Defending the Faith of our Fathers!
Christ's Faithful People

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Class 14

We will continue with the discussion of how moral obligation fits into a virtue-based schema. The good in some way is tying the will; obligation is involved in the goodness to which the will is attracted. From the side of the subject, there is an aspiration for happiness, for the good, and this aspiration is natural. If we express the relationship between the good an the will from the point of view of obligation, we’re only presenting half the picture. There is something more in goodness that attracts us; obligation only presents one of the aspects of the relationship between the will and the good. There is a friendship with the good as well as an obligation. The obligation and the moral law are external for the will, but we risk missing out on the relationship of the will to the goodness. When we focus on obligation, the response of the will will be perceived in a crippled manner, leaving out what is most enriching. We’re not denying obligation, but there is more involved. Friendships cause obligations, but not vice versa. Do we work because we’re obliged to help our family or because we love our family? There is an obligation, but the obligation is undertaken for the reason of love.

We should look at the moral life from the aspect of goodness or evil, not solely from obligation. There’s a difference between a "forbidden film" and a "bad film" which shows that there is more involved than simply a rule not to look at it. In the case of the person who only does his duty, the imperfection of the will which responds to the obligation is not on account of the weakness of the good to attract the will, but of the weakness of the free choice. What is missing is the recognition and the love of the good. Even a child can be taught to make choices and justify them by arguments. It is important for children to know the why for what they want. If at the beginning there is a lack of clarity and of effective willing, the will needs to be moved by something external which commands obedience. But obligations characteristic of the initial stage of moral development ceases to be so obligatory with moral maturity, because we see the values involved and are drawn from within. The bond between the good and the will is essential for obligation, but eventually the characteristic which may cause fear disappears gradually. This is not an interiorization of an obligation which makes us cease to be ourselves and an overpowering of our wills and minds. This sometimes happens, even in religious houses. We are to accept obligations out of love rather than out of fear. We must not destroy the capacity of the will to move toward the good, to teach the will to strive for the good and be moved for it. The love of the good is antecedent to obligation and is not a consequence; it is superior to obligation as well. Previously, the will might have search for the good vaguely, just seeing the obligation, but maturity brings clarity. Obligation is not the instrumental cause of love, but it may aid love’s development. If we’re open to God in faith, the love that is given by God moves us to action which far surpasses what law commands. God gives us law, and gives us grace to strive toward the good. The movement of grace moves us toward goodness because it’s good.

Obligation in moral growth

Do we have to educate first on obligation and then on grace and charity? No, begin with love. If a mother gives a child a lollipop at 18 months, and then tells the child to share, she’s giving the child a chance to share, to teach the baby to give. The sense of duty should grow out of a sense of duty for others. If an institution places duty above love, it will stifle development. Obligation is not an end in itself, although it is necessary.

If we can imagine the acts we do, we have some acts which are obligatory, some sinful, and some free. The free acts are the most interesting. As we grow spiritually, we should commit fewer sins, our duties will stay constant, but the number of free acts will increase. The percentage of the good things we do will increase. The spiritual life should be primarily focused on the good that we do. We shouldn’t stress only sin. We must inspire people to do good acts, not because they’re told to do them, but because they want to do them. It is important in formation that we develop our personality. Our free acts must be good, as must be our obligatory acts. Even our obligatory acts may cease to be obligatory. We see the good — like going to Mass.

Treatise on the Emotions

Saint Thomas in his study on the moral life includes a section on the emotions. The emotional life which forms a part of our being has a place in moral reflection. The study of our emotions shouldn’t include just how the emotions can be an obstacle or aid, but also how God transforms us through the emotions. The bodily dimension of our emotions can be used for the good, for increasing love. If we love God, it must pass through our whole personality. The old motif had a suspicion against the emotions, because emotions often go beyond obligations. The denial of emotions has serious side-effects. We have acquired inclinations that are the result of a personal cognitive act. Cognition and appetition are distinguished. We have reactions as a result of cognition, what we hear, see, or think about. We have the physiological dimension common to plants and animals. Then we have the sensory dimension, common to animals and men, in which we step out and reach out to external goods. In human beings, above the sensory dimension there’s the intellectual dimension. In animals, the sensory dimension is autonomous. We have the intellectual dimension, which should work together with the sensory dimension. We also have, as a result of the gift of grace, the supernatural dimension. At each of these levels, there’s life, and where there’s life, there’s movement, either growth or deterioration. The intellectual dimension goes beyond the sensory, abstracting the universals from the concrete, and reaches out to God.

In the sense life of man, we have to distinguish between sense knowledge and the desires of the emotions. Sense knowledge is obtained by the sensory cognitive powers: the five external senses of cognition, and four internal senses. The external senses are very complicated, but they can be summed in the five common ones. The four internal senses, according to Saint Thomas, memory, imagination, common sense, the usefulness judgment (vis estimativa or cognitiva). The imagination is an active memory, whereas the usefulness judgment is instinctual. The memory is the power of forgiveness. We human beings have all these powers.

The relationship of the emotions to the intellect

These sensory powers of cognition in man is related to the higher powers of the intellect and the will. The intellect reaches for the universal meaning of things and perceives singular objects in the light of the universal. We see a bone in the context of bones in general. We can tie sensory cognition to the universal cognition. The imagination under the power of the intellect can separate impressions; this is how we can be creative. The usefulness judgment is subject to the influence of the intellect, under which it normally acts. The intellect can redirect it. The usefulness judgment judges the value of past experiences; if it is misguided, it can lead to pathological reactions. As objects are perceived by the sensory powers, there are appetitive movements; we are moved by them and are subject to these movements, which is why they’re called passions. There are two groups of emotions related to the emotions. The external senses and imagination, common sense, and memory are concerned with good and bad. The usefulness judgment and experience know the benefit of a judgment. There is a pleasure and a utility appetite, concupiscible and irascible (usefulness) appetites. There are six concupiscible appetites: amor, odium, desiderium, fuga, delectatio (joy), tristitia. The Latin terms cover a multitude of emotions. In the irascible appetite, we have spes (ambition, the movement toward something which is difficult), audacia, desperatio, timor, and ira. The reactions of these emotions differ in the different somatic structures of individuals.

