Arnauld on the Distinction between Philosophy and Theology



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Arnauld on the Distinction between Philosophy and Theology



Arnauld considered it important to be clear about the distinction between philosophy and theology. This concern is present in his work from the beginning, in 1641, to the end of his published writings. Thus, he divides the “Fourth Objections” to Descartes' Meditations into “the possible philosophical objections regarding the major issues of the nature of our mind and of God” and “the problems which a theologian might come up against in the work as a whole” (Descartes, 2:169). One of Arnauld's criticisms of Malebranche is that he does not establish many of the principles in his system of nature and grace either by the proper methods of philosophy or of theology. Again, in Règles du bon sens, written the year before his death, Arnauld warns, “Be very careful about the nature of the question in dispute, whether it is philosophical or theological. For if it is theological, it must be decided principally by authority, whereas if it is philosophical, it must be decided principally by reason.”[2]

According to Arnauld, the chief purpose of theology is to defend the truths revealed by God through Sacred Scripture and the teaching tradition of the Church. Part of the ceremony in which he received the doctorate in theology from the Sorbonne was a vow, made before the altar of the Holy Martyrs, “that we will give our life before leaving the truth undefended.” In the speech he gave on that occasion, Arnauld emphasized the vow, which he said was instituted because “the obligation to defend the truth with force and courage is so indispensable in a theologian that those whose courage in this regard could weaken, should be committed to it by the holiness and piety of a solemn public vow” (Traduction du Discours latin prononcé par M. Arnauld en recevant le Bonnet de Docteur, OA, 43:12). This intense religious commitment to his role as a theologian continued throughout his life. Combined with his combative personality, it helps to explain the passion with which he defended individual theologians, especially Saint-Cyran and Jansen, as well as what he took to be the truths of revelation.

Regarding philosophy, Arnauld, like Descartes, held that its purpose was to acquire useful knowledge through reason. That reason ought to be employed only in the pursuit of useful knowledge is emphasized in the opening pages of the Logic. Arnauld and Nicole say that “speculative sciences, such as geometry, astronomy, and physics” can be used as instruments for perfecting judgment and reason. This provides a use for some of the “nooks and crannies” of those sciences, which would otherwise be “completely worthless.” They go on to say, “People are not born to spend their time measuring lines, examining the relations between angles, or contemplating different motions of matter. The mind is too large, life too short, time too precious to occupy oneself with such trivial objects. But they are obligated to be just, fair, and judicious in all their speech, their actions, and the business the conduct. Above all they ought to train and educate themselves for this” (Logic, 5). Arnauld did not think, however, that philosophical sciences are useful only as instruments for acquiring virtues. Natural philosophy or physics can be made to serve the good of human life in many ways. But even metaphysics is useful in that it can help the theologian in the task of defending the truth.

An outstanding example of that sort of usefulness, in Arnauld's view, was Descartes' argument for the distinction of the soul or mind from the body. Arnauld refers to Descartes as a “Christian philosopher,” echoing Descartes' own use of the phrase in the letter dedicating the Meditations on First Philosophy to the Faculty of Theology of the Sorbonne, where Descartes says that he carried out the injunction of the Fourth Lateran Council (1513-17) that “Christian philosophers” should try to prove the immateriality of the soul (Descartes, 2:4).

The authorities most often cited by Arnauld are Augustine and Aquinas in theology, and Augustine, Aquinas, and Descartes in philosophy. Arnauld's attitude toward these predecessors is complex. From the outset of his published work in philosophy, he claimed that Augustinian themes were present in Descartes. However, in his late work, beginning with On True and False Ideas in 1683, he began to cite Aquinas frequently, as well as Augustine, both in philosophy and theology. Thus, in the 181 folio pages of Ideas, which Arnauld describes as dealing with a purely philosophical topic, he cites Augustine twenty times and Aquinas six times, always claiming that they agree with Descartes and with his own position. Similarly, in the theological part of Réflexions, Arnauld relies heavily on Aquinas's Christology while arguing that Malebranche's theodicy leads him into heterodox, if not downright heretical, positions (OA 39:777). Again, in his late work on the problem of human free will and grâce efficace par elle-même, Arnauld took over what he says is the Thomistic position that the will is free when it is a potestas ou facultas ad opposita. And in the controversy with Nicole and others over Nicole's theory of a grâce générale, Arnauld relied heavily on Aquinas's account of cognition. So frequently did Arnauld rely on Thomistic formulations in his late work that his friends reproached him for “abandoning Augustine in order to follow Aquinas, thus preferring the disciple to the master” (Règles du bon sens, OA, 10:154). This reproach had to do directly with Arnauld's rejection of the “Platonism” in Augustine and Jansen. But as I will show below, Arnauld, late in his career, also parted company with Augustine and Jansen on the nature of human free will, and with Jansen's account of the nature of actual grace.

