Jacques Maritain Center

Moral Philosophy


Christianity and Philosophy

The Impact of Christianity on Moral Philosophy

I The Ancient World and the Competition of Wisdoms

The Wisdom of India
1. As we remarked in another work,{1} the spectacle offered in a general way by the ancient world, the world before Christ, is what might be called the competition of wisdoms.

We find in the first place the wisdom of India -- a wisdom of deliverance and salvation.

The metaphysical speculations of India have always remained bound up with a practical science of spiritual perfection and sanctity. But it is through a desperate impetus issuing from the depths of the soul, a kind of tidal wave of the divine energies which are diffused in the universe and concentrated in man, that man strives to attain this wisdom. It is nature itself which, freed from illusion and from the constraints of causality, must transcend itself in order to arrive at a perfection which Hindu philosophy called "supernatural", in a quite different sense from the Christian sense of the word. Wisdom was thus the wisdom of salvation, the wisdom of the "delivered ones", to be achieved through the ascetic and mystical effort of human nature. Thence that natural mysticism in which, through the abolition of any particular thought, through total emptiness voluntarily produced, the soul experiences intuitively the existence of the Self.{2}

What is most apparent here is an ascending effort of the energies immanent in our nature, a supreme tension of the energies of our spirit, an upward motion by which man is to accede to superhuman conditions, enter into the divine liberty. This effort was capable, in the order of natural mysticism, of leading to the metaphysical experience of the Self of which I just spoke; in certain cases it was supplemented by a grace whose name was not revealed; at the same time that it sought deliverance in a wisdom of salvation it fell short of the goal, struggling ceaselessly to escape monism, never succeeding in conceptualizing itself without being caught by monism, aspiring ceaselessly to join the divine Absolute and only succeeding, after the Buddhist experiment, in giving an expression to nirvana that was closer and closer to pure negation.

Greek Wisdom
2. In the second place we find Greek wisdom. A wisdom of man, a wisdom of reason, it was turned toward created things find the knowledge of the cosmos, not toward salvation, saintliness, eternal deliverance.

We are aware of the fact that Greek wisdom cannot be called a rational wisdom in a very modern sense of that term. Greek paganism had its roots in magical thought, which continued to furnish the subconscious atmosphere of Greek religion. Sacred traditions did not cease to form an undercurrent beneath Hellenic meditation. Ancient reason was a naturally religious reason. It operated in a climate of natural piety haunted by many terrors. Even at the time when it displayed the most intense rationalism, as in the Stoic school, the rationalism in question remained entirely different from our modern rationalism, and veered toward a kind of magical naturalism, conceiving Reason as a divine fire that permeated matter, and favoring all the pagan superstitions. Greek reason recognized good and bad fortune, believed in higher inspirations, in demonic influences; the idea of destiny, and of the jealousy of the gods, the superstitious fear of admitting happiness, the belief in omens and in divination, even the adoration of the divine similitudes scattered through nature, were evidence of a religious appreciation of the supra-human energies at work in the world and sustained a kind of sacred awe, or fear.

But it was precisely against that fear that Stoic pantheism and Epicurean free thought reacted. More generally, it must be said that Greek philosophy developed from the beginning as a work of reason separated from religion, even when it underwent the influence of the sects and their mysteries, and as a wisdom of this world. Greek wisdom was not elaborated out of the fund of hieratic and sacerdotal traditions, like the wisdom of the Orient, but outside of them and sometimes in opposition to them. It does not start out with the Supreme, with absolute Being, as the Vedanta did, wondering how it is possible that something exists which is not the Absolute, superior to the world. On the contrary, it starts out with things, with tangible and visible reality, with becoming; with movement, with that multiplicity which exercises the act of being with scandalous energy. It bears witness to the existence of that which is not God, and to the intelligible structure of things. In the moral realm it succeeded in establishing in its proper order, and as distinct from speculative philosophy and metaphysics, a practical rational knowledge of human conduct and human acts, which was to fix thenceforth the boundaries of ethics. But the peculiar beauty of Greek wisdom is like that of a rough sketch drawn by a genius, in which the outlines and the essential points are indicated with incomparable artistry. It nowhere came to fruition. In the field of moral philosophy in particular we have seen that neither Aristotelian eudemonism, nor the asceticism of pleasure, nor the asceticism of virtue came to a successful issue.

The Wisdom of the Old Testament
3. Finally, there is a third wisdom, Hebraic wisdom, the wisdom of the Old Testament. It is not a human wisdom like Greek wisdom. It is a wisdom of salvation and of saintliness, of deliverance and freedom, of eternal life -- but for it, unlike Hindu wisdom, man does not rise by his own efforts: quis ascendit in caelum, who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us? No effort of asceticism or of mysticism could force that wisdom. It must give itself, it must come down and break open the gates of heaven.

The long, the unflagging Jewish impatience beseeches God to give Himself, a God who wants only to give Himself, but who hides Himself. The wisdom of the Old Testament is bound up with the most intransigeant idea of divine transcendence, with the idea of creation ex nihilo, and at the same time with a profound sense of human personality and human freedom. This perishable and corruptible flesh, this flesh itself will rise again: an idea that Greek wisdom had no inkling of, and which it was to find scandalous. The history of Israel -- and the individual history of each human being -- consists in the last analysis of the dialogue between the eternal divine personality and our created persons; it is a love affair between God and man.

