Having treated elsewhere of God  and of providence  from a purely speculative point of view, we here resume the consideration of these great questions in their relation to the spiritual life. The primary object of contemplation is, in fact, God Himself and His infinite perfections, especially His goodness, His wisdom, and His providence. Our activity and our progress toward eternity must be directed from the higher plane of this contemplation. From this point of view we shall treat here: (1) of the existence of God and of His providence; (2) of those perfections of God which His providence presupposes; (3) of providence itself according to the Old and New Testaments; (4) of a trusting self-abandonment to God’s providence; (5) of providence in its relation to justice and mercy.
May these pages instill in the minds of those who read them a better understanding of God’s infinite majesty and the absolute value of the one thing necessary, our last end and sanctification. Their chief aim will be to insist on the absolute and supremely life-giving character of the truth revealed by our Lord Jesus Christ and infallibly proposed to us by the Church. Souls are perishing in the ever-shifting sands of the relative; it is the absolute they need. Nowhere will they find it but in the Gospel entrusted by Jesus Christ to His Church, which has preserved, taught, and expounded it. It has been exemplified in the lives of the best of her children.
In these days of positive unbelief, agnosticism, and general indifference concerning the supernatural, it is to be hoped that this English translation of the Reverend Father Garrigou-Lagrange’s La Providence et la confiance en Dieu will serve a useful purpose. In this book the author has proved conclusively to anyone of upright mind that there is an all-wise and designing Providence, who has created all things with an end in view, and this especially as regards human beings. The whole of creation confirms this view. Long ago the psalmist declared that “the heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands” (Ps. 18:2). If we believe in the existence of God—and no reasonable being can deny this—then we must say with the bard of Avon that “there’s a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will” (Hamlet, V, ii, 10).
The first part of this book is a brief summary of a previous work by the same author, entitled: God, His Existence and His Nature. The proofs for the existence of God and a discussion of the divine attributes constitute the basis of Providence. This French work was well received. Within a short time after publication six thousand copies were sold. It has also been translated into German, Italian, and Polish.
In conclusion I wish to express my indebtedness to the Reverend Dr. Newton Thompson for his painstaking care in preparing the manuscript for publication. This indebtedness also applies to the second volume of God, His Existence and His Nature, which due to an oversight was not mentioned at the time of its publication
I also wish to thank the Reverend Dr. Bernard Wall, late of Wonersh seminary, England, for his courtesy in allowing me the use of his manuscript, which I consulted on various occasions. The verification of many quoted passages was thereby much simplified and this enabled me to proceed more rapidly.
Bede Rose, O.S.B.
St. Benedict’s Abbey
Mount Angel, Oregon
PART I : THE EXISTENCE OF GOD AND OF PROVIDENCE
1. God The Prime Mover Of Corporeal And Spiritual Beings
Before we proceed to consider the meaning and import of the proofs for the existence of God and His providence, it will be well to point out one general proof that virtually contains them all. It may be summed up in this way: The greater does not come from the less, the more perfect does not come from the less perfect, since the latter is incapable of producing this effect.
There are in the world living, intelligent beings that come into existence and disappear again; they are therefore not self-existent. And what we say of the present applies equally to the past.
Consequently they require a cause, one that is self-existent. Hence there must exist from all eternity a first Being who owes His being to none but Himself and is able to confer being on others: a first living being, a first intelligence, a first goodness and holiness. If it were not so, the life, intelligence, goodness, and holiness of which we have experience could never have made their appearance in this world of ours.
Already open to common sense, this proof may be further scrutinized by philosophical reason, but no fault can be found with it.
The greater cannot come from the less as from its wholly adequate, efficacious cause, for the additional perfection would itself then be without a cause, without a reason for its existence, and hence absolutely unintelligible. It is utterly absurd to maintain that the intelligence or the goodness of Jesus, of the great saints—of St. John, St. Paul, St. Augustine—are the result of unintelligent matter, of a material and blind fatality.
This general proof is at once more convincing when we consider the motion of bodies and spirits—motions from which it is shown that God is the first mover of every being, both corporeal and spiritual.
Already advanced by Aristotle, this proof from motion is set out as follows by St. Thomas in his Summa Theologica, Ia, q. 2, a. 3:
There is motion in the world, from the lowest order of beings to the highest.
St. Thomas takes as his starting-point a fact of evident experience, that there is motion in the world: the local motion of inanimate bodies displacing and attracting one another; the qualitative motion of heat increasing or diminishing in intensity; the motion of development in the growing plant; the motion of the animal desiring food and going in quest of it; the motion of the human intellect passing from ignorance to a knowledge at first confused, then distinct; the motion of our spiritual will, which from not desiring a certain object comes to desire it more keenly; the motion of our will which after desiring the end desires also the means to attain it.
Here, then, is a universal fact: there is motion in the world, from the motion of the stone that is thrown into the air, to the motion of our minds and wills. And we may say that everything in this world is subject to motion or change—nations and peoples and institutions as well as individuals. When a motion has reached its peak it gives place to another, as one wave of the sea is followed by another, one generation by another, a phenomenon that the ancients represented by the wheel of fortune on which the more successful were lifted up, only to descend once more and give place to others. Is it a fact, then, that everything passes, that nothing endures? Is there nothing constant, nothing stable and absolutely permanent?
All motion requires a mover
How are we to explain this universal fact of motion, be it either corporeal or spiritual? Is the explanation to be found in motion itself? Is it its own reason, its own cause? To answer this question, we must begin by pointing out two facts. First, in motion there is something new that requires explanation. Where does this new element come from, which previously had no existence? The question applies to past as well as to present forms of motion. Secondly, motion exists only in a movable object: it is this individual motion for the sole reason that it is the motion of this mobile object. There is no displacement without a body that is displaced, no flowing without a fluid, no current without a liquid, no flight without a bird that flies, no dream without a dreamer, no motion or volition apart from an intelligent being that wills.
But if there is no motion apart from a mobile object, is it possible for that object to move itself by its own power and without a cause of any kind? Can the stone of itself set itself in motion without someone to throw it into the air, or without some other body to attract it? Can the cold metal become hot of itself, without a source of heat?
But, you may say, a living thing moves itself. True, but is there not in the living thing a part that is moved and another that moves? If the blood circulates through the arteries of an animal, is it not because the heart by its contraction makes it circulate?
So also in man. If the hand moves, is it not because the will moves it? And if in its turn the will is moved, passing from a state of indetermination to one of determination, must it not be moved by some object attracting it, by some good? And is it sufficient merely for the good to be presented to it? Must not the will direct itself or be directed to it? It does in fact direct itself to the means because it first of all desires the end; but in the case of the first desire of an end, as when we come to the age of reason or when on waking in the morning we begin to exercise our will, is not an impulse from some higher source necessary to start our volitional activity, so as to make our will pass from the state of repose, of inactivity, to that first act which is to be the cause of all the acts that follow? That act contains something new which demands a cause; and the will, not yet in possession of this new perfection, cannot give it to itself. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 9, a. 4; q. 10, a. 4.)
Shall we say that this particular motion, whether corporeal or spiritual, has as it cause another motion anterior to it? But, if we consider motion as such, whether realized in this present motion or in the motions that precede, we shall see that it is a transition from potency to act. Now potency is less perfect than act; potency, therefore, cannot confer act upon itself. Once again, if there were not a mover for every motion, the greater would come from the less.
The stone was capable of displacement; now it changes its position, it does not do so without a mover that projects or attracts it.
The plant in its growth passes from potency to act, but not without the action of the sun, air, and moisture from the earth. The animal passes from potency to act when it pursues the prey that attracts it, but only in virtue of that higher activity which has endowed it with the instinct to feed upon this object rather than upon some other.
Man himself passes from potency to act, from ignorance to knowledge; for him it is an intellectual acquisition. But the intellect does not give itself these acquisitions which hitherto it did not possess.
Our will, too, passes from potency to act, to which at times it clings heroically. Where does this new perfection come from? The will could not confer this upon itself, since it did not possess this before.
All motion, then, whether corporeal or spiritual, requires a cause: without a mover the mobile thing is not moved. The mover may be within, as the heart is within the living animal; but if this mover is itself moved, it demands another mover superior to itself. The heart that at the moment of death stops beating cannot set itself going again; in this case it would require the intervention of the Author of life Himself, by whom that life was given and who maintained its motion until the organism finally spent itself.
Every motion demands a mover: such is the principle by which St. Thomas throws light upon this great universal fact of motion. The irrational animals perceive, indeed, that there are motions of the sensible order; but, that every motion demands a mover, is beyond their comprehension. They have no grasp of intelligible being or of the raison d’etre of things, but only of sensible phenomena—color, sound, heat, and the like. On the other hand, being and the raison d’etre of things constitute the very object of our intellect; hence we are able to grasp the truth, that without a mover all motion is impossible.
Every motion requires a supreme mover
But we must go a step farther. If for every motion either corporeal or spiritual a mover is required, does this necessitate a supreme mover?
A number of philosophers, including Aristotle, thought it possible to have an infinite series of movers accidentally subordinated to one another in past time. For such as these the series of animal generations, for instance, never had a beginning. There was never a first hen or a first egg, but always, without beginning, there were hens that laid eggs; the motion of the sun revolving in the heavens had no beginning and will have no end; the evaporation of water from the rivers and seas has always been producing rain, but there was no first rainfall.
We Christians hold it to be a fact known from revelation, that the world had a beginning: that it was created not from all eternity (non ab aeterno), but in time. This is an article of faith defined by the councils.
But precisely because it is an article of faith and not merely one of the preambles to the faith, is why St. Thomas holds that reason alone can never demonstrate that the world had a beginning (Ia, q. 46, a. 2). And why does this truth transcend the natural powers of our intellect? Because that beginning depended on the free will of God. Had He so willed, He might have created the world ten thousand years, a hundred thousand years, millions of years before, or at a time even more remote, without there having been a first day for the world, but simply a dependence of the world on its Creator, just as a footprint in the sand is due to the foot that makes it, so that, had the foot always been there the footprint would have had no beginning.
Although revelation teaches that the world did in fact have a beginning, it does not seem impossible, says St. Thomas, for the world always to have existed in its dependence on God the Creator.
But, if a series of movers accidentally subordinated in the past may be infinite and does not of necessity require a first in time, it is not so with a series of movers necessarily and actually subordinated at the present moment. Here we must eventually arrive at a supreme mover actually existent, one that has not merely given an impulse at the beginning of the world, but that is moving all things now.
For example: the boat carries the fisherman, the sea enables the boat to float, the earth holds the sea in check, the sun keeps the earth fixed in its course, and some unknown center of attraction holds the sun in its place. But after that? We cannot go on in this manner ad infinitum in a series of causes that are actually subordinate. There must be a first and supreme efficient cause existing not merely in the past but in the present, and this supreme cause must act, must exert its influence now; otherwise the subordinate causes, that act only when moved by another, would not act at all.
Trying to dispense with the necessity of a source is the same as saying that a watch can run without a spring, provided it has an infinite number of wheels. The watch may have been wound up a thousand times, a hundred thousand times, or times without number, in the past—it matters little; what is necessary is for it to have a spring. Likewise it matters little whether the earth had a beginning in its revolution around the sun; what is necessary is for the sun to attract it now, and for the sun itself to be attracted by a more remote and actually existing center of attraction. In the end we must come to a first mover that acts of itself and not through another of a higher order. We must come to a first mover able to give a full and adequate account of the very being or reality of its action.
Now that alone can account for the being of its action which possesses it in its own right, and that not only potentially but actually; a being which, as a consequence, is its very act, its activity, and which, instead of having received its life, is life itself. Such a mover is absolutely immobile in the sense that it already possesses of itself what others acquire by motion. It is in consequence essentially distinct from all mobile things, whether corporeal or spiritual. And here we have a refutation of pantheism. God cannot be confounded with the world, for He is immovable, whereas the world is in a state of perpetual change. It is this very change that demands an immobile first mover, who, instead of passing from the potential to the actual, is His act from all eternity; who is consequently being itself, since action presupposes being and since the mode of action follows upon the mode of being.” I am the Lord and I change not” (Malachias 3: 6). It is false to say that everything passes and nothing endures, that nothing is constant, nothing stable. There must be a first mover who is Himself absolutely immovable.
To deny the necessity of a supreme cause is to maintain that the explanation of motion lies in itself, that a mobile thing can of itself and without a mover pass from potency to act, can confer on itself the act, the new perfection it does not yet possess. To do away with a supreme cause is to claim that, as someone has said, “a brush will paint by itself provided it has a very long handle.”  This is maintaining always the same thing, that the greater comes from the less.
As evidence of this necessity for a supreme mover in the present and not merely in the past, we may take another example, this time from motion of the spiritual order.
Our will begins to will a certain thing: a sick person, for instance, wishes to call in a doctor. And why? Because first of all he desires to be cured, and to be cured is a good thing. He began to will this good thing, and this act of willing is an act distinct from the volitional faculty; for with us this faculty is not of itself an eternal act of love for the good; it contains its first act only potentially, so that when the act makes its appearance it is in the will as something new, a new perfection. In order to find the ultimate raison d’etre of this becoming, of the very reality of this first act of willing, we must go back to a first mover of mind and will, one that has not received the impulse to act, who acts without its being given Him to act, to whom it can never be said: “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” We must eventually arrive at a first mover who is His own activity, who acts solely through Himself, since action presupposes being and since the mode of action follows upon the mode of being.
Only being itself, which alone exists of itself, can in the last analysis account for the being or reality of a becoming, which is not self-existent.
Are we not forced to recognize the existence of this first mover when we are confronted with an important duty to be performed at all costs and without delay, such as the defense of family or country; are we not too aware of our weakness, our powerlessness to proceed to action? What is then needed is action, not words. Who, then, will effect the transition from potency to act, if not He and He alone who has given us the faculty to will and is able to move the will, seeing that He is more intimately present to it than it is to itself?
Similarly, the first act of our intellect, whether it be when we come to the age of reason or when we wake in the morning, presupposes a first impulse given to it by the supreme intellect, without whose concurrence we could not think at all. This impulse, by many unperceived, becomes at times strikingly apparent on those occasions known as flashes of genius. Even the man of genius merely participates in intellectual life. He has a part in it, and everything that is by participation is dependent on that which exists of itself and not through another.
Is not the existence of the first mover of intellects forcibly brought home to us when, after failing to see where our duty lies, we retire within ourselves and there eventually get enlightenment? How have we passed from potency to act if not by the assistance of Him who has given us intelligence and who alone can enrich it with new light?
The first mover, therefore, is not in potentiality for further perfection. He is pure act without any admixture of imperfection. Consequently, He is really and essentially distinct from every limited mind, whether angelic or human, these passing from potency to act, from ignorance to knowledge. Here again we have a refutation of pantheism.
Is the first mover of corporeal and spiritual beings necessarily spiritual?
To move intellects and wills without doing violence to them, evidently the mover must be spiritual. The greater does not come from the less.
But even the first mover of corporeal beings must be spiritual, for, as we have seen, It must be immobile in the sense that It is its own action, its own being. This cannot be true of anything corporeal; all bodies are mobile; matter is in perpetual motion.
Even if prime matter is supposed to be endowed with primitive essential energies, still it cannot as an agent account for the being of its own action; for such an agent must not only possess action and existence, it must be its very action, existence, and consequently must be absolutely immobile, possessing of itself all perfection and not a tendency to it. Now matter is forever in motion, constantly acquiring new perfections or forms and losing others.
The first mover, therefore, of corporeal and spiritual beings must evidently be spiritual. It is of Him the liturgy speaks when it says: Rerum Deus tenax vigor, Immotus in Te permanens. (God powerful sustainer of all things, Thou who dost remain permanently unmoved.)
In what then does the immobility of the supreme mover of corporeal and spiritual beings consist? Not in the immobility of inertia, of an inert body, for that is inferior to motion. It is the immobility of supreme activity, which has nothing to gain, because of itself and from the first it possesses all that it is possible for it to possess and is able to communicate that abundance externally. On board ship the sailors pass to and fro at their duties, but is it not the captain who directs them to action by the spiritual activity of his intellect and will, standing immovable on the bridge? There is far more vitality in the steadfast contemplation of truth than in mere commotion.
The immobility of the first mover is not the immobility of the stone, but the immobility that characterizes the contemplation and love of the supreme good.
The characteristics of the supreme mover
Since the first mover is pure act with no admixture of the imperfection of potentiality, it follows that He is in no way perfectible. He is infinitely perfect, pure being, the pure and ever actual intellection of supreme truth, the pure and ever actual love of the fullness of being ever actually loved.
He is omnipresent, because to move all beings whether spiritual or corporeal, He must be present, since these beings do not move themselves, but are moved by Him.
He is eternal, for He has always by and of Himself all His being and all His action of thought and love. In one immobile instant transcending time, He possesses His life simultaneously in all its completeness. When the world was created, the creative act did not commence in God, for it is eternal; but it produced its effect in time at the desired moment fixed from all eternity.
The first mover is unique: for pure act does not receive existence, it is existence; it is being itself, which cannot be multiplied. Were there two first movers, since one would not be the other, each would be limited and imperfect and would no longer be pure act and being itself.
Moreover the capacity of a second pure act could be nothing more than the first, and would be superfluous: Could there be anything more absurd than a superfluous God?
If such be the case, if there is an actually existing first mover of corporeal and spiritual beings, what practical conclusions are to be drawn from it?
In the first place we must learn to distinguish in life between the immobility of inertia and the immobility of higher activities. The immobility of inertia or of death is inferior to motion. The immobility that characterizes the contemplation and love of God is superior to the movement it may produce by directing and vivifying it.
Instead of dissipating our life in mere commotion, let us endeavor to recollect it so that our activity may be more profound, more consistent and lasting, and directed to eternity.
Secondly, let us frequently establish a contact in the summit of our soul with the first mover of corporeal and spiritual beings, who is none other than the living God, author not only of the soul and its natural acts, but of grace also and salvation.
Let us make this contact on waking in the morning, for then we receive within us that impulse from God that stirs us to action. Instead of going astray at the beginning of the day, let us welcome this first impulse by responding to it.
Let us in the course of the day resume this contact with Him who is the author of life, who was not content merely to urge us in the past, or merely to set us in motion at the beginning of the day, but is ever sustaining us and actualizing our voluntary actions—even the freest of them—in all their reality and goodness, evil only excepted.
Before lying down to rest, let us renew this contact, and all that sound philosophy has just told us about the first mover of corporeal and spiritual beings will appear transfigured, transported to a higher plane, in the Our Father.
“Thy kingdom come”: the kingdom of the supreme intellect, by whom all other intellects are directed.” Thy will be done”: that will to which every other will must be subjected if it is to attain to its true end.
“Lead us not into temptation, “ but sustain us by Thy strength; maintain our intellect in truth and our will in the good. Then we shall have an even deeper insight into the meaning of those words of St. Paul spoken in the Areopagus (Acts 17:24) : “God, who made the world and all things therein… hath made of one all mankind… that they should seek God, if happily they may feel after Him or find Him, although He be not far from every one of us. For in Him we live and move and are.” In Him we have our being—not natural being only, but the supernatural being of grace which is the beginning of eternal life. Of this supreme mover, the source from which the life of creation proceeds we have been able to speak only in an abstract and very imperfect manner. It is He whom we must see face to face when we come to the end of our journey and reach eternity.
2. The Order In The Universe, And Providence
The general proof for the existence of God—that the greater cannot come from the less—we have made more precise by an examination of motion. We have seen how all motion, corporeal or spiritual, requires a mover, and in the last resort a supreme mover; for in a series of actually subordinated causes (for instance, in the series: the earth attracted by the sun, the sun by a more distant center), we must eventually arrive at a supreme mover who does not require to be previously moved, who must therefore possess activity of Himself if He is to confer it upon others. That is, He must be His action instead of merely receiving it. He acts without its being given Him to act. And as action presupposes being, and the mode of action follows upon the mode of being, the supreme mover of corporeal and spiritual beings, to be His action, must also be being itself, according to the Scriptural expression: “I am who am.”
We must now speak of a proof that establishes at once the existence of God and His providence—that based on the order prevailing in the world. Of all the proofs for God’s existence, it is the most popular. Easily accessible to commonsense reason, it is susceptible of greater penetration by philosophical reason; and when it is applied from the physical to the moral order it may lead to the most sublime contemplation. We find it expressed in Psalm 18: 2: “The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands.”
The fact: the order prevailing in the universe
The fact is this, that in nature, in those things that lack intelligence, we have an admirable ordering of means to ends.” This is evident, “ says St. Thomas, “since those things which lack intelligence—the heavenly bodies, plants and animals—act always, or at least nearly always, in such a way as to produce what is best” (Ia, q. 2, a. 3).
Finality and order are apparent in the universal attraction between bodies. The purpose of this attraction is the cohesion of the universe. It is seen in the translational motion of the sun through space, carrying with it its entire system. It is again seen in the twofold motion of the earth—the rotation about its axis every twenty-four hours, which is the cause of day and night, and its revolution round the sun in three hundred and sixty-five days, which is the cause of the seasons. In this constant regularity of the heavenly bodies in their courses, we have an obvious instance of means directed to an end, as the greatest astronomers declared, rapt as they were in admiration for the laws that they discovered. And many good things in this world would not be realized without the difference of day and night and the distinction of seasons, so necessary for the germination of plants and their development.
If we ascend a little higher and consider the plant organism, we see how admirably its arrangement enables it to use the moisture and transform it into sap, in a word, to nourish and reproduce itself in a regular and constant manner. If we but consider a grain of wheat put into the ground, we see that its purpose is to produce an ear of wheat, not of barley or rice.
We have only to consider an oak to see the utility of its roots and sap for the life of its branches and foliage. We have only to examine the collective organs of a flower to see that they all concur in the formation of the fruit which the flower is intended to produce—a cherry, for instance, or an orange. A particular flower is intended to produce a particular fruit and no other. How is it possible not to see in this formation a designing idea?
If we ascend still higher and consider the animal organism, whether in its lower or higher forms, we see that as a whole it is adapted for the animal’s nourishment, respiration, and reproduction. The heart makes the red blood circulate throughout the organism for its nourishment; then the dark blood charged with carbonic acid is again transformed into red by contact in the lungs with the oxygen of the air. Obviously the heart and lungs are for the preservation of animals and men.
Certain parts of the animal organism are truly marvelous. The joints of the foot are so made as to adapt themselves to every position in walking, and those of the hand are suited to a great variety of movements. A bird’s wings are adapted for flight far better than is the best airplane. The smallest cell, which is related to thousands of others, is a masterpiece in itself. Of particular beauty is the harmonious arrangement of the many parts of the ear, for the perception of sound; and again, the very complex structure of the eye, in which the act of vision presupposes thirteen conditions, each of these again presupposing very many more, all of them adapted to this simple act of vision. In the eye we have an instance of an amazing number of means adapted to one and the same end, and this organ is formed in such a way as to produce always, or usually at any rate, what is best.
If now we consider the instinctive activity of animals, especially such as bees, we meet with fresh marvels. It would require the genius of a mathematician to invent and construct a bee-hive; and no chemist has yet succeeded in making honey from the nectar of a flower. Yet the bee is obviously not itself intelligent: it never varies its work or makes any improvement. From the very beginning its natural instinct has determined it to perform its task in the same way, and it will continue to do so forever, without in any way bringing it to perfection. On the contrary, man is continually perfecting the implements of his invention because, through his intelligence, he recognizes their purpose. The bee, too, works with an end in view, but unconsciously; yet it works in a way that excites our admiration.
Shall it be said that this wonderful order in the heavenly bodies, in vegetable and animal organisms, in the instinct of animals, is the effect of a happy chance? What happens fortunately by chance is not of regular or even frequent occurrence, but extremely rare. It is by chance that a tripod, when thrown into the air, falls on its three feet; but this rarely happens. It is by chance that a man digging a grave finds a treasure; but it is an unusual thing. On the contrary, the wonderful order we have been considering as prevailing in nature is an order of fixed unchangeable laws, which are always applicable. It is a constant harmony and, as it were, the perpetual symphony of the universe for those who can hear it, that is, for great artists and thinkers and for the simple, to whom nature speaks of God.
Shall it be said that, amid a large number of useless organisms, a fortunate chance has formed a select few capable of receiving life, with the result that these have been preserved while the useless ones have disappeared? Such is the evolutionist theory of the survival of the fittest. But this would be tantamount to saying that chance is the first cause of the harmony prevailing in the universe and all its parts, and that, surely, is impossible. To be convinced of this, we need only reflect on what is meant by chance. Chance and its effect are something accidental; it is accidental for the tripod, when thrown into the air, to fall on its three feet; it is accidental for the gravedigger to find a treasure. Now the accidental presupposes the non-accidental, the essential, the natural, as the accessory presupposes the principal.
Were there no natural law of gravitation, the tripod would not, when thrown into the air, fall accidentally on its three feet. If the man who accidentally finds a treasure had not had the intention of digging the grave at that particular spot, this accidental effect would not have come about.
Chance is simply the accidental concurrence of two actions that are themselves not accidental but intentional, intentional at least in the sense that they have an unconscious natural tendency.
To say, therefore, that chance is the first cause of order in the world is to explain the essential by the accidental, the primary by the accessory; it implies as a consequence the destruction of the essential and the natural, the destruction of all nature and of all natural law. There would no longer be anything but fortuitous encounters, with nothing to encounter or be encountered—which is absurd. It is equivalent to saying that the wonderful order in the universe is the outcome of disorder, of the absence of order, of chaos, without cause of any kind: that the intelligible is the outcome of the unintelligible: that brain and intelligence are the result of a material, blind fatality. Once again it is to assert that the greater comes from the less, the more perfect from the less perfect. That is the substitution, indeed, of absurdity for the mystery of creation, a mystery that has its obscurities, but that is plainly in conformity with right reason.
The fact, then, that constitutes the starting-point of our proof holds good: namely, there is order and finality in the world, that is, means ordered to certain ends; for beings without intelligence, such as plants and animals, always or nearly always act so as to produce what is best. Universal attraction is for the cohesion of the universe, the seed of a grain of wheat for the production of the ear, a flower for the fruit, the foot of an animal for walking, the wings of a bird for flying, the lungs for breathing, the ear for hearing, the eye for seeing. The existence of finality is an undeniable fact, as even the positivist Stuart Mill admits.
More than this: not only is it a fact that every natural agent acts for some end, but it cannot be otherwise. Every agent must act for some purpose since, for the agent, to act is to tend to something determinate and appropriate to itself, that is, to an end. If the agent did not act for some determinate end, neither would it produce anything determinate, one thing rather than another; there would be no reason why the eye should see rather than hear, why the ear should hear rather than see. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 1, a. 2.)
Perhaps the objection may be raised, that we do not see for what useful purpose the viper and other harmful animals exist. True, the external finality of certain beings does frequently escape us, but their internal finality is plain enough. We are quite able to see that the viper’s organs serve for its nutrition and preservation. Its poisonous effect upon us induces us to be on our guard, and reminds us that we are not invulnerable, that we are not gods. Faith tells us that, had man not sinned, the serpent would not have become harmful to him. In spite of obscurities and shadows, there is light enough for those who are willing to see.
The materialists say there is as much heat or motion or calorific energy in a kettle as in a gier-eagle. Ruskin retorts:
Very good; that is so, but for us painters, the primary cognizable facts, in the two things, are, that the kettle has a spout, and the eagle a beak; the one a lid on its back, the other a pair of wings;… the kettle chooses to sit still on the hob; the eagle to recline on the air. It is the fact of the choice, not the equal degree of temperature in the fulfilment of it, which appears to us the more interesting circumstance (The Ethics of the Dust, Lect. X).
The materialist does not perceive that wings are for flying, the eye for seeing; he will not recognize the value of finality of the eye. Yet, if he feels that he is losing his sight, he goes to the oculist like the rest of men, and that is at any rate a practical recognition of the fact that eyes were made to see with.
For those who are willing to see, there is light enough in spite of obscurities and shadows. The finality of nature is an evident fact, not for our senses of course,—for these get no farther than the sensible phenomena—but for our intellect, which is made to grasp the raison d’être of things. For the intellect, obviously the eye is for seeing, the ear for hearing.
A means cannot be directed to an end except by an intelligent designer
From the fact that there is order in the world, how are we to ascend to the certain truth of God’s existence? By means of the principle that beings without intelligence can tend to an end only when directed to it by an intelligent cause, as the arrow is directed by the archer. More simply, a means cannot be directed to an end except by an intelligent designer.
Why is this? Because the end, which determines the tendency and the means, is none other than the effect to be realized in the future. But a future effect, which as yet has no actual existence, must, to determine the tendency, be in some way already present, and this is possible only in a cognitive being.
If nobody has ever known the purpose of the eye, we cannot say that it is made to see with. If nobody has ever known the purpose of the bee’s activity, we cannot say that it is for making honey. If nobody has ever known the purpose of the lung’s action, we cannot say that it is for the renewal of the blood by contact with the oxygen of the air.
But why must there be an intelligent designer? Why does not the imagination suffice? Because only the intellect knows the raison d’être of things and consequently the purpose, which is the raison d’être of the means. Only an intellect can see that the wings of a bird are made for flying and the foot for walking; only an intellect could have designed wings for flying, the foot for walking, the ear for hearing, etc.
