Evil, in a large sense, may be described as the sum of the opposition, which experience shows to exist in the universe, to the desires and needs of individuals; whence arises, among human beings at least, the suffering in which life abounds. Thus evil, from the point of view of human welfare, is what ought not to exist. Nevertheless, there is no department of human life in which its presence is not felt; and the discrepancy between what is and what ought to be has always called for explanation in the account which mankind has sought to give of itself and its surroundings. For this purpose it is necessary (I) to define the precise nature of the principle that Imparts the character of evil to so great a variety of circumstances, and (2) to ascertain, as far as may be possible, the source from which it arises.
With regard to the nature of evil, it should be observed that evil is of three kinds—physical, moral, and metaphysical. Physical evil includes all that causes harm to man, whether by bodily injury, by thwarting his natural desires, or by preventing the full development of his powers, either in the order of nature directly, or through the various social conditions under which mankind naturally exists. Physical evils directly due to nature are sickness, accident, death, etc. Poverty, oppression, and some forms of disease are instances of evil arising from imperfect social organization. Mental suffering, such as anxiety, disappointment, and remorse, and the limitation of intelligence which prevents human beings from attaining to the full comprehension of their environment, are congenital forms of evil which vary in character and degree according to natural disposition and social circumstances.
By moral evil are understood the deviation of human volition from the prescriptions of the moral order and the action which results from that deviation. Such action, when it proceeds solely from ignorance, is not to be classed as moral evil, which is properly restricted to the motions of the will towards ends of which the conscience disapproves. The extent of moral evil is not limited to the circumstances of life in the natural order, but includes also the sphere of religion, by which man’s welfare is affected in the supernatural order, and the precepts of which, as depending ultimately upon the will of God, are of the strictest possible obligation (see Sin). The obligation to moral action in the natural order is, moreover, generally believed to depend on the motives supplied by religion; and it is at least doubtful whether it is possible for moral obligation to exist at all apart from a supernatural sanction.
Metaphysical evil is the limitation by one another of the various component parts of the natural world. Through this mutual limitation natural objects are for the most part prevented from attaining to their full or ideal perfection, whether by the constant pressure of physical conditions, or by sudden catastrophes. Thus, animal and vegetable organisms are variously influenced by climate and other natural causes; predatory animals depend for their existence on the destruction of life; nature is subject to storms and convulsions, and its order depends on a system of perpetual decay and renewal due to the interaction of its constituent parts. It is evident that metaphysical evil does not, like the other two kinds, necessarily connote suffering. If animal suffering is excluded, no pain of any kind is caused by the inevitable limitations of nature; and they can only be called evil by analogy, and in a sense quite different from that in which the term is applied to human experience. Clarke, moreover, has aptly remarked (Correspondence with Leibniz, letter ii) that the apparent disorder of nature is really no disorder, since it is part of a definite scheme, and precisely fulfils the intention of the Creator; it may therefore be counted as a relative perfection rather than an imperfection. It is, in fact, only by a transference to irrational objects of the subjective ideals and aspirations of human intelligence, that the “evil of nature” can be called evil in any sense but a merely analogous one. The nature and degree of pain in the lower animals is very obscure, and in the necessary absence of data it is difficult to say whether it should rightly be classed with the merely formal evil which belongs to inanimate objects, or with the suffering of human beings. The latter view was generally held in ancient times, and may perhaps be referred to the anthropomorphic tendency of primitive minds which appears in the doctrine of metempsychosis. Thus it has often been supposed that animal suffering, together with many of the imperfections of inanimate nature, was due to the fall of man, with whose welfare, as the chief part of creation, were bound up the fortunes of the rest (see Theoph. Antioch., Ad Autolyc., II; cf. Gen. iii, and I Cor. ix). The opposite view is taken by St. Thomas (I, Q. xcvi, a. 1, 2). Descartes supposed that animals were merely machines, without sensation or consciousness; he was closely followed by Malebranche and Cartesians generally. Leibnitz grants sensation to animals, but considers that mere sense-perception, unaccompanied by reflexion, cannot cause either pain or pleasure; in any case he holds the pain and pleasure of animals to be far less acute than those of human beings, and comparable in degree to those resulting from reflex action in man (see also Maher, Psychology, Supp’t. A., London, 1903).
