Human Nature, Poetic Narrative, and Moral Agency
Robert A. Gahl, Jr.
(draft July 18, 2001)
My purpose in this paper is to sketch a theory according to which a full account of Thomas's understanding of human perfection requires the use of contemporary narratology. My proposal means to cut deeper than that of most proponents of a narrative moral philosophy or of narrative theology. Most of them focus on the pedagogical and therapeutic effects of stories on their readers.(1) Many of them consider that communities of virtue and of faith are built upon the stories that are passed down from generation to generation, whether pagan myths and fables and family histories or sacred scripture. A smaller number of scholars more boldly claim that narrative is also somehow embedded in our very being or constitutive of ourselves as humans. (2) They propose that human rationality and volition may reach perfection only when structured around a story that each one writes, with more or less self-awareness, through the performance of each voluntary action.
Stanley Hauerwas, one of the early proponents of narrative theology, once referred to Elie Wiesel's famous declaration and complained that 'one can be told once too often that "God made man because he loves stories."(3) In fact, many scholars, including Thomists and orthodox theologians, now become bored when they hear talk about "narrative," especially when coupled with "theology". Surely there is some truth to Wiesel's words: "God made man because he loves stories," but the following words, less succinct than Wiesel's, might constitute a more enlightening expression. God became man because it was only by having a human story that God could fully reveal himself to man.(4) These words express God's caring and purposeful love for the human being and, at once, God's providential design to save the fallen human while respecting his free and intelligent nature. The human being enjoys the spiritual faculty of intellect and yet comes to know through sensitive experience acquired in time and through the discursive reflection upon that experience. Human knowledge is therefore acquired by considering events that are causally connected and temporally dispersed. God became man in order to have a human story so that we could come to understand a bit better the ineffable nature of God.(5) A more ambitious narrative theology proposes much more than the mere claim that stories affect our self-understanding. This more ambitious narrative theology aims to provide a deeper explanation for the importance of stories on their hearers and readers by proposing that it is because the fulfilled moral life is of the structure of a story that God became man in order to save us by his living an exemplary story. In short, we tell stories because we live stories, and not the other way around.
Likewise, an ambitious application of narratology to moral philosophy contends that human fulfillment or happiness may only be achieved by living an intelligible, coherent, unified, meaningful, and successful story. According to such a moral philosophy, we all are artists constantly engaged in the most important task possible: crafting our own selves by building the narratives of our lives around everyday actions.
Therefore, according to my proposal, aesthetics and literary studies are not entirely separate from moral philosophy. The principles of aesthetics and the tools of literary criticism must be used by moral philosophy. My proposal is based at least as much on the study of the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas as on the study narratology. With this proposal, I contend that Aquinas's anthropology and theory of human fulfillment presuppose and entail all of the elements implicit to a narrative moral philosophy and theology. And, moreover, his theory may be best understood when examined in the light of the integrating instrument of narrative.
2. Human Nature: The Artist as Imago Dei
The customary density of Thomas's works reflects a brilliant mind striving to communicate as much as possible within the restricting confines of language, almost rushing to complete the task at hand. Some of the texts most dense with meaning are the prologues to major works, where Thomas sets the stage by situating all that follows within a broad context and upon a deep foundation. I would like to begin my consideration of human nature in Thomas's thought and of the human artist as imago Dei by commenting on what may be the least studied of those important prologues.(6) In the very beginning of his introduction to his commentary on Aristotle's Politics, Thomas quotes from the Physics (II, 2) "ars imitatur naturam" in order to explain the dependency on human nature of practical intellect's role of guiding action, especially that action which involves the exercise of the prudence proper to the prince.(7) Since nature provides the principles of every art, the activities and effects of the artist must be proportionate to nature. The human intellect, the proximate principle of art, was created in the image and likeness of the divine intellect, the artist of all created nature. It is therefore necessary that all of art imitate that which pertains to nature. Just as the apprentice artist learns from the master artist, so too the human intellect, whose intellectual light is derived from the divine intellect, learns from that which has been made in nature so as to perform in fashion similar to that of the Divine Artist.
