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

APPENDIX VI. On the Optimism of St. Thomas.

IN Bk. I. Th. XV. we laid down the tenet that Creation is not only good, but even very good, nay, in a certain sense, best, inasmuch as in all its departments there is a perfect adaptation of means to such ends as are absolutely intended by the Creator.

Let us in this place test briefly the reasons which have led three distinguished monotheistic philosophers, Leibnitz, Malebranche, and Rosmini, to maintain that our world is not only the best of worlds, in the sense just explained, but the very best world possible.

(A) Leibnitz argues thus: "If among all possible worlds there were not one which is best, God would not have created any of them. . . . There is an infinity of possible worlds, and of these God must have chosen the best, because He does nothing but in agreement with His supreme Reason."{1}

Answer. We agree with the assumption that there is an infinity of possible worlds, that is to Lay, an indefinite number of possible systems of finite things, or, as we are accustomed to say, of possible universes. But from this it in no way follows that God must have chosen the very best of them for creation. In fact, as no universe is rightly called possible, unless it can he produced by Omnipotence under the guidance of Infinite Wisdom, it follows from the assumption of an infinity of possible worlds that there are in the Divine Mind worlds without number, each of them good enough for creation. Consequently there is neither any possible world which, when created, would not be relatively the best, nor is there any which ought to be called the very best of all. If there were any world really possible which would not be relatively best, infinite Wisdom would fall short of its absolute aims. On the other hand, if there were any world absolutely best, Infinite Power, i.e., power not exhaustible, would he exhausted by its creation.

(B) Malebranche's reason for exaggerated optimism is equally weak. He thought that any world not the very best possible was incompatible with the end of creation, inasmuch as this end is the external glory of God, or, what comes to the same thing, the manifestation of His goodness, and the making that goodness to be acknowledged by rational creatures in the highest degree possible. Besides, it seemed to him that infinitely perfect Wisdom necessarily produces a work so perfect as that none can be more perfect.{2} Answer. Although God owes it to His own perfection to aim at the manifestation of His goodness in His works, and thus seek what is commonly called His external glory, yet we should be wrong in asserting that He must seek that glory in the highest degree possible. To say so is to put bounds to God's supreme freedom, and to ignore His omnipotence, which cannot be limited to any degree of created perfection. Malebranche seems to have overlooked the fact that an adequate manifestation of God's power and wisdom is intrinsically impossible; whilst for an inadequate showing forth of both of them there suffices the creation and perfect adaptation to ends of any system into which rational creatures enter.

(C) Rosmini considered this world to be the only one in harmony with the goodness of God, inasmuch as in it the greatest good was produced by the smallest means.{3}

Answer. This assertion seems to extol the wisdom of God, while really it depreciates it. Must not Infinite Wisdom be capable of arranging systems of creatures for the manifestation of God's goodness in endless many ways? Of course we do not mean to say that there is an actually infinite number of possible worlds, but we contend that the multitude of possible worlds transcends any given number. Out of such an endless multitude, which cannot be gathered together in the form of a number, God chooses freely a particular universe. Yet this choice is not exercised by successive comparison of the terms at choice. Such a comparison, as Rosmini says rightly, would be impossible. Rather, the Divine choice is made upon a comprehensive view of the Divine Essence, involving a clear insight into all possibilities of finite essences and their combinations, inasmuch as the Divine Essence is the prototype of an endless multitude of contingent beings.{4}

The moderate optimism advocated by us against Leibnitz, Malebranche, and Rosmini, is in perfect harmony with the doctrine of St. Thomas, as the reader may see for himself by reading Sum. Theol. q. 25. a. 5. and a. 6. Very clear is also the following statement of his: "God necessarily wills His own goodness, and therefore naturally intends its manifestation by the production of creatures. Yet the things actually created do not stand in such a correspondence to His goodness, as though without them the Divine goodness could not be manifested. For as it is manifested by the things that are and by the present order of the world, so it might be manifested by other creatures and by another arrangement of creatures. From this it follows that, without contradicting His goodness, justice, and wisdom, God could create other things than those created."{5} No less pronounced is this remark of the Angel of the School: "Over and above the things created, God can create things of quite different qualities, new species, new genera of creatures, in fine, other worlds; and no Creation. can exhaust the power of the Creator."{6}

{1} "S'il n'y avait pas le meilleur (optimum) parmi tous les mondes possibles, Dieu n'en avait produit aucun . . . il y a une infinité de mondes possibles, dont il faut que Dieu ait choisi le meilleur, puisqu'il ne fait rien sans agir suivant la supreme Raison." (Opp. Edit. Erdmann, p. 506.)

{2} Cf. Recherche de la Vérité, Lib. IV. c. i.; Traîtê de la Nature et de la Grâce, 2, 51.

{3} "Alla dimanda: perchè (Iddio) volle creare questo mondo. anzichè un altro, dee respondersi: perchè questo mondo era degno della somma bontà come quello che col minimo mezzo produceva il mazzimo bene, e perciò fu il solo possibile." (Teodicea, n. 651.)

{4} "Medium illud quo Deus cognoscit, scilicet essentia sua, est infinitorum similitudo quae ipsum imitari possunt." (St. Thomas, Qq. Disp. De Veritate, q. 2. a. 9.) Cf. the deep explanation given by St. Thomas throughout the whole of Sum. Theol. Ia. q. 14. a. 12.: "Utrum Deus possit cognoscere infinita." Upon many disputes about this subject great light is thrown by the following saying of St. Augustine: Quamvis infinitorum numerus nullus sit numerus, non est tamen incomprehensibilis et cujus scientiae non est numerus -- "Although an infinite multitude cannot be gathered in any number, yet it is not beyond the comprehension of Him whose knowledge is not limited to things that can be summed up in numbers." (De Civitate Dei, Lib. XII. c. 18.) Mark, however, the difference between "infinite" or "indefinite multitude," and "actually infinite multitude of actually existing things." The former is incomprehensible to us, but really comprehended by God; the latter is intrinsically contradictory, as may be seen, pp. 55 and 98, seq., where we deny the possibility of an actually infinite multitude of things and events, either having existed successively, or now existing simultaneously. But whilst such a multitude is impossible, multitudes ever increasing and never complete are not only possible but actual in the minds of rational creatures, as St. Thomas, loc. cit. rightly remarks.

{5} "Finis naturalis divinae voluntatis est ejus bonitas, quam non velle non potest. Sed fini huic non commensurantur creaturae ita, quod sine his divina bonitas manifestari non possit; quod Deus intendit ex creaturis. Sicut enim manifestatur divina bonitas per has res quae nunc sunt et per hune rerum ordinem; ita potest manifestari per alias creaturas et alio modo ordinatas. Ft ideo divina voluntas, absque praejudicio bonitatis, justitiae et sapientiae, potest se extendere in alia quam quae fecit." (Qq. Disp. De Potentia, q. 1. a. 5.)

{6} "Super omnia quae Deus fecit. adhuc possit alia dissimilia facere, et novas species et nova genera et alios mundos; nec unquam id quod factum est, facientis virtutem adaequare potest." (Qq. Disp. De Veritate, q. xx. a. 4. § "In utraque.")

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