Saturday, March 03, 2007

Bishop Fisher on Conscience and Authority

Bishop Fisher on Conscience and Authority

"Struggling to Recover a Catholic Sense"

VATICAN CITY, MARCH 3, 2007 ( Here is the text Auxiliary Bishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney, Australia, delivered at the conference sponsored by the Pontifical Academy for Life and held in the Vatican last Friday and Saturday. The theme of the conference was "The Christian Conscience in Support of the Right to Life."

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The moral conscience in ethics and the contemporary crisis of authority

1. The voice of conscience
1.1 What conscience is not

It might scandalize you to hear that I keep a lady in my car to instruct me on which way to go in life. "In three kilometers turn left," she commands. "Turn around," she pleads. "Coming up, on your right, you have arrived," she advises. She is, of course, a global positioning satellite navigator and I would be lost without her calm voice telling me where to go. She can be wrong at times, due to mechanical faults or wrong information. Sometimes I ignore her or switch her off. But usually I obey her; and if I don't I am usually sorry later.

In lots of ways conscience might seem to function like my satellite navigator and so we might call her Conscientia. Though I will argue that conscience is not like a satellite navigator, many people think it is a sort of angelic voice distinct from our own reasoning which comes, as it were, from outside us, even if we hear it in our heart; it is generally trustworthy, but we must decide to obey it or not. There is more than a hint of this at several points in our theological tradition. But whatever these texts mean, they clearly do not mean a divine or diabolical voice intrudes into our ordinary reasoning processes, commanding or complaining, a rival with our own moral thinking. If we experience such voices we should probably see a doctor or an exorcist! Were conscience really a voice from outside our reasoning it would play no part in philosophy and there might be some kind of double truth in the moral sphere.

Late scholastic voluntarism and post-scholastic legalism took moral theology down just such a blind alley. Magisterium became the satellite navigator and the role of conscience was to hear, interpret and obey. Many contemporary theologians and pastors are heirs to this. For some the solution to the crisis of moral authority is to keep calling for submission to the navigator. Moral tax lawyers, on the other hand, try to find ways around the moral law, or ways to "sail as close to the wind as possible" without actually breaking the moral law. Can you do a little bit of abortion or embryo experimentation or euthanasia without breaking the moral law? Can we reclassify some of it as something else and thereby avoid the law? What both approaches have in common with the late schoolmen is a view of the magisterium as a voice external to conscience which commands things to which conscience is not naturally disposed.

In my written paper I trace what became of conscience in liberal modernity. By the 1960s it meant something like strong feeling, intuition or sincere opinion. To appeal to conscience was to foreclose all further discussion and to claim immunity to reasoned argument or the moral law. "Follow your conscience" came to be code for pursuing personal preferences over and against Church teaching, especially in sexuality, bioethics, remarriage and communion. Conscience was now the highest court of appeal: it had "primacy" or infallibility. Sophisticated consciences yielded judgments in accord with the New York Times rather than L'Osservatore Romano. Conscience became, as the then-Cardinal Ratzinger put it, "a cloak thrown over human subjectivity, allowing man to … hide from reality."

1.2 What conscience is: a little history

In my written paper I trace the origins of the Christian conception of conscience in the universal experience of agency and the Old and New Testaments, especially in Pauline literature, and thereafter in the Fathers and the scholastics. While the concept of conscience played only a minor role in Aquinas' moral theory, in the early modern period it was "hoisted to new heights" and a whole, lengthy tract devoted to it in the manuals, with practical reason and prudence accordingly diminished. Soon "all roads, in the moral world, led to conscience."

Conscience featured especially often in the documents of the Second Vatican Council. The Council declared that:

-- all are bound to seek, embrace and live the truth faithfully;
-- conscience is experienced as an inner sanctuary or tribunal, rather than something external, yet it mediates a universal and objective moral law which is given rather than invented;

-- conscience summons us to seek good and avoid evil by loving God and neighbor, by keeping the commandments and all universal norms of morality;

-- conscience is common to all human beings, not just Christians, and it is the very dignity of man, a dignity the Gospel protects;

-- we will be judged according to how we formed and followed our conscience;

-- the moral law and the particular judgments of conscience bind the human person;

-- agents may experience anxiety, contradictions and imbalances in conscience; and conscience may err out of "invincible ignorance" or by being blamefully corrupted;

-- claims of personal freedom or of obedience to civil laws or superiors do not excuse a failure to abide by the universal principles of good conscience;

-- conscience must be properly formed and educated by ensuring it is "dutifully conformed to the divine law and submissive toward the Church's teaching office, which authentically interprets that law in the light of the Gospel"; and

-- freedom of conscience, especially in religious matters, must be respected by civil authorities and people not be coerced into any religious practice.

1.3 Three acts of conscience

The Catechism distinguishes three acts or dimensions of conscience: the perception of the principles of morality; their application in the given circumstances by practical discernment of reasons and goods; and finally, judgment about concrete acts yet to be performed or already performed. These require a little unpacking.

The first act of the conscience identified in the Catechism with synderesis is what I call Conscience-1. In my written paper I identify texts from Paul, Aquinas, Newman and Vatican II which propose a very high -- even romanticized -- doctrine of Conscience-1 as a voice or vicar or sanctuary of God. These authors presume a long tradition of reflection on "the first principles of the natural law": basic principles of practical reason accessible to all people of good will and right reason. Because of their "givenness" these principles provide us with bases both for self-criticism and for social criticism. Far from being a cause for the subjectivism of those who think conscience means "doing my own thing" or the relativism of those who think it means "doing what the group does," Conscience-1 is actually the beginning of an antidote to these.

Conscience-2 is the application of principles to given circumstances "by practical discernment of reasons and goods." This requires certain habits of mind and will, especially prudence in deliberation. In the process of deliberation the mind often faces temptations, dilemmas, confusion and apparent conflicts with the teachings of the magisterium. Conscience must therefore be both well-formed and well-informed.

Conscience-3 is our best judgment of what to do or refrain from doing in the here and now (or in the past). St. Thomas mostly used the word in this sense. Conscience-3 is only worthy of respect when it can bite, that is when it can tell us to do what we might otherwise be disinclined to do, or vice versa, or give us cause for remorse. Once again, there is plenty of ground for error here. Thus while insisting that we must follow our last, best judgment of conscience as the proximate norm of action, St. Thomas wrote a great deal about how we might ensure such a judgment is reliable. He would, I think, have been bewildered by contemporary talk of the 'primacy' of conscience or of any intellective operation. Just as the value of memory is in remembering accurately, so the value of conscience, for Thomas, is in yielding the right choice. Truth always had primacy for him.

The Catholic view of conscience presupposes an optimistic view of human capacities to discern the good, even after the Fall. But if conscience is reduced from objective principles to subjective sincerity or from shared principles to private ones, it is hard to see why we would take people's consciences so seriously. Too often in recent years those desperate for moral education or advice have been fobbed off with "follow your conscience" or indulged with "do what you think is best." Too often human rights documents have become weapons against the rights of some people. Without shared objective principles, "conscientious" belief becomes window-dressing for raw preference or power and we have no way of knowing whether our conscience is well-formed or not, well-functioning or not, accurate or disastrously off-course.

