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BOOK I. - Girolamo Savonarola, The Triumph of the Cross 
The Triumph of the Cross, trans. from the Italian, edited, with an Introduction by the Very Rev. Father John Procter, S.T.L. With a frontispiece portrait of the author (London: Sands & Co., 1901).
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The glorious triumph of the Cross embraces so many mysteries that, in attempting to unfold them, and thus to silence the profane and foolish babble of worldly-wise philosophers, I am undertaking a task far above my powers, and can trust only to the help of the Lord.
It would seem mere waste of time to discuss and analyse our Faith, based as it is upon the miraculous works of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which are patent to the whole world, and upon the teaching of venerable theologians. Nevertheless, there are nowadays men living in such bondage to vice, that, even in the light of the noonday sun, they grope in darkness, and scorn the marvels of heavenly science. I, therefore, on fire with zeal for the House of God, intend, for the sake of the salvation of these misguided men, and in order to rouse them from the slumber that oppresses them, to recall to their memory the things of Christ, which they have forgotten and thrust from their hearts.
Our Faith cannot be demonstrated by natural principles and causes. Nevertheless, the past and present events of Church history afford arguments in support of our religion so convincing that no logical mind can reject them. At the same time, no one believes that Faith itself depends upon these arguments, seeing that it is “the gift of God; not of works, that no man may glory” (Eph. ii. 8, 9). We make use of these arguments indeed; but we do so in order to confirm the faith of such as waver, to prepare unbelievers for the reception of supernatural light, and to enable the faithful to confute the arguments of irreligious men; and thus, by exposing their folly, to undeceive the simple and unlearned who have been misled by them.
This use of human reasoning does not detract from the value of Faith; for the axiom that faith proved by argument has no merit, refers only to the faith of such as refuse to believe without proof. They who, being enlightened by God, embrace the Faith without proof, and who then, in order to strengthen their own belief and that of others, investigate the grounds of their faith, deserve commendation, and obey the precept of St. Peter: “Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts, being ready always to satisfy every one that asketh you a reason of that hope which is in you” (1 Peter iii. 15). In this book we intend to be guided by reason only. We shall not, then, appeal to any authority, but shall proceed as if we had no belief in any one in the world, no matter how learned he may be. We shall rely solely on reason. Such a mode of procedure must, surely, satisfy every one who is not absolutely foolish.
HOW BY MEANS OF VISIBLE THINGS WE ARRIVE AT THE KNOWLEDGE OF SUCH AS ARE INVISIBLE.
The senses, in which all our knowledge originates, take cognisance only of extrinsic corporeal accidents. Our understanding, on the other hand, is enabled, by its subtlety, to penetrate to the substance of natural things, and thence to rise to the knowledge of such as are invisible and immaterial. Thus, by the investigation of the substance and properties, the order, the causes and the activities of visible things, we are led, by little and little, to the understanding of invisible substance, and, at length, to the knowledge of the Divine Majesty; just as, by means of the external accidents and operations of man, we arrive at the understanding of his soul, and of its invisible parts. Philosophers, from the contemplation of the universe—of the heavens with their magnificence; of the elements with their divers motions and operations; of the variety and activity and individual perfections of the things composed of these elements; and of the wonderful harmony and greatness and beauty of this visible world—have raised their eyes to gaze upon invisible things, and to investigate (so far as might be) their nature and properties.1 And, as these philosophers have understood that natural things are the work of God’s hands, and are the means of arriving at a knowledge of His infinite power and glory, we likewise desire to show that those things which have been seen, and are still witnessed, in the Church of God, are Divine works, by which we may attain to the knowledge of the glory and Infinite Majesty of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who is unseen by us.
Sages of old were wont to marshal before their eyes all the visible things of the universe. Thus, the wonderful works of nature constrained them to acknowledge God as the First Cause of all things, and natural phenomena as the creation of His unerring wisdom. We, in like manner, must bring together before our minds all the wonderful works of Christ, whereby we desire to prove that He was the First Cause of all things, and that all His doings proceeded from God, who cannot err. We would not be understood to say, that these proofs cause Christians to believe; for they are established in their faith by the supernatural light of God (otherwise, their belief would be, not faith, but opinion). But such testimonies confirm us in our Faith, and prove to our adversaries that we believe, not lightly, but thoughtfully and with deliberation. In order the better to bring the works of Christ, which are continually being performed in the Church, before the eyes of men, we will describe them under the figure of a triumphal car, the figure of the entire universe.
HOW THE TRIUMPH OF CHRIST TESTIFIES TO THE TRUTH OF OUR FAITH.
As the power, wisdom and goodness of God are infinite, they could not be manifested (save most imperfectly) in one creature. Therefore, philosophers have been wont to contemplate the Divine Majesty, revealed in the harmony of the universe, resulting not from one but from numberless creatures, which, on account of their necessary dependence one on the other, can with ease be considered simultaneously. In like manner, we cannot understand the power and wisdom and goodness of Christ by contemplating only one of His works. We must recall to our minds all the wonders which He wrought. Thus we shall be constrained, not on one count alone, but for many reasons, to acknowledge His Divinity. For, should we not be convinced by one of His miracles or arguments, we cannot (unless we be obstinate) fail to be persuaded when we consider His works and teaching collectively. But, although it be easy, by reason of their mutual dependence, to consider all the marvels of nature collectively, it is not equally easy to contemplate all the works of Christ at once. It has, therefore, occurred to me to present them under the figure of a triumphal car, a similitude easy of comprehension to the feeblest intellect.
