Rutherford and Possibilia

“Samuel Rutherford and the Divine Origin of Possibility and Impossibility” in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland.

  1. P1: God’s being is the first principle of all things (142-143).
    1. Which means, pace Aristotle, that the Law of Noncontradiction is not the first principle.
    2. The law of NC is complex, not simple:  it involves both being and non-being.
  2. Possibilia: grounded in God’s omnipotence
    1. Rutherford’s specific claim is things are possible because God is omnipotent.
    2. Aristotle’s dictum: act precedes potency (144).
      1. Therefore, “the infinite active potency of God is prior to the passive and receptive potency of creatures” (Rutherford).
      2. Rutherford rejects the Jesuit argument that “the intrinsic possibility of things makes it possible for God’s omnipotence to create them” (144).
      3. This allows the Jesuits to claim middle knowledge: the possibility of things exist prior to God’s decreeing them.
    3. The impossible: when God creates the possible or actual essences of things, he in the same act creates the impossibilities between the nature of things.
      1. Impossibility in the created realm is always complex
    4. Future contingents
      1. Middle knowledge says that future contingents have a determinate truth prior to the decree of God (144).
      2. This is similar to the claim that possibilia are possible independently of God.
    5. Are possibilia real?
      1. As their name suggests, they are merely in potency, not actually existing.
      2. Christian faith incompatible with the idea of eternal essences that exist independently of God.
  3. God’s knowledge
    1. Scientia simplex intelligentiae: God knows which creature he could make in this or that order.
    2. Scientia libera: knowledge of ends and means.
    3. Practica scientia: knowledge by which God forms ideas of the possibilia and future things.
    4. Scientia speculativa:
    5. God’s will: by loving His omnipotence, God necessarily also loves the infinite possibilia within.
  4. Jesuit position, restated
    1. Jesuits locate the root of possibility and impossibility outside of God, in the things themselves (154).
    2. This means a future contingent is not grounded in God.
  5. Reformed response:
    1. A thing is possible because God is able to produce it., not God is able to produce it because it is possible.
    2. Since God’s being is prior, all possibilia must originate in God, not outside of God.

Rutherford’s Scotist Ethics

“Samuel Rutherford’s Euthyphro Dilemma” in Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland by Simon J. G. Burton

Cameron’s Thesis:

  1. Things that are good in themselves have a much stronger binding authority than adiaphora.

Rutherford’s Rejoinder:

  1. Constitution of the divine image is dependent on the divine will (130).
  2. Categories of simple and complex acts.
    1. The act of worshiping God is a simple act (for Rutherford, there is no object/intention in this act)
    2. The act of worshiping God in accord with the divine law is a complex act.
  3. Only complex acts have moral status (130).
    1. A created object is not the measure or rule of the divine will (131).
    2. When God creates rational creatures, he at once creates the common principles of the natural law (132).

Advancing the Position

  1. Love of God is the cornerstone of the natural law
    1. The question now becomes, per God’s command to kill Isaac, is whether a particular act should be considered obedience to God or not (132).
    2. This duty is not necessarily and immutably founded in God’s own nature before every decree of his will (133).
  2. Bradwardine
    1. Distinction between things reasonable naturally prior to the divine will
      1. Such as God’s being and goodness.
      2. They are able to move the divine will.
    2. AND things which are reasonable naturally posterior to the divine will;
      1. Depend on God’s will for their reasonable status.
      2. Caused by the divine will and cannot move it.
    3. and things which are said to be mixed.

Rutherford’s Scotist Ethics

  1. Both Rutherford and Bradwardine attempted to identify different logical moments within the eternal and indivisible divine act.
    1. Grounds contingency not in the possibility of future action but in the present moment of existence itself (135).
    2. This allows Scotus to make a distinction between the single instant of time and the single instant of divine eternity in terms of a series of logically connected instants (135).
    3. Logically successive, but temporally synchronic structural instants.
  2. Highest principle of morality:  God is to be loved
    1. Every moral action is defined in relation to this.
    2. Except for those acts with an intrinsic and necessary relation to the divine nature–those acts with God as the immediate object–the moral status of every action is determined solely by the divine will (136).
    3. Aquinas:  God didn’t actually command Abraham to murder; rather, God was calling due on Isaac early (since Isaac was supposed to die because he was mortal).

Bottom line application:  God is not bound by his creation.

