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Class 13

Last time we finished talking about the principle of double-effect, which has appeared in the manuals since the 17th century with a reference to Saint Thomas’ discussion of Saint Thomas. It is interesting to study the examples given by the Spanish Thomists who invented the term, the Latin student reading erotic poetry, the butcher who sells meat to the Jews who use it for non-Christian rituals — and others all to liberate the penitents from too much worry. There seems to be something basically flawed in calculating the moral issues to determine exactly what is the right thing to do. There is a proportionally grave reason to introduce an unwilled evil consequence. We cannot possibly think of all possible circumstances, and in the moral act there is an incarnation of a moral value in a particular situation — and it cannot be calculated precisely ahead of time. Saint Thomas focuses not on particular situations but on the virtues. He’s showing charity as the primary virtue infused by the Holy Spirit in our hearts. There is always the question of how much we’re willing to give. The greater the gift of self to God, the more divine love will be present in what we do. We must refrain from looking at morality as a set map. We cannot give an absolute answer to every single problem, because the multiple side-effects must be considered but cannot be exhaustively considered.

Merit out of the response to God

Another consequence we perceive in moral action is merit. We merit either reward or punishment by our actions, due to our relations to other people. If the other group of people is the political community, we merit praise or punishment. Saint Thomas says that a person is not entirely subordinate within the political order. Political relationships are not co-extensive with human experience. Every one of our acts deserve praise or blame from God, because of our relationship to God. God grants us greater grace for every yes. Saint Paul says, "For all of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil." God’s divine presence transforms our actions from within. The gift of grace is free. We cannot merit the first grace we receive. If our response to God and his love is good, we grow in love. Our willingness to give back to God what he’s given us deepens our spiritual transformation. It’s important that this growth flows from grace. When we speak about merit, it’s not that we deserve grace, but that we grow in grace when we put into effect the grace we receive, giving it back to God. It’s like a child which uses the money of the mother to buy a flower for the mother to express her love. We give back to God what he’s given to us — everything we have we’ve received. When we respond by using the grace that God has given to us, we grow in love.

God grants us the first grace but he expects our loving response. To merit growth in grace we must be in the state of grace. If we respond, we grow. As Jesus says, "Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me." Good acts done not in the state of grace have a value and are good, but they do not lead to spiritual growth, to a growth in the relationship with God. It doesn’t mean, as the Jansenists thought, that every act done outside of the state of grace is sinful. Only such action that flows from the inner action of the Holy Spirit produces personal growth and the growth in the mystical body. Good works done in the state of mortal sin have a natural value and contribute in the growth of the natural virtues. If you’re converted, and moved by the grace of God, the work that you do and your natural virtues are transformed from within by the Holy Spirit. God tied grace to the sacraments, but he himself is not tied by them.

In our spiritual life, it is important to nourish two dispositions, abandon (surrender to God, accepting that He is Lord, in whom we put in faith our entire trust and confidence) and souplesse (being supple, responsive to the movements of the Holy Spirit, without reservations). The Rich Young Man was good on the natural level and on the supernatural level, but he did not give himself to the Holy Spirit’s urging. It is important to keep up both attitudes. God wants us to use his grace in a mature, intelligent, and risky manner. God calls all of us to the fullness of supernatural life, and the only distinction is between those who have given themselves to God, and others who are smug where they are.

Remiss Acts are those which are basically good but which have an imperfection. There is no flaw in the goodness of the act, but there isn’t introduced the fullness of love one can put in. You haven’t sinned, but the goodness that was done lacked the possible perfection. The acts done do not often correspond to the level of divine inspiration. Such remiss acts are an obstacle to growth in the spiritual life. Saint Terese was careful never to say no to God. The little things in which we express our love are where we can grow. We must look at both the interior and the exterior actions, and how the theological virtues seep into our actions.

Proportionalism and Consequentialism

Developments in recent moral theology have led to the questioning of the very foundations of moral theology. There are trends that associate the moral qualification exclusively with the intention, which leads to the denial of extrinsically evil acts, shown to us by the ten commandments. Veritatis Splendor doesn’t give names of the culpable theologians, but they are not difficult to pinpoint. Amongst the most well known proportionalist we could name Charles Curran, Richard McCormick, Louis Janssens, Peter Knouer, Joseph Fuchs, Bruno Schuller and many more. McCormick has undertaken great efforts to defend his position.

Many of these authors have tried to prove their proportionalist position on Saint Thomas and the Catholic Tradition at large. But these are attempts to defend a preconceived notion without substance. They hook on to the last point of double-effect — a proportionately grave reason must be had to undertake an action with an evil side-effect. This point was always presented at the end, dealing with doubtful occasions, but the first and the second points were always stressed. The immediate effect must be good, and the good effect must at least be as great as the evil effect. So the basic principle wasn’t the fourth. The principle was built on the conviction that there are acts which are intrinsically evil which we must never do. The principle of double-effect was to eliminate unnecessary scruples. The proportionalists have moved the qualification of moral acts to the intention. So one can do directly evil acts, but with a proportionately higher good intention. The proportionalists don’t described the act itself as evil — or just ontic — but as material. The criteria for evaluating moral action are drawn from nonmoral or premoral values. Right or wrong conduct would be for maximizing goods or minimizing evils. Proportionalism holds that you couldn’t qualify moral acts on the basis of object.

