Moral Theology and its Application the The Spiritual Life.
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Moral Theology and its Application to a Spiritual Life

Chapter I
Morals and Religion
by John A. Hardon, S.J.

The relationship between religion and morality goes back to the earliest history of mankind. Among the extant documents showing this is the famous instruction for King Meri-ka-re, dating from the twenty-second century B.C., in which the Egyptian ruler tells his son how to conduct himself. Instead of giving him counsels of plain moralizing, the king places the whole practice of virtue on obedience to the gods, and doing good on earth is commended with an eye to reward in the world to come. After the short span of life, which for the Egyptians was ideally one hundred and ten years, a man's soul appears before a tribunal of the gods, under the presidency of Re, the sun-god, and with Osiris, god of the underworld, as judge.

The council which judges the deficient, you know that they are not lenient on that day of judging the miserable, the hour of doing their duty. It is woe when the accuser is one of knowledge. Do not trust in length of years, for they regard a lifetime as but one hour. A man remains over after death, and his deeds are placed beside him in heaps. However, existence after death is for eternity, and he who complains of it is a fool. But as for him who reaches it without wrongdoing, he shall exist yonder like a god, stepping out freely like the lords of eternity.(1)
Until modern times this relation was generally taken for granted, and writers as far different in philosophy as Plato and Avicenna, or in theology as Aquinas and Luther, never questioned the basic truth expressed on Mount Sinai, when Yahweh gave the Jews a decalogue whose first precepts were to honor God as a foundation for the secondary precepts of the moral law.

But something new has entered the stream of human thought, a concept of man's autonomy that wishes to dispense with religion in its bearing on morals, on the grounds that the very notion of religious values is only a mental construct. Whatever bearing they may have on ethical principles, it is not as though the acceptance of God was a necessary condition for being moral in the current, accepted sense of the term. When Julian Huxley boldly proclaimed that he knew nothing of a personal Deity be he Yahweh, or Allah, or Apollo, he was saying more than meets the eye. "I am not merely agnostic on the subject," he insisted. "I disbelieve in a personal God in any sense in which that phrase is ordinarily used."(2) His protest was born of a conviction that the practical effect of theism is to stultify human effort. Where the fifth-century monk, Pelagius, denied the existence of grace because he felt this encouraged lazy dependence on supernatural aid, latter day critics of religion would remove the existence of God for the same reason – except that their Pelagianism is more complete, perhaps because their confidence in Man is so extreme.

It is axiomatic in the Christian faith that religion and morality cannot be separated, at the risk of destroying the essence of moral conduct and leaving man's will a prey to his passions and unreasoning drives. To the casual reader the answer of Christ to the questioning Pharisees may seem like a platitude. They asked Him, "Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?" He told them, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind, That is the greatest commandment. It comes first. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. Everything in the Law and the prophets hangs on these two commandments."(3) Behind his statement stands the ethical system of Christianity, whose prior concern is with the things of God, on the premise that everything in the moral order derives meaning only from Him.


Metaphysical Foundations

Religion means different things to different people. It has been loosely defined as that which holds the inner loyalty of a man. He may be fundamentally loyal to himself alone (an egoist), to the crowd he is with (the herd instinct), to his country (as a good citizen), to an abstract idea of man's welfare (the humanist), to some conception of God (a theist), to God made known to us in His divine Son Jesus Christ (as a Christian). Whatever engages a man's inner loyalty is said to be his religion, unless he cares nothing about anything, a nihilist; but then he is worth only what he believes, nothing. For everyone is what he is by virtue of what he believes.

Among these conceptions, only the last two are valid in the Christian scheme of reality, and no more important distinction can be made than to sift the various meanings of religion as they affect morality. Unless the notion of a personal God is included, religion is not only a misnomer, it is a parody.

Yet there is prevalent in modern thought the idea that people can be religious, and therefore moral, without believing in any religion in the sense of accepting an objective and transcendent Deity. "God," in the words of John Dewey, "denotes the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and actions."(4) He admits the idea that "God" represents a unification of ideal values that is essentially imaginative in origin when the imagination supervenes in conduct bristles with verbal difficulties. This is owing to our frequent use of the word "imagination" to denote fantasy and doubtful reality. "But the reality of ideal ends as ideals is vouched for by their undeniable power in action. An idea is not an illusion because imagination is the organ through which it is apprehended."(5)

In other words, God does not exist except as the projection by our imagination of those non-objective ideals which guide our conduct. While the idea of God is not real, therefore, since it is created by the fantasy, it is not illusory because it serves the purpose of idealizing our hopes and desires.

Consistent with this doctrine of naturalism, philosophers in the tradition of Feuerbach and Freud inveigh against the idea of religion – any religion – which pretends to represent man's relations with an objective and personal Supreme Being. They introduce a distinction between religion and religious which has become classic. Projected ideals of conduct are religious, but there is no warrant for religion, since there is no extra-mental God for religion to worship. Any activity, according to them, pursued in behalf of an ideal end against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of a conviction of its general and enduring value is religious in quality.

The roots of this subjectivist theory are not old. They date from the revolt against the perennial philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas, for whom being and its transcendentals measure thought. For the moderns it is thought which measures being and its transcendentals, including goodness and truth.

For Aristotle and St. Thomas, mind is a clean slate on which reality writes. Nothing can be in the mind unless it was first in the senses and therefore in objective reality. As far as man is concerned, mind is not the measure of reality. Reality exists even though it never enters into a finite mind. And even when reality does measure mind, it is in no way modified in the process. Only the subjective counterpart or image is affected.

A great deal of ethical thinking inverts this order of mind and being. It makes mind a measure instead of the thing measured. Both Idealism and Empiricism agree in this revolution which was sparked and mainly determined by the writings of Immanuel Kant (1724 -1804): reality is to some extent the product of mind. Not unlike the Athman of the Hindu Brahmins, for whom Self is the center of the universe, the facets of reality are only reflections of the Ego. And how does the mind measure reality? Either by using the a-priori categories native to the mind (Idealism), or by practical forms arising from need and utility (Empiricism). The first is the modern version of Kant's First Critique, of Pure Reason; the second of his Second Critique, of Practical Reason.

Christianity has always maintained that truth, while necessarily involving mind, is not made or created by human mind. It discovers truth; it does not fabricate it. Where is the ultimate source of what it discovers? It is in the Mind of God. Truth abides first in the divine Intelligence, which conceives eternally the ideas of what it creates. It is secondly found in things outside of God, since these were brought out of nothing in conformity with these Eternal Ideas. And thirdly truth passes into human knowledge when it represents things as they really are.(6)

The bearing of these principles on morality is profound. It lies at the basis of the Christian claim that moral principles are unchangeable, and that relativism in ethics is a contradiction in terms.

If anything is obvious in moral science it is the need for passing judgment on what actions are good and what are bad, and correspondingly which conduct is right and which wrong. To pass judgment, however, calls for some norm or criterion by which the mind can recognize the good and then will choose accordingly. Otherwise morality would be nothing but caprice, and ethics only a name. Two kinds of moral "measuring rods" are conceivable: a proximate norm which stands nearest the human will and directly teaches it what is right and wrong, and an ultimate standard beyond which no further principle of ethical discrimination is possible. On both counts, God as the Author of creation and of man's nature is quintessential.

For the sake of clarity we may reverse the order, saying that the ultimate norm of morality is the nature or essence of God, and the proximate corresponds to it in the created world, namely man's nature, which imitates the divine essence as do all things that are outside of God.

From the viewpoint of human actions, some of these, such as blasphemy, are of themselves bad at all times, and other acts, like the love of God, are of themselves always good. Evidently the quality of moral goodness or badness must be something intrinsic to the acts and depends on their agreement or discord with the permanent natural order of things. This order must correspond to the myriad relationships that men have with reference to God as His creatures, to their fellow men as social beings, and to themselves as endowed by the Creator with faculties, inclinations and human needs. These relations are not arbitrary figments of the mind but founded on the essences of things. Hence the difference between some good and bad actions must be an essential difference. And since the natures of creatures are modeled on the nature of God, it follows that ultimately the morality of human actions is determined by the essence of God – to which His own divine intellect and will must conform.

If we ask, then, why we approve certain actions as morally good, the answer must be that we perceive them as rightly directed to their true end. They are seen as conformable to this divinely established order of things – ultimately to the nature of God and proximately to our natures, created after His image and likeness. Remove God from the premises and we make goodness anything the human mind conceives to be good, subjectively and apart from reality; and evil becomes whatever the autonomous intellect of man decides is disagreeable.

We go a step further. Unless God were the focus of moral actions and the final object towards whom we tend, the deepest hunger in man's spirit must forever remain unsatisfied. Nothing else than He can fully answer to our needs. Over the centuries every conceivable substitute has been devised and experimented with, and all have been found wanting.

Thus man's ultimate happiness does not consist in pleasures of the flesh. In the order of nature pleasure depends on operation, and not the converse.

Consequently, if operations are not the ultimate end, the pleasures that result from them are not the ultimate end either; nor are they concomitant with the ultimate end. It stands to reason that the operations which accompany the pleasures of the flesh are not the ultimate end, for they are directed to certain purposes that are quite obvious: eating for instance, to the preservation of the body, and sexual intercourse to the generation of offspring.(7)
Moreover, something which is not good unless it be moderated cannot be good in itself; it receives goodness from the source of moderation. Common experience teaches that the enjoyment of food and sex is not good unless moderated. By the same token if man's final happiness consisted in indulging the body, the maximum enjoyment of the flesh should be the best. But this is clearly not true, because excessive carnal pleasure is considered vicious, and is also harmful to the body (as even the least ethical Freudians admit). In fact restraint in this matter tends to increasing the very pleasures of sense. A hungry man enjoys food more than someone whose appetite has been dulled by over-indulgence.

In the same way, our final happiness does not consist in being honored by others, even though many people practically govern their lives by this ideal. Whatever is desirable on account of something else is not the ultimate end. Honors are of this nature. A person is not rightly honored except for some other good that is present in him. And this is why men seek to be honored, desiring, as it were, to have a witness to some good quality they possess, whether intelligence or beauty of skill which another man's opinion confirms in their own minds. That is why we take greater joy in being praised by important and wise people. But, in any case, the praise and reputation are not to be identified with the final goal of existence.

A similar case could be made out against the possession of wealth, or earthly power, or even the highest endowment of the moral virtues, none of which can constitute the ultimate of human beatitude. We are creatures of unspeakable longing, always pressing forward to further horizons of happiness. We cannot be at peace until submerged in the ocean of Truth and Love which is God. "Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord," prayed St. Augustine, "and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."

Since God is a pure spirit, our perfect happiness must be found in possessing Him with the spiritual faculties of mind and will, in knowledge and love – contemplating Him in the fullness of His wisdom and enjoying Him inthe plenitude of His goodness.