Thus we are here in the presence of a supernatural wisdom that gives itself, and that freely descends from the Principle of beings. A wisdom of salvation, a wisdom of saintliness, it is not man who wins it, it is God who gives it; it is not from an upward movement of the creature, it is from a downward movement of the creating Spirit that it proceeds. It is in this opposition of the two movements of ascent and descent that the whole difference between the wisdom of the Ganges and the wisdom of the Jordan must be seen. The wisdom of the sapiential books, like the wisdom of the Gospel, issues from the depths of uncreated love to descend into the most intimate depths of the creature. The New Law, the message of the Word made flesh, will tear away the veil with which the Old Law covered the mystery that the prophets of Israel glimpsed -- through the veil -- and obscurely foretold.

The Law of the Incarnation
4. The ancient world offers us the spectacle of a competition among three wisdoms; and more specifically, the competition between Judeo-Christian wisdom and Greek wisdom, finally gone to seed and seeking in vain in a syncretism without existential roots, in mystagogy and gnosis, a cure for the great pagan melancholy. This conflict was to signalize the disintegration of the ancient world.

Later, in the course of the Middle Ages, there was an extended effort to link together divine wisdom and human wisdom, to recognize and establish the order and hierarchy of wisdom, an effort that continued throughout the Christian centuries. This work of synthesis was to be completed in terms of actual doctrine by St. Thomas Aquinas; but divided as they were against themselves, the culture and the intelligentsia of the late Middle Ages were hardly able to profit by the synthesis, and its dissolution commenced with the beginning of modern times. The fact remains that medieval Christianity was cognizant of the order of wisdom -- the wisdom of contemplative experience through the union of love, theological wisdom, philosophical wisdom. Medieval Christianity was dominated by the law of descending motion of supreme wisdom to which we called attention in speaking of the Old Testament, and knew its name -- it is the law of the Incarnation. Thomas Aquinas formulated it in a text of limitless significance: "In the mystery of the Incarnation," he says,{1} "the descent of the divine plenitude into human nature is of greater import than the ascent of human nature, taken as pre-existent, toward Divinity." Similarly, in the relations between God and humanity, the movement of descent of the divine plenitude into the depths of human nature is of greater import than the movement of ascent by which human nature is fulfilled and mounts toward God. We rediscover here the teaching of St. Paul concerning the law and grace: it is not by our own effort that we are rendered just; it is by the gift of Him who loved us first, and who descends into us through faith and love, that we are born to eternal life and can bear good fruit in our weakness. "And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me . . . for when I am weak, then am I strong."{2} The moral heroism to which we are in truth called is attained neither by the athleticism of mystical concentration, after the Hindu manner, which claims to draw us into inner solitude in the absolute, nor by the athleticism of virtue, after the manner of the Stoics, which pretends to render us incapable of sin. It is attained through the force of another who descends into us and fills us with His plenitude, and by a love for Him which even in the depths of our weakness removes all obstacles to His love.

II The Irruption of the Judeo-Christian Revelation

5. These very general observations have been by way of preface to the remarks we should like to make concerning the effects produced in the realm of moral philosophy by the irruption in the world of the Judeo-Christian revelation and the impact of Christianity on the tradition of Greek philosophy.

Whether one believes in this revelation oneself, or considers it strictly from without and from a historical point of view, one is obliged to note that in fact the impact in question produced a kind of transmutation of ethical values -- a unique phenomenon in the history of humanity, as a matter of fact -- and that as a consequence it profoundly transformed the perspectives of moral philosophy.

Such a transfiguration was due to the influence of a religious factor, exterior to philosophy as such -- let us say, to speak in terms of its rational formulation, a theological factor -- upon a philosophical discipline. In our opinion, that influence was manifested primarily in the way we are now going to try to define -- be it understood that these incursions into the theological and religious domain are directed by a philosophical interest, and have as object to mark certain repercussions which occurred in the domain of moral philosophy itself.

"To-day thou shalt be with me in Paradise" -- The Absolute Ultimate End and the Sublective Ultimate End Beatitude
6. It came as a strange novelty to learn that the final End of human life -- not only as supreme Value good in itself and for itself, but as the supreme Object the possession of which constitutes human happiness -- is God Himself, the infinite Good, self-subsistent Being. God in His intimate life, the uncreated Glory itself is the end in which our appetite for happiness will be satisfied beyond measure. In this view the transcendence of the final End is affirmed in an incomparably more decisive way than it was by Plato: the infinite transcendence -- with which we are called to unite -- of a personal God who created the world out of nothing, whom no concept can circumscribe and whom no creature can comprehend, infinite Self, supremely perfect, independent and free, and who is the boundless ocean of being, of intellection, of love and of goodness.

By the same stroke the notion of happiness was transfigured. Happiness is now Beatitude, absolute happiness, absolutely saturating; "Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him."{1}

That it is possible for man to attain absolute happiness is not a datum of reason or of philosophy, but of Christian faith. Reason by itself, if we consider not the infinite power of God, of course, but the human condition, would have ample grounds to make us doubt the possibility. The most unhappy of animals necessarily desires happiness, and that is no doubt why it is so unhappy. We are starving for happiness, we make of the pursuit of happiness one of our fundamental rights, we seek happiness in everything that is perishable, in the love of a woman or in the conquest of power, and it is almost impossible for us to believe that we can be perfectly, totally, absolutely happy; our experience of life affords too much evidence to the contrary. There are two things in which our nature has not the strength to believe: death, which we see, and perfect happiness, which we do not see. Verily I say unto you, to-day shalt thou be with me in paradise.{1} That is an astonishing announcement. Faith, not reason, is the source of it. Men seek beatitude, without believing in it. Christians believe in it, through faith.

