The Theodicy of Divine Chastity, Part II

August 4, 2014 by  
Filed under Catholic Apologetics, Featured


Feast of the Prodigal Son — Vasily Polenov

In The Theodicy of Divine Chastity, Part I, we began to describe how God, who is infinite love, gives of himself in a simple, innocent, and unconditionally faithful way regardless of whether or not we abuse or ignore his love.

This perfection of self-offering is what we named the “chastity” of God. We chose this term in recognition that chastity, understood truly, is not self-restraint but radical self-offering. It is a self-offering so complete that it appears to be self-restraint, and is also something of a martyrdom given the reality of our exile.

In that article we offered a partial solution to the problem of evil: God is maximally generous, and therefore gives us created persons gifts of power and individual importance regardless of whether we abuse those gifts by refusing to do as we ought. The knowledge of our forthcoming dereliction of his endowment to us is, for God, a kind of “inadmissible evidence” in deciding whether or not to give without stint.

In this second part of the series, we look at whether God could have done better by not creating us at all or could have, in his omnipotence, created us persons such that we could not suffer. After all, God is omnipotent, and our thesis is that he is perfectly against every instance of evil.



Middle management often doesn’t understand the decisions of CEOs.  Advice to middle-management: It’s not just what you know, it’s who you know:

“Oh Eternal Father, how then did you create this creature? I am greatly overwhelmed by this. In fact, as you show me, I see that you did this for no other reason than that in your light you were forced to give us being by the fire of your charity in spite of all the iniquity we were to commit against you, Oh Eternal Father! It was fire, therefore, that forced you to do so. Oh Ineffable Love, even if in your light you saw all the iniquities your creature was to commit against your infinite goodness, you pretended almost not to see but fixed your eyes on the beauty of your creature whom you, intoxicated with love, loved and through love you drew her to yourself and formed her in your own image and likeness. You, eternal truth, communicated your truth to me, namely, that it was love that forced you to create her…” (St. Catherine of Sienna)

God, though omnipotent, can be put to a genuine dilemma: Knowing from all eternity exactly what we are going to do wrong, God, as creator and sustainer of all, has a choice to make: He can either give the same unaltered/undiminished gift of power to us (as if he were truly ignorant of our bad actions and their consequences) or he can give a lesser gift (or even none at all) in anticipation of our wrongdoing. If he creates at all, there’s no middle option. Necessarily, either he gives all or something less than all. But let’s look at one implication: If God holds back his generosity in view of the evils we will eventually perpetrate, then self-withholding in anticipation of evil (rather than uncompromisingly chaste self-donation) becomes the guiding principle in the order of creation. Instead of unconditional love and generosity being the principle of divine action, reluctance to love in response to the threat of evil is elevated to the ultimate principle of being.

If God alters maximal love due to the threat of evil, that puts evil completely in charge. Supplanting the unconditional love of God, the power of evil (through anticipatory fear) takes the helm of the universe. Free gift has been replaced with turncoat-antics in defense against a threat, and innocence is thereby eternally extinguished from reality.

God chooses to do something different.



Surely God didn’t have to create the universe, so why not just avoid the dilemma by choosing to not creating anything at all?

God didn’t have to create, but if God were to choose abstinence, that decision would be based on what? For the reasons just stated, we know that the decision could definitely not be an attenuation of self-gift due to the threat of evil. God is infinite love, and infinite love doesn’t entertain evil.  So we’re right back at the beginning.

The solution to the problem is that unconditional love remains itself regardless of the threat of evil: God gives the same undiminished gift he would have given had evil never been known as a threat at all. God is love and love remains itself (i.e. pure gift without gift-attenuating defense) regardless of what evil threatens or does.

Consequently, because unconditional love is at the origin of all things, and because unconditional love absolutely refuses to give evil any slack whatsoever, it then comes about that evil happens even though God opposes it perfectly. God’s perfect opposition entails that he cannot do evil (i.e. diminish his love) in order to prevent the evil he opposes. For God, evil against evil is not an option. Though costly, love against evil is the way it’s done.

And because of the pain that follows, we are left with the illusory impression that either God does not exist, or that God has actually approved of the existence of evil at some fundamental level – maybe to make a greater good come out of it.


God does not take our misuse of his offering into account when giving his gifts – his generosity is unconditional. All the same, why was it so easy to have everything fall apart? Wouldn’t the gift of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibelevolent God be a little more foolproof – maximally foolproof even?