In the prologue to his commentary on the Politics, Aquinas proceeds to distinguish between the speculative and practical functions of the faculty of reason. Speculative reason observes and comes to know that which is proper to nature. Practical or operative reason extends beyond the speculative by, not only knowing nature, but also making artifacts while imitating nature. The human exercises his natural vocation as imago Dei by imitating the Divine Artist. We imitate God insofar as our intelligence participates in His and insofar as all of our operations are guided by his creative genius. While nature proceeds from God's creative activity, art is the effect of the human's imitation of God's intelligent creative act and the effects of that divine act. By applying practical intellect, the human understands forms and their proportion so that he may order them, rearrange them, and assemble them into composites.
The medieval use of the word "ars" embraces a more extensive semantic field than covered by the modern usage.(8) Thomas uses the term "art" in various, analogous ways. In the prologue to his commentary on the Politics he uses the term broadly to encompass all activity (or operationes) that involve the ordering of things to their end. Perhaps better known are those passages where Thomas considers art more restrictively as the intellectual habit of ordering external objects towards their end and thereby excludes from this usage of the word the ordering of oneself to the due end. Thomas uses this more restricted sense of art to distinguish between the practical habits or skills required for the transitive doing or making of things and the practical habits required for the immanent action that is perfective of the agent when in accord with right appetite. Or, in simpler terms, Thomas restricts the more narrow sense of art to making as opposed to acting. According to this more narrow sense of the term, art only refers to those skills that govern "recta ratio factibilium", while prudence governs "recta ratio agibilium".(9) Factibilia and agibilia are both directed by practical intellect and both involve the ordering of operations to an end. But agibilia also include a reference to appetite and to the use made of the object by human volition. Although Aquinas borrows from Aristotle's Ethics this more narrow use of the term techné ("art") for the sake of distinguishing the intellectual and moral virtue of prudence from the skills needed for productive activities, nonetheless, his terminology also includes agibilia within art when used in the broad sense.(10)
In the prologue to the commentary on the Politics, Thomas explains how the human's artistic ordering of things to their end from the simple to the composite, and from the imperfect to the perfect, includes not only those things that are used by the human, but even human beings themselves. The highest art, whose principle is the purpose for all the others, is the governing of the city, the community that he considers perfect on account of its being self-sufficient for human life.(11) There is no higher principle that human reason can know and can constitute than the city because all other human bodies are ordered to it. Therefore, the broader use of the term art includes the highest artistic endeavor: the ordering of voluntary actions towards human perfection. The human artist is image of God on account of his natural capacity to order himself to his own end and for his own sake, or in Aquinas's own words expressed in the Prologue to the Second Part of the Summa: "per imaginem significatur intellectuale et arbitrio liberum et per se potestativum".(12) Although all creatures contain some trace of the Creator, among material creatures only the human being is made in the image of God.(13)
My understanding of the architectonic order of moral and technical skill in Aquinas, and therefore of the relationship between the moral life, useful art, and fine art, is closer to that of Umberto Eco's account than that proposed by Jacques Maritain in Art and Scholasticism and in The Responsibility of the Artist.(14) Indeed, [unless I have missed something in my reading of Maritain,] my proposal that moral action in Aquinas is an artistic ordering to the end would seem extravagant, if not outrageous, to [him] Maritain. In Art and Scholasticism he claims that the art of making "remains outside the line of human conduct, with an end, rules, and values which are not those of the man, but of the work to be produced."(15) And in The Responsibility of the Artist, Maritain more forcefully maintains that: "Art and Morality are two autonomous worlds, with no direct and intrinsic subordination between them."(16) On account of his political concerns to defend the ordering of the state towards the common good without the slightest risk of totalitarian consequences, Maritain defends the autonomy of the arts of production and rejects any intrinsic ordering of artistic making to the final end.(17) He only allows for there being an indirect and extrinsic subordination of the productive arts to the natural end of the human being.(18) Eco, on the other hand, in his The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, first describes the medieval context of dogmatic recognition of the distinction between the orders of artistic making and moral doing and then goes on to show how Aquinas's artistic aesthetics are of one piece with the whole of his ordered and systematic thought. The useful arts and the fine arts are just one set of endeavors within the broader context of ordering human life to its end. Eco describes the confusion among some students of Thomas and explains the broader picture. "Some of the things that Aquinas has said have led some people to talk enthusiastically about the autonomy of art. But this is to misunderstand him. Indeed, autonomy would be an absurd notion in a philosophical system based upon order and finality…. It is only within the general plan of the Summa that we can be clear about Aquinas's philosophy of art and beauty…. Aquinas's aesthetic criteria can be used to defend the autonomy of beauty, if they are employed in a different spirit from his own."(19) Eco describes the ordering of all making to the overall end of human society with words reminiscent of Aquinas's prologue to the Politics. "Productive human actions are not isolated actions, but acquire value from being part of the life of the City; and the terrestrial City is an image and anticipation of the City of God."(20)
