« Prev Section XXXIV. Scholastics and Casuistics.… Next »

SECTION XXXIV.

It is only in the twelfth century that ethics is seriously treated of by scholastic science;—first by Hildebert of Tours (ob. 1134), for the most part in the light of the Roman Eclectic and Stoic philosophies;—then by Abelard, who, however, treats, mostly in a mere preliminary manner, of the more general questions, giving proof of great acumen, but also sometimes enfeebling the significancy of sin;—very fruitfully by Peter Lombard, who presents, in the light of Augustinian thoughts, and with the help of ancient philosophy, a very clear and well-arranged total of Christian doctrine, of which ethics, though but briefly presented, constitutes an essential part;—but with greatest thoroughness and fullness by Thomas Aquinas, who made large use of the Aristotelian philosophy in perfecting a system of Christian speculation, and that, too, without thereby working serious detriment to the Christian idea.— In Duns 204Scotus a sophistico-skeptical treatment of ethics began already to effect, in many respects, an enfeebling of the moral idea, and to prepare the way for the double-dealing morality of the Jesuits.—Through almost all the scholastic presentations of ethics there prevails a pretty great uniformity of spirit and manner of treatment, springing mostly from Augustine and Aristotle, and subsequently from Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas; evangelico-theological and ethnico-philosophical elements are often brought together, without that the latter element is always successfully mastered and molded into a Christian character. Ingenious and often truly speculative processes of thought, but frequently also trivial and fruitless hair-splittings, also a pedantic carrying out of particular schemata, and a preference for certain typical numbers in the distribution of the subject-matter,—such are the general characteristics of scholastic ethics.

Contemporaneously with scholasticism prevailed also the science of casuistry, which had also to do with practical life; this science was ill fact influenced by scholasticism to a higher development, and it attained to its highest perfection in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

Hildebert of Tours (about 1100) treated ethics for the first time in a special work: Philosophia moralis de honesto et utili (Opp. Par. 1708, p. 961 sqq). In philosophical contents it is as yet feeble and dependent, and belongs rather to the sphere of Roman popular philosophy, especially that of Cicero and Seneca, than to speculative science proper; and the Christian element is thrown largely into the shade by that which is borrowed from heathen moralists; the four Greek virtues are servilely carried out; the relation of the honestum and utile is extensively discussed; and as a whole the work is immature and superficial. —Nearly cotemporaneously appears Abelard’s Ethica, s. Scito te 205ipsum,—not a comprehensive system, but properly only a philosophico-theological introduction to ethics; it treats somewhat un-uniformly of general questions, and particularly of the essence of sin and of its imputation. The toning-down of Christian thoughts,—elsewhere observable in Abelard, in his over-estimating the natural capability of man,—shows itself also here. He distinguishes between a natural tendency to evil (called by him a “will”) and the freely-resolved approving of the same; the former is not per se sinful and forbidden of God, for it has its seat in the sensuous and fragile nature of man, and it is not even yet a sin when it overcomes the reason; it becomes sin only by a real approving of sin; and it is for the simple reason that there is a natural tendency to evil in us, that the virtuous opposing of it becomes a moral desert. From this it follows, on the one hand, that man, in virtue of his very nature, cannot avoid all evil, though indeed this unavoidable evil is not imputed to him as guilt, and, on the other, that the essence of sin consists wholly and alone in the conscious choosing of it, and neither in the evil tendency preceding it, nor in the act proceeding therefrom. By the carrying-out of an evil intention the guilt of that intention becomes not greater, and by the omitting of its carrying-out, not less. Moral merit and guilt lie consequently entirely and alone in the disposition; actions themselves, per se considered, are morally indifferent. Hence he who does a bad act without a bad intention, does not sin. True, there is necessary also in order to the truly good not merely a well-meaning, but also a correctly-cognizing intention. Therefore it is that, while, because of the heathens’ lack of a correct knowledge of the law and the truth, their unbelief and even their persecuting of the Christian martyrs cannot be imputed to them as real sins, yet, on the other hand, they cannot without faith become really saved; and the prayer of Christ on the cross for his persecutors shows that they did wrong in ignorance, and were in need of forgiveness.—There are thoughts here in Abelard which, while per se true, are yet one-sidedly pushed into the extreme, and thereby become erroneous. Thus, he explains the distinction, prevalent in the ethics of the Middle Ages, between mortal and venial sins, to mean this, that under the latter we are to understand those the immorality of which is indeed known to us in general, but is not clearly conscious 206and present to our mind at the moment of our consenting to them, and which are consequently committed rather in a state of forgetfulness. The ethics of Abelard was, not without reason, severely assailed by Bernard of Clairvaux, and is in many respects a fore-runner of the system of the Jesuits; but in his own day the conscience of the church was as yet somewhat quick and tender, and the synod of Sens (1140) expressly condemned the more questionable features of the same.

