Friday, September 09, 2005

Stump on Aquinas on Job

Because we assume, unreflectively, that temporal well-being is a necessary constituent of happiness (or even the whole of it) , we also suppose that Job's losses undermine or destroy his happiness. Consequently, we wonder how God could count as good if he allowed these things to happen to a good person such as Job, or we take stories of undeserved suffering to constitute evidence for thinking there is no God. Aquinas, on the other hand, begins with the conviction that neither God's goodness nor his existence are in doubt, either for the characters in the story of Job or for the readers of that story. Therefore, on his view, those who go astray in considering sufferings such as Job's do so because, like Job's comforters, they mistakenly suppose that happiness and unhappiness are functions just of things in this life. And so Aquinas takes the book of Job to be trying to instill in us the conviction that there is another life after this one, that our happiness lies there rather than here, and that we attain to that happiness only through suffering. On Aquinas's view, Job has more suffering than ordinary people not because he is morally worse than ordinary, as the comforters assume, but just because he is better. Because he is a better soldier in the war against his own evil and a better servant of God's, God can give him more to bear here; and when this period of earthly life is over, his glory will also be surpassing.

Eleonore Stump, Aquinas, Routledge (New York: 2003), p. 469.


  1. I keep returning to this essay, "Aquinas on the Sufferings of Job," and to this passage in particular. It marks the shift between the premodern and modern mind. The ending of her essay  is also brilliant:

    "...what Aquinas' interpretation of Job and general account of evil show us, whether we are inclined to accept or reject them, is that our approach to the porblem of evil is a consequence of our attitude toward larger issues, such as the nature of human happiness and the goal of human life. To make porgress on the problem of evil, in my view, we need to face up to these larger issues in a reflective way. One of the benefits of the history of philosophy, especially the history  of philosophy from periods such as the Middle Ages whose cultures are so different from our own, is that it helps us to see the otherwise unnoticed and unexamined assumptions we bring to philosophical issues such as the problem of evil. Aquinas' worldview, characterized by a renunciation of the things of this world and a rush toward heaven, is a particularly good one to juxtapose to the worldview of our own culture., steeped in comforts and seeking pleasure. 'Theodicies,' says Terrence Tilley in his passionate denunciation of them, 'construct consoling dreams to distract our gaze from real evils.' That reflection on Aquinas' acount helps us to see is that in evaluating this claim and others like it, hostile to theodicy, everything depends on what you take to be dream and what you take to be reality."

  2. That definitely is a good passage. I think Stump's work on Aquinas's account of Job is some of her very best work -- and she has a lot of good work.


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