"" Human Freedom After Casey
John R. Meyer
A recent issue of contains an interesting article by
Russell Hittinger entitled "Et tu, Justice Kennedy?",1 which
provides a detailed historical review of the juridical and
thought processes leading up and subsequent to . The
principal thesis of that work is that the interpretation of
is centered upon a reaffirmation of what is commonly termed the
"central holding" of . The content of the "holding" notion
includes two primary arguments: i) the Fourteenth Amendment
understanding of "liberty" includes a woman's decision to abort a
pre-viable fetus, and ii) overturning Roe poses a threat to
"social stability," "the rule of law," and the "integrity of the
judiciary." Hittinger comments that "what makes Casey different
from our previous judge-made laws on abortion is the
of the abortion right from privacy to liberty." The three cited
justices explain that "at the heart of liberty is the right to
one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the
universe, and of the mystery of life."
Hittinger succinctly records for us the juridical itinerary
culminating in the Casey decision, which for all practical
purposes is a radical endorsement of the human person as self-
constitutory. The editorial of October summarizes
the Court's view of human freedom as "the liberty of self-will,
self-expression, and indeed self-constitution." Initially, the
Supreme Court determined that "the right to privacy" prevents
civil interference in the marital life of people. Thus state
statutes forbidding the sale or use of contraceptives was declared
unconstitutional ( ) because it
would allow an unjust invasion of the mutual marital relationship.
In 1971 the Court ruled that the sale of drugs or instruments of a
contraceptive nature cannot be prevented by State law (). The application of the "right to privacy" proved
inadequate in this case because civil intervention affected only
individuals and not the marital relationship .
The earlier decision had described the "right to
privacy" as "surrounding the marriage relationship" whereas in
it now comes to in the individual. (1973) amplified the notion of this right to encompass a
panoply of supposed individual values, psychological, social,
economic, and others. All of these are very important but at the
same time circumstantial considerations which do not alter the
essential nature of the act of abortion. effectively
extracted the notion of the mutual relationship of the persons in
the institution of matrimony by affirming the exclusive and
unilateral right of one type of individual, the woman, to procure
an abortion. In (1986) the "right to
privacy" was restricted to the marital state as the Court refused
to the "right to privacy" to include homosexual sodomy.
But in his dissenting opinion Justice Blackmun said that the
notion of "right to privacy" had to be by introducing
the concept of "self-definition." He wrote that this right was
essentially one of autonomy understood as "the ability to lay
claim to one's own personality through free choice." The
decision actually makes use of this re-definition of "the right to
privacy" in order to promote an almost unlimited conception of
human freedom in the area of sexual activity, whether procreative
Whether there has been a "migration" of thought is less important
than what this decision patently affirms: "human beings define
who they are." Anyone who believes in the existence of a divine
Creator will find this description of liberty as an usurpation of
the prerogatives that only properly speaking pertain to God. Only
God can what he creates precisely because he gives his
creatures all of their being. We therefore suggest that a return
to a non-skeptical assessment of truth in morality is of essential
importance if we hope to reach any form of common agreement as to
what good moral conduct consists of. As St. John records for us,
"" (Jn. 8:32), the truth will set you free.
One contemporary moral theologian suggests that free moral choices
constitute what we and what we , not what we define
ourselves to be.2 Perhaps the ideas of free choice and self-
determination are not incompatible after all; the real problem
lies in what we are and what we can or cannot licitly
do as morally acting persons.
What is really at issue here is the question of what exactly
should it mean for us to be "pro-choice," not as it is commonly
understood in "abortion-right" parlance but as a free moral act.
One certainty has come to light in the abortion controversy: each
human being is personally responsible for the choices they make
and legal statutes should focus on the common good rather than
that of the individual. Our times call for a deep work of
cultural and religious formation in order to enable the individual
members of society to conform their conduct, in both private and
public affairs, to the laws "written" into our human nature by
The rather ominous quotation cited by Hittinger from Lawrence
Tribe and Peter Rubin's book
(1990) is particularly revealing: "[the abortion right is the]
liberty not to be moulded physically and psychologically into a
mother." Although any citation taken out of context can be easily
misinterpreted, in this instance, the underlying presuppositions
seem to be rather obvious. Human liberty or freedom has been
erected as an absolute right beyond the measure or standard of any
thing or any one other than the individual . The
celebrated right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness
enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, designed to protect
and guarantee religious freedom, has become an exclusively
individual right. It is a right which can be agreed upon by
consensus but not be delineated by authority. We could interpret
Tribe and Rubin's description of the "abortion right" as ascribing
the power of controlling the freedom of a woman to a pre-viable
fetus. Implicit here is the idea that the unborn child usurps the
mother's freedom to act as she wishes, or at least it compromises
her options for action. But is this really true?
It could be contested that once a woman has conceived a fetus,
whether viable or not , she is already a mother.
But using the orientation of these authors perhaps we could
paraphrase the above description to read: "the potential child is
a , precisely because it is incapable of voluntary human
acts, a thing that alters the of a responsible human
being," i.e., the potential mother. Of course most people who
defend the "abortion right" would respond that it is not the fetus
nor the putative father that robs a woman of her freedom but
rather any legislative barriers that prevent access to
abortifacient agents or abortive surgical procedures, because
these restrictions deny a woman the exercise of her free choice.
