The Difference Between Truth and Error

In my previous post Is predictability incompatible with responsibility for sin? I argued that there is a difference between predictability or determination to evil and to good; since the will's first inclination is to good, a determination to or predictability of evil that comes from without (e.g., due to circumstances, etc.,) diminishes the freedom and responsibility of an act, while a determination to good need not. Another way to illustrate the same point is in terms of the classical teaching on ignorance as a cause that makes acts involuntary.

Suppose there are two persons with basically the same degree of virtue, each faced with a similar choice between a good and necessary act and an evil act, and that in normal circumstances each would be fairly likely to choose the good act. Now suppose that the first person is going to be so convincingly persuaded (by the devil, by another person, or by circumstances) to do the evil act that there is no significant possibility that he will not do it, while the other person is going to be so convincingly persuaded to do the good and necessary act that there is no significant possibility that he will not do it. In the first instance, the person acts on account of an error that is put upon him from without, while in the second case, the person acts on account of a true insight and/or opinion concerning the value and necessity of the good act. Hence the first person's act is involuntary insofar as it proceeds from an error for which he is not responsible (unless there were grave neglect involved in the process of being overwhelmed by the error), while the second person's act is voluntary.

In Aquinas's account, leaving aside the causality of original sin, the influence of other persons (human beings or the devil) reduces to making someone perceive things in a particular way, either by presenting them with an argument, concept, idea, picture, etc., or by affecting their emotions, which makes them perceive things in a particular way. This seems to imply that given someone is faced with a specific choice, temptations from without, to the extent they increase his probability of making a wrong choice, decrease the voluntariness of that choice, unless and to the degree that there is neglect involved in letting himself be affected by the temptation.

Is predictability incompatible with responsibility for sin?

Several interesting discussions developed in the comments of the post an argument against limbo. One of them revolves around the question of the compatibility of determination to sin with moral responsibility for sin? To what extent can the action of other persons make a given person likely to sin? To what extent can a person be morally responsible for an evil deed if he was practically certain to do it in the first place?

The argument was made that if a person who has a 99% chance of sinning is not held morally responsible for that sin, than a person who has a 99% chance of acting virtuously is also not morally responsible for the virtuous deed, and ultimately, no one is held morally responsible for any good or evil deeds.

There is a long-lasting argument between philosophers over a "compatibilist" or "incompatibilist" understanding of free will and determinism. The former view holds that free will is compatible with the choice's being predetermined (and in principle predictable) in the sequence of causes–even if, all things considered, there was no ultimate possibility that the person would make a different choice, the choice was free because it proceeded from his desires and deliberation–while the latter view holds that free will is incompatible with a predetermination of the choice.

The question of the responsibility for sin given that one is "very likely" to sin and given that one is "certain" to sin are not entirely the same, but are closely related. My first remark on all this is to note that in the philosophical discussions, the difference between good and evil is frequently overlooked or considered to be irrelevant. The question is reduced to a consideration of choosing A or B, and the effect of predictability or determination of the choice upon moral responsibility for that choice. If one is certain or almost certain to choose A, is one responsible for choosing A?

It seems to me fundamentally mistaken to consider the question in abstraction from the question of good and evil, or from the question of whether the action in question fulfills or harms the will's fundamental freedom and orientation.

The question of moral responsibility seems to amount to this: is the human person, as a person, the cause of the good or evil of the choice they make and the act they do? If a person hurts someone else while sleepwalking, the person is the cause of that evil, yet not as a person, since the properly human acts of reason and will are not involved in the act at all. Again, if a parent purchases medicine for a sick child and gives it to that child, unaware that a malicious person has put poison into the medicine bottle, the parent is not morally the cause of the evil of "poisoning the child," because, though they deliberately choose to given the contents of the bottle to their child, and in this sense choose something bad, the reason for the badness of the choice is not in them, but in the person who put the poison in the bottle.

