Catholic Apologetics



The search for happiness

At the beginning and at the end of our life, there's God as the first Origin and final End.
By the omnipotence of His love, God is giving our life both its beginning and its highest perfection.
However, there's an important distinction between the way He gave us life by creation and the character of the final completion, with which, as our final End, He's willing to crown our life.
Indeed, God's act of creation called us to existence, but we had no share in it. As Pascal said, we were embarked on board ship without being able to prevent or cancel the engagement.
As contrasted with this, the completion of our life can't be brought about without our personal cooperation.
In fact, now that we are finding ourselves on board and the anchor has been weighed, we ourselves are the pilots of our boats of life, and each boat has an own cargo and an own destination.
Where shall we cast anchor?
There where God wills it, and duty is leading us. Because it's only the sense of duty that makes a good boatswain, and a good boatswain is worth his salt.
If someone wilfully smashes his life boat against the rocks by a wrong manoeuvre, he forever obstructs the chance to safely land in the harbour where a happy home is waiting for him. He forgets his duty and is in the highest degree guilty of recklessness, which is a sin indeed. He fails to appreciate his great responsibility to both the precious cargo and God who sent him and is awaiting his arrival full of love and joy. He is sailing with closed eyes. He doesn't think. And a man should keep his eyes open. He should think. Especially about the very important problems of the origins and the object of his life:
"L'homme est visiblement fait pour penser; c'est toute sa dignité et tout son mérite; et tout son devoir est de penser comme il faut. Or l'ordre de la pensée est de commencer par soi, et par son auteur et sa fin." (Pascal)

There's a relation between, on the one side, a feeling of responsibility with respect to the highest object of our life and, on the other, the conviction that the creation of man is an act of divine love.
Nobody can love what he doesn't know. But whoever completely knows good, can't fail to love it. Although love can bear some arbitrariness and we can't measure the degree of love by the degree of insight, for we can love the whole because of one single feature, yet love does presuppose some knowledge of the good that is consciously pursued, acquired or enjoyed.
Good people, who know their duty and acquit themselves of it, know what they want and realise what it is they're trying to attain or evade in the ideal of their love.
This holds for love before all, which is aiming at the highest good, the good of highest completion of life.
Not all people know where true happiness is to be found. But all people who do know it will love truth rather than illusion, as long as they didn't entirely abandon in themselves man to animal. This holds even though truth often suffers violation, not by hate but by love that may temporarily think illusion is true.
In general, we may say man is the more ardently striving after the full and eternal good of his happiness as he has better got to know his Creator.
It's not a matter of chance that the greatest thinkers, who found their strength in quiet reflection and not in troubled pathos, were mostly noble people and convinced confessors of faith in God Almighty, from Whom everything starts and to Whom everything belongs, whilst the dumb adorer of the own I, the low bon-vivant and the unbalanced man of crisis only felt the urge to go to great pains to justify their behaviour by conceitedly mocking at the highest values of human life.
Henri Bergson will always fascinate people because of his sincere quest of truth and his persuasive defence of it. He wasn't a Christian, but nevertheless he acquired faith in God's eternal love. "C'est seulement par les forces de son génie et obéissant aux leçons de l'expérience qu'il a trouvé le Dieu qu'il ne connaissait pas encore" (Jacques Chevalier). When Bergson finally found the one and only God, who created everything out of love, he knew at once the answer to the tormenting question of life, which is born anew with each birth of a human baby:
"La création apparaîtra comme une entreprise de Dieu pour créer des créateurs, pour s'adjoindre des êtres dignes de son amour."
But an unbalanced and atheistic - that is: sickly - mind like Friedrich Nietzsche's, who struggled all his life long with the obsessive idea of a degenerating mankind that is entirely left to itself, couldn't propose to mankind a higher object than the rather narrowminded ideal of an eugenic selection, "die Erzeugung ihrer höchsten Exemplaren". In his Zarathustra he had declared the 'old God' was dead. Whoever maintains so foolish a standpoint, can't see the true value of a man's life, nor any view on happiness that's entirely worthy of a human being. Therefore, the question Nietzsche poses to the seekers of happiness is both understandable and superficial:
"Ist denn das ein Ziel des Menschen würdig? - Damit habt ihr ja den Blick noch nicht einmal über den Horizont des Tieres hinaus geworfen! - "

Of course, a man of crisis like Nietzsche is rare. Where pretension is prevailing and the natural contact between the essential needs of the mind and spoken word is apparently ruined, we can hardly call the attitude to life normal and confident. Nietzsche got the drudges at his side, because he himself was a drudge, not because he knew a solution for their problems. His wild mind was craving for a truth he couldn't find himself, like so many other minds. Because he thought he could find it in the delusion of an impossible Uebermensch, his philosophical reflections got a queer character. But, although Nietzsche's opinions about the sense of human life were queer indeed, yet the voice of nature could sometimes be heard through all pretension. It may have been the weakest moments of Nietzsche as a philosopher, when as a man he forsook his pretension for a while and betrayed himself in the foolish outpourings of a trunkenes Lied:
"- Die Welt ist tief, und tiefer als der Tag gedacht. Tief ist ihr Weh -, Lust - tiefer noch als Herzeleid: Weh spricht: Vergeh! Doch alle Lust will Ewigkeit - will tiefe, tiefe Ewigkeit!"
Despite of himself, Nietzsche wasn't able to evade the enchantment of an unperishable peace. He wanted it, but couldn't, because there's nothing so human as the homesickness for a happy eternity.

