Perfection in Suffering on the Cross: A Transcendental-Metaphysical Analysis

[If you had seen this piece during the first hour it was posted, I apologize for the confusion. I dictate these blogs into a program, and then edit them.  What you saw was the unedited version.]

by David Fleischacker 

“….and he was made perfect through suffering”

Hebrews 2:10

Good Friday seems to be an obvious misnomer, at least when I was a kid I always thought so. Once one realizes that the crucifixion of our Lord is the greatest act of love, then one begins to glimpse why it the greatest and most perfect good. But why through suffering? Lonergan’s insight into sin as an act of inauthenticity can shed light on the magnitude of this goodness, and on why it must take place through suffering.  To see this, we must first understand the nature of inauthenticity, which means we must understand the nature of the transcendental notions and why these are so important.

Setting the Stage of Suffering: The Transcendental Notions

The transcendental notions are at the root of why the transcendental precepts ring true to all of us. Just to recall those precepts–they form a hierarchy-[and I do mean a sacred order by this term, not its degradation in today’s culture to a negative bureaucratic term.]

The Transcendental Precepts

  • be loving (highest)
  • be responsible
  • be reasonable
  • be intelligent
  • be attentive (lowest)

 For those who have studied Lonergan, you know that these precepts articulate the way of perfection of the levels of consciousness. Each level is distinct because it is governed by a different fundamental operator and integrator of development (see chapter 14 of Insight for more info on operators and integrators). One gets a first glimpse into these operators when attending to the wonder at the root of our questions–hence as Lonergan distinguished in Insight-wonder sorts into questions for -understanding and questions for reflection–the first leads to insights, the second to judgments. Hence asking questions for understanding and getting insights is equal to being intelligent. And asking questions for reflection and making true judgments is equal to being reasonable. As those of us who have been around Lonergan for a while know, he later added questions for deliberation and decisions which when perfected are equal to being responsible. He also suggested a fifth level which is really tied to the entire capacity for self transcendence and its actuation in a state of being in love. This fifth level is a bit different than the others, because it not merely emerges from them, but both is a comprehensive perfection of one’s horizon and it is the starting point and orientation of every level of one’s horizon. It completely embraces every operator or integrator, and every operation and integration in the human subject from the lowest levels to the highest. It is a kind of alpha and omega of human existence. This is why it is a little bit more than a level. In any case it is what underpins the precept “be loving.”

 To expand one’s apprehension of these acts of wonder so as to see that these are not merely questions but operators and integrators, one can shift one’s attention to the interior fact that the same wonder is also the same that gazes upon an answer, and it is the same that moves beyond any finite answer. In Plato and Augustine, this is why wonder is more aptly called an interior spiritual light–the light of being. With Aristotle and St. Thomas, it is called the agent intellect. The symbol of light is a wonderful image because a light source is that by which we are able to look for something, and then, it is the same reality by which we gaze upon something found, and finally, it is the same reality by which we can look again for something new.

Realizing that questions really are operators and integrators is not easy.  We all start in the world of the senses and I, like many others, became trapped in that world. Plato describes this in his book the Republic.  All human beings are born in the cave.  They do not understand how they know, what they know, or the source by which they know.  Only with great difficulty does a brave soul break the chains of the cave, and then move from the cave into the bright light of the sun.  This is a wonderful description of what it is like to turn to and then discover the landscape of interiority. But once one does make this leap, the world of one’s own soul begins to open into something far more grand than anything seen with the eyes.

Included in this grand interior landscape is the lights that illuminate it. Those lights are the wonder that is both the operator and integrator of that landscape, and as Lonergan argues, it sorts into three types already mentioned–questions for understanding, questions for reflection, questions for deliberation. The union of these three into a whole is the real character of the essence and heart of the human subject, a character which is defined by Lonergan as the capacity for self transcendence (see chapter 1, Method in Theology). And if this capacity is not actualized by a love that is the true alpha and omega of one’s soul, one dwells in a dark abyss staring off into the unrestricted reaches of nothingness.

Lonergan more precisely called these fundamental operators and integrators the transcendental notions. They underpin, penetrate, and go beyond all operations and integrations in the subject. They start as questions, discover answers, and through these the subject transcends to new questions. In short, they are transcendental because they make it possible for a subject to self-transcend and even yearn for that which is absolutely Transcendent, our Lord, and more supernaturally, to receive the absolutely Transcendent as a gift called the beatific vision.

Linking the Transcendental Notions to the Finality of All that Exists

In Insight, Lonergan makes an amazing statement about the human mind that helps us to move an inch closer to understanding the kind of suffering Jesus experienced on the cross. Namely, Lonergan writes that in human beings the finality of the universe becomes conscious.  Linking this to the transcendental notions reveals a profound unity in the whole of the created world.

In order to move toward this link, let us first say something about the nature of finality. Finality is rooted in the potency of the universe, in each of its parts and as a whole.  That potency is one of emergent probability. In transcendental terms, it is an emergent probability of intelligibility, being, and goodness. Are you beginning to see the link to the human person? When the human being as part of that emergence is infused with the transcendental notions, then there emerges a creature that is a self-conscious intelligibility that is intelligent, a self-conscious being that is reasonable, and a self-conscious good that is responsible. And the unity of it all? A potentiality that is actuated in love.  The actuated orientation of finality in its highest reaches is a state of being in love. If you have been following these points, hopefully you can see what individuals like St. Thomas are thinking about when they say that all things have God as their end. 

Transcendental Notions: Created Participations in the Divine Light

There is a profound mystery in the transcendental notions. Nothing in this world can cause them. They emerge almost as if from nothing.  There are just there.  And they are a great power in us.  What begins to dawn on the humble soul is that these lights must come from something great.  And as one discovers that they have no intrinsic bounds, and they give us that yearning to understand all that could be understood, and know all that has being, and enjoy all that is good, we begin to wonder about the “hither” of all things and of these yearnings.  It is the question of God that arises when we move to this state.  And when we begin to discover the good without bounds, the true without conditions, the intelligible that is total, we discover as well the real source of these interior lights, the transcendental notions.  They are created participations in the Good, the True, the Intelligible, that is responsible without bounds, reasonable without conditions, intelligent that is total, and loving with mercy that embraces death on a Cross.  This discovery sheds a more magnificent light upon the finality that has become conscious in us.