Some people have taught that God created an imperfect world admitting of human suffering and death in order that certain moral lessons be inculcated and that stoic virtues be acquired. Catholics know that this is not the case and that anyone teaching otherwise has summarily departed from the teaching of the faith:

“The Church’s Magisterium, as authentic interpreter of the affirmations of Scripture and Tradition, teaches that death entered the world on account of man’s sin. Even though man’s nature is mortal God had destined him not to die. Death was therefore contrary to the plans of God the Creator and entered the world as a consequence of sin. ‘Bodily death, from which man would have been immune had he not sinned’ is thus ‘the last enemy’ of man left to be conquered.” (CCC 1008)

The Church teaches that one wrong action brought about a cataclysm of such immense magnitude that this single act is the root cause of all human suffering and death:

“The harmony in which [the first human beings] found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject ‘to its bondage to decay’. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will ‘return to the ground’, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 400)

Some questions suggest themselves as worthy of attention:

By what oversight did those hapless newlyweds, Adam and Eve, make the mistake of listing “doomsday device” on the primordial gift-registry? And why in the world would God apparently even keep such a gadget in stock? How can it be that infinite wisdom, in what gives the unmistakable appearance of doing the most heedless and slaphappy thing ever done by anyone ever, places the power to make everybody die into the hands of those he knows for sure will unleash it?

The scenario rings prima facie absurd on so many levels that nobody really talks about it. It seems to contradict everything we know from science, and it also seems to make God into the apotheosis of culpable negligence. Apologists may find themselves tempted to resort to something tantamount to a pick-pocket distraction gambit whenever it comes up.

Is it any wonder we rarely hear anything about original sin from the pulpit much less in evangelization? But hey, for those who don’t believe, no explanation is possible, right?



Love never fails, so we’re going to stick to our story. As was stated in The Theodicy of Divine Chastity, Part I:

“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.” (New Apologetics, The Theodicy of Divine Chastity, Part I)

If a “perfectly loving Father” who just happens to give his even possibly wayward children a doomsday device that they cannot quite grasp the implications of – just to be able to say he gave his love without diminishment – one may be left wondering what “divine chastity” really accomplishes as even a partial explanation. It gets worse when one considers that God actually KNOWS that we will use the “gift” to destroy ourselves.

Maybe we can cure this headache by simply remaining loyal to what we know. 

Let’s look for a moment at the most well-known parable in human history, The Parable of the Prodigal Son. We’ll be approaching it from an unusual angle, so even if one is familiar with the story, it won’t hurt to read the whole thing again. [Luke 15: 11-32]

That part about how the younger son asks for his inheritance while Dad is still alive is pretty galling. And then he spends it all on prostitutes and whatnot. Then, out of mere rational self-interest ginned-up at having run into hardship, the son returns home in self-imposed shame, but is nonetheless greeted by his father with genuine honor.

The knowledge of his son’s sin in no way alters the father’s love. Instead he refuses to ratify the son’s perception of the harm done, and initiates every possible protocol to restore the boy superabundantly. This restoration even includes throwing the ultimate party – as if to say iThe father’s love is so absolute that it doesn’t even entertain the possibility of the diminishment of love in response to his son’s sin. It sounds just like divine chastity and is a consolation for those of us broken by sin. Then the story goes on to describe the reaction of a different son:

“Now the older son had been out in the field and, on his way back, as he neared the house, he heard the sound of music and dancing. He called one of the servants and asked what this might mean. The servant said to him, ‘Your brother has returned and your father has slaughtered the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’ He became angry, and when he refused to enter the house, his father came out and pleaded with him. He said to his father in reply, ‘Look, all these years I served you and not once did I disobey your orders; yet you never gave me even a young goat to feast on with my friends. But when your son returns who swallowed up your property with prostitutes, for him you slaughter the fattened calf.’ He said to him, ‘My son, you are here with me always; everything I have is yours. But now we must celebrate and rejoice, because your brother was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.’” (Luke 15: 25-32)

Without involving an inheritance squandered or any misuse of gifts beyond the power inherent in being a person, the following horrible power manifests in high relief: That decision of the older son, by refusing to join the party in his father’s house, necessarily assaults the unity and joy of the whole family.

In setting himself in opposition to the love of the father and his younger brother, he makes impossible the joy that would have been there otherwise. The potential misuse of any “inheritance” of those things extrinsic to what is essential to the dignity of the individual person (and their place in the community) is not a factor here.

We see here that there is a power of the individual person, endowed by the very fact of being part of a family, to harm the entire family by choosing something contrary to love.

The older son’s power to bring interpersonal havoc cannot legitimately be altered by the father regardless of any external “gifts” the father gives or withholds, nor can the father take away the older son’s real power and maximal, family-wide causal impact.

Necessarily, the son is armed with that dreadful potential to make the whole family suffer by a singular choice. It is impossible for the father to make it otherwise for the simple reason that the elder brother is a person who is loved and this causes an irrevocably severe power to be wielded by this beloved son regardless of whether or not he is equipped with any other implements of death and destruction. Because he is loved, the elder brother’s weaponless attack afflicts the whole family, and succeeds no matter what the father tries to do in response.

What could have been done to preserve the unity of the family that the father has not already done? Pre-emptive abortion? Would the family not be poisoned in an even greater way by such an egregious departure from justice?

In our next article in this series we will examine how all natural evil is explained by moral evils.


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