Libertarian free will is compatible with God’s sovereignty (Q.E.D.). For the record, I have heretofore taken this proposition philosophically, since, as Mr. Ould (davidould) informs me, ‘libertarianism’ and its cognates refer to a much different position in theology than they do in the context of philosophy of action and the infamous free will–determinism debate (even when we are considering divine, as opposed to nomic, determinism). Now, while I still wish to take ‘libertarianism’ as I did previously, I wish to take a look at (Eleonore Stump’s interpretation of) Aquinas’s view of grace and free will.
§2 – The four Aristotelian causes and Aquinas on the will
First, let us be clear on some terminology. The material cause of X is that out of which X is caused to be; the formal cause is that through which X is caused to be; the final cause is that of which X is caused to be; the efficient cause is that by which X is caused to be. For example, bronze is the material cause of the statue of Athena, the shape of the goddess its formal cause, the statue-maker’s intention its final cause, and the statue-maker’s tools and work on the statue its efficient cause.
For Aquinas, nothing works on the will with efficient causation without being coercive. Such action would be like someone catching a baseball to preclude its natural inclination to continue plummeting to the ground. So if God is to infuse grace into a human being nonviolently, he must not act as an efficient cause on the human individual. To continue the baseball comparison, if God uses formal causality instead, then grace’s infusion is like God’s giving the baseball a new nature, such that it is inclined to float rather than drop.
§3 – The privation of the form (essence) of guilt
On Aquinas’s account, then, grace expels guilt; but grace is not infused violently. However, if God simply wills for a guilty person to detest sin, he is acting violently. If, on the other hand, God removes the guilty configuration of the soul without thereby infusing it with grace, leaving the soul without any configuration (or form or essence) and only then configures it as a grace-infused soul, the soul never acts against its nature, i.e., never acts according to some external principle. The soul remains free. To recapitulate, on this account the sinner transitions to a saint by means of a middle state of privation with respect to both guilt and grace, sin and goodness. To put it mathematically, instead of going from negative infinity directly to positive infinity, we hit zero as a transition state.
§4 – Quiescence and grace
This zero state is known as ‘quiescence.’ Aquinas holds that the will can not only assent to or reject an object (let ‘objects’ include states of affairs as well as things), but also be in a value-neutral state; compare this state with the Zen concept of mu that Pirsig illuminates for us in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: Think of a computer, which runs on binary, ones and zeros—now, think of the computer’s state when it is shut off. There are no ones. There are no zeros. There is nothing. This is mu. Take another example. I can walk east, and I can walk west; but I can also just stop walking.
Now put this in the context of grace’s infusion. Stump gives us the following example (and I think examples are essential to helping elucidate views such as this that include an abundance of abstract concepts):
- Consider a person suffering a bad allergic reaction to a bee sting who nonetheless vigorously refuses his doctor’s injection of the desperately needed antidote to the allergen because he has a phobic fear of needles. Such a person might not be able to bring himself to will that the doctor give him the injection. That is, if the doctor asks him whether he will accept the injection, he might not be able to bring himself to say ‘yes’. But he might nonetheless be able to stop actively refusing the injection, knowing that if he ceases to refuse it, the doctor will press it on him. If he does this, then his will is quiescent with regard to the injection, neither accepting it nor refusing it, but simply turned off in relation to the rejection. (Stump, Aquinas, p. 395)
§5 – Four instances of quiescence
Stump takes us through four instances of this phenomenon. The first is simple inattention: a person S has never entertained the possibility of doing X or not-X. The second is distracted inattention: S is preoccupied or overwhelmed with other things, and so cannot entertain the possibility of doing X or not-X. The third is willed inattention: S wills not to entertain the possibility of doing X or not-X. The fourth is abstention: S considers X and not-X but is “deeply double-minded,” and refrains from willing either because his or her intellect cannot reach a single judgment about the best course of action.
Knowing the types of instances should help to give us a better grasp of the phenomena—if anyone wants examples for each, I’m prepared to give them. Also, bear in mind that this list of instance-types are not exhaustive.
§6 – Pelagianism?
I’ll spare everyone the distinction between first- and second-order desires for now, but suffice it to say that the philosophy of action and phenomenology analyzed therein can get complicated. Now, does this account lapse into Pelagianism? No, because Aquinas consistently holds that any good act on the part of a human will is effected by grace. So, I ultimately agree with Stump and her interpretation of Aquinas that
- without danger of any form of Pelagianism, it is possible to hold that a post-Fall human being who cannot form a good act of will apart from grace can nonetheless control whether or not his will refuses grace. In ceasing to refuse grace, he brings himself into a quiescent condition to which God responds by giving him the grace that produces in him the good will of justifying faith. (ibid. p. 402)