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Class 5

Man mirrors God

We have a few points about the method of moral theology. We can look at the morality of acts through the mirror of our own experiences, which allows us to have an insight into the morality of human action. Saint Thomas has the intuition that he will show us the divine image in man. Man mirrors God when he acts with his intellect, free will, and maturely. So we can perceive the divine stamp in the action of a Christian. When the believer confronts true charity in others, we can perceive and reflect upon the divine there. Both philosophy and theology can discern the deepest inclinations in human beings, crippled but not destroyed by original sin, inclinations to truth, goodness, procreation. An experience of good moral action grants a certain joy or satisfaction, as does truth. We can see that this is good for us, that it corresponds to the way we’re built. The recognition of this is the cognition of connaturality. Jesus’ statement that there is more happiness in giving than receiving can be realized by a child. Reflection on this type of insight gives us the matter for our moral theology.

So moral theology is more than a study of divine rules, but of the nature of virtuous, generous action, which perceives what is truly good, and so that we can see concords with the divine will. We choose good action because we see the good, not solely because we’re told to do so. We have fundamental values and inner instincts attracted to these values. In faith we can have a spiritual instinct attracting us to do works of charity. These interior instincts (Saint Thomas uses the expressions instinctus rationis, instinctus Spiritus Sancti) can be submitted to rational reflection which gives us the initial information for the science of moral theology. Saint Thomas draws from his experience of moral action (though he doesn’t present anything subjectively) and free decision making, and reflects upon it with the aid of similar moral experiences found in other philosophers and the truths of the revelation read in faith. The regeneration of all our faculties is perceived in faith. Saint Thomas undertook an investigation of the divine fecundity within man and shown in his acts. This can be done because of Christ, the supreme image of God and the perfect human being untainted by sin.

Moral theology also uses the data of moral philosophy, sociology, psychology, Biblical archaeology, etc. All these sciences give us information which is used to help understand what we see in faith. They cannot replace or judge the data of faith. They can give us insights, but they cannot distort that revelation by becoming prior. In moral theology, we take into account the experience of divinized human action in the lives of the saints, who have left us descriptions of the life of faith. The perspective we have in Saint Thomas is speculative theology, to pinpoint the essence of the Christian moral life, from the perspective of its summit. He doesn’t show us the stages and the pattern of growth in the spiritual life. If we want a more step-by-step approach, we should go to the Carmelite saints who describe the necessary purifications. Saint Thomas gives us the scene from the top, which of itself is not sufficient to lead to sanctity, but it helps us to establish the nature of correct moral action. We can present the sanctifying aspect of the Holy Spirit in several ways, provided we do not change the data of revelation. Both presentations are good, but we have to consider the audience.

This is enough for the introduction of moral theology. Now we will move to the section on the ultimate end.

Ultimate End and the Aspiration for Happiness

The Sermon on the Mount began with Christ’s perspective of happiness, underlying the entire Christian mystery. The reason behind all of the works of Christ is that of happiness. The Christian is one who aspires for happiness, who, already living in the life of grace, has a foretaste of happiness. Life is more than suffering now to be happy later, but the desire and experience of happiness accompanies us in our entire human life on this earth and reaches its plenitude in heaven.

All of the theories of ethics in the ancient world were directed toward happiness. The Epicureans saw happiness in pleasure; the Stoics, in virtue; Aristotle in contemplation. None thought the aspiration for happiness was egoistic (the term appeared in the 18th century). The fathers of the Church could easily undertake the subject of happiness in their apologies. They took up this question of the ancient philosophers. The hunger for happiness would be satiated in Christ. They never undertook to criticize whether man wanted to be happy. Saint Thomas began his work on the Moors writing that all of us want to be happy, and no one denies this (even the man who commits suicide). Saint Augustine says to pray for a happy life. In City of God, he said that the only reason people philosophize is because they want to be happy. The history of thought can be divided into the epoch of happiness and the epoch of moral obligation (post-Kantian).

