The Father William Most Collection
[Published electronically for use in classes taught by Fr. Most and for private theological study.]
God guides everything by His all powerful Providence. To begin to understand that which is so profound as to cause St. Paul to exclaim (Rom 11. 33): "O the depths of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God. How incomprehensible are His judgements, and untraceable His ways!" We start by distinguishing two areas: external economy and internal economy.
Economy means an area of divine management (Greek nemein, "to arrange").
The internal economy takes in all the things that lead to eternal salvation. In that area, the Father has accepted the infinite price of redemption: in return, He has bound Himself to offer forgiveness and grace without limit, infinitely. (cf. files "Predestination: Reasons for Centuries-Old Impasse", "St. Thomas on Actual Grace", "Predestination" and "He Wants Intensely to Make Us Happy".)
The external economy covers all else: what position a man will have in the outward order: will he be a lawyer, doctor, shoemaker or priest or bishop or even Pope? And also included is whether he will or will not reach full membership in the Church, the People of God. (We speak of full, for there is a lesser kind of membership, of which we will speak later on.
In the external economy we read (Prov. 21. 1): "The heart of the king is in the hands of the Lord: like a stream, wherever He wills, He directs it." This does not mean there is no free will. It does mean that by ordinary mans or even by transcendent power (over and beyond all our classifications) He can bring things about.
In the internal economy, He has made a commitment to free will, for that economy as we said leads to heaven or not to heaven. He will, as it were, trim on this only by way of exception, by extraordinary graces. He cannot, within good order, do it routinely: then the extraordinary would become ordinary. And someone could ask: Why did you set up these laws if you meant to go beyond them regularly?
But in the external economy He can operate in two ways:
1) Without violating freedom, and without resorting to any extraordinary means He can guide the hearts of rulers. Not so often does a human make a fully free decision, i.e., one in which he first sees e.g., 3 alternatives, then makes a list of the good and bad points of each, then looks over the picture and chooses the best. No, so much of the time, so many people simply follow their feelings, the grooves as it were.
God can within this framework, inject into a person a desire for something without violating the man's freedom. He does that regularly, e.g., by giving us an appetite for food, needed to keep us alive, and for sex, needed to keep the race going. He can also inject into a person a desire for religious life, or priesthood or for being an MD. The person then will most likely follow that groove, yet will do it freely. To have world, so many different callings are needed. Providence can arrange it in this way. (Although a desire for religious life or priesthood can be blocked out by materialism in a person who has grown up thinking it does him no good to give up any creature or pleasure for a religious motive).
2) He can operate by transcendence, that is, by so moving the person that he freely but infallibly does what God wills. In the internal economy this would be extraordinary (as a reduction of free will, for then God would make the first decision, not the person who ordinarily does: cf. 2 Cor 6. 1). Not so in the external economy.
God does punish in both economies. But the word punishment has more than one sense. It can mean positively inflicting pain. Or it can mean merely omitting something, e.g., Omitting taking a boy to a ballgame.
After David had committed adultery and then covered it up by what amounted to murder, the prophet Nathan came to him (2 Sm 7. 10): Thus say the Lord: Because of this sin, the sword will never depart from your house." Let us look carefully: wars, rebellions, and fights are common, especially in royal houses. a new king sometimes would kill off other relatives who might challenge his claim to the throne. God does not cause them, we do. He could, by extraordinary means, prevent them. At times He does. But not routinely. So God in effect told David: I would have by special providence given peace to your house. But now I am not going to give that extraordinary thing. I will let things take their usual course.
God could have prevented such things, have given extraordinary peace to that house. But that would be extraordinary. Now because of sin, He will let things go on the ordinary course, and not use as it were miraculous means to prevent it.
God also told Nathan that the child David conceived by adultery would die. That was not a punishment to the child. So many children die in infancy. God was going to permit it. The child, we may be confident, was given eternal salvation, compared to which being a king is nothing.
Further, we notice too the Hebrew way of speaking. They regularly say God positively does things that He really only permits. e.g., Amos 3;6: "Is there an evil in the city that the Lord has not done?" Or 1 Sam 4, after a defeat by the Philistines the Jews said(if we read the Hebrew, not the NAB ): Why did the Lord strike us today before the face of the Philistines?" And in the plagues leading up to the Exodus, more than once Pharaoh was close to letting them go, but became hard. Exodus sometimes says he hardened himself; more often, God hardened Him.
In Exodus 20. 5-6 He told Moses that He would punish the sins of Fathers in their children for four generations. Yet in Ezekiel 18. 2-4 He also said:The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father. How can this be?
Both texts are true. Children born to evil parents have two effects: 1) they grow up with evil persons, and naturally, children tend to imitate the patterns they see at home in their parents. 2) there is such a thing as somatic resonance, that is, the bodily condition that runs parallel to spiritual conditions. Studies have shown special patterns in trace elements - part of somatic resonance - in violent criminals, compared to normal persons. These things do not force them to do wrong, but they leave them more prone to do so. And so often people follow the grooves.
So, the children of evil parents are still free, but yet have the two influences we described, in a bad direction, without violating their freedom.
Further, we often meet the words "revenge" or "vengeance", as if God does intend to strike, so it may be evil to the recipient. But the Hebrew word there is naqam, which means action by the top authority in the community to set things right when they are out of line. That will be pleasant or unpleasant to the recipient, depending on what condition he is in.
What God really does is to rebalance the objective order. A Rabbi, Simeon ben Eleazar, writing about 170 AD, and claiming to be quoting Rabbi Meir from earlier in the same century (Tosefta, Kiddushin 1. 14:"He [meaning: anyone] has committed a transgression. Woe to him!. He has tipped the scales to the side of debt for himself and for the world." A sinner as it were takes from one pan of the two pan scales what he has no right to have. The scales is out of balance. It is the Holiness of God that wants that put right. God then may set it right by causing or permitting evils to befall that person. God wills that the person himself, if he has stolen a pleasure illegitimately, give up some other pleasure of similar value, to begin to right the scales.
But he can only begin: the imbalance from even one mortal sin is infinite; Infinite Person is offended. So if the Father wanted full rebalance - He was not obliged - the only way was to send a Divine Person to become man. Such an incarnate God could generate an infinite value by even the least thing He would do, without dying. Merely becoming incarnate would be of infinite merit, and would be infinite satisfaction (an infinite comedown for Divine Person). He could then have ascended at once, without any suffering or death.
Yet in His love of good order and His love of us, the Father willed much more: He went beyond an incarnation in a palace to the stable and the cross. When Jesus prayed: If it be possible, let this chalice pass - it could have been done, and even so we would have had an infinite redemption. As we said, any act of a Divine Person incarnate is of infinite worth and merit.