What should we say about a case in which one person leads another person to an evil choice? If parents, for example, persuade their ten year old daughter to kill her child by abortion? In such a case the act proceeds from her reason and will, and in this sense is a free and moral act. However, the question remains: to what is the evil of the act, and the disorder in her reason and will to be attributed? To her, or to her parents? While God alone can judge the heart, I would say that if she was in general well disposed to life and unlikely to make that choice without the influence of her parents, and under the influence of her parents unlikely not to make that choice, then the disorder of the choice is in any case to be principally attributed to her parents, and with high probability not to be attributed to her. For, when we consider her own principle of motion, we see a tendency to good action, which in this particular case is broken, hindered from coming to actuality. Since there is a highly probable explanation of this fact in her parents, it is unreasonable and improbable to attribute the explanation to the girl herself, even though it is in principle possible.

What about when one person leads another person to a good choice? If someone persuades a woman not to have an abortion? To what extent is the goodness of this choice to be attributed to the woman herself? As in the other case, if she was otherwise inclined to have an abortion, yet under the influence of someone else unlikely to have an abortion, then the correctness of the choice can be in some sense principally attributed to the person who persuades her to keep her child. However, if she is persuaded on the basis of a fundamental will for something good (rather than through some kind of trickery), then the goodness of her choice can also be attributed to her. Insofar as she had a particular inclination that would have led her to have an abortion, which was overcome through the intervention of another person, she is not morally responsible for the goodness of her choice, anymore than the girl in the other example is responsible for the badness of her choice. But insofar as the good choice comes from a more fundamental inclination of her will to good, she is responsible for its goodness, and praiseworthy for it.

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.

Whose Idea was Limbo

There is a narrative commonly accepted both by theologians and by popular authors, according to which limbo is a hypothesis first invented by medieval theologians to reconcile the necessity of baptism for infants to attain grace and salvation with God's justice that does not punish people with the pains of hell except for their actual sins.

This narrative, however, seems to have a very strong Western bias and to inaccurately reflect the history. In the West, under the influence of Augustine, up until Abelard it was commonly held that unbaptized infants are punished in hell through with a milder punishment than those who committed actual sin.

But before Augustine (Tertullian being an exception), the view that unbaptized were punished with pain in hell on account of Adam's sin which passed down to them was not the common view. St. Ambrose says that the hereditary sin of Adam "cannot be a terror to me, since in the day of judgment we are not punished for another's sins, but for our own," and that whereas baptism takes away personal sins, the rite of washing the feet [a local custom] takes away hereditary sins.

When the question comes up, the Eastern Fathers do not generally allow that unbaptized infants will be positively punished in hell for original sin:

[Those who are not able to receive baptism], perhaps on account of infancy, or some perfectly involuntary circumstance through which they are prevented from receiving it, even if they wish… will be neither glorified nor punished by the righteous Judge, as unsealed [by baptism] and yet not wicked, but persons who have suffered rather than done wrong. For not every one who is not bad enough to be punished is good enough to be honored; just as not every one who is not good enough to be honored is bad enough to be punished. (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 40)

The innocent babe has no such plague [of ignorance] before its soul’s eyes obscuring its measure of light, and so it continues to exist in that natural life; it does not need the soundness which comes from purgation, because it never admitted the plague into its soul at all… But the soul that has never felt the taste of virtue, while it may indeed remain perfectly free from the sufferings which flow from wickedness having never caught the disease of evil at all, does nevertheless in the first instances partake only so far in that life beyond (which consists, according to our previous definition, in the knowing and being in God) as this nursling can receive (Gregory of Nyssa, On Infants' Early Deaths).

Where do children of Jews or the unbaptized go who die lacking wickedness, five years old, or four years old? To damnation, or to Paradise?

Response: Since God has himself pronounced that the sins the of the fathers do not pass to the sons, and said through the prophets that children shall not perish for the sins of their fathers, it seems to me that they do not go into Gehenna. But it is not fitting to probe the judgments of God with one's hands. (Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestiones, q. 81, PG 90:709c)

What St. Gregory of Nazianzen says is, in fact, exactly what is later expressed by the term "limbo."

(Quaestiones, q. 81, PG 90:709c)

Beatification of John Henry Newman

"Cardinal Newman's motto, 'Cor ad cor loquitur', or Heart speaks unto heart, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness."

