Morals and Religion
by John A. Hardon, S.J.
The relationship between religion and morality goes back to the earliest history
of mankind. Among the extant documents showing this is the famous instruction
for King Meri-ka-re, dating from the twenty-second century B.C., in which the
Egyptian ruler tells his son how to conduct himself. Instead of giving him counsels
of plain moralizing, the king places the whole practice of virtue on obedience
to the gods, and doing good on earth is commended with an eye to reward in the
world to come. After the short span of life, which for the Egyptians was ideally
one hundred and ten years, a man's soul appears before a tribunal of the gods,
under the presidency of Re, the sun-god, and with Osiris, god of the underworld,
The council which judges the deficient, you know that they are not lenient
on that day of judging the miserable, the hour of doing their duty. It is woe
when the accuser is one of knowledge. Do not trust in length of years, for they
regard a lifetime as but one hour. A man remains over after death, and his deeds
are placed beside him in heaps. However, existence after death is for eternity,
and he who complains of it is a fool. But as for him who reaches it without
wrongdoing, he shall exist yonder like a god, stepping out freely like the lords
Until modern times this relation was generally taken for granted, and writers
as far different in philosophy as Plato and Avicenna, or in theology as Aquinas
and Luther, never questioned the basic truth expressed on Mount Sinai, when
Yahweh gave the Jews a decalogue whose first precepts were to honor God as a
foundation for the secondary precepts of the moral law.
But something new has entered the stream of human thought, a concept of man's
autonomy that wishes to dispense with religion in its bearing on morals, on
the grounds that the very notion of religious values is only a mental construct.
Whatever bearing they may have on ethical principles, it is not as though the
acceptance of God was a necessary condition for being moral in the current,
accepted sense of the term. When Julian Huxley boldly proclaimed that he knew
nothing of a personal Deity be he Yahweh, or Allah, or Apollo, he was saying
more than meets the eye. "I am not merely agnostic on the subject,"
he insisted. "I disbelieve in a personal God in any sense in which that
phrase is ordinarily used."(2) His protest was born of a conviction that
the practical effect of theism is to stultify human effort. Where the fifth-century
monk, Pelagius, denied the existence of grace because he felt this encouraged
lazy dependence on supernatural aid, latter day critics of religion would remove
the existence of God for the same reason except that their Pelagianism is
more complete, perhaps because their confidence in Man is so extreme.
It is axiomatic in the Christian faith that religion and morality cannot be
separated, at the risk of destroying the essence of moral conduct and leaving
man's will a prey to his passions and unreasoning drives. To the casual reader
the answer of Christ to the questioning Pharisees may seem like a platitude.
They asked Him, "Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?"
He told them, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your
mind, That is the greatest commandment. It comes first. The second is like it:
Love your neighbor as yourself. Everything in the Law and the prophets hangs
on these two commandments."(3) Behind his statement stands the ethical
system of Christianity, whose prior concern is with the things of God, on the
premise that everything in the moral order derives meaning only from Him.
Religion means different things to different people. It has been loosely defined
as that which holds the inner loyalty of a man. He may be fundamentally loyal
to himself alone (an egoist), to the crowd he is with (the herd instinct), to
his country (as a good citizen), to an abstract idea of man's welfare (the humanist),
to some conception of God (a theist), to God made known to us in His divine
Son Jesus Christ (as a Christian). Whatever engages a man's inner loyalty is
said to be his religion, unless he cares nothing about anything, a nihilist;
but then he is worth only what he believes, nothing. For everyone is what he
is by virtue of what he believes.
Among these conceptions, only the last two are valid in the Christian scheme
of reality, and no more important distinction can be made than to sift the various
meanings of religion as they affect morality. Unless the notion of a personal
God is included, religion is not only a misnomer, it is a parody.
Yet there is prevalent in modern thought the idea that people can be religious,
and therefore moral, without believing in any religion in the sense of accepting
an objective and transcendent Deity. "God," in the words of John Dewey,
"denotes the unity of all ideal ends arousing us to desire and actions."(4)
He admits the idea that "God" represents a unification of ideal values
that is essentially imaginative in origin when the imagination supervenes in
conduct bristles with verbal difficulties. This is owing to our frequent use
of the word "imagination" to denote fantasy and doubtful reality.
"But the reality of ideal ends as ideals is vouched for by their undeniable
power in action. An idea is not an illusion because imagination is the organ
through which it is apprehended."(5)
In other words, God does not exist except as the projection by our imagination
of those non-objective ideals which guide our conduct. While the idea of God
is not real, therefore, since it is created by the fantasy, it is not illusory
because it serves the purpose of idealizing our hopes and desires.
Consistent with this doctrine of naturalism, philosophers in the tradition
of Feuerbach and Freud inveigh against the idea of religion any religion
which pretends to represent man's relations with an objective and personal Supreme
Being. They introduce a distinction between religion and religious which has
become classic. Projected ideals of conduct are religious, but there
is no warrant for religion, since there is no extra-mental God for religion
to worship. Any activity, according to them, pursued in behalf of an ideal end
against obstacles and in spite of threats of personal loss because of a conviction
of its general and enduring value is religious in quality.
The roots of this subjectivist theory are not old. They date from the revolt
against the perennial philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas, for whom being and
its transcendentals measure thought. For the moderns it is thought which measures
being and its transcendentals, including goodness and truth.
For Aristotle and St. Thomas, mind is a clean slate on which reality writes.
Nothing can be in the mind unless it was first in the senses and therefore in
objective reality. As far as man is concerned, mind is not the measure of reality.
Reality exists even though it never enters into a finite mind. And even when
reality does measure mind, it is in no way modified in the process. Only the
subjective counterpart or image is affected.
A great deal of ethical thinking inverts this order of mind and being. It makes
mind a measure instead of the thing measured. Both Idealism and Empiricism agree
in this revolution which was sparked and mainly determined by the writings of
Immanuel Kant (1724 -1804): reality is to some extent the product of mind. Not
unlike the Athman of the Hindu Brahmins, for whom Self is the center
of the universe, the facets of reality are only reflections of the Ego. And
how does the mind measure reality? Either by using the a-priori categories
native to the mind (Idealism), or by practical forms arising from need and utility
(Empiricism). The first is the modern version of Kant's First Critique, of Pure
Reason; the second of his Second Critique, of Practical Reason.
Christianity has always maintained that truth, while necessarily involving
mind, is not made or created by human mind. It discovers truth; it does not
fabricate it. Where is the ultimate source of what it discovers? It is in the
Mind of God. Truth abides first in the divine Intelligence, which conceives
eternally the ideas of what it creates. It is secondly found in things outside
of God, since these were brought out of nothing in conformity with these Eternal
Ideas. And thirdly truth passes into human knowledge when it represents things
as they really are.(6)
The bearing of these principles on morality is profound. It lies at the basis
of the Christian claim that moral principles are unchangeable, and that relativism
in ethics is a contradiction in terms.
