William E. Carroll
In Milton's Paradise Lost, God sends the angel Raphael to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to inform them of Satan's rebellion and of the fallen angel's consequent plan to seduce the happy couple. Raphael's story of the fall of Satan and the creation of the world is part of God's purpose to make sure that the first human beings are "sufficient to stand," although "free to fall." Indeed, the defense of freedom, divine and creaturely, is at the heart of Milton's great epic. Unlike those who deny human freedom in order to protect divine omnipotence, Milton seeks to affirm man's freedom in a world created by God. In fact, Raphael's description of the Father's speaking to the Son about the creation of the world reveals a theme which continues to be attractive in some theological and philosophical circles.
And thou, my Word, begotten Son, by thee
This I perform, speak thou, and be it done:
My overshadowing Spirit and might with thee
I send along, ride forth, and bid the Deep
Within the appointed bounds be Heav'n and Earth,
Boundless the Deep, because I am who fill
Infinitude, nor vacuous the space
Though I uncircumscrib'd myself retire,
And put forth not my goodness, which is free
To act or not, Necessity and Chance
Approach not mee, and what I will is Fate.(1)
Here we have creation depicted as a kind of voluntary withdrawal on God's part. Although "uncircumscrib'd," God chooses to "retire," not to put forth his goodness. God somehow must make room for the existence of creatures; he must furthermore make room for the existence of creatures who function as true causes in the world: not only the causality which inanimate beings exercise, but the causality of human agency as well. The account of creation in Paradise Lost is part of the overarching purpose of the poem, which is, as Milton writes in the beginning, "to assert eternal Providence and justify the ways of God to men."
Understanding the "ways of God" is no easy task. Beginning in the early 1990s, the Vatican Observatory and the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California have been sponsoring a series of conferences on what they call "scientific perspectives on divine action." These conferences have already resulted in the publication of two impressive volumes: Quantum Cosmology and the Laws of Nature (1993) and Chaos and Complexity (1995). Future conferences are planned on evolutionary and molecular biology, neurobiology and brain research, and quantum physics and quantum field theory. The systematic reflection on the relationship between contemporary science and theology represented in the contributions to these conferences reveals the seriousness with which many contemporary scholars consider the task of using reason in the service of faith. Although a few contributors argue that some form of a Thomistic understanding of primary and secondary causality provides the most fruitful way to account for God's action in the world, most of the scholars attending these conferences embrace process thought in one of its many manifestations.
There is a striking similarity between Milton's account of creation as divine withdrawal and the arguments of many contemporary theologians and scientists. One of the leading proponents of creation's being preceded by some form of divine withdrawal is the German theologian Jürgen Moltmann, who writes: "It is only a withdrawal by God into himself that can free the space into which God can act creatively. The nihil for creatio ex nihilo only comes into being because - and in as far as - the omnipotent and omnipresent God withdraws his presence and restricts his power."(2) The concern is to locate a kind of metaphysical space which can allow for divine agency in the world: a correlative to the need for a similar metaphysical space which allows for the causal agency of creatures. Thus, for example, the fascination with quantum mechanics and chaos theory, since each is viewed as providing the needed metaphysical indeterminacy to provide an arena in which God can act. So long as the universe was seen as a "causally closed" mechanism operating according to the prescriptions of Newtonian mechanics, there seemed to belittle room for "God's special action in specific events."(3) It was Pierre Simon Laplace who argued that, if one started with precise knowledge of the present state of the universe and of all the forces operating within it, then one could predict the future with certainty. As Laplace put it: with such knowledge "nothing would be uncertain and the future, as the past, would be present to [our] . . . eyes."(4) One of the consequences of such an interpretation of classical mechanics -- regardless of its historical accuracy -- was the development of deism, according to which God's action is restricted to some initial act of creation.(5) For some who accepted the deterministic interpretation of classical mechanics, God's action in the world was limited to filling in the gaps for which science could not account. A "god-of-the-gaps," however, could easily become a disappearing god, since as the natural sciences advce gaps are closed.