In that beatitude, the object of Christian faith, we find, moreover, a supreme verification of the law mentioned above{2} -- namely, that joy or delectation is a kind of savor issuing from the possession of a substantial good, and always remains distinct from that possession, but is the more closely bound up with it the higher the nature of the substantial good in question. The essence of beatitude -- the possession of the supreme substantial good -- is the vision of God: the supreme joy which derives from it is in itself distinct from that vision, but is so nearly identical with it that we can hardly distinguish the joy from the vision.

Absolute Ultimate End and Subjective Ultimate End in the Natural Order and in the Supernatural Order
7. It would be well to pause a moment here to take note of two things. In the first place, as we just pointed out, for Christian faith man is called to an absolutely saturating happiness, and it is the possession or intuitive vision of God Himself which constitutes that happiness; it is the immediate and transforming union with the ultimate End of all creation -- to which, unless it is raised by grace, a created nature can only tend or aspire from afar, in fact, from infinitely far -- it is the direct union with the absolute ultimate End, good in and for itself, which constitutes the subjective ultimate End of the human being, his final fulfillment, his perfect and eternal happiness.

But in the second place, Christian faith holds at the same time that this beatitude is of a supernatural order; it is a gift of grace, the gift of grace par excellence; it does not arise from nature.

If, therefore, man had not been raised to the state of grace, if God had left him in the purely natural order and with only the resources of his own nature, there would be no question for him either of attaining beatitude or of immediately possessing God as object of his perfect happiness. The happiness toward which he would tend, and which would be the subjective ultimate End of human life, or the end relative to the human subject, would be anything one wished, I mean anything philosophy and theology can more or less plausibly conceive, but it would not be God possessed. God would remain the absolute ultimate End, good in and for itself, to be loved above all else, for man as for every creature; but the possession of God would not be his subjective ultimate End, his ultimate end in the line of the subject. Between the absolute ultimate End, the transcendent Good which must be loved above all things, and the subjective ultimate End or the happiness of the human being, there would be in such a case an infinite distance, an infinite abyss. At this point we see clearly and explicitly that distinction between the Good and Happiness which Aristotle missed.

The astonishing tidings brought by Christianity were that in fact, and by the free and gratuitous superabundance of divine generosity, the separation, the cleavage of which we have just spoken between the absolute ultimate End and the subjective ultimate End does not exist for man. The subjective ultimate End or the beatitude of man consists in an immediate and indissoluble union with the absolute ultimate End (to which, as the theologians will put it, man is rendered proportionate through grace and the lumen gloriae). But in this very union, this kind of coincidence, the distinction between the subjective End or beatitude of man and God Himself or the absolute ultimate End obviously continues to exist, the distinction between the supernatural plenitude in which the human subject is fulfilled, with the endless joy that goes with that fulfillment, and the divine Essence, the subsistent Good, the vision of which beatifies the human subject. And it is for love of the subsistent Good, loved more than all things, more than the human subject itself and more than his own happiness, it is for love of the absolute ultimate End that man desires the beatitude in which his own being is divinely perfect.

Because the notion of the Good in itself and for itself is no longer related only to the bonum honestum (Good as right) in the moral order -- or, in the metaphysical order, to the supra-personal Idea of the Good, or to the Thought which thinks itself at the summit of the world -- but has its supreme archetype in a subsistent Good which is a living Personality -- three Persons in a single nature, one of whom has been incarnated, moral reflection now understands definitively and explicitly that the Good is something other than Happiness, and that the first demand and the first condition of moral rectitude is to love the Good more than Happiness.

Absolute Happiness is desired for love of the Good subsisting of itself
8. In the perspective of Christian ethics three things are to be distinguished: in the first place, the absolute ultimate End. God in His infinite goodness and lovability is the absolute ultimate End, and it is in the vision of God, or the possession of the absolute ultimate End, that beatitude, or the subjective ultimate End of the human being, consists.

In the second place, the subjective ultimate End, in its essential constituent element: that is to say, the vision of God, through which the human being, supernaturally fulfilled, enters into the divine plenitude in knowing God through His essence.

In the third place, the subjective ultimate end in its flowering, in its supereffluence: that is to say, the perfect satisfaction of all the aspirations of the soul in the love of God possessed, the joy or delectation which is a participation in the joy of God itself -- as it is said in Matthew, intra in gaudium Domini tui.{1}

These three things are distinct from one another. The desire of the second is inseparable from the love of the first; and the desire of the third is inseparable from the desire of the second. But the desire of the second and the desire of the third are for love of the first. Beatitude is loved, but God is loved more; and beatitude, precisely because it is union with the supreme Good subsisting in itself, can only be really and truly loved if it is loved in and for the love of that subsistent Good, supremely loved for itself. The love which the human being naturally has for himself is not abolished, certainly, but it loses first place, it is chased from the primary and royal seat; the absolutely primary love, the love which is above and beyond all others, can and must be torn away from the self and directed toward the uncreated Personality with whom the human person is in a direct relation over and above all the things of this world. The absolutely primary love can and must be fixed in Him whose good we then wish more than our own good -- and that is possible, and even, in one sense, easy, since according to Christian faith He is our friend, in the supernatural order of charity.

