Jacques Maritain Center : The Range of Reason

Chapter Six

THE IMMANENT DIALECTIC OF THE FIRST ACT OF FREEDOM

I. THE FIRST ACT OF FREEDOM

I AM considering any first or primal free act, any free act through which a new basic direction is imposed on my life. Such an act goes down to the sources of my moral life; through it I take hold of myself so as to project myself in a spray of ulterior actions which may be indefinite. Nevertheless, I am not necessarily aware of the profundity of what is happening; the available evidence may be but a very slight impact, a mere ripple on the surface of the waters.

This act may have been preceded by many others; yet it is, in a moral sense, an absolute beginning. (Such is the kind of act with which is concerned what theologians call the gratia operans; or, in philosophical terms, an activation coming from God and through which the will does not make an act proceed from another, but causes a primal act to surge from its own depths.)

For the sake of simplicity, I am considering the first or primal act of freedom exercised by a child when, for the first time, he ponders or "deliberates about himself."{1} He deliberates! He does not go in for any discursive deliberation; he takes himself in hand; he frees or delivers his own self from the deterministic crust under which he has lived until that moment; he ushers himself into the universe of moral life by freely deciding about the direction of his life. At the root of such an act there is a reflection upon oneself which takes place in the intellect and answers the question: "What do you live for?" Yet this reflection is not explicitly signified to the mind, and the question which it answers is not formulated in clear concepts. This question, on the contrary, is altogether engaged and involved in a choice whose immediate object may be a bit of straw, a trifle, but which is pregnant with a spiritual vitality, a decisive earnestness, a commitment, a gift of oneself the plenitude of which will not be experienced by adult age except in rare and miraculous occasions. Puerile decus. Children are told not to play with fire; they play with God.

Here is a child who refrains from telling a lie, under circumstances which, in themselves, are trivial. On a certain day he refrains from lying not because he is likely to be punished if he is caught, or because he has been told not to lie and is afraid of grown-ups, or because he does not want to grieve his mother. He refrains from telling a lie, because lying is wrong. It would not be right to tell a lie. That would not be good. Doubtless, he has already known of all sorts of little things labeled good or evil by his parents and his teachers; social custom has tamed him into doing the former and not doing the latter. But this time it is no longer a question of a kind of conditioned reflex. When he thinks: "It would not be good to do this," what is confusedly revealed to him, in a flash of understanding, is the moral good, with the whole mystery of its demands. He is face to face with this mystery, and he is all alone.

And it is the first time that he himself governs his own practical behavior, as a human being, according to this standard: the moral good, consciously perceived in an idea whose representative content is doubtless meager and confused, at the level of a child's intellect, but whose intuitive intensity and intentional value may be singularly powerful. Bonum honestum; kalokagathon. At this moment and all at once -- but in actu exercito, not in actu signato, in a merely lived, not signified, manner -- he has reflected upon himself or "deliberated about himself," and come to a decision about the direction of his life;{2} he has answered the question "What do you live for?" He will not remember this event any more than the day when, from the midst of images, the life of reason and of universal ideas awakened in him. For what took place was not a philosophical discovery of his ego, but a spontaneous reflection involved in a practical process whose object was not, by any means, extraordinary or exceptional; and it is toward the object, not the event which goes on within himself, that the attention of the child is always turned. Moreover, the act then elicited, though conscious and deliberate, sprang from the unconscious depths where the spirit has its sources.

Yet, in some rare cases, the first act of freedom will never be forgotten, especially if the choice -- however insignificant its object -- through which the soul was introduced into moral life occurred rather late. In other cases there is a remembrance of some childish remorse, whose occasion was unimportant but whose intensity, out of proportion with its object, upset the soul and awakened its moral sense. Let us think, finally, of the dreams in which the adolescent sees himself as a hero or a knight, or as a man blessed with fortune or pleasure; let us think of the chance statements in which, during the course of his daily conversation, he unwittingly drops the first hints of a philosophy of life. These dreams and rationalizations are but the outward projection of the decisive act performed at the moment when moral life was awakened, and of which no trace was kept by memory.

 

II. THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE FIRST ACT OF FREEDOM

What does such an act imply? What is the immanent dialectic, the secret dynamism of the primal act of freedom? Let us unfold and make explicit, in terms of speculative knowledge and philosophical discourse, what is contained in the indivisible vitality, both volitional and intellectual, of this act.

The soul, in this first moral choice, turns away from an evil action because it is evil. Thus, the intellect is aware of the distinction between good and evil, and knows that the good ought to be done because it is good. We are confronted, here, with a formal motive which transcends the whole order of empirical convenience and desire. This is the primary implication of the first act of freedom when it is good.

But, because the value with which the moral object and the moral act are permeated surpasses anything given in empirical existence and concerns that which ought to be, the notion of a good action to be done for the sake of the good necessarily implies that there is an ideal and indefectible order of proper consonance between our activity and our essence, a law of human acts transcending all facts. This is the second implication of the first act of freedom when it is good.

