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Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. A NECESSARY GOD
  4. II. GOD AND CONTINGENCY: THE PROBLEM
  5. III. GOD AND CONTINGENCY IN AQUINAS
  6. IV. CONCLUSION

It is becoming increasingly more common in Christian theism to conclude that the classical predication of a necessary God who interacts with contingent creation is logical inconsistency. This criticism is especially made by Process theists, but joining with them have been proponents of Open theism as well as others who seek to more closely unite God with the contingency in creation. It is feared that a God who is the transcendent cause of all that exists is unable to relate to creation without necessarily determining it. Yet Thomas Aquinas was not unaware of the potential difficulty in maintaining both a necessary God and created contingency and postulated a solution to the dialectic that fits comfortably within the classical synthesis. This paper examines Aquinas' solution against the charge of incoherence and finds that far from being inconsistent, it coherently succeeds in reconciling the dialectic.

The dialectic relationship between necessity and contingency continues to be of significant theological importance both in respect to the nature of God and to the question of how it is that God relates to the world. It is well known that classical theism comes to an understanding of God's necessity on account of creaturely contingence. But the viability of predicating God's characteristics on the basis of negation is now commonly doubted; for if God is what nature is not then the subsequent question of how God can relate to nature becomes somewhat difficult to answer.1 Thus the classical concept of a necessary God is rejected by many modern theologians who find it incoherent to relate such a God with the contingencies of this world. The argument goes as follows: If contingencies are to be truly contingent, then God cannot be truly necessary or else God's necessary actions would preclude true contingency. Such criticism is certainly leveled by Process theists who view the classical position as an untenable effort to hold together created mutability, divine necessity and ideal omniscience.2 Process theologian David Griffin writes: ‘When the Aristotelean unchanging God was combined with the biblical God who knows the world, it became necessary in order to achieve a self-consistent position, to deny all genuine contingency’.3 The fact that classical theists tried to hold on to both created contingence and divine necessity is simply pointed to as further evidence of the position's incoherence.4 But is such a conclusion really justified? Very little of the criticism directed against the classical position today actually attempts to address the classical solution on its merits. Instead one often finds generic restatements of the position's supposed inconsistency.5 Yet if we take Thomas Aquinas as an example, we find not just a recognition of the dialectic of divine necessity and creaturely contingence but also a thoroughly worked through solution that functions coherently within the classical synthesis. For Aquinas, God is absolutely necessary but this does not preclude God from knowing and relating to contingent creation in such a way that that which is contingent remains contingent.

After a brief discussion on how the classical God is understood to be necessary the exact nature of the criticism brought against it will be addressed. Particular attention will be given to the criticism of Process theists who deny that a necessary God can cause contingent creation. I will then demonstrate how Aquinas meets the challenge through an analysis of conditional necessity, a concept that coherently allows for a necessary God to know and cause contingents. Thus, in this issue at least, the classical position deserves continued consideration.

I. A NECESSARY GOD

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. A NECESSARY GOD
  4. II. GOD AND CONTINGENCY: THE PROBLEM
  5. III. GOD AND CONTINGENCY IN AQUINAS
  6. IV. CONCLUSION

The classical conception of God as necessary being results from a metaphysical reflection on the existence of this-worldly contingents. In his Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas reflected on the nature of the contingent order and came to the conclusion that there must exist some necessary being that can explain the presence of contingents.6 This argument is again presented in the first part of the Summa Theologiae in slightly modified form as the third of Aquinas' cosmological arguments, collectively known as the five ways.7 As we would expect from an a posteriori line of reasoning, Aquinas begins with the observation from sense experience that certain things are possibles (i.e. contingents). By this he means that they have the possibility of existing and not existing because we experience them being ‘generated and corrupted’. But it is impossible for all things which exist to be of this kind, Aquinas argues, since that which has the possibility of not existing did at one time not exist. On this basis he is able to conclude that at some time nothing at all would exist8 and, therefore, nothing would exist now9 because what does not exist does not begin to exist except through something else that exists. Aquinas naturally notes that the present existence of the world means that something does, in fact, exist and thus he draws the conclusion that not all beings can be contingent beings; there must be some necessary being. Of course, at this point it could be said that such a necessary being was itself caused by another necessary being, but Aquinas is quick to dismiss this conclusion on the basis of his earlier discussion outlined in the second way (that of efficient causes). There he argues that one cannot regress to infinity in caused necessary beings and so, here too, there must be an uncaused necessary being that causes the necessity of the others. This being Aquinas calls God.