1.4 The authority of conscience

Thus when Vatican II uses the term conscience 52 times and its Catechism also, both texts presume a long history and complex content not necessarily shared by users of the word conscience or spokesmen for the Council's "spirit." Nor does the phrase "primacy of conscience" appear anywhere in the Council's texts. On the contrary, the word conscience is always qualified with adjectives such as "right," "upright," "correct," "well-formed," or "Christian" -- allowing, by implication, that not a few consciences are confused, deformed or otherwise misleading. So some other standard (by which conscience is judged) has "primacy.' The Council pointed out that conscience often goes wrong, sometimes "invincibly" (i.e. by no fault of the agent and so without losing its dignity), but at other times "voluntarily" (i.e. due to negligence or vice, in which case conscience is degraded). Conscience, like any intellectual ability, can err because the human mind can be more or less mature, experienced, trained, healthy, sophisticated, imaginative, prudent, integrated with passion, etc. Conscience is only right conscience when it accurately mediates and applies that natural law which participates in the divine law; it is erroneous when it does not. Thus, as I suggested earlier, it may be more helpful to think of conscience as a verb (a doing word), describing the human mind thinking practically towards good or godly choices, rather than reifying it as a noun, a faculty or voice with divine qualities.

Despite the tendency of conscience to error, the Church maintains its high view of the dignity of conscience. From this several things follow:

-- that we must do our best to cultivate a well-formed and well-informed conscience in ourselves and those we influence;

-- that we must take responsibility for our actions and thus always seek seriously to discern what is the right choice to make;

-- that we should seek to resolve doubt rather than act upon it;

-- that we must follow the last and best judgment of our conscience even if, unbeknownst to us, it is objectively in error;

-- that we must do so in all humility, aware that our choice may be wrong and so be ready, if we later realize it is, to repent and start afresh; and

-- that we should avoid coercing people's consciences: People should if possible be persuaded rather than forced to live well and so be given a certain latitude.

Such reverence for persons and their consciences is perfectly consistent with denying that conscience is infallible or has "primacy" over truth or faith or the teachings of Christ and his Church. As we will see, the magisterium seeks to enable conscience to achieve a more reliable mediation and application of moral truth: It is always objective moral truth that has primacy and only this which can be infallibly true.

2. The voice of the magisterium
2.1 What is "magisterium"?

The teaching authority of the Church, restating or unfolding the implications of Christ's teaching is called "magisterium." In my written paper I trace some of the history of and theological warrant for this idea. Interestingly Jesus' departing promise to be with his Church to the end of time was attached to a charge not to teach the nations Christology or Soteriology or even Fundamental Moral Theology, but to teach them his commandments! By the time of Vatican II the Church could assert that Christ's faithful ought to give the unconditional obedience of faith (obsequium fidei) to all that it proposes as certainly true and could express several ways in which this magisterium is operationalized infallibly.

Of course to say that the Church is infallible in certain situations is not to say that it is omniscient or inerrant in everything it says and does. In addition to infallible magisterial teaching there are the much more common pronouncements of various Church bodies or leaders proposed with a lesser degree of authority or more tentatively. Such teachings must be taken very seriously by believers out of respect for the Church as an inspired teacher; but they do not command the unconditional "obedience of faith," only some degree of "religious assent." What degree depends upon who teaches and when and how. When a person's own reasons against a particular non-infallible teaching are so convincing to him that he cannot give an honest interior assent to the teaching, he nonetheless remains a Catholic. On the other hand, it must be recognized that some teachings not yet infallibly defined do in fact belong to the core of our tradition and may well in the future be the object of an infallible determination. If unsure of their own conclusions, believers will therefore be inclined to follow even a non-definitive teaching until such time as they can clarify their own best judgment of what faith and reason require.

2.2 Examples of moral magisterium

In my written paper I argue for several examples of infallible magisterial teaching on moral matters. Given the academy in which we are meeting, it might suffice to recall the three moral "dogmas" to be found in John Paul II's encyclical on bioethics, "Evangelium vitæ." Here he was careful to cite the texts from Vatican II regarding the papal and episcopal magisterium in moral matters, and to use the language of Petrine authority. The clearest exercise of the highest level of papal magisterium was with respect to direct killing of the innocent. John Paul then applied this teaching to abortion and euthanasia, both of which he confirmed were grave moral disorders. Though there are some differences, in each case he claimed the authority of the natural law, the Scriptures and the Tradition, the ordinary and universal magisterium, the disciplinary tradition of the Church, the unanimous agreement of the bishops -- and, now, "the authority which Christ conferred upon Peter and his successors".

2.3 Conscience versus the magisterium after Vatican II

Around the time of Vatican II, Karl Rahner wrote that conscience is the proximate source of moral obligation, and so must be followed even if mistaken; but that we must form our conscience rightly and avoid confusing it with subjective inclination or personal preference. A Catholic must be prepared to accept moral instruction from the Church and never appeal to conscience to make an exception for himself. If we realized that we may very well have to sacrifice everything or lose our soul, then we would not look for exceptions to be made for us from God's law and our confessors would not use evasions like "follow your conscience" when some hard if sensitive teaching were needed. If in our sinful world God's law seems unrealistic, the trouble is not with God's law but with the world!

The early Rahner wrote on the verge of a new age in which Christian ethics faced challenges from many quarters, not least from within the Church. Vatican II sought to restate and update Catholic moral teaching. Though aware of the growing individualism and relativism, the Council seemed optimistic to the point of naïveté about how their words would be received. Many people took up the Council's views on the dignity and liberty of conscience with greater enthusiasm than they did its teaching on the duty to inform conscience and exercise that liberty in accord with moral absolutes known to right reason and proclaimed by the magisterium.

The "crisis of '68" was a crisis at least in part over the meaning of conscience, its implications for decision-making and its relationship to the magisterium. In the 1970s a number of theologians proceeded to deny that the Scriptures, the Tradition and the hierarchy have any "strong" magisterium in moral matters. The "situationists" echoed the contemporary exaltation of human freedom and rejection of appeals to nature, reason, authority or any static, universal or objectivist standards; what mattered, in the end, was whether the person's "heart was in the right place." The "proportionalists" asserted that the role of conscience was to identify and balance upsides and downsides of options and that the Church could propose some "rules of thumb" for this balancing act, but no moral absolutes. Some argued that it was impossible for the Church to teach infallibly in morals; others said that while it could in principle, it never had done so; and both agreed that the ordinary teaching of the Church is "susceptible to error and therefore fallible."

We are all well aware of how thoroughly the 1970s-'80s style of moral thinking filtered down through many of our societies, even if it was rarely dressed up in the highfalutin language of "ontic evils" and "authenticity." In a slightly more sophisticated form it was taught to a generation of priests and lay theology students. It will take some time to recover a more Catholic sense of the role and content of conscience and the magisterium.

3. Conscience in post-modernity
3.1 Rome responds

John Paul II took the opportunity of the 25th anniversary of "Humanæ vitæ" to publish his groundbreaking encyclical "Veritatis splendor." Here he reasserted the teaching of Vatican II that Christ and the Church can, have and do teach definitively in moral matters, and that a well-formed Christian conscience will be informed by such authoritative teaching. Here one ought to proceed with obedience of faith, submitting one's experience, insights and wishes to the judgment of the Gospel, prepared to reform oneself according to the mind of Christ authentically transmitted by the Church. Conscience is indeed the proximate norm of personal morality, but its dignity and authority "derive from the truth about moral good and evil, which it is called to listen to and to express." Sincerity cannot establish the truth of a judgment of conscience and freedom is never freedom from the truth but always and only freedom in the truth. The magisterium does not bring to the conscience truths which are extraneous to it, but serves the Christian conscience by highlighting and clarifying those truths which a well-formed conscience ought already to possess.

