I still think a majority of the problems posed by each question stem from applying created modalities to God’s essence. In particular, several (most?) of the seeming contradictions regarding God’s freedom result from imagining God as existing in other possible worlds. But this, again, is just to assume a priori that created modality applies to God’s act of being itself. If in fact such an assumption is incorrect, to imagine God existing in possible worlds is meaningless.
God’s freedom need not be thought of as his “ability to do otherwise.” Why not simply construe his freedom as the fact that all God’s act come from himself, without movement or dependence from some prior cause? This does not entail that God “had” to create; nor that he “could have” not created. (For these statements assume possible world metaphysics apply to God, and if McCann is right that’s incorrect or meaningless). Rather it just implies what all Thomists agree on: God’s act simply IS, period. Why is it so essential to think that God “could have” done other than he did, if the opposite – that God “had to” create – is also false?
Also, it seems to me that God is essentially related to creation, even on the view that modality applies to God. For even if this is correct, and it is a contingent fact that God decided to create the world (i.e. if God “could have done otherwise”) then it still follows that, had God not so decided, he would have still had some act of his being conditioned by creation, namely the fact that he “chose not to create the universe.” In other words, if you ascribe contingency to God’s act itself, you still have God “faced with the question” of whether or not he will create something. And even if he refrains from creating, you still have his essence defined by that very refrain itself: i.e. you still have God being essentially a “non-creator.” So long as there is even a possible referent to God’s action, and God can either act towards that referent or not, then you are positing an action of God that is defined only insofar as it is referred to that very referent. Thus, it seems to me, far from making God essentially unrelated to creatures, if you in fact put his act of being itself in the world of modality, then, in his very decision to refrain from creation, he is still essentially related to the potentially created world which he decides not to make. If you think of God existing “ad intra” contemplating only the contingent possibilities of creation, even not creating any world at all is still an example of God actualizing a state of affairs which is impossible – indescribable – without referent to a creation itself. In fact even the term “ad intra” – even conceiving of God in himself, apart from creation – necessarily supposes a creation over which to juxtapose God’s “aloneness.” In which case, it seems, God’s own self-constitutive definition as “existing without a creation” is essentially related to the possibility of a contingent creation itself – therefore, God is essentially related to creation.
In light of these issues it still seems to me best to view modality as such as part of the *conceptual* realm only. I.e. to view the difference in the Necessary and Contingent to be basically equivalent to the “Unimaginable” and the “Imaginable.” We say it is “necessary” that 1+1=2, but that is only because it is unimaginable to us that it could be otherwise. We don’t mean that, as considered in God’s changeless and immutable act of Pure Existence, which itself encompasses everything that exists, it makes sense to say 1+1=2 “could not have been otherwise.” There is no “otherwise” to speak of: there is nothing outside the Everything that is both God and his eternal action with which to compare things to.
Nor does this seem problematic for speaking about God’s essence. True, it would not be technically correct to say that God’s act of existence is “necessary.” But God’s existence could still be necessary in the sense that it is unimaginable that God not exist. Furthermore, it would not therefore be FALSE that God’s existence was necessary; it would just be meaningless, or, rather, less comprehensive to describe God using these words. The best thing to say would be that God essentially is all that he is and does; period. And one could still be led by the classic arguments to posit the necessary existence of a being like THAT; a being whose essence is simply the act of existing. That is, the statement “there exists a being whose essence is to exist” could be necessarily true, and it could still be false to say that “there is a being who necessarily exists.” Or so it seems to me.