Oh what a great good each child, each woman, each man is in this world! We are in the image and likeness of our Creator.

Sin and Evil as a Violation of Finality

Human beings as illumined by the transcendental notions have a radical freedom that introduces the potentiality for the sinister. That radicality is the possibility of violating finality. Human beings can turn against the transcendental notions, they can betray the interior lights. In short, they can fail to be intelligent, to be reasonable, to be responsible, and to be loving. This betrayal reverberates into the fabric of the entire universe of being.  Even the quarks that are sublated in our atoms and cells, in our neurons, and elevated into the realm of consciousness are privated by sin of a vertical finality that they were made to enjoy.  This is the nature of evil. And this is just one person. We could go on to discuss how these acts of inauthenticity are then mutually self-mediated to others and the fabric of our universe.

Original Sin and the Deformation of the Finality of the Universe

The doctrine of Original Sin tells us that at the beginning of the human race, sin entered the world through one man and one woman that led them from the harmony and joy of the garden into the cities of Cain. Speculating on how that sin is transmitted from one generation to the next, St. Augustine narrowed the culprit to a disorder that exists between men and women in the procreative act–concupiscence. The heaven and earth were doomed to be corrupted until the end of time.  This reality led the inspired prophets to hope for a new heaven and a new earth.

The Revelatory discovery of the fallen state is complemented by a profound inverse insight that helped the Greeks to discover evil as a privatization of being. With Lonergan we can transpose this privation into a violation of the finality of intelligibility, being, and goodness. A surd is introduced into history and the cosmos. Things really are not as they should be. In our own souls, we directly recognize such violations as a turning away from the light, a light that is a voice which we commonly know as the voice of conscience. And because those lights are a created participation in the divine light, conscience is also recognized as the voice of God in our own souls.

To summarize, inauthenticity is a betrayal of the finality of one’s own soul, and since one’s soul is a conscious realization of the finality of the universe, it is a betrayal of the finality of the universe. Every sin is such a betrayal.

Authentic Suffering as a Response to Evil and Sin

Now we can turn to the character of suffering. I remember the first time that I began to realize that suffering was not intrinsically evil. I was brought up in life to think so and of course, I was a good son of our world.  Suffering was the great evil to be avoided, and  in mercy, we must help others to avoid it too.

There is a truth in this. Suffering is not where we should be. However, St. Augustine taught me something different about suffering. He helped me to understand the church’s disposition to suffering that had always puzzled me. Why embrace the cross? Why lift our sufferings up to the Lord? Why did Jesus suffer unto his death?

St. Augustine taught me that suffering is not intrinsically evil but good. It is that which is good responding to evil. Suffering is the seeking and yearning for healing. This is why it is good. Even our physical bodies operate this way. Pain sensors tell us something is wrong. They prevent further harm. They get us to change behavior to avoid damage and/or to allow for healing. If my hand did not hurt when I put it on a burning stove, I would destroy it.

Suffering the Evil in Others

Human beings can suffer the evils of others. This should be a kind of surprise until you realize that the interior lights, the transcendental notions, mean that we are the kind of creature in which potentially the entire universe that exists could dwell. And that which is more beautiful and profound will dwell in us in a way more beautiful and profound manner. This is why our friends and family are so much a part of us. And what hurts them hurts us. If a good friend dies, part of us dies. When we encounter violations of the finality in others or in creation, this violation is ours because of the nature of who we are. It becomes and is my privation, even if it was your sin. Your sin becomes my sorrow [just as is the opposite true — your good becomes my good (if I do not have envy).]

 So suffering evil is the yearning that evil be overcome and that goodness be restored. This is why authentic suffering is actually good. We should be sorrowful over any and all acts of inauthenticity, and any and all violations of the finality of creation.

Jesus’ Suffering on the Cross

Now let us return to the suffering of Jesus on the cross. That suffering was a response to the sin of the world that dwelt in the soul of Jesus. Jesus is present to all acts of inauthenticity throughout history, and as present, these dwell in him through his subjectivity. This begins to explain the depth of what Jesus meant on the Cross when he proclaimed “My God my God why have you forsaken me?” HBy becoming one of us, all of our privations became his.  He yearned for the healing of the privation of all sin, of all inauthenticity, of the totality of deformed and fallen creation. This was the depth of his love and begins to shed light upon what he meant when on the Cross he turned to his Father, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.”

Sin is a radical darkness that betrays the light. It turns one against the One who is the source of the transcendental notions.  It is not a mere turning either, but active turning against.  Inauthenticity has a dramatic and murderous plot to it. This begins to explain why we are the cause the crucifixion of our Lord in every act of sin. 

But Why is This the Way of Perfection?

Now we have to introduce one other element to explain why Jesus was perfected in his suffering, and why we are too. 

Self-transcendence that is authentic and unfolds with the finality of emergent probability is a great good. However this is natural. It is expected. It flows from what should be. But there is an even greater set of goods which are authentic responses to evil. In other words these are acts of suffering, which really yearn for the reconciliation of the sinner and the healing of evil. They are a gift, a surprise, and intelligibility that goes beyond natural finality. It is to be intelligent in the darkness of the unintelligent, to be reasonable in the lies of the unreasonable, to be responsible in the wickedness of the irresponsible, to be loving in the hatred of life exuding from those privated of love. Virtues such as courage and temperance would not be if it were not for evil. The authentic response to evil bears forth a good that is beautiful and magnificent, beyond what nature provides. The greatest of course is to die for one’s enemy as Christ did for us. This is a perfection that transcends the natural finality of this universe and is highly intelligible, true, and good.  It is the magnitude of God’s love for us.

Part 7: Finality, Final Cause, and the Good in “Finality, Love, and Marriage”

by David Fleischacker

“For the final cause is the cuius gratia, and its specific or formal constituent is the good as cause.” (Finality, Love, Marriage, 19)

This quote” falls within the section on vertical finality in “Finality, Love, and Marriage.” In the paragraph before this quote, Lonergan was introducing the difficulties in apprehending finality. It is something that can be easily overlooked by the positivist because “quite coherently, any positivist will deny final causality.”  Instead, the positivist will only admit efficient causality.  Lonergan in short, defines finality in terms of final causality.  One wonders if he had yet broken from Aristotelian science sufficiently to provide an adequate account, even heuristically, of marriage and the marital acts.  I suspect many would say no.