The swallow collecting straws to make its nest does so without perceiving that the building of the nest is the raison d’être of the action it performs. The bee, as it gathers the nectar from the flower, does not know that the honey is the raison d’être of its gathering. It is the intellect alone that reaches beyond mere color or sound down to the being and the raison d’être of things.
Only an intelligent designer can have directed means to an end; otherwise we would have to say that the greater comes from the less, order from disorder.
But why is an infinite intellect necessary, one strictly divine? Why, asks Kant, should not a limited intellect, like that of the angels, be sufficient to explain the order in the universe?
It is because a finite or limited intellect would not be thought itself, intellection itself, truth itself. Now an intellect that is not truth itself always known is merely directed to the knowledge of the truth; and this passive presupposes an active direction, which can come only from the supreme intellect, who is thought and truth itself. It is in this sense that our Lord declares Himself to be God, when He says: “I am the way, the truth and the life.” He does not say merely, ““I have received truth, “ but, “I am the truth and the life” (John 14: 6).
This, therefore, is the conclusion to which our proof leads us: a transcendently perfect intelligent designer, who is truth itself and consequently being itself, since the true is being that is known. It is the God of the Scriptures: I am who am. It is providence or the supreme reason of the order in things, by which every creature has been directed to its own particular end and finally to the ultimate end of the universe, which is the manifestation of the divine goodness. This is the way St. Thomas puts it (Ia, q. 22, a. 1) :
We must necessarily suppose a providence in God; for, as was pointed out above, whatever goodness there is in things has been created by Him. Now in created things not only in their substance is goodness to be found, but also in their order to some end, and in particular to the ultimate end, which, as we concluded above, is the divine goodness. Hence this goodness in order apparent in created things has also been created by God. Now since God is the cause of all things through His intellect, in which therefore the conception of everyone of His effects must pre-exist, there must also pre-exist in the divine mind the conception of this ordering of things to an end. But the conception of the order of things to an end is strictly providence.
Providence is the conception in the divine intellect of the order of all things to their end; and the divine governance, as St. Thomas observes (ibid., ad 2um), is the execution of that order.
We now understand more fully the significance of those words of the psalm: “The heavens show forth the glory of God” (Ps. 18:2). The wonderful order of the starry skies proclaims and extols the glory of God, and reveals to us His infinite intelligence. The harmony of the universe is like a marvelous symphony, the sweetest and most effective chant of the Creator. Blessed are they who listen to it.
Is there not a great moral lesson in this proof for the existence of God from the order prevailing in the world? Yes, an important one that is taught us in the Book of Job and more clearly later on in the Sermon on the Mount.
It is this lesson that, if there is such order in the physical world, much more must it be so in the moral world, in spite of all the wickedness human justice allows to go unpunished, as it also leaves unrewarded many a heroic act giving proof of God’s intervention in the world.
It is the Lord’s answer to Job and his friends. As we shall insist later on, the purpose of the Book of Job is to answer this question: Why so often in this world are the just made to suffer more than the wicked? Is it always in expiation of their sins, their secret sins at any rate?
Job’s friends declare that it is, and they blame this poor stricken soul for complaining. Job denies that the trials and tribulations of the just are in every case the result of their sins, even their secret sins, and he wonders why so much suffering should have befallen him.
In the latter part of the book (chaps. 32-42), the Lord replies by pointing out the wonderful order prevailing in the physical world with all its splendors, from the life of the insect to the eagle’s flight, as if to say: If there exists such order as this in the things of sense, much more so must there be order in the dispositions of my providence concerning the just, even in their most terrible afflictions. There is in this a secret and a mystery which it is not given to men to fathom in this world.
Later on, in the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord speaks more plainly (Matt. 6: 25) : “Therefore I say to you, be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat…. Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap… and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?… Consider the lilies of the field:… they labor not, neither do they spin. But I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field… God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith.” If there is order in the world of sense, a providence for the birds of the air, much more so will there be order in the spiritual world and a providence for the immortal souls of men.
And lastly, to the question put in the Book of Job, our Lord gives the final answer when He says (John 15: I-2) : ‘“I am the true vine: and My Father is the husbandman… and everyone that beareth fruit, He will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” God proves a man as He proved Job, that the man may bring forth the splendid fruits of patience, humility, self-abandonment, love of God and one’s neighbor—the splendid fruits of charity, which is the beginning of eternal life.
This, then, is the important moral lesson taught us in this sublime proof for the existence of God: If in the world of sense such wonderful order exists, much more must it be so in the moral and spiritual world, in spite of trials and tribulations. There is light enough for those who are willing to see and march on accordingly to the true light of eternity.
3. God, The Supreme Being And Supreme Truth
The proof for the existence of a first mover of corporeal and spiritual beings, and of a supreme intelligence, the author of the harmony prevailing in the universe, will prepare the way for a better understanding of three other traditional proofs for the existence of God. They are those of (1) God, the supreme being and supreme truth, (2) the sovereign good who is the source of all happiness, and (3) the ultimate foundation of our obligations. These we must touch upon if we would have a right idea of providence.
Following in the steps of Plato, Aristotle, and St. Augustine, St. Thomas develops the first of these proofs, called the proof from the degrees of perfection, in the Summa Theologica, Ia, q. 2, a. 3, 4a via. Its point of departure lies in the more or less of perfection to be found in the beings that compose the universe, a perfection always limited, from which our minds are led on to affirm the existence of a supreme perfection, a supreme truth, a supreme beauty.
Let us closely examine the starting-point of the proof, the fact upon which the proof is based, and then the principle by which the proof rises from the fact to the existence of God.
The fact: the degrees of perfection
The proof starts with the fact that there are in the universe beings more or less good, more or less true, more or less noble. In other words, in the universe of corporeal and spiritual beings, goodness, truth, nobility exist in varying degrees, from the lowest mineral such as iron with its strength and resistance up to the higher degrees of the intellectual and moral life apparent in the great geniuses and the great saints.
Of these degrees of goodness in things we have daily experience. We say that a stone is good when it has solidity and does not crumble away; a fruit is good if it provides nourishment and refreshment; a horse is good if with it we can go on a long journey. In a higher way a teacher is good if he has knowledge and knows how to impart it; the virtuous man is good because he wills and does what is good; far more so is the saint, in whom the desire for good has become an ardent passion. And yet, however great a saint may be, he has his limitations; no matter how much good he has accomplished, like the Cure of Ars he will experience hours of intense sadness coupled with a sense of his own helplessness at the thought of all the good that remains to be done. Indeed, the saints realize most of all their own nothingness.
It is an established fact, then, that goodness is realized in varying degrees. It is the same with nobility: the vegetable is nobler than the mineral, the animal is nobler than the vegetable, man is nobler than the animal. One man is nobler in mind and heart than a certain other; yet he too has his limitations, his temptations, his weaknesses, his very imperfections. Nobility has its degrees, but even the most exalted in our experience are still very imperfect.
Similarly, truth has degrees, for that which is richer in being, as a reality, is richer also in truth. True gold is superior to spurious gold alloyed with copper, the true diamond is superior to the artificial, the upright mind is superior to the false. Surpassing the mind that possesses a knowledge of but one science, physics for example, is the mind that ascends to the sciences of the spiritual world, to psychology and the moral and political sciences. Yet how very limited is the truth of even these higher sciences!
The more we know, say the great thinkers, the more we realize all that still remains to be known, and how little we do know. So, too, with the great saints: the more good they do, the more keenly they realize the amount of good that still remains to be done.
What, then, is the explanation of these various degrees of goodness, nobility, and truth, or of beauty? Does this ascending gradation remain stunted, incomplete, without a culminating point, a summit? Must the progressive ascent of our minds toward the true halt at a limited and impoverished truth, as in the case of our psychology and our moral and political sciences? Must the progressive ascent of our will to the good halt at one that is imperfect, mingled always with some defect, some impotence? Must our enthusiasm at the sight of the ideal be forever followed by a certain disillusionment and, if there is no summit, by a disillusionment for which there is no remedy?
The principle: the more and the less perfect presuppose perfection itself
Following in the steps of Plato, Aristotle, and St. Augustine, St. Thomas explains the fact of the various degrees of the good and the true by means of the following principle: “Different beings are said to be more or less perfect in the measure of their approach to that being which is perfection itself.”
By this sovereign perfection does St. Thomas mean ideal sovereign perfection, one existing solely in the mind, or one that is real? He means a real perfection, for that alone can be the cause of the various degrees of perfection which, as we have seen, do exist and which demand a cause.
The meaning of the principle invoked by St. Thomas is that, when a perfection (such as goodness, truth, or beauty), the conception of which does not imply any imperfection, is found in various degrees in different beings, none of those which possess it imperfectly contains a sufficient explanation for it, and hence its cause must be sought in a being of a higher order, which is this very perfection.
For a clearer understanding of this principle let us pause to consider its terms. When an absolute perfection is found in various degrees in different beings, none of those possessing it as yet imperfectly contains a sufficient explanation for it. Here we must consider (1) the multiple and (2) the imperfect.
1) The multiple presupposes the one. In fact, as Plato says in the Phaedo, his disciple Phaedo is handsome; yet beauty is not peculiar to Phaedo, for Phaedrus, too, is handsome.” The beauty found in some finite being is sister to the beauty found in similar beings. None of them is beauty; each merely participates, has a part in or is a reflection of beauty.” (Cf. Phaedo, 101, A.)
It is not in Phaedo, then, any more than in Phaedrus, that we are to find the raison d’être of the principle of their beauty. If neither can account for the limited beauty that is his, he must have received it from some higher principle, namely, from Beauty itself. In a word, every multiplicity of beings more or less alike presupposes a higher unity. The multiple presupposes the one.
2) The imperfect presupposes the perfect. The principle we are explaining is brought home to us even more forcibly when we consider that the perfection of the beings we see around us is always mingled with its contrary, imperfection. A man’s nobility and goodness cannot be said to be unlimited, mingled as it is with so much infirmity, with its trouble and errors. So also ignorance and even error constitute a great part of human knowledge; this merely participates in truth, has no more than a part and that a humble part in it. And if it is not truth, that is because it has received truth from some higher source.
Briefly, an imperfect being is a compound, and every compound requires a cause uniting its constituent elements. The diverse presupposes the identical, the compound presupposes the simple. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 3, a. 7.)
The truth of our principle will impress itself more forcibly upon us if we observe that a perfection such as goodness, truth, or beauty, which of itself implies no imperfection, is not in fact limited except by the restricted capacity of its recipient. Thus knowledge in us is limited by our restricted capacity for it, goodness by our restricted capacity for doing good.
Hence it is clear that, when a perfection of this kind, that as yet is in an imperfect state, is found in some being, such a being merely participates or has a part in it, and has therefore received it from a higher cause, which must be the unlimited perfection itself, being itself, truth itself, goodness itself, if this cause is to be capable of imparting to others a certain reflection of that truth and goodness.
Among the philosophers of antiquity Plato has emphasized this truth in one of the finest pages to be found in the writings of the Greek thinkers. (Cf. Symposium, 211, C) We must learn, he says in substance, to love beautiful colors, the beauty of a sunrise or sunset, of the mountains, seas, and skies, the beauty of a noble countenance. But we must rise above mere material beauty to beauty of soul as displayed in its actions; thence from the beauty of these actions to the principles that govern them—to the beauty of the sciences, and from science to science ascending even to wisdom, the most exalted of them all: the science of being, of the true and the beautiful. Afterward there will arise in us the desire to have knowledge of the beautiful itself and as it is in itself—the desire to contemplate, says Plato, that beauty which grows not nor decays; is not fair in one part, uncomely in another; fair at one time, uncomely at another; fair in one place and not in another; fair to some, uncomely to others… a beauty residing in no being other than itself, in an animal, in the earth or skies or elsewhere, but existing eternally and absolutely, of itself and in itself; in which all other beauties participate, without inducing in it by their birth or destruction the least diminution or increase, or any change whatsoever.
The disillusionments that we meet with here on earth are permitted precisely in order to direct our thoughts more and more to this supreme beauty and impel us to love it.
What Plato says of beauty applies equally to truth. Transcending particular, contingent truths, which possibly might not be so (as that my body exists at this moment, to die perhaps tomorrow), there are the universal, necessary truths (as that man is by nature a rational being, with the capacity to reason, without which he would be undistinguishable from the brute beast) ; or again the truth, that it is impossible for something at once to exist and not exist. These truths never began to be true and will continue to be true always.
Where have these eternal, necessary truths their foundation? Not in perishable realities, for the latter are governed by these truths as by absolute laws, from which nothing can escape. Nor is their foundation in our finite intellects, for these eternal, necessary truths govern and regulate our intellect as higher principles.
Where, then, are we to look for the foundation of these eternal, necessary truths, governing all finite reality and every finite intellect? Where is that foundation if not in the supreme being, the supreme truth always known by the first intellect, which, far from having received truth, is the truth, pure truth, without any admixture of error or ignorance, without any limitation or imperfection whatever?
In a word, the truths which govern all perishable reality and every finite intellect, like necessary and eternal laws, must have their foundation in a supreme truth which is being and wisdom itself. But it is God who is being itself, truth itself, wisdom itself.
Such is this further proof for the existence of God proposed by Plato, St. Augustine, and St. Thomas.
We now see more clearly the significance and scope of the principle on which this proof is based: “Different beings are said to be more or less perfect according to the measure of their approach to that being which is perfection itself.” In other words, when a perfection such as goodness, truth, or beauty, the concept of which implies no imperfection, is found in varying degrees in different beings, this cannot be accounted for by any of those beings in which it is found in as yet an imperfect degree; the being merely participates in it, and has received it according to the measure of its capacity—has received it, too, from a higher being who is this very perfection.
What practical conclusion are we to draw from this ascent? It is expressed in that saying of our Lord: “None is good but God alone”—good, that is, with goodness unalloyed. God alone is true, with a truth and wisdom untrammeled by ignorance; God alone is beautiful with that infinite beauty which we are called upon to contemplate some day face to face, that beauty which even here on earth the human intellect of Jesus contemplated as He conversed with His disciples.” God alone is great”: that was St. Michael’s answer to Satan’s pride. The thought of this makes us humble.
Ours is but a borrowed existence, freely given us by God, and He keeps us in existence because indeed He wills it so. Ours is but a goodness in which there is so much infirmity and even degradation; there is so much error in our knowledge. This thought, while serving to make us humble, brings home to us by contrast the infinite majesty of God.
And then if it is a question of others and no longer of ourselves, if we have suffered disillusionment about our neighbor whom we had believed to be better and wiser, let us remember that he too has suffered disillusionment about us; let us remember that he too is perhaps better than we are, and that whatever is our own as coming from ourselves-our deficiencies and failings—is inferior to everything our neighbor has from God. This is the foundation of humility in our relations with others.
Lastly, we must admit that the disillusionments we ourselves experience, or which others experience through us, in view of the radical imperfection of the creature, are permitted that we may aspire more ardently to a knowledge and love of Him who is the truth and the life, whom we shall some day see as He sees Himself. We shall then understand the meaning of those words of St. Catherine of Siena: “The living, practical knowledge of our own wretchedness and the knowledge of God’s majesty are inseparable in their increase. They are like the lowest and highest points on a circle that is ever expanding.” And the more we realize our own imperfections and limitations, the more we realize, too, that God has a right to be loved above all things by reason of His infinite wisdom and His infinite goodness.
Our final observation is this: the supreme truth has Himself spoken to us: He has revealed Himself to us, as yet in an obscure manner, but it is the foundation of our Christian faith. It is in the name of this supreme truth that Jesus speaks, when He says: “In truth, in truth, I say to you.” He is Himself the truth and the life, and by His help from day to day we must gradually live a better life. This far surpasses Plato’s ideal; no longer is it an abstract, philosophic ascent to the supreme truth, but the supreme truth which condescends to reach down to us in order to raise us up to Himself.
4. God The Sovereign Good And The Desire For Happiness 
When speaking of God as supreme being and supreme truth we saw that a multiplicity of beings resembling one another in one and the same perfection, such as goodness, is insufficient to account for the unity of likeness thus existing in that multiplicity; as Plato said, the multiple cannot account for the one. Moreover, none of the beings possessing the perfection in an imperfect degree is sufficient to account for it; for each is a compound of the perfection and the restricted capacity limiting it, and like all compounds it demands a cause: “Things in themselves different cannot possess an element in common except through a cause uniting them.”  This compound participates or has a part in the perfection; it has therefore received the perfection, and can have received it only from Him who is perfection itself, which in its notion implies no imperfection.
From the moral point of view this doctrine becomes of vital importance in reminding us that the more we realize our limitations in wisdom and goodness, the more our minds should dwell on Him who is wisdom and goodness itself. The multiple finds its explanation only in the one, the diverse in the identical, the compound in the simple, the imperfect mingled with imperfection only in the perfect that is free from all imperfection.
This proof for the existence of God contains implicitly another which St. Thomas develops elsewhere, Ia IIae, q. 2, a. 8. He shows that beatitude or true happiness, the desire for which is natural to man, cannot be found in any limited or restricted good, but only in God who is known at least with a natural knowledge and loved with an efficacious love above all things. He proves that man’s beatitude cannot consist in wealth, honors, or glory, or in any bodily good; nor does it consist in some good of the soul, such as virtue, nor in any limited good. His argument for this last is based on the very nature of our intellect and will. 
Let us consider (1) the fact which is the starting-point of the proof, (2) the principle on which the proof rests, (3) the culminating point of the proof, and (4) what the proof cannot extend to.
1) The fact of experience: true, substantial, and enduring happiness cannot be found in any passing good
We can ascend to the sovereign good, the source of perfect and unalloyed happiness, by starting either from the notion of imperfect subordinate goods or from the natural desire which such goods never succeed in satisfying.
If we begin with those finite limited goods which man is naturally inclined to desire, we very soon realize their imperfection. Whether it be health or the pleasures of the body, riches or honors, glory or power, or a knowledge of the sciences, we are forced to acknowledge that these are but transitory goods, extremely limited and imperfect. But, as we have said repeatedly, the imperfect, or the good mingled with imperfection, is no more than a good participated in by the restricted capacity of the recipient, and it presupposes the pure good completely excluding its contrary. Thus a wisdom associated with ignorance and error is no more than a participated wisdom, presupposing wisdom itself. This is the metaphysical aspect of the argument, the dialectic of the intellect proceeding by way of both exemplary and efficient causality.
But the proof we are here speaking of becomes more vital, more convincing, more telling, if we begin with that natural desire for happiness which everyone feels so keenly within him. This is the psychological and moral aspect of the argument, the dialectic of love founded on that of the intellect and proceeding by way of efficient (productive, regulative) causality or final causality.  These, the efficient and final, are the two extrinsic causes, each as necessary as the other. Indeed the final is the first of the causes, so that Aristotle (Metaphysics, Bk. XII, chap. 7) saw more clearly the final causality of God the pure act than His efficient causality, whether productive or regulative. 
Following in the wake of Aristotle and St. Augustine, St. Thomas (Ia IIae, q. 2, a. 7, 8) insists on the fact that man by his very nature desires to be happy. Now man’s intellect, transcending as it does the sense and the imagination of the brute, has knowledge not merely of this or that particular good, whether delectable or useful—a particular food or a particular medicine, for instance—but of good in general (universal in predication), constituting it as such, as the desirable wherever it is to be found. Since this is so, and since man’s inclination is directed to the real good to be found in things, and not simply to the abstract idea of the good, it follows that he cannot find his true happiness in any finite limited good, but in the sovereign good alone (universal in being and causation). 
It is impossible for man to find in any limited good that true happiness which by his very nature he desires, for his intellect, becoming immediately aware of the limitation, conceives forthwith the idea of a higher good, and the will naturally desires it.
This fact is expressed in the profound sentence of St. Augustine’s Confessions (Bk. I, chap. 1): “Our heart, O Lord, is restless, until it finds its rest in Thee” (irrequietum est cor nostrum donec requiescat in Te, Domine).
Who of us has not experienced this fact in his intimate life? In sickness we have the natural desire to recover our health as a great good. But, however happy we are in our recovery, no sooner are we cured than we realize that health alone cannot bring happiness: a man may be in perfect health and yet be overwhelmed with sadness. It is the same with the pleasures of the senses: far from being sufficient to give us happiness, let them be abused ever so little and they bring only disillusion and disgust; for our intellect, with its conception of a universal unlimited good, straightway tells us: “Now that you have obtained this sensible enjoyment which just now had such an attraction for you, you see that it is sheer emptiness incapable of filling the deep void in your heart, of satisfying your desire for happiness.”
It is the same with wealth and honors, which many desire eagerly. We no sooner possess them than we realize how ephemeral and superficial is the satisfaction they give, how inadequate they, too, are to fill the void in our hearts. And intellect tells us that all these riches and honors are still but a poor finite good that is dissipated by a breath of wind.
The same must be said of power and glory. One who is lifted up on the wheel of fortune has scarcely reached the top when he begins to descend; he must give place to others, and soon he will be as a star whose light is extinguished. Even if the more fortunate retain their power and glory for a time, they never find real happiness in it; often they experience such anxiety and weariness of mind that they long to withdraw from it all.
The same applies to the knowledge of the sciences. Here it is a case of only an extremely limited good; for the true, even when complete and without admixture of error, is still the good of the intellect, not of man as a whole. Besides the intellect, the heart and will have also their profound spiritual needs, and so long as these remain unsatisfied there can be no true happiness.
Shall we find it in a most pure and exalted form of friend ship? Such a friendship will doubtless bring us intense joy, sometimes affecting our inmost being. But we have an intellect that conceives universal and unlimited good, and here again it will not be long in perceiving that this most pure and exalted form of friendship is still but a finite good. This reminds us of those words of St. Catherine of Siena: “Would you continue long to slake your thirst with the cup of true friendship? Leave it, then, beneath the fountain of living water; otherwise it will speedily be drained and no longer satisfy your thirst.” If the thirst is satisfied, it is because the person loved is made better, and in order to be made better he needs to receive a new goodness from a higher source.
Suppose we could look upon an angel and see his suprasensible, purely spiritual beauty. Once. the first sense of wondering amazement had passed, our intellect, with its conception of the universal, unlimited good, would immediately remind us that even this was no more than a finite good and thereby exceedingly poor in comparison with the unlimited and perfect good itself. Two finite goods, however unequal they may be, are equally remote from the infinite; in this respect the angel is as insignificant as the grain of sand.
2) The principle by which we ascend to God
Can it be that this natural desire for happiness, which we all have within us, must forever remain unsatisfied? Is it possible for a natural desire to be of no effect, chimerical, without meaning or purpose?
That a desire born of a fantasy of the imagination or of an error of reason, such as the desire to have wings, may be chimerical, can well be understood. But surely it could not be so with a desire which has its immediate foundation in nature without the intervention of any conditional judgment. The desire for happiness is not a mere hypothetical wish; it is innate, with its immediate foundation in nature itself; and nature again is stable and constant, being found in all men, in all places, and at all times. Furthermore, this desire is of the very nature of the will, which, prior to any act, is an appetitive faculty having universal good as its object. The nature of our will can no more be the result of chance, of a fortuitous encounter, than can the nature of our intellect; because, like the intellect, the will is a principle of operation wholly simple, in no way compounded of different elements that chance might have brought together. Can this natural desire of the will be chimerical?
In answer to this question we say, first, that natural desire in beings inferior to ourselves is not ineffectual, as the naturalists have shown from the experimental point of view. In herbiverous animals the natural desire is for herbaceous food, and this they find; in carnivores the desire is to find flesh to eat, and they find it. Man’s natural desire is for happiness, and with him true happiness is not and cannot be found in any limited good. Is this true happiness nowhere to be found? Is man’s natural desire, then, to remain a deception and without finality when the natural desire of inferior beings is not in vain?
And this is not purely a naturalist’s argument based on experience and the analogy of our own natural desire with that of inferior beings. It is a metaphysical argument based on the certitude of the absolute validity of the principle of finality.
If the natural desire for true happiness is chimerical, then all human activity, inspired as it is by that desire, is without finality, without a raison d’être, and thus contrary to the necessary and evident principle that every agent acts for an end. To grasp the truth of this principle, thus formulated by Aristotle, it is enough to understand the terms of the proposition. Any agent whatsoever, conscious or unconscious, has an inclination to something determinate which is appropriate to it. Now the end is precisely that determinate good to which the act of the agent or the motion of the mobile object is directed.
This principle, self-evident to one who understands the meaning of the words agent and end, may be further demonstrated by a reductio ad absurdum; for otherwise, says St. Thomas (Ia IIae, q. 1, a. 2), “there would be no reason why the agent should act rather than not act, no reason why it should act in this way rather than in another, “ why it should desire this object rather than some other.
If there were no finality in nature, if no natural agent acted for some end, there would be no reason why the eye should see and not hear or taste, no reason why the wings of the bird should be for flying and not for walking or swimming, no reason for the intellect to know rather than desire. Everything would then be for no purpose, and be unintelligible. There would be no reason why the stone should fall instead of rising, no reason why bodies should attract rather than repel one another and be dispersed, thus destroying the harmony of the universe.
The principle of finality has an absolute necessity and value. It is no less certain than the principle of efficient causality, that everything that happens and every contingent being demands an efficient cause, and that in the last analysis everything that happens demands an efficient cause itself uncaused, a cause that is its own activity, its own action, and is therefore its existence, since action follows being and the mode of action the mode of being.
These two principles of efficient and final causality are equally certain, the certitude being metaphysical and not merely physical, antecedent to a demonstration of the existence of God. Indeed, without finality, efficient causality is inconceivable: as we have just seen, it would be without a purpose and consequently unintelligible.
3) The term of this ascent
There is, then, a purpose in our natural desire for happiness; its Inclination is for some good. But is this inclination for a good that is wholly unreal, or, though real, yet unattainable?
In the first place, the good to which our natural desire tends is not simply an idea in the mind, for, as Aristotle more than once pointed out, whereas truth is formally in the mind enunciating a judgment, the good is formally in things. When we desire food, it is not enough for us to have the idea: it is not the idea of bread that nourishes, but the bread itself. Hence the natural desire of the will, founded as it is in the very nature of the intellect and the will and not merely in the imagination or the vagaries of reason, tends to a real good, not merely to the idea of the good; otherwise it is no longer a desire and certainly not a natural one.
It will perhaps be said that our universal idea of good leads us to seek happiness in the simultaneous or successive enjoyment of all those finite goods that have an attraction for us, such as health and bodily pleasures, riches and honors, the delight in scientific knowledge, art and friendship. Those who in their mad career wish to enjoy every finite good, one after another, if not all at once, seem for the moment to think that herein lies true happiness.
But experience and reason undeceive us. That empty void in the heart always remains, making itself felt in weariness of spirit; and intelligence tells us that not even the simultaneous possession of all these goods, finite and imperfect as they are, can constitute the good itself which is conceived and desired by us, any more than an innumerable multitude of idiots can equal a man of genius.
Quantity has nothing to say in the matter; it is quality of good that counts here. Even if the whole sum of created goods were multiplied to infinity they would not constitute that pure and perfect good which the intellect conceives and the will desires. Here is the profound reason for that weariness of spirit which the worldly experience and which they take with them wherever they go. They pursue one thing after another, yet never find any real satisfaction or true happiness.
Now if our intellect is able to conceive a universal, unlimited good, the will also, awakened as it is by the intellect, has a range and depth that is limitless. Is it possible, therefore, for its natural desire—which calls for a real good and not merely the idea of good—to be chimerical and of no effect?
This natural desire, which has its foundation not in the imagination but in our very nature, is, like that nature, something fixed and unchangeable. It can no more be ineffectual than the desire of the herbivora or that of the carnivora; it can no more be ineffective than is the natural ordering of the eye for seeing, the ear for hearing, the intellect for knowing. If therefore this natural desire for happiness cannot be ineffective, if it cannot find its satisfaction in any finite goods or in the sum total of them, we are necessarily compelled to affirm the existence of a pure and perfect good. That is, the good itself or the sovereign good, which alone is capable of responding to our aspirations. Otherwise the universal range of our will would be a psychological absurdity, something radically unintelligible and without a purpose.
4) What does not come within the exigencies of our nature
Does it follow that this natural desire for happiness in us demands that we attain to the intuitive vision of God, the sovereign good?
By no means; for the intuitive vision of the divine essence is essentially supernatural and therefore gratuitous, in no way due to our nature or to the nature of angels.
This is the meaning of St. Paul’s words: “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard; neither hath it entered into the heart of man, what things God hath prepared for them that love Him. But to us God hath revealed them by His Spirit. For the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God” (I Cor. 2: 9).
But far inferior to the intuitive vision of the divine essence and to Christian faith, is a natural knowledge of God as the author of nature, which is the knowledge given us by the proofs of His existence.
If original sin had not enfeebled our moral strength, this natural knowledge would have enabled us to attain to a naturally efficacious love for God as the author of nature, who is the sovereign good known in a natural way.
