The Theodicy of Divine Chastity, Part I

August 5, 2013 by  
Filed under Catholic Apologetics

Screen Shot 2012-10-14 at 8.07.51 PM The occurrence of tragedy is especially problematic for the worldview of the Christian who believes in a good God. The “why” of suffering is certainly asked universally, but it is the believer who must somehow reconcile the reality of suffering with the belief in a loving God who both knows everything and has infinite power. Historically, most (if not all) explanations of the presence of suffering in the world are such that they either deny essential aspects of God’s nature, deny or diminish the evil of suffering, or implicitly attack the relationship between God and human beings by saying that God is not fully opposed to evil. Often, this takes the form of the claim that God has a reason for “allowing” a certain suffering, or even sends it, perhaps to teach a lesson or so that a person will grow. Sometimes the idea of God controlling everything brings comfort to a person; they are able (despite the problematic model) to see in this an image of a loving God who will ultimately work everything for good. For many others, however, this explanation is in itself a source of suffering, and they struggle against resenting a God who, though omnipotent, seems not only unwilling to alleviate their agony, but is perhaps the cause of it.

At, we would like to propose a model that retains the idea of a God who will not allow evil to exist without bringing good out of it, but does not superfluously conclude that he therefore approves of evil in some way. Our stance is that God, being infinitely good, is infinitely opposed to evil in every form, and is acting against every evil with the fullness of his power despite appearances to the contrary. Furthermore, we believe that this relationship of perfect opposition between God and evil applies to every evil regardless of how seemingly insignificant, and that this includes all instances of innocent human suffering.

[INTRODUCTORY NOTE TO READERS: It is our hope that, in addition to our Catholic audience, we have visitors of many Christian denominations, as well as those of non-Christian faiths and skeptics. Although we assume the truth of the Catholic teaching authority, for the purposes of reading this article it is not necessary either to agree that Catholic teachings are correct, or even to assume that any part of the Christian worldview is correct. In this series, our aim is not to prove that Christianity is true or even likely to be true. Rather, we are only proposing for the reader’s consideration a coherent theory of the “relationship” between God and evil in a new way that neither denies nor diminishes God’s power, knowledge or goodness; and at the same time affirms the dignity of the human person by clearly naming innocent human suffering as an evil. Those who do not share the faith are not being asked to agree with any of our assumptions, but to simply make a decision to temporarily suspend disbelief in order to understand the coherence of the proposed explanation on its own terms. Our expectation is that, as the series of articles unfolds, those who do not share our view will have the opportunity to consider how the paradigm expressed thoroughly explains much of the data which otherwise would appear to be evidence against the existence of God and the message of the gospel.]


In our previous article, A Line in the Sand, it was noted that every aspect of the Christian faith is a response to the problem of evil. It was also explained that because the issue is so basic to the faith, it follows that if a person misunderstands the relationship between God and evil, then literally every aspect of the faith will be misunderstood.

Even more basic than the problem of evil, though, is the question of why God created anything at all. In answer to this foundational question, the Catechism states:

“Scripture and Tradition never cease to teach and celebrate this fundamental truth: ‘The world was made for the glory of God.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 293)

In a way similar to how a misunderstanding of the relationship between God and evil can distort the Christian message into something that is both anti-God and anti-human, so it is that a misunderstanding of the nature of God’s glory and our relationship to it will inevitably poison all subsequent thinking about God and humanity. It cannot be otherwise, for the matter is so basic to the meaning of life and the purpose of creation that a wrong understanding on this level entails that the dignity of the human person and the goodness of God are implicitly denied. Therefore we must take care to understand the idea of God’s glory in exactly the way that the Church teaches.

Why would God, being perfect in his own nature, seek the increase of his glory through created things? The Catechism, quoting Saint Bonaventure, explains:

“God created all things ‘not to increase his glory, but to show it forth and to communicate it,’ for God has no other reason for creating than his love and goodness.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 293)

This showing forth of perfect love is the manifestation of God’s glory for which the world was made. God’s work in creation is for the singular purpose of bringing about our happiness by communicating his goodness. The First Vatican Council says that there is no degree of God seeking to increase his own happiness or attain his perfection through creation. Neither is there any compulsion to create. It is all a free gift for our benefit.

