A translation of the Latin praemotio physica, an expression that is itself contrived, connotative of controversy, and pleonastic. Historically it is tied to the Thomist side in the controversies of the congregatio de auxiliis (1598–1607); yet it was in fact thrust upon Thomists as part of the case to be defended [ see J. H. Serry, Historiae Congregationum de Auxiliis (5 v., 2d ed. Venice 1740) 2:171 B; 4:515 C ].
Historical Background. The expression "physical premotion" certainly had arisen in theological circles at Salamanca earlier than the Congregatio. It is found, for example, in a work of Juan Vicente (Asturicensis) completed in 1589 and entitled De origine gratiae (MSS in Archivum Generale OP, Rome, XIV-366, fol. 816r–817v). In his rejection of the notion, as in the usage of the De Auxiliis, the formula used ordinarily is praedeterminatio physica (see predetermination).
The reality underlying both expressions is a special divine causal influence upon all created causes, including man in his voluntary acts. The explication of the expressions is closely bound to the theological contexts in which they were disputed, viz, predestination and freewill, the efficacy of divine grace and human freedom, and divine causality and the act of sin. Yet the causal influence designated by physical premotion can also be subjected to a philosophical analysis in terms of the creature's dependence on God.
St. thomas aquinas proves that God is the cause of all causes' causing in three ways: as ultimate end, the source of all finality; as source and conserver of the operative, forms by which agent causes are constituted; and as applying or moving these operative powers to actual exercise (Summa theologiae 1a, 105.5). Physical premotion refers only to the last. In St. Thomas's terminology, the simple term motion would suffice; his followers accepted the redundancy of the complex term as expressing the meaning of motus. The causal influence is "motion" because it is transitory and also because it affects the agent's power to act. It is called "pre-" motion, or a previous motion, to indicate its causal priority with regard to the actual operation of the created agent. It is called "physical" with a view of the human will, to emphasize that the will faculty is interiorly affected by it.
By its redundancy the term opposes the Molinist conception of God's causality on the free act. Luis de molina professed his incomprehension of St. Thomas's statement concerning the application of the created agent to its act [Concordia 14.13.26 (Paris 1876) 152]. He taught instead a divine causal influence only on the free act itself, and this coordinated with the will's causality of its own act. The two causalities are simultaneous, hence "simultaneous concurrence," as opposed to premotion (see concurrence, divine). For Molina, the only causal influence antecedent to the will-act is moral, that is, through the object of choice. The Molinists, throughout the De Auxiliis and subsequently, were at pains to interpret physical premotion as a kind of natural impulse, taking physical to mean natural and thus as necessitating the will. The Thomists, on the other hand, insisted on the insufficiency of the scientia media, the cornerstone of the Molinist position, to defend the infallibility of God's knowledge and of His causality; in their analysis, a motion that is merely moral and simultaneous concurrence are what make the scientia media indispensable to molinism.
Premotion as Motion. Physical premotion is neither God's causality itself nor the causality of the created agent. God's causality is identical with Himself, with the operations of His intelligence and will with regard to creatures, and for this reason it is called His power (ST 1a, 25.1 ad 4). But this causality does not pass outside of God as does a transient action, for, if it did, God would be perfected by the developing process. The divine causality is itself immanent what does "pass outside of God" are the effects of His causality. Physical premotion is one of these—an acknowledgment resting upon God's being the first cause of all the acts of creatures as their first mover.
