old "penny catechism" that Catholic children used to memorize in
Catholic schools includes
this all-important question and response:
Why did God make
God made us to know, love, and serve Him, and to be happy
with Him forever in
This is the very essence of moral theology.1 The object of moral theology is God
Himself, and how we can know,
love, and serve Him so that we can be with Him and with all the
faithful departed in eternity, for ever and for ever. The goal of the
Christian is the Beatific Vision -- that is, to see God face to Face!
-- and to "become God" -- not
in terms of taking on His Divine Essence, but in terms of partaking of
His Divine Nature.
We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to
Face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am
II Peter 1:3-4
As all things of his divine power which appertain to life and
godliness, are given us, through the knowledge of Him Who hath called
us by His own proper glory and virtue. By Whom He hath given us most
great and precious promises: that by these you may be made partakers of
the divine nature...
Nothing else will truly and deeply satisfy us. No amount of wealth,
fame, wordly power, sex, or other physical pleasures can "fill us up"
and make us whole.2
Consider the "existential nausea" Sartre wrote about, the "angst" felt
by those who are unmoored not just from Truth, but from even the very
idea that objective Truth exists at all, adrift in a universe they see
as ultimately meaningless, estranged from God and from others.
Consider how Nietzsche sadly proclaimed that God is dead, and how the
philosopher died in a madhouse, his brain, some say, rotted with
Consider the post-1960s-era, which has culminated in a generation
raised to think they are nothing but, in essence, "glorified monkey
meat," populating one of a billion planets that aimlessly swirls about
in space, all the result of mere chance, of "slime X time," as I like
to put it. Living without a sense of deep meaning and a dedication to
even, at least, the search
for Truth has made them confused and angry,
a people whose rage is manifest in a desire to destroy and foment
revolution, all fueled by political soundbytes born of corporate media
lies, and whose understanding of things political has the depth of a
thimble made for a doll house.
All of these things are a symptom of people cutting themselves off from
-- and being intentionally deprived of, thanks to the doings of our
bought-off politicians, education systems, and media -- the only source
of true and lasting peace, order, and joy, which is communion with God.
The means by which we can
know God and learn how to
serve Him so we can have communion with Him are reason and faith --
i.e., by accepting and then studying Divine Revelation (Sacred
Scripture, Sacred Tradition, and the infallible decisions of the
Magisterium) and making reasoned deductions from it (or taking guidance
from holy men and women who have). By behaving morally, we please God
and, by His grace alone, will be able to partake of the divine nature.
This page will serve as a very basic, little primer on basic
Catholic Moral Theology, offered with the hope that it will help
Catholics learn exactly what the Church teaches with regard to doing
the right thing, developing good habits (virtues), avoiding bad habits
(vices), avoiding sin, etc. It'll be divided into the following
There are all sorts of things that a man does that are not under the
control of his will. Reflexes, how often his heart beats, epileptic
seizures, absentmindedly playing with one's hair -- all of these are
examples of things that aren't matters of volition. Moral
theologians call these "acts of man" because while it is a man doing
them, they do not engage his properly human powers of intellect and
But every time a man deliberately
chooses to do something, he exercises his will. Moral theologians call
these sorts of acts "human acts" because they engage the will that is
proper to a human being. It is human acts that have a moral dimension,
and in order to serve
God well, we must avoid immoral acts (sins), and engage only in acts
that are morally good or morally neutral. Included in this is not
refraining from doing what we are commanded to do. Failures to do what
we should are called "sins of omission."
A human act is morally good when it serves the purpose of helping man
end -- communion with God -- and when it glorifies God. Such acts might
include giving alms, helping one's neighbor, attending Mass, etc.
A human act is morally neutral, objectively, in itself, when it neither
furthers nor disrupts man's goal of attaining communion with and
glorifying God. Such acts might include riding a bike, watching TV,
playing a game of Monopoly, etc. Any time the will is used, though, it
is either used in accordance with right reason or it isn't. So,
subjectively, even these objectively morally neutral acts have moral
value. For example, it is good to kick back, chill, and engage in
recreation in an ordinate manner, and
playing that game of Monopoly is fine in itself; but playing a
game of Monopoly when one should be studying or working makes the act
of playing the game, even though neutral in itself, morally bad.
Watching TV is, in itself, morally neutral, but watching programs that
cause you to lust is morally bad. And finally, you could be riding your
bike to go visit Grandma, which is morally good, or you could be riding
your bike to escape the scene of a crime you just committed, which
would be morally bad.
A human act is morally bad when it is out of harmony with the purpose
man's glorifying and attaining communion with God, thus preventing the
supernatural happiness He wants for us. Such acts might
include willful murder, blasphemy, rape, etc. Included in this is the
failure to perform a moral act when one is commanded to (sin of
In order to choose to engage in a human act, a man must: be free from
compulsion (the act must be voluntary
and not a response to threats, fear, etc.), free from the effects of
disease that can affect his will and ability to understand (e.g.,
dementia, psychosis, mental retardation, etc.), free from things that
affect his ability to give attention to the act (e.g., he must be
awake, not half-asleep, etc.), have attained the age
of reason (the age of seven), and know
substance and quality of the act he is choosing.
Note the emphasis on the word "know" just above. Not knowing what one should know is called
"ignorance." Now, note that, in moral theology, the baker who doesn't
how to perform open heart surgery isn't considered "ignorant" about
that type of surgery. Why? Because he isn't supposed to have
such knowledge. "Ignorance" refers to not knowing what one should
know, and it comes in different forms:
Regard to the Act
Ignorance of the
substance of an act: An example of ignorance of the substance of an act would be a man
operating a dump truck so that its contents fall onto and kill a person
he didn't know was there, even after he used due diligence to ensure
that it was safe to proceed.
Ignorance of the
quality of an act: An example of ignorance as to the quality of an act would be a 2-year
old who takes a cookie from a cookie bin at the store and eats it
without paying, not knowing that he is stealing.
Regard to the Will
There are three
types of ignorance that pertain to the will:
Concomitant ignorance: Concomitant
ignorance -- or ignorance that is simultaneous
with an act of the will -- is when one wills to do X, and one
does Y which only incidentally causes X. An example of concomitant
ignorance would be having the will to kill your neighbor, firing your
gun at his car not realizing he is in it, and killing that neighbor.
You didn't will the death of your neighbor during that specific act,
but you intended his death otherwise and would have killed him anyway.
Ignorance is consequent -- or follows
an act of the will -- when one deliberately remains in ignorance as an
excuse to sin, or when one doesn't use due diligence to acquire
necessary knowledge before acting. An example of consequent ignorance
would be if a man intentionally doesn't research which days are Holy
Days of Obligation so he thinks he is "off the hook" for attending Mass
on those days. Another example would be a man who hears a noise in the
woods and recklessly shoots toward its source, assuming it is an animal
to eat, without using due diligence to be sure it is actually an animal
and not a human being making the noise.
Ignorance is antecedent -- or precedes
an act of the will -- if it causes an act that the person would not
have made if he had known better. An example of antecedent ignorance is
if a man does use due diligence to affirm that what's making that noise
in the woods is, in fact an animal, but he, through no fault of his
own, ascertained incorrectly and kills a human being.
Whenever he acts, a man is supposed to know what he is doing and to
reasonably consider the consequences of his
action. His not knowing
what he is doing -- his ignorance about what he's doing -- is one of
two kinds, and it can affect the guilt (or merit) he incurs by the act.
The two types of ignorance are invincible ignorance and vincible
Invincible ignorance: Invincible
ignorance is ignorance that can't be eradicated even after all due,
reasonable care has been taken to remove it. If someone has truly done
his best to learn of his duties, the morality of various acts, etc.,
but commits a sin without willing to sin, he may be acting out of
invincible ignorance. Given what was stated earlier about the
requirements for a "human act," an action done with invincible
ignorance carries neither guilt nor merit.
Vincible ignorance is the opposite of invincible ignorance. It is
ignorance that can be eradicated by due diligence and reasonable care.
Vincible ignorance could result from some slight lack of care (simple
vincible ignorance), from grave fault (crass or supine vincible
ignorance), or from a willful desire not to know in order to feign
ignorance, such as when a man purposefully doesn't learn about the
morality of an action because he wants to keep engaging in it (studied
or affected vincible ignorance). An immoral action done in studied or
consequent ignorance make the action even more culpable.