In subsequent documents the CDF taught that the magisterium has the task of "discerning, by means of judgments normative for the consciences of believers, those acts which in themselves conform to the demands of faith and foster their expression in life and those acts which, on the contrary, are incompatible with such demands because intrinsically evil." In "Ad tuendam fidem," John Paul II identified three categories of doctrines which I have treated more fully in my written paper. An example of the highest degree of authoritative teaching -- requiring the assent of theological faith by all the faithful -- is "the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being." Examples of the second category of doctrines -- teachings which are "necessary for faithfully keeping and expounding the deposit of faith" to which the faithful must give "firm and definitive assent" lest they fall out of full communion with the Church -- are teachings on the illicitness of euthanasia, prostitution, fornication and presumably abortion. The third class are those teachings on faith and morals presented as true or at least sure, but not solemnly defined or definitively proposed by the magisterium, to which "religious submission of will and intellect" are required. Church teaching on IVF falls at least into this class.

3.2 Continuing division over moral conscience and authority

Cardinal Ratzinger opened his 1991 lecture on "Conscience and Truth" by observing that conscience is the core issue in contemporary moral theology. As the bulwark of freedom it supposedly confers on the agent a kind of private infallibility vis-à-vis any other authority. But to say conscience is infallible is contradictory, since any two persons' consciences may differ on a particular point. The "traumatic aversion" some have to faith-as-encumbrance affects their whole understanding of conscience and magisterium. For them conscience is an escape hatch from a demanding religion -- a religion they are very loath to preach or counsel.

When a fellow academic posited that the Nazis were saints because they followed their conscience, Ratzinger was convinced "that there is something wrong with the theory of the justifying power of the subjective conscience." His exploration of ancient Scripture and modern psychology, Socrates and Newman, confirmed that the notion needed to be thoroughly purified. Why does the Psalmist beg pardon for hidden or unknown faults? Because "the loss of the ability to see one's guilt, the falling silent of conscience in so many areas, is a more dangerous illness of the soul than guilt that is recognized." Thus Ratzinger argued that the reduction of conscience to subjective certainty does not liberate but enslaves or abandons us, making us totally dependent on personal taste or prevailing opinion. Though a person's last, best judgment binds him at the moment of acting, this cannot mean "a canonization of subjectivity." While it is never wrong to follow such a judgment, "guilt may very well consist in arriving at such perverse convictions."

The Catholic Church is far from alone today in facing polarization over the meaning and roles of conscience and authority. At one pole are those who hold that if only we attended more carefully to the magisterium instead of the zeitgeist, all would be well. The faithful should be willing to obey and their leaders to lead. Real conscience is the driver obeying the ecclesial satellite navigator, Magisterium, who tells us to turn left or right in the next 500 meters to go to the only destination that matters. At the opposite pole are those who argue that conscience must have "primacy." Vatican II opened up a new space for Catholics to follow their own lights rather than rely too heavily on their pastors. A renewed appreciation of personal experience and interpretation, of individual goals pursued freely without undue interference, is required. Conscience, then, is the ability to switch off the ecclesial satellite navigator and make decisions for oneself.
It is interesting just how much these "opposite" poles have in common. Both are convinced that the other has betrayed Vatican II and is endangering the Church's future. Both view the magisterium as an authority external and often rival to personal conscience. In the last part of my paper I want to examine whether the best of contemporary philosophy might offer any ways forward.

3.3 A communitarian rapprochement between conscience and magisterium

The first comes from a major move in contemporary ethical theory known as communitarianism. The very word conscientia might point us in this direction: For it means, literally, to think "with," and the "with" might refer to some community or tradition of fellow seekers after truth. The autonomous ethics of modernity often fail to take seriously the extent to which these shape people's identity and values. Even our most private life-plans are inevitably interrelated with those of others. More fundamentally, our sense of who we are and what matters to us largely comes with our ties to family, workplace, party, nation, culture and, of course, church. Some of these ties are chosen, others simply "received." Pre-existing models -- models (such as Christ and the saints) and social practices (such as how we worship God and respect and care for others) are relied upon in our moral thinking or emulated in our acting, and a great deal depends on what kinds of moral communities we belong to.

While the modern emphasis upon autonomy has helpfully encouraged individuality, initiative and respect, it has also had very real costs in terms of emotional distress, normative ambivalence and political paralysis. In such situations communities like the Church can call people back into relationships, traditions and practices which help to knit them together and give them a sense of identity and destiny. The common good requires a shared vision and lifestyle, handed down within the community and protected by certain authoritative figures or mechanisms.

Are our beliefs and practices therefore purely arbitrary? Or can there be some more rational standard by which to judge our ecclesial baggage? In the next section I suggest some objective standards. But we must also allow that some of it can be put down to these more "cultural," shifting, particular aspects of the Church's life-history. Thus from among the range of reasonable options even self-consciously "pluralistic" communities do not choose randomly or value-neutrally: They stand for and against certain things, and they do this by their prayer and worship, their scriptures and creeds, and, of course, their moral codes and common projects.

Thus the faith and morals of the Church are normative for the individual who wishes to belong to it. Once a person has chosen (and been chosen) to belong, certain practices "come with the package," so to speak. If you are pro-abortion, pro-euthanasia and pro-cloning the Catholic Church is not for you; or -- better -- since the Catholic Church is for you, you should convert to being anti-abortion, anti-euthanasia, anti-cloning and pro-life and love, pro-the sick and disabled, and pro-the theology of the body. Documents such as the Catechism thus function as an authoritative articulation of "the Catholic story." To be part of the Church is to believe certain things but also to live in accord with that tradition and like other members of that community. Orthopraxis expresses orthodoxy.

3.4 A practical reason rapprochement between conscience and Magisterium

The communitarian reading of magisterium might be thought to reduce magisterium to culture and conscience to a social construct. Recent approaches to "practical reason" are therefore a useful complement. The very word conscientia again provides a hint: For it means to reason (morally) with knowledge and not merely on the basis of opinions or fashions. The "basic human goods" that provide the reasons for all human actions can be specified as the series of underived basic principles found in "Veritatis splendor": transmit and preserve life, refine and develop the material world, cultivate social life, seek truth, practice good, contemplate beauty, serve God, honor parents. This requires openness to all human goods, even those not directly pursued, and never choosing directly against participation by anyone in any of them. With further reflection a series of intermediate principles and more specific norms can be derived. This is the "natural" law known even to the pagans and Christian faith recalls and confirms it. Because revelation affects the whole way we understand God, each other, the world and ourselves, it inevitably colors the application of these "natural" principles and brings some new norms. The Church comes in such a context as teacher-counselor, helping us reach maturity.

Morality, then, is no imposition of an external authority, but an internal pattern of life which challenges us to be more reasonable, mature, flourishing. The magisterium is not some external force with which private conscience must grapple: It informs conscience much like a soul informs a body, giving it shape and direction from within. Any apparent conflict between conscience and magisterium is therefore either a conflict between what I am convinced is right and some other view, in which case, generally speaking, I must favor the first; or, more likely, it is a conflict within my conscience between some received magisterial norm and some other part(s) of my moral reasoning (including other received norms). If what is at stake is taught with a high degree of authority and certainty, the believer in that authority will follow it or be confused. When he does not know for sure whether or not what is taught is a matter of faith, he properly gives that proposition his conditional or religious assent because it might very well be.

Of course, when the Church teaches non-definitively, this may represent a first stage in the development, deeper articulation or authoritative application of the faith and morals of the Church; or it may represent a false start. Here the believer must assent to the Church's non-infallible pronouncements as to all else he knows and do his best to reason and discern. His goal will not be to argue himself out of following some Church-given norm or limit the "moral tax" payable to God, but rather to try to embrace the moral vision proposed by Christ and the Church and to seek to resolve any uncertainties before making an important decision.