All people are concerned with the final destination of life. Nobody can be indifferent as to the question whether their many strong efforts will eventually find a perfect and permanent award or not. Earthly life offers a riches of manifold joys, but they don't satisfy. A dejected view on the farthest future is able to thoroughly spoil every earthly joy. Man can gladly make a hundred sacrifices, but love for the imperishable happiness is too great to sacrifice.
All philosophers worthy of that name knew this. Representatives of multifarious schools of thought declared as their honest conviction what Nietzsche let out in an unthinking moment, so to speak. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Plotinus, Augustinus, Boethius, Albertus Magnus, Thomas Aquinas, Pascal, Rousseau, Kant, Schopenhauer, they all sung in their own personal tone of the great question of life, which is for each man the strongest stimulus to hope and joy of life, zest for work and tolerance. They experienced within themselves and in other people the smarting nostalgia that controls all lives and every conscious desire.
The poets didn't fail to give tangible expression to the most human of all strivings, either.
Dante says it's a dream he hopes will once become reality:

There's a good we vaguely understand,
where the hankering heart will find its rest;
and we're ardently striving to acquire it.

And Goethe gave man's heart, craving for happiness, a voice and a fine couple of words, when he was seeking eternal peace that sweetens all suffering and rewards all efforts:

Ach, Ich bin des Treibens müde!
Was soll all der Schmerz und Lust?
Süszer Friede, komm, ach komm in meine Brust!

We can't say all people have the same opinion about happiness, which gives their lives value and evokes enthusiasm in their hearts.
Apparently, the concept of Valhalla of the old Germans, and the idea of Nirvana of The Buddhists are missing the deep sense and sharp outline of heavenly beatitude that Jesus Christ promised his true followers. However, as imaginations they're more real and tangible than the image of a happy realm of the dead which primitive people form. Left to the natural forces of own reason and phantasy, each man has a personal vision of his happy destination, as each people has an own insight in the joys of a happy hereafter. Polar people describe heaven as a sunny and warm land with many reindeer; Red Indians describe it as a large prairie full of quarry; Egyptians as a cool, shadowy land with much grass, and rivers full of fish; the German considered Valhalla an arena for warriors; the warmblooded Arabs think heaven is a place for sensual pleasures; the Buddhist, who is tired of earthly sufferings, thinks it's a place of everlasting rest.
Yet, the thousand-and-one imaginations of true happiness, in all places and times, have something in common whereby man is distinguishing himself from lower beings. Saint Thomas calls it beatitudo in communi - happiness in general. Dante calls it a good we vaguely understand. Anyway, we may think of it as the fullness of all good, which perfectly and lastingly satisfies us.
Now what matters is to know where we can find this absolutely satisfying fullness of all good.
Experience taught us we have to go to greater pains to establish this than we can do on our own strength. Perhaps we're in this life too much enchanted by earthly ideals to be able to completely and openmindedly value true happiness that is to satisfy our intellect in the first place.
However, we can't deny our human craving for happiness.
Now nobody can freely will anything, unless he's directed at a final thing, his happiness.
This rule can't bear any exception.
The inhabitants of polar regions, the Germans, Egyptians and Arabs, the Buddhists and Red Indians, all people can't but strive for happiness. Boethius tersely described this happiness as "the condition that's perfect because it's equally comprehending all good".

