Serpents & Doves: 30 Maxims on Worldly Wisdom by Fr. Baltasar Gracián SJ

Portrait of Baltasar Gracian preserved in Graus, restored. Wiki.
Portrait of Baltasar Gracian preserved in Graus, restored. Wiki.

Listers, our Lord said, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”1 Despite the millennia, the Church appears to still lack a guide to the practicality of being both wise (cunning or clever) and innocent. In a world discipled by Machiavelli, who proclaimed that those who remain moral in politics will effect their own ruin, how can a faithful Catholic engage and not lose his or her soul? One of the best answers to this question comes in the form of 300 maxims written by Fr. Baltasar Gracián, SJ. Ordained a priest in 1627 and final vows in 1635, the Jesuit was an orator, an army chaplain, an academic, and a constant source of frustration for his superiors.2 He published, without the permission, a three part novel entitled Criticón. He garnered both fame throughout Europe and reprimands from the Society of Jesus. In 1647, Fr. Gracián published Oráculo Manual y Qrte de Prudencia, literally, Manual Oracle and Art of Discretion, which in English is translated The Art of Worldly Wisdom. The collection of 300 maxims aims to guide the reader in how to be politically clever while remaining virtuous. Written in the Spanish baroque style of Conceptismo, the work was well received throughout Europe and has had resurgences throughout the years.3 It is reported, “Nietzsche wrote of the Oráculo, ‘Europe has never produced anything finer or more complicated in matters of moral subtlety,’ and Schopenhauer, who translated it into German, considered the book ‘Absolutely unique… a book made for constant use…a companion for life’ for ‘those who wish to prosper in the great world.'”4 Moreover, “A translation of the Oraculo manual from the Spanish by Joseph Jacobs (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited), first published in 1892, was a huge commercial success, with many reprintings over the years (most recently by Shambala). Jacobs’ translation is alleged to have been read by Winston Churchill, seven years later, on the ship taking him to the Boer Wars.”5

Do the maxims truly strike the virtue of being both cunning and innocent?

Without question, many of the maxims of Father Gracián are controversial, and, when praised by modernist philosophers such as Nietzsche, raise a healthy suspicion in faithful Catholics. While acknowledging that submitting a practical guide to innocence and cunning is a task largely left untried, there are a few key observations about the writings of Fr. Gracián.

First, the maxims have a notable silence regarding God. In fact, only three of the 300 maxims explicitly mention anything related to God and grace. Taking a positive approach, there are two observations about Father Gracián’s silence on the supernatural. First, humans are naturally political animals, and as such, political activity is rooted by the natural virtues. In this light, it would make sense that a work on politics would largely focus on the natural virtues, i.e., prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.

Second, the maxims in which Father Gracián does mention the supernatural are axiomatic in character. For example, in maxim c he states, “A Man without Illusions, a wise Christian, a philosophic Courtier. Be all these, not merely seem to be them, still less affect to be them.” In maxim ccli, he states, “Use human Means as if there were no divine ones, and divine as if there were no human ones.” (ccli) In the final maxim of the work, maxim ccc, he states, “In one word, be a Saint. So is all said at once. Virtue is the link of all perfections, the centre of all the felicities.” Though few maxims mention anything supernatural, those that do seem to do so without hesitation and without the customary nuances of the rest.

In contrast, taking a more critical approach to the silence, the absence of prayer and a reliance of God in the maxims leaves the Christian reader with an incomplete guide to Christ’s words. Political gamesmanship is scored by who can best discern the perceptions and intentions of the parties in play. A Catholic who enters into the fray relying on his or her own wit will fail. No matter how perceptive the mind, there will always be side conversations, ulterior motives, unknown relationships, and irrational players that even the most prudent of minds will not be able to know or discern. To believe that one is clever enough to navigate the game without God is a hallmark of pride. In fact, “success” for those living the virtuous life may look very different than what would naturally be called success. Think of the providential challenges faced by Joseph, King David, Moses, and many other holy men and women that ultimately led them to being great leaders. God knows the secrets of all men and how those secrets will unfold. The Catholic who humbles himself before God, who commits to a life of virtue, and lives a life of prayer, enters the political chaos with peace and grace. Catholics dwelling in political climates would do well to remember Cardinal Merry del Val, the Secretary of State for St. Pius X, and his Litany of Humility. In addition, many of the psalms can be a constant source of solace and many of the prayers of St. Thomas Aquinas for protection from his enemies can be pertinent as well.6

Despite the silence on the supernatural, many of the maxims of Fr. Gracián give tremendous insights on how to be clever yet innocent. Catholics would do well to contemplate the wisdom of his words and apply them to their political and social dealings. The following are thirty selected maxims that are representative of the major motifs in the Art of Worldly Wisdom.


The Maxims


1. Keep Matters for a Time in Suspense. (iii) Admiration at their novelty heightens the value of your achievements, It is both useless and insipid to play with the cards on the table. If you do not declare yourself immediately, you arouse expectation, especially when the importance of your position makes you the object of general attention. Mix a little mystery with everything, and the very mystery arouses veneration.

Cautious silence is the holy of holies of worldly wisdom.

And when you explain, be not too explicit, just as you do not expose your inmost thoughts in ordinary intercourse. Cautious silence is the holy of holies of worldly wisdom. A resolution declared is never highly thought of; it only leaves room for criticism. And if it happens to fail, you are doubly unfortunate. Besides you imitate the Divine way when you cause men to wonder and watch.


2. Avoid the Faults of your Nation. (ix) Water shares the good or bad qualities of the strata through which it flows, and man those of the climate in which he is born. Some owe more than others to their native land, because there is a more favourable sky in the zenith. There is not a nation even among the most civilised that has not some fault peculiar to itself which other nations blame by way of boast or as a warning. ’Tis a triumph of cleverness to correct in oneself such national failings, or even to hide them: you get great credit for being unique among your fellows, and as it is less expected of you it is esteemed the more. There are also family failings as well as faults of position, of office or of age. If these all meet in one person and are not carefully guarded against, they make an intolerable monster.7


3. Arouse no Exaggerated Expectations on entering. (xix) It is the usual ill-luck of all celebrities not to fulfil afterwards the expectations beforehand formed of them. The real can never equal the imagined, for it is easy to form ideals but very difficult to realise them. Imagination weds Hope and gives birth to much more than things are in themselves. However great the excellences, they never suffice to fulfil expectations, and as men find themselves disappointed with their exorbitant expectations they are more ready to be disillusionised than to admire. Hope is a great falsifier of truth; let skill guard against this by ensuring that fruition exceeds desire. A few creditable attempts at the beginning are sufficient to arouse curiosity without pledging one to the final object. It is better that reality should surpass the design and is better than was thought. This rule does not apply to the wicked, for the same exaggeration is a great aid to them; they are defeated amid general applause, and what seemed at first extreme ruin comes to be thought quite bearable.8


4. A Man of Rectitude (xxix) clings to the sect of right with such tenacity of purpose that neither the passions of the mob nor the violence of the tyrant can ever cause him to transgress the bounds of right. But who shall be such a Phœnix of equity? What a scanty following has rectitude! Many praise it indeed, but—for others. Others follow it till danger threatens; then the false deny it, the politic conceal it. For it cares not if it fights with friendship, power, or even self-interest: then comes the danger of desertion. Then astute men make plausible distinctions so as not to stand in the way of their superiors or of reasons of state. But the straightforward and constant regard dissimulation as a kind of treason, and set more store on tenacity than on sagacity. Such are always to be found on the side of truth, and if they desert a party, they do not change from fickleness, but because the others have first deserted truth.


5. Born to Command. (xlii) It is a secret force of superiority not to have to get on by artful trickery but by an inborn power of rule. All submit to it without knowing why, recognising the secret vigour of connatural authority. Such magisterial spirits are kings by merit and lions by innate privilege. By the esteem which they inspire, they hold the hearts and minds of the rest. If their other qualities permit, such men are born to be the prime motors of the state. They perform more by a gesture than others by a long harangue.9


6. Know how to show your Teeth. (liv) Even hares can pull the mane of a dead lion. There is no joke about courage. Give way to the first and you must yield to the second, and so on till the last, and to gain your point at last costs as much trouble as would have gained much more at first. Moral courage exceeds physical; it should be like a sword kept ready for use in the scabbard of caution.

Many have had eminent qualities, yet, for want of a stout heart, they passed inanimate lives and found a tomb in their own sloth.

It Is the shield of great place; moral cowardice lowers one more than physical. Many have had eminent qualities, yet, for want of a stout heart, they passed inanimate lives and found a tomb in their own sloth. Wise Nature has thoughtfully combined in the bee the sweetness of its honey with the sharpness of its sting.


7. Adapt Yourself to your Company. (lviii) There is no need to show your ability before every one. Employ no more force than is necessary. Let there be no unnecessary expenditure either of knowledge or of power. The skilful falconer only flies enough birds to serve for the chase. If there is too much display to-day there will be nothing to show to-morrow. Always have some novelty wherewith to dazzle. To show something fresh each day keeps expectation alive and conceals the limits of capacity.((Fr. Gracian’s theme of not exaggerating is similar to his theme of never displaying more excellence than needed. In maxim lxxxv, he states, “be extraordinary in your excellence, if you like, but ordinary in your display of it.” Again, cf. to maxim xciv, “Keep your abilities unknown” and clxx “In all Things keep Something in Reserve.” Reflecting this principle of withholding, it would seem, that a man in a position that demands great excellence, would constantly be having to go to the depths of his excellence to excel in his duties; thus, it would seem that one way to be “ordinary in your display” of excellence would be to continue to always be growing in it – to have the spirit of a student, thus, when someone things they have seen the depths of your excellence, you can later display the greater depth you have learned and kept in reserve until that time.))


8. Take care to get Information. (lxxx) We live by information, not by sight. We exist by faith in others. The ear is the area-gate of truth but the front-door of lies. The truth is generally seen, rarely heard; seldom she comes in elemental purity, especially from afar; there is always some admixture of the moods of those through whom she has passed.

The truth is generally seen, rarely heard; seldom she comes in elemental purity, especially from afar; there is always some admixture of the moods of those through whom she has passed.

The passions tinge her with their colours wherever they touch her, sometimes favourably, sometimes the reverse. She always brings out the disposition, therefore receive her with caution from him that praises, with more caution from him that blames. Pay attention to the intention of the speaker; you should know beforehand on what footing he comes. Let reflection assay falsity and exaggeration.


9. Make use of your Enemies. (lxxxiv) You should learn to seize things not by the blade, which cuts, but by the handle, which saves you from harm: especially is this the rule with the doings of your enemies. A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends. Their ill-will often levels mountains of difficulties which one would otherwise not face.

A wise man gets more use from his enemies than a fool from his friends.

Many have had their greatness made for them by their enemies. Flattery is more dangerous than hatred, because it covers the stains which the other causes to be wiped out. The wise will turn ill-will into a mirror more faithful than that of kindness. and remove or improve the faults referred to. Caution thrives well when rivalry and ill-will are next-door neighbours.


10. Know Yourself (lxxxix)—in talents and capacity, in judgment and inclination. You cannot master yourself unless you know yourself. There are mirrors for the face but none for the mind. Let careful thought about yourself serve as a substitute.

There are mirrors for the face but none for the mind.

When the outer image is forgotten, keep the inner one to improve and perfect. Learn the force of your intellect and capacity for affairs, test the force of your courage in order to apply it, and keep your foundations secure and your head clear for everything.


11. A Man without Illusions, a wise Christian, a philosophic Courtier. (c) Be all these, not merely seem to be them, still less affect to be them. Philosophy is nowadays discredited, but yet it was always the chiefest concern of the wise. The art of thinking has lost all its former repute. Seneca introduced it at Rome: it went to court for some time, but now it is considered out of place there. And yet the discovery of deceit was always thought the true nourishment of a thoughtful mind, the true delight of a virtuous soul.10


12. Do not parade your Position. (cvi) To outshine in dignity is more offensive than in personal attractions. To pose as a personage is to be hated: envy is surely enough. The more you seek esteem the less you obtain it, for it depends on the opinion of others. You cannot take it, but must earn and receive it from others. Great positions require an amount of authority sufficient to make them efficient: without it they cannot be adequately filled. Preserve therefore enough dignity to carry on the duties of the office. Do not enforce respect, but try and create it. Those who insist on the dignity of their office, show they have not deserved it, and that it is too much for them. If you wish to be valued, be valued for your talents, not for anything adventitious. Even kings prefer to be honoured for their personal qualifications rather than for their station.11


13. Never talk of Yourself. (cxvii) You must either praise yourself, which is vain, or blame yourself, which is little-minded: it ill beseems him that speaks, and ill pleases him that hears. And if you should avoid this in ordinary conversation, how much more in official matters, and above all, in public speaking, where every appearance of unwisdom really is unwise. The same want of tact lies in speaking of a man in his presence, owing to the danger of going to one of two extremes: flattery or censure.12


14.  Nobility of Feeling. (cxxxi) There is a certain distinction of the soul, a highmindedness prompting to gallant acts, that gives an air of grace to the whole character. It is not found often, for it presupposes great magnanimity. Its chief characteristic is to speak well of an enemy, and to act even better to-wards him. It shines brightest when a chance comes of revenge: not alone does it let the occasion pass, but it improves it by using a complete victory in order to display unexpected generosity. ’Tis a fine stroke of policy, nay, the very acme of statecraft. It makes no pretence to victory, for it pretends to nothing, and while obtaining its deserts it conceals its merits.


15. Find the Good in a Thing at once. (cxl) ’Tis the advantage of good taste. The bee goes to the honey for her comb, the serpent to the gall for its venom. So with taste: some seek the good, others the ill. There is nothing that has no good in it, especially in books, as giving food for thought. But many have such a scent that amid a thousand excellences they fix upon a single defect, and single it out for blame as if they were scavengers of men’s minds and hearts. So they draw up a balance sheet of defects which does more credit to their bad taste than to their intelligence. They lead a sad life, nourishing themselves on bitters and battening on garbage. They have the luckier taste who midst a thousand defects seize upon a single beauty they may have hit upon by chance.


16. Look into the Interior of Things. (cxlvi) Things are generally other than they seem, and ignorance that never looks beneath the rind becomes disabused when you show the kernel. Lies always come first, dragging fools along by their irreparable vulgarity. Truth always lags last, limping along on the arm of Time. The wise therefore reserve for it the other half of that power which the common mother has wisely given in duplicate. Deceit is very superficial, and the superficial therefore easily fall into it. Prudence lives retired within its recesses, visited only by sages and wise men.13


17. Think beforehand. (cli) To-day for to-morrow, and even for many days hence. The greatest foresight consists in determining beforehand the time of trouble. For the provident there are no mischances and for the careful no narrow escapes. We must not put off thought till we are up to the chin in mire. Mature reflection can get over the most formidable difficulty. The pillow is a silent Sibyl, and it is better to sleep on things beforehand than lie awake about them afterwards. Many act first and then think afterwards—that is, they think less of consequences than of excuses: others think neither before nor after. The whole of life should be one course of thought how not to miss the right path. Rumination and foresight enable one to determine the line of life.


18. Wage War Honourably. (clxv) You may be obliged to wage war, but not to use poisoned arrows. Every one must needs act as he is, not as others would make him to be. Gallantry in the battle of life wins all men’s praise: one should fight so as to conquer, not alone by force but by the way it is used. A mean victory brings no glory, but rather disgrace. Honour always has the upper hand. An honourable man never uses forbidden weapons, such as using a friendship that’s ended for the purposes of a hatred just begun: a confidence must never be used for a vengeance. The slightest taint of treason tarnishes the good name. In men of honour the smallest trace of meanness repels: the noble and the ignoble should be miles apart. Be able to boast that if gallantry, generosity, and fidelity were lost in the world men would be able to find them again in your own breast.14


19. Be Moderate. (ccvii) One has to consider the chance of a mischance. The impulses of the passions cause prudence to slip, and there is the risk of ruin. A moment of wrath or of pleasure carries you on farther than many hours of calm, and often a short diversion may put a whole life to shame. The cunning of others uses such moments of temptation to search the recesses of the mind: they use such thumbscrews as are wont to test the best caution.

Moderation serves as a counterplot, especially in sudden emergencies.

Moderation serves as a counterplot, especially in sudden emergencies. Much thought is needed to prevent a passion taking the bit in the teeth, and he is doubly wise who is wise on horseback. He who knows the danger may with care pursue his journey. Light as a word may appear to him who throws it out, it may import much to him that hears it and ponders on it.


20. Know how to play the Card of Truth. (ccx) ’Tis dangerous, yet a good man cannot avoid speaking it. But great skill is needed here: the most expert doctors of the soul pay great attention to the means of sweetening the pill of truth. For when it deals with the destroying of illusion it is the quintessence of bitterness.

But great skill is needed here: the most expert doctors of the soul pay great attention to the means of sweetening the pill of truth.

A pleasant manner has here an opportunity for a display of skill: with the same truth it can flatter one and fell another to the ground. Matters of to-day should be treated as if they were long past. For those who can understand a word is sufficient, and if it does not suffice, it is a case for silence. Princes must not be cured with bitter draughts; it is therefore desirable in their case to gild the pill of disillusion.


21. Do not be the Slave of First Impressions. (ccxxvii) Some marry the very first account they hear: all others must live with them as concubines. But as a lie has swift legs, the truth with them can find no lodging. We should neither satisfy our will with the first object nor our mind with the first proposition: for that were superficial. Many are like new casks who keep the scent of the first liquor they hold, be it good or bad. If this superficiality becomes known, it becomes fatal, for it then gives opportunity for cunning mischief; the ill-minded hasten to colour the mind of the credulous. Always therefore leave room for a second hearing. Alexander always kept one ear for the other side. Wait for the second or even third edition of news. To be the slave of your impressions argues want of capacity, and is not far from being the slave of your passions.15


22. Never share the Secrets of your Superiors. (ccxxxvii) You may think you will share pears, but you will only share parings. Many have been ruined by being confidants: they are like sops of bread used as forks, they run the same risk of being eaten up afterwards. It is no favour in a prince to share a secret: it is only a relief. Many break the mirror that reminds them of their ugliness. We do not like seeing those who have seen us as we are: nor is he seen In a favourable light who has seen us in an unfavourable one.

He that communicates his secret to another makes himself that other’s slave.

None ought to be too much beholden to us, least of all one of the great, unless it be for benefits done him rather than for such favours received from him. Especially dangerous are secrets entrusted to friends. He that communicates his secret to another makes himself that other’s slave. With a prince this is an intolerable position which cannot last. He will desire to recover his lost liberty, and to gain it will overturn everything, including right and reason. Accordingly neither tell secrets nor listen to them.


23. Do not be too much of a Dove. (ccxliii) Alternate the cunning of the serpent with the candour of the dove. Nothing is easier than to deceive an honest man. He believes in much who lies in naught; who does no deceit, has much confidence. To be deceived is not always due to stupidity, it may arise from sheer goodness. There are two sets of men who can guard themselves from injury: those who have experienced it at their own cost, and those who have observed it at the cost of others. Prudence should use as much suspicion as subtlety uses snares, and none need be so good as to enable others to do him ill. Combine in yourself the dove and the serpent, not as a monster but as a prodigy.


24. Use human Means as if there were no divine ones, and divine as if there were no human ones. (ccli) A masterly rule: it needs no comment.16


25. Silken Words, sugared Manners. (cclxvii) Arrows pierce the body, insults the soul. Sweet pastry perfumes the breath. It is a great art in life to know how to sell wind. Most things are paid for in words, and by them you can remove impossibilities. Thus we deal in air, and a royal breath can produce courage and power. Always have your mouth full of sugar to sweeten your words, so that even your ill-wishers enjoy them. To please one must be peaceful.


26. Comprehend their Dispositions with whom you deal, (cclxxiii) so as to know their intentions. Cause known, effect known, beforehand in the disposition and after in the motive. The melancholy man always foresees misfortunes, the backbiter scandals; having no conception of the good, evil offers itself to them. A man moved by passion always speaks of things differently from what they are; it is his passion speaks, not his reason.

A man moved by passion always speaks of things differently from what they are; it is his passion speaks, not his reason.

Thus each speaks as his feeling or his humour prompts him, and all far from the truth. Learn how to decipher faces and spell out the soul in the features. If a man laughs always, set him down as foolish; if never, as false. Beware of the gossip: he is either a babbler or a spy. Expect little good from the misshapen: they generally take revenge on Nature, and do little honour to her, as she has done little to them. Beauty and folly generally go hand in hand.


27. Never act in a Passion. (cclxxxvii) If you do, all is lost. You cannot act for yourself if you are not yourself, and passion always drives out reason. In such cases inter-pose a prudent go-between who can only be prudent if he keeps cool. That is why lookers-on see most of the game, because they keep cool. As soon as you notice that you are losing your temper beat a wise retreat. For no sooner is the blood up than it is spilt, and in a few moments occasion may be given for many days’ repentance for oneself and complaints of the other party.


28. Know how to Test. (ccxci) The care of the wise must guard against the snare of the wicked. Great judgment is needed to test that of another. It is more important to know the characteristics and properties of persons than those of vegetables and minerals. It is indeed one of the shrewdest things in life. You can tell metals by their ring and men by their voice. Words are proof of integrity, deeds still more. Here one requires extraordinary care, deep observation, subtle discernment, and judicious decision.


29. Always act as if your Acts were seen. (ccxcvii) He must see all round who sees that men see him or will see him. He knows that walls have ears and that ill deeds rebound back. Even when alone he acts as if the eyes of the whole world were upon him. For as he knows that sooner or later all will be known, so he considers those to be present as witnesses who must afterwards hear of the deed. He that wished the whole world might always see him did not mind that his neighbours could see him over their walls.


30. In one word, be a Saint. (ccc) So is all said at once. Virtue is the link of all perfections, the centre of all the felicities. She it is that makes a man prudent, discreet, sagacious, cautious, wise, courageous, thoughtful, trustworthy, happy, honoured, truthful, and a universal Hero. Three HHH’s make a man happy—Health, Holiness, and a Headpiece.Virtue is the sun of the microcosm, and has for hemisphere a good conscience.

Virtue alone is serious, all else is but jest.

She is so beautiful that she finds favour with both God and man. Nothing is lovable but virtue, nothing detestable but vice. Virtue alone is serious, all else is but jest. A man’s capacity and greatness are to be measured by his virtue and not by his fortune. She alone is all-sufficient. She makes men lovable in life, memorable after death.17

  1. Gospel of Matthew 10:16; cf., ccxliii Do not be too much of a Dove. []
  2. Baltasar Gracian. []
  3. Conceptismo is characterized by a rapid rhythm, directness, simple vocabulary, witty metaphors, and wordplay. In this style, multiple meanings are conveyed in a very concise manner, and conceptual intricacies are emphasised over elaborate vocabulary.” []
  4. Id. []
  5. Id. []
  6. Spiritual resources for the political: Psalms 13, 15, 20:7-8, 35, 69, 118, 143: 12; The Aquinas Prayer Book: To the Mother of God, Aquinas prays, “Be to me, most Holy Lady, a comforter, and an ally against the stratagems and the traps of the ancient enemy and of all those who harbor ill intentions against me.” (23) In his prayer after receiving the Blessed Eucharist, he petitions, “may it be a firm defense against the plots of all my enemies, seen and unseen.” (83) Those looking for a way to end their petitions to God may reference 143:12, which reads: “and in thy mercy thou wilt destroy my enemies. And thou wilt cut off all them that afflict my soul: for I am thy servant.” Douay-Rheims Bible. “And in thy steadfast love cut off my enemies, and destroy all my adversaries, for I am thy servant.” RSV-Catholic. []
  7. To avoid the faults of your nation/age, you must know the faults of your nation/age – 4 Steps to Understand the Crisis of Modernity. []
  8. Similarly, (xli) Never Exaggerate. It is an important object of attention not to talk in superlatives, so as neither to offend against truth nor to give a mean idea of one’s understanding. Exaggeration is a prodigality of the judgment which shows the narrowness of one’s knowledge or one’s taste. Praise arouses lively curiosity, begets desire, and if afterwards the value does not correspond to the price, as generally happens, expectation revolts against the deception, and revenges itself by under-estimating the thing recommended and the person recommending. A prudent man goes more cautiously to work, and prefers to err by omission than by commission. Extraordinary things are rare, therefore moderate ordinary valuation. Exaggeration is a branch of lying, and you lose by it the credit of good taste, which is much, and of good sense, which is more.” []
  9. Cf. the virtue of magnanimity, under Aristotle. []
  10. Often times the maxims of Fr. Gracian have garnered him the title a “Christian Machiavelli.” Maxim one hundred (c) shows one of the most fundamental distinctions between Machiavelli and Fr. Gracian. Machiavelli stated, “because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil.” Machiavelli is clear – those who act virtuously will bring about their own ruin. For Machiavelli, it was important for a prince to appear moral yet be immoral. Virtue is reinterpreted to the cunning ability to gain and maintain power. We see a similar mindset with Glaucon in Plato’s Republic, where he states that it is best for one to be immoral yet appear moral so as to excel within a social contract theory. Fr. Gracian, though questionable at times on his maxims, does not appear to hold to this theory. He states the contrary, “be all these, not merely seem to be them, still less affect to be them.” In other words, where Machiavelli has discarded the “imagined republic” of the Kingdom of God, it appears Fr. Gracian is still contemplating how to remain an innocent citizen of the City of God yet be cunning as the serpent. See 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli and A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes. Furthermore, see maxims ccli and ccc. []
  11. Cf. Maxim xciv; related to his motifs of exaggeration and not displaying your full excellence, Fr. Gracian continues in this maxim his thoughts on perception and power. []
  12. cf. Fr. Josemaria Escriva’s signs of a lack of humility. Cf. maxim cvi. []
  13. Similarly, in maxim civil, he states, “men must be studied as deeply as books.” []
  14. Another clear distinction between Fr. Gracian and Machiavelli – for Fr. Gracian, the ends do not justify the means. []
  15. A prudent maxim with an imprudent metaphor, “Some marry the very first account they hear: all others must live with them as concubines.” []
  16. Fr. Gracian’s comment of use “divine means” is the closest he comes to speaking about prayer or a reliance on God. It is very close to the attributed quote from St. Augustine, “Pray as though everything depended on God. Work as though everything depended on you.” Similarly, “Act and God will act, work and He will work.” – St. Joan of Arc. []
  17. Another clear distinction between Fr. Gracian and Machiavelli, as Machiavelli had to reinterpret virtue in order to achieve his political ends. As such, virtue becomes the cunning ability to gain and maintain power, something unrecognizable to the ancients and to the Church. For Fr. Gracian, he does not appear to reinterpret virtue in order to excel in politics – though how to be both innocent and cunning is difficult at times. []

On God & Goodness: 8 Lessons on the Euthyphro Dilemma

Listers, does God will something because it is good or is something good because God wills it? The question lies at the heart of the dialogue Euthyphro, written by Plato c. 399-395 BC, recounting a conversation between Socrates and a man named Euthyphro on the meaning of holiness. Though the dialogue overall is seeking to define holiness (or piety), it is the Euthyphro Dilemma that has captured the attention of Catholic, protestant, Islamic, atheistic, and agnostic thinkers throughout the centuries. Socrates asks Euthyphro, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” In monotheistic terms, it may be rendered “does God will something because it is good or is something good because God wills it?” or “Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?” The question demands an explanation on the relationship between God and what is good (and how to be good, i.e., moral). Theologians and philosophers have disagreed over the years as supporting either horn of the dilemma imports substantial differences to the nature of God and the nature of the good.

The following list intends to simply introduce the Euthyphro Dilemma by reproducing a basic survey of the issue as presented through various texts. The majority of the list is taken verbatim from the respective cited sources and were gathered with the Catholic intellectual tradition in mind.1


1. Summary of the Narrative

"A Row of Philosophers - Busts of Greek philosophers from Socrates to Epicurus as seen in the British Museum, London." - Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
“A Row of Philosophers – Busts of Greek philosophers from Socrates to Epicurus as seen in the British Museum, London.” – Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The Euthyphro dialogue occurs near the court of the Archon basileus (Magistrate–king), where Socrates and Euthyphro encounter each other; each man is present at the court for the preliminary hearings to possible trials (2a).

Euthyphro has come to present charges of manslaughter against his father, who had allowed one of his workers to die of exposure to the elements without proper care and attention. (3e–4d) The dead worker, earlier had killed a slave from the family estate on Naxos Island. As Euthyphro’s father awaited to hear from the exegetes (cf. Laws 759d) about how to proceed, the bound-and-gagged worker died in a ditch. Socrates is astonished by Euthyphro’s confidence in being able to prosecute his own father for the serious charge of manslaughter, despite the fact that Athenian Law allows only relatives of the dead man to file suit for murder. (Dem. 43 §57) Euthyphro misses the astonishment of Socrates, which confirms his overconfidence in his own critical judgement of matters religious and ethical. In an example of Socratic irony, Socrates said that Euthyphro obviously has a clear understanding of what is pious (τὸ ὅσιον to hosion) and impious (τὸ ἀνόσιον to anosion). Because he is facing a formal charge of impiety, Socrates expresses the hope to learn from Euthyphro, all the better to defend himself in the trial.

Euthyphro says that what lies behind the charge of impiety presented against Socrates, by Meletus and the others, is Socrates’ claim that he is subjected to a daimon, (divine sign) which warns him of various courses of action. (3b) From the perspective of some Athenians, Socrates expressed skepticism of the accounts about the Greek gods, which he and Euthyphro briefly discuss, before proceeding to the main argument of their dialogue: the definition of “piety”. Moreover, Socrates further expresses critical reservations about such divine accounts that emphasize the cruelty and inconsistent behavior of the Greek gods, such as the castration of the early sky-god Uranus, by his son Cronus; a story Socrates said is difficult to accept. (6a–6c) After claiming to know and be able to tell more astonishing divine stories, Euthyphro spends little time and effort defending the conventional, Greek view of the gods. Instead, he is led to the true task at hand, as Socrates forces him to confront his ignorance, by pressing Euthyphro for a definition of “piety”; yet, Socrates finds flaw with each definition of “piety” proposed by Euthyphro.(6d ff.)

At the dialogue’s conclusion, Euthyphro is compelled to admit that each of his definitions of “piety” has failed, but, rather than correct his faulty logic, he says that it is time for him to leave, and excuses himself from their dialogue. To that end, Socrates concludes the dialogue with Socratic irony: Since Euthyphro was unable to define “piety”, Euthyphro has failed to teach Socrates about piety. Therefore, from his dialogue with Euthyphro, Socrates received nothing helpful to his defense against a formal charge of impiety. (15c ff.)2


2. The Euthyphro Dilemma

The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato’s dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro, “Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” (10a) The dilemma has had a major effect on the philosophical theism of the monotheistic religions, but in a modified form:

“Is what is morally good commanded by God because it is morally good, or is it morally good because it is commanded by God?”3

Ever since Plato’s original discussion, this question has presented a problem for some theists, though others have thought it a false dilemma, and it continues to be an object of theological and philosophical discussion today.4


Analyzing the Euthyphro Dilemma


The First Horn

3. Does God will it because it is Good?

The first horn of the dilemma (i.e. that which is right is commanded by God because it is right) goes by a variety of names, including intellectualism, rationalism, realism, naturalism, and objectivism. Roughly, it is the view that there are independent moral standards: some actions are right or wrong in themselves, independent of God’s commands. This is the view accepted by Socrates and Euthyphro in Plato’s dialogue. The Mu’tazilah school of Islamic theology also defended the view (with, for example, Nazzam maintaining that God is powerless to engage in injustice or lying), as did the Islamic philosopher Averroes (arguably, however, the majority of Islam embraces the second horn, as stated below).

