Principles of Natural Theology / by George Hayward Joyce, S.J.

Chapter XII. God's Will and His Beatitude.

  1. The Divine Will.
  2. Its Primary and Secondary Objects.
  3. The Freedom of God's Will.
  4. Apparent Frustrations of God's Will.
  5. The Moral Attributes of God -- His Justice, His Mercy.
  6. The Divine Beatitude.

1. The Divine will. We distinguished in the foregoing chapter two forms of immanent action in God -- knowledge and will. It is with the latter of these that we are now concerned. The treatment of the subject will be aided, if we first consider in general what the will is, and what its relation to the intellect. It is from our own nature that we must learn this. By will we signify in man an appetitive tendency towards a good presented to us by the intellect. We may define it as a rational appetency for the known good. Experience shews us that every living thing, alike in the vegetable and the animal kingdom, tends towards that which is in conformity with its nature, striving after it if it lacks it, and reposing in it with satisfaction if it possesses it. But this is to tend towards the good. For that is good in regard of any particular thing, which is in harmony with its nature (or with some particular part of it): that is evil which is discordant with the nature and detrimental to it. Thus plants by a provision of nature draw their appropriate nourishment from the soil to the exclusion of its other constituents, and throw out shoots in such a manner as to secure the most favourable conditions for their growth. Animals, in virtue of their inborn instincts, perform a vast number of actions directed to their own good and to the good of the species. Precisely the same principle is exemplified in man. But man's nature is complex, and his appetencies are various. We have sensitive appetites like the brute animals. An experience is felt as good: and the sense craves to prolong that experience or to repeat it. But we possess, further, a rational appetite, which comes into play when the intellect has pronounced an object to be good. This appetency of the rational nature is termed volition: and the faculty exercising it is the will. As we have seen in a previous chapter (chap. v., § 2), the goodness of an object may be of different kinds. It may be a true good conformable to the rational nature as such: or it may be something which, while in harmony with some part of our nature, is repugnant to it in so far as rational, and hence merely a bonum apparens. Again, our appetency or love for the object, itself admits of an important distinction. Reason recognizes, not merely what is good, as being beneficial in some way to us, but what, regarded in itself, possesses intrinsic perfection (chap. x., §3). Hence our will may tend to an object for its own sake, simply because of its own proper excellence: or, on the other hand, our love for it may be self-regarding, tending to it because in some way it brings us advantage. The former is the love of complacency: the latter the love of desire. A man's love for his friend, so far as it is unselfish, is of the former kind: his love for his worldly goods or his pleasures, of the latter. But these distinctions, however vital, need not now detain us. The point which we desired to explain is the essential nature of the will, viz., that it is the appetitive tendency of the rational part of our nature to that which the intellect declares to be good.

Many modern psychologists refuse to reckon the will as appetitive. The appetites, they hold, are necessary, and therefore belong to a different order from the will. Hence they distinguish our mental activities into desire, will and intellect. This new division is, however, misleading, since it separates operations which are connected in the closest possible manner. The will tends necessarily and inevitably to that which the intellect pronounces to be good. It is beyond all question appetitive in its regard, desiring it because it is good. Its freedom of choice can be exercised only within the limits of that which the intellect views as good under one aspect or another. It is no less evident that, like every other appetitive faculty it does not merely tend towards the objects of desire in its absence, but quiesces with satisfaction in that object when attained. The loving adhesion to the good as possessed is no less an activity of the will than is the antecedent appetency or the act of deliberate preference of one alternative over another.

It may now be readily established that will is one of God's attributes. Every nature tends towards its proper good: and if the nature in question is intelligent, the tendency likewise belongs to it as such. In other words, where there is intelligence there must also be will. Since, then, the divine nature is intelligent, will, too, belongs to God. Nor does this conclusion involve that anything is lacking to Him. The essential activity of the will is love of the good. If the good be absent, then love produces desire. If it be present, joy is the result. In God there can be no question of an absent good: for He is Himself infinite goodness. His will has its connatural activity in the blissful possession of that supreme good which is Himself.

Other arguments may be employed to the same effect. Will is one of the perfections of man; and is, moreover, a pure perfection involving no imperfection. In man, it is true, the object of the will is frequently merely a relative good: indeed, it may be something which has only the appearance of goodness, not the reality. But will as such is simply the love for that which the reason pronounces to be good. Here there is no imperfection whatever. It follows that will is found in God, existing in Him formally, and not, as would be the case, were it a mixed perfection, only eminently.

Further, God made the world with wisdom. The marks of His intelligence are everywhere visible -- a point on which we dwelt when dealing with the teleological argument. But the application of intelligence to the production of an external effect demands the directive activity of the will. The intellect alone, apart from the motive force of will -- the purely speculative intellect -- effects nothing.

Again, the universe in which we live is far from exhausting the possibilities of creation. God might have created an infinitude of beings other than those which in fact He has called into existence. He might have left this universe unrealized, and framed a wholly different order of things. If, then, He has created the world as we know it, it is because He chose so to do. But the act of choice necessarily supposes the attribute of will.

2. The primary and the secondary objects of God's will. We explained in the last chapter the difference between the primary and secondary objects of a faculty. We saw that in all those beings in which the faculties are so many distinct endowments, each faculty is directed to a particular aspect of reality which constitutes its connatural object, and which when present determines the faculty to activity. In God, it is true, there is no distinction between faculties, nor yet between faculty and essence. Yet we are compelled by the limitations of our own minds to contemplate His infinite perfection under different aspects and by partial views corresponding to the distinction of perfections in created things. This justifies us in asking what is the primary and what the secondary objects of His will. Since will is an appetitive tendency, it is plain that the primary object of will is that which is desired for its own sake and as the end: the secondary objects are those which are desired simply on account of the primary object, this being the end to which they are referred. This may be illustrated in our own case. We have said that the object of our will in its present state is good in general. The good is man's primary end: though men differ greatly in their judgment where good is to he found, many reckoning as good only that which will afford them pleasure. Things which are desired simply as conducive to the possession of some good are secondary objects. Yet were man to see clearly and beyond the possibility of error some supremely good thing, something containing within itself the fullness of good, his attitude towards the good would change. This thing alone would be the primary object of his will, and all else would be secondary. If he loved other things, he could do so only in virtue of their relation to the primary object.