Let us reflect upon this law. It transcends the whole empirical order; the act that I bring into existence must conform to it, if it is to be a good act; and the first precept of this law demands of me that my act be good. Such a law carries in the world of actual existence the requirements of an order that depends on a reality superior to everything and which is Goodness itself -- good by virtue of its very being, not by virtue of conformity with anything distinct from itself. Such a law manifests the existence of a Separate Good transcending all empirical existence and subsisting per se, and subsists primarily in this Separate Good. But how could I, in an act of total commitment, strive to achieve conformity with this transcendental law unless, by the same token and on a still more profound level, I strive toward this Separate Good and direct my life toward it because it is both the Good and my Good? The initial act which determines the direction of life and which -- when it is good -- chooses the good for the sake of the good, proceeds from a natural élan which is also, undividedly, an élan by which this very same act tends all at once, beyond its immediate object, toward God as the Separate Good in which the human person in the process of acting, whether he is aware of it or not, places his happiness and his end. Here we have an ordainment which is actual and formal, not virtual -- but in merely lived act (in actu exercito), not in signified act -- to God as ultimate end of human life. This is the third implication of the act of which I am speaking.

These implications are not disclosed to the intellect of the child. They are contained in the act by which, at the term of his first deliberation about himself, he brings himself to do a good act for the sake of the moral good, of the bonum honestum of which he has an explicit idea, no matter how confused.

 

III. A NON-CONSCIOUS KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

In his first act in freedom -- (at least, I say, if we analyze it from the standpoint peculiar to moral philosophy) -- in his first act of freedom -- supposedly good -- which is his first act as a man, the child does not think explicitly of God, or of his ultimate end. He thinks of what is good and of what is evil. But by the same token he knows God, without being aware of it. He knows God because, by virtue of the of the internal dynamism of his choice of the good for the sake of the good, he wills and loves the Separate Good as ultimate end of his existence. Thus, his intellect has of God a vital and non-conceptual knowledge which is involved both in the practical notion (confusedly and intuitively grasped, but with its full intentional energy), of the moral good as formal motive of his first act of freedom, and in the movement of his will toward this good and, all at once, toward the Good. The intellect may already have the idea of God and it may not yet have it. The non-Conceptual knowledge which I am describing takes place independently of any use possibly made or not made of the idea of God, and independently of the actualization of any explicit and conscious knowledge of man's true last End.

In other words, the will, hiddenly, secretly, obscurely moving (when no extrinsic factor stops or deviates the process) down to the term of the immanent dialectic of the first act of freedom, goes beyond the immediate object of conscious and explicit knowledge (the moral good as such); and it carries with itself, down to that beyond, the intellect, which at this point no longer enjoys the use of its regular instruments, and, as a result, is only actualized below the threshold of reflective consciousness, in a night without concept and without utterable knowledge. The conformity of the intellect with this transcendent object: the Separate Good (attainable only by means of analogy) is then effected by the will, the rectitude of which is, in the practical order, the measure of the truth of the intellect. God is thus naturally known, without any conscious judgment, in and by the impulse of the will striving toward the Separate Good, whose existence is implicitly involved in the practical value acknowledged to the moral good. No speculative knowledge of God is achieved. This is a purely practical cognition of God, produced in and by the movement of the appetite toward the moral good precisely considered as good. The metaphysical content with which it is pregnant is not grasped as a metaphysical content, it is not released. It is a purely practical, nonconceptual and non-conscious knowledge of God, which can co-exist with a theoretical ignorance of God.

Thus, by virtue of a primal free act having the moral good, bonum honestum, as its object, a man can tend toward God as the end of his life without knowing God -- that is, he then knows God (unconsciously) without knowing Him (consciously).

Such is the typical case which moral philosophy must consider, because moral philosophy sees things in the perspective of nature and of the most natural and most spontaneous development of moral life within us.

 

IV. NATURE AND GRACE

The natural process I have just described constitutes -- because it is a natural process -- the fundamental and primordial fabric pf the first act of freedom. But it takes shape in existence and bears fruit only if grace perfects and heals nature. For the natural movement through which the will tends toward God and ordains itself to Him as the ultimate end of life can be fulfilled in a real and decisive manner only if God is loved efficaciously above all things; and all I have said really amounts to asserting that in his first act of freedom, when it is good, man loves God efficaciously above all things. But this presupposes that grace and charity are operating within the soul.{3}

It would be possible for nature achieving a first act of freedom to turn toward God, efficaciously loved above all things, in that state which is called "the state of pure nature," and in which, as a matter of fact, man has never been established. Nature was able to do so in that state which is called the state of (grace-given) "integrity of nature," or of "original justice" -- the general motion of God which activates all nature and without which nothing would act, being presupposed in any case. But through faith we know that, because both of original sin and the blood of Christ, mankind is in fact in the state of fallen nature which is either urged or healed and vivified by the grace of Christ and the supernatural gifts of the Redemption. And theology teaches us that, in the state of fallen nature, man is not capable by his own natural forces of loving God efficaciously above all things. Hence in his first act of freedom he is unable through his merely natural capacities to set the moral good as such for the formal object of his choice, to make his life appendent to the moral good, or the good seen by reason, and to settle on this formal motive his deliberation about himself.

