but also divine will conditional. God fulfills his will by rewarding and repaying human agency insofar it is good or evil. In this way, his will establishes galaxies out of which human willing actualizes a world. A general decision, however, is inconsistent, since willing supposes a definite end. In itself, the conditional decision is not a decision at all, since its particular end is delivered by middle knowledge without being willed itself. Yet, in this way a conditional decision does not differ from an absolute one. It seems that God Wills salvation for all, but in fact he wills to save only some, of which he foresees that they shall believe.
Descartes takes a more extensive modally indifferent galaxy of possible world-systems as the proper domain of divine will, in which God freely constitutes our actual world-system, establishing possibility, necessity, impossibility, and actuality. God does not prevolitionally know anything, but after his decision knows all things in his knowledge of vision. The Cartesian insistence upon divine will is unhelpful insofar it absorbs divine essence and its natural knowledge completely. Modally, relating the will to the possible and a division of essential and free knowledge is more consistent.
Spinoza grants that God knows everything by his natural knowledge, since the possible and the necessary are equivalent. In this way, Aeterna is the proper domain of divine will and it is fully realized. Yet, both in terms of divine freedom and possibility itself, the exclusion of synchronic contingency is impossible.
Neither conditionalizing nor maximizing divine knowledge or will improves the model of divine agency. All alternatives lead to modal inconsistencies. The Reformed model of divine agency appears to be the most promising one. In the next chapter, how it can be worked out in terms of possible worlds will be considered.
Possible worlds semantics is useful to explore the existence and agency of a Best Possible Person. Within comparative degrees of being, the presence of finite being supposes a higher kind of being, which does exist by itself. Consequently, God does exist in all possible worlds, and is able to act by his power, knowledge, and will. These appear to be maximal in a dual sense: either related to the world-system or to Actua. This kind of Perfect Will theology traditionally was faced with two kinds of objections: the issue of theological determinism and the problem of evil. Let us now consider whether these objections are justified.
Perfect Will theology suggests a concept of created freedom that both exalts and humbles human beings. On the one hand, they are created in the image of God, and essentially possess freedom that turns around power to the contrary and intentionality. On the other hand, they live and act under his guidance and need his concurrence in their own agency. In this way, a nuanced relationship of divine willing and human freedom is sketched.
The present debate on free will is much too simplified by the common distinctions of (in)determinist, (in)compatibilist, (non)libertarian freedom. The dilemma of theological determinism suggests that creatures are either unfree in their agency due to divine providence or are independent of their Creator. The concept of dependent co-causality grants human persons a rather libertarian kind of freedom, but at the same time enables a strong doctrine of providence. In this essential order, human freedom cannot be destroyed by divine guidance, but instead it is helped in its own action. To call this essential dependence determinism neglects both the essential structure of human freedom and the essential superiority of divine intentionality. The notion of superior and inferior cause allows creatures to be subject to God without losing their own causality. At the same time, it prevents a causal determinism as if human will were subordinated to the inferior powers of natural laws. Created freedom is safe in a consistent articulation of the agency of the Creator. Another issue is the problem of evil, to which we now turn.
Perfect Will theology supposes that God acts most perfectly. Still, the world he has created seems far from perfect. Even though we have dismissed the idea of a best possible world, one might expect a fairly good world as the product of this Creator. Yet, the present world evidences a haunting magnitude of evil, both moral and natural.
The Problem of evil is a major challenge for any kind of theology, but especially poses problems for a theology that centers on the perfect and effective will of God. The strong doctrine of providence has even occasioned intuitions that God is responsible for it. Naturally, the Reformed rejected the charge that God is the author of sin, but is their explanation satisfying? As we will see, their arguments focus on moral evil, or the wrong willing of human beings. This was also given by their assessment of natural evil as either a result of moral evil in the form of divine punishment or as an expression of the finitude of the present life and its character as a preparation of the life to come. So, our existential problems with suffering were for the most part not their problems. Therefore, our main interest will also be moral evil. Moreover, the problem of evil is taken here in a very limited sense. It concerns the rationality of theistic belief in the presence of evil. So, it does not aim to comfort people existentially burdened by suffering, but merely tries to explore the compatibility of the existence of a best possible Person and evil.