The subject of ethics was treated with great skill, but rather ingeniously than profoundly, by Peter Lombard (ob. 1160), more especially in the third book of his Libri sententiarum,—a work which was for later schoolmen a very influential model and a high authority, though the relatively brief manner of treatment touches only upon the principal points. With a fully-developed system we are not as yet furnished; it is rather a dialectical analysis and examination of ideas than a profound speculative development from a fundamental principle. The ethical notions are presented first in definitions, then proved and illustrated by texts from Scripture and from the Fathers, and thereupon follow dialectical inquiries, comparisons of opposed views, and a definitive judgment.

The notion “good” has both an objective and a subjective significancy. The good as object is the goal of the subjective good, the good will; this good object is blessedness; eternal life in God, and hence God himself in so far as he comes into communion with man (II, Dist. 38, 40). The presupposition of all morally good is will-freedom. This freedom is primarily a threefold one: freedom from necessity, freedom from sin as a dominating power, and freedom from misery. The first is unforfeitable,—exists also in sinful man; the second is enjoyed by the redeemed, the third by the saved. Before the fall man had perfect freedom,—could, by his own strength, keep free from sin, though not attain to perfection save as aided by divine grace, as, on the other hand, he could in his own strength also turn to sin. Hence will-freedom is that capacity of the rational will whereby it, by the assistance of divine grace (gracia assistente), chooses the good, or, by not sharing in the same (eadem desistente), the evil. In the rational will there is a natural striving, though but feeble (licet tenuiter et exiliter), to choose the good; but, by the assistance of grace, it becomes powerful and efficacious 207(eficaciter), whereas man per se can effectually turn to evil. By the possibility of choice in the two directions, human liberty differs from divine liberty, which latter can eternally choose only the good. After the fall into sin, the truth: poterat peccare et not peccare, was changed into, potest peccare et non potest non peccare; that is, into a freedom very much trammeled indeed, though not yet sunk to necessity; the inwardly enfeebled and corrupted nature of man impels him constantly to sin, and allows him not to will and to accomplish the truly good. The redeemed, however, is free from this predominancy of evil desire,—has indeed as yet moral weakness, but also the assistance of divine grace; hence he can also yet sin,—in fact it is still true of him: non posse non peccare, but only as to venial sins, not as to mortal sins. In his ultimate perfection, however, the redeemed attains to a condition transcending the condition of unfallen man, namely: non posse peccare,—where all weakness is overcome, and man has risen to a moral impossibility of choosing evil; thus the threefold freedom becomes a fourfold one (II, Dist: 24, 25).

Virtue is the right quality of the human will as turned toward the good. The ground-virtue is, therefore, love to God, as the substance of all good; and all virtues are closely involved in each other, so that he who truly possesses one, possesses them all, and he to whom one is lacking, lacks them all; no one can have simply one virtue, for love is the mother of all the virtues, and he who has the mother has also the children (III, Dist. 36). In agreement with Augustine, Peter Lombard presents three chief-virtues. which, however, are only different phases of the one love to God, namely: faith, hope, love (fides, spes, charitas). (1) FIDES est virtus, qua creduntur, quae non videntur, namely, in the sphere of the religious; this faith is threefold:)—(a) credere DEO, to believe the word of God; (b) credere DEUM, to believe in the existence of God; both these forms of faith are possible to the evil; (c) credere IN DEUM, to love God in faith, and to unite one’s self with him; this is true faith, which leads also to truly good works (III, Dist. 23). (2) SPES est virtus, qua spiritualia et aeterna bona sperantu, i. e., cum fiducia exspectantur. This virtue is only briefly and insufficiently developed, and is not clearly enough distinguished from the first; for the statement that hope refers only to future good, while faith refers also to 208evil and to the past and to the present (III, Dist., 26), gives, after all, only the difference of a part from the whole. (3) CHARITAS est dilectio, qua diligitur deus propter se, et proximus propter deum vel in deo; God must be loved for his own sake, but our neighbor (and every human being is such) only for God’s sake (III, Dist. 27 sqq.).—From another point of view,—and which is not properly brought into harmony with the first, but only joined to it—four other virtues (virtutes principales vel cardinales) are adopted, after the example of Plato and Augustine, and presented, namely: justitia, fortitudo (which manifests itself in suffering), prudentia, and temperantia (III, 33); after which, without any further development of these four virtues, are given the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit (taken from Isa. xi, 2, 3, in the Vulgate version, namely: wisdom, understanding, counsel, strength, knowledge, piety, God-fearing), as the conditions of the practice of virtue, and as spiritual virtues. Some further discussion of special points is given in connection with a presentation of the ten commandments and of the sacraments.

