"From the Free Will of God": On Why Anything and Everything Exists | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | February 5, 2010
"From the Free Will of God": On Why Anything and Everything Exists | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | February 5, 2010
"Is it not
true that what we call 'nature' in a cosmic sense has its origin in 'a plan of
love and truth'? The world 'is not a product of any necessity whatsoever, or of
blind fate or chance. ... The world proceeds from the free will of God....'" --
Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace, January 1, 2010 
Christian paradox consists precisely in the identification of divine Wisdom,
that is, the eternal Logos, with the man Jesus of Nazareth and with his story." --
Benedict XVI, First Vespers, December 17. 2009 
interpret the whole biblical narrative as the gradual revelation of the Face of
God, until it reaches his full manifestation in Jesus Christ." -- Benedict XVI,
Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, January 1, 2010 
world proceeds from the "free will" of God, this fact means--and this should
startle us--that it need not have existed at all. Otherwise, the divine will
was not free. We do not understand the world if, even for a moment, we think
that it "had" to exist or had to exist as it is. But if it does exist, as we
observe that it does, then we seek to know what it might be that would cause God
freely to choose something to be that He need not have chosen to exist at all.
The existence of any actual thing cannot be explained apart from what causes
existence as such. The first step from non-existence to existence cannot be
taken from non-existence. The step can only originate in what is. Ex nihilo, nihil fit. From nothing, nothing comes about.
We cannot think otherwise, once we ponder what "nothing" means.
think about this situation, we must avoid putting some determinism in God
whereby the world "must" exist whether He likes it or not. In other words, we
might claim that God had to produce the world and us in it. He had no
alternative. When we opt for this necessitarian theory, if we do, we are
seeking to escape the logic of our own being. Our own very existence reveals a
free chosen-ness on the part of its origin in being. It too need not be, but
is. We seek, in other words, not to be responsible for our own acts. The thesis
that we are determined in some or all things allows us to pretend that we can
escape this responsibility. We need not answer for our own thoughts and deeds,
except to ourselves.
at this position that God need not create anything, either the world or us,
however, only if we understand that God was sufficient in Himself. That is, He
did not lack anything such that He "needed" to have something besides Himself,
something not under his control, for His own good and completion.
fullness of divine being is the consideration of God that we learn about from
revelation. The Godhead is Trinity. Our God is one God, but this oneness does
not mean that there is no otherness in God. This otherness is personal in
nature. The Persons are each distinct, but each is fully related to the other
two. The Father is not the Son. The Son is not the Father. Neither is the
Spirit. All are one God. The Son is the Logos, the Word in which all that is the
Father is given to the Son. Only He who knows the Father knows the Son.
precisely because of this diversity of Persons in the Godhead that we cannot
say that God "needs" something besides Himself, mainly other beings, something
to love or help Him out. Aristotle had worried that God was lonely. He had no
evident friend. He lacked something that seemed to belong to the highest of conceivable
relationships. It was a good worry. But this Trinitarian view was based on
information that Aristotle did not have available to him, though he came
amazingly close to its truth. He understood that, even though, as a final cause
moves all things that are not God, God moves all things by love and knowledge.
All that is not God seeks, in its own way, the goodness from whence it comes.
The fullness of love and knowledge are already manifested in the Persons of the
Godhead. The Trinity is, as it were, a completed project, not something to be
completed. But this completion does not mean that God is inert, but His being
is completely active about what it is.
"needed" something that He did not already have, He was not the God we
understand to be the creator of heaven and earth. The fullness of the Godhead
is the ultimate reason why God did not have to create what is not Himself. So,
suppose we grant this position that God did not have to create for His own
good—what follows? The first consequence is that if something besides God
exists, it is limited to be what it is, something less than God. Two gods are
consequence is that, if God did not create out of necessity, He must have
created from what is beyond necessity. He must have created because He chose to
do so. Thus all that is not God will bear marks of this "having been feely
chosen to be" in their very nature and being. This "choice" was not just an
arbitrary choice. It was a choice of what is good becoming even "more" good
without ceasing to be fully good. God plus the world is not greater than the
same God minus the world.
If there is
something besides God, however, it would seem that whatever it is possesses
sufficient abundance to be what it is in its fullness. God did not create a
parsimonious world. Its scope continually astonishes us. Yet, we are the ones
also capable of so being astonished. That He did create a stingy world is at
the bottom of the most recent of heresies, which want to give man power to
define himself by circumscribing the universe available to us. It may appear in
the beginning that much is lacking. But it does so only if we factor out of our
consideration the ultimate source of wealth in the universe. This source is not
more material things, of which the universe seems to have plenty, but the human
mind itself. This is the power, as Aristotle said, that is capax omnium. Giving man "dominion" over
creation itself was primarily a project to teach him of the abundance in which
he was created.
Man is thus
said to be created in the "image" of God. Moreover, the perfection of God, or
at least our awareness of it, is increased, not lessened, if, beside Himself,
we find in existence other beings with intelligence and free will. God
evidently does not have two "creations," one of the physical world and another
of man. Word and being are related, esse et verum. God creates one world in which man
is an essential "part" of the whole of creation, the part to which all else is
related. Even in his very body, all parts are ordered so that he might know.
The purpose of the cosmos is not itself—glorious that it be—but its
bearing of man and his personal drama within its whole reality.
can say that the primary creature God had in mind in creating the whole of the
cosmos was the human person, the rational and free creature in all his
multitude. Paul tells the Galatians, "But the time came when he who had set me
apart before I was born and called me by his favor chose to reveal his Son to
me..." It is not just Paul who is "set apart." Every person has his individual
origin ultimately in God's knowledge and will. This origin means that in
knowing any individual human being, we do not reach back to confront only him.
