Monday, August 24, 2009

Arminius On Whether God Is Freely Good Or Through Necessity

On one of the fellowship boards I occasionally participate in, a discussion ensued around the question of whether God is freely good or good by the necessity of His Holy nature. It was related to another free will discussion but it spurred an exchange regarding Arminius sentiments on the matter. I tend to agree with Arminius regarding the source and existence of God's goodness. In the realm of truth and falsity, the LORD is the definition of goodness and the only yardstick by which goodness can be compared. Dare we ask can God sin? Can God be something other than what He is? If God can be something other than what He is by necessity and willfully depart from the truths and promises, then our hope and trust in an infallible LORD falls short of blessedness and instead becomes a mere convenience captive to the whims of a God freely able to be something other than our thrice Holy LORD. His Holiness is not a point in time. It is an eternal nature of an eternal LORD and unless we are willing to challenge His eternal nature then we cannot embrace the notion that God is free to pursue unrighteousness.

Arminius addressed this issue in detail below (from His Apology)

ARTICLE 22 (2.)

It is the summit of blasphemy to say, that God is freely good.


In this article likewise, our brethren disclose their own disgraceful proceedings, which I would gladly allow to remain buried in oblivion. But, because they recall this affair to my recollection, I will now relate how it occurred.

In a disputation, it was asked, "can necessity and liberty be so far reconciled to each other, that a person may be said necessarily or freely to produce one and the same effect?" These words being used properly according to their respective strict definitions, which are here subjoined. "An agent acts necessarily, who, when all the requisites for action are laid down, cannot do otherwise than act, or cannot suspend his acting. An agent acts freely, who, when all the requisites for action are laid down, can refrain from beginning to act, or can suspend his acting," I declared, "that the two terms could not meet in one subject." Other persons said, "that they could," evidently for the purpose of confirming the dogma which asserts, "Adam sinned freely indeed, and yet necessarily. FREELY, with respect to himself and according to his nature: NECESSARILY, with respect to the decree of God." Of this their explanation I did not admit, but said necessarily and freely differ not in respects, but in their entire essences, as do necessity and contingency, or what is necessary and what is contingent, which, because they divide the whole amplitude of being, cannot possibly coincide together, more than can finite and infinite. But Liberty appertains to Contingency.

To disprove this my opinion, they brought forward an instance, or example, in which Necessity and Liberty met together; and that was God, who is both necessarily and freely good. This assertion of theirs displeased me so exceedingly, as to cause me to say, that it was not far removed from blasphemy. At this time, I entertain a similar opinion about it; and in a few words I thus prove its falsity, absurdity, and the blasphemy [contained] in the falsity.

(1.) Its falsity. He who by natural necessity, and according to his very essence and the whole of his nature, is good, nay, who is Goodness itself, the Supreme Good, the First Good from whom all good proceeds, throughwhom every good comes, in whom every good exists, and by a participation of whom what things soever have any portion of good in them are good, and more or less good as they are nearer or more remote from it. He is not FREELY good. For it is a contradiction in an adjunct, or an opposition in an apposition. But God is good by natural necessity, according to his entire nature and essence, and is Goodness itself, the supreme and primary Good, from whom, through whom: and in whom is all good, etc. Therefore, God is not freely good.

(2.) Its absurdity. Liberty is an affection of the Divine Will; not of the Divine Essence, Understanding, or Power; and therefore it is not an affection of the Divine Nature, considered in its totality. It is indeed an effect of the will, according to which it is borne towards an object that is neither primary nor adequate, and that is different from God himself; and this effect of the will, therefore, is posterior in order to that affection of the will according to which God is borne towards a proper, primary and adequate object, which is himself. But Goodness is an affection of the whole of the Divine Nature, Essence, Life, Understanding, Will, Power, etc. Therefore, God is not freely good; that is, he is not good by the mode of liberty, but by that of natural necessity. I add, that it cannot be affirmed of anything in the nature of things, that it is freely, or that it is this or that freely, not even then when man was made what he is, by actions proceeding from free will: as no man is said to be "freely learned," although he has obtained erudition for himself by study which proceeded from free will.

(3.) I prove that blasphemy is contained in this assertion: because, if God be freely good, (that is, not by nature and natural necessity,) he can be or can be made not good. As whatever any one wills freely, he has it in his power not to will; and whatever any one does freely, he can refrain from doing. Consider the dispute between the ancient Fathers and Eunomius and his followers, who endeavored to prove that the Son was not eternally begotten of the Father, because the Father had neither willingly nor unwillingly begotten the Son. But the answer given to them by Cyril, Basil, and others, was this: "The Father was neither willing nor unwilling; that is, He begat the Son not by will, but by nature. The act of generation is not from the Divine Will, but from the Divine nature." If they say, "God may also be said to be freely good, because He is not good by co-action or force:" I reply, not only is co-action repugnant to liberty, but nature is likewise; and each of them, nature and co-action, constitutes an entire, total and sufficient cause for the exclusion of liberty. Nor does it follow, "co-action does not exclude liberty from this thing; therefore, it is freely that which it actually is. A stone does not fall downwards by co-action; it, therefore, falls by liberty. Man wills not his own salvation by force, therefore, he wills it freely." Such objections as these are unworthy to be produced by MEN; and in the refutation of them shall I expend my time and leisure, Thus, therefore, the Christian Fathers justly attached blasphemy to those who said, "the Father begat the Son willingly, or by his own will;" because from this it would follow, that the Son had an origin similar to that of the creatures. But with how much greater equity does blasphemy fasten itself upon those who declare, "that God is freely good? For if he be freely good, he likewise freely knows and loves himself, and besides does all things freely, even when He begets the Son and breathes forth the Holy Spirit.


bossmanham said...

The genius of Arminius is overlooked far too often today.

A.M. Mallett said...

When the polemical rhetoric is washed away, Arminius remains perhaps the greatest Reformed theologian of his day, bar none.