Notes on person and will

The Two Energies of Christ

Person operates by will. Will is a property of nature and energy is operation proper to that nature. So in Christ Incarnate there are two will and two operations proper to each nature, but the divine energeia deifies the human will and energy.


The raising of the dead was a willed operation proper to the divine energy, while eating food was a willed operation proper to the human energy, albeit both are willed by one divine Person – the Logos.

The Notion of Will in Saint Maximus


Thelesis–basic term for “will.” Extremely loaded lexical background.
Gnome and proaerisis–a mode of willing bringing to mind sinful and post-lapsarian man.
Maximus makes the important distinction between willing and “mode of willing.” We can take the distinction even further to see the capacity of willing and the object of willing (119).
The “mode of willing” is the particular way in which a will is actualized.
More on Proaerisis–closely linked to the English words “choice” and “decision.”
Gnome is a disposition of the appetite: Maximus uses these words to refer to the sinful state. Maximus excludes these modes of willing from Christ firstly, because it would introduce a human person in Christ. Why? While will is a faculty of nature, natures qua natures do not will. Persons do. If Christ had a deliberative will per gnome, and this was part of his human nature, he would now have a human person as well as a divine person (152). Further, as Joseph Farrell notes, gnome is a sub-category of “the mode of willing,” it is not identical with the mode of willing. Excluding the former does not negate the latter.
The Willing of the Saints in Heaven
Can saints have free-will in heaven? Sort of. Obviously, they will not sin, but neither will they be robots. How? The wills of the saints in heaven will be one according to the logos of nature, but varied insofar as the mode of movement of the wills is concerned, for each saint will participate in God in a manner proportionate to his desire (157; Farrell also scores huge points on this, Free Choice in St. Maximus the Confessor, 124).
Nature exists in a “mode of existence,” which is the hypostasis (Loudonikos 93ff).
Every nature has an energy, and the energy is constituted by the principle of nature itself.  Each energy reveals God in his entirety in each entity in accordance with the logos of its existence.  Thus, the doctrine of the uncreated energies imply the doctrine of the logoi.  The distinction between essence and energy (this time with Palamas) promotes the distinction between essence and will in God made by Athanasius and the Cappadocians.
Having will by nature is not the same as the act of “willing.”  The former is a natural; the latter is modal and hypostatic.  The distinction between natural and gnomic is analogous to the distinction between logos and tropos.   However, we should not press the distinction too far:   Christ has two natural wills but he does not have a gnomic will (or more precisely, he does not “will” (verb) in a gnomic way, since the latter implies uncertainty.

Augustine, Spirit and the Letter

Initial argument: to respond to Pelagius’s claim that one can live a sinless life.

Other topics addressed: justification by free grace, spiritual interpretation, the nature of human willing and choosing.

Observations:  There are many important topics in this book, yet it is neither an easy nor a pleasant read.  Augustine jumps from point to point, only to return without warning to an earlier point.

  1. The Law as Letter that Killeth
    1. Without the Spirit, the Letter (law) inflames concupiscence.
    2. Whoever obeyed the law without the Spirit, did only because of reward/fear (c.14).
  2. Justification by free grace
    1. Our soul wants to attribute to itself that which it freely received from God (c. 18).
    2. Law: what we do, not simply “external ritual markers” (c.23).
    3. Works do not precede justification, otherwise it is pointless to say we are justified freely by his grace (c. 45).
  3. Human nature and grace
    1. Grace restores nature (c. 47).
    2. Grace establishes free will
      1. When we say we do something “in our power,” we presuppose two things:
        1. Will: the assenting to of something
        2. Ability: the capacity to do it.
      2. The Free Will of man is an intermediate power–it can incline towards faith or unbelief.
      3. The very will comes from God but that is not the same thing as saying, “God made me will it.”
      4. The will probably follows the intellect.  Augustine isn’t clear on this point (c. 60) but it seems to be his argument.

Thomas Reid on Freedom

William Rowe gives a fantastic discussion on how British philosophers from Locke to Reid dealt with the problems of free agency and determinism. Regardless of whether one is a free will theist or a determinist, Rowe nicely clarifies what each thinker believed on these subjects.

Rowe begins with Locke’s Volitional Theory of Action. Actions are of two sorts: thoughts and motions of the body. The action is preceded by a certain act of will. S is free with respect to action A just in case it is in S’s power to do A if S should will to do A and in S’s power to refrain from doing A if S should will to refrain (78).

Necessary agent: a person’s actions are determined by the cause preceding those actions. This does not conflict with Lockean freedom, for Lockean freedom does not require that given the causes we could have acted differently–only that we act.

Problem for Locke: what determines the will on a given occasion to suspend some desire that is otherwise strong enough to move the will towards some other action (Rowe 10)?

Rowe offers a devastating counter-factual scenario: if I inject you with a drug so you can’t move your legs, then on Locke’s view you aren’t sitting freely. But if instead I hook your brain to a machine where I take away your *capacity* to will otherwise, on Locke’s account it would seem that this is a “free action,” since nothing is “making me” sit down.

Agent or Event Causation:

Point of clarification: thoughts and bodily motions that are actions are caused by volitions, and the volitions themselves, although not caused by other events, are caused by the person whose volitions they are (31). The person is the cause of the volition. his is substance causation. It is not reducible to causation by events. FWA (free will advocate) do not deny that events cause actions, pace Jonathan Edwards, but that these events have a prior cause in agents.

