Friday, July 4, 2008

Theology of St. Thomas - Precepts of Charity and the Virtues

In ST II-II Q44 A1, St. Thomas addresses the question whether should be any precepts about charity: that is, whether there should be any divine commands concerning it. He answers in the affirmative.
Whatever God requires of us is included in a precept. Now God requires that man should love Him, according to Dt. 10:12. Therefore it behooved precepts to be given about the love of charity, which is the love of God.
In other words, God tells us what it means to love him: what we must do if we love him. It's not enough just to say we love someone: our actions must demonstrate it. This is pre-eminently so with God, whom we ought to love above all others. And this is completely in keeping with what he tells us.
  • If you love me, keep my commandments.
  • He who has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me.
  • If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him.
  • Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are immorality, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, witchcrafts, enmities, contentions, jealousies, anger, quarrels, factions, parties, envies, murders, drunkenness, carousings, and suchlike. And concerning these I warn you, as I have warned you, that they who do such things will not attain the kingdom of God.
  • Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, the Lord is one! Therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today.
(John 14:15, 21, 23; Galatians 5:19-21; Deuteronomy 6:4-5)
Because what St. Thomas says on this subject is so good, I can hardly do better than to quote him at some length here.
[A] precept implies the notion of something due. Hence a thing is a matter of precept, in so far as it is something due. Now a thing is due in two ways, for its own sake, and for the sake of something else. On every affair, it is the end that is due for its own sake, because it has the character of a good for its own sake: while that which is directed to the end is due for the sake of something else: thus for a physician, it is due for its own sake, that he should heal, while it is due for the sake of something else that he should give a medicine in order to heal. Now the end of the spiritual life is that man be united to God, and this union is effected by charity, while all things pertaining to the spiritual life are ordained to this union, as to their end. Hence the Apostle says (1 Timothy 1:5): "The end of the commandment is charity from a pure heart, and a good conscience, and an unfeigned faith." For all the virtues, about whose acts the precepts are given, are directed either to the freeing of the heart from the whirl of the passions--such are the virtues that regulate the passions--or at least to the possession of a good conscience--such are the virtues that regulate operations--or to the having of a right faith--such are those which pertain to the worship of God: and these three things are required of man that he may love God. For an impure heart is withdrawn from loving God, on account of the passion that inclines it to earthly things; an evil conscience gives man a horror for God's justice, through fear of His punishments; and an untrue faith draws man's affections to an untrue representation of God, and separates him from the truth of God. Now in every genus that which is for its own sake takes precedence of that which is for the sake of another, wherefore the greatest precept is that of charity, as stated in Mt. 22:39.
So the virtues are intended and given to us in order that we may be freed to love God, and that we may more readily order our lives according to that love.

But this duty to love God (and neighbor, for that matter) is not something that ought to be viewed as a burden:
The obligation of a precept is not opposed to liberty, except in one whose mind is averted from that which is prescribed, as may be seen in those who keep the precepts through fear alone. But the precept of love cannot be fulfilled save of one's own will, wherefore it is not opposed to charity.
If you love God, you will keep his commandments: this is something we do because we love him, and that we must do freely (or else it is not really love).

17 comments:

Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,
I'm reposting this from the sola fide thread because I was interested in your thoughts and it luckily is still somewhat connected to this thread given the topic of charity/obedience - apologies if you feel this is too off-topic for the post:

"By the two expressions I meant the same thing. Mortal sin is a sin against charity, and the primary focus of that is with respect towards God: it breaks our relationship with him. Venial sins do not do this. This may be because they were not committed with full consent (e.g., we might be compelled in some way - as by a bad habit or addiction, or we might act without thinking), or because they were committed in ignorance (not knowing a thing is sinful), or because the matter was not really grave (e.g., gossiping about trivial things that don't really destroy a person's reputation). But I think you already said you knew this, and I think I'm repeating myself, so I don't think I've understood the question."

