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Peace as the Purpose of Creation


Edmund Waldstein, O.Cist., Heiligenkreuz Abbey, Austria[1]

Qom, 2014


That in all things God might be glorified. 1 Pet 4:11


Peace be with you. I am sorry not to be able to be with you in person today, but I am grateful that I can at least be with you through these reflections, which Christian Machek was kind enough to agree to read for me. I hope that in the future I will be able to come to Qom myself.

To say “peace” in greeting is common among all the children of Abraham: Shalom, Salam, Pax. Today I want to reflect a little a teaching within my own Christian tradition that peace is the very purpose of creation; the primary good that God wanted to achieve by creating the world was the good of peace. As a Cistercian monk I follow the Rule of St Benedict of Nursia (c. 480 – 543 or 547), and monasteries in the tradition of St Benedict often have the word pax (peace), inscribed above their doors. In the prologue of his Rule St Benedict commands the monk to “seek after peace and pursues it” (Psalm 33:15).[2] The monastery is not the place of, “confusion, of discordance, of accidental, random, private courses… but of determinate, regulated, prescribed action;”[3] it is the place of order and subordination, of harmony and tranquility. Indeed one can see the monastery as a kind of model of creation as a whole, and an anticipation of the restoration of creation through God. Christians hold that at the end of the ages God will restore His creation, and will build a city for the just, and this city will be called “Jerusalem,” which means “City of Peace.”

St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the greatest theologians of our tradition, defines peace as “tranquility of order:” tranquilitas ordinis.[4] He calls peace “a good so great that even in this earthly and mortal life there is no other word which we hear with such pleasure,”[5] and argues that this is the purpose of creation. He quotes Psalm 147: “Praise the Lord Jerusalem;… for He has strengthened the bars of your gates:… who has made peace in your borders.” In the Latin version of the Psalm, which Augustine quotes, the word for borders is fines: “qui posuit fines tuos pacem.” While fines has “borders” as one of its meanings, it can also mean a number of other things. St. Augustine read fines to mean the ends in the sense of purposes. Thus, according St. Augustine, the Psalmist is saying that God made peace to be the purpose, the final cause of the City of God,[6] and thus our purpose and “the end of our good”[7] as citizens of that city.

St Thomas Aquinas teaches that the ultimate explanation of anything is it’s end, it’s final cause, or as Aristotle whom Aquinas follows in this would say, it’s telos. If we want to explain a building, for instance, we have to show to what end it was built. For what purpose did the builder build this building? Only when we have understood that this building was built for the purpose of housing a university, and not (say) a hospital or a prison can we see why it is the way it is.

Just as one can ask this question about any particular created thing, so one can ask it about creation as a whole. Why did God create the universe? What was the point? In the Gospel of Luke angels announce the birth of Christ with these words:  “Glory to God in the Highest Heaven, and on earth peace to men of good will.” (Luke, 2:14). These words are interpreted to mean that all that is is for the glory of God.

But what does this mean? God does not need anything outside of Himself to give Him glory. He already possesses the fullness of Glory in the perfection of His essence. He is the one who Is, he possesses absolute fullness of being, in the perfect simplicity of His essence. There is nothing lacking in God. He is Perfection. Since He is infinite being and perfection He is also infinite good. Now, the unity of God belongs to the very account of this infinite goodness. For, as St. Thomas Aquinas teaches, “Unity belongs to the idea of goodness… as all things desire good, so do they desire unity; without which they would cease to exist. For a thing so far exists as it is one.”[8] So it belongs to God’s

In his sermon, Order the Witness and Instrument of Unity, Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, a great English theologian of the nineteenth century, shows how this unity of the Divine Goodness appears to us as order, you will forgive a long quotation:

All the works of God are founded on unity, for they are founded on Himself, who is the most awful, simple, and transcendent of possible unities. He is emphatically One; and whereas He is also multiform in His attributes and His acts, as they present themselves to our minds, it follows that order and harmony must be of His very essence. To be many and distinct in His attributes, yet, after all, to be but one,—to be sanctity, justice, truth, love, power, wisdom, to be at once each of these as fully as if He were nothing but it, as if the rest were not,—this implies in the Divine Nature an infinitely sovereign and utterly incomprehensible order, which is an attribute as wonderful as any, and the result of all the others.[9]

