Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 28--Intrinsically Evil Acts

HE MORALITY OF THE HUMAN ACT," emphasizes Pope John Paul II, "depends primarily and fundamentally on the 'object' rationally chosen by the deliberate will, as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas." In making that statement, the Pope cites to St. Thomas's work the Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q.18, art. 6.
I answer that, Certain actions are called human, inasmuch as they are voluntary, as stated above (Question 1, Article 1). Now, in a voluntary action, there is a twofold action, viz. the interior action of the will, and the external action: and each of these actions has its object. The end is properly the object of the interior act of the will: while the object of the external action, is that on which the action is brought to bear. Therefore just as the external action takes its species from the object on which it bears; so the interior act of the will takes its species from the end, as from its own proper object.

Now that which is on the part of the will is formal in regard to that which is on the part of the external action: because the will uses the limbs to act as instruments; nor have external actions any measure of morality, save in so far as they are voluntary. Consequently the species of a human act is considered formally with regard to the end, but materially with regard to the object of the external action. Hence the Philosopher says (Ethic. v, 2) that "he who steals that he may commit adultery, is strictly speaking, more adulterer than thief."

Respondeo dicendum quod aliqui actus dicuntur humani, inquantum sunt voluntarii, sicut supra dictum est. In actu autem voluntario invenitur duplex actus, scilicet actus interior voluntatis, et actus exterior, et uterque horum actuum habet suum obiectum. Finis autem proprie est obiectum interioris actus voluntarii, id autem circa quod est actio exterior, est obiectum eius. Sicut igitur actus exterior accipit speciem ab obiecto circa quod est; ita actus interior voluntatis accipit speciem a fine, sicut a proprio obiecto. Ita autem quod est ex parte voluntatis, se habet ut formale ad id quod est ex parte exterioris actus, quia voluntas utitur membris ad agendum, sicut instrumentis; neque actus exteriores habent rationem moralitatis, nisi inquantum sunt voluntarii. Et ideo actus humani species formaliter consideratur secundum finem, materialiter autem secundum obiectum exterioris actus. Unde philosophus dicit, in V Ethic., quod ille qui furatur ut committat adulterium, est, per se loquendo, magis adulter quam fur.

In determining the object of any particular act, a certain projection is required: one must project oneself into the situation of the acting subject. In other words, the analysis is perspectival: "[i]n order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is . . . necessary to place oneself in the perspective of the acting person." VS, 78.

The object of an act is something distinct from its purpose, from the intent behind it, from the consequences which flow from it. The object of the act relates to the "freely chosen kind of behavior." The object "is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person." The behavior itself must be compared to "the order of reason," and, if it is in conformity with the "order of reason," and the intention of the acting subject is good, then "it is the cause of the goodness of the will." The act not only is good, it also "perfects us morally, and disposes us to recognize our ultimate end in the perfect good, primordial love." VS, 78.

Since the object of an act is something that is compared to the "order of reason," an order which we do not ourselves make as it is an objective order ultimately based upon God, it follows that there are certain kinds of behavior whose object is always against the "order of reason," and which are in each and every instance wrong. When St. Paul says that one may not do evil that good may come (Rom. 3:8), St. Paul is saying that intention alone does not define an act; rather, the object of the act, the kind of behavior chosen to implement the intent must also conform to the good. Both intent and object must be good. Hence, as St. Thomas points out: "Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking."* There is, then, no "Robin Hood" exception in traditional morality: one cannot rob (object) the rich to feed the poor (intent). One cannot give false testimony (object) to put a guilty man in jail (intent). One cannot commit prostitution (object) to obtain money to feed one's children (intent). As St. Alphonsus Liguori succinctly states it:
It is not enough to do good works; they need to be done well. For our works to be good and perfect, they must be done for the sole purpose of pleasing God.

Non sufficit opera bona patrare, oportet ea probe patrare. Ut autem opera nostra bona perfectaque sint, necesse est ut illa fiant una mente satisfaciendi Deo.**

The Pope therefore condemns theories that refuse to consider the species of an act, the object of an act, and characterize the goodness or badness of an act without regard to the kind of act involved, but rely entirely on the actor's intent, the consequences of the act, or a combination of both intent and consequence. Teleological theories of ethics--utilitarianism, consequentialism, proportionalism--thus stand condemned as irreconcilable with classical moral thinking.

One must therefore reject the thesis, characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species — its "object" — the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behavior or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

VS, 79.

The moral uprightness of the object of an act, of its species, is determined by reference to the "order of reason," which means by reference to the "very being of man, considered in his integral truth, and therefore in his natural inclinations, his motivations and his finalities, which always have a spiritual dimension as well." VS, 79. In other words, the object or species of an act is measured by "the contents of the natural law," which is equivalent of saying "that ordered complex of 'personal goods' which serve the 'good of the person': the good which is the person himself and his perfection." VS, 79. The Ten Commandments present a good summary of the contents of the natural law. VS, 79.

There are, then acts whose object is always disordered, whose species are, in each and every circumstance, evil intrinsically, and must never be done.
Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" (intrinsece malum): they are such always and per se, in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object."
VS, 79.***

The Pope then gives some examples--some express, some implied, but in any event not intended to be exhaustive--of such intrinsically evil acts--prohibited in all times and all places:
  • Acts which are hostile to life itself: homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, voluntary suicide;
  • Acts which violate the integrity of the human person: mutilation, physical and mental torture, attempts to coerce the spirit (forced conversions); use of artificial contraception, homosexuality, adultery;
  • Acts which offend human dignity: forcing a person to accept subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, trafficking in women and children, treating humans as if they were mere instruments of profit, and subjecting them to degrading conditions of work;
  • Acts which are unjust to God: idolatry, blasphemy.
VS, 80-81.

No good intention, no circumstance, no alleged good that may be derived thereby--nothing--excuses or justifies the undertaking of an intrinsically evil act:

If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain "irremediably" evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. . . . Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act "subjectively" good or defensible as a choice.

VS, 81.

There are such things as intrinsically evil acts. Their existence is true. Their denial involves a rejection of man's created nature, of the truth of who man is. More, they involve the rejection of Jesus Christ, the Truth incarnate, who displayed in himself, the truth of man and the Truth of God, and who promised man that he would know the Truth, including the Truth about evil. The Christ who promised man the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, of Truth that would set him free, that would allow man to "interiorize the law, to receive it and to live it as the motivating force of true personal freedom, 'the perfect law, the law of liberty.'" VS, 83 (citing James 1:25).
*The Pope quotes St. Thomas's In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta. De Dilectione Dei: Opuscula Theologica, II, No. 1168.
**VS, 78. The Pope cites to St. Alphonsus Liguori's work The Practice of Loving Jesus Christ, VII, 3.
***The quotation is from the Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation R
econciliatio et Paenitentia (December 2, 1984), 17: AAS 77 (1985), 221, but reference is also made to Paul VI, Address to Members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, (September 1967): AAS 59 (1967), 962: "Far be it from Christians to be led to embrace another opinion, as if the Council taught that nowadays some things are permitted which the Church had previously declared intrinsically evil. Who does not see in this the rise of a depraved moral relativism, one that clearly endangers the Church's entire doctrinal heritage?"

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