If anything is obvious in moral science it is the need for passing judgment
on what actions are good and what are bad, and correspondingly which conduct
is right and which wrong. To pass judgment, however, calls for some norm or
criterion by which the mind can recognize the good and then will choose accordingly.
Otherwise morality would be nothing but caprice, and ethics only a name. Two
kinds of moral "measuring rods" are conceivable: a proximate norm
which stands nearest the human will and directly teaches it what is right and
wrong, and an ultimate standard beyond which no further principle of ethical
discrimination is possible. On both counts, God as the Author of creation and
of man's nature is quintessential.
For the sake of clarity we may reverse the order, saying that the ultimate
norm of morality is the nature or essence of God, and the proximate corresponds
to it in the created world, namely man's nature, which imitates the divine essence
as do all things that are outside of God.
From the viewpoint of human actions, some of these, such as blasphemy, are
of themselves bad at all times, and other acts, like the love of God, are of
themselves always good. Evidently the quality of moral goodness or badness must
be something intrinsic to the acts and depends on their agreement or discord
with the permanent natural order of things. This order must correspond to the
myriad relationships that men have with reference to God as His creatures, to
their fellow men as social beings, and to themselves as endowed by the Creator
with faculties, inclinations and human needs. These relations are not arbitrary
figments of the mind but founded on the essences of things. Hence the difference
between some good and bad actions must be an essential difference. And since
the natures of creatures are modeled on the nature of God, it follows that ultimately
the morality of human actions is determined by the essence of God to which
His own divine intellect and will must conform.
If we ask, then, why we approve certain actions as morally good, the answer
must be that we perceive them as rightly directed to their true end. They are
seen as conformable to this divinely established order of things ultimately
to the nature of God and proximately to our natures, created after His image
and likeness. Remove God from the premises and we make goodness anything the
human mind conceives to be good, subjectively and apart from reality; and evil
becomes whatever the autonomous intellect of man decides is disagreeable.
We go a step further. Unless God were the focus of moral actions and the final
object towards whom we tend, the deepest hunger in man's spirit must forever
remain unsatisfied. Nothing else than He can fully answer to our needs. Over
the centuries every conceivable substitute has been devised and experimented
with, and all have been found wanting.
Thus man's ultimate happiness does not consist in pleasures of the flesh. In
the order of nature pleasure depends on operation, and not the converse.
Consequently, if operations are not the ultimate end, the pleasures that result
from them are not the ultimate end either; nor are they concomitant with the
ultimate end. It stands to reason that the operations which accompany the pleasures
of the flesh are not the ultimate end, for they are directed to certain purposes
that are quite obvious: eating for instance, to the preservation of the body,
and sexual intercourse to the generation of offspring.(7)
Moreover, something which is not good unless it be moderated cannot be good
in itself; it receives goodness from the source of moderation. Common experience
teaches that the enjoyment of food and sex is not good unless moderated. By
the same token if man's final happiness consisted in indulging the body, the
maximum enjoyment of the flesh should be the best. But this is clearly not true,
because excessive carnal pleasure is considered vicious, and is also harmful
to the body (as even the least ethical Freudians admit). In fact restraint in
this matter tends to increasing the very pleasures of sense. A hungry man enjoys
food more than someone whose appetite has been dulled by over-indulgence.
In the same way, our final happiness does not consist in being honored by others,
even though many people practically govern their lives by this ideal. Whatever
is desirable on account of something else is not the ultimate end. Honors are
of this nature. A person is not rightly honored except for some other good that
is present in him. And this is why men seek to be honored, desiring, as it were,
to have a witness to some good quality they possess, whether intelligence or
beauty of skill which another man's opinion confirms in their own minds. That
is why we take greater joy in being praised by important and wise people. But,
in any case, the praise and reputation are not to be identified with the final
goal of existence.
A similar case could be made out against the possession of wealth, or earthly
power, or even the highest endowment of the moral virtues, none of which can
constitute the ultimate of human beatitude. We are creatures of unspeakable
longing, always pressing forward to further horizons of happiness. We cannot
be at peace until submerged in the ocean of Truth and Love which is God. "Thou
hast made us for Thyself, O Lord," prayed St. Augustine, "and our
hearts are restless until they rest in Thee."
Since God is a pure spirit, our perfect happiness must be found in possessing
Him with the spiritual faculties of mind and will, in knowledge and love contemplating
Him in the fullness of His wisdom and enjoying Him inthe plenitude of His goodness.
Christianity makes a distinction between what reason tells us about the destiny
of man, and what revelation teaches through the Church. Reflection on our motives
shows we are always looking for goals in what we do, at least implicitly, and
beyond lesser goals for a final one that promises perfect satisfaction. Since
nothing merely earthly or created qualifies at least because everything on
earth must come to an end only the Creator can finally satisfy. But what kind
of possession of God will this be? Revelation gives the answer, and thereby
the purpose for moral conduct which all the speculations of philosophy could
never find. "Eye has not seen nor ear heard, nor has it entered into the
heart of man what things God has prepared for those who love Him ...When He
appears we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him just as He is."(8) The
name for this seeing is vision, and its fruit is beatitude, hence the cold theological
term for the magnificent reality of heaven, the beatific vision.
Life full of life! Everlasting and ever blessed life, in which is joy without
sorrow, rest without labor, dignity without fear, riches without loss, health
without sickness, abundance without want, life without death, continuity without
corruption, blessedness without calamity; where all good things are in perfect
sight; where there is full knowledge in all things and of all things; where
God's sovereign goodness is understood and His enlightening light is glorified
by the saints; where the present majesty of God is beheld, and the minds of
the beholders are satisfied as with the food of life. They always see and they
always desire to see; yet they desire without disquietude and are filled without
The Christian faith, therefore, speaks of seeing God in heaven. This is analogous
language. The beatific vision is more than mere beholding. It is at once knowledge
and love, possession and wonder, desire and delight, raised to the highest degree
possible for a creature, where God's intimacy is so great that He will be in
no sense outside the soul, but within it. We shall grasp His very being within
the very powers of our mind. It is life within life, being within being, remotely
(but only remotely) like a bar of iron in a blazing furnace, till the eye can
no longer distinguish between it and the surrounding fire. Yet the metal is
less pervaded by the flames then the soul is permeated by God
Priority of the Divine
Religion also defines the scope of morality and identifies the first of man's
duties in the moral order: It is an incredible prejudice among certain ethicians
that they will write volumes on morality and never so much as
recognize that our first obligations are towards God. Underlying this prejudice
is the most devastating mental inversion of modern times, the claim that not
God but man stands at the center of the universe. It deserves
Atheistic Humanism. Since the time of Protagoras the Sophist,
in the fifth century B.C., who is reputed to have said, "of the gods nothing
can be known, neither that they are, nor that they are not," there have
been philosophers who denied that the human mind can attain to the knowledge
of anything ultimate or absolute, and therefore of God.