Contrary to human law, ignorance can completely mitigate guilt -- if
the ignorance is invincible, is not voluntary in itself. Why is there
still some guilt when ignorance is vincible? Because we have the duty to inform our consciences (see
below about the conscience), to
understand Catholic teaching to the best of our abilities and as our
circumstances allow. Failure to do so is, in itself, a culpable act, a
sin of omission. And as to the various forms of ignorance with regard
to the will listed above, only antecedent ignorance renders an act
totally involuntary and, therefore, imputes no guilt to the one
committing the act.
Vincible ignorance can lessen the degree
of guilt, however -- for ex., when one does take due diligence, but
some ignorance remains. Note that it is the level of knowledge that is
key here. If someone has an I.Q. of, say, 79 and, after doing his best
to learn what the Church teaches, simply does not understand Catholic
marriage laws but wills to
live up to them, and then fails to live up to them due to ignorance,
his guilt for his failure is mitigated, perhaps totally eradicated,
because of his intellectual challenges. In the parable
of the faithful and wicked stewards,
Jesus touches on how ignorance can mitigate guilt. From the Gospel
according to St. Luke 12:46-48, my emphasis:
The lord of that
servant will come in the day that he hopeth not, and at the hour that
he knoweth not, and shall separate him, and shall appoint him his
portion with unbelievers. And that
servant who knew the will of his lord, and prepared not himself, and
did not according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes.
But he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten
with few stripes. And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much
shall be required: and to whom they have committed much, of him they
will demand the more.
He knows our hearts. He knows our minds. He knows what we know and what
we don't know. And He will judge us perfectly, taking into
consideration all of that information. And note that when we deal with
another, we don't know their hearts and their minds, which is why
attempts to judge souls rather than
actions is not only forbidden, but irrational.
In addition to ignorance are such things as simple error, forgetting
what one has learned, inattention, etc., all of which can also mitigate
Circumstances, and Motives of an Act
In order for an act to be a moral one, it must have the right end
done under the right circumstances, and be done with the right motives.
If any one of these three things -- end, circumstances, or motive -- is
evil, the act becomes evil to some degree. If any are deficient in
goodness, it can make a moral act less morally good. For example, to help the needy
is a right end. To do so when one is poor oneself
goes to circumstances that flavor the morality of the act, making it
more meritorious, just as giving a mere pittance when one could afford
to give much more would make it less meritorious. And to give for the
purpose of charity goes to
motive (moral) -- as would giving for the purpose of showing off one's
wealth (evil). Think of how
Lord Christ spoke to the Pharisees of His time, castigating them for
the ulterior motives that lay
behind their tithing. From the Gospel according to St. Matthew
Woe to you
scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you tithe mint, and anise,
and cummin, and have left the weightier things of the law; judgment,
and mercy, and faith. These things you ought to have done, and not to
leave those undone.
Blind guides, who strain out a gnat, and swallow a camel.
Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you make clean
the outside of the cup and of the dish, but within you are full of
rapine and uncleanness.
Thou blind Pharisee, first make clean the inside of the cup
and of the dish, that the outside may become clean. Woe to you scribes
and Pharisees, hypocrites; because you are like to whited sepulchres,
which outwardly appear to men beautiful, but within are full of dead
men' s bones, and of all filthiness. So you also outwardly indeed
appear to men just; but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.
Motive counts for a lot; our good intentions are even
meritorious for us with regard to things we can't accomplish because of
our circumstances, but would if we could. For example, a poor man who
would give a thousand dollars to an orphanage if he had it has the same
level of moral credit for that as the man who actually is able to give
that money and does so for the right motive. Consider the beautiful
story of the widow's mite, as recounted
in the Gospel according to St.
Mark 12:41-44, and how it illustrates this point:
sitting over against the treasury, beheld how the people cast money
into the treasury, and many that were rich cast in much. And there came
a certain poor widow, and she cast in two mites, which make a farthing.
And calling His disciples together, He saith to them: Amen I say to
you, this poor widow hath cast in more than all they who have cast into
the treasury. For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of
her want cast in all she had, even her whole living.
Know, though, that in spite of what so many seem to believe, good
intentions never make a morally bad act good. A bad intention can make
a good act morally wrong, but a good intention can't make a bad act
To sum up: in order to do well, do "the right thing, in the right way,
for the right reason."
The Ends Do Not
Justify the Means
Given that, for an act to be moral, it has to have the right end,
circumstances, and means, and that if any of those is evil, then the
act is evil, it's clear that it would be immoral to commit an evil act
even if our purpose -- our end -- is to bring about some good, For
example, we can't rob a bank with the intention of giving the stolen
money to the poor, we can't bomb abortion clinics in order to bring
about the end of infanticide, etc.
You may have encountered "The Trolley Problem." Here it is, as
described in The New Republic, written about by a man who most
definitely doesn't think like a Catholic:3
In the central
case of the trolley problem, we are asked to compare two choices:
• The footbridge dilemma: A runaway trolley is headed for
five railway workmen who will be killed if it proceeds on its present
course. You are standing on a footbridge spanning the tracks, in
between the oncoming trolley and the five people. Standing next to you
is a 300-pound man. The only way to save the five people is to push him
off the footbridge and onto the tracks below. The man will die as a
result, but his body will stop the trolley. (You are only half his size
and would not stop the trolley if you yourself jumped in front of it.)
• The switch dilemma: A runaway trolley is headed for five
workmen who will be killed if nothing is done. You can save these five
people by hitting a switch that will turn the trolley onto a sidetrack.
Unfortunately there is a single workman on the sidetrack who will be
killed if you hit the switch.
It turns out that most people the world over think that it
would be wrong to push the fat man off the footbridge, but that it
would be morally permissible to hit the switch -- even though the
of the two acts would be the same, one person killed and five saved.
Other examples have been invented to refine the search for the
determining characteristics that trigger a judgment of wrongness or
permissibility, and various principles have been formulated to capture
the results, but we need not go into those details here. The basic
point...is that we have strong moral reactions against certain actions
that cause harm but serve the greater good on balance, but not to other
actions that produce the same balance of good and harm.
There are two noteworthy differences between the two
dilemmas. First, in "switch" there is nothing mysterious about the
result; everyone gets the point of choosing the outcome with fewer
deaths. As Greene observes, "No one's ever said, 'Try to save more
lives? Why, that never occurred to me!'" But in "footbridge" the
choice, however convincing, is mysterious; it seems to call for, but
also to defy, explanation. What is it about pushing the fat man in
front of the trolley that overrides the value of the five lives that
would be saved? To say that it would violate his right to life, or that
it would be murder, seems to repeat rather than to explain the
The writer seems shocked that people are disinclined to commit an evil
(commit murder by throwing the fat man onto the tracks) even though
good -- the saving of others' lives -- might come of it, and he's
baffled that people don't have a problem flipping a switch, which isn't
inherently evil, even though, in both cases, the same number of lives
could be saved, and the same number of people die. A Catholic who knows
his Faith understands this perfectly and would have no problem knowing
what to do -- and not do -- if confronted with "the Trolley Problem" in
real life: i.e., leave the fat man alone, and flip that switch,
intention is not to kill the single workman, which brings us to the
principle of double effect...
The Principle of
Actions rarely have only one effect, and sometimes one effect of an
action is good, and another effect is evil. If we cannot do evil, that
good may come of it, what happens when there are both a good an evil
effect from a single act?
For example, during a just war, a pilot is sent on a mission to bomb
the last bridge over a river to prevent the revolutionary army from
crossing and eventually taking over his homeland, subjecting his
country's women to abuse, destroying his people's way of life, etc. By
bombing the bridge, he'll help to save his country, people, and
culture, an obviously good effect. Yet, nightmarishly, as he
approaches, he sees that there are three young children playing on the
bridge. But enemy tanks are rolling up quickly, giving him no time at
all to wait; he must act or not act now. By not acting, he'll
fail to protect his homeland; by acting, the children will certainly
die -- a great evil he in no way wants to happen. What must he do?
Another common example is an ectopic, or tubal pregnancy. In such a
case, a baby has implanted itself in the Fallopian tube of his mother.
As the baby grows, both mother and baby would be killed. Can a doctor
operate? Is this not abortion and prohibited? Must the mother accept
death and also allow her child to die as well?
The answers to such questions are shaped by the "principle of double
effect" which states that we can perform an action that might have an unintended but foreseen evil effect
if and only if all of the following are true:
So the pilot would not only be justified but, given his duty,
would be obliged to drop the bomb, since the destruction of the bridge
is good, is the immediate effect of the bomb, isn't caused by the
deaths of the children, is his only intention, and while the death of
those innocent children is a great evil, his duty and the evils of
invasion are sufficiently serious matters that compel that he act.
