JMC : The Person and the Common Good / by Jacques Maritain

II The Positions of St. Thomas on the Ordination of the Person to Its Ultimate End

THE human person is ordained directly to God as to its absolute ultimate end. Its direct ordination to God transcends every created common good -- both the common good of the political society and the intrinsic common good of the universe. Here is the fundamental truth governing the entire discussion -- the truth in which nothing less than the very message of Christian wisdom in its triumph over Hellenic thought and every other pagan wisdom, henceforth toppled from their dominion, is involved. Here, too, St. Thomas Aquinas, following the precedent set by Albert the Great{5}, did not take over the doctrine of Aristotle without correcting and transfiguring it.

"The most essential and the dearest aim of Thomism is to make sure that the personal contact of all intellectual creatures with God, as well as their personal subordination to God, be in no way interrupted. Everything else -- the whole universe and every social institution -- must ultimately minister to this purpose; everything must foster and strengthen and protect the conversation of the soul, every soul, with God. It is characteristically Greek and pagan to interpose the universe between God and intellectual creatures."{6} It is to this essential concern for asserting and safeguarding the ordination, direct and personal, of each human soul to God that the principal points of doctrine, lying at the very heart of Thomism, are attached.

In the first place, there can be no question about the importance which St. Thomas unceasingly attributes to the consideration of the intrinsic order and "common good" of the cosmos -- principally to establish the existence of Divine Providence against Greco-Arabian necessitarianism. Nonetheless, in comparing the intellectual substance and the universe, he emphasizes that intellectual creatures, though they, like all creatures, are ordained to the perfection of the created whole, are willed and governed for their own sakes. Divine Providence takes care of each one of them for its own sake and not at all as a mere cog in the machinery of the world. Obviously, this does not prevent them from being related first to God and then to the order and perfection of the created universe, of which they are the most noble constitutive parts.{7}

"They alone in the universe are willed for their own sake."{8} In other words, before they are related to the immanent common good of the universe, they are related to an infinitely greater good -- the separated common Good, the divine transcendent Whole.{9} In intellectual creatures alone, Aquinas teaches further, is found the image of God. In no other creature, not even in the universe as a whole, is this found. To be sure, with regard to the extension and variety according to which the divine attributes are manifested, there is more participated similitude of the divine perfections in the whole totality of creatures.

Finally if in the order of grace, the person itself desires God as its good, it does so in loving God for Himself, more than itself, and in willing the good of God more than its own proper good. Indeed, if it wills God for itself, it is not for the sake of itself as final reason but rather for the sake of God purely and simply as final reason. (Cf. the invaluable commentary of Cajetan on the relations between Hope and Charity, II-II, 17, 5.

But considering the degree of perfection with which each one approaches God according to its capacity, the intellectual creature, which is capable of the supreme good, is more like unto the divine perfection than the whole universe in its entirety. For it alone is properly the image of God.{10}

Elsewhere, the Angelic Doctor writes that the good of grace of one person is worth more than the good of the whole universe of nature. For, precisely because it alone is capable of the supreme good, because it alone is the image of God, the intellectual creature alone is capable of grace. He also teaches that the natural knowledge of the angels does not extend to the secrets of the heart, even though it encompasses de jure all the things of this world. The reason is, as John of St. Thomas explained, because the free act of the human person, considered in its pure and secret intimacy as a free act, is not of this world. By its liberty, the human person transcends the stars and all the world of nature.

In the second place concerning the possession itself of the ultimate end, St. Thomas teaches that in the beatific vision each blessed soul, knowing God as He is and as it itself is known by Him,{11} grasps the Divine Essence and becomes God intentionally in the most immediate act conceivable. In this act, the Divine Essence itself assumes the role of "impressed species" in the human intellect. The "light of glory" enables the intellect to know in a direct intuition, without any created intermediary, without even the mediation of an idea, the very Being whose intelligibility in pure act is per se proportionate only to the Intellect in pure act. The divine beatitude enjoys eternally the exhaustive knowledge of those uncreated depths. The beatific vision is therefore the supremely personal act by which the soul, transcending absolutely every sort of created common good, enters into the very bliss of God and draws its life from the uncreated Good, the divine essence itself, the uncreated common Good of the three Divine Persons.

