Sovereign of a Far Greater Realm: Exploring the Freedom and Necessity Involved in God’s Choice to Create

Wyoming Catholic College – Class of 2022 – Senior Thesis of James Green



Why did God create? Why is there a world at all? Or as atheistic intellectual Richard Dawkins puts it, what is in it for God in the huge task of creating and maintaining the world? As Dawkins criticizes, “Such delusions of grandeur to think that a God with a hundred billion galaxies on his mind would give a tuppenny damn who you sleep with, or indeed whether you believe in him.” Even if not stated so provocatively, Dawkins gets at a fair point. There is quite a seeming disconnect between the God known to us by Thomistic theology as the infinite, eternal first cause, and the God of the New Testament who cares about individual sparrows and to whom “even the hairs of your head are all numbered.” If God neither changes nor gains anything by creation, neither does it seem like He should care about anything that He has created. What’s a tuft of hair next to His infinite power? What’s the life of a sparrow next to the infinity of His goodness and perfection? Why does God even care about the cosmos? Why did God seemingly depart from His perfect love of Himself in the first place to take up the full-time job of managing the world? 

Dawkins balances two starkly contrasting and yet both potentially attractive positions here on the relationship between God and creation. It seems that either creation must either affect God or doesn’t. If creation affects or changes God then there would be reason for Him to care about it. But if creation doesn’t affect or change God then the world seems rather pointless from God’s perspective. Taken to the extreme we must except on one hand a sort of extreme deism where God creates but then doesn’t “care” or take an involvement in creation since it isn’t really necessary to Him. On the other hand, if creation does affect or change God, it would seem then that God needs the cosmos for something, and, therefore, God had to create. Each of these positions gives us a starkly different view of who God is and what the world is for. Either God is a scrupulous micromanager who gains and desires something from human devotion and virtue or He is an ethereal and obsequious force so distant from creation and caring so little for it that He might not have even realized that He created.  It seems that we are forced to pick and yet in neither case do we find the loving, caring God we might think we know.

In this thesis, I will chart a middle ground on the issue between these two opposing views by reasoning from St. Thomas Aquinas’ argumentation in his Summa Contra Gentiles. I will first outline the limits on what can be known and said about the perfections about God culminating in a discussion of His will, where I will show that given that God has created, He must have done so by an act of will. Next, demonstrating how it is possible for God’s will to be both free and yet unchangeable, I will show how Aquinas’ position avoids both errors. Creation is a Divine act that is simultaneously for God’s sake but that also does not affect or change Him. Finally, I will comment on what seeing this nature of creation as a gift of love means for our daily lives.

Part I: The Will of God

Can We Know Anything About God in General?

Talking about something as distant from our everyday understanding as the Divine will requires first demonstrating that the object we are attempting to understand does exist, and can be understood at all by us. Following this, and nearly as importantly, it is also necessary to demonstrate that actually meaningful and not wholly vague statements can be made about the subject. At first this is not at all obviously possible concerning God. For it seems that any attempt to talk about infinite Divinity immediately runs into the limitations of language.

Any words we use to describe things necessarily come from man’s limited, finite, and imprecise sensory experience of material reality. To St. Thomas Aquinas, and as is evident from experience, words in general “are signs of things understood” that represent “what we comprehend interiorly in our intellect” so far “as it is in the one understanding.” But our simple idea of God is as a being so transcendent as to exceed any attempt at comprehension. Therefore, it might seem that we cannot understand God enough to speak truly about Him. For just as no one can truly understand or comprehend infinity, any attempt to understand or comprehend also seems bound to fail. We can apply a term to God. We can call God happy, or just, or say that He possesses an intellect or a will. But it seems that these terms mean nothing except for what they mean when applied to things which we do actually understand and experience. By a will we seem to mean our wills, by goodness or happiness, we mean what we think those terms mean in regard to us. Even if we believe that we can understand some things about God, knowing Him to be infinite, to be the First Cause, or to not be a certain thing, these might seem to be special cases, which don’t truly give us what Aristotle would call scientific knowledge, which means that “we know the cause on which the fact depends, as the cause of that fact and of no other, and, further, that the fact could not be other than it is.” Perhaps we can make negations about God, knowing that God is not a rock, nor a bird, nor a galaxy. Perhaps we can come to vague positive notions about God. But when it comes to really knowing about God, it seems we’re either completely beyond human understanding or we’re on shaky ground at best.

Creation Helps Us Understand the Creator

However, that which allows us to know that God exists in the first place, creation allows us a means of obtaining knowledge of God. For we know by creation that it must have a first cause or creator. God is this creator, the cause, the principle of existence in all other existing things. As Aquinas demonstrates in his Summa Theologiae we are able to come to knowledge of God because He is the principle cause of all things:

Words are signs of ideas, and ideas the similitude of things, it is evident that words relate to the meaning of things signified through the medium of the intellectual conception. It follows therefore that we can give a name to anything in as far as we can understand it. Now it was shown above that in this life we cannot see the essence of God; but we know God from creatures as their principle … In this way therefore He can be named by us from creatures, yet not so that the name which signifies Him expresses the divine essence in itself.