The most important right for a woman, they contend, is the right
to terminate the only thing which can truly be given by one human
being to another, Such an argument is incorrect, morally,
because free choice is not directly affected by legal dictates:
legislation serves to guide the good moral conduct of citizens and
strives to ensure the common good of all members of society.
Clearly, moral education needs legislative science, but its
function is to educate and to promote the good use of our
faculties as children of God. Aristotle perceived this and placed
great importance on the role of the legislator and the State in
contributing to the pursuit of virtue by the citizenry. He writes
in the Nicomachean Ethics: "legislators should urge people toward
virtue and exhort them to aim at what is fine."3 Excellent laws
express the personal attention of the State for the education of
the people, "for just as in cities the provisions of law and the
[prevailing] types of character have influence, similarly a
father's words and habits have influence, and all the more because
of kinship and because of the benefits he does; for his children
are already fond of him and naturally ready to obey."4
The question we propose to address here is how can a concept of
human freedom, understood as unlimited personal liberty, have
developed in a culture and a society which is built on the respect
for the dignity of the human person? Perhaps this can be
explained, at least in part, by the fact that personal dignity is
not a human invention of our nation's Founding Fathers but is a
revealed truth of faith. Man is created in God's image and
likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26), thus man, like God, is both free and is
capable of self-knowledge through his actions and his dealings
with others.5 Moreover, this dignity is not only manifest in an
intrinsic fashion as creatures made in God's image, but we are
also intelligent beings. Therefore, we can act by way of good
moral choices to attain our natural and supernatural end:
happiness in this life and a hundred-fold more in the next when we
act and choose according to God's will. And it is precisely the
conscience which enables us to make good judgments and sound
Human actions are something like words through which we give
ourselves an identity as moral beings; our moral character is
acquired through the choices we freely make. Although it
is true that we are free to choose what we do, we are not free to
determine or define what we do as right or wrong. Human dignity
includes the capacity to understand in some measure what God
expects of us and to freely choose to relate ourselves to Him
through our actions by acting and living in accord with right
reason. Aristotle believed that happiness is avidly bound up with
a life of reason concerned with action: man's good is his good
functioning _ "the activity of the soul in accordance with
virtue."6 And the best and most perfect virtue is or
understanding whose specific activity is ,
contemplation.7 As Christians, we understand that our highest
activity is not simply an appreciation for what is good action but
that God enables us to discover what is a good action in the
concrete circumstances and the moral context of each act. As a
matter of fact our life is a with God in which we
enjoy a participation in his life, "[we] participate in the light
of the divine mind."8
One of the most characteristic cultural traditions of our time is
a heightened awareness of the inherent dignity of the human person
as the authentic foundation of human freedom. Unfortunately, many
of our contemporaries have forgotten, or at least they do not seem
to realize, that this fact is known both by way of human reason
the revealed Word of God. The latter is especially
important because it concerns the origin or source of human
dignity and thus is important for a clear appreciation of its
inherent value. The Church magisterium has discussed this "truth
of man," of man's special dignity, on several occasions.9 Of
particular interest for us is the Declaration, , which states that "all men . . . are by their own nature
impelled, and are morally bound, to seek the truth" _ "they are
bound, too, to adhere to the truth they know and to order their
whole life according to the requirements of the truth."10 True or
sound moral judgments of conscience require that one both know and
recognize the dictates of the truth. John Henry Newman pointed
out, however, that this judgment of conscience is not easily
performed as a disinterested operation because we can readily cede
to rationalizations: "the aim of most conscientious and religious
men is not how to please God, but how to please themselves without
Another consideration we should consider is that the incarnation
of the Word of God shows that man is not merely like God but that
he is called to be God-like. We are constituted as beings which
are essentially receptive to God's divine life; we are creatures
that are made for God. In the words of St. Augustine, "you have
made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until
they rest in you."11 William May has pointed out that we find
both in St. Thomas and the teachings of the Second Vatican Council
that human beings possess a two-fold dignity, both being intrinsic
to our . One is an endowment or gift, and the other is an
achievement or an acquisition.12 How then might we proceed in our
discussion of good human free choice? One promising approach is a
discussion on the relationship of truth to conscience.13
The personalism of John Paul II addresses the "truth about man"
and suggests that it is centered on the of the human
person. The Holy Father understands this to mean that the norms
of moral conduct grow out of the truth about our personal being.
Thus moral norms must be internalized and not simply applied from
"outside"; we as persons are made for the truth, and we can only
if we understand it.14 A man can be good and act
well only if he is truly wise. When applied to matrimony the love
present between a man and a woman is centered on their capacity
for . And this capacity of making oneself a gift
to another is founded on selfhood and the process of active self-
determination through free moral acts. Although a relationship of
a mother to a gestating child differs from the nuptial union of
marriage, it is easy to see how the mother's act of self-donation
in the marital state gives the potential child a share in her own
life and the life of her spouse.
The love between husband and wife serves as the context of a new
creative moment by God; it is the medium of selflessness in which
God communicates new life. This life is, in its deepest sense,
the gift of "personhood." It is a gift that cannot be given by
them but must come from God. We find ourselves face to face with
the problem of how God gives a person their existence. The
creative intervention of God does what we cannot do: only God can
create the "person" in the context of mutual human love.