Moral and political philosophy are therefore those sciences dedicated to achieving wisdom regarding the principles of voluntary action in order to direct it towards its end. Respectively, they teach how to order the actions of the individual and of the whole of society towards human fulfillment. For Aquinas the artistic imitation of nature is intrinsically dynamic, voluntary, and intelligent, much richer than some "naturalistic" interpretations would lead one to believe. Since the artist is either the Divine Creator or his human image, artistic imitation should not be considered as either a necessary or static phenomenon, or as a pedagogical ploy implemented by Aquinas "to facilitate the analysis of what is less familiar, nature, through the analysis of what is more familiar to us."(21) Jan Aertsen, in his earlier and lesser known book Nature and Creature: Thomas Aquinas's Way of Thought, explains that Aquinas's understanding of the artistic imitation of nature is deeply rooted in his metaphysics of creation and nature's intrinsic dynamism. "If we would come closer to the Greek meaning of physis and its relation to techné, then we must see the imitation thesis in the first place as a manifestation of an identical logos in the becoming of things."(22) The highest artistic imitation therefore regards the ordering of human actions so that humans, whether individually or in communities, may reach there full perfection according to their nature.(23)
Having been made in the image of God and with the natural capacity to know Him, the human may achieve perfection only by attaining a full return to his principle and end.(24) The science of moral philosophy is a study of the principles required for this achievement of human perfection by the ordering of individual voluntary actions to the final end. Moral philosophy is therefore the scientific study of the principles to be applied by the art of directing voluntary actions towards their end. The practical wisdom required to direct human actions involves a memory of one's own identity, and of one's past experience, and the present knowledge of one's future goals or purposes. Such an artistic practical wisdom goes beyond the knowledge of universal principles and discovers the most suitable contingent particulars to achieving one's end. The suitability of those contingent particulars is highly dependent upon one's past, one's present situation, and one's future ambitions. The artistic determination of the most suitable particular action to be performed in the present is described by Thomas with the terminology of prudence, choice, and intention of the end. These Thomistic concepts could coincide with the contemporary concept of critical literary theory called emplotment, if this neologism devised to describe the artistic task of story-writing may also be applied to the authorial role of moral agency.(25)
3. Poetic Narrative: Intentio Finis as Emplotment
In this third section of my paper, I will briefly describe what I mean by "poetic narrative" in order to compare the role of "intentio finis" in Aquinas's action theory to emplotment. But first of all, I would like to briefly evoke a theme that I developed in the paper that I gave here last year, "Time in Augustine and Aquinas: What Time Was It When God Created Adam?". While arguing that Augustine, although intent on developing the subjective experience of time never rejected, and even implicitly held, Aristotle's more objective view, I referred to Augustine's description of human awareness of time as a "distentio animae". This swelling of the soul by which we remember the past, experience the present, and expect the future, causes suffering. Our desire is for eternity, even to have it all at once, now, not in little pieces. The temporal fragmentation of experience, whether cognitive, volitional, or sentimental, the fleeting character of all satisfactions, and the need to wait for completion, are an experience of the finitude that the imago Dei longs to overcome. In his classic study Le Temps et l'Eternité chez Plotin et saint Augustin, Jean Guitton comments that for Augustine the problem of time was nothing other than the larger problem of the self.(26) Augustine's struggle to clarify the moral self has very much to do with the question of poetic narrative. In Book X of the Confessions (10, 16:25), St. Augustine writes: "O Lord, I am working hard in this field, and the field of my labors is my own self. I have become a problem to myself, like land which a farmer only works with difficulty and at the cost of much sweat. For I am not now investigating the tracts of the heavens, or measuring the distance of the stars, or trying to discover how the earth hangs in space. I am investigating myself, my memory, my mind."(27) Full, personal resolution of the Augustinian quest may only be reached with final beatitude, by attaining eternal life in the Blessed Trinity. But the suffering due to "distentio animae" may be partially overcome in this life by unifying the discordant temporal moments of one's life around the principle and end of life.(28)
Paul Ricoeur interprets Aristotle's definition of poetry to be nothing else than the art of making plots, that is, the art of organizing events.(29) For Aristotle, poetic narrative is therefore the active imitation or representation of an action in order to teach, to uncover some heretofore hidden meaning of reality.(30) Poetic narration draws together the many elements dispersed throughout time of a single, whole action within a meaningful plot.(31) The plot gathers the beginning, middle, and end of the action into a single meaning according to the structure of a linear temporal sequence and a causal order. Each moment has its place within that order as cause or consequence.(32) Narrative poetic imitation allows for several different forms of expression: history, fiction, biography, theater, cinematography, etc.. One basic distinction between the various expressions of narration is between recital and drama. Where recital is the simple telling of a story, drama is its gesticulative acting out. The narration is expressed by the actions themselves rather than by a "narrator" telling the story. Rather than having a narrator say of a character: "he said", the narrator plays the role of the character and simply says. In drama the narrator becomes actor. Actors, whether of theater, or film, or simply those who perform voluntary acts, tell a story by performing the actions that constitute the plot.(33)
Today, most literary theorists object to the idea that our moral lives have the structure of narratives. They hold that stories are merely an imitation of the lives of moral characters. For instance, Louis Mink writes that "life has no beginnings, middles and ends…Narrative qualities are transferred from art to life."(34) Hayden White is more forceful in objecting to the hypothesis of narrative realism. "The notion that sequences of real events possess the formal attributes of the stories we tell about imaginary events could only have its origin in wishes, daydreams, reveries."(35) But the Aristotelian poet, or simply any realist story teller, aims to imitate, or represent, the universal in order to disclose a deeper truth hidden in the particular and not immediately evident to the common observer. Realist literary theorists hold that we find narratives in all human cultures on account of the metaphysically prior fact that the narrative structure is constitutive of the very reality of human action.(36) Narrative is real, embedded within human action, and constitutive of the self both individual and social. While describing tragedy, the most meaningful poetic genre of dramatic narrative in his day, Aristotle asserts that "it is the action in it, i.e., its plot, that is the end and purpose of the tragedy, and the end is everywhere the chief thing."(37) The tragedy's plot is nothing other than the end of the entire action. And by end Aristotle means much more than just the outcome. The plot is also the purpose and meaning of the individual elements that constitute the whole action or life story. The plot, therefore, is the all-encompassing form that gives meaning to the protagonist's individual moments within the dramatic poem.
The writing of history involves much more than the empirical recording of events. The columns in the morning newspaper that record the scores from yesterday's baseball games are not history. At the most, they are chronicle, or perhaps, once orderly compiled, annals. History includes human intentionality, motives, and aims. The biblical theologian N. T. Wright holds that with history "we are trying to discover what the humans involved in the event thought they were doing, wanted to do, or tried to do. The apparently obvious counter-example proves the point: when historians try to write about pre-human or non-human history they regularly invoke some idea of purpose, whether that of the cosmos, of some sort of guiding life-force, or even some sort of god."(38) The historian's task is, therefore, a kind of poetic narration. The historian seeks to uncover the human intentions that caused the events of the past, to critically reconstruct the rational and interior ordering of past actions.
If the historian, in his effort to reconstruct the artistic ordering that was present in the actions themselves is a poet, in the Aristotelian sense of the term, why not consider the agent studied a poet? The individuals responsible for the history were also (more or less aware) of their causal agency. In the ordering of their own actions they were already performing the task of the poet, and of the historian. This is not to deny the advantages of the historian's perspective. Looking back in time allows for certainty regarding the outcome, a certainty that we can never achieve regarding the consequences of our own poetic task of ordering our lives until we have reached their mortal end. My thesis that every human exercises poetic authorship over the narrative of his moral life does not entail, and in fact excludes, that the human agent-author has complete and sole control over the narrative. Providential design, whether through accidental causes or direct divine intervention, changes the humanly anticipated events and possibilities thereby rendering the need for constant creativity on the part of the human agent-author. Plot reversal and discovery of unexpected elements makes moral life an adventure. Self-knowledge, even of the past, is always susceptible to modification and correction, even in need of such modification and correction. And, since various causal factors beyond our control and understanding deviate our lives from their anticipated path, we are constantly telling and retelling our stories.(39) It is because of our lack of full control over the successful outcome of our lives as we anticipate them, that the moral life is a quest in search of more perfect self-understanding and also a greater capacity to render ourselves and our purposes intelligible to others. Despite the imperfect knowledge of the whole of one's autobiography, the poetic structure of narrative is nonetheless already present within the voluntary actions themselves. What is more, the poetic narrative structure is constitutive of the act as voluntary. For an act to be voluntary the agent must have temporal self-awareness within the context of a story.
Thomas Aquinas's action theory, systematically developed in questions 6-21 of the Prima Secundae, describes voluntary action with the same governing elements found in Aristotelian poetic narrative. Aquinas's action theory entails a cascade of hylemorphic compositions: from materia ex qua, to materia circa quam, and from the direct object to the remote end. In every complete voluntary action, the human rationally applies his will to natural things in order to perform an act in view of a further end, and all this for the sake of the last end. Deliberation, choice, and use of the desired means are always for the sake of some end and always in the specific context of the accidental circumstances surrounding the chosen object. To perform a morally perfective act, the human must have self-awareness, memory of past experience, and recollection of his personal identity in view of achieving the end. Granted, morally culpable action may be defective in one of these elements, but for an action that is perfective of the human in accord with his nature all of these elements must be present. Self-awareness and previous experience are not too much to demand for moral action. In ST I-II 89, 6, St. Thomas explains the requirements needed for the first moral act performed by the pagan child. The first use of reason includes a deliberation about himself. And if he orders himself to the due end, "through grace he gains the remission of original sin."(40) Thomas further explains in his response to the third objection that the first use of reason also involves an ordering of "other things to himself as to an end, for the end is first in intention."(41) The capacity for moral agency requires self-awareness and the reflection upon other things according to their order and proportion to oneself, all for the rational purpose of achieving one's end. For Aquinas, voluntary action requires unitary self-awareness, knowledge of one's end, and the artistic design of rationally ordering, arranging, and assembling the means to the end.
At the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics Aristotle uses the metaphor of the archer to show the importance of determining the end in order to guide voluntary action.(42) With this metaphor he compares archery, an art in the order of making, to moral action, the art in the order of doing, the master art that requires the highest form of practical wisdom. Aristotle's metaphor of the archer who aims at the bullseye expresses what Aquinas calls intentio finis of the moral agent. The end is first in the order of intention and continuously informs all subsequent actions, whether actually or habitually, until the human modifies his determination towards the intended end, either by direct conversion from or to the due end or by choosing to perform an act whose object is incompatible with the end intended up until that moment. The intelligibility of every action is dependent upon the form given by the intended end. Since every voluntary act, insofar as it is voluntary, is informed by the end, it is chosen as an event within the whole of one's life. Therefore, since intention of the end entails the gathering together, the ordering, and the assembling of single acts into a meaningful whole extended throughout time, intention of the end is nothing other than emplotment, the poetic ordering of temporally dispersed events into one meaning, into one story.
4. Moral Agency: Beauty, Unity, and the Happy Ending
In Plato's famous polemic against the poets of tragedy he describes a hierarchy of artistic imitation according to the vicinity to truth of the work of art. In his conversation with Glaucon, Plato speaks of the absolute truth of the ideas in God's mind. God is the supreme craftsman who makes all that there is, even the other gods. The ideas or forms in God are that which is most real and most true. For Plato, they are God's masterpiece. Plato uses the example of a maker of beds and of a painter. The carpenter who constructs the bed only makes an imitation of the single idea of bed. The idea is real and held in the mind of God. The carpenter's bed is just a copy, an appearance of the true bed, not the true existence of a bed, but only "some semblance of existence."(43) For Plato, the bed does not have real existence. Plato compares the carpenters craft to moving a mirror so as to make the sun, the moon, and the stars appear here and there. The movement of the mirror does not make the sun, the moon, and the stars but only makes them appear in a weak semblance.
But let us continue with Plato's example. The painter paints a painting of the bed. The painting, being an imitation of an imitation, a mere appearance of appearance is thrice removed from the truth.(44) One need not accept Plato's metaphysics of the forms to make use of his example of artistic imitation and to apply it to the moral life. The poet imitates whole actions or human lives. While performing the many voluntary actions of his personal life story, the human being also performs the imitation of poetic narrative. The human being, made in the image of the Word, imitates the Archetype by performing acts proper to his rational nature. Who then is the principal artist? The poet or the moral agent? Plato provides a possible response: "the real artist, who knew what he was imitating, would be interested in realities and not in imitations; and would desire to leave as memorials of himself works many and fair; and, instead of being the author of encomiums, he would prefer to be the theme of them." With rhetorical genius Plato points us to the solution. God the Creator is the principle Artist. The Father eternally begets the Divine Word through his perfect self-understanding. The Word is the perfect Image of God. We humans are the only material creatures made (through the Image) in the image of the Image.(45) As images of the Word, we are naturally endowed with artistic talent. The highest human artistic potency is to order all things, especially ourselves, to the end. Men and women who live their lives in such a way that they will be worthy of honor for ever are the master artists deserving of the richest encomium. Only they order their lives in beautiful unity according to the demands of the principle and exemplar, the Word made flesh. Sequela Christi is nothing but the natural fulfillment of our imitation of the Divine Image in the principle artistic task: the accomplished ordering of voluntary acts according to the structure of poetic narrative and for the sake of the due end.
In Saint Thomas d'Aquin - maître spirituel, Jean-Pierre Torrell offers a splendid description of the theology of sequela Christi in Thomas while describing how Aquinas emphasizes that Jesus teaches us even more effectively with his actions than with his words.(46) With various formulations Thomas repeats throughout his works "plus movent exempla quam verba."(47) Like Aristotle, Aquinas perceived our need to learn how to be virtuous by observing an exemplar of virtue. But, with respect to Aristotle, Aquinas had a decided advantage. He knew the perfect exemplar, the paradigm of virtue, God Incarnate. In q. 34 of the Prima Secundae, Thomas explains that in the area of the moral life and the human passions, where experience is so important, example moves more than mere words ("magis movent exempla quam verba").(48) Thomas therefore repeatedly affirms throughout his work that the "action of Christ was our instruction."(49) When commenting on the washing of feet at the Last Supper (Jn. 13.15), St. Thomas refers to Jesus' own words "I have done this to give you an example" to base his theology of Jesus' moral pedagogy on Jesus' divine authority.(50) Aristotle's virtuous man is, for Aquinas, the Word Incarnate.
What, then, is the literary genre of the fulfilled life? Since we all desire happiness, the genre of our moral life must be apt for achieving happiness. It must be a genre that represents a fully intelligible and therefore united life that, on account of its beauty in measure and proportion, is worthy of honor.(51) Intermediate actions incompatible or simply non-conducive to the end would distract from the mimetic splendor meant to be manifest by the plot. In an essay entitled "Human Dignity and Human Action," delivered in Rome last September, Alice Ramos offers a splendid analysis of the beauty of the fulfilled moral life in Aristotle and Aquinas and a powerful conclusion, consequence of the human's inclination not only to know and to love but to be loved, on account of being considered worthy of honor. More specifically, Ramos shows how moral perfection in Aquinas involves not only glorifying God but even giving Him delight. She concludes that much as any artifact might delight its maker, by being what it is and by doing what it was meant to do, so too, man may delight his Maker by being recognized in his life-long action as God's son and by uniting himself through his action to that Beauty that will one day approve and glorify him."(52)
So, to return to the question of the genre of life to be lived, since the fulfilled life is united around the intentional achievement of the happy end, that is, the end that fully satisfies the desires of the human agent, the genre must be comic, not tragic. To use Dante's expression, and to follow the inspiration of Calderón de la Barca's El gran teatro del mundo, the genre of the perfect life is the divine comedy. Divine because the end is God. Divine because the principal extrinsic efficient cause is God. Divine because the human actor represents the divine Son of God. Divine because the principal spectator is our Father God. The divine comedy, the genre of the life of moral perfection, is also divine because the actor himself is made in God's image. I would further add that the fulfilled moral life may only be of the genre of divine comedy, because the co-author along with the human co-author is none other than God. The screenwriter is God. Even the director is God.
Much more should be said in order to show the implications of the application of narratology to metaphysical anthropology, moral philosophy and theology. The role of remembrance of divine filiation in the Son ought to occupy a special place in moral and spiritual theology. Only with the memory that we are sons and daughters of the Father will we have the awareness of our identity needed to dramatically perform voluntary acts in accord with a plot perfective of our nature.(53) Only a soteriology cognizant of narrative anthropology can provide a full account of the Incarnation within the economy of salvation. A theory of natural law in accord with Aquinas's treatise at the end of the Prima Secundae requires explicit appreciation for fulfillment of the law as imitation of the Creator and as a law entrusted not just to a species but to a community of persons who can only fulfill the law by dynamically adhering to the common story of the People of Israel and the Communion of Saints.(54) In q. 93 of the Prima Secundae, Aquinas explains the eternal law in terms of God's artistic creation. The eternal law is the source of natural law's participation. The eternal law is the divine design for all of creation. For the human to fulfill the natural law, he must imitate the divine artist by freely living in accord with the law intrinsic to his nature. Narrative theory is the instrument needed for developing an aesthetics of the moral life and thereby overcoming the separation of the beautiful and the good in accord with the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas. Narrative theory offers an instrument for integrating measure, order beauty, providence, and law within both moral philosophy and politics.(55)(56)
Please allow two additional considerations before I conclude. First, a preemptive defense against an hypothetical objection. Thomas does not use the concept of narrative, so why do you feel justified in imposing this new construct upon his thought? To respond, I would first remark that the essential characteristics of narrative present in contemporary literary theory are implicitly present in Thomas's work and firmly founded upon a solid metaphysical anthropology. All of the elements of narrative are required components of Thomas's psychology of voluntary action. All of the elements of the contemporary theory of authorship are included within his creational anthropology of the human being as imago Dei. To respond to the hypothetical objection, I would also add that ST. Thomas explicitly refers to the need ot use poetic artifices, such as narrative ,within sacra doctrina. In a. 5 of the Prologue to his Commentary on the Sentences, Thomas asserts that "modus istius scientiae sit narrativus signorum." Thomas reports the objection that poetic artifices are wholely inappropriate within sacra doctrina because they contain only the minimum of truth ("poetica, quae minimum continet veritatis, maxime differt ab ista scientia, quae est verissima").(57) He responds by acknowledging that poetic artificies are indeed disproportionate to human intelligence. Poetry regards that which cannot be understood by reason on account of its lack of truth ("defectum veritatis"). Poetry seduces reason through simile. But, Thomas adds, poetry is also to be used when the topic of a science is disproportionate to reason on account of its comparative excess of truth.
Finally, the second conclusary consideration is to defend myself from the charge of prideful pursuit of originality. Although I opened with the proposal of a thesis and conclude with its defense, I maintained all along that what I propose is already within the texts of Thomas, although not fully developed. Moreover, many other authors, dead and alive, have nourished my research with their writings. I was hoping to draw from the recently published Gifford Lectures with Pirandellian title so apropos to my inquiry. But alas, I am told that Ralph's book Characters in Search of Their Author, published in May of 2001 (just one of three books he has already published this year) has already been sold out by the Notre Dame Bookstore.(58)
1. N. T. Wright describes the powerful capability of stories to effect profound change in convictions by referring to the famous effect of a story on its listener. "Nathan tells David a story about a rich man, a poor man, and a little lamb; David is enraged; and Nathan springs the trap. Tell someone to do something, and you change their life--for a day; tell someone a story and you change their life. … The subversive story comes close enough to the story already believed by the hearer for a spark to jump between them; and nothing will ever be quite the same again." The New Testament and the People of God, London, SPCK, 1993, p. 40. For some other fascinating studies of the pedagogical and therapeutic influence of stories see: Martha Nussbaum (e.g., The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy, New York, Cambridge University Press, 1986; Love's Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1990; The Therapy of Desire. Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1994) and Wayne C. Booth (e.g., The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1988; The Rhetoric of Fiction, London, Penguin, 1991, 2nd edition). For an insightful and creative overview of current work regarding the ethical effect of stories on their readers see Armando Fumagalli, "Etica & Narrazione," Studi Cattolici, 41 (1997) 585-594 and for a more extensive version see chapter 3 of the forthcoming volume edited by Gianfranco Bettetini and Armando Fumagalli, Etica della comunicazione, Milano, Franco Angeli, 1998.