In Leydecker's discussion of eternal providence, the issue of God and evil was one of the two great themes.' Nowadays, the issue is still important, but the motives and context greatly differ. Whereas the Reformed debate was a theist debate concerning the nature of divine agency, presently, atheologians argue against the existence of God on the basis of the existence of evil. Moreover, the main recent proposals all suppose a libertarian concept of freedom. Katherin Rogers calls "the option to choose evil, though not requisite for freedom per se, a necessary condition for the morally significant freedom which allows the creature to become better by choosing good on its own." In this way, by creating morally free persons, God necessarily accepts the possibility of evil in his creation. A classic example of this kind of reasoning is the Free Will Defense of Alvin C. Plantinga. It is also the first which extensively uses possible worlds semantics, making it an apt model for comparison.
In this chapter, we will first briefly outline the classic Reformed position regarding providence and evil. This is an extension of the concurrence model of the previous chapter to the specific case of evil actions. Next, we will present and evaluate Plantinga's argument, and finally, offer an alternative, namely, a Perfect Will Defense.
The problem of evil has to be measured in terms of goodness. Contingent goodness implies the possibility of evil, and a contingent ontology shows the compatibility of a good and omnipotent God and the presence of evil. The Reformed position only requires that God must have a good end in permitting evil. The concepts of first and secondary causality, permission and evil as privation are utilized to explain divine providence over evil without either making God the author of sin or granting him mere permission. This position is both theocentric, making God the norm for all good and evil, and eschatological, since the final end of permission is only achieved at the end of time. In both respects, Reformed thought differs markedly from recent secular thought, which primarily wrestles with evil in terms of this life and its inherent goodness. This might also explain why natural evil is not a real issue for Reformed thought, moral evil being extensively discussed, whereas modern thought mainly wrestles with pain and suffering.
The Free Will Defense denies a contradiction between the coexistence of a good and omnipotent God and evil, because God could not create a world containing moral good without creating one containin moral evil. Moral good requires human freedom, which simultane ously renders the possibility of moral evil. Plantinga denies the possibility that God could choose a world in which human beings freel choose to do only good on the basis of what he calls Leibniz' lapse. (God can chose any possible world he likes) and the notion of transworld depravity. Both notions are shown to be problematic.
Vos shows that the logical argument supposes a determinist world' view and that the problem of evil is primarily our problem to ac well. In addition, the Perfect Will Defense works out the greater goo defense of Leydecker and its concept of permission. Again, it is bo theocentric and eschatological. God permits evil in order to overcom it by good and in this way to demonstrate the glory of his goodness wisdom, and power. Human sin is reconciled by the work of Chris and sinners are sanctified by the work of the Spirit. The final manifestation of divine goodness is not in this present life, but at the end of time. This reasoning of natural theology can be specified by revealed theology in the biblical notion of the Kingdom of God.
Perfect Will Theology, I believe, has to be the fundamental starting-point for Christian Theology. In the seventeenth century, it indeed was, even if it was contested, but nowadays both inside and outside Christian theology an enormous diversity has grown. Besides the divergence within classic theism, whether Jewish, Christian, or Islamic, many modern theologians by now altogether reject theism or greatly modify it, and atheism rejects even their insights as too massive.' It is beyond the scope of this study to show how Perfect Will Theology can overcome these challenges, but a few, first steps may be taken. In this Epilogue, we will first bring together several lines from the previous chapters in order to argue for the consistency of the Reformed model of divine agency and its systematic importance. In addition, its historical background will be evaluated. Next, some hints concerning the relevancy of this approach will be made. Its relevance appears in relation to some common tendencies within modern theology and with respect to the much debated issue of divine action within science and religion studies.