According to the classical definition of the person, he/she is
, a law unto itself and
incommunicable to others. The "Law of God" is written into our
personal nature we cannot communicate it to another.
Moreover, the willingness to bring a pre-viable life to term
consolidates the initial community of love in which conception
One might object to this "romantic" appreciation of sexual union
by citing the fact that the generation of human life outside the
context of marital communion is not prevented by God. There seems
to be no divine provision for the authenticity of human self-
donation between two persons prior to the creation of a new human
life. Actually, this fact is not really a problem to our
discussion but does in fact support the personalist approach to
human love. In the mind of Karol Wojtyla the most radical form of
human self-giving takes place between a man and a woman in the act
of love, a type of love which entails the surrender of
oneself to another.16 And this spousal surrender is possible
precisely because the human person is (belongs to
him/herself). This fact affords the possibility of
oneself to another, of throwing one's "self" or "person" away in
acts of love that lack the guarantee of authentic self-donation,
the mark of permanent commitment. God respects our freedom so
much that he does not violate the laws of nature set into motion
by our free human acts. He does not prevent a bad human act even
when it is an abuse of one's own self and the ality of
another human being.
A man who simply "takes" a woman, in the absence of an authentic
mutual offering of "self" performs a physical act akin to the
marital one, but that act does not affect the "interiority" of
either person.17 Each one remains excluded from the inner self of
the other, merely using one another's physical abilities for
egotistical gain. In order to appropriate the good that inheres
in the other person each one must allow themselves to be known in
a personal manner. This demands that the subject be open to the
self of the other, and that they be willing to accept and grant
full autonomy to that other self. We could say that these
predisposing elements to true human love prepare each one to be
receptive to the self-donation of the other and to the gift of
spiritual life from God.18
Where there is no commitment of one person to another there is no
authentic love, no true gift of one to the other, and thus there
is no deep love for the possible resultant human life of such a
union. This would in part explain why abortion on demand is so
widely acclaimed in societies that do not effectively educate in
the virtue of chastity and legalize marital divorce. The
permanence of the family is not guaranteed by the legislative body
nor is the indissolubility of the marriage bond viewed as a good
but rather as an onerous burden.19
The subjectivity of human acting addresses the phenomenon of self-
determination as well as that of self-awareness or self-presence.
One can make a distinction between what occurs "in man" and what
he/she does by way of free choices, and this is most evident to a
person when they consider an action in relation to the truth, when
we make judgments with the conscience.20 The attraction or power
of a moral responsibility, duty, or obligation draws us out of
ourselves, but it also reminds us that it is we who dispose
ourselves to act in a specific manner; we determine what we are by
way of our moral acting.21 Only man exists for his own sake, and
the dignity of his/her selfhood is decided or determined by each
person through their moral actions. For this reason we say that a
human person truly determines their destiny. Our lives are not
simply in the hands of blind fate or good fortune.22 Aristotle
writes a principle in the soul which gives rise to both good
natural desire and correct intellectual and deliberative desire,
and that principle is God.23
God is a final cause for the soul, not the efficient cause. Thus
man lives in obedience to the commands of the soul and not as a
direct response to divine guidance. For the Philosopher God is
the supreme but our intellectual faculty possesses a two-
fold , one that enjoys "contact" with God and the other
which is influenced by the senses and directs our actions. God
does not issue commands to us but rather we command ourselves.
Wisdom or understanding is the epitactic that is capable
of commanding us for the sake of God and in order to serve and
contemplate Him. Choices that move us to the contemplation of God
are best because the Deity is the noblest criterion of judgment;
God is related to as the principal object of
contemplation.24 Thus the "best life" for man in Aristotle is
both practical (political) and theoretical activity: "it is a
life of practical wisdom enlightened by nobility and looking
towards "25 This explains his remarks concerning
choice; man's choices must have an object worthy of choosing.26
A better understanding of the human person and his/her moral
judgments can help us re-discover the real reason why human
decisions or choices can be erroneous. The Old Testament prophet
Isaiah wrote that "you shall hear but not understand, and you
shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people's heart has
grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes
they have closed" (Is. 6:9-10). St. Augustine explains that "love
for the shadows ends up making the eyes become unable to see the
face of God. Therefore, the more a man gives in to his weakness,
the more he slips into darkness."27 In "The City of God" he
writes: "in the beginning free will was able not to sin, at the
end of time it will be unable to sin."28 For Augustine the proper
use of our free will is of paramount importance, not only to avoid
sin but also to live well so that we attain our supernatural end,
to be holy.
What does the fact that all human beings are sinners have to do
with what we are addressing here? Another early Father of the
Church, St. Athanasius of Alexandria, wrote that after the Fall
"those who have abandoned God and have darkened their souls have
distracted minds, and like drunken and blind men imagine what is
not true."29 These are powerful words, and they may be difficult
for many to accept, but we all know how easy it is to succumb to
the lure of present desires, illusions and passions. The same
author writes: "men . . . did not look towards the truth"; "they
no longer appeared as rational beings, but from their behaviour
were considered to be irrational. . . ."30 We find of course that
our Lord spoke of this need for a clean heart in order to
understand the things of God. Jesus teaches that the source of
all sin is man's soul (cf. Mt. 5:21-32), and that the human heart
is the organ of the ethical life of man (cf. Mk. 7:14-23; Mt.
