I should note here at the outset that a full-length paper – if not much, much more – would have to be written in order to do the subject of this blog post anything approaching complete justice. Much ink was spilt over the course of the first half or so of the twentieth century on how properly to interpret Aquinas’ teaching on man’s final end alone, to say nothing about the question of what is and is not allowed by magisterial teaching on the gratuity of the supernatural order – and the whole nature/grace controversy, really. My goal, then, is rather modest: I wish only to sketch the outline of an argument that to the effect that there is reason to be critical of Aquinas’ teaching man’s final end in light of the condemnations of <i>Humani Generis<i/>, with the purpose of sparking further discussion – both here, at this blog, and elsewhere.
According to Aquinas, the final end of of man, that in which his happiness or fulfilment consists, is nothing short of a direct, unmediated vision of the Divine Essence (ST I-II q. 3 ar. 8; ScG III cap. 48, cap. 51); in fact, such, for Aquinas, is the final end of all intellectual creatures (ScG III cap. 25, cap. 50-51, cap. 57). However, this the intellectual – or rational – creature’s final end cannot be attained except God give special aid and elevate this creature to such a vision of Himself – the Beatific Vision – as it does not lie within the finite creature’s power to bridge the infinite ontological divide between it and God, to unite itself with God by its own power (ST I-II q. 5 ar. 5; ScG III cap. 52, cap. 147); that is, the final end of an intellectual or rational creature, for Aquinas, can only be attained through grace.
It would seem to follow from the above that while God is free to create or not to create intellectual or rational creatures, once created God is in a certain sense no longer free in justice not to order and call such creatures to their final end, the Beatific Vision: Barring an obstacle freely placed to prevent this, God has (seemingly) on this view bound Himself to give the graces necessary for a rational creature to attain its end. For Wisdom orders all things well, and whatever God does He does perfectly: If God were not to order and call rational creatures to the Beatific Vision, not give them the graces necessary to attain their end, then God would leave nature forever frustrated, which would seem not only to involve an injustice on God’s side toward the creature, but also a lack of perfection in God’s creative act, insofar as what He creates would thus not be ordered well for not being properly ordered and directed to its perfection: The end of nature would not be attained; if a thing is not ordered well to its end, then it is not ordered well. Aquinas would seem to confirm, if only implicitly, this reader in his Summa contra Gentiles (ScG III cap. 111.) On Aquinas’ view, therefore, it would seem that the supernatural order is gratuitous prior to the creation of intellectual or rational creatures, but no longer gratuitous posterior to the creation of intellectual creatures – that is, at least, prior to the committing of sin by such creatures.
This would seem to run afoul the condemnation in Humani Generis – one of Pius XII’s encyclicals – of the opinion, held by some, that God cannot create rational creatures without ordering and calling them to the Beatific Vision; for this, according to Pius XII, would destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order:
“It is not surprising that novelties of this kind have already borne their deadly fruit in almost all branches of theology. It is now doubted that human reason, without divine revelation and the help of divine grace, can, by arguments drawn from the created universe, prove the existence of a personal God; it is denied that the world had a beginning; it is argued that the creation of the world is necessary, since it proceeds from the necessary liberality of divine love; it is denied that God has eternal and infallible foreknowledge of the free actions of men – all this in contradiction to the decrees of the Vatican Council.
Some also question whether angels are personal beings, and whether matter and spirit differ essentially. Others destroy the gratuity of the supernatural order, since God, they say, cannot create intellectual beings without ordering and calling them to the beatific vision” (Humani Generis, par. 25-26).
Given Aquinas’ own understanding of the final end, it would seem that he cannot hold that, prior to any sin, God in His justice could refrain from giving the creature what it needs to attain its end; it would seem that Aquinas is committed to holding that, prior to any sin, God cannot create a rational or intellectual creature without ordering it and calling it to the Beatific Vision. It seems, then, that Aquinas’ position entails a destruction of the gratuity of the supernatural order in exactly the way Pius XII condemns.
As I stated in the beginning it would be, this has been a modest effort, none of which I take to constitute a proof of any of the conclusions reached. But, I do think it is enough to challenge us to re-examine Aquinas’ position on man’s final end in light of Humani Generis, if only to walk away knowing and appreciating better Aquinas and magisterial teaching.