Earlier I wrote evil does not exist, so what then is in Hell? Angels and the souls of man who have deprived themselves so much of God’s Goodness that they could not bear to be in His light. When we say Hell is an eternal fire, it could be taken that God’s holding them into existence is the fire that burns them for eternity. This fire is only stoked more and more from their more deprived state.
— An Anonymous Reader, in response to QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In.
An anonymous reader has responded to the section of my previous post dealing with the problem of reconciling St. Augustine's conception of evil as nothingness and Hell as a place in which beings are separated completely from God. He writes:
"After thinking about your question on evil, I think there may be a misunderstanding of God's essence/existence and the essence/existence of things that are not of God which may be applied to the question of evil.
God's existence is his essence. God is to be. We get this from Thomas' Summa Theologica Q. 3, Art. 4. This is because God's essence would either have to be from an outside source which we know is impossible due to the demonstration in the first three of the five ways or his essence would come from a principle of his essence. This is also impossible as we can see that a human does not come from a tooth.
Existence is to act as essence is to potentiality. From Q. 2, Art. 3 of the ST we see that act must come prior to potentiality. Thus, existence in all things, that are not of God must come prior to its essence.
Something which exists but did not cause its own existence must have a prior cause. There must always be a first in the line of movers, actuality must always come prior to potentiality, contingent beings must necessarily come from a necessary being.
God must then be pure act. Must be the first, the unmoved mover. His existence must be his essence. What must be remembered is that when speaking of God we always speak through analogy and that speaking in terms of essence and existence is the closest man can come to speak of God.
Now for everything else that is not God must be thought of in a matter of degrees of being. God is being, Angels are more perfect beings than humans for they are pure intellect without body. Humans are more perfect than animals because of intellect but less than angels because humans have bodies and so on.
What does this have to do with the problem of evil?
The problem of evil comes from the idea of an all perfect and all good God accepting evil into the world. Evil, as you know is not a thing. Evil in itself does not exist. Rather, evil is the decision of an existing being, one who must possess intellect, in order to not choose good. The idea of evil is a turning away from the Creator, when one chooses that which is not God they become less themselves and the larger the separation the less angelic or the less human they become. God sets angels and man into existence and holds them there because of his eternal love for them. Even if they commit evil and more and more atrocities are committed God will not take man out of existence because of his eternal love for God set man into existence out of his own free gift.
God created man and angel in order for man and angels to love him. In order for there to be love there must be a freedom of choice from his creatures and thus we are made with freewill.
In a perfect setting, The Garden of Eden, freewill is used to make a choice between one good and another using a degree of goodness. Once man became selfish and wished to be his own God, out of his own choice, man could no longer handle being in the perfect garden and thus was cast out. In this casting out all things were changed and privation entered the entire world. Evil then is a privation of a good. In the case of the squirrel outside of my window, it is an evil that this squirrel lacks a tail. The squirrel is deprived of its tail and thus there is an evil.
I think a problem we, as humans, have with the notion of evil is that we cannot speak of evil truly as it is. We do not know what Heaven or Hell is like. We do not know, nor can we speak, of God perfectly for we are imperfect beings. Man participates in being for man is not being in and of himself, whereas God is being itself. We must speak from analogy and from here is where we have trouble for we can never get an exacted notion. Who is to say that Aquinas or Augustine or the many other thinkers are correct in their ideas on the concept of evil? Whenever we say the word evil there is a connotation that evil exists and so we come to the crux of the matter.
I think from now on when I speak of evil I will define it as nothingness. Evil has no actuality and thus there is no potentiality. When creatures were created by God the act of going from being to being allowed for there to be an imperfection. This is because God, who is absolutely perfect, first cause, first unmoved mover, etc, cannot create Himself. God cannot create God for one would have to come prior and thus the made 'God' would be existing in potentiality. Once potentiality comes into the picture there allows a lack of perfection for only God can be truly perfect in every way." ~An Anonymous Reader, in response to QUAERIMUS III, IV, V: The Authority of Thomas Aquinas, The Problem of Evil, and The Nature of Time - Servant of God Fr. John Hardon, S.J. Weighs In.
I responded with the following:
"Thank you for your thoughts. ... one point ... is curious to me: how can we speak about God through analogy if we do not know Him? We cannot know God in His fullness, so we must know Him partially. But what does it mean to know God partially?
I am still a bit confused about Hell. From what you've said, a being in Hell is held in existence by God, but by that being's will he is eternally separated from God. But because the being is held in existence by God, it seems that he still has some connection to God. So his will itself must be held in existence by God (because all things are held in existence by God), but I guess the will is permanently in some sort of disordered state. But it seems that there must be some definite line between the perfect order (God) and the disorder. But the disorder exists also to some extent in purgatory. It is hard to fathom that the disorder will exist for all eternity, even though God is not willing it. But, if by the "disorder," we are referring to evil, then perhaps the disorder itself doesn't exist. But it seems that we can say that there is something in Hell and that something exists, no? So what is it? And how is it separated from God?
Anyhow, I appreciate your comment that "...a problem we, as humans, have with the notion of evil is that we cannot speak of evil truly as it is." It is just a bit confounding to me that we have some notion of good and evil, but not a perfect notion of them. I guess an analogy could be that we sort of know a right triangle indirectly. We can draw something that resembles a right triangle, but we can't ever see it. Only by reason do we know about it. Even this seems inaccurate, though, because I think someone could make a case that we do know a right triangle in its fullness - even if we can't see it." ~My Response to the Anonymous Reader.
The reader answered with the following:
"If we take this thought beyond Natural Theology and into Theology, involving revelation, then we can say we know God for Christ came into this world for us to know God. If we are sticking with Natural Theology then the only way to understand God is through analogy. This is because there are no words that we have that can describe God. We can go by way of the via negativa and see that God is not finite and so must be infinite, finite things participate in time and so God must be outside of time, finite things move by way of locomotion and so God must be unmoved but how can these words actually speak of God in His fullest? So far we have only covered small aspects of God. How then can we speak of God in His full nature? Coming by way of Natural Theology we cannot express God’s fullest nature. Even entering Theology we cannot. Yes, God is Unity and within this Unity there are three Persons but does this even capture the fullness of God? No, it is possible to capture the fullness of God for if we could fully understand God it would not be the real God for we would be creating this God. God is so far beyond understanding that saying I fully understand God means I created this God in which I understand. The best analogy for God is mathematics. We can have a triangle in which I understand fully the idea of a triangle in my mind and yet when I go to draw a triangle, even using the best measurements, I fail because the lines which make the triangle have width and the lines which make up a true triangle do not. God is similar in that we can have concepts of God and understand facets of who He is yet we will never know Him in fullness. It is also not a waste of time to study who God is for in studying about Him we are praying to Him and in doing so we will inevitably be drawn closer to Him.
When God creates us He automatically will Himself to hold our souls in existence. ... A soul in going to hell is said to perpetually blaspheme the name of God and this is because in going to hell there is the knowledge that God holds them in existence while the souls in hell would rather hold themselves in existence. These souls have made themselves their own God and thus are no longer perfect for they are no longer human. To be human is to fully recognize that we are subordinate to our Creator.
When we are created we are given an eternal soul in a mortal body. Therefore, from the moment of conception the soul is to live forever and our earthly body is to perish until we are given our glorified bodies at the end of time. When God creates us He automatically will Himself to hold our souls in existence, not our will or our intellect but our soul, which some may equate with the will but is not the will. When a soul goes to hell it is an eternal act by which the person decides to be as far from God as possible. A soul in going to hell is said to perpetually blaspheme the name of God and this is because in going to hell there is the knowledge that God holds them in existence while the souls in hell would rather hold themselves in existence. These souls have made themselves their own God and thus are no longer perfect for they are no longer human. To be human is to fully recognize that we are subordinate to our Creator. An example of this thought comes from St. John of the Cross’s book the Ascent to Mount Carmel where he writes, “It ought to be kept in mind that an attachment to a creature makes a person equal to that creature; the stronger the attachment, the closer is the likeness to the creature and the greater the equality, for love effects a likeness between the lover and the loved.” Thus, when we make ourselves God we become less human for we are not to make ourselves God but rather we are to be in the likeness of God. That distinction separates the Saint from those most vile in hell. The Saint conforms his will to God’s and so becomes like him, the one in hell conforms his will to himself and thus distances himself from God in a very sad event.
Thus, when we make ourselves God we become less human for we are not to make ourselves God but rather we are to be in the likeness of God. That distinction separates the Saint from those most vile in hell. The Saint conforms his will to God’s and so becomes like him, the one in hell conforms his will to himself and thus distances himself from God in a very sad event.
Earlier I wrote evil does not exist, so what then is in Hell? Angels and the souls of man who have deprived themselves so much of God’s Goodness that they could not bear to be in His light. When we say Hell is an eternal fire it could be taken that God’s holding them into existence is the fire that burns them for eternity. This fire is only stoked more and more from their more deprived state.
For one in Purgatory it is a similar idea. God’s Goodness is so “bright” that it burns and this burning heals the soul so it can be purified and perfected so to enter eternal glory." ~The Anonymous Reader.
Thank you to the readers who have responded to me with very helpful thoughts on this topic which I find quite difficult.
December 7 is the Vigil of the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Feast of St. Ambrose (✝ 397) (both calendars).
Regina sine labe originali concepta et Sancte Ambrósi, orate pro nobis.