15:17-20; 6:22; 12:23f.). Man must be well disposed in his heart
if he hopes to know truth and to do good. Let us examine very
briefly how St. Thomas addresses this topic.
For St. Thomas sinning was due to an abuse of freedom which leads
man to serve creatures in place of God. This servitude to created
things causes one to succumb to a as he termed
it, causing the loss of true freedom.31 The "cleavage" created by
sin in man's relationship with God also destroys the rapport of
that person with his/her neighbor. This social breakdown in man's
relationship with others was described as self-isolation by Paul
Tillich.32 Sin arises from the heart and it affects a person's
relations with others; it is both a personal evil and a lesion to
the social community.33 According to the mind of Thomas sin is
essentially egoism, and sins against our neighbor derive from an
interior form of This hatred for one's neighbor implies
that the sinner has developed a disordered human will
(),34 it is the final step in the
progression of sin. Sin impedes a proper respect for the good,
the divine good and the good of our neighbor.35 This is why in
the Christian conception of sin liberation refers to an interior
deliverance from the dominion of sin.36
Augustine criticized his Roman contemporaries for willfully
concealing from themselves and others an awareness of their
corrupted will. This raises an interesting question: how can we
explain the reality of a binding conscience and ignorance of moral
evil in our acts? St. Thomas agrees with Augustine's assessment:
the concealment occurs due to the collusion of the will in evil.
But Thomas carries the idea a step further by integrating the
Aristotelian notion of , the natural disposition to
apprehend the primary precepts of natural law, with the
Augustinian darkening of the Thomas understands
that this natural disposition for the reception of first
principles () is infallible 37 but that the
application of those general principles to specific situations
() can be erroneous.38 Therefore, mistakes in moral
and practical judgments are derivatives of fallacious judgments
reached by the 39
Thomas uses the term (choice) to designate our free
moral choices which form the judgment of the .
is the application of first moral principles to
specific acts while is an act of the will directed to
the choice of an "end" that serves as a means to our ultimate end,
an end which is not subject to choice.40 Our conscience can err
either because its judgment was deduced from a true premise(s)
joined to a false one or because its conclusion is false due to
fallacious reasoning. This means that conscience can be in error
while at the same time its decisions remain as binding judgments
"in conscience."41 The decision taken is binding
and not because it is founded on an erroneous judgment.42
Furthermore, an incorrect moral judgment indicates that the person
must have admitted some type of contradiction into their set of
moral beliefs which gives rise to contradictory assertions by the
conscience. The significance of this is that full rationality or
moral reasonableness is not a requisite condition for a judgment's
genuine binding force. The lesson would seem to be clear. We
must be very attentive to the way we form the conscience, and
quite sensitive to the veracity of the moral precepts we adopt.
However, the human conscience can become deformed and make
erroneous judgments even when it possesses all of the intellectual
factors necessary to carry out good practical decisions. The
basic moral attitude and life of the individual, if not in
agreement with the moral principles of the conscience, can injure
the rectitude with which that faculty operates. The intellect and
the will, knowledge and moral behavior, are two vital human
faculties that interpenetrate one another in such a way that it is
difficult to identify in which of the two a moral disorder first
arose. One thing is certain though, both of them mutually
influence and assist one another in the process of corrupting the
conscience.43 As Carlos Cardona writes, "the heart is never
estranged from the truth. Strictly speaking, it is not the
intellect that understands nor the will that desires, rather it is
the man who always thinks with his mind, desires with his will,
he wants to know and he knows he wants."44
It is not sufficient, then, that all of the moral principles
required to make a good judgment be present to the conscience
because it is quite possible to elude the light of conscience when
one is lacking in moral virtues.45 When one's moral conduct
disagrees with the dictates of the conscience, but there is a
struggle to follow the principles and to make sound judgments, the
light of truth is not lost. However, if one does not make a
concerted effort to correct those errors, a deformation of the
conscience ensues. Once vice takes hold it is nearly impossible
to detect or understand the light of truth communicated by God to
the heart: "" (Acts 28:26).
God no longer leads as He Himself wishes to,46 and His divine life
is removed from the soul. Man guides himself instead of allowing
God to do so in his conscience, and he breaks the strongest bond
present between man and God, the conscience, which is a guide as
long as it submits to the law of God.47
We currently find ourselves in the midst of a crisis of faith
which affects our culture at a critical neuralgic point, the heart
or conscience of man. Martin Heidegger recognized the tragic
importance of this crisis in Western culture and attributed its
cause to a denial of the revealed truth concerning the reality of
the world as created.48 The initiation of this tragedy goes back
to Descartes and his philosophical program of methodical doubt
which names man as the ultimate arbiter of all truth: "Man knows
himself with absolute certitude as that whose being is the
most certain. Man becomes the foundation and the measure that are
placed by himself in order to found and measure all certitude and
all truth."49 Nietzsche carries this Cartesian view to its
logical philosophical conclusion: the "psychology" of man is
primary, even more important than metaphysics. Man has become the
that lies at the base of all reality: "Only with the
doctrine of the Superman inasmuch as it is the doctrine of the
unconditional predominance of man in the , does modern
metaphysics reach the extreme and complete determination of its
essence."50 In this way not only the doctrine of faith but also
any natural knowledge of God and any morality founded in that
knowledge is excluded. This causes an inversion of the very
notion of good and evil,51 it is now simply "an experiment with
In the Apostolic Exhortation, ,
John Paul II writes that we cannot construct a sound society
God or God: "an exclusion of God, through
direct opposition to one of his commandments, through an act of
rivalry, through the mistaken pretension of being 'like him' "
(Gen. 3:5). Moreover, "the rupture with Yahweh simultaneously
breaks the bond of friendship that had united the human family."
