EVOLUTION OF UNHAPPINESS
It has become the fashion in our day for great minds to escape their tremendous labours for a few hours by reading utterly fantastic stories, preferably detective stories. These are calculated to fire the imagination and to set the mind completely at rest; in fact they forbid the use of intellect under pain of ruining the story. The large number of great minds revealed by a check of the circulation of these stories is a little incredible. At any rate in one of these stories a doctor succeeded in accomplishing the impossible — exchanging the souls of two men: the one was a middle-aged man, a chronic invalid who was forever taking medicine, suffering attacks of pain in the region of the heart, dragging himself along carefully, miserably, without hope; the other was a young man, vigorous, who had never known a day of sickness and who had all youth’s hope for the future. Five years after the operation, the splendid young body which the chronic invalid had pur chased was unrecognizable, floods of medicine were again necessary, the heart pain was present once more and the future looked as dark as ever, while the decrepit old body taken on by the youth was operating perfectly, charging vigorously ahead into the alluring future.
Utterly fantastic, of course, but it brings out a point that is not at all fantastic, the point that our present activity is moulded by our future; and our estimation of the future is largely based on what we have received from the past. Many a rich man’s son has ruined his life because the future was too securely fixed by the labours of his father in the past; and many a son inheriting a disgraced name dragged that name still further down because the future was so hopelessly black.
Much the same is true in the moral order. Some men have been terribly cruel to their fellow men because their own salvation (they thought) was perfectly arranged for them no matter what they did; others have been incredibly vicious because they were sure they had no chance for eternal happiness. Some men have given up the struggle before they had fairly started, sure that no man could win in this fight with the corrupt nature he had inherited; while others have taken disastrous risks serenely sure of the perfection of human nature.
We saw in the last chapter that man did inherit sin, that he was born with original sin on his soul by the very fact of receiving human nature from the first head of the human race. It is important that we know just what that inheritance is. We must know what the past has given us, because the present will be formed by our outlook on the future and our estimate of the future is largely based on our inheritance from the past. Many a game has been won or lost before the teams took the field; over-confidence or defeatism, the conviction of a superiority that makes effort unnecessary or of an inferiority that makes effort worthless — one is as dangerous as the other in facing the game of life.
Even an atheistic doctor would be reasonably astonished if the new-born baby he was handing to the nurse were to speak up and flatly declare itself an atheist. We do not expect that sort of thing at that age. The baby can and does become mightily irritated at the way it is handled and gives voice in no uncertain terms to anger, fear, sorrow and pleasure; but it does not begin life by sowing wild oats. Whatever sin is on the soul of that infant is certainly not a personal sin but a sin of nature. It is something habitual, not a passing action; yet not a habit built up, for example, like chewing tobacco or dropping ashes on the rug.
Beginning of sin in the individual: Original sin — a disposition of nature
In fact it is not a habit in the sense we have explained habits; it is more of an habitual disposition of nature itself. To visualize original sin in terms of habit leads us to make the mistake of considering original sin as a principle of evil acts from which all sorts of sins pop out at the first opportunity as mathematical solutions leap from the mathematician’s habits of thought, or as thoughtfulness slips silently from the Christian’s habit of charity. A much more accurate picture would be that of a symphony orchestra in which each man decided to be his own leader and express his personal moods in his music. Original sin is precisely that: a dissolution of the harmony of original justice. Picture it in terms of a complicated chemical substance where all the elements were beautifully balanced and then suddenly that balance was destroyed, as, for example, in the explosion of T.N.T. or dynamite; or, more humanly, as the attack of an illness which destroys the harmony and smooth co-ordination of our physical organism. That is original sin — a languor, a sickness of nature, a destruction of the smooth harmony of humanity.
