Aquinas On The Evidence For Original Sin

In a previous post, I quoted Newman and Chesterton speaking of evil as evidence for either the non-existence of God or the existence of original sin. Aquinas touches briefly on this topic in the Summa Contra Gentiles III, ch. 52. He outlines the argument as follows: God in his providence rewards good deeds and punishes evil deeds. But the whole human race is subject to various bodily and spiritual punishments: death, hunger, thirst, ignorance, weakness, etc. Therefore there is some sin of the human race that is being punished by these pains. Aquinas then raises the objection that all of these pains need not be punishments, since they simply follow from man's nature; being made up of various elements, man must be capable of death and corruption; again, "the sensitive appetite must incline to things in which the senses delight, and which at times are contrary to reason, and the possible intellect is in potentiality to all things intelligible, and has none of them actually, but has by its very nature to acquire them through the senses, and therefore with difficulty acquires the knowledge of truth, and is easily led astray by the imagination."

In response, Aquinas says, "one can with sufficient probability think [one can reasonably think; satis probabiliter poterit aestimare] that, divine providence having fitted each perfection to that which is to be perfected, God united a higher to a lower nature in such a way that the former would dominate the latter, and, should any obstacle to this dominion arise through a defect of nature, God by a special and supernatural act of kindness would remove it." The empirical argument for original sin presupposes more than the kind of divine providence that can be philosophically proven; it presupposes something like a providence in which God's care for man knows no limits, in which, from the very beginning, he gives man as much as possible.

Now imagine several different suppositions: (1) the atheistic position that there is no God, (2) the position that there is a God who is the cause of the world, and who intervenes in the world, but has little special concern for man, (3) the position that there is a God who is the cause of the world, but whose special providence for man regards only the future destiny of man (or man's soul), (4) the Christian (and to some extent Jewish) faith in God.

The existence of evil constitutes significant evidence for original sin only on the fourth supposition or a similar one. And conversely, the doctrine of original sin makes the world in which we live more intelligible only in light of the fourth supposition (the Christian or similar view of divine providence).

Thus rather than taking the prevalence of evil as evidence that either there is no God or that there is Original Sin, it would be more accurate to say that the prevalence of evil constitutes evidence that either the Christian view of God and divine providence is wrong, or that the Christian doctrine of original sin is correct.

Christian Children Dying Without Baptism

One of the disputed questions Aquinas deals with is: whether a child who is born in the desert where no water is available, and dies without baptism, can be saved in virtue of its mother's faith:

It seems that a child born in the desert can be saved without baptism in virtue of its parents' faith.

1.For faith in the time of grace is no less efficacious than in the time of natural law. But in the time of natural law children were saved in virtue of their parents' faith, as Gregory says. Therefore they also are so saved now in the time of grace.

2. Further, Christ did not constrict the way of salvation for men, since he says in John 10:10: "I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." But before the coming of Christ some children were saved in virtue of their parents' faith. Therefore much more are some thus saved after the coming of Christ.

But against this is what the Lord says in John 3:5, "Unless one is born of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven."

I respond, it should be said that no one can be freed from the damnation that the human race incurred on account of the sin of its first parent except through Christ, who alone is found immune from that damnation, that is, by being incorporated into him as a member to its head. Now this can take place in three ways.
First, by receiving baptism, according to Gal 3:27, "all you who have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ." Secondly, by shedding one's blood for Christ, since by this someone is conformed to Christ's passion, from which baptism receives its efficacy; hence it is said about the martyrs in Rev 7:14, that "they have washed their robes etc… in the blood of the lamb." Thirdly, by faith and love, according to Prov 15:27, "by mercy and faith sins are cleansed," and Acts 15:9, "purifying their hearts by faith"; and by faith Christ dwells in our hearts, as is seen from Eph 3; hence also baptism itself is called the sacrament of faith.

Accordingly, there is said to be three kinds of baptism, namely of water, spirit, and blood; for the other two take the place of baptism of water, so long as there is the intention of receiving that baptism of water, so that it is a case of necessity, rather than religious contempt that excludes the sacrament.

Now it is manifest that there cannot be a motion of faith and love in children who do not yet have the use of reason, nor can there be the intention of receiving baptism; and therefore they cannot be saved except by the baptism of water, or by the baptism of blood if they are killed because of Christ, through which they not only are made Christians, but also martyrs, as Augustine says about the innocents.

Thus it is evident that the child who dies in the desert without baptism does not attain salvation.

