On 07 May 1986, Pope John Paul II, during one of his Wednesday General Audiences dedicated to the theme of Divine Providence within creation, affirmed: “By creating, God called into being from nothing all that began to exist outside himself. But God’s creative act does not end here. What comes forth from nothing would return to nothing if it were left to itself and not conserved in being by the Creator. Having created the cosmos, God continues to create it, by maintaining it in existence. Conservation is a continuous creation (conservatio est continua creatio).”
Here is the complete text from Pope John II:
Divine Providence Continues to Care for Creation
Today we continue the catechesis on divine Providence. By creating, God called into being from nothing all that began to exist outside himself. But God’s creative act does not end here. What comes forth from nothing would return to nothing if it were left to itself and not conserved in being by the Creator. Having created the cosmos, God continues to create it, by maintaining it in existence. Conservation is a continuous creation (conservatio est continua creatio).
We can say that understood in the most generic sense, divine Providence is expressed especially in this “conservation,” namely, in maintaining in existence all that has had being from nothing. In this sense Providence is a constant and unending confirmation of the work of creation in all its richness and variety. It implies the constant and uninterrupted presence of God as Creator in the whole of creation. It is a presence which continually creates and reaches the deepest roots of everything that exists. It operates there as the first cause of being and of action. This presence of God continually expresses the same eternal will to create and to conserve what has been created. It is a supremely and fully sovereign will. By means of it, according to the very nature of goodness which is proper to him in an absolute way (bonum diffusivum sui), God continues to declare himself, as in the first moment of creation, in favor of being as opposed to nothing, in favor of life as opposed to death, in favor of “light” as opposed to “darkness” (cf. Jn 1:4-5). In a word, it is a will in favor of the truth, goodness and beauty of all that exists. The mystery of Providence prolongs uninterruptedly and irreversibly the judgment contained in the Book of Genesis: “God saw that it was good…that it was very good” (Gen 1:25, 31). That constitutes the fundamental and unshakable affirmation of the work of creation.
This essential affirmation is not affected by any evil deriving from limitation inherent in everything of the cosmos, or which is produced, as has happened in the history of mankind, in sad contrast with that original “God saw that it was good…that it was very good” (Gen 1:25, 31). Divine Providence implies the recognition that in God’s eternal plan, in his creative design, evil originally had no place. But once committed by man and permitted by God, evil is, in the last analysis, subordinated to the good: “Everything works for good” as the Apostle says (cf. Rom 8:28). But this is a problem to which we shall have to return.
The truth of divine Providence is present in the whole of revelation. We can even say that it pervades the whole of revelation, as does the truth of creation. With this it constitutes the first and fundamental point of reference in all that God “in many and various ways” wished to say “by the prophets and in these last days…through his Son” (Heb 1:1). It is necessary to reread this truth both in the texts where revelation speaks of it directly, and also where Sacred Scripture bears witness to it indirectly.
It is found right from the beginning, as a fundamental truth of faith, in the ordinary Magisterium of the Church, even though it was only the First Vatican Council that pronounced on it in the context of the solemn Dogmatic Constitution Dei Filius, in regard to the truth about creation. Vatican I stated: “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 Council’s concise text was dictated by the particular needs of the times (the 19th century). The Council wished first of all to confirm the constant teaching of the Church on Providence, and then the immutable doctrinal tradition linked to the entire biblical message, as is proved by the Old and New Testament passages contained in the text. By confirming this constant teaching of the Christian faith, the Council intended to oppose the errors of materialism and deism of that time. Materialism denies the existence of God, while deism maintains that God is not at all concerned with the world he has created, though admitting the existence of God and the creation of the world. It is precisely the doctrine of deism that directly attacks the truth about divine Providence.
The separation of the work of creation from divine Providence, typical of deism, and still more the total negation of God proper to materialism, open the way to materialistic determinism, to which mankind and human history are completely subordinated. Theoretical materialism is transformed into historical materialism. In this context, the truth about the existence of God, and in particular about divine Providence, constitutes the fundamental and definitive guarantee of man and of his liberty in the cosmos. Already in the Old Testament, Sacred Scripture indicates this when it sees God as a strong and indestructible support: “I love you, O Lord, my strength, O Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. O God, my rock of refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold!” (Ps 18:3). God is the unshakable foundation on which man rests with his whole being: “You it is who hold fast my lot” (Ps 16:5).
On the part of God, divine Providence is a sovereign affirmation of the whole of creation and, in particular, of man’s pre-eminence among creatures. Providence constitutes the fundamental guarantee of the sovereignty of man himself in regard to the world. This does not imply the cancellation of the immanent determination of the laws of nature. But it excludes that materialistic determinism which reduces the whole of human existence to the “domain of necessity,” practically annihilating the “domain of freedom” which the Creator on the contrary destined for man. God by his Providence never ceases to be the ultimate support of the “domain of freedom.”
Faith in divine Providence obviously remains strictly connected with the basic concept of human existence, with the meaning of human life. Man can face up to his own existence in an essentially different way, when he has the certainty that he is not at the mercy of a blind destiny (fate), but depends on someone who is his Creator and Father. Therefore faith in divine Providence is inscribed in the first words of the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God, the Father Almighty.” This faith frees human existence from the different forms of fatalistic thought.
In the wake of the constant tradition of the Church’s teaching and in particular of the teaching of the First Vatican Council, the Second Vatican Council also spoke many times about divine Providence. From the texts of its Constitutions it follows that God is he who “has fatherly care of all” (GS 24), and in particular “of the human race” (DV 3). An expression of this care is also found in the “divine law itself-eternal, objective and universal, whereby God orders, directs and governs the entire universe and all the ways of the human community” (DH 3). “For man would not exist were he not created by God’s love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to his Creator” (GS 19).