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The Existence of God: Sections 62-69

By Francois Fenelon

      SECTION LXII. The Idea of the Unity proves that there are Immaterial Substances; and that there is a Being Perfectly One, who is God.

      As for units, some perhaps will say that I do not know them by the bodies, but only by the spirits; and, therefore, that my mind being one, and truly known to me, it is by it, and not by the bodies, I have the idea of unity. But to this I answer.

      It will, at least, follow from thence that I know substances that have no manner of extension or divisibility, and which are present. Here are already beings purely incorporeal, in the number of which I ought to place my soul. Now, who is it that has united it to my body? This soul of mine is not an infinite being; it has not been always, and it thinks within certain bounds. Now, again, who makes it know bodies so different from it? Who gives it so great a command over a certain body; and who gives reciprocally to that body so great a command over the soul? Moreover, which way do I know whether this thinking soul is really one, or whether it has parts? I do not see this soul. Now, will anybody say that it is in so invisible, and so impenetrable, a thing that I clearly see what unity is? I am so far from learning by my soul what the being One is, that, on the contrary, it is by the clear idea I have already of unity that I examine whether my soul be one or divisible.

      Add to this, that I have within me a clear idea of a perfect unity, which is far above that I may find in my soul. The latter is often conscious that she is divided between two contrary opinions, inclinations, and habits. Now, does not this division, which I find within myself, show and denote a kind of multiplicity and composition of parts? Besides, the soul has, at least, a successive composition of thoughts, one of which is most different and distinct from another. I conceive an unity infinitely more One, if I may so speak. I conceive a Being who never changes His thoughts, who always thinks all things at once, and in which no composition, even successive, can be found. Undoubtedly it is the idea of the perfect and supreme unity that makes me so inquisitive after some unity in spirits, and even in bodies. This idea, ever present within me, is innate or inborn with me; it is the perfect model by which I seek everywhere some imperfect copy of the unity. This idea of what is one, simple, and indivisible by excellence can be no other than the idea of God. I, therefore, know God with such clearness and evidence, that it is by knowing Him I seek in all creatures, and in myself, some image and likeness of His unity. The bodies have, as it were, some mark or print of that unity, which still flies away in the division of its parts; and the spirits have a greater likeness of it, although they have a successive composition of thoughts.

      SECTION LXIII. Dependence and Independence of Man. His Dependence Proves the Existence of his Creator.

      But here is another mystery which I carry within me, and which makes me incomprehensible to my self, viz.: that on the one hand I am free, and on the other dependent. Let us examine these two things, and see whether it is possible to reconcile them.

      I am a dependent being. Independency is the supreme perfection. To be by one's self is to carry within one's self the source or spring of one's own being; or, which is the same, it is to borrow nothing from any being different from one's self. Suppose a being that has all the perfections you can imagine, but which has a borrowed and dependent being, and you will find him to be less perfect than another being in which you would suppose but bare independency. For there is no comparison to be made between a being that exists by himself and a being who has nothing of his own--nothing but what is precarious and borrowed--and is in himself, as it were, only upon trust.

      This consideration brings me to acknowledge the imperfection of what I call my soul. If she existed by herself, it would borrow nothing from another; she would not want either to be instructed in her ignorances, or to be rectified in her errors. Nothing could reclaim her from her vices, or inspire her with virtue; for nothing would be able to render her will better than it should have been at first. This soul would ever possess whatever she should be capable to enjoy, nor could she ever receive any addition from without. On the other hand, it is no less certain that she could not lose anything, for what is or exists by itself is always necessarily whatever it is. Therefore my soul could not fall into ignorance, error, or vice, or suffer any diminution of good-will; nor could she, on the other hand, instruct or correct herself, or become better than she is. Now, I experience the contrary of all these; for I forget, mistake, err, go astray, lose the sight of truth and the love of virtue, I corrupt, I diminish. On the other hand, I improve and increase by acquiring wisdom and good-will, which I never had. This intimate experience convinces me that my soul is not a being existing by itself and independent; that is necessary, and immutable in all it possesses and enjoys. Now, whence proceeds this augmentation and improvement of myself? Who is it that can enlarge and perfect my being by making me better, and, consequently, greater than I was?

      SECTION LXIV. Good Will cannot Proceed but from a Superior Being.

      The will or faculty of willing is undoubtedly a degree of being, and of good, or perfection; but good-will, benevolence, or desire of good, is another degree of superior good. For one may misuse will in order to wish ill, cheat, hurt, or do injustice; whereas good- will is the good or right use of will itself, which cannot but be good. Good-will is therefore what is most precious in man. It is that which sets a value upon all the rest. It is, as it were, "The whole man:" Hoc enim omnis homo.

      I have already shown that my will is not by itself, since it is liable to lose and receive degrees of good or perfection; and likewise that it is a good inferior to good-will, because it is better to will good than barely to have a will susceptible both of good and evil. How could I be brought to believe that I, a weak, imperfect, borrowed, precarious, and dependent being, bestow on myself the highest degree of perfection, while it is visible and evident that I derive the far inferior degree of perfection from a First Being? Can I imagine that God gives me the lesser good, and that I give myself the greater without Him? How should I come by that high degree of perfection in order to give it myself! Should I have it from nothing, which is all my own stock? Shall I say that other spirits, much like or equal to mine, give it me? But since those limited and dependent beings like myself cannot give themselves anything no more than I can, much less can they bestow anything upon another. For as they do not exist by themselves, so they have not by themselves any true power, either over me, or over things that are imperfect in me, or over themselves. Wherefore, without stopping with them, we must go up higher in order to find out a first, teeming, and most powerful cause, that is able to bestow on my soul the good will she has not.

      SECTION LXV. As a Superior Being is the Cause of All the Modifications of Creatures, so it is Impossible for Man's Will to Will Good by Itself or of its own Accord.

      Let us still add another reflection. That First Being is the cause of all the modifications of His creatures. The operation follows the Being, as the philosophers are used to speak. A being that is dependent in the essence of his being cannot but be dependent in all his operations, for the accessory follows the principal. Therefore, the Author of the essence of the being is also the Author of all the modifications or modes of being of creatures. Thus God is the real and immediate cause of all the configurations, combinations, and motions of all the bodies of the universe. It is by means or upon occasion of a body He has set in motion that He moves another. It is He who created everything and who does everything in His creatures or works. Now, volition is the modification of the will or willing faculty of the soul, just as motion is the modification of bodies. Shall we affirm that God is the real, immediate, and total cause of the motion of all bodies, and that He is not equally the real and immediate cause of the good-will of men's wills? Will this modification, the most excellent of all, be the only one not made by God in His own work, and which the work bestows on itself independently? Who can entertain such a thought? Therefore my good-will which I had not yesterday and which I have to-day is not a thing I bestow upon myself, but must come from Him who gave me both the will and the being.

      As to will is a greater perfection than barely to be, so to will good is more perfect than to will. The step from power to a virtuous act is the greatest perfection in man. Power is only a balance or poise between virtue and vice, or a suspension between good and evil. The passage or step to the act is a decision or determination for the good, and consequent by the superior good. The power susceptible of good and evil comes from God, which we have fully evinced. Now, shall we affirm that the decisive stroke that determines to the greater good either is not at all, or is less owing to Him? All this evidently proves what the Apostle says, viz., that God "works both to will and to do of His good pleasure." Here is man's dependence; let us look for his liberty.

      SECTION LXVI. Of Man's Liberty.

      I am free, nor can I doubt of it. I am intimately and invincibly convinced that I can either will or not will, and that there is in me a choice not only between willing and not willing, but also between divers wills about the variety of objects that present themselves. I am sensible, as the Scripture says, that I "am in the hands of my Council," which alone suffices to show me that my soul is not corporeal. All that is body or corporeal does not in the least determine itself, and is, on the contrary, determined in all things by laws called physical, which are necessary, invincible, and contrary to what I call liberty. From thence I infer that my soul is of a nature entirely different from that of my body. Now who is it that was able to join by a reciprocal union two such different natures, and hold them in so just a concert for all their respective operations? That tie, as we observed before, cannot be formed but by a Superior Being, who comprehends and unites those two sorts of perfections in His own infinite perfection.

      SECTION LXVII. Man's Liberty Consists in that his Will by determining, Modifies Itself.

      It is not the same with the modification of my soul which is called will, and by some philosophers volition, as with the modifications of bodies. A body does not in the least modify itself, but is modified by the sole power of God. It does not move itself, it is moved; it does not act in anything, it is only acted and actuated. Thus God is the only real and immediate cause of all the different modifications of bodies. As for spirits the case is different, for my will determines itself. Now to determine one's self to a will is to modify one's self, and therefore my will modifies itself. God may prevent my soul, but He does not give it the will in the same manner as He gives motion to bodies. If it is God who modifies me, I modify myself with Him, and am with Him a real cause of my own will. My will is so much my own that I am only to blame if I do not will what I ought. When I will a thing it is in my power not to will it, and when I do not will it it is likewise in my power to will it. I neither am nor can be compelled in my will; for I cannot will what I actually will in spite of myself, since the will I mean evidently excludes all manner of constraint. Besides the exemption from all compulsion, I am likewise free from necessity. I am conscious and sensible that I have, as it were, a two-edged will, which at its own choice may be either for the affirmative or the negative, the yes or the no, and turn itself either towards an object or towards another. I know no other reason or determination of my will but my will itself. I will a thing because I am free to will it; and nothing is so much in my power as either to will or not to will it. Although my will should not be constrained, yet if it were necessitated it would be as strongly and invincibly determined to will as bodies are to move. An invincible necessity would have as much influence over the will with respect to spirits as it has over motion with respect to bodies; and, in such a case, the will would be no more accountable for willing than a body for moving. It is true the will would will what it would; but the motion by which a body is moved is the same as the volition by which the willing faculty wills. If therefore volition be necessitated as motion it deserves neither more nor less praise or blame. For though a necessitated will may seem to be a will unconstrained, yet it is such a will as one cannot forbear having, and for which he that has it is not accountable. Nor does previous knowledge establish true liberty, for a will may be preceded by the knowledge of divers objects, and yet have no real election or choice. Nor is deliberation or the being in suspense any more than a vain trifle, if I deliberate between two counsels when I am under an actual impotency to follow the one and under an actual necessity to pursue the other. In short, there is no serious and true choice between two objects, unless they be both actually ready within my reach so that I may either leave or take which of the two I please.

