Maritain and the Divine Acceptance of Evil

Jacques Maritain, “Reflections on Theological Knowledge,” Untrammeled Approaches, 257-258:

“Each time that a creature sins (and in each case the creature takes the first initiative, the initiative of nothingness), God is deprived of a joy (‘Above and beyond’ according to our way of looking at things) which was due to Him by another and which that other does not give Him, and something inadmissible to God is produced in the world.  But even before triumphing over what is inadmissible by a greater good which will overcompensate for it later on, God Himself, far from being subject to it, raises it above everything by His consent.  In accepting such a privation (which in no way affects His being but only the creatures relation to Him), He takes it in hand and raises it up like a trophy, attesting to the divinely pure grandeur of His victorious Acceptance (ours is never such except at the cost of some defeat); and this is something that adds absolutely nothing to the intrinsic perfection and glory of the divine Esse, and is eternally precontained in Its essential and supereminent infinity.  For this is an integral part of a mysterious divine perfection which, even though it has reference to the privation of what is due to God by creatures existing at some particular point in time, is infinitely beyond the reach of creatures… This divine perfection is eternally present in Godand, by the infinite transcendence of the Divine Being, is the unnamed exemplar, incapable of being designated by any of our concepts, toward which like blind men we raise our eyes, and which corresponds in uncreated glory what suffering is in us .”

Filial Piety and the Order of Justice

I’m going to be working on a little informal piece on filial piety. Good thing to keep in mind when speaking of justice:

“Just as it belongs to religion [the greatest of moral virtues and the highest form of justice] 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.” (Aquinas, ST II-II, q. 101, a. 1).

Domination, Technology, and Human Nature

“The three ideas which have been discussed—”death with dignity” and human autonomy, the distinction between “persons” and “non-persons,” and “quality of life” judgments—al have something in common. They are all used dogmatically, leading to great confidence in our right to control human life. These are areas where the great religious tradition at its best has been restrained by agnosticism and a sense of transcendent mystery. Some believers have tried to combine these two views of life in a crudely simplistic manner. They have identified the freedoms of technology with the freedom given by truth. The result in the public world, if policy flowed from this identification., would be the destruction of cherished political freedoms.”

George Grant, Technology and Justice (Ontario: Anasi, 1986), 115.

A Few Thoughts on Death

While prepping for a week-long course for our deacons, on end-of-life issues, I included these quotes as food for thought (among other quotes).   The first set, from Epictetus's Enchiridion are presented as examples of a noble example of a philosophical approach to death that in some way minimizes its problematic and wrenching character.  Yet, it maintains that there is a moral stance to be taken vis-à-vis death itself.  In class, we'll discuss how it falls short from a Catholic perspective.  The second quote surprisingly is from Karl Rahner.  His little On the Theology of Death has provided a number of edifying passages that I hadn't expected to find in it.  We also have texts from John Climacus and Alexander Schmemann, not included here.

Selections from Epictetus's Enchiridion (trans. Elizabeth Carter)

no. 2: "But if you are averse to sickness, or death, or poverty, you will be wretched. Remove aversion, then, from all things that are not in our control, and transfer it to things contrary to the nature of what is in our control. But, for the present, totally suppress desire: for, if you desire any of the things which are not in your own control, you must necessarily be disappointed; and of those which are, and which it would be laudable to desire, nothing is yet in your possession. Use only the appropriate actions of pursuit and avoidance; and even these lightly, and with gentleness and reservation."

no. 5: "Men are disturbed, not by things, but by the principles and notions which they form concerning things. Death, for instance, is not terrible, else it would have appeared so to Socrates. But the terror consists in our notion of death that it is terrible. When therefore we are hindered, or disturbed, or grieved, let us never attribute it to others, but to ourselves; that is, to our own principles. An uninstructed person will lay the fault of his own bad condition upon others. Someone just starting instruction will lay the fault on himself. Some who is perfectly instructed will place blame neither on others nor on himself."

no. 21: "Let death and exile, and all other things which appear terrible be daily before your eyes, but chiefly death, and you win never entertain any abject thought, nor too eagerly covet anything."

