Date of Award
Santa Clara : Santa Clara University, 2018.
Licentiate in Sacred Theology (STL)
In our own contemporary context, there seems to be nothing more important than for a person to be able to speak about their achievements as being specifically their own. Yet it seems that due to two trends found in theology and science, it is increasingly difficult to talk about individual agency. The first trend which undercuts human agency is found in theological fatalism.1 We will look at the case of theological fatalism found in Islamic thought in the idea of qadar, the power of God by which everything is commanded.2 The second trend comes to us on account of science where there is an ideological claim3 being made called scientism. This ideology asserts that “science is the only way of knowing”4 and results in the rejection of all non-material categories; human actions are seen to be brought about (determined) simply as functions of their antecedent conditions in the material world and thusly become “incompatible with human freedom.”5
In this paper, I seek to develop a renewed theology of personal agency in the face of theological fatalism and scientific determinism by drawing upon the work of Origen of Alexandria. This second-third century Father of the Church, offers a number of insights which are very pertinent in our contemporary context; in an age where individuality and self-realization are considered fundamental to the human experience. His assertions on human agency found in the first chapter of the third book of his De Principiis, summons its hearers “to live a good life and by every means avoid sin, for it assumes that they acknowledge that deeds worthy of praise or blame lie within our own power.”6 We will also draw on the vast work of St. Thomas Aquinas who helps situate a philosophical anthropology and an understanding of causality where humans are free in a world where God exists and is operative. He will assert and uphold the Catholic principle of cooperation between the human will and the divine will in defense of human freedom. To this end Aquinas states “that nothing which involves contradiction falls under the omnipotence of God.”7
Poggi, Bernard B., "Towards a Renewed Theology of Personal Agency: Origen’s Theological Vision and the Challenges of Fatalism and Determinism" (2018). Jesuit School of Theology Dissertations. 37.