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. []

The 13 Examples of Pride Carved into the Floor of Purgatory

"The Proud" by Gustave Dore.
“The Proud” by Gustave Dore.

Listers, pride is the first sin to be purged in Dante’s literary work the Purgatorio. The purgation of pride represents the first ledge of purgatory. There are seven ledges – one for each of the seven deadly vices. Dante orders them according to their proximity to charity; thus, the ledge of pride is at the bottom of Mount Purgatory while lust is the uppermost ledge. On the ledge of pride, “the wall of the cliff that rises to one side of the ledge is adorned with carvings in white marble, all of them offering examples of the virtue of humility. The first example is the scene of the Annunciation. The second carving represents David, who has put aside his kingly splendor to dance in humility before the Lord. The third shows the Emperor Trajan halting his mighty array of warriors on horseback to listen to a poor widow’s plea for justice. As the Pilgrim stands marveling at these august humilities, Virgil directs his attention to a group of souls that is moving toward them. These are the Proud, who, beating their breasts, make their way around the ledge under the crushing weight of tremendous slabs of stone that they carry on their backs.”1

The massive stones force the prideful souls to face the ground as they make their way around the ledge. As they are hunched over, they contemplate examples of pride carved into the ground. As they purge the sin of pride and the weight of the stone lessens, their necks are able to lift enough to see the examples of humility carved into the walls. Regarding the carvings in the floor, Dante explains, “As they leave the souls of the Proud, Virgil calls the Pilgrim’s attention to a series of carvings in the bed of rock beneath their feet. These are the examples of the vice of Pride, of the haughty who have been brought low. Depicted in the carvings are Satan, the giant Briareus, Nimrod, Niobe, Saul, Arachne, Rehoboam, the slaying of Eriphyle by her son Alcmeon, Sennacherib’s murder by his sons, the slaughter of Cyrus by Tomyris, the destruction of Holofernes and the rout of the Assyrians, and finally the fall of Troy.”2

 

The Reliefs of Pride Carved into the Floor

“The reliefs cut into the floor present thirteen examples of the sin of Pride and the disastrous consequences that it entails. The first twelve tercets (in Italian) begin respectively with the letters UUUU. 0000. MMMM. forming an acrostic, which is resumed in the three lines of the thirteenth tercet: uom (the Italian word for “man”). Dante’s obvious message here is that Pride is a sin so common and so basic as to be practically synonymous with man. The thirteen examples, beginning with Lucifer’s fall, cover a wide range of material taken (almost) alternately from a biblical and a classical source. The final climactic example, the fall of Troy, represents the destruction of not merely a powerful individual but a powerful state, a civilization.”3

 

1. Satan

Dante describes the relief depicting the fall of Satan: “I saw, on one side, him who was supposed / to be the noblest creature of creation, / plunge swift as lightning from the height of Heaven.”4

 

2. Briareus the Giant

“Briareus, also called Aegaeon, in Greek mythology, one of three 100-armed, 50-headed Hecatoncheires (from the Greek words for “hundred” and “hands”), the sons of the deities Uranus (Heaven) and Gaea (Earth). Homer (Iliad, Book I, line 396) says the gods called him Briareus; mortals called him Aegaeon (lines 403–404). In Homer and Hesiod, Briareus and his brothers successfully aided Zeus, the king of the gods, against the attack by the Titans. The Hellenistic poet Callimachus (Hymn to Delos) made Briareus an opponent of Zeus and one of the assailants of Olympus, who, after his defeat, was buried under Mount Etna. Still another tradition made him a giant of the sea, an enemy of Poseidon (the god of the sea), and the inventor of warships.”5 Dante pulls from the second of the three traditions, which places Briareus against Zeus or Jupiter. Out of pride, he challenged Jupiter and was slain by a lightning bolt.6

 

3. Nimrod

"Nimrod & His Horn," Gustave Dore. Inferno.
“Nimrod & His Horn,” Gustave Dore. Inferno.

“Nimrod… [the] king of Shinar, was, according to the Book of Genesis and Books of Chronicles, the son of Cush, the great-grandson of Noah. The Bible states that he was “a mighty hunter before the Lord [and] …. began to be mighty in the earth.” Extra-biblical traditions associating him with the Tower of Babel led to his reputation as a king who was rebellious against God… Nimrod is considered the leader of those who built the Tower of Babel in the land of Shinar, the Bible states this in (Gen 10:10) The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.”7 “In the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (written 1308–21), Nimrod is a figure in the Inferno. Nimrod is portrayed as a giant (which was common in the Medieval period) and is found with the other giants Ephialtes, Antaeus, Briareus, Tityos, Typhon and the other unnamed giants chained up on the outskirts of Hell’s Circle of Treachery. His only line is “Raphèl maí amèche zabí almi”, an unintelligible statement which serves to accuse himself.”8

 

4. Niobe

An example from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Niobe is “the daughter of Tantalus and Dione, and the wife of Amphion, King of Thebes. Proud of her sevens sons and seven daughters, Niobe boasted her superiority over Latona, who had but two, Apollo and Diana. Apollo then killed the seven sons with his bow. Diana killed the seven daughters, and Niobe was turned to stone, though tears continued to fall from her marble cheeks. Dante’s version of the story comes from Ovid.9

 

5. Saul

Another biblical example of pride, Saul, “son of Kish of the tribe of Benjamin and first king of Israel. He was deposed by [the prophet] Samuel for having disobeyed God’s command by sparing a life and allowing booty to be taken. Defeated by the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, Saul killed himself with his own sword to avoid capture.10

 

6. Arachne

Another example of pride from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, Arachne is “the daughter of Idmon of Colophon, who challenged Minerva to a weaving contest. She produced a beautiful cloth on which the love-adventures of the gods were woven, and Minerva, unable to find fault with it, ripped it to shreds. Arachne hanged herself, but Minerva loosened the rope, turning it into a web and Arachne herself into a spider.” (Ovid, Metam. VI, 1-145; Musa, cmt. 43, p. 134.))

 

7. Rehoboam

Another biblical example from Israel’s royal history, Rehoboam is the “son of Solomon, who succeeded his father as king of Israel. He refused to lighten the taxes imposed on his people and sent Adoram to collect them. Ten of the tribes revolted, Adoram was stoned to death, and Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem.”11

 

8. Alcmeon

“The son of Amphiaraus the Soothsayer and Eriphyle. Foreseeing that he would die during the expedition against Thebes, Amphiaraus concealed himself. But Polynices bribed Eriphyle with the golden necklace of Harmonia to reveal her husband’s hiding place, and Amphiaraus was constrained to go to war, where he met his fate. Before he went, however, he asked his son for revenge, and Alcmeon accordingly slew his mother for her betrayal.” Amphiaraus is mentioned in Dante’s Inferno.12

 

9. The Murder of Sennacherib

“King of Assyria from 705 to 681 B.C., Sennacherib arrogantly made war upon King Hezekiah of Judah and the Israelites. Although outnumbered, the Israelites, with the intervention of an angel of the Lord, annihilated the Assyrian host. Sennacherib escaped the debacle but was later murdered by his two sons while praying to his false gods.”13

 

10. The Slaughter of Cyrus by Tomyris

“Tomyris (or Thamyris), the queen of the Massagetae (a Scythian people), sought revenge for the treacherous murder of her son at the hands of Cyrus (560-529 B.C.), emperor of the Persians. She defeated his army and Cyrus was killed in battle. Not satisfied, however, she decapitated him and threw his head into a vessel of human blood, urging him to drink his fill!”14

 

11. The Destruction of Holofernes

“The general of the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians. He attacked Bethulia, a city of the Israelites, and proudly mocked their God. Judith, a beautiful widow, delivered the Israelites by going to Holofernes’ tent at night under the pretense of sleeping with him. Instead, with grim resolve, she cut off his head. The Assyrians, seeing the head of their general mounted on the wall in the morning, fled in terror.”15

 

12. The Rout of the Assyrians

The episode of Judith assassinating Holofernes, the general of the armies of Nebuchadnezzar, appears to serve as two separate examples. The first is the pride of Holofernes and the second is the pride of the Assyrians collectively.