It may readily be shewn that the primary object of God's will is the Divine essence. This, and only this, can God love for its own sake: whatever else He loves, is loved in reference to this. Only the infinite good can be the connatural object of an infinitely perfect will. For the perfection of the act of volition stands in direct relation to the object. The object is the measure determining the perfection of the act. But God alone -- the Divine essence -- is the infinite good. Hence only in God does the Divine will find its primary object. Or to employ another mode of proof: the primary object stands to the will in the relation of motive to that which is moved -- of cause to effect. Were that object anything external to God, it would follow that God's will is caused. Yet this is wholly impossible, for God's will is Himself. It follows that the object of the Divine will can be none other than God Himself: and that His act of will is uncaused, because it is one and the same with the self-existent Essence which is its object.

When we first meet this doctrine, it is apt to suggest to us the idea of egoism. Yet we have only to reflect to see that such a notion has no place here. For what do we signify by egoism? We mean an undue esteem for our own merits and excellencies, the assigning of an undue prominence to our own interests, and the exploitation of others for our personal advantage. In God this is impossible. There can be no question of self-seeking with Him; for He possesses the infinity of good. There can be no exploiting of others; for whatever finite beings possess they possess from His liberality, nor could anything drawn from them add in any way to His beatitude. God's infinite love for Himself is not inordinate. It is strictly due -- no more than right reason demands -- for He is infinitely worthy of love. Even from our own case we know that love for self, or self-regard as it is commonly termed, where it does not exceed its legitimate bounds but is governed by reason, so far from being a fault, is a necessary condition of virtue. A well-ordered self-regard protects a man from acts that are unworthy of the nature which God has bestowed on him and of the gifts with which that nature has been enriched, and stimulates him to develop his powers to the highest perfection which is within his reach.

That the Divine will has also secondary objects is manifest. The created universe came into existence and is sustained in existence because God wills it. Were it not an object of God's will, it would lapse into nothingness. But here we are met with what seems a grave difficulty. We said that secondary objects are desired, not for their own sake, but in reference to the primary object. They are viewed as means: and means are desired by reason of their connection with the end. It follows necessarily that so far as God cares for any finite thing, it is because it is referred in some way to Himself as its end.{1} Is such a conclusion possible?

The difficulty is apparent only, not real. There is an essential difference between the motive which makes man desire the secondary objects of his will, and the reason why the Divine, will includes such objects in its range. If we desire secondary objects, it is with a view to the acquisition of some good which we do not possess. God who is the fullness of all being can acquire nothing. If He has secondary objects, it is that His goodness may thereby find an outlet, and flow forth upon them. He desires them, not that He may gain anything, but that He may bestow. His love for them depends, it is true, wholly and entirely on His love for Himself. Loving His own essence, the sum and source of all goodness, He desires that because of its supreme excellence it should spread abroad. Consummated perfection tends to communicate itself. Our own experience affords illustrations of this truth. Living creatures both in the animal and vegetable kingdoms, when they have reached the full perfection of their nature, crave to perpetuate it in other individuals. The rational agent, who by assiduous toil has attained some excellence, is not satisfied till he has imparted it to some disciple. God likewise sees in His own perfections a reason why He should call creatures into being. Their reflected goodness becomes an object of God's will, because of His love for that essential goodness which is Himself.{2}

Thus creatures exist for the sake of God; and, so far, are not the end of creation, but exist purely by reason of that which must in the nature of things be the end of God's action -- His own goodness. It is totally impossible that it should be otherwise. All things come from God: and all must tend to Him. This is a universal law of all being. Just as it is absolutely necessary that God should he the First Efficient Cause of all things, so it is no less necessary that He should be the ultimate Final Cause. Yet creatures are not 'means' in the sense in which we employ that term in reference to some end of our own. We seek for means, that we may gain something for ourselves: no advantage accrues to the means. But where God and creatures are concerned, the creature alone benefits. All its perfections all it is and all it has -- come to it because it is an object of God's will.

Not all thinkers have realized this truth. Thus Kant teaches that God created the world, not for Himself, but for man -- to bring man to the absolute end of morality.{3} It is plain that such a position, however specious, involves conclusions which are incompatible with the reason of things.

We pointed out in the last chapter (§ 2) an essential difference between the relation borne by the Divine and human intellect respectively to objective reality. Things are related to human thought as cause to effect: to the Divine thought as effects to their cause. A similar difference holds good as regards the Divine love. We love things because of some goodness which is theirs already: their goodness is the motive which arouses love within us. But all the goodness which creatures possess belongs to them simply because they are objects of God's will. His love is the cause of their goodness. He does not love them in the first instance because they are good, but they are good because He loves them.{4}

3. The Divine free-will. When we attribute to God the power of free-will, we are not to be understood as implying that this freedom is absolutely universal, including even the act by which His will is directed to its primary object. His love for His own essence admits of no elective choice. It belongs to the essential perfections of the Godhead: and without it God could not be. To love the infinitely good is a perfection. If beings endowed with intelligence and will fail to love the sum of all good, this is only because there is something amiss with them. Their knowledge of Him is inadequate: and what they know they do not rightly esteem. In God there can be no question of these defects: hence His love for Himself is necessary. Moreover -- to treat the same point in a different manner -- if we make the supposition, however extravagant it be, that God could cease from His act of love towards Himself, it follows by way of consequence that during the intermission His will would not be actualized at all, but would be a mere faculty -- a potentiality. This conclusion is inevitable, for, as we have just seen, God's will for secondary objects is wholly dependent on His will for His primary object. He loves creatures because of His love for His own essence. If, then, His love for His own essence were to pass into abeyance, His will would become, as we have said, a mere potentiality destitute of act. This, however, we need not say, is wholly impossible. It follows that God's love for His essence admits of no suspension, but belongs to the Divine Nature itself.