Since “we can give a name to anything in as far as we can understand it” it is possible that “He can be named by us from creatures,” In other words, we perceive and understand something in material reality and ascribe to what we sense a name or sign that points back to the reality signified. But this reality signified by each word, the physical thing, process, or intellectual idea to which the word points is an effect of God. For He is of all things the “cause of being”, or that is, existence and truth “in all things that have being.” Now this act of God holding things in existence is creation, which Aquinas defines as “not a change, but the very dependence of created being on the principle whereby it is produced. Hence it is a kind of relation. Therefore, nothing prevents its being in the creature as its subject.” Therefore all beings and the cosmos as a whole, have within them each a relation, that is, as Aristotle calls it which have their being as “being toward something in a certain way of dependency.” A relation is this turning of the being of one thing toward another thing. Thus, creation’s relationship of dependency implies that it is related to God in what it is. It’s being is turned toward God because it depends upon God for its being. It is according to this relationship that words used to describe physical things or creatures also have a meaning in reference to their cause, God. All perfections, that is, the forms or characteristics which make any certain thing to be what it is, must then flow forth from God as He who holds them in being and to whom they in their existence are related. 

This continuous relationship of dependence at the heart of what creation is what makes language and speech about God possible. For, whenever we say or understand anything at all, we make predications, that is, affirmations or denials of some perfection being present in or true about a thing. Now, since God is the first mover and creator, He is the cause not just of being simply but of the existence and being of all perfections in that thing. Therefore, as Aquinas adds in his Compendium Theologiae:

For whatever moves something toward perfection must first possess in itself the perfection it confers on others, as a teacher has in his own mind the knowledge he hands on to others. Therefore, since God is the first mover, and moves all other beings toward their perfections, all perfections found in things must preexist in him superabundantly.

Thus, the perfections or forms of any existing thing whatsoever must also be present in God, that is, “superabundantly”. Further also, any words we use to describe perfections in creatures must also mean something with regard to God and in some way where the meaning of the word is even more true regarding God than in regard to the creature.

Now this is quite vague and general, but gives us a baseline of hope for the sake of making statements about God that are true in some way. We have to determine exactly in what way particular words, as the signs of particular ideas, are applicable to God, and whether they are true or false in reference to Him. However, there is a possibility of reasoning about God by means of human words. And this is most properly the speculative task or science of theology. This knowledge we are able to have about God will neither be wholly literal nor wholly equivocal, but what Aquinas calls an analogical sense. That is, words gained from experience of creatures will not mean the same thing when said of God as when they are said of creatures. Neither, however, will the meanings be entirely unrelated. Rather words, as they are sourced from and define material things, have meaning through some participation or imitation of the word’s sense as it can be applied to God. To God is applied the most true, the deepest sense of the word. To the creature is applied some related meaning, related insofar as the statement about God is present in some way As Aquinas describes further in his Compendium Theologiae: “But the names predicated of God and of other things are attributed to God according to some relation he has to those things in which the intellect considers the names’ significations.” Since God, again, is the first cause of the creature’s existence and also causes the existence of its perfections or essence, it is this relation of each effect to its cause that determines the exact relation of analogy between the two senses of the word as applied to each of the creature and God.

For example, we apprehend the idea of existence from creatures. We might say that a rock exists. This statement or predication of a term as being true with respect to the rock has one particular sense. But when we say that God exists, this predication of existence as something true of God now means something different. We do not say that for God to exist is an idea opposed to the idea of existence in the rock, but neither are the two senses exactly the same in their account. God is the cause of the existence of the rock and has existence in some way more perfectly than does the rock. Using the term existence in regard to the creature and to God, while not wholly literal, offers a way at getting at something true about God but with terms and concepts sourced from creatures. When anything is stated about God, there must then be caution not to assume that the statement means exactly what it means when applied concerning creatures. However, it is possible to say something true about God that is also meaningful for us. 

Natural Knowledge of the Divine Nature

As long as we proceed with proper caution, our natural reasoning about God can get us quite far into understanding the Divine Nature. Using our experience of sensible material reality, for example, we observe that every action and being we see has a cause, that a infinite regress of causes is not sufficient to explain itself, and that there therefore must be an uncaused first cause. From thence, as Aquinas demonstrates, we know that God exists, and exists necessarily, is the first cause of all being and Himself has no cause. From here, further deductive reasoning is possible, as Aquinas continues in His work, as we also know that God is pure actuality, eternal and unchangeable, unmovable and timeless, and knows and understands Himself by an intellect.

Now, again, these predications are necessarily analogous. We have no direct and full comprehension of the Divine mode of existence, or pure actuality, or what it means to be eternal, for example, but the human senses of these terms derived from our experience still get us to the dawn of an understanding. We see a lot of existing things, we see things that last a long time. From these, we stretch vaguely from the idea of long period of time towards the idea of an unbounded eternity that grasps at God’s eternal and unchanging existence. Knowledge about God by means of creation is possible as St. Paul says: “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made.” This knowledge of God by means of human words is alike gazing at an object hidden behind a cloud. We can perhaps point to it from multiple angles, by observing its effects, and each of these will give us some new sense of where it is and of its characteristics, but we can not see it in itself. Just so with God, we can never now understand Him perfectly, but by knowledge and experience of material reality we can describe the Divinity with increasing detail.

God’s Will and Love

But since God is pure act and immovable, whereas the very verbs “to will” or “to act” seem to imply motion, mutability, and change it might at first seem that God cannot have a will. For a will in men is a certain appetite, directed to the end of a good and perfection not yet possessed. As humans, we will, or move with love toward a certain good after apprehending and considering the possibilities available to us for action. Once we choose an end and the means by which we hope to obtain it, we move towards the good with the hope of obtaining it. But since God is Himself the ultimate goodness or perfection in Himself, it might seem that there is no way for Him to have a will, that God, in His absolute simplicity, is just an ephemeral being or principle not capable of any further description.