 

13. The Fall of Troy

“In Greek mythology, the Trojan War was waged against the city of Troy by the Achaeans (Greeks) after Paris of Troy took Helen from her husband Menelaus, king of Sparta… the end of the war came with one final plan. Odysseus devised a new ruse—a giant hollow wooden horse, an animal that was sacred to the Trojans. It was built by Epeius and guided by Athena, from the wood of a cornel tree grove sacred to Apollo, with the inscription: The Greeks dedicate this thank-offering to Athena for their return home. The hollow horse was filled with soldiers[149] led by Odysseus. The rest of the army burned the camp and sailed for Tenedos. When the Trojans discovered that the Greeks were gone, believing the war was over, they “joyfully dragged the horse inside the city”, while they debated what to do with it. Some thought they ought to hurl it down from the rocks, others thought they should burn it, while others said they ought to dedicate it to Athena. The Achaeans entered the city and killed the sleeping population. A great massacre followed which continued into the day.

Blood ran in torrents, drenched was all the earth,
As Trojans and their alien helpers died.
Here were men lying quelled by bitter death
All up and down the city in their blood.

The Trojans, fueled with desperation, fought back fiercely, despite being disorganized and leaderless. With the fighting at its height, some donned fallen enemies’ attire and launched surprise counterattacks in the chaotic street fighting. Other defenders hurled down roof tiles and anything else heavy down on the rampaging attackers. The outlook was grim though, and eventually the remaining defenders were destroyed along with the whole city.”16

  1. Purgatory, trans. Musa, opening of Canto X. []
  2. Id., opening of Canto XII. []
  3. Musa, Canto XII, cmts. 25-63. []
  4. Canto XII; cf. Book X of Paradise Lost. []
  5. Greek Mythology Encyclopedia. []
  6. Musa, cmt. 28, p. 133. []
  7. Nimrod Wiki. []
  8. Id., cf. “The giant who Built the Tower of Babel on the plain of Shinar. (Gen. 10:10) (Cf. Inf. XXXI, 77-78; Par. XXVI, 126.” – Also, to view more of Gustave Dore’s work on the Divine Comedy, please visit The World of Dante. []
  9. Metam. VI, 182-312, Musa, cmt. 39, p. 134. []
  10. See, I. Sam. 15:3-11; 31:4-5; Musa, cmt. 40, p. 134. []
  11. I Kings 12:18; Musa, cmt. 46, p. 134. []
  12. See Inf. XX, 34; Musa, cmt. 50, 134. []
  13. Musa, cmt. 52; citing II Kings 19:36-37 and Isa. 37:37-38. []
  14. Musa, cmt. 55-6. []
  15. Musa, cmt. 59. []
  16. The Trojan War, Wikipedia. []

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. []

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 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. []

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.

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 []

SIN: 44 Questions on Sin and its Different Types

“To make a sin mortal, three things are necessary: a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.”

Listers, the following lesson is taken from the Baltimore Catechism. The Baltimore Catechism was the standard catechism for teaching the faith and catechizing children from 1885 to Vatican II. Its basic question-and-answer approach is the most natural learning style for the human mind and it simplifies even the most complex theological questions. All the lists taken from the Baltimore Catechism may be found here.

Many “theologians” now teach that post-Vatican II there is no longer any “mortal sin.” The good Cardinal Arinze examines this claim – his first few comments are worth the entire video.

 

 

SPL has referenced Sin in many lists. Most notable are 9 Ways of Being an Accessory to Another’s Sin and Do Good Works Merit the Soul in Moral Sin? And 10 Other Questions on Indulgences. An excellent companion list – also from the Baltimore Catechism – is how a soul is brought back to life after sin, Sacraments of the Dead: 12 Questions on Sacrilege and Grace.

 

Baltimore Catechism No. 3 – Lesson 6
LESSON SIXTH
On Sin and Its Kinds ON SIN AND ITS KINDS.

 

Q. 274. How is sin divided?

A. (1) Sin is divided into the sin we inherit called original sin, and the sin we commit ourselves, called actual sin. (2) Actual sin is sub-divided into greater sins, called mortal, and lesser sins, called venial.

 

Q. 275. In how many ways may actual sin be committed?

A. Actual sin may be committed in two ways: namely, by willfully doing things forbidden, or by willfully neglecting things commanded.

 

Q. 276. What is our sin called when we neglect things commanded?

A. When we neglect things commanded our sin is called a sin of omission. Such sins as willfully neglecting to hear Mass on Sundays, or neglecting to go to Confession at least once a year, are sins of omission.

 

Q. 277. Is original sin the only kind of sin?

A. Original sin is not the only kind of sin; there is another kind of sin, which we commit ourselves, called actual sin.

 

Q. 278. What is actual sin?

A. Actual sin is any willful thought, word, deed, or omission contrary to the law of God.

 

Q. 279. How many kinds of actual sin are there?

A. There are two kinds of actual sin — mortal and venial.

 

Q. 280. What is mortal sin?

A. Mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.

 

Q. 281. Why is this sin called mortal?

A. This sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.

 

Q. 282. How many things are necessary to make a sin mortal?

A. To make a sin mortal, three things are necessary: 1.a grievous matter, sufficient reflection, and full consent of the will.

 

Q. 283. What do we mean by “grievous matter” with regard to sin?

A. By “grievous matter” with regard to sin we mean that the thought, word or deed by which mortal sin is committed must be either very bad in itself or severely prohibited, and therefore sufficient to make a mortal sin if we deliberately yield to it.

 

Q. 284. What does “sufficient reflection and full consent of the will” mean?

A. “Sufficient reflection” means that we must know the thought, word or deed to be sinful at the time we are guilty of it; and “full consent of the will” means that we must fully and willfully yield to it.

 

Q. 285. What are sins committed without reflection or consent called?

A. Sins committed without reflection or consent are called material sins; that is, they would be formal or real sins if we knew their sinfulness at the time we committed them. Thus to eat flesh meat on a day of abstinence without knowing it to be a day of abstinence or without thinking of the prohibition, would be a material sin.

 

Q. 286. Do past material sins become real sins as soon as we discover their sinfulness?

A. Past material sins do not become real sins as soon as we discover their sinfulness, unless we again repeat them with full knowledge and consent.

 

Q. 287. How can we know what sins are considered mortal?

A. We can know what sins are considered mortal from Holy Scripture; from the teaching of the Church, and from the writings of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church.

 

Q. 288. Why is it wrong to judge others guilty of sin?

A. It is wrong to judge others guilty of sin because we cannot know for certain that their sinful act was committed with sufficient reflection and full consent of the will.

