Governing the World

The Dominican Father Thomas Pegues gives a synopsis of the teaching of St. Thomas Aquinas on God’s providential government of the world. St. Thomas’ teaching on the subject is found in his Treatise on the Divine Government (Summa Theologica I, 103-119).

Father Pegues writes: “God and His glory are the end of the whole universe because God directs all things therein that He might make known in the very order of the universe the designs of His holy will.”

God governs the universe He created “by maintaining it and directing it to its end. God Himself maintains all created things; although He uses certain of His creatures to maintain others in existence according to the order of dependence which He established among things when He created them.” The act of creating and the act of maintaining all things in existence are proper to God because “the direct and immediate result of both phenomena is the inflow of being which is an effect proper to God.”

“Things depend absolutely on God; much in the same way as the light of the day depends absolutely upon the presence of the action of the sun; except that the action of the sun is a necessary action, whereas the action of God is wholly free.”

“Man also can help in a great degree in the activity of God in the government of the world. Man can concur with the action of God in the government of the world in co-operating himself for the good of man. . . . Man serves as an instrument in God’s hands for the benefit of the soul of man, because it is due to the operation of man that God creates the soul of each child born to the world; and because this soul develops and grows in perfection under the action of the master who is its teacher. According to the laws of nature fixed by Him, God has arranged that the body of the child is formed and is brought forth into the world by the tender care of a father and a mother.”

God could, “by His own activity, lead each one of His creatures to its end. . . . But it was better for Him to have willed to employ thus the actions of creatures one upon the other in order to lead them to their end; for thereby creatures are more perfect and God’s power is made more manifest.” In this way, “creatures participate in the sovereign activity of God, whereby He directs them to their end.” Moreover, “it is a mark of power and greatness for a sovereign to have in his service a throng of ministers to put his orders into execution.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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