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Class 12

Circumstances

All three sources of morality have to be good for an act to be morally good. The third group is the circumstances, the morally significant accidents of the act. They are added to the act which already has its moral qualification. The circumstances may increase, decrease or change the moral value of the act. Cicero said, "quis, quid, ubi, quibus auxiliis, cur, quomodo, quando." Who does a particular thing is important. Quid strictly speaking is the object. Ubi is where the thing happened, which adds an extra condition which influences morality. By what means is important as well, for the means are central. Cur is the end, why, strictly speaking. Quomodo is the manner in which something was done. Quando is when, which is something extra that was done, showing a greater love involved in the act. Sometimes the circumstances have no particular influence on the act. Sometimes the circumstances qualify an act without qualification. Or it may be that an act in itself is good, but the circumstances make it bad. Or the circumstance may add change the species of the act, like stealing a ciborium, or aggravate without changing the species of the sin. Trent decreed that only those circumstances which directly bear on the species of an act needs to be confessed.

Differences between pagans and Christians regarding the finis operis

As we look at the schema, the question may be raised in what way this scheme differs in the choice of an act by a pagan or a Christian. Is the moral assessment identical? The Christian has some different norms. The Christian also has the gift of faith, which allows us to look at the finis operis in a different way. The supernatural gift of love also urges the will. The gifts of the Holy Spirit impinge directly on our intellect and our will. If we live the life of grace, the choices we undertake and helped by grace. Free choice becomes a manifestation of the goodness of God, particularly those who persevere in their choices despite difficulty.

The object is perceived between the finis operis and finis operantis was developed in the later middle ages to defend itself against Nominalism. In the present scheme, the stress was primarily on the object. You couldn’t play the object off of the end (altruistic fornication). The schema is useful against teleological arguments which tie moral value to the intention. But it is not an exact schema of Saint Thomas. It was tainted by a nominalist vision of obligation, and not one of happiness. The act is seen independent of the aspirations of the human person. The act was studied in an atomic unity. We can act the questions the casuists did — is it rational to lie? Questions were studied independent of one’s vocation. This schema allows us to work out moral solutions, but it’s a cold picture of the moral act. It was worked out in the context of normative ethics. In Saint Thomas’s system, morals was built on virtues. The distinction between the finis operis and operantis was left out by Saint Thomas, because the finis operis is linked too closely with the object.

Saint Thomas’s Schema on the moral qualification of acts

In Veritatis Splendor 78, Pope John Paul II says, "The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the 'object' rationally chosen by the deliberate will," as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas."[23] In the sed contra, Saint Thomas says that human acts receive their qualification from the end. But are we using the same terminology? Acts are called human insofar as they are voluntary. In voluntary action, there is the interior and the exterior acts of the will. Both have their specific objects. We can also call each of these terms objects or fines, but we call the end the object of the interior act, and the end of the exterior act is called the object. The interior act of the will has its species from its end, and that of the will is formal to that of the exterior act (which is material). The exterior acts enter the realm of morality only because they are voluntary. The species of the human act is perceived formally according to the will and materially according to the intellect. Formally that which is in the interior act of the will — desire for drugs — and the exterior act is theft of money. The reason is conditioned by norms. The reason asks whether what is being willed is in accord with the final end? Is my desire for drugs in accord with my final end. The reason asks whether the object of the external act is good. Saint Thomas, by this scheme, perceives the moral act in its entirety. The interior act of the will is not expelled outside of morality, both that to which the act exteriorly pertains and the interior act have moral qualification. Saint Thomas looks at the whole person, asking him where one is going, which is more fundamental than that of the act. The union of both elements as matter and form show that the person acts as a person. For the drug addict, the stealing is not the most important thing; it’s his drug use. It’s important to investigate both ends of morality.

In inspecting the morality of the will, we must determine how the ultimate end enters. Is the interior movement of the will compatible with the desire for God? Have the drugs become an idol which overshadow God. In tough times do we have idols for God. The movement of the interior act is the focus of virtue. What is it I desire most profoundly? Sometimes desires are illogical, immature, spontaneous, but what is important in the spiritual life is the interpenetration of God in our innermost motives. What is the ultimate finality? The entire perspective is important. Sometimes people focus exclusively on the sins they’ve committed. They never stop to wonder whether they’re going in the right direction. Saint Paul says to allow Christ to penetrate your entire personality.[24] The discovery that both the interior and the exterior acts of the will have their appropriate objects teaches that the fullness of the picture will not center exclusively on the object. We need to look at virtue to get the whole picture. The predominance of norm ethics in post-medieval theology focused only on the norm. Casuists perceived the act in its abstracted existence. Such a perspective, moral theology doesn’t really need virtues. They were occasionally listed as a number of obligations. Saint Thomas doesn’t lessen the importance of the exterior act, but says that the object manifests the end.