- the action
itself is morally good or neutral;
- a good
effect follows the act;
- the good effect
that follows the action isn't
caused by the evil effect;
- the evil effect
- we only
intend the good effect; and
- the reason for
committing the act is
Similarly, the mother must have the operation because it serves the
good goal of saving the mother's life, the immediate effect of the
operation is the removal of the damaged Fallopian tube, the death of
the baby isn't the cause of the saving of the mother's life, the only
goal is to prevent the mother's death, the horribly sad death of the
baby isn't the intention of the surgeon or the mother, and saving the
mother's life is sufficiently serious and important.
The passions, or the emotions, are our feelings, and they arise not
toward the Good as our intellect
perceives it, but the Good as our senses
There are two types of passions:
Concupiscible passions - The object
of the six concupiscible passions is the desire for a good or the
avoidance of an evil in circumstances with no obstacles, with nothing
standing in the way of attaining the good or avoiding the evil. The six
concupiscible passions are: joy/pleasure vs.
pain/sorrow; desire vs. avoidance/abhorrence; and love vs. hate.
Irascible passions -
The object of the five irascible passions is the good that is difficult
to attain, or evil that is difficult to avoid. The five irascible
passions are: hope vs. despair; courage vs. fear; and anger (anger has
Unlike the Stoics who saw our emotions as bad, and unlike Buddhists who
see desire as something to be snuffed out in order to erase suffering
from the world, the Church sees the passions as good in themselves, as
indicators of an intensity of will. That the Master of Love Himself
exhibited sadness, anger, and other emotions is clear proof that the
emotions are not bad. Yes, the passions are good, and are morally
neutral in themselves -- but how we use or fail to use our will to
guide and act
on them is where morality comes in. They become voluntary, and
therefore morally relevant, if they're willed or if we fail to use our
will as we should to moderate them to the best of our abilities so that
they motivate us only do the good, and to avoid evil.
Morally, how we use our emotions is good if we use our will to direct
them to a moral good, using reason to direct them toward a good purpose
and in moderation in accordance to the circumstances we find ourselves
in. And, of course, the converse is true: we use our passions
immorally if we employ them in ways contrary to the above. Take anger,
for example. Anger, in itself, is neutral. But there is a radical
difference between, on the one hand, someone's being angry for an
unjust cause, nurturing that anger, and working himself into a rage to
commit an evil to seek revenge, and, on the other hand, the anger
experienced by someone who sees an atheist mock Christ or His Blessed
Mother (a righteous anger) and has angry words with the blasphemer (a
moral act if done prudently).
Note that it isn't the pleasantness or unpleasantness of an emotion
that makes them good or bad. Shame, for example, is unpleasant, but
good if it is caused by the commission of a sin. If we sin, we should
feel shame, and feeling shame motivates us to go to Confession and to try to sin no more. On the
contrary, having pleasant emotions can be bad, such as in the case of
someone who feels pleasure at seeing someone fail simply because he is
envious of that person.
The passions can make an act more or less moral or evil as well. The
language the Church uses to describe this are the words "antecedent"
and "consequent" relative to the use
of reason. If a passion
causes an act antecedent to
-- before -- the the use of reason -- i.e., if the passion-caused act
comes before a man stops to think and use
his reason to inform his will -- it can diminish the good or the evil
of the act he engages in; if it is consequent
to -- if it follows -- the
use of reason, it can increase the good or the evil of the act.
For example, even civil
law recognizes "crimes of passion" -- say when a man comes home early
from work and catches his wife cheating on him with another man. If,
without having time to think, he acts in a rage and kills them, it is
less evil than
if he'd caught them without their seeing him, sneaked away, and plotted
their murder, "lying in wait" for them at a later time.
It is important to recognize your passions, or emotions, and to master
them. A failure to do allows them
to master you -- and allows others to become your master by
manipulating your feelings. Take a look around at the modern West and
see how our emotions are manipulated so that we vote for whomever the
powers that be want us to vote for, buy what they want us to buy, say
what they want us to say, etc. Think of how fear and lustful desire are
used to blackmail and control those in power. Think of the radical
ineffectiveness of those who are addicted to pornography -- so
controlled by their passions that they are unable to develop real
relationships with real, living others, are unable to remain faithful,
and spend their time masturbating in darkened rooms rather than
building and defending what is Good.
To become masters of our passions, we must recognize them, name them,
and develop good habits, or virtues.
Most of us are aware of how the word "habit" is typically used, and
while that standard definition is included in Catholic moral theology,
the Church's way of understanding habits is much more expansive.
sources and types of
A habit is a quality that affects, for good or ill, how we behave in
terms of patterns of activity, a quality that affects our propensity to
perform an act and the ease with which we perform it. Habits are
either supernaturally infused by God (such as the
sanctifying grace we're given at Baptism), or they're acquired, either
being obtained from nature or through repeated acts and discipline (or
the lack thereof). There are two
different types of habits:
Entitative habit - an entitative
habit is a habit that affects the entire person (or "entity") in
beauty, fatness, and sanctifying grace are examples of entitative
Operative habit - an
operative habit is a hard-to-change quality that doesn't affect the
entire person and eases, for good or ill, a propensity to engage in a
behavior. Such things as brushing one's teeth three times a day,
abstentminded abuse of tobacco, always placing your shoes next to the
front door, or acquiring the skills to play the cello are types of
Good habits are called "virtues"; bad habits are
There are three
types of virtue: the intellectual, the moral, and the theological.
virtues are good habits that perfect the intellect with regard to
Truth, the intellect's proper end. They derive from Nature and through
practice. There are two types:
Speculative intellectual virtues
- Understanding, which is the habit of
seeing as true those things that are self-evident, such as first
principles and axiomatic truths (i.e., assertions that are
self-evident, for ex., "A=A," "The whole is greater than the part,"
- Knowledge (or science), which is the
habit of seeing truths that are determined from rational arguments and
derived from first principles.
- Wisdom, which is the habit of using
reason to see things in light of ultimate Truths. Wisdom is the supreme
- Prudence, which is the habit of
using the intellect in order to ascertain what should be done -- or not
done -- in specific circumstances. Prudence is also a moral virtue, as
we'll soon see.
- Art, which is the habit of using the
intellect in order to make things that are useful or beautiful.
The Moral Virtues
Moral virtues are habits that perfect the sensuous appetite and the
will. They, like the intellectual virtues, are derived from Nature and
through practice. They are grouped together under four main virtues --
Prudence, Justice, Fortitude, and Temperance -- virtues known as "the
cardinal virtues" because all of the other moral virtues are rooted in
them. The Cardinal virtues, listed in order of their importance, and
the other virtues annexed to them are:
Prudence: The Cardinal Virtue of Regulating The
Prudence is the virtue of using reason to figure out the
right thing to do in a given circumstance, taking into
consideration things like the person or people one is dealing with,
timing, place, the potential effects of a given action, etc. Note that
prudence is also listed as an
intellectual virtue above.
Fortitude: The Cardinal Virtue of Regulating The
Fortitude relates to getting rid of obstacles that stand in
the way of doing the right things and of Justice. It can be thought of
as courage, bravery, valor, determination, etc. The virtues annexed to
- Patience - the virtue of dealing
serenely with evil.
- Munificence - the virtue of giving
with great generosity, going above and beyond liberality or giving what
is owed to others (see
- Magnanimity - the virtue of willing
to do great works deserving of honor. Note that this doesn't contradict
the virtue of humility, which is simply recognizing the Truth about
oneself. A man's knowing that he has, in fact, done great things worthy
of honor doesn't mean he isn't humble because what he has done is real,
it is true.
- Perseverance - the virtue of hanging
on and continuing forward, in spite of obstacles and hardships, in
order to do what is right.
Temperance: The Cardinal
Virtue of Regulating The Concupiscible Passions
Temperance relates to man's dealing with his own
concupiscible passions. The virtues annexed to Temperance are:
- Abstinence - the virtue that
regulates desire for food and drink.
- Chastity - the virtue that keeps
in check one's desire to engage in inordinate use of one's sexual
- Modesty - the virtue that keeps in check
one's impulse to flaunt oneself externally. This virtue pertains to
much more than just how one dresses oneself
and includes not giving in to inordinate desire for attention, glory,
- Humility - the virtue that keeps in check
one's desire to inflate one's own importance or greatness, including to
oneself. Imagine a person who presents himself as humble and good, but
who inwardly sees himself as more than he is and who flaunts power:
that person is not, in fact, humble, in spite of how he presents
himself to the world. Humility is, in essence, simply recognizing the
Truth about oneself, both the bad and the good.