If, however, God's will is necessary as regards Himself, it is otherwise where creatures are concerned. He was free, we maintain, either to create or to abstain from creating. No physical necessity of His own nature, no reason grounded on the intrinsic fitness of things, demanded the existence of any finite being. And if He decreed to create, He was no less at liberty as regards the objects of the creative act. No constraint bound Him to confer existence on the special order of things which He actually realized. He chose it, because it seemed good to Him. The proof of this conclusion is decisive. Viewed as objects of God's wi]l, creatures stand to His essence in the relation of means to an end. God wills the Divine goodness for its own sake and as the end: creatures He wills, not for their own sake, but by reason of their connection with that end. But where the desire for any object depends on the will for the end to which it is referred, the necessity or freedom of the will in its regard is determined by its relation to the end. If its connection with the end be such that without it the end is unobtainable, then the will for the latter carries with it of strict necessity a will for this particular means. But if our possession of the end is not thus narrowly conditioned, then the will remains perfectly free to desire or to abstain from desiring this means. Thus the desire for good health necessarily carries with it the will for a given remedy, if the disease only admits of cure in one way. But if there are various methods of healing the malady, the will is under no constraint to seek any particular medicine. Now the divine goodness does not depend on creatures. God gains nothing by the existence of creatures, and loses nothing by their non-existence. The outpouring of perfection upon created being adds nothing to the Divine infinity. It is not a necessary means without which the end cannot be secured. It follows that as regards creatures God's will is free. We said above that perfection tends to communicate itself, and attributed God's will to create to this tendency. But it was not thereby meant that God, being supremely perfect, could not do other than create. This would have been to make the infinitely perfect dependent on the finite for His perfection -- a contradiction in terms. We signified simply that where there is perfection, it accords with the fitness of things that that perfection should spread itself abroad. This is altogether different from asserting that perfection is strictly exigent of such expansion. Were this the case God would not be self-sufficing.

We may urge here, too, an argument employed already in the first section of this chapter. It is abundantly clear that the present universe is not exhaustive of God's powers. The created order, full of wonders though it be, does not represent in every possible way the inexhaustible treasures of the Divine Reality. Yet if God's act of will in regard of His own essence carried with it of necessity an act of will for that essence as represented on the plane of finite being, it would follow that the act of creation must include every possible representation of the supreme exemplar cause. There would be no exercise of choice on God's part. By a law of His being He would be constrained to bring about the realization of every possible form of created reality. Since it is manifest that nothing of this kind has taken place, it is certain that He has exercised a choice in regard to what He shall create, in other words, that His will is not necessitated but free.

There are, however, not wanting thinkers who reject our conclusion, and contend that freedom can have no place in the Divine nature. We find this paradox maintained by not a few of those whose philosophical standpoint has been determined by Hegelian influences. We are justified in speaking of it as a paradox, for we recognize in the freedom of the will the highest prerogative of rational nature. In this more than in anything else consists the dignity of man: and it is this which elevates us to a different order of being from the brutes. Our actions are our own -- the fruit of free self-determination. Yet we are asked to believe that this perfection is lacking to God. Before, however, we examine the arguments brought by those who hold this view, it will be convenient to notice the essential differences between God's free act and our own. Certain characteristics must of necessity belong to God's elective choice, which serve to bring home to us how far removed is the infinite mind from our limited powers.

(1) The divine act is eternal. It did not come into being, but always was. With us the free choice of the will follows upon a state in which the agent has not yet chosen what course he shall adopt. But it is impossible that for God there should be a period in which His decision was not made. Such a delay would only be explicable, if He were not fully cognizant of the circumstances which furnish the occasion for a decision, or if, knowing the circumstances, He could not resolve upon His course. Both these hypotheses are impossible. We have, it is true, no means of imagining how an act can be at one and the same time free and eternal. But we are compelled to admit that so it is. And the fact that it is so makes it less difficult to conceive the possibility of creation ab aeterno -- a point discussed at some length in chap. iii.

(2) God's free decree is in the nature of things irrevocable. With man it is otherwise. We resolve upon a course of action: and then in the light of fresh knowledge, or even upon a reconsideration of the same data, we decide otherwise. It is part of wisdom not to be so wedded to our decisions as to refuse to modify them when reason so demands. But this possibility of change is the result of our limitations. It is partly due to our ignorance, and partly to the very character of the human intellect. Our mind does not know things by a single act of thought, which penetrates simultaneously every aspect of the object under consideration, but in a series of distinct concepts, each representing only one aspect of reality. And thus it comes about that we are swayed now this way, now that, according to the different aspect which we view. But God from all eternity has known to the full every element of every problem -- all the circumstances of each conjuncture that will ever arise -- by that one act of thought which is Himself, and has in the light of that knowledge decreed the course of providence. No new contingency can arise which can afford a reason why He should alter His design. His free act of will abides eternally unchanged.

(3) God's exercise of free-will is not, as is the case with us, a transition from potentiality to act. Though the volition is not a necessary accompaniment of His essence, its presence involves no change of any kind in the divine immutability. No reality would have been absent from God had He not made this free elective choice. The point with which we are here occupied is one of the most mysterious in the whole of Natural Theology. We are totally unable to conceive how an act of will can on the one hand be freely posited, and on the other involve no change in the agent. Our inability should not, however, cause us any great surprise. It must necessarily be just as impossible for us to grasp the mode of the Divine action as it is to grasp the mode of the Divine being. The finite cannot grasp the nature of the infinite. Yet there are certain considerations which may render the notion of such an act easier of realization. The capacity of free action may be viewed in two different ways, viz., as a power to be exercised in regard of different internal acts of the will, one of which may be realized in preference to others: or as a power to be exercised in regard of different external effects. If it be conceived in the former of these two ways, it cannot be reckoned as a pure perfection. The realization of the internal act presupposes a subject capable of ulterior actuation. Hence the very notion of such an elective choice involves limitation and potentiality in the nature of the agent. It is after this fashion that free-will belongs to us: and in this sense, as is clear, it cannot belong to God. But if, on the other hand, it be conceived as an elective power having regard, not to internal acts, but solely to external effects, then no imperfection is involved in the idea. As thus understood, it is rightly reckoned among the Divine attributes. To put what we have said in another way: free-will in man is a power of elective choice determining the immanent action of the will, while in God it is a power determining those external effects which are God's action viewed as virtually transitive. Here, in fact, even more perhaps than with the other divine attributes, it is necessary to bear in mind that our concept is analogous, and that we must not imagine that the perfection signified belongs to God in the precise manner in which it belongs to us.