In the face of a large literature on divine action in the world,(6) I should like to describe briefly the approach of John Polkinghorne, the British physicist and Anglican priest. Polkinghorne has argued extensively that recent chaos theory has opened up new possibilities for understanding divine agency. Many large-scale phenomena seem to contemporary scientists to exhibit unpredictability strikingly similar to the unpredictability expressed by the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle in the realm of the very small. Why is it, scientists ask that the trajectory of a baseball is so much easier to predict than that of a flying balloon with the air rushing out of it? The balloon lurches and turns erratically at times and places that seem to be impossible to predict. "The balloon obeys Newton's laws just as much as the baseball does; then why is its behavior so much harder to predict than that of the ball?"(7) Uncertainties in our knowledge of the motion of the balloon quickly overwhelm our ability to account for its motion with precision. The recognition of such uncertainties is the foundation of chaos theory.(8)
The world described by classical dynamics was for many easily compared to a clock in which the regular patterns of behavior could be understood and were, accordingly, quite predictable. Chaos theory argues that most of the physical world is not like a clock: to use Karl Popper's famous phrase, there are more clouds than clocks in the world. The great complexity evident in the various systems that constitute the world -- on all levels, from the very small to the very large -- are so sensitive to circumstance that they are intrinsically unpredictable. Polkinghorne thinks that term "chaos" is unfortunate because the apparent haphazardness does occur within restricted domains of possibility. "The most obvious thing to say about chaotic systems is that they are intrinsically unpredictable. Their exquisite sensitivity means that we can never know enough to be able to predict with any long-term reliability how they will behave."(9) Polkinghorne argues that the epistemological limitations which chaos theory presents point to a fundamental feature of the world, what he calls an "ontological openness."
I want to say that the physical world is open in its process, that the future is not just a tautologous spelling-out of what was already implicit in the past, but there is genuine novelty, genuine becoming, in the history of the universe. . . . The dead hand of the Laplacean Calculator is relaxed and there is scope for forms of causality other than the energetic transactions of current physical theory. As we shall see there is room for the operation of holistic organizing principles (presently unknown to us, but in principle open to scientific discernment), for human intentionality, and for divine providential interaction. The character of such influence is perhaps best conceived as 'active information,'(10) the creation of novel forms carried by a flexible material substrate.(11)
Thus chaos theory presents us with the possibility of "a metaphysically attractive option of openness, a causal grid from below which delineates an envelope of possibility (it is not the case that anything can happen but many things can), within which there remains room for manoeuvre."(12)
Given the essential metaphysical indeterminacy of the very large and the very small, we must conclude, Polkinghorne argues, that God does not know the future. Such ignorance is not an imperfection in the divine nature, "for the future is not yet there to be known. Of course God is ready for the future -- God will not be caught out but is, in fact, exceptionally well-prepared for it -- but even God does not know beforehand what the outcome of a free process or a free action will be."(13) Polkinghorne compares what we might call a limitation on divine omniscience with a corresponding limitation of divine omnipotence in the act of creation.