So far, we have only studied the first and smallest part of Leydecker's division of Reformed theology: natural theology centering on the perfect being and the fatherly providence of God. Revealed theology concerns Trinitarian grace, and shows how Perfect Will Theology works out in the history of salvation. It would be fascinating to trace how this remarkable "natural" concept of God informs Christology, Pneumatology, and other theological topics as well. For this study, however, let us only conclude with several important remarks of the great Utrecht theologian Arnold van Ruler.
In his Perspectieven voor de gereformeerde theologie, Van Ruler presents several theses regarding the nature of Reformed theology and its future!' An original postulate reads: "Reformed theology gave in the doctrine of predestination the deepest fathoming of the human situation and must continue to wrestle for its proper expression." Van Ruler connects this with the importance of the Old Testament within Reformed theology, for it is really impossible to conceptualize the identity of the living God of Israel without acknowledging predestination: He has elected Israel. The doctrine of predestination, however, does not concern God's work of salvation for us, as Barth expressed that hereby grace is indeed grace. It deals with the issue of receiving or more precisely accepting salvation by human persons, it has to do with faith. In my most intimate acts, in faith or in disbelief, I am dependent on God. Van Ruler concludes that the Reformed insistence on the will of God leads to a decisively relational theology:
There—in the eternal decision—the human being finds, especially in his deepest being, in his faith or disbelief, his deepest ground ...What applies to faith, applies to all existence, even all being. Gradually all reality becomes a sea of glass before the throne of God, transparent unto the eternal decision. In all things the human person is cast upon God and he finds in the eternal decisions his real status externus, his deepest being. He is more than only himself. He is also in relation—to his neighbours, to the human race, to all reality, to God. Although he cannot be reduced to these relations, still at least they also constitute his being. The summit of this externity is reached, when one says: the human person is what he is in the judgement of God (justification), even in the decision of God (predestination)."
Humankind is not only "cast upon God," but also "put in the world." Modern philosophy has turned this in a blind and casual Geworfenheit ins Dasein. Yet, the human person and everything which is, is intentionally put forward by the electing and reprobating God. The decided thing (res decreta), which is a concrete thing and not merely a general image, an idea of the things, belongs in a certain sense to the counsel of God as the whole of the eternal decisions. Therefore, everything which is, is neither merely a shadow play of the eternal ideas, nor even merely an expression of the eternal decisions:
Everything which is, is true reality. We truly exist ourselves also, and we are something kept by God in his hands before his face. In this all, God is the willing One, the willing One in freedom. Things find their ground just and only in his free power, well-pleasure and goodness. Things do not happen as they must happen, but as God wills them. The doctrine of predestination cuts off determinism and fatalism by the roots. Notably, things do not exist, because they have to be, but because God wills them in freedom. There is no absolute necessity in reality."
Van Ruler grants existentialism that just as there is
no absolute neces-
sity, so neither an absolute rationality obtains. But he refuses to speak
about the absurdity of existence, since God wills all things and takes his decisions with goodness and wisdom. And once he has decided for things, they must happen with a relative necessity:
To my mind, all this may express that the Reformed doctrine (of predestination) can cut us a path through the jungle of modern experience of life. In sum: we are in everything, in our being, our agency, in our belief or disbelief completely dependent upon the Eternal One, hallowed be his Name, But this is not the complete summary of all Reformed wisdom. It also includes that we are really called to walk with all our temporal existence in the eternal counsel of God and to encounter our situation or condition humaine permanently until its ground. We have to see ourselves and all things together with God as he does, judge about them, will them and do them. To my mind, a higher conception of humanity is not possible.
Perfect Will Theology embodies an elevated doctrine of God, but also results in an eminent conception of human being. Both come together in the Person of Jesus Christ, who is God but became man in order to save us. Christian theology only exists by his grace.
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