Saturday, January 23, 2016

Understanding the Moral Life Through the Eyes of Divine Revelation and Faith

Understanding the Moral Life
Through the eyes of Divine Revelation and Faith

"Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction."                                                                                      - Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas Est

There is a common perception among modern intellectuals that reason and faith are at odds, especially when it comes to matters of morality.This can not be further from the truth. If God created this existence, than he created it to be intelligible. He created it to be understood by the light of human reason.

Is Human Reason Enough?

We know from Sacred Scripture that man was created in the image and likeness of God. But what does this actually mean? Article 299 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us,

"The universe, created in and by the eternal Word, the 'image of the invisible God,' is destined for and addressed to man, himself created in the “image of God” and called to a personal relationship with God. Our human understanding, which shares in the light of the divine intellect, can understand what God tells us by means of his creation, though not without great effort and only in a spirit of humility and respect before the Creator and his work."

From this we can understand and conclude that God has granted us the power of reason to understand both Him, His creation and how we should act in it. Through a reasoned evaluation of existence, we can know a great deal about God's creation. 

But there are obstacles to our effective use of reason. Because of the sin of Adam, the consequences of that Original Sin has been transmitted by propagation to all of man-kind. As a result, we are unable to trust our human reason with ease, with firm certainty and with no admixture of error. 

Because of this we are in need of enlightenment by God's revelation.  

A Need For Divine Revelation

Does it matter? Do we need to trust our reason with ease, firm certainty and no admixture of error? To answer this question we must first ask, "What were we made for?"

The Final Cause of Man

All things in existence have a cause. St. Thomas Aquinas, and Aristotle before him, recognized that causality has four aspects. 

  • Material
  • Formal 
  • Efficient
  • Final 

It is the Final Cause of a thing that explains what it is made for. In order to know the final cause of any thing, we must look to its creator. Only the designer of an object can determine what something is made for. In the case of man, God, the Creator of all existence, is that designer. 

"God created everything for man, but man in turn was created to serve and love God and to offer all creation back to him" - Catechism of the Catholic Church 358

We see that if we are to serve, love and offer all creation back to God, it is imperative that we understand our role with ease, firm certainty and no admixture of error. Through an understanding of what we are made for, we can understand how we should act. Concupiscence (the result of Original Sin) has damaged our human reason and placed disordered desires in out heart. It is only through God's revelation that we can know with ease, certainty and no admixture of error how to and serve, love and offer all creation back to God. 

A Need For Faith

"It is clear, therefore, that sacred tradition, Sacred Scripture and the teaching authority of the Church, in accord with God's most wise design, are so linked and joined together that one cannot stand without the others, and that all together and each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit contribute effectively to the salvation of souls."
- Dei Verbum, 10

Faith is both a gift from God and a human act. Through this act the Christian aligns his will with God and assents to all God has revealed to man. This revelation is, according to the Second Vatican Council, a three-fold combination of Sacred Scripture, sacred tradition and the teaching authority of the Church. Through God's revelation we know that our human response to faith is both a theological virtue given by God's grace and a obligation which flows from the first commandment of God. 

In order to act with faith we must first overcome the concupiscence promulgated to us by our primordial father Adam. God's grace allows us to do that. To have access to the divine wellspring of grace we must first and foremost establish a relationship with Him. Through prayer, fasting, reception of the sacraments and the giving of alms we will establish that close and personal relationship with Jesus. As a consequence of that relationship we will align our will with His and meet our obligations provided in the Decalogue and expounded on by the Beatitudes. It is only through our faith that we will encounter Him, that we will encounter His bride the Church and recognize how we should act. 

An Encounter, Not A Lofty Ideal

We see now, that to be Christian is not merely the lofty ideal we are warned of in the opening quote by Pope Benedict XVI. It is much more than that. But in a world where Christianity is defined by "orthopraxy" divorced from "orthodoxy", we must recognize the importance of the Catholic "both and" in order to refute the false dichotomy promoting an opposition between reason and faith.

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