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Divine Providence and Human Freedom

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on God the Father
General Audience, Wednesday, 21 May 1986 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. In our journey into the depths of the mystery of God as Providence, we frequently face the question: if God is present and operating in everything, how can man be free? Above all, what meaning and task does his freedom have? How are we to understand in the light of divine Providence that evil fruit of sin which derives from an abuse of freedom?

Let us take up again the solemn statement of Vatican I: "All that God created, he conserves and directs by his Providence 'reaching from end to end mightily and governing all things well' (cf. Wis 8:1). 'All lies bare and exposed to his eyes' (cf. Heb 4:13), even what will take place through the free initiative of creatures" (DS 3003).

The mystery of divine Providence is deeply inscribed in the whole work of creation. As the expression of God's eternal wisdom, the plan of Providence precedes the work of creation. As the expression of his eternal power, it presides over it and puts it into effect. In a certain sense it can be said that Providence is realized in it. It is a transcendent Providence, but at the same time immanent in things, in all things. According to the text of the Council that we have read, this is valid especially in the order of creatures endowed with intelligence and free will.

2. While comprising "mightily and disposing well" the whole of creation, Providence embraces in a particular way those creatures made in the image and likeness of God. They enjoy, through the freedom granted to them by the Creator, "the autonomy of created beings," in the sense understood by the Second Vatican Council (cf. GS 36). Created beings of a purely spiritual nature should be included within the sphere of these creatures. We shall speak about them later. They constitute the invisible world. In the visible world, man is the object of particular attention on the part of divine Providence. According to the teaching of Vatican II, man "is the only creature on earth which God has willed for itself" (GS 24), and it is precisely for this reason that "man...cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself" (cf. GS 24).

3. The fact that the visible world is crowned by the creation of man, opens up before us completely new perspectives on the mystery of divine Providence. That is indicated by the dogmatic statement of the First Vatican Council when it emphasizes that to the eyes of divine wisdom and knowledge all lies "bare" ("open"), and in a certain sense naked—even what the rational creature does by virtue of his freedom. This involves that which results from a conscious choice, and a free decision of the human person. Even in regard to this sphere, divine Providence preserves its superior creative and regulating causality. It is the transcendent superiority of the Wisdom which loves, and through love it acts mightily and gently. It is a Providence which solicitously and paternally guides, sustains and leads to its end his own creature, so richly endowed, while respecting its freedom.

4. In this meeting point of God's creative eternal plan with human freedom, a mystery as inscrutable as it is adorable indubitably looms up. The mystery consists in the intimate relation, first of all ontological and then psychological, between the divine action and human self-determination. We know that this freedom of decision pertains to the natural dynamism of the rational creature. We also know by experience the fact of human freedom, authentic even though wounded and weak. As regards its relation to divine causality, it is opportune to recall St. Thomas Aquinas' emphasis on the concept of Providence as the expression of divine Wisdom which orders all things to their proper end: ratio ordinis rerum in finem, "the rational ordering of things to their end" (cf. Summa Theol., I, 22, 1). All that God creates receives this finality, and therefore becomes the object of divine Providence (cf. Summa Theol., I, 22, 2). In man—created in the image of God—the whole visible creation should draw near to God, finding again the way of its definitive fulfillment. This thought already was expressed, among others, by St. Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., 4, 38; 1105-1109). It is echoed by the teaching of Vatican Council II on the development of the world by the work of humanity (cf. GS 7). Man is called upon to carry out a true development in the world. This progress should have a character which is not merely "technological," but especially "ethical," in order to bring the kingdom of God to fulfillment in the created world (cf. GS 35, 43, 57, 62).

5. Created in the image and likeness of God, man is the sole visible creature that the Creator has "willed for itself" (GS 24). In the world subject to God's transcendent wisdom and power, man is also a being which is an end in itself, though having his finality in God. As a person he possesses his own finality (auto-teleology), by virtue of which he tends to self-realization. Man is enriched with a gift which is also a duty. He is wrapped up in the mystery of divine Providence. We read in the Book of Sirach:

"The Lord created man out of earth....
he granted them authority over
the things upon the earth....
He forms men's tongues and eyes and ears,
and imparts to them an understanding heart.
With wisdom and knowledge he fills them;
good and evil he shows them.
He looks with favor upon their hearts,
and shows them his glorious works....
He has set before them knowledge,
a law of life as their inheritance..." (Sir 17:1-2, 5-7, 9).

