This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria
That in all things God might be glorified. 1 Pet 4:11
PEACE BE WITH YOU. I am sorry not to be able to be with you in person today, but I
am grateful that I can at least be with you through these reflections, which
Christian Machek was kind enough to agree to read for me. I hope that in the
future I will be able to come to Qom myself.
To say “peace” in greeting is common among all the children of Abraham: Shalom,
Salam, Pax. Today I want to reflect a little a teaching within my own Christian
tradition that peace is the very purpose of creation; the primary good that God
The following is based partly on my Essay “Qui posuit fines tuos pacem,” Noviziatsarbeit,
wanted to achieve by creating the world was the good of peace. As a Cistercian
monk I follow the Rule of St Benedict of Nursia (c. 480 – 543 or 547), and
monasteries in the tradition of St Benedict often have the word pax (peace),
inscribed above their doors. In the prologue of his Rule St Benedict commands the
monk to “seek after peace and pursues it” (Psalm 33:15).
The monastery is not the
place of, “confusion, of discordance, of accidental, random, private courses… but of
determinate, regulated, prescribed action;”
it is the place of order and
subordination, of harmony and tranquility. Indeed one can see the monastery as a
kind of model of creation as a whole, and an anticipation of the restoration of
creation through God. Christians hold that at the end of the ages God will restore
His creation, and will build a city for the just, and this city will be called
“Jerusalem,” which means “City of Peace.”
St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians of our tradition, defines
peace as “tranquility of order:” tranquilitas ordinis.
He calls peace “a good so great
that even in this earthly and mortal life there is no other word which we hear with
and argues that this is the purpose of creation. He quotes Psalm
147: “Praise the Lord Jerusalem;… for He has strengthened the bars of your gates:…
who has made peace in your borders.” In the Latin version of the Psalm, which
Augustine quotes, the word for borders is fines: “qui posuit fines tuos pacem.”
While fines has “borders” as one of its meanings, it can also mean a number of
other things. St. Augustine read fines to mean the ends in the sense of purposes.
Thus, according St. Augustine, the Psalmist is saying that God made peace to be
Vide: Regula Sancti Benedicti, Prologus, 17.
John Henry Cardinal Newman, Sermons Preached on Various Occasions (Westminster, Md.:
Christian Classics, 1968; 1857), Sermon XI: Order, the Witness and Instrument of Unity (Preached
Nov. 9, 1853); p. 184.
De Civitate Dei, XIX, Ch. 13.
Ibid., Ch. 11.
the purpose, the final cause of the City of God,
and thus our purpose and “the end
of our good”
as citizens of that city.
St Thomas Aquinas teaches that the ultimate explanation of anything is it’s end,
it’s final cause, or as Aristotle whom Aquinas follows in this would say, it’s telos. If
we want to explain a building, for instance, we have to show to what end it was
built. For what purpose did the builder build this building? Only when we have
understood that this building was built for the purpose of housing a university,
and not (say) a hospital or a prison can we see why it is the way it is.
Just as one can ask this question about any particular created thing, so one can ask
it about creation as a whole. Why did God create the universe? What was the
point? In the Gospel of Luke angels announce the birth of Christ with these words:
“Glory to God in the Highest Heaven, and on earth peace to men of good will.”
(Luke, 2:14). These words are interpreted to mean that all that is is for the glory of
But what does this mean? God does not need anything outside of Himself to give
Him glory. He already possesses the fullness of Glory in the perfection of His
essence. He is the one who Is, he possesses absolute fullness of being, in the
perfect simplicity of His essence. There is nothing lacking in God. He is Perfection.
Since He is infinite being and perfection He is also infinite good. Now, the unity of
God belongs to the very account of this infinite goodness. For, as St. Thomas
Aquinas teaches, “Unity belongs to the idea of goodness… as all things desire good,
so do they desire unity; without which they would cease to exist. For a thing so far
exists as it is one.”
So it belongs to God’s
See: De Cuvitate Dei, XIX., Ch. 11.
St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q. 103, A. 3, c.
