“For a man’s desire comes to rest in the knowledge of God Alone” (pg. 121)
I seek safety in certainty while existentially acknowledging the folly of assuming any permanence or security in my immediate state of being. And yet with all my force of will, well to be honest not all my force of will, perhaps not even the majority of my will, maybe even a little less than a minority stakeholder position? Sorry, I am on a tangent of self-condemnation on the amount of my time spent on habitual activities that I take for granted, omissions of actions that may be pleasing to God, and overall expenditure of my will towards worldly goods and achievements. What was I saying?
With good intentions I set out each day to avoid being “evil” and to be as closely as possible living up to my God-given potential to be good. In essence Aquinas points out that if we successfully do not allow evil to impinge our good character – evil is non-existent. A little tongue twister of Aquinas puts it this way:
“To be evil, however, is not good, in fact,
not to be evil is included in the notion of good.
Therefore no nature is an evil.” (pg. 126)
Thomas spends page after page on Good and Evil laying out that no human being is essentially evil. At our core every human being is good. It is the “privation” of good that allows evil in and gives life to evil actions – but at our core we are all in God’s image. Much time is spent on this as it is core to understanding our predicament as a human lot. We cannot simply condemn a man as pure evil or pure other despite his evil actions – no matter how horrendous and apparently evil they may be. This inclination is so very tempting. In the shadows of a Jeffrey Dahmer, Adolf Hitler, fallen priests who have abused their vows, and countless other predators, surely my little transgressions are invisible in the scheme of humanity.
No, they are not invisible to God or to me. They condemn me here in this life and if I don’t stand up and try to cleanse them here they will condemn me for eternity. We create our own mental prisons and misery here on earth and we prepare our eternity at the same time.
In the midst of my battle with striving to be good enters in the whirlwind of living in a mortal body, within a secular world, alongside believers and unbelievers, striving to live a holy life, while being battered by the defects of my nature and that of my fellow-man.
Throw on top of that Seraphim, Cherubims, Thrones, Principalities, Powers, and Archangels seeking to support and ensure Divine Providence and I am reduced to a molecule within a teardrop adrift in the oceans of man’s misery. Thomas Aquinas demonstrates for me how terribly inept man’s language is at deciphering free will, fate, and Divine Providence within the contraries of Good and Evil lurking within our beings.
There is much talk of God’s angels working with things that must necessarily happen and things that are contingently actionable. In other words, God has great respect for our free will – and hence allows the permission of evil. I am of course skimming over a few droplets of the Saints painstaking proofs and philosophical treatise on Catholic thought and actions. Wrap your head around this dialectical pearl:
“If evil were completely excluded from things, much good would be rendered impossible. Consequently it is the concern of Divine Providence, not to safeguard all beings from evil, but to see to it that the evil which arises is ordained to some good.”
A morally right man right now is facing pain and the rigors of old age. The suffering he has is not due to an individual defect of character by my estimation, but by our souls being connected to our corporeal bodies. We by original sin have forfeited life free from suffering. A man I do not know named Mark made his wife a walking stick. His wife was at the Dover Nascar race just but a few days ago. I was drawn to the walking stick as I have made a few in my day. I complimented the stick and its size, strength, and artistry and said tell your husband a man who has made many sticks admires his work. She looked to her friend and smiled as her eyes glazed. They both turned to me, still smiling, but eyes watered, and told me he had passed. I promised to say a prayer for Mark after getting his name and they disappeared hand in hand into the crowd a little bit lighter than before stopping by the trailer I where I was selling Nascar merchandise.
We by original sin have also forfeited eternal life as mortals. I struggle with the reality of original sin, suffering, and death raining misery on me and my fellow-man centuries after the creation story.
And in these two cases, pain and death, it is not evil per se even though we may error in calling it so, but merely a defect of nature that our mortal bodies slowly give way. I pray and ask you, the reader, to pray for the morally right man to have the strength to face his pain or for God to alleviate it according to God’s plan. I pray and ask you to pray for Mark and for his widow with the walking stick. In my heart I truly believe both men have “arch angels” watching over them, guiding them along divine providence’s path. It is hard to draw good out of these real situations, but I know good comes out of the suffering caused to these men and their loved ones. Yet I cannot explain it to you. I diverged here into real life, right now. It is easy to get lost in the words of Thomas Aquinas as a theological and intellectual exercise. Our faith is not a faith of dead letters. There is application and meaning today as much if not more so than there was 2000 years ago.
And then there is the greater evil of man renouncing his goodness by accepting evil into his heart and acting on such inclinations. Whether it be me acting in an evil manner or me being the recipient of evil acts I have struggled as well with God’s seemingly passive presence. I remember my anger as a kid when I was losing a fight with three boys. After sometime I eventually got pinned to the floor. I looked across the street and saw my grandfather just standing there watching with my dog Butchie (or rather his dog!). Only then did he signal and my dog from a sitting position ran across the street and rather gently knocked off my attackers. Does God passively watch what we can handle first?
