Synderesis in the Supernatural Order

A quote sadly (but necessarily) torn from a recent essay:

Note, however, I am setting aside the very important point that, in truth, we must go further and also speak theologically here, explaining how faith, synderesis, infused prudence, and the Spirit’s gift of counsel all interact.  We do not have time, however, to add this complexity, though it is an important one (and, indeed, one that is too frequently forgotten).  On this, see B.-H. Merkelbach, Summa theologiae moralis, 5th ed., vol. 2 (Paris: Desclée de Brouwer, 1947), no. 218: “Faith informs and elevates reason and synderesis, subordinating them to itself.  Consequently, under the light of faith, synderesis is able to enunciate the first supernatural practical principles.    And reasonably so, for supposing that faith teaches that God has elevated us to a supernatural end and that our ultimate good is only found in the beatific vision of God Himself, reason sees already that we must tend toward that end and that the ultimate good to be possessed in this manner must be loved in all of our acts.  And do not say that synderesis does not have an idea of the supernatural end, for synderesis does not exist for conceiving ideas but, supposing these ideas, it sees and with ease enunciates their befittingness or unbefittingness.—St. Thomas does not expressly speak about supernatural conscience but everywhere says that the Major premise is placed in conscience by synderesis; however, he is not speaking only about the conscience of philosophers but also is speaking of the conscience of believers; [therefore, supernatural conscience enunciates its major premise by means of synderesis, though as elevated by faith]”(my translation)."

Notes Regarding Student-Sent Reading (“The Primacy: The Small Print of Vatican I”)

These are just random notes regarding an article, Garrett Sweeny related to Papal Primacy and Pastor aeternus, “The Primacy: The Small Print of Vatican I”


Note, throughout, the general tone of Sweeny—a bit of a “swinging 68-er” in his interpretation of VII (some pet themes / authors come up—Küng, sensus fidelium as a theological locus in a sense that seems strong and problematic, tone which clearly is not that which we will take in our work together).


[96] It might be good to note why more conservative theologians have been hesitant to address this issue, given the names associated with limiting papal primacy.  (Likewise, too, the work done by JP II / Benedict XVI dissuaded many from wishing to limit the papacy.  Also, the general failure of bishops to actually exercise their rightful authority in a meaningful way theologically, liturgically, etc…..)


[99] “The vote of 5 July…”  This is telling tone regarding his bias. 


[100] “Dissatisfaction with the Constitution…”  You may benefit here from reading O’Malley’s brief and accessible: Vatican I: The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church.  Also, see Hittinger’s brief article in First Things:


There are two axes of the jurisdictional primacy issue:  Political; Ecclesial.  It seems that Sweeny wishes to emphasize the first at times, though inconsistently.  Overstates the political ambitions of Rome.  (See remarks below here as confirmation.)  Parse the distinctions here (see Josephinism and Gallicanism as examples of how these do interweave).  We’re more interested in the latter, of course.


[101] Not sure what to make of the “Italianism” claims.  No doubt true, though I wonder if it is a simplification.  Note in the first paragraph of this section, “Ratzinger….”  Sweeny is not clear if he is calling the interpretation of PA erroneous or the document itself.  We are not making the latter claim.  Instead, we are trying to articulate it as being developed more fully.  Be sure to get from me texts on intellectual / dogmatic development for parsing our concerns.


[103] Here is the problematic text about Sensus Fid.  Show the author is a man of his era


[104] Temporal power claims not correct; even by those who wanted to increase papal authority, maintenance of order was a wholly ecclesial affair; Sweeny makes it sound like there was a focus on temporal power in particular (by which he seems to mean political-temporal).  Se text at the very end of 104 and into 105


[105] See quote in first full paragraph; rather arrogant remark about the Orthodox Churches by Gastaldi


[106] “Curious though…”  He focuses on the fact that the V I decree / discussions are marked by that era.  However, one could also say, then, that the discussions after V II swayed a great deal into the direction of democracy (the hopes of the 20th century remained even after the devastations of the two Wars) and Conciliarism.  We’re trying to strike a virtuous middle between these extremes.


It may be good to articulate the way that our discussion of the common good helps us find this virtuous middleNote that our concerns today are actually about trying to deploy the appropriate notions from political philosophy within theology itself—noting, of course, that we’re elevating the notions as we use them.   We’re sharpening the philosophical tools of common good / subsidiarity to make use of them in theology here


[109] The texts on this page are useful.  Find Mansi Latin for any that you think will be of particular help.  I think that the Canon recommendation is interesting and a bit amusing.  (And the Latin is indeed quirky….!)