In his sermon, Order the Witness and Instrument of Unity, Blessed John Henry
Cardinal Newman, a great English theologian of the nineteenth century, shows
how this unity of the Divine Goodness appears to us as order, you will forgive a
All the works of God are founded on unity, for they are founded on Himself, who is the
most awful, simple, and transcendent of possible unities. He is emphatically One; and
whereas He is also multiform in His attributes and His acts, as they present themselves to
our minds, it follows that order and harmony must be of His very essence. To be many and
distinct in His attributes, yet, after all, to be but one,—to be sanctity, justice, truth, love,
power, wisdom, to be at once each of these as fully as if He were nothing but it, as if the
rest were not,—this implies in the Divine Nature an infinitely sovereign and utterly
incomprehensible order, which is an attribute as wonderful as any, and the result of all the
“All the works of God are founded on unity.” But from whence come these works?
Why does the perfectly self-sufficing God create? St. Thomas teaches that God
chose to create out of love for His own goodness. For it belongs to the nature of
the good, being as desirable, that he who loves the good for its own sake desires
that it ever be, “bettered and multiplied as much as possible.”
God loves His infinite Goodness with an infinite love, He desires that it be
multiplied, but since the Divine essence is absolutely simple and one, it cannot be
increased and multiplied in itself.
The only way in which the Divine essence can
be multiplied is by likeness, by representation, “which is shared by many,”
by creatures. “Therefore God wishes things to be multiplied, because He wills and
loves His essence and perfection.”
Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, p. 184-185.
St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 75
Although as a Christian I believe that it is shared and communicated in the subsistent relations of
the Most Blessed Trinity, without in anyway compromising or modifying its absolute unity.
The multitude of creatures is thus created to give God glory by being a likeness, a
reflection, of the Divine goodness. The complete goodness which God possesses in
a perfectly simple and undivided way is reflected by the multitude of creatures in a
divided way; each creature reflects a different aspect of the Divine goodness as no
one creature can represent the Divine goodness as a whole.
Since, as we saw, it
belongs to the very account of the goodness that creation is an image of that it be
one, it follows that the multitude of creatures must be brought together, in some
way, so as to imitate the Divine Unity.
Of course, the multitude of creatures remains multitude and cannot have the unity
of essence that belongs to God. In what way then is the Divine unity able to be
imitated by multitude? What aspect of God’s unity is reflected by the multitude of
creation? We can discover this from the nature of representation. If the purpose of
creation is to reflect the Divine goodness, it follows from its nature as
representation to imitate that goodness as beauty. “All things are made, so that
they in some way imitate the divine beauty,” writes St Thomas, for, “nobody takes
care to shape and represent anything, except to (the image of) the beautiful.”
Now, just as unity belongs to the account of goodness, so that mode of unity which
is order belongs to the account of beauty. This is way St Thomas can write the
following about the purpose of creation:
The multitude and distinction of things has been planned by the divine mind and has been
instituted in the real world so that created things would represent the divine goodness in
various ways and diverse beings would participate in it in different degrees, so that out of
the order of diverse beings a certain beauty would arise in things.
The purpose of creation is to give glory of to God by reflecting His Goodness
through the beauty of its order. Of course, since each thing reflects an aspect of the
Vide: Idid., II, 45.
Commentary on Denys the Areopagite On the Divine Names (Marietti: Turin, 1950) p. 115, n. 353-54
St. Thomas, Compendium theologiae, Lib. 1, cap. 102, end.
Divine goodness, it is in itself a good, an end, so that each thing is also for itself.
But there is a hierarchy of these ends. St. Thomas explains this from a general
If we wish to assign an end to any whole, and to the parts of that whole, we shall find, first,
that each and every part exists for the sake of its proper act,… secondly, that less honorable
parts exist for the more honorable, … and, thirdly, that all parts are for the perfection of the
whole… In the parts of the universe also every creature exists for its own proper act and
perfection, and the less noble for the nobler, as those creatures that are less noble than
man exist for the sake of man, whilst each and every creature exists for the perfection of
the entire universe. Furthermore, the entire universe, with all its parts, is ordained towards
God as its end, inasmuch as it imitates, as it were, and shows forth the Divine goodness, to
the glory of God.
Thus, while God intends each creature as a good in its own right, that which He
principally intends is the good of the order of the whole universe. St. Thomas
manifests this from the creation account in the book of Genesis:
The good of order among diverse things is better than any one of those things that are
ordered taken by itself: for it is formal in respect of each, as the perfection of the whole in
respect of the parts… Hence it is said (Gen 1:31): God saw all the things that He had made,
and they were very good, after it had been said of each that they are good. For each one in
its nature is good, but all together are very good, on account of the order of the universe,
which is the ultimate and noblest perfection in things.
