Fishers of Men

\”Come, follow me,\” Jesus said, \”and I will make you fishers of men.\”



A Basic Lecture for Students in Non-Catholic Colleges and Universities
General Editor
Joseph M. Wyss, O.P., S.T.Lr. Ph.D.

By Rev. John D. Fearon, O.P., S.T.P.

Father Fearon is Newman Chaplain at Portland State College, Oregon. He taught philosophy and theology for several years at the Dominican House of Studies in Oakland, California, is the author of a book entitled GRACEFUL LIVING, several pamphlets, and numerous articles in such periodicals as COMMONWEAL, AMERICA, THE THOMIST, and various priests’ magazines. He holds the rather unusual degree, S.T.P., which is granted in the Dominican Order to certain professors who have taught theology at the graduate level with special distinction.

Many Catholics are childish about moral decisions. Some wish to run to the priest with everything; others refuse to ask the priest anything. Both attitudes betray immaturity. These days a high percentage of Americans spend a very long time in school. Whether or not that fact has much to do with education is debatable, but we are optimistic enough to think that you in this audience are on your way to becoming educated Catholic Americans. Such people ought to be morally adult. Pope Pius XI said that Christian educators should “train the conscience of believers so that they are in a position to find by themselves the Christian solution to the questions which arise in the manifold situations of life.”

The educated Christian adult, then, should normally be able to discover the Christian way to act, which means that he should have a reasonably sophisticated appreciation of Christian moral principles. On the other hand, no one is ever so wise that (1) he could be confronted with no situation in which he would need the advice of experts to discover the relevant moral principles, or that (2) emotional involvement in a particular problem could not obstruct the clear application even of the principles he knows, making necessary the objective counsel and encouragement of another. Even the pope seeks the advice and encouragement of a wise counselor.  Yet, in the last analysis not even the pope can live another man’s life for him. Each man must make his ultimate decisions for himself. It is reasonable to expect that the more highly educated a man is the more complicated his life will be, the more involved the moral decisions he will be called upon to make. Thus the need for moral training refined to a degree proportionate to one’s general education.

Training people to think for themselves in moral matters is not simply a transfer of information from the mind of the teacher to the mind of the student. General moral truths can be taught and can be learned, but the ability to apply these truths to complex, individual situations involves a process of growth and the development of a “knack” or habit. And this whole process gets more complicated when one takes into consideration the fact that no moral problem exists apart from a psychological and environmental context. Estimating a probable occasion of sin is a good illustration of this fact.

Just how successful are people in developing a mature, adult, efficient conscience? Can the average man solve for himself the normal moral problems with which he is confronted? Are Catholics, with their readily available mechanism of repentance and forgiveness, significantly less afflicted with feelings of guilt? Have the cultural patterns of our age which make for emotional immaturity invaded the realm of conscience formation?

We are concerned here with conscience from the viewpoint of maturity. We can start by isolating symptoms of immaturity of conscience. Growth and development of conscience cannot be discussed without first considering the function of conscience in general and the standard principles by which conscience should operate according to the moral theologians. We can conclude with a brief outline of the techniques more or less readily available for reaching maturity by a person who is psychologically, too disturbed, i.e. whose problem is miseducation of conscience rather than a pathological state.
In terms of physical maturity it is fairly easy to tell a child from an adult. Knowing a person’s chronological age one can make the observation that the person is young for his age or old for his age. Physical maturity is determined by biological factors which follow a more or less rigorous growth and development. Frequently one meets people who in terms of chronological age and physical growth are adults, but who still think and feel like children. Even without the help of a battery of psychological tests, instances of childish behavior in adults are easily identifiable, e.g., the middle-aged matron who giggles like a school girl or the man of fifty who entertains temper tantrums like a four-year old.

In general, conscience is concerned with value judgments about one’s behavior measured by personal expectations and the expectations of others, along with some emotional response to that judgment. Both the value judgment and the emotional response can be unsuited to one’s chronological age. In other words, conscience can be mature or immature. Little training is necessary to discern the usual signs of immaturity of conscience.