Original sin singular in each individual
It is possible to look upon original sin as multiple in as much as it is the beginning of sin in the individual, as the other sins of the individual are virtually contained in it; or considering that first sin of Adam with its elements of pride, disobedience and gluttony we can call original sin multiple. But strictly speaking, original sin does not multiply in the individual as lies do in the confirmed liar until they have formed a maze from which even the ingenuity of a liar cannot escape. There is just one original sin to each man entering the world. Adam, after all, had authority to act for us in only his one particular: the gaining or losing of the gifts nature had acquired by grace. What he did with the rest of his life, what sins he committed or what temptations he resisted has nothing whatever to do with the inheritance which comes down to us. This is evident from the nature of original sin: it is a dissolution of harmony, the discordance of the elements of human nature. One such discordance is all one man can accommodate in the small house of his soul. The absolute authority of the head of the house has been destroyed and every member proceeds on the assumption that there is no one in command. It is very much the same as when the principle of harmonious operation in the human body, the soul, departs and each ingredient of the human body goes about its own proper function independently, separately, to the ultimate dissolution of that body; so with the destruction of original justice, the principle of harmonious operation in the soul of man, the faculties of man go their own discordant ways.
Suppose a sword were made out of the only material available — tin. The workmanship might be perfect, but the result would be a poor fighting instrument; at the first stroke it would bend out of shape. If the material had been glass, then in spite of supreme craftsmanship, that sword would be brittle and would shatter the first time it was used. God, in creating man, set about to make a creature that would link the material and the spiritual world. Man was to be a small universe in himself, a difficult combination of the powers of the plant, the animal and the spiritual world. The precise difficulty came in linking the animal and the spiritual powers; to co-ordinate and yet not impair one or the other meant that in the one creature there would be two sources of activity, each with its own proper motion, stimuli and goal — the animal and the rational appetite or will. By the very nature of the material with which He worked, God could produce only a delicately balanced, nicely harmonized but decidedly unstable creature; always the animal appetite would have its own field of activity, its own motion which would inevitably clash at times with that other independent motion of the human will. With the one seeking the supreme, universal good, and the other by its very nature concentrating on the immediate, the sensible, the particular good, civil war was inevitable.
From the very material that must go into human nature, then, there goes inevitably a defect just as in the tin or the glass sword. Naturally speaking, man must be defective in comparison with the rest of nature. God, in the beginning, overcame this natural defect by preternatural and supernatural gifts; and this state of defective nature preserved from its defects we call the state of original justice.
- The essence of sin’s beginning:
- Original sin formally — the privation of original justice
Original justice consisted precisely in the perfect subordination of the will or rational appetite of man to God and, as a consequence, the perfect subordination of the animal, indeed to some extent of the plant life of man, to his rational appetite or will. Briefly, it was an absolutely perfect harmony, the perfect balance, of the volatile ingredients of human nature. Original sin strictly and formally consists in the disruption of that harmony, in the insubordination of the will of man to God. From this fundamental insubordination all the rebellion of the lower side of human nature to the higher followed, much as the crash of the top of a huge smokestack follows on the blasting of its foundation.
Original sin materially — concupiscence
When St. Augustine and the other Fathers speak of original sin as concupiscence they are describing the material or consequent side of original sin, the toppling of the upper structure of the smokestack. They are distinctly not speaking in terms of the gorgings of the glutton or the lust of the libertine; they are speaking of that general scattering of the animal appetites of man, each to its proper object, regardless of the welfare of the whole man.
There is an important point here, a point we have touched on before but which in this day well merits a repetition. The control of animal appetite by the will, the repression of anger or sorrow or lust, is not an act of violence against nature from which we can expect the awful punishment that nature inflicts on those who transgress her laws. Rather the refusal to repress those appetites, the grant of full play to passion in the name of nature, is a mockery that nature promptly and ruthlessly resents. For human passions, the animal appetites in human nature, were designed to be guided by reason. We are, as a matter of fact, acting humanly only in so far as we have those passions under control.
Inequality of inclination to sin not from original sin
There is no ebb and flow in death as there is in life. So we are rather indifferent to the training of a guardian of a morgue; but not at all indifferent to the training of a hospital staff. If the morgue guardian were to make the rounds of his clients in an effort to see which was the deadest, it would only be because he had tired of playing solitaire. Death, as the absence of life, is absolute and equal in all men; original sin, as the absence of original justice, is just as absolute, just as equal in all men. the fact that one man has more inclination to murder than another is not because he has a bigger original sin than his neighbour, as one victim of an accident might have a bigger lump on his head than his fellow victim. The difference is due to differences in physical complexion, plus, of course, the difference built into each man by the personal habits he has acquired by repeated acts.