From K. Rahner's On the Theology of Death

"Clearly, [death] cannot be an act of man if it is conceived as an isolated point at the end of life, but only if it is understood as an act of fulfillment (a concept which an ontology of the end of a spiritual being can fully justify), achieved through the act of the whole of life in such a manner that death is axiologically present all through human life.  Man is enacting his death, as his own consummation, through the deed of his life, and in this way death is present in his actions, that is, in each of his free acts, in which he freely disposes of his whole person.  Consequently, the death present in these acts of life explicitly or implicitly, can be mortal sin.  In order to try to point out briefly how man may make a mortal sin of the deed of his life, it can only be a question of indicating how he can, more or less explicitly, understand and enact his death sinfully all through his life, and not merely at its end.  There can be no question of showing how each mortal sin, implicitly and tacitly also includes a false and sinful understanding of death."

Garrigou-Lagrange on Manuals and Casuistry (Florilegium)

Manuals - Quote 1


Now, is this the same as saying that critical realism dispels every obscurity.  Oh, most certainly not!  And while certain manuals of Thomistic philosophy speak little about the mystery of knowledge (because they have for their end, above all else, an insistence upon that which is clear and absolutely certain about knowledge), if one were to ask true Thomists to write expressly concerning the mystery of sense knowledge, or upon the mystery of intellectual knowledge, and upon their relations to one another, they could easily show that we find here a marvelous chiaroscuro, more beautiful than all of those painted by Rembrandt.  And as, in this chiaroscuro, the two elements that compose it make their arguments mutually, the true Thomist does not wish to suppress the mystery but, instead, to show its true place.  Concerning this, he has as much sense as does anyone—certainly much more not only than the materialist but also than the Cartesian idealist—for, not wishing to deny any of the elements of the problem, no matter how distant they may be from one another (i.e. matter and spirit, the sensible and the intelligible), he knows that the intimate mode of their union remains (and will remain) forever profoundly mysterious.  This mystery remains for us to show, though without diminishing anything in regard to the first and unshakable certitude of which we have spoken in this chapter. 


Manuals - Quote 2 (Less important)

Today, the question is proposed of knowing if this Wolffian manner of dress—if not, indeed, this Spinozist manner of dress—without fully being a straightjacket does not interfere with the natural movements of Thomistic Peripateticism’s arms, so to speak.  Many scholastics think that it does, even among those who (practically speaking) must follow the new order, which prevails among many of the manuals and which has been adopted by many seminaries and universities.  Some masters have, indeed, reacted in returning in their works and lectures to the classical order commonly followed up until the 18th century.  Thus, proceed his eminence Cardinal Mercier,[1] Fr. Gredt,[2] Fr. Hugon,[3] and Jacques Maritain,[4] as well as all those who give themselves over to the direct study of Aristotle and St. Thomas’s commentaries on him.  The new laws related to the doctorates in theology and philosophy promulgated by the Holy See in 1931[5] also enumerate the parts of philosophy in the following order: logic, cosmology, psychology, critique, ontology, natural theology, ethics and natural law [lit. ius naturale].



Manuals - Quote 3 (A favorite of mine because of its "bite")

This opposition between the method of a philosophical treatise and a theological treatise is particularly salient if one compares, on the one hand, natural philosophy, which ends (according to Aristotle) by the proof of the existence of the First Mover, to, on the other hand, the cosmological part of the Summa theologiae, which begins in ST I q.44 and 45 by a study of creation.  Likewise, one will find the same difference between, on the one hand, the De anima of Aristotle, commented on by St. Thomas, and, on the other hand, the Treatise on Man in the Summa theologiae.  Following a method that ascends step-by-step, the De anima, considers the vegetative soul, then the sensitive soul, then at last the rational soul and the great problems that are posed concerning it.  However, the Treatise on Man in the Summa theologiae from the first question deals with the problem of the immortality of the rational soul, the image of God, and the problem of its specific distinction from the case of the angels (of which the theologian has already spoken according to a descending manner).  The order to follow in psychology, at least in a work of Peripatetic philosophy, is obviously that of the De anima and not that of the theological treatise De homine.[1]  Granted, it is easy to make a manual of philosophy by transcribing the parts of the Summa theologiae that are related to being, truth, the sensible world, the soul, God, and moral thought. However, a philosophical treatise ought to be something other than such a juxtaposition of texts.