The insufficiency of earthly life

Can man be perfectly happy during life on earth?
Who would venture to pretend this?
The old man who knows life and perhaps has enjoyed all its enchantments? But life, even careless life, always brings with it many worries for the future.
The child? It's joyful, full of life and optimistic. It is expecting all joys of life. However, hopeful expectation is demanding an answer. It doesn't give an answer itself.
The idealist who thinks life is a bed of roses? But it's foolish to carry idealism to extremes and to think all imagination is reality!
We need not gloom like Job, who was helpless and at the mercy of most cruel loneliness and shame, and complained: "Man, born of a woman, is living a short life full of misery". But we are convinced earthly life is too short for eternal happiness and all is not gold that glitters.
What people call a careless life, is very rare, not to say impossible.
The opinion of Rousseau, who says that in an average human life the excess of spiritual sufferings and bodily pain is outweighing the little bit of joy and making it almost invisible, is rather valid indeed.
Accidents and diseases of all kinds are very common. Even the best physicians become sooner or later victims themselves.
Murders and plunderings that are crying to Heaven, fears and torments that thirst for revenge and call down a spirit of war over mankind, they all reveal man has traits of an animal, a wolf. People who are subject to these crimes and other people who have pity on the victims and want to undo their painful fate and war sufferings at any cost, are lacking necessary power and strength to lay the foundations for a peace that will not be the prelude to a new war.
How manifold and big are the wrongs people do to each other in the smaller circle of common family life and social life!
Poverty and unemployment can purify people, but in their degenerate forms they are a travesty of human justice. They kill body and mind. Sexual passions can make the image of God a monstrous being that doesn't even resemble a beast. Anger and envy make often deep wounds. Defamation and denial of daily bread hurt a man it what he needs and appreciates the most. The unrest of a fearing heart and the remorse of a sinful conscience can make man abhor earthly life.
The optimists think it could be otherwise.
We can for the greater part agree with them.
However, if fate is turning against someone, he isn't always able to conjure refractory powers down. Illness and accidents keep playing with human lives, in spite of all attempts to ward them off. And evil people keep their free will, in spite of our better intentions.
It's senseless and useless to consider the world a disconsolate vale of tears, in which everything is cold and dreary and there's no ray of sunlight.
But it's also unwise and reckless to entertain illusions about it.
If somebody takes the world for more cruel than it is, life is more difficult for him than necessary. But if somebody takes the world for more beautiful than it is, he may become guilty of overestimating the chances of himself and fellow people. He's misleading himself and will sooner or later lose all optimism, because disappointment can rebuke and embitter people.
Boethius said: "From sheer ignorance, people get lost on a side way and suffer misery".
The biggest problem philosophers have to face is the problem of man's insufficiency.
The best and most thrilling pages of philosophical literature are those in which the endless and constant struggle is desribed that's being enacted everyday in everybody's life: between the pursuit of a transient ideal and the power to attain it. The ideal is always one step ahead, so to speak. We've hardly attained some goal when another one comes in sight. Man can scarcely give rein to his interest and love for a result he attained when he abandons it to a new ideal that's promising richer content. This way, man is jumping from one object to strive after to another. He always imagines the next joy must be supreme, but is never satisfied, because the joy turns out to be halfbred, partial and passing. Nothing can enchant him forever. And, because a separate partial good can't satisfy him, he seeks satisfaction in abundance.
Does he have succes?

We have to read the books about the consolation of philosophy by Boethius, or the apologetical Summa of Saint Thomas Aquinas, or the Pensées of Pascal, to know how deep and comprehensive the question of man's insufficiency is.
All people are longing for happiness. But it's a happiness that is entirely satisfying forever which they are longing for. Not a fake happiness that's confined by time and space.
Where do people seek happiness? Everywhere. Except where they can really find it.
Human mind invents a dream of happiness. But it's only a dream. And if he seizes the dream and clings to it, he will sooner or later sober down.
We seek happiness in thousands of trifles that turn out to be worthless upon further consideration.
We seek it in riches, in the flavour of food, in sexuality. We search for it in objectivity, strength of will, science, art. We think it is in worldly power, dignity, fame and honour.
All these goods are desirable to some extent. But when we attain them, our mind isn't satisfied. They evoke new strivings again and again. However, these turn out to be as fallible as the ones they pushed aside.
In the final end, all efforts man does are useless, because there's always something left to desire. Whenever he attains some new ideal, new horizonts and troubles are looming up. Inquietude increases, zest for life visibly decreases, but the infinite urge for happiness continues to exist unabatedly. Man is too great for the half-baked happiness this world and life can offer. If he is obsessed by earthly goods and takes appearance for reality, he wanders from the only way that can lead to true happiness. Boethius said:
"There's no doubt these tracks to happiness are wrong. They can't lead anybody to the object they feign to deliver. Do you want to collect much money? You have to take it from them who need it. Do you want to shine in dignity? To acquire it, you have to beg for it. Do you want to attain power? You have to take the risk your subjects will set traps for you. You want people honour you? You will still come across many troubles that will worry you. You want to lead a sensual life? But who doesn't feel contempt and distaste for a slave of his miserable and fragile body?"