To the first, therefore, it should be said according to some persons, in the time of natural law the parents motion of faith alone was not sufficient, but some external protestation of faith by some sensible sign was required. And on this view the only difference between what was then required and what is now required for salvation, is that now the sensible sign is determinate, while then it was indeterminate, and was up to the choice of the individual.

The opinion of others is that just the interior motion of faith in reference to the child's salvation sufficed for childrens' salvation. Yet the power of faith has not now been diminished, but the degree of salvation has been increased; for now those who are saved by Christ are immediately introduced into the kingdom of heaven, which before was not the case; hence it is not unfitting if something further is required for this, namely baptism, as is said in John 3:5.

To the second it should be said that Christ enlarged the way of salvation for men in that he opened to them the gates of eternal life, which before were closed by the sin of the first parent.

Aquinas, Sin and Fundamental Option

In the previous post I summarized various evidence pertaining to a fundamental option in the sense of an orientation that changes through a series of acts. This post attempts a sketch that does justice to all of the evidence, as far as that is possible.

(1) A person who is strongly committed to the love of God and neighbor, to following the commandments, does not generally turn away from that path by a single choice and act taken in isolation, but by a gradual process of neglecting that love. This process may indeed culminate in a habitual state or act that is gravely contrary to charity, but the voluntariness of that habit or act must be referred to the persistent previous neglect of charity. An act objectively contrary to charity performed by a person strongly committed to the love of charity, if it is not the culmination of previous acts, is probably not fully voluntary. Conversely, if an objectively disordered act truly is fully voluntary, it is probably the culmination of a long process of neglect of relationships to other human beings, to God, to oneself, and only as a culmination of this voluntary process is the evil of the act fully voluntary.

This position harmonizes with the qualification made by Persona Humana: "[The fundamental option] can be completely changed by particular acts, especially when, as often happens, these have been prepared for by previous more superficial acts" (Persona Humana, n. 10).

The flip side: just as an anomalous bad action performed by a virtuous person is probably not fully voluntary, so an occasional repentance of a person set upon vice could be a superficial repentance, that does not really involve full voluntary acceptance of God's love and full willingness to turn from sin.

(2) On the other hand, if a person is not strongly set on any particular goal, it does not seem impossible to frequently, and in a short period of time, change the goal that he does have, including changing from a life directed toward God to a life directed toward himself, by mortal sin, especially inasmuch as supernatural grace and charity, by a which a person is in the highest manner directed toward God, transcend human experience.

This view of moral life has practical consequences. It means, for example, that greater weight should be given to patterns of behavior than to individual acts–not that individual acts are unimportant, but that they are important inasmuch as they express the interior of a person, one's will, which is more surely expressed in the way one lives one's commitments and furthers one's relationships than in individual acts taken in isolation.

Natural Law and Natural Inclinations

Why do natural inclinations of human nature give rise to an obligation of natural law?

Is it the mere fact that humans are inclined to this or that good? If so, must one concede the argument in favor of homosexual relationships, that some persons are just naturally inclined to such relationships (granting the premise that it is a natural inclination or at least a natural predisposition triggered by some experiences of one kind or another)?

Or is a natural inclination merely an objective fact, which receives moral value extrinsically, from the purpose imposed on it by human reason. Is a natural law connected with human inclinations only because human reason judges that the good involved in these inclinations (e.g., the good of reproduction, the continuation of the human species in time) is a kind of ultimate good that one cannot reject without in some sense rejecting goodness itself, and offending one's own humanity? In that case, isn't the notion of natural inclination irrelevant? Wouldn't it be just as good, for example, to preserve our lives, and just as bad to commit suicide, even if we didn't have a natural inclination to self-preservation? It is the judgment of reason and the seeking of what is good that is important, not the physical/biological facts.

The International Theological Commission, in its recent document on Universal Ethics and Natural Law holds a mean between these two positions:

79. The rehabilitation of nature and of corporeality in ethics cannot be equated with any kind of "physicalism." Some modern presentations of natural law have seriously denied the necessary integration of natural inclinations in the unity of the person. Neglecting to consider the unity of the human person, they absolutize the natural inclinations of the different "parts" of human nature, approaching them without hierarchizing them, and failing to integrate them in the unity of the entire plan of the subject. [This criticism would (also) apply to the "new natural law" approach taken by Germain Grisez, who enumerates many inclinations (e.g., the inclination to live, to avoid pain, to play, to enjoy aesthetic experiences, to know theoretical truths) which he sees as irreducible, and thus as absolutes–although he sees them as immediate givens of experience, rather than as deduced from the observation of one's inclinations.] Now, John Paul II explains, "natural inclinations do not acquire a moral quality, except insofar as they are connected to the human person and to his authentic realization" (Veritatis splendor, n. 50). Today therefore there is need to hold fast to two truths. On the one hand, the human subject is not a union or juxtaposition of diverse and autonomous natural inclinations, but a substantial and personal whole called to respond to the love of God and to unite himself through a recognized orientation towards a last end, which hierarchizes the partial goods manifested by diverse natural tendencies. Such a unification of natural tendencies in service of the higher ends of the spirit, i.e., such a humanization of the dynamisms inscribed in human nature, does not at all constitute a violence done to it. On the contrary, it is the realization of a promise already inscribed in them.74 For example, the high spiritual value that is manifested in the gift of self in the reciprocal love of spouses is already inscribed in the very nature of the sexual body, which finds in this spiritual realization its ultimate reason for being. [Holding to this one point, we must reject the extreme of "physicalism," which would take the natural inclinations as absolutes that are not subordinate to any higher principle.] On the other hand, in this organic whole, each part preserves a proper and irreducible meaning, ["irreducible" probably means here that the role and value of each part of human nature is not reduced simply to its utilitarian aspect (what does it produce for me?), but that each part of human nature participates in its own way in the human good.] of which reason should take account in the elaboration of the entire plan of the human person. The doctrine of the natural moral law should therefore affirm the central role of reason in the actualization of a properly human plan of life, and at the same time the consistency and the proper meaning of natural pre-rational dynamisms.75 [Holding to this point, we must reject the other extreme, which would take the natural inclinations as mere "matter" for human action, devoid of any intrinsic human teleology. This is explained in further detail in the footnote.]

[74] The duty to humanize the nature in man is inseparable from the duty to humanize external nature. This justifies the immense effort made by men to emancipate themselves from the coercions of physical nature in the measure in which they hinder properly human values. The struggle against illness, the prevention of hostile natural phenomena, the improvement of the conditions of life are of themselves works that attest to the greatness of man called to fill the earth and to subdue it (cf. Gen 1:28). Cf. Pastoral Constitution Gaudium et spes, n. 57.

[75] Reacting to the danger of physicalism and rightly insisting on the decisive role of reason in the elaboration of the natural law, some contemporary theories of natural law [e.g., those of Josef Fuchs, Charles Curran, or Richard McCormick] neglect, or rather reject, the moral significance of the natural pre-rational dynamisms. [According to these theories] the natural law would be called "natural" only in reference to reason, which would define the whole nature of man. To obey the natural law would be therefore reduced to acting in a rational manner, i.e., to applying to the totality of behaviors a univocal ideal of rationality generated by practical reason alone. This means wrongly identifying the rationality of the natural law with the rationality of reason alone, without taking account of the rationality inherent in nature. [An example in the text of such inherent rationality is the "gift of self" that is "already inscribed in the very nature of the sexual body."]

[Paraphrase/exposition of the note: Reacting to the one extreme, some theories see the "lawfulness" of the natural l-aw as entirely constituted by human reason, rather than as recognized and ordered by human reason, yet originally constituted by God's "reason". Practical reason does not perceive any moral value and signification in natural inclinations, but only "practical" value. While recognizing the truth that law is a work of reason, this position overlooks the fact that the natural law in us is a participation in the eternal law, which is a work of God's reason. This participation is found both in that which is essentially rational–the reason–and in that which reason by participation–the inclinations, which participate in God's plan as being directed by it.]

In accordance with the one truth, that reason exercises a discernment in regard to natural inclinations, we must recognize the possibility that reason discerns in a particular case that a natural inclination does not represent such "inherent rationality," but is rather contrary to reason. The affirmation that the inclination of nature is a participation in and expression of God's plan does not mean that every particular inclination of every particular nature is such. According to Thomas Aquinas, some individuals have a natural inclination to particular sins, on account of a corruption of nature, (ST I-II, 78:3) and he also, following Aristotle, states that something contrary to the human species may become per accidens natural to an individual, (ST I-II, 31:7) on account of a corruption of some natural principle–as evidenced in a connatural desire to eat dirt or coal or other human beings, or to have bestial or homosexual intercourse. Indeed, one might argue that there are very frequently present in men some natural inclinations that exceed the bounds of reason, as an inclination for a man to kill an adulterous wife, or (inordinate in a context where food is always plentiful) to eat a great deal whenever plenty of good food is available.

In accordance with the other truth, the goods and potential evils involved in the use of various human faculties is sufficiently determined by human nature itself, and sufficiently luminous to be not only a locus, but also a source of moral insight. Although the actual moral value of any particular action depends on our reason and will (what we do involuntarily or without appreciation of what we're doing may be good or bad, but not morally good or bad in the full sense of the term), "What we're doing" when we make use of those human faculties isn't so much imposed by us, as recognized by us.