Let us, then, represent to our minds a four-wheeled chariot on which is seated Christ, as Conqueror, crowned with thorns, and bearing the marks of His wounds, thus showing that it is through His Passion and death that He has overcome the world. Over His Head shines a light like a triple sun. This represents the Blessed Trinity, which illuminates His Humanity and the whole Church with unspeakable splendour. In His left hand Christ holds the Cross and the instruments of His Passion, in His right the Old and the New Testaments. At His Feet are the Host and chalice; vessels of balsam and of oil; and the other symbols of the Sacraments. The Blessed Mother of God, the Virgin Mary, is seated beneath her Son. Around, and below her, are vessels of gold, silver and precious stones, filled with ashes and bones of the dead. The Apostles and Preachers go before the car, appearing to draw it. They are preceded by the Patriarchs, the Prophets, and innumerable men and women of the Old Testament. The chariot is encircled by the army of Martyrs, forming as it were a crown. They, again, are surrounded by the Doctors of the Church, bearing open books. Around them, again, circles a countless multitude of virgins, of both sexes, adorned with lilies. Behind the car follow innumerable men and women of all conditions—Jews, Greeks, Latins, barbarians, rich and poor, learned and simple, small and great, old and young; all of whom, with one accord, are praising Christ. And, all around this multitude, gathered from the Old and from the New Testaments, are the serried ranks of the enemies of the Church of Christ—emperors and kings; princes and men in power; sages; philosophers; heretics; slaves and freemen; men and women; people of every race and of every tongue. Whilst around them lie idols, prone and broken, heretical books burnt, and all sects, and every false religion confounded and destroyed.
Now the chariot which we have described symbolises a new world, from whence shall spring a new philosophy. Its first cause, and the invisible things which become known to philosophers by means of visible things, are represented by the figure of the Blessed Trinity, True God, above the Head of Christ which represents His Manhood, and by the innumerable company of Angels and Blessed Spirits, who are all unseen by us. We must arrive at the knowledge of these spiritual beings by means of the visible beings grouped around the chariot. And, just as philosophers teach that the heavens are the cause of all things produced beneath them, so we say that, after the Divine Majesty, the chief cause of grace and salvation is the Passion and Cross of Christ. Beneath the firmament are the elements, which derive all their activity from the heavens; so to the Passion of Christ succeed the Sacraments of the Church, deriving all their power from It. The elements are followed in the natural world by particular causes, such as seeds and the like. In our triumph, the seed is represented by the teaching of the Gospel, and by the works and example of the Saints whose relics repose in honour in glorious tombs, and the memory of whose merits and holy lives produces continual fruit in the Church. Particular causes are figured by the Apostles, Patriarchs, Prophets, Martyrs and Doctors; who, while they lived, regenerated, by their teaching, the whole world to Christ. Lastly, as in the natural order effect follows cause, we represent effect by the countless men and women who have been converted by the example and the preaching of the Saints. But, as in nature, every movement is from one contrary to another, and the generation of one thing is the destruction of something else (for in all reproductions there are two opposing forces, of which the stronger prevails), so, in the spiritual generation, Christ and His elect have vanquished His enemies, represented by heresy, prostrate around the triumphal car. The four wheels of the chariot signify the four quarters of the world, so marvellously enlightened by Christ, and by Him brought into subjection.
And, as philosophers, having before their eyes the order of the universe, and considering the wonderful effects of nature, did, by searching for their causes, ascend gradually from the lower to the higher, and attained to the knowledge of invisible things and of the Divine Majesty; so, if we examine attentively the works which Christ has performed, and still does perform, in His Church (represented by this chariot), we shall begin to be filled with wonder, and shall diligently seek the cause of those works, and thus shall, gradually, rise to the knowledge of invisible things, and of the Divine Majesty of Christ.
CONTAINING CERTAIN FUNDAMENTAL AND IRREFRAGABLE PRINCIPLES.
If an argument is to be conducted satisfactorily, the disputants must agree with each other about some point. For, if they disagree on every point, there will be no possibility of discussion. They may, or may not, of course, think alike on matters of minor importance; but they must agree about certain principles, which are so generally accepted that no one denies them. We must, therefore, take up our position on certain acknowledged principles. We cannot argue with one who denies them; for he who refuses to accept first principles is unreasonable. First, then, we are all agreed that Jesus Christ was crucified by the Jews, and was afterwards, throughout almost the entire world, adored as God, as we Christians adore Him. This fact is admitted by Jews, heretics, Mahometans, Greeks, Latins and barbarians; the belief in it has never died, but has been handed down, from generation to generation. Testimony to this conviction is, further, forthcoming in the books written in every language and diffused throughout the world, and in the ruins of Christian churches to be found in every land. These are proof positive that there is not a spot on the face of the earth where Christ has not been worshipped, or is not still adored, or where, at least, there is not some knowledge of Christianity. Hence, even unbelievers speak of Christ as the God of the Christians.