It is evident again that all evil is essentially negative and not positive; i.e. it consists not in the acquisition of anything, but in the loss or deprivation of something necessary for perfection. Pain, which is the test or criterion of physical evil, has indeed a positive, though purely subjective existence as a sensation or emotion; but its evil quality lies in its disturbing effect on the sufferer. In like manner, the perverse action of the will, upon which moral evil depends, is more than a mere negation of right action, implying as it does the positive element of choice; but the morally evil character of wrong action is constituted not by the element of choice, but by its rejection of what right reason requires. Thus Origen (In Joh., ii, 7) defines evil as steresis; the Pseudo-Dionysius (De. Div. Nom. iv) as the non-existent; Maimonides (Dux perplex. iii, 10) as “privatio boni alicujus”; Albertus Magnus (adopting St. Augustine’s phrase) attributes evil to “aliqua causa deficiens” (Summa Theol., I, xi, 4); Schopenhauer, who held pain to be the positive and normal condition of life (pleasure being its partial and temporary absence), nevertheless made it depend upon the failure of human desire to obtain fulfillment—”the wish is in itself pain”. Thus it will be seen that evil is not a real entity; it is relative. What is evil in some relations may be good in others; and probably there is no form of existence which is exclusively evil in all relations. Hence it has been thought that evil cannot truly be said to exist at all, and is really nothing but a “lesser good.” But this opinion seems to leave out of account the reality of human experience. Though the same cause may give pain to one, and pleasure to another, pain and pleasure, as sensations or ideas, cannot but be mutually exclusive. No one, however, has attempted to deny this very obvious fact; and the opinion in question may perhaps be understood as merely a paradoxical way of stating the relativity of evil.
There is practically a general agreement of authorities as to the nature of evil, some allowance being made for varying modes of expression depending on a corresponding variety of philosophical presuppositions. But on the question of the origin of evil there has been, and is, a considerable diversity of opinion. The problem is strictly a metaphysical one; i.e. it cannot be solved by a mere experimental analysis of the actual conditions from which evil results. The question, which Schopenhauer has called “the puncturn pruriens of metaphysics”, is concerned not so much with the various detailed manifestations of evil in nature, as with the hidden and underlying cause which has made these manifestations possible or necessary; and it is at once evident that enquiry in a region so obscure must be attended with great difficulty, and that the conclusions reached must, for the most part, be of a provisional and tentative character. No system of philosophy has ever succeeded in escaping from the obscurity in which the subject is involved; but it is not too much to say that the Christian solution offers, on the whole, fewer difficulties, and approaches more nearly to completeness than any other. The question may be stated thus. Admitting that evil consists in a certain relation of man to his environment, or that it arises in the relation of the component parts of the totality of existence to one another, how comes it that though all are alike the results of a universal cosmic process, this universal agency is perpetually at war with itself, contradicting and thwarting its own efforts in the mutual hostility of its progeny? Further, admitting that metaphysical evil in itself may be merely nature’s method, involving nothing more than a continual redistribution of the material elements of the universe, human suffering and wrongdoing still stand out as essentially opposed to the general scheme of natural development, and are scarcely to be reconciled in thought with any conception of unity or harmony in nature. To what, then, is the evil of human life, physical and moral, to be attributed as its cause? But when the universe is considered as the work of an all-benevolent and all-powerful Creator, a fresh element is added to the problem. If God is all-benevolent, why did He cause or permit suffering? If He is all-powerful, He can be under no necessity of creating or permitting it; and on the other hand, if He is under any such necessity, He cannot be all-powerful. Again, if God is absolutely good, and also omnipotent, how can He permit the existence of moral evil? We have to enquire, that is to say, how evil has come to exist, and what is its special relation to the Creator of the universe.
The solution of the problem has been attempted by three different methods.