As Aquinas argues, however, God must have a will: “We perceive, further, that God must have will. For he understands himself, who is perfect good, as is clear from what has been said. But the good apprehended is necessarily loved, and this happens through the will. Consequently, God must have will.” According to Aquinas then, a will or orientation to the good naturally follows upon intellectual apprehension or knowledge of a good, by intellect. That is, He who knows a good, desires it. Since God knows all things through knowing Himself, God knows good and must then necessarily have an orientation to the good as good, and this in Him is will. But since our human understanding of will implies motion and change toward a good not yet possessed, it is clear that God’s will must be quite distinct from the human discursive will, which requires reason with a probability of error about what the good is.

Rather, God unchangeably wills Himself. For as God is the perfect goodness and understands Himself to be the perfect goodness and so He “understands good” by His perfect understanding of Himself. But, as Aquinas clarifies, the “good apprehended by the intellect, since it is the object of the will, moves the will and is the will’s act and perfection.” The good perceived by the intellect, to Aquinas is actually what “moves the will” to move itself toward the apprehended good. In other words, God knows himself as the ultimate good, and this knowledge of Himself causes Him to have a movement, or more properly a self-orientation toward that good, since movement implies actual temporal motion toward Himself. God’s goodness, God Himself causes His own motion or orientation toward Himself, and therefore unchangeably so. And we call this a will. God wills Himself, and, as He is the object that is willed, is Himself the reason that He wills. Nothing else can be the cause or end of God’s will besides Himself. For if there is something else that caused God’s willing, this would imply that there is something better than God for Him to will, something superior either causally or in the order of goodness or perfection. And this cannot be the case for God as He is an absolutely perfect being and the first cause of all else that exists.

Figure 1: God’s eternal and necessary willing of Himself, represented by a circle within a circle.

Now God is absolutely simple, as any composition in Him would imply that He is movable and not the absolutely perfect act as is necessary for Him as the first cause. God’s will also cannot be some distinct thing in Him apart from His essence and existence. God’s will is not something He possesses. It is not an accident or a separated power. It is His very existence. It is an eternal, unchangeable orientation of perfect and goodness towards that same being and goodness. Since God’s essence is His existence we can also then say that God’s will is the same as what God is. Since God is full, infinite, and perfect, being and goodness, He is full, complete, and happy in Himself. God does not desire or pine after a good not yet possessed, but rests in Himself.

Now God is not just a willer, but also a lover, as is clear from the words of St. John the Evangelist that “God is love.” God’s willing is not merely willing, but is also something more. God does not merely will, but as Aquinas describes, he loves:

An act of love always tends towards two things; to the good that one wills, and to the person for whom one wills it: since to love a person is to wish that person good. Hence, inasmuch as we love ourselves, we wish ourselves good; and, so far as possible, union with that good. So love is called the unitive force, even in God, yet without implying composition; for the good that He wills for Himself, is no other than Himself, Who is good by His essence, as above shown. And by the fact that anyone loves another, he wills good to that other. Thus he puts the other, as it were, in the place of himself; and regards the good done to him as done to himself. So far love is a binding force, since it aggregates another to ourselves, and refers his good to our own. And then again the divine love is a binding force, inasmuch as God wills good to others; yet it implies no composition in God.

Love is not merely willing a good as something one wishes to obtain, but willing the good of that thing to be. It is not merely a relation or orientation of the lover for possession of the good loved but a relation or orientation that aims at the good of the good that is willed. To “love a person is to wish that person good” and not merely to possess them as a good. God is related to Himself not merely as toward a good that is good for Him as lover but “wills good to that other” who is loved. This is a subtle distinction, but quite important. God does not merely will Himself, but loves Himself. In loving Himself He wills the good for that which He loves in a unitive and binding way that sees the good of lover and beloved as one. But this distinction is what allows God to create other things. For it is by means of His willing and loving Himself, and not merely willing the good of Himself, that God wills the good and increase of what He loves. 

Part II: Freedom & Necessity in God’s Will

God Creates By Will & Not Natural Necessity

God’s will is the cause of the existence of all things and not some sort of natural procession of necessity. For effects can proceed from a cause an occur either by natural necessity or by will. It is clear, firstly, that God is not confined to one effect in the procession of being which is by creation, so He cannot have created by natural necessity. For as Aquinas says:

For the power of every agent that acts of natural necessity is confined to one effect. The consequence is that all natural things always happen in the same way, unless there be an obstacle, while voluntary things do not. Now the divine power is not directed to only one effect, as we have proved above. Therefore, God acts not of natural necessity, but by his will.

God’s power, Aquinas adds, “is the essential cause of being, and being is its proper effect.” It is not “determined to one effect” so God must act in some way by His will and not by natural necessity in the manner of a rock, which is constrained of necessity to one action of itself, falling, or, for an insect, to live the irrational life proper to it. God, rather, producing many effects without constraint must then of necessity act by volition or will. God’s power is enacted to create by “not of natural necessity, but by His will.” Thus, if God acts it must be by His will, and if He creates, it must in some way be by an act of His will. 

Because we are here to know it in the first place, we know that God willed creation. If God did not somehow will something beside Himself that thing would not be. And then we would not be here to ask why we were here. Somehow, God, even though He did not have to in the fullness of His love for Himself, willed the cosmos and all that is in it into being. Since the cosmos exists, we must say that it is both possible for God to will and love something beside Himself and that He did will to do so. 

God Wills Created Things By Willing Himself

Now this can occur only in some way through God’s willing and loving of Himself. As Aquinas writes in his Summa Contra Gentiles, God, in willing Himself, “wills other things also.” That is, God wills other things to be as if they are Himself. Since God cannot will Himself less, as He is the highest good to be willed, this makes some sense. God cannot will other things by willing Himself less, by turning away from the goodness which He wills primarily. In fact, God’s love for Himself, is actually so overflowing, that His love, aiming at an increase in the thing willed, can will His good to be in other things without reducing or changing His love for Himself in any way. God wills other things by willing Himself through His willing of other things. God’s allows His love of Himself to freely overflow into creation for the sake of returning to Him as end.

This means that God’s love of Himself, His willing of Himself as the good, passes in a way outside of God as a means whereby it returns to Him. God loves Himself through creation. As Aquinas argues, God wills the world as a good and willed it into existence because He timelessly perceives in that which He wills a likeness of His own goodness:

Whoever loves a thing in itself and for its own sake loves in consequence all the things in which it is found: thus he who loves sweetness for its own sake must love all sweet things. Now God wills and loves his own being, in itself and for its own sake, as we have proved above. And all other being is a participation by likeness of his being, as was made sufficiently clear by what we have said above. Therefore, from the very fact that God wills and loves himself, it follows that he wills and loves other things.

God wills things into being for the sake of their participating in His own goodness, a goodness which He himself has ordained in them by creating them. For God has placed an imitation of Himself in creation by means of its forms, perfections, and actions. God loves them because He sees Himself and His own perfections in them, and also perceives them as oriented toward Himself as their end. This is exampled even through human love. Suppose you love someone who is currently distant. You will find yourself respecting and loving, treasuring, an image of them, their belongings, etc. as places where their likeness is found. Similarly also, God loves Himself through the places where He perceives His image. God wills other things solely because their creation as a procession of being leads them back to Him. As Aquinas says, the exitus, or creation of things, the “issue of things from their beginning corresponds to the forwarding of them to their end.” That is creation is enabled by the issuing forth or exitus of love and existence from God is directed toward a necessary reditus, or a return in some way of that love to God. 

Beyond merely willing Himself, God also wills the increase of Himself. Since, He, as He exists in Himself cannot change, God wills the increase of that likeness wherever it can be found, that is He wills there to be a likeness of Himself and He wills its perfection and increase. As Aquinas demonstrates in his Summa Contra Gentiles:

Every thing desires the perfection of that which it wills and loves for its own sake, because whatever we love for its own sake, we wish to be best, and ever to be bettered and multiplied as much as possible. Now God wills and loves his essence for its own sake: and it cannot be increased or multiplied in itself, as appears from what has been said. Also, it can only be multiplied in respect of its likeness which is shared by many. Therefore, God wishes things to be multiplied, because he wills and loves his essence and perfection.

In other words, God wills that His goodness be spread or communicated beyond Himself. Because God “wills and loves his essence and perfection,” He wishes it “to be best, and ever to be bettered and multiplied as much as possible.” But since God’s essence in itself is perfect and unchangable, God can only accomplish this desired increase of His goodness externally, that is, “in respect of its likeness which is shared by many.” For Aquinas, God’s love for Himself what motivates Him to create. This willed increase of the thing loved is at the heart of what love is. And it means that God wills creation to be because of His love for Himself. God creates to freely spread and manifest His own infinite interior goodness.

God’s Singular Act of Will

God’s willing of Himself and His willing of other things are also not distinct acts. For God’s willing is His being, and if God wills other things by a different act of will there would then be multiple acts of will in Him. But this cannot be the case. God’s absolute simplicity precludes there being parts or multiple separated acts in Him. Therefore, God must will other things by one act that is identical in being with His essence and existence. As Aquinas puts it, by the “act in which God wills himself, he wills himself absolutely, and other things for his own sake.” Thus God’s will and its act are one and identical with His essence and existence.

However, this might seem to lead to an odd position. Since it seems that one thing, one act of the will cannot be both free and necessary at once, God’s willing of created things would seem to be of the same sort of necessity as God’s willing of Himself. Now this leads to some weird conclusions. For if God wills to create by necessity, then it is necessary for what He wills has to be just as much as it is necessary for God to be and for Him to will Himself. The cosmos, in this sense, would be just as necessarily willed by God as the persons of the Trinity are in their procession from God the Father. God, then, if He wills created things of necessity, would also have to create them of necessity, and of necessity in a particular way. The world in this view would be the way it is merely because it is the way it is. God in this view has no capability to freely will, but would be necessitated to will things to be in a particular way. This would almost be as if God is bound to obey something higher than Himself that determined His nature and will. It would be as if God is bound by some sort of fate as to what He wills. 

Willing Means & Willing Ends

Resolving this apparent contradiction requires showing how a one and same act of God’s willing has two aspects, in one of which it can be considered to be of necessity, and aspects under which it is not of necessity. Aquinas attempts to do so by distinguishing carefully again between the willing of an end and the willing of means to that end. For God already possesses Himself as an end and has no need for creation as a means to reaching His own goodness. By an analogy with medicine, Aquinas demonstrates how it might yet be possible for God to will without necessity what is not required for His own goodness, to will what is superfluous:

For he wills other things as ordered to the end, which is his goodness. Now the will is not necessarily directed to the means, if the end is possible without them: for the physician, supposing him to have the will to heal, has no need to prescribe to the patient those remedies without which he can heal the patient. Since, then, God’s goodness can be without other things, (nay more, since nothing accrues to it from other things), he is under no necessity to will other things through willing his own goodness.