To restate this difficulty, if vertical finality is defined in terms of final cause, it would seem that Lonergan has not adequately defined finality yet.  There is some truth in this as I stated in the last blog — since it seems that in light of Lonergan’s formulation of horizontal finality, he had not yet reached his more general formulation of finality that one finds in Insight, where it is isomorphic with the notion of being, and not related to essence alone (though it is related since essence or form is a component of being).  Just as one can expand on the notion of horizontal finality, so one can do the same with vertical. Let us push this a bit in this blog to see where it goes.

As the quote up top indicates, Lonergan is defining final cause in terms of the good.  In this section on vertical finality where he criticizes the positivist, Lonergan notes that the positivist can acknowledge  motives and terms, but only as efficient causes. The blindspot of the positivist is the denial of these motives as good and these terms as good.  In short, Lonergan is saying that in the potency, there is an orientation to the good that he calls finality.

One can find this orientation to the good throughout Lonergan’s later writings. In fact, it becomes more prominent, not less, as he formulates in a clear fashion the fourth level of consciousness and delineates the capacity for self-transcendence not in terms of one notion (being) as he does in Insight, but in terms of three transcendental notions — intelligibility, being, and the good (Method in Theology, 34 – 35 or 104- 105). As well, one can think of his formulation of the human good in chapter 2 of Method in Theology, especially the notion of the “terminal good” (Method in Theology, 51). In both cases, whether one thinks of the transcendental notion of the good/value or in terms of terminal value, these operate in the same manner as Lonergan’s formulation of a final cause in 1943.  In other words, the transcendental notion of value operates like the notion of being, and hence it is isomorphic with the good. And terminal value is the good as a term that is truly good.

Though their is a similar heuristic element to final cause in 1943 and Lonergan’s formulation of the notion of value later, there is an expansion.  Just as an expansion occurs in relating finality (whether horizontal or vertical) to the notion of being in Insight, so now one can isomorphically relate finality to the entire capacity for self-transcendence, which is constituted by the three transcendental notions–intelligibility, being, and the good.  To do this is not to say that what Lonergan defined as finality in 1943 is wrong, but rather it is to open up its meaning to the entire nature of the universe of intelligible and existing goodness.

Think about how Lonergan’s development of the capacity for self-transcendence actually points out a limitation in Insight.  Lonergan would have formulated the good in Insight in a manner similar to Aquinas, as convertible with being.  This point would be true later as well, but it receives some nuances.  The good  as a distinct transcendental notion in later writings, hence distinct in the human subject’s apprehension of the good, especially the hierarchy of the good/value, indicates the differential of something as existing (or some occurrence of a conjugate form as occurring) versus something as good.  In 1943, Lonergan introduced this goodness to being in terms of a final cause.  In other words, being and the good are more explanatorily developed in later writings but still operative in earlier writings. Final cause is not eliminated so much as explanatorily developed.  The manner that he used it in 1943 is still valid within its frame work.

Why was it and is it still valid? This validity is similar to how the Newtonian formulation of gravitation is valid within general relativity, but it is a more limited account. One can transpose the 1943 Lonergan into 1983 by formulating finality as the metaphysical and meta-ethical isomorphism with the capacity for self-transcendence.  This would further open the heuristic exploration of marriage and love that he formulated in 1943, and place his insights within a larger framework.  Already in the last blog, I have started to do this by uniting horizontal and vertical finality in terms of potency as one finds in Insight.   One can do more by relating finality to emergent probability as the emergent good.  The upwardly directed dynamism of finality for intelligibility, being, and the good/value (I have been using good partially because I do get tired of the relativistic overtones of the term “value” in modern culture).  Such a finality would apprehend the universe in its proportionate existence as an emerging good.  This recognizes the universe as an ultimate friendly universe in its very nature.  This also means that the entire intelligibility and being of marriage is not only real but good — and so getting that meaning right is crucial if the historical and traditional breakthrough into marriage is not to fade into the shadowland of scotosis or individual bias or group bias or the general bias (on the notion of scotosis and bias, see Insight, chapters 6 and 7).

Servais Pinckaers’s Morality: the Catholic View, summary

Understanding what is Catholic Morality

Servais Pinckaers’ Morality The Catholic View, an introduction

Preface: to understand the many different components which are constitutive of Catholic morality in terms of specifying these differing components or sources and understanding how Catholic theology has been able to think together these different components in connection with the concrete problems and difficulties which exist when it comes to concrete human living. The Second Vatican Council in its Decree on the Training of Priests specifies three conditions or three different requirements:

1) understanding how Catholic morality is grounded in scripture and the teachings of the Church fathers

2) understanding how Catholic morality is joined to the dogmatics of the Church’s teaching as this refers to the truths of revelation

3) understanding how Catholic theology relates to changes and developments as these have occurred in the history of human social forms, culture, and science.

How can the Church’s teaching be better understood? How can it be applied more wisely? What are its suppositions and what kind of obligation exists for us as Catholics as we try and cope with new problems and developments that have yet to be more fully understood?

Part 1

Chapter 1: the Gospel sources

Ancient moral catechesis: responding to questions about what leads to human happiness, what leads to our salvation, what leads to our human perfection as in “be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

1. Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s gospel

Matthew’s Gospel has been described as a text that has been written by someone who has had a rabbinical formation (hence, a gospel which is intended for Jews more than gentiles). Especially with respect to the Sermon on the Mount, a new law is given: one which supersedes the Old Law or the Torah although it is also noted in scripture that Christ’s new law is not meant to cancel or annul the traditional Jewish law. Instead, on the authority of Christ’s words, we have a new way of living which exists as a fulfillment, as a perfection of the old law. If sin goes beyond deeds and words to include thoughts, then the kind of moral good which Jesus’ followers to abide by is something which is greater and more perfect. In the teachings of Jesus, we have a form of radicalization which suggests that, in one respect, it is more difficult to live as a good Christian than it is to live the life of a good Jew. A qualification needs to be adverted to since, through Christian belief, Jesus’ followers have a point of departure for a form of access which is to be described as a “living in Christ.” Through belief, through faith, we can begin to have grace, grace which exists as a form of God’s presence, and through this grace, we can begin to live a life that is more human. As human beings, we can begin to live in a manner which transcends our limited, created conditions. Later generations distinguished between what exists as a natural life and what exists as a supernatural life.