We have become used to the notion that God's act of creation involves a kenosis (emptying) of divine omnipotence, which allows for something other than God to exist, endowed with genuine freedom. I am suggesting that we need to go further and recognize that the act of creating the other in its freedom involves also a kenosis of the divine omniscience. God continues to know all that can be known, possessing what philosophers call a current omniscience, but God does not possess an absolute omniscience, for God allows the future to be truly open. I do not think that this negates the Christian hope of ultimate eschatological fulfillment. God may be held to bring about such determinate purpose even if it is by way of contingent paths.(14)
And more recently, Polkinghorne has written: "The act of creation involves a voluntary limitation, not only of divine power in allowing the other to be, but also of divine knowledge in allowing the future to be open."(15)
The philosophical issues connected to a proper interpretation of quantum mechanics and chaos theory are extraordinarily complex. Robert J. Russell and Wesley J. Wildman,(16) for example, have argued persuasively that it is philosophically dangerous to move from the essentially mathematical realm of chaos theory to reach conclusions about metaphysical determinism or indeterminism; nor ought one to equate unpredictability with indeterminism.(17) We might also wonder about the ease with which Polkinghorne moves from claims in epistemology to claims in metaphysics. Various attempts by Polkinghorne, Arthur Peacocke, Nancey Murphy, George Ellis,(18) and others to locate a venue for divine agency in the indeterminism of contemporary physics really amount to the claim that any account of the physical world in the natural sciences is somehow inherently incomplete. In other words, these authors must maintain that the natural sciences cannot in principle provide a complete, coherent account of physical reality.(19)
My concern here is not with the complex questions of how properly to interpret quantum mechanics or chaos theory. What I should like to focus on is the concern for metaphysical space which informs the arguments of so many contemporary writers on science and theology -- and to show how a return to Aquinas' discussion of creation is particularly fruitful -- especially his understanding of how God is the complete cause of the whole reality of whatever is and yet in the created world there is a rich array of real secondary causes.(20) God's creative act, for Aquinas, is not an example of divine withdrawal(21) but is, rather, the exercise of divine omnipotence. Furthermore, Aquinas' understanding of creation affirms the integrity and relative autonomy of the physical world and the adequacy of the natural sciences themselves to describe this world.
Aquinas' discussion of creation occurs in the context of an extensive examination of this subject in mediaeval Islamic and Jewish thought. Averroes, for example, rejected the idea of creation out of nothing in its strict sense. He thought that creation consisted in God's eternally converting potentialities into actually existing things. For Averroes, the doctrine of creation out of nothing contradicted the existence of a true natural causality in the universe. In response to al-Ghazali's defense of creation out of nothing, Averroes wrote:
[al-Ghazali's] assertion [in defense of creation out of nothing]. . . that life can proceed from the lifeless and knowledge from what does not possess knowledge, and that the dignity of the First consists only in its being the principle of the universe, is false. For if life could proceed from the lifeless, then the existent might proceed from the non-existent, and then anything whatever might proceed from anything whatever, and there would be no congruity between causes and effects . . . .(22)
Averroes argues that in a universe without real natural causation, "specific potentialities to act and to be acted upon are reduced to shambles" and causal relations "to mere happen-stance."(23) Thus, for Averroes, there could be no science of nature if the universe were created out of nothing. In several long commentaries on various treatises of Aristotle, Averroes rejects Avicenna's theory of emanation and argues that God's connection to the universe ought to be understood in terms of final causality.(24) Averroes is critical of what he considers to be Avicenna's confusion of metaphysics and physics, in particular, the introduction of the argument for the prime mover into metaphysics.(25) Also, in defense of real causality in nature, Averroes is troubled by Avicenna's reliance on the immediate action of immaterial agents (separated forms) in the various changes in the physical world.
Also important is the thought of another twelfth century thinker, the Jewish theologian and philosopher, Maimonides [1135-1204].(26) Along with Averroes, Maimonides was critical of the kalam theologians who assign all causal agency to God. Without the necessary nexus between cause and effect, discoverable in the natural order, the world would be unintelligible and a science of nature would be impossible. The kalam theologians, as Maimonides represents them, give no consideration to how things really exist, for this is "merely a custom," and could just as well be otherwise.(27)
They [the kalam theologians] assert that when a man moves a pen, it is not the man who moves it; for the motion occurring in the pen is an accident created by God in the pen. Similarly the motion of the hand, which we think of as moving the pen, is an accident created by God in the moving hand. Only, God has instituted the habit that the motion of the hand is concomitant with the motion of the pen, without the hand exercising in any respect an influence on, or being causative in regard to, the motion of the pen.(28)
He is also critical of their claims to demonstrate that the world is not eternal but has been created out of nothing. Maimonides thinks that whether the universe is eternal or "temporally created" cannot be known by the human intellect with certainty. The most a believer can do is to refute the "proofs of the philosophers bearing on the eternity of the world."(29)
One of the great accomplishments of Thomas Aquinas is the understanding of creation he sets forth: an understanding which is consistent with biblical revelation, Church doctrine(30), and the principles of natural science.(31)
The immense achievement of Aquinas is to have explained so much of the Christian teaching on creation in philosophical terms. Nearly everything essential to the Christian idea of creation - the existence of the Creator, the uniqueness of the Creator, the fact that creation is properly out of nothing, the fact that the Creator creates freely - is not only philosophically comprehensible, according to Aquinas, but also philosophically demonstrable. Only one major element of the Christian teaching, the temporal beginning of the world, is not philosophically demonstrable, although it is certainly comprehensible philosophically.(32)
Aquinas' doctrine of creation is the wider context of my comments today, but the focus of my remarks concerns the specific problem of affirming the complete dependence of all that is on God as Creator without denying the existence of real causes in the created order.