Arnauld had a scholarly knowledge of the history of philosophy and theology, and was certainly aware of the important differences among Augustine, Aquinas, and Descartes on such issues as the role of sense perception in human knowledge, the relation of the mind to the body, and the nature of human freedom. But Arnauld wanted to emphasize the continuity of Descartes with the Christian past. Arnauld feared that Descartes' philosophy would be made into a weapon against the Christian tradition. Emphasizing those elements in Descartes' philosophy that are in continuity with Augustine and Aquinas was part of Arnauld's effort to make of Cartesianism an ally, rather than an enemy, of the faith.

Arnauld's Cartesianism

Unlike Saint-Cyran, Jansen, and most of the Port-royalists, Arnauld had a positive appreciation of philosophy, and a lively interest in the subject (See Nadler 1989, 18 ff.). His philosophy is typically, and correctly, classified as Cartesian. Indeed, Leibniz said, in 1691, that Arnauld had been “in all ways for Descartes for a long time.”[3] Arnauld enthusiastically endorsed Descartes' physics and the approach to mind-body dualism to which it gave rise. He also adopted some parts of Descartes' views on philosophical method.

Arnauld's Descartes, however, is unlike the Descartes who is seen as the father of the enlightenment and who anticipated many of the preoccupations of recent analytical philosophy. When I speak of “Arnauld's Descartes,” I am referring to the philosophy that Arnauld crafted on the basis of Descartes' views. Arnauld claims, in effect, to set forth the gist of Descartes' philosophy, but he did not hesitate to replace parts of Descartes' philosophy with different though related propositions, especially when doing so made Descartes a more reliable ally in what Arnauld took to be his primary task, to defend the truths of the faith.

Philosophical method

In the Fourth Part of the Logic, “On Method,” Arnauld and Nicole present an account of the distinction between analysis and synthesis that they say is taken from a manuscript of Descartes lent to them by Clerselier. What they present is a free translation of Rule Thirteen of the Rules for the Direction of the Mind. They then paraphrase the four rules given by Descartes in Part Two of the Discourse on the Method, saying that although the rules are “often difficult to follow,” yet “it is always helpful to bear them in mind, and to heed them as much as possible whenever we try to find the truth by means of reason” (Logic, 234-39). But Arnauld developed the Cartesian position on philosophical method in a distinctive way. In particular, he reshaped the notion of an idea, of a confused idea, of a clear and distinct idea, and of methodic doubt.

An idea, according to Arnauld, is the same thing as a perception (in the broad sense of the term characteristic of seventeenth-century philosophy), and every perception has an object distinct from the perception itself. Every idea, i.e., every perception, is, in addition, a consciousness of itself. But this “implicit reflexion” makes present to the mind a perception that is, in the first place, of an object distinct from itself. As Arnauld puts it, “I know myself in knowing other things” (Ideas, 6). It is obviously true, he says, that we can know objects only through the mediation of our perceptions, i.e., our ideas, of them: “But if, by not knowing them immediately, is meant being able to know them only by representative beings distinct from perceptions, I hold that in this sense we can know material things, as well as God and our soul, not only mediately but also immediately, i.e., that we can know them without there being any intermediary between our perceptions and the object” (Ideas, 31).

Arnauld says that the object of any perception has objective being in the perception. Furthermore, the object has objective being in the perception as having properties. If an object exists objectively in a given perception as having a given property, then Arnauld says that the perception represents the object as having that property, that is, makes the object known to the mind as having that property.[4] Furthermore, an idea (or perception) can represent its object to the perceiving mind as having this or that property contingently or necessarily. Arnauld cites the dictum, “it is in the idea of each thing that we see its properties,” and takes it to refer to an explicit reflection upon an idea that represents its object as having certain properties necessarily.

