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Posts Tagged ‘Ignorance’

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From the Roman Catholic Daily Missal, 1962:

Among the truths which faith teaches us, there are several which all ought to know and believe explicitly, namely, the existence of God; the Mystery of the Holy Trinity; the Mystery of the Redemption of mankind by the Incarnation and death of Jesus Christ, and the future state of reward and punishment.

There are things which every Catholic is also bound to know by the express command either of God or of the Church. These things are: 1.) The three most ordinary Catholic prayers, namely, the Lord’s Prayer, the Hail Mary, and the Apostles’ Creed; and also, at least in substance, 2.) The Commandments of God; 3.) The Precepts of the Church; 4.) The Doctrine of the Sacraments, and especially of these three which are necessary to everyone, namely, Baptism, Penance, and the Holy Eucharist; 5.) The duties and obligations of one’s state in life.

It is a mortal sin for a Catholic to be ignorant of these things, if it be through his own willfulness or neglect.

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St. Thomas Aquinas (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the second 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 third paper, “The Three Moral Determinates in Relation to Law and Conscience,” here.]

“Man stands in the middle of creation, on the horizon of being, between flesh and spirit, between time and eternity.”[i] In order to approach moral theology from a correct perspective, we must begin with a proper understanding of the nature of man. In examining the nature of man, we come to understand the nature of the voluntary in which we find the power of the soul, and come to see how ignorance, passions, and circumstances affect the freedom of man.

Since man arrives at ultimate happiness through acts of the free will, our first task is distinguishing the primary characteristics of those acts by which man arrives at heaven from all other actions of nature. This is important since those actions which do not include the correct order of the intellect, will, and passions are not worthy of praise or blame and thus are not subject to moral responsibility.

In considering this, we find there are four requirements which must be satisfied for an action to be subject to moral responsibility:

1. It must be action, not passion (distinguishes actions from passivity).

2. It must result from a principle intrinsic to the being (distinguishes nature from violence).

3. The principle involves some knowledge of ends and means (distinguishes animals and man from nature).

4. The principle must include knowledge of why the ends and means express human nature (distinguishes man from animals).

Only actions which meet these requirements can be moral actions worthy of praise or blame and are the only means by which man arrives at or fails to arrive at heaven.[ii]

Actions which meet the requirements above are called voluntary. As St. Thomas tells us, “So men’s actions are in the fullest sense voluntary: they deliberate about the goal of which they are aware and about what will lead to it, and are able to pursue it or not.” It is precisely these voluntary actions which make man “lord of his own actions.” Thus, the person is the efficient cause of his own acts and therefore his own perfection in morals. So, while “every act directly willed is imputable to its author,” the intellect and will are not the only factors in determining moral responsibility. We must consider as well the affects of the passions, ignorance, and circumstances.[iii]

The passions enter into moral responsibility because they participate in the will. While the passions in man are born obedient to reason, they are not automatic and are able to resist the direction of the spirit or to not come along. As a result of original sin, man acquired a weakness of passions which causes them to rise before the will is brought to bear. Therefore, we must conclude that an action which results from the passions is less free than one which comes from the will.[iv]

Thus, we must consider the passions in forming a proper order of judging moral freedom. First, an act done merely from passion does not involve the will and therefore has little to do with morals, either for the good or for the bad. Second, acts done from reason guiding the will are those actions with which morals is primarily concerned. Finally, acts done with both the will and consequent passion show a greater freedom in deed, thereby becoming more virtuous or more sinful.[v]

We must also understand that nothing can be willed unless it is first known. The will cannot move towards anything unless it is first presented to the will, and only the intellect can do this. Therefore, ignorance must affect moral responsibility. Here too, the conscience comes into play since knowledge is necessary for action. Some, such as Socrates and Plato, played down the role of the senses (including the passions) in knowledge, claiming that the wise man is always the good man. St. Thomas, however, declared this a critical point.[vi]

St. Thomas presented a clear distinction between nescience, ignorance, and error. Nescience means simply a negation or absence of knowledge. Ignorance, on the other hand, means knowledge which a person should have by nature. Ignorance is either a perverse form of mind (i.e. a habit of false principles or false opinions which impede knowledge of truth) or it is error, meaning the approval of the false as true. It is important to note that “one can be in ignorance without making a judgment about truth, but one cannot be in error without making a false judgment.”[vii]

Simple nescience is not sinful since even angels lack complete knowledge of everything. Antecedent or invincible ignorance, ignorance which precedes an act of will in a way that the will can do nothing about it, causes involuntariness and therefore lacks responsibility. Consequent or vincible ignorance, in which a person wills to be ignorant, makes the act more voluntary.[viii]

If any of the three powers of the soul (intellect, will, and passions) are diminished or absent, the act is not fully voluntary. Thus, just because an act is conscious, it is not necessarily voluntary. As St. Thomas points out, ignorance of circumstances, not principle, is the primary ignorance which affects the voluntary in a way that makes the subject not responsible for an action. Circumstances are external factors which in some way affect the evaluation of an action. As St. Thomas writes, “Human acts are judged voluntary or involuntary according to knowledge or ignorance of circumstances.” Circumstances can affect the morality of an act in three ways. First, they can change the kind of act in its objectivity. Second, they can change the gravity of a deed. Third, they can affect the subject’s involvement in a deed and thus increase or decrease the depth of his choice for good or evil. The first two consider how circumstances affect the actual nature of the deed, which the last one considers how they affect freedom.[ix]

Thus, we come to see the nature of the voluntary in which we encounter the power of the soul, and come to see how ignorance, passions, and circumstances affect the freedom of man. As the Catechism teaches, “God created man a rational being, conferring on him the dignity of a person who can initiate and control his own action…with free will and is master over his own acts.” With the gift of grace, the Holy Spirit educates us in spiritual freedom so that we can become collaborators in His work in the Church and in the world. Through a right ordering of the powers of our souls: intellect, will, and passions; we obtain our perfection in freedom by directing our actions toward the ultimate good, our God and sovereign Good.[x]


Endnotes

 [i] As quoted in: Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Man’s Desire for God (Bloomington, IN: 1st Books Library, 2003), 22.

 [ii] Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., Both a Servant and Free: A Primer in Fundamental Moral Theology (New Hope, NY: New Hope Publications, 2011), 55-57.

 [iii] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, 6, 2, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 28; Mullady, Servant and Free, 63.

 [iv] Mullady, Servant and Free, 65, 67, 69.

[v] Mullady, Servant and Free, 69-70.

[vi] Mullady, Servant and Free, 70-71.

[vii] Mullady, Servant and Free, 71.

[viii] Mullady, Servant and Free, 72-73.

[ix] Aquinas, STh I-II, 7, 2; Mullady, Servant and Free, 74, 77.

[x] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 1730, 1742, 1744.

2011 All rights reserved.  This copyrighted material may not be reposted or reproduced in any form without permission.]

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The Venerable Bede (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Fathers of the Church are particularly adept at “unpacking” the allegorical meaning of Sacred Scripture. The great Father and Doctor of the Church, St. Bede the Venerable, proves no exception as he reveals the meaning of today’s Gospel.

St. Bede tells us the ten lepers represent those “having no true knowledge of faith” who “profess a variety of heretical teachings.” These people do not hide their ignorance, but loudly proclaim it as the height of knowledge, even taking pride in what they say. Since even false doctrine contains an element of truth, St. Bede says this disordered mixing of truth and falsehoods “resemble the leprosy that spots and blemished the human body with patches of true and false colour.” We are warned that such people must be excluded from the Church and placed far off so that they might change their ways and loudly cry out to Jesus.

For those who do wish to be saved, will cry out to the Lord and will humble themselves to call Him their Master. It is in this acknowledgement of their estrangement and a return to the true teachings of Jesus that they find healing.

Of those healed by Jesus, it is only the lepers, notes St. Bede, whom Jesus directs to show themselves to the priests. This is because the Jewish priesthood prefigured the Royal Priesthood of Christ, which is the Church, His mystical Body. If those who are “discolored” with the stain of false teaching are to find salvation, they must renounce their false beliefs and return home to their Lord and His House, the Church.

As for the one healed man who returns, St. Bede says, “This one who went back giving glory to God is a figure of the one Church, in devout humility before Christ. He falling down before the feet of the Lord, gives fitting thanks. For he truly gives thanks to God who repressing the thoughts of his own presumption, is humbly aware of how weak he is in himself; he who attributes no virtue to himself; who confesses that the good he does, is due to the mercy of his Creator.”

We should note as well that we’re told the elect fall on their faces, while the wicked fall backwards. “The wicked therefore, since they do not see into what they are falling, are said to fall backwards, for they rush headlong where they cannot now see what will then happen to them. But the just fall as it were upon their faces; for moved by fear, they humble themselves: of their own will they throw themselves down amid things visible, that they may be raised up amid things visible.”

The number ten holds significance as well. It is a number which signifies unity. One joined to nine represents a unity. Thus, the nine need the one to become the unity of ten. However, the one does not need the nine since one is a unity in itself. “For this reason as the one who gave thanks is approved and praised as a sign of the One Church, so the nine who did not give thanks, now rejected, are shut out from the communion of oneness. And so shall others like them remain imperfect in the number of the nine. And rightly does the Saviour ask where are they; as though He knew them not. For, with God, to know is to choose; not to know, is to reject.”

St. Bede says, “As to the body, it is easy to see that a man may have no leprosy; and yet he may not be of sound of soul. But in the light of this miracle, it troubles the mind to know how one who is thankless can be said to be made clean? But it is now easy to see, that this also can happen that someone within the society of the Church may know her true and pure doctrine, and may interpret it all in accord with the Catholic rule of faith; he may distinguish the creature from the Creator, and by this show that he is free as it were from leprosy, from the spots of lies, and nevertheless by ungrateful to God and Lord Who made him clean, because uplifted in pride, he has not thrown himself down in loving humility to give thanks, and so has become like those of whom the Apostle said: When they knew God, they have not glorified Hum as God or given thanks (Rom i. 21). Saying, they knew God, Paul shows that they have been made clean of leprosy; yet he goes on to call them ungrateful.”

Thus, we find he who humbles himself at the feet of the Lord, professing his own unworthiness, is told to rise and be on his way, comforted by the Word of God to grow in his perfection. He is saved not through his accord, but by the grace he receives from God through his faith: “For if faith made him whole who had hurried back to give thanks to his Saviour and to the One Who had made him clean, unfaith has brought spiritual ruin to those who, receiving favours from God, fail to return and give Him glory.”

Our faith must not only grown through humility, but we must also undertake the works of faith which follow, “which makes whole those who believe, and give glory to the Father Who is in heaven. Amen.”

+JMJ

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

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