2. Paul’s Letter to the Romans, chapters 12-15
Paul’s letters normally end with a moral exhortation of some kind which is given after a lengthy dogmatic section which has to do with what exactly should be the true belief of Christians. This division has served to suggest that dogmatic theology is to be distinguished from what we do when we do moral theology although, if we attend to the corpus of Paul’s letters, it should be obvious to us that Paul’s moral teaching exists as a kind of deduction or consequence, given the truths of faith and salvation which belong to the new Christian dispensation. From faith in Christ, we have a context for a new, higher form of living

3. Other scriptural texts

St. Paul as a moral theologian in other letters touches on other themes: the primacy of charity, the centrality of conversion, and the necessity of humility, obedience, and patience. A life of the flesh is to give way to a life that is lived in the Spirit. In the teaching of St. Paul, two themes or two emphases are brought together or perhaps we can say that they are presented in a way which elicits our need to understand them better in a way which would link and join them to each other. (1) Jesus Christ in his life and work exists is a new source of morality and (2) what God has created in terms of an inner, natural law points to the intelligibility of contingently existing things and how, in this law or through this law, we can determine the good of things and what we are to regard as evil. What exists as sound moral teaching is only known in the context of living a good moral life as this would exist for the converted Christian.

Chapter 2: the Moral Teaching of the Fathers of the Church

Principle characteristics:

1. Scripture as the first and consistent source of moral teaching: focusing on the person and life of Christ as this is presented in the scriptures and as this knowledge of Christ is communicated or mediated to us through the life and worship of the Church (episcopal homilies, public worship, and subsequent practice as the life of Christians is played out in the common world). The church fathers communicate their teaching through homilies, commentaries, and specific texts that address moral questions.
2. Judicious use of resources drawn from Greco-Roman culture and philosophy: working with what is sound and good in the moral teaching that exists outside revelation but in a manner which points to links and similarities. It is eventually taught that all which is good in Greek thought can be seen either as a precursor of the Christian dispensation or as something that has been derived in some way from Old Testament sources. Pagan moral teaching about virtues and vices is revised or uplifted by an addition that is given to it when we turn to the requirements of faith and charity. Definitions and meanings are re-interpreted and revised and virtue is seen more as something that comes from God and less as something which exists as a purely human product. What is the role of humility in our human lives? How do we best live a happy life?
3. Inseparable from the great spiritual currents that were then operative in the life of the Church: cult of the martyrs, call to virginity, monastic aspirations, and the search for wisdom. A close connection exists between spirituality and morality. For example, what is the role of suffering? How do we best deal with the experience of suffering in our human lives?

Two examples from St. Augustine:

1. On the Morals of the Catholic Church: the greatest good makes us most happy and this greatest good would have to be God. Thus, if our natural inclinations and reason are to take us to the greatest good and the greatest measure of happpiness that can be through union with this good, then, if our natural inclinations and reason are to be fulfilled, faith must exist; faith must be adverted to. Charity born of faith is the greatest Christian virtue or maybe we can say a faith that is informed by charity if we select a phrasing which comes to us from the Council of Trent. Augustine takes the four classical virtues of prudence, justice, courage, and temperance and he interprets them in a way which indicates that they exist as expressions of love, forms of love. A link is drawn between the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity and these aforementioned cardinal virtues that can be known through self-reflective human reason.
2. First Homily on the Sermon on the Mount: seven stages are distinguished in term of growth or progress in the spiritual life, beginning with humility and leading to purity of heart and union with God, these seven stages being related to the list of Jesus’s beatitudes and the seven petitions that are found in the Our Father. Grace is emphasized as a species of first principle if the Christian is to move from an initial conversion in humility to a final transformation which occurs through purity of heart and union with God.

In conclusion, the Church Fathers initiate a development which takes Christians teachings about faith, hope, and charity and how one best lives a fully Christian life and, from this perspective, a revised moral teaching is introduced into contemporary culture. No systematization is attempted at this point although, from the 6th Century, in monasteries, penitentials are drawn up which list penances that should be applied with the commission of specific sins. The context of this is a change in the Church’s penitential practices. Private confession is introduced in a manner which mitigates against the rigor of the more traditional public penance.

Chapter 3: The Classic Period of Western Theology

To understand what distinguishes scholastic theology from what had existed before, one attends to the work of Peter Abelard (d. 1142) who compiled summaries of theological positions that revealed lack of agreement and conflict between differing points of view.  Author of Yes and No. In studying the writings of the Church fathers, one finds a certain lack of coherence and, as a consequence of Abelard’s work, a new task is given to theologians: finding ways to reconcile conflicting positions.  One tries to introduce a greater coherence into how we understand our Catholic faith.  Hence, within this context, we find the work of St. Thomas Aquinas who attempted a major work of transposition by taking the work and teaching of St. Augustine and articulating it in a way which shifts it into a way of analysis and conception that largely comes to us from the thought and work of Aristotle.  If Augustine’s theology is largely guided or determined on the basis of analogies that are derived from apprehensions that come from neo-Platonist form of philosophy, Aquinas’s work as a theologian is indebted to analogies that are drawn from the kind of philosophy that we associate with Aristotle (the metaphysical kind of analysis that we find in Aristotle and which Aquinas develops when he moves from a metaphysics of form to a metaphysics of act).

Aquinas borrows from Aristotle’s moral philosophy and he combines the focus on happiness that we find in Aristotle (as human beings, we all seek to be happy) with a form or vector of self-transcendence which exists within the human spirit in terms of a desire to know God and be joined and united to him eternally.  A natural desire for God is acknowledged although, oddly enough, we have a desire which can only be adequately met through supernatural means: through receptions of grace that come to us from God and all the gifts that are given to us from the Holy Spirit.  In other words, as human beings, we have a natural desire for that which exists as a supernatural end and the the fact that we have this vector or orientation is perhaps the best evidence that we have that our human spirit is informed by a self-transcendence which takes us beyond ourselves towards something that is greater and for which we would be prepared to sacrifice ourselves in terms of everything that we have and possess.