If, therefore, no reasonable being will controvert that which is made manifest by the books and the monuments of every nation; he who should deny that Christ was slain by the Jews, and was afterwards adored as God throughout the world, must be so foolish, that argument with him would be waste of time. And, if it be acknowledged that the adoration of Christ has been universal, the same must be said of the confession of the Blessed Trinity, and of the Eucharist, the veneration of the Cross, of the Virgin Mary, and of the Saints. The same evidence demonstrates, further, that the Apostles, who were at first fishermen, preached the Cross of Christ; that they were preceded by the Jewish people, the Patriarchs and Prophets; and that they were followed by the glorious Martyrs, the venerable Doctors, the spotless Virgins of the Church, and likewise by an untold number of monks and priests, both regular and secular. Finally, we must remember that, although the tyrants and the philosophers of the world have fought against the Church, idolatry, nevertheless, has been destroyed, heresy has been extirpated and even the Roman Emperor has been brought into humble subjection to the fisherman, and that the heretics and their heretical books have been destroyed. These things being so well known as to need no proof, we shall presuppose them, as philosophers are wont to presuppose the truths of science. For they are acknowledged, not only by Christians, but by nearly every people and in almost every country, yea even by Indians and innumerable Mahometans, amongst whom exist certain proofs of our faith, who admit that Christ has reigned amongst them and has worked miracles, and who, although they themselves are in grave error, yet punish severely all who blaspheme the Christian truths. Since, then, these truths are so clearly manifest, they can be gainsaid by none but such as are foolishly obstinate.
ANSWERS TO THE OBJECTIONS WHICH MAY BE BROUGHT AGAINST THE FOREGOING PROPOSITIONS.
But perhaps some one will say: If your assertions be true, surely it is strange that no pagan historian or orator should make any mention of them; but that they, who minutely describe the wars and other doings of men, should pass over in silence the works of Christ, which are so much greater and more wonderful. Exception must be made in the case of certain historians, who, wishing to refute Christianity, have rendered testimony to its truth.
To these objections we reply, that it is false to say that pagan historians have not written concerning Christ and His Church. For not only have many authors, both Greek and Latin, treated fully and eloquently of His praises, but many of them have been converted to His Faith, and have propagated it by their preaching and their writing.1 And, if our objectors should reply, that they allude not to those who, after their conversion, have written about Christ, but to those who have remained in their errors; our answer is, that our Faith has confirmed its converts to such a degree, that, not only have they written of the praises of Christ and of the Church, but they have not hesitated to shed their blood for His religion. For not only have those brought up from their infancy as Christians written in behalf of their Faith, but likewise innumerable and well-known men, of different nations, have embraced the truth in their more mature years. And it is a much more convincing proof of the truth of Christianity, that its converts should have died for it, than if they had remained heathens and had written volumes in its praise. What wonder that proud and incredulous men should have neglected to narrate the works of Christ, when, beholding His miracles, they refused to accept His Faith!
There are two further reasons why pagan historians have not written in praise of Christ. One reason is the providence of God; the other their own blindness. God moves all things, both corporeal and spiritual, and cares for all things; and no one can move himself to write, unless he be inspired thereto by God. Therefore, the heathen historians have not written of Christ, because God did not move them to do so.
Now, Divine Providence did not inspire them to write for three reasons. First, God ordinarily makes use of fitting means to achieve an end, and the pagan philosophers, who were stained by infidelity and other vices, were not fit to write of the pure and holy works of Christ and of His Church.
Secondly, as Christ is Truth itself, and came into the world to give testimony of the truth, it was not seemly that men, who, like the pagan poets, orators and historians, perpetuated lies and fables and praised the foulest deeds, should have defiled the pure truths of Christ by writing of Him.
Thirdly, the heathen orators had none but the eloquence which springs from natural reason; they sought rather to magnify themselves than to declare the truth. As the works of Christ, on the other hand, are above natural reason, it is evident that these pagans were not fit men to treat of them.
Another cause which prevented the heathen writers from bearing witness to Christ was the blindness, caused by their sins, especially pride and vain-glory, which so completely darkened their hearts that they took no account of the miracles wrought by Christ, such as the restoration of sight to the blind, the raising of the dead, and so many other wonders, which none but God could perform. Furthermore, as the heathen authors had been nurtured, from their infancy, in the worship of their gods, and in idolatrous fables, they, naturally, entertained a hatred for Christianity, the sworn enemy of idolatry. They would not, therefore, write anything in favour of the Church, both on account of their detestation of her, and for fear of exciting the displeasure of the tyrants who persecuted the Christians.
Again, we must remember that these poets and orators, by their egregious flattery, cultivated the good graces of princes, in the hope of being rewarded by them; and, as they knew that there was nothing to be gained from Christians who loved truth and professed poverty, it is not surprising that they did not write about Christ. Now, on the contrary, when the Church possesses temporal dominion, there is no lack of poets and orators to sing the praises of her princes and prelates; they often even mingle with their eulogies many things which are not true. If the Gentile authors did not espouse the cause of Christ, we need not go far to find the reason of their silence.
THE MODE IN WHICH OUR ARGUMENT MUST BE CONDUCTED.
Since we attain to the knowledge of the invisible by means of the visible, we must understand, that there are some among the invisible things of God which we can know by the natural power of our understanding, and by means of natural things. Such things are, the Existence of God, His Unity, His Simplicity of Being, and other truths of this sort, to the knowledge of which philosophers have attained. But there are others among the invisible things of God, which we cannot discover by means of human reason. This is not very strange, seeing that, even among men who are equal by nature, philosophers can understand high and subtle matters, of which children and simple persons must remain in ignorance. This being so, is it to be wondered at that in God there are secrets, which no created intellect can investigate? We cannot understand many of the things which we meet with every day; how then shall we comprehend God, who infinitely surpasses all things?