 

Q. 289. What sin does he commit who without sufficient reason believes another guilty of sin?

A. He who without sufficient reason believes another guilty of sin commits a sin of rash judgment.

 

Q. 290. What is venial sin?

A. Venial sin is a slight offense against the law of God in matters of less importance, or in matters of great importance it is an offense committed without sufficient reflection or full consent of the will.

 

Q. 291. Can we always distinguish venial from mortal sin?

A. We cannot always distinguish venial from mortal sin, and in such cases we must leave the decision to our confessor.

 

Q. 292. Can slight offenses ever become mortal sins?

A. Slight offenses can become mortal sins if we commit them through defiant contempt for God or His law; and also when they are followed by very evil consequences, which we foresee in committing them.

 

Q. 293. Which are the effects of venial sin?

A. The effects of venial sin are the lessening of the love of God in our heart, the making us less worthy of His help, and the weakening of the power to resist mortal sin.

 

Q. 294. How can we know a thought, word or deed to be sinful?

A. We can know a thought, word or deed to be sinful if it, or the neglect of it, is forbidden by any law of God or of His Church, or if it is opposed to any supernatural virtue.

 

Q. 295. Which are the chief sources of sin?

A. The chief sources of sin are seven: 1.Pride, Covetousness, Lust, Anger, Gluttony, Envy, and Sloth, and they are commonly called capital sins.

 

Q. 296. What is pride?

A. Pride is an excessive love of our own ability; so that we would rather sinfully disobey than humble ourselves.

 

Q. 297. What effect has pride on our souls?

A. Pride begets in our souls sinful ambition, vainglory, presumption and hypocrisy.

 

Q. 298. What is covetousness?

A. Covetousness is an excessive desire for worldly things.

 

Q. 299. What effect has covetousness on our souls?

A. Covetousness begets in our souls unkindness, dishonesty, deceit and want of charity.

 

Q. 300. What is lust?

A. Lust is an excessive desire for the sinful pleasures forbidden by the Sixth Commandment.

 

Q. 301. What effect has lust on our souls?

A. Lust begets in our souls a distaste for holy things, a perverted conscience, a hatred for God, and it very frequently leads to a complete loss of faith.

 

Q. 302. What is anger?

A. Anger is an excessive emotion of the mind excited against any person or thing, or it is an excessive desire for revenge.

 

Q. 303. What effect has anger on our soul?

A. Anger begets in our souls impatience, hatred, irreverence, and too often the habit of cursing.

 

Q. 304. What is gluttony?

A. Gluttony is an excessive desire for food or drink.

 

Q. 305. What kind of a sin is drunkenness?

A. Drunkenness is a sin of gluttony by which a person deprives himself of the use of his reason by the excessive taking of intoxicating drink.

 

Q. 306. Is drunkenness always a mortal sin?

A. Deliberate drunkenness is always a mortal sin if the person be completely deprived of the use of reason by it, but drunkenness that is not intended or desired may be excused from mortal sin.

 

Q. 307. What are the chief effects of habitual drunkenness?

A. Habitual drunkenness injures the body, weakens the mind, leads its victim into many vices and exposes him to the danger of dying in a state of mortal sin.

Q. 308. What three sins seem to cause most evil in the world?

A. Drunkenness, dishonesty and impurity seem to cause most evil in the world, and they are therefore to be carefully avoided at all times.

 

Q. 309. What is envy?

A. Envy is a feeling of sorrow at another’s good fortune and joy at the evil which befalls him; as if we ourselves were injured by the good and benefited by the evil that comes to him.

 

Q. 310. What effect has envy on the soul?

A. Envy begets in the soul a want of charity for our neighbor and produces a spirit of detraction, back-biting and slander.

 

Q. 311. What is sloth?

A. Sloth is a laziness of the mind and body, through which we neglect our duties on account of the labor they require.

 

Q. 312. What effect has sloth upon the soul?

A. Sloth begets in the soul a spirit of indifference in our spiritual duties and a disgust for prayer.

 

Q. 313. Why are the seven sources of sin called capital sins?

A. The seven sources of sin are called capital sins because they rule over our other sins and are the causes of them.

 

Q. 314. What do we mean by our predominant sin or ruling passion?

A. By our predominant sin, or ruling passion, we mean the sin into which we fall most frequently and which we find it hardest to resist.

 

Q. 315. How can we best overcome our sins?

A. We can best overcome our sins by guarding against our predominant or ruling sin.

 

Q. 316. Should we give up trying to be good when we seem not to succeed in overcoming our faults?

A. We should not give up trying to be good when we seem not to succeed in overcoming our faults, because our efforts to be good will keep us from becoming worse than we are.

 

Q. 317. What virtues are opposed to the seven capital sins?

A. Humility is opposed to pride; generosity to covetousness; chastity to lust; meekness to anger; temperance to gluttony; brotherly love to envy, and diligence to sloth.

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 []

Preparing for Lent: 9 Liturgical Gems from the Byzantine East

“Seeing the dignity to which the humble are raised, and the deep abyss into which the proud fall, let us imitate the virtue of the Publican, and despise the sins of the Pharisee.”

Listers, the season of Lent is fast approaching. Our brethren in the East call the period of Lent the “Great Fast,” or alternatively, “Great Lent.” It is the most important of the four fasting seasons in the Eastern churches, since it is the preparation for the feast of feasts, namely Pascha, or Easter. In the Byzantine rite, the period of Great Lent is preceded by four Sundays (five in the Slavic reckoning), during which the faithful prepare themselves for the asceticism, prayer, and repentance which accompanies the Fast. The first of these is the Sunday of the Publican and Pharisee, followed by the Sunday of the Prodigal Son, the Sunday of the Last Judgment, and then and then the Sunday of Forgiveness.

These last two Sundays are called “Meatfare” and “Cheesefare” Sundays respectively, since the one marks the end of the eating of meat two weeks before Lent, and the other the end of the consumption of dairy products one week before. The Monday after the Sunday of Forgiveness (known as “Clean Monday”) heralds the beginning of the Great Fast proper, after which time wine, oil, and fish, are allowed only on certain days, meat and dairy being excluded altogether. The particulars of the Great Fast are as ancient as they are fascinating, and while certainly meriting their own study, in this list we will be focusing on some of the more general virtues of Lent extolled in the East. In particular, we will cover nine Byzantine liturgical gems of wisdom to gaze upon, as we prepare to enter into the spiritual arena of the Fast. A quote from the hymns of the Byzantine liturgy will be provided, either extolling a particular virtue or repudiating the vice which must be rooted out in order to possess it [1]:

 

1) Self-Control

The virtue of self-control, as practiced through fasting and temperance in food and drink, is of paramount importance to the Eastern church. According to the Damascene, the passion which this virtue seeks to destroy is that of gluttony, which is considered one of the three chief passions [2], as it was the act of eating the forbidden fruit by which Adam and Eve transgressed the divine Commandment:

“Adam was deprived of the delights of Paradise by the bitterness of the fruit; his gluttony made him reject the commandment of the Lord. He was condemned to work the earth from which he himself had been formed; by the sweat of his brow, he had to earn his bread to eat. Therefore, let us learn self-control, so that we do not have to weep before the gates of Paradise; rather, let us strive to enter therein.” [3]

Through fasting and abstinence, we refrain from good things, in order to more easily concern ourselves with better things. In the Byzantine monastic tradition, abstinence from meat is a reminder of the blessed condition of Adam and Eve before the Fall, where they walked with God, and lived an angelic life of contemplation and grace.