It should further be noted when considering the difference between divine and human free-will that human volitions are caused by the objects desired. The latter are truly called the will's 'motives': they move it to action. They give, moreover, to the acts of the will their specific character. The nature of the particular act is determined by the motive. Hence a plurality of distinct objects involves a plurality of acts. In God there is nothing of this. The divine volition is identical with the divine essence. The number of its objects does not necessitate a corresponding number of acts. It is but one: and it is not caused by its objects, but is their cause. These essential points of difference may make it less difficult for us to realize how it can be, that, while in us each act of choice involves a new determination of the faculty, the will of God, without internal modification of any kind, extends itself to such finite objects as He sees fit to include within its scope.

To the question in what precisely does God's free act consist, the Scholastic philosophers reply that it is in fact God's necessary will in so far as besides its necessary object, viz., the Divine essence, it extends to other objects which are not necessary, these being things outside God.

Now that we have examined, in the degree in which it is possible, the nature of the divine freedom, we may more conveniently consider the objections urged against the doctrine by certain recent writers.

It is contended by some that spiritual perfection lies in obedience to law as the embodiment of reason: that, on the other hand, free-will apart from law is, as a principle of action, simply irrational caprice: and that the higher the perfection of an agent, the more absolute is his adherence to law, and the more does will fall into the background. Hence in God, the supremely perfect, mere free-will will have no place, but His activity will be in all things rigorously determined by immutable law.{5}

The objection here raised derives any apparent force which it may possess from the fallacious identification of free-will with caprice. By caprice we signify a decision made without sufficient reason, or even in defiance of reason. It is perfectly true that man may abuse the gift of free-will by thus employing it. But it does not follow that a choice made in perfect independence of the constraint of any law is necessarily a capricious choice. There may be various alternatives open, and good reason may be assignable for each of them. The free adoption of one among the number is not caprice. It is the exercise of a high prerogative, in virtue of which an agent endowed with intelligence dominates his materials. Thus, the artist contemplating his picture sees that the figures which he intends to introduce, may be disposed in various manners. Each way which suggests itself, presents some special aspect of beauty and grace. His mind is not a piece of mechanism working along a fixed groove, and determined by blind necessity. He is master of his choices, and he chooses with freedom. He need not even select the most beautiful of the arrangements open to him. He chooses the particular beauty which he desires. It is a mere error to call such a choice caprice. Thus, too, God acts with full and absolute freedom in regard of creatures. Whatever He does is assuredly in accordance with supreme wisdom and supreme goodness. He cannot act in a way contrary to His own attributes. But of the infinitely various possibilities before Him, He chooses that which seems good to Him. No constraint either from His own nature or from creatures compels Him to this or that course. He is master. To suppose, as does the argument which we are criticizing, that free-will has no place in His actions, is, in fact, an error drawn from a philosophical system, which, as we shall see later, has no room for a personal God at all.

It has further been urged, from the same point of view, that freedom carries with it the power to choose amiss, and consequently is not a pure perfection at all: that though the acts of the rational will are undoubtedly more perfect than those of inanimate nature, this is not because they are free, but because they alone are exercised with a knowledge of the end and with a conscious assent on the part of the will itself. Liability to error can never be aught but an imperfection. Hence it is concluded, God's acts are rational but not free.{6}

The difficulty here raised rests on an erroneous theory regarding the nature of freedom. It may easily be shewn that the power to choose wrong instead of right is due to the special conditions under which man in his present state exercises the faculty of election, and is not essential to freedom as such. The capacity of self-determination, as we have already pointed out, does not extend to the end at which the will aims, but solely to the means by which that end is to be secured. Whatever we choose we choose with a view to the attainment of the Good. About this we have no choice. But we are free to seek the Good in various ways. Our power to choose wrong arises from the fact that in our present state we are able to choose, not merely that which is truly good, but that which is only apparently so. Were it given us to have a clear apprehension of the Infinite Good we should no longer be able to misuse liberty by choosing what withdraws us from that supreme object of desire, but we should retain full freedom in regard of the manifold ways of doing right. This, the Catholic Church teaches, is the condition of the Blessed in heaven, who see God. It is plain that the argument which seeks to deny God's freedom, on the score that He cannot choose amiss, is a mere sophism. The power to choose evil is no necessary constituent in true liberty. It is a sheer defect, marring the purity of its perfection.

Certain other objections by which it is sought to shew that God's action in the world is not free but necessary, still remain to be considered. But as they are not directed against freedom as such, but against the possibility of freedom in the creative act, it seems best to reserve them till the chapter which deals with Creation.

4. The apparent frustrations of God's will. It would appear at first sight, in view of the use made by man of his freedom, that the divine will is in no small measure frustrated and unrealized. The dictates of the moral law declare what is God's will for rational agents. And though men may and do fall into gross errors about its precepts, yet its fundamental principles are, as we have urged (chap. v., § I), not merely known to all, but recognized as being the commands of a supreme legislator. Nevertheless, man habitually violates it: and by this violation has brought about the scene of moral and social wreckage in which our lot is cast. It seems as though God's purpose were everywhere defeated through man's rebeilion. Yet the entire dependence of created being on God renders such a conclusion altogether impossible. The relation of God to finite agents is not comparable to that of an earthly ruler to his subjects. God has foreseen from all eternity what each of His free creatures would do, if placed in any given circumstances: and, further, the act thus foreseen only takes place in so far as He, the Prime Mover, wills to permit it. Where other causes are in question, frustration of the effects intended is always conceivable. But where God is concerned, as we pointed out in the last chapter (§ 3), we have no choice but to allow that all this apparent frustration has its place in a providential scheme: that God, when He created the present order of things, foresaw how the free agents which He was creating would refuse obedience; but that He willed to permit this and to make even their acts of rebellion subservient to the execution of His purposes. God, it is carefully to be noted, did not will the evil. He cannot will what is contrary to His own attributes: and moral evil is in direct opposition to His essential sanctity. But in the event of the created agent choosing wrong, He can use that very choice to bring about some good result. Thus the cruelty of the persecutors became the occasion of the heroic virtue of the martyrs. This latter God willed. But though He turned the former to good account, He did not will it. He willed -- a very different thing -- to permit it. We have seen that the last end of God's action is, of necessity, Himself: that contemplating the supreme excellence of the Divine nature, He desires that its perfections should be manifested in the created order. The ultimate reason of creation was that God's infinite perfection should be reproduced in the only manner in which this was possible. In this sense all things are created for God's glory. But He desires as a secondary end the good of the creature. Where free agents are concerned that end is beatitude: and, inasmuch as the attainment of beatitude demands their free cooperation, this secondary end may, through their own perversity, be forfeited. Yet even so, it is utterly impossible that the creature should not tend to that primary end for which all things are made. Only it subserves that end in a different way. It no longer contributes to God's glory by the perfections with which it is endowed, and the beatitude it enjoys. But by the punishment which it has drawn upon itself -- the just retribution of its rejection of God -- it manifests His justice and His hatred of evil.{7}

