Jacques Maritain Center : Natural Theology / by Bernard Boedder, S.J.

CHAPTER II. Divine Providence and its Relation to Existing Evil.

SECTION 1. -- The existence of Divine Providence.

Thesis XXXVII. -- All things created are under the sway of Divine Providence, and none of them can frustrate the final end absolutely intended by the Creator, or move towards it in a way and under circumstances not foreseen by His intellect, or not freely either approved or at least tolerated by His most holy will. The final end of creatures consists in the first place in a certain degree of manifestation of the Divine perfections in the created likenesses of God, and in the second place in the perfect union of rational creatures with their Creator by knowledge and love. This is technically expressed by saying that the end of creation is God's external glory both objective and formal and the happiness of rational creatures.

221. Providence as well as prudence (which is its doublet), considered in its etymological meaning, is equivalent to foresight. This etymological signification of the word coincides pretty well with the real import of what we call prudence in a man and providence in God. We say that a man is prudent when the whole tenor of his life justifies the supposition that in his undertakings he has a definite object in view, and uses constantly the means fit for the attainment of his purpose. In a similar sense we attribute providence to God; for this predicate is given to Him in order to imply that He has settled from eternity the final goal toward which the whole of His creation and each particular creature is to be directed, that He has ordained the means by which the end shall be reached, and that He rules in the course of ages all events so perfectly as that nothing shall occur to bar His final and absolute intention.

It was this idea of Providence that suggested to the deep Christian philosopher, Boethius, the following definition of it, which was adopted by St. Thomas: "Providence is the all-regulating and stable plan of God, the supreme Ruler of the universe."{1}

To be more explicit, we may give the definition another form and say: "Providence is God the supreme Lord of the universe Himself, inasmuch as He directs all things to an end fixed by Him, in harmony with His eternal plan.

The verification of this definition supposes the existence of two Divine operations with regard to creatures:

(1) The assignment of an end to all things and of ways by which they shall reach it.

(2) Actual direction of all things to that end.

222. Can it be proved that Providence thus explained really exists? Or shall we say with the artisan-philosopher Chubb and other more recent deists, that the existence of a Creator cannot be denied, but that His influence upon this world does not extend beyond laying the foundation of it, which being laid all things go on as best they can without their author watching their course or interfering in any way? Against this deistic position we enunciate our thesis in its several parts.

First we say that God has prefixed a final end to everything created, and that He allows nothing to frustrate that end or move towards it otherwise than as He foresees and either approves or at least tolerates.

We call attention to the phrase, approves or at least tolerates. Why do we not say simply: Whatever happens is God's will? Because this expression might be taken to mean that even the sins committed by rational creatures are willed by God, at least as means to an end. This of course would be inconsistent with God's holiness. Although He can tolerate sin, and can turn the misery following it into an occasion of good, He never can approve of or wish for sin in order to reach His end. We express this in scholastic terms shortly by saying that God wills sin, not positively but permissively. The term permissively does not imply that God gives permission to sin, but means only that for good reasons He does not hinder those sins which rational creatures commit through the abuse of their free will. Having thus made clear the meaning of our statement, we may proceed to prove its truth.

It has been demonstrated in Books I. and II. that the one self-existing personal God has created all things, and that He is infinitely wise and powerful. Moreover, we have shown in chapter i. of this Book that the being of each creature depends continually upon Him for its existence, and that no action of a creature can come about except under His concurrence. Now it is evident that an infinitely wise and good Being cannot act without intending a good end, nor in His actions lose sight of that end. It is also evident that all effects of Divine action are decreed from eternity. It follows that the origin, the duration, the various phases of existence and action of each particular creature were from eternity willed by God, either positively or permissively, with a view to a certain end. Moreover, it follows that the influence which He continually exercises upon the activity of creatures is in harmony with His eternal plan, and involves the continual intention of the end.

As we have seen in Book II., God is really identical with an intellect of Infinite Wisdom and a will of Infinite Goodness. By His Infinite Wisdom He understands from eternity the end to be reached by creation, and the various ways in which by His omnipotence He might reach it. His will of infinite goodness embraces the end He has in view and fixes by irrevocable decree the ways in which it shall be reached. Abiding in Himself by His absolutely perfect essence, He watches and directs in the course of time the exercise of every faculty of His creatures. He watches and directs it without any toil or labour, paying equal attention to the whole and to the minutest details. As by one eternal glance of His infinite understanding He comprehends the dimensions of space, and calculates the distances and orbits of the heavenly bodies, and by one omnipotent volition keeps the whole machinery of the universe in motion, with a continual regard to the final goal it is to reach; so by the same eternal all-penetrating intuition does He read the most secret thoughts of every mind, observe the most minute oscillations of every organic cell, and count the most insignificant vibrations of every atom of matter, ruling by His omnipotent will all things so that there is no thought of any mind, no oscillation of any cell, no vibration of any atom, which is not in some way or other duly subordinated to the end He intends.

