Only Trinitarianism Preserves Divine Voluntarism

I mentioned in the previous post that some of Thomas’s more rationalist commentators have sought to avoid the profound irony at the heart of his account of creation, namely the utter freedom of and hence lack of compelling behind God’s act of creation. Norman Kretzmann, for example, takes issue with the voluntarism of St. Thomas’s doctrine of creation in both his The Metaphysics of Theism (220-225) and The Metaphysics of Creation (101-3, 120-6, and 134). In The Metaphysics of Creation, Kretzmann explains that there are “two divergent lines” along which one can answer the question of why God creates:

The response ‘Because producing things other than himself is a necessary consequence of God’s nature’ begins what I call the necessitarian line of explanation. The second rudimentary response, ‘Because God chooses to produce things other than himself and could equally well have chosen to produce nothing at all,’ is the starting-point of the non-necessitarian line. (102)

While recognizing that Thomas ultimately favors the non-necessitarian answer, Kretzmann argues that

Aquinas’s own presentation of God’s willing of other things, particularly in Book I [of SCG], and his acceptance of the Dionysian principle (‘Goodness is by its very nature diffusive of itself and [thereby] of being’) commit him to a necessitarian explanation of God’s willing things other than himself. I favour such an explanation, which sees God’s creating as his (freely) acting through the necessity of his nature (considered as perfect goodness), and which confines the creator’s free choice among alternatives to the selection of which ones to actualize for purposes of manifesting the goodness that is identical with his being. (126)

While it is not my purpose to defend Thomas over against Kretzmann, it does seem significant to me that one important consideration that is missing from Kretzmann’s discussion, probably because, in contrast to the Summa Theologiae, it is absent from Thomas’s own treatment of God proper in the passages of the Summa Contra Gentiles which Kretzmann is expositing, is the doctrine of the Trinity, which Kretzmann presumably feels safe to ignore as a matter of theology or revealed dogma and therefore as not properly philosophical. Without the doctrine of the Trinity, however, I would submit that Kretzmann ends up conflating the issue of divine productivity with the issue of divine creativity when he further defines the “necessitarian line” of explaining creation as showing “that an absolutely perfect being must be essentially productive” (102). But for Thomas the doctrine of the Trinity enables him to keep these two issues distinct, such that it is precisely because God is essentially and therefore necessarily productive, or at least generative, in the Triune Godhead that God needn’t but can be productive through creation. (David Burrell makes the same argument in response to Kretzmann in “Creation and ‘Actualism,’” 39-40. For a brief discussion of Kretzmann’s reading of Thomas in light of the history of Timaeus interpretation, see Anthony Kenny’s “Seven Concepts of Creation” in his and Sarah Broadie’s two-part series “The Creation of the World,” 91-92.)


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