There's a striking climax in the aspirations of a man, as there's also a gradual development in the organised striving of lower beings in our cosmos.
Matter has only a preparatory role in the rise of the cosmos to highest possible perfection. It's aspiring to a form of being, and in a form of being it's aspiring to life. Life lays an inner organisation in the things, and it gives them a certain degree of independence. But a living being isn't an object of itself at all. It's only a rude sketch that's asking for a finish. It seeks this finish in the independent vitality of a human person.
However, there's no reason to canonize human person as highest possible being. For man is never perfectly himself, either. On the contrary, he seeks himself outside himself. Indeed, where is the happy person who's bearing in himself everything he needs? In all he undertakes, he needs something else. Because of his greater desires, he needs even more help than all beings he can rule.
The first and most elementary function of man is the one by which he works on matter. But matter is no match for him. It can't capacitate his mind, nor satisfy his love. At last, he dislikes it. Man works on himself. By practice of art, science and virtue, he builds his own personality. However, he never can finish this without help. He needs his fellow people. He chooses friends to develop his noblest forces as much as possible by the stimulus of mutual sympathy. But a friendship that's only obeying the law of self-interest can't hold out. Therefore, man seeks a companion in everything. He shifts his personal interests to the broader ideal of an "égoisme à deux". He builds an own home. In vain. The intensity of personal striving and the dissatisfaction about seeming success gain ground rapidly. The marriage of a man and a woman develops into the broader circle of a family with many kids.
Does such a family bring every kind of happiness?
We might think so, because human love does find its highest natural crown in it. Yet, marriage, too, turns out to be a mere stage. The family can't stay confined within its narrow circle; it seeks a broader living space and begins dispersing.
Apparently, man isn't content with anything, not even with the highest things. (I don't mean a man who only thinks of the superficial joys of what's mere sensuous.)
To find more possibilities to perfect himself, he gradually leaves his original standpoint, which was egoistic indeed. He engages in the wellbeing of the community, he fights for his fatherland, and tries to make himself subservient to all mankind. He commits himself to a moral task and submits to an ethical ideal. He surrenders to superstition. He carves a little idol from wood. He adores the sun. In the practice of religious life, he tries to rise above himself and his natural surroundings.
Why? What for? What does he want? Apparently, it's difficult to understand the true sense of life.
The dandy and the rake can't give life a really deeper sense. A dandy's life is show, a rake's is debauchery. However, under all hollow phrases and attitudinizing poses that have to give their behaviour an appearance of right, both are hiding a deliberate fear for reflection. They're consciously content with the minimum.
For poets, the primary questions of life are often bearing the character of an enigma nobody can solve. For philosophers, the highest ideal of life is feebly shining in a vague surmise.
However, all people, both the good and the bad, the enjoyers and the despisers of life, the poets and the thinkers, they all are carrying with them a burning question of life. It's the primary problem we often don't have an appropriate concept or right name for. It's our natural longing for perfect happiness, the irresistible natural urge to the full blooming of our human forces of life.
But where is the answer?

The mystery of death

In order to apparently make a definitive end of all illusions about the endless possibilities of life, there's always the premature, grim, pitiless murderer of people that comes at an unguarded and unhoped-for hour: Death.
Epicure is credited with the opinion man has nothing to do with death. According to him, as long as man's existing, death isn't there yet, and as soon as death is present, man isn't there any more.
In so far as this reasoning doesn't suffer from the weak logics of sly selfdeceit, it has all characteristics of a powerless conjuration. But it isn't able to safeguard anybody against the menacing hour of dying. Because nobody can ever lose his life, except when death's come to take it, and death can't rule people without first settling down among them.

Which meaning does death have for man?
Does it take away all chances of an infallible and lasting happiness in life? Does it cut short his thread of life forever?
If this were true, death would really be the great offence the Diesseitsmensch is taking him for.
Rudolf Eucken understood the absurdity of such an offence and rejected it as impossible:
"Denn erscheint das Leben seinem geistigen Gehalte nach nicht nur beim Einzelnen, sondern auch beim Ganzen der Menschheit als durch und durch unfertig, als der blosze Beginn des Weges, und besteht keinerlei Hoffnung, dasz der nächste Daseinskreis sich je in ein Reich der Vernunft verwandle, wachsen vielmehr mit den Fortschritten auch die Verwicklungen, so musz die ganze Bewegung zur Geistigkeit sinnlos werden, wenn solcher Stand den letzten Abschlusz bringen soll, wenn die Entwicklung geistigen Lebens nicht irgend darüber hinausreicht und auch den Einzelnen an solcher Fortdauer teilnehmen läszt."
It would be easy for us to compose within the scope of modern philosophical literature a rich anthology from numerous touching articles about the untamable power of a "Sehnsucht nach Unendlichkeit" and of a "désir de l'être", by which man is continously rising, often in spite of himself, to a site beyond of eartly life that isn't imaginary at all.
However, can such explanations about our longing for eternity, be they ever so meritorious, bring something new after all that our greatest medieval thinker already wrote about it? Aren't they only imperfect copies of the splendid argumentation Saint Thomas gives to prove the immortality of man's soul: that man's natural longing for eternal existence can't be idle?
The conviction, innate in man, that death isn't the end of it all, incites him to prudence and alertness, and makes him down when he is holding back as to his highest vocation.
The shortsighted who can't imagine a higher and more perfect life than in a paradise on earth, forced a fallacy upon themselves. They imagine they can be content with seeming happiness. But the joys a righteous community, willing to make sacrifices, can offer an individual person, can only be relative. They depend on the goodwill of fellow citizens and can't escape the halfheartedness of things partial and passing.
We can't deny many peope advocate such a conviction. However, this view isn't natural, but forced.
The consciousness of primitive people, however, is natural indeed. They surround the corpse of a deceased kinsman with a sacred respect, and know no solemner ceremonial than their protracted and digressive death cult. The funeral rites and death songs of uncivilised peoples are showing they consider death a transition from one life to another: the threshold between present and hereafter.
The elementary opinion at the base of some written documents of the oldest religions in the world, like the Gilgamesh epic of old Babylon, the Death Book of old Egypt and the Bundehes of old Persia, are also quite natural, in spite of absurd excrescences. The atmosphere from which the gods of immortality like Tammuz, Osiris and Adonis entered into communication with people, is quite natural, too. And so is the primary conviction on which Orphism, New-Platonism and Stoa based their doctrines about the immortality of man's soul.
Man wants life, not death.
He despises death and puts up a stubborn resistance against it, using all his strength. Human life is one continuous struggle against total downfall.
Léon Brunschvicg and Xavier Bichat defined life as "l'ensemble des forces qui résistent à la mort". This definition may be called incomplete and false for several reasons, but, nevertheless, it excellently emphasizes what every man is primarily expecting of life: it has to be everlasting and immortal.