The rehabilitation of nature and of corporeality in ethics cannot, however, be equated with any kind of "physicalism." In fact some modern presentations of natural law have seriously denied the necessary integration of natural inclinations in the unity of the person. Neglecting to consider the unity of the human person, they absolutize the natural inclinations of the different "parts" of human nature, approaching them without hierarchizing them and omitting to integrate them in the unity of the entire plan of the subject. Now, John Paul II explains, "natural inclinations do not acquire a moral quality, except insofar as they are connected to the human person and to his authentic realization" (Veritatis splendor, n. 50). Today therefore there is need to hold fast to two truths. On the one hand, the human subject is not a union or juxtaposition of diverse and autonomous natural inclinations, but a substantial and personal whole called to respond to the love of God and to unite himself through a recognized orientation towards a last end, which hierarchizes the partial goods manifested by diverse natural tendencies. Such a unification of natural tendencies in service of the higher ends of the spirit, i.e., such a humanization of the dynamisms inscribed in human nature, does not at all constitute a violence done to it. On the contrary, it is the realization of a promise already inscribed in them.74 For example, the high spiritual value that is manifested in the gift of self in the reciprocal love of spouses is already inscribed in the very nature of the sexual body, which finds in this spiritual realization its ultimate reason for being. On the other hand, in this organic whole, each part preserves a proper and irreducible meaning, of which reason should take account in the elaboration of the entire plan of the human person. The doctrine of the natural moral law should therefore affirm the central role of reason in the actualization of a properly human plan of life, and at the same time the consistency and the proper meaning of natural pre-rational dynamisms.75

Aquinas on Pleasure as the Measure of Morality

In his treatise on the passions in the Summa Theologiae, Thomas Aquinas, discussing the goodness of pleasure, asks whether pleasure is the measure or rule for judging moral goodness or badness. He argues that it is, on the basis of the three principles that (1) moral goodness depends upon the will, that (2) the goodness of the will depends chiefly upon the end to which it is directed, and that (3) pleasure or delight is most of all an end, since it is not desirable for the sake of anything further.

Moral goodness or badness depends chiefly on the will, as was said above (q. 20, a. 1); and it is chiefly from the end that we discern whether the will is good or evil. Now the end is taken to be that in which the will rests, and the rest of the will and of every appetite in the good is pleasure. And therefore man is judged to be good or bad chiefly according to the pleasure of the human will, since that man who takes pleasure in the works of virtue is good and virtuous, and that man who takes pleasure in evil works is evil (Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 34, a. 4).

The difficulty we encounter, however, is that pleasure itself always has a further measure–we take delight in an action that which we find or perceive to be good. Thomas consistently affirms that actions themselves are the ends of pleasures, in the sense that pleasures are explained by actions (e.g., we find pleasure in eating, and in seeking truth, because these things are naturally good for us). Now the most fundamental relationship we have to the good is not that of taking pleasure in it, but that of love for it. So it seems the criterion of the just man, or of the humble man, should be that he love justice or humility, not that he take delight in them. This is also fits with of virtue as the "order of love." If we look at virtue as St. Augustine does, as the "order of love" within us (ordo amoris), it seems we should rather say that love is the measure of moral goodness, rather than pleasure or delight.

From the perspective of historical influence and authorities, one thing to remark here is that Aquinas is here following Aristotle's Ethics in describing pleasure as the measure of moral goodness. The only other place I'm aware of where Aquinas unfolds this view of pleasure as the measure of goodness in detail, is in his Commentary on the Nichomachean Ethics.

Is Thomas Aquinas simply being inconsistent here, putting together the Augustinian (and his own) view where love has priority in regard to moral, human, and Christian goodness, with Aristotle's view? No, Thomas himself is aware of the difficulty, and addresses it in the first objection and reply to it in this article. The objection argues that love and desire come prior to pleasure, and therefore have more the character of a governing principle or measure. In response, Thomas says:

Love and desire precede pleasure in the order of generation. But pleasure precedes them with respect to the account of an end, which in actions has the account of a principle, by which judgment is most of all made, as by a rule or measure.

The "end" here is that which one comes to last, and which thus manifests everything that comes before it. The reason why an act of justice is morally good is indeed the love for justice from which it springs, but the manifestation of the goodness of justice is the delight the just man takes in acting justly. And since a measure or rule has to be readily known, it is pleasure which is described as the measure of goodness, rather than love.