“All the works of God are founded on unity.” But from whence come these works? Why does the perfectly self-sufficing God create? St. Thomas teaches that God chose to create out of love for His own goodness. For it belongs to the nature of the good, being as desirable, that he who loves the good for its own sake desires that it ever be, “bettered and multiplied as much as possible.”[10] Therefore, since God loves His infinite Goodness with an infinite love, He desires that it be multiplied, but since the Divine essence is absolutely simple and one, it cannot be increased and multiplied in itself.[11] The only way in which the Divine essence can be multiplied is by likeness, by representation, “which is shared by many,”[12] that is, by creatures. “Therefore God wishes things to be multiplied, because He wills and loves His essence and perfection.”[13]

The multitude of creatures is thus created to give God glory by being a likeness, a reflection, of the Divine goodness. The complete goodness which God possesses in a perfectly simple and undivided way is reflected by the multitude of creatures in a divided way; each creature reflects a different aspect of the Divine goodness as no one creature can represent the Divine goodness as a whole.[14] Since, as we saw, it belongs to the very account of the goodness that creation is an image of that it be one, it follows that the multitude of creatures must be brought together, in some way, so as to imitate the Divine Unity.

Of course, the multitude of creatures remains multitude and cannot have the unity of essence that belongs to God. In what way then is the Divine unity able to be imitated by multitude? What aspect of God’s unity is reflected by the multitude of creation? We can discover this from the nature of representation. If the purpose of creation is to reflect the Divine goodness, it follows from its nature as representation to imitate that goodness as beauty. “All things are made, so that they in some way imitate the divine beauty,” writes St Thomas, for, “nobody takes care to shape and represent anything, except to (the image of) the beautiful.”[15] Now, just as unity belongs to the account of goodness, so that mode of unity which is order belongs to the account of beauty. This is way St Thomas can write the following about the purpose of creation:

The multitude and distinction of things has been planned by the divine mind and has been instituted in the real world so that created things would represent the divine goodness in various ways and diverse beings would participate in it in different degrees, so that out of the order of diverse beings a certain beauty would arise in things.[16]

The purpose of creation is to give glory of to God by reflecting His Goodness through the beauty of its order. Of course, since each thing reflects an aspect of the Divine goodness, it is in itself a good, an end, so that each thing is also for itself. But there is a hierarchy of these ends. St. Thomas explains this from a general principle:

If we wish to assign an end to any whole, and to the parts of that whole, we shall find, first, that each and every part exists for the sake of its proper act,… secondly, that less honorable parts exist for the more honorable, … and, thirdly, that all parts are for the perfection of the whole… In the parts of the universe also every creature exists for its own proper act and perfection, and the less noble for the nobler, as those creatures that are less noble than man exist for the sake of man, whilst each and every creature exists for the perfection of the entire universe. Furthermore, the entire universe, with all its parts, is ordained towards God as its end, inasmuch as it imitates, as it were, and shows forth the Divine goodness, to the glory of God.[17]

Thus, while God intends each creature as a good in its own right, that which He principally intends is the good of the order of the whole universe. St. Thomas manifests this from the creation account in the book of Genesis:

The good of order among diverse things is better than any one of those things that are ordered taken by itself: for it is formal in respect of each, as the perfection of the whole in respect of the parts… Hence it is said (Gen 1:31): God saw all the things that He had made, and they were very good, after it had been said of each that they are good. For each one in its nature is good, but all together are very good, on account of the order of the universe, which is the ultimate and noblest perfection in things.[18]

St Thomas explains that beauty consists of two things: splendor, and harmony or proportion.[19] In creation, he continues, splendor corresponds to the reflection of the Divine Essence that belongs to each thing, while harmony corresponds to the order of the whole. This order itself consists in two things: the order of things to each other, and the order of creatures to God.

The order of things among themselves consists partly in what is called “the hierarchy of forms.” The universe has perfection or completeness from having all degrees of being—each of which is a different participation in the One Divine Essence. This order appears in the creation account of Genesis, where diverse things, are created in hierarchal order, in the six days: first non-living things, then plants, then animals, and finally man as a rational being.