And yet, it is not simply enough to fast or abstain. The key to success in the attainment of self-control, as the Fathers warn us, is that it must be practiced in concert with the other virtues. For as Chrysostom teaches, even the demons fast, being by nature incorporeal; while prayer—as well as all the other virtues of a life lived in communion with God—is obviously neglected by them.

 

2) Holy Desire

This is a zeal for God, a longing for Him, and a confident hope and longing for the blessings of the world to come. The vice which this virtue seeks to destroy is that of unchastity, by directing the intellect away from the transitory things of this world, and to the promises of the future life of blessedness:

“O beloved Paradise, beauty of Springtime and divinely created abode, unending joy and delight, the glory of all the just, the enchantment of the prophets, and the dwelling-place of the saints, by the rustling of your leaves, implore the Creator of the universe to open the gates that I have closed by my fault; let me partake of the Tree of Life, and share the joy that I once found in you.” [4]

 

3) Almsgiving

Compassion for the poor, as the Damascene teaches, fights against the vice of avarice. This vice is the one which, according to the ascetic Fathers, is the root of all evil: [5]

“Driven by his love of money, Judas the traitor cunningly planned to sell you, O Lord, the Treasure of life; in his frenzy, he hastened to the impious ones and said: ‘What will you give me, if I will deliver him to you to be crucified?” [6]

 

4) Charity

In addition to almsgiving, the goodwill and love for all, as exemplified in the virtue of charity fights against the vice of anger. But whoever who seeks the salvation of their neighbor does not have the luxury of harboring rancor or malice, but rather seeks their good, both in reference to their life on earth, and eternal life in heaven:

“O faithful, let us vie with each other in zeal, and let us seek to do good. Let us live together in humility, and may our hearts sigh with tears and prayer so that we may obtain forgiveness from God.” [7]

 

5) Joy

Although Great Lent is a time of sadness and sorrow for sins, it is a “bright sadness,” because the benevolent Father waits in earnest for the return of His prodigal children. The spiritual joy which comes from God allows us to vie against the vice of worldly dejection, which arises when we find that our efforts go unrecognized and unheralded by the world, or when we are even rejected by it on account of our faith. This divine joy also serves as a healing balm for those who despair of the mercy of God on account of their sins:

“O faithful, let us discover the power of the divine mystery. The Prodigal came back from his sin and returned to his father’s house; in his lovingkindness his father came out to meet him and kissed him. He restored him to the glory of his house, and prepared a mystical banquet on high. He killed the fatted calf so that we might share in his joy; the joy of the Father who offers in love, and the joy of the Lamb who gives himself for us; for He is Christ, the Savior of our souls.” [8]

 

6) Patience

Constant vigilance and perseverance, with continual thanksgiving to God, fights against the vice of self-love. While avarice is considered the root of all evil by the Fathers, the inordinate love of the body and its pleasures is considered the “mother of vices,” to be striven against mightily during the Great Fast: [9]

“The arena of virtues is now open! Let all who wish to begin training now enter! Prepare yourselves for the struggle of the Fast; those who strive valiantly shall receive the crown! Let us put on the armor of the Cross to combat the Enemy, taking faith as our unshakable rampart. Let us put on prayer as our breastplate, and charity as our helmet. As our sword, let us use fasting, for it cuts out all evil from our hearts. Those who do this shall truly receive the crown format he hands of Christ, the almighty One, on the day of judgment.” [10]

 

7) Prayer

As was mentioned above, any increase in discipline must be accompanied by increased prayer, marked by a spirit of true compunction, humility, and interior stillness. This virtue combats the vice of arrogance, which ascribes progress to the self rather than to God. In prayer, one remembers that all good comes ultimately from God Himself, and in humility the Christian acknowledges that all he has is a gift from the Creator of all things:

“Let us fall down before God in prayer and tears; with deep sighs, let us imitate the humility of the Publican which lifted him up, so that we may sing in faith: ‘Blessed are you, O Lord, God of our fathers.'” [11]

 

8) Humility

Although the demons keep vigil in the sense that they do not sleep, and fast in the sense that they do not eat, the virtues of prayer and especially humility make the Christian soul a frightful bane for them to behold. The Damascene, therefore, proscribes this virtue as a remedy against pride. The believer should refrain from judging or despising anyone, emulating the repentant Publican rather than the boastful Pharisee. We must therefore consider ourselves as the “least of all” among our fellow human beings. [12]

“Seeing the dignity to which the humble are raised, and the deep abyss into which the proud fall, let us imitate the virtue of the Publican, and despise the sins of the Pharisee.” [13]

 

9) Repentance

Although not included in Damascene’s list, it is of course naturally implied, being part and parcel with the other Lenten virtues. Indeed, without true repentance, the other virtues are no longer meritorious. Confession of sin, tears of compunction, and good works are all radiant jewels in the crown of repentance, lauded in the Byzantine liturgy as the “queen of virtues”:

“O faithful, let us purify ourselves with repentance, the queen of virtues. Behold, it brings us an abundance of blessings. It dresses the wounds of passions, it reconciles sinners with the Master. Therefore, let us embrace it with joy, and cry out to Christ our God: ‘You are risen from the dead; keep us free from condemnation, for we glorify you as the only sinless One.” [14]

And so, with our minds firmly fixed on these virtues—and on God, who is the Source of all that is good—let us begin the “bright sadness” of Lent, cleaving firmly to Christ in faith and in love. May God create in us a clean heart, and the governance of His Holy and Life-giving Spirit, that we may enter worthily into the mystery of Our Lord’s Passion and Resurrection.

***

 

Born in Charleston, S.C., Brian Battersby is a recent graduate from the M.A. program in Theology from Ave Maria University. Originally a convert from Protestantism, he was confirmed into the Church at the Easter Vigil in 2005. In addition to theology, he also has a great love of the liturgy, sacred music, the Church Fathers (especially John Damascene), and the Byzantine East. He currently resides with his beautiful wife in North Carolina.

 

Footnotes:

[1] The list itself is taken from an ascetical work of St. John Damascene, On the Virtues and the Vices (Philokalia, vol. II, p. 338). In addition to writing superb theological treatises, he also composed beautiful liturgical hymns, for which he is somewhat less known in the West. It was he who wrote the famous Canon of Pascha, a work in honor of the Resurrection. It is fittingly called the “Golden Canon” in the Eastern churches, both on account of the magnificence of its imagery and the sublimity of its Subject. Western Christians may already be familiar with this monumental work through the English hymn The Day of Resurrection, a translation of the Canon of Pascha from the original Greek into English verse by the John M. Neale, an Anglican cleric of the nineteenth century.

[2] Theodoros the Great Ascetic, A Century of Spiritual Texts, Philokalia, vol. II, p. 26.

[3] Canon for the Sunday of Forgiveness, Ode 1.

[4] Sticheron from the Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday.

[5] John Damascene, On the Virtues and the Vices, Philokalia, vol. II, 335; cf. 1 Timothy 6:10.

[6] Second Sessional Hymn from Matins of Great and Holy Wednesday.

[7] Canon of the Publican and the Pharisee, Ode 3.

[8] Sticheron from the Vespers of Forgiveness Sunday.