The emotions are subject to development through a consonance. The emotional life is developed when a child experiences being loved, which enhances the child’s capacity for amor. The emotions of the pleasure appetite should grow before the rational intellect is developed, which is why it is important to express emotional love to children, so that the children can feel that they are loved. Touch is very important, from both father and mother. If children don’t feel loved, they’re not free, and have stunted emotions. In maturity it is important to have a mature emotional life. Emotional contact can be pre-natal. If the mother every day places her hand on her belly, the child will swim to the hand, wherever it is placed, and the child will kick if there’s no hand. The child is incapable of volitional love at this stage, but can respond to emotional contact. The capacity to respond emotionally is a sign of a fully human response, not of infantility. When people are afraid of expressing their emotions, they wear a mask.

The pleasure emotions provide the emotional responses by which we react to what is pleasurable or not, and the irascible appetite the responses by which the pleasure may be obtained. The emotions are psychosomatic reactions to sensitive cognition. The fact that we have emotions is good. The emotions give the bodily contents to the virtues. We we’re sad seeing another suffering, it gives dynamism to pity and acts of charity. The emotion itself is morally indifferent, but it can make charity or envy more convincing. Sadness with God as its object is called acedia. The emotions of the utility appetite are directed and subordinated to the pleasure appetite. The desire to quench a thirst is supported by ambition and the fear of dying of thirst. The emotions of fear and hope give the energy to travel across the desert. Because the emotions of the utility appetite serve the concupiscible appetite, if there is a predominance of the utility emotions, the emotional life is stunted. In the animals, the emotions are autonomous. In humans, the emotional level is to accord with the reason and will. The emotions are supposed to follow the reason and the will: the sensitive appetite is born to obey reason. These emotions have within their structure the willingness to follow the judgment of reason. The fact that I feel the desire to eat chocolates is good or indifferent, but the reason will say not to eat too many. The animal will just jump on them. We can perceive the object and the movement of the emotion in the light of reason. The desiderium will accept the light of reason if it is properly trained — it won’t be a foreign opposition, because the emotion inherently is to obey reason. We don’t live in original justice and there’s a disorder, the emotions don’t always respond to reason. But when reason presents the value, the emotion doesn’t perceive it as an imposition. The guidance is natural for the emotions. This guidance doesn’t lead to psychic conditions, but gears them to the rational measure. If the emotion acts against the direction of reason, then the emotion which hadn’t followed is uneasy. It causes a feeling of guilt, that we haven’t followed reason. This is not conscience, which is not an emotion. The feeling of guilt is an emotional reaction which supports conscience. How fast or to what extent we feel guilty depends upon our emotions. Guilt is a feeling of incompleteness in the emotion, because it hasn’t followed the mean presented by reason.

In men, the emotions on the whole are penetrated by reason. In women they are more autonomous, more quick. Men need to be taught to tie the elements together. Children are more responsive to the emotions than adults. In children, the emotions are not harnessed by habits. Children can move quickly from laughter to crying to laughter. They can perceive emotions quickly. The can recognize inauthenticity readily. Children will immediately recognize the uneasiness of adults about questions that are asked, like questions about sex.

Problems in the relationship between the emotions and the intellect and will

In aesthetic literature we find the term mortification, which doesn’t correctly describe the process of emotional and human growth. We are not to kill our emotions, but guide them by reason and will, because emotions are fundamentally good — they need to be directed though. Often the emotions of the utility appetite need to be harnessed. Some need to be mortified in energy or anger. In a healthy personality, the emotions are not denied, but under the control of the spiritual faculties. The feeling of the emotion is good, and it is felt with being good. We don’t think that there’s anything wrong in just having feelings. In animals, the emotions are egocentric. In humans, the particular goods are perceived in light of the universal goods. The emotions can cease to be egocentric. In a healthy but sinful person, the emotions draw to an object ignoring the light of reason. The adulterer is drawn to illicit sexual union; there’s nothing wrong in the sexual drive, which is capable of being directed by reason to see that it is inappropriate conduct, but in the act, the person chooses to be blind to this light. When lived in accord with true values, the emotional life finds its true fulfillment.

In a psychopath, there is a fundamental constitutional disorder between the emotional and intellectual sphere. The emotional actions of such people are irrational. A psychopath will steal a car without a feeling of guilt, because the emotions are not subject to rational direction. In a neurotic personality, the emotions are fundamentally healthy. They have the innate drive to be directed by reason, but because of a faulty education, the emotions are blocked. Hence, the reason cannot direct the emotions. But because the emotions are healthy, they can eventually be directed. The understanding of the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy attempt to control of the emotions must be understood. If the principles of the spiritual life are misunderstood, there will often be neurotic reactions. Are rules received naturally or emotionally?

Some Protestants felt all emotional movements were evil, which is why Protestant countries are more stiff than Catholic countries. The Council of Trent rejected the Protestant view, explaining that concupiscence is not sinful in itself. These embers of sin are left in the baptized and cannot harm those who do not consent to it. As to what Saint Paul calls a sin, the Council declared that the Church has never understood it as a sin, but that it comes from sin and inclines to sin. Concupiscence is a disorder of the emotions and comes from original sin and leads to personal sin. The emotions are good and are real. To deny them allows the devil to work.

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