I. It has been contended that existence is fundamentally evil; that evil is the active principle of the universe, and good no more than an illusion, the pursuit of which serves to induce the human race to perpetuate its own existence (see Pessimism). This is the fundamental tenet of Buddhism (q.v.), which regards happiness as unattainable, and holds that there is no way of escaping from misery but by ceasing to exist otherwise than in they impersonal state of Nirvana. The origin of suffering, according to Buddha, is “the thirst for being”. This was also, among Greek philosophers, the view of Hegesias the Cyrenaic (called peisithanatos, the counsellor of death), who held life to be valueless, and pleasure, the only good, to be unattainable. But the Greek temper was naturally disinclined to a pessimistic view of nature and life; and while popular mythology embodied the darker aspects of existence in such conceptions as those of Fate, the avenging Furies, and the envy (phthonos) of the gods, Greek thinkers, as a rule, held that evil is not universally supreme, but can be avoided or overcome by the wise and virtuous.
Pessimism, as a metaphysical system, is the product of modern times. Its chief representatives are Schopenhauer and von Hartmann, both of whom hold the actual universe to be fundamentally evil, and happiness in it to be impossible. The origin of the phenomenal universe is attributed by Schopenhauer to a transcendental Will, which he identifies with pure being; and by Hartmann to the Unconscious, which includes both the Will and the Idea (Vorstellung) of Schopenhauer. According to both Schopenhauer and Hartmann, suffering has come into existence with self-consciousness, from which it is inseparable.
II. Evil has been attributed to one of two mutually opposed principles, to which respectively the mingled good and evil of the world are due. The relation between the two is variously represented, and ranges from the coordination imagined by Zoroastrianism to the mere relative independence of the created will as held by Christian theology. Zoroaster attributed good and evil respectively to two mutually hostile principles (rhizai, or archai) called Ormuzd (Ahura Mazda) and Ahriman (Angra Mainyu). Each was independent of the other; but eventually the good were to be victorious with Ormuzd, and Ahriman and his evil followers were to be expelled from the world. This mythological dualism passed to the sect of the Manichees, whose founder, Manes, added a third, but subordinate principle, emanating from the source of good (and perhaps corresponding, in some degree, to the Mithras of Zoroastrianism), in the “living spirit”, by whom was formed the present material world of mingled good and evil. Manes held that matter was essentially evil, and therefore could not be in direct contact with God. He probably derived the notion from the Gnostic sects, which, though they differed on many points from one another, were generally agreed in following the opinions of Philo, and the neo-Platonist Plotinus, as to the evil of matter. They held the world to have been formed by an emanation, the Demiurge, as a kind of intermediary between God and impure matter. Bardesanes, however, and his followers regarded evil as resulting from the misuse of created free will.
The notion that evil is necessarily inherent in matter, independent of the Divine author of good, and in some sense opposed to Him, is common to the above theosophical systems, to many of the purely rational conceptions of Greek philosophy, and to much that has been advanced on this subject in later times. In the Pythagorean idea of a numerical harmony as the constitutive principle of the world, good is represented by unity and evil by multiplicity (Philolaus, Fragm.). Heraclitus set the “strife”, which he held to be the essential condition of life, over against the action of the immanent deity. “God is the author of all that is right and good and just; but men have sometimes chosen good and sometimes evil” (Fragm. 61). Empedocles, again, attributed evil to the principle of hate (neikos), inherent together with its opposite, love (philia), in the universe. Plato held God to be “free from blame” (anaitios) for the evil of the world; its cause was partly the necessary imperfection of material and created existence, and partly the action of the human will (Timaeus, xlii; cf. Phaedo, 1x). With Aristotle, evil is a necessary aspect of the constant changes of matter, and has in itself no real existence (Metaph., ix, 9). The Stoics conceived evil in a somewhat similar manner, as due to necessity; the immanent Divine power harmonizes the evil and good in a changing world. Moral evil proceeds from the folly of mankind, not from the Divine will, and is overruled by it to a good end. In the hymn of Cleanthes to Zeus (Stob. Eel., I, p. 30) may be perceived an approach to the doctrine of Leihniz, as to the nature of evil and the goodness of the world. “Nothing is done without thee in earth or sea or sky, save what evil men commit by their own folly; so thou hast fitted together all evil and good in one, that there might be one reasonable and everlasting scheme of all things.” In the mystical system of Eckhart (d. 1329), evil, sin included, has its place in the evolutionary scheme by which all proceeds from and returns to God, and contributes, both in the moral order and in the physical, to the accomplishment of the Divine purpose. Eckhart’s monistic or pantheistic tendencies seem to have obscured for him many of the difficulties of the subject, as has been the case with those by whom the same tendencies have since been carried to an extreme conclusion.