[9] John Damascene, On the Virtues and the Vices, Philokalia, vol. II, 335.

[10] Sticheron from Matins of Forgiveness Sunday.

[11] Canon of the Publican and Pharisee, Ode 7.

[12] John of Damascus, On the Virtues and the Vices, Philokalia, vol, II, p. 338.

[13] Canon of the Publican and Pharisee, Ode 1.

[14] Matins Doxastikon for the Sunday of Judgment.

The Path to Hell is Paved with the Skulls of Bishops: 8 Quotes and Sources

“The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” – St. Athanasius, Council of Nicaea, AD 325 attributed.

Listers, priests and bishops having been erring as long as humans have occupied those offices. However, the quotes that most strongly articulate this truth are shrouded in ambiguity regarding their primary sources. SPL has complied the most common germane quotes shared on Catholic blogs and given a citation for each one – often clarifying a misquote or giving context for an attributed quote. Please feel free to add any other quotes that complement this list or help articulate the sources.

 

“The road to Hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lamp posts that light the path.”

– or –

“The road to hell is paved with the skulls of erring priests, with bishops as their signposts.”
St. John Chrysostom attributed.1

 

“I do not think there are many among Bishops that will be saved, but many more that perish.”
St. John Chrysostom, Extract from St. John Chrysostom, Homily III on Acts 1:12.2

 

“The floor of hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.”
St. Athanasius, Council of Nicaea, AD 325 attributed.3

 

“The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.”
Saint John Eudes, attributed.4

 

“It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 45

 

“Augustine says in his Rule: ‘Show mercy not only to yourselves, but also to him who, being in the higher position among you, is therefore in greater danger.’ But fraternal correction is a work of mercy. Therefore even prelates ought to be corrected.”
St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 4, Sed Contra.

 

“It is better that scandals arise than the truth be suppressed.”
Pope St. Gregory the Great 6

 

“But, when necessity compels, not those only who are invested with power of rule are bound to safeguard the integrity of faith, but, as St. Thomas maintains: ‘Each one is under obligation to show forth his faith, either to instruct and encourage others of the faithful, or to repel the attacks of unbelievers.'”
Pope Leo XIII7

  1. Chrysostom Quote: Ole “Golden-mouth” is the primary recipient of the attributed quote. The origin of the actual quote is obscure, but several theories abound. The most interesting are that the flourishing rhetoric of St. Chrysostom and Dantean imagery came together in the Middle Ages or that the quote was actually a misrepresentation of Chrysostom’s words from the protestant leader John Wesley. SOURCE []
  2. Chrysostom 2nd Quote: Homily III on Acts 1:12 []
  3. Athanasius Quote: Attributing the quote to Athanasius is a natural connection given the fact the man fought against the heresy of Arianism – a heresy that is estimated to have swallowed almost 80% of the Catholic bishops. []
  4. Eudes Quote: It is believed that St. Eudes is referencing the quote in the belief it was said by St. Athanasius []
  5. Aquinas Quote: The quote is also often cited as,”When there is an imminent danger for the Faith, Prelates must be questioned, even publicly, by their subjects.” The entire fourth article of the cited question addresses the issue of “Whether a man is bound to correct his prelate?” []
  6. Gregory Quote: While prolifically quoted amongst blogs and Catholic debates, a source for this quote is elusive. If any listers can furnish a source and a citation, SPL would appreciate it. []
  7. Pope Leo Quote: The quote is taken from SAPIENTIAE CHRISTIANAE and is often quoted on Catholic blogs as: “when circumstances make it necessary, it is not prelates alone who have to watch over the integrity of the faith.” []

Forest of Suicides: 6 Comments on Dante’s Punishment for the Self-Violent

Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil.

Listers, for a study of Dante’s Divine Comedy Volume One: The Inferno we turn to the translation and commentary crafted by Mark Musa. Musa’s translation is marked by a clear and understandable translation that allows the story to unfold and escape being bogged down in rhetorical flourishing, cf. Wordsworth’s translation. The commentary that accompanies each canto explains the Inferno’s rich symbolism as a medieval Dante would have intended it. Moreover, those familiar with the Inferno will know it is ripe with historical figures and local Italian politics that have no other significance nowadays than being mentioned in Dante’s magnus opus. Musa’s commentary provides a reliable guide through the esoteric Italian political landscape in order to appreciate the brilliant commentary on humanity and sin within the Inferno.1

Inferno (Italian for “Hell”) is the first part of Dante Alighieri’s 14th-century epic poem Divine Comedy. It is followed by Purgatorio and Paradiso. It is an allegory telling of the journey of Dante through Hell, guided by the Roman poet Virgil. In the poem, Hell is depicted as nine circles of suffering located within the Earth. Allegorically, the Divine Comedy represents the journey of the soul towards God, with the Inferno describing the recognition and rejection of sin.

The Centaurs patrolling the boiling-blood river of Phlegethon.

1. The Circle of Violence

Ring One: Violence Against Others
The 7th Circle of Hell is Violence. Violence is broken into three distinct rings with corresponding sins: violence against others, violence against the self, and violence against God. Those suffering the just punishment for violence against others wade in a river of boiling blood and fire. Each individual’s body is submerged in the boiling river of blood – the Phlegethon – according to the intensity of their violence sins. The river is patrolled by centaurs that shoot arrows at those who rise in the river above their allotted level.

Ring Three: Violence Against God
The third ring is those who were violent against God and nature. The ring is composed of burning sands with fiery rain and those who justly occupy this desert are blasphemers, sodomites, and usurers. The blasphemers are made to lie down in the hellish sands, the sodomites are in a constant state of running in packs, and the usurers are made to sit.

Between these two rings lies the ring of those who have done violence to themselves.

In order for the shade-tree to speak, Dante must break off a branch.

2. The Fate of Suicides

The moment that the violent soul departs
the body it has torn itself away from
Minos sends it down to the seventh hold

It drops to the wood, not in a place allotted,
but anywhere that fortune tosses it.
there, like a grain of spelt, it germinate.

The primary occupants of the ring of violence to the self are suicides. Since the suicides have “denied the God-given sanctity of their bodies on earth,” they are deemed unfit for human form. At the gates of hell stands King Minos who judges to what level of hell the damned should be condemned. Since they tore themselves away from their body through violence, Minos discards their souls into the Forest of Suicides and the soul grows into an anguished and gnarled tree or bush. Notice the placement of the soul is haphazard and disordered – “anywhere that fortune tosses it” – analogous to how the Suicides treated their bodies.2

 

3. The Harpies

The souls of the Suicides endure further pain and torment due to the harpies that inhabit the forest. A harpy is a creature with a bloated bird-like body with the head of a woman. These harpies nest in the forest, “rend the branches of the trees,” and feast on their leaves. The pain this causes to the trees and shrubs is immense and it is only when they suffer this pain can the Suicides make a sound and make their suffering known.3

 

4. Unique Punishment on Judgement Day

Like the rest, we shall return to claim our bodies,
but never again to wear them – wrong it is
for a man to have again what he once cast off.

We shall drag them here and, all along the mournful
forest, our bodies shall hand forever more,
each one on a thorn of its own alien shade.

All the shades of Hell will be called before God for the Final Judgement. At this time the soul will be united back with the body except for those who committed suicide. For those who acted violently against themselves, they will bring their body back to hell with them and have it adorn their branches. As the condemned suicide shade states, “wrong it is for a man to have again what he once cast off.”4 Suffering in an inhuman form, the shade will be forced to contemplate the body in front of him that he violated.