St Thomas explains that beauty consists of two things: splendor, and harmony or
In creation, he continues, splendor corresponds to the reflection of
the Divine Essence that belongs to each thing, while harmony corresponds to the
order of the whole. This order itself consists in two things: the order of things to
each other, and the order of creatures to God.
The order of things among themselves consists partly in what is called “the
hierarchy of forms.” The universe has perfection or completeness from having all
degrees of being—each of which is a different participation in the One Divine
Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q 65, A 2, c.
Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45.
St. Thomas, Commentary on Denys the Areopagite, p. 114-15, n. 349.
Essence. This order appears in the creation account of Genesis, where diverse
things, are created in hierarchal order, in the six days: first non-living things, then
plants, then animals, and finally man as a rational being.
It also belongs to this order that things are proportioned to one another, and
subordinate to each other. The lower creatures are for the sake of the higher, and
therefore subordinate to them. This subordination is not accidental to the order of
the universe, but belongs essentially to its beauty as a representation of the Divine
Goodness. We saw the subordination of creatures to one another in the text
quoted above on the hierarchy of good:
“those creatures that are less noble than
man exist for the sake of man, whilst each and every creature exists for the
perfection of the entire universe.” Man is essential to the good of the universe. For
to irrational creation the good of order remains in a way extrinsic to them. It is
“their” good only insofar as they contribute to it and exist principally for it, but it is
not a good that they enjoy. Man by his rational nature is able to attain to this good
of the universe, insofar as he can comprehend and love it; moreover he becomes a
co-principle of this order insofar as he shares in the ordering governance of God:
“fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28)
The order of the whole thus also consists in governance of creatures by each other,
and also (among men themselves) in friendship in mutual good will, which
strengthens the unity of the whole.
Since man participates more in the order of the universe he is more for it than the
other creatures. In fact, St. Thomas teaches that among the irrational creatures it is
chiefly the species that is for the order of the universe, while the individuals are
intended chiefly for the preservation of those species; with man on the other hand
Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q 65, A 2, c.
each individual is more directly for the order of the universe.
But here one might
say ask whether it is not true that it belongs to the dignity of man that he is for his
own sake, as the Second Vatican Council put it, “man is the only creature on earth
that God willed for its own sake.”
(Note that the Council says on earth, the angels
too are for their own sake, but they are not one earth, i.e. they do not belong to the
visible, material world). How then can one say that men are more for the order of
the whole universe? The great Thomist Philosopher of the last century, Charles De
Koninck, points us to the solution of this difficulty. He shows how it is precisely
because of his ordering to a good outside himself that man is for himself:
The rational creature, insofar as it can itself attain to the end of God’s manifestation
outside Himself, exists for itself. The irrational creatures exist only for the sake of this
being which can by itself attain an end which will belong to irrational creatures only
implicitly. Man is the dignity which is their end. But, that does not mean that rational
creatures exist for the dignity of their own being and that they are themselves the dignity
for which they exist. They draw their dignity from the end to which they can and must
attain; their dignity consists in the fact that they can attain to the end of the universe, the
end of the universe being, in this regard, for the rational creatures, that is for each of them.
Still, the good of the universe is not for rational creatures as if the latter were the end of the
former. The good of the universe is the good of each of the rational creatures insofar as it is
their good as common good.
The key word here is “common good.” Because the order of the universe is a
common good in which men participate, to be for it is to be for themselves. To
manifest this it is necessary to briefly consider what is meant by a “common good.”
In this context a “common good” means a good that is not diminished by being
shared, “on the contrary,” he writes, a chocolate cake is good, but I can have it
without sharing it and, so far from being increased by being shared, it is actually
diminished the more it shared, since the piece that is eaten by one cannot be eaten
C.f.: Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q. 23, A 7, c.
Gaudium et Spes, 24.
Charles De Koninck, On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists, (Aquinas
Review Vol 4, No 1, 1997), pp. 39-40.
by another. As one ascends through the hierarchy of goods, however, to things
which have more fully the account of good, one sees that goods become more
capable of being shared. A truth in philosophy, for example, is not diminished by
being shared. In fact, when someone learns such a truth, his first impulse is to
show it to others—as though his enjoyment of it were increased by
communicating it. And this is even more true of peace—whether the peace of a
family, or a monastery, or a country, or of the whole world.