When God is excluded from society there arises a loss of the
, and this moral loss primarily affects the
conscience. describes the conscience as "the
most secret core and sanctuary of man";53 it is a judging faculty
which is "strictly related to human freedom."54 The loss of the
sense of sin is closely linked with moral conscience, so much so
that any obscuring of it inevitably affects "the search for truth
and the desire to make a responsible use of freedom."55 All three
of these phenomena, the loss of the sense of sin, the darkening of
the conscience, and an inadequate use of reason are a consequence
of the denial of God, resulting in loneliness and alienation. The
Encyclical Letter affirms that "a person is
alienated if he refuses to transcend himself and to live the
experience of self-giving and of the formation of an authentic
human community oriented towards his final destiny, which is
The true significance of sin eludes us unless it is based on its
theological dimension: sin is an offense against God. Sin loses
its authentic meaning in a world that prescinds of God because it
is reduced to being a mere compliance with or violation of
accepted social convention, an act which is a lack of courtesy or
attention to another's preferences, or a simple error in
calculation in selecting adequate means to an end. Without God
our freedom loses its reference to truth and becomes concerned
principally with the exercise of its function free of any
opposition. It becomes a self-affirmation of the person that does
not serve truth. The loss of the sense of sin empties moral
values of their radical superiority to other licit values, be they
biologic, physical, economic, social or cultural. A first step in
the right direction is to recognize that a person can live the
truth only if they understand that it is attained through
intelligent obedience, that is, in the truth and by
confiding in the "truth about man" as a beloved child of God.
We do not ourselves but determine our destiny based upon
how we correspond to the "truth of man" inherent in us and
revealed to us by God. The truth must be loved, sought and served
for its own worth, even to the point of sacrificing our own
personal interests _ our own life if necessary. Cicero wrote that
"all virtues and moral quality (the honest) which emanates from
them and binds them, should be sought for themselves."57 But are
there nowadays people who seek for virtue for its own sake?
Love for the truth is constitutive of the human personality, and
the pursuit of truth ensures the conservation of our dignity as
children of God. Karol Wojtyla believes that the human conscience
should strive to be identified with the , and only
Christ knows what is in the heart of man (cf. Jn. 2:25). The
"Good News" is that he reveals it to us as a participation in the
Father's providential plan of salvation. Our Lord "evokes an
awareness of sin" in us so that we do not accuse others of our own
sins.58 Moreover, a religious person realizes that God's
knowledge of them penetrates more deeply into their being than
they themselves can enter. And God's judgment of us goes much
deeper than the mere assessment of the performance of good acts or
bad ones. God can even accept the erroneous judgments made by our
conscience when this occurs out of ignorance although He knows
when it is culpable or not. God can discern when there is true
ignorance or only feigned blindness, or it results from negligence
or a failure to fight against bad tendencies forming in the
will.59 These considerations move us to reaffirm the need to know
ourselves in a profound way and to make a sincere effort to form
our will to please God.60
The Second Vatican Council emphasizes that there is a natural law
and a Gospel law that establish certain limits which should be
observed even by a person who is defending their own personal
rights.61 If these limits are not respected, harm is caused that
person as well as many others, and this is especially true with
the theme of life: "whatever is opposed to life itself . . . [is]
indeed shameful . . . they poison human civilization, they degrade
those who so act more than those who suffer the injury . . ."62
Our freedom is an attribute of the person, not understood as
absolute independence but in self-dependence that is linked with
love for the truth. We are dependent on the truth to know
ourselves and to know how to act well. Karol Wojtyla writes that
"this freedom finds its most striking expression in conscience,
whose proper and entire function consists in making action
dependent on truth."63 Etienne Gilson touches on the heart of the
problem for sinful man when he writes that the metamorphosis of
the "City of God" is the "history of an obstinate effort to make
this eternal city a temporal one . . ."64
Wojtyla appreciates all the works of God as being the fruit of
love and man's capacity of dominion over material things, a
benefit of the Covenant established by God. He created man in
such a way that we could discover the natural laws of creation and
dominate them for our own benefit and the glory of the Creator.
This gift of discernment affords man a way of acting that requires
moral responsibility, choices and decisions which can open his
heart to life itself, to the gift of divine grace that is found in
Christ. Therefore, man is not simply in the world or in himself,
but he exists in relation to other spiritual creatures and God.
He is in a state of self-donation before God. We can perceive
God's love for us and we can also love God.65 The truth puts man
in contact with God and his own destiny: "The dignity proper to
man, the dignity that is held out to him both as a gift and as
something to be striven for, is inextricably bound up with truth.
