Lecture 1: Moral Methodologies
Praised be Jesus Christ. Welcome to this introductory course in Catholic Moral Theology. Now, if we are going to look at what constitutes Catholic Moral Theology it's important to put it into some kind of context. Catholic moral teaching itself doesn't arise out of some vacuum. It has some relationship to other approaches to morality. One of the greatest difficulties in teaching Catholic morality is helping people overcome their misperceptions as to what it is because we find that many people think they know what Catholic teaching is with regard to moral behavior, but they really are terribly confused. They have their own perceptions of what it is and that is one of the things we would like to clarify in this lecture.
One of the things we should realize is that everyone wants to do the right thing, I mean generally people want to do good. Very few people wake up in the morning and say, "I plan to go out there this morning and just do evil." I mean even people who do evil things find ways of rationalizing it, find ways of explaining to themselves and explaining to others why what they have done is really good even though other people might see it or understand it as being evil. So we have to realize that people generally want to do the good thing. The important matter here is what constitutes a true good. What is the truly good thing that is being sought, and are we making the right kinds of choices about finding the true good and then acting on its behalf? I found over the many years of my teaching that many students were not Catholics. Many students are not even Christian. But almost everybody operates out of some kind of moral methodology. They have some means or method that they use for making moral choices. And I think it's very important to consider the types of methods that people use in making their choices so we can understand how we do so as Catholics.
It seems to me that now that we have reflected on this we can divide these moral methodologies into three basic categories. I suggested this to a number of audiences and no one has suggested to me yet that they are not sufficiently inclusive to be able to put almost everyone into one of these broad categories or the other.
We find first of all that there are some people who don't believe that individual given acts are in and of themselves evil or bad. There are some people that think that you can do anything if you do it for a loving reason. Then there is another group of people that just insist there are some things we may never do.
Now I'm going to discuss them a little bit, but first I'm going to start off with what I call the subjectivist approach or the relativist approach to moral theology, or to moral philosophy I suppose I should say. These people will maintain that there are no actions which in and of themselves are good or bad. The actions that we perform are simply material acts; they are just physical acts. They are made good relative to some criterion outside the act itself. Since they are determined to be good or bad relative to some other criterion we might be able to call this a relativistic approach to ethics. Now there are a number of schools of thought that develop in this broader category. I would just like to touch on three of them to give you some idea of how they operate.
One that might be rather familiar to you is known as situation ethics, or situationism. The advocates of situation ethics will maintain that we can't hold to any rules that will apply in all circumstances, that we have to look to the concrete situation in determining whether a given act is going to be good or bad. There is a very famous ethicist, by the name of Joseph Fletcher, who wrote a book called Situation Ethics and is really responsible in large part for making this a very popular approach in this country. Joseph Fletcher was an Episcopalian clergyman who later came to teach medical ethics at the University of Virginia Medical School. But in his book on Situation Ethics Dr. Fletcher said for the situationist there are no rules. There are no rules, none at all. Fletcher said the most we can ever hope to have is just sort of a rule of thumb which will help direct us in making our concrete choice in a given situation. In fact he also went on to say there are no values at all. There are only things, material and nonmaterial, which happen to be valued by a person. So you can see how subjective this approach is. It's the individual subject who is going to determine whether the act being contemplated is a good act or not. Fletcher even went so far as to say in the area of sexuality, for example, that there is virtually any sexual act that we might be able to perform regardless of the circumstances without it necessarily being good or bad. He says, "I want to say carefully and without elaboration, sex is morally acceptable in any form, hetero, homo, auto, bi or whatever." (And view that from the ethical perspective, or from the point of view of the moral philosopher.) "I want to add that what makes any sexual act right or wrong is its consequences, because in and of itself sex is not either good nor bad, neither praiseworthy nor blameworthy and its ethical significance depends on the values it serves and seeks to realize." That is not the position I am advocating; this is the position put forth by this Joseph Fletcher now called situation ethics. Now if any kind of sex act is all right according to Fletcher, what kind of criterion are we going to use to decide whether or not the sex act that we are contemplating is going to be morally good or bad? And Fletcher said the one criterion, the one norm against which every human act has to be judged is the norm of love. According to Fletcher if it is a loving act we may do it. It might be adultery, it might be the direct killing of an innocent human being, it might be telling a lie, but if we are doing it for a loving reason we may go ahead and perform that act. Now that's situation ethics.
