On Possibilities & Hypotheticals



Middle Knowledge



Order of Contents

Historical Theology
Hypothetical Goods & Evils



Articles in English


Aquinas, Thomas

Summa, Part 1, Question 25, ‘The Power of God’

Article 2, ‘Whether his Power is Infinite?’
Article 3, ‘Whether He is Almighty?’
Article 4, Whether He could make the Past not to have been?’ [No]
Article 5, ‘Whether He could do what He does not, or not do what He does?’
Article 6, ‘Whether what He makes He could make better?’



Charnock, Stephen –

Turretin, Francis – on the Absolute Power of God

Wishart, William – Theologia: or Discourses of God, delivered in 120 Sermons, vol. 1 (ToC), 2 (ToC)  d. 1729

Wishart (1660-1729) was an influential Church of Scotland minister, professor and principal of Edinburgh University.  His work is similar to Charnock’s work.



Witsius, Herman – ‘Vain Dreamers & Their Imaginary Worlds; or, the Lies of Lucian, Johannes Kepler & Other Raving Madmen, Exposed’  being Dissertation 8, sections 74-87  of Sacred Dissertations on the Apostles’ Creed

De Moor, Bernhardinus – Didactic-Elencitc Theology: A Continuous Commentary on the Compendium of Johannes Marck…  (Leiden: Hasebroek, 1763)

ch. 4

36. ‘God’s Knowledge of All Things Possible & of All Universals & Particulars’
37. ‘Defense of God’s Knowledge of Vision & of Simple Intelligence’

ch. 6

15. Connection of All Things
16. Things Possible, but not Future
17. Chief End of the Decree



Latin Articles


Bradwardine, Thomas – Of the Cause of God

“While Rutherford in questions one to seven of his ‘Disuisitiones metaphysicae’ quoted Bradwardine without expressing any criticism, Leydekker distanced himself from what he considered to be Bradwardine’s voluntarism.  According to Leydekker, Bradwardine grounded impossibility in the will of God.  Leydekker preferred instead to view the power of God, not His will, as the foundation of possibility and impossibility…  Voetius had been more cautious about ascribing a voluntarist position to Bradwardine.”



Voet, Gisbert

Select Theological Disputations, vol. 1  (Utrecht, 1648)

22. ‘Of the Power [Potentia] of God, & of Possibility & Impossibility’  402
23. Of the Same, Part 2  410
24. Of the Same, Part 3  410
25. Of the Same, Part 4  422

Rutherford, Samuel

A Scholastic Disputation on Divine Providence   (Edinburgh, 1649)

ch. 14, The reasons in favor of Middle Knowledge which are poorly understood from the Scriptures by the Jesuit François Annat, opponent of Doctor William Twisse, are explained. That matters move from the state of possibilities to the state of futurition only by means of the will of God from eternity; that created will is not the cause of secret and most high Election and Reprobation; and that the matter is not explained by means of a Middle Knowledge.  164

Metaphysical Inquiries

1 – Whether being is directly prior to non-being?  531

2 – Whether God is the Ruling cause of being and non-being?  532

3 – Whether God is the origin and cause of possibility and impossibility?  538

4 – Whether anything is impossible outside the extent it is originally impossible with God?  540

5 – Whether, from an hypothesis that there was no first cause, possibility or impossibility would therefore have existed in the nature of things?  545

6 – Whether a possibility is a reality?  557

7 – By what knowledge and will God lays hold on possibilities?  559


Strang, John – Book 1, ch. 13, ‘Whether All Moral Good & Evil is from the Free Will & Constitution of God?’  in Of the Will & Actions of God about Sin, in 4 Books: the Judgment of the Reformed Churches, especially of Scotland, humbly offered & most willingly submitted  (Amsterdam, 1657), pp. 81-97

“…Strang [on p. 88] quoted Rutherford’s ‘Disquisitiones metaphysicae’.  He commended Rutherford for having stated that there are certain things God cannot will because they are incompatible with His nature.  He added a significant caveat, however, saying that Rutherford had added some other remarks that seemed to undermine his own claim, although Strang wished to interpret them as being consistent with what Rutherford had said before.” – Goudriaan, ‘Rutherford on the Divine Origin of Possibility’ in ed. Denlinger, Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland, p. 152

Burman, Francis

A Synopsis of Theology, and especially of the Economy of the Covenant of God, from the beginning of ages to the consummation of all things, vol. 1  (Utrecht, 1671), Book 1, Locus 2

ch. 21, ‘Of the Intellect & Knowledge [Scientia] of God’, Theses 19-24

ch. 25, ‘Of the Omnipotence of God’, Theses 8-10

Burman (1628-79) was a Dutch, reformed, Cartesian theologian.

Wittich, Christoph – Ch. 14, Theses 199-205  in Peace-Making Theology, in which various theological problems that are commonly brought up between Reformed Theologians are Ventilated, while the [Helpful] Use of Cartesian Philosophy in Diverse Parts of Theology is Demonstrated, & the Dissertation on the Abuse of Cartesian Philosophy in the Things of Theology & Faith by Samuel Maresius is Modestly Responded to  (Doude, 1671; Leiden, 1675)

Wittich (1625-1687) was a Dutch, reformed, Cartesian theologian.