A. Some symptoms of immaturity appear in confession.
Although a confessor has broader experience with this sort of thing than any individual penitent, reference to typical examples readily illustrates some of the basic outlines of immaturity in terms of thinking, feeling and acting.
1. Some adults confess their sins in the sing-song voice, and in the formula of childhood.
Nearly all seven-year old children sound the same in confession. There is a seriousness and simplicity appropriate to their age. They all learn the same words from the same teachers. This might be monotonous from the confessor’s point of view, but it is not surprising. It is, however, disturbing to hear a sweet little voice, with the old familiar inflection and cadence and using the formula and language of a first communicant, come up with content that is necessarily adult, e.g. being impatient with a family of seven. This is only a symptom, but one has the feeling that this penitent lapses into the psychological state of childhood when it comes to vocalizing sin.
2. People who are obviously adult in years are still confessing that they disobeyed a parent.
Some sins are typical of a child, e.g. disobeying “mommy” six times. On the lips of a child they make sense. But when they are confessed by a grown-up they do not make sense. It’s not so much that the penitent has failed to realize that there comes a time in life when disobedience to parents is impossible, but that a feeling of guilt persists as a result of a childish psychological state.
3. Some people are apparently little distressed by objectively serious sins like hatred, but agitated by things that are objectively insignificant like erotic dreams.
There are degrees of objective gravity in sin. However, these objective values are not always considered and felt subjectively. External pressures introjected some things in childhood and gave them importance totally disproportionate to their objective moral significance. Little by little, as one grows older, one’s thinking and feeling about moral values should tend to be more and more realistic.
4. Many people are unable to figure out for themselves what constitutes an adequate excuse for missing mass or breaking the law of abstinence.
Quite often people insist on confessing that they missed Sunday mass when they were sick in bed or that they ate meat on Friday even when they forgot it was Friday. Some, unless asked why, do not even mention the reason they missed. Even if they are aware that it was not sinful, they just do not feel right unless they confess it. Others will have some sort of excuse, which, although it does not make it physically impossible to get to mass, makes it seriously difficult. Even though they know that the law of the Church does not bind in the face of a serious inconvenience, they are either incapable of making or unwilling to make, a decision for themselves in their own case, and stick by it.
5. Some people confess serious things as fully deliberate which they feel are doubtful “just to be on the safe side.”
Granted that it is an acceptable practice to confess doubtful sins as doubtful in order to submit them to the confessor’s judgment and seek his advice, or even to get rid of uncomfortable feelings of bewilderment, it is an entirely different matter when an adult feels compelled to exhibit himself in the worst possible light in order to feel better. Doubts are inevitable, and invariably make it difficult for one to form a clear picture of self. But misrepresenting the situation and presuming the worst is not an adult solution to the problem, nor the thought process of a mature mind.
B. Some symptoms of immaturity are evident from public attitudes.
Granted all that should be granted about the weakness of human nature as a result of original sin, occasions of sin will always be to some degree relative. Age, experience, custom and conditioning all play a part. Except for extreme situations it is not easy to estimate what will generally be an occasion of sin, even for a given age group. Those who have some responsibility in this matter and have to make public judgments are going to be understandably conservative. However, it is always to be hoped that they will not be unrealistic. Their attitudes toward what constitutes a general occasion of sin can be taken as an indication of their estimate of the maturity of the general run of Catholics.
1. Apparently the Legion of Decency, which has years of experience in classifying movies, has in mind a rather immature adult audience in its estimation of what would generally be an occasion of sin.
The whole purpose of the Legion of Decency is to provide Catholics with a handy guide that will enable them to make a prudent judgment about whether or not a given movie would be an occasion of sin. To be handy, its classifications have to be relatively uncomplicated. Its usual objections are that costumes or situations are suggestive, or that some form of immorality, generally sexual immorality, is condoned or inadequately presented. A serious study of the movies it classifies as objectionable would seem to indicate that the Legion reviewers are of the opinion that Catholics are quite vulnerable to suggestions on film.
2. The administration of Church law regarding the reading of forbidden books would indicate that many bishops think that a mind sufficiently mature to warrant a dispensation is a rarity.
Books are put on the Index for a great variety of reasons, but the fundamental issue at stake is always an occasion of sin or danger to the faith. This is general legislation for the whole Catholic population, and books remain on the Index generation after generation. The law which prohibits also allows for dispensation, i.e. takes into account that situations will arise in which the danger is either non-existent or remote. Dispensations are given in individual cases and hence the readiness with which dispensations are given offers a clue to what individual bishops think of the maturity and vulnerability of any given group, e.g. college students.
3. Catholic children are sometimes brought up on the idea that good people are usually happy in this life and that sinners are generally unhappy; and efforts are made to isolate them from evidence to the contrary, both in fact and in fiction.
Whether a given course of behavior leads to happiness or unhappiness is largely a result of conditioning. Many people who are sinners by Catholic standards actually do find life quite satisfactory; and many Catholics who try to follow the program of the Gospel find it onerous, and the only satisfaction they have is that happiness in the afterlife justifies their present efforts. These are the facts. However, an effort is often made to isolate Catholics from this fact. Apparently the idea behind this program of isolation is that Catholics need an unreal picture of how things work out to sustain their devotion to their moral system. This program makes sense only on the assumption that Catholics are immature in mind and do not have an adult grasp of the rational foundation behind their system of morality, nor adequate positive motivation for it.
Up to this point we have considered conscience non-technically merely to establish the existence of a morally relevant area of human experience that is capable of being described as mature or immature. Before investigating the conditions which influence the growth and development of conscience, we must briefly summarize the technicalities about the nature and function of moral conscience. Vague concepts make one aware of a problem, but a clear understanding of the nature of that problem and its most probable resolution demands precise concepts.

