A quick Thomist guide to providence and predestination

Given the posts and ensuing discussion here over the last week or two, I thought it might be useful to link directly to the teaching of Thomas Aquinas on providence, and the subject that springs directly from it in Aquinas’ thought, predestination.

Am I a Thomist? No, though I think that there is enormous (and today under-appreciated) value in his careful treatment of Christian doctrine. Where I disagree with him it is for the same reason I agree: he starts by assuming the truth of received doctrine, and then provides as solid a philosophical and theological underpinning for it as possible. He’s therefore only as strong as his doctrinal foundation – and you have to remember, I’m a Protestant and not a mediaeval Catholic.

In the case of providence, though, I consider his foundation firm, deriving from Scripture in toto and the definitive work done by Augustine and his orthodox successors. He starts by defining providence in a way that corrects the woolly understanding of it in Evangelical circles, and probably also other circles, today; ie that providence in general is God’s provision of existence, a habitable world and so on, and in special is getting us out of fixes, for example by providentially enabling us to miss a plane that crashes.

But Aquinas points out that providence actually means God’s working out of everything – without exception – towards its end, that end being the good that God has willed for it in eternity. Predestination is just a special case of providence. So please take time to read and reflect on these reasonably accessible summaries of his work on providence  and on predestination. If you wish you can check out the original, rather more challenging, originals in the Summa, here  and here respectively.

Once you fully understand what he’s saying, you’ll have a good idea, if you disagree, with what and with whom you’re disagreeing. In all major essentials this teaching is the same as Augustine’s, and of the Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin; of Puritans like John Owen and William Tyndale; of revivalists like George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards; and of theistic evolutionists like B B Warfield… not to mention Creationists like Al Mohler.

Your next job will be to say why he’s wrong, and propose better arguments (or borrow them if necessary). You’ll be able to see directly where his teaching differs from the Arminian and Post-Arminian (for which read “flying by seat of pants”) views common today. You may also be able to detect where, although the Roman Church endorses Aquinas’ teaching, I believe the Council of Trent misunderstood, or misrepresented, him on these subjects.

Jon Garvey

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
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13 Responses to A quick Thomist guide to providence and predestination

  1. Ian Thompson says:

    Jon: after reading link to the discussion in the Summa of predestination and predetermination, it would help your case very much if you distinguished those also in your own writing. That is because I am sure many of your readers do not do so.

  2. seenoevo says:

    Jon writes:

    “Am I a Thomist? No, though I think that there is enormous (and today under-appreciated) value in his careful treatment of Christian doctrine. Where I disagree with him it is for the same reason I agree: he starts by assuming the truth of received doctrine, and then provides as solid a philosophical and theological underpinning for it as possible. He’s therefore only as strong as his doctrinal foundation – and you have to remember, I’m a Protestant and not a mediaeval Catholic. In the case of providence, though, I consider his foundation firm, deriving from Scripture in toto and the definitive work done by Augustine and his orthodox successors.”

    I’m trying to determine what the right word for all this. So far, all I’ve been able to come up with, in decreasing levels of severity, are: diabolic, deceitful, disgraceful, disingenuous, deluded.

    Hopefully, this becomes a best-case scenario, and I can settle on the last, “deluded”.

    But I have my doubts, given your considerable basic intelligence and your many years of study and thought (and prayer?) on these issues. If those who have never heard of the Christian God are without excuse (cf. Rom 1:20), then how much more those who have heard of Him and His Church and its limitless deposit of faith (and reason).

    At least you’re honest enough to admit you ONLY SOMETIMES abide by the words of Aquinas and “Augustine and his orthodox successors.” But the bottom-line is you abide by yourself alone. You prolifically proffer their quotes but only so long as they agree with you. You’re not at the banquet. You’re on the “cafeteria plan”, picking and choosing which breads of life to consume or not consume. Not much different from “cafeteria Catholics” like Nancy Pelosi or Joe Biden or hundreds of millions of other CINOs (Catholics In Name Only).
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    “Where I disagree with him it is for the same reason I agree: he starts by assuming the truth of received doctrine… you have to remember, I’m a Protestant and not a mediaeval Catholic.”

