The Principles Of Christian Philosophy: Containing The Doctrines, Duties, Admonitions And Consolatio [PORTABLE]
And why, it may be asked, are we in this pursuit alone to expectknowledge without inquiry, and success without endeavour? The wholeanalogy of nature inculcates on us a different lesson, and our ownjudgments in matters of temporal interests and worldly policy confirmthe truth of her suggestions. Bountiful as is the hand of Providence,its gifts are not so bestowed as to seduce us into indolence, but torouse us to exertion; and no one expects to attain to the height oflearning, or arts, or power, or wealth, or military glory, withoutvigorous resolution, and strenuous diligence, and steady perseverance.Yet we expect to be Christians[Pg 8]without labour, study, or inquiry. Thisis the more preposterous, because Christianity, being a revelation fromGod, and not the invention of man, discovering to us new relations, withtheir correspondent duties; containing also doctrines, and motives, andpractical principles, and rules, peculiar to itself, and almost as newin their nature as supreme in their excellence, we cannot reasonablyexpect to become proficients in it by the accidental intercourses oflife, as one might learn insensibly the maxims of worldly policy, or ascheme of mere morals.
The Principles of Christian Philosophy: Containing the Doctrines, Duties, Admonitions and Consolatio
IILet us now see how the theory of Probabilism can be explained, when we take into account the distinction of Catholic morals in matters of principle, and their ideal conception of law as a rule of duty intensified by love. In its historical significance the word is connected with the various opinions expressed in casuistic works written on moral questions since the latter part of the Middle Ages; and more especially with the point how certainty in matters of conscience can be obtained where there is doubt as to the moral obligation of an act. As the word conscience itself indicates, consciousness, a conviction of the clearest possible kind, ought to precede our resolutions and actions, and when this is present naturally, or has been obtained by instruction and reflection, there is no need of any further theories. But what is to be done where there is uncertainty, and where on the one hand there are serious reasons for regarding an act as morally obligatory, and on the other hand equally good reasons for thinking that there is no obligation at all? May probability (probabilitas) here take the place of a knowledge of truth? Can it at least indirectly afford the conscience a certainty that is free from laxism no less than from rigorism and scrupulous adherence to the letter of the law? I must once more protest against the customary misrepresentations of Probabilism, and emphasize the fact that it by no means permits men to act in a way contrary to "their own convictions" and to their own judgment." All Catholic theologians are agreed in saying "that wherever moral certainty exists, wherever there is a true recognition of duty, there is but one kind of freedom, that of obedience." Nor do they require any scientific evidence or cogent proofs for their opinion, but simply that "moral certainty" which in practical questions is generally the only one obtainable, a certainty that does not exclude every possible, but every reasonable doubt. One need only open any textbook on morals in order to see that conscientia dubia has been the object of all disputes carried on by moralists in the last few centuries.1 Even where a direct perception of the moral truth is not possible, Catholic moralists unanimously require us to settle the theoretically insoluble difficulty somehow or other, so that we may not leave everything blindly and arbitrarily to chance, but have some clear, practical views before we proceed to action. This is the meaning of the rule that one must never act in dubio practico. But how can we obtain such clear views and calm judgments? The system called Tutiorism taught that in such cases, even though there may be weighty reasons against it, the mere conjecture that something is a duty has the same binding force upon the conscience that clear knowledge would have. Probabiliorism, however, denied that a conjecture has a binding force when there are weightier reasons for adopting an opinion less severe and in favour of freedom. Probabilism taught that as soon as any serious doubt arises regarding the existence of a duty, a doubt, which remains after conscientious reflection, corresponding to the education and circumstances of the person concerned, there is no obligation; lex dubia non obligat. Since the sixteenth century this theory has been represented by theologians of very various schools and orders. Many included also cases where the greater probability is on the side of the law, provided that this probability does not weaken the arguments in favour of the freer opinion. A Dominican, Bartholomeus Medina, in 1457, was the first to state the formula: si est opinia probabilis, licet eam sequi, licet opposita probabilior sit, thereby recognizing that the less probable opinion could justify the denial of obligation.2 The conflicts between the various systems brought to light much that was unedifying. The attacks of the Jansenists, and above all Pascal's "Provincial Letters," with their strong bias, spread misunderstanding and excitement far and wide in ecclesiastical circles. It is impossible not to blame some moralists of that period for a certain superficiality and want of decision in rejecting offensive opinions, when dealing with individual questions and when stating reasons on which they based their answers. Several Popes condemned certain lax, individual views of probabilistic authors. In a decree issued in 1680, Innocent XI commends and encourages Gonzalez, subsequently General of the Society of Jesus, for his energetic opposition to the definition of Probabilism given above.3 Yet it was precisely among the Jesuits that this theory continued to prevail, although the meaning and the natural limitations of the formula were more clearly established. St. Alphonsus Liguori was not satisfied with Probabiliorism, nor with the simple form of Probabilism. He restricted the application of the rule lex dubia non obligat to cases of genuine doubt, where the arguments for and against were approximately of equal weight, hut he maintained that the law continued to be binding if its applicability were more probable than not. This is equiprobabilism, to which the Redemptorists still adhere, and also many other theologians who are decidedly opposed to the other line of thought already mentioned. Our antagonists, therefore, who speak of Probabilism as tolerated and sanctioned by the Church, ought not to overlook the existence of this latter theory, which has many adherents. Taken as a whole, and as including both theories, Probabilism has certainly almost completely displaced Tutiorism and Prohabiliorism, which, whilst ostensibly rigorous, contain many defects both from the scientific and the practical points of view. But does the existence of Probabilism not acknowledge the fact that Catholic morals contain or suggest a view according to which law and liberty are placed in opposition to one another? An important distinction already drawn supplies us with the answer to this question. The basis common to all morality is the relation of free action to an absolute end, viz., the highest good. It follows from the very essence of the absolute good, or, in other words, from the attitude of His creatures towards God, that this relation embraces all our actions, In the moral life there are no gaps or breaks, there is no sphere where natural liberty is exempt from the dominion of the law. Just as our reason cannot think correctly unless guided by logical principles, so there can be no practical judgment and action unless subjected to ethical principles. In reply to the question whether all our actions ought to have relation to God, all theologians, including Probabilists, answer in the affirmative, and thus proclaim the principle of a morality controlling all free action.4 The great majority, following St. Thomas, go further and declare that this supremacy of the moral law must not be merely negative, excluding all irregularity in deliberate actions, but must be positive, since it ought to regulate all the aims of creatures with reference to the highest aim. In other words, this means that nothing is morally indifferent if it belongs to our conscious actions; he who does not do right, does wrong. As charity in the life of Christians is nothing but the intensified, living, and vigorous form of this fundamental striving after morality, the full surrender of self to the highest Good for its own sake, we can see that, in the case of those in a state of grace, love is an all-embracing law, knowing no limitations or exceptions. This is a central point in St. Thomas's doctrine of morals to which all subsequent spiritual teachers have adhered, though they have held various opinions regarding the kind of influence possessed by love. "It is contained in the commandment regarding love, that we must love God with our whole heart; this involves referring all things to God; hence man cannot fulfil the commandment of love, unless a relation to God is given to everything."5Subordinated to charity, which is the great commandment of Christianity, is a system of laws regulating the various departments of our moral life. Property, honour, sexual life, and the state, all acquire moral significance when viewed in the light of the highest Good, but their binding power is limited, not absolute. The human intellect is complete and without condition; it is subject only to the Infinite; with regard to particular points of morality it is bound only in as far as they must be observed, to reach the highest and ultimate aim of our existence. Hence there exists actually a right to freedom of action with regard to the individual laws of morality; the duties of prayer, almsgiving, obedience, etc., have their limitations, and can themselves become limitations to the higher use of liberty. This does not mean that, after establishing my "liberty" with regard to some particular duty, "I may do what I like"; for in all that I do I am subject to the obligation of morality as such, and as a Christian I must observe the law of charity. It is almost incomprehensible how any one can so misunderstand the Probabilists, when they discuss duty and liberty, as to represent freedom from some particular law as equivalent to a removal of every moral obligation, and the letting loose of immoral tendencies and interests. We may even say that most casuistic questions turn on duties arising out of human laws and on obligations to the Church or state. Even Herrmann admits (p. 37) that, with regard to such laws, moral liberty does not completely surrender its independence or its rights. Herrmann particularly objects to the arguments advanced by Cathrein in support of the probabilistic rule: lex dubia non obligat. In the latter's book on moral philosophy (p. 368) we read: "For a law to have a binding force upon us, it must be sufficiently promulgated. It is a universally recognized principle in law that lex non promulgata non obligat. Now a really doubtful law, against the existence of which weighty reasons can be alleged, may be regarded as insufficiently promulgated, and therefore it is not binding. We can develop the same idea in another way -- Man is in himself master of his actions, freedom of action has been given him by God. Every limitation to this liberty, or, what is the same thing, every law imposed upon a man, must be positively proved; and until this proof is forthcoming, man is free to act in the matter as he pleases. If, however, the existence of a law is really doubtful, and if there are serious reasons against it, the proof is null and void, and the man retains his right to determine his own actions."6Is there anything in this passage that justifies Herrmann in regarding the liberty, to which Cathrein alludes, as liberty from the moral law in general, and his "freedom of action" as license to do what one likes? Has Herrmann any right thus to impute to Catholics a desire to be absolutely free from God, or, in other words, to be godless? The whole of the first part of Cathrein's Moral Philosophy was written to show that man's true greatness and happiness must be sought only in turning to God, and that the moral law, though based on God, is still the expression of our innermost nature, and therefore sets its mark on all the free actions of man. He says: "The natural law is, so to say, the necessary endowment or equipment of human nature, and is made known to men by the natural light of reason. Therefore the sphere of its legality is as universal as that of human nature itself. . . . Reason commands me, as a man, to observe the order proper to myself, and to do sounconditionally, i.e., not merely to-day or to-morrow, here or in some other place, but always and everywhere. There is therefore no position conceivable, in which the natural law is not binding upon man" (p. 336). The principle derived from jurisprudence concerning the melior conditio possidentis is, in its application to morality, certainly likely to be misunderstood, and has therefore been abandoned (as a fundamental part of the system) by many recent Probabilists; according to the fundamental theory of Catholic morals its actual meaning may be as follows: Although it belongs to the essence of reason to order everything with reference to God and His glory, yet according to the nature of our reason and will this is only a general law, affecting our principles; it does not preclude, but actually demands our independent examination of the means to this end. This moral freedom of the individual to choose his way to God according to his own independent judgment, is actually limited by particular laws in which certain interests of morality occur as objective demands. A true and certain knowledge of the latter, causes freedom to be rediscovered in the law -- what is necessary for the honour of God is best also for man. But just on the border line disputes are apt to arise between the advantages and interests of various particular laws; and thus the personal liberty to order one's own life, which in itself is a good, may be imperilled by demands for which there are no proofs. In this sense the probabilistic principle, lex dubia non obligat, in cases where there is reasonable doubt, maintains the right of freedom to assert itself." Herrmann is of opinion that the preceding statements are likely to be injurious to the Church. He thinks that when I say the moral law continues in force as such, even though one duty may be released, I am revealing the unmoral mode of thought of the Church. As the moral law is the carrying out of what each perceives to be right, to release any one from it, as is permitted by Probabilism, is to destroy every moral obligation. I certainly, he considers, had no right to reproach him with having failed, in a ridiculous way, to understand me. If Herrmann requires us to look at things from his point of view, he must be prepared to look at them from ours; but he represents things to his readers as if a Catholic, feeling himself free from some one obligation, "has satisfied all the demands of morality, and for the rest can do as he likes" (p. 27), so that he has escaped from "the restrictions" of morality and can give free rein to his desires (p. 40). I was bound to refute this utterly false and unfair statement. The Catholic Church, as a matter of fact, upholds an idea of morality that lays hold of life more uniformly, and regulates it more strictly, than the Protestant Church does. By assuming that Herrmann had misunderstood this, I wished to make him a polite rejoinder; I was not then concerned with the fact that he has quite a different fundamental idea of morals. The nearer Herrmann approaches to the problem, the more does he limit his universal condemnation of Probabilism as a theory destructive of conscience (which was the point that I primarily had to notice), to the fundamental principle of simple Probabilism, according to which one may, when in doubt, follow the less probable opinion. When he singled out this form of Probabilism as the type, as the "bone of contention," he ought to have acknowledged that the strong, perhaps at the present time preponderating tendency of St. Alphonsus is in direct opposition to this probabilistic principle. He would in that case have been obliged to represent the Pope's7 recommendation of St. Alphonsus not as a confirmation by the Church of the opinion that he considers unmoral, but rather as a warning against it. In 1762 St. Alphonsus abandoned simple Probabilism, and thenceforth adhered steadily to the following principle: "If the opinion in favour of the law seems to us more solidly probable, we must follow it unconditionally, and may not adopt the opposite opinion in favour of freedom. The reason is that we, in order to act permissibly, must ascertain and follow thetruth in doubtful matters, and where the truth cannot be clearly ascertained, we must at least adopt that opinion which comes nearer to the truth; and this is the more probable opinion."8 Ter Haar points out to Herrmann that St. Alphonsus' teaching coincides in many respects with his own.9 This discovery should have caused to vanish into smoke a great deal of the fiery indignation in Herrmann's reply.10 Herrmann desires me to state "more explicitly" how I stand with reference to this controversy. The voluminous literature on the subject seems to me to show two things: viz., that untenable arguments are occasionally adduced in support of both views, and these can easily be refuted; and that, on the other hand, there are difficult problems, connected not only with ethics, but with the theory of cognition, underlying the whole matter. As to the theory of cognition, some agreement has been reached since the AEquiprobabilists admit higher probability as such not to be identical with moral certainty. Consequently they give up some grounds upon which St. Alphonsus relied, and base their system upon the theory that the sententia probabilior pro lege, being "nearer to truth" and affording "greater" guarantee that it is in objective agreement with the law of God, is the opinion binding upon the conscience. Not much deliberation is needed to enable one to see that a preponderance of reasons, and a subjective probability flowing therefrom, is noetically possible without destroying the probability of the opposite opinion. The Bible, history, law, and politics supply us with hundreds of instances of this. The same thing must occur in questions of morals, both natural and positive. Many of these doubtful questions have been discussed in ethical works of every kind, and new ones constantly present themselves with the advance of civilization. The more such questions are separated from the life of individuals, and treated in an abstract and scientific manner, the easier will it be to show the relation between arguments and counter arguments, and to designate one opinion as theoretically probabilior and the other as probabilis. For instance, St. Alphonsus describes as probabilis the opinion that any price may be asked for curios, but as probabilior the opposite view, according to which the price is to be fixed by an expert's valuation.11 Lugo calls probabilissima the opinion that in making restitution no attention need be paid to the order in which the debts were contracted, but he a