[110] The understanding of “Ordinary” here at the bottom is a little rhetorically cheap.  It means non-delegated.   See Journet’s discussion of the meaning of this term.  We still can (and must) hold that the Pope (or any leader of a universal whole) has ordinary authority—but that doesn’t mean “ordinary non-subsidiary”.  It just means, “By virtue of this office, He has the authority that he has.”


[111]  “Had the Primacy been debated…”  This is a very interesting point about how things might have been different if the documents were reversed in their writing / approval.


[113] See Zinelli’s mind-boggling quote, perhaps worth keeping for our own use, if only in a footnote: “Is there anyone…”


[114] You marked the “preservation of unity” as the task of the Papacy.  I agree.  However, we need to define this richly enough.  That is an essential part of our task.  Too often, this is presented as being a kind of “preservation of the unity of the parts, for the sake of the parts.”  This is implicitly based upon the model of political liberalism.


[116]  Cf. Deville also regarding the loss of the notion of the patriarch in the West.  I still remain convinced that the papacy is formally and eminently Bishop of Rome and universal authority.  (Cf. Journet)  Thus, there aren’t two parts / roles slapped together side by side.  However, this is somewhat like how (I’m using an analogy, mind you) God is at once Author of Nature and Author of Grace.  We can talk about this, but the point goes beyond our concerns.


[117] The paragraph from 116-117 (long on 117) is of use.


[120-121] I’m looking for an analogy here—it’s not strict and we need to be careful.  However, we need to make sure that “as a principle of unity” we consider the common good of the Church as, in a way, animating the activity of the whole.  The formal cause (which is vitally related to the end, especially in communal matters like this) is in the parts—the parts themselves are only what they are precisely because they are in this whole.   The temptation, too often fallen into, is to focus on the whole and forget the subsidiary role of the parts.  However, analogy involves both yes and no.  Thus, we can consider how the common good of the whole Church indeed animates all the parts (thereby also ensuring the ability of the Pope to be involved locally—but only because of that need of the whole) without thereby ruining the particular role of the part.  In any case, it is very important from a sane vocabulary, philosophically, to parse the part-whole distinctions involved here in the subsidiary elements.


Notes regarding authority and freedom (re: Student thesis)

Certain texts are of interest in Yves R. Simon, Freedom and Community, ed. Charles P. O’Donnell (New York: Fordham University Press, 1968).  Upon second glance, the tone of the potentially relevant essays is only of secondary interest (though they are not without their applicability, albeit remotely).    If so inclined, see in particular “Liberty and Authority,” “Freedom and Community,” and “Autonomy and Authority.”  In any case, given the overall concern with political-philosophical questions, which often contemporarily deal with the basic issue of individual and society, the thematic treatment of institutional subsidiarity gets somewhat placed in the background.

Another theme of interest here are comments that Simon makes elsewhere, sane remarks doubtlessly made by others, though with great clarity.  (I believe an example text can be found in The Definition of Moral Virtue.)  The great deceit of the “nature vs. culture” dichotomy is that we are led to think that the “natural man” (or, “the human person in a natural state”) is actually that which is most natural to the human person.  In fact, human nature only comes to its fullest development in society.  Here, your intuition regarding one’s idea of freedom is quite appropriate.  If one considers freedom primarily as indetermination, one is trapped either in absolute voluntarism or in the pessimism of a kind of Epicurean theory of freedom that searches for a non-deterministic escape from the determinism of causes through some artifice (like the atomic swerve)—ultimately, I’ve always thought that such positions must end up in some kind of pan-voluntarism like that of Schopenhauer.  In any case, one is in a very different situation is one imagines freedom in terms of the natural super-determination of the will to the good as such (in the order of nature) and to God in His inner mystery (in the order of grace by charity).  Thus, our freedom of choice comes from the “overdetermined” nature of our will in comparison with all of reality.  In that case, law becomes the rational expression of a particular ordering of this freedom.  True law expresses the ways and means for freedom to be be free we could say.

Here, we see that the law vs. freedom dialectic, which plagues much moral theology on this matter following the probabilist debates, is deceptive.  The moral law is “binding”, but it is experienced as such only because of our fallen tendencies.  (There are some very lucid points said in this regard in Maritain’s Neuf leçons, which we should include if you make this point.)  In any case, the debates came to center on when the “law holds” and when “freedom holds.”  Thus, moral casuistry became concerned with when a given precept binds and when one had freedom of choice.  (Thus, there were various positions staked out around the axes of “safety” (tutus) and probability.)  I can provide you with some references here.  Recent studies include:

Julia Fleming , Defending Probabilism: The Moral Theology of Juan Caramuel

Stefania Tutino, Uncertainty in Post-Reformation Catholicism: A History of Probabilism

Rudolf Schuessler, The Debate on Probable Opinions in the Scholastic Tradition

I have the first, the library at BCS has the second, and we’ll perhaps get the third when it is released.  (Brill texts are expensive… Though, this volume looks like it could be quite good if done well.)  Fleming and Tutino do not come at things the same as I do of course.  I would also recommend, albeit in French, the famous articles by Th. Deman, OP on these matters.


