position granted that human matters are indeed subject to God’s providence. On the other hand, these same adherents rejected the notion that all things in the world come about of necessity. Rather, they held that human beings are able to initiate human acts, which are genuinely free. In addition, unlike the adherents of the first two positions, those who held to this third position affirmed the efficacy of petitionary prayer. We might think that so far this position sounds pretty good. And indeed it does, so far . . . Yet, as St. Thomas tells us, this position is severely problematic as regards how its adherents explain the efficacy of prayer. He says, “they deemed the decree of divine providence to be changeable, and that it is changed by prayers and other things pertaining to the worship of God.” So, while this third erroneous position certainly affirmed the efficacy of petitionary prayer, it also just as certainly denied the absolute immutability of God’s providence.
[LEFT]At this point, the reader might experience a slight case of déjà vu. At least, that’s my hope. For at this point it should be clear that this third erroneous position on prayer, which St. Thomas has just described, is essentially the same as that position espoused by twentieth century process philosophers like Hartshorne and Ford. People like Hartshorne and Ford are hardly novel as regards their position on this matter. In fact, they’re doing nothing more than recycling an ancient error, which St. Thomas definitely refutes. [/LEFT]
So, how precisely does St. Thomas deal with these erroneous positions on prayer? And, in so dealing, how does the Angelic Doctor do away with the argument, which the process philosophers raise against Catholic doctrine? Although St. Thomas doesn’t explicitly make this comment, I think that it is safe to say that he views these three erroneous positions on the efficacy (or lack thereof) of prayer as but three fatally flawed attempts to reconcile the nature of efficacious prayer with the immutability of divine providence. But the true position on this matter must unequivocally affirm both. Thus, St. Thomas tells us, “it behooves us so to account for the utility of prayer as neither to impose necessity on human affairs subject to divine providence, nor to imply changeableness on the part of the divine decree.” That is, St. Thomas wants to make clear how the efficacy of prayer is compatible with God’s unchangeable providence. Hereafter, St. Thomas presents us with his resolution to this theological difficulty. Here is his response in full:In order to throw light on this question we must consider that divine providence decrees not only what effects shall take place, but also from what causes and in what order these effects shall take place. Now among other causes human acts are the causes of certain effects. Wherefore it must be that men do certain actions, not that thereby they may change the divine decree, but that by those actions they may achieve certain effects according to the order of the divine decree: and the same is to be said of natural causes. And so it is with regard to prayer. For we pray, not that we may change the divine decree, but that we may impetrate that which God has decreed to be fulfilled by our prayers, in other words “that by asking, men may deserve to receive what Almighty God from eternity has decreed to give,” as Gregory says (Dial. 1.8).9This resolution of St. Thomas is both straightforward and profound. He begins by telling us that divine providence decrees from eternity not only which effects will come about in the created order, but also which created secondary causes will bring about these effects as well as the order in which these secondary causes will bring about these effects. This follows from the notion of providence, which St. Thomas set before us at the beginning of this essay. As we saw above, he argues that since God is the Cause of things by his intellect and will, and since there must pre-exist in God an exemplar of every one of his effects, it is necessary that the exemplar of the order of things to one another and to their end must pre-exist in the divine mind. And, "this exemplar of things ordered to their end is, properly speaking, providence."10 Now, since the created secondary causes which God ordains to bring about certain effects in the created order must themselves be numbered among his effects, it follows that these secondary causes fall under the decree of divine providence.
[LEFT]Now it is clear that human acts are among these secondary causes of which we are speaking (although human acts in no way exhaust the secondary causes which St. Thomas has in mind). That is, it should be clear to all of us, from our experience, that our human acts really cause certain effects. Consider such quotidian human acts as making breakfast, gardening, and reading a good philosophy book. Each of these acts serves in one way or another as a cause of some specific effect. One might say that breakfast on the table, a well-kept garden, and an increase in knowledge are the effects brought about by the human acts just mentioned. At this point St. Thomas draws his first conclusion. Human beings perform certain human acts, not in an attempt to change God’s unchangeable providence, but rather in order to bring about certain effects, which God has ordained to follow from the human acts in question. But petitionary prayer is amongst those certain human acts, which are ordered to the bringing about of certain effects. Therefore, we should say that petitionary prayer is not done in an attempt to[/LEFT]