The Catechism sections for today delve into the problem of evil. The supplemental material comes from St. Thomas Aquinas’ other “Summa”, the “Summa Contra Gentiles”.

Providence and the scandal of evil

309 If God the Father almighty, the Creator of the ordered and good world, cares for all his creatures, why does evil exist? To this question, as pressing as it is unavoidable and as painful as it is mysterious, no quick answer will suffice. Only Christian faith as a whole constitutes the answer to this question: the goodness of creation, the drama of sin and the patient love of God who comes to meet man by his covenants, the redemptive Incarnation of his Son, his gift of the Spirit, his gathering of the Church, the power of the sacraments and his call to a blessed life to which free creatures are invited to consent in advance, but from which, by a terrible mystery, they can also turn away in advance. There is not a single aspect of the Christian message that is not in part an answer to the question of evil.

310 But why did God not create a world so perfect that no evil could exist in it? With infinite power God could always create something better.174 But with infinite wisdom and goodness God freely willed to create a world "in a state of journeying" towards its ultimate perfection. In God's plan this process of becoming involves the appearance of certain beings and the disappearance of others, the existence of the more perfect alongside the less perfect, both constructive and destructive forces of nature. With physical good there exists also physical evil as long as creation has not reached perfection.175

311 Angels and men, as intelligent and free creatures, have to journey toward their ultimate destinies by their free choice and preferential love. They can therefore go astray. Indeed, they have sinned. Thus has moral evil, incommensurably more harmful than physical evil, entered the world. God is in no way, directly or indirectly, the cause of moral evil.176 He permits it, however, because he respects the freedom of his creatures and, mysteriously, knows how to derive good from it:

For almighty God. . ., because he is supremely good, would never allow any evil whatsoever to exist in his works if he were not so all-powerful and good as to cause good to emerge from evil itself.177

312 In time we can discover that God in his almighty providence can bring a good from the consequences of an evil, even a moral evil, caused by his creatures: "It was not you", said Joseph to his brothers, "who sent me here, but God. . . You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive."178 From the greatest moral evil ever committed - the rejection and murder of God's only Son, caused by the sins of all men - God, by his grace that "abounded all the more",179 brought the greatest of goods: the glorification of Christ and our redemption. But for all that, evil never becomes a good.

313 "We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him."180 The constant witness of the saints confirms this truth:

St. Catherine of Siena said to "those who are scandalized and rebel against what happens to them": "Everything comes from love, all is ordained for the salvation of man, God does nothing without this goal in mind."181

St. Thomas More, shortly before his martyrdom, consoled his daughter: "Nothing can come but that that God wills. and I make me very sure that whatsoever that be, seem it never so bad in sight, it shall indeed be the best."182

Dame Julian of Norwich: "Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith... and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time - that 'all manner (of) thing shall be well.'"183

314 We firmly believe that God is master of the world and of its history. But the ways of his providence are often unknown to us. Only at the end, when our partial knowledge ceases, when we see God "face to face",184 will we fully know the ways by which - even through the dramas of evil and sin - God has guided his creation to that definitive sabbath rest185 for which he created heaven and earth.

IN BRIEF

324 The fact that God permits physical and even moral evil is a mystery that God illuminates by his Son Jesus Christ who died and rose to vanquish evil. Faith gives us the certainty that God would not permit an evil if he did not cause a good to come from that very evil, by ways that we shall fully know only in eternal life.

In “Summa Contra Gentiles” (3, 71), St. Thomas Aquinas explains how evil can exist in the world even though God is perfect:

That Divine Providence Does Not Entirely Exclude Evil From Things

[1] Now, from these conclusions it becomes evident that divine providence, whereby He governs things, does not prevent corruption, deficiency, and evil from being found in things.

[2] Indeed, divine governance, whereby God works in things, does not exclude the working of secondary causes, as we have already shown. Now, it is possible for a defect to happen in an effect, because of a defect in the secondary agent cause, without there being a defect in the primary agent. For example, in the case of the product of a perfectly skilled artisan, some defect may occur because of a defect in his instrument. And again, in the case of a man whose motive power is strong, he may limp as a result of no defect in his bodily power to move, but because of a twist in his leg bone. So, it is possible, in the case of things made and governed by God, for some defect and evil to be found, because of a defect of the secondary agents, even though there be no defect in God Himself.

[3] Moreover, perfect goodness would not be found in created things unless. there were an order of goodness in them, in the sense that some of them are better than others. Otherwise, all possible grades of goodness would not be realized, nor would any creature be like God by virtue of holding a higher place than another. The highest beauty would be taken away from things, too, if the order of distinct and unequal things were removed. And what is more, multiplicity would be taken away from things if inequality of goodness were removed, since through the differences by which things are distinguished from each other one thing stands out as better than another; for instance, the animate in relation to the inanimate, and the rational in regard to the irrational. And so, if complete equality were present in things, there would be but one created good, which clearly disparages the perfection of the creature. Now, it is a higher grade of goodness for a thing to be good because it cannot fall from goodness; lower than that is the thing which can fall from goodness. So, the perfection of the universe requires both grades of goodness. But it pertains to the providence of the governor to preserve perfection in the things governed, and not to decrease it. Therefore, it does not pertain to divine goodness, entirely to exclude from things the power of falling from the good. But evil is the consequence of this power, because what is able to fall does fall at times. And this defection of the good is evil, as we showed above. Therefore, it does not pertain to divine providence to prohibit evil entirely from things.

Footnotes

174 Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I, 25, 6.
175 Cf. St. Thomas Aquinas, SCG III, 71.
176 Cf. St. Augustine, De libero arbitrio I, 1, 2: PL 32, 1221- 1223; St. Thomas Aquinas, STh I-II, 79, 1.
177 St. Augustine, Enchiridion II, 3: PL 40, 236.
178 ⇒ Gen 45:8; ⇒ 50:20; cf. Tob 2:12 (Vulgate).
179 Cf. ⇒ Rom 5:20.
180 ⇒ Rom 8:28.
181 St. Catherine of Siena, Dialogue IV, 138 "On Divine Providence".
182 The Correspondence of Sir Thomas More, ed. Elizabeth F. Rogers (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), letter 206, lines 661-663.
183 Julian of Norwich, the Revelations of Divine Love, tr. James Walshe SJ (London: 1961), ch. 32, 99-100.
184 ⇒ I Cor 13:12.
185 Cf. ⇒ Gen 2:2.