In modern thought, the emergence of this agnostic (I-do-not-know) tendency
was due mainly to the scepticism of David Hume (1711-1776), who rejected the
validity of the ideas of substance and causality, and paved the way for later
Phenomenalism and Nominalism. Immanuel Kant was critical of Hume and meant to
offer an antidote to his scepticism, but he ended up in the same situation.
He would not allow our ideas of such transcendent realities as substance and
cause to have any value outside the world of phenomena. They cannot be applied
to the world of reality, to the things-in-themselves. All we can know is the
shell of reality, but never its core.
In the nineteenth century, Auguste Comte (1798-1857) introduced what has since
become known as Positivism, where a definite break was made with metaphysics
which Comte discarded along with everything except facts and their relations,
events and the laws of their occurrence. Comte's Positivism was the direct ancestor
of Agnosticism, of which Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) and Thomas Huxley (1825-1895)
were outstanding representatives.
The precise term "Agnosticism" was coined by Thomas Huxley in 1869.
It was intended to describe the position of those who claimed that the ultimate
reality was simply unknowable. Its range of nescience was universal, and was
directed not only against the idea of God as the ultimate and absolute reality
in the religious view of the world, but equally against the possibility of saying
that the existence of any reality corresponds with our ultimate ideas in philosophy
and science. Philosophers had always professed to reach the knowledge of first
principles, and even scientists dealt with realities which they considered ultimate
in their own field. Likewise religion offers its explanations of the ultimate
in identifying God as the first beginning and last end of all things.
But Agnosticism denied the possibility of knowing the ultimate in any field
of inquiry. We can know the manifestations of things, but nothing more. Many
agnostics admitted that ultimates exist, others were not sure; but all refused
to recognize the mind's capacity for knowing the ultimates themselves.
Parallel with the spirit of philosophical doubt arose another, more radical
view of the cosmos. Not satisfied with questioning whether God exists, it simply
denied His existence, yet in such complex and devious ways that to this day
no single approach to religion is more subversive of sound philosophy or disastrous
for moral conduct. Its name is also its definition, for Atheistic Humanism is
a combination of two attitudes: a negative assertion that there is no God (a
= not + Theos = God) and a positive claim that only man (homo) is
real in the universe.
The great exponent of Atheistic Humanism was Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872).
He studied under Hegel in Berlin, and through the latter crystallized what has
since become the mainstay of Communism in its opposition to religion as "the
opium of the people," and of Freudianism in its effort to remove the religious
illusion from human motivation and morals.
Early in his career, Feuerbach indicated his principal aim: to change "the
friends of God into friends of man, believers into thinkers, worshippers into
workers, candidates for the other world into students of this world, Christians,
who on their own confession are half-animal and half-angel, into men whole
men." To these proposed improvements he had earlier added: "theologians
into anthropologians," religious footmen of a celestial aristocracy into
free, self-reliant citizens of earth.(9)
Never one to mince words or avoid clashing with established positions, Feuerbach
laid the groundwork for his followers by asserting that "the object of
any subject is nothing else than the subject's own nature taken objectively."
In less pedantic language it means that the object we think we know is really
only ourselves projected outside the mind as though it were objective. The objects
of religious knowledge are no exception. Even God is only we extrapolating ourselves
into a fictitious world outside the mind.
Consciousness of God is self-consciousness, knowledge of God is self-knowledge.
Whatever God is to a man, that is his heart and soul; and conversely, God is
the manifested inward nature, the expressed self of a man religion the solemn
unveiling of a man's hidden treasures, the revelation of his intimate thoughts,
the open confession of his love secrets.
But when religion consciousness of God is designated as self-consciousness
of man, this is not to be understood as affirming that the religious man is
directly aware of this identity. On the contrary, ignorance of it is fundamental
to the peculiar nature of religion. To preclude this misconception, it is better
to say, religion is man's earliest and also indirect form of self-knowledge.
Hence religion everywhere precedes philosophy, as in the history of the human
race, so also in that of the individual. Man first of all sees his nature as
if out of himself, before he finds it in himself. His own nature is in
the first instance contemplated by him as that of another being.
Religion is the childlike condition of humanity; but the child sees his nature
man out of himself; in childhood a man is an object to himself, under the
form of another man. Hence the historical progress of religion consists in this:
that what by an earlier religion was regarded as objective, is now recognized
as subjective; that is what was formerly contemplated and worshipped as God
is now perceived to be something human. What was at first religion becomes at
a later period idolatry; man is seen to have adored his own nature.(10)
Although man has given himself objectivity, Feuerbach argued, he has not recognized
the object as his own nature. He has mistaken himself for God, and while adoring
God was later to discover (if he makes the discovery) that this God is really
self in objective disguise. Most people still labor under this illusion. "But
the essence of religion is viewed objectively, which it cannot be by its votaries.
And it is our task to show that the antithesis between the human nature in general
and the human individual; that, consequently, the object and contents of the
Christian religion are altogether human" where human is understood as
humanity, symbolized and idealized and (erroneously among religious people)
believed to be divine.(11)
It would be easy at this stage to ignore Feuerbach and his followers with a
literary shrug and dismiss them with a clever phrase. But the impact of Atheistic
Humanism on the modern mind is too deep not to be taken seriously, or not to
take further stock of this challenge to Christianity but pass on to the more
comforting examination of religious morality.
What makes Feuerbach so serious is the influence he had on Communism, which
currently threatens to engulf the other half of mankind. Marx, Engels and Lenin,
each in turn, studied Feuerbach and finally rested their case against religion
on his principles.
Karl Marx (1818-1883) read the Essence of Christianity with enthusiasm.
His own critique of capitalism found a kindred spirit in the image of God created
to the likeness of man. It was no difficult matter for Marx to apply the logic
of Feuerbach to his own theory of capital and labor. In Marx's language, religion
is a product of man's social consciousness, caused by his inability to reconcile
himself to nature. Though not the root cause of this alienation, religion holds
out to man an illusory hope of finding himself. This merely serves to perpetuate
and deepen the alienation, and adds to man's misery. Religion, then, is a sickly
product of sickly men. It must be suppressed at all costs. For as long as it
exists, even in private worship and internal belief, it will attract men and
keep them from attacking the real source of their misery the false economic
structure of society.
Frederick Engels (1820-1895 ) co-founder of the doctrines of Marxism, was a
life-long friend and collaborator of Karl Marx. Like Marx he became interested
in Communism early in life, developing and applying its doctrines until his
death. Beside his collaboration with Marx on the Manifesto of the Communist
Party, and the basic articles for the New York Tribune, he edited the second
and third volumes of Das Kapital, published after Marx's death. Engels'
contribution to Communism was on its philosophical side, where he speculated
on fundamental questions of scientific methodology and dialectical logic. Among
the master works in which this philosophy was explored and delineated, his book
on Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of the Classical German Philosophy
remains today a standard. Engels forms the link between Marx and Lenin in their
approach to religion, and the prevalent Communist hostility towards a mental
construct which inhibits the progress of a classless society.
