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Posts Tagged ‘Evil’

St Thomas Aquinas (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the third in a series of papers on moral theology. You may read the first paper, “The Nature of the Soul and the End of Man,” here and the second paper, “The Nature of the Voluntary,” here.]

“Called to beatitude but wounded by sin, man stands in need of salvation from God. Divine help comes to him in Christ through the law that guides him and the grace that sustains him.”[1] Despite our wounded nature, God provides clear moral “signposts” to help guide us towards the good and our ultimate goal: the beatific vision. Primary among these “signposts” are the three moral determinates by which we can judge the good or evil of a human act. Closely related are the concepts of the law and conscience. Let us briefly consider how these come together to serve as our guides.

Every human act is morally good, evil, or indifferent. In other words, these human acts either move us towards God, away from God, or do neither.  In order to discern in which direction a particular act moves us, we must have some process of evaluation for human acts. This process of evaluation is the three moral determinates. They are: object, circumstances, and intent.

The moral object is the first determinate for the good or evil of a particular act. As Fr. Brian Mullady writes, “The constant tradition of the Catholic Church affirms that the object of the act is the first basis for determining the good or evil of an action, that is determined by reason, and this determination can occur regardless of the consequences or the greatest good for the greatest number.”[2] An act can be objectively good, evil, or indifferent depending on its relation to reason.

Knowledge of conditions is also required to make a complete moral judgment. Circumstances are truly exterior to the object of an act, so they do not form the moral species in themselves. Instead circumstances can add a character of good or evil depending if they act with or against reason. While not all circumstances add further conditions, it is possible for circumstances to render evil an action good in object. Likewise, an act indifferent in object can be rendered good or evil by circumstances. However, an act evil in object can never be rendered good by circumstances – in fact, we don’t even need to know all the circumstances if an act is evil in object (for example, attempts by some to “justify” abortion based on various circumstances).[3]

Next, we must consider intention or the individual reason a person performed an act. An act done from free will must have good motivation for the act to be wholly good. However, good intent cannot make up for an evil exterior act. For example, one cannot steal from another person with the intent of giving the goods stolen to the poor.[4]

Thus, objective judgment on the goodness or evilness of a human act must be based on all three moral determinates. An action is evil if it is not in accordance with reason from all three perspectives. As Fr. Mullady sums up, “Any given action which is contrary to the order of the world as created by God cannot be referred to God as an act of love…All three moral determinates must be in accord with nature for the action to be good.”[5]

While the three moral determinates provide a process of evaluation, we must consider by what standard human actions are evaluated. We find that the standard of evaluation is the law. In fact, the law is the source of the three moral determinates. Thus, an understanding of the nature of law and its types is critical to the study of fundamental morals.[6]

At the root of the crisis in modern moral theology is a detachment of human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth. Modern morals attempt to deny any real objective human nature and in the process reduce man to nothing more than his freedom. In its rejection of natural law as the basis for ethics, modern morals separates matter and form in human acts which results in a divorce of morals from nature. Yet, there are objective standards of truth to which human reason is servant since man did not create himself. This standard is God’s reason, which is the eternal law from which all other rightly ordered law must flow.[7]

“Law is a rule of conduct enacted by competent authority for the sake of the common good” or as St. Thomas says, “An ordinance of reason is what one calls law.” We find there are several different, yet interrelated, levels of moral law: eternal law, which is the source in God of all law; natural law, which allows man to discern by reason good and evil; revealed law, which is the Old Law and the New Law or the Law of the Gospel; and finally civil and ecclesiastical laws. All moral law finds its fullness and unity in Jesus Christ.[8]

While natural law provides objective moral standards discernable by human reason, the Old Law and the New Law help move man beyond merely avoiding evil and doing good. The Old Law, summed up in the Ten Commandments, prepares and disposes the chosen people for Christ. The New Law fulfills the Old Law as the perfection of divine law on earth through the work of Christ and is expressed most clearly in the Sermon on the Mount. While the Old Law prepared the way, it did not provide salvation in itself. The New Law, on the other hand, completes the work of salvation through the gift of grace given by the Holy Spirit to the People of God. It is the New Law which truly provides love, grace, and freedom.[9]

Finally, the conscience moves concept to action. As Fr. Mullady defines it, “Conscience is a judgment of practical reason in which an individual applies general principles of the moral law to specific actions here and now.” One must have an informed conscience, enlightened by moral judgment.  The proper formation of conscience is a lifelong task in which the Word of God serves to light the path.[10]

The tendency in modern moral theology to place freedom and law in opposition to each other has led to what Pope John Paul II described as “a ‘creative’ understanding of moral conscience, which diverges from the teaching of the Church’s tradition and her Magisterium.” Freedom of conscience is not moral license to adhere to error or a right to error, but instead means that man’s conscience cannot be coerced. A free choice to accept the Catholic faith also necessarily means one must freely accept the judgment of the Magisterium on matters of faith and morals.[11]

Thus, we find that man truly is at once both a servant and free. Through the use of his reason in free will, he comes to know natural law which leads to an understanding of the moral determinates for evaluating human actions. Enlightened in his conscience by the guiding light of the Word of God coupled with the guidance of divine grace, man freely chooses to become a servant to the Eternal Law in order to do good and avoid evil as he seeks his ultimate end of an eternal life in God.


Endnotes

[1] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1949.

[2] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Both a Servant and Free: A Primer in Fundamental Moral Theology (New Hope, NY: New Hope Publications, 2011), 123.

[3] Mullady, Servant and Free, 125-127.

[4] Mullady, Servant and Free, 128-129.

[5] Mullady, Servant and Free, 130-131.

[6] Mullady, Servant and Free, 147.

[7] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Man’s Desire for God (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2003), 52-54; Mullady, Servant and Free, 148.

[8] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, 90, 1, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; CCC, 1951-1953.

[9] CCC, 1961-1973.

[10] CCC, 1778, 1783-1785; Mullady, Servant and Free, 176.

[11] CCC, 1782, 1790-1794, 2108; Mullady, Servant and Free, 175-176, 184.

2012 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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St John Chrysostom (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

We cannot Serve God and Money

In today’s Gospel, our Lord tells us what we should understand as a self-evident truth: we cannot serve two masters. Specifically, He says we cannot love God while at the same time loving money. This is not to say that money or wealth is inherently evil, however when we worship it as a god, it always leads to our doom. As St. Paul warns us, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plague men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs” (1 Tim. 6:9-10).

How often do we deny money is our god, yet our actions reveal otherwise? Whenever we desire the latest fashion, the latest electronic gadget, the newest car, the fanciest house, do we not through our very actions worship money as out god? When we seek fame and fortune for its own sake, we forsake our one and true Lord and Master.

To put it plainly: when we make money our lord and master, we are in mortal danger of banishment from the service of Christ. God is infinite and perfect love, yet true love is not easy and what we are called to return to God in love is not easy. St. John Chrysostom clearly tells us this when he writes, “I now say again to you, what I am always saying: that Christ urges His hearers to obedience to His words, both by means of what is profitable to them, and by what is painful; like a good physician, pointing out the disease that comes through neglect, and the good health that will come through obedience to His directions.”[1]

What does it profit us more as we are being eaten with the cancer of sin: to believe everything is fine and we should not trouble ourselves with it or to understand we are inflicted with a painful and deadly disease? Is it not better to know of the disease, no matter how painful, so that we might recognize it and fight it? Our Lord tells us the Truth: if we pretend there is no disease, we condemn ourselves to the fires of hell – for we must never forget that it is not God who sends us to hell, but we ourselves who do so through the actions and choices of our own free will. No, God does not send us to hell, but it is He alone who reaches out His hand in friendship and love to pull us up from the abyss of our own damnation. Without Him we have only death, but with Him we have only life.

Again, it is not wealth itself which is our enemy; it is our relationship to money which can make us master over it or slave to it. St. John Chrysostom recalls to mind here the example of Job:

Job was indeed rich. But he was no slave of mammon. He possessed riches and ruled them, as a master, not a slave. He held all he had as though he were the steward of another man’s riches. And not only did he not rob others of what belonged to them, he gave what was his to those in need…And so he did not grieve when he lost them. But the rich now are not like this, but rather in a state worse than any slave, and as though paying tribute to some tyrant. For the minds of such men become a sort of stronghold, held by money; and from there each day money sends out its commands, commands that are fulfilled by the violation of justice, and decency; and there is no one who does not obey.[2]

Our Lord implores us to take heart: “Behold the birds of the air, for they neither sow, nor do they reap, nor gather into barns: and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not you of much more value than they?” Now, Jesus is not calling on us to be lazy and slothful, with a “the Lord will provide” attitude; instead He reminds us that God provides all that we are and all that we ever will be. We must trust in Him for our ultimate nourishment and our ultimate life comes from a life in, through, and with the Holy Trinity.

We are called to take heart and to not lose our faith amongst the anxieties of the world: “If then God takes such care of the creatures He has made for our sake, how much more will He not provide for our own needs? If He cares for the servants, how much more will He not care for the masters? … He did not say we are not to sow, but that we are not to be solicitous. Neither did He say we were not to work, but that we must never be fainthearted, now wear ourselves out with anxieties. He commanded us to eat; but not to be over-concerned about it.”[3]

Our Lord calls us, in love, to follow Him on the difficult path: “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (Lk. 9:23-25)

Yet, our Lord, in His infinite and perfect love, understands we cannot instantly become Christ-like. We approach Him as pilgrims on a journey, some faster and some slower than others, yet all on the same path. As we see this message in today’s Gospel, St. John Chrysostom writes of Christ’s lesson to us:

For you now however, it is enough to learn not to be grasping, that almsgiving is a beautiful thing, to know also that you must give to others a share of what is yours. If you do this well, Beloved, you will soon go on to higher things…Meanwhile therefore let us put away all excessive luxury, and be content with what is fitting and moderate; and let us learn to acquire by honest labour all we are to possess…

Therefore keeping before our mind those degrees of self discipline which have been set before us, let us strive to attain at least to those midway on the road, so that we may be delivered from the wrath to come and, drawing ever nearer, may come at last to the very crown of all blessings; and may it be given to each one of us to attain to this, by the grace and love of Jesus Christ our Lord, to Whom be glory and honour for ever. Amen.[4]

+JMJ


[1] M. F. Toal (ed), The Sunday Sermons of the Great Fathers, Volume 4 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2000), 102.

[2] Ibid., 103.

[3] Ibid., 105.

[4] Ibid., 107.

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