St. Thomas Aquinas never explicitly addresses the Euthyphro dilemma…5 Aquinas draws a distinction between what is good or evil in itself and what is good or evil because of God’s commands,6 with unchangeable moral standards forming the bulk of natural law.7 Thus he contends that not even God can change the Ten Commandments (adding, however, that God can change what individuals deserve in particular cases, in what might look like special dispensations to murder or steal).8 For a full treatment of Aquinas’ view, see the section bearing his name below.


4. Concerns with the First Horn

Sovereignty: If there are moral standards independent of God’s will, then “[t]here is something over which God is not sovereign. God is bound by the laws of morality instead of being their establisher. Moreover, God depends for his goodness on the extent to which he conforms to an independent moral standard. Thus, God is not absolutely independent.”

Omnipotence: These moral standards would limit God’s power: not even God could oppose them by commanding what is evil and thereby making it good. This point was influential in Islamic theology: “In relation to God, objective values appeared as a limiting factor to His power to do as He wills… Ash’ari got rid of the whole embarrassing problem by denying the existence of objective values which might act as a standard for God’s action.” Similar concerns drove the medieval voluntarists Duns Scotus and William of Ockham. As contemporary philosopher Richard Swinburne puts the point, this horn “seems to place a restriction on God’s power if he cannot make any action which he chooses obligatory… [and also] it seems to limit what God can command us to do. God, if he is to be God, cannot command us to do what, independently of his will, is wrong.”

Freedom of the Will: Moreover, these moral standards would limit God’s freedom of will: God could not command anything opposed to them, and perhaps would have no choice but to command in accordance with them. As Mark Murphy puts the point, “if moral requirements existed prior to God’s willing them, requirements that an impeccable God could not violate, God’s liberty would be compromised.”

Morality without God: If there are moral standards independent of God, then morality would retain its authority even if God did not exist. This conclusion was explicitly (and notoriously) drawn by early modern political theorist Hugo Grotius: “What we have been saying [about the natural law] would have a degree of validity even if we should concede that which cannot be conceded without the utmost wickedness, that there is no God, or that the affairs of men are of no concern to him.” In such a view, God is no longer a “law-giver” but at most a “law-transmitter” who plays no vital role in the foundations of morality. Nontheists have capitalized on this point, largely as a way of disarming moral arguments for God’s existence: if morality does not depend on God in the first place, such arguments stumble at the starting gate.9


The Second Horn

5. Is Something Good because God wills it?

The second horn of the dilemma (i.e. that which is right is right because it is commanded by God) is sometimes known as divine command theory or voluntarism. Roughly, it is the view that there are no moral standards other than God’s will: without God’s commands, nothing would be right or wrong. This view was partially defended by Bl. Duns Scotus, who argued that not all Ten Commandments belong to the Natural Law. Scotus held that while our duties to God (found on the first tablet) are self-evident, true by definition, and unchangeable even by God, our duties to others (found on the second tablet) were arbitrarily willed by God and are within his power to revoke and replace.10 William of Ockham went further, contending that (since there is no contradiction in it) God could command us not to love God11 and even to hate God.12

Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin both stressed the absolute sovereignty of God’s will, with Luther writing that “for [God’s] will there is no cause or reason that can be laid down as a rule or measure for it”,13 and Calvin writing that “everything which [God] wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it.”14 The voluntarist emphasis on God’s absolute power was carried further by Descartes, who notoriously held that God had freely created the eternal truths of logic and mathematics, and that God was therefore capable of giving circles unequal radii, giving triangles other than 180 internal degrees, and even making contradictions true. Descartes explicitly seconded Ockham: “why should [God] not have been able to give this command [i.e., the command to hate God] to one of his creatures?”

Thomas Hobbes notoriously reduced the justice of God to “irresistible power” (drawing the complaint of Bishop Bramhall that this “overturns… all law”). And William Paley held that all moral obligations bottom out in the self-interested “urge” to avoid Hell and enter Heaven by acting in accord with God’s commands. Islam’s Ash’arite theologians, al-Ghazali foremost among them, embraced voluntarism: scholar George Hourani writes that the view “was probably more prominent and widespread in Islam than in any other civilization.”15


6. Concerns with the Second Horn

This horn of the dilemma also faces several problems:

No Reasons for Morality: If there is no moral standard other than God’s will, then God’s commands are arbitrary (i.e., based on pure whimsy or caprice). This would mean that morality is ultimately not based on reasons: “if theological voluntarism is true, then God’s commands/intentions must be arbitrary; [but] it cannot be that morality could wholly depend on something arbitrary… [for] when we say that some moral state of affairs obtains, we take it that there is a reason for that moral state of affairs obtaining rather than another.” And as Michael J. Murray and Michael Rea put it, this would also “cas[t] doubt on the notion that morality is genuinely objective.” An additional problem is that it is difficult to explain how true moral actions can exist if one acts only out of fear of God or in an attempt to be rewarded by him.

No Reasons for God: This arbitrariness would also jeopardize God’s status as a wise and rational being, one who always acts on good reasons. As Leibniz writes: “Where will be his justice and his wisdom if he has only a certain despotic power, if arbitrary will takes the place of reasonableness, and if in accord with the definition of tyrants, justice consists in that which is pleasing to the most powerful? Besides it seems that every act of willing supposes some reason for the willing and this reason, of course, must precede the act.”

Anything Goes: This arbitrariness would also mean that anything could become good, and anything could become bad, merely upon God’s command. Thus if God commanded us “to gratuitously inflict pain on each other” or to engage in “cruelty for its own sake” or to hold an “annual sacrifice of randomly selected ten-year-olds in a particularly gruesome ritual that involves excruciating and prolonged suffering for its victims”, then we would be morally obligated to do so. As 17th-century philosopher Ralph Cudworth put it: “nothing can be imagined so grossly wicked, or so foully unjust or dishonest, but if it were supposed to be commanded by this omnipotent Deity, must needs upon that hypothesis forthwith become holy, just, and righteous.”

Moral Contingency: If morality depends on the perfectly free will of God, morality would lose its necessity: “If nothing prevents God from loving things that are different from what God actually loves, then goodness can change from world to world or time to time. This is obviously objectionable to those who believe that claims about morality are, if true, necessarily true.” In other words, no action is necessarily moral: any right action could have easily been wrong, if God had so decided, and an action which is right today could easily become wrong tomorrow, if God so decides. Indeed, some have argued that divine command theory is incompatible with ordinary conceptions of moral supervenience.

Why do God’s Commands Obligate?: Mere commands do not create obligations unless the commander has some commanding authority. But this commanding authority cannot itself be based on those very commands (i.e., a command to obey commands), otherwise a vicious circle results. So, in order for God’s commands to obligate us, he must derive commanding authority from some source other than his own will. As Cudworth put it: “For it was never heard of, that any one founded all his authority of commanding others, and others [sic] obligation or duty to obey his commands, in a law of his own making, that men should be required, obliged, or bound to obey him. Wherefore since the thing willed in all laws is not that men should be bound or obliged to obey; this thing cannot be the product of the meer [sic] will of the commander, but it must proceed from something else; namely, the right or authority of the commander.” To avoid the circle, one might say our obligation comes from gratitude to God for creating us. But this presupposes some sort of independent moral standard obligating us to be grateful to our benefactors. As 18th-century philosopher Francis Hutcheson writes: “Is the Reason exciting to concur with the Deity this, ‘The Deity is our Benefactor?’ Then what Reason excites to concur with Benefactors?” Or finally, one might resort to Hobbes’s view: “The right of nature whereby God reigneth over men, and punisheth those that break his laws, is to be derived, not from his creating them (as if he required obedience, as of gratitude for his benefits), but from his irresistible power.” In other words, might makes right.

God’s Goodness: If all goodness is a matter of God’s will, then what shall become of God’s goodness? Thus William P. Alston writes, “since the standards of moral goodness are set by divine commands, to say that God is morally good is just to say that he obeys his own commands… that God practices what he preaches, whatever that might be;” Hutcheson deems such a view “an insignificant tautology, amounting to no more than this, ‘That God wills what he wills.'” Alternatively, as Leibniz puts it, divine command theorists “deprive God of the designation good: for what cause could one have to praise him for what he does, if in doing something quite different he would have done equally well?” A related point is raised by C. S. Lewis: “if good is to be defined as what God commands, then the goodness of God Himself is emptied of meaning and the commands of an omnipotent fiend would have the same claim on us as those of the ‘righteous Lord.'” Or again Leibniz: “this opinion would hardly distinguish God from the devil.” That is, since divine command theory trivializes God’s goodness, it is incapable of explaining the difference between God and an all-powerful demon.

The “Is-Ought” Problem and the Naturalistic Fallacy: According to David Hume, it is hard to see how moral propositions featuring the relation ought could ever be deduced from ordinary is propositions, such as “the being of a God.” Divine command theory is thus guilty of deducing moral oughts from ordinary ises about God’s commands. In a similar vein, G. E. Moore argued (with his open question argument) that the notion good is indefinable, and any attempts to analyze it in naturalistic or metaphysical terms are guilty of the so-called “naturalistic fallacy.” This would block any theory which analyzes morality in terms of God’s will: and indeed, in a later discussion of divine command theory, Moore concluded that “when we assert any action to be right or wrong, we are not merely making an assertion about the attitude of mind towards it of any being or set of beings whatever.”

No Morality Without God: If all morality is a matter of God’s will, then if God does not exist, there is no morality. This is the thought captured in the slogan (often attributed to Dostoevsky) “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” Divine command theorists disagree over whether this is a problem for their view or a virtue of their view. Many argue that morality does indeed require God’s existence, and that this is in fact a problem for atheism. But divine command theorist Robert Merrihew Adams contends that this idea (“that no actions would be ethically wrong if there were not a loving God”) is one that “will seem (at least initially) implausible to many”, and that his theory must “dispel [an] air of paradox.”16


Catholic Responses to the Euthyphro Dilemma

7. False Dilemma Response

Sts. Augustine, Anselm, and Aquinas all wrote about the issues raised by the Euthyphro dilemma, although, like William James and Wittgenstein later, they did not mention it by name. As philosopher and Anselm scholar Katherin A. Rogers observes, many contemporary philosophers of religion suppose that there are true propositions which exist as platonic abstracta independently of God. Among these are propositions constituting a moral order, to which God must conform in order to be good. Classical Judaeo-Christian theism, however, rejects such a view as inconsistent with God’s omnipotence, which requires that God and what he has made is all that there is.

God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order. Rather His very nature is the standard for value.

“The classical tradition,” Rogers notes, “also steers clear of the other horn of the Euthyphro dilemma, divine command theory.” From a classical theistic perspective, therefore, the Euthyphro dilemma is false. As Rogers puts it, “Anselm, like Augustine before him and Aquinas later, rejects both horns of the Euthyphro dilemma. God neither conforms to nor invents the moral order. Rather His very nature is the standard for value.”17


8. St. Thomas Aquinas

"Doctor Communis Ecclesiæ, St. Thomas Aquinas - This statue of the saint is in the Catholic University of America, Washington DC." - Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
“Doctor Communis Ecclesiæ, St. Thomas Aquinas – This statue of the saint is in the Catholic University of America, Washington DC.” – Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

Like Aristotle, Aquinas rejected Platonism.18 In his view, to speak of abstractions not only as existent, but as more perfect exemplars than fully designated particulars, is to put a premium on generality and vagueness.19 On this analysis, the abstract “good” in the first horn of the Euthyphro dilemma is an unnecessary obfuscation. Aquinas frequently quoted with approval Aristotle’s definition, “Good is what all desire.”((Aristotle, Ethics 1.1; Aquinas, Commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics 1, 9 and 11; Aquinas, ST I 5,1.)) As he clarified, “When we say that good is what all desire, it is not to be understood that every kind of good thing is desired by all, but that whatever is desired has the nature of good.”20 In other words, even those who desire evil desire it “only under the aspect of good,” i.e., of what is desirable.21 The difference between desiring good and desiring evil is that in the former, will and reason are in harmony, whereas in the latter, they are in discord.22

St. Thomas Aquinas’ discussion of sin provides a good point of entry to his philosophical explanation of why the nature of God is the standard for value. “Every sin,” he writes, “consists in the longing for a passing [i.e., ultimately unreal or false] good.”23 Thus, “in a certain sense it is true what Socrates says, namely that no one sins with full knowledge.”24 “No sin in the will happens without an ignorance of the understanding.”25 God, however, has full knowledge (omniscience) and therefore by definition (that of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle as well as Aquinas) can never will anything other than what is good.

It has been claimed — for instance, by Nicolai Hartmann, who wrote: “There is no freedom for the good that would not be at the same time freedom for evil” — that this would limit God’s freedom, and therefore his omnipotence. Josef Pieper, however, replies that such arguments rest upon an impermissibly anthropomorphic conception of God. In the case of humans, as Aquinas says, to be able to sin is indeed a consequence, or even a sign, of freedom (quodam libertatis signum). Humans, in other words, are not puppets manipulated by God so that they always do what is right. However, “it does not belong to the essence of the free will to be able to decide for evil.” “To will evil is neither freedom nor a part of freedom.” It is precisely humans’ creatureliness — that is, their not being God and therefore omniscient — that makes them capable of sinning. Consequently, writes Pieper, “the inability to sin should be looked on as the very signature of a higher freedom — contrary to the usual way of conceiving the issue.” Pieper concludes: “Only the will [i.e., God’s] can be the right standard of its own willing and must will what is right necessarily, from within itself, and always. A deviation from the norm would not even be thinkable. And obviously only the absolute divine will is the right standard of its own act” — and consequently of all human acts. Thus the second horn of the Euthyphro dilemma, divine command theory, is also disposed of.26

  1. With few revisions, most of the article is gleaned from Wikipedia or the sources cited in Wikipedia. Catholic online sources and commentaries on this issue seemed, surprisingly, scarce. Consequently, the point of this article is just to have an introduction to the Euthyphro Dilemma. []
  2. Euthyphro, Background – Section is taken verbatim. []
  3. SPL Note: Another modern monotheistic version – “does God will something because it is good or is something good because God wills it?” []
  4. Euthyphro Dilemma, Introduction – Section is taken verbatim. []
  5. Citing, Haldane, John (1989). “Realism and voluntarism in medieval ethics”. Journal of Medical Ethics 15 (1): 39–44. doi:10.1136/jme.15.1.39; Irwin, Terence (2007). The Development of Ethics. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0199693856. []
  6. Aquinas, Thomas (1265–1274). Summa Theologica, 2a2ae 57.2. []
  7. ST, 2a1ae 94.5. []
  8. ST, 1a2ae 100.8; this section is adapted from Euthyphro Dilemma. []
  9. Id. []
  10. See Williams, Thomas (2013). “John Duns Scotus”. In Edward N. Zalta. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2013 ed.); Williams, Thomas, ed. (2002). The Cambridge Companion to Duns Scotus. pp. 312–316. ISBN 978-0521635639; Cross, Richard (1999). Duns Scotus. p. 92 for the view that our duties to others “hold automatically [i.e., without God’s commands] unless God commands otherwise.” ISBN 978-0195125535. []
  11. William of Ockham. Quodlibeta 3.13. []
  12. William of Ockham. Reportata 4.16. []
  13. Luther, Martin (1525). On the Bondage of the Will. §88. []
  14. Calvin, John (1536). Institutes of the Christian Religion. 3.23.2. []
  15. Adapted from Euthyphro Dilemma, Second Horn. []
  16. Id., verbatim. []
  17. Euthyphro Dilemma, False Dilemma Response, taken verbatim. []
  18. Aquinas. Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, Bk. 1, lectio 10, n. 158. []
  19. McInerny, Ralph (1982). St. Thomas Aquinas. University of Notre Dame Press. pp. 122–123. ISBN 0-268-01707-7. []
  20. ST, I 6,2 ad 2. []
  21. Aquinas. Commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics 1,10. []
  22. ST, I/II q24, a2. []
  23. ST, I/II 72,2. []
  24. ST, I/II 58,2 and I/II 77,2. []
  25. Aquinas. Summa contra Gentiles 4,92. []
  26. Euthyphro Dilemma, St. Thomas Aquinas, taken verbatim; further Catholic thoughts on it being a false dilemma – Euthyphro’s (False) Dilemma, First Things, citing Fides et Ratio Blog. []

The 3 Types of Friendship According to Aristotle

Listers, Aristotle quite arguably has the most famous philosophic lesson on friendship. Aristotle, “the Philosopher,” observes there are three general lovable qualities that serve as the motives for friendship: utility, pleasure, and the good. Moreover, each type of friendship, to be an actual friendship, has the following attributes: “To be friends therefore, men must (1) feel goodwill for each other, that is, wish each other’s good, and (2) be aware of each other’s goodwill, and (3) the cause of their goodwill must be one of the lovable qualities mentioned above.”1 Note that the wishing of goodwill must be mutual and known. Aristotle states, a man cannot be friends with an inanimate object, for it would be “ridiculous to wish well to a bottle of wine.” It is not a mutual goodwill. Moreover, if a person wishes well to another, but it is not reciprocated, it is not a friendship. Again, it is not mutual. However, even if you had two persons who wished well to each other, but did not know each other wished the good for each other, then it is not friendship as the mutual goodwill is not known. Thus friendship is a known mutual goodwill between persons for one of the lovable qualities, i.e., utility, pleasure, or the good.


1. Friendship of Utility

Aristotle teaches, “thus friends whose affection is based on utility do not love each other in themselves, but in so far as some benefit accrues to them from each other.”2 Consequently, in a friendship of utility, “men love their friend for their own good… and not as being the person loved, but as useful or agreeable.”3 In other words, the friend is not loved for his own sake, but for the sake of some benefit received by the other. Aristotle notes that these friendships are not permanent, because if the benefit of the utility ends so too will the friendship. He states, “Hence when the motive of the friendship has passed away, the friendship itself is dissolved, having existed merely as a means to that end.”4

Aristotle observes, “friendships of Utility seem to occur most frequently between the old, as in old age men do not pursue pleasure but profit; and between those persons in the prime of life and young people whose object in life is gain. Friends of this kind do not indeed frequent each other’s company much, for in some cases they are not even pleasing to each other, and therefore have no use for friendly intercourse unless they are mutually profitable; since their pleasure in each other goes no further than their expectations of advantage.”5

Classic examples of a friendship of utility would be business partners or classmates.


2. Friendship of Pleasure

Aristotle observes, “And similarly with those whose friendship is based on pleasure: for instance, we enjoy the society of witty people not because of what they are in themselves, but because they are agreeable to us.”6 As with utility, in the friendship of pleasure persons love their friend not for the sake of the friend, but for the sake of the pleasure received. Moreover, as with utility, friendships of pleasure are tenuous as they can change or end as quickly as the pleasure received can change or end.

In contrast to friendships of utility, Aristotle states, “With the young on the other hand the motive of friendship appears to be pleasure, since the young guide their lives by emotion, and for the most part pursue what is pleasant to themselves, and the object of the moment. And the things that please them change as their age alters; hence they both form friendships and drop them quickly, since their affections alter with what gives them pleasure, and the tastes of youth change quickly. Also the young are prone to fall in love, as love is chiefly guided by emotion, and grounded on pleasure; hence they form attachments quickly and give them up quickly, often changing before the day is out. The young do desire to pass their time in their friend’s company, for that is how they get the enjoyment of their friendship.”7

Classic examples of a friendship of pleasures would be friends who share the same hobbies, hunting partners, drinking buddies, or love affairs.8


3. Friendship of the Good

Aristotle observes, “The perfect form of friendship is that between the good, and those who resemble each other in virtue. For these friends wish each alike the other’s good in respect of their goodness, and they are good in themselves; but it is those who wish the good of their friends for their friends’ sake who are friends in the fullest sense, since they love each other for themselves and not accidentally. Hence the friendship of these lasts as long as they continue to be good; and virtue is a permanent quality. And each is good relatively to his friend as well as absolutely, since the good are both good absolutely and profitable to each other. And each is pleasant in both ways also, since good men are pleasant both absolutely and to each other; for everyone is pleased by his own actions, and therefore by actions that resemble his own, and the actions of all good men are the same or similar.”9

He continues, “Such friendship is naturally permanent, since it combines in itself all the attributes that friends ought to possess. All affection is based on good or on pleasure, either absolute or relative to the person who feels it, and is prompted by similarity of some sort; but this friendship possesses all these attributes in the friends themselves, for they are alike, et cetera, in that way. Also the absolutely good is pleasant absolutely as well; but the absolutely good and pleasant are the chief objects of affection; therefore it is between good men that affection and friendship exist in their fullest and best form.”10

Continuing on true friendship, he states, “Such friendships are of course rare, because such men are few. Moreover they require time and intimacy… people who enter into friendly relations quickly have the wish to be friends, but cannot really be friends without being worthy of friendship, and also knowing each other to be so; the wish to be friends is a quick growth, but friendship is not.”11


Other Lists on SPL

  1. Nichomachean Ethics. []
  2. Ethics. []
  3. Id. []
  4. Id. []
  5. Id. []
  6. Id. []
  7. Id. []
  8. Are the friendships of utility and pleasure actually true friendship? “Aristotle comes rather close to saying that relationships based on profit or pleasure should not be called friendships at all. But he decides to stay close to common parlance and to use the term “friend” loosely. Friendships based on character are the ones in which each person benefits the other for the sake of other; and these are friendships most of all. Because each party benefits the other, it is advantageous to form such friendships. And since each enjoys the trust and companionship of the other, there is considerable pleasure in these relationships as well. Because these perfect friendships produce advantages and pleasures for each of the parties, there is some basis for going along with common usage and calling any relationship entered into for the sake of just one of these goods a friendship. Friendships based on advantage alone or pleasure alone deserve to be called friendships because in full-fledged friendships these two properties, advantage and pleasure, are present.” Aristotle’s Ethics, Stanford Encyclopedia. []
  9. Ethics. []
  10. Id. []
  11. Id., “Aristotle makes it clear that the number of people with whom one can sustain the kind of relationship he calls a perfect friendship is quite small (IX.10). Even if one lived in a city populated entirely by perfectly virtuous citizens, the number with whom one could carry on a friendship of the perfect type would be at most a handful. For he thinks that this kind of friendship can exist only when one spends a great deal of time with the other person, participating in joint activities and engaging in mutually beneficial behavior; and one cannot cooperate on these close terms with every member of the political community.” Aristotle’s Ethics, Stanford Encyclopedia. []

When the World’s Statesmen Called for a Patron: 24 Quotes on Thomas More’s Sainthood

Listers, St. Thomas More is known as the “Man for All Seasons” – but he is also a man claimed by all ages. Exactly why Sir Thomas More became a saint is a question that seems to draw out competing philosophies. In the petition to have More declared a saint, the petitioners wrote, “He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience.” The modern St. Thomas More is often praised for his unconquerable conscience. This coloring of St. Thomas More is not a surprise given the aim of modernity. The grand project of modernity is to emancipate the human will from God, nature, history, and even reason. All that remains is the unbridled human will. The modern praise of More seems to have a modern hue. Consequently, he becomes a saint of autonomy – a man who had a “adamantine sense of self” that refused to break.

The unconquerable conscience of More is predicated not on his autonomy but on his fidelity to Holy Mother Church.

It is not that the modern notion is necessarily wrong in what is asserts, but rather its assertion is incomplete. What is missing from these considerations is the ancient notion of a well-formed conscience. The modern sentiments deemphasize whether or not More’s conscience was actually correct and focus primarily on him standing up for what he believes. The traditional praises of More focus on his well-formed conscience. In the modern notion it does not matter if More was Catholic or not. He could be a saint for any individual who stands up for what they believe. In modernity’s project of autonomy, staying true to one’s conscience is admirable, but the contents of one’s conscience are far less important. In contrast, the traditional More – and arguably the authentically Catholic one – begs students of his life to examine his conscience. Unpacking More’s well-formed conscience brings up topics of natural law, the virtues, political engagement, the Church’s role in civil life, and the Catholic Church as Christ’s only Church. Under the traditional view, the unconquerable conscience of More is predicated not on his autonomy but on his fidelity to Holy Mother Church. He had formed his conscience according to the Church, and when the world asked him to betray her, he knew exactly who he was in Christ Jesus. There is little doubt the authentically Catholic Thomas More makes the modern world uncomfortable; thus, there is a push – both inside and outside the Church – to refashion More as a modern hero of autonomy.


William Frederick Yeames, The meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his sentence of death, 1872. Wikipedia.
William Frederick Yeames, The meeting of Sir Thomas More with his daughter after his sentence of death, 1872. Wikipedia.




1. Christian Steadfastness
The Christian steadfastness which Thomas More demonstrated in martyrdom has made his name famous down through the centuries. In his own lifetime, he was already known throughout Europe for his scholarship and his innovative views, which led him, for example, to give his daughters the same education his son received – a revolutionary development in those times.1


2. Utopia – The Intellectual Puzzle
His work as a writer — especially his translations of the Greek satirist Lucian, his collection of original poems, and his great classic Utopia — lent his name incomparable prestige. Utopia continues to be Thomas More’s best-known work. Modeled on Plato’s Republic, this intellectual puzzle is one of the finest case studies ever devised for the political philosopher and the student of human nature. Like the Republic, Utopia is filled with internal contradictions that invite the attentive reader to think deeply about the perennial ethical values which give meaning to personal and social life.


3. Famous Last Words
His last words, “I die the King’s good servant and God’s first,” remain an inspiration for all those who dedicate their lives to the service of the common good.


4. Holiness as the Fullness of Humanity
It reflects, moreover, an admiration which transcends the specific contributions that Saint Thomas More made in the various fields in which he worked — as humanist, apologist, judge, legislator, diplomat and statesman — and focuses on the man himself: the idea that holiness is the fulness of humanity appears, in this case, quite tangibly true.


5. Model of Moral Integrity
Your Holiness’s predecessor in the Chair of Peter, Pope Pius XI, in the Bull of Canonization, presented Saint Thomas More as a model of proven moral integrity for all Christians and defined him as laicorum hominum decus et ornamentum.


6. Faith & Culture
In Saint Thomas More, there was no sign of that split between faith and culture, between timeless principles and daily life, which the Second Vatican Council laments as “among of the gravest errors of our time” (Gaudium et spes, n. 43).


7. Founder of Common Law
As a lawyer and judge, he established the interpretation and formulation of laws (he is rightly considered one of the founders of the study of the English common law) which safeguard true social justice and build peace between individuals and nations.


8. The Patron of the Poor
More eager to eliminate the causes of injustice than to repress it, he did not separate his passionate but prudent advocacy of the common good from the constant practice of charity: his fellow citizens called him the “patron of the poor.” An unconditional and benevolent dedication to justice with regard to the human person and liberty was the guiding rule of his conduct as a magistrate. While serving all men, Saint Thomas More knew well how to serve his king, that is the state, but wanted above all to serve God.


9. World’s Public Servants Call for a Patron
The timeliness of this convergence of political commitment and moral conviction, this harmony between the supernatural and the human, and this seamless unity of life have caused many public servants from various countries to join the Committee for the Proclamation of Sir Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, as Patron of Politicians.


10. Politics – A Difficult Form of Service
Politics was not, for him, a matter of personal advantage, but rather an often difficult form of service, for which he had prepared himself not only through the study of the history, laws and culture of his own country, but also and especially through the examination of human nature, its grandeur and weaknesses, and of the ever-imperfect conditions of social life.


11. A Modern Martyr of Freedom
He was a martyr of freedom in the most modern sense of the word, for he opposed the attempt of power to command the conscience: a perennial temptation — one to which the history of the 20th century bears tragic witness — of political regimes that do not recognize anything superior to themselves.


12. Martyr for Primacy of Conscience
A martyr for freedom, then, precisely because he was a martyr for the primacy of conscience which, firmly grounded in the search for the truth, renders us responsible for our decisions, that is to say, masters of ourselves and thus free from all bonds except that bond — proper to a creature — which binds us to God.


13. We Ask Sir Thomas More to Become a Saint
Therefore, certain that we act for the good of future society and trusting that our petition will find a benevolent welcome with Your Holiness, we ask that Sir Thomas More, Saint and Martyr, faithful servant of the King, but God’s first, be proclaimed “Patron of Statesmen.”


Site of scaffold at Tower Hill where More was executed by decapitation - Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz), Wikipedia.
Site of scaffold at Tower Hill where More was executed by decapitation – Mariordo (Mario Roberto Duran Ortiz), Wikipedia.





14. Imperishable Example of Moral Integrity
Precisely because of the witness which he bore, even at the price of his life, to the primacy of truth over power, Saint Thomas More is venerated as an imperishable example of moral integrity.2


15. Well Ordered House & Life
Throughout his life he was an affectionate and faithful husband and father, deeply involved in his children’s religious, moral and intellectual education. His house offered a welcome to his children’s spouses and his grandchildren, and was always open to his many young friends in search of the truth or of their own calling in life. Family life also gave him ample opportunity for prayer in common and lectio divina, as well as for happy and wholesome relaxation. Thomas attended daily Mass in the parish church, but the austere penances which he practised were known only to his immediate family.


16. Appointed as Lord Chancellor
Highly esteemed by everyone for his unfailing moral integrity, sharpness of mind, his open and humorous character, and his extraordinary learning, in 1529 at a time of political and economic crisis in the country he was appointed by the King to the post of Lord Chancellor. The first layman to occupy this position, Thomas faced an extremely difficult period, as he sought to serve King and country.


17. Resigned & Reduced to Poverty
In 1532, not wishing to support Henry VIII’s intention to take control of the Church in England, he resigned. He withdrew from public life, resigning himself to suffering poverty with his family and being deserted by many people who, in the moment of trial, proved to be false friends.


18. The Trial
At his trial, he made an impassioned defence of his own convictions on the indissolubility of marriage, the respect due to the juridical patrimony of Christian civilization, and the freedom of the Church in her relations with the State. Condemned by the Court, he was beheaded.


19. Beatified in 1886
In 1850 the English Catholic Hierarchy was re-established. This made it possible to initiate the causes of many martyrs. Thomas More, together with 53 other martyrs, including Bishop John Fisher, was beatified by Pope Leo XIII in 1886. And with John Fisher, he was canonized by Pius XI in 1935, on the fourth centenary of his martyrdom.


20. Government as an Exercise in Virtue
His life teaches us that government is above all an exercise of virtue. Unwavering in this rigorous moral stance, this English statesman placed his own public activity at the service of the person, especially if that person was weak or poor; he dealt with social controversies with a superb sense of fairness; he was vigorously committed to favouring and defending the family; he supported the all-round education of the young.


21. Politics & Morality
What enlightened his conscience was the sense that man cannot be sundered from God, nor politics from morality.


22. Rights of Conscience
And it was precisely in defence of the rights of conscience that the example of Thomas More shone brightly. It can be said that he demonstrated in a singular way the value of a moral conscience which is “the witness of God himself, whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man’s soul” (Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, 58), even if, in his actions against heretics, he reflected the limits of the culture of his time.


23. Freedom from the State
The defence of the Church’s freedom from unwarranted interference by the State is at the same time a defence, in the name of the primacy of conscience, of the individual’s freedom vis-à-vis political power. Here we find the basic principle of every civil order consonant with human nature.


24. St. Thomas More
Therefore, after due consideration and willingly acceding to the petitions addressed to me, I establish and declare Saint Thomas More the heavenly Patron of Statesmen and Politicians, and I decree that he be ascribed all the liturgical honours and privileges which, according to law, belong to the Patrons of categories of people.

