Vol I No. 7
Daily Thought

Infinite Goodness -- Thomas Aquinas

by William J. Martin




Whether any created good constitutes man’s happiness?


Objection 1: It would seem that some created good constitutes man’s happiness. For Dionysius says (Div. Nom. vii) that Divine wisdom “unites the ends of first things to the beginnings of second things,” from which we may gather that the summit of a lower nature touches the base of the higher nature. But man’s highest good is happiness. Since then the angel is above man in the order of nature, as stated in FP, Q[111], A[1], it seems that man’s happiness consists in man somehow reaching the angel.


The highest form of happiness would seem to be what is enjoyed by the angels. Angels are God’s ‘first creation’ and thus it would seem that their created happiness is what we should aim for. The summit of man’s nature, which nature is lower than the angels, reaches the base of the the angels’ higher nature. So it would seem that the best that man can attain to is the least that the angels acquire. The rational soul thus finds its happiness in the happiness created for spiritual creatures, though the full happiness enjoyed by the angels should not be expected, given that man’s soul is embodied.


Objection 2: Further, the last end of each thing is that which, in relation to it, is perfect: hence the part is for the whole, as for its end. But the universe of creatures which is called the macrocosm, is compared to man who is called the microcosm (Phys. viii, 2), as perfect to imperfect. Therefore man’s happiness consists in the whole universe of creatures.


The last end or the whole is perfect while created beings or parts are imperfect. Man is called a ‘microcosm’ or ‘small world’ in relation to the ‘macrocosm’ or ‘large world’, and so he is likened to the ‘imperfect’ in relation to the ‘perfect’. Since man is imperfect and less than the whole, his end must be imperfect and indicative of a part. Thus, he is made to find his perfection, which only imitates Divine Perfection imperfectly, in the world of creatures.


Objection 3: Further, man is made happy by that which lulls his natural desire. But man’s natural desire does not reach out to a good surpassing his capacity. Since then man’s capacity does not include that good which surpasses the limits of all creation, it seems that man can be made happy by some created good. Consequently some created good constitutes man’s happiness.


Man’s nature must be made calmed and brought to peace by what is nearest to his nature. Thus the good that will bring him happiness must be natural and not supernatural, since the supernatural good would exceed his capacity to receive it. What is too high for man would not engender happiness since it could not be known and loved appropriately. Thus man must settle for a created good if he intends to find true happiness.

On the contrary, Augustine says (De Civ. Dei xix, 26): “As the soul is the life of the body, so God is man’s life of happiness: of Whom it is written: ‘Happy is that people whose God is the Lord’ (Ps. 143:15).”


The soul of man is of higher quality and capacity than the body. In man the soul is given to rule and govern the body through reason and free will. So the cause of the body’s happiness is found in the rational knowledge of goodness in the soul. Likewise, the soul, because it is created, is less than its cause and the origin of its happiness. Now the cause and origin of the soul’s being and happiness is God. The soul derives its being and meaning from God as the provider of knowledge about His own goodness and how this goodness goes into man’s making and happiness. Thus God is the cause of man’s happiness. So man’s happiness is not found in creation but in the creator.


I answer that, It is impossible for any created good to constitute man’s happiness. For happiness is the perfect good, which lulls the appetite altogether; else it would not be the last end, if something yet remained to be desired. Now the object of the will, i.e. of man’s appetite, is the universal good; just as the object of the intellect is the universal true. Hence it is evident that naught can lull man’s will, save the universal good. This is to be found, not in any creature, but in God alone; because every creature has goodness by participation. Wherefore God alone can satisfy the will of man, according to the words of Ps. 102:5: “Who satisfieth thy desire with good things.” Therefore God alone constitutes man’s happiness.


Creation can provide only temporary forms of happiness to man. Why? All created things are imperfect causes and thus can generate only imperfect effects. Happiness in itself is divine as man’s last end. In itself it will satisfy all of man’s desire because it is perfect and unchanging. Man’s appetites aim towards the final end of universal goodness. Man’s intellect aims at the final end of universal truth. The universal truth thus moves the human mind to will or choose the universal good. God alone is the universally true and good. He is thus man’s end. As the only pure and perfect truth and goodness, He alone brings man’s search for happiness to an end in a good truth that is forever the same. The true and the good are the cause of his searching and the end of his discovering.


Reply to Objection 1: The summit of man does indeed touch the base of the angelic nature, by a kind of likeness; but man does not rest there as in his last end, but reaches out to the universal fount itself of good, which is the common object of happiness of all the blessed, as being the infinite and perfect good.


Man imitates the angels by touching the lowest level of angelic nature with the highest desire of his rational soul. But man can move beyond this since He, with the angels, desires to know God’s truth and will the pure and perfect good that it enjoins. Man is in search of the cause of true happiness. He finds it when his mind contemplates the true and wills the good that reaches him without the mediation of angels.


Reply to Objection 2: If a whole be not the last end, but ordained to a further end, then the last end of a part thereof is not the whole itself, but something else. Now the universe of creatures, to which man is compared as part to whole, is not the last end, but is ordained to God, as to its last end. Therefore the last end of man is not the good of the universe, but God himself.


The whole is created like all of its parts. Thus the whole cannot be the last end but only a summary of the parts. As a summary of the parts, it is made to function in obedience to God or to follow His laws. The universe is therefore made to serve a higher and final end, which is God. So the last end is not a created good but God. The unity of all parts in harmony and peace is a function of creation as a whole which serves its Divine end.


Reply to Objection 3: Created good is not less than that good of which man is capable, as of something intrinsic and inherent to him: but it is less than the good of which he is capable, as of an object, and which is infinite. And the participated good which is in an angel, and in the whole universe, is a finite and restricted good.


The infinite good is the object that produces man’s ultimate happiness. Man’s created goodness is finite and less than the infinite good. But man is capable of both. With regard to the finite good, he is capable of it by nature. With regard to the infinite good, he is capable of it by Grace. Man is capable of both and the one ought to lead to the other. The infinite good that in the end is participated in by the creature is finite. So the finite creature always participates in a degree of infinite goodness, if he sees its truth and wills its goodness. But the degree to which the creature participates in infinite goodness, though ever so imperfectly, will be sufficient to bring man into perfect and unending happiness.