The detail and contested elements of the ‘proof’ need not detain us here because the issue of interest is not the argument's success (or lack thereof) but the deductive reasoning that moves from the contingent base of sense experience to transcendent necessity. In particular, the question of interest to us is what kind of necessity does Aquinas actually argue for? He has sometimes been accused of intending logical necessity, in that the ‘third way’ is said to demonstrate the logical impossibility for God not to exist.10 If this were the case then Aquinas would also have to contend that the negation of the proposition, ‘God exists’ would entail a self-contradiction similar to what occurs if one was to negate the proposition ‘the sum of all angles in a triangle equals the sum of two right angles’. But this is difficult to square with Aquinas' own critique of the ontological argument in which he contended that God's existence is not self-evident from a human perspective. Indeed, it is quite clear from Aquinas' writings that he held the proposition ‘God is not’ to be just as valid as the proposition ‘God is’, which means that he cannot be intending logical necessity here.11 In fact, this point is readily demonstrated by recognising that the mark of contingency in the ‘third way’ is transiency, or temporal finitude. By contrast the mark of the necessary being is that it does not have a beginning or end in time – in other words, the necessary being is an eternal being. Hence, Aquinas defends God's necessity not on the basis of an a priori logical reflection (i.e. that which presupposes a logical necessity) but rather through an opposition with the contingency of the temporal realm, which thereby explains that realm. The importance of this heuristic element cannot be overemphasised since the very reason for positing a necessary God as opposed to a contingent God is the requirement to explain the existence of contingents. Only an unchanging, eternal and necessary being can ultimately make sense of this.12 However, we should recognise that this does not mean that we can simply equate contingency with transience and necessity with eternal existence. Eternity is certainly one of the conceptual elements of a necessary being, but it is not by itself sufficient. It is quite possible to conceive of a being that exists eternally, not because it cannot be destroyed, but because even though it can be destroyed the power that could destroy it refrains from doing so. Such a being would only have temporal necessity even though it might exist eternally.13 This is partly the reason for the last step in Aquinas' third way; there must be some first necessary being that underwrites all others. It is only this uncaused being in the causal chain that can be called God. That there is only one uncaused being is an axiom of Christian theism. Thus, to appropriate a term from Richard Swinburne, I would suggest that Aquinas intends divine necessity to be understood as ontological necessity.14 That is, God is deemed to be necessary not because we cannot conceive a God who is not necessary, but because the very existence of contingents requires an ontologically necessary being that has no active or permissive cause.

The result of this methodology is to introduce an ontological hierarchy that qualitatively separates the cause from the effect. God, as ultimate cause – or creator – is distinguished from all effects not by an order of magnitude but by essence itself. Thus God stands out from the multiplicity of beings within the created order on account of the coincidence of essence with existence.15 In other words God's essence is to exist, or expressed more formally, God's aseity is an integral notion of what it means to be an ontologically necessary being. In contrast to the universe and created contingents which exist ab alio and rely for their existence on some factor or factors beyond, only God exists a se in total independence as a sheer unconditioned, self-existent being.16 For this reason it is incorrect to suggest that God is only necessary in relation to contingent entities.17 So while it is true that Aquinas arrives at a necessary God on the basis of contingent existence, having reached this point it becomes clear that even if no contingencies existed, God would still be necessary. For God is without beginning or end, without origin, cause or ground of any kind whatsoever. ‘God is, as the ultimate, unconditioned, absolute, unlimited being.’18 All other classical predications of God hang upon this datum.