 God necessarily wills and loves Himself as a final object to which His will is necessarily inclined. However, He is free to will or not to will particular additional means directed to this end. As Aquinas has demonstrated, this is just alike a doctor who has multiple means at his disposal of treating a patient. If one medicine or treatment works just as well or better than another, there is no need to use the inferior one. Therefore, while it is possible for the doctor to choose to use the inferior treatment in addition to the superior one, it is a free choice, not bound by any necessity regarding the purpose of the treatment.

We can also see this with human actions more generally. For the human will is not necessarily directed to the means it selects, but merely to its end. As Aristotle says all men naturally desire happiness, for it, the human good, is “something complete and self-sufficient, it being the end of our actions.” But how each man perceives and wills the proper means to this end, however, varies to each individual by means of their practical reason’s particular, and fallible apprehension of the good and the means of attaining it. What each man chooses is that which is actually selected by the will and is freely chosen with respect to that individual. The will is in man the principle of free action and the principle of its freedom is not in its end, but the fact that it is not bound to an particular means to the good. We, in willing, somehow just select some possible means that seems good to us for reaching the good and this is choice. We choose out of the power of our own apprehension what seems good to us, and therefore make a choice not bound by external necessity. For example, we can will to eat healthy food, even if it is not tasty, as a means by which we believe on account of our own apprehensions that we might attain happiness. Or, just as freely, we can freely will to eat donuts all day as another, and different, perceived means toward attaining the same end of happiness on which we are all fixed. 

For God, of course, the case is slightly different from that of man’s will. But this human analogy is at least palpably helpful. God requires of necessity no means to reach Himself or His last end, for He is His own last end and He possesses Himself as the end. But in addition to His willing Himself necessarily, immediately and infinitely, He can also freely will other possible means to Himself. God’s willing of material creation proceeds freely from God’s apprehension of Himself and God’s free selection of the means of creation as a way for His love to reach Himself. Creation is a means to God’s love of Himself in much the manner of a picture of someone whom we might love. God sees an imitation of Himself in creation and it delights Him. He sees Himself as the good through the picture, and so loves Himself through loving creation. But there are many ways of making such a picture or representation of a loved one, and it is also not necessary for our love to have a picture if we have the beloved before us. Just so with God and His will. He is not constrained to produce only one effect, or to produce an effect in only one particular way. God could have set up the cosmos entirely differently, or authored history so as to be completely different than what we know to have happened.

God’s Free Will

This lack of any sort of extrinsic necessity on the means which His will can select implies that God has free will. For things which are willed of one’s own accord and not of necessity are said to be freely willed. God wills creation of his own accord and not of necessity. God freely wills and can be said to have free will. Furthermore, God is inclined to will by the judgement of His reason. Man is said to have free will as opposed to beings which lack a free will because He is capable of willing by the judgement of His reason, becoming therein master of his own actions. Therefore God also has free will, as the essence of freedom is one’s own choice of the means willed. As Aquinas says in his Summa Theologiae: “Since then God necessarily wills His own goodness, but other things not necessarily, as shown above, He has free will with respect to what He does not necessarily will.” God has free will because He can will things not of necessity, having the choice of the means to Himself as end and in such is master of His own actions. 

The freedom of God’s will also helps us understand in what lies the essence of our own free will. For as Aristotle says in his Nicomachean Ethics: “We deliberate not about the ends but about the things conducive to the ends.” Men have free will because they can choose between perceived means to the good by means of their own apprehension and in such are masters of their own actions. Free will is a freedom of means and not of ends. We are made masters of our own actions merely by willing particular means to the end of happiness which we seek. But yet, as humans, our actions, even though they proceed by means of choice and free apprehension from us, are not wholly our own because we depend upon God for our existence. Hence God, who’s actions depend on no others, is even more the master of His own actions than man is. Free will is thus even more befitting God than mankind, as Aquinas continues: “For the free is that which is its own cause, according to the Philosopher at the beginning of the Metaphysics. And to none is this more befitting than to the first cause, which is God.” 

Now, immediately an objection might arise that the above argumentation clouds a glaring contradiction. For how are God’s actions and will not identical with His nature? Given that God’s freedom in willing regards means and not ends, and that creation is a particular means willed freely by God toward a necessary end, it seems like the means willed by God are inseparable in their existence from the Divine nature. It seems that relation existing between God and creatures that is the cause of the creature’s existence must then be something in God’s will and therefore part of His will. Therefore, it seems that that which God wills must be in Him and that He be related to them as a cause to the effects it produces that the relation of causation is of necessity. Since this relation is at one end in an effect, the thing produced and at another in God as its cause, it seems then that whatever relationships of causation do exist in God do so of necessity.

Now, this would mean that we are necessarily right back to where we started on the problem of the procession of things from God. If the relations of causation necessarily are present in God, than they are in him of necessity, for God is unchangeable and necessary being. If they are not necessarily present in God, then one wonders how God can become a creator without changing Himself. If God is necessarily a creator then creation is of necessity, and if He is not necessarily a creator then the relation which is creation must somehow be caused without a change in God, and it is unclear how this can be the case.

This does appear rather inexplicable until we reach Aquinas’ solution, which proposes that we reconsider again what it means for God to be a creator. God is not related to creatures in virtue of anything in Him. Rather the relation and contingency of creation is wholly in the thing caused. As Aquinas writes in his Summa Theologiae:

Since therefore God is outside the whole order of creation, and all creatures are ordered to Him, and not conversely, it is manifest that creatures are really related to God Himself; whereas in God there is no real relation to creatures, but a relation only in idea, inasmuch as creatures are referred to Him. Thus there is nothing to prevent these names which import relation to the creature from being predicated of God temporally, not by reason of any change in Him, but by reason of the change of the creature; as a column is on the right of an animal, without change in itself, but by change in the animal.