  1. Petition Sent to St. JPII for the Proclamation of Saint Thomas More as Patron of Statesmen. []
  2. Motu Proprio Proclaiming Saint Thomas More Patron of Statesmen & Politicians. []

Great Books: 31 Political Works Recommended by Faithful Catholic Colleges

Listers, certain “Great Books” have shaped the course of the Western world. Mortimer J. Adler, a Roman Catholic philosopher and professor, presented three criterion for a book to be considered “great,” he stated:

  1. The book has contemporary significance: that is, it has relevance to the problems and issues of our times.
  2. The book is inexhaustible: it can be read again and again with benefit.
  3. The book is relevant to a large number of the great ideas and great issues that have occupied the minds of thinking individuals for the last 25 centuries.1

While over one hundred universities and colleges in the United States and Canada have some form of a Great Books program, SPL has relied on three to compile this list: Thomas Aquinas College, the University of Dallas, and Ave Maria University. Thomas Aquinas College (“TAC”) – whose entire four year liberal arts program is a Great Books only program – explains the purpose of the Great Books tradition:

Yet the great books are not the objects of study at the College. Students here do not read these works — Homer, Shakespeare, Plato, Euclid, St. Augustine, Descartes, Newton, and so many others — as outstanding examples of the creativity of the human spirit (though that they certainly are). Nor do they read them to become more familiar with Western culture and civilization (valuable though that is). Rather, Thomas Aquinas College students read the great books because, more than any other works, when studied under the light of the teaching Church, they can open up the truth about reality.2

Reading the Great Books of the Western tradition imports an insight into our modern culture that is completely unparalleled. Advocacy of the great books, however, suffers from a fatal flaw. For example, a Roman Catholic and a secular humanist may both agree Leviathan by Thomas Hobbes should be included as a great work; however, they would differ significantly on why that book is great. Was it a great contribution to the West? – or was it a great mistake? Notice in their statement on the Great Books, TAC states, “when studied under the light of Church teaching.” Many of the “great” books are incredibly anti-Catholic. Some times they are explicitly anti-Catholic, like Hobbes mocking the scholastics and transubstantiation. Often times they present a theory and praxis that has led to today’s crisis of modernity.3 In fact, the entirety of modernity may be said to have started as a rejection. Consequently, a Catholic institution that recommends the Great Books, but does not present them through the lens of Truth, Jesus Christ, may in fact be undercutting its own commitment to the Church.4 The what to study is just as important as how to study it.

The following list is drawn from faithful Catholic institutions that present the Great Books under the Truth of the Church. TAC is a four year liberal arts college that centers its entire eduction on a Great Books program.5 The University of Dallas (“UD”) offers a very unique Great Books Program. The University offers doctoral degrees in Literature, Philosophy, and Politics, but places all of these students together for the beginning of their studies; thus, they have a Great Books core curriculum for when their students are together, and then they have a Great Books program tailored for each individual program.6 The graduate theology department of Ave Maria University (“AMU”) has found a unique way to present the Great Books. Instead of having a flat list, AMU presents them within the “Dialogue of the Ancients & Moderns,” which orders the books to show the interrelation. For example, the dialogue approach will list several works that build off each other, and then offer a “clarification by contrast” by listing the works that took a different path.  In other words, the dialogue of Ancients & Moderns method attempts to adopt a pedagogical prudence into the very listing of the works themselves.

The following is a synthesis of the lists from all three Catholic institutions. The footnotes indicate not only the source of each recommended reading, but also which institution recommended the linked translation. Following the example of AMU, the list is divided into “ancients” and “moderns,” but is otherwise simply presented as a flat list. The list is geared toward Catholic thinkers in the United States, since it recommends certain core U.S. political documents. Finally, only the UD Politics Phd program is tailored specifically to politics. The political contributions of TAC & AMU are pulled from their general Great Books lists. For those seeking Catholic commentary on how to understand these Great Works, please note the footnotes for suggested works that could serve as primers not only to the individual suggested works but also to Catholic political thought overall.7


The Great Books


The Ancients

1. The Holy Bible8

2. Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War.9

3. Plato, The Republic.10

4. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.11

5. Aristotle, Politics.12

6. Plutarch, Parallel Lives.13

7. Augustine, Confessions.14

8. Augustine, City of God.15

9. Thomas Aquinas, Selections of the Summa Theologica.16

10. Thomas Aquinas, On Kingship.17


The Moderns

11. Machiavelli, The Prince.18

12. Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan.19

13. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government20

14. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, First and Second Discourses.21

15. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Social Contract.22

16. Articles of Confederation.23

17. Declaration of Independence.24

18. United States Constitution of 1787.25

19. Virginia (1776) and Massachusetts (1780) Declarations of Rights.26

20. Northwest Ordinance of 178727

21. The Federalist Papers28

22. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason.29

23. Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics.30

24. Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals31

25. Marx and Engels, Communist Manifesto32

26. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America33

27. Abraham Lincoln, Various Texts.34

28. The Lincoln-Douglas Debates35

29. John Dewey, Liberalism and Social Action36

30. Martin Heidegger, “The Question Concerning Technology”37

31. Leo Strauss, Selections indicating his approach to political philosophy.38

  1. Mortimer List taken from Wikipedia, citing Adler, Mortimer J. “Selecting Works for the 1990 Edition of the Great Books of the Western World,” page 142. []
  2. TAC Website, The Great Books. []
  3. See 4 Steps to Understand the Crisis of Modernity. []
  4. See, Against Great Books by Notre Dame professor Patrick Deneen on First Things. []
  5. TAC Great Books List. []
  6. UD Great Books: Core Curriculum & Other Curriculums. []
  7. Catholic Political Thought: For those seeking an introduction to Catholic political thought, see 6 Books for Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. []
  8. The Bible is not a “political” text per se, but it arguably colors almost all thought in the West. Whether a Great Books list focuses on politics or literature, the Bible remains a must-read text. AMU suggests an emphasis on Genesis, Exodus 1-15, 19-14, Deut. 5-11, 28-30, Hosea, Jeremiah, Amos, Isaiah, Job; in the New Testament, Matthew, John, Galations, Ephesians. UD PhD core curriculum recommends a focus on the following biblical texts: Genesis, Exodus, Job, Psalms (1, 2, 22, 23, 29, 37, 47, 51, 53, 73, 95, 110, 130, 146-150), Isaiah, Matthew, John, Romans, Corinthians I and II, Revelation; TAC lists the entire Bible on their syllabus. []
  9. The linked edition is recommended by TAC; Recommended by UD Phd Politics. []
  10. The linked Allan Bloom edition is recommended by TAC and also the preferred edition of AMU; Recommended by UD Phd Core Curriculum. []
  11. Recommended by TAC, AMU, and the UD PhD Core Curriculum. TAC recommends the Oxford edition of Nicomachean Ethics. A common edition at AMU is the linked Irwin translation. []
  12. Recommended by TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Politics; the Lord’s translation is widely regarded as the best English translation (explicitly recommended by TAC & AMU. SPL has a list of Aristotelian definitions – taken from the Lord trans. – that may be helpful, along with numerous lists tagged under Aristotle. []
  13. TAC recommends the edition linked and an emphasis on the following: Lycurgus, Pericles, Aristides, Alcibiades, Marcellus, Caius Marius, Sylla, Tiberius Gracchus, Caius Gracchus, Caesar, Cato the Younger, Marcus Brutus, Comparison of Dion and Brutus; UD Phd Politics recommends: Theseus, Romulus; Lycurgus, Numa; Alcibiades, Coriolanus; Alexander, Caesar. []
  14. Recommended TAC, AMU, and UD Phd Core Curriculum. AMU heavily recommended the linked Frank Sheed translation. []
  15. The linked Cambridged edition recommended by TAC; UD Phd Politics; AMU suggestions Book XIX. []
  16. UD Phd Core Curriculum recommends Summa Theologiae I, 1-5 (Questions on Theology and God) II.1, 90-110, 112-113 (Questions on Law and Grace); the UD Phd Politics Curriculum recommends St. Thomas Aquinas’ “Treatise on Law,” (Summa Theologiae, I-II, Questions 90-101, 104-108); TAC recommends similar corresponding Summa selections; SPL has written extensively on St. Thomas Aquinas, especially on his Treatise on Law and virtue, see Aquinas’ Catechesis on the Virtues and Aquinas’ Guide to Natural Law. []
  17. Recommended by both the UD PhD Politics and TAC. []
  18. The Mansfield translation recommended by TAC; Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. SPL offers: 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli. []
  19. The Hackett Classic edition recommended by TAC; Recommended by the UD Phd Politics & AMU. SPL offers: A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know. []
  20. University of Dallas Phd Politics curriculum recommends: all of the Second Treatise, plus the following selections from the First Treatise: ch. 1, sec. 1-3; ch. 2, sec. 6, 7, 9, 14; ch. 4, sec. 21-27, 33, 39, 42, 43; ch. 5, sec. 44-45, 47; ch. 6, sec. 53-54, 56-59, 61; ch. 9, sec. 86-100; ch. 11, sec. 106; TAC recommends the Hackett Classic edition of the Second Treatise on Government; recommended by AMU. []
  21. Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU. []
  22. Recommended by the UD Phd Core Curriculum & AMU; the linked Hackett Classics anthology edition recommended by TAC. []
  23. Recommended by TAC. []
  24. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics and TAC. []
  25. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics and TAC. []
  26. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics. []
  27. Recommended by the UD Phd Politics. []
  28. TAC recommends the linked Modern Classics Library edition, and the UD Phd Politics curriculum recommends, No. 6, 9, 10, 15, 48, 49, 51, 57, 62, 70, 78. []
  29. Linked edition recommended by TAC. []
  30. Recommended by the UD PhD Core Curriculum. []
  31. Linked Hackett Classics edition recommended by TAC; recommended by the UD Phd Politics. []
  32. TAC recommends the linked text; The UD PhD Politics also emphasizes: (The Marx-Engels Reader, 469-500); Engels’ Eulogy (681-82); Engels, Socialism: Utopian and Scientific (683-717); “Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right: Introduction” (53-65); Theses on Feuerbach (143-45); “On the Jewish Question” (26-52); “1844 Manuscripts” (70-93); German Ideology (146-200); Address of the Central Committee (501-511); on non-violent revolution and “Critique of the Gotha Program” (522-541); AMU recommends the Manifesto and Theses on FeuerbachGerman Ideology. []
  33. TAC and UD recommend Mansfield edition, linked; UD PhD Politics emphasizes “appropriate selections showing his approach to the topic.” For example: Introduction (pp. 3-15), vol 1, pt 1, ch 2-5 (27-93), vol 1, pt 2, ch 5-6 (187-235), vol 1, pt 2, ch 9 (264-302), vol 2, pt 2, ch 1-8 (479-503), vol 2, pt 3, ch 8-12 (558-576), vol 2, pt 4, ch 1-3 and 6-8 (639-645, 661-676) (page numbers are from the Mansfield translation. []
  34. The UD PhD Politics recommends: Speech on the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), Speech on Dred Scott (1857), First and Second Inaugural Addresses, Address to Congress on July 4, 1861, Gettysburg Address. []
  35. TAC recommends the linked Douglas edition; The UD PhD Politics recommends the Robert W. Johannsen edition, (New York: Oxford, 1965); UD particularly recommends the selections showing the views of both Lincoln and Douglas. For example, 14-36, 78-79, 86-92, 145-49, 162-63, 195-200, 206-226, 229-39, 242-44. []
  36. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics. []
  37. Recommended by the UD PhD Politics, while the Core Curriculum recommends the entirety of Being and Time. []
  38. The UD PhD Politics recommends, for example, What is Political Philosophy, Chapter 1, 2, 3, and 9; or, Natural Right and History: Introduction, chapters 1 and 4, and one of the modern subchapters. Along with AMU, SPL highly recommends the essay The Three Waves of Modernity in his Introduction to Political Philosophy. SPL has written a summary list entitled 4 Steps to Understanding the Crisis of Modernity. []

May Catholics Overthrow or Even Kill a Tyrant? – 9 Comments by Aquinas

Listers, may Catholics overthrow or even kill a tyrant? The answer to this question is one St. Thomas Aquinas pondered over his lifetime. In contemplating the assassination of Julius Caesar, a young Aquinas seemed to state that not only can a Catholic kill a tyrant, there are times he should be praised for it. Later in life, when writing at the request of the King of Cyprus, Aquinas takes a very different view. He praises the Early Church martyrs who were slaughtered like sheep before the Roman Emperors, and notes how their witness gave birth to the Church. Assassinations, it seems, are contrary to apostolic teaching. In the twilight of his short life, the Angelic Doctor once again addressed the issue in his Summa Theologica. In this reflection, he appears to present a more mature version of his earliest answer. He jettisons the blanket prohibition against it, but he also does not directly state anyone should be praised for it. While possibly a moral act, it is an incredibly complicated one requiring great considerations of prudence and justice.


Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard


1. Do Christians have to obey secular authorities at all?

In his Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, St. Thomas Aquinas takes up the question “Whether Christians are bound to obey secular powers, especially tyrants?” The young Aquinas’ commentary “was written between 1252 and 1256 when he was in his late twenties and a ‘bachelor,’ or apprentice professor, at the University of Paris.”1 Regarding whether or not Christians must obey secular authorities, St. Thomas Aquinas is very clear the answer is yes. The Angelic Doctor lists several scriptures for consideration:

Servants, be submissive to your masters with all respect, not only to the kind and gentle but also to the overbearing.2

Therefore he who resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.3

Therefore one must be subject, not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience.4

In general, the Angelic Doctor says the following, “Obedience, by keeping a commandment, has for its [formal] object the obligation, involved in the commandment, that it be kept. Now this obligation originates in that the commanding authority has the power to impose an obligation binding not only to external but also to internal and spiritual obedience—“for conscience sake”, as the Apostle says (Rom. xiii, 5.) For power (authority) comes from God, as the Apostle implies in the same place. Hence, Christians are bound to obey the authorities inasmuch as they are from God; and they are not bound to obey inasmuch as the authority is not from God.”5


2. May Christians rebel against Authority gained by Violence?

Having established that Holy Scripture does in fact posit that Christians should be obedient to secular authorities, Aquinas moves on to discussing what happens if these authorities are evil. As always, the good Doctor makes several key distinctions. First, what about “defects” in the way in which a secular authority came to power? First, Aquinas states that those who are unworthy of power, but become a secular power regardless should still be obeyed. Second, however, are those who acquire power through violence or any illegitimate means. Aquinas teaches, “we say that in such a case there is no lawful authority at all. He who seizes power by violence does not become a true holder of power.”6 Consequently, since there is no legitimate authority, “anybody may repel this domination.”7 Aquinas allows the caveat here that even those secular powers gained by illegitimate means may become legitimate if there is “consent of the subjects or by a recognition being extended to him by a higher authority.”8 In this case, the illegitimate ruler would become a legitimate true ruler and would merit obedience.


3. May Christians disobey a Tyrant’s abuse of authority?

What if a secular authority gains his office by legitimate means but then abuses his power? Aquinas differentiates between two kinds of abuse. First, Aquinas states what has echoed in Christendom since the time of St. Augustine: an unjust law is no law. The Angelic Doctor teaches:

First, a commandment emanating from the authority might be contrary to the very end in view of which authority is instituted, i.e., to be an educator to, and a preserver of, virtue. Should therefore the authority command an act of sin contrary to virtue, we not only are not obliged to obey but we are also obliged not to obey, according to the example of the holy martyrs who preferred death to obeying those ungodly tyrants.9

The second abuse is where a secular authority issues a demand outside the scope of his power. Under this circumstances, the Christian would not be obliged to obey the command.10 Note the distinction between these two abuses. If the tyrant commands the Christian to sin, he must not obey the tyrant, while in the second case of abuse, the Christian is just not obliged to obey – but presumably may obey if prudent to do so.


4. Should those who Kill a Tyrant be Praised?

The scholastic method is characterized by a dialectic approach. As seen in the Sentences and in the Summa Theologica, the author will first list several “objections” or rather thoughts that are either wrong or need to be clarified. Second, there will be the “sed contra” or the body of the author’s answer on the question presented. Third, the author will then write out the necessary “replies” to the listed objections.

In his question from the Sentences, St. Thomas Aquinas lists the following objection:

If it is a legitimate and even a praiseworthy deed to kill a person, then no obligation of obedience exists toward that person. Now in the Book on Duties [De Officiis I, 8, 26] Cicero justifies Julius Caesar’s assassins. Although Caesar was a close friend of his, yet by usurping the empire he proved himself to be a tyrant. Therefore toward such powers there is no obligation of obedience.

In addressing this objection, St. Thomas Aquinas gives what is probably the most notable line of his entire answer. He replies as follows:

To the fifth argument the answer is that Cicero speaks of domination obtained by violence and ruse, the subjects being unwilling or even forced to accept it and there being no recourse open to a superior who might pronounce judgment upon the usurper. In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.

The last line of the objection is noteworthy and should be compared to his later thoughts in On Kingship and the Summa Theologica. First, its the only part of the question in which he explicitly speaks of assassinating the tyrant. Second, the scholar Paul E. Sigmund observes Aquinas “seems to endorse killing a tyrant who has usurped his office (as distinct from one who has abused his power).” St. Thomas Aquinas On Politics and Ethics, Translated & Edited by Paul E. Sigmund, 24.))


On Kingship


5. Is Killing a Tyrant Against Apostolic Teaching?

In 1265, the King of Cyprus asked Thomas Aquinas to write a treatise on kingship. The work, however, was never completed – presumably due to the death of the king in 1267.11 Writing approximately a decade after his Commentary, Aquinas’ view on tyrants undergoes a shift. In Chapter Six, the Angelic Doctor takes up the question of how to limit the possibility of tyranny. According to Aquinas, a monarchy represents a better regime than a aristocracy or a polity; however, monarchies are susceptible to becoming the worst form of a regime – a tyranny. After discussing certain safeguards to place upon the power of the monarch, Aquinas addresses the issue of what to do if you already have a tyrant. The Angelic Doctor states:

If the tyranny is so extreme that it is unbearable, some have argued that it is a virtuous act for brave men to run the risk of death in order to kill a tyrant and liberate the community. We have an example of this in the Old Testament where a certain Ehud killed Eglon, the king of Moab, with the dagger on his thigh because he was oppressing the people of God – and was made a judge of the people.12

But this is not in accordance with Apostolic teaching. Peter teaches us to be subejct not only to good and temperate rulers but also to the ill-tempered. “If anyone bears undeserved suffering out of reverence for God, this is (the work of) grace.”13

In On Kingship, the Common Doctor appears to clearly state acting against a tyrant is contrary to apostolic teaching. He gives as his example the Early Church suffering under the Roman Emperors. Specifically, he notes how their peaceful witness of Christ in the face of a tyrannical Roman Emperor helped convert the world to Christ.14 Regarding Ehud, Aquinas posits that Ehud must have understood himself as acting against an “enemy king” rather than a “ruler who was a tyrant.”15 Aquinas contrasts the story of Ehud with the story of the assignation of Joas, the King of Judah. Though Joas was arguably a tyrant, those who killed the rightful king were put to death.16


6. Under whose Judgment is a King a Tyrant?

Another issue Aquinas has with an individual assassinating a tyrant is private judgement. Aquinas states, “it would be very dangerous for the community and for its rulers if any individual, using his private judgment could attempt to kill those in government, even when they are tyrants.”17 In other words, who determines the king is a tyrant and that tyrant deserves death? Aquinas is particularly concerned with evil men. He warns, “evil men find the rule of kings no less oppressive than that of tyrants since [King] Solomon says, ‘A wise king scatters the impious.'”18 If a king may be determined to be a tyrant worthy of assassination under private judgement, the community risks evil men killing a good king. Aquinas observes, “the more likely consequence of such presumption would therefore be to threaten the community with the loss of its king, rather than to benefit it by getting rid of a tyrant.”19 Aquinas comments in On Kingship stand in contrast to his words in the Sentences that appear to even allow the praise of one who kills a tyrant.


7. Do Catholics living under a Tyrant have any Recourse?

Is there an option between martyrdom and assassination? Aquinas give three possible solutions. First, though kings may not be determined to be tyrants under private judgment, they may be subject to public judgment. The Angelic Doctor notes, “if a given community has the right to appoint a ruler it is not unjust for the community to depose the king or restrict his power if he abuses it by becoming a tyrant.”20 Second, the people may appeal to a higher political authority – “if on the other hand, it is the right of a higher authority to appoint a king over certain community, then the remedy for the wickedness of the tyrant is to be sought from that authority.”21 Aquinas gives the example of how the Roman Emperor would appoint or at least allow a Jewish king, and if the Jewish king became a tyrant the Jews could appeal to Rome for aid. Third, “if no human aid is possible against the tyrant, recourse is to be made to God, the king of all, who is the help of those in tribulation.”22 In general, Aquinas holds that the people should repent and abstain from sin and hope in God.23


Summa Theologica


8. What is the Sin of Sedition?

The Angelic Doctor composed the Summa between 1265 and 1274. In this unfinished work, the Angelic Doctor once again addresses this issue of tyranny by speaking of sedition, a vice contrary to peace.24 First, Aquinas observes that sedition is a special type of sin. Sedition is analogous to war and strife insofar as it deals with aggression.25 Sedition is distinct from war and strife insofar as war most properly deals with an external foe, while sedition deals internal foes. Aquinas states, sedition is “between mutually dissentient parts of one people, as when one part of the state rises in tumult against another part.”26 Second, Aquinas asks “whether sedition is always a mortal sin?” Relying on St. Paul’s epistle to Corinth, Aquinas holds that sedition is a moral sin.27 He teaches:

Wherefore it is evident that the unity to which sedition is opposed is the unity of law and common good: whence it follows manifestly that sedition is opposed to justice and the common good. Therefore by reason of its genus it is a mortal sin, and its gravity will be all the greater according as the common good which it assails surpasses the private good which is assailed by strife.28

According to Aquinas, the sin of sedition is first and foremost in “its authors,” and secondarily, “it is in those who are led by them to disturb the common good.”29


9. Should those who Kill a Tyrant be Praised (Revisited)?

Pursuant to the dialectic method of the scholastics, Aquinas puts forward an objection to the idea that sedition is always a mortal sin. What is most interesting about this objection is that is sounds quite familiar – it sounds like his own comments in his Sentences. He presents the objection:

Further, it is praiseworthy to deliver a multitude from a tyrannical rule. Yet this cannot easily be done without some dissension in the multitude, if one part of the multitude seeks to retain the tyrant, while the rest strive to dethrone him. Therefore there can be sedition without mortal sin.

The objection’s use of the term praiseworthy is notable, since it calls to mind Aquinas’ comment on Cicero’s justification of Julius Caesar’s assassins: “In this case he that kills the tyrant for the liberation of the country, is praised and rewarded.” In response to this objection – an objection that is limned in his own previous thinking – Aquinas gives the following answer:

A tyrannical government is not just, because it is directed, not to the common good, but to the private good of the ruler, as the Philosopher states (Polit. iii, 5; Ethic. viii, 10). Consequently there is no sedition in disturbing a government of this kind, unless indeed the tyrant’s rule be disturbed so inordinately, that his subjects suffer greater harm from the consequent disturbance than from the tyrant’s government. Indeed it is the tyrant rather that is guilty of sedition, since he encourages discord and sedition among his subjects, that he may lord over them more securely; for this is tyranny, being conducive to the private good of the ruler, and to the injury of the multitude.30

It is interesting to read this passage in light of Aquinas’ previous answers. First, note that the blanket statement of On Kingship that rebellion against a tyrant is contrary to apostolic teaching is not present here. The answer in the Summa is more akin to the answer a young Aquinas gave in his Sentences. It might also be noted that the work in which Aquinas does not give an avenue for rebelling against a tyrannical king was also the only work written for a king. Second, similarly to certain distinction he made in his Sentences, Aquinas stresses the virtue of prudence. The relationship between prudence and justice is that of means to an end. Justice is the what, and prudence is the how. Note in his answer in the Summa he teaches that though a virtuous man may be just in rebelling against a tyrant, it may not be prudent to do so. For example, especially in the Middle East or Africa, how many times has a tyrant been deposed only to be replaced by belligerent warlords? – a tentative peace with marginal respect for human dignity replaced by full blown war and chaos? Third, it is interesting that in his Summa answer he shifts the sin of sedition from the “rebels” to the tyrant. In other words, it is the tyrant who bears the responsibility for how is actions sow strife and war among his people. Fourth, while the Summa answer is more analogous to Aquinas answer is the Sentences, it does appear more muted. In the Summa, he does not mention whether or not men who assassinate a tyrant should be praised. He leaves that qualifier in the objection but does not necessarily contradict it in his reply.31


More Political Lists from St. Peter’s List

  1. Sentences: See Aquinas Commentary for historical background. In part, “The Sentences of Peter Lombard—composed in the mid-twelfth century—was largely a collection of patristic sayings covering the whole body of Christian doctrine. The Sentences was the standard theological textbook until the sixteenth century and writing a commentary on it was a rite of passage of sorts, normally completed during a professor’s first few years of teaching, during which time he lectured on the text. Aquinas’ first major theological work was such a commentary. Aquinas’ Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard (Scriptum super libros Sententiarum), was written between 1252 and 1256 when he was in his late twenties and a “bachelor,” or apprentice professor, at the University of Paris. []
  2. 1 Peter 2:18, RSV. []
  3. Romans 13:2, RSV. []
  4. Romans 13: 5, RSV. []
  5. Sentences: All quotes from the Sentences are taken from the translation posted by the Dominican House of Studies. SPL thanks them for their effort to bring the Common Doctor’s texts to the internet. []
  6. Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, II, D.44 q. 2. []
  7. Id. []
  8. Id. []
  9. Id. []
  10. Id. []
  11. Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 14. []
  12. Judges 3:15-24; emphasis added. []
  13. Quoting I Peter 2:19. []
  14. See On Kingship, chp. 6; Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 24. []
  15. Id. []
  16. Id., see, II Kings 14:5-6. []
  17. Aquinas on Politics & Ethics, 24. []
  18. Id. []
  19. Id. []
  20. Id. []
  21. Id. at 25. []
  22. Id. []
  23. On Kingship: It probably cannot be emphasized enough that out of the three works, the one work that does not allow for virtuous persons to rightfully rebel against a tyrant king was the work written for a king; second, Aquinas’ solutions appear to be a bit impractical. True, if the public elected the ruler the public has the authority to depose a ruler, but the ruler is now a tyrant – he is not going to leave because the populace tells him to do so. []
  24. ST. II-II.42. []
  25. Id. at 42.1. []
  26. Id. []
  27. Id. at 42.2; see II Cor. 12:20. []
  28. Id. – trans. for Summa Theologica is the Black Friar translation unless otherwise noted. []
  29. Id. []
  30. Id. at 42.2 ad. 3. []
  31. Summa Answer: There is also a consideration of how to handle the critique he set forth in On Kingship regarding private judgment not having authority to judge the king a tyrant. The Summa answer does not necessarily directly address the issue; What Does the Catechism of the Catholic Church teach? – obviously, the Catechism is not going to take up the question of whether the assassin of a tyrant should be praised, but the general framework of understanding the Church’s political philosophy is present. Most pertinent to this discussion, it clearly shows that (1) man is a political animal by nature (2) all authority is given by God (3) Christians have a duty to obey secular authority, however (4) an unjust law is no law. The Catechism does not necessarily go into detail about what a Christian should actually do when faced with an unjust law – not obey it, yes, but nothing necessarily in the proactive sense. §§ 1897-1927. []

4 Reasons Aquinas on Rights and Modern Individual Rights are Very Different

It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of certain rights, but these rights are species of the virtue of justice. They are in absolutely no manner similar to how Hobbes, Locke, or later modernity will use the term rights.

Listers, at an academic seminar studying the differences between ancient and modern thought, the concept of individual rights was presented. It was stated that the modern notion of individual rights (and even the natural right concepts of early modernity) was in direct contradiction to the Catholic doctrine of Natural Law. Individual rights were predicated upon understanding each citizen as an autonomous moral universe that had a right (read: desire) to everything as long as it did not infringe upon the autonomy of another. In contrast, Natural Law is an external standard imprinted upon all humanity participated in by reason.1 In short, the notion of individual rights is a direct rejection of Natural Law. At this point, a student raised his hand and submitted that this could not be true, because St. Thomas Aquinas spoke of individual rights. Apparently, if you ever wanted to watch a room of politically minded Thomists explode in ire, this was a good way to do it.

It is true that St. Thomas Aquinas speaks of certain rights, but these rights are species of the virtue of justice. They are in absolutely no manner similar to how Hobbes, Locke, or later modernity will use the term rights. In fact, Aquinas’ use of the term right appears synonymous with the term just; thus, many simply use the term just instead of right to avoid the modern baggage the term right imparts. The following is a brief summary of St. Thomas Aquinas’ question Of Right in his Summa Theologica.2 The reader may note that Aquinas’ use of the terms equality and right are ripe for equivocation. We must be sure to read Aquinas as Aquinas, and not import our modern definitions into his teachings. The following list seeks to clarify Aquinas, and let the Angelic Doctor speak on the virtue of justice free from modern misreadings.


1. Why Justice is Unique Among the Virtues

A habit is a series of actions that constitute a practice, and a good habit is called a virtue. According to Aristotle, Holy Scripture, and St. Thomas Aquinas, there are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Each virtue holds the soul to reason when faced with its respective object. For example, the virtue of prudence is the habit of right reasoning – it is the means by which we rationally choose good ends. The virtue of temperance holds the soul to reason in the face of something pleasurable; thus, the bar patron who decides against the proverbial “one more drink” saves himself from drunkenness through temperance. The virtue of fortitude holds the soul to reason in the face of something fearful. The soldier who holds the line against the cavalry charge has fortitude.

In these cases, virtue perfects the soldier and the patron in matters that only befit them in relation to themselves.3 The virtue of justice, however, is different. Justice “directs man in his relations with others.”4 In other words, justice is unique, because it is fundamentally relational. Justice deals with a person’s relation with his neighbor. A person may demonstrate prudence, temperance, or fortitude simply by their own actions, while a person can only demonstrate justice in relation to someone else. Aquinas says this shows a “kind of equality.”5 While the modern notion of equality has strong egalitarian undertones, equality, according to St. Thomas Aquinas, is simply the proportionate relationship of one thing to another.6 The Angelic Doctor’s notion of right hinges strongly upon his concept of equality in justice.


2. Understanding Right(s) According to Aquinas

Modernity is obsessed with rights language. Almost all of the ethical and political discourse in the modern West is now expressed in individual rights. The West has, without a doubt, lost its moral vocabulary. To confuse the modern notion of rights – which is little more than the desires of the autonomous moral universe of the individual – with Aquinas’ notion of what is right under the virtue of justice, would be a profound error.

The virtue of Justice is “the habit which makes men capable of doing just actions.”7 What then are just actions? Aquinas teaches that which is just is “a work that is adjusted to another person according to some kind of equality.”8 The concept of just is also expressed in the term right; thus, that which is just will also be right.9 The Angelic Doctor gives two types of rights for consideration.

Natural Right – A relation that is objectively just, where a person gives and receives that which is of equal value in return; there is a natural equality.

Positive Right – A relation that is subjectively just, where one party deems that which they receive to be satisfactory; a positive right may either be (1) a private agreement between two individuals, or (2) a public agreement where the whole community agrees.