Death isn't entirely dead.
Homo duplex - man is in a sense double. He carries in himself a composition of both spiritual and corporeal, that is both immortal and changeable, characteristics. With respect to his animal life, he is subject to the biological law of corporeal downfall and death. He is born out of his mother, he goes through all distinct phases of a gradual development (if he is lucky enough), and after some decennia he fades away to become a decrepit and exhausted old man, who can't expect anything from life any more, and already faces death with a certain meekness.
But with respect to his spirit, he is predestined to eternal life. His soul can't perish or spoil, because it's essentially incorporeal and it naturally longs for eternal existence. It can stop giving essence and existence to the living body, because it is the principle of form of this body, but it can't stop being itself.
Man's organic life comes sooner or later to an end. The body perishes and becomes "dust and ash" again. But the soul stays!

{{For materialists and pantheists, death has a completely different meaning than for them who acknowledge man is both spiritual and corporeal.
According to materialists, there's only one substance: matter, and only one efficacy: mechanical motion. So they deny man has a spirit that can independently work, and say death has the character of a total downfall of the individual person, because the particles of matter that were somehow coherent dissolve into the former incoherent multitude of atoms.
Pantheists, too, know only one substance: the All-Spirit. Spinoza thought "there can be no substance outside God". He advised us to await death in rest and resignation, because, after all, our personality isn't real, so we can't lose anything when it disappears.
The pantheistic and materialistic explanations of the mystery of death can't appeal to us. For, whereas the latter can't give death a sense because it doesn't acknowledge life, the former begins with declaring man's personality isn't real to explain it can't die.}

New horizonts

Death is the hopeful beginning of human life rather than the mirthless end.
It is the beginning of a completely new neverending condition, in which the soul knows it's free from all earthly worries, and can move much more freely in its thoughts and strivings, because matter and disturbing influences don't hamper it as they did during life on earth, when it was the form of essence of a human body and had to use corporeal senses for revealing some truth and experiencing some beauty and good.
Is there perhaps room for perfect happiness in this new life that is more spiritualized?
There has to be.
For mortal life on earth is too unstable and short for full happiness. And it's inconceivable that the happiness we are longing for can't exist somewhere at some time. Man's longing for happiness is not an arbitrary and conditional striving. It's natural in the full sense of the word. And a natural longing can't be senseless.

{The philosophical principle "a natural longing can't be idle" demands some explanation, because it finds a place in almost all idealistic views on the world, whilst they bring it in most cases without any proof.
It's striking how easily famous philosophers of our time, like Henri Bergson and Rudolph Eucken, who are representing very distinct schools, use the principle of natural suitableness without rendering a sufficient proof. Is the principle so evident it needs no explanation?
Aristotle already knew the law of finality in nature, and gave an experimental-inductive explanation for it. "Nature doesn't do anything senseless", he says, and, thus, he wants to indicate that the thing of nature has in it everything through which it's answering its finality. It will infallibly reach its object if nothing obstructs it. According to him, anything that obstructs it is accidental: some cause from outside, which as a spoil-sport and an exception obstructs the natural crowning of the natural longing.

Saint Thomas Aquinas thought much deeper about the principle of finality. He took it over from the Philosopher, sometimes in a literal quotation, but mostly in a changed formulation: "a natural longing can't be idle". So he largely broadened the sense of the principle.
By 'natural longing', he understands the blind and innate natural striving of any creature, including man, that God gave each creature because of His infinite wisdom. As to man, natural longing is distinct from conscious strivings of his will, which are based on consideration. It is lying at the base of conscious striving, as a dynamical ordering directed at the only possible perfection of man.
If we consider natural longing in its outward manifestation, that is to say: in the actual strivings it regularly evokes, then there are three ways how the striving thing may be hampered: firstly by immediate intervention of God's will, because God can freely dispose of each creature, secondly by an independent initiative of man, who can give the natural striving of many a thing an original turn, finally by accident, which we might call an arbitrary and mostly fatal influence on a given natural striving that finds is cause in a collision between several natural strivings.
If we consider natural longing in itself, as an essential bent and ordering, then we can't say anything can hamper it, in so far as we restrict ourselves to the things of nature that normally developed. The thing of nature must have a sense and a meaning, because God almighty in his wisdom called it to existence as summus Artifex - greatest artist. Whenever a thing of nature isn't corrupted by the bad influence of human initiative or accident, it must answer its finality given by God. It has everything in it by which it's directed at its object, and it will reach its object in the strivings it regularly evokes, unless hampering factors act from outside.

