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.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 23--The Fundamental and Concrete are Joined at the Hip

IN ONE SENSE IT IS PERFECTLY LEGITIMATE to talk about fundamental choice, and in another sense that notion is fraught with error. Christ himself is a fundamental choice for mankind. The Scriptures themselves, the entire Christian kerygma, the entire burden of the Gospel acclamation is that Christ presents himself and forces upon his listeners a fundamental, primordial, elementary proposition: "Who do you say that I am?" (Mark 8:29). We are going to have to say that Christ is Elijah, or John, or someone or something else, or we are going to have to respond like the Apostle St. Peter: "You are Christ, Son of the Living God!" or like St. Thomas the Apostle, "My Lord and my God!" (Matthew 16:16; John 20:28)

Tu es Christus Filius Dei vivi!

Dominus meus et Deus meus!

To utter those words with concomitant internal assent is to accept grace upon grace: and it represents a watershed difference in the life of any man: a B.C. and A.D. moment. The history of every man is divided before Christ and after Christ. Nothing is more fundamental than how we answer to the Incarnate Word, Jesus.

The acceptance of Christ as the Son of God, as the Incarnate Word of God, as the "I am" who was before Abraham, and who did not grasp at equality with God, but who became man for our sakes and like us in all things but sin is more than a theoretical or intellectual endeavor. It is equally a practical or moral endeavor. Christ does not only ask, "Who do you say that I am?" Christ also commands, "Come, follow me!" Veni! Sequere me!

Our openness to the invitation of Christ--Veni! "Come!"--and our decision upon that invitation to obey the command in faith--Sequere me! "Follow me!"--is exactly that for which human freedom was designed.

Jesus' call to "come, follow me" marks the greatest possible exaltation of human freedom, yet at the same time it witnesses to the truth and to the obligation of acts of faith and of decisions which can be described as involving a fundamental option.

VS, 66.* There is thus a valid way in which we can say that man is fundamentally free, and that this fundamental freedom is what is most legitimately expressed and in fact confirmed in the decision to follow Christ. But the exercise of this freedom in following Christ is accompanied by warnings regarding specific, concrete, "categorical" behavior:
We find a similar exaltation of human freedom in the words of Saint Paul: "You were called to freedom, brethren" (Gal 5:13). But the Apostle immediately adds a grave warning: "Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh". This warning echoes his earlier words: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1). Paul encourages us to be watchful, because freedom is always threatened by slavery. And this is precisely the case when an act of faith — in the sense of a fundamental option — becomes separated from the choice of particular acts, as in the tendencies mentioned above.
VS, 66.

Chang and Eng Bunker
Like the Siamese Twins, the fundamental option for Christ
cannot be separated from concrete, particular acts

It is therefore fundamental and egregious error to separate the act of faith--the fundamental option, as it were, of following Christ--from the concrete, particular, day-to-day acts. It is not only part that must follow Christ--that is the lesson of the rich young ruler who turned from Christ in sorrow--it is the entirety of man, inside and outside, body and soul, internal forum and external forum, which follows Christ. "To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behavior means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul." VS, 67. The fundamental and the concrete are joined at the hip, so to speak.

Indeed, particular, concrete, or "categorical" acts (if they involve morally grave matters) can revoke the fundamental option of following Christ:

It thus needs to be stated that the so-called fundamental option, to the extent that it is distinct from a generic intention and hence one not yet determined in such a way that freedom is obligated, is always brought into play through conscious and free decisions. Precisely for this reason, it is revoked when man engages his freedom in conscious decisions to the contrary, with regard to morally grave matter.

VS, 67.

Not only does the separation of one's "fundamental option" from the "particular acts" divide the unity of man--making him, as we suggested in our prior post, into a sort of "onion" with layers, where the internal core is unaffected by the outer shell. But it does injustice to the reflection behind the acts of man and the significance of his day-to-day affairs. It makes life on earth unimportant in achieving our end.
A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man's acting and in each of his deliberate decisions.
VS, 67.

Additionally, separating the "fundamental option" from the particular act also misunderstands the entire moral formula, making morality something almost entirely involved with the noumenon, having nothing to do with phenomenon. We have here an incipient, if not flagrant, Gnosticism:

[T]he morality of human acts is not deduced only from one's intention, orientation or fundamental option, understood as an intention devoid of a clearly determined binding content or as an intention with no corresponding positive effort to fulfil the different obligations of the moral life. Judgments about morality cannot be made without taking into consideration whether or not the deliberate choice of a specific kind of behavior is in conformity with the dignity and integral vocation of the human person.

VS, 67.

