Q. 23: God’s Will
In the Second Article We Ask: Can The Divine Will
BE Distinguished INTO Antecedent
It seems that it cannot, for
1. Order presupposes distinction. But in the divine will there is no distinction, since in one simple act it wills everything which it wills. Therefore antecedent and consequent, which imply order, are not found in the divine will.
2. The answer was given that, although there is no distinction in the divine will on the part of the one Willing, there is no the part of the things willed.–On the contrary, order can be held to be in the will on the part of the things willed in only two ways: either in regard to different things willed or in regard to one and the same thing willed. If this order is taken in regard to different things willed, it follows that the will will be said to be antecedent concerning the first creatures and consequent concerning those which follow. But this is false. If, however, this order is taken in regard to one and the same thing willed, this can only be according to different circumstances considered in that thing. But this cannot put any distinction or order in the will, since the will is referred to the thing as existing in its own nature whereas the thing in its own nature is enmeshed in all its conditions. In no sense, therefore, should antecedent and consequent be affirmed of the divine will. 2. The answer was given that, although there is no distinction in the divine will on the part of the one Willing, there is no the part of the things willed.–On the contrary, order can be held to be in the will on the part of the things willed in only two ways: either in regard to different things willed or in regard to one and the same thing willed. If this order is taken in regard to different things willed, it follows that the will will be said to be antecedent concerning the first creatures and consequent concerning those which follow. But this is false. If, however, this order is taken in regard to one and the same thing willed, this can only be according to different circumstances considered in that thing. But this cannot put any distinction or order in the will, since the will is referred to the thing as existing in its own nature whereas the thing in its own nature is enmeshed in all its conditions. In no sense, therefore, should antecedent and consequent be affirmed of the divine will.
3. Knowledge and power are referred to creatures in just the same way as will. But we do not distinguish God’s knowledge and power into antecedent and consequent on the basis of the order of creatures. Then neither should His will be so distinguished.
4. Whatever is not subject to change or hindrance by another is not judged according to that other but only in itself. Now the divine will cannot be changed or hindered by anything. It should not, therefore, be judged according to anything else but only in itself. But according to Damascene “antecedent will” is spoken of in God “as arising from Him; consequent will, as arising because of us.” Consequent will should therefore not be distinguished in God from antecedent will.
5. In the affective power there does not seem to be any order except that derived from the cognitive, because order pertains to reason. But we do not attribute to God ordered cognition, which is reasoning, but rather simple cognition, which is understanding. Then neither should we affirm the order of antecedent and consequent of His will.
6. Boethius says that God “beholds all things in a single look of His mind.” In like fashion, then, with one simple act of His will He reaches out to everything which He wills; and so antecedent and consequent should not be affirmed of His will.
7. God knows things in Himself and in their own nature; and although they are in their own nature only after being in the Word, even so the distinction of antecedent and consequent is not affirmed of God’s knowledge. Then neither should it be affirmed of His will.
8. The divine will, like the divine existence, is measured by eternity. But the duration of the divine existence, because measured by eternity, is all simultaneous, having no before and after. Then neither should antecedent and consequent be placed in the divine will.
To the Contrary:
l. Damascene says that it should be noted that “God wills all to be saved by His antecedent will,” and not by His consequent will, as he adds just afterwards. The distinction of antecedent and consequent therefore applies to the divine will.
2. There is in God an eternal habitual will inasmuch as He is God, and an actual will inasmuch as He is the Creator, willing things actually to be. But this latter will is compared to the former as consequent to antecedent. Antecedent and consequent are therefore found in the divine will.
The divine will is fittingly distinguished into antecedent and consequent. An understanding of this distinction is to be got from thee words of Damascene, who introduced it. He says: “Antecedent will is God’s acceptance of something on His own account,” whereas consequent will is a concession on our account.