Christian philosophy has, like the Hebrew, uniformly attributed moral and physical evil to the action of created free will. Man has himself brought about the evil from which he suffers by transgressing the law of God, on obedience to which his happiness depended. Evil is in created things under the aspect of mutability, and possibility of defect, not as existing per se: and the errors of mankind, mistaking the true conditions of its own wellbeing, have been the cause of moral and physical evil (Dion. Areop., De Div. Nom., iv, 31; St. August, De Civ. Dei, xii). The evil from which man suffers is, however, the condition of good, for the sake of which it is permitted. Thus, “God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist” (St. August, Enchirid., xxvii). Evil contributes to the perfection of the universe, as shadows to the perfection of a picture, or harmony to that of music (De Civ. Dei, xi). Again, the excellence of God‘s works in nature is insisted on as evidence of the Divine wisdom, power, and goodness, by which no evil can be directly caused. (Greg. Nyss., De. opif. hom.) Thus Boethius asks (De Consol. Phil., I, iv) Who can be the author of good, if God is the author of evil? As darkness is nothing but the absence of light, and is not produced by creation, so evil is merely the defect of goodness. (St. August, In Gen. ad lit.) St. Basil (Hexaem., Hom. ii) points out the educative purposes served by evil; and St. Augustine, holding evil to be permitted for the punishment of the wicked and the trial of the good, shows that it has, under this aspect, the nature of good, and is pleasing to God, not because of what it is, but because of where it is; i.e. as the penal and just consequence of sin (De Civ. Dei, XI, xii, De Vera Relig. xliv). Lactantius uses similar arguments to oppose the dilemma, as to the omnipotence and goodness of God, which he puts into the mouth of Epicurus (De Ira Dei, xiii). St. Anselm (Monologium) connects evil with the partial manifestation of good by creation; its fullness being in God alone.
The features which stand out in the earlier Christian explanation of evil, as compared with non-Christian dualistic theories are thus (I) the definite attribution to God of absolute omnipotence and goodness, not-withstanding His permission of the existence of evil; (2) the assignment of a moral and retributive cause for suffering in the sin of mankind; and (3) the unhesitating assertion of the beneficence of God‘s purpose in permitting evil, together with the full admission that He could, had He so chosen, have prevented it (De Civ. Dei, xiv). How God‘s permission of the evil which He foreknew and could have prevented is to be reconciled with His goodness; is not fully considered; St. Augustine states the question in forcible terms, but is content by way of answer to follow St. Paul, in his reference to the unsearchableness of the Divine judgments (Contra Julianum, I, 48).
The same general lines have been followed by most of the modern attempts to account in terms of Theism for the existence of evil. Descartes and Malebranche held that the world is the best possible for the purpose for which it was created, i.e. for the manifestation of the attributes of God. If it had been more perfect in detail, it would have been less fitted as a whole for the attainment of this object. The relation of evil to the will of a perfectly benevolent Creator was elaborately treated by Leibniz, in answer to Bayle, who had insisted on the arguments derived from the existence of evil against that of a good and omnipotent God. Leibnitz founded his views mainly on those of St. Augustine and St. Thomas, and deduced from them his theory of Optimism (q.v.). According to it, the universe is the best possible; but metaphysical evil, or imperfection, is necessarily involved in its constitution, since it must be finite, and could not have been endowed with the infinite perfection which belongs to God alone. Moral and physical evil are due to the fall of man, but all evil is overruled by God to a good purpose. Moreover, the world with which we are acquainted is only a very small factor in the whole of creation, and it may be supposed that the evil it contains is necessary for the existence of other regions unknown to us. Voltaire, in “Candide”, undertook to throw ridicule upon the idea of the “best possible world”; and it must be admitted that the theory is open to grave objections. On the one hand, it is scarcely consistent with belief in the Divine omnipotence; and on the other, it fails to account for the permission (or indirect authorship) of evil by a good God, to which Bayle had specially taken exception. We cannot know that this world is the best possible; and if it were, why, since it must include so much that is evil, should a perfectly good God have created it? It may be urged, moreover, that there can be no degree of finite goodness which is not susceptible of increase by omnipotence, without ceasing to fall short of infinite perfection.
