Sunday, 9 March 2014

REPOST: Discovering Ethics IV: Basic Questions 3 (Pinckaers 1995)

This is part 4 of a series on Christian ethics I originally wrote some years ago. The rest of the series can be found here.

Yet another post in my series on Pinckaers' book, with yet more basic questions regarding the relationship between ethics and a number of fundamental issues intrinsic to human existence:

5. Love: Pinckaers notes that, following the New Testament, "all Christian ethicists recognize the prime place of love in Christian morality". St. Augustine redefined the four classical cardinal virtues as different movements of charity. St. Thomas taught that the act of loving something for its own sake was the first movement of the human will and that it was perfected by the virtue of charity through the grace of the Holy Spirit. According to him, without charity no other virtue, faith included, is truly alive.

However, Catholic ethicists of recent centuries have, Pinckaers asserts, turned the issue of love somewhat on its head by placing it within the context of obligation: What charitable acts are required of us? "Practical primacy is given to obedience to the law... obedience to legal obligations is now seen as the true form of the virtues". The issue is this: do we love out of obedience or obey out of love?

This approach has created two distinct strains in modern thought, Pinckaers argues: on the one hand, ethicists are suspicious of love and passion because of its close connotations with sex. On the other, there is a widespread movement both in the world at large and within the Church for spontaneous and care-free love, without due concern for integrity and truth. The absolute necessity of sacrifice for authentic love, so obvious in Scripture, is completely forgotten, as witnessed by the ever-growing number of broken homes. Furthermore, some modern thinkers have developed a thoroughly pessimistic view of human nature, where all human action is placed within the context of the fight for survival and class struggle. To answer this, Pinckaers says, is not enough to introduce a merely sentimental love. A love is needed that dares to confront violence, and knows how to uproot it... This calls for a genuine rediscovery of charity and friendship, our weapons for the combat.
6. Truth: According to Pinckaers, the moralism of recent centuries has tended to confine the issue of truth within the context of the obligation to believe certain truths of the Christian faith. But the scope of the word truth is much wider than that. In Scripture, truth is often associated with love and with upright living and knowledge of that which is true is not something that is gained through purely intellectual activity, but rather from experience, flowering in love.

We might apply here the classical definition of truth - "the mind's grasp of the thing" - but with a new interpretation. The "thing" is not now something material we think about but a personal reality - God or neighbor... "Mind" is not now abstract reason but intelligence united to will, love and desire, informing and directing them.
This kind of intelligence is active, because it leads to action in truth. In this sense we can talk about doing the truth. Truth is beneficial; through upright love it creates a profound harmony between our various faculties and between persons.
Pinckaers concludes that "love of "the fulness of truth," as St. John puts it, or the search for wisdom" is essential in Christian ethics. "We might define the ethicist's task as a search for "the fulness of truth," so that it may throw light on all human actions."

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