If I have a heavy dictionary and a newspaper side by side on a small table, I can efficiently and expeditiously put them both on the floor by simply pulling the table out from under them. The difference in the crash they make on landing and in the speed with which they fall is not accounted for by saying the table was pulled out from under each of them in a different fashion, or that one lost more of the support of the table than the other; rather the difference is bound up with the physical characteristics of a newspaper and a dictionary. Original sin has pulled out from under us the support of original justice; it has destroyed the leadership of our human orchestra; the difference between the racket made by the first violin and the bass drum is the difference between violins and bass drums.
We cannot, then, walk along the street detecting original sin in the shifty glance of one man and the bullying threats of another. We are often sure that just by looking at a person’s face we can read his character, and sometimes that is true, but sometimes it is false. We must look deeper than the face for original sin.
- Place of sin’s beginning: Place of adherence — the soul
- First in the essence of the soul
Like all sin — all virtue too — this sin resides in the soul of man, for only by reason of his spiritual soul can man either sin or be virtuous. But even that leaves a great deal of latitude, for in the soul we can distinguish the essence of the soul, the intellect and the will. Then, too, there are those subject faculties, the irascible or emergency and the concupiscible or mild appetites. Where does original sin fit in? A clue to the answer is had in the commonplace contrast of the man who drinks himself into a stupor to drown his worries and his companion who goes blithely along the road to stupor with him because he likes it. Both have committed the sin of drunkenness; but in one that sin is in the irascible or emergency appetite running away from a difficulty, in the other it is in the concupiscible or mild appetite seeking pleasure, even the pleasure of stupid oblivion. The difference is in the goal first reached by the motive cause of the sin. The motive cause of original sin is the transmission of human nature and its first complete goal is the soul precisely as the form of the body, precisely as the vivifying, specifying principle of human nature. Original sin finds its secure home in the very essence of the soul.
By way of action in the faculties, first in the will
From this depth of the human soul, the sickness of nature which is original sin spreads out to affect the actions of man, gradually becoming less and less virulent in its effects as it gets farther and farther from the focus of infection. It is like a strong light which becomes fainter and fainter as the length and width of its beam grow greater and greater. In relation to actions, original sin in its indirect fashion affects first the proximate principles of human action — the will and the intellect — and then the more remote principles of the animal side of man’s nature. But first and principally it affects the will. After all, it should, for its opposite, original justice, fell principally on the will, completely subordinating it to God; then, too, the will is the first principle of action and motion in human nature. If original sin is to affect human actions it must get at the root principles of those actions.
A defence of humanity: Bad will and corrupt nature
This obvious truth is of tremendous significance in daily human life. It means that the infection which really must be worried about is the infection in the will, the insubordination to God; and that brings us squarely back to our analysis of the sole cause of human unhappiness in which we traced that source of unhappiness to bad will. In other words, if that first principle of human action is not pointed at the goal of reason we have an enemy in the heart of our own camp; while if the will is subordinate to God, if it is a good will, the infection in the lower appetites is relatively unimportant. It is not only possible to look upon the rebellion of the sense appetite as morally irrelevant; that is the only true way to consider this rebellion and, as a corollary of practical moral guidance, a smile of contempt is a much more deadly weapon against such a rebellion than hours of worry.
Infection in lower faculties
Perhaps a good deal of the over-emphasis we give to the infection of the sense appetite is due to a misunderstanding of the Fathers. Very often they speak of the sense appetites of man as being most infected by original sin and they especially single out the generative faculties, the sense of touch and the concupiscible or mild appetite in general. But always they are speaking of this infection in relation not to personal but to original sin. In other words, these things are said to be more infected because by them the infection is spread, for by them human nature is passed on to succeeding generations; they are not said to be more infected because there is a greater moral deficiency in them.