. . . Thus it is truth that makes man what he is. His
relationship with truth is the deciding factor in his human nature
and it constitutes his dignity as a person."66
The Church shows man the truth of his being loved by God as well
as his call to love God: it is a special dignity that
distinguishes him from all other creatures and sets the stage for
his adoption to divine filiation in the Incarnate Son, Jesus
Christ. J. L. Illanes comments that the Gospel reveals to us that
the center of our life transcends the merely human level of
existence, that a true is only achieved God
and God. This message manifests that our deepest hopes and
aspirations reflect the fact that we are made in his image. When
we are superficial and remain only on the surface of things and
events, we fail to encounter God as He wishes. We lose the deep
meaning of reality whenever we forfeit the category of gift and
self-donation; life is the result of a free decision by God to
give His life to us.67
We must ask ourselves more frequently what is the truth and from
where does it come? Only God is the truth, and only He can
provide us with the moral criteria to live as he designed us to
live, with the dignity of children of God. John M. Finnis writes
that the moral principles we use to live well come from God:
"Intellectual rigor demands that we ask for the source of our
understanding of the principles of natural law. Like all
reasonable demands for an explanation, this demand, when
conscientiously pursued, leads us to affirm an entity that by its
existence explains the very possibility of explanation, and in
particular explains the existing of all our powers of
understanding and explaining, our ability to respond to the
attractiveness of those goods and to the rational appeal of those
principles. Once we have rationally affirmed the existing of that
all-explaining entity, God, it is our turn to fall silent and
listen to the affirmation that God has made in human history.
What God has affirmed about the dignity and responsibilities of
mankind is now no longer a matter of speculation; it is a matter
of acknowledging the fact, the historical fact . . ."68
God is the truth to be searched for in our lives so that we can,
in fact, make good moral choices, and so that we can continue to
make really free choices. Those are absolutely necessary if we
hope to foster the growth of individual human beings who reflect
the fact that they were made in God's own image. We have studied
the effect of sin on man's ability to make sound moral judgments
as it is understood in classical Catholic theology. Our purpose
was to reaffirm the importance of the formation of the human
conscience of each and every member of our society, be they
Catholic or not. This is a task that everyone must feel
responsible for, that all of us must contribute to, and that all
can make happen if we honestly search for truth in the gospel
message of Christ who as the Son of God shows us the Father who is
After having been tried by Caiaphas, Jesus was brought to the
praetorium of Pontius Pilate, who asks him if he is king: "?" Jesus responds by saying that he bears witness
to the truth; everyone "who is of the truth hears my voice" (Jn.
8:37). Christ reigns over those who accept and practice the truth
revealed by him. But Pilate, seeing that he is innocent, refuses
to release him and contents himself with asking, what to him, was
a question that is unanswerable: "?" (Jn.
8:28). Just as in the ancient city of Babel, where "the people
sought to build a city, organize themselves into a society and to
be strong and powerful without God, if not precisely against
God,"70 perhaps we need to take a serious look at what really
motivates our lives, and what is the true goal to which we aspire.
Is it the promised or a transitory and ephemeral
? We would do well to recall the words of Jesus
Christ, "" _ the truth will make you free
(Jn. 8:32), and seriously strive to create an environment
conducive to its attainment.
1 R. Hittinger, "Et tu, Justice Kennedy?" in 10/8 (1992),
2 Vid. G. Grisez, (Chicago, 1983), pp. 41-72.
3 Aristotle, [NE] 10, 1180a 6.
4 NE 10, 1180b 5.
5 Aristotle understood that a friend is another self or an (NE 9, 1170b 6) so that the consciousness of a friend's life
is an avenue to self-consciousness especially if that friend is a
good person. The underlying reason for this is that "we can
contemplate our neighbors better than ourselves, and their actions
better than our own" (ibid., 1169b 34). What Aristotle appears to
be saying is that the conscience we possess is an imperfect one,
and we can sense the goodness of another better than we can sense
our own. Only God possesses a perfect or pure conscience, but man
needs friendship in order to perfect his own conscience (cf. R. A.
Gauthier and J. Y. Jolif, , 2nd ed. [Paris-
Louvain, 1970], ii/2, p. 761.)
6 A. Kenny, (Oxford, 1992), p. 5.
7 Aristotle, NE 10, 1177a 20-1178a 8.
8 Past. Const., , 15.
9 Leo XIII, (1888); Pius XII, (1937); idem., Radio message of Dec. 24, 1942;
John XXIII, (1963); Paul VI, (1965); John Paul II, (1979);
10 , 2.
11 Augustine, I, 1.
12 W. E. May, "Making True Moral Judgments and Good Moral Choices"
in 13 (1987), pp. 283-299.
13 The Jews were the only group among the ancient peoples who
identified the object of religious worship with the source of law
and moral conscience. Moreover, they were aware of a divine
indwelling of God in man. Christian tradition carried forward a
profound renovation of the Judaic view of Law by recognizing the
inherence of God's designs for salvation in our nature. Our faith
not only informs us about how we should act but it also acts as a
spiritual vehicle or power that transforms us internally through
the communication of God's own life to the soul. Christianity,
then, reinterprets the Hebraic understanding of faith imbuing
ethics by adding an operative dimension to our being. Our faith
can "empower" the individual believer with a (power) to
perform work as , as work of God by way of His
14 Cf. J. F. Crosby, "The Personalism of John Paul II as the Basis
of his Approach to the Teaching of " in Humanae Vitae, R. E. Smith, ed. (Braintree, MA, 1988),
pp. 37-63, esp. p. 40.
