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Christ's Faithful People

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Class 9

We finished talking about the nature of the will. Within the will there is a natural inclination given by God toward the good. The fact that we can reject that which is truly good is a sign of our weakness and not our greatness. The angels, because they cannot choose evil, are more free than we are. They are hooked onto God. Their will is spontaneously directed toward God. We experience temptations tearing us away from our true good. The will of the angels is confirmed by grace in the good. The universal attraction of the good in us is not strong enough on its own to choose the good always. All creatures require the help of grace for the enhancement of freedom, of the will toward the truly good. When our will is drawn to evil, it is because something has appeared to us as good, but a particular or sensitive good. The will often ignores the universal good presented to it by reason in seeking a particular good. The will then becomes less free — we are tied by our temptations. The will is most free when conditioned by reason.

We know that the government of reason and will over the emotions is, Aristotle says, of a political not a despotic nature. We have to work out with political prudence our emotional attractions. The spiritual powers aren’t to stifle the emotional dynamism, but direct them. We are not to be angelic. We are corpora. The emotions retain their capacity to reject the guidance of reason and the will, and the scope of liberty is rejected. Then for a moment the will is incapacitated. We must note that there are some movements of the emotions that precede the judgment of reason. Our emotions sometimes burst out before we can reflect. These are involuntary, outside the scope of free-choice, liberty, and morality. The will, therefore, to defend itself from becoming less free needs the support of reason. We need to learn to make choices involving both the reason and will. Deliberate choices of the good enhance liberty. It is also important to act based on reason’s directive.

Even though the movement of the will flows from the will itself, it has as its root foundation the external source of God. We perceive within the movement of the will the influence of God. In the movements of the will, we distinguish two types of actions: actus elicitus, actus imperatus. The elicited acts are movements flowing from the will, and the basic function of the will is expressed here. The imperated acts have a different subject, the reason, the emotions, the body. They are ordered by the will rather than flow from it. The will here makes use of other faculties as an instrument. This distinction appears a lot in the Saint Thomas.

In the will there are natural inclinations toward the truly good. Because we are created beings, we can discern these natural inclinations. The study of these inclinations belongs to the study of the natural law. Since the natural law has God as its ultimate source — as our will has — there can be no difference between the commands of the natural law and the inclinations of our will. If there were a contradiction, they’d be a contradiction in God. There is a contradiction within us because of the flawed inclinations resulting from original sin. When we speak of the natural inclinations of human nature, we mean the inclinations directed toward the good despite the wounds of original sin to our nature.

That there are natural inclinations within our will seems to be difficult to fathom because of the heritage of Nominalism. We have the habit of setting nature and liberty against each other, that nature enslaves liberty. We are free not despite our natural inclinations but because of them. If we deny our nature, we’re putting on an off-fitting coat of armor. An idea of liberty that intends to bypass or reform or deform nature is not a true liberty. An ideological manipulation of nature doesn’t free. Human nature isn’t only carnal. There’s a spiritual nature open toward truth, goodness, beauty. The natural inclination toward truth is the source of contemplation, philosophy, and all science. The fact that we have this curiosity in our nature cannot be a limitation. The intellect to be true to itself must be open to truth. The inclination for the good likewise is the deepest source of spontaneity within us. It is a fundamental drive that leads us to goodness and truth. These drives aren’t subhuman.

This leads to the question of the voluntariness of acts. Man acts by willing, by doing or not doing something. If these decisions are fully human — fully engaging our human will — we call it an actus humanus. It expressed our voluntariness. This is distinct from the actus hominis, referring to those actions outside of the realm of morals (purely mechanical or autonomic bodily reactions). Paul VI called his encyclical Humanae Vitae, not Hominum Vitae. Voluntas means an efficacious will, the spiritual faculty of appetition following the directive of reason. There is another Latin word, velleitas, which means an inefficacious will. There is also a third expression we will talk more about when we discuss the emotions, appetitus irascibilis, a collection of emotions of the drive for struggle, healthy ambitions to move, courage, etc. Together they form what we call human energy, when we refer to someone as energetic. This is an emotion, a bodily potential to undertake action.

When Saint Thomas uses voluntas, he is not referring to a source of carnal energy. It refers above all to a spiritual power capable of fascination. We often refer to the will as will-power, which is the irascible appetite. We also distinguish volitum, that which is willed, from non voluntarium, which is entirely outside the realm of our will (burping), from involuntarium, something contrary to the will and that which the will fights against (like thoughts in the mind, etc.). They are within the capacity of the will, but sometimes escape the will. These terms are important for a proper understanding of the will.

Deliberate choice

Saint Thomas uses Saint John Damascene’s quotation that we image God when we use our intellectual nature, our free choice, and our standing on our own feet. To what degree do we act out of liberum arbitrium, which is not free will but free choice, or better, deliberate choice? A glimpse of the divine presence can be perceived in sanctified human activity to the extent that it flows from free choice and expresses our free choice. True loving is such an act, which is an image of God. The liberum arbitrium acquires for Saint Thomas a great significance in showing the image of God. The true notion of liberty is the best response to those who give everything to an uninformed conscience. The fact that we desire to be creative is something good. Moral teaching will best fulfill its role when we develop the capacity for free choice, and free it from various sorts of repression: emotion, intellectual (when people are hooked onto ideologies), spiritual (where the Holy Spirit’s dynamism is blocked by lack of spiritual growth). We must help people out of these conditions.

Some people are almost incapable of free choice, because they haven’t learned how to choose toward good ends. This is a moral failure, often found in teenagers. The favorite term for describing liberty in Saint Thomas is liberum arbitrium, which is not free will. Libera voluntas is the determination of the will toward eternal happiness, toward the good. Liberum arbitrium is always the fruit of reason and the will, which collaborate to issue a free choice. An act is fully human when it is an expression of the reason and the will working together.

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