Spiritual euthanasia

October 13, 2017 § 22 Comments

One Peter Five has posted an article arguing for the infallibility of Pope St. John Paul II’s encyclical The Splendor of Truth.

One of the multitude of interesting passages in the encyclical is Veritatis Splendor 115:

This is the first time, in fact, that the Magisterium of the Church has set forth in detail the fundamental elements of this teaching, and presented the principles for the pastoral discernment necessary in practical and cultural situations which are complex and even crucial.

In one sentence this invalidates two of the most common approaches to rationalizing away the universal objectivity of moral standards.

The first rationalization appeals to ambiguous – or just outright incorrect – ‘respectable‘ vintage theological opinions or practices in arguing for moral subjectivism/relativism.  This in particular is a dangerous temptation for orthodox Catholics.  Just because an opinion or practice is old, comes from a (supposedly) respectable source, and has not (yet) been forcefully condemned, it does not follow that the opinion is sound. The measuring stick of sound doctrine is Scripture, Tradition, and actual authoritative Magisterial pronouncements taken together and understood as harmonious.  Theological musings are just theological musings, whatever the source.

The second rationalization involves crafting a supposed doctrinal-pastoral dualism.  Under this neopelagian rationalization the human person lives morally inside a subjective intentional bubble separate from his concrete choice of objective behaviors, hermetically shielded from culpability by ignorance.  Rather than being a sinner in need of repentance and redemption the human person is intrinsically good; the objective moral law is merely an ‘ideal’; invincible ignorance is the eighth sacrament.  Evil comes from outside the person via the imposition of a purely external moral ideal, not from inside the person manifested in his deliberate choice of behaviors.  A human being can be mercifully ‘accompanied‘, can be pastorally shielded from his own sinfulness by keeping him in the dark, by blocking him from coming to know the fullness of truth about the good and what that means in terms of concrete behaviors.

The pope doesn’t leave it to just that one sentence though.  He goes on to crush the idea that sound pastoral practice can conflict with the truth about objectively good and evil kinds of behavior:

Each of us knows how important is the teaching which represents the central theme of this Encyclical and which is today being restated with the authority of the Successor of Peter. Each of us can see the seriousness of what is involved, not only for individuals but also for the whole of society, with the reaffirmation of the universality and immutability of the moral commandments, particularly those which prohibit always and without exception intrinsically evil acts.

116. We have the duty, as Bishops, to be vigilant that the word of God is faithfully taught. My Brothers in the Episcopate, it is part of our pastoral ministry to see to it that this moral teaching is faithfully handed down and to have recourse to appropriate measures to ensure that the faithful are guarded from every doctrine and theory contrary to it.

And he reinforces the fact that theological opinions of whatever vintage should not be confused with the authentic Magisterium of the Church:

In carrying out this task we are all assisted by theologians; even so, theological opinions constitute neither the rule nor the norm of our teaching. Its authority is derived, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit and in communion cum Petro et sub Petro, from our fidelity to the Catholic faith which comes from the Apostles. As Bishops, we have the grave obligation to be personally vigilant that the “sound doctrine” (1 Tim 1:10) of faith and morals is taught in our Dioceses.

The life of the spirit is truth. We all know who is the father of lies. And it is no accident that spiritual ‘mercy’ killing requires that its victims be cut off from the fullness of truth.

§ 22 Responses to Spiritual euthanasia

  • Spiritual Euthanasia is fantastic term for this way of thinking about morality. The combox at Crisis yesterday had many “pro-life” commenters claiming that life of the mother was an acceptable exception to the prohibition against abortion. The pro-life movement badly needs Veritatis Splendor.

  • “Rather than being a sinner in need of repentance and redemption the human person is intrinsically good; the objective moral law is merely an ‘ideal’…”

    Yes. You’ve nailed one affliction of the modern world that seems to have spread like a disease. “There are no bad people, just good people who sometimes do bad things.” Than we have the, “I’m a good person” as if that alone should somehow protect us from suffering. And since we’re already innately good, nobody really needs redemption, forgiveness, or a Savior anymore. Also, “good guys finish last,” so of course success is often perceived as being dependent on not being good. Who wants to come in last?