Our interest is with conscience as the subjective norm of morality, i.e. the actual value judgment as it exists here and now in a given individual. We assume that it is not an ultimate and autonomous source of obligation or norm of morality, and that its role is not to create a standard of conduct but rather to interpret and apply an already existing one. In other words, it is not distinct from and opposed to an objective norm, i.e. law, but is the individual’s interpretation of that law in determining his own behavior. This process of interpretation can be influenced in various ways. Ultimately our concern is with understanding and controlling those influences in such a manner that a good moral theologian and a sound psychologist would consider the interpretative process as adult and mature.
A. Definition of conscience: the judgment or dictate of the practical intellect deciding from general principles the goodness or evil of some act which is to be done here and now or has been done in the past.
On the one hand, law has to be of a general nature, it cannot be stated in such a complicated formula as to cover all of the varying circumstances of life. On the other hand, there is in man no instinct or sense which by its very nature, without any training, indicates what is good and bad in concrete, particular circumstances. Ultimately an adult must go through some thought process and come to some decisions for himself about his own behavior. This is the realm of conscience. It is the mind of the individual commanding, forbidding, permitting or counseling him to do or not to do some particular thing.
B. This definition presupposes:
1. the distinction between the speculative and the practical intellect:
Moral theologians hold that man has only one mind or intellect, but distinguish two different areas in which it operates, e.g. the speculative mind discovers or learns such things as mathematics; the practical mind discovers or learns how to deal with making or doing things. Mathematics is the same whether one is counting eggs or money. Solving problems about making or doing does not have that same uniformity, and solving one kind of problem, e.g. how to get along with a particular bully, does not equip one to solve another kind of problem, e.g. how to control one’s fear of darkness.
2. that there are three acts of the mind:
This determination of the practical intellect is not a simple intuition of something already self-evident. Usually it is the product of an inference from previously known moral truths. The three acts of the mind are:
(1) Simple apprehension (simple intuition, first operation of the intellect, definition): the act by which the intellect grasps or perceives something without affirming or denying anything about it, e.g. man, rational animal, etc.
(2) Judgment (second operation of the intellect, proposition): that act of the mind by which it unites by affirming or separates by denying, e.g. man is mortal.
(3) Reasoning (third operation of the intellect, syllogism): the act by which the mind moves to new knowledge from what it already knows. (Cf. Maritain, Jacques, Formal Logic, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1946, pp. 12, 82, 148.)

“The subject and the predicate, it was observed, are simple notions by comparison with the proposition which is their logical compound. The subject and predicate are each grasped without affirming or denying anything about them. For example, the proposition, All things that exist come from the Creator, says something about all things that exist; it says that they come from the Creator. But the expression, All things that exist, neither affirms nor denies anything. To grasp something without affirming or denying anything about it is called the first operation of the mind.
“In the proposition, the predicate is affirmed (or denied) of the subject. This is an operation quite different from the mere grasp of the subject alone or of the predicate alone. In a proposition, the subject and the predicate are set in relation with each other. The act of the intellect joining or dividing a subject and a predicate is called the second operation of the mind.