Arnauld argues at length that this theory of ideas was also held by Descartes (Ideas, 26ff.). This claim has puzzled philosophers from Thomas Reid to the present. (Reid 1785, 169.) A good example of the more common interpretation of Descartes' theory is provided by Ian Hacking, who also attributes the theory, as he understands it, to the Port-Royal Logic. Hacking begins with the first sentence of the First Part of the Logic: “We have no knowledge of what is outside us except by the mediation of the ideas within us,” and continues, “The Cartesian ego has set the stage. The ego able to contemplate what is within it ponders what lies outside …There are some objects that we can contemplate without being logically committed to the existence of anything other than the ego. These objects are ideas.” Borrowing an example from Elizabeth Anscombe's comment on Berkeley, Hacking says that in the Cartesian (and Port-royalist) theory, “Ideas [in the mind] are paradigm ‘objects' and coins [in a man's pocket] are not” (Hacking 1975b, 28-30). But the sentence that Hacking quotes from the First Part of the Logic does not demand the interpretation he gives it. It is consistent with the position Arnauld develops in Ideas (published in the same year as the fifth and last edition of the Logic), according to which ideas are primarily perceptions of external objects distinct from the perceiver, objects.like coins in a man's pocket; and only secondarily objects of reflexive perception. Arnauld makes a good case for the claim that this position was also held by Descartes, but the claim is not universally accepted.

Arnauld's account of clarity and distinctness, obscurity and confusion of ideas can be found in the First Part, Chapter 9, of the Logic. The discussion proceeds by way of examples, rather than general definitions, but it can be summarized as follows: The basic properties of ideas are clarity and confusion. Clarity of ideas is the same as vividness, and this is a matter of degree; the opposite of clarity is obscurity. Confusion of ideas results when a number of ideas are connected by false judgments, and confusion produces obscurity. Opposite to confusedness of ideas is distinctness. Arnauld and Nicole apply these distinctions to the idea of pain: “We can say that all ideas are distinct insofar as they are clear, and that their obscurity derives only from their confusion, just as in pain the simple sensation which strikes us is clear and also distinct. But what is confused, namely that the sensation is in the hand, is by no means clear in us” (Logic, 48). Again, Arnauld and Nicole speak of “the obscure and confused ideas we have of sensible qualities, the soul adding its false judgments to what nature causes us to know” (Logic, 49-50). The simple idea of pain, for example, is a clear and distinct idea of a sensory state in the mind, and the idea of the pain in the hand is a compound and confused idea of something in the hand that exactly resembles pain. Being confused, the idea is also obscure, because what it is in the hand that exactly resembles pain is “by no means clear to us.”

These comments on the idea of pain are part of a larger position on “ideas of sensation.” In a famous passage in the “Fourth Objections,” Arnauld objected to Descartes' statement, “If cold is merely the absence of heat, the idea of cold which represents it to me as a positive thing will be materially false” (Descartes, 2:145). As part of his reply, Descartes says, “If cold is simply an absence, the idea of cold is not coldness itself as it exists objectively in the intellect, but something else, which I erroneously mistake for this absence, namely a sensation which in fact has no existence outside the intellect” (Descartes, 2:163). Arnauld developed a general account of sensory ideas that builds on this part of Descartes' reply. He sets out his account clearly in Ideas: Sensory ideas, like the idea of pain and the idea of cold, are perceptions of mental states. Taken apart from the judgments in which we falsely identify these mental states with states of material things, sensory ideas are clear and distinct. They become confused, and hence obscure, only as a result of the precipitous, false judgments of childhood. Arnauld quotes Descartes' Principles of Philosophy, Part I, #68 in support of his account: “We know pain, color and the other sensations clearly and distinctly when we consider them simply as thoughts, but when we would judge that color, pain, etc., are things which subsist outside our thought, we do not conceive in any way what that color, that pain, etc., is” (Quoted by Arnauld in Ideas, 132).

Arnauld's theory of clear and confused ideas implies that ideas, as they are given to us by nature, and thus by God, are clear and distinct, and therefore cannot be deceptive, or “materially false.” Any deceptiveness in our ideas derives from their confusedness and is the result of our misuse of freedom. It is not God who confuses us, but we who confuse ourselves.

Arnauld also gave a distinctive interpretation of Descartes' method of doubt. In the “Fourth Objections,” Arnauld offers, as the first of “the problems which a theologian might come up against in the work as a whole,” the following: “I am afraid that the author's somewhat free style of philosophizing, which calls everything into doubt, may cause offence to some people” (Descartes, 2:151). Arnauld recommends that the First Meditation be “furnished with a brief preface which explains that there is no serious doubt cast on these matters but that the purpose is to isolate temporarily those matters which leave room for even the ‘slightest’ and most ‘exaggerated’ doubt,” and that the clause “since I did not know the author of my being” be replaced by “since I was pretending that I did not know the author of my being.”