Manuals - Quote 4 (Not a bad comment either)

To present this doctrine concerning potency and act in another, a priori manner as happens in many manuals, is to suggest that it has merely fallen from the sky or that it is only a simple, pseudo-philosophical translation of contemporary language, leaving the necessity of establishing its value, as has been said by Henri Bergson.  In such an undertaking, there is no longer any profundity in analyzing matters; one is content with some quasi-nominal definitions of potency and act, and one no longer sees well in what way and why potency differs from the simple possible, from privation, and from imperfect act (or the force / Leibnizian virtuality, which is only an impeded act).[1]  Likewise, one can merely limit oneself merely to enunciating the relations of potency and act in the axioms proposed as commonly received in the School [i.e., the Thomist school, Suarezian school, etc.] without seeing their true value on which, nevertheless, everything depends.  It is necessary to admit this fact: this fundamental chapter of metaphysics, i.e. regarding act and potency, remains in a state of great intellectual poverty in many manuals when one compares them to the first two books of Aristotle’s Physics and to the commentary that St. Thomas has left us concerning it.  In such cases, someone in philosophy has certainly greatly neglected the method of discovery, which is founded upon the very nature of our intellect—an intellect that is indeed the very least among intellects.


Manuals - Quote 5 (Interesting point on prudence and moral theology)

As has been noted, the ever present importance of this treatise on prudence would appear clearly to modern thinkers if one would only add two words to its title: “Concerning prudence and the connected moral virtues, in relation to the formation of the conscience.”  Prudence, which directs all the moral virtues, is so fundamental that no human act is good without also being prudent.  And despite this fact, numerous modern manuals of moral theology, which do give a large place to the treatise on conscience, pass quickly in silence over this virtue, the principal cardinal virtue.  They sometimes dedicate only eight or ten pages to it and appear to forget that right and certain conscience is an act of prudence, of which one must determine its formal object, proper nature, and its connection with the other virtues 


Manuals / Casuistry (Taken from De Revelatione)

Some modern manuals of moral theology contain almost nothing else but casuistic theology, and in them moral theology appears like a science of sins to be avoided as grave or minor, rather than a science concerning virtues to be perfected.  Likewise, many modern treatises of ascetic theology and mystical theology do not proceed enough from the due foundation of moral theology concerning the nature and progress of the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and thus they are constructed in too empirical a manner, and are lacking in doctrinal value.  From these defects is the notion of the eminent unity of Sacred Theology diminished.


Casuistry (Taken from De beatitudine) All gathered together  V

Once upon a time and up to the time of St. Thomas, moral and dogmatic theology, as we will see, were, so to speak, mixed together.  St. Thomas clearly distinguished them inasmuch as he treats of dogmatic theology in the first and third part of his Summa theologiae.  But, later on, certain theologians, such as Gabriel Vasquez,[1] said that they are two distinct sciences, two scientifichabitus.  And according to this tendency, moral theology, becoming more and more distinct from dogmatic theology, leaves to dogmatic theology questions concerning grace, merit and the nature of the infused virtues, and in the end often is nothing other than casuistic theology, which, according to us, is only the inferior application of moral theology, just as ascetical theology and mystical theology are its higher applications.  The reign of casuistic theology was from the middle of the 17th century to the middle of the 19thcentury....