- Meekness - the virtue that keeps in check
one's impulse to give in to a desire for evil to come to those who do
wrong. It doesn't preclude righteous anger, a desire for justice, or a
desire for a wrongdoer to be punished by those with the authority to
- Clemency - the virtue that allows one to be
merciful (when it makes sense to be merciful) when punishing
- Studiousness - the virtue that
regulates how we use our minds to acquire knowledge. A deficit of
studiousness results in neglect of study; an excess results in a vice
Aquinas refers to as "curiosity," by which he doesn't mean what we
typically mean by the word these days. Instead, he is referring to
disordered study, e.g., gaining knowledge for a bad reason, such as
pride, focusing too much on trivial matters, illicit attempts to gain
occult knowledge (such as through divination), etc.
- Eutrapelia - the virtue that allows
one to be of good cheer and to enjoy, in an ordinate manner, the
pleasures of games, sports, jests, jokes, fun, and play.
Justice: The Cardinal Virtue
of Regulating The Will
Justice relates to man's dealings with others, including God.
The virtues annexed to Justice are:
work together when perfected. Lack the perfection of one, lack the
perfection of all. Consider a man who has what look
like the qualities of Fortitude in that he's willing to work hard or
risk his life to attain a goal -- but who, lacking Justice, has a goal
that is unholy. In reality, he has no Fortitude at all, because moral
behavior necessarily involves the right ends, or objectives. Or think
of the Muslim suicide bombers who are sometimes described as being
"courageous" in being willing to blow themselves up to attain their
evil ends: in reality, they don't possess the virtue of Fortitude at
all, nor are they expressing the virtue of religion because they are
not giving God His due by such actions, nor are they exhibiting other
virtues pertaining to Justice in giving their neighbors their due.
Hence, they are not truly courageous at all; they are foolhardy (to say
the very least).
- Religion - the virtue of
giving God His due.
- Piety - giving one's parents,
children, family, countrymen, country, etc. their due. Piety stands in
stark opposition to modern liberal thinking that mocks patriotism and
steers us toward globalism. Our loyalties start with God through the
virtue of religion, and then, through piety, go to family, then town,
then province, then country, and continue outward in concentric
circles, with "the world" coming last. Modern liberalism encourages
"leapfrogging loyalties" that lead so many "progressives" to be more
concerned about some group living in a land they've never visited than
they are about their own families and country. Even worse, consider one
of PETA's slogans (PETA is a radical "animal
rights" activist group): "A Rat Is a Pig Is a Dog Is a Boy." That
sound byte is evidence of a group so lacking in piety that they put
loyalty to animals even before loyalty to the human race, nevermind
loyalty to their own children.
The character of Mrs. Jellyby in Charles Dickens's "Bleak House" is a
good representation of a person lacking in piety.4
- Observance - the virtue of respecting those
in authority or who possess the dignity of office. Aspects of
observance include dulia (honoring people of virtue), obedience (to
those we owe obedience), affability (friendship and brotherly love for
all), gratitude, liberality (the virtue of giving from one's wealth
what is due to others), truthfulness, and vengeance (the infliction of
punishment on one who has sinned, not out of hatred, but so "that the
sinner may amend, or at least that he may be restrained and others be
not disturbed, that justice may be upheld, and God honored").
- Epieikeia - the virtue of using
prudence to honor the spirit of a law when following the letter of the
law leads to an evil.
and moral virtues (not the theological
we'll get to next)
consist in what's called "the golden mean," that is, in aiming for that
which lies between excess and
deficit. For example, on one side of patience is apathy; on the other
side of patience is aggression. Foolhardiness is to one far side of
courage, and at the other extreme is cowardice. Eutrapelia lies between
boorishness on the one hand, and buffoonery on the other. Knowing what
golden mean is in a given situation, at a given time, under given
circumstances, is what Prudence,
the "emperor" of
the Cardinal Virtues, is for.
As a mnemonic
device (and a good way to teach the cardinal virtues to
your children), Prudence can be seen as ruling the head; Fortitude, the
heart; Temperance, the belly; and Justice, one's hands (one's dealings
[For a practical guide on developing the moral virtues, see Becoming Virtuous: Acquiring the Cardinal
The Theological Virtues
All of the virtues are geared toward our happiness, but no matter how
virtuous we are, we can't work our way into Heaven; it is God's grace
-- neither faith alone (which Protestants believe), nor works (which
many uneducated Protestants falsely accuse Catholics of believing) --
that saves us. So we know that there must be other virtues that lead us
toward the end we're called to -- to be with God in Heaven for ever,
and to partake of His Divine Nature.
The virtues that allow for this are called the "theological virtues"
because they derive from God Himself and from no other source. Unlike
the intellectual and moral virtues which even heathens can acquire
insofar as they conform to Natural Law (even if imperfectly because
they're not directed toward man's last end), we must rely on God alone
for the theological virtues, the virtues which unite us with God
Himself. There are
three such theological virtues:
Faith - Faith is a supernaturally
infused virtue that illuminates the intellect, giving man knowledge of
supernatural truths, the acceptance of divine revelation.
Hope - Hope is a
supernaturally infused virtue that informs the will, helping man to trust in God and in
His promises of everlasting life.
Charity - Charity
is a supernatually infused virtue that informs the will, allowing us to
love God and love our neighbor for
the sake of God. Faith sees God in light of Truth; Hope sees Him
in light of His Goodness as it pertains to us and our salvation;
Charity sees God in terms of His intrinsic Goodness and allows us to
love God because He is Love itself, and to love our neighbors because
we love Him. Charity is the greatest of all virtues! And it will never
die, unlike Faith and Hope which we won't need in Heaven because we
will see Him face to Face and know all things. Heaven is the
fulfillment of our
Faith and Hope.
I Corinthians 13:1-8: "If I speak with the tongues of men, and of
angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a
tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know
all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so
that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am
nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the
poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not
charity, it profiteth me nothing. Charity is patient, is kind:
charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up; Is not
ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no
evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the
truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all
things, endureth all things. Charity
never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues
shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed."
To receive the gifts of Faith, Hope, and Charity, ask God for them, and
receive the Church's Sacraments as necessary.
Make Acts of Faith, Hope, and Charity.
He will not refuse you! Apocalypse of St. John 3:20 tells us that He
says: "Behold, I stand at the gate, and knock. If any man shall hear My
voice, and open to Me the door, I will come in to him, and will sup
with him, and he with Me." Say yes to the Divine Physician and be
The Complements of the Virtues
The Seven Gifts of
the Holy Ghost
The seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are complements of the virtues, like
the theological virtues -- habits of the soul infused in us by God,
helping us to please Him. They're lesser than the theological
virtues because they don't unite us with God, but "merely" help prepare
us to receive His guidance. The seven gifts of the Holy Ghost are:
(For a fascinating graphic showing how, at each Mass, the
priest prays seven times that we receive each of the Seven Gifts of the
Holy Ghost, see this page.)
- Understanding - an intellectual gift
that helps us to understand what we are to believe
- Wisdom - an intellectual gift that
helps us to adhere to the Faith
- Knowledge - an intellectual gift
that helps us understand created things
- Counsel - an intellectual gift that
helps us understand human actions
- Fortitude - a gift that guides our
irascible passions and make us trust in victory
- Piety - a gift that guides our
irascible passions so that we love God and others
- Fear of the Lord - a gift that
guides the concupiscible passions and helps us to not offend God
The Twelve Fruits of
the Holy Ghost
The twelve fruits of the Holy Ghost, enumerated by St. Paul in his
epistle to the Galatians 5:22-25, are actions that grow out of virtue
and from the Gifts of the Holy Ghost. The fruits are:
The Eight Beatitudes
The Beatitudes derive from Christ's Sermon on the Mount, and can be
found in the Gospel according to St. Matthew 5:3-10. They are:
- Poorness of
- Meekness (Note
that "meek" in Christ's Beatitudes is the perhaps unfortunate English
translation of the Greek word "praˇtes," meaning "temperate,"
"displaying the right blend of force and reserve or gentleness,"
"avoiding unnecessary harshness, yet without compromising or being too
slow to use necessary force." It doesn't refer to being a weak
- Hungering after
- Cleanness of
- Suffering of
persecution for the sake of Justice
Bad Habits: The Vices, and Sin
A vice is a habit that tends toward evil and sin. A sin is a thought,
or failure to act when one should (an omission) that goes against
God's law and which results from vice or reinforces vice.