In the steps of Peter Lombard follows, in all essential points, Alexander Hales (ob. 1245), though he develops some points more fully, and contributes thereto original matter,—especially is this the case in his discussion of the moral law, which he distinguishes into the natural, the Mosaic, and the evangelical (Summa univ. theol., pars III). He separates the moral part of theology more distinctly than had yet been done from the dogmatical, as the “doctrine of manners,” and distributes it into the doctrine, first, of the divine law, second, of grace and the virtues, and, third, of the fruit of virtue.—(William of Paris [ob. 1249] discussed the more important points of morality in separate treatises grounded on Augustine and Aristotle). More learned, and especially distinguished by extensive use of Aristotle, are the ethical portions of the writings of Albertus Magnus (ob. 1280), though in other respects they do not contain very, much original speculation, and in some respects they show already a strong casuistical tendency.

It is through Thomas Aquinas that scholastic ethics was most highly perfected both in form and in substance, and raised to a system of profound speculation. His great work, Summa theologiae, prima et secunda secundae, combines, in comprehensive thoroughness, a clear intellectual insight with 209deep religious knowledge and moral life experience. The style of presentation is indeed somewhat discursive, especially in the citing and refuting of opposite opinions, and runs often into unprofitable distinctions and splittings of ideas, but the substantial contents are in the main so sound and excellent, that the almost autocratical authority enjoyed by Thomas Aquinas, especially in the field of ethics—(an authority which has maintained itself unabated in the Romish Church up to the present day)—is essentially a well-merited one; the later ethics of the Romish Church could indeed fall below this model, but it has not surpassed it; and also for Protestant ethics have the works of this author been of great influence, and they are even yet of weighty import.

The ethics of Thomas Aquinas, which is directly connected with his dogmatics, is distributed into a general and a special part, of which the former treats of the virtues and vices in general, and the latter of the same in detail, so that the whole is made to appear predominantly, though not exclusively, as the doctrine of virtue.—Man is the image of God principally in virtue of his reason; but an essential element of reason is the freedom of the will, namely, the free determining of our own activity. All activity, and hence also that of irrational creatures, has an end; hence human activity must have a rational end, and one which man knows as such, and which is aimed at by free will-determination, whereas irrational creatures seek their end unconsciously and from natural instinct. But rational ends are such only in so far as they do not constitute a mere interminable plurality, but converge and terminate in one last and highest good, upon which consequently all rational activity is directed. This one highest end, and hence the highest good, which the rational creature seeks to attain to, cannot consist in outward, perishable, and hence unessential things, but only in the one absolutely imperishable, the divine, namely, in communion with God, and hence in the absolutely perfect life of the rational creature,—in blessedness. God is the objective, blessedness the subjective, phase of the highest good. The human soul per se, and without being united with God, cannot be happy; hence the highest good is not a something belonging to the soul per se,—has its ground not in the soul but in God; 210the highest good in its objective phase, considered as an object, is not a created, but an uncreated and divine entity, which, however, is appropriated to himself by man. But this uncreated entity cannot be appropriated by sensuous perception, but solely through a spiritual grasping, through cognizing, through spiritual beholding or intuiting. Hence blessedness rests on an intuiting of God, and toward this, therefore, the rational activity of the soul is directed. This blessedness, as resting on the highest activity of the reason, cannot be wholly reached in this earthly, manifoldly-limited and dependent life, and, moreover, as being of an unending nature, it cannot be merited by finite actions,—it can only be appropriated by religious intuition, by contemplation, namely, in that God lovingly imparts himself, and therewith at the same time blessedness, to man. This appropriating is, however, not a merely passive bearing, not a will-less beholding, but a willing, loving, and love-enjoying embracing of the divine. In that the rational striving attains to perfect satisfaction and rest in God as the highest good, blessedness is enjoyment, the feeling of delight; this is, however, but one of the phases of blessedness,—the other is the visional cognizing.—The will of man,—ever directed toward a good,—is indeed free,—can be forced neither through an outward nor through an inward power to a given choice, nor is it so forced by God, for God leaves every created being to act according to its inborn nature; and hence the will can direct itself as well to a false and merely seeming good, as to the true good,—but this true good itself stands not within the free determination of man, but is absolutely determined by God and by the inner necessity of the case itself; man can, freely-willing, strive for it or fail of it, but he cannot posit any other good than the true one. There is no other highest good than God. The will is good when it hearkens to the reason; but the reason is truthful only when it hearkens to God and accepts illumination from him. Hence every action is evil which deviates from reason, and is evil also when this reason is in error (II, 1, 19); whatever does not spring from the conscience is sin; but the will that follows an erring reason is also not good, but evil, in so far as the error was avoidable. Hence only that action is truly good which follows, 211not merely reason in general as fortuitously determined in this or that particular person, but true reason,—which is conscious of the divine will, and determines itself thereafter.