The Divine things which our natural reason is not competent to discover are those which we believe by Faith, to wit, the Trinity and Unity of God, the Divinity and Humanity of our Saviour Jesus Christ, and other truths of the like nature. But, although we cannot prove these truths by natural effects or human arguments, we may, nevertheless, make ourselves very sure of them by their supernatural effects. For, just as, by natural effects, we know that the propositions, “God exists,” and “God is One and Infinite,” etc., are true, and yet by means of them know not God as He is, nor behold His Substance; so also, by means of supernatural effects, we can certify ourselves of the truth of such propositions as “God is Three and One,” “the Son of God is both God and Man”. Yet we cannot understand, nor see these truths, as they are in themselves.
As nature precedes grace, we will first treat of those invisible things of God which we are competent to investigate by means of their natural effects, and afterwards of those which can be known by their effects which are supernatural. The truths of the first category, however, we will consider very briefly, since Catholic theologians and philosophers have discussed them so thoroughly, as to leave no possibility of doubt.
THE EXISTENCE OF GOD.
If we do not mean to stultify our whole argument, we must begin by proving the existence of God. What do we mean by God? All men use this name to designate that which is higher and more excellent than all other things. Some call this Highest Being the Prime Mover of all things; others call it the First Cause and Principle, or the Highest Good and Supreme Truth. But, whatsoever God may be called, if His name expresses the highest and superexcellent nature, His existence must be acknowledged. This is admitted even by philosophers. It is of His existence that I wish briefly to speak.
Philosophers have proved, most effectually, that everything that moves is moved by something else. Even though men and brutes move themselves, there is in them one thing that moves and another that is moved; for the body cannot move when abandoned by the soul. And, since every movement under the heavens depends on the movement of the heavens, there must be some substance that moves the heavens. Now, does that substance itself move, or does it not? If it does not move, it must be God, who moves all things, but is Himself immovable. But if the substance move, it must then be moved by something else. Now, is that something else immovable, or is it also moved? If it be moved, who moves it? If we continue this chain of argument, we shall see that there must either be one First Mover, or else an infinite series of movements with no First Mover. The second hypothesis is philosophically absurd. For, if there be no First Mover, on which other motors depend, nothing could move, and no order would reign among the highest things. There must, then, be one supreme Mover, whom we call God.
We can deduce a similar argument from the causation of things. Everything in the world is caused. Nothing can make itself. Since then many causes concur to the same effect, and one thing is always prior to another, we must either assume an infinite series of causes, or believe in One Supreme Cause, whom all men acknowledge as God.
Again, amongst natural things we see that one thing is always more true and more perfect than another. This could not be the case, did it not approximate more closely to some Supreme Truth and Perfection. We must, therefore, agree that there exists some Supreme Being. This can be no other but God.
Again, we see how, in the natural order, unintelligent beings proceed by the right means from their beginning to their end. This cannot happen by chance, since they always, or almost always, act in the same manner. There must, then, be some Intelligence that directs them. What can this Intelligence be save God?
To these arguments we may further add, that no natural inclination can be futile. Now all men are naturally inclined to believe in God. From the beginning of the world until now there has never been (as we know from their superstitious rites and sacrifices) any nation so rude and barbarous as not to believe in a God. Since, then, this belief has been common to every era, and to every nation, it must be based on natural instinct. Again, we see how men, when in danger and deprived of human aid, will, instinctively, invoke the assistance of God. This is another proof that belief in His existence is natural to the human soul.
GOD IS NOT A BODY, NOR THE FORM OF A BODY, NOR IS HE A COMPLEX SUBSTANCE.
No true philosopher entertains the slightest doubt that God is not a body, nor the form of a body, nor a complex substance. It would be impossible that God should be a body, seeing that He is the immovable Mover of all things; for one body, unless it first move itself, cannot set another in motion. Again, as spirit is more noble than body, God, were He a body, would not be the noblest of all beings, neither would He be the Supreme Ruler, since the body is governed by the spirit.
We must further hold, that God is not the form of a body, as the soul is the form of the human body; because that which exists of itself is far more noble than that which exists in others. Consequently, as God is the most noble of all things, He must exist in Himself, and not in any body. Again, things composed of matter and of form are more perfect than matter alone and form alone; for the simple reason that the whole is always more perfect than its parts. If, then, God were the form of a body, there would be something more perfect than He; for the combination of matter and form would be more perfect than form alone. It would further follow that God could not act by Himself; since, as form has no being without matter, it cannot operate without matter. Hence, as God would need others for His operations, He would not be the First Cause.
It is, likewise, evident that God is not a complex Being, but Pure Act and Simple Substance; for every complex being depends on others, and composite bodies depend on those that are simple. Since, therefore, God is the First Cause, independent of all others, and the one on whom all things depend, He cannot be a complex Being, but must be Simple Act. Again, were He a complex Substance, He could not be the First Supreme Being in the universe; for complex bodies do not precede their parts, but result from them; and the union of these parts could not take place, had not some first cause preceded them. We must conclude, therefore, that God is Simple Substance and Pure Act.1
GOD IS THE PERFECT AND SUPREME GOOD, AND IS OF INFINITE POWER; HE IS IN EVERY PLACE; AND HE IS IMMUTABLE AND ETERNAL.
If we believe (as we must) that God is Pure Act, we are also compelled to acknowledge that He is perfect, the Supreme Good, Infinite in Power, Ubiquitous, Immutable and Eternal. The greater the simplicity of an immaterial thing, the greater, likewise, will be its perfection. God being absolutely devoid of complexity, Pure Act, and Simplicity Itself, we must also conclude that in Him is supreme Goodness and Perfection.