It also belongs to this order that things are proportioned to one another, and subordinate to each other. The lower creatures are for the sake of the higher, and therefore subordinate to them. This subordination is not accidental to the order of the universe, but belongs essentially to its beauty as a representation of the Divine Goodness. We saw the subordination of creatures to one another in the text quoted above on the hierarchy of good:[20] “those creatures that are less noble than man exist for the sake of man, whilst each and every creature exists for the perfection of the entire universe.” Man is essential to the good of the universe. For to irrational creation the good of order remains in a way extrinsic to them. It is “their” good only insofar as they contribute to it and exist principally for it, but it is not a good that they enjoy. Man by his rational nature is able to attain to this good of the universe, insofar as he can comprehend and love it; moreover he becomes a co-principle of this order insofar as he shares in the ordering governance of God: “fill the earth and subdue it.” (Gen 1:28)

The order of the whole thus also consists in governance of creatures by each other, and also (among men themselves) in friendship in mutual good will, which strengthens the unity of the whole.

Since man participates more in the order of the universe he is more for it than the other creatures. In fact, St. Thomas teaches that among the irrational creatures it is chiefly the species that is for the order of the universe, while the individuals are intended chiefly for the preservation of those species; with man on the other hand each individual is more directly for the order of the universe.[21] But here one might say ask whether it is not true that it belongs to the dignity of man that he is for his own sake, as the Second Vatican Council put it, “man is the only creature on earth that God willed for its own sake.”[22] (Note that the Council says on earth, the angels too are for their own sake, but they are not one earth, i.e. they do not belong to the visible, material world). How then can one say that men are more for the order of the whole universe? The great Thomist Philosopher of the last century, Charles De Koninck, points us to the solution of this difficulty. He shows how it is precisely because of his ordering to a good outside himself that man is for himself:

The rational creature, insofar as it can itself attain to the end of God’s manifestation outside Himself, exists for itself. The irrational creatures exist only for the sake of this being which can by itself attain an end which will belong to irrational creatures only implicitly. Man is the dignity which is their end. But, that does not mean that rational creatures exist for the dignity of their own being and that they are themselves the dignity for which they exist. They draw their dignity from the end to which they can and must attain; their dignity consists in the fact that they can attain to the end of the universe, the end of the universe being, in this regard, for the rational creatures, that is for each of them. Still, the good of the universe is not for rational creatures as if the latter were the end of the former. The good of the universe is the good of each of the rational creatures insofar as it is their good as common good.[23]

The key word here is “common good.” Because the order of the universe is a common good in which men participate, to be for it is to be for themselves. To manifest this it is necessary to briefly consider what is meant by a “common good.”

In this context a “common good” means a good that is not diminished by being shared, “on the contrary,” he writes, a chocolate cake is good, but I can have it without sharing it and, so far from being increased by being shared, it is actually diminished the more it shared, since the piece that is eaten by one cannot be eaten by another. As one ascends through the hierarchy of goods, however, to things which have more fully the account of good, one sees that goods become more capable of being shared. A truth in philosophy, for example, is not diminished by being shared. In fact, when someone learns such a truth, his first impulse is to show it to others—as though his enjoyment of it were increased by communicating it. And this is even more true of peace—whether the peace of a family, or a monastery, or a country, or of the whole world.

A chocolate cake is what St Thomas calls a private good as opposed to a common good.[24] An essential difference between a common good and a private good is that the private good is ordered to the one who enjoys it, it is for the one whose good is. A cake is ordered to the one who eats it, the one who eats it is better than the cake, he is its end. A common good on the other hand is not ordered to the one who enjoys it, one must say rather that he is ordered to it, it is better than he,[25] it is his end. This is why a brave man will give his life for the common good of a family or a city, but the man who gives his life for a piece of cake is foolhardy.

It is important that we see that the common good while it is not ordered to the ones who enjoy it, is nevertheless their good, in the sense that they are the ones who delight in it. A family, a state, or the universe, is has no collective soul by which it could delight in its good—the good of a family, or state, or the universe is delighted in by the persons who share in it.[26] The man who gives his life for the common good is not an altruist; it is his good that he gives his life for. But neither is he an egoist; the good that he gives his life for is better than his. In this light we can understand De Koninck’s point: the rational creatures are for themselves insofar as they are for their good, the good that they enjoy, but this good is better than them and they are ordered to it as to an end. And it is from the order to this greater good that they derive their dignity.