Whence, to distinguish dogmatic theology and moral theology as two sciences is no longer to consider the elevation and simplicity of the formal object quod and quo of them.  Therefore, it represents a kind of materialistic tendency, which is all the more apparent as moral theology is more greatly distinguished from dogmatic theology, ultimately leading moral theology to be reduced to casuistry, in which nearly nothing remains of the loftiness of the great moral theology that is dwelled upon in this second part of the Summa theologiae.


Casuistic theology is the application of moral theology to the solution of cases of conscience inasmuch as in a given case there attends a grave or lesser obligation [obligatio sub gravi aut sub levi].  Thus, as is obvious, it is rather concerned with sins to be avoided than with virtues to be exercised.  But, casuistic theology does not seem to be something per se distinct from prudence; for perfect, right, and certain conscience is an act of prudence....



But, from the middle of the 17th century to the middle of the 19th century casuistic theology prevailed, for many during this era set aside all the properly doctrinal questions concerning the final end, human acts, the foundation of morality, the nature of law, the nature of the virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the various states of life of men, and many thinkers almost exclusively treated matters concerning the law practically considered, at greater length about conscience, about probable conscience, and for any given virtue, after the  enunciation of some principles, they posited cases of conscience for the sake of determining in particular cases what is obligatory with regard to mortal and venial sin [sub gravi vel sub levi].  In this way, moral theology becomes more the science concerning sins to be avoided than concerning the virtues to be exercised and perfected.  Whence, this merely casuistical theology is devoid of efficacy for motivating men toward the good.  Whence, from this moment, moral theology declines and often descends into laxism.  Above all, in such a conception of theology, ascetical and mystical theology do not have a doctrinal foundation anymore. Therefore, many write ascetical and mystical books without any doctrinal value.

            Among these casuistic theologians, one must cite Antonio Escobar y Mendoza (1589-1669), Paul Laymann (1574-c.1635), Hermann Busenbaum (1600-1668), and others.

            In this time, namely in the 18th century, there appeared a man sent by God to save casuistry from its defects, the chief of the modern moralists, St. Alphonsus de Liguori (1696-1787), Doctor of the Church and Founder of the Redemptorists.  He wrote many works, especially ascetical ones.  His moral works are greatly known to all and have been praised greatly by the Popes.  Among these works are: Theologia moralisHomo apostolicus, and Praxis confessarii.  He proceeds in a manner that is less speculative and more practical than St. Thomas, and devising Equiprobabilism, he saved casuistry from the defects of the probabilists and the laxists.

            However, afterwards, in the schools in which the rudiments were taught, the scholastic method and casuistic method were united, along with certain ascetical applications.  Nevertheless, in the universities, there were generally two distinct cursus that were taken: one in a scholastic manner, the other in a more practical manner, namely in the casuistic manner.  But now there also was established a distinct cursus of ascetico-mystical theology.

            At the end of the 19th century, with [the encyclicals of] Leo XIII, Thomism resurrected, so to speak, and therefore, many authors divided moral theology nearly as did St. Thomas.  Nevertheless, the influence of the defects of casuistic theology still remained in many in a significant manner.  For, it is often the case today that many doctrinal questions are removed from moral theology, such as doctrinal questions concerning human acts, and the foundation of morality; likewise, the treatises on the passions, on the habitus in general, on grace, and the treatises on the nature of the infused virtues and the gifts of the Holy Spirit are removed. Moreover, the treatises on grace and the infused virtues are often sent into dogmatic theology.  To this situation, it must be said: If moral theology does not treat of the nature of the virtues and of the nature of merit, how can it scientifically explain human acts that are salutary through their relation to the supernatural final end?  Science must be knowledge of things through their causes, and the causes of saving and meritorious acts are the infused virtues whose nature must be exactly understood.  But, in many manuals of moral theology, matters proceed in this way: (1) concerning the final end, (2) concerning human acts, (3) concerning laws, (4) concerning conscience, (5) concerning sins, (6) very briefly concerning the virtues in a general manner; after this, there is instituted a treatise concerning moral theology in particular matters in which the three theological virtues are treated, as are the four cardinal virtues, not, however, by determining the nature of these virtues, but by explaining their necessity in an exceedingly brief manner and especially treating of the sins to be avoided against them.  To these matters, there is connected a moral part of the theological treatise on the sacraments 