Were there but a single soul to enjoy God thus, it would still be blessed, even though it would not have to share this beatitude with any other creature.{12} Ordained to Him who is the Good by His essence and the Good by essence, it has, as the object of its vision and the substance of its beatitude, God as He is in Himself. Together, God and the soul, are two in one; two natures in a single vision and a single love. The soul is filled with God. It is in society with God. With Him, it possesses a common good, the divine Good Itself. And thus the adage "Goods are common among friends" holds for it. "Absolutely speaking that love, since it is like friendship, is perfect love by which God loves His creatures not only as the artisan loves his work but also with a certain friendly association, as friend loves friend, in as much as He draws them into the community of His own enjoyment in order that their glory and beatitude may reside in that very thing by which He Himself is blessed."{13} The beatific vision, good so personal, knowledge so incommunicable that the soul of the blessed cannot even express it to itself in an interior word, is the most perfect, the most secret and the most divine solitude with God.

Yet, it is the most open, most generous and most inhabited solitude. Because of it, another society is formed -- the society of the multitude of blessed souls, each of which on its own account beholds the divine essence and enjoys the same uncreated Good. They love mutually in God. The uncreated common Good, in which they all participate, constitutes the common good of the celestial city in which they are congregated. It is this society of which St. Augustine writes: "The peace of the celestial city is the perfectly ordered and harmonious enjoyment of God, and of one another in God."{14} According to St. Thomas, it is neither essential to nor necessarily required by perfect beatitude; this society accompanies it: "Friendship stands a concomitant, as it were, of perfect beatitude."{15}

Let us note further that, though God is the "separated common good" of the universe, the intellectual creature is related, primarily as to the object of its beatitude, not to God as the common good of the universe of nature and creation, but to God in the transcendence of his own mystery; to God as Deity, conceptually ineffable, expressible only in the Uncreated Word; to God as common good of the divine Persons and of the souls which have entered by participation into the universe of the Deity. It is only consequentially, because God is the common good of the multitude of beatified creatures which all communicate with Him, that they communicate in His love with one another, outside of the vision, by all the created communications of mutual knowledge and mutual charity and common adoration, which flow from the vision; by those exchanges and that celestial conversation, those illuminations and that common praise of God, which render back unto each of them the goods which they have in common. The eminently personal act in which each beholds the divine essence at once transcends their blessed community and provides it with a foundation.

A third point of doctrine, concerning the superiority of the speculative over the practical intellect, likewise constitutes an essential thesis of Thomism and confirms what we have just observed. For St. Thomas, beatitude, which consists formally in the vision, pertains to the speculative and not to the practical intellect. The object of the practical intellect is a practical good, a good to be done, a good which, however lofty it may be, remains inferior to the truth to be known and the subsistent Good itself. In consequence, the resemblance to God is less in the practical than in the speculative intellect. "The asserted likeness of the practical intellect to God is one of proportion; that is to say, by reason of its standing in relation to what it knows (and brings into existence) as God does to what He knows (creatively). But the likeness of the speculative to God is one of union and information; which is a much greater likeness."{16} Now this much more perfect similitude with God, characteristic of the speculative intellect, is accomplished by a personal and solitary act of each one's intellect.

The good and the end of the speculative intellect are of themselves superior to the good and the end of the practical intellect. Hence, they are superior to every created common good, however eminent it may be. For the highest object of the practical intellect is a common good to be realized.{17} "By the practical intellect," writes St. Thomas, "one directs oneself and others towards the end as it is exemplified in him who directs the multitude. But by the fact that a man contemplates, he directs himself alone towards the end of contemplation. The end itself of the speculative intellect surpasses as much the good of the practical intellect as the personal attainment of this speculative end, transcends the common accomplishment of the good of the practical intellect. For this reason, the most perfect beatitude resides in the speculative intellect."{18} These two texts, which we have just quoted and which yield, as has been noted, one of the keys to the "personalism" of a doctrine that also asserts, at each degree of the analogy of being, the primacy of the common good, introduce us to the second great Thomistic theme which we wish to recall in the first part of this study, namely, the preeminence of the contemplative over the political life.