In connection with this subject an important distinction is drawn between the antecedent and the consequent will of God. The distinction does not, of course, imply a plurality of acts of volition. Viewed as men, God desires the beatitude of all without exception in virtue of their nature as rational creatures: and, by reason of this desire, gives to each the helps necessary to this end. Here by a logical abstraction we are considering His will antecedently to His prevision of their final state when their probation reaches its term. Thus God's antecedent will is the will by which He desires the beatitude of each one, abstraction being made from His foreknowledge of the state in which the individual will be found at the hour of death. Thus considered, God's will, it is evident, is often not fulfilled. But this is due, not to the frustration of an absolute will of God, but because this abstract consideration does not, in fact, give us God's actual volition regarding the individual case. This must take account of the man's state at the close of his probation. God's ultimate decree in view of the man's merits or demerits -- His will viewed as consequent to His foreknowledge of the man's final condition -- is termed His consequent will. This is always realized.

5. The moral attributes of God. By the moral virtues we signify, when speaking of man, certain stable dispositions inclining him to act in accordance with the law of reason. Every such exercise of freedom depends upon the will. When the other powers are employed in free actions, they are directed by the will. Hence the office of the moral virtues is either to dispose the will itself to the observance of the law of reason, or to bring some appetite under control, and render it obedient to the dictates of the rational will. The mere cultivation of the intellect, apart from the will does not, as Socrates imagined, ensure virtuous conduct. It gives an enhanced capacity for right action, by shewing us the better course. But it does not guarantee that we shall adopt that course. Knowledge is not virtue: and ignorance is not identical with vice. Moral virtue is essentially an inclination which gives a right direction to acts proceeding from the will.{8}

It is manifest that among the various perfections of which human nature is capable, these are the highest. It is the possession of these which gives a man the title to be termed a good man. Without them he may, indeed, deserve to be called good in this or that particular respect -- a good soldier, a good artist. But only if he has the moral virtues, does he merit to be called simply good. We naturally ask whether they are found in God. If He has them not, it is simply misleading to speak of Him as a good God: for as applied to a being possessed of intelligence and will, this is the meaning of the term. Yet certain modern thinkers would have us answer the question in the negative. To attribute moral virtue to God is, they hold, anthropomorphism.{9} We shall see that there is no justification for this view. It is true that for some human virtues there is no room in the Divine nature, since they are proper to beings of flesh and blood like ourselves. But others exist formally in Him, though after a manner not identical with, but analogous to our own. They are attributes of the Divine will, and hence call for treatment here. In us the moral virtues are of two kinds. Certain of them are concerned exclusively with the control of the passions. Concupiscence, anger, fear, hatred and the like, speedily reject the guidance of reason, and make man a slave to the strongest impulse, unless he arms himself with the virtues which render them pliant to the will. Only if he acquires temperance, chastity, patience, fortitude, meekness, etc., is he master in his own house. The passions, though they can be stimulated to activity, not only by sensible goods, but by those which are more spiritual, such as the desire of revenge, of honour, etc., etc., belong essentially to our sensitive nature. The irrational animal creation is endowed with the same appetites, though with different provision for their control. It is evident that those virtues whose sole office it is to hold in check the passionate part of nature have no place in God. But there are other virtues, which involve no necessary connection with the sensitive part of man, but are perfections of the will as such. Such, for instance, are the virtues of justice, liberality, obedience, and veracity. Some of these, it is true, connote imperfection as well as perfection. Thus obedience implies subordination to a superior. Others, however, are pure perfections, and as such must be found formally in God. In Him, as we have said, they exist in a different manner to that in which they are found in us. In man the different virtues are distinct from one another: the inclination to truthfuness is not identical with the inclination to justice. Each is a separate principle, limited to a narrow sphere of action, and effecting a certain particular good. In God all are one supreme perfection, the Divine will. When we predicate these virtues of Him, we do not thereby signify the presence in Him of limited principles of action, such as are found in our own souls. We are constrained so to speak, because His sole perfection includes within itself that which we only know as realized in ourselves through a multiplicity of distinct determinations. Again, man acquires perfection gradually by the performance of virtuous acts. With God it is not so. Being infinitely perfect He can gain no increase of goodness by any effect external to Himself. He would not have been less good, had He never called man into being, and thus provided Himself with objects upon whom His virtues might be displayed. God's infinite love for the supreme Good -- the act of love which is His will -- is in itself the fullness of moral perfection, essential sanctity. The virtues which we affirm of Him are but aspects of this love, in so far as it finds a secondary object in creatures -- they do not make it greater than it was.

Amongst the virtues which we attribute to God we propose to consider two in particular, viz., Justice and Mercy. It will appear how the essential character of both is found in Him, yet without anthropomorphism of any kind.