This means that creation and creatures are outside of God as distinct things from Him. They are not in any way part of the internal “being” of the Divine nature, but, quite obviously have a separate and distinct existence that is yet dependent upon the Divine existent. As Aquinas clarifies, “creatures are really related to God Himself; whereas in God there is no real relation to creatures, but a relation only in idea.” God, in becoming the cause of something that exists, does so “not by reason of any change in Him, but by reason of change of the creature.” This is, Aquinas argues, just like the way a column can change from being to the left of an animal to being to its right not because the column moved but because of a movement in the animal. God’s essential nature is unchanged by creation. What we call a change in Him, the exitus that is Him being known to us temporally as the first cause of creation is a change in the creature. We can say that God creates because the creature goes from non-being to being, and not because anything changes in God.

Figure 2: Aquinas’s example of how a relation in mente differs from a real relation. Just as the pillar does not move but rather an elephant moves from being on one side of a pillar to being on the other, so God is not changed by creating. Creation is a relation involving change in the creature, from not-existing to existing but none in God.

Hence again, creation is in the creature, in the thing created, and not in its cause, God. God wills creation then, by the same act of willing by which He wills Himself but not in such a way as to make the thing willed part of Himself except in its end. God’s willing of particular means to Himself can not mean that He is adding accidents to Himself, as God’s unity cannot accept there being any accident in Him. Even though they are God’s effects, things proceed from God so as to become truly distinct from Him. Creation is not inside God in any sense. We are not God’s video game; the world is not, as many atheists so hilariously fear, a computer simulation. Creation is a real thing with existence and is not God. Since God can only be related to Himself and not to creatures, God can only will and love in a motion or orientation of Himself that is directed to Himself as end. That is, any real relation, or turning of being toward something which we describe of God must have its end in Him. God’s willing and loving of creation as a means to Himself consists then in a motion of Himself to Himself that is present in the creature as a real relation. This is the relation by which the creature is related to God as a free effect, an effect which imitates the Divine nature in some way, enough for us to come to know something about God by means of it as explained above.

In fact, the relation of the creature to God, since it must end in God’s willing of Himself, is in fact an exterior and limited participation in God’s own willing of Himself. The creature, in its being, has God as its end, and is God’s willing of Himself as it exists temporally and limitedly outside of Himself. Creation is not a thing inside of God. It is not simply a particular idea in Him, even though an idea of creation pre-exists in Him as what is called the exemplar cause of creation as it is actually. Rather, creation is a real thing with a real relation to God, for its end is in God. And, insofar as it can be considered to be God’s willing of Himself, and willing and love is of itself a motion of the lover to the beloved, then creation is moved by its willing of God as its end. As Aquinas says, “Therefore the will of God is the cause of things,” because, in a real way, things themselves, are in their being, but means to the end of God’s willing of Himself. To be a thing, then, is to be oriented to God as end with your whole being.

Figure 3: Creation as a free act of the Divine will for the sake of God’s goodness. The relation of creation to Creator is a one-way relation, meaning that the orientation of creation to God as end exitus (dark grey arrow) is the only real relation while the dependency of the creature upon God (light grey arrow) is only a relation in mente allowing God to remain unchanged by the act of creation even though He is the creator.

God’s Eternal Freedom

However, despite the fact that God’s will is free and not bound by necessity toward any particular means when He wills other things for His own sake, there is still a distinct type of necessity in His will. For, God’s will, again, is unchangeable as much as God is timeless. This means that what God wills to be, will be, because He has willed it to be so. But God, in willing something to be, also wills it to be in a certain way. Therefore, God eternally wills the cosmos and all things in it to be exactly what they are as they are. He wills them to be finite things limited by time. This means that they, as willed into existence by God, exist in being not wholly at once, but in succession, a succession, which when measured, is called time. As Aquinas continues:

Now the apprehender apprehends the thing not only as it is in the apprehender, but also as it is in its proper nature: for we not only know that a thing is understood by us (which is the same as the thing being in our intellect) but also that it is, or has been, or will be in its proper nature. Therefore, God wills the thing that is not now to be in reference to a certain time, and he does not will merely to understand it.

God wills things then that, relative to us, are not yet in existence. He wills them as they will be and unchangeably, even though He wills them freely and to be freely in a particular way. He does not will them merely “as it is in the apprehender,”, as an effect that He knows He will produce, but as a real and existing thing, even if relative to us the thing does not yet exist. Now this makes it evident that there is a certain sort of necessity in the things willed by God, what Aquinas calls that which is “necessary by supposition.” God cannot change what He wills as we do. Therefore what He wills, He wills, and cannot not will.

At first, this might seem to be a limitation placed upon God. But, here, unfortunately, we move somewhat beyond what we can clearly grasp and understand, limited by our temporal perspective. God’s will is unchangeable, timeless, and yet still free. The particular orientation taken by God’s will, His willing of particular means of action, has His apprehension of Himself as a master of Himself as its principle. It is wholly of and from Him and not caused by anything else. Therefore, again, it is free. But this orientation or relation of God to Himself and other things willed is also timeless. God is eternally free. God, knows and wills what He does in a timeless way just as much now relative to us as at any other time. God even now sees Himself as a good, discerns a means of action returning to Himself, and causes that course of action to be. God’s now is not our now. We are the ones who are limited. Our nows is not the Divine now but only a fragmented participation in being. Necessity of supposition is God eternally orienting Himself toward Himself in one particular way on the basis of His reason. And Creation also flows forth freely and eternally out of God’s eternal act of knowing and loving Himself.