Aquinas's Moral Theology

The Aquinas Institute will be offering an eight week study program covering the first part of the second part of the Summa Theologiae of Thomas Aquinas, which comprises his treatment of Christian moral life in general (the second part of this part then takes up particular Christian virtues and actions one by one). I will be teaching the third of the four blocks of this program, covering virtues, beatitudes, and the Gifts of the holy Spirit.

What is the value of studying Thomas Aquinas on the moral life? There are many ways to answer this question; I here propose just a couple fundamental points. Aquinas integrates multiple deep insights that are frequently played off against one another, and thereby gives a much fuller and more accurate account of human life. What do I mean by this? Many theories of ethics and morals, beginning from the true presuppositions that man's rationality and self-determination are essential to morality, see morality as something entirely relative, as simply created from within a person. Others, beginning from the fact that many actions have some human goodness or badness in them prior to a person's understanding or choice of those actions, see morality as something absolute apart from man, to which man must conform, as to an extrinsic rule. (One variation of this view would have it that the goodness or badness of an action derives from the fact that God commands it or forbids it; another variation would have it that the goodness or badness is something just in the act itself).

Both of these views rest on some true insight, but fail to adequately take into account the insight of the other view.

In Aquinas' understanding of morals, these two aspects of human morality are taken up, and closely intertwined. God is our last end in the first place not because we choose him for our end, but because he is infinite goodness, who alone can fully satisfy our desire, and who contains all other goods within him. Yet we seek God in a manner that corresponds to our human nature, which first possesses an abstract concept of happiness, or satisfaction of desire, and only consequently attains or is granted the insight that God alone is this goal. Similarly an action such as telling the truth is good because it builds up the human goods of truth and fellowship, while an action such as stealing is bad because it doesn't correspond to, and harms the good of the natural human fellowship that naturally arises between human persons. But these actions are only moral goods or evils, human goods or evils in the full sense, inasmuch as they are recognized for what they by a human being, and chosen. The morality of an action, good or bad, is thus not realized apart from the personal insight and choice of the one who acts. Aquinas can therefore firmly maintain that there are some actions which are bad, just because of the kind of action they are (malum ex genere), but also that a person is always obliged to follow his conscience, and indeed, if a person's mistaken judgment of what he should do is not the result of his voluntary negligence, arrogance, or other fault, then he deserves no blame for following his erring conscience.

Similarly there is often dispute about whether goals and motives, or laws and rules, or character and virtue are the principal factors for human and moral life (In ethics these sometimes take the name of virtue ethics, deontological ethics, and consequentialism or utilitarianism), and evidence for one is often taken as evidence against the others. Here, too, in Aquinas all three of these aspects are integral to his moral thinking. Beginning with the last end as the first principle of moral action, he gives an undeniable primacy to the goal, or end of action. Nonetheless he does not subordinate virtue to man's ultimate end as a mere means to it, but consider it as a part of the end, and as the inner principle by which man attains that end. Law, too, in being known by man, becomes a first principle of judgment, by which a man makes rational decisions, and thus makes his way toward his end, God. The first principle of law is either, formulated generically, "do good and avoid evil," or, formulated specifically, "love, and do what you will." (St. Augustine's formulation–Aquinas usually simply places the commandment of love as corresponding to the first rational judgment to do good and avoid evil.)

These three aspects of moral life, together with a fourth human aspect, that of feelings, emotions, and passions, and a properly divine aspect, that of grace (man's share in divine life), are treated in the Prima Secundae, and will be taken up in four two week intensive courses from May 24th to July 16th, 2010.

Of course, studying Thomas Aquinas is not everything. If moral theology consists in studying, understanding, and explaining how God and his revelation in Christ affects how we live, and living isn't something realized in the abstract, but in all the concreteness of the here and now, then it pertains integrally to moral theology to consider present issues and problems, issues that did not arise for St. Thomas, and which require some particular considerations he did not make. But Aquinas's moral theology does provide a strong basis to address present issues, and to dialogue with proponents of other theories.

The Principle of Double Effect

Some philosophers, such as Peter Knauer, have argued that the principle of double effect is the "fundamental principle of ethics." I would argue that this position is overstated, but that nonetheless, an analogous extension of the principle of double effect might correctly be called the fundamental principle of ethical "problems." How so? The truly fundamental principle of moral action is "do good and avoid evil." And so the fundamental moral "problem" to be encountered and dealt with, is the twofoldness of an action, when an action has something good and something bad about it.

