Philippe du Plessis Mornay (1549-1623): Our doings can have no end to rest upon here, but only in the life to come

Philippe Du Plessis Mornay

Chapter 18 of De la Verité de la Religion Chrestienne: contre les Athées, Épicuriens, Payens, Juifs, Mahumedistes, et autres Infideles (Of the Truth of the Christian Religion, against Atheists, Epicureans, Paynims, Jews, Muslims, and Other Unbelievers) by the French Huguenot Philippe du Plessis Mornay (1549-1623) contains a discussion of man’s highest end, by no means identical to but reminiscent of Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of the beatific vision.

Mornay demonstrates the vanity of man seeking his highest good in the things of this world – in riches, honour, power and authority, in himself, in beauty, bodily pleasure, voluptuousness, sensuality, virtue, politics, earthly wisdom, and so forth. He then shows that God himself is man’s highest good and ultimate end, which though partially attainable in this life, is ultimately only attained in the life to come. In the excerpt below, which is from the end of the chapter, he argues along the lines of Hebrews 11:1 (“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”):

“And what is this faith in God, but a believing that our good lies in him? What is the believing, but the hoping for it? What is hope, but the desiring of it? What is the desire of it, but the not having it? And to be short, what is the continual belief of it here, but [a confirmation] that here we can neither have it nor see it? If we have not faith, what have we but ignorance? And if we have faith, what have we but only a desire and longing, considering that the greater our faith is, the more we despise these base things [of the world], and the greater our desire is, the more we hate ourselves, and the more earnestly do we love God. To be short, what is faith? Salvation promised. But we would [want to] see it. Again, what is faith? The way unto felicity. But we would [want to] possess and enjoy it. Look then what proportion is between that which is present, and that which is to come; such proportion is there between the hope which we have here (yea, even above the world and above ourselves), and the perfect and full fruition of the good which we seek to attain unto. But let us in a few words gather together what we have said heretofore. Whereas we seek for an end or resting-point, the world is made for man, man for the soul, the soul for the mind, the mind for a much higher thing than itself, and what else can that be but God? As for that which we understand here concerning God by our natural wisdom, it is but ignorance; and by our supernatural, is but belief; and belief makes not things perfect, but only moves the understanding. It follows then that our doings can have no end to rest upon here, but only in the life to come, which is the beholding and knowing of God. Again, if we seek the sovereign good, our appetites owe obedience to our will, our will to our reason, and the perfection of our reason is the knowing of God. And so our contentment of our will is our possessing of God. Now we possess not God, but so far as we love him; we love him not but so far as we know him: and neither can ignorance engender full and perfect fruition, but only a certain hope, which hope is accompanied by impatience even in the best of us. It follows therefore that we cannot enjoy our sovereign good, until we have come to our utmost end; nor have our full contentment, until we have full knowledge: that is, we cannot have it in this world, nor in man, which two cannot content the mind or satisfy the will of man, forasmuch as either of them both is a world of wretchedness: but though we have a double life, yet can we have our utmost resting-point and our sovereign good nowhere else but only in God and in the everlasting life.

Here I should declare what that felicity of man shall be, when he has come to his utmost resting-point. But who will be so rash as to open his mouth on this behalf, after him who has told us that neither eye has seen it nor heart can conceive it? And how should we know it here, being unable either to see it or to have it here? Now therefore in one word, let us be content with this, that all our desires shall be satisfied at that day, seeing they extend not but to the things that are, and that in God we shall at that day see, have, and know all things.”