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Aquinas and the Cry of Rachel John F. X. Knasas Suffering and Hope Conference University of St.

Thomas November 10-13, 2005 I examine Jacques Maritains critique of a Thomistic explanation of suffering from his 1942 Marquette Aquinas Lecture, St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil.1 In sum, at Summa Theologiae I, 48, 2c, Aquinas argues that God permits evils for the perfection of the universe. Evils are the concomitant of corruptible things. And corruptible things belong to the perfection of the created order which requires every grade of goodness. Using the Biblical personage of Rachel, who has lost her children to the soldiers of King Herod, Maritain poignantly observes that Aquinas reason would never satisfy a mother suffering the loss of her child. What can be the value of the perfection of the universe in comparison to the loss of a young and innocent human being? And so, according to Maritain, one must balance 48, 2, with Summa Contra Gentiles III, 112, in which Aquinas describes the rational creature as a person.2 This description means that the rational creature is more like a whole than a part thereof. Hence, in the perspective of the human as person, Martian concludes that human suffering is an utter anomaly3 that is better understood as the unfortunate result of the rational creatures free refusal of divine love, i.e., as a result of original sin. In my opinion, neither of Maritains two reasons hold. First, SCG III, 112, never ascribes to humans the exalted sense of person used by Maritain. Rather, Aquinas characterizes the rational nature as: a principle part (partes principales), closer to a whole (maiorem affinitatem ad totum), closest to existing always (maxime accedunt ad hoc quod sint semper).4 Also, the chapter concludes with Aquinas insisting that the rational creature is still divinely ordered to the perfection of the universe, the very context of 48, 2.5 Finally, at SCG IV, 52, natural and spiritual defects are so much natural defects following upon matter that they, contra Maritain, are no sure sign of original sin.6
Jacques Maritain, St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1942), 519. For an indexing of Maritains treatment of evil, see Charles Journet, The Meaning of Evil (New York: P. J. Kenedy and Sons, 1963). Journet describes Maritains work . . . to be rich and coherent, traditional yet full of innovation, and containing the most penetrating teaching on evil written in our own times from the Christian viewpoint. Ibid., 14. 2 SCG III, 112, is not cited in St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil but in Maritains The Person and the Common Good (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1966), 19, n. 8. 3 Maritain, St. Thomas and the Problem of Evil, 12. 4 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles III, 112; trans. Vernon J. Bourke, Summa Contra Gentiles (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1975, vol. 3, pt. I, 116-7, paras. 4, 5, 7 respectively. 5 Ibid., Bourke trans., 118, para. 8. 6 University of Notre Dame trans. by Charles J. ONeil, vol., 4, 218, para. 2. Aquinas goes on to say that with these defects in mind the existence of original sin can be judged with probability enough (satis probabiliter). Yet a reader would be wrong to understand this characterization to mean that a probable philosophical argument exists for original sin. Crucial is the arguments understanding of divine providence: for every perfection God has contrived a proportionate perfectible. For various reasons a reader knows that this understanding of divine providence is not philosophical. First, as mentioned in
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2 Because Maritains perspective is a bit artificial, the problem of evil is more dramatic for him. Maritain regards the human person simply from the spiritual side. That arbitrary viewpoint casts the human as a whole such that death is an utter anomaly. But for Aquinas our nature genuinely possesses a material side and from that perspective evil is a natural defect. The concept which better summarizes Aquinas thinking about the human is principle part. The humans materiality makes the human a part of the whole of created nature but the humans rationality gives the human a dignity so that the human is not a mere part but a principle part. Would the perspective of a principle part satisfy Rachel as she looks at her slain child? Does it not seem that God still loves the perfection of the universe more than he loves an innocent child? It seems that Rachel is the better parent. But Aquinas does not share this view that the parent must preserve the life of the child no matter what. In his De Veritate, 5, 3c, Aquinas remarks that Gods providence is like the providence by which a father of a family rules his household in which the common good has primacy over the good of the individual. Hence, the father must pay more attention to what is good for the family than to what is good for the individual. This point is a bitter pill to swallow, but I think that we all reluctantly know that it is true. No child can expect parental care to the extent of ruining the entire family. But some would object that we do not have an analogy here between God and the earthly father. Unlike an earthly parent, our divine parent has the resources to care both for the perfection of the created whole and individual rational creatures at the same time. The care of one does not mean the demise of the other. That is true. For example, in the state of innocence