We are confronted at this point with the deepest gash in our nature wounded by the first sin. Human nature has been forced out of joint.{4} By withdrawing his reason from the order of God, Adam also withdrew the life of the senses and desires from the order of reason, and henceforth our free will, while not destroyed, has become weakened and naturally invalid in the face of what appeals to self-love. Through its own natural capacities, a weak practical reason can accomplish its first act only in a weak manner. No habitus or natural virtue has yet developed within it. When taking his first step, a child will fall if his mother does not steady him. When, for the first time, an inexperienced man, and with an infirm hand, is suddenly called to drive the team of his desires, this disabled man cannot fall to upset the chariot. In his first step of freedom the child, if he has only his natural capacities, is bound to fall; he does not choose the rational good, but follows the attraction of the ego's desire for assertion, the "private good" which slakes his thirst for individual realization. He solves his "deliberation about himself" with the choice of a good which is not the good.

In that very act he is responsible and free; and this because, in consideration of the essential structure of the human soul, he is able (in sensu diviso), from the very moment when the idea of good and the life of reason awaken within him, to do good and to order his life toward the good and to love God above all things in his first act of freedom. Yet because of a sin which he has not himself committed but in which he nevertheless participates as a member of Adam, he is unable (in sensu composito) to exercise this power and royal privilege in his first decisive act. His free fault, which is that of a fallen king -- an act at the same time free and inevitably defective{5} -- committed in the weakness of a fault he did not commit, is as it were the excrescence or completion within him of the sin of the father of the human race.

I am well aware that this description concerns only a purely theoretical hypothesis assuming that the existential condition of fallen nature is deprived of any other resources than merely natural resources. In actual fact if grace has left the house, it nevertheless keeps on knocking at the door. The sin of one who has not been healed by gratia sanans and therefore turns away from the good in his first act of freedom is not a free act which is inevitably defective -- because grace offered to him made it avoidable; it is because he refused this grace that he was not healed by it.

God does not leave man to the weakness of his fallen nature (a nature thus fallen, and wounded as a result, because it has disrupted the superior balance, produced by grace, in which it had been created); grace, before healing and vivifying man anew, is still present to envelop and attract him, to call him and incite him in anticipation. Our fallen nature is exposed to grace as our tired bodies are to the rays of the sun. In the years before his first act of freedom, the child had his own span of history, during the course of which his moral life was being prepared as in a morning twilight -- nor was he left to the sole influence of his fallen nature; even if he was not baptized he was spurred by actual grace on various occasions and guises as diverse as the contingencies of human life and the by-ways of divine generosity; in his first motions within that incipient freedom which could be his, he was able to accept or refuse these incitations of grace; thus he has been more or less well prepared to meet the test, a test out of all proportion to the preparation for it and which occurs when, for the first time, he is called upon to decide on the direction of his life. In any case, at that decisive moment when he enters upon his life as a person (and later at the other crucial moments that may occur until his last day) grace will still call to him, while being entangled with more or less strength amidst the more or less good tendencies and the more or less great obstacles which derive from nature, heredity and environment. As a result, if he does not decide upon the good, it means that he has slipped away from the help which would have given fallen nature in him the power to choose good for the sake of good and to direct itself toward man's true end, by "healing" that nature and raising it to participation in the divine life.

The fact remains, however, that, as we have already noted, fallen nature when it makes use of free will, is not able to choose the good for the sake of the good through its own natural forces alone. It remains also true that in the first act of freedom, if it is evil, that refusal to accept the proffered grace is by the same token a voluntary surrender to Adam's weakness and to that old primal sin which dwells in us so long as gratia sanans did not supervene; it is the surrender to the lure which nothingness holds out to what springs from nothingness, and which, in the case of fallen nature, has already bitten into the powers of the soul and set them at variance.

Essentially, then, the human person is a member, a member of Adam or a member of Christ. The grace which makes him a member of Christ cuts him off from the body of Adam, to which he only remains attached through concupiscence, but without the human person acting henceforth in the virtue (or rather the failing) of original sin and Adam's weakness.

Each of us carries Adam's weakness within himself, but in the case of a righteous man it is a wound inflicted by another, whereas in the case of the sinner it is a weakness born of his own substance and origin, a weakness of the body of which he is a part, a wound upon which he feeds and lives.

God does not refuse His grace to one who acts to the best of his own ability; but it is under the action of grace that man prepares to receive grace. If the child decides upon the good in his first act of freedom, he is set free from original sin and receives sanctifying grace; but this is because, in order for him to decide upon the good in his first act of freedom, grace, insofar as it heals nature, was vouchsafed him. If by acting to the best of one's own ability is meant choosing the moral good in one's first act of freedom, then man acts to the best of his own ability only if he does not take an initiative born of nothingness to render sterile the divine influx, only if he does not slip away from the proffered grace, and thus is healed by grace. Causae ad invicem sunt causae.