The topic of natural longing occurs in contemporary philosophy under distinct names, especially in the Catholic quarter. It's called, among other names, Naturtrieb, Seinsordnung, désir de l'être, or tendance ontologique.
A new name is volonté voulante, to distinguish it from 'volontés voulues', which are radically based on the volonté voulante, but can arbitrarily choose own ways and, thus, lead man astray.
We think that this is in conformity with the opinion of Saint Thomas, who sees in human freedom a possibilty of disorder, but considers natural striving always well regulated. He explains that this is because we can't call nature as such faulty without offending Him who called nature to existence. Man can't but respect nature. But he can wish more than what's attainable. He can wish things that take away his chance to reach his one and only true goal.
Dante wrote: "The striving of nature is always free of error. But our will isn't."}

However, what can highest possible happiness consist of?
We can't call earthly goods all desirable, be they ever so numerous and multifarious. They don't appease natural longing, but evoke new acts of striving again and again, which become more exacting after each miscalculation.
Can human mind in life hereafter be content with joys that apparently weren't sufficient at all in our present life?
Saint Thomas considers this presupposition so naive he doesn't think it's worth discussing.
When he pays attention to the possibilities of a future happiness after corporeal death, he knows that in the situation of a spritualized man the highest and noblest joys can't be corporeal, nor even spiritual if matter has to cooperate or participate directly. It must be a joy of the soul as a spiritual substance: a happiness of man as a reasonable creature.
Not immortality alone, not a condition of rest in which man has forgotten his own existence, and not an arbitrary activity, but highest activity of man as a man must form the final ideal of human striving that can't be transcended. Just as we see man rise above all lower beings by the nobleness of his intellectual soul, even in the present situation when he's still searching for his happiness and the lower beings are striving, too, after their highest perfection, so he will rise above the beings of a lower order when his reasonable nature and their lower natures will be perfect.
Saint Thomas saw this clearly and he said:
"God is the first Mover and the first Cause. The object He aims at with His activity is no other than His own goodness ... Therefore, all actions and motions of all creatures must be directed to God's goodness, not in order to bring it about or to add to it, but to acquire it in their own way: that is, by participating in its likeness in some degree. Now created beings attain through their activity their likeness to God in distinct ways, as they also represent it in distinct ways according to their essences. Indeed, each thing is active in the way it is. So, as it is given to all creatures to represent God's goodness in so far as they are, so it's also given to all to attain the likeness to God through their activity by preserving their essence and communicating it to something else. For each creature is, first of all, striving to maintain himself in actual existence, in so far as this is possible; thus, it's striving in its own way after the likeness to God's Eternity. Over and above that, each creature is trying, again in its own way, to communicate the actual essence it possesses to something else; thus, it's striving after the likeness to God's causality. However, above all further created things, the reasonable creature is in an exceptional way striving after the likeness to God, as its perfectness is also exceeding all further creatures."
It's not difficult to guess in which characteristic way reasonable creature is striving after the likeness to its divine Maker, because it's clear which feature raises it above all further created things.
It's reason that makes man the king of creation. And by his natural longing for broader and deeper knowledge man is "in his own way" trying to approach God's perfectness as close as possible.

{We have to understand the expression "all creatures are naturally striving after highest possible participation in God's good".
Pantheism teaches that God is active in nature not only as an external cause but als as an internal cause, so that God as the own formal object of natural longing is determining the character of the being that's striving.
Scholasticism, however, is rightly refusing each confusion between the infinite Essence of God and the finite essence of creation. It teaches on a firm base that the object of a natural longing must necessarily stay within the range of things created. This holds both for creatures in general, which are all striving for God's goodness, as the part is directed to the goodness of the whole, and for man in special, because the natural regulation of senseless beings explains the natural longing in reasonable creatures.
Only God's will can have God's infinite goodness as its very own object. A reasonable creature can only be finite. The object of his intellectual striving is an infinite good, but not an actual infinite good, but a potential infinite good. Therefore, man doesn't naturally strive for God as his formal object, but for God as his completely transcendental Archetype, whom he wants to resemble as much as possible, in so far as this is possible for a finite nature.}

"All people are naturally striving for knowledge". With these words, Aristotle begins his first book about Metaphysics.
The Philosopher experienced both with himself and with others, that human interest is never so universal, constant and irresistible as when it's concerning the essence of things: what is the very own character of a thing, where they come from and what they're aiming at. Man wants to know, often in spite of himself. He wants to understand, to gain insight in the essential characteristics of the beings he meets, and, thus, enrich the most human feature he has, and to develop it as much as possible.
Like Aristotle, Saint Thomas knows that the strongest natural inclination of a reasonable creature must be intellectual, because his intellect is the feature by which he can best resemble God. Thomas defends the primacy of the intellect with a soberness of judgment and reasoning that's almost astonishing, even when it's about the most fundamental of all human strivings. This intellectual attitude allows him to see far beyond the limits of death and to infallibly deduce that human longing can only subside to rest by immediately beholding God's Essence.

