Secondary Causation and God’s Purpose in Protestant Aristotelianism

In the fifty years between 1610 and 1660 Protestant Scholasticism developed a number of traits that distinguished it from its Roman Catholic counterpart. One of these was the concept of God’s concurrence. This was the idea that the world was shaped through secondary causes, which were nevertheless created and operated through God’s will. The German theologian, J.H. Heidegger, wrote:

‘Concurrence or co-operation is the operation of God by which He co-operates directly with the second causes as depending upon Him alike in their essence as in their operation, so as to urge or move them to action and to operate along iwth them in a manner suitable to a first cause adn adjusted to the nature of second causes’.

Nevertheless, the use of secondary causes did not rule out the possibility and reality of direct intevention by God:

‘Government is direct, when God either does not use second causes or uses them above, beyond and counter to their nature … But he is not said ever to have done anything contrary to universal nature, i.e., the order of the whole universe, to whihc He bound Himself of His own free will. But He frequently operated iwthout means, beyond and counter to them, to show that all things are by Him or His proximate and direct goodness.’

More recently theologians like Alister McGrath, a former microbiologist, have pointed out that the neither the Bible nor the early Church Fathers never used a particular Greek term for miracle that implied the breakdown or absence of scientific law. For the Gospel writers and the early church, a miracle was not the absence or violation of the laws of nature, but their suspension through the operation of a superior law. Thus in this view, Christians are perfectly free to accept that humanity may have been deliberately created by God through the agency of evolution while also believing in God’s miraculous intervention in ‘special acts of grace’.

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