QUESTION 22: THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD
Having considered all that relates to the will absolutely, we must now
proceed to those things which have relation to both the intellect and the
will, namely providence, in respect to all created things; predestination
and reprobation and all that is connected with these acts in respect
especially of man as regards his eternal salvation. For in the science of
morals, after the moral virtues themselves, comes the consideration of
prudence, to which providence would seem to belong. Concerning God's
providence there are four points of inquiry:
(1) Whether providence is suitably assigned to God?
(2) Whether everything comes under divine providence?
(3) Whether divine providence is immediately concerned with all things?
(4) Whether divine providence imposes any necessity upon things foreseen?
Article 1: Whether providence can suitably be attributed to God?
Objection 1: It seems that providence is not becoming to God. For providence,
according to Tully (De Invent. ii), is a part of prudence. But prudence,
since, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 5,9,18), it gives good
counsel, cannot belong to God, Who never has any doubt for which He
should take counsel. Therefore providence cannot belong to God.
Objection 2: Further, whatever is in God, is eternal. But providence is not
anything eternal, for it is concerned with existing things that are not
eternal, according to Damascene (De Fide Orth. ii, 29). Therefore there
is no providence in God.
Objection 3: Further, there is nothing composite in God. But providence seems
to be something composite, because it includes both the intellect and the
will. Therefore providence is not in God.
On the contrary, It is said (Wis. 14:3): "But Thou, Father, governest
all things by providence [*Vulg. But 'Thy providence, O Father, governeth
I answer that, It is necessary to attribute providence to God. For all
the good that is in created things has been created by God, as was shown
above (Question , Article ). In created things good is found not only as regards
their substance, but also as regards their order towards an end and
especially their last end, which, as was said above, is the divine
goodness (Question , Article ). This good of order existing in things created, is
itself created by God. Since, however, God is the cause of things by His
intellect, and thus it behooves that the type of every effect should
pre-exist in Him, as is clear from what has gone before (Question , Article ), it
is necessary that the type of the order of things towards their end
should pre-exist in the divine mind: and the type of things ordered
towards an end is, properly speaking, providence. For it is the chief
part of prudence, to which two other parts are directed---namely,
remembrance of the past, and understanding of the present; inasmuch as
from the remembrance of what is past and the understanding of what is
present, we gather how to provide for the future. Now it belongs to
prudence, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 12), to direct other
things towards an end whether in regard to oneself---as for instance, a
man is said to be prudent, who orders well his acts towards the end of
life--or in regard to others subject to him, in a family, city or
kingdom; in which sense it is said (Mt. 24:45), "a faithful and wise
servant, whom his lord hath appointed over his family." In this way
prudence or providence may suitably be attributed to God. For in God
Himself there can be nothing ordered towards an end, since He is the last
end. This type of order in things towards an end is therefore in God
called providence. Whence Boethius says (De Consol. iv, 6) that
"Providence is the divine type itself, seated in the Supreme Ruler; which
disposeth all things": which disposition may refer either to the type of
the order of things towards an end, or to the type of the order of parts
in the whole.
Reply to Objection 1: According to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi, 9,10), "Prudence
is what, strictly speaking, commands all that 'ebulia' has rightly
counselled and 'synesis' rightly judged" [*Cf. FS, Question , Article ]. Whence,
though to take counsel may not be fitting to God, from the fact that
counsel is an inquiry into matters that are doubtful, nevertheless to
give a command as to the ordering of things towards an end, the right
reason of which He possesses, does belong to God, according to Ps. 148:6:
"He hath made a decree, and it shall not pass away." In this manner both
prudence and providence belong to God. Although at the same time it may
be said that the very reason of things to be done is called counsel in
God; not because of any inquiry necessitated, but from the certitude of
the knowledge, to which those who take counsel come by inquiry. Whence it
is said: "Who worketh all things according to the counsel of His will"
Reply to Objection 2: Two things pertain to the care of providence---namely, the
"reason of order," which is called providence and disposition; and the
execution of order, which is termed government. Of these, the first is
eternal, and the second is temporal.
Reply to Objection 3: Providence resides in the intellect; but presupposes the
act of willing the end. Nobody gives a precept about things done for an
end; unless he will that end. Hence prudence presupposes the moral
virtues, by means of which the appetitive faculty is directed towards
good, as the Philosopher says. Even if Providence has to do with the
divine will and intellect equally, this would not affect the divine
simplicity, since in God both the will and intellect are one and the same
thing, as we have said above (Question ).