As we have seen, for Averroes any doctrine of creation ex nihilo destroyed the possibility of a science of nature since the radical contingency of such a created world eliminated the possibility of stable natures and necessary connections between causes and effects. Aquinas does tell us that any creature, by its own nature, that is, left completely to itself, is non-being rather than being. Any creature must be caused to be continuously by God lest it return to the non-being, the nothingness, which it properly is. It is true to say that the creature is literally nothing without the creative causality of God.
Nevertheless, we must remember that the being of creatures, far from being an accident, is the ultimate perfection or actuality of the creature.(33) Most profoundly, in the depths of any creature is its being; a creature is nothing so much as its own being. The creature, thus, far from being an insubstantial, quasi-nothing, is a real something, existing on its own. In giving being to the creature, God does not merely make the creature to be an extension of Himself; rather He gives the creature an inherent stability in being, i.e., a tendency to exist. God gives being in such a way that the tendency of the given being is not to lapse into non-being but precisely to remain in being. God so constitutes the being of creatures that they tend to exist and not to fall into nothingness.(34)
An illustration of the fact that in Aquinas' doctrine being belongs essentially to the creature can be found in the De potentia Dei (q. 5, a. 3), where he asks whether God can return the creature to nothing. When Aquinas answers this question he rejects the view of Avicenna, who had argued that the essence of the creature is of itself a pure possibility toward either being or non-being. Aquinas agrees with Averroes in thinking that some creatures, such as immaterial substances and heavenly bodies, have an inherent necessity for existing, for there is in them no possibility for corruption. Aquinas, however, carries Averroes' point further, and argues that no creature, whether material or immaterial, has any sort of potency for non-being: ". . . in the whole of created nature, there is no potency through which it is possible for something to tend into nothing."(35) It is true that material bodies tend to corrupt, but matter itself, prime matter, is incorruptible. The whole of the universe, considered in itself, has its own being and tends to continue in being. Of itself, it has no potency, or tendency, to non-being. However true it may be to say that the creature would be absolutely nothing without the creative causality of God, still, the creature really, and even essentially, has its very own being. For Aquinas, the contingency involved in creation is an expression of the relation of dependency on the Creator; it is not so much a characteristic of the creatureitself.(36)
According to Aquinas, creation is not a change. Creation is the complete causing of the whole reality of whatever is.(37) To create is to give existence, and Aquinas locates creation in the category of relation, although a peculiar type of relation. The creature is really related to the Creator, but the Creator is not really related to the creature. If the relation were really reciprocal, then changes in one would involve changes in the other, and Aquinas is always quick to remind us that God is absolutely immutable.(38) Aquinas explains that the relation of a knower to the thing known is like the relation of a creature to its Creator; i.e., the relation is non-mutual.(39) The knower is really related to, and really dependent (for knowledge) upon the knowable thing, but the knowable thing is not in any way affected by the knower. The knowable thing may have a relation of reason (relatio rationis) to the knower, but it is not really related to the knower. Similarly, God is not really related to the creature, i.e., God does not depend upon the creature in any way, nor is He affected by the creature, but the creature is completely and constantly dependent upon the creator. In the creature, the real relation to the creator has two elements: it is ad aliud, i.e., dependent upon God, and it is an attribute inhering in the creature as in a subject.(40)
Since creatures do have their own being, they are able to be true, autonomous causes. Although God is the immediate cause of all being, creatures are still true causes of effects. Aquinas' explanation is that creatures are the true causes of whatever comes to be either through motion or generation and that God is the cause of the being of all things, even of that which is produced through motion or generation. God is the constant cause of all being; creatures cause, as it were, only the determinations of being. The creature causes this form to be in this matter, by bringing the form into actuality from the potency of matter, but God causes the matter to be and thus gives it a potency to form. Creatures, thus, are the true causes of most(41) substantial and accidental changes in that they produce the new form, but as to the production of being, God is always the only cause.