II. GOD AND CONTINGENCY: THE PROBLEM

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. A NECESSARY GOD
  4. II. GOD AND CONTINGENCY: THE PROBLEM
  5. III. GOD AND CONTINGENCY IN AQUINAS
  6. IV. CONCLUSION

There is however, a recognised difficulty with the classical conception of the necessity of God. The problem is that if God is ‘wholly and utterly necessary, and if [God's] relation to the world is that of the timeless to the temporal, it is difficult to understand how contingency is possible at all’.19 Surely by definition, does not real contingency require a contingent cause if it is to be truly contingent? Therefore is it not logically incoherent to posit a necessary God who creates a contingent creation? In his analysis of Charles Hartshorne's rejection of classical theism, Colin Gunton frames the issue in this way:

But there can surely be no defence against the charge that a wholly necessary God and a free creation are logically incompatible. If God has to be free in order to create – or, for that matter, to reconcile, forgive, and redeem – then, however much the word necessary is qualified, it is impossible to reconcile this freedom with the demands of a thoroughgoing necessity.20

The conclusion seems inevitable: if God is wholly necessary then all acts that God undertakes must also be considered necessary and therefore creation, as an act of God, can in no sense be described as free or contingent. Furthermore, it follows that if creation is in fact necessary then all events that occur as part of creation must a fortiori be necessary as well. Hence there are no truly contingent acts because there is no possibility for those events to occur other than they do. If then we desire to affirm both God's freedom in creating and the contingency of the created order itself, then logically we must abandon the notion of a necessary God. Hartshorne himself places more emphasis on the problem in terms of knowledge rather than creation, but the point is still the same. Given the contingency of the world, does not the fact that some things may or may not have happened mean that God's knowledge of them is dependent (i.e. contingent) on them as well?21 To claim to the contrary that God knows omnisciently all that is and will ever be requires that those contingent events be in fact necessary. Human freedom is thus a chimera and the classical God must be understood to be the necessary determiner of all that is.

Awareness of this difficulty did not need to await the post-scholastic period nor the arrival of a Newtonian mechanistic worldview. Aristotle had already pointed out the apparent inconsistency of affirming both created contingency and the necessity of divine knowledge and overcame the problem by attributing all contingency to the pre-existent prime matter from which the world was formed.22 Thus the necessary unmoved mover was not the cause of the contingencies that were inherent in creation itself. Of course, Christian theism is adamant that God created the world ex nihilo and not from some pre-existent matter and therefore Aristotle's solution is prima facie untenable. So it seems that we are either forced to go along with Spinoza and acknowledge complete determinism and the necessity of all things or we must reject the classical understanding of a necessary God.23 It is this latter option that has provided the motivation for Process theists who postulate an alternate and dipolar picture of God in the hope of salvaging real contingencies. As dipolar, God is understood to be at the same time both necessary and contingent. Gunton outlines this duality well and it is worth quoting here in full.

A corollary of God's being relative to the world is that he will know the world as contingent, and hence will have contingent elements or contents. (Naturally, as it is the knower who is affected by the objects of knowledge, the contents of God's knowledge at any given time will be contingent or dependent upon the state of the world at that time). Therefore, just as God is relative, so he is contingent, in his concrete reality; in fact, he is ‘the supremely contingent being, in a certain sense the most contingent of all’. And so God, in respect of his contents as a supreme knowing mind, is contingent. … But, abstractly considered, God is not contingent but necessary, in fact the sole necessary being, for he must know infallibly all that is and was, and will know everything that will be, when it comes to take place. And so God's necessity consists in his contingency. He knows what he knows necessarily, and supreme contingency is seen to be necessary contingency.24

We have then a God who is necessary in some respects but at the same time a God who must also be understood to be contingent if God is to be truly related to the contingent world. Immediately it is apparent that a dipolar view of God has enormous consequences for classical theism. Predominant among these is that God can no longer be understood to be outside of time but is fully limited by temporal progression. God cannot know the future since true contingency requires it to be open and therefore God learns diachronically as events and choices are made.25 As a consequence, God's eternality is not predicated because God stands outside of time but because God knows fully all that has happened up to this point in time. So too God's receptivity to creation as a subject, logically requires that God is affected by that relationship with the world. In other words, God cannot be immutable or impassable and still be in real relation to the world. Either God is unmoved, unloving and distant or God is a real ‘subject in relation’ and God's being is becoming.26 Hence the rejection of a necessary God who is the transcendent first cause of all that is requires a corresponding rejection of other classical predications of God; omniscience, impassibility and eternity to name just three.27