Why happiness if not egoistic

With Kant, the search for happiness is seen egoistic. If we desire love, it’s self-centered; we want to be happy to gratify our desires. But in man there is the capability of true love. A desire for happiness, for true love, opens one up to others. In giving oneself to others there is the greatest happiness. The search for such a happiness is not egoistic. A vision of morality can be built on the search for happiness. We don’t deny moral obligations, but locate them in an appropriate context. A vision of morality on obligation will leave out happiness, friendship, gratitude, and others. The Desert Fathers placed great emphasis on friendship. Saint Thomas defines charity as friendship with God and friendship with others in God. The work of the Holy Spirit in the world is one of friendship. Friendship creates obligations, but the reverse is not true. Obligation cannot command friendship. Friendship is often left out of modern moral systems, as if it were dangerous — even in religious houses.

This aspiration for happiness shows us our finality, shows us our end. As we have inscribed within us this desire for happiness, this means that we are not beings lost in a world without interior orientation. In our very essence there’s inscribed a finality, dependent upon the Creator who implanted it. This is what atheist philosophers deny, that there’s a finality in beings. If there is a finality, there’s a wisdom behind the finality. That is why Saint Thomas, who said in the prologue that he was looking at the image of God in the acting man, begins with the consideration of the ultimate end of human life. In a map of a city, we look at the general plan and then the details. So we begin with the most profound aspiration, moving us to what is ultimate.

The concept of finality in man and what it implies

The ultimate end is said to be happiness. Who declared this to be the ultimate end? The final end, within us, is something that is not imposed from without. Nothing can be the greater source of happiness than our ultimate end. So Saint Thomas is not searching for an abstract end. The first article asks whether it is appropriate for man to act in pursuit of an end. He responds that acting out of a deliberate choice is typical for man as a rational being. In working toward an end we reflect the image of God. We have many proximate ends, but all are ordered to the ultimate end. As human beings, we tie together our actions in view of the ultimate end. It is not possible to have more than one ultimate end. If it’s ultimate, it’s last — though this is true only in the case of mature action. [Immature actions are those done without a clear grasp of why they’re doing it (they just don’t see further than that — it’s an idol that blinds them). We do insensible things. Some of our ends can conflict. Saint Thomas is not giving us a study of sick people.]

Saint Thomas discerns a metaphysical conclusion that the entire creation is moved by an interior Úlan toward the creator. The various creatures express this finality in different ways, according to their different natures. The stone expresses its finality executively, by just being. A bird expresses its finality by not just being, but by acting according to its nature, with sensitive cognition and appetition. A rational animal aspires to his end directing himself to the end. We make our choices and through them aspire to the ultimate end. We must use the brains God gave us to see where and how we’re going — and undertake decisions that may turn out to be flawed.

Modern sciences accumulate information, but seldom ask the child’s question, "What is this for?" To do so, we must look at the final causality which the Creator wrote in. That there’s a finality to the world — which says the world isn’t absurd (from the Latin word for death) — presupposes a Wisdom. Without a finality to the world and to things, science becomes an illusion (from the Latin ludus). We humans would be without meaning. There are few atheist philosophers like Nietzsche and Sartre who could look with courage to defend the pointlessness of the world. Revelation tells us the world is created by God: the world is meaningful, and we have an end to which we are directed in our plenitude.

The natural desire to see God

Revelation tells us that our final end is God, but human beings can only attain God and happiness by knowing and loving Him. Angels and humans are created with spiritual faculties capable of knowing and loving. We discover within ourselves a natural desire to see God. A metaphysical analysis of human nature shows that we aspire outside of our limits and the limits of our world. We cannot be contained. Even if we are locked within the universe, within our nature there is an angelic reaching out towards God. Saint Thomas calls this the natural desire to see God. It is natural, this desire to see God. The fact that we have this desire means that it can be discovered. In the nature of man, there is an attraction towards God.