15 The continuous re-affirmation of the worth of the pre-viable
personal life proclaims the sacred and dignified nature of
personal life in general _ the gestation of a human life in her
womb is a statement concerning her understanding and appreciation
of the inherent value of that form of life as coming from God and
reflecting God's way of being.
16 K. Wojtyla, (New York, 1981), pp. 95-
17 Many of these considerations are taken from an essay written by
Damian Fedoryka entitled "Towards a Concept and a Phenomenology of
the Gift," March 4, 1992.
18 Another important factor must be considered as well. The
intention of self-donation must be benevolent, that is to say, the
subject must truly desire the good of the other person if he/she
is to become a recipient of the personal good which the other can
give as gift. The intention of benevolence allows the two parties
to enter into the other and raise them to their level of love. Of
course, the opposite effect can ensue when one desires to possess
another or some "thing" of another in an inordinate way. In that
case the will for possession lowers the worth of both persons
because they have been used not as ends but as means to a
19 It is obvious that a mother certainly can, and often does, come
to love the life of a child that results from a union outside of
matrimony. In addition, many couples give birth to children who
were "not planned" as said in common parlance. There is something
infinitely lovable about any human being, especially the innocence
of a human child, who represents a microcosmos of the world we
live in. They express our own hope of enjoying more fully a world
that exults over life, and treats it with great love and
20 K. Wojtyla, (Dordrecht, 1979), ch. 2.
21 J. F. Crosby, op. cit., pp. 48-49.
22 In order to act well morally a person must have acquired good
dispositions or inclinations in the will in order to effectively
pursue the truth and the good in every moral situation they
encounter. This is, of course, an important concept in
Aristotle's system of virtue: good dispositions () are
acquired by doing good, and this practice of virtue perfects our
practical judgment or wisdom (). However, the
philosopher also recognizes that some people attain good moral
results from their actions not only through wisdom and virtue but
by way of . Luck, however, is not due to wisdom
because the agent cannot articulate the reasons for their actions
nor is it the result of virtue because it seems to be innate to
one's nature, not requiring an acquired good disposition
(). At times people even succeed in things which they have
reasoned poorly about (Eudemian Ethics [EE] VIII, 1247b 30-31).
In those instances the cause of their good fortune does not derive
from luck but from God (cf. A. Kenny, , op. cit., p. 70ff.).
23 Aristotle, EE VIII, 1248a 26-27: "As God moves everything in
the universe, so he moves everything here, by intelligence. For
what moves in a manner everything is the divine in us." Here
Aristotle distinguishes between the or understanding, the
divine element located in the human soul, and something superior
to that faculty, God Himself.
24 Vid. A. Kenny, , op. cit., pp.
25 S. W. Broadie, (New York, 1991), p.
26 EE, 1214b 6-10: "Everyone that has the power to live according
to his own choice should set up for himself some object for the
good life . . . since not to have one's life organized in view of
some end in a mark of much folly."
27 Augustine, , I, 16, 43.
28 Idem., Bk. XXII, ch. 30.
29 Athanasius, , 23 (PG 25, 48 B).
30 Idem., , 12 (PG 25, 117 A).
31 St. Thomas, , IIIa, q. 8 a. 7; cf. Ia-IIae,
q. 77 a. 4; q. 84 a. 2. Vid. J. Pieper, (Munich, 1977), pp. 72-84.
32 P. Tillich, (Stuttgart, 1965), p.
203: one aspect of sin is estrangement or isolation from God and
one's fellow man.
33 Vid. R. Ricoeur, "'Morale sans peche' on 'peche sans
moralisme'?" in 64 (1954), p. 304.
34 St. Thomas, , IIa-IIae, q. 34 a. 4.
35 Ibid., IIa-IIae, q. 34 a. 5; cf. Ia-IIae, q. 60 a. 5; Ia-IIae,
q. 109 a. 3; IIa-IIae, q. 26 a. 3.
36 Cf. J. Schumacher, "L'uomo tra peccato e redenzione" in
2 (1988), p. 47.
37 St. Thomas, (QD), 16, 2.
38 Ibid., 16, 2 and 17, 2.
39 Vid. A. MacIntyre, ? (Notre
Dame, 1987), ch. XI, "Aquinas on Practical Rationality and
Justice," pp. 183-208, esp. pp. 183-186.
40 St. Thomas, , q. 13, a. 3.
41 Idem., QD, 17, 3 and 4.
42 QD, 17, 4.
43 Cf. R. García de Haro-I. de Celaya, , 2nd ed. (Pamplona, 1986), p. 209; vid. St. Thomas, ., ch. 12, l. 1.
44 C. Cardona, , 2nd ed.
(Madrid, 1973), p. 136; the translation and emphasis is my own.
45 St. Thomas, , Ia-IIae, q. 58 a. 5: "[when]
reason is concerned with the particular, it needs not only
universal principles, but also particular ones. So far as the
general principles of practice are concerned, a man is rightly
disposed by a natural understanding, by which he knows that he
should do no evil, and by some normative science. Yet this is not
enough in order that a man may reason rightly about particular
cases. In fact, it happens sometimes that general principles and
conclusions of understanding and science are swept away in the
particular case by a passion. Thus to one who is overcome by
lust, the object of his desire then seems good, although it is
against his general convictions. Consequently, as by the habits
of natural understanding and science, a man is rightly disposed
with regard to general truths, so, in order that he be rightly
disposed with regard to the particular principles of action,
namely, their ends, he needs to be perfected by certain habits,
whereby it becomes, as it were, connatural to him to judge rightly
about an end. This is done by moral virtue, for the virtuous man
judges rightly of the end of virtue, because, as Aristotle says,
such as a man is, such does the end seem to him (Ethics, III, 5.
