"Do Not Be Conformed to this World" (Rom 12:2)
The Church and the Discernment of Certain Tendencies In Present-day Moral Theology
"Teaching what befits sound doctrine" (cf. Tit 2:1)
28. Our meditation on the dialogue between Jesus and the rich young man has enabled us to bring together the essential elements of revelation in the Old and New Testament with regard to moral action. These are: the "subordination of man and his activity to God," the One who "alone is good"; the "relationship between the moral good" of human acts "and eternal life;" Christian discipleship," which opens up before man the perspective of perfect love; and finally the "gift of the Holy Spirit," source and means of the moral life of the "new creation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:17).
In her reflection on morality, "the Church" has always kept in mind the words of Jesus to the rich young man. Indeed, Sacred Scripture remains the living and fruitful source of the Church's moral doctrine; as the Second Vatican Council recalled, the Gospel is "the source of all saving truth and moral teaching". The Church has faithfully preserved what the word of God teaches, not only about truths which must be believed but also about moral action, action pleasing to God (cf. 1 Th 4:1)); she has achieved a "doctrinal development" analogous to that which has taken place in the realm of the truths of faith. Assisted by the Holy Spirit who leads her into all the truth (cf. Jn 16:13), the Church has not ceased, nor can she ever cease, to contemplate the "mystery of the Word Incarnate", in whom "light is shed on the mystery of man".
29. The Church's moral reflection, always conducted in the light of Christ, the "Good Teacher", has also developed in the specific form of the theological science called "moral theology", a science which accepts and examines Divine Revelation while at the same time responding to the demands of human reason. Moral theology is a reflection concerned with "morality", with the good and the evil of human acts and of the person who performs them; in this sense it is accessible to all people. But it is also "theology", inasmuch as it acknowledges that the origin and end of moral action are found in the One who "alone is good" and who, by giving himself to man in Christ, offers him the happiness of divine life.
The Second Vatican Council invited scholars to take "special care for the renewal of moral theology", in such a way that "its scientific presentation, increasingly based on the teaching of Scripture, will cast light on the exalted vocation of the faithful in Christ and on their obligation to bear fruit in charity for the life of the world". The Council also encouraged theologians, "while respecting the methods and requirements of theological science, to look for "a more appropriate way of communicating" doctrine to the people of their time; since there is a difference between the deposit or the truths of faith and the manner in which they are expressed, keeping the same meaning and the same judgment". This led to a further invitation, one extended to all the faithful, but addressed to theologians in particular: "The faithful should live in the closest contact with others of their time, and should work for a perfect understanding of their modes of thought and feelings as expressed in their culture".
The work of many theologians who found support in the Council's encouragement has already borne fruit in interesting and helpful reflections about the truths of faith to be believed and applied in life, reflections offered in a form better suited to the sensitivities and questions of our contemporaries. The Church, and particularly the Bishops, to whom Jesus Christ primarily entrusted the ministry of teaching, are deeply appreciative of this work, and encourage theologians to continue their efforts, inspired by that profound and authentic "fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom" (cf. Prov 1:7).
At the same time, however, within the context of the theological debates which followed the Council, there have developed "certain interpretations of Christian morality which are not consistent with 'sound teaching'" (2 Tm 4:3). Certainly the Church's Magisterium does not intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one. Nevertheless, in order to "reverently preserve and faithfully expound" the word of God, the Magisterium has the duty to state that some trends of theological thinking and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth.
30. In addressing this Encyclical to you, my Brother Bishops, it is my intention to state "the principles necessary for discerning what is contrary to 'sound doctrine'," drawing attention to those elements of the Church's moral teaching which today appear particularly exposed to error, ambiguity or neglect. Yet these are the very elements on which there depends "the answer to the obscure riddles of the human condition which today also, as in the past, profoundly disturb the human heart. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of our life? What is good and what is sin? What origin and purpose do sufferings have? What is the way to attaining true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? Lastly, what is that final, unutterable mystery which embraces our lives and from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?" These and other questions, such as: what is freedom and what is its relationship to the truth contained in God's law? what is the role of conscience in man's moral development? how do we determine, in accordance with the truth about the good, the specific rights and duties of the human person?--can all be summed up in the fundamental question which the young man in the Gospel put to Jesus: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?" Because the Church has been sent by Jesus to preach the Gospel and to "make disciples of all nations..., teaching them to observe all" that he has commanded (cf. Mt 28:19-20), "she today once more puts forward the Master's reply," a reply that possesses a light and a power capable of answering even the most controversial and complex questions. This light and power also impel the Church constantly to carry out not only her dogmatic but also her moral reflection within an interdisciplinary context, which is especially necessary in facing new issues.
It is in the same light and power that the "Church's Magisterium continues to carry out its task of discernment," accepting and living out the admonition addressed by the Apostle Paul to Timothy: "I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word, be urgent in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, and exhort, be unfailing in patience and in teaching. For the time will come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths. As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry" (2 Tim 4:1-5; cf. Tit 1:10,13-14).
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (Jn 8:32)
31. The human issues most frequently debated and differently resolved in contemporary moral reflection are all closely related, albeit in various ways, to a crucial issue: "human freedom."
Certainly people today have a particularly strong sense of freedom. As the Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom "Dignitatis Humanae" had already observed, "the dignity of the human person is a concern of which people of our time are becoming increasingly more aware". Hence the insistent demand that people be permitted to "enjoy the use of their own responsible judgment and freedom, and decide on their actions on grounds of duty and conscience, without external pressure or coercion". In particular, the right to religious freedom and to respect for conscience on its journey towards the truth is increasingly perceived as the foundation of the cumulative rights of the person.
This heightened sense of the dignity of the human person and of his or her uniqueness, and of the respect due to the journey of conscience, certainly represents one of the positive achievements of modern culture. This perception, authentic as it is, has been expressed in a number of more or less adequate ways, some of which however diverge from the truth about man as a creature and the image of God, and thus need to be corrected and purified in the light of faith.
32. Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to "exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values". This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one's conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one's moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience. But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and "being at peace with oneself", so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.
As is immediately evident, "the crisis of truth" is not unconnected with this development. Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.
These different notions are at the origin of currents of thought which posit a radical opposition between moral law and conscience, and between nature and freedom.
33. "Side by side" with its exaltation of freedom, yet oddly in contrast with it, "modern culture radically questions the very existence of this freedom." A number of disciplines, grouped under the name of the "behavioural sciences", have rightly drawn attention to the many kinds of psychological and social conditioning which influence the exercise of human freedom. Knowledge of these conditionings and the study they have received represent important achievements which have found application in various areas, for example in pedagogy or the administration of justice. But some people, going beyond the conclusions which can be legitimately drawn from these observations, have come to question or even deny the very reality of human freedom.
Mention should also be made here of theories which misuse scientific research about the human person. Arguing from the great variety of customs, behaviour patterns and institutions present in humanity, these theories end up, if not with an outright denial of universal human values, at least with a relativistic conception of morality.
34. "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?". "The question of morality," to which Christ provides the answer, "cannot prescind from the issue of freedom. Indeed, it considers that issue central," for there can be no morality without freedom: "It is only in freedom that man can turn to what is good". "But what sort of freedom?" The Council, considering our contemporaries who "highly regard" freedom and "assiduously pursue" it, but who "often cultivate it in wrong ways as a licence to do anything they please, even evil", speaks of "'genuine' freedom:" "Genuine freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image in man. For God willed to leave man 'in the power of his own counsel' (cf. Sir 15:14), so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God". Although each individual has a right to be respected in his own journey in search of the truth, there exists a prior moral obligation, and a grave one at that, to seek the truth and to adhere to it once it is known. As Cardinal John Henry Newman, that outstanding defender of the rights of conscience, forcefully put it: "Conscience has rights because it has duties".
Certain tendencies in contemporary moral theology, under the influence of the currents of subjectivism and individualism just mentioned, involve novel interpretations of the relationship of freedom to the moral law, human nature and conscience, and propose novel criteria for the moral evaluation of acts. Despite their variety, these tendencies are at one in lessening or even denying "the dependence of freedom on truth."
If we wish to undertake a critical discernment of these tendencies--a discernment capable of acknowledging what is legitimate, useful and of value in them, while at the same time pointing out their ambiguities, dangers and errors--we must examine them in the light of the fundamental dependence of freedom upon truth, a dependence which has found its clearest and most authoritative expression in the words of Christ: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Jn 8:32).
I. Freedom and Law
"Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" (Gen 2:17)
35. In the Book of Genesis we read: "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die"' (Gen 2: 16-17).
With this imagery, Revelation teaches that "the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone." The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat "of every tree of the garden". But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", for it is called to accept the moral law given by God. In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfilment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments.
God's law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom. In contrast, however, some present-day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought in ethics which centre upon "an alleged conflict between freedom and law." These doctrines would grant to individuals or social groups the right "to determine what is good or evil." Human freedom would thus be able to "create values" and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom. Freedom would thus lay claim to a "moral autonomy" which would actually amount to an "absolute sovereignty."
36. The modern concern for the claims of autonomy has not failed to exercise an "influence" also "in the sphere of Catholic moral theology." While the latter has certainly never attempted to set human freedom against the divine law or to question the existence of an ultimate religious foundation for moral norms, it has, nonetheless, been led to undertake a profound rethinking about the role of reason and of faith in identifying moral norms with reference to specific "innerworldly" kinds of behaviour involving oneself, others and the material world.
It must be acknowledged that underlying this work of rethinking there are "certain positive concerns" which to a great extent belong to the best tradition of Catholic thought. In response to the encouragement of the Second Vatican Council, there has been a desire to foster dialogue with modern culture, emphasizing the rational--and thus universally understandable and communicable character of moral norms belonging to the sphere of the natural moral law. There has also been an attempt to reaffirm the interior character of the ethical requirements deriving from that law, requirements which create an obligation for the will only because such an obligation was previously acknowledged by human reason and, concretely, by personal conscience.
Some people, however, disregarding the dependence of human reason on Divine Wisdom and the need, given the present state of fallen nature, for Divine Revelation as an effective means for knowing moral truths, even those of the natural order, have actually posited a "complete sovereignty of reason" in the domain of moral norms regarding the right ordering of life in this world. Such norms would constitute the boundaries for a merely "human" morality; they would be the expression of a law which man in an autonomous manner lays down for himself and which has its source exclusively in human reason. In no way could God be considered the Author of this law, except in the sense that human reason exercises its autonomy in setting down laws by virtue of a primordial and total mandate given to man by God. These trends of thought have led to a denial, in opposition to Sacred Scripture (cf. Mt 15:3-6) and the Church's constant teaching, of the fact that the natural moral law has God as its author, and that man, by the use of reason, participates in the eternal law, which it is not for him to establish.
