Moral Good, the Beatific Vision, and God’s Kingdom

Writings by Germain Grisez and Peter Ryan, S.J.

by Peter J. Weigel (Volume editor)
©2015 Monographs XXII, 165 Pages


For close to half a century, the work of Germain Grisez has been highly influential, and his writings continue to receive considerable attention from philosophers and theologians of diverse viewpoints. His co-author for this work is the professor and noted moral theologian Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J., currently the executive director of the Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). These two eminent scholars explore fundamental questions about Christian eschatology, moral theory, the purpose of human life, and the promise of human fulfilment. The authors examine Christian teaching on the final destiny of persons, investigating the meaning of God’s kingdom, the hope of the beatific vision, and the centrality of moral goodness and divine grace in one’s final end. This work is an ideal source for students, scholars, ministers and lay persons interested in basic questions of Christian theology, the philosophy of religion, ethical theory, and Catholic doctrine.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the authors
  • About the editor
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • Man, the Natural End of
  • Must the Acting Person Have a Single Ultimate End?
  • How Can the Beatific Vision Both Fulfill Human Nature and Be Utterly Gratuitous?
  • Natural Law, God, Religion, and Human Fulfillment
  • The True Ultimate End of Human Beings: The Kingdom, Not God Alone
  • Sketch of a Projected Book About the Kingdom of God
  • Conclusion
  • Man, the Natural End of
  • Historical Introduction
  • Contemporary Catholic Positions
  • Toward a Solution
  • Must the Acting Person Have a Single Ultimate End?
  • 1. Aquinas’s Position
  • 2. One Ultimate End for the Good Acts of Those in Grace?
  • 3. One Ultimate End for the Diverse Acts of Mortal Sinners?
  • 4. One Ultimate End for the Venial Sins and Good Acts of Those in Grace?
  • Conclusion
  • Résumé
  • How Can the Beatific Vision Both Fulfill Human Nature and Be Utterly Gratuitous?
  • 1. Aquinas
  • 2. The Development of the Pure-Nature Theory
  • 3. Garrigou-Lagrange’s Exposition of the Pure-Nature Theory
  • 4. De Lubac’s Challenge to the Pure-Nature Theory
  • 5. Critique of the Opposed Views
  • 6. Rahner’s Supernatural Existential
  • 7. A Proposed Solution
  • Résumé
  • Natural Law, God, Religion, and Human Fulfillment
  • I: The Basic Precepts of Natural Law
  • II: God and Religion
  • III: Religion and the Moral Life
  • IV: The Biblical Worldview & Ultimate Human Fulfillment
  • The True Ultimate End of Human Beings: the Kingdom, Not God Alone
  • Thomas’s Case
  • Discussion of an Earlier Paper
  • Arguments that Tuegabv is Unsound
  • My View of the Ultimate End
  • Sketch of a Projected Book About the Kingdom of God
  • God’s Kingdom in Scripture and in the Theological Tradition
  • The Composition of the Definitive Kingdom
  • The Origin and Fulfillment of the Desire to See God
  • Natural Desire and Properly Human Fulfillment
  • What Properly Human Fulfillment in the Kingdom Includes
  • Hell—Empty or Populated?
  • Hell—Suffering without Evil?
  • Seeking the Kingdom and Benefiting God
  • Seeking the Kingdom as Jesus Did by Doing the Father’s Will
  • Personal Vocation: Serving Others and Becoming All That One Can Be
  • The Elimination of Evils and the Recovery of Goods
  • A Theology of the Kingdom for the New Evangelization?
  • Series index

← vi | vii → Acknowledgments

The editor wishes to extend his appreciation to Germain Grisez and Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J., for contributing their work to this distinctive collaborative volume and for their helpful suggestions along the way. They were very supportive of providing an anthology that would collect in one volume a range of their works on this important topic. Joseph Prud’homme, the editor of the Washington College Studies in Religion, Politics and Culture series moved the project forward over occasional hurdles and oversaw production details. Thanks to Teresa Abney for doing the copyediting. Jackie Pavlovic and the staff at Peter Lang guided the work into final form. Thank you to everyone involved.