Thus the egocentricity in which Aristotelian eudemonism remained in fact enclosed is definitely overcome. At the very moment that beatitude is promised to man, he is offered the possibility of finally being delivered from himself and from the devouring egoism which perverts his love of himself.

My happiness, which I naturally and necessarily desire, which I cannot help desiring, and which finally consists in the vision of God, has now been subordinated to something better, subordinated to God -- and this is implied, as we remarked above, in the very essence of that happiness, since it consists in the possession of God, who is infinitely better than my happiness. According to a precious saying of Cajetan, "volo Deum mihi, non propter me";{1} Christian hope makes me wish that God be mine, but it is not for me or by reason of myself, it is not for love of myself that I wish God to be mine; it is for God and for love of God, for I love God more than myself and more than my happiness.

Christian morality is a morality of beatitude, but first and foremost it is a morality of the divine Good supremely loved.

9. The theologians are perfectly clear on all this. But popular preaching is often inclined to put the emphasis above all, if not even, exclusively on the joys of the reward and the pains of punishment. These are truths which immediately stir our natural appetite for happiness and our natural fear of suffering. And even if one insists only on them, one can always hope that once the sinner is turned toward the subsistent Good from motives in which love of self hold first place, the living faith will thereafter make him spontaneously subordinate his own interest to God loved first.

After all, one lends only to the rich. And the preachers of the Gospel feel themselves excused in advance if, in the arguments by which they push us toward salvation, they employ without too much scruple a kind of eudemonism, even hedonism, at least ambiguous in character, in the service of the God of love.

It is for the philosophical intelligence -- not to speak of the pseudo-philosophical opinions current in popular thought, and sometimes in textbooks of ethics or the history of philosophy -- that the final result of this emphasis is dangerous and can be the occasion for serious misconceptions. Even a philosopher like Kant, following a great many others, could imagine that traditional Christian morality (until revised by Pure Reason) was a morality of sublimated egotistic happiness and personal interest, in which it is for love of itself and of eternal pleasure, to which all else is subordinated, that the soul loves the Author of all good and strives to practise his precepts, which in reality is to conceive of Christianity after the model of the idolatrous cults it overthrew.

The Supernatural Order and the Grace of Virtues and Gifts -- Divine Charity and Friendship
Theological Virtues and moral Virtues
10. With Christianity a new order in being is made manifest to the human mind -- essentially distinct from the order of nature and at the same time perfecting that order -- the order of grace and of supernatural realities. This word "supernatural" signifies for Christianity a participation in that which is actually divine, in the intimate life itself of God -- something, as we have already noted, which is beyond the possibilities of any created nature through its own capacities, and which is not owed to nature, but depends on free and gratuitous divine communication.

From this moment the very concept of nature undergoes a change, opens out, so to speak. Nature is not closed in upon itself, impenetrable by a superior order. It blossoms in grace, is "perfected" or fulfilled by grace, which is not simply added to it like an ornamental façade, but which penetrates its most intimate depths, and which, at the same time that it elevates nature to a life and an activity of another order, of which nature is not capable by itself, heightens it in its own order and in the domain of its own proper activities.

Several remarks may be tendered on this subject. The first concerns the three virtues to which Christianity has given absolutely first rank, and which are called the three theological virtues. They do not figure in the Aristotelian list of virtues. It was St. Paul who named them, and who, in a singular reversal of values, gave precedence over the powerful cardinal virtues to interior dispositions -- adherence of the intellect to an object which is not seen, confidence in one more powerful than oneself, love -- which in the purely human order were too humble to constitute virtues, but which in the divine order, and because they are directed toward God Himself, are henceforward recognized to be the virtues par excellence: "And now abideth faith, hope and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity."{1}

The object of the theological virtues is the transcendent God, the divine Good with which they unite the human soul. They are a gift of grace. In opposition to them, the term "moral" virtues will be reserved for the virtues enumerated by the philosophers, in the sense that the latter have to do with simply human morality or the conduct of life in relation to goods of the human order. Unlike moral virtues, the theological virtues do not consist in a mean between excess and defect; no excess is possible in the exercise of these virtues -- one never believes too much in God, one never puts too much hope in Him, one never loves Him too much.{2} For Christian ethics the theological virtues are superior to the moral virtues. The latter are still required, but they are no longer supreme. The supreme virtues are of a supra-moral order, and the highest of them, on which the perfection of human life depends, is charity.

In order to clarify the distinction between the narrow sense ("moral virtues") and the broad sense ("the moral life", "moral science") of the word "moral", we may arrange the notions with which we have just been dealing in the following table:

Supra-moral or theological virtues
and rules (proportioned to the
divine life)

Moral virtues and rules
(proportioned to human life)

} The moral life (or the ways in
which man makes use of his freedom) --
the object of moral science

The theological virtues are not the only supernatural energies the notion of which Christianity introduced into our knowledge of the moral life of man. Divine grace, according to the teaching of the Fathers and the theologians, also produces supernatural or "infused" moral virtues in the soul, which are of a higher order than the natural moral virtues or those acquired through the exercise of the will, and which have to do with the life men lead among themselves as members of the city of God and "fellow-citizens with the saints". And the term "gift" is especially reserved for still other capacities that the soul receives through grace and which are the gifts of the Spirit enumerated by Isaiah:{1} they bring the theological virtues to an experimental stage, so to speak, and, like a keyboard in us, touched by divine inspiration, they permit man while he is still here below to have a foretaste of the eternal Life, in other words, contemplative experience through union of love. (This is especially true of the gift of wisdom, the highest of the gifts.) With respect to this contemplative experience of divine things, the moral virtues have only the rank of means for Christian ethics. St. Thomas Aquinas says that the virtue of Prudence "is in the service of Wisdom, introductory to it, and preparing the way for it, like a gate-keeper in the service of the king".{2}

It is thus that Christianity has suspended the moral from the supra-moral in the moral life of man.