Arnauld was asking Descartes to make clear that his method did not involve real doubt, but only a consideration of what would happen if one were to doubt. Consider this passage from the Port-Royal Logic: “If there were people able to doubt that they were not sleeping or were not mad, or who could even believe that the existence of everything external is uncertain … at least no one could doubt, as St. Augustine says, that one exists, that one is thinking, or that they are alive… From this clear, certain, and indubitable knowledge one can form a rule for accepting as true all thoughts found to be as clear as this one appears to be” (Logic, p. 228).[5] This is as close as Arnauld comes to using methodic doubt, but it does not imply that one can really doubt the existence of an external world, much less that one ought to do so, even once in one's lifetime.

It is not clear to what extent Descartes would have agreed with that interpretation of methodic doubt. He did not adopt the first of Arnauld's two suggested revisions. Perhaps he thought that the point was covered in the “Synopsis” of the Meditations. But he did adopt Arnauld's second recommendation by adding some words in parentheses in the Sixth Meditation, thus: “The second reason for doubt was that since I did not know the author of my being (or at least was pretending not to), I saw nothing to rule out the possibility that my natural constitution made me prone to error even in matters which seemed to me most true” (Descartes, 2:53). On the other hand, Descartes begins the Principles of Philosophy with the remark, “It seems that the only way of freeing ourselves from these [prejudices of childhood] is to make the effort, once in the course of our life, to doubt everything which we find to contain even the smallest suspicion of error” (Descartes, 1:193). Here Descartes advocates an effort to develop a real doubt on a wide scale, the sort of advocacy that had aroused Arnauld's theological concern in the “Fourth Objections.”[6]

In sum, Arnauld adopted the Cartesian method that seeks to develop clear and distinct ideas and to limit assent to what is represented by them. But he gave his own distinctive interpretation of the key concepts in the method, and eliminated from it anything that he saw as being theologically dangerous.

Mind-body dualism

If there is one part of Descartes' philosophy that met with Arnauld's enthusiastic approval, it is Descartes' mind-body dualism. Yet even here Arnauld's version of the Cartesian philosophy departed in important ways from Descartes' own views. Arnauld's departure did not have to do with the distinction between mind and body; here he largely contents himself with endorsing what Descartes says.[7] It had to do rather with the union of the mind and body in a human being. Arnauld rejected a claim at the core of Descartes' position, namely, that the union of a person's mind and body makes it possible for the mind and the body to exercise real causal action on one another. Arnauld explicitly says that a person's body cannot act causally on his mind, and had at least some difficulty with the notion that a person's mind can act causally on his body.

In 1680 Arnauld wrote an extended defense of the “the philosophy of Descartes” regarding “the essence of body and the union of the soul with the body,” against an attack by Fr. Etienne Le Moine.[8] Throughout this work, Arnauld quotes Malebranche as representative of the Cartesian position, and what he defends under the heading, “the philosophy of Descartes,” is actually a modified version of Malebranche.[9] According to the Cartesian philosophy, says Arnauld, “All the union (alliance) of the mind and the body which is known to us consists in a natural and mutual correspondence of thoughts in the soul with traces in the brain and of emotions in the soul with movements of the [animal] spirits.” “It is not denied,” he adds, “that there may be something unknown to us in the union God has brought about between our soul and our body”; what we do know, however, suffices to show that the mind is not related to the body as a pilot to his ship, but rather that the two are united in “a greater and more intimate union” by which they form a single whole (Examen, OA, 38:141).

Arnauld next takes up a criticism raised by Le Moine against the Cartesian account of sense perception, and this leads to the question, “whether it is the bodily movements [in the eye] that cause the perceptions in the soul; or whether they are only the occasion on which the soul forms [the perceptions] in itself; or whether God gives [the perceptions] to [the soul]” (Examen, OA, 38:146). Arnauld says that it is “easy” to eliminate the first alternative: “For since the motion of a body can at best have no other effect than to move another body (I say at best because it may have not even that), who does not see that it can have no effect on a spiritual soul?” He adds that St. Augustine considered it beyond doubt that a body can have an effect only on our body, and not on our soul. Arnauld rules out the second of his three alternatives on the grounds that the soul cannot form sensible perceptions in itself on the occasion of particular motions in the bodily sensory apparatus because the soul is not aware of those motions. This leaves Arnauld with the third alternative, which he accepts, adding that God voluntarily undertakes to cause in our soul perceptions of sensible qualities whenever the corresponding motions occur in the sensory organs “according to the laws He himself has established in nature” (Examen, OA, 38:148). He summarizes this conclusion by saying that our body does not act on our soul as a “physical cause (cause physique)” but only as a “moral cause (cause morale)” (Examen, OA, 38:150).

