Markus Vinzent's Blog

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Is God's will immutable

Working my way through the newly re-discovered Eckhartian manuscript (Pfeiffer's P; Gi2), Wartburg-Stiftung, Ms. 1361-50, I came across this amazing discussion between Eckhart and Thomas Aquinas:

The immutability of God’s will

The next, second passage of Gi2 deals with a topic that is not unrelated to the previous one on God’s acting, namely the immutability of God’s will. Even though the relation to the previous part is not obvious, both topics are about God’s attributes, a theme on which Eckhart has given Parisian Questions which he has collected and published under the title “De attributis [Deo]”[1] and which he integrated into his Liber quaestionum.[2] There is a close relation between Eckhart’s exegetical writings and his Quaestiones, particularly his Commentary on Exodus, as he based a long digression in this Commentary on the recently rediscovered Parisian Quaestions (Qu. P. 6-9),[3] now published in the critical edition.[4] Likewise, there is a close connection between Eckhart’s homiletic work and his Quaestiones, as the the Parisian Questions 5-6 formed the basis of his Latin Sermo XXVIII.[5] No surprise, therefore, that Eckhart cross-references his collection of questions on the attributes of God both from his exegetical and his homiletic work.[6]

While the first Eckhart-section of Gi2 opened straight with Thomas and Eckhart’s reading of him, here Eckhart introduces the question first by giving an illustration – how can God’s will not change when he made the grain nicely grow, but at the time of harvest allows bad weather and hail to destroy it? The agricultural image may give us a hint at the social setting of his discourse, as it would have made hardly much sense in a city like Paris, but rather speaks for a rural area or a rural city. For his answer, the author first points, again, to Thomas ‘and also other masters’. The latter might be Augustine, Boethius, Avicenna, Averroes or contemporary masters of Eckhart.[7]

In what follows, Eckhart gives a translation, again partly literally, of a section of Thomas’ Summa Theologia (I q. 19 a. 7).

Thom. Aqu., S. Th. I q. 19 a. 7
Thom. Aqu., S. Th. I q. 19 a. 7 (trans.)[8]
Wartburg-Stiftung, Ms. 1361-50 (= Gi2)
Wartburg-Stiftung, Ms. 1361-50 (= Gi2) (trans.)

voluntas Dei est omnino immutabilis.Sed circa hoc considerandum est, quod aliud est mutare voluntatem; et aliud est velle aliquarum rerum mutationem. Potest enim aliquis, eadem voluntate immobiliter permanente,
velle quod nunc fiat hoc, et postea fiat contrarium. Sed tunc voluntas mutaretur, si aliquis inciperet velle quod prius non voluit, vel desineret velle quod voluit.
Quod quidem accidere non potest, nisi praesupposita mutatione vel ex parte cognitionis, vel circa dispositionem substantiae ipsius volentis.

Cum enim voluntas sit boni, aliquis de novo dupliciter potest incipere aliquid velle. Uno modo sic, quod de novo incipiat sibi illud esse bonum.

Quod non est absque
mutatione eius, sicut adveniente frigore, incipit esse bonum sedere ad ignem, quod prius non erat.

Alio modo sic, quod de novo cognoscat illud esse sibi bonum, cum prius hoc ignorasset, ad hoc enim consiliamur, ut sciamus quid nobis sit bonum.

Ostensum est autem supra quod tam substantia Dei quam eius scientia est omnino immutabilis.

Unde oportet voluntatem eius omnino esse immutabilem.

The will of God is entirely unchangeable.
On this point we must consider that to change the will is one thing;
to will that certain things should be changed is another.

It is possible to will a thing to be done now, and its contrary afterwards; and yet for the will to remain
throughout the same:
whereas the will would be changed, if one should begin to will what before
one had not willed; or cease to will what one had willed before.

This cannot happen, unless we presuppose change either in the knowledge or in the disposition of the substance of the willer.

For since the will regards good, a man may in two ways begin to will a thing.

In one way when that thing begins to be good for him, and this does not take place without a change in him.

Thus when the cold weather begins, it becomes good to sit by the fire; though it was not so before.

In another way when he knows for the first time that a thing is good for him, though he did not know it before; hence we take counsel in order to know what is good for us.