The Profligates – The Violently Prodigal.

5. The Other Suffering Souls

Suicides are not the only shades that inhabit the ring of violence against the self. The other group is the Profligates “who did violence to their earthly goods by not valuing them as they should have, just as the Suicides did not value their bodies.” These are those who squandered their property and lives to a violent level. As Dante is speaking with a Suicide – he must break off a branch before it can speak – he sees two shades running through the forest:

Behind these two the wood was overrun
by packs of black bitches ravenous and ready,
like hunting dogs just broken from their chains;

they sank their fangs in that poor wretch who hid,
they ripped him open piece by piece, and then
ran off with mouthfuls of his wretched limbs

The Profligates run through the forest crashing through trees and shrubs whilst they are being chased by a pack of vicious black dogs. The pain here is multifaceted as the Profligates suffer the pain and fear of running through densely packed forest and ultimately being torn apart by hounds, while the chase itself causes excruciated pain for the trees and shrubs that are broken and trampled.5

 

6. The Black Hounds

Much ink has been spilt trying to explain the significance of the black hounds and they have been labeled as “conscience, poverty, ruin and death, remorse, [and] creditors.” However, it is important to note that violence is the theme of the Seventh Circle and the Profligates are distinguished from the shades of Spendthrifts and Misers due to their waste reaching violent depths. Keeping with the motif of the ring, the hounds “probably represent that violent force which drove the Profligates to their end: they seem to be the dramatization of the act of violence itself.” One of the Profligates is identified by Dante as Giacomo da Sant’Andrea and “is reported to have set on fire several houses on his estate” just for the pleasure of watching them burn.6

  1. Dorothy L. Sayers “Hell” quote via Source []
  2.  Divine Comedy Volume One: The Inferno by Mark Musa, p. 193 []
  3. 193 []
  4. 193 []
  5. 193 []
  6. 194 []

Lust and Our Common Good: 4 Observations by St. Thomas Aquinas

The question Is lust a sin? seems absurd, but by asking these questions and answering them in thomistic fullness the Angelic Doctor is able to lead us into profound observations.

Listers, a portion of St. Thomas Aquinas’ brilliance is attributed to his ability to state that which we all already know but struggle to articulate. The question Is lust a sin? seems absurd, but by asking these questions and answering them in thomistic fullness the Angelic Doctor is able to lead us into profound observations. Similar to his treatment on the capital vice of gluttony, the beloved “Dumb Ox” echoes the seriousness in which Christ took the reality of sin and how it perverts what is good and reasonable in humanity.

St. Thomas Aquinas, the Angelic Doctor, whose virtue warms the world.

1. What is the proper matter of lust?

The Common Doctor begins his treatment of lust by discerning its “matter” or what properly composes the vice of lust.

As Isidore says (Etym. x), “a lustful man is one who is debauched with pleasures.” Now venereal pleasures above all debauch a man’s mind. Therefore lust is especially concerned with such like pleasures.

The Angelic Doctor turns to the authority of St. Isidore of Seville (d. AD 560)1 and agrees the lustful man is “debauched with pleasures.” However, exactly what pleasures compose the matter of lust? Lust is contrary to the virtue of temperance, which holds us to right reason in the midst of that which would lure us away – yet how is it different than greed or gluttony?

Even as temperance chiefly and properly applies to pleasures of touch, yet consequently and by a kind of likeness is referred to other matters, so too, lust applies chiefly to venereal pleasures, which more than anything else work the greatest havoc in a man’s mind, yet secondarily it applies to any other matters pertaining to excess. Hence a gloss on Galatians 5:19 says “lust is any kind of surfeit.”

To wit, lust applies primarily to venereal pleasures and secondarily to other pleasures.

The Sacrament of Holy Matrimony

2. Are all sexual acts lustful?

Listers, Aquinas commonly submits questions that seem strange or even absurd. Some questions seem superfluous and others seem so obvious that they need not be asked. However, the Summa Theologica is not an encyclopedia, but a pedagogical series of questions that build upon one another. This question’s official title is Whether no venereal act can be without sin? and it lays the groundwork to understand the more complex questions and answers.

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.

Virtue is a good habit or that which disposes us to good acts through the perfection of our powers. One such power is our reason and virtue perfects the power of our reason, e.g., temperance holds us to reason when faced with pleasures that would lure us from reason.2

Vices are those habits which would disorder our reason. If temperance is the virtue that holds us to right reason even in the midsts of allurement – in distinction to fortitude which holds us to reason in the midst of fear – the the vice of lust seeks to pervert that which is good and reasonable through venereal matters.3

Now just as the preservation of the bodily nature of one individual is a true good, so, too, is the preservation of the nature of the human species a very great good. And just as the use of food is directed to the preservation of life in the individual, so is the use of venereal acts directed to the preservation of the whole human race.

Hence Augustine says (De Bono Conjug. xvi): “What food is to a man’s well being, such is sexual intercourse to the welfare of the whole human race.” Wherefore just as the use of food can be without sin, if it be taken in due manner and order, as required for the welfare of the body, so also the use of venereal acts can be without sin, provided they be performed in due manner and order, in keeping with the end of human procreation.

Sex is good and serves a mighty and noble purpose within the human race. Lust however seeks to corrupt man’s reasoning toward sex and distort its goodness.

 

Lust in Dante’s Inferno by Gustave Dore

3. Why is lust a sin?

In his question Whether the lust that is about venereal acts can be a sin? the Common Doctor of the Church builds upon the foundation already laid.

The more necessary a thing is, the more it behooves one to observe the order of reason in its regard; wherefore the more sinful it becomes if the order of reason be forsaken. Now the use of venereal acts, as stated in the foregoing Article, is most necessary for the common good, namely the preservation of the human race.

Wherefore there is the greatest necessity for observing the order of reason in this matter: so that if anything be done in this connection against the dictate of reason’s ordering, it will be a sin. Now lust consists essentially in exceeding the order and mode of reason in the matter of venereal acts. Wherefore without any doubt lust is a sin.

Evil is not a thing in itself, but is rather a lack or an absence of what is good. Aquinas would say evil is the privation of the good. In that line of thinking, if right reason is a good and sin is an evil then being sinful is irrational and a strike against reason. Lust then carries a particular weightiness about it due to human sexuality’s strong connection with the common good. The seriousness imported by the corruption of lust is the basis of Aquinas’ next question.

 

Virtue perfects our reason and the vices incline humanity to the irrational and the disorder. It is humanity’s choice. Dante’s inferno – “Dante and Virgil in hell” (1850) by William Bouguereau.

4. Is lust a capital vice?

Flowing with the logical progression of St. Thomas’ previous questions, it is no surprise that Aquinas cites the authority of Pope St. Gregory the Great in naming lust a capital or “deadly” vice.

Gregory (Moral. xxxi, 45) places lust among the capital vices.

As stated above, a capital vice is one that has a very desirable end, so that through desire for that end, a man proceeds to commit many sins, all of which are said to arise from that vice as from a principal vice. Now the end of lust is venereal pleasure, which is very great. Wherefore this pleasure is very desirable as regards the sensitive appetite, both on account of the intensity of the pleasure, and because such like concupiscence is connatural to man. Therefore it is evident that lust is a capital vice.