Learn your Logic, Kiddos

And the attempts of some who discuss the terms on which truth should be accepted, are due to a want of training in logic [lit. ‘a lack of learning of the analytics,’ Gk. ἀπαιδευσίαν τῶν ἀναλυτικῶν]; for they should know these things already when they come to a special study, and not be inquiring into them while they are pursuing it (emphasis added).

Aristotle, Metaphysics, 4.4 (1005b2-5)

On the Measure of the Moral Act (Re: Gifts of Holy Spirit but More Broadly Applicable)

Jacques Maritain, Existence and the Existent, trans. Lewis Galantiere and Gerald B. Phelan (New York: Pantheon, 1948), 54-56:

"In the moral problems of which we speak, where we are obliged to reconcile contrasting virtues and duties, choice has to be made not only between good and evil but also, and usually, between the good and the better.  It is at such a moment that we enter into the deepest arcana of moral life and that the individuality of the moral act assumes its supreme dimensions.  St. Thomas teaches that the standard of the gifts of the Holy Ghost is higher than that of the moral virtues; that of the gift of counsel is higher than that of prudence.  The saints always amaze us.  Their virtues are freer than those of a merely virtuous man.  Now and again, in circumstances outwardly alike, they act quite differently from the way in which a merely virtuous man acts.  They are indulgent where he would be severe, severe where he would be indulgent.  When a saint deserts her children or exposes them to rebellion in order to enter into religion; when another saint allows her brother to be assassinated at the monastery gate in order that there be no violation of the cloister; when a saint strips himself naked before his bishop out of love of poverty; when another chooses to be a beggar and shocks people by his vermin; when another abandons the duties of his status in society and becomes a galley slave out of love of the captives; when still another allows himself to be unjustly condemned rather than defend himself against a dishonorable accusation—they go beyond the mean.  What does that signify?  They have their own kind of mean, their own kind of standards.  But they are valid only for each one of them.  Although their standards are higher than those of reason, it is not because of the object taken in itself that the act measured by their standards is better than an act measured by the mere moral virtues; rather it is so by the inner impetus which the saints receive from the Spirit of God in the depths of their incommunicable subjectivity, which impetus goes beyond the measure of reason to a higher good discerned by them alone, and to which they are called to bear witness.  This is why there would be no saintliness in the world if all excess and all that reason judges insensate were removed from the world.  This is why we utter something deeper than we realize when we say of such acts that they are admirable but not imitable.  They are not generalizable, universalizable.  They are good; indeed, they are the best of all moral acts.  But they are good only for him who does them.  We are here very far from the Kantian universal with its morality defined by the possibliity of making the maxim of an act into a law for all men."

Some excellent (if, scattered) points on moral knowledge, gleaned from Elizabeth Anscombe

Anscombe, Environment of Child


No one could have the concepts corresponding to the words used in teh commandments, if he had not lived in an environment in which he learns the inwardness of all sorts of ways of going on: he must live a specificaly human life with human practices....


Moral action descriptions are not natural event descriptions.  But it is part of the natural history of mankind that the human young acquire concepts corresponding to them, or in some cases, at least concepts in which tehy are rooted, as adultery is in that of marriage, or stealing in that of property.




In short, a human being of normal intelligence can’t grow up without being able to use a host of descriptions which are either already moral descriptions or the basis for moral descriptions (see above). But he can do so without acquiring the habit of either condemning or exonerating, accusing or exusing himself or anyone else.  Usually, he learns to do these things; but he need not.  His subjectivity need not be called into play except as that of a being with feelings and objectives.