Now it has already been shown that both the substance of God and His knowledge are entirely unchangeable.

Therefore His will must be entirely unchangeable.
So ist ein vrage wand wir sehen das god etzwas wandeld das er vor gedan had, of godes wille wandelber is. Als so wir sen das lassed sch=n korn wachsen, vnd so das zid kumed das die lude das korn sniden svlen, so sen ded er einen hagel der das korn alles verderued. Rehd als of sin wille gewandeld si an dem korn

hie spriched meister thomas
[9] vnd ?ch ander meister, das godes wille vnwandelber ist.[10]
Vnd bewisend das da mide, wan so ich ein ding wil d
Nn vnd haf in dem seluen willen das ich [36r] das ding welle hernach wandelen.

Da beschihd ein wandelunge nihd an minem willen wan ich wolde vorhin das, das ding gewandeld wurde. Da bliued min wille vnwandelber, mer wandelunge beschihd wal an
dem dinge[11].

Rehd also ist es vmb vnseren herren, der wil der dinge wandelunge vnd werdend dv ding gewandeld, vnd da mide so bliued godes wille vnwandelber.

Vnd dis bewerend si ?ch mit einer andren rede also. Wan dv wandelunge mag an mir beschehen nach [36v] zweier hande wise, van der wegen min mNd vnd min wille mag gewandeld werden.

Zedem ersten male of etzwas beschihd van dem min substancie beweged wird, vnd das van der bewegunge wegen min wille gewandeld wird,

als of ich ieze nihd wil gan z
N dem fure, wan das weder ist warm mer kvmd ein keldi, so wird ich da von beweged an minem liue, vnd hervmbe so wird min wille gewandeld das ich nv wil zN dem fure da ich iez nihd zN wolde.
Vnd mag Nch [37r] zu dem andren male min wille gewandeld werden, als of ich willen han etzwas ze dNnne morne, so kvmed etzwas die wile das ich wal merke vnd ded ich das, das ich mNd hadde so besche mir schade da van. Vnd also wird min wille gewandeld das ich nihd dNn das ich mNd vnd willen hadde ze dNnne.
Nu mag vnder disen zweien sachen keinv beschehen in gode. Wan sin substancie mag nihd gewandeld werden.
Er weis
?ch allv ding worhin vnd hervmbe so ist sin wille zemal vnwandelber [37v].
It follows a question, when we notice that God changes something that he had done before, whether God’s will is mutable. As when we see that He lets the grain nicely grow and as time comes, when the people should smit the grain, he sends hail which destroys all the grain, rightly as if he had changed his will with regards the grain.
Here, Meister Thomas and also other masters state that God’s will is immutable.
And they prove this by [the thought] that when I wish to do such thing and in this same wish I include that later I [36r] wish to change that thing.

Then, there is no change of
my will,
as I wished before that the thing should be changed.
In this, my will would remain
immutable, while the change
rather happened to the thing.

Right so it is with our Lord who wishes the change of things and do things change, God’s will remains immutable.

And this they also prove with another argument.
As the change may happen to me in [36v] two different ways, because both my strength and my will may change.

With regards the first, whether something is done which affects my substance, and that because of the move my will changes,

for when I do not wish to be close to the fire, when the weather is fine, but when the cold comes, so I am moved by my body and through it my will changes that now I would like to be close to the fire which I did not want before.
And second
, my will might change, for when I intended to do something in the morning, then something happens that I quite notice and if I did it, I knew that I would suffer from.

Hence, my will is going to change not to do what I knew of and wished to do.

Of these two things
none will happen in God.
As his
substance will
not be changed

He foreknows all things and, therefore, his will is entirely immutable [37v].

What may prima facie be read like a straight forward translation of Thomas, on closer inspection, this is not only a sharpened reading of Thomas, as in the first section of Gi2, but Eckhart makes a startling statement of disagreement and opposition to the position of Thomas (and other masters). First, however, let us follow the argument of Thomas’ position in the present text.

To begin with, Thomas categorically states that God’s will is unchangeable, or even “entirly unchangeable’”. Having said this, nevertheless, he wants to make concessions (“sed ... considerandum est”). He introduces the distinction between “to change the the will” and the will “that certain things should be changed”.