Two Types of Necessity

First, Scotus will say:

He considers that human actions are the joint result of the causality of the human agents and God.  But God is not seen as a direct cause of the human will’s acts.  As the first in an essentially-ordered series of causes, God is, rather, responsible for the agent’s causality itself: so the human will acts, and it is due to God’s will that it is able to act (Marebon 289, 290).

necessitas consequentiae (necessity of the consequences):  this is a hypothetical or non-absolute necessity.  It is brought about by a previous contingent act.  It refers to the necessity of the finite order.  There is no absolute necessity that God decree what he decrees, but since he has decreed so, he is bound to fulfill it.

necessitas consequentis (necessity of the consequent):  this is absolute necessity that refers to the opera ad intra.

Practical value of these distinctions:  it allows the theologian to intelligently and without confusion speak of both necessary and free acts.   Our acts are necessary in the sense that Providence is not subject to change.  But our acts are not absolutely necessary, since God was not bound to decree such.

Francis Turretin provides six different types of “necessity,” four of which the Arminian/Romanist must affirm are compatible with freedom:

1) necessity of dependence of the creature on God;
2) [Asselt intended to list the second type of necessity, but I don’t think he did],
3) every creature is dependent on God in terms of the future per God’s foreknowledge and decree.
3a) Asselt writes, “However great the creature’s freedom may be, these acts are still necessary from this perspective, otherwise God’s foreknowledge could be false and his decree changeable.”
4) free will must go with rational necessity, for must not a free action be a rational one?
5) Free will relates to moral necessity, or that of habit. If you do an action enough, whether good or bad, it becomes a habit, making it easier to do this action. Few will deny this observation.
6) The necessity of an event or the existence of a thing. If a thing is, it is necessarily.  This is an example of a necessity of the consequence.   It is not an absolute necessity.

In short, freedom can be determined because freedom is not absolute (Asselt, 162-163).

Necessity of the Consequent, Consequence

The necessity of the consequent is the necessity of a proposition behind the “then” in an if…then statement. The necessity of the consequence is the consequence itself. Ie, the implicative necessity. In the implicative necessity, neither the antecedent nor the consequent needs to be necessary. Only the necessity of the implicative relation counts. Take the two propositions:

(1) If I marry Marian, then Marian is my wife.
(2) It is necessary that Marian is my wife (if I marry her).

In proposition (1) it is contingent that I marry Marian. I did not have to do so. Only the implication between the antecedent and consequent is necessary. In proposition 2 it is the result of the conditional proposition that is necessary.

Proposition 1 does not imply proposition 2. Therefore, in an argument of implicative relation of necessity, both the antecedent and consequent can be contingent and not necessary. According to the Reformed scholastics, the necessity of the consequence corresponds with absolute necessity and the necessity of the consequent with hypothetical necessity. In this distinction, the Reformed scholastics combat the charge that the divine decree destroys the contingency and freedom of the world. Therefore, necessity and contingency are compatible and not contradictory.

Most important in this distinction is that it depends on God’s will ad extra. If the decision of the divine will is directed to contingent objects ad extra, then God’s will is contingent, too. In other words, God contingently wills all that is contingent. Created reality, therefore, is the contingent manifestation of divine freedom and does not necessarily emanate from God’s essence. For if this were the case, all things would coincide fundamentally with God’s essence, and the actual world would be eternal (198-199).

Rutherford and Scotism

I’m not saying Rutherford is right or wrong, just noting particulars.

Taken from Guy Richards, “Samuel Rutherford’s Supralapsarianism Revealed.”

“Rutherford believes that God, although just, merciful, and good, is under no compulsion” to be just to his creatures ad extra (Richards 32).  “But once he decrees to act ad extra, he is bound to do so.”

In other words, for the Reformed voluntarist tradition, paraphrasing William Twisse, the only thing that limits God’s free will (to act ad extra) is his decree.  The Scotists aren’t saying that God’s will makes just anything right.  Rather, they are saying, given what God has indeed ordained to be the case (potentia ordinata), God is bound to will x.

Classic example:  Was Jesus’s atonement necessary?  Rutherford has usually been understood as saying, “No.  God could have forgiven sins otherwise.”  But I don’t think this is exactly what he said.  Rather, as Richards points out, it is contingently necessary (n 29).  Since God has chosen to act this way towards creatures, and to punish sin this way, has it become necessary.  But he was under no obligation to decide to act this way.