This doctrine is so well known that a brief recollection will suffice here. Because of its perfect immanence and its high degree of immateriality, contemplative activity is the highest of human activities. It binds man to things divine. It is better than life on the human scale. In supernatural contemplation it takes place according to a mode which is itself superhuman, through the connaturality of love with God and the action of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It makes of the transfigured soul one spirit with God. It is supreme and active repose, activity essentially theological -- received in its entirety from God, an imperfect and crucified beginning of beatitude. To it are ordained the moral virtues, which are at the service of wisdom as the valet is at the service of the king. It is from it, when the soul is perfect, that the works of the active life must overflow, at least as to the mode of their accomplishment. And if a man be called to abandon his contemplation to come to the aid of his brothers or to serve the good of the community, the reason for this call is not at all because the good of the practical order is of itself superior to his solitary contemplation. He must accept it only because the order of charity can require that an urgent necessity of a less elevated good, in the circumstances, be given priority. In truth, such a man if he has entered upon the pathways of the perfect life, would be abandoning rather the conditions and leisure of contemplation than contemplation itself, which would remain, in the recesses of the soul, the source from which his practical activity would descend into human affairs.

Such is St. Thomas' doctrine on this crucial problem of action and contemplation -- a problem at the very heart of social philosophy, a problem the solution of which is of prime importance to every civilization worthy of the name. With an incomparable incisiveness, it affirms the human person's vocation to contemplation. It is a doctrine of the primacy of the act, of the act par excellence, the act of the spirit; it is, for that very reason, a doctrine of the primacy of that which is spiritual and most eminently personal: "Just as that which is already perfect is superior to that which is practiced for perfection, so the life of the solitaries," of those who, in the words of Aristotle, are not as beasts but as gods, "is superior to life in society."{19} The contemplative life is better than the political life.

This doctrine is at the same time a doctrine of the primacy of the common good. No one more than St. Thomas has emphasized the primacy of the common good in the practical or political order of the life of the city, as in every order, where, in relation to a same category of good,{20} the distinction between the private and common good is found. At every opportunity, he repeats the maxim of Aristotle that the good of the whole is "more divine" than the good of the parts. Unceasingly he strives to preserve this dictum authenticum, applied according to the most diverse degrees of analogy. A fortiori, then, does he give it its full value in strictly social matters. Because the common good is the human common good,{21} it includes within its essence, as we shall see later, the service of the human person.{22} The adage of the superiority of the common good is understood in its true sense only in the measure that the common good itself implies a reference to the human person. As La Pira{23} rightly observed, the worst errors concerning society are born of the confusion between the substantial whole of the biological organism and the collective whole, itself composed of persons, of society. But to understand these things more profoundly, we must uncover the metaphysical roots of the question and engage in more subtle considerations about the individual and the person.

{5} Cf. M. Rohner, O.P., "Kommentar des hl. Albertus Magnus zur Einführung in die Politik des Aristoteles," Divus Thomas (Friburg Switzerland, 1932), pp. 95 ff.

{6} I. Th. Eschmann, O.P., "In Defense of Jacques Maritain," The Modern Schoolman, St. Louis University, May, 1945, p. 192. 1 am grateful to the author of these lines for having taken my defense in a debate in which I prefer to limit myself to a purely objective exposition; yet, in which, strangely enough, it has happened that, while criticizing ideas which are not mine, one has nevertheless, even when carefully refraining from uttering my name, allowed the reader to believe that I was indirectly referred to. I would like to hope that the present paper, while correcting some excessive expressions which I myself did not use, would put an end to the misunderstandings and confusions due to the original vice of such a controversy.