In the structure of his Summa Theologiae, we find a number of general and particular considerations.  In the Prima Secundi, we have, for the first time in Aquinas, a theory of the human will which differs from that which would refer to the nature of our human understanding.  Traditionally, in the footsteps of Socrates in the Greek tradition, the will exists as a function of the intellect.  We act, we do on the basis of what we know.  Our willing is determined by our knowing.  But, while we admit that our willing is often conditioned by our knowing, because of the Christian belief in the existence of Original Sin and our common apprehensions of human life, this position which emphasizes the primacy of the intellect over will was not always fully accepted.  In earlier texts, Aquinas had admitted that what is grasped by us in our acts of understanding do not necessarily force our wills to do anything.  However, it was only in the context of his later thought that he moved into questions and considerations which led him to realize that our acts of human willing possess a nature of their own and that an adequate understanding of the human person needs to recognize that willing exists with a causality of its own.  Human beings are best understood if we can refer to an ongoing tension which tends to exist between our willing and our knowing.  Each influences the other in terms of a mutual form of causality.  To understand our human acts of cognition more fully, we should advert to our human acts of willing and to understand our acts of willing more fully, we need to advert to the structure or the nature of our human cognition.  An adequate understanding of that which exists as our human moral life must consider these two vectors together: one is orientated to apprehensions of truth and the other is orientated to that which exists as a good.  A desire for knowledge is mated to a desire for love and a way of life that is defined in terms of a union with something that is greater than ourselves.  Love is more greater, more powerful than death.  Our lives are fully actual if we can be united to God in loving communion with him…the Beatific Vision.

Aquinas enters into an inquiry which also looks at the development of our moral virtues, our moral habits, which exist as operative potencies in the human soul.  Virtues exist as habits which can then be actualized, reduced to individual act, when a virtuous deed is performed.  Natural virtues and supernatural virtues are distinguished from each other and these virtues are nourished in a way which adverts to external sources, external points of origin (causes which exist within nature and causes which exist beyond nature).  As in nature, different levels can be distinguished, in the same way, levels which are relatively supernatural with respect to the existence of lower levels of being can be distinguished from levels which are absolutely supernatural.  That which exists in an absolutely supernatural way refers to the things of God and the existence of grace that always comes to us as a gift.  That which we cannot achieve in our contingent, created human way can be assisted by gifts that come to us from above, and so, by turning to God and the things of God, we begin to live a supernatural life.  Lives informed by natural virtue are transformed by lives that can be informed by the operative potency of supernatural virtues.  A form of transvaluation occurs as, through conversion, we can begin to see our world and our human lives in a radically different way.  That to which we had attributed little value is see to have the greatest value.

Chapter 4: The Modern Period The Manuals of Moral Theology

To understand the kind of moral theology that began to appear after Aquinas, we must understand the change of intellectual climate that occurred after Aquinas, beginning with the theology of Duns Scotus. In Scotus, we find an understanding of human cognition that is governed by a hermeneutic that works from an understanding of the kind of cognition which occurs in acts of sense. Acts of understanding are interpreted in a context which refers to the nature which properly belongs to acts of sense. Hence, if human acts of understanding are viewed as fundamentally having the same nature as acts of sense and if, in theology, we work with analogical acts of understanding that are grounded in an understanding of human cognition that is grounded in how we are to understand our acts of sense, a fundamental change is introduced into the conduct and praxis of our Catholic theology. To use fewer words, we say that material analogies are used in a way which replaces psychological or intellectual analogies in the kind of understanding that is done in the work of Catholic theology.  Limitations are introduced into the practice of Catholic theology.  On the basis then of this changed context, in the conduct and praxis of moral theology, the chief object of focus becomes that which exists externally to ourselves who exist as human subjects.  As is noted by Pinckaers, less focus is directed to how we might cultivate our human dispositions (our human virtues).  It is noted that nothing is said about happiness as the end of human life and how this orientation can be translated in a way which can refer to the happiness of eternal union with God.  What is real is not so much that which exists within ourselves as human beings but that which exists externally to ourselves.  In Scotus, instead of working from a primary first principle in theology that attends to the wisdom of God, the new first principle refers to the will of God and that which God has ordained: the laws which God has established as these laws can be determined in terms of the data of revelation and the laws of nature which are inscribed in our hearts, being common to all human beings.  We live good moral lives through living a life of obedience.  We all have obligations to fulfill.  In the wake of this emphasis, manuals of instruction were composed to indicate how, as human beings, we are to live lawful lives.  As Pinckaers notes, what kind of relation exists between the fact of human freedom and the obligations which we must meet if we are live good, moral lives?  Five key categories are mentioned: freedom, law, conscience, cases (casuistry), and sin.  Because pride of place is to be allotted to the demands of legislation and requirements of lawful obedience, within this tradition of thought, a kind of objectivism emerges to characterize Catholic moral thinking.  Subjective conditions are not really attended to and, within the manualist tradition of exposition, a high degree of abstractness was to be found in the kind of analysis which was predominantly employed.  Very many distinctions were made as one moves from universal laws to particular circumstances and so, within this tradition, one argues with other moral theologians about the rightness or wrongness of a given act within a particular set of conditions.  Pinckaers refers to the question of probabilism and how one is to determine that which one is free to do and that which one must do if we refer to some kind of moral obligation that must somehow be met.  If we think about how, in Judaism, we can find a legal tradition which pits the opinion and the point of view of a given rabbi against the opinion and point of view of another rabbi, maybe, by doing this, we get a sense of the kind of debates and discussions which existed among Catholic moralists.  We find a great attention to detail and one wonders about how we are to choose one opinion or point of view instead of another. Mention is made of rigorism on the one hand and laxism on the other.  The Jesuits were accused of laxism by the Jansenits in 17th Century France and, in turn, the Dominicans were accused of excessive rigorism.  An over concern with legalistic forms of argumentation has been said to distinguish this tradition of thought which has been dominant in the centuries immediately prior to the Reformation and extending into the 20th Century until the time of Vatican II.  And so it is said that within this tradition, a narrowing of focus occurred.

Chapter 5: The Question of Christian Ethics after the Council.

