(Summa Theologica, I-II, qq. 1-5; Contra Gentes, IV, cc. 1-63.)
Existence of the Last End
Every deliberate act proceeds from the will, and, since the will pursues good as its goal, it follows that every deliberate act is done for some good or end. But, if this end is an imperfect good, it is desired not for itself but as leading up to a perfect good, that is, to one which will leave nothing beyond it to be desired; in other words, the intermediate end is willed on account of a last end. Hence, all that a man wills, he wills directly or indirectly on account of a last end. All men desire their own happiness and perfection; but not all understand in what beatitude consists, since some aim ultimately at finite goods.
Nature of the Last End
As man’s Last End is that object which will make him perfectly happy, it cannot consist:
- In external goods, such as wealth, honors, fame, glory and power, since one might have all these and yet be very unhappy.
- In goods of the body, such as health, beauty, pleasure and strength, since all these things are passing, and moreover satisfy only a part, and that the lower part, of man.
- In goods of the soul, such as wisdom or virtue, since man’s intellect is never content with particular truth, nor his will with particular good, the former always reaching out for the highest truth, the latter for the highest good. Hence, the Last End of man is the Infinite Good, or God “who satisfieth thy desire” (Psalm cii. 5).
Attainment of the Last End
God being supersensible, the act by which He is attained cannot be any operation of the senses, but must be an act of the higher powers. Man possesses his Last End through the vision of God, from which result beatific love and every good that is compatible with the glorified state. For “we see now through a glass in a dark manner, but then face to face” (I Cor., xiii. 12); and there shall be “glory and honor and peace to everyone that worketh good” (Rom, ii. 10).
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