Rational Creatures as Servants

With great care, William discusses in what manner one part of God's creation—that is, rational souls—act and do not act as servants. Without a doubt, William walks a very fine line here. He repeatedly claims that rational souls, unlike natural causes, are free to act or not to act. Yet, he also repeatedly states that those same free beings remain God's servants, which he earlier defined as those who cannot act other than as commanded by God to act. One appropriately may ask, can William rightly maintain both that God alone is cause of all things and that rational creatures act freely?

It should be noted that William clearly believes that rational beings, unlike nonrational natural causes, have the ability to make choices, and hence, do not operate with the necessity common to nature. Along with both ancient and Christian authors William argues that if human beings "were not free, but carried along by servile necessity, like the concupiscible power and the irascible power of the other animals," then each person would live with the moral accountability commonly attributed to animals (William of Auvergne, Trinity 3.7; 24, Teske). As a result no blame or merit could be assigned to any human action. Likewise, laws would not be made or followed, for no one could do other than what they are naturally able to do. William soundly rejects such conclusions because they contradict common experience and Scripture. Therefore, for William, rational souls must be truly free beings.

This does not mean, however, that William believes that rational souls do not also operate in some manner as servants. Indeed, he goes to great lengths to clarify that although rational beings are free, no creature—not even rational souls—are able to act with the full freedom of the creator. Lacking this freedom, all creation is dependent upon God as a servant to his or her master. Borrowing heavily from the Fons vitae,9 William argues that since created beings "have nothing which they have not received from the creator" their very ability to act is due to the fact that "they are vessels of the outpouring and overflowing of the first font"—who is God (William of Auvergne, Universe Ia-Iae.26; 92, Teske). William believes that God, as the source of being, not only creates each thing by filling it with his being, like water filling a bucket, but that the overflowing of being, which is his goodness, allows created things to be causes. Just as a riverbed filled by springs overflows into valleys, so too "in that way all these things which are called causes, having been filled by the outpouring of the first and universal springs, carry or pass on what is beyond their capacity to other things" (William of Auvergne, Universe Ia-Iae.26; 93, Teske). Thus, for William, even free beings never completely act independently from God. Therefore, they ultimately remain his servants.

And yet, the causation of rational creatures is different from that done by non-rational creatures, for the former are "not activities of the creator which he does through himself, as operations of nature which are servile and in the manner of a servant, as you have often heard. Rather, they are according to his good pleasure and from the ultimate degree of freedom."10 Therefore, William argues that God's generous creativity alone establishes what each created being, including free, rational beings, can and cannot do. William goes on to explain how this creative act allows rational souls to act voluntarily, yet in the manner of a servant. He writes:

Every intellective power is illuminated by its most noble and greatest intelligible object and is set afire with love for it, and these two are the first outpourings of the object upon the intellective power. From these two outpourings there flow from it, as a result, the operations of servitude, and services by which it knows that it pleases such an object of knowledge and love or with regard to which it considers itself in debt to such an object of knowledge and love. And this has no opposition except where some evil perverts an intelligent substance of this sort. It is, then, evident to you that as a result of such love and knowledge there proceed praises and acts of thanksgiving and chosen services toward such an object of knowledge and love. (William of Auvergne, Universe Ia-IIae.29; 196, Teske)

Therefore, rational souls are God's free servants because rational souls recognize their debt and dependence upon God and freely choose to serve the most knowable and most lovable object, who is God. For this reason, Fr. Roland Teske notes, "there is every reason to read William as saying that the being of each thing is not a created act of being, but the very essence or being of God, by which each thing is. If one may sum up his view in a Berkeleian sort of tag, Creaturis esse est adhaerere Deo: For creatures to be is to adhere to God" (William of Auvergne, Trinity 25).

Against the libertarian notion of freedom, William suggests that rational creatures do not prove their freedom from God when they choose not to serve God, but rather their ignorance and the enslavement of their lower appetites. No longer acting as rational creatures, the human that rejects God does not become more free, but less human. In fact, William infers that a sinner acting through his or her attraction to sin acts in the manner more appropriate of a natural cause—that is more like a servant to his or her sinful nature—than in the manner of a real free being which can choose to serve God.

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