37. In their desire, however, to keep the moral life in a Christian context, certain moral theologians have introduced a sharp distinction, contrary to Catholic doctrine. between an "ethical order." which would be human in origin and of value for "this world" alone, and an "order of salvation" for which only certain intentions and interior attitudes regarding God and neighbor would be significant. This has then led to an actual denial that there exists, in Divine Revelation, a specific and determined moral content, universally valid and permanent. The word of God would be limited to proposing an exhortation, a generic paraenesis, which the autonomous reason alone would then have the task of completing with normative directives which are truly "objective", that is, adapted to the concrete historical situation. Naturally, an autonomy conceived in this way also involves the denial of a specific doctrinal competence on the part of the Church and her Magisterium with regard to particular moral norms which deal with the so-called "human good". Such norms would not be part of the proper content of Revelation, and would not in themselves be relevant for salvation.
No one can fail to see that such an interpretation of the autonomy of human reason involves positions incompatible with Catholic teaching.
In such a context it is absolutely necessary to clarify, in the light of the word of God and the living Tradition of the Church, the fundamental notions of human freedom and of the moral law, as well as their profound and intimate relationship. Only thus will it be possible to respond to the rightful claims of human reason in a way which accepts the valid elements present in certain currents of contemporary moral theology without compromising the Church's heritage of moral teaching with ideas derived from an erroneous concept of autonomy.
"God left man in the power of his own counsel" (Sir 15:14)
38. Taking up the words of Sirach, the Second Vatican Council explains the meaning of that "genuine freedom" which is "an outstanding manifestation of the divine image" in man: "God willed to leave man in the power of his own counsel, so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God". These words indicate the wonderful depth of the "sharing in God's dominion" to which man has been called: they indicate that man's dominion extends in a certain sense over man himself. This has been a constantly recurring theme in theological reflection on human freedom, which is described as a form of kingship. For example, Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes: "The soul shows its royal and exalted character... in that it is free and self-governed, swayed autonomously by its own will. Of whom else can this be said, save a king?... Thus human nature, created to rule other creatures, was by its likeness to the King of the universe made as it were a living image, partaking with the Archetype both in dignity and in name".
"The exercise of dominion over the world" represents a great and responsible task for man, one which involves his freedom in obedience to the Creator's command: "Fill the earth and subdue it" (Gen 1:28). In view of this, a rightful autonomy is due to every man, as well as to the human community, a fact to which the Council's Constitution "Gaudium et Spes" calls special attention. This is the autonomy of earthly realities, which means that "created things have their own laws and values which are to be gradually discovered, utilized and ordered by man".
39. Not only the world, however, but also "man himself" has been "entrusted to his own care and responsibility." God left man "in the power of his own counsel" (Sir 15:14), that he might seek his Creator and freely attain perfection. Attaining such perfection means "personally building up that perfection in himself." Indeed, just as man in exercising his dominion over the world shapes it in accordance with his own intelligence and will, so too in performing morally good acts, man strengthens, develops and consolidates within himself his likeness to God.
Even so, the Council warns against a false concept of the autonomy of earthly realities, one which would maintain that "created things are not dependent on God and that man can use them without reference to their Creator". With regard to man himself, such a concept of autonomy produces particularly baneful effects, and eventually leads to atheism: "Without its Creator the creature simply disappears... If God is ignored the creature itself is impoverished".
40. The teaching of the Council emphasizes, on the one hand, "the role of human reason" in discovering and applying the moral law: the moral life calls for that creativity and originality typical of the person, the source and cause of his own deliberate acts. On the other hand, reason draws its own truth and authority from the eternal law, which is none other than divine wisdom itself. At the heart of the moral life we thus find the principle of a "rightful autonomy" of man, the personal subject of his actions. "The moral law has its origin in God and always finds its source in him:" at the same time, by virtue of natural reason, which derives from divine wisdom, it is "a properly human law." Indeed, as we have seen, the natural law "is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation". The rightful autonomy of the practical reason means that man possesses in himself his own law, received from the Creator. Nevertheless, "the autonomy of reason cannot mean" that reason itself "creates values and moral norms." Were this autonomy to imply a denial of the participation of the practical reason in the wisdom of the divine Creator and Lawgiver, or were it to suggest a freedom which creates moral norms, on the basis of historical contingencies or the diversity of societies and cultures, this sort of alleged autonomy would contradict the Church's teaching on the truth about man. It would be the death of true freedom: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die" (Gen 2:17).
41. Man's "genuine moral autonomy" in no way means the rejection but rather the acceptance of the moral law, of God's command: "The Lord God gave this command to the man. . . " (Gen 2:16). "Human freedom and God's law meet and are called to intersect," in the sense of man's free obedience to God and of God's completely gratuitous benevolence towards man. Hence obedience to God is not, as some would believe, a "heteronomy," as if the moral life were subject to the will of something all-powerful, absolute, extraneous to man and intolerant of his freedom. If in fact a heteronomy of morality were to mean a denial of man's self-determination or the imposition of norms unrelated to his good, this would be in contradiction to the Revelation of the Covenant and of the redemptive Incarnation. Such a heteronomy would be nothing but a form of alienation, contrary to divine wisdom and to the dignity of the human person.
Others speak, and rightly so, of "theonomy," or "participated theonomy," since man's free obedience to God's law effectively implies that human reason and human will participate in God's wisdom and providence. By forbidding man to "eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", God makes it clear that man does not originally possess such "knowledge" as something properly his own, but only participates in it by the light of natural reason and of Divine Revelation, which manifest to him the requirements and the promptings of eternal wisdom. Law must therefore be considered an expression of divine wisdom: by submitting to the law, freedom submits to the truth of creation. Consequently one must acknowledge in the freedom of the human person the image and the nearness of God, who is present in all (cf. Eph 4:6). But one must likewise acknowledge the majesty of the God of the universe and revere the holiness of the law of God, who is infinitely transcendent: "Deus semper maior."
Blessed is the man who takes delight in the law of the Lord (cf. Ps 1:1-2)
42. Patterned on God's freedom, man's freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity. This is clearly stated by the Council: "Human dignity requires man to act through conscious and free choice, as motivated and prompted personally from within, and not through blind internal impulse or merely external pressure. Man achieves such dignity when he frees himself from all subservience to his feelings, and in a free choice of the good, pursues his own end by effectively and assiduously marshalling the appropriate means".
In his journey towards God, the One who "alone is good", man must freely do good and avoid evil. But in order to accomplish this he must "be able to distinguish good from evil." And this takes place above all "thanks to the light of natural reason," the reflection in man of the splendour of God's countenance. Thus Saint Thomas, commenting on a verse of Psalm 4, writes: "After saying: Offer right sacrifices (Ps 4:5), as if some had then asked him what right works were, the Psalmist adds: "There are many who say: Who will make us see good?" And in reply to the question he says: "The light of your face, Lord, is signed upon us," thereby implying that the light of natural reason whereby we discern good from evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else but an imprint on us of the divine light". It also becomes clear why this law is called the natural law: it receives this name not because it refers to the nature of irrational beings but because the reason which promulgates it is proper to human nature.
43. The Second Vatican Council points out that the "supreme rule of life is the divine law itself, the eternal, objective and universal law by which God out of his wisdom and love arranges, directs and governs the whole world and the paths of the human community. God has enabled man to share in this divine law, and hence man is able under the gentle guidance of God's providence increasingly to recognize the unchanging truth".
The Council refers back to the classic teaching on "God's eternal law." Saint Augustine defines this as "the reason or the will of God, who commands us to respect the natural order and forbids us to disturb it". Saint Thomas identifies it with "the type of the divine wisdom as moving all things to their due end". And God's wisdom is providence, a love which cares. God himself loves and cares, in the most literal and basic sense, for all creation (cf. Wis 7:22; 8:11). But God provides for man differently from the way in which he provides for beings which are not persons. He cares for man not "from without", through the laws of physical nature, but "from within", through reason, which, by its natural knowledge of God's eternal law, is consequently able to show man the right direction to take in his free actions. In this way God calls man to participate in his own providence, since he desires to guide the world--not only the world of nature but also the world of human persons--through man himself, through man's reasonable and responsible care. The "natural law" enters here as the human expression of God's eternal law. Saint Thomas writes: "Among all others, the rational creature is subject to divine providence in the most excellent way, insofar as it partakes of a share of providence, being provident both for itself and for others. Thus it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end. This participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called natural law".
44. The Church has often made reference to the Thomistic doctrine of natural law, including it in her own teaching on morality. Thus my Venerable Predecessor Leo XIII emphasized "the essential subordination of reason and human law to the Wisdom of God and to his law." After stating that "the 'natural law' is written and engraved in the heart of each and every man, since it is none other than human reason itself which commands us to do good and counsels us not to sin", Leo XIII appealed to the "higher reason" of the divine Lawgiver: "But this prescription of human reason could not have the force of law unless it were the voice and the interpreter of some higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be subject". Indeed, the force of law consists in its authority to impose duties, to confer rights and to sanction certain behaviour: "Now all of this, clearly, could not exist in man if, as his own supreme legislator, he gave himself the rule of his own actions". And he concluded: "It follows that the natural law is "itself the eternal law," implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them "towards their right action and end," it is none other than the eternal reason of the Creator and Ruler of the universe".
Man is able to recognize good and evil thanks to that discernment of good from evil which he himself carries out by his "reason, in particular by his reason enlightened by Divine Revelation and by faith," through the law which God gave to the Chosen People, beginning with the commandments onSinai. Israel was called to accept and to live out God's law" as "aparticular gift and sign of its election and of the divine Covenant," and also as a pledge of God's blessing. Thus Moses could address the children of Israel and ask them: "What great nation is that that has a god so nearto it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law which I set before you this day?" (Dt 4:7-8). In the Psalms we encounter the sentiments of praise, gratitude and veneration which the Chosen People is called to show towards God's law, together with an exhortation to know it, ponder it and translate it into life. "Blessed isthe man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the wayof sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers, but his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night" (Ps 1:1-2). "The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord issure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes" (Ps18/19:8-9).
45. The Church gratefully accepts and lovingly preserves the entire depositof Revelation, treating it with religious respect and fulfilling hermission of authentically interpreting God's law in the light of the Gospel. In addition, the Church receives the gift of the New Law, which is the"fulfilment" of God's law in Jesus Christ and in his Spirit. This is an"interior" law (cf. Jer 3 1:3 1-33), "written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor 3:3); a law of perfection and of freedom (cf. 2 Cor 3:17);"the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom 8:2). Saint Thomas writes that this law "can be called law in two ways. First, the law of thespirit is the Holy Spirit... who, dwelling in the soul, not only teaches what it is necessary to do by enlightening the intellect on the things tobe done, but also inclines the affections to act with uprightness...Second, the law of the spirit can be called the proper effect of the HolySpirit, and thus faith working through love (cf. Gal 5:6), which teaches inwardly about the things to be done... and inclines the affections to act".
