Question Five: Providence

To which attribute can God’s providence be reduced?
Is the world ruled by providence?
Does God’s providence extend to corruptible things?
Are the motions and actions of all bodies here below subject to divine providence?
Are human acts ruled by providence?
Are brute animals and their acts subject to God’s providence?
Are sinners ruled by God’s providence?
Are all material creatures governed by God’s providence through angels?
Does divine providence dispose bodies here below by means of the celestial bodies?
Are human acts governed by God’s providence through the instrumentality of celestial bodies?


This question treats providence.

In the first article we ask:

To which attribute can God’s providence be reduced?

[Parallel readings: De ver., 3, aa. 2-3; S.T., I, 22, 1; I Sent., 39, 2, 1; VI Metaph., lect. 3, n. 1218 seq.]


It seems that it belongs only to His knowledge, for

1. Boethius says, “It is certainly clear that Providence is the immovable and simple form of things to be done.” Now, in God the form of things that should be done is an idea, and an idea pertains to His knowledge. Providence, therefore, pertains to His knowledge.

2. But it was said that providence also pertains to God’s will in so far as it is the cause of things.—To the contrary, in us practical knowledge causes the things that we know. Practical knowledge, however, consists merely in knowledge. The same is true, therefore, of providence.

3. In the same section as cited above, Boethius writes: “The plan of carrying things out, when considered in the purity of God’s understanding, is called Providence.” Now, purity of understanding seems to pertain to speculative knowledge. Providence, therefore, pertains to speculative knowledge.

4. Boethius writes: “Providence is so called because, standing at a distance from the lowest things, it looks upon all things from their highest summit.” Now, to look upon is to know, especially to know speculatively. Providence, therefore, seems to belong to speculative knowledge.

5. As Boethius says: “Fate is related to Providence as reasoning is to understanding.” Now, understanding and reasoning are common to both speculative and practical knowledge. Providence, therefore, also belongs to both types of knowledge.

6. Augustine writes: “An unchangeable law controls all changeable things, governing them gloriously.” Now, control and government belong to providence. Consequently, that unchangeable law is providence itself. But law pertains t knowledge. Therefore, providence also belongs to knowledge.

7. The natural law as it exists wi in us is caused by divine providence. Now, a cause acts to bring about an effect in its own likeness. For this reason we also say that God’s goodness is the cause of goodness in things, His essence, the cause of their being, and His life, the cause of their living. Divine providence, therefore, is a law; hence, our former position stands.

8. Boethius says: “Providence is the divine plan set up within the ruler of all things.” Now, as Augustine says,” the divine plan of a thing is an idea. Providence, therefore, is an idea; and since an idea pertains to knowledge, providence also pertains to knowledge.

9. Practical knowledge is ordained either to bring things into existence or to order things already in existence. Now, it does not belong to providence to bring things into existence. It rather presupposes the things over which it is exercised. Nor does it order things that are in existence. This belongs to God’s disposal of things. Providence, therefore, pertains not to practical, but only to speculative knowledge.

To the Contrary

1. Providence seems to belong to the will, because, as Damascene says: “Providence is the will of God, which brings all existing things to a suitable end.”

2. We do not call those people provident who know what to do but are unwilling to do it. Providence, therefore, is related more to the will than to knowledge.

3. As Boethius says, God governs the world by His goodness. Now, goodness pertains to the will. Therefore, providence also pertains to the will, since the role of providence is to govern.

4. To dispose things is a function, not of knowledge, but of will. Now, according to Boethius, providence is the plan according to which God disposes all things. Providence, therefore, pertains to the will, not to knowledge.

5. What is provided for, taken simply as such, is neither a wise thing nor a known thing. It is merely a good. Consequently, one who provides, taken as such, is not wise, but good. Hence, providence does not pertain to wisdom, but to goodness or to the will.

To the Contrary (Second Series)

1. Furthermore, it seems that providence pertains to power. For Boethius says: “Providence has given to the things it has created the greatest reason for enduring, so that as far as they are able, all things naturally desire to endure.” Providence, therefore, is a principle of creation. But, since creation is appropriated to God’s power, providence pertains to power.

2. Government is the effect of providence, for the Book of Wisdom (14:3) says: “But thy providence, O Father, governeth all.” But, as Hugh of St. Victor says, the will commands, wisdom directs, and power executes. Power, therefore, is more closely related to government than is knowledge or will. Consequently, providence pertains more to power than to knowledge or will.


Because our intellects are weak, what we know of God we have to learn from creatures, around us. Consequently, to know how God is said to be provident, we have to see how creatures are provident.

We should first note that Cicero makes providence a part of prudence. Providence, as it were, completes prudence, since the other two parts of prudence, memory and understanding, are merely preparations for the prudent act. Moreover, according to the Philosopher,” prudence is the reasoned plan of doing things. Now, things to be done differ from things to be made, because the latter start from an agent and terminate in some extrinsic matter, as, for example, a bench and a house; and the reasoned plan of making them is called art. On the other hand, things to be done are actions which do not go outside the agent, but, instead, are acts that perfect him, as, for example, chaste living, bearing oneself patiently, and the like. The reasoned plan of performing these is called prudence. With respect to action, two things should be considered: the end and the means.

However, it is especially the role of prudence to direct the means to the end; and, as we read in the Ethics, one is called prudent if he deliberates well. But, as we also read in the Ethics, deliberation “is not concerned with ends, but only with means.” Now, the end of things to be done pre-exists in us in two ways: first, through the natural knowledge we have of man’s end. This knowledge, of course, as the Philosopher says, belongs to the intellect, which is a principle of things to be done as well as of things to be studied; and, as the Philosopher also points out, ends are principles of things to be done. The second way that these ends pre-exist in us is through our desires. Here, the ends of things to be done exist in us in our moral virtues, which influence a man to live a just, brave, or temperate life. This is, in a sense, the proximate end of things to be done. We are similarly perfected with respect to the means towards this end: our knowledge is perfected by counsel, our appetite, by choice; and in these matters we are directed by prudence.

It is clear, therefore, that it belongs to prudence to dispose, in an orderly way, the means towards an end. And because this disposing of means to an end is done by prudence, it can be said to take place by a kind of reasoning process, whose first principles are ends. The very reason for the sequence described above—and found in all things to be done—is taken from ends, as is clear in the case of art products. Consequently, if one would be prudent, he must stand in the proper relation to the ends themselves, for a reasoned plan cannot exist unless the principles of reason are maintained. Hence, prudence requires not only the understanding of ends but also moral virtues by which the will is settled in a correct end. For this reason, the Philosopher says that the prudent man must be virtuous. Finally, this is common to all rightly ordered powers and acts of the soul: the virtue of what is first is maintained in all the rest. Consequently, in prudence, in some way, are included both the will as directed towards an end and the knowledge of the end itself.

From what has been said it is now clear how providence is related to God’s other attributes. His knowledge is related both to ends and to means toward ends, because through knowledge God knows Himself and creatures. But providence pertains only to that knowledge which is concerned with means to ends and in so far as these means are ordained to ends. Consequently, in God providence includes both knowledge and will, although, taken essentially, it belongs only to knowledge, that is, to practical, not to speculative, knowledge. Providence, moreover, also includes the power of execution; hence, an act of power presupposes an act of providence, as it were, directing it, and for this reason power is not included in providence as the will is.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Two aspects of a creature can be considered: first, its species taken absolutely; second, its relation to an end. The form of each exists previously in God. The exemplary form of a thing considered absolutely in its species is an idea; but the form of a thing considered as directed to an end is called providence. Moreover, according to Boethius, the order divine providence implants in things is called fate. Consequently, providence is related to fate as an idea is related to the species of a thing. An idea, however, can in some way pertain to speculative knowledge; but providence is related only to practical knowledge, since it implies an ordering to an end, and, consequently, to something to be done, by means of which the end will be reached.

2. Providence pertains more to the will than does practical knowledge taken absolutely, because the latter is concerned in general only with the knowledge of an end and of the means to achieve it. Consequently, practical knowledge does not presuppose that an end has been willed. If this were true, then the will would be included in knowledge, as has been said with regard to providence.

3. Purity of understanding is mentioned, not to exclude the will from the concept of providence, but to exclude change and mutability.

4. In this passage Boethius is not giving a complete description of the nature of providence. He is merely giving the reason for its name. Consequently, even though looking upon things may be considered as speculative knowledge, it does not follow that providence may be considered to be such. Besides, Boethius explains providence, or foresight, as though it were far-sight, because “God Himself surveys all things from their highest summit.” But God is on the highest summit of things for the very reason that He causes and directs all things. So, even in the words of Boethius something pertaining to practical knowledge can be noted.

5. The comparison Boethius makes is taken from the resemblance had by the proportion between the simple and the composite to the proportion between a body at rest and a body in motion. For, just as understanding is simple and non-discursive but reason is discursive, passing from one thing to another, similarly, providence is simple and unchangeable but fate is multiple and changeable. The conclusion, therefore, does not follow.

6. Properly speaking, God’s providence is not the eternal law; it is something that follows upon the eternal law. The eternal law should be thought of as existing in God as those principles of action exist in us which we know naturally and upon which we base our deliberation and choice. These belong to prudence or providence. Consequently, the law of our intellect is related to prudence as an indemonstrable principle is related to a demonstration. Similarly, the eternal law in God is not His providence, but, as it were, a principle of His providence; for this reason one can, without any inconsistency, attribute an act of providence to the eternal law in the same way that he attributes every conclusion of a demonstration to self-evident principles.

7. There are two types of causality to be found in the divine attributes. The first type is exemplary causality. Because of this type, we say that all living beings come from the first living being. This type of causality is common to all the divine attributes. The second type of causality is according to the relation the attributes have to their objects. We say, for example, that divine power is the cause of the possibles, divine knowledge is the cause of what is known. An effect of this type of causality need not resemble its cause; for the things that are made by knowledge need not be knowledge, but merely known. It is according to this type of causality that the providence of God is said to be the cause of all things. Consequently, even though the natural law within our understanding is derived from providence, it does not follow that divine providence is the eternal law.

8. “That divine plan within the highest ruler” is not called providence unless one includes in it the notion of direction to an end, which, in turn, presupposes that an end has been willed. Consequently, even though providence may essentially belong to knowledge, it also, in some way, includes the divine will.

9. A twofold ordering may be found in things. First, there is that order according to which things come from their principles. Second, there is the order according to which they are directed to an end. Now, the divine disposing pertains to that order according to which things proceed from their principles; for things are said to be disposed inasmuch as they are put on different levels by God, who is like an artist arranging the different parts of his work in different ways. Consequently, disposition seems to pertain to art. Providence, however, implies the ordering which directs to an end; for this reason it differs from the divine art and disposition. For divine art is so called because of its relation to the production of things, but divine disposition is so called because of its relation to the order of what has already been produced. Providence, however, implies the ordination to an end. Now, we can gather from the end of an art product whatever exists in the thing itself. Moreover, the ordering of a thing to an end is more closely related to the end than is the ordering of its parts to each other. In fact, their ordering to an end is, in a sense, the cause of the ordering of the parts to each other. Consequently, divine providence is, in a sense, the cause of God’s disposition of things, and for this reason an act of His disposition is sometimes attributed to His providence. Therefore, even if providence is not an art related to the production of things or a disposition related to the ordering of things one to another, it does not follow that providence does not belong to practical knowledge.

Answers to Contrary Difficulties

1. With reference to the difficulty about the will, we reply that Damascene calls providence will inasmuch as providence includes and presupposes the will, as we have pointed out previously.

2. As the Philosopher says, no man can be prudent unless he has moral virtues which rightly dispose him toward his ends, just as no one can demonstrate properly unless he knows well the principles of demonstration. It is for this reason that no one is said to be provident unless he has a correct will—not because providence is in the will.