Man wants to know everything.
He may direct his will at knowledge of a hundred separate things, he may be skilled in all sciences, but as long as he is still conscious there remains something he doesn't know, he can't be satisfied and the stimulus of his curiousness remains active.
When we say that half knowledge isn't sufficient for a man, that's real enough. For imperfect knowledge of perfect essence is only a weak foretaste of a happiness we don't possess while we do suspect it must exist. And perfect knowledge of an imperfect being is a mere contradiction, because things imperfect are essentially pointing at the perfect essence of which it is a faulty reflection and in which it finds its final explanation. If man as a reasonable being wants to resemble God as clearly as possible, his intellect will have to be completed by knowledge of all things he may potentially know.
We may call people wise because their theoretical knowledge of a thousand things worth knowing exceeds mediocrity, but when they are shortsightedly expecting too much in this mortal life, they really aren't as wise as the practical simplehearted who don't know more than that they are insufficient. The latter say we can't seize our highest ideal on earth, but perhaps we can find it hereafter. After all, man's mind is immortal, and if we are free from things earthly and surrender to God, we shall be happy.
However, surrendering to God is presupposing intellectual knowledge of God.
How can man know everything in life hereafter if he doesn't even know the Cause of all things?
But arbitrary knowledge of the first Cause can't completely satisfy us. We are mistaken if we imagine we can be completely happy by knowing God in his created reflections or in ourselves who are like Him. Such knowledge is restricted to the things God made. But something that's made can't equal its maker.
Our natural longing for knowledge is such that when we know some consequence we want to know its cause, as we want to fathom a thing we know some features of. So since we want to know God as the first Cause of everything and aren't indifferent about his Essence, our natural longing will not rest before we enjoy the sight of God's Essence.
When Saint Thomas draws a practical conclusion after his explanations about the character and the scope of our natural longing, we can only call it coercive:
"Since a natural longing can't be senseless - and it would be so if reasonable beings couldn't attain knowledge of God's Substance - , we are forced to admit our intellect must be able to see God's Essence."

Higher light?

It's an undeniable truth everybody can experience in his own life that human intellect is posing demands he can't meet. Moreover, all people who dare to think and to reflect upon the meaning of life are convinced the almost endless striving and tiresome longing for full truth and happiness can't be senseless.
Philosophy doesn't give its opinion upon the factual fulfilment of this natural longing, as apposed to many other longings. It can't give an opinion, because seeing God is a privilege only God's own intellect has an essential right to, and it radically surpasses human forces. Beatific beholding is something supernatural. In our context, this means it's not within reach of natural human demands nor forces.
No created and finite image can completely represent God in his infinite Substance, which is essentially distinct from each created nature. Full knowledge of God's Essence, which must be intuitive and without image, is therefore unattainable for the created and finite intellect of man, which in its natural activity needs created and finite images. As Thomas Aquinas says: "Human intellect is by nature only accessible to these forms of essence the active force of our intellect can make understandable".
If something belongs to God and no created intellect has a right to it, then man can't claim such a right, not even by referring to his natural helplessness. He can hope for it; he can ask for it; he can to some extent even prepare for it. But there's no right. And, because there's no right, there's no duty, either, and hence no certainty. Therefore, man could forever be content with highest possible perfection within the range of his nature, if God should will so, because man's intellect should be subservient to the free decisions of God's will.
There's another question philosophy can't answer.
We may easily talk of a supernatural happiness no eye ever saw and no ear ever heard, which nature doesn't demand and no created force can reach, but which must still be possible as a natural striving of man. But there's a difficulty our natural curiousness is asking an answer for, which seems to get no answer at all: how shall this miracle of supernatural happiness ever come about?
Philosophers can't answer this. They may only stammer a modest conjecture. Isn't it obvious that God in his goodness will show us how He is giving us this inconceivable happiness of beatifying contemplation through this contemplation itself?
We shouldn't over-estimate the power of reason. It can only give actual knowledge of objects that are within reach of sensory perception or are at least so closely related to our domain of direct experience that we can deduce them via causality. But things supernatural belong to God as "le Transcendent en soi", Who is exceeding creation in every respect. They don't belong to God as a transcendent external Cause in so far as He is revealing himself in created nature. By His external activity we can of course know God as a cause, the beginning and end of all creation, but God's Essence stays hidden for natural reason without further revelation.
However, although we don't know how we can ever intuitively behold God's Essence without any images, we do know that we can, because from the finality of our created nature, which we may call a finite expression of God's intentions, God is as clearly visible at the end of our life as at the beginning. And we can't conceive that this natural striving in man will in the end turn out to have been directed at something impossible.