A chocolate cake is what St Thomas calls a private good as opposed to a common
An essential difference between a common good and a private good is that
the private good is ordered to the one who enjoys it, it is for the one whose good is.
A cake is ordered to the one who eats it, the one who eats it is better than the cake,
he is its end. A common good on the other hand is not ordered to the one who
enjoys it, one must say rather that he is ordered to it, it is better than he,
it is his
end. This is why a brave man will give his life for the common good of a family or a
city, but the man who gives his life for a piece of cake is foolhardy.
It is important that we see that the common good while it is not ordered to the
ones who enjoy it, is nevertheless their good, in the sense that they are the ones
who delight in it. A family, a state, or the universe, is has no collective soul by
which it could delight in its good—the good of a family, or state, or the universe is
delighted in by the persons who share in it.
The man who gives his life for the
common good is not an altruist; it is his good that he gives his life for. But neither
For an account of the common good, its definition, its properties, and its place in the tradition,
vide: Michael Waldstein, The Person and the Common Good, (Gaming: unpublished manuscript).
C.f. Treatise on Separate Substances, Ch 12, where St. Thomas argues that the good of order is
better than singular things because it is the common good: “The good of order is that which is best
in the universe of things, for this is the common good; while other goods are singular goods.”
C.f. The Person and the Common Good, especially pp. 21-22.
is he an egoist; the good that he gives his life for is better than his. In this light we
can understand De Koninck’s point: the rational creatures are for themselves
insofar as they are for their good, the good that they enjoy, but this good is better
than them and they are ordered to it as to an end. And it is from the order to this
greater good that they derive their dignity.
So human persons (and the angels) derive their dignity from being able to
participate in the good of the universe. But they are able to participate in a good
that is much better even than the peace of the universe: namely God Himself. God
is the Good itself and therefore He is the most common of all common goods. If
the good of order is the intrinsic common good of the universe, God is its extrinsic
common good: He transcends the universe of things, but He is the Good which all
He is the end of the universe:
The entire universe, with all its parts, is ordained towards God as its end, inasmuch as it
imitates, as it were, and shows forth the Divine goodness, to the glory of God. Reasonable
creatures, however, have in some special and higher manner God as their end, since they
can attain to Him by their own operations, by knowing and loving Him.
Above we explained that the order of the universe has two aspects—the order of
things to each other, and the order of things to God—we have now arrived at the
second aspect. We saw that rational creation participates more than irrational in
the first aspect of order; how much more in the second aspect! Rational creation is
ordered to enjoy the good of God Himself. So we can see that our purpose as
created things is God’s glory in two ways: in one way, we are supposed to give glory
to God by participating in and promoting peace: peace in our own souls, and in
our communities, and thus in all of creation; but we are also destined to attain to
God’s glory in the seeing God and praising Him: this is the Christian idea of
For an explanation of the intrinsic vs. the extrinsic common good of the universe vide: St.
Thomas Aquinas, In Libros Metaphysicorum, XII, lect. 12.
Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q 65, A 2, c.
Heaven—a place where we see God and praise Him for His glory. As the book of
Revelation puts it:
And from the throne came a voice crying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who
fear him, small and great.’ Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude,
like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying,
‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give
him the glory.’ (Rev 19:5-7)
Now, if the purpose of our existence is to reflect God’s glory through peace on
earth, and to attain to it in the life to come, then this has many consequences for
life now. In the monastic tradition the emphasis on obedience and humility as
virtues comes from this: through obedience we integrate ouseleves into order,
peace, and by humility we give glory to God.
I want to end with a question. The French philosopher Rémi Brague claims that
while there are parallels between the Islamic idea of “He who excelled in the
creation of all things” and the first creation account in Genesis, there is also “an
essential, though subtle, difference:”
the totality in the Bible is additive, and here it is distributive; according to the Bible the
object of admiration is the entirety of creatures, in the connection that gives them their
consistency; according to the Koran it is every creature viewed individually, without any
connection to the rest of creation, indeed, without any link other than that with Allah.
My question is this: is Brague right? Or does the Islamic tradition as well have an
idea of the peace of all creation as a primary good intended by the Creator?
Rémi Brague, The Wisdom of the World: the Human Experience of the Universe in Western
Thought, trans. Teresa Lavender Fagen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), p. 57.