{7} Each intellectual substance is made, first, for God, the separated common good of the universe, second, for the perfection of the order of the universe (not only as the universe of bodies but also as the universe of spirits), and third, for itself, that is, for the action (immanent and spiritual) by which it perfects itself and accomplishes its destiny. (Cf. Sum. Theol., I, 65, 2, and Cajetan's commentary.) Using a distinction established further on, we may say that as individual or part, the intellectual substance is first willed and loved for the order of the universe and the perfection of the created whole; as person, it is first willed and loved for itself. Yet, like every creature, it differs from God, or Personality in pure act, more than it resembles Him. Hence, absolutely speaking, it is part or "individual" more than "person" and before it is a "person." (It is this that Kant failed to see.) It follows therefrom that, absolutely speaking, the intellectual substance is loved and willed for the order of the universe of creation before being loved and willed for itself. This in no wise hinders it, in contrast to irrational beings, from being really for itself and referred directly to God.

{8} Cf. Sum. Contra Gentiles, III, 112: "Intellectual creatures are ruled by God as though He cared for them for their own sake, while other creatures are ruled as being directed to rational creatures. . . . Therefore the intellectual nature alone is requisite for its own sake in the universe, and all others for its sake." Ibid., III, 113: "The rational soul is capable of perpetuity, not only in respect of the species, like other creatures, but also in respect of the individual . . . Rational creatures alone are directed by God to their actions for the sake, not only of the species, but also of the individual. . . . Rational creatures alone are directed by God's providence as being for its own sake governed and cared for, and not, as other corruptible creatures, for the sake of the species only. For the individual that is governed only for the sake of the species is not governed for its own sake, whereas the rational creature is governed for its own sake . . . Accordingly, rational creatures alone are directed by God to their actions for the sake, not only of the species, but also of the individual."

{9} That the extrinsic or separated common good of a multitude, to which it is ordained, is greater than the immanent common good of the multitude is a universal principle: . . . "Just as the good of a multitude is greater than the good of a unit in that multitude, so it is less than the extrinsic good to which that multitude is directed, as the good order of an army is less than the (objective) good (the defeat of the enemy) of its commander-in-chief. In like manner the good of ecclesiastical unity, to which schism is opposed, is less than the good of Divine truth, to which unbelief is opposed." Sum. Theol. II-II, 39, 2, ad 2.

{10} Sum. Theol, I, 93, 2.

{11} Saint Paul, I Cor., 13:12: "Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known."

{12} Sum. Theol., I-II, 4, 8, ad 3.

{13} "Deus non tantum diligit creaturam sicut artifex opus, sed etiam quadam amicabili societate, sicut amicus amicum, inquantum trahit eos in societatem suae fruitionis, ut in hoc eorum sit gloria et beatitudo, quo Deus beatus est." Saint Thomas, 2 Sent., d. 26, 1. ad 2.

{14} De Civ. Dei, XIX, 13.

{15} Sum. Theol., I-II, 4, 8 ad 3.

{16} Sum. Theol., I-II, 3, 5, ad 1.

{17} Sum. Theol., II-II, 47, 2 ad 11.

{18} 3 Sent., 35, I, 4 sol. lc et ad 2 et 3, 4 Sent., 49, I, 1, sol. 3 ad 1.

{19} Sum. Theol., II-II, 188, 8.

{20} "The good of the universe is greater than the particular good of one, if we consider both in the same genus." Sum. Theol., I-II, 113, 9, ad 2.

{21} "The end of politics is the human good; it is the highest end in human things." St. Thomas, in Eth. I, 2.

{22} As expressed by Pope Pius XII in His Christmas Message of 1942, "The origin and the primary scope of social life is the conservation, development and perfection of the human person, helping him to realize accurately the demands and values of religion and culture set by the creator for every man and for all mankind, both as a whole and in its natural ramifications." (Translation published by The Catholic Mind, Jan. 1943.)

{23} Giorgio La Pira, "Problemi della persona umana," Acta Pont. Academiae Romanae Sancti Thomas Aq., vol. VIII (Rome -- Torino, Marietti, 1945).

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