Even if moral-theological reflection usually distinguishes between the positive or revealed law of God and the natural law, and, within the economy of salvation, between the "old" and the "new" law, it must not beforgotten that these and other useful distinctions always refer to that law whose author is the one and the same God and which is always meant for man.The different ways in which God, acting in history, cares for the world and for mankind are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they support each other and intersect. They have their origin and goal in the eternal, wiseand loving counsel whereby God predestines men and women "to be conformed to the image of his Son" (Rom 8:29). God's plan poses no threat to man's genuine freedom; on the contrary, the acceptance of God's plan is the onlyway to affirm that freedom.
"What the law requires is written on their hearts" (Rom 2:15)
46. The alleged conflict between freedom and law is forcefully brought up once again today with regard to the natural law, and particularly with regard to nature. "Debates about nature and freedom" have always marked the history of moral reflection; they grew especially heated at the time of theRenaissance and the Reformation, as can be seen from the teaching of the Council of Trent. Our own age is marked, though in a different sense, by a similar tension. The penchant for empirical observation, the procedures of scientific objectification, technological progress and certain forms ofliberalism have led to these two terms being set in opposition, as if a dialectic, if not an absolute conflict, between freedom and nature were characteristic of the structure of human history. At other periods, it seemed that "nature" subjected man totally to its own dynamics and even its own unbreakable laws. Today too, the situation of the world of the senses within space and time, physio-chemical constants, bodily processes, psychological impulses and forms of social conditioning seem to many people the only really decisive factors of human reality. In this context even moral facts, despite their specificity, are frequently treated as if they were statistically verifiable data, patterns of behaviour which can be subject to observation or explained exclusively in categories of psychosocial processes. As a result, "some ethicists," professionally engaged in the study of human realities and behaviour, can be tempted to take as the standard for their discipline and even for its operative norms the results of a statistical study of concrete human behaviour patterns and the opinions about morality encountered in the majority of people.
"Other moralists," however, in their concern to stress the importance of values, remain sensitive to the dignity of freedom, but they frequently conceive of freedom as somehow in opposition to or in conflict withmaterial and biological nature, over which it must progressively assert itself. Here various approaches are at one in overlooking the created dimension of nature and in misunderstanding its integrity. "For some,""nature" becomes reduced to raw material for human activity and for its power: thus nature needs to be profoundly transformed, and indeed overcome by freedom, inasmuch as it represents a limitation and denial of freedom."For others," it is in the untrammelled advancement of man's power, or of his freedom, that economic, cultural, social and even moral values are established: nature would thus come to mean everything found in man and the world apart from freedom. In such an understanding, nature would include in the first place the human body, its make-up and its processes: against this physical datum would be opposed whatever is "constructed", in other words "culture", seen as the product and result of freedom. Human nature, understood in this way, could be reduced to and treated as a readily available biological or social material. This ultimately means making freedom self-defining and a phenomenon creative of itself and its values.Indeed, when all is said and done man would not even have a nature; he would be his own personal life-project. Man would be nothing more than his own freedom!
47. In this context, "objections of physicalism and naturalism" have been levelled against the traditional conception of "the natural law," which is accused of presenting as moral laws what are in themselves mere biological laws. Consequently, in too superficial a way, a permanent and unchanging character would be attributed to certain kinds of human behaviour, and, on the basis of this, an attempt would be made to formulate universally valid moral norms. According to certain theologians, this kind of "biologistic or naturalistic argumentation" would even be present in certain documents ofthe Church's Magisterium, particularly those dealing with the area of sexual and conjugal ethics. It was, they maintain, on the basis of a naturalistic understanding of the sexual act that contraception, directsterilization, autoeroticism, pre-marital sexual relations, homosexual elations and artificial insemination were condemned as morally unacceptable. In the opinion of these same theologians, a morally negative evaluation of such acts fails to take into adequate consideration both man's character as a rational and free being and the cultural conditioningof all moral norms. In their view, man, as a rational being, not only can but actually "must freely determine the meaning" of his behaviour. This process of "determining the meaning" would obviously have to take intoaccount the many limitations of the human being, as existing in a body and in history. Furthermore, it would have to take into consideration thebehavioural models and the meanings which the latter acquire in any givenculture. Above all, it would have to respect the fundamental commandment oflove of God and neighbour. Still, they continue, God made man as arationally free being; he left him "in the power of his own counsel" and he expects him to shape his life in a personal and rational way. Love of neighbour would mean above all and even exclusively respect for his freedom to make his own decisions. The workings of typically human behaviour, a swell as the so-called "natural inclinations", would establish at the most so they say--a general orientation towards correct behaviour, but they cannot determine the moral assessment of individual human acts, so complex from the viewpoint of situations.
48. Faced with this theory, one has to consider carefully the correctrelationship existing between freedom and human nature, and in particular"the place of the human body in questions of natural law."A freedom which claims to be absolute ends up treating the human body as a raw datum, devoid of any meaning and moral values until freedom has shaped it in accordance with its design. Consequently, human nature and the body appear as "presuppositions or preambles," materially "necessary" for freedom to make its choice, yet extrinsic to the person, the subject and the human act. Their functions would not be able to constitute reference points for moral decisions, because the finalities of these inclinations would be merely "physical" goods, called by some "pre-moral". To refer to them, in order to find in them rational indications with regard to theorder of morality, would be to expose oneself to the accusation ofphysicalism or biologism. In this way of thinking, the tension between freedom and a nature conceived of in a reductive way is resolved by a division within man himself.
This moral theory does not correspond to the truth about man and hisfreedom. It contradicts the "Church's teachings on the unity of the humanperson," whose rational soul is "per se et essentialiter" the form of his body. The spiritual and immortal soul is the principle of unity of thehuman being, whereby it exists as a whole--"corpore et anima unus"-- as a person. These definitions not only point out that the body, which has beenpromised the resurrection, will also share in glory. They also remind us that reason and free will are linked with all the bodily and sense faculties. "The person, including the body, is completely entrusted tohimself, and it is in the unity of body and soul that the person is thesubject of his own moral acts." The person, by the light of reason and the support of virtue, discovers in the body the anticipatory signs, the expression and the promise of the gift of self, in conformity with the wiseplan of the Creator. It is in the light of the dignity of the human person--a dignity which must be affirmed for its own sake--that reason grasps thespecific moral value of certain goods towards which the person is naturally inclined. And since the human person cannot be reduced to a freedom which is self-designing, but entails a particular spiritual and bodily structure,the primordial moral requirement of loving and respecting the person as an end and never as a mere means also implies, by its very nature, respect for certain fundamental goods, without which one would fall into relativism and arbitrariness.
49. "A doctrine which dissociates the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise is contrary to the teaching of Scripture and Tradition." Such a doctrine revives, in new forms, certain ancient errors which have always been opposed by the Church, inasmuch as they reduce the human person to a "spiritual" and purely formal freedom. This reduction misunderstands the moral meaning of the body and of kinds of behaviour involving it (cf. 1 Cor 6:19). Saint Paul declares that "the immoral, idolaters, adulterers, sexual perverts, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers" are excluded from the Kingdom of God (cf. 1 Cor 6:9). This condemnation-- repeated by the Council of Trent"--lists as "mortal sins" or "immoral practices" certain specific kinds of behaviour the willful acceptance of which prevents believers from sharing in the inheritance promised to them. In fact, "body and soul are inseparable:" in the person, in the willing agent and in the deliberate act, "they stand or fall together."
50. At this point the true meaning of the natural law can be understood: it refers to man's proper and primordial nature, the "nature of the human person", which is "the person himself in the unity of soul and body," in the unity of his spiritual and biological inclinations and of all the other specific characteristics necessary for the pursuit of his end. "The natural moral law expresses and lays down the purposes, rights and duties which are based upon the bodily and spiritual nature of the human person. Therefore this law cannot be thought of as simply a set of norms on the biological level; rather it must be defined as the rational order whereby man is called by the Creator to direct and regulate his life and actions and in particular to make use of his own body". To give an example, the origin and the foundation of the duty of absolute respect for human life are to be found in the dignity proper to the person and not simply in the natural inclination to preserve one's own physical life. Human life, even though it is a fundamental good of man, thus acquires a moral significance in reference to the good of the person, who must always be affirmed for his own sake. While it is always morally illicit to kill an innocent human being, it can be licit, praiseworthy or even imperative to give up one's own life (cf. Jn 15:13) out of love of neighbour or as a witness to the truth. Only in reference to the human person in his "unified totality", that is, as "a soul which expresses itself in a body and a body informed by an immortal spirit", can the specifically human meaning of the body be grasped. Indeed, natural inclinations take on moral relevance only insofar as they refer to the human person and his authentic fulfilment, a fulfilment which for that matter can take place always and only in human nature. By rejecting all manipulations of corporeity which alter its human meaning, the Church serves man and shows him the path of true love, the only path on which he can find the true God.
The natural law thus understood does not allow for any division between freedom and nature. Indeed, these two realities are harmoniously bound together, and each is intimately linked to the other.
"From the beginning it was not so" (Mt 19:8)
51. The alleged conflict between freedom and nature also has repercussions on the interpretation of certain specific aspects of the natural law, especially its "universality and immutability." "Where then are these rules written", Saint Augustine wondered, "except in the book of that light which is called truth? From thence every just law is transcribed and transferred to the heart of the man who works justice, not by wandering but by being, as it were, impressed upon it, just as the image from the ring passes over to the wax, and yet does not leave the ring".
Precisely because of this "truth" "the natural law involves universality." Inasmuch as it is inscribed in the rational nature of the person, it makes itself felt to all beings endowed with reason and living in history. In order to perfect himself in his specific order, the person must do good and avoid evil, be concerned for the transmission and preservation of life, refine and develop the riches of the material world, cultivate social life, seek truth, practise good and contemplate beauty.
The separation which some have posited between the freedom of individuals and the nature which all have in common, as it emerges from certain philosophical theories which are highly influential in present-day culture, obscures the perception of the universality of the moral law on the part of reason. But inasmuch as the natural law expresses the dignity of the human person and lays the foundation for his fundamental rights and duties, it is universal in its precepts and its authority extends to all mankind. "This universality does not ignore the individuality of human beings," nor is it opposed to the absolute uniqueness of each person. On the contrary, it embraces at its root each of the person's free acts, which are meant to bear witness to the universality of the true good. By submitting to the common law, our acts build up the true communion of persons and, by God's grace, practise charity, "which binds everything together in perfect harmony" (Col 3:14). When on the contrary they disregard the law, or even are merely ignorant of it, whether culpably or not, our acts damage the communion of persons, to the detriment of each.