“This one, true God, of his own goodness and ‘almighty power,’ not for increasing his own beatitude, nor for attaining his perfection, but in order to manifest this perfection through the benefits which he bestows on creatures, with absolute freedom of counsel ‘and from the beginning of time, made out of nothing both orders of creatures, the spiritual and corporeal.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 293)

We believe that “God is love” (John, 4:16), and that love “does not seek its own interests.” (1 Corinthians, 13:5). The glory of God is the manifestation of God’s nature as love, or absolute self-gift. And, because of this, there is no contradiction between God’s glory and the perfect happiness of human persons. God, who is love, wills only the joy of those whom he loves.

“The ultimate purpose of creation is that God ‘who is the creator of all things may at last become ‘all in all,’ thus simultaneously assuring his own glory and our beatitude.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 294)

According to the Church, our beatitude, (i.e. perfect fulfillment) is not a competitor with God’s glory, nor is it irrelevant to the reason why we were made. Rather, our happiness co-defines the ultimate purpose of creation. We were created for joy, and this joy is not merely a vague, collective well-being in which the individual is unimportant. As Saint Augustine says, “God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.” As far as God is concerned, it’s all about you.


“Chastity,” as often discussed in the language of modern culture, is frequently mistaken to be a kind of self-withholding to avoid sexually immoral behaviors. However, in Catholic teaching, chastity is really the total opposite of self-withholding. It is, instead, an unconditional offering of oneself for the good of another in love. Depending on one’s state in life (married, single, or consecrated religious), this “self-donation” takes very different forms. In every case, regardless of its form, chastity requires an uncompromising self-gift that does not so much as even entertain options of self-withholding.

God, too, is chaste in the sense that his self-offering is total. In God, there is no consideration of anything that would in any way diminish the fullness of his radical self-gift to created persons.

In perfect fidelity, God gives of himself in an unconditional and absolute way without any degree of compromise. Exemplifying chaste self-offering, God does not entertain any options of diminishing his love, but is entirely committed to offer himself for us, for better or worse. He is ours no matter what.

Consequently, God’s self-gift is not dependent on what we do with it. God is always the same regardless of whether we return his love or abuse it. “If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself” (2 Timothy, 2:13). God, in perfect chastity, offers himself to us regardless of whether or not we choose to receive and return his love, and utterly disregards the knowledge of our future infidelities in deciding whether or not he will offer himself fully. Though God is omniscient, he gives of himself without stint as if he did not know that we would abuse his gift.


There are many implications that follow immediately from the idea that God perfectly offers himself, loving each of us as if each were the only one. We will now look at only a few of these implications. Though these points can be deduced through a process of reasoning from the perfection of God’s self-offering, we will just state them as assumptions for now. Quotations are included to demonstrate that these ideas are already firmly established in Catholic orthodoxy:

In self-gift, God gives away real power and importance in shaping the world to created persons.

“God has not willed to reserve to himself all exercise of power. He entrusts to every creature the functions it is capable of performing, according to the capacities of its own nature.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1884)

“God is the sovereign master of his plan. But to carry it out he also makes use of his creatures’ cooperation. This use is not a sign of weakness, but rather a token of almighty God’s greatness and goodness.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 386)

Because of the absoluteness of God’s self-gift, every power and role of importance that can possibly be given away is given away.

“We can never give too great prominence to the Scholastic principle that God never does through Himself what may be achieved through created causality… For any result which does not require actually infinite power, God will sooner create a new spiritual being capable of producing that result than produce it Himself.” (Abbot Anscar Vonier, The Human Soul)

“It is because [God] has so incomprehensible a love for us that he wills to do nothing without us. The Creator of the universe awaits the prayer of a poor little soul to save other souls redeemed like it at the price of all his blood.” (St. Therese of Lisieux, Lettres de Therese)

The gifts of power were ordained by God to have the effect of making each person integral to the happiness of every other. As a consequence, the actions of one affect all.

“For God grants his creatures not only their existence, but also the dignity of acting on their own, of being causes and principles for each other, and thus cooperating in the accomplishment of his plan.(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 306)

“In this solidarity… the least of our acts done in charity redounds to the profit of all.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 952)

The delegation of all power that can possibly be given away and the individual importance bestowed upon each person in contributing to the good of all were given by God for the sake of establishing a perfect communion between created persons. There were to be no unimportant persons or actions, and each action of every person would continually serve the good of every other. Anything less than such a perfect unity necessarily involves some persons being unimportant in some degree, and such a situation is inconsistent with the love of God who desires to bestow the greatest gift that omnipotence can give.


The teaching of the Catholic Church is that God is truly omnipotent, or all-powerful, but God’s use of power can never be contrary to the demands of perfect love.