Leibniz has been more or less closely followed by many who have since treated the subject from the Christian point of view. These have, for the most part, emphasized the evidence in creation of the wisdom and goodness of its Author, after the manner of the Book of Job, and have been content to leave undiscovered the reason for the creation, by Him, of a universe in which evil is unavoidable. Such was the view of King (Essay on the Origin of Evil, London, 1732), who insisted strongly on the doctrine of the best possible world; of Cudworth, who held that evil, though inseparable from the nature of imperfect beings, is largely a matter of men’s own fancy and opinions, rather than of the reality of things, and therefore not to be made the ground of accusation against Divine Providence. Derham (Physico-Theology, London, 1712) took occasion from an examination of the excellence of creation to commend an attitude of humility and trust towards the Creator of “this elegant, this well-contrived, well-formed world, in which we find everything necessary for the sustentation, use and pleasure both of man and every other creature here below; as well as some whips, some rods, to scourge us for our sins”. Priestley held a doctrine of absolute Determinism, and consequently attributed evil solely to the Divine will; which, however, he justified by the good ends which evil is providentially made to subserve (Doctrine of Philosophical Necessity, Birmingham, 1782). Clarke, again, called special attention to the evidence of method and design, which bear witness to the benevolence of the Creator, in the midst of apparent moral and physical disorder. Rosmini, closet following Malebranche, pointed but that the question of the possibility of a better world than this has really no meaning; any world created by God must be the best possible in relation to its special purpose, apart from which neither goodness nor badness can be predicated of it. Mamiani also supposed evil to be inseparable from the finite, but that it tended to disappear as the finite approached its final union with the infinite.
III. The third way of conceiving the place of evil in the general scheme of existence is that of those systems of Monism, by which evil is viewed as merely a mode in which certain aspects or moments of the development of nature are apprehended by human consciousness. In this view there is no distinctive principle to which evil can be assigned, and its origin is one with that of nature as a whole. These systems reject the specific idea of creation; and the idea of God is either rigorously excluded, or identified with an impersonal principle, immanent in the universe, or conceived as a mere abstraction from the methods of nature; which, whether viewed from the standpoint of Materialism or from that of Idealism, is the one ultimate reality. The problem of the origin of evil is thus merged in that of the origin of being. Moral evil, in particular, arises from error, and is to be gradually eliminated, or at least minimized, by improved knowledge of the conditions of human welfare (Meliorism). Of this kind, on the whole, were the doctrines of the Ionic Hylozoists, whose fundamental notion was the essential unity of matter and life; and on the other hand, also, that of the Eleatics, who found the origin of all things in abstract being. The Atomists, Leucippus and Democritus, held what may be called a doctrine of materialistic Monism. This doctrine, however, found its first complete expression in the philosophy of Epicurus, which explicitly rejected the notion of any external influence upon nature, whether of “fate”, or of Divine power. According to the Epicurean Lucretius (De Rerum Natura, II, line 180) the existence of evil was fatal to the supposition of the creation of the world by God:
Nequaquam nobis divinitus esse creatam
Naturam mundi, quit tanta est praedita culpa
Giordano Bruno made God the immanent cause of all things, acting by an internal necessity, and producing the relations considered evil by mankind. Hobbes regarded God as merely a corporeal first cause; and applying his theory of civil government to the universe, defended the existence of evil by simple assertion of the absolute power to which it is due—a theory which is little else than a statement of materialistic Determinism in terms of social relations. Spinoza united matter and spirit in the notion of a single substance, to which he attributed both thought and extension; error and imperfection were the necessary consequence of the order of the universe. The Hegelian Monism, which reproduces many of the ideas of Eckhart, and is adopted in its main features by many different systems of recent origin, gives to evil a place in the unfolding of the Idea, in which both the origin and the inner reality of the universe are to be found. Evil is the temporary discord between what is and what ought to be. Huxley was content to believe that the ultimate causes of things are at present unknown, and may be unknowable. Evil is to be known and combated in the concrete and in detail; but the Agnosticism professed, and named, by Huxley refuses to entertain any question as to transcendental causes, and confines itself to experimental facts. Haeckel advances a dogmatic materialism, in which substance (i.e. matter and force) appears as the eternal and infinite basis of all things. Professor Metchnikoff, on similar principles, places the cause of evil in the “disharmonies” which prevail in nature, and which he thinks may perhaps be ultimately removed, for the human race at least, together with the pessimistic temper arising from them, by the progress of science. Bourdeau has asserted in express terms the futility of seeking a transcendental or supernatural origin for evil, and the necessity of confining the view to natural, accessible, and determinable causes (Revue Philosophique, I, 1900).