“Finally, in the argument as a whole, two propositions are combined with each other so that a third proposition can be formed. This act of the intellect, proceeding from two propositions to a third one, is called the third operation of the mind.
“In the first operation of the intellect, the subject and predicate are each grasped alone. In the second act of the intellect, the subject and predicate are combined to form a proposition; in the third operation of the mind propositions are put together to form an argument.” (Smith, V. E., The Elements of Logic, Bruce, Milwaukee, 1957, pp. 18-19.)

3. and that in both the speculative and the practical order, the mind proceeds from the more known and the more general to the less known and more particular.
Aristotle held that in things speculative, the more general characteristics were the first to be perceived-somewhat after the fashion of a figure approaching from the distance. In the realm of the practical, the more known starting point for the process of inference is the end or goal. Means to that end become desirable only when seen as related. Sometimes this relationship is more or less immediately evident, sometimes it has to be learned by experience, and sometimes one has to take the word of another. However, this act of the practical judgment is not an isolated and unrelated mental event, but proceeds from and depends on previous but more generalized value judgments. It interprets the general rule in the particular circumstances.
C. This definition is analytical and limited.
It is not a complete description, nor does it comprise the whole human experience of conscience. It is a definition which moralists have agreed on since the thirteenth century. Agreement does not make it true but only proves that it is workable. It is arrived at by eliminating what is non-essential, but this does not mean that what is left out is unimportant.
1. This definition is arrived at by an analysis of human behavior.
Full and urgent awareness of moral approbation or disapprobation cannot simply be a matter of feeling or sensation if it is to be distinctively human; it must be an application in a particular case of a general value affirmation that is already made and to which one has already given some kind of dedication.
2. This definition does not take note of the affective side of human behavior, an omission which must be filled in for our present purpose.
In the first place, the good to be done and the evil to be avoided, which is the object of a judgment of conscience, is also the object of the affective side of man’s psyche. Judgment about human behavior are often concerned with emotionally charged situations. These judgments or decisions do not take place in an intellectual vacuum. Feelings or emotions not only dispose us toward, but also follow upon, our ethical judgments. We speak of conscience as remorseful, or at peace, or anxious which are clearly affective states. To relate conscience to conflict patterns and maturity we must think in terms of the complete phenomenon, not just the essential definition.
D. The functions of conscience are twofold.
1. Conscience is legislative, i.e. before an act.
Conscience functions before a human act is committed or accomplished. It then interprets the general law and applies it to the particular case. Since a single action can disqualify a man from reaching his goal the need for antecedent moral decision is obviously most urgent. Usually this perceptible need for certitude arises long before one has the intellectual ability to reach any degree of certitude.
2. Conscience is judicial, i.e. after an act.
It either accuses which leads to a sense of guilt, or it approves which leads to a sense of peace. This is not merely a question of remembering a past event in a given way. Conscience does not say “I was a murderer two years ago” but “I am a murderer.” In other words, a man becomes different by acting; in a sense, he is what he does. Conscience is aware of this. In general, the continuing effect of conscience is to relate the person, who undergoes some changes by reason of his moral behavior, to the overall scheme of things in the outside world in terms of justice, acceptance, being in step or out of step with God and people, and to the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of his own inclinations and expectations.
E. Moral theologians lay down certain principles with regard to the formation and exercise of conscience.
These are not just wise sayings handed down through the ages, but rather operating instructions; they are common sense corollaries of fundamental moral theology.

Conscience is:
True (correct): when it deduces correctly from true principles that some act is lawful, or False, (erroneous): when it decides from false principles considered as true that something is lawful which in fact is unlawful.

Certain or Uncertain: in terms of the firmness of one’s convictions or freedom from the fear of error.