In fact in relation to our personal or actual sins, these appetites are much less infected. They are on the outskirts of the metropolis where the plague has struck and they receive only a slight attack. The intensity of their rebellion against reason and will is no indication of the infection they have suffered; that is merely the nature of the senses. Of course the senses move more intensely to their objects; their union with their objects is more immediate, the object is a concrete, immediate good producing vividly real physical changes in the organism itself. But this is not due to original sin. From a moral point of view this intensity has no significance whatsoever beyond that given to it by deliberate will; in other words, this intensity is significant only in so far as it is the creature of our deliberate control.
- Damage done by sin to human nature — “de fide” doctrine:
- To principles of nature
Let us look at this concretely. Just what damage has been done to human nature by sin? Or better, just what damage can original sin, or any sin, do to our nature? Are we down in a gutter, foolishly thinking we can reach the stars when as a matter of fact we cannot drag ourselves up the few inches to the top of the kerb?
As we have already seen, the infallible authority of the Church solemnly declares that the will of man remains free despite original sin; (Council of Trent, Sess. VI, canon 5 (Denziger, # 815) that the intellectual operations of man have genuine validity, can actually work to a sure knowledge of God;(Vatican Council Sess. III chap. 2 (Denziger, # 1785) and the hopelessly pessimistic claim of the reformers that every act of man is necessarily sinful has been solemnly condemned by that same infallible authority.
Condemnation of the errors of Michael Baius in the Bull “Ex omnibus afflictionibus”, Pius V, prop. 25, 35, 40, 67, 68, 74 (Denziger, #1025, 1035, 1040, 1067, 1068, 1074). Condemnation of errors of the Jansenists, decree of the Holy Office, Dec. 7, 1690, Alexander VIII, prop. 2 and 8 (Denziger # 1292, 1298). Confer appendix to chap. XX infra.
Examining the matter in more detail it is self-evident that original sin, or any sin, is incapable of destroying the constitutive principles of nature. A man caught in the grip of sweeping anger may do things that are not at all human, but he is no less a man after the anger than he was before. Body and soul, and the faculties of body and soul which are of the very nature of man, remain intact; the nature of man cannot be changed without destroying man and no sin destroys the humanity of man.
To original justice
It is also self-evident that the original justice of man was destroyed by original sin. At least it is self-evident that such perfect harmony of subordination of the will to God, and of the lower faculties to the will, no longer exists, and our Faith tells us that the cause of this was original sin. Certainly we have not the preternatural gifts of immortality, freedom from suffering and pain that our first parents enjoyed.
To natural inclination to virtue: Never totally destroyed, even in damned
This much we know: nature remains intact and the gifts acquired by nature through grace are lost. What worries us is the inclination to sin, the damage done to man’s natural inclination to virtue, the upset caused by original sin to man’s inclination to act according to reason, to follow the paths of reason to the goal of reason where human happiness is found.
The statement of the question gives the lead to its answer. This inclination to follow reason is natural to man, it belongs to his very nature, and as such it is indestructible In other words, it is an integral part of his rationality and that rationality cannot be taken away from man. This is so absolutely true that even in the souls of the damned in hell that inclination to virtue, to follow reason, must still persist; and it is precisely the existence of that natural inclination which accounts for the terrible remorse of hell.
Infinitely impeded by actual sin
Perhaps this will be clearer if we look at this inclination to virtue from different angles. There is first of all its starting point in the soul, then its goal in virtuous or reasonable action, and finally the sensible faculties which it must often use to accomplish that action From the first angle, the starting-point of the inclination in the soul, the inclination to virtue is absolutely indestructible. From the second angle, the goal of virtuous or reasonable action, this inclination to virtue can be infinitely impeded by our personal sins; by our actual sins we can pile up the chairs, tables, beds, mattresses, pianos against the door lest that inclination to virtue break through from our soul into action. But that is blocking it from the outside, not trying to blast it out of existence. From the third angle, the sensible faculties used in the virtuous action, of course we can root out the physical grooves cut by former virtuous actions; we can tear up the natural physical propensities to this or that kind of action by building up the physical propensities to contrary action, or even by such things as diet, disease, surgery and so on we can so change our physical make-up as to reverse the physical tendencies to this or that type of action.
