Main Body

Part I, Question XII

Whether the Permission of Almighty God is an Accompaniment of Witchcraft.

Now we must consider the Divine permission itself, touching which four things are asked. First, whether it is necessary that this permission should accompany a work of witchcraft. Secondly, that God in His justice permits a creature naturally sinful to perpetrate witchcraft and other horrid crimes, the other two necessary concomitants being presupposed. Thirdly, that the crime of witchcraft exceeds all other evils which God permits to be done. Fourthly, in what way this matter should be preached to the people.

Concerning the third postulate of this First Part, namely, the Divine permission, it is asked: Whether it is as Catholic to affirm the Divine permission in these works of witches, as it is quite heretical to contradict such an affirmation? And it is argued that it is not heretical to maintain that God does not permit so great power to the devil in this sort of witchcraft. For it is Catholic, and not heretical, to refute such things as appear to be to the disparagement of the Creator. And it is submitted that it is Catholic to maintain that the devil is not allowed such power of injuring men, since to hold the opposite opinion seems to be a disparagement of the Creator. For it would then follow that not everything is subject to the Divine providence, since the all-wise Provider keeps away, as far as possible, all defect and evil from those for whom He cares. And if the works of witchcraft are permitted by God, they are not kept away by Him: and if He does not keep them away, the God Himself is not a wise Provider, and all things are not subject to His providence. But since this is false, therefore it is false that God permits witchcraft.

And again, to permit a thing to happen presupposes in him who permits it that either he can prevent it from happening if he wishes, or he cannot prevent it even if he wishes; and neither of these suppositions can apply to God. For in the first case, such a man would be thought spiteful, and in the second case impotent. Then it is incidentally asked: As to that bewitchment that happened to Peter, if God could have prevented it, and did not do so, then God is either despiteful or He does not care for all; but if He could not have prevented it even if He wished, the He is not omnipotent. But since it is not possible to maintain the opinion that God does not care for all, and the rest, therefore it cannot be said that witchcraft is done with the permission of God.

Besides, he who is responsible to himself and is the master of his own actions is not subject to the permission or providence of any governor. But men were made responsible to themselves by God, according to Ecclesiasticus xv: God made man from the beginning, and left him in the hand of his counsel. In particular, the sins which men do are left in their own counsel, according to their hearts’ desire. Therefore not all evils are subject to Divine permission.

Yet again, S. Augustine says in the Enchiridion, as does also Aristotle in the ninth book of Metaphysics: It is better not to know certain vile things than to know them, but all that is good is to be ascribed to God. Therefore God does not prevent the very vile works of witchcraft, whether He permits or not. See also S. Paul in I. Corinthians ix: Doth God take care of oxen? And the same holds good of the other irrational beasts. Wherefore God takes no care whether they are bewitched or not, since they are not subject to His permission, which proceeds from His providence.

Again, that which happens of necessity has no need of provident permission or prudence. This is clearly shown in Aristotle’s Ethics, Book II: Prudence is a right reasoning concerning things which happen and are subject to counsel and choice. But several effects of witchcraft happen of necessity; as when for some reason, or owing to the influence of stars, diseases come, or any other things which we judge to be witchcraft. Therefore they are not always subject to Divine permission.

And again, if men are bewitched by Divine permission, then it is asked: Why does this happen to one more than to another? If it be said that it is because of sin, which abounds more in one than in another, this does not seem valid; for then the greater sinners would be the more bewitched, but this is manifestly not so, since they are less punished in this world. As it is said: Well is it for the liars. But, if this argument were good, they also would be bewitched. Finally, it is clear from the fact that innocent children and other just men suffer most from witchcraft.

But against these arguments: it is submitted that God permits evil to be done, though He does not wish it; and this is for the perfecting of the universe. See Dionysius, de Diuin. Nom. III: Evil will be for all time, even to the perfecting of the universe. And S. Augustine in the Enchiridion: In all things good and evil consists the admirable beauty of the universe. So that what is said to be evil is well ordained, and kept in its due place commends more highly that which is good; for good things are more pleasing and laudable when compared with bad. S. Thomas also refutes the opinion of those who say that, although God has no wish for evil (since no creature seeks for evil, either in its natural, or its animal, or in its intellectual appetite, which is the will, whose object is good), yet He is willing that evil should exist and be done. This he says to be false; since God neither wishes evil to be done, nor wishes it not to be done, but is willing to allow evil to be done; and this is good for the perfecting of the universe.

And why it is erroneous to say that God wishes evil to be and to be done, for the good of the universe, he says is for the following reason. Nothing is to be judged good except what is good in itself and not by accident. As the virtuous man is judge good in his intellectual nature, not in his animal nature. But evil is not of itself ordained for good, but by accident. For against the intention of those who do evil, good results. In this way, against the intention of witches, or against the intention of tyrants, was it that through their persecutions the patience of the martyrs shone out clearly.