“The omnipotence of God is not an arbitrary power, because God is Good… he cannot act against good, he cannot act against truth, love or freedom, because he himself is good, love, and true freedom; and therefore nothing he does can ever be in contrast with truth, love and freedom.”  – (Pope Benedict XVI)

“God’s power is in no way arbitrary: ‘In God, power, essence, will, intellect, wisdom, and justice are all identical. Nothing therefore can be in God’s power which could not be in his just will or wise intellect.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 271)

In divine chastity, God has truly given away all power that can be given away, and has kept for himself only those functions which cannot be delegated because they require infinite power. All finite power has been put into in the hands of creatures. Since this is a true giving, and not merely the appearance of gift, it follows that creatures now have a kind of power in the world that God does not have.

Throughout human history, the problem of evil has been argued: God has the power to prevent all evil; the knowledge of how to prevent it; and (being perfectly good) must have the desire to prevent it. Thus, if God existed, evil would not exist. This kind of reasoning does not consider that God is not morally free to do evil (that is to act in violation of love) in order to prevent the abuse of his gifts. God’s use of power can never be contrary to his love, and because he has given away all finite power in chaste self-donation, he is no longer directly able to control the events in the world when his gifts are abused –even though this abuse and the suffering caused by it is an infinite offense to him. Because of the chastity of God, the “gifts and call of God are irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). Though he is omnipotent, the perfect outpouring of power and individual importance to created persons in divine chastity causes it to appear as if God is powerless or unresponsive in opposing evil. Consequently, many mistakenly conclude that God is somehow not fully opposed to evil – permitting it as a means to an end.


Considering the omniscience (or perfect knowledge) of God, the question arises as to why God would create us in the first place if he knew that we would abuse his gifts. This answer is also found in recognizing the chastity of God: In full omniscience, knowing the abuse of his gifts that would come, there are only two options: God either gives the same gift, or he gives something less in anticipation of the abuse. But, because God is faithful even if we are unfaithful, the knowledge of our coming infidelity is a kind of “inadmissible evidence.” In deciding the magnitude of his self-gift to created persons, perfect chastity does not entertain options of self-withholding, and unconditional love is the only principle of action. Therefore, God creates persons with irrevocable gifts of power and universal importance in full generosity, without any consideration of giving something less in anticipation of the abuse of his gift.

But why would God not just create different people, ones he knew would not sin? It seems that he could still give himself fully to them. Reiterating the same principle of divine chastity: In God, the only principle of action is unconditional love, and this is non-negotiable. The threat of evil is not allowed to have any influence at all in diminishing love. Consequently, God considers only the essential goodness with which a person is to be created, and loves each as if each were the only one. Thus he refuses to “abort” or “contracept” any, and bestows the same power and importance on the greatest sinners that he would have given had he no knowledge that they would turn against him. He simply does not negotiate with evil, and is always himself regardless of its threat. In our human experience, we so often easily compromise love in response to the threat of evil that this kind of purity is difficult to understand. Even though God is omniscient, divine chastity causes it to appear as if God is entirely ignorant of the threat of evil, for in every situation he gives everything that he would have given had evil never been a consideration. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew, 5:43-45)

In light of the concept of divine chastity, we can see how God can be omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent, infinitely offended by the evils in the world, and yet evil can still exist despite God’s total opposition to it. 

Contrary to the popular notion that God permits evil, where the term “permits” is understood as approving of an evil in some degree as a means to a good end, it is God’s perfect disapproval and non-cooperation with evil that enables evil to have power and continued existence. Refusing to do evil (i.e. diminish his love) in order to prevent evil, God pours himself out in love without compromise with evil, and it is this very perfection of the self-gift of God and his refusal to compromise that makes it possible for his gifts to be abused such that evil has any real power.

[CONCLUDING NOTE: Though our reasoning so far has focused on the mystery of God’s apparent powerlessness, it must not be mistaken as the complete picture. The question of how God definitively intervenes in history to combat evil is to be directly treated in the “Redemption Series.” There we investigate how and why God conquers all evil through the death and resurrection of Christ. “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.”(1 Corinthians 1:24-25). We will discuss how God’s act of destroying the power of evil through the Redemption is accomplished through the same chaste act of self-donation that made it possible for evil to have real power in the first place. Thus the victory over evil is accomplished through love alone, and though the world is full of events contrary to the will of God, it can truly be said that God remains sovereign in all things.


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