(1) Justice is the disposition of the will which leads us to render to each his due. But justice is of more than one kind. For our present purpose we must distinguish between two forms of this virtue. There is the justice which holds between those, of whom the one has been in some manner benefited by the other, and remains bound to render an equivalent. The relations between the two are those of creditor and debtor: there is a strict right on the one side, a strict obligation on the other. This is called commutative justice. The other kind which calls for mention is distributive justice. This is the justice of a ruler in regard to his subjects. The ruler practises this virtue when he apportions in accordance with reason and equity the benefits which it falls to him, as a ruler, to dispense. Reason, as both Aristotle and St. Thomas remind us, demands that the apportionment, whether of privileges or other benefits, should have regard to the relative importance of the persons as members of the body politic: and this will be conditioned largely by the constitution of the particular state.{10} A bare equality all round would in most cases be unreasonable and therefore unjust. It belongs, too, to this justice to reward merit and to punish evil-doers. It is to be observed that distributive justice differs from commutative justice in this, that the ruler is not handing over to the subject that which by right is already his. He is not, strictly speaking, a debtor to the subject; his obligation is to the law of justice, not to the individual. In human affairs, it is true, the subject's claim is frequently of a mixed character, based partly on distributive, partly on commutative justice. But we are here concerned to indicate the distinctive character of the two notions. It is further to be considered that, though distributive justice primarily has regard to subjects, there is a sense in which the ruler exercises it even towards himself. He must assign to himself that which reason requires should pertain to the ruler.

We are now in a position to understand in what sense justice may be predicated of God. There can be no question of commutative justice. God cannot reap any benefit from creatures, or be under obligation to repay any of them for services rendered and value received. What the creature has -- his possessions, his faculties, even the very impulse which prompts him to serve God -- comes from the sole source of all good.

The justice of God is distributive justice -- the justice proper to the ruler. God bestows on each of His creatures that which reason demands. For His will of necessity accords with His wisdom: and the Divine wisdom is essential reason. A human ruler conforms his will to a law which is above him. God's will cannot fail of conformity to that law: for it is one with Himself.

When God bestows on each creature that which reason demands, justice appears in two relations. He renders to Himself what is due: and He renders to the creature what is due to it. It is due to Himself that finite being should manifest what His wisdom and His will have prescribed: and it is due to the creature that it should possess those endowments without which the nature would be incomplete, the specific type imperfectly realized. Thus it is due to man that he should have the use of reason, and to the plant that it should bear fruit after its kind. God displays His justice when. He confers on each of His creatures its appropriate gifts. But this justice implies no debt on God's part towards the creature. These gifts are due to the creature because God owes it to Himself that the creature shall realize His purpose.{11}

Yet when we speak of the divine justice we refer more usually to the rewards and punishments, which the common voice of humanity declares await us in the next life. In this regard also we rightly affirm that God is just. Man is a free agent, subject to the moral law. A law involves the sanction of punishment: without such a sanction attached to it it would be incomplete and defective. Moreover, while the other beings of this material universe attain the end for which they were created by a mere exercise of physical activity, it is not so with man. No use of his physical forces will bring him to beatitude. If, then, he is to attain beatitude by his actions, it must be by their moral value, and by way of merit. Thus natural reason itself assures us that rewards and punishments await us according to our deserts. Revelation has much more to tell us on this head; but the doctrines of revelation fall outside our scope. Reason can hardly do more than convince us of the fact of rewards and punishments, and assure us that God's distribution of them will be supremely just. Two further points, however, seem to call for notice in this connection. First, it has sometimes been said that any doctrine of merit supposes that God is a debtor to His creatures. This, manifestly, is not so. There may be a true proportion between the action and its reward in virtue of which the reward is really merited, without indebtedness on God's side. He gives to human nature various powers, and He proposes a reward commensurate with the endowment which he has bestowed.{12} He owes it to His own wisdom that His plan should be accomplished, and that the creature should attain to beatitude by the means which He has prescribed for it. But to the creature itself He owes and can owe nothing. In the second place, it must not be overlooked that the infliction of punishment, even though the sentence be, as revelation tells us, final and irrevocable, would seem to follow by necessary consequence from God's nature as the sum and source of all goodness. It is the vindication of the claim of Absolute Goodness to be supremely loved. Even natural reason seems to demand that the definitive rejection of this claim -- a rejection by which the rational agent freely and deliberately repudiates the infinitely good and chooses evil -- should entail an enduring state of punishment.

(2) God's mercy is sometimes understood in a somewhat wide sense of His benevolence in general towards His creatures. This benevolence is mainfested towards all His works in the gifts which He bestows upon them according to their kind. God loves all that He has made. And, as we have already seen, His love is absolutely generous, since it is not aroused by the good which He finds in us; but, on the contrary, the good that is in us is the effect of His love. Usually, however, the attribute of mercy has the more restricted meaning which is the term's true sense. In men mercy is understood as the virtue which inclines the will to aid another in his misery. And in this sense, too, it is predicated of God. In ourselves our kinship with the sufferer as sharers in a common humanity results in a fellow-feeling, affecting the sensitive part of our nature. The mercy of God is, of course, purely spiritual.

Mercy properly so called is, it is important to observe, restricted in its application to man. Only a rational creature endowed with reflective self-consciousness is capable of misery. A being which cannot turn its thoughts inward upon itself and contemplate the measure of its joy or its sorrow, may be susceptible of pleasure and of pain, but it can know neither felicity nor misery. The question of animal-suffering, in which so many see a difficulty against the goodness of the Creator, will be discussed in the chapter dealing with the problem of evil. It does not belong to our present subject.

The light thrown by mere natural reason on God's mercy, is, just as is the case with His justice, scanty but still adequate. We can affirm a priori that He possesses the perfection. But its manifestation in great measure eludes us. Yet this is not wholly so. The data of experience suffice, if we will only weigh them well, to shew us that He is ever seeking to aid man in his misery. We are apt, indeed, to overlook the vital truth that there is but one evil which is such in the full sense of the term, and which really justifies us in calling a man miserable, viz., separation from the Supreme Good which is his last end. Temporal misfortunes are such only in a qualified sense: they are evil in a certain respect, but not absolutely. Only the man who is separated from the Supreme Good, and knows that he is on the road to that final separation which is the irremediable shipwreck of his whole being, is justly miserable. A mere consideration of human life as we know it, shews us that God endeavours to deliver man from this fate. He tolerates the flagrant violation of His laws and the open defiance of His authority, and even after years of such conduct providentially enables a man to rectify his life and once again make his peace with Him. Were He just only, and not also supremely merciful, this would not be. The sinner -- at least, the great sinner -- would have no ground to suppose a way of return open to him. We may find yet another proof of God's mercy in the trials which He sends us. Man is so prone to seek his happiness in the good things of this life, that if our path were made smooth and pleasant, there would be few indeed who would not forget God altogether, and thus forfeit their hope of eternal beatitude. God in His mercy sends to all without exception a measure of suffering, depriving life of much of its attractiveness, and constraining us to seek a more durable happiness than we can obtain here. Again, the common consent of mankind proclaims that God hears our prayers: that even for relief in our temporal sorrows we may appeal to Him: and that, because He is merciful, He will grant our requests so far as is compatible with our true good.

