When God created all things in the beginning, He did so for a purpose worthy of Himself: His own glory. It may surprise readers to learn that this is actually a dogma of the faith and that anyone who denies it is under the formal anathema of an Ecumenical Council: “If anyone … denies that the world was created for the glory of God: let him be anathema.” (Vatican I, Session 3, Canon 5, “On God the creator of all things.” This is one of the canons appended to the end of Vatican I’s Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith.)
God is glorified by all creation, including stars and planets, rocks and rivers, trees and flowers, and all manner of brute beasts. Each of these glorifies God by acting in accordance with the nature it received from Him. All the aforementioned creatures give God glory by necessity, there being no free will involved.
There are vestiges of God all throughout these lower orders of creation, “footprints” of the Creator which reveal Him to the knowing mind at the same time they effect His glory. This would explain why certain Psalms and the Canticle of the Three Children from the Book of Daniel summon various inanimate and brute creatures to join with us in the praise of God. The Church has incorporated these cosmological prayers into her liturgy.
In creating man, God endowed this higher creature with His own image and likeness. By grace, He also gave men power to be made children of God (cf. John 1:12). This creature has understanding and free will. This creature can know God, and can freely love and serve Him, thereby rendering Him glory in a way superior to what lower creation can do.
In material creation, we humans are unique in having such potencies; we share them only with those pure spirits we call angels.
According to his nature as a knowing and free person, man can, relying on “the First Cause,” actually be a cause of God’s glory. This is the highest manifestation of what we call “secondary causality.”
Which brings me to the subject of my last Ad Rem, in which I wrote about the concept of life and the philosophical distinctions of primary and secondary causality, applying these concepts to certain points of doctrine that separate Catholics and Protestants. I concluded that piece with a promise that I would illustrate the concept of secondary causality with further Biblical examples to refute certain key doctrines of the Protestant Reformers.
Let us recall that the original Protestant “Reformers” — and I am speaking principally of Luther and Calvin — denied the freedom of the human will. Luther referred to the will as “enslaved,” famously making an odious comparison between our will and a donkey. If God rides the donkey, the will is compelled to be good; if the devil, evil.
But so much of Holy Scripture’s plain sense refutes this (not to mention the constant tradition of the Church through the ages!). While all secondary causes, including our free wills, are radically and absolutely dependent on the First Cause, this does not render God the “Only Cause” neither does it obliterate the reality of secondary causality. (If the concepts I am using here are not familiar, you might want to read Life, Causality, and the Catholic-Protestant Divide before proceeding.)
Let us begin our brief journey through the New Testament with Saint John the Baptist. Saint Luke relates to us the words of the Angel Gabriel to Saint Zachary, who learns that his son would “convert many of the children of Israel to the Lord their God … [and] turn the hearts of the fathers unto the children, and the incredulous to the wisdom of the just, to prepare unto the Lord a perfect people” (Luke 1:16-17).
Obviously, God Himself converts people, changes hearts, and prepares people for perfection — indeed, prepares them for the coming of Jesus, which was the vocation of the Baptist. But if these words of the Gospel have any cogent meaning (and they do!) then God not only works directly on men’s intellects and wills by His grace, but also does so indirectly through other men, men like Saint John the Baptist. There are multiple layers of secondary causality operating here.
The parables of Our Lord provide numerous examples to illustrate secondary causality and refute the heresies that deny it. A good one to begin with is the very familiar Parable of the Sower, the first of Our Lord’s parables, found in all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matt. 13:3 ff., Mark 4:3 ff, Luke 8:5 ff.). Jesus Himself explained it to the Apostles in private after preaching it to the multitudes:
Hear you therefore the parable of the sower. When any one heareth the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not, there cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart: this is he that received the seed by the way side. And he that received the seed upon stony ground, is he that heareth the word, and immediately receiveth it with joy. Yet hath he not root in himself, but is only for a time: and when there ariseth tribulation and persecution because of the word, he is presently scandalized. And he that received the seed among thorns, is he that heareth the word, and the care of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choketh up the word, and he becometh fruitless. But he that received the seed upon good ground, is he that heareth the word, and understandeth, and beareth fruit, and yieldeth the one an hundredfold, and another sixty, and another thirty. (Matt. 13:18-23)
The seed that was sown was universally the same: it was “the word of the kingdom.” What varied was the condition of the ground upon which it fell: (1) the wayside, (2) stony ground, (3) thorny ground, and (4) good ground. The good ground itself was not all of the same quality, inasmuch as the yield of fruit varied from one part of the ground to another. Saint Luke speaks of the men represented by the good ground as having a “good and perfect heart”; these men, “hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience” (Luke 8:15).