Answer. This question is as difficult to understand as it is profitable to elucidate. For there is among the arguments, not so much of Laymen as of certain Wise men, this in common; that they do not believe that such horrible witchcraft as had been spoken of is permitted by God; being ignorant of the causes of this Divine permission. And by reason of this ignorance, since witches are not put down with the vengeance that is due to them, they seem now to be depopulating the whole of Christianity. Therefore that both learned and unlearned may be satisfied in each way, according to the opinion of the Theologians, we make our answer by the discussion of two difficulties. And first, that he world is so subject to the Divine providence that He Himself provides for all. Secondly, that in His justice He permits the prevalence of sin, which consists of guilt, punishment, and loss, by reason of His two first permissions, namely, the fall of the Angels and that of our first parents. From which also it will be clear that obstinately to disbelieve this smacks of heresy, since such a man implicates himself in the errors of the infidels.

And as for the first, it is to be noted that, presupposing that which pertains to the providence of God (see Wisdom xiv: Thy providence, O Father, governeth all things), we ought also to maintain that all things are subject to His providence, and that also He immediately provides for all things. And to make this clear, let us first refute a certain contrary error. For taking the text in Job xxii: Thick clouds are a covering to him that He seeth not us; and He walketh in the circuit of heaven: some have thought that the doctrine pf S. Thomas, I, 22, means that only incorruptible things are subject to Divine providence, such as the separate Essences, and the stars, with also the species of lower things, which are also incorruptible; but they said that the individuals of the species, being corruptible, were not so subject. Wherefore they said that all lower things which are in the world are subject to Divine providence in the universal, but not in the particular or individual sense. But to others this opinion did not seem tenable, since God cares for the other animals just as He does for men. Therefore the Rabbi Moses, wishing to hold a middle course, agreed with their opinion in saying that all corruptible things are not individually entirely subject to Divine governance, but only in a universal sense, as has been said before; but he excepted men from the generality of corruptible things, because of the splendid nature of their intellect, which is comparable with the of the separate Essences. And so, according to his opinion, whatever witchcraft happens to men comes from the Divine permission; but not such as happens to the animals or to the other fruits of the earth.

Now though this opinion is nearer to the truth than that which altogether denies the providence of God in worldly matters, maintaining that the world was made by chance, as did Democritus and the Epicureans, yet it is not without great fallacy. For it must be said that everything is subject to Divine providence, not only in the general, but also in the particular sense; and that the bewitching not only of men, but also of animals and the fruits of the earth, comes from Divine and provident permission. And this is plainly true; the providence and ordinance of things to some end extend just so far as the causality of them itself extends. To take an example from things that are subject to some master; they are so far subject to his providence as they are themselves under his control. But the causality which is of God is the original agent, and extends itself to all beings, not only in a general but also in an individual sense, and not only to things incorruptible. Therefore, since all things must be of God, so all things are cared for by Him, that is, are ordained to some end.

This point is touched by S. Paul in Romans xiii: All things which are from God were ordained by Him. Which is to say that, just as all things come from God, so also are all things ordained by Him, and are consequently subject to His providence. For the providence of God is to be understood as nothing else than the reason, that is, the cause of the ordering of things to a purpose. Therefore, in so far as all things are a part of one purpose, so also are they subject to the providence of God. And God knows all things, not only in the mass generally, but also in the individual particularly. Now the knowledge which God has of things created is to be compared with a craftsman’s knowledge of his work: therefore, just as all his work is subject to the order and providence of a craftsman, so are all things subject to the order and providence of God.

But this does not provide a satisfactory explanation of the fact that God in justice permits evil and witchcraft to be in the world, although He is Himself the provider and governor of all things; for it would seem that, if this is conceded, He ought to keep away all evil from those for whom He cares. For we see among men that a wise provider does all that he can to keep away all defect and harm from those who are his care; therefore why does not God, in the same way, keep away all evil? It must be noted that a particular and an universal controller or provider are two very different matters. For the particular controller must of necessity keep away all the harm he can, since he is not able to extract good out of evil. But God is the universal controller of the whole world, and can extract much good from particular evils; as through the persecution of the tyrants came the patience of the martyrs, and through the works of witches come the purgation or proving of the faith of the just, as will be shown. Therefore it is not God’s purpose to prevent all evil, lest the universe should lack the cause of much good. Wherefore S. Augustine says in the Enchiridion: So merciful is Almighty God, that He would not allow any evil to be in His works unless He were so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.

