"Shun too great a desire for knowledge, for in it there is much fretting and delusion. Intellectuals like to appear learned and to be called wise. Yet there are many things the knowledge of which does little or no good to the soul, and he who concerns himself about other things than those which lead to salvation is very unwise. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"To think of oneself as nothing, and always to think well and highly of others is the best and most perfect wisdom. Wherefore, if you see another sin openly or commit a serious crime, do not consider yourself better, for you do not know how long you can remain in good estate. All men are frail, but you must admit that none is more frail than yourself. "

Thomas á Kempis

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"We must not be behind time in doing good; for death will not be behind his time. "

St Phillip Neri

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Fr Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P.  (1877 - 1964)  taught at the Angelicum in Rome from 1909 to 1960, and served for many years as a consulter to the Holy Office and other Roman Congregations.


By Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange,OP





It follows from what has been said that God alone, seen face to face, can draw our will irresistibly. In the presence of every finite object the will is free. St. Thomas writes: "If we have as our object of sight a thing actually colored, luminous from every viewpoint, the eye cannot but see this object. But if we propose to it an object which is colored or luminous only on one side, whereas it is obscure on the other (as during the night when we use a lantern), the sight will not see this object if it is presented to it on the side where it is not colored or luminous. Now just as the colored object is presented to the eye, so good is the object presented through the will. If therefore we propose to the will an object which is good, good from every point of view, the will must necessarily desire that object and cannot wish for its opposite. On the contrary, if the object presented is not altogether good from every point of view, the will can refuse to will it. Now, as the absence of any good can be called non-good, only the sovereign good, which lacks nothing, is such that the will must necessarily will it. This good is beatitude." [10] We cannot but wish happiness, we cannot but wish to be beatified, but we often forget that the true and perfect happiness cannot be found in any object except God loved for Himself alone. And here below we love freely; because we do not see Him immediately as He is, we can turn away from Him when we consider that what He commands is displeasing to our pride or to our sensuality.

But if God Himself, who is the infinite good, were immediately and clearly presented to us face to face, we could not but love Him. He would fill perfectly our affective capacity, which would be drawn irresistibly toward Him. It would not keep any energy to withdraw itself from this attraction. It could not find any motive to turn away from Him, or even to suspend its act of love. This is the reason why one who sees God face to face cannot sin. As St. Thomas says: "The will of him who sees the essence of God without medium, necessarily also loves that essence and cannot love anything else except in its relation to God, just as here below we wish everything in virtue of our desire for happiness." [11] God alone seen face to face can make our will invincibly captive. [12]

By opposition, our will remains free to love or not to love any object which is good under one aspect and not good or insufficiently good under another. The very definition of liberty is that of the dominating indifference of the will in regard to any object which is good from one viewpoint and not good from another. This definition of liberty is to be found, not only in human liberty, but also in angelic liberty, and, analogically, in divine liberty. Hence we see that God was free to create or not to create, to elevate us to the life of grace or not to elevate us.

Our will, then, has an infinite profundity, in the sense that God alone, seen face to face, can fill it and irresistibly draw it. Created goods cannot, for this reason, exercise on the will an invincible attraction. They attract it only superficially; the will remains free to love or not to love. Hence, here below, our will itself must go to meet this attraction,
which in itself is incapable altogether of overcoming the will. Here lies the reason why the will must determine the judgment before it determines itself. [13] For the same reason the will keeps the intelligence suspended in consideration as long as it pleases, suspends the intellectual search, or ceases to pursue it. This is the reason why it depends in last analysis on the will, whether such and such a practical
judgment shall or shall not be the last. Hence the free act is a gratuitous response, proceeding from the depth of the will, to the weak solicitation of a finite good.

Only God, seen face to face, draws our will infallibly and makes it captive even to the very source of its energy. Even an angel seen immediately as he is, however beautiful he may be, cannot draw our will irresistibly. The angel is only a finite good, and two finite goods, however unequal, are equally distant from the infinite. In this sense the angel and the grain of sand, in comparison with God's supreme good, are equally low.