This chapter takes a reader into the new kind of context which exists in the Catholic Church after the conclusion of the Second Vatican Council in 1965.  In the decrees of the Council, a desire to be open to the modern world was expressed, a desire to reach out and to come into a more fruitful and positive relation that could possibly exist between the Church and what is happening in contemporary modern culture.  This has led to a number of consequences in how Catholic morality is to be understood: how we are to think and engage in reflections which could guide us in moral decisions which we need to make.  Kant’s distinction between the transcendental and the categorical is mentioned in a way which has been used to understand the structure or the order of moral reflection.  It is said that Christian ethics exists at a higher level and that, at a lower level, we have something which exists as a human ethics.  From the teaching of the Catholic faith, we can derive a set of universal norms and then we can apply these norms in a rather loose and free way as we deal with concrete questions and problems at a local level.  A kind of “situation ethics” is favored as a good way to conceive how in concrete circumstances we are to make specific decisions.  Universal moral norms cannot exactly specify what we need to do in specific cases and so, in dealing with concrete problems, we need insights that grasp or understand things that cannot be understood if one tries to work from some kind of general perspective.  Two specific changes need to be noted: a loss of belief in the validity of natural law arguments and a loss of belief in the fact that certain actions are intrinsically evil.  It was once taught, for instance, that the end can never justify the means.  This was the classic position so to speak.  You cannot do evil in order to achieve something good.  However, a shift of paradigm has occurred in a way which has changed the context of current work in the field of Catholic moral reflection.  According to traditional teaching, in evaluating human ethical behavior, determining the rightness or wrongness of a given act is key.  One also attends to personal intentions and circumstance but what is key is the rightness or wrongness of an anticipated act.  However, in our current time, many moral theologians focus on the rightness or wrongness of our human intentions.  From a first principle which refers to our human intentions, one tends to think about the moral quality of acts and the aptness or situation that exists in the existence of circumstances.  Much can be said about why this shift of paradigm has occurred.  We can think about a kind of axial shift that has occurred in the birth of modern philosophy.  Instead of using metaphysics as a first principle in philosophy, one uses an understanding of human cognition and epistemology as a basic first principle.  One moves from object to subject.  Hence, in the light of some of these changes, if persons do not hold that the end cannot be used to justify any means, we can get into a situation which has been described as proportionalism or consequentialism.  One makes judgments based on weighing good against evil.  If one determines that more good will probably result from a given act, then one is inclined to do the act even if the act, in itself, is not good.  From this standpoint, conscience is seen in a manner which is more open to seeing that a conflict of sorts tends to exist between conscience and authority.  The teaching office of the Church makes pronouncements of one kind or another but, if conscience is seen in a manner which emphasizes its autonomy and independence, then persons will feel free to reject Church teaching if they find that it does not suit their personal situations.  The focus on the primacy of good intentions has consequences that can lead to situations and conditions that cannot be tolerated or accepted by other persons.

Chapter 6: Freedom and Happiness

All moralists agree that human moral life is constituted by two principles: a subjective principle refers to the freedom of human choice and an objective principle refers to the rule of law. In the early understandings of moral life that have down to us from the Greeks and until the time of Aquinas, moral life was viewed in terms of the human desire for happiness. As Aristotle had said: all men desire to be happy (even if, admittedly, happiness is not something that can be directly attained). We say that our happiness exists as a kind of by-product. According to the traditional teaching, if we do a good deed, if we do something that is inherently good, we are happy (even if, in the doing of good, we pay some kind of personal price). Think here about the happiness of St. Thomas More who makes jokes at his place of execution. He died a happy man and so he died as a free man. However, in this history of Christian moral reflection, we find a change that begins to set it after Aquinas. William of Ockham is mentioned as the originator of a new tradition which omits considerations of happiness from a fully thought out teaching about the nature of Christian morality. In the old teaching, dating from Aristotle, a philosophy of human happiness is offered which is based on a normative understanding of the nature of human life and being. If we can state it in this way we can say that the old teaching about happiness functioned as a kind of bridge or point of mediation between how we exist as beings endowed with free choice and how apprehensions of law should serve to mold and form our human moral actions. However, in Ockham, we find an emphasis of the power of God’s willing. God is approached as someone who is all mighty and not as someone who is all wise. Where for instance, in Aquinas, God exists as an unrestricted act of understanding and this understanding is perfectly united with his willing, in later theology, God is an unrestricted act of willing. God’s decisions determine what is right and wrong and these decisions are subject to change although Ockham and others within the Christian tradition continued to acknowledge the belief and fact that God does not contradict himself. God abides by the law of contradiction: one cannot assert or say or affirm that A is and that not-A is at the same time, in the same way. In Islam, a voluntarist theology of God is said to exist to a radical extent. God is not obligated to abide by the principle of contradition. These matters aside for the time being, the emphasis that is given to the supremacy of God’s will tends to jive with a voluntarist understanding of the human person. It can be indeed argued that these two kinds of understanding are linked. The voluntarist emphasis, the emphasis given to the will, willingness, and willing, derives in general from a philosophy that is not interested in understanding the natures of things. When we talk about natures, we talk about the presence of intelligibilities. What a given thing does as a subject and what a given thing receives as a subject is largely, partially explained by what it is in terms of its having a nature, an intelligibility, which functions as a principle of explanation, revealing the reasonableness of certain actions and also revealing the unreasonableness of other actions. If this type of thinking is omitted, it leads to a truncated understanding of human moral activity. A human action is good if it exists as an obedient, submissive act: if it is lawful and not illegal. One is supposed to do the right thing in any given situation and, in moving toward determinations of this right thing, an extrinsicist type of approach is used. One does not move toward objectivity through anything which exists as authentic subjectivity. By not adverting to how the principle of self-transcendence exists in human lives, we cannot see or grasp how, in our subjectivity, we can move toward objectivity. Where this type of thinking is omitted, external goals or requirements, the actions which are to be done, are to be done in a way that imposes itself on a human subject. Human subjectivity is looked upon with suspicion. In some way, our subjectivity is to be negated. And so, we get a way of thinking that is very objectivistic. Through a kind of descent that existed in later philosophical reflection, we get the deontological ethics of Kant and not the eudaemonistic ethics of such as Aristotle and Aquinas. As Pinackaers notes, considerations of human happiness should be omitted since there is too close of relation between the need and the value of human happiness and a utilitarian type of ethic which tends to be very individualistic and centered on happiness in a way which gives to it a hedonistic interpretation. In our modern era, however, utilitarian ethics tends to hold central sway. Virtue ethics is contrasted with utilitarian ethics in a way which can be used to distinguish the two types of freedom or the two types of morality that are mentioned by Pinackaers: one freedom is defined by excellence, another, by our ability to make choices that suit us on a case by case basis (hence, a “freedom of indifference”). If we are to move away from a voluntarist type of ethics that has become so prevalent and if we are to introduce the question of happiness into the equation, then we speak about the centrality of joy (joy instead of pleasure). Joy refers to a knowledge of things that are permanent and a doing of good deeds which points to a like permanence. Transcendent things enjoy a primary, deteminative form of existence.

Chapter 7: The Holy Spirit and the New Law

If we refer to the events of salvation history as these are recounted to us in the texts of the New Testament, we find a hiddiness which belongs to God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. Through Christ’s incarnation, that which belongs to God enters into our human history in a perceptible kind of way. Christ says that whoever sees him sees the Father. Christ’s incaration, as we know and experience it, points to God the Father, reflecting God the Father. However, in the stories and accounts that we have in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit comes across to us as something that is more hidden. He is mentioned more rarely and he comes into our human history most prominently after Christ’s ascension into Heaven. When he enters more fully into our human history, he enters in a less obvious manner and yet he enters our history in a way which profoundly changes it, directing it, protecting it, guiding it. The manner of coming which belongs to the Holy Spirit in turn helps to explain why we can speak about an inner connection which exists between God the Holy Spirit (working in our lives) and a teaching about the placing of a new law within our hearts, an inner law that comes to exist within our awareness of self. The hiddenness of the presence of the Holy Spirit within the context of our lives points to the implanting of a new law which lives interiorly within us and which comes to dominate our inward conscious lives. The giftedness of the Holy Spirit points to a deeper apprehension or a personal appropriation of that which exists for as the life of Christ who rules our minds and hearts. Given how the Holy Spirit exists as a procession of love within God, it should not be a matter of surprise to us that, as the Holy Spirit begins to live within us as believers, our faith and hope are strengthened and, at the same time, they are brought to a further point of development or a completion which exists when charity rules us from within to determine how we are to live out our faith in a way which points to its full expressiveness. Our lives of faith are informed by our acts of charity and the living of a virtuous life is placed on a new foundation that gives to them a greater depth: a depth which raises our manner of living to a higher level as, through our thoughts, words, and deeds, we become co-operators and partakers in a life that is not entirely our own but which exists in a way which refers to God lives in us through all of our thoughts, words, and deeds. We become more fully how we should live and be to the degree that we allow God’s love, the Holy Spirit, to flood our hearts in a way which gives to us a renewed nature, a principle of life and activity which comes to us from above in terms of God and the many divine things which belong to God. We speak here about how we can exist and live as created participations in the being and the life which belongs to God. Our created, contingently existing natural virtues are raised to a higher level: a supernatural level which is brought into effect by way of our receiving the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In these gifts, we can speak about how our naturally existing acquired virtues are supplemented by virtues which exist in an infused manner although, admittedly, these virtues are actuated through secondary causes which refer to the external word of religion which, in turn, refers to the words of scripture and the sacramental practice of our liturgical worship. In the Sermon on the Mount, the new law of Christian life and faith is best conveyed and a way is shown that leads or which transcends a life of law and obligation as, now, a law of love replaces a law of external form that is grounded in a life of duty and the meeting of our different obligations. Love is a greater thing as it works through the sacraments as the tools or the instruments of this new, higher law, working in a manner which constitutive of the life of the Church, joining the concrete life of the Church with a transformation of human life as this exists within the internal experience of self which we have as conscious human subjects.

Chapter 8: Natural Law and Freedom

In our current cultural context, natural law continues to be seen with a measure of suspicion. It is seen as an obstruction to the human experience of freedom and then, from a viewpoint that is determined by a voluntarist understanding of divine things, natural law is seen as some kind of imposition. The intelligibility or the goodness of natural law is not grasped and, as a consequence, its value with respect to living a truly good human moral life is not grasped and appreciated. From a reading of Aquinas, a division of five transcendental natural inclinations can be identified and, on the basis of these inclinations, five kinds of natural law. (1) A natural desire to do good points to why we spontaneously seek that we regard as good and avoid that which appears to be evil. For this reason, it is argued that no one truly desires that which is harmful to himself although we admit that bad judgments can cause difficulties if misjudgments are made about that which truly exists as a good versus that which exists as a privation of goodness. The attraction that we have for the good points to this attraction as an exemplification or as a striving which we refer to as love. We love what we desire although, as we already admit, it is easy for us to love the wrong things. It seems though that we are helped if our desire for that which is good is grounded in a self-transcendence which can exist within us as human beings, motivating, informing our subjective human acts. In self-transcendence we value things for their intrinsic good and not for reasons that refer to our convenience. (2) A natural desire to preserve being refers not only to our desire for life and the enjoyment of life but also a life which exists as a good life, as a life which can be said to flourish. From a desire which inclines us to live a good life, we can attend to the good of life which legitimately belongs to others that we should respect. In the living out of this desire, we must impose obligations on ourselves and not lose hope, a kind of hope that is transcendental because it transcends all the disappointments that we encounter in our contingent existence when, from this lower context, we encounter determinations which mitigate against the value of hope. (3) An inclination to marry attends a natural inclination to preserve and protect life since, in the nature of our human living, there tends to exist desires that are inclined to marriage and the raising of a family (although, admittedly, this is a desire that does not obligate any given individual but, instead, persons who live together in community. The obligation falls on the human community and not on the single persons. The making of stable marriage commitments and the raising of a family impose numerous obligations although it is argued that the experience of trials and difficulties can lead to levels of maturation which point to growth in love (its gradual deepening). (4) A natural inclination to know the truth grounds our natural desire to ask questions and engage in various activities that would want to lead to a growth in our human understanding. We never engage in inquiry without some kind of prior knowledge. But, without entering into inquiry and asking questions, we will impede changes which could possibly occur in ourselves. We will not grow in our humanity. This inclination to know the truth of things and then to know the reality of things is expressed in a cognitive manner which leads to greater understanding and wisdom and it is also expressed in the context of the moral life where, through the virtue of prudent judgment, we can find a rational mean which exists between two extremes. Virtue lies in the middle way: between that which is excessive and that which is privative. The mean of reason determines the wisdom of an anticipated possible act and it also determines an option or a possible way of responding to a situation which was previously not known or imagined. (5) A natural inclination to live in society indicates to us the fact that we exist as “social animals.” Aristotle had argued that, as human beings, if we reject this precept, either we live as animals or we live as gods. This natural desire to live in society accordingly leads to a positive understanding of political life. It is not something that we are forced to do as if it exists as some kind of lesser evil but, instead, if we appreciate all the goods that can come through us through living a good political life, we can appreciate the virtues of citizenship for what they are and not as burdens that we must somehow accept and tolerate. On the basis of an understanding of self that knows about our social nature, it is an easy step to move into a philosophy and also a theology of friendship. A good friend is someone who helps you to live a virtuous life. One cannot have true friendships among gangsters. A utilitarian approach to life does not jive with friendships that value other persons for who and what they are as human beings. In the life of the Church, we have friendships which are informed by the supernatural habit of charity. Through charity, it is perhaps possible to find good ways to live with persons that one would not otherwise live with. In the apprehension of natural law as a principle which should guide our lives, we need to move from external apprehensions of this law to its internal appropriation and the fruitfulness of this appropriation. What is handed on to us becomes part of our intellectual and moral furniture and, from its transcendental, transcultural character, we have a point of departure for enlargements of being that can be possibly given to us. Because this law has been implanted into the fabric of our being, it can serve as a point of reference and as something that points to the beliefs of our religious faith while being something too that can be joined and raised by our religious faith in a manner which takes us beyond our present level of functioning into a way of life that is exemplified by how we can become temples of the Holy Spirit. God, in his life, has begun to live within us and we begin to accomplish works that we would not otherwise be able to do.