The readiness of the soul for well-acting is virtue,—which is consequently to be conceived of not as mere action, but as a permanent power and tendency for acting, as a habitus, as a power of the rational will. The virtues are primarily of a natural character; that is, such as belong to man as such, to his natural rational being, and are developed by exercise and habituation, although they cannot in themselves attain to perfection (ii, 1, qu. 55-59, 63). They are distinguished as knowledge-virtues and moral virtues (comp. §§ 17, 18); the former are wisdom, science, understanding and, connected therewith, prudence, and, in a somewhat peculiar sense, also art-skill. The moral virtues relate to desire; they fall into four cardinal virtues (ii, 1, qu. 60, 61; ii, 2, 47 sqq). (1) Virtue considered as a good of the reason, and as expressing the essence of the same, is prudence; this virtue is, as distinguished from wisdom, not the lord, but the servant of morality,—gives not the end proper, but only the means to the end of the practical reason. (2) The virtue which expresses the practical will-direction of the reason toward moral actions, is justness or righteousness; it relates to the realizing of the right,—is the constant and fixed will to give to each his right, and hence has to do with what we owe to others. It is true, man can in a certain sense be just also toward himself, namely, when reason holds in proper control the passions. Justness is the highest of the moral virtues, and includes in itself also piety, thankfulness, etc. (3) The virtue which expresses the practical will-direction of the reason toward the checking of all reason-resisting desires and passions, is temperateness. It holds within rational bounds all desires and pleasure-feelings which relate to sensuous goods, and all displeasure-feelings which spring from the lack of such goods. Modifications of this virtue are shame, reverentiality, abstinence, gentleness, modesty, humility, etc. (4) The virtue which expresses the practical will-direction of the reason toward the carrying-out of rational purposes as against opposing natural inclinations and affections, especially against fear in the face of dangers,—is courage. It wards off whatever would hinder the activity of the reason, and thus preserves man, as against all 212sensuous and irrational impulses, within the limits of rationality; it is, on the one hand, defensive, a firm calm enduring of hostile influences, and, on the other, offensive, in that it actually assaults the dangers; the first phase, however, is, for Christian morality, the predominant. The highest stage of Christian courage is martyrdom, wherein the main element is love. The several chief virtues are subdivided by Thomas Aquinas in a very far-reaching and excessively detailed manner, into very numerous special manifestation-forms.

Above all the moral virtues, stand (not as co-ordinate therewith, but as in fact exalting them into a Christian character) the theological virtues, that is, the supernatural ones—those which have for their object the divine, the supernatural, and are not grounded in us by nature, but given (infusae) to us by God (ii, 1, 62 sqq.; ii, 2, 1-46); through these alone is perfection possible to man, even in the other or moral virtues.(1) Faith; this virtue relates not to the finite, but to God, and has as its presupposition, divine revelation. It is a thinking with an inner assent of the will, and must manifest itself also outwardly in confession. The object of faith is, in part, purely supernatural, transcending our knowledge and reason, and in part it can be discovered even through natural reason; but also that which is discoverable through reason has in fact been revealed by God out of love, and for purposes of culture. Faith is raised to a vital form only by the increment of love (fides formata); without love it is crude (informis). As faith is the foundation of all morality, so is unbelief the greatest sin; but as faith is a virtue, hence it is not allowable to bring a non-Christian to faith by force. The matter is, however, very different with heretics and apostates, for these have broken their vow, and hence fall under punishment; heresy deserves capital punishment (ii, 2, 10, art. 8, 9); and when a prince falls from faith and in consequence thereof, incurs the: ban of the Church, then are his subjects ipso facto free and absolved from his dominions and from their oath of fealty (ii, 2, 12, art. 2),—(2) Hope has for its object eternal blessedness, that is, the subjective phase of the highest good; it pre-supposes faith inasmuch as it is only by faith that eternal blessedness becomes known to us. With hope must be associated God-fearing, inasmuch as God 213is the executor of just punishments.—(3) Love is the most perfect of the virtues, and its presupposition is faith and hope. It is an intimate union of man with God, a possessing of God, and the shaping-form of all the other virtues, inasmuch as man is to do all good out of love to God; it endures forever, whereas faith ultimately passes over into sight, and hope into the possession of blessedness. This love, which is primarily love to God, and as such is not in us by nature, but is a divine grace-gift, enlarges itself spontaneously into love to men and to all creatures, as also into a love of man for himself and for his own body as created by God. But all love to the created must spring exclusively from our love to God, and it cannot relate approvingly to the evil that is in creatures, but rather seeks to eradicate it. Our enemies and bad men in general we are to love, not as bad, but as men, and for the sake of their rational nature. The degree of our love to creatures is to be in proportion to the union of the same with God. God himself is to be loved above all things, above even ourselves.