In any case, those details won’t be necessary for us.  It is most important to note this general problem in the background, namely that law is seen as being binding, something that distorts one’s understanding of law itself!  Here, I agree with Pinckaers.  (I do not, however, agree with his carte-blanche approach to critiquing all the Thomists before him.  There is a haughtiness to his generation, as though they will reinvent theology themselves on their own terms.)  That being said, his text here is admirable and important.  I also recommend for understanding freedom in a sane way:

Yves Simon, Freedom of Choice

The relevant passages of Jacques Maritain, Bergsonnian Philosophy and Thomism (An excellent précis of the Garrigou-Lagrange text noted below)

Also, see Maritain’s essay “Freedom” in Existence and the Existent

Finally, more technical reflections on this matter can be found in Garrigou-Lagrange, God: His Existence and His Nature, vol. 2


In any case, we thus come back to the issue of nature and culture noted above, for this same issue is found on the axes of freedom and law.  Just as nature is most truly natural in culture, so too freedom is most truly free in the context of law, provided that law is understood as a right ordering of practical reasoning for the structuring of that reasoning in terms of the common good (which integrally contains the flourishing of the social being that is the human person).  Freedom is not free in absolute autonomy but precisely as being actualized in line with the deep élan that animates as being ordered to the search of that which is good in itself


To this end, I am still finding it difficult to track down the quote I’m thinking of in Simon’s The Definition of Moral Virtue, but there are very relevant points made in the first chapter, much in parallel to the fundamental intuitions of Pinckaers.


Doubtless, certain points of interest can be found to this end in Adler’s lengthy study from the 1950s.  We likely won’t have time to incorporate that.


Also, for some thoughts on authority and representation (which is philosophically important for articulating these matters—though, I’m trusting that you’re also looking into the various necessary historical sources patristically, given some of the texts you have cited), see Simon’s treatment of this in The Philosophy of Democratic Government, "Authority in Democracy" in  In particular, see the discussions directly related to the papacy in “The Transmission Theory” ( I can get you pagination when you have citations.


Woodbury on Distinctions and the Divine Attributes

Awaiting that great day when the good Dr. Andrew Wood finally is able to complete his edition of Fr. Austin Woodbury’s magisterial set of Thomistic philosophy teaching texts, I edited a small selection of Fr. Woodbury’s work on Distinction and the Divine Attributes as a handout for a lecture. I figured I should post a copy here for some remembrance of a topic that is all too unknown today. Check it out HERE.

Scrawled Notes from Should We Live Forever by Gilbert Meilaender

Scrawled Notes from Should We Live Forever by Gilbert Meilaender

(Note, these are meant to be very brief and spotty; they are based on reflections prior to the design of a 1 week course on end-of-life issues)

[x] “And I note… what would be lost if a substantial increase in the maximum human life span turned old age into ‘a kind of endless middle age’ and drastically altered the relation between the generations.”


[1] “The anti-aging medicine of the not-so-distant future would treat what we have usually thought of as the whole, the healthy, human life as a condition to be healed.” – The President’s Council on Bioethics, Beyond Therapy


“The highest expression of human dignity and human nature is to try to overcome the limitations imposed on us by our genes, our evolution, and our environment.” – Ronald Bailey, Liberation Biology


[2] Distinguishing aging from disease (former as something “built in”


[3] “The moral would seem to be: aim to cure or ameliorate the diseases associated with old age but accept aging itself.”  Yet, then notes that this may well not “make sense”.


[4] Need to think, from the start not merely about aging but of human aging

            [Act of man vs. human act]

            Discuss in relation to Spaemann article


[4-8] Remarks on biology and moral lessons

            [Discuss the problem of moral norms and natural law]


[10] “DNA has no aims or purposes, but we—who are not just collections of DNA—do.  Hence, this account is insufficient as a guide to human aging.  It cannot illuminate what is natural for us in the distinctively moral sense.”


[12] On the topic of compressed morbidity (the target being disease, not aging, at least directly)

            Be sure to quote Descartes as an example for students – seeds of the modern mind

            Hassing as well


            To be at the peak of our powers, and then fall off the cliff.