4. Where to from here?

The Church post-"Veritatis splendor" is still struggling to recover a Catholic sense of conscience and authority. The task is essentially an evangelical and catechetical one, and one especially urgent in the West where misconceptions about conscience have been commonplace, leading to many disastrous personal decisions. That there could still be Catholic institutions in some places performing or collaborating in abortion, IVF, sterilization or euthanasia beggars belief. That there are still Catholic theologians and pastors supporting these or similar practices means we are yet to recover a sense of the ecclesial vocations of theologian and pastor. That there are still Catholic politicians and voters willing to cooperate in those evils means there are faulty connections between conscience, truth and authority whether ecclesial or civil. Wrong views of conscience have also been pastorally ruinous, resulting in diffidence about evangelization and catechesis, a decline of the practice of Confession and the abuse of Holy Communion.

Without an accurate understanding of Christian conscience it can never be reliably at the service of the culture of life and love or of the growth of individuals in holiness. But even when we get this right, there will still be much to do in properly forming and informing our own and others' consciences and in drawing conclusions in the face of the complex contemporary dilemmas -- in bioethics as elsewhere. Further, thoroughgoing philosophical and theological analysis is required, for instance, on questions such as biolawmaking, cooperation in evil and conscientious objection -- questions to which our present conference will now turn.

[Text adapted]

Thursday, March 01, 2007

The corruption of the youth

Libido dominandi E. Michael Jones

Unlike the standard version of the sexual revolution, Libido Dominandi shows how sexual liberation was from its inception a form of control. Those who wished to liberate man from the moral order needed to impose social controls as soon as they succeeded because liberated libido led inevitably to anarchy. Aldous Huxley wrote in his preface to the 1946 edition of Brave New World that “as political and economic freedom diminishes, sexual freedom tends compensatingly to increase.” This book is about the converse of that statement. It explains how the rhetoric of sexual freedom was used to engineer a system of covert political and social control. Over the course of the two-hundred-year span covered by this book, the development of echnologies of communication, reproduction, and psychic control – including psychotherapy, behaviorism, advertising, sensitivity training, pornography, and plain old blackmail – allowed the Enlightenment and its heirs to turn Augustine’s insight on its head and create masters out of men’s vices. Libido Dominandi is the story of how that happened.
I have not read this book, or Dr. Jones's The Slaughter of Cities: Urban Renewal as Ethnic Cleansing, but I did read his John Cardinal Krol and the Cultural Revolution, and he advances many of the same theses in this earlier work, though more limited in scope, applying them to the history of Philadelphia. In The Slaughter of Cities he includes Philadephia, along with Boston, Detroit, and Chicago. From a flyer for the book:

In his meticulously documented book, he proves that urban renewal had more to do with ethnicity than it ever had to dowith design or hygiene or blight. Urban renewal was the last-gasp attempt of the WASP ruling class to take control of acountry that was slipping out of its grasp for demographic reasons. The largely Catholic ethnics were to be driven out of their neighborhoods into the suburbs, where they were to be “Americanized” according to WASP principles. The neighborhoods they left behind were to be turned over to the sharecroppers from the South or turned into futuristic Bauhaus enclaves for the new government elites. Using political tactics like eminent domain and “integration,” the planners made sure that the ethnic neighborhood gottransformed into something more congenial to their dreams of social engineering than the actual communities of people as a threat to their control. Jones concentrates on four cities – Philadelphia, Chicago,Detroit, and Boston – in a book whose conclusions will be shocking and controversial. The destruction of the ethnic neighborhoods that made up the human, residential heart of these cities was not an unfortunate by-product of a well-intentioned plan that somehow went awry; it was part of the plan itself.
I think he makes a persuasive case in the Cardinal Krol book; I don't know if he overextends in the other two; certainly one gets the vibe of a conspiracy-mindset from the author, but perhaps the case for a conspiracy is stronger than it may appear to the average American, who is rather ignorant of elites and the arrangements they make among themselves.

As Aristotle noted, reason can be corrupted by desire (unrestrained desire adopted in vice). Is it easier to control someone who does not possess the use of reason and cannot function as a citizen in a polity? Perhaps. An Aristotelian might even make the claim that such individuals are naturally fitted to be slaves. St. Paul, St. Augustine, and undoubtedly many of the Church Fathers talk about something like being a slave to sin, and how sin prevents us from being truly free. But how far will a corrupt generation be willing to serve its masters? Wouldn't it be difficult to give them direction? It seems that the application of force would be necessary sooner or later.

Still, pandering to their appetites succeeds in distracting them from the real problems at hand, and puts them in such a state that they have no interest in effecting real political and social reform. If people are too busy chasing after sex, they won't have much time and energy for anything else, nor will they have the character to seek higher goods.

But perhaps Dr. Jones focuses too much on the 20th century and on sex. Does not society have a host of other vices, including excessive consumption and materialism? Was decline already put in motion through industrialization and the rise of a centralized, no longer Federal, government? He might argue that the elites used the tools they had in order to gain control, and thereby making the problem worse. Only God knows the complete truth.

With the destruction of local communities and local culture, the entertainment industries produced "art" and marketed it to the people.
Dr. Jones would argue that music and the mass media have corrupted the people, and how many conservatives would disagree? The change in music and social dance forms indicate that some sort of change in the character of society has taken place. As I listen to trance while I am writing this, I should remark that trance and electronic are sensual, just like certain forms of Latin American music (and I would argue that the sensual quality is not due to the Spanish character, but to the assimilation of African culture and music). If the festive music of a community is closely linked to fertility celebrations and rituals, we should not be surprised if it features certain characteristics and invokes certain responses in us. Can the music itself make chastity more difficult? It seems that it can. (If we add to the music an environment where alcohol is present, such as a club, and people mix freely without supervision and can indulge in their desires so long as there are consenting adults, chastity easily goes out the window. What would St. Francis de Sales say about our contemporary dance clubs and bars?)

Some Americans tend to have the view that youth culture started in America and spread elsewhere, including Europe. Certainly, American popular culture has been marketed overseas and had an impact there. But it also seems to me that a youth culture (and the fragmentation of communities into different generations having limited social contact with one another) arose independently in Europe. Only if someone acquainted with European social history could describe what was going on in Europe during the late 19th century and early 20th.

As industralization and urbanization has spread to other countries (particularly countries in Latin America), we witness the same sort of trends with regards to the culture and mores of those societies. In a city that is too large, traditional culture cannot survive long.

Alasdair MacIntyre's Revolutionary Aristotelianism

Alasdair MacIntyre’s Revolutionary Aristotelianism: Ethics, Resistance and Utopia

Friday 29th June to Sunday 1st July 2007
For more than half a century Alasdair MacIntyre has remained a fervent critic of the structural injustices of capitalism. Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth than the all too frequent mischaracterisation of his mature ethical thought as a form of communitarian conservatism. From Marxism: An Interpretation through his essays for the New and Trotskyist lefts of the 1950s and 1960s to After Virtue and subsequent texts, MacIntyre has attempted to articulate and defend a form of politics that is adequate to the needs of radical opponents of liberalism in our modern world.

In his recent works, MacIntyre has attacked the contradiction between the Aristotelian idea of people as they could be if they realised their telos and, on the other hand, capitalism’s systematic thwarting of people’s abilities to reach their potentials. To this he has added that radicals need to articulate a ‘politics of self-defence’ rooted in practices that challenge the instrumental reasoning of state bureaucracy and capitalist management.

MacIntyre’s thought constitutes a challenge to a range of ideologies hostile to the Aristotelian tradition. His adoption of Thomistic thought, along with his emphasis on virtue ethics, has provided the foundation for a much needed re-examination of the sources of moral and political philosophy. His commitment to realism highlights relativism’s limits and contests the idea that morality and politics are matters of mere social consensus. As he says in prefacing Ethics and Politics, ‘theoretical resources ... from Aristotle, Aquinas, and Marx, need to be put to work both in negative critique and in articulating the goods and goals of particular political and social projects’.