3. God is said to govern through His goodness, not because His goodness is providence, but because, having the nature of an end, His goodness is a principle of providence. He is also said to govern through His goodness because the divine goodness is related to God as moral virtues are to us.

4. Even though the disposition of things presupposes the will, it is not an act of the will, because, as the Philosopher says, ordering, which is what is meant by disposition, is the act of one who is wise. Consequently, both disposition and providence really belong to knowledge.

5. Providence is compared to what is provided for as knowledge is compared to what is known—not as knowledge is compared to the knower. Consequently, it is not necessary that what is foreseen, taken as such, be wise, but rather that it be known.

The other two arguments we concede.



In the second article we ask:

Is the world ruled by providence?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 22, 2; 103, 5; I Sent., 39, 2, 2; C.G., III, cc. 1, 64,75,79, 94; De div. nom., c. 3, lect. 1 (P. 15:292a) ; De subst. sep., cc. 11-15 (Perr. :nn. 68-91); Comp. Theol., I, cc. 123,130,132-33.]


It seems that it is not, for

1. No agent that acts from natural necessity acts through providence. But God acts upon created things through the necessity of nature, because, as Dionysius says: “The divine goodness communicates itself to us like the sun, which, without previous choice or knowledge, pours out its rays upon all bodies.” The world, therefore, is not ruled by the providence of God.

2. A principle having many forms is posterior to a principle having but one form. Now, the will is a multiform principle because it is related to opposites. Consequently, providence is also multiform, since it presupposes will. On the other hand, nature is a principle having but one form, because it is determined to one. Therefore, nature precedes providence. Consequently, the realm of nature is not ruled by providence.

3. But it was said that a principle having one form precedes a multiform principle in the same genus, not in other genera.—On the contrary, the greater the power that a principle has of exercising causality, the greater is its priority. But the more a principle has but one form, the greater is its power of causality, since, as said in The Causes: “A united power is more infinite than one that is multiplied.” Consequently, a principle having but one form precedes a multiform principle whether they are in the same genus or in different genera.

4. According to Boethius, any inequality is reduced to an equality and any multitude to a unity. Therefore, any multiple act of the will ought to be reduced to an act of nature that is simple and equal. Hence, the first cause must work through its own essence and nature, and not through providence. Thus, our original argument stands.

5. What is, of itself, determined to one course of action does not need the direction of anything else, because direction is applied to a thing to prevent it from taking a contrary course. Natural things, however, are determined to one course of action by their own natures. Consequently, they do not need the direction of providence.

6. But it was said that natural things need the direction of providence to be kept in being.—On the contrary, if no possibility of corruption exists in a thing, it has no need of something extrinsic to conserve it. Now, there are some things in which there is no potency to corruption, since there is none to generation, as, for example, the celestial bodies and the spiritual substances, which are the most important things in the universe. Therefore, substances of this sort do not need providence to keep them in being.

7. There are certain things in the realm of nature that even God cannot change, such as the principle that “one cannot assert and deny the same thing under the same aspect,” and “what has existed cannot not have existed,” as Augustine says. Therefore, at least principles of this sort do not need divine rule and conservation.

8. Damascene points out that it would be illogical to say that the one who makes things is other than the one who exercises providence over them. Material bodies, however, are not made by God, since He is a spirit, and it seems no more possible for a spirit to produce a material body than for a material body to produce a spirit. Material bodies of this sort, therefore, are not ruled through divine providence.

9. The government of things involves distinguishing between things. But making things distinct does not seem to be the work of God, because, as said in The Causes, God is related to all things in one way. Therefore, things are dot ruled through divine providence.

10. Things ordered of themselves need not be ordered by others. But natural things are ordered of themselves, because, as is said in The Soul: “For all things naturally constituted there is a term and proportion set to their size and growth.” Natural things, therefore, are not ordered by divine providence.

11. If things were ruled by divine providence, we could know divine providence by studying the order of nature. But, as Damascene says: “We should wonder at all things, praise all things, and accept without question all the works of providence.” The world, therefore, is not ruled by providence.

To the Contrary

1. Boethius writes: “O Thou that dost the world in everlasting order guide!”

2.Whatever has a fixed order must be ruled by a providence. But natural things have a fixed order in their motions. Hence, they are ruled by providence.

3. Things which have different natures remain joined only if they are ruled by a providence. For this reason, certain philosophers were forced to say that the soul is a harmony, because contraries remain joined together in the bodies of animals. Now, we see that in the world contraries and things of different natures are kept together. Consequently, the world is ruled by providence.

4. As Boethius says: “Fate directs the motion of all things and determines their places, forms, and time. This unfolding of the temporal order, united in the foresight of God’s mind, is providence.”“ Therefore, since we see that things have distinct forms, times, or places, we must admit the existence of fate and, consequently, that of providence.

5. Whatever cannot keep itself in existence needs something else to rule it and keep it in existence. But created things cannot keep themselves in existence, for, as Damascene says, what is made from nothing tends, of itself, to return to nothing. There must, therefore, be a providence ruling over things.


Providence is concerned with the direction of things to an end.

Therefore, as the Commentator says, whoever denies final causality should also deny providence. Now, those who deny final causality take two positions.

Some of the very ancient philosophers admitted only a material cause. Since they would not admit an efficient cause, they could not affirm the existence of an end, for an end is a cause only in so far as it moves the efficient cause. Other and later philosophers admitted an efficient cause, but said nothing about a final cause. According to both schools, everything was necessarily caused by previously existing causes, material or efficient.

This position, however, was criticized by other philosophers on the following grounds. Material and efficient causes, as such, cause only the existence of their effects. They are not sufficient to produce goodness in them so that they be aptly disposed in themselves, so that they could continue to exist, and toward others so that they could help them. Heat, for example, of its very nature and of itself can break down other things, but this breaking down is good and helpful only if it happens up to a certain point and in a certain way. Consequently, if we do not admit that there exist in nature causes other than heat and similar agents, we cannot give any reason why things happen in a good and orderly way.

Moreover, whatever does not have a determinate cause happens by accident. Consequently, if the position mentioned above were true, all the harmony and usefulness found in things would be the result of chance. This was actually what Empedocles held. He asserted that it was by accident that the parts of animals came together in this way through friendship—and this was his explanation of an animal and of a frequent occurrence! This explanation, of course, is absurd, for those things that happen by chance, happen only rarely; we know from experience, however, that harmony and usefulness are found in nature either at all times or at least for the most part. This cannot be the result of mere chance; it must be because an end is intended. What lacks intellect or knowledge, however, cannot tend directly toward an end. It can do this only if someone else’s knowledge has established an end for it, and directs it to that end. Consequently, since natural things have no knowledge, there must be some previously existing intelligence directing them to an end, like an archer who gives a definite motion to an arrow so that it will wing its way to a determined end. Now, the hit made by the arrow is said to be the work not of the arrow alone but also of the person who shot it. Similarly, philosophers call every work of nature the work of intelligence.

Consequently, the world is ruled by the providence of that intellect which gave this order to nature; and we may compare the providence by which God rules the world to the domestic foresight by which a man rules his family, or to the political foresight by which a ruler governs a city or a kingdom, and directs the acts of others to a definite end. There is no providence, however, in God with respect to Himself, since whatever is in Him is an end, not a means to it.

Answers to Difficulties

1. The metaphor used by Dionysius notes merely that, like the sun which, on its own part, keeps no body from sharing its light, the divine goodness keeps no creature from participating in itself. The metaphor does not mean that providence acts without choice or knowledge.

2. A principle can be said to be multiform in two senses. First, the multiformity can refer to the very essence of the principle—that is, the principle is composite. A principle that is multiform in this sense must be posterior to a principle having but one form. Second, the multiformity may refer to the principle’s relation to its effects, so that a principle is said to be multiform because it extends its influence to many things. A principle that is multiform in this sense precedes one that has but a single form, because the more simple a principle is, the more extensive is its influence. It is in this sense, moreover, that the will is said to be a multiform, and nature, a uniform principle.

3. The argument given is based on the uniformity of a principle according to its essence.

4. God is the cause of things by His essence. Consequently, any plurality in things can be reduced to one simple principle. His essence, however, is the cause of things only in so far as it is known, and consequently, only in so far as it wills to be communicated to a creature by the creature’s being made in its likeness. Hence, things proceed from the divine essence through the ordering of knowledge and will, and so through providence.

5. That determination by which a natural thing is restricted to one course of action belongs to it, not because of itself, but because of something else. Consequently, the very determination for bringing about the suitable effect is, as has been said, a proof of divine providence.

6. Generation and corruption can be understood in two senses. First, generation and corruption can arise from a contrary being and terminate in a contrary. In this sense, the potency to generation and corruption exists in a thing because its matter is in potency to contrary forms; and in this respect celestial bodies and spiritual substances have no potency to generation or corruption. Second, these terms are commonly used to indicate any coming into or passing out of existence that is found in things. Consequently, even creation, by which a thing is drawn from nothingness into existence, is called generation; and the annihilation of a thing is called corruption.

Moreover, a thing is said to be in potency to generation in this sense if an agent has the power to produce it; and it is said to be in potency to corruption if an agent has the power to reduce it to nothingness. In this way of speaking, every creature is in potency to corruption; for all that God has brought into existence He can also reduce to nothingness. For, as Augustine says, for creatures to subsist God must constantly work in them. This action of God, however, must not be compared to the action of a craftsman building a house, for, when his action ceases, the house still remains; it should rather be compared to the sun’s lighting up the air. Consequently, when God no longer gives existence to a creature, whose very existence depends on His will, then this creature is reduced to nothingness.

7. The necessity of the principles mentioned depends upon God’s providence and disposition, because the fact that created things have a particular nature and, in this nature, a determined act of existence, makes these things distinct from their negations; and upon this distinction is based the principle that affirmation and negation cannot be truee simultaneously. Moreover, on this principle, as we read in the Metaphysics, the necessity of all the other principles is founded.

8. An effect cannot be stronger than its cause. It can, however, be weaker than its cause. Now, since body is naturally inferior to spirit, it cannot produce a spirit; but a spirit can produce a body.

9. God is similarly said to be related to all things, because there is no diversity in Him. He is, however, the cause of diversity in things inasmuch as by His knowledge He contains within Himself the intelligible characters of all things.

10. That order which is found in nature is not caused by nature but by something else. Consequently, nature needs providence to implant such an order in it.

11. Creatures fail to represent their creator adequately. Consequently, through them we cannot arrive at a perfect knowledge of God. Another reason for our imperfect knowledge is the weakness of our intellect, which cannot assimilate all the evidence of God that is to be found in creatures. It is for this reason that we are forbidden to scrutinize God’s attributes over-zealously in the sense of aiming at the completion of such an inquiry, an aim which is implied in the very notion of overzealous scrutiny. If we were to act thus, we would not believe anything about God unless our intellect could grasp it. We are not, however, kept from humbly investigating God’s attributes, remembering that we are too weak to arrive at a perfect comprehension of Him. Consequently, Hilary writes as follows: “Even if a man who reverently seeks the infinite ways of God never reaches the end of his search, his search will always profit him.”



In the third article we ask:

Does God’s providence extend to corruptible things?

[Parallel readings: See readings given for preceding article.]


It seems that it does not, for

1. A cause and its effects are in the same order. Now, corruptible creatures are the cause of sin. This is evident. For example, women’s beauty is an incitement to and cause of lust. Moreover, Wisdom (14:11) says: “The creatures of God have been turned into... a snare for the feet of the unwise.” Now, since sin is outside the order of divine providence, it seems that corruptible beings are not subject to this order.

2. Nothing that a wise man arranges can destroy his work, because he, would be contradicting himself were he to build and destroy the same thing. Now, we find among corruptible things some that are contrary to and destructive of others. Consequently, corruptible things were not arranged by God.