Even if we keep within the strict limits of Natural Religion, the considerations just advanced might well convince us that mercy is one of the attributes of God. Yet man could never have fathomed the measure of that mercy, had not God Himself made it known in the Christian revelation. The very purpose of that divine interposition in human history was to bring God's mercy to men. And if we abstract from the stupendous work of love by which God Himself came amongst men to deliver them from their misery, all our conclusions on this subject are but faint and far-off suggestions of the reality within our reach.

It only remains to point out that there is no opposition between mercy and justice. A judge whose office it is to deal with crimes committed against others cannot, it is true, consistently with justice remit the penalty. The satisfaction is not owing to him, but to a third party or to the state. But where the divine tribunal is in question, it is against God Himself that the offence has been committed. He is not bound to exact the penalty. If He remits it, He violates no principle of justice. Justice is opposed to that weak indulgence which is hurtful to the very person who is its object: it is not opposed to mercy. Mercy, says St. Thomas, is the complement of justice.{13}

6. The beatitude of God. By beatitude we understand the possession by an intellectual nature of its full and final good -- the good beyond which nothing remains to desire, and in which it enjoys delight without alloys. It is a state beyond the reach of irrational creatures. As we said in the foregoing section,, only the self-conscious intelligence can reflect on and be aware of its own condition; and without this awareness, just as there can be no misery, so there can be no true felicity. It is evident that the degrees of beatitude of which different beings are capable will vary greatly. The intensity of the happiness will be greater in proportion as the good possessed is ampler, the union between the experiencing subject and the good is more intimate, and the comprehension of the good by the intelligence is more complete. In God all of these are found in an infinite degree. The good which He enjoys is the abyss of all perfection, His own essence: the union is replaced by identity: and the comprehension of the intellect is absolute. It follows that the Divine life is an abiding state of infinite bliss.

The eternal act by which God contemplates the riches of the Divine essence is not to be conceived as a mere recognition of the happiness arising from His perfections. That act of contemplation is not simply awareness of beatitude: it is itself beatitude. God's essential beatitude lies in His knowledge of Himself, the fountain of all Reality, all Goodness. The proof of this is easy. Beatitude is the condition towards which an intellectual nature tends as its ultimate perfection. But the ultimate perfection of an agent is found in the most perfect of its activities. We are speaking here, of course, of immanent activities, not of such as are transitive. The end to which a transitive operation is directed, is the perfection, not of the agent, but of the object on which it takes effect: and the ultimate perfection of an intelligent nature cannot consist in an action destined to perfect an external object. But immanent actions are the perfection of the agent as such. The perfection of an intelligent being must consist in an activity of this kind. The highest of all activities is that of the intellect. It is, therefore, in the operations of the intelligence that the Divine beatitude must lie. And if it be the case that God's felicity is found in the activity of the Divine thought, then the object of that thought must be the most perfect of all objects, the Supreme Good, His own essence.

It seems worthy of remark that the reasoning, which we have here employed, is the same as that by which the Schoolmen prove that man's beatitude is to be found in the knowledge of God. His beatitude, they argue, must of necessity consist in the highest of his activities. But his highest activity is attained when the noblest of his faculties is in exercise in regard of the noblest of objects. His noblest faculty is his mind: and the noblest object on which his mind can be employed is God.{14} The point is one which well merits our consideration. For it thus appears that our faculty of reason, limited and fallible as human reason is, gives us at least to this extent a resemblance to God, that we can find our beatitude in Him alone. Wherever there is intelligence, be it the infinite intelligence of the Creator, or the finite intelligence of the creature, full and final felicity can only be found in the possession of the Real, the True, and the Good -- in other words, of God.{15}

The objection may well suggest itself that beatitude should be referred to the will rather than to the intellect. Does not felicity consist in the joy which is ours when the will reposes in the object of love? Is it not this that we really mean when we speak of bliss? Undoubtedly, beatitude carries this joy with it. Were this joy not present, we should not possess beatitude. Alike for God and for man, the state of bliss includes love as well as knowledge. The only question at issue is which of these two is the constitutive principle of beatitude. And there can be no doubt that St. Thomas Aquinas is right in maintaining that the intellect, and not the will, is to be regarded as such. The beatitude of any nature consists in its possession of its last end. When this final good is won, ultimate perfection is reached. But the actual attainment of the last end is the work of the intellect. The joy of the will supposes that the prize has already been won: fruition is consequent on possession. Joy, then, is not so much the essence of beatitude as a property which necessarily derives from it. Yet since beatitude involves the activity alike of intellect and of will, comprising both knowledge and love in the highest degree, this seemed the more natural place in which to treat of it. It could not have been so suitably dealt with in the chapter on the Divine intellect.

God's bliss, it is evident, is immutable, infinite, eternal. It had no beginning, and will have no end. It admits of no increase: nor can anything arise to cloud it even for an instant. It abides ever the same, without change. Yet its changelessness is not the monotony of inaction, but the exercise of the highest activity.

It might, indeed, seem that since such is God's life, He must be ever absorbed within Himself, and can have no concern with aught that lies outside: that it is impossible to suppose that such a God could ever feel desire to call finite being into existence: and, even if we should imagine Him to create, that He could not occupy Himself with mundane events. So, in fact, has it been urged.{16} But, as we have already seen, this is very far from being the case. The very love which He bears to His own supreme perfection itself affords a ground why He should will to give existence to an order of created things in which that perfection should be exemplified in the manifold types of finite reality. And granted that He is thus led to exercise His freedom of will in creating, He must needs love each one of His creatures in proportion to the resemblance which they bear to His own goodness. Moreover, in virtue of His infinite wisdom, He will direct every least detail of earthly affairs, guiding all things towards the end which He has appointed.

