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.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Duns Scotus: Supernaturally and Morally Indifferent Acts

FOR SCOTUS THE MORALLY GOOD ACT is one which is comely, fitting, harmonious. In terms of natural morality, the act has to be generically good, a good which is defined by the object of the act itself, as distinguished from other specific circumstances. The only absolutely generic good that is by definition good in all circumstances is God: there are not limits or circumstances under which act act of the love of God would not be a moral good. It is a generically, specifically, and supernaturally meritorious good all wrapped into one. It is the heart of all morality: Deus est diligendus!

All other acts outside of the love of God are relatively good: they are good depending upon the circumstances. As we have seen in our last posting, the morally good act is one in which the generic good is fittingly applied, under the rule of right reason or the virtue of prudence or other virtue (which is a sort of practiced or habitual reason), to the circumstances. This is "natural" goodness, not in the sense of being moved by an affectio commodi, but in the sense of not yet being supernatural. A moral act inspired by the affectio justitiae is not yet supernaturally meritworthy. A third component of a moral act involves the issue of supernatural merit, supernatural reward, and these involved morally good acts performed in a state of grace under the influence of the virtue of charity or love of God. Scotus clearly sees human activity in three levels, each of which includes an additional feature: wholly natural and pre-moral (ontological goodness), moral (the addition of intellect and free will), and supernatural (the addition of grace). For Scotus, therefore, an act can be naturally good and yet morally or supernaturally indifferent. An act can be both naturally and morally good, and yet supernaturally indifferent. Finally, and act can be naturally, morally, and supernaturally good, in which case there no indifferency on any level.

Blessed John Duns Scotus (miniature)

In terms of moral good that is also supernaturally good, i.e., meritorious: these seem to be particularly defined by the end. These acts must be referred to an end, namely, God, and must be motivated by charity, and must be accomplished while in a state of grace. In terms of one's reference to God, meritorious acts arise from a "relationship to an end that ought to be there, a relationship that stems from the existence of charity in the agent." Ordinatio II, dist. 41 (Wolter, 179).

Scotus distinguishes three ways in which an act may referred through charity to God: actual, virtual, or habitual:

Now, an act can be referred through charity to its end in three ways: (1) Actually, as in the case where one is actually thinking of the end and loving it. (2) Virtually, which is the case when from a knowledge and love of the end one has come to will this means to an end--for example, for a knowledge and love of God in the higher portion of the soul, the lower portion considers some act, for instance, of penance, and afterwards carries out such an act voluntarily, but does not refer it to the end because at that time one is not actually thinking of our loving the end. (3) Habitually--for instance, every act, able to be referred to the end so long as charity (which is the basis for the referral) remains, may be said to be habitually referred to the end.

Ordinatio II, dist. 41 (Wolter, 179).

There are, in addition, three ways in which an act may not be referred to its end. In other words, there are three ways in which the referral to an end of an act may be severed:

One [way in which an act is not referred to its end] would be in an absolutely negative way, because it [the act] is not referred either actually or virtually [, but only habitually or not at all]. Another way is privatively, because it is not suited by nature to be referred, as would be the case with a venial sin, for though it could coexist with charity, it is not suited by nature to be referred to such an end by means of charity. A third way [in which an act may not be referred to its end] would be contrarily, namely, where the act [itself] destroys the principle of reference, namely, charity, as would be the case where the act is mortally sinful.

Ordinatio II, dist. 41 (Wolter, 179-80)

In assessing these various manners in which an act may be referenced to God through charity, or in which that reference may be severed, Scotus provides these conclusions:

A venial sin, that is an act that, of itself, is not suited to being referred to God, and a fortiori a mortal sin, that is an act which in its very nature destroys the reference to God because it contradicts charity, are evil. For example, one could never intentionally kill an innocent person and claim that it is meritorious. The very act itself is unable to be referenced to God because it contradicts the principle of charity.

Acts that are neither venially or mortally sinful, on the other hand, may be meritorious if they are at least virtually referred to God under the activity of charity. In other words, a good act either actually or virtually referred to God in a state of grace is meritorious. If the act is actually referred to God, it is certainly meritorious. If the act is only virtually referred to God it is probable that it is meritorious.

The same cannot be said for good acts that are neither virtually nor actually referred to God, but are moved by unthinking, unreflective habit. In such instances, "it is doubtful whether such an act is meritorious or venially sinful (for it cannot be mortally sinful) or whether such an act is just indifferent." Scotus believes that the better answer is that these sorts of acts are indifferent:
[I]t seems probably that we should assume such [objectively good] acts [moved by habit, or unthinkingly] to be indifferent because they do not seem to be sufficiently malicious to be venial sins, since it is possible that there is nothing disorderly about them to make them sins. For man is not bound, either under pain of mortal sin or under pain of the lesser venial sin, to always refer his action to God either actually or virtually, because God does not oblige us to do this. But neither does there seem to be sufficient goodness in these acts for them to be meritorious, since it seems unlikely that any relation less than a virtual reference would suffice for merit.
Ordinatio II, dist. 41 (Wolter, 180) Scotus notes that this view seems more reasonable than the other options; otherwise, someone who is entirely unreflective and in a state of grace would either be always sinning venially, since there are many acts that are done without actual or virtual reference to God, or he would be always meriting. Neither of these options seem to make much sense to Scotus.

Acts can therefore be indifferent in the supernatural order of merit or demerit, and yet not be morally indifferent. However, the same principles may apply with respect to wholly non-supernatural moral acts, that is acts that are the result of a freely-elicited act of will, but not under the mantle of grace or motivated by charity, i.e., the love of God. Additionally, one may have morally indifferent acts even outside of the "nonhuman acts" or acts of man, acts which are involuntary or entirely unreflective and un-elicited, "such as stroking the beard or brushing of a bit of straw and suchlike." In such instances, for example, one could do an act without any actual or virtual reference to right reason or prudence or other virtue. If an act is elicited either without actual or virtual reference to reason, say, out of mere habit, then it is morally indifferent. A morally good act, then, requires either actual or at least virtual advertence to reason or to prudence. An act may be naturally good, without it being morally good, if it is not at least virtually referring to right reason or prudence.

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