Instead of looking at the second element, he focusses on “to change the will”. As example he gives that one may will something “to be done now”, say have a cup of coffee, and “its contrary afterwards”, say to go to work. Of course, in this case one’s “will” would “remain throughout the same”. The opposite would be, where the will changed: if, for example “one should begin to will what before one had not willed”, hence if, drinking a coffee, I would suddenly had wished to have gone to work instead, or, while having set off to work, have pity not to have stayed longer with my coffee. Likewise, “the will” could have “cease[d] to will what one had willed before”, or while drinking coffee,  started to dislike the decision to have this drink. To allow the idea of a change of will, Thomas introduces two presuppositions: first, a change “in the knowledge” or second, “in the disposition of the substance of the willer”. The second presupposition of “disposition” is illustrated by a change of outside circumstances (“When the cold weather begins, it becomes good to sit by the fire”) that gives the person a sense for a change, hence something that becomes good for someone and makes him change; the first presupposition of “knowledge” is highlighted by the fact that when somebody gets to know “for the first time that a thing is good for him, though he did not know it before”, he might change his mind and will. Knowledge from consultancy leads to change. The second presupposition of “disposition” is exemplified with the outside changing circumstances of the weather. When the weather turns cold, it makes sense to move and sit close to the fire, hence, the will where to sit is being changed.

And yet, despite these concessions that there are novel knowledge or outside changes that impress on the will, Thomas maintains that because of God’s substance and knowledge being immutable, so also will be His supreme will. This, of course, is only possible, by adding “intermediate causes that have power to produce certain effects” on the cause of action of the divine, even though they will not change the general cause of action of the divine will. And yet, Thomas reckons with “intermediate causes” that “are inferior in power to the first cause” and because of their inferiority, “many things in the divine power, knowledge and will” cannot be “included in the order of inferior causes”, as they will always fall short of the superior will of God. It is this distinction between the superior, unchangeable will of God, and the changeable nature of those secondary or intermediate causes, that allows for a certain openness of God directing things.

Let us now move to how Eckhart in Gi2 deals with this statement of Thomas: He starts with an introduction setting out the question. ‘God changes something that he had done before’, hence the question arises ‘whether God’s will is mutable’. He starts with the mentioned rural example about the growth of grain and its subsequent destruction. Already the translation of Thomas’ position that follows is carefully corrected. While Thomas boldly stated that “the will of God is entirely unchangeable” – even though he than makes concessions – Eckhart correctly omits the “entirely” as he must have noticed that Thomas did not stick to that “omnino” unchangeability, even if he might have reserved such absolute immutability to the superior will of God. Yet, as we will see, Eckhart is attacking precisely this kind of conditionality that Thomas is introducing. For this reason, he also flattens the differentiation that Thomas then had introduced between “to change the will” and “to will that certain things should be changed”, pulling them together into “I wish to do such thing and in this same wish I include that later I wish to change that thing”. The translator moves even further away from Thomas, as he omits to translate the further explanation of the two presuppositions of changing the will and concentrates only on the second option that there was a “will that certain things should be changed”, on which Thomas did not elaborate. Only this, however, is being picked up by Eckhart. To this he agrees that a change that was known before and then happens later cannot be described as a change of will, “as I wished before that the thing should be changed”. And he adds that “right so it is with our Lord who wishes the change of things and do things change, God’s will remains immutable”. Only than, he picks up the other argument of Thomas, their “other argument”, according to which “the change may happen to me in two different ways, because both my strength and my will may change”. He follows Thomas’ arguments here, but contrary to him, he categorically states at the end: “Of these two things none will happen in God. As his substance will not be changed”. Interestingly, he does not contradict Thomas directly, as he bases is conclusion on Thomas’ own thought that because of God’s substance is unchangeable, also his will is not changing, but he uses Thomas against Thomas, in order to exclude the concessions that Thomas had introduced. These, Eckhart replaces by the argument that he had developed before, namely Thomas’ first option that God “foreknows all things”, including all the potential later changes of things, and “therefore, his will is entirely immutable”. As the “entirely” here comes in, we notice, how accurate the entire text is structured, thought through and preserved. Eckhart’s response to Thomas, therefore, is, that we can only speak about a fully immutable will of God, if we do not accept any sub-causes that could influence and make for any change of the course of this world, and maintain that God’s will is never changing. Any change is always a change in objects, in the categorical world of creation, and in every nuance foreseen by God and willed by Him.[12]