Friendship's Love between God and Man
11. All this shook the foundations of the purely philosophical theory of the virtues elaborated by the moralists of antiquity, and singularly transformed it. And all this depended -- this is our second remark -- on a fundamental change in the notion of the relations between man and God. A friendship properly so called, and in the strongest, the most extravagant sense of the word, a love as between friends is possible between man and God, and this love between friends -- charity, the gift of grace, the highest of the theological virtues -- is, over and above the moral virtues, the keystone of the whole edifice of morality. Such a teaching, brought to the ancient world by the evangelic message, was indeed a scandal for philosophy.

How, asked Aristotle, could any kind of friendship worthy of the name exist between Jupiter and man? And in the purely natural order it is quite true that divine transcendence excludes a friendship properly so called between God and man, because all friendship presupposes a certain equality. It is normal for man to love the First Cause. But he loves God in fear and trembling, as his sovereign, not as his friend. If he loved Him as his friend, it would be because God also loved him in the same way, for love between friends is a mutual love. And how (continuing in the perspective of the purely natural order) could God love man as being His friend, or "another Himself"? If man is loved by God, it is in quite a different way, in the sense that God wishes him well, as He does all that exists, but without having any community of life and interest in common with him, and remaining enclosed in his transcendence.

We find a similar position maintained by the orthodox Moslem theologians, who thought that love from person to person being a passion, and among the most extravagant, it cannot exist in God, and who condemned the mystic al Hallaj to be crucified because he believed in such a love between God and man.{1}

And an analogous position is also to be found in Spinoza, in his great arrogant notion of amor intellectualis Dei, of the perfect love with which the sage loves the God immanent in the world without any hope or desire of being loved in return.{2}

As far as Aristotle is concerned, "it would be ridiculous," he says, "to reproach God because the love we receive from him in return is not equal to the love we give him, just as it would be ridiculous for the subject to make a similar reproach to his prince. For it is the role of the prince to receive love, not to give it, or at least to love only in a different way."{3} Here it is philosophical wisdom itself which loses its head, for even in the purely natural order, and even in a love which is not between friends but between sovereign and subject, how could we give more than we received, and love God more than He loves us?

For Christianity, in any case, grace, by raising man to the supernatural order, makes him partake of the very life and goods of God, and by the same token produces that community of life and of goods, and that kind of equality, however scandalous in the eyes of pure philosophy, which are the conditions of friendship properly so called. God is no longer enclosed in His transcendence, He communicates it. Between God and man, as between friends, there can be love from person to person, with all its extravagance, love as between father and son, love as between husband and wife, the love of total giving hailed by the Song of Songs, and to which God was the first to surrender Himself, when He was incarnated. And the mystics will be able to say in this sense that God, because He thus wished it, needed our love as the friend needs the love of his friend, who is "another self". The great news, which is identical with that which promises us absolutely flawless happiness, or beatitude, is that God yearns toward us with love, and that He wishes to be loved by us as His friends.

This news was already contained in the Old Testament. "I love those who love me."{1} It was fully manifested in the Gospel. "He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him."{2} "Henceforth I call you not servants . . . but I have called you friends."{3} And St. Thomas was to define the virtue of charity as the friendship created by grace between man and God, therefore involving mutual love from person to person, and founded on God's communication to man of His own life and finally of His own beatitude.{4}

This charity-love goes out to God first and foremost, and by the same token it goes out to all those who are called to be His friends, it goes out to all men. Love of God and fraternal love are one indivisible charity. And it is on this charity that Christianity makes the whole moral life of the human being depend. The whole law is contained in the precept to love God with our whole soul, and in the precept to love all men as our brothers, and these two form one single precept.

The reversal of Values -- the call of the Ultimate End
12. A corollary to all the preceding remarks is the absolute primacy accorded by Christianity to charity-love in the scale of values relating to human life and conduct.

Without it, wisdom and virtue are empty and without value for eternal life. Our good acts are definitely good only by virtue of the charity which animates them. And if it is there it makes up for all the mistakes resulting from our weakness. As St. John of the Cross was to put it, "in the evening of this life it is on love that we shall be judged".

Thus, in the last analysis, mercy fulfills justice; the mercy of God comes to man's rescue while he is bound to the precepts of the law. God forgives, something the God of the Platonic Republic did not do. And He does not assign to the earthly city the task of forcing men to be good, and irreproachably men; He leaves it to His grace, to His own kingdom, which is universal and above all earthly cities, to work within them to make them His sons and make them good through the very exercise of their most intimate freedom, through the love of charity which animates their acts and which is the form of their virtue, and which also compensates for their weaknesses. As we have already noted,{1} the Christian saint is not a superman formed by human agency, a Hercules of moral virtue like the Stoic sage; he is a friend of God who draws his life from supernatural charity and is formed by the divine hand, and who throws human weakness open to the divine plenitude descending into him. The vainglory of Man is dethroned, and humility, wherein lives the force of God, is exalted.