Like virtues, vices are habits and habits are a quality that define who we are. As virtues produce in us many good works so too do vices become sordid sources of many sins. Lust is a capital vice because it manifests sins within the matter of man’s strong desire for venereal pleasures and that venereal pleasure in and of itself is a good when properly ordered to reason.

  1. Isidore: Born at Cartagena, Spain, about 560; died 4 April, 636. Isidore was the son of Severianus and Theodora. His elder brother Leander was his immediate predecessor in the Metropolitan See of Seville; whilst a younger brother St. Fulgentius presided over the Bishopric of Astigi. His sister Florentina was a nun, and is said to have ruled over forty convents and one thousand religious. Source []
  2. What is a habit? –  The Philosopher (Aristotle) “defines habit, a ‘disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill;’ and he says that by ‘habits we are directed well or ill in reference to the passions.’ For when a the mode is suitable to the thing’s nature, it has the aspect of good: and when it is unsuitable, it has the aspect of evil.” (I-II.49)

    A Habit or Act? –  Virtue “denotes a certain perfection of a power. Now a thing’s perfection is considered chiefly in regard to its end. But the end of power is act. Wherefore power is said to be perfect, according as it is determinate to its act.” Power (potential) finds its end in an act. Virtue perfects the power; thus, the act is perfected. Justice is not an act, but by the habit of justice one may act justly. – More on Virtue from Aquinas []

  3. Temperance v. Fortitude: In clarification by contrast, temperance would be the virtue that keeps us from adultery, masturbation, and any disordered sexual pleasure, while fortitude holds us to reason in the midst of fear, e.g., on the battlefield, when scared to do what is right and good, etc. []

Aquinas: 9 Thoughts on Whether Gluttony Is a Mortal Sin

The Baltimore Catechism states a “mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.” The catechism continues: “this sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.” Is gluttony a mortal sin?

Listers after an excellent discourse on why gluttony is a sin in article one, the Angelic Doctor discusses whether or not gluttony is a mortal sin. The Baltimore Catechism states a “mortal sin is a grievous offense against the law of God.” The catechism continues: “this sin is called mortal because it deprives us of spiritual life, which is sanctifying grace, and brings everlasting death and damnation on the soul.”1 Gluttony is a sin because it is an inordinate desire towards food and drink and we say “inordinate” because it is outside the scope of reason. Actions within the order of reason are virtues; thus, an action outside the order of reason is a vice or sin. Aquinas’ question is whether it is a mortal sin?

Article Two
Whether gluttony is a mortal sin?

How to Read the Summa Theologica
Aquinas’ structure of the Summa Theologica is unique to our modern customs. The Common Doctor proposes a question and in this case it is Whether gluttony is a mortal sin? He then provides a few – in this case four – arguments that he believes to be false answers. He will then present a sed contra or a “On the contrary” statement which is a summary or the principal point of answering the question correctly. Immediately following the sed contra, the saint will give the main body of his answer and then handle each of the incorrect answers individually. It should be noted that the Summa is not an encyclopedia, but rationally ordered development of questions that building upon one another.

Below the entirety of St. Thomas’ second article on gluttony is presented.
SPL has added the titles, their numbers, and the footnotes for clarification.

The four incorrect position St. Thomas will refute below.

1. Not contrary to the Decalogue

Objection 1. It would seem that gluttony is not a mortal sin. For every mortal sin is contrary to a precept of the Decalogue: and this, apparently, does not apply to gluttony. Therefore gluttony is not a mortal sin.

2. Not contrary to Charity

Objection 2. Further, every mortal sin is contrary to charity, as stated above (Question 132, Article 3). But gluttony is not opposed to charity, neither as regards the love of God, nor as regards the love of one’s neighbor. Therefore gluttony is never a mortal sin.

3. Augustine: A “lesser sin”

Objection 3. Further, Augustine says in a sermon on Purgatory [Cf. Append. to St. Augustine’s works: Serm. civ (xli, de sanctis)]: “Whenever a man takes more meat and drink than is necessary, he should know that this is one of the lesser sins.” But this pertains to gluttony. Therefore gluttony is accounted among the lesser, that is to say venial, sins.

4. Gluttony is a mortal sin

Objection 4. On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xxx, 18): “As long as the vice of gluttony has a hold on a man, all that he has done valiantly is forfeited by him: and as long as the belly is unrestrained, all virtue comes to naught.” But virtue is not done away save by mortal sin. Therefore gluttony is a mortal sin.2

 

St. Thomas Aquinas responds to the four above incorrect answers on gluttony as a mortal sin.

5. Gluttony in respect to man’s end

I answer that, As stated above (Article 1), the vice of gluttony properly consists in inordinate concupiscence. Now the order of reason in regulating the concupiscence may be considered from two points of view. First, with regard to things directed to the end, inasmuch as they may be incommensurate and consequently improportionate to the end; secondly, with regard to the end itself, inasmuch as concupiscence turns man away from his due end.3

Accordingly, if the inordinate concupiscence in gluttony be found to turn man away from the last end, gluttony will be a mortal sin. This is the case when he adheres to the pleasure of gluttony as his end, for the sake of which he contemns God, being ready to disobey God’s commandments, in order to obtain those pleasures. On the other hand, if the inordinate concupiscence in the vice of gluttony be found to affect only such things as are directed to the end, for instance when a man has too great a desire for the pleasures of the palate, yet would not for their sake do anything contrary to God’s law, it is a venial sin.

6. Decalogue pertains to justice

Reply to Objection 1. The vice of gluttony becomes a mortal sin by turning man away from his last end: and accordingly, by a kind of reduction, it is opposed to the precept of hallowing the sabbath, which commands us to rest in our last end. For mortal sins are not all directly opposed to the precepts of the Decalogue, but only those which contain injustice: because the precepts of the Decalogue pertain specially to justice and its parts, as stated above (Question 122, Article 1).

7. Contrary to Charity

Reply to Objection 2. In so far as it turns man away from his last end, gluttony is opposed to the love of God, who is to be loved, as our last end, above all things: and only in this respect is gluttony a mortal sin.

8. St. Augustine commenting on the venial

Reply to Objection 3. This saying of Augustine refers to gluttony as denoting inordinate concupiscence merely in regard of things directed to the end.4

9. Vices which arise from gluttony

Reply to Objection 4. Gluttony is said to bring virtue to naught, not so much on its own account, as on account of the vices which arise from it. For Gregory says (Pastor. iii, 19): “When the belly is distended by gluttony, the virtues of the soul are destroyed by lust.”

 

Lists
St. Thomas Aquinas

Patrimony of Wisdom: St. Pius X’s Exhortation to study Aquinas
The Sun that Warms the World – St. Thomas Aquinas
What Vatican II Actually Said About St. Thomas Aquinas
The 3 Part Catechesis on St. Thomas Aquinas by Pope Benedict XVI
All lists tagged Aquinas and all tagged Summa Theologica.