In the philosophy of religion, we can study the religious aspirations of man toward God. There is a natural desire to see God. If man is not told about God, he will aspire for God in many deformed ways. We can study religions to see how we seek God. This natural desire for God comes from our rational and willing nature. We are curious. We want to know the cause and the end of our existence. We want to know where we are going. Our nature is such that these questions appear. In an approach prone to difficulty and error, we can come to the knowledge that there is a creator. From this knowledge, we have a natural desire to see him. Only God can fully satisfy the openness of our intellect and our will, which is an intellectual appetition. Nothing can totally satisfy these faculties but God, the supreme Good.

It is not enough to say that man is a rational animal, for there is a congenital aspiration to see God, the will’s heading toward the proper object presented to it by the intellect. The knowledge that God is the prime cause of everything leaves us in the night. On the level of philosophy, there is this move toward God, this move toward happiness. In this thirst for happiness, we discover an inadequacy between what we perceive and what we desire. The natural desire for God belongs to the structure of the human being, and of angels — even the demons in Hell where it is thwarted. The arguments which Saint Thomas presents are metaphysical, not psychological. So the philosophical conclusion on the natural desire doesn’t bear on the truth of supernatural grace. The philosopher only says something about the desire, without being able to talk about the response to the desire. The theologian receives the discovery in the context of the faith, knowing what God does in response.

The philosopher does not know about grace. Aristotle knew of the openness to the Absolute. The contemplation of the truth, which is happiness for Aristotle, is not for all people. Aristotle couldn’t imagine that God would bend down to offer grace. The hunger of the intellect which Aristotle received had to leave unhappiness in the soul. The fox couldn’t reach the grapes, and hence he walked away sad saying that they were probably sour. The natural desire cannot be satisfied on its own, and when it is devoid of revelation, it leaves a sadness. God isn’t forced to give grace, because there’s no necessity in God, but when he grants grace it finds an openness in our human nature. Saint Thomas says that there are two types of potency, a natural potency and an obediential nature; the latter has nothing in nature corresponding to it — it is open to receive what will be given by the Creator. Saint Augustine said man is "capax Dei, fecisti nos ad Te." We have been created with this orientation toward God, but grace is entirely by the free will of God. As soon as God created us, he implanted within us an orientation toward himself. Grace, hence, is fitting to our nature. It’s not exterior. Grace, however, is not a necessary complement to our nature — if we don’t have it, our nature is not incomplete. Grace heals the wounds of our nature. Chesterton, however, stressed the importance of the supernatural for the natural, saying that if we take away the supernatural, we don’t have the natural but the unnatural. The gift of grace makes us more human, more sympathetic, more fully integrated. The supernatural fits nature and the saints moved by grace are more natural. This is because grace corresponds to the structure of our being.

Our nature doesn’t have the capacity to grab God. Facing the divine transcendence, the human nature should give itself openly to receive God. God is greater than our hunger. If God gives himself, it is out of his goodness, not necessity. Outside of revealed truth, we cannot speak of the fulfillment of our natural desire.

One end of man

We can only speak of one ultimate end of man. De Lubac discovered that in modern theology up to Vatican II, we see a dual finality of man, with a natural and a supernatural end. Many authors spoke of these two ends, allowing for the speaking of pure nature. De Lubac said this theory was remarkable absent from the patristics. Dionysius of Chartreuse in the 14th Century advanced this double finality, disagreeing with Saint Thomas. Cajetan introduced this as Saint Thomas’s position of the double ultimate finality, but he was badly misinterpreting Saint Thomas. This dual finality position implies that God destroyed nature with its end and then imposed upon it a second supernatural end. If there are two ultimate ends, the ultimate conclusion is why should we bother with a second supernatural end? This theory of the two ultimate ends coexisted well with the split between moral and spiritual theology, which deprived many of the faithful of the greatness of the spiritual life. These theologians prepared the enlightenment and the atheists. The humanists and the Masons advanced this distortion. De Lubac’s book on the supernatural seemed to be such a novelty that he was dismissed from his teaching chairs. Vatican II had to say there was one ultimate end and that there was a universal call to sanctity. Some books written before Vatican II kept a sharp distinction between the natural and the supernatural end.

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