    Was the “mediaeval Catholic” the only one to fall for this allegedly faulty assumption of the “truth of received doctrine”?

    What about the Apostles in general? “He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” Luke 10:16

    What about the followers throughout Derbe and Lystra? “As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.” Acts 16:4-5

    What about the Thessalonians? “So then, brethren, stand firm and HOLD TO THE TRADITIONS which you were TAUGHT BY US, either by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thes 2:15.

    What about Timothy? “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine… Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions.” 1 Tim 1:3,7

    “and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Tim 2:2

    “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing FROM WHOM you learned it” 2 Tim 3:14

    “do not despise prophesying, but TEST everything; hold fast what is good” 1 Thes 5:20-21 [Ancient Seenoevo: “How do I test it, St. Paul?” St. Paul: “Check it with St. Jon, in about 2,000 years.”]

    What about St. Paul, himself? “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of PROFANING THE BODY AND BLOOD of the Lord.” 1 Cor 11:23-27

    Sounds like the Eucharist – the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ under the appearance of bread and wine.

    The same Eucharist believed in and taught by Aquinas and Augustine and those “orthodox successors.” Sorry. For this forum I should know “orthodox” is a matter of debate and dialogue. I mean THE Orthodox.

    The same Eucharist believed in and taught by TODAY’S “mediaeval Catholic”.

    Jon, does YOUR Christ replace the substance of bread and wine in the Eucharist?
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    Jon, I’ll ask you again (since you never answered before) the same question NOT answered by Cal and Peter Hickman and my long-lost conversation partner and “ally”, James:

    Do you believe the church of the New Testament (cf. Mat 16:18-19; 1 Tim 3:15) exists today?
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    “Your next job will be to say why he’s wrong, and propose better arguments…”

    Thanks for the assignment, dear good wise teacher. Might the dumb ox student suggest “Your next job will be to say why Seenoevo is wrong, and propose better arguments to refute Seenoevo”?

    • Seenoevo,

      Do I believe that the church of the New Testament exists today?
      Yes I do.

      No doubt our definition of what constitutes ‘the church’ and our understanding of what the New Testament teaches about it will differ.

  3. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    Thanks for the assignment, dear good wise teacher. Might the dumb ox student suggest “Your next job will be to say why Seenoevo is wrong, and propose better arguments to refute Seenoevo”?

    Seenoevo is not Thomas Aquinas. Maybe you could set up your own blog to ask that question, and see how many people answer.

    Do you believe the church of the New Testament (cf. Mat 16:18-19; 1 Tim 3:15) exists today?

    Yes.

  4. seenoevo says:

    Jon,

    Well, I guess answering 1 out of 8 questions is better than nothing.

    Regarding that church of the New Testament, that church which you say exists today:
    Since it necessarily must be only ONE church, with ONE set of beliefs, teachings and truths (cf. Mat 16:18-19; John 17, Eph 4:3-5; 1 Tim 3:15), which ONE particular church today fits those requirements?
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    P.S.
    I shouldn’t have to add this clarification or explication of logic, but knowing this website, I probably do. When I say there NECESSARILY must be ONLY ONE such church, it’s because, otherwise, those Bible verses noted directly above are useless or meaningless.
    For example, 1 Tim 3:15 would become something like “…churchES of the living God, some or each of which are pillarS and bulwarkS of some, but not all, of the truth, and also maybe of some untruth. You’re on your own to guess which of the churches’ teachings are true and which are not true. Peace, out.”

  5. Jon Garvey Jon Garvey says:

    OK Seenoevo

    I’ve now had enough of your continuing to impose your apologetics agenda on this blog (just as BioLogos quite rightly did previouslyon theirs). If you can’t comment on topic, don’t comment at all. If I ever get round to blogging on the true church, or abortion, maybe you can ask your list of questions again. Meanwhile I’m just not interested. Nobody else seems to be either.