3. Damascene speaks as follows: “It must be true that all things happening according to God’s providence take place according to right reason in a way that is best and most fitting in God’s eyes—indeed, in a way that is better for them to take place.” But corruptible things could become better, for they could become incorruptible. The providence of God he ore, does not extend to corruptible things.

4. Whatever is corruptible has corruption in it by its very nature; otherwise it would not be necessary for all corruptible things to corrupt. But, since corruption is a defect, it is not provided for by God, who cannot be a cause of any defect. Corruptible natures, therefore, do not come under God’s providence.

5. As Dionysius says, providence does not destroy nature but saves it. The role of God’s providence, therefore, is to save things continually. But corruptible things are not continually saved. They are not, therefore, subject to God’s providence.

To the Contrary

1. Wisdom (14:3) says: “But thy Providence, O Father, governeth all things.”

2. Wisdom (12:13) also says that it is God who “hast care of all things.” Therefore, corruptible as well as incorruptible things fall under His providence.

3. As Damascene says, it is illogical to hold that one being creates things and another exercises providence over them. Now, God is the efficient cause of all corruptible things. Consequently, He also provides for them.


As we said above 4 the providence by which God rules things is similar to the providence by which the father of a family rules his household or a king rules a city or kingdom. The common element in these rules is the primacy of the common good over the good of the individual; for, as we read in the Ethics, the good of the nation is more divine than that of the city, family, or person. Consequently, whoever is supervising must—if he is to rule wisely—pay more attention to what is good for the community than to what is good merely for an individual.

Some have not kept this point in mind, but considering only that there are corruptible things which, if taken in themselves, could be better, and not considering the order of the universe in which each and every thing is excellently arranged—some, I say, have said that those corruptible things are therefore not ruled by God but that only incorruptible things are. These persons are represented in Job (22:14) by the man who says: “The clouds are God’s covert, and he doth not consider our things, and he walketh about the poles of heaven.” Moreover, they assert that corruptible things act necessarily and without any ruler at all or are ruled by an opposing principle. The Philosopher, however, has refuted” this position by taking an army as an example. In an army we find two orders, one by which the parts of the army are related to each other, and a second by which the army is directed to an external good, namely, the good of its leader. That order by which the parts of the army are related to each other exists for the sake of the order by which the entire army is subordinated to its leader. Consequently, if the subordination to the leader did not exist, the ordering of the parts of the army to each other would not exist. Consequently, whenever we find a group whose members are ordered to each other, that group must necessarily be ordered to some external principle.

Now, the corruptible and incorruptible parts of the universe are related to each other essentially, not accidentally. For we see that corruptible bodies benefit from celestial bodies, and always, or at least ordinarily, in the same manner. Consequently, all things, corruptible and incorruptible, must be in one order under the providence of an external principle outside the universe. For this reason, the Philosopher concluded that it was necessary to affirm the existence of a single rule over the universe, and of not more than one.

It must be noted, however, that a thing is provided for in two ways: for itself, or for other things. For example, in a home, care is taken of some things on their own account, namely, those things that constitute the essential goods of a household, such as sons, possessions, and the like; and other things, such as utensils, animals, and the like are cared for so that the essential things can use them. Similarly, in the universe, the things in which the essential perfection of the universe consists are provided for on their own account, and like the universe itself, these things stay in existence. But the things that do not endure are provided for, not for their own sake, but for the sake of other things. Consequently, spiritual substances and heavenly bodies, which are perpetual both as species and as individuals, are provided for on their own account both as species and as individuals. Corruptible things, however, are perpetual only as a species; hence, these species are looked after for their own sake, but the individual members of these species are not provided for except for this reason: to keep the species in perpetual existence.

If we thus understand the opinion of those who say that divine providence does not extend to corruptible things of this kind, except as they participate in the nature of a species, it need not be rejected; for this opinion is true if it is understood as referring to the providence of things by which they are provided for on their own account.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Of themselves, corruptible creatures do not cause sin. They are only its occasion and accidental cause. Now, an accidental cause and its effect do not have to belong to the same order.

2. A wise provider does not consider what is good for merely one of the things that fall under his providence. He is concerned rather with what is better for all. Consequently, even though the corruption of a thing in the universe is not good for that thing, it is good for the perfection of the entire universe, because the continual generation and corruption of individuals makes it possible for the species to be perpetual; and it is in this that the perfection of the universe essentially consists.

3. Although a corruptible thing would be better if it possessed incorruptibility, it is better for the universe to be made of both corruptible and incorruptible things than to be made merely of the latter, because the nature of the corruptible thing, as well as that of the incorruptible, is good, and it is better to have two goods than merely one. Moreover, multiplication of individuals in one nature is of less value than a variety of natures, since the good found in a nature, being communicable, is superior to the good found in an individual, which is incommunicable.

4. Darkness is brought about by the sun, not because of any action of the sun, but because the sun does not send out light. Similarly, corruption comes from God, not because of any positive action by Him, but because He does not give the thing permanency.

5. The things that are provided for by God on their own account last forever. But this permanency is not necessary for those things that are not provided for on their own account. These need remain only so long as they are needed by the things for which they are provided. Consequently, as is clear from the previous discussion, certain things corrupt because they are not looked after for their own sakes.



In the fourth article we ask:

Are the motions and actions of all bodies here below subject to divine providence?

[Parallel readings: See readings given for q. 5, a. 2.]


It seems that they are not, for

1. God does not provide for a thing if He is not its author, because, as Damascene says,’ it is illogical to say that one person makes a thing and another provides for it. Now, God is not the author of evil, for to the extent that things come from Him they are good. Therefore, since many evil things happen in the actions and motions of creatures here below, it does not seem that all of their motions fall under His divine providence,

2.Motions that are contrary do not seem to belong to the same order. Now, in creatures here below there are contrary motions and actions. Consequently, it is impossible that they all fall under the order of divine providence.

3. A thing falls under divine providence only inasmuch as it is directed to an end. But evil is not ordered to an end. On the contrary, it is a privation of order. Consequently, evil does not fall under providence. In creatures here below, however, many evils occur. Therefore.

4. A man is not prudent if he allows something evil to occur in those things whose actions fall under his providence when he can prevent that evil from taking place. Now, God is most prudent and powerful. Hence, since many evils occur in creatures here below, it seems that certain of their acts do not fall under divine providence.

5. It was said, however, that God permits these evils to happen because He can draw good from them.—On the contrary, good is more powerful than evil, so it is easier to draw good from good than good from evil. Consequently, it is not necessary for God to permit evil to happen in order to draw good from it.

6. As Boethius says, just as God creates all things through His goodness, so does He also govern all things by His goodness. But His divine goodness does not permit Him to make anything evil. Consequently, His goodness does not permit anything evil from coming under His providence

7. If a thing is arranged, it does not happen by chance. Therefore, if all the motions of creatures here below were arranged, nothing would happen by chance, but everything would happen by necessity. This, however, is impossible.

8. As the Commentator says, if everything happened in creatures here below because of the necessity of matter, they would not be ruled by providence. But many things in creatures here below happen because of the necessity of matter. At least these events, then, are not ruled by providence.

9. No prudent man permits a good so that evil will result. For the same reason, therefore, no prudent man permits an evil that good will result. Since God is prudent, He will therefore not permit evils in order that good will result. Consequently, it seems that the evils occurring in creatures here below are not allowed by providence.

10. What is blameworthy in a man should by no means be attributed to God. But a man is blamed if he does wrong in order to get something good. This is clear from the Epistle to the Romans (3:8): “As we are slandered, and as some affirm that we say: Let us do evil, that there may come good.” Consequently, it is contrary to God’s nature for evil to come under His providence in order that good may be drawn from it.

11. If the acts of bodies here below were subject to God’s providence, they would act in harmony with God’s justice. But the lower elements do not act in this way: fire burns the homes of the just as well as those of the unjust. Consequently, acts of lower bodies do not fall under God’s providence.

To the Contrary

1. In the Gospel according to Matthew (10:29), we read: “Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and not one of them shall fall on the ground without your Father.” On this, the Gloss reads: “Great is the providence of God. Not even the smallest things escape it.” Consequently, even the smallest movement of things here below comes under God’s providence.

2. Augustine writes as follows: “It is because of God’s providence that we see celestial bodies ordered from on high, stars and planets of the earth shining down on us below, the regular alternation of night and day, the rugged earth being cleansed by surrounding waves of water, air gushing out in the heavens, shrubs and animals being conceived and born, growing, wasting away, and killing, and all things else that happen by interior, natural motion.” Consequently, all motions of lower bodies fall under God’s providence.


Since the first principle of things is the same as their final end, things come from their first principle and are ordered to their ultimate end in the same manner. Studying things as they come from their principle, however, we find that those which are close to their principle have an unfailing act of existence, but, as is said in Generation and Corruption, those that are remote from their principle have a corruptible act of existence. Consequently, with respect to their relation to an end, those things that are closest to their ultimate end unfailingly keep their direction to their end, but those that are remote from their ultimate end sometimes diverge from their direction to it.

Moreover, the same things that are close to their principle are close to their end, and those that are remote from their principle are remote from their end. Consequently, not only have incorruptible substances an unfailing act of existence, but also their actions never fail to keep their direction to an end. For example, there are heavenly bodies whose motions never leave their natural orbit. However because corruptible bodies have defective natures, many of their movements diverge from their proper order. It is for this reason that, in regard to the order of the universe, the Philosopher compares incorruptible bodies to children in a household who always do what is good for the home, and corruptible bodies to domestic animals and slaves whose actions frequently violate the order laid down by the one in charge of the household. This is the reason, too, why Avicenna says that nothing evil lies beyond the moon and that there is evil only in creatures here below.

It should not be thought, however, that those acts of things here below which are outside their proper course are entirely outside the order of providence. For a thing comes under God’s providence in two ways: it can be something to which something else is ordered or it can be something that is ordered to something else. Now, as said in the Physics and in the Metaphysics, in an order of means to an end, all the intermediate members are ends as well as means to an end. Consequently, whatever is rightly ordered by providence comes under providence not only as something that is referred to something else, but also as something to which another thing is referred. However, a thing which leaves the right order comes under providence only as something referred, to something else, not as something to which another thing has been referred. For example, the act of the generative powers by which a man generates another complete in his nature is directed by God to a particular thing, namely, a human form; and to the act itself something else is directed, namely, the generative power. A defective act which results occasionally in the generation of natural monstrosities is, of course, directed by God to some useful purpose; but to this defective act itself nothing else was directed. It happened merely on account of the failure of some cause. With regard to the first-named act of generation, the providence is one of approval; with regard to the second, it is one of permission. These two kinds of providence are discussed by Damascene.

It should be noted, however, that some have restricted God’s providence to only the species of natural things, and have excluded it from individuals except as they participate in a common nature. They did this because they did not admit that God knows singulars, but said that God directs the nature of a species in such a way that the resultant power of a species can bring about a certain action, and, if this should fail at times, the failure itself is directed to something useful—just as the corruption of one thing is directed to the generation of another. They denied, however, that a particular force is directed to a particular act and that this particular failure is directed to this particular use. But since we say that God knows all particular things perfectly, we assert that all individual things, even as individuals, fall under God’s providence.

Answers to Difficulties

1. That argument touches only the providence of approval. It is true, however, that God does not provide for a thing unless He is in some way its author. Consequently, since evil does not come from God, it does not fall under His providence of approval, but falls only under His providence of permission.

2. Although contrary motions do not belong to the same specific order, they do belong to one general order, as do even the different orders of different crafts which are subordinated to the order of a city.

3. Even though evil inasmuch as it issues from its own cause is without order and, for this reason, is defined as a privation of order, there is nothing that keeps a higher cause from ordering it. In this way evil comes under providence.

