Manwë’s Thomism After All?

I posted last week on the un-Thomism of Manwë’s statement that, because of the great beauty in song that will result from the Noldor’s rebellion, “evil [will] yet be good to have been.” After revisiting another passage from Aquinas today, however, I’m prepared to acknowledge that Manwë’s statement may have been more Thomistic than I realized, and that, if so, this fact might reflect well on neither Manwë’s Thomism nor St. Thomas’s.

To review, I had juxtaposed the above statement by Manwë with Aquinas’s argument, in Summa Theologiae I.19.9 ad 1, that, whatever the good that may come of evil, it is nevertheless “not correct” to say that “it is good that evil should be or be done.” Aquinas gives as an example the good of the patience of the martyrs brought about through the persecution of tyrants: because “it was beside the intention of tyrants that the patience of the martyrs should shine forth from all their persecutions,” he argues, “It cannot therefore be said that such an ordering to good is implied in the statement that it is a good thing that evil should be or be done, since nothing is judged of by that which appertains to it accidentally, but by that which belongs to it essentially.” For Aquinas, in other words, even if good is brought out of evil, even good that otherwise would not have existed were it not occasioned by the evil, one cannot rightly say of any given instance of evil that it was “good” for it to happen, since there is no essential, but only at best an accidental relationship between the evil that occurred and the good that was brought about as a result or in response. The Noldor’s rebellion may have brought about beauty that otherwise would not have existed (which is not to say that there would have been any less beauty–but only a different beauty–had they not rebelled), but it does not follow that it was therefore “good” that they rebelled.

Only a few questions later, however, in Summa Theologiae I.22.2 ad 2, Aquinas would seem to reverse his above argument in a way that sounds, well, awfully Manwë-ish. First is the following objection that Aquinas raises to his thesis that “everything is subject to the providence of God,” which reads:

a wise provider excludes any defect or evil, as far as he can, from those over whom he has a care. But we see many evils existing. Either, then, God cannot hinder these, and thus is not omnipotent; or else He does not have care for everything. (ST I.22.2 obj. 2)

In his reply, Aquinas counters that, on the contrary,

It is otherwise with one who has care of a particular thing, and one whose providence is universal, because a particular provider excludes all defects from what is subject to his care as far as he can; whereas, one who provides universally allows some little defect to remain, lest the good of the whole should be hindered. Hence, corruption and defects in natural things are said to be contrary to some particular nature; yet they are in keeping with the plan of universal nature; inasmuch as the defect in one thing yields to the good of another, or even to the universal good: for the corruption of one is the generation of another, and through this it is that a species is kept in existence. Since God, then, provides universally for all being, it belongs to His providence to permit certain defects in particular effects, that the perfect good of the universe may not be hindered, for if all evil were prevented, much good would be absent from the universe. A lion would cease to live, if there were no slaying of animals; and there would be no patience of martyrs if there were no tyrannical persecution. Thus Augustine says (Enchiridion 2): “Almighty God would in no wise permit evil to exist in His works, unless He were so almighty and so good as to produce good even from evil.” It would appear that it was on account of these two arguments to which we have just replied, that some were persuaded to consider corruptible things—e.g. casual and evil things—as removed from the care of divine providence.

What is interesting is that Aquinas uses the exact same illustration of the tyrant and the martyr, only this time to argue the almost opposite conclusion. Here Aquinas’s point is that there are some goods proper to the created order which are not possible except in the event of real (moral) evil. As Aquinas clearly implies here, there is a kind of good that would be “hindered” if God were not to allow its corresponding, occasioning evil, such that (we might presume) the total level of good in the universe would be less, and what is more, the good of creation would go unrealized, if God were not to allow for it. This, I submit, is not only a different claim, but an even contrary one to what he had argued in question 19, cited above. Based on this version of Aquinas, in other words, Manwë could indeed claim that it was “good for evil to have been.” But I still maintain that in saying this, neither Manwë nor Aquinas are being properly Thomistic.

4 thoughts on “Manwë’s Thomism After All?

    • Very true, but not, I think, quite to the point. There are two different kinds of evil that are “allowed” (i.e., permitted) according to Aquinas: natural evil and moral. The first is not only good to allow, but also good for it to (privatively) be, since the good order of creation requires it. The second (moral evil) may be good for God to allow, but in no sense is it good for it to be. Yet in ST I.22.2 ad 2, Aquinas seems to be wanting to say that it is not only good for God to allow, but it is also good for it to be. What do you think?

      • Dang it, I wrote a few paragraphs on this but it doesn’t seem to have posted properly and I don’t want to write it all out again. The gist of it is that there are a number of problems in the whole “O happy fault” thing that need to be worked out. I also pointed out that Mandos’s reponse to Manwe seems to indicate that Manwe is simply saying “O happy fault” in a metaphysically imprecise way. (I wonder if it’s grammatically possible to mean something different by “good to have been” than “good to be.”) Mandos doesn’t disagree with him saying “No, it’s evil to have been,” but instead says “and yet…” as in “yes you’re right Manwe but IN ITSELF it is still evil, not good.”

  1. Maybe both conclusions of St Thomas are valid, but each in its own context. The moral evil of injustice is tolerable, though not good *simpliciter*, because of the courage of the martyrs of which it is *per accidens* (as noted in the article) the cause. The injustice of Nero against the Christian Martyrs after the Fire of Rome can be seen as good in this relative manner – for them, though not for him, since it was wrong for him to be unjust. It is a great good to be conformed to Christ. and the conformity of the Martyrs was brought about through the injustice of persecution. This also is good because it exhibits the Providence of God at work even through the acts of a tyrant.

    One cannot judge of good and evil in abstraction from who is doing it, why, in what manner, for what end, and with what results.

    And an action that is evil in itself – such as the wrong done to Christ – can be overruled by Providence so that it results in good, as the Passion did. So an action can be evil in the doer, but good in what God makes of it.

    My complaint would be that St Thomas is making evil too important, that he is treating it as ontologically comparable to good.

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