Fathers’ Rights

A Chicago Blog

The Problem of Evil

Posted by madcap on July 7, 2007

From the Britannica Great Books; Syntopicon I, Pg. 605. Ch. 30

“The theory of good and evil crosses the boundaries of many sciences or subject matters. It occupies a place in metaphysics. It is of fundamental importance in all moral sciences- ethics, economics, politics, jurisprudence…

But the theological problem which is traditionally called ” the problem of evil” concerns the whole universe in its relation to the divine perfection…

How are we to understand the existence of evil in a world created by a God who is omnipotent and perfectly good? Since God is good and since everything which happens is within God’s power, how can we account for the sin of Satan or the fall of man, with all the evil consequent thereupon, without limiting God’s power or absolving the erring creature from responsibility?”

Greetings to all,

St. Thomas Aquinas, continuing from Aristotle, provides a beautiful insight into the goodness of the Kosmos. Here is the idea in a nutshell:

Fire, like all things, moves toward that which is good, the fulfillment of
the fire in itself. The brighter the fire grows toward its perfection, the
more it causes privation in air. It is the goodness of fire that has
“accidentally” caused the privation of air. And yet, even this privation
that was caused in air, moves in the end, toward the good; the fulfillment of fire. Therefore, evil is not a substance or a form, but an “accidental privation”that moves toward that which is good. Creation is not flawed, nor has He created anything that is not good, nor is there anything created by any other. The universe, as given, is perfect. I have posted a portion of Aquinas Question 49, from the Summa Theologica, but for a more complete study of the topic one should start with question 47, “Of the Distinction of Things in General.” Here Aquinas shows that the”distinction and multitude of things is from God,” and discusses “the justice of inequality in things.”

Question 48, “The Distinction of Things in Particular,” covers the
distinction between good and evil and defines what evil “is.” This then
leads to our present inquiry, what is its cause? Bringing these questions together, Aquinas’ “Treatise on the Creation” provides compelling insights into “the problem of evil.” Though I must admit he falls short on relieving God as the first cause of evil.

St.Thomas Aquinas

Question 49
The Cause of Evil
Summa Theologica
Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province

Summa Online

We next inquire into the cause of evil. Concerning this there are three points of inquiry:
(1) Whether good can be the cause of evil?
(2)Whether the supreme good, God is the cause of evil?
(3) Whether there be any supreme evil, which is the first cause of all evils?”

Whether Good Can Be the Cause of Evil?

We proceed thus to the First Article:-

Objection 1. It would seem that good cannot be the cause of evil. For it is said (Matth. vii, 18): A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit.

Objection 2. Further, one contrary cannot be the cause of another. But evil is the contrary to good. Therefore good cannot be the cause of evil.

Objection 3. Further, a deficient effect can proceed only from deficient cause. Therefore its cause, if it has one, is deficient. But everything deficient is an evil. Therefore the cause of evil can only be evil.

Objection 4. Further, Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) that evil has no cause. Therefore good is not the cause of evil.

On the contrary, Augustine says (Contra Julian. i. 9): There is no possible source of evil except good.”


“I answer that, it must be said that every evil in some way has a cause. For evil is the absence of the good, which is natural and due to a thing. But that anything fail from its natural and due disposition, can come only from some cause drawing it out of its proper disposition. For a heavy thing is not moved upwards except by some impelling force; nor does an agent fail in its action except from some impediment. But only good can be a cause; because nothing can be a cause except inasmuch as it is a being, and every being, as such, is good.”

In proof of this, we must know that evil is caused in the action otherwise than in the effect. In the action evil is caused by reason of the defect of some principle of action, either of the principal or the instrumental agent; thus the defect in the movement of an animal may happen by reason of the weakness of the motive power, as in the case of children, or by reason only of the ineptitude of the instrument, as in the lame…

It is caused by reason of the power or perfection of the agent when there necessarily follows on the form intended by the agent the privation of another form; as, for instance, when on the form of fire there follows the privation of the form of air or of water.

Therefore, as the more perfect the fire is in strength, so much the more perfectly does it impress its own form, so also the more perfectly does it corrupt the contrary.

Hence that evil and corruption befall air and water comes from the perfection of the fire: but this is accidental; because fire does not aim at the privation of the form of water, but at the bringing in of its own form, though by doing this it also accidentally causes the other… Hence it is true evil in no way has any but an accidental cause; and thus is good the cause of evil.

St. Augustine Confessions VII. 18-19
[XII] 18. And it was manifested unto me that those things be good which yet are corrupted; which neither were they sovereignly good, nor, unless they were good, could be corrupted; for if sovereignly good, they were nothing in them to be corrupted; for if sovereignly good, they were incorruptible, if not good at all, there were nothing in them to be corrupted…

Either then corruption injures not, which cannot be; or, which is most certain, all which is corrupted is deprived of good

So long therefore as they are, they are good: therefore whatsoever is, is good. That evil then, which I sought whence it is, is not any substance: for were it a substance, it should be good… because our God made all things very good.

More to come….


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