In De potentia Dei [q. 3, aa. 7-8], Aquinas investigates in considerable detail the relationship between creation and "the work of nature."(42) The issue concerns the general problem of how one substance can become another substance and how anything can cause this to happen. Where does the form of the new substance(43) come from? Either the new form always existed, in which case it does not come into being; or it never existed, in which case it cannot come into being. Aquinas describes two erroneous accounts of how new things come to be. According to one view, forms pre-exist in matter; thus generation is but the extraction of one thing from another. The forms of new things are actually present in matter, but hidden, and natural agents produce new things only in the sense that they serve to reveal what is already there. Aquinas thinks that such a view of "the works of nature" suffers from an "ignorance of matter," a failure to distinguish between potency and act. The forms of things which are produced by nature exist in matter, but only potentially, not actually.(44) Such a distinction between potency and act is essential for making sense of real generation, real novelty, in the world.
Others thought that forms cannot proceed from matter because forms are immaterial realities, and matter is not part of form. Thus, the forms of new things must, quite literally, come from nothing. Natural agents lack the power to produce forms from nothing, and thus a supernatural agent is necessary for the generation of new forms. Real becoming in the world is thereby reduced to the action of an extrinsic dator formarum (giver of forms). This is the view of Avicenna, for whom natural forms flow from the lowest of the spiritual substances. Natural agents only prepare matter for the reception of forms; the forms come to be per viam creationis,(45) and creation is always mingled with the activity of natural agents. Aquinas claims that this view arose because of an "ignorance of forms:" the view that the form of a thing is a subsistent entity [a quod est]. Aquinas was always alert to avoid the reification of form or matter; they are principles of things, not things in themselves. Form, for Aquinas, is that whereby a thing is [a quo est]. Those things which come to be are composites of form and matter; it is not, strictly, the form which comes to be; it is the substance, which has a certain form, which comes to be, subsists, and whose coming-into-being must be explained.
For Aquinas, following Aristotle, forms pre-exist in the potency of matter and they are brought into actuality by natural agents. New forms are not generated by nature out of nothing; they are educed from the potency of matter. Becoming involves natural agency; it is not "mingled" with creation, even though becoming presupposes creation.(46) For Avicenna, the natural agency of fire is sufficient to dispose water to become warmer and warmer, but at the precise moment when the water is sufficiently hot, the dator formarum infuses into the water the new form of air to replace the form of water, thus producing a substantial change. For Aquinas, fire is sufficient in itself not only to dispose water to its boiling point (an accidental change), but even to cause water to become air.