This reversal of values in relation to the perfection of human life, henceforth conceived as the perfection of charity whose working in the soul no obstacle can stop or restrain, is tied up with a similar reversal regarding wisdom and contemplation. Supreme wisdom and supreme contemplation are no longer the summit of human Science and philosophy, but the abyss in man of the gift of the uncreated Spirit which makes him experience, in faith and through Charity and the union of love, what no effort of the human intelligence can comprehend, and the things of God known as unknown. The very notion of contemplation changes in meaning, because from now on it designates an experience in which love instructs the intelligence, and a veiled communion with subsistent Truth, Life and Goodness, a communion which is the work of charity under the very touch of God. Christian contemplation exists not "for the perfection of him who contemplates, and does not terminate in the intellect, like the contemplation of the philosophers. It exists for the love of Him who is contemplated and does not terminate in the intellect, for the sake of knowing, but passes into the heart, for the sake of loving,"{2} because it proceeds itself from love. And for the same reason it does not terminate in a "theoretical" accomplishment but superabounds in action.

And all are called to such contemplation, from near or from afar, because it does not depend on nature, or on the knowledge of man, but on grace and divine gift -- just as all are called to perfection. "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect",{3} is a precept addressed to all, as indicating the end toward which each one should tend according to his ability and his condition. The great novelty introduced by Christianity is this appeal to all, to free men and slaves, to the ignorant and the cultivated, adolescents and old men, a call to a perfection which no effort of nature can attain but which is given by grace and consists in love, and from which therefore no one is excluded except by his own refusal.

The same thing is true regarding final Beatitude, the possession of the ultimate End through vision. It is promised to all, if only they really wish it. Impossible to attain through the capacities of nature alone, it offers itself as incomparably more attainable than earthly happiness and Aristotelian eudemonia, for which there is no Penitent Thief.

Thus the moral ideal of Christianity, and the ultimate End it proposes, finally possess that effectiveness of appeal to the human being and his thirst for happiness (now transfigured) which was lacking in the rational ethics of Aristotle, and to which Stoic and Epicurean ethics sacrificed everything, but only to be disappointed in the end. This moral ideal of Christianity is not an easy one; and if one considers only the capacities of human nature, and its infirmities, its propensity to evil, it would seem even more impossible to realize than the Stoic or Epicurean ideal. The fact is that Christianity has only raised the level of human civilizations at the price of bringing about trouble and division in them at the same time, as a result of the yes or no it requires of the heart. It has not put an end to wars. It has activated history -- it has not subjugated it (God Himself does not do that). It has evangelized the earth -- it has not subdued it. Not only contrary efforts and the rebellions of nature, but the action of humanity's own deficiencies upon the divine leaven itself, when the forces of man have undertaken to serve Christ with their own means, have brought it about that Christianity has increased suffering in our species, at the same time that it brought about all real moral progress and every real increase of goodness. But the evangelic hope has left its mark forever in the depths of humanity. Saintliness has transfigured the heart of man, not only among the saints, but among all the sinners whom a ray of it has touched. And in revealing to us that God is love and makes us His sons through grace, that the ultimate fulfillment toward which our poor life proceeds is to possess Him through vision, Christianity, without giving way to any illusions about the potentialities of nature or underestimating its dignity either, has succeeded in assuring the decisive effectiveness of the appeal to the human soul of the ultimate end which is proposed to it -- and this is the crucial concern for ethics.

Philosophy put to the test
13. Where the New Law has been received, the various factors of which we have spoken in the preceding pages have been integrated into the common consciousness and the rule of common morality, which form the proper subject of the moralist's reflection. And thereby moral philosophy is placed in an embarrassing position. If the moral philosopher recognizes these factors, he makes a place in his philosophy for things which depend on religious faith, not on philosophy. If he fails to recognize them, he is leaving out things which form an integral part of that human reality which he intends precisely to elucidate on the level of reflection, and so he causes moral philosophy to quit the soil of existence and fly off into the void.

In actual fact, not to speak of certain authors of textbooks of Christian philosophy who have naively taken the tack, as vain from the point of view of the faith as from that of reason, of making moral philosophy a kind of decalcomania or counterfeit of moral theology, we have seen the philosophers engage first in an attempt at separation , seeking with Descartes a more or less Stoic natural morality which Science would establish to ensure happiness in the life here below, while Faith would in addition provide man conceived along the lines of this kind of Christian naturalism with eternal delights for life in the hereafter. Or, like Spinoza, they made of ethics a world apart, reserved for the rationalist sage. Or they followed the theoreticians of natural religion, and reduced all the data issuing from Christian revelation, and even God Himself, to the measure of deist philosophy and its enterprise of rational eviction. Later, with Kant, and particularly with Hegel, in their desire to construct an ethics capable of integrating all values, and the most vital ones, recognized by the common consciousness, the philosophers were to engage in an enterprise of absorption and substitution of vastly more profound significance, in which philosophy would explicitly assume the whole burden which theology regarded as its own, and finally, in the name of the God of history, would take charge of the destinies and salvation of the human race.

