The Human Purpose, Evil and Good According to St. Thomas


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According to St. Thomas Summa Theologica the essence of good is in God and therefore; God is the ultimate good, towards which all humanity inclines. In order to determine the ultimate good and how ethics in humanity relate to the ultimate good-which St. Thomas claim is in God and hence God is good-we have to determine: Whether God is good?/ God is the supreme good?/ To be good belongs to God? And whether all humanity is good through the divine goodness in God?

According to Aquinas doctrine natural law and divine law define the relation between humans and God. According to him laws are stipulations of the ruler (God) on how the ruled (humanity) should live and this decree is in the intellect of the ruler. The decree defines the order of function in humanity as per Gods care and the ruler (God), rules for the good of the ruled (humanity) (Magee, 1999). Therefore, God is the cause or source of humanity and his stipulations on governance make up the eternal law.

Further on Aquinas argues that the stipulations/laws are not only in the ruler, but they are reflected within the ruled-a result of the cause of God. Therefore, the divine law is naturally imprinted on the ruled through the essence in them which originates from their cause-God. Therefore, because humans act in accordance to their human nature, their actions are defined by the divine law naturally imprinted in them. Therefore, as long as humans act this way, they reflect the divine law which is Gods essence of order and functionality (Magee, 1999).

To have such an order intended to create good from Gods decrees transferred to humanity through their possession of Gods essence as their cause means that God is the origin of good through divine law which reflects in man under natural law to create order and functionality. Thus God is both cause of man, order and the good that is portrayed in man as recognized in society (Murray & Stump, 1999). Humanity desires and pursues good through its natural laws, which are a reflection of Gods stipulations which originate from his intellect and will which desires in good in humanity.

Therefore, the desire of good for humanity within Gods intellect implies God is good-otherwise God would not posses such a will. Therefore, for humanity to desire and seek good; they are seeking an element of God and thus they seek God in essence and his perfection (New Advent, 2008). God is indeed the ultimate good because humanity pursues his goodness, not because humans are good, but because they are deficient in goodness. The desire to pursue something means that one is lacking the in that thing or element, however; he must have had a view, taste or hint of it otherwise he would not pursue it.

This implies that the reflection of God in us as a creation is what has given us the hint of our ultimate goal which we are inclined to through divine law, but which we pursue according to our natural laws which depend upon revelation (held in divine law) and upon reason granted to us through the human nature (Murray & Stump, 1999). Allegorically, things that receive heat from the sun may be said to bear a semblance to sun through their glow and heat, however; they can never be the sun, but rather be like the sun.

This is because they lack the ultimate heat of the sun and all they have is a reflection of the suns heat but at a lower intensity, and so are humans-they carry the reflection of Gods good, but they have not attained his ultimate good which is perfection in itself and all they can pursue is the ultimate good of God. This pursuit is however, guided by Gods supreme law which reflects in man as the lesser good that man posses as a cause of the larger good in God. Thus, conclusively; God is the ultimate good that man pursues.

The desire to pursue an ethical life reflected in human natural laws implies what is evil and good according to ethical considerations. This pursuit of goodness comes about through natural law-a reflection of divine law-that emanates from the element of ultimate goodness in God (Anton, n.d). Therefore, the pursuit of goodness may be likened to the pursuit of God who is the ultimate good in the universe. This search of good by humanity is not an exclusive act for religious people that believe in God only, but rather for all humanity.

It is a fact that even atheists that believe in God still recognize what is evil and good-and they may not agree to the statement that killing is good. This is due to the natural inclination in them to seek good for humanity through natural law-an imprint in them from God-through natural revelation of divine law on good. On the other hand, religious people seek God through both their reason and revelation. Through this we also get to define evil or that which is not good, recognized by the fact that it is against natural and eternal law (New Advent, 2008).


Anton, C. P. (Translator). (n.d),. Contra Gentiles: Book one translation, retrieved on 25th February, 2011 from

Magee, M. J. (1999),. St. Thomas Aquinas on the law, retrieved on 25th February, 2011 from

Murray, J. M. and Stump, E. (1999),. Philosophy of religion: The big questions, Wiley-Blackwell Publishers

New Advent (2008),. Summa theologica: The goodness of God, retrieved on 25th February, 2011 from

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