    I like Luke 18:19, where Jesus says, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.” There are a lot of reason why He says it, but I like to take away a the fact that a perfect, sin free man, who is certainly good, points us to the Father.

  • Mike T says:

    You’ve nailed one affliction of the modern world that seems to have spread like a disease. “There are no bad people, just good people who sometimes do bad things.”

    I had a relative who was like that. Very set in her mind in that old Episcopalian way about such liberal pieties.

    Then an African immigrant moved next door. He parked his trailer illegally. She mentioned it to a police officer. He responded by creeping onto her property at night, and shooting her horse in the leg with a low caliber handgun so it would slowly bleed to death over several hours.

    After that, she started to believe that some people are just evil.

  • Mike T says:

    I don’t know about your experience, IB, but I can’t remember meeting someone who has genuine experience of any sort with what we’d call “evil people” or even just generally **bad** people who feels that people are essentially good. I’ve only seen that attitude among your UMC WASPs and their equivalent who live in functional isolation from the rest of humanity.

  • “I can’t remember meeting someone who has genuine experience of any sort with what we’d call “evil people” or even just generally **bad** people who feels that people are essentially good.”

    Good point,Mike. Somebody smart once said that the devil’s greatest accomplishment was in convincing everyone he doesn’t exist. I suspect that is part of the reason why we come up with crazy things like “terrorists just need more job training” or people who do bad things are just mentally ill and can’t help themselves. We can no longer accept that evil doesn’t have a rational explanation,the problem being the very nature of evil is irrational, chaotic, and defies explanation.

  • LarryDickson says:

    Sigh . . . This piece proposes the binary opposition between the rules-oriented, be-Mucius-Scaevola-or-go-to-hell approach and the sick-liberal, every-murderer-deserves-our-sympathy approach as if there were no third. Reply 2 by insanitybytes22 is on the right track to the right answer: contradict “good guys finish last”. That means serious preaching – preaching that calls to heroism when needed and love always. Why is it that the Mormons, with their flawed theology, do better than we do in that respect – even having a strong community of “elders” (young men) active in their communities?

    The left wing, blubbering sympathy until some really bad person does something really bad to them, control the media but everyone else is sick of them. The right wing, shouting moral absolutism that somehow only applies to the powerless and not to the powerful, are simply not listened to by anyone. Champion to the young the real marital heroism that everyone loves (but fears they are incapable of); start with Malachi 2:13-16. And, by the way, start preaching a way back from usury too . . . the young would love to be able to roll up their sleeves and work for a decent living.

  • MT says:

    insanitybytes,are you a protestant? Because it’s not a Catholic thing to deny that all things inherently good of all things that exist, even in a fallen state.

  • Zippy says:

    Often enough good guys do finish last. Being willing to finish last rather than do evil is what all Christians – all human beings – are called to do. Pretending that this isn’t the case doesn’t help anyone. It is just a lie.

    And ultimately the choice between Heaven and Hell is, in fact, a binary choice.

    …by the way, start preaching a way back from usury…

    Like this, for example?

    Or do you mean on the personal level? On the personal level the “way back” from choosing intrinsically immoral behaviors (whether adultery, usury, theft, rape, torture, murder, or any other intrinsically immoral behavior) has been succinctly summarized by the Prophet Bob Newhart: “stop it!”

  • Zippy says:

    MT:
    Yes, insanitybytes22 is (any number of my commenters are) protestant.

  • William Luse says:

    This piece proposes the binary opposition between the rules-oriented etc. blahblah…

    From the OP: …”this invalidates two of the most common approaches….”

  • c matt says:

    Wouldn’t it be rather ironic for a document entitled “Splendor of Truth” to be fallible?

  • MMPeregrine says:

    Zippy, thank you for continually linking and referring to Veritatis Splendor. I finally began reading it after putting it off for too long. I’ve read about 5 of St. JPII’s other encyclicals but this one seems to be the best. Very clearly and beautifully written.