The depth of our will, considered from the viewpoint of the object which can fill it, is without limit. Why does it come that a particular truth (not a good), for example, the existence of Marseilles or Messina, necessitates our intellect, whereas only God, the universal good, seen face to face, can necessitate our will? St. Thomas replies: "Our intelligence is necessitated by an object which is true from every
point of view, but it is not necessitated by an object which can be true or false, which is only probable, as, for example, the existence of a distant town which may have meanwhile been destroyed by anearthquake. Our will, similarly, is not necessitated except by an object which is good from all viewpoints. Such an object is our own happiness, the source of all our acts. Such an object is, above all, God seen face to face. Here below we can cease to think on His goodness,
whereas those who see God face to face cannot cease to see Him, and can never find the least pretense for suspending their action of love." [14]

This doctrine explains several problems which are very difficult, in particular that of the liberty of Christ. For three reasons Christ here on earth was impeccable: His divine personality, the beatific vision, His
plenitude of grace. Consequently He could not disobey. But, if so, how could He obey freely? Free obedience is a condition of merit. In particular, how could He freely obey the precept of dying for us on the cross, the precept which He Himself [15] spoke of when He said, "I lay (My life) down of Myself.... This commandment have I received of My Father."

The reply of St. Thomas runs thus: Christ, although He was incapable of disobedience, since He was absolutely impeccable, could still feel that attractiveness of non-obedience. To illustrate: a good religious who receives an order that is very severe does not even have the thought of disobeying. But he does have the consciousness that he is accomplishing freely this act, difficult as it may be, and that even while he does the act he has the power of not doing it. Disobedience is a privation, non-obedience is a negation.

How then did freedom remain in the presence of death on the cross? This death was an object, good under one aspect, namely, for our salvation, and frightful under the other. Hence this object could not attract the human will of Christ irresistibly, as would the view of the divine essence seen immediately. On the other hand the precept, since it demands free and meritorious obedience, could not destroy the liberty of the will, since it would thus destroy itself.

Certainly we are here in the presence of a great mystery, a chiaroscuro of the most amazing kind. The solution lies in the universal amplitude of the will, created in such fashion that God alone seen face to face can fill its capacity, and consequently free in the presence of any good mingled with non-good.

What we have now said of the free will shows that each soul is a universe, unum versus alia omnia because each soul is opened by reason of its intelligence to universal truth, and by its will to universal good. Each soul therefore is a spiritual universe which gravitates toward God, the sovereign good.

But each of these spiritual universes, since each has free will, can deviate from its orb, can leave the straight road, can take the road to perdition. Further, each of our deliberate acts must be performed for an end, hence each must be directed, either toward moral good or toward evil. In illustration, take a watershed, where each drop falls either to the right or to the left. In Switzerland, for example, on St. Gotthard, one drop goes to the Rhine and on to the foggy seas of the
north, the other goes to the Rhone and on to the shining shores of the Mediterranean.

Similarly, in the spiritual order, each of our deliberate acts should be done for a good end and thus be directed virtually to God. If not, it is wicked and takes the opposite direction. Even the act of walking. in itself an indifferent thing, if it is done for a good end, say for proper recreation, is a good act, whereas, by a bad intention, it becomes a bad act. [16]

This is a serious consideration, but it is also very consoling, because in the just man each deliberate act is good and meritorious. It goes toward God and brings us near Him.

We see from this point of view that it is never by chance that two immortal souls meet, be it that they are each in the state of grace or that one only has the divine life and can by its prayers, its attitude, its
example, bring back the other to the right road which leads to eternity. It was not by chance that Joseph was sold by his brethren to the Ismaelite merchants. God had determined from all eternity that these merchants would pass at such and such an hour, not earlier, not
later. It was not by chance that Jesus met Magdalen or Zacheus, or that the centurion found himself on Calvary.

This depth of the human will illumines, as we shall see, the teaching of divine revelation on the subject of heaven, purgatory, and hell. The just man, were he to live on the earth fifty thousand years, could still,
before dying, say to God: "Father, Thy kingdom come. Let Thy will be found ever more profoundly in the depth of my will. Let Thy infused charity be rooted in my will ever more deeply." May it please God to grant us experience of the profound depths of our soul which He alone can fill.


10. Ia IIae, q. 10, a.2.
11. Ibid., q.4, a.4.
12. Ia, q.105, a.4.
13. Here we have a case of reciprocal causality, between the intellect which guides and the will which consents. We have here, as it were, a marriage which is not concluded except when the will has said yes.
14. See Ia IIae, q. 10, a. 2 ad 2.
15. John 10:18; 15:10; 14:31; Phil. 2:8. We have developed this doctrine else where in The Savior and His Love for Us. The Savior's sinless liberty is a pure image of the sinless liberty of God Himself.
16. Ia IIae, q.18, a.9