Right, probably partly my fault - I understand the 3 conditions for mortal sin (so if any of those 3 conditions are not met, the sin is venial) but the heart of my questions have been about the nature of grave sin. Given Augustine's words, why is not all sin of grave matter? So I'll reiterate what I asked - You agree that all of the law stems from charity/1st commandment/2 great commandments right? And any violation of the 1st commandment (and by extension the 2 great commandments) is of grave matter yes? So any violation of any of the NT Law/any command of God thus violates those commandments and would seem to therefore be of grave matter correct? That's why I was asking how the distinction could therefore be made, and since Augustine himself made it even in light of the citation we've been discussing about charity, I'm sure I'm missing something.

""My" distinction is, I pray, the Catholic Church's: we cannot save ourselves. But we must still live holy lives."

The benchmark for holiness is the law; "Be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect" - that is certainly a tall order. How much holiness is "sufficient" if justification is based in part on keeping the law for salvation? (note this equally applies to Protestants of course who don't have a law/gospel hermeneutic - how much sanctification is "sufficient" to prove your justification - is it just that you're "better" than you were last year). If God's attitude to you is "I know you are not perfect, so your best is good enough I understand", then what need for Jesus to come and the Cross? The fact that Jesus came is a testimony that your best will not be good enough. There’s a fine line between "I must obey the Law to be like Christ" and trying to please Him to be saved versus submitting to the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work in us so that over time one more accurately reflects Christ.

"God doesn't command us to do anything that we are incapable of doing with his help."
So I take it you do not agree that the purpose of the Law is to reveal you are a sinner, not that you can do it? Or that there is none who can even come close to keeping the law (again keeping meaning perfectly), as Gal 3 indicates? As I implied above, the commands of the law should drive you back to the Cross.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interlocutor,

So any violation of any of the NT Law/any command of God thus violates those commandments and would seem to therefore be of grave matter correct?

Grave matter, yes. But that by itself does not constitute mortal sin. The other two conditions still apply. Example: you can't be guilty of adultery, even if you know it's gravely sinful, if you don't know that the woman you're sleeping with is not your wife (assuming that your ignorance is not somehow deliberate).

With respect to the rest of your questions here, it seems to me that I've already addressed them in one form or other, so I will spare us both yet another repetition. :-) Suffice it to say that I don't agree with the Protestant conception that it is impossible for us to live holy lives even with God's help.

Peace,

RdP

Interlocutor said...

Hi RdP,
"Grave matter, yes. But that by itself does not constitute mortal sin. The other two conditions still apply. Example: you can't be guilty of adultery, even if you know it's gravely sinful, if you don't know that the woman you're sleeping with is not your wife (assuming that your ignorance is not somehow deliberate)."

Exactly - this is what I've been driving at for most of the discussion - but I'm surprised - you do then agree that therefore *any* sin, no matter how slight, is of grave matter (since every sin is a violation against charity/1st commandment/2 great commandments as I was saying in my post)? I thought before you had indicated otherwise since that viewpoint seems contrary to RC teaching but maybe I misinterpreted. Again, I'm aware of the 2 other conditions - knowledge and full consent - that would have to be met for it to be mortal which you reference with your adultery example. What I was driving at was that all sin is of grave matter. So if you are agreeing with that, that seems that cases of mortal sin are actually far more common (again what I was arguing earlier) than many think - the only thing probably keeping them venial for many people is that they are simply ignorant that *all* sin is of grave matter and so don't meet the "full knowledge" condition. Please clarify if I completely misunderstood you; in fact I must be because that makes the "grave matter" condition for mortal sin useless if every sin is of grave matter - there would only be the 2 other conditions needed for a sin to therefore be mortal.

"Suffice it to say that I don't agree with the Protestant conception that it is impossible for us to live holy lives even with God's help."

Fair enough :) I was more focused on the mortal sin issue anyhow so that's cool.

Nickname said...

Article 8 of this section asks about "order" what does St. T mean by order? BTW: this is a great difficulty I have with the Summa. Following the technicial terminology.

Nickname said...

Sigh, "Nickname"....Martin.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hi Martin,

I am neither a scholar nor a philosopher, so mine is by no means an expert opinion on the matter, but I think that I can answer your question. I agree with you that the terminology can be difficult. :-)

In article 8 St. Thomas speaks of the order of charity. It appears, from ad 3, that what he refers to here is an order of primacy: we are to love God first, then ourselves, then our neighbors - and among our neighbors, those first who are most worthy by reason of virtue or connection.