1114a 32). Consequently right judgment about things to be done,
namely prudence, requires that a man has moral virtue."
46 Cf. Is. 48, 17: "I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for
your good, and lead you on the way you should go. If you would
hearken to my commandments, your prosperity would be like a river,
and your vindication like the waves of the sea."
47 Cf. John Paul II, General Audience, August 17, 1983, n. 2
(, VI, 2, p. 256).
48 M. Heidegger, , Günther Neske Verlag, Pfullingen,
1961, 1985, Bd. 2 (tr. from C. Cardona, , reprint of
a conference given in Castelldaura, Spain, on Sept. 11, 1991 _
Servicio de Documentacion Montealegre, n. 364, Sept. 9-15, 1991):
"The being of the ente consists in the fact of being created by
God (). If, starting from there, the
human intellect wishes to know the truth about the , the
only sure way that remains for that is to zealously reunite and
conserve the revealed doctrine whose tradition has been ensured by
the Doctors of the Church."
49 M. Heidegger, , op. cit., II, V, pp. 133-134.
50 Ibid., pp. 60-61.
51 C. Cardona, , op. cit., p. 4; cf. M. Heidegger,
, op. cit., II, V, pp. 143-144: "From now on, to be
free means that, in place of a certitude in salvation that gives
the measure of all truth, man places a type of certitude in which,
in virtue of it and in it, he becomes certain of himself. . . .
The new freedom is _ from the metaphysical point of view _ the
inauguration of a multiplicity concerning what man can and wishes
to consciously place as being necessary and obligatory in the
52 M. Heidegger, , I, II, p. 90.
53 , 16.
54 John Paul II, message of March 14, 1982
(, V, 1, pp. 860-861).
56 John Paul II, Enc. Letter, , 41.
57 Cicero, , 1. V, ch. XXIII: "."
58 John Paul II, Apost. Letter, , n. 14.
59 K. Wojtyla, (Paris, 1980), pp. 129-
60 The realization that our conscience is an open book for God
does not paralyze man precisely because as a person he determines
for himself how he makes use of the soul's freedom. Here we see a
parallel with what Aristotle also affirmed, that God is our final
cause and thus He is the goal towards which the virtuous man
tends. The efficient cause lies in man himself, in the capacity
to freely specify and exercise his will as he deems fit. Wojtyla
expresses this in the following manner in "En Esprit et En
Verite": L'homme religieux est convaincu de ce que Dieu le
connaît bien plus profondement et le penètre lui-même aussi bien
plus profondement qu'il ne se connaît et ne se penètre lui-même.
Une telle conscience peut, en de certains moments, provoquer un
tremblement interieur; mais, fondamentalement, elle ne peut
paralyser l'homme. Car il est convaincu de ce que, comme personne
dotee d'autodetermination en ce qui concerne ses actes propres, il
a a compter sur le jugement de sa conscience propre pour ce qui
touche le bien et le mal moral." (p. 130)
61 Cf. , 74, 79, 80.
62 Ibid., 27.
63 K. Wojtyla, , op. cit., p. 291, n. 8.
64 E. Gilson, (Louvain-
Paris, 1952), p. 288.
65 J. L. Illanes, in
11 (1979), pp. 297-352, esp. pp. 335, 344-345; cf. K.
Wojtyla, (New York, 1979), p. 132.
66 K. Wojtyla, , op. cit., p. 119.
67 Cf. J. L. Illanes, op. cit., pp. 350-352.
68 J. Finnis, "The Foundations of Human Rights" in Catholic
Position Papers, n. 205 (July 1992), p. 5 (first published in the
ICU quarterly, ).
69 Michael Novak alerts us that sexual libertinism easily corrupts
"natural reason and the normal starting places of faith," and this
leads "human reason [to] lose(s) its balance, its purity, and its
directness." (M. Novak, "Abandoned in a Toxic Culture" in Crisis
10 (1992), pp. 16-17.) Our results concur completely with his
affirmation and the traditional teaching of sound moral
development. If we continue to allow others to propagate
amorality as the standard of normal human conduct we will see how
difficult it is to avoid confusion and turmoil in society and our
own personal lives. Novak writes, "The intellectual leaders of
modern culture assault the very notion of objective truth. . . .
They interpret truth as an expression of power alone. As they
knock out from Christianity the essential foundation _ that there
is a truth to be searched for _ the whole quest of Christianity
becomes senseless. And the name of God _ that God is Truth _
becomes absurd." (Ibid., p. 16.)
70 John Paul II, Apost. Exhort., ,
This article was taken from the Summer 1993 issue of "Faith &
Reason". Subscriptions available from Christendom Press, 2101
Shenandoah Shores Road, Ft. Royal, VA 22630, 703-636-2900, Fax
703-636-1655. Published quarterly at $20.00 per year.
Copyright (c) 1996 EWTN