 

  1. SOURCE: Baltimore Catechism No. 3 Lesson 6 – On Sins and Its Kinds []
  2. Objection and Contrary? – The question on whether gluttony is a mortal sin displays a rare occurance where the last objection also is the “sed contra” or on the contrary. This means the given opinion is contrary to the above false answers, but is itself false or incomplete. In this case it appears that St. Gregory’s comment is being used to say gluttony is only a mortal sin – while Aquinas demonstrates gluttony can be either venial or mortal. []
  3. What is the “End of Man“? – “By the “end of man” we mean the purpose for which he was created: namely, to know, love, and serve God.” []
  4. Augustine: The quote of Augustine is referring to venial sins (cf. Aquinas’ first way of an act being incompatible with man’s end), but the fact an act can be venial does not negate the potential for it to become mortal. []

8 Thoughts on Whether Gluttony Is a Sin

Listers, the following is taken in full from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica II-II.148.1 On Gluttony. The Summa Theologica is widely considered the magnum opus of the Angelic Doctor’s short life. The work is broken down into a question and answer format and its importance is best summed up by the fact it was laid on the altar at the Council of Trent.

Listers, the following is taken in full from St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica II-II.148.1 On Gluttony. The Summa Theologica is widely considered the magnum opus of the Angelic Doctor’s short life. The work is broken down into a question and answer format and its importance is best summed up by the fact it was laid on the altar at the Council of Trent. Aquinas writes under the true belief that theology – more specifically the Sacred Doctrine of the Catholic Church – is the Divine Science and the Queen of the Sciences. In that proper understanding of theology the Angelic Doctor writes with a scientific accuracy marked by defined terms and an unwavering attention to detail. The fruits of understanding his writings are worth the labors.

“He (Thomas Aquinas) enlightened the Church more than all the other Doctors together; a man can derive more profit from his books in one year than from a lifetime spent in pondering the philosophy of others.”
Pope John XXII, Consistorial address of 1318

Pope Benedict XVI has recently highlighted the importance of Aquinas’ writings in his three part catechesis on the Common Doctor: Eucharistic Soul: 9 Statements by Pope Benedict XVI on St. Thomas AquinasOur Guide Through Modernism: 12 Teachings from Pope Benedict XVI on Aquinas, and Pope Benedict XVI’s 11 Introductory Steps to Understanding the Writings of Aquinas.

 

Article One
Whether gluttony is a sin?

 

How to Read the Summa Theologica
Aquinas’ structure of the Summa Theologica is unique to our modern customs. The Common Doctor proposes a question and in this case it is Whether gluttony is a sin? He then provides a few – in this case three – arguments that he believes to be false answers. He will then present a sed contra or a “On the contrary” statement which is a summary or the principal point of answering the question correctly. Immediately following the sed contra, the saint will give the main body of his answer and then handle each of the following incorrect answers individually.

Below the entirety of St. Thomas’ first article on gluttony is presented.
SPL has added the titles and their numbers.

1. Food cannot defile a man

Objection 1. It would seem that gluttony is not a sin. For our Lord said (Matthew 15:11): “Not that which goeth into the mouth defileth a man.” Now gluttony regards food which goes into a man. Therefore, since every sin defiles a man, it seems that gluttony is not a sin.

2. Pleasure and necessity cannot be distinguished

Objection 2. Further, “No man sins in what he cannot avoid” [Ep. lxxi, ad Lucin.]. Now gluttony is immoderation in food; and man cannot avoid this, for Gregory says (Moral. xxx, 18): “Since in eating pleasure and necessity go together, we fail to discern between the call of necessity and the seduction of pleasure.” And Augustine says (Confess. x, 31): “Who is it, Lord, that does not eat a little more than necessary?” Therefore gluttony is not a sin.

3. The first movement of sin

Objection 3. Further, in every kind of sin the first movement is a sin. But the first movement in taking food is not a sin, else hunger and thirst would be sinful. Therefore gluttony is not a sin.

 

The guardian of the Third Circle of Hell, Cerberus and beyond him the gluttons.

St. Thomas responds

4. Sed Contra: The inward enemy

On the contrary, Gregory says (Moral. xxx, 18) that “unless we first tame the enemy dwelling within us, namely our gluttonous appetite, we have not even stood up to engage in the spiritual combat.” But man’s inward enemy is sin. Therefore gluttony is a sin.

5. An irrational inordinate desire

I answer that, Gluttony denotes, not any desire of eating and drinking, but an inordinate desire. Now desire is said to be inordinate through leaving the order of reason, wherein the good of moral virtue consists: and a thing is said to be a sin through being contrary to virtue. Wherefore it is evident that gluttony is a sin.

6. The desire defiles, not the food

Reply to Objection 1. That which goes into man by way of food, by reason of its substance and nature, does not defile a man spiritually. But the Jews, against whom our Lord is speaking, and the Manichees deemed certain foods to make a man unclean, not on account of their signification, but by reason of their nature [Cf. I-II, 102, 6, ad 1]. It is the inordinate desire of food that defiles a man spiritually.

7. Knowledge of the excess

Reply to Objection 2. As stated above, the vice of gluttony does not regard the substance of food, but in the desire thereof not being regulated by reason. Wherefore if a man exceed in quantity of food, not from desire of food, but through deeming it necessary to him, this pertains, not to gluttony, but to some kind of inexperience. It is a case of gluttony only when a man knowingly exceeds the measure in eating, from a desire for the pleasures of the palate.

8. Sin rests in the sensation, not the necessity

Reply to Objection 3. The appetite is twofold. There is the natural appetite, which belongs to the powers of the vegetal soul.1 On these powers virtue and vice are impossible, since they cannot be subject to reason; wherefore the appetitive power is differentiated from the powers of secretion, digestion, and excretion, and to it hunger and thirst are to be referred. Besides this there is another, the sensitive appetite, and it is in the concupiscence of this appetite that the vice of gluttony consists. Hence the first movement of gluttony denotes inordinateness in the sensitive appetite, and this is not without sin.

  1. SOUL: Read SPL’s list on the Vegetal Soul []

Aquinas On Suicide: 3 Reasons It Is Unlawful to Kill Oneself

“Now every man is part of the community, and so, as such, he belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he injures the community, as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. v, 11).”

Listers, the following is the body of the question on “Whether it is lawful to kill oneself?” by St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologica. The Angelic Doctor speaks of suicide under the greater question of Murder, listed under those acts contrary to the virtue of Justice. Everything henceforward is quoted from the body of ST II-II.64.5 save the addition of the titles by SPL.

Introduction

Augustine says (De Civ. Dei i, 20): “Hence it follows that the words ‘Thou shalt not kill’ refer to the killing of a man–not another man; therefore, not even thyself. For he who kills himself, kills nothing else than a man.”

I answer that, It is altogether unlawful to kill oneself, for three reasons.

1. Contrary to Natural Law & to Charity

First, because everything naturally loves itself, the result being that everything naturally keeps itself in being, and resists corruptions so far as it can. Wherefore suicide is contrary to the inclination of nature, and to charity whereby every man should love himself. Hence suicide is always a mortal sin, as being contrary to the natural law and to charity.

2. Injury to the Common Good

Secondly, because every part, as such, belongs to the whole. Now every man is part of the community, and so, as such, he belongs to the community. Hence by killing himself he injures the community, as the Philosopher declares (Ethic. v, 11).

3. Sin Against God

Thirdly, because life is God’s gift to man, and is subject to His power, Who kills and makes to live. Hence whoever takes his own life, sins against God, even as he who kills another’s slave, sins against that slave’s master, and as he who usurps to himself judgment of a matter not entrusted to him. For it belongs to God alone to pronounce sentence of death and life, according to Deuteronomy 32:39, “I will kill and I will make to live.”