A question about evil and the intrinsic independence of the human intellectual, rational, and volitional spirit from the empirical residue. But only a question.


by Dr. David Fleischacker

For those who are interested, I have been continuing to work on the topic of my last blogs regarding the male and female.  I am exploring the neurobiology of the brain and its differentation into the male and female orders. It is complicated as you can imagine, and I am waiting for some insights that pull much of it together.  But because it has been some time since I last posted, I thought I would pose another question that I am currently pursuing as well.

Here it is: Does the evil caused by the sin of the human person who is extrinsically dependent but intrinsically independent of the empirical residue transfer its dialectical disorder to the material world?  Does, for example, the knife used by the murderer come to be in a violation of emergent probability when the murderer uses it to murder a victim?

Let me explain the question a bit. Hopefully you are familiar with some traditional thoughts about the nature of evil, such as the affirmation that evil is a “privation of being” or a “privation of the good.”  It lacks intelligiblity.  It is a distortion of a good and is not an intrinsic substance nor does it have any “being.”  (It can be a privation of order that should be.)

The question I pose seeks an insight into the relationship between evil, the spiritual, and the material as these are articulated in INSIGHT. In INSIGHT, Lonergan presents the material as that which is intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue.  The spiritual is intrinsically independent from the empirical residue.  The human being however is both material and spiritual. As spiritual, the independence from the empirical residue is understood by examining the “notion of being” or to use the language of METHOD IN THEOLOGY, the ‘transcendental notions’–intelligibility, being, and value.  The notion of being makes it possible to abstract intelligibilities and truths from the empirical residue (thus these are intrinsically independent of space and time, of the continuum, etc..), even though judgments of facts are concrete (some philosophers/theologians have thus called these concrete universals because they deal with specific realities and acts of being). One could say the same about judgments of value–these too are intrinsically independent of the empirical residue even if these are concrete as well.

Though the human spirit is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue, it is extrinsically dependent upon that which is intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue, namely our material psychic and organic schemes of recurrence and schemes of development. One grasps this dependence when understanding the relationship between

  • the image (phantasm) and insight, or
  • the symbolic element in gathering evidence for judgments of the correctness of insights or judgments of fact, or
  • the symbols and affects involved in judgments of value or the good.

Images, symbols, and affects are intrinsically conditioned by the empirical residue.

The question at hand becomes more challenging when we point out the relationship between evil and emergent probability. The coming into being or the elimination from being of a central act or conjugate act is not necessarily a privation, but can be an absence.  If emergent probability can explain the absence or elimination of these acts, then this is no evil.  If evil has meaning, it must be something that actually violates generalized emergent probability and thus falls into the realm of absurdity. This violation would be the meaning of “privation.”

So, where do we find such privations?  In INSIGHT, arguably, the only “real” evil is that which falls under dialectic, because dialectic has introduced an absurdity into the unfolding finality of the human operator.  Generalized emergent probability is violated when there is a failure to pursue the “notion of being” as one should.  Put into the language of METHOD IN THEOLOGY, whenever there is a violation of the transcendental precepts, there is a real privation that takes place. Evil that is ultimately evil arises from the spiritual and only from the spiritual (that which is intrinsically independent of the empirical residue).

As a note, that which is intrinsically dependent upon the empirical residue, namely the material, cannot initiate a violation of emergent probability because it simply does not have the degree of freedom needed to do so. (this is another argument I suppose, but it is rooted upon the need to have this intrinsic independence from the empirical residue, otherwise what emerges always is explained within emergent probability).

Thus, the human person, as spiritual, can initiate an act of evil that is a real violation of the emergent probability. This is “sin.” So, to repeat the question stated at the beginning,

Does the sin of the human person who is extrinsically dependent but intrinsically independent of the empirical residue transfer its dialectical disorder to the material world?  Does, for example, the knife used by the murderer come to be in a violation of emergent probability when the murderer uses it to murder a victim?

An older manner of posing this question is whether physical evils are actually evils in the end (such as natural disasters)?  Can material disruptions and destructions or absences ever be “privations of being or the good” even when these are “caused” by the human person? Or to put this another way, do these “material disruptions” point to genuine evil caused by the spiritual or do these actually participate in the evil caused by that which is spiritual, and hence violate emergent probability?

By the way, the answer to this question has some interesting ramifications for those interested in whether there exists conversions ontologically below the intellectual (eg. affective, neural conversions).

At this point, I only want to raise the question.  I think one could argue that there is a potential that some of that which we call physical evil is itself a violation of emergent probability, however one must turn to a doctrine such as the Fall in original sin to begin exploring that possibility, because then one moves to a spiritual initiation of a larger absence within the whole emergent order of the universe.