And we have an example of this in the actions of natural things. For although the corruptions and defects which occur in natural things are contrary to the purpose of that particular thing (as when a thief is hanged, or when animals are killed for human food), they are yet in accordance with the universal purpose of nature (as that man’s life and property should be kept intact); and thus the universal good is preserved. For it is necessary for the conservation of the species that the death of one should be the preservation of another. For lions are kept alive by the slaughter of other animals.

It is explained with regard to the Divine Permission, that God would not make a Creature to be Naturally without Sin.

Secondly, God in His justice permits the prevalence of evil, both that of sin and that of pain, and especially now that the world is cooling and declining to its end; and this we shall prove from two propositions which must be postulated. First, that God would not – or let us rather say, with the fear of God, that (humanly speaking) it is impossible that any creature, man or Angel, can be of such a nature that it cannot sin. And secondly, that it is just in God to permit man to sin, or to be tempted. These two propositions being granted, and since it is a part of the Divine providence that every creature shall be left to its own nature, it must be said that, according to the premises, it is impossible that God does not permit witchcraft to be committed with the help of devils.

And that it was not possible to communicate to a creature a natural incapacity for sin, is shown by S. Thomas (II, 23, art. 1). For if this quality were communicable to any creature, God would have communicated it; for He has, at least in kind, communicated all other graces and perfections to His creatures that are communicable. Such is the personal union of two natures in Christ, the Maternity and Virginity of Immaculate MARY, the blessed companionship of the elect, and many other things. But we read that this quality was not given to any creature, either man or Angel; for it is said: Even in His Angels He found sin. Therefore it is certain that God will not communicate to man a natural incapacity for sin, although man may win to this through grace.

Again, if this were communicable, and were not communicated, the universe would not be perfect. And its perfections consists in the fact that all communicable good qualities of creatures are communicated in kind.

Neither is it valid to argue that God, being omnipotent, and having made men and Angels in His likeness, could also have caused his creatures to be by nature impeccable: or even that He would make that condition of Grace, which is the cause of confirmation in goodness, an essential part of the nature of Angels and men, so that through their natural origin and natural condition they would be so confirmed in goodness that they would not be able to sin.

For the first argument will not hold. Since, although God is all-powerful and all-good, yet he will not bestow this quality of impeccability; not because of any imperfection in His power, but because of the imperfection of the creature; and this imperfection lies chiefly in the fact that no creature, man or Angel, is capable of receiving this quality. And for this reason: that, being a creature, its being depends upon its Creator, just as an effect depends on the cause of its being. And to create is to make something out of nothing, and this, if left to itself, perishes, but endures so long as it preserves the influence of its cause. You may take, if you wish, an example from a candle, which burns only so long as it has wax. This being so, it is to be noted that God created man, and left him in the hand of his own counsel (Ecclesiasticus xvii). And so also He created the Angels in the beginning of Creation. And this was done for the sake of Free-will, the property of which is to do or to omit doing, to recede or not to recede from its cause. And since to recede from God, from free-will, is to sin, therefore it was impossible for man or Angel to receive, and God did not will to give, such a natural quality that he should at the same time be endowed with free-will and also be incapable of sin.

Another imperfection by reason of which this quality cannot be communicated to man or Angel is that it implies a contradiction; and since a contradiction is by its nature impossible, we say that God will not do this thing. Or rather we should say that His creatures cannot receive such a quality. For example, it is impossible that anything can be at one and the same time alive and dead. And so it would imply this contradiction: that a man should have free-will, by which he would be able to depart from his Creator, and that he should also be unable to sin. But if he were unable to sin, he would be unable to depart from his Creator. For this is sin: to despise the incommutable good and cleave to things that are variable. But to despise or not to despise is a matter of free-will.

The second argument also is not valid. For if the confirmation of grace were so essential a part of the original creation that it became a natural quality of the creature to be unable to sin, then his inability to sin would arise, not from any exterior cause or from grace, but from his own very nature; and then he would be God, which is absurd. S. Thomas treats of this in his above solution of the last argument, when he says that whenever there happens to any creature something that can only be cause by a superior influence, the lower nature cannot itself cause that effect without the co-operation of the higher nature. For example, a gas becomes ignited by fire; but it could not of its own nature light itself without fire.

I say, therefore, that since the confirmation of a rational creature comes only through grace, which is a sort of spiritual light or image of the light of Creation, it is impossible for any creature to have, of its own nature, that confirmation of grace, unless it be made one with the Divine nature; that is, unless it be of the same nature as God, which is altogether impossible. Let us conclude by saying that the inability to sin belongs by nature to God alone. For He does not depart from His nature, Who gives to all things their being, neither can He depart from the righteousness of His goodness; for this belongs to Him through the character of His nature. But for all others who have this quality that they cannot sin, it is conferred upon them through the confirmation in goodness by grace; by which the sons of God are made free from sin, and they who in any way consort with the Divine nature.

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments