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. []

The Ultimate Guide to St. Genevieve: 13 Things about Her and Her Feast Day

Life & Works

1. General Background

St. Genevieve was born around Anno Domini 419 or 422 in Nanterre, France, “a small village four miles from Paris, near the famous modern stations, or Calvary, adorned with excellent sculptures, representing our Lord’s Passion, on Mount Valerien.”1 She died in Paris in 512. Holy Mother Church celebrates her feast day on the third of January. “She was the daughter of Severus and Gerontia; popular tradition represents her parents as poor peasants, though it seems more likely that they were wealthy and respectable townspeople.”2

 

2. The Prophecy Over Young Genevieve

St Genevieve Card“Pope St. Boniface had sent St. Germain to Great Britain to combat the Pelagian heresy around the year 430. He was accompanied by St. Lupus, Bishop of Troyes. On their way through France, they stopped at the village of Nanterre. Upon their arrival, the two Prelates went to the Church to pray for the success of their trip. The people surrounded them with pious curiosity and to ask their blessing. Illuminated by a divine inspiration, Germain espied in the crowd a young girl of seven years of age, and he was interiorly advised that Our Lord had chosen her for a singular mission. He asked the name of the child and that she be brought before him. The people told him that her name was Genevieve. Her father and her mother brought her forward.”

“Is this child yours?” Germain asked.

They answered, “Yes.”

And the holy man said: “Blessed are you that God hath given you this child. Know you for certain that on the day of her birth the Angels sang and a great feast was made in Heaven. This girl shall be of great merit before the Lord. And from her good life and words many shall take example, that they shall leave the yoke of sin and convert to God.”

Then, he turned toward the child, and she said to him: “Blessed Father, your servant is listening.”

The Bishop asked: “Tell me, and be not embarrassed, if you will consecrate yourself to Christ in purity without stain as His spouse?”

The maid answered: “Blessed be you, my Father. What you ask of me is the most cherished desire of my heart. I ask only that by your prayers, Our Lord will accomplish my desire.”

“Have confidence, my daughter,” said Germain. “Be firm in your resolution. Prove by your works the good things that you believe in your heart and say with your mouth, and Our Lord shall give you strength as well as virtue.”3

It is also reported the saint told young Genevieve, “Be of good heart, my child, act with earnestness, and struggle to prove by thy works that which thou believest in thy heart, and professest with thy lips; the Lord will sustain thee, and will give thee the strength that is required to carry out thy holy resolution.”4 Most sources conclude the event between the young girl and the saint as follows: “Genèvieve then expressed her wish that Saint Germain would bless her. Granting the child’s wish, Saint Germain took her to a local church where he performed the consecration. The next day, before he continued on his journey, Saint Germain gave Genèvieve a brass medal engraved with a cross. He instructed her to always wear it around her neck, in remembrance of her consecration to God and devotion to Christ. Further, he told her to be content with only the medal, and to wear it instead of more showy ornaments such as gold and silver bracelets, and necklaces. She kept the medal all her life, never giving it up even when she badly needed money. She lived a life of fervent devotion and penance. As there were no convents near her village, Genèvieve practiced her religious virtue and prayer at home.”5

 

3. Similarities Between St. Genevieve  & St. Joan of Arc

“Many of her neighbours, filled with jealousy and envy, accused Genevieve of being an impostor and a hypocrite. Like Blessed Joan of Arc, in later times, she had frequent communion with the other world, but her visions and prophecies were treated as frauds and deceits. Her enemies conspired to drown her; but, through the intervention of Germain of Auxerre, their animosity was finally overcome. The bishop of the city appointed her to look after the welfare of the virgins dedicated to God, and by her instruction and example she led them to a high degree of sanctity.”6

 

4. Stopping Attila the Hun, AD 451

"This statue of Sainte-Geneviève, patron saint and protector of the city of Paris, was created in 1928 for the Pont de la Tournelle."
“This statue of Sainte-Geneviève, patron saint and protector of the city of Paris, was created in 1928 for the Pont de la Tournelle.” She stands high above the river, facing East, watching over the city.

“Another significant and often-reported event in Genèvieve’s life occurred around 451, when the barbarian Attila and his army of Huns marched across the continent, intending to take control of Gaul away from the ruling Visigoths. After Attila crossed the Rhine and neared Paris, the Parisian citizens were ready to flee the city in terror. Genèvieve, however, advised them against evacuation. She told them that if they kept their faith in God, fasted, prayed and performed penance, the city would be protected by heaven and their lives would be spared. The citizens were doubtful, however, as they all knew that Attila was a vicious and merciless warlord who left devastation in his wake. His soldiers were an equally cruel band of marauders who raped, looted, killed and destroyed. Still, many of the citizens passed days and nights in prayer with Genèvieve in the baptistery. But when the crisis neared its peak, and Attila seemed to be right outside the city walls, the people became panic-stricken, and they turned against Genèvieve. They accused her of being a false prophet who would bring about their deaths as well as the destruction of their beloved city, and they threatened to stone her.”

“Again, Saint Germain’s intervention helped her. News of the situation reached him as he lay near death in Ravenna, Italy. In response, he sent his archdeacon, Sedulius, to help calm the citizens. Sedulius counseled them to listen to Genèvieve, saying she was not a prophetess of doom but the means of their salvation. Still, some inhabitants abandoned Paris. Genèvieve then supposedly gathered the women who had remained behind and led them outside the walls of the city. As the sun rose, and with enemy weapons before them, Genèvieve and the women prayed for deliverance. Later that night, Attila turned away from Paris, leaving the city unharmed, and headed south, to Orleans. Genèvieve was proclaimed a savior and heroine.”7

 

5. King Childeric & the Siege of Paris, AD 486

“Genèvieve demonstrated her bravery and helped the people of Paris a second time, almost similarly, more than 30 years later. In 486, Childeric, the king of the Salian Franks, a Germanic tribe, blockaded the city. The prolonged siege created a serious food shortage that brought the citizens to the starvation point. One night, Genèvieve led 11 boats out onto the river, rowing past the enemy’s siege lines. Once safely across, she went from village to village, begging for food. Later that night, she returned to Paris, again slipping safely past the blockade, with boatfuls of precious grain.”

“When he heard about her deed, Childeric was impressed with Genèvieve, even though he was a pagan and she was a Christian. After the siege had ended, he sent for her and, out of admiration, he asked what he could do for her. She said to him, “Release your prisoners. Their only fault was that they so dearly loved their city.” He granted her wish, and later performed other merciful acts at her request.”8

 

6. The Church of Sts. Peter & Paul

“When Childeric died, King Clovis succeeded him and consolidated control of the land from the Rhine to the Loire. He married Childeric’s elder daughter, Clothilde, who was a Christian. Clovis, like Childeric, was a pagan, and his wife often tried to convert him, but without success. Still, Clovis chose Genèvieve to be one of his counselors, and she earned his trust. As Childeric once did, Clovis freed many prisoners at Genèvieve’s request. Once, as Clovis prepared to enter what he knew would be fierce battle, he promised his wife that he would be baptized in the Christian rite if he came back alive. True to his word, when his army won, he became a Christian in 496, guided in his conversion by Genèvieve. His people and servants soon became Christians as well. Genèvieve is credited with developing the plans for a church to honor Saints Peter and Paul, to be built in the middle of Paris. King Clovis started the church, managing only to lay the foundation before he died in 511. The church was completed by Queen Clothilde.”9

 

 7. Named the “Patron Saint of Paris”

“Genèvieve died January 3, 512, only five weeks after King Clovis’s death. She was in her eighth decade of life; at least one account said she was 89 years old. She was buried in a long, flowing gown with a mantle covering her shoulders, similar to the type of garments worn by the Virgin Mary. Genèvieve’s burial site within the church would become a place of pilgrimage, as people had heard many stories of miracles and cures attributed to Genèvieve. Even after her death, miracles were credited to Genèvieve. Perhaps the most famous account involved the great epidemic of ergot poisoning that afflicted France in the twelfth century. After all efforts to find a cure were unsuccessful, in 1129, Bishop Stephen of Paris instructed that Genèvieve’s casket be carried through the city streets in procession to the cathedral. According to reports from the time, thousands of sick people were cured when they saw or touched the casket. The following year, Pope Innocent II visited Paris and ordered an annual feast to commemorate the miracle. Parisian churches still celebrate the feast.”

“St. Genèvieve also became known as the Patron Saint of Young Girls. Also, in 1962, Pope John XXIII named her the patron saint of French security forces, a gesture that honored her many efforts to secure Paris. Her feast day is January 3, but it is not part of the general Roman Catholic calendar.”10

 

Inside the Pantheon by Jean-Pierre Lavoie, wiki.
Inside the Pantheon by Jean-Pierre Lavoie, wiki.

The Church of St. Genevieve & Her Relics

8. Paris Turns Against Her Patron

In 512, St. Genevieve died and her body was interred in the Sts. Peter & Paul Church she helped design. “This fact, and the numerous miracles wrought at her tomb, caused the name of Sainte-Geneviève to be given to it. Kings, princes, and people enriched it with their gifts. In 847 it was plundered by the Normans and was partially rebuilt, but was completed only in 1177. This church having fallen into decay once more, Louis XV began the construction of a new church in 1764.”11 Unfortunately, the French Revolution broke out before the new church dedicated to St. Genevieve was finished. In 1791, the Constituent Assembly secularized the church and renamed it “The Pantheon” – a building dedicated as a mausoleum for notable Frenchmen. The fight for the building continued as it was rededicated as a church in 1821, then secularized in 1831, rededicated in 1852, and then finally secularized as the Pantheon in 1885.12 Today, the Pantheon remains a secularized burial place for Frenchmen, which occasional permits religious events.13

 

9. The Burning of St. Genevieve’s Relics

“St. Genevieve’s relics were preserved in her church, with great devotion, for centuries, and Paris received striking proof of the efficacy of her intercession. She saved the city from complete inundation in 834. In 1129 a violent plague, known as the mal des ardents, carried off over 14,000 victims, but it ceased suddenly during a procession in her honour. Innocent II, who had come to Paris to implore the king’s help against the Antipope Anacletus in 1130, examined personally into the miracle and was so convinced of its authenticity that he ordered a feast to be kept annually in honour of the event on 26 November. A small church, called Sainte-Geneviève des Ardents, commemorated the miracle till 1747, when it was pulled down to make room for the Foundling Hospital. The saint’s relics were carried in procession yearly to the cathedral, and Mme de Sévigné gives a description of the pageant in one of her letters. The revolutionaries of 1793 destroyed most of the relics preserved in St. Genevieve’s church, and the rest were cast to the winds by the mob in 1871. Fortunately, however, a large relic had been kept at Verneuil, Oise, in the eighteenth century, and is still extant.”14

 

Prayers

10. Prayer to Saint Genevieve

Saint Genevieve, you who by the days before, penance and prayer, ensured the protection of Paris, intercede near God for us, for our country, for the devoted Christian hearts. You who cured the sick and fed the hungry, obtain the light of God and make us stronger to reject temptation. You who had the concern of the poor, protect the sick, the abandoned, and the unemployed. You who resisted the armies and encouraged the besieged, give us the direction for truth and justice. You who through the centuries never ceased taking care of your people, help us to keep the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ. May your example be for us, an encouragement to always seek God and serve him through our brothers and sisters. Amen.15

 

11. Litany to Saint Genevieve

Lord, have mercy on us. Christ, have mercy on us. Lord, have mercy on us.
Christ, hear us. Christ, graciously hear us.
God the Father of heaven, have mercy on us.
God the Son, Redeemer of the world, have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit, have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God, have mercy on us.

St. Genevieve, who since childhood was filled with GodÂ’s grace, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, consecrated to Christ by St. Germane, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, obedient to the Holy Spirit, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, zealous defender of the faith, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, heroically devoted to the Church, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, whose life is an example how we should live for God, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, intercessor of the clergy, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who suffered for your vocation, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who knew about hostility and abandonment, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who spent hours in prayer, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, whose fasts and prayers saved the city, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who had a demanding friendship with the king, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, whose wisdom enlightened the pagans, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, whose prudence guided the leaders, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, with purity you overcame slander, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, whose strength stood up against the evil doers, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who miraculously nourished the hungry, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who reconciled sinners with God, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who brought back to the Church the lost ones, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who read the conscience through the gift of the Holy Spirit, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who cured the sick, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who controlled the floods, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who restored peace between enemies, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who softened the fate of the prisoners, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, who drove out demons, pray for us.
St. Genevieve, protector of your devoted people, pray for us.

Give us, Lord, the spirit of intelligence and love of which you filled your daughter, Genevieve, so that attentive to your service and seeking to do your will, we can please you by our faith and our deeds. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Sprit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Let us open our hearts in thanks to God for the favors showered upon us. Saint Paul teaches us to give thanks to God the Father always through Christ, in whom He has given us everything. For when we became GodÂ’s children in Christ, God gave us the riches of his grace, rescuing us from the powers of darkness and bringing us into the kingdom of his beloved Son. Whenever we acknowledge GodÂ’s gifts, we prepare ourselves to take part more fully in the Eucharist, which is the sum of all blessings and the crown and source of all thanksgiving. Amen.16

 

Celebrating the Feast Day

12. Celebratory Alcoholic Drinks

Cheers! SPL is certainly no stranger to celebrating the traditions of the Catholic faith with alcohol. A week before St. Genevieve’s feast, the Church celebrates the feast of St. John the Apostle, which has a long tradition of blessing wine.17 With SPL posting lists on prayers to bless beer and introductions to Trappist Ale, it is no surprise that alcohol would be included in celebrating the great St. Genevieve. The first recipe come recommended by the author of Drinking with the Saints, Michael P. Foley. He also recommends looking into Sainte Genevieve Winery for those more inclined to wine. He proposed toast is “to St. Genevieve: May she protect us from today’s barbarians.” As the Patroness of Paris, the “Paris Cocktail” is a fitting drink to celebrate this wonderful saint.

Paris Cocktail

3/4 oz. gin
3/4 oz. Grand Marnier
1/2 oz. cherry liqueur
1/2 oz. lemon juice

Pour ingredients into a shaker filled with ice and shake forty times. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Another option, suggested by SPL, would be a French Coffee:

Caffe Francais

1/2 cup whipping cream, chilled (heavy cream)

1/8 cup powdered sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cups coffee, hot

Beat the cream until it’s rich and fluffy, with soft peaks (or use already whipped cream from a can). Mix in the powdered sugar, and continue to beat until you have stiff peaks. Split whipped cream between 2 mugs. Add vanilla to the hot coffee, then pour over cream. Serve right away, Don’t stir!18

Enjoy the cocktail, the wine, or the caffe – but be sure to toast St. Genevieve. St. Genevieve: May she protect us from today’s barbarians!

 

13. Celebratory Foods

While there does not appear to be a traditional food associated with the feast of St. Genevieve, there are two fun options for breakfast. The first would be to serve french toast and the second would be to serve the so-called Apostle’s Fingers, which is a traditional French dish served during the winter carnival. The Apostle’s Fingers are lemon and riccota filled crepes.19

 

St. Genevieve, pray for us!

  1. St. Genevieve VIRGIN, CHIEF PATRONESS OF THE CITY OF PARIS, EWTN. []
  2. Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Genevieve, paraphrased and quotes. []
  3. St. Genevieve, Tradition in Action, Prof. Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira. []
  4. St. Genevieve, Encyclopedia. []
  5. Id. []
  6. Catholic Encyclopedia, St. Genevieve. []
  7. St. Genevieve, Encyclopedia. []
  8. St. Genevieve, Encyclopedia. []
  9. St. Genevieve, Encyclopedia. []
  10. St. Genevieve, Enncyclopedia. []
  11. St. Genevieve, Catholic Encyclopedia. []
  12. St. Genevieve, Catholic Encyclopedia, directly paraphrased. []
  13. St. Genevieve, Wikipedia. []
  14. St. Genevieve, Catholic Encyclopedia. []
  15. St. Genevieve Catholic Church, Arizona. []
  16. Id. []
  17. SPL: Toasting St. John with Blessed Wine. []
  18. French Coffee Recipe – Food.com []
  19. Apostle Fingers, Food52. []

Ante-Purgatory: The 3 Ways Those Who Repent Late in Life are Punished in Dante’s Purgatorio

At this death there ensured a struggled between the powers of good and evil for his soul; since he had uttered the name of Mary with his dying breath and shed a tear of true repentance, the heavily faction prevailed and bore his soul off to Paradise.

Ante-Purgatory

 

1. The Excommunicated

In Canto III, Dante and Virgil encounter those souls who were excommunicated. The reason, however, these souls are in purgatory and not hell is because they repented at the very end of their life. In Dante’s Purgatorio, the repentant excommunicants are actually not in purgatory proper – they are in ante-purgatory or that which comes before purgatory. Virgil and the Pilgrim Dante meet a soul named Manfred. The soul explains that the souls of excommunicants who repent late in life must wait in ante-purgatory thirty times as long as they waited to repent on earth. The wait can, however, be shorted by intercessory prayer. Manfred explains his situation in a very beautiful section of verses:

Horrible was the nature of my sins,
but boundless mercy stretches out its arms
to any man who comes in search of it,

[…]

The church’s curse is not the final word
for Everlasting Love may still return,
if hope reveals the slightest hint of green.

True, he who dies scorning the Holy Church,
although he turns repentant at life’s end,
must stay outside, a wanderer on this bank,

for thirty time as long as he has lived
in his presumptuousness-although good prayers
may shorten the duration of his term.

The reason waiting in ante-purgatory is a punishment is because the souls cannot begin their purgation, and it is their purgation that makes them fit to enter into the beatific bliss of heaven. It is possible that Dante has the souls wait “thirty times as long” as they lived in their presumptuous state due to “a provision in Canon Law that calls for a thirty-day period of grace before the ban of excommunication goes into effect.”1

 

2. The Indolent

After climbing through an arduous gap in the mountain, Dante the Pilgrim is told that Mount Purgatory actually becomes easier to climb the higher you go.2 As they continue their ascent, Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil meet the “indolent souls” who constitute the second class of the “Late Repentants” in ante-purgatory. The indolent souls are lazy. Though they were not excommunicated as the first class of Late Repentants, the indolent souls simply waited until their end of their life to repent. They are punished by having to wait outside purgatory proper for as many years as they waited to repent on earth. An indolent soul named Belacqua explains:

Before I start, the heavens must revolve
as many times as while I was alive,
for I put off repenting till the end.

Prayers could, of course, make my time shorter here:
prayers form a heart that lives in grace–the rest
are worthless, for they go unheard in Heaven!”

Note that Dante again includes the benefit of intercessory prayer when speaking of the punishment of these souls. With the indolent, the concept of praying for the poor souls in purgatory is explained in further detail and includes that those prayers must come from an individual on earth who is in a state of grace.3

 

3. The Unshriven: Violent Deaths

As Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil continue on their ascent, they discover a group of souls chanting Miserere. The souls are the third and final class of the Late Repentants. They are those “who died a violent death but managed to repent in the final moments.”4

We are all souls who met a violent death,
and we were sinners to our final hour;
but then the light of Heaven lit our minds,

and penitent and pardoning, we left
that life at peace with God, Who left our hearts
with longing for the holy sight of Him.”

Here they encounter the soul named Buonconte of Montefeltro. Buonconte’s story is notable: “At this death there ensured a struggled between the powers of good and evil for his soul; since he had uttered the name of Mary with his dying breath and shed a tear of true repentance, the heavenly faction prevailed and bore his soul off to Paradise. But a demon took possession of his corpse and played havoc with it: he conjured up a storm and sent the mortal remains plummeting down the raging and swollen river channels.”5 He states:

I made my way, my throat on open wound,
fleeing on foot, and bloodying the plain.

There I went blind. I could no longer speak,
but as I died, I murmured Mary’s name,
and there I fell and left my empty flesh.

The unshriven or unabsolved begin the theme of each group in purgatory having its own prayer. The unshriven sing the Miserere, which is King David’s famous Psalm 50 asking for forgiveness.6 The unshriven souls request that Dante and others pray for them.7 Continuing the theme of intercessory prayer, Dante asks Virgil about the “power of prayer to affect the will of Heaven.”8 Virgil states, “high justice would in no way be debased / if ardent love should cancel instantly / the debt these penitents must satisfy.”9 In contrast, however, Virgil submits there are “those whose sins could not be urged by prayer / because their prayers had no access to God.”10

 

The Gate of Purgatory

"The Portals of Purgatory" by Gustave Dore.
“The Portals of Purgatory” by Gustave Dore.

While still in ante-purgatory, Virgil and Dante the Pilgrim continue to the Valley of the Princes where the “Negligent Rulers” dwell.11 The rulers are singing the Salve Regina. Though not late repentants, the rulers continue a theme of negligence seen in the excommunicants, the indolent, and the unshriven. After a few other encounters, Dante the Pilgrim and Virgil arrive at the Gate of Purgatory. Three steps lead up to the gate. The first is a marble step “polished to the glaze of a looking glass.”12 The second is a black step, “rough and crumbling, fire-corroded stone.”13 And the third and final step – upon which the Gate of Purgatory sat – was “red as the blood that spurts out from a vein.”14 According to Musa, “the three steps are generally taken t0 represent the three stages of repentance: the first step, which is white and mirror-like, stands for self-examination; the second, black, rough step stands for sorrow for sin, or contrition; the third, flaming-red step signifies satisfaction of the sinner’s debt, or penance.”15 On the threshold of the Gate of Purgatory sits an angel clothed in an ash gray robe holding a sword. When Dante approaches, the angel traces seven “P’s” on his forehead. In Latin, the word for sin is peccatum, which foreshadows the seven capital vices that will be purged in purgatory. The angel even warns Dante to be sure to “wash away” the wounds on his journey. The angel then takes keys given to him by St. Peter – one gold and one silver – and opens the Gate of Purgatory. As the gate opens, Dante can hear Te Deum Laudamus being sung.

  1. Purgatory, Trans. Musa, 39 n. 139. []
  2. See Canto IV, line 88-90. []
  3. See Purgatory, 48, n. 133-35. []
  4. Purgatory, 49. []
  5. Purgatory, Canto V, 49. []
  6. Psalm 50 – DR. []
  7. Canto VI, 25-37. []
  8. Purgatory, 57. []
  9. Canto VI, 37-19. []
  10. Canto VI, 41-2. []
  11. Canto VII. []
  12. Canto IX, 94-5. []
  13. Id. 98. []
  14. Id. 102. []
  15. Purgatory, 105. []

Purgatory: 8 Maps of Dante’s Purgatorio

"The Portals of Purgatory" by Gustave Dore.
“The Portals of Purgatory” by Gustave Dore.

Listers, “The “Divina Commedia” is an allegory of human life, in the form of a vision of the world beyond the grave, written avowedly with the object of converting a corrupt society to righteousness: “to remove those living in this life from the state of misery, and lead them to the state of felicity”. It is composed of a hundred cantos, written in the measure known as terza rima, with its normally hendecasyllabic lines and closely linked rhymes, which Dante so modified from the popular poetry of his day that it may be regarded as his own invention. He is relating, nearly twenty years after the event, a vision which was granted to him (for his own salvation when leading a sinful life) during the year of jubilee, 1300, in which for seven days (beginning on the morning of Good Friday) he passed through hell, purgatory, and paradise, spoke with the souls in each realm, and heard what the Providence of God had in store for himself and to world. The framework of the poem presents the dual scheme of the “De Monarchiâ” transfigured. Virgil, representing human philosophy acting in accordance with the moral and intellectual virtues, guides Dante by the light of natural reason from the dark wood of alienation from God (where the beasts of lust pride, and avarice drive man back from ascending the Mountain of the Lord), through hell and purgatory to the earthly paradise, the state of temporal felicity, when spiritual liberty has been regained by the purgatorial pains. Beatrice, representing Divine philosophy illuminated by revelation, leads him thence, up through the nine moving heavens of intellectual preparation, into the true paradise, the spaceless and timeless empyrean, in which the blessedness of eternal life is found in the fruition of the sight of God. There her place is taken by St. Bernard, type of the loving contemplation in which the eternal life of the soul consists, who commends him to the Blessed Virgin, at whose intercession he obtains a foretaste of the Beatific Vision, the poem closing with all powers of knowing and loving fulfilled and consumed in the union of the understanding with the Divine Essence, the will made one with the Divine Will, “the Love that moves the sun and the other stars”.1

Purgatorio
“The “Purgatorio”, perhaps the most artistically perfect of the three canticles, owes less to the beauty of the separate episodes. Dante’s conception of purgatory as a lofty mountain, rising out of the ocean in the southern hemisphere, and leading up to the Garden of Eden, the necessary preparation for winning back the earthly paradise, and with it all the prerogatives lost by man at the fall of Adam, seems peculiar to him; nor do we find elsewhere the purifying process carried on beneath the sun and stars, with the beauty of transfigured nature only eclipsed by the splendour of the angelic custodians of the seven terraces. The meeting with Beatrice on the banks of Lethe, with Dante’s personal confession of an unworthy past, completes the story of the “Vita Nuova” after the bitter experiences and disillusions of a lifetime. The essence of Dante’s philosophy is that all virtues and all vices proceed from love. The “Purgatorio” shows how love is to be set in order, the “Paradiso” shows how it is rendered perfect in successive stages of illumination, until it attains to union with the Divine Love.”2

 

Maps of Mount Purgatorio

Mount Purgatory 1

Mount Purgatory 2

Mount Purgatory 4

Mount Purgatory 5

Mount Purgatory 6

Mount Purgatory 8

Mount Purgatory 3

Mount Purgatory 7

 

Bonus: Maps of Dante’s Universe

Dante Universe 3

Dante Universe 1

Dante Universe 4

Dante Universe 2

  1. Catholic Encyclopedia: Dante Alighieri. []
  2. Id. []

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.

 

PETITION SENT TO JOHN PAUL II
FOR THE PROCLAMATION OF SAINT THOMAS MORE
AS PATRON OF STATESMEN

 

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.

 

APOSTOLIC LETTER
ISSUED MOTU PROPRIO
PROCLAIMING SAINT THOMAS MORE
PATRON OF STATESMEN AND POLITICIANS

POPE JOHN PAUL II
FOR PERPETUAL REMEMBRANCE

 

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. []

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. []

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. []

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.”

Envy

  • 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.”

Anger

  • 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.”

Melancholy

  • 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.”

Avarice

  • 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.”

Gluttony

  • 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.”

Lust

  • 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. []

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. []

4 Ways to Save Your Soul on a College Campus

The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” and there is no greater way to grow in faith and grace than feeding on the Bread of Life.

Listers, with an increasingly hostile and secular society, Catholics find themselves each day becoming more countercultural. Young people with a sincere heart who wish to follow Christ and keep the commands of Holy Mother Church, will find that living a true Catholic lifestyle can be difficult and lonely in a culture that no longer upholds Christendom.

College campuses are no doubt breeding grounds for the secular culture. Literally. Even students who find themselves at a Catholic university will face challenges to their faith. So how does one save his soul while at college surrounded by a culture that abuses drugs, sex, contraception, abortion, alcohol and has little faith?

 

1. A Liberal Arts Education

If you find yourself enrolled in college, you probably want to get an education. Resist the temptation to pursue degrees aimed at finding a job. Yes, a job is important and good, but college is a time to “build walls, not to keep people in, but to keep the world out.” [1] It is a time to contemplate the higher things of life, your place in the world and your eternal end. Do not become obsessed with grades, internships and job searches. “Keep the world out” and take advantage of the only opportunity to contemplate the essential questions of life without the pressures of the working world. Furthermore, resist all temptations to enroll in easy courses with laid-back professors.

A liberal arts education is meant to be challenging and intellectually stimulating. Find professors who do not merely “teach” their students or talk at them, but rather ones who engage in a dialogue with students. Socrates, the greatest teacher in Western history, never gave lengthy lectures. He instead pondered questions with those around him and helped to guide his students along the way. Once you discover professors who engage the best that has been written and taught in the West, stick with them, regardless of what classes they teach. One cannot live the faith sincerely without first learning it. There is no better way of unlocking the rich intellectual tradition of the Church than by studying the liberal arts. A great way to find out how to learn while in college is to read Another Sort of Learning by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.

 

2. Community

Friendships matter. Indeed the Philosopher devotes two books to the importance of friendship. [2] It is imperative to find a community of friends who live out the Catholic faith. These communities will help support and foster both faith and virtue. A good place to start at a non-Catholic school would be the Newman Center. Organizations such as the Knights of Columbus, Catholic Daughters of America, Daughters of Isabella, FOCUS and other faith-based groups are a great place to find friendship. Additionally, get involved with service projects even if they are sponsored by a secular organization. Finding friends and providing a witness to Christ through works of mercy is a rewarding experience for all involved. Finally, do not limit yourself to groups within the university. Many religious orders and dioceses run young adult ministries across the country. And if you can’t find any groups, start one yourself!

 

3. Attend Daily Mass & Frequent Confession

The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life”[3] and there is no greater way to grow in faith and grace than feeding on the Bread of Life. Daily Mass will become a center point for your college life and will order your day toward God. For many people, college was the only opportunity to attend to attend daily Mass and holy hour without the interference and stress of work life. Finally, go often to confession and keep your soul clean and fervent.

 

4. Prayer, Devotionals and Confraternities

Prayer is our weapon and shield against the Evil One. It is our link to God. Look to the Gospel and find Jesus going out often to pray. We must follow our Savior and do the same. I encourage you to enroll in spiritual confraternities such as the Angelic Warfare Confraternity, Confraternity of the Most Holy Rosary and practice devotionals such as True Devotion to Mary. Most of all grow in love of our Blessed Mother who will always lead us to her Son. Mary is the surest path to Jesus. Pray the Rosary daily.

 

Listers, college is a time to either find God and belong more deeply to Him, or, to turn away from the faith and adopt the currents of the world. Hold firm to these four points. Pope Francis urges the young to “swim against the tide.”[4] Keep in mind that the temptations and trails will never leave. As G.K. Chesterton said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.”

May Mary our Mother, intercede on our behalf and lead us to her Son all the days of our life.

St. Thomas Aquinas, patron of students, pray for us!

 

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.

 

 

 

 

[1] James V. Schall, S.J. – Georgetown Voice

[2] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics.

[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1324

[4] Pope Francis, April 28th, 2013 Confirmation Mass for Young People: CNA.

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.

15 Catholic Quotes in Response to the SCOTUS Rulings on DOMA and Prop 8

“It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.” – Justice Scalia

Recommended Reading

 

Quotes

Scalia More hat
Justice Scalia wearing his St. Thomas More replica hat.

“But to defend traditional marriage is not to condemn, demean, or humiliate those who would prefer other arrangements, any more than to defend the Constitution of the United States is to condemn, demean, or humiliate other constitutions. To hurl such accusations so casually demeans this institution. In the majority’s judgment, any resistance to its holding is beyond the pale of reasoned disagreement. To question its high-handed invalidation of a presumptively valid statute is to act (the majority is sure) with the purpose to “disparage,” ”injure,” “degrade,” ”demean,” and “humiliate” our fellow human beings, our fellow citizens, who are homosexual.”

“All that, simply for supporting an Act that did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence— indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history. It is one thing for a society to elect change; it is another for a court of law to impose change by adjudging those who oppose it hostes humani generis, enemies of the human race.” – Justice Scalia, U.S. v. Windsor, dissent. [Source]

 

“Our culture has taken for granted for far too long what human nature, experience, common sense, and God’s wise design all confirm: the difference between a man and a woman matters, and the difference between a mom and a dad matters. While the culture has failed in many ways to be marriage-strengthening, this is no reason to give up. Now is the time to strengthen marriage, not redefine it…” – Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco. [Source]

 

“Today’s decisions will also undoubtedly contribute to concerted efforts not just to redefine marriage but to dismantle it, efforts which represent a serious threat to religious liberty and conscience rights for countless people of faith. This threat to religious freedom is one of many, locally and nationally, that has prompted our current Fortnight for Freedom, which we hope will inspire people throughout the country to prayer, education, and action to preserve religious liberty.” – Archbishop William E. Lori, Archbishop of Baltimore [Source]

 

“While today’s decision voids federal law it opens the doors to others: it allows the citizens of each state the opportunity to uphold the true definition of marriage by voting for representatives and legislation that defend the true definition of marriage. I call on all people of good will to make their voices heard through the democratic process by upholding marriage in their home states… This archdiocese remains resolved in the belief that no Catholic priest will ever be compelled to condone- even silently – same-sex “marriages.” – The Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop for the Military Services, USA. [Source]

 

“The response of the Catholic Church is universal and unchanged. Marriage is not a societal construct, but is rather an institution given by God and written in the laws of nature, established at the creation of the world. With this in mind, no government power has the authority or ability to redefine the essence of marriage. Their redefinition only causes them to officially speak incorrectly about marriage.” – From the Office of the Bishop, the Diocese of Tulsa [Source]

 

“At this time, we as Catholics reaffirm that no court decision can recreate reality or change the truth about marriage, and we mourn for what will likely be lost for many as a result of this decision – the conviction that marriage is between one man and one woman and the freedom that comes from living in that conviction. We will continue to pray for a renewed respect for the complementarity of the sexes and the authentic goods of marriage.” – Archbishop Coakley of the Diocese of Oklahoma City [Source]

 

“Anthony McLeod Kennedy, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, authored today’s majority opinion striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act. This was his third sodomy case at the Supreme Court where he authored the pro-sodomy opinion. He also authored a 1996 opinion overriding Colorado’s constitution, where Kennedy invented a federal right for practicing homosexuals to have special discrimination claim rights. And he authored the infamous 2003 decision inventing a constitutional right to homosexual sodomy, overriding state laws… The bishop, the Most Reverend Paul Stephen Loverde, has stood firm in a position of Communion-on-Demand, no matter who presents himself at the altar rail (or missing rail, as the bishop has also banned the construction of altar rails). We shall see if Bishop Loverde is content with a three-time author of pro-sodomy decisions receiving Communion in his diocese this Sunday, or if the time is finally now to exert some nominal discipline. Sodomy is a sin that cries to Heaven for vengeance, even in the Diocese of Arlington, right?”  Adfero, Justice Anthony Kennedy: “full communion,” Rorate Caeli. [Source]

 

“Justice Kennedy wrote, ‘The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.’ This is only slightly less outrageously self-contradictory than his famous ‘mystery” utterance: ‘At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.'”That statement was written by Justice Kennedy (along with Justices Souter and O’Connor) in his opinion on the 1992 case, “Planned Parenthood v. Casey.”  Father Fessio, S.J. [Source]

 

“Catholic teaching protects the dignity of every human person, all deserving love and respect, including those who experience same-sex attraction. This is a reality that calls for compassion, sensitivity, and pastoral care. But no one –especially a child, is served by marriage redefinition.” – Wilton D. Gregory, Archbishop of Atlanta [Source]

 

“While civil law establishes societal standards of conduct, we must also consider the natural law, moral law and divine revelation,” Bishop Wester said. “It is from these fonts of wisdom and grace that we Catholics understand that marriage between one man and one woman is a gift to humanity. The blessings of such a marriage cannot be legislated, litigated or changed by civil authorities.” – The Most Reverend John C. Wester, Catholic Bishop of Salt Lake City [Source]

 

“The well-being of our society, our nation, and our families is intimately linked to the institution of marriage. These decisions by the United States Supreme Court will make significantly more difficult our work of upholding the truth that marriage is a lifelong covenant between one man and one woman. Such decisions, made by any civic authority, do not serve the common good.” – Detroit Archbishop Allen H. Vigneron [Source]

 

“The truth is that marriage is between a man and a woman… Court decisions may change, but the truth does not… The Catholic Church will be faithful to this truth whether it is convenient or not.” – Archbishop Thomas J. Rodi, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Mobile [Source]

 

Updated 6-27-13

“As in the case of Roe v. Wade striking down abortion laws forty years ago, the United States Supreme Court has again usurped its legitimate prerogative through a raw exercise of judicial power by giving legal protection to an intrinsic evil… These hollow decisions are absolutely devoid of moral authority. It is becoming increasingly and abundantly clear that what secular law now calls “marriage” has no semblance to the sacred institution of Holy Matrimony. People of faith are called to reject the redefinition of marriage and bear witness to the truth of Holy Matrimony as a lasting, loving and life-giving union between one man and one woman.” – Most Reverend Thomas John Paprocki, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Springfield in Illinois [Source]

 

“The Bishops of Massachusetts are extremely disappointed that the Court has struck down DOMA. The Church continues to stand for the traditional definition of marriage, an institution which unites one man and one woman with any children who may come from that union. Marriage, as a natural institution, predates both religion and government and is grounded in the nature of the human person. Protecting the traditional definition of marriage affirms the basic rights and dignity of women and men while safeguarding the basic rights of children.” – Massachusetts Catholic Conference Statement on DOMA Ruling [Source]

Updated 7-1-13

How serious a threat to marriage and society is the Supreme Court decision on DOMA?