            Thinks it is incoherent (die of what? What would stop that from becoming a new target?)


[13] Normative thinking cannot proceed in isolation from what we are

            Cite Rhonheimer text

            Digression on related issues in sexual ethics concerning the old category of sins against nature

[14] Remarks on the place of purposive vocabulary

            Again, digress on metaphysics of this in class

            Comment on physico-mathematical sciences (and the outlook: “The equation is the cause”)


 [15] A lie with a particular shape

            This will be contrasted to a degree with “trajectory”, as will be seen at the end


[16ff] Notes that it is quite possible that the love (not mere narcissism) may be at play in the desire for more life


[19] “It must be that our freedom to step beyond nature’s limits is itself part of our nature and will not rest content with more of this life, however long extended.  Hence, knowing how endless (and legitimate) is our thirst for more life, God places cherubim with flaming brands to bar any return to paradise.”

            Discuss our philosophical and theological anthropology

            See Garrigou-Lagrange quote below


[23] “What we hope for tells us a great deal about who we are”        

[24] Posthumanity, as summarized by Katherine Hayles:

1. Information patterns more important than material instantiation [replacement of soul with “information pattern”]

2. Consciousness is an epiphenomenon [materialism and the replacement of intellect and will]

            [Yet, see 3]

3. Body is a first prosthesis

            [Real self is mere will; connect to other points]

            [See below]

4. No essential difference between bodies and computer simulations / organisms and mechanisms


[26] “Human beings are not simply isolated principles of will committed to indefinite self-transcendence.”

            Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Discourse on Inequality, trans. G. D. H. Cole: “However, even if the difficulties attending all these questions should still leave room for difference in this respect between men and brutes, there is another very specific quality which distinguishes them, and which will admit of no dispute. This is the faculty of self−improvement, which, by the help of circumstances, gradually develops all the rest of our faculties, and is inherent in the species as in the individual: whereas a brute is, at the end of a few months, all he will ever be during his whole life, and his species, at the end of a thousand years, exactly what it was the first year of that thousand. Why is man alone liable to grow into a dotard? Is it not because he returns, in this, to his primitive state; and that, while the brute, which has acquired nothing and has therefore nothing to lose, still retains the force of instinct, man, who loses, by age or accident, all that his perfectibility had enabled him to gain, falls by this means lower than the brutes themselves? It would be melancholy, were we forced to admit that this distinctive and almost unlimited faculty is the source of all human misfortunes; that it is this which, in time, draws man out of his original state, in which he would have spent his days insensibly in peace and innocence; that it is this faculty, which, successively producing in different ages his discoveries and his errors, his vices and his virtues, makes him at length a tyrant both over himself and over nature. It would be shocking to be obliged to regard as a benefactor the man who first suggested to the Oroonoko Indians the use of the boards they apply to the temples of their children, which secure to them some part at least of their imbecility and original happiness. Savage man, left by nature solely to the direction of instinct, or rather indemnified for what he may lack by faculties capable at first of supplying its place, and afterwards of raising him much above it, must accordingly begin with purely animal functions: thus seeing and feeling must be his first condition, which would be common to him and all other animals. To will, and not to will, to desire and to fear, must be the first, and almost the only operations of his soul, till new circumstances occasion new developments of his faculties.” 

[27] The re-appearing problem of the soul and body

            Example given of Kant (and a rational morality) [Explain]

            [Review for them: Platonism vs. Aristotelianism]

            [Be sure to be explicit in drawing out the connection to our topic]


[28] “Not to be in control, to suffer the limits of a fate we have not chosen—that is the enemy.  The goal of indefinite life-extension is not so much in service of particular loves or projects as it is in service of one indefinitely expansive desire—to become agents who are not at the mercy of forces beyond our own control.”


[31] The price of the success of transhumanism may well be our humanity.

[32] Growing old is “not merely a matter of biology: it has social, psychic, and religious dimensions”

            Again, Human act

            “…would really be a human experience—

            Thus, the vital nucleus: Is there meaning in the free acceptance of death?

                        Note that this is answered on both the natural and supernatural levels

[33] Uses the image of the banquet that lasts just the right length of time

            But, importantly he also notes that this misses something important: the eros that longs for God.

            [It is this which gives life its shape.]


[35] Condorcet quote (good but not going to be used); notes that the hope in question is for more of the same, not God

[36] We are wayfarers on the path toward vision

[42] A basic point, already stated, but worth noting again: “We cannot know what we think of attempts to retard aging or prolong our lives indefinitely unless we know what a human being is and what it would be for human beings to flourish]

Notes at length arguments related to the idea of endless growth and accomplishment (and even loving of others


[47] Notes with Nussbaum how finitude helps to delimit human virtues.