So human persons (and the angels) derive their dignity from being able to participate in the good of the universe. But they are able to participate in a good that is much better even than the peace of the universe: namely God Himself. God is the Good itself and therefore He is the most common of all common goods. If the good of order is the intrinsic common good of the universe, God is its extrinsic common good: He transcends the universe of things, but He is the Good which all desire.[27] He is the end of the universe:

The entire universe, with all its parts, is ordained towards God as its end, inasmuch as it imitates, as it were, and shows forth the Divine goodness, to the glory of God. Reasonable creatures, however, have in some special and higher manner God as their end, since they can attain to Him by their own operations, by knowing and loving Him.[28]

Above we explained that the order of the universe has two aspects—the order of things to each other, and the order of things to God—we have now arrived at the second aspect. We saw that rational creation participates more than irrational in the first aspect of order; how much more in the second aspect! Rational creation is ordered to enjoy the good of God Himself. So we can see that our purpose as created things is God’s glory in two ways: in one way, we are supposed to give glory to God by participating in and promoting peace: peace in our own souls, and in our communities, and thus in all of creation; but we are also destined to attain to God’s glory in the seeing God and praising Him: this is the Christian idea of Heaven—a place where we see God and praise Him for His glory. As the book of Revelation puts it:

And from the throne came a voice crying, ‘Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, small and great.’ Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory.’ (Rev 19:5-7)

Now, if the purpose of our existence is to reflect God’s glory through peace on earth, and to attain to it in the life to come, then this has many consequences for life now. In the monastic tradition the emphasis on obedience and humility as virtues comes from this: through obedience we integrate ouseleves into order, peace, and by humility we give glory to God.

I want to end with a question. The French philosopher Rémi Brague, who has often lectured at my abbey of Heiligenkreuz, claims that while there are parallels between the Islamic idea of “He who excelled in the creation of all things” and the first creation account in Genesis, there is also “an essential, though subtle, difference:”

the totality in the Bible is additive, and here it is distributive; according to the Bible the object of admiration is the entirety of creatures, in the connection that gives them their consistency; according to the Koran it is every creature viewed individually, without any connection to the rest of creation, indeed, without any link other than that with Allah.[29]

My question is this: is Brague right? Or does the Islamic tradition as well have an idea of the peace of all creation as a primary good intended by the Creator?

[1] The following is based partly on my Essay “Qui posuit fines tuos pacem,” Noviziatsarbeit, Heiligenkreuz, 2007.

[2] Vide: Regula Sancti Benedicti, Prologus, 17.

[3] John Henry Cardinal Newman, Sermons Preached on Various Occasions (Westminster, Md.: Christian Classics, 1968; 1857), Sermon XI: Order, the Witness and Instrument of Unity (Preached Nov. 9, 1853); p. 184.

[4] De Civitate Dei, XIX, Ch. 13.

[5] Ibid., Ch. 11.

[6] See: De Cuvitate Dei, XIX., Ch. 11.

[7] Ibid.

[8] St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q. 103, A. 3, c.

[9]Sermons Preached on Various Occasions, p. 184-185.

[10] St. Thomas, Summa Contra Gentiles, I, 75

[11] Although as a Christian I believe that it is shared and communicated in the subsistent relations of the Most Blessed Trinity, without in anyway compromising or modifying its absolute unity.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Vide: Idid., II, 45.

[15] Commentary on Denys the Areopagite On the Divine Names (Marietti: Turin, 1950) p. 115, n. 353-54

[16] St. Thomas, Compendium theologiae, Lib. 1, cap. 102, end.

[17] Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q 65, A 2, c.

[18] Summa Contra Gentiles, II, 45.

[19] St. Thomas, Commentary on Denys the Areopagite, p. 114-15, n. 349.

[20] Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q 65, A 2, c.

[21] C.f.: Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q. 23, A 7, c.

[22] Gaudium et Spes, 24.

[23] Charles De Koninck, On the Primacy of the Common Good: Against the Personalists, (Aquinas Review Vol 4, No 1, 1997), pp. 39-40.

[24] For an account of the common good, its definition, its properties, and its place in the tradition, vide: Michael Waldstein, The Person and the Common Good, (Gaming: unpublished manuscript).

[25] C.f. Treatise on Separate Substances, Ch 12, where St. Thomas argues that the good of order is better than singular things because it is the common good: “The good of order is that which is best in the universe of things, for this is the common good; while other goods are singular goods.”

[26] C.f. The Person and the Common Good, especially pp. 21-22.

[27] For an explanation of the intrinsic vs. the extrinsic common good of the universe vide: St. Thomas Aquinas, In Libros Metaphysicorum, XII, lect. 12.

[28] Summa Theologiae, Ia, Q 65, A 2, c.

[29] Rémi Brague, The Wisdom of the World: the Human Experience of the Universe in Western Thought, trans. Teresa Lavender Fagen (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), p. 57.

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