Event causation: roughly a physical event. Rowe argues that a necessitarian cannot consistently see herself as an agent cause of some of her actions (64). Something cannot cause me to be the agent-cause of an action. Being caused to cause A implies that, given the cause, one lacked the power not to cause A (67).

Reid’s View of Causation and Active Power

Reid’s Three Conditions
1. An agent must have the power to bring about the act of will.
2. The power to refrain from bringing about the act of will.
3. Exert her power to bring about or refrain.

Reid’s most controversial point: every event has an agent cause (quoted in Rowe 55-56). Rowe is a good enough philosopher that he sees where Reid’s argument could go, though Reid himself didn’t make much of it. If every event has an agent cause, then at the root of the universe’s existence is a Personal Agent.

Reid’s Conception of Freedom

negative thesis: if an action of ours is free, then our decision to do that action cannot have been causally necessitated by any prior events internal or external (Rowe 75-76)

positive thesis: free acts of will are caused by the agent whose acts they are (76).  

In contrasting Reidian freedom with Lockean freedom, Reid never says that an agent must have been able to do otherwise if he had willed to do otherwise.

What is the difference between the power to will to refrain from doing A (Locke) and the power not to will do to A (Reid)?  

For Reid the power to will is the power to cause the act of will.  

For Reid, the power to refrain from an action =/= the power not to will

Locke gives a scenario of a man locked in his room.  He wills to stay in his room but he doesn’t know it is locked.  For Locke, the person acts voluntarily but not freely.  But here is the problem for Locke:  the locked door causally necessitates his staying in the room, it does not causally necessitate his voluntary action of staying in the room.

volition (for Reid): an act of the mind, a determination of the mind or will to do or not do something (87).  

Reid’s Arguments for Libertarian Freedom

Basic argument (95):
1. Certain actions are in our power.
2. Bringing about these actions requires that we will them.
3. Actions that are in our power depend upon the determinations of our will.
4. If actions that are in our power depend upon the determination of our will, then the determinations of our will are sometimes in our power.
5. The determinations of our will are sometimes in our power.


This book, while technical at times, is a fine addition and even introduction to the free will debate.

Does Foreknowledge Change Anything?

One of the common rebuttals to Calvinism is the claim that predestination = God’s foreknowing our future decision(s) to choose or not choose him.  It’s an attractive position.  It allows human dignity and responsibility yet also posits a timeless God.  We will call it weak foreknowledge (Fw).  

While I’m sympathetic to this position and want to hold to something like Fw at the end of the day, I am not sure it delivers on what it promises.  It claims the following:

(1)  God foresees my future decisions.
(1a) God does not cause my future decisions.

Outside of Open Theism, every non-Calvinist agrees with these propositions.  We must then add some conclusions about God that both sides (open theism excluded) hold.

(2) God’s knowledge is immediate and nondiscursive.  

In other words, God doesn’t have to figure stuff out or reason his way to a solution that he didn’t know.  Yes, I understand the verses but every tradition holds those as anthropomorphic.  

(3) God’s essence is simple and immutable.  

(3) says that God doesn’t change.

(2) and (3) allow us to add another premise:

(4) God’s knowledge is fixed.

How does all of this relate to the discussion on predestination? If God’s knowledge is fixed and immutable, and if God sees into eternity future (whatever that means), then aren’t my actions just as fixed?

(1*) God’s knowledge of my future decisions is a knowledge of what I will do.

It’s not clear how I am still free on the quasi-Arminian gloss.  Sure, I as an acting free agent freely employ my will to choose God (JBA–I actually hold to something like this position), but the end result hasn’t changed   Let’s add the classic libertarian hypothesis:

(5) I could have acted otherwise.

Can (5) obtain?  It’s not immediately clear that it can.  Premises (3) and (4) point to a fixed knowledge of future events.  Has the Arminian’s commitment to (1) logically reduced to Calvinism?

Maybe not.  The advocate of LFW (Libertarian Free Will) has several responses:

(6) God’s knowledge of future events does not destroy certainty.

Even Charles Hodge will agree with this point (Systematic Theology, II: 294-306).  Hodge doesn’t actually say much on this point, simply that certainty and free choice aren’t exclusive.  That is true, but he doesn’t tell us why they aren’t exclusive.  

William Lane Craig, an Arminian, clarifies: certainty is a predicate of persons, of knowers.  Necessity is a predicate of events known (Craig, “The Middle Knowledge View,” in Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views, 127-128).  Bruce McCormack agrees: “God’s foreknowledge gives him certainty with regard to what will happen.  Whether the events God knows with certainty take place necessarily or contigently is a function of the natural and historical conditions under which they take place” (McCormack, “The Actuality of God,” in Engaging the Doctrine of God, 205).

At this point the LFW’s commitment to (1) seems to obtain and functions as a logically coherent alternative to Calvinism.   However, there still lurks some ambiguities.

(7) Does the Bible teach this?   

I can’t go into the exegetical points here.  I am simply trying to work through some logical underpinnings.

(8) Granting (6) obtains, am I still really, really free?

The objection argues that (6) inevitably collapses back into (1*).  It still appears to be the case that I am going to do this set of actions (Sx) and not another set of actions (Sy).  (8) appears to be a psychological rebuttal to (6), not a logical one.  In other words, even if (8) obtains, (6) is still logically coherent.  However, the LFW has one more option:

(9) The doctrine of Middle Knowledge allows one to affirm (5), (6), and (1*).  

But that’s for another post.


Can the advocate of LFW offer (1) as a rebuttal and alternative to Calvinism? Phrase another way, (1) is logically coherent.  However, the ultimate truth of (1) depends on other exegetical variables.