Again, as everything possesses greater power and virtue, in proportion as it is raised above matter, and becomes more formal; God, as Pure Act, being supremely elevated above all imperfection, and in the highest degree Formal, must be infinite, and infinitely Powerful. And, just as particular effects are reduced to particular causes, universal effects must be reduced to universal causes. Now, being is the most universal of all effects, because it is common to all things; it must therefore proceed from an Universal Cause, which is God, who is the Cause of being, not only by giving it, but also by preserving it. And, since it is necessary that when the cause operates, it must join its power to its effect, God, being His own Power, must be united to the being of all things. Therefore He must be intimately in all things, because being is more closely allied to nature than any other thing.
God, being indivisible, must be in the whole universe, and wholly in each of its parts. He is likewise immutable; because everything that changes must needs be composite, and God, being Pure Act, can know no change. He must necessarily also be eternal; because, were He not eternal, He would be mutable, having beginning and end; and thus He would not be God, but a being dependent on other things, and consequently not the First Cause.
GOD IS ONE.
It is clear that there can be only one God, not many gods; for the Divine Nature being Simplicity cannot communicate Itself outside Itself. Every nature which is communicated to others, suffers composition, because it must suffer diversity of being. It is impossible therefore, that the Divine Nature should be shared by other beings.
If there were more gods than one, they would differ from one another; and the cause of their difference would be, either some imperfection, or some perfection. Were the cause an imperfection, the god that had it would not be God, because God is wholly perfect. Were the cause a perfection, the God that had it not, would, for the same reason, not be God. Thus there cannot be more gods than one.
A third proof of the unity of God lies in the fact, that all things in the universe are most excellently ordered. This perfect order could not be the work of many; it must proceed from one. Among animals, such as bees and cranes, we see one ruler directing a multitude of subjects. And since art imitates nature, in the best human governments we, likewise, see power vested in one head, otherwise the government could not stand. In like manner, since the government of the Universe is of all forms of government the most perfect, we see that in it there is but one Supreme Lord and Ruler, who is God.
GOD KNOWS ALL THINGS PERFECTLY, AND ACTS OF HIS OWN WILL, AND NOT FROM NATURAL NECESSITY.
It is clear, from what has been said, that God knows all things. We see in the natural order, that those beings that are capable of knowing have a larger and more capacious nature than those that have no cognitive faculty. For, not only do they know their own form, but, being of a nature superior to matter, their cognitive power is able to receive the forms of other things. Hence the cognition of every cognitive form is ample and perfect, in proportion as that form is superior to matter. God, then, being Pure Act, i.e., superior to all matter and all potentiality, must possess the highest degree of cognisance, and the most complete understanding of all things.
God does not understand as men understand, i.e., by receiving the likeness of things into His understanding. For, being Simple Substance, His wisdom and His understanding are His nature; and, being wisdom itself He knows all things of Himself. And, since the power of God is nought but God Himself, and He is likewise wisdom itself, His wisdom must comprehend His power; and as His power is infinite, His wisdom must alike be infinite.
Some men entertain the foolish opinion that God knows superterrestrial things determinately, but that His knowledge of earthly things is confused and general; in other words, that man knows more things, or has a more perfect knowledge of them, than has God. Yet, even in merely natural things, the greater and more perfect the power, the more things it embraces and penetrates; and the more elevated a human intellect, the greater is its range of understanding, and the more exquisite its subtlety. Since, then, the Divine understanding is supereminent, and infinitely perfect, it must necessarily penetrate all things to their innermost being. And, since it is Immutable and Eternal, it is necessary that it should have perfect knowledge, not only of all things past, present and future, but also of all those which might ever be called into being. Moreover, this knowledge has not only existed from all eternity, but continues in the present, and will endure for ever.
We must, further, affirm that God acts, not from necessity, but by His Understanding and Will. Nature acts in a certain order without understanding it; and, as there cannot be order without intelligence, the operations of nature must be governed by some superior intellect. Now, as the intellect which governs is higher than the nature which is governed, and as God is the First Principle of all things, it is evident that He must act, not by natural necessity, but by Understanding and Will.
That which acts by natural necessity is drawn by its nature to produce an effect as far as possible similar to itself. Now, as God is Infinite Power, He would, therefore, were He constrained by natural necessity to act, produce infinite things—which would be an impossibility. God produces things according as they exist in Himself as in their Cause. Even as a house exists in the mind of an architect who builds it by means of his intelligence and will, so God also creates all things by means of His Intelligence and Will.
THE PROVIDENCE OF GOD EXTENDS OVER ALL THINGS.
If our foregoing statements be true, there is no room for doubt that the Providence of God extends over all things; not merely over natural things, but over even the smallest human action.
The word Providence signifies a knowledge of the order of things, with an intention of reducing them, by fitting means, to their end. Therefore, as God is Supreme Wisdom, to Him it belongs to order and dispose of all things, as the First Cause, who acts on all things by His understanding, determined by His free will. And, as He is Supreme Wisdom, whose attribute it is to order all things aright, we must acknowledge that in Him is perfect Providence over all things.
Philosophers have never hesitated to recognise Divine Providence in the marvellous operations of Nature. The disordered and confused state of human affairs has, however, presented a difficulty to them, and has led some among them to deny the Providence of God over human things.