6. Endowed with such "existential" equipment, man sets out on his journey in the world. He begins to write his own history. Divine Providence accompanies him throughout his journey. Again we read in the Book of Sirach:
"Their ways are ever known to him,
they cannot be hidden from his eyes....
All their actions are clear as the sun to him,
his eyes are ever upon their ways" (Sir 17:13, 15).

The Psalmist gives to this same truth a touching expression:
"If I take the wings of the dawn,
if I settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall guide me,
and your right hand hold me fast" (Ps 139:9-10).
"You know me full well;
nor was my frame unknown to you..." (Ps 139:14-15).

7. Divine Providence, then, makes itself present in human history, in the history of thought and freedom, in the history of hearts and consciences. In man and with man the action of Providence acquires a "historical" dimension. It does this in the sense that it follows the rhythm and adapts itself to the laws of development of human nature, while remaining unchanged and unchangeable in the sovereign transcendence of its subsisting being. Providence is an eternal presence in the history of humanity—of individuals and communities. The history of nations and of the whole human race unfolds beneath the "eye" of God and under his almighty action. All that is created is "cared for" and governed by Providence. Full of paternal solicitude, God's authority implies full respect for freedom in regard to rational and free beings. In the created world, this freedom is an expression of the image and likeness to the divine Being itself, to divine freedom itself.

8. Respect for created freedom is so essential that God in his Providence even permits human sin (and that of the angels). Pre-eminent among all but always limited and imperfect, the rational creature can make evil use of freedom, and can use it against God, the Creator. It is an agonizing subject for the human mind, and the Book of Sirach has reflected on it in words of great depth:
"When God, in the beginning, created man,
he made him subject to his own free choice.
If you choose you can keep the commandments;
it is loyalty to do his will.
There are set before you fire and water;
to whichever you choose, stretch forth your hand.
Before man are life and death,
whichever he chooses shall be given him.
Immense is the wisdom of the Lord;
he is mighty in power, and all-seeing.
The eyes of God see all he has made;
he understands man's every deed.
No man does he command to sin,
to none does he give strength for lies" (Sir 15:14-20).

9. "Who can detect failings?" the Psalmist asked (cf. Ps 19:13). Yet divine Providence sheds its light even on this unheard of rejection by man so that we may learn not to commit it.

Sin was not only possible in the world in which man was created as a rational and free being, but it has been shown as an actual fact "from the very beginning." Sin is radical opposition to God. It is decidedly and absolutely not willed by God. However, he has permitted it by creating free beings, by creating the human race. He has permitted sin which is the consequence of the abuse of created freedom. This fact is known from revelation and experienced in its consequences. From it, we can deduce that from the viewpoint of God's transcendent Wisdom, in the perspective of the finality of the entire creation, it was more important that there should be freedom in the created world, even with the risk of its abuse, rather than to deprive the world of freedom by the radical exclusion of the possibility of sin.

By God's Providence, however, if on the one hand he has permitted sin, on the other, with the loving solicitude of a father, he has foreseen from eternity the way of reparation, of redemption, of justification and of salvation through love. Freedom is ordained to love. Without freedom there cannot be love. In the conflict between good and evil, between sin and redemption, love has the last word.

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai fedeli di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Soeurs,

Chers pèlerins de langue française, nous venons de fêter la Pentecôte: que l’Esprit de vérité, l’Amour même de Dieu, vous accompagne sur votre route et vous garde fidèles à un usage juste de votre liberté dans la foi et dans la vie fraternelle!

Je voudrais d’abord saluer chaleureusement la présence de l’ensemble du Séminaire pontifical français de Rome. Vous vous préparez, chers amis, au ministère diocésain par la prière, l’étude et la vie fraternelle; je souhaite que vos années de séminaire à Rome soient le moyen providentiel de mûrir votre vocation et vous permette d’apporter à l’Eglise particulière qui est la votre le service sacerdotal indispensable qu’elle attend, en communion avec l’Eglise universelle.

