Mortal Sin and Fundamental Option

One of the reasons why many theologians have been attracted to the theory of a "fundamental option" is that it seems in certain respects to correspond better to real-life experience. If we consider visible human relationships, between two married persons for example,we don't find persons who go frequently back and forth from being totally committed to each other, to selfishly rejecting each other, back to total commitment, and so on. As a rule, the relationship will overall either be gradually improving or deteriorating, and individual quarrels don't completely disrupt the relationship. If a man ceases to love his wife on account of a single dispute or fight, that would be taken as a sign he didn't really love her in the first place, or that he had been neglecting his love for her, letting various selfish interests break it down, and that the quarrel is only the terminus of a long process.

Leaving aside the theological aspect, based on God's covenant with man, the supernatural virtue of charity, etc., what is happening when a person resolves to live a certain manner of life, and yet occasionally, or perhaps frequently, performs concrete acts that are inconsistent with that? For example, he resolves to live for his family, and looks for his happiness within his family (and in the wider sense, within his society). But he sometimes performs acts, such as staying out excessively late drinking with his fellow workers, that don't make sense within that framework, but only make sense on the supposition of a preference for something else above happiness as a member of his family, within a framework in which what he wants is the ultimate point of reference, where self-love is the final measure. Or in other words, in terms of the end/means relationship, certain acts he does objectively can't be truly ordered towards the end of family happiness as a final goal, but only towards some other end, that may be thought of more vaguely (living a pleasant life), but that at any rate is some other final goal.

One might explain the situation in several ways:

1. The ultimate goal of his life is, and remains, the common good of his family and his happiness within that family, though he performs individual acts that don't make sense and are unreasonable in terms of that goal.

2. The ultimate goal of his life is all along some vague goal (living a good life, a social and pleasant life, or the like), in which his family's good is one element among others, though an important one.

3. The ultimate goal of his life is the good of his family most of the time, but when he does acts objectively contrary to that goal, then when he is doing those acts, he thereby re-orientates himself towards another final end, and remains directed towards that end until he makes a fresh resolve to live his life as a whole for his family.

The first and second explanations do seem, on the face of it, more plausible interpretations of what is going on than the third.

If we accept the first explanation, what would that mean in terms of the voluntariness of the man's acts? Since whatever one wills, one wills for the sake of one's final end, the man is therefore willing, for the sake of his final end, to do something actually inconsistent with that final end. This would seem to imply that his act is not perfectly voluntary, at least not in the respect in which it is contrary to his ultimate end. (This distinction, though it is often forgotten or overlooked, is an important one. An act may be completely voluntary in the sense that it is the result of a very conscious and explicit choice, without all of the goodness or badness of that act necessarily being voluntary).

The analogy one might make with love for God and the performance of sinful acts is, I think, clear. For the time we will continue to leave aside the issues pertaining to charity as an virtue infused by God and dependent on grace. A person who resolves to life his live above all for God, and yet on not so infrequent occasions does things objectively inconsistent with taking God as the rule for one's life, is like the man in the example above, who resolves to live for his family, and yet fails at certain times to act in consistency with that resolve. If one held that he continues, in fact, to be seeking God as his ultimate end, it seems one would similarly have to say that the acts objectively inconsistent with that end, or at any rate the badness and stupidity of those acts, are not entirely voluntary. Thus they would constitute venial sins by reason of a lack of full voluntariness.

But on this account, would any acts be fully voluntary? I'll return to this question in another post.

8 thoughts on “Mortal Sin and Fundamental Option”

  1. One opinion that would have to be ruled out is that the moral life is insufficiently determined ad unum to require that absolutely every single act, without exception, be ordered to some one goal. Our order to one would be "for the most part" or "characteristic/ as a rule" as opposed to being "always".

    The way in which this would be close to experience is our sense that perfection can only be proportioned to what a power can achieve, and perfect determination to a goal is simply not possible for anything based in nature. This would be to demand out of nature the sort of formal determination that belongs only to angels. Nature is mixed with imperfection and absence of determination, and so must be measured by a standard that allows for a perfection that falls short of absolute determination.

    1. Do you mean that the moral life (considered from the purely human point of life, and not insofar as man is elevated to love as God loves) is not determined to one goal in the sense that the goal itself is indeterminate vague, as "to live a balanced life", "to be happy", "to be successful", "to attain knowledge of the truth", "to love", are all indeterminate or vague? Or do you mean that because of the indeterminacy inherent in human nature, a human person could have one goal, either specific or vague, without every single of his acts being ordered to that goal?

      I think St. Thomas would agree to the first understanding of a indeterminacy in human life, but I rather doubt whether he would agreed to the second–though that's not to say there isn't any evidence or argument to support the second understanding. Do you think the evidence you mention would favor one or the other interpretation or understanding of indetermination in human life?

  2. I thought the objection would be from the second one. My sense of the best case for fundamental option is that it really says that there are definite, clear ends of human life, but they apply as a rule or for the most part, and not in absolutely every case.

