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Posts Tagged ‘Nature’

St. Irenaeus (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

[NB: This post is the first in a series of papers on moral theology. You may read the second paper, “The Nature of the Voluntary,” here and the third paper, “The Three Moral Determinates in Relation to Law and Conscience,” here.]

“The glory of God is man fully alive; but man’s life is the vision of God,” St. Irenaeus declared in Adversus haereses.[i]  This phrase points to man’s ultimate and objective end. The current crisis in moral theology is mainly attributed to losing sight of a correct anthropology of man. In order to reestablish a correct view of moral theology, we must first reestablish a correct view of man. For us to see clearly the ultimate end of man and the objective nature of that end, we must begin with a correct understanding of the nature of the soul. Through this integration, the words of St. Irenaeus become clear and firmly establish our moral compass.

St. Augustine tells us that man is at once “both a servant and free.” It is upon this point we must build our understanding of the man’s soul. Moral theology traditionally hinged on finding a proper balance between duty to the law (the servant aspect) while also encouraging the spiritual formation which the law seeks to instill within man (the freedom aspect). Modern moralists have attempted to play one aspect off the other; a sort of “either/or.” Yet, a true understanding of man shows us it is a situation of “both/and.” In order to find its true direction, the human soul requires both, and therefore entails a return to a traditional understanding of man’s soul.[ii]

“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over…[all creation]…upon the earth’” (Gen. 1:26, RSV-CE). Of all visible creation, man alone can know and love his Creator; called to share in His life. The Catechism tells us the human body is special precisely because it is animated by a spiritual soul. The immortal soul is a special gift of God created immediately by God and not “produced” by the parents, showing that from creation man was ordered to a supernatural end. Although undeserved by man, God is able to raise man’s spiritual soul to communion with Him. The Church believes the unity of body and soul is so profound that the soul is considered the “form” of the body: “…spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.”[iii]

As a union of body and soul, material and spiritual, man interacts with created reality through his material body using his spiritual attributes of intellect and will. St. Thomas tells us only those actions of which man is master are properly called human. True human acts arise from deliberate use of the will and intellect; they involve reflection and choice. Moral choice requires the participation of both will and intellect since the concept of free will includes both powers.[iv]

The question now becomes one of determining how man should act, or the proper employment of intellect and will. A rational being must first determine the ultimate goal of his actions (the order of intention) before beginning to implement those goals. In this step, intellect is emphasized since a journey must first have a destination. Arrival at the destination is called the order of execution and here the will is emphasized since through the will a person attains his goals. Put simply: “One must investigate and decide on an ultimate destination and pursue it.”[v]

What is this ultimate destination for man? Being seeks perfection. So, in man’s every action, he seeks greater or further participation in being: “As the eye seeks sight, the mind seeks truth and the will seeks good or perfection.” This material end of the will, the actual good which perfects humanity, is the Holy Trinity. Thus, all things have the Holy Trinity as their origin and all things seek to return to the Holy Trinity.[vi]

For man, this happiness is the Beatific Vision. We find expression of this in Jesus’ preaching of the Beatitudes. The Church teaches that the Beatitudes respond to the natural desire for happiness placed in the human heart by God to draw man to Him and they reveal the goal of human existence, the ultimate end of human acts: God’s call to the Beatific Vision.[vii]

St. Thomas tells us, “man naturally desires, as his ultimate end, to know the first cause. But the first cause of all things is God. Therefore, the ultimate end of man is to know God.” Yet, he also tells us that “…throughout this life God can be known in no higher way than that whereby a cause is known through its effect.” God gave us an innate desire to know Him, yet did not provide us the means within ourselves to know Him by nature alone – we require His assistance of divine grace.[viii]

A misinterpretation of St. Thomas’s phrase “natural desire to see God” by Cardinal Thomas de Vio Cajetan (1469-1534) resulted in centuries of confusion in Catholic teaching. Cajetan took “desire” to mean an appetite of the will which negated the gratuitous character of grace. To compensate, he developed a “two-end” theory involving a hypothetical “pure nature” into which man could have been created, but instead was created in a second nature of grace which actually ordered man to Beatific Vision. Twentieth century theologians Henri de Lubac and Karl Rahner attempted to correct the failures in Cajetan’s theory, but instead only added to the confusion. The problem was rooted in an incorrect order of approach: happiness, possibility of attainment, and natural desire. The opposite is actually the correct order: the fact of natural desire, possibility, and then happiness.[ix]

An analysis of St. Thomas’s writing makes clear he did not mean “natural desire” as an appetite of the will, but as identical with the power of the intellect and its desire to know. This natural desire is a potential to know, not the knowledge itself. It is not desire in the sense of an appetite, but the tendency of every being to seek its perfection. Our destiny cannot be realized in this life because our intellect demands knowledge of the first cause. St. Thomas shows us that even the angels cannot be satisfied with knowing God merely as cause. As he concludes: “Although man is included to an ultimate end by nature, yet he cannot attain that end by nature, but only by grace because of the exalted character of the end.”[x]

Thus, the very nature of man’s soul drives him to reach towards the ultimate objective end of his being: the Beatific Vision. Although possessing an innate desire to see God, man cannot reach his ultimate end in his nature alone, but requires him to freely accept the freely offered gift from God of His grace. As the Catechism succinctly sums it up:

The desire for God is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to Himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for[.][xi]


Endnotes

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

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

[iii] Catechism of the Catholic Church: 2nd ed. (Washington, DC: United States Catholic Conference, 2000), 356-357, 364- 367.