Lenin, whose full name was Vladimir Ilyich Ulianov (1870-1924), is generally
regarded as the chief exponent of dialectical materialism. A Marxist from his
student days onward, he lived many years outside of Russia as a political refugee,
and read widely in the social sciences and philosophy, with Feuerbach and Marx
among his chief authorities. His analysis of religion is not only penetrating
but incisive. In spite of its length, it is worth quoting in full because it
describes an essential feature of world Communism and represents a more common
attitude toward religion in the West (for example in America) than is generally
Religion is one of the forms of spiritual oppression which everywhere weigh
upon the masses who are crushed by continuous toil for others, by poverty and
loneliness. The helplessness of the exploited classes in their struggle against
the exploiters inevitably generates a belief in a better life after death, even
as the helplessness of the savage in his struggle with nature gives rise to
a belief in gods, devils, miracles and the like.
Religion teaches those who toil in poverty all their lives to be resigned and
patient in this world, and consoles them with the hope of reward in heaven.
As for those who live upon the labor of others, religion teaches them to be
charitable in earthly life, thus providing a cheap justification for their whole
exploiting existence and selling them at a reasonable price tickets to a heavenly
Religion is the opium of the people. Religion is a kind of spiritual intoxicant,
in which the slaves of capital drown their humanity and their desires for some
sort of decent human existence... The modern proletariat ranges itself on the
side of Socialism which, with the help of science, is dispersing the fog of
religion and is liberating the workers from their faith in a life after death,
by rallying them to the present-day struggle for a better life here upon earth.(12)
Lenin's position is quite clear, and the history of Communism in its conflict
with religion, whether Christianity, Judiasm, Islam or Buddhism, has been uniform.
"We must combat religion," he wrote, "this is the A.B.C. of all
materialism, and consequently of Marxism."(13)
With minor nuances, the impact of Feuerbach has been the same in other areas
of human culture, as for instance in the metaphysical principles of Freudianism.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1940), founder of the school of psychoanalysis, has affected
more aspects of modern thought than perhaps any other single writer of the past
century. He developed a therapeutic technique for the treatment of hysteria
and neuroses; he advanced an elaborate psychological theory of which the main
tenets are the predominance of sex and the doctrine of the subconscious; and
he undergirded the whole system with his thoroughly Feuerbachian concept of
Freud wrote The Future of an Illusion late in his career, when his interest
in psychoanalysis had expanded beyond his earlier clinical concerns, and when
the problems of civilization itself occupied much of his attention. "One
of his most controversial and unsettling works, this book is as well one of
his most striking contributions to the study of mankind." According to
Freud, religious ideas are born of the need to make tolerable man's helplessness
of his own childhood and the childhood of the human race. They owe their vitality
to mankind's hostility to culture and the instinctual renunciations that culture
demands. The questions then arise: What are religious ideas in the light of
psychology? What is their real worth? Are they in fact illusions, unrelated
to reality and motivated by wish fulfillment? Freud's answer is an echo of millions
for whom religion is an archaic survival of the past.
are not the residue of experience
or the final result of reflection; they are illusions, fulfillments of the oldest,
strongest and most insistent wishes of mankind; the secret of their strength
is the strength of these wishes. We know already that the terrifying effect
of infantile helplessness aroused the need for protection protection through
love which the father relieved, and that the discovery that this helplessness
would continue through the whole of life made it necessary to cling to the existence
of a father but this time a more powerful one.
Thus the benevolent rule of divine providence allays our anxiety in face of
life's dangers, the establishment of a moral world order ensures the fulfillment
of the demands of justice, which within human culture have so often remained
unfulfilled, and the prolongation of earthly existence by a future life provides
in addition the local and temporal setting for these wish-fulfillments.
are all illusions, they do not admit of proof, and no
one can be compelled to consider them as true or believe in them. Some of them
are so improbable, so very incompatible with everything we have laboriously
discovered about the reality of the world, that we may compare them--taking
adequately into account the psychological differences to delusions.
We say to ourselves: it would be very nice if there were a God, who was both
creator of the world and a benevolent providence, if there were a moral world
order and a future life, but at the same time it is very odd that this is all
just as we should wish it ourselves. And it would be still odder if our poor,
ignorant, enslaved ancestors had succeeded in solving all these difficult riddles
of the universe.(14)
Freud, and those from whom he borrowed, can be answered. But perhaps the best
reply comes from Freud himself, who is honest enough to recognize the consequences
of Atheistic Humanism. "Is there not a danger," he asks, "that
these masses (of religious people), in their hostility to culture, will attack
the weak point which they have discovered in their taskmaster? If you must not
kill your neighbor, solely because God has forbidden it and will sorely avenge
it in this or the other life, and you then discover that there is no God so
that one need not fear his punishment, then you will certainly kill without
hesitation, and you could only be prevented from this by mundane force."(15)
Freud offers no valid solution to this dilemma, and takes refuge in vague appeals
to the intelligence of his readers: "No believer will let himself be led
astray by these or by similar arguments," and to a frank confession that,
perhaps, "I have been dealing too hastily with complicated matters."(16)
The Rights of God. If the foregoing seemed like a digression,
it is only because too many religious-minded people are unaware of the depth
or extent of atheism in the world today, or of its inherent attraction to thosewho begin by living as though there were no God and are tempted to rationalize
their conduct by denying His existence.
For the Christian who believes in God, the acceptance of this truth opens a
panorama of responsibilities that logically follow. "What is my God?"
he asks with St. Augustine, and his answer is a tessera of attributes that stagger
the imagination. "Most high, most good, most mighty, most almighty; most
merciful and most just; most hidden and most present; most beautiful and most
strong; stable and incomprehensible; unchangeable, yet changing all things;
never new, and never old, yet renewing all things; leading proud men into senility,
although they know it not; ever active, and ever at rest; gathering in, yet
needing nothing; supporting, fulfilling, and protecting things; creating, nourishing,
and perfecting them; searching them out, although nothing is lacking to You.
You love, but are not inflamed with passion; You are jealous, yet free from
care; You repent, but do not sorrow; You grow angry, but remain tranquil. You
change Your works, but do not change Your plans." In the face of these
and similar attributes, the response of a believing mind is a bewildering question:
"What have we said, my God, my life, my holy delight? Or what does any
man say when he speaks of You? Yet woe to those who keep silent concerning You,
since even those who speak much are as the dumb."(17)
The first reaction, therefore, is one of spontaneous praise. We see a beautiful
painting or a marvelous piece of architecture, and instinctively praise the
artist or engineer who produced what we admire. Justice demands no less for
the Artist who daily paints the dawn and sunset, and whose wisdom fashioned
the wonders of the stars.
Joined to praise is the response of gratitude. "What have you that you
have not received?" is more than a rhetorical question. Its answer is a
basic precept of the moral law, by which we express gratitude to the ultimate
Source of all we possess, from our being and present welfare to the final destiny
to which we aspire.
A moment's reflection tells us that all around us are things that come and
go, begin and end. They exist just now but they might not have existed. There
is nothing in them which compels them, so to speak, to exist. Consequently the
final source of all things must be totally different from everything perceptible
to the senses; it has to be something which itself does not live on borrowed
existence but on its own, namely God. He exists, it is true, but He must exist.
He is absolutely necessary. Nothing else in the world, including ourselves,
is necessary. Other things (including us) begin and end. God, of His very nature,
can have no beginning or ending. He always is, we need not have been, and the
fact that we are is due uniquely to His loving kindness. For that we owe Him
gratitude along with praise.
Gratitude leads the believer to love God, not only verbally or in sentiment
but really in effective deeds. The precept in Deuteronomy, "Thou shalt
love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart," is a law of man's relation
to His Creator, towards whom he should be not only grateful but, rising above
gratitude, respond in personal love.
According to the masters of the Christian life, there are four stages in the
process of growing in the love of God. First comes an intimate knowledge of
the many blessings we received; this should inspire gratitude to the divine
Benefactor from whom the gifts proceed; then comes interior affection as the
fruit of gratitude, and finally dedicated service of God, in loving obedience
to His commands.
It is impossible to overstress the importance of the first stage in the process,
i.e., the need for reflection on God's goodness as an indispensable condition
for gratitude, and through gratitude to love. Unless there is such a previous
consideration of the divine bounty, I cannot love what I do not know.
We are instinctively grateful to God once we realize how good He has been to
us. And a review of the benefits received is only an application of the psychological
principle that if I want to appreciate someone's goodness I study to learn his
goodness to me.
At the broadest level the Christian may recall the blessings of creation and
redemption, and the special favors he has received. Significantly, God does
not love us with mere affection interiorly, but effectuates His love exteriorly
by bringing us out of nothing into existence, by raising us to friendship with
Himself, restoring us to His grace after we fall and in a thousand ways showering
us with His gifts. On our part, this should evoke a responsive desire to give
all we can to God and not remain satisfied with interior sentiments of love.
On a higher plane, we may recall how God not only gives us so many gifts, including
ourselves, but how He literally dwells in the creatures He donates, in the elements
giving them existence, in the plants giving them life, in the animals conferring
on them sensation, in man bestowing understanding. So each person can say to
himself: God dwells in me and gives me life, sensation, intelligence, and makes
a temple of me. Again a corresponding desire should be educed in the believer,
not only to give God all that he has and does, but as far as possible to give
himself with his gifts. There is such a thing as putting one's heart into what
a man does, intensifying the generosity and fervor of one's donation, and so
equating in analogous fashion the presence of God in His blessings to men.
But God does more than communicate His presents, and more than dwell in them.
We may further consider how God works and labors for us in all creatures, and,
as far as it can be said, He exerts Himself in giving us blessings of nature
and grace, which He proved conclusively in becoming man for our salvation, and
laboring and suffering to show His love for man. Moreover, if we consider the
behavior of most people towards God, their slowness to cooperate with grace
and rejection of the divine commands, we see something of what the Scriptures
mean by the Lord's "seeking out" the sinner and His advances in favor
of those who would be rid of God. Reflection on this fact should produce a similar
response in us. We should be willing to exert ourselves in God's favor by a
faithful pursuance of His plans in our regard.
Finally, at the highest level, we may consider all blessings and gifts as descending
from above. Thus our limited power comes from the supreme and infinite power
above, and so, too, our justice, goodness, mercy, descend "as rays of light
descend from the sun, or as waters flow from their fountains." What, we
ask, is the real purpose that God has in giving us so many gifts, in which He
is present and laboring? The ultimate purpose is to give us Himself. His benefits
are all creatures, and intended to lead us to possess the Creator. If we are
in His friendship, this possession on earth is enjoyed as "through a mirror
in an obscure manner," but in heaven "face to face." As the rays
of light descending from the sun unite the sun and earth by means of their common
light, and as waters flowing from their fountains join the remotest tributary
with its primal source, so in the order of Providence, by means of His gifts,
God wishes to join Himself to mankind. The mystery is that even here we are
free to make a voluntary response in kind, giving to God what we have, with
generosity and sacrifice, while intending these gifts as projections of ourselves
towards an eternal union with God.
Even Immanuel Kant, who denied that the mind can arrive at a theoretical demonstration
of God's existence, admitted that the moral law postulates a Deity. He argued
that the imperative nature of the moral law implies there exists somewhere a
good which is not only supreme but complete (consummatum), an embodiment,
so to speak, of that perfect holiness which is the sum of all the conditions
implied in the moral order. Thus, while theonomic ethics (law deriving from
God) supposes the existence of God, autonomic morality (law based on
oneself) proves His existence. The implications of this Kantian principle
will be examined in a later context. Here it is sufficient to recall that for
all his stress on the autonomous will as ethical imperative, Kant did not divorce
morality from reference.
Revelation as Source of Ethical Knowledge
The role of religion in Christian morality implies far more than presupposing
God as divine lawgiver without whom morals would be without objective foundation;
it also means more than recognizing that the primary focus of ethics is on the
Creator, who has first claim on man's allegiance and love. Built into Judaeo-Christianity
is the fact that God has specially entered the world of human knowledge and
communicated to mankind a revelation by which He teaches what men should believe
and do as a condition of their salvation. Without this super-natural dimension
we would have only a shell of Christian morality and hardly the shadow of its
The English word "revelation" is derived from the Latin revelare,
which means the manifestation or disclosure of something that was previously
hidden. In this sense the Scriptures and theology speak of revelation as any
communication that God makes of Himself or His dealings with the human race.
Every religious system in history implies a relation between the Deity and
man and therefore presupposes some kind of knowledge of God. But where other
religions emphasize and practically identify religion as self-instructive, Christianity
lays stress on the need for God's intervention to teach men what they could
never or only with difficulty have learned otherwise.
This intervention may take on a variety of forms. New knowledge may be communicated
by way of external vision, like the handwriting on the wall in the book of Daniel;
or in the form of sensible words, as when Christ spoke to Saul on the road to
Damascus, asking him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Or it
may be by a combination of different sensible elements, as when the angel appeared
to Mary and informed her that she was chosen to be the Mother of the Messiah,
with certain grave duties that would affect her as a result of this divine choice.