I remember meeting a totally astonished and considerably crestfallen young doctor who, because of inexperience, had made the serious error of curing a chronic invalid. His patient was a middle-aged woman who during her long years of illness, had seemed an almost perfect character; always cheerful, smiling, patiently enduring her sufferings, creating an atmosphere that drew a constant crowd of visitors, not so much to give their sympathy as to be inspired. Then along came this bright young doctor and practically overnight he effected a cure. There could be no doubt about the cure. It was so complete that the patient herself could not even feel sick, could not possibly stay in bed and retain any shred of self-respect. And overnight the perfect character turned into a shrewish, ill-humoured, discontented person who could be borne with only from a sense of duty. Of course the full brunt of her discontent fell on the head of the young doctor. He was as astounded as the good Samaritan would have been had the victim of robbers curtly ordered him to get out of sight until the photographers had arrived. The doctor could not understand that now this woman had no way to express the nobility of her character except by washing dishes and she did not care for the change; there could be no more lofty patience, no floods of sympathy from friends, no complete release from worries that might upset her. The doctor, in fact, had wrecked her “career”.
- The “wounds of nature”: Ignorance, malice, weakness, concupiscence:
- With regard to pure nature
A detailed explanation of this doctrine of original sin usually calls forth the immediate protest: “How about the wounds of nature?” It is a protest made in an aggrieved tone as though human nature has been done an injustice by being stripped of so many perfect excuses. Well, how about the wounds of nature? Theologians teach, quite accurately, that human nature has suffered four wounds: ignorance in the intellect, malice in the will, weakness in the irascible appetite and concupiscence in the concupiscible appetite. The positive side of that teaching is that the prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance of human nature have been damaged, that all the principles of activity in man are considerably less efficient than they were in the beginning of man’s career.
With regard to nature in state of original justice
That is all true. But what human nature is under discussion? The purely hypothetical human nature that has all that naturally belongs to it and no more ? Of course not. The human nature in question is that with which man started his career in the universe, the human nature that existed in the state of original justice, the human nature that had not only what naturally belonged to it but in addition had the supernatural and preternatural gifts by which God corrected the defects inherent in the very material from which human nature was made. In other words the theologians are engaged in a de facto discussion. From this point of view human nature has certainly been wounded.
Suppose we were to take two infants, both normal and healthy, and rear one of them in a nudist colony, the other in a socially prominent family in New York. After twenty years we bring the two together and put them on absolutely equal terms by stripping the clothes from the New Yorker. The product of nudist training does not consider his nakedness an injury; but the New Yorker is furious in his indignation at the injury done him. After original sin, we are in the state of the indignant New Yorker. Nothing that belonged to nature has been removed, only those acquired perfections that came to nature through grace have been stripped from us, and we very rightly feel that we have been injured. We have. But our nature has not been degraded; it is not a beaten, half-living thing that must drag itself bitterly to the performance of impossible tasks.
Death and corporal defects as results of sin: Of original sin
Take the obvious defects of death, sickness, injury, hunger, thirst, and so on. They are all unquestionable defects resulting from original sin. But they are also defects that flow from the very nature of man. If there had been no original sin and no original justice with its exceptional gifts, man would still face death, sickness, and all the rest. His nature contains the seeds of its own dissolution in its material composition. Original sin caused these defects only in so far as it removed the wholly supernatural and preternatural impediments to them by destroying original justice.
Of actual sin
We can summarize this doctrine by noticing the action of our own actual or personal sins. These personal sins of ours can also produce just such effects as death, sickness, injury, and so on. The point is that it is not precisely as sins that they cause this damage; it is as physical acts. It is the substance of the act, not its deordination or guilt that produces these physical effects. In other words, the object of the attack of any sin, as sin, is grace, but the grace attacked by original sin had dependent upon it a shining array of gifts to nature that were cast aside when that grace was rejected by Adam.
This is our inheritance of sin. With this heritage we start to carve out our own lives; slowly, step by step, day by day, action by action, we build up to splendid success or down to abysmal failure. We have already seen the elements that go into successful living; what starts us on the road to failure? What is the very beginning of the purely personal failures that ruin our lives?