III Revealed Ethics

The Tables of Moses and the Gospel -- Moral Law divinely promulgated
14. There exists for man a natural knowledge of moral rules -- natural, though more or less perfect and developed -- a knowledge which presents itself in two quite different modes: in the first place, what can be called a natural-spontaneous knowledge of moral rules, which is at work, without words, in the conscience of everyone and which expresses itself socially -- at a level which is no longer the level of natural law itself -- in the customs and taboos of primitive tribes, then in the laws and customs of political societies. In the second place there is what can be called a natural-reflexive knowledge of moral rules, which is the concern of philosophers (it constitutes the object of our present historical analysis). Religious belief, moreover, has always influenced the social expression of the natural-spontaneous knowledge of moral rules, and in an especially direct way in primitive civilizations and in the great ancient civilizations, in which religion was closely incorporated with the social group as one of the organs proper to it.

When Christianity spread in the ancient world, it brought with it -- along with the idea of the distinction between the things that are Caesar's and the things that are God's -- what may be called a revealed knowledge of moral rules -- which did not render the efforts of philosophical reason superfluous in this domain, but relegated them to second place, and, if I may say so, remarkably simplified the task to which the great ethical systems of antiquity had dedicated themselves in their search for the moral ideal to propose to men. This was a change of incalculable significance.

God, the ultimate absolute End, He who Is and whose Name is above all names, God the creator and savior, the personal and infinitely transcendent God of the Judeo-Christian tradition, God Himself speaks and instructs men in His precepts, declares to them what are the right ways in human life.

Through Moses He gave them the Decalogue. Through Christ He gave them the New Law.
The rules of human life are taught from on high. The knowledge of them is brought to us by faith, not by reason. It is a revealed knowledge, even the knowledge of the moral rules which are otherwise naturally knowable by the human intelligence and are, in a more or less obscure, imperfect or warped way, spontaneously perceived by human intelligence (the precepts of the Decalogue are essentially a revealed formulation of the principles of natural law).

Humanity finds itself in the presence of a revealed ethics, an essentially religious ethics. lt is given to man with the absolute, unquestionable, infallible authority which belongs to the Word of God. Let us recall the thunder and lightning, and the voice of the trumpet, and the flames and the smoking mountain, which made the people tremble and kept them at a distance;{1} and the glory which hindered the children of Israel from fixing their gaze on the face of Moses, because of the brightness of his countenance.{2} Such was the attire in which the Tables of the Law were given to men, and the revealed Ethics enthroned before them.

The moral order in consequence will acquire a fixity, a solidity, a rigor; it will deliver itself in unconditional commandments and in absolute requirements which did not appear in any of the ethical theories elaborated by the reason of the philosophers of classical antiquity. It was under the influence of the Judeo-Christian revelation that these properties of the moral law were inscribed in common consciousness.

The New Law, Thomas Aquinas explains,{3} is less severe than the Old Law, because the Old Law imposed on man a far greater number of external actions and obligations. But the New Law carries its precepts and prohibitions into the very intimacy of the heart, the internal acts and movements of the soul; and in this sense Augustine could say that the New Law is easy for him who loves, but hard for him who does not.{1}

In any case, the Old Law and the New Law have both given a sacred significance, immediately referred to God and the Sanctity of His Justice, to the notion of the precept, as to that of sin and of duty; and this significance was even more profound and more exacting in the New Law.

As a result of the impact of Christianity, the sense of transgression and of obligation were thus to take on a new character, both in common consciousness and in ethical theory.

The sense of transgression and the sense of obligation are both natural to us. They derive from the natural functioning of the practical intellect in each of us (whatever the adventitious part played by the constraints of the group or by social taboos in their development). Yet Greek reason, in its philosophical elucidations, except perhaps in the case of the Stoics, had a rather lowered notion of moral obligation and moral fault, which it considered on a level close to that of art. The Judeo-Christian revelation, on the contrary, raised them to the supra-rational level of divine injunction obeyed or transgressed, and reinforced and magnified them by giving them a sacred status much more profound and purer (because related to a transcendent God, and disengaged from the particularisms of the human group) than the sacrosocial regimes of the primitive and ancient religions had been able to do.

Sin is henceforth an offense to God -- and according to the Christian faith it is responsible for the death of the Son of God on the cross.

Duty is henceforth a requirement in us emanating from the Creator whom heaven and earth obey, and from the Father whom we love if we do His will.

As for the notion of moral rule or of moral law, it will continue to bear the mark imprinted on it at Sinai, the character of commandment laid down by the hand of God in the radiance of His glory, even if, with the Gospel, it was to be interiorized. The tables of the Decalogue have had the same importance in the history of moral ideas as the words repeated by Moses, "I AM WHO IS," or, according to modern exegesis, "I am who I am,"{2} have had in the history of speculative reason. The rules of human conduct no longer have to be discovered by the gropings of the tribe's collective conscience or by the philosophic reason. They are made manifest by God Himself, in a code of morality fixed from on high.

A reinforcement which may regenerate Moral Philosophy or endanger it
15. Here again it is well to remark on the fact that God is more interested in the salvation of the human race than in the labor of philosophers. No doubt revealed ethics offers invaluable assistance to moral philosophy, if the latter knows how to profit from it; in particular, it was no small matter for philosophy to see the unwritten law written and formulated by its Author. But philosophy does not always know how to profit by divine occasions; they put a purely rational discipline in an embarrassing position, concerned as it is on its own account with primary realities and supreme Laws. If it is not tempted to reject that which it has not itself discovered, and which escapes the grasp of pure reason, philosophy is tempted to bring divine revelation down to its own level, use it to increase its own store by denaturing it in order to bring it within the grasp of pure reason.