4. Any prudent man will endure a small evil in order that a great good will not be prevented. Any particular good, moreover, is trifling in comparison with the good of a universal nature. Again, evil cannot be kept from certain things without taking away their nature, which is such that it may or may not fail; and, while this nature may harm something in particular, it nevertheless gives some added beauty to the universe. Consequently, since God is most prudent, His providence does not prevent evil, but allows each thing to act as its nature requires it to act. For, as Dionysius says, the role of providence is to save, not to destroy, nature.

5. There are certain goods which can be drawn only from certain evils; for example, the good of patience can be drawn only from the evil of persecution, and the good of penitence only from the evil of sin. This, however, is not to deny that evil is weak in comparison with good, because things of this sort are drawn out of evil, not as from an essential cause, but, as it were, accidentally and materially.

6. Inasmuch as it has an act of existence, whatever is made must have the form of the one who makes it, because the making of a thing terminates in its act of existence. Consequently, an evil cannot be produced by a cause that is good. Now, providence directs a thing to an end, and this direction to an end follows upon the act of existence of the thing. It is not impossible, therefore, for something evil to be directed to a good by one who is good, but it is impossible for one who is good to direct something to an evil. For, just as the goodness of a maker puts the form of goodness in the things he makes, so also does the goodness of one who is provident put a direction to good in the things that are subject to his providence.

7. Effects happening accidentally in creatures here below can be considered in two ways: in their relation to proximate causes—and, in this sense, many things happen by chance—or in their relation to the first cause—and, in this sense, nothing in the world happens by chance. It does not follow, therefore, that all things happen necessarily, because in necessity and contingency effects do not follow first causes but proximate causes.

8. Those things resulting from the necessity of matter are themselves determined by natures ordered to an end, and for this reason can also fall under divine providence. This would not be possible if everything resulted from the necessity of matter.

9. Evil is the contrary of good. Now, of itself no contrary brings about its contrary, but every contrary brings its contrary to that which is similar to itself. For example, heat does not bring a thing to coldness, except accidentally. Instead, it reduces cold to warmth. Similarly, no good person directs a thing to evil; instead, he directs it to good.

10. As is clear from the above discussion, to do evil is in no way proper to those who are good. To do evil for the sake of a good is blameworthy in a man and cannot be attributed to God. On the other hand, to direct evil to a good is not opposed to one’s goodness. Hence, permitting evil in order to draw some good from it can be attributed to God.

11. [No answer is given to the eleventh difficulty. See the answer to the sixth difficulty of the following article.]



In the fifth article we ask:

Are human acts ruled by providence?

[Parallel readings: De ver., 24, aa. 1-2; II Sent., 39, 1, 1; IV Sent., 49, 1, 3, ad 1; S.T., I, 22, 2, ad 4; 22, 4; 59, 3; 83, 1; I-II, 9, 6, ad 3; 10, 4; 13, aa. 1, 6; C.G., I, 68; III, 73; De malo, 3, 2, ad 4; 3,3, ad 5; 6, 1 (P. 8:311a); De Pot., 3,7, ad 12-14; In Rom., c. 9, lect. 3 (P. 13:97a); De rationibus fidei, c. 10 (P. 16:96a).]


It seems that they are not, for

1. As Damascene says: “What is in us is the work not of providence but of our own free choice.” What is in us means our human actions. Consequently, these do not fall under God’s providence.

2. Of the things coming under God’s providence, the more noble a thing is, the more elaborately is it provided for. Now, man is more noble than those creatures that lack sensation and, never departing from their course, rarely, if ever, deviate from the right order. Men’s actions, however, frequently deviate from the right order. Hence, they are not ruled by providence.

3. The evil of sin is very hateful to God. But no one who is provident permits what is most displeasing to him to happen for the sake of something else, because this would mean that the absence of the latter would be even more displeasing to him. Consequently, since God permits the evil of sin to occur in human acts, it seems that they are not ruled by His providence.

4. What is abandoned does not fall under the rule of providence. But, as we read in Sirach (15:14): “God left man in the hand of his own counsel.” Human acts, therefore, are not ruled by providence.

5. In Ecclesiastes (9:11) we read: “I saw that... the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong... but time and chance in all.” Since the author is speaking about human acts, it seems that men’s actions are subject to the whims of chance and are not ruled by providence.

6. By the rule of providence, different allotments are made to different things. But in human affairs the same things happen to the good and to the evil; for, as we read in Ecclesiastes (9:2): “All things equally happen to the just and to the wicked, to the good and to the evil.” Consequently, human affairs are not ruled by providence.

To the Contrary

1. In the Gospel according to Matthew (10:30) is written: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” Even the least of human acts, therefore, is directed by God’s providence.

2. To punish, reward, and issue commands are acts of providence because it is through acts of this kind that every provider governs his subjects. Now, God does all these things in connection with human acts. Consequently, all human acts are ruled by His providence.


As pointed out previously, the closer a being is to the first principle, the higher is its place in the order of providence. Now, among all things, spiritual substances stand closest to the first principle; this is why they are said to be stamped with God’s image. Consequently, by God’s providence they are not only provided for, but they are provident themselves. This is why these substances can exercise a choice in their actions while other creatures cannot. The latter are provided for, but they themselves are not provident.

Now, since providence is concerned with directing to an end, it must take place with the end as its norm; and since the first provider is Himself the end of His providence, He has the norm of providence within Himself. Consequently, it is impossible that any of the failures in those things for which He provides should be due to Him; the failures in these things can be due only to the objects of His providence. Now, creatures to whom His providence has been communicated are not the ends of their own providence. They are directed to another end, namely, God. Hence, it is necessary that they draw the rectitude of their own providence from God’s norm. Consequently, in the providence exercised by creatures failures may take place that are due, not only to the objects of their providence, but also to the providers themselves.

However, the more faithful a creature is to the norm of the first provider, the firmer will be the rectitude of his own providence. Consequently, it is because creatures of this sort can fail in their actions and are the cause of their actions, that their failures are culpable something which is not true of the failures of other creatures. Moreover, because these spiritual creatures are incorruptible even as individuals, they are provided for on their own account as individuals. Hence, defects that take place in them are destined to a reward or punishment which will belong to these individuals themselves—and not to them only as they are ordered to other things.

Now, man is numbered among these creatures, because his form—that is, his soul—is a spiritual being, the root of all his human acts, and that by which even his body has a relation to immortality. Consequently, human acts come under divine providence according as men themselves have providence over their own acts; and the defects in these acts are ordained according to what belongs to these men themselves, not only according to what belongs to others. For example, when a man sins, God orders the sin to the sinner’s good, so that after his fall, upon rising again, he may be a more humble person; or it is ordered at least to a good which is brought about in him by divine justice when he is punished for his sin. The defects happening in sensible creatures, however, are directed only to what belongs to others; for example, the corruption of some particular fire is directed to the generation of some particular air. Consequently, to designate this special manner of providence which God exercises over human acts, Wisdom (12:18) says: “Thou with great favour disposest of us.”

Answers to Difficulties

1. The statement of Damascene does not mean that the things in us (that is, in our power to choose) are entirely outside of God’s providence, but it means rather that our choice is not determined to one course of action by divine providence, as are the actions of those beings which do not possess freedom.

2. Natural things lacking sensation are provided for by God alone. Consequently, no failure here is possible on the part of the one who provides, but only on the part of the objects of His providence. But human acts can be defective because of human providence. For this reason, we find more failures and deordinations in human acts than we do in the acts of natural things. Yet, the fact that man has providence over his own acts is part of his nobility, Consequently, the number of his failures does not keep man from holding a higher place under God’s providence.

3. God loves a thing more if it is a greater good. Consequently, He wills the presence of a greater good more than He wills the absence of a lesser evil (for even the absence of an evil is a certain good). So, in order that certain greater goods may be had, He permits certain persons to fall even into the evils of sin, which, taken as a class, are most hateful, even though one of them may be more hateful to Him than another. Consequently, to cure a man of one sin, God sometimes permits him to fall into another.

4. “God leaves man in the hand of his own counsel” in the sense that He gives him providence over his own acts. Man’s providence over his acts, however, does not exclude God’s providence over them, just as the active power of creatures does not exclude the active power of God.

5. Even though many of our human acts are the result of chance if we consider only lower causes, still, if we consider the providence which God has over all things, there is nothing that results from chance. Indeed, the very fact that so many things happen in human affairs when, if we consider merely lower causes, just the opposite should happen, proves that human actions are governed by God’s providence. Hence, the powerful frequently fall, for this shows that one is victorious because of God’s providence and not because of any human power. The same can be said of other cases.

6. Even though it may seem to us that all things happen equally to the good and to the evil since we are ignorant of the reasons for God’s providence in allotting these things, there is no doubt that in all these good and evil things happening to the good or to the evil there is operative a well worked out plan by which God’s providence directs all things. It is because we do not know His reasons that we think many things happen without order or plan. We are like a man who enters a carpenter shop and thinks that there is a useless multiplication of tools because he does not know how each one is used; but one who knows the trade will see that this number of tools exists for a very good reason.



In the sixth article we ask:

Are brute animals and their acts subject to God’s providence?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 22, 2. See also readings given for q. 5, a. 2.]


It seems that they are not, for

1. In the first Epistle to the Corinthians (9:9) we read: “Doth God take care for oxen?” Consequently, God does not take care of other animals for the same reason.

2. In the Book of Habakkuk (1:14) we read: “Thou wilt make men as the fishes of the sea...” In this passage, the prophet is lamenting the troubling of the order which seems to happen in men’s actions. It seems, therefore, that the acts of irrational creatures are not governed by divine providence.

3. If a man is punished for no fault of his own, and this punishment does not help him in any way, it would not seem that human affairs were ruled by providence. Now, brute animals cannot comm it a fault, and, when they are killed, their death is not directed to their good, because there is no reward for them after death. Their lives, therefore, are not ruled by providence.

4. A thing is not ruled by God’s providence ut is ordained to the end which He intends; and this end is nothing other than God Himself. Brutes, however, cannot attain to a participation in God, since they are not capable of beatitude. Consequently, it seems that divine providence does not rule them.

To the Contrary

1. In the Gospel according to Matthew (10:29) we read: “not one sparrow shall fall on the ground without our heavenly Father’s permission.”

2. Brutes are more noble than creatures that lack sensation. But these other creatures and all their actions come under God’s providence. Even more, then, will brutes come under His providence.


In this matter two errors have been made. Some’ have said that brutes are not ruled by providence except as they participate in the nature of their species, which alone is provided for and directed by God. It is to this kind of providence, they say, that all the passage in Scripture refer when they seem to imply God’s providence over brutes, for example: “Who giveth to beasts their food: and to the young...” (Psalms 146:9); “The young lions roaring...” (Psalm 103:21); and many similar passages. This error, however, attributes very great imperfection to God. Moreover, it is not possible that God should know the individual acts of brutes and not direct them, since He is most good and, because He is good, pours out His goodness upon all things. Consequently, the error we have mentioned belittles either God’s knowledge by denying that He knows individual things or His goodness by denying that He directs individual things as individuals. For this reason, others have said that the acts of brutes, also, fall under providence in the same way in which the acts of rational being do. Consequently, no evil would be found in the acts of brutes that would not be directed to their good. This position, however, is also far from reasonable, for punishment and reward is due only to those who have free choice.

It must be said, therefore, that brutes and their acts, taken even individually, fall under God’s providence, but not in the same way in which men and their actions do. For providence is exercised over men, even as individuals, for their own sake; but individual brutes are provided for merely for the sake of something else—just as other corruptible creatures are, as mentioned previously. Hence, the evil that happens to a brute is not ordered to the good of the brute but to the good of something else, just as the death of an ass is ordered to the good of a lion or that of a wolf. But the death of a man killed by a lion is directed not merely to the good of the lion, but principally to the man’s punishment or to the increase of his merit; for his merit can grow if he accepts his sufferings.