Arnauld had a quite different position regarding the causation of voluntary movements in the body. He held that, in general, it is possible for immaterial, thinking beings to act causally on material things, and that, in fact, God has on occasion given angels the power to do so. He also held that the mind of Adam and of Eve had the power to bring about voluntary motions in their bodies before the Fall, and that the minds of the blessed in heaven will enjoy that power. He suggests that the voluntary bodily motions of human being in this life here below are not caused by the person's volitions. His reason for this negative position is that post-lapsarian human beings do not know how to bring about the movements of the animal spirits that cause the motions of their muscles and limbs. Thus he says, “If one can say [that God has not given our soul a real power to determine the course of the animal spirits toward the muscles of the parts of our body that we want to move], it is not [on the grounds of a general occasionalism like Malebranche's]… It is only because our soul does not know what must be done in order to move our arm by means of the animal spirits” (My italics; Dissertation sur les Miracles de l'ancienne loi, OA, 38:690). Steven Nadler cites this text while arguing that Arnauld was an “occasionalist” both about the causation of sensory perceptions by bodies, and about the causation of voluntary movements by the human mind (Nadler 1995, 138). Nadler recognizes that Arnauld had quite different attitudes toward the two cases, but nevertheless says that Arnauld “alone among Cartesians” recognized mind-body interaction as a specific problem in Descartes' metaphysics, and “used an occasionalist solution” (Nadler 1995, 144).

Arnauld's treatment of the union of mind and body shows that he was not a docile follower of Descartes, and indeed was prepared to develop “the philosophy of Descartes” in ways that Descartes would probably not have accepted. It also shows that Arnauld was prepared to modify Descartes' philosophy in a way that increased its similarity to Augustine. It is well known that Arnauld pointed out similarities between Augustine and Descartes from the beginning of his published work, in the “Fourth Objections.” In the present case, however, Arnauld changes the philosophy of Descartes in a way that increases its similarity to Augustine. Arnauld did not mention Aquinas, though he could have done so, as another authority who held that a material thing cannot produce an immaterial effect. It was only a few years later, in On True and False Ideas, that Arnauld began to claim an affinity between the views of Descartes and those of Aquinas. But in his development of the Cartesian position on the union of mind and body, one can already see Arnauld attempting to make of Descartes a Christian philosopher standing in continuity with his great patristic and scholastic predecessors.

Arnauld and Malebranche

Nicolas Malebranche was born in 1638, when Arnauld was twenty-six years old. In 1660, Malebranche joined the Oratory, a center for priests in Paris that had many connections with Port-Royal. Malebranche and Arnauld were on friendly terms in the early 1670s, but late in the decade they had a falling out over Malebranche's explanation of the fact that not all men are saved, and related matters.[10] In 1680, Malebranche published his position, against Arnauld's advice, in the Treatise of Nature and Grace (hereinafter TNG). The ensuing public controversy between the two was a central event in the intellectual life of Europe in the late seventeenth century.

Arnauld's attack on TNG began in a surprising way, with the publication of On True and False Ideas in 1683. In it, Arnauld presents his own position on the nature of ideas, which I described above, and argues that Malebranche's view that we see all things (or at least all bodily things) in God and by means of God's ideas is not only mistaken, but thoroughly confused and wrong-headed. This work engendered a preliminary debate that lasted for two years. The publication of Réflexions in 1685-86 provoked further exchanges between the two in 1687, with a last gasp on Arnauld's part in 1694, the year of his death, and on Malebranche's part ten years later, in 1704.[11]

4.1 Malebranche's position in the Treatise of Nature and Grace

TNG provides a general account of God's reasons for creating a world with the evils that the world contains. But Malebranche is mainly interested in one particular evil, namely, that not all men are saved. That not all men are saved he took to be a datum of revelation, plainly expressed in the Scriptures. But he denied that it follows that God does not want all men to be saved. Indeed, he says his motive in writing TNG was to refute those who concluded that God did not have a “sincere will” to save all men:

If there were not in this century people determined to hold that God does not have a sincere will to save all men, it would not be necessary to establish principles suitable for destroying that unhappy opinion. But the need to combat errors brings to light principles suitable to that end. I protest before God that that was the principal motive that made me write.[12]

If God wants to save all men, something must prevent Him from doing what He wants to do. In the “Troisième Eclaircissement” to TNG, Malebranche says that since God is omnipotent, He can bring about whatever He wants to bring about. But because His will is “the love He bears for His own attributes,” He cannot, by a “practical” will,[13] will anything or will in any way that is not wise: “The wisdom of God renders Him impotent in this sense that it does not permit him to will certain things, or to act in certain ways” (OM, 5:180). What prevents God from carrying out His will to save all men, Malebranche concludes, must be that doing so would require ways or manners of willing that are unwise. As he puts it a few pages later, God's wisdom “holds His volitions in check, in the sense that not all of His volitions are practical volitions” (OM, 5:184).