Without being able to go into the actual text of the decision, what the decision represents, sadly, for our society, is a loss of the sense of nature, and specifically human nature, and the continuation in the highest judicial decisions of the pretence to define, for instance, the meaning of human life, define marriage in a way other than nature herself defines marriage. So this is one more step down a path which is destructive. So it’s a very serious matter, and we have to, as citizens of the United States, reawaken and insist on the respect for human life and also for the integrity of the marital union.

Do you see it being reversed in any way?

I certainly hope so — I hope people of good will fight for the sake of saving marriage, because marriage and the family are the first cell of the whole life of society. This is not a particularly Catholic issue, and that should be made clear. Surely, the Catholic Church teaches the moral law, but this has to do with the moral law written on every human heart, and you can’t tell me the founders of the United States of America didn’t have a respect for nature and a profound sense of it. In any case, we must have it.

How should the Church best respond to this?

The Church should teach very effectively and also encourage her members to be active in politics, in education and every aspect of society to promote a sound understanding of marriage and the family.

– Interview with His Eminence Cardinal Burke, National Catholic Register [Source]

 

Listers, if you have a recommended quote share it in the comment box. We’ll be updating this list as this historical event unfolds. Keep Calm and Catholic On. 

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.

Early Church: 12 Quotes on Homosexuality and Other Sexual Sins

“[H]aving forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men…”

1. The Didache

“You shall not commit murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not commit pederasty, you shall not commit fornication, you shall not steal, you shall not practice magic, you shall not practice witchcraft, you shall not murder a child by abortion nor kill one that has been born” (Didache 2:2 [A.D. 70]).1

 

2. Justin Martyr

“[W]e have been taught that to expose newly-born children is the part of wicked men; and this we have been taught lest we should do anyone harm and lest we should sin against God, first, because we see that almost all so exposed (not only the girls, but also the males) are brought up to prostitution. And for this pollution a multitude of females and hermaphrodites, and those who commit unmentionable iniquities, are found in every nation. And you receive the hire of these, and duty and taxes from them, whom you ought to exterminate from your realm. And anyone who uses such persons, besides the godless and infamous and impure intercourse, may possibly be having intercourse with his own child, or relative, or brother. And there are some who prostitute even their own children and wives, and some are openly mutilated for the purpose of sodomy; and they refer these mysteries to the mother of the gods” (First Apology 27 [A.D. 151]).

 

3. Clement of Alexandria

“All honor to that king of the Scythians, whoever Anacharsis was, who shot with an arrow one of his subjects who imitated among the Scythians the mystery of the mother of the gods . . . condemning him as having become effeminate among the Greeks, and a teacher of the disease of effeminacy to the rest of the Scythians” (Exhortation to the Greeks 2 [A.D. 190]).

“[According to Greek myth] Baubo [a female native of Eleusis] having received [the goddess] Demeter hospitably, reached to her a refreshing draught; and on her refusing it, not having any inclination to drink (for she was very sad), and Baubo having become annoyed, thinking herself slighted, uncovered her shame, and exhibited her nudity to the goddess. Demeter is delighted with the sight—pleased, I repeat, at the spectacle. These are the secret mysteries of the Athenians; these Orpheus records” (ibid.).

“It is not, then, without reason that the poets call him [Hercules] a cruel wretch and a nefarious scoundrel. It were tedious to recount his adulteries of all sorts, and debauching of boys. For your gods did not even abstain from boys, one having loved Hylas, another Hyacinthus, another Pelops, another Chrysippus, another Ganymede. Let such gods as these be worshipped by your wives, and let them pray that their husbands be such as these—so temperate; that, emulating them in the same practices, they may be like the gods. Such gods let your boys be trained to worship, that they may grow up to be men with the accursed likeness of fornication on them received from the gods” (ibid.).

“In accordance with these remarks, conversation about deeds of wickedness is appropriately termed filthy [shameful] speaking, as talk about adultery and pederasty and the like” (The Instructor6, ca. A.D. 193).

“The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong, instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites having, through much luxury, fallen into uncleanness, practicing adultery shamelessly, and burning with insane love for boys; the All-seeing Word, whose notice those who commit impieties cannot escape, cast his eye on them. Nor did the sleepless guard of humanity observe their licentiousness in silence; but dissuading us from the imitation of them, and training us up to his own temperance, and falling on some sinners, lest lust being unavenged, should break loose from all the restraints of fear, ordered Sodom to be burned, pouring forth a little of the sagacious fire on licentiousness; lest lust, through want of punishment, should throw wide the gates to those that were rushing into voluptuousness. Accordingly, the just punishment of the Sodomites became to men an image of the salvation which is well calculated for men. For those who have not committed like sins with those who are punished, will never receive a like punishment” (ibid., 8).

 

4. Tertullian

“[A]ll other frenzies of the lusts which exceed the laws of nature, and are impious toward both [human] bodies and the sexes, we banish, not only from the threshold but also from all shelter of the Church, for they are not sins so much as monstrosities” (Modesty 4 [A.D. 220]).2

 

5. Novatian

“[God forbade the Jews to eat certain foods for symbolic reasons:] For that in fishes the roughness of scales is regarded as constituting their cleanness; rough, and rugged, and unpolished, and substantial, and grave manners are approved in men; while those that are without scales are unclean, because trifling, and fickle, and faithless, and effeminate manners are disapproved. Moreover, what does the law mean when it . . . forbids the swine to be taken for food? It assuredly reproves a life filthy and dirty, and delighting in the garbage of vice. . . . Or when it forbids the hare? It rebukes men deformed into women” (The Jewish Foods 3 [A.D. 250]).3

 

6. Cyprian of Carthage

“[T]urn your looks to the abominations, not less to be deplored, of another kind of spectacle. . . . Men are emasculated, and all the pride and vigor of their sex is effeminated in the disgrace of their enervated body; and he is more pleasing there who has most completely broken down the man into the woman. He grows into praise by virtue of his crime; and the more he is degraded, the more skillful he is considered to be. Such a one is looked upon—oh shame!—and looked upon with pleasure. . . . Nor is there wanting authority for the enticing abomination . . . that Jupiter of theirs [is] not more supreme in dominion than in vice, inflamed with earthly love in the midst of his own thunders . . . now breaking forth by the help of birds to violate the purity of boys. And now put the question: Can he who looks upon such things be healthy-minded or modest? Men imitate the gods whom they adore, and to such miserable beings their crimes become their religion” (Letters 1:8 [A.D. 253]).

“Oh, if placed on that lofty watchtower, you could gaze into the secret places—if you could open the closed doors of sleeping chambers and recall their dark recesses to the perception of sight—you would behold things done by immodest persons which no chaste eye could look upon; you would see what even to see is a crime; you would see what people embruted with the madness of vice deny that they have done, and yet hasten to do—men with frenzied lusts rushing upon men, doing things which afford no gratification even to those who do them” (ibid., 1:9).

 

7. Arnobius

“[T]he mother of the gods loved [the boy Attis] exceedingly, because he was of most surpassing beauty; and Acdestis [the son of Jupiter] who was his companion, as he grew up fondling him, and bound to him by wicked compliance with his lust. . . . Afterwards, under the influence of wine, he [Attis] admits that he is . . . loved by Acdestis. . . . Then Midas, king of Pessinus, wishing to withdraw the youth from so disgraceful an intimacy, resolves to give him his own daughter in marriage. . . . Acdestis, bursting with rage because of the boy’s being torn from himself and brought to seek a wife, fills all the guests with frenzied madness; the Phrygians shriek, panic-stricken at the appearance of the gods. . . . [Attis] too, now filled with furious passion, raving frantically and tossed about, throws himself down at last, and under a pine tree mutilates himself, saying, ‘Take these, Acdestis, for which you have stirred up so great and terribly perilous commotions’” (Against the Pagans 5:6–7 [A.D. 305]).

 

8. Eusebius of Caesarea

“[H]aving forbidden all unlawful marriage, and all unseemly practice, and the union of women with women and men with men, he [God] adds: ‘Do not defile yourselves with any of these things; for in all these things the nations were defiled, which I will drive out before you. And the land was polluted, and I have recompensed [their] iniquity upon it, and the land is grieved with them that dwell upon it’ [Lev. 18:24–25]” (Proof of the Gospel 4:10 [A.D. 319]).

 

9. Basil the Great

“He who is guilty of unseemliness with males will be under discipline for the same time as adulterers” (Letters 217:62 [A.D. 367]).

“If you [O, monk] are young in either body or mind, shun the companionship of other young men and avoid them as you would a flame. For through them the enemy has kindled the desires of many and then handed them over to eternal fire, hurling them into the vile pit of the five cities under the pretense of spiritual love. . . . At meals take a seat far from other young men. In lying down to sleep let not their clothes be near yours, but rather have an old man between you. When a young man converses with you, or sings psalms facing you, answer him with eyes cast down, lest perhaps by gazing at his face you receive a seed of desire sown by the enemy and reap sheaves of corruption and ruin. Whether in the house or in a place where there is no one to see your actions, be not found in his company under the pretense either of studying the divine oracles or of any other business whatsoever, however necessary” (The Renunciation of the World [A.D. 373]).

 

10. John Chrysostom

“[The pagans] were addicted to the love of boys, and one of their wise men made a law that pederasty . . . should not be allowed to slaves, as if it was an honorable thing; and they had houses for this purpose, in which it was openly practiced. And if all that was done among them was related, it would be seen that they openly outraged nature, and there was none to restrain them. . . . As for their passion for boys, whom they called their paedica, it is not fit to be named” (Homilies on Titus 5 [A.D. 390]).

“[Certain men in church] come in gazing about at the beauty of women; others curious about the blooming youth of boys. After this, do you not marvel that [lightning] bolts are not launched [from heaven], and all these things are not plucked up from their foundations? For worthy both of thunderbolts and hell are the things that are done; but God, who is long-suffering, and of great mercy, forbears awhile his wrath, calling you to repentance and amendment” (Homilies on Matthew 3:3 [A.D. 391]).

“All of these affections [in Rom. 1:26–27] . . . were vile, but chiefly the mad lust after males; for the soul is more the sufferer in sins, and more dishonored than the body in diseases” (Homilies on Romans 4 [A.D. 391]).

“[The men] have done an insult to nature itself. And a yet more disgraceful thing than these is it, when even the women seek after these intercourses, who ought to have more shame than men” (ibid.).

“And sundry other books of the philosophers one may see full of this disease. But we do not therefore say that the thing was made lawful, but that they who received this law were pitiable, and objects for many tears. For these are treated in the same way as women that play the whore. Or rather their plight is more miserable. For in the case of the one the intercourse, even if lawless, is yet according to nature; but this is contrary both to law and nature. For even if there were no hell, and no punishment had been threatened, this would be worse than any punishment” (ibid.).

 

11. Augustine

“[T]hose shameful acts against nature, such as were committed in Sodom, ought everywhere and always to be detested and punished. If all nations were to do such things, they would be held guilty of the same crime by the law of God, which has not made men so that they should use one another in this way” (Confessions 3:8:15 [A.D. 400]).

 

12. The Apostolic Constitutions

“[Christians] abhor all unlawful mixtures, and that which is practiced by some contrary to nature, as wicked and impious” (Apostolic Constitutions 6:11 [A.D. 400]).

  1. Quotes Original Source: SPL did not compile this list of quote, it was sent into us. The original source is most probably Catholic Answers. []
  2. Tertullian Schism: In middle life (about 207), he was attracted to the “New Prophecy” of Montanism, and seems to have split from the mainstream church. In the time of Augustine, a group of “Tertullianists” still had a basilica in Carthage which, within that same period, passed to the orthodox Church. It is unclear whether the name was merely another for the Montanists[15] or that this means Tertullian later split with the Montanists and founded his own group. Jerome[16] says that Tertullian lived to a great age, but there is no reliable source attesting to his survival beyond the estimated year 225 AD. In spite of his schism from the Church, he continued to write against heresy, especially Gnosticism. Thus, by the doctrinal works he published, Tertullian became the teacher of Cyprian and the predecessor of Augustine, who, in turn, became the chief founder of Latin theology. SOURCE []
  3. Novatian, Schismatic and Antipope: Novatian (circa 200–258) was a scholar, priest, theologian and antipope who held the title between 251 and 258.[1] According to Greek authors, Pope Damasus I and Prudentius gave his name as Novatus. He was a noted theologian and writer, the first Roman theologian who used the Latin language, at a time when there was much debate about how to deal with Christians who had lapsed and wished to return, and the issue of penance. Consecrated as pope by three bishops in 251, he adopted a more rigorous position than the established Pope Cornelius. Novatian was shortly afterwards excommunicated: the schismatic church which he established persisted for several centuries (see Novatianism). Novatian fled during a period of persecutions, and may have been a martyr. SOURCE []

The Agony of the Cross: 2 Thoughts on How Christ Can Suffer Grief and Have Beatific Knowledge

How can Christ call out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” if he has the grace of Beatific Knowledge?

Listers, St. Thomas Aquinas asks the question, “Whether Christ’s entire soul enjoyed blessed fruition during the Passion?” In other words, how can Christ call out “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” if he has the grace of Beatific Knowledge? St. Thomas’ article is presented in part.

 

1. The Problem

In Summa Theologica III.46.8, Aquinas reiterates a common concern regarding Christ’s suffering on the Cross and his Beatific Knowledge:

It would seem that Christ’s entire soul did not enjoy blessed fruition during the Passion. For it is not possible to be sad and glad at the one time, since sadness and gladness are contraries. But Christ’s whole soul suffered grief during the Passion, as was stated above (Article 7). Therefore His whole soul could not enjoy fruition.

Beatific Knowledge comes from one experiencing the Beatific Vision. The beatific vision, the vision of the blessed, or the “science of vision” are all univocal terms that refer to the knowledge of one who has seen God in his essence. St. John refers to the beatific vision when he says that the faithful departed will see God “as he is.” Turning to the biblical tradition within St. John’s Gospel, Christ’s relationship with the Father appears to be in a beatific manner. Christ says, “not that anyone has seen the Father except him who is from God; he has seen the Father,” and furthermore, he states “but you have not known [the Father]; I know him.” Moreover, St. John records, “he who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard.” These passages seem to “put it beyond doubt that the revelatory power of Christ originated not in a revelation made to him nor in his faith, but in the direct knowledge he has of the Father.”1 As articulated in the question, if Christ’s soul had seen God and did indeed have the Beatific Vision, then the fruition of that comprehension would have filled Christ’s soul with immense gladness; however, since Christ suffered grief and cried out in abandonment on the Cross, Christ must not have had Beatific Knowledge.

 

2. The Answer

Aquinas disagrees with this argument. He answers:

The joy of fruition is not opposed directly to the grief of the Passion, because they have not the same object. Now nothing prevents contraries from being in the same subject, but not according to the same. And so the joy of fruition can appertain to the higher part of reason by its proper act; but grief of the Passion according to the subject. Grief of the Passion belongs to the essence of the soul by reason of the body, whose form the soul is; whereas the joy of fruition (belongs to the soul) by reason of the faculty in which it is subjected.

Can contraries be in the same subject? Aquinas believes so, because he believes that though the higher powers of the soul can have fruition or be glad, the lower powers may suffer. An excellent example of these “contraries” is a mother giving birth. The mother can rejoice in the childbirth, but that does not thwart the lower faculties of the soul from suffering. The higher power of the intellect may be glad that she is giving birth to her child, but that does not stop the lower powers of the senses from suffering. In the midst of joy, there can come a scream of pain. Many who advocate Christ did not have Beatific Knowledge do so on the grounds that if Christ had that fruition of seeing God he would be unable to experience many of the emotions we see him display in the Gospels. In other words, his soul would be so overflowing with the grace of seeing God in his essence he could not be sorrowful or grieve. Christ’s humanity would seem strikingly inhuman as he played out his earthly life.

As in his treatment on the knowledge of Christ, Aquinas tends to “de-mythologize” the idea of Christ having Beatific Knowledge. What then is Christ’s comprehension of the Divine Essence? St. Thomas posits that the soul of Christ could not fully comprehend the Divine Essence. In holding to Christ as one person with two distinct natures, Christ’s soul would have limitations proper to a created soul. As St. Thomas avers, “it is impossible for any creature to comprehend the Divine Essence,” because “the infinite is not comprehended by the finite.”2 Returning to the childbirth example, one of the characteristics of a created rational soul would be that the higher faculties could comprehend a situation and even rejoice in it, while the lower faculties suffered through it. Similarly, Christ’s higher faculties would enjoy the Beatific Knowledge, while the lower faculties suffered. Like the mother crying out, Christ’s cry of abandonment does not negate his Beatific Knowledge.

  1. Did Christ have Beatific Knowledge? – the commentary on whether or not Christ had Beatific Knowledge comes from the SPL list 8 Considerations on Whether Christ had Acquired, Infused, or Beatific Knowledge. []
  2. Knowledge of Christ: For a detailed account of the knowledge of Christ see 8 Considerations on Whether Christ had Acquired, Infused, or Beatific Knowledge. []

St. Josemaria’s 17 Signs of a Lack of Humility

Humility is a virtue which we all ought to develop to bring ourselves in greater conformity with Christ as we seek ‘to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately.’

Listers from the moment our Holy Father Pope Francis stepped onto the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s square, his manners and style were hailed as humble. Humility is a virtue which we all ought to develop to bring ourselves in greater conformity with Christ as we seek “to temper and restrain the mind, lest it tend to high things immoderately.”1

Mother of Fair Love, a gift of Josemaría Escrivá to the University of Navarra: John Paul II stated: “Love for our Lady is a constant characteristic of the life of Josemaría Escrivá.” – Wikipedia

 

Below is an excerpt from the writings of St. Josemaria which can help us identify a lack of humility in ourselves.