The relativists also use consequentialism. These people will say a given act is neither good nor bad in and of itself but becomes so on the basis of its consequences. In other words if we are considering performing a certain action we have to look ahead and anticipate what the consequences of our action will be. If we see that a greater number of goods will result from the action that we are contemplating than bad, then when we go ahead and perform the action, even though it's theft, even though it's adultery, even though it may be lying. The consequences will determine whether or not I can perform this act. If most of the consequences are going to be good, then I can go ahead and do it. Of course one of the problems is that it becomes very dangerous for the people around these individuals making those kinds of choices. Because they might consider a course of action that traditionally would be considered harmful to you all right, but they are doing it to you for a loving reason. This could become very problematical. The other problem, of course, is that none of us can really see what the outcomes or consequences of our actions are going to be, so how can we make them the determinants of our moral choices?
Another approach which is very congenial to Americans, to the American mind and to the British mind, is known as utilitarianism. This was a moral approach that was developed in England by John Stuart Mill and Jeremy Bentham. They have a principle which guided their actions. They again denied that any actions in and of themselves are necessarily good or bad, but if an action brought about the greatest good for the greatest number then it was considered to be a moral action. It was on the basis of that sort of calculus that the action was decided. Now if you pushed these gentlemen and asked them, "What constitutes the greatest good that you are seeking for the greatest number?" They would respond, "Well, whatever maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain." So what we really have here is a kind of hedonistic approach to the moral life. Whatever is going to bring about the most pleasure and the least pain for the greatest number of people is the course of action we should pursue. Socrates centuries ago pointed out what a silly approach this is to the moral life. Hardly anything feels better than itching a scratch. Well there's great pleasure. Does this suggest then that the highest of our human activities or the end of the moral life simply would be our scratching our itches? This is what the hedonistic approach can be reduced to. And all of these have characteristics in common. For example, if you ask Joseph Fletcher, the advocate of situation ethics, "All right, Mr. Fletcher, you have said that we should only do the loving act. What constitutes a loving act? And Joseph Fletcher will say quite bluntly, "Well, whatever brings about the greatest good for the greatest number." So he, too, is a utilitarian. And then if you push the Reverend Mr. Fletcher even further and say, "Well, how do we know what constitutes the greatest good?" He responds, "Whatever maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain." So we see that all of these approaches to the moral life, which I have called the subjectivist approach or the relativistic approach, tend to leave us with no certitude. They do leave us with no certitude in the moral life, and we can also have no certitude about how we are going to be treated by the people around us who might be following this approach to the moral life. There simply develops a sort of disintegration of the moral life and of communal life because no one can any longer have full certitude that he would not be taken advantage of, that his life would not be put in danger.
There is a story told of a nun in Holland who was put to death by her physician by a non-voluntary euthanasia. The nun was quite sick. She was unconscious. When the doctor was challenged about this and asked, "How could you have done such a thing? The nun would never have allowed this. She is a Catholic." The doctor responded, "Well I knew that because of her religious scruples she would not have been able to make the best choice in her own interest. That was clearly to have her life terminated, so I made that choice on her behalf." So you can see that this relativistic and subjective approach to the moral life can constitute a very dangerous approach to those around the individuals making those decisions.
We have been looking at the various ways in which people make moral choices, and we have considered already what I call the subjectivist or relativistic approach to the moral life. There are those who call themselves Christians, and indeed I can't doubt them who love Jesus Christ, but they use this kind of moral methodology to figure out what it is that they should be doing in their lives in order to do what is good. But I think I've indicated some of the difficulties with this approach to the moral life. There just simply is no certitude at all about the kinds of actions which really would be bringing about human happiness and human flourishing.
Now there is another group of people who approach the moral life in terms of there indeed being some actions which should never be done. It doesn't matter what the circumstances are, it doesn't matter what the consequences are, there are just some things which we may never do no matter what the circumstances are, such as adultery, for example. Never under any circumstances may we commit adultery.