* * *

J’adresse également mes voeux aux Frères maristes du Centre de Spiritualité Champagnat: que vos taches d’éducation soient vivifiées par l’approfondissement spirituel que vous recherchez à Rome.

* * *

Et je souhaite aussi un avenir de service généreux aux Officiers de l’Ecole navale que je remercie de leur visite.

* * *

J’ai remarqué encore la présence de pèlerins du Doyenné d’Ospern, au Grand-Duché de Luxembourg qui me rappelle les souvenirs heureux de ma visite dans leur pays, ainsi que les membres de l’Association italo-luxembourgeoise “Bettenbourg”. A vous, comme à tous les autres pèlerins de langue française, venant notamment de France, de Suisse, du Canada, que le Seigneur accorde ses dons et sa Bénédiction!

Ai pellegrini di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am pleased to welcome a group of English-speaking Capuchin Friars who are finishing several months of theological updating. You have had the opportunity of deepening your knowledge of your specific charism in the Church. I pray that it has stirred up in your hearts an even deeper gratitude for your religious vocation.

* * *

I also wish to welcome the group of handicapped residents of Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Rosewell, Scotland, together with the parents and staff who have accompanied them to Rome. I still remember with joy my visit to your hospital a few years ago, and I assure you that you are all very dear to my heart. May the Lord comfort you and all very dear to my heart. May the Lord comfort you and fill you with hope.

* * *

And I greet all the English-speaking pilgrims and visitors present here today, especially those from Sweden, India and the United States. May God bless you and your families with his peace.

Ai pellegrini di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung über das Glaubensgeheimnis der göttlichen Vorsehung grüße ich sehr herzlich alle Einzelbesucher und Gruppen deutscher Sprache. Besonders erwähnen mochte ich heute die Romwallfahrt der Diözese Regensburg mit Beteiligung einiger Kirchenchöre: vielen Dank für euren musikalischen Gruß an diese Audienzgemeinschaft! Hervorheben möchte ich auch die aus Katholiken und Protestanten zusammengesetzte Gruppe vom ökumenischen Zentrum “Uno” der Fokolare-Bewegung hier in Rom. Euch allen erbitte ich die reichen Gaben des Heiligen Geistes für ein echtes christliches Lebenszeugnis. Der Herr sei mit euch und erleuchte euer Denken, Wollen und Handeln! Gelobt sei Jesus Christus!

Ai numerosi gruppi di lingua spagnola

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

Me complazco en saludar ahora a los peregrinos de lengua española, procedentes de España y de América Latina, y que participan en esta Audiencia. En primer lugar al grupo de Religiosas - pertenecientes a 14 Países - que han seguido un Curso de formación teológica permanente en el Instituto Pontificio “Regina Mundi”. Que este período de estudio y reflexión os ayude a estar más disponibles al servicio de los demás cuando regreséis a los respectivos lugares de trabajo y apostolado.

* * *

Saludo también al grupo de Religiosos Franciscanos que siguen un Curso de renovación en tierras de San Francisco. Que vuestra “Experiencia Asís” os haga llegar al corazón de muchas personas, siendo siempre dispensadores de Paz y Bien.

* * *

Dirijo un afectuoso saludo a la peregrinación de Guatemala que acompaña la imagen del Señor de Esquipulas, tan venerada en vuestro País. A E1 encomiendo a todos y cada uno de los queridos hijos guatemaltecos.

* * *

Saludo finalmente a la peregrinación de la Real Cofradía de Nuestra Señora de la Cabeza, de Andújar (España). Que la devoción inmemorial a la Virgen María, que reúne a tantos miles de peregrinos en su Santuario de Sierra Morena, sea siempre un testimonio vivo de vuestra fe, que se traduzca en verdadero ejemplo de vida cristiana en medio de la sociedad española.

