Reframing Providence: New Perspectives from Aquinas on the Divine Action Debate

The doctrine of providence, which affirms that God guides his creation, has been widely conceived in terms of action in recent theological scholarship. An eloquent example is the so-called debate on divine action, which is largely based on two principles: providence is best conceived in terms of divine action; and divine action is best modeled on human action. Examining this debate, and especially the Divine Action Project (1988-2003), which led to the “scientific turn” of the debate, this study argues that theophysical incompatibilism, as a corollary of this “framing” of providence, can be identified as the main reason for the current stagnation of theories of divine action, i.e., the assumption that just as free human (libertarian) action presupposes causal indeterminism, so too does divine action in the world presuppose causal indeterminism.
Instead of recalibrating the much-discussed non-interventionist objective divine action (NIODA) approaches, Simon Maria Kopf argues for a “reformulation” of providence in terms of the virtue of prudence. To this end, this book examines the “prudential-ordinative” theory of Thomas Aquinas. contrasts it with the “shareholder”, or action-based, model of providence. In this process, Kopf discusses, among other topics, the doctrine of divine transcendence, primary and secondary causality, natural necessity and contingency, and teleology as essential features of this “prudential-ordinative” theory. The final part of the book discusses how these two approaches apply to the question of biological evolution, including a review of the controversy between Stephen Jay Gould and Simon Conway Morris over what would happen if the tape of life were re-recorded.


Simon Maria Kopf

Simon Maria Kopf is an Austrian academic and theologian with an outstanding career. Since 2022, he has held the position of Associate Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Catholic University ITI in Austria. In addition, he has been a Visiting Research Fellow at King’s College London from 2020 to 2023.

In the recent past, he was a Senior Research Fellow at Humboldt University in Berlin in 2021-2022, where he led the project A Virtue-Based Approach to Providence: Bridging the Analytic/Continental Divide in the Central-European Divine Action Debate. Previously, he was a Visiting Professor at the International Theological Institute in Austria from 2019 to 2022.