"The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing 'subjects of the day'. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilised society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world" (Pope Benedict XVI, Sep 19, 2010, Beatification of John Henry Newman).

From the Holy See Press Office – Read More

An Argument Against Limbo

Though it's not used in the International Theological Commission's document The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, I think the following argument is one of the stronger single arguments against a state of limbo:

Ezekiel and Jeremiah report the Lord's word against what has become a current proverb in Israel, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Jer 31:29; Ezek 18:2). This saying shall no longer be valid. Particularly in Jeremiah it is clear that the time when "every one shall die for his own sin" pertains to the new covenant which God shall make, when "no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the LORD.' "

This prophecy begins to be fulfilled with the coming of Christ, and is absolutely fulfilled in the eschaton. Therefore, at the end of time, no one will die (be definitively separated from participation in God's life) except on account of their own sin. In God's plan, therefore, original sin is something that is relevant only in this life in time, and does not determine anyone's definitive destination.

This argument does not, of course, attempt to give any account of how salvation in Christ is applied to an infant who dies without baptism, but only argues for the fact of its being offered.

Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Speaks on Koran Burning

The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue released a statement a few hours ago on the "Koran Burning Day" planned by the pastor of a small christian community for the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which has been being talked about on the Internet for some time now. The members of the Council may have originally felt the best thing was to avoid publicizing the event any further, even by way of criticism, and decided to do so as it came to be more widely talked about anyway.

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue received with great concern the news of the proposed "Koran Burning Day" on the occasion of the Anniversary of the September 11th tragic terrorist attacks in 2001 which resulted in the loss of many innocent lives and considerable material damage.

These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.

The reflection which necessarily should be fostered on the occasion of the remembrance of 11 September would be, first of all, to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorist attacks. To this feeling of solidarity we join our prayers for them and their loved ones who lost their lives.

Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed: 'Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions' (address to the new ambassador of Pakistan, 16 December 1999). His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI similarly expressed, 'violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion' (address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, to the new ambassador of Morocco, 6 February 2006)

The statement, perhaps deliberately, states the principles pertinent to respect for religion somewhat vaguely. Does the last sentence of the first paragraph provide backup for the first claim, saying in effect simply that "each religion… has the right to respect and protection" because the dignity of the person who adheres to that religion requires it? Or is it qualifying or restricting the first claim, saying that each religion has the right to respect and protection to the extent that this follows from respect for the dignity of the person (but that a religion need not be protected to the extent that it promotes murder, injustice, etc.)?

In the end there isn't all that much difference between what's affirmed according to each of these interpretations. If respect for human persons is the reason for respect for a religion (supposing that one either considers the religion incorrect or holds a neutral judgment about it), then it must also be a measure of respect for that religion.

Instead of making such distinctions at the abstract level, the statement addresses the concrete issue of violence committed in the name of religion, condemning it. In a similar vein, the Holy See is apparently also seeking to prevent the stoning of an Iranian widow convicted of adultery.

Crucifixes in Public Schools

From the oral submission given on Wednesday by Joseph Weiler, on behalf of several third-party intervening states (Armenia, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, The Russian Federation and San Marino) in the case (Lautsi v. Italy) regarding Italy's right to display crucifixes in its public schools.

21… Secularity, Laïcité is not an empty category which signifies absence of faith. It is to many a rich world view which holds, inter alia, the political conviction that religion only has a legitimate place in the private sphere and that there may not be any entanglement of public authority and religion. For example, only secular schools will be funded. Religious schools must be private and not enjoy public support. It is a political position, respectable, but certainly not “neutral.” The non-laique, whilst fully respecting freedom of and from religion, embrace some form of public religion as I have already noted. Laïcité advocates a naked public square, a classroom wall bereft of any religious symbol. It is legally disingenuous to adopt a political position which splits our society, and to claim that somehow it is neutral.

23. If the social pallet of society were only composed of blue yellow and red groups, than black – the absence of color – would be a neutral colour. But once one of the social forces in society has appropriated black as its colour, than that choice is no longer neutral. Secularism does not favour a wall deprived of all State symbols. It is religious symbols which are anathema.

