To read and study this book takes sacrifice and discipline. In it you will learn Catholic reasons why mankind has lost his dignity as sons of God and lowered himself to become an animal, enslaved in his hedonistic immoral life. We all suffer from the three enemies; the flesh, the devil and the world. So, in order to properly navigate through these dangerous waters, and not shipwreck down into hell, and to arrive at the safe haven of heaven, we desperately need to study the facts of our human nature in relation to God, His grace and our weaknesses.
Chapter 2 a) MORALITY
THE WORD MORAL COMES FROM THE LATIN WORD MOS which signifies custom, and seems to be connected with the word modus, measure, hence also containing the concept of just measure. Philosophy, as noted above, is the exercise of reason on the objects of human experience. Moral philosophy is synonymous with ethics. The word ethics comes from the Greek work ethos which signifies custom or attitude. Moral philosophy/ethics is a practical science concerning man’s free actions, it is a normative science concerning the ideal laws of such actions. In short it may be defined as the science of the ideal laws of free human actions as such. It is to be distinguished from moral theology which judges human actions according to Revelation and the tenets of faith. The term morality as used in this book is understood to encompass both moral philosophy and moral theology.
Ethics is divided into ‘general ethics’ which concerns the universal principles of ethics, and ‘special ethics’ which comprises personal ethics and social ethics. Personal ethics respects the duties and rights of persons in regard to the body, the soul, and to God; social ethics comprises in its turn interpersonal ethics respecting the relations between persons – justice, Charity, and property and employment rights; as well as family, civil, and international ethics. The present chapter is directed to certain principles of general ethics.
Now omnis agens agit propter finem: every agent acts in virtue of an end, and the end of a given action can either be the final end of all an agent’s actions or a means to a further end. If it is a means it must be motivated by the further end. If this further end is itself not the final end it must in its turn be motivated by a yet further end. But this series cannot be infinite, for if there were no final end there would be nothing to motivate any intermediate end. It follows that there must be a final end or supreme good which is desired by man as the absolute term of all his action (see St. Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica I, II q. 1 a.6 where this argument is compared to the argument for the First Cause). The existence of a final end permits a more explicit definition of moral philosophy or ethics in the following terms: the science of the ideal laws regulating man’s free actions in such a way that he attain his final end.
With regard to the concept of the final end, we can see the dependence of ethics on metaphysics (the philosophy of being). There are in fact three philosophical disciplines on which ethics particularly depends: metaphysics, providing an understanding of the nature of man, his last end, good and evil, justice, duty, rights, laws, virtues, wisdom, the principle of the sufficient reason, etc; psychology, which concerns the existence and nature of the soul; and theodicy, which concerns the existence and nature of God. This dependence is a consequence of the principle agere sequitur esse: the order of being determines the order of acting. In these four disciplines, as indeed in all disciplines of philosophy, it is taken as axiomatic in this book that the true philosophy is the ‘perennial’ philosophy of the Church: the Aristotelian-Scholastic philosophy, particularly that of St. Thomas Aquinas. That this axiom is true is the central contention of the book ‘An Introduction to Philosophy’ by Jacques Maritain.5 Moral philosophy depends essentially on other branches of philosophy, then. It also depends essentially on moral theology, first in so far as natural reason, the instrument of ethical (as indeed of all philosophical) knowledge, is illumined by the lights of faith, the healing power of Grace unblocking the impediments which the wounded, fallen, condition of the human mind puts in the way of the right exercise of reason, and second in so far as the philosophical understanding of man and his final end are completed by the theological understanding of man as the subject of a human nature fallen and redeemed, and as in via to a final end which is supernatural and which represents the consummation of human nature.
In order to provide a context for the treatment of the particular moral themes of this book, let us proceed to outline four central principles of morality: namely the final end of man, the moral law, the dignity of the person, and the nature of love.
1. The Final End of Man
There are two aspects to the final end: a subjective aspect which is beatitude, and an objective aspect which is the concrete good in the possession of which man attains his beatitude. Man has a natural desire for beatitude and perfection which determines his every action. Beatitude is defined by Boethius as statu(s) bonorum omnium congregatione perfectus: a state constituted by the union of all goods. It is defined by St. Thomas as bonum perfectum intellectualis naturae: the perfect good of the intellectual nature. What is the nature of this union of all goods, of this perfect good, or, as it is commonly known, the sovereign good? It must be absolute and not relative to a further good, it must be perfect, excluding all privation of that which is proper to it, it must be stable and accessible to all men. Now since there must be proportion between a nature and its final end and sovereign good, we may conclude that the sovereign good of man must perfectly fulfil the most essential and the most profound aspirations of human nature, namely the need to know and to love. Now the object of the intellect is the True and the object of love is the Good, and the True and the Good in their plenitude exist only in God (St. Thomas Summa I, II 2 a 8).The final end of man in its objective aspect is therefore God Himself.
Furthermore it is apparent from metaphysics and theodicy that God has a purpose in creation. This purpose cannot be His own perfection since He already possesses, and indeed is, the sum of all perfections, but rather is His glorification by His creatures through their likeness to Him. Irrational creatures bear a likeness to God in their mere existence, and in the perfections of their nature and of their activities by which they reveal His being, power, and wisdom. Rational creatures bear a likeness to God above all by their knowledge and love of Him and by their personal fulfilment and beatitude which this knowledge and love brings (St. Thomas Contra Gentiles 3, 25).
Man’s final end consists then in his beatitude in the possession of God to the glory of God. This glory of God is known as the primary final end of man and man’s beatitude is known as the secondary final end of man. Revelation completes the picture by teaching us that the possession of God consists in the vision of God. St. John 17.3: ‘Now this is eternal life that they may know Thee, the one true God and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent’; 17.24: ‘Father I want those whom Thou hast given me to be with me, where I am, so that they may see my glory which Thou hast given me because Thou hast loved me before the constitution of the world’. Epistle of St. John 1, 3.2: ‘We know that when He is revealed we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as He is’. The final end of man is the visio beatifica then, by which the soul will contemplate the very essence of God face to face and will thus participate in the life of the Divine Trinity. This fact is known to us not by reason but by Revelation alone. It is not a natural end but (absolutely) supernatural, its attainment transcending the intelligence and capacities of created nature, which therefore need to be strengthened by Divine Grace and by what has been defined in the Council of Vienne (1312) as the lumen gloriae.
Were the final end of man purely natural it would consist in the knowledge and love of God accessible to his natural reason: an analogical knowledge of God as the first cause and final end of creation. The Church holds it possible that such a purely natural paradise (Limbo) is reserved for children before receiving baptism and before attaining to the use of reason: they have not been cleansed from original sin so cannot attain a supernatural paradise, but at the same time have contracted no personal sin so have incurred no punishment. This possibility is of course of particular relevance to the issue of abortion (cf. later in this chapter).
An act is good or bad according as it is oriented or not oriented to the final end of man: to his beatitude, or in other words to his perfection in being, the perfection and fulfilment of his human nature. It is by Faith and the exercise of the virtues that man attains to these perfections.
The orientation of an action to the final end is determined partly by the nature of the act itself, e.g. almsgiving is good, the murder of the innocent is bad; and partly by the intention of the agent, which can make an act good in itself better or bad such as almsgiving to improve a recipient morally as against almsgiving to corrupt a recipient; which can never make an act bad in itself good; and which determines acts morally indifferent of themselves such as walking, as either good or bad, e.g. walking to gain strength for work as against walking to avoid performing a duty.
2. The Moral Law
Now that which leads each being to its end, final or proximate, is the law (St. Thomas Summa Theologica I, II, q.93 a. 1): Lex aeterna nihil aliud est quam ratio divinae sapientiae, secundum quod est directiva omnium actuum et motionum: the eternal law is nothing other than the disposition of divine wisdom, according as it directs the actions and movements of things. St. Augustine’s definition following Cicero’s, which is often quoted by St. Thomas, is as follows: Ratio vel voluntas Dei ordinem naturalem conservari jubens, perturbari vetans: the divine disposition or will of God that decrees the conservation, and forbids the disruption, of the natural order. This eternal law exists in God and is none other than God Himself. It is binding for all being: for irrational beings where it has a physical, irresistible nature, and for rational beings, where it has a moral nature and can be obeyed or disobeyed according to the use each agent makes of his free will. The eternal law is promulgated in creation, and the participation in this eternal law on the part of rational beings is known as the natural law: Lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura (St. Thomas Summa I, II. q.1 a. 2). Man is then able to read off, as it were, the requirements of this law inscribed in his nature and act accordingly. Because the purpose of this law is to guide man to his final end, it is possible to define the morality of an act not merely in terms of the final end but also in terms of the moral law: according as it does, or does not, conform to the moral law. Moreover this definition may be said to be the most specific because conformity to the moral law involves the application of a rule to each specific action.
The first precept of the natural law ordains in a universal manner the orientation of human action towards the final end of man. The principle states: Do good and avoid evil. It is constitutive of what is called moral sense: the immediate and absolute sense of the law regulating practical knowledge and action (St. Thomas De Veritate q. 16 a 1). This moral sense is also known as synderesis. The moral conscience is by contrast not a sense but a practical judgment (‘the last practical judgment’) as to the morality of our acts, by which we decide what concrete act we should perform and what we should avoid.
The further principles of the natural law relate to the fundamental inclinations of man: as a living being he must respect and conserve the being he has received from God; as a rational being he must act as a person, developing his reason by seeking the truth, his liberty by the mastering of his passions, his moral life by religion; as a member of a species he must work for the conservation of this species in marriage and the procreation and education of children; as a social being he must respect the order of society and contribute to the common good of the city and of humanity itself. These principles form the basis of duties, and these duties form the basis of natural rights, the right to life, to truth, to justice, to liberty etc. These principles of natural law entail certain immediate consequences amongst which are the Ten Commandments which together with the principles constitute the primary natural law. They also entail certain less immediate consequences relating to the application of such principles (e.g. to property rights). These constitute the secondary natural law.
3. The Dignity of the Person
It would in fact appear that the notion of ‘person’ even more than the notion of ‘human being’ or ‘man’, contains the notion of dignity or worth, as in the expression ‘He is a person, not a thing’. And in fact St. Thomas Aquinas enunciates this fact as follows: In nomine personae intelligitur personae dignitas (Summa II, II, 63 a. 1): by the name of person is understood the dignity of the person.
The danger in using the term ‘dignity of the person’ is that it has been often understood in a humanistic, atheistic sense or in an undefined sense, therefore open to the humanistic, atheistic sense. It shall accordingly be necessary to define the term precisely, before proceeding to apply it to concrete situations. The importance of the issues to be discussed for the understanding of man and his tendency towards sin shall merit a detailed explication.
‘Dignity signifies the goodness of someone for himself (propter seipsum), whereas utility for another’ (propter aliud) (St. Thomas III Sent q1 a4; q3 sol.1). In virtue of this fact and of the fact that in common parlance dignity demarcates a quality or perfection which distinguishes one person from another, let us consider what is the particular goodness or perfection which distinguishes the person. Let us ask this question first of the person in relation to other beings, then of individual persons in relation to other persons: This study shall enable us to specify two principal forms of dignity that the person possesses.
i) The Natural Dignity of Man
Let us first consider the natural perfection of man. Human nature surpasses other natures, namely inanimate natures and animate natures lacking a spiritual soul, in its intellectuality: in that part of its nature that consists of a rational, intellectual soul. It is this intellectuality which lends a person a dignity, it is indeed the reason why he is called a ‘person’: Persona non est nisi in natura intellectuali (ISent.dist.23.11). Now the particular excellence of intellectuality is its transcendental orientation: the intellect and the will are ordered towards God as Being under the aspect of the True and the Good respectively.
St. Thomas Aquinas takes this orientation as a basis for one of the three ways in which man is in the image of God. He writes (in Summa I q. 93 a. 4) that if it is true that man is in the image of God according to man’s intellectual nature, then the more his intellectual nature is able to imitate God, the more he will be in God’s image. His intellectual nature imitates God to the highest degree by imitating God’s knowledge and love of Himself. There are three ways that this is possible. The first is as follows: (the second and third shall be mentioned later) Secundum quod homo habet aptitudinem naturalem ad intelligendum et amandum Deum: et haec aptitudo consistit in ipsa natura mentis, quae est communis omnibus hominibus: according as man has a natural aptitude to know and love God, and this aptitude consists in the very nature of the mind, which is common to all men.
This first form of dignity is however affected by sin, both original and actual. The effect of original sin is that Homo per peccatum (Adae) spoliatus est gratuitis, vulneratus in naturalibus: by Adam’s sin man is deprived of the gratuitous (supernatural) gifts and wounded in his nature (Summa I II 85, 1; Sent.II d.29q.1a.2). This state is known as the state of fallen nature. The supernatural gifts consist of (the ‘absolutely supernatural’) Sanctifying Grace, which makes possible the Beatific Vision, and the (‘preternatural’) gifts of integrity. The wounding of nature according to St. Thomas and most of the theologians consists of the loss of the gifts of integrity. These gifts comprise infused knowledge, the possibility of neither suffering nor dying, and the domination of the reason over the lower faculties (or in other words of the soul over the body) as a result of the will’s subjection to God. Adam lost the first of these gifts for himself, since it was a personal gift to himself, and the rest of these gifts for the whole human race. The loss of the domination of the reason over the lower faculties is known as concupiscence: namely ignorantia – the difficulty of knowing the truth; malitia – the weakening of the power of the will; infirmitas – the recoiling before the struggle for the good; and concupiscentia in the narrow sense – the desire for the satisfaction of the senses against the judgment of reason.
The wounding of nature is the loss of integrity then, and comprises the loss of the domination of the reason over the lower faculties (integrity in its narrower sense) (Summa I II q.85 a.3). The loss of this domination may be expressed as the loss of man’s natural inclination to virtue (Summa loc.cit.) or a weakening of man’s attachment to the True and the Good. Consequently (as stated in chapter one), the truth of God’s existence and morality which are not inaccessible to reason need by moral necessity to be the subject of Revelation in order that they be known by all promptly, with certitude, and without admixture of error (Vatican Council I s.III chapter2, Humani Generis Pius XII). Moreover man is unable to love God as the author of nature more than himself, or to choose Him as his final end without the healing power of God’s Grace (Summa I II q.109 a.3).
In the Summa I II 85, St. Thomas enquires into the effects of original sin on the dignity of human nature. He concludes that this dignity is diminished by the loss of Sanctifying Grace and integrity, in particular by the diminution of man’s natural inclination to virtue, but at the same time, that dignity is retained which derives from the principles of human nature and its properties such as the powers of the soul. The Council of Trent reaffirms this point with regard to free will (Session VI, chapter 1). In general we may infer that despite the Fall man possesses a dignity in virtue of his intellectuality, particularly in its radical orientation, albeit weakened, towards the True and the Good, or in other words towards God as Being under the aspect of the True and the Good.
The natural dignity of the person is diminished not only by original sin but also by actual sin. All persons that have attained the age of reason (with the exception of course of the Blessed Virgin) have sinned, for ‘if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us’ (I. St. John 2.8). The effect of mortal sin is that it expels God and Sanctifying Grace from the soul, if they were present, and makes the agent a slave of sin for ‘whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.’(St. John 8.34). The effect of venial sin is that it deprives the soul of new graces. The effect of both kinds of sin is that it weakens the agent’s control of his passions inclining him to further and greater sins.
In summary, as Leo XIII states in the Encyclical Immortale Dei 1885: ‘If the intelligence adheres to false ideas, if the will chooses evil and attaches to it, neither the one nor the other attains its perfection, but both fall from their native dignity and corrupt.’ Indeed in a passage concerned with capital punishment in the Summa II II q 64 a. 2, St. Thomas states that a criminal through grievous sin ‘loses his dignity’ simpliciter, in other words despite his radical orientation to the Good and the True, for such is the malice of sin: Homo peccando ab ordine rationis recedit: et ideo decidit a dignitate humana, prout scilicet homo est naturaliter liber et propter seipsum existens, et incidit quodammodo in servitutem bestiarum, ut scilicet de ipso ordinetur secundum quod est utile alii… Et ideo quamvis hominem in sua dignitate manentem occidere sit secundum se malum, tamen hominem peccatorem occidere potest esse bonum…: By sinning, man departs from the order of reason and consequently falls away from his human dignity, in the sense that being naturally free and existing for himself, he falls in a certain manner into the slavish state of the animals, so that he may be disposed of according as is useful to others… Hence, although it be evil to kill a man who preserves his human dignity, yet it may be good to kill a sinner6.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.