Those who insist that there are some actions which may never be done tend to break themselves down into two groups: one which I call the legalistic approach to the moral life and the other which I refer to as the ethic of the good. Now the legalists will refrain from performing certain actions because they know that those actions are forbidden. That might be a very good reason to avoid performing actions because we know that in the Ten Commandments that there are certain actions that are forbidden and therefore we ought not to be doing them. But the question arises as to why we shouldn't be performing those actions. Is it just because there is a law against it? Very often these people tend to be motivated simply by a sense of obligation, by a sense of duty. This kind of morality is sometimes referred to asdeontological morality, which is taken from a Greek word which means "obligation." The motive for the moral life becomes this desire to fulfill one's duty to obey the law, to submit oneself, surrender oneself to the Commandments, to the will of the lawgiver, so that our human actions are not performed out of a desire for happiness but simply out of this desire to do what the lawgiver directs us to do. Now one of the difficulties with this approach to the moral life is determining who the lawgiver is. When the lawgiver is God we are in good shape because we know that the directives that He is going to give us are going to be for our own good. They will bring about human justice and human happiness. But sometimes people can't always be clear as to what the mind of God is, and they, therefore, surrender themselves to the laws of the land, let's say.
In the United States it was common opinion that abortion was a terrible sin, it was a terrible crime, it was a terrible human act. And yet once the law changed we found that many people had changed their thinking as well. It's almost as though the morality of the act derives from the law rather than the law expressing the morality of the given act. There is a very famous German philosopher by the name of Joseph Pieper who is a Catholic, still is a wonderful Catholic and follower of Saint Thomas Aquinas and his philosophy. And Pieper tells the story of his studying at the University of Münster as a young man and sitting in on a class about the philosophy of law, jurisprudence. And the teacher of his class maintained that the law derives its force from the will of the lawgiver and his power to enforce the law and impose the law. His teacher said, "A crime is whatever is forbidden." If it's no longer forbidden it is no longer a crime. When it is forbidden then it becomes a crime. And Joseph Pieper pointed out that this teacher of his one day died at the hands of his own jurisprudence. There came a point in German history where the State declared it a crime to be Jewish, and this professor had been Jewish. And so by an act of the State his very existence, if you will, had been outlawed.
The danger with the legalistic approach to the moral life is the question of the lawgiver. Who is the lawgiver who was expressing his will in the law for us? If it's God we can feel perfectly comfortable with the Commandments, but even here the question is whether or not certain actions are wrong because God has forbidden them. Or has God forbidden certain actions because they are wrong? And that takes us to another approach to the moral life, one which, I think, is more compatible with our own Catholic tradition. The difficulty is most people think of Catholic morality as being terribly legalistic, as being terribly negative. I remember in 1987 the Holy See issued a document on certain questions concerning the morality of technological interventions to overcome infertility. The document was entitled "The Gift of Life", and its full title was "an instruction on the dignity of human life in its origins". It was a document that looked on the human person in terms of the great dignity and value that every human being has and tried to reflect on the way in which we ought to live in conformity with our dignity. And yet when the Washington Post announced this new directive from the Holy See they entitled it in the headline, "Birth Edict Rejected by Catholics," as though it were a law that was just passed down and was imposed on people. I found that most people think that the moral life for Catholics is simply a matter of following the laws, of following the rules. I remember watching the evening news one time, I won't mention the network, and I won't mention the anchor man, but in the course of the broadcast he said that the long awaited Vatican document on human sexuality has just been released and what it says is "No." And then he went on to some other segment of the news. It was as though Catholic moral teaching and the Catholic life simply could be dismissed because it had such a negative and legalistic approach to the moral life. Again I will keep saying throughout this series that legalism does not reflect the truth of Catholic moral teaching or the Catholic moral life.