52. It is right and just, always and for everyone, to serve God, to render him the worship which is his due and to honour one's parents as they deserve. Positive precepts such as these, which order us to perform certain actions and to cultivate certain dispositions, are universally binding; they are "unchanging". They unite in the same common good all people of every period of history, created for "the same divine calling and destiny". These universal and permanent laws correspond to things known by the practical reason and are applied to particular acts through the judgment of conscience. The acting subject personally assimilates the truth contained in the law. He appropriates this truth of his being and makes it his own by his acts and the corresponding virtues. The "negative precepts" of the natural law are universally valid. They oblige each and every individual, always and in every circumstance. It is a matter of prohibitions which forbid a given action "semper et pro semper," without exception, because the choice of this kind of behaviour is in no case compatible with the goodness of the will of the acting person, with his vocation to life with God and to communion with his neighbour. It is prohibited--to everyone and in every case--to violate these precepts. They oblige everyone, regardless of the cost, never to offend in anyone, beginning with oneself, the personal dignity common to all.
On the other hand, the fact that only the negative commandments oblige always and under all circumstances does not mean that in the moral life prohibitions are more important than the obligation to do good indicated by the positive commandments. The reason is this: the commandment of love of God and neighbour does not have in its dynamic any higher limit, but it does have a lower limit, beneath which the commandment is broken. Furthermore, what must be done in any given situation depends on the circumstances, not all of which can be foreseen; on the other hand there are kinds of behaviour which can never, in any situation, be a proper response a response which is in conformity with the dignity of the person. Finally, it is always possible that man, as the result of coercion or other circumstances, can be hindered from doing certain good actions; but he can never be hindered from not doing certain actions, especially if he is prepared to die rather than to do evil.
The Church has always taught that one may never choose kinds of behaviour prohibited by the moral commandments expressed in negative form in the Old and New Testaments. As we have seen, Jesus himself reaffirms that these prohibitions allow no exceptions: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments ... You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness" (Mt 19: 17-18).
53. The great concern of our contemporaries for historicity and for culture has led some to call into question the "immutability of the natural law" itself, and thus the existence of "objective norms of morality" valid for all people of the present and the future, as for those of the past. Is it ever possible, they ask, to consider as universally valid and always binding certain rational determinations established in the past, when no one knew the progress humanity would make in the future?
It must certainly be admitted that man always exists in a particular culture, but it must also be admitted that man is not exhaustively defined by that same culture. Moreover, the very progress of cultures demonstrates that there is something in man which transcends those cultures. This "something" is precisely human nature: this nature is itself the measure of culture and the condition ensuring that man does not become the prisoner of any of his cultures, but asserts his personal dignity by living in accordance with the profound truth of his being. To call into question the permanent structural elements of man which are connected with his own bodily dimension would not only conflict with common experience, but would render meaningless "Jesus' reference to the 'beginning'", precisely where the social and cultural context of the time had distorted the primordial meaning and the role of certain moral norms (cf. Mt 19:1-9). This is the reason why "the Church affirms that underlying so many changes there are some things which do not change and are "ultimately founded upon Christ," who is the same yesterday and today and for ever". Christ is the "Beginning" who, having taken on human nature, definitively illumines it in its constitutive elements and in its dynamism of charity towards God and neighbour.
Certainly there is a need to seek out and to discover "the most adequate formulation" for universal and permanent moral norms in the light of different cultural contexts, a formulation most capable of ceaselessly expressing their historical relevance, of making them understood and of authentically interpreting their truth. This truth of the moral law--like that of the "deposit of faith"--unfolds down the centuries: the norms expressing that truth remain valid in their substance, but must be specified and determined "eodem sensu eademque sententia" in the light of historical circumstances by the Church's Magisterium, whose decision is preceded and accompanied by the work of interpretation and formulation characteristic of the reason of individual believers and of theological reflection.
II. Conscience and Truth
54. The relationship between man's freedom and God's law is most deeply lived out in the "heart" of the person, in his moral conscience. As the Second Vatican Council observed: "In the depths of his conscience man detects a law which he does not impose on himself, but which holds him to obedience. Always summoning him to love good and avoid evil, the voice of conscience can when necessary speak to his heart more specifically: 'do this, shun that'. For man has in his heart a law written by God. To obey it is the very dignity of man; according to it he will be judged (cf. Rom 2:14-16)".
The way in which one conceives the relationship between freedom and law is thus intimately bound up with one's understanding of the moral conscience. Here the cultural tendencies referred to above in which freedom and law are set in opposition to each another and kept apart, and freedom is exalted almost to the point of idolatry--lead to a "'creative' understanding of moral conscience," which diverges from the teaching of the Church's tradition and her Magisterium.
55. According to the opinion of some theologians, the function of conscience had been reduced, at least at a certain period in the past, to a simple application of general moral norms to individual cases in the life of the person. But those norms, they continue, cannot be expected to foresee and to respect all the individual concrete acts of the person in all their uniqueness and particularity. While such norms might somehow be useful for a correct "assessment" of the situation, they cannot replace the individual personal decision on how to act in particular cases. The critique already mentioned of the traditional understanding of human nature and of its importance for the moral life has even led certain authors to state that these norms are not so much a binding objective criterion for judgments of conscience, but a "general perspective" which helps man tentatively to put order into his personal and social life. These authors also stress the "complexity" typical of the phenomenon of conscience, a complexity profoundly related to the whole sphere of psychology and the emotions, and to the numerous influences exerted by the individual's social and cultural environment. On the other hand, they give maximum attention to the value of conscience, which the Council itself defined as "the sanctuary of man, where he is alone with God whose voice echoes within him". This voice, it is said, leads man not so much to a meticulous observance of universal norms as to a creative and responsible acceptance of the personal tasks entrusted to him by God.
In their desire to emphasize the "creative" character of conscience, certain authors no longer call its actions "judgments" but "decisions": only by making these decisions "autonomously" would man be able to attain moral maturity. Some even hold that this process of maturing is inhibited by the excessively categorical position adopted by the Church's Magisterium in many moral questions; for them, the Church's interventions are the cause of unnecessary "conflicts of conscience."
56. In order to justify these positions, some authors have proposed a kind of double status of moral truth. Beyond the doctrinal and abstract level, one would have to acknowledge the priority of a certain more concrete existential consideration. The latter, by taking account of circumstances and the situation, could legitimately be the basis of certain "exceptions to the general rule" and thus permit one to do in practice and in good conscience what is qualified as intrinsically evil by the moral law. A separation, or even an opposition, is thus established in some cases between the teaching of the precept, which is valid in general, and the norm of the individual conscience, which would in fact make the final decision about what is good and what is evil. On this basis, an attempt is made to legitimize so-called "pastoral" solutions contrary to the teaching of the Magisterium, and to justify a "creative" hermeneutic according to which the moral conscience is in no way obliged, in every case, by a particular negative precept.
No one can fail to realize that these approaches pose a challenge to the "very identity of the moral conscience" in relation to human freedom and God's law. Only the clarification made earlier with regard to the relationship, based on truth, between freedom and law makes possible a "discernment" concerning this "creative" understanding of conscience.
"The Judgment of conscience"
57. The text of the Letter to the Romans which has helped us to grasp the essence of the natural law also indicates "the biblical understanding of conscience," especially "in its specific connection with the law:" "When Gentiles who have not the law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law unto themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness and their conflicting thoughts accuse or perhaps excuse them" (Rom 2:14-15).
According to Saint Paul, conscience in a certain sense confronts man with the law, and thus becomes a "witness" for man:" a witness of his own faithfulness or unfaithfulness with regard to the law, of his essential moral rectitude or iniquity. Conscience is the only witness, since what takes place in the heart of the person is hidden from the eyes of everyone outside. Conscience makes its witness known only to the person himself. And, in turn, only the person himself knows what his own response is to the voice of conscience.
58. The importance of this interior "dialogue of man with himself" can never be adequately appreciated. But it is also a "dialogue of man with God," the author of the law, the primordial image and final end of man. Saint Bonaventure teaches that "conscience is like God's herald and messenger; it does not command things on its own authority, but commands them as coming from God's authority, like a herald when he proclaims the edict of the king. This is why conscience has binding force". Thus it can be said that conscience bears witness to man's own rectitude or iniquity to man himself but, together with this and indeed even beforehand, conscience is "the witness of God himself;" whose voice and judgment penetrate the depths of man's soul, calling him "fortiler et suaviter" to obedience. "Moral conscience does not close man within an insurmountable and impenetrable solitude, but opens him to the call, to the voice of God. In this, and not in anything else, lies the entire mystery and the dignity of the moral conscience: in being the place, the sacred place where God speaks to man".
59. Saint Paul does not merely acknowledge that conscience acts as a "witness"; he also reveals the way in which conscience performs that function. He speaks of "conflicting thoughts" which accuse or excuse the Gentiles with regard to their behaviour (cf. Rom 2:15). The term "conflicting thoughts" clarifies the precise nature of conscience: it is a "moral judgment about man and his actions," a judgment either of acquittal or of condemnation, according as human acts are in conformity or not with the law of God written on the heart. In the same text the Apostle clearly speaks of the judgment of actions, the judgment of their author and the moment when that judgment will be definitively rendered: "(This will take place) on that day when, according to my Gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus" (Rom 2:16).
The judgment of conscience is a "practical judgment," a judgment which makes known what man must do or not do, or which assesses an act already performed by him. It is a judgment which applies to a concrete situation the rational conviction that one must love and do good and avoid evil. This first principle of practical reason is part of the natural law; indeed it constitutes the very foundation of the natural law, inasmuch as it expresses that primordial insight about good and evil, that reflection of God's creative wisdom which, like an imperishable spark ("scintilla animae"), shines in the heart of every man. But whereas the natural law discloses the objective and universal demands of the moral good, conscience is the application of the law to a particular case; this application of the law thus becomes an inner dictate for the individual, a summons to do what is good in this particular situation. Conscience thus formulates "moral obligation" in the light of the natural law: it is the obligation to do what the individual, through the workings of his conscience, "knows" to be a good he is called to do "here and now." The universality of the law and its obligation are acknowledged, not suppressed, once reason has established the law's application in concrete present circumstances. The judgment of conscience states "in an ultimate way" whether a certain particular kind of behaviour is in conformity with the law; it formulates the proximate norm of the morality of a voluntary act, "applying the objective law to a particular case".
60. Like the natural law itself and all practical knowledge, the judgment of conscience also has an imperative character: man must act in accordance with it. If man acts against this judgment or, in a case where he lacks certainty about the rightness and goodness of a determined act, still performs that act, he stands condemned by his own conscience, "the proximate norm of personal morality." The dignity of this rational forum and the authority of its voice and judgments derive from the "truth" about moral good and evil, which it is called to listen to and to express. This truth is indicated by the "divine law", "the universal and objective norm of morality." The judgment of conscience does not establish the law; rather it bears witness to the authority of the natural law and of the practical reason with reference to the supreme good, whose attractiveness the human person perceives and whose commandments he accepts. "Conscience is not an independent and exclusive capacity to decide what is good and what is evil. Rather there is profoundly imprinted upon it a principle of obedience vis- a-vis the objective norm which establishes and conditions the correspondence of its decisions with the commands and prohibitions which are at the basis of human behaviour".