Is it not plain from this that secondary causality is operative here? Men cooperating with grace, or failing to do so, is what distinguishes the different kind of ground, while the seed itself (the free gift of faith) is the same in each case, even if it be accompanied by different degrees of actual grace to accept it. There is also variety in the virtue of the “good ground,” which refutes Calvin’s idea that there is a radical equality among the saints, while it affirms the existence of different degrees of merit among the just.
Next, we will look at the Parable of the Pounds. “And calling his ten servants, he gave them ten pounds, and said to them: Trade till I come” (Luke 19:13). Each of these servants received the same amount of money. Each was directed to use it to turn a profit. We learn only of three of the servants. One of them doubled the amount he was given and was praised for his good work. A second gained a profit of fifty percent over the original he was given and was also praised. The third simply returned the original ten pounds to his master with a rather lame excuse. Far from being praised, this servant is reprimanded severely and his ten pounds are given to the first servant, the one who doubled the initial investment.
In this parable, the First Cause gives something indispensable for the task at hand: “investment capital.” He orders his servants to enter into the chain of causality and do something with the money to give it increase. Rewards and punishments are meted out accordingly. Secondary causality at work.
Similar to the Parable of the Pounds is the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew 25 — which, you may recall, is all about judgment. While the details differ somewhat — e.g., this time each servant is given different amounts — they resemble one another inasmuch as two servants are praised and rewarded, while a third is punished. His punishment is worth recounting: “And the unprofitable servant cast ye out into the exterior darkness. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This man’s crime was returning to his master the one talent he was given, and not making more money from it, as his fellow-servants had done. Again, the servants are being commanded to cooperate with the causality of their Master so that they will be “profitable.” In the supernatural life, this is exactly what God wants.
In the Parable of the Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-13), we learn lessons on persevering prayer. (This is one of at least two parables that impart this lesson.) Jesus clearly explains the point of the parable this way: “And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given you: seek, and you shall find: knock, and it shall be opened to you. For every one that asketh, receiveth; and he that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocketh, it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). The Savior Himself, who perfectly understands and teaches about the economy of human salvation, is clearly attaching a causal, salvific role to human acts. One might object that we need the promptings of actual grace to ask, seek, and knock. I wholeheartedly agree with this; it is no objection to the main argument, which is that our willing performance of these acts — under the influence of grace — has a causal role in our salvation.
In the very brief Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9), we are given a clear proof that God wants us to bear fruit or be cut down. God plants the “tree” of our spiritual life; His servants “dig it about and dung it,” but it must bear fruit or be punished.
In the Parable of the Invited Guests (Luke 14:7-14), we find these two gems:
- “Because every one that exalteth himself, shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted” (v. 11).
- “But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind; and thou shalt be blessed, because they have not wherewith to make thee recompense: for recompense shall be made thee at the resurrection of the just” (vs. 13-14).
Taking it as a given that God’s grace aids us in doing the good things Our Lord recommends here, we still learn from this parable that there is a cause-and-effect sequence that is dependent upon our human activity, i.e., our cooperation with grace. The reflexive pronoun lends a certain emphasis to the causal role of the humble man in his own exaltation: “he that humbleth himself, shall be exalted.”
Without connecting the dots for the reader, I will recommend four other parables for your consideration. Play a little game of holy erudition and read these yourself to see how secondary causality clearly enters into the economy of salvation as Jesus teaches it to us in these beautiful stories: The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the Persistent Widow (Luke 18:1-8), and the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14).
Let me conclude by citing some passages from the Apostle to the Gentiles. Their application to this argument should be obvious:
- “For which cause I admonish thee, that thou stir up the grace of God which is in thee, by the imposition of my hands.” (2 Tim. 1:6)
- “Let a man so account of us as of the ministers of Christ, and the dispensers of the mysteries of God.” (1 Cor. 4:1)
- “I have planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase.” (1 Cor. 3:6)
- “I became all things to all men, that I might save all.” (1 Cor. 9:22)
Let us commit ourselves to giving glory to God by knowing, loving, and serving Him — and seeking Him in all things. These grace-aided activities on our part allow us voluntarily to cooperate with the First Cause as secondary causes of God’s glory and of our own salvation. We can even achieve those ends by working to save others (see Saint Paul’s last quote!). In doing all this, we enter into God’s very purpose in creating the world.