Answers to Difficulties

1. The Apostle does not intend to remove brutes entirely from God’s care. He simply means to say that God does not care so much for brutes that He would impose a law upon men for the sake of brutes, commanding men to be good to them or not to kill them; for brutes have been made for man’s use. Consequently, providence is not exercised over them for their own sake but for the sake of men.

2. God has so ordered fishes and brutes that the weak are subject to the strong. This was done without any consideration of merits or demerits, but only for the conservation of the good of nature. The prophet wondered, therefore, if human affairs were governed in the same way. For this to be true, of course, would be unreasonable.

3. A different order of providence is required for human affairs than is required for brutes. Consequently, if the ordering of human affairs were only that proper to brutes, human affairs would seem to be entirely without providence. Yet, that order is sufficient for the providence of brutes.

4. God Himself is the end of all creatures, but in different ways. He is said to be the end of some creatures inasmuch as they participate somewhat in God’s image. This participation is common to all creatures. However, He is said to be the end of certain creatures inasmuch as they can attain God Himself through their own actions. This is the end only of rational creatures, who can know and love God in whom their beatitude lies.



In the seventh article we ask:

Are sinners ruled by God’s providence?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 22, 2, ad 4; C.G., III, cc. 71,73,113.]


It seems that they are not, for

1. What is left to its own devices is not ruled. But the evil are left to themselves: “So I let them go according to the desires of their heart: they shall walk...” (Psalm 80:13). The evil, therefore, are not governed by providence.

2. It is part of the providence by which God rules over men that they are guarded by angels. But guardian angels sometimes abandon men. From their own lips we have these words: “We would have cured Babylon, but she is not healed: let us forsake her (Jeremiah 51:9). The evil, therefore, are not governed by God’s providence.

3. What is given as a reward to the good should not be given to the evil. But government by God is promised as a reward to the good—“The eyes of the Lord are upon the just” (Psalms 33:16). Therefore.

To the Contrary

No one justly punishes those who are not under his rule. But God punishes the evil for the sins they commit. Therefore, they are under His rule.


Divine providence extends to men in two ways: first, in so far as men are provided for; second, in so far as they themselves become providers. If they fail in their own providence they are called evil; but if they observe the demands of justice they are called good. Moreover in so far as they come under providence they are given both good and evil. Now, men are provided for in different ways according to the different ways they have of providing for themselves. For, if they keep the right order in their own providence, God’s providence in their regard will keep an ordering that is congruent with their human dignity; that is, nothing will happen to them that is not for their own good, and everything that happens to them will be to their own advantage, according to what is said in the Epistle to the Romans (8:2 8): “To them that love God, all things work together unto good.” However, if in their own providence men do not keep that order which is congruent with their dignity as rational creatures, but provide after the manner of brute animals, then God’s providence will dispose of them according to the order that belongs to brutes, so that their good and evil acts will not be directed to their own profit but to the profit of others, according to the words of the Psalmist: “And man when he was in honour did not understand; he is compared...” (Psalms 48:13) —From this it is evident that God’s providence governs the good in a higher way than it governs the evil. For, when the evil leave the order of providence, that is, by not doing the will of God, they fall into another order, an order in which the will of God is done to them. The good, however, are in the true order of His providence in both respects.

Answers to Difficulties

1. God is said to abandon the wicked, not because they are entirely alien to His providence, but because their acts are not directed to their own profit. This is especially true of the depraved.

2. The angels in charge of guarding men never leave a man entirely. They are merely said to leave a man when, according to God’s just judgment, they permit a man to fall into sin or into some punishment.

3. A special kind of providence is promised to the good as a reward. As we mentioned above, this does not belong to the wicked.



In the eighth article we ask:

Are all material creatures governed by God’s providence through angels?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 22, 3; 103, 6; C.G., III, cc. 76-78, 83, 94, 124-25; De subst. sep., c. 13 (Perr. 1:n. 80); Comp. Theol., I, cc. 130-31.]


It seems that they are not, for

1. In Job (34:13) we read: “What other hath he appointed over the earth? or whom hath he set over the world which he hath made?” In his commentary on this passage, Gregory says: “By Himself, indeed, He rules that world who has created it by Himself.”’ Consequently, God does not rule material creatures through the mediation of spirits.

2. Damascene says that it is inconsistent to say that one person makes a thing and another rules over it. But, without any medium, God alone creates material creatures. Therefore, He governs them without any intermediaries.

3. Hugh of St. Victor says that God’s providence is His predestination, which is the highest wisdom and the highest goodness. Now, the highest good or wisdom is not communicated to any creature. Therefore, neither is providence. Hence, God does not provide for material creatures through the mediation of spiritual creatures.

4. Material creatures are ruled by providence in so far as they are directed to an end. But bodies are ordained to their end through their natural operations in accordance with their determinate natures. Therefore, since the natures of natural bodies are made determinate, not by spiritual creatures, but directly by God, it seems that they are not governed through the mediation of spiritual substances.

5. Augustine distinguishes between two types of providential operations: “natural and voluntary.” The former he calls natural because it makes trees and plants grow; the latter he calls voluntary because it takes place through the deeds of angels and men. It is clear, therefore, that all material things are ruled by the natural operation of providence, not through the mediation of angels, as would be true were they ruled by voluntary operation.

6. What is attributed to one person because of his dignity does not belong to another who does not have a similar dignity. Now, Jerome writes: “Great is the dignity of souls, each of whom has an angel appointed to guard it.” This dignity, however, is not found in material creatures; consequently, they are not committed to the providence and direction of angels.

7. The effects and due courses of these material bodies are frequently hindered. This would not happen if they were governed by the mediation of angels, because these obstacles would then occur either with the consent of the angels—and this is impossible, since it would be contrary to that for which angels were appointed, namely, the government of natures according to its due order—or they would occur against the angels’ will—and this, too, is impossible, since the angels would not be in the state of beatitude if something could happen to them which they did not want to happen. Therefore, material creatures are not ruled through the mediation of spiritual creatures.

8. The more noble and powerful a cause is, the more perfect is its effect. Now, lower causes can produce such effects as can be kept in existence even after the operation of their efficient cause ceases; for example, a knife continues in existence even after the work of the cutler has ceased. Much more so, then, will the effects of God’s power be able to exist by themselves without being provided for by any efficient cause. Consequently, they do not need to be ruled through angels.

9. The divine goodness has created the whole world in order to manifest itself; for, as we read in Proverbs (16:4): “The Lord hath made all things for himself...” Now, God’s goodness, as Augustine also says, is manifested more by a diversity of natures than by a number of things all possessing the same nature. For this reason, God did not make all creatures rational or all of them to exist in themselves. He made some creatures irrational, and some, like accidents, that exist in others. Consequently, it seems that for the greater manifestation of Himself God created not only creatures that needed the rule of another, but also some creatures that needed no rule at all. Hence, our position stands.

10. There are two types of acts in creatures, first act and second act. First act is the form and the act of existence that a form gives. Form is called the primarily first act, existence, the secondarily first act. Second act, however, is operation. Now, the first act of corporeal things comes directly from God. Therefore, their second acts are also caused directly by God. But the only way in which one thing governs another is by being in some manner the cause of its operations. Therefore, material creatures of this sort are not governed through the instrumentality of spirits.

11. According to Augustine, God simultaneously created a world that was perfect in all its parts in order that His power might be better shown. The praiseworthiness of His providence would similarly be even better shown if He were to govern all things directly. Therefore, He does not govern material things through the mediation of spirits.

12. There are two ways of governing. One way is to impart light or knowledge; this is the way in which a teacher rules his class, and a ruler, his city. The other way is to impart motion to a thing; this is the way in which a pilot guides his ship. Now, spiritual creatures do not govern material creatures by imparting light or knowledge, because these material things cannot receive knowledge, nor do they govern them by imparting motion, because, as is proved in the Physics, a mover must be joined to what he moves, and spiritual substances are not joined to these lesser material bodies. Consequently, the latter are not governed in any way through their mediation.

13. Boethius says: “Through Himself alone God disposes all things.” His disposition of material things, therefore, does not take place through spirits.

To the Contrary

1. Gregory says: “In this visible world, nothing can be disposed except through invisible creatures.”

2. Augustine writes: “All material things are ruled in a definite order through the spirit of life.”

3. Augustine also says: “God does certain things Himself, as illuminating and beatifying souls. Other things He does through creatures who serve Him. These, in proportion to their merit and according to inviolable laws, are ordained to care even for sparrows, even for the beauty of the grass of the fields, indeed, even for the number of hairs on our heads—and to all this divine providence extends.” Now, the creatures ordained to serve God’s inviolable decrees are the angels; consequently, it is through them that He governs material things.

4. Origen writes: “The world needs the angels, who rule over beasts, preside over the birth of animals, and over the growth of bushes, plants, and other things.”

5. Hugh of St. Victor says: “The ministry of angels rules not only over the life of men but also over the things that are related to their life.” Now, all material things are ordained for men’s use. Consequently, all things are governed through the mediation of angels.

6. In a co-ordinated series, the earlier members act on the later members. The later do not act on the earlier. But spiritual substances are prior to material, since they are closer to the first principle. Therefore, the action of spiritual substances governs material actions, and the opposite is not true.

7. Man is said to be a “microcosm” because the soul rules the human body as God rules the whole universe. In this respect, the soul is called “an image of God” more than angels are. Now, our soul governs the body through the mediation of certain spirits which are spiritual in comparison with the body, although material in comparison with the soul. Consequently, God also rules material creatures through the mediation of spiritual creatures.

8. Our soul exercises certain operations directly, for example, understanding and willing; but it exercises other operations mediately by using bodily organs as instruments, as, for example, in the operations of the sensitive and vegetative soul. God also exercises certain operations directly, such as the beatifying of souls and the other actions He performs in relation to the highest substances. Consequently, some of God’s operations will also take place in the lowest substances through the mediation of the highest ones.

9. The first cause does not take away the operation of a second cause, but, as is clear from what is said in The Causes, it strengthens it. Now, if God were to govern all things immediately, second causes would have no operations of their own. God, therefore, rules lower beings through higher beings.

10. In the universe there is something, such as the ultimate constituents of bodies, which is ruled but does not rule. There is something, such as God, which is not ruled but rules. Therefore, there will exist something that both rules and is ruled—a medium between both types. Consequently, God rules lower creatures through the mediation of higher.


As Dionysius and Augustine say, the divine goodness is the cause of things’ being brought into existence, for God wished to communicate His goodness to others as far as this was possible to creatures. God’s goodness, however, has a twofold perfection. We can consider it in itself as it contains all perfections in itself in a supereminent way, or we can consider it as it flows into things, that is, as it is the cause of things. It was fitting, therefore, that God’s divine goodness should be communicated to creatures in both ways so that because of this goodness created things not only would exist and possess goodness but also would give existence and goodness to other things, just like the sun’s outpoured rays, which not only illumine other bodies but also make them to be sources of light, too. However, the following order is kept: Those that most resemble the sun receive the most of its light and, consequently, have sufficient light not only for themselves but also to pour out on other things.

Similarly, in the ordering of the universe, as a result of the outpouring of God’s goodness, superior creatures have not only that by which they are good in themselves, but also that by which they are the cause of goodness for other things which participate the least in God’s goodness. These last-named things participate in the divine goodness merely in order to exist—not to be the cause of other things. And this is the reason, as Augustine and the Philosopher say, why that which is active is always more noble than that which is passive.