The natural sciences seek to discover real causes in the world. Aquinas argues that a doctrine of creation ex nihilo, which affirms the radical dependence of all being upon God as its cause, is fully compatible with the discovery of causes in nature. God's omnipotence does not challenge the possibility of real causality for creatures, including that particular causality, free will, which is characteristic of angels and men. As we have seen, the relationship between divine action and the world -- both with respect to the natural sciences and to human freedom -- continues to be a topic of extended commentary and debate. Aquinas would reject any notion of a divine withdrawal from the world so as to leave room (a metaphysical space) for the action of creatures in such a way, for example, that God would be said to allow or to permit human freedom. Similarly, Aquinas would reject a process theology which denies God's immutability and His omnipotence (as well as His knowledge of the future) so that God would be said to be evolving or changing along with the universe and everything in it. For Aquinas, both views fail to do justice either to God or to creation. Creatures are, and are what they are (including those which are free), precisely because God is present to them as cause. Were God to withdraw, all that exists would cease to be. Real causality in nature -- that which Averroes and Maimonides recognized must be protected against the views of certain of the kalam theologians -- is not challenged by divine omnipotence or divine omniscience. Creaturely freedom and the integrity of nature, in general, are guaranteed by God's creative causality, i.e., by God's intimate presence in all that He creates. Here is how Aquinas expresses it in the Summa theologiae:
Some have understood God to work in every agent in such a way that no created power has any effect in things, but that God alone is the ultimate cause of everything wrought; for instance, that it is not fire that gives heat, but God in the fire, and so forth. But this is impossible. First, because the order of cause and effect would be taken away from created things, and this would imply lack of power in the Creator, for it is due to the power of the cause, that it bestows active power on its effect. Secondly, because the active powers which are seen to exist in things, would be bestowed on things to no purpose, if these wrought nothing through them. Indeed, all things created would seem, in a way, to be purposeless, if they lacked an operation proper to them, since the purpose of everything is its operation. . . . We must therefore understand that God works in things in such a manner that things have their proper operation. . . . Thus then does God work in every worker, according to these three things. First as an end. For since every operation is for the sake of some good, real or apparent; and nothing is good either really or apparently, except in as far as it participates in a likeness to the supreme good, which is God; it follows that God Himself is the cause of every operation as its end. Again it is to be observed that where there are several agents in order, the second always acts in virtue of the first, for the first agent moves the second to act. And thus all agents act in virtue of God Himself; and therefore He is the cause of action in every agent. Thirdly, we must observe that God not only moves things to operate, as it were applying their forms and powers to operation, just as the workman applies the axe to cut, who nevertheless at times does not give the axe its form; but He also gives created agents their forms and preserves them in being. Therefore He is the cause of action not only by giving the form which is the principle of action. . .; but also as preserving the forms and powers of things. . . Since the form of the thing is within the thing, since [form] is of more importance as it is prior and more universal, and since God is properly the cause in all things of universal being, which is the most intimate reality in things, it follows that God operates intimately in all things.(47)
As Simon Tugwell aptly puts it: "The fact that things exist and act in their own right is the most telling indication that God is existing and acting in them."(48) For God to be universal cause of being does not mean that God only provides what is common to being and thus allows secondary causes by themselves to provide the particular determinations of individual beings.(49)
Aquinas' understanding of the relationship between God as primary cause and the secondary causes which function in the world depends upon his metaphysical analysis of creation.
As Creator, God utterly and uniquely transcends the categorical order of mundane causes (for example, necessary and contingent) so as to be no threat to created causes but rather their enabling origin. The same God who transcends the created order is also intimately and immanently present within that order as upholding all causes in their causing, including the human will. . . . It is . . . Aquinas' metaphysical understanding of God as Creator and unique causa esse [which] requires that God be actively present in the causing of all causes, including human agents. . . . Aquinas does not think that God do all the causing, but rather that God do all the creating. . . .(50)