Article 2: Whether everything is subject to the providence of God?
Objection 1: It seems that everything is not subject to divine providence. For
nothing foreseen can happen by chance. If then everything was foreseen by
God, nothing would happen by chance. And thus hazard and luck would
disappear; which is against common opinion.
Objection 2: Further, a wise provider excludes any defect or evil, as far as
he can, from those over whom he has a care. But we see many evils
existing. Either, then, God cannot hinder these, and thus is not
omnipotent; or else He does not have care for everything.
Objection 3: Further, whatever happens of necessity does not require
providence or prudence. Hence, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. vi,
5,9, 10,11): "Prudence is the right reason of things contingent
concerning which there is counsel and choice." Since, then, many things
happen from necessity, everything cannot be subject to providence.
Objection 4: Further, whatsoever is left to itself cannot be subject to the
providence of a governor. But men are left to themselves by God in
accordance with the words: "God made man from the beginning, and left him
in the hand of his own counsel" (Ecclus. 15:14). And particularly in
reference to the wicked: "I let them go according to the desires of
their heart" (Ps. 80:13). Everything, therefore, cannot be subject to
Objection 5: Further, the Apostle says (1 Cor. 9:9): "God doth not care for
oxen [*Vulg. 'Doth God take care for oxen?']": and we may say the same of
other irrational creatures. Thus everything cannot be under the care of
On the contrary, It is said of Divine Wisdom: "She reacheth from end to
end mightily, and ordereth all things sweetly" (Wis. 8:1).
I answer that, Certain persons totally denied the existence of
providence, as Democritus and the Epicureans, maintaining that the world
was made by chance. Others taught that incorruptible things only were
subject to providence and corruptible things not in their individual
selves, but only according to their species; for in this respect they are
incorruptible. They are represented as saying (Job 22:14): "The clouds
are His covert; and He doth not consider our things; and He walketh about
the poles of heaven." Rabbi Moses, however, excluded men from the
generality of things corruptible, on account of the excellence of the
intellect which they possess, but in reference to all else that suffers
corruption he adhered to the opinion of the others.
We must say, however, that all things are subject to divine providence,
not only in general, but even in their own individual selves. This is mad
evident thus. For since every agent acts for an end, the ordering of
effects towards that end extends as far as the causality of the first
agent extends. Whence it happens that in the effects of an agent
something takes place which has no reference towards the end, because the
effect comes from a cause other than, and outside the intention of the
agent. But the causality of God, Who is the first agent, extends to all
being, not only as to constituent principles of species, but also as to
the individualizing principles; not only of things incorruptible, but
also of things corruptible. Hence all things that exist in whatsoever
manner are necessarily directed by God towards some end; as the Apostle
says: "Those things that are of God are well ordered [*Vulg.'Those powers
that are, are ordained of God': 'Quae autem sunt, a Deo ordinatae sunt.'
St. Thomas often quotes this passage, and invariably reads: 'Quae a Deo
sunt, ordinata sunt.']" (Rm. 13:1). Since, therefore, as the providence
of God is nothing less than the type of the order of things towards an
end, as we have said; it necessarily follows that all things, inasmuch as
they participate in existence, must likewise be subject to divine
providence. It has also been shown (Question , Articles ,11) that God knows all
things, both universal and particular. And since His knowledge may be
compared to the things themselves, as the knowledge of art to the objects
of art, all things must of necessity come under His ordering; as all
things wrought by art are subject to the ordering of that art.
Reply to Objection 1: There is a difference between universal and particular
causes. A thing can escape the order of a particular cause; but not the
order of a universal cause. For nothing escapes the order of a particular
cause, except through the intervention and hindrance of some other
particular cause; as, for instance, wood may be prevented from burning,
by the action of water. Since then, all particular causes are included
under the universal cause, it could not be that any effect should take
place outside the range of that universal cause. So far then as an effect
escapes the order of a particular cause, it is said to be casual or
fortuitous in respect to that cause; but if we regard the universal
cause, outside whose range no effect can happen, it is said to be
foreseen. Thus, for instance, the meeting of two servants, although to
them it appears a chance circumstance, has been fully foreseen by their
master, who has purposely sent to meet at the one place, in such a way
that the one knows not about the other.
