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St. Thomas Aquinas' Reasoning About God and Evil

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The teaching of the Catholic church says that all things were created by God. However, if God created everything and God is all good, then how did evil come to be? It would seem that God must have an aspect of evil to himself if he created everything and evil exists. This has been a problem that confused me a lot in my faith formation. The problem of evil, as in “Why does evil exist if God is all good?” continues to confound me.

St. Thomas Aquinas, discusses the first question regarding the problem of evil. Namely, he answers the question “Is there any evil in God?”. He responds that “it is quite evident that there cannot be evil in God” (Summa Contra Gentiles I.39.1). Since God is goodness, as St. Thomas Aquinas proved in questions 37 and 38, there can be “nothing extraneous mixed with them” (Summa Contra Gentiles I.39.2). In other words, because God’s essence is goodness itself there cannot be any non-goodness in God. Evil is non-goodness therefore evil cannot be a part of God. It would violate the law of noncontradiction for God to have any evil.

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Moreover, “the nature of good consists in perfection” (Summa Contra Gentiles I.39.5). “The nature of evil consists in imperfection” (Summa Contra Gentiles I.39.5). Since God is universally perfect “there cannot be defect or imperfection” (Summa Contra Gentiles I.39.5) in God. In addition, imperfection is a state in which something is in privation of the state of perfection. God is pure actuality and perfect so there cannot be any privation or anything in potency.

Good is that which is sought by all. Evil “is violent and unnatural” (Summa Contra Gentiles I.39.7) but what is evil for one thing can be “natural to a thing according to something within it” (Summa Contra Gentiles I.39.7). In composite things, there can be something evil for the whole but good for a certain part of the whole. This is not possible for God because “God is not composite, nor, as we have shown, can there be anything violent or unnatural in Him” (Summa Contra Gentiles I.39.7)

With it being established that evil cannot and does not exist in God, the question remains, how did evil come about if everything was created by God? The answer lies in the fact that evil isn’t a created thing like the earth, animals, or the universe it created. Allow me to explain.

God is unchanging, therefore his essence being goodness has never changed so long as God has existed. God exists eternally therefore goodness has existed eternally. Now, take a look at how we, as human beings, come to understand the traits of God. Namely, how we come to understand God as being complete, perfect, and good. We understand the concept of complete because we are familiar with the concept of incomplete—like a cake that has a slice removed from it. We understand the concept of perfection because we understand the concept imperfection and the idea that there is state where things can no longer be improved. We understand the concept of goodness because we understand that there can be something that is not good—evil. That does not mean that evil exists by necessity, rather the possibility of committing evil exists by necessity to act as the opposite of good. The more apt question, that both philosophy and theology cannot answer, is not “Why did God create evil?” but rather, why did God create angels and humans that acted on the possibility of evil and made evil a part of reality?

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