The wording of the translation also shows Eckhart’s personal, individualized position, as he points to himself as author in the explanation of the text (‘no change of my will as I wished ...). So, with regards Thomas’ text, he is faithful translator of the main arguments of Thomas, but he freely deviates, not rendering all systematic details of Thomas, in order to make his own point. He comes closest to the original text when giving the core thoughts and Thomas’ illustrations, such as the change of will related to the circumstances applied to the cold weather and sitting by the fire. Yet, when it came to the fundamental explanation of the question of immutability of God’s will, Eckhart, as we have seen, radically and fundamentally disagrees with both Thomas and the masters.

[1] See Eckhart, Sermo II/1 n. 8 (LW 4, p. 10, 5): Vide Quaestiones de attributis infra.
[2] See Eckhart, In Sap. n. 125 (LW II 463,7-9): Omnis enim motus  necessario est ab immobili. Ab immobili quidem est omnis motus, etiam secundum triplex  genus causae, sicut notavi in Libro quaestionum de immutabilitate dei; see also Sermo II/2 n. 8 (LW IV 10,5): Vide Quaestiones de attributis infra.
[3] Eckhart, In Ex. n. 27 on Qu. P. 6; nn. 28; 68–70 on Qu. P. 7; n. 62 on Qu. P. 7-9; on this see Markus Vinzent, “Questions on the attributes (of God): Four rediscovered Parisian Questions of Meister Eckhart”, Journal of Theological Studies 63 (2012), 156-186, .
[4] Meister Eckhart. Die deutschen und lateinischen Werke. Die lateinischen Werke. Bd. I,2, 7.-9. Lieferung (S. 385-576), ed. Loris Sturlese, Stuttgart 2011, 461-469.
[5] See ibid. 181.
[6] See the mentioned cross-reference above in Eckhart, In Sap. n. 125 (LW II 463,7-9), and Eckhart, Sermo II/1 n. 8 (LW IV 10,5): “Vide Quaestiones de attributis infra” (“See below the Questions on the attributes (of God)’”).
[7] See Eckhart, Pr. 21 (DW I 357,9-11): Boethius sprichet: got ist ein und enwandelt sich niht. Allez, daz got ie geschuof, duz schuof er in wandelunge. Alliu dinc, sô sie geschaffen werdent, sô tragent sie ûf irm rücke daz sie sich wandelnt; Thom. Aqu., S. Th. I q. 9 with reference to Aug., De Gen. ad lit. VIII 20; in Thom. Aqu., Metaphysics IX 1 Avicenna is cited by Thomas as holding that God's will is unchangeable and never starts anew (an argument advanced also by Averroes), and that it is impossible that God precedes the world in duration, because this implies that time existed before the world and before movement.
[8] Translation adopted by the Fathers of the Dominican Province, London 1920, online (slightly altered):
[9] See Thom. Aqu., STh I q. 9; while Thomas insists on God’s immutability here, he does discuss the immutability of his will in a separate section in STh I q. 19.
[10] See Aug., Conf. XII 15: nequaquam eius substantia per tempora varietur nec eius voluntas mutabilis est et omne mutabile aeternum non est; deus autem noster aeternus est. item, quod mihi dicit in aurem interiorem, expectatio rerum venturarum fit contuitus, cum venerint, idemque contuitus fit memoria, cum praeterierint: omnis porro intentio, quae ita variatur, mutabilis est, et omne mutabile aeternum non est: deus autem noster aeternus est. haec colligo atque coniungo, et invenio deum meum, deum aeternum non aliqua nova voluntate condidisse creaturam, nec scientam eius transitorium aliquid pati.
[11] dinge prim. man. in marg. post del. das
[12] On God’s foreknowledge see Eckhart, Pr. 75 (DW III 293,7); for more see ad loc.

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