      SECTION LXVIII. Will may Resist Grace, and Its Liberty is the Foundation of Merit and Demerit.

      When therefore I say I am free, I mean that my will is fully in my power, and that even God Himself leaves me at liberty to turn it which way I please, that I am not determined as other beings, and that I determine myself. I conceive that if that First Being prevents me, to inspire me with a good-will, it is still in my power to reject His actual inspiration, how strong soever it may be, to frustrate its effect, and to refuse my assent to it. I conceive likewise that when I reject His inspiration for the good, I have the true and actual power not to reject it; just as I have the actual and immediate power to rise when I remain sitting, and to shut my eyes when I have them open. Objects may indeed solicit me by all their allurements and agreeableness to will or desire them. The reasons for willing may present themselves to me with all their most lively and affecting attendants, and the Supreme Being may also attract me by His most persuasive inspirations. But yet for all this actual attraction of objects, cogency of reasons, and even inspiration of a Superior Being, I still remain master of my will, and am free either to will or not to will.

      It is this exemption not only from all manner of constraint or compulsion but also from all necessity and this command over my own actions that render me inexcusable when I will evil, and praiseworthy when I will good; in this lies merit and demerit, praise and blame; it is this that makes either punishment or reward just; it is upon this consideration that men exhort, rebuke, threaten, and promise. This is the foundation of all policy, instruction, and rules of morality. The upshot of the merit and demerit of human actions rests upon this basis, that nothing is so much in the power of our will as our will itself, and that we have this free-will--this, as it were, two-edged faculty--and this elative power between two counsels which are immediately, as it were, within our reach. It is what shepherds and husbandmen sing in the fields, what merchants and artificers suppose in their traffic, what actors represent in public shows, what magistrates believe in their councils, what doctors teach in their schools; it is that, in short, which no man of sense can seriously call in question. That truth imprinted in the bottom of our hearts, is supposed in the practice, even by those philosophers who would endeavour to shake it by their empty speculations. The intimate evidence of that truth is like that of the first principles, which want no proof, and which serve themselves as proofs to other truths that are not so clear and self-evident. But how could the First Being make a creature who is himself the umpire of his own actions?

      SECTION LXIX. A Character of the Deity, both in the Dependence and Independence of Man.

      Let us now put together these two truths equally certain. I am dependent upon a First Being even in my own will; and nevertheless I am free. What then is this dependent liberty? how is it possible for a man to conceive a free-will, that is given by a First Being? I am free in my will, as God is in His. It is principally in this I am His image and likeness. What a greatness that borders upon infinite is here! This is a ray of the Deity itself: it is a kind of Divine power I have over my will; but I am but a bare image of that supreme Being so absolutely free and powerful.

      The image of the Divine independence is not the reality of what it represents; and, therefore, my liberty is but a shadow of that First Being, by whom I exist and act. On the one hand, the power I have of willing evil is, indeed, rather a weakness and frailty of my will than a true power: for it is only a power to fall, to degrade myself, and to diminish my degree of perfection and being. On the other hand, the power I have to will good is not an absolute power, since I have it not of myself. Now liberty being no more than that power, a precarious and borrowed power can constitute but a precarious, borrowed, and dependent liberty; and, therefore, so imperfect and so precarious a being cannot but be dependent. But how is he free? What profound mystery is here! His liberty, of which I cannot doubt, shows his perfection; and his dependence argues the nothingness from which he was drawn.

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See Also:
   Sections 1-6
   Sections 7-16
   Sections 17-23
   Sections 24-30
   Sections 31-40
   Sections 41-50
   Sections 51-60
   Sections 62-69
   Sections 70-81
   Sections 82-92


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