 

Allow me to remind you that among other evident signs of a lack of humility are:

  1. Thinking that what you do or say is better than what others do or say
  2. Always wanting to get your own way
  3. Arguing when you are not right or — when you are — insisting stubbornly or with bad manners
  4. Giving your opinion without being asked for it, when charity does not demand you to do so
  5. Despising the point of view of others
  6. Not being aware that all the gifts and qualities you have are on loan
  7. Not acknowledging that you are unworthy of all honour or esteem, even the ground you are treading on or the things you own
  8. Mentioning yourself as an example in conversation
  9. Speaking badly about yourself, so that they may form a good opinion of you, or contradict you
  10. Making excuses when rebuked
  11. Hiding some humiliating faults from your director, so that he may not lose the good opinion he has of you
  12. Hearing praise with satisfaction, or being glad that others have spoken well of you
  13. Being hurt that others are held in greater esteem than you
  14. Refusing to carry out menial tasks
  15. Seeking or wanting to be singled out
  16. Letting drop words of self-praise in conversation, or words that might show your honesty, your wit or skill, your professional prestige…
  17. Being ashamed of not having certain possessions…

St. Josemaria, pray for us!

The Way, The Furrow, The Forge by St. Josemaria Escriva
Buy “The Way, The Furrow, The Forge (Single Volume Edition)” by St. Josemaria Escriva on Amazon.

  1. Summa Theologicae, Secunda Secundae Question 161 []

The 2 Books by Cardinal Ratzinger that Will Change Your Life

“Politics is the realm of reason – not of a merely technological, calculating reason, but of moral reason, since the goal of the state, and hence the ultimate goal of all politics, has a moral nature, namely, peace and justice.”

Listers, if Catholics are to live a life of virtue then there are two primary sciences – bodies of knowledge – all Catholics should study: the “Noble Science” and the “Queen of the Sciences.” The corpus of writings from Cardinal Ratzinger is as vast and as it is impressive. An excellent survey of his writings can by found in Abram’s The 6 Books of Pope Benedict XVI Every Catholic Should Read. The list at hand takes a different approach.

A Unique Review: Why were these works chosen?
It is typical of a positive book review to go into great detail lauding the message and delivery of the particular author. For the review at hand, we take a different approach and presuppose that Cardinal Ratzinger’s works are brimming with solid Catholic erudition and strike with a clear and orthodox Catholic tone. The purpose of the review is to step back from the works and truly understand the overall sciences in which they are written. It is to move the reader from thinking of works as well written on this or that subject, to understanding that different bodies of knowledge are not isolated from each other. In fact, the word we use for understanding the proper ordering of knowledge is wisdom. The higher bodies of knowledge – higher sciences – order the lower ones; thus, if one truly grasps the importance of a higher science and can study an excellent work on that science, it will have “trickle down” effect on all the other areas in their life. It is in this focus that we must first explain the science and then suggest a work by Cardinal Ratzinger.

The Noble Science

According to Aristotle’s Politics, man is by nature a political animal. It is by nature that humans gather together and form political bodies. Human political order begins with the household and the natural relationship between a husband and a wife. Built upon the natural order of the family, society grows from the village and then to the self-sufficient city. This concept of the”city” is known as the polis, which is a philosophical term referring to any political body under a single government, i.e., a socially and economically differentiated political community. For Aristotle, the polis is as natural to humanity as the forest is to the earth. Man, his household, his communities, are all natural sub-political parts of the polis. Aristotle posited that any person who could live without the polis must be either a beast or a god. The polis is natural to man and man needs the polis. He needs community and order. The order that the polis gives man allows man to live and live well.

Aristotle, The Louvre – via Wikicommons Sting aka Eric Gaba

How then should the polis be ordered? Since the polis is a natural institution populated by political animals, man, as the rational animal, must reflect upon nature and act according to reason. When man acts according to his reason, according to what is most properly natural to him as the rational animal, then these acts become habits and good habits are referred to as virtues. Aristotle claims that the virtue that belongs to the polis is justice, because justice is the virtue of proper order. As Aristotle says, “just as man is the best of animals when completed, when separated from law and adjudication he is the worst of all.” It is in the polis that man is able to live well, because it gives an architectonic order to all the areas of man’s life. It is the polis man finds a natural completion, which is in practicality the “greatest of goods.” This is why politics is referred to as the “Noble Science.”1

In his introduction to the Politics, St. Thomas Aquinas lays out a brief explanation of why politics is the Noble Science. There are two primary categories of sciences: the speculative and the practical. The speculative sciences are ordered toward the “knowledge of truth,” the contemplation of “natural things,” while the practical sciences are ordered toward a work – things made by man -that imitate nature. Within the practical sciences, there are things man will make that are ordered according to a specific use, e.g., a ship or a house, and a things specific use is ordered toward a specific good, e.g., ships for sailing; however, man can also make things which have as their specific end the ordering man himself, e.g., laws. The things that have their end in the proper ordering of man come together as a whole in the polis and since the end is always greater than the means the polis is “therefore necessarily superior to all the other wholes that may be known and constituted by human reason.” Aquinas’ statement has two parts: the polis is superior to all other wholes and is the greatest whole constitute by human reason. Following Aristotle, we see that the first claim is because the polis gives order to all other areas of man’s life and the second claim is become the order of the polis is derived by human reason contemplating nature, i.e., natural law and the virtues.2

Within practical science there are the mechanical sciences that deal with an agent acting upon an external matter, e.g., a smith or a shipwright. In distinction to the mechanical sciences there are the moral sciences. The moral sciences deal with the actions that remain with the agent, e.g., deliberating, willing, choosing, etc. The political science is therefore a moral science, because it is concerned with the ordering of men and their actions. Aquinas concludes, “If the most important science, then, is the one that deals with what is most noble and perfect, of all the practical sciences political science must necessarily be the most important and must play the role of architectonic science with reference to all the others, inasmuch as it is concerned with the highest and perfect good in human affairs.” The order of the polis – its laws, et al. – is derived from nature or natural law, man’s habitual obedience to these natural and rational laws is virtue, and the natural virtues are prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude.

Yet, how does one apply the timeless truths of natural law and virtue to a modernist world that was born out of an explicit rejection of Catholicism? It is one thing to speak of the polis and another to apply it to a liberal democracy. One of the defining attributes of St. Thomas Aquinas was his ability to engage his era and all its ills and imperfections. As Catholics living within modernity, how do we work for a proper polis? Cue Cardinal Ratzinger. Values in a Time of Upheaval is a short and often overlooked work of political brilliance. St. Peter’s List has previously called attention to this work by including it in our 6 Books for a Proper Introduction to Catholic Political Thought. For a student of Catholic political thought, a collection of politically orientated essays by the ironclad mind of Cardinal Ratzinger – now Benedict XVI, Bishop Emeritus of Rome – is a godsend. The text is a compilation of essays and speeches given by the illustrious Cardinal over the span of several decades. It is a short work that lends itself to a brief but fruitful reading. The reason it will “change your life” is it comments on the Catholic understanding of the Noble Science couched in a world given over to modernist theory and praxis. To what degree Cardinal Ratzinger did or did not adhere to St. Thomas Aquinas is not the question put forth here. The genius of the work is that it is a bridge between the principles of Catholic political thought and the world around us. It challenges the reader to engage the polis by going into great detail on the role of a Catholic citizen within an Enlightenment based democracy. In his own words:

“The state is not itself the source of truth and morality […] Nor can it produce truth via the majority.”

 

“In place of utopian dreams and ideals, today we find a pragmatism that is determined to extract from the world the maximum satisfaction possible. This, however, does not make it pointless to consider once again the characteristics of the secular messianism that appeared on the world stage in Marxism, because it still leads a ghostly existence deep in the souls of many people, and it has the potential to emerge again and again in new forms.”

 

“Politics is the realm of reason – not of a merely technological, calculating reason, but of moral reason, since the goal of the state, and hence the ultimate goal of all politics, has a moral nature, namely, peace and justice.”

 

“The totalitarian ideologies of the twentieth century promised us that they would set up a liberated, just world – and they demanded hecatombs of victims in this cause.”

One dichotomy that exemplifies the problem Catholicism has with modern political thought is the notion of individual rights. As the good Cardinal mentions several times in his work, the rights of an individual are seen in the modern West as autonomous moral universes that often clash with one another. Rights have become little more than desires and products of the unadulterated human will. In contradistinction, the Catholic tradition never focused on rights at all – it focused on someone external to the individual citizen, natural law. Just skimming this particular dialogue – individual rights v. natural law – pours forth a host of explanations and answers on why Catholicism is at such odds with the world around it. Those more interested in Cardinal Ratzinger’s work can reference SPL’s collection of political quotes from the work: 29 Quotes on Political and Religion by Cardinal Ratzinger. One of the best treatises on a Catholic’s response to living in a modernist democratic regime was a document composed by the CDF under the good Cardinal entitled: Doctrinal Note: The Participation of Catholics in Politica Life. Moreover, proper Catholic political thought has been a mainstay topic at SPL and a catalogue of our lists on the subject can be found at The Educated Catholic Voter: 10 Lists on the Catholic Citizen. As Catholics may we study the highest whole of human reason, the Noble Science, so that we may live well ordered lives and work toward a society where all may live well.