The first act of deliberate will, the first act of the moral life as such, bathes therefore in the mystery of grace and of original sin. Whatever may be the land of his birth, whatever may be the tradition handed down to him, whether or not he knows Christ, a child born of woman can initiate his moral life rightly only in the grace of Jesus Christ. And without that grace, as Saint Thomas taught, his primal act of freedom can only be a sin which turns him away from his ultimate End.

The indigence of a moral philosophy which sets itself up as a real system of ethics in actual existence without paying attention to the principles of faith and the data of theology is here apparent. According to such a moral philosophy, the first act of freedom would depend on the capacities of nature only, and nature alone would be responsible for having that first act initiate the life of a human being in moral rectitude. Such a philosophy would deceive man as he is in actual fact, or would be speaking to a non- existent man. It is apparent at the same time that, from its very origins, the moral life of man is indissolubly tied to the hidden realities which are at the source of religious life and whose knowledge develops in us through religious life.

 

V. HOW FAITH PLAYS ITS PART IN THE PROCESS

A child who has received religious education and has been taught the word of God, and who knows and loves God before accomplishing the first act of freedom in which he deliberates about himself, is helped in that first decisive act, as is normal, by the religious traditions of the human family. And he accomplishes his first act of freedom, if this act is good, by virtue of divine charity received in baptism together with grace; then he begins with the End, that is to say, he directs his heart more or less consciously toward his true ultimate End before deciding and in the very act of deciding the moral good.

In the opposite case, if a child who has received an a-religious or anti-religious education chooses the moral good in his first act of freedom, the immanent dialectic of that act carries him along in a practical and vital manner, but then, without knowing it, he is at odds with the set of speculative concepts which have been inculcated in him.

Nevertheless, as we have already noted, if we are to consider things from the point of view of philosophy or of nature and its most spontaneous developments, it is suitable to leave out of consideration any particularity pertaining to the social order, and therefore the religious or irreligious education that a child may have received. We are considering a child, any child, one brought up in a pagan or in a Christian, religious or irreligious environment, and we are considering him from the sole point of view of the inner dynamics of his first moral act. If his first act of freedom is to choose the good for the sake of good, that child receives divine grace (supposing he has not already received it by baptism); nor can he choose the good for the sake of good without this grace which heals nature.

Here I should like to digress and say a few words about a question which concerns a purely theological problem. When theologians discuss the salvation of infidels{6} and the question of implicit faith, they refer to the words of Saint Paul:{7} "Without faith it is impossible to please God; for he that approacheth unto God must believe that He doth exist, and is rewarder to those who seek Him." This shows that implicit faith in the other truths of Christian revelation presupposes explicit faith in the first truth which contains and envelops them all (the existence of the Savior Who proffers Himself to those who seek Him). Furthermore, grace is not bestowed without supernatural faith. Therefore, the first act of freedom, if it is morally good, must be brought about in faith as well as in grace. If then we consider a child who knows nothing of God, or, more generally speaking, if we consider only the inner dynamics and immanent dialectic of the first act of freedom -- leaving out of consideration the transmission of the truths of faith by the preaching of the Gospel and religious education -- how can we account for the presence of faith in the soul of the child in question at the moment when, deliberating about himself, he decides upon the moral good?

To say that the faith by which the soul adheres to the first truth is itself an implicit faith would be contrary to the teaching of Saint Paul and contrary to common sense, since it is necessary to believe explicitly in a first truth before one can believe implicitly in certain other truths it contains. On the other hand, it is impossible to say that in the case we are considering there is explicit faith, since our very analysis deals precisely with a child who does not make use of any concept relating to his ultimate end and who does not even know that he believes in God.

At this point I should like to observe that terms such as implicit and explicit are applicable to knowledge in the most usual and obvious sense -- conscious knowledge, which is achieved by means of concepts. Only there do the notions of implicit and explicit have meaning. Now not only is it true that it is possible for the intellect not to be conscious even of something it rationally knows because it then attains through aberrant conceptual forms an object the true name of which escapes it; but the particular form of knowledge whose natural workings I have analyzed reaches its object within the unconscious recesses of the spirit's activity and is a merely practical and volitional knowledge of God. Such a knowledge is neither implicit nor explicit, but, although inexpressible, is a knowledge actual and formal, through which the intellect knows in a practical manner the Separate Good per conformitatem ad appetitum rectum and as the actual terminus of the will's movement. At the source of this natural non-conceptual knowledge of God there is an explicit concept which in its simplicity is accessible -- in confuso -- to the child's intellect as soon as it awakens to the life of reason; this concept is that of the moral good. In some given set of circumstances a child, having deliberated about himself, decides upon a certain good act because it is good -- this he knows consciously and explicitly. If he does not then intellectually bring out the notion of the Separate Good implicitly contained in that concept, at least his will, passing on beyond its immediate object attains the Separate Good formally and actually, through a lived act (in actu exercito); and, in a fashion at once merely practical and inexpressible, the intellect knows in this way the Separate Good formally and actually -- in actu exercito.