Now, among the superior creatures, the closest to God are those rational ones that exist, live and understand in the likeness of God. Consequently, God in His goodness gives them the power not only of pouring out upon other things but also of having the same manner of outpouring that He Himself has—that is, according to their will, and not according to any necessity of their nature. Hence, God governs inferior creatures both through spiritual creatures and through the more noble material creatures. He provides through material creatures, not by making them provident themselves, but by making them active. He governs through spiritual creatures, however, by making them provident themselves.

But even in rational creatures an order can be found. Rational souls hold the lowest place among these, and their light is shadowy in comparison with that of the angels. Consequently, as Dionysius says, their knowledge is more restricted, and their providence is likewise restricted to a few things, namely, to human affairs and practical matters of human life. But the providence of angels is universal and extends to all material creation. Consequently, both saints and philosophers say that all corporeal things are governed by divine providence through the mediation of angels. We must differ with the philosophers, however, in this, that some of them say that corporeal things are not only cared for by angels but are also created by them. This opinion is contrary to faith. We should follow, instead, the opinion of the saints who hold that corporeal things of this sort are administered by the providence of angels through motion only; that is, the angels move the higher bodies, and these motions cause the motions of the lower.

Answers to Difficulties

1. An exclusive statement regarding an agent does not exclude the operation of an instrument; it merely excludes another principal agent. Hence, if one were to say, “Socrates alone makes a knife,” not the operation of his hammer but only the operation of another carpenter is excluded. Similarly, when it is said that God governs the world by Himself, this does not exclude the operation of inferior causes, which God uses as instrumental means. All that is excluded is government by another principal ruler.

2. The governing of a thing pertains to its direction to an end. The ordination of a thing to an end, however, presupposes its act of existing; but its act of existing presupposes nothing else. Consequently, creation, by which all things are brought into existence, is the operation of the only cause that presupposes no other cause by which it is kept in existence. Government, however, can be one of those causes that do presuppose other causes, so it is not necessary for God to create through the mediation of certain causes through whose instrumentality He governs.

3. What creatures receive from God cannot exist in them in the same manner in which it exists in Him. Consequently, this difference becomes apparent when names are applied to Him. Those names that express some perfection absolutely are common also to creatures; but those that express both a perfection and its manner of existing in God are not common to creatures, for example, omnipotence, supreme wisdom, and supreme goodness. It is clear, therefore, that even though supreme goodness is not communicated to a creature, providence can be communicated to it.

4. Even though that establishment of nature by which material things receive a tendency to an end comes directly from God, their motion and action can take place through the instrumentality of angels, just as natures in seeds possess their undeveloped nature from God alone but, by the providence of a farmer, are helped to develop into act. Consequently, just as a farmer supervises the growth of the crops in his fields, so do angels direct the entire activity of material creation.

5. Augustine divides the operation of natural providence from that of voluntary providence by considering the proximate principles of their operations; and nature is the proximate principle of some operations of divine providence, while the will is that of others. But the remote principle of all providential action is the will, at least the divine will. The argument, therefore, proves nothing.

6. Just as all material bodies lie under God’s providence but God’s care is nevertheless said to be only for men because of the special kind of providence He has for them, so also, even though all material bodies are subject to the rule of angels, nevertheless, because of the dignity of men’s souls, angels are appointed to guard men in a very special way.

7. Just as the will of God as ruler is not opposed to defects in things but, instead, allows or pe its them, so is the same entirely true of the wills of angels, which are perfectly conformed to the divine will.

8. As Avicenna saya, no effect can remain if its proper cause is removed. Now, certain inferior causes are causes of becoming; others are causes of existing. A cause of becoming is that which educes a form from the potentiality of matter by means of motion, such as a cutler who is the efficient cause of a knife. A cause of a thing’s existing, however, is that upon which the act of existence of a thing essentially depends, as the existence of light in the air depends upon the sun. Now, if the cutler is removed, the becoming of the knife ceases, but not its existence. However, if the sun is taken away, there ceases the very existence of the light in the air. Similarly, if God’s action ceases, the existence of a creature utterly ceases, since God is the cause not only of a thing’s becoming but also of its existence.

9. That condition cannot possibly be in a creature; that is, a creature cannot have an act of existence without someone keeping it in that act. It is repugnant to the very notion of a creature; for a creature, because it is a creature, has an act of existence that is caused, and, consequently, it depends on something else.

10. More things are required for second act than for first act. Hence, it is not unreasonable that something should be the cause of another’s motion and operation, even though it is not the cause of its act of existence.

11. The breadth of God’s providence and goodness is manifested more clearly in His governance of inferior beings through superior beings than if He were to govern all things directly. For in this kind of government, as is clear from what has been said, the perfection of God’s goodness is communicated in more than one regard.

12. A spiritual creature governs a material one by giving it motion. This does not necessitate that spiritual creatures be joined to all bodies, but only to those which they move directly, namely, the first bodies. Spiritual creatures, moreover, are not joined to these bodies by being their forms, as some have held, but by being their movers.

13. When something is said to take place through another, the preposition through implies that it is a cause of the operation. Now, since an operation stands halfway between the one doing the work and the work that is done, through can imply a cause of the operation in so far as this cause issues in a result. In this sense it is said that something takes place through an instrument. Through can also, however, signify a cause of the operation in so far as the operation comes from the one operating. In this sense we say that something takes place through the form of the agent. Now, here it is not the instrument which is the cause of the agent’s action, but his form or some superior agent is the cause. However, an instrument can be the cause of the result which receives the agent’s action.

Consequently, when we read that God disposes all things through Himself alone, through denotes the cause of His divine disposition in so far as it comes from God who is disposing. In this sense, God is said to dispose through Himself alone, because He is not moved by any superior disposing Him; and He disposes, not through any extrinsic form, but only through His own goodness.



In the ninth article we ask:

Does divine providence dispose bodies here below by means of the celestial bodies?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 22, 3; 115, 3; II Sent., 15,1, 2; C.G., III, 82; Comp. Theol., I, c. 127.]


It seems not, for

1. Speaking of celestial bodies, Damascene writes as follows: “We say, however, that they do not cause generation or corruption.”’ Since bodies here below are subject to generation and corruption, they are consequently not disposed through celestial bodies.

2. It was said, however, that the celestial bodies are not called the causes of bodies here below merely because they do not introduce any necessity into them.—On the contrary, if an effect of a heavenly body on bodies here below is impeded, this must have been caused by some condition in the lower bodies. Now, if the lower bodies are ruled by the heavenly bodies, then that obstructing condition must be traced to some influence of a heavenly body. Consequently, no impediment could arise from bodies here below unless it were due to an exigency of the celestial bodies. Therefore, if the celestial bodies rule the lower, and if the motions of the celestial bodies are necessary, they will introduce necessity into the lower bodies.

3. For an action to be completed, all that is needed is something active and something passive. Now, both active and passive natural powers are found in bodies here below. Therefore, no power of a celestial body is needed for their actions. Consequently, bodies here below are not ruled through the instrumentality of celestial bodies.

4. According to Augustine, there are three types of things: first, things that are acted upon but do not act (e.g., bodies); second, things that act but are not acted upon (e.g., God); third, things that both act and are acted upon (e.g., spiritual substances). Now, celestial bodies are simply corporeal. Consequently, they do not have the power of acting upon bodies here below. Hence, the latter are not disposed through their instrumentality.

5. If a celestial body acts upon bodies here below, either it acts upon them in so far as it is a body, that is, through its material form, or it acts upon them through something else. Now, a celestial body does not act in so far as it is a body, because this kind of action can be found in all bodies; and this explanation seems unlikely from what Augustine says. Consequently, if it does act upon lower bodies, its action is due to something else; and, in this case, it should be attributed to an immaterial power and not to the heavenly bodies. Hence, the conclusion is the same as before.

6. What does not belong to what is prior does not belong to what is subsequent. Now, as the Commentator says, material forms presuppose indeterminate dimensions in matter. However, dimensions are not active, because quantity is not an active principle. Therefore, material forms are not active principles, and so no body can do anything except through an immaterial power existing within it. Consequently, the conclusion is the same as before.

7. Explaining this statement made in The Causes, “Every noble soul has three operations,” a Commentator declares that the soul acts on nature by means of a divine power existing within it. A soul, however, is much more noble than a body. Hence, neither can a body do anything to the soul except by means of a divine power within it. Consequently, our original position stands.

8. That which is more simple is not moved by what is less simple. But seminal principles in the matter of bodies here below are more simple than the material power of the heavens, because the power of the latter is diffused in matter while that of the seminal principles is not. Therefore, the seminal principles in bodies here below cannot be moved by the power of a celestial body. Hence, bodies here below are not governed in their motions by celestial bodies.

9. Augustine writes as follows: “Nothing pertains to the body more than the body’s sex. Yet, twins of different sexes can be conceived when the stars are in the same position.” Therefore, celestial bodies have no influence even on material things, and our original position stands.

10. As we read in The Causes: “The first cause has more effect on what is caused by a second cause than the second cause itself has.” Now, if bodies here below are disposed by celestial bodies, then with respect to the powers in bodies here below the powers of the celestial bodies are in a relation similar to that of the first cause; and the powers in bodies here below are then like second causes. Hence, effects taking place in bodies here below are determined more by the disposition of the celestial spheres than they are by the powers of the bodies themselves. However, there is necessity in the celestial bodies, since they always remain the same. Therefore, their effects below will also be necessary. But this is not true. Consequently, the first statement—that bodies here below are disposed by heavenly bodies—is also not true.

i 1. As we read in The Heavens, the motion of the heavens is natural. Consequently, it can hardly be voluntary or the result of a choice The things that are caused by it, therefore, are not caused as the result of a choice, and so do not come under providence. It would be unreasonable, however, to suppose that bodies here below are not governed by providence. Therefore, it is unreasonable for the motion of celestial bodies to be the cause of bodies here below.

12. When a cause is placed, an effect is placed. Therefore, the act of existence of a cause is, as it were, antecedent to that of an effect. Now, if an antecedent is necessary, the consequent is also necessary. Therefore, if a cause is necessary, the effect is likewise necessary. However, the effects taking place in bodies here below are not necessary but contingent. Consequently, they are not caused by the motion of the heavens, which is necessary because natural. Therefore, our original position stands.

13. The final cause of a thing’s becoming is more noble than the thing. But all things were made for the sake of man—even heavenly bodies. For we read the following in Deuteronomy (4:19): “Lest perhaps lifting up thy eyes to heaven, thou see the sun and the moon, and all the stars of heaven, and being deceived by error thou adore them, which the Lord thy God created for the service of all the nations that are under heaven.” Therefore, man is more noble than the celestial bodies. Now, what is less noble does not influence what is more noble. Consequently, celestial bodies have no influence on a human body, and, for the same reason, none on other bodies such as elements that are prior to the human body.

14. It was said, however, that man is more noble than the heavenly bodies because of his soul, not because of his body.—On the contrary, a nobler perfection is proper to a nobler subject. Now, the body of a man has a more noble form than a heavenly body has; for the form of the heavens is purely material, and a rational soul is much more noble than matter. Therefore, even the body of a man is nobler than a heavenly body.

15. A contrary is not the cause of its contrary. Now, occasionally, the power of a celestial body is opposed to the introduction of certain effects into lower bodies. For example, sometimes a celestial body starts to cause dampness, while a doctor is trying to dispose of some matter by drying it up in order to restore health; and he often succeeds in doing this even though a heavenly body is exerting a contrary influence. Therefore, heavenly bodies do not cause physical effects in bodies here below.

16. Since all action takes place through contact, what makes no contact does not act. Heavenly bodies, however, do not touch bodies here below. Consequently, they do not act upon them; and the original position stands.