A todos vosotros, peregrinos de lengua española, imparto de corazón mi Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Pozdrawiam księdya Biskupa Ordynariusza sandomierskiego i radomskiego; pozdrawiam również pielgrzymkę kombatantów, duszpasterzy i żołnierzy z biskupem Tadeuszem Zawistowskim; pielgrzymów z parafii św. Szczepana z Krakowa; z parafii Tróicy Przenajświętszej - Bobrek, archidiecezja krakowska; pielgrzymów z diecezji tarnowskiej; pielgrzymów z Gdańska: z parafii św. Mikołaja - ojcowie dominikanie; z parafii Zmartwychwstania Pańskiego - księża zmartwychwstańcy; z parafii Opatrzności Bożej z GdańskaZaspa; prócz tego grupę kolejarzy z Warszawy; pielgrzymów z parafii Matki Bożej Ostrobramskiej i z Bristol (Anglia); polonijną pielgrzymkę z Landshut (Niemcy Zachodnie); uczestników grup turystycznych PKS z Warszawy, Turysta z Katowic . . . Pozdrawiam serdecznie wszystkich rodaków zarówno obecnych, jak i wszystkich rodaków w Polsce. Zwłaszcza serdecznie pozdrawiam Ślązaków, którzy w najbliższą niedzielę pielgrzymują do Matki Boskiej Piekarskiej.

A due gruppi di pellegrini italiani

Desidero ora porgere il mio saluto al gruppo dei pellegrini sardi, guidati dall’Arcivescovo di Sassari, dal Sindaco di quella città e da altre personalità della provincia. Si tratta di una rappresentanza delle tradizionali corporazioni artigiane, risalenti, come istituzione, al secolo decimoquinto. Il loro nome è “i Gremi”.

Siate i benvenuti. Il simbolico dono del candeliere votivo che voi ogni anno, a compimento di un solenne voto, offrite alla Madonna Assunta, è attestazione della vostra fede e della vostra devozione alla Madre di Dio.

Vi incoraggio e vi benedico.

* * *

Saluto poi il gruppo del Rotary Club di San Severo, con il suo Presidente. So che il vostro motto, “Servire”, ispira molte iniziative benefiche del Club nella vostra città. Lo spirito del servizio vi avvicina a Cristo ed al Suo messaggio.

Vi esprimo il mio apprezzamento e vi imparto la mia Benedizione.

Ai giovani

Desidero salutare i giovani che, durante questo periodo di primavera, sono venuti a Roma, per venerare le Tombe dei Beati Apostoli Pietro e Paolo. Un saluto particolare poi ai ragazzi e alle ragazze che hanno ricevuto recentemente la Prima Comunione oppure la Cresima.

Carissimi, lo Spirito Santo che abbiamo ricevuto in dono del tutto particolare nella recente Festività della Pentecoste, abiti sempre nei vostri cuori, e vi aiuti ad essere forti nella Fede, generosi nella Carità, perseveranti nella Speranza, affinché il mondo vedendo in voi degli autentici apostoli del Vangelo, si orienti sempre più verso gli ideali della Vita Cristiana.

Agli ammalati

Rivolgo un saluto del tutto speciale agli ammalati qui presenti.

Carissimi con l’aiuto dello Spirito Santo sappiate andare sempre alla scoperta del valore salvifico insito nella vostra sofferenza quando è affrontata con spirito di fede e in unione con Cristo e, guidati da tale certezza, sappiate testimoniare a tutti la possibilità di vivere con cristiana serenità anche le prove più dolorose della vita.

Agli sposi novelli

Mi è caro, infine, rivolgere un pensiero affettuoso a voi, novelli sposi, venuti a Roma subito dopo aver ricevuto la Grazia Sacramentale nel Rito del Matrimonio.

Lo Spirito Santo, che è Spirito di forza e di amore per la crescita dei singoli credenti e della Chiesa, rimanga sempre nei vostri cuori e animi la vostra vita, affinché voi rimaniate forti nella fede e uniti nell’amore, ed in tal modo la vostra nascente famiglia sia fermento di crescita per tutta la Chiesa e stimolo al bene per l’ambiente in cui sarete chiamati a vivere.

© Copyright 1996 - Libreria Editrice Vaticana