It may surprise us that philosophy does prove, using the principle of natural finality, that human mind is immortal, whilst it doesn't prove that human spirit will attain the blessing of beatific contemplation.
Is there so much elasticity in the the philosophical principle that says a natural longing can't be idle? Or is something faulty in the application of this principle? The answer isn't as difficult as it seems at first sight.
The principle of finality is absolute in so far as it is pointing at the natural aptitude in the striving thing to reach the object aimed at, but it poses a restriction as to whether it shall factually reach its object or not. The Philosopher already included this restriction in the declaration of the principle, based on empirical perceptions, when he said the thing of nature does have the aptitude to reach its object but will only reach it when everything outside is cooperating.
With regard to this restriction, there is some difference between our natural longing for immortality and our natural longing for immediately beholding God. Because human spirit will not 'of itself' attain the highest perfection of its being, as it does attain 'of itself' eternal life.
To give the soul factual immortality, a never-ending life, we don't ask our Creator for more, so to speak, than that He respect the initiative which He Himself created in it, and which is sufficiently evident from its natural activity. To say it even more clearly: human soul is by nature immortal, and in order to let it live forever, God has to do nothing more than to maintain the existence of the soul according to the potentiality He gave it Himself.
But with regard to the high favour of beatific contemplation, things are essentially different. There, a new free initiative has to bring actual fulfilment. We reason ex suppositione divinae ordinis, supposing God gives man supernatural means to attain beatific contemplation. It's the initiative of grace, by which God is helping man, and which elevates man to a height his natural forces can't attain at. God gives our nature this grace as an inner reinforcement of its potentiality, but it's a free gift and nothing demands it and in creation there's no explanation for it: "elle n'est pas tirée de ces facultés mêmes, mais d'un pur et libre don, incommensurable avec elles et avec tout l'ordre créé".
Thus, in this restriction we have to make because of God's freedom, there's lying the possibility of an actual frustration of our natural striving. And of course, our own dumb and guilty wilfulness, too, may frustrate our natural longing for a beatific beholding of God.
We'd better consciously prepare for receiving God's help, as much as possible. However, we can't force God to give help. We can't even find on our own strength the conditions that are necessary to receive the favour of God's grace.
But we can make room for God to meet us.
We have to do that, because God has a right to it, and ... we can't lose anything with it, but win everything.
Because our soul doesn't die a natural death. It will continue to find its vocation and honour in serving its Creator. And because servitude is different from slavery, and sacrificial love is distinct from involuntary martyrdom, the soul will become richer by its good deeds, even though she can't ever claim supernatural sanctification as its reward or its heritage.
There's no disaster that can undo its good deeds.
Indeed, death that tries to level everything and doesn't distinguish between corporeal properties, taking all passions from a hothead and all possessions from a rich man, doesn't manage to rob the soul from its marks of honour. The merits it acquired in earthly life, keep their value in the farthest future. For it's the immortal soul that acquires merits, not the body, even though the soul needs the body to become meritorious. Death may gnaw at the body, but not at the soul.
Therefore, we can't think of a mistake that's more fatal than the error of the life-weary who behave as if all light and hope were gone.
Therefore the most sensible attitude is joyfulness. Indeed, the joyful take the world as it is, and for the rest they expect everything from God. They enlarge the horizonts of their minds, and pose against the secrets of a future they don't know the certainty of God's unfathomable love, which predestined their soul for eternal life and will be able to reward every good deed with a surplus of goodness and happiness.

Man should consciously ask for the best and hope for the highest to develop his thoughts and deeds in a responsible way through active expectation.
Inside himself, he's carrying the high duty to honour his Lord and God by serving Him in a spirit of truth.
After a lot of searching and trying, it could still turn out to be too difficult to acquire a pure understanding of the voice of nature that's unfolding the laws of religious conviction and practice of life. Then it's evident we could resort to God in a submissive but hopeful prayer for Light and Force: "Speak, my Lord, your servant is listening!".

Je voudrais m'en tenir à l'antique sagesse ...
Je ne puis; malgré moi l'Infini me tourmente ...
Qu'est-ce donc que ce monde et qu'y venons nous faire;
Si, pour qu'on vive en paix, il faut voiler les cieux,
Passer comme un troupeau les yeux fixés à terre,
Et renier le reste, est-ce donc être heureux?
Non, c'est cesser d'être homme et dégrader son âme ...
Une immense espérance a traversé la terre;
Malgré nous vers le ciel il faut lever les yeux! ...
Pour que Dieu nous réponde, adressons-nous à Lui.

(A. de Musset, "l'Espoir en Dieu")