Well, let us now suppose that divine grace intervenes in that natural process; let us suppose that by the same token the moral good, through the influx of God, appears to the intellect not only as what is in order, not only as what it is right to do, but as the good by means of which "I shall be saved," the good by means of which some mysteriously precious part of me will escape misfortune and find its way home. (And this is an inevitably defective attempt to express a flash of intuition in discursive terms.) Then it is the Separate Good as a refuge and salvation, through Whom my most precious being will be safe if I seek Him, it is God as Savior, that is the goal of the movement of my will, and adhered to by my intellect, by means of the volitional and inexpressible knowledge I have described. This knowledge is no longer merely practical since it no longer reaches only God as the Separate Good aimed at by the élan of the will, but now reaches God as Savior: an element of a speculative type therefore is present, one which concerns divine reality attained in one of the essential attributes of its supernatural transcendence.

And although this knowledge is still produced per conformitatem ad appetitum rectum, it must be said that under the light of faith, the right appetite then passes in conditionem objecti (into the sphere of objective actualization) and becomes, in the stead of any concept, the means of a knowledge which is speculative though escaping formulation and reflective consciousness, and in which it is the movement of the will which, in its own way, actualizes the analogical values contained in the intuition and more or less confused concept of the moral good "by which I shall be saved." It is the movement of the will which, reaching beyond this good to the mysterious Existent it implies, makes this Existent become an object of the speculative intellect. Such knowledge, however, remains pre- conscious, or else hardly reaches the most obscure limits of consciousness, because, for one thing, it possesses no conceptual sign, and, for another, the movement of the will which brings it about is itself neither felt nor experienced, nor illumined and highly conscious as is love in the exercise of the gift of wisdom.

This is how, to my mind, one can understand that supernatural faith penetrates into the inner dynamics of the first act of freedom at the same time as grace, so that a child, at the moment when he chooses and in order that he may choose the moral good, receives the grace which heals nature and which sanctifies, and knows God, without realizing it himself, through the knowledge of faith, and loves God above all things with a love which is charity.

 

VI. THEOLOGICAL PARENTHESIS

Perhaps opening a parenthesis destined for a theological incursion may help to clarify the meaning of the above reflections. John of Saint- Thomas{8} distinguishes between two different instants in the first act of freedom. In the first instant the child, if he acts rightly, turns toward God without yet having supernatural faith. That is what I have described in my analysis as being the natural process by which, in virtue of the dialectic implied in the first act of freedom, the child, when he decides upon the moral good, desires and loves the Separate Good as the ultimate end of his existence, and thus knows God with a non-conceptual and merely practical knowledge.{9} In point of fact, this same natural process (which is of the utmost interest for the philosopher from his own point of view) presupposes the assistance and prodding of grace, present from the very first instant to help nature produce an act which nature cannot do alone because of the wound of original sin. According to John of Saint-Thomas, the child, when he turns toward God by accepting in practice the moral law, is secretly stimulated by a great and superior motive (aliquo superiori et grandi motivo) which makes implicitly present some element of the supernatural order pertaining to the object of faith and which envelops a pius affectus ad credulitatem, a God-given inclination to believe. But if, on the contrary, at that first instant, the child refusing the proffered grace does not decide upon the moral good and does not turn toward God, then he remains under the domination of original sin, yet he does not commit a sin of infidelity because the object of faith (the first credibilia mentioned by Saint Paul) has not yet been brought out before his mind in such a way that he can accept it on the testimony of God or else refuse it.

At the second instant which John of Saint-Thomas mentions, it is through supernatural faith that the child, provided he has not refused the proffered grace, adheres to God; and it is through charity that he ordains his life to God. Then by a genuine act of faith, he believes in the first two credibilia: quia Deus est, et remunerator est (that God exists, and is a rewarder). That is what has been described in the second stage of my analysis: the adherence to God as Savior.

But for John of Saint-Thomas this adherence to the first two credibilia is only possible if God sends an Angel or a preacher to instruct the child. "Et tales accipient notitiam eorum mysteriorum, quae requiritur ad justificationem et salutem, sive per Angelum, sive par praedicatorem." The reason for this is that the great seventeenth- century theologian was, like all the scholastic doctors, interested in analyzing the objective requisites of the act of faith in themselves and in theologically elucidated terms rather than in looking for the psychological modalities in which they are realized in tbe experience of the subject. He consequently limited his study to the sphere of conscious thought and of conceptual or notionally expressed knowledge. Hence, since it is clear for the reasons we have shown{10} that there can be no question of implicit faith in the first two credibilia, it must necessarily have been a question of an explicit faith, that is, a faith whose object is presented to the mind in explicit notions and accepted or "agreed to" by an explicit conceptual judgment. And how could these explicit notions be furnished without the intervention of an Angel or a preacher?