[48] Notes also that vulnerability to enemies would remain.  (Notes also non-bodily harms.)

            Comment again: One can die for something that actually is higher than human life

            The question of a human act of death comes to the fore


[49-56]  Some reiteration; discussion of beatific vision and new heavens and new earth as explanations of eternal life


Hobbes Quote: “Nor would there be any reason why any man should desire to have children, or take care to nourish and instruct them, if they were afterwards to have no other benefit from them, than from other men.”  Hobbes, Leviathan


            [Comment on historicity of human person and man


[62] Discussion up to this point has been on generativity and the relation of generations.  He notes: “I suspect that the virtue of generativity needs something more than it can itself provide.  What generativity needs is a hope that is grounded in more than the relentless continuation of the life cycle.  It needs a transcendent ground, the confidence that our care for the next generation will have lasting significance, and that whatever is incomplete in our care will be completed by the God whose very being is truly generative”


[63] A social example: On the relation of the generations (after 300 years, children become like peers)

            [Remark on piety]

[67] And then what of birth? 

            [Note that the question of natural death is tied up with that of natural birth]

            [Thus, connect to other issues as above.]

 “A freedom that knows no limit may, however, begin to look more destructive than creative.  That is why the qualitatively different life for which the Christian believers have hoped has not been thought to be in any sense simply an extension of this life—or the product of human ingenuity.”

Insightfully on 67ff notes the connection to the question of “why have children”

[69] Grounded in a sense of gratitude.  “Before the sheer wonder of existence, we must simply bend the knee.”

[71] “There is, we should not forget, a fundamental difference between a desire to reproduce ourselves or produce an heir and a hopeful spirit willing to give birth to those who will one day replace both us and our projects.”

[72] “Only thus can we be freed from the tendency to grasp the gift of life and keep it for ourselves.  The deepest meaning of a gift, after all, is that it should not be grasped too tightly.  It should be received and enjoyed, but passed on.”

            Use the gift motif to underline the connection with the standard issues of end of life.

            Connect to suicide.


[73] “It turns out that the generative life is the only real alternative to the sort of self-enclosure that makes no room for mutual love and that in fact is death.  Why have children?...  Because the generative life, the relation between the generations, is a school of virtue in which we learn grateful faithfulness to the gift of life we have received, generous hopefulness for those to whom we hand on that gift, and the love that freely gives what it has freely received.”


[76ff] Discussion of extensive and intensive growth; the virtue of patience (its relation to means); not going to be directly taken up in class.

            [83] But note here theme of patience’s connection to the notion that “our agency is not mastery but participation in a power greater than our own.”


[95-96] Comments on the issues of the Aristotelian issues surrounding the political and the contemplative life

            [Comment: Connect to the monastic life; liturgy and life]

Garrigou-Lagrange quotes mentioned above:

“This poses another question: How does it happen that the human intellect, though naturally united to the body, senses, and sense memory, does not better adapt after sixty or seventy years (as one sees in many thinkers) to the complexity of reasoned intellectual work, which presupposes ever-renewed material information? How does it happen that this human intellect (above all in those who have the philosophical spirit or also among the ordinary who have lofty souls) after sixty or seventy years is ripe (even from the natural point of view) for an intellectual life superior to that supplied by libraries and all the means of information, as long as the soul is united to the body?”  (Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, The Sense of Mystery, 94-95)


Even if the body would not be tired and would not be worn out, would not the human intellect (from the simple point of view of the natural order) fatigue after three centuries of this inferior intellectual travail? Would it not aspire to a more elevated contemplation?” (ibid., 95n37)


Benedict XVI, Homily for Easter Vigl, 2010

“But let us reflect for a moment: what would it really be like if we were to succeed, perhaps not in excluding death totally, but in postponing it indefinitely, in reaching an age of several hundred years? Would that be a good thing? Humanity would become extraordinarily old, there would be no more room for youth. Capacity for innovation would die, and endless life would be no paradise, if anything a condemnation. The true cure for death must be different. It cannot lead simply to an indefinite prolongation of this current life. It would have to transform our lives from within. It would need to create a new life within us, truly fit for eternity: it would need to transform us in such a way as not to come to an end with death, but only then to begin in fullness. What is new and exciting in the Christian message, in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, was and is that we are told: yes indeed, this cure for death, this true medicine of immortality, does exist. It has been found. It is within our reach. In baptism, this medicine is given to us. A new life begins in us, a life that matures in faith and is not extinguished by the death of the old life, but is only then fully revealed.”