For the clarification of this point it should be noted that in any action there is something to be considered on the part of the agent and something on the part of the recipient. The agent is prior to the product and more important. Thus what pertains to the maker is naturally prior to what pertains to the thing made. It is evident in the operation of nature, for instance, that the production of a perfect animal depends upon the formative power, which is found in the semen; but it occasionally happens because of the matter receiving it, which is sometimes indisposed, that a perfect animal is not produced. This happens, for example, in the births of monsters. We accordingly say that it is by the primary intention of nature that a perfect animal is produced, but that the production of an imperfect animal is by the secondary intention of nature, which gives to the matter what it is capable of receiving, since it is unable because of the indisposition of the matter to give it the form of the perfect state.
In God’s operation in regard to creatures similar factors must be taken into account. Though in His operation He requires no matter, and created things originally without any pre-existing, matter, nevertheless He now works in the things which He first created, governing them in accordance with the nature which He previously gave them. And although He could remove from His creatures every obstacle by which they are made incapable of perfection, yet in the order of His wisdom He disposes of things conformably to their state, giving to each one in accordance with its own capacity.
That to which God has destined the creature as far as He is concerned is said to be willed by Him in a primary intention or antecedent will. But when the creature is held back from this end because of its own failure, God nonetheless fulfills in it that amount of goodness of which it is capable. This pertains to His secondary intention and is called His consequent will. Because, then, God has made all men for happiness, He is said to will the salvation of all by His antecedent will. But because some work against their own salvation, and the order of His wisdom does not admit of their attaining salvation in view of their failure, He fulfills in them in another way the demands of His goodness, damning them out of justice. As a result, falling short of the first order of His will, they thus slip into the second. And although they do not do God’s will, His will is still fulfilled in them. But the failure constituting sin, by which a person is made deserving of punishment here and now or in the future, is not itself willed by God with either an antecedent or a consequent will; it is merely permitted by Him.
It should not, however, be concluded from what has just been said that God’s intention can be frustrated, because from all eternity God has foreseen that the one who is not saved would not be saved. Nor did He ordain that particular one for salvation in the order of predestination, which is the order of His absolute will. But as far as He was concerned, He gave that creature a nature intended for happiness.
Answers to Difficulties:
1. In the divine will neither the order nor the distinction is in the act of the will but only in the things willed.
2. The order of the divine will is not based upon the different objects of the will but upon the different factors found in one and the same object. For example, by His antecedent will God wants a certain man to be saved by reason of his human nature, which He made for salvation; but by His consequent will He wishes him to be damned because of the sins which are found in him. Now although the thing to which the act of the will is directed exists with all its conditions, it is not necessary that every one of those conditions which are found in the object should be the reason which moves the will. Wine, for instance, does not move the appetite of the drinker by reason of its power of inebriating but by reason of its sweetness, although both factors are found together in it.
3. The divine will is the immediate principle of creatures, ordering the divine attributes (as we must conceive the matter) in so far as they are applied to operation; for no power passes into operation unless it is regulated by knowledge and determined by the will to do something. The order of things is accordingly referred to God’s will rather than to His power or knowledge.–Or the answer may be given that the essence of willing consists in a reference of the one willing to things themselves, as has been said. But things are said to be known or possible for a given agent in so far as they are within its knowledge or its power. Things do not have any order as they are in God but as they are in themselves. Thus the order of things is not attributed to His knowledge or to His power but only to His will.
4. Although the divine will is not hindered or changed by anything else, yet in the order of wisdom it is directed to a thing in accordance with its state. In this way something is attributed to the divine will because of us.
5. That difficulty argues from the order of the will on the part of its act. But the order of antecedent and consequent is not found in it from that point of view.
6. The same is to be said here.
7. Although a thing has existence in its own nature after it has it in God, it is not, however, known by God in its own nature after it is known in Him, because by the very fact of knowing His own essence God beholds things both as they are in Himself and as they are in their own nature.
8. Antecedent and consequent are not affirmed of God’s will for the purpose of implying any succession (for that is repugnant to eternity), but to denote a diversity in its reference to the things willed.
St. Thomas Aquinas, Truth, tran. Robert W. Schimdt (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 2008), 3: 93-102.