Now had man been created in a purely natural state, he would have found in this natural knowledge and naturally efficacious love for God his true happiness. Of course it would not have been that absolutely perfect and supernatural beatitude, which is the immediate vision of God, but a true happiness, nevertheless, one solid and lasting; for in the natural order, at any rate, the order embracing everything our nature demands, this natural love for God, if efficacious, does really direct our life to Him and in a true sense enables us to find our rest in Him. Such in the state of pure nature would have been the destiny of the immortal souls of the just after the probation of this life. The soul naturally desires to live forever, and a natural desire of this kind cannot be ineffective. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 75, a. 6, c, end.)
But gratuitously we have received far more than this: we have received grace which is the seed of glory, and with it t supernatural faith and a supernatural love for God, who is no longer the author merely of nature but also of grace.
And so, for us Christians, the proof we have been discussing receives strong confirmation in the happiness and peace to be found even here on earth through union with God.
In a realm far beyond any glimpse that philosophical reason might obtain, though not yet the attainment of the perfect beatitude of heaven, true happiness is ours to the extent that we love the sovereign good with a sincere, efficacious, generous love, and above all things, more than ourselves or any creature, and to the extent that we direct our whole life daily more and more to Him.
In spite of the occasional overwhelming sorrows of this present life, we shall have found true happiness and peace, at least in the summit of the soul, if we love God above all things; for peace is the tranquillity that comes with order, and here we are united to the very principle of all order and of all life.
Our proof thus receives strong confirmation from the profound experiences of the spiritual life, in which are realized the words of our Lord: “Peace I leave with you: My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you” (John 14:27). It is not in the accumulation of pleasures, riches, honors, glory, and power, but in union with God, that the Savior has given us peace. So solid and enduring is the peace He has given us that He can and actually does preserve it within us, as He predicted that He would, even in the midst of persecutions: “Blessed are the poor…. Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice…. Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5: 10). Already the kingdom of heaven is theirs in the sense that in union with God they possess through charity the beginnings of eternal life, inchoatio vitae aeternae (IIa IIae, q. 24, a. 3 ad 2um).
Epicurus boasted that his teaching would bring happiness to his disciples even in the red-hot brazen bull of Phalaris in which men were roasted to death. Jesus alone has been able to accomplish such a thing by giving to the martyrs in the very midst of their torments peace and true happiness through union with God.
According to the degree of this union with God, the proof we have been discussing is thereby very much confirmed by reason of the profound spiritual experience; for, through the gift of wisdom, God makes Himself felt within us as the life of our life: “For the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God” (Rom. 8: 16). God makes Himself felt within us as the principle of that filial love for Him which He Himself inspires in us.
5. God, The Ultimate Foundation Of Duty
We have been considering the proof for the existence of the sovereign good based on our natural desire for happiness. It may be summed up, we said, in this way: A natural desire, one that has its foundation not in the imagination or the vagaries of reason but in our very nature, which we have in common with all men, cannot possibly be ineffective, chimerical, deceptive; this means that it cannot be for a good that is either unreal or unattainable.
Now every man has a natural desire for happiness, and true happiness is not to be found in any finite or limited good, for our intellect, with its conception of universal, unlimited good, naturally constrains us to desire it.
There must, then, be an unlimited good, pure and simple, without any admixture of non-good or imperfection; without it the universal range of our will would be a psychological absurdity and without any meaning whatever.
If the herbivora find the grass they need and the carnivora the prey necessary for their sustenance, then the natural desire in man cannot be to no purpose. The natural desire for true happiness must be possible of attainment and, since it is to be found only in the knowledge and love of the sovereign good, and this is God, then God must exist.
There is another proof for God’s existence, the starting point of which is not in our desire for happiness but in moral obligation or the direction of our will to moral good. This proof leads up to the sovereign good, not considered as simply the supreme desirable but as possessing the right to be loved, as having a claim on our love, and as the foundation of duty.
1) The ordering of our will to moral good
This proof has its starting-point in human conscience. All men, including even those who doubt the existence of God, realize, at least vaguely, that one must do good and avoid evil. To recognize this truth it is enough to have a notion of “good” and to distinguish, as common sense does, between (1) sensible or purely delectable goods, (2) good that is useful in view of some end, and (3) honorable or moral good (bonum honestum), which is good in itself independently of the enjoyment or utility it may afford. The animal finds its complete satisfaction in delectable good of the senses; by instinct it makes use of sensible good that it finds to be useful, but without perceiving that the raison d’être of the useful lies in the end for which it is employed. The swallow picks up a piece of straw with which to make its nest without knowing that the straw is of use in building it. Man alone, through his reason, recognizes that the utility or raison d’être of the means lies in the end they subserve.
Again, he alone recognizes and can love the honorable good; he alone can understand this moral truth: that one must do good and avoid evil. The imagination of the brute may be trained and continually perfected in its own order, but never will it succeed in grasping this truth.
But, on the other hand, every man, however uncultured he may be, will grasp this truth as soon as he comes to the age of reason. Everyone who has come to the full use of reason will recognize this threefold distinction in the good, even though he may not always be able to put it into words. It is obvious to anyone that a tasty fruit is a delectable good of the sensible order, a physical good having nothing to do with moral good, since the use it is put to may be either morally good or morally bad: the delectable is not therefore in itself moral.
Again, all are aware that a bitter medicine is not a delectable good, but one that is useful in view of some end, as a possible means of recovering their health. In this way money is useful and, from the moral point of view, the use it is put to may be either good or bad. Here is one of the most elementary principles of common sense.
Lastly, everyone who has come to the age of reason sees that transcending the delectable and the useful there is the honorable good, the rational or moral good, which is good in itself independently of any pleasure or advantage or convenience resulting from it.
In this sense virtue is a good, such as patience, courage, justice. That justice is a spiritual good and not a sensible one is obvious to everybody. Though it may bring joy to the person practicing it, it is good regardless of this enjoyment; it is good because it is reasonable or in conformity with right reason. We are fully aware that justice must be practiced for its own sake and not merely for the advantage to be gained, let us say, in avoiding the evil consequences of injustice. Thus, even though it should mean certain death to us, we are bound to do justice and avoid injustice, especially where the injustice is grave.
This is a perfection belonging to man as man, to man as a rational being, and not as an animal.
To know truth, to love it above all things, to act in all things in accordance with right reason, is likewise good in itself apart from the pleasure we may find in it or the advantages to be gained thereby.
Furthermore, this honorable or rational good is presented to us as the necessary end of our activity and hence as of obligation. Everyone is aware that a rational being must behave in conformity with right reason, even as reason itself is in conformity with the absolute principles of being or reality: “That which is, is, and cannot at the same time be and not be.” The honest man who is beaten unmercifully by some scamp proves to him the superiority of the intelligible world over that of sense when he exclaims: “You may be the stronger, but that does not prove that you are right.” Justice is justice.
“Do your duty, come what may, “ “one must do good and avoid evil.” In these or equivalent formulas the idea of duty finds expression among all peoples. Pleasure and self-interest must be subordinated to duty, the delectable and the useful to the moral. Here we have an eternal truth, which has always been true and will ever be so.
What is the proximate basis of duty or moral obligation? As St. Thomas (Ia IIae, q. 94, a. 2) says, this basis is the principle of finality, evident to our intellect, according to which every being acts in view of some end and must tend to that end which is proportionate to it. Whence it follows that in rational beings the will must tend to the honorable or rational good, to which it has been ordered. The faculty to will and act rationally is for the rational act as the eye is for seeing, the ear for hearing, the foot for walking, the wings of the bird for flying, the cognitive faculty for knowing. A potency is for its correlative act; if it fails to tend to that act it ceases to have a raison d’être. It is not merely better for the faculty to tend to its act, it is its intrinsic primordial law.
Since over and above the sensible, the delectable, and the useful good, the will from its very nature is capable of desiring the honorable or rational good (and this is equivalent to saying that it is essentially ordered to that good), it cannot refuse to desire that good without ceasing to have a raison d’être. The will is for the purpose of loving and desiring rational good; this good must therefore be realized by it—by man, that is, who is capable of realizing this good and who exists for such purpose. This is the proximate basis of moral obligation. But is there not also a far nobler and ultimate basis?
The voice of conscience is peculiarly insistent at times in commanding or forbidding the performance of certain acts—in forbidding perjury or treason, for instance—or again in rebuking and condemning when a grave offense has been committed. Is not the murderer tormented by his conscience after his crime, even when the deed is perpetrated in complete secrecy? The crime is unknown to men, yet conscience never ceases to upbraid him even though he chooses to doubt God’s existence.
Where does this voice of conscience come from? Is it simply the result of a logical process? Does it come simply from our own reason? No, for it makes itself heard in each and every human being; it dominates them all.
Is it the result of human legislation? No, for it is above human legislation, above the legislation of any one nation, of every nation and of the League of Nations. It is this voice which tells us that an unjust law is not binding in conscience; those who enact unjust laws are themselves rebuked in the secrecy of their hearts by the persistent voice of right reason.
2) The ordering of our will to moral good presupposes a divine intelligent designer
Whence, then, comes this voice of conscience, so insistent at times? We take for granted that a means cannot be ordered to an end except by an intelligent designer, who alone can recognize in the end to be attained the raison d’être of the means, and therefore can alone determine the means to the end. We take for granted also, as was seen above (chap. 2), that the order in the physical universe presupposes a divine intelligent designer. Then with much greater reason must such an intellect be presupposed in the ordering of our will to moral good. There is no passive direction without a corresponding active direction, which in this case must be from the very Author of our nature.
Again, if from the eternal speculative truths (such as, that the same thing cannot at the same time be and not be), we pass by a necessary transition to the existence of a supreme Truth, the fountain of all other truths, why should we not ascend from the first principle of the moral law (it is necessary to do good and avoid evil) up to the eternal law?
Here we begin with the practical instead of the speculative principles; the obligatory character of the good merely gives a new aspect to the proof, and this characteristic, evident already in the proximate basis of moral obligation, leads us on to seek its ultimate basis.
If honorable good, to which our rational nature is ordered, must be desired apart from the satisfaction or advantages we derive from it; if that being which is capable of desiring it must do so under pain of ceasing to have a raison d’être; if our conscience loudly proclaims this duty and thereafter approves or condemns without our being able to stifle remorse of conscience; if, in a word, the right to be loved and practiced inherent in the good dominates the whole of our moral activity and that of every society, actual or possible, as the principle of contradiction dominates all reality, actual or possible: then of necessity there must exist from all eternity some basis on which these absolute rights inherent in the good are founded.
These claims inherent in justice dominate our individual, family, social, and political lives, and dominate the international life of nations, past, present, and to come. These necessary and predominating rights cannot have their raison d’être in the contingent, transient realities which they dominate, nor even in those manifold and subordinate goods or duties which are imposed upon us as rational beings. Transcending as they do everything that is not the Good itself, the rights of justice can have none but that Good as their foundation, their ultimate reason.
If, then, the proximate basis of moral obligation lies in the essential order of things, or, to be more precise, in the rational good to which our nature and activity are essentially ordered, its ultimate basis is to be found in the sovereign good, our objective last end. This moral obligation could only have been established by a law of the same order as the sovereign good—by the divine wisdom, whose eternal law orders and directs all creatures to their end. Agent and end are in corresponding orders. The passive direction on the part of our will to the good presupposes an active direction on the part of Him who created it for the good. In other words, in rational beings the will must tend to the honorable or rational good, since this is the purpose for which it was created by a higher efficient cause, who Himself had in view the realization of this good.
This is why, according to common sense or natural reason, duty is in the last resort founded on the being, intelligence, and will of God, who has created us to know, love, and serve Him and thereby obtain eternal bliss.
And so, common sense has respect for duty, while at the same time it regards as legitimate our search after happiness. It rejects utilitarian morality on the one hand, and on the other Kantian morality, which consists in pure duty to the exclusion of all objective good. To common sense this latter is like an arid waste where the sun never shines.
Against this demonstration of God’s existence, the objection is sometimes advanced that it is a begging of the question, that it involves a vicious circle. Strictly speaking, there is no moral obligation, so it is said, without a supreme lawgiver, and it is impossible to regard ourselves as subject to a categorical moral obligation unless this supreme lawgiver is first recognized. Hence the proof put forward presupposes what it seeks to prove; at the most it brings out more explicitly what is presumed to be already implicitly admitted.
To this we may reply, and rightly so, that it is sufficient first of all to show the passive direction of our will to moral good and then go on to prove the further truth that, since there can be no passive direction without an active direction, there must exist a first cause who has so given this tendency to the will. Thus we have seen that the order in the world presupposes a supreme intelligent designer, and that the eternal truths governing all contingent reality and every finite intelligence themselves require an eternal foundation.
Moreover, this passive direction of our will to moral good is not the only starting-point from which we may argue. We may also begin with moral obligation as evidenced in its effects, in the remorse felt by the murderer, for instance. Whence comes this terrible voice of remorse of conscience which the criminal never succeeds in silencing in the depths of his soul?
Right reason within us commands us to do good, that rational good to which our rational nature is directed. Nevertheless it does not command as a first and eternal cause; for in each of us reason first of all begins to command, then it slumbers, and is awakened again; it has many imperfections, many limitations. It is not the principle of all order, but is itself ordered. We must therefore ascend higher to that divine wisdom by which everything is directed to the supreme good.
There alone do we find the ultimate basis of moral obligation or duty. There is no vicious circle; from the feeling of remorse or from its contrary, peace of mind, we ascend to conscience. In the approval or disapproval of conscience lies the explanation of these feelings. We then look for the source of this voice of conscience. The ultimate source is not in our imperfect reason, for reason in its commanding had a beginning. It commands only as secondary cause, presupposing a first cause that is eternal, simple, and perfect—wisdom itself, by which everything is directed to the good.
The sovereign good is now no longer presented simply as the supreme desirable, wherein alone we may find true happiness, if we love it above all things; it is further presented as the sovereign good which must be loved above all things, which demands our love and is the foundation of duty.
From all this it is plain that, if the primary duty toward God the last end of man is denied, then every other duty is deprived of its ultimate foundation. If we deny that we are morally bound to love before all else the good as such and God the sovereign good, what proof have we that we are bound to love that far less compelling good, the general welfare of humanity, which is the main object of the League of Nations? What proof have we that we are bound to love our country and family more than our life; or that we are bound to go on living and avoid suicide, even in the most overwhelming afflictions? If the sovereign good has not an inalienable right to be loved above all things, then a fortiori inferior goods have no such right. If we are not morally bound by a last end, then no end or means whatever is morally binding. If the foundation for moral obligation is not in a supreme lawgiver, then every human law is deprived of its ultimate foundation.
Such is the proof for the existence of God as supreme lawgiver and the sovereign good, who is the foundation of duty. Such is the eminent origin of the imperious voice of conscience, that voice which torments the criminal after his crime and gives to the conscientious who have done their utmost, that peace which comes from duty accomplished.
The moral sanction
In conclusion we shall say a few words about another proof for the existence of God, a proof closely related to the preceding: that based on moral sanction.
The consideration of heroic acts unrequited here on earth and of crimes that go unpunished shows us the necessity of a sovereign judge, a rewarder and vindicator.
The existence of this sovereign judge and of an eternal sanction may be proved from the insufficiency of all other sanctions. Kant himself chose to attach some importance to this argument, but in itself it is far more convincing than he made it out to be. It may be summed up in this way:
By perseverance in virtue the just man merits happiness since he has persevered in doing good. Now the harmony prevailing between virtue and happiness, in another and better life, is accomplished by God alone. Therefore God and that other life exist.
The more exalted a man’s moral life is, the firmer and livelier is his conviction resulting from this proof. In reality it presupposes the preceding proof and is a confirmation of it. If, in fact, the voice of conscience comes from the supreme lawgiver, then He must also be the sovereign judge who rewards and vindicates. Because He is intelligent and good, He owes it to Himself to give to every being what is necessary for it to attain the end for which He has destined it, and hence to give to the just that knowledge of truth and that beatitude which they deserve. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 21, a. 1.) Furthermore, since the supreme lawgiver must of necessity love the good above all things, He owes it to Himself also to compel respect for its absolute rights and repress their violation (Ia IIae, q. 87, a. 1, 3).
In other words, if there is order in the physical world and if that order demands an intelligent designer, much more must there be order in the moral world, which is on an infinitely higher plane.
Herein is the answer to the complaints of the just who are persecuted and unjustly condemned by men. How often in this world do the wicked and indifferent triumph, while upright and high-minded souls, like Joan of Are, are condemned? Barabbas was even preferred to Jesus; Barabbas was set free and Jesus was crucified. Injustice cannot have the last word, especially when it is so flagrant as this. There is a higher justice; its voice makes itself heard in our conscience and it will one day restore all things to the true order. Then will be clearly made manifest the two aspects of the Sovereign Good: His right to be loved above all things, which is the principle of justice, and His being essentially self-diffusive, which is the principle of mercy.
These moral proofs for the existence of God are of a nature to convince any mind that does not try to stifle the interior voice of conscience. Such a mind will have little difficulty in discovering the deeper source of this voice directing us to the good, because it comes from Him who is the good itself.
6. On The Nature Of God
We have seen how the classical proofs for the existence of God as presented by St. Thomas demonstrate the existence of a first mover of spiritual and corporeal beings, of a first cause of everything that comes into existence, of a necessary being on which all contingent and perishable things depend, of a supreme being, the first truth and sovereign good, and of an intelligent designer, the cause of order in the universe, to which we rightly give the name providence.
Now it is through these five attributes (first mover, first cause, etc.) that we have our conception of God. We have thus proved His existence. We must now go on to state what He is, what formally constitutes His nature. We cannot otherwise form a right idea of providence.
Here on earth, of course, we can have no knowledge of the divine essence as it is really in itself; for this we must have an intuitive vision of it as the blessed see it in heaven. Our knowledge of God here on earth is obtained solely through the reflection of His perfections in the mirror of created things. Since these are on a plane far inferior to His, they do not enable us to know Him as He is in Himself. As Plato tells us in his allegory of the cave, where God is concerned we are to some extent like men who have never seen the sun but simply a reflection of its rays in the things it illuminates; or like men who have never seen white light but only the seven colors of the rainbow: violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. For such men a right conception of white light would be impossible; they could have only a negative or relative conception of it as an inaccessible source of light. It is the same with the divine nature: we cannot form a proper and positive conception of it through creatures, for the perfections which in God form an absolute unity are in creatures multiple and divided.
Here on earth, therefore, it is impossible for us to know the divine nature as it is in itself. If this were possible, we should see how all the divine perfections contained in it-such as infinite being, wisdom, love, justice, mercy—are really identified, yet without destroying one another. As it is, we are reduced to spelling out, as it were, and enumerating these divine perfections one after another, always with the reservation that they are identified in one transcendent simplicity, in the higher unity of the Deity or Divinity. But the Deity or the very essence of God—that which makes God to be God—we do not see, nor shall we ever be able to do so until we reach heaven. It is as though we were gazing at the sides of a pyramid the summit of which remains ever invisible.
But, without knowing the divine nature as it is in itself, can we not determine, so far as our imperfect mode of knowing permits, what it is that formally constitutes that nature? In other words, among all the perfections we attribute to God is there not one that is fundamental, the source as it were of all the divine attributes and likewise the principle distinguishing God from the world?
Is there not in God some radical perfection having the same function in Him as rationality in man? Man is defined as a rational being; this, distinguishing him from inferior beings, is the principle of his distinctive human characteristics. Because man is rational, he is free, he is morally responsible for his actions, he is social and religious, he has the faculty of speech and intelligent laughter. These characteristics do not exist in the brute beast. We deduce man’s characteristics as we deduce the properties of the triangle or the circle.
Is there in God some radical perfection also that allows of our defining Him, according to our imperfect mode of knowledge, in some such way as we define man, or again as we define a circle or a pyramid? In other words, is there not a certain order in the divine perfections, so that from one primary perfection all the rest may be deduced? This is the statement of the problem.
The various solutions
To the question thus stated various solutions have been given. Beginning with the least satisfactory, we shall proceed by degrees to the most profound.
1) Some (Nominalists) have held that in God there is no fundamental perfection from which the rest may be logically deduced. According to their view, the divine essence is merely the sum of all the perfections; there can be no question of seeking a logical order among them, since they are simply different names for the same transcendent reality.
This doctrine of Nominalism leads to the conclusion that God is unknowable, because His attributes cannot be deduced from one fundamental divine perfection; and, since we can give no reason why He must be wise or just or merciful, we should simply be asserting the fact without knowing why.
2) Others, inspired by Descartes, have held that what constitutes the divine nature is liberty: God is pre-eminently a will transcendently free. Descartes claimed that, if God so willed, He could make the circle square, mountains without valleys, or beings that at one and the same time would exist and not exist, or effects without a cause. Ockham in the Middle Ages declared that, had God so willed, He could have commanded us not to love but to hate both ourselves and Him. That is, the principle of contradiction and the distinction between moral good and evil are dependent for their truth on the free will of God. First and foremost God is said to be absolute liberty.
In the opinion of some modern philosophers (Secretan in Switzerland, for instance), the correct definition of God is I am what I will, I am what I would freely be.
In reply to this view, it has been pointed out that liberty cannot be conceived as anterior to intellect. Liberty without intellect is impossible; it would be confounded with mere chance. Liberty is inconceivable without an intellect to direct it; it would be liberty without standard of any kind, without truth, without true goodness. As Leibniz remarked, to say that God, if He had wished, could have commanded us to hate Him, is to deny that He is of necessity the sovereign good; in that case, had He wished, He might well have been the Manichean principle of evil. A man would have be out of his senses to maintain such a position. To claim that God has established the distinction between good and evil by a purely arbitrary decree, to claim that He is absolute liberty without standard of any kind, is, as Leibniz again says, “to dishonor God.”
Clearly, then, liberty cannot be conceived without an intellect and wisdom to direct it, and conversely intellect is conceived as anterior to the liberty it directs. The knowledge of true good, indeed, is anterior to the love of that good, which would not be so loved were it not already known.
Intellect, therefore, is prior to and the cause of liberty. Shall we say, then, that what formally constitutes the divine nature is intellect, the ever actual thought or eternal knowledge of the true in all its fullness? This, of course, is a divine perfection, but is it the fundamental perfection?
A number of philosophers and theologians thought so. They conceived of God as pre-eminently a pure intellectual flash subsisting eternally. During a storm at night, an immense streak of lightning may sometimes be seen, flashing from one extremity of the sky to the other; this, they would say, is a faint image of God. We also speak of “flashes of genius, “ as in the case of Newton’s discovery of the great laws of nature. These are transitory and very confined flashes, revealing what after all is only a partial truth, like the law of universal gravitation. God, on the other hand, is a pure intellectual flash subsisting eternally, who is infinite truth and sees in one glance all actual and possible worlds, with all their laws. God is, indeed, eternally subsistent thought itself, truth itself ever actually known. And why is this? Because intellectual life is the highest form of life, transcending vegetative plant life and sensitive animal life; because, too, intellect is anterior to will and liberty, which it directs by pointing out the good to be desired and loved.
This is all quite true. But is subsistent thought or intellection the absolutely primary perfection in God? However lofty this way of conceiving the divine nature may be, it does not seem to be the highest. 
Holy Scripture provides us with a more profound conception of the divine nature. It tells us that God is being itself; He Himself has revealed His name to us as “He who is.”
God is the eternally subsisting being
In the Book of Exodus (3: 14), we are told how God, speaking to Moses from the burning bush, revealed His name. He did not say, “I am absolute liberty, I am what I will”; nor did He say, “I am intellect itself, thought eternally subsistent.” He said, “I am who am, “ that is, the eternally subsistent being
Let us call to mind this passage from Exodus: “Moses said to God: Lo, I shall go to the children of Israel, and say to them: The God of your fathers hath sent me to you. If they should say to me: What is His name? what shall I say to them? God said to Moses: I am who am. He said: Thus shalt thou say to the children of Israel: He who is hath sent me to you.” He who is: in Hebrew, Yahweh, from which the word Jehovah has been formed.” This is my name forever, and this is my memorial unto all generations” (ibid., 15).
Again, in the last book of the New Testament (Apocalypse, 1:8), we read: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Cf. 1: 4.)
Under this title God has frequently revealed Himself to His saints, to St. Catherine of Siena, for instance: “I am He who is, thou art that which is not.”
God, then, is not only pure spirit, He is being itself subsisting immaterial at the summit of all things and transcending any limits imposed by either space or matter or a finite spiritual essence.
In our imperfect mode of knowledge, must we not say that subsistent being is the formal constituent of the divine nature?
It would not seem a difficult matter to establish the truth of this. In fact, what formally constitutes the divine nature is that which in God we conceive to be the fundamental perfection distinguishing Him from creatures and the source from which His attributes are deduced.
Now, because God is the self-subsisting being, the infinite ocean of spiritual being, unlimited, unmaterialized, He is distinguished from every material or spiritual creature. The divine essence alone is existence itself, it alone of necessity exists. No creature is self-existent; none can say: I am being, truth, life, etc. Jesus alone among men said, “I am the truth and the life, “ which was equivalent to saying, “I am God.”
Upon this culminating point, namely, the self-subsisting being, converge the five proofs for the existence of God, as developed by St. Thomas: the first mover, the first cause, the necessary being, the supreme being, the intelligent designer of order in the universe. All these attributes must be predicated of the self-subsisting and immaterial being who is at the summit of all things. Again, from this culminating point are deduced all the divine attributes, as the characteristics of man are deduced from his rationality.
As will be seen more clearly in what follows, the self-subsisting and immaterial being who is at the summit of all things must be absolutely one and simple, must be truth itself ever actually known, the good itself ever actually loved. By reason of His perfect and unique immateriality He must be intelligence itself, thought itself eternally subsistent, wisdom itself; subsistent will and love; hence justice and mercy.
Conversely, we see that justice and mercy presuppose the love of the good; that love presupposes an intellect which enlightens it; that intellect presupposes an intelligent being and at the same time an intelligible being which it contemplates.
It remains true, therefore, that of all the names of God, the primary and most distinctive is “He who is, “ Yahweh. It is pre-eminently His name, says St. Thomas (Ia, q. 13 a. 11), and that for three reasons:
1) Because it expresses not one form of being or one particular essence, but being itself; and God alone is being itself, He alone is self-existent.
2) It is the most universal name, embracing being in all its fullness, with all its perfections—the boundless, shoreless, ocean, as it were, of omnipotent, omniscient, spiritual substance.
3) This name, “He who is, “ signifies not only being, but the ever-present being, for whom there is neither past nor future.
Here, then, is what formally constitutes the divine nature according to our imperfect manner of understanding, which consists in deducing from this formal constituent the divine attributes, enumerating them one after another: unity, wisdom, love, justice, mercy and the rest, yet without ever perceiving how they are fused together and identified in the intimate life of God, which is the Deity.
In this life we can have no knowledge of the Deity, of the divine nature, such as it really is; for this we should need to have an intuitive vision of it as the blessed have in heaven, without the intervention of any created image. Only in heaven shall we see how wisdom is identical with God’s utterly free good pleasure; how, for all its freedom, this good pleasure is by no means a caprice, since it is penetrated through and through by wisdom. Then only shall we see how infinite justice and mercy are identified in the love of the sovereign good, which has the right to be loved above all else and which tends to communicate itself to us for our happiness.
The Deity, as it really is, remains for us a secret, a profound mystery. Indeed, the mystics have called it the Great Darkness, a light-transcending darkness; it is the “light inaccessible” spoken of in Scripture.
Although we cannot have knowledge of the Deity as it really is, we are permitted to participate in it through sanctifying grace, which is in very truth a participation in the divine nature as it really is,  preparing us in this present life to see and love God some day as He sees and loves Himself. From this we see the value of sanctifying grace, which far surpasses the natural life of the intellect, whether in us or even in the angels. This truth leads St. Thomas to remark that the least degree of sanctifying grace in the soul of a little child just baptized is of more value than all corporeal and spiritual natures taken together: “The good of grace in one is greater than the good of nature in the whole universe” (Ia IIae, q. 113, a. 9 ad 2um).
Pascal expresses this well in one of the finest pages of his Pensees: “The least of minds is greater than all material objects, the firmament, the stars, the earth and its kingdoms; for the mind has knowledge of all these things and of itself; whereas things material have no knowledge at all. Bodies and minds, all these taken together and the effects produced by them, do not equal the least act of charity. This latter is of an infinitely higher order. From the sum total of material things there could not possibly issue one little thought, because thought is of another order. From bodies and minds we cannot possibly have an act of true charity, for the latter, too, is of another order, pertaining to the supernatural. The saints have their realm, their glory, their luster, and have no need of temporal or spiritual aggrandizement, which in no way affects them, neither increasing nor decreasing their greatness. The saints are seen by God and the angels, not by bodies or by curious minds. God suffices for them.”  This sums up the value of the hidden life.
In the present life this holiness reveals most clearly, though in the obscurity of faith, what constitutes the intimate life of God, the Deity. This it does because holiness, which is the life of grace in its perfection, is a real, living participation in this same intimate life of God, preparing us to behold it some future day. Hence those words of the psalmist (Ps. 67: 36) : “God is wonderful in His saints.”
PART II :THE PERFECTIONS OF GOD WHICH
HIS PROVIDENCE PRESUPPOSES
7. The Divine Simplicity
We have seen that the formal constituent of the divine nature according to our imperfect mode of knowledge is subsistent being, for this distinguishes Him from every other being and is the source from which all His attributes may be deduced, as man’s characteristics are deduced from the fact that he is a rational being. And now, in order to have a right idea of providence, we must consider those divine perfections which it presupposes. A full consideration of these perfections helps us to a true notion of providence and gradually leads us to a more exact understanding of it.
We distinguish between the attributes relative to God’s being (His simplicity, infinity, eternity, incomprehensibility) and those relating to the divine operations (in the intellect, wisdom and providence; in the will, love with its two great virtues, mercy and justice; and finally omnipotence).
All these attributes are absolute perfections, implying no imperfection, and they may be deduced from what we conceive to be the formal constituent of the divine nature. 
Our Lord said: “Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Perfect, not merely like the angels, but as our heavenly Father is perfect; because we have received sanctifying grace, which should be constantly increasing in us and which is a participation, not in the angelic nature, but in the divine nature itself. Since, then, every passing day ought to see in our lives a gradually increasing participation in these infinite perfections of God, we should frequently make them the subject of contemplation in our prayer, by slowly meditating, for instance, on the Our Father.
We shall speak first of God’s simplicity, which is so marked a feature in the ways of divine providence.
The divine simplicity and its reflections
What is simplicity in general? As unity is the non-division of being, so simplicity is the opposite of composition, complexity, and complication. The simple is opposed to what is compounded of different parts, opposed therefore to what is complicated, pretentious, or tainted with affectation. From the moral point of view simplicity or integrity is opposed to duplicity.
We speak of a child’s outlook as simple because it goes straight to the point; it has no concealed motives; its inclination is not in several directions at once. When a child says a thing, it is not thinking of something else; when it says “yes, “ it does not mean “no”; it is not two-faced or deceitful. Our Lord tells us: “If thy eye be single [simple], thy whole body will be lightsome.” That is, if our intention is straightforward and simple, then there will be a unity, truth, and transparency in our whole life, instead of its being divided as it is with those who seek to serve two masters, God and wealth. And when we consider the complexity of motive, the insincerity we find in the world and the complications arising from lying and deceit, we cannot help feeling that the moral virtue of simplicity, of candor and uprightness, is the reflection of a divine perfection. As St. Thomas says, “Simplicity makes the intention right by excluding duplicity” (IIa IIae, q. 109, a. 2 ad 4um).
But what is divine simplicity? It is the absence of all compounding of different parts, the absence of all division.
1) There cannot be in God a distinction of quantitative parts as in matter. Every material thing has extended parts that are contiguous, whether these parts are similar as in the diamond, or different, like the members and the organs of a living being: the eyes, ears, and the rest.
The simplicity of God, on the contrary, is the simplicity of pure spirit, incomparably superior to that of the purest diamond, or to the unity of the most perfect organism. In God we do not find a distinction of two parts as soul and body, the one giving life to the other: the latter would be less perfect; it would not be life itself, but would merely participate in life; it would not be the principle of all order, but would itself be ordered. No imperfection or composition of any kind exists in God. Every compound requires a cause uniting the elements composing it, whereas God is the supreme cause uncaused. His simplicity therefore is absolute.
2) The simplicity of God far surpasses that of the angels. Of course an angel is pure spirit, but his essence is not self-existent: it is merely susceptible or capable of existence; it is not existence itself. An angel is a compound of finite essence and limited existence, whereas, as we have seen, God is self-subsisting, purely immaterial being.
An angel can acquire knowledge only by means of an intellectual faculty; he can desire only through another faculty, the will. These two faculties with their successive acts of thought and desire are accidents distinct from the angel’s substance; his substance remains always the same while his thoughts succeed one another. In God, on the other hand, there can be no question of composition of substance and accidents, because the divine substance is the fullness of being, the fullness also of truth ever apprehended and of goodness ever loved. In Him no succession of thoughts takes place: there is but one unchanging, subsistent thought, embracing all truth. In Him no successive acts of will occur; there is but one subsistent, unchanging act of will, which is directed to all that He wills.
Therefore divine simplicity or divine unity, is the absence of all composition and division in being, thought, and volition.
3) The simplicity of God’s intellect is that of the intuitive glance, excluding all error and ignorance, and directed from above and unchangingly upon all knowable truth.
The simplicity of His will or intention is that of a transcendently pure intention, disposing all things admirably and permitting evil only in view of a greater good.
But the most beautiful feature of God’s simplicity is that it unites within itself perfections that are apparently at opposite extremes: absolute immutability and absolute liberty, infinite wisdom and a good pleasure so free as to seem at times to be arbitrariness; or again, infinite justice inexorable toward unrepented sin, and infinite mercy. All these infinite perfections are fused together and identified in God’s simplicity, yet without destroying one another. In this especially consists the transcendence and splendor of this divine attribute.
We have a reflection of this exalted simplicity in a child’s simplicity of outlook, and to a greater degree in that of the saints, rising above the frequently deceitful entanglements of the world and all sorts of duplicity.
Let us now come down once more to creatures. We find a vast difference between the simplicity of God, with the holiness it reflects, and the seeming simplicity which consists in giving vent to everything that comes into our heart and mind at the risk of contradicting ourselves from one day to the next when impressions have altered and people with whom we live have ceased to please us. This seeming simplicity is sheer fickleness and contradiction, a complication therefore and a more or less conscious lie. God’s simplicity, on the other hand, is an unalterable unity, the simplicity of unchanging supreme wisdom and of the purest and strongest love of the good, remaining ever the same and infinitely surpassing our susceptibility and unstable opinions.
We have a glimpse of this divine simplicity when we consider the soul that has acquired a simple outlook, so that it is now able to judge of all things wisely in the light of God and to desire nothing but for His sake. The complex soul, on the other hand, is one that bases all its judgments on the varying impressions caused by the emotions and that desires things from motives of self-interest with its changing caprices, now clinging to them obstinately, now changing with every mood or with time and circumstances. And whereas the complex soul is agitated by mere trifles, the soul that has acquired simplicity of purpose, by reason of its wisdom and unselfish love, is always at rest. The gift of wisdom brings peace, that tranquillity which comes from order, together with that unity and harmony which characterize the simplified life united with God.
The souls of such men as St. Joseph, St. John, St. Francis, St. Dominic, the Cure of Ars give us some idea of this simplicity of God; but still more the soul of Mary, and especially the holy soul of Jesus, who said: “If thy eye be single, thy whole body shall be lightsome.” That is, if your soul is simple in its outlook, it will be in all things enlightened, steadfast, loyal, sincere, and free from all duplicity.” Be ye wise as serpents [so as not to be seduced by the world], and simple as doves, “ so as to remain always in God’s truth.” I confess to Thee, O Father,… because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them to little ones.” “Let your speech be yea, yea: no, no” (Matt. 10: 16; 11: 25; 5: 37)
In the Old Testament we read: “Seek the Lord in simplicity of heart” (Wis. 1: 1) ; “Better is the poor man that walketh in his simplicity, than a rich man that is perverse in his lips and unwise” (Prov. 19:1). “Let us all die in our innocency,” cried the Machabees amid the injustices that oppressed them (I Mach. 2:37). “Obey… in simplicity of heart,” said St. Paul (Col. 3: 22) ; and he admonishes the Corinthians not to lose “the simplicity that is in Christ” (II Cor. 11: 3).
This simplicity, says Bossuet, enables an introverted soul to comprehend even the heights of God, the ways of Providence, the unfathomable mysteries which to a complex soul are a scandal, the mysteries of infinite justice and mercy, and the supreme liberty of the divine good pleasure. All these mysteries, in spite of their transcendence and obscurity, are simple for those of simple vision.
The reason is that, in divine matters, the simplest things, such as the Our Father, are also the most profound. On the other hand, in the things of this world, containing both good and evil closely intermingled and thereby exceedingly complex, anybody who is simple is lacking in penetration and will remain naive, unsuspecting, and shallow. In the things of God simplicity is combined with depth and loftiness; for the sublimest of divine things as also the deepest things of our heart, are simplicity itself.
The perfect image of God’s simplicity
The purest and most exalted image that has been given us of the divine simplicity is the holiness of Jesus, which embraces, as it were fused together, virtues to all appearances at opposite extremes. Let us call to mind the simplicity He displayed in His relations with His adversaries, with His heavenly Father, and with souls.
To the Pharisees, wishing to put Him to death, He says without fear of contradiction: “Which of you shall convince me of sin?” (John 8:46.) Their duplicity aroused His holy indignation: “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men, for you yourselves do not enter in; and those that are going in, you suffer not to enter…. Woe to you, blind guides… you are like to whited sepulchers, which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones, and of all filthiness” (Matt. 23: 13, 25, 27).
Referring to His heavenly Father, He says: “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent me…. I do always the things that please Him…. I honor my Father…. I seek not my own glory” (John 4: 34; 8: 29, 49, 50).” My Father, if it be possible, let this chalice pass from me. Nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” “It is consummated” (Matt. 26:39; Luke 23: 46; John 19: 30).
And lastly, with regard to the faithful, He says: “Learn of Me, because I am meek, and humble of heart; and you shall find rest to your souls” (Matt. 11: 29). Such is this simplicity of His that He alone can speak of His own humility without losing it.
He is the good shepherd of souls, who prefers the company of the poor and the weak, the afflicted and little children, and of sinners too, in order to win them back. He is the good shepherd, who in all simplicity gives His life for His sheep, praying for His executioners and saying to the good thief: “This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise” (Luke 23: 43).
But the most astonishing feature of our Lord’s simplicity is that it unites in itself virtues that to all appearances are at opposite extremes, and each virtue carried to its highest degree of perfection.
In Him are reconciled in a simple unity that holy severity of justice He metes out to the hypocritical Pharisees and the abounding mercy He displays toward all those souls whose shepherd He is; and the rigor of His justice is always subordinate to the love of the good from which it proceeds.
In Him are reconciled in the greatest simplicity the most profound humility and the loftiest dignity, magnanimity or grandeur of soul. He lived for thirty years the hidden life of a poor artisan, saying that He came not to be ministered unto but to minister. He fled to the mountain when they would have made Him king, washed the feet of His disciples on Holy Thursday, and for our sake accepted the final humiliations of the passion. On the other hand, during the same passion with lofty dignity He proclaimed the universality of His kingdom.” Pilate said to Him: Art Thou the king of the Jews?… What hast Thou done?… Jesus answered: Thou sayest that I am a king. For this was I born, and for this came I into the world; that I should give testimony to the truth. Everyone that is of the truth, heareth My voice” (John 18: 33 ff.). With simplicity and noble majesty He answered Caiphas, who adjured Him to declare whether He was the son of God: “Thou hast said it. Nevertheless I say to you, hereafter you shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of the power of God, and coming in the clouds of heaven” (Matt. 26: 64).
This profound humility and lofty dignity are found reconciled in Jesus’ simplicity. Yet He, the humblest of men, was condemned for an alleged crime of blasphemy and pride.
In Him likewise are reconciled the most perfect gentleness, which constrained Him to pray for His executioners, and the most heroic fortitude in martyrdom, abandoned as He was by His own people and by all but a few of His disciples in the saddest hours of the passion and crucifixion. This simplicity of His had such nobility about it that the centurion, witnessing His death, could not help but glorify God, saying that “indeed this was a just man” (Luke 23: 47).
Great and wondrously sublime is simplicity when it thus reconciles in itself these apparently opposite virtues. It is the highest expression of the beautiful. For the beautiful is harmony, the splendor arising out of unity and diversity; and the greater the diversity, the more profound is the unity, the more extraordinary is the beauty. It then is rightly called sublime. In very truth it is the image of that divine simplicity which reconciles within itself infinite wisdom and the freest good pleasure, infinite justice, inexorable at times, and infinite mercy, all the energy of love combined with all its tenderness.
For this reason God alone can produce in the soul this surpassing simplicity, which is the image of His own. In us temperament is determined in one particular direction, inclining us either to indulgence or to severity, to a broad and comprehensive view of things, or to practical details, but not both ways at once. If, then, a soul with perfect simplicity practices at one and the same time virtues that are apparently extreme opposites, it is because almighty God is very intimately present in the soul, impressing His likeness upon it.
Bossuet (discours sur l’histoire universelle, Part II, chap. 19) expresses this thought beautifully when he says: “Who would not admire the condescension with which Jesus tempers His doctrine? It is milk for babes and, taken as a whole, is bread also for the strong. We see Him abounding in the secrets of God, yet He is not astonished thereby, as other mortals are with whom God holds communion. He speaks of these things as one born to these secrets and to this glory. And what He possesses without measure (John 3:34), He dispenses with moderation so as to adapt it to our infirmities.”
Pascal in his Pensees gives similar expression to our Lord’s simplicity, the purest image of the simplicity of God:
Jesus Christ, without wealth or fortune or display of scientific knowledge, is in an order of holiness all His own. He was neither an inventor nor a monarch; but He was humble, patient, holy, holy to God, free from all sin. To those loving eyes that perceive the wisdom in Him, with what stupendous magnificence He came!… Never had man such repute, never did man incur greater ignominy…. From whom did the Evangelists learn the qualities of a supremely heroic soul, that they picture it so perfectly in Jesus Christ? Why did they make Him weak in His agony? Did they not know how to picture a death borne with constancy? Yes indeed, for the same St. Luke pictures the death of St. Stephen as more bravely born than that of Jesus Christ. They make Him susceptible of fear before the necessity of dying arose, but full of fortitude thereafter. When therefore they portray Him as being so sorrowful, it is because in that hour His sorrow is self-inflicted (desiring to experience the crushing burden of anguish in order to suffer even that for us) ; but, when He is afflicted by men, it is then His fortitude is supreme, with that strength which is their salvation.
This simplicity of Jesus, purest image of God’s simplicity, is apparent in every detail of His life. Pere Grou remarks: “It is impossible to speak of things so exalted, so divine, in a simpler way. The prophets appear to be struck with amazement at the great truths they proclaim…. Jesus is self-possessed in all that He says, because He is drawing on His own resources… the treasury of His knowledge is within Him and in communicating it He does not exhaust it” (L’interieur de Jesus, chap. 29).
Thus we are able to form some faint idea of the simplicity of God, the simplicity of His being, thought, and love. It is a simplicity uniting in its transcendence such apparently opposite attributes as justice and mercy, uniting without destroying them, but, on the other hand, containing them in their pure state without any imperfection or diminution. It will be granted us to behold this simplicity in eternal life, if gradually each day we draw nigh to it in simplicity of heart, without which there can be no contemplation of God and no true love.
8. The Infinity Of God
We have seen how the simplicity of God, the simplicity of pure spirit, of being itself, unites within itself, to the exclusion of all real distinction, such apparently opposite perfections as justice and mercy. We have seen, too, how this divine simplicity is reflected in the outlook of a child, in that of the saints. But it is seen especially in the exalted simplicity of our Lord’s holy soul, which, like the divine simplicity, unites within itself such seemingly opposite virtues as the most profound humility and the most grandiose magnanimity, the most compassionate gentleness and the most heroic fortitude, a rigorous justice and a most tender mercy.
We must now consider another attribute of the divine Being, His infinity: without it we can have no conception of divine wisdom or providence.
This attribute at first sight appears to be opposed to the preceding; for our intellect, always more or less a slave to the imagination, represents the divine simplicity as a point like the apex of a pyramid. Now a point is indivisible and without extension, and hence is not infinite. How can God be both supremely simple and infinite?
The reason is that the divine simplicity is not that of a point in space; it is a spiritual simplicity, far transcending space and the point. Again, the infinity of God is an infinity of perfection, far transcending what might be the material infinity of a world that would have no limits.
Many errors about the divine infinity are the result of confusing the quantitative infinity of unlimited extension or of time without beginning, with the qualitative infinity of, say, infinite wisdom and infinite love. But the difference between them is enormous; it is the same as the difference between corporeal beings and the infinitely perfect pure Spirit.
Nor must we confuse this infinity of perfection, in the highest degree determinate and so complete as to admit of no increase, with the indetermination of matter, which is capable of receiving forms of every kind. These are at opposite poles: on the one hand, we have the absolutely imperfect indetermination of matter, and on the other, the supremely perfect infinity of the pure Spirit, who is being itself.
The a priori proof of the divine infinity
How do we prove the divine infinity thus conceived as an infinity of perfection?
A beautiful proof is given us by St. Thomas (Ia, q. 7, a. 1). It is a proof that will appeal to the artist. St. Thomas notes that the artistic ideal, the ideal form as conceived by the artist—the form, for instance, of the statue of Moses in the mind of Michelangelo—possesses a certain infinity of perfection before it is materialized or limited to a particular portion of matter and localized in space. For in the mind of Michelangelo this ideal form of the Moses is independent of any material limitation, and may be produced indefinitely in marble, clay, or bronze. The same applies to any ideal form whatever, even the specific form of things in nature: the specific form of a lily, for instance, or of a rose, a lion, or an eagle.
Before being materialized or limited to a particular portion of matter and localized in space, these specific forms have a certain formal infinity or infinity of perfection, which consists in their being independent of all material limitation. Thus the idea of a lily transcends all particular lilies, the idea of an eagle transcends all those eagles whose essence it expresses. It is a principle that “every form, before being received into matter, possesses a certain infinity of perfection.”
Now, as St. Thomas notes, it is a simple matter to apply this principle to God; for of all formal perfections the most perfect is not that of a lily or an eagle or the ideal man, but that of being or existence, which is the ultimate actuality of all things. Every perfection in the universe is something susceptible of existence, but none is existence itself; it can receive existence as matter receives the form of a lily or a rose.
If, therefore, God is self-existent, St. Thomas concludes, if He is being, existence itself, He is also infinite, not in quantity but in quality or perfection. If the ideal lily is independent of every individual material limitation, the self-subsisting being will transcend every limitation whatsoever, not only of space and matter but of essence also. Even the most perfect angel has no more than a finite existence conditioned by the limitations of his spiritual essence; whereas in God existence is not received into an essence susceptible of existence: He is the unreceived and eternally subsistent existence.
God is thus in the highest degree determinate, perfect, complete: He is absolutely incapable of receiving additions. He is at the same time infinite with an unlimited perfection, and incomprehensible, “the infinite ocean of being, “ says St. John Damascene, but a spiritual ocean, boundless, shoreless, far transcending space and the point and infinitely surpassing a material world supposedly infinite or limitless in quantity.
It is at once the infinity of being, of pure spirit, of wisdom, goodness, love and power; for infinity is a mode of all the attributes.
Such is the a priori proof as given by St. Thomas. It proceeds from the principle that every form, like that of a lily, before being received into matter, possesses a certain infinity of perfection. Now the most formal element, the ultimate actuality in all things is existence. Therefore God, who is being, existence itself, is infinite with an infinity of perfection transcending every limitation, whether of space or of matter or even of essence. He thus infinitely surpasses every material thing and every created pure spirit.
The a posteriori proof of the divine infinity
There is another, an a posteriori proof of the divine infinity, which shows that the production of finite things ex nihilo, their creation from nothing, presupposes an infinitely active power which can belong only to an infinitely perfect cause. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 45, a. 5.)
In fact the only way a finite cause can produce its effect is by transforming an already existing object capable of such transformation. Thus a sculptor, in order to carve his statue, requires a material; so also a teacher gradually forms the intelligence of his pupil, but he did not give him intelligence.
The greater the poverty of the object to be transformed, the greater must be the wealth and fecundity of the transforming active power. The poorer the soil, the more it must be cultivated, good seed sown in it and fertilized. But what if the soil is so poor as to be altogether worthless? It would then require an active power, not only exceedingly rich and fruitful, but infinitely perfect; and this is creative power.
Created agents are transformative, not creative. To produce the entire being of any finite thing whatever, no matter how minute—to produce the total entity of a grain of sand, for instance, to produce it from nothing—an infinite power is required, a power that can belong only to infinitely perfect Being. It follows, therefore, that the first cause of everything that comes into existence must be infinitely perfect.
Not only was it impossible for even the most exalted angel to create the physical universe, but he cannot create so much as a speck of dust; and it will ever be so. To create anything out of nothing—that is, without any pre-existing subject whatever—an infinite power is required.
Against this traditional and revealed teaching, pantheism urges a somewhat trivial objection. To the infinite, it says, nothing can be added; if therefore the universe is added to the being of God, as a new reality, the being of God is not infinite.
It is easy to answer this. There can be no addition made to the infinite in the same order: that is, no addition can be made to its being, its wisdom, its goodness, its power. But there is no repugnance whatever in something being added in a lower order, as an effect is added to the transcendent cause producing it. To deny this would be to refuse to the infinite Being the power of producing an effect distinct from Himself; He would then no longer be infinite.
But if this is so, the pantheist insists, more being and perfection will exist after the production of created things than before, which is equivalent to saying that the greater comes from the less.
The traditional answer given in theology is, that after creation many beings exist, but there is not more being or more perfection than before. Similarly, when a great teacher like St. Thomas has trained several pupils, there are many that are learned, but there is no more learning than before unless the pupils excel their master in knowledge. This being so, we can with even greater truth say that after creation the world has many beings but not more being, many living beings but not more life, many intellects but not more wisdom. He who is infinite being, infinite life, infinite wisdom, already existed before creation, containing in Himself in an eminent degree the limited perfections of created beings.
Such is the infinity of God, an infinity of perfection which is the plenitude not of quantity or extension, but of being, life, wisdom, holiness, and love.
We are made for the Infinite
In this mystery of the divine infinity we find the practical and important lesson that we are made for the Infinite; to know infinite truth and to love the infinite good, which is God.
The proof of this truth lies in the fact that the two higher faculties in us, intellect and will, have an infinite range.
Whereas our senses apprehend only a sensible mode of being, whereas the eye apprehends only color and our ear perceives only sound, the intellect grasps the being or reality of things, their existence. It perceives that being, subject to varying degrees of limitation, in the stone, the plant, the brute, and in man, does not of itself involve limitations. And so our intellect, far surpassing sense and imagination, aspires to a knowledge of finite beings and also of the infinite being, so far, at any rate, as such a knowledge is possible for us. Our intellect aspires to a knowledge not merely of the multiple and restricted truths of physics, mathematics, or psychology, but of the supreme and infinite truth, the transcendent source of all other truths. What we tell children in the catechism is this: “Why did God make you? God made me to know Him.” And we add: “To love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
As our intellect has an unlimited range, and is able to have knowledge of being in all its universality and hence of the supreme Being, so also our will has an unlimited range. The will is directed by the intellect, which conceives not merely a particular sensible good that is delectable or useful, such as a fruit or a tool, but it conceives good as such, moral good, virtues such as justice and courage. It even reaches out beyond some special moral good, such as the object of justice or temperance, and apprehends universal good, good of whatever kind, everything in fact that is capable of perfecting us. Lastly, our intellect, far superior to the senses, ascends to a knowledge of the supreme and infinite good, in which every other good has its source; then the will, illumined by the intellect, desires this supreme and infinite good. The will has a range and unlimited capacity, which can be satisfied in God alone, as we explained at some length in Part I, chapter 4, where we spoke of the sovereign good and the natural desire for happiness.
Nevertheless our intellect and will are not destined naturally to know and love God in His intimate life. In that God is the author of nature, they can attain to Him in the natural order only because His perfections are reflected in created things.
In baptism a supernatural life and inclination were given to us, far surpassing our natural faculties of intellect and will. We received sanctifying grace, which is a participation in the divine nature and the intimate life of God; and with grace we received faith, hope, and charity, which give a vaster and more exalted range to our higher faculties.
We now gradually obtain a better grasp of the meaning and import of those words of the catechism: “Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”
The purpose of our existence, therefore, is to acquire not a merely natural knowledge and love of the infinite God as the author of nature, but a supernatural knowledge and love, the beginning of that eternal life in which we shall see and love God even as He sees and loves Himself.
We shall then have an intuitive vision of that spiritual infinite, which is God, a light infinitely strong and soft. Its brightness we shall be able to bear because our intellect will be elevated and fortified by the light of glory. We shall have an intuitive vision of that God who is infinite goodness, combining all the strength of justice with all the tenderness of mercy. And this supernatural elevation to the immediate vision and love of infinite truth and goodness will be ours forever; it will be a continuous vision and love that nothing henceforth will interrupt or diminish.
Yet in one sense the infinite will still surpass us; because our vision of the divine essence will never be the same as the vision God has of Himself, which is completely comprehensive. In heaven each one of the blessed has this intuitive vision of God, but with a power of penetration in proportion to their merits and the intensity of their charity. Similarly here on earth we all have direct vision of a landscape stretching out before us, but we see it better if our sight is keener. In heaven our vision of the infinite God will be immediate, but proportionate to the intensity of our charity and the light of glory. Great saints like the Apostles will see Him better, and their vision will be more penetrating than ours; but they, too, will be surpassed by St. Joseph, and St. Joseph by the Blessed Virgin; and surpassing her, the holy soul of Christ united to the person of the Word. It is pleasant to think that the Blessed Virgin, whose intellect is naturally inferior to that of the angels, has nevertheless a better vision of the divine essence than even the most exalted of them. Since her charity surpasses theirs, she has received the light of glory in a higher degree, inferior only to that of the human intellect of Jesus.
Such is the spiritual lesson we receive in this mystery of the divine infinity. We are made for the Infinite: to know God in His intimate life and to love Him above all things. That is why nothing in this world can really satisfy us and why we are free to respond or not to the attraction offered by finite good. Each time we experience within ourselves the limitations and the poverty of these perishable things, we should give thanks to God; for it gives us the opportunity, amounting sometimes to an urgent necessity, of pondering on the infinite riches, the infinite fullness of truth and goodness that are in Him.
9. The Immensity Of God
God, we have said, is infinite: not in quantity, as though He were an unlimited material body, but in quality or perfection, the only kind of infinity possible with Him who is purest spirit, who is being itself subsisting in His immateriality at the summit of all things. This infinity is a mode of all His attributes, and thus we speak of His infinite wisdom, His infinite goodness, His infinite power.
And now, if we are to have a right idea of providence and its universal scope including every age and every place, we must consider the divine immensity and eternity in their relation to space and time, which are on an infinitely lower plane.
If we consider the perfect being of God as related to space, we attribute to Him immensity and ubiquity. When we say He is immense, we mean that He is immeasurable and able to be in every place. In attributing ubiquity to Him, we affirm that He is actually present everywhere. Before creation God was immense, but He was not actually present in all things, since things as yet did not exist.
It would be a gross error to picture the divine immensity as unlimited space, and it is equally false to conceive the divine eternity as unlimited time, as we shall see later on.
God is pure spirit: there cannot be parts in Him as there are in what is extended; we cannot distinguish in Him the three spatial dimensions, length, breadth, and height or depth. When we apply these terms occasionally to the divine intellect, we do so purely by way of metaphor. In reality, God infinitely transcends space, even unlimited space, as the divine eternity infinitely transcends time, even unlimited time.
It was in attributing this spatial immensity to God that Spinoza erred. Were it so, God would no longer be pure spirit but would have a body, and thus one part of Him would be less perfect than another; He would not be perfection itself. Hence the divine immensity is not something material, but spiritual, and in an order infinitely transcending space.
If we would have some idea of the majesty of this divine perfection, three quite distinct modes of divine presence must be considered:
1) The general presence of God in all things by His immensity.
2) The special presence of God in the souls of the just.
3) The unique presence of the Word in the humanity of our Savior, and the reflection of this presence in the Church and in the vicar of Christ.
The general presence of God by His immensity
God is everywhere. What meaning are we to give to this phrase which so often occurs in Holy Scripture? First, God is everywhere by His power, to which all things are subjected, through which also He sets every being in motion, and directs it to action. Secondly, God is everywhere by His presence, in that all things are known to Him. All things are laid bare to His sight, even to the minutest detail, to the most profound secrets of our hearts and the innermost recesses of conscience. Lastly, God is present by His essence, in that by His preservative action, which is identical with His very being, He maintains every creature in existence.
Moreover, as in creation God’s action is immediate without any creature or instrument intervening, so too His preservative action, which is the continuation of His creative act, is exercized immediately in every creature and upon what is most intimate in them, their very being. He is thus present even to those far distant nebulae which our telescopes barely succeed in bringing to view.
Therefore God, though not corporeal, is everywhere, not as a material body is in place, but by a simple virtual contact of His creative and preservative power, wherever in fact there are bodies to be maintained in existence. Besides this, in a sphere of being transcending space, He is present to every spirit, whom He maintains in being as He does the rest of creatures.
And so God as pure spirit is in every being, in every soul, of which He is the transcendent center as the apex of the pyramid contains in a transcendent manner all its sides. God is that spiritual force which maintains everything in existence. As the liturgy has it: Rerum Deus tenax vigor Immotus in te permanens. (God powerful sustainer of all things Thou who dost remain permanently unmoved.)
The special presence of God in the just
There is another presence of God, which is peculiar to the soul in the state of grace whether on earth, in purgatory, or in heaven. God is no longer present simply as conserving cause—as such He is within even inanimate bodies—but He dwells in the souls of the just as in a temple, the object of a quasi-experimental knowledge and love.
Our Lord said: “If any man love me, he will keep my word. And my Father will love him: and we will come to him and will make our abode with him” (John 14: 23). What is meant by “We will come”? Who will come? Is it simply created grace? No, in the souls of the just the three divine Persons come to take up their abode: the Father and the Son, and with them the Holy Ghost, whom the Son has promised.
This is what the Apostle St. John understood it to mean when he said: “God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him” (I John 4: 16).
However great the earthly distance separating souls that are in the state of grace, be it from Rome to Japan, it is the same God who dwells in them all, enlightening, strengthening, and drawing them to Himself.
The same is brought out by St. Paul (I Cor. 3: 16) : “Know you not that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” “Know you not that your members are the temple of the Holy Ghost, who is in you, whom you have from God: and you are not your own? For you are bought with a great price. Glorify and bear God in your body” (ibid., 6: 19-20), that is, by comporting yourselves in a manner worthy of Him. And St. Paul says to the Romans (5:5) : “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, who is given to us.”
This sublime doctrine was a commonplace in the early Church: the martyrs proclaimed it openly before their judges. Thus St. Lucy of Syracuse answers the judge Paschasius: “Words can never be wanting to those who bear within them the Holy Ghost.” “Is the Holy Ghost within thee, then?” “Yes, all who lead a chaste and upright life are the temples of the Holy Ghost.”
The creeds and councils of the Church, the Council of Trent, for instance, affirm that the Blessed Trinity dwells in the souls of the just as in a temple and from time to time makes its presence felt by a more luminous inspiration, a more profound peace, like that which the disciples experienced as they conversed with our Lord on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24: 42) : “Was not our heart burning within us, whilst He spoke in the way, and opened to us the Scripture?” In fine, as St. Paul says to the Romans (8: 16), “the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit that we are the sons of God.”
God makes this special presence of His felt in us by that filial love for Him with which He himself inspires us and which, like the peace it brings us, can come only from Him. (Cf. St. Thomas, Comment. in Ep. ad Rom., 8: 16.)
The unique presence of God in the humanity of Jesus
Surpassing the general presence of God in all things, even His special presence in the souls of the just, is that unique and quite exceptional presence of the Word in the humanity of Jesus.
This presence of the Word in the sacred humanity of Jesus is not, as in the saints, a purely accidental union of knowledge and love. It is a union that is substantial in the sense that the Word assumed and made His own forever the humanity of Jesus which consisted of His holy soul and His body virginally conceived. There is thus in Jesus Christ but one Person, possessing both the divine nature and a human nature without mutual confusion, in some such way as each one of us possesses his soul and body unconfused.
Obviously this substantial union of Christ’s humanity with the Word of God immeasurably surpasses both the general presence of God in all things by immensity and even that special presence of His in the souls of the just on earth, in purgatory, or in heaven.
Moreover, in the sacred humanity of Jesus there is a wonderful participation in the divine immensity, since by Eucharistic consecration His body is made present throughout the world on every altar where the consecrated host is reserved. His body is present there not as localized in space, but after the manner of substance. Substance is not of itself extended; in certain respects it transcends extension and space; and this helps us to understand how the selfsame body of Christ remaining present in heaven can, without being multiplied, become really present throughout the world in every tabernacle where there are consecrated hosts. We have here a remote likeness to that presence by which God Himself is in every material being, maintaining it in existence; it is a reflection of the divine immensity.
A further reflection of this divine perfection is seen in that universal sway exerted by the Church simultaneously in every quarter of the globe. In a certain sense we can say that the Church is everywhere present upon the face of the earth, for the soul of the Church includes all who are in the state of grace. Moreover, the Church, being both one and catholic, exercises the same supernatural influence wherever the Gospel is preached.
In spite of the diversity of nations, races, manners, customs, and institutions, the Church, wheresoever her influence extends, effects a unity of faith and hierarchical obedience; unity of worship, especially in the Mass; one common nourishment in communion; unity of life, since all must find their nourishment in Jesus Christ; unity of Christian dispositions, of hope and charity. Since grace here on earth and glory hereafter are the principle of life for all, they have in the merits of Christ the same resources and a common inheritance in eternal life.
Now the Church thus present among the nations for nearly two thousand years would not be able to exercise this influence of hers without the supreme pastor appointed by our lord to be His vicar. The exercise of papal and episcopal jurisdiction preserves intact the doctrines of the Gospel in the bosom of the Church through an infallible teaching office, and safeguards Christian morality and Christian perfection by maintaining the divine law and imposing ecclesiastical laws, and safeguards Christian worship also through the various forms of the liturgy.
Christ Jesus promised to St. Peter and his successors and conferred on them the primacy of jurisdiction over the universal Church (Matt. 16: 16; John 21: 15). He also said to them: “I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world.”
To sum up, then: God, pure spirit, is immense and everywhere present inasmuch as through His creative power He maintains in existence and sets in motion every creature, corporeal and spiritual, and all things are laid bare to His sight, even the most intimate secrets of the heart, secrets that not even the angels can discern by their natural knowledge.
Besides this universal presence in every creature, there is that special presence of God in the souls of the just, who are in the state of grace. He is within them as in a temple, to be known and loved by them, and He makes His presence felt there from time to time in that filial love for Him which He alone can inspire.
In a manner still more distinctive the Word of God is present in the humanity of Christ, with which He is united not merely in an accidental way through knowledge and love, but substantially, forming with it but one Person, one being, yet without confusion of the two natures.
As a wonderful reflection of the divine immensity, our Savior’s sacred humanity is really and substantially present throughout the world in every tabernacle where the consecrated host is reserved. Everywhere it is the same body of the Savior, unmultiplied yet really present, after the manner of substance—a remote resemblance to that presence by which God is within all creatures as pure spirit and unmultiplied, maintaining them in existence.
And lastly, there is that other reflection of the divine immensity in the vicar of Christ. As visible head of the Church, through the influence of his teaching and jurisdiction he is present to the entire Church. In a certain sense he reaches out to each one of the faithful in every clime and nation, preserving them all in the unity of faith, obedience, and worship, of hope and charity, and as supreme shepherd leading them on to the eternal pastures.
As in God this space-transcending immensity is united with an eternity that transcends time, so is it with the power of the pastoral office in the Church. It extends to all the faithful in space, and also extends to them all as they succeed one another in time, from the foundation of the Church until the end of the world.
The majesty of the Church is most clearly seen when viewed in the higher light of the divine perfections reflected in her: the divine immensity in her catholicity, the divine eternity in her indefectibility, the divine unity and holiness in her own unity and holiness.
Dominating the various dioceses and religious orders, the majesty of the Church is already a participation in the majesty of Christ and of God Himself. In spite of human shortcomings, which creep in wherever men are to be found, this supernatural beauty of the Church is clearly the beauty of God’s own kingdom.
We should rid ourselves of the habit of viewing things horizontally and superficially, as if all had the same value and importance. This is a materialist point of view, a leveling conception that blots out all elevation and depth. We should accustom ourselves rather to look down upon things vertically, so to speak, or in their depth. Above all is God, pure spirit, unchangeable, eternal, immense, conserving and giving life to all things. Then comes the humanity of our Savior, the channel through which every grace is transmitted to us and which is present in all the tabernacles of the world. Lower still is our Lady, the mediatrix and coredemptrix; and after her the saints; then come the supreme pastor of the Church and the bishops. After them the faithful who are in the state of grace and those Christians also who, though not in the state of grace, yet as Catholics, keep the faith as revealed by God. And last of all are those souls who are seeking for the truth and those, too, who are still wandering astray, who yet at certain moments receive from God and our Lord graces of illumination and inspiration.
This way of looking at things as it were perpendicularly or, if you will, in their height and depth rather than superficially, is precisely that contemplation which proceeds from faith illumined by the gifts of understanding and wisdom. It should normally be accompanied by a prayer that is catholic, or universal—a prayer ascending to the eternity and immensity of God through the Sacred Heart of Jesus and the intercession of Mary. Such a prayer begs God to pour out the abundance of His mercy upon the supreme pastor of the Church, upon the bishops and generals of orders, and upon all the faithful, that they may be loyal to the vocation to which they have been called, responding to whatever God demands of them, and so walk in the path of holiness that leads to Him.
10. The Eternity Of God
Having discussed the divine immensity in its relation to space, we must now consider God’s eternity in relation to time. Without it we can have no conception of Providence, whose decrees are eternal.
Let us examine the wrong notion people sometimes have of this divine eternity, and then we shall better understand the true definition of it, which is likewise a very beautiful.
What is eternity?
There is a partially erroneous conception of the divine eternity current among those who are content to define it as a duration without beginning and without end, thinking of it vaguely as time without limit either in the past or in the future.
Such a notion of eternity is inadequate: because a time that had no beginning, no first day, would always be, nevertheless, a succession of days and years and centuries, a succession embracing a past, a present, and a future. That is not eternity at all. We might go back in the past and number the centuries without ever coming to an end, just as in thinking of the time to come we picture to ourselves the future acts of immortal souls as an endless series. Even if time had no beginning, there would still have been a succession of varying moments.
The present instant, which constitutes the reality of time, is an instant fleeting between the past and the future (“nunc fluens, “ says St. Thomas), an instant fleeting like the waters of a river, or like the apparent movement of the sun by which we count the days and the hours. What, then, is time? As Aristotle says, it is the measure of motion, more especially of the sun’s motion, or rather that of the earth around the sun, the rotation of the earth on its axis constituting one day as its revolution around the sun constitutes one year. If the earth and the sun had been created by God from all eternity and the regular motion of the earth around the sun had been without beginning, there would not have been a first day or a first year, but there would always have been a succession of years and centuries. Such a succession would then have been a duration without either beginning or end, but a duration, nevertheless, infinitely inferior to eternity; for there would always have been the distinction between past, present, and future. In other words, multiply the centuries by thousands and thousands, and it will always be time; however long drawn out, it will never be eternity.
If, then, to define the divine eternity as a duration without either beginning or end is inadequate, what is it? The answer of theology is that it is a duration without either beginning or end, but with this very distinctive characteristic, that in it there is no succession either past or future, but an everlasting present. It is not a fleeting instant, like the passing of time, but an immobile instant which never passes, an unchanging instant. It is “the now that stands, not that flows away, “ says St. Thomas (Ia, q. 10, a. 2, obj. Ia), like a perpetual morning that had no dawn and will know no evening.
How are we to conceive this unique instant of an unchanging eternity? Whereas time, this succession of days and years, is the measure of the apparent motion of the sun or the real motion of the earth, eternity is the measure or duration of the being, thought, and love of God. Now these are absolutely immutable, without either change or variation or vicissitude. Since God is of necessity the infinite fullness of being, there is nothing for Him to gain or to lose. God can never increase or diminish in perfection; He is perfection itself unchangeable.
This absolute fixity of the divine being necessarily extends to His wisdom and His will; any change or progress in the divine knowledge and love would argue imperfection.
The unchangeableness, however, is not the unchangeableness of inertia or death; it is that of supreme life, possessing once and for all everything it is possible and right that it should possess, neither having to acquire it nor being able to lose it.
Thus we come to the true definition of eternity: an exceedingly profound and beautiful definition, one full of spiritual instruction for us.
Boethius, in his Consolations of Philosophy, formulated what has continued to be the classical definition: Aeternitas est interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio (“eternity is the simultaneous possession in all its perfection of endless life”). It is the uniformity of changeless life, without either beginning or end, and possessed wholly at once. The principal phrase in the definition is tota simul (“wholly at once”). The unique distinction of the divine eternity is not that it is without beginning or end, but that it is without change, so that God possesses His infinite life wholly at once.
Plato says that time is the mobile image of an immobile eternity, so far, at any rate, as it is possible for a passing instant to be the image of an instant that does not pass.
Time, too, with its succession of moments has often been compared to the foot of a lofty mountain the summit of which represents the unique instant of eternity. From the summit of this eternity of His, God sees in a single glance the whole series of generations succeeding one another in time, as a man from the top of a mountain can see in one glance all who pass on their way in the valley below. Thus the unique, unvarying instant of eternity corresponds to each successive moment of time, the moments of our birth and death included. Time is thus, as it were, the small change in the currency of eternity.
What characterizes time is change or motion, which is measured by time. The distinctive characteristic of eternity is that unchangeable instant in which God possesses His infinite, endless life wholly at once. 
Here on earth we have not, when born, the fullness of life. In childhood we have not yet the vigor of youth or the experience that comes with age; and then, when we reach maturity, we no longer possess the freshness of childhood or the readiness of youth. Not only is this true of our life as a whole, but we do not possess one year of it all at once. The year has its changing seasons, so that what summer brings, winter denies. The same must be said of the weeks and the days. Our life is distributed: hours of prayer are distinct from hours of work, and these again from hours of rest and recreation. Just as we do not hear the whole of a melody at once, so it is with our life: its events happen in succession.
On the other hand, it is said of Mozart that he was eventually able to hear a melody not as something continuous, in the way other listeners do, but all at once, in the law that gave it birth. In composing the opening bars of a melody, he foresaw and in some way heard its finale. To hear a melody all at once is a faint image of that divine eternity in which God possesses His infinite life of thought and love simultaneously and without any succession. In the life and thought of God it is impossible for Him to distinguish between a before and an after, a past and a future, a childhood, youth, and maturer age.
We have another faint image of the divine eternity in a great scholar who spends long years in studying successively all the branches of a particular science, and eventually is able to view them all in the general principles governing the science, in the master idea from which the other ideas are successive developments. Thus Newton must have seen the various laws of physics as consequences of one supreme law; and at the end of his life St. Thomas saw somewhat at a glance the whole of theology as contained in a few general principles.
Another and closer image of the divine eternity is to be found in the soul of a saint who has reached a life of almost continuous union with God; he has now risen beyond the vicissitudes and flight of time. The saint, too, has his hours of work as well as of prayer, but even his work is a prayer; and because in the summit of his soul he remains in almost continuous union with God, he possesses his life in a manner “all at once”; instead of dividing and dissipating his life, he unifies it.
The eternity of God, then, is the duration of a life that not only had no beginning and will have no end, but that is absolutely unchangeable and consequently wholly present to itself in an instant that never passes. In one absolute unfleeting “now” it condenses in a transcendent manner all the varying moments that succeed one another in time.
With men, captivated as they are by sense, an unchangeable eternity has the appearance of death; for their idea of immobility is that of inertia and nothing more; it does not extend to that immobility which comes from a fullness of life so perfect that any progress in it is unthinkable.
It follows that the divine thought, since its measure is eternity, embraces in a single glance all time, every succeeding generation, every age. In a single glance it sees the centuries preparing for the coming of Christ and thereafter reaping the benefits of that coming. In that same unique glance, the divine thought sees where our souls will be in a hundred, two hundred, a thousand years to come, and forever. If only this truth were kept in mind, many objections against providence would vanish. The true notion of providence is, as it were, the resultant of the contemplation of those divine perfections which it presupposes.
As the thought of God is unchangeable, so also is His love. With no shadow of change in itself, it summons souls into existence at the moment it has fixed from all eternity. From all eternity love pronounces a free fiat to be freely realized in time. At the appointed time the soul is created, justified in baptism or by conversion, receives a multitude of graces and in the end, if no resistance is offered, that grace of a happy death by which it is saved. The created effect is new, not so the divine act producing it: Est novitas effectus absque novitate actionis, says St. Thomas. The divine action is eternal, but produces its effect in time and when it wills.
On the heights of eternity God remains unchanging; but beneath Him all is change, save only those souls who cleave unalterably to Him and so share in His eternity.
Eternity and the value of time
What is the spiritual lesson for us in this divine perfection of eternity? The great lesson to be learnt is that union with God on earth brings us near to eternity. It also makes clearer to us the full value of the time allotted us for our journey: a bare sixty or eighty years, an exceedingly short span on which depends an eternity, the briefest of prefaces to an endless volume.
The thought of eternity brings home to us especially the high value we should place on the grace of the present moment. For the proper performance of our duty at any given instant we require a particular grace, the grace we ask for in the Hail Mary: “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.” Pray for us sinners now. Here we beg for those special graces, varying with each moment, which enable us to cope with our duties in the course of the day and reveal to us the importance of all those trivial things that bear some relation to eternity. Although, as we utter the word “now, “ we are often full of distractions, Mary as she listens is all attention. She receives our prayer gladly, and forthwith the grace we need at the moment to persevere in our prayer, in suffering, in whatever we are doing, comes down to us, even as the air we breathe enters our breast. As the present minute is passing, let us remember that the body and its sensibilities, alternating between joy and sadness, are not the only realities; there is also our spiritual soul, with the influence Christ has upon it, and the indwelling of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity. Whereas the superficial and light-minded have a horizontal view of things, seeing material things and the life of the soul from the same plane of every fleeting time, the saints have unceasingly a perpendicular view of things; they see them from above and penetrate their depths, contemplating God at the summit of them all. The thought of eternity is the standard by which they estimate the value of time, past, present, and to come, and thus their judgments are gradually brought to the true focus.
Following their example, let us abandon to infinite mercy the whole of our life, both past and future. In a very practical way, inspired by faith, let us live the life of the present moment. In this fleeting now, be it dull or joyful or fraught with pain, let us see a faint image of the unique instant of changeless eternity; and because of the actual grace it brings us, let us see in it also a living proof of the fatherly kindness of God.
In this spirit let us go forward in the power of our Lord who in the sacrifice of the mass never ceases to offer Himself for us by an ever-living interior oblation in His heart, an oblation that transcends time as does the vision that hallows His holy soul.
Walking thus, we draw close to that eternity which we are some day to enter. In what will this entry into glory consist? We shall receive eternal life, which will consist in seeing God as He sees Himself. It will be an intuitive vision, never interrupted by either slumber or distraction, an unchanging vision of the self-same infinite object, which will be of inexhaustible profundity for us. This vision will be succeeded by a love for God equally changeless, which nothing can ever destroy or diminish. This vision and love will no longer be measured by time, but by a participated eternity. Although they are to have a beginning, they will henceforth be without end, without change of any kind, without before or after; the instant which is to be the measure of our beatific vision will be the unique instant of changeless eternity.
We are given an inkling of what this means, when, in the contemplation of some lofty truth or at prayer, we are so absorbed at times that we no longer take account of the passing hours. If such is our occasional experience, what will it be in the future life, which is not only future but is rightly called eternal, since it will no longer be measured by time but by eternity, which is the measure of the simultaneous being and life of God? Then we, too, shall possess all our love at once instead of seeing it languish, wavering between luke-warmness and a passing fervor, all our knowledge at once and no longer piecemeal.
Let us end with this thought from St. Augustine: “Unite thy heart to God’s eternity and thou, too, shalt be eternal; be thou united to God’s eternity and there await with Him the things that pass beneath thee” (Comm. in Psalm. 91).
It is only to us that eternity is obscure; in itself it is far more luminous than fleeting time, for it is the unchangeableness of the supremely luminous knowledge and love of God.
11. The Divine Incomprehensibility
The light and shade in the mysteries of God’s life
As we have seen, the attributes of God relative to His being are simplicity, infinity, immensity, and eternity. Before passing on to treat of those which, like wisdom and providence, relate to His operations, it will be well to say something of the divine incomprehensibility, which is so marked a feature of the divine governance in certain of its ways.
Therein will be found an important lesson for our own spiritual life. The point we shall particularly stress is that, although from certain angles God is presented to us in the clearest light, in other respects He remains in the deepest shadow. As in paintings we have light and shade, so also in the teachings of revelation we find lights and shadows, which are incomparably more beautiful than those we admire in the great masters. And the same lights and shadows in which God is represented to us will be found reproduced to some extent in our own spiritual life; for grace is a participation in the divine nature, or in the intimate life of God.
The high lights in the Divinity
Let us speak first of God’s features that are quite clear to us. By the natural exercise of our reason, apart even from faith, we are able here on earth to demonstrate the existence of God, the first mover of spiritual and corporeal beings, the first cause of everything that exists, the necessary being, the sovereign good, and the source of order in the world.
In the mirror of created things we discover a reflection of God’s absolute perfections and thus acquire a positive knowledge of whatever is similar or analogically common in God and His works: His reality, His actuality, His goodness, wisdom, and power.
When we wish to point out His distinctive characteristics, we do so by way of negation or by relating Him to the object of our experience. Thus we speak of God as the infinite or non-finite Being, as unchangeable, or again as the supreme good.
These rational convictions, already of themselves firmly established, receive further confirmation from divine revelation accepted through faith. These convictions are adamantine and unassailable. To us it is quite clear that God cannot exist without being infinitely perfect, that He can neither be deceived Himself nor deceive us, that He cannot will what is evil or be in any way the cause of sin. Indeed we are incomparably more certain of the rectitude of God’s intentions than we are of even the best of our own. From this angle God stands out before our minds in a light almost dazzlingly clear. Again, it is quite evident to us that on the one hand God is the author of all good, including also the good contained in our meritorious consent, and that on the other hand He never demands the impossible. Nothing can prevail against these supremely evident truths, which have the force of conviction for every right mind that is open to truth. Obviously God cannot exist without being at once supremely just and supremely merciful, supremely wise and at the same time supremely free.
And yet, with all this dazzling clarity, there is in God that which for us is very obscure. What is the cause of this?
The light-transcending darkness in God
The obscurity confronting us in God is owing to the fact that He is far too luminous for the feeble sight of our intellect, which is unable to endure His infinite splendor.
To us God is invisible and incomprehensible for the reason that, as Scripture says, “He inhabiteth light inaccessible” (I Tim. 6:16), which has for us the same effect as darkness. To the owl, in the order of sense perception, darkness appears to begin at sunrise, because its feeble sight can perceive only the faint glimmer that comes with the twilight or just before the dawn, and is dazzled by the excessive brilliance of the sun. Where God, the Sun of the spirit world, is concerned, our intellect is in much the same condition. Its intellectuality is of the lowest degree, being inferior to that of the angel; it sees intelligible truths only dimly and in a half-light, as it were, as reflected in a mirror of a lower order, the things of sense. 
As St. Thomas notes (Ia, q. 76, a. 5), our intellect requires to be united with the senses so as to be presented with its proper object. This lowest degree of intellectuality attains first of all in cognition its proper object, the being of sensible things, which is the lowest degree of the intelligible; and in that object it acquires a very imperfect knowledge of God’s existence, and sees the reflection of His divine perfections.
Whereas, then, many things are invisible through not being sufficiently luminous or not sufficiently illuminating, God is invisible because for us He is far too luminous. 
That God, who is pure spirit, cannot be seen by bodily eyes, is quite evident, since these perceive only what is sensible. But neither can He be seen by a created intellect when this is left to its purely natural resources. Not even the highest among the angels can directly see God through the purely natural power of their intellect; for them, too, God is a light overpowering in its intensity, a naturally inaccessible light. For the angels, the sole natural means of knowing God is in the mirror of spiritual creatures which are their proper object, this mirror being their own essence or that of other angels. They have a natural knowledge of God as the author of their nature, but they cannot have a natural knowledge of Him in His intimate life or see Him face to face.
To see God, the angels, like human souls, must have received the light of glory, that supernatural light to which their nature has no claim whatever, but which is infused in order to fortify their intellects and enable them to endure the brightness of Him who is light itself.  God Himself cannot give us a created idea capable of representing His divine essence as it is in itself. Such an idea must always be imperfect, intelligible only by participation, and hence wholly inadequate to represent, as it really is, that eternally subsistent, purely intellectual flash, the essence of God with its infinite truth.
If God wishes to reveal Himself as He really is, this can be only by direct vision with no created idea intervening, unfolding to our gaze the divine essence in all its splendor, and at the same time sustaining and fortifying our intellect, which when left to itself is too feeble to behold it. 
It is in this way the blessed in heaven see God. We, too, desire to attain to this same vision, in which our everlasting happiness will consist. 
God is therefore invisible to our mental as well as to our bodily sight because of the exceeding intensity of His radiance.
But how is it that in this invisible God there is so much that is transparently clear to us and at the same time so much that is profoundly obscure? What is the source of this fascinating, mysterious light and shade?
Evidently God cannot exist without being supremely wise, supremely good, and supremely just; He is the author of all good and never commands what is impossible. Then how is it that side by side with this dazzling radiance there is so much obscurity?
It is due to the fact that our knowledge of the divine perfections is obtained solely from their reflection in creatures. Although we can enumerate them one after another, we are unable naturally to perceive how they are united in the intimate life of God, in the eminence of the Deity. This intimate mode of their union is entirely hidden from us; its radiance is too overpowering, it is too exalted to be reflected in any created mirror. As we said above, where the Deity is concerned, we are like men who have never seen white light but only the seven colors of the rainbow in the clear waters of a lake.
Doubtless in the divine rainbow we see its various colors: that God, for example, is infinitely wise and supremely free. But we cannot see how infinite wisdom is intimately reconciled with a good pleasure so free as to appear to us at certain times sheer caprice. And yet, however surprising it may seem, this good pleasure is still supremely wise. We accept it in the obscurity of faith, but only in heaven will it be clearly seen.
Again, we are certain that God is infinitely merciful, that He is also infinitely just, and that He exercises both His mercy and His justice with a sovereign freedom in which wisdom is never wanting. If, says St. Augustine, to the good thief was granted the grace of a happy death, it was through mercy; if it was denied to the other, it was through justice. Here we have a mystery: we cannot see how infinite mercy, infinite justice, and a sovereign liberty are intimately reconciled. For this we must have a direct intuition of the divine essence, of the Deity, in the eminence of which these perfections are reconciled, and that far more profoundly, more perfectly, than the seven colors are contained in white light.
In God truths that relate to each attribute considered apart are quite clear. But so soon as we consider their intimate reconciliation, there descends a darkness that transcends the light.
Once again, we see quite distinctly that in His exceeding goodness and power God cannot permit evil unless for some greater good, as He permits persecution for the glory of the martyrs. But for us this greater good is often very obscure, to be seen clearly only in heaven. This truth is eloquently brought out in the Book of Job.  There is enough light for our Lord to have said: “He that followeth me walketh not in darkness.”  Thus, however obscure in itself our cross may be, we are able to bear it, all being made clear to us when we reflect that it is ordained for the good of our souls and the glory of God.
Our life is frequently cast in this mysterious light and shade, which appears in our very existence when this is viewed in its relations with Him who, without fully revealing Himself as yet, is ever drawing us to Him.
Hence arises that ardent desire to see God, that supernatural, efficacious desire proceeding from infused hope and charity. Hence, too, in every man arises a natural and inefficacious desire, a natural velleity, to behold God face to face, if only to solve the enigma how attributes so apparently opposed as infinite justice and infinite mercy are reconciled in Him. 
From this it follows that what is obscure and incomprehensible for us in God transcends what is clearly seen. Here, in fact, the darkness is light-transcending. What the mystics call the great darkness is the Deity, the intimate life of God, the “light inaccessible” mentioned by St. Paul (I Tim. 6: 6).
We now understand what St. Teresa means when she says: “The more obscure the mysteries of God, the greater is my devotion to them.” She indeed realized that this obscurity is not that of absurdity or incoherence, but the obscurity of a light that is too intense for our feeble vision.
In this divine light and shade, then, the shadows transcend the light. Faith tells us that this impenetrable obscurity is the sovereign good in its more intimate characteristics, so that it is to this absolutely eminent Goodness, though still a mystery incomprehensible to the intellect, that our charity cleaves; the food of love in this life is mystery, which it adores. Here on earth love is superior to the intellect. As St. Thomas says, so long as we have not attained to the beatific vision of the divine essence, our intellect, with its very imperfect conception of God, brings Him down in some sort to our level, imposing upon Him as it were the limitations of our own restricted ideas; whereas love does not bring God down to our level, but uplifts us and unites us to Him (Ia, q. 82, a. 3; IIa IIae, q. 23, a. 5; q. 27, a. 4).
Therefore in this divine light and shade the shadows transcend the light and, for the saints here on earth, this light-transcending darkness exerts such an attraction on the love uniting them to God.” The just man lives by faith” (Rom. 1:17) and finds his support not only in its light but also in the divine darkness which corresponds to all that is most intimate in God. It is upon the incomprehensibility of the divine life that the contemplative is reared; he grasps the full meaning of that phrase of St. Thomas: “Faith is of things unseen” (IIa IIae, q. 1, a. 4, 5).
Finally, even for the blessed in heaven God remains in a certain sense incomprehensible, although they see Him face to face. No creature, no idea intervenes between Him and them in their vision of Him, and yet that vision can never be comprehensive like the vision God alone naturally has of Himself. Why is this?
St. Thomas provides a simple explanation: To comprehend a thing in the true sense of the word, is to know it as far as it can be known. A person can know a proposition of geometry without comprehending it, as is the case with anyone who accepts it on the word of the learned; he knows all the elements in the proposition (subject, verb, predicate) but he does not grasp the proof, and hence does not know it as far as it can be known (cf. Ia, q. 12, a. 7). Thus the pupil who knows his master’s teaching in all its parts does not penetrate so deeply as his master, for he has only a confused grasp of the radical connection of each part with the fundamental principles. Or again, a shortsighted person will see the whole of a landscape, but not so distinctly as one whose eyesight is good.
So also in heaven each one of the blessed sees the whole of the divine essence, for it is indivisible. But, since it is the infinite truth, infinitely knowable, they cannot penetrate it so deeply as God. The degree of penetration is according to the intensity of the light of glory they have received, and this again is in proportion to their merits and their love for God acquired here on earth. Consequently they cannot take in at a glance, as God does, the countless possible beings His divine essence virtually contains, and which He could create if He chose.
The divine light and shade of which we have just been speaking contain much that will enlighten our own spiritual life. Our Lord thus expresses it: “He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life” (John 8: 12).
Since the life of grace within us is a participation in the intimate life of God, it, too, will be for us a mysterious light and shade, which we must be careful not to distort or confuse. Grace brings us enlightenment, consolation, and peace, that tranquility which comes from order. These are the high lights; we are no longer in the “shadow of death.” On the other hand, it is on a plane so exalted that it is beyond the reach of reason; we can never have absolute certitude that we are in the state of grace, though we may have sufficient indications of its presence to permit our approaching the holy table.
Moreover, along the path we have to pursue through life are lights and shadows of another sort. The precepts of God and His Church, the orders of superiors, the advice of spiritual directors—these are rays of light. But we find shadows, too, lurking in the depths of conscience. Not always can we easily distinguish true humility from false, dignity from pride, confidence from presumption, fortitude from temerity. Lastly—and it is here especially that the interior drama lies—in this obscurity characteristic of our life there is the darkness descending from above, the obscurity of grace with its overpowering radiance, and that other darkness from below, arising from the lower elements in our disordered nature.
Let us often ask the good God to enlighten us through the gifts of the Holy Spirit, that we may walk aright amid this interior light and shadow. To deny the light because of the shadows and thus substitute the absurd for the mystery, would result in error and discouragement. Let us leave the mystery its rightful place. Let us ask of God the grace to distinguish between the light-transcending darkness from above and that lower darkness which is the darkness of death. And, that we may the more surely obtain this grace, let us often repeat this prayer: “Grant me, O Lord, to know the obstacles that I am more or less conscious of placing in the way of grace and its working in me, and give me the strength to remove them, no matter what it may cost me.” In this way we shall discover the true light, and if darkness persists it will be the darkness from on high, that which enables the just man to live; for to our poor intellect it is but an aspect of the light of life and of the sovereign good. This is what is meant by these words: “He that followeth me walketh not in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”  He who follows me walks neither in the darkness of religious ignorance nor in the darkness of sin and condemnation, but in the light, for “I am the way, the truth, and the life”; therefore “he shall have the light of life, “ which shall never be extinguished.
12. The Wisdom Of God
Hitherto we have been considering the attributes relative to God’s being itself: such as His simplicity, eternity, incomprehensibility. We must now treat of those relating to the divine operations.
God, the self-subsisting Being, is by definition immaterial and therefore intelligent. The two great attributes of His intellect are wisdom and providence.
On the other hand, free will is an absolute perfection resulting from intellect. The act of the divine will is love, and its two great virtues are justice and mercy. As for the external works of God, they have their source in omnipotence.
And so by degrees what may be called the spiritual features of God stand out more clearly. Just as with us, wisdom and prudence are found in the intellect, and in the will are found justice and the other virtues regarding our neighbor, so also in God’s intellect are wisdom and providence, and in His will are justice and mercy. These are the divine virtues, as it were, but with this difference, that obviously in God there can be no virtue regarding one who is superior to Him.
First of all we shall speak of the divine wisdom. All that revelation and theology tell us about it, illumines their teaching on providence.
What are we to understand by wisdom?
Before we can attribute wisdom to God, we must know the meaning of the word, or what people usually understand by it. This will help us further to distinguish between two very different kinds of wisdom: the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of God. That they know what wisdom is, is the boastful claim of all, even the skeptic, who would have it consist in universal doubt.
That wisdom is a comprehensive view embracing all things, everyone is agreed. But after that, what divergences there are! We may view things from above, believing that they all proceed from a holy love, or at least are permitted by it, and that all things converge upon one supreme good. Or we may view things from below, considering them the result of a material, blind fatality without any ultimate purpose. Another divergence is that there is a wisdom characterized by a false optimism, shutting its eyes to the existence of evil, and there is a pessimistic, depressing wisdom that sees no good in anything.
St. Paul often speaks of the wisdom of this world, which, he says, is stupidity or foolishness in the eyes of God (I Cor. 3:19). Its peculiarity is that it views all things from below, estimating the whole of human life by the earthly pleasures it brings, or by the material interests to be safeguarded, or again by the satisfaction our ambition and pride may derive from it.
To adopt this attitude in our estimation of things, is to make of self the center of all things, unwittingly to adore self. Practically it amounts to a denial of God and a looking upon others as, so to speak, non-existent.
If the worldling feels himself incapable of playing such a part, he takes as his standard of judgment the opinion of the world, and sometimes becomes its very slave that he may obtain its favors. In the opinion of the world wisdom in the conduct of life usually consists not in the golden mean between two extreme vices, but in an easy-going mediocrity lying midway between the true good and an excessive crudeness or perversity in evildoing. In the eyes of the world Christian perfection is as much an excess in one direction as downright wickedness is in the other. We must avoid extremes in everything, we are told. And so the mediocre comes to be called good, whereas it is nothing but an unstable, confused state lying between the good and the bad. People forget the meaning of the school marks given to children on their reports: very good, good, fair, mediocre, bad, very bad. The difference between the mediocre and the good is lost sight of, the one is confused with the other; instead of rising higher, a man will remain permanently halfway. Hence the word charity is sometimes applied to a reprehensible toleration of the worst evils. Calling itself tolerance and prudent moderation, this “wisdom of the flesh” is equally indulgent to vice and indifferent to virtue.
It is particularly severe toward anything of a higher standard and thus seems to rebuke it. Sometimes it even hates heroic virtue, which is holiness. We have an instance of this in the age of persecutions, which continued even under Marcus Aurelius. This emperor, though wise according to this world’s standards, was never able to perceive the sublimity of Christianity, in spite of the blood of so many martyrs.
As St. Paul says, this self-complacent wisdom is simply “foolishness with God” (I Cor. 3:19). Because of its self-complacency it goes so far as to base all its estimations concerning even the most sublime things, even salvation, upon what is sheer mediocrity and emptiness. It completely overturns the scales of values and well deserves to be called stupidity.
It is clear, therefore, that true wisdom views things from a higher standpoint, considering them as dependent on God their supreme cause and directed to God their last end; whereas stupidity, the opposite of wisdom, is the outlook of the fool, who considers all things from the lowest standpoint, reducing them to the basest possible level, a material, blind fatality or the transitory pleasures of this present life. It was this that made our Lord say: “What doth it profit a man, if he gain the whole world and suffer the loss of his own soul?” And St. Paul says: “If any man among you seem to be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written: I will catch the wise in their own craftiness. And again: The Lord knoweth the thoughts of the wise, that they are vain. Let no man therefore glory in men” (I Cor. 3:18-21).
In contrast to this let us see what the wisdom of God is, considering it first in itself and then in relation to ourselves.
The divine wisdom in itself
In itself the divine wisdom is the knowledge God has of Himself and of all things, in so far as He is their supreme cause and last end: the divine knowledge of all things through their highest causes.
In other words, it is an uncreated luminous knowledge, penetrating God’s entire being and from these heights extending eternally in all its purity and without contamination of any kind to everything possible as well as to everything that is or has been or will be, however lowly, however evil, and all this in a single glance and from the loftiest standpoint conceivable.
Let us pause to consider each of these terms and so obtain a glimpse of the wonders they seek to express.
a) Divine wisdom is an uncreated luminous knowledge. The Book of Wisdom tells us: “She is more beautiful than the sun… being compared with the light, she is found before it. For after this cometh night, but no evil can overcome wisdom…. She is a certain pure emanation of the glory of the almighty God: and therefore no defiled thing cometh into her. For she is the brightness of eternal light” (Wis. 7: 25, 26, 29).
b) This uncreated luminous knowledge penetrates God’s entire being. To His intelligence there is nothing in Him that is hidden, obscure, mysterious. We, on the other hand, are a mystery to ourselves, by reason of the thousand and one more or less unconscious movements of our sensibility influencing our judgments and our will; by reason, too, of the mysterious graces offered us and often perhaps indirectly rejected. Not even the most introverted souls can boast of a complete knowledge of self.” Neither do I judge my own self, “ says St. Paul.” For I am not conscious to myself of anything. Yet am I not hereby justified: but He that judgeth me, is the Lord” (I Cor. 4: 3, 4).
God’s self-knowledge is absolutely complete, extending to all that is knowable in Him. Our knowledge of God is through creatures, as He is reflected in them; the knowledge God has of Himself is immediate.
The blessed in heaven see Him face to face, but this does not thereby exhaust the infinite fullness of His being and truth. God’s vision of Himself is both immediate and comprehensive. His infinite knowledge exhausts the infinite depths of truth in Him.
What is more, so completely does this luminous thought of His penetrate His wholly immaterial being, that it is absolutely identified with it. There is no slumber here to interrupt the spiritual life, no progress from an imperfect to a more perfect knowledge. He is essentially and from all eternity perfection itself, a pure intellectual flash subsisting eternally, the uncreated spiritual light transcending all things. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 14, a. 1-4.)
c) From these heights God’s knowledge extends instantaneously, in the unique instant of eternity, to every possible mode of existence, as well as to everything that exists now or has existed or will exist, however lowly, however evil.
In what way does God know every possible mode of existence, the innumerable, infinite multitude of beings that might exist? Through the exhaustive knowledge He has of His own omnipotence, which is able to produce them. He is like the artist who delights in contemplating the exquisite works of art he has conceived and might execute, though they will never see the light of day.
And how does God know from His high abode the things that exist now, and all that has been or will be? Whence does He get this knowledge? Does He acquire it as we do from the things themselves as one after another they come into existence? We ourselves thus learn from events as they happen, and our knowledge, imperfect to begin with, becomes more perfect. But can God have anything to learn from facts as they occur? Obviously not; for His knowledge cannot pass from a less to a more perfect state: He is perfection itself. What then, must our answer be?
We must say, St. Thomas remarks (Ia, q. 14, a. 8), that whereas with us knowledge is gauged by the objects on which it depends, the wisdom of God is the cause of things; wisdom is their measure, they are not the measure of wisdom. Divine wisdom is the cause of things as the art of the sculptor is the cause of the statue, as Beethoven’s art produced his immortal symphonies, as Dante’s art produced the Divine Comedy.
But the sculptor’s work is no more than a lifeless statue; the great musician or the great poet can only weave a harmony of sounds or words to express his thought. God, however, through His wisdom can create beings that are living, conscious, intelligent: human souls and myriads of angels.” God’s knowledge in conjunction with His will is the cause of things as the artist’s art is the cause of the work of art” (Ia, q. 14, a. 8).
God, in fact, can no more go a begging to created things for His wisdom than Beethoven could learn anything new from his own score: that is quite clear. God can have nothing to learn from events as they occur; on the contrary, it is from the fecundity of His knowledge that He confers existence upon them. The reason is that His knowledge extends not only to all that He is Himself, but also to all that He can do, to all that He actually realizes, whether by His own power exclusively as when He created in the beginning, or with and through our co-operation as when He directs us to the free performance of our everyday actions. In the unique instant of eternity, God already knows all that will come to pass—all the prayers, for instance, that under His direction we shall freely offer Him later on in order to obtain the graces we need. We will return to this point when we come to speak of providence.
Obviously, then, God’s knowledge, far from being caused by things as it is with us, is itself their cause; they are the works of the divine art, of God’s genius.
But are these created things known to God only in a general, vague way, or distinctly and to the last detail? Revelation tells us that “all the ways of men are open to His eyes” (Prov. 16: 2), that the very hairs of our head are all numbered, that even the least of our actions are known to Him.
Why is this? Because in the production of every least thing God concurs, as to whatever reality and goodness are in it. Only one thing God cannot produce, and that is sin; for sin as such is a disorder, and disorder has no being but is simply the absence of what ought to be. Since, then, the divine causality embraces all things, down to the least detail, so also must the divine knowledge; for obviously God knows all that He does Himself and all that He concurs in producing. As for sin, He merely permits it, tolerates it in view of some greater good. It is through this permission that He has knowledge of it; and He sees it in its final overthrow, which in its own way will once more contribute to the manifestation of the good. We shall see this truth more clearly when we come to speak of God’s providence.
Therefore, God’s knowledge of whatever reality and goodness there is in the universe is from Himself; the source upon which He draws for that knowledge is Himself.
The divine wisdom compared with the highest human wisdom
With us, the knowledge of spiritual and divine things is obtained from below, in the mirror of sensible things. God, on the other hand, views all things from on high, in Himself and His own eminent causality.
Do what we may, we here on earth see the spiritual and the divine only through their reflection in material things. It is owing to this that we attach immense importance to material happenings, such as the loss of an eye, whereas events of the spiritual world, with consequences that are incalculable, are allowed to pass almost unnoticed, such as an act of charity in the order of goodness, or in the sphere of evil a mortal sin. In other words, we see the spiritual and the divine as in the twilight, in the shadow of the sensible; to use the expression of St. Augustine, ours is an evening vision.
With God it is quite the contrary. In the light of an eternal morning His knowledge is first of all directed to Himself, and in His own very pure essence He sees from above all possible creatures, and those that now exist or have existed or will exist. It is from on high and in spiritual things that He sees the material. To hear a symphony, He has no need of senses as we have; His knowledge of it is from a higher source, in the musical law that gave it birth, and thus it far surpasses the knowledge of the genius who composed it.
It is not through the body that God views the soul of the just; it is rather through the soul that He views the body as a sort of radiation of the soul. Hence His sight is not dazzled by outward show, by wealth and its trappings; what counts with God is charity. A beggar in rags but with the heart of a saint, is of incomparably greater worth in the sight of God than a Caesar in all the splendor of his human glory. Again, to Him there is an immense difference between a little child before it is baptized and the same child after baptism.
Looked at in the light of this world our Savior’s passion appears to us enshrouded in gloom, but how radiant it must be when seen from on high, as the culminating point of history, that point to which everything in the Old Testament led up and from which everything in the New descends!
God does not see created things immediately in themselves, in the dim glimmer of their created illumination, as though descending to their level and made dependent on them; He sees them in Himself and His own radiant light. God cannot see created things except from above: any other mode of knowledge would argue imperfection and would cease to be divine contemplation. Whatever reality and goodness there is in creatures is seen by the divine wisdom as a radiation of the glory of “Him who is.”
Whereas we can hardly conceive of eternity except by relating it to the particular time period in which we live, God sees the whole succession of time periods in the light of an unchanging eternity. As a man standing on the summit of a mountain takes in at a single glance all who follow one another in the plain below, so also in one eternal instant God sees the entire succession of time periods; our birth simultaneously with our death, our trials with the glory they merit, the sufferings of the just with the endless spiritual profit resulting from them. He sees the effects in their causes, and the means in the ends they subserve.
The lives of the saints are very beautiful even in their external aspect as history records them; but they are incomparably more beautiful in the mind of God, who sees everything in its true inwardness and from above, who sees directly the grace in the souls of the just with their actual degree of charity and the degree they will have reached at the end of their journey. He sees our lives in the light of the divine idea directing them, an idea that will be fully realized only in heaven. Between God’s wisdom and ours there is all the difference we observe between a stained-glass window as seen from within the church and as seen from without.
This infinite wisdom of God has been revealed to us in the person of our Lord the incarnate Word, in His life and preaching, His death, resurrection, and ascension. Our Lord has bestowed upon us a participation in this selfsame divine wisdom through living faith illumined by the gifts of the Holy Ghost, the gifts of wisdom and understanding, enabling us to penetrate and experience the sweetness of the mysteries of salvation. Let our practical conclusion be to accustom ourselves by degrees to see all things from God’s higher point of view, considering them not as something that may give us pleasure or satisfy our self-love and pride, but in their relation to God the first cause and last end. In the spirit of faith and by the dim light it sheds let us accustom ourselves gradually to see all things in God. Let us see in the pleasant events of our life the tokens of God’s goodness, and also in the painful and unexpected afflictions a call to a higher life, as being so many graces sent for our purification, and therefore often more to be prized than consolations. St. Peter crucified was nearer to God than on Thabor.
By thus accustoming ourselves to live by faith and the gift of wisdom we shall become every day better fitted to enter into that knowledge which is to be ours at the end of our journey through life. We shall then see God face to face, and in Him all that emanates from Him, especially those things we have loved on earth with a supernatural love. St. Francis and St. Dominic thus behold in God the destinies of their orders, and a Christian mother on entering heaven sees in Him the spiritual needs of the son she has left on earth and the prayers she must offer for him.
This wisdom corresponds to the beatitude promised to peacemakers. In heaven, of course, it will be the source of unchanging peace as well as perfect joy; here on earth, even when the joy is absent, it brings us peace, that tranquillity which comes from order through union with God.
13. The Will And Holy Love Of God
Now that we have spoken of God’s intellect and wisdom, a right conception of providence requires further that we consider the nature of His holy will and the love He has both for Himself and for us. Providence in God, like prudence in us, presupposes the love of the supreme good, to which it directs all things.
No word is so much profaned as love. There is a carnal wisdom which St. Paul calls stupidity and foolishness, and there is also a baser sort of love which is simply the grossest egoism and which often through jealousy is instantly transformed into a raging hatred. But however low a soul may sink, it can never quite forget that in true love we have a perfection so exalted and so pure that we should look in vain for any trace of imperfection in it.
If we were asked whether God can be sad, we at once see that this cannot be. If we were asked whether He can be angry, we promptly understand that the term can be attributed to Him only by way of metaphor to express His justice. If we were asked whether love is to be found formally in Him, without the least hesitation we say that He loves us in the strict and fullest sense of the term.
Let us see, then, (1) in what way love is in God, in what way He loves Himself, and (2) the nature of His love for us. We will follow St. Thomas throughout (Ia, q. 19, 20), and while we are speaking of God’s love for us we shall see with him what is meant by the will of expression in God and the will of His good pleasure. This distinction is of the first importance for a right understanding of what self-abandonment to Providence must be.
The love of God for Himself
Love as it is in God cannot consist in a sensible passion or emotion, however well regulated. There can be no sensibility in God, because He is pure spirit.
But there can be no divine intellect, with its knowledge of the good, unless there is a divine will to will that good. This will cannot be a simple faculty of willing. It would be imperfect, were it not of itself always in act. The first act of the will is love for the good, a love entirely spiritual as is the intellect which directs it. The other acts of the will (desiring, willing, consenting, choosing, utilizing, and even hating) all proceed from love, that is the very awakening of the will in its contact with the good which is its object (Ia, q. 20, a. 1).
In God, then, a wholly spiritual and eternal act of love for the good necessarily exists, and this good loved from all eternity is God Himself, His infinite perfection, which is the fullness of being. God loves Himself as much as He is capable of being loved, that is, infinitely. This necessary act is not inferior to liberty but transcends it. Indeed this love is identified with the sovereign good, the supreme object of love. From its ardor it is rightly termed a zealous love; it is like an eternally subsisting burning flame, ignis ardens. As the Scripture says, “God is a consuming fire” (Deut. 4: 24).
We do well to contemplate this burning love for the good which exists from all eternity in God, especially when we consider the amount of injustice and jealousy that is in the world and feel in our hearts how feeble at times is our own love for the good, how lacking in constancy and perseverance.
We read in the Gospel: “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after justice: for they shall have their fill” (Matt. 5: 6). This is that burning love for the good which is mightier than all contradictions, than all weariness and temptations to discouragement we may meet with, a love mighty as death, even mightier than death, as seen in our Lord and the martyrs. Yet this mighty, ardent love for the good, which must eventually dominate everything in our hearts, is but a spark springing from that spiritual furnace in God, the uncreated love for the sovereign good.
The characteristics of this love
In the first place, it is supremely holy, or rather it is holiness itself; that is to say, it is absolutely pure, and in its purity unchangeable. Absolutely pure, for obviously it cannot in any way be sullied or debased by sin or imperfection, since sin consists in turning one’s back on God and His commands, and imperfection is a refusal to follow His counsels.
And in its purity it is unchangeable. God can never cease to be the sovereign good. He can never cease to know and hence to love Himself. He necessarily loves Himself, and His love not only cleaves unalterably to the sovereign good, but is identified with it, loving it above all things. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia, q. 19, a. 3, 7.)
Certain philosophers, such as Kant, have gone so far astray as to see in this love of God preferring Himself to all else, not the absolute holiness it is, but the very height of egoism. They have also maintained that God cannot love Himself above all things, that He could not have created us for His own glory, but for ourselves alone, and that consequently it is not He but our own personal dignity that should hold the supreme place in our love.
On the plea of absolving God of egoism, this novel aberration places egoism before us as the ideal we should aim at. It confounds the two extremes, holiness and egoism, because it neglects to define what egoism is.
Egoism is an inordinate self-love in which self is preferred to God the sovereign good, or to one’s family or country. But how can God prefer Himself to the sovereign good, since He is identified with it?
Hence God in preferring Himself to all things is preferring the sovereign good. For Him to do otherwise would be an intolerable disorder; He would be like the miser who prefers his gold to his own personal dignity. For God to prefer any creature to Himself would amount to a mortal sin in Him, and that is the final absurdity.
When God creates, therefore, it is not out of egoism at all; on the contrary, it is to manifest His goodness externally. In subordinating everything to Himself He is subordinating us to the sovereign good, and this He does for our greater happiness. Our beatitude is incomparably greater in the possession and love of God through praise than if it were a mere complacency in our own personal dignity. The more we give glory to God, the greater will be our own glory.” Not to us, O Lord, not to us: but to Thy name give glory” (Ps. 113: 1). Our greatest glory, O Lord, is to give glory to Thee.
God’s love for Himself has no taint of egoism; rather it is holiness itself. And not only is it absolutely pure and incapable of sin, but it has as its inevitable sequel a holy hatred of everything that is evil. In fact, no true love of the good can exist without a detestation of evil; we cannot love the sovereign good above all things without a sovereign detestation of sin. God cannot have that holy zeal for His own glory, which is the manifestation of His goodness, without an equally ardent detestation of sin. This is quite evident. With Him there can be no bargaining or compromising with evil. This, in the divine light and shade, stands out in clear relief. Nevertheless—and here is the shadow—sin does occur. Where sin is willfully persisted in, the love of God, which is gentleness itself, becomes a thing of terror.” Love is as strong as death, jealousy as hard as hell” (Cant. 8: 6). God detests sin with a burning hatred, which is simply the obverse of His ardent love for the good.
God’s love for Himself is at once an alluring holiness and a thing of dread, gentle yet terrible, like the house of God which Jacob speaks of (Gen. 28: 17).
This holiness implies all perfections, even those so apparently opposed as infinite justice and infinite mercy, the two great virtues of divine love.
In this holy love of God for Himself is contained a twofold lesson. In the first place, since God is infinitely better than we are, we must love Him more than ourselves, at least in preference to ourselves with a love based on a right estimation of values, with a love, too, that is efficacious and orients our whole life to Him. Secondly, as God loves Himself with a holy love, so ought we to love with a holy love our own soul and its destiny, for it has been created to give glory to God eternally. Let us love ourselves with this holy love, in God and for His sake; this is the way to overcome that inordinate love of self in which egoism consists. With the egoist, self-love is in one sense excessive, since he devotes too much love to the lower element in him; but in another sense it falls short of what it should be: he does not love sufficiently the spiritual element in his soul, that element which was created to hymn the glories of God. (Cf. St. Thomas, Ia IIae, q. 29, a. 4; IIa IIae, q. 25, a. 7.)
God’s love for us
Such being the love God has for Himself, how can it be directed to anything else besides? Some unbelievers, as also the deists, hold that God cannot possibly love us in the true sense of the term: the use of the word “love” in this connection is purely metaphorical. To love some other being, they say, is to be attracted by it. But God, the plenitude of all good, can find nothing in us to attract Him; He cannot be passive to an attraction exerted by so paltry a good as we are.
The answer to this deist objection is that in the love God has for us there is no passivity whatever; it is essentially active, creative, life-giving: it is sheer generosity and is supremely free. It is true love in the strictest and highest sense of the word.
No passivity is possible in the love God has for us. Obviously He cannot be attracted by a created good, or be passive under the attraction of a good so paltry, or be captivated by it. He loves us, not because He found us worthy of love; on the contrary, in His sight we are made worthy of His love because He has first loved us.” What hast thou that thou hast not received?” says St. Paul (I Cor. 4: 7) ; and St. Thomas says: “The love of God is the cause infusing and creating goodness in things” (Ia, q. 20, a. 2).
Any good in us, whether natural or supernatural, can come only from God, the source of all good, can come only from His creative, life-giving love. This love of His does not presuppose anything worthy of love in us, but is the very source of that worthiness, creating, conserving, increasing it in us, yet without violence to our liberty.
For what reason, then, has God loved us with this creative love? Why has He given us existence, life, intellect, and will? Out of sheer generosity. Is it not characteristic of goodness to be diffusive of itself and to give itself in generous abundance? Since goodness tends naturally to communicate itself, it is essentially diffusive of itself. In the physical order the sun gives out light and genial heat; plants and animals, upon reaching maturity, tend to reproduce themselves. In the moral and spiritual order a person who, like the saints, has a passion for goodness will know no rest until he has aroused in others the same aspirations, the same love. Since God is the sovereign good and the fullness of all being, the eternal love of the good having all the zeal and ardor of love, it is most fitting that He should give of the riches that are in Him, even as a singer delights in re-echoing abroad the rich melodies of his song. It is in the highest degree fitting, therefore, that God should love us with this creative love by giving us existence and life.
But does it follow that creation is not a free act; that, unless He created, God would be neither good nor wise? By no means. Scripture tells us that “God worketh all things according to the counsel of His will” (Ephes. 1: 11), and the Church proclaims the absolute liberty of creative love. It is indeed highly appropriate that God should create, but also that He should be altogether free in creating, so that there would have been nothing derogatory to Him in not creating: in His own intimate life God would have none the less been infinitely good and infinitely wise. As Bossuet says, God is no greater for having created the universe. The fact of His conferring existence on us cannot bring the smallest increase to His infinite perfection. Creation is an absolutely free act of love. In this sense even the natural gifts we have received are gratuitous.
But in God there is a still greater and freer act of love, by which He has bestowed on us the even more gratuitous gift of grace, that participation in His intimate life, a gift to which our nature has no claim whatever. By this life-saving love He has made us worthy to be loved in His sight, and that not merely as creatures but as His children, thus fitting us to behold Him and love Him for eternity.
We are loved by God far more than we think. To realize the extent of His love for us, we should have to know fully the value of grace when it has reached its final development in the glory of heaven; we would have to see God, if only for an instant.
In the incarnation, the redemption, and the Eucharist, God’s love for us reaches its consummation. To realize how intense is this love, we should have to appreciate to the full the infinite value of the redemptive part of the incarnation and the merits our Lord gained for us, and hence the value of all the spiritual graces that flow from them. In giving birth to Mary, St. Anne was far more loved by God than she knew, for she could not have foreseen that the child God had given her would be the mother of the Savior and of all mankind. So, too, is it with us, though with due reserves: God loves us far more than we think, especially in times of trial when He appears to desert us; for it is then He bestows upon us His most precious, most profound, most life-giving graces. At such times as these, let us say with St. Teresa: “Lord, Thou knowest all things, canst do all things, and Thou dost love me.”
Such in essence is the love God has for us, a creative and life-giving love; supremely generous and supremely free.
The characteristics of this love
They are principally four: It is universal; yet it has its free preferences; and these are wholly actuated by wisdom; and it is invincible.
It is universal, extending to the very least of creatures. God loves them as a farm owner loves his fields, his house, and the animals that serve his needs. But first and foremost this love is directed to the souls of human beings: to the soul of a sinner that it may be converted, to the soul of a just man that it may persevere, to the soul tried by temptation that it may not faint, and to the soul in its last hour on earth before it comes before God’s judgment seat (Ia, q. 20, a. 2, 3).
Nevertheless, for all its universality, this love has its free preferences. If to every soul it gives the graces sufficient and necessary for salvation, upon some—St. Joseph, for instance, St. Peter, St. John, St. Paul, the founders of religious orders-it confers graces of predilection. And every one of these saints will confess with St. Paul (I Cor. 4:7), “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” and again, “It is God who worketh in us both to will and to accomplish, according to His good will” (Phil. 2: 13). As the singer imparts at will a greater resonance to certain notes, so also God in the bestowal of His graces shows His predilection for some over others. The divine seed that God casts into souls depends for its degree of beauty entirely upon His good pleasure.
Yet this supreme liberty in His preferences preserves always that admirable order which wisdom and charity demand.” It is always the best that God prefers, “ says St. Thomas, “for, since He is the source of all goodness, one thing would not be better than another, did He not love it with a greater love” (Ia, q. 20, a. 3).
God prefers spiritual to corporeal beings, the latter being created for the former. The Mother of the incarnate Word is preferred before every other created being; and God’s only Son is preferred before His Virgin Mother. Christ was delivered up on our behalf, not because He was loved less by God than we are, but that by saving us He might emerge gloriously triumphant over the devil, sin, and death (Ia, q. 20, a. 4 ad Ium).
In the love of God everything is subordinated to the manifestation of His goodness. This is the constant refrain of the psalm: “Praise the Lord for He is good; for His mercy endureth forever” (Ps. 135).
One last perfection of divine love: in its strength it is invincible, in the sense that without its divine permission nothing can resist it and that by its power everything is made to conspire to the eventual fulfilment of the good. In this sense the love of God is mightier than death: mightier than physical death, since it raised up Christ Jesus and will raise us up at the last day; mightier than spiritual death, for it is able to convert the most hardened sinner, raising to life again the soul that is dead, and that not once, but many times, in the course of its earthly existence.
The will of expression and the will of good pleasure in God
That our will should be made to conform to the divine will and its holy love is of course obvious; for, as St. Thomas says,  any goodness in our voluntary acts and in the will itself depends on the end to which they are directed. Now the ultimate end of the human will is the sovereign good, which is also the primary object of the divine will, that object in view of which all other things are willed by it.
Here, however, we must distinguish with the whole of tradition between the divine will of good pleasure and the divine will of expression.  By the divine will of expression we mean all those external signs that reveal God’s will-commands, prohibitions, the spirit underlying the counsels, and everything that happens by His will or permission. The divine will thus expressed, especially in commands, comes within the domain of obedience, and, as St. Thomas remarks,  is what we refer to when we say in the Our Father, “Thy will be done.”
The divine will of good pleasure is the interior act of God’s will, which often is not yet revealed or expressed externally. Upon it depends our still uncertain future—future events, future joys and trials, whether of long or short duration, the hour and circumstances of our death, and so on. As St. Francis of Sales remarks  and Bossuet after him,  whereas the expressed will of God is the domain of obedience, the will of His good pleasure is the domain of trusting surrender. As we will explain at some length later on, in making our will conform daily to the divine will as expressed, we must for the rest abandon ourselves in all confidence to the divine will of good pleasure, for we are certain beforehand that it wills nothing, permits nothing, unless for the spiritual and eternal welfare of those who love God and persevere in that love.
Such is God’s holy will and His love for us. It is this love that has been revealed to us in our Lord, whose heart is a glowing furnace of charity.
Christ’s love for us, like that of His heavenly Father, is absolutely holy and inspired by sheer generosity: He has not been drawn to us, but we to Him: “You have not chosen me, “ He says, “but I have chosen you” (John 15: 16). Again, the love of Jesus for His Father and for us has ever been invincible: it constrained Him to submit to death, and by His death he raises up souls to a new life, once again directing upon them the stream of the divine mercies.
As a practical conclusion, we must allow ourselves to be loved by this exceedingly holy, purifying, life-giving love, and submit to its purifications, however painful they may be at times. And it should be met with a generous response, according to these words of St. John: “Let us love God: because He hath first loved us” (I John 4: 10). We must love the Lord for His own sake, with a purity of intention rising above the promptings of vainglory and pride and that self-seeking which is induced by jealousy and the desire for the esteem of men.
The beginning in us of a pure love for God will then be some participation in that love which God has for Himself, a spark from that divine furnace of His own self-love. And as our love grows purer daily, it will increase in holiness, generosity, and strength. Indeed it will make us invincible, according to the phrase of St. Paul (Rom. 8: 1), “If God be with us, who is against us?” And finally, our love thus gradually purified will enable us to triumph over death itself and will open the gates of paradise to us. When we enter into glory, we shall be established forever in a supernatural love for God that can nevermore be lost or lessened.
PART III : PROVIDENCE ACCORDING TO REVELATION
14. The Notion Of Providence
Having spoken of those divine perfections which the notion of providence presupposes, we must go on to consider in what this providence consists. What revelation has told us about God’s wisdom and His love will give us a clearer insight into its teaching concerning the divine governance. This teaching far surpasses that of the philosophers, many of whom maintain that providence does not extend beyond the general laws governing the universe; that it does not reach down to individuals and the details of their existence, to future free actions and the secrets of the heart. On the other hand, certain heretics have held that since providence extends infallibly to the least of our actions, there can be no such thing as liberty. The revealed teaching is the golden mean lying between these two extreme positions and transcending them.
Providence, as we shall see, is a sort of extension of God’s wisdom, which “reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly” (Wis. 8: I; 14: 3).” Since, “ says St. Thomas, “God is the cause of all things by His intellect (in conjunction with His will), it is necessary that the type of the order of things toward their end should pre-exist in the divine mind; and the type of things ordered toward an end is, properly speaking, providence” (Ia, q. 22, a. 1).  As for the divine governance, though the expression is generally used as synonymous with providence, it is, strictly speaking, the execution of the providential plan (ibid., ad 2um).
St. Thomas (ibid.) also points out that providence in God corresponds to the virtue of prudence in us, which regulates the means with a view to the attainment of some end, which exercises foresight in anticipation of the future. We have, besides a purely personal prudence, that higher prudence which a father must exercise to provide for his family’s needs, and higher still, the prudence demanded in the head of the state that should be found in our law makers and other government officials for the promotion of the common interests of the nation. Likewise in God there is a providence directing all things to the good of the universe, the manifestation of the divine goodness in every order, from the inanimate creation even to the angels and saints in heaven.
And so by a comparison with the virtue of prudence is formed the analogical notion of providence, a notion accessible to commonsense reason and abundantly confirmed by revelation. A prudent person will first desire the end and then, having decided on the means to be employed, will begin using them; thus the end, which held first place in his desire, is the last in actual attainment. So we look upon God as intending from all eternity first the end and purpose of the universe and then the means necessary for the realization or attainment of that end. This commonsense view is expressed by the philosophers when they say that the end is first in the order of intention but last in order of execution. This point is of paramount importance when we are considering the end and purpose of the universe of material and spiritual beings.
From this general notion of providence we deduce its characteristics. We will briefly indicate them here before looking for a more vivid and detailed account of them in Scripture.
1) The absolute universality of providence is deduced from the absolute universality of divine causality, which in this case is the causality of an intellectual agent.” The causality of God, “ says St. Thomas, “extends to all beings, not only as to the constituent principles of species, but also as to the individualizing principles (for these also belong to the realm of being) ; it extends not only to things incorruptible but also to those corruptible. Hence all things that exist in whatsoever manner are necessarily directed by God toward some end” (Ia, q. 22, a. 2). This is demanded by the principle of finality, which states that every agent acts for some end and the supreme agent for the supreme end known to Him, to which He subordinates all else. That end, as we saw when speaking of the love of God, is the manifestation of His goodness, His infinite perfection, and His various attributes.
As we shall see, it is constantly asserted in the Old and New Testaments that the plan of providence has been fixed immediately by God Himself down to the last detail. His practical knowledge would be imperfect, were it not as far reaching as His causality, and without that causality nothing comes into existence. Obviously, therefore, as was stated above, any reality or goodness in creatures and their actions is caused by God. This means that with the exception of evil (that privation and disorder in which sin consists), all things have God as their first if not exclusive cause.  As for physical evil and suffering, God wills them only in an accidental way, in view of a higher good.  From the absolute universality of providence we deduce a second characteristic.
2) This universal and immediate sway exerted by providence, does not destroy, but safeguards the freedom of our actions. Not only does it safeguard liberty, but actuates it,  for the precise reason that providence extends even to the free mode of our actions, which it produces in us with our co-operation; for this free mode in our choice, this indifference dominating our desire, is still within the realm of being, and nothing exists unless it be from God.  The slightest idiosyncrasy of temperament and character, the consequences of heredity, the influence exerted on our actions by the emotions —all are known to providence; it penetrates into the innermost recesses of conscience, and has at its disposal every sort of grace to enlighten, attract, and strengthen us. There is thus a gentleness in its control that yields nothing to strength. Suaviter et fortiter it produces and preserves the divine seed in the heart and watches over its development (Ia, q. 22, a. 4).
3) Although providence, as the divine ordinance, extends immediately to all reality and goodness, to the last and least fiber of every being, nevertheless in the execution of the plan of providence, God governs the lower creation through the higher, to which He thus communicates the dignity of causality (Ia, q. 22, a. 3).
These various characteristics of providence we will now consider as they are presented to us in the Old and New Testaments. No better way can be found to make our knowledge of them not merely abstract and theoretical, but living and spiritually fruitful.
15. The Characteristics Of Providence According To The Old Testament
In many passages of the Old Testament (e. g., Wis. 6: 8; 8: I; 11: 21; 12: 13; 17: 2), the doctrine about providence is expressed in terms that are formal and explicit, and implicitly it is indicated in a multitude of other texts. Indeed the Book of Job is devoted entirely to the consideration of providence in relation to the trials the just endure; and wherever we find mention of prayer, we have an equivalent affirmation of providence, for prayer presupposes it.
The Old Testament teaching on this subject may be summed up in these two fundamental points:
1) A universal and infallible providence directs all things to a good purpose.
2) For us providence is an evident fact, sometimes even a startling fact, though in certain of its ways it remains absolutely unfathomable.
We have chosen an abundant array of Scriptural texts, and grouped them in such a way that they explain one another. The words of the texts are more beautiful than any commentary can make them.
A universal and infallible providence directs all things to a good purpose
1) The universality of providence, reaching down to the minutest things, is clearly taught in the Old Testament. The Book of Wisdom declares it repeatedly: “God made the little and the great, and He hath equally care of all” (6: 8) ; “Wisdom reacheth from end to end mightily and ordereth all things sweetly” (8: 1) ; “Thou hast ordered all things in number, measure, and weight” (11: 21) ; “There is no other God but Thou, who hast care of all, that Thou shouldst show that Thou dost not give judgment unjustly” (12: 13). The author then gives this striking example:
Again, another, designing to sail, and beginning to make his voyage through the raging waves…. The wood that carrieth him the desire of gain devised, and the workman built it by his skill. But Thy providence, O Father, governeth it: for Thou hast made a way even in the sea, and a most sure path even among the waves, showing that Thou art able to save out of all things…. Therefore men also trust their lives even to a little wood, and passing over the sea by ship are saved (14: 1-5).
This simple description of the confidence shown by those who sail the seas on a “little wood” proclaims more clearly than all the writings of Plato and Aristotle the existence of a providence extending to the minutest things. We find the same explicit declarations in certain beautiful prayers of the Old Testament: for instance, in Judith’s prayer before she set out for the camp of Holofernes:
Assist, I beseech Thee, O Lord God, me a widow. For Thou hast done the things of old, and hast devised one thing after another: and what Thou hast designed hath been done. For all Thy ways are prepared, and in Thy providence Thou hast placed Thy judgments. Look upon the camp of the Assyrians now, as Thou wast pleased to look upon the camp of the Egyptians… and the waters overwhelmed them. So may it be with these also, O Lord, who trust in their multitude, and in their chariots, and in their pikes, and in their shields, and in their arrows, and glory in their spears: and know not that Thou art our God, who destroyest wars from the beginning. And the Lord is Thy name…. The prayer of the humble and the meek have always pleased Thee. O God of the heavens, Creator of the waters, and Lord of the whole creation, hear me a poor wretch, making supplication to Thee, and presuming of Thy mercy (Judith 9: 3-17).
Here, besides the existence of an all-embracing providence and the rectitude of its ways, there is also brought out the freedom of the divine election regarding the nation from which the Savior was to be born.
But what is the manner of this divine ordinance?
2) The infallibility of providence touching everything that happens, including even our present and future free actions, is stressed in the Old Testament no less clearly than its universal extent. In this connection we must cite especially the prayer of Mardochai (Esther 13: 9-17), in which he implores God’s help against Aman and the enemies of the chosen people:
O Lord, Lord almighty King, for all things are in Thy power, and there is none that can resist Thy will, if Thou determine to save Israel. Thou hast made heaven and earth, and all things that are under the cope of heaven. Thou art the Lord of all, and there is none that can resist Thy majesty. Thou knowest all things, and Thou knowest that it was not out of pride and contempt or any desire of glory that I refused to worship the proud Aman…. But I feared lest I should transfer the honor of my God to a man…. And now, O Lord, O King, O God of Abraham, have mercy on Thy people, because our enemies resolve to destroy us…. Hear my supplication…. And turn our mourning into joy, that we may live and praise Thy name.
Not less touching is Queen Esther’s prayer in those same circumstances (14: 12-19), bringing out even more clearly the infallibility of providence regarding even the free acts of men; for she asks that the heart of King Assuerus be changed, and her prayer is answered: “Remember, O Lord, and show Thyself to us in the time of our tribulation, and give me boldness, O Lord, King of gods, and of all power. Give me a well ordered speech in my mouth in the presence of the lion: and turn his heart to the hatred of our enemy; that both he himself may perish, and the rest that consent to him. But deliver us by Thy hand: and help me who hath no helper, but Thee, O Lord, who hast the knowledge of all things. And Thou knowest that I hate the glory of the wicked…. Deliver us from the hand of the wicked. And deliver me from my fear.” In fact, as we read a little later on (15: 11), “God changed the king’s spirit into mildness; and all in haste and in fear [seeing Esther faint before him], he leaped from his throne and held her in his arms till she came to herself.” Thereupon, after speedily assuring himself of Aman’s treachery, he sent him to his punishment, and leant all the weight of his power to the Jews in defending themselves against their enemies. 
From this it is plain that divine providence extends infallibly not only to the least external happening but also to the most intimate secrets of the heart and every free action; for, in answer to the prayer of the just, it brings about a change in the interior dispositions of the will of kings. Socrates and Plato never rose to such lofty conceptions, to such firm convictions on this matter of the divine governance.
Many other texts in the Bible to the same effect are repeatedly insisted upon by both St. Augustine and St. Thomas.
In Proverbs, for instance, we read (21: 1) : “As the division of the waters, so the heart of the king is in the hand of the Lord: whithersoever He will He shall turn it. Every way of man seemeth right to himself: but the Lord weigheth the hearts.” Again, in Ecclesiasticus (33: 13) we read: “As the potter’s clay is in his hand, to fashion and order it: all his ways are according to his ordering. So man is in the hand of Him who made Him: and He will render to him according to His judgment.” Again, Isaias in his prophecies against the heathen (14:24) says: “The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saving: Surely as I have thought, so shall it be. And as I have purposed, so shall it fall out: that I will destroy the Assyrian in My land… and his yoke shall be taken away from them.” “This is the hand, “ the prophet adds, “that is stretched out upon all nations. For the Lord of hosts hath decreed, and who can disannul it? And His hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it away?” Always there is the same insistence on the liberty of the divine election, on a universal and infallible providence reaching down to the minutest detail and to the free actions of men.
3) For what end has this universal and infallible providence directed all things? Though the psalms do not bring that full light to bear which comes with the Gospel, they frequently answer this question when they declare that God directs all things to good, for the manifestation of His goodness, His mercy, and His justice, and that He is in no way the cause of sin, but permits it in view of a greater good Providence is thus presented as a divine virtue inseparably united with mercy and justice, just as true prudence in the man of virtue can never be at variance with the moral virtues of justice, fortitude, and moderation which are intimately connected with it. Only in God, however, can this connection of the virtues reach its supreme perfection.
Again and again we find in the psalms such expressions as these: “All the ways of the Lord are mercy and truth” (24:10) ; “All His works are done with faithfulness. He loveth mercy and judgment [Heb., justice and right] ; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord” (32: 4-5) ; “Show, O Lord, Thy ways to me, and teach me Thy paths. Direct me in Thy truth, and teach me; for Thou art God my Savior, and on Thee I have waited all the day long. Remember, O Lord, Thy bowels of compassion; and Thy mercies that are from the beginning of the world. The sins of my youth and my ignorances do not remember. According to Thy mercy remember me: for Thy goodness’ sake, O Lord” (24: 4-7).” The Lord ruleth me: and I shall want nothing. He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment: He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice, for His name’s sake. For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils, for Thou art with me. Thy rod and Thy staff: they have comforted me” (22: 1-5).” In Thee, O Lord, have I hoped, let me never be confounded…. My lots are in Thy hands. Deliver me out of the hands of my enemies, and from them that persecute me. Make Thy face to shine on Thy servant: save me in Thy mercy…. O how great is the multitude of Thy sweetness, O Lord, which Thou has hidden from them that fear Thee! Which Thou has wrought for them that hope in Thee, in the sight of the sons of men. Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy face from the disturbance of men. Thou shalt protect them in Thy tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues” (30: I, 16, 17, 20).
Here we have the twofold foundation of our hope and trust in God: His providence, with its individual care for each one of the just, and His omnipotence. All these passages in the psalms may be summed up in St. Teresa’s words already quoted: “Lord, Thou knowest all things, canst do all things, and Thou lovest me.”
Since providence is of such absolute universality, extending to the minutest details, and since at the same time it is infallible and directs all things to good, surely it ought to be quite evident to those who are willing to see it. How, then, in its ways is it so often impenetrable even to the just? The Old Testament more than once touches on this great problem.
Providence is for us an evident fact, yet in certain of its ways it remains absolutely unfathomable
According to the Bible, the evidence that providence in general exists, is obtained either from the order apparent in the world or from the history of the chosen people or again from the main features of the lives of the just and of the wicked.
The order apparent in the world, declare the psalms, proclaims the existence of an intelligent designer: “The heavens show forth the glory of God: and the firmament declareth the work of His hands” (18: 2) ; “Sing ye to the Lord with praise: sing to our God upon the harp; who covereth the heavens with clouds, and prepareth rain for the earth; who maketh grass to grow on the mountains, and herbs for the service of men, who giveth to beasts their food, and to the young ravens that call upon Him” (146: 7; cf. Job 38: 41) ; “All men are vain, in whom there is not the knowledge of God: and who by these good things that are seen could not understand Him that He is. Neither by attending to the works have acknowledged who was the workman…. They are not to be pardoned. For if they were able to know so much as to make a judgment of the world, how did not they more easily find out the Lord thereof?” (Wis. 13: I, 4, 8.)
Providence is no less clearly seen in the history of the chosen people, as the psalms again remind us, especially PS. 113, In exitu Israel de Aegypto:
When Israel went out of Egypt… the sea saw and fled: Jordan was turned back…. What ailed thee, O thou sea, that thou didst flee? and thou, O Jordan, that thou wast turned back? Ye mountains that skipped like rams, and ye hills like lambs of the flock? At the presence of the God of Jacob: who turned the rock into pools of water, and the stony hill into fountains of waters. Not to us, O Lord, not to us: but to Thy name give glory. For Thy mercy and for Thy truth’s sake…. The Lord hath been mindful of us and hath blessed us. He hath blessed the house of Israel…. He hath blessed all that fear the Lord, both little and great…. But we that live bless the Lord: from this time now and forever.
Lastly, providence is clearly shown in the general life of the just, in the often perceptible happiness with which it rewards them. As we read in psalm 111:
Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord: he shall delight exceedingly in His commandments. His seed shall be mighty on the earth: the generation of the righteous shall be blessed. Glory and wealth shall be in his house: and his justice remaineth forever and ever. To the righteous a light hath risen up in darkness: He is merciful, compassionate and just…. His heart is ready to hope in the Lord, his heart is strengthened: he shall not be moved until he look over his enemies. He hath given to the poor: His justice remaineth forever and ever.
The providence of God is especially to be seen in the case of those in tribulation, “raising up the needy from the earth and lifting up the poor out of the dunghill. That He may place him with the princes of His people” (Ps. 112: 7).
On the other hand, the malice of the wicked receives its chastisement even in this world, often in a most striking way, another sign of the divine governance: “Be not delighted in the paths of the wicked…. Flee from it, pass not by it…. They eat the bread of wickedness…. But the path of the just, as a shining light, goeth forward and increaseth even to a perfect day. The way of the wicked is darksome: they know not where they fall” (Prov., chap. 4).  God withdraws His blessing from the wicked and delivers them up to their own blindness; but to His servants He lends His aid, sometimes in marvelous ways, as when He said to Elias (III Kings 17: 3) : “Get thee hence and go towards the east and hide thyself by the torrent Carith…. I have commanded the ravens to feed thee there.” In obedience to the word of the Lord he departed and took up his abode by the torrent of Carith; and the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and eventide, and he drank water from the torrent.
Although providence is thus evident in the life of the just taken as a whole, nevertheless in some of its ways it remains inscrutable. Especially is this so in its more advanced stages, where the obscurity is due solely to an overpowering radiance dazzling our feeble sight. An outstanding example is that passage from Isaias which predicts the sufferings of the Servant of Yahweh, or the Savior.
Again in psalm 33: 20, we read: “Many are the tribulations of the just; but out of them all will the Lord deliver them.” Judith says:
Our fathers were tempted that they might be proved, whether they worshiped their God truly…. Abraham was tempted and, being proved by many tribulations, was made the friend of God. So Isaac, so Jacob, so Moses, and all that have pleased God, have passed through many tribulations, remaining faithful…. Let us not revenge ourselves for these things which we suffer. But esteeming these very punishments to be less than our sins deserve, let us believe that these scourges of the Lord, with which like servants we are chastised, have happened for our amendment, and not for our destruction (Judith 8: 21-27).
The prophets often spoke of the mysterious character of certain ways of providence, especially when, like Jeremias, they realized the comparative futility of their efforts. Isaias (55:6) writes:
Seek ye the Lord while He may be found: call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the unjust man his thoughts, and let him return to the Lord; and He will have mercy on him: and to our God; for He is bountiful to forgive. For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are exalted above the earth, so are my ways exalted above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.
We find the same expressed in psalm 35: 7: “Thy justice, O Lord, is as the mountains of God: Thy judgments are a great deep.”
Nevertheless, in this higher darkness, so different from the lower darkness of sin and death, the just man discovers which way his true path lies: he learns to distinguish more and more clearly these two kinds of darkness, which are at opposite extremes.  Let us say with the just Tobias (13: 1) after the trials he had endured:
Thou art great, O Lord, forever, and Thy kingdom is unto all ages. For Thou scourgest and Thou savest: Thou leadest down to hell, and bringest up again: and there is none that can escape Thy hand. Give glory to the Lord, ye children of Israel: and praise Him in the sight of the Gentiles. Because He has therefore scattered you among the Gentiles, who know not Him, that you may declare His wonderful works: and make them know that there is no other almighty God besides Him. He hath chastised us for our iniquities: and He will save us for His own mercy.  Be converted, therefore, ye sinners: and do justice before God, believing that He will show His mercy to you.
These, then, are the principal statements in the Old Testament concerning providence. It is universal, extending to the minutest detail, to the secrets of the heart. It is infallible, regarding everything that happens, even our free actions. It directs all things to good, and at the prayer of the just will change the heart of the sinner. For those who will but see, it is an evident fact, yet in certain of its ways it remains inscrutable. This teaching shows us what confidence we should have in God and with what wholehearted abandonment we should surrender ourselves to Him in times of trial by perfect conformity to His divine will; then will He direct all things to our sanctification and salvation. And so the Gospel proclaims: “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His justice: and all these things shall be added unto you” (Luke 12: 31).
16. The Hidden Ways Of Providence And The Book Of Job
We cannot speak of the Old Testament witness to providence without pausing to consider the Book of Job. It will be well to pass in review the general ideas it contains, with particular stress on the meaning and significance of the conclusion to which they lead.
The book treats of the mystery of suffering or the distribution of happiness and misfortune in this present life. Why is it that here on earth even the just must at times endure so many evils? What is the purpose of this in the plan of divine providence? We shall see that the general answer to this question is made more precise in numerous other passages of the Bible which point out that these trials of God’s servants are ordained for a greater good.
There is now practically unanimous agreement with the Church Fathers that Job was a real person. The conversation between Job and his friends must have been substantially that attributed to them by the inspired writer, who then gave to the book the form of a didactic poem, its main purpose being to instruct. From the literary point of view it is unusually rich in style. Its purpose is to give the reason for the ills of this present life. Let us see first of all how the problem is presented, and then what solution is given to it. 
A review of the more important of these texts will be of particular profit to those souls who find themselves unable to look upon the question of pure love as just a theoretical problem, but who view it as a question in which they are deeply and passionately interested. God’s love is concerned more with their griefs than with their words or their writings; it is because, as with Job, their words are the fruit of their griefs that they are the source at times of so much good.
Let us obtain light on this point by consulting St. Thomas’ commentary on the Book of Job, which anticipates some of the most sublime pages of St. John of the Cross in The Dark Night of the Soul, concerning the passive purifications that distinguish the night of the spirit. 
Is it always on account of sin that misfortune befalls us in this life?
Is even the innocent man struck down, and if so, why? This is the question Job asks himself, afflicted as he is by the loathsome disease. The very beginning of the book (1: 1) says of him that he was “simple and upright, and fearing God, and avoiding evil, “ that he had great possessions, and that he frequently reminded his sons of their duties toward God, offering holocausts for each one of them.
The Most High God Himself declares of him: “There is none like him in the earth, a simple and upright man, and fearing God, and avoiding evil” (1:8) ; to which Satan replies: “Doth Job fear God in vain?… His possession hath increased on the earth…. But stretch forth Thy hand a little, and touch all that he hath: and see if he blesseth Thee not to Thy face (1:9-11).
“Then the Lord said to Satan: Behold, all that he hath is in thy hand…. And Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.” These words recall those our Lord addressed to St. Peter before His passion: “Simon, Simon, behold Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not” (Luke 22: 31).
The best always are the ones who must undergo this winnowing. This first and most important chapter of the whole book throws light on all that follows, the conclusion especially. But Job is not himself aware of what the Lord has said to Satan or of what he has permitted him to do. Such are, indeed, the hidden ways of providence, whose secret is here revealed to us in the opening chapter of the book, while for the one afflicted they remain a profound mystery.
In point of fact, Job is deprived of all his possessions, and his sons and daughters meet their death in a tempest. Yet the patriarch is resigned to God’s will, saying: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away…. Blessed be the name of the Lord” (1: 21). Then Satan obtains leave from God to afflict the holy man “with a very grievous ulcer, from the sole of the foot even to the top of the head” (2: 7). But still, in spite of the insults of his wife, who bids him “bless God and die, “ Job continues faithful to God.
At this point three of his friends arrive to console him: the aged Eliphaz, the middle-aged Baldad, and a young man named Sophar. They remain for a long time weeping, unable to utter a word at the sight of the intense affliction of their unfortunate friend.
After the coming of his friends, for seven days and nights of suffering, Job himself remains silent. Then, having reached the limit of endurance, he opens his lips and says: “Let the day perish wherein I was born. Why is light given to him that is in misery, and life to them that are in bitterness of soul?… That look for death, and it cometh not, as they that dig for a treasure…. I am not at ease, neither am I quiet, neither have I rest”  (3:3, 20, 21, 26).
Thereupon Job’s friends address him thus: “Behold thou hast taught many…. Thy words have confirmed many that were staggering…. But now the scourge is come upon thee, and thou faintest” (4: I-5). Eliphaz, the eldest, anxious to preserve his reputation for wisdom, is astonished that Job should let himself be so deeply discouraged: the innocent, he says, cannot perish: it is only the wicked who are consumed by the divine wrath. Then he relates how it was revealed to him one night that no man is just in the sight of God. Job, therefore, must cease complaining so bitterly unless he wishes to share the fate of the wicked; let him confess his guilt and implore God’s mercy, for God chastises as a father, and the wounds He inflicts He will also heal (chaps. 4, 5)
Job replies that his complaints fall far short of the sufferings he endures: death itself would be more welcome. He hoped to receive some consolation from his friends, but he was deceived in his expectations; and yet, all that his friends can reproach him with is, that he spoke somewhat hastily (6:24-30). Then, turning to God, he lays before Him his misfortune, imploring Him to put an end to it by death (7: I-21).” I have had empty months, and have numbered to myself wearisome nights…. So that my soul rather chooseth hanging, and my bones death…. How long wilt Thou not spare me?… I have sinned. What shall I do to Thee, O Keeper of men? Why dost Thou not remove my sin?”
It is Baldad, middle-aged, opulent, self-confident, who, instead of consoling his friend, replies by insisting that God is not unjust; such misfortunes as these He inflicts only on those who have sinned grievously. He then exhorts Job to return to God (chap. 8). Job acknowledges that God is wise and just; but, he adds, “if any man is innocent, surely it is I.” And he continues to give free vent to his complaining (chaps. 9, 10).
Sophar, the third and youngest of his friends, a passionate, hot-headed youth, takes the theme from the other two: in his opinion Job’s wickedness far outweighs the severity of his chastisement, and he, too, exhorts him to return to God.
In chapters 12, 13, and 14, Job acknowledges once again the infinite wisdom of God, His justice, and His power, sounding the praises of the divine perfections even more loudly than his friends. Then, in chapter 13, he continues: “Although He should kill me, I will trust in Him. But yet I will prove my ways in His sight: and He shall be my savior…. I shall be found just. How many are my iniquities and sins? Make me know my crimes and offenses.” Finally he becomes less vehement, excuses himself, and implores His judge to have pity on him.
But he does not succeed in convincing his friends. In the harshest terms Eliphaz continues to maintain that Job does wrong to complain, seeing that before God all men are guilty (chap. 15).
Job answers (chap. 16) : “I have often heard such things as these: you are all troublesome comforters…. I also could speak like you: and would God your soul were for my soul.” Once again he testifies to his innocence, calling upon God Himself to judge between him and his friends.” Behold my witness is in heaven: and He that knoweth my conscience is on high. My friends are full of words: my eye poureth out tears to God.”
As St. Thomas says in his commentary, Job’s friends have no thought for the future life; they believe that the just must be rewarded and the wicked punished even in this world.