But, if we reflect, we shall see that it is foolish to deny the Providence of God in the conduct of human affairs, as well as in the order of nature. For the more noble things are, the more perfectly are they ordered; therefore, as man is the noblest of all beings, his operations must be ordered.
Again, as the wisest men take more thought and care for the things which are nearer to their end, than for those which are more remote from it, so, as man is nearer to God (the end of all things) than are natural things, it would be impossible to believe that, while Providence governs nature, it does not extend to human affairs.
Further, Divine Providence proceeds from the love of God; and the more God loves a creature, the greater is His Providence over it. Since, then, by giving to man a more perfect nature and a higher order of operation than He has given to natural things, God has shown that His love for man is greater than His love for natural things, we cannot doubt that His Providence, likewise, is exercised in human affairs.
Another proof of what we say lies in the fact that it is natural (as we see in the case of animals with their young) for all causes to exercise a certain providence over their effects. But as all secondary causes act only in imitation of God, the First Cause, it is evident that He must exercise Providence over all things, and especially over man, who is His noblest effect, and whom He loves more than other natural things.
We must further remember that, if God does not extend His Providence to man, it must be, either because He cannot do so, or knows not how to do so, or else will not do so. Since He is Infinite Power and Infinite Wisdom, it is vain to say that He cannot care for man, or knows not how to do so. To say that He will not do so, is to derogate from His Infinite Goodness; for none that is good spurns his own work, and no cause despises its own effect. Neither would it be a righteous work to care for imperfect things, and not for perfect ones. When even every good and wise man cares diligently for human affairs, how shall we say that the God of Infinite Goodness takes no heed of them?
THE END TO WHICH MAN IS GUIDED BY DIVINE PROVIDENCE.
Since it is the work of Divine Providence to move all things to their end, and, since all things have their different proximate ends, they must be moved by different means. Irrational things are led by natural instinct, and are rather ruled by others than self-governing. Man, however, having free will, can take thought for himself, and is moved towards his end by God, in such a way that he governs himself, by working together with God. It is, therefore, essential that he should diligently strive to discover what is the last end to which he is destined by Divine Providence; and what the means are whereby he must attain to it; that so he may be enabled to order his life conformably to the designs of God.
Philosophers have studiously endeavoured to search out the End of Man. In course of time, as their reasoning became more profound, and their investigation approached nearer to the truth, they concluded that the end of human life is the contemplation of Divine things. For this alone is the proper operation of the human soul, and it is not directed to any other thing as to its end, but is desired for itself, and unites man to God. Again, man so far suffices in himself to this operation, that for it he needs but few external aids.
This, in fact, is the end of all things that pertain to man. For all natural things are ordered for the body of man; his body is ordered for his soul; and all the powers of his soul serve to this contemplation, which requires that calm and freedom from passion which art and civil government are intended to procure for us.
It is thus evident that all things, both natural and artificial, are ordered to this contemplation, as to the last end to which Providence moves all men by means of moral virtues. It influences them, however, in such a way, as to leave them the freedom of their will. It is, likewise, clear, that if they will co-operate with the impulse of Providence, they will, by using the fitting means, attain to their desired end.
MAN’S LAST END CANNOT BE ATTAINED IN THIS PRESENT LIFE.
If we give serious consideration to what has been said, we shall see how difficult, nay impossible, it would be for man to attain to his last end during the course of the present life. For, although it be true that beatitude is the last perfection of man, it is not every degree of contemplation of Divine things which can render a man happy. Although the contemplation of God forms the happiness of man, this contemplation must be perfect, with the fullest perfection of which human nature is capable. Whereas, during this mortal life, very few, scarce any one indeed, can attain to this perfection. Perfect contemplation demands a fulness of knowledge to which the greater part of mankind can never arrive. Some men are hindered therefrom by physical ineptitude, or by some imperfection in those interior senses which are the instruments used by the soul in the pursuit of knowledge. Others again, are so obtuse, that they can scarcely understand the clearest matters; whilst others are unable to devote themselves to contemplation, by reason of the duties imposed on them, through family cares, and the necessities of social life. And even those who are able to free themselves from these trammels, must serve a long apprenticeship before they can attain to the perfection of knowledge and contemplation. This for two reasons. Firstly, remembering that we attain to knowledge of immaterial things by means of sensible things, it is only reasonable to expect that an extensive knowledge of material things should be required before we can hope to attain to a perfect knowledge of such as are in the highest degree spiritual. Secondly, in order to attain to perfect contemplation, purity of heart, quiescence of the passions, and the possession of moral virtues, are essential; and these things are rarely met with except among the aged, and even among them are not possessed save by such as have laboured diligently for their acquisition. The greater number of those living in the world, being still young, and, but few of them having opportunity to devote themselves to the contemplation of the Truth, it follows that but a small number will be able to attain to perfect happiness in this life.
Neither need we be astonished at the fact, that it is exceptional to find souls capable of contemplation, when daily experience convinces us of the limitations of human understanding, and of the ease with which men are deceived in purely natural matters. How much more easily may we be deceived in things which are Divine? All our knowledge of natural things springs from the senses, and what more fallible than the eye, which tells us that the sun is a tiny sphere, whereas it is much larger than our entire earth? Again, the imagination can so obscure the intellect, as to render it difficult for us to believe that any beings exist, save such as are corporeal.
