The term divine sanction is used to convey the idea that man is ultimately answerable to God for his actions here on earth. This belief is fundamental to a religious view of the world. It implies that man is not autonomous but is under God and yet at the same time a free agent and not the victim of fate (see fate and fatalism). It means that events in this life have effects far transcending the purely temporal order.
The concept of reward and punishment found among non-Christian peoples expresses this truth only very inadequately. The doctrine of metempsychosis in its various forms is widespread and owes its popularity to the difficulty man experiences in imagining a sanction that is final and irreversible. A succession of lives, as propounded by many Asian religions and various forms of theosophy, allows for some sort of reward or punishment but does not take into account the continued existence of the human person. The true idea of expiation is destroyed if man does not know for what he is atoning.
It is to revelation that one must turn for a full treatment of divine sanction that preserves the freedom and responsibility of man. In the earlier writings of the Old Testament there is a firm conviction that any transgression of the law brings unhappiness in this life. Plague, famine, war are taken as indications of God's displeasure with His people (e.g., in 1 Kgs 9.9). Only later, when the problem arises of the suffering of the just (Book of Job), is it recognized that the only true explanation is to be sought in a reward and punishment after death. It is in the later wisdom literature that the immortality of the soul and the nature of the afterlife are more fully worked out. The New Testament stresses the fact that this sanction will be in the next life. Christ does speak of compensation in this life (Lk 18.29–30), but the impact of His affirmations is that the real reward or punishment is reserved for afterward and this is of a spiritual nature and not to be compared with the joys and sorrows of this life.
Man's nature is such that the appeal to a final sanction will always be necessary; the Stoic and Kantian ideal of virtue for virtue's sake does not take into account man in his present fallen situation. But Stoicism does well to react against a servile worship of God whose only motive is fear of punishment or hope of reward (see stoicism; kantianism). The belief in God as rewarder and punisher is to instill in man a sense of dependence on God and responsibility in his actions. God's sanction is not an arbitrary decision imposed with no intrinsic connection with what man does. Rather, it is the manifestation of how his activities stand in reality. If his life is Goddirected, he will reap the reward and obtain God; if it is not directed to Him, he will not attain Him.
See Also: fire of judgment; judgment, divine (in the bible); judgment, divine (in theology); merit; eschatology, articles on.
Bibliography: Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–), Tables générales 2:2705–19. w. pesch, h. fries, ed., Handbuch theologischer Grundbegriffe, 2 v. (Munich 1962–63) 2:748–751.
[m. e. williams]