This division is important.  It means that human subjectivity is trained or formed ethically in two different ways.  One way is the formation of the will and the education of the emotions.  The other is the training in justification, in judgment of good and evil in human action and in what is called “conscience.”



The only sort of moral action that can be pretty well guaranteed by training, by upbrining, is such as is counted absolutely obligatory in a society and whose performance or non performance is quite open and visible: like the prayers at fixed times in a strict Muslim town or the supply of small coins for beggars in their shops.


230 The virtues and vices as filling out moral vocabulary; contentless otherwise

Cajetan and Prayer in Bad Papal Times

From Thomas de Vio Cajetan, De Comparatione auctoritatis papae et concilii, ch. 27, nos. 417-420; cited in Journet, Church of the Word Incarnate, vol. 1 (pp. 425-427).

If you tell me that prayer is but a common remedy to be used against all the ills that afflict us, and that for the special evil that troubles us here we need a proper remedy—since every effect comes of a proper cause, not merely form general causes—I reply, in a general way, that the highest causes, although they play the part of common causes in respect to lower effects, play in fact the part of proper causes in respect to higher effects.  And that is why prayer, which is to be put among the highest of supernatural second causes, is only a common cause of lower effects; but it is a proper cause and the proper remedy for the highest effects, such as would be—since it is reserved for God—the removal from this world of a still believing but incorrigible Pope….

If then, on the one hand, the means available to human effort, even if superelevated by the authority of the Church, are a force inferior to prayer, appointed as the highest of second causes by God, to whom all creatures, corporeal or spiritual, are subject; and if, on the other hand, a remedy against a bad but still believing Pope is among the highest effects in the Church, it follows that God in His wisdom, must have given the Church for remedy against a bad Pope, not now any of these merely human means which may avail for the rest of the Church, but prayer alone.  And can the prayer of the Church, when she perseveringly asks things needful for her salvation, be any less efficacious than merely human means?  Is not the fervent prayer of an individual soul who asks such things for himself already efficacious and infallible?  (Cf. St. Thomas, SCG, 3.45 and 46.)  If then the salvation of the Church demands that such and such a Pope should be removed, then undoubtedly the prayer we have mentioned will remove him.  And if it be not necessary, why question the goodness of the Lord who refuses what we wish and gives us what we ought to prefer?...

But alas, it seems that we are come to the days announced by the Son of Man when He asked whether, on His return, He should find faith on the earth.  For the promises relating to the highest and most efficacious causes are held to be of no worth.  They say that we must depose a bad Pope by human means; that one cannot be content with resort to prayer and to divine providence alone!  But why do they say that , if not because they prefer human means to the efficacy of prayer, because the animal man does not perceive the things of God, because they have learnt to trust in man, not in the Lord, and to put their hope in the flesh?

So if a pope hardened by evil ways appears, his subordinates, without leaving their own vices, content themselves with daily murmings against the evil regime; they do not seek to avail themselves, save perhaps in a dream and without faith, of the remedy of prayer; so that what Scripture predicts comes about by their fault, namely that it is due to the sins of the people that a hypocrite reigns over them, holy in respect of his office, but a devil at heart…

We have become blind to the point of refusing to pray as we ought, while yet desiring the fruit of prayer; of refusing to sow, while still wanting to reap.  Let us not call ourselves Christians any longer! Or if we do, let us turn to Christ; and the Pope, were he frantic, furious, tyrannical, a render, dilapidator and corrupter of the Church, would be overcome.  But if we do not know how to overcome ourselves, what right have we to complain of being unable to break through the evils that surround us by prayers that not only fail to rise through our roofs, but do not even mount as far as our heads?  And the worst of all is this: God of old upbraided His people for honoring Him with their lips while their hearts were far from Him; but in the days of the revelation of Grace, God is not even honored with lips, for nothing is less intelligible than the recitation of the divine office, nothing said more quickly than the Mass; the time given to these seems long, too long, but time enough is found for play, business, and worldly pleasures, and for loitering over them endlessly.