Probable: when it is based on reasons which appear fairly solid but are yet insufficient to dissolve all fear of error, or Doubtful: when the evidence appears so contradictory that one is obliged to suspend all judgment.
1. Everyone is obliged to use serious care to have on all occasions a true conscience.
The reasons for this are that conscience is the proximate norm of morality, which means that the action will be good or bad in terms of its relationship to this norm. Moreover, error is possible and hence one must do what he can to avoid error or the result is imputable sin, not just an inconsequential mistake or miscalculation. This presupposes, however, that we are talking about human behavior that is in the realm of the morally significant.
2. Everyone is obliged to follow his conscience whether it commands or forbids some action, not only when it is true but also when it is in invincible error.
Conscience imposes a true obligation. By invincible error we mean that it is not within the power of a man to recognize and correct his judgment by using reasonable diligence. Here and now what is objectively evil is apprehended as good through no fault of his own.
3. It is not permissible to follow conscience when it is in vincible error no matter whether it commands or forbids some action; on the other hand one cannot act contrary to such a conscience; the error must be corrected before any action is taken.
A vincibly erroneous conscience can and should be corrected by reasonably diligent effort. When one fails to dispel such an error, the mistake of judgment and the violation of the moral law which is its consequence are indirectly voluntary; the erroneous man in this case is responsible for his error and for what he does by reason of his error.
4. Only a conscience that is certain (whether the certainty is direct or indirect) is a correct guide to moral behavior; however, to act lawfully imperfect certainty is ordinarily sufficient.
Moral certainty is perfect when it excludes all prudent doubt, and imperfect when some slight reasons militate against the truth of a decision which is founded on serious motives. Certainty is considered to be direct when it is based on intrinsic principles and relevant evidence; indirect, when no conclusive answer can be reached by intrinsic principles or evidence and one has too have recourse to extraneous principles, e.g. reflex principles (cf. Prummer, Handbook of Moral Theology, No. 149.)

The reason for the first part of the principle is that one who acts without being morally certain that his act is lawful, willingly exposes himself to the proximate danger of sinning. The reason far the second part of the principle is that otherwise life would be impossible, since much of human life does not admit of greater certainty than this.
5. No one is allowed to act while in a state of positive practical doubt.

By a positive doubt we mean one that is based on grave reasons, not merely the fear of error that springs from slight reasons. A practical doubt has to do with the morality of an action here and now, regardless of what one’s speculative views might be on the subject in general. If one goes ahead and acts in this state he is obviously willing to do what he does whether or not it is against God’s will and hence he is willing to sin.
Although conscience is defined in terms of judgment or knowledge, the object of this judgment is good and evil as it is imagined and understood. This type of object also has relevance in the affective side of the human psyche. In fact, the way one responds emotionally to a given object colors his judgment of that object. Hence it is impossible to discuss the development of conscience in isolation from the appetitive function.

Since theology became systematized in the thirteenth century, moral theologians have developed a frame of reference and a vocabulary far discussing the genesis of what they call moral conscience. In modern times psychologists have also developed conceptual and verbal techniques for dealing with somewhat the same phenomena. Both approaches are summarized here in the hope that the subject will become more intelligible.
A. The genesis of conscience:
1. According to moral theologians:

a. The first level has to do with natural inclinations to things that are felt to be basically good or bad, and at this level the content of conscience comes from within the individual.

The term, natural appetite, was apparently first used by Epicurus, and can also be called natural tendency or innate impulse. The most elementary value judgments are based on psychological experience which is not learned from without, but springs from within. These appetites have to do with those things which are of their very nature pleasurable and painful, useful or harmful. These judgments form the basis for all subsequent judgments, and these innate impulses are subject to later habituation and conditioning. In a sense, these impulses are also the first movers or forces behind all other conative activities.
b. In the pre-prudential stage, the individual depends largely on external authority which imposes from without certain standards of behavior and a corresponding framework of reward and punishment.

Aristotle observed that prudence is impossible without the other moral virtues, and that they are impossible without prudence. The only way out of this apparent impasse in the development of maturity is obedience and discipline. Behavior has to be conditioned from the outside, from those who can be expected to have reached maturity and virtue. In fact, these external influences, parental and cultural, are not always and necessarily in the best interests of human nature. All education is not good education, but some education is inevitable. No child grows up in a social vacuum.
c. At the mature or prudential level, the individual distinguishes true moral values from artificial standards, behaves in the right way for the right reason, and responds emotionally with fear, contrition, or joy to what is objectively good or bad according to an enlightened moral theory.
The mature and prudent individual thinks for himself, rationalizes the relationship of his innate drives toward proposed ideals, distinguishes between real moral values and social pressures, and responds to motivation which is reasonable in the view of the wise and enlightened. This presupposes that a certain amount of healthy emotional conditioning has taken place so that the individual is intellectually free to think in this fashion.
2. According to the psychologists:
a. At the core of mans personality there is a primal surge of living energy or force which is beyond rationality (the Freudian “Id”).