For example, if someone inquired for how many hours should a laborer be paid who worked five hours – the objective answer is five hours. There is a natural equality between working five hours and being paid five hours. The relation here is a natural right. In contrast, if two merchants form a contract to trade ten red widgets for six green widgets, this may be subjectively just for the two parties involved. It is a positive right.


3. On Special Species of Rights

When Aquinas speaks of natural right and positive right, he is speaking of an agreement between two individuals, neither of whom are subject to one another. For Aquinas, this is just or right simply.10 Now, the habit of justice has as its object the just, and the just or right “depends on commensuration with another person.”11 How then do we speak of relations that seem to belong to justice but are not of equal parties?

For example, there is the relationship between a father and his son or the relationship between a master and his slave. In both cases, there is certainly a justice between both parties as they are both human beings.12 On the other hand, there is an inequality in the relationship that makes it wanting of what is perfectly just. Since justice deals with the relation of one person to another, these relations are still governed by the virtue of justice; therefore, Aquinas speaks of a parental right of the parents over the children and a dominative right of the master over the slave.

Finally, there is also the relation between the husband and the wife. Notice, that for Aquinas, the relation between the husband and wife has a greater capacity for justice than parental right or dominative right – but it still falls short of true justice shared between equals. The Common Doctor states:

A wife, though she is something belonging to the husband, since she stands related to him as to her own body, as the Apostle declares (Ephesians 5:28), is nevertheless more distinct from her husband, than a son from his father, or a slave from his master: for she is received into a kind of social life, that of matrimony, wherefore according to the Philosopher (Ethic. v, 6) there is more scope for justice between husband and wife than between father and son, or master and slave, because, as husband and wife have an immediate relation to the community of the household, as stated in Polit. i, 2,5, it follows that between them there is “domestic justice” rather than “civic.”

In conclusion, there is the what is just or right simply, and this is may be expressed between two equals in either natural right or positive right. In contrast, there are several other species of right: the parental right of parents over their children, the dominative right of masters over their slaves, and the greater domestic right between a husband and wife.


4. The Modern Notion of Rights

A little clarification by contrast may help display the giant intellectual chasm between Aquinas’ species of justice called rights and modern notions of the same term. Though Machiavelli arguably planted the first seeds of modernity, it was Thomas Hobbes who began the West’s obsession with rights language. In fact, in many ways, what Machiavelli did for the prince (i.e., allowing him to separate politics from ethics, virtue), Thomas Hobbes did for each individual citizen.13 In Chapter XIV: Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts, Hobbes articulates one of the monumental shifts in ancient to modern thought: individual rights. Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Catholic Church never spoke in terms of individual rights. The standard for the state and for its citizens was natural law. What was good and what was evil was not predicated upon man’s judgment, but rather by the external standard set upon him by nature. In Hobbes’ deconstruction of nature into a realm of war and chaos, he gives the West its first true taste of rights predicated upon the individual. He states:

And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone against everyone, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies, it follows that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to everything endues, there can be no security to any man how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live.

It is shocking to many that the first notion of individual rights in the West is predicated upon each person’s ability to murder one another. For Hobbes, nature is chaotic and warlike, thus, each man has the unmitigated right of self-preservation – a right that went as far as to go to “everything, even to one another’s body.” Whereas Aquinas taught the natural inclinations of humanity were (1) self-preservation (2) the procreation and education of offspring and (3) to seek happiness, the good; Hobbes reduces them all to an unbridled right of self-preservation.14 The brutality of Hobbes will later be made more palatable by John Locke, and later in modernity the standard of nature will be discarded altogether – leaving each individual an autonomous moral universe brimming with manufactured rights.

Much more could be said on the transition from ancient to modern political thought, but this snippet of Hobbes simply goes to show the outrageous difference between Aquinas’ use of the term right and the modern notion of rights. The real question is, how are faithful Catholics who believe in Natural Law supposed to be virtuous in a world that defines all politics and morality in rights language? Something to ponder.


SPL Catechesis on the Soul & Virtue


  1. Natural Law: 3 Steps to Understand how Humanity Participates in Natural Law and The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World. []
  2. ST II-II.57 []
  3. ST II-II.57.1. “On the other hand the other virtues perfect man in those matters only which befit in relations to himself.” []
  4. Id. []
  5. Id. []
  6. Id. []
  7. Id., citing the Philosopher, Aristotle, in Ethics v. 1. []
  8. Id. at a. 2. []
  9. “For this reason justice has its own special proper object over and above the other virtues, and this object is called the just, which is the same as right. Hence it is evident that right is the object of justice.” Id. at a. 1. []
  10. Id. at a. 4 []
  11. Id. []
  12. “Hence in so far as each of them is a man, there is justice towards them in a way.” Id. at a. 4, reply 2. []
  13. Machiavelli & Hobbes: For more on this claim, see 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli’s The Prince and A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know. []
  14. “The paragraph is notable within the Western intellectual tradition as the beginning of “rights language.” Hobbes is setting the stage for the Leviathan. Men, unable to live in the warring chaos of nature, will seek self-preservation by transferring their rights to the Leviathan. The state will be their salvation from each other and from the natural state of war and chaos.” From the Catholic Guide to Hobbes, cited above. []

Friendship in the Trinity: 4 Thoughts on Christian Friendship

“The union of Father and Son would be incomplete if their love did not beget a third entity, the Holy Spirit, which both proceeds from and returns the love of Father and Son.”

Listers, “There is nothing closer to the heart of a twenty year old,” states Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., “than that of friendship: how it is gained and how it is lost. If you do not understand this, you do not understand life.” [i] The ability to develop friendships is one of the greatest gifts of human nature. Friendship is close to all of our hearts and can dramatically impact our happiness and fulfillment. In order to better understand the nature of friendship and its impact upon us, we must develop a proper understanding of the human person. The study of friendship goes back to the ancient Greeks, particularly Aristotle, who recognized the importance of friendship in both our personal lives and in public affairs. Ultimately, the Greek view of friendship fell short without the Christian insight of sin and grace – and most of all – the understanding that the human person is created in God’s image and likeness. A Christian view of friendship, therefore, must explore God’s own essence, which is Triune and relational. This understanding is enhanced by the Incarnation of Christ, which radically transforms the classical view of friendship. Today, many factors threaten the development of healthy and authentic friendships. By recovering a Christian understanding of friendship, we can once again foster healthy friendships in our daily lives.


1. Imago Dei

In the Book of Genesis we read that, “God created mankind in his image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”[ii] Here the scriptures present us with an understanding of the human person that is modeled after the very likeness of God. Human beings, therefore, share in the essence of their Creator. This not only reveals to us our dignity as human persons, but also the mystery of our being. We are a reflection, or, a “mirror” of our Creator, as St. Augustine describes.[iii] Our entire being shares in a likeness of God, which means all that we experience – including friendship and love – must be modeled after our Creator.

Genesis offers another passage that speaks to human nature and our longing for friendship. In chapter two we read that, “The Lord God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.”[iv] God then proceeded to create “wild animals” and “all the birds of the air,” but “none proved to be a helper suited to the man.” Finally, God created woman, and it is only woman who satisfies man. It is only another human person who “suits” man’s loneliness. Woman fulfilled man in way that “all the birds of the air” could not. Adam, filled with joy, exclaimed, “this one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” How beautiful is this exclamation of Adam. In Eve he finds a part of himself, and he is able to form a deep bond with her.

Genesis shows us that even God recognizes that “it was not good for man to be alone.” Man is somehow insufficient or incomplete without friendship. As Sister Mary Ann Fatula, O.P. argues, life without friends would be “hellish.”[v] God also found that life would be unbearable without others present around us. Only when man and woman were created did God pronounce all of creation as “very good.” [vi] Friendship, then, is “very good” and completes the beauty of creation.


2. God as Trinity: Friendship within the Godhead

"Stained glass window from Leicester Cathedral presents the Doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity in a heraldic form." - Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
“Stained glass window from Leicester Cathedral presents the Doctrine of the Most Holy Trinity in a heraldic form.” – Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

It is now necessary to discuss the “image and likeness” of God by which the human person was created. Fr. Schall describes the investigation of God’s nature as, “the most exciting and basic of all topics, the one that really gets to the heart of things, of why things are and why things are as they are.” [vii] Joseph Ratzinger describes the Christian understanding of God as, “the Three-in-One, as he who is simultaneously the monas and the trias, absolute unity and fullness.” [viii] God is both one and plural. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: entirely one, yet three distinct Persons who exist in relation to one another. According to the Dionysian principle, the goodness which unites two beings will necessarily result in a further diffusion of goodness. The union of Father and Son would be incomplete if their love did not beget a third entity, the Holy Spirit, which both proceeds from and returns the love of Father and Son. Ultimately, the Trinity’s love diffuses outward toward all of creation.

God did not need to create. His creation is a sheer gift of love. Pope Benedict XVI reflects on the mystery of this gift, remaking that, “love knows no ‘why’; it is a free gift to which one responds with the gift of self.” [ix] This reality of self-gift and love is present within the Trinity and overflows into all of creation. The gift of marriage and the family, for example, beautifully participates within the self-gift and love of the Godhead. The life and nature of the Godhead not only overflows outside itself, but is also reflected in creation. We are truly “marked” by God through our friendships. Understanding the Triune friendship of God helps us to better understand the image in which we were created. As Fr. Schall writes:

 “The notion that we are persons related to others in our very being and knowing is itself a long-range result of our reflecting on what Father, Son, and Holy Spirit might mean, on Word and Love as expressions of our relatedness to others and to what is.” [x]

Through our friendships we are imitating the divine friendship that exists in the Godhead.


3. What is friendship?

David and Jonathan - St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Fr. Lawrence, OP, Flickr.
David and Jonathan – St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, Fr. Lawrence, OP, Flickr.

Before proceeding further, it may be helpful to develop an understanding of the nature of friendship that we experience in our daily lives. Aristotle, wrote one of the earliest reflections of friendship in the fourth century B.C. Friendship was so important to him that he devoted two chapters in the Ethics to the topic, more so than any other subject in the book. Aristotle begins by distinguishing three different types of friendship. The first type is what he describes as friendships based on utility, where the friends involved derive some benefit or good from the other. The partners involved do not care for the good of the other, but rather, for their own benefit. Aristotle explains, “when the motive of friendship is usefulness, the partners do not feel affection for one another per se but in terms of the good accruing to each from the other.”[xi]

The second type of friendship is based on pleasure. Aristotle writes, “the same is true of those whose friendship is based on pleasure: we love people not for what they are, but for the pleasure they give us.”[xii] Aristotle believes that these two forms of friendship are problematic because “the friend is loved not because he is a friend, but because he is useful or pleasant.” [xiii] These two friendships occur incidentally, perhaps based on chance circumstances, like a neighbor or classmate. They are also short-lived because one’s pleasures and needs eventually change as time moves on.

The third type of friendship is what Aristotle calls the “truest” and most “virtuous” form. It is friendship based on goodness, where both friends will the good for the other and help each other strive for goodness and virtue. Aristotle notes that, “those who wish for their friend’s good for their friend’s own sake are friends in the truest sense.” [xiv] These friendships last far longer than the previous two types of friendship because the friends care deeply for one another and they are not based upon incidental occurrences. This view of friendship, as willing the good for the other, eventually becomes the basis of Catholic teaching on marriage, contraception, and love. Aristotle argues that good friendship also, “seems to hold states together, and lawgivers apparently devote more attention to it than to justice.” [xv] Friendship, according to Aristotle, is at the root of human relations and impacts humanity not only on a local level, but on a national level as well.

Aristotle’s reflections on friendship are important for several reasons. Firstly, his thoughts reveal that even in the ancient pre-Christian world friendship was still at the heart and center of human affairs. Friendship shows us that human nature abides over time and is truly universal. Aristotle also shows us the importance of friendship on both a local and global scale. Society truly could not function without friendship. In fact, Aristotle argues, the sign of a bad government is one that prevents human flourishing and virtuous friendships. Aristotle is helpful because he defines and distinguishes various types of friendship, but he ultimately falls short of the Christian view because he does not have a developed understanding of human love, sin, and grace. Aristotle, for example, did not believe that men and women could have “true” friendship because he believed they were not equal. He also was skeptical of the idea that we can have friendship with the divine, an idea St. Thomas Aquinas criticizes. It is here that Christianity and the Incarnation entirely transform the classical view of friendship as developed by Aristotle.


4. I Call You Friends

Human friendship is forever transformed through the Incarnation of Christ. Our entire life is now “enchanted” and blessed, because Christ has entered into it. He “dwelt” among us and experienced joys, sorrows, pains, laughter, and friendships. Everything we experience, then, is transformed into something divine because Christ has also shared in it. Nothing we experience is in vain. Friendship, however, takes on a new and more prominent role through the Incarnation. Through Christ, our friendships are no mere replicas of the divine life, but rather, an intimate communion in and with the life of God.

Additionally, Christ’s Incarnation makes it possible for man to enter into friendship with God. Since there is an “infinite inequality between God and us, we could never become equals with God,” which would make friendship with God impossible because “friendship means a certain equality between friends” who can “love us with reciprocal, mutual love.” [xvi] However, there is good news: God desires our friendship. Christ breaks through the barrier between God and man, firstly through his fleshly dwelling, but also through his deliberate desire to become our friends. Jesus “did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped at,” and so he no longer calls us servants, but “but friends.” [xvii] Sister Fatula reflects on this reality, writing that:

In his own person Jesus shows us the infinite ache of the Triune God to be close to us… nothing could satisfy God’s longing to be near us, nothing except becoming flesh of our own flesh. In this radical kinship with us, we would know God’s heart in a way we could never have known otherwise. God’s becoming flesh for us has brought us the inconceivable gift of a more deeply familiar friendship with God. [xviii]

Aquinas also discovered that through Jesus, we obtain the Father’s intimate friendship with us in person, thus making our friendship with the divine possible. [xix]

Pope Benedict summarizes the gravity of this event, reflecting that, “[Jesus] calls me his friend. He welcomes me into the circle of those he had spoken to in the Upper Room, into the circle of those whom he knows in a very special way, and who thereby come to know him in a very special way.” [xx] Through Christ’s Incarnation and friendship we enter into the very life of God. Similarly, our human friendships also share and participate in this divine life, not only because of their participation in Christ’s friendship and the life of the Trinity, but also because we are saved together in a community of believers. While we retain our individuality, we are saved as a “Church,” as Fr. Clark observes, a community of persons bound together in faith and friendship with one another and God. [xxi] Finally, St. Augustine notes in his Confessions after the loss of his dear friend, that because of death, only Christian friendships are eternal as they are redeemed in the glory of Christ’s resurrection. [xxii]



I will conclude this brief list on friendship with beautiful words of reflection from Pope Benedict XVI shortly before his resignation as pontiff: He states,

“‘No longer servants, but friends’: this saying contains within itself the entire program of [our] life. What is friendship? Friendship is a communion of thinking and willing. Friendship is not just about knowing someone, it is above all a communion of the will. It means that my will grows into ever greater conformity with God’s will. For his will is not something external and foreign to me, something to which I more or less willingly submit or else refuse to submit. No, in friendship, my will grows together with his will, and his will becomes mine: this is how I become truly myself.” [xxiii]

Pope Benedict helps us to summarize our reflections on friendship. Our desire for friendship stems from the very source of our creation: God. Through our being made in the image and likeness of God, we are a reflection the nature of the Godhead, which is relational. In Christ’s Incarnation, we not only reflect, but also participate in the very nature of God by becoming his friend and creating friendships with other human beings. It is in entering this friendship with God that we “become truly ourselves” as we are reunited with the very source of ourselves, which is the loving and all good God.


Louis Cona Profile

Louis Cona is an undergraduate at Georgetown University studying Government and Philosophy. He serves and coordinates the Traditional Latin Mass on campus and is an active member of the Georgetown Knights of Columbus.






[i] [i] Schall, James V. “A Final Gladness.” 7 December 2012. Georgetown University. Youtube.

[ii] Gen 1:26-27

[iii] Augustine, “On the Trinity,” XV.

[iv] Gen 2:18

[v] Fatual, “Thomas Aquinas: Preacher and Friend,” 36.

[vi] Genesis 1:31

[vii] Schall, “The Order of Things,” 35.

[viii] Ratzinger, “Introduction to Christianity,” 178.

[ix] Pope Benedict XVI, meeting with seminarians, 19 August 2005.

[x] Ibid, 37.

[xi] Aristotle, “Ethics”, 218. Publisher: Pearson. Translator: Martin Ostwald

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid.

[xiv] Ibid, 219.

[xv] Ibid, 215.

[xvi] Fatual, “Thomas Aquinas: Preacher and Friend,” 61.

[xvii] Phil 2:16, John 15:15

[xviii] Fatula, 60-61.

[xix] Ibid.

[xx] Pope Benedict XVI, homily on the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination, 29 June 2011.

[xxi] Clark, “Five Great Catholic Ideas.”

[xxii] Augustine, “Confessions,” Bk IV, Chap IV-IX.

[xxiii] Pope Benedict XVI, homily on the 60th anniversary of his priestly ordination, 29 June 2011.


On the Privilege of Being a Woman: 7 Quotes on True Femininity

When the time has come, nothing which is man made will subsist. One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God’s image and likeness.

Click to view it on Amazon.
Click to view it on Amazon.

Listers, what is true femininity? In her excellent short work entitled The Privilege of Being a Woman, Alice von Hildebrand deftly describes true femininity. In history, women have either been “denigrated as lower than men” or “viewed as privileged.” In Privileged, “Dr. Alice von Hildebrand characterizes the difference between such views as based on whether man’s vision is secularistic or steeped in the supernatural. She shows that feminism’s attempts to gain equality with men by imitation of men is unnatural, foolish, destructive, and self-defeating. The Blessed Mother’s role in the Incarnation points to the true privilege of being a woman. Both virginity and maternity meet in Mary who exhibits the feminine gifts of purity, receptivity to God’s word, and life-giving nurturance at their highest.”1

Alice von Hilderbrand is a Catholic philosopher and theologian, whose late husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand, was also a Catholic intellectual giant. Alice has written many works, including The Privilege of Being a WomanThe Soul of a Lion: The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand, and an autobiography, Memoirs of a Happy Failure. Alice von Hildebrand is also a member of the Order of St. Gregory the Great.2


1. Like Men

“Unwittingly, the feminists acknowledge the superiority of the male sex by wishing to become like men.”


2. Immortal Creation

“One thing is certain: When the time has come, nothing which is man made will subsist. One day, all human accomplishments will be reduced to a pile of ashes. But every single child to whom a woman has given birth will live forever, for he has been given an immortal soul made to God’s image and likeness. In this light, the assertion of de Beauvoir that ‘women produce nothing’ becomes particularly ludicrous.”


3. Way to Holiness

“A woman’s way to holiness is clearly to purify her God-given sensitivity and to direct it into the proper channels.”


4. Harmony in the Saints

“These Saints, masterpieces of God’s grace, combine all great male virtues with female gentleness. Great female saints, while keeping the perfume of female gentleness, can show a strength and courage that sociology usually reserves to the male sex. It is typical of the supernatural that such apparently contradictory features can be harmoniously united.”


5. Feelings in the Noble Heart

“It is unwarranted to regard women as inferior because feelings play a central role in their lives. If the feelings vibrating in their hearts are noble, appropriate, good, legitimate, sanctioned, and pleasing to God, then they are precious jewels in God’s sight.”


6. Purity

“Deep down, society understands that women’s purity is a linchpin of any Christian society; nay, of any civilized society. When she betrays her mission, not only is God offended but in wounding herself spiritually she wounds the Church and society at large.”


7. Suffering

“Just as Christ has suffered the agonizing pains of the crucifixion in order to reopen for us the gates of heaven, so the woman has received the costly privilege of suffering so that another child made to God’s image and likeness can enter into the world.”


  1. Quote taken from Amazon book description. []
  2. Order of St. Gregory the Great – Wiki. []

Charioteer of the Virtues: 6 Lessons on Prudence & her Contrary Vices

Listers, Aristotle (“the Philosopher”) defined prudence as  “right reason applied to action.”1 Similarly, the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches, “prudence is the virtue that disposes practical reason to discern our true good in every circumstance and to choose the right means of achieving it.”2 Prudence is an indispensable part of the virtuous life. It stands as a “unique virtue” for the role it plays in both the intellectual and moral life of the virtuous person. It is also a “special virtue” for its role in guiding all virtues to their determined end. Prudence is, without any doubt, absolutely necessary to live the good life, the virtuous life.


SPL Catechesis on the Soul & Virtue


Lesson One:
Prudence Does Not Always Deal with Morality

Prudence is an intellectual virtue. The intellectual virtues are categorized as either speculative or practical. The speculative virtues perfect a person’s ability to contemplate truth. For example, the intellectual virtue of science helps to perfect a person’s ability to contemplate a specific body of knowledge. A person, a scientist, may through the habit of science perfect his understanding of botany, archeology, or astrophysics. In contrast, the practical intellectual virtues are concerned with external acts. The practical virtue of art is “nothing else but the right reason about certain works to be made.”3 Through the virtue of art, the shipwright perfects his ability to make ships. The other practical virtue is prudence. If art is the “right reason of things to be made,” then prudence is the “right reason of things to be done.”4 A shipwright may have an excellent aptness for creating ships, but that does not make him a prudent shipwright. The prudent shipwright knows what time he should rise for work, how many hours he should engage his craft, and how he should conduct himself in all his affairs.


Lesson Two:
Prudence is Distinct from All Other Virtues

If a shipwright crafts the finest ships to ever sail the open seas is he a moral or immoral person? The intellectual virtues do not provide a moral import. A shipwright might create the finest ships but be morally bankrupt, while a morally upstanding person may be a terrible shipwright. In the virtues that deal with morality, there are principally the Theological Virtues – faith, hope, & charity – and the Natural or Cardinal Virtues – prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Just as prudence is concerned with a person’s intellectual acts, so too is prudence concerned with a person’s moral acts. No other virtue shares this scope. In this context, Aquinas calls prudence a “special virtue,” because prudence is the only moral and intellectual virtue.


Lesson Three:
Prudence is the Auriga Virtutum

"Detail of the east gallery with busts of Virtues in Canterbury Quad, St John's College, Oxford c.1631-36." Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
“Detail of the east gallery with busts of Virtues in Canterbury Quad, St John’s College, Oxford c.1631-36.” Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

Prudence is right reason applied to action. Temperance is the virtue that moderates attraction to pleasurable goods. If a shipwright decides against the proverbial “just one more drink” and retires from the public house, has he acted prudently or with temperance? A common mistake is to regard the other virtues as simply different forms of prudence; thus, justice is prudence regarding order, temperance is prudence regarding pleasure, and fortitude is prudence regarding fear. What then is the proper relationship of prudence to the other virtues? First, prudence does not dictate the end or goal. If the determined end is that the shipwright should not have another drink, that end is determined by temperance. Second, prudence does dictate the means to achieve the end. If the shipwright determines not to have another drink, what is the most prudent means to achieve that end? – or rather, how should he now act? Is it more prudent to simply not order another ale or to leave the pub altogether? Temperance has set the end, now prudence must determine the means to that end. Aquinas quotes Aristotle in stating, “moral virtue ensures the rectitude of the intention of the end, while prudence ensures the rectitude of the means.”5 Each moral virtue sets the end according to right reason, but the means to that end is right reason in action – prudence.6 In this context, the nickname of prudence – the Auriga Virtutum, the Charioteer of the Virtues – is properly understood, because prudence “guides the other virtues by setting [the] rule and measure.”7


Lesson Four:
There are Different Species of Prudence

Our Servant King, St Dominic's priory church in London. Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Our Servant King, St Dominic’s priory church in London. Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

Does prudence govern only the good of the individual or is prudence concerned with the good of others? In his Ethics, Aristotle notes that many have argued that prudence only deals with the individual’s good, because “they thought that man is not bound to seek other than his own good.”8 Aquinas holds that this view is “opposed to charity,” because charity demands we seek the good of others.9 Aquinas further holds the view is contrary to reason, because right reason “judges the common good to be better than the good of the individual.”10 Consequently under both charity and reason, prudence deals with “not only the private good of the individual, but also the common good of the multitude.”11 A philosophic principle worth committing to memory – and often used by Aquinas – is that the object of a thing determines the species of a thing. If prudence, therefore, can have as its object the good of many, the good of a few, or the good of one, there must be correlating different species of prudence. According to the Angelic Doctor, there is political prudence, which “is directed to the common good of the state.”12 Second, there is the domestic prudence, which is “directed to the common good of the home.” Third, there is prudence simply or monastic prudence, which “is directed to one’s own good.”13


Lesson Five:
Prudence of the Flesh

Aquinas opens his discussion with a simple syllogism. It is impossible for a man to be prudent unless he is good. No sinner is a good man. Therefore no sinner is prudent.14 There is, however, a false prudence. Virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.”15 Prudence, as the Charioteer of Virtue, disposes a person toward a good end. What about a prudent robber? A robber that “devises fitting ways of committing robbery”?16 Aquinas posits this as a false prudence, and is the “prudence of the flesh” as described by St. Paul.17 Aquinas further submits there is a second type of prudence – an imperfect prudence. Imperfect prudence would be the shipwright who is prudent toward his particular good, shipbuilding, but lacks prudence toward the “common good of all human life.” Moreover, imagine the brilliant astrophysicists who is also an atheist. Finally, there is true and perfect prudence – the prudence that “takes counsel, judges, and commands aright in respect of the good end of man’s whole life.”18 The true and perfect prudence is prudence simply. To wit, prudence is right reason in action, and sin will always be an irrational act; therefore, sinners are not prudent.


Lesson Six:
Imprudence & Negligence are Special Sins

"Detail of the Rood in St Paul's church, Knightsbridge by Bodley." - Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
“Detail of the Rood in St Paul’s church, Knightsbridge by Bodley.” – Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

Imprudence is a sin and manifests in two different ways: as a privation or as a contrary.19 As a privation, a person lacks the prudence they ought to have. As a contrary, the person’s actions go directly against prudence. For example, the imprudent man who despises wise counsel.20 Where as prudence is considered a special virtue, so too is imprudence a special sin. Aquinas explains, “for just as all the virtues have a share of prudence, in so far as it directs them, so have all vices and sins a share of imprudence, because no sin can occur, without some defect in an act of the directing reason, which defect belongs to imprudence.”21 For example, if the shipwright has too many ales at the public house, is he imprudent or acting with intemperance? The shipwright is both, because intemperance has set the end and imprudence has set the means. Just as prudence is a special virtue, imprudence is a special sin.22 The second vice opposed to prudence is negligence. The virtue of solicitude is a care or concern for something, it watchfulness, and it is being alert. It is a part of prudence.23 Negligence is a lack of solicitude – it is an omission, a failure to act. Consequently, negligence is opposed to prudence, right reason applied to action, because there is no action. In this way, negligence is also a special sin as it affects the act of reason itself. The special sins are also known as general sins, because their scope extends past any particular matter. For example, lust is particularly oriented toward sexual matters, but negligence affects reason itself; thus, the vice of negligence can extend “to any kind of moral matter.”24

  1. ST. II-II.47.2 Sed Contra, citing Ethics VI 5 []
  2. CCC § 1806 []
  3. ST. I-II.57.3, see also for an extended conversation on the intellectual virtues, 8 Traditional Catholic Answers about Virtue. []
  4. Id. []
  5. II-II.47.6. Sed contra []
  6. Aquinas on Prudence as the Means: “But it belongs to the ruling of prudence to decide in what manner and by what means man shall obtain the mean of reason in his deeds. For though the attainment of the mean is the end of a moral virtue, yet this means is found by the right disposition of these things that are directed to the end.” II-II.47.7 []
  7. CCC § 1806, furthermore, “it is prudence that immediately guides the judgment of conscience. The prudent man determines and directs his conduct in accordance with this judgment. With the help of this virtue we apply moral principles to particular cases without error and overcome doubts about the good to achieve and the evil to avoid.” []
  8. II-II.47.10 – Aquinas citing Ethics, vi. 8 []
  9. Id., see Aquinas citing St. Paul, I Cor. 13:5, 10:33. []
  10. Id. []
  11. Id. []
  12. Id. a. 11. []
  13. Id. a. 11, see also a. 12, further defining political prudence. There is “legislative prudence,” which belongs to the rulers, and “political prudence,” which is “about individual actions.” Consequently, political prudence is in both the rulers and the ruled. []
  14. ST II-II.47.13, sed contra. []
  15. CCC § 1803 []
  16. II-II.47.13 []
  17. See Rom. 8:6. []
  18. Id. []
  19. II-II.53.1. []
  20. Id. []
  21. Id. a. 2 []
  22. Special Sins Under Imprudence: First, there is “thoughtlessness.” Thought, according to Aquinas, “signifies the act of the intellect in considering truth about something.” II-II.53.4. Thoughtless is the vice, the bad habit, of failing to judge rightly “those things on which right judgment depends.” Second, there is the vice of inconsistency. Aquinas teaches that inconsistency demonstrates a “withdrawal from a definite good purpose.” Id. a. 6. Aquinas reasons that a man does not step back from a previously attained good unless it is for some inordinate desire; thus, inconsistency is accomplished through a “defect of reason.” []
  23. See II-II.47.9 []
  24. II-II.54.1-2. []

The West has Lost its Moral Vocabulary: 8 Traditional Catholic Answers about Virtue

What does it mean to be a good person? In modernity, the moral vocabulary of society has shifted from a virtue-based language to one of values. Virtues are rooted in reason and reflect a common moral standard for all men. Values are rooted in the individual and reflect an autonomous moral universe.

Listers, what does it mean to be a good person? In modernity, the moral vocabulary of society has shifted from a virtue-based language to one of values. Virtues are rooted in reason and reflect a common moral standard for all men. Values are rooted in the individual and reflect an autonomous moral universe. Where virtues can discuss justice as something apart from any individual, values are meaningless without the worth imported to them from the individual. A Catholic parish may be rooted in the “values of Christ,” but the local Muslim or atheist community would submit totally different value systems. In politics, one party may value “traditional marriage,” while another party may value “same-sex marriage.” In the West, political discourse has become obsessed with values generally under the guise of individual rights language; yet, is this the best moral jargon the West has to offer? The West was built upon a moral vocabulary that contemplated the soul and virtue. The following eight questions are meant to serve as an introduction to virtue in general – both moral and intellectual. The list is not meant to discuss any particular moral or political issue, but it is meant to offer a moral vocabulary rooted in reason and common to all humanity. And while it is not necessary to understand the following questions, a greater insight into the virtues may be gained by first contemplating the soul –  7 Questions on the Powers of the Human Soul Compared to Other Souls.1


1. What is a virtue?

A virtue is “an habitual and firm disposition to do the good.”2 Virtue cannot be reduced to a single act. A man who returns a lost wallet he found in a park may be virtuous, but a single act is not dispositive of virtue. To determine if someone is a virtuous person, often the totality of their actions are considered. The key question is – does this person have a habit of doing what is right? A habit may be defined as a series of actions that constitute a practice. The Philosopher, Aristotle, says a habit is “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill.”3 A habit that disposes someone to what is good or well for them is called a virtue. It is a good habit. A habit that disposes someone to what is evil or ill for them is called a vice. It is a bad habit. Those who have a habit of doing what is good are properly called virtuous, while those who have a habit of doing what is bad are rightly called vicious.