{1} The purpose of creation is discussed further below, c. xiv., § 6.

{2} "Res naturalis non solum habet naturalem inclinationem respectu proprii boni ut acquirat ipsum cum non habet, vel ut quiescat in illo cum habet: sed etiam ut proprium bonum in alia diffundat secundum quod possibile est. Unde videmus quod omne agens, in quantum est actu et perfectum, facit sibi simile. Unde et hoc pertinet ad rationem bonitatis, ut bonum quod quis habet, aliis communicet secundum quod possibile est. Et hoc praecipue pertinet ad bonitatem divinam, a qua per quandam similitudinem derivatur omnis perfectio. Unde si res naturales in quantum perfectae sunt, suum bonum aliis communicant, multo magis pertinet ad bonitatem divinam, ut bonum suum aliis per similitudinem communicet, secundum quod possibile est. Sic igitur vult et se et alia: sed se ut finem: alia vero ut ad finem: in quantum condecet divinam bonitatem, etiam alia ipsam participare." St. Thomas, Summa Theol., I., q. 19, art. 2.

{3} Critique of Judgment, § 85.

{4} Thomas Aq., Summa Theol., I., q. 20, art. 2; I. II., q. 110, art. 1.

{5} "When you say of a human being that he does anything simply because he wills it, you degrade his action below the movements of a weather-vane. . . . On the other hand, the more a human will is subjected to law, the less of caprice and the more of reason we find in its action, the higher and

{6} The objection is that urged by Anton Gunther, Eurysthetis und Herakles (1843), p. 517 (cited in Kleutgen De Deo, § 567, n. 6). On this writer and his philosophical system see the article in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

{7} "Cum igitur voluntas Dei sit universalis causa rerum, impossibile est quod divina voluntas suum effectum non consequatur. Unde quod recedere videtur a divina voluntate secundum unum ordinem relabitur in ipsum secundum alium: sicut peccator, qui quantum est in se recedit a divina voluntate peccando, incidit in ordinem divinae voluntatis, dum per ejus justitiam punitur." St. Thomas Aq., Summa Theol., I., q. 19, art. 6.

{8} Subjectum vero habitus qui simpliciter dicitur virtus, non potest esse nisi voluntas vel aliqua potentia, secundum quod est mota a voluntate. Cujus ratio est, quia voluntas movet omnes alias potentias, quae aliqualiter sunt rationales ad suos actus. Et ideo quod homo bene agat, contingit ex hoc quod homo habet bonam voluntatem." Summa Theol. I. II., q. 56, art. 3.

{9} Cf., e.g., Bradley, Appearance and Reality, p. 533. "The Absolute is not personal, nor is it moral, nor is it beautiful nor true." The evolutionary theory of the origin of human morals brings us to the same conclusion. Professor Romanes writes: "For anything we can tell to the contrary, the moral sense may have been given to or developed in man simply on account of its utility to the species -- just in the same way as teeth to the shark or poison to the snake . it may be quite as anthropomorphic a notion to attribute morality to God as it would be to attribute those capacities for sensuous enjoyment with which the Greeks endowed their divinities." Thoughts on Religion, p. 81.

{10} Aristotle, Nic. Ethic., V., c. iii.; St. Thomas Aq., Summa Theol., I. II., q. 61, art. 2,

{11} Debitum est Deo ut impleatur in rebus id quod ejus sapientia et voluntas habet, et quod ejus bonitatem manifestat. Et secundum hoc justitia Dei respicit decentiam ipsius secundum quam reddit sibi quod sibi debetur. Debitum etiam est alicui rei creatae, quod habeat id quod ad ipsam ordinatur: sicut homini quod habeat manus, et quod ei alia animalia serviant. Et sic etiam Deus operatur justitiam, quando dat unicuique quod ei debetur secundum rationem suae naturae et conditionis. Sed hoc debitum dependet a primo: quia hoc unicuique debetur quod est ordinatum ad ipsum secundum ordinem divinae sapientiae." St. Thomas, Summa Theol., I., q. 21, art. 1, ad 3.

{12} According to the teaching of the Catholic Church the end actually proposed to us is a supernatural, not a natural end: hence, that we may be enabled to merit it, our nature is elevated by a supernatural endowment of grace. It would be beside our purpose to touch on this subject.

{13} Misericordia non tollit justitiam, sed est quaedam justitiae plenitudo." Summa Theol., I., q. 21, art. 3, ad. 2. "We should," writes Mr. C. J. Webb, "scarcely call an unmerciful person just; and in speaking of a person as unjust, we should rather think of his hard treatment of those who do not deserve it, than of his comparative over-leniency to others: we should certainly think it strange to describe him on account of such over-leniency as a merciful man. The truest justice would seem to include mercy, and mercy in the highest sense would vindicate for itself the name of justice." God and Personality, p. 257.

{14} St. Thomas Aq., Summa Theol., I. II., q. 3, art. 5.

{15} So far as Natural Theology is concerned, it would appear that the disproportion between the infinite divine essence and the finite powers of the creature is such that a direct and immediate knowledge of God is beyond the power of any created intellect: that the creature can rise no higher than to know about God by deductions from the created world: that a direct and immediate insight into the Divine essence is proper to God Himself alone. Revelation assures us that this natural incapacity will be transcended: and that the blessed will, in fact, possess that direct knowledge, and thus be made sharers in God's own beatitude.

{16} The account here given of the Divine life was derived by the Schoolmen from Aristotle. He reaches the conclusion that it can be nothing else than an activity of thought, in which the thought and the object of thought are identical (Metaph., XII., c. ix.). He further declares that this existence is the best of possible existences, and necessarily accompanied by delight (c. vii.). Commenting on this Dr. Edw. Caird says that such a deity "cannot logically be conceived as going beyond itself to create the finite world of movement and change." Evolution of Theology in the Greek Philosophers, II., 241 (cited in Ward's Realm of Ends, p. 33).

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