Malebranche argues that God's wisdom restrains Him from sanctifying and saving all men because it directs Him not only to create a world that is good, but also to create “in a way worthy of Him, by ways (par des voyes) that are simple, general, constant, and uniform” (OM, 5:49). More precisely, God's wisdom directs Him to an act of creating that best combines goodness or perfection of the created world with simplicity of ways of creating. An analogy may help explain Malebranche's position. Suppose that someone sets out to buy a car and wants to do the best possible job of car-buying. Suppose further that the second-best car is available at a much better price than the best car. In this case, doing the best job of car-buying might require buying less than the best car. In a somewhat similar way, Malebranche holds that the best job of creating, the one most worthy of God, involves creating a world less perfect than He might have made it, in particular, a world in which not all human beings are saved.

Malebranche's notion of the simplicity of God's ways of creating depends on his occasionalism. According to that theory of efficient causality, God is the only true efficient cause. When creatures appear to be efficient causes, they are really only occasional causes. That is, the events in which the apparent created causes take part are followed by other events in accordance with laws of nature, which are God's general volitions. But the created “causes” do not really cause the events that follow. These events, like every created reality, are really caused by God.[14] For Malebranche, the simplicity of God's ways depends on there being a small number of laws of nature, and on there being few exceptions to the laws. Malebranche maintains that in order to do the job of creating that best combines goodness of the world created with simplicity of ways of creating, God had to make a world with precisely the natural evils (misshapen animals, human suffering, ugly landscapes, etc.) that that are present in the world as it is.

The anomalies in the order of grace are explained in a similar way. Malebranche divides grace, the divine assistance given to human beings, into two kinds, which he calls “grace of light (lumière)” and “grace of feeling (sentiment)” (OM, 5:96-97; 131). The former is, quite simply, knowledge. Malebranche also calls it “the grace of the Creator,” because it is given, in different forms, both to Adam and Eve and to human beings after their Fall. Grace of feeling is “the grace of Jesus Christ,” and was merited for human beings by the life and death of Jesus. Malebranche also describes it as a “pleasure (délectation)” which makes a person love God (TNG, OM, 5:135). According to Malebranche, the grace of the Creator is “dry, abstract, entirely pure and entirely intelligible” and does not lead us to love God. The grace of Christ, in contrast, is “efficace par elle-même” in that it “always has its effect, always carries us toward God” (OM, 5:132). Human beings, after the fall of Adam, are unable to grow in holiness, or even to be saved from damnation, without the grace of Christ. But the love of God produced by grace is a sort of instinctive love, which is not meritorious and is not sufficient for salvation. Whether the person who receives the grace of Christ is saved depends on the person's free consent to the movement toward God that grace produces, which converts the instinctive love of God into a “free and rational” love. This consent is not produced by grace.

Now Malebranche holds that God could give to each person grace that would assure the person's salvation: “God is the master of hearts. He can give to the impious a grace such that it will convert him, since God knows what degree of grace to give, and when it must be given, in order that it bring about the conversion of the sinner” (OM, 5:186). Similarly, God knows what sort of grace would ensure that any person is not only saved, but also attain the maximum holiness of which he or she is capable. But many who receive grace do not grow in holiness and are not saved. For example, many who enter the Church later fall away. On the other hand, many fail to receive the grace that would ensure their holiness or even their salvation. For Malebranche, this is a troubling disorder in the distribution of grace parallel to the disorder found in nature: “God often distributes graces, without their having the effect that His goodness makes us believe He would make them have. He makes the piety of some people increase right up to the end of their life, but sin overcomes them at death and throws them into Hell. He makes the rain of grace fall upon hardened hearts as well as on earth that is prepared: people resist it and make it useless for their salvation. … How can that be reconciled with wisdom?” (OM, 5:48)

Malebranche's answer is that God's wisdom dictates that He act, in the distribution of both sorts of grace, according general volitions determined by created occasional causes to particular effects. In the case of the grace of the Creator, the general volitions are laws of nature and the occasional causes are “the diverse movements of our will” and “the encounter of sensible objects that act on our mind” (TNG, 5:102). For the grace of Jesus Christ, the occasional cause if Jesus Christ, in his human nature, and the general volition is that grace be given to human beings if and only if Jesus Christ, in his human nature, asks that it be given. Jesus' requests for grace are made in view of the needs of the Church. But Jesus, in his human nature, does not always think of “the future determination of the will” of those for whom he requests grace. The result is that, often enough, people receive grace that does not lead to their holiness and salvation, or fail to receive the grace that would have done so (TNG, OM, 5:83).