17. But it was said that heavenly bodies contact lower bodies through a medium.—On the contrary, whenever there is contact and action through a medium, the medium must receive the effect of the agent before the end-term does. For example, fire heats the air before it heats us. Now, the effects of the sun and of the stars cannot be received in the lower spheres because these have the nature of the fifth essence and consequently cannot be affected by heat, cold, or any of the other states found in bodies here below. Therefore, no action can come from the heavenly bodies through the lower spheres to bodies here below.

18. Providence is communicated to what is an instrument of providence. But providence cannot be communicated to heavenly bodies, since they lack intelligence. Therefore, they cannot be an instrument for providing for things.

To the Contrary

l. Augustine says: “Bodies with weaker and grosser natures are ruled in a definite order by those that are more subtle and powerful.” Now, the heavenly bodies are more subtle and powerful than bodies here below. Therefore, they rule the bodies here below.

2. Dionysius says that the rays of the sun “enable visible bodies to generate and give them life, nourishment, and growth.” Now, these are the more noble effects to be found in bodies here below. Consequently, all the other physical effects also are produced by the providence of God through the mediation of celestial bodies.

3. According to the Philosopher, that which is first in any genus is the cause of the others that come afterwards in that genus. But the heavenly bodies are first in the genus of bodies, and their motions are first of all material motions. They are, therefore, the cause of material bodies that are moved here below. Hence, the conclusion is the same as before.

4. According to the Philosopher, the movement of the sun along an inclined circle causes generation and corruption in bodies here below. Consequently, generations and corruptions are measured by this movement. Aristotle also says that all the variety found in concepts is due to the heavenly bodies. Therefore, bodies here below are disposed through their mediation.

5. Rabbi Moses says that the heavens are in the universe as a heart is in an animal. But all the other members are ruled by the soul through the instrumentality of the heart. Therefore, all material things are ruled by God through the instrumentality of the heavens.


The common intention of all philosophers was to reduce multitude to unity and variety to uniformity as much as possible. Consequently, after considering the diversity of actions to be found in bodies here below, the ancient philosophers attempted to reduce these bodies to some fewer and more simple principles, that is, to elements, one or many, and to elementary qualities. But their position is not logical; for, in the actions of natural things, elementary qualities are like instrumental principles. An indication of this is the fact that they do not have the same way of acting in all things, nor do their actions always arrive at the same term. They have different effects in gold, in wood, and in the flesh of an animal. Now, this would not happen unless their actions were controlled by something else. Moreover, the action of the principal agent is not reduced to the action of an instrument as to its principle. Rather, the opposite is true, as, for example, a product of handicraft ought not be attributed to the saw but to the craftsman. Therefore, neither can natural effects be reduced to elementary qualities as to their first principles.

Consequently, others (the Patonists) made simple and separated forms the first principles of natural effects. These were the origin, they said, of the existence, genera on, and every natural property of bodies here below. This opinion also, however, is false; for, if a cause remains always the same, then the effect is always the same. Now, the forms they posited were immovable. Consequently, any generation resulting from them would always have to happen in bodies here below in a constant manner. But we see with our own eyes that what happens is quite the contrary.

It is therefore necessary to say that in bodies here below the principles of generation, of corruption, and of the other motions that depend upon these do not always remain the same; but they nevertheless always remain as the first principles of generation, and thereby make continual generation possible. Moreover, they must be unchangeable in their substance, and subject only to local motion. Consequently, as a result of their approach or withdrawal, they bring about diverse and contrary motions in bodies here below. Now, the heavenly bodies are of just such a nature. Consequently, all material effects should be reduced to them as to their cause.

In this reduction, however, two errors have been made. Some have reduced the bodies here below to heavenly bodies, as though the latter were their absolute first cause, for these philosophers denied that immaterial substances exist. Consequently, they said that what is prior among bodies is first among beings. This, however, is clearly false. Whatever is moved must be reduced to a first immovable principle, since nothing is moved by itself, and one cannot keep going back into infinity. Now, even though a heavenly body does not undergo change by generation or corruption or by a motion which would alter what belongs to its substance, it is nevertheless moved locally. Consequently, the reduction must be made to some prior principle so that things undergoing qualitative change are traced back by a definite order to that which causes this change in other things but is not so changed itself, although it is moved locally; and then further back to that which does not change in any way at all.

Others have asserted that the heavenly bodies cause not only the motion of bodies here below but also their very beginning. For example, Avicenna says that, as a result of what is common to all heavenly bodies, that is, their circular motion, there is caused the common element of bodies here below, namely, first matter; and, as a result of those things which differentiate one heavenly body from another, there is caused the difference in their forms. Thus, the heavenly bodies are media, to some extent, between God and things here below even in the line of creation. This position, however, is contrary to faith, which teaches that the whole of nature in its first beginning was created directly by God. But that one creature should be moved by another, presupposing that natural powers of each creature are given it as a result of God’s work, is not contrary to faith. Consequently, we say that the heavenly bodies are the causes of bodies here below merely in the line of motion. Thus, these heavenly bodies are instruments in the work of governing, but not in the work of creating.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Damascene intends to exclude from heavenly bodies only first causality or any causality which would introduce necessity into bodies here below. For, even if heavenly bodies always act in the same way, their effects are received in lower bodies according to the manner of these lower bodies, which are frequently seen to be in a contrary state. Consequently, the forces exercised by the heavenly bodies are not always able to bring about their effects in the bodies here below, because a contrary disposition prevents them from doing so. This is why the Philosopher says that signs of storms and winds frequently appear, but the storms and winds do not take place because the contrary dispositions are stronger.

2. Those dispositions that resist the force of the celestial bodies are caused in their original creation, not by a heavenly body, but by God’s operation, which has made fire to be hot, water to be cold, and so forth. Consequently, we should not reduce all impediments of this kind to the celestial bodies.

3. The active powers in these lower bodies are merely instrumental. Consequently, like an instrument which does not move unless it is moved by a first agent, the active powers of inferior bodies cannot operate unless moved by celestial bodies.

4. That objection touches a certain opinion found in The Fount of Life to the effect that no body acts because of any power that it has as a body, because the quantity found in matter prevents the form from acting. Hence, every action we attribute to a body is really the action of some spiritual power operating in it. According to Rabbi Moses, this opinion was held by certain teachers among the Moors who said that fire does not heat, but God heats in the fire. This position, however, is foolish, since it denies all things their natural operations. Moreover, it is contrary to what philosophers and saints have said. Consequently, we say that bodies act by means of their material power; nevertheless, God operates in all things as a first cause operating in a second cause.

Therefore, the statement made to the effect that bodies are only acted upon but do not act should be understood in this sense: only that is said to act which has dominion over its action. It was in this sense that Damascene asserted: “Brute animals do not act but are only acted upon.” But this does not mean that animals do not act if act is taken to mean simply the performance of an action.

5, As we read in Generation and Corruption, that which is active is always other than or contrary to that which is passive. Consequently, it does not belong to a body to act upon another body with respect to that which it has in common with that body, but only with respect to that in which it is different from it. A body, therefore, does not act in so far as it is a body, but in so far as it is a certain kind of body. For example, no animal reasons inasmuch as it is simply animal, but some animals reason inasmuch as they are also men. Similarly, fire does not heat in so far as it is a body, but in so far as it is hot. The same is true of a celestial body.

6. Before the advent of natural forms, dimensions are presupposed as existing in matter in a state of incomplete act, not of complete act. Consequently, they are first in the line of matter and of generation. Form, however, is first in the line of completion. Now, a thing acts in so far as it is completed and is an actual being, not in so far as it is in potency. As a being in potency it is merely passive. Hence, it does not follow from the fact that matter or dimensions pre-existing in matter are not active that form is likewise inactive. Instead, the opposite follows. It would follow, however, if these dimensions were not passive, that the form would not be passive. But, as the Commentator says, the form of a heavenly body is not in it through the mediation of dimensions of the sort described.

7. The order of effects should correspond to the order of causes. According to the author of that book, however, the following order of causes exists: first, the first cause, God; second, the intelligence; third, the soul. Consequently, the first effect, the act of existence, is properly attributed to the first cause; the second effect, knowing, is attributed to intelligence; the third effect, moving, is attributed to the soul.

A second cause, however, always acts in virtue of the first cause, and, consequently, possesses something of its operation (like the lower spheres which possess something of the motion of the highest). According to the author, however, the intelligence not only knows but also gives existence; and the soul, which he holds to be caused by the intelligence, has not only the motion of the soul, which is to move, but also that of an intellect, which is to understand, and that of God, which is to give existence. I admit these to be the actions of a noble soul, but he understands such a soul to be the soul of a heavenly body or any other rational soul whatsoever.

Therefore, it is not necessary that the divine power be the only one to move all things without any intermediary. The lower causes can also move through their own powers in so far as they participate in the power of superior causes.

8. According to Augustine, seminal principles are all the active and passive powers given to creatures by God; and through their instrumentality natural effects are brought into existence. He writes in The Trinity: “Like a mother pregnant with her unborn infant, the world is pregnant with the causes of unborn things.” While explaining what he said above about seminal principles, he also called them “the powers and faculties” that are allotted to things.

Consequently, included in these seminal principles are the active powers of celestial bodies, which are more noble than the active powers of bodies here below and, consequently, able to move them. They are called seminal principles inasmuch as all effects are originally in their active causes in the manner of seeds. But if, as some hold, seminal principles are understood as being the beginnings of forms in first matter, inasmuch as first matter is in potency to all forms, then, even though this does not agree very much with the words of Augustine, it can be said that the simplicity of these principles, like the simplicity of first matter, is caused by their imperfection, and, because of it, they cannot be moved, just as first matter cannot be.

9. Differentiation of the sexes must be attributed to celestial causes. Our reason for saying this is as follows: Every agent tends to form to its own likeness, as far as possible, that which is passive in its respect. Accordingly, the active principle in the male seed always tends toward the generation of a male offspring, which is more perfect than the female. From this it follows that conception of female offspring is something of an accident in the order of nature-in so far, at least, as it is not the result of the natural causality of the particular agent. Therefore, if there were no other natural influence at work tending toward the conception of female offspring, such conception would be wholly outside the design of nature, as is the case with what we call “monstrous” births. And so it is said that, although the conception of female offspring is not the natural result of the efficient causality of the particular nature at work—for which reason the female is sometimes spoken of as an “accidental male”—nevertheless, the conception of female offspring is the natural result of universal nature; that is, it is due to the influence of a heavenly body, as Avicenna suggests.

Matter, however, can cause an impediment which will prevent both the celestial force and the particular nature from attaining their effect, namely, the production of a male. And so, sometimes, as a result of an improper disposition in matter, a female is conceived even when the celestial influence tends to the contrary; or the opposite may happen, and, despite the influence of the celestial body, a male will sometimes be conceived because the formative influence of the particular agent is strong enough to overcome the defect in the material. In the conception of twins, the matter is separated by the operation of nature; and one part of the matter yields to the active principle more than the other part does because of the latter’s deficiency. Consequently, in one part a female is generated, in the other, a male—independently of the dispositions of the celestial spheres one way or the other. The generation of a female twin, however, happens more often when a celestial body disposes to the female sex.

10. A first cause is said to have more influence than a second cause in so far as its effect is deeper and more permanent in what is caused than the effect of the second cause is. Nevertheless, the effect has more resemblance to the second cause, since the action of the first cause is in some way determined to this particular effect by means of the second cause.

11. Although a movement in the heavens, as it is the act of a movable body, is not a voluntary motion, nevertheless, as it is the act of a mover, it is voluntary; that is to say, it is caused by a will. And in this respect the things which are caused by this movement may come under providence.

12. An effect does not follow from a first cause unless the second cause has already been placed. Consequently, the necessity of a first cause does not introduce necessity into its effect unless the second cause is also necessary.

