Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene Philosophy Reformed Irenicism

The Four Degrees of Action (3)

The next installment from Niels Hemminsen on the “degrees of action” in his “Theological Handbook” (Enchiridion theologicum).

In the previous post, we saw that Hemmingsen holds that free choice remains after the Fall in the first three degrees: actions held in common with beasts, actions of reasons, and “ecclesiastical works.” In today’s excerpt he gives the three reasons (causae) why freedom remains in these areas. In so doing, he asserts God’s absolute freedom and protests against the Stoic “chain of causation,” a concomitant of Stoic determinism that is an essential part of the Stoic doctrine of Fate. Note especially the third reason he gives for freedom in these areas: otherwise there could be no government. Unless I am misreading him, for Hemmingsen the possibility of government (gubernatio, steering, direction) actually presupposes free choice in the members of human society.

Moreover, there are three reasons for freedom in these three degrees of actions. First, so that there may be a difference between a free actor and one not acting freely. Second, so that we may know that God is the most free actor. For neither is the cause weaker than the effect by nature, nor is it less powerful [efficax]. Therefore, we must avoid and detest the madness of the Stoics concerning the necessity of the dependence of the first [cause] and second causes (because of which they think that God is able to do nothing, except insofar as second causes move him). Third, so that in human society some government may be able to exist.1

  1. The translation is my own.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.