61. The truth about moral good, as that truth is declared in the law of reason, is practically and concretely recognized by the judgment of conscience, which leads one to take responsibility for the good or the evil one has done. If man does evil, the just judgment of his conscience remains within him as a witness to the universal truth of the good, as well as to the malice of his particular choice. But the verdict of conscience remains in him also as a pledge of hope and mercy: while bearing witness to the evil he has done, it also reminds him of his need, with the help of God's grace, to ask forgiveness, to do good and to cultivate virtue constantly. Consequently "in the practical judgment of conscience," which imposes on the person the obligation to perform a given act, "the link between freedom and truth is made manifest". Precisely for this reason conscience expresses itself in acts of "judgment" which reflect the truth about the good, and not in arbitrary "decisions". The maturity and responsibility of these judgments--and, when all is said and done, of the individual who is their subject--are not measured by the liberation of the conscience from objective truth, in favour of an alleged autonomy in personal decisions, but, on the contrary, by an insistent search for truth and by allowing oneself to be guided by that truth in one's actions.
"Seeking what is true and good"
62. Conscience, as the judgment of an act, is not exempt from the possibility of error. As the Council puts it, "not infrequently conscience can be mistaken as a result of invincible ignorance, although it does not on that account forfeit its dignity; but this cannot be said when a man shows little concern for seeking what is true and good, and conscience gradually becomes almost blind from being accustomed to sin". In these brief words the Council sums up the doctrine which the Church down the centuries has developed with regard to the "erroneous conscience."
Certainly, in order to have a "good conscience" (1 Tim 1:5), man must seek the truth and must make judgments in accordance with that same truth. As the Apostle Paul says, the conscience must be "confirmed by the Holy Spirit" (cf. Rom 9:1); it must be "clear" (2 Tim 1:3); it must not "practise cunning and tamper with God's word", but "openly state the truth" (cf. 2 Cor 4:2). On the other hand, the Apostle also warns Christians: "Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2).
Paul's admonition urges us to be watchful, warning us that in the judgments of our conscience the possibility of error is always present. Conscience is "not an infallible judge;" it can make mistakes. However, error of conscience can be the result of an "invincible ignorance," an ignorance of which the subject is not aware and which he is unable to overcome by himself.
The Council reminds us that in cases where such invincible ignorance is not culpable, conscience does not lose its dignity, because even when it directs us to act in a way not in conformity with the objective moral order, it continues to speak in the name of that truth about the good which the subject is called to seek sincerely.
63. In any event, it is always from the truth that the dignity of conscience derives. In the case of the correct conscience, it is a question of the "objective truth" received by man; in the case of the erroneous conscience, it is a question of what man, mistakenly, "subjectively" considers to be true. It is never acceptable to confuse a "subjective" error about moral good with the "objective" truth rationally proposed to man in virtue of his end, or to make the moral value of an act performed with a true and correct conscience equivalent to the moral value of an act performed by following the judgment of an erroneous conscience. It is possible that the evil done as the result of invincible ignorance or a non- culpable error of judgment may not be imputable to the agent; but even in this case it does not cease to be an evil, a disorder in relation to the truth about the good. Furthermore, a good act which is not recognized as such does not contribute to the moral growth of the person who performs it; it does not perfect him and it does not help to dispose him for the supreme good. Thus, before feeling easily justified in the name of our conscience, we should reflect on the words of the Psalm: "Who can discern his errors? Clear me from hidden faults" (Ps 19:12). There are faults which we fail to see but which nevertheless remain faults, because we have refused to walk towards the light (cf. Jn 9:39-41).
Conscience, as the ultimate concrete judgment, compromises its dignity when it is "culpably erroneous," that is to say, "when man shows little concern for seeking what is true and good, and conscience gradually becomes almost blind from being accustomed to sin". Jesus alludes to the danger of the conscience being deformed when he warns: "The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is sound, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is not sound, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!" (Mt 6:22-23).
64. The words of Jesus just quoted also represent a call to "form our conscience," to make it the object of a continuous conversion to what is true and to what is good. In the same vein, Saint Paul exhorts us not to be conformed to the mentality of this world, but to be transformed by the renewal of our mind (cf. Rom 12:2). It is the "heart" converted to the Lord and to the love of what is good which is really the source of "true" judgments of conscience. Indeed, in order to "prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect" (Rom 12:2), knowledge of God's law in general is certainly necessary, but it is not sufficient: what is essential is a sort of "'connaturality' between man and the true good." Such a connaturality is rooted in and develops through the virtuous attitudes of the individual himself: prudence and the other cardinal virtues, and even before these the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. This is the meaning of Jesus' saying: "He who does what is true comes to the light" (Jn 3:21).
Christians have a great help for the formation of conscience "in the Church and her Magisterium." As the Council affirms: "In forming their consciences the Christian faithful must give careful attention to the sacred and certain teaching of the Church. For the Catholic Church is by the will of Christ the teacher of truth. Her charge is to announce and teach authentically that truth which is Christ, and at the same time with her authority to declare and confirm the principles of the moral order which derive from human nature itself". It follows that the authority of the Church, when she pronounces on moral questions, in no way undermines the freedom of conscience of Christians.
This is so not only because freedom of conscience is never freedom "from" the truth but always and only freedom "in" the truth, but also because the Magisterium does not bring to the Christian conscience truths which are extraneous to it; rather it brings to light the truths which it ought already to possess, developing them from the starting point of the primordial act of faith. The Church puts herself always and only at the "service of conscience," helping it to avoid being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine proposed by human deceit (cf. Eph 4:14), and helping it not to swerve from the truth about the good of man, but rather, especially in more difficult questions, to attain the truth with certainty and to abide in it.
III. Fundamental Choice and Specific Kinds of Behaviour
"Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh" (Gal 5:13)
65. The heightened concern for freedom in our own day has led many students of the behavioural and the theological sciences to develop a more penetrating analysis of its nature and of its dynamics. It has been rightly pointed out that freedom is not only the choice for one or another particular action; it is also, within that choice, a "decision about oneself" and a setting of one's own life for or against the Good, for or against the Truth, and ultimately for or against God. Emphasis has rightly been placed on the importance of certain choices which "shape" a person's entire moral life, and which serve as bounds within which other particular everyday choices can be situated and allowed to develop.
Some authors, however, have proposed an even more radical revision of the relationship between person and acts. They speak of a "fundamental freedom", deeper than and different from freedom of choice, which needs to be considered if human actions are to be correctly understood and evaluated. According to these authors, the "key role in the moral life" is to be attributed to a "fundamental option", brought about by that fundamental freedom whereby the person makes an overall self-determination, not through a specific and conscious decision on the level of reflection, but in a "transcendental" and "athematic" way. "Particular acts" which flow from this option would constitute only partial and never definitive attempts to give it expression; they would only be its "signs" or symptoms. The immediate object of such acts would not be absolute Good (before which the freedom of the person would be expressed on a transcendental level), but particular (also termed "categorical") goods. In the opinion of some theologians, none of these goods, which by their nature are partial, could determine the freedom of man as a person in his totality, even though it is only by bringing them about or refusing to do so that man is able to express his own fundamental option.
A "distinction" thus comes to be introduced "between the fundamental option and deliberate choices of a concrete kind of behaviour." In some authors this division tends to become a separation, when they expressly limit moral "good" and "evil" to the transcendental dimension proper to the fundamental option, and describe as "right" or "wrong" the choices of particular "innerworldly" kinds of behaviour: those, in other words, concerning man's relationship with himself, with others and with the material world. There thus appears to be established within human acting a clear disjunction between two levels of morality: on the one hand the order of good and evil, which is dependent on the will, and on the other hand specific kinds of behaviour, which are judged to be morally right or wrong only on the basis of a technical calculation of the proportion between the "premoral" or "physical" goods and evils which actually result from the action. This is pushed to the point where a concrete kind of behaviour, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act. The conclusion to which this eventually leads is that the properly moral assessment of the person is reserved to his fundamental option, prescinding in whole or in part from his choice of particular actions, of concrete kinds of behaviour.
66. There is no doubt that Christian moral teaching, even in its Biblical roots, acknowledges the specific importance of a fundamental choice which qualifies the moral life and engages freedom on a radical level before God. It is a question of the decision of faith, of the "obedience of faith" (cf. Rom 16:26) "by which man makes a total and free self-commitment to God, offering 'the full submission of intellect and will to God as he reveals'" This faith, which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6), comes from the core of man, from his "heart" (cf. Rom 10:10), whence it is called to bear fruit in works (cf. Mt 12:33-35; Lk 6:43-45; Rom 8:5-10; Gal 5:22). In the Decalogue one finds, as an introduction to the various commandments, the basic clause: "I am the Lord your God..." (Ex 20:2), which, by impressing upon the numerous and varied particular prescriptions their primordial meaning, gives the morality of the Covenant its aspect of completeness, unity and profundity. Israel's fundamental decision, then, is about the fundamental commandment (cf. Jos 24:14-25; Ex 19:3-8; Mic 6:8). The morality of the New Covenant is similarly dominated by the fundamental call of Jesus to follow him--thus he also says to the young man: "If you wish to be perfect... then come, follow me" (Mt 19:21); to this call the disciple must respond with a radical decision and choice. The Gospel parables of the treasure and the pearl of great price, for which one sells all one's possessions, are eloquent and effective images of the radical and unconditional nature of the decision demanded by the Kingdom of God. The radical nature of the decision to follow Jesus is admirably expressed in his own words: "Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mk 8:35).
Jesus' call to "come, follow me" marks the greatest possible exaltation of human freedom, yet at the same time it witnesses to the truth and to the obligation of acts of faith and of decisions which can be described as involving a fundamental option. We find a similar exaltation of human freedom in the words of Saint Paul: "You were called to freedom, brethren" (Gal 5:13). But the Apostle immediately adds a grave warning: "Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh". This warning echoes his earlier words: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1). Paul encourages us to be watchful, because freedom is always threatened by slavery. And this is precisely the case when an act of faith--in the sense of a fundamental option--becomes separated from the choice of particular acts, as in the tendencies mentioned above.
67. These tendencies are therefore contrary to the teaching of Scripture itself, which sees the fundamental option as a genuine choice of freedom and links that choice profoundly to particular acts. By his fundamental choice, man is capable of giving his life direction and of progressing, with the help of grace, towards his end, following God's call. But this capacity is actually exercised in the particular choices of specific actions, through which man deliberately conforms himself to God's will, wisdom and law. It thus needs to be stated that "the so-called fundamental option, to the extent that it is distinct from a generic intention" and hence one not yet determined in such a way that freedom is obligated, is "always brought into play through conscious and free decisions". Precisely for this reason, "it is revoked when man engages his freedom in conscious decisions to the contrary, with regard to morally grave matter."