2. How does virtue or vice define a person?

If a person is labeled virtuous or vicious, the label goes beyond the content of their actions and seems to define the very person. Virtue and vice are different species of the genus of habit. A virtue is a good habit, and a is vice a bad habit. An inquiry into which genus habit should be a species under aids in unlocking the deeper nature of a person’s actions. According to Aristotle and Aquinas, habit is a species of quality. The category of quality is one of the ten categories from Aristotle’s Organon. In a broad sense, the categories articulate everything that may be an object of human apprehension. For example, a table. The category of quantity denotes how many tables there are, the category of relations denotes if it is a superior or inferior table compared to other tables, and category of place denotes where the table is, and so forth. The category of quality has four different types: first, shape (rectangular, circular, etc.), second, sense qualities (hot, cold, loud, quiet, etc.), third, capacity (a man has the capacity to run swiftly or a table to bear a great weight), and fourth, dispositions (the quality of being disposed an act). Habit is a species of quality in the fourth sense – of dispositions. Therefore, a habit, whether a virtue or vice, defines the very quality of its subject, the person, as either being disposed to good or evil.4


3. Can non-Catholics be virtuous?

Aristotle by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Aristotle by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The natural virtues or “human virtues” are known as “natural,” because they are naturally available to all humanity.5 Every human is a rational animal and is able to acquire the natural virtues. In other words, a person does not need to be Catholic to have the natural virtues. The natural virtues can serve as a common table of dialogue between persons of all faiths and creeds. Each person is a rational animal – meaning they are endowed with the power of the intellect in their soul. Each person has the power to rationally reflect upon their own actions, which is the basis for morality. Acting virtuously is nothing more than acting rationally. Each human – regardless of their “worldview” – is expected to act rationally and hold to the common standard of natural virtue. It is obvious, however, that though all men may acquire the natural virtues, not all men do. One key observation is that virtues are habits, not mandated instincts. The rational soul is like clay upon the potter’s wheel. The rational animal, by the power of the his or her intellect, may choose to act rationally (good) or irrationally (bad). The rational animal may form his or herself into a virtuous or vicious individual. Second, it is true that the rational soul is inclined to what is truly good and rational. All persons choose what is good. The caveat is that the mover of the soul, the power of the will, often times moves the soul toward apparent goods and not actual goods.6 Consequently, though man is a rational animal, he often makes irrational choices toward apparent goods, which can develop into vices. In fact, entire cultures or religions may suppress individuals from being virtuous by habituating them to apparent goods.


4. What moral virtues are available to all humanity?

The Cardinal Virtues are the natural moral virtues available to all men. Drawing from both the ancient Greek philosophical tradition and the ancient Hebrew faith of the Old Testament, the Church teaches that there are four Cardinal Virtues: prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.7 Prudence is the “elective habit” and may be said to simply be “right reason in action.”8 Prudence is unique insofar as it is both an intellectual and moral virtue. Justice is the virtue whereby a person gives what is due to both God and neighbor.9 It is the virtue of being well-ordered. Justice has the distinction of being the highest virtue of politics or the state. Temperance is the virtue that holds the soul to reason in the face of something pleasurable that would lure it away.10 In contrast, fortitude is the virtue that holds the soul to reason in the face of something that would scare it away.11 The soldier that stands his ground despite an oncoming onslaught is engaging in fortitude. A husband or wife that holds true to their marriage vows despite the allure of adulterous sexual pleasure is engaging in temperance. These four virtues are the “cardinal” virtues, because of the “pivotal role” they hold in morality.12 The Cardinal Virtues are available to all humanity, because they are acquired virtues – meaning they may be “acquired by human effort.”13 Each rational animal, as a creature of the Creator, may acquire these moral virtues, which in turn prepare the soul “for communion with divine love.”14 For grace always perfects nature; thus, the person with great natural virtue has laid a great foundation for divine love.


5. Are there virtues that must be given to humanity?

Hope, Faith, & Charity by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.
Hope, Faith, & Charity by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr.

The Theological Virtues are moral virtues that are given by God. While the Cardinal Virtues are natural virtues, thus they may be acquired by all rational animals; the Theological Virtues are infused virtues, which means they are infused into the individual by God. There are three Theological Virtues: faith, hope, and charity. The Virtue of Faith is that by which Catholics “believe in God and believe all that he has said and revealed to us, and that Holy Church proposes for our belief, because he is truth itself.”15 Truth is not a concept – it is a person, Jesus Christ, and he has wedded himself to humanity through his bride, his body, the Church. The Virtue of Faith, however, cannot be reduced to mere intellect assent. True faith is both belief and living out that belief. The Virtue of Hope is the “anchor of the soul.”16 Hope anchors the believer in virtue by instilling in him a desire for the Kingdom of God, a trust in Jesus Christ, and reliance on the Holy Spirit.17 The Virtue of Charity is the mother of all virtues. It is the virtue by which we love God for his own sake and our neighbors as ourselves.18 Just as the soul is the form of the body, Charity is the form of all virtue – it actuates the potential of virtue. It is the anima (soul) of virtue, because “the practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony.”19 Though the Theological Virtues are infused into the person by God, they are properly habits, because once they are given it is the choice of the individual to habituate himself toward the goods of faith, hope, and charity.


6. Are there other virtues besides the moral virtues?

Along with the moral virtues, there are the intellectual virtues. The intellectual virtues may be distinguished into two categories: the speculative virtues and the practical virtues. The power of the intellect is the hallmark power of the rational soul, and the speculative virtues help perfect the intellect’s ability to consider truth. Aquinas teaches the speculative virtues “may indeed be called virtues in so far as they confer aptness for a good work, viz. the consideration of truth (since this is the good work of the intellect).”20 There are three habits that perfect the speculative intellect: understanding, wisdom, and science. Now, the speculative intellect has as its end the consideration of truth, and truth itself is a twofold consideration. First, there is the truth that is known in itself. Aquinas submits, “what is known in itself, is as a ‘principle,’ and is at once understood by the intellect.”21 The habit that perfects the speculative intellect’s consideration of principles is the virtue of understanding. It is the “habit of principles.”22 The principles in question are known in themselves, because they are indemonstrable – they are not deduced from other truths. For example, “a whole is greater than its parts.” Moreover, there is the “first indemonstrable principle,” which is the foundation for all others – “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time.”23 The second aspect of truth is that which is known to be true “through another.”24 In other words, it is known through the ability to reason. The virtue of wisdom contemplates the highest causes in the universe and allows the intellect to place all being in a rational order. For example, wisdom rationalizes there are living beings and non-living beings, the under living beings there are animals and plants, under animals there is the rational animal and the non-rational animals, and so forth. Science is simply a “body of knowledge,” thus, the virtue of science perfects the intellect through the study of the different bodies of knowable matter. So whereas wisdom will set everything in proper order according to the highest causes, science will study the specific and distinguished bodies of knowledge, e.g., chemistry, astronomy, zoology, botany, etc. So, as Aquinas teaches, “there are different habits of scientific knowledge; whereas there is but one wisdom.”25 One wisdom sets the order, while habits of scientific knowledge are as numerous as the potential to separate one body of knowledge from another.


7. Are there other intellectual virtues?

Along with the speculative virtues, there are the practical virtues of art and prudence. The virtue of art is the habit of knowing how to make things. Aquinas states, “Art is nothing else but ‘the right reason about certain works to be made.'”26 Art is understood as an operative/practical habit – in contrast with a speculative habit – for it perfects in the craftsman an “aptness to work well.”27 The second operative or practical habit is prudence. If art is the “right reason of things to be made,” then prudence is the “right reason of things to be done.”28 In the virtue of art, there is an “action passing into outward matter” to create an external object. Through the art of smithing, the blacksmith smiths a plow. In the virtue of prudence, there is an “action abiding in the agent.” Through the virtue of prudence, the blacksmith decides to start his day before dawn. Aquinas summarizes the distinction as “prudence stands in the same relation to such like human actions, consisting in the use of powers and habits, as art does to outward making: since each is the perfect reason about the things with which it is concerned.”29 Prudence is unique insofar as it is both an intellectual virtue and a moral virtue. For example, the blacksmith may make prudent choices in how to operate his smith, while he also may make prudent choices in how to treat his family. Prudence perfects reason, which is necessary in both intellectual and moral matters.30


8. Why are the intellect virtues not moral virtues?

Holy Virtue by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr. - "The Latin inscription reads: 'We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will.'"
Holy Virtue by Fr. Lawrence, OP. Flickr. – “The Latin inscription reads: ‘We shall attain the excellence of virtue with the grace of God and the effort of our will.'”

If a man is a great botanist does that make him a moral or immoral person? Neither – the acumen of the intellectual virtues, save prudence, does not have a direct moral import. A person may be incredibly intelligent and also vicious at the same time. The intellect does, however, have an indirect moral consideration. For example, the blacksmith has the habit of scientific knowledge needed to smith, and he knows the art of smithing. The moral consideration is what the blacksmith wills to do with the knowledge and art he has. He may create brittle plows and sell them to cheat patrons of their money. He may create the finest swords in the region and donate them to those fighting on the front lines. The moral consideration is not the knowledge itself, but what the soul wills to do with the knowledge. For example, when the will moves the soul to use knowledge for a just or charitable purpose, then the act is a moral act.31


  1. Published on All Saints Day 2014 – All you holy men and women of God, pray for us. []
  2. Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC”) § 1803 []
  3. Habits: For more on habits and the source for the given quotes, see ST I-II.49.1-2 []
  4. The Categories: A quick sketch of Aristotle’s Categories found in his work, Organon. (1) Substance – that which cannot be predicated of anything else; thus, this particular man or this particular chair; note that while the accidents of the substance may change (e.g., the chair becomes rough or changes color), if the substance changes it forfeits existence (e.g., a human is a human, it cannot change to anything more or less than a human). (2) Quantity (3) Relation – things can be inferior or superior to others, etc. (4) Quality – as described above (5) Place – a substance may be here or there (6) Time – the table is one day old or hundred days old (7) Position – the table is upright or overturned (8) State (or Condition) – the table is in this or that condition (9) Action – to produce a change, e.g., a man may run or kick (10) Affection – to receive an act or to be acted upon, e.g., the table is kicked by the man. []
  5. CCC § 1804 []
  6. ST.II-I.8.1 []
  7. CCC §§ 1805-11 []
  8. CCC § 1806 []
  9. Id. at § 1807 []
  10. Id. at § 1809 []
  11. Id. at § 1808 []
  12. Id. at § 1805 []
  13. Id. []
  14. Id. []
  15. Id. at § 1814 []
  16. Id. at § 1820 []
  17. Id. at §§ 1817-18 []
  18. Id. at §§ 1822-29 []
  19. Id. at § 1827, citing Col 3:14. []
  20. ST. I-II.57.1 []
  21. Id. at a. 2 []
  22. Id. []
  23. Indemonstrable Principles: I-II.94.2 – for example, “Hence it is that, as Boethius says… certain axioms or propositions are universally self-evident to all; and such are those propositions whose terms are known to all, as, “Every whole is greater than its part,” and, “Things equal to one and the same are equal to one another.” But some propositions are self-evident only to the wise, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions: thus to one who understands that an angel is not a body, it is self-evident that an angel is not circumscriptively in a place: but this is not evident to the unlearned, for they cannot grasp it.” SPL discusses indemonstrable principles in the list The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World.” []
  24. Id. at a. 2 []
  25. Id. []
  26. Id. at a. 3. []
  27. Id. []
  28. Id. at a. 4, cf. Metaph. ix, text. 16 []
  29. Id. at a. 3-4 []
  30. Id. at a. 5. []
  31. Id. at a. 1. []

7 Questions on the Powers of the Human Soul Compared to Other Souls

 1. What is a soul?

The soul is the principle of life. Aquinas defines the soul as “the first principle of life in those things which live.”1 In Latin, the word for soul is anima, from which English derives words like animated and animation – to have an anima is to be animated. In contrast, something that does not have a soul, like a table, is considered an inanimate object. It is therefore held that all living corporeal things are animated by a soul. “Living things” is, however, not limited to humans, but includes plants and animals as well. Consequently, plants and animals must also have souls, because they are alive. The question raised is what type of soul does a plant have? What type of soul does an animal have? And how are these souls different than the soul of the rational animal – the human?


2. What type of soul does a plant have?

Plants are living beings—they are animated by an anima, a soul; however, is the soul that animates a plant the same soul that animates animals or humans? One consideration is what type of “powers” the life of a plant demonstrates. The Latin word for power is potentia. The term potentia is underneath the English word potential, because if an entity can act on its potential then it has the power to do the act. If there is no potential there is no power. So what is the potential of life in a plant? Imagine a large oak tree. The oak has the power to reproduce via its acorns, it has the power to grow as demonstrated by it moving from acorn to a large oak, and it has the ability to nourish itself via its leaves and deep roots. The ability to reproduce, the generative power, is how the plant soul gains existence. The ability to grow, the augmentative power, is how the oak grows according to its proper size or quantity. The ability to nourish, the nutritive power, allows the soul of the oak to preserve its existence.2 These powers are rooted in the soul of the plant, which is called the vegetative soul. Note that the three powers are able to be distinguished from one another because they all act toward a different object. Imagine still that there is a beehive in the large oak or a horse grazing nearby. The bees and the horse are also alive, but they seem to have powers that go beyond simple growth and preservation.


3. What type of soul does an animal have?

Horse, Feliciano Guimarães, Flickr.
Horse, Feliciano Guimarães, Flickr.

Animals are animated by the sensitive soul. First, animals have the ability to reproduce (generative power), grow (augmentative power), and nourish (nutritive power) as plants do. A horse, however, may reproduce quite differently than an oak tree. Though the powers act toward the same end, the matter of the body the soul acts upon may have a very different means to that end. For example, the sensitive soul typically demonstrates the power of locomotion – to be able to move; however, the tiny wings of the buzzing bee are quite different than the taunt muscles of a galloping horse. Another power that distinguishes the vegetative soul of the plant from the sensitive soul of the animal is its namesake power – the senses. Unlike the oak, the horse is well aware of the world around it. The horse can see, taste, hear, smell, and touch. These five powers under the particular sense act toward a particular object. The power of taste knows the flavor of grass, and the power of sight knows the rolling green hills. The eye, however, only knows its own object. The eye can distinguish between green hills and a blue sky, but it cannot distinguish between green grass and sweet grass. Since every power is distinguished according to its own object, there must be something common to all the senses that distinguishes between all the sense objects; moreover, not only is it able to distinguish between the objects, what is green and what is sweet, but also able to combine the senses into one harmonious sense perception. The power that perceives all the external senses is called the common sense. A horse, much like a dog, may start to associate certain perceptions and remember them; thus, the sensitive soul may also have the power of memory. A dog may even recall what it has perceived through its senses at night in a dream; thus, the sensitive soul may have the power of imagination. In short, animals demonstrate a degree of knowledge, though it is the lowest form of knowledge in Creation.3


4. What type of soul does a human have?

There is something uniquely remarkable about the human soul. Aquinas observes that the sensitive souls of animals are driven by natural impulses or instincts. A deer darts at a strange sound, and a colony of bees builds a hive. Humans, however, are different. Like the bees, humans seek shelter, but with one crucial difference. The bees have the natural impulse to build the same hive over and over again. Humanity, however, does not build the same shelter over and over. Humanity has risen from huts to penthouse apartments. How? Humanity is able to reflect upon the shelter as a shelter and the art of making a shelter. Humans can contemplate the very art of shelter construction and may reason about different materials and techniques. A bee does not know itself as a hive-maker or reflect upon the art of hive-making. A bee is a slave to its instincts. A human, however, is a rational animal, and it is in rationality that it can reflect upon the world. The human’s ability to reflect upon his or herself as a person and upon the actions that person takes sets the human apart from the other animals. The ability to reflect is rooted in the hallmark power of the human soul – the intellect. Unlike any other power, the intellect may know itself. It is precisely in this self-reflection, that mankind is able to reason. Humans have a rational soul. Consequently, the ability of humanity to reflect upon its actions is the basis for all morality. Unlike the deer that darts at a sound, a person can reflect upon their actions. Maybe it is more rational to stand and fight, like a soldier fighting alongside his comrades. The reflection upon actions serves as the foundation of moral inquiry, and in this context there are four primary powers of the rational soul to consider: the senses, the passions, the will, and the intellect.4


5. What are the passions?

The passions are movements of the soul. A passion could be an immediate inclination toward a sense object. For example, a person is walking down the road and they sense warm buttery bread and immediately feel drawn toward the bakery. There is a movement in the soul toward the bread. A passion could also be an aversion to a sense object. A person walking down the road turns the corner and sees a large snarling hound. The immediate reaction is a movement of the soul away from the sense object. Passions are movements of the soul that affect the soul. A person could feel fearful all day due to an upcoming test. A person could feel joy all day due to an upcoming dinner party. Note in both cases that the person is not stating, “there is a test coming up, I choose to be fearful” or “there is a dinner party coming up, I choose to be joyful.” Rather, it is the object affecting the soul in a different way – either an inclination toward an object or a aversion from an object. Typical passions include love, hatred, desire, fear, joy, sadness, and anger.5 Aquinas places both the senses and the passions in what he refers to as the sense appetite of the soul, which simply means there exists an inclination toward an object apprehended by the senses.


6. What is the will?

Whiskey Shots Kirti Poddar Flickr.
Whiskey Shots Kirti Poddar Flickr.

The will is the mover of the soul. According to the Angelic Doctor, “the will is a rational appetite.”6 An appetite is an inclination toward a good; thus, the rational appetite of the will moves the soul toward things that are good. Following Aristotle, Aquinas agrees that all men seek the good.7 If, however, all men use their will to seek the good, why does it appear that humanity so often chooses what is evil and self-destructive? Does an alcoholic will the good when he reaches for another drink? Does a suicide victim choose the good when he takes his own life? Aristotle and Aquinas would both agree on the caveat that while all men seek the good, it is not necessary that the goods they seek be actual goods in truth – only that the person’s will sees the object as an apparent good. The will moves the soul of the alcoholic toward the next drink, because he believes the drink to be a good. The drink, in turn, is affecting his soul. The alcoholic has a developed a passion toward the drink and is now inclined toward it. If, however, the alcoholic tried to remain sober, note that there would be a struggle between his will wanting to move his soul toward what is truly rational, and his passion moving his soul toward the sense object of alcohol. When speaking of the soul and morality, the questions of whether the passions will enslave the will to their inclinations or the will will discipline the passions into a rational order lays at the heart of moral inquiry and act. The rational soul is able to reflect upon its own actions and is so charged with choosing the rational and moral act.


7. What is the intellect?

The intellect is the power of the soul to understand. The intellect may be divided into two powers. First, every rational soul has the power of the passive intellect. The passive intellect is the potential for the soul to understand the intelligible. It is a receptive power. The second power, the active intellect, is the power that allows the intellect to abstract the form from the intelligible thing and understand it. For example, a person who has never seen a horse has the passive power to understand what a horse is. If the person then sees a horse, the active intellect allows the soul to abstract from the horse the intelligible form of the horse. For the mind does not take in the actual material horse, but it does take in an intelligible form of it. If the person goes back and tells his friends about the horse, he is recalling that intelligible form through the power of memory. If he theorizes that there must be black horses and brown horses and even horses with wings, he is using the power of his imagination. What if the person pondered whether or not you could eat a horse? Could you hunt a horse for sport? Could you tame it? The person’s power to reflect upon what is a proper act toward the horse, a moral act, is powered by reason. Is reason then a power of the intellect? No. Reason is a movement from one truth to another in order to understand. The person faced with a horse could reason the horse was a living being, an animal, a horse, and even a certain species of horse. Reason allows the mind to come to understand a truth. The intellect, however, simply knows the truth attained. Reason is not a power of the intellect, the reason is to the intellect as movement is to rest.8

  1. Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, ST I-I.75.1 []
  2. ST.I-I.78.2 []
  3. Aquinas on Common Sense, ST I, 78, 4, ad.2. []
  4. The Rational Soul: Following Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas gives five genera of powers in the rational soul: vegetative, sensitive, appetitive, locomotion, and intellectual. Note that the higher souls take on the powers of the lower souls: plants have the vegetative powers, animals have vegetative and sensitive powers, and humans have vegetative, sensitive, and intellectual powers. Aquinas refers to these souls as higher and lower based on the object of the their powers. The vegetative powers – which characterize the vegetative soul – have only the body as their object. The sensitive powers go outside the body and have as their object sensible things. The intellectual powers go even further to have as their object universal being. Another consideration is that the ability for man to reflect, the power of the intellect, is in a real way the Imago Dei in man – the image of God. It allows us to create and to be moral. A final consideration here is that the art by which man learns to reflect better – to reason more properly – is logic. Aquinas gives a brief summary of the difference between animals and the rational animal as an introduction to logic in the prologue of his commentary on Aristotle’s Organon. []
  5. CCC § 1772 []
  6. ST.II-I.8.1 []
  7. Id., citing “the Philosopher says (Ethic. i, 1) that ‘the good is that which all desire.'” []
  8. Reason & Intellect: Boethius gave the analogy that the reason was to the intellect what time was to eternity. []

The Daughters of Lust: 5 Questions on How They Pervert the Soul

Lust is a vice that can easily consume a person’s soul. The consequences are dire. Our Lady of Fatima proclaimed, ‘more souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.’ Understand the vice of lust and her daughters so that the Catholic soul may stand guard against them.

Listers, if a person invites lust into his heart, the daughters of lust will soon follow and nest deep within it. A vice is not a single act. Both vice and virtue are habits. Habits are described by both Aristotle and Aquinas as a species of the category of “quality,” and qualities are difficult to change. When a person habituates themselves to the evil that is lust, that repetitive action changes the quality of their soul. Lust is a vice that can easily consume a person. The consequences are dire. Our Lady of Fatima proclaimed, “more souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.”1 Understand the vice of lust and her daughters so that the Catholic soul may stand guard against them.


1. What are the Daughters of Lust?

St. Thomas Aquinas relies on the authority of Pope St. Gregory the Great to enumerate the so-called daughters of lust. In his Books of Morals, Pope St. Gregory speaks of pride as the Queen of Sins who after conquering a heart invites her generals to dwell within it. The generals of the queen of sins, according to Gregory the Great, are the seven capital vices: (1) vain glory, (2) envy, (3) anger, (4) melancholy, (5) avarice, (6) gluttony, (7) lust. In turn, once one of the capital vices enters the heart, it calls forth its army of corresponding sins. Aquinas speaks of the army of lust as the daughters of lust. According to Pope St. Gregory the Great, the capital vice of lust spawns eight daughters:

  1. Blindness of mind
  2. Thoughtlessness [Inconsiderateness]
  3. Inconstancy
  4. Rashness [Precipitation]
  5. Self-love
  6. Hatred of God
  7. Love of this World [Affection for this present world]
  8. Abhorrence or Despair of a Future World [Dread or despair of that which is to come]

The capital vice of lust and her corresponding daughters convince the conquered heart to continue to engorge itself on pleasurable goods, especially sexual pleasures.


2. What are the powers of the soul?

A man passes by a bakery and smells the sweet buttery scent of fresh baked bread. Immediately, he feels an attraction toward the bread, but he chooses to continue on passed the bakery. What drama has unfolded in the man’s soul? The soul is composed of lower and higher powers. In the lower powers is the sense appetite. The sense appetite comprehends a sensible good through the senses and inclines the soul toward that good. The man apprehended fresh bread and his sense appetite moved him toward it; however, the man did not follow the movement of his appetite. It is the higher powers of the soul – reason and the will – that should order the lower powers; thus, the man’s inclination toward the bread was controlled by his reason and will.2 So too does this order of the soul occur with goods characterized by sexual pleasure. The soul apprehends the good through the senses and is inclined toward the sexual pleasure, but reason and will must order the inclination according to virtue. The capital vice of lust exists when there is a perversion of the relationship between the higher and lower powers of the soul toward a sexual pleasure.


3. How do the Daughters of Lust disorder the soul?

St. Thomas Aquinas explains how the vice of lust and her daughters disorder the soul.

When the lower powers are strongly moved towards their objects, the result is that the higher powers are hindered and disordered in their acts. Now the effect of the vice of lust is that the lower appetite, namely the concupiscible, is most vehemently intent on its object, to wit, the object of pleasure, on account of the vehemence of the pleasure. Consequently the higher powers, namely the reason and the will, are most grievously disordered by lust.

The sense appetite or lower appetite of the soul is generally divided into two parts: the concupiscible appetite and the irascible appetite. The former, concupiscence, is the soul’s inclination toward things which are pleasant and an aversion toward those things which are unpleasant. Consequently, the man’s concupiscible appetite would both draw him toward the sweet smell of fresh bread and push him away from the sordid stench of a sewer. Note also that the initial reaction to the object in question is often involuntary. The irascible appetite may draw the soul toward an arduous good (a good that is difficult to obtain) or may push the soul away from an evil that is difficult to escape. Consequently, the irascible appetite may spark in the soul a surge of courage to conquer an evil or it may spark fear if it is an evil from which the soul should flee.3

Lust deals with a disorder of the concupiscible appetite. Specifically, the concupiscible appetite’s inclination toward a sexual pleasure. In general, as Aquinas stated, lust disorders the soul by having the lower power of the concupiscible appetite toward a sexual pleasure overrun the higher powers of reason and the will. Below are the specifics on how each daughter of lust corresponds to a darkening of the will and reason.


4. How do the Daughters of Lust pervert reason?

The Angelic Doctor lays out four different ways reason acts and how, if corrupted by lust, a daughter of lust perverts the act.

(1) Now the reason has four acts in matters of action. First there is simple understanding, which apprehends some end as good, and this act is hindered by lust, according to Daniel 13:56, “Beauty hath deceived thee, and lust hath perverted thy heart.” On this respect we have “blindness of mind.”

(2) The second act is counsel about what is to be done for the sake of the end: and this is also hindered by the concupiscence of lust. Hence Terence says (Eunuch., act 1, sc. 1), speaking of lecherous love: “This thing admits of neither counsel nor moderation, thou canst not control it by counseling.” On this respect there is “rashness,” which denotes absence of counsel, as stated above (Question 53, Article 3).

(3) The third act is judgment about the things to be done, and this again is hindered by lust. For it is said of the lustful old men (Daniel 13:9): “They perverted their own mind . . . that they might not . . . remember just judgments.” On this respect there is “thoughtlessness.”

(4) The fourth act is the reason’s command about the thing to be done, and this also is impeded by lust, in so far as through being carried away by concupiscence, a man is hindered from doing what his reason ordered to be done. [To this “inconstancy” must be referred.] [The sentence in brackets is omitted in the Leonine edition.] Hence Terence says (Eunuch., act 1, sc. 1) of a man who declared that he would leave his mistress: “One little false tear will undo those words.”

In short, (1) understanding is perverted by blindness of mind (2) asking for counsel is perverted by rashness (3) judgment is perverted by thoughtlessness and (4) the command to act is perverted by inconstancy.4


5. How do the Daughters of Lust pervert the will?

The Universal Doctor lays out how the will submitting to lust spawns the daughters of lust.

(1) On the part of the will there results a twofold inordinate act. One is the desire for the end, to which we refer “self-love,” which regards the pleasure which a man desires inordinately, while on the other hand there is “hatred of God,” by reason of His forbidding the desired pleasure.

(2) The other act is the desire for the things directed to the end. With regard to this there is “love of this world,” whose pleasures a man desires to enjoy, while on the other hand there is “despair of a future world,” because through being held back by carnal pleasures he cares not to obtain spiritual pleasures, since they are distasteful to him.

Note that not all pleasurable goods are disordered, but if man seeks pleasurable goods in an inordinate manner he becomes selfish. In turn, selfishness leads to a hatred of God and his order of creation. Similarly, the man who wills inordinate pleasurable goods simultaneously demonstrates a love of this world and his despair of the future world to come.

Lastly, note that a vice is not a single act. A vice is a habit and a habit is a species of quality – specifically the quality of a man’s soul, and both Aristotle and Aquinas agree that a quality is difficult to change. Therefore, the more lust is allowed to pervert the soul, the greater it will entrench itself and the more the daughters of lust will nest.

  1. Fatima Quote: Read the cited quote and more about Our Lady of Fatima at 4 Things You Must Know about Our Lady of Fatima. []
  2. Further Reading on the Powers of the Soul: For those interested, please consult a Thomistic explanation of the sense appetite, the Catholic Encyclopedia article on Concupiscence, and St. Thomas Aquinas’ explanation of the power of sensuality. []
  3. Concupiscible & Irascible: Aquinas further categorizes these appetites into different passions. The term passion means something that acts upon the soul in distinction to the will first moving the soul toward an object; thus, if a man sees a beautiful woman he may be struck with a passion that affects his soul and inclines the soul toward the woman. Aquinas lists specific passions for each appetite. Under the concupiscible appetite, he lists love (good as such) and hatred (evil as such), desire (good is absent) and aversion (evil is absent), joy (good is present) and sadness (evil is present). Under the irascible appetite, he lists hope (an absent but attainable good) and despair (an absent an unattainable good), courage (a conquerable evil), fear (an unconquerable evil), and anger (present evil). For more see Concupiscence and the Sense Appetite. []
  4. Are All Sexual Acts Lustful? – The obvious answer is no, but Aquinas’ answer is worth reading – especially when attempting to explain the movement of the soul toward pleasurable goods which are in fact good and virtuous. He states, “A sin, in human acts, is that which is against the order of reason. Now the order of reason consists in its ordering everything to its end in a fitting manner. Wherefore it is no sin if one, by the dictate of reason, makes use of certain things in a fitting manner and order for the end to which they are adapted, provided this end be something truly good.” For more on lust in general, visit Lust & the Common Good. []

The Queen of Sin: 10 Things Catholics Need to Know

For when the Queen of Sins has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste.

Listers, the Queen of Sin conquers the hearts of men and surrenders them to her generals. It is a war of vice and virtue. No individual, however, becomes virtuous or vicious because of a single act. Both virtue and vice are habits. The Philosopher, Aristotle, defines a habit as “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill.” Those habits which habituate the person toward the good, are called virtues. Those habits that dispose the person to evil are called vices. A person’s habits define who they are. Following Aristotle, Aquinas notes that habits are a species of quality. In this light, the Philosopher states, “a habit is a quality which it is difficult to change.”1

To change the quality of the soul is difficult. It is a difficulty that has served as a classic inspiration for tradition Catholic literature and commentary. One immediately thinks of the battle of the pagan gods against Christianity in Psychomachia or the journey of Dante the Pilgrim in The Divine Comedy. In this tradition stands Pope St. Gregory the Great’s The Books of the Morals: An Exposition on the Book of Blessed Job. The work is often cited in St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica treatment of vice and virtue. In the selection below, Pope St. Gregory explains the hierarchy and methodology of the vices.2


1. The Queen of Sin

Pope St. Gregory the Great explains, “For the tempting vices, which fight against us in invisible contest in behalf of the pride which reigns over them, some of them go first, like captains, others follow, after the manner of an army. For all faults do not occupy the heart with equal access. But while the greater and the few surprise a neglected mind, the smaller and the numberless pour themselves upon it in a whole body.”3

For when pride, the queen of sins, has fully possessed a conquered heart, she surrenders it immediately to seven principal sins, as if to some of her generals, to lay it waste. And an army in truth follows these generals, because, doubtless, there spring up from them importunate hosts of sins.