The legalistic approach can also be called legal positivism and positivism here comes from the word in Latin posit, to place. It's not positive as opposed to negative. Rather the law has this force simply because the law is there and in place. That's what gives it power. But you know even the ancient moral philosophers were aware of two different kinds of approaches to the law of life. In one of Plato's dialogues Socrates asks, "Have the gods forbidden something because it is wrong, or is it wrong because the gods have forbidden it?" Well the legalistic approach tends to fall on the latter part of that question. Something is wrong because it's been forbidden. If it were not forbidden there would be no restraints against doing it. Now usually, and I'm speaking here in broad terms, but usually our Protestant brothers and sisters tend to operate more out of this approach to the moral life. They will have to find in the rule book, in the Bible, some rule or norm or law that tells them that they are do something or to refrain from something. We look to the Bible as well, and we understand it as a rule book, but we don't see the rules as deriving their force simply by the fact that they are there. But rather, again going back to this question in one of Plato's dialogues, Socrates asks whether the gods have forbidden something because it is wrong. We would say that's the way to understand the rules in the Bible. God has forbidden certain things because they are wrong.
It's like when the mother says to her child, "Don't touch that stove," that hot stove. Now that's not an arbitrary decision on the mother's part because she wants to impose her will on the child. But rather she loves her child. She realizes that if her child does touch the hot stove she is going to be hurt. God said, "Thou shalt not commit adultery." Not because He didn't want us to have fun; it's not an arbitrary rule which He just imposed on us. But He says "Thou shalt not commit adultery" because He knows that those who would do such a thing would hurt themselves and hurt other people. They'll hurt the spouse. They'll hurt the children. Or the whole family would be disrupted in the larger community. So God forbids certain actions because He knows that they are not going to help us achieve and attain the fullness of that life for which He has created us, the fullness of that life which He wants to lead us to through his revelation and scripture and through the teachings and life of our Lord Jesus Christ. God wants to draw us to human fulfillment, to human fullness and to human happiness. And this is what is going to serve as the core and the basis of Catholic moral teaching and the Catholic life.
We see clearly that the Catholic approach could not be found in the subjectivist or relativistic approach where no actions in and of themselves are seen to be wrong. But there is also a way in which the legalistic approach is not true to the Catholic tradition either. I remember when I went off to study moral theology I said to an older priest that I was going to do this. He said, "Are you going to study moral theology? That's wonderful. We need more canon lawyers in the Church." So he tended to think of morality in terms of the law. I wasn't going to study canon law: I was going to study moral theology. Now, I would say that the approach of the Catholic Church in the moral life is quite compatible with our human nature, and it's compatible with approaches to morality which have been taken by many who were not Catholics or were not Christians. Aristotle for example, that great Greek philosopher himself, held that there were certain actions which simply could not be done under any circumstances regardless of what the consequences might be. There are certain actions which in and of themselves are wrong and should not be done. He doesn't make particular reference to a law forbidding the action. He says if we reflect on the action we can see that it doesn't conform to human nature. It's not going to bring about human flourishing and human happiness.
Aristotle writes in his great work, the Nicomachean Ethics, that there are some actions and emotions whose very names connote baseness -- for example: spite, shamelessness, envy; and among actions: adultery, theft and murder. These and similar emotions and actions imply by their very names that they are wrong. It is therefore impossible ever to do right in performing them. To perform them is always wrong. In cases of this sort, let us say adultery, rightness and wrongness do not depend on committing it with the right woman at the right time and in the right manner. But the mere fact of committing such actions at all is to do wrong. You see it's not because there is a rule against adultery that we don't commit it. One man actually said to me one time that maybe if God had negotiated with Moses a little better on Mount Sinai we would have nine Commandments instead of ten and He could have made an exception with adultery. But of course that would be impossible because it is not included because this was some arbitrary decision on the part of God, but rather the Commandments reflect what is necessary for us to find our full happiness, like the mother telling the child "Don't put your hand on that hot stove."
It's interesting that our Holy Father Pope John Paul II likes to refer to the Ten Commandments as the Decalogue, which is another word for the Ten Commandments taken from the Greek deca meaning "ten," and logue is taken from the Greek word logos for "word." Our Holy Father points out that in the Ten Commandments we have ten words of guidance and ten words of warning that show us what we must do and what we must avoid doing if we would find happiness.
We have been looking at the different ways in which people make their moral decisions so that we can place the Catholic approach in context. So we would say that the Catholic approach to morality is quite compatible with the insights that were achieved by great non-Christian thinkers such as Plato, such as Socrates, such as Aristotle. Because if God created all things and the earth is His, it shouldn't be surprising to us that others also are able to come to some glimpse of what will lead to human happiness and human fulfillment. In this approach which I have called the "ethic of the good," which I say others subscribe to (other than Catholics), in this approach of the "ethic of the good" the question is asked, "How do I find happiness?" "How do I find fulfillment?" So we say that this approach to the moral life iseudaemonistic. And eudaemonistic is a big word, a fancy word, but it's taken from the Greek eudaemon which meanshappy spirit. Our approach to the moral life conforms to the pursuit of happiness. This is what we are truly looking for in the moral life when we are trying to decide whether we ought to perform a certain action or restrain from that action. We want to do what is going to bring us happiness, what is going to bring us fulfillment. The Catholic Church says there is nothing wrong with that because God wants us to be happy, God wants us to be fulfilled. We are able to gain some insight into what we should or should not do simply by looking at ourselves, squarely, clearly, with open minds.
The conciliar document Gaudium et Spes in its section on marriage, which is The Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, says that we should be able to look to the human person and derive from him objective criteria which will lead our lives. We can look to the human person and know what is going to be necessary for us to attain fulfillment, even something as basic as our instinct for eating. We can see that that's given to us for our good. We, as Catholics, say we believe that God has given it to us for our good. We know that if you abuse it, if you eat too much food, if you eat unbalanced meals, nothing but sweets and ice cream and snacks, this isn't going to lead to your flourishing, to your happiness. One can gain understanding as to the kinds of choices we ought to be making by looking to the human person.
We can say that there is also an ontological character of our Catholic moral thought. Now ontological is another big word. Ontological should not be confused with deontological which comes from a Greek word meaning obligation that we talked about earlier under legalistic ethics. It means we looked at the very being of a human person. We can gain some insight as to how he ought to act if he is going to attain happiness, and this provides a certain objectivity. You see the subjectivists don't have any source of objectivity. Whatever the person believes subjectively is going to bring him happiness, and he can act on the basis of that. But here we have objective criteria that help us make the right kinds of decisions so that we can come to true human flourishing.
Now what is most characteristic of our nature? What really distinguishes us from God's other creatures is our intellect, our reason. So if we are going to act in accord with our nature and therefore fulfill ourselves that means that we must be acting reasonably. We should be acting rationally because that's most characteristic of the human person. But the question can then be asked, how do we know that a proposed action is reasonable? How do we know that a human person is acting reasonably? If we think about it, we see that we usually judge that a person is acting reasonably if he is acting on behalf of ends. If he is acting on behalf of goals, if he is acting for some purpose. If he is acting purposelessly, if he has no place to go, if he doesn't know what he is doing, then we say he is suffering some kind of mental defect. I mean we have to help him. A poor woman suffering from Alzheimer's might walk out of her home not knowing where she is and go wandering off by herself. Her behavior is no longer purposeful. For her own good and for her own protection her loved ones take her into their custody. They don't leave her to be free anymore. In a sense she can't be free because she is no longer able to look ahead to find goals on behalf of which she is going to act.
You could be driving down the street one day and see a young woman standing on a street corner on a cold, blustery, fall day. It's raining, it's sleeting, the wind is blowing, miserable weather. And you say to yourself, "I wonder why she's standing there? Even the animals know to get in out of this weather. I wonder if there is something wrong with her." You go off and you do your chores. About fifteen minutes later you go driving by again, and there she is still standing there on the street corner. You become concerned, so you pull the car off along the curb and say, "Excuse me are you all right?"
"I'm fine thank you."
"Well, why are you standing here in this dreadful weather?"
"Oh, I'm waiting for a bus."
Suddenly what looked like behavior that was without purpose, in fact looked unreasonable, becomes preeminently reasonable because she is acting purposely for a goal. "Oh, you are waiting for a bus. You have someplace to go?"
"I have to go downtown and buy some typing paper," she said.
"What do you need typing paper for?"
" I have a paper in physiology which is due next Tuesday, and I've really got to start typing it this weekend."
"Oh, you are in school?"
"Where are you in school?"
"I'm at the University of Southern California."
"What do you study?"
"I'm a pre-Med student."
"You want to be a doctor?"
"So why do you want to be a doctor?"
"I want to heal people and keep them healthy."
Suddenly what looked like unreasonable behavior comes to be seen as very reasonable behavior because it is directed toward ends, toward goals, for purposes. This element of the moral life also has a name. We say it isteleological. I know this is a big word but teleological comes from the Greek word telos and telos means "end" or "goal". So the moral life is to be teleological. It is to be ordered towards some goal or purpose.
Aristotle in his great ethical work Nicomachean Ethics begins at the very beginning. He says that all things tend toward some good, that human behavior can be understood as directed toward the attainment of some good which will lead to our fulfillment. We see these characteristics of this particular approach to the moral life, the "ethic of the good." We see these characteristics in that it is eudaemonistic, that it is motivated by the pursuit of happiness and the desire for happiness. It is ontological in that it is rooted and grounded in being itself. We say that it is teleological, that it has to be understood as human behavior which is ordered to and directed toward ends, not just any ends, but ends which are perceived as goods. Ends, the possession of which will bring our flourishing, which will bring about our happiness. These are not characteristics simply with Catholic morality. These are characteristics of human beings generally who think right and have a good will and who want to find human fulfillment. This is natural for human beings. It reflects the morality of the natural law of living in accord with our own nature.
We were talking about the great moral tradition of the West. It can be seen in the great Greek philosophers, it can be seen in Roman thought, in Seneca and Cicero , it can be seen in the fulfillment and flowering of our classical thought which is Catholicism itself as having certain characteristics. It is eudaemonistic. The moral life comes to be motivated by desire for happiness. It is ontological. It is rooted and grounded in being in an objective order. It is teleologicalbecause it's ordered toward ends. We understand what a thing is by virtue of its end, by virtue of its purpose, if you will.
There was a television show for a while call The Liars Club. It wasn't on the air very long, and I never watched a whole episode of it, but I was struck by how it served as an example of this natural human tendency to understand things by virtue of their end. In The Liars Club there were two contestants and four celebrities. Somebody would bring out an object, some gizmo that was very strange and unusual and unknown. The celebrities would know what the thing was but the contestants would not. And so this object would be handed to the celebrities and each would say what it was. And all of them were lying except for one. That's why they called it The Liars Club. One of them said the truth about this object, and then the contestants had to guess which one was telling the truth. What I found so interesting was that they all explained what the object was by virtue of what it did. They explained it, in other words, teleologically. They said we now know what this is by seeing what it does, by virtue of its goals. There is a way in which we can understand a human being as well teleologically. We see that human beings have a natural curiosity. They are drawn to know the truth. So we can see that this is one of the things that fulfills us as human beings. To grasp the truth. The pursuit of truth is a good and wholesome moral a>> ctivity if it is done properly.
We can understand even what a human being is by virtue of the ends toward which he is disposed or ordered. T. S. Eliot said in one of his poems, the end is where we begin. We can't even begin an action unless we have an end in mind. When I walk out the back door of my house, what am I doing? Somebody can say, "Well, he is walking out of the back door of his house." But that is not all I'm doing. That doesn't define anything, really, because I don't stop there just after I've gone through the back door. I go through the back door of my house to take out the garbage. Or to drive the children to school. Or to start the first leg of the trip that is going to take me eventually to Paris or Birmingham, Alabama. So what I am doing when I physically pass through my back door is defined by the goal. What's John doing? He's taking the garbage out. He's driving the kids to school. He's going to Birmingham, Alabama. So we can understand human behavior by virtue of the end toward which it is ordered. Saint Thomas tells us himself that it is due to the fact that one wills the end that the reason issues its commands as regards things ordained to the end. So moral life then becomes the making of the right kinds of choices about actions which are going to help us achieve our end. But what is the end of man? What is the goal and purpose for human existence? Here we begin to see the difference betweenmoral philosophy which in many ways we have been talking about up to this point, and moral theology.
Moral philosophy talks about man's natural end. The natural end of man is a virtuous life, which is a well integrated life, a happy life, a harmonious existence, living in peace and charity with those around him, a life of justice and good order. This is the natural end of man that the pagan philosophers would write about and many very virtuous pagans would follow and live. By the use of our intellect in varying degrees we can come to know this kind of life. We never know it in its perfection. We can never become perfectly good or just or prudent or courageous. We will always fall short of the mark, but we do have this natural end. It can be seen and understood to a certain extent. As Catholics have an end or a goal which far surpasses this natural end of man. That goal and that final purpose in life is union with God and Son. The theologians sometimes call it Beatific Vision. Anybody who has fallen in love knows the joy that they have just sitting there, not saying anything, staring into the eyes of the beloved. That's how you can tell. You can look at two young people or two older people and know that they are in love because they just sit there and enjoy one another's presence. They enjoy looking on one another. This is what the theologians tell us it will be like in Heaven. We will be so filled with joy and love and rapture looking upon God's goodness and God's beauty that we will have attained finally an end. This is an end which isn't ours by nature. It's an end which we never could have attained on our own power. No Socrates, no Plato, no Aristotle, no Cicero, no Seneca would ever be able to achieve the end of that kind of happiness, the happiness of being able to look upon the face of God. This is an end and a goal in life which has been given to us by God in Jesus Christ. It is a goal and an end in life which is not natural to us and which, frankly, we simply do not deserve as a gift. It is completely and thoroughly a gift. But once we do have that goal, that great beautiful unspeakable goal, then we must perform certain actions which will help us attain that goal. It is now not enough simply to avoid doing evil. It's not enough simply even to be just in our relationships with our fellow man. Now we must go beyond that and fill those actions with a love for other people and a love for God which really surpasses what natural man is capable of doing. God has also given us great assistance and help in coming to know what we have to do in order to come to him. He has given us knowledge in what is called revelation.
I'm going to speak on one of the ways in which moral theology also differs from moral philosophy. We, as Catholics, know that God has told us certain things about ourselves which we might indeed be able to come to know eventually. It's great hard work by the use of our reason. God tells us these things so that we can achieve them more easily, so we don't have to have any doubts about them. There are two purposes of revelation. One purpose of revelation is to tell us things about God that we would never be able to come to know ourselves. The human mind would never be able to come to know that there is one God in Three Persons. That there are Three Persons in the one God and not three Gods. One God and Three Persons. We have that knowledge because God has told us that. We know that Jesus Christ, this Palestinian carpenter, is God Himself. Why? Because God has told us. We could never come to that conclusion on our own. When Peter made that great affirmation, that Christ was the Son of our Living God, Our Lord responded and said, "you didn't get this from flesh and blood. This has been given to you by my Father." That is one of the things that we get from revelation. That is data, knowledge about God that we could never attain otherwise.
We receive something else from revelation, and that is truths about ourselves that we could come to know with the use of our natural unaided reason but with great difficulty. For example, we should be able to see through the use of our reason that marriage is permanent, that it is for life, exclusive, between one man and one woman for the purpose of sharing life's burdens, for engendering children, for establishing a family, for raising children. If they are going to be successful in that enterprise, the husband and wife must be faithful to one another. They must be exclusive in their relationship, and they must pledge themselves to one another for life. We should be able to see and understand that through the use of our reason. That is a perfectly reasonable understanding of marriage and family. However it is a sad commentary on the world around us that there are many people who don't see this and understand it. We wouldn't have such high divorce rates if they could. So, even though we can come to that truth through the use of our reason, God has in His graciousness clarified the issue for us. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is God, said, "What God has joined together let no man put asunder. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery." Jesus is able to show us with great clarity, great precision, what we might be able to come to know through the use of our reason but with great difficulty. This is another way in which moral theology will differ from moral philosophy.
We are privileged as Catholics and as moral theologians to be able to take not simply human nature, not simply the findings of sociology and of the natural sciences. We are able to take not merely the great reflections of moral philosophers and of novelists and of poets in helping us understand what must be done in order to lead a truly fulfilled and happy and flourishing life. We are also able to take the data of revelation, those bits of knowledge that God has given us about ourselves and about Himself, the knowledge that God has given us about our natural end as human beings, and also our supernatural end, to have been called to a life with Him forever in Heaven and Jesus Christ. The moral theologian and the Catholic will take this data of revelation to help themselves achieve that final goal of happiness and perfection in the presence of God Himself.