Our understanding, again, often deceives us, persuading us to give credence to false and sophistical reasoning, as is proved by the many varying opinions even amongst clever men. The divers passions and affections of our soul, and our evil habits, are a further obstacle to our apprehension of the truth. If, then, our intellect be so shackled in its investigation of purely natural things, how much greater difficulty shall we not have in learning such as are Divine? The more we consider the hindrances which beset us in the acquisition of knowledge, the more clear it becomes that, if true happiness is only to be found in this life, very few amongst us can attain to it. Children, youths, women, and all such as are not capable of learning, and are occupied in human affairs, must be excluded from the chance of acquiring knowledge, and of attaining, through knowledge, to beatitude. Such an idea as this is, of course, absurd, since beatitude is the end of human life, and that for which all mankind is created.
But there is another reason which makes it impossible for man to be wholly happy in this life. This reason is, that happiness being the ultimate good of man, cannot be marred by any admixture of evil, and, being an all-sufficing good, it brings with it all other good; so that when perfect happiness is attained, nothing further remains for man to desire. But where shall we find, in this life, a man who wishes for nothing, and who, having a nature subject, as is our nature, to so many infirmities, enjoys, nevertheless, perfect immunity from every evil? Daily experience shows us, that even those who, like Priam, have been reputed happy, were beset by many misfortunes.
But let us assume that some one has, so far as it be possible in this mortal life, attained to the perfect contemplation of Divine things, and enjoys every other good, still even he cannot be called truly happy. For, since happiness means perfect tranquillity of the human heart, and since all men have a natural, an unceasing desire to know, this desire must be an obstacle to perfect repose, as long as knowledge be not complete. The number of things in the world which men do not know, and yet desire to know, is almost infinite. Philosophers, after lifelong study, and much learning, have died leaving much unknown. For the things of which we have knowledge form but a small portion of that which there is to know, and our actual knowledge is most imperfect. If, then, our intellect be so limited regarding natural things, how can we expect to understand such as are supernatural and Divine? The human heart cannot be satisfied with slight knowledge, but always desires more perfect knowledge. Thus it is, that the more it knows God, the more perfectly it desires to know Him; for natural impetus is swifter, as it nears the end, than at the beginning. Hence, it follows that, as we cannot, in the present life, attain to any perfect knowledge of God, neither can we enjoy perfect happiness.
But, supposing, for argument’s sake, that a man should attain, in this world, to full knowledge of all things natural and Divine, he would still fail to be perfectly happy; because perfect knowledge cannot be acquired save in old age, when death draws nigh. Even if this knowledge could be gained in youth, it would still be no safeguard against death. The desire for immortality is innate in all men; hence, all men desire to continue their lives, either in their children, or by some excellent work; for a wise man who loves a perfect life cannot fail to hate what destroys it. Therefore, were there no other life than this, the wisest man, yea, he whom we assume to be truly happy, could not fail to be saddened at the thought of death. A philosopher would not indeed banish the thought of death, for that would be the act of an unreasonable man; but neither can he be called happy, who has laboured all his life to acquire some good which he is unable to retain, and who knows not whether his end is to be in bliss, or in misery.
We see then, by the foregoing arguments, that, if there be no life beyond the grave, the lot of man is beyond measure wretched. For all other things are led by nature, and easily attain their end; but man is surrounded by difficulties, and either fails to find his end, or, if after much toil, he succeeds in finding it, he will be unable to retain it. That such should be the fate of the noblest of God’s creatures on earth must appear, even to the most unlearned mind, an absurdity.
THE SOUL OF MAN IS IMMORTAL.
The arguments set forth in the last chapter leave no room to doubt that there is another life; and that the human soul is immortal. For, as the Providence of God conducts everything to its own end, man, if his end be not attainable in this life, must be rendered capable of securing it in a life to come. Were it otherwise, the Providence of God would not extend to human affairs.
There is every proof of the existence of a germ of immortality in the human soul. The operations of the intellect cannot proceed from a physical force; because they extend beyond corporeal things, and are occupied with God. This argument has compelled philosophers to acknowledge the immortality and immateriality of the soul. It is, nevertheless, so difficult to understand how an immaterial substance can be the form of the body, that many different opinions have been held about the mode of this immortality in man, which is called intellect. It cannot, however, reasonably be denied, that the intellectual soul is the form of the human body, since all men acknowledge that it is the rationality of man which distinguishes him from other animals. This distinction could not exist were not a rational soul the form of man; for all specific differences arise from form.
Again, it is universally allowed, that the peculiar and pre-eminent activity of man is understanding and reasoning; and man is the principle of this activity. Man is composed of matter and form. We cannot say that he is the principle of this activity by virtue of the matter of which he is composed, but solely by virtue of the form. Consequently, as this form is nothing but the intelligent soul, it is the intelligent soul which is the form of man.
Another argument for the immortality of the soul lies in the fact that man, like other animals, has the power of self-motion. Now, as the other animals move by means of their form, which is their soul, it follows that it must also be his soul which enables man to move. We know that man is governed by will and understanding. The form of man, therefore, must be an intelligent soul, capable of volition.
If a rational soul were not the form of man, the fact that a child, unable to use his understanding, is man would be inexplicable; neither could we see how intelligence could be attributed to a man who does not use his reason. If rational substance be not the form of man, but be self-subsisting, it will not be man, but that rational substance, which works with the intellect. We may, of course, maintain, with Plato, that man is not composed of soul and body; but that he is merely soul, which is united to the body as a motor is joined to that which is movable. But this opinion, if we adopt it, will lead us into many inconsistencies.