We simply do not have the ocular vision of God. I know what my Grandfather was doing. He believed men must be men and must learn from every situation. He let me learn until there was nothing else left to learn before freeing my dog to help. This is an innocent boyhood story. The suffering of man at the hands of others is too gruesome and horrific to detail here. It is beyond my spiritual imagination to easily accept a passive God in the face of such atrocities. Why, I do not know. I should know as his only son for our redemption died a death by crucifixion and lived a life where his closest allies would betray him.
I do not have to worry about unjustly being condemned for original sin – I have acquired my own list of blights on my essential goodness that call for God’s mercy as well. Aquinas deftly defines the intersections of Sin, Grace, and Eternity. It frightens me to think I will receive justice for my actions as fixed by Divine Providence either here on earth or in the hereafter!
My reading of Aquinas stresses to me the logic and passionate need to make amends for my sins now as best I can if I have not already done so and to avoid to the best of my ability future transgressions. If I am open to assistance, Aquinas says “rational creatures are given divine aids that are not merely proportionate to nature but transcend the capacity of nature.” Thank goodness, for my nature and my intellect are woefully shorthanded in the fight between good and evil. It is not that I am a woefully evil man that frightens me – it is the mere sense of powerlessness over any suffering that awaits me!
And now Thomas Aquinas addresses Death and Bodily Resurrection. Again words I believe fail us. Nevertheless he depicted for me a philosophical and theological treatise in fifteen pages that details the logical conclusion of the reunification of the corporeal body, our intellect, and out soul.
He draws from the Creed, from the bible, and from philosophy and describes our essential essence rising and being united – no more, no less, according to a count predetermined by Divine Providence. This section ends with final consummation of man in eternity – where are found to be in perfect repose, integrated and arrived in a state of immobility – no longer vulnerable to human desires, but fully at rest and peace in God’s eternity. But when will this day come?
“So, once the number of men who are to be bought into being for eternal life is filled out and they are actually established in the possession of eternal life, the movement of the heavens will cease, just as the motion of any instrument ceases after a project has been carried through to completion.” (pg. 195)
In the meantime, Saint Aquinas gives us a picture of Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory. In my spiritual imagination, despite having read the Dante’s Divine Comedy, I have always struggled with the spiritual concept of purgatory, much less hell. The latter is for other people, “not I” says my inner voice.
I imagine myself being acceptable to God relatively speaking to the history of mankind – with ample expectation of God being a loving and merciful God. Aquinas seems to imply it is not necessarily how we started the journey towards our end, but where we finish the race:
“Accordingly, the soul will remain perpetually in whatever last end it is to have set for itself at the time of death, desiring the state as the most suitable, whether it is good or evil.” (pg. 201)
The after-death life is difficult to convey and perhaps indefinable for mankind beyond glimpses of grace or revelation as provided to us by prophets, saints, and inferences from the scripture. Much has been written about the book of Revelation as well as the end of times. I find it most useful to have utmost reverence for what I cannot understand (eternal life and timeless God) and to focus on what is most attainable here on earth as evidence of spiritual truths.
It is evident to me that no amount of worldly possessions, power, or praise can fill man’s desire to know and be in proximity to God. Everything we touch here on earth is temporal. Almost everything we accomplish or come to own immediately begins to depreciate once obtained or create anxiety at fear of loss.
I say almost everything as we live mostly according to worldly concerns and driven by worldly measurements. It does not have to be so. When we are able to see the essence of things according to their proper value relative to our desire and pursuit of holiness everything becomes aligned with Godliness.
Examine your life and your possessions through the eyes of God and eternity and weigh your spiritual assets as closely as your material wealth. How does your balance sheet weigh today? Wait – how can we measure ourselves through the eyes of God? We cannot.
We can however meditate on the beatitudes and how open we are to living our lives in concert with the Holy Spirit and the essence of each beatitude. The challenges posed by each of the statements following “Blessed are” can be an eye-opening experience, a reflecting pool if you will, of our openness and cooperation with God’s graces. True happiness can be found in them here on earth – while acknowledging human suffering will remain with us as long as we remain mortal.
This ends my import and reflection on the “First Treatise on Faith” from the Shorter Summa by Saint Thomas Aquinas. (Pages 9 – 211 in two parts). Before I could finish this post the man suffering from pain was called home by a God. His family has come together to mourn and celebrate his life.
While sadness and tears are abundant they are for our loss. He is in a good place. As we work, live, play, and love, our obituary is being prepared, our place after death being reserved. It is hard to fathom this in our human perspective as it was hard to believe that Jesus could raise Lazarus from the dead. This is the nature of our suffering here on earth – a search for connection to the eternal truth, to God, and to our place in eternity. We cannot fully realize this mystery until death comes for us as well.