Reply to Objection 2: It is otherwise with one who has care of a particular
thing, and one whose providence is universal, because a particular
provider excludes all defects from what is subject to his care as far as
he can; whereas, one who provides universally allows some little defect
to remain, lest the good of the whole should be hindered. Hence,
corruption and defects in natural things are said to be contrary to some
particular nature; yet they are in keeping with the plan of universal
nature; inasmuch as the defect in one thing yields to the good of
another, or even to the universal good: for the corruption of one is the
generation of another, and through this it is that a species is kept in
existence. Since God, then, provides universally for all being, it
belongs to His providence to permit certain defects in particular
effects, that the perfect good of the universe may not be hindered, for
if all evil were prevented, much good would be absent from the universe.
A lion would cease to live, if there were no slaying of animals; and
there would be no patience of martyrs if there were no tyrannical
persecution. Thus Augustine says (Enchiridion 2): "Almighty God would in
no wise permit evil to exist in His works, unless He were so almighty and
so good as to produce good even from evil." It would appear that it was
on account of these two arguments to which we have just replied, that
some were persuaded to consider corruptible things---e.g. casual and evil
things---as removed from the care of divine providence.
Reply to Objection 3: Man is not the author of nature; but he uses natural things
in applying art and virtue to his own use. Hence human providence does
not reach to that which takes place in nature from necessity; but divine
providence extends thus far, since God is the author of nature.
Apparently it was this argument that moved those who withdrew the course
of nature from the care of divine providence, attributing it rather to
the necessity of matter, as Democritus, and others of the ancients.
Reply to Objection 4: When it is said that God left man to himself, this does not
mean that man is exempt from divine providence; but merely that he has
not a prefixed operating force determined to only the one effect; as in
the case of natural things, which are only acted upon as though directed
by another towards an end; and do not act of themselves, as if they
directed themselves towards an end, like rational creatures, through the
possession of free will, by which these are able to take counsel and make
a choice. Hence it is significantly said: "In the hand of his own
counsel." But since the very act of free will is traced to God as to a
cause, it necessarily follows that everything happening from the exercise
of free will must be subject to divine providence. For human providence
is included under the providence of God, as a particular under a
universal cause. God, however, extends His providence over the just in a
certain more excellent way than over the wicked; inasmuch as He prevents
anything happening which would impede their final salvation. For "to them
that love God, all things work together unto good" (Rm. 8:28). But from
the fact that He does not restrain the wicked from the evil of sin, He is
said to abandon them: not that He altogether withdraws His providence
from them; otherwise they would return to nothing, if they were not
preserved in existence by His providence. This was the reason that had
weight with Tully, who withdrew from the care of divine providence human
affairs concerning which we take counsel.
Reply to Objection 5: Since a rational creature has, through its free will,
control over its actions, as was said above (Question , Article ), it is subject
to divine providence in an especial manner, so that something is imputed
to it as a fault, or as a merit; and there is given it accordingly
something by way of punishment or reward. In this way, the Apostle
withdraws oxen from the care of God: not, however, that individual
irrational creatures escape the care of divine providence; as was the
opinion of the Rabbi Moses.
Article 3: Whether God has immediate providence over everything?
Objection 1: It seems that God has not immediate providence over all things.
For whatever is contained in the notion of dignity, must be attributed to
God. But it belongs to the dignity of a king, that he should have
ministers; through whose mediation he provides for his subjects.
Therefore much less has God Himself immediate providence over all things.
Objection 2: Further, it belongs to providence to order all things to an end.
Now the end of everything is its perfection and its good. But it
appertains to every cause to direct its effect to good; wherefore every
active cause is a cause of the effect of providence. If therefore God
were to have immediate providence over all things, all secondary causes
would be withdrawn.
Objection 3: Further, Augustine says (Enchiridion 17) that, "It is better to
be ignorant of some things than to know them, for example, vile things":
and the Philosopher says the same (Metaph. xii, 51). But whatever is
better must be assigned to God. Therefore He has not immediate providence
over bad and vile things.
On the contrary, It is said (Job 34:13): "What other hath He appointed
over the earth? or whom hath He set over the world which He made?" On
which passage Gregory says (Moral. xxiv, 20): "Himself He ruleth the
world which He Himself hath made."