The recently constructed system, or method, called Pragmatism, has this much in common with Pessimism, that it regards evil as an actually unavoidable part of that human experience which is in point of fact identical with truth and reality. The world is what we make it; evil tends to diminish with the growth of experience, and may finally vanish; though, on the other hand, there may always remain an irreducible minimum of evil. The origin of evil is, like the origin of all things, inexplicable; it cannot be fitted into any theory of the design of the universe, simply because no such theory is possible. “We cannot by any possibility comprehend the character of a cosmic mind whose purposes are fully revealed by the strange mixture of goods and evils that we find in this actual world’s particulars—the mere word design, by itself, has no consequences and explains nothing.” (James, Pragmatism, London, 1907. Cf. Schiller, Humanism, London, 1907.) Nietzsche holds evil to be purely relative, and in its moral aspect at least, a transitory and non-fundamental concept. With him, mankind in its present state, is “the animal not yet properly adapted to his environment”. In this mode of thought the individual necessarily counts for comparatively little, as being merely a transient manifestation of the cosmic force; and the social aspects of humanity are those under which its pains and shortcomings are mostly considered, with a view to their amelioration. Hence, the various forms of Socialism; the idea conceived by Nietzsche of a totally new, though as yet undefined, form of social morality, and of the constitution and mutual relations of classes; and the so-called ethical and scientific religions inculcating morality as tending to the general good. The first example of such religions was that of Auguste Comte, who upon the materialistic basis of Positivism, founded the “religion of humanity”, and professed to substitute an enthusiasm for humanity as the motive of right action, for the motives of supernatural religion.
In the light of Catholic doctrine, any theory that may be held concerning evil must include certain points bearing on the question that have been authoritatively defined. These points are (I) the omnipotence, omniscience, and absolute goodness of the Creator; (2) the freedom of the will; and (3) that suffering is the penal consequence of willful disobedience to the law of God. A complete account may be gathered from the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas, by whom the principles of St. Augustine are systematized, and to some extent supplemented. Evil, according to St. Thomas, is a privation, or the absence of some good which belongs properly to the nature of the creature. (I, Q. xiv, a. 10; Q. xlix, a. 3; Contra Gentiles, III, ix, x). There is therefore no “summum malum”, or positive source of evil, corresponding to the “summum bonum”, which is God (I, Q. xlix, a. 3; C. G., III, 15; De Malo, I, 1); evil being not “ens reale” but only “ens rationis”—i.e. it exists not as an objective fact, but as a subjective conception; things are evil not in themselves, but by reason of their relation to other things, or persons. All realities (entia) are in themselves good; they produce bad results only incidentally; and consequently the ultimate cause of evil is fundamentally good, as well as the objects in which evil is found (I, Q. xlix; cf. I, Q. v, 3; De Malo, I, 3). Thus the Manichiean dualism has no foundation in reason.
Evil is threefold, viz., malum naturoe (metaphysical evil), culpoe (moral), and poenoe (physical, the retributive consequence of malum culpoe) (I, Q. xlviii, a. 5, 6; Q. lxiii, a. 9; De Malo, I, 4). Its existence subserves the perfection of the whole; the universe would be less perfect if it contained no evil. Thus fire could not exist without the corruption of what it consumes; the lion must slay the ass in order to live; and if there were no wrongdoing, there would be no sphere for patience and justice (I, Q. xlviii, a. 2). God is said (as in Is., xlv) to be the author of evil in the sense that the corruption of material objects in nature is ordained by Him, as a means for carrying out the design of the universe; and on the other hand, the evil which exists as the consequence of the breach of Divine laws is in the same sense due to Divine appointment; the universe would be less perfect if its laws could be broken with impunity. Thus evil, in one aspect, i.e. as counter-balancing the deordination of sin, has the nature of good (II, Q. ii, a. 19). But the evil of sin (culpoe), though permitted by God, is in no sense due to Him (I, Q. xlix, a. 2); its cause is the abuse of free will by angels and men (I-II, Q. lxxiii, a. 6; II-II, Q. x, a. 2; I-II, Q. ix, a. 3). It should be observed that the universal perfection to which evil in some form is necessary, is the perfection of this universe, not of any universe: metaphysical evil, that is to say, and indirectly, moral evil as well, is included in the design of the universe which is partially known to us; but we cannot say without denying the Divine omnipotence, that another equally perfect universe could not be created in which evil would have no place.
St. Thomas also provides explanations of what are now generally considered to be the two main difficulties of the subject, viz., the Divine permission of foreseen moral evil, and the question finally arising thence, why God chose to create anything at all. First, it is asked why God, foreseeing that His creatures would use the gift of free will for their own injury, did not either abstain from creating them, or in some way safeguard their free will from misuse, or else deny them the gift altogether? St. Thomas replies (C. G., II, xxviii) that God cannot change His mind, since the Divine will is free from the defect of weakness or mutability. Such mutability would, it should be remarked, be a defect in the Divine nature (and therefore impossible), because if God‘s purpose were made dependent on the foreseen free act of any creature, God would thereby sacrifice His own freedom, and would submit Himself to His creatures, thus abdicating His essential supremacy—a thing which is, of course, utterly inconceivable. Secondly, to the question why God should have chosen to create, when creation was in no way needful for His own perfection, St. Thomas answers that God‘s object in creating is Himself; He creates in order to manifest His own goodness, power, and wisdom, and is pleased with that reflection or similitude of Himself in which the goodness of creation consists. God‘s pleasure is the one supremely perfect motive for action, alike in God Himself and in His creatures; not because of any need, or inherent necessity, in the Divine nature (C. G., I, xxviii; II, xxiii), but because God is the source, center, and object, of all existence. (I, Q. Ixv, a. 2; cf. Prov., 26, and Conc. Vat., can. i, v; Const. Dogm., 1.) This is accordingly the sufficient reason for the existence of the universe, and even for the suffering which moral evil has introduced into it. God has not made the world primarily for man’s good, but for His own pleasure; good for man lies in conforming himself to the supreme purpose of creation, and evil in departing from it (C. G., III, xvii, cxliv). It may further be understood from St. Thomas, that in the diversity of metaphysical evil, in which the perfection of the universe as a whole is embodied, God may see a certain similitude of His own threefold unity (cf. I, Q. xii); and again, that by permitting moral evil to exist He has provided a sphere for the manifestation of one aspect of His essential justice (cf. I, Q. lxv, a. 2; and I, Q. xxi, a. 1, 3).
It is obviously impossible to suggest a reason why this universe in particular should have been created rather than another; since we are necessarily incapable of forming an idea of any other universe than this. Similarly, we are unable to imagine why God chose to manifest Himself by the way of creation, instead of, or in addition to, the other ways, whatever they may be, by which He has, or may have, attained the same end. We reach here the utmost limit of speculation; and our inability to conceive the ultimate reason for creation (as distinct from its direct motive) is paralleled, at a much earlier stage of the enquiry, by the inability of the non-creationist schools of thought to assign any ultimate cause for the existence of the order of nature. It will be observed that St. Thomas’s account of evil is a true Theodicy, taking into consideration as it does every factor of the problem, and leaving unsolved only the mystery of creation, before which all schools of thought are equally helpless. It is as impossible to know, in the fullest sense, why this world was made as to know how it was made; but St. Thomas has at least shown that the acts of the Creator admit of complete logical justification, notwithstanding the mystery in which, for human intelligence, they can never wholly cease to be involved. On Catholic principles, the amelioration of moral evil and its consequent suffering can only take place by means of individual reformation, and not so much through increase of knowledge as through stimulation or redirection of the will. But since all methods of social improvement that have any value must necessarily represent a nearer approach to conformity with Divine laws, they are welcomed and furthered by the Church, as tending, at least indirectly, to accomplish the purpose for which she exists.
A. B. SHARPE