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CHAPTER LXVIIThat God knows Individual Contingent Events133133A ‘contingent event’ is an event that depends on what Mill calls a ‘plurality of causes’: that is to say, a certain number of causes being jointly present; and again preventing causes, almost innumerable, being all absent. The absence of any of the requisite joint causes, or the presence of any of the preventing causes, is enough to wreck the sequence; and as we cannot well know what cause will be present, and what absent, the event to us looking forward is an uncertainty, something that may or may not be; and looking back upon it, after it has happened, we regard it as something which has been, but might not have been. But, to an omniscient mind, all events, so far as they involve mere physical causation, are hypothetically necessary: they must be, causes and conditions standing as they do. This hypothetical necessity of physical causation is otherwise called ‘the uniformity of nature.’ With this chapter, Book II, Chap. XXX should be compared: see also B. II, Chap. LV, footnote. Human acts, or acts of free will, which are not even hypothetically necessary, are not included in the category of contingent events here spoken of.

HENCE we may gather some inkling of how God has had an infallible knowledge of all contingent events from eternity, and yet they cease not to be contingent. For contingency is not inconsistent with certain and assured knowledge except so far as the contingent event lies in the future, not as it is present. While the event is in the future, it may not be; and thus the view of him who reckons that it still be may be mistaken: but once it is present, for that time it cannot but be. Any view therefore formed upon a contingent event inasmuch as it is present may be a certitude. But the intuition of the divine mind rests from eternity upon each and every [one] of the events that happen in the course of time, viewing each as a thing present. There is nothing therefore to hinder God from having from eternity an infallible knowledge of contingent events.

2. A contingent event differs from a necessary event in point of the way in which each is contained in its cause. A contingent event is so contained in its cause as that it either may not or may ensue therefrom:134134This uncertainty, as I have argue in the previous note, is a mere incident of the ignorance and infirmity of our minds in dealing with a complex case of causality. To an omniscient mind there would be no uncertainty. Such a mind would read the contingent event as necessarily contained in and necessarily following from its causes. I speak of events of pure physical causation: for, as I have said, of such only is there question here. I allow for the dependence of all physical nature upon the free will of God, creating things, preserving them in being and activity, fixing a certain collocation of causes from the first, and occasionally by His own special action interfering (as man in an inferior way also interferes) with the course of nature, by what is called a miracle. whereas a necessary event cannot but ensue from its cause. But as each of these events is in itself, the two do not differ in point of reality; and upon reality truth is founded. In a contingent event, considered as it is in itself, there is no question of being or not being, but only of being: although, looking to the future, a contingent event possibly may not come off. But the divine mind knows things from eternity, not only in the being which they have in their causes, but also in the being which they have in themselves.


3. As from a necessary cause the effect follows with certainty, with like certainty does it follow from a contingent cause, when the cause is complete, provided no hindrance be placed. But as God knows all things (Chap. L). He knows not only the causes of contingent events, but like-wise the means whereby they may be hindered from coming off. He knows therefore with certitude whether they are going to come off or not.135135The ‘contingent’ is nothing else than the hypothetically necessary. A wide range of causative elements and conditions, as well negative as positive, is requisite and must be presupposed to the sequence of a ‘contingent’ event. But, where all requisite conditions are fulfilled, the sequence of a ‘contingent’ event in physical causation is as necessary as that of any ‘necessary’ event from its cause.

6. The knowledge of God would not be true and perfect, if things did not happen in the way that God apprehends them to happen. But God, cognisant as He is of all being of which He is the principle, knows every event, not only in itself, but also in its dependence on any proximate causes on which it happens to depend: but the dependence of contingent events upon their proximate causes involves their ensuing upon them contingently.136136‘Contingently’ upon the whole array of proximate causes being present, and every effectual let or hindrance being absent. God therefore knows sundry events to happen, and to happen contingently: thus the certitude and truth of divine knowledge does not remove the contingency of events.

7. When it is said, ‘God knows, or knew, this coming event,’ an intervening medium is supposed between the divine knowledge and the thing known, to wit, the time to which the utterance points, in respect to which that which is said to be known by God is in the future. But really it is not in the future in respect of the divine knowledge, which existing in the instant of eternity is present to all things. In respect of such knowledge, if we set aside the time of speaking, it is impossible to say that so-and-so is known as non-existent; and the question never arises as to whether the thing possibly may never occur. As thus known, it should be said to be seen by God as already present in its existence. Under this aspect, the question of the possibility of the thing never coming to be can no longer be raised: what already is, in respect of that present instant cannot but be. The fallacy then arises from this, that the time at which we speak, when we say ‘God knows,’ co-exists with eternity; or again the last time that is marked when we say ‘God knew’; and thus a relation of time, past or present, to future is attributed to eternity, which attribution does not hold; and thus we have fallacia accidentis.137137Fallacia accidentis is when an irrelevant accident is introduced into the conclusion, as, ‘You ate what you bought: but you bought raw fish.’ Time is in irrelevant accident to the divine knowledge.

8. Since everything is known by God as seen by Him in the present, the necessity of that being true which God knows is like the necessity of Socrates’s sitting from the fact of his being seen seated. This is not necessary absolutely, ‘by necessity of the consequent,’ as the phrase is, but conditionally, or ‘by necessity of the consequence.’ For this conditional proposition is necessary: ‘He is sitting, if he is seen seated.’ Change the conditional proposition into a categorical of this form: ‘What is seen sitting, is necessarily seated’: it is clear that the proposition is true as a phrase, where its elements are taken together (compositam), but false as a fact, when its elements are separated (divisam).138138This distinction appears in modern logic books as in sensu composito and in sensu diviso. It has its value in the disputes on efficacious grace. There is a tradition of Father Gregory de Valentia, S.J., fainting away when it was administered to him by a Dominican disputant. Bolsover Castle in Derbyshire was built by “the building countess,” of whom it was said that she would never die, while she kept on building. True in sensu composito only. In point of fact the lady died in a great frost, which stopped her building and her breath together. All these objections against the divine knowledge of contingent facts are fallacia compositionis et divisionis.


That God knows future contingencies is shown also by the authority of Holy Scripture: for it is said of Divine Wisdom, It knows signs and portents beforehand, and the issues of times and ages (Wisd. viii, 8): and, There is nothing hidden from his eyes: from age to age he regardeth (Ecclus xxxix, 24, 25).

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