    You write a lot about moral theology so I’m wondering if you’re familiar with St. Alphonsus Liguori’s writings on the topic? It seems to me that it was not coincidental that Pope Benedict XIV penned Vix Pervenit in the middle of St. Alphonsus’ lifetime – do you know if he had any influence on the document or was it the other way around?

    Volume I of St. Alphonsus’ Moral Theology was recently translated into English, I think for the first time, by Mediatrix Press. I did find an excerpt online somewhere of St. Alphonsus on usury and it seemed solid.

  • Zippy says:

    MMPeregrine:

    I am only familiar with St. Alphonsus’ writings indirectly as paraphrased by Noonan. In Noonan’s account St. Alphonsus legitimizes the triple contract (though Noonan doesn’t say whether this pertains to recourse or nonrecourse versions of the contract) and supports various other liberalizing titles to interest. Without access to the original material I can’t really say whether he was one of the good guys or one of the bad guys on the subject, but Noonan definitely treats him as legitimizing the modernist view contra Aquinas and the traditional (that is, financially competent) view.

  • MMPeregrine says:

    Zippy, here is the full excerpt that I found online by St. Alphonsus Liguori on usury:
    (Begin Quote) – Usury also is a theft. The man who lends money on the condition of (usurious) interest being paid to him annually, or even every month, commits a true theft. ‘But he pays the interest willingly.’ He pays willingly, but he must pay. What do you lose by lending that sum to your neighbor? If you do lose anything, if you could be sure of gaining something by using the money yourself, then you can make the borrower make up for your loss; this is fair interest, but then you must explain all this to him if you do exact interest. But if you lose nothing by it, what right have you to charge anything? This is a real theft. ‘Lend, hoping for nothing thereby, says the Gospel. Hoping for nothing thereby; that is you ought to lend for kindness and charity, not for gain. I will say no more, for I cannot now discuss the many questions connected with usury; for I am giving an instruction, not a lecture on moral theology. I only admonish each of you, whenever doubts arise, not to resolve them by yourself, – for passion will make you see things with a jaundiced eye, but to consult a confessor or other learned man, and to act according to the advice received. Let public usurers remember that by a decree of the Council of Lateran they are excommunicated, forbidden to receive the body of Christ, and after death are to be deprived of Christian burial. Let if also be remembered that sometimes usury is not open, but is palliated by being taken under some pretext; all gain received must be restored. Alas! How many poor souls go to hell on account of this accursed usury! If any one feel a scruple on this point, let him confess it immediately, and apply a remedy, now that he has time; otherwise he will go to hell, where he will be no longer able to repair the evil. A virtuous young man became a monk; while in the monastery he saw his father and brother damned for the usury which they practiced, and heard one of them cursing the other. The afflicted monk asked if he could give them any relief. They answered: ‘No; for in hell there is no redemption.’ (End Quote)

    Here is a link to where I found the above quote using a simple google search for ‘St. Alphonsus Liguori on usury’. I’m not even sure what specific book the quote is derived from. Then there’s a bunch of other links resulting from that search with commentary that seems to link St. Alphonsus with the liberalizing movement on usury but it remains unconvincing in the light of the above direct quote. I would love to see the direct quotes that John Noonan uses – but his usury book is prohibitively expensive on amazon and I’m wary of his scholarship based on knowing his conclusions on this and other related topics.

    The Saint Alphonsus de Liguori Collection [30 Books] ebook by Catholic Way Publishing

  • Zippy says:

    MMPeregrine:

    I would love to see the direct quotes that John Noonan uses…

    IIRC he doesn’t quote the saint, he just paraphrases him as approving of the triple contract (again with no recourse/nonrecourse distinction) and possibly one/some titles to profit. I’ve been busy and am likely to remain so for a while, but maybe I’ll get a chance to pull out Noonan and quote you what Noonan says.

  • MMPeregrine says:

    When the above quote is taken in its entirety, it is more likely than not (at least IMO) that St. Alphonsus is speaking of lucrum cessans (foregone profit) in a context similar to that of the mons pietatis. That would mean the interest charged is compensatory and not a means of profit, right?. Anyone who is honestly and diligently searching for the correct and Catholic teaching on usury and read the above should remain pretty safe (again, IMO).

    Also, Brian McCall mentions St. Alphonsus in his book The Church and the Usurers on pg 118-19 – “St Alphonsus can be taken as a good example of the minimal objectivist approach position on the need for some fruitful base. He concluded that ‘the only naturally illicit census is one founded on an unfruitful thing or person, for there no real good or usufruct is purchased.’

    Also relevant is Brian McCall’s discussion of lucrum cessans on pg 78-80 of the same book. I learned a great deal from this book but remained somewhat confused on what exactly usury was. It was only your emphasis on recourse vs. non-recourse that brought it all together for me.

    Then here is a quote from the bull on St’ Alphonsus’ canonisation – “He composed a great number of books with the view of supporting the doctrine of morals , of fully elucidating the nature and duties of the clerical order, of confirming the truth of the Catholic religion, of asserting the rights of this Apostolic See, and of exciting sentiments of piety in the minds of Christians. They are wonderfully remarkable for unusual force, for extent and variety of learning, and for the singular proofs they afford of his great solicitude for the Church, and his ardent zeal for religion. But what deserves to be particularly noticed is, that after a careful examination of his works, it has been ascertained that they all, notwithstanding their number and extent, may be perused by the faithful with the most perfect safety (inoffenso prorsus pede percurri a fidelibus posse).

  • MMPeregrine says:

    Thank you Zippy, I would appreciate it greatly if you could once you got the opportunity and I will also search for a less expensive copy of Noonan’s book or a library copy. It seems like a good resource, at least for understanding the historical and ongoing assault on the Church’s doctrine.

    Basically, St. Alphonsus was recommended to me as THE resource on moral theology and so I would have been confused if he had gotten this wrong and would have wondered if in fact he was right and I was still wrong. Ultimately I think Noonan probably was proof texting and took St. Alphonsus out of context.

    St. Alphonsus, pray for us. (And for the soul of John Noonan)

  • TomD says:

    The pertinent line is “If you do lose anything, if you could be sure of gaining something by using the money yourself, then you can make the borrower make up for your loss; this is fair interest, but then you must explain all this to him if you do exact interest.” – which would cover true losses (such as transfer fees or similar) and not “opportunity costs” as those are not sure but only hypothetical.

  • Zippy says:

    TomD:

    … which would cover true losses (such as transfer fees or similar) and not “opportunity costs” as those are not sure but only hypothetical.

    Aquinas explains it this way:

    But the lender cannot enter an agreement for compensation, through the fact that he makes no profit out of his money: because he must not sell that which he has not yet and may be prevented in many ways from having.

    It is not immoral to make compensation for actual losses (damnum emergens) a condition of making a charitable loan. An example would be that if I have to sell property and pay a brokerage fee to make the loan, I may ask for the brokerage fee in addition to the principal as repayment.

    But compensation for hypotheticals is always compensation for what does not actually exist. Even if you feel very certain that you could have made money by investing what you instead chose to lend (out of charity or friendship, which is the only justification for making a mutuum loan in the first place), this never under any circumstances justifies charging interest to the borrower.

    Mutuum lending is only ever licit at all as an act of charity or friendship. If that isn’t why you are lending in the first place then the loan is morally illicit in intention, even if it can be argued to be licit in its formal character.

    It is best, when lending as an act of charity or friendship (the only kind of licit mutuum), to do so without an eye toward compensation even for direct losses.

    Vix Pervenit:

    But you must diligently consider this, that some will falsely and rashly persuade themselves-and such people can be found anywhere-that together with loan contracts there are other legitimate titles or, excepting loan contracts, they might convince themselves that other just contracts exist, for which it is permissible to receive a moderate amount of interest. Should any one think like this, he will oppose not only the judgment of the Catholic Church on usury, but also common human sense and natural reason. Everyone knows that man is obliged in many instances to help his fellows with a simple, plain loan. Christ Himself teaches this: “Do not refuse to lend to him who asks you.” In many circumstances, no other true and just contract may be possible except for a loan.

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