The historian of culture has no trouble observing that this divine reinforcement, and, if I may put it so, this sacred aggravation of human morality, have been an immensely valuable help to humanity in its forward movement. But he is also aware that in order correctly to understand the contribution made by the Decalogue and revealed ethics to the moral life of humanity, one condition is necessary: namely, that one also understand that such a reinforcement and such an absolutization of the moral rule must be nurtured in the climate of the supernatural reality of grace given to men, and of the redemptive Mercy in which the Justice of the Author of the Law is consummated, and in the climate of the primary precept -- the love above all else of Him who is love itself and who wishes to give Himself, to make the human creature partake of His own life.

If we secularize the Tables of the Law, if we transfer the features of the morality of the Ten Commandments to the natural moral law as it derives from reason alone, and is supposed to operate in the order and climate of pure nature, from which all that pertains to the faith and to grace has been eliminated, then we debase and degrade revealed ethics, the morality of the Ten Commandments, and at the same time we deform and harden, perhaps not in its content but in its attitude, the countenance of natural morality -- I mean the spontaneous ethics of the conscience which is guided by the inclinations of nature and the reflective ethics of philosophical reason. We arm natural morality with a thunder which properly belongs only to revealed ethics.

Let us think about the natural rule of morality, that rule of which St. Paul spoke apropos of the pagans, whose conscience, with its reproaches and incitements, witnesses that they bear in themselves their own law;{1} one may compare it, in its natural manner and bearing, to a child of man, a young hunter armed with his bow, who trudges along as best he can in the forest. He has a good eye, he aims straight, but his equipment is humble and primitive. He has a long way to go to become an expert hunter in the years to come. And now suppose that we conceive of this natural rule of morality after the model of revealed ethics. Here is our same apprentice hunter transformed into a king seated on his throne, a crown on his head and a scepter in hand -- and giving stern looks, because he is, after all, only a child of the woods.

The last three centuries have been rich in examples of social formations in which the inherited rules of revealed ethics were still to be found in force, but in which the context normally furnished by the order of grace had been lost from sight, and in which a kind of natural religion or decorative Christianity, maintained as a moralizing agency, protected and sheltered earthly interests which were very sure of themselves. If people who shared in this way of thinking were not much interested in God, except as a guardian of order, they nevertheless believed firmly in a code of moral austerity filled with commandments all the more unconditional, with prohibitions all the more rigorous, and with condemnations all the more severely applied because the code was primarily concerned with external acts and aimed above all at the conservation of the structures of the social group. This was a case of a deconsecrated and secularized sacred morality. It was not a Christian morality, which is suspended from the theological order and from love, which knows pardon and pity, and which is attuned to contemplation, and to what St. Paul calls "the goodness and love of God our Savior toward man".{1} Nor was it natural morality, which has its source in our essential inclinations and in reason, and which shares the human mood and the seeking attitude of authentic reason, an attitude in which there is indulgence, curiosity, sympathy, always a little hesitation and a little irony, and always a desire to understand and clarify.

But it is in the realm of philosophy, with Kant and Kantian ethics, that we find the most significant example of the way in which the influence of Christianity and of revealed ethics can impair a reason which in other respects repudiates the most essential content of Christianity. It is always dangerous to be half Christian. The impact of Christianity quickens reason (without rendering it infallible) when reason nourishes itself on the substance of Christianity. When reason fattens itself on the left-overs of Christianity, the impact of Christianity warps it. The sacralization of the moral life becomes a dangerous blessing when we cease to understand what that sacralization means. Then what was a supernatural reinforcement and a sacred promulgation of the moral law, becomes a hardening and an arrogance against nature in an ethics which only retains the imprint of the Tables of the Law in order to make of them the Tables of Pure Reason.

Another historical accident, another misconception for which revealed ethics offered an occasion to human reason, and for which certain theologians this time bore primary responsibility, can also be pointed out. I allude here to the line of thinkers (the teachers of Islam above all, but also, on the Christian side, Scotus and Occam in the Middle Ages, Descartes in modern times) who, struck more or less consciously by the grand image of the revelation of the Decalogue amid the lightning and thunder of Omnipotence, believed that the moral law, and finally even the distinction between good and evil, depended not at all on divine Wisdom and Reason, the foundation of eternal necessities, but uniquely and exclusively on the pure Will or the pure All-Powerfulness of God, and on an arbitrary decision of His sovereign Freedom. A kind of divine despotism thus became the source of the moral law, decreed and imposed without reason by the celestial High Command. It seems probable to me that this way of looking at things, which St. Thomas Aquinas considered blasphemy, but which was not without its effect here and there on popular consciousness, or popular ignorance, exercised a serious influence on Kant, and played a double role in his thought. On the one hand, I believe, it made him reject, as subjecting the spirit of man to a despotic heteronomy, any idea of making the authority of the moral law depend on the Creator of nature. On the other hand, it made him transfer this same despotic sovereignty to the pure practical Reason, itself identified with the autonomous Will of Man, taken in its supra-empirical dignity.

<< ======= >>