Sometimes spiritual theology was called the theology of interior life, implying that moral theology was only concerned with the exterior life, which was what it was for the casuists. The morality often appeared to be Pelagian. Similarly, the separation of spiritual theology from moral theology has led to the rejection of norms which humanly speaking are impossible without grace. People say the Church is too demanding. The idea of morality has been informed by an impoverished moral theology. Saint Thomas does not support a subjective vision of the morality. The focus on the object of the exterior act determines the order to a good end. Saint Thomas’s vision has a dual perspective, which is seen in the entirety of the secunda pars. The will must be amenable to the divine. The study of the Commandments which Saint Thomas attaches to the study of every virtue, and the accompanying discussion of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, does not betoken a subjectivist morality, nor is he a proportionalist which would permit the taking on of an evil action for a good intention. The stress is upon the interiority of moral choices in the context of the movement of the person toward his ultimate end. Veritatis Splendor stresses the importance of the object of the act against the teleological modern moral theories. But the encyclical also stresses the interiority of the action: "activity is morally good when (a) it attests to and expresses the voluntary ordering of the person to his ultimate end and (b) and the conformity of a concrete action with the human good as it is acknowledged in its truth by reason" (Veritatis Splendor 72). This is ample proof that the encyclical envisages the importance of virtue ethics. This interiority is definitely shown.

From the point of view of the beggar who receives money, whether it was given for vainglory is accidental. But the end is never accidental to the moral qualification of the act on the part of the agent. The interior act of the will has its own qualification due to the reference of the end to the ultimate end. Can the good that I do be referred to God? The exterior act has its own qualification, whether it is good. Is the giving of alms good or evil? How much should one give? If the exterior act has an indifferent moral qualification, then the moral qualification of the interior act of the will predominate on the act. In the assessment of moral acts, both the act itself and its end must be assessed.

In the theological tradition preceding Saint Thomas, the moral questions were approached metaphysically. Theologians attempted to solve the paradox of something metaphysically good being morally evil. Saint Thomas rejected this approach and brought in a psychological approach. The theological tradition following Saint Thomas, after Nominalism, was so fixed on defending the moral order against the danger of subjectivity that the dynamism of Saint Thomas was lost. Saint Thomas’s description is geared to the theological end Saint Thomas had from the beginning, the divine fecundity in human acts directed to him. Saint Thomas asks how we can see God, in acts that are materially good and formally directed toward God.

The effects of acts; Double-effect

We were looking just at the act itself, as the acts are perceived by the agent. The effects cannot always be predicted. Sometimes bad effects flow from good action, and good effects can come from sins and bad action. How do the effects of acts flow into the moral qualification? If the effects are anticipated, then they enter into the object of the act — and so one would be fully responsible for them. If the consequences are not anticipated, then one would be responsible for the necessary consequences of effects (like with drunken driving) though not for unnecessary consequences. But what about actions with several effects? Is it morally licit to undertake an action with several effects, some of which are good, some evil. If the evil side-effects were to be absolutely excluded, then decision making would become unbearable. Many good actions would have to be omitted, because there might always be evil side-effects.

The modern manuals of moral theology worked out norms for just these situations. These were operative in doubtful situations.

• The act cannot be evil.

• The evil and the good effects must proceed equally directly from the act, and the immediate effect must be good.

• The intention must be good. The agent cannot will the evil effect.

• A proportionately grave reason had to exist to justify the admission of the indirect evil effect.

This last was the term the proportionalists exploited. We can never know all of the effects; there are chains of consequences that can never be known ahead of time. This principle of double-effect is criticized for its impracticality. It was worked out by De Soto in the 16th century. It first appeared in a manual in 1647, published by the Carmelites. Since then the principle appeared in all the manuals. The point of departure was II-II,64,7 was Saint Thomas’s discussion of self-defense. Saint Thomas allows for the defense of one’s life wherein the aggressor is accidentally killed.


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