24. What are the educational consequences of this?

25. Consider the following parable of Marco and Leonardo, two friends just about to begin school. Leonardo visits Marco at his home. He enters and notices a crucifix. What is that?’, he asks. ‘A crucifix – why, you don’t have one? Every house should have one.’ Leonardo returns to his home agitated. His mother patiently explains: ‘They are believing Catholics. We are not. We follow our path. Now imagine a visit by Marco to Leonardo’s house. ‘Wow!’, he exclaims, ‘no crucifix? An empty wall?’ “ We do not believe in that nonsense” says his friend. Marco returns agitated to his house. ‘Well’, explains his mother, ‘We follow our path.” The next day both kids go to school. Imagine the school with a crucifix. Leonardo returns home agitated: ‘The school is like Marco’s house. Are you sure, Mamma, that it is okay not to have a crucifix?’ That is the essence of Ms. Lausti’s complaint. But imagine, too, that on the first day the walls are naked. Marco returns home agitated. ‘The school is like Leonardo’s house,’ he cries. ‘You see, I told you we don’t need it.’

Read more.

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.

Summary of Evidence on Rapidity of Sin or Conversion

In this post and the next I will try to wrap up the considerations of sin, fundamental option, etc., which I have been considering in recent posts.

If we somewhat generalize the theory that mortal sin and conversion consist in the exercise of a single, fundamental option that lies at a deeper level than the freedom of choice involved in individual acts, we are left with the following position: mortal sin (turning away from God) normally occurs over a fairly long period of time, and is expressed in many concrete acts, none of which taken in isolation would constitute mortal sin; the will to perform a gravely disordered act normally has the character of full consent only when it is the summing up of a voluntary pattern of behavior, the term of a series of disordered acts. Similarly according to this view, and leaving aside miraculous conversions, the openness for grace and intention to avoid sin normally comes to be over a longish period of time, is only fully willed when it is the summing up of a series of acceptance of actual graces.

The opposite position would say that mortal sin always consists in the performance of a single act, which taken on its own would constitute a mortal sin. A middle position would say that mortal sin frequently consists in a single willed act,  but also frequently consists in a wickedness of will that is voluntary only in reference to a whole series of willed acts.

Below follows an attempt to sum up the evidence for the two positions:

In support of the possibility of sin or conversion taking place gradually (as experienced psychologically)

1. The existence of mortal sins arising from or consisting in the neglect to form one's conscience. (There is usually not one extra special moment when a person is particularly aware and conscious of neglect.)
2. Aquinas's affirmation that a person receives grace as soon as they are capable of acting morally, and being responsible for their choice of good or evil (this affirmation is implied, in, for example, ST I-II 89:6, which I haven't since the transition from immaturity to responsibility is psycholoigcally a gradual one.)

In support of changes in man's final goal actually being rare or generally occurring over longer periods of time
1. The affirmation that "it is not easy for the person who has grace to commit a mortal sin."
2. The early Church practice where penance was rare, and for grave sins could only be given once.
3. The psychological difficulty or unusualness of rapidly changing one's orientation and commitment, going from being strongly and totally committed to one goal to giving up that goal as the supreme guiding principle of one's life, to taking it up again etc.

In support of the possibility of sin or conversion being located in a single act

1. The Church's teaching on mortal sin, that a single mortal sin committed with full knowledge and consent is sufficient to deprive one of charity.
2. The fact that grace and charity depend on God's gift, and transcend experience, mean that a single act by which one draws toward God or away from him may suffice to gain or lose the habit of charity, even though psychologically one act just on its own cannot normally generate or destroy a habit.

In support of sin and conversion actually being frequently or normally located in a single act

1. The practice of lay Christians and confessors of treating every objectively disordered act that proceeded from an act of choice as a mortal sin depriving the doer of charity.
2. Similarly, the practice of not treating patterns of behavior as involving mortal sin unless they include individual concrete acts that are considered to be mortal sins.
3. The fact that for mortal sin a person need not orient himself toward a totally new end, but only fail to take God as the rule for an end they were seeking all along (e.g., a person formerly seeking honor in subordination to God on one occasion seeks honor without subordinating to God, and in a manner incompatible with a life lived for God).