The principle of the double effect is usually traced back to Thomas Aquinas, but its modern formulation derives from Cajetan and others. The principle is usually articulated along the following lines: an act with two effects, one good and bad, is a morally good action if:
(1) the act is in itself good or at least indifferent;
(2) the agent intends the good effect, and does not intend the bad effect, neither as an end, nor as the means to the good effect;
(3) the bad effect is not in fact the means to the good effect;
(4) the goodness of the good effect sufficiently outweigh the badness of the bad effect.

So basically, the "principle of double effect" is an articulation of how the basic principle "do good and avoid evil" is to be applied in certain situations of conflict between some good and some evil.

Extension of the principle

There are other situations of conflict between some good and some evil that arise in human life, which do not seem to be resolvable by the principle of double effect, at least not if causes, effects, means, end, etc., are taken in their ordinary sense.

Some examples of such problems:

(1) A spouse must make a decision whether to have marital intercourse with a spouse who engages in contraception.

(2) A married priest (a Catholic Eastern Rite priest, or an Orthodox priest), learns through a confession he hears, that his wife was actually already married to another man, and so his marriage with her is invalid.

(3) A judge in the highest court of the land has weighty personal or private reasons indicating that an accused person is innocent, yet all the public evidence is decidedly against that person.

(4) Doctors must decide whether to make an experiment aimed at discerning the effectiveness of a drug, an experiment whose effectiveness depends upon the use of placebos, and thus upon not giving the drug to many persons who would benefit from it, if it is in fact beneficial.

(5) An agent who expects his imminent capture by the enemy considers deliberately making himself drunk, so that he will be entirely unable to give information about a code, even under torture. (The code is so complex he would not be able to explain it in a drunken state).

These problems cannot be straightforwardly resolved by recourse to the principle of double effect, at least not in its normal modern formulation. Still, if any general principle can be formulated to resolve them, such a principle will be somewhat like the principle of double effect, i.e., based upon a comparison of the conditions of the good and bad aspects of the act.

I will return to this issue in later posts.

Counsel of Poverty – On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life VII

The First Way to Perfection, Which is the Renunciation of Temporal Things

Among temporal goods the first we should renounce are external goods, which are called riches, [This renunciation is first, not in the sense of most important, but rather, in the order from imperfect to perfect. It is a basic starting point.] and the Lord counseled this when he said, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt. 19:21). [Principal in the consideration of the evangelical counsels is not our judgment of their utility, but the fact that they are counseled by Christ. Hence Thomas begins with Christ's expression of this counsel.]

St. Thomas illustrates the value of this counsel in two ways. First, by the story of the rich young man who received the counsel, and what happened with him. The young man went away sad, being too attached to his possessions to give them up in order to follow the Lord more closely. Secondly, by the words of Christ spoken in this context, namely that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, and that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. St. Thomas sees the second statement as expressing the impossibility of entering heaven when one has an inordinate love of riches (understood in the sense of loving them in a manner incompatible with their being means to true spiritual goods), and the first statement as expressing the difficulty of possessing riches without one's heart being caught by them.

St. Thomas continues to clarify that it is indeed possible to possess riches without one's heart being attached to them, and gives the example of Abraham, who had much wealth, but was perfect in faith and the following of God. But, he says, the fact that Abraham had wealth without being attached to wealth, indicates the great virtue of Abraham. But most persons, not having this kind of virtue, cannot retain wealth without being attached to it. He restates the case more generally: the rich man who does not sin by the affection for riches, who does not covet money, who does not place his trust or hope in his wealth, is indeed a man of great virtue and love of God; but as great virtue is rare, so such a rich man, who has riches without being attached to them, is very rare.

In the Summa Theologiae (II-II 186:3 ad 6) St. Thomas cites Jerome in support of the position that it is better to give away one's wealth all at once for the sake of God, than to distribute it little by little. Jerome says, "to him who says that it is bettter to have possessions and to divide them gradually among the poor, not I, but God will respond saying, 'If you wish to be perfect etc.'… what you praise is the second or third rank, which we also recognize, as long as we admit that the first rank is preferable to the second and third."

Distributing Wealth

But let's suppose that someone in fact could in the long term help many more poor persons by distributing his wealth in a gradual manner than by giving it all away at once–or even not "distribute" at all, in the sense of simply giving it away; the best use of the wealth might be in running a business in a manner that, by being truly fair to employees, partners, etc., is better for the common good of society than giving away the money would be. What should we say about this case? Is such a man forced to choose between his own spiritual perfection and love for the poor? That would seem to be an absurd conclusion. But how do we bring these two desires into harmony, the desire to be free from possessing wealth so as not to be attached to it, and the desire to do good with the wealth?

