"The good of the grace of one soul is greater than the good of the nature of the whole universe"
- St Thomas Aquinas Ia IIa, q.24, a. 3, ad 2

 
REALITY—A Synthesis Of Thomistic Thought

by Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O. P.

CH46: MAN'S ULTIMATE PURPOSE AND GOAL [1003]

In treating man's last end St. Thomas draws inspiration from St. Augustine, from Aristotle, and from Boethius. [1004].

First of all [1005] man, with a rational nature, must know what he is working for, that is, must know purpose as purpose, as something which he thinks will satisfy his desire, something wherein he can find rest. Without an ultimate purpose, known at least vaguely, man would never undertake anything. As, in a series of efficient causes, there must be a first cause, so in a series of final causes, of things which attract, there must be an ultimate cause which attracts for its own sake. This ultimate purpose, reached last in the order of execution, is first in the order of attention, is the motivating center of all else. In illustration, it is to each man what defense of his country is to the commander-in-chief. Thus all men desire some ultimate goal which they think will give them complete satisfaction and happiness, even though many do not realize that genuine happiness, the ultimate goal, is to be found in God alone, the Sovereign Good.

In the second question St. Thomas shows that no created values, neither riches nor honors nor glory nor power, neither bodily advantage nor pleasure, not even knowledge or virtue, can give man ultimate contentment, because the object of man's will is good as such, unlimited and universal good, just as unlimited truth is the object of man's intelligence. The will can find lasting repose only in the possession of what is in every way good, universally good. But this universal good can be found, not in creatures, since they, all and singly, are but limited participations in good, but only in God. Note that the object to which our will is proportioned is not this or that particular good, subjective or objective, but universal good, unlimited good, as known, not by sense and imagination, but by the intellect, by man's higher intelligence.

Here lies another proof of God's existence. [1006] This proof rests on the following principle: a natural desire, founded, not on imagination nor on error, but on the universal amplitude of man's will, cannot be vain or chimerical. Now while each man has this natural desire of complete happiness, both reason and experience show that this desire cannot be satisfied by any limited and finite good, because, since our intelligence knows good as universal and unlimited, the natural amplitude, the embracing capacity of our will, illumined by our intelligence, T is itself universal and unlimited.

Further, this desire is not conditional and inefficacious, as is the desire of the beatific vision, which is founded on this conditional judgment: this vision would be for me perfect happiness, if it were possible that I should be raised to it and if God would raise me to it. But the desire now in question is natural and innate, since it is founded on a judgment not conditional but absolute, arising without medium from the naturally unlimited amplitude of man's will for good. Now since a natural desire presupposes a naturally desirable good, the object of man's desire must be as unlimited as that desire itself. Hence there exists an unlimited good, goodness itself, wherein alone is found that universal good to which our will is proportioned. And this unlimited good can be known naturally, in the mirror of created goodness.

Hence to deny the existence of God is to deny the universal amplitude of our will, is to deny that will's boundless depth, which no limited good can fill. This denial is a radical absurdity, is absolute nonsense. We have here an absolute impossibility, inscribed in the very nature of our will, whose natural desire tends, not to the mere idea of good, but to a real and objective good, because good is not a mental image but objective reality.

We must note, however, that the specific object of the will must be distinguished from what is simply man's last end. The will's specific object is not God, the Sovereign Good, as He is in Himself, which is the specific object of infused charity. The naturally specific object of man's will is good taken universally, as known by man's natural intelligence, an object which is found participatedly and limitedly in everything that is in any way good, but which as good, simultaneously real and universal, is found in God alone. God alone is universal good itself, not indeed in the order of predication, but in the order of being and causing. Thus Cajetan, commenting on Aristotle's word: "While truth is formally in the mind, goodness in the objective thing." [1007] Hence we pass legitimately, by the objective realism of the will, from what is universal as predicate to what is universal in being.

Had man been created in a state purely natural, without grace, he would have found natural happiness in the natural knowledge and love of God, the author of nature. Now our intelligence, far surpassing sense and imagination, is by nature meant to know even the supreme truth, as mirrored in the world of creation. For the same reason, our will, meant by nature to love and will what is good, tends naturally to love also the supreme good, as far at least as that good is naturally knowable. [1008].

But revelation, passing beyond nature, tells us that God has called us to a happiness essentially supernatural, to see Him without medium and to love Him with a love that is supernatural, perfect, and indefective. The essence of that supreme beatitude lies in the act of vision, the act of seeing God without medium, for by that act we take possession of God. But love, in the form of desire, precedes that act, and, in the form of joy, follows that act. Hence love of God, though it is not the essence of beatitude, is both the necessary presupposition and the equally necessary consequence of that beatific vision of God. [1009] Beatitude, therefore, constituted essentially by vision, brings with it, as necessary complement, love and joy in the supreme good, in a glorified body, and in the company of the saints. [1010].

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Footnotes

1003-1010

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