This makes sense within the context of the article as a whole, which addresses whether this ordering, or prioritization of charity, is commanded by way of precept. St. Thomas affirms that it is.

I hope this helps.

Peace,

RdP

Reginald de Piperno said...

Hello Interlocutor,

Exactly - this is what I've been driving at for most of the discussion - but I'm surprised - you do then agree that therefore *any* sin, no matter how slight, is of grave matter (since every sin is a violation against charity/1st commandment/2 great commandments as I was saying in my post)? I thought before you had indicated otherwise since that viewpoint seems contrary to RC teaching but maybe I misinterpreted.

No, this is not what I meant, and I'm sorry if I have confused things.

The unspoken presumption in what I said would be that the sin in question was understood to be genuinely grave.

Peace,

RdP

Martin said...

Yes, thanks. I find I either overread St. T or miss his main point. Here it would seem a perfect storm of both.


Entirely appropo to Inerlocutor's questions is Article 6.

Objection 2. Further, whoever does not fulfil a precept sins mortally, since according to Ambrose (De Parad. viii) sin is nothing else than "a transgression of the Divine Law, and disobedience of the heavenly commandments." If therefore this precept cannot be fulfilled by wayfarers, it follows that in this life no man can be without mortal sin, and this is against the saying of the Apostle (1 Corinthians 1:8): "(Who also) will confirm you unto the end without crime," and (1 Timothy 3:10): "Let them minister, having no crime."

I answer that, A precept can be fulfilled in two ways; perfectly, and imperfectly. A precept is fulfilled perfectly, when the end intended by the author of the precept is reached; yet it is fulfilled, imperfectly however, when although the end intended by its author is not reached, nevertheless the order to that end is not departed from...

Here, St. T (If I understand properly) is saying that simply not being perfect is, in itself, not a sin. (RdP earlier dealt with this as a question of failing to help a neighbor 24/7.

More to the point in the (entirely seperate)section dealing directly with mortal vs. venial sins St. Thomas says that it is when we directly seek to sin against Charity that we cause mortal sins but not when we sin in matters not directly against Charity.

For as regards the first two [mortal vs. venial], it is evident that they have no determinate genus: whereas venial sin, taken in the third sense, can have a determinate genus, so that one sin may be venial generically, and another generically mortal, according as the genus or species of an act is determined by its object. For, when the will is directed to a thing that is in itself contrary to charity, whereby man is directed to his last end, the sin is mortal by reason of its object. Consequently it is a mortal sin generically, whether it be contrary to the love of God, e.g. blasphemy, perjury, and the like, or against the love of one's neighbor, e.g. murder, adultery, and such like: wherefore such sins are mortal by reason of their genus. Sometimes, however, the sinner's will is directed to a thing containing a certain inordinateness, but which is not contrary to the love of God and one's neighbor, e.g. an idle word, excessive laughter, and so forth: and such sins are venial by reason of their genus
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2088.htm

This isn't really so hard. Just now I had to get up and tell my daughter to leave the bathroom (at 11 PM) where she was hiding and reading a book. She was not seeking to disobey me directly, nor was she in her heart saying, "I don't care what my father or God wants, I'm going to read this book" Rather she was sleepless with excitement and lacks the control to put the book away for tomorrow. BTW: This is in no way comparable to her father sneaking out to the computer at 11 PM to post remarks on someones blog.

Really.

Stop snickering.

Martin said...

Yes, thanks. I find I either overread St. T or miss his main point. Here it would seem a perfect storm of both.


Entirely appropo to Inerlocutor's questions is Article 6.

Objection 2. Further, whoever does not fulfil a precept sins mortally, since according to Ambrose (De Parad. viii) sin is nothing else than "a transgression of the Divine Law, and disobedience of the heavenly commandments." If therefore this precept cannot be fulfilled by wayfarers, it follows that in this life no man can be without mortal sin, and this is against the saying of the Apostle (1 Corinthians 1:8): "(Who also) will confirm you unto the end without crime," and (1 Timothy 3:10): "Let them minister, having no crime."

I answer that, A precept can be fulfilled in two ways; perfectly, and imperfectly. A precept is fulfilled perfectly, when the end intended by the author of the precept is reached; yet it is fulfilled, imperfectly however, when although the end intended by its author is not reached, nevertheless the order to that end is not departed from...