 

Theology, Stanza della Segnature by Raphael

The Queen of the Sciences

If politics is the noble and architectonic science of human affairs, how does a Catholic approach politics and theology? In the time of Augustine until the thirteenth century nature and natural law sat in a jarring juxtaposition with the revealed truth of God. In fact, many theologians proposed that there were two truths: one of nature and one of divine revelation – a traditional Islamic answer. The Church was then given a gift: the Common Doctor St. Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas proposed that faith and reason were and must always remain in harmony with one another. Grace is not isolated from nature, is it not a replacement of nature, and it is not contradictory to nature. In essence, grace perfects nature; thus, if you have a science based on nature, say politics, and a science based on grace, say theology, then the science of theology should perfect and elevate the natural science of politics. In this light, theology – more truly the unerring Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the “Queen of the Sciences” that perfects all other sciences by properly ordering them according to the virtues.

However, what does it mean when we say a higher science orders the lower?

The official “Sede Vacante” stamp following Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation.

Imagine the construction of a house. There is a plumber to handle the plumbing and a carpenter for the carpentry. And though these two arts are distinct, the two artisans must work together. Even if both workers excel within their own field, the overall order of the home will suffer if they are not in harmony.

However, neither plumbing nor carpentry can speak to how the home must be built as a whole. What is needed is a higher principle that can order both plumbing and carpentry to the proper goal of building a home. The principle is architecture; therefore, while the plumber and the carpenter may be wise concerning the principles of their respective arts, it is the architect who is wise concerning the order of the house. He is the wisest concerning the house, because his wisdom orders the lower principles according to the higher. In his own words, St. Thomas Aquinas states, “For since it is the part of a wise man to arrange and to judge, and since lesser matters should be judged in the light of some higher principle, he is said to be wise in any one order who considers the highest principle in that order.” According to St. Augustine, “order is the appropriate disposition of things equal and unequal, by giving each its proper place.” As seen with the architect, wisdom is knowledge properly ordered, and the wise must have the prudence to do it.

The highest cause, the Uncaused Cause, the cause the universe and its order, is God. Theology – more specifically the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the architectonic study that is most properly wisdom, because the “knowledge of divine things” sheds light on the appropriate order of all other things. Now, let us be clear. God is not only known through his self-revelation in Jesus Christ and in Scripture, but also in the imprint of the Creator upon Creation. Hence, the Catholic Church finds herself guarding and elucidating both Sacred Scripture and Nature. Certain truths, like the Trinity or the Incarnation of Jesus Christ had to be revealed to us, because they are above human wisdom. Other truths, such as the natural virtues, were discernible by human reason. These revealed and discerned truths are guaranteed by Christ and His Church and compose the Sacred Doctrine that orders all things and is rightly called the Queen of the Sciences.

The examples are endless, because Sacred Doctrine orders everything from our souls to our finances. However, say a technological break through leads to a scientifically astonishing surgical procedure. Now say that technology is used for abortions. Just as the carpenter cannot speak to the proper order of a home as a whole, neither can science – as much as it tries – speak to the whole order of existence. We see this particularly in its inability to speak on moral order. It is not that science is necessarily deficient, but rather its judgments are limited by its empirical purview. Much like the plumber and carpenter, it begs for a higher principle to order its steps.

Our world is saturated by debates that fall directly into this dialogue. Whether it be stem cell research, gay marriage, education, or abortion, differing guiding principles are in steep competition. There is always a “highest principle” at work, but unfortunately many see that principle as the unhindered human will. How then does the Spirit of the Liturgy relate to this concept of the Queen of the Sciences? At first glance there appears a disconnect between the focus of the the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church as the Queen of the Sciences and Cardinal Ratzinger’s work on the Liturgy; however, the acute connection between the two is that for most Catholics it is precisely in the liturgy that they are catechized. It is in the liturgy that they see and believe and have their minds ordered toward the understanding that God and his wisdom is the highest principle. Our post-Vatican II world is suffering what is arguably the most comprehensive catechetical crisis since the Reformation and Catholics will never be well catechized and never succeed at a “New Evangelization” until the liturgy is brought back into a “hermeneutic of continuity” with the overall Sacred Tradition of the Church. Attempting to evangelize before one is well catechized puts the cart before the horse. What Holy Mother Church needs is a liturgical reform – and arguably a reverent liturgy that truly reflects the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass would be the greatest evangelical tool. In this belief, we turn to the work of Cardinal Ratzinger.

SPL’s John Henry writes, “Spirit of the Liturgy is in my opinion a book that all Christians of the True Faith should not only own but read often. Cardinal Ratzinger served as one of the chief theologians for the Second Vatican Council; thus, he possesses the ability to show the ‘liturgical development along the path sketched out by the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council.'”3 There is a famous book with the same title written by Romano Guardini that the good Cardinal uses as his inspiration:

“My purpose here is to assist this renewal of understanding of the Liturgy. Its basic intentions coincide with what Guardini wanted to achieve. The only difference is that I had to translate what Guardini did at the end of the First World War, in a totally different historical situation, into the context of our present-day questions, hopes and dangers. Like Guardini, I am not attempting to involve myself with scholarly discussion and research. I am simply offering an aid to the understanding of the faith and to the right way to give faith it’s central form of expression in the Liturgy.” – Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger

John continues, “this work can be understood by all: scholars, theologians, historians, parish priests, religious, and most important of all the laity. Cardinal Ratzinger uses historical, biblical, philosophical thought in order to express what Catholic worship is was and should be.” The Cardinal’s work is considered an instant classic by those working to restore the liturgy of the Catholic Church. Arguably one of the most poignant passages is his comment on the Golden Calf pericope in the Old Testament:

“But the real liturgy implies that God responds and reveals how we can worship him. In any form, liturgy includes some kind of ‘institution’. It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity – then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation…”

“No where is this more dramatically evident than in the narrative of the golden calf… the cult conducted by the high priest Aaron is not meant to serve any of the false gods of the heathen. The apostasy is more subtle. There is no obvious turning away from God to the false gods. Outwardly, the people remain completely attached to the same God. They want to glorify the God who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf.”

Ratzinger’s reading of the Golden Calf episode is unique insofar as it is often read as a complete turning away from the God of Israel and modern readers condemn the Israelites as abandoning the true God; however, the Cardinal states that it is more subtle. It is not a complete abandonment, but rather the Israelites with their high priest were attempting to worship the true God of Israel as they saw fit. This reading turns the story from one modern Christianity normally  passes over in judgement of the Israelites to one capturing the very heart of modernist Christianity. It echoes the core of all protestantism and unfortunately resonates in much of today’s Catholic population. The Cardinal sums up his reading by stating, “the worship of the golden calf is a self-generated cult,” and “the narrative of the golden calf is a warning about any kind of self-initiated and self-seeking worship.”

This is but a glimpse of the profound liturgical insight found within Cardinal Ratzinger’s work. Within an understanding of the Queen of the Sciences and her all encompassing order, read The Spirit of the Liturgy with an eye towards renewing the mainstay of all Catholic catechesis and evangelism: the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

 

Why these works will change your life
We return to our original premise, that these two works by Cardinal Ratzinger will change your life. The why is now better understood. Yes, it is because the good Cardinal writes in an acute and clear manner and always bears the mark of orthodoxy, but it is also because you – as the reader – will have a greater appreciation for the sciences in which the works are written. The Cardinal’s ideas and quotes will find fertile ground within the wisdom of the reader, because the reader will know the architectonic ordering affect that both the Noble Science and the Queen of the Sciences have on their life. Understanding the order of knowledge allows one to be truly wise and order their lives in an holistic Christ-like manner.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Common Doctor of the Universal Church, pray for us.
St. Thomas More, patron of statesmen and politicians, pray for us.
Mother Mary, Seat of Wisdom, pray for us.

  1. ARISTOTLE: Further comments on Aristotle’s Politics may be found at The Political Animal and the Philosopher King and Understanding Aristotle: 22 Definitions from the Politics. []
  2. AQUINAS: The Angelic Doctor’s commentary on Aristotle’s Politics may be found at Aquinas’ Introduction to the Politics. []
  3. Quote take from The Catholic Answer []

12 of the Best GK Chesterton Quotes

“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.”

Listers, whether the topic was angels or cheese the extraordinary mind of GK Chesterton always had a witticism to share. SPL has frequently commented on the British author and shared his quotes on Facebook and Twitter. The following quotes are the ones that have garnered the best response from the listers on social media. Those unfamiliar with the colossal and unique mind of GK Chesterton will want to pick up his famous work Orthodoxy and his classic The Everlasting Man. Enjoy.

 

 

“Just going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in your garage makes you a car.”

 

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.”

 

“There are two ways to get enough. One is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.”

 

“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.”

 

“Impartiality is a pompous name for indifference which is an elegant name for ignorance.”

 

“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

 

“The word “good” has many meanings. For example, if a man were to shoot his grandmother at a range of five hundred yards, I should call him a good shot, but not necessarily a good man.”

 

“It [feminism] is mixed up with a muddled idea that women are free when they serve their employers but slaves when they help their husbands.”

 

“Dear Sir: Regarding your article ‘What’s Wrong with the World?’ I am. Yours truly.”

 

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

 

“It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It is that they can’t see the problem.”

 

“Drink because you are happy, but never because you are miserable.”

 

Listers, did we miss your favorite? Feel free to add more GK Chesterton quotes in the comments below and be sure to check out our other lists of quotes.