The Saint continues, “Which we set forth the better, if we specially bring forward in enumeration, as we are able, the leaders themselves and their army. For pride is the root of all evil, of which it is said, as Scripture bears witness; Pride is the beginning of all sin. [Ecclus. 10, 1] But seven principal vices, as its first progeny, spring doubtless from this poisonous root, namely, (1) vain glory, (2) envy, (3) anger, (4) melancholy, (5) avarice, (6) gluttony, (7) lust. For, because He grieved that we were held captive by these seven sins of pride, therefore our Redeemer came to the spiritual battle of our liberation, full of the spirit of sevenfold grace.”4

“But these several sins have each their army against us….”5


2. The Army of Vain Glory

Along with listing the vices spawned from the capital vices, Pope St. Gregory also explains how each vice – once rooted in the heart – attempts to lead it into madness. He explains, “But the leaders are well said to exhort, the armies to howl, because the first vices force themselves into the deluded mind as if under a kind of reason, but the countless vices which follow, while they hurry it on to every kind of madness, confound it, as it were, by bestial clamour.”6

“For vain glory is wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, Thou oughtest to aim at greater things, that, as thou hast been able to surpass many in power, thou mayest be able to benefit many also.”

Vain Glory

  • Disobedience
  • Boasting
  • Hypocrisy
  • Contentions
  • Obstinacies
  • Discords
  • Presumptions of novelties


3. The Army of Envy

“Envy is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, In what art thou inferior to this or that person? why then art thou not either equal or superior to them? What great things art thou able to do, which they are not able to do! They ought not then to be either superior, or even equal, to thyself.”


  • Hatred
  • Whispering
  • Detraction
  • Exultation at the misfortunes of a neighbour
  • Affliction at his prosperity


4. The Army of Anger

“Anger is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, The things that are done to thee cannot be borne patiently; nay rather, patiently to endure them is a sin; because if thou dost not withstand them with great indignation, they are afterwards heaped upon thee without measure.”


  • Strifes
  • Swelling of mind
  • Insults
  • Clamour
  • Indignation
  • Blasphemies


5. The Army of Melancholy

“Melancholy is also wont to exhort the conquered heart as if with reason, when it says, What ground hast thou to rejoice, when thou endurest so many wrongs from thy neighbours? Consider with what sorrow all must be looked upon, who are turned in such gall of bitterness against thee.”


  • Malice
  • Rancour
  • Cowardice
  • Despair
  • Slothfulness in fulfilling the commands
  • Wandering of the mind on unlawful objects


6. The Army of Avarice

“Avarice also is wont to exhort the conquered mind, as if with reason, when it says, It is a very blameless thing, that thou desirest some things to possess; because thou seekest not to be increased, but art afraid of being in want; and that which another retains for no good, thou thyself expendest to better purpose.”


  • Treachery
  • Fraud
  • Deceit
  • Perjury
  • Restlessness
  • Violence
  • Hardnesses of heart against compassion


7. The Army of Gluttony

“Gluttony is also wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, God has created all things clean, in order to be eaten, and he who refuses to fill himself with food, what else does he do but gainsay the gift that has been granted him.”


  • Foolish mirth
  • Scurrility
  • Uncleanness
  • Babbling
  • Dulness of sense in understanding


8. The Army of Lust

“Lust also is wont to exhort the conquered heart, as if with reason, when it says, Why enlargest thou not thyself now in thy pleasure, when thou knowest not what may follow thee? Thou oughtest not to lose in longings the time thou hast received; because thou knowest not how speedily it may pass by. For if God had not wished man to be united in the pleasure of coition, He would not, at the first beginning of the human race, have made them male and female.”


  • Blindness of mind
  • Inconsiderateness
  • Inconstancy
  • Precipitation
  • Self-love
  • Hatred of God
  • Affection for this present world
  • Dread or despair of that which is to come


9. Vices that Beget Other Vices

After listing the armies of each capital vice, Pope St. Gregory the Great explains that some of the vices are so intimately connected that there is a great danger of them spawning their counterpart. He teaches:

  • “But they are, each of them, so closely connected with other, that they spring only the one from the other. For the first offspring of pride is vain glory, and this, when it hath corrupted the oppressed mind, presently begets envy. Because doubtless while it is seeking the power of an empty name, it feels envy against any one else being able to obtain it.”7
  • “Envy also generates anger; because the more the mind is pierced by the inward wound of envy, the more also is the gentleness of tranquillity lost. And because a suffering member, as it were, is touched, the hand of opposition is therefore felt as if more heavily impressed.”
  • “Melancholy also arises from anger, because the more extravagantly the agitated mind strikes itself, the more it confounds itself by condemnation; and when it has lost the sweetness of tranquillity, nothing supports it but the grief resulting from agitation.
  • “Melancholy also runs down into avarice; because, when the disturbed heart has lost the satisfaction of joy within, it seeks for sources of consolation without, and is more anxious to possess external goods, the more it has no joy on which to fall back within.
  • “But after these, there remain behind two carnal vices, gluttony and lust. But it is plain to all that lust springs from gluttony, when in the very distribution of the members, the genitals appear placed beneath the belly. And hence when the one is inordinately pampered, the other is doubtless excited to wantonness.”

Pope St. Gregory the Great’s emphasis on the vice of melancholy is unique and merits close consideration. Modernity is uniquely marked by a melancholic spirit. Whether its suicide being praised as man’s one true choice in life or the prevalence of suicide amongst the general public, the vice has rooted itself deep in the heart of modern man.


10. Solider of God

Pope St. Gregory the Great ends his chapter by extolling the Solider of God. He specifically lauds the soldier’s ability to smell the scent of the vices, which is certainly an analog for the virtue of prudence. He states: “But the soldier of God, since he endeavours skillfully to pursue the contests with vices, smells the battle afar off; because while he considers, with anxious thought, what power the leading evils possess to persuade the mind, he detects, by the sagacity of his scent, the exhortation of the leaders. And because he beholds the confusion of subsequent iniquities by foreseeing them afar off, he finds out, as it were, by his scent the howling of the army.”

  1. Habits: For more on habits and the source for the given quotes, see ST I-II.49.1-2 []
  2. Virtues & Values: Since Vatican II the Church has fallen into the modernist trap of speaking in terms of value. Values are subjective and carry the only the worth an individual wills them to have. A man may value golf or a woman’s right to abortion. One reason modern society cannot be moral is that it lacks language to even discuss morals. In contrast, virtues are characterized by an objectivity that a person can habituate themselves to good or evil. []
  3. Moral. Book XXXI, Chapter XLV. (Paragraph 87 []
  4. The numbering of the vices is an addition by SPL. []
  5. The listing of the armies is located in paragraph 88. []
  6. All quotes on how the vices lead the heart into further madness are taken from paragraph 90. []
  7. Order the Sins Spawn in the Heart – paragraph 89, numbering added by SPL for clarity. []

4 Steps to Understand the Crisis of Modernity

Though each modern philosopher worked toward his own end, they all contributed to the grand project of modernity – the emancipation of the human will from all externalities. It is not God, nature, or history that grants this life value. It is the human will.

Listers, modernity developed as a rejection. Though each modern philosopher worked toward his own end, they all contributed to the grand project of modernity – the emancipation of the human will from all externalities. It is not God, nature, or history that grants this life value. It is the human will. The following list views modernity through the lens of political philosophy and maps a step by step development of how modern man slowly lost faith in reason. The primary source for this list is an essay entitled “The Three Waves of Modernity” by Leo Strauss. Strauss was a political philosopher who almost single handedly returned these questions of modernity to academia. Though not a Catholic, Strauss’ critique of modernity has resonated with the faithful and serves as an excellent starting point to discuss the problems of modernity.1 One note of caution. Modernity and modernism are distinct concepts. Modernity is a historical term indicating the post-medieval world. Modernism is a Catholic term indicating an amalgamation of principles that are in error. For example, all men born in modernity would be moderns, but only those who follow modernism would be modernists. This list is a primer on how modernity developed and why it is now in crisis.


1. The First Wave of Modernity

Machiavelli Statue at the Uffizi, Italy.
Machiavelli Statue at the Uffizi, Italy.

The project to emancipate the human will from all externalities begins with an exiled Italian politician named Niccolo Machiavelli (d. 1527). Machiavelli advocated an abandonment of the old “imagined republics” of the pre-moderns. The imagined republics were, inter alia, Aristotle’s polis governed by nature and nature’s virtues – prudence, justice, temperance, & fortitude – and the Kingdom of God as articulated in Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. In the West, particularly after St. Thomas Aquinas, nature and divine revelation were seen as compatible and formed one ordered cosmological whole. The state or polis existed so that all men may live well and live virtuously. Under Machiavelli, however, two radical concepts were constructed. First, he jettisoned any cosmological ordered whole in favor of treating different sciences as isolated bodies. For example, for Aristotle or Aquinas their writings on politics are unintelligible without their writings on ethics. In contradistinction, Machiavelli held “political life proper is not subject to morality.”2 Second, Machiavelli reinterpreted virtue. No longer was virtue a good habit, but rather it was the cunning ability to gain and maintain power within the political sphere.3

What Machiavelli did for the prince, Thomas Hobbes (d. 1679) did for all citizens. Continuing the emancipation of the human will from all externalities, Hobbes held that nature imported no morality to man. The pre-modern world under Aquinas held that nature granted humanity three innate inclinations: (1) self-preservation (2) procreation and the education of offspring and (3) an inclination to seek the good. In contrast, Hobbes held that nature gave to man only the inclination of self-preservation; thus, where the pre-moderns saw nature as a moral standard, Hobbes saw nature as a chaotic clash between the right of self-preservation of individuals. In short, the man’s natural state is a state of war. In this context, Hobbes developed two key concepts for modernity. First, Western political speech began to favor speaking of individual rights rather than the external standard of natural law; and second, Hobbes laid the foundation for the West’s obsession with equality. Note, however, that Hobbes’ focus on equality is set within his belief that nature is a state of war. In this context, Hobbes believed all men are equal because all men have the ability to murder one another. Murder was the great equalizer and served as the foundation of modern notions of equality. On a final note, it is critical to understand that in this Hobbesian nature of war and chaos, humanity’s salvation lies in granting its power of self-preservation to the state, the Leviathan. It is the state that will be man’s salvation.4


2. The Second Wave of Modernity

A 1766 portrait of Rousseau wearing an Armenian costume by Allan Ramsay.
A 1766 portrait of Rousseau wearing an Armenian costume by Allan Ramsay.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau (d. 1778) ushered in a “radicalization of the Hobbesian concept of the state of nature.”5 The pre-moderns taught that man was by nature a rational and political animal. Under Hobbes, man became a pre-political animal only seeking society to escape a nature of war and chaos. Under Rousseau, man is not even a rational animal by nature. According to Rousseau, man’s “state of nature is subhuman or prehuman,” because rationality was actually an acquired trait.”6 For Rousseau, man’s natural state is twofold. First, he is interested in self-preservation. Second, he holds a natural repugnance to “seeing any sentient being, especially our fellow man, perish or suffer.”7 Rousseau’s concept of repugnance is not charity or compassion, but simply the belief “that could be me.” Rousseau went as far to claim that neither marriage nor familial ties are natural to man. Any notion of charity is simply a sustained pity toward a particular person. For example, a mother does not nurse her baby out of love but simply to relieve the pain in her swollen breasts.

Any reinterpretation of nature demands a reinterpretation of virtue. For Rousseau, human nature is by and large a malleable concept; thus, what is and is not virtuous is also malleable. In this context, Rousseau continued modernity’s aim to emancipate the human will from all externalities by submitting his concept of the “General Will.” In short, Rousseau attempted to establish virtue by a consensus of the general public.8 The General Will produces a rational society under the belief that all things generally willed by the public must be rational.9 Virtue and reason become subject to democratic rule. Another furtherance of modernity is found in Rousseau’s treatment of history. Oddly, while Rousseau advocated his narrative of man’s natural state, he also stated that his version of human nature “perhaps never existed.”10 Under Rousseau, Western man begins to treat human history as a narrative free from an external control – nature or God. Most notably, history is seen as a malleable tale of the human will than the narrative of God’s people.11


3. The Third Wave of Modernity

Drawing by Hans Olde from the photographic series, The Ill Nietzsche, mid-1899.
Drawing by Hans Olde from the photographic series, The Ill Nietzsche, mid-1899.

Friedrich Nietzsche (d. 1900) heralded the third and final wave of modernity. The suspicions the second wave voiced concerning history are confirmed as Nietzsche declares history is meaningless.The only purpose of history is to show that history is purposeless. There is no transcendent truth – nature or God – that connects the historical eras of humanity; thus, each historical period and their inhabitants are severed from one another. For example, modern man studying the Scriptures or ancient Greece is meaningless. All apparent ideals and truths are simply “human creations or projects” encapsulated within that specific time period. If God, nature, and history are all meaningless, what is left for modern man? The will.

The project of modernity to emancipate the will from all externalities – God, nature, and history – comes to a zenith in the Nietzschean concept of the Uber-man. With God, nature, and history all cast aside as meaningless, the third wave is marked by a type of nihilism. Nietzschean nihilism, however, sees the canvas of life wiped clean and primed for creativity. Nietzsche believed “a living thing seeks above all to discharge its strength – life itself is [a] will to power.”12 Nietzschean nihilism is not a relaxed relativism. In a world where all value is simply a human project, there will arise individuals who take advantage of reality. The individuals are called Uber-men. First, the Uber-man will shed the effect the concepts of God, nature, or history attempt to place on him. Second, the Uber-man will realize the world is a blank canvas upon which he can impose his creative will. At the end of the third wave, human will stands liberated from not only God, nature, and history but from reason itself. The creativity of the human will is the source of all value.


4. Modernity in Crisis

The crisis of modernity is exemplified in the fact that “modern western man no longer knows what he wants” and has lost all “faith in reason’s ability to validate its highest aims.”13 For modern man, reason can no longer discern any meaning from God, nature, or history. Value in the modern world is a human project. Overall, modernity came into existence as a rejection. It posits nothing new, just an ever growing privation of humanity’s belief that reason can perceive the world around it. Even when a modern philosopher thought he was solving the problems of modernity, he was actually contributing to the slow atrophy of reason.

As the three waves demonstrate, it is not difficult to imagine that Catholicism stands as the complete antithesis to modernity’s project to emancipate the human will. Though this list approaches modernity from the science of political philosophy, there are a few observations worth sharing on the relationship between the modern philosophers and Catholicism. First, every modern thinker had to set aside Catholicism in order to submit their own belief system. Catholicism – especially Scholasticism under St. Thomas Aquinas – stood as a bastion of support that God, nature, and history were all harmonious and rational. Under the waves of modernity, Catholicism was ridiculed and mocked, but it was never philosophically engaged. For example, Hobbes jeers transubstantiation and Scholasticism as difficult to understand but never attempts to prove them wrong. The second observation is that the rejection of Catholicism leads to the rise of modern myths. Rousseau is a classic example of this methodology. Rousseau jettisons Catholicism in favor of his noble savage concept and then predicates his views of reason and nature upon it. He then, however, turns around and claims that his noble savage narrative need not even be true. The three waves demonstrate that modernity is in crisis, because modernity developed as a rejection and now no one knows what – or even how – to believe in anything.

  1. A Further Comment on Strauss: Faithful institutions such as the University of Dallas and Ave Maria University rely heavily on Strauss’ critique of modernity, but not necessarily on his solutions. Strauss is not a Catholic and consequently did not see faith and reason as harmonious. If anything, he found Athens and Jerusalem to be at odds, while Catholicism sees faith and reason as one in Rome. In short, Strauss offers excellent critiques of modernity, of which Catholicism has the solutions. []
  2. Strauss, 86. []
  3. Machiavelli & Modern Science: The Spirit of Machiavelli is seen in two other first wave philosophers – Rene Descartes (d. 1650) and Francis Bacon (d. 1626). Broadly speaking, both thinkers agreed with Machiavelli that nature was not a moral standard; rather, nature was something to be conquered, vexed, and unlocked. In short, modern science began to view an individual’s health as their highest good. Man becomes the master of nature and his conquest will aid in his self-preservation. []
  4. Quotes & Citations for Thomas Hobbes: SPL has written an extensive Catholic guide to Thomas Hobbes, which is littered with quotes and citations. []
  5. Strauss, 90 []
  6. Strauss, 90 []
  7. Jean-Jacques Rousseau. First & Second Discourse (Indianapolis: Hackett), 35. []
  8. Strauss, 91. []
  9. Strauss, 91. []
  10. Historicism: Under the second wave the concept of “historicism” begins to take root. Human history sheds the external controls of God and nature. There is no natural law inherent in men and there is no divine story coming to an end. It is just human history. This first brand of historicism is referred to as theoretical historicism. []
  11. Kant: Another second wave philosopher is Immanuel Kant (d. 1804). In short, Kant attempts to handle modernity’s problem of jettisoning nature but needing morality; thus, Kant radicalizes the human will into a universal compass for morality. In Kant’s famous categorical imperative, he states, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.” Consequently, Kant establishes “universal legislation” predicated upon man’s rationality. The “moral laws” of man are “no longer understood a natural laws,” but rather “reason replaces nature” as humanity is now “radically liberated from the tutelage of nature.” Strauss, 92. []
  12. Friedrich Nietzsche. Trans. Walter Kaufman. Beyond Good and Evil. (New York: Vintage Books, 1966), 21. []
  13. Strauss, 81-82. []

The 6 Step Guide to Aquinas’ Natural Law in a Modern World

Aquinas teaches the three precepts of Natural Law are (1) self-preservation (2) procreation & education of offspring, and (3) natural inclination toward the good, God.

Brief Outline of the Four Laws

Eternal Law – A type of the Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their end.

Divine Law – The historical laws of Scripture given to man through God’s self-revelation.

The Old Law – Extrinsic focus, fear, and earthly rewards – foreshadows the NT
The New Law – Intrinsic focus, love, and heavenly rewards – Perfects the OT

Natural Law – The Eternal Law of God imprinted on all things, from which “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”

Human Law – Laws of governments that are dictates of practical reason from the general precepts of Natural Law. 


Sunset over New York City 1932. - Wikipedia
Sunset over New York City 1932. – Wikipedia


1. What is Natural Law?

“It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law.”1 Eternal Law is the type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things toward their end. Similar to how the carpenter’s idea of a chair is then imprinted onto the wood, so too is Eternal law imprinted upon all things. The imprint of Eternal Law on man is Natural Law. It is the general moral precepts imprinted on the hearts of humanity; however, individual persons participate in Natural Law via their reasoning. Aquinas believes all persons may know Natural Law through their reason, but not all persons reason equally. Aquinas does not posit an egalitarian view of reason. Some persons will understand more and some less. Notice too this is a very concrete notion of participation that is available to all humanity. While participation is an abused word in philosophical and theological circles, Aquinas presents a brilliant notion of participation in the Eternal through the Natural Law.2


2. What is the first indemonstrable principle?

What is meant by the term “first indemonstrable principle”? It is called indemonstrable because it is not deduced from any other truth. If I say Socrates is a man. All men are mortal. Socrates is mortal. The last statement is a deduction from the first two. An indemonstrable principle is not deduced. It is simply known. Aquinas gives the following examples:

Hence it is that, as Boethius says… certain axioms or propositions are universally self-evident to all; and such are those propositions whose terms are known to all, as, “Every whole is greater than its part,” and, “Things equal to one and the same are equal to one another.” But some propositions are self-evident only to the wise, who understand the meaning of the terms of such propositions: thus to one who understands that an angel is not a body, it is self-evident that an angel is not circumscriptively in a place: but this is not evident to the unlearned, for they cannot grasp it.

What is the first indemonstrable principle? Aquinas calls this particular indemonstrable principle first because it is the basis for all other principles. The Angelic Doctor states:

Wherefore the first indemonstrable principle is that “the same thing cannot be affirmed and denied at the same time,” which is based on the notion of “being” and “not-being”: and on this principle all others are based, as is stated in Metaph. iv, text. 9.

The first indemonstrable principle of our apprehension is being. This exists. This does not exist. It is in a person’s apprehension, simply; however, since man is a rational animal, what is the first thing a person apprehends via reason? Following Aristotle, Aquinas teaches:

Now as “being” is the first thing that falls under the apprehension simply, so “good” is the first thing that falls under the apprehension of the practical reason, which is directed to action: since every agent acts for an end under the aspect of good. Consequently the first principle of practical reason is one founded on the notion of good, viz. that “good is that which all things seek after.”

The first principle of practical reason is “the aspect of good.” All men seek what is good. The concept can seem lofty, but a more mundane example is happiness. Aquinas posits that all men seek happiness as well. While most do not associate happiness with the law, the concept of happiness is an excellent starting point for discussing natural law. In general, there is a logical movement from understanding that all men seek happiness, to the fuller understanding that all men seek what is good, to a discussion of what is the good that all men seek. Starting the conversation with all men seek happiness is generally more palatable to modern man than all men seek the good, God.


3. What is the first precept of law?

In short, the first indemonstrable principle of apprehension, simply, is being. The first indemonstrable principle of practical reason is good. And if all men are rational animals then all men seek what is good. Aquinas applies this rationale to the law:

Hence this is the first precept of law, that “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” All other precepts of the natural law are based upon this: so that whatever the practical reason naturally apprehends as man’s good (or evil) belongs to the precepts of the natural law as something to be done or avoided.

Aquinas arrives at the first precept of law: “good is to be done and pursued, and evil is to be avoided.” It is upon this precept all other precepts flow. Keep in mind Aquinas’ definition of law as well. A law is “an ordinance of reason for the common good, made by him who has care of the community, and promulgated.”3


4. Is there an order to the moral precepts?

The first precept of law – that good is to be done and pursued and evil is to be avoided – is the foundation to the general moral precepts of natural law. Before going into detail about these precepts, Aquinas explains how the precepts will be ordered. He teaches that precepts of natural law will be ordered according to the natural inclinations in man.

Since, however, good has the nature of an end, and evil, the nature of a contrary, hence it is that all those things to which man has a natural inclination, are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and consequently as objects of pursuit, and their contraries as evil, and objects of avoidance. Wherefore according to the order of natural inclinations, is the order of the precepts of the natural law.

Discussed further below, Aquinas will order the precepts of natural law according to man’s inclinations – with the lower inclinations being ordered by the higher inclinations, i.e., that inclination man shares with all things that live will be the lowest, while the inclination that is unique to man as the only rational animal will be highest.

Note, however, that Aquinas speaks of inclinations and not instinct. Typically, an instinct is determined toward an end, while an inclination tends towards an end – but is ultimately indeterminate. Humanity is not born participating in Natural Law, but persons are born with the inclinations toward the precepts of Natural Law. Man participates in those inclinations by reason; thus, the wicked, for example, do not participate in Natural Law for they are recalcitrant to their inclinations toward the precepts of Natural Law.

It should be noted that this discussion is paramount to understanding Aquinas’ treatment of virtue and vice. For a man who acts repeatedly on those inclinations toward the good forms a habit. Habits that create a disposition toward the good are called virtues. Habits that reject those inclinations and dispose persons toward evil are called vices. It also rests on the neglected truth that sin is always and forever irrational.


5. What are the precepts of Natural Law?

According to Aquinas, there are three precepts that should be considered when discussing Natural Law. The Angelic Doctor states:

Because in man there is first of all an inclination to good in accordance with the nature which he has in common with all substances: inasmuch as every substance seeks the preservation of its own being, according to its nature: and by reason of this inclination, whatever is a means of preserving human life, and of warding off its obstacles, belongs to the natural law.

Secondly, there is in man an inclination to things that pertain to him more specially, according to that nature which he has in common with other animals: and in virtue of this inclination, those things are said to belong to the natural law, “which nature has taught to all animals” [Pandect. Just. I, tit. i], such as sexual intercourse, education of offspring and so forth.

Thirdly, there is in man an inclination to good, according to the nature of his reason, which nature is proper to him: thus man has a natural inclination to know the truth about God, and to live in society: and in this respect, whatever pertains to this inclination belongs to the natural law; for instance, to shun ignorance, to avoid offending those among whom one has to live, and other such things regarding the above inclination.

To wit, the three precepts are (1) self-preservation (2) procreation & education of offspring and (3) natural inclination toward the good, God; however, how do these precepts relate to one another? Are they all equal? Do they compete against one another? To the contrary, Aquinas holds to the general truth that a higher principle orders the lower. For example, the first and second precepts are those we share with both plants and animals. All things seek self-preservation. The second precept is shared with animals, because irrational animals procreate and educate their offspring; however, it is the third precept, the highest precept, that is predicated upon man as man, i.e., the rational animal. It is specifically man’s inclination toward the good, the truth, God, that should order the other two precepts.

For example, among the irrational animals, it appears the first precept of self-preservation is not always true. Nature is full of examples of mothers who would die to protect their young or males that die in order to procreate. In these examples, the lower precept of self-preservation is ordered and governed by the higher precept of procreating and educating offspring. In the rational animal, man, the third precept of seeking God should order self-preservation and the manner in which humanity procreates and educates. The operative word is should, because man is not forced to hold to the precepts of Natural Law – but only chooses to via reason. The wicked, for example, will not hold to these precepts nor will they order them correctly.


6. How does Aquinas differ from Modernist views?

Broadly speaking, nature may be spoken of in three ways: a Thomistic nature, a reductionist nature, and a mechanistic nature. The Thomistic nature is characterized by the belief that (1) the general moral precepts of Natural Law are available to all men in some degree, (2) man participates in these general moral precepts via his reason, and (3) the moral precepts exist in a hierarchical order.

Arguably, a reductionist theory reverses the teachings of Aquinas. In Aquinas, the higher orders the lower, while a reductionist view advocates that the lower orders the higher. If humanity has a moral question, it should look to the animals or the environment. For example, man’s sexuality is understood by looking at the sexual life of animals. Is homosexual activity permissible for man? Well, homosexuality does periodically occur among animals species; thus, it is permissible and not contrary to natural law. To wit, the rational animals uses his rationality to conclude that which is permissible for the irrational animals is permissible for man.

The reductionist view is often times associated with a Hobbesian view of nature. Thomas Hobbes taught that nature is a constant state of war. Nature is a violent chaos. Nature is the red tooth and claw. In more evolutionary terms, natural law is simply the survival of the fittest. The first precept of self-preservation dominates all others. Here man looks to nature and discards it as a moral standard. Instead of viewing reason as the principle by which the lower precepts of nature are ordered, man sees his reason as the instrument that overcomes nature. Nature becomes something to vex and dominate, not follow. Man views himself as something liberated from nature and free to create social and moral constructs free from any natural external standard.

Mechanistic theories are based off strict necessity. Mechanistic views hold that man is governed under a biological illusion, i.e., free will is actually determined by nature. While the Thomistic approach holds that nature is not governed by a strict necessity, it does not exclude biology playing a role in the decision making of human beings. For example, a full moon’s gravitational pull affects both the oceans and the human body. While the Thomistic view acknowledges influences, it does not believe man is forced or biologically determined to certain ends. Reason and free will remain. One key issue with the mechanistic view of nature is that it flattens nature into equal parts, i.e., both rational and irrational animals are equitable under the force of nature. In contrast, the Thomistic view holds a certain gradation or hierarchy to nature, with man, the rational animal, being the higher creature – the creature that has the natural precept to seek the good, God.


SPL on Aquinas’ Treatment of Law – Summa Theologica Reference

  1. Law and the Common Good: 9 Introductory Catholic Questions – I-II.90
  2. Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws – I-II.91
  3. 4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture (Divine Law) by Aquinas – I-II.91.4
  4. Does the Law Exist to Make Men Virtuous? 6 Thoughts from Aquinas – I-II.92.1
  5. 4 Other Questions on Virtue and Law – I-II.92.1
  6. Divine Government: 6 Questions by Aquinas on the Eternal Law – I-II.93
  7. 3 Steps to Understand How Humanity Participates in Natural Law – I-II.94.1
  1. Natural Law, cf. I-II.91.2. []
  2. Natural Law: All quotes unless otherwise specified are taken from the Summa Theologica I-II.94.2. []
  3. Definition of a Law: ST I-II.90.4. []

3 Steps to Understand How Humanity Participates in Natural Law

The vehicle by which man knows Natural Law is reason and understanding. Here, Aquinas makes a second important distinction – some men will understand more, some less. Aquinas is not promoting an egalitarian view of reason. All men may know, but all men will not know equally.

The Four Laws

Eternal Law – A type of Divine Wisdom of God that moves all things to their end.

Divine Law – The historical laws of Scripture given to man through God’s self-revelation.

The Old Law – Extrinsic focus, fear, and earthly rewards – foreshadows the NT
The New Law – Intrinsic focus, love, and heavenly rewards – Perfects the OT

Natural Law – The Eternal Law of God imprinted on all things, from which “they derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”

Human Law – Laws of governments that are dictates of practical reason from the general precepts of Natural Law.


Leonardo da Vinci, sketches of the brain.
Leonardo da Vinci, sketches of the brain.

1. Do all men know Natural Law?

Eternal Law is the type of Divine Wisdom that moves all things to their end. In his treatment on Eternal Law, Aquinas teaches that man does not know Eternal Law directly, but can know the law by its effects. Just as one may know the sun by its sunlight. Eternal Law is imprinted on all things and all things partake in Eternal Law; and, it is from this imprint that all things “derive their respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends.”1

How may one describe the “respective inclinations to their proper acts and ends” in humanity? The Angelic Doctor states, “wherefore [the rational creature, i.e., man] has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end: and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called the natural law.”2 In his treatment on Eternal Law, Aquinas differs from some ancient philosophers by stating all men may know Natural Law. The vehicle by which man knows Natural Law is reason and understanding. Here, Aquinas makes a second important distinction – some men will understand more, some less. Aquinas is not promoting an egalitarian view of reason. All men may know, but all men will not know equally.

In clarification by contrast, the rational animal of Creation, i.e., the human, participates in Natural Law by reason, but the irrational animals participate in Natural Law by an “inward motive principle.” Note the important implication that humanity participates in Natural Law by choice.


2. What is a habit?

Aquinas’ first question is whether or not Natural Law may be spoken of as a habit. What is a habit? A habit is a series of acts that constitute a practice. The Philosopher, Aristotle, defines a habit as “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill.” Those habits which habituate the person toward the good, we call virtues. Those habits that dispose the person to evil are call vices. A person’s habits define who they are. Following Aristotle, Aquinas notes that habits are a species of quality. In this light, the Philosopher states, “a habit is a quality which it is difficult to change.”3 

There are naturally good habits, which are called the Natural Virtues or the Cardinal Virtues, i.e., prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Prudence is the “elective habit” the habit of right reasoning. Justice is the habit of proper order and the highest virtue of the State. Temperance is the habit that holds a person to reason in the face of something pleasurable. Fortitude is the habit that holds a person to reason when something would push it away in fear. These are called the Natural Virtues because they are available to all men. Is Natural Law, then, like a natural virtue?


3. Is Natural Law a habit?

Is Natural Law a habit? Aquinas makes the distinction between that which is a habit and that which persons hold as a habit. Natural Law is a habit in the second sense. In in first notion, Natural Law cannot be an essential habit of humanity, because Natural Law is “something appointed by reason.” Natural Law is the Eternal Law of God imprinted onto man, but man’s participation in Natural Law comes through understanding. Here, Aquinas highlights infants and the wicked as those who do not participate in Natural Law. Consequently, it is not an essential habit of mankind. 

Natural Law is a habit in the second sense. Aquinas makes the distinction that indemonstrable principles themselves are not habits, but they are the principles of the habits. Consequently, Natural Law insofar as it is indemonstrable is not a habit, but it is the principle behind many habits. For example, St. Basil speaks of synderesis as a “law of the mind.” Synderesis may be summarized as a habit by which a man knows what is good and what is evil. In Aquinas’ understanding, synderesis would be the habit that has as its principle Natural Law, but Natural Law itself would not properly be a habit, but a law. It follows, that Natural Law would also be the principle behind all the Natural Virtues discussed above.