For, firstly, if the soul be the whole of man, to the exclusion of the body, man will not be sensitive; and when the soul leaves the body, corruption will not ensue; for the substance of a movable being does not change when the motor leaves it. It follows, likewise, that the human body does not live by the intellectual soul, and is not generated by union with the soul; for a movable thing is not generated by union with its motor. Human generation must, therefore, cease; for as, according to Plato, the soul is not generated, if the body be not man, one man will not be able to generate another. If neither the generated body, nor the soul and body together, but only the soul (which is not generated), be man, there will no longer, in human generation, be either fathers or children. These, and similar absurdities, beset those who will not acknowledge that the form of the body is an intelligent and immortal soul.
As the soul is, by its perfection, supreme among all natural and material forms, it partakes of the nature of incorporeal and immaterial substances; and, inasmuch as it partakes of the nature of inferior forms, it is said to be the form of the human body. In the perfection wherein it pertains to immaterial forms, it is separated from the body, so that the intellectual faculty of the soul is not, like its sensitive faculties, joined to any corporeal organ. Hence, the soul is sometimes called the nexus of the world, being the link between the highest and the lowest things.
We cannot then escape the conclusion, that the form of the body is a rational soul, which, in spite of the corruptibility of the body, remains incorruptible. This attribute of incorruptibility is proper to all intellectual substances, and is so for divers reasons:—
First, because every perfection must be proportioned to the thing of which it is the perfection, and, as universal and incorruptible things, and principally God, are the perfection of the intellectual soul, whose beatitude consists in contemplating them, the soul must be incorruptible.
Secondly, as we know that the perfection of the soul is proportionate to its abstraction from material, and its elevation to immaterial and Divine things, it is folly to say that the soul becomes corrupted by segregation from the body. Such an assertion is tantamount to saying, that separation from corporeal things is, at one and the same time, both the perfection, and the destruction of the soul. And it is equally futile to argue, that the soul attains perfection, by abstraction from the body, by means of the understanding, but suffers corruption by separation from the body by means of its essence. For operation follows nature; and therefore it is impossible that when the operation becomes perfect, the nature should become imperfect. Hence, it is quite unreasonable to say, that the intellectual soul suffers corruption when it is separated from the body.
The natural bias of mankind is a further argument in favour of the doctrine of the immortality of the soul. We see that all men are anxious about what takes place after death, and that none have been able to persuade themselves, that there is no future life. Thus the desire to know something of the hereafter is apparent in the writings of philosophers, of poets, and of orators. The fact of such a desire is a proof of our immortality; for if there were no future life, not only would this yearning for knowledge about it be of no service to man, but it would be injurious to him, by raising desires doomed only to disappointment. But if we assume that the intellectual soul is immortal, this natural desire to understand something of its future life is, far from being useless, both wholesome and necessary; it enables man to direct his thoughts to another life, and to tend towards beatitude.
It is evident, then, that if we deny that the intellectual soul is the form of the body, and is immortal, we shall be involved in many inconsistencies. We shall find it impossible to understand how man can be a rational animal endowed with free will, and justly liable to punishment for sin. Neither shall we be able to comprehend what is the End of man, and what the Providence of God in his regard. But, granted that an intellectual and immortal soul be the form of man, all these difficulties will disappear.
Since the consideration of the other life, which awaits the soul after death, exceeds the limits of human reason, we will here conclude our First Book, in order to treat in the next of the supernatural truths of Faith. For where reason halts, Faith begins. When we shall have shown, as we hope to do in the following Book, the truth of our faith, the immortality of the soul will be beyond doubt.
[1 ] “When we look up to the sky and contemplate the heavenly bodies, what can be so evident and so clear, as the existence of a Deity, with a most marvellous mind, by whom all these bodies are governed?” (Cicero, De Natura Deorum, lib. ii.)—Editor.
[1 ]E.g., St. Ignatius the Martyr, St. Polycarp, St. Clement of Alexandria, etc.—Editor.
[1 ] As this expression occurs frequently in the following pages, it may be well, for the uninitiated in scholastic phraseology, to explain its meaning. Savonarola, in the 10th chapter of this 1st Book, defines Pure Act as being “superior to all matter and possibility,” and in the 2nd chapter of the following Book, he writes: “God is not a body, but Pure Act”. The term Pure Act is applied to the Most High by theologians, to exclude all imperfection, and all possibility of change, or of any further acquisition. St. Thomas in his Summa Theologica (Pars prima, Quaest. xxv. art. 1) distinguishes between that which is in actu, and that which is in potentia. To say of anything that it is in potentia (or possibility) implies that it may still receive something, or become something which it has not or is not, something which it lacks; and that, therefore, it is wanting and imperfect (deficiens et imperfectum)—e.g., a child is in potentia to become a man—he may some day be a man; or an ignorant man is in potentia to learning—he may become a learned man; there is a possibility of it—therefore, as yet, he is imperfect. In actu, on the other hand, means that it actually possesses some special gift or perfection. God has everything that He possibly can have, He is everything that He possibly can be in the scale of perfection—nothing is wanting to Him, nothing further is possible to Him. Hence St. Thomas concludes: “God is Pure Act simply and universally perfect; nor is there any imperfection in Him” (ibid.). No creature can be called Pure Act; because every creature is in potentia—he may receive or become something which he has not or is not. The term is applied to God alone.—Editor.