[iv] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae, I-II, q. 1, a. 1, at New Advent, http://www.newadevent.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 34.

[v] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 34-35.

[vi] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 36-37.

[vii] CCC, 1718-1719.

[viii] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 25, 11; III, 48, 9, Joseph Kenny, O.P. (ed.) (New York: Hanover House, 1955-1957) at Priory of the Immaculate Conception, http://dhspriory.org; Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 42-43.

[ix] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 1-12.

[x] Mullady, Man’s Desire for God, 12-13, 15, 19.

[xi] CCC, 27.

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

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Light of the World

I’m very saddened, but unfortunately not surprised, to see the liberal media bandwagon spinning and twisting the Pope’s comments on condoms.  The reality is the Church continues to rightfully teach that the use of artificial contraception in any form is dangerous due to the “de-humanizing” such practices have on human sexuality – and by extension the human person.  Despite the “spin” on the Pope’s comments by the liberal media and progressive liberal “Catholics,” nothing has changed in Church teaching.  Neither the Church, nor the Pope, approves the use of condoms or other artificial conception in any case.

First, one must understand, as many do not, that the Pope is allowed to express personal opinion on any matter he wishes – just as we all have that right.  Despite what some think, Catholicism does not hold that whatever the Pope says is automatically “official” teaching of the Church.  The Doctrine of Papal Infallibility only applies to teachings related to faith and morals, and even then, it must be specifically and clearly invoked.  Most people don’t know that the popes have very, very rarely exercised this authority, despite their voluminous writings from audiences, homilies, letters, etc.  To make an infallible statement on the teachings of Jesus Christ is a very serious process and never something done in mere casual conversation with a reporter.  In this situation, namely an extended interview with a reporter, the Pope’s comments are personal opinion, not “official” Church teaching.  Even so, again despite the “spin” put on his words, what the Pope said is consistent with Church teaching and actually shows tremendous charity on his part.

Second, most people, including many Catholics, completely fail to understand Church teaching on human sexuality.  Briefly, the Church teaches that since God is infinite love and created everything out of His infinite love, all His creation is good.   It is actually a very old heresy going back to the early days of Christianity to claim the body and sex are somehow “bad” or inherently evil.  We must also understand God created not because He had to create, but because He wanted to create out of His free will and His infinite love – which again reinforces the very goodness of His creation.

When it comes to humans, not only are we part of the goodness of God’s creation, we are even more special since we are created in His image.  How are we taught to treat gifts of great value, like a special family heirloom?  We’re taught to treat it with great care as a sign of respect to the giver of that gift – we honor the person by cherishing the gift he or she gave us.  Our humanity, which includes our sexuality, is the greatest gift we can ever receive, for it is only because of that gift that we exist.  Therefore if we truly desire to love, honor and serve the Lord, we must treat His gift, our humanity, with the absolute greatest respect.  Consequently, we must refrain from doing things which “dehumanizes” or goes against the nature of humanity – which includes things like promiscuous sex, unmarried sex, engaging in homosexual acts, abortion, artificial means to prevent the gift of human life and so forth.  All these things work to destroy our human nature – we need only look to today’s society for abundant proof of this fact.

Pope Benedict XVI, as anyone who reads his writings comes to know, is a very intelligent, scholarly and intellectual person.  While on one hand, this is very good as one can gain very deep insights by reading his work, on the other hand his is not writing which lends itself to the short sound-bites so many rely on as their sole source of information today.  As we see in this situation, one comment in a book-length interview, before the book is even released, is taken out of context and twisted to mean something else.  A society fed on nothing but sound-bites eats it up and never bothers to discover the truth for themselves.

All the headlines completely ignore this line from the Pope’s comments: “[The Church] does not regard it [use of condoms] as a real or moral solution.”  Saying it’s not “a real or moral” solution means it is not the right choice, not an “acceptable” choice and not a moral choice – in other words, it is bad and immoral.  If one bothers to read the Pope in context, he makes it clear up front that he does not approve of condom use by anyone.

However, and here’s where the charity I mentioned comes into play, the Pope goes on to say that if someone infected with a STD uses a condom to prevent disease transmission that fact (again, while not the right choice or moral choice) might indicate the beginning of a proper understanding of human sexuality in that person.  He’s really saying the first step to fixing your problem is the recognition you have a problem in the first place.  If we never recognize we have a problem, especially a moral problem, we can never begin taking steps to resolve that problem.  Only if we begin taking personal responsibility for our actions can we begin moving into the light of understanding and Truth.

Unfortunately, in all the media “spin,” we completely fail to grasp the Pope’s real message, a message applicable to all of us.  For far from being an affirmation of condom use, the Pope’s message is actually an affirmation of hope.  The hope we should all share as Christians that even the greatest sinner will eventually recognize his sins, open his heart to God, beg forgiveness and redemption and thereby gain entrance into the Kingdom of Heaven.  That is the Pope’s real message.  The headlines should actually proclaim:

“Pope says Hope of Redemption Possible for even the Greatest of Sinners”

Here are some links which further expound on the Pope’s true message:

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/11/excerpt-pope-benedict-xvi-discusses-condoms-and-the-spread-of-hiv.html

http://insightscoop.typepad.com/2004/2010/11/what-does-the-holy-father-really-say-about-condoms-in-the-new-book-janet-e-smith.html

http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2010/11/the_pope_condoms_and_confusion.html

http://www.jimmyakin.org/2010/11/new-developments-on-the-pope-and-condoms.html

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