13. The celestial bodies are not made for man in the sense that man is their principal end. Their principal end is the divine goodness. Moreover, that man is nobler than a heavenly body is not due to the nature of his body but to the nature of his rational soul. Besides, even granting that man’s body were, speaking absolutely, nobler than a celestial body, this would not prevent a celestial body from being nobler than a human body under a certain aspect, namely, as it has active power while the latter has merely passive power; and in this respect, a celestial body can act upon the human body. Similarly, fire as it is actually hot can act upon a human body in so far as the latter is potentially hot.

14. The rational soul is a substance as well as the act of a body. As a substance, therefore, it is nobler than the form of a celestial body; but it is not nobler as the act of a body. Or it could be said that the soul is a perfection of the human body both as a form and as a mover. But, since a celestial body is more perfect, it does not need a spiritual substance to perfect it as a form, but only to perfect it as a mover. This self-sufficiency makes it naturally more noble than [man who needs] a human soul.

Even though some have asserted that the movers of the heavenly spheres are joined to them as forms, Augustine left the matter in doubt. In his commentary on the words of Ecclesiastes (1:6), “The spirit goeth forward surveying all places round about,” Jerome seems to follow the affirmative position; for he says: “He calls the sun a spirit because it breathes and lives like an animal.” Damascene, however, holds the contrary: “Let no one think that the heavens or the stars are living. They lack both life and feeling.”

15. Even the action of a contrary which resists the active influence of a celestial body has some cause in the heavens; for, as the philosophers say, things here below are sustained in their actions by the first motion. Consequently, a contrary whose action impedes the effect of a celestial body, like the hot remedy which impedes moistening by the moon, nevertheless has a cause in the heavens. Similarly, the health that follows is not entirely contrary to the action of the celestial body but has some roots there.

16. As is said in Generation and Corruption, heavenly bodies contact bodies here below, but are not contacted by them. Moreover, as was mentioned, no heavenly body immediately contacts a body here below. The contact is through a medium.

17. The action of the agent is received in the medium according to the manner of the medium. Consequently, it is sometimes received in a different way in the medium than in the ultimate term. For example, the force of a magnet attracting iron passes to the iron through the medium of air, which is not attracted; and, as the Commentator says, the force of a fish that shocks the hand is transmitted to the hand through a net which is not shocked. Moreover, heavenly bodies do have all the qualities found in bodies below, but in their own way (which is that of a source) and not as in these lower bodies. Consequently, their actions are not received in the intermediate spheres in such a way that these are changed as the lower bodies are.

18. Bodies f this kind here below are ruled by divine providence through the h her bodies, but not in such a way that divine providence is communicated to them. They are made merely the instruments by which God’s providence is carried out—just as art is not communicated to a hammer, which is merely an instrument of the art.



In the tenth article we ask:

Are human acts governed by God’s providence through the instrumentality of celestial bodies?

[Parallel readings: S.T., I, 22, 3; 115, 4; I-II, 9, 5; II-II, 95, 5; 1I Sent., I5, 1, 3; In Matth., c. 2 (P. 10:21a); C.G., III, cc. 84-85,87; III De anima, lect. 4, n. 621; I Perih., lect. 14, n. 14 seq.; VI Metaph., lect. 3, nn. 1203-05,1213-17; Comp. Theol., 1, cc. 127-28.]


It seems that they are, for

1. According to Damascene, heavenly bodies “are responsible for our habits, temperament, and disposition.” Now, habits and dispositions belong to the intellect and the will, which are the principles of human acts. Consequently, human acts are disposed by God through the mediation of celestial bodies.

2. We read in The Six Principles: That the soul when joined to a body, imitates the temperament of that body. But, since the celestial bodies leave their impression on a man’s temperament, they thereby influence his soul. Hence, they can cause human acts.

3. Whatever acts upon a prior member of a series also acts upon a subsequent member. Now, the essence of the soul exists before its powers of intellect and will exist, because these have their origin in the essence of the soul. Therefore, since the celestial bodies leave their impression on the essence of the rational soul, which they do inasmuch as the soul is the act of a body—a function belonging to it by its very essence, it seems that they leave their impression on the intellect and will, and, consequently, are principles of human acts.

4. An instrument acts, not only because of its own power, but also because of the power of the principal agent. Now, since a heavenly body is a moved mover, it is the instrument of the spiritual substance moving it. Consequently, its motion is not that of a body alone but it is also the act of the spirit moving it. Therefore, its motion takes place, not only by reason of the body moved, but also by reason of the spirit moving it. Now, just as that celestial body is superior to a human body, so is that spiritual substance superior to a human spirit. Consequently, that motion leaves its impression on a man’s soul as well as on his body. It seems, therefore, that they are the principles of his acts of intellect and will.

5. By experience we know that from their birth some men have talents for learning or exercising certain crafts. Hence, some become carpenters, others become doctors, and so forth. Now, this proclivity cannot be reduced to the proximate principles of generation as its cause, for children are often found to have a bent to certain things which their parents did not have. This difference in talent, therefore, should be reduced to the celestial bodies as its cause. Moreover, it cannot be said that this sort of talent is in men’s souls through the mediation of their bodies, because the physical qualities of the body do not contribute to these inclinations as they actually do to anger, joy, and similar passions of the soul. Celestial bodies, therefore, leave their impression on men’s souls immediately and directly. Consequently, human acts are disposed through the instrumentality of the celestial bodies.

6. Of all human acts, the following seem to be superior to all others: ruling, waging wars, and similar actions. But, as Isaac says: “God made a sphere to rule over kingdoms and wars.” Much more, then, are other human acts disposed through the mediation of heavenly bodies.

7. It is easier to transfer a part than a whole. But, according to philosophers, the influence of the celestial bodies sometimes moves the entire population of a province to launch a war. Much more, then, can the power of these celestial bodies affect some particular man.

To the Contrary

1. Damascene writes of the heavenly bodies that they never cause our acts: “We have been given free choice by our Maker, and we are the masters of our conduct.”

2. Both Augustine and Gregory support this contrary view.


To get a clear understanding of this question, we must first understand what is meant by human acts. Human acts, properly speaking, are those over which a man is master. A man, however, is the master of his acts through his will or free choice. Consequently, this question is concerned with the acts of the will and of free choice. There are, of course, other acts in man that do not lie under the command of his will, for example, the acts of his nutritive and generative powers. These acts lie under the influence of celestial forces, just as other physical acts do.

There have been many errors regarding human acts. Some have said that human acts do not come under God’s providence and cannot be reduced to any cause other than our own providence. As Augustine says, this seems to have been the position of Cicero. The position, however, is untenable; for, as proved in The Soul, our will is a moved mover. Consequently, its act must be reduced to some first principle that is an unmoved mover.

For this reason, some have reduced all the acts of the will to the celestial bodies; for, since they asserted that our senses and intellect are the same, it followed that all the powers of the soul are material and, therefore, subject to the action of the heavenly bodies. The Philosopher, however, destroys this position by showing that the intellect is an immaterial power and that its action is not material. As he says in The Generation of Animals, if the actions of principles are immaterial, the principles themselves must be immaterial. Consequently, it is impossible for the actions of the will and intellect of themselves to be reduced to any material principles.

Avicenna, therefore, declared that heavenly bodies were made, like man, of a soul and body, and that, just as the actions and motion of a human body are reduced to celestial bodies, so all the actions of the soul are reduced to celestial souls as to their principles. Consequently, whatever will we have is caused by the will of a celestial soul. This position is consistent with his opinion on the end of man, which he holds to be the union of the human soul with a celestial soul or intelligence. For, since the perfection of the will is its end and its good—and this is its object, just as the visible is the object of sight—then that which acts upon the will should have the nature of an end, because an efficient cause acts only in so far as it impresses its form on a recipient.

Faith, however, teaches that God is the direct end of man’s life, and that we will be beatified and enjoy the vision of God. Consequently, He alone can leave an impression on our will. Now, the order of what is moved should correspond to the order of the movers. But in our ordination to our end, with which providence is concerned, the first thing that is in us is our will; and the characters of the good and of an end primarily pertain to the will, which uses everything we have as instruments toward achieving our end. However, in a certain respect the intellect precedes the will, and is, moreover, more closely related to it than our bodily powers are. Consequently, God alone, who is the first provider in all respects, leaves His imprint on our will; the angels, who follow Him in the order of causes, leave their imprint on our intellect in so far as we are enlightened, cleansed, and perfected by them, as Dionysius says. But the celestial bodies, which are inferior agents, can leave their imprint only upon our sensible powers and the other powers in our organs. Of course, inasmuch as the movement of one power of the soul flows over into another, it happens that the impression made by a celestial body will, as it were, accidentally flow over into the intellect and finally into the will. Similarly, the impression made by an angel upon our intellect also accidentally flows over into our will.

But the relation of the intellect and of the will to the sensitive powers is different in the following respect: the intellect is naturally moved by the sensitive apprehension in the way in which a potency is moved by an object, because, as is said in The Soul, the phantasm is related to the possible intellect as color is to sight. Consequently, whenever an interior sensitive power is disturbed, the intellect is necessarily also disturbed. We see, for example, that when the organ of the imagination is injured the action of the intellect is necessarily impeded. By this means, therefore, the action or influence of a celestial body can flow over into the intellect with a kind of necessity; but this influence is accidental, because what it directly influences is the body. I say Itneccssity” flows over—unless there is a contrary disposition in what is affected. But the sensitive appetite is not the natural mover of the will. Instead, the opposite is true, because, as is said in The Soul, a higher appetite moves a lower “as one sphere” moves another. And no matter how much a lower appetite is troubled by the passion, as of anger or of concupiscence, the will need not be disturbed. Indeed, the will has the power to repel a disturbance of this kind; for, as we read in Genesis (4:7): “The lust thereof shall be under thee.” Consequently, no necessity is introduced into human acts by the influence of celestial bodies, either by the celestial bodies themselves or by those things which receive their influence. The celestial bodies introduce only an inclination, which the will can resist by means of an acquired or infused power.

Answers to Difficulties

1. Damascene is thinking of bodily habits and dispositions.

2. From what was said above, it is clear that an act of the will in the soul does not necessarily follow the disposition of the body. From the temperament of the body, only an inclination arises to those things which are the object of the will.

3. That argument would proceed correctly if a heavenly body could leave its impression on the essence of the soul directly. But the influence of a heavenly body reaches to the essence of the soul only indirectly, that is, only in so far as the soul is united to a body, whose act the soul is. The will, however, does not have its origin in the essence of the soul in so far as the soul is joined to a body. Consequently, the argument proves nothing.

4. An instrument of a spiritual agent acts through a spiritual power only as it acts through its own material power. Because of its material power, however, a heavenly body can act upon our bodies only. Consequently, the action that arises from its spiritual power can arrive at the soul only indirectly, that is, through the mediation of man’s body. However, the material and spiritual power of a heavenly body can influence man’s body directly. Because of its material power it moves elementary qualities, such as hot, cold, and so forth; and because of its spiritual power it moves to species and to those effects following the entire species which cannot be reduced to elementary qualities.

5. There are in those bodies some effects of the heavenly bodies which are not caused by heat or cold, such as the attraction of iron by a magnet. In this way some disposition is left in a human body by a celestial body; and by reason of this disposition the soul that is joined to such a body is inclined to this or that craft.

6. If we must “save” the words of Isaac, we have to understand them to mean merely an inclination in the manner described above.

7. For the most part, a large group follows its natural inclinations, for, as members of a group, men give in to the passions of the group. But by using their intelligence wise men overcome these passions and inclinations. Consequently, it is more probable that a large group will do what a celestial body inclines it to do than that one individual will; for he may use his reason to overcome this inclination. Similarly, if there is a large group of hot-tempered men, it is unlikely that they will not be angered, although it is more likely that an individual will not.