4.2 Two themes in Arnauld's criticism of the Treatise of Nature and Grace

Arnauld thought that Malebranche's position was dangerous, and that if accepted it would have ruinous consequences for the Catholic faith. He was “furious,” as Denis Moreau has aptly said, “and decided to leave nothing standing in a philosophy that clearly frightened him” (Moreau 1999, 240). Here I will try to make clear only the general lines of Arnauld's attack. First I will describe two pervasive themes in Arnauld's criticism: (1) that Malebranche often did not proceed by the proper method of either philosophy or theology; and (2) that Malebranche speaks of God in anthropomorphic terms, as if He were subject to the limitations of a human agent.[15] Then I will turn to Arnauld's main criticisms of Malebranche's position that God acts vis-a-vis creatures by “general volitions.”

1. Throughout Réflexions, beginning with the “Avant-Propos” to the work, Arnauld challenges Malebranche to make clear whether his claims are based on reason or on Scripture and tradition.[16] He had mounted this sort of challenge even earlier, in Ideas: “He does not say that he learned those grand maxims on which all of that [Treatise of Nature and Grace] turns by the revelation of God: that if God wills to act externally, it is because He wills to obtain an honor worthy of Himself; that He acts by the simplest ways; that He does not act by particular volitions; but by general volitions which are determined by occasional causes” (Ideas, 174). Nor could all of those maxims be demonstrated, in Malebranche's sense of the term, for Malebranche says that only necessary truths can be demonstrated, and yet he admits that God does sometimes act by particular volitions, namely, when He performs miracles. Hence Malebranche himself would have to admit that the third maxim, at least, is not demonstrable. In Arnauld's view, Malebranche came to accept such principles because he thought they made God more loveable and hence were favorable to the cause of religion. Thus he introduces, on the basis of religious considerations, principles that are not found in Scripture and tradition.

Arnauld thought that this unholy introduction of religion into what ought to be treated as philosophical questions began with Malebranche's theory of ideas, according to which “we see all things in God.” Thus, in the “Conclusion” of his Défense contre la Réponse au livre des vraies et des fausses Idées (OA, hereafter Défense), Arnauld takes up “two or three objections” that might be raised against Ideas. The second objection is one that had been raised by Nicole: “I could have avoided this philosophical topic [of the nature of ideas] so as not to interrupt what I had begun to write about the Treatise of Nature and Grace.” In reply, Arnauld says, “What was at the outset a question of philosophy … is not such for [Malebranche]. For him it is a question of theology, very sublime and very elevated. He considers it a religious duty to devote his whole mind to its defense. He finds it bad that others should disagree with him, and even says that anyone who is not of his opinion must be ‘either an unenlightened philosopher or a man insensitive to his duties.’ Thus he has changed the form of the dispute. He has involved religion, and has become so devoted to his novel thoughts as to hold that anyone who does not approve of them lacks respect for the wisdom of God Himself” (Défense, OA, 39:666).

In Arnauld's direct attack on TNG, he says again and again that Malebranche relies on principles that have neither a proper theological basis in Scripture and tradition, nor a proper philosophical basis in reason. Clearly he thought that this criticism applied as well to Malebranche's theory of ideas. But if Arnauld took seriously the remark at the beginning of the Logic, “The reflections we can make on our ideas are perhaps the most important part of logic, since they are the foundation of everything else,” he may well have thought that Malebranche's theory of ideas was an important source of the confusion of theology with philosophy that plagues TNG. That, in turn, would help to explain his decision to begin his attack on TNG with a treatise on the nature of ideas.[17]

2. Arnauld agreed with Malebranche that God's will is reasonable, but he disagreed with Malebranche's way of conceiving God's reasonableness. In both Book I and Book II of Réflexions, he tries to show that Malebranche conceives of God's reasonableness as if it were the reasonableness of a human being. In the second chapter of Book I, he reports a series of arguments given by Malebranche early in TNG for the conclusion that God acts in the order of nature only by general volitions. These arguments, says Arnauld, are “only comparisons with men, which … cannot prove anything with regard to God; or popular thoughts not worthy … of a philosopher” (OA, 39:188). For example, Malebranche says that God decides to create that which can be produced and conserved by the simplest laws because he is an excellent workman, and “an excellent workman … does not do by complicated ways what he could carry out by simpler ones” (TNG, OM, 5:28). Arnauld objects that there is no similarity between an excellent human workman and God, “since all the ways of executing His plans are equally easy for Him, and ‘His power,’ as the author [Malebranche] recognizes, ‘makes Him so much the master of all things, and so independent of help from elsewhere, that it suffices that He will, in order for His volitions to be carried out’ (OA, 39;189-90). Hence God's volitions are not based on reasoning about the means to achieve a desired end.