Granted that the desire to help the poor springs from and corresponds to true love for them as God's children, we would have to say, in the abstract, that this charity for the poor would have to take precedence. To hold otherwise would be to place a certain form of perfection or means to charity over charity itself.

Realistically, however, the two desires may be quite rarely in conflict. It is possible, for example, to found a charitable organization or to transfer ownership of the wealth or business in question to an existing charitable organization… and if the skill of the original owner were necessary for guidance in the use of it, he could be retained for this guiding role. In giving the money he intends to use for charitable purposes over to an organization, he would give up some control over how it is to be used; he might think this is a bad thing, because the organization might make unwise decisions regarding the use of the money. But in fact, supposing that the leadership is wisely chosen, what reason would the original owner of the wealth have for thinking that he knows better how to put it to good use, or that he will remain firm in his pursuit of noble ends, and not fall in love with some distorted ideology?

It would seem, then, that a rich man might best attain these two goals (making good use of the wealth, and guarding himself from attachment to it or the power it brings) by giving his money or his business to a sound charitable organization, or establishing one. I would hesitate to pronounce definitely on this, however. There are some weaknesses to which organizations are more prone than individuals. For example, an organization tends to be more susceptible to influence by the media than a single individual does. So there might be some situations where it is better for a rich person to retain control of the charitable purposes to which it is put.

Freedom for Love – On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life VI

For a brief summary of this and the preceding three chapters, see the earlier post: Aquinas On Degrees of Love For God.

The Perfection of Love of God That Falls Under Counsel

When St. Paul had said, “Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect,” and, “but I follow after, if I may by any means lay hold,” he added shortly afterwards, “Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, be thus minded.” From these words we can see that although the perfection of the blessed is not possible to us in this life, we ought, to strive to imitate it as far as we can. [The commandment of the love of God in one sense obliges us to love God in the manner possibly in this life, loving nothing else more than him, and at least implicitly directing to him everything we love and everything we do. But as St. Augustine points out, even the perfection of heaven is included in the commandment of love, not as though we are obliged to have this perfection here and now, which is not possible, but as a perfection for which we are to aim. And this commandment, obliging us to seek the perfection of love, is fulfilled the more perfectly, the more we employ helpful means to strive more for this perfection.] And it is in this that the perfection of this life consists to which we are invited by the counsels. [The counsels are such helpful means for growing in perfection.]

For it is manifest that the human heart is more intensely drawn to one thing, to the degree that it is drawn back from many things. Thus the more a man is freed from the affection for temporal things, the more perfectly his mind will be borne to loving God. Hence St. Augustine says that "the desire of temporal things is the poison of charity; the growth of charity is the diminishment of cupidity, and the perfection of charity is no cupidity." (Eighty-Three Questions, Book 83, Quest. 1). Therefore all the counsels, which invite us to perfection, aim at this, that man's mind be turned away from affection to temporal objects, so that his mind may tend more freely to God, by contemplating him, loving him, and fulfilling his will.

[Every created good is good by sharing in God's goodness. And nonetheless giving up created goods is helpful for growing in love of God. This is because of the limitation of human nature, which on the one hand, has a limited power of attention and of love, and on the other hand, cannot all of the time see things only in relation to God. "A person has only one will and if that is encumbered or occuped by anything, the person will not possess the freedom, solitude, and purity required for divine transformation" (St. John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel, book 1, ch. 11).

Indeed, when we desire things or persons in full subordination to God, e.g., when we love other persons as created in God's image, as loved by God, and as persons for whom we desire beatitude in God, then our love for these things or persons is not really a separate love from the love of God, and is no hindrance to the intensity of love for God. St. John of the Cross says, "[When one is not encumbered by attachments], a person remains unencumbered and free to love all rationally and spiritually, which is the way God wants them to be loved…. [This] love is according to God and exceedingly free. If the love contains some attachment there is greater attachment to God, for as the love of neighbor increases so does the love of God, and as the love of God increases so does the love of neighbor" (Ascent of Mount Carmel, book 3, ch. 23).

But in fact, in our imperfection and weakness, we do not, cannot always desire and love only in reference to God. And when a man considers and desires created goods without full reference to God (seeing them as participations in God, images of God, or ways to God), then his attention and love is divided, and he thus cannot give as intense love and attention to God. And this is the basic reason why, other things being equal, giving up temporal goods offers a person the possibility of a freedom of mind and heart which, if he puts to good use, will help him grow more surely in the love of God and neighbor.]

