Does the American political tradition at its best consider the good of the republic to be something good in itself, an honest good, or merely a useful good, an instrument to aid citizens in the attainment of their private goods? In a recent discussion of this question a friend of mine proposed looking at American patriotic poetry rather than political treatises. His idea, if I understand him aright, is that while on a theoretical level American political thought has tended to deny the primacy of the common good, the American people have a natural and implicit love for and understanding of the true political good, and this is expressed in their patriotic songs etc. This points to an interesting tension in modern liberal democracies between their theoretical self-understanding and the image of themselves that the must propose to the imagination of their citizens. Continue reading
Thomistica.net in a post on Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan’s much ridiculed claim to be a follower of St Thomas Aquinas rather than Ayn Rand has linked to an article pointing out that Ayn Rand herself was an admire of the Angelic Doctor. It seems that she admired his epistemology mostly. I haven’t read much Rand, but as far as I can tell her ethics bear a resemblance to a certain influential, though disastrously wrong, interpretation of St Thomas and Aristotle. Take this passage of “The Objectivist Ethics“:
The basic social principle of the Objectivist ethics is that just as life is an end in itself, so every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others—and, therefore, that man must live for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. To live for his own sake means that the achievement of his own happiness is man’s highest moral purpose.
As today is Bastille Day and I happen to be in France I want to post something fittingly royalist. I have just been reading Alan Fimister’s fascinating book on Catholic social teaching and the founding of the EU: Robert Schuman: Neo-Scholastic Humanism and the Reunification of Europe. According to Fimister, Robert Schuman – the French foreign minister considered the “father” of the EU – so closely conformed to the model of politician that Pope Leo XIII envisioned that “if he were a saint of the dark ages historians would assume his ‘life’ was largely fictional” (p.28). This means that he was a republican — that is, he was part of the movement of “ralliement,” of rallying to the Republic on the basis of the fact that a republican form of government is not per se contrary to the natural law. Nevertheless, Schuman account of how the sentiments of patriotism were first wakened in his heart is just what a monarchist would desire. It was in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, where Schuman happened to have been born:
It is in Luxembourg that I acquired the first notions of patriotism. It was in 1890 under the Grand Ducal balcony. The people acclaimed Grand Duke Adolf who came to make his solemn entry into the capital. I was a little boy of four years old lost in the crowd. I was enflamed by its enthusiasm and taken up in its pride. With everyone else I sang -as best I could [tant bien que mal]- the Fierewonn : ‘Wir welle ja ken Preisse sin’ – before all else we didn’t want to be Prussians. I only came to know the Marseillaise later. Henceforth I knew what it is to love one’s country, and the attachment to the sovereign who personifies and guarantees the unity, continuity and independence of the nation. (p. 145)
This is a marvelous demonstration of St Thomas’s principle that the common good exists primarily in the sovereign:
Since love looks to the good, there is a diversity of love according as there is a diversity of the good. There is, however, a certain good proper to each man considered as one person, and as far as loving this good is concerned, each one is the principal object of his own love. But there is a certain common good which pertains to this man or that man insofar as he is considered as part of a whole; thus there is a certain common good pertaining to a soldier considered as part of the army, or to a citizen as part of the state. As far as loving this common good is concerned, the principal object of love is that in which the good primarily exists; just as the good of the army is in the general, or the good of the state is in the king. Whence, it is the duty of a good soldier that he neglects even his own safety in order to save the good of his general. (De virtutibus, q. 2 a. 4 ad 2)
Whenever I defend St Thomas’s teaching that lying is always wrong people give me the “Nazis…Jew-in-the-basement-objection.” Nollie Tan Boom faced with that actual situation didn’t see it as warranting lies, but this doesn’t persuade the objectors one bit. The argument from the proper end of speech seems to them abstract and irrelevant. Just recently I had two hour long argument with someone which got us absolutely no-where. Then I listened to John Francis Nieto’s defense of St Thomas’s position in this lecture, and was absolutely moved to tears by its beauty and persuasive power. I urge you, gentle reader: listen to that lecture; it is Moral Theology as it should be. The power of Nieto’s argument comes from the way in which he shows how St Thomas’s teaching on lying is integrated into his whole theology of the Christian life. Janet Smith recently criticized St Thomas’s teaching on lying as being based on a pre-lapsarian view of the nature of signification, but what Nieto shows is that, while St Thomas’s view is perfectly intelligible at the level of the proper principles of natural action, it can be understood much more fully in the light of the Incarnate Word, who is Truth itself. It’s not a pre-lapsarian view; it’s a fullness of time view.
Father Benedict Ashley, O.P. notes in an autobiographical sketch that his vision of the relation between his Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy and the sort of “natural science” that originated with Descartes et. al. changed over time. At first he took “modern natural science” to have basically zero philosophical significance; the task of the Aristotelian was simply to take the empirical discoveries of “modern science” and integrate them into the framework of Aristotelian cosmology: “In my first phase I saw the task mainly as one of filling in the details in a general plan already laid out. This may appear preposterous, but it really is not so difficult.” But then he slowly begins to think that “modern science” supports an insight of “modern philosophy” into the nature of reality itself — namely that reality is “historical.” This change came for him at the time of Vatican II, and it had the same effect on him that the Council had on many others: “This insight was a liberation, because it made it possible for me to see modern thought and modern culture much more sympathetically than before.” I wonder whether Ashley’s sense of liberation did not incline him to assent to what he saw as an insight more readily. Would he have been more hesitant to assent to his new ideas if they had been less in tune with his age? Continue reading
Venuleius of Ius Honorarium has posted a mixture of praise and contempt for Christopher Ferrara’s polemics against “Americanism.” I haven’t read Ferrara’s book, but I can guess what it’s like; after all, in my undergraduate days in the USA I was in the business of quoting Diuturnum Illud and Notre Charge Apostolique to bash the founding principles of that proud republic. Venuleius gives Ferrara qualified praise for slamming John Courtney Murray-style attempts at showing that the American founding principles are the cat’s meow, and ought to be adopted root and branch by Catholic social teaching. But Venuleius argues that Ferrara overstates the evils of the American project: Continue reading
No one has ever seen God; the only begotten God who is into the bosom of the Father, he has made him known. (Joh 1:18)
Jean Henri Fabre liked to say he did not believe in God, but rather (through long years of observing insects) he saw Him. But to see God in his creatures is not to see Him as He is. To see the reflected and refracted glory of God in creation is not to see the uncreated light of the Divine Essence itself. We can know all kinds of created perfections, but to know the shoreless ocean of perfection itself, the infinite plenitude of all being, we would ourselves have to come to share in the divine nature. St Thomas explains (Ia q12 a4 c) this from the nature of knowledge. Continue reading
Modern theology has become a dreadfully soft, sissyish affair. I suppose the remote causes lie in the Enlightenment reaction to the polemics following the Protestant Reformation, and that more proximate causes can be found in the 20th century dialectical dance between liberalism and totalitarianism, the rise of pop-psychology etc.
Nowhere does this softness manifest itself more than in modern theologian’s attitude towards Hell. Continue reading
One of the texts in which S. Thomas brings up the concept of “bonum prolis” discussed in my last post is in an article of the Commentary on the Sentences [lib. 4, d. 30, q. 2], in which he shows that the marriage between Our Lady and S. Joseph was a perfect marriage. Matthias Joseph Scheeben quotes this passage as part of his proof that not only is the Our Lady’s marriage to S. Joseph a valid marriage, but it is the most perfect marriage, lacking none of the essential goods of marriage, though of course its virginal nature meant that these goods were possessed in a unique way. Here is a rough translation of the key part of Scheeben’s proof:
It is clear […] that this marriage exceeds all other marriages not only in sanctity and dignity, but in its very perfection as marriage, namely in regard to the two principle goods of marriage, the bonum prolis and the bonum sacramenti.
With regard to the bonum prolis: like all marriages this one was ordered by God, and therefore from within and essentially, to bringing about the possibility of a susceptio prolis. So this marriage was more excellent than every other virgin marriage, since it shared with the matrimonium consummatum the blessing of fruitfulness, since in this marriage the spouses were really to be given and entrusted with a fruit. And though this fruit was not generated by the spouses through carnal use of marriage, nevertheless, through the intention of the divine begetter and on account of the spiritual union of the spouses, the fruit belonged to both of them no less than in a natural marriage. Moreover, this marriage is also more excellent than any non-virginal marriage since its fruit is essentially and absolutely holy, and at the same time the two spouses through their common virginal consecration to God cooperate in bringing about this fruit much more than others cooperate through fleshly union in the generation of natural offspring.
The bonum sacramenti is the marriage bond by which a union more lofty and intimate than other human unions is established, in that, through the will of God, one person is so joined to another […] that they form an inseparable whole, and in and through the whole thus formed God takes them into possession as His own organ for the fulfillment of a certain service. Thus the perfection of the bond is by so much higher as the service for which one person is joined to another is holier, and as the belonging-to God (Angehörigkeit an Gott) through which and for which one person takes the other to himself is greater. Now, the bond between Joseph and Mary is in both respects beyond comparison more excellent not only than any natural (pre- or non- Christian) marriages, but also than all Christian marriages. For, the conception and rearing of Christ is an infinitely more excellent purpose than the generation and rearing of mere men, who are to be members of Christ, and Mary is far more an organ of God and a member of Christ than all who are consecrated organs of God and members of Christ through baptism. (Handbuch der katholischen Dogmatik, Volume V, Freiburg 1882, §1579-1580)
During a recent discussion involving James Chastek and Arturo Vasquez, I uploaded some texts of De Koninck’s on birth control. The most interesting paper is “The Question of Infertility”, which argues that infertility is sometimes intended by nature as part of the “bonum prolis”, the good of offspring. I don’t want address the main argument here (I share James Chastek’s assessment), but the exposition of the meaning of “bonum prolis” at the beginning reminded of what I’ve always thought was wrong with Mr. Goodall’s argument in a famous passage of Evelyn Waugh’s Men at Arms.
“Bonum prolis” includes three things, De Koninck points out: 1) the simple existence of the child, 2) the feeding and clothing of the child, and 3) the education and upbringing of the child. The first two are ordered to the third:
Marriage was instituted chiefly for the good of the offspring, not only as to its begetting—since this can be effected even without marriage—but also as to its advancement to a perfect state, because everything intends naturally to bring its effect to perfection. (S. Th., Suppl., q.59, a. 2, c)
S. Thomas uses this understanding of “bonum prolis” to prove that fornication is contrary to the natural law:
Since fornication is an indeterminate union of the sexes, as something incompatible with matrimony, it is opposed to the good of the child’s upbringing [bonum prolis educandae], and consequently it is a mortal sin. (IIa IIae, q. 154, a. 2, c)
And this is precisely what Mr. Goodall fails to see. Waugh readers will recall that Guy Crouchback, protagonist of the Sword of Honour trilogy, is a Catholic whose Protestant wife has left him and obtained a divorce. Mr. Goodall, an eccentric old Catholic, and he have the following conversation:
[Goodall] spoke of the extinction (in the male line) some fifty years back, of a historic Catholic family.
“..They were a connection of yours through the Wrottmans of Garesby. [...] They had two daughters and then the wretched girl eloped with a neighbour. It made a terrible ado at the time. It was before before divorce was common. Anyway they were divorced. [...] Then ten years later your kinsman met this woman alone, abroad. A kind of rapprochement occurred but she went back to her so-called husband and in due time bore a son. It was in fact your kinsman’s. It was by law the so-called husband’s who recognized it as his. That boy is alive to-day and in the eyes of God the rightful heir to all his father’s quarterings.”
Guy was less interested in the quarterings than in the morality.
“You to say that theologically the original husband committed no sin in resuming sexual relations with his former wife?”
“Certainly nor. The wretched girl of course was guilty in every other way and is no doubt paying for it now. But the husband was entirely blameless.” (pp. 159-160)
Guy proceeds to act on this dubious morality, and later in the novel makes a pass at his former wife, Virginia. That is certainly contrary to the bonum prolis, and thus (in way) Virginia is right in her extraordinary outburst of indignation when she realizes what is going on, though she doesn’t give the proper ratio:
Tears of rage and humiliation were flowing unresisted. “I though you’d taken a fancy for me again [...] I thought you’d chosen me specially, and by God you had. Because I was the only woman in the whole world your priests would let you go to bed with. That was my attraction. You wet, smug, obscene, pompous, sexless lunatic pig.” (p. 178)