These drives, urgings, and desires make themselves felt in varied kinds of activity, but are beyond rationality and will.
b. Offsetting the primitive urges is a part of man (the unconscious conscience or the “superego” of Freud) uncritically absorbed from the outside at an early age, which polices the primal urges.

This occurs long before the use of reason. The responses of the child are largely quasi-automatic, unconscious processes. Normally, these qualifications of the primal urges are parental in origin, and since they occur early in life they are for all practical purposes forgotten. They continue to operate later in life in an uncontrolled fashion.

c. The final component of human personality is the self (the Freudian “Ego”) which freely and rationally (it is hoped) strikes a balance between the primitive urges and their unconscious restraint from the outside world.

This search for self-hood takes place on the level of conscience even though the material with which it deals is largely influenced by previous and now unconscious experience. The psychologist thinks in terms of a healthy personality, i.e. of a balance between the primal urges and unconscious conscience so that the internal forces find adequate expression without insupportable conflicts with the outside world.

B. Development to maturity:
1. On the conscious, intellectual or rational level:
a. One has to realize that morals is an inexact science.
The importance of this discovery cannot be underestimated. Since moral principles have supreme authority most people would like them to be absolutely invariable and thus completely free from doubt or question. Although this is true of ultimate moral values, it is not true of the more proximate rules of morality. One has to be prepared in mind to settle for the degree of certitude which is inherent in the subject matter. Conclusions in moral science are not reached with metaphysical certitude. The requirement of monogomy, for example, is based on how things work out for the most part. We have to be prepared in mind to shape our behavior on this type of prudent estimation of things. In other words, we cannot infallibly project what will happen as a result of a given action, but must abide by the rules of probability. Anything less would be imprudent and irrational.
b. One has to learn valid statements or categories of the morally good and bad from reputable sources.

No one can discover for himself all the conclusions of moral science early enough in life to put them into practice and avoid disaster. What moral values are learned in childhood are usually over-simplified, and frequently colored by parental or cultural prejudice. The field of moral value has been critically explored by experts. The mature mind will appreciate its limitations and take advantage of the most enlightened views available.
c. One has to discover the rational foundation behind the ethical system, i.e. the positive motives which make it meaningful.
The prudent man does the right thing for the right reasons, but the reasons which make sense to a child are not always the real reasons. Children have to be enticed by whatever values they are then able to appreciate. A child naturally accepts authority. However, the adult mind wants to know the reasons why parents, society and God say that a thing must be done. The adult mind assumes that authority will normally be reasonable.
d. Since many adult moral situations are ambiguous one must understand the principle of the double effect, and become practical in estimating the element of certitude with which the two effects eventuate, and the preponderance of value in the good effect which offsets the bad effect.

It is lawful to perform an act in spite of a foreseen evil effect, provided that:

(1) The act to be done is good in itself or at least morally indifferent. By the act to be done is meant the deed itself taken independently of its consequences. If it were evil in itself it would involve the choice of an evil means to a good end.
(2) The good effect is not obtained by means of the evil effect. The good effect must arise as immediately and directly from the original act as the evil effect. It is not a question of the good end justifying an evil means.

(3) The evil effect is not intended for itself but only tolerated or permitted. If the agent wants the bad effect he makes it directly voluntary by willing it. The evil effect must be regarded as a necessary but incidental consequence of a good act. Unless there are indications to the contrary good intention can always be presumed.

