Sense and Nonsense: The End of All Things

Before anything begins, God is. That is, God stands outside of nothingness. God is all-complete, existing with an inner Trinitarian life that needs no world, no man, no angel. If anything but God exists, it is not because something is deficient or lonely in God. What is not God cannot explain itself to itself without God. God’s purpose in creation is to associate other knowing beings, angels and men, in His inner life. This purpose never changes. In fact, no “natural” angelic or human condition ever existed, even though it might have. From the beginning, both angels and men were intended to be more than their nature allowed them to expect by their own good but limited being. Homo non proprie humanus sed superhumanus est. (Properly speaking man is not human, but superhuman.) This elevated condition, however, was not due to man or angel but was given so that the primary end of creation could be realized.

The cosmos finds its purpose through its relation to the initial design of God in inviting rational beings to His inner, trinitarian life. Even though the cosmos comes first in time, it does not come first in the divine intention. God could not simply associate free beings with Himself apart from their free being. Moreover, as Plato said in the Symposium, the universe seemed to need, for its own perfection, free creatures who could appreciate it. The free creature can reject that for which it exists.

The Fall is the account of free creatures claiming themselves to be the cause of the order and nature of things. The essential temptation is for oneself, not God, to be the cause of the distinction between good and evil. God’s only choice, to avoid this unpleasant possibility, would be not to create at all so that nothing but God would exist. As such, this would not be a bad thing. God would commit no evil in not creating. Yet, something in the goodness of God seeks to diffuse itself not of necessity but of delight. This aspect of goodness is what lies at the origin of our being and that of creation.

Evidently, from the beginning, our first parents, like the angels, were themselves intended for the initial purpose of God in creation. They were not simply natural human beings. Had they definitively not sinned, their destiny would have been the elevated relation to the inner life of God that is promised to all rational creation. We do not know how this would have worked. What changed with the Fall was not the ultimate end for which human beings were created but rather the means whereby, granted the free rejection of God’s initial plan, this end could be achieved.

Revelation, through the promises to Israel and then the incarnation, and through both to all the nations, did not change the end for which God created. It did change the means by which that purpose was to be achieved. Man would be saved, as even the Greeks suspected, by suffering. The incarnation and redemption restored to man a definite way of reaching the original end for which he was created. The redemption did not, however, restore the elevated gifts, especially that of not dying, that were given to the original free human beings.

Of course, God understood that the Fall would happen, but His knowing did not cause it. The cause lies in the will and love of the free creature. The incarnation and redemption, the cross and resurrection, are the way that human beings are to return to God’s initial purpose. The felix culpa does imply that the incarnation, in the way we know it, is the surprising, almost shocking response of God to our freedom. We would like, perhaps, to think of some gentler way. But the particular incarnation and redemption that we know in revelation teaches us both the terrible consequences of sin and the extraordinary free glory into which we are invited in God’s initial purpose.

The original plan of God in creation is being worked out in history, and our unique lives are immersed in this. The most important thing in history is that we achieve the end for which we are created. This end is offered to everyone and as John Paul II often says, God does not deny the means for those of good will who seek the truth. But this possibility depends on the incarnation and redemption, through the Church and the sacraments that Christ has revealed to be the way to our end. This end is to live eternal life beholding, delighting in the inner life of God in the company of all beings who choose to accept this end, an acceptance that no one can achieve without grace and personal choice.


  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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