Here, St. T (If I understand properly) is saying that simply not being perfect is, in itself, not a sin. (RdP earlier dealt with this as a question of failing to help a neighbor 24/7.

More to the point in the (entirely seperate)section dealing directly with mortal vs. venial sins St. Thomas says that it is when we directly seek to sin against Charity that we cause mortal sins but not when we sin in matters not directly against Charity.

For as regards the first two [mortal vs. venial], it is evident that they have no determinate genus: whereas venial sin, taken in the third sense, can have a determinate genus, so that one sin may be venial generically, and another generically mortal, according as the genus or species of an act is determined by its object. For, when the will is directed to a thing that is in itself contrary to charity, whereby man is directed to his last end, the sin is mortal by reason of its object. Consequently it is a mortal sin generically, whether it be contrary to the love of God, e.g. blasphemy, perjury, and the like, or against the love of one's neighbor, e.g. murder, adultery, and such like: wherefore such sins are mortal by reason of their genus. Sometimes, however, the sinner's will is directed to a thing containing a certain inordinateness, but which is not contrary to the love of God and one's neighbor, e.g. an idle word, excessive laughter, and so forth: and such sins are venial by reason of their genus
http://www.newadvent.org/summa/2088.htm

This isn't really so hard. Just now I had to get up and tell my daughter to leave the bathroom (at 11 PM) where she was hiding and reading a book. She was not seeking to disobey me directly, nor was she in her heart saying, "I don't care what my father or God wants, I'm going to read this book" Rather she was sleepless with excitement and lacks the control to put the book away for tomorrow. BTW: This is in no way comparable to her father sneaking out to the computer at 11 PM to post remarks on someones blog.

Really.

Stop snickering.

Martin said...

Silly me, it wasn't a good enough comment to post twice.

Reginald de Piperno said...

LOL!

On the contrary, it was an excellent comment :-) Thanks! And frankly you have proven what I said: I am no scholar, or I might have bothered to catch what St. Thomas says in article 6 (which further buttresses what I've been trying - imperfectly - to say). So bless you for participating, even at 11pm :-)

RdP

Interlocutor said...

Good points Martin. I guess I just still have some difficulty wrapping my mind around the distinctions between sin of grave and non-grave matter. Again, if sin is the violation of any of God's law/commands and all the law stems from the 1st commandments/2 great commandments (the violations of those being generally defined as being of grave matter by the Church), I don't see where the disconnect happens separating certain sins from others. Certainly there are degrees of sin (i.e. differing punishments in Hell) but classifying certain ones as being of grave matter and others not just seems somewhat arbitrary given how all non-grave sins still stem from the same root commandments as grave sins. Yes, Paul does list certain practices, but even the Church doesn't say those are exhaustive.

"it is fulfilled, imperfectly however, when although the end intended by its author is not reached, nevertheless the order to that end is not departed from."

I can kind of see this, but my point with the 24/7 example was that even the intention to that end is not made by many. If one had the intention to help their neighbor 24/7 and acted in good faith every way they could, but still failed, then I suppose the above would apply, unless I'm misunderstanding what is being said here. But do most, if any, Christians really do that? One does what they want to do.

"St. Thomas says that it is when we directly seek to sin against Charity that we cause mortal sins but not when we sin in matters not directly against Charity.
She was not seeking to disobey me directly, nor was she in her heart saying"I don't care what my father or God wants, I'm going to read this book"

Yes, I would agree this is applicable to mortal sin in terms of the 2 other conditions (full knowledge and consent) not being met. But the question of grave matter seems tricky. You have St. Thomas' distinction - grave matter being when we directly seek to sin against Charity, non-grave matter when we sin in matters not directly against Charity. But how can any sin not be directly against Charity if charity/love encapsulates the whole Law? I would say that laziness/indifference and self-idolatry are probably the 2 more insidiuous sins that plague many Christians, so just because you don't explicitly look at some woman lustfully (adultery) or are angry towards someone (murder), but instead engage in sins of omission by focusing on your own desires instead of your neighbors' who are all around you and readily accessible in this day and age as I was emphasizing with the 24/7 example (every Christian should be acutely aware of the great command to love your neighbor as yourself, and so they should realize that when they are not, they are preferring disobedience and saying "I don't care what God wants, I'm going to do [this]"), it would seem you are still sinning against Charity.