God Works According To His Wisdom

The lack of external constraint or necessity on God’s intellect and will has shown us that God has a free will. However, we must not consider that this freedom implies that God’s willing of creation is arbitrary and without reason. There is no external cause to God’s willing and acting but there is yet a sort of cause, more properly, a ratio or reason to them intrinsic to God as Aquinas tells us: “For the end is the reason of willing the means. God wills his goodness as an end, and he wills all else as means to that end. Therefore, his goodness is the reason why he wills other things which are different from him.” Thus, God’s goodness is the reason for His willing. God neither makes and wills things out of necessity nor arbitrarily and without cause. Rather, God understands His own goodness by intellect, and discerns fitting means to the end of love of that goodness by His reason or wisdom. As Aquinas adds: “By what we have said we refute the error of some who say that all things proceed from God according to his simple will, so that no reason is to be given for anything except that God wills it.” God creates all not arbitrarily but with a reason, His goodness. Even if it isnot perfectly knowable to us, there is a reason and order to His will. As the Psalmist says “in wisdom have you made them all.”

Part III: The Gift of Love

The End of Creation is Attaining the Divine Likeness

The absolute lack of natural necessity, either of nature or will with which God creates has all pervasive consequences for those things which He creates. It means that anything and everything held into existence by God has been done so freely and undeservedly. The universe is a free, unnecessary, and superfluous gift to itself, not owed to anything or anybody, not even to God himself, but proceeding forth from Him in such a manner so unnecessary so as to seem almost useless. But it is not, for love gives it both its being and its meaning. Love desires the increase of the beloved. God makes the cosmos because He desires to make it desirable and Divine-like. God loves it into existence. He loves it into being lovable. As St. Thomas writes that “everything that is generated, whether by art or by nature, is in some way rendered similar to the agent in virtue of its form, since every agent produces an effect that has some resemblance to the agent himself,” everything in creation bears in some way an imitation of the Divine perfection. God creates, then, by freely bestowing imitations of Himself, sharings of Divinity with existence. These imitations refer back to God in their being and also have him as end.

C.S. Lewis demonstrates this conclusion in his book on love, The Four Loves:

In God there is no hunger that needs to be filled, only plentiousness that desires to give. The doctrine that God was under no necessity to create is not a piece of dry scholastic speculation. It is essential. Without it, we can hardly avoid the conception of what we might call a “managerial” God; a being whose function or nature is to “run” the universe, who stands to it as as a head-master to a school or a hotelier to a hotel. But to be sovereign of the universe is no great matter for God. In Himself, at home in “the land of the Trinity,” he is Sovereign of a far greater realm… God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures that He may love and perfect them… If I may dare the biological image, God is a “host” who deliberately creates His own parasites, causes us to be that we may exploit and take advantage of Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself. The inventor of all loves.

God doesn’t care about the cosmos because He has to, or even because it gives Him pleasure or happiness. Unlike Richard Dawkins’ aforementioned “managerial” God, our God doesn’t have to care about us. The glorious thing about “Love Himself” is that as “The inventor of all loves,” He simply decides to love what is not lovable into being lovable and that is the origin of all love outside of God. God creates not out of a hunger to receive, but a “plentiousness that desires to give.” Lewis’ bold analogy, that “God is a ‘host’ who deliberately creates His own parasites, causes us to be that we may exploit and take advantage of Him” is striking to the point of repulsiveness, but is, at core, quite true. God creates only to let us share in His existence and “take advantage of Him”, to come into existence and receive a participation in Him. Herein, in creation, greatest and first self-sacrifice of love, the origin of all loves, God sharing His existence and perfections with other creatures by calling them into existence. God shares being God-like, with what has no right or debt to be in existence without His call, His will, His love.

Creation Imitates God By Continuing His Work

Now this imitation of Divinity in the cosmos is executed most profoundly not just by existence and perfections of things but by causality within the created order. Creatures are not static, but actively work upon each other, actively are causes of eachother, in a certain way continuing the Divine act of creation. As Aquinas continues in Book III of the Summa Contra Gentiles: “Things tend to be like God insofar as he is good, as stated above. Now it is out of his goodness that God bestows being on others, for all things act insofar as they are actually perfect. Therefore, all things seek to be like God by being causes of others.” Thus, God bestows being on others as an act of goodness. Now, things imitate God by and in His goodness and by their operations which are also caused by this same goodness. Therefore, what God has created imitates Him by instrumentally or secondarily being causes of other things. Therefore the beings in the cosmos are imitate God’s goodness not just by being and existing but by being causal and being for the sake of good, even ultimate goods not yet attained. As Aquinas says:

Therefore, as all creatures in common represent the divine goodness inasmuch as they exist, so by their actions they all in common attain to the divine likeness in the conservation of their being and in the communication of their being to others. For every creature endeavors, by its activity, first of all to keep itself in perfect being, so far as this is possible. In such endeavor it tends, in its own way, to an imitation of the divine permanence. Second, every creature strives, by its activity, to communicate its own perfect being, in its own fashion, to another; and in this it tends toward an imitation of the divine causality.

Here, imitating the Divine causality is something seen in every creature in at least some way. It is in the nature of physical things to act on each other, to affect one another, and thereby to imitate God, the first cause, in themselves causing, albeit of course in a different way than that in which God is a cause. Each being strives not just to seek its own good, to maintain its own being, but to share its own good, to give gratuitously. For example, take a sparrow. A sparrow attempts to stay alive. It also attempts to reproduce itself and thereby spread its own perfections to others. It strives in its very nature to make gifts, to, in a loose way, love the rest of the cosmos, by attempting to spread its own imitation of the Divine perfection, its own individual form, as far as possible.