Sin can be categorized in many different ways:
sort of delight taken in it:
and carnal sin
include such things as spiritual envy (see, for example, the parable of the Laborers
in the Vineyard), vainglory (seeking praise from men), etc. Carnal
sins are sins such as lust, gluttony, etc.
terms of malice, spiritual sins are worse, in themselves, than carnal
sins, as can be seen in how Jesus dealt roughly with the Pharisees who
condemned the adulterous woman in John 8, a woman He treated with
whom is most directly offended:
God, others, or self
|Sins against God
are more grave than sins against His creatures. Sins against people are
worse than sins against their possessions. Sins against those who have
a greater claim on you in terms of the duties you owe to them are worse
than sins against those with a lesser
claim -- e.g., it is more sinful to murder one's own child than a
stranger's child. And when it comes to possessions, it's more sinful to
commit offenses against things that are necessary or precious to
someone than something that isn't -- e.g., it's more sinful to take a
poor man's money than a rich man's, and it's more sinful to steal a
watch that is a precious heirloom than it is to steal another watch.
evil done by acting or not acting:
and sin of omission
failure to act morally (sin of omission) is just as sinful as acting
immorally (sin of commission). For example, walking by and ignoring a
pleading for help is sinful, as would be beating him and leaving him by
the side of the road.
|sin of the
sin of the mouth, sin of work
|Sin can progress
from the heart (mind) to its actually being carried out. One can, for
example, be envious of someone (sin of the heart), go about slandering
him (sin of the mouth), and then do something to bring about his
ruin (sin of work).
it deviates from the golden mean:
|sin of excess
and sin of defect
|One sins by
deviating from the golden mean, whether by excess (e.g., foolhardiness)
or defect (cowardice).
|According to how
guilt is contracted:
|Original sin is
the sin of Adam that was passed on to the entire human race through no
individual fault of our own. Actual sin is sin that we commit ourselves
and are individually responsible for.
ignorance, or malice
|Sins of weakness
are those that stem from antecedent concupiscence and other passions.
They're considered sins against the Father because God the Father is
described by the attribute of power.
Sins of ignorance are those that stem from antecedent and vincible
ignorance. They're considered sins against the Son because God the
described by the attribute of wisdom.
Sins of malice are those that stem from the will to cause suffering or
harm, the will to hurt someone, without passion or
ignorance. They are considered sins against the Holy Ghost because the
God the Holy Ghost is described by the attribute of love. Generally
sins of malice are the most grave and much more serious than sins of
weakness or ignorance.
|If a sinful act
isn't willed, it is only a material sin and involves no guilt. It is a
formal sin if it is willed. For example, a person who forgets that it
is a Holy Day of Obligation only materially sins when missing Mass, and
isn't culpable (guilty); however, if a person knows it is a Holy Day of
Obligation and misses Mass
intentionally when he could have attended, he
formally sins and is culpable.
|A mortal or
"deadly" sin is a grave sin that results in eternal punishment, turning
us away from God and the last end we are called to. A sin is venial
it involves a lighter matter and doesn't result in eternal punishment.
In order to be culpable for a mortal sin, three conditions must be met:
1) the sin we commit must be grave or we must think it is grave; 2) we
must fully consent to it by our will; and 3) we must know or suspect or
think it is a grave sin and fully advert to it with our minds
("advertence" is giving our attention to something. To fully advert to
an act, we must be awake, in possession of our faculties, be of the age
of reason, not be intellectually handicapped, etc.). Mortal sins must
be confessed as soon as possible.
Venial sins can become mortal in some circumstances. For ex., stealing
a little bit of money might not be a grave sin in certain
circumstances, but doing so in order to get someone else blamed for it
-- an act of malice -- can change the nature of the sin, raising it
from venial to mortal. Joking to someone about the way he looks
not be a mortal sin in itself, but doing so while knowing that that
extremely sensitive about his looks and that your joking about his
cause him to go on a drinking binge could make that "little joke" a
The Seven Deadly Sins
Sins can also be seen as grouped according to the vice from which they
originate. There are seven main vices, known as the "Seven
Capital Sins" (also the "Seven Deadly Sins" or, very informally, the
"Seven Deadlies"). St. Thomas Aquinas, in his Summa Theologica, describes such a
sin like this: "a capital vice is that which has an exceedingly
desirable end so that in his desire for it a man goes on to the
commission of many sins all of which are said to originate in that vice
as their chief source." First formally enumerated by Pope St. Gregory
the Great in "Moralia in Job,"
they are pride, greed, lust, anger, gluttony, envy, and sloth. In more
Temptation to sin must be resisted. Not to resist temptation
matter is grave can be a mortal sin in itself if the lack of
resistance is considerable. To this end, we must avoid what the Church
"occasions of sin," that is, situations that make it likely we will
- Pride - Also known as "vainglory" or
"vanity," pride can be summarized as the state of having an inordinate,
sense of one's own worth. Pride is considered to be the "queen of all
vices," the root of the other vices, and the sin of which Satan was
guilty when he refused to subject himself to God with his "non
serviam" ("I will not serve!") attitude.
The opposite of
pride is simply recognizing the Truth about oneself. Because of this,
it isn't a matter of pride to acknowledge that one has certain gifts.
But it would be prideful if one fails to attribute those gifts to God,
fails to have gratitude for them, or abuses them. For example, a great
painter's recognizing that he has the ability to paint is simply a
matter of his recognizing a fact. But if he attributes his abilities
solely to himself, shows no gratitude to God for them, and, instead of
painting pictures that serve the True, Good, and Beautiful, makes
decadent, pornographic works, he is prideful.
The contrary virtue to pride is humility, an aspect of temperance. It's
the willingness to recognize one's own faults and to subject oneself to
God. To help develop humility, St. Benedict, in his Rule,
advises, "Let a man consider that God always seeth him from Heaven,
that the eye of God beholdeth his works everywhere, and that the angels
report them to Him every hour."
- Greed - Also known as "Avarice,"
greed is the inordinate love of wealth, the failure to treat worldly
goods as a means to a good end rather than as an end in themselves. The
adage "he who dies with the most toys wins" sums up this vice well.
The contrary virtue to greed is liberality, an aspect of justice. It's
the willingness to part with one's money or possessions in order to
serve the good. Liberality doesn't concern itself with the amount one
gives, but with the heart of the giver, as in the story of the Widow's
Mite, recounted above.
- Lust - Lust is the inordinate desire
for the carnal pleasures experienced in the genitals. By "inordinate,"
it's meant, generally, that the desire is for sexual pleasure outside
the confines of marriage and the laws that govern marital sex. It has
many different forms when acted upon, including fornication, adultery,
incest, sodomy, homosexual sex, etc.,
but the willed desire for such pleasures that one
has no right to is
itself. Those all too common fleeting sexual thoughts that come
unbidden are not sinful,
advert to such
thoughts (to willingly give them attention) is to "miss the mark" (to
The contrary virtue to lust is chastity, an aspect of temperance. We
are all to be chaste, but living chastely demands different things of
different people called to different social sacraments (holy matrimony or holy orders) or at
different stages of
life. The unmarried are called to sexual continence (to not have sexual
relations at all), with priests and religious
having the additional
duty to remain celibate (to not marry). The married live chastely by
engaging, or not, in marital relations.
Marital sex must be open to life, meaning that no means of artificial
birth control is licit. Natural Family Planning (NFP), a method of
birth control which takes into consideration a woman's natural
periods of infertility, is licit under grave circumstances. As to
sexual acts inside marriage, Fr. Prummer's "Handbook of Moral Theology"
tells us: "Not only the conjugal act itself but also touches and looks
and all other acts are lawful between the married, provided that there
is no proximate danger of pollution and the sole intention is not mere
sexual pleasure. Therefore in ordinary circumstances the confessor
should not interrogate married persons about these accompanying acts."
("Pollution" here refers to a man's ejaculating outside of his wife's
vagina. Father's reference to "sole intention" doesn't mean that every
time a married couple engage in "the marital embrace" they must have
the conscious desire to have a child; it simply means that the act must
be open to life, that no artificial birth control method is used.).
- Anger - Anger or Wrath in the sinful
the desire for
vengeance in opposition to
justice and charity. Feelings of anger and the desire for vengeance are
when in accordance with reason. For example, to feel anger when
seeing an injustice, and to want the injustice to be remedied is fine
-- in fact, it's a sin to not
be angry at times (see Summa
Theologiae II-II.158.8). But it is sinful when it's directed toward
inflicting vengeance upon someone who's done nothing wrong, if it's
inordinate to the wrong done, or if it doesn't have a good motive.
The contrary virtue to anger is meekness, an aspect of temperance. An
associated virtue is clemency, another aspect of temperance. Where
meekness mitigates anger, clemency is concerned with any punishment one
gives to a wrong-doer. To clarify, if someone does you harm, you may
feel anger. Meekness is the virtue of ensuring that any anger felt is
in accordance with reason, that it makes sense. Clemency comes in when
deciding on how to deal with the wrong-doer. Another way of putting it
is that meekness is about the internal, the passions, what one feels,
while clemency is about the external, what one does about one's
passions in terms of dealing with another.
- Gluttony - Gluttony is the
inordinate indulgence in food or drink. Generally, it is not a mortal
sin, but a venial one (and this writer breathes a sigh of relief), but
it can become mortal for someone if he knows that a level of inordinate
indulgence will harm his health and he indulges anyway, if it causes
him to be unable to perform his duties, etc.
The contrary virtue to gluttony is temperance. Don't go for that third
piece of pie (you can have another piece tomorrow!).
- Envy - Envy is sorrow or regret over
another's success, gifts, looks, wealth, or general well-being, a
violation of charity. It isn't sinful if one knows that there is
injustice involved. For example, if someone in your office gets a raise
and a promotion, and you know that the only reason she got that raise
and promotion is because she had sex with your boss, it isn't sinful to
be annoyed. Or say she got the raise and promotion honestly, but you
know that if she becomes your superior, she will fire you because she
disagrees with your religious or political thinking: regretting her
success in such an instance isn't sinful. If, though, you regret her
promotion simply because you wanted it for yourself, you are showing
envy. (Note that, though the words are commonly misused, there is a
difference between envy and jealousy: envy is the unjust regretting of
another's success, inordinately wanting for oneself what others have;
jealousy is regretting the injustice of someone taking something from
you that is actually yours. God Himself, for ex., refers to Himself as
"a jealous God" Whose first commandment is that we serve no other gods
but Him. Because He is our Creator, our focus should rightly be on Him,
and His jealousy makes sense. In the same way, a man's jealousy with
regard to his own wife, or a woman's jealousy over her own husband,
makes sense, if ordinate and not pathological or abusive).
The worst of all envy is spiritual envy, the regret over another's
spiritual good. Think of St. Bernadette Soubirous, the young French
girl who was blessed to actually see the Holy Virgin in Lourdes,
France: when she entered
the convent, her novice-mistress was consumed with jealousy of the
Saint and made her life very difficult. Or consider
the words of one woman I spoke to who angrily told me that it isn't
fair that someone can repent on his deathbed and enter into Heaven,
while she, a very serious practicing Catholic who's tried very hard to
follow Church teaching, has spent a lifetime trying to please God in
order to achieve the same end (see again the parable
of the Laborers in the Vineyard, and
consider the attitude of the elder brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son). Such
envy is a sin against the Holy Ghost Himself, an awful thing.
The contrary virtue to envy is affability, an aspect of Justice. Even
if you feel envious
of someone, you must use your will to do only good to them.
- Sloth - Sloth or Acedia is not only
to labor and exertion, especially in terms of the works demanded by
moral and Church precepts, such as fulfilling one's duties to God, to
others, and one's self, but involves as well general discouragment, an
inability to recognize and take joy in the goodness of God. It is a sin
The contrary virtue to sloth is diligence. (Isn't it funny how short
this bit on sloth is?)
What is an occasion of sin for one person might not be such
for another, and a good way of learning the situations that are
occasions of sin for you is to perform a nightly examination of conscience,
making note of what was happening, what you were doing, whom you were
with, etc., when you sinned, and determining the things, situations,
people you should avoid lest you fall again.
Note that it is licit to
in an occasion of sin if one must, has good motives, and does all he
can to resist stumbling. For example, an attorney might have to expose
himself to pornography in order to prosecute a case. When he does, and
assuming pornography is an occasion of sin for him as it is for most
people, he should purify his motives, pray, receive the Sacraments,
etc., in order to resist falling.
We must remember, too, that, ultimately, we are engaged in a spiritual
battle, that demons fight against us and tempt us, doing all they can
to cause us to stumble. Spiritual
warfare is very real, and the page just linked to was written to
teach about it and how to deal with the demonic causes of sin.
[For a fun mnemonic device to remember the Seven Deadly Sins, see "Gilligan's Island and the Seven Deadlies."]
A law is a command or prohibition made for the good, by one who
has authority, and which has force. Because a law must serve the common
good, a proclaimed law that doesn't serve the good is no law at
all: "Mala lex, nulla lex" ("a bad law is no law").
Law has two sources:
laws, or "the divine law," is law that is enacted by God Himself, known
to us through revelation and reason. It includes:
- the eternal law, which derives from
the Divine Mind and, being eternal, has existed before creation. It
directs all things -- the angels, man, the beasts, the world -- toward
their proper end.
- the natural law, which is the law
that governs the ordering of the material universe. The natural law is
unchanging and universal, applying to everyone, at all times, anywhere.
It's described as being "written into the heart of man," and can be
determined, by reason, from man's very nature.
- the positive divine law, such as the
Old Testament Mosaic laws which have been fulfilled by the law of the
Man: Human laws are considered moral laws when they affirm
Eternal or Divine Law or pertain to the common good. Human laws
The listing of the sources of law above reflects, in
descending order, which type of law has precedence. Note, though, that
while ecclesiastical law has precedence over civil law, the civil
sphere is a separate entity, with its own concerns which the Church
lays no claim to govern. You can see this understanding of the
separation of Church and State in St. Augustine's phrases "the City of
God" and "the City of Man." From Pope Leo XIII's Encyclical, "Immortale Dei," given in A.D. 1885:
- ecclesiastical (Church) law, such as
the six precepts of the
Church, and Canon Law. With few exceptions,
ecclesiastical laws are considered to be moral laws. Church laws have
as their purpose helping people to more easily follow divine law, and
to promote the Church's welfare. Every baptized person who has use of
reason is bound to Church law.
- civil law, the regular, everyday,
man-made laws we deal with in daily life, such as your State's criminal
and civil codes, federal laws, etc.
Almighty, therefore, has given the charge of the human race to two
powers, the ecclesiastical and the civil, the one being set over
divine, and the other over human, things. Each in its kind is supreme,
each has fixed limits within which it is contained, limits which are
defined by the nature and special object of the province of each, so
that there is, we may say, an orbit traced out within which the action
of each is brought into play by its own native right. But, inasmuch as
each of these two powers has authority over the same subjects, and as
it might come to pass that one and the same thing-related differently,
but still remaining one and the same thing-might belong to the
jurisdiction and determination of both, therefore God, who foresees all
things, and who is the author of these two powers, has marked out the
course of each in right correlation to the other. "For the powers that
are, are ordained of God." Were this not so, deplorable contentions and
conflicts would often arise, and, not infrequently, men, like
travellers at the meeting of two roads, would hesitate in anxiety and
doubt, not knowing what course to follow. Two powers would be
commanding contrary things, and it would be a dereliction of duty to
disobey either of the two.
14. But it would be most repugnant to them to think thus of
the wisdom and goodness of God. Even in physical things, albeit of a
lower order, the Almighty has so combined the forces and springs of
nature with tempered action and wondrous harmony that no one of them
clashes with any other, and all of them most fitly and aptly work
together for the great purpose of the universe. There must,
accordingly, exist between these two powers a certain orderly
connection, which may be compared to the union of the soul and body in
man. The nature and scope of that connection can be determined only, as
We have laid down, by having regard to the nature of each power, and by
taking account of the relative excellence and nobleness of their
purpose. One of the two has for its proximate and chief object the
well-being of this mortal life; the other, the everlasting joys of
heaven. Whatever, therefore in things human is of a sacred character,
whatever belongs either of its own nature or by reason of the end to
which it is referred, to the salvation of souls, or to the worship of
God, is subject to the power and judgment of the Church. Whatever is to
be ranged under the civil and political order is rightly subject to the
civil authority. Jesus Christ has Himself given command that what is
Caesar's is to be rendered to Caesar, and that what belongs to God is
to be rendered to God.
The Church offers basic moral and social principles, and it is up to civil
authorities to pay heed -- or not, sadly -- to those teachings. The
Church doesn't claim the authority to micro-manage, for example, how a
given country should deal with immigration5 or the right of
its citizens to arm themselves, etc. She simply teaches charity along with prudence, the natural
right to self-defense, and other moral principles, leaving nations to
honor -- or not -- those principles, and to work out the details of how
to order their societies. Of course, the more a nation bases its laws
on the Church's social teachings, the more ordered and just it will be.
The modern notion of a radical separation of Church and State
-- conceiving of them such that the two aren't merely separate, but
don't even touch each other, demanding that States disallow the
Church's teaching from informing its laws -- leads to social mayhem.
A human law is unjust and it is licit to disobey it if 1) it is not
given by the proper and competent authority, 2) it doesn't have the
good as its purpose, 3) it doesn't equally distribute the burdens of
following it, 4) it violates the rights of God (for example,
commands to worship idols), and 5) disobeying wouldn't bring
As to point 3, this is where the matter of "fairness" comes in. While
"justice" and "fairness" are often used interchangeably, they're not
quite the same. "Justice" pertains to giving all their due; "fairness"
pertains to being even-handed in dispensing justice without reference
to one's own personal interests. Too often, disparate treatment or
outcomes bring on cries of "unfairness," and Nature herself is said to
be "unfair" because talents, intelligence, beauty, etc., are
distributed unequally. But a mother who spends extra time with a child
who has special needs isn't being unfair or unjust (at least not
necessarily) to her other children. Or consider a perfectly able child
who thinks it "unfair" that his brother with a broken leg gets to have
a "cool" pair of crutches while he doesn't. Recall how we so often hear
things such as how Silicon Valley is "unfair" to women because there
are relatively few female software engineers -- with the fact that most
women aren't interested in software engineering going unsaid. Think
about how often we've heard how being against gay "marriage" is
"unfair," an impossibility because it goes against God's law and
natural law -- and with the facts that a homosexual could always
marry someone of the opposite sex just as a heterosexual could, and
that a heterosexual person also couldn't marry someone of his own sex
-- all perfectly equal -- being totally ignored.
None of the above are unjust or unfair. To remember the difference
between justice and fairness, imagine a scenario in which two patients
show up at a hospital emergency room: one is having a stroke, the other
has a broken finger. Doctors giving the stroke patient precedence over
the patient with the broken finger is perfectly just. But if two
patients with broken fingers show up, it'd be unfair to treat one but
not the other because one has blue eyes and the other has brown ones,
and the doctor has a totally irrelevant preference for one or the other
eye color, or to treat one patient because he is rich and can do the
doctor favors later, while ignoring the other patient because he is
poor and can't personally benefit the doctor. The importance of
fairness is why depictions of Justice are typically of a woman holding
scales while blindfolded so that her personal feelings and
whims and any potential personal gain don't play a role in her
Generally speaking, when enforcing or following human laws (but not the
divine law), the principle of epieikeia may be used, but only with
care, only when necessary, and never when simply self-serving.
is the honoring the spirit of the law rather than its letter when
honoring the letter of the law violates justice or doesn't serve the
Conscience is an act of judgment, the use of reason in order to
determine the rightness or wrongness of a given act. The conscience is
either true or false in terms of the law itself, good or bad in terms
of how we use our will, and certain or uncertain in terms of how we use
We're bound to obey our conscience if it is a reliable guide
due to its being true, good, and certain. A conscience that lacks one
of those things is called "erroneous," and must not be obeyed if there
is danger of sin or if any ignorance concerning its judgments are
vincible. How very different is this traditional understanding of the
conscience than what we so often hear nowadays! Consider this, from an
article called "The primacy of conscience: The only way forward for the
Catholic Church,"6 which begins with this paragraph --
- With regard to the law, one's
conscience is true if a judgment it makes
is, in fact, in accordance with God's law or just human law, and it is
if it isn't. We must use our
reason to ensure that our conscience is true, that our judgments are
made in accordance with the law. The function of our conscience isn't
to make up laws of its own, but to make a judgment as to how to apply
the law in a given situation.
- With regard to the will, one's
conscience is good if it is used with
right motives in terms of one's end or duties, and is bad if it isn't.
We must try to make sure our conscience is good by having the will to
always be mindful of our last end, what we owe to God, what we owe to
others, and what we owe to ourselves.
If one is invincibly ignorant as to
the morality of an act and, without guilt, wrongly believes that that
which is immoral
is, in fact, moral, he is bound to obey, even though objectively wrong.
For example, if a parent wrongly tells a child that it is right to
a certain store because the store-owners are enemies, and the child
believes it, that child is bound to obey his parent even though
stealing is, in
If one is simply vincibly wrong, one is still bound to obey his
conscience if there is no danger of sin in following it. For example, if a Catholic
wrongly believes that it's immoral to eat
shellfish, but eats it anyway, he sins even though there is no
prohibition against eating shellfish.
- With regard to the intellect, one's
conscience is certain if it assents
to the judgment being made without doubt or fear of being wrong, and it
uncertain if it doesn't. We must use our intellect to ensure that our
conscience is certain whenever possible, to not make judgments out of
emotion, our desires, our wishes, or mere sentiment.
If we commit an
act based on an uncertain conscience and there is a danger of sin by
committing that act, we sin, even if the act itself isn't a sin in
itself. For example, if a Catholic
wrongly believes that it is certain that he must attend Mass
on a day he isn't obligated to attend Mass, and he doesn't attend Mass
that day, he sins even though he wasn't actually obligated to attend.
is no danger of sin, we can commit the act. For example, if a Catholic
believes that it is certain that he must eat fish on Friday rather than
from meat, and he does eat fish on Friday, he doesn't sin by eating
fish because eating fish isn't sinful.
Church has needed a change in direction for a long time now. When
Church leaders convened for the Second Vatican Council in 1962 to
discuss how to reinvent the Church's image in a modern world, it was an
official acknowledgement of this very fact. Yet to this day, the
Vatican has remained out of whack with the moral and cultural leanings
of modern, Western society.
-- and includes this nonsense:
hardline teachings on contraception, and naive emphasis on promoting
"sexual responsibility", stifled efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa
and elsewhere for years; its reluctance to accept homosexuality and
transgender people has seriously dented its image as a champion of
love, acceptance and compassion; and its denial of the sexual abuse
perpetrated by its own members threw into question the Church's very
right to claim it was an authority on sexual morality at all...
...Nowadays people think for themselves. They are skeptical.
They value their freedom and their individuality. Authority is earned,
not given. But the Church hasn't discovered a way to reconcile this new
social trend with its traditional claims to power. It is therefore
losing its grip on that power.
Pope Francis is a pragmatic man and he aims to change all
this. He may still personally believe in the conservative teachings of
the Church, but he is challenging the role of the Church in the modern
world. He is trying to reform the bad elements of the way the Vatican
is run, and in doing so is admitting some of its past errors of
But hang on, isn't this rejecting the theological basis of
the Church's moral power? Well, Pope Francis is looking at promoting
another theological position, one that has previously been rejected by
past Popes. That is, the idea of the primacy of conscience...
...The primacy of conscience is the idea that God's voice lies in your
soul, and it is a sin not to listen to it. It is reconcilable with the
notion that the Church is a moral authority, though only if it can be
fallible and challenged by human conscience, as Pope Francis himself is
showing. This is a position that may help the Church stay in touch with
this brave new world, where offering the democratic values of
individualism and personal freedom are now prerequisite conditions for
gaining our ideological allegiances.
Wow. Where to begin? In our libertine times, "the conscience" -- the
word liberals use for one's personal desires -- is treated
by some as being
above eternal and natural law rather than their servant. The function
of the conscience is to use knowledge, reason, and prudence, in good
will, to apply objective moral
principles to a particular circumstance, but so-called "progressives"
think of it as a license to act on their whims. This is wrong. And
article is wrong as well about the primacy of conscience being
"rejected by past Popes"; that is a lie or, at least, an untruth (as is
the writer's contention that the Church doesn't "accept homosexuality and transgender people,"
and as is the contention that Church teaching "stifled efforts to
combat HIV/AIDS in Africa,"7 etc.).
A conscience worth obeying doesn't conclude, "Gee, I really don't think
stealing is wrong," or "I simply can't see anything evil about gay
'marriage'"; stealing is, in
fact, wrong, and gay "marriage" is,
in fact, oxymoronic; we have divine law, natural law, and Church
teaching to tell us so. There is nothing to decide in that regard (if
you are of good will but don't understand a teaching, I promise you
that the problem lies with your intellect or a lack of information, not
with the teaching itself. You must study!). Where the conscience comes
in is in determining how the fact that, for
ex., stealing is wrong applies in a given situation, such as, "would it
be wrong to for me to, right now, take this food that doesn't belong to
me in order to feed my
starving family tonight?"
It is our duty to inform our conscience to the best of our
abilities, and for parents to help their children develop theirs.
Studying what the Church teaches, striving for good habits (virtue),
avoiding bad habits (vice), staying in a state of grace (receiving the
Sacraments), prayer, fasting, spiritual reading, and serving others are
to help develop a good conscience.
In our work, though, we must be
careful to avoid two extremes: a lax conscience or a scrupulous one.
The lax conscience is one that sees wrong as right or morally neutral,
judges grave sins
as merely venial, and so forth, while the scrupulous conscience sees
right or the morally neutral as wrong, judges venial sins as mortal
ones, etc. Laxity or scrupulosity taken to extremes can turn into
presumption (a reliance on a false hope of being forgiven of sins one
doesn't repent of and being saved without deserving to be saved) or
despair (the abandonment of the hope of being forgiven of one's sins
and being saved), respectively. A help for a
lax conscience is meditating on God's Justice; a help for the
scrupulous conscience is meditating on His
As you study and go through life, trust
in God. Trust that He is Good
and merciful, that He is Love itself. Trust that He is not out to "get
you," that He loves you so very, very much. He is your Father. Trust Him, trust Him, trust Him!
1 Moral theology
differs from ethics in that ethics is the study of the goodness or
rectitude of man's free acts in a manner that doesn't involve
revelation. Moral theology is rooted, in part, on revelation, along
first season of the wonderful original "Twilight Zone" series has an
episode called "A Nice Place to Visit" that makes this point very well.
A thug dies and wakes up in a place he thinks is Heaven. His every
wordly desire is catered to -- women, money, food, drink, anything he
wants. Nothing he considers bad ever happens to him. He gambles, he
wins. He wants a girl, he gets her. But he quickly becomes bored and
finds it all pointless, and
only then realizes that he's not in Heaven at all, but is in Hell. Of
course, Hell isn't a place where such at atmosphere prevails, but it is
a place in which we are separated from God and experience that
separation in an excruciating way.
4 Please see this
offsite review of
Dr. Thomas Fleming's "The Morality of Everday Life" for more about
this. It begins
with these two paragraphs:
sitting in the garden of the Hotel Euro in Mostar, a place which was
reserved, at the time, for the Masters of the Universe - you knew this
because of the armored cars parked out front -- listening to some
state department official expounding on his role as a "peacekeeper" to
the people sitting at his table and anyone in the immediate vicinity
who was unfortunate enough not to be able to ignore him. The
conversation began with a discussion of which political groups the
Americans were going to promote in the New Multi-Culti Bosnia, which at
the time looked pretty shabby because of the recent civil war. I
remember one high-rise apartment building not far from the Neredva
River, one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, which seemed to
be leaking sofa stuffing as the result of taking one too many artillery
hits. Our Master of the Universe was not going to promote Group X
because they had a bust of Ante Pavelic, former head of the Ustashe, in
their headquarters. I never got around to hearing just who he was going
to promote, probably because he didn't know himself, but also because
the topic of conversation suddenly changed.
too, the words of utilitarian philosopher, ethicist, and Princeton
professor, Peter Singer, who, in his "All Animals Are Equal" (which
includes man in the definition of "animals"), says:
Suddenly the Master of the Universe was talking about his grown
daughter and his rocky relationship with her -- which, it seemed, was
going from bad to worse. And why? Well, because she never got over the
fact that the Master of the Universe who was going to bring peace to
Bosnia and resolve centuries of ethnic conflict in the region had
divorced her mother, which is to say, his wife. The daughter was
portrayed as having some sort of psychological hang-up in this regard,
as if an attachment to her mother's interests and the fact that her
father had violated them were something like a bad case of bulimia,
which she had acquired while away at college. The same man, in other
words, who, we assume, could not control his passions, the same man who
could not keep his family together, the same man who could not honor
his marriage vows and who could not reason with his daughter, was going
to bring peace to the Balkans. Aristotle would have had a good laugh
over that one.
Benn concedes, may have no characteristics superior to those of a dog;
nevertheless this does not make the imbecile a member of "a different
species" as the dog is. Therefore it would be "unfair" to use the
imbecile for medical research as we use the dog. But why? That the
imbecile is not rational is just the way things have worked out, and
the same is true of the dog -- neither is any more responsible for
mental level. If it is unfair to take advantage of an isolated defect,
why is it fair to take advantage of a more general limitation? I find
it hard to see anything in this argument except a defense of preferring
the interests of members of our own species because they are members of
our own species.
this, from the Summa Theologica, II-II-101-1:
Man becomes a
debtor to other men in various ways, according to their various
excellence and the various benefits received from them. on both counts
God holds first place, for He is supremely excellent, and is for us the
first principle of being and government. On the second place, the
principles of our being and government are our parents and our country,
that have given us birth and nourishment. Consequently man is debtor
chiefly to his parents and his country, after God. Wherefore just as it
belongs to religion to give worship to God, so does it belong to piety,
in the second place, to give worship to one's parents and one's country.
Contra Pope Francis's thoughts on
immigration -- thoughts that lack prudence and seem to give no
consideration to the
common good of the nations in question or to problems of the
assimilation of people of disparate cultures, thoughts uttered with no
hint of his exercising the
charism of infallibility -- here is what the Church actually teaches
about the matter, per the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on "Migration":
The worship due to our parents includes the worship given to all our
kindred, since our kinsfolk are those who descend from the same
parents, according to the Philosopher (Ethic. viii, 12). The worship
given to our country includes homage to all our fellow-citizens and to
all the friends of our country. Therefore piety extends chiefly to
control of migration began when it ceased to be collective and began to
be individual. Laws have been passed preventing people from leaving
their native land, and also, by the country of destination, forbidding
or regulating entrance thereto. Extensive regulation has been found
necessary applying to transportation companies and their agents, the
means of transportation, treatment en route and at terminal points. The
justification of public interference is to be found in the right of a
nation to control the variations of its own population. The highest
necessity is that arising from war: on this ground nations almost
universally regulate very closely the movements of population,
forbidding emigration, that they may not lose their soldiers, and
guarding immigration as a military precaution. Restrictive measures are
also justified on grounds of health and morals, and on the general
ground that a national family has a right to say who shall join it....
...The many varied problems of immigration are best
illustrated by its history in the United States. Perhaps no more
composite nation has existed since the Roman Empire engulfed the
various nationalities of Western Europe. At a very early period in the
history of the American Colonies, the Negro was introduced -- a race so
remote anthropologically, from the first colonists as to be impossible
of assimilation. The American Indians, isolated from the first, have
ever since been tending to extinction, and hence need not be considered
as a possibility in the problem of national and social composition. As
time passed, other races came to still further complicate the problem.
Besides these distinct racial elements must be reckoned an infinite
number and variety of nationalities marked by lesser differences and
capable of assimilation.
Mind you, racism -- seeing one race of man as being more
beloved by God, as ontologically superior or inferior to another, as
more or less deserving of charity than another, or attributing to
individuals, in spite of contrary evidence, the general characteristics
of their race -- is absolutely against Catholic teaching. This is
different, though, from seeing general racial differences
(e.g., recognizing that, in general, Africans are faster runners than
Caucasians, or that Caucasians, in general, are better at Calculus than
Africans, etc.) -- a stance often called "race realism" (of course, in
our time, even recognizing general differences is considered to be
"racism"). True racism, though, goes beyond using science and the
evidence of one's senses that reveal general differences, to
assuming that an individual of a given racial group must
possess the general characteristics of that group, and then limiting
his options because of that false assumption. Not recognizing an
African math genius or the skills of a Caucasian runner, and preventing
either from using his gifts, is not only malicious, but evidence of a
lack of dedication to Truth. Dr. Martin Luther King summed things up
with his "I have a dream" speech: "I have a dream that my four little
children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by
the color of their skin, but by the content of their character"
-- to which can be added "the talents they have, the skills they
possess, their intelligence, etc." When it comes to mass immigration,
though, a nation isn't dealing with individuals, but with masses of
people, and their general differences, cultures, differing abilities
and willingness to assimilate, etc., must be taken into account along
with the state of the host nation -- its economy, the availability of
jobs, the state of its education and healthcare systems, etc.
-catholic-church/ I knew I'd easily find such an article. I typed the
words "Catholic," "homosexuality," and "conscience" into a search
engine, and bam! -- there it was, right on the first page of returns.
7 See "The pope was right about condoms, says Harvard HIV
I am part of a
group of researchers that have been looking for the behavioural
antecedents to HIV prevalence decline in Africa. We now see HIV going
down in about 8 or 9 countries in Africa and in every case we see a
decrease in the proportion of men and women who report having more than
one sex partner in the past year. So when the Pope said that the answer
really lies in monogamy and martial faithfulness, that's exactly what
we found empirically...
...[W]e have for a number of years now found the wrong kind of
association between condom-availability and levels of condom use.. You
see the wrong kind of relationship with HIV prevalence. Instead of
seeing this associated with lower HIV infection rates, it's actually
associated with higher HIV infection rates. Part of that is because the
people using condoms are the people who are having risky sex.