I have begun reading Of the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity by the Anglican divine Richard Hooker.  Following a discourse on the different kinds of Law instituted by God (eternal law, divine law, natural law, and so forth), Hooker writes,

“Howbeit, undoubtedly, a proper and certain reason there is of every finite work of God, inasmuch as there is a law imposed upon it; which if there were not, it should be infinite even as the worker himself is.  They err therefore, who think that of the will of God to do this or that, there is no reason besides his will.  Many times no reason known to us; but that there is no reason thereof, I judge it most unreasonable to imagine, inasmuch as he worketh all things ... not only ‘according to his own will,’ but ‘the counsel of his own will.’”

I understand that the Nominalists, and the Reformers after them, rejected this conception of the reasonableness of divine agency, instead claiming that God’s will is supreme over all, and that the only reason for something’s being so is that God wills it be so.  Though the view which champions “divine counsel” is obviously more appealing to me, I struggle to discern which view is correct (though I am all but certain about which view you take), since both views seem to have problems.

On the one hand, if God, who is perfect in every respect, acts in complete accord with reason or with His own counsel, is He not its slave?  That is, what freedom might God possibly possess if His doings must, of necessity, conform to reason or to “counsel”?

On the other hand, if God’s will is supreme over reason or “counsel,” then all his actions would be groundless or arbitrary, all sins would be sins merely because God decided they were so, and these consequences seem to me inconceivable.

How do you resolve the reasonableness of God’s activity with His freedom?    


I am always glad to discuss Richard Hooker, if for no other reason than to memorialize his golden style of prose.  But your question is very good -- and very old.

For long ago Socrates posed a question to his friend Euthyphro:  Do the gods love what is pious because it is pious, or is it pious because the gods love it?  In one form or another, that famous query has been kicking around ever since.  With just a few substitutions we get the form which bedevils you:  Does God will what He wills because it is wise, or must it be called wise just because He wills it?

What makes the question a dilemma is that neither answer is satisfactory.  But notice that it presents a false dichotomy.  There is a third alternative which it overlooks.

For consider what you are implying when you say that if God acts in complete accord with His own wisdom, then He is its servant.  You are treating God and His wisdom as distinct things, for otherwise you couldn’t set one above the other.  But God and His wisdom are the same thing.  So are God and His will.  So are God and His goodness.

To put it another way, He is not a composite being made of various parts; you can’t point to one part and call it His wisdom, another part and call it His will, another part and call it His goodness.  We think of these things as different because we are not identical with our own attributes.  But God is identical with His attributes.

So the right way to frame the question is like this:

Is the wise something higher than God, to which His will submits?

Or is the wise something lower than God, which His will brings about?

Or are His will and His wisdom identical with each other and with Him?

Just as you suggest, the first alternative makes God a servant, and just as you suggest, the second makes His will arbitrary.  But the third makes Him supreme, supremely wise, supremely good – and, yes, supremely free.