223. And this end -- wherein does it consist? Evidently it must be an external manifestation of His internal perfection; not a manifestation in the pantheistic sense, as though God evolved Himself, as it were, into the visible and invisible universe, but a manifestation by the production of finite created likenesses of the infinite Divine essence. That the end of the world created can be nothing else is evident from a truth demonstrated in Book II. We showed there that God loves Himself with absolute necessity, and cannot love anything else but with reference to His own infinite goodness. Now the external manifestation of the Divine perfection through created likenesses is called in scholastic language, God's external glory, just as His internal perfection as known to Himself alone is called His internal glory. Moreover, scholastics distinguish between external objective and external formal glory. By the external objective glory of God they mean created things in so far as they are adapted by their very existence and activity to bear witness to the Divine perfection, on the supposition that somewhere in creation there are intelligent beings, who can intellectually perceive them and form a judgment on their nature. The external formal glory of God is the acknowledgment of His perfection produced in the minds of intellectual creatures by the contemplation of His works.

Supposing these definitions, it is so evident that the Creator of the world intends His external objective and formal glory, that without such an intention we cannot even conceive creation to be possible. For it is repugnant to reason that a finite being should exist, the nature of which is not a copy, however imperfect, of the essence of the One infinite Being; consequently God, producing creatures, intends the production of likenesses of His own essence, as so many mirrors in which His infinite goodness is reflected under some aspect or other. If He did not intend this, He would be acting without any knowledge or intention at all -- a supposition absolutely alien to His wisdom. But if He intends it, His intention is directed to what we have defined as His external objective glory. Moreover, as He cannot love anything but with reference to His own goodness, so He must will that the activities of created intellects and wills shall be related to that goodness according to their natures. But they cannot be related to it rightly save by the acknowledgment that God is what He is, the supreme Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. To this acknowledgment all rational creatures must finally arrive. If they are not impeded in the right use of their reason, they will arrive at it in the course of this life, unless through their own fault they prefer darkness to light. If it be impossible for them to know God before they leave this life, as in the case of the innumerable multitudes of children who die before the use of reason, at their entrance into the next life the Creator will manifest Himself to their immortal souls, draw them to His love, and thereby make them happy. Not indeed with the supernatural beatitude of which we learn from revelation, but with an enduring natural happiness.

Those who wilfully shut their mind against the knowledge of their Creator, at all events will be undeceived in the moment when they depart from this life. As so many other delusions vanish when death puts an end to our earthly existence, so before all others that delusion of delusions will disappear, which makes man believe that there is no personal God who rules the world.

The Monotheist and the Agnostic will then agree perfectly in the recognition of that God, whose eternal power and divinity St. Paul{2} declares to be clearly visible in His works. They will both recognize their God, but with very different feelings.

The one will then be forced to acknowledge Him as infinitely good, albeit he still refuses to love Him; the other, if indeed he perseveres till the end of his days in acknowledging his Creator both in theory and practice according to the lights received, will know and love Him, and thus reach what is called in our thesis, the secondary end of creation, the beatitude for which rational creatures are destined. This secondary end God does not intend absolutely, but conditionally. He says as it were to every rational creature with reference to eternal salvation or final misery: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Choose therefore life."{3} If man, by either expressly denying or practically ignoring his dependence upon God, obstinately refuses to choose life, it is not so much his Creator that condemns him, as his own malice, which changes him from a vessel of Divine mercy into a victim of Divine justice. God has implanted in the heart of man a nature longing for perfect happiness. In vain does man strive to quench his thirst for happiness with the perishable goods of this world. He possesses them only for a short while, and whilst he is enjoying them, the better part of his being does not cease to crave instinctively for the fulness of truth and goodness and beauty, which is to be found nowhere but in God alone. Now if the nature of man is thus naturally driven towards God as the source of its beatitude, it follows evidently that it is the intention of our Maker to cause our happiness by perfect knowledge and love of Himself, at least on the condition that we co-operate with His benevolent designs.

No human being, however wretched he may be, is excluded by God from final happiness, unless through his own fault he makes himself unworthy of it, by persevering in a state of rebellion up to his last breath. St. Paul's words are in harmony with our rational inference when he says that "God will have all men to be saved."{4} How could it be otherwise?