Christianity makes a distinction between what reason tells us about the destiny of man, and what revelation teaches through the Church. Reflection on our motives shows we are always looking for goals in what we do, at least implicitly, and beyond lesser goals for a final one that promises perfect satisfaction. Since nothing merely earthly or created qualifies – at least because everything on earth must come to an end – only the Creator can finally satisfy. But what kind of possession of God will this be? Revelation gives the answer, and thereby the purpose for moral conduct which all the speculations of philosophy could never find. "Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love Him ...When He appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is."(8) The name for this seeing is vision, and its fruit is beatitude, hence the cold theological term for the magnificent reality of heaven, the beatific vision.

Life full of life! Everlasting and ever blessed life, in which is joy without sorrow, rest without labor, dignity without fear, riches without loss, health without sickness, abundance without want, life without death, continuity without corruption, blessedness without calamity; where all good things are in perfect sight; where there is full knowledge in all things and of all things; where God's sovereign goodness is understood and His enlightening light is glorified by the saints; where the present majesty of God is beheld, and the minds of the beholders are satisfied as with the food of life. They always see and they always desire to see; yet they desire without disquietude and are filled without weariness.(9)
The Christian faith, therefore, speaks of seeing God in heaven. This is analogous language. The beatific vision is more than mere beholding. It is at once knowledge and love, possession and wonder, desire and delight, raised to the highest degree possible for a creature, where God's intimacy is so great that He will be in no sense outside the soul, but within it. We shall grasp His very being within the very powers of our mind. It is life within life, being within being, remotely (but only remotely) like a bar of iron in a blazing furnace, till the eye can no longer distinguish between it and the surrounding fire. Yet the metal is less pervaded by the flames then the soul is permeated by God


Priority of the Divine

Religion also defines the scope of morality and identifies the first of man's duties in the moral order: It is an incredible prejudice among certain ethicians that they will write volumes on morality and never so much asrecognize that our first obligations are towards God. Underlying this prejudice is the most devastating mental inversion of modern times, the claim that not God but man stands at the center of the universe. It deserves careful consideration.

Atheistic Humanism. Since the time of Protagoras the Sophist, in the fifth century B.C., who is reputed to have said, "of the gods nothing can be known, neither that they are, nor that they are not," there have been philosophers who denied that the human mind can attain to the knowledge of anything ultimate or absolute, and therefore of God.

In modern thought, the emergence of this agnostic (I-do-not-know) tendency was due mainly to the scepticism of David Hume (1711-1776), who rejected the validity of the ideas of substance and causality, and paved the way for later Phenomenalism and Nominalism. Immanuel Kant was critical of Hume and meant to offer an antidote to his scepticism, but he ended up in the same situation. He would not allow our ideas of such transcendent realities as substance and cause to have any value outside the world of phenomena. They cannot be applied to the world of reality, to the things-in-themselves. All we can know is the shell of reality, but never its core.

In the nineteenth century, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) introduced what has since become known as Positivism, where a definite break was made with metaphysics which Comte discarded along with everything except facts and their relations, events and the laws of their occurrence. Comte's Positivism was the direct ancestor of Agnosticism, of which Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) and Thomas Huxley (1825-1895) were outstanding representatives.

The precise term "Agnosticism" was coined by Thomas Huxley in 1869. It was intended to describe the position of those who claimed that the ultimate reality was simply unknowable. Its range of nescience was universal, and was directed not only against the idea of God as the ultimate and absolute reality in the religious view of the world, but equally against the possibility of saying that the existence of any reality corresponds with our ultimate ideas in philosophy and science. Philosophers had always professed to reach the knowledge of first principles, and even scientists dealt with realities which they considered ultimate in their own field. Likewise religion offers its explanations of the ultimate in identifying God as the first beginning and last end of all things.

But Agnosticism denied the possibility of knowing the ultimate in any field of inquiry. We can know the manifestations of things, but nothing more. Many agnostics admitted that ultimates exist, others were not sure; but all refused to recognize the mind's capacity for knowing the ultimates themselves.

Parallel with the spirit of philosophical doubt arose another, more radical view of the cosmos. Not satisfied with questioning whether God exists, it simply denied His existence, yet in such complex and devious ways that to this day no single approach to religion is more subversive of sound philosophy or disastrous for moral conduct. Its name is also its definition, for Atheistic Humanism is a combination of two attitudes: a negative assertion that there is no God (a = not + Theos = God) and a positive claim that only man (homo) is real in the universe.

The great exponent of Atheistic Humanism was Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). He studied under Hegel in Berlin, and through the latter crystallized what has since become the mainstay of Communism in its opposition to religion as "the opium of the people," and of Freudianism in its effort to remove the religious illusion from human motivation and morals.

Early in his career, Feuerbach indicated his principal aim: to change "the friends of God into friends of man, believers into thinkers, worshippers into workers, candidates for the other world into students of this world, Christians, who on their own confession are half-animal and half-angel, into men – whole men." To these proposed improvements he had earlier added: "theologians into anthropologians," religious footmen of a celestial aristocracy into free, self-reliant citizens of earth.(9)

Never one to mince words or avoid clashing with established positions, Feuerbach laid the groundwork for his followers by asserting that "the object of any subject is nothing else than the subject's own nature taken objectively." In less pedantic language it means that the object we think we know is really only ourselves projected outside the mind as though it were objective. The objects of religious knowledge are no exception. Even God is only we extrapolating ourselves into a fictitious world outside the mind.

Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge. Whatever God is to a man, that is his heart and soul; and conversely, God is the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man – religion the solemn unveiling of a man's hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts, the open confession of his love secrets.

But when religion – consciousness of God – is designated as self-consciousness of man, this is not to be understood as affirming that the religious man is directly aware of this identity. On the contrary, ignorance of it is fundamental to the peculiar nature of religion. To preclude this misconception, it is better to say, religion is man's earliest and also indirect form of self-knowledge. Hence religion everywhere precedes philosophy, as in the history of the human race, so also in that of the individual. Man first of all sees his nature as if out of himself, before he finds it in himself. His own nature is in the first instance contemplated by him as that of another being.

Religion is the childlike condition of humanity; but the child sees his nature – man – out of himself; in childhood a man is an object to himself, under the form of another man. Hence the historical progress of religion consists in this: that what by an earlier religion was regarded as objective, is now recognized as subjective; that is what was formerly contemplated and worshipped as God is now perceived to be something human. What was at first religion becomes at a later period idolatry; man is seen to have adored his own nature.(10)

Although man has given himself objectivity, Feuerbach argued, he has not recognized the object as his own nature. He has mistaken himself for God, and while adoring God was later to discover (if he makes the discovery) that this God is really self in objective disguise. Most people still labor under this illusion. "But the essence of religion is viewed objectively, which it cannot be by its votaries. And it is our task to show that the antithesis between the human nature in general and the human individual; that, consequently, the object and contents of the Christian religion are altogether human" – where human is understood as humanity, symbolized and idealized and (erroneously among religious people) believed to be divine.(11)

It would be easy at this stage to ignore Feuerbach and his followers with a literary shrug and dismiss them with a clever phrase. But the impact of Atheistic Humanism on the modern mind is too deep not to be taken seriously, or not to take further stock of this challenge to Christianity but pass on to the more comforting examination of religious morality.

What makes Feuerbach so serious is the influence he had on Communism, which currently threatens to engulf the other half of mankind. Marx, Engels and Lenin, each in turn, studied Feuerbach and finally rested their case against religion on his principles.

Karl Marx (1818-1883) read the Essence of Christianity with enthusiasm. His own critique of capitalism found a kindred spirit in the image of God created to the likeness of man. It was no difficult matter for Marx to apply the logic of Feuerbach to his own theory of capital and labor. In Marx's language, religion is a product of man's social consciousness, caused by his inability to reconcile himself to nature. Though not the root cause of this alienation, religion holds out to man an illusory hope of finding himself. This merely serves to perpetuate and deepen the alienation, and adds to man's misery. Religion, then, is a sickly product of sickly men. It must be suppressed at all costs. For as long as it exists, even in private worship and internal belief, it will attract men and keep them from attacking the real source of their misery – the false economic structure of society.

Frederick Engels (1820-1895 ) co-founder of the doctrines of Marxism, was a life-long friend and collaborator of Karl Marx. Like Marx he became interested in Communism early in life, developing and applying its doctrines until his death. Beside his collaboration with Marx on the Manifesto of the Communist Party, and the basic articles for the New York Tribune, he edited the second and third volumes of Das Kapital, published after Marx's death. Engels' contribution to Communism was on its philosophical side, where he speculated on fundamental questions of scientific methodology and dialectical logic. Among the master works in which this philosophy was explored and delineated, his book on Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of the Classical German Philosophy remains today a standard. Engels forms the link between Marx and Lenin in their approach to religion, and the prevalent Communist hostility towards a mental construct which inhibits the progress of a classless society.

Lenin, whose full name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov (1870-1924), is generally regarded as the chief exponent of dialectical materialism. A Marxist from his student days onward, he lived many years outside of Russia as a political refugee, and read widely in the social sciences and philosophy, with Feuerbach and Marx among his chief authorities. His analysis of religion is not only penetrating but incisive. In spite of its length, it is worth quoting in full because it describes an essential feature of world Communism and represents a more common attitude toward religion in the West (for example in America) than is generally supposed.

Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weigh upon the masses who are crushed by continuous toil for others, by poverty and loneliness. The helplessness of the exploited classes in their struggle against the exploiters inevitably generates a belief in a better life after death, even as the helplessness of the savage in his struggle with nature gives rise to a belief in gods, devils, miracles and the like.
Religion teaches those who toil in poverty all their lives to be resigned and patient in this world, and consoles them with the hope of reward in heaven. As for those who live upon the labor of others, religion teaches them to be charitable in earthly life, thus providing a cheap justification for their whole exploiting existence and selling them at a reasonable price tickets to a heavenly bliss.
Religion is the opium of the people. Religion is a kind of spiritual intoxicant, in which the slaves of capital drown their humanity and their desires for some sort of decent human existence... The modern proletariat ranges itself on the side of Socialism which, with the help of science, is dispersing the fog of religion and is liberating the workers from their faith in a life after death, by rallying them to the present-day struggle for a better life here upon earth.(12)
Lenin's position is quite clear, and the history of Communism in its conflict with religion, whether Christianity, Judiasm, Islam or Buddhism, has been uniform. "We must combat religion," he wrote, "this is the A.B.C. of all materialism, and consequently of Marxism."(13)

With minor nuances, the impact of Feuerbach has been the same in other areas of human culture, as for instance in the metaphysical principles of Freudianism. Sigmund Freud (1856-1940), founder of the school of psychoanalysis, has affected more aspects of modern thought than perhaps any other single writer of the past century. He developed a therapeutic technique for the treatment of hysteria and neuroses; he advanced an elaborate psychological theory of which the main tenets are the predominance of sex and the doctrine of the subconscious; and he undergirded the whole system with his thoroughly Feuerbachian concept of religion.