This double classification of the virtues is doubtless the weakest side of the ethics of Thomas Aquinas and of the schoolmen in general. The theological and the natural virtues do not possibly admit of being brought into any clear relation to each other; they are based upon two utterly foreign and heterogeneous stand-points, and can be reduced neither to a condition of co-ordination nor of- subordination, but on the contrary, they constantly cross and cramp each other, and lead, on the one hand, to many repetitions, and, on the other, to an arbitrary distribution of the special virtue-manifestations. That love, even love to the creature, should appear solely as a theological virtue, is entirely unnatural. The separating of faith from wisdom is no less erroneous, inasmuch as Christian wisdom rests essentially on faith in God. The distinction made between knowledge-virtues and moral virtues suffers not only under all the defects of its prototype in Aristotle, but becomes more perplexed still by the distinguishing of both these classes from the theological virtues, inasmuch as a very essential part of that which Aristotle ascribes to wisdom must here be transferred to faith. And the matter is made still worse by the fact that the moral virtues are not 214presented strictly according to Aristotle, but according to the four chief virtues of Plato, who does not find any place for special knowledge-virtues, so that while, now, wisdom does not, yet prudence does, appear as a moral cardinal virtue, whereas in fact prudence belongs unquestionably along with wisdom to the knowledge-virtues, as is the case in Aristotle (§ 17). The fact is, the entire Greek schema is totally inadequate for the expression of the Christian virtues, and the violence of the process is felt at e-very step of the attempt. Even the utterly untenable position of Aristotle, that virtue always lies in the middle between two opposite aberrations (§ 17), is adopted by Thomas Aquinas, and applied even to the knowledge-virtues; to the theological-virtues he applies it only in this respect, that, in them, we are to reach a definite measure corresponding to our nature (ii, 1, 64),—to say the least, a strange application of the middle-way of Aristotle.

On the virtues in general, Thomas Aquinas makes also the following observations, mostly in the spirit of Aristotle: every virtue is heightened in its power by exercise; all of them stand in connection with each other, and when they appear in their perfection, no one of them is without all the others. The virtues, according as they are viewed under different aspects, are, as to worth, in part equal and in part unequal; the knowledge-virtues are per se nobler than the moral virtues, inasmuch as reason is nobler than desire; but in respect to their activity, the moral virtues stand higher, as they are more fruitful in results. The perfect practice of virtue depends on the directly God-conferred seven gifts of the Spirit (ii, 1, 68), which make the person willing to follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit,—a thought which occurs already in Ambrose and in Gregory I., but in respect to which, even the intellectual acumen of a Thomas Aquinas does not succeed in making clear the relation of these gifts to the corresponding virtues; especially the theological.

The moral activity determines itself according to a law; this law belongs to the sphere of reason. The eternal law is the universe-ruling divine reason, not the fortuitous reason of the individual. The laws of nature, and also those of the practical reason (ratio practica) are an efflux from the eternal 215law, and the human laws of the state and of society are in turn an efflux from both. The laws which lie merely in the natural reason do not suffice for morality; but there is needed, in order to the supernatural end of blessedness, also a positive divine law, which is made known and evidenced to all by revelation, and which at the same time also preserves the natural consciousness from all doubt (ii, 1, 90 sqq).—In the field of Christian morality the law proper, which is absolutely binding on all Christians, is to be distinguished from the counsels, which are left to free choice, though the following of them works a higher perfection and leads more speedily to the goal of salvation. The Old Testament law, as a law of servitude, had no such counsels; but the Gospel as a law of freedom has them, in order to bring men rightly to a consciousness of their freedom. The. clinging to the earthly hinders our arriving at the heavenly; hence the counsels hasten this arriving, in that they free man as far as possible from earthly enjoyments which are otherwise not forbidden to him; they therefore require poverty, perpetual chastity (that is, non-marriage), and the yoke of obedience (obedientiae servitus), the latter very erroneously based on Matt. xix, 21 (“follow me,”) and on John x, 27 (ii, 1, 108, art. 4; comp. ii, 2, 186).—The Christian law as distinguished from the natural law cannot be fulfilled by our own natural power, but only in virtue of the grace-gifts infused into the hearts of believers; and in so far man acquires for himself, by his virtue, no merit before God. Without grace no one can acquire the life of blessedness; on the presupposition of grace, however, man can in fact acquire a merit before God, and thereby an increase of grace and of the love of God, and hence also a heightening of his blessedness (meritum condigni) (ii, 1, 114).

Opposed to the morally-good stands evil; to the virtuous act, sin; and to virtue as a habit, vice (ii, 1, 71 sqq.); sin and vice are in contradiction to true reason, and hence in general to the essence or nature of man. In reference to the kind of pleasure felt or sought in sin, sins are divided into spiritual and fleshly sins. In reference to their guilt and punishableness, they are classed into venial and mortal (peccata venalia et mortalia); the former consist in the turning to the finite without a conscious and designed turning-away from God, 216and they involve finite punishments, either here upon earth or in purgatory; mortal sins consist in a conscious and designed turning-away from, and hence in a conscious rebelling against, God and his will,—are contrary to the order of love, and hence involve eternal punishment. The gravity of the guilt is measured by the importance of the object, by the motives, by the degree of consciousness and of freedom, and by the spiritual character and position of the subject in society. In reference to the positive or negative contents of the action, sins fall into sins of commission and of omission (peccata commissionis et omissionis). In reference to their manner of commission, sins are sins of the heart, of the mouth, and of act (peccata cordis, oris, operis). In sin there is to be distinguished a twofold consent of the rational will, namely, to the pleasure in the sin, and to the sinful deed itself, the latter being the more criminal.—The causes of sin, as act, are in part direct, namely, erring cognition and volition-the regarding a seeming good as a real one, and the willing it, and, in part, indirect, namely, first, inner ones, such as imagination, sensuousness, ignorance, passion, and other already committed sins; and, second, outward or tempting ones, such as evil spirits and bad men; temptation, however, presupposes, in order to its effectualness, a sinful welcoming of it. God is not the cause of sin, though indeed, in virtue of his righteousness, He is the mediate cause of the consequences of sin, e. g., of the hardening of the heart. The sinful corruption which transmits itself from the first man to all following generations, that is, original sin, is, formally, the being destitute of original righteousness, and, materially, the tending of the soul-powers to false goods,—concupiscentia (75 sqq). The particular sins are severally treated of in connection with the virtues of which they are the violation.

In his, not seldom very casuistical carrying out of details, Thomas Aquinas, notwithstanding his moral earnestness, does not, on the whole, incline to theoretical rigor, but leaves pretty free scope for personal determination in particular cases, and even in the face of outward human law. The right of property, for example, is, in his opinion, not unconditional; and in extreme cases of necessity, where the saving of life is involved, the right of self-preservation takes precedence 217of the right of property, and a person sins not when, in such a case, he openly or secretly takes from the refused superfluity of another that which he needs (ii, 2, sq. 66, 7).—To take interest for money loaned, he regards, in agreement with general ancient-Christian and Mediaeval opinion, as unallowable; otherwise the same thing would be paid for twice; he who sells a loaf of bread, may not demand another special payment for the eating of the same; he who lends receives, in fact, the purchase price with the return of the simple sum lent; however, it is not unallowable, in case of need, to pay interest to others for money.—The duty of truthfulness admits, indeed, of saying less than one knows to be the truth, but not more; for the little is a part of the whole. All lies are sins, though in different degrees; a conscious lie for the injury of another is a mortal sin, but a lie said in sport or a lie of courtesy (mendacium officiosum) in indifferent things, and where it injures no one, is a venial one (ii, 2, sq. 110, 4).

Duns Scotus (ob. 1308), whose really speculative acumen went but too often astray into sophistical and skeptical reasonings, involved the moral idea, and above all its special application, in more than one respect, in uncertainty, namely, by his sophist-delight in the discovering and in the ingenious solving of contradictions and difficulties. A minutely spun-out quatenus makes room for the most opposite assumptions, and opens the way, to subjective discretion, for a lax construing of the law. Many elements in Scotus remind us strikingly of the later aberrations of the Jesuitical view. The notion of the freedom of the will he conceives, in opposition to Thomas Aquinas, as essentially a mere norm-less discretion, both in man and in God; while Aquinas held that man, as really rational, has, in his rational knowledge of the good, a motive—not a compelling one, it is true, but a motive—to the good, so that he cannot determine himself equally easily for the rational and the irrational, but has in fact a primitive, a constitutional inclination to the good, and that consequently the will does not by any means stand entirely neutral (ii, 1, 9, 13, 17, 58), Duns Scotus maintains, on the contrary, that according to this view the will is not at all free, but is determined by knowledge; according to his 218view, the will, as free, is not ini the least bound by rational knowledge, but stands perfectly neutral, and can with like facility decide for, or against, the known good.121121   Quaestt. in libr. Sentent. ii, dist. 25, ed. Lugd., 1639, t. 6, p. 873 sqq. Likewise, also, is the freedom of the divine will in nowise to be conceived of as characterized by any inner necessity, so that, for example, God could not equally well will the opposite of that which he actually does will. A course of order is not willed by God and established as a law because it is good per se, but it is good simply and solely because God has willed it precisely so; but He might just as readily have willed the opposite thereof. Hence also God is not bound by his commands, and He can in fact annul them,—not merely the positive laws of Revelation, but also the natural laws of morals; only from the two first laws of the Decalogue, as resulting directly from the essence of God, can God not dispense.122122   Ibid. iii, dist. 37, t. 7, p. 857. It is evidently in the interest of this lax notion of liberty that Duns Scotus admits also of morally indifferent actions—not merely such manners of action, as, being neither commended nor forbidden, constitute the sphere of the allowed,—but also real, positive actions which are neither good nor evil, that is, which are not done out of love to God, but also not in opposition to Him.123123   Ibid. ii, dist. 41. Hence in regard to particular moral cases; Duns Scotus shows himself often very lax. Falsehood and misrepresentation he declares as, under certain circumstances, allowable.124124   Ibid. iii, dist. 38, p. 917. An oath of promise obligates to its fulfillment only when the person had at the time of swearing it the intention of fulfilling it,—though of course an oath in which one did not have this intention, is a moral sin.125125   Ibid. iii, dist. 39, p. 980.

Scholastic ethics as a whole bears a pretty unvarying outward form. The method is, as the several points present themselves, first, to state the various opposing views with the reasons in their favor, and then to pass a decision upon the point itself; mere dicta of the Fathers, especially of Augustine and of Dionysius the Areopagite, and often also of the Philosophus, that is, Aristotle, suffice in and of themselves as conclusive proofs; texts from the Scriptures fall rather into 219the back-ground.—Despite the undeniable acumen shown by the schoolmen in the development of processes of reasoning, there is yet manifest also a lack of the courage to derive their philosophical systems purely and simply from the Christian consciousness. Graeco-Roman ethics was in fact, to the schoolmen, not a merely preliminary and preparatory study, but it was with them of quite too determining an influence, also in respect to the subject-matter of their science. They endeavor, indeed, with great earnestness to exalt extra-Christian philosophy into the sphere of Christian thought; it proves, however, an element too mighty for them, and they do not wholly escape entangling the Christian consciousness in the heathen, and thus robbing it of its peculiarity. They felt indeed the antagonism, but did not overcome it, and the prevalent lifeless juxtaposing of the two elements shows only their embarrassment, but not their ability to dominate the foreign material.—The almost universal resorting to certain favorite numbers in the division and classification of the subject-matter, particularly to three and seven, and also to four and twelve, is indeed based on an obscure consciousness of an inner order of the spiritual life; but this order does not come to a scientific consciousness, and the real reason for its observance is, after all, the typical significance of these numbers as sacred. That there should be presented precisely seven beatitudes, seven (diversely-stated) mortal sins, etc., seems without inner ground; and frequently this using of numbers sinks to jejune play, as, e. g., when a certain writer introduces every-where the number twelve,—in the dividing of his subject, in assigning reasons, in citing objections, etc.

The ethical subject-matter treated of by the schoolmen was subsequently wrought over in large, though but little systemetized summaries in connection with appropriate citations from the Fathers, and placed within reach of the wider circles of the ecclesiastical world. To the period of Thomas Aquinas himself belongs the Summa of William Peraldus,126126   Summa s. tractatius de virtutibus et vitiis, from the fifteenth century, (without date or place of printing, then at Col. Agr., 1479 fol.; Basle, 1497, 8vo.) often reprinted. an essentially casuistical and pretty well digested appreciation of scholastic science; after which we may mention the Speculum 220morale, attributed to Vincent of Beauvais (ob. 1264), but originating in the fourteenth century;127127   Not in his Opp., 1481, but separately printed as a part of the great Speculum naturale, etc., 1473, and subsequently. and also the much used and very complete and erudite Summa of Antony of Florence (ob. 1450).128128   Summa theol., 1477, 1478, 1480, 1496; 1740, 4 vols.

John of Salisbury (ob. 1180, as Bishop of Chartres), who opposed scholasticism proper with brilliant ability, but was rather empirical in regard to the source of knowledge, though in other respects of rich philosophical culture, undertook to give to the moral views of the Church a scientific expression; in his efforts he based himself most largely on Gregory the Great. To be perfect is God’s essence, to become perfect is the task of man as God’s image; man becomes perfect, and hence happy only by moral activity,—which activity rests, on the one hand, on the knowledge of the truth, and, on the other, on love to God. Since the fall into sin man can know the truth only in virtue of divine revelation and illumination, and he can realize the good only by the assistance of divine grace. Because of the evil desire inborn in all men, there is no virtue without a constant struggle of our love to righteousness, as strengthened by redemption, against our innate evil desires. Even as the essence and source of all sins is the natural desire as developed into pride and presumption (so that consequently all virtuous effort directs itself primarily against the pride of the heart), so the essence of all Christian virtue is that humility which springs from love to God, and which seeks to lay aside all self-will and to give God the glory in all things. Hence the moral worth of actions lies not in the work, but in the disposition; but from the right disposition there follows with moral necessity also the right work.—Morality is not, however, a merely individual task, it finds its full truth only in the moral community-life, which comes to expression in the church and in the closely therewith-connected Christian state. The State has, as a real moral organism, also a moral task, namely, to execute righteousness according to the divine will, and not only to protect the morality of the people, but also to foster and guide it. Hence the law which governs the state is to be 221an expression, not of human discretion, but only of the divine will, to which even the prince must absolutely subordinate himself; hence it must rest on God’s revealed Word, and the vicegerents of God, that is, the representatives of the religious community-life—the Church,—must be also the animating soul of the Christian state; for, in fact, in its moral task, the Christian state is identical with the church. God-fearing is the life-power of the Christian state, and this state must therefore above all things recognize and honor both the moral right of the church and also the priests as the higher and, so to speak, divine element in worldly society. The priests indeed should not and may not themselves guide and administer the state; they are rather simply by their moral example, by doctrine, by exhortation, and by reproof, to influence the same, but the princes to whom by divine ordinance the guidance of the state belongs, have received the sword only from the higher moral community, the church, in order to execute justice in the name of the Christian idea; and so likewise stands the military order, knighthood, not merely in the service of the prince, but quite as fully, and in fact primarily, in the service of God, and hence of the church. A prince who breaks away from divine law, who rebels against the divine ordinances, and hence also against the church, has, as a tyrant, forfeited his moral right to the crown, and it is not merely legitimate to offer resistance to him, but also in any manner whatever, even by treachery or assassination, to get rid of him [Policraticus iv, 2]. The political doctrine of John of Salisbury is a Mediaeval Christian counterpart to Plato’s doctrine of the state, with which he was not acquainted, and is in fact an attempt to introduce Augustine’s Civitas Dei into the worldly state.129129   Especially in his Policraticus.—(Reuter: Joh. v. S., 1842). Schaarschmidt: Joh. Saresb., 1862.

The fondness of Schoolmen for proposing difficult controversial questions led them inevitably into the province of casuistry; and this science—which had sustained itself alongside of scholasticism—subsequently borrowed from scholastic science much congenial material, and in part also a scientific form. Hence at the decline of scholasticism in the fourteenth century, casuistry entered in fact upon its brightest days. 222The works entitled Summae casuum conscientiae, were very much used in connection with confession and penance, and, as they generally contained also much matter relative to church law, also in ecclesiastical administration. In them we find a very imperfectly digested, and often merely alphabetical, summary of specific single moral questions, which relate in the main to what is allowed or disallowed, and the decision of which is given less from general principles than on the basis of the utterances of the more highly esteemed Fathers. The questions are often not taken from life at all, but are siniply invented in order to exercise ingenuity, as in riddle-solving; and in some of these works there is manifested a peculiarly fond lingering over extremely impure subjects. In the presence of the too exclusively considered individual case, the general principles involved in it are often wholly lost sight of, and ethics is in danger of degenerating into a sophistry of special-pleading,—into a treating of the moral merely empirically and skeptically; thus we find questions often extensively discussed, as doubtful, which cannot be in the least practically doubtful for the unsophisticated moral consciousness. The best known of these works are the Summae of Raymund of Pennaforti in the thirteenth century,130130   Summa de casibus poenitentiae, Verona, 1744; upon this is based the work of John of Freiburg, Augsb., 1472, and frequently. and of Astesanus in the fourteenth131131   S. d. cas. consc. (at first without date or place) about 1468-72 fol.; then at Col., 1479; Norimb., 1482, and often later. (the Astesana, is cautious and judicious, contains also many general considerations, and is pretty systematic and comprehensive); Angelus of Clavasio in the fifteenth century132132   S. cas. consc., 1486 without place, fol.; Venet., 1487 4to.; Norimb., 1488, and often. (the Angelica, perhaps the most extensively used; alphabetical, with much worthless matter, and often treating of indelicate questions); Sylvester Prierias, General of the Dominicans, the well-known opponent of Luther, gave in his Summa moralis,133133   Printed in 1515 4to.; Argent., 1518 fol. generally called Summa summarum, an alphabetical compilation from others. (The Pisanella [1470 and often], revised by Nicolas of Ausmo, 1471, ’73, ’74, ’75, ’78; Galensis, 1475; Rosella, 1516; Pacifica, 1574. The Biblia aurea, 1475, ’81,—also in 223German, alphabetical.)—Also the Decretum of Gratian contains, in its first part, much that appertains to casuistical ethics.


« Prev Section XXXIV. Scholastics and Casuistics.… Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version





Advertisements



| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |