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 Maritain’s 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 anomaly”3 that is better understood as the unfortunate result of the rational creature’s free refusal of divine love, i.e., as a result of original sin. In my opinion, neither of Maritain’s 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 Maritain’s treatment of evil, see Charles Journet, The Meaning of Evil (New York: P. J. Kenedy and Sons, 1963). Journet describes Maritain’s 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 Maritain’s 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. O’Neil, 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 argument’s 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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9. The concept which better summarizes Aquinas’ thinking about the human is “principle part. 24. so chapter 52 this providence is Aquinas’ basis for knowing God’s special and “supernatural” benefaction. God preserved our first parents from all physical harm. Finally. 7 De Ver. 1c. Hence.” The human’s materiality makes the human a part of the whole of created nature but the human’s rationality gives the human a dignity so that the human is not a mere part but a principle part. and then the argument is “probable enough. 8 De Ver. I.T. 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. The care of one does not mean the demise of the other. they are a supernatural endowment of grace. Aquinas says that the subjections are not from nature since they do not remain after sin. Also. 3c. 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. the penal character of death is argued only on a theological basis. Rather. 95. the father must pay more attention to what is good for the family than to what is good for the individual. 9c and S. 7. clearly a supernatural state. 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. Aquinas remarks that God’s 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. 30: God made man right. ad 2m. 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. Hence. That is true. In his De Veritate. 5. Just as the child is in no position to demand of the father an assistance that would ruin the family. This point is a bitter pill to swallow. in the state of innocence in which Adam and Eve were created. But some would object that we do not have an analogy here between God and the earthly father. In S. . Unlike an earthly parent. the Blessed Mother. 2c. our divine parent has the resources to care both for the perfection of the created whole and individual rational creatures at the same time.8 Also.T. For example. Aquinas again covers the subjections of chapter 52 but his starting point is the text of Eccles. this divine providence was the reason for innocent man’s mastership over the animals.” Unlike Maritain. I. But as pointed out by Aquinas at De Ver. I suppose that God could continually create food in the bellies of beasts so that they would not devour other animals or humans.2 Because Maritain’s perspective is a bit artificial. the problem of evil is more dramatic for him. from all sin or fault. No child can expect parental care to the extent of ruining the entire family. what is supernatural depends upon God’s gratuity and not upon his justice. elsewhere Aquinas presents this providence as known by revelation. 97. 1c. Hence the above mentioned providence should beyond philosophical knowledge. Likewise. But Aquinas does not share this view that the parent must preserve the life of the child no matter what. 24. but I think that we all reluctantly know that it is true. Maritain regards the human person simply from the spiritual side.7 Later God protected the will of Mary.” But for Aquinas our nature genuinely possesses a material side and from that perspective evil is a natural defect. That arbitrary viewpoint casts the human as a whole such that death is an “utter anomaly. VI.

Aquinas simply remarks that if you have what can corrupt. And just as a father does not cease to be loving when he refuses the child. So between divine providence and human parenting exists more of an analogy than you would think. but of the fact of evil. 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. in Maritain’s interpretation Rachel is really the bad parent. inquantum res de non esse in esse mutatur. First. I. Ottawa ed. Rachel cannot be consoled. “Theology and Falsification. our divine father may be in the same position as this earthly father. And so I think we are brought to the last word of Thomistic philosophy about the problem of evil. Hence. it will corrupt. His earthly father is driven frantic in his efforts to help. Hence. and death. I. So in offering us the example of Rachel. An example of what Flew has in mind is: “But then we see a child dying of inoperable cancer of the throat. God does not cease to be loving when he does not produce miracles.”9 But we would ask Flew. God can be viewed as doing the same for the human race. God‘s infinite love and mercy would have already been exemplified in bringing the creature in its natural state for non-being to being. Ottawa Institute of Medieval Studies (Ottawa: Collège Dominicain d’Ottawa. we would be suffering evil as a certain natural result of what we are — namely. but because it has too many explanations. Of course. as Aquinas’ previous text on Original Sin explained.T. As mentioned. Macmillan. 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. She is a person in the Bible. our status as principle parts is a bitter pill for some to swallow. 11 “ Íta perfectio universi requirit ut sint quaedam quae a bonitate deficere possint.11 But on Aquinas’ own grounds that claim is already problematic. And that raises another and last problem. 305a. ed. ad quod sequitur ea interdum deficere.. I. does a father cease to be loving when he ceases care for one that is also ruining all? Also. It is not made Anthony Flew. evil may be existing because we have been created in our natural state. Rachel wants an explanation. viz. As philosophical reasoning the text is very strong in its conclusion of why there can be evil. 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. Finally. 1964). Absent the gratuity of the supernatural. is the Bible offering us a bad example? I do not think so.” in Anthony Flew ed. It is not that God lacks the power but that we lack a nature that would demand the supernatural assistance described above. 1941) I. As noted.10 So for Aquinas. Just as through sickness. The text is less strong in its claim about the fact of evil. 2. New Essays in Philosophical Theology (New York. 152b. 4.. 10 “Et salvatur quodammodo ratio misericordiae. 98-99. 21. not because Thomistic philosophy has no explanation of the fact of evil. poverty. we could ask if in God’s case it is correct to demand miracles. a human parent provides for the sake of the children. but his Heavenly Father reveals no obvious sign of concern. ad 4m.3 too we are in no position to demand of God miracles. parts of an ordered material cosmos. 48. for Aquinas no corruption existed in the state of innocence.. not of the possibility of evil. Hence.” Summa Theologiae.” Summa Theologiae. Rachel is not anybody. the corruptible belongs to the perfection of the universe. 9 .

Joseph Owens.: Image Books. the philosophical imagination would certainly be capable of grasping the possibility of this religious teaching. viz.4 more palpable by the realization that our natural corruptibility would mean that we have only one life to live. Beside the above possibilities. 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. 13 Mary Rousseau. some religions. “The Natural Meaning of Death in the Summa Theologiae. Second. the philosopher should be humble and circumspect.” Proceedings of the American Catholic Philosophical Association 52 (1978). 36.. those in the JudeoChristian tradition. this possible activity could extend all the way to the level of the Beatific Vision and include a resurrection of the dead. 1966). what should be the philosopher’s final attitude? The answer is obvious. Spurred by revelation. At this point one could discuss some similarities between Aquinas and Heidegger. According to some Thomists with whom I agree. Moreover. 11-13. 40-72. Hence. “Soul as Agent in Aquinas. in the wake of the realization that he lacks the definitive explanation for the existence of evil.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. “The Immortality of Man.14 In the light of so many possible explanations for the fact of evil. Original Sin is not like a square-circle or a mountain heavier than God can lift. N. A Maritain Reader (Garden City. Also. 12 . For some Thomists the separated soul has no natural means to conduct operations and so would be inert. Evil may be existing because of an original transgression that took place in an environment supernaturally protected from evil. 87-95. the Thomist philosopher should be open to further information from religion. Both of these are logically opposed to having real existence. the philosopher would also be able to discern the possibility of religion. the philosopher could imagine the Creator supernaturally bringing about operation in the disembodied soul. 1986). The Thomist metaphysician’s understanding of the deep structure of reality would certainly present this possibility. and Jacques Maritain. 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. This second explanation is the traditional JudeoChristian account of Original Sin of which Maritain made much. As mentioned. They not only will not be but also cannot be. describe their God in terms strikingly similar to this philosophically Joseph Owens. The Natural Desire for God (Milwaukee: Marquette University Press.Y. But other possible explanations continue to appear to the philosopher. Donald and Idella Gallagher.” eds. Yet. “Towards a Philosophy of Medieval Studies. 208. Characteristic of religion is the claim to have information from an absolute being about its designs for humans.” The Etienne Gilson Series 9 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies. Nothing in his metaphysical principles forces the philosopher to eliminate Original Sin from the realm of possible events in creation.” The New Scholasticism 48 (1974). 14 William O’Connor. 1948). the disembodied soul has little or no natural means of operating. First. 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. Reality does contain a creator who is personal and who possesses the power and knowledge to communicate in human history.

the human will find the explanation of evil.5 knowable creator. These motives set the remote context for conversion. Hence. not as a philosopher but as a believer. some religions can still offer the intellect powerful motives for credibility. Though no religion can prove its truth as the philosopher can prove the truth of a creator. Knasas Professor Center for Thomistic Studies University of St. Thomas Houston. X. John F. Texas . Has the creator spoken to us in these religions? That is the question to which Aquinas’ philosophy brings us.