Chapter One first appeared in the New Catholic Encyclopedia, 2nd Edition, ed. Janet Halfmann (Farmington, MI: Gale, 2002), 132–138. Chapter Two first appeared in Gregorianum 82, 2 (2001), 325–356, and Chapter Three in Gregorianum 83, 4 (2002), 717–754. Chapter Four first appeared in Volume 46 (2001) of the American Journal of Jurisprudence. Chapter Five first appeared in Theological Studies 69 (2008), 38–61. We very much appreciate the permission we received to reprint these essays in this single, convenient volume, featuring a previously unpublished concluding chapter where the authors represent some of their more recent work.← vii | viii →

← viii | ix → Introduction

For close to half a century, the work of Germain Grisez, although often controversial, has been highly influential in Catholic circles, while his writings continue to receive considerable attention from philosophers and theologians of diverse viewpoints. Still engaged in research and writing, he is now emeritus Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland. He is perhaps best known for his work in ethical theory, which began in the early 1960s. One of his early publications in that field is the first item in the present volume. Another early article, often translated and widely commented upon, challenged widely held ideas about the first principle of practical reasoning by offering a detailed and fresh exegesis of St. Thomas Aquinas’ highly original articulation and explanation of that principle.1

Those articles and Grisez’s other early work in ethical theory, which often developed but sometimes challenged Aquinas’ views, initiated a school of thought involving a number of other scholars. Critics wanting to suggest that their views had no foundation in Aquinas or in the wider Catholic tradition, called it “the New Natural Law Theory.”2 Still, that label eventually was adopted even by some members of the school.3

Besides ethical theory and fundamental moral theology, Grisez’s work over the years spans a remarkable array of topics in both philosophy and theology, including the existence of God, the reality of free choice, body-self dualism, the bodily presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the authority of Catholic teachings, personal vocation, and concrete legal, ethical, and moral-theological questions regarding marriage, sex, health care, abortion, euthanasia, and nuclear deterrence. His treatments of these concrete topics have provoked much debate over the years ← ix | x → and influenced generations of scholars. Grisez has a talent for formulating objections and counter-positions to long-accepted views, often prompting renewed and detailed attention to arguments and interpretations surrounding these views. (See, for instance, discussion below on the background to Natural Law, God, Religion, and Human Fulfillment.)

Grisez’s work has helped give rise to and greatly benefited from an exceptional group of collaborators. Among them are Joseph Boyle, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto; John Finnis, Emeritus Professor of Law at University College, Oxford, and Professor of Jurisprudence at the University of Notre Dame; Russell Shaw, who served for many years as Secretary for Public Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and later as Director of Information for the Knights of Columbus; Patrick Lee, Professor of Bioethics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville; Robert P. George, Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University; and William E. May, who was for many years Professor of Moral Theology at The Catholic University of America and later at the Washington, D.C., campus of The Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family.

Grisez’s most recent and currently closest collaborator is the Rev. Peter F. Ryan, a member of the Maryland Province of the Society of Jesus. Ryan holds a doctorate in Moral Theology from the Gregorian University in Rome. He was a seminary professor at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg from 2001 to 2011, and then was both a Professor of Moral Theology and the Director of Spiritual Formation at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri until 2013. In May of 2013, Ryan was named Executive Director of the Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).

During the past six years, Grisez and Ryan have been working on a book meant to explain what the New Testament teaches about the afterlife—about God’s kingdom and hell—and about the relevance of that teaching for shaping one’s life. The present volume gathers the articles in which their thinking on those matters has developed. The co-authored final piece, a new piece written for this volume, is a sketch of the book on which they have been working.

The Peter Lang Series in Religion, Politics, and Culture publishes authors who argue from a variety of religious perspectives and traditions, to contribute to contemporary dialogue ← x | xi → on religious matters. The views of the authors are not intended to represent those of the series, or its editor for this volume.4 What follows is a summary of each of the articles, with an indication of its place in their developing thought, along with a brief description of the sketch of their projected book.

Man, the Natural End of

In the mid-20th century, almost all Catholic theologians and philosophers agreed that the final purpose of human life is the beatific vision, a perfectly fulfilling union of the soul with God. There also was general agreement that the beatific vision transcends natural human capacities and can be obtained only by divine grace. Those positions raised the question: Is there an end attainable by the natural capacities of human beings in which one could seek ultimate fulfillment if God had not offered the supernatural end? Moreover, if there is a natural end, is it at least one of the first principles of any sound ethics, even a Christian one?

