Giacomo Biffi and the idea of “essence of evil”


On the occasion of the death of Giacomo Biffi of fathers’Patmos Island have devoted some comments to his figure and his works [WHO, WHO], which are followed today by some calm perplexities, because what first is not convincing, is the conception of the late Cardinal assumed reality to the idea of evil.

Author John Cavalcoli OP

John Cavalcoli OP



biffi cover

the work of Giacomo Biffi [Ed. Cantagalli]

In the book by Cardinal Giacomo Biffi Memories and digressions of an Italian Cardinal” [1] I read some of his thoughts about the essence of evil, that I wasn't entirely satisfied. He starts from the metaphysics of Soloviev, which saw reality as "unitotalità", that Biffi defines the "shape of the truth of being", that evil would be what "separates" from this all: “Evil is therefore essentially division and separation, because it is forfeiture from “unity”. The risk, in this view, is to conceive of evil as a forfeiture or removal from all, so the remedy results in a return of all to all, recovering herself, and the famous "apocatastasis" by Origen, condemned by the Church. If instead, as we'll see, evil is an ontological deprivation caused by the will of the creature, then we are ready to accept the Christian vision, for which the antidote to evil is not a simple return, but one recreation offered by God to the sinner, which offer, But, made in all, at some meets an irrevocable and absolute resistance.

apocalypse dragon

the mystery of evil, depiction of the Dragon of the Apocalypse

For this the divine remedy evil does not reach all creatures, ma only those who accept. In the Christian view, in fact, not all creatures return to One-All, that is to God, not because God cannot bring them back, but because they don't want. In the Christian view of God allows that in the question of evil come in the free will of the creature, capable of choosing evil, i.e. divest divine well permanently and irreparably damaged.

The origenist vision, instead, similar to that of Plotinus, everything that comes out of one and back to One, everything that comes out of everything and return to All, is Grand and charming, but deviates from the given faith, which provides eternal punishment for the wicked. In interpreting the Word of God, one must not start from an idea, as beautiful and sublime, and wanting to force the Word of God to enter into that idea; ma, on the contrary, It is our vision that should, as much as possible, reflect the word of God. This is the true theology; the other is Gnosticism. The rest, as we also in other religions, There is no shortage of reasons to admit an award in the hereafter or eternal punishment [2].

Inferno Claudia-Rogge-Inferno-I-2011-Diasec-168-x-215-cm

depiction of hell [artwork of Claudia Rogge]

In truth, the devise evil as a property of an entity that isolates or separates from all or from the collection to which it belongs, it doesn't make me difficult. There is no doubt that is separate from the evil Church; it is bad that the organ of a living being separated from the organism; It is wrong to extrapolate a phrase out of context that ensures the real meaning, and so on. But in reality the evil is something much deeper, it pertains, as we'll see, the roots of being.

Mitigate or alleviate the idea and the presence of evil and conceive a universe in which evil will disappear entirely a solution may seem comforting and even more worthy of God's infinite goodness; but in reality that emerges when we watch their goodness evil in the face without concealing anything in its deepest essence. God shows more powerful if we have a fair idea of the ultimate root of evil.

What first of all does not convince me it is the conception of reality presupposed by Cardinal Biffi's idea of ​​evil. I observe first of all that only God is one and all at the same time. Unity is not the "form of the truth of being" UT do, but the divine being. Only God is absolutely one in his infinite simplicity and its unmistakable identity. And he includes virtually every perfection in his infinite essence, as the cause itself contains virtually all its possible effects. In this sense we can say that God is "all" [Sir 43,27]. Furthermore, there is the risk of pantheism: If the reality is unitotalità and unitotalità is God, then reality is God. Moreover, there can be nothing outside of unity; If no, it would not be totality. But then, if evil is "separation" and is outside this totality, evil is nothing. Or we must admit that in order to be in reality, that is, in totality, Evil, Although separation, must still be within this totality. But if this totality is God, then evil is in God. In short, from this vision of Soloviev, endorsed by Biffi, many inconveniences arise.