God’s Free Will Is Revealed Through Creation

Man’s rational nature endowed with free will embodies this Divine imitation present in the cosmos in a special way. For man’s will is free means that he is not determined of necessity towards selecting any one particular course of action. Man’s practical reason determines ways to reach the good, but it is up to the free choice, an action of the individual choosing to settle ultimately on one particular option and act upon it. On this is the basis of all ethics, society, morality, judgement and glory. Man imitates God by being a cause of being to other beings. Of course, we are not as free as God is, Who is far more the master of His own actions than man is. But we can imitate Him. We imitate Him by using our will to love, that is to will in a superfluous manner good for others. Man’s free will is a participation and imitation of the Divine will and love and as an imitation on a human level of the love with which God crafted the universe by His wisdom out of nothing and holds it in existence is God’s greatest gift to creation as Dante notes in his Paradiso

The greatest gift that God in His largesse

gave to creation, the most attuned

to His goodness and that He accounts most dear,

was the freedom of the will.”

In other words, human works, human creativity, and all of our free choices and actions are the way in which creation begins to actively participate in reaching its end. Man’s free will culminates creation, being the one gift the most / Close to his goodness and the one He calls /Most precious.” Free will, being not of necessity, shares in a limited way in God’s ultimate freedom of action from which creation itself proceeded. A human free will which is oriented toward God and freely chooses particular means of action that return to God of its own power is man’s greatest gift back to God. As 19th century French historian Alexis de Tocqueville says in the conclusion of his Democracy in America: “Providence has not created the human race either entirely independent or perfectly slave. It traces, it is true, a fatal circle around each man that he cannot leave, but within its vast limits man is powerful and free.” Man is thus made like to God by having a realm of action in which it is truly up to him, and God is willed that this be so. God makes man like to Himself by giving him a space and scope for the use of his own free will, a place to imitate God by his own works within the larger created order. Within this circle, a range of possibilities of reaching back to God, we can truly say that God does not care what you do. Within this circle, God just wants us to choose and act.


The idea that man’s free will imitates that by which God created all things has even stronger practical implications as C.S. Lewis writes in his essay “On the Efficacy of Prayer”:

For He seems to do nothing of Himself which He can possibly delegate to His creatures. He commands us to do slowly and blunderingly what He could do perfectly and in the twinkling of an eye. He allows us to neglect what He would have us do, or to fail. Perhaps we do not fully realize the problem, so to call it, of enabling finite free wills to co-exist with Omnipotence. It seems to involve at every moment almost a sort of divine abdication. We are not mere recipients or spectators. We are either privileged to share in the game or compelled to collaborate in the work, “to wield our little tridents.” Is this amazing process simply Creation going on before our eyes? This is how (no light matter) God makes something—indeed, makes gods—out of nothing.

This principle that the cosmos is a gift carries strong practical implications for us. It tells us of a Divine abdication, God constantly working for the sake of His goodness and glory, not by keeping it to Himself, but gratuitously sharing it. He constantly makes creatures sharers in what He might more easily do Himself for the sake of Divine glory. As Lewis tells us, even though God is as an author and the world his novel, it requires and includes our active participation: “We are either privileged to share in the game or compelled to collaborate in the work.” We need to act. “We are not mere recipients or spectators.” We need ourselves to become gratuitous givers of being to others by our actions. For the Divine glory is served best, Lewis tells us, in its being shared. What sort of an institution is this Divine obsequiousness to our “finite free wills” but a loving gift of the Divine that cares not how much the creature is elevated? 

God loves us not because we are lovable, but for His own sake. He loves us because we are made lovable by His love. God’s love is the freest of all free gifts. For He is so rich in grace and perfection that He can afford to be frivolous even in the face of our often ungracious and unthankful reception of His love. He needs not the world, for He, “In Himself, at home in ‘the land of the Trinity’ [is] Sovereign of a far greater realm.” It is because God does not need to care about creation that He loves it. Creation as a whole and individual creatures are meant to image or mirror God as Pope St. John Paul II writes, “God’s interior glory springs from the mystery of the divinity. Through the work of creation, it is in a certain sense transferred ; ‘outside’ in the creatures of the visible and invisible world, in proportion to their degree of perfection.” The interior glory and goodness of God, communicated eternally and infinitely within the Trinity is “transferred ‘outside’” such that the world, and we, ourselves, as creatures might share in it. But as St. John of the Cross envisions in his “Romances on the Incarnation”, this is not merely God’s glory “going out” but also creation “going in” to the infinity of God. As St. John envisions the cosmos as a bride created for the Son of God, its ultimate consummation, end, and purpose is not in its own being, but in God:

So it would be with the bride;
for, taken wholly into God,
she will live the life of God.

God creates and loves what He creates as St. John the Evangelist said, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us.” Being taken into the “life of God” is what it means to be loved by God. To be loved by God and created is ultimately to be made like unto Him, to attain the Divinity by being a part of that exitus and reditus of infinite Divine love, poured out and returning to Him, to be known and loved by God with His own love and to return to Him, to be brought, as far as is possible for the creature, into the deeper mystery of the “interior glory” of the inner life of the Trinity, that “far greater realm.” To be a creature is in this world, to be on the outside of that realm now, but to be part of a pilgrimage, a procession of God’s own love whose end is to return to that “far greater realm.”


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