To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behaviour means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man's acting and in each of his deliberate decisions. In point of fact, the morality of human acts is not deduced only from one's intention, orientation or fundamental option, understood as an intention devoid of a clearly determined binding content or as an intention with no corresponding positive effort to fulfil the different obligations of the moral life. Judgments about morality cannot be made without taking into consideration whether or not the deliberate choice of a specific kind of behaviour is in conformity with the dignity and integral vocation of the human person. Every choice always implies a reference by the deliberate will to the goods and evils indicated by the natural law as goods to be pursued and evils to be avoided. In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent. But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behaviour as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the "creativity" of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.
68. Here an important pastoral consideration must be added. According to the logic of the positions mentioned above, an individual could, by virtue of a fundamental option, remain faithful to God independently of whether or not certain of his choices and his acts are in conformity with specific moral norms or rules. By virtue of a primordial option for charity, that individual could continue to be morally good, persevere in God's grace and attain salvation, even if certain of his specific kinds of behaviour were deliberately and gravely contrary to God's commandments as set forth by the Church.
In point of fact, man does not suffer perdition only by being unfaithful to that fundamental option whereby he has made "a free self-commitment to God". With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf. Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses "sanctifying grace", "charity" and "eternal happiness". As the Council of Trent teaches, "the grace of justification once received is lost not only by apostasy, by which faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin".
"Mortal and venial sin"
69. As we have just seen, reflection on the fundamental option has also led some theologians to undertake a basic revision of the traditional distinction between "mortal" sins and "venial" sins. They insist that the opposition to God's law which causes the loss of sanctifying grace and eternal damnation, when one dies in such a state of sin--could only be the result of an act which engages the person in his totality: in other words, an act of fundamental option. According to these theologians, mortal sin, which separates man from God, only exists in the rejection of God, carried out at a level of freedom which is neither to be identified with an act of choice nor capable of becoming the object of conscious awareness. Consequently, they go on to say, it is difficult, at least psychologically, to accept the fact that a Christian, who wishes to remain united to Jesus Christ and to his Church, could so easily and repeatedly commit mortal sins, as the "matter" itself of his actions would sometimes indicate. Likewise, it would be hard to accept that man is able, in a brief lapse of time, to sever radically the bond of communion with God and afterwards be converted to him by sincere repentance. The gravity of sin, they maintain, ought to be measured by the degree of engagement of the freedom of the person performing an act, rather than by the matter of that act.
70. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paentientia" reaffirmed the importance and permanent validity of the distinction between mortal and venial sins, in accordance with the Church's tradition. And the 1983 Synod of Bishops, from which that Exhortation emerged, "not only reaffirmed the teaching of the Council of Trent concerning the existence and nature of mortal and venial sins, but it also recalled that mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent."
The statement of the Council of Trent does not only consider the "grave matter" of mortal sin; it also recalls that its necessary condition is "full awareness and deliberate consent". In any event, both in moral theology and in pastoral practice one is familiar with cases in which an act which is grave by reason of its matter does not constitute a mortal sin because of a lack of full awareness or deliberate consent on the part of the person performing it. Even so, "care will have to be taken not to reduce mortal sin to an act of 'fundamental option'--as is commonly said today--against God", seen either as an explicit and formal rejection of God and neighbour or as an implicit and unconscious rejection of love. "For mortal sin exists also when a person knowingly and willingly, for whatever reason, chooses something gravely disordered. In fact, such a choice already includes contempt for the divine law, a rejection of God's love for humanity and the whole of creation: the person turns away from God and loses charity. Consequently, "the fundamental orientation can be radically changed by particular acts." Clearly, situations can occur which are very complex and obscure from a psychological viewpoint, and which influence the sinner's subjective imputability. But from a consideration of the psychological sphere one cannot proceed to create a theological category, which is precisely what the 'fundamental option' is, understanding it in such a way that it objectively changes or casts doubt upon the traditional concept of mortal sin".
The separation of fundamental option from deliberate choices of particular kinds of behaviour, disordered in themselves or in their circumstances, which would not engage that option, thus involves a denial of Catholic doctrine on "mortal sin:" "With the whole tradition of the Church, we call mortal sin the act by which man freely and consciously rejects God, his law, the covenant of love that God offers, preferring to turn in on himself or to some created and finite reality, something contrary to the divine will ("conversto ad creaturam"). This can occur in a direct and formal way, in the sins of idolatry, apostasy and atheism; or in an equivalent way, as in every act of disobedience to God's commandments in a grave matter".
IV. The Moral Act
"Teleology and teleologism"
71. The relationship between man's freedom and God's law, which has its intimate and living centre in the moral conscience, is manifested and realized in human acts. It is precisely through his acts that man attains perfection as man, as one who is called to seek his Creator of his own accord and freely to arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to him.
Human acts are moral acts because they express and determine the goodness or evil of the individual who performs them. They do not produce a change merely in the state of affairs outside of man but, to the extent that they are deliberate choices, they give moral definition to the very person who performs them, determining his "profound spiritual traits." This was perceptively noted by Saint Gregory of Nyssa: "All things subject to change and to becoming never remain constant, but continually pass from one state to another, for better or worse... Now, human life is always subject to change; it needs to be born ever anew... But here birth does not come about by a foreign intervention, as is the case with bodily beings...; it is the result of a free choice. Thus we are in a certain way our own parents, creating ourselves as we will, by our decisions".
72. The "morality of acts" is defined by the relationship of man's freedom with the authentic good. This good is established, as the eternal law, by Divine Wisdom which orders every being towards its end: this eternal law is known both by man's natural reason (hence it is "natural law"), and--in an integral and perfect way--by God's supernatural Revelation (hence it is called "divine law"). Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are "in conformity with man's true good" and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness. The first question in the young man's conversation with Jesus: "What good must I do to have eternal life?" (Mt 19:6) immediately brings out "the essential connection between the moral value of an act and man's final end." Jesus, in his reply, confirms the young man's conviction: the performance of good acts, commanded by the One who "alone is good", constitutes the indispensable condition of and path to eternal blessedness: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17). Jesus' answer and his reference to the commandments also make it clear that the path to that end is marked by respect for the divine laws which safeguard human good. "Only the act in conformity with the good can be a path that leads to life."
The rational ordering of the human act to the good in its truth and the voluntary pursuit of that good, known by reason, constitute morality. Hence human activity cannot be judged as morally good merely because it is a means for attaining one or another of its goals, or simply because the subject's intention is good. Activity is morally good when it attests to and expresses the voluntary ordering of the person to his ultimate end and the conformity of a concrete action with the human good as it is acknowledged in its truth by reason. If the object of the concrete action is not in harmony with the true good of the person, the choice of that action makes our will and ourselves morally evil, thus putting us in conflict with our ultimate end, the supreme good, God himself.
73. The Christian, thanks to God's Revelation and to faith, is aware of the "newness" which characterizes the morality of his actions: these actions are called to show either consistency or inconsistency with that dignity and vocation which have been bestowed on him by grace. In Jesus Christ and in his Spirit, the Christian is a "new creation", a child of God; by his actions he shows his likeness or unlikeness to the image of the Son who is the first-born among many brethren (cf. Rom 8:29), he lives out his fidelity or infidelity to the gift of the Spirit, and he opens or closes himself to eternal life, to the communion of vision, love and happiness with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Saint Cyril of Alexandria writes, Christ "forms us according to his image, in such a way that the traits of his divine nature shine forth in us through sanctification and justice and the life which is good and in conformity with virtue... The beauty of this image shines forth in us who are in Christ, when we show ourselves to be good in our works".
Consequently the moral life has an essential "'teleological' character," since it consists in the deliberate ordering of human acts to God, the supreme good and ultimate end ("telos") of man. This is attested to once more by the question posed by the young man to Jesus: "What good must I do to have eternal life?". But this ordering to one's ultimate end is not something subjective, dependent solely upon one's intention. It presupposes that such acts are in themselves capable of being ordered to this end, insofar as they are in conformity with the authentic moral good of man, safeguarded by the commandments. This is what Jesus himself points out in his reply to the young man: "If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments" (Mt 19:17).
Clearly such an ordering must be rational and free, conscious and deliberate, by virtue of which man is "responsible" for his actions and subject to the judgment of God, the just and good judge who, as the Apostle Paul reminds us, rewards good and punishes evil: "We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body" (2 Cor 5:10).
74. But on what does the moral assessment of man's free acts depend? What is it that ensures this "ordering of human acts to God?" Is it the "intention" of the acting subject, the "circumstances"--and in particular the consequences--of his action, or the "object" itself of his act?
This is what is traditionally called the problem of the "sources of morality". Precisely with regard to this problem there have emerged in the last few decades new or newly-revived theological and cultural trends which call for careful discernment on the part of the Church's Magisterium.
Certain "ethical theories," called "teleological", claim to be concerned for the conformity of human acts with the ends pursued by the agent and with the values intended by him. The criteria for evaluating the moral rightness of an action are drawn from the "weighing of the non-moral or pre-moral goods" to be gained and the corresponding non-moral or pre-moral values to be respected. For some, concrete behaviour would be right or wrong according as whether or not it is capable of producing a better state of affairs for all concerned. Right conduct would be the one capable of "maximizing" goods and "minimizing" evils.
Many of the Catholic moralists who follow in this direction seek to distance themselves from utilitarianism and pragmatism, where the morality of human acts would be judged without any reference to the man's true ultimate end. They rightly recognize the need to find ever more consistent rational arguments in order to justify the requirements and to provide a foundation for the norms of the moral life. This kind of investigation is legitimate and necessary, since the moral order, as established by the natural law, is in principle accessible to human reason. Furthermore, such investigation is well-suited to meeting the demands of dialogue and cooperation with non-Catholics and non-believers, especially in pluralistic societies.
75. But as part of the effort to work out such a rational morality (for this reason it is sometimes called an "autonomous morality") there exist "false solutions, linked in particular to an inadequate understanding of the object of moral action." "Some authors" do not take into sufficient consideration the fact that the will is involved in the concrete choices which it makes: these choices are a condition of its moral goodness and its being ordered to the ultimate end of the person. "Others" are inspired by a notion of freedom which prescinds from the actual conditions of its exercise, from its objective reference to the truth about the good, and from its determination through choices of concrete kinds of behaviour. According to these theories, free will would neither be morally subjected to specific obligations nor shaped by its choices, while nonetheless still remaining responsible for its own acts and for their consequences. This "teleologism", as a method for discovering the moral norm, can thus be called--according to terminology and approaches imported from different currents of thought--"consequentialism" or "proportionalism". The former claims to draw the criteria of the rightness of a given way of acting solely from a calculation of foreseeable consequences deriving from a given choice. The latter, by weighing the various values and goods being sought, focuses rather on the proportion acknowledged between the good and bad effects of that choice, with a view to the "greater good" or "lesser evil" actually possible in a particular situation.
