Measure of Moral act

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."