In 1962, the philosophy editor of the New Catholic Encyclopedia, then being prepared, therefore wanted an article, “Man, the Natural End of,” and enlisted Grisez to write the article, which Grisez researched and wrote in the fall of 1963 during a year-long sabbatical. It has three parts: a historical introduction to the problem, a summary of contemporary Catholic views, and some suggestions for the problem’s resolution.

In the historical introduction of this issue, Grisez deals briefly with Aristotle, St. Augustine, and NeoPlatonism, and then more fully with St. Thomas Aquinas. Grisez ends the history with a very brief summary of relevant views of several modern philosophers.

Grisez, in treating Aquinas, first points out that Thomas holds both that there are two ends for human life—perfect supernatural beatitude and imperfect natural beatitude—and that only the former is human life’s absolutely ultimate goal, which leaves nothing to be desired. Grisez explains how Aquinas, by introducing God’s supreme goodness, transformed Aristotle’s notion of the end. He then focuses on five unresolved issues that have arisen in the interpretation of Aquinas’ teachings, touching on the ultimate end. The third of those issues is: “What is the meaning of Thomas’ ← xi | xii → teaching that man ‘naturally’ desires perfect happiness in a knowledge of God that can be achieved only in supernatural beatitude?” (p.134). In treating Aquinas’ views, Grisez implies that they are incoherent.

Of the five Catholic views current in 1963 that Grisez summarizes in part two, one had earlier been widely held by Catholic theologians and philosophers: that the natural end of human beings is the attainment of God after death by natural human capacities of knowledge and love. On this view, the natural end paralleled the supernatural end as closely as possible. With that view, the other four views disagreed. The prominent Catholic theologian Henri de Lubac focused on the Augustinian elements of Aquinas’ view, and maintained that human beings have no natural ultimate end. The other three views—articulated by Catholic philosophers—differ from one another in important ways. Yet, they all deny that there is any single good that constitutes a natural ultimate end for human persons. Moreover, all three suppose that the happiness human beings can attain by their nature requires ongoing fulfillment in a variety of goods.

In the final section of this piece, Toward a Solution, Grisez articulates for the first time several propositions that he explains, supports, and develops in his later work. Focusing on beatitude (or happiness) and on the restless heart—that is, the human capacity to desire and enjoy goods—does not help clarify the natural ultimate end of human beings.5 That end can be clarified by focusing instead on the needs and possibilities of human nature, and asking: To what end ought one to direct one’s entire life? Human actions have their value from the goods attained in and by them, and no single natural sort of human action has the perfection Aristotle required of an ultimate end. All the goods that really fulfill human capacities have a place in the natural ultimate end. Such goods include truth and health, and these and other human goods deserve cultivation and respect even when they are not conducive to any further good. There is indeterminacy in the human ultimate end, both because no single act can fully realize any of the ensemble of humanly perfective goods and because there are multiple principles for ordering them among themselves. Grisez in closing states that one of the most difficult tasks in ← xii | xiii → investigating the human ultimate end is ascertaining the precise relationship between substantive goods such as truth and health and the particular good of moral virtue (p.138). What is needed is the working out, within the Catholic tradition, of a plausible and clearly articulated picture of human fulfillment.

Fr. Peter Ryan wrote his doctoral dissertation at the Gregorian University on Moral Action and the Ultimate End of Man: The Significance of the Debate Between Henri de Lubac and His Critics. Ryan developed some of its central ideas in two articles originally published in Gregorianum. Grisez worked with Ryan on both articles, and one sees the overlap in their positions. Ryan, however, takes sole responsibility for the content of both articles. Along with Grisez’s articles, Ryan’s two pieces deserve a wider audience and so are included here.


XXII, 165
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2015 (April)
Theology Christian eschatology Moral theory Human fulfillment
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. XXII, 165 pp.

Biographical notes

Peter J. Weigel (Volume editor)

Peter Weigel is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Washington College in Maryland. He received his PhD in philosophy from Yale University and M.Phil. in logic and metaphysics from the University of St. Andrews. He authored Aquinas on Divine Simplicity with Peter Lang in 2008 and co-edited Christian Philosophical Perspectives on Human Nature forthcoming in 2015. Germain Gabriel Grisez is emeritus Professor of Christian Ethics at Mount St. Mary’s in Emmitsburg, MD. Fr. Peter Ryan, S.J., is the executive director of the Secretariat of Doctrine and Canonical Affairs of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB).


Title: Moral Good, the Beatific Vision, and God’s Kingdom
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