It is our belief that the only way out of this difficulty is to consider the innermost recesses of mental functioning and to use, as a prerequisite philosophical equipment of ours, those more complex and deeper views on knowledge which are not new to the experience of the experts in the human heart's mysteries, but which have been given scientific consistency through the progress of psychological research with regard to the unconscious or pre-conscious life of the mind. Thus, one can understand in what way the "inner inspiration revealing the things that are necessary for the act of faith"{11} comes into play -- that inner inspiration which Saint Thomas considers capable of replacing, in the "child brought up in forests" (at least, I mean, with respect to the first two credibilia) the outer presentation -- which is normal in itself -- of the object of faith.

If our analysis is correct, it must be said that at the moment when the concept of moral good is transfigured into that of the good by means of which I shall be saved, a mysterious reality pertaining to the supernatural order is actually revealed -- under the influence of divine inspiration -- in and through the idea of salvation sprung from the depths of moral conscience and transvaluated by grace. A new objective content is thus presented to the mind which by the same token reaches the Savior-God, by means of a volitional and inexpressible knowledge rooted in the concept of "the good by means of which I shall be saved" -- a knowledge in which the appetite "passes on into the sphere of objective actualization," as John of Saint-Thomas said with reference to mystical knowledge. As a result, far beyond the "God-given inclination to believe" (pius affectus ad credulitatem), it is through a genuine act of faith (though brought about in abnormal conditions), through a supernatural act of faith (expressed not in concepts or in a rationally formulated assertion, but rather in a lived I believe) that the intellect adheres, on the inner testimony of God, to the divine reality thus revealed to it. Under the light of faith the Savior-God toward Whom the élan of the will moves has become the object of a nonconceptual speculative knowledge which comes about through the instrumentality of this very élan of the will.

In contrast with any implicit or virtual knowledge, we might term "explicit" both the way in which, according to this analysis, the first two credibilia are presented to the mind (not in notions but in a volitional knowledge of faith rooted in the concept of the good by means of which I shall be saved) and the way in which the mind adheres to these first two credibilia (by virtue of the same knowledge which, although it does not proceed by means of concepts, reaches a goal that has been brought out as an object in the preconscious life -- formed with no possible formulation -- of the intellect). But, in my opinion, this would strain the meaning of words since, like the word "implicit," the word "explicit" refers essentially to a conceptual type of knowledge, a knowledge which is conscious and notionally expressed. That is why I have preferred to say that it is not a question of explicit (conceptual) knowledge, nor of implicit (conceptual) knowledge, but of knowledge which is formal and actual although it is pre-conscious. It is certainly this double character John of Saint-Thomas deemed important when he considered, and rightly, that faith in the two first credibilia cannot be a merely implicit faith, but came to the conclusion -- a conclusion true only on the plane of conceptual and conscious knowledge -- that it must consequently be explicit faith, that is, faith expressed in explicit concepts and bearing upon concepts explicitly presented.

But let us return to our philosophical considerations.

 

VII. ABOUT THE KNOWLEDGE OF GOD INVOLVED IN THE CHOICE OF THE MORAL GOOD

It is important for the philosopher to be attentive to the existence of that volitional and existential knowledge of God which is involved in the first act of freedom when it is good -- a knowledge which is natural and merely practical insofar as it comes to the existence of God as the Separate Good, but supernatural or derived from the grace of faith, and therefore enriched with speculative content, insofar as it comes to the existence of the Savior-God. When the right will tends to its specifying object, the moral good (bonum honestum) perceived in confuso, at the same time it passes on beyond that object, goes to the Separate Good the existence of which is implied by that of the moral good; and the intellect borne along by the will (for intellect and will enclose each other) knows God existentially through conformity with the right will, and in the "dark mirror" of the moral good, but without any concept of God disengaged from that basic concept; the intellect knows God as the Separate Good, insofar as He is the actual terminus of the movement of the will, and it knows God as Savior insofar as, under the light of faith, the will tends toward Him as the mysterious Agent presupposed by the good "by means of which I shall be saved." Thus, the intellect knows Him without realizing it. Such knowledge (a co-naissance as Claudel puts it) having neither conceptual sign nor affective experience of its object, remains below the threshold of consciousness, or crosses that threshold only in remaining inexpressible to reflective consciousness. This knowledge is real, however, and enmeshed in the vital depths of the mind. We can reveal its existence only through the analysis of the inner dynamics of the first act of freedom, and not by any direct apperception.

But once this existence is recognized, it is but normal to think that it plays a definite part, though a hidden one, in the infrastructure of human knowledge. This unconscious and existential knowledge of God, in the first act of freedom when it is good, obviously cannot serve as a basis for the conceptual elaborations of the philosopher in his quest for divine existence. It is nevertheless important for the philosopher to take into account the inner disposition it creates within the soul. He that doeth the truth cometh to the light.{12} The presence of that kind of preconscious knowledge doubtless explains why, under normal circumstances, the man who has decided upon the moral good finds himself instinctively and unconsciously prepared to recognize (as soon as the natural and spontaneous activity of his reason deals with the sight of visible things, and before any philosophical demonstration) the existence of that invisible Good, that Separate Good Which he already knows, without realizing it, by virtue of the right choice he made when he deliberated about himself in his first act of freedom.

