Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fr. James Schall. S.J., "Sin Begins With Things Only Slightly Off-Center"

Pope Francis has said that the Devil “hates” us. Blunt words. Francis is not talking about some inert “lack.” He is talking about a positive hating of the good because it is good. Only persons can hate. Lucifer is an angelic being who rejects God by calling good evil, by convincing other rational beings to change good into evil. Classical ethics and moral philosophy gave us accounts of virtues and vices. Usually two vices existed for every virtue, a too much and a too little. We find in the writings of Plato a sense that our vices are not just foibles or mistakes but objects of judgment. Plato rightly worried that the world was created in injustice if the vices were not ultimately punished. This consideration led him to propose the immortality of the soul to guarantee that no one could get away with doing evil, even if he died in human glory but covered with sins.
Christianity provided a more profound explanation of evil, though one not necessarily disagreeing with Plato. Christ affirmed that the Devil’s kingdom could not stand if it had dissention within its rank. This information means, as I understand it, that we find both a logical sequence of disorders, or deviations from the good, as Aristotle understood, and an active presence. This logic works through willing human beings who find themselves assenting to a step-by-step deviation from the good, each worse than the one before.
Those familiar with spiritual literature recall that the Church Fathers warned monks that sin begins with things only slightly off-center. Yet things do not stand still. Either the evil is recognized and corrected or the next logical step away from the good is taken. Eventually this leads to calling of evil good, all in the name of pursuing some good but in a manner contrary to reason or the commandments. 
Link (here) to read the full piece by Fr. James Schall, S.J. at The Catholic Thing


TonyD said...

Evil is not so simplistic as this article would suggest. It exists in a context and requires judgment. That context includes the past, the future, intention, the people involved, the community involved, God's will, and specific outcomes. Some may dismiss this as utilitarianism, but that would be a mistake. There are many things we consider good or consider evil that God does not.

A Jesuit weakness has always been the way that they search for wisdom, and their substitution of Aristotle and Plato and Church history for the wisdom of Prophets.

It is also inappropriate to portray those who want to "dialog with us about" evil as those who want "to convince us evil is good". That implies that the author has the perspective of God and knows God's will in every context. That is a mistake.

Another mistake is equating all evil. Something "slightly off center" may or may not need correcting. Judgment exists, and we are expected to use it.

Greg said...


You criticize the author for assuming they have the "perspective of God and knows God's will in every context." But, you make exactly the same mistake when you assert with certainty "there are many things we consider good or consider evil that God does not." How do you know?

And, unlike yourself, I see the Jesuit search for wisdom as precisely one of their strengths. Your implicit assumption, I presume, is that they only search for the wisdom of human reason. I do not think this is the case. They search for the meaning of the wisdom both revealed by God and attained by human reason, if any.

TonyD said...

Greg - I don't know anyone who should claim that his definition of good and evil matches God's definition of good and evil. While it is true that a few have the law "in their hearts", such people are quite rare.

I respect the Jesuits search for wisdom. I don't consider Diogenes, Aristotle, or Plato to be prophets. I don't even consider them to be near-prophets. Yet, the Jesuit's consistently quote them to justify religious perspectives.

So I do criticize the author for claiming that his perspective reflects God's will. And I criticize the author for defining God's position with a philosophy that comes from Man. The author is misusing his position of authority.

Greg said...

I think you misunderstand their intentions, Tony.

They do not justify religious belief in philosophy. Religious belief can only be justified by the heart, recognizing the truth of the proclaimed Word.

Their invocation of Plato, Aristotle, or anyone else from the philosophical tradition is intended to demonstrate the correspondence of human wisdom with Wisdom. I.e. to show they are not in contradiction. This is very different from religious justification.

TonyD said...

Greg - Intentions count -- sometimes they are all that matter. But more often they only contribute to the overall judgment about any situation. Sometimes, other considerations count more. My experience has been that good intentions count for very little when someone is positioning themselves to speak on behalf of God.

And there are plenty of people who justify things with their heart - but those things are often quite distant from God. Just because the religious may sometimes be justified by the heart, that does not mean that the heart justifies the religious.

And if the intention of Fr. Schall was to demonstrate a correspondence between human wisdom and God's wisdom -- well, then I would suggest that Fr. Schall is defining a God that does not exist -- a false God.

Greg said...

Tony, you seem to be responding to claims I have not actually made.

My point is very simple, although it seems to be one that troubles you for some reason: there can be no real contradiction between faith and reason. This is an orthodox belief. It is not contrary to Catholic doctrine (Catechism of the Catholic Church para 156 - 159). Human wisdom is a gift, a grace, inspired by divine Wisdom. As such, it should most certainly correspond with divine Wisdom. Human wisdom can indeed err, but it should naturally correspond with the divine. Where it does not, the error is with humanity.

So, whether it is the Jesuits, or the Dominicans, or the Redemptorists, who all have strong intellectual traditions that appeal to human wisdom to proclaim the Gospel, they are merely pointing out where human wisdom does have correspondences with the divine, as revealed and understood by us. This is perfectly natural, and should be seen as an affirmation that builds up faith, not weaken it.

TonyD said...

Greg - You are correct that I am responding to claims that you have not made. I'll continue in that same manner.

You know, some people believe that "biblical times" were in the distant past, and ended with the last page of the Bible. And, while there are many who profess "God is here", there are very few who understand that great miracles still occur -- miracles even greater than those few described in the Bible.

Just as in biblical times, most people aren't aware of God's work in their current existence -- they see newspaper headlines but they are unaware of the many considerations that went into those sequences (which is not to say that God wants those specific outcomes or had a hand in all of them.)

So, yes, I feel comfortable in saying that reason can contradict faith - there are situations that demand such contradiction. Things that are not revealed are often not revealed for very good reasons. They are kept hidden in order to achieve greater goals.

If someone chooses to interpret particular "reason" as confirming particular "faith", well, that is their choice. Ultimate judgment of such an action is for God to judge. (And I certainly don't see the Catechism para 156 saying that all the things we consider to be reason are really correct. In fact, there is a long history that contradicts such a belief.)

Greg said...

My mistake. I was expecting a sensible conversation.