(4) There is a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect. Some proportion between the two effects must be present. This is to be estimated not only in terms of moral gravity but also in terms of the certitude with which the two effects will eventuate.
The double effect principle is not a technical loophole, but a rational technique for making moral decisions in ambiguous situations which cannot be avoided. For example, the medical student and the artist must learn anatomy, the student of French literature or social philosophy must read books which are on the Index. These situations involve activity which is in itself at least morally indifferent, but which has effects, some of which are desirable, e.g. knowledge, and some of which are undesirable, e.g. occasion of sin. Only the good effect must be intended. The good effect must not be the result of the bad effect. The good effect must balance off the bad effect. This point should be carefully made, since it is easy to look upon such refined moral analysis (as the principle of the double effect) as analogous to the quibblings of a Philadelphia lawyer. The four requirements for using the principle of the double effect are not clauses inserted in a law by cunning legislators; they are simply an analysis of the mentality of a man of good will acting under the principle of the double effect.
e. Since many adult moral situations are uncertain and unclear for one reason or another, one will have to acquire a working knowledge of the reflex principles for resolving doubts.
It has already been indicated that one may not proceed to act with a doubtful conscience, and that many moral situations are of their nature not subject to absolute certitude. The first and most obvious means of dispelling doubt is to study the matter more thoroughly. If this fails to dissipate the uncertainty, it may be helpful to seek the advice and counsel of others. Sometimes this may not be feasible, or it may prove fruitless. From that point on certainty can only be achieved indirectly, i.e. by recourse to certain well recognized principles of common sense which, because they throw no specific light upon the problem under consideration but reflect a general light on doubtful matters are called indirect or reflex principles. The more important are the following three:

(1) A doubtful law has no binding force, except (a) when doubt concerns the validity of the sacraments; (b) when the doubt concerns something that is absolutely necessary to salvation, or (c) when the doubt in question involves the established right of a third party.

(2) In doubt one must stand by reasonable presumptions.

Time does not admit a complete explanation of this principle; a few illustrations will have to suffice. A man who habitually makes a successful effort to be chaste could certainly presume that he had not consented to erotic thoughts and desires in case their voluntariety is in doubt. But in doubts about the justice of a law, the presumption would favor the legislator and not the subject.

(3) In doubt possession is nine-tenths of the law.
This usually applies to matters of commutative justice in which there are conflicting opinions of equal merit regarding lawful possession.
2. On the appetitive and emotional level:

Some emotional responses are obviously excessive or irrational, e.g. the woman who panics at the sight of a mouse, or the person who laughs when a small child is injured. The emotional response that concerns us here is guilt. Unfortunately, guilt is ambiguous and can be either moral and appropriate, or merely a psychological reaction that has nothing to do with objective morality. Some people are afraid to look through an ordinary magazine lest they see something off-color which would make them feel guilty. Others sin seriously and forget the event quite blithely.

In a realistic estimation of what an appropriate sense of guilt ought to be like, one should keep in mind that even in a well-adjusted personality contrition in a truly moral sense will have a primary reference to the standards of God; it follows that the greater the love of God, the greater the sense of failure. For example, the saints felt the most devastating sense of sorrow for what were objectively slight sins, not because of an overbearing super-ego, but because of the depth of their love for God.
a. This presupposes that some emotional reactions and attitudes are inappropriate, that there is a reasonable relationship between a given instance of human behavior and the way an adult person ought to feel about it.

b. Moral theologians, basing themselves on experience and traditional psychology, hold that the rational and voluntary side of man’s nature and the irrational and involuntary side interact.

(1) Since nothing is acquired by the mind that is not first perceived by sense, and since the practical mind thinks of a thing as good or bad largely in terms of emotional attitudes, a healthy body and a healthy emotional system are important for a mature conscience.

(2) The state of man’s mind also influences his emotions by way of some sort of overflow.
c. In the re-alignment of emotional responses two programs are suggested which are not opposed but rather complimentary parts of one whole.

(1) First, a man must think and act in a way that seems reasonable, and it can be anticipated that to some extent his feelings will adjust to his way of thinking.

This technique assumes that there is an overflow from reason which influences the effective side of the psyche. Thus, for example, a person who is overly anxious about insignificant doubts, under the direction of a confessor, little by little overcomes this anxiety by consistently going to holy communion in this state. The adult person has to be strongly persuaded to follow what seems reasonable regardless of emotional influences and reactions. This is not a theologian’s over-simplification of a psychological problem, but a fulfillment of a man’s innate urge to live rationally.