It is the view of the organisers of this conference that MacIntyre’s ethics of human flourishing, politics of resistance and practical utopianism contribute powerfully to the contemporary resurgence of radical politics. It is with a view to exploring these revolutionary implications of MacIntyre’s work that we welcome contributions to a conference on the importance of his ideas.

Keynote speakers:

Alex Callinicos, Professor of European Studies, King's College London

Russell Keat, Professor of Political Theory, University of Edinburgh

Anton Leist, Professor of Practical Philosophy, University of Zürich

Cary J. Nederman, Professor of Political Science, Texas A & M University

Sean Sayers, Professor of Philosophy, University of Kent

Other speakers include:

Paul Blackledge, co-editor of Alasdair MacIntyre's Marxist Writings, 2007.

Thomas D. D'Andrea, author of Tradition, Rationality, and Virtue: The Thought of Alasdair MacIntyre, 2006.

Neil Davidson, co-editor of Alasdair MacIntyre's Marxist Writings, 2007.

Kelvin Knight, author of Aristotelian Philosophy: Ethics and Politics from Aristotle to MacIntyre, 2007.

Christopher Lutz, author of Tradition in the Ethics of Alasdair MacIntyre: Relativism, Thomism, and Philosophy, 2004.

Peter McMylor, author of Alasdair MacIntyre: Critic of Modernity, 1994.

Emile Perreau-Saussine, author of Alasdair MacIntyre, une biographie intellectuelle: Introduction aux critiques contemporaines du libéralisme, 2005

Further Information

This three-day conference hosted by the Human Rights & Social Justice Research Institute and will be held at London Metropolitan University, 166-220 Holloway Road, London N7 8DB.

APSANet post

The conference fee is £115.00 for three days, £100.00 for two days or £75.00 for one day. (Ticket prices are at the discretion of the conference organisers).

Accommodation costs £45.00 per person per night.

To register for the conference please complete the Registration and Payment Form and return to Ian Waller, HRSJ Research Institute, London Metropolitan University, Ladbroke House, 62-66 Highbury Grove, London N5 2AD, UK

Tel: +44 (0) 20 7133 5095 / Fax: +44 (0) 20 7133 5101 / Email:

Conference Organisers

Dr Paul Blackledge, Dr Alan Haworth, Richard Kirkwood, Dr Kelvin Knight, Dr Jacqui Laing, Dr Seiriol Morgan, Lachie Munro, Dr Mohammad Nafissi, Cronain O'Kelly, Alberta Stevens and Ian Waller

MacIntyre, The End of Education

Commonweal, October 20, 2006 / Volume CXXXIII, Number 18

The End of Education
The Fragmentation of the American University
Alasdair MacIntyre

Check at BC.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Address of Papal Theologian on Natural Moral Law

Address of Papal Theologian on Natural Moral Law

"Problems and Prospects"

ROME, FEB. 24, 2007 ( Here is the speech delivered in English by the theologian for the Pontifical Household, Dominican Father Wojciech Giertych, at the conclusion of the international congress on natural law organized by the Pontifical Lateran University.

The congress was entitled "The Moral Natural Law: Problems and Prospects," and took place Feb. 12-14.

* * *

New Prospects for the Application of the Natural Moral Law

1) Difficulty with question

I have been asked to speak today about new prospects for the application of the natural moral law. I have some difficulty with this question as it was proposed to me.

What is it that the organizers of today's conference are hoping for? Does the question maybe suggest a hidden deception caused by the widespread rejection of the concept of the natural moral law in the ethical culture of the Western world? Is the invitation to speak on this topic a desperate call to hope that the theory of the natural moral law will once more be universally recognized as valid and useful? Are we really seeing signs of a new renaissance in which the theory of the natural law is being excavated not as a mere archaeological artifact of a past metaphysical period of history, but as a useful tool enabling us to explain and justify the needed foundations of morality, and is it really my task to announce this rediscovery with joy?

The term "new prospects" may suggest that there are new fields of human activity that have not hitherto been viewed sufficiently, or at all, in the light of the natural moral law, and that now there is an occasion to do so. This of course is always true. As social life develops and becomes more complex, new moral questions appear, and they need to be analyzed in the light of moral principles.

The impressive development of the medical technologies raises ethical questions that have never been raised before, and this forces bioethicists to study these issues and elucidate them. Also, changes in social structures and economic processes raises ethical questions, although these are not necessarily studied with such precision and fervor as bioethical questions.

With the universal failure of Marxist ideologies that had tried to instill a temporal hope in the realm of politics and economics through extensive government action, now belief in the presence of the "hidden hand" of the laws of economics leading, supposedly naturally and automatically, to welfare and peace seems to prevail. Are there not serious moral questions to be raised however, concerning the globalized economy and its politics, with factories no longer being like pyramids offering stability, employment and hope for economic betterment, but being like tents in the desert, which one day are here and another day are moved to another continent, causing unemployment, migration and separation of families?

Decisions made in banks and governments of one country sometimes cause intense hardship and social and political crises in another country or continent. New issues of international politics, such as ecological problems, and old issues, such as peace in conflict areas, require the working out of procedures and agreements on international governance.

The increasing mobility of populations, having diverse social and moral traditions, raises questions of their social interaction. The working out of public policies particularly in such fields as social welfare, education and health care requires a common understanding of the nature of the person, of the family, of parental rights and responsibilities, as also an understanding of differing cultural habits.

This common intellectual basis, certainly in the Western world, is more and more difficult to attain as vociferous nihilist and skeptic pressure groups refuse to accept any binding statements about moral truth, supposedly in the name of tolerance. The contemporary increasingly extensive social interaction is raising many new moral problems, and these certainly can be seen as a new prospect for the application of the natural moral law, or rather, as a new task for moralists, who can apply the eternal principles of the natural law to the new issues.

Are these new moral dilemmas in all possible fields of human activity, private, social and public, to be studied in the light of natural law with the same precision as casuist cases raised in the field of bioethics are studied? Or should more room be left for political prudence and the personal judgment of those directly responsible in these questions?

Certainly these are fields for ethical reflection, although the optimism of the authors of the old casuist manuals of moral theology, who imagined that all possible future moral situations could be analyzed, and final judgment could be passed on all of them, is now seen to be have been tainted with a certain intellectual pride. The complexity of new moral issues, and the velocity in which they appear, may mean that many of them will cease to become dilemmas, and they will never be subjected to serious moral analysis.

The "new prospects" of the title of my conference may suggest that there is now a renewed interest in the natural moral law, and that in the face of moral dilemmas there is a fresh search for natural law thinking.

In his day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer[1] regretted that natural law reflection disappeared from Protestant ethics which limited itself to a static apology of divine grace, juxtaposed against a totally fallen nature. Since no meaningful distinctions could be made between the natural and unnatural, because both were equally condemned, the natural life, with its concrete decisions and relationships, ceased to be an area of responsibility before God.

This meant that Protestantism was unable to give a clear answer to burning moral questions of the natural life, and Bonhoeffer lamented this. Are there contemporary signs of a renewed interest for the natural law, offering "new prospects" for our societies?

If there are, they are not yet visible. In fact, in the Western world, at least in the public sphere, there is bleeding atrophy of understanding what is natural and what is not, leading to changes in ethical mores that are amounting to a profound revolution of the foundations of civilization. These changes are not taking place in the name of some forceful ideology, capable of mustering the support of crowds -- as was the case with nationalism and communism, both of which had an altruist element within them -- but in the name of pure hedonism and anti-rationalist skepticism, hidden under the mask of tolerance.