in which Adam and Eve were created, God preserved our first parents from all physical harm.7 Later God protected the will of Mary, the Blessed Mother, from all sin or fault.8 Also, I suppose that God could continually create food in the bellies of beasts so that they would not devour other animals or humans. Likewise, God could continually created more matter in the universe so that its taking up into the divinely protected higher species would not bring the universe to a grinding halt. But the one who proposes all of these scenarios fails to realize that though God has done some and could do all of them, they are all supernatural scenarios and so are not things that in our natural condition we are in any position to demand of God or to fault God if they are unrealized. Just as the child is in no position to demand of the father an assistance that would ruin the family, so
chapter 52 this providence is Aquinas basis for knowing Gods special and supernatural benefaction. But as pointed out by Aquinas at De Ver. VI, 2c, what is supernatural depends upon Gods gratuity and not upon his justice. Hence the above mentioned providence should beyond philosophical knowledge. Also, elsewhere Aquinas presents this providence as known by revelation. In S.T. I, 95, 1c, Aquinas again covers the subjections of chapter 52 but his starting point is the text of Eccles. 7. 30: God made man right. Aquinas says that the subjections are not from nature since they do not remain after sin. Rather, they are a supernatural endowment of grace. Finally, this divine providence was the reason for innocent mans mastership over the animals, clearly a supernatural state. Hence, the penal character of death is argued only on a theological basis, and then the argument is probable enough. Unlike Maritain, Aquinas does not seem to look upon death as such an utter anomaly to philosophically known human nature that death and other evils would enable the philosopher to prove original sin. 7 De Ver. 24, 9c and S.T. I, 97, 1c. 8 De Ver. 24, 9, ad 2m.

3 too we are in no position to demand of God miracles. And just as a father does not cease to be loving when he refuses the child, God does not cease to be loving when he does not produce miracles. So between divine providence and human parenting exists more of an analogy than you would think. Just as through sickness, poverty, and death, a human parent provides for the sake of the children, God can be viewed as doing the same for the human race. It is not that God lacks the power but that we lack a nature that would demand the supernatural assistance described above. Hence, Anthony Flew claims too much by saying that a reasonable man cannot logically combine the thoughts of God as our loving father and our suffering excruciating pain. For Flew only an exercise of Orwellian doublethink lets the religious intellectual retain his faith in a loving God in the face of a heartless and indifferent world. An example of what Flew has in mind is: But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help, but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern.9 But we would ask Flew, does a father cease to be loving when he ceases care for one that is also ruining all? Also, we could ask if in Gods case it is correct to demand miracles. Absent the gratuity of the supernatural, our divine father may be in the same position as this earthly father. Finally, Gods infinite love and mercy would have already been exemplified in bringing the creature in its natural state for non-being to being.10 So for Aquinas, in Maritains interpretation Rachel is really the bad parent. And that raises another and last problem. Rachel is not anybody. She is a person in the Bible. So in offering us the example of Rachel, is the Bible offering us a bad example? I do not think so. Hence, I want to conclude by proposing another explanation for the wailing of Rachel and for her refusing to be consoled by Aquinas reasoning at S.T. I, 48, 2. As philosophical reasoning the text is very strong in its conclusion of why there can be evil, viz., the corruptible belongs to the perfection of the universe. The text is less strong in its claim about the fact of evil. Aquinas simply remarks that if you have what can corrupt, it will corrupt.11 But on Aquinas own grounds that claim is already problematic. As noted, for Aquinas no corruption existed in the state of innocence. Of course, Rachel wants an explanation, not of the possibility of evil, but of the fact of evil. And so I think we are brought to the last word of Thomistic philosophy about the problem of evil. Rachel cannot be consoled, not because Thomistic philosophy has no explanation of the fact of evil, but because it has too many explanations. First, evil may be existing because we have been created in our natural state. Hence, as Aquinas previous text on Original Sin explained, we would be suffering evil as a certain natural result of what we are namely, parts of an ordered material cosmos. As mentioned, our status as principle parts is a bitter pill for some to swallow. It is not made
Anthony Flew, Theology and Falsification, in Anthony Flew ed., New Essays in Philosophical Theology (New York, Macmillan, 1964), 98-99. 10 Et salvatur quodammodo ratio misericordiae, inquantum res de non esse in esse mutatur. Summa Theologiae, I, 21, 4, ad 4m; ed. Ottawa Institute of Medieval Studies (Ottawa: Collge Dominicain dOttawa, 1941) I, 152b. 11 ta perfectio universi requirit ut sint quaedam quae a bonitate deficere possint, ad quod sequitur ea interdum deficere. Summa Theologiae, Ottawa ed., I, 305a.
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4 more palpable by the realization that our natural corruptibility would mean that we have only one life to live. For some Thomists the separated soul has no natural means to conduct operations and so would be inert. 12 For other Thomists the separated soul would naturally operate but at such an imperfect level that its life here and now would be better.13 This first possibility for the existence of evil is a call to resolutely accept our being to death and to do good without counting the cost. At this point one could discuss some similarities between Aquinas and Heidegger. But other possible explanations continue to appear to the philosopher. Evil may be existing because of an original transgression that took place in an environment supernaturally protected from evil. This second explanation is the traditional JudeoChristian account of Original Sin of which Maritain made much. Spurred by revelation, the philosophical imagination would certainly be capable of grasping the possibility of this religious teaching. Nothing in his metaphysical principles forces the philosopher to eliminate Original Sin from the realm of possible events in creation. Original Sin is not like a square-circle or a mountain heavier than God can lift. Both of these are logically opposed to having real existence. They not only will not be but also cannot be. The philosophical imagination could also entertain a third possibility for the fact of evil evil may be existing because evil is somehow meant to be a crucible to another and supernatural life. As mentioned, the disembodied soul has little or no natural means of operating. Yet, the philosopher could imagine the Creator supernaturally bringing about operation in the disembodied soul. According to some Thomists with whom I agree, this possible activity could extend all the way to the level of the Beatific Vision and include a resurrection of the dead.14 In the light of so many possible explanations for the fact of evil, what should be the philosophers final attitude? The answer is obvious. First, the philosopher should be humble and circumspect. Hence, the philosopher should not push too strongly the above first scenario as it includes the hard truth that this life may be the only one that we have to live. Second, in the wake of the realization that he lacks the definitive explanation for the existence of evil, the Thomist philosopher should be open to further information from religion. Beside the above possibilities, the philosopher would also be able to discern the possibility of religion. Characteristic of religion is the claim to have information from an absolute being about its designs for humans. The Thomist metaphysicians understanding of the deep structure of reality would certainly present this possibility. Reality does contain a creator who is personal and who possesses the power and knowledge to communicate in human history. Moreover, some religions, viz., those in the JudeoChristian tradition, describe their God in terms strikingly similar to this philosophically
Joseph Owens, Soul as Agent in Aquinas, The New Scholasticism 48 (1974), 40-72. Also, Joseph Owens, Towards a Philosophy of Medieval Studies, The Etienne Gilson Series 9 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1986), 11-13. 13 Mary Rousseau, The Natural Meaning of Death in the Summa Theologiae, Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 52 (1978), 87-95. 14 William OConnor, The Natural Desire for God (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press, 1948), 36, and Jacques Maritain, The Immortality of Man, eds. Donald and Idella Gallagher, A Maritain Reader (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1966), 208.
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5 knowable creator. Has the creator spoken to us in these religions? That is the question to which Aquinas philosophy brings us. Though no religion can prove its truth as the philosopher can prove the truth of a creator, some religions can still offer the intellect powerful motives for credibility. These motives set the remote context for conversion. Hence, not as a philosopher but as a believer, the human will find the explanation of evil. John F. X. Knasas Professor Center for Thomistic Studies University of St. Thomas Houston, Texas