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49. The Cause of Evil

1. Only good can be a cause, for only good has the positive being which is necessary in a cause. Therefore, the cause of evil is good; not, indeed, by the essence of natural bent of good, but accidentally. When a cause of itself tends to produce an effect, it is called the direct or the per se cause of that effect.And when a cause, acting per se to produce its effect,incidentally (or, in the old term, accidentally) produces another effect, this other effect is produced per accidens or accidentally, and the cause is called the per accidens or accidental cause of that effect. Thus a cow cropping grass isacting per se to nourish its own life; incidentally orper accidens it destroys the grass. Even sin is the defect, rather than the effect, of free will, which is good in itself, and which acts for apparent good even in sinning. The sinner is like a hungry person who bites into a piece of wax fruit;what he is after is good, but he fails to find the good he is after. Unlike the man who bites wax fruit, the sinner is not merely the victim of a mistake, for the sinner knows better, if only he would consider; the sinner's judgment is perverse, and hence he is guilty of fault. But the point is that what he wants per se is good; he causes evil per accidens in his quest for good. Evil, therefore, has no direct or per secause, but only an accidental cause, a cause per accidens. And it is good which, acting per accidens,is the cause of evil.

2. In willing the order of the universe, God wills the existence of some things that endure and of other things that pass away. The evil of passing away, of losing existence, is accidental to the order of the universe, which is good. Thus God wills physical evils per accidens inasmuch as these are incidental to the working of good. But God wills no evil per se. And God does not will moral evil either per se orper accidens.

3. There is no supreme evil principle which is the source of all evil things. The old oriental doctrine of two supreme principles, one good and the other evil, is absurd. For first of all, there cannot be more than one supreme being. Secondly, as we have seen, the subject of evil is good; we have also seen that the cause of evil is good in itself and only accidentally the producer of evil. Besides, as Aristotle says, if there were a supreme evil,it would destroy itself, for, having destroyed all good (which it must do to be supreme evil), it would have destroyed all being,including its own being.

"The more you know and the better you understand, the more severely will you be judged, unless your life is also the more holy. Do not be proud, therefore, because of your learning or skill. Rather, fear because of the talent given you."
Thomas á Kempis

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"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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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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