On the basis of such argumentation, it is possible to justify abortion if a proportionately higher reason can be found. Proportionalism has failed to present any rational guidelines of what the better goods are. There is no way acts can be measured against themselves, or be assessed, once the importance of the object is rejected. The net result is that the assessment can only be made intuitively, and has failed as a moral theory. "Do what you feel like." The theory is teleological, looking at the remote end of the will. Saint Thomas doesn’t deny the importance of the interior act of the will, the understanding of which is crucial for understanding the quality of a moral act in the concrete. The manualist tradition was absolutely right as far as intrinsically evil acts go. Proportionalism attributes too much to the end.

Consequentialism considers above all the effects of the actions. Moral judgment consists in a comparison of the good and evil consequences of an action, in the perspective of the intention. An estimation of the effects of acts are very difficult, for only some are seen. The moral calculation involves calculation of the distant possible consequences. It is impossible to view all the possible consequences of an act. How far are the foreseen and unforeseen effects to be taken into consideration? Proportionalism doesn’t concern itself with effects, but the two theories are concerned solely on the intention. The proportionalist focus on the end is reacting to too much of a concentration on the object in the post-Tridentine moral theology. The movement of the interior act precedes the movement of the exterior act, according to Saint Thomas. That is why Saint Thomas begins moral theology with a study of the ultimate end and of the finality of the act. But the proportionalists attribute the entire importance of the act to a purely technical procedure of finality. Moral acts are thus not those in which a person discovers the values of things; they’re more like technical procedures, evaluating which procedure maximizes good and minimizes evils. It approaches the moral relativism of utilitarianism. Proportionalism has divided reality into two categories, ontic good (health, knowledge, life, property) or evil (the opposites), and moral good or evil. The moral order enters when the ontic goods or evils are willed. It is exclusively voluntary. The moral judgment is a comparison of the various ontic goods and evils in an action, similar to the comparison of the use of several machines. The passage from the ontic to the moral good is exclusively of the will. This theory goes right to the heart of morality. An act may be morally evil and technically correct (like the Gypsies). The fact that something is technically correct doesn’t mean it’s good.

The proportionalists have introduced a duality amongst the norms. Some norms are termed transcendental and categorical, others are concrete or material. The former describe the intrinsically evil acts, but remain on the abstract level. To present a universal concrete norm, we would have to envisage all of the concrete situations. Since this is impossible, intrinsically evil acts are impossible. So moral norms have become relative. Saint Thomas teaches on the other hand the objective norms which have to be received by our reason which takes into account the circumstances we are. The distinction between the speculative and the practical reason allows both general directives and applied norms. The practical reason applies the general rules to the particular circumstances.

The proportionalist theory is still limited to the casuist perspective, bent on analyzing concrete acts, liberated from virtues and from universal norms. As long as you can convince yourself that your intentions are good, you don’t need virtues. Proportionalism developed against a deontological moral, separated from spiritual and dogmatic theology. The emphasis on Jesus and the virtues is lost.

Liberty and Obligation

How in the light of what we’ve said about liberty and the primacy of moral obligation since the 14th century, how are we to fit in moral obligation in the vision of Saint Thomas. In the liberty of indifference (Ockham), the will is seen as an oppressor to our senses and to others. Virtues for him were expressions of power. Saint Thomas says the subject of temperance and fortitude are the emotions which cooperate with the spiritual powers and grant the virtues their dynamism. The emotions are to be included in the actions. For Bonaventure, the subject of the virtues is the reason and the will, which have the function of harnessing the emotion. Saint Bonaventure implies they must be whipped, as if they wouldn’t cooperate. For Ockham, the virtues were seen as subduing the sensual faculties, hence one has to mortify your emotions. There was a catalogue of commandments to subdue our personalities. The emphasis was a juridical assessment. Justice received the most attention, because it measures something objective, and hence an obligation can be found most exactly. For the casuist mentality justice was central; even the theological virtues were seen from the perspective of obligation.

The emotional response for Ockham was fear and obligation, because God was imposing his will on us. The fear and the sense of obligation was the tension between our unbounded will and the obligation imposed on us by God. True love is born in man when he recognizes the fitness of the object, however. We love because we perceive the value, not because we’re obliged. Casuistry changed charity into the obligation to love God and our neighbor. Saint Thomas doesn’t make obligation the center of the moral order. He doesn’t treat it as a principle which defends itself. Obligations find their center in the finality of man. The objectiveness of the objects toward which we move obliges us. Friendship places some demands, but the source of the obligation is the desire for happiness which seeks friends. Obligation comes from something which is good attracting the will. The good elicits an attraction in the will, presented to it by reason; on the basis of this attraction to the good is the ordering of us to our ultimate end. We have within us a natural inclination to goodness. The fact that we perceive the goodness is tying. The moral obligation expressed in the moral law is a setting on the right course of the pursuit of happiness. The moral law teaches us to stay on the right course to the good. Obligation doesn’t depend on the doubtful hypothesis, if you want to be happy, you must... Obligation is written rather into the nature of our will which seeks the good. The good is something to be desired. Anything which is good elicits in the will an attraction. A good Rolls Royce ties me to have a good garage and a good gas. The object ties. Love is not an obligation, but it causes obligations. Since I love God, there are obligations involved in that love.


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