Book II of Réflexions, which deals with God's way of acting in the order of grace, opens with a related criticism. Arnauld begins by analyzing a line of thought that Malebranche presents in the ”Troisième Eclaircissement“ to TNG ” (OA, 39:425-51). The line of thought begins with two claims: that “God can act only for Himself. If He wills to act, it is because He wills to procure an honor worthy of Himself” and that “God can receive an honor worthy of Himself only from Himself.” Yet I am created, so I must be able to render to God an honor worthy of Him. This I can do, says Malebranche, only by becoming a part of the Church, of which the Incarnate Second Person of the Trinity is the cornerstone. More generally, “God's great plan is to build in His own honor a spiritual temple, of which Jesus Christ is the cornerstone … His plan is that this Temple should be as large and perfect as possible.” Malebranche then draws an important conclusion: “God wills that all men enter into this spiritual building, to enlarge it. God wills that all men be saved … God also hopes that men will merit outstanding degrees of glory: His will is our sanctification” (OM, 5:183). But although God wants the salvation and sanctification of all men, “He loves His wisdom infinitely more,” and His wisdom requires that He act in the way that is wisest and most worthy of Himself, that is, in “general, constant and uniform way,” with the result that “He does not save all men, although He truly wills that they all be saved” (OM, 5:185).

Arnauld has much to say against that line of thought, and he begins be attacking its very first step, the claim that God “can act externally only in order to procure an honor worthy of Himself” (OA, 39:428-40).[18] He objects that this is not a proper way to speak about an infinitely perfect being. Once again, Malebranche is guilty of anthropomorphism. For he says, in effect, “that [God] could resolve to create me, me and the other creatures, only for some advantage He wanted to obtain for Himself by creating us…. That is how [Malebranche] lowers [God], by claiming that He cannot decide to create anything externally, except to procure an honor worthy of Himself” (OA, 39:429). Arnauld goes on to contrast Malebranche's way of describing God's creation with that of St. Thomas, who say that the reason God creates is that His goodness tends to overflow and communicate itself to other things.[19]

Arnauld also says that to speak about God as consulting His wisdom before acting is to speak about God as one would about a human being who wills an end and is thereby caused to will the means to that end (OA, 39:432). It is to compare God to a man who consults his wisdom about everything he wants to do “as if he were afraid of not acting well, and his will needed to be ruled by something other than itself in order to do only what is good” (OA, 39:599-600). “Is it an expression of rigorous exactitude to say of God that He consults His wisdom, and that is how it comes about that everything He wills is wise,” Arnauld asks, “as if the word consult is suitable for an infinitely perfect being when one professes not to speak in popular language? As if God needed to consult His wisdom so that what He wills should be wise? As if His will were not His wisdom? As if everything He wills were not essentially wise, by virtue of the fact that He wills it?” (OA, 39:578). God's will is not a force that needs to be tamed. The truth, according to Arnauld, is that it is impossible that God should have an actual (sincere) will for something that is not in fact wise.

In a related criticism, Arnauld chides Malebranche for allowing “very little freedom and indifference” in God's creative action. Arnauld quotes Malebranche: “Assuming that God wills to produce outside of Himself a work worthy of Himself, He is not indifferent in the choice; He ought to produce the most perfect work possible by relation to the simplicity of the ways by which He acts; He owes it to Himself to follow the rules of his wisdom” (Quoted by Arnauld at Réflexions, OA, 39:598, from TNG, OM, 5: 110). Malebranche tries to save for God at least freedom and indifference with regard to creating or not creating. But Arnauld suggests that this move is ruled out by “the way in which he conceives God's action,” for supposedly, on Malebranche's view, God would consult His wisdom before deciding whether to create or not, and just as His wisdom advises Him to create this world rather than a less perfect one, assuming that the two could be created in an equally simple way, His wisdom would also advise Him that it is better to create than not to create (OA, 39:599-600).[20]



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