Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Interview with Fr. Hugh Barbour

I need to find his short article on probabilism. Edit. Looks like that article is no longer available.

From his review of Morality of Everyday Life:

Another error that is more to the point regards the characterization of Saint Alphonsus’ moral teaching as “probabilism.” Quite precisely, his theory is called “aequiprobabilism.” This school of casuistry holds that the opinion favoring liberty over law may be followed if it is intrinsically probable, all things being equal. This last condition means that, in cases where there is question of the cessation of a law that has already been in force, the opinion favors the law even if the other opinion has probability, but, when there is question of the law having yet come into force, the opinion favors liberty. The simple probabilist holds that any truly probable opinion may be followed, even if an opposing opinion may be more probable. An aequiprobabilist holds the same view but gives greater weight to laws already presumably in force. In casuistic practice, however, these views are merely useful for persuading the penitent, because the confessor may not impose his theory’s resolution of the moral case in question on the penitent, if there exists another view not condemned by authority. In reality, the only two systems of moral evaluation condemned have been rigorism (as in the case of the Jansenists) and laxism (as in the case of some Jesuits), so all the others are practically probable and certainly licit. The Q.E.D. is that the probabilist view wins out, if the penitent wants it to and the confessor keeps within the bounds of his authority. The Thomist Dominic Pruemmer explains in his classic Vademecum:

If one prescinds from rigorism and laxism, each of the systems described is tolerated by the Church, and so the confessor has no right to impose his system on the penitent, or strictly require anything of the penitent which he is not bound to do according to the approach of another legitimate system. Thus the confessor may prudently counsel safer or more probable opinions, but he cannot strictly impose them (that is, in preference to merely probable ones). In practice let him choose those opinions which, considering all the circumstances, he foresees will produce the best fruit for the spiritual health of the penitent.

Thus, Dr. Fleming’s intuition is fundamentally sound: Probabilism, which favors liberty because of a respect for circumstances, is the default system of classical Roman Catholic casuistry. Even so, it is not Roman Catholic casuistry he is promoting but rather a return to any casuistic system at all (including Talmudic or Caroline) within the traditions that have made up our society, for such systems by their very nature harmonize with life as it is actually lived and use morality to preserve and strengthen rather than to break down and overturn ties of blood and soil and common endeavor. Apart from those few things one may never do under any circumstances—such as blaspheme, murder the innocent, commit unnatural acts, or steal from a man poorer than oneself—it is almost impossible to indicate specific acts that must always be done regardless of circumstances. For this reason, then, there must be casuistry, since the possibilities for doing good are literally infinite.

For every manual of casuistry, there needs to be a speculative presentation of general principles. Otherwise, the ethics inculcated may be merely a kind of positivistic integralism, a “this is the way its always been, so don’t ask questions” attitude, unable to defend itself from the critical and revolutionary spirit. This companion volume to The Morality of Everyday Life has yet to be written, but here the reviewer dares to present a suggestion as to what its overarching, unifying insight should be. The exposition of nominalism in the sixth chapter points in the direction of the deepest level of moral reasoning. Whereas Dr. Fleming’s interpretation and application of the genesis of the notion of individualism is not one to which I would subscribe, this is the one place in the book where he brushes up against the larger philosophical issue underlying any account of the morality of human acts and transcending any given instance of moral reasoning.

But is the speculative presentation of general principles by St. Alphonsus the same as that of St. Thomas Aquinas? Apparently not, according to Fr. Pinckaers...

Fr. Pinckaers on St. Thomas and St. Alphonsus Liguori

"Dominican Moral Theology in the 20th Century," The Pinckaers Reader, 77-8.

Father Deman, who succeeded Father Ramirez from 1945 to 1954, is of special interest to us because of his lengthy and excellent article on probabilism, which appeared in 1936.(1) There he makes a penetrating critical and systematic study of moral casuistry. He describes the controversy which had centered on probabilism since the seventeenth century in response to the problem of a doubtful conscience in the application of the law, and which ended in the recommendation of the teachings of St. Alphonsus Liguori. The latter became the patron saint of moral theologians because of his balance, which avoids the laxity of the casuists and the rigor of the Jansenists. However, Father Deman concludes his study on St. Alphonsus and on the concept of moral theology, of which he is the eminent representative, in these words:

Between St. Alphonsus and St. Thomas there remains the lack of harmony of two irreconcilable systems. Every attempt at reconciliation is doomed to concordism, that is to say, to artifice, that is to say, to failure. The historical reality of their misunderstanding cannot be denied.(2)
This judgement seems to me entirely justified. Between St. Thomas and St. Alphonsus and the authors of the manuals, even when they follow the Thomistic school, it is certainly possible to find some partial agreements, but there is always a fundamental lack of harmony at the level of systematization, all the more difficult to resolve when it is not perceived. In St. Thomas we are dealing with a morality of beatitude and the virtues, centering around charity and prudence, and with our modern moralists, with commandments and legal obligations, focusing on conscience and sins.

1. "Probabilisme," Dictionnaire de la theologie catholique, vol. 13 (1936), col. 417-619.
2. Ibid., col. 590.

Can the two systems of moral theology be harmonized? Not fully, according to Fr. Pinckaers. The precepts of the modern moralists, the casuistry and development of conscience, might be able to be integrated into a more "classical" system of moral theology, but its foundations or presuppositions about the Christian moral life cannot be.

Conscience, as it is understood by moderns, is not the same as prudence, and it cannot replace prudence, but is it a "part" of prudence? Does the development of conscience in accordance with the modern manuals truncate the development of prudence, and by extension, the Christian spiritual life? It seems to me that Fr. Pinckaers would agree with this conclusion, though I have to read what he writes about "modern" conscience.

Fr. Corapi on femininity

Fr. Corapi, in one of his EWTN episodes (I don't know which one -- I was listening to the audio version on a Catholic radio station) claimed that he was a true Catholic feminist, in that he affirmed the value of femininity and its difference from masculinity, and recognized that men and women have differences which impact their lives (and vocations). I don't know if he was using the Von Hildebrands as a source, but he went on to explain that women are by their nature "receptive." (I mention the Von Hildebrands, especially Alice Von Hildebrand, because the first time I heard someone talk about receptivity it was from Alice Von Hildebrand, who was contradistinguishing it from passivity.) As a result, they are more receptive to the divine -- hence, there were more women to be seen in Church.

It seems to me that the complete definition of female must refer to the male, even if only implicitly, since male and female are complementary with respect to the sex act, first of all. It also seems to me that all other roles and differences are founded upon this fundamental difference in function.

Women are receptive with respect to the activity of men (specifically their husbands, but also with respect to their fathers) -- being led and reassured, and so on. Women also reach out to others, including their husbands, but not quite in the same way. Women have both active potentialities and passive potentialities in their relationships with men, but in a healthy relationship they are not the same or identical to the potentialities that men have. (When men and women have the same set of potentialities, or if they are reversed, with women having what is proper to men and vice versa, problems arise.)

I think it is problematic to say that women are "receptive" by their very nature, as if other creatures are not receptive -- after all, all creatures have some potentiality, and all intellectual creatures have the obediential potency to the Beatific Vision. Angels are receptive just as human beings are, in this respect. Men are just as receptive as women to grace and the infused gifts. Men can be as "spritual" as women, since all are dependent upon God.

Is yin-yang "theory" wrong, abstracting what belongs to male and female, essentializing these characteristics, turn then into cosmic principles? While there may be opposition in the universe, even opposition that is reducible to a fundamental pair of forces or elements, it seems to me that yin-yang theory is too univocal in ascribing to everything shares in a "masculine" and a "feminine" principle. Is it possible that even asexual things can be called "masculine" or "feminine" by analogy?

Now with respect to the spiritual life and Christian education, are girls more docile than boys? Are they able to benefit more from guidance by others, the frail human instruments of God's Providence? Is it the case that boys cannot be taught as well, or that men do not benefit as much from religious education when they are young and undisciplined and have not learned how to master their energy? Are there other obstacles to the spiritual formation of men that are not present for women generally? (For example, bad liturgical music and a lot of emphasis on feelings in spirituality and worship?)

Begun on September 15, 2009.