The Christian tradition has always maintained that both intention and act are important: bonum ex integra causa, malum ex quocumque defectu. For something to be good, it must be good both in intent and in act; a defect either in intent or in the act make an action defective. And the Pope, in this part of the encyclical, in no uncertain terms stresses the traditional understanding that both intention and act are important, essential components for an act to be authentically good. However sincere or noble one's intention, one does not perform authentic moral good if one nevertheless does a bad, concrete act.

Pope John Paul II also insists on the distinction between positive moral precepts (which may or may not bind depending upon prudence) and negative moral precepts which bind without exception:
Every choice always implies a reference by the deliberate will to the goods and evils indicated by the natural law as goods to be pursued and evils to be avoided. In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent. But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the "creativity" of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.

VS, 67.

Separating the "fundamental option" from particular, specific, concrete or "categorical" acts not only is doctrinally unsound, it has a great effect upon pastoral practice. If what the proponents of this separation is accepted, then it follows that "an individual could, by virtue of a fundamental option, remain faithful to God independently of whether or not certain of his choices and his acts are in conformity with specific moral norms or rules." We are placed in a situation where a doctor who performs abortions, as a result of a supposed "primordial option for charity," could continue to be seen as "morally good," and could be viewed as persevering in God's grace, and "attain salvation," even when his specific kind of behavior is "deliberately and gravely contrary to God's commandments as set forth by the Church."

But this viewpoint is pastorally false:

In point of fact, man does not suffer perdition only by being unfaithful to that fundamental option whereby he has made "a free self-commitment to God".** With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf. Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses "sanctifying grace", "charity" and "eternal happiness."*** As the Council of Trent teaches, "the grace of justification once received is lost not only by apostasy, by which faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin."†

VS, 68.
*The obedience of faith in free response to the invitation of God, the God with us, Jesus, is remarkably different from the obedience of faith in slavish submission to the Allah of Islam and his prophet Muhammad. The watershed difference is even subtly captured in the names of the religions: Islam--which comes from Arabic الإسلام‎ (al-ʾislām) which means essentially "submission"--versus Christianity--which comes from the Greek word Χριστιανός (christianos), which means "follower of Christ." Muslims are known as "slaves of Allah," ( ‏‏عبيد الله , 'abid Allah), whereas Christians are known as the adopted sons of God (Eph. 1:5) and friends of Christ (John 15:15). Indeed, John 15:15 could not be more striking: "I will not now call you servants [عبيد /'abid]: for the servant knoweth not what his lord doth. But I have called you friends [احباء/ ahba']: because all things whatsoever I have heard of my Father, I have made known to you."
**The encyclical quotes Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, 5, and refers to the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Declaration on Certain Questions regarding Sexual Ethics Persona Humana (December 29,1975),10: AAS 68 (1976), 88-90.
***The encyclical cites to Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhoration Reconciliatio et Paenitentia (December 2,1984),17; AAS 77 (1985), 218-223.
†The Pope cites to Sess. VI, Decree on Justification Cum Hoc Tempore, Chap. 15: DS, 1544; Canon 19: DS, 1569.
1544 [808] Adversus etiam hominum quorumdam callida ingenia, qui 'per dulces sermones et benedictiones seducunt corda innocentium' (Rom 16, 18), asserendum est, non modo infidelitate (can. 27), per quam et ipsa fides amittitur, sed etiam quocumque alio mortali peccato, quamvis non amittatur fides (can. 28), acceptam iustificationis gratiam amitti: divinae legis doctrinam defendendo, quae a regno Dei non solum infideles excludit, sed et fideles quoque 'fornicarios, adulteros, molles, masculorum concubitores, fures, avaros, ebriosos, maledicos, rapaces' (cf. 1 Cor 6,9s), ceterosque omnes, qui letalia committunt peccata, a quibus cum divinae gratiae adiumento abstinere possunt et pro quibus a Christi gratia separantur (can. 27).

Against the crafty genius of certain men also, who "by pleasing speeches and good words seduce the hearts of the innocent" [Rom. 16:18], it must be maintained that the grace of justification, although received, is lost not only by infidelity [can. 27], whereby even faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin, although faith be not lost [can. 28], thereby defending the doctrine of the divine law which excludes from the kingdom of God not only the unbelievers, but also the faithful who are "fornicators, adulterers, effeminate, liers with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, railers, extortioners" [1 Cor. 6:9 ff.], and all others who commit deadly sins, from which with the assistance of divine grace they can refrain and for which they are separated from the grace of God [can. 27].

1569 [829] Can 19. Si quis dixerit, nihil praeceptum esse in Evangelio praeter fidem, cetera esse indifferentia, neque praecepta, neque prohibita, sed libera, aut decem praecepta nihil pertinere ad Christianos: an. s.

Can. 19. If anyone shall say that nothing except faith is commanded in the Gospel, that other things are indifferent, neither commanded nor prohibited, but free, or that the ten commandments in no way pertain to Christians: let him be anathema.

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