    As I said wrt Gregory, I’m relatively tolerant of personal insults – though not to insults of other guests here. I guess being accused of diabolism is no different, and I can take comfort in knowing that curses, like anathemas, have a tendency to rebound on those who utter them rashly. Nevertheless, I have no particular need to put up with them, and still less to engage with those who make them. So this is your last warning.

    Change your ways or you will have to go somewhere else.

  6. seenoevo says:

    Peter,

    Thanks for answering my question. And for not surprising me.

    It brought to mind the story of the distraught wife who was finally able to bring to marriage counseling her husband, a serial adulterer. The wife cried to the counselor: “Please help us. Our marriage is falling apart. Because my husband is SO unfaithful!” The husband objects, “I’m not unfaithful.” Wife: “How can you SAY that?! You know I caught you with three different women in just the last year, and I’m almost positive you’re seeing a fourth now.” Husband: “I am NOT unfaithful. Counselor, let’s end this right now. My wife and I have no problem. I’m not unfaithful at all. My wife and I just differ on the definition and understanding of “unfaithful”. ” Counselor: “OK. You can pay the $100 to my secretary as you leave.”

  7. seenoevo says:

    Jon,

    “This is your last warning. Change your ways or you will have to go somewhere else.”

    Yes, sir.

    Of course, you’re well within your rights as the top dog at this website to exercise your authority.

    It’s the same everywhere. You might say it’s by God’s design, by His providence and predestination. Every human group endeavor has an authority structure, and almost invariably it has one top dog. Whether it be a corporation’s CEO, a soccer team’s manager, a website’s creator/monitor, or a new store-front Evangelical church’s founder/minister. That authority has final say. And if one doesn’t like it, one can go someplace else … which has a different authority. He might even designate HIMSELF the new authority, of his new organization. But he can’t go anywhere else where there’s NOT authority. It just becomes a question of whether the particular authority is good.

    I must admit, though, that I don’t see the justification for your claim that my comments are off topic. Please deign to allow me to explain, using the last two blogs.

    On this “A quick Thomist guide…” blog, you emphasize a key area where you disagree with Thomism, namely “the truth of received doctrine” and appear to imply that the reliance on the assumed truth of received doctrine was a novelty of Aquinas (“a mediaeval Catholic”). In response, I point out Biblical (i.e. pre-“mediaeval”) examples showing that this reliance on received doctrine was not only not novel, but was of the utmost importance. Then, I give a CONCRETE example of what this received doctrine might look like, namely the Eucharist. I then ask you what you think about the Eucharist, to see if we’re understanding each other. Then, another concrete example, namely “the Church”.

    The prior blog was about, and was partly titled, “Autonomy”. I assumed we’re going to investigate and delve into what autonomy is. Toward that end, I provide Merriam-Webster’s definition of autonomy, which includes “moral independence” (which I assume to mean independence in matters of morality). I note that earlier you wrote that autonomy was a relatively recent phenomenon, that it wasn’t Biblical, and that it “leads away from Scriptural revelation.” In attempting to further delve into understanding autonomy, I suggest that this “un-Biblical” autonomy (with its moral independence) seems to be the opposite of the “Biblical” communion (with its moral agreement). To put some “flesh” on the concepts being discussed, I offer what I think are examples of “Biblical” communion (with its moral agreement), namely, regarding Authority and Abortion. I ask you questions about these examples, to make sure we’re on the same page. And I suggest that you may be contradicting your own view jaded view of autonomy by acting autonomously yourself. Now we’re really dialoging. Then, you imply the Catholic Church tries to keep the “mysterious” Bible out of the hands of the lay people (Fiat Lux). I respond in detail (Mass readings) that such is not the case.

    In sum, my comments are ALWAYS in response to, and directly or (slightly) indirectly related to, what YOU post.

    How is all this off topic?

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