In receiving its own grade of being from God, every agent has a certain type of action that is proportionate or connatural to itself. But no created agent is identical with the exercise of its own activity. This is experientially plain from the transitoriness of actions and the perdurance of the agent with its operative form or power. The fact is seen also as an intelligible necessity: identity between agent and action presupposes identity between essence and existence. Thus only God is identical with His own action; only He is first mover. Every other being, thus every other agent, is composed of potency and act on the level of substantial existence, and again on the level of accidental existence, where action properly belongs. There is necessarily, then, a real distinction between an agent with an operative form and the actual exercise of its operation. Thus every agent is dependent on God as first mover, the source by which its potentiality to operation is actualized. Whether or not other movers are involved, God's causality always is. Other movers function only insofar as they themselves are reduced from potency to act; they are moved movers. The unique effect attributable to the divine causality is thus the created agent's overcoming its potentiality. It is this that is indicated in the term premotion (see Thomas Aquinas, In two sent. 37.2.2; De pot. 3.7 ad 7; C. gent. 3.67, 66, 89; Summa theologiae 1a2ae, 109.1; In lib. de caus. 1).
In English the term motion is active. Its active sense can be used to connote the reference of this effect to its source, God's causality as first mover, and also to indicate that God applies and moves the operative forms or powers to actual operation (ST 1a, 105.5). The same effect, however, might well be called motion in the sense of the Latin motus, according to which the action of the mover is motion in the subject moved (see Aristotle, Phys. 202a 13–22). This passive sense connotes the passivity of the created agent, viz, that it must receive the divine causal influence to undergo a transition from potency to actual operation. Because it is not identical with its own operation, the created agent receives the divine effect that is premotion; it cannot communicate this to itself, for its passivity must be overcome by something extrinsic to itself. With the insight provided by this distinction one may avoid the error of seeing premotion as the anticipation of, or the substitute for, the creature's action. It is neither of these; rather it is the creature's passage to action. This action is the term of the premotion as this brings about the ultimate realization of the operative form, conjoining it to its actual operation. The action once begun, this formality of the creature's dependence on God ceases; the moment of action-motion ceases as the term is realized.
A merely simultaneous divine concurrence would have to be centered on the action itself, and thus would leave unexplained the agent's passage to activity. The real distinction between potency and act in regard to this activity is what causes St. Thomas to affirm: "No matter how perfect any nature, corporeal or spiritual, may be, it cannot proceed to its action unless it be moved by God" (ST 1a2ae, 109.1). And because this real distinction is found in the ontological structure of the creature, he further states that the autonomous power to move itself to act could not be conferred on any creature; this would be to transform it into the primary source of existence and act, to make it God (De pot. 3.7 ad 7).
Premotion as Prior. For St. Thomas to speak of motion is already to indicate a priority; this is what makes the term premotion itself redundant. But the priority in question must be properly understood. Actually it is a causal anteriority that permits a threefold distinction. It is verified first with reference to the action of the agent, the term of the premotion. Just as the agent itself, with its permanent operative form or power, is the cause of its own action, and thus its power is causally prior to the action, so the premotion by which the agent becomes ultimately active is causally anterior to the action. Certainly this premotion is not the temporal anticipation of the action itself.
The priority can be made more precise by reflecting on the one reality that is the agent's motion. There is a sense of priority here, but not a real priority, since the one reality cannot be prior to itself. Rather there is a conceptual priority: the connotation of origin in God's causality is prior to the connotation of the creature's passive passage to operation; the reference to God's giving is prior to the reference to the agent's receiving.
Finally, while the priority of premotion is emphasized to reject a merely simultaneous divine concurrence, it does not exclude simultaneous concurrence. God's causal influence on the agent continues during the exercise of the agent's action. For this action is a reality, and no reality perdures without God's continuing causality. But this causal influence is no longer a previous concurrence; the agent's own causal energies are actually engaged; the agent is simultaneously causing the action in subordination to the divine causality, which is thus designated simultaneous.