Freud wrote The Future of an Illusion late in his career, when his interest in psychoanalysis had expanded beyond his earlier clinical concerns, and when the problems of civilization itself occupied much of his attention. "One of his most controversial and unsettling works, this book is as well one of his most striking contributions to the study of mankind." According to Freud, religious ideas are born of the need to make tolerable man's helplessness of his own childhood and the childhood of the human race. They owe their vitality to mankind's hostility to culture and the instinctual renunciations that culture demands. The questions then arise: What are religious ideas in the light of psychology? What is their real worth? Are they in fact illusions, unrelated to reality and motivated by wish fulfillment? Freud's answer is an echo of millions for whom religion is an archaic survival of the past.

Religious ideas…are not the residue of experience or the final result of reflection; they are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest, strongest and most insistent wishes of mankind; the secret of their strength is the strength of these wishes. We know already that the terrifying effect of infantile helplessness aroused the need for protection – protection through love – which the father relieved, and that the discovery that this helplessness would continue through the whole of life made it necessary to cling to the existence of a father – but this time a more powerful one.
Thus the benevolent rule of divine providence allays our anxiety in face of life's dangers, the establishment of a moral world order ensures the fulfillment of the demands of justice, which within human culture have so often remained unfulfilled, and the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life provides in addition the local and temporal setting for these wish-fulfillments.
Religious doctrines…are all illusions, they do not admit of proof, and no one can be compelled to consider them as true or believe in them. Some of them are so improbable, so very incompatible with everything we have laboriously discovered about the reality of the world, that we may compare them--taking adequately into account the psychological differences – to delusions.
We say to ourselves: it would be very nice if there were a God, who was both creator of the world and a benevolent providence, if there were a moral world order and a future life, but at the same time it is very odd that this is all just as we should wish it ourselves. And it would be still odder if our poor, ignorant, enslaved ancestors had succeeded in solving all these difficult riddles of the universe.(14)
Freud, and those from whom he borrowed, can be answered. But perhaps the best reply comes from Freud himself, who is honest enough to recognize the consequences of Atheistic Humanism. "Is there not a danger," he asks, "that these masses (of religious people), in their hostility to culture, will attack the weak point which they have discovered in their taskmaster? If you must not kill your neighbor, solely because God has forbidden it and will sorely avenge it in this or the other life, and you then discover that there is no God so that one need not fear his punishment, then you will certainly kill without hesitation, and you could only be prevented from this by mundane force."(15) Freud offers no valid solution to this dilemma, and takes refuge in vague appeals to the intelligence of his readers: "No believer will let himself be led astray by these or by similar arguments," and to a frank confession that, perhaps, "I have been dealing too hastily with complicated matters."(16)

The Rights of God. If the foregoing seemed like a digression, it is only because too many religious-minded people are unaware of the depth or extent of atheism in the world today, or of its inherent attraction to thosewho begin by living as though there were no God and are tempted to rationalize their conduct by denying His existence.

For the Christian who believes in God, the acceptance of this truth opens a panorama of responsibilities that logically follow. "What is my God?" he asks with St. Augustine, and his answer is a tessera of attributes that stagger the imagination. "Most high, most good, most mighty, most almighty; most merciful and most just; most hidden and most present; most beautiful and most strong; stable and incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet changing all things; never new, and never old, yet renewing all things; leading proud men into senility, although they know it not; ever active, and ever at rest; gathering in, yet needing nothing; supporting, fulfilling, and protecting things; creating, nourishing, and perfecting them; searching them out, although nothing is lacking to You. You love, but are not inflamed with passion; You are jealous, yet free from care; You repent, but do not sorrow; You grow angry, but remain tranquil. You change Your works, but do not change Your plans." In the face of these and similar attributes, the response of a believing mind is a bewildering question: "What have we said, my God, my life, my holy delight? Or what does any man say when he speaks of You? Yet woe to those who keep silent concerning You, since even those who speak much are as the dumb."(17)

The first reaction, therefore, is one of spontaneous praise. We see a beautiful painting or a marvelous piece of architecture, and instinctively praise the artist or engineer who produced what we admire. Justice demands no less for the Artist who daily paints the dawn and sunset, and whose wisdom fashioned the wonders of the stars.

Joined to praise is the response of gratitude. "What have you that you have not received?" is more than a rhetorical question. Its answer is a basic precept of the moral law, by which we express gratitude to the ultimate Source of all we possess, from our being and present welfare to the final destiny to which we aspire.

A moment's reflection tells us that all around us are things that come and go, begin and end. They exist just now but they might not have existed. There is nothing in them which compels them, so to speak, to exist. Consequently the final source of all things must be totally different from everything perceptible to the senses; it has to be something which itself does not live on borrowed existence but on its own, namely God. He exists, it is true, but He must exist. He is absolutely necessary. Nothing else in the world, including ourselves, is necessary. Other things (including us) begin and end. God, of His very nature, can have no beginning or ending. He always is, we need not have been, and the fact that we are is due uniquely to His loving kindness. For that we owe Him gratitude along with praise.

Gratitude leads the believer to love God, not only verbally or in sentiment but really in effective deeds. The precept in Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart," is a law of man's relation to His Creator, towards whom he should be not only grateful but, rising above gratitude, respond in personal love.

According to the masters of the Christian life, there are four stages in the process of growing in the love of God. First comes an intimate knowledge of the many blessings we received; this should inspire gratitude to the divine Benefactor from whom the gifts proceed; then comes interior affection as the fruit of gratitude, and finally dedicated service of God, in loving obedience to His commands.

It is impossible to overstress the importance of the first stage in the process, i.e., the need for reflection on God's goodness as an indispensable condition for gratitude, and through gratitude to love. Unless there is such a previous consideration of the divine bounty, I cannot love what I do not know.

We are instinctively grateful to God once we realize how good He has been to us. And a review of the benefits received is only an application of the psychological principle that if I want to appreciate someone's goodness I study to learn his goodness to me.

At the broadest level the Christian may recall the blessings of creation and redemption, and the special favors he has received. Significantly, God does not love us with mere affection interiorly, but effectuates His love exteriorly by bringing us out of nothing into existence, by raising us to friendship with Himself, restoring us to His grace after we fall and in a thousand ways showering us with His gifts. On our part, this should evoke a responsive desire to give all we can to God and not remain satisfied with interior sentiments of love.

On a higher plane, we may recall how God not only gives us so many gifts, including ourselves, but how He literally dwells in the creatures He donates, in the elements giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring on them sensation, in man bestowing understanding. So each person can say to himself: God dwells in me and gives me life, sensation, intelligence, and makes a temple of me. Again a corresponding desire should be educed in the believer, not only to give God all that he has and does, but as far as possible to give himself with his gifts. There is such a thing as putting one's heart into what a man does, intensifying the generosity and fervor of one's donation, and so equating in analogous fashion the presence of God in His blessings to men.

But God does more than communicate His presents, and more than dwell in them. We may further consider how God works and labors for us in all creatures, and, as far as it can be said, He exerts Himself in giving us blessings of nature and grace, which He proved conclusively in becoming man for our salvation, and laboring and suffering to show His love for man. Moreover, if we consider the behavior of most people towards God, their slowness to cooperate with grace and rejection of the divine commands, we see something of what the Scriptures mean by the Lord's "seeking out" the sinner and His advances in favor of those who would be rid of God. Reflection on this fact should produce a similar response in us. We should be willing to exert ourselves in God's favor by a faithful pursuance of His plans in our regard.

Finally, at the highest level, we may consider all blessings and gifts as descending from above. Thus our limited power comes from the supreme and infinite power above, and so, too, our justice, goodness, mercy, descend "as rays of light descend from the sun, or as waters flow from their fountains." What, we ask, is the real purpose that God has in giving us so many gifts, in which He is present and laboring? The ultimate purpose is to give us Himself. His benefits are all creatures, and intended to lead us to possess the Creator. If we are in His friendship, this possession on earth is enjoyed as "through a mirror in an obscure manner," but in heaven "face to face." As the rays of light descending from the sun unite the sun and earth by means of their common light, and as waters flowing from their fountains join the remotest tributary with its primal source, so in the order of Providence, by means of His gifts, God wishes to join Himself to mankind. The mystery is that even here we are free to make a voluntary response in kind, giving to God what we have, with generosity and sacrifice, while intending these gifts as projections of ourselves towards an eternal union with God.

Even Immanuel Kant, who denied that the mind can arrive at a theoretical demonstration of God's existence, admitted that the moral law postulates a Deity. He argued that the imperative nature of the moral law implies there exists somewhere a good which is not only supreme but complete (consummatum), an embodiment, so to speak, of that perfect holiness which is the sum of all the conditions implied in the moral order. Thus, while theonomic ethics (law deriving from God) supposes the existence of God, autonomic morality (law based on oneself) proves His existence. The implications of this Kantian principle will be examined in a later context. Here it is sufficient to recall that for all his stress on the autonomous will as ethical imperative, Kant did not divorce morality from reference.


Revelation as Source of Ethical Knowledge

The role of religion in Christian morality implies far more than presupposing God as divine lawgiver without whom morals would be without objective foundation; it also means more than recognizing that the primary focus of ethics is on the Creator, who has first claim on man's allegiance and love. Built into Judaeo-Christianity is the fact that God has specially entered the world of human knowledge and communicated to mankind a revelation by which He teaches what men should believe and do as a condition of their salvation. Without this super-natural dimension we would have only a shell of Christian morality and hardly the shadow of its true substance.

The English word "revelation" is derived from the Latin revelare, which means the manifestation or disclosure of something that was previously hidden. In this sense the Scriptures and theology speak of revelation as any communication that God makes of Himself or His dealings with the human race.

Every religious system in history implies a relation between the Deity and man and therefore presupposes some kind of knowledge of God. But where other religions emphasize and practically identify religion as self-instructive, Christianity lays stress on the need for God's intervention to teach men what they could never or only with difficulty have learned otherwise.

This intervention may take on a variety of forms. New knowledge may be communicated by way of external vision, like the handwriting on the wall in the book of Daniel; or in the form of sensible words, as when Christ spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus, asking him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Or it may be by a combination of different sensible elements, as when the angel appeared to Mary and informed her that she was chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah, with certain grave duties that would affect her as a result of this divine choice.

Revelations are also given internally, in the imagination or directly in the mind, with no external medium of communication. Thus we may believe the prophets in the Old law were specially enlightened by God, and in the New Testament the humanity of Christ was infused with divine knowledge which Jesus of Nazareth preached to the people. St. John's Apocalypse is a complete Book of Revelation, "which God gave him, to make known to His servants the things that must shortly come to pass." In the rank of physical perfection, intellectual revelations are superior to those affecting the senses alone, yet both are miraculous and both are species of divine grace because the knowledge they convey comes to the mind in a way that is not normal or natural for human beings.

We see immediately that two kinds of revelation are conceivable, one that is natural and not strictly revelation at all, and another supernatural, which is the proper object of our inquiry. In natural "revelation" God tells us about Himself and our duties towards Him by giving us the power of native insight and logical deduction. Thus we come to the knowledge of a First Cause from reflection on the effects that we see all around us. Everything we know from experience has been caused and brought into being by someone or something else. We therefore argue that whatever is produced cannot have a sufficient reason for existence in itself. It is a contingent being. It might not have existed. Yet things do exist; the world of nature, including ourselves, is not a mirage. But why do they exist? What is the sufficient reason or cause of their existence? We cannot say that each individual finds its sufficient reason in the preceding cause, for the latter also came into existence and therefore does not possess its own final reason for being. No matter how far we go or how long the series, unless we conclude to the existence of a First Cause, itself uncaused, the whole line of produced effects (though mathematically infinite) has not yet been rationally explained.

The same mode of reasoning may be applied to the moral law, which is the logical consequence of God's existence, since it is unthinkable that an allwise Creator would establish an order in the universe without wanting us to observe it, and place sanctions on our disobedience. So, too, we reason to the presence of spiritual forces in nature from the effects they produce that are not material, i.e., not perceptible to the senses. We are able to think in terms of universal concepts, knowing not only men but humanity, and not only taxes but taxation; we know how real are love, liberty and happiness. Yet who ever measured the length of patience with a slide rule or weighed an act of charity on the scales?

All these realities, though abstract and spiritual, or even divine, we may recognize and in some degree understand without special intervention on the part of God. Just using our faculties of sense and reason on the objects of nature will yield a considerable harvest of truth.

But revelation, properly so-called, is not natural. The truths it communicates may be naturally knowable like the Ten Commandments, or above reason like the Trinity, but the mode of communication is not by way of rational deduction or natural intuition. It is always a personal manifestation from God to man, whereby He speaks and man listens; He breaks through the normal channels of cognition and addresses Himself directly to the human mind – whether by infusing knowledge or stimulating the senses or any way He chooses to convey His thoughts without dependence on the laws of nature.

We may, therefore, define revelation as a supernatural manifestation of truth which imposes faith on the listener. The obligation of believing what God reveals follows from the character of the speaker and the nature of what He says. If we are ready to believe whatever we hear, provided a person is known to be truthful and competent to speak on the subject, how shall we not believe God who is infinitely wise and cannot be deceived or deceive us? Moreover when God communicates a revelation, He does not explain Himself or tell us to accept only if we understand. He bids us submit our judgment in the humility of faith, believing without seeing and trusting His goodness not to lead us astray.

What is the purpose of revelation ? Is it merely useful as a kind of auxiliary, or strictly necessary ? And if necessary, by what kind of necessity, and to what function or end ? On the answer to these questions rests no small part of the essential relationship of religion (here revealed religion) and morality.

As regards naturally knowable truths, the verdict of history is that without special illumination from on high beyond the ordinary processes of nature, the generality of men would not attain the fullness and perfection of religious and moral knowledge. For though absolutely speaking human reason can by its native powers arrive at a true and certain knowledge of a personal God and also of the natural law which the Creator has written in the hearts of men, still not a few obstacles prevent reason from using its natural ability effectively. The truths that refer to God and our relations with Him completely transcend the sensible order; and when there is question of their practical application and realization, they call for self-surrender and considerable sacrifice. In the acquisition of such truths, the mind is further hampered by the impulses of the senses and imagination, and by evil passions stemming from original sin. As a result men easily persuade themselves that what they do not wish to be true is false or at least doubtful.

Thus we have whole nations falling into idolatry and gross superstition, and even philosophers like Plato and Aristotle among the Greeks or Cicero among the Romans indulging in the most extravagant notions on the deity, on immortality and the purpose of life. Aristotle extolled hatred and derided mercy. Plato suggested promiscuity, Cicero praised vengeance, Pliny commended suicide, and according to Seneca, "No pain or evils can ever afflict the dead. Death is the end of all suffering, for how can he suffer who does not exist?"

A word of caution, however. We do not say that some knowledge of God and moral truths is impossible without revelation. Indeed, a minimal degree of such knowledge must be easily accessible to all rightly disposed persons who have reached the age of reason. Otherwise God would be depriving men of the absolute requisites for keeping the moral law and reaching their final destiny, and also be leaving them with a rational foundation for their faith. However between this absolute minimum which is possible and the fullness with certitude supplied by revelation, stands all the difference between the pantheon of Homer's Iliad and the monotheism of the Old Testament, or the polytheism of the Romans and the one God of Christianity.

Revelation is further necessary with strict necessity once we assume that God has elevated man to the supernatural order and destined him for enjoyment of the beatific vision. Since the possession of God in heaven is a free gift to created nature, nothing we have of ourselves would make it possible to reach this destiny unless we were raised to a higher than human order of being. This implies more than sheer elevation. We must labor for our salvation by the right use of our free wills, which in turn demands that we know what we are destined for, and know the means of getting there. Since nature cannot offer this knowledge, it has to come by way of revelation, wherein God tells us we are made to see Him face to face, and informs us what we need to believe and how we are to serve Him as a condition for saving our souls.

It is one thing, however, to say that revelation is theoretically possible because God can do all things, and necessary because of man's deficiency and elevation to the adopted sonship of God. It is quite different and more difficult to prove that such revelation has been made, or that Christianity teaches this communication from God. How do we know that God really spoke in Christ Jesus, or through the evangelists and St. Paul? Some of the precepts of the Gospel place heavy demands on human nature, and the single law of monogamy was already a scandal to the first disciples. Merely to take somebody's word is not enough. All the great religions of history have made similar claims: that the Zend-Avesta, the Vedas, and the Koran are heavenly oracles which the believer should accept without reservation as divine. The whole question is, can they prove it?

We transmit the possibility of proving the fact of revelation from internal, subjective criteria alone. Although helpful and often suasive, the satisfaction I get from reading, for example, certain passages in Mohammed, offers no guarantee that these are inspired while the dry Book of Chronicles is not. I may find Homer more naturally attractive than Ecclesiastes or prefer the lively stories of the Apocrypha to the simple narrative of the Gospels, but something more is needed to identify with certainty the revealed word of God.

The only sure index and infallible guide are miracles which God works in the context of the revelation He desires to approve. Other norms are either preliminary to miracles or merely corollary, and for some people may be all they can get. But objectively only miraculous phenomena give the mind assurance that whatever has been sealed by divine intervention has also been communicated by God.

We may speak of miracles as the natural bridge by which the human mind passes over from reason to revelation and comes into contact with the secrets hidden in God from eternity, and which at sundry times and various places He has willed to share with His people.

Miracles are, therefore, as old as the history of God's revelation to man. At the dawn of the Old Testament they were the instruments used by Yahweh to organize the chosen people under Abraham; in the time of Moses and Aaron they were the heavenly aids by which the Jews found liberation from the bonds of Egypt; in the days of Elijah and Elisha they were the signs and wonders which the Lord showed through His prophets to ratify their divine commission. With the opening of the New Covenant, miracles served to announce the coming of the Savior; during His public life on earth, He appealed to His works of power in confirmation of His divinity, and arose from the dead in order to establish His claims. Before He ascended into heaven He gave His Church power to do the same miraculous works (notably in transforming the moral lives of men) as a pledge of His divine assistance and a proof of her authority from God.

It is more than superficially important to see the logic of the Christian religion in its bearing on morals. The latter impose duties on man's selfishness and restraints on his liberty. He naturally rebels against the imposition, and must find some rational justification for believing, say, that "if a man looks on a woman with a lustful eye, he has already committed adultery with her in his heart." What right did Christ have to make this injunction? Christianity says His right was the divinity He professed and repeatedly sealed by the miracles He performed, of which not the least is the endurance of His message in a hostile world for nineteen hundred years.


Necessity of Grace

The final connection between religion and morality is the indispensable one of providing ad hoc assistance to human nature in its practice of virtue and avoidance of vice. Christian thinkers are divided on the extent of this provision. Some, like Reinhold Niebuhr, almost identifies man's nature with sin. "Man is mortal," he says, "that is his fate. Man pretends to be not mortal. That is his sin." The variety of forms which this pretence assumes is myriad. Will to power and lust of the flesh are only generic names for a malady that infects even the noblest of man's actions.

Pride, in this estimate, may be individual or collective. On the individual level it may be a thirst for domination exhibited in those who already enjoy social security and those who wish they did. When social forms persuade men they are secure, an incredible blindness to their finite nature overcomes them. Tyrants and dictators fondly imagine they are exempt from the common law of suffering and death. Those who are socially insecure show their lust for power under the guise of a laudable search for security. It is the sin of those who, knowing themselves to be insecure, seek sufficient power to guarantee their security, inevitably at the expense of other life.

Less pessimistic is the tradition that reaches back to the early Church, which recognized man's inherent debility but never made sin inevitable or resistance to the world, the flesh and the evil spirit impossible because human freedom had been extinguished by the fall of Adam and Eve.

But characteristic of all forms of Christianity is the conviction that man cannot "go it alone," that he constantly needs divine grace and that without this assistance he is lost. The opposite position is Pelagianism, which deserves more than token mention in any study of Christian morals.

Little is known about the early life of the British monk, Pelagius, after whom the system is named. He was born in 345 and came to Rome where he became alarmed by the low morality of priests and people. He concluded that the only hope of reform lay in placing all the responsibility for sin on the free wills of men, to the point of denying the necessity of grace.

Two premises served as basis for Pelagius' theory. Arguing from the principle that "a person is free if he does what he wills and avoids what he wills to avoid," he said that heaven is attainable by the use of our natural faculties alone, since nothing but the free will is needed to practice virtue and keep out of sin. From the axiom that "Adam neither injured nor deprived us of anything," Pelagius decided that men require no special help to repair what Adam is supposed to have lost.

Pelagius and a disciple, named Celestius, went to Africa in 410, the latter staying to find himself charged with heresy by the Council of Carthage, while Pelagius went to Palestine and met the same treatment at the hands of St. Jerome.

The basic principle of Pelagianism is the affirmation of the self-sufficiency of man's free will. We can always will and do good, even when de facto we will and do otherwise, depending entirely on our own moral strength.

In the Pelagian scheme there is no room for original sin. What we now call special gifts of bodily immortality and integrity (freedom from concupiscence) were never really possessed by Adam. He left us only a bad example, and the proneness to sin is not inherited through our parents from Adam but acquired by our own misdeeds.

Aroused by Pelagian speculations, a series of church councils and papal statements from 412 to 529 A.D. examined the controverted areas and either condemned what were considered aberrations or explained the correct teachings of the Church on the necessity of grace.

About 435, St. Prosper of Awuitaine gathered together, as he said, whatever the Church had decided on the subject and called the collection an Indiculus (small index), which is commonly accepted as authentic Christian teaching on the need of divine help for keeping the moral law.

Running as a theme through the collection is the insistence that we need grace not only to help our weakness or dispel ignorance, but absolutely and universally. "God is the author of all good desires and deeds, of all efforts and virtues, with which from the beginning of faith man tends to God. And we do not doubt that His grace anticipates every one of man's merits, and that it is through Him we begin both the will and the performance of any good work." (18)

Where the Pelagians denied that man requires grace to raise his activity to a supernatural plane, the Church proclaimed man's inability, of himself, to take a single step on the road to salvation. His mind and will are, indeed, still intact, in spite of the Fall; but even though man had never sinned, he would still need divine grace to lift him above his natural level and infuse in his actions power that comes only from God. "He is deceived by heretical opinion," it was declared, "who claims it is possible through the power of nature to know or choose anything good, as required, which pertains to the salvation of eternal life; or who claims it is possible to accept the saving Gospel teachings without enlightenment, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit. He fails to understand the word of God who says in the Gospels, 'Without me you can do nothing,' and the statement of the Apostle (St. Paul), 'Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God.' "(19)

The essential elements are specified. If we cannot know or choose anything requisite for salvation by the power of nature alone, we are naturally helpless to attain heaven by ourselves and therefore need by physical necessity the supernatural energy that only the Spirit can supply. Christ's words at the Last Supper, "Without me you can do nothing," are the classic source of this doctrine. They must be seen in context to make a full impression.

I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every barren branch of mine He cuts away; and every fruiting branch He cleans, to make it more fruitful still. Dwell in me, as I in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, but only if it remains united with the vine; no more can you bear fruit, unless you remain united with me.
I am the vine, and you the branches. He who dwells in me, as I dwell in him, bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing. He who dwells not in me is thrown away like a withered branch. The withered branches are heaped together, thrown on the fire, and burnt.(20)
The lesson that Christ wished to teach through this allegory was that just as a branch cannot bear fruit of itself apart from the vine, so neither can we if separated from the influence of Christ. Six times before, Christ had variously identified Himself: I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am the door, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the way, the truth and the life. Now He added the seventh and last assertion, "I am the real vine," as the Savior's own image of the need men have of Him to do anything worthy of salvation.

Vital immanence best describes the depths and indispensability of this flow of divine power from Christ to those who would be saved. No figure He might have chosen would more clearly establish our need of Him, and, by implication, of His life-giving grace. These six words, "without me you can do nothing," exclude every sort of Pelagianism. A severed branch is proverbially useless, destined only to be cast out, to dry up and be burned. Nothing could be stronger than St. Augustine's comment,"aut vitis aut ignis," either the Vine or hell-fire.

Yet, this form of dependence on grace is only half the story. For we need God not only because His love must elevate our natural powers to the level of His own divine being, but our fallen nature also requires help to heal the wounds inflicted on it by sin.

Thomas Aquinas distinguished four injuries that human nature suffered through the fall of Adam: the wound of ignorance, because reason lost its facility for the knowledge of the truth, especially in the religious and moral spheres; the wound of malice, through which the will is deprived of its ready inclination to good; the wound of weakness, which makes us weak in overcoming the trials incident to the practice of virtue, and as a result lack of constancy demanded by the moral law; and the wound of concupiscence, or loss of integrity in the control of the appetitive faculties, so that pleasant things are spontaneously desired and attract, independent of reason and in spite of it, while the unpleasant are instinctively shunned.

The result of this condition is our further need of grace to keep even the fundamentals of the moral law for any length of time. Pelagians (and their number in the modern world is legion) would naturally claim that we have both the physical and moral power to keep the whole law, on their assumption that original sin (if it occurred) did not directly affect anyone but Adam. Indeed on their principles we could avoid all sin, even the slightest, for a lifetime, if only we put our wills to it, since the main source of our weakness in moral matters is the ravages of inherited sin, which the Pelagians simply deny.

Among the most comprehensive statements on the need of grace to observe the moral law occurs in the Indiculus, previously quoted, against the Pelagians. "No one," it declared, "not even he who has been renewed by the grace of baptism, has sufficient strength to overcome the snares of the devil, and to vanquish the concupiscence of the flesh, unless he obtains help from God each day to persevere in a good life."(21)

The conclusion is that if even those who are baptized and in God's friendship need supernatural help, a fortiori the unbeliever in sin; and if such need is required "each day," certainly without it the law could not be observed for any length of time.

All that we read in the Scriptures confirms this sober judgment. St. Peter exhorted the people to be ever watchful because the devil, like a roaring lion, goes about seeking whom he may devour. St. Paul bade the Ephesians to put on the armor of God, to be able to withstand the snares of the enemy, by every prayer and supplication, praying at all times. Christ Himself instructed us to pray, "lead us not into temptation," and to watch and pray lest we enter into temptation.

This insistence on the need of constant prayer would be meaningless if the graces it seeks to obtain were not needed just as constantly to keep out of sin. If we further ask: why this incessant dependence upon God? – we are faced with a mystery, but also with a sign of the divine bounty. Thomas More explained that, "if anyone marvel that God made all His creatures such that they should always need aid of His grace, let him know that God did it out of His double goodness: First to keep them from pride by causing them to perceive their feebleness and call upon Him; and secondly to do His creatures honor and comfort."(22)

One of the surest remedies for pride and the prophylactic against its rise is the self-consciousness of necessity. A man is proud in the degree to which he considers himself independent, and the acme of pride is the belief in perfect self-sufficiency. In the natural, physical order our dependence on others is borne in on us from the dawn of reason, and by reflection back to the first moments of existence. "What have you that you have not received?" is a description of our life from conception to the last act of kindness someone does for us before we die.

It is less obvious that behind all we receive from others is the perennial goodness of God, the real fountainhead of altruism and the source, not only of human charity but of every blessing that enters our lives. Yet we must pause to reflect on God's part to appreciate His generosity.

The same with grace. Here not reason or memory but faith must tell us we are beneficiaries of a continuous, supranatural inflow of which God is the author more immediately and directly than ever happens in nature, where secondary agents are not only instruments of the First Cause. More than ever we have cause to say in humility, "I am what I am because of the mercy of God."

This consciousness of perpetual reliance on the Author of grace should inspire unceasing prayer. It is not coincidental that all the terms Christ used to designate prayer have to do with begging favors from God. Since we are always in need of divine help, and God as constantly must furnish it, once people understand both realities they are moved instinctively to pray. In fact, the spontaneity with which a person turns to God is an index of his moral life. To be moral in the Christian sense is to have the habit of prayer. As our bodily life discovers itself by its activity, so is the presence of God in a soul discovered by a spiritual activity, and this activity is the spirit of regular prayer. Prayer is to the spiritual life what the beating of the pulse and drawing of breath are to the life of the body. They are at once a sign that the person is alive, and the means by which his life is sustained.

Chapter I
Morals and Religion References
Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Princeton Univ. Press, 1955 p. 415.

Julian Huxley, Religion without Revelation, New York, New American Library, 1958, p. 18.

Matthew 22 : 35-40.

John Dewey, A Common Faith, Yale Univ. Press, 1960, p. 42.


Fulton J. Sheen, God and Inte1ligence in Modern Philosophy, New York, Doubleday, 1958. pp. 247-8.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 27.

I. Corinthians, 13: 12-13; I John 3: 2-3.

St. Augustine, Confessions, passim.

Ludwig Feuerbach, Das Wesen der Religion, Leipzig, 1866, p. 14.

Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, New York, Harper, 1957, pp. 12-13.

V.I. Lenin, Religion, New York, 1933 p. 7.

Ibid., p. 14.

Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, Garden City, Doubleday, 1960, pp. 51-52, 54, 57-58.

Ibid., p. 70.

Ibid., p. 83.

St. Augustine, Confessions, I, 4.

Enchiridion Symbolorum, p. 141.

Ibid., p. 180.

John 15: 1-6.

Enchiridion Symbolorum, p. 132.

St. Thomas More, Treatise on the Passion.

Chapter II
Norms and Postulates
by John A. Hardon, S.J.

An objective approach to moral science demands some knowledge of its basic postulates and some familiarity with its terms. Sciences like physics and mathematics, for example, have their own presuppositions and a specialized vocabulary, without which it would be impossible to communicate as simple a fact as the expansion of metals under increased temperature or the rudiments of commercial arithmetic.

Whatever else morality deals with, its main interest are human actions performed knowingly and freely, and not through physical necessity, inadvertence or instinctive spontaneity. The latter are sometimes (and not too happily) called acts of man, on the assumption that truly human activity proceeds from antecedent reflection and free choice of will, whereas anything else is man's indeed, but not strictly human. Between the two is the essential difference that some actions, like metabolism or the circulation of the blood are not under our control. So, too, when a person talks in his sleep or under the influence of drugs, he is not exercising his autonomy. But writing a letter or eating a meal, in spite of distractions or preoccupations, may be done deliberately and is therefore subject to dominion by the will.

Determinants of Morality. However, just because an act is human does not tell us whether it is morally good or bad. The moral quality of our actions derives from three different sources, each so closely connected with the other that unless all three are simultaneously good, the action performed is morally bad.

First of all, the object of the act must be good, meaning that the immediate thing with which an action is essentially concerned should conform to the moral law. Notice that the object is not only the physical makeup of an action, like taking what belongs to someone else, but taking it with (or without) his permission. Only in the second case is there any question of theft.

Along with what I do are the attending circumstances of my action, which are at once distinct from its object and yet may change or completely alter its moral tone. Circumstances can make an otherwise good action evil, as when a man deliberately goes to sleep while on night watchman duty. Sleep by itself is morally indifferent, but taken at a time when a person has contracted to keep awake, it becomes morally objectionable. Or they can aggravate the guilt, as when a son strikes his mother; or minimize guilt, as a sudden burst of anger under violent provocation; or multiply guilt as when money is stolen from a person to whom I owe a special debt of gratitude.

Finally the end or purpose, beyond the act itself and its circumstances, also affects the moral situation. If the motive is gravely sinful, the whole action is vitiated. Thus for a gangster to give money to charity in order to divert attention from his crime is doing wrong even though (incidentally) people may profit from his pretended philanthropy.

The motive element is of great importance in moral theology. Some actions, like stealing and blasphemy, are always wrong and may never be done without culpability. But other actions may be either good or bad, depending on why we do them. Although it is generally wrong to kill another person, we may defend ourselves against unjust aggressors and are not forbidden to kill in legitimate self-defense. Many other things we do, like walking, speaking, driving, or reading, may be directed to good or evil ends, and they become good or evil according to the purpose intended - even though the immediate work performed is morally colorless.

If we analyze this motivation more closely, we see it corresponds to the reason a man has in mind when he undertakes a course of action. Other elements enter the picture only as means to the end, like steps on a ladder or a bridge that spans a chasm.

In order that a man's act be good, his intention must be honorable, and no amount of pious moralizing will change the fact, for instance, that being kind to a prospective victim of lust is criminal. Of course, good intentions alone are not enough, as though we could do moral good by using evil means. This is the pernicious error (sometimes wrongly attributed to the Jesuits) that the end justifies the means. We may never do evil to attain an otherwise good end. Murder, theft and deception are wrong, and they cannot be done on the pretext that these are desirable because the intention behind them is good. If this principle seems theoretical, it is actually one of the most practical in the field of ethics, because people are so prone to justify their actions on the score of the good they will do (for themselves or others) by untruth, intrigue, bribery or racial and creedal discrimination.

Writers sometimes illustrate the relationship between object, circumstances and intention by means of a diagram in which the morally good act is represented by the bull's eye of a target, while the three determinants are the arrow: object = arrowhead, circumstances = arrow shaft, and intention = directing arrow tail. Any defect in any part of the arrow will prevent the missile from reaching its target, as any deflection in moral rectitude in what we do, or how, or why deflects from moral goodness in the action that results.

Degrees of Imputability. Christianity is unlike other religions in many things, not the least of which is its concept of moral responsibility. Built into the Christian consciousness is respect for the person who performs an action, either to praise and reward him if he does well or blame and punish if he sins. This implies that not all human actions are equally imputable and, when evil, partake of greater or lesser guilt according to the person's larger or smaller degree of responsibility. American criminal law recognizes this principle in such well-known cases as murder and robbery. There are varying degrees of murder, from premeditated homicide to involuntary manslaughter; and the range of theft covers every conceivable form of unjustly taking what belongs to another.

The two foci around which imputability revolves are knowledge and freedom; when both faculties are fully operative, the responsibility is complete, but when either is somehow inhibited, the resulting imputability is lessened. Thus ignorance, emotion, or passion, fear, past habits, and external violence inhibit the activity of the mind and free will, and, therefore, limit human guilt or (on occasion) may remove it altogether.

The word ignorance is ambiguous. Too often it is taken to mean merely the absence of knowledge, and may be equated with being unlettered, uninstructed, unlearned or simply uninformed. Properly speaking, however, ignorance implies the absence of knowledge that somehow should be present, and then, depending on whether the absence is culpable or not, the ignorance is said to be vincible or invincible.

Ignorance is invincible (from the Latin which means "unconquerable") when it is present all right but there is no reasonable way, here and now, of dispelling it so that the person cannot be held responsible for doing what he does not know is wrong. He may not even suspect his ignorance, as when a child uses profane or obscene language which was learned from adults, and in all such cases there is no imputability. Or a man may vaguely suspect his ignorance on a point of moral obligation but, under the circumstances, feels it is practically impossible to acquire the knowledge required. A prosecuting attorney may fully suspect that certain individuals are racketeering and tries to get factual. information from victims of the "shakedown." But they refuse to talk for fear of reprisals. The attorney's ignorance of the crime is invincible at least until some other legal way is open to secure the evidence desired.

Vincible ignorance can be cleared up if only a man wants to do so. The measure of his negligence to learn the truth determines his guilt when he does something wrong through lack of sufficient knowledge. At one extreme is slight neglect, as when a doctor fails to study a case as thoroughly as he might and thereby causes harm to one of his patients; at the other extreme is an affected sort of ignorance that a person deliberately encourages to avoid what he suspects will be unwelcome knowledge, as the man who is practically certain the woman he is courting is married and yet fails to make sure for fear of learning the truth.

Emotions are powerful inhibitors of clear thinking and free choice, as common experience teaches, and their influence is generally to lessen and (in rare cases) entirely to erase culpability. According to the emergency theory in psychology, emotions are stirred-up conditions in which the body is prepared for a strenuous effort; in the theory of William James, emotions are the awareness of such physiological conditions as ensue upon certain perceptions; and in popular terminology, any departure from the calm and normal conditions of the organism is emotional. But whatever the explanation, we know that people under emotional stress are not themselves, and therefore should not be held as accountable for their actions (or reactions) as when their feelings are not strongly aroused.

People in a panic have been known to fight their way to a hopeful exit and oblivious of their cruelty to anyone who stands in the way. A husband who sees his wife in the arms of another man may suddenly kill one or both of them, and later confess that he scarcely remembers anything except a burst of white anger. Actions performed under such circumstances are human only by courtesy, and their moral responsibility is minimal. or none at all.

However, these are examples of what is called antecedent emotion, where the feelings are aroused before any chance for deliberation. Their general effect is to diminish guilt or absolve from it completely. On the other hand, it is possible to foster certain emotions willfully. People are known to work themselves up to an emotional pitch of anger, lust, envy or hurt pride, and so far from reducing imputability, such arousal normally increases it. Nursing a grudge over some real or apparent injury is familiar; and unless a person takes means to keep the mind free from such hateful thoughts, negative sentiments gradually dominate one's whole personality and expose their victim to taking revenge at any cost.

In a class by itself is the emotion of fear, which follows the same general pattern but deserves special attention because of its pervasive influence in human conduct. Psychologically, fear is an intense, primitive response to danger. It is a condition during which, according to Cannon's emergency theory, the body is being prepared to run, to elude detection by "freezing" or to fight. According to Watsonism, fear is a basic emotion elicited by loud noise or loss of support but, through conditioning, attached to many other stimuli. In broader terms, fear is mental anxiety because of an impending evil. It may be grave or slight, depending on whether the threatening harm is great or small; it may be extrinsic, or intrinsic, according to whether its cause is within or outside the person fearing, as the fear of death is interior while the fear of another person is external. A unique species is the reverential fear we have to offend someone to whom we owe respect, as a parent or person in authority.

Regardless of its species, fear seldom is so great as to deprive a person of all responsibility for actions performed. Consequently, actions done through fear are normally culpable (if bad) and meritorious (if good), as when one student so fears examinations that he cheats and another that he studies hard. The fear which accompanies many of our actions, without inspiring them, clearly has no direct bearing on moral value. It is too common an experience to affect responsibility either way.

Habits are variously defined by different authors. Psychologists speak of habits as learned responses which are relatively permanent and which require a minimum of voluntary direction. Theologians define them as constant dispositions that tend to influence us to perform repeatedly similar actions. Their influence in life is immense, to be examined at greater length in a later context.

Good habits evidently do not detract from the value of virtuous actions, and virtue itself has been defined as the cultivation of good habits. But evil habits may, at times, lessen the guilt of any single bad action if the one who does it is sincerely trying to overcome his sinful inclinations. With this exception, however, a habitual disposition towards sinful actions like impurity, dishonesty or injustice does not mitigate responsibility.

The decisive norm here is a man's sincerity in working against his acquired tendencies, not necessarily his achievement in rooting out the vice completely. The natural drive of concupiscence is strong and, given encouragement through repeated sins, can become tyrannical. Periodic failures are no sign of insincerity, and may be coupled with a high resolve to overcome one's habituated weaknesses. But if there is bad will and no effort at self conquest, habits accentuate our guilt before God instead of diminishing it.

When force is brought upon a person against his will by some external agent, he is said to be under violence, and his accountability is deeply affected thereby. Absolute violence is relentless force that simply eliminates free choice. Therefore whatever is done under such conditions is not imputable. But usually the violence is not so great, and culpability is determined by the amount of effort at resistance that the victim exerts, or the motivation that guides his conduct while oppressed by violent assault. In most cases of statutory rape, for example, the victim cannot resist effectively and her responsibility is nullified on either of two counts: either actually resisting to the best of her ability, or being willing to resist by judging the opposition to be futile and therefore (at most) giving a sign of resistance.

Although violence and fear are closely connected, the two are really quite distinct in terms of moral imputability. Under the influence of fear, the evil that is feared is impending and future; it may also be unreal or at least exaggerated. But violence is a present and pressing evil. It induces not so much fear as the urge to repel and protect oneself against an existing threat to life or bodily integrity. Its impact on the emotions, then, may be great but is accidental. The essential fact is coercion of external action in the internal consent, and provided the latter is withheld, no guilt is involved but rather merit and praise are deserved.

Concept and Kinds of Law. Popularly conceived, law is a rule of action, and in terms of human legislation it is an effective and promulgated command of reason made for the common good by one in charge of a complete society like the family, state or ecclesiastical entity.

In order to have a full picture, we must begin with the law residing in God, where it is the eternal divine decree which commands that the order of nature and grace be preserved. By this law He directs all creatures in all their activities, the angelic spirits by the ordinations that govern the purely spiritual world, the physical universe (including the acts of men) by myriad laws of nature that are rarely supplemented by miraculous intervention, and the multitude of human acts by means of the natural law (recognized in conscience) and supplemented in the family by precepts of parents, guardians or those taking the place of either, in the state by civil positive law (whether of sovereign nations or international associations), and in the Church by divine mandates that were directly revealed by God or have been implemented under legitimate ecclesiastical authority.

A correct understanding of law is so necessary in moral theology that some attention must be paid to a familiar objection raised against the whole idea of Christian ethics. There are some who claim that law has no place at all in the Christian scheme of things, saying that Christ never legislated and quoting St. Paul's words, "We are not under the law but under grace." (1) It is asserted that by grace we receive the gift of love which enables us to dispense entirely with laws and regulations. St. Augustine's well-known epigram is cited in proof of this: "Love, and do what you like." (2)

Actually the writings of St. Paul are the best evidence that Christianity includes legislation. The apostle was engaged in a life and death struggle with the Jewish law and legalism. In the course of time the Jewish leaders had developed a system of justification by works that were to be calculated by the oppressive directives of rabbinic casuistry. Christ repudiated this nomism by drawing a clear distinction between law and legalism. He defined legalism as a subordination of the spirit of the law to its crude letter, as in the case of the rabbinical interpretation of the Sabbath observance. According to the Pharisees, although a man was allowed to pull his ox or donkey out of the ditch into which it may have fallen, he was forbidden to pull a man out of an illness (except a grave sickness) on the Sabbath Day. Time and again, Christ insisted that He did not come to destroy the Law and the prophets. On the contrary, He came to fulfill and perfect them.

The same with St. Paul. He also held that the law was good. "Is the law sin?" he asked, and answered, "God forbid." In fact, "the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good." When he contraposed law and grace, it was the law of Moses in contrast with its fulfillment, the law of Christ; or the pseudo-law of Jewish Talmudists in comparison with the laws of Christian charity. While stressing the liberating features of the faith, he spoke of himself as "not being without law to God, but under law to Christ." (3)

Three objections are commonly raised against laws in the Christian economy of salvation. It is said that Christian morality is positive, whereas laws are negative; that Christian morality is internal, while laws are external; and that Christian morals are based on principles with no reference to laws.

If we read the Gospels carefully, we find that Christ repeatedly urged the observance of the Ten Commandments. He never said or intimated that, "These precepts are now obsolete, so far as you are concerned. You have passed beyond them. Love, and do as you please." When pointedly asked by the Jewish lawyer who came to inquire what he should do to enter eternal life, Christ told him to keep the commandments. And when the young man admitted keeping these from his youth, the Master "Looking upon him was moved with love (agape) towards him." Love is the capacity to put oneself into another's place. Christ did so on that occasion, and then explained to His questioner that, while the law is essential, if he wished to go beyond the law in greater generosity, he should go sell what he had, give it to the poor, and come follow the Savior. The law, therefore, is indispensable, but for those who have the will and the grace, in addition to keeping the law, they can follow the counsels which are not binding under sin but go beyond the call of duty.

Accordingly, Christians never outgrow the need for negatively framed laws, let alone laws of any kind. The Decalogue is not out of date, nor is there a syllable in the New Testament which suggests the contrary. What is true is that the fullness of Christian living cannot be expressed in negative terms, but requires positive dedication as its underlying motive and offers positive supererogation for those who wish to signalize themselves in the divine service.

The objection that laws are external but Christian morals are internal may be similarly answered. Perhaps the root of the difficulty is a faulty conception of the divine law, whether natural or revealed. Man-made laws are imposed from the outside. But God's laws are not like the laws of men. They arise from deep within the human mind, inspired by faith or enlightened by reason, in which the divine mind is teaching what we should do on the road to salvation. True, the laws of God are spelled out in human legislation and interpreted for the Christian by the Church, but the genesis of the law itself and its fundamental binding force on the will come from the divine Legislator Himself.

When critics object that Christian morals are based on broad principles and not upon laws they confuse the meaning of principle which is that from which something in some way proceeds; it is the starting point of being or action. Viewed in this light, laws are quintessential principles of Christianity since they assume (what the critics deny) that man has a free will with which he can choose to follow Christ or reject Him, and that, unless he chooses to follow, his profession of the Christian name is a misnomer. But choosing to follow the Redeemer is nothing if not acceptance of His teachings in the humility of faith and carrying out His precepts in ready obedience. Words could not be clearer than the warning of Christ: "Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven; but he who does the will of my Father in heaven shall enter the kingdom of heaven." (4)

A sobering reminder is the counter-criticism of those who know that Christianity makes heavy demands on its followers and yet see Christians not living up to the obligations of their profession. No sincere Christian can read Marx' statement of condemnation without remorse. "The social principles of Christianity," Marx charged, "have justified ancient slavery, glorified mediaeval serfdom, and they now recognize the need for approving the oppression of the proletariat - with, of course, a slightly contrite air." (5) If ever Christians forget that their faith requires subscription to laws, beginning with the laws of justice and charity, those who are not Christian know their history too well to make the same mistake.

Conscience in Christianity. If law is the basis of human conduct, conscience is the means by which the moral law is apprehended and interpreted. Different authors have differently defined conscience. According to Jeremy Taylor, conscience is the mind of man governed by rule. For the English divine, Joseph Butler, "There is a superior principle of reflexion, or conscience, in every man, which distinguishes between the internal principles of his heart as well as his external actions, which passes judgment on himself and them." But the classic definition is that of Thomas Aquinas, for whom "conscience is the mind of man passing moral judgments."

Aquinas further recognizes two aspects of conscience, which are essential to a correct understanding of its concept. There is first of all synderesis or the permanent, inborn disposition of the mind to think of general and broad truths of moral conduct that become the principles from which a man may reason in directing his own moral activities. St. Jerome in the fifth century seems to have coined the term in Christian usage as the equivalent of "a spark of conscience," and Aquinas described it as a habitual quality of the intellect, enabling it to know the basic principles of practical reasoning. He never confused this faculty with conscience proper.

Conscience in the strict sense, or conscientia, is the action of the practical intellect deciding whether a particular, proposed operation is good or bad, here and now. It is the conclusion at which reason arrives after duly applying the principles of morality to a specific course of action.

The word itself appears to have come from the ancient Stoics, but the idea it couches is distinctively Christian. Even the Hebrews had no exact equivalent. In the Old Testament, wherever moral judgments were spoken of, the terms lebh (heart) or ruach (spirit) are used. Nevertheless, it should be remarked that "heart" in the Scriptures, whether Old or New Testament, refers to the cognitive aspects of the mind and not to the will or emotions exclusively.

Modern psychologists, when they refer to conscience at all, tend to regard it as heavily if not mainly emotional. Thus they define it as "any emotionally toned experience in which a tendency to act is inhibited by a recognition, socially conditioned, that suffering evil consequences is likely to result from acting on the impulse to act." Some would further undermine its authority by reducing conscience to the super-ego, which are the ideals or standards introjected from parents (or parent substitutes) and making up the ego-ideal. In psychoanalysis, conscience is the sum-total of self-critical, self-judgmental functions, partly conscious but mostly subconscious. Needless to say, conscience in this vocabulary is a purely subjective construct, with no objective guarantee in the eternal laws of God.

Freudian metaphysics apart, one reason why people may inject emotions into the idea of conscience is that the operation of our moral guidepost is often charged with emotional overtones. Conscience is often inhibitory. It can tell us, "Thou shalt not," and whenever our actions are suddenly checkmated, feelings are aroused. A good example is fear. As long as we are active, fear is kept under control, but forced inactivity dams it up. In the same way, conscience may lay certain burdens on our love of ease, expose our reputation to the risk of loss, demand endurance of trial and even physical pain. We dread the consequences of these moral imperatives and naturally experience the psychosomatic reactions of a body and soul combination that forms the human person.

Yet we cannot reduce conscience to an emotional state without emptying it of all authority. Evidently one feeling cannot have authority over another. If conscience were only emotional, it becomes (as moral relativists claim) a matter of personal taste, where one person's moral preference is no better than anyone else's.

On the contrary, conscience is imbedded in the intellect, so that the human mind has not only the right but the duty to pass moral judgments, and in doing so is inviolable. No dictum is more firmly entrenched in Christian morality than this: conscience must always be obeyed. For all practical purposes, this is a Christian innovation, and, though it was foreshadowed in the Old Testament and the ancient Greeks, it is built on the infinite worth of every human soul in the sight of God as taught by Christ on every page of the Gospels: "The hairs of your head are all numbered ...It is not the will of your Father that any one of these little ones should perish."

In the ancient world, outside the Judaeo-Christian stream, it was not the individual but the tribe or nation or society in general that mattered; the individual was of small account.

Three masterpieces of Greek literature were concerned with the problem of conflict between the individual conscience and the demands of a community: the Prometheus of Aeschylus, the Antigone, of Sophocles, and Plato's Apology. But in order to make it appear to their readers that there was no problem at all, the Greek authors were in each case obliged to present the offender in the most sympathetic, and his adversaries in the most unsympathetic, light possible. In this way they sought to leave the impression that there could be no question of an individual disobeying the law that had been laid down for them as the will of society. It was only by stressing the manifest injustice of the judge or his cruelty, and the manifest innocence of the rebel that the authors could for a moment sustain the thesis that rebellion might in some rare cases after all be all right. For the ancient pagan world as a whole, the law of the community was the conscience of the individual; he could not allege or appeal to any other.

This is illustrated in the well-known dialogue between the judge Creon and the lady Antigone, when she was arraigned before the court for burying her deceased brother against the mandate of civil authority.

Creon. Tell me at once and to the point. Did you know that my edict forbade burial of your brother's body?
Antigone. Of course. How could I help knowing it? It was made perfectly clear.
Creon. And you dared to disobey it?
Antigone. Yes, for it was not Zeus who issued that edict, and Justice who lives with the gods below never made any such law. And I could not believe that any edict of yours, since you are only a man, could over-rule the unwritten, eternal laws of the gods. Those laws live forever - yesterday, today, tomorrow. So, revering them, I would not for fear of any man invite divine judgment.
It is remarkable that when the authority of God is obscured or denied, mankind falls back rapidly upon that totalitarianism which runs roughshod over the claims of individual conscience. By way of contrast, the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence, which speaks of men being endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, is a Christian document, whose roots in philosophy go back to the early Greeks but whose inspiration is found in the Gospels.

But if conscience is the mind of man passing moral judgments and is inviolable, it is not infallible. It may be in any one of four states of certitude: subjectively certain because a man has no doubt about the morality of the way he should act in a given case, or subjectively doubtful because a person is undecided as to the morality of the action now before him. On the objective plane, his conscience is correct when its judgment reveals the true moral appraisal of a situation, and false when it erroneously tells a man that this present evil action is good or good action is bad.

This business of following one's conscience is crucial. What responsibility do we have to follow what our conscience dictates? Everything depends on degree of sincere certitude we have in facing a moral decision. We are obliged always to act on the dictates of a conscience which is certain. It must be obeyed even though objectively it may be false, because conscience is the nearest available norm we have for knowing what is right and wrong, and the criterion by which God will judge the human soul. On the other hand, we may never act with a doubtful conscience. So that unless the mind clearly says that a prospective action is permissible, we may not do it. Otherwise we should be saying equivalently, "This may be good or bad, offensive or pleasing to God. But I do not care, and will do it anyway."

If the mind is in doubt, therefore, we must either refrain from taking action or resolve the doubt. Information should be sought, books and other sources consulted, or, if that is not feasible, the doctrine of probabilism may be invoked to settle the uncertainty.

Briefly stated, probabilism teaches that in an insoluble practical doubt concerning the lawfulness of an action that is urgent, the moral agent is free to follow any truly probable opinion on the morality of the proposed action.

On its positive side, probabilism says we may follow a solidly probable opinion which favors liberty (the easier of two courses of action), whenever there is question of a merely doubtful law. Naturally the opinion must be based on reasons that are serious enough to invite acceptance by a prudent man, even though fear of the opposite being true is not ruled out. A fair guide is to know that several recognized moral theologians favor a certain position and support it with valid arguments. Take the case of a man who is in possession of secret knowledge, which he is not sure ought to be divulged to persons in authority, say, information about subversive political activity. He has good reason for revealing what he knows and good reasons for keeping it to himself. Any opinion which favors not revealing would also favor liberty, since normally it is easier to keep silent and spare oneself the consequences of revelation. Of course, the better (or nobler) thing to do could be to divulge the information, but our concern here is only with strict obligation and the application of the principle of probablism.

Closely associated with settling a dubious conscience is the principle of the twofold effect, which says that, under certain conditions, we may perform an act that will produce a good and a bad effect. The conditions are applications of common sense, namely, that we directly intend the good effect and not the bad, that our action is either good or at least morally indifferent, that we do not produce the good effect by means of the bad one, and that we have a proportionate reason for allowing the foreseen bad effect to take place. This principle of Christian ethics cuts through every phase of personal and social morality. It is based ultimately on no less a precedent than the operations of God in the universe, where He permits moral and physical evil across the whole spectrum of human existence, yet from motives that faith and reason tell us must be adequate and concordant with His infinite wisdom.

Parallel with our duty to obey conscience is the obligation to educate it. Otherwise if we do wrong in ignorance, we may not be free from blame. True, the conscience is not infallible, but, like other faculties of the spirit, it requires development and careful training as a delicate instrument for knowing the laws of God. Ignored and deliberately disobeyed, it becomes insensitive and gradually so dulled that not even the physical sanctions of civil authority may convince a criminal that he is wrong.

Fidelity to conscience is coupled with its education when we suspect our moral faculty to be misinformed if we are unwilling to inquire into particulars. That is why sincerity in this area is of paramount importance. Human nature is uncanny in the “dodges" and evasions to which it may resort in order not to be convinced that something enjoyable is morally bad, or that something unpleasant should be done. The willingness to inquire into details is a safe index of a good will, as the opposite gives grounds for suspicion of insincerity.

Jeremy Taylor gives some sage advice on how to seek counsel, or rather, of whom not to ask advice in order to clarify one's conscience. He quotes at length from Ecclesiasticus to explain what he means. "Consult not with a woman touching her of whom she is jealous; neither with a coward in matters of war; nor with a merchant concerning exchange; nor with a buyer of selling; nor with an envious man of thankfulness; nor with a hireling for a year of finishing work; nor with an unmerciful man touching kindness; nor with a slothful for any work; nor with an idle servant of much business; hearken not unto these in any matter of counsel." (6) The point is not that these people would be slow to give counsel nor that they might not have much to say. But in moral matters, the character of the counselor has much to do with the soundness of what he says; unless he is truly disengaged, his judgment is prejudiced and the advice he gives is adulterated by his own entanglements.

Habits and Virtues. Is habit a second nature? Habit is ten times nature, and the degree to which a man recognizes this is the measure of his self-development. William James called habit the flywheel of society and its most precious conserving agent. Yet just because habits are so important, it is useful to avoid confusion on the meaning of terms. Clarification here may also help in the acquisition of the greatest asset in the moral life.

Generally speaking, a habit is a permanent quality according to which a person is well or badly disposed in regard either to his nature or to his activity. In moral theology, it is a relatively stable disposition which inclines a faculty rightly or wrongly to act with ease, readiness and satisfaction in a certain way. If the habit is good, it is a virtue, and if bad, a vice. Virtues may be either natural and acquired, or supernatural and infused. Acquired virtues or habits are obtained by repeated acts of the operation; although the power of acquisition is not limited to virtues, since we can also acquire bad habits by the same process of repetition. Infused virtues are specially conferred by God (infundere= to pour in) through supernatural means; they are not acquired by our own efforts.

Although not commonly distinguished among psychologists, theologians carefully separate habits from automatisms, which pertain to the sense faculties and not, as do habits, to those human powers which are controlled by the intellect and will. An automatism, therefore, is like a habit in exhibiting the same regular way of acting, but, unlike habits, it is present in the sensitive or motor powers of the body and is not under the dominion of the mind and free choice. In fact automatic behavior is defined as doing something without conscious direction or intention, as may happen among the lower animal species. Automatisms may also be induced by means of repetition.

The secret of moral development is to make habitual, as early as possible, as many good actions as we can, and guard against growing into ways that are morally bad as we guard against the plague. The more of the details of our moral life we can hand over to the effortless custody of habit, the more surely we shall cultivate virtue and perfect our highest spiritual nature.

In the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving of an old one, psychology recommends four great maxims to remember. They have been summarized by William James in a way that applies perfectly to the cultivation of the Christian virtues.

First we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong an initiative as possible. At the outset, a man should accumulate all possible circumstances which reinforce the right motives; make engagements incompatible with the old way; take a public pledge, if the case allows; in short, envelop his resolution with every aid he knows. This will give his new beginning such momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all.

Secondly we must never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in our lives. Each lapse is like letting fall a ball of string which one is carefully winding up; a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind up again. Continuity of training is the great means of making the moral system act in the right way.

Some success at the beginning is indispensable. Failure is apt to dampen the energy to keep trying, whereas past successes nerve one to future vigor. Geothe, who was no Christian, understood this well. When a man asked him about an enterprise but mistrusted his own powers, he was told, "You need only blow on your hands!" The implication was that will effort at the start is connected with insured success.

Experts differ in individual cases about the wisdom of tapering off in abandoning such habits as drink or other defects of weakness. However, the majority opinion would agree that abrupt acquisition of the new habit is the best way, provided there is a real chance of carrying it out. We should be careful not to give the will so stiff a task as to insure its defeat at the outset; but if only one can stand it, a sharp period of suffering and then a free time seems the best thing to aim at, whether in giving up a habit like drinking to excess, or in simply changing one's hours of rising and retiring. The surprising thing is how soon a desire will die if it be never fed.

The third rule is to seize the first possible opportunity to act on every resolution we make. No matter how full a reservoir of maxims we may possess, and no matter how good our sentiments may be, if we have not taken advantage of every concrete chance to act, our character may remain entirely unaffected for the better. Hell is paved with good intentions. A character has been defined as a completely fashioned will; and a will, in this sense, is an aggregate of tendencies to act in a firm, prompt, and decisive way upon all the principal moral emergencies of life.

Since we are speaking of acquired habits, the tendency to act becomes effectively ingrained in us in proportion to the frequency with which the actions occur and the personality "grows" to their use. When a generous resolve or a fine glow of charity is allowed to evaporate without bearing practical fruit, it is worse than a chance lost; it works in such a way as positively to hinder the discharge of future resolutions and moral emotions. There is no more pitiable character than that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility and emotion, but who never does a manly act of courage or generosity. Never should we allow ourselves to have a noble feeling while reading a book, or saying a prayer, or hearing a talk, without expressing it later in some active way. It need not be anything heroic, and may be as trifling as speaking kindly to a stranger or visiting a sick friend, but if carried into practice will add to the cumulative effect.

Lastly, and surprisingly, for those who fear the very word "mortification," we must keep the faculty of effort alive in us by a little gratuitous exercise every day. In a word, to grow in virtue we should be systematically ascetic (or heroic) in little unnecessary points, do every day or so something for no other reason than that we would rather not do it, so that when the hour of dire need arises it may find us nerved and trained to stand the test.

For the natural man, mortification of this sort is like the insurance he pays on his house. The tax does him no good at the time and possibly may never bring him a return. But if the fire does come, the premiums he has paid will be his salvation from ruin. So with the person who has daily inured himself to habits of concentrated attention, energetic volition, and self-denial in unnecessary things. He will remain standing like a tower when everything around him is shaken, and when his softer friends (who may have ridiculed his conduct) are winnowed like chaff in the blast.

From the Christian viewpoint, the motive for periodic self-denial is not only to develop strength of character. It is also to grow in virtue because such is the will of God; and the inspiration to practice mortification is higher than mere self-improvement. It is again the will of God, manifest in such teachings of Christ as, "If anyone wishes to come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (8)

Masters of asceticism agree that if we realized the extent to which we are mere bundles of habits, we would pay more attention to forming them in our lives. We are literally spinning our own moral fates, good or evil, and very hard to be undone. Every smallest stroke of virtue or of vice leaves its mark on the soul.

Moral Virtues. As previously implied, not every habit is a virtue, but only one that so improves and perfects a faculty as to incline it towards goodness for the faculty, for the will, and for the whole man in terms of his ultimate destiny. There is a broad sense in which we can speak of the natural dispositions of any of our powers as virtues, but this is a loose rendering and leads to confusion. More properly, the acquired virtues are those we cultivate, repeatedly putting into practice acts of the faculty in question. The autonomous will plays the dominant role. My consistent effort to concentrate on a given course of action, repeating the process over a long period of time and in spite of obstacles, gradually develops a tendency to perform the action spontaneously and almost without reflection, yet with a degree of perfection that someone else without the virtue cannot duplicate.

Aristotle was the basic source on which St. Thomas built the now familiar structure of the cardinal virtues, which are reduced to four because of the objective order of morality. The mind must first discover this order and propose its commands to the will; prudence, or the habit of doing the right thing at the right time, is reason's helper. The will, in turn, must execute these commands in its own field; justice, or the habit of giving everybody his due, is helper to the will in its own operations; temperance assists the will in its management of the appetite's desires, and fortitude helps to manage the same appetite's aversions.

Just as there are four faculties which contribute to our moral acts - intellect, will, appetite of desire, and appetite of aversion - so there must be four virtues to keep these faculties straight: prudence for the mind, justice for the will, temperance for the urge to what is pleasant, and fortitude for the instinct away from what is painful. The Latins summarized their function in the words, circumspice (look around), age (act), abstine (keep away from), and sustine (bear up with).

All other virtues in the moral order can be referred to this tetrad as their potential parts. In view of their practical value as possessions of nature (also infused by grace), it is worth examining the whole gamut in some detail.

The principal act of prudence is the practical executive command of right reason, and the following virtues come within its orbit: good counsel, sound judgment when the ordinary rules of conduct are concerned, and a flair for dealing with exceptional cases.

As regards justice, its classical type renders what is due between equals, but other virtues come under the general heading of justice. Some render what is owing to another, but not as to an equal. Others deal with a situation where both parties are equal, yet the due or debt, though demanded by decency, cannot be enforced by law, and so is not an affair of strict justice. In the first category of these phases of justice comes religion, which offers our service and worship to God, then piety and patriotism, which render our duty to parents and country, then observance, which shows reverence to superiors, and obedience to their commands. In the second category comes gratitude for past favors, and vindication when injury has been done; also truthfulness, without which social intercourse is impossible, liberality in spending money, and friendliness or social good manners.

The respective parts of fortitude, on the attacking side, are confidence, carried out with magnificence, which reckons not the cost, and magnanimity, which does not shrink from glory. On the defensive side are patience, which keeps an unconquered spirit, and can be protracted into perseverance.

Finally the subordinate kinds of temperance are continence, which resists lustfulness and evil desires concerning touch, clemency, which tempers punishment, meekness, which tempers anger, modesty in our deportment, and this includes disciplined study, reasonable recreation, and good taste in clothes.

Running as a theme through the moral virtues is the idea of balance between two extremes, or the "golden mean," which the Greeks called mesotes. The value of recalling this fact is to remind us that in the practical order we should at all times be reasonable, in virtue as in everything else. Unfortunately, the expression "golden mean" has taken on so many and such vapid connotations that it needs to be analyzed against the background from which it arose, and contrasted with the full Christian ethic of which it is an integral part.

Aristotle was the main source on which the Church Fathers and Aquinas drew for their doctrine of morality as a median between two extremes. The Greek philosopher asked himself how does virtue stand to vice. He answered that good actions always have a certain order of proportion, and virtue, in his eyes, is a mean between two extremities, the extremes being vices either by excess or by defect. Through excess or defect of what? Either in regard to a feeling or in regard to an action.

Take the virtue of confidence, which is the first condition of fortitude on its attacking side. An excess of the feeling of confidence constitutes rashness - at least when the feeling issues in action, and it is with human actions that ethics are concerned - while the defect would be cowardice. The mean, therefore, will be a mean between rashness on the one hand and cowardice on the other hand; this mean is courage and is the virtue in respect to the feeling of confidence.

Again if we take the action of giving money, excess in regard to this action is prodigality - and that is a vice - while defect in regard to this action is illiberality. The virtue, liberality, is the mean between the two vices, that of excess and that of defect. A fairly complete list of these "means between two extremes," as conceived by Aristotle, is found in his Nichomachean Ethics, on which Aquinas wrote a famous commentary.




Cowardice Courage Rashness
Insensibility Temperance Intemperance
Illiberality Liberality Prodigality
Pettiness Munificence Vulgarity
Humble-Mindedness High-Mindedness Vaingloriousness
Want of Ambition Right Ambition Over-Ambition
Spiritlessness Good Temper Irascibility
Surliness Friendly Civility Obsequiousness
Ironical Depreciation Sincerity Boastfulness
Boorishness Wittiness Buffoonery
Shamelessness Modesty Bashfulness
Callousness Just Resentment Spitefulness

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