The volitional knowledge in question is in no way mystical knowledge. For it is not a fruitional experience of the absolute, and through it the soul does not rest in God consciously known and experienced through and in the "ray of darkness," obscure because too transparent, of love enlightened by the gifts of the Spirit. In this volitional knowledge there is neither experience nor contemplation. It is a knowledge which does not proceed by the formal instrumentality of concepts, but it is a knowledge which plunges into darkness as soon as it sets forth from the intuition and more or less confused concept of the moral and salutary good; it is a knowledge in which the soul does not even know that it knows, which is a thing quite different from enjoying supreme knowledge through the cloud of unknowing.

The fact still remains, however, that this primitive existential knowledge of God is within us an obscure preparation for and a secret call to the natural religious experiences which may come about in very different ways during the course of development of the moral life; and when the life of faith and of the gifts of the Spirit takes hold of the soul, this same existential knowledge appears as an obscure preparation for and call to that experimental knowledge of God which is supernatural in its very mode of operation, and which reaches its highest degree in mystical contemplalion.

 

VIII. ABOUT PSEUDO-ATHEISM AND REAL ATHEISM

A final question arises. It concerns the relation between the conscious and the unconscious knowledge of God. The foregoing analysis dealt with the first act of freedom as it appears in the child who for the first time deliberates about himself. As I noted at the very beginning, that same deep-rooted act in which the person engages the whole weight of his being and his will, decides upon the meaning of his life, and takes his stand both for or against the moral good and for or against God as the ultimate end of his existence, same root act can be reiterated in the adult, however infrequent this may be, when, by means of a decisive act of free will, he changes the essential direction of his moral life. Then, under the action of gratia operans, or on the contrary, of some overmastering alluring lust, he recovers something of the absolute beginnings of childhood.

Now let us consider the case of a child brought up in atheism, or the case of an atheistic adult. Can he, in such an act of freedom, decide upon the good, direct his life to the moral good and to moral righteousness?

There are two kinds of atheists: those who think they are atheists, and those who are atheists. It is not easy indeed to be a real atheist. We see this through the example of men like Proudhon who only half succeeded, or Nietzsche who may have succeeded, but at what a price! What, then, shall we say about the pseudo-atheist and the real atheist? The pseudo-atheist, when he denies the existence of God denies the existence of an ens rationis, an imaginary entity which he calls God, but which is not God. He denies God because he confuses God with that imaginary entity which seems to him either to be impossible of existence or to entail revolting consequences with regard to nature or humanity. On the contrary, the real atheist when he denies the existence of God, really denies the existence of that very God Who is the authentic object of reason and of faith and Whose authentic idea his mind misuses -- through an intellectual act which demands to transform his whole table of values and to descend into the depths of his being.

To anyone who is in the least familiar with human psychology it is clear, moreover, that between the conscious and the unconscious, between the world of conceptual assertions in which conscious reason is engaged, and the secret dynamics of the pre- conscious life of the mind, there can be all sort of cleavages and discords, schisms and secessions and contradictions unknown to the subject himself. Let us therefore suppose a pseudo-atheist, say a child permeated with the formulas of an atheistic education but who has not been able to realize the content of atheism, or else a man who is not really an atheist but who sincerely believes he is -- because he was brought up in an atheistic social environment, or because his own peculiar religious social environment has shocked and wounded him, or because he has deceived himself by sophisms and disordered reasonings. He may be ready to lay down his life for the cause of atheism. Yet it is not impossible that in a first act of freedom, he may decide upon the moral good and by the same token turn his life toward the Separate Good, toward the true God Whom he knows in a certain manner without knowing it. In the mysterious secret of the spirit's unconscious, such a pseudo-atheist then knows with a natural, volitional and merely practical knowledge that same God Whom he denies in his words and explicit, formulated thoughts. And what is more, without knowing it, he has faith, a merely vital and unformulated faith; and without knowing it, he has charity. (But there is within him schism and division, and therefore a particular frailty.)

The case of true atheism is totally different. If a man really denies in his heart the existence of God, not because he confuses Him with a figment of his imagination, but because he refuses to allow the existence of that same God Who is the object of faith and of right reason and Whose authentic idea he grasps, and misuses, then, through an act of his intellect in which he commits his own person explicitly and consciously, that man makes it impossible for himself to take God as the end of his existence and his action. Doubtless he loves God ontologically, as does every creature, however sinful, since every effort and every operation tends to some good (even though the operation is itself sinful) and therefore to God to the same extent.{13} But the real atheist cannot, even unconsciously, choose God as the end of his life, and love Him above all things efficaciously.

