This is part seven in an intermittent series on Thomas Aquinas’ view of free choice and divine sovereignty. (To see the first six parts, do a search for “Aquinas, Free Choice” in the search bar.)
In Aquinas’ Summa Theologia, 1.82.1, we find Thomas concludes that it is not a problem to say that the will has a natural necessity toward one goal, yet still be free. He gives the illustration that someone wanting to cross the ocean must necessarily will a vessel to so so, yet the will is still free to will this vessel. He continues: “For as the intellect of necessity adheres to the first principles, the will must of necessity will to the last end, which is happiness . . .” There are some things that the intellect and will are bound to affirm.
In the next question, 1.82.2, Thomas continues this thought. He explains some things the intellect is not bound to, such as contingent propositions. Likewise, there are some things that the will is not necessarily determined to will. Some good things are not necessarily bound to happiness, and therefore a person may will them or not, while other things are necessarily bound to happiness, and the person must necessarily will them.
There are some things which have a necessary connection with happiness, by means of which things man adheres to God, in Whom alone true happiness consists. Nevertheless, until the certitude of the Divine Vision the necessity of such connection be shown, the will does not adhere to God of necessity, nor to those things which are of God. But the will of the man who sees God in His Essence of necessity adheres to God, just as how we desire of necessity to be happy. Therefore it is clear that the will does not desire of necessity whatever it desires.
Thomas is telling us that the will cannot avoid willing happiness, yet still freely will them. Other objects of the will may or may not bring happiness, and the will is free to will them or not. If a person were to see God, the ultimate object of happiness, then we could not avoid willing God.
We then have an answer to the question of how we can be free in heaven and not choose to sin. We always choose happiness, but here on earth we may not know whether the chicken or the fish might bring us the most happiness. Once we learn the ultimate happiness, we freely choose it, and cannot help but do so.
In objection 2 in this question, Thomas deals with the objection that the will is moved by the object willed. Therefore the will is by necessity moved by the object moving it. In this objection, the human will is necessarily moved by the object of desire.
Thomas replies that the will is only moved when the object moving it is more powerful. Therefore the universal and perfect good is the most powerful, it moves the will necessarily, but any individual good is not powerful enough to move the will of necessity. Further, those who know God in part may turn away from God, but the fault is in the weakness of mankind in perceiving the ultimate good, not in any problem inherent in God.
Thomas is ultimately moving toward his explanation of how God moves the will without doing violence to the will and without changing the nature of how we make free will choices. Aquinas’ view seems to be different than that of those who hold that God merely changes what we desire.