"The teleological ethical theories (proportionalism, consequentialism)," while acknowledging that moral values are indicated by reason and by Revelation, maintain that it is never possible to formulate an absolute prohibition of particular kinds of behaviour which would be in conflict, in every circumstance and in every culture, with those values. The acting subject would indeed be responsible for attaining the values pursued, but in two ways: the values or goods involved in a human act would be, from one viewpoint, "of the moral order" (in relation to properly moral values, such as love of God and neighbour, justice, etc.) and, from another viewpoint, "of the pre-moral order," which some term non-moral, physical or ontic (in relation to the advantages and disadvantages accruing both to the agent and to all other persons possibly involved, such as, for example, health or its endangerment, physical integrity, life, death, loss of material goods, etc.). In a world where goodness is always mixed with evil, and every good effect linked to other evil effects, the morality of an act would be judged in two different ways: its moral "goodness" would be judged on the basis of the subject's intention in reference to moral goods, and its "rightness" on the basis of a consideration of its foreseeable effects or consequences and of their proportion. Consequently, concrete kinds of behaviour could be described as "right" or "wrong", without it being thereby possible to judge as morally "good" or "bad" the will of the person choosing them. In this way, an act which, by contradicting a universal negative norm, directly violates goods considered as "pre-moral" could be qualified as morally acceptable if the intention of the subject is focused, in accordance with a "responsible" assessment of the goods involved in the concrete action, on the moral value judged to be decisive in the situation.
The evaluation of the consequences of the action, based on the proportion between the act and its effects and between the effects themselves, would regard only the pre-moral order. The moral specificity of acts, that is their goodness or evil, would be determined exclusively by the faithfulness of the person to the highest values of charity and prudence, without this faithfulness necessarily being incompatible with choices contrary to certain particular moral precepts. Even when grave matter is concerned, these precepts should be considered as operative norms which are always relative and open to exceptions.
In this view, deliberate consent to certain kinds of behaviour declared illicit by traditional moral theology would not imply an objective moral evil.
"The object of the deliberate act"
76. These theories can gain a certain persuasive force from their affinity to the scientific mentality, which is rightly concerned with ordering technical and economic activities on the basis of a calculation of resources and profits, procedures and their effects. They seek to provide liberation from the constraints of a voluntaristic and arbitrary morality of obligation which would ultimately be dehumanizing.
Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behaviour contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law. These theories cannot claim to be grounded in the Catholic moral tradition. Although the latter did witness the development of a casuistry which tried to assess the best ways to achieve the good in certain concrete situations, it is nonetheless true that this casuistry concerned only cases in which the law was uncertain, and thus the absolute validity of negative moral precepts, which oblige without exception, was not called into question. The faithful are obliged to acknowledge and respect the specific moral precepts declared and taught by the Church in the name of God, the Creator and Lord. When the Apostle Paul sums up the fulfilment of the law in the precept of love of neighbour as oneself (cf. Rom 13:8-10), he is not weakening the commandments but reinforcing them, since he is revealing their requirements and their gravity. "Love of God and of one's neighbour cannot be separated from the observance of the commandments of the Covenant" renewed in the blood of Jesus Christ and in the gift of the Spirit. It is an honour characteristic of Christians to obey God rather than men (cf. Acts 4:19; 5:29) and accept even martyrdom as a consequence, like the holy men and women of the Old and New Testaments, who are considered such because they gave their lives rather than perform this or that particular act contrary to faith or virtue.
77. In order to offer rational criteria for a right moral decision, the theories mentioned above take account of the intention and "consequences" of human action. Certainly there is need to take into account both the intention--as Jesus forcefully insisted in clear disagreement with the scribes and Pharisees, who prescribed in great detail certain outward practices without paying attention to the heart (cf. Mk 7:20-21; Mt 15:19)- -and the goods obtained and the evils avoided as a result of a particular act. Responsibility demands as much. But the consideration of these consequences, and also of intentions, is not sufficient for judging the moral quality of a concrete choice. The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behaviour is "according to its species", or "in itself", morally good or bad, licit or illicit. The foreseeable consequences are part of those circumstances of the act, which, while capable of lessening the gravity of an evil act, nonetheless cannot alter its moral species.
Moreover, everyone recognizes the difficulty, or rather the impossibility, of evaluating all the good and evil consequences and effects--defined as pre-moral--of one's own acts: an exhaustive rational calculation is not possible. How then can one go about establishing proportions which depend on a measuring, the criteria of which remain obscure? How could an absolute obligation be justified on the basis of such debatable calculations?
78. "The morality of the human act depends primarily and fundamentally on the 'object' rationally chosen by the deliberate will," as is borne out by the insightful analysis, still valid today, made by Saint Thomas. In order to be able to grasp the object of an act which specifies that act morally, it is therefore necessary to place oneself "in the perspective of the acting person." The object of the act of willing is in fact a freely chosen kind of behaviour. To the extent that it is in conformity with the order of reason, it is the cause of the goodness of the will; it perfects us morally, and disposes us to recognize our ultimate end in the perfect good, primordial love. By the object of a given moral act, then, one cannot mean a process or an event of the merely physical order, to be assessed on the basis of its ability to bring about a given state of affairs in the outside world. Rather, that object is the proximate end of a deliberate decision which determines the act of willing on the part of the acting person. Consequently, as the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" teaches, "there are certain specific kinds of behaviour that are always wrong to choose, because choosing them involves a disorder of the will, that is, a moral evil". And Saint Thomas observes that "it often happens that man acts with a good intention, but without spiritual gain, because he lacks a good will. Let us say that someone robs in order to feed the poor: in this case, even though the intention is good, the uprightness of the will is lacking. Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused. 'There are those who say: And why not do evil that good may come? Their condemnation is just' (Rom 3:8)".
The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object, whether that object is "capable or not of being ordered" to God, to the One who "alone is good", and thus brings about the perfection of the person. An act is therefore good if its object is in conformity with the good of the person with respect for the goods morally relevant for him. Christian ethics, which pays particular attention to the moral object, does not refuse to consider the inner "teleology" of acting, inasmuch as it is directed to promoting the true good of the person; but it recognizes that it is really pursued only when the essential elements of human nature are respected. The human act, good according to its object, is also "capable of being ordered" to its ultimate end. That same act then attains its ultimate and decisive perfection when the "will actually does order" it to God through charity. As the Patron of moral theologians and confessors teaches: "It is not enough to do good works; they need to be done well. For our works to be good and perfect, they must be done for the sole purpose of pleasing God."
"'Intrinsic evil': it is not licit to do evil that good may come of it" (cf. Rom 3:8)
79. "One must therefore reject the thesis," characteristic of teleological and proportionalist theories, "which holds that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species"--its "object"--"the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, apart from a consideration of the intention for which the choice is made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.
The primary and decisive element for moral judgment is the object of the human act, which establishes whether it is "capable of being ordered to the good and to the ultimate end, which is God." This capability is grasped by reason in the very being of man, considered in his integral truth, and therefore in his natural inclinations, his motivations and his finalities, which always have a spiritual dimension as well. It is precisely these which are the contents of the natural law and hence that ordered complex of "personal goods" which serve the "good of the person": the good which is the person himself and his perfection. These are the goods safeguarded by the commandments, which, according to Saint Thomas, contain the whole natural law.
80. Reason attests that there are objects of the human act which are by their nature "incapable of being ordered" to God, because they radically contradict the good of the person made in his image. These are the acts which, in the Church's moral tradition, have been termed "intrinsically evil" ("intrinsece malum"): they are such "always and per se," in other words, on account of their very object, and quite apart from the ulterior intentions of the one acting and the circumstances. Consequently, without in the least denying the influence on morality exercised by circumstances and especially by intentions, the Church teaches that "there exist acts which "per se" and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object". The Second Vatican Council itself, in discussing the respect due to the human person, gives a number of examples of such acts: "Whatever is hostile to life itself, such as any kind of homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide; whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat labourers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons: all these and the like are a disgrace, and so long as they infect human civilization they contaminate those who inflict them more than those who suffer injustice, and they are a negation of the honour due to the Creator".
With regard to intrinsically evil acts, and in reference to contraceptive practices whereby the conjugal act is intentionally rendered infertile, Pope Paul VI teaches: "Though it is true that sometimes it is lawful to tolerate a lesser moral evil in order to avoid a greater evil or in order to promote a greater good, it is never lawful, even for the gravest reasons, to do evil that good may come of it (cf. Rom 3:8)--in other words, to intend directly something which of its very nature contradicts the moral order, and which must therefore be judged unworthy of man, even though the intention is to protect or promote the welfare of an individual, of a family or of society in general".
81. In teaching the existence of intrinsically evil acts, the Church accepts the teaching of Sacred Scripture. The Apostle Paul emphatically states: "Do not be deceived: neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor sexual perverts, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the Kingdom of God" (1 Cor 6:9-10).
If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain "irremediably" evil acts; "per se" and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person. "As for acts which are themselves sins ("cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt"), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives ("causis bonis"), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?".
Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act "subjectively" good or defensible as a choice.
82. Furthermore, an intention is good when it has as its aim the true good of the person in view of his ultimate end. But acts whose object is "not capable of being ordered" to God and "unworthy of the human person" are always and in every case in conflict with that good. Consequently, respect for norms which prohibit such acts and oblige "semper et pro semper," that is, without any exception, not only does not inhibit a good intention, but actually represents its basic expression.
The doctrine of the object as a source of morality represents an authentic explicitation of the Biblical morality of the Covenant and of the commandments, of charity and of the virtues. The moral quality of human acting is dependent on this fidelity to the commandments, as an expression of obedience and of love. For this reason--we repeat--the opinion must be rejected as erroneous which maintains that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behaviour or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned. Without the "rational determination of the morality of human acting" as stated above, it would be impossible to affirm the existence of an "objective moral order" and to establish any particular norm the content of which would be binding without exception. This would be to the detriment of human fraternity and the truth about the good, and would be injurious to ecclesial communion as well.
83. As is evident, in the question of the morality of human acts, and in particular the question of whether there exist intrinsically evil acts, we find ourselves faced with "the question of man himself," of his "truth" and of the moral consequences flowing from that truth. By acknowledging and teaching the existence of intrinsic evil in given human acts, the Church remains faithful to the integral truth about man; she thus respects and promotes man in his dignity and vocation. Consequently, she must reject the theories set forth above, which contradict this truth.
Dear Brothers in the Episcopate, we must not be content merely to warn the faithful about the errors and dangers of certain ethical theories. We must first of all show the inviting splendour of that truth which is Jesus Christ himself. In him, who is the Truth (cf. Jn 14:6), man can understand fully and live perfectly, through his good actions, his vocation to freedom in obedience to the divine law summarized in the commandment of love of God and neighbour. And this is what takes place through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, of freedom and of love: in him we are enabled to interiorize the law, to receive it and to live it as the motivating force of true personal freedom: "the perfect law, the law of liberty" (Jas 1:25).
43. Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum," 7.
44. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 22.