I answer that, Two things belong to providence---namely, the type of the
order of things foreordained towards an end; and the execution of this
order, which is called government. As regards the first of these, God has
immediate providence over everything, because He has in His intellect the
types of everything, even the smallest; and whatsoever causes He assigns
to certain effects, He gives them the power to produce those effects.
Whence it must be that He has beforehand the type of those effects in His
mind. As to the second, there are certain intermediaries of God's
providence; for He governs things inferior by superior, not on account of
any defect in His power, but by reason of the abundance of His goodness;
so that the dignity of causality is imparted even to creatures. Thus
Plato's opinion, as narrated by Gregory of Nyssa (De Provid. viii, 3), is
exploded. He taught a threefold providence. First, one which belongs to
the supreme Deity, Who first and foremost has provision over spiritual
things, and thus over the whole world as regards genus, species, and
universal causes. The second providence, which is over the individuals of
all that can be generated and corrupted, he attributed to the divinities
who circulate in the heavens; that is, certain separate substances, which
move corporeal things in a circular direction. The third providence, over
human affairs, he assigned to demons, whom the Platonic philosophers
placed between us and the gods, as Augustine tells us (De Civ. Dei, 1, 2:
Reply to Objection 1: It pertains to a king's dignity to have ministers who
execute his providence. But the fact that he has not the plan of those
things which are done by them arises from a deficiency in himself. For
every operative science is the more perfect, the more it considers the
particular things with which its action is concerned.
Reply to Objection 2: God's immediate provision over everything does not exclude
the action of secondary causes; which are the executors of His order, as
was said above (Question , Articles ,8).
Reply to Objection 3: It is better for us not to know low and vile things,
because by them we are impeded in our knowledge of what is better and
higher; for we cannot understand many things simultaneously; because the
thought of evil sometimes perverts the will towards evil. This does not
hold with God, Who sees everything simultaneously at one glance, and
whose will cannot turn in the direction of evil.
Article 4: Whether providence imposes any necessity on things foreseen?
Objection 1: It seems that divine providence imposes necessity upon things
foreseen. For every effect that has a "per se" cause, either present or
past, which it necessarily follows, happens from necessity; as the
Philosopher proves (Metaph. vi, 7). But the providence of God, since it
is eternal, pre-exists; and the effect flows from it of necessity, for
divine providence cannot be frustrated. Therefore divine providence
imposes a necessity upon things foreseen.
Objection 2: Further, every provider makes his work as stable as he can, lest
it should fail. But God is most powerful. Therefore He assigns the
stability of necessity to things provided.
Objection 3: Further, Boethius says (De Consol. iv, 6): "Fate from the
immutable source of providence binds together human acts and fortunes by
the indissoluble connection of causes." It seems therefore that
providence imposes necessity upon things foreseen.
On the contrary, Dionysius says that (Div. Nom. iv, 23) "to corrupt
nature is not the work of providence." But it is in the nature of some
things to be contingent. Divine providence does not therefore impose any
necessity upon things so as to destroy their contingency.
I answer that, Divine providence imposes necessity upon some things; not
upon all, as some formerly believed. For to providence it belongs to
order things towards an end. Now after the divine goodness, which is an
extrinsic end to all things, the principal good in things themselves is
the perfection of the universe; which would not be, were not all grades
of being found in things. Whence it pertains to divine providence to
produce every grade of being. And thus it has prepared for some things
necessary causes, so that they happen of necessity; for others contingent
causes, that they may happen by contingency, according to the nature of
their proximate causes.
Reply to Objection 1: The effect of divine providence is not only that things
should happen somehow; but that they should happen either by necessity or
by contingency. Therefore whatsoever divine providence ordains to happen
infallibly and of necessity happens infallibly and of necessity; and that
happens from contingency, which the plan of divine providence conceives
to happen from contingency.
Reply to Objection 2: The order of divine providence is unchangeable and certain,
so far as all things foreseen happen as they have been foreseen, whether
from necessity or from contingency.
Reply to Objection 3: That indissolubility and unchangeableness of which Boethius
speaks, pertain to the certainty of providence, which fails not to
produce its effect, and that in the way foreseen; but they do not pertain
to the necessity of the effects. We must remember that properly speaking
'necessary' and "contingent" are consequent upon being, as such. Hence
the mode both of necessity and of contingency falls under the foresight
of God, who provides universally for all being; not under the foresight
of causes that provide only for some particular order of things.