Revelations are also given internally, in the imagination or directly in the
mind, with no external medium of communication. Thus we may believe the prophets
in the Old law were specially enlightened by God, and in the New Testament the
humanity of Christ was infused with divine knowledge which Jesus of Nazareth
preached to the people. St. John's Apocalypse is a complete Book of Revelation,
"which God gave him, to make known to His servants the things that must
shortly come to pass." In the rank of physical perfection, intellectual
revelations are superior to those affecting the senses alone, yet both are miraculous
and both are species of divine grace because the knowledge they convey comes
to the mind in a way that is not normal or natural for human beings.
We see immediately that two kinds of revelation are conceivable, one that is
natural and not strictly revelation at all, and another supernatural, which
is the proper object of our inquiry. In natural "revelation" God tells
us about Himself and our duties towards Him by giving us the power of native
insight and logical deduction. Thus we come to the knowledge of a First Cause
from reflection on the effects that we see all around us. Everything we know
from experience has been caused and brought into being by someone or something
else. We therefore argue that whatever is produced cannot have a sufficient
reason for existence in itself. It is a contingent being. It might not have
existed. Yet things do exist; the world of nature, including ourselves, is not
a mirage. But why do they exist? What is the sufficient reason or cause of their
existence? We cannot say that each individual finds its sufficient reason in
the preceding cause, for the latter also came into existence and therefore does
not possess its own final reason for being. No matter how far we go or how long
the series, unless we conclude to the existence of a First Cause, itself uncaused,
the whole line of produced effects (though mathematically infinite) has not
yet been rationally explained.
The same mode of reasoning may be applied to the moral law, which is the logical
consequence of God's existence, since it is unthinkable that an allwise Creator
would establish an order in the universe without wanting us to observe it, and
place sanctions on our disobedience. So, too, we reason to the presence of spiritual
forces in nature from the effects they produce that are not material, i.e.,
not perceptible to the senses. We are able to think in terms of universal concepts,
knowing not only men but humanity, and not only taxes but taxation; we know
how real are love, liberty and happiness. Yet who ever measured the length of
patience with a slide rule or weighed an act of charity on the scales?
All these realities, though abstract and spiritual, or even divine, we may
recognize and in some degree understand without special intervention on the
part of God. Just using our faculties of sense and reason on the objects of
nature will yield a considerable harvest of truth.
But revelation, properly so-called, is not natural. The truths it communicates
may be naturally knowable like the Ten Commandments, or above reason like the
Trinity, but the mode of communication is not by way of rational deduction or
natural intuition. It is always a personal manifestation from God to man, whereby
He speaks and man listens; He breaks through the normal channels of cognition
and addresses Himself directly to the human mind whether by infusing knowledge
or stimulating the senses or any way He chooses to convey His thoughts without
dependence on the laws of nature.
We may, therefore, define revelation as a supernatural manifestation of truth
which imposes faith on the listener. The obligation of believing what God reveals
follows from the character of the speaker and the nature of what He says. If
we are ready to believe whatever we hear, provided a person is known to be truthful
and competent to speak on the subject, how shall we not believe God who is infinitely
wise and cannot be deceived or deceive us? Moreover when God communicates a
revelation, He does not explain Himself or tell us to accept only if we understand.
He bids us submit our judgment in the humility of faith, believing without seeing
and trusting His goodness not to lead us astray.
What is the purpose of revelation ? Is it merely useful as a kind of auxiliary,
or strictly necessary ? And if necessary, by what kind of necessity, and to
what function or end ? On the answer to these questions rests no small part
of the essential relationship of religion (here revealed religion) and morality.
As regards naturally knowable truths, the verdict of history is that without
special illumination from on high beyond the ordinary processes of nature, the
generality of men would not attain the fullness and perfection of religious
and moral knowledge. For though absolutely speaking human reason can by its
native powers arrive at a true and certain knowledge of a personal God and also
of the natural law which the Creator has written in the hearts of men, still
not a few obstacles prevent reason from using its natural ability effectively.
The truths that refer to God and our relations with Him completely transcend
the sensible order; and when there is question of their practical application
and realization, they call for self-surrender and considerable sacrifice. In
the acquisition of such truths, the mind is further hampered by the impulses
of the senses and imagination, and by evil passions stemming from original sin.
As a result men easily persuade themselves that what they do not wish to be
true is false or at least doubtful.
Thus we have whole nations falling into idolatry and gross superstition, and
even philosophers like Plato and Aristotle among the Greeks or Cicero among
the Romans indulging in the most extravagant notions on the deity, on immortality
and the purpose of life. Aristotle extolled hatred and derided mercy. Plato
suggested promiscuity, Cicero praised vengeance, Pliny commended suicide, and
according to Seneca, "No pain or evils can ever afflict the dead. Death
is the end of all suffering, for how can he suffer who does not exist?"
A word of caution, however. We do not say that some knowledge of God
and moral truths is impossible without revelation. Indeed, a minimal degree
of such knowledge must be easily accessible to all rightly disposed persons
who have reached the age of reason. Otherwise God would be depriving men of
the absolute requisites for keeping the moral law and reaching their final destiny,
and also be leaving them with a rational foundation for their faith. However
between this absolute minimum which is possible and the fullness with certitude
supplied by revelation, stands all the difference between the pantheon of Homer's
Iliad and the monotheism of the Old Testament, or the polytheism of the
Romans and the one God of Christianity.
Revelation is further necessary with strict necessity once we assume that God
has elevated man to the supernatural order and destined him for enjoyment of
the beatific vision. Since the possession of God in heaven is a free gift to
created nature, nothing we have of ourselves would make it possible to reach
this destiny unless we were raised to a higher than human order of being. This
implies more than sheer elevation. We must labor for our salvation by the right
use of our free wills, which in turn demands that we know what we are destined
for, and know the means of getting there. Since nature cannot offer this knowledge,
it has to come by way of revelation, wherein God tells us we are made to see
Him face to face, and informs us what we need to believe and how we are to serve
Him as a condition for saving our souls.
It is one thing, however, to say that revelation is theoretically possible
because God can do all things, and necessary because of man's deficiency and
elevation to the adopted sonship of God. It is quite different and more difficult
to prove that such revelation has been made, or that Christianity teaches this
communication from God. How do we know that God really spoke in Christ Jesus,
or through the evangelists and St. Paul? Some of the precepts of the Gospel
place heavy demands on human nature, and the single law of monogamy was already
a scandal to the first disciples. Merely to take somebody's word is not enough.
All the great religions of history have made similar claims: that the Zend-Avesta,
the Vedas, and the Koran are heavenly oracles which the believer should accept
without reservation as divine. The whole question is, can they prove it?
We transmit the possibility of proving the fact of revelation from internal,
subjective criteria alone. Although helpful and often suasive, the satisfaction
I get from reading, for example, certain passages in Mohammed, offers no guarantee
that these are inspired while the dry Book of Chronicles is not. I may find
Homer more naturally attractive than Ecclesiastes or prefer the lively stories
of the Apocrypha to the simple narrative of the Gospels, but something more
is needed to identify with certainty the revealed word of God.
The only sure index and infallible guide are miracles which God works in the
context of the revelation He desires to approve. Other norms are either preliminary
to miracles or merely corollary, and for some people may be all they can get.
But objectively only miraculous phenomena give the mind assurance that whatever
has been sealed by divine intervention has also been communicated by God.
We may speak of miracles as the natural bridge by which the human mind passes
over from reason to revelation and comes into contact with the secrets hidden
in God from eternity, and which at sundry times and various places He has willed
to share with His people.
Miracles are, therefore, as old as the history of God's revelation to man.
At the dawn of the Old Testament they were the instruments used by Yahweh to
organize the chosen people under Abraham; in the time of Moses and Aaron they
were the heavenly aids by which the Jews found liberation from the bonds of
Egypt; in the days of Elijah and Elisha they were the signs and wonders which
the Lord showed through His prophets to ratify their divine commission. With
the opening of the New Covenant, miracles served to announce the coming of the
Savior; during His public life on earth, He appealed to His works of power in
confirmation of His divinity, and arose from the dead in order to establish
His claims. Before He ascended into heaven He gave His Church power to do the
same miraculous works (notably in transforming the moral lives of men) as a
pledge of His divine assistance and a proof of her authority from God.
It is more than superficially important to see the logic of the Christian religion
in its bearing on morals. The latter impose duties on man's selfishness and
restraints on his liberty. He naturally rebels against the imposition, and must
find some rational justification for believing, say, that "if a man looks
on a woman with a lustful eye, he has already committed adultery with her in
his heart." What right did Christ have to make this injunction? Christianity
says His right was the divinity He professed and repeatedly sealed by the miracles
He performed, of which not the least is the endurance of His message in a hostile
world for nineteen hundred years.
Necessity of Grace
The final connection between religion and morality is the indispensable one
of providing ad hoc assistance to human nature in its practice of virtue
and avoidance of vice. Christian thinkers are divided on the extent of this
provision. Some, like Reinhold Niebuhr, almost identifies man's nature with
sin. "Man is mortal," he says, "that is his fate. Man pretends
to be not mortal. That is his sin." The variety of forms which this pretence
assumes is myriad. Will to power and lust of the flesh are only generic names
for a malady that infects even the noblest of man's actions.
Pride, in this estimate, may be individual or collective. On the individual
level it may be a thirst for domination exhibited in those who already enjoy
social security and those who wish they did. When social forms persuade men
they are secure, an incredible blindness to their finite nature overcomes them.
Tyrants and dictators fondly imagine they are exempt from the common law of
suffering and death. Those who are socially insecure show their lust for power
under the guise of a laudable search for security. It is the sin of those who,
knowing themselves to be insecure, seek sufficient power to guarantee their
security, inevitably at the expense of other life.
Less pessimistic is the tradition that reaches back to the early Church, which
recognized man's inherent debility but never made sin inevitable or resistance
to the world, the flesh and the evil spirit impossible because human freedom
had been extinguished by the fall of Adam and Eve.
But characteristic of all forms of Christianity is the conviction that man
cannot "go it alone," that he constantly needs divine grace and that
without this assistance he is lost. The opposite position is Pelagianism, which
deserves more than token mention in any study of Christian morals.
Little is known about the early life of the British monk, Pelagius, after whom
the system is named. He was born in 345 and came to Rome where he became alarmed
by the low morality of priests and people. He concluded
that the only hope of reform lay in placing all the responsibility for sin
on the free wills of men, to the point of denying the necessity of grace.
Two premises served as basis for Pelagius' theory. Arguing from the principle
that "a person is free if he does what he wills and avoids what he wills
to avoid," he said that heaven is attainable by the use of our natural
faculties alone, since nothing but the free will is needed to practice virtue
and keep out of sin. From the axiom that "Adam neither injured nor deprived
us of anything," Pelagius decided that men require no special help to repair
what Adam is supposed to have lost.
Pelagius and a disciple, named Celestius, went to Africa in 410, the latter
staying to find himself charged with heresy by the Council of Carthage, while
Pelagius went to Palestine and met the same treatment at the hands of St. Jerome.
The basic principle of Pelagianism is the affirmation of the self-sufficiency
of man's free will. We can always will and do good, even when de facto
we will and do otherwise, depending entirely on our own moral strength.
In the Pelagian scheme there is no room for original sin. What we now call
special gifts of bodily immortality and integrity (freedom from concupiscence)
were never really possessed by Adam. He left us only a bad example, and the
proneness to sin is not inherited through our parents from Adam but acquired
by our own misdeeds.
Aroused by Pelagian speculations, a series of church councils and papal statements
from 412 to 529 A.D. examined the controverted areas and either condemned what
were considered aberrations or explained the correct teachings of the Church
on the necessity of grace.
About 435, St. Prosper of Awuitaine gathered together, as he said, whatever
the Church had decided on the subject and called the collection an Indiculus
(small index), which is commonly accepted as authentic Christian teaching
on the need of divine help for keeping the moral law.
Running as a theme through the collection is the insistence that we need grace
not only to help our weakness or dispel ignorance, but absolutely and universally.
"God is the author of all good desires and deeds, of all efforts and virtues,
with which from the beginning of faith man tends to God. And we do not doubt
that His grace anticipates every one of man's merits, and that it is through
Him we begin both the will and the performance of any good work." (18)
Where the Pelagians denied that man requires grace to raise his activity to
a supernatural plane, the Church proclaimed man's inability, of himself, to
take a single step on the road to salvation. His mind and will are, indeed,
still intact, in spite of the Fall; but even though man had never sinned, he
would still need divine grace to lift him above his natural level and infuse
in his actions power that comes only from God. "He is deceived by heretical
opinion," it was declared, "who claims it is possible through the
power of nature to know or choose anything good, as required, which pertains
to the salvation of eternal life; or who claims it is possible to accept the
saving Gospel teachings without enlightenment, and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
He fails to understand the word of God who says in the Gospels, 'Without me
you can do nothing,' and the statement of the Apostle (St. Paul), 'Not that
we are sufficient of ourselves to think anything as from ourselves, but our
sufficiency is from God.' "(19)
The essential elements are specified. If we cannot know or choose anything
requisite for salvation by the power of nature alone, we are naturally helpless
to attain heaven by ourselves and therefore need by physical necessity the supernatural
energy that only the Spirit can supply. Christ's words at the Last Supper, "Without
me you can do nothing," are the classic source of this doctrine. They must
be seen in context to make a full impression.
I am the real vine, and my Father is the gardener. Every barren branch of mine
He cuts away; and every fruiting branch He cleans, to make it more fruitful
still. Dwell in me, as I in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself, but only
if it remains united with the vine; no more can you bear fruit, unless you remain
united with me.
I am the vine, and you the branches. He who dwells in me, as I dwell in him,
bears much fruit; for apart from me you can do nothing. He who dwells not in
me is thrown away like a withered branch. The withered branches are heaped together,
thrown on the fire, and burnt.(20)
The lesson that Christ wished to teach through this allegory was that just
as a branch cannot bear fruit of itself apart from the vine, so neither can
we if separated from the influence of Christ. Six times before, Christ had variously
identified Himself: I am the bread of life, I am the light of the world, I am
the door, I am the good shepherd, I am the resurrection and the life, I am the
way, the truth and the life. Now He added the seventh and last assertion, "I
am the real vine," as the Savior's own image of the need men have of Him
to do anything worthy of salvation.
Vital immanence best describes the depths and indispensability of this flow
of divine power from Christ to those who would be saved. No figure He might
have chosen would more clearly establish our need of Him, and, by implication,
of His life-giving grace. These six words, "without me you can do nothing,"
exclude every sort of Pelagianism. A severed branch is proverbially useless,
destined only to be cast out, to dry up and be burned. Nothing could be stronger
than St. Augustine's comment,"aut vitis aut ignis," either the Vine
Yet, this form of dependence on grace is only half the story. For we need God
not only because His love must elevate our natural powers to the level of His
own divine being, but our fallen nature also requires help to heal the wounds
inflicted on it by sin.
Thomas Aquinas distinguished four injuries that human nature suffered through
the fall of Adam: the wound of ignorance, because reason lost its facility for
the knowledge of the truth, especially in the religious and moral spheres; the
wound of malice, through which the will is deprived of its ready inclination
to good; the wound of weakness, which makes us weak in overcoming the trials
incident to the practice of virtue, and as a result lack of constancy demanded
by the moral law; and the wound of concupiscence, or loss of integrity in the
control of the appetitive faculties, so that pleasant things are spontaneously
desired and attract, independent of reason and in spite of it, while the unpleasant
are instinctively shunned.
The result of this condition is our further need of grace to keep even the
fundamentals of the moral law for any length of time. Pelagians (and their number
in the modern world is legion) would naturally claim that we have both the physical
and moral power to keep the whole law, on their assumption that original sin
(if it occurred) did not directly affect anyone but Adam. Indeed on their principles
we could avoid all sin, even the slightest, for a lifetime, if only we put our
wills to it, since the main source of our weakness in moral matters is the ravages
of inherited sin, which the Pelagians simply deny.
Among the most comprehensive statements on the need of grace to observe the
moral law occurs in the Indiculus, previously quoted, against the Pelagians.
"No one," it declared, "not even he who has been renewed by the
grace of baptism, has sufficient strength to overcome the snares of the devil,
and to vanquish the concupiscence of the flesh, unless he obtains help from
God each day to persevere in a good life."(21)
The conclusion is that if even those who are baptized and in God's friendship
need supernatural help, a fortiori the unbeliever in sin; and if such
need is required "each day," certainly without it the law could not
be observed for any length of time.
All that we read in the Scriptures confirms this sober judgment. St. Peter
exhorted the people to be ever watchful because the devil, like a roaring lion,
goes about seeking whom he may devour. St. Paul bade the Ephesians to put on
the armor of God, to be able to withstand the snares of the enemy, by every
prayer and supplication, praying at all times. Christ Himself instructed us
to pray, "lead us not into temptation," and to watch and pray lest
we enter into temptation.
This insistence on the need of constant prayer would be meaningless if the
graces it seeks to obtain were not needed just as constantly to keep out of
sin. If we further ask: why this incessant dependence upon God? we are faced
with a mystery, but also with a sign of the divine bounty. Thomas More explained
that, "if anyone marvel that God made all His creatures such that they
should always need aid of His grace, let him know that God did it out of His
double goodness: First to keep them from pride by causing them to perceive their
feebleness and call upon Him; and secondly to do His creatures honor and comfort."(22)
One of the surest remedies for pride and the prophylactic against its rise
is the self-consciousness of necessity. A man is proud in the degree to which
he considers himself independent, and the acme of pride is the belief in perfect
self-sufficiency. In the natural, physical order our dependence on others is
borne in on us from the dawn of reason, and by reflection back to the first
moments of existence. "What have you that you have not received?"
is a description of our life from conception to the last act of kindness someone
does for us before we die.
It is less obvious that behind all we receive from others is the perennial
goodness of God, the real fountainhead of altruism and the source, not only
of human charity but of every blessing that enters our lives. Yet we must pause
to reflect on God's part to appreciate His generosity.
The same with grace. Here not reason or memory but faith must tell us we are
beneficiaries of a continuous, supranatural inflow of which God is the author
more immediately and directly than ever happens in nature, where secondary agents
are not only instruments of the First Cause. More than ever we have cause to
say in humility, "I am what I am because of the mercy of God."
This consciousness of perpetual reliance on the Author of grace should inspire
unceasing prayer. It is not coincidental that all the terms Christ used to designate
prayer have to do with begging favors from God. Since we are always in need
of divine help, and God as constantly must furnish it, once people understand
both realities they are moved instinctively to pray. In fact, the spontaneity
with which a person turns to God is an index of his moral life. To be moral
in the Christian sense is to have the habit of prayer. As our bodily life discovers
itself by its activity, so is the presence of God in a soul discovered by a
spiritual activity, and this activity is the spirit of regular prayer. Prayer
is to the spiritual life what the beating of the pulse and drawing of breath
are to the life of the body. They are at once a sign that the person is alive,
and the means by which his life is sustained.
Morals and Religion References
- Ancient Near Eastern Texts, Princeton Univ. Press, 1955 p. 415.
- Julian Huxley, Religion without Revelation, New York, New American
Library, 1958, p. 18.
- Matthew 22 : 35-40.
- John Dewey, A Common Faith, Yale Univ. Press, 1960, p. 42.
- Fulton J. Sheen, God and Inte1ligence in Modern Philosophy, New
York, Doubleday, 1958. pp. 247-8.
- St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Contra Gentiles, III, 27.
- I. Corinthians, 13: 12-13; I John 3: 2-3.
- St. Augustine, Confessions, passim.
- Ludwig Feuerbach, Das Wesen der Religion, Leipzig, 1866, p. 14.
- Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, New York, Harper,
1957, pp. 12-13.
- V.I. Lenin, Religion, New York, 1933 p. 7.
- Ibid., p. 14.
- Sigmund Freud, The Future of an Illusion, Garden City, Doubleday,
1960, pp. 51-52, 54, 57-58.
- Ibid., p. 70.
- Ibid., p. 83.
- St. Augustine, Confessions, I, 4.
- Enchiridion Symbolorum, p. 141.
- Ibid., p. 180.
- John 15: 1-6.
- Enchiridion Symbolorum, p. 132.
- St. Thomas More, Treatise on the Passion.
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