Root and beginning of personal (actual) sin
Like all beginnings, the beginnings of personal sin are very simple, very clear. Sin, like all human action, is aimed at a goal; the beginning of our sins, then, can be traced to that first wrong goal which we placed before ourselves as the target of all our actions. More simple, it is an inordinate appetite for our own excellence that goes by the name of pride. We want this or that partial good for ourselves so badly that we turn away from the universal good and to ourselves. The formal element of sin, the aversion from God, belongs to the very nature of pride, whereas it is only a consequent of other sins, something accidental that is ordinarily quite beyond the intentions of the sinner.
This is the beginning, the end or goal in the mind from which all sin comes. As far as execution or the acts leading to that end goes, the first place is given to avarice, to the inordinate love of money. Not that every sin must come from avarice, but avarice is to other sins as the root is to the tree; it gives them nourishment, giving to man the faculty of both desiring and committing every other sin. There is no sin which the avaricious man will not commit to satisfy is avarice and every kind of sin can and ordinarily does arise from this inordinate love of money.
Sin’s decoys — capital sins: Meaning of capital sin
These are the two great starting points of sin — pride and avarice; these are the two great first principles of human failure. Ranked just beneath them we have the sins that have come to be called the capital sins. There has always been much misunderstanding about these capital sins, a misunderstanding that has arisen from the notion that they are singled out as capital because they are so terribly evil in themselves. They are not. As a matter of fact some of them are essentially venial sins. Their precise danger lies in their ability to call so many other sins into being. They are the sirens of sin, the decoys that allure men to their doom. Thc are capital sins because they aim at partial goods which are outstanding in their attractiveness; they aim at particular goods that have a general appeal, goods that can be attained in different ways and so they almost automatically call into being a whole host of other sins as partners in attaining their ends.
Distinction from mortal sin
A few chapters back we touched on the various ways in which one sin can cause another. We noticed how one sin starts a groove or habit that makes the next sin of the same type that much easier and more attractive, as, for example, in the sin of drunkenness; again, one sin can be the labourer bringing the material for many other sins, as, for example, gluttony for the sins of luxury; finally one sin brings on another in acting as an end or final cause, as the avarice of the swindler generates fluent falsehoods. It is in this last way that the capital sins do their deadly work; it is only in this last way, by way of final causality, that one sin formally causes another. We may have two vessels designed to hold water but they will be decidedly different in form because we design them for decidedly different ends — for bathing and for drinking purposes. The end determines the form of an action; so these capital sins, acting as ends or goal, formally call into being the other sins that help to attain their ends.
Division and objects of capital sins
This will be a little clearer if we glance at the partial goods which are outstanding in their attractiveness. Descending the scale of attractiveness we come first to the goods of the soul and see our own excellence with its corresponding capital sin of pride or vainglory; then the goods of the body, either individual or specific, with the corresponding capital sins of gluttony and lust; for external goods, there is the capital sin of avarice. All these have direct and immediate appeal. A hardly less powerful impetus is that to escape evil joined to good, with its corresponding capital sin of spiritual sloth striving to escape the labour involved in attaining the goods of the soul; the evil joined to the good of another is evaded either without violence by means of envy, or with violent resistance through anger. This is the field of the capital sins and it is the fundamental nature of this field, not the essential malice of these sins, that makes the capital sins so dangerous.
Although the capital sins themselves are very dangerous, a knowledge of their nature and significance is of incalculable advantage both to the confessor and to the layman in the regulation and improvement of everyday life. It is, as a matter of fact, not extraordinary to have a penitent confess to boasting, vanity, quarrelling, disobedience, with no mention of pride; or to confess malicious gossiping and detraction with no mention of envy. The sins actually confessed are really symptoms; if they are recognized as such, it is possible to attack the moral disease at the point of infection and to produce some remarkable results in a short time. The attempt to battle each of these so called “daughters” of the capital sins results in little more than complete discouragement; failure is almost inevitable, for the real cause of the whole disorder is left unchecked, indeed unnoticed. In other words, the list of capital sins is not the fruit of a theological passion for systematic arrangement nor a memory-test for the child learning the catechism; it is a list of the fundamental diseases which produce human unhappiness. We make a serious and discouraging blunder by occupying ourselves solely with symptoms, mistaking the symptoms for the disease which calls them forth.