Baldad repeats what he has already said, that here on earth misfortune is always the lot of the wicked. But this time he adds neither consolation nor promise: to him Job is now a hardened sinner, and he treats him accordingly. We see, therefore, that of all the trials Job had to endure, one of the severest comes from his own friends. Losing sight of the future life, they repeat insistently that all accounts must be settled here on earth, and thus they oppress him with their arguments.
It is then that Job, who is a figure of the Christ to come, is uplifted by an inspiration from on high to that mystery of the after-life which was hinted at in the prologue. He answers (chap. 19) :
Behold these ten times you confound me, and are not ashamed to oppress me. For I have been ignorant, my ignorance shall be with me. But you set yourselves up against me, and reprove me with my reproaches. At least now understand that God hath not afflicted me with an equal judgment…. He hath hedged in my path round about, and I cannot pass: and in my way He hath set darkness…. He hath taken away my hope, as from a tree that is plucked up…. He hath counted me as His enemy…. He hath put my brethren far from me: and my acquaintance like strangers have departed from me…. Even fools despised me…. Have pity on me, have pity on me, at least you my friends, because the hand of the Lord hath touched me…. Who will grant that my words may be written… graven with an instrument in flint stone? For I know that my Redeemer liveth, and in the last day I shall rise out of the earth. And I shall be clothed again with my skin: and in my flesh I shall see God. Whom I myself shall see, and my eyes behold: and not another. This my hope is laid up in my bosom. Why then do you say now: Let us persecute him. Know ye that there is judgment.
In spite of this sublime cry of hope, the young Sophar returns to his original theme, insisting that the misfortunes of this present life can be explained only as a chastisement of sin.
Job, on the contrary, proves from experience that this is a false principle (chap. 21). Doubtless, in many cases the wicked do receive signal punishment, but there are cases also in which outwardly they are successful up to the very moment of their death, whereas occasionally the just have much to suffer.
Eliphaz comes back persistently to his point; he even goes so far as to give a long list of the sins Job must have committed: “Thou hast withdrawn bread from the hungry…. Thou hast sent widows away empty” (chap. 22).
In chapters 28-31 Job maintains that misfortune in this world is not always a chastisement for a sinful life. He does not know, he confesses, why he should suffer, but this God knows in His great wisdom, which to man is unfathomable. Chapter 31 concludes the first Part of the book. and with it the colloquies of Job, “who ends by reducing his opponents to silence, but without himself discovering the clue to the enigma.” 
With the second part there enters a young man, Eliu by name, who gives proof of some degree of intelligence, “but apparently is not altogether free from over-confidence.”  He maintains that Job is being punished not for any serious crime, but for not having been sufficiently humble before God; the bitter complaints to which he gave way are themselves an indication of his interior feelings. Let him repent, therefore, and God will reinstate him in his former happiness (chaps. 32-37). To this Job has no answer, for what Eliu has said is quite possible and is to a great extent true. Thus every aspect of the problem of suffering has now been presented; yet still there is something lacking.
The meaning and significance of the Lord’s reply
Finally, in the third part, the Lord Himself intervenes in response to Job’s petition to plead his cause before Him (13:22).
It is contrary to God’s dignity to enter into discussion with men. He answers by unrolling before the eyes of Job a magnificent panorama of the wonders of creation, from the stars in the heavens to the wondrous effects of animal instinct (chaps 38, 39).
Shalt thou be able to join the shining stars, the Pleiades, or canst thou stop the turning about of Arcturus? Can’st thou bring forth the day star in its time?… Dost thou know the order of heaven? And canst thou set down the reason thereof on the earth?… Wilt thou take the prey for the lioness, and satisfy the appetite of her whelps?… Wilt thou give strength to the horse?… Will the eagle mount up at thy command, and make her nest in high places?
All these works reveal a wisdom, a providence, a perfect adaptation of means to ends that bear witness to the absolute goodness of their author, and they should teach men to accept humbly and without murmuring whatever the Almighty may direct or permit. As we read these words uttered by “Him who is, “ we realize intuitively almost that He is the author and conserver of our being, that He has knit together, as it were, our essence and existence, which He continues to conserve, and that He is the cause of all that is real and good in creation. It has been said that this divine answer does not touch the philosophical aspect of the question under discussion. As a matter of fact, it shows that God does nothing but for a good purpose, and that if already in the things of sense there is this wonderful order, much more sublime must be the order in the spiritual world, even though it must at times be obscure to us on account of its transcendence. Later on we shall see our Lord making use of a more striking similitude: “Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap… and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?” (Matt. 6: 26.) And so the divine answer arouses in the heart of Job sentiments of humility and resignation.
In conclusion, God ironically invites Job to take over the government of the world and maintain there the reign of order and of justice (41: 1-9). Would he be able to do so, powerless and unarmed as he was, in face of the two monsters He names? Yet these are no more than a plaything in the hands of God.  In His description (chap. 40) of the mighty strength with which He has endowed Behemoth and Leviathan (the hippopotamus and the crocodile), the Lord suggests the parallel that if, like these monsters, the devil has sometimes extraordinary power in afflicting men, nevertheless he cannot exercise that power without the permission of God, who can make its very fury subserve His own good purpose. 
And so in the end (chap. 42) Job makes his humble confession: “I know that Thou canst do all things…. I have spoken unwisely, and things that above measure exceed my knowledge.” He thus acknowledges that his complaining was excessive and his words sometimes unconsidered. Nevertheless the Lord tells Eliphaz: “My wrath is kindled against thee, and against thy two friends, because you have not spoken the thing that is right before Me, as My servant Job hath…. Offer for yourselves a holocaust. And My servant Job shall pray for you. His face I will accept, that folly may not be imputed to you.” And the Lord blessed the latter days of Job with even greater blessings than before, and he died in peace very advanced in years.
The clue to the whole book is to be found in the first chapter, where we are told how the Lord permitted the devil to try His servant Job. The conclusion, then, is obvious: If men are visited by God with tribulation, He does so not exclusively as a chastisement for their sins, but to prove them as gold is proved in the furnace and make them advance in virtue. It is the purification of love, as the great Christian mystics call it. In the prologue Satan asked (1:9) : “Doth Job fear God in vain?… His possessions have increased on the earth.” Now we see how even in the greatest adversity Job still remained faithful to God. That this is the meaning of the trials sent upon the just is shown in many other passages of the Old Testament.
The trials of the just serve a higher purpose
This teaching receives its confirmation in the two great trials recorded in Genesis: Abraham preparing, at God’s command, to sacrifice his son Isaac (Gen., chap. 22) and Joseph sold in captivity by his brethren (Gen., chap. 37).
God tried Abraham by commanding him to offer as a holocaust his son Isaac, the son of promise. As St. Paul tells the Hebrews (11: 17) : “By faith Abraham, when he was tried, offered Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son (to whom it was said: In Isaac shall thy seed be called), accounting that God is able to raise up even from the dead. Whereupon also He received him for a parable.” The angel of the Lord stayed the hand of the patriarch, who heard a voice from heaven saying: “Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not spared thy only begotten son for My sake: I will bless thee, and I will multiply thy seed as the stars of heaven…. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed: because thou has t obeyed My voice” (Gen. 22: 16).
Joseph was tried when, through envy of him, and his dreams and inspirations, his brethren sold him into captivity. Calumniated by his master’s wife, the innocent Joseph was cast into prison, subsequently to be raised to the first rank by Pharaoh, who recognized in him the spirit of the Lord (Gen. 41: 38). Later still, when under the stress of famine his brethren came seeking corn in Egypt, he said to them:
I am Joseph. Is my father yet living?… I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. Be not afraid, and let it not seem to you a hard case that you sold me into these countries: for God sent me before you into Egypt for your preservation…. Not by your counsel was I sent hither, but by the will of God: who hath made me… lord of his [Pharaoh’s] whole house, and governor in all the land of Egypt…. And falling upon the neck of his brother Benjamin, he embraced him and wept” (Gen. 45: 3-14).
What more eloquent declaration than this of providence, of the divine governance, which turns to good account the trials of the just, sometimes even to the welfare of their persecutors, when their eyes at last are opened?
The same is repeatedly brought out by the psalms, notably 90:11-16, from which the gradual and tract for the first Sunday in Lent are taken:
He hath given His angels charge over thee to keep thee in all thy ways.  In their hands they shall bear thee up, lest thou dash thy foot against a stone. Thou shalt walk upon the asp and the basilisk: and thou shalt tramp under foot the lion and the dragon…. He that dwelleth in the aid of the most High shall abide under the protection of heaven. He shall say to the Lord: Thou art my protector and my refuge: my God in whom I trust. For He hath delivered me from the snare of the hunters: and from the sharp word. He will overshadow thee with his shoulders: and under his wings thou shalt trust. His truth shall compass thee with a shield: thou shalt not be afraid of the terror of the night, of the arrow that flieth in the day…. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand: but it shall not come nigh thee…. For He [the Lord] hath given His angels charge over Thee, to keep Thee in all Thy ways…. [He will say] : Because he hoped in me I will deliver him: I will protect him because he hath known my name. He shall cry to me and I will hear him: I am with him in tribulation, I will deliver him, and I will glorify him. I will fill him with length of days: and I will show him my salvation.
In these admirable verses, full of a sublime poetry and a forceful spiritual realism, we are given a glimpse of the future life.
It is true, doubtless, that the Old Testament rarely mentions this future life except in a veiled way and usually in symbols. Yet Isaias (60: 19), describing the glories of the New Jerusalem, wrote: “The Lord shall be unto thee for an everlasting light, and thy God for thy glory. The sun shall go down no more…. For the Lord shall be unto thee for an everlasting light: and the days of thy mourning shall be ended.” And again (65: 19) : “I will rejoice in Jerusalem and joy in My people, saith the Lord, and the voice of weeping shall no more be heard in her, nor the voice of crying.”
Still more clearly in the Book of Wisdom (3: 1) we read:
The souls of the just are in the hands of God: and the torment of death shall not touch them. In the sight of the unwise they seemed to die: and their departure was taken for misery, and their going away from us, for utter destruction: but they are in peace….
Their hope is full of immortality. [469 Afflicted in few things, in many they shall be rewarded: because God hath tried them, and found them worthy of Himself. As gold is tried in the furnace He hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust He hath received them: and in time there shall be respect had to them. The just shall shine, and shall run to and fro like sparks among the reeds. They shall judge nations, and rule over people: and their Lord shall reign forever… for grace and peace is to His elect…. Then shall the just stand with great constancy against those that have afflicted them and taken away their labors…. [These shall say] within themselves:… These are they whom we had some time in derision and for a parable of reproach. We fools esteemed their lives madness and their end without honor. Behold how they are numbered among the children of God, and their lot is among the saints. Therefore we have erred from the way of truth…. What hath pride profited us? But the just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord, and the care of them with the Most High. Therefore they shall receive a kingdom of glory and a crown of beauty, at the hand of the Lord: for with His right hand He will cover them (5: 1).
These words, “But the just shall live for evermore: and their reward is with the Lord, “ can refer only to eternal life. The psalmist had already declared: “But as for me, I will appear before Thy sight in justice: I shall be satisfied when Thy glory shall appear” (Ps. 16:15). Daniel declares (12:13) : “They that are learned [in the things of God, and keep His law] shall shine as the stars for all eternity.” Finally, in his martyrdom, one of the seven Machabees thus addresses his executioner: “Thou indeed, O most wicked man, destroyest us out of this present life: but the King of the world will raise us up, who die for His laws, in the resurrection of eternal life” (II Mach. 7: 9). Tobias had declared: “Thou art great, O Lord, forever, and Thy kingdom is unto all ages. For Thou scourgest, and Thou savest: Thou leadest down to hell, and bringest up again…. He hath chastised us for our iniquities: and He will save us for His own mercy” (Tob. 13: 1-2, 5)
Many other texts of the Old Testament give us an insight into the meaning of the trials sent by God and hint clearly at the higher purpose He has in view. Judith exhorts the ancients of Israel to wait patiently for help from the Lord:
They must remember how our father Abraham was tempted, and being proved by many tribulations, was made the friend of God. So Isaac, so Jacob, so Moses, and all that have pleased God, passed through many tribulations, remaining faithful…. As for us… let us believe that these scourges of the Lord, with which like servants we are chastised, have happened for our amendment, and not for our destruction (Judith 8: 22-23, 26-27).
The advantages to be gained by suffering are thus declared by Ecclesiasticus (2: I-10) :
Son, when thou comest to the service of God… prepare thy soul for temptation. Humble thy heart, and endure: incline thy ear, and receive the words of understanding: and make not haste in the time of clouds. Wait on God with patience: join thyself to God and endure, that thy life may be increased in the latter end. Take all that shall be brought upon thee: and in thy sorrow endure, and in thy humiliation keep patience. For gold and silver are tried in the fire, but acceptable men in the furnace of tribulation. Believe God, and He will recover thee and direct thy way…. Ye that fear the Lord, hope in Him: and mercy shall come to you for your delight.
The Book of Wisdom (chaps. 15-17) contrasts the trials of the good with those of the wicked, and shows their gradation. The Egyptians are scourged with extraordinary plagues, but the Israelites by looking upon the brazen serpent are healed of the serpents’ bite; they are fed with manna from heaven, are led forward by the pillar of fire, and find a passage through the Red Sea, in which the Egyptians are swallowed up. And in Isaias we read: “I have blotted out thy iniquities as a cloud and thy sins as a mist: return to Me, for I have redeemed thee” (45:22; cf. 46:2-6).
Micheas foretells how God will have mercy on His people (7: 14-20) : “He will send His fury in no more, because He delighteth in mercy. He will turn again and have mercy on us: He will put away our iniquities and He will cast all our sins into the bottom of the sea. Thou wilt perform… the mercy to Abraham: which Thou hast sworn to our fathers from the days of old.”
All these Old Testament texts setting forth the reason why trials are sent upon the just throw light on the final conclusion of the Book of Job. But it is the Gospel that brings full light to bear upon the last things; only Christianity can provide the final solution. That solution, however, is foreshadowed in the Book of Wisdom (245-250 B. C.). What the Book of Job declares is that the justice of God, which, as Job himself recognizes, must some day have effect, is infinitely beyond our restricted view, and again that in this world virtue, instead of having as its inseparable accompaniment what men commonly call happiness, is often seen to be subjected to the severest trials.
With the Christian saints, in fact, the love of the cross is seen to increase as they grow in the love of God and likeness to Christ crucified, of whom holy Job was a figure. When misfortune overtakes us, whether the affliction is a trial or a chastisement, this remains obscure for each of us. Usually it is both, but then what is the measure of each? Only God knows. St. Paul, writing to the Hebrews, gives the solution when he speaks of perseverance in the midst of trial after the example of Christ (chap. 12) :
Let us run by patience to the fight proposed to us: looking on Jesus, the author and finisher of faith, who, having joy set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and now sitteth on the right hand of the throne of God. For think diligently upon Him that endured such opposition from sinners against Himself: that you be not wearied, fainting in your minds. For you have not resisted unto blood, striving against sin…. Whom the Lord loveth, He chastiseth: and He scourgeth every son whom He receiveth…. For what son is there, whom the father doth not correct?… [God chastises us] for our profit, that we might receive His sanctification.
It remains true, therefore, that, as Job says (chap. 7), “the life of man upon earth is a warfare and his days are like the days of a hireling.” But upon His servants the Lord bestows His grace; although, as St. Paul says (Rom. 8: 38), “to them that love God all things work together unto good, “ to the very end. All things—graces, natural qualities, contradictions, sickness, and, as St. Augustine says, even sin. For God permits sin in the lives of His servants, as He permitted Peter’s denial, that He may lead them to a deeper humility and thereby to a purer love.
17. Providence According To The Gospel
The existence of providence, its absolute universality extending to the smallest detail, and its infallibility regarding everything that comes to pass, not excepting our future free actions—all this the New Testament again brings out, even more clearly than the Old. Much more explicit, too, than in the Old Testament is the conception given us here of that higher good to which all things have been directed by providence, though in certain of its more advanced ways it still remains unfathomable. These fundamental points we shall examine one by one, giving prominence to the Gospel texts that most clearly express them.
The higher good to which all things are directed by providence
Our Lord in the Gospels raises our minds to the contemplation of the divine governance by directing our attention to the admirable order prevailing in the things of sense, and giving us some idea of how much more so this order of providence is to be found in spiritual things, an order more sublime, more bountiful, more salutary, and imperishable. We have seen that a similar order is to be found, though less clearly, in God’s answer at the end of the Book of Job; if there are such extraordinary marvels to be met with in the world of sense, what wonderful order ought we not to expect in the spiritual world.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew we read (6: 25-34) :
Be not solicitous for your life, what you shall eat, nor for your body, what you shall put on. Is not the life more than the meat and the body more than the raiment? Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of more value than they? And which of you by taking thought can add to his stature one cubit? And for your raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labor not, neither do they spin. But I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is today and tomorrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith? Be not solicitous therefore, saying: What shall we eat: or, what shall we drink: or, wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your heavenly Father knoweth that you have need of all these things. Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice: and all these things shall be added unto you. Be not therefore solicitous for tomorrow: for the morrow will be solicitous for itself. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.
These examples serve to show that providence extends to all things, and gives to all beings what is suitable to their nature. God provides the birds of the air with their food and also has endowed them with instinct which directs them to seek out what is necessary and no more. If this is His way of dealing with the lower creation, surely He will have a care for us.
If providence provides what is needful for the birds of the air, how much more attentive will it be to the needs of such as we, who have a spiritual, immortal soul, with a destiny incomparably more sublime than that of the animal creation. The heavenly Father knows what we stand in need of. What, then, must our attitude be? First of all we must seek the kingdom of God and His justice, and then whatever is necessary for our bodily subsistence will be given us over and above. Those who make it their principal aim to pursue their final destiny (God the sovereign good who should be loved above all things), will be given whatever is necessary to attain that end, not only what is necessary for the life of the body, but also the graces to obtain life eternal. 
Our Lord refers to providence again in St. Matthew (10: 28) : “Fear ye not them that kill the body and are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him that can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? And not one of them shall fall to the ground with. out your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: better are you than many; sparrows.” So again in St. Luke (12: 6-7).
Always it is the same a fortiori argument from the care the Lord has for the lower creation and thence leading us to form some idea of what the divine governance must be in the order of spiritual things.
As St. Thomas points out in his commentary on St. Matthew, what our Lord wishes to convey is this: It is not the persecutor we should fear; he can do no more than hurt our bodies, and what little harm he is capable of he cannot actually inflict without the permission of providence, which only allows these evils to befall us in view of a greater good. If it is true that not a single sparrow falls to the ground without our heavenly Father’s permission, surely we shall not fall without His permission, no, nor one single hair of our head. This is equivalent to saying that providence extends to the smallest detail, to the least of our actions, every one of which may and indeed must be directed to our final end.
Besides the universality of providence, the New Testament brings out in terms no less clear its infallibility regarding everything that comes to pass. It is pointed out in the text just mentioned: “The very hairs of your head are all numbered.” This infallibility extends even to the secrets of the heart and to our future free actions. In St. John (6: 64) we read: “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that believe not”; and the Evangelist adds: “For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that did not believe and who he was that would betray Him.” Again (13: 11) during the last supper Jesus told those who were present: “You are clean, but not all”; for, continues St. John, “He knew who he was who would betray Him; and therefore He said: You are not all clean.” St. Matthew also records the words, “One of you is about to betray me.” Now if Jesus thus has certain knowledge of the secrets of hearts and, as His prediction of persecutions shows, of future free actions, they must surely be infallibly known to the eternal Father.
In St. Matthew (6: 4-6), we are told: “When thou shalt pray, enter into thy chamber and, having shut the door, pray to thy Father in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret will repay thee.” And later we find St. Paul saying to the Hebrews (4:13) : “Neither is there any creature invisible in His sight: but all things are naked and open to His eyes, to whom our speech is.”
The teaching on the necessity of prayer, to which the Gospel is constantly returning, obviously presupposes a providence extending to the very least of our actions. In St. Matthew (7: 7-11) our Lord tells us: “If you then being evil, know how to give good things to your children: how much more will your heavenly Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” Here is another and stronger argument for divine providence based on the attentive care shown by a human father for his children. If he watches over them, much more will our heavenly Father watch over us.
Likewise, the parable of the wicked judge and the widow in St. Luke (18: I-8) is an incentive to us to pray with perseverance. Annoyed by the persistent entreaties of the widow, the judge finally yields to her just demands so that she may cease to be troublesome to him.” And the Lord said: Hear what the unjust judge saith. And will not God revenge his elect who cry to him day and night: and will he have patience in their regard?”
Our Lord proclaims the same truth in St. John (10:27) : “My sheep hear My voice. And I know them: and they follow Me. And I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish forever. And no man shall pluck them out of My hand. That which My Father hath given Me is greater than all: and no one can snatch them out of the hand of My Father. I and the Father are one.” These words point out emphatically the infallibility of providence concerning everything that comes to pass, including even our future free actions.
But what the Gospel message declares even more clearly is whether there is not after all some higher, some eternal purpose to which the divine governance directs all things, and further, that if it permits evil and sin—it cannot in any way be its cause—it does so only in view of some greater good.
In St. Matthew we read (5: 44) : “Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad and raineth upon the just and the unjust.” And again in St. Luke (6: 36) : “Be ye therefore merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful.” Persecution itself is turned to the good of those who endure it for the love of God: “Blessed are they that suffer persecution for justice’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye when they shall revile you and persecute you and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for My name’s sake: be glad and rejoice, for your reward is very great in heaven. For so they persecuted the prophets that were before you” (Matt. 5: 10).
Here is the full light heralded from afar in the Book of Job and more distinctly in this passage from the Book of Wisdom (3: I-8) : “The souls of the just are in the hand of God… in time they shall shine… they shall judge nations: and their Lord shall reign forever.”
Here is the full light of which we were given a glimpse in the Book of Machabees (11: 7-9), where, as we have seen, one of the martyrs, on the point of expiring, thus addresses his persecutor: “Thou, O most wicked man, destroyest us out of this present life: but the King of the world will raise us up, who die for His laws, in the resurrection of eternal life.”
In the light of this revealed teaching, St. Paul writes to the Romans (5: 3) : “We glory also in tribulations, knowing that tribulation worketh patience: and patience trial; and trial hope; and hope confoundeth not; because the charity of God is poured forth in our hearts, by the Holy Ghost who is given to us.” And again (8: 28) : “We know that to them that love God all things work unto good: to such as according to His purpose are called to be saints.” This last text sums up all the rest, revealing how this universal and infallible providence directs all things to a good purpose, not excluding evil, which it permits without in any way causing it. And now there remains the question as to the sort of knowledge we can have of the plan pursued by the divine governance.
The light and shade in the providential plan
We have found clearly expressed in the Old Testament the truth that for us divine providence is an evident fact, yet that certain of its ways are unfathomable. This truth is brought out in still greater relief in the New Testament in connection with sanctification and eternal life.
Providence is an evident fact from the order prevailing in the universe, from the general working of the Church’s life, and again from the life of the just taken as a whole. This is affirmed in the words of our Lord just quoted: “Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?” (Matt. 6: 26.) So again St. Paul (Rom. 1: 20) : “The invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, His eternal power and divinity.”
In the parables of the prodigal son, the lost sheep, the good shepherd, and the talents, our Lord also illustrates how providence is concerned with the souls of men. All that tenderness of heart shown by the father of the prodigal is already in an infinitely more perfect way possessed by God, whose providence watches over the souls of men more than any other earthly creature, in the lives of the just especially, in which everything is made to concur in their final end.
Jesus also proclaims how with His Father He will watch over the Church, and we now find verified these words of His: “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church. And the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16: 18) ; “Going therefore, teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you. And behold I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28: 1920). We are now witnessing in the spread of the Gospel in the nations throughout the five continents the realization of this providential plan, which in its general lines stands out quite distinctly.
In this plan of providence, however, there are also elements of profound mystery, and our Lord will have us to understand that to the humble and childlike, however, these mysterious elements will appear quite simple; their humility will enable them to penetrate even to the heights of God. First and foremost there is the mystery of the redemption, of the sorrowful passion and all that followed, a mystery which Jesus only reveals to His disciples little by little as they are able to bear it, a mystery that at the moment of its accomplishment will be a cause of confusion to them.
There is also the whole mystery of salvation: “I confess to Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hidden these things from the wise and prudent and hast revealed them to little ones. Yea, Father: for so hath it seemed good in Thy sight” (Matt. 11: 25) ; “My sheep hear my voice. And I know them: and they follow me. And I give them life everlasting: and they shall not perish forever” (John 10: 27).
“There shall arise false christs and false prophets and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch as to deceive (if possible) even the elect” (Matt. 24:24) ; “Of that day and hour [the last] no one knoweth: no, not the angels in heaven, but the Father alone. [And the same must be said of the hour of our death.] Watch ye therefore, because you know not what hour your Lord will come” (Matt. 24: 36, 42). The Apocalypse, which foretells these events in obscure and symbolic language, remains still a book sealed with seven seals (Apoc. 5: 1).
Later on St. Paul lays stress on these mysterious ways of Providence.” The foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that He may confound the wise: and the weak things of the world and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and things that are not, that He might bring to nought the things that are; that no flesh should glory in His sight” (I Cor. 1: 27). It was through the Apostles, some of whom were chosen from the poor fisherfolk of Galilee, that Jesus triumphed over paganism and converted the world to the Gospel, at the very moment when Israel in great part proved itself unfaithful. God can choose whomsoever He will without injustice to anyone.
Freely He made choice in former times of the people of Israel, one among the various nations; from the sons of Adam He chose Seth in preference to Cain, then Noe and afterwards Sem He preferred to his brothers, then Abraham; He preferred Isaac to Ismael, and last of all Jacob. And now, freely He calls the Gentiles and permits Israel in great part to fall away. Here is one of the most striking examples of the light and shade in the plan of providence;  it may be summed up in this way. On the one hand God never commands the impossible, but, to use St. Paul’s words, will have all men to be saved (I Tim. 2: 4). On the other hand, as St. Paul says again, “What hast thou that thou hast not received?” (I Cor. 4: 7.) One person would not be better than another, were he not loved by God more than the other, since His love for us is the source of all our good.  These two truths are as luminous and certain when considered apart as their intimate reconciliation is obscure, for it is no less than the intimate reconciliation of infinite justice, infinite mercy, and supreme liberty. They are reconciled in the Deity, the intimate life of God; but for us this is an inaccessible mystery, as white light would be to someone who had never perceived it, but had seen only the seven colors of the rainbow.
This profound mystery prompts St. Paul’s words to the Romans (11: 25-34) :
Blindness in part has happened in Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles shall come in…. But as touching the election, they [the children of Israel] are most dear for the sake of their fathers… that they also may obtain mercy…. O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments, and how unsearchable His ways! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? Or who hath been His counsellor?… Of Him, and by Him, and in Him, are all things: to Him be glory forever.
But the only reason why these unfathomable ways of providence are obscure to us is that they are too luminous for the feeble eyes of our minds. Simple and humble souls easily recognize that, for all their obscurity and austerity, these exalted ways are ways of goodness and love. St. Paul points this out when he writes to the Ephesians (3: 18) : “I bow my knees to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom all paternity in heaven and earth is named… that you may be able to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, to know also the charity of Christ, which surpasseth all knowledge: that you may be filled unto all the fullness of God.”
Amplitude in the ways of providence consists in their reaching to every part of the universe, to all the souls of men, to every secret of the heart. In their length they extend through every period of time, from the creation down to the end of time and on to the eternal life of the elect. Their depth lies in the permission of evil, sometimes terrible evil, and in view of some higher purpose which will be seen clearly only in heaven. Their height is measured by the sublimity of God’s glory and the glory of the elect, the splendor of God’s reign finally and completely established in the souls of men.
Thus providence is made manifest in the general outlines of the plan it pursues, but its more exalted ways remain for us a mystery. Nevertheless, little by little “to the righteous a light rises in the darkness” (Ps. 111: 4). Every day we can get a clearer insight into these words of Isaias (9: 2) : “The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: to them that dwelt in the region of the shadow of death, light is risen.” And gradually, if we are faithful, we learn more and more each day to abandon ourselves to that divine providence. which, as the canticle Benedictus says, “directs our steps into the way of peace” (Luke 1: 79).
Abandonment to the divine will is thus one of the fairest expressions of hope combined with charity or love of God. Indeed, it involves the exercise to an eminent degree of all the theological virtues, because perfect self-abandonment to providence is pervaded by a deep spirit of faith, of confidence, and love for God. And when this self-abandonment, far from inducing us to fold our arms and do nothing as is the case with the Quietists, is accompanied by a humble, generous fulfilment of our daily duties, it is one of the surest ways of arriving at union with God and of preserving it unbroken even in the severest trials. Once we have done our utmost to accomplish the will of God day after day, we can and we must abandon ourselves to Him in all else. In this way we shall find peace even in tribulation. We shall see how God takes upon Himself the guidance of souls that, while continuing to perform their daily duties, abandon themselves completely to Him; and the more He seems to blind their eyes, the saints tell us, the more surely does He lead them, urging them on in their upward course into a land where, as St. John of the Cross says, the beaten track has disappeared, where the Holy Ghost alone can direct them by His divine inspirations.