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.