I feel I must be misunderstanding something fundamental.

Anonymous said...

Ah, postin short anwers from my phone again.

Love your neighbor does NOT equal DO everything for my neighbor. What are you some kinda Catholic works/justice person? :)

DO the will of God which MIGHT be "feed your next door neighbor" or it might be *I* will care for your neighbor and you save your money today,* I* have other uses for it.

Some people become torn by scruples and see every fault as a sin and every sin as a direct affront to God.

Is God more or less understanding than you? If a friend failed to return a book to you would it destroy the friendship? - A loan of $100, - a new car?

My point: if a mere human can understand gradations of selfishness then cannot God?

eg again: I am postint his to help a brother who is confused in his faith. Meanwhile my sore wife is cleaning the kithen. am I sinning by not helping my wife. Would it be a sin to not post and answer you? God knowes and, in prayer, I can know too.
Finally, as RdP said, "in the confessional all sins are venial"

+JMJ+

-Martin- I utter uncharitable words at Palm and blogger on my phone.

Martin said...

if sin is the violation of any of God's law/commands and all the law stems from the 1st commandments/2 great commandments

Stems from but: a strike against the branch is not necessarily a strike againt the root (or vine in this case)

Interlocutor said...

"My point: if a mere human can understand gradations of selfishness then cannot God?"

Sure but of course it can be dangerous to try to import our views upon God's standards. But I appreciate your point. It's just that Christ does not mince words when it comes to the cost/requirements of being a genuine disciple. Often times these commands are viewed as "well, when push comes to shove, would you be willing to forego your treasure/family/time/life/etc. for Christ" but then everyone just lives without thinking that shove ever actually comes, or (sinfully perhaps?), in their complacency, avoiding having to deal with such a demand and sacrificing/being tested. And Christ doesn't make any such qualifications in his demands on a disciple, saying that it's just an extreme case or something you should be willing to do but don't have to worry about it; He seems to say to do it now and continuously. You're right that this would vary from person to person and I suppose I have been generalizing too much - determining the will of God for one's self would be the answer as you said - "hating" your mother or selling everything for the poor might not be required of a particular believer, but if one prayerfully thinks God is calling him to such actions, to refuse or hedge about or be lukewarm would be sinful. But then one also must be careful of scruples as you pointed out - could be a tough balance.

"Stems from but: a strike against the branch is not necessarily a strike againt the root (or vine in this case)"

Good point, but is it then your view that one really only violates the First Commandment/2 Great Commandments when *explicity* acting against those? For example, I only violate (gravely) the first commandment when I worship another deity or put some desire above God, but if I commit some venial sin by being impatient with someone or something, even thought that violates God's law which stems from the 1C, it's not a direct violation since it's not explicitly dealing with false worship? And it's not a major/grave violation of the 2nd GC, but rather a minor/non-grave matter because of God's understanding of gradations of violations of sin as you mention before? Just seems like drawing borders around the 1C/2GC when all the law is encapsulated by them is a bit odd.

Martin said...

{Good point, but is it then your view that one really only violates the First Commandment/2 Great Commandments when *explicity* acting against those?}

I'm afraid I'm a bit weak on this but I believe it is tied to the division between santifying grace and actual grace. The first is what justifies and the second enables our life in Christ.

A mortal sin destroys santifying grace. Without a sacramental conffession (yes, there are always exceptions) you are done for.

A venial sin does not permenately separate us from God but lessens the actual grace, it makes it harder to be a Christian.


You can look the terms up in the Catholic encylopedia, there are some very long discussions of each. I'll bet Dave Armstrong has written a paper or three explaining mortal/venial sin. I'm afraid I am tapped out and cannot explain any better without researching farther. That will happen but not anytime soon.

Reginald de Piperno said...

Many thanks to Martin for the helpful comments.

I am afraid I'm in the same boat: I don't know what else to say at this point in the conversation that would be useful or illuminating. Sorry, Interlocutor.

Peace,

RdP