Original sin and the individual: Integrity of his nature
Summing this up briefly, we find that we have wasted a good deal of sympathy on our poor human nature. The injuries done to human nature by original sin do not give us grounds for excusing ourselves from the business of living. True enough we have lost much by original sin; but nothing to which our nature gave us title. In the beginning of man’s life on earth God corrected the defects which necessarily followed upon the very material of human nature by supernatural and preternatural gifts dependent on the grace first given to Adam. The loss of that grace through original sin stripped us of all the extras God had heaped upon our nature; but no damage was done to nature itself. There is nothing wrong with our nature; but it could have been much better off. As it is, the constitutive principles of that nature remain intact with all that nature intended man should have; but within that nature are the seeds of civil war and ultimate dissolution. For within that nature is a delicate balance of contrary elements that make for discord in action and ultimate dissolution, the discord of animal and rational appetite, the dissolution inseparable from material things.
His inclination to virtue
Our inclination to virtue, rooted in the very rationality of nature because it means no more than the inclination to act according to reason, cannot be blasted out of existence. It must endure even through an eternity of hell and there furnish the basis of the terrible remorse of the damned.
His sovereign independence
The sovereignty of the free will of man is still guaranteed; no amount of rebellion, no amount of external force or internal collapse can make the human action of a man other than an action proceeding under his deliberate control to goals of his choice. In a word, coming into the world even with original sin on our souls we are still masters of our actions, masters of our lives, and with the assured help of the grace of God we are still capable of carving out an eternal niche in heaven by our seemingly insignificant actions. We still have human lives to live and we still have the means to live them successfully. Even now failure is our own because our actions are our own.
- Personal (actual) sin and the individual:
- Its attack on nature’s integrity, on the inclination to virtue; on independence.
Our actual or personal sins may, when built into habits, be immediate principles from which flow other evil acts. But this is never true of original sin which causes other sins only because it has pulled out from under us the support of original justice by which those sins might have been impeded. But even these actual, personal sins cannot take away from the integrity of our human nature; man’s nature cannot be changed without being destroyed and no man is destroyed by sin. These personal sins can pile up infinite obstacles to the operation of the natural inclination to virtue, they can block up the doors by which that inclination might have proceeded from our souls to action; but they cannot remove that inclination to virtue from the soul of man. Granted that they can break down or remove the physical propensities to this or that act of virtue, the propensities that follow from our physical constitution, they must leave us rational creatures possessed of the inclination to follow the paths of reason to the goals of reason. They may attack the liberty of our wills, but again the attack is from the outside, doomed to failure before it starts. The rush of passion may set up a great clamour, the slow building up of habits may present serious difficulties, but always it remains true that the human action of a man is an action that has proceeded under his deliberate control, an action which is man’s very own and for which he alone must answer because he alone was master of that action.
Plan of sin revealed
We cannot escape the task of living human lives by pointing to our inheritance of sin, or even by pointing to long lives of personal sins. As long as breath remains in the human body, man’s life is his own. He is still capable of success or failure. It is no small help, in the living of that life, to know so surely just what methods of attack will be used to wreck human life. We do know. The plan of sin is briefly summed up in the capital sins, for their objects are the partial goods of outstanding appeal to human nature. It is certainly along these lines that sin will attempt to enter our lives; and it is these capital sins that will call others into being to attain their outstanding ends. The other sins are much more symptoms of these radical diseases, symptoms that patently indicate to us the root of our unhappiness and the means that must be taken to cure the diseases they reveal.
The individual, sin and happiness
The individual man facing the risks of failure and the chances of success in human living faces one enemy — sin. He faces that enemy from the moment human nature is had. But always he faces it in the secure knowledge that it is not the kind of enemy that can overwhelm him by surprise or coerce him by force; rather it is an enemy that can enter the inviolable corridors of his soul only by invitation. It is not even a subtle enemy. All its plans of attack have been known through the centuries and its every appearance promptly indicates which of the limited number of roads it is using to approach the soul. Every man still faces the tremendous possibilities of human life, must face those possibilities. Their realization is through virtue moving to the goal of happiness; the failure to realize them is through sin moving to eternal misery. It is the individual man who must make the choice.