The act of true atheism performed in the soul is indeed a lethal obstacle to the inner dynamics and immanent dialectic of the first act of freedom in its process of choosing the good; this act stops or turns aside the impulse by which the will, in tending toward the moral good (bonum honestum), tends indivisibly toward the separate Good. When he deliberates about himself such a real atheist is able to ordain his action and his existence toward the moral good, but then either he receives the grace of conversion and will cease to be an atheist, or else he ordains his life toward a concept which he believes to be that of the moral good but which is not really that, being a pseudo-moral-good, bonum honestum taken as excluding God, and thus it is toward a corpse or an idol of moral good that he is ordaining his life. He has killed the moral good by shattering and destroying the relationship with the Separate Good which it essentially implies. Moral good, duty, virtue inevitably become demands of his own perfection viewed as an absolute center, or a desolate rite of his own grandeur -- or a total submission of himself to the sweet will of deified Becoming; and thus moral good, duty, virtue lose their true nature.

The fact remains that God knows infinitely better than he does, God alone fully and truly knows whether that man is really an atheist, just as He alone knows fully and truly whether a man really has faith and charity.{14}


{1} He has already accomplished many acts in which freedom was not lacking; but the part played by freedom, hitherto, was inchoate and superficial. We had only attempts of freedom broaching on the basic determination of nature, and through which the child was not yet introduced into the realm of personal activity and moral life. Thus, the expression "first act of freedom" is not taken, in this essay, as meaning "first act in which freedom plays a part"; it refers to a deep- seated determination -- a root-act -- in which the person freely commits himself and which impresses a definite direction upon his life as a person.

{2} He has decided about the direction of his life insofar as an act of the human will, exercised in time, can bind the future: that is to say in a fragile way. He is not forever confirmed in his decision; throughout his life he will be able to change his decision concerning his last end and the direction of his life, but by just as deep an act of freedom and of deliberation about himself.

{3} Grace has a twofold action: it heals nature which original sin had prevented from loving God efficaciously above all thinga; and it grafts in nature a supernatural life which is an actual participation in the very life of God. Insofar as it is sanctifying grace, and the very principle of supernatural life, it enables man to love God with the supernatural love of charity and to ordain himself to the only true end existentially given of human life, i.e., God as ultimate supernatural end. Insofar as it is gratia sanans grace restores to nature its ability to love God above all things as the creator of the universe -- natural love virtually contained in the supernatural love of charity -- and to ordain itself to God as its natural end, an ordainment virtually contained in the ordainment to God as the ultimate supernatural end.

{4} St. Thomas Aquinas used the word "corrupt," not as meaning that nature was vitiated in its very essence, but to signify that, where the use of its freedom is concerned, its internal order has been put out of order and its inclination toward the good weakened. In this respect man has become an "invalid."

In his commentary on the article (Sum. theol. I-II, 109, 3) in which St. Thomas teaches that in the state of integrity of nature man was able, through his natural capacities alone, to love God above all things, but that, in the state of fallen nature, "homo ab hoc deficit secundum appetitum voluntatis rationalis, quae propter corruptionem naturae sequitur honum privatum, nisi sanetur per gratiam Dei" and that consequently "in statu naturae corruptae indiget homo etiam ad hoc (ad diligendum Deum naturaliter super omnia) auxilio gratiae naturam sanantis," Cajetan writes: "Medium ad secundam partem conclusionis seu ad secundam conclusionem, est pronitas voluntatis ad privatum bonum. Haec enim, perdito vigore, in nobis adeo viget, ut oporteat in malum aliquod cadere, ut ex dictis patet."

{5} The notion of an act which can be free and at the same time inevitably defective. is not self-contradictory, any more than is that of an act which is at the same time free and inevitably good, a notion which theologians use concerning the impeccability of Christ and of the blessed spirits.

{6} Better to say, "of pre-Christians" (since having implicit faith, those of them who have grace are not really infidels). See Charles Journet, "Un problème de terminologie," Nova et Vetera, Janvier-Avril, 1948.

{7} Ep. to the Hebrews, II, 6. Westminster Version. (Cf. The Living Thoughts of St. Paul, presented by Jacques Maritain, 1941, p. 93.)

{8} Cursus theol., ed. Solesm, I q. 22-24, disput. 30, a. 3. n., 40, t. III, p. 567.

{9} Cf. above Sections II and III.

{10} Cf. above pp. 76-77.

{11} "Si enim aliquis taliter nutritus ductum naturalis rationis sequeretur in appetitu boni et fuga mali, certissime est tenendum, quod ei Deus vel per internam inspirationem revelaret ea quae sunt ad credendum necessaria, vel aliqua fidei praedicatorem dirigeret, sicut inisit Petrum ad Cornelium. St. Thomas, De Veritate, 14, II. ad I.

{12} John 3, 21.

{13} Cf. Saint Thomas Aquinas, Sum. theol. I, 103, 8 et ad 1.

{14} This essay is connected to two very important texts of the Sum. theol. I-II, 109, 3 and I-II, 89, 6. See also Cajetan's commentary on this latter article.

<< The Range of Reason >>