The criticism is not without its merits and its continued currency stems in large part from the desire to adequately meet the concerns of post-modern life. How, it is asked, can a God who is timeless, a-pathetic, immutable and beyond the vagrancies of this experienced world resonate with the post-modern cultural core? In the past, impassibility and apathy may have meant stability and comforting concreteness, but now our culture seems to demand a God who suffers with and alongside us. In full sympathy with such a view, Clark Pinnock goes so far as to claim that the emphasis on human freedom and relativity in post-modernism actually requires that God be thought of ‘as self-limited’ in relation to the world. God must be understood as a dynamic becoming entity rather than a static divinity who sits in ‘serene magisterial aloofness’.28 The point is both clear and uncompromising: unless theologians abandon the concept of a necessary God they will inevitably abandon the post-modern world.

But is such a conclusion really inevitable? I have no desire to deny the need for theologians to communicate in culturally relevant ways; it is after all the sine qua non of the theological task. But the contention that classical theism posits a God who is incapable of really relating to creation is a caricature of the classical position rather than a piercing critique. The religiously powerful passages in Aquinas' poetry and biblical commentaries, for example, would be unintelligible if he really thought that God sat ‘aloof’ from the world. On the contrary, for Aquinas the necessary God does relate to the world and relates in such a way that creation is not completely determined. The question that remains though is just how coherent is Aquinas' solution?

III. GOD AND CONTINGENCY IN AQUINAS

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. A NECESSARY GOD
  4. II. GOD AND CONTINGENCY: THE PROBLEM
  5. III. GOD AND CONTINGENCY IN AQUINAS
  6. IV. CONCLUSION

Because the relationship between divine necessity and created contingency has a paradoxical appearance, the approach to any solution will be correspondingly dialectical. On one side there is the question of the possibility of contingency and on the other is the question of divine providence or how a necessary God relates to the world. As early as the Sentences, Aquinas addresses the first side by confirming that even though God is transcendent cause, real contingents do in fact exist and that God's knowledge of them does not impact their existence as contingents.29 Bernard McGinn comments that here Aquinas' response is unhesitating and unequivocal. ‘Neither the fact that God is the necessary cause of all things nor the fact that knowledge presupposes a determination in the thing known precludes the existence of contingent things or God's knowledge of them’.30 Easy enough perhaps to state, but given the aforementioned criticism of this very point on what basis is Aquinas able to come to this conclusion? The reason given here and outlined further in the Summa Contra Gentiles is the classical predication of God's timelessness. Since God is eternal, divine knowledge has the characteristic of eternality and therefore God apprehends each successive temporal event in the eternal now. In such a case all contingent events are fully known by God because God sees them all at one and the same time. It must be pointed out though that God's knowledge of these events, while immutable in the sense that it cannot change over time, does not inevitably include the requirement to be immutable across all possible worlds.31 This simply means that if things in the world had been different, then God's knowledge of them would have been different as well; hence in a different possible world, God would know something different from what God knows in this world. Thus there is no need in this view of God's knowledge to require that creatures do not have the ability to do other than they do in every possible world.32 So Aquinas can coherently hold that creaturely contingency is a real possibility. But even if we grant contingency across all possible worlds, does not God's knowledge of this-worldly contingent events in the eternal now render those events from a creaturely perspective logically necessary?33 Not so says Aquinas. The reason for this is that while God knows all things at once, the events themselves are only conditionally necessary, they are not logically necessary.34 This distinction will appear again in relation to the second part of our dialectic but at this point conditional necessity refers merely to the proposition ‘if A, then A’– where the protasis does not posit a prior necessary cause, it simply affirms the reality of what appears in the apodosis.35 In other words, and to use the example that Aquinas himself gives, it is necessary that Socrates be sitting because he is sitting (i.e. it is not possible for Socrates not to be sitting when he is in fact seated). However it is not absolutely necessary that Socrates be sitting because at some prior time Socrates presumably made the choice to sit. Hence Socrates' sitting is only conditionally necessary because while it is necessary now that he be seated (because he is in fact sitting), it was not necessary for Socrates to be sitting now. For the sake of the argument suppose that Socrates at some later time (say t2) decides to go for a walk. In the eternal now God knows Socrates is walking but again his walking is only conditionally necessary because although it is necessary that if Socrates is walking he is walking, it is not necessary that Socrates is in fact walking. Thus on this view, God can know with omniscience in the eternal present that a creature will have property A (sitting) but not property B (walking) at t1 and property B (walking) but not property A (sitting) at t2, without precluding the contingency of either event.36 Therefore just because God knows in the eternal present all that ever occurs does not mean that those events are prevented from being contingent.

It could be argued that this part of the solution fails on two accounts. Firstly it is dependent on an understanding of God's eternity that by no means has universal consensus and second, it presumes that the contingent events themselves were in fact contingent. In response to the first point we can say that as a classical solution to the problem of divine providence and created contingency it is appropriate to utilise classical predications of God's existence as a basis. Aquinas is so insistent on God's timelessness that it would be inappropriate to disallow any recourse to it.37 The second point has more weight but it must be remembered that this is only one side of the dialectic and therefore takes for granted that real contingencies do exist. The question here is not whether God as necessary cause denies any possibility of contingents – that is the second part of the dialectic, but rather if there are contingents does God's knowledge of them deny their ability to be really contingent. Again, Aquinas' recourse to the eternality of God allows the negative answer to be given. So much then for the first part of the problem. We now turn to the second aspect and ask the question as to how God, as the transcendent necessary cause of all things can be related to creation without precluding real contingency in the world.

The second part of the dialectic faces the challenge that Gunton put forward as the reason for the incoherence of the classical position: If God is the necessary cause of all that is, then it is logically incompatible to postulate the existence of real contingencies. As might be expected, Aquinas was not unaware of the problem and phrases the question in his own way in terms of divine providence. ‘If all things that are done here below, even contingent events, are subject to divine providence, then, seemingly, either providence cannot be certain, or else all things happen by necessity’.38 On the surface the problem appears formidable. Either there is real contingency and God's purposes can be frustrated – something a classical theist strongly rejects – or God's providence is certain, which seems to necessarily preclude the possibility of real contingents. But rather than collapse into a deterministic position in order to safeguard the certainty of divine providence, Aquinas endeavours to demonstrate that the antithesis is in reality a false one. This is achieved in two parts, the first is a denial of the fundamental assumption of the antithesis; the second is an assertion of God's will that allows for the cause of both necessary and contingent entities.

Beginning then with the rejection of the antithesis. There is an underlying assumption to the problem as presented that allows the antithesis to stand. This assumption is based on the notion that it is impossible for every contingent fact to have an explanation; or expressed more formally:

  • 1
    for any contingent event C the fact which explains it cannot be a necessary fact, otherwise C would not be contingent.

From this definition, contingency of effect requires at least one unexplained contingent fact in any possible proximate cause of the effect.39 Aquinas has no real problem with this concept and in an early discussion on this issue acknowledged that contingency of effect does follow the proximate cause.40 What is of concern is the subsequent assumption made that if God is the first and necessary cause then there can be no contingent proximate causes and ipso facto there are no contingencies. Aquinas calls this conclusion into question since just because God is absolutely necessary cause does not mean that all acts of God's will are in the same way necessary.41 This line of reasoning is readily demonstrated with an appeal to creation. We have already made the point that God creates the world ex nihilo and is thus the cause of being for all creaturely existence. But it does not automatically follow from this argument that creaturely existence is absolutely necessary. To do so would be to conclude that there is no possibility for God not to create but that God's will is necessitated by God's essence to create. However Aquinas rejects this and holds that creation is not logically necessary since the proposition ‘God does not create’ does not by itself entail a contradiction.42 Indeed, creation is not required by some ineluctable logic or by the nature of deity so that God could not have willed not to create. The fact that something exists at all is wholly ascribed to the will of God as a gratuitous gift which arises freely from God's own goodness.43 However, Aquinas does recognise that having created it is now conditionally necessary for God to create. The reason for this is that if God chooses between two alternatives, neither of which are absolutely necessary, then logically the choice that God does not choose remains forever unavailable to God. Thus having created, it is no longer open for God not to create. Whatever God wills, then, in the act of willing cannot be changed but God's will remains free to choose what it is that God will in fact will. The acts of God's will are thereby only conditionally necessary in this sense, they are not absolutely necessary for God. This allows Aquinas to come to the following conclusion in his Summa Contra Gentiles:

The necessity of supposition [conditional necessity] in a cause, moreover, does not require an absolute necessity in the effect. But God wills something in the creature, not with absolute necessity, but only by a necessity of supposition [that which comes from a condition] … From the divine will, therefore, an absolute necessity in created things cannot be inferred. But only this excludes contingency.44

Aquinas then does not deny that God's providence requires that God be the transcendent cause that produces every effect. Indeed, since God is the author of all things, divine providence must extend to all creation but it does not then follow that all things are determined. The reason is that conditional necessity in the cause can in no way produce absolute necessity in the effect. The fundamental premise that a necessary God cannot but produce necessary effects is therefore ruled out on the basis that God does not will creation absolutely but conditionally.

The second part of Aquinas' response readily follows. Since creation is conditionally necessary, it is open to God to freely will what God wills in creation in such a way that God not only wills the fact of their existence but also the mode of their existence; be that necessary or contingent. In the same article in which Aquinas details the importance of conditional necessity we read the following:

God wills whatever is required for a thing that He wills, as has been said. But it befits certain things, according to the mode of their nature, that they be contingent and not necessary. Therefore, God wills that some things be contingent. Now, the efficacy of the divine will requires not only that something be that God wills to be, but also that it be as He wills it to be … Therefore, the efficacy of the divine will does not remove contingency.45

On this understanding there can be no absence of contingency in the world created by God because part of what God wills with conditional necessity is that there be contingency in what God creates.46 In other words, God wills to create things with components that guarantee their contingency.47 Hence, what Aquinas concludes is that effects can either be necessary or contingent according to the pleasure of God. We see this again in the third part of his Summa Theologiae when he notes that God provides necessary and contingent causes as needed to produce either necessary or contingent effects.48 God is therefore the per se cause of all that is, including contingents.49 As transcendent cause though, God effectively stands outside and beyond the order of contingence and necessity.50 As a result there is no incoherence between God as necessary cause and the reality of creaturely contingence in the classical schema. Bernard Lonergan summarises it well, ‘because God is universal cause, his providence must be certain; but because he is transcendent cause, there can be no incompatibility between terrestrial contingence and the causal certitude of providence.’51

IV. CONCLUSION

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. I. A NECESSARY GOD
  4. II. GOD AND CONTINGENCY: THE PROBLEM
  5. III. GOD AND CONTINGENCY IN AQUINAS
  6. IV. CONCLUSION

The solution that Aquinas brings to the dialectic has a number of suppositions and conclusions but they all fit comfortably into the synthesis of the classical theist. A key point is that God stands outside of time and views all events in the created world at one and the same time in the eternal ‘now’. This understanding of God's relationship to the world allows Aquinas to come to the conclusion that the mode of contingents as contingents is not affected by God's knowledge of them. God knows infallibly, but knowledge does not prevent contingency. The other part of the solution is to be found in the assertion that God's esse as transcendent cause does not preclude the possibility of contingents. Because God creates out of conditional necessity and not absolute necessity, God is able to bring about events either contingently or necessarily according to God's good pleasure. When taken together, these two aspects allow Aquinas to conclude that God stands beyond the necessary/contingency dialectic. His solution affirms the coherence of holding to both divine providence and created contingency and its success for Aquinas is demonstrated by his further application of the solution to particular theological questions.52

Footnotes
  1. 1 Colin E. Gunton, Becoming and Being: The Doctrine of God in Charles Hartshorne and Karl Barth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), p. 2.

  2. 2 As presented by Hartshorne in his 1976 Aquinas lecture. Charles Hartshorne, Aquinas to Whitehead: Seven Centuries of Metaphysics of Religion (Milwaukee: Marquette University Publications, 1976), p. 15.

  3. 3 David R. Griffin, God, Power, and Evil: A Process Theodicy (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 44.

  4. 4 See for example, Clark H. Pinnock, ‘Between Classical and Process Theism’, Process Theology Ed. Ronald H. Nash (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 316.

  5. 5 This is especially evident in Open Theism's critiques. See for example: Clark H. Pinnock et al, The Openness of God: A Biblical Challenge to the Traditional Understanding of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1994) and Clark H. Pinnock, Most Moved Mover: A Theology of God's Openness (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 2001).

  6. 6 St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, 5 vols. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975), 1.c.15. Hereafter SCG. The extent of the influence of Aristotle on Aquinas' metaphysics here is not of particular concern to the thesis of this paper. What is of interest is whether or not having identified God as necessary (a concept that is surely not foreign to the biblical God even if its basis is predominantly Hellenistic and not Semitic), Aquinas is then able to coherently demonstrate how the Christian God can know and relate to creation without impinging on creation's contingency.

  7. 7 St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 61 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), I. q2. a3. Hereafter ST. The major addition is the third point of the argument in ST, that at some time no contingent entities would exist at all.

  8. 8 Exactly what point in time Aquinas has in mind here is a matter of debate. The context appears to imply a past time in which nothing would exist, but it could be that he is arguing logically rather than temporally in which case he would be affirming that a universe of contingent beings cannot explain itself. However, I prefer a past time context because the movement from contingency to necessity is a movement through time (corruption to generation) and generation must always be prior to corruption. So if nothing exists then nothing has yet to be generated and therefore nothing has ever corrupted. See, for example, John F. Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas: From Finite Being to Uncreated Being (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 2000), p. 464.

  9. 9 There is a recognised problem with this point: If we accept that all things that exist have the power to not exist then it does not logically follow that at one time nothing at all existed. Why should not corruptible beings, for example, overlap with each other so that while they may come to be and pass away there is never any time in which nothing at all exists? In other words, ‘each thing at some time or other is not’ is not equivalent to ‘at some time or other everything is not.’ Hence, Anthony Kenny actually prefers the earlier argument in SCG 1.c.15, which while similar in its overall process does not include this logical step. Anthony Kenny, Aquinas on Being (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2002), p. 136. For an alternative evaluation of the argument in ST see Wippel, The Metaphysical Thought of Thomas Aquinas, p. 466 n. 63.

  10. 10 See, for example, the discussion in Colin E. Gunton, Becoming and Being: The Doctrine of God in Charles Hartshorne and Karl Barth (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978), 4. An alternate response is given by Anthony Kenny who comments that in the Third Way Aquinas cannot mean logical necessity since his proof for the existence of God is not concluded when he has established that there exists a necessary being. Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas' Proofs of God's Existence (London: Routledge & Keegan Paul, 1969), pp. 47-8.

  11. 11 ST I. q2. a1. See also St Thomas Aquinas, Scriptum Super Sententiis (Amersham: Avebury, 1980), I. d3. q1. a2.

  12. 12 Hence, Eberhard Jüngel: ‘God is necessary in order to understand the world as world.’ Eberhard Jüngel, God as the Mystery of the World: On the Foundation of the Theology of the Crucified One in the Dispute between Theism and Atheism, trans. Darrell L. Guder (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), p. 30.

  13. 13 John Hick, ‘God as Necessary Being,’The Journal of Philosophy 57, no. 22/23 (1960): 732.

  14. 14 Swinburne, The Christian God, pp. 118-122, 146-7. It should be noted that Aquinas often uses the term absolute necessity in his writings and we will encounter this at various times below. Where it does occur it should be understood in the sense of ontological necessity.

  15. 15 See Alister McGrath, Nature, A Scientific Theology, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 2001), pp. 168-9. Eleonore Stump, Aquinas, Arguments of the Philosophers (London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 129-30.

  16. 16 Hick, ‘God as Necessary Being,’ 733.

  17. 17 As Pannenberg makes clear: Wolfhart Pannenberg, Systematic Theology, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988-98), p. 1:83 n.55.

  18. 18 Hick, ‘God as Necessary Being,’ 733.

  19. 19 Gunton, Becoming and Being, p. 4.

  20. 20 Ibid., p. 18.

  21. 21 See for example Charles Hartshorne, Creative Synthesis and Philosophic Method (London: SCM Press LTD, 1970), p. 48.

  22. 22 See the discussion in Bernard Lonergan, Grace and Freedom: Operative Grace in the Thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1971), p. 77.

  23. 23 Spinoza, Ethics, Prop. 29.

  24. 24 Gunton, Becoming and Being, p. 32.

  25. 25 Open theists particularly emphasise this point. See for example Clark H. Pinnock, ‘Open Theism: An Answer to My Critics’, Dialog: A Journal of Theology 44 (2005), pp. 240-2.

  26. 26 Gunton, Becoming and Being, p. 33.

  27. 27 N.P. Wolterstorff, ‘Does God Suffer’, Modern Reformation 8 (1999), p. 47. claims that the classical position is unravelled in this process to the point of undermining even God's aseity. Quoted by Pinnock, ‘Most Moved Mover’, p. 78.

  28. 28 Clark H. Pinnock, ‘Between Classical and Process Theism’, in Process Theology, ed. Ronald Nash (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 317.

  29. 29 Aquinas, 1 Sent., d.38, q.1. a.5.

  30. 30 Bernard McGinn, ‘The Development of the Thought of Thomas Aquinas on the Reconciliation of Divine Providence and Contingent Action’, The Thomist 39 (1975), p. 743.

  31. 31 See Aquinas' discussion on immutability, ST 1, q.9, a.1.

  32. 32 See Stump, Aquinas, p. 117.

  33. 33 A conclusion said to be unavoidable, Pinnock, ‘Open Theism’, p. 242.

  34. 34 SCG I.67.

  35. 35 See McGinn, ‘Divine Providence and Contingent Action’, p. 744. Also Lonergan, Grace and Freedom, pp. 104-5.

  36. 36 Stump, Aquinas, p. 117.

  37. 37 Lonergan, Grace and Freedom, pp. 103-4. As a further point of interest, modern science has effectively debunked the Newtonian model of absolute space and time. Now time, space and matter are all understood to be interconnected and explicated along Einstein's theory of General Relativity. Time is therefore unintelligible apart from space and matter which fits in nicely with the classical position that holds that all three are in fact created realities. The Process conception of God within time requires that God also be related to space and matter a point that seems to have escaped most proponents of this view. See Neil Ormerod, ‘Chance and Necessity, Providence and God’, Irish Theological Quarterly 70 (2005), p. 276.

  38. 38 SCG III.94.

  39. 39 On this see the discussion in Stump, Aquinas, p. 129.

  40. 40 1 Sent., d.38, q.1, a.5

  41. 41 SCG I.83; ST 1, q.19, a.3.

  42. 42 See Stump, Aquinas, p. 123. Also, Bernard Lonergan, Philosophy of God, and Theology (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973), p. 64-5.

  43. 43 ST 1, q.44, a.4.

  44. 44 SCG I.85.

  45. 45 Ibid.

  46. 46 See the further affirmation of this point in ST 1, q.19, a.8.

  47. 47 C.f. Lonergan: ‘What providence intends to be contingent will inevitably be contingent.’Grace and Freedom, p. 108.

  48. 48 ST 1, q.19, a.8. God is therefore the per se cause of the whole order of contingency. McGinn, ‘Divine Providence and Contingent Action’, p. 751.

  49. 49 It must be pointed out that for Aquinas, this does not result in God being responsible for contingent acts of evil, which as a deficit of the will remain strictly uncaused. See the discussion in Lonergan, Grace and Freedom, pp. 97-103. A defence of this point is not possible within the scope of this paper.

  50. 50 Lonergan, Grace and Freedom, p. 108.

  51. 51 Ibid., p. 79.

  52. 52 McGinn lists the following uses of the theorem from the Third Part of ST: q.46, a.2; q.1, a.2; q.14, a.2; q.65, a.4; q.84, a.5. ‘Divine Providence and Contingent Action’, p. 752.