God permits evil

By Tom Quiner

St. Thomas Aquinas

St. Thomas Aquinas

Did God create evil?

I discussed the nature of evil from St. Augustine’s perspective in my previous post, “May the Prince of Peace dry our tears.”

St. Augustine said no, God did NOT create evil. He explained:

“Evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name ‘evil.’  All which is corrupted is deprived of good.”

A Quiner’s Diner reader wondered, then, what the prophet Isaiah meant when he said:

“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. (Isaiah 45:7)

To get the answer, let’s turn to another church doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, perhaps the greatest Christian philosopher ever (and my patron saint). He suggests that we need to distinguish between evils of fault and evils of penalty:

“In the former, culpability rested squarely in the lacking in both being and will of the secondary per accidens causes of evil, namely, finite human beings and their will, and the lacking of being found in other imperfect beings.

The latter evil of penalty was necessary evil in order to contribute to the perfecting of the cosmos in that it was just for such penalty to occur. Without it the cosmos would not strive toward perfection, which is the natural intention of a perfect being such as God.”

So Aquinas suggests that it is only the evil of penalty that God “creates” or permits, but that it is not His intention:

“As a result we found that it was not the intentions of God to have either kind of evil (privation), but nonetheless the evil of penalty is permitted in order for the cosmos to intend to a perfecting ordered and just cosmos. Hence, God is the efficient cause of evils only per accidens, i.e., only in the sense of God sustaining all being to progress toward an ordered and perfecting reality, hence God is not culpable. Second, we can conclude that all evils ultimately arose due to the secondary per accidens causes of finite and imperfect beings, as both fault and penalty. For if there were no imperfect beings there would be no need for penalty or fault.”

What we have learned throughout history is that great good can ultimately flow from great evil. That is our fervent prayer following recent mass killings.