Premotion as Physical. This designation refers to the divine causal influence on the will. It does not mean that a corporeal or a compulsive necessitating impulse is exercised on the will. The connotation of the term physical is rather that, for the exercise of the will-act, man is dependent on God as first mover just as is every other created agent. The divine causal influence is received in, and exercised on, the faculty itself; the potency of the will to the exercise of its action is not overcome simply by the attraction of the object proposed by the intellect. This attraction is designated as a moral motion, in the sense that the object proposed functions as an end drawing the will and also determining the kind of act the will is to exercise. Such causality is necessary for the will to function, since the will is an appetite whose functioning is consequent upon knowledge; i.e., it is an elicited appetite. When, therefore, God influences the intellect to apprehend an object as good and desirable, the intellect's causality on the will-act is called a moral motion (ST 1a2ae, 9.1; 10.1–27). As has been said, it is the only antecedent causality upon the will faculty that is admitted by Molinists.
Efficient Causality. For St. Thomas, however, this moral premotion, though admittedly present, does not suffice to explain the will's activity. In his teaching, the object itself is not the efficient cause of the will's actual exercise; it remains a moral or final cause. Thus any causal influence on this level is insufficient to explain the effective exercise of activity (ST 1a, 82.2, 4; 1a2ae, 9.1;10.2.). Because the will is in potency to actual operation, efficient (physical) causality must be exercised on the faculty itself.
In its natural choices, the will itself exercises such causality. It does so by accepting the object proposed by the judgment of reason, by following this as the last decisive practical decision to act. In so doing, it accepts not only some good to be chosen but its own act of willing, the choosing itself. The basis for this power to will or not to will is the same as the general dominion of the will over all objects of choice. The will is the faculty of human nature for its own good, its fulfillment. Every object proposed is a concrete good that contributes only to some degree to this fulfillment. Among the goods that can be chosen is the very act of choice itself. Thus the will has power over its own act, to will or not to will. When it exercises that power, it effectively causes its own act, it moves itself (ST 1a2ae, 9.3). But the exercise of this causality is the will's very act of choice. By choosing, by acting, the will causes its own act. At the point of choosing, however, the will is not identical with its choice; it is in potency to it. Like every other agent the will is subordinated to, and dependent on, God as first mover. It cannot exercise its own act; it thus cannot cause its own act, except insofar as it receives the divine causal influence, a premotion directed to the faculty itself. The influence of reason and the object proposed by the intellect do not effectively overcome the will's suspension from act. Thus the premotion required is physical.
In fact, the will is more plainly in need of divine assistance than is any other power precisely because no other mover can directly act on the will (ST 1a, 105.4;106.2; 111.2; 1a2ae, 80.1; De malo 3.3; De ver. 22.9). With the help of God's premotion the will is reduced from potency to act; in acting, it chooses, and it chooses its own act. The premotion does not anticipate the will's act; it makes possible the act's exercise. Nor does it deprive the will of its own causality; rather, in bringing about the transition to act, it makes this causality effective. "The will, when beginning to make a new choice, is changed from its previous disposition in the sense that it was previously in potency to making a choice and then actually is making it. This change has its source in some mover, namely, in that the will moves itself to its act, and in that it is also moved by an exterior agent, namely, God. It is not moved by necessity" (De malo 6.1 ad 17).
Freedom. The last statement of this text is important in that it suggests the problem of freedom and physical promotion. But the suggestion is somewhat misplaced in this context. The problem of freedom and the divine causality is more properly associated with premotion as this is also predetermination. Simply from the viewpoint of the will's need for physical premotion, there is no conflict with freedom. The will itself is truly the cause of its own act in choosing. Its acceptance of the decision of reason as final, and thus its causality of its own act, does not make this act necessary; it remains a choice. The object and the choice itself appeal to the will's thrust toward human fulfillment; they do not exhaust it, since they are concrete particular goods. When the will is actually engaged by its choice, its dominance over object and act is actualized. Thus the will, when choosing to act, is not acting under necessity but is exercising its freedom. Since, then, physical premotion does bring about the will's exercise of its own act, such promotion is not opposed to freedom. On the contrary, premotion brings this freedom to fruition in the act of choice that it causes the will to cause.
See Also: causality, divine; bÁÑez and baÑezianism; molinism.
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[t. c. o'brien]