The next question Aquinas takes up in his discussion on law is what are the precepts of Natural Law? Or rather, if Natural Law is the principle of good habits, what is it that Natural Law imports to those who reflect on it? What are its general moral precepts?

SPL on Aquinas’ Treatment of Law – Summa Theologica Reference

  1. Law and the Common Good: 9 Introductory Catholic Questions – I-II.90
  2. Think Like a Catholic: 7 Questions on the Four Laws – I-II.91
  3. 4 Reasons God Gave Us Scripture (Divine Law) by Aquinas – I-II.91.4
  4. Does the Law Exist to Make Men Virtuous? 6 Thoughts from Aquinas – I-II.92.1
  5. 4 Other Questions on Virtue and Law – I-II.92.1
  6. Divine Government: 6 Questions by Aquinas on the Eternal Law – I-II.93
  1. Natural Law: This list is a summary of I-II.94.1 []
  2. Natural Law & Scripture: While there are many examples, Aquinas uses the following as an example of an innate moral compass in man: “The light of Thy countenance, O Lord, is signed upon us”: thus implying that the light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else than an imprint on us of the Divine light. It is therefore evident that the natural law is nothing else than the rational creature’s participation of the eternal law. []
  3. Habits: For more on habits and the source for the given quotes, see ST I-II.49.1-2. []

9 Quotes on the Dignity and Value of Women in the Catholic Church

Listers, the Catholic Church has often been accused by her opponents as a misogynistic institution; however, this false accusation can be easily refuted by a careful look at what the Church actually teaches on the dignity of women. I believe that the reason for this misguided accusation streams from a faulty view of service and vocation, and the perpetuated ideal that man and woman are in competition for God’s love.

For some reason, since the Fall man and woman have been fighting this ridiculous and fruitless “battle of the sexes;” however, “in the beginning it was not so.” God created man and woman not for competition for His love, but as a service to one another as they grow in relationship with God. The song “Anything You Can Do” has become a mantra of the secular feminist movement, and it also shows that once again the secular feminist movement has completely missed the point. In this age after the Cross, there is no competition between man and woman. There is only love expressed through true vocation and the selfless act of service. Perhaps that is why they cannot understand the Catholic Church’s stance on the dignity of women. What we see as the beautiful and freeing defense of women’s exclusive and honored place in the Church as “mother” and “virgin”, the world sees only as another doctrine that limits and atrophies the abilities of women.

I personally believe that it is the secular feminist movement that is prevalent in today’s society that has enslaved modern women to be female eunuchs serving the false idol of “sexual freedom.” For me it does not make sense that to be sexually free we must deny what makes us women by prohibiting our fertility, regretting our children, and demeaning our men. To be free, women must deny what makes them inherently women? Women must begrudge themselves their distinctiveness in order to be truly free? It just does not follow. This issue, of course, cannot be completely refuted in matter of two paragraphs. For a more thorough and theological look at the Church’s teaching of the dignity of women, I ask you all take a gander at Blessed John Paul II’s Mulieris Dignitatem. Now on to the quotes:

1. Women of Grace, Brave and Invincible

I feel an indescribable pleasure in reading the Acts of the Martyrs; but when the Martyr is a woman, my enthusiasm is doubled. For the frailer the instrument, the great is the grace, the brighter the trophy, the grander the victory; and this, not because of her weakness, but because the devil is conquered by her, by whom he once conquered us. He conquered by a woman, and now a woman conquers him. She that was once his weapon is now his destroyer, brave and invincible. That first one sinned, and died; this one died that she might not sin. Eve was flushed by a lying promise, and broke the law of God; our heroine disdained to live when her living was to depend on her breaking her faith to Him who was her dearest Lord. What excuse, after this, for men, if they be soft and cowards? Can they hope for pardon, when women fought the holy battle with such brave, and manly, and generous hearts? — John Chrysostom, Homil. de diversis novi Testamenti locis, quoted in Alice von Hildebrand, Man and Woman: A Divine Invention, 61. 


2. Women Are the Reflection of Loftiest Goals of All Human Hearts

This Marian dimension of Christian life takes on special importance in relation to women and their status. In fact, femininity has a unique relationship with the Mother of the Redeemer, a subject which can be studied in greater depth elsewhere. Here I simply wish to note that the figure of Mary of Nazareth sheds light on womanhood as such by the very fact that God, in the sublime event of the Incarnation of his Son, entrusted himself to the ministry, the free and active ministry of a woman. It can thus be said that women, by looking to Mary, find in her the secret of living their femininity with dignity and of achieving their own true advancement. In the light of Mary, the Church sees in the face of women the reflection of a beauty which mirrors the loftiest sentiments of which the human heart is capable: the self-offering totality of love; the strength that is capable of bearing the greatest sorrows; limitless fidelity and tireless devotion to work; the ability to combine penetrating intuition with words of support and encouragement. — Blessed John Paul II Redemptoris Mater (46)


3. The Church Is Primarily Feminine

The Church is primarily feminine because her primary, all-encompassing truth is her ontological gratitude, which both receives the gift and passes it on. And the masculine office, which has to represent the true giver, the Lord of the Church (albeit within the Church’s feminine receptivity), is instituted in her only to prevent her from forgetting this primary reality, to ensure that she will always remain a receiver and never become self-assertive possessor and user. From a certain point of view, the Church’s structure is primarily matriarchal and only secondarily patriarchal, although these sociological categories can be applied only in a very loose sense to the Church. We use them here because there can be a demand for ecclesiastical office only when there is a failure to appreciate the real dignity of women in the Church (as the Church). — Hans Urs Von Balthasar, Mary: The Church at the Source, page 140)


4.The Exclusive Male Role of Priesthood in No Way Detracts from the Value of Woman but Underscores it

In this perspective of “service”-which, when it is carried out with freedom, reciprocity and love, expresses the truly “royal” nature of mankind-one can also appreciate that the presence of a certain diversity of roles is in no way prejudicial to women, provided that this diversity is not the result of an arbitrary imposition, but is rather an expression of what is specific to being male and female. This issue also has a particular application within the Church. If Christ-by his free and sovereign choice, clearly attested to by the Gospel and by the Church’s constant Tradition-entrusted only to men the task of being an “icon” of his countenance as “shepherd” and “bridegroom” of the Church through the exercise of the ministerial priesthood, this in no way detracts from the role of women, or for that matter from the role of the other members of the Church who are not ordained to the sacred ministry, since all share equally in the dignity proper to the “common priesthood” based on Baptism. These role distinctions should not be viewed in accordance with the criteria of functionality typical in human societies. Rather they must be understood according to the particular criteria of the sacramental economy, i.e. the economy of “signs” which God freely chooses in order to become present in the midst of humanity.

Furthermore, precisely in line with this economy of signs, even if apart from the sacramental sphere, there is great significance to that “womanhood” which was lived in such a sublime way by Mary. In fact, there is present in the “womanhood” of a woman who believes, and especially in a woman who is “consecrated”, a kind of inherent “prophecy” (cf. Mulieris Dignitatem, 29), a powerfully evocative symbolism, a highly significant “iconic character”, which finds its full realization in Mary and which also aptly expresses the very essence of the Church as a community consecrated with the integrity of a “virgin” heart to become the “bride” of Christ and “mother” of believers. When we consider the “iconic” complementarity of male and female roles, two of the Church’s essential dimensions are seen in a clearer light: the “Marian” principle and the Apostolic- Petrine principle. — John Paul II “Letter from John Paul II to Women.” (11)


5. The Gateway to Redemption

The feminine sex is ennobled by virtue of the Savior’s being born of a human mother; a woman was the gateway through which God found entrance to humankind. — Edith Stein (aka St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) “Vocations of Man and Woman” Essays on Woman (70)


6. All Women Are Called to the Religious State at All Times

Women just as men have been called to the religious state at all times. And when we consider the manifold ramifications of contemporary religious life, when we acknowledge that the extremely diverse works of charity in our times are practiced by the feminine Orders and congregations, we can see only one essential difference which still exists in reality: The actual priestly work is reserved for men. This introduces us now to the difficult and much debated question of priesthood of women.

If we consider the attitude of the Lord Himself, we understand that He accepted the free loving services of women for Himself and His Apostles and that women were among His disciples and most intimate confidants. Yet He did not grant them the priesthood, not even to His mother, Queen of the Apostles, who was exalted above all humanity in human perfection and fullness of grace. — Edith Stein (aka St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross) “Vocations of Man and Woman” Essays on Woman (83)


7. All Women are Called to Be Mothers

Finally, woman’s intrinsic value can work in every place and thereby institute grace, completely independent of the profession which she practices and whether it concurs with her singularity or not. Everywhere she meets with a human being, she will find opportunity to sustain, to counsel, to help. If the factory worker or the office employee would only pay attention to the spirits of the person who work with her in the same room, she would prevail upon trouble-laden hearts to be opened to her through a friendly word, a sympathetic questions; she will find out where the shoe is pinching and will be able to provide relief. Everywhere the need exists for maternal sympathy and help, and thus we are able to recapitulate in the one word motherliness that which we have developed as the characteristic value of woman. Only, the motherliness must be that which does not remain within the narrow circle of blood relations or of personal friends; but in accordance with the model of the Mother of Mercy, it must have its root in universal divine love for all who are there, belabored and burdened. — Edit Stein (aka Teresa Bendecita of the Cross) “Woman’s Value in National Life” Essays on Woman (264)


8. The Level of Woman = The Level of Civilization

The level of any civilization is always its level of its womanhood. In as much as woman is loved, it follows that the nobler a woman is, the nobler man will have to be to be deserving of that love. That is why the level of any civilization is always its level of its womanhood. — The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen “Women Who Don’t Fail.”


9. Women Were Made to be Mothers

Every woman in the world was made to be a mother either physically or spiritually. Here we are not talking of physical motherhood, we are speaking of spiritual motherhood. A women in professional life is happy when she has the occasion to be feminine. The man is the guardian of nature, but the woman is the custodian of life. Therefore in whatever she does, she must have some occasion to be kind and merciful to others […] The women who does not fail in the professional life, is the woman, therefore, who manifests this feminine quality that we call equity. — The Venerable Archbishop Fulton Sheen “Women Who Don’t Fail”

A Catholic Guide to Thomas Hobbes: 12 Things You Should Know

“I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in death.”

Listers, the Leviathan offers man salvation in a world where the state of nature is war and chaos. Peace is simply an interlude to more war. The very equality of humanity rests upon the belief that even the weakest may devise a way to murder the strongest; thus, through violence and murder, all men are equal. Though Hobbes’ views on statecraft, violence, and religion were arguably found distasteful to his contemporaries,  history still remembers him fondly for one importance reason: he rejected Catholicism and the ancient philosophers. He offered the world a different philosophy in which to view and govern itself than that of the ancients and medievals. He gifts later philosophers, most notably Locke, different material to work with than that offered by the Church. Hobbes jettisons the natural law and virtue teachings of the Church, he mocks the doctrine of transubstantiation as “madness,” and ultimately places all religion at the foot of the state, the Leviathan.

It would be difficult to exaggerate the degree to which Hobbes broke with the philosophy of the ancients and of the Church. Hobbes is particularly important as he begins modernity’s focus on “rights language.” The autonomy of the individual expressed in “individual rights” becomes the hallmark of modern political and moral thought. Extrinsic standards, e.g., natural law, are pulled down as the individual is lifted up. Studying the moderns and how they interrelate is vital to a Catholic attempting to live an authentic faith in a modern world. It is unsettling to realize that the philosophies that shaped the modern world almost always shared a common trait: they were only able to posit their ideas by rejecting Catholicism.


Clarification by Contrast: Political Thought in the Ancients


The magnification of the "Leviathan" on the original cover of Hobbes' work. The Leviathan is composed of people.
The magnification of the “Leviathan” on the original cover of Hobbes’ work. The Leviathan is composed of people.

1. His Predecessor, Machiavelli

Machiavelli’s The Prince was unprecedented insofar as it removed statecraft from the standards of traditional virtue. Virtue, under Machiavelli, devolved from a habit of the good – prudence, justice, temperance, & fortitude – to the ability to gain and maintain political power through force and fear. In Chapter XV, he writes:

But, it being my intention to write a thing which shall be useful to him who apprehends it, it appears to me more appropriate to follow up the real truth of a matter than the imagination of it; for many have imagined republics and principalities which in fact have never been known or seen, because how one lives is so far distant from how one ought to live, that he who neglects what is done for what ought to be done, sooner effects his ruin than his preservation; for a man who wishes to act entirely up to his professions of virtue soon meets with what destroys him among so much that is evil.

What are the imagined republics? Machiavelli is referring to the cities in speech that were common among the ancient philosophers, most notably Plato & Aristotle. In his Politics, Aristotle speaks of nature as a standard and sees men as political animals that inhabit a polis ordered by the natural virtue of justice.1 The most notable imagined republic, however, for Machiavelli is the Kingdom of God as articulated by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount. Here Machiavelli breaks with the western political tradition by advocating that the prince not live as men ought to live, but embrace and become “virtuous” in how men do live. He discards the “imagine republics” governed by virtue, and imports a statecraft designed to gain and maintain power through force and fear. Notice too, that Machiavelli believes the prince who strives to live virtuously according to the imagined republics will bring about his own ruin, while the prince who lives according to “real truth” will bring about his preservation.2


2. Historical Context & Brief Biography

Sixty-one years after the death of Machiavelli, the English political philosopher Thomas Hobbes of Malmesbury was born (5 April 1588 – 4 December 1679). He was raised in England in the aftermath of King Henry VIII separating the Church of England from the Church in Rome and in a Europe in the throes of the Protestant Reformation. So-called “religious wars” riddled the continent as political powers utilized various religious factions for political gain. The Roman Catholic Church was also in a time of reform as it had held the Council of Trent (1545-63). Hobbes spent most of his time in Continental Europe (1629-31; 1634-7). Due to his support of the English King in a time where Parliament was attempting to limit the monarchal powers, he was exiled to France (1640-51). In 1651, he returned to England after his criticisms of the papacy angered the French Catholic faithful. Thomas Hobbes died in 1679.3


3. De Cive: Mutual Fear

In The Citizen, Hobbes does for the citizen what Machiavelli did for the prince. Machiavelli’s teaching removed the prince’s political engagement from the traditional standards of virtue and replaced them with the reworked concept of virtue as the ability to gain and maintain power. Hobbes follows Machiavelli’s rework aimed at the prince and delivers it to the individual citizen. Consequently, when Hobbes speaks of the “virtue of justice,” the virtue is no longer concerned with good of the soul or the virtuous ordering of society. Hobbes’ virtue is concerned with power and material goods.4

In The Citizen, Hobbes posits that society’s primary function is to “preserve humans from mutual violence.” Here Hobbes jettisons Aristotle and the Western Tradition’s belief that man is by nature a communal political animal in search of the common good. Instead, Hobbes submits that man seeks only his own good and comes together in societal structures out of a common fear.

We must therefore resolve, that the original of all great, and lasting societies, consisted not in the mutual good will men had towards each other, but in the mutual fear they had of each other.

The state in ancient philosophy, the polis, was oriented toward the common good. The polis existed so that all men might live well. Men and polis sought the standards of nature and natural virtue. Under Hobbes, nature will undergo a significant transformation. Hobbes begins to articulate a political philosophy in which persons, by nature, have a mutual fear of one another. To understand why a mutual fear – not mutual good – is the foundation of Hobbes’ Leviathan, you must understand his view on nature and man’s right to self-preservation.


4. Equality through Violence

A hallmark of Hobbes’ philosophy is that society finds equality in the ability of each person to murder the other.

How easy a matter it is, even for the weakest man to kill the strongest, there is no reason why any man trusting to his own strength should conceive himself made by nature above others: they are equals who can do equal things one against the other; but they who can do the greatest things, (namely kill) can do equal things. All men therefore among themselves are by nature equal… therefore the first foundation of natural right is this, that every man as much as in him lies endeavor to protect his life and members.

Further articulating the rights of persons, Hobbes states, “every man has a right to preserve himself, he must also be allowed a right to use all the means, and do all the actions, without which he cannot preserve himself.” If man has in his arsenal “all the means,” to what end may he use them? Hobbes answers, “nature hath given to everyone a right to all.” According to nature, man has a right to everything through whatever means necessary and is equal to one another in the ability to murder.

To have all, and do all, is lawful for all. And this is that which is meant by that common saying, “Nature hath given all to all,” from whence we understand likewise, that in the state of nature, profit is the measure of right.

It is notable that Hobbes acknowledges that “profit is the measure of right.” Overall, we see Hobbes equate self-preservation with morality. It would be difficult to exaggerate the break this view of nature has with the traditional western political tradition and the Catholic Church. The break becomes a key characteristic of modernity: nature is not a standard to be followed but something to overcome, to conquer, and to vex. Where Machiavelli’s work was written to serve his own political end, Hobbes has purposely broken with the Ancients and attempted to be, in his mind, the first political philosopher.


5. The State of Nature is War

Following Hobbes’ teaching on individual rights, it is no surprise that for him the state of nature is war. Peace is simply an interlude to more war.

It cannot be denied but that the natural state of men, before they entered into society, was a mere war, and that not simply, but a war of all men, against all men…

Gone is the ordered law of nature imprinted on the hearts of men; nature as a chaotic state of war is the new philosophy. A state in which men exist in mutual fear of falling victim to the unbridled natural right of another’s self-preservation. If equality is found in the mutual ability to murder one another and war is the natural state of man, what is Hobbes’ solution? Society is formed out of a contractual agreement whereby out of preservation the citizen transfers his power to the state. An idea he takes up in great detail in his Leviathan.


6. The Leviathan: Introduction

In accordance with the principles set forth in The Citizen, Hobbes begins to articulate a whole new vision of human life and society. Unlike Aristotle who begins his discourse on politics with what is common sense, Hobbes intends to establish a new modern political science in terms of motion and power. In fact, Hobbes takes geometry as his model science and guide for constructing his new science of politics.5

In his introduction, Hobbes speaks of nature and of the Leviathan. First, of nature, he states:

Nature (the art whereby God had made and governs the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that I can make an artificial animal.

As intimated in The Citizen, for Hobbes, nature is mechanistic. Humanity can now not only create art that mimics nature, but art that controls nature. Nature is a machine – albeit a violent and bellicose machine – to be understood and controlled. For Hobbes, man finds himself in a chaotic state of war, but he has the ability to deliver himself. He can create the Leviathan.

Art goes yet further, imitating that rational and most excellent work of nature, man. For by art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMONWEALTH, or STATE (in Latin, CIVITAS), which is but an artificial man, though of greater stature and strength than the natural, for whose protection and defense it was intended; and in which the sovereignty is an artificial soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body…

The Leviathan is the great artificial construct or machine that is man at large. The ancients held that nature was a standard. Nature was a good and good habits were natural virtues – prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude. Under Hobbes, nature is a machine to be utilized and his reworking of the virtues is arguably presents them as something akin to mechanistic passions to be controlled.6


7. The Leviathan: On Virtue

In Chapter VIII, Hobbes reworks virtue in a similar fashion as Machiavelli. For St. Thomas Aquinas, virtue is a good habit. For example, justice is the natural virtue of being well-ordered or ordered according to right reason. It is a natural virtue, because it is available to all men by nature. Under Hobbes, virtue becomes whatever men seek as valued. He begins his chapter:

Virtue generally, in all sorts of subjects, is somewhat that is valued for eminence; and consists in comparison. For if all things were equally in all men, nothing would be prized. 

It is also notable Hobbes ends Chapter VIII with a critique of Fr. Francisco Suárez, a prominent Spanish Jesuit scholastic. Typical of modernity, he does not actually offer a philosophical rebuttal of the scholastics, but rather mocks their works as absurd and intended to drive men mad.

So that this kind of absurdity may rightly be numbered amongst the many sorts of madness; and all the time that, guided by clear thoughts of their worldly lust, they forbear disputing or writing thus, but lucid intervals. And thus much of the virtues and defects intellectual. 

The above quote is specifically speaking about the doctrine of transubstantiation. It is difficult to exaggerate the point that the moderns never actually engaged Catholicism and ancient philosophy, but rather simply mocked it and offered the people something more palatable to their desires. It is amongst history’s most tragic errors to believe that Modernity offered the people something more rational than what they had; the “Enlightenment” did little else than enlighten what people desired.


8. The Leviathan: On Power & Worth

In Chapter X: Of Power, Worth, Dignity, Honor, & Worthiness, Hobbes articulates the theme of power, which is a major theme in his philosophy. He avers there are two types of power: natural and instrumental. The former is “the eminence of the faculties of body, or mind; as extraordinary strength, form, prudence, arts, eloquence, liberality, nobility.” The latter type of power is described as “powers which, acquired by these [the natural powers], or by fortune, are means and instruments to acquire more; as riches, reputation, friends, and the secret working of God, which me call good luck.” For Hobbes, the Leviathan grants value and dignity to a person based upon the usefulness of their power. He writes:

The value of worth of a man is, as of all other things, his price; that is to say, so much as would be given for the use of his power, and therefore is not absolutely, but a thing dependent on the need and judgement of another.

The public worth of a man, which is the value set on him by the Commonwealth, is that which men commonly call dignity. And this value of him by the Commonwealth is understood by offices of command, judicature, public employment; or by names and titles introduced for distinction of such value.

Hobbes articulation of power is reminiscent of Machiavelli. Where the ancients spoke of power as a means to a virtuous end, both Hobbes and Machiavelli speak of power as an independent category, an end in and of itself. For the ancients, the end sought by power, to be good for the state, had to be virtuous, it had to be accordance with the natural order. For Hobbes, power is a means to any number of subjective ends. The value of the end sought by power and the value of the person seeking it is externally placed on it by the Commonwealth, the Leviathan. Note how Hobbes couples together a person’s dignity with their “public worth,” and this “worth” or value is gifted to him by the Leviathan.


9. Leviathan: The Restless Pursuit of Power

Chapter XI: Of the Difference of Manners represents one of the clearest breaks with the ancients. He states quite clearly that there is no supreme good or final end.

To which end we are to consider that the felicty of this life consists not in the repose of a mind satisfied. For there is no such finis ultimus nor summum bonum as is spoke of in the books of the old moral philosophers.

The idea that there is a supreme good and final end for humanity was a hallmark of Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. What then does Hobbes submit as a substitution? He writes:

Felicity is a continual progress of the desire from one object ot another, the attaining of the former being still but the way to the latter… so that in the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceases only in death.

For Hobbes, it appears that the supreme good and final end are fanciful characteristics of the old cities in speech. Man is left with a “restless desire for power after power, that ceases only in death.” Traditional God had been the final end of man and towards that end man ordered his steps. For Hobbes, the tearing down the supreme good and final end – which were ultimately God – only to erect a temporal pursuit of power in its place imports numerous question on how Hobbes actually views God and religion.


10. Leviathan: On Religion

Chapter XII: On Religion is a milestone in the Western intellectual tradition. In this chapter, Hobbes offers a discussion on what he takes to be a mythical account of the origins of man. He writes:

Seeing there are no signs nor fruit of religion but in man only, there is no cause to doubt but that the seed of religion is also only in man; and consists in some peculiar quality, or at least in some eminent degree thereof, not to be found in other living creatures….

This perpetual fear, always accompanying mankind in the ignorance of causes, as it were in the dark, must needs have for object something. And therefore when there is nothing to be seen, there is nothing to accuse either of their good or evil fortune but some power or agent invisible: in which seen perhaps it was that some of the old poets said that the gods were first created by human fear: which, spoke of the gods (that is to say, of the man gods of the Gentiles) is very true.

Hobbes then turns his attention to the monotheistic tradition in the West and makes a slight but significant change to a notable philosophic argument for God.

But the acknowledging of one God eternal, infinite, and omnipotent may more easily be derived from the desire men have to know the causes of natural bodies, and their several virtues and operations, than from the fear of what was to befall them in time to come. For he that, from any effect he sees come to pass, should reason to the next and immediate cause thereof, and from thence to the cause of that cause, and plunge himself profoundly in the pursuit of causes, shall at last come to this, that there must be (as even the heathen philosophers confessed) one First Mover; that is, a first and an eternal cause of all things; which is that which men mean by the name of God: and all this without thought of their fortune, the solicitude whereof both inclines to fear and hinders them from the search of the causes of other things; and thereby gives occasion of feigning of as many gods as there be men that feign them.

Hobbes’ treatment of the First Mover argument warrants a few comments. First, it is one of the only positive statements he makes regarding Aristotle. Second, Hobbes sets the First Mover into his view of a mechanistic nature; thus, the First Mover is not seen as Being-itself – that which perpetually sustains all being – but rather the First Mover is that which simply started the machine. Hobbes then turns his attention to how these natural inclinations toward God in man unfolded into religion.

And in these four things, opinion of ghosts, ignorance of second causes, devotion towards what men fear, and taking of things casual for prognostics, consists the natural seed of religion; which, by reason of the different fancies, judgments, and passions of several men, hath frown up into ceremonies so different that those which are used by one man are for the most part ridiculous to another.

Hobbes then takes up the question of what is the purpose of a religion that is invented out of these natural seeds within man? He states there are two types of men that have cultivated these seeds of religion. The first did it according to their own invention and the second did it by God’s commandment.

But both sorts have done it with a purpose to make those men that relied on them the more apt to obedience, laws, peace, charity, and civil society. So that the religion of the former sort is a part of human politics; and teaches part of the duty which early kings require of their subjects. And the religion of the latter sort is divine politics; and contains precepts to those that have yielded themselves subjects in the kingdom of God. Of the former sort were all the founders of Commonwealths, and the law gives of the Gentiles; of the latter sort were Abraham, Moses, and our Bless Savior, by whom have been derived unto us the laws of the kingdom of God.

Though he attempts to make a distinction between invented religions and Christianity, they ultimately serve the same purpose and suffer under the same “natural seed” criticisms. Modernity must be understood by knowing how each modern philosopher relates to the other. For Hobbes and Machiavelli, Hobbes does for the citizen what Machiavelli did for the prince. After Hobbes, the next great modern philosopher is John Locke. Hobbes’ critique of religion was found too caustic by the British population; thus, Locke smooths out Hobbes’ rough critique and makes it more palatable for the general public. Christianity is accepted by the early modern philosophers, but it is almost immediately reduced into a moral myth and with political utility. It remains a respected theme until its radical rejection by Nietzsche.

In distinction, Catholicism stands as the greatest impediment to the “new” thoughts of the moderns and is immediately rejected. The character of this rejection is most important. As demonstrated in Hobbes’ “critique” of Scholasticism, Catholicism – and more particularly Scholasticism and Aquinas – are never actually philosophically addressed and refuted. The methodology of the moderns is to submit a counter philosophy and then simply mock Catholicism. A shallow and intellectually dishonest method still popular today.

In this spirit, Hobbes turns his attention to the “Church in Rome.”

Also the religion of the Church of Rome was partly for the same cause abolished in England and many other parts of Christendom, insomuch as the failing of virtue in the pastors makes faith fail in the people, and partly from bringing of the philosophy and doctrine of Aristotle into religion by the Schoolmen; from whence there arose so many contradiction and absurdities as brought the clergy into a reputation both of ignorance and of fraudulent intention, and inclined people to revolt from them, either against the will of their own princes as in France and Holland, or with their will as in England. Lastly, amongst the points by the Church of Rome declared necessary for salvation, there by so many manifestly to the advantage of the Pope so man of his spiritual subjects residing in the territories of other Christian prince that, were it not for the mutual emulation of those princes, they might without war or trouble exclude all foreign authority as easily as it has been excluded in England.

For who is there that does not see to whose benefit it conduces to have it believed that a king hath not his authority from Christ unless a bishop crown him? That a king, if he be a priest, cannot marry? That whether a prince be born in lawful marriage, or not, must be judge by authority from Rome? That subjects may be freed from their allegiance if by the court of Rome the king be judged a heretic? That a king, as Childeric of France, may be deposed by a Pope, as Pope Zachary, for no cause, and his kingdom given to one of his subjects? That the clergy, and regulars, in what country soever, shall be exempt from the jurisdiction of their Masses, and values of purgatory, with other signs of private interest enough to mortify the most lively faith, if, as i said, the civil magistrate and custom did not more sustain it than any opinion they have of the sanctity, wisdom, or probity of their teachers? So that i may attribute all the changes of religion in the world to one and the same cause, and that is unpleasing priests; and those not only amongst Catholics, but even in that Church that has presumed most of reformation.

A few things of note. As modern philosophy devalues religion, it lifts the state up to take its place. Under Hobbes, religion becomes a tool of the state by which it finds a means to keep the citizens obedient. Catholicism stands in direct conflict with this approach. First, Catholicism holds the state accountable to natural law, an extrinsic standard placed upon the state. Second, Catholicism is universal – it extends past the boundaries of the state and is thus considered “foreign” by the moderns. The Church in Rome is a foreign threat to the now great Leviathan. The idea of Catholicism as a threat to the new modern way of living will endure throughout the modern philosophers and in Locke will manifest in seeing Catholic citizens as untrustworthy members of the state due to their foreign allegiances. A critique that was heavily submitted in the history of the United State of America and arguably only waned not because America became more tolerant, but because American Catholics became less Catholic.


11. Man Finds Salvation in the Leviathan

Following his discussion on religion, Hobbes takes up what he believes to be the true account of humanity in Chapter XIII. A series of selected quotes from this section will demonstrate the foundation Hobbes lays for understanding human equality: the potential to murder one another.

For as to the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest, either by secret machinations of by confederacy without others that are in the same danger with himself.

Hobbes believes he has discovered the natural foundation for equality, because if the weakest can murder the strongest then there is equality. He places this equality into his universe where nature is a perpetual state of war and all men seek power. He continues, as well, to rewrite the virtues according to his new narrative:

For prudence is but experience, which equal time equally bestows on all men in those things they equally apply themselves unto.

Prudence, under the ancients and the Church, was the elective habit, the habit of right reasoning. The virtues were predicated upon nature as a standard of the good, but under Hobbes, nature has been rewritten and thus the virtues must be rewritten as well.

It may seem strange to some man that has not well weighed these things that nature should thus dissociate and render men apt to invade and destroy one another: and he may therefore, not trusting to this inference, made from the passions, desire perhaps to have the same confirmed by experience.

Nature has become something that has to be overcome. It is no longer a standard of the good, but a chaotic warring state that must be dominated by the Leviathan. The idea of nature as something to be vexed and conquered is a hallmark of the new modern thought. While Hobbes speaks of it in a political manner, Francis Bacon will speak of it in a scientific manner – nature as something to be tortured until she gives up her secrets. The ancients and the Church saw natural law as a standard to hold up to all men, but now nature has become something to be dominated and morality a subjective end of the state. It is the state, not nature, in which men find virtue.

To this war of every man against every man, this also is consequent; that nothing can be unjust. The notions of right and wrong, justice and injustice, have no place. Where there is no common power, there is no law; where no law, no injustice. Force and fraud are in war the two cardinal virtues. Justice and injustice are non of the faculties neither of the body nor mind. If they were, they might be in a man that were alone in the world, as well as his senses and passions. They are qualities that relate to men in society, not in solitude.

It is ever more evident in the writings of Hobbes that in subjecting religion to the ends of the state and rewriting nature as a state of chaos, man finds his salvation in the Commonwealth, the Leviathan. Before society, the nature state of man is unbridled self-preservation.