45. Decree on Priestly Formation "Optatam Totius." 16.
46. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 62.
48. Cf SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum," 10.
49. Cf FIRST VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith "Dei Filius, Chap 4: DS, 3018.
50. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on the Relationship of the Church to Non-Christian Religions "Nostra Aetate," 1.
51. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 43-44.
52. Declaration on Religious Freedom "Dignitalis Humanae," 1, referring to JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Letter "Pacem in Terris" (11 April 1963): MS 55 (1963), 279; ibid, 265, and to Pius XII, "Radio Message" (24 December 1944): AAS 37 (1945), 14.
53. Declaration on Religious Freedom "Dignitatis Humanae," 1.
54. Cf. Encyclical Letter "Redemptor Hominis" (4 March 1979), 17: AAS 71 (1979), 295-300; "Address" To those taking part in the Fifth International Colloquium of Juridical Studies (10 March 1984), 4: "Insegnamenti," VII 1 (1984), 656; CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation "Libertatis Conscientia" (22 March 1986), 19: AAS 79 (1987), 561.
55. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 11.
56. Ibid, 17.
58. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom "Dignitatis Humanae," 2; cf also GREGORY XVI, Encyclical Epistle "Mirari Vos Arbitramur" (15 August 1832): "Acta Gregorii Papae XVI," I, 169-174; Pius IX, Encyclical Epistle "Quanta Cura" (8 December 1864): Pii IX PM. "Acta," I, 3, 687-700; LEO XIII, Encyclical Letter "Libertas Praestantissimum" (20 June 1888): "Leonis XIII PM. Acta, VIII", Romae 1889, 212-246.
59. "A Letter Addressed to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk: Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching" (Uniform Edition: Longman, Green and Company, London, 1868-1881), vol. 2, p 250.
60. Cf. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 40 and 43. 61. Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Summa Theologia," I-II, q. 71, a. 6, see also ad 5um. 62. Cf. Pius XII, Encyclical Letter "Humani Generis" (12 August 1950): AAS 42 (1950), 561-562.
63. Cf. ECUMENICAL. COUNCIL OF TRENT, Sess. VI, Decree on Justification "Cum Hoc Tempore," Canons 19-21: DS, 1569-1571.
64. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 17.
65. "De Hominis Opificio" Chap. 4: PG 44, 135-136.
66. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 36.
69. Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Summa Theologiae," I-II, q. 93 a. 3, ad 2um, cited by JOHN XXIII, Encyclical Letter "Pacem in Terris" (11 April 1963): AAS 55 (1963), 271.
70. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 41.
71. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta. Prologus: Opuscula Theologica," II, No. 1129, Ed. Taurinen. (1954), 245.
72. Cf. "Address" to a Group of Bishops from the United States on the occasion of their "ad Limina" Visit (15 October 1988), 6: "Insegnamenti," XI, 3 (1988), 1228.
73. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 47.
74. Cf. SAINT AUGUSTINE, "Enarratio in Psalmum LXII," 16: CCL 39, 804.
75. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 17.
76. "Summa Theologiae," I-II, q. 91, a. 2.
77. Cf. "Catechism of the Catholic Church," NO. 1955.
78. Declaration on Religious Freedom "Dignitatis Humanae," 3.
79. "Contra Faustum," Bk 22, Chap. 27: PL 42, 418.
80. "Summa Theologiae I-II, q. 93, a. 1.
81. Cf. ibid, I-II, q. 90, a. 4, ad 1um.
82. Ibid, I-II, q. 91, a. 2.
83. Encyclical Letter "Libertas Praestantissimum" (20 June 1888): "Leonis XIII P. M. Acta," VIII, Romae 1889, 219.
84. "In Epistulam ad Romanos," c. VIII, lect. 1.
85. Cf. Sess. IV, Decree on Justification "Cum Hoc Tempore," Chap. 1: DS, 1521.
86. Cf. ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF VIENNE, Constitution "Fidei Catholicae:" DS, 902; FIFTH LATERAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Bull "Apostolici Regiminis:" DS, 1440.
87. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 14.
88. Cf. Sess. VI, Decree on Justification "Cum Hoc Tempore," Chap. 15: DS, 1544. The Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on Reconciliation and Penance in the Mission of the Church Today cites other texts of the Old and New Testaments which condemn as mortal sins certain modes of conduct involving the body: cf. "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" (2 December 1984), 17: AAS 77 (1985), 218-223.
89. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 51.
90. CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation "Donum Vitae" (22 February 1987), Introduction, 3: AAS 80 (1988), 74; cf. PAUL VI, Encyclical Letter "Humanae Vitae" (25 July 1968), 10: AAS 60 (1968), 487- 488.
91. Apostolic Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" (22 November 1981) 11 AAS 74 (1982), 92. 92. "De Trinitate," XIV, 15, 21: CCL 50/A, 451.
93. Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Summa Theologiae," I-II, q. 94, a. 2.
94. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL. COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 10; SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration on Certain Questions concerning Sexual Ethics "Persona Humana" (29 December 1975), 4: AAS 68 (1976), 80: "But in fact, divine Revelation and, in its own proper order, philosophical wisdom, emphasize the authentic exigencies of human nature. They thereby necessarily manifest the existence of immutable laws inscribed in the constitutive elements of human nature and which are revealed to be identical in all beings endowed with reason".
95. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 29.
96. Cf. ibid, 16.
97. Ibid, 10.
98. Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Summa Theologiae" I-II, q. 108, a. 1. St. Thomas bases the fact that moral norms, even in the context of the New Law, are not merely formal in character but have a determined content, upon the assumption of human nature by the Word.
99. SAINT VINCENT OF LERINS, "Commonitorium Primum," c. 23: PL 50, 668.
100. The development of the Church's moral doctrine is similar to that of the doctrine of the faith (cf. FIRST VATICAN ECUMENICAL. COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith "Dei Filius," Chap. 4: DS, 3020, and Canon 4: DS, 3024). The words spoken by JOHN XXIII at the opening of the Second Vatican Council can also be applied to moral doctrine: "This certain and unchanging teaching (i. e., Christian doctrine in its completeness), to which the faithful owe obedience, needs to be more deeply understood and set forth in a way adapted to the needs of our time. Indeed, this deposit of the faith, the truths contained in our time-honoured teaching, is one thing; the manner in which these truths are set forth (with their meaning preserved intact) is something else": AAS 54 (1962), 792; cf. "L'Osservatore Romano," 12 October 1962, p. 2.
101. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 16.
103. "In II Librum Sentent", dist. 39, a. 1, q. 3, conclusion: Ed. Ad Claras Aquas, II, 907b.
104. "Address" (General Audience, 17 August 1983), 2: "Insegnamenti," VI, 2 (1983), 256.
105. SUPREME SACRED CONGREGATION OF THE HOLY OFFICE Instruction on "Situation Ethics" "Contra Doctrinam" (2 February 1956) AAS 48 (1956), 144.
106. Encyclical Letter "Dominum et Vivificantem" (18 May 1986), 43: AAS 78 (1986), 859; Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 16; Declaration on Religious Freedom "Dignitatis Humanae," 3.
107. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL., Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 16.
108. Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "De Veritate," q 17, a. 4.
109. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL., Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 16.
110. Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Summa Theologiae," II-II, q. 45, a. 2.
111. Declaration on Religious Freedom "Dignitatis Humanae," 14.
112. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, "Dei Verbum," 5; cf. FIRST VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on the Catholic Faith "Dei Filius," Chap. 3: DS, 3008.
113. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation "Dei Verbum," 5. Cf. SACRED CONGREGATION FOR THE DOCTRINE OF THE FAITH, Declaration on Certain Questions regarding Sexual Ethics "Persona Humana" (29 December 1975), 10: AAS 68 (1976), 88-90.
114. Cf . Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" (2 December 1984), 17: AAS 77 (1985), 218-223.
115. Sess. VI, Decree on Justification "Cum Hoc Tempore," Chap. 15: DS, 1544; Canon 19: DS, 1569.
116. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" (2 December 1984), 17: AAS 77 (1985), 221.
117. Ibid: loc. cit., 223.
118. Ibid.: loc. cit., 222.
119. Cf. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 17.
120. Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Summa Theologiae," I-II, q. 1, a. 3: "Idem sunt actus morales et actus humani".
121. "De Vita Moysis," II, 2-3: PG 44, 327-328.
122. Cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Summa Theologiae," II-II, q. 148, a. 3.
123. The Second Vatican Council, in the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, makes this clear: "This applies not only to Christians but to all men of good will in whose hearts grace is secretly at work since Christ died for all and since man's ultimate calling comes from God and is therefore a universal one, we are obliged to hold that the Holy Spirit offers to all the possibility of sharing in this paschal mystery in a manner known to God": "Gaudium et Spes," 22.
124. "Tractatus ad Tiberium Diaconum sociosque, II. Responsiones ad Tiberium Diaconum sociosque:" SAINT CYRIL OF ALEXANDRIA, "In Divi Johannis Evangelium," vol. III, ed. Philip Edward Pusey, Brussels, Culture et Civilisation (1965), 590.
125. Cf. ECUMENICAL COUNCIL OF TRENT, Session VI, Decree on Justification "Cum Hoc Tempore," Canon 19: DS, 1569. See also: CLEMENT XI, Constitution "Unigenitus Dei Filius" (8 September 1713) against the Errors of Paschasius Quesnel, Nos. 53-56: DS, 2453-2456.
126. Cf. Summa Theologiae," I-II, q. 18, a 6.
127. "Catechism of the Catholic Church," No. 1761.
128. "In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decem Legis Praecepta. De Dilectione Dei: Opuscula Theologica," II, No. 1168, Ed. Taurinen. (1954) 250.
129. SAINT ALPHONSUS MARIA DE LIGUORI, "Pratica di amar Gesu Cristo," VII, 3.
130. Cf. "Summa Theologiae," I-II, q. 100, a. 1.
131. Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation "Reconciliatio et Paenitentia" (2 December 1984), 17 AAS 77 (1985), 221; cf. PAUL VI, "Address" to Members of the Congregation of the Most Holy Redeemer, (September 1967): AAS 59 (1967), 962: "Far be it from Christians to be led to embrace another opinion, as if the Council taught that nowadays some things are permitted which the Church had previously declared intrinsically evil. Who does not see in this the rise of a depraved "moral relativism," one that clearly endangers the Church's entire doctrinal heritage?" 132. Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World "Gaudium et Spes," 27.
133. Encyclical Letter "Humanae Vitae" (25 July 1968), 14: AAS 60 (1968), 490-491.
134. "Contra Mendacium, VII, 18: PL 40, 528, cf. SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS, "Quaestiones Quodlibetales," IX, q. 7, a. 2; "Catechism of the Catholic Church," Nos. 1753-1755.
135. SECOND VATICAN ECUMENICAL COUNCIL, Declaration on Religious Freedom "Dignitatis Humanae," 7.