San Filippo casts out the Dragon Temple of Hierapolis

San Filippo casts out the Dragon Temple of Hierapolis [Filippino Lippi from Prato, XVI century.]

Evil, Certain, is a not-to-be. Yet there is. And therefore it must somehow be in reality, the totality of being, certainly not in totality understood in the divine sense, Since in God there is evil, but rather pluralistic in all, in the transcendental sense, in all things, where actually there is evil. But if you don't do this distinction, you end up falling in Pantheism. And then the problem becomes dramatic and insoluble: or deny the existence of evil, since God is good; or if you want to admit the existence of evil, one is forced to place it in God. Moreover, If the unitotalità is, as must be, It gave, evil cannot be a "decline" from God, a decrease or loss or lowering of divinity. Evil does not come from God, but from the creature. It is a forfeiture of or of the creature from its state of normality, as Adam has decayed from its state of innocence.

Certainly the rational creature Sin separates us from God: but the evil he commits is not a "decay" from divinity, as the creature, even if it is a sinner, It is not a lowering or waiving of divinity, but a being produced by God out of nothing, in itself is good and that it is not bad "decaying from God", but with their ill will. It sure turns away from God and opposes, but not in the sense of losing an original deity from which falls. It gave, to create a creature even peccabile, does not decay at all or she loses Him, but He is always in his infinite perfection and goodness.

god idol

God the father is not an Idol …

The totality as reality, instead, altogether, is the set of God and creatures. It certainly is the totality of everything that exists. But it's not all a unique one, of a single entity, How would the whole of an entire, as well as we could say: all Apple or any individual.

Nor is the divine totality, absolutely indivisible. Instead, the totality of a set of entities: God and creation. It is also wrong to call all things "whole", How does Bontadini, because this again gives the idea of a single entity, of which the entities are only parts. The reality is not a single substance, as Spinoza believed, a whole divine, which are bodies or parts ways, but it is a set of substances, each of which is distinct from the others and is a divisible integer, connected with the other to form a single unified set under the rule of the Supreme divine indivisible Entity.

The overall reality is the totality a collection of all, is a whole of all, each of which is an entirely different of the other. Different is the divine totality from the totality of the creature. With regard to the creature or creatures, We talk about all in a sense multiple, diversified, analog. An account is the metaphysical or transcendental and everything is all or substantial ontological. The latter can be a created whole or a divine whole. All results from the metaphysical entities collection: God and creation, which in turn is a collection of all, or substances.

one all

the totality …

The totality of institutions includes God and creation. Therefore, God is conceived dialectically as if it were a part of it all, Although he is completely ontologically and above all, a more perfect the totality of all creatures combined. Each entity created is a substantial part of creation, Although also limited is an all. His being is a being by participation, Be dependent to that essence is God.

Based on these considerations, which interpret Biffi's metaphysical-theological vision, You can now examine how he sees the essence of evil. He does not consider the ontological aspect, evil like privatio boni debts, the ὑστέρησις of Aristotle [hysteresis, “delay”], but the limits to a disorder or a disorganization between itself and complete good. It's a bit like it can happen in a collection of works of art, in which a is subtracted from a thief. It is always a work of art, but it is no longer in his place.


Separation, opera di Edward Munch

So evil, According to Biffi, is the Act of the party that is detached from everything and conflicts with all. It is a part that breaks unity. Now, I don't think this speech, in itself certainly valid, truly grasp the essence of evil at the root. Indeed, the radical aspect of evil does not so much concern the order or composition of the parts as a whole, but the lack of integrity or perfection of the institution itself. The evil has to do with the corruption of the subject, to the limit, for the Bible, with the death of the subject.

Evil is not just a matter of disharmony or of separation or division or contrast against a whole or a whole, rather it concerns the plane of being, Indeed the non-being. Evil is a shortage to be before being a separation of the part from the whole. Evil affects the substance of the body before you do the its position relative to other entities. Evil is about existence. Is a lack of being in a subject which in itself remains good. It is not a simple non-being, but is the non-being of something that should be there and there is. The deficiency can be in the spirit: in the intellect and the will. We then blame evil, the sin. Or it can be suffered by the subject. And we then the evil of punishment. If this punishment is right, then we have a good; If it is unfair, This presupposes guilt in court, for which this penalty, i.e. this evil should be removed. In any case, evil is a deprivation of being.

evil and death

evil is connected with death …

For this evil in the Bible is connected with death. Evil is hatred of life and the suppression of life. Christ calls the devil, from that sin originates from evil, "a murderer from the beginning". The evil of guilt is an injustice, but not beyond the control of divine justice. Punishment is bad, but it is a bad thing right, for it is good that the wicked be punished. The eternity of hell penalty resolves to be an eternal good.

St. Thomas supports that the righteous in heaven will rejoice when they see the punishment of the damned. It is right that the relatives of a victim of terrorism rejoice in seeing the killer sentenced to life in prison. We don't have to do justice to ourselves, but only because, as the Bible repeatedly teaches, vengeance belongs to God [cf per es. RM 12,19]. As for the damned, he has nothing to complain about, Since the evil from which is afflicted if it is provided with their own hands. No wicked, so, if he does not repent, hope to be able to get away with taking advantage of God's goodness.

While clearly distinguishing good and evil, to condemn any duplicity, Christianity admits an evil that is well: the fitting punishment. Too bad that the evil is not punished. Also the cross is an evil that is well; saving bad. Avoiding the cross is bad. To bear the cross is good. Hence noShe Christian view evil in the end times is defeated in the sense that it ceases its activity against the good. And yet remain the eternal punishment for expressions of the divine justice. So, the "recapitulation of all things in Christ", of which St. Paul speaks [Ef 1,10] should not be understood in the sense of a origenista recomposition of broken unitotalità, Yes evil is totally abolished. This does not correspond to the revealed data, providing for the award of the good and the punishment of the wicked. Disappears so evil of guilt, but not the evil of punishment.


recapitulation of all things in Christ …

The unitotalità, which in reality is a divine attribute and not the character of the real, is not broken by the evil and therefore does not need to recompose. It does not decay by itself, but always remains intact and inviolable. Evil is totally absent in God. Instead the divine plan of salvation does not require the Elimination of guilt in all men, but only in the predestined. Even the willingness of reprobates, so, obstinately and irreversibly rebellious to God, contributes to the order of the universe, showing how God can draw good from evil.

The recapitulation commissioned by father and accomplished by Christ thus means that the father has subjected all things to Christ [CF. v. 22], "every knee should bow before Christ in heaven, on Earth and under the Earth " [Fil 2,10]. Christ is the Savior of the world, though not in the sense that everyone is saved, but in the sense that he offered everyone a chance of salvation, to which few escape blame for them, deserving the right punishment.

By his express declaration, Christ then the eschatological Judge function, that "separates the sheep from the goats". This recapitulation, so, should not be understood as final convergence origenista of all things to Christ, the bad disappear completely. But this convergence instead represents the Lordship of Christ over heaven and hell. The idea of a Christ who ricapitolatore reassembles the unit so that nothing remains outside in opposition to this unit (the damned), can have its own charm, but it is not Christian; it is a Gnostic idea, contrary to the Gospel and the teaching of the Church. Given that this "unitotalità" supposes a pantheistic background, it is understood that it is repugnant to admit evil in God. But in a pluralistic and non-monistic metaphysical conception, does fix admit next and under God, free from evil, the free will of the sinful creature.

eternal damnation

… eternal damnation is a man's choice

In the Christian view the event of evil involves in certain cases (the damnation) a definitive separation of the sinner from All, that is, from God, Although this separation, permitted by God, does not result in any fault or blame God, but the responsibility of the act falls completely on the sinner. This means that the Christian vision of totality leaves room for evil not in God obviously, but in creation to witness God's dominion over evil, that God, that having created even those who damn themselves, continue to love him with his Providence.

The fact that some not be saved — as is attested by revelation — it is not a sign of some imperfections in the work of salvation. Christ puts us in hand the means to save us; but we can't actually save us if we don't cooperate with saving grace. Which means that the evil done by the damned is not repaired, but it remains only to testify the divine punitive justice which, even in this extreme situation, it is not separate, as St. Thomas observes, by mercy.

Christ Pantocrator Cathedral cefalù

Christ pantocrator [Cefalù Cathedral]

Every man makes glory to Christ, even those who are "underground", i.e. to hell. Well due to deprivation remains forever in the will of the damned, marked by the sanction of divine justice. The work of salvation is not limited to reorder what was messy, to reunify what was divided, to reconcile what was inconsistent, but it involves a real work creator: give back to being what it was lacking: such is the forgiveness of sins, the ransom of the poor, the consolation of the afflicted, mercy for the poor, the release of prisoners, the resurrection of the dead. However even where sin is forgiven, the good of manifests divine justice.

In conclusion, It is impossible to understand the deep essence of evil and so the power of God in removing it, without a metaphysics of creation. The victory over evil is a new creation. Seeing evil only related to disharmony, gives us the idea of bad enough as it is clarified by the revelation. And gives us an idea not just of God's saving power. Much less can evil be conceived as a decay from or of the divinity or a fact internal to the divinity or a dialectical moment of divine becoming.. And then salvation is not even a reconstitution of divinity. In the Christian view that God incarnated doesn't mean dirty in God of evil: They, pure and innocent, knows better than us and we most of us abborre. For this he gave us his son who frees us from evil, but that is also a judge of the living and the dead. In the Christian view, the notion of evil assumes the non-being and then the deprivation and the other that of nothing, from which God draws the be. If some men remains forever the deprivation, This does not deny the infinite mercy, power and goodness of God, but it is a sign of God's power over hell and death.

Varazze, 23 July 2015



[1] Cantagalli, Siena 2007, p. 524.

[2] Cf my book Hell esiste. The truth denied, Editions Faith&Culture, Verona 2010.

1 reply
  1. hector says:

    Biffi: It would be honest to recognize that each has its own dogmatism, and considers them indisputable, While blame fiercely others…
    I quote from
    L’ “unity” It is thus the form of the truth of being; and so things separate – considered just as separate – are not “Vere”. Evil is therefore essentially Division and separation, because it is forfeiture from “unity”.
    .. all this reasoning more than offer assertions resolves to a request: man seeks and postulates that there is a unifying principle of all, otherwise everything is parcelled out and it trivializes; and he feels lost and upsets. The Christian event is God's answer to this fundamental question of man. The answer is the reality of Jesus Christ, “in whom all things hold together” (With the 1, 17). Jesus is the only Savior of the world, yesterday, today and forever, just as it is the compaginatore principle of all that exists and all-encompassing sense of everything that happens: “In him all things were created, those in heaven and on Earth” (With the 1, 16).
    ERGO your thoughts coincide.
    With humility and Biffi concludes:
    "Thinking is tiring and sometimes even exhausting, also because it is much more what you do not understand what you come to realize. "Hanc occupationem pessimam dedit Deus filiis hominum, UT occuparentur in ea " (EC 1,13), Qoheleth says , always encouraging.
    "Bad Jobs", but comes to us from God; e, If you keep illibata intellectual honesty, leads inevitably to God. Thinking is, as seen, more investigate; It is more striving for truth; It is more beg the light. To think, at the bottom of, you pray.
    Thinking, We implore a light that has already been donated, as the prologue of John : "He was the true light, the one that illuminates every man " (CF Jn. 1, 9).”

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