Category Archives: The Damned

Aquinas’ Theodicy and the Argument for Different Grades of Being

Since Aquinas believed in omnicausal theism, he believed all things are caused by God. He gets out of saying that God causes evil by holding that evil is a privation of good. I hope to do a more thorough post on this later to point out some of the problems with this theory. Briefly, though, here are my problems with it. For one, the theory is that evil exists when there “should be” a good present. But if God is causing all things, then anything that “should be” exists ultimately because he has intended it to. But how can God intend to create something other than what “should be”? Secondly, all the examples Aquinas gives of explaining how evil can be due entirely to the creature, and not to God, seem to be incoherent. He wants to maintain that God is neither “directly nor indirectly” the cause of evil. And his classic example is the crooked leg that causes the limp. The movement, he claims, is what is good in the movement of the walker, and it is from God. But the crookedness of the leg which causes the limp, is from the leg itself, and is what causes the defect. But the obvious retort to Aquinas in this case is: yes but God created the leg crooked rather than straight. The third problem I see with this theory of privation is that it makes inexplicable what exactly the damned are punished for. Yes, obviously Aquinas would say for their rebellion against God or their sin. But evil is not a positive act on Aquinas’ view. So the damned are punished for a non-act? Are they then punished for a non-entity – for nothing? What about them does God “hate”?  Aquinas says “God loves sinners insofar as they are existing natures; for they have existence and have it from Him. Insofar as they are sinners, they have no existence at all, but fall short of it; and this in them is not from God. Hence under this aspect they are hated by Him.” (ST q. 20 a. 3, r. 4) So then God hates something that doesn’t even exist?

Aquinas thought that God had it in his power to create a more perfect universe. It seems this would mean that he did not have to create ANY crooked legs. But he obviously did so, since there is evil in the world. Aquinas then gives, not a necessitating reason on God’s part for creating (for God need not have), but, what the medievals liked to call a “fitting” reason. It is very similar to the Calvinist notion of displaying all of God’s attributes.

Now I’m going to present three passages where Aquinas teaches his “multi-grades of being” theodicy most explicitly.

  1. “Now it is necessary that God’s goodness, which in itself is one and undivided, should be manifested in many ways in His creation; because creatures in themselves cannot attain to the simplicity of God. Thus it is that for the completion of the universe there are required different grades of being; some of which hold a high and some a low place in the universe. That this multiformity of grades may be preserved in things, God allows some evils, lest many good things should never happen, as was said above (Q[22], A[2]). Let us then consider the whole of the human race, as we consider the whole universe. God wills to manifest His goodness in men; in respect to those whom He predestines, by means of His mercy, as sparing them; and in respect of others, whom he reprobates, by means of His justice, in punishing them. This is the reason why God elects some and rejects others.” q. 23 a.  5 r. 3
  2. “the evil which consists in the corruption of some things is reduced to God as the cause. And this appears as regards both natural things and voluntary things. For it was said (Article 1) that some agent inasmuch as it produces by its power a form to which follows corruption and defect, causes by its power that corruption and defect. But it is manifest that the form which God chiefly intends in things created is the good of the order of the universe. Now, the order of the universe requires, as was said above (I:22:2 ad 2; I:48:2), that there should be some things that can, and do sometimes, fail. And thus God, by causing in things the good of the order of the universe, consequently and as it were by accident, causes the corruptions of things, according to 1 Samuel 2:6: “The Lord killeth and maketh alive.” But when we read that “God hath not made death” (Wisdom 1:13), the sense is that God does not will death for its own sake. Nevertheless the order of justice belongs to the order of the universe; and this requires that penalty should be dealt out to sinners.” q. 49 a. 2 I answer that.
  3. “Hence we must say that the distinction and multitude of things come from the intention of the first agent, who is God. For He brought things into being in order that His goodness might be communicated to creatures, and be represented by them; and because His goodness could not be adequately represented by one creature alone, He produced many and diverse creatures, that what was wanting to one in the representation of the divine goodness might be supplied by another. For goodness, which in God is simple and uniform, in creatures is manifold and divided and hence the whole universe together participates the divine goodness more perfectly, and represents it better than any single creature whatever.” q. 47 a. 2 I answer that…and a little further on in body of next article “Therefore, as the divine wisdom is the cause of the distinction of things for the sake of the perfection of the universe, so it is the cause of inequality. For the universe would not be perfect if only one grade of goodness were found in things.”

It seems to me from a straight reading of Aquinas he evidently thought that God created the damned in Hell because he willed to create a world with a variety of grades of being, some of which were sentient creatures who would be punished eternally. In his metaphors of this view he is driven to equate the rational beings in Hell as various “stones” in a house that are placed, say, at the houses’ base. This is done in order to give the house as a whole a certain form which, if it lacked it, would fail to have the perfect form of a house in general. Therefore, he concludes, God’s main goal in creating is not the good of each being in particular, but only the universe’s form “as a whole” which in its own way reflects the whole glory of God. As such, “It is part of the best agent to produce an effect which is best in its entirety; but this does not mean that He makes every part of the whole the best absolutely, but in proportion to the whole.” (For more on this see his commentary on Romans 9, where Aquinas compares the damnation of some to God’s building of a house:

Now, there is nothing wrong, logically, with this theory. An Aristotelian could believe it. But could a Christian, who believes in the universal salvific will of God? Sure Aquinas can say “metaphysically” that God loves every creature, since he wishes it “the good of existence.” But he cannot say that God wishes the ultimate good for every creature, for he positively wishes – before foreseen merits, by the way – that some be damned. And let’s not forget what “damned” means on Aquinas’ theology. It means eternal conscious bodily torment. And what is the reasoning behind his theory? That the “perfection of the universe requires (his word) the manifestation of many grades of being, and that some things sometimes can, and do, fail.” Could Aquinas really with a straight face tell me that a universe with millions of souls in Hell is a better universe than one in which all are joined to God in the beatific vision? Remember, God is omnipotent, and, on his own scheme, it is no more difficult for him to cause someone to be united to him in eternal bliss than to damn someone. In other words it is perfectly possible for God to save every soul. The reason he doesn’t save some is simply because he does not want to. He would rather display a variety of effects, some of which include sentient creatures who suffer eternally in a way worse than finite beings can possible imagine.

Now, I just have to ask, is he serious? Who is better off given the fact that God created this type of universe than one in which all souls are saved? The damned certainly aren’t. Neither is God, since on Aquinas’ view the creation cannot impact the impassible bliss of the purely actual God. What about the elect? Well he thinks so. He thinks that the saved will see the damned and rejoice that they didn’t suffer a similar fate. But do you really think this is likely? Would you like to become the type of person who can see his spouse, say, or his child, suffering eternally in Hell, and think “whew, I’m so glad that’s not me! Oh AND I am glad he is getting what he deserves! He’s actually LUCKY since God’s mercy is even now extending to him, insofar as he is punished less than he could be.”

Aquinas, my friend – really?


Notes on Timelessness – A Problem for the Damned and the Existence of Evil

“A question at once arises. Is it still God speaking when a liar or a blasphemer speaks? In one sense almost yes. Apart from God he could not speak at all; there are no words not derived from the Word; no acts not derived from Him who is Actus purus…Of course I’m not saying like Niebühr that evil is inherent in finitude. That would identify the creation with the fall and make God the author of evil.” CS Lewis, Letters to Malcolm

These notes of mine are not dogmatic proclamations of what must be, nor are they attempts to repeat the thoughts of other thinkers simply because they were thought by those who came before me. They are, rather, a conscious attempt to understand that reality we call “God.” The only way I know how to do that is to assimilate an idea into my mind, saturate myself with that idea, and thus hold it up constantly against Experience. I have as yet found no system, no synthesis, no ultimate explanation that sits completely comfortable with Experience. Always there arises some painful inconsistency, some shrieking discord, between the two – System and Experience.

This post seeks to explore the (intolerable?) tensions between the idea of God’s timelessness (which I have recently defended) and also his morally praiseworthy attributes, in particular his love. The main problem seems to be that if God is outside of time and Pure Act, then his relationship to the creation is one in which he totally determines all that exists, even the free acts of his creatures. Since he cannot be acted on by the creation itself, he must therefore be purely active, purely decisive and determining, regarding what goes on in creation. Thus all that exists, down to the most minute detail, sits exactly as it does in the space-time continuum by God’s causal and determining power. This certainly preserves God’s sovereignty and transcendence. A God who is outside of space-time and determines every atom and free will within it certainly will not lose points in either of those departments.

But what do you make of God’s love on this model? Especially, what do you make of his relationship towards the damned? Now the classic theologians like Aquinas and Calvin said that God loves the damned, even though they exist only to be eternally punished and reprobated. Aquinas held that the distinction of things in the universe and the creation of the damned in particular existed for the “good ordering of the universe.” He believed that “the good ordering of the universe would not be perfect if only one grade of goodness were found in things.” Among these other grades of goodness are the damned, who exist simply to satisfy the predeterminate requirements of the universal order. As he says, “the order of the universe requires that things sometimes can, and do, fail.”

What this really amounts to is that certain people are reprobated because God desires to show justice, wrath and punishment because a universe with justice, wrath, and punishment (and therefore also sin) is better than one without these things. Thus from before the foundation of the world God’s desire was to manifest these various attributes. These attributes needed to be manifested. Therefore there had to be rational creatures to be objects of wrath.

To thus use a rational creature for oneself and one’s own glory – how is that possibly loving? Does this not directly contradict St. Paul who says that “love seeks not its own?” So many more questions come up at this point it is hard to know where to begin. Are we really required to think that “wrath” and “justice” are essential attributes of God’s inner being? Even in human cases we think a person who is above such feelings is better than one who delights in them. If God has to display wrath in order to show who he really is, what does that say about his nature? Is not a more perfect God one which can freely forgive and need not create vessels of destruction?

And what again about God’s love? If God creates vessels of destruction simply to vent his anger and displeasure upon them, does it not follow that he does not love them? Indeed that he positively hates such beings (but hasn’t he created them to be hated)? And if he hates these beings, is it not true that he is not doing all that he can to save them? In fact isn’t it true that he is positively ensuring, and delighting in the very fact of, their eternal anguish and destruction?

When I consider the idea that God is outside of time and actively causing all that exists and I see the consequence that this entails, I do not know how to square this idea with a Perfect Being who is love. It seems to me wrong – it grates against all my intuitive notions of goodness to believe – that God could select a certain group of people to infallibly and irresistibly save and also select another group to infallibly and irresistibly damn. In such a case God evidently has the power to irresistibly save all, yet he does not. He must therefore not want to. He must therefore delight in damnation. And if this is so then in some sense he delight in the sin which leads to such a state, for damnation presupposes sin and evil which could not occur without them. How then can anything – the most wicked case of child rape or extracted torture – be in any sense displeasing to God? He is the only causal agent that has any real say so in the course of world history in the end.

Many will throw up a smoke screen here and say that God simply “permits” evil. But if God is outside of time actively causing and creating all that exists, in what sense is his “permission” even possible? There are no other forces, no outside wills, that he is up against. Absolutely all of reality is the way that it is by his direct and intentional decision. How then is he not the cause of evil just as much as he is the cause of good and of everything else?

This is really just the Calvinist-Arminian debate. Do you think God has the power to save everyone? If he does have the power, then why doesn’t he use it to save everyone? Calvinists will say it is because he gets glory out of damning people to Hell (who could not be other than he has determined them to be). Yet if this is true it cannot be the case that God loves everyone, at least not in any sense that we understand the word. (What human would you find praiseworthy, let alone “loving,” who created a child simply in order to damn it?) On the other hand if you believe that God does love everyone, it follows that he cannot necessarily save everyone, for there are some who are, or at least may be, lost. God does will that people may be possibly damned, but more than that he wills that people freely imitate his own goodness by submitting to him and loving others as Jesus did. If they are unwilling to do this, he then consequently wills them to be lost. But notice this will is consequent, not on God’s pre-determining decree to make vessels of wrath who are fitted for certain destruction, but rather on the free will which God has granted to every creature. Thus God’s desire to save all is in fact equivalent to his desire for all to be freely united to him. A desire which, by his own omnipotence perhaps, he has vulnerably created in himself for the sake of the creation, and which may be frustrated by it.

St. Paul said his heart’s desire was that all of Israel would be saved. He even wished himself to be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of those perishing. Surely St. Paul cannot be more loving than God? And surely his heart at that moment cannot be in opposition to God’s own will towards such people?

In other words the question is this. Which attribute is more easily, or rather more honorably, worshiped and loved – God’s absolute power or his love? If believing in a timeless God entails that one must also believe in a God who irresistibly determines that some people be damned for his own glory and pleasure, is not that model of God, however defensible philosophically, contrary to the God we see revealed in Christ? Furthermore, how is such a God consistent with a being we would call Good? How could such a being be described by John as Love, and in whom “is no darkness at all”?

Is there a way to reconcile God’s timelessness and Pure Action with his desire to save all? Such a notion would seem to require a robust view of human freedom. But is that possible if God causes and determines everything? It seems to me there may be such a theory, though we will have to more carefully explore what we mean by God’s Causation, Determination, and Knowledge.