See also: Texts of Aquinas on the Counsels

Commandments and Counsels (previous blogpost)

The Great Commandment – On the Perfection of the Spiritual Life V

In another way we love God with our whole heart, mind, soul and strength, if nothing in us is lacking to divine love, if there is nothing which we do not, actually or habitually, refer to God. And a precept is given concerning this divine love.

[In the last chapter, St. Thomas described the perfection of love by which the whole power of a creature's faculties were turned to God. In this chapter he describes a lesser degree of perfection, according to which everything is at least habitually, or in one's ultimate orientation, ordered to God. It sounds a bit like the theory of the "fundamental option," which maintains that choices of concrete individual acts cannot separate a person from God, that this is only a matter of one's fundamental orientation. But what is St. Thomas saying here? When a person is ordered to an end, that end remains the goal of all the particular things he does on the way to the end, even when he is not actually thinking about the end. For example, when a person sits down to write a letter to a friend, then even when his thoughts are occupied with the attempt to recall events of previous days, or with the attempt to spell a difficult word correctly, he is doing these things for the sake of his friend. Similarly, if the primary reason a person has a job is to support his family, this motivation is the implicit motivation of the various tasks he does in his job, even though he doesn't explicitly think of his family every moment.]

First, man should refer all things to God as his end, as the Apostle says: "Whether you eat or drink, or whatsoever else you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31). One fulfills this when one orders his life to God's service, and thus all the things that he does for himself, he virtually orders to God, unless they are things that lead away from God, such as sins: thus man loves God with his whole heart.

[Everyone naturally seeks a single ultimate goal in the sense of seeking to be happy, and indeed, seeking to live a life of happiness. We do many things that we could not give a precise reason for, but we perceive in a vague manner that they are elements of a happy life. Thus everything we do is, in a sense, for ourselves, insofar as each action is thought to be some component of or necessary for a happy life, and is implicitly or explicitly desired as such. Now, "when one orders his life to God's service," the goal of a "happy life" is seen and desired in light of a more perfect end, namely the fulfillment of God's will (It is important to note that these are not two separate ends–The fulfillment of God's will is not separated from or contrary to being happy, but includes and realizes this happiness). Thus, whatever a man does, he "does for himself" inasmuch as he does it as part of the happy life he desires. And therefore, such a man "virtually orders to God" everything he does–at least, as long as, in acting, he does not implicitly reject his previous life's goal of being happy by fulfilling God's will. The man who is writing a letter to his friend, if he begins deliberately drafting his letter in a manner liable to harm his friend but help himself, is not writing those sentences for the sake of his friend, even if he doesn't consciously reject the goal of writing for his friend, but is only thinking about the profit he can somehow derive from the friendship. Similarly, a man who concretely does something that is not suited for growing in charity, but hinders it, is not doing that concrete action for the sake of God, even if he doesn't reject it. And if he does something that is simply incompatible with charity, he not only is not doing that concrete action for the sake of God, but is no longer even acting as a whole for the sake of God.]

[Since the primary affection of the soul is love, it is by love for the end, by charity, that all things are referred to God as the end. St. Thomas thus goes on explain how the various elements of human life (intellect, will, actions) are referred to God by charity, and how these various aspects can be understood in the commandment to love God "with the whole heart, mind, soul, and strength."]

Secondly, man should subject his intellect to God, believing those things that are divinely revealed, according to the Apostle: "taking understanding captivity, unto the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor 10:5). Thus man loves God with his whole mind.

[Insofar as the intellect, with respect to matters that are not seen as manifestly true or false, is subject to the will's influence, it shares in the movement of the will. Thus a man may be said to love God with his mind, or intellect, inasmuch as his motivation to believe is his friendship with God, his love for him, and inasmuch as his belief is an expression of this friendship.]

Thirdly, all the things a man loves, he should love in God, and universally refer all his affection to the love of God; hence the Apostle says "whether we be transported in mind it is to God, or whether we be sober, it is for you; for the charity of Christ presses us" (2 Cor. v. 13). Thus man loves God with his whole soul.

Fourthly, man should derive all his external works, words and deeds from divine love, according to the Apostle: "Let all your things be done in love" (1 Cor 16:14), and thus a man loves God with all his strength.

[To "refer all his affection to the love of God" and to "derive all his external works" is not to be understood in an explicit and conscious sense, which pertained to the previous kind of perfection of love, but in a general sense–possibly explicit, but at any rate implicit–as explained in the first point about referring all things to God as an end.]

This is, then, the third mode of perfect divine love, to which all are bound by the necessity of precept. But the second mode is not possible to anyone in this life, unless he is at the same time a wayfarer and an enjoyer of beatitude, as was our Lord Jesus Christ.