224. Here, no doubt, many a reader is tempted to say: "All well and good; but I am at a loss to see how you can affirm that even the uncivilized savage is under the influence of the Divine light, which you say, guides every human being to his last end who does not deliberately turn away from it? To this grave difficulty which in theology meets with a deal of attention, we may be content to give a compendious answer in a philosophical treatise. It is clearly God's arrangement that men should depend largely upon one another for their instruction and progress in knowledge of all kinds, religious knowledge included. The necessary consequence of this is that through the neglect and malice of some who should be the natural teachers and leaders of their fellow-men, the latter should suffer. But God can rectify the evil.

225. But what about the secondary end of the irrational creation? Shall we say that the elements, plants, and dumb animals are destined also to glorify God formally by knowledge and love, and thus to become happy through Him? Evidently this would be absurd. Even the highest among irrational creatures, the dumb animals, are unable to form a rational judgment on anything, to have a rational desire of anything, to reflect upon happiness, to wish for happiness, or to grieve for its absence. Their knowledge is but a reaction of their sensitive organism upon impressions produced in them by material things. Their cravings are blind emotions, resulting from the combination of the innate instinct proper to their species, with impressions made upon them. It is impossible that such beings should know and love God, or be happy in Him. Shall we then say that their end is not to glorify God formally, but only objectively, to be realizations of Divine thoughts, to be, as it were, books written by infinite wisdom? This is true as far as it goes, and there are those who think that it was in no sense necessary for God to go further and place a crown on His creation by the creation of rational creatures. But at all events, the objective praise which they render Him would have far less meaning, if there were no beings who could read the Divine ideas expressed in their existence. Those beings are the rational souls of men; and in a far higher degree, the pure spirits called angels. It is to them and through them that the heavens tell the glory of God, and the firmament announces the works of His hands. Yet we cannot say that the material world below men is properly meant for the use of angels. These do not need to be roused by sensible impressions to the evolution of their intellects. Being altogether independent of matter, they are endowed with innate ideas, and therefore able to know and love God, without going first through a process of intellectual development aided by material impressions. Only those rational beings who are compounds of matter and spirit, stand in need of such helps. Man, therefore, must be the favoured creature, for whose utility the Divine Majesty has created the visible universe that surrounds us. And indeed everywhere we find irrational creatures supplying the wants of human nature. They serve mankind partly by providing nourishment, clothing, shelter, and other bodily conveniences; partly by stirring up their intellects and wills to the pursuit of arts and sciences, and by leading them through the knowledge of creatures to that of the Creator; and last but not least, by affording opportunities for the practice of moral virtues, patience especially, and resignation to the inscrutable ways of their Creator.

226. From the doctrine of Providence thus proved and explained, two important corollaries are to be drawn. The first is this: God does not intend the final well-being of any individual living creature of this world except man. And man himself is to be perfectly happy, not here on earth, but hereafter.

It is therefore quite intelligible, that God should allow millions of irrational creatures to be sacrificed for the sake of man, to serve his eternal welfare remotely or proximately. No less reconcilable is it with Divine Providence, that under certain conditions mortal men should be wasted by contagious diseases, emaciated by famine, or fall in the flower of their age on the battlefield. In a word: God cares more for one immortal soul that does not resist Him, than for the whole of the material universe.

God must rule His creatures with a wise regard for their natural dignity, according as that is greater or less. Now the human soul stands by its nature in an infinitely nearer relation to God than the most perfect of dumb animals. It is an image of the Creator, whilst every other living creature of this world exhibits only some trace of His Majesty. It owes its origin immediately to His creative power; whilst a dumb animal is a living erection made by secondary causes on the groundwork laid by God in the creation of matter and life. The rational soul alone is able and destined to know and love God, and thus to be personally happy, whilst everything else is made to reveal the Creator to His rational creatures, and to promote their eternal welfare during a short period of time, till that day shall come of which St. Peter says, that on it "the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works in it shall be burnt up."{5}

The other corollary we are to derive from the great truth of Divine Providence may be thus formulated: Every man, however low his social position, ought to be treated with reverence by his fellow-man, as a personal being destined for an eternal exaltation and happiness infinitely greater than all the aims of temporal ambition. On the other hand, dumb animals must be left in their own sphere, and be treated as things, not cared for as persons, not accepted as subjects of right against whom injustice can be committed, but as living instruments which man may utilize in every reasonable way.

{1} "Providentia est ipsa divina ratio in summo omnium principe constituta, quae cuncta disponit." (St. Thomas, Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 22. art. 1.)

{2} Rom. i. 20.

{3} Deut. xxx 19.

{4} 1 Tim. ii. 4.

{5} 2 St. Peter iii. 10.

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