Aquinas does not think that God merely conserves things in existence. Such a view would lead to deism and is inconsistent with the revelation of a providential God, and of a God who intervenes in history. On the other hand, the occasionalism of kalam theologians such as al-Ghazali,(51) protected the God of revelation from being marginalized from nature and history, but at too high a price: the denial of real causes in nature.(52) Aquinas moves beyond the views of Avicenna, Averroes, and Maimonides, and is able to provide the intellectual foundations for a science of nature without sacrificing his faith in the God of revelation. To re-emphasize my point, we can say that Aquinas distinguishes between the being or existence of creatures and the operations they perform. God causes creatures to exist in such a way that they are the real causes of the operations they perform. Cornelio Fabro has argued that Aquinas' understanding of the role of the primacy of divine causation has its source in the Neoplatonic doctrines of the Liber de Causis(53): doctrines which, when combined with his own metaphysical understanding of esse "enabled him [Aquinas] to give a deeper and more penetrating account of the totality and intimacy of divine causation than had hitherto been possible."(54)
For Aquinas, God is at work in every operation of nature, but the autonomy of nature is not an indication of some reduction in God's power or activity; rather, it is an indication of His goodness. To ascribe to God (as first cause) all causal agency "eliminates the order of the universe, which is woven together through the order and connection of causes. For the first cause lends from the eminence of its goodness not only to other things that they are, but also that they are causes."(55) It is important to recognize that divine causality and creaturely causality function at different metaphysical levels.(56) In the Summa contra Gentiles (III.70.8), Aquinas remarks that "the same effect is not attributed to a natural cause and to divine power in such a way that it is partly done by God, and partly by the natural agent; rather, it is wholly done by both, according to a different way, just as the same effect is wholly attributed to the instrument and also wholly to the principal agent." It is not the case of partial or co-causes with each contributing a separate element to produce the effect.(57) "Aquinas insists that the differing metaphysical levels of primary and secondary causation require us to say that any created effect comes totally and immediately from God as the transcendent primary cause and totally and immediately from the creature as secondary cause."(58)
The alleged incompatibility between divine omnipotence and creaturely causality is the result, at least in part, of the failure to understand divine transcendence. Process theologians attack classical Christian theism "for its picture of a distant, lordly deity, incapable of being affected by the things of the world, standing at the summit of metaphysical hierarchies, and reinforcing their oppressive structures." They "tend to define the issues in terms of a debate between rival metaphysical systems, with the utterly transcendent, omnipotent God of classical theism set against the more immanent, collaborative God of process thought, who is (for Whitehead) an actual occasion or (for Hartshorne, Ogden, Cobb, and Griffin) a society of actual occasions, but at any rate one of the things in the world in genuine interaction with the others."(59) God's transcendence, however, ought not to be viewed in "contrastive" terms as being opposed to involvement with the world.(60)
In a most perceptive recent book, William Placher argues that in the seventeenth century there began a "domestication of transcendence" which made it a property or characteristic of God which we could grasp. Placher traces the immediate philosophical roots of this domestication to the thought of Francisco Suárez (1548-1617). Following the lead of Duns Scotus, Suarez argued that both God and creatures share the property of "being." Although Suárez did not go so far as Scotus to claim that being can be attributed univocally to God and creatures, Suárez's understanding of analogical predication was, according to Placher, closer to Scotus's understanding than to Aquinas'.(61) Jean-Luc Marion speaks of the "univocist drift that analogy undergoes with Suárez and others;"(62) it was, according to Placher, the crucial first step in the domestication of God's transcendence. As we know, Suárez was an important source for Descartes' radically different way of thinking about God. When Suárez argued that "being" has essentially the same meaning with respect to God and creatures, he set the stage for Descartes' famous argument that God has more being than we do.(63) Ultimately, several philosophers and theologians in the seventeenth century will argue that we can understand God "because God is not so utterly different from us. God's omniscience, omnipotence, and infinite goodness are the same sorts of qualities we have, differing only indegree."(64)
Increasingly, Christian writers in the seventeenth century, since they did not want to think of God as utterly beyond their comprehension, thought of God's otherness in terms of distance and remoteness from the world. Though they did not use the terms, they were in effect contrasting transcendence with immanence.(65)
In our own day, various intellectual schemes which seek to make room for the agency of creatures or which find theological significance for divine action in terms of the "ontological openness" of quantum mechanics and chaos theory fail to recognize the profound metaphysical point that divine causality transcends any other category of causality. Without a sound metaphysics and a good grasp of analogy discussion of divine action in the world is reminiscent of the discourse of a group of fallen angels in Paradise Lost, who " sat on a Hill retir'd:"
In thoughts more elevate, and reason'd high
Of Providence, Foreknowledge, Will, and Fate,
Fixt Fate, free will, foreknowledge absolute,
And found no end, in wandring mazes lost. . . .
Vain wisdom all, and false Philosophie:
Yet with a pleasing sorcerie could charm
Pain for a while or anguish, and excite
Fallacious hope. . . .(66)
Aquinas' metaphysics and, in particular, his profound understanding of creation,
provides the only truly comprehensive view of divine and creaturely causality.
There is as yet no better guide than Thomas Aquinas if we wish "to assert
Eternal Providence and justify the ways of God to men."