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ST. THOMAS AND THE FREEDOM OF THE CREATIVE ACT The understanding of the freedom of the creative act has challenged the minds of Christian theologians and philosophers down through the ages. It is among the questions which touch the limit of the human mind's ability to understand, and so it is not surprising that few systematic philosophers have affirmed the freedom of creation. The particular aspect of the problem under discussion may be presented in the form of several questions. How is it possible for necessary being to act freely? Either God could have been without His free act to create, or He could not have been without it. If He could have been without it, if this act might never have been, what of God's immutability ? How can immutable being be other than it is, ever was, and ever will be ? Still further, of the creative act is in any way distinct within the divine being, what if God's simplicity? On the other hand, if God could not have been without this act, how is it a free act ? In a word, is the act whereby God wills Himself the same as, or distinct from the act whereby He wills the existence of creatures? All modern scholastics affirm that God is able to create or not to create, to create this order of finite beings or another; in other words, in creating, God acts with freedom of choice. When it comes to reconciling our understanding of this freedom with the necessity of divine being, there are a number of different approaches. A traditional neo-thomist position maintains that the creative act is entitatively a necessary act, but terminatively, it is a free act.1 A necessary act, because it is identical with God's being, it is free in its 1 Est igitur actus liber divinus ... in se absolute necessarius, qui, ita infert unum terminum seu dat esse huic mundo, ut idem actus in se immobiliter permanens posset etiam non inferre terminum aut inferre alium terminum seu dare esse alteri mundo. . . . actus (est) absolute necessarius quoad se et non quoad terminum. J. GREDT, Elementa Philosophiae AristotelicoThomisticae , Vol. II, 1937, pp. 235—237. A number of other textbook authors are included in the summary of this position. Obviously, there are differences among them, but they do not appear substantial. Some of the authors consulted: Remer, Billot, Huarte, Boyer, Filion, Esser, Garrigou-Lagrange, Arnou, Phillips, Guisquière. 1 Franciscan Studies 1960I 2 R. A. REDLON relation to an extrinsic term. There is a virtual distinction, they say, between the necessary act whereby He wills Himself and the free act whereby He wills creatures. The foundation of this distinction, however, is in creatures. As in the case of all virtual distinction, whether major or minor, intrinsic or extrinsic, it does not exist before consideration of the mind. The perfections of God are virtually distinct in a minor and intrinsic manner, for they are not exclusive of one another, as in the case of animality and rationality. Rather, these perfections actually, though implicitly, from the viewpoint of the human mind's understanding , include one another. Simple perfections exist formally and eminently in God, though they are not formally distinct. Other divine attributes are virtually and extrinsically distinct, namely, those which in creatures involve the relationship of potency and act, for example, intellect and intellection. This is the case with the creative act; it is virtually and extrinsically distinct from God's necessary act of love for His own goodness. As free, the creative act is not a simple perfection; yet, as act, it is identical with the necessary, immutable, and altogether simple being of God.2 Another opinion considers that this traditional position involves considerable verbalism.3 If, argues Van Steenberghen, the creative act is entitatively necessary, and if the relation between God's will and creatures is only one of reason, then it is difficult to see how one can avoid the conclusion that creation is necessary. On the other hand, if the relation is a real one, then there must be some contingency in God, and a real distinction between His necessary act of love for His supreme...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1945-9718
Print ISSN
0080-5459
Pages
pp. 1-18
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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