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Can the Relationship between Fact and Moral Norm, as indicated in Humanae Vitae be Further Explained?

Objections and Replies


Context: Recalling the discussion in Parts I and II of this dissertation, the perception of a true account of a human inclination, is to some extent the perception of the truth as a divine 'idea' embodied in that natural inclination.

Objection 1: Finnis says that "To think of knowledge as a value is not, as such, to think of it as a 'moral' value; 'truth is a good' is not, here, to be understood as a moral proposition, and 'knowledge is to be pursued' is not to be understood, here, as stating a moral obligation, requirement, prescription, or recommendation"341.

Objection 2: St. Paul says that 'if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge ... but have not love, I am nothing' (1 Cor 13: 2).

On the other hand Christ says that He is the 'Truth' (Jn 14: 6).

Secondly: The Fathers of the Second Vatican Council say in their Declaration on Religious Liberty: 'Truth can impose itself on the mind of man only in virtue of its own truth, which wins over the mind of man with both gentleness and power'342.

Reply: The divine idea instantiated as the truth of created being is what constitutes it as intelligible to us.  If it possessed no organizing principle which rendered what it is as a whole, or as a part, intelligible to us343, then we would be unable to come to know what it is; indeed, for a thing to lack this kind of truth is for it not to exist.  For nothing can both exist and be no particular kind of thing.  A material can exist, for instance, in relation to the possibility of becoming many different things; however, all of these possibilities have to bear a relation to the reality of that material344.  In other words, when we come to know the true nature of a created thing, what we come to know is the truth embodied in a thing by God making it to be what it is: it is the truth which constitutes the intelligible form of being.

Truth as instantiated in a thing, however, has an intrinsic relation to its Creator; but we can as it were possess this truth and deny that it speaks to us of a Creator.  Thus as St. Paul says we can possess the truth and it profits us not; however, if the truth exercises 'both gentleness and power' then it will lead us to the love of God (cf. Jn 16: 13).  In other words there is an innate dynamism to truth which inclines it to the fullness of being: both the fullness which draws together all the constituent parts of the person and the fullness which is found only in what constitutes the whole Truth of being.  Christ is both: as true God He is the fullness of being and as true man His humanity is completely drawn together in the perfect love of God.

By contrast, then, to say that truth can be understood in such a way that it is not a 'moral proposition', and that the pursuit of the truth does not entail a 'moral obligation', is to cast truth into the very mould that it naturally breaks.  For it is precisely in the relationship of things to truth that the unity-in-diversity of being is established as coherent: truth is intrinsic to being and it is intrinsically ordered to being.  Truth is therefore indispensable to knowing the action which will manifest what a person is, as it is a true action that perfects what a person is345.  And in that we find what we seek (cf. Prov 11: 27; Mt 7: 8), the seeking of truth is indispensable to finding it; and so the beginning of what we do is integral to its end.  So while it is possible to conceive of truth as abstracted from its relationship to our life, in fact truth does not exist except as integral to it; indeed, if truth did not exist as integral to our life then it would not be possible to even conceive of its abstraction from it.  Conversely, then, we do not integrate truth into our lives, except as a part of the very process by which we are integrated through its integrity.


Context: It is argued in Parts I and II that because human being is an instantiation of a divine idea, in whole and in part, that this imparts to human being a foundational, causative contribution to its possession of a moral potential.

Objection: If all that is created is by definition an expression of a divine idea, then all things have received this foundational, causative contribution to their possession of a moral potential; and if this is the case, then there is no basis on which to distinguish between creation in general and the moral potential of man in particular.

Reply: Both human being and all creation possess what they do of the instantiation of divine ideas as a gift of the Creator.  What distinguishes human (and also angelic) being from that of all other created being is the kind of being which instantiates the divine idea.  In other words, it is not simply that the 'one God is the agent, prototype, and goal of all things'346, but that God has given two, if not three basic types of being, each of which takes up all its elements into a whole.  So human being is an instantiation of the divine idea of the person: one in body and soul; animal being of what is living, and in that sense of what is similar to the bodily nature of a person, but by definition is without a human soul; and the being of matter which in one sense is common to both but distinct from each.

So it is inadequate to rest the foundation of the moral potential of human being on what is common to all that is created.  However, each thing that has being has a particular kind of being.  Pope Paul VI says: 'human life is sacred'347.  Human life is separate from animal or material being, just as the Holy God is separate348.  It is in the unique composition of each one of us as a person that lies the essence of the divine idea that integrates what each one of us is and constitutes, therefore, the foundation which inclines us towards the realization of the moral potential we possess.

341 Natural Law and Natural Rights p. 62.    Back
342 Dignitatis Humanae no. 1.    Back
343 Cf. Copleston, Aquinas pp. 89 and 97 for some of the background to these ideas.    Back
344 Ibid. p. 94.    Back
345 Cf. VS no. 72.    Back
346 ST, I, 44, 4.    Back
347 HV no. 13.    Back
348 Cf. Jules de Vaulx, "Holy", translated by E. C. Ulrich, p. 236 of Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited under the direction of X. Leon-Dufour, (London: Geoffrey Chapman, updated second edition, 1992).    Back

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