There is a rapid decline of appreciation of basic moral truths and of the capacity of seeing what is obvious, in the name of that which is fleeting, ephemeral, and therefore not intrinsically binding. Will the social and political approval of gay marriages, of the adoption of children by gays and lesbians, of divorce, of contraception, abortion, euthanasia, the manipulation of embryos and laissez-faire theories of education finally arrive at the point of total absurdity, causing as a backlash a desperate return to rationality in ethics? We may certainly hope so in our wishful thinking, but for a few generations, the return to moral sanity may turn out to be too late.

The present close interaction of differing civilizations, [which] hopefully [...] will not end in violent clashes, may generate a new interest in the ethical foundations of civilizations. Today, contrary to what the Krakow-based Polish historian and theorist of civilizations, Feliks Koneczny, wrote in the early part of the 20th century, there is a belief and hope that full integration of people belonging to differing civilizations is possible and even welcome.

Koneczny claimed that it is not possible to be civilized in two differing ways at the same time, because it is common ethical convictions that generate social cohesiveness and condition civilizations. Ethical standards are more decisive for a civilization than dogmatic subtleties.

In the past, when people belonging to different civilizations lived geographically close to each other, they had to live in separate social groups according to the mores of the entity to which they belonged, without mixing, because mixtures of differing civilizations cannot function in the long run. The transfer from one civilization to another would entail the embracing of a completely new set of ethical values that would require social uprooting.

"Will a monogamist sell his daughter to a polygamist?" Koneczny asked. If he would, for whatever reason, he would have crossed the threshold of a new civilization, leaving the one to which he had belonged. When civilizations mix, Koneczny claimed, it is normally the less morally demanding civilization that wins, because the maintaining of a demanding ethos requires effort and perseverance.

Among the civilizations that he had studied, Koneczny specified the Latin civilization as the most demanding, because it requires that all dimensions of life, including the social and political, be bound by ethical norms.[2] Today, however, Western Europe is rapidly losing, or totally transforming, its age-old Christian ethical convictions, and in this it is drifting away from the moral foundations in which for centuries it was anchored.

At the same time, it is facing more and more directly a foreign Islamic civilization. Will this encounter finally force Western Europe to seriously wonder about what is the real source of its specificity, and to an urgent defense of its own traditional moral fiber? Will it lead to a re-appreciation of the inherited anthropological and ethical foundations that made democracy work, or will the washing away of these foundations cause the crash of Western civilization, just as the crash of communism was caused by its anthropological catastrophe?

Pope John Paul II, as he elevated St. Edith Stein to the rank of co-patroness of Europe, warned: "A Europe, that would change the value of tolerance and universal respect into ethical indifferentism and skepticism about values that cannot be forsaken, would open itself to most risky ventures and sooner or later it would see appearing in new forms the most dreadful phantoms of its own history."[3] Will the urgency of these questions lead to a new rediscovery of the importance of the natural law? We may hope so.

Finally, the invitation to search for "new prospects" for the application of the natural moral law maybe suggests a renewed interest for the natural law within moral theology, in particular after the papal encyclicals "Veritatis Splendor" and "Fides et Ratio."

Certainly, a purely kerygmatic and biblical approach to moral formation is not sufficient if it is not coupled with a sound anthropology and metaphysically grounded thinking. The invitation to do what Jesus would have done had he been in our position cannot function as a basic intuitive moral rule if rational thinking will be discarded.

A Christian moral formation needs to refer to the permanent structure of human nature and to its finality that can be perceived also rationally, although with difficulty, because reason has been wounded, but not destroyed, by original sin. Is the role of the natural law within the synthesis of moral theology the "new prospect" that I have been asked to reflect upon? Or are there maybe some other "new prospects" that I have failed to notice?

2) Birth of a new ethics

Certainly a new prospect that we are facing, which is demanding a response, is the contemporary birth of a new ethics.[4] In the last 20 years, in many countries of the Western world, a whole new series of ethical concepts has appeared, expressing a certain moral awareness and a perception of moral dilemmas, but at the same manifesting a fundamental epistemological flaw.

Crossing boundaries of nations and states, the media are using the same new concepts which express attitudes and preconceptions that are assessed either positively or negatively. We read about a global ethics, about cultural liberty, dialogue between civilizations, the quality of life, informed choice, gender equality, single-parenting, sexual orientation, bodily integrity, same-sex marriage, right of choice, reproductive rights, women's rights, children's rights, the right to die, transparency, holism, inclusiveness, nondiscrimination, ecological awareness, solidarity, openness and tolerance, and we read also about new vices such as exclusiveness, apartheid, homophobia, sexual molestation, populism, ultra-Catholicism.

At the same time traditional moral concepts such as truth, conscience, moral law, reason, moral virtue, perseverance, fidelity, parents, spouses, virginity, chastity, authority, commandments, sin, and nature are disappearing.

This is coupled with profound social and moral changes. The number of those who in their lives will never have the chance to use such words like father, brother, sister, aunt or uncle is increasing, while new terms like partner, or former wife are becoming more common.

The appearance of these new moral concepts is coupled with an immediate normative qualification, the foundations of which are not philosophical, but political and ideological.

No serious ethical reflection has attempted to define precisely the new terms, which remain, as if purposely vague, while their application or the rejection of previous terms is decided by politicians and by media empires. It is they who decide about the meaning or the change of meaning of such words as marriage, or family, which tragic events may be described as genocide and which may not, what is an expression of a justified liberty of interpretation and what is unacceptable dogmatism, or that homosexual activity may not be defined as a psychic disorder or as a sin.

The new ethical terms are interconnected and mutually supportive, while at the same time they are blurred. Some of them can be interpreted in a traditional way, but they are mostly used in a deconstructive manner, weakening the attachment to moral values and replacing it with an approval of blatantly immoral behavior, caused by the underlying cognitive skepticism of the new ethic.

This new ethic is at the same time individualistic and global, but never personalistic or universal. It witnesses the screening out of the family and of the nation-state, and the growth of supranational, global institutions, pressure groups and ideologies. The new ethic has a direct impact on education, on social welfare and health care, on taxation systems, on codes of behavior in institutions and enterprises, and on public, national and global policies. This new global ethic has appeared in a silent way, with no revolution and no social upheavals. It is engineered in a soft way, and it has succeeded in influencing not only policies, but above all the mentalities of people.

In itself, the appearance of new virtues is not anything new. The names of virtues express a moral awareness, which is always culturally conditioned. St. Thomas Aquinas, in his magisterial study of the virtues, came across some moral sensibilities for which he did not have an appropriate Latin term, and so he held on to their Greek terms, writing about the virtues of "epikeia," "synesis" and "gnome."[5]

The modern appearance of positive terms such as solidarity or tolerance, or of negative terms such as egoism, which do not appear in the classical catalogue of virtues and vices, manifests the development of moral awareness and the formulation of terms to describe it. The understanding of how to live out a virtuous life is always socially conditioned, and cultural expectations and their verbal formulations have an impact on moral sensibility.

The present greater social interaction of a globalized world accounts for the migration of moral perceptions. What in one period of history or culture was seen as shocking, in another culture is marginalized, while attentiveness to other injustices is sharpened. The present problem lies however, not in the fact that new moral concepts have been formulated that express new virtues, but in the fact that these concepts are not clear and precise, even as they function, and so this presents a challenge for ethicists to study them in the light of the objective, nature-based moral order, and to ensure that their meaning will become clear and purified of moral relativism.

3) A comparison with classical virtue theory

St. Thomas Aquinas in his Summa of theology studied over 50 moral virtues, clearly defining their nature, their location in the human psyche, their mutual interconnection, their dependence upon the supernatural order of grace, granted through the theological virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and their correlation with the commandments. He did not however, attempt to deduce all the virtues directly and logically from the commandments or from the basic principles of the natural law, because he primarily saw the virtues as manifestations of the moral responsibility and creativity of the individual acting agent, as he faces the truth, and not as a catalogue of externally imposed moral obligations.

The commandments play an important pedagogical role in excluding evil action, but good acts flow more directly from the generosity of the mature individual, who perceives directly the true goodness or the evil of an action, irrespectively of whether it has been commanded of forbidden.[6] The prime function in moral education consists therefore in enabling the individual to grasp the "verum bonum," the true good in the heart of the moral dilemma, toward which his nature has a natural inclination, and to respond to it freely, generously and creatively.

And when Aquinas discussed the opposite vices, he saw them primarily as a subtraction, as the lack of that good which could have come about through the virtue. The entire ethos, precisely analyzed by Aquinas is a theological attempt to present for pedagogical reasons, the fecundity of grace manifesting itself in the mature, virtuous person, who becomes an icon of God.

To appropriately interpret Aquinas's virtue theory, it has to be viewed in unison with other studies of Aquinas. Within the structure of the Summa, Aquinas included an important treatise on the moral law that instructs the acting agent about the good.

The moral law was viewed by Aquinas primarily from the angle of the history of salvation, focusing on different relationships of God with humanity. The natural law, the law of the old dispensation, and the new law of grace, speak of different states of humanity, but they combine in offering the multifarious ways of divine guidance for moral action. The economy of the old law or of the new law of grace does not therefore dispense from the profiting from the light, which is available in the natural moral law.

Within the life of grace, in which openness to the grace of the Holy Spirit is primary, there is also room for rational reflection. Faith does not blind reason. It makes it more lucid, and so the inherent finality of beings, that reason alone can perceive, although with difficulty, supplies a helpful guiding light in the perception of the "verum bonum" in virtuous action. Since both creation and redemption are acts of the same, coherent God, there is no basic contradiction between the revealed law, the law of grace, and the natural law.

The grasping of the fundamental precepts of the natural moral law, whether undertaken theologically within the realm of faith, or outside it, comes about through the intuition of the "instinctus rationis" that perceives the ordering of nature toward that which is most appropriate to it. It is through the fundamental orientations of the reason and the will, ordering that good is to be pursued and evil avoided, followed by the perception of the metaphysical natural inclinations of being, that tends to preserve existence, of animality that tends to transmit life and educate offspring, and of rationality that strives for supreme truth -- which includes the truth about God -- and for community life based upon that truth, that conclusions about the true good in moral action can be arrived at.

The fundamental precepts of the natural law are perceived through the metaphysical intuition of the finality of being, and not through a sociological observation of moral sensibilities that may be deformed by customs or depraved habits, although the fundamental moral precepts are corroborated by theological arguments. Obviously, the theological conviction, confirmed by the dogmatic truth of creation, that human nature is stable with an inbuilt orientation coming from the Creator, contributes to the perception of an objective moral order.

A theory of being that would exclude the possibility of a dependence on the Creator would jeopardize the stability of nature and its capacity to offer a binding light, illuminating human behavior. Aquinas' theory of the natural law was not purely philosophical, but it referred also to theological arguments. His reference to nature, reason and Scripture in the working out of the theory of natural law may appear to be circular, but this was not a vicious circle; it was a presentation of the overall harmony of all the sources of moral orientation.[7]

A full appreciation of Aquinas' virtue theory and of his interpretation of the natural law has also to take into account the fruits of his serious academic study, reported in the "Quaestiones disputatae," and entitled "De veritate," although this work should really be split into two parts, with the second named "De bonitate."

In this extensive and intensive intellectual endeavor, Aquinas studied the nature and the functioning of the intellect in its adherence to truth as its appropriate object and the nature and the functioning of the will as it is captivated by goodness. The first part of the study analyzes truth itself, God's knowledge of it, the ideas of God, the word of God, divine providence and the knowledge of God in predestination. This is followed by a reflection on the cognition of angels, followed by a study of the human mind, which is an image of the Trinity. This includes an analysis of the transmission of knowledge by a teacher, of the working of the mind in prophecy and spiritual rapture, of the intellect conditioned by the virtue of faith, of practical knowledge in the synderesis and in conscience, and finally a particular reflection on the cognition of the first parents before original sin and of the cognition of the soul after death.

This extensive theological epistemology ends in a reflection on the knowledge of the unique soul of Christ. In the second part of the study, a similar procedure is followed with a study of goodness and its appetition by the will. As with the cognitive faculties, Aquinas looks into the will of God, into the free choice in which the will and reason combine in freely choosing goodness, and then into factors which in humans condition the willing from without, such as the sensuality, the emotions and finally grace which leads to the justification of the impious. The study terminates with a reflection on the working of grace in the unique human soul of Christ.

This extensive analysis of the nature and the functioning of the spiritual faculties as they move toward the "verum bonum," focused on their inherent finality, and viewed also from the specific angles that are their presence in God, in the angels, in humans before and after the fall as also after receiving the redemptive power of grace, and in the unique person of Jesus Christ, God and man, offers a profound and optimistic context for the elucidation and formation of virtuous action.

Only if there is a deep conviction that the truth about goodness can be known, and that in the spiritual appetitive power there is inherent attraction to it, can the personal choice of virtuous action be grounded. Furthermore, when the spiritual faculties are enriched by the grace of faith and charity, their fundamental orientations to truth and goodness are strengthened.

The metaphysical structure of the transcendentals and of the spiritual faculties as they correspond to them, supplies therefore the background for the virtuous response to moral dilemmas as they appear. If this metaphysical grounding of being were to be questioned or even denied, both anthropology and ethics would be hanging in the air.

Returning therefore to contemporary questions, it has to be said that the fact that with the globalization of human interaction and with the wider spectrum of moral challenges, new concepts of new virtues are being formulated to which correspond real responses, is not in itself perplexing. This is a normal development of moral awareness as it is facing new challenges, to which it tries to respond.

What is perplexing, however, is that these new concepts of new virtues are nebulous or ambivalent, and deprived of any rooting in coherent and certain knowledge about the human person, about human nature and its finality. If in the name of tolerance, no certain knowledge may be had about anything, if no one is entitled to declare that he holds any truths as true and therefore universally binding, there is no place for any virtue at all, and all supposedly value-charged statements are in fact empty.

The contemporary exertion of political pressure to change the meaning of words -- as is happening in the case of the word marriage -- or the demanding of special privileges in the name of a moral condition that has been expanded so widely and confusingly that it encompasses blatantly contradictory values -- as is happening in the case of the term reproductive rights, which is to include at the same time concern for maternity and paternity, and the right to free access to contraception, abortion and the artificial production of parentless babies -- voids the new moral language of any instinctive obviousness, which means that the new ethic if it is to be maintained, will have to be enforced by brute political pressure with no rational justification.

No longer finding support in human nature and in the "instinctus rationis," the new ethic is condemned to the status of a devastating ideology that in time will be rejected once its catastrophic effects will become unashamedly visible. The question is, will it be replaced by another, equally nefarious and nihilist ideology, lay or even religious (Puritan or fundamentalist), or will it be replaced by a return to the respect of the cognitive capacities of the human mind, of the intelligibility of human nature, its finality and its basic goodness, and to a confidence in the basic goodness of the reason and will as they are attracted by supreme goodness?

Resistance to natural law ethics

Why is it that the natural law ethics meets today with such a wide resistance?

Is this caused by the weakness of the mind, which has been conditioned excessively by ideologies and philosophical assumptions that have impaired its capacity to see the truth, or are there other causes?

In the Enlightenment, reason was elevated above faith that was treated as superstition and myth in the conviction that reason alone, freed from prejudices and any external sentimental interferences may arrive at true cognition with accuracy and precision. This intellectual pride of reason, which set itself its own method and sphere of activity ended finally in the self-limitation of positivism, in which reason arbitrarily limits not only its own possibility of knowing, but even the existence of that reality which it cannot ascertain and measure according to its own arbitrarily chosen methods.

The refusal to view the metaphysical ground of reality is a form of enslavement of the reason that locks itself in its own self-defined prison. As such this refusal becomes an ideology that blocks the mind and disenables it from seeing what to another more open mind is obvious. Skepticism about the cognitive possibilities of the mind ends in shortsightedness that is ultimately nihilist.

In a paradoxical historical development, today it is the Church that is defending the dignity of reason, and inviting the minds of thinkers not to stop short and to reach out to the fullness of reality that can be known.[8] The reductive self-limitations of the mind however contribute to the nihilist and relativist moral climate, which denies the existence of the natural moral order and leaves the new moral virtues reacting to new moral challenges suspended in a nebulous groundless atmosphere, prone to whatever ideological winds, fashions and political manipulations, may appear.

Is the contemporary resistance to the natural law caused primarily by epistemological weaknesses, or are there maybe other reasons, which cause the rejection of an objective, rationally cognizable moral order? While it is true that anti-intellectual fundamentalisms, whether of a religious or secular nature, may generate a psychological paralysis of the mind, are there not also other factors causing the shirking away from truth, even if the mind is naturally inclined toward it? Should we not look into factors that have constrained the will, both from within and from without, and disenabled it from persevering in the truth once it has been known?

It is not only philosophical assumptions and the weak mind that generate a resistance to the light of the natural law, but also the deformations or rather the lack of formation and of support of the will, which generate this resistance. The reason may see, even clearly, the truth of a moral challenge, and yet the person may refrain from adhering to it, precisely because what is missing is the moral stamina that would permit the creative and mature free choice of the "verum bonum," as it has been truly seen. And when moral truth has been rejected, primarily due to moral weakness, the intellect then easily succumbs to the temptation of retreating from truth and to the espousing of confused relativist and skeptic theories that would justify the previously made decision to escape from the known truth.

In this context, it is good to remember the words of St. Paul who wrote about the depravity of men who keep truth imprisoned in their wickedness. For what can be known about God is perfectly plain to them since God himself has made it plain. Ever since God created the world, his everlasting power and deity -- however invisible -- have been there for the mind to see in the things he has made. That is why such people are without excuse: They knew God, and yet refused to honor him as God or to thank him; instead, they made nonsense out of logic and their empty minds were darkened. The more they called themselves philosophers, the more stupid they grew (Romans 1:18-22).

Paul's acerbic language did not aim uniquely at ridiculing the intellectual pride of the philosophers, nor did it intend to throw moralizing accusations at those culpable for the moral depravation of the society of his times. It was a preliminary step toward his preaching of Christ and the annunciation of justification through faith.

It is through faith in Christ that the grace of the Holy Spirit is received, which infused in the reason and the will enables growth in charity and moral responsibility. In wondering about the reservations about the natural moral law in contemporary Western culture, should we not also note the insufficient initiation into the life of grace in the past and maybe even present Christian moral teaching, depriving those who have engraved in their consciences and hearts the moral intuitions coming from their instinct of nature (Romans 2:15) of the only available power making the adherence to the verum bonum truly possible?

Both the quoted text of St. Paul and the teaching of Aquinas on the natural law are presented within a vision of faith. It is of course true that a rational discourse on the moral order should be able to stand on its own without the support of faith, but this does not mean that the practical living out of the ethos presented by the natural law is possible without the life of grace. Even Adam, according to Aquinas,[9] in the state of original justice needed the support of grace, although he did not need to apply that grace to so many wounded spheres of human existence as we do.

Moral teaching needs to be coupled with an initiation into the spiritual life grounded in Christ, as without it, reduced to a Pelagian rigorism, it generates an instinctive defensive reaction. It should come as no surprise that non-Christians, when told about the possibility of living out the ethos of the Sermon of the Mount on the basis of a personal relationship with Christ are intrigued and fascinated, while argumentation based on metaphysical principles and the natural law does not seem to convince them.[10]

The purpose of the natural law reflection is to show that the high ethos, made possible through faith in Christ, is not a deformation of nature, but an eliciting of the profoundest inclinations already existing within nature. That is why the graced person is pleasing in his or her naturalness.

This does not however mean that the preaching of Christ within the moral order is optional, and that moral propriety may be socially guaranteed uniquely on the basis of a natural law morality. The suggestion that one may successfully engage in moral discourses exclusively on the level of ratio -- "etsi Deus non daretur" [as if God didn't exist] -- in view of convincing intellectually nonbelievers may be a noble cause, but it is condemned to failure.

Too much is expected then from the rational discourse, which cannot in itself supply such a force of conviction that would move the heart, influence the will and enable perseverance in moral truth. Whereas, an introduction into the spiritual life illuminates the mind, opening it to the mysterious perspective of encountering God and it strengthens the will enabling it to persevere in its attachment to the true good, without in any way, denying the value of the clarity of natural law reflection.


In response therefore to the question that was addressed to me, I conclude that as new moral challenges are facing the world and as new moral sensibilities are being noted and expressed, they require the intellectual support of ethicists, who will work out the clear metaphysical foundations of the new moral perceptions.

This endeavor in itself, however, while desirable, is insufficient. What is primarily needed is the proclamation of the new law of grace, exactly within the moral challenges and dilemmas. Reflection on moral responsibilities needs to be undertaken, "etsi Deus daretur," believing in the fullness of God's gift that includes not only the creation of the cosmos with its inherent recognizable order, but also the redemption given through Jesus Christ and the accompanying grace of the Holy Spirit.

It is in the light of this renewing gift of grace that not only the functioning of the intellect, but also the functioning of the will and the dynamism of the affectivity, as also the practical responses to concrete moral challenges need to be viewed. Not only "fides et ratio," a study of reason in the light of faith, but also "fides et liberum arbitrium" [free will], and "fides et passio" [passion] are needed.

* * *

[1] Ethics (New York, 1955), p. 143-144.
[2] Feliks Koneczny, "Prawa Dziejowe" [Laws of History], (London, 1982), p. 174-236.

[3] Motu Proprio Spes Aedificandi, 10: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XXII, 2 (1999), p. 513.
[4] Marguerite A. Peeters, "La nouvelle éthique mondiale: défis pour l'Église," (Institut pour une Dynamique de Dialogue Interculturel, 2006).

[5] Epikeia is the virtue of applying to law according to the true mind of the legislator in situations not specified by the letter of the law. Synesis is the virtue of good judgment about acts according to the common law. Gnome is the virtue of good judgment according to higher principles.
[6] St. Thomas Aquinas, Super II ad Cor., l. 3, c. 3: "Ille ergo, qui vitat mala, non quia mala, sed propter mandatum Domini, non est liber; sed qui vitat mala, quia mala, est liber."

[7] Jean Porter, "Natural and Divine Law. Reclaiming the Tradition for Christian Ethics," (Ottawa: Novalis; Grand Rapids, Cambridge: Eerdmans, 1995), p. 140-141.
[8] John Paul II, "Fides et Ratio," 56.

[9] St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Ia, qu. 95, art. 4, ad 1: "Homo post peccatum ad plura indiget gratia quam ante peccatum, sed non magis."
[10] Servais Pinckaers, O.P., "Les sources de la morale chrétienne. Sa méthode, son contenu, son histoire," (Fribourg : Éditions Universitaires, Paris: Cerf, 1985), p. 171.

[Original text: English. Text adapted]