We reach his very origins in a plan of God not just for his being but for the
order of personal beings who exist. Each person has in the Godhead what Aquinas
called an "exemplar," a way of being not God sustained in existence by God.
XVI states that the Christian "paradox" concerns the identification of the
with the man Jesus Christ. It seems that God cannot be man and man cannot be
God. The fact that Christ is man and God is the paradox—seeming errors that are true. But
it is important to understand how both are true. In his book, Jesus of
said that if Jesus is the Logos who dwelt amongst us, as He is, that fact alone
makes the whole cosmos different. If the world proceeds from the free will of
God, so does the incarnation of the Logos, one Person, true God, true man. The world is not
God. Christ did dwell in the world.
incarnation of the Son is presented to us as an act of obedience, as "doing"
the will of the Father. Obedience in itself, to be what it is, must always be a
free act. The Son did not "choose" to be the Second Person of the Trinity. He
was that in His very being. What He did choose was to follow, to be obedient
to, the plan of God in creating man in the first place. God intended that all
free and rational beings choose, on being invited, to live an eternal life with
the Father that was above the finite nature of man.
plan—not in its end, but in its manner of accomplishment—was
altered by the Fall of Adam and Eve and its subsequent effect on all mankind.
God, as it were, found Himself in a strange situation. He could not give what
He was unless it was accepted freely. Otherwise, the free but finite being
would not be really free, would not really be a self, a person. It would not be
what it was, a really autonomous person who had rule over his own acts, even
about accepting his own final good.
way, God could not have wanted anyone to love him, to participate in His inner
life who did not want to do so. The Kingdom of God, in the end, contains no one
who does not want to be there. There is no such thing as forced love even for
finite beings. God had to accept the terms of His own plan for beings in
existence other than Himself. And he did accept it. This is the ultimate drama
of the relation of man to God, something that drives all human history on its
way to the divine. The relation of man to God does not make men un-free, not
does it make God into a force that achieves by coercion what cannot be achieved
sense, what man was by nature was already, in the first act of creation,
subsumed into something that man could not by himself either expect or realize.
Homo naturaliter non humanus sed superhumanus est, as Aquinas put it. This higher
destiny explains why man cannot, much as he tries, find in this world anything
that finally satisfies him, finally seems to be what he is created for.
for this inability is that he is not, in fact, created for anything less than
to enjoy the inner life of the Godhead, the Trinitarian life as offered to a
finite free creature. God did not initially "ask" man whether he would want to
be invited into this higher life. Man was invited there by his very creation
such that he could not rest in anything less. This inner drive explains a good
deal of the unsettlement in human history.
biblical narrative is a gradual revelation of the Face of Christ. Scripture is
full of references to our desire to see God "face to face." The notion that God
has a Face is a remarkable one. We do not think it is possible, yet it must be
somehow. What might it mean for a spiritual being to have a Face? It means that
spirit shapes matter. This "Face" of God is also part of the Christian
"paradox." Not merely is the Logos identified with the man, Jesus Christ, with the Person who
is divine, but this Person has a Face. Babies, we note, seek the face of their
mothers. Lovers seek the face of their beloved. We tell most of someone by his
face, which seems to reflect most what he is in his soul. A reading of the
Gospels suggests nothing so much as people seeing the Face of Jesus—some
to love it, some to reject it.
had asked a most perceptive question. He wanted to know whether we would want
our friend to become someone else other than who he is. What if he could be a god
or a king, would he still be our friend? Aristotle did not think so. We want
our friends to remain what they are, who they are. Likewise with ourselves,
Aristotle asked whether, if we were given all the goods and benefices in the
world on the condition of becoming some other person, whether we would choose
to do so. He did not think so. We might expand this principle to maintain that
neither does God want us to be anyone else but ourselves. But He does want us
freely to be what we ought to be. This is why we were brought into existence.
In fact, we
do not want anyone to be other than he is, including the Persons of the
Godhead. Or to put this in other terms, each person has an origin that is
rooted in the Godhead as he can be imitated in finite beings. When we finally
know and love even one other human person, we find that we do not arrive at
just that person. We arrive at an awareness that he in his very being takes us
beyond himself, by being himself. The gift of the other is not just his own
remarked that the difference between human and divine love is that divine love
creates the being it loves, whereas human love finds the good in another
already to be there, not created by the human lover. The good and beauty we
find are already there. This is why our world is, at bottom, a gift, not a
self-creation. The notion that Scripture is a gradual unveiling of the Face of
God to us is God's way of ultimately revealing what his plan, rooted in the
"free will" of God, is about. It is about vision, face-to-face, being given
what we could not imagine by ourselves.
And yet, in
the root of our being, we find that since nothing we encounter in this world
finally satisfies or completes us, we know that we, each of us, are created for
what we cannot give ourselves. But it can be given to us, if we choose it. This
is why the "Christian paradox" is that the divine wisdom, the Logos, is in the life and Face of Christ,
as it is gradually revealed to us. It is revealed both in itself and in every
face we ever see and gaze upon, once we know that all faces of men were to
behold that from whence they came—each one, one at a time, into this
world, with its drama and its history.
 L'Osservatore Romano, December
16, 2009. Citation is from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, par. 295
 "To University Students of Rome," L'Osservatore Romano, December 23, 2009.
 "L'Osservatore Romano, January 6, 2010.
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Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls
and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning,
The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006),
The Sum Total of Human
Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007).
His most recent book from Ignatius Press is
The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and
Political Essays, is now available from The Catholic University Press. Read more of his essays on his
the Insight Scoop Blog and read the latest posts and comments by
IgnatiusInsight.com staff and readers about current events, controversies,
and news in the Church!