Leydekker, Melchior – Locus 5, Controversy 4, ‘Whether the Root & Foundation of Possibility is in the Decree of God & Will, or in his Omnipotence?  We deny the former & affirm the latter.’  in The Torch of Truth, or Theological-Philosophical Exercises on Some Controversies that are this day greatly moved in Belgium; Prefixed is a Preface on the State of the Belgic Church, & Appended is a dissertation on the Providence of God  (Leiden, 1677), pp. 242-47

This work intended to espouse “common reformed positions over against the innovations of Cartesian and Cocceian theology.”  Leydekker mentions on p. 242 Francis Burman and Christopher Wittich as Cartesian theologians who posited a voluntarist view of possibility.  Leydekker positively references Rutherford’s Treatise on Providence, p. 538, on p. 243.  A reformed Cartesian minister, Petrus Allinga, below, responded to this work of Leydekker.

“The Jesuits, he [Leydekker] writes, typically locate the ‘root of the possibility or impossibility of things outside of God’, in the things themselves that involve no contradiction…  Leydekker summarizes the reformed response to the Jesuits, which grounds both the possible and the impossible in God, in two points:

‘1) A thing is possible because God is able to produce it.  It is not, conversely, because it is possible that God is able to produce it.  This is proved by God’s priority and independence.

2) Intrinsic possibility is not prior in nature to extrinsic possibility, nor is it the cause of the latter.  On the contrary, since a thing can possibly be made by the truly and infinitely powerful God Himself, the source of all being, for that reason [the thing] is also intrinsically possible because the essence of God is the root and rule of all truth.’ [p. 243]” – Goudriaan, ‘Rutherford on the Divine Origin of Possibility’ in ed. Denlinger, Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland, p. 154

Allinga, Petrus – ch. 44, ‘Of the Distinction of Possibility & the Future’ & ch. 45, ‘Of the Root of the Possibility of Everything that is not God’  in The Torch of Disagreement Extinguished, or Pacifying Exercises on Some Problematic Questions which are now being greatly moved in Belgium  (Amsterdam, 1682), pp. 105-8

Allinga (1658-1692) was a Cartesian, reformed, Dutch minister, who is responding in this work to Leydekker above.



Historical Theology

On the Medieval Age

Leff, Gordon – Part 2, ch. 8, ‘The Pelagians’, pp. 130-139 & ch. 13, ‘The Disputes & After’, pp. 256-257  in Bradwardine & the Pelagians  (Cambrdge Studies in Medieval Life & Thought, New Series, vol. 5) (rep. 2008; Cambridge, 1957)

Bradwardine (c.1290-1349) was a favorite of Rutherford.  Leff, in giving background to Bradwardine’s, Of the Cause of God, describes Bradwardine’s semi-pelagian opponents and their view that God’s absolute power allowed Him to act, or possibly act, against reason, opening up all manner of skepticism.

While Bradwardine does not specifically name his opponents from his own day, Leff indicates that the following may have been among them: Durandus, Ockham, Aureole, Holcot, Buckingham & Woodham.


On the 1600’s

Goudriaan, Aza – ‘Samuel Rutherford on the Divine Origin of Possibility’  being ch. 8 of ed. Aaron C. Denlinger, Reformed Orthodoxy in Scotland: Essays on Scottish Theology, 1560-1775  (Bloomsbury, T&T Clark, 2016), pp. 141-56

This article survey’s Rutherford’s view of possibility from the first seven questions of his Metaphysical Investigations, appended to his Treatise on Providence.



On Hypothetical Goods & Evils

Peter van Mastricht

Theoretical Practical Theology  (RHB), vol. 2, bk. 2, ch. 15, section 17

“But this negative will in God is nothing other than that act of the will by which, most perfectly willing himself, he is averse to everything adverse to him and to his glory, which is the only end of all things…  He does this so thoroughly, that by most perfectly willing his own goodness, he is also most perfectly averse to whatever is adverse to him…

Thus, God’s negative will is occupied with what is evil in its own nature, not only because it is adverse to the norm of acting set before it by God, but also [insofar as it has not been decreed] because it could not be directed by the power of the creatures to a truly good end…  Even if an evil does not exist, or never will, God is still adverse to it, as it is inimical to his nature, since he would abolish and destroy it if it existed, just as he loves a good that will never exist, because, as it is congruent to his own goodness, if it existed he would conserve it, cherish it, and so forth.”




Richard Muller

Dictionary of Latin & Greek Theological Terms (Baker, 1985), p. 231

“potentia absoluta: absolute power; the omnipotence of God limited only be the law of noncontradiction.  According to his potentia absoluta, God can effect all possibility, constrained only by his own nature.  Things which are by nature evil and either impossible or noncompossible things (like square circles) fall outside of the realm of God’s power.  The term emphasizes the transcendence and omnipotence of God by setting God even above and beyond the laws he has ordained for the operation of his universe…”




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