12. The Beginning of Rights Language

In Chapter XIV: Of the First and Second Natural Laws, and of Contracts, Hobbes articulates one of the monumental shifts in ancient to modern thought: individual rights. Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, and the Catholic Church never spoke in terms of individual rights. The standard for the state and for its citizens was natural law. What was good and what was evil was not predicated upon man’s judgment, but rather by the external standard set upon him by nature. In Hobbes’ deconstruction of nature into a realm of war and chaos, he gives the West its first true taste of rights predicated upon the individual.

And because the condition of man (as hath been declared in the precedent chapter) is a condition of war of everyone against everyone against everyone, in which case every one is governed by his own reason, and there is nothing he can make use of that may not be a help unto him in preserving his life against his enemies, it follows that in such a condition every man has a right to everything, even to one another’s body. And therefore, as long as this natural right of every man to everything endues, there can be no security to any man how strong or wise soever he be, of living out the time which nature ordinarily allows men to live.

The paragraph is notable within the Western intellectual tradition as the beginning of “rights language.” Hobbes is setting the stage for the Leviathan. Men, unable to live in the warring chaos of nature, will seek self-preservation by transferring their rights to the Leviathan. The state will be their salvation from each other and from the natural state of war and chaos.

  1. Aristotle: Read more on Aristotle’s view of natural law and politics with a brief note on Plato at Political Animals & The Philosopher King. []
  2. Machiavelli: For a further Catholic introduction to Machiavelli please visit 7 Introductory Catholic Thoughts on Machiavelli’s The Prince. []
  3. Thomas Hobbes Biography: More may be read on Stanford’s Philosophy Encyclopedia entry on Thomas Hobbes and other resources may be garnered from the Wikipedia article. []
  4. De Cive Quotes: All quotes from The Citizen are taken from Chapter 1: Of the State of Men Without Civil Society and have been edited in accordance with modern English spelling. []
  5. Geometry: Hobbes discusses his attempt to present his “political science” with the clarity of geometry in Chapter V. []
  6. The Passions: Where Aristotle had right reason and good habits, Hobbes has only mechanistic passions. In Chapter VI, Hobbes avers that men are externally moved, by the passions, either in aversion or in appetite. Aquinas spoke of passions as those things that acted on man and moved him toward one thing or another, but Aquinas also spoke of virtue as something that could guide the passions. Moreover, the will was that which moved men internally. Hobbes seems to only speak of passions. []

6 Reasons Euthanasia is Incompatible with Modernity’s Own Philosophy

Drunk off its political and scientific successes, modern thought and practice have abandoned the modest and moderate beginnings of political modernity.

Listers, this is Part II of an ongoing in depth discussion on euthanasia – “the right to become dead.” The list relies on the wisdom of Leon Kass and his discussion of how the right to become dead isn’t even compatible with the modernity’s own philosophy. It should be noted that the article presupposes the right to become dead is not a right in the classic sense and certainly not in the Catholic sense.

The point of the discussion is to show the modernists that the “right to become dead” isn’t even a proper right within their own philosophy. Read Part I here: The Right to Become Dead: 6 Introductory Thoughts on Assisted Suicide.


7. A Brief Diatribe On Rights Language

Are the ‘right to die’ arguments compatible with the Hobbesian notion of a blameless liberty?  Before addressing this question, Kass has a brief section on why people seek a right to die. However, tucked among the commentary of fearful patients and societal concerns is a brief but telling diatribe against the dangers of thinking in terms of individual rights. He states, “truth to tell, public discourse about moral matters in the United States is much impoverished by our eagerness to transform questions of the right and the good into questions about individual rights.” [1] These individual rights are marked with a “non-negotiable and absolutized character,” which serves as a “most durable battering ram against the status quo.” [2] Kass’ vitriolic view continues: “never mind that it fuels resentments and breeds hatreds, that it ignores the consequences to society, or that it short circuits a political process that is more amenable to working out a balanced view of the common good.” [3] The battering ram wielding citizen simply goes “to court and demands [his] rights.” [4]

Truth to tell, public discourse about moral matters in the United States is much impoverished by our eagerness to transform questions of the right and the good into questions about individual rights.

However, as soon the critique of rights per se began, it appears to subside. Oddly enough, Kass then returns to the original question and begins to critique the right to die by the traditional modern system of rights. The shift in focus leaves the reader with several questions. If the canon of individual rights impoverishes the question of what is good, then what is the canon? Moreover, if the isolated system of individual rights is deficient, why does Kass continue to critique the right to die by an impotent system? Setting these questions aside, Kass continues to question whether a right to die is justified within a modern natural rights context.


8. The Right to Die is Nonsensical, Even to the Modern Philosophers

According to the “great philosophical teachers of natural rights, the very notion of a right to die is nonsensical.” [5] The philosophical foundation for natural rights is self-preservation. “As we learn from Hobbes and from John Locke,” observes Kass, “all the rights of man, given by nature, presuppose our self-interested attachment to our own lives.” [6] Immediately the contradiction of trying to predicate a right to self-negation upon a foundation of self-preservation is clear. This distinction is not only clear to those who argue against a right to die, but even to those who argue for it. The German-born philosopher Hans Jonas (d. 1993) – an advocate for the right to die – comments, “every other right ever argued, claimed, granted, or denied can be viewed as an extension of this primary right [to life].” [7]


9. Locke’s View on Suicide and Self-Ownership

While arguably the right to die via the aid of medical technologies may be a new phenomenon, certainly the question of a right to commit suicide was not lost to the modern thinkers. Locke states that man “has not [the] liberty to destroy himself,” because nature “teaches all mankind… no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” [8] However, one could see Lockean thought backing a right to die: “yet every man has a property in his own person; thus nobody has a right to but himself.” [9] Is it the case then that Locke’s apparent belief in self-ownership could support the right to die? Returning to the notion of a classical right, Kass sees that these rights were asserted against something or someone; thus, Locke’s self-ownership “is less a metaphysical statement declaring self-ownership than a political statement denying ownership by another.” [10] Lockean self-ownership could be rendered: “my body and my life are my property only in the limited sense that they are not yours.” [11] In the classical sense of natural rights, there appears no foundation for a right to die; moreover, there is certainly no “right to the assistance of others,” as the so-called obliged suicide-assistant “has neither a natural duty nor a natural right to become an actual assistant-in-death.” [12]

What of the government, can it be held in obligation to assist in death? “The liberal state,” notes Kass, “instituted above all to protect life, can never countenance such a right to kill, even on request.” [13]


10. Rousseau & Kant Yield No Room for a “Right to Die”

However, how can the late modern thinkers be seen to address a right to die, especially those who set nature aside? Neither Jean-Jacque Rousseau nor Immanuel Kant can be seen as advocates of a right to die. Regarding Rousseau, Kass notes Rousseau’s “complaints about the ills of civil society” demonstrated in the fact it threatens “life and limb” instead of its “main purpose” in protecting them.[14] Rousseau calls upon men like himself – those who lack the simplicity to simply return to the woods and eat “grass and acorns” – to “respect the sacred bonds” of the society, to love and serve “their fellow-men,” and to support the “good and wise princes who will know how to prevent, cure, or palliate that pack of abuses and evils always ready to overpower” the citizens. [15]

As Kass observes, the state supports life and the citizen cultivates that support. Again, a life-centered political base does not make room for a right to die. Turning to Kant, Kass sees that “the self-willed act of self-destruction is simply self-contradictory.” [16] Kant states, “to dispose of oneself as a mere means to some end of one’s own liking is to degrade the humanity in one’s person, which, after all, was entrusted to man to preserve.” [17] Kass comments on the “heavy irony that it should be autonomy, the moral notion the world owes mainly to Kant, that is now invoked as the justifying ground of a right to die.” [18] Through a Kantian lens, autonomy is the “self-legislation” of the “rational maxim” – an adherence to one’s “true self,” i.e., “with one’s rational will determined by a universalizable” moral maxim. [19] Neither the early moderns nor the late moderns yield any space for a right to die ethic. Whether it be a principle of self-preservation, a life-centered polis, or a notion of the dignity of humanity, neither a classical right nor a welfare right of assisted-death can be supported.


11. The Right to Die and Nietzschean Autonomy

However, the present modern notion of autonomy has come to mean “doing as you please,” which as Kass explains, is “compatible no less with self-indulgence than with self-control.” [20] Leaving behind the nature of the early moderns and the rationality of the later moderns, the new “Nietzschean self” holds only to “his true ‘self’ rather in unconditioned acts of pure creative will.” [21] The autonomy of the individual is rooted in the will. Without a normative nature or any rational maxims, it seems the right to die is unhindered and viable. However, Kass still observes several problems for the right to die argument. “First, one cannot establish on this basis a right to have someone else’s assistance in committing suicide,” because the patient’s autonomy would then have to violate the unwilling assistant’s autonomy. [22] Second, what if the assistant-to-death is willing? The autonomy of the patient could justify his or her own suicide, but it cannot justify or “ground” the assistant’s right to kill the patient. [23] Third, the patient – granted the right could even be grounded – in question would have to be “mentally competent and alert” in order to request assisted suicide. [24] Kass notes this would rule out the euthanasia of the comatose, vegetable, or mentally incompetent patient.

Drunk off its political and scientific successes, modern thought and practice have abandoned the modest and moderate beginnings of political modernity.

What if they had left in their will to be euthanatized? The question is philosophically problematic, as Kass states, because “the person who gave them long ago may no longer be ‘the same person’ when they become relevant,” e.g., “can my 63-year-old self truly prescribe today the best interests for my 75-year-old and senile self?” [25] Further complicating the scenario, Kass posits: “it is self-contradictory to assert that a proxy not chosen by the patient can exercise the patient’s rights of autonomy.” [26] A right to die intrinsically places an obligation on some other third-party assistant; however, setting aside the fact that the individual lacks the ground to claim such a right, it appears that neither the medical community nor the government can assist the individual in suicide.

However, Kass’ critiques and the Nietzschean based “new rights” have a major point of contention: the critiques rest on logic, while the new rights do not. Following Nietzsche, the new rights – in distinction to the classical or the welfare rights – rest upon the will and are therefore formed by a notion of self-becoming and creativity. These “creative beings are open-ended” and the “society of new rights is characterized by a loss of predictability and normality.” [27] The bearer of the new rights “does not even flinch before self-contradictions; indeed, he can display the triumph of his will most especially in self-negation.” [28] Without nature as a standard or any other externality hindering the human will, can there now be a right to die? “Here at last is the only possible philosophical ground for a right to die: arbitrary will,” state Kass, a will “backed by moral relativism” – “which is to say, no ground at all.” [29]


12. Where Suicide is Now the Glorious Act of the Will

“Drunk off its political and scientific successes,” states Kass, “modern thought and practice have abandoned the modest and moderate beginnings of political modernity.” [30] The theory of natural rights predicated upon self-preservation and life has given way to the “non-natural rights of self-creation and self-expression.” [31] These “new rights” impose upon the natural self an artificial product of the human will. Instead of being formed by nature, history, or God this new self-creation finds its authenticity in being able to assert its will against those very externalities. As Kass notes, the will of the self-created individual – protected by the new rights – can assert itself against its own body, the “rules of society,” and even the “dictates of reason.” [32] The will can strike out against those things which form it and give it life. It is no surprise then that for the individual of self-creation “self-negation through suicide and the right to die can be the ultimate form of self-assertion.” [33] The right to die is now not only an act of compassionate charity and the correction of a cosmic injustice, but the final and glorious act of man’s own radically autonomous will.

Kass sees three dangers arise as this new right to die permeates the modern ethos. First, the affirmation of an individual’s right to die “will translate into an obligation on the part of others to kill or help kill.” [34] What if the assistance was not obligatory, but only those who wanted to aid in death would do so? Kass still believes “society would be drastically altered.” [35] The alteration would be particularly tragic if the state was reluctant to take up the role as “euthanizer,” because “it would surrender its monopoly on the legal use of lethal force.” [36] Moreover, it should be noted the power of lethal force lies within the government in order that it would “protect innocent life, its first responsibility” – a stark contrast to the utilization of that lethal power upon the willing innocent. [37] Second, the practice will inevitably spread beyond those who “knowingly and freely request death.” [38] Kass notes that many who would be thought to be candidates for euthanasia either are in a doubted rational state or simply lack rationality altogether. The pressure to euthanize the incoherent and even the irrational unwilling will steadily increases and the practice itself will be seen to be more and more legitimate. The third danger of accepting the right to die is the impact it will have on the medical community. “The medical profession’s devotion to heal and refusal to kill – its ethical center,” according to Kass, “will be permanently destroyed, and with it, patient trust and physicianly self-restraint.” [39] Regardless of the fact that the right to die has no “defensible grounding,” these dangers are a real reality within the present modern polis.


To be continued…


The footnotes are continued from Part I and are mainly taken from Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity by Leon Kass. An excellent work in bioethics that SPL certainly recommends.


[1] Ibid., 211.

[2] Ibid., 212.

[3] Ibid., 212.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid., 213.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Kass, 214.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 215.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Kass, 215.

[15] Jean-Jacque Rousseau. The Basic Political Writings (Indianiapolis: Hackett, 1987), 94-95.

[16] Kass, 215.

[17] Ibid., 216.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid., 216-217.

[25] Ibid., 217.

[26] Ibid.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Ibid.

[29] Ibid., 218.

[30] Ibid., 226.

[31] Ibid.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Ibid.

[34] Ibid., 227.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

6 Books on Islam by Catholic Scholar Robert Spencer

Opus Dei Father C.J. McCloskey, a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, referred to Robert Spencer as “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country.”

Spencer ProfileListers, Opus Dei Father C.J. McCloskey, a Church historian and research fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, referred to Robert Spencer as “perhaps the foremost Catholic expert on Islam in our country.”1 According to his website, Jihad Watch, “Robert Spencer is the director of Jihad Watch, a program of the David Horowitz Freedom Center, and the author of twelve books, including two New York Times bestsellers, The Truth About Muhammad and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (both Regnery). His latest books are Did Muhammad Exist? An Inquiry Into Islam’s Obscure Origins (ISI) and Not Peace But A Sword: The Great Chasm Between Christianity and Islam (Catholic Answers).”

“Spencer has led seminars on Islam and jihad for the United States Central Command, United States Army Command and General Staff College, the U.S. Army’s Asymmetric Warfare Group, the FBI, the Joint Terrorism Task Force, and the U.S. intelligence community.”2 Jihad Watch – a site from which SPL often shares otherwise unreported accounts of Islamic terrorism – answers the question Why Jihad Watch? by stating, “Because non-Muslims in the West, as well as in India, China, Russia, and the world over, are facing a concerted effort by Islamic jihadists, the motives and goals of whom are largely ignored by the Western media, to destroy their societies and impose Islamic law upon them — and to commit violence to that end even while their overall goal remains out of reach. That effort goes under the general rubric of jihad.”3 Robert Spencer is also available on Twitter at the handle @JihadWatchRS.4


Robert Spencer 2
“Robert Spencer is a careful observer of Islam and a courageous voice on behalf of Christians…” – Scott Hahn, Fr. Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville


1. Not Peace but a Sword: The Great Chasm between Christianity and Islam

Not Peace but a SwordIslam…Is it a religion of peace?…Are Muslims an easy ally in the fight against global secularization and the culture of death?…Are their beliefs really so different than our own? Some Christians view Islam as a sister religion, a branch of the same Abrahamic tree—lacking the fullness of revelation but nonetheless a religion of peace. Others are more critical of Islamic teachings but still see Muslims as valuable partners in the global fight against secularization and the Culture of Death.

In Not Peace but a Sword, Robert Spencer argues they’re both wrong—and warns Christians against the danger of thinking that Islam is an easy ally. Many Christian groups, including the Catholic Church, do recognize whatever is good and true in Islam, and their leaders rightly pursue peaceful accord and common ground with all religions. Spencer argues, however, that real peace can come only from truth. Where there is falsehood in Islamic doctrine, morals, and practice, papering over the truth actually hurts the cause of peace.

And so Spencer, the New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen books dealing with Islam and the West, shines the light of truth on areas where Christians and Muslims don’t just quibble over small details but fundamentally disagree, including:

  • The character of God, Jesus, and divine revelation
  • The nature of truth and the source of moral law
  • Religious freedom and other basic human rights
  • Life issues, marriage, and sexual morality
  • The rights and dignity of women

He demonstrates how these differences are not academic but real-world. They are critical and drive Muslim behavior toward Christians and others. If we fail to open our eyes to these differences, we do so at our peril. He demonstrates how these differences are not academic but real-world. They are critical and drive Muslim behavior toward Christians and others. If we fail to open our eyes to these differences, we do so at our peril.

“Robert Spencer is a careful observer of Islam and a courageous voice on behalf of Christians. In Not Peace But a Sword he shows us how to take Islam seriously without falling into alarmism, hatred, or bigotry, and provides a needed corrective to media disinformation.”
Scott Hahn, Fr. Scanlan Chair of Biblical Theology, Franciscan University of Steubenville

“A great many Catholics know only a Disney-fied version of Islam, and still cling to the dangerous illusion that Muslims and Christians share much in common. But as Robert Spencer ably demonstrates, beneath the surface similarities lies a deep and possibly unbridgeable gulf. This is must reading not only for Catholics but for all Christians.”
William Kilpatrick, author of Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the Soul of the West

Robert Spencer carefully examines the challenge posed to Christianity by an increasingly militant Islam. His case is calm, lucid, accurate, and uncompromising in its presentation of the facts of history. He provides an honest and unflinching account of the roots of Christian/Muslim tensions, a robust defense of Jesus Christ and Christianity in response to Muslim claims, and a sobering wake-up call to all Christians.
Patrick Madrid, author of Envoy for Christ: 25 Years as a Catholic Apologist and host of the Right Here, Right Now radio show


2. Did Muhammad Exist?: An Inquiry into Islam’s Obscure Origins

Did Muhammed Exist 2Are jihadists dying for a fiction? Everything you thought you knew about Islam is about to change. Did Muhammad exist? It is a question that few have thought—or dared—to ask. Virtually everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, takes for granted that the prophet of Islam lived and led in seventh-century Arabia.
But this widely accepted story begins to crumble on close examination, as Robert Spencer shows in his eye-opening new book.

In his blockbuster bestseller The Truth about Muhammad, Spencer revealed the shocking contents of the earliest Islamic biographical material about the prophet of Islam. Now, in Did Muhammad Exist?, he uncovers that material’s surprisingly shaky historical foundations. Spencer meticulously examines historical records, archaeological findings, and pioneering new scholarship to reconstruct what we can know about Muhammad, the Qur’an, and the early days of Islam. The evidence he presents challenges the most fundamental assumptions about Islam’s origins.

Did Muhammad Exist? reveals:

  • How the earliest biographical material about Muhammad dates from at least 125 years after his reported death
  • How six decades passed before the Arabian conquerors—or the people they conquered—even mentioned Muhammad, the Qur’an, or Islam
  • The startling evidence that the Qur’an was constructed from existing materials—including pre-Islamic Christian texts
  • How even Muslim scholars acknowledge that countless reports of Muhammad’s deeds were fabricated
  • Why a famous mosque inscription may refer not to Muhammad but, astonishingly, to Jesus
  • How the oldest records referring to a man named Muhammad bear little resemblance to the now-standard Islamic account of the life of the prophet
  • The many indications that Arabian leaders fashioned Islam for political reasons

Far from an anti-Islamic polemic, Did Muhammad Exist? is a sober but unflinching look at the origins of one of the world’s major religions. While Judaism and Christianity have been subjected to searching historical criticism for more than two centuries, Islam has never received the same treatment on any significant scale. The real story of Muhammad and early Islam has long remained in the shadows. Robert Spencer brings it into the light at long last.

“[Spencer] has engaged in concerted detective work of a scholarly nature. His book is no polemic. It is a serious quest for facts. . . . Well-written and moves right along.”
Washington Times

“Robert Spencer has displayed brilliant scholarship and fierce courage in his previous books. In this one he perseveres and confronts with deep erudition the most topical problem of our century.”
Bat Ye’or, author of The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam


3. Inside Islam: A Guide for Catholics: 100 Questions and Answers

Inside IslamInside Islam: A Guide for Catholics utilizes a popular question-and-answer format so that all Catholics – both the theological novice and the well-catechized – can learn the basics of Islam. Co-authors Robert Spencer and Daniel Ali, a convert from Islam, give you a solid understanding of Islam’s unique teachings including:

  • The Islamic view of God
  • The role of Jesus in Islamic theology
  • Islam’s controversial theology of jihad, or “holy war”
  • Why Islam’s strong beliefs are so attractive to secularized Western societies
  • The role of women in Islam

Inside Islam is an essential resource for anyone who wants to know more about this historic religion from the Middle East. After reading this book, you will have a better understanding of the issues discussed every day in the news.5


4. The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran

Complete Infidels Guide to the Koran 2The Koran: It may be the most controversial book in the world. Some see it as a paean to peace, others call it a violent mandate for worldwide Islamic supremacy. How can one book lead to such dramatically different conclusions? New York Times bestselling author Robert Spencer reveals the truth in The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran: not many Westerners know what’s in the Koran, since so few have actually read it — even among the legions of politicians, diplomats, analysts, and editorial writers who vehemently insist that the Koran preaches tolerance.

Now, Spencer unveils the mysteries lying behind this powerful book, guiding readers through the controversies surrounding the Koran’s origins and its most contentious passages. Stripping out the obsolete debates, Spencer focuses on the Koran’s decrees toward Jews, Christians, and other Infidels, explaining how they were viewed in Muhammad’s time, what they’ve supposedly done wrong, and most important, what the Koran has in store for them.

“Meticulous, comprehensive, indispensable. `I read the Koran so you don’t have to,’ Spencer writes–but even for those of us who have read the Koran, this is a richly illuminating work.”
Bruce Bawer, author of Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom and While Europe Slept

“Governing officials and media spokesmen may ignore Spencer’s warnings, but they do so at their own risk, because Islamic jihadists are not ignoring what’s in the Koran, and are working to destroy our freedoms in obedience to Koranic dictates. In illuminating for Westerners exactly what the Koran teaches, Spencer has performed a valuable service in the defense of Western civilization against the Islamic jihad.”
Geert Wilders, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Party for Freedom (PVV), the Netherlands

“Unlike most of today’s self-styled experts, Robert Spencer won’t tell you that `slay the idolaters wherever you find them’ really means `love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’ In The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran, Spencer shows once again that he is America’s most informed, fearless, and compelling voice on modern jihadism, insisting that we come to grips with the words behind the ideology that fuels international terror.”
Andrew C. McCarthy, senior fellow at the National Review Institute and author of Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad


5. Stealth Jihad: How Radical Islam is Subverting America without Guns or Bombs

Stealth Jihad 2Does America face a jihadist threat that’s even bigger than terrorism?

While our homeland security efforts are focused on preventing terrorist attacks, another jihadist threat is growing right here in America–in plain sight.

In Stealth Jihad, Islam expert and New York Times bestselling author Robert Spencer blows the whistle on a long-term plot by Islamic jihadists to undermine the United States. This effort aims not to bring America to its knees through attacks with guns or bombs, but to subvert the country from within–by gradually Islamizing America. The ultimate goal, the stealth jihadists themselves declare, is nothing less than the adoption of Islamic law in the United States.

Describing the disturbing ease with which stealth jihadists have already become ensconced in the American political and media landscapes, Spencer exposes the full modus operandi of the movement as revealed in a stunning document unveiled in a recent terrorism funding trial. In this unsettling book, he explains:

  • Which Islamic fundamentalist organization is behind the stealth jihad
  • How stealth jihadists have reinvented themselves as mainstream civil rights activists–despite their many past declarations of Islamic supremacism
  • How stealth jihadists played a key role in formulating U.S. government guidelines for the War on Terror
  • How insistence on “accommodating” Islamic cultural and religious practices in America is part of a calculated strategy to achieve a dangerous larger agenda
  • The effort by stealth jihadists to whitewash the teaching of Islam in schools
  • What can be done to defeat the stealth jihad and preserve America’s liberty

America, Spencer demonstrates, is all but oblivious to a new kind of threat presented by a loosely organized movement whose activists are well funded, highly motivated, and relentless in pursuit of their agenda. This book is a wake-up call for a country so focused on foreign threats that it has left itself vulnerable to a growing danger much closer to home.


6. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades)

Politically Incorrect Guide IslamBack Cover: Everything (well, almost everything) you know about Islam and the Crusades is wrong because most textbooks and popular history books are written by left-wing academics and Islamic apologists who justify their contemporary political agendas with contrived historical “facts.” But fear not: Robert Spencer (author of the bestseller Islam Unveiled) refutes the popular myths in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades). Spencer reveals facts that you won’t be taught in school and will never hear on the evening news, supplies a revealing list of “Books You Must Not Read” (as far as the PC left is concerned), and takes you on a fast-paced politically incorrect tour of Islamic teaching and Crusades history that will give you all the information you need to understand the true nature of the global conflict America faces today.

“A clarion call for the defense of the West before it is too late.” – Ibn Warraq, author

“A much-needed antidote to the poisonous propaganda that compromises our current battle against jihadist murder.” – Bruce Thornton, historian

“An enormous amount of well-researched material. Throws the ball back into the camp of Arabist historians.” – Walid Phares, terror analyst

“Assails, with much erudition, the taboos imposed by the Politically Correct League.” – Bat Ye’or, historian

“The courageous Robert Spencer busts myths and tells truths about jihadists that no one else will tell.” – Michelle Malkin, bestselling author and columnist


A complete list of Robert’s Spencers work is available on the Amazon Author’s Page. Please take the time to visit Jihad Watch and to follow @JihadWatchRS on Twitter. Unless otherwise noted, all book descriptions and reviews were taken from Amazon.

  1. Fr. McCloskey: The Christian-Muslim Gulf, National Catholic Register []
  2. Robert Spencer: Read his full bio and an interview on Jihad Watch []
  3. Jihad Watch: Read more about why you should read Jihad Watch []
  4. A Caution: On his Twitter account, Robert Spencer tends to retweet some of the vulgarities Muslims tweet at him and retweet many of their threats. While the purpose is most probably to reveal what is being said to him, it can make for a very brutal or vulgar statement appearing in your Twitter feed. []
  5. Ascension Press Review []

The Right to Become Dead: 6 Introductory Thoughts on Assisted Suicide

If we all die, why fight to secure it as a right? The matter at hand is not death, simply speaking, but rather assisted suicide – “in short, a right to become dead, by assistance if necessary.”

Listers, is there a right to assisted suicide – what type of right do people claim it is? To address this question, we turn to the mind of Leon Kass. Though not a Catholic, Kass’ understanding of natural law and ills of modernity is better than most. His treatment of assisted suicide is particularly interesting because he uses the modern philosophers against modernity to show that even by this modern world’s own philosophies, there is no right to die. The first part of the discussion will address what is a right and what type of right could assisted suicide be.


1. A  Right to Die: An Introduction

Is there a right to die? Rather, if an individual finds his or herself in a state in which the individual no longer wants to live, do they have the right to oblige another into assisting their suicide? In his book entitled Life, Liberty and the Defense of Dignity, Leon Kass takes up the connection between assisted suicide and individual rights.

In his chapter Is There A Right To Die?, Kass carefully submits an argument presenting that even by several of the philosophies that shaped modernity there is only one conclusion: there is no defensible philosophic foundation for the right to die. However, the lack of philosophical framework has not stopped the modern polis from giving into the demands of right to die claimants. Kass not only brings to light several of the dangers of allowing a right to die position to find legitimacy in the polis, but also calls into question the proper limitation of rights overall.


2. Free to or a Right to Act?

If there is a “right to die,” then it is a new right unlike any other. Leon Kass observes the right to die is “grounded neither in nature nor in reason.”[1] In order to properly understand this critique it must be asked: what is a right? Examining their origin, Kass refers to Thomas Hobbes as the “first teacher of rights.”[2] According to Kass, Hobbes submits a right to be “a blameless liberty,” which means, “not everything we are free to do, morally or legally, we have a right to do.”[3] A “true right,” as seen by Kass, “would be at least a blameless or permitted liberty, at best a praiseworthy or even a rightful liberty, to do or not to do, without anyone else’s interference or opposition.”[4] There is a distinction between what one is free to do, and what one has a natural right to do. For a mundane example, one may be at liberty to wear “offensive perfumes,” but that does not mean one has a natural right to do so.[5]


3. Classical Rights and Welfare Rights

Kass parses out two general types of rights traditionally seen in the modern polis: the first are the “more negative classical rights,” and the second are the more entitlement based “welfare rights.”[6] The former were “asserted to protect” individuals from external authorities or peers by declaring certain liberties “blameless or rightful.”[7] The latter are a later modern addition in which “certain opportunities or goods” must be provided – “usually by the government” – due to the individual’s right to them.[8] Welfare rights are seemingly best read with the following distinction in mind: there is a difference between stating an individual has a right to possess a good, and submitting that an individual has a right for that good to be given to them.

What is the canon by which a right should be judged? Kass intimates that the answer is justice. He avers, “having a right means having a justified claim against others that they act in a fitting manner: either that they refrain from interfering or they deliver what is justly owed.”[9] Obligation undergirds this view of a right. As Kass states, “whether to noninterference or to some entitled good or service” a right “necessarily implies another person’s obligation.”[10]


4. The Right to Become Dead

Given the adumbrated language of rights, how then could a right to die be articulated? Like many political mantras, the phrase right to die is a misnomer. “Taken literally,” says Kass, “a right to die would denote merely a right to the inevitable.”[11] If we all die, why fight to secure it as a right? The matter at hand is not death, simply speaking, but rather assisted suicide – “in short, a right to become dead, by assistance if necessary.”[12]

How then is this assistance practically performed within the medical community? Kass delivers two notions of such a right: “the well-established common-law right” to refuse various forms of treatment and the “newly alleged ‘right to die.’”[13] The latter is as already stated, the assisted suicide via the refusal of therapy “so that death will occur,” while the former “permits the refusal of therapy, even a respirator, even if it means accepting an increased risk of death.”[14] Furthermore, the former “would seem to be more about choosing how to live while dying, the latter mainly about a choice for death.”[15] For Kass, the former is not a misnomer, while the latter is.


5. A Right to Deadly Assistance

And what of the notion of obligation that accompanies the concept of a right? Here is term assistance is key. The right to die does not include suicide, because suicide simply speaking does not involve the medical community. However, if that individual cannot perform the suicidal act, then – in respect of their right to die – the medical community and/or government must assist them. “They claim is not only a right to attempt suicide,” observes Kass, “but a right to succeed, and this means, in practice, a right to the deadly assistance of others.”[16]


6. The Claim of Cosmic Injustice

How should one categorize the right to die? Is it a classical right defending the individual from an injustice or is it a welfare right claiming the possession of some good? If it is classical then it seems it must be asserted against the medical community that sustains the patient’s life or against the legal community that has criminalized assisted suicide.[17] If it is a welfare right then it must claim the good of assistance in suicide must be provided if demanded. Moreover, could the right to die not be asserted “against nature, which has dealt [the individual] a bad hand by keeping [him] alive” in an undesirable condition?[18] Here Kass notes the “most radical formulations” of a right to die argument: “the complaint of human pride against what our tyrannical tendencies lead us to experience as ‘cosmic injustice, directed against me.’”[19] Placed within this context, the individual’s right to die is not only marked with a “compassionate charity,” but now carries the trait of “compensatory justice.”[20]


PART II: 6 Reasons Euthanasia is Incompatible with Modernity’s Own Philosophy


[1] Leon Kass. Life, Liberty, and the Defense of Dignity: The Challenge for Bioethics. (New York: Encounter Books, 2002), 203.

[2] Kass, 204.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid., 205.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 206.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid., 207.

[17] Ibid., 209.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.