    Nature is always or as a rule/ characteristically/ for the most part. St. Thomas clearly seems to thing that the order of voluntary human acts to, say, God is "always", whereas the Fun. op. guys want to argue it is simply for the most part. One argument for it might be that evaluations of moral character, as a matter of fact, tend to be made according to what we do for the most part. A single bad action is usually not enough for us to change our opinion of someone's character.

  3. One does not know by the will, the will is directed by the intellect. This is so much hog wash. The intellect seeks one's good, especially a moral good, and wills to accomplish this virtue.

    We know by the intellect which directs the will. We might desire or will all sorts of immorality, but [it] is only [by] the intellect that we seek to know. That will stuff is right from the German atheist Nietzsche.

    I am sure the Angelic Doctor did not say anything like some one said. Our first goal is not the family, but God.
    What hogwash!

  4. Me again. A lot of that hogwash comes from Karl Rahner SJ who proposed all sorts on nonsense such as anonymous christians, theologians should be a part of the magisterium, transfinalization, etc.
    What that guy proposes take with a grain of salt.
    Ignatius Loyola would turn over in his grave if he heard what some of his so called followers are putting forth.
    Drinan SJ, a pro abortion politician
    And the list goes on

  5. 30. How has the theory of the fundamental option contributed to the modern plague of homosexuality?
    According to the fundamental option theory, there is no mortal sin committed unless a person completely rejects God or completely closes himself to the love of others. On these premises, homosexuals would not be committing grave sin.

    By Father John Harden SJ. Father Harden is one you can trust, not like men like Rahner, who does not ever wear the collar but dresses in business suits. In case you don't get his point he is adamantly against the so called fundamental option. Rahner tossed St Thomas aside for Kant who at the very least has a philosophy which lead to Skepticism.

  6. Since being in "mortal sin", which means you are "not alive spiritually", is an ontological impossibility because "you have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed", any talk of "fundamental option" is meaningless. You exercised your option at the baptismal font. Your mortality was crucified in baptism by the ordinary executioner of the catechumen, the priest.

    You died in baptism and as Paul says: For he that is dead is justified from sin. In the Catholic Church baptism is the "instrumental cause" of our justification. "As then, by virtue of the laws of nature, we are generated and born but once, and, as St. Augustine observes, there is no returning to the womb; so, in like manner, there is but one spiritual generation, and Baptism is never at any time to be repeated." (Roman Catechism). You have passed from death unto life. You're born of God, you can not die.

    Salvation may be lost but no sin however grave can "kill" you. Salvation may be lost but justification, being the execution of justice, was a definitive act and can not be nullified or effaced.

    Sanctification is basically our growth after baptism and on our departure from this world we will have achieved a greater or lesser degree of sanctity. We have immortality, what we want is eternal salvation and not eternal damnation; a seat near the guest of honor and not being bound hand and foot, cast into outer darkness where there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    Every man is born into the world as a seed. When you were "planted" (Rm 6:5) in baptism that "grain of wheat" (Jn 12:24) died but because the baptismal font is also a "laver of regeneration"
    that dormant embryonic plant, which is the inner part of a seed, emerges from the font alive, immortal, imperishable.

    Before I heard the gospel I only knew of my mortality. Jesus brought me a knowledge of immortality and the promise that if I would die to self I could live a blessed eternity with Him.

    Man dies because he has no access to the tree of life. Adam was mortal in body by nature and immortal in soul, again by nature, from our creator. We inherit our mortality from Adam, but Paul adds that even though we are mortal we DESERVE to die, and the law proves it. God added baptism as an execution as shown above.

    The Scholastics are trying to substitute "santifying grace" for the knowledge of immortality we gained from the Gospels. They are trying to say our immortal soul is a vehicle for sanctfying grace. Mortal sin they say causes the loss of sanctfying grace and therefore you are spiritually dead. This is not the theology of the early church!

    The theology of the early church says we are citizen priest by baptism and that the Sacrifice of the Mass was institued as a truly propitatory sacrifice which appeases the Father for even the gravest crimes and sins if we offer it humbly, then we as priest eat the victim. Read the Council of Trent 22; read the new Catechism 1366, 1367, 1354

    The Church Fathers saw the Eucharist as the "anti-type" or reality of that burning coal which Isaiah was purged by in Isaiah 6, which they said was a type of Christ. An anti-typological Eucharist. Even today our eastern priest after taking communion say "lo, this has touched my lips, taking away my transgressions and cleansing my sins.

    The hierarchy today tries to give us the analogical Eucharist of Thomas Aquinas. A Eucharist that feeds the soul, alive by "santifying grace".

    On the other side of the Cross the Lord told Adam and Eve, DON'T EAT. Now on this side the same Lord says TAKE THIS, ALL OF YOU, AND EAT IT. At the altar the priest is in persona Christi saying "TAKE, EAT" but away from the altar the priest today is in persona Serpent saying "you're dead in mortal sin, don't eat". Heresy from the top down.

    Who is the "I" in the "I believe" of the Apostles Creed; only that immortal soul which heard the gospel. There is no mention of santifying grace in the creeds.

    covesville104@msn.com

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