(2) Second, when forgotten, repressed and unconscious events in early life have set up patterns of emotional response which will not yield to “will power,” this material of the super-ego must be brought to the conscience level for mature consideration.
In some people the unconscious conscience or the super-ego turns out to be not only unrealistic but also quite rigid and inflexible. In some cases this can be so severe that efforts to follow the reasonable course by “will power” will meet with utter failure and result in building up even more severe anxieties.
Some awareness of how the super-ego has developed is useful in everybody. The present and the future are influenced by the past, and prudence cannot function effectively without knowledge of the past self. In emotionally disturbed personalities this second technique might well be considered as the first step in reaching adulthood.
1. The accusation is frequently made against the Church that since the time of Saint Augustine and the development of a theology of original sin, Catholics have had a sense of guilt more or less thrust upon them. Some go so far in this accusation as to say that the Church develops this sense of guilt in the faithful so that the clergy can control them more easily or so that the people will have a need for the clergy and find the ministrations of the Church indispensable. Is there any element of truth in this accusation?
2. Is there really a distinction between moral guilt and the psychological experience of guilt as found and described by the psychologist? When the priest and the psychiatrist are talking about guilt, are they talking about the same thing? (Cf. Braceland, F. J., and Stock, M., Modern Psychiatry, Doubleday, N. Y., 1963, pp. 255-265.)
3. Is it possible for a person to confess his sins sincerely and be forgiven and still have feelings of guilt? If so, what is the nature of that person’s problem and what can be done to help him?
4. Not infrequently, in dissuading the faithful from mediocrity, preachers exhort their audience to be faithful to every little impulse of grace from God, and state that infidelity in these apparently small situations leads to spiritual ruin. Is it true that one is always bound in conscience to pursue the better good? Granted that people tend to under-exert themselves in the pursuit of virtue, is this a valid and wholesome approach to the problem on the part of preachers?
5. Inevitably, people are going to be perplexed about whether or not their behavior has been subjectively sinful, or about the gravity of some sin. To be on the safe side, many people in these mental circumstances prefer to work on the assumption that they were guilty and that they were guilty to the gravest degree. Is this a suitable way to solve such doubts? Are there any inherent dangers in using this method?
6. Many sophisticated moral issues are ambiguous, i.e. they involve activity which is not in itself morally objectionable but has both good and bad effects. Most people actually prefer to think that moral issues are sharply black or white and in fact tend to get confused in conscience when the complexity of these issues is brought to their attention. Ought the clergy to instruct people in the use, for example, of the double effect principle? At what age level do you think people are mature enough to handle these sophisticated problems with such technical devices?
7. Positive laws of the Church do not bind in the face of a grave inconvenience. What percentage of adult Catholics are able to estimate a grave inconvenience when it comes to missing mass on Sunday or eating meat on Friday?
8. If one is going to live with a set of moral ideals, these ideals are going to have to be possible of achievement. The experience of many people leads them to the conclusion that Christian moral ideals are for all practical purposes impossible of achievement and as a result abandon them. Is there any other more reasonable approach to the solution of this extremely anguishing situation?
9. Is it possible for one to develop indeliberately and more or less unconsciously deep conflict patterns in the realm of ideals? Are there any “built in” conflict patterns in the values proposed by our culture, e.g. between Christian humility and the typical aggressive, self-made and self-reliant man; between poverty of spirit and the advantages of the American -standard of living? Can these conflicts be ameliorated?

  • Bittle, Celestine, Man and Morals. Bruce, Milwaukee, 1950.
  • Braceland, F. J. ,and Stock, M., Modern Psychiatry: A Handbook for Believers, Doubleday, N. Y., 1963.
  • Bruehl, Charles, This Way Happiness. Bruce, Milwaukee, 1941.
  • D’Arcy, Eric, Conscience and its Right to Freedom. Sheed and Ward, New York, 1961.
  • Davis, Henry, Moral and Pastoral Theology, Vol. I. Sheed and Ward, London, 1936.
  • Fagothey, Austin, Right and Reason, Mosby, St. Louis, 1953.
  • Hagmaier, George and Gleason, Robert W., Counselling The Catholic. Sheed and Ward, New York, 1959.
  • Maritain, Jacques, Formal Logic, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1946.
  • Nowell-Smith, P. H., Ethics. Penguin Books. 1954.
  • Priimmer, Dominic, Handbook of Moral Theology. Mercier, Dublin, 1956.

Previously published by THE PRIORY PRESS, Asbury Road, Dubuque, Iowa.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: