Archive for the ‘Moral Theology’ Category


Disinterestedness – Fr. Romano Guardini

April 15, 2014
The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

From time to time I feature examples of moral values that Fr. Guardini wrote about in his little book, Learning The Virtues That Lead You To God. Taken from a review: “Guardini’s gift is that he can penetrate the indoctrination, distractions and ultimately, the lying of our age and pierce through to the bedrock of our spirtuality, the nature of man, and man in relationship to God. His writings bring man back to what is essential, and strengthen him in trying to live by these precepts. One of Guardini’s purposes in all that he did was to shore up the faith in an age that attacks it mercilessly, and in an age that tries to falsify the nature of man (in advertising, media, manipulation, etc.) This is a wonderful book. It is the holy stratosphere surrounding the throne of God. Highly recommended.”


Perhaps this title surprises the reader, for who is likely, at present, to consider disinterestedness a virtue; that is, an example of moral value?

There is a proverb which comes from ancient China and which states that the fewer interests a man has, the more powerful he is; that the greatest power is complete disinterestedness. But that idea is foreign to us. The image of man which has become the standard since the middle of the past century is quite different. It presents the active man who moves with decision in dealing with the world and accomplishes his purposes. This man has many interests and considers himself perfect when everything that he does is subordinated to the goals that he sets up for himself.

That such a man accomplishes much would not be denied even by the teachers of that ancient philosophy. But they would probably say that most of it is superficial and bypasses that which is really important.

How, then, does the man live who is ruled by his interests? In his associations with others, such a man does not turn toward another person with simplicity and sincerity, but he always has ulterior motives. He wishes to make an impression, to be envied, to gain an advantage, or to get ahead. He praises in order to be praised. He renders a service in order to be able to exact one in return. Therefore he does not really see the other as a person; instead, he sees wealth or social position, and then there is always rivalry.

With such a man we are not at ease. We must be cautious. We perceive his intentions and draw back. The free association in which true human relations are realized does not develop. Of course, our life with its many needs also has its rights. Many human relations are built upon dependence and aims. Consequently, it is not only right but absolutely necessary that we should seek to obtain what we need and should be conscious of doing this. But there are many other relations which rest upon a candid and sincere meeting of persons. If interests and ulterior motives determine our attitude in such cases, then everything becomes false and insincere.

Wherever the essential relations of “I” and “thou” are to be realized, interests must give way. We must see the other as he is, deal simply with him, and live with him. We must adapt ourselves to the situation and its demands, whether it be a conversation, collaboration, joyfulness, or the enduring of misfortune, danger, or sorrow.

Only in this way are true human values made possible, such as a real friendship, true love, sincere comradeship in working, and honest assistance in time of need. But if interests become dominant here, then everything atrophies.

A man who keeps interests in their proper place acquires power over others, but it is a peculiar kind of power. Here we approach the ancient aphorism of which we spoke in the beginning. The more we seek to gain our own ends, the more the other person closes up and is put on the defensive. But the more clearly he perceives that we do not wish to drive him, but simply to be with him and live with him — that we do not want to gain something from him, but merely to serve the matter at hand — then the more quickly he discards his defenses and opens himself to the influence of our personality.

The power of personality becomes stronger in proportion to the absence of interests. It is something quite different from that energy by which a man subordinates another to his will, and which is really a very external thing in spite of its dynamic quality. The power of personality stems from the genuineness of life, the truth of thought, the pure will to work, and the sincerity of one’s disposition.

Something similar holds true of a man’s relation to his work. When a man who is dominated by his interests works, then his work lacks precisely that which gives it value; that is, a sincere service to the thing itself. For him the first and chief consideration is how he can get ahead and further his career. He knows very little of the freedom of work and the joy of creation.

If he is a student, he works only with an eye to his vocation, and very frequently not even to that which really deserves the name of vocation, which is a man’s feeling that he is “called” to a certain task within the context of human society. Rather, he works with an eye to that which offers the most opportunities for financial gain and for prestige. He really works only for the examination; he learns what is required and what the professor in each case demands. We must not exaggerate; these things, too, have their rights. But if they are the sole motives, then the essential thing is lost. That kind of student never has the experience of living in the milieu of knowledge, of feeling its freedom and its greatness. He is never touched by wisdom and understanding; his interests isolate him. What we have said of students also holds true of other forms of preparation for later life.

Naturally, we repeat, these other things have their rights. A man must know what he wants; otherwise his actions disintegrate. He must have a goal and must orient his life to that goal. But the goal should lie mainly in the object to which be devotes himself. He will pay attention to remuneration and advancement, since his work gives him the means of which he and his family have need and gives him wealth and the esteem of others. But the real and essential consideration must always be what the work itself demands, that it be done well and in its entirety.

The man who has this attitude will not let his actions be determined by considerations extrinsic to the task. In this sense, he is disinterested. He serves, in the fine sense of the word. He does the work which is important and timely; he is devoted to it and does it as it should be done. He lives in it and with it, without self-interest or side glances.

This is an attitude that seems to be disappearing in most places. Persons who do their duty in sincere devotion, because the work is valuable and fine, seem to be becoming rare. Actions are increasingly based upon utilitarian motives and considerations of success apart from the real matter in hand.And yet disinterestedness is the only disposition which produces the genuine work, the pure act, because it frees man for creativity. It alone gives rise to what is great and liberating, and only the man who works in this way gains interior riches.

What we have said also opens the way to the final essence of humanity — selflessness. One of the most profound paradoxes of life is the fact that a man becomes more fully himself the less he thinks of himself. To be more precise, within us there lives a false self and a true self. The false self is the constantly emphasized “I” and “me” and “mine,” and it refers everything to its own honor and prosperity, wishing to enjoy and achieve and dominate.

This self hides the true self, the truth of the person. To the extent that the false self disappears, the true self is freed. To the extent that a man departs from himself in selflessness, he grows into the essential self. This true self does not regard itself, but it is there. It experiences itself, but in the consciousness of an interior freedom, sincerity, and integrity.

The way in which a man puts away the false self and grows into the real self is that which the masters of the interior life call “detachment.” The saint is the person in whom the false self has been wholly conquered and the true self set free. Then the person is simply there without stressing himself. He is powerful without exertion. He no longer has desires or fears. He radiates. About him, things assume their truth and order.

Shall we say, with reference to essentials, that that man has opened himself for God, has become, if we may use the term, penetrable for God? He is the “door” through which God’s power can stream into the world and can create truth and order and peace.

There is an event which reveals this marvel. When St. Francis had lived through the long loneliness on Mount La Verna and had received the stigmata of Christ’s Passion in his hands, feet, and side and returned to his people, they came and kissed the wounds in his hands. Francis, so basically humble, would have, in former times, rejected with horror these marks of reverence. Now he permitted them, for he no longer felt that he, “the son of Bernardone of Assisi” was their object, but Christ’s love in him was. His exterior self had been quenched, but the real Francis shone – he who no longer stood in his own light, but was wholly transparent for God.

Every genuine virtue, as we have seen before, not only pervades the whole of human existence, but it reaches beyond it to God. More correctly, it comes down from God to man, for its true and original place is the divine life. How does this apply in the case of disinterestedness? Does not God have interests — He, through whose will everything exists and whose wisdom orders all things?

We must be careful not to confuse meanings. To “have interests,” in the sense in which we have used the term, means something other than being active. Every activity has a goal, an end to be attained; otherwise, there would be chaos. In this sense, God looks toward the goal He has set, and directs His activity toward it. It is a different thing when the person acting is not simply looking toward the other person or the work to be accomplished, but regards himself, wishes to be recognized, and to secure an advantage. How could God intend anything of the sort? He is the Lord, Lord of the world, Lord of the divine life and existence. What could He need? He has — no, He is — everything!

When He creates the world, He does not do so as a man would make something, in order to boast of it or to serve hisown needs, but He creates through pure, divine joy in the act.We may use the term joy here, in its highest sense. He creates things so that they may exist, that they may be truthful, genuine, and beautiful. We cannot conceive of the freedom and joyfulness of God’s creative activity.

But what of the government of the world, that which we call “Providence”? Doesn’t God have purposes? Doesn’t He guide man, every man, and all the events of his life, to the end that He has proposed? Isn’t the life of one man arranged in a certain way because the life of another is connected with it in this manner? Aren’t the lives of all men oriented toward each other, and isn’t the whole of existence arranged by divine wisdom according to God’s plan?

Again, we must distinguish the meanings of words. Supreme wisdom does not will “interests” which accompany and are extrinsic to the essential thing, but the very meaning of that which is willed, its truth, and the fulfillment of its nature.

This divine will is the power which binds one thing to another, refers one event to another, brings one person into relation with another, and brings every man into relation with the whole. This does not constitute interests, but wisdom, the sovereign wisdom of the perfect Master who creates human existence as a woven fabric in which every thread supports all the others and is itself supported by all the others.

At present, we do not yet see the pattern. We see only the reverse of the tapestry and are able to follow certain lines for a short distance, but then they disappear. But someday the tapestry will be turned, at the end of time, at the Final Judgment; then the figures will stand out brightly.

Then the question never fully answered (or not answered at all) in the course of time — “Why”: Why this sorrow? Why this privation? Why can one do this and not another? — and all the questions of life’s trials will receive their answer from the wisdom of God, which brings it about that things are not a mere mass of objects and events, are not a confusion of occurrences, but that all these together constitute a world.


SEX 2 From Roger Scruton’s An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy

April 10, 2014
Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings. The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings. The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

The intentionality of desire is the topic for a book, and since I have written that book, I shall confine myself here to a few remarks. My hope is to put philosophy to its best use, which is that of shoring up the human world against the corrosive seas of pseudo-science. In true sexual desire, the aim is union with the other, where ‘the other’ denotes a particular person, with a particular perspective on my actions.

The reciprocity which is involved in this aim is achieved in a state of mutual arousal, and the interpersonal character of arousal determines the nature of the ‘union’ that is sought. All desire is compromising, and the choice to express it or to yield to it is an existential choice, in which the self is, or may be, in danger.

Not surprisingly, therefore, the sexual act is surrounded by prohibitions; it brings with it a weight of shame, guilt and jealousy, as well as the heights of joy and happiness. It is inconceivable that a morality of pure permission should issue from the right conception of such a compromising force, and, as I argue in Sexual Desire, the traditional morality, in which monogamous heterosexual union, enshrined in a vow rather than a contract, is the norm, shows far more sensitivity to what is at stake than any of the known alternatives.

If it is so difficult now to see the point of that morality, it is in part because human sexual conduct has been redescribed by the pseudo-science of sexology, and as a result not only robbed of its interpersonal intentionality, but also profoundly demoralized. In redescribing the human world in this way, we also change it. We introduce new forms of sexual feeling – shaped by the desire for an all-comprehending permission. The sexual sacrament gives way to a sexual market; and the result is a fetishism of the sexual commodity.

Richard Posner, for example, in his worthless but influential book entitled Sex and Reason (but which should have been called Sex and Instrumental Reason), opens his first chapter with the following sentence: There is sexual behavior, having to do mainly with excitation of the sexual organs.’ In reality, of course, sexual behaviour has to do with courtship, desire, love, jealousy, marriage, grief, joy and intrigue. Such excitement as occurs is excitement of the whole person. As for the sexual organs, they can be as ‘excited’ (if that is the word) by a bus journey as by the object of desire. Nevertheless, Posner’s description of desire is necessary, if he is to fulfil his aim of deriving a morality of sexual conduct from the analysis of cost and benefit (which, apparently, is what is meant by ‘reason’). So what are the ‘costs’ of sexual gratification?

One is the cost of search. It is zero for masturbation, considered as a solitary activity, which is why it is the cheapest of practices. (The qualification is important: ‘mutual masturbation’, heterosexual or homosexual, is a form of nonvaginal intercourse, and its search costs are positive.)

Posner proceeds to consider hypothetical cases: for example, the case where a man sets a ‘value’ of ‘twenty’ on ‘sex’ with a ‘woman of average attractiveness’, and a ‘value’ of ‘two’ on ‘sex’ with a ‘male substitute’. If you adopt such language, then you have made woman (and man too) into a sex object and sex into a commodity. You have redescribed the human world as a world of things; you have abolished the sacred, the prohibited and the protected, and presented sex as a relation between aliens: ‘Th’expence of spirit in a waste of shame’, in Shakespeare’s famous words. Posner’s language is opaque to what is wanted in sexual desire; it reduces the other person to an instrument of pleasure, a means of obtaining something that could have been provided equally by another person, by an animal, by a rubber doll or a piece of Kleenex.

Well, you might say, why not, if people are happier that way? In whose interest is it, to retain the old form of desire, with its individualizing intentionality, its hopeless yearnings, its furies and jealousies, its lifelong commitments and lifelong griefs?

Modern philosophers shy away from such questions, although they were much discussed in the ancient world. Rather than consider the long-term happiness and fulfillment of the individual, the modern philosopher tends to reduce the problem of sexual morality to one of rights — do we have a right to engage in, or to forbid, this or that sexual practice?

From such a question liberal conclusions follow as a matter of course; but it is a question that leaves the ground of sexual morality unexplored. This ground is not to be discovered in the calculus of rights and duties, but in the theory of virtue. What matters in sexual morality is the distinction between virtuous and vicious dispositions. I have already touched on this distinction in the last chapter, when considering the basis of our moral thinking. I there emphasized the role of virtue in creating the foundations of moral order. But it is also necessary, if we are to give objective grounds for the pursuit of virtue, to show how the happiness and fulfilment of the person are furthered by virtue and jeopardized by vice.

This, roughly speaking, is the task that Aristotle set himself in the Nicomachean Ethics, in which he tried to show that the deep questions of morality concern the education of the moral being, rather than the rules governing his adult conduct. Virtue belongs to character, rather than to the rules of social dialogue, and arises through an extended process of moral development. The virtuous person is disposed to choose those courses of action which contribute to his flourishing – his flourishing, not just as an animal, but as a rational being or person, as that which he essentially is. In educating a child I am educating his habits, and it is therefore clear that I shall always have a reason to inculcate virtuous habits, not only for my sake, but also for his own.

At the same time, we should not think of virtue as a means only. The virtuous person is the one who has the right choice of ends. Virtue is the disposition to want, and therefore to choose, certain things for their own sakes, despite the warring tendency of appetite. Courage, for example, is the disposition to choose the honorable course of action, in face of danger. It is the disposition to overcome fear, for the sake of that judged to be right. All rational beings have an interest in acquiring courage, since without it they can achieve what they really want only by luck, and only in the absence of adversity.

Sexual virtue is similar: the disposition to choose the course of action judged to be right, despite temptation. Education should be directed towards the special kind of temperance which shows itself, sometimes as chastity, sometimes as fidelity, sometimes as passionate desire, according to the ‘right judgement’ of the subject. The virtuous person desires the person whom he may also love, who can and will return his desire, and to whom he may commit himself. In the consummation of such a desire there is neither shame nor humiliation, and the ‘nuptuality’ of the erotic impulse finds the space that it needs in order to flourish.

The most important feature of traditional sexual education is summarized in anthropological language as the ‘ethic of pollution and taboo’. The child was taught to regard his body as sacred, and as subject to pollution by misperception or misuse. The sense of pollution is by no means a trivial side-effect of the ‘bad sexual encounter': it may involve a penetrating disgust, at oneself, one’s body, one’s situation, such as is experienced by the victim of rape. Those sentiments express the tension contained within our experience of embodiment.

At any moment we can become ‘mere body’, the self driven from its incarnation, and its habitation ransacked. The most important root idea of sexual morality is that I am in my body, not as a ‘ghost in the machine’, but as an incarnate self. My body is identical with me: subject and object are merely two aspects of a single thing, and sexual purity is the guarantee of this.

Sexual virtue does not forbid desire: it simply ensures the status of desire as an interpersonal feeling. The child who learns ‘dirty habits’ detaches his sex from himself, sets it outside himself as something curious and alien in the world of objects. His fascinated enslavement to the body is also a withering of desire, a scattering of erotic energy and a loss of union with the other. Sexual virtue sustains the subject of desire, making him present as a self in the very act which overcomes him.

Traditional sexual education also involved a sustained war against fantasy. Fantasy plays an important part in our sexual doings, and even the most passionate and faithful lover may, in the act of love, rehearse to himself other scenes of sexual abandon than the one in which he is engaged. Nevertheless, there is truth in the Freudian contrast between fantasy and reality, and in the belief that the first is in some way destructive of the second. Fantasy replaces the real, resistant, objective world with a pliant substitute – and that, indeed, is its purpose.

Life in the actual world is difficult and embarrassing. Most of all it is difficult and embarrassing in our confrontation with other people who, by their very existence as subjects, rearrange things in defiance of our will. It requires a great force, such as the force of sexual desire, to overcome the self-protection that shields us from intimate encounters. It is tempting to take refuge in substitutes, which neither embarrass us nor resist the impulse of our spontaneous cravings.

The habit grows of creating a compliant world of desire, in which unreal objects become the focus of real emotions, and the emotions themselves are rendered incompetent to participate in the building of personal relations. The fantasy blocks the passage to reality, which becomes inaccessible to the will. In this process the fantasy Other, since he is entirely the instrument of my will, becomes an object for me, one among many substitutes defined purely in terms of a sexual use.

The sexual world of the fantasist is a world without subjects, in which others appear as objects only. And should the fantasy take possession of him so far as to require that another person submit to it, the result is invariably indecent, tending to rape. The words that I quoted from Richard Posner are indecent in just the way that one must expect, when people no longer see the object of desire as a subject, wanted as such.

Sexual morality returns us, then, to the great conundrum around which these chapters have revolved: the conundrum of the subject, and his relation to the world of space and time.


SEX 1 From An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Philosophy — Roger Scruton

April 9, 2014
Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination. That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim's freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain - and it is only what might be called the 'charm of disenchantment' that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.

Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination. That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim’s freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain – and it is only what might be called the ‘charm of disenchantment’ that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.

I read a lot of Roger Scruton, simply because he makes such great sense. Nowhere does the modern liberal philosophy tank  into meaninglessness is over sex related issues, from abortion to womens’ issues to gay marriage, you can’t spend more than 3 minutes with these masters of the universe that a well-reasoned piece by Peter Kreeft or Roger Scruton wouldn’t demolish easily. Read on.


Sex is the sphere in which the animal and the personal meet, and where the clash between the scientific and the personal view of things is felt most keenly. It therefore provides the test of any serious moral philosophy, and of any viable theory of the human world.

Until the late nineteenth century it was almost impossible to discuss sex, except as part of erotic love, and even then convention required that the peculiarities of sexual desire remain unmentioned. When the interdiction was finally lifted – by such writers as Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis – it was through offering a ‘scientific’ approach to a widespread natural phenomenon. Such was the prestige of science that any investigation conducted in its name could call on powerful currents of social approval, which were sufficient to overcome the otherwise crippling reluctance to face the realities of sexual experience.

As a result, modern discussions of this experience have been conducted in a ‘scientized’ idiom which, by its very nature, removes sex from the sphere of interpersonal relations, and remodels it as a relation between objects. Freud’s shocking revelations, introduced as neutral, ‘scientific’ truths about the human condition, were phrased in the terms which are now more or less standard.

According to Freud, the aim of sexual desire is ‘union of the genitals in the act known as copulation, which leads to a release of the sexual tension and a temporary extinction of the sexual instinct – a satisfaction analogous to the sating of hunger’. This scientistic image of sexual desire gave rise, in due course, to the Kinsey report, and is now part of the standard merchandise of disenchantment. It seems to me that it is entirely false, and could become true only by so affecting our sexual emotions, as to change them into emotions of another kind.

What exactly is sexual pleasure? Is it like the pleasure of eating and drinking? Like that of lying in a hot bath? Like that of watching your child at play? Clearly it is both like and unlike all of these. It is unlike the pleasure of eating, in that its object is not consumed. It is unlike the pleasure of the bath, in that it involves taking pleasure in an activity, and in the other person who joins you. It is unlike that of watching your child at play, in involving bodily sensations and a surrender to physical desire.

Sexual pleasure resembles the pleasure of watching something, however, in a crucial respect: it has intentionality. It is not just a tingling sensation; it is a response to another person, and to the act in which you are engaged with him or her. The other person may be imaginary: but it is towards a person that your thoughts are directed, and pleasure depends on thought.

This dependency on thought means that sexual pleasure can be mistaken, and ceases when the mistake is known. Although I would be a fool not to jump out of the soothing bath after being told that what I took for water is really acid, this is not because I have ceased to feel pleasurable sensations in my skin. In the case of sexual pleasure, the discovery that it is an unwanted hand that touches me at once extinguishes my pleasure. The pleasure could not be taken as confirming the hitherto unacknowledged sexual virtues of some previously rejected person.

A woman who makes love to the man who has disguised himself as her husband is no less the victim of rape, and the discovery of her mistake can lead to suicide. It is not simply that consent obtained by fraud is not consent; it is that the woman has been violated, in the very act which caused her pleasure.

What makes a pleasure into a sexual pleasure is the context of arousal. And arousal is not the same as tumescence. It is a leaning towards’ the other, a movement in the direction of the sexual act, which cannot be separated, either from the thoughts on which it is founded, or from the desire to which it leads. Arousal is a response to the thought of the other as a self-conscious agent, who is alert to me, and who is able to have ‘designs’ on me. This is evident from the caress and the glance of desire.

A caress of affection is a gesture of reassurance – an attempt to place in the consciousness of the other an image of one’s own tender concern for him. Not so, however, the caress of desire, which outlines the body of the recipient; its gentleness is not that of reassurance only, but that of exploration. It aims to fill the surface of the other’s body with a consciousness of your interest – interest, not only in the body, but in the person as embodied. This consciousness is the focal point of the other’s pleasure. Sartre writes (Being and Nothingness) of the caress as ‘incarnating’ the other: as though, by your action, you bring the soul into the flesh (the subject into the object) and make it palpable.

The caress is given and received with the same awareness as the glance is given and received. They each have an epistemic component (a component of anticipation and discovery). It is hardly surprising, given this, that the face should have such supreme and overriding importance in the transactions of sexual desire. On the scientistic view of sex it is hard to explain why this should be so – why the face should have the power to determine whether we will, or will not, be drawn to seek pleasure in another part.

But of course, the face is the picture of the other’s subjectivity: it shines with the light of self, and it is as an embodied subject that the other is wanted. Perversion and obscenity involve the eclipse of the subject, as the body and its mechanism are placed in frontal view. In obscenity flesh becomes opaque to the self which lives in it: that is why there is an obscenity of violence as well as an obscenity of sex.

A caress may be either accepted or rejected: in either case, it is because it has been ‘read’ as conveying a message sent from you to me. I do not receive this message as an explicit act of meaning something, but as a process of mutual discovery, a growing to awareness in you which is also a coming to awareness in me. In the first impulse of arousal, therefore, there is the beginning of that chain of reciprocity which is fundamental to interpersonal attitudes. She conceives her lover conceiving her conceiving him … not ad infinitum, but to the point of mutual recognition of the other, as fully present in his body.

Sexual arousal has, then, an epistemic and interpersonal intentionality. It is a response to another individual, based in revelation and discovery, and involving a reciprocal and co-operative heightening of the common experience of embodiment. It is not directed beyond the other, to the world at large; nor is it transferable to a rival object who might ‘do just as well’. Of course, arousal may have its origin in highly generalized thoughts, which flit libidinously from object to object.

But when these thoughts have concentrated into the experience of arousal their generality is put aside; it is then the other who counts, and his particular embodiment. Not only the other, but I myself, and the sense of my bodily reality in the other’s perspective. Hence arousal, in the normal case, seeks seclusion in a private place, where only the other is relevant to my attention. Indeed, arousal attempts to abolish what is not private – in particular to abolish the perspective of the onlooker, of the ‘third person’ who is neither you nor I.

I explored some of the ways in which the subject is realized in the world of objects, and placed great emphasis on intention, and the distinction between predicting and deciding for the future. But it should not be supposed that the subject is revealed only through voluntary activity.

On the contrary, of equal importance are those reactions which cannot be willed but only predicted, but which are nevertheless peculiar to self-conscious beings. Blushing is a singular instance. Although an involuntary matter, and – from the physiological point of view – a mere rushing of blood to the head, blushing is the expression of a complex thought, and one that places the self on view. My blush is an involuntary recognition of my accountability before you for what I am and what I feel. It is an acknowledgement that I stand in the light of your perspective, and that I cannot hide in my body. A blush is attractive because it serves both to embody the perspective of the other, and also at the same time to display that perspective as responsive to me.

The same is true of unguarded glances and smiles, through which the other subject rises to the surface of his body and makes himself visible. In smiling, blushing, laughing and crying, it is precisely my loss of control over my body, and its gain of control over me, that create the immediate experience of an incarnate person. The body ceases at these moments to be an instrument, and reasserts its natural rights as a person. In such expressions the face does not function merely as a bodily part, but as the whole person: the self is spread across its surface, and there ‘made flesh’.

The concepts and categories that we use to describe the embodied person are far removed from the science of the human body. What place in such a science for smiles as opposed to grimaces, for blushes as opposed to flushes, for glances as opposed to looks? In describing your color as a blush, I am seeing you as a responsible agent, and situating you in the realm of embarrassment and self-knowledge. If we try to describe sexual desire with the categories of human biology, we miss precisely the intentionality of sexual emotion, its directedness towards the embodied subject.

The caricature that results describes not desire but perversion. Freud’s description of desire is the description of something that we know and shun – or ought to shun. An excitement which concentrates on the sexual organs, whether of man or of woman, which seeks, as it were, to bypass the complex negotiation of the face, hands, voice and posture, is perverted. It voids desire of its intentionality, and replaces it with a pursuit of the sexual commodity, which can always be had for a price.

It is part of the intentionality of desire that a particular person is conceived as its object. To someone agitated by his desire for Jane, it is ridiculous to say, ‘Take Henrietta, she will do just as well.’ Thus there arises the possibility of mistakes of identity. Jacob’s desire for Rachel seemed to be satisfied by his night with Leah, only to the extent that, and for as long as, Jacob imagined it was Rachel with whom he was lying. (Genesis 29, v. 22-25; and see the wonderful realization of this little drama in Thomas Mann’s Joseph and his Brothers.)

Our sexual emotions are founded on individualizing thoughts: it is you whom I want and no other. This individualizing intentionality does not merely stem from the fact that it is persons (in other words, individuals) whom we desire. It stems from the fact that the other is desired as an embodied subject, and not just as a body. You can see the point by drawing a contrast between desire and hunger (a contrast that is expressly negated by Freud). Suppose that people were the only edible things; and suppose that they felt no pain on being eaten and were reconstituted at once.

How many formalities and apologies would now be required in the satisfaction of hunger! People would learn to conceal their appetite, and learn not to presume upon the consent of those whom they surveyed with famished glances. It would become a crime to partake of a meal without the meal’s consent. Maybe marriage would be the best solution.

Still, this predicament is nothing like the predicament in which we are placed by desire. It arises from the lack of anything impersonal to eat, but not from the nature of hunger. Hunger is directed towards the other only as object, and any similar object will serve just as well. It does not individualize the object, or propose any other union than that required by need.

When sexual attentions take such a form, they become deeply insulting. And in every form they compromise not only the person who addresses them, but also the person addressed. Precisely because desire proposes a relation between subjects, it forces both parties to account for themselves. Unwanted advances are therefore also forbidden by the one to whom they might be addressed, and any transgression is felt as a contamination.

That is why rape is so serious a crime: it is an invasion of the sanctuary which harbors the victim’s freedom, and a dragging of the subject into the world of things. If you describe desire in the scientistic terms used by Freud and his followers, the outrage and pollution of rape become impossible to explain. In fact, just about everything in human sexual behavior becomes impossible to explain – and it is only what might be called the ‘charm of disenchantment’ that leads people to receive these daft descriptions as the truth.


Blessed Are the Poor — Anthony Esolen

March 7, 2014
As the great Karl Adam says, "Jesus loves the poor not simply because they are poor but because spiritually they are more capable than the rich of hearkening to the message of the coming kingdom, of hungering and thirsting after justice."

As the great Karl Adam says, “Jesus loves the poor not simply because they are poor but because spiritually they are more capable than the rich of hearkening to the message of the coming kingdom, of hungering and thirsting after justice.”

Jesus, strong in stature, His constitution toughened by years of the hard physical labor of His trade, and by His hale attraction to long walks, mountains, and the wilderness, climbed a hillside so that the crowds of people could hear Him. Among them were men, women, and children, the old and the young, the healthy and the sick, people who knew they were sinners, and people who didn’t. And Jesus, in a voice that must have made the hillside ring, uttered words unlike any that men had heard before: “Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God!” (Luke 6:20).

I’d be a liar if I said I know what those words mean. We could spend the rest of our lives, I think, meditating upon this first and most fundamental of the Beatitudes and never come to an end of drinking of its wisdom.

That is, if we want to drink of its wisdom. The noblest of the pagans would have shrunk from it. Aristotle, a practical philosopher if ever there was one, held that to be really happy a man needed some wealth, not so much for comfort as for the pleasure of being generous with it. You can’t be a great benefactor to your city unless you have some means.

What he would have said about the poor widow whom Jesus praised, who gave her small coins to the Temple, and who therefore “cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury” (Mark 12:43), I am not sure. He probably would have praised her too — but to call her “blessed,” that might have required a stretch of the imagination. Or more, infinitely more. It might have required the lifting of his human mind and heart to a new reality — as a sapling transplanted into another and brighter world.

But what do those words mean? Jesus was not sent among us to be a social worker, armed with a sheaf of strategies for eliminating poverty from the world. Indeed, He seems to suggest that that will never happen. “The poor always ye have with you” (John 12:8), says He. But that does not mean He is indifferent to the poor. Nothing could be further from the truth. He goes out to meet them. He feels deep pity for them. He inveighs against those who abuse them from their positions of prestige and wealth.

It is not hard to see Jesus’ preference for the company of sinners as also a preference for the poor. For who could be poorer, or more miserable, than the tax collector in His parable? The Pharisee strides with insouciance to the foremost reaches of the Temple, where he contemplates the riches that God has showered upon him. He does not know it, but he is essentially falling down in adoration before man’s favorite idol — himself.

“God, I thank thee,” he says, “that I am not as other men are” (Luke 18:11), for instance like the tax collector he noticed as he passed him by. And this Pharisee goes on to mark off, as a man taking inventory of his precious goods, all the righteous deeds he performs, as, for instance, giving to the United Way, and suchlike. Meanwhile the tax collector, “standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13).

Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God. Come with me to a prison cell. The most brilliant scholar of his day there sits at his desk, writing. He has been charged by his enemies with treason. It is essentially a political assassination. He is awaiting an unjust death, and, ever since the half-barbarian Goths came to be the overlords in the western empire, executions are horrible and cruel.

Perhaps he knew what sort of death he would die, from having watched others. One account has it thus. His enemies soaked a leather thong in heated vinegar, to stretch it. Then they bound the man hand and foot, and tied the thong around his forehead. The thong would take a day or two to shrink, slowly, agonizingly, resuming its original size, crushing the bones and penetrating the brain.

So the man, Boethius by name, is writing. He pretends in his own person to be moaning the treachery of Fortune, who once blessed him with honor and now has taken everything away. But in the midst of his sorrow he is visited by a figure of surpassing splendor. It is Lady Philosophy. She will lead him back to the threshold of his true dwelling place.

She does not say that the things that men pursue, such as wealth, fame, honor, power, and pleasure, are bad in themselves, but that they are only partial goods and that anyone who seeks them alone or even in combination with one another both gives himself over to the whims of Fortune and misses the true and unchangeable good he really seeks.

This is especially true of the wicked: for instance, those liars and power-grabbers who have conspired against this just man’s life. “Consider how terrible is the weakness of wicked men!” she exclaims. They fail not merely in the quest for some earthly good, but in the quest for the greatest good of all, for the fulfillment of their beings as creatures who are made to love the good and the true. Consider, she says, that if God denies the wicked His mercy, He may allow them to continue in their ways, rich in the things of the world, and utterly destitute. For happiness, says Lady Philosophy, is not something that man can scramble up on his own, in measurable amounts. It combines in itself the goodness of all good things. It can be found only in God. Indeed, it is itself God.

What God gives, no man can take away. We can only refuse the gift. So Boethius, with his whole life snatched from him, awaited his execution filled with riches. He had been reduced to a poor prisoner in a cell. His enemies gloated. Yet just because he had the Lord, he had everything. As Saint Paul says, “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If the people of the nearby countryside are worthy of trust, Boethius died in a state of grace. They revered him as Saint Severinus, after one of his Roman names. His bones are honored in a tomb in the cathedral at Pavia, in northern Italy, where rest also the bones of Saint Augustine. His bones rest there, but his soul sings in Paradise.

Blessed are the poor, says Jesus, for theirs is the kingdom of God, and I look about my own home and say, “How can this be?” For I have worked hard to provide my family with good things — a comfortable and attractive home, and a cottage far away for vacations in the summer. And I look at the alumni whom my school — a genuinely Catholic school — most pointedly celebrates, and they are not housewives and plumbers and carpenters and janitors and kindergarten teachers, but those who have made a “success” of themselves in the world of business or medicine or, Lord help us, politics. Those are the stories we like to hear. We especially like to hear them about ourselves.

There is the danger. In one sense it does not matter how much we have in our bank accounts. Jesus did not come to preach the evil of personal property. That would be the companion error to believing that our salvation comes from property. “Except ye be converted,” says Jesus, “and become as little children, ye shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). There is nothing in all the sagas and chronicles of the ancient pagan world that prepares us for such a saying; the closest, perhaps, is the sight of the aged and blind Oedipus, humbled by unspeakable suffering, led by the hand by a young girl, his loyal daughter Antigone. What can Jesus mean by it?

A little child has nothing of his own, but receives everything as a gift. This we can do whether we own a yacht and enjoy sailing it on the high seas, or whether all we can do is tie an old tire to a tree for our children to swing on. Is this what He means by the blessing of poverty? That we heed the word of Saint Paul, and buy, as though we “possessed not” (1 Corinthians 7:30)? Is this the whole of it, that we do not set our hearts on such things, as if we were their masters? Perhaps.

And yet there is the danger. “He hath filled the hungry with good things,” says Mary, dwelling with joy upon the wonderful thing God has done for her, “and the rich he hath sent empty away” (Luke 1:53). The danger is that the things will stuff us full, and we will not be hungry for what really satisfies. The danger is that the things will be heaped so high that we will not see the vast homeland beyond. The danger is that the things will so distract us with their racket that we will not hear the still small voice that fairly broke the heart of the prophet Elijah.

But maybe there is more. Maybe I underestimate the very blessings of poverty. Let us engage in no sentimentality here. A life of poverty is not easy. It strikes fear into the heart of fallen man, as does the approach of the ultimate destitution, the thing we all fear. Says Dante, speaking of the young Saint Francis:

Still a lad,
Against his father he swept off to war
to win his lady love: and such was she,
no one for her unfastens pleasure’s door,
As not for death.

Francis’s father accused the boy of stealing money from the family till, to buy mortar to repair the local churches. Before the bishop and the town elders, in the public square of Assisi, he threatened to disown his son, but before he could do that, Francis disowned him instead, stripping off his clothing and tossing it back to him. That was his wedding embrace of the lady in whose honor he sang, Lady Poverty. Others fear her as they fear death, but, as Dante puts it with almost terrifying power, that Lady

was constant and so fierce
that when his mother Mary stood below,
she alone wept with Christ upon the Cross.

The world tells stories of people who work hard and go from rags to riches. It also tells stories of people who through their own folly or wickedness go from riches to rags. But Christians tell stories of those who through poverty — and often the material poverty we seek to eliminate — reap untold riches. This is not because we scorn the good things of the world, but because we seek what is above. Saint Francis himself, as that poor man of God, would fall in love all the more joyously with the beauty of the earth, even preaching to the birds.

This is hard for us to understand. A secular person might say, “Yes, I see what you mean. You are advocating a simple life, like the one that Thoreau lived when he retreated to Walden Pond. Then he could appreciate the beauties of nature, and not be encumbered by the cares of the world.” No, that is not it at all. Thoreau was animated less by love than by disdain. Sure, he was in a better position to love the natural world while living in a hut by the side of a lake than while living in town. But the joy of Saint Francis is missing.

That is because Thoreau’s self-imposed poverty was a protest against the way his fellows lived. Saint Francis, in his poverty, did not betake himself to the woods to escape the evils of Assisi. He preached in that town he loved, by his way of life. He was so obviously enraptured by his bride, Lady Poverty, that he attracted others to him, and soon there was a community, one whose spirituality would breathe in the art and poetry and song and life of the Christian West for hundreds of years. Thoreau died with a grumble; Francis, with a hymn.

Perhaps it takes a Christian artist who himself knew the pangs of hunger and the embarrassment of debt to help us to understand. The novelist Leon Bloy was a poor man with a family. He wrote fiery satires against the self-satisfied rich in France at the turn of the twentieth century and how they subjected the poor to indignity, squalor, thievery, and contempt. But in his novel The Woman Who Was Poor, we see the noble heroine Clotilde, after she has lost her infant son to disease, and after her beloved husband has laid down his life while saving others from a conflagration, give up everything and live as a beggar in the streets of Paris.

She has known great suffering. Her mother tried to sell her off to prostitution. Her mother’s bedmate was a filthy sot who once tried to rape her, with her mother’s tacit consent. When her child died, an evil and debauched woman neighbor spread the rumor that Clotilde and her husband had smothered him. And yet she has the riches of Jesus. Has she been unhappy?

Her final words are simply these: “There is in the end only one unhappiness: not to have been one of the saints.”

As the great Karl Adam says, “Jesus loves the poor not simply because they are poor but because spiritually they are more capable than the rich of hearkening to the message of the coming kingdom, of hungering and thirsting after justice.” I imagine a palace atop a steep mountain. There is a legend that within that palace is unending and unquenchable joy. Every so often, a strain of music can be heard from it, but it is soon drowned out by the bustle in the plains below. Every so often, a radiance can be seen from its turrets, like the northern lights, but it is soon smothered by the glare of the shops and streetlights below.

In the city of the plains, people bustle. You can read about them in the newspapers. Their stories sell. Their bodies sell, too, and sometimes the buyers won’t have the story without a picture of the body. There is also a vast mart called an exchange, where people, jittery, breathless, hunted, suspicious, buy and sell stocks. Much of the bustle in this city on the plain is devoted to the elaboration of emptiness. You can buy emptiness in bright boxes. You can wear it on your shoulders. You can erect monuments to it. You can consume it, and in more than one way.

Now I imagine a young man at the base of the mountain. He has heard a distant echo of the strains of joy coming from the palace. He sees the steep narrow path that leads to the palace gates. It is called, by the city folk, the Eye of the Needle. They tell terrible stories about people losing everything who venture on that road — prestige, money, power, pleasure, and other objects of ultimate importance. All at once he sees a stranger before him. The stranger looks upon him with love. He says, “Come, let us go up to the altar of God.”

Now, the young man has a camel with him. The camel is heaped up with boxes. One box is full of diplomas, from the University of the World, Mammon Polytechnical, and Self-Lifting High. The young man is proud of them. He plans to use them to do good things. There is another bundle tied up with a rope. In it are pillows and blankets and sheets he has bought from an exchange called Astarte’s Secret. The young man is taking them along, just in case. He isn’t a dissipated fellow, not one to find himself ever feeding pods to swine, but he isn’t a Puritan either. It is important to be prepared — that is what he has learned as a scout.

Then there’s a contraption with iron weights, for making his body handsome and strong, and a keg of beer, for doing the opposite. Medals, mirrors, letters from girls, pictures of himself, memories of victory, all heaped up on the camel, for the great adventure of life. This adventure, for most, means meandering about the plain, looking into the shops, dragging camels along, trying to keep the boxes from falling over, until the play is over.

“Come with me,” says the stranger, smiling. And the youth replies, “I want to — I do. But what do I do with all my things?”

“You will lose nothing true. You may lose much that is untrue. We in the palace do not trade a genuine pleasure for a genuine pleasure. We cast away shadows and give what has substance. You can only gain. Aren’t you hungry for it? Don’t you thirst for it?”

“But what am I to do with my honors from the University of the World? I know I’m not the most important person alive, but I did think I would do something with myself. That was my plan, at least.”

“Anything of truth you have learned there,” replies the stranger, “you will not only retain, but you will find bearing fruit a hundredfold. But the chaff will be blown away. You must forget about honors. Think of your hunger instead. Think of joy.”

“Maybe I can try to climb the pathway with my camel?”

“You may try, but you will fail. The poor beast cannot make it. This is not a path one climbs by being weighty and great. It is a path one climbs by being light and little. Take the boxes off the camel’s back, and then lead him too, if you love him.”

“I don’t know… Can I think about it?”

“That isn’t true, is it? You don’t want to think about it. You want to think about something else instead. Come, isn’t that so? Here, turn that noisebox off for a moment — I have a melody to give you. Or take down that neon light. I have a sunrise to give you.”

“Why,” says the young man, “you are a trickster! You don’t want me to have less. You want me to have even more. You want to give me things. Why should I exchange these things for those things?”

“Because my gifts are true, and you know it. Please now, let’s take these boxes and bundles off the poor camel. May I?”

What shall we do? Shall we let Him unload the stuff? He is waiting to give us all good things, if He can but find the room for them in our hearts. Why, He is waiting to give us Himself, if we would only come to Him as children. Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of God.


Truthfulness 2 – Fr. Romano Guardini

February 28, 2014
Our lives must testify to the fact that truth is the basis of everything: of the relation of man to man, of man to himself, of the individual to the community, and above all, of man to God -- no, of God to us.

Our lives must testify to the fact that truth is the basis of everything: of the relation of man to man, of man to himself, of the individual to the community, and above all, of man to God — no, of God to us.

Truthfulness is not one of the Cardinal Virtues for, if you have been reading the previous post you will have seen that it depends upon a harmony where other elements of the good penetrate and affect for it to emerge in a living truthfulness. We may live our lives slowly emerging into that living truthfulness. I feel as though I have, working my way through a gooey cocoon, constantly trying to fight my way free of this world. At least I hope I have.

“Love obeys only (God) (and this is Justice)” wrote St. Augustine (De moribus eccl. 1, 25, 46: PL 32, 1330-1331). That is our link to the Cardinal Virtues which Benedict wrote about two posts earlier.


All relations of men with each other, the whole life of the community, depend on faithfulness to truth.

Man is a mysterious being. If someone stands before me, I see his exterior appearance, hear his voice, grasp his hand; but what is going on within him is hidden from me. The more real and vital it is, the more deeply it is buried. So there arises the disturbing fact that the association of persons with each other — and that means the greater part of life — is a relation which moves from one mystery to another. What forms the bridge? The facial expression and gestures, the bearing and actions, but, above all, the word. Through the word, man communicates with man. The more reliable the word, the more secure and fruitful the communication is.

Moreover, human relationships are of varying depth and significance. The gradation passes from mere getting along with one another and man’s simple needs, to the life of the soul, to the workings of the mind, the question of responsibility, and the relation of person to person.

The way leads ever deeper, into the special, individual, profoundly personal, into the range of freedom where our calculations fail. So the truth of the word becomes ever more important. This is applicable to every kind of relationship — above all to those upon which life in the proper sense depends: friendship, collaboration, love, marriage, and the family. Associations that are to endure, to grow, and to become fruitful must become ever more pure in the truthfulness of each toward the other; if not, they will disintegrate. Every falsehood destroys the community.

But the mystery goes deeper. It does not consist merely in the fact that every communication passes from the hidden depths of one person to those of another, but everyone also communicates with himself. Here man, so to speak, separates into two beings and confronts himself. I consider myself, test and judge myself, and decide about myself. Then this duality again unites into the single self and thereafter bears within itself the results of this encounter. This is constantly happening in the process of the interior life. It is the way in which it is accomplished.

But what if I am not truthful in dealing with myself? What if I deceive myself, pretend? And do we not do this constantly? Is not the man who is always “in the right” most perilously “in the wrong”? Does not the man in whose opinion others are always at fault constantly disregard his own fault? Is not the one who always gets his way living in a tragic delusion, unaware how foolish, conceited, narrow, and brutal he is and what harm he is doing? If I wish to associate properly with myself and so with others, I must not disregard my own reality, must not deceive myself, but must be true in dealing with myself. But how difficult that is, and how deplorable our state if we honestly examine ourselves!

Truth gives man firmness and stability. He has need of these, for life is not only a friend, but also an enemy. Everywhere interests oppose each other. Constantly we meet touchiness, envy, jealousy, and hatred. The very differences of disposition and point of view cause complications. Even the simple fact that there is “the other,” for whom I am in turn “the other” is a root of conflict.

How shall I manage? By defending myself, of course. Life is in many respects a battle, and in this battle, falsehood and deceit might sometimes seem useful. But what on the whole gives us firmness and strength are truth, honesty, and reliability. These qualities bring about enduring results: respect and confidence.

This is also true in regard to that great power which penetrates the whole of man’s life and which is called “the state.” It is no accident that whenever the state, whose basic principles should be liberty and justice, becomes a tyranny, lying and falsehood grow proportionately. Even more, truth is deprived of its value; it ceases to be the norm and is replaced by success.

Why? Because it is through truth that the spirit of man is constantly confirmed in its natural rights, and the person is reassured of his dignity and freedom. When a person says, “It is so,” and this statement has weight in public because truth is honored, then he is protected against the force inherent in every government. But if the government succeeds in depriving truth of its value, then the individual is helpless.

The most hideous manifestation of tyranny occurs when a man’s conscience and consciousness of truth are broken, so that he is no longer able to say, “This is so … this is not so.” Those who bring this about — in political and judicial affairs, or elsewhere — should realize clearly what they are doing: they are depriving man of his humanity. This realization would crush and destroy them.

Truth is also the means by which man becomes stable and attains character. This is determined by the fact that a man’s nature has taken on that firmness which is expressed by these statements: “What is, is. What is right, must be done. What has been entrusted to me, I uphold.” In the measure in which this comes about, man gains stability and self-reliance.

But is this not self-evident? Does not everyone possess stability by the mere fact that he is himself — as every animal is itself; the swallow, a swallow and the fox, a fox?

Here we must not be careless in our thinking, for much depends upon exactness in these matters. Why does an animal make so strong an impression of stability, of being at one with itself? This is so because it is “nature,” a living being without a personal soul. The “spiritual” element within it — order, meaningful being, and behavior — is the spirit of the Creator, not its own.

But man possesses a spiritual soul, a free and rational personality. Through this he is worlds above the animal, but for this very reason, he lacks the animal’s natural stability and unity. He is endangered by his own spirit, which constantly tries to overstep its own nature and to become self-determined, and thereby also to question and deceive itself.

If we add to this all that Faith tells us about the disorder caused by Original Sin and all that followed, then we see that man is a being endangered by his very origin and that he must constantly resist the evil possibilities within himself. From this point of view, man “is” not simply himself, his true self, but he is on the way toward it and seeking it. And when he acts rightly, he “becomes” himself.

How important it is, then, to ask what is the way in which a true selfhood comes into being, in the profoundest depths of existence, beyond all tensions and disturbances. The answer – above all answers that could be given — is this: it comes from the will to truth. In every true thought and word and deed, the interior center, the true self, is confirmed, imperceptibly but really.

How dangerous it is when man is deceived about his own nature, in speech, in literature, and in pictures. Often we say to ourselves in terror: “That which science, literature, politics, newspapers, and films call man is not really man at all. It is an illusion or an assertion for some ulterior motive, or a weapon, or simply thoughtlessness.”

Our considerations have advanced far. We said in our first reflection that every virtue involves the whole man. This has been confirmed again. Indeed the virtue extends far beyond man, to God.

Let us just think deeply about this: if I say, “Two and two are four,” I know that it is wholly four and only four and always four. I know that this is correct and there will never be a moment when it is not correct, unless certain but definite conditions of higher mathematics are involved. What brings about this certainty that cannot be anything but what it is? What is the reason, beyond these simple relations of sense objects, why every true knowledge at the moment of its flashing upon us brings with it the certainty that it is so? Of course I can err if I have not observed carefully enough or thought clearly enough. That can happen, and it happens every day. But when I really know, then I say, “It is so.”

What brings about this strange certainty of the mind depending on nothing tangible? It can only be something that comes from God. Something that does not come from man himself here enters into human action and experience. It is a power, not of compulsive force, but of the reason appealing to us and bearing witness of itself; a power of the mind which brings about that firmness in man which we call “conviction.”

Plato built his whole philosophy upon this basic experience. He called this power a “light”; the highest, indeed, the real light, that comes from the true sun. This sun is God, whom, as we mentioned before, Plato calls the Agathon, “the Good.” St. Augustine, relying upon St. John, introduced this idea into Christian thought, where it became eternally fruitful.

In the last analysis, what is truth really? It is the way in which God is God and knows Himself, is knowing, and in His knowledge bears Himself. Truth is the indestructible and untouchable solidity with which God, by knowing, is based upon Himself. From Him truth moves into the world and gives it solidity. Truth penetrates all being and gives it its nature; its light shines into the human mind and gives it that brightness which we call “knowledge.”

This is a valid conclusion: He who holds to the truth holds to God. He who lies rebels against God and betrays the rational basis of existence.

In this world, the truth is weak. A trifle suffices to hide it. The stupidest persons can attack it. But someday the time will come when things will change. God will bring it about that truth will be as powerful as it is true; and this will be the judgment.

Judgment means that the possibility of lying ceases because omnipotent truth penetrates every mind, illumines every word, and rules in every place. Then falsehood will be revealed as what it is. However expedient, clever, or elegant it may have been, it will he exposed as an illusion, as a nonentity.

We should let these thoughts occupy our minds, our understanding, and our hearts. Then we shall perhaps sense what truth is, its steadfastness, its calm radiance, and its nobility. Then we will enter into union with it, through all that is most intimate and loyal within us. We will accept responsibility for the truth and expend our efforts in its behalf.

All this will suffer opposition and trials, because we are human. But our lives must testify to the fact that truth is the basis of everything: of the relation of man to man, of man to himself, of the individual to the community, and above all, of man to God no, of God to us.


Truthfulness 1 – Fr. Romano Guardini

February 27, 2014
Fr. Romano Guardini in 1920

Fr. Romano Guardini in 1920

Romano Guardini (17 February 1885, Verona – 1 October 1968, Munich) was a Catholic priest, author, and academic. He was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century. In 1923 he was appointed to a chair in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Berlin. In the 1935 essay “Der Heiland” (The Saviour) he criticized Nazi mythologizing of the person of Jesus and emphasized the Jewishness of Jesus. The Nazis forced him to resign from his Berlin position in 1939. From 1943 to 1945 he retired to Mooshausen, where his friend Josef Weiger had been parish priest since 1917. In 1945 Guardini was appointed professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Tübingen and resumed lecturing on the Philosophy of Religion. In 1948, he became professor at the University of Munich, where he remained until retiring for health reasons in 1962.

As a philosopher he founded no “school”, but his intellectual disciples could in some sense be said to include Josef Pieper, Luigi Giussani, Felix Messerschmid, Heinrich Getzeny, Rudolf Schwarz, Jean Gebser, Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis). In the 1980s Pope Francis began work on a doctoral dissertation on Guardini, though the decision to take a doctorate was later abandoned for other reasons. Even Hannah Arendt and Iring Fetscher were favorably impressed by his work.

He had a strong influence in Central Europe; in Slovenia, for example, an influential group of Christian socialists, among whom Edvard Kocbek, Pino Mlakar, Vekoslav Grmič and Boris Pahor, incorporated Guardini’s views in their agenda. Slovak philosopher and theologian Ladislav Hanus was strongly influenced in his works by Guardini, whom he met personally, and promoted his ideas in Slovakia.


A virtue which has suffered great damage in our day is truthfulness, which, taken in its widest interpretation, includes also the love of truth, and the will that truth should be recognized and accepted.

First, truthfulness means that the speaker should say what is so, as he sees and understands it, and that he should express what is in his mind. Under certain circumstances, this may be difficult, and may even cause annoyance, harm, and danger.

But our conscience reminds us that truth is an obligation, that it is something absolute and sublime. It is not something of which we may say, “You may tell it if it is convenient for you or serves some purpose,” but, “When you speak, you must tell the truth, not abbreviate it or change it. You must tell it absolutely, simply — unless the situation urges you to be silent or you can evade a question in a decent and proper way.”

But apart from this, our whole existence depends upon truth. We shall say more about this later. The relations of people to each other, social institutions, and government — all that we call civilization and man’s work in its countless forms — depend on a respect for truth.

Truthfulness means, then, that man has the instinctive feeling that the truth must be told, absolutely. Of course — we must emphasize this point again — this obligation is based upon the assumption that the questioner has the right to be informed. If he does not, then it becomes the task of experience and prudence to find the proper way of avoiding an answer. [Think of the Nazi SS asking “Are you harboring a Jew?]

We must also note that in regard to truthfulness in daily life, it makes a difference if one possesses interior certainty in regard to the various situations, and also if one is a master of the language and quick to define and distinguish. This is a matter of ethical culture with which education should deal. Many a lie arises from shyness and embarrassment, and also from insufficient mastery of the language.

Special problems arise from circumstances such as we have known in the past and still meet today, when a totalitarian tyranny places all under compulsion and permits no personal convictions. Then man is perpetually on the defensive. Those who exercise violence have no right to demand the truth, and they know that they cannot expect it.

Violence causes speech to lose its meaning. It becomes a means of self-protection for the one who is violated, unless the situation is such that it demands a testimony by which the speaker risks property and life. To determine this is the affair of conscience, and he who lives in secure freedom may well consider whether he has a right to pass judgment in such a case.

At any rate, truthfulness means that one tells the truth, not only once but again and again, so that it becomes a habit. It brings to the whole man, his being and his action, something clear and firm.

And one should not only speak the truth but should do it, for one can lie also through actions, attitudes, and gestures, if these seem to express something which is not so.

But truthfulness is something more. We have already spoken of the fact that virtue is never isolated. Surely we have already observed that nature does not know the absolutely “pure” tone, that there are always overtones and undertones forming a chord. A pure color also does not occur, but only a mixture of colors. Similarly, “bare” truthfulness cannot exist. It would be hard and unjust. What exists is living truthfulness, which other elements of the good penetrate and affect.

There are persons who are truthful by nature. They are too orderly to be able to lie, too much in harmony with themselves — sometimes we may even say too proud to lie. This is a splendid thing in itself. But such a person is often in danger of saying things at the wrong time, of offending or hurting others. A truth that is spoken at the wrong moment or in a wrong way may so confuse a person that he has difficulty in getting his bearings again. That would not be a living truthfulness but a one-sided one, damaging and destructive.

Of course, there are moments when one must not look to the right or left, but state the plain truth. But, as a rule, it holds good that we are in the context of existence, and here consideration for the other person is as important as truth-telling. Therefore truth-telling, in order to attain its full human value, must be accompanied by tact and kindness.

Truth is not spoken into a vacuum but to another person; therefore the speaker must try to understand what its effect will be. St. Paul makes a statement whose full meaning is untranslatable: he says that those whom he is addressing, the Christians of Ephesus, should aletheuein en agape. Here the noun aletheia is turned into a verb: “to speak, to do, to be truth,” but “in love.” [Ephesians 4:15] In order that truth may come to life, love must accompany it.

On the other hand, there are persons in whom this feeling for others is very strongly developed. They perceive immediately how they feel; understand their nature and situation; are aware of their needs, apprehensions, and troubles; and consequently are in danger of giving in to the influence of these conditions. Then they not only show consideration, but adapt themselves; they weaken the truth or overemphasize it, indicate a parity of opinion or meaning where it really does not exist. Indeed, the influence can predispose their own way of thinking, so that not only external independence of speech and action is lost, but even the interior independence of judgment.

Here, too, the living quality of truth is endangered, for it includes the liberty of spirit to see what is true, the determination of responsibility which upholds its judgment even in the face of sympathy and helpfulness, and the strength of personality which understands that its own dignity stands or falls with its loyalty to truth.

So we have two elements which must accompany the desire for truth if the complete virtue is to develop: consideration for the person addressed and courage when truth-telling becomes difficult.

Other things are also necessary. For instance, one needs experience of life and an understanding of its ways. He who sees life too simply thinks that he is telling the truth when he may actually be doing violence to it. He may say of another, “He is a coward!” Actually, the other man does not have the forthrightness of one who is sure of himself; he is timid and uncertain and does not dare to act. The judgment seems correct, but the one who pronounces it lacks knowledge of life, or he would have understood the signs of inhibition in the other person.

Again, one may judge that another is bold, whereas he is really shy and is trying to overcome his interior inhibitions.

We might add many other examples. They would lead us to see that living truth claims and requires the whole man. A friend of mine once remarked in conversation, “Truthfulness is the most subtle of all virtues. But there are persons who handle it like a club.”


Down Syndrome 3: A Short History — Andrew Solomon

September 27, 2013
Never has the selection of a homecoming queen sent so many tears falling so freely. Kristin Pass, an 18-year-old senior with Down syndrome, became Aledo High School’s homecoming queen Friday to a joyous standing ovation and the flutter of a thousand tissues on a remarkable night for an amazing young woman.

Never has the selection of a homecoming queen sent so many tears falling so freely. Kristin Pass, an 18-year-old senior with Down syndrome, became Aledo High School’s homecoming queen Friday to a joyous standing ovation and the flutter of a thousand tissues on a remarkable night for an amazing young woman.

For most of recorded history, DS has not been compared to a holiday among windmills and tulips. The idea that “idiots” were amenable to amelioration originated with Jean Marc Gaspard Itard’s attempt to educate the  Wild Boy of Aveyron in the early nineteenth century. His theories were then developed by his pupil Edouard Seguin, director of the Hospice des Incurables in Paris, who structured a system for assessing the intellectually disabled and was the first to recognize the merits of early treatment. “If the idiot cannot be reached by the first lessons of infancy,” he wrote, “by what mysterious process will years open for him the golden doors of intelligence?” Seguin emigrated to the t ‘tined States in the middle of the nineteenth century and established institutions for the care and education of the disabled, whom he enabled to participate in civic life, often through manual labor.

Yet even as Seguin was bringing about such transformation, others argued that the cognitively disabled were not merely stupid, but evil and corrupt. The language of accusing rectitude is reminiscent of the Imaginationist argument that women who bore dwarfs did so because of their lascivious nature: deformity and disability were interpreted as evidence of failure. Samuel G. Howe’s 1848 Report Made to the Legislature of Massachusetts articulates this pre-eugenic dehumanizing vision: “This class of persons is always a burden upon the public. Persons of this class are idle and often mischievous, and are dead weights upon the material prosperity of the state. They are even worse than useless. Every such person is like a Upas tree that poisons the whole moral atmosphere about him.”

The first person to describe Down syndrome was John Langdon Down, in 1866. He referred to his subjects as Mongoloids or Mongoloid on the basis that their faces, with slightly slanted eyes, resembled those of people from Mongolia. Down proposed that human evolution had gone from black people to Asians to white people, and that white people born with Mongolism were actually a throwback to their primitive Asian antecedents — a position then considered rather progressive insofar as it acknowledged evolution.

By 1900, the jobs that had been done by Seguin’s trained individuals with mental retardation were being claimed by the great influx of immigrants, who did them more efficiently, and the institutions originally intended to educate the intellectually disabled were used to exclude them from an efficiency-oriented industrial society. Medical texts delineated how to classify someone an “idiot,” an” imbecile” a “moron”; eugenicists provided a spurious validation of the link between mental retardation and criminality, and laws favoring sterilization were instituted.

As late as 1924, a British scientist published material saying that these children actually were biological members of the Mongol race; that view was finally challenged in the 1930s by Lionel Penrose a British doctor who used blood tests to prove that white people with DS were genetically related to other white people and not to Asians.  Penrose also established that the greatest risk factor for DS was age, identifying thirty-five as the cutoff point at which risk escalated.

Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote in a 1927 Supreme Court decision, “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. Three generations of imbeciles are enough.” The forced-sterilization law, applied to people with many disabilities and disadvantage but particularly focused on those with intellectual disabilities, was not repealed, for almost fifty years.

In 1958, a French geneticist, Jérôme Lejeune presented to the International Congress of Genetics his evidence that  the condition was the result of a triplication of the twenty chromosome, of which there should be only two copies; the scientific name for Down syndrome is trisomy 21.

The psychoanalyst Erik Erikson (inventor of the term identity crisis) at the urging of his friend Margaret Mead, had sent his newborn son to an institution within days of his birth in 1944 and kept his existence secret even from his other children, fearful that if anyone knew he had produced an “idiot” his reputation would be damaged. He had been told that his son would live no more than two years; in fact Neil lived two decades.

The view that a child with a disability was an unmitigated tragedy reached an apotheosis in Simon Olshansky’s oft-quoted description of parents’ “chronic sorrow.” His was not the only such voice. The psychoanalysts Albert Solnit and Mary Stark lobbied in 1961 for a new DS mother to have

“physical rest; an opportunity to review her thoughts and feelings about the wished-for child; a realistic interpretation and investment of the feared, unwanted child by doctors and nurses ; and an active role in planning for and caring for the newborn child as she is able. These are the measures through which the mother can overcome the trauma of giving birth to a retarded child.”

In 1966, the playwright Arthur Miller and his wife, the photographer Inge Morath, institutionalized their child with DS and told almost no one of his existence. In 1968, the ethicist Joseph Fletcher wrote in the Atlantic Monthly that there was

“no reason to feel guilty about putting a Down’s syndrome baby away, whether it’s `put away’ in the sense of hidden in a sanatorium or in a more responsible lethal sense. It is sad, yes. Dreadful. But it carries no guilt. True guilt arises only from an offense against a person and a Down’s is not a person.”

Willowbrook, that hell house of the 1960s and early 1970s, happened for a reason; parents who had been persuaded that their retarded children were not persons left them in repugnant conditions.

Yet even as prejudice against those with intellectual disabilities was escalating, a new movement to help the disabled was also unfolding. The argument that the disabled warranted benevolent treatment coincided with a larger post-Enlightenment shift in our conception of early education. Historically, this had been the province of mothers, and the notion that experts had something to add began only with the founding of the first kindergartens in early-nineteenth-century Germany.

At the end of the nineteenth century, Maria Montessori applied lessons she had learned from her work among the intellectually disadvantaged in Rome to typical children. Soon nursery schools began to crop up in Europe. In the United States, they burgeoned when the New Deal subsidized teaching jobs, then spread further as the Second World War effort called mothers into the workforce.

At the same time, attempts to curtail childhood mortality were also under way, directed especially at the poor. The new science of behaviorism rose up in opposition to eugenics and suggested that people are made, not born, and can be educated and shaped into anything. The emerging field of psychoanalysis was concurrently examining how early trauma could interfere with healthy development, and some of its adherents began to question whether the shortcomings of the poor and disabled might be the result of early deprivation rather than organic inadequacy.

In 1935 Social Security Act included a provision that the federal government would match state funds for treating the disabled. Investigators soon began to look at how a stimulating and enriching environment allowed poor children to transcend their apparent deficits. John Bolby, the father of attachment theory, demonstrated that good maternal care was crucial to the development of the healthy child, an insight so obvious today that it is hard to remember how radical it was a mere sixty years ago.

Eugenics was finally discredited when it devolved into the Holocaust. Meanwhile, the influx of handicapped veterans at the end of World War II softened social prejudice against disabled people in general. In 1946, the US Office of Education set up a Section for Exceptional Children, which led to better education programs for people with special needs, but those children remained segregated from the larger society.

In 1949, Ann Greenberg, the mother of a child Down syndrome, placed advertisements in the New York Post seeking other parents who shared her concerns. A year later, they founded the Association for Retarded Citizens, now known as the Arc, and still of the most prominent organizations in the field. Most parents thought of DS entirely in terms of nature: the child has a genetic anomaly nothing can be done about it. Greenberg was among the parental activists on the side of nurture: the child has a genetic anomaly and there is work to be done.

When John E Kennedy became president, he established a commission to study mental retardation and its possible prevention. Reintegration of the disabled into the larger society was spearheaded in part by his sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, whose 1962 article in the Saturday Evening Post about their sister Rosemary emphasized that even families of prominence and intelligence can have retarded children. She observed with sadness the poor living conditions to which most people with mental retardation were consigned. Her vision of change meaningful form in the wake of the civil rights movement’s rethinkiing of social inequalities.

Black people had for so long been described as constitutionally inferior, and when they rose up against that characterization, they opened the door for other marginalized people to do the same. Head Start, founded in 1965, was dedicated to the people lived in poverty not because inherent deficits qualified them for nothing better, but because they had not received appropriate and constructive early stimulus. Head Start combined health, education, and social services and trained parents as active partners in the treatment of their children.

By the end of the 1960s, insights from Head Start were being applied to people with intellectual disabilities, and in particular to child it” Down syndrome. It became clear that people with DS showed a wide range of functioning, and that it was absurd to predict a newborn’s abilities simply from his diagnosis. It seemed to follow that writing such people off at birth was unfair, and that their capacities should be maximized both to give them a better life and to avoid later costs. Early intervention was better value for money than remediation.

In 1973, Congress passed over President Nixon’s veto, the Rehabilitation Act, which stated, “No otherwise qualified handicapped individual in the United State, solely by reason of his handicap, be excluded from the participant in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.” Even with the budget cuts of the Reagan years, programs for disabled children remained in force; this population had become entrenched and drew broad public sympathy.

The cause reached a triumphal apogee with the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, which extended the 1973 protections beyond the confines of federally funded programs. Parents, with support from disabled people themselves, had capitalized on changing ideas about humanity. They had validated lives long considered worthless. If racial minorities and the poor deserved support and respect, then so did people with Down syndrome and related conditions. If help to these other groups was best given early, then so, too, was aid to people with intellectual disabilities.

Early intervention (EI) is now a federal program for infants with any of a broad range of complaints — low birth weight, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, autism — and it has vastly raised levels of functioning in all these groups. EIservices provided before a child turns three may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, nutrition counseling, audiology and vision services, nursing support, speech-language therapy, and instruction on assistive technology, as well as support and training for parents who are having trouble coping.

It entails a strong focus on sensory stimulation of all kinds. Hospitals are required to tell parents about these services. EI is available to people at every socioeconomic level, sometimes through home visits and sometimes in special centers. These early services are also a form of parent training and may help families to feel optimistic about keeping their children at home. The quality of services for children with particular disabilities varies enormously from state to state; New York, for example, has especially good EI services for DS, and anecdotes tell of people moving to the state specifically to access them.

EI is the full expression of the nurture-over-nature argument — the ultimate triumph of psychoanalysis, civil rights, and empathy over eugenics, sterilization, and segregation. It grew out of a strange nexus of federal politics, parent activism, and psychology; it was a result of changing understandings of nondisabled children and new theories of general early education. It continues to evolve today, as many forms of engagement are grouped under that now-ubiquitous rubric.

Change in both treatment and acceptance of people with DS, however, continues to be driven by parents. By demanding that physicians treat their children’s physical ailments as respectfully as they would those of nondisabled children, they have brought about an astonishing increases in life expectancy for people so diagnosed.

If early intervention is ultimately a vague and ever-evolving umbrella term for a broad range of protocols, it has nonetheless been the organizing phrase for a radical rethinking of the lives of disabled people. Where science and biological cure have been stalled, the social model of disability has achieved wild triumph. Many specific techniques are invaluable in addressing particular needs, but the long and short of it is that disabled children, like non-disabled children, thrive on attention, engagement stimulation, and hope.


The Differences Between Sex and Love – Fulton J. Sheen, Ph.D., D.D.

August 28, 2013
Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety

Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety

It takes three to make Love in Heaven–
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

It takes three for Heaven to make love to earth–
God, Man, and Mary, through whom God became Man.

It takes three to make love in the Holy Family–
Mary, and Joseph, and the consummation of their love, Jesus.

It takes three to make love in hearts–
The Lover, the Beloved, and Love.

To that Woman
Who taught the sublime mystery of Love,
Mary Immaculate,
This life is dedicated

That nations, hearts, and homes may learn
That love does not so much mean to give oneself to another
As for both lovers to give themselves to that Passionless Passion,
Which is God.

The following is the first chapter of Bishop Sheen’s Three To Get Married


Love is primarily in the will, not in the emotions or the glands. The will is like the voice; the emotions are like the echo. The pleasure associated with love, or what is today called “sex,” is the frosting on the cake; its purpose is to make us love the cake, not ignore it.

The greatest illusion of lovers is to believe that the intensity of their sexual attraction is the guarantee of the perpetuity of their love. It is because of this failure to distinguish between the glandular and spiritual–or between sex which we have in common with animals, and love which we have in common with God–that marriages are so full of deception.

What some people love is not a person, but the experience of being in love. The first is irreplaceable; the second is not. As soon as the glands cease to react with their pristine force, couples who identified emotionalism and love claim they no longer love one another. If such is the case they never loved the other person in the first place; they only loved being loved, which is the highest form of egotism.

Marriage founded on sex passion alone lasts only as long as the animal passion lasts. Within two years the animal attraction for the other may die, and when it does, law comes to its rescue to justify the divorce with the meaningless words “incompatibility,” or “mental torture.” Animals never have recourse to law courts, because they have no will to love; but man, having reason, feels the need of justifying his irrational behavior when he does wrong.

There are two reasons for the primacy of sex over love in a decadent civilization. One is the decline of reason. As humans give up reason, they resort to their imaginations. That is why motion pictures and picture magazines enjoy such popularity. As thinking fades, unrestrained desires come to the fore.

Since physical and erotic desires are among the easiest to dwell upon, because they require no effort and because they are powerfully aided by bodily passions, sex begins to be all-important. It is by no historical accident that an age of anti-intellectualism and irrationalism, such as our own, is also an age of carnal license.

The second factor is egotism. As belief in a Divine Judgment, a future life, heaven and hell, a moral order, is increasingly rejected, the ego becomes more and more firmly enthroned as the source of its morality. Each person becomes a judge in his own case.

With this increase of selfishness, the demands for self-satisfaction become more and more imperious, and the interests of the community and the rights of others have less and less appeal. All sin is self-centeredness, as love is otherness and relatedness. Sin is the infidelity of man to the image of what he ought to be in his eternal vocation as an adopted son of God: the image God sees in Himself when He contemplates His Word.

There are two extremes to be avoided in discussing married love: one is the refusal to recognize sexual love, the other is the giving of primacy to sexual attraction. The first error was Victorian; the second is Freudian. To the Christian, sex is inseparable from the person, and to reduce the person to sex is as silly as to reduce personality to lungs or a thorax.

Certain Victorians in their education practically denied sex as a function of personality; certain sexophiles of modern times deny personality and make a god of sex. The male animal is attracted to the female animal, but a human personality is attracted to another human personality. The attraction of beast to beast is physiological; the attraction of human to human is physiological, psychological, and spiritual.

The human spirit has a thirst for the infinite which the quadruped has not. This infinite is really God. But man can pervert that thirst, which the animal cannot because it has no concept of the infinite. Infidelity in married life is basically the substitution for an infinite of a succession of finite carnal experiences. The false infinity of succession takes the place of the Infinity of Destiny, which is God.

The beast is promiscuous for an entirely different reason than man. The false pleasure given by new conquests in the realm of sex is the ersatz for the conquest of the Spirit in the Sacrament! The sense of emptiness, melancholy, and frustration is a consequence of the failure to find infinite satisfaction in what is carnal and limited. Despair is disappointed hedonism The most depressed spirits are those who seek God in a false god!

If love does not climb, it falls. If, like the flame, it does not burn upward to the sun, it burns downward to destroy. If sex does not mount to heaven, it descends into hell. There is no such thing as giving the body without giving the soul. Those who think they can be faithful in soul to one another, but unfaithful in body, forget that the two are inseparable. Sex in isolation from personality does not exist! An arm living and gesticulating apart from the living organism is an impossibility. Man has no organic functions isolated from his soul.

There is involvement of the whole personality. Nothing is more psychosomatic than the union of two in one flesh; nothing so much alters a mind, a will, for better or for worse. The separation of soul and body is death. Those who separate sex and spirit are rehearsing for death. The enjoyment of the other’s personality through one’s own personality, is love. The pleasure of animal function through another’s animal function is sex separated from love.

Sex is one of the means God has instituted for the enrichment of personality. It is a basic principle of philosophy that there is nothing in the mind which was not previously in the senses. All our knowledge comes from the body. We have a body, St. Thomas tells us, because of the weakness of our intellect. Just as the enrichment of the mind comes from the body and its senses, so the enrichment of love comes through the body and its sex. As one can see a universe mirrored in a tear on a cheek, so in sex can be seen mirrored that wider world of love. Love in monogamous marriage includes sex; but sex, in the contemporary use of the term, does not imply either marriage or monogamy.

Every woman instinctively realizes the difference between the two, but man comes to understand it more slowly through reason and prayer. Man is driven by pleasure; woman by the meaning of pleasure. She sees pleasure more as a means to an end, namely, the prolongation of love both in herself and in her child. Like Mary at the Annunciation, she accepts the love which is presented to her by another. In Mary, it came directly from God through an angel; in marriage, it comes indirectly from God through a man.

But in both instances, there is an acceptance, a surrender, a Fiat: “Let it be unto me according to thy word.” (Luke 1:28) The pagan woman who has not consciously thought of God is actually half woman and half dream; the woman who sees love as a reflection of the Trinity is half woman and half Spirit, and she waits upon the creative work of God within her body. Patience thus becomes bound up with her acceptance. Woman accepts the exigencies of love, as the farmer accepts the exigencies of nature, and waits, after the sowing of the seed, the harvest of autumn.

But when sex is divorced from love there is a feeling that one has been stopped at the vestibule of the castle of pleasure; that the heart has been denied the city after crossing the bridge. Sadness and melancholy result from such a frustration of destiny, for it is the nature of man to be sad when he is pulled outside himself, or exteriorized without getting any nearer his goal.

There is a closer correlation between mental instability and the animal view of sex than many suspect. Happiness consists in interiority of the spirit, namely, the development of personality in relationship to a heavenly destiny. He who has no purpose in life is unhappy; he who exteriorizes his life and is dominated, or subjugated, by what is outside himself, or spends his energy on the external without understanding its mystery, is unhappy to the point of melancholy.

There is the feeling of being hungry after having eaten, or of being disgusted with food, because it has nourished not the body, in the case of an individual, or another body, in the case of marriage. In the woman, this sadness is due to the humiliation of realizing that where marriage is only sex, her role could be fulfilled by any other woman; there is nothing personal, incommunicable, and therefore nothing dignified.

Summoned by her God-implanted nature to be ushered into the mysteries of life which have their source in God, she is condemned to remain on the threshold as a tool or an instrument of pleasure alone, and not as a companion of love. Two glasses that are empty cannot fill up one another. There must be a fountain of water outside the glasses, in order that they may have communion with one another. It takes three to make love.

Every person is what he loves. Love becomes like unto that which it loves. If it loves heaven, it becomes heavenly; if it loves the carnal as a god, it becomes corruptible. The kind of immortality we have depends on the kind of loves we have. Putting it negatively, he who tells you what he does not love, also tells what he is. “Amor pondus meum: Love is my gravitation,” said St. Augustine.

This slow conversion of a subject into an object, of a lover into the beloved, of the miser into his gold, of the saint into his God, discloses the importance of loving the right things. The nobler our loves, the nobler our character. To love what is below the human, is degradation; to love what is human for the sake of the human, is mediocrity; to love the human for the sake of the Divine, is enriching; to love the Divine for its own sake is sanctity.

Love is trinity; sex is duality. But there are many other differences between the two. Sex rationalizes; love does not. Sex has to justify itself with Kinsey Reports, “But Freud told us,” or “No one believes that today”; love needs no reasons. Sex asks science to defend it; love never asks “Why?” It says, “I love you.” Love is its own reason.

“God is love.” Satan asked a “Why?” of God’s love in the Garden of Paradise. Every rationalization is farfetched and never discloses the real reason. He who breaks the Divine Law and finds himself outside of Christ’s Mystical Body in a second marriage, will often justify himself by saying: “I could not accept the Doctrine of Transubstantiation.” What he means is that he can no longer accept the Sixth Commandment.

Milton wrote an abstract and apparently a philosophical treatise on “Doctrine and Discipline of Divorce,” in which he justified the divorce on the grounds of incompatibility. But the real reason was not what he set down in the book; it was to be found in the fact that he wished to marry someone else while his wife was living. What is important is not what people say, but why they say it.

Too many assume that the reason people do not come to God is because they are ignorant; it is more generally true that the reason people do not come to God is because of their behavior. Our Lord said: “Rejection lies in this, that when the light came into the world men preferred darkness to light; preferred it, because their doings were evil. Anyone who acts shamefully hates the light.” (John 3:19, 20) It is not always doubt that has to be overcome, but evil habits.

From another point of view, sex seeks the part; love the totality. Sex is biological and physiological and has its definite zones of satisfaction. Love, on the contrary, includes all of these but is directed to the totality of the person loved, i.e., as a creature composed of body and soul and made to the image and likeness of God. Love seeks the clock and its purpose; sex concentrates on the mainspring and forgets its mission to keep time. Sex eliminates from the person who is loved everything that cannot adapt itself to its carnal libido.

Those who give primacy to sex for that reason are anti-religious. Love, however, does not concentrate on a function, but on personality. An organ does not include the personality, but the personality includes the organ, which is another way of repeating the theme: love includes sex, but sex does not include love.

Love concentrates on the object; sex concentrates on the subject. Love is directed to someone else for the sake of the other’s perfection; sex is directed to self for the sake of se]f-satisfaction. Sex flatters the object not because it is praiseworthy in itself, but rather as a solicitation. It knows how to make friends and influence people. Most sound minds resent flattery because they see the egotism behind the screen of altruism.


The ego in sex pleads that it loves the alter ego, but what it loves is really the possibility of its own pleasure in the other ego. The other person is necessary for the return of the egotist upon himself. The egotist finds himself constantly being encircled by non-being, purposelessness, meaninglessness; he has the feeling of being exploited. Refusing to be related to anything else, he soon sees that nothing is for him: The whole world is against him!

But love, which stresses the object, finds itself in constantly enlarging relationships. Love is so strong it surpasses narrowness by devotedness and forgetfulness of self. In history, the only causes that die are those for which men refuse to die. The more love grows, the more its eyes open to the needs of others, to the miseries of men, and to compassion. The remedy for all the sufferings of the modern brain lies in the enlargement of the heart through love, which forgets itself as the subject and begins to love the neighbor as the object. But he who lives for himself will eventually find that nature, fellowman, and God are all against him. The so-called “persecution complex” is the result of egotism. The world seems against him who wants everything for himself.

Sex is moved by the desire to fill a moment between having and not having. It is an experience like looking at a sunset, or twirling one’s thumbs to pass the time. It rests after one experience, because glutted for the moment, and then waits for the reappearance of a new craving or passion to be satisfied on a totally different object. Love frowns upon this notion, for it sees in this nothing but the killing of the objects loved for the sake of self-satisfaction. Sex would give birds flight, but no nests; hearts emotions but no homes; throw the whole world into the experience of voyagers at sea, but with no ports.

Instead of pursuing an Infinite which is fixed, it substitutes the false infinity of never finding satisfaction. The infinite then becomes not the possession of love but the fruitless search for love, which is the basis of so many psychoses and neuroses. The infinite then becomes restlessness, a merry-go-round of the heart which spins only to spin again.

Real love, on the contrary, admits the need, the thirst, the passion, the craving, but it also admits an abiding satisfaction by adhesion to a value which transcends time and space. Love unites itself to being and thus becomes perfect; sex unites itself to non-being and thus becomes irritation and anxiety. In love, poverty becomes integrated into riches; need into fulfillment; yearning into joy; chase into capture. But sex is without the joy of offering. The wolf offers nothing when he kills the lamb. The joy of oblation is missing, for the egotist by his very nature seeks inflation. Love gives to receive. Sex receives so as not to give. Love is soul contact with another for the sake of perfection; sex is body contact with another for the sake of sublimation.

A body can exhaust itself, but it cannot nourish itself. If man needed only nourishment, he could devour love as he devours food. But having a Spirit which needs the Divine Love as a unitive force, he can never be satisfied by devouring the love of another person. A potato has a nature; a man is a person. The former can be destroyed as a means to an end; the human may not. Sex would turn man into a vegetable and reduce a person to an animal. Sex makes hungry where most it satisfies, for the person needs the person, and a person is a person only when seen in an image of God.


Development of Habitus — Romanus Cessario, O.P.

August 22, 2013
Michelangelo, The Risen Christ, sketch and study 1533. For theological ethics, moral categories can only partially describe the perfection of Christian habitus, for those who develop the habitus of a just life as the New Testament depicts it attain a share in "the unsearchable riches of Christ" (Ephesians 3:8) himself.

Michelangelo, The Risen Christ, sketch and study 1533. For theological ethics, moral categories can only partially describe the perfection of Christian habitus, for those who develop the habitus of a just life as the New Testament depicts it attain a share in “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8) himself.

During the Second World War, theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and others emphasized the right and obligation of individual Christians to place the dictates of conscience before conformity to what, at best, amounted to nominal Christianity. Although the ethics of responsibility underscores the radical demands of Gospel life, those who employ this model in theological ethics often find it difficult to incorporate habitus into their proposals.

However this should not be the case as habitus actually facilitate the discharge of responsibility. Why? Because habitus provide the whole person with settled capacities for action which surpass the simple ability to exercise will power. In fact, one author describes habitus as “a metaphysical perfectant. Such a perfection heightens our human capacities to such an extent that those who act with a “habituated” intellect, will, and appetites approach the optimum performance of the strongest and most perfect human being.

This means that how a person knows (by the exercise of the mind or intellect), how a person loves (by the exercise of a free will or rational appetite), and how a person tempers sense-urges (which arise out of the emotions or sense appetites), in short, all characteristically human abilities require diverse habitus in order to function properly. Accordingly, rather than serve as an obstacle to the unfolding of authentic freedom and responsibility, habitus provide the indispensable matrix for realizing free and responsible Christian behavior.

Since habitus remain ordered to action, they require certain particular conditions to develop. A power or capacity able to perform only one kind of action neither allows no requires the formation of habitus. Rather, there must exist in the capacity which develops a habitus the potential for diverse kinds of activity. This becomes evident when one considers that capacities which perform in only one way do so without the aid of training — nobody, for example, requires instruction in order to use the digestive system. But sailing a boat, since it involves capacities which could be developed for other activities, does require a habitus.

Accordingly, habitus formation occurs only when there exists in a subject what the scholastic commentator Cajetan calls a “variety in parts.” In short, this means that a capacity enjoys the possibility for diverse kinds of actions. Unless a capacity can perform in many different ways, insists Aquinas, the human person need not acquire in that area of human ability whatever perfection habitus produces.

Habitus development also requires another condition in the subject. Besides being capable of diverse realizations of activity, a capacity must also possess a certain malleability or suppleness as regards undergoing change. Since habitus shape activity, any psychological determination in a capacity inhibits the development of a habitus. For example, because we can only see colored objects, sight does not require a habitus of vision, but because we can choose to consume either good or bad foodstuffs, proper eating does require the development of habitus.

The intrinsic relationship between the formation of habitus and the ability to exercise freely certain kinds of activity means that habitus can develop in the intellect, the will, and, to the extent that they follow right reason, the sense appetites. Finally, habitus development does not take place in anyone without the exercise of some agency. Theological ethics must hold that habitus develop either as a result of human agency or, according to the teaching of the faith, as a result of divine benevolence.

In the latter case, because they result directly from the power of the Holy Spirit, the habitus are called infused. Since the New Testament kerygma announces that divine grace effects a twofold change in creatures made after the image of God, infused habitus serve to elucidate the biblical doctrine of justification quite well.

  1. First, image-restoration consists in the rectification of disordered appetite. This constitutes, in effect, the breaking of old, vicious habitus.
  2. Second, image-perfection entails the acquisition of the whole panoply of graced-endowments. These include the habitus of the moral virtues, of the theological virtues, and of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as well as the enjoyment of the fruits of the Spirit and the practice of the beatitudes.

For theological ethics, moral categories can only partially describe the perfection of Christian habitus, for those who develop the habitus of a just life as the New Testament depicts it attain a share in “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8) himself.


Habitus And Personality — Romanus Cessario, O.P.

August 21, 2013
Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy (or The Ecstasy of Saint Francis) is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (who also graces our banner on payingattentiontothesky). It is held in the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Since the moral life requires free choice to develop, the measure or value of a given quality, that is, whether it embodies a virtue or a vice, will result from how well or ill such choice conforms to the requirements of authentic moral wisdom. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come"(2 Corinthians16:17). Of course, the veritable challenge of the Gospel consists in bringing people to trust that this kind of conversion remains open to everyone.

Saint Francis of Assisi in Ecstasy (or The Ecstasy of Saint Francis) is a painting by the Italian Baroque master Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (who also graces our banner on payingattentiontothesky). It is held in the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. Since the moral life requires free choice to develop, the measure or value of a given quality, that is, whether it embodies a virtue or a vice, will result from how well or ill such choice conforms to the requirements of authentic moral wisdom. “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come”(2 Corinthians16:17). Of course, the veritable challenge of the Gospel consists in bringing people to trust that this kind of conversion remains open to everyone.

As noted above, current theological use of habitus largely derives from certain remarks provided by Aristotle about hexis. Still, the Nicomachean Ethics contributes only one strand towards an intelligent theological appropriation of habitus. In addition, the findings of the behavioral sciences can provide valuable insights about character. Developmental psychology, in particular, defines itself as the study of factors which contribute to the shaping of an individual’s traits.

However, moral theology needs to raise a certain caution with respect to the empirical sciences, especially when it comes to employing their inferences concerning the human person. Behavioral scientists do not necessarily share the common and fundamental assumption about the spiritual character of the human person that is indispensable to an authentic Christian teaching. This difference, although not always made clearly explicit, especially when the results of scientific investigations are translated into popular form, remains highly significant.

Christian theology can critically appropriate scientific findings, provided their underlying anthropological suppositions do not reduce the human individual to its material components or remain agnostic about the basic constitution or ultimate destiny of the human person.” The freedom and dignity of God’s children surpass the limits established by all forms of psychological determinism.

Within its own framework, realist moral theology also seeks to explain how moral development affects the very constitution of the human person. The fact that habitus can radically modify the whole of a human person implies something about the metaphysical structure of a created nature. In particular, habitus exist only in creatures, for only created realities possess the capacity for such change and development. Human activity can only approximate a state of expunging all potentiality; it never achieves it.

Undergirding this particular construal of creation and potentiality remains the distinction adopted by realist philosophers between essence and existence. Recall that classical theology recognizes pure actuality only in the divine nature, but not, as certain humanist philosophers hope, in homo sapiens.

Aquinas’s discussion of acquired habitus rests on the conviction that human capacities develop precisely as a result of properly human activity, the synergy of free choice and intelligence. What is more, such development does not simply affect the way in which an individual acts, though it accomplishes that as well.

Rather, action can account for change in the very reality of the self. In other words, actions change the individual. Christian doctrine asserts that the extent of the change can reach to the very core of a person’s selfhood and identity. For example, the virtue of filial piety can effectively alter the rebellious and disaffected adolescent so that the young person becomes an honest and respectful member of the household.” Christian theology, supported by the New Testament’s assertion of the radical power that grace holds out to the human person, supposes that such a virtuous transformation of the self can occur in many circumstances. Habitus provides the metaphysical basis for elaborating a moral theology confident enough of itself to give serious attention to this kind of personal transformation.

This explains why the scholastics, when asked to define habitus, chose to locate it within the philosophical category of quality. This third of the categories of being, one of a list of ten irreducible types of things drawn up by Aristotle, designates one of the ways a given substance becomes identified as a special, predicable kind of thing. Quality derives from an actual internal ordering or arrangement of the substance’s parts. It makes things to be different in the way cold gruel is different from hot soup, a lame thoroughbred from a winning racehorse, or sweet candy from cane sugar. Quality does not amount simply to placing a thing within its proper classification or to an extrinsic, merely ephemeral modification of a subject. Quality means to possess oneself in a determined way.

The Latin phrase, se habere, used by the commentators to distinguish this reflexive sense of “having” from its more usual transitive meaning, as in “to possess a thing;’ aptly points up the use intended by Aquinas. The theologian, when he speaks about habitus as a quality, understands that quality refers to a real modification of a person’s moral character. Vicious habitus produce a vicious individual; virtuous habitus, a virtuous person.

As Aquinas points out in the case of one who merits capital punishment, vicious habitus formation in a given individual can reach a point where something of the excellence which belongs to human nature disappears. On the other hand, the potentiality ingredient in each created nature argues for the possibility of renewed moral reform. (A state may make the political judgment, however, that circumstances do not allow for this, as in the case of treason during war or the killing of a prison guard.)

Accordingly, Christian theology insists against the common tendency to suppose that patterns of sinful behavior, even when supported by repeated actions, definitively establish one’s personal identity. Virtue makes a real saint, but vicious habitus leave the person in a state of disordered potential. At the same time, the conviction that habitus represents a genuine qualification of one’s person — clinical psychologists may prefer to use the expression “personality” here — allows realist moral theology to affirm that the radical correction of moral disorders always remains feasible.

Quality designates a progressive appreciation or depreciation of the moral capacities of the human person. St. Thomas will insist that for the quality to be described as a habitus it must attain a certain degree of permanence in an individual’s human psychology. He distinguishes habitus from dispositions precisely on the basis of how easily the two kinds of qualification change. Since the moral life requires free choice to develop, the measure or value of a given quality, that is, whether it embodies a virtue or a vice, will result from how well or ill such choice conforms to the requirements of authentic moral wisdom.

The Eternal Law, lex aeterna, remains, then, the ultimate source and measure for evaluating the habitus which characterize a person. St. Paul witnesses to this basic Christian perspective when he reminds the Corinthians: “Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has passed away, behold the new has come”(2 Corinthians16:17). Of course, the veritable challenge of the Gospel consists in bringing people to trust that this kind of conversion remains open to everyone.


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