2. The most influential of these authors is of course Alasdair MacIntyre. See especially After Virtue, London, Duckworth, 1985, 2nd edition.
3. Stanley Hauerwas, 'The Church as God's New Language,' in Scriptural Authority and Narrative Interpretation, edited by Garret Green (Philadelphia, Fortress Press, 1987), pp. 179-98 (p. 188), where he quotes Elie Wiesel's The Gates of the Forest, translated by Frances Frenaye (New York, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1966).
4. Many Thomistic texts affirm the supreme suitability of the Incarnation so that God could perfectly reveal his salvific plan to humanity. For just one of these, see SCG IV.54, n. 3926: "cum beatitudo hominis perfecta in divina fruitione consistat, oportuit affectum hominis ad desiderium divinae fruitionis disponi: sicut videmus homini beatitudinis desiderium naturaliter inesse. Desiderium autem fruitionis alicuius rei ex amore illius rei causatur. Necessarium igitur fuit hominem, ad perfectam beatitudinem tendentem, ad amorem divinum induci. Nihil autem sic ad amorem alicuius nos inducit sicut experimentum illius ad nos. Amor autem Dei ad homines nullo modo efficacius homini potuit demonstrari quam per hoc quod homini uniri voluit in persona: est enim proprium amoris unire amantem cum amato, inquantum possibile est. Necessarium igitur fuit homini, ad beatitudinem perfectam tendenti, quod Deus fieret homo."
5. See Jn 1, 18: "No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father's side, has revealed him." New American Bible. The Vulgate reads: "Deum nemo vidit umquam unigenitus Filius qui est in sinu Patris ipse enarravit." Aquinas comments on the fullness of revelation manifested by the Word Incarnate: "et haec doctrina ideo omnibus aliis doctrinis supereminet dignitate, auctoritate et utilitate, quia ab unigenito filio, qui est prima sapientia, immediate est tradita." (In Ioannem). For an even more detailed commentary on the human mode of revelation by the Incarnate Christ in light of Jn 1, 18, see SCG 4.54.4: "oportuit igitur hominem, ad perfectam certitudinem consequendam de fidei veritate, ab ipso Deo instrui homine facto, ut homo, secundum modum humanum, divinam instructionem perciperet. et hoc est quod dicitur ioan. 1-18: Deum nemo vidit unquam: unigenitus, qui est in sinu Patris, ipse enarravit. et ipse dominus dicit, Ioan. 18-37: 'ego ad hoc natus sum et veni in mundum, ut testimonium perhibeam veritati.' Propter quod videmus post Christi incarnationem evidentius et certius homines in divina cognitione esse instructos: secundum illud Isaiae 11-9: repleta est terra scientia Domini."
6. At least two reasons explain the relative neglect of Thomas's commentary on the Politics. First, Aristotle's political theory generates little interest among most of today's political theorists. Second, since St. Thomas never finished the work, most editions include inauthentic portions, whether from Peter d'Auvergne or Louis of Valence. See John Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas d'Aquin - maître spirituel, it. trans. 383 (Breve catalogo delle opere di san Tommaso).
7. For other Thomistic uses of this Aristotelian adage see: SCG III, 10 In I Post. Anal., proemium, 5, SCG II, 75
8. See Jan Aertsen, Nature and Creature. Thomas Aquinas's Way of Thought, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1988, p. 101 note36: "'Ars' may be translated by the term 'art' as long as its kept in mind that the medieval concept was much broader than the modern, aesthetically qualified concept." See also R. Assunto, Die Theorie des Schönen in Mittelalter Köln, 1963, p. 12.
9. ST, I-II, 57.4. For parallel texts that consider art in the restricted sense of the intellectual habit of the right reason for making things, see In VI Ethic. lect. 3; In I Metaph., lect. 1, 34.
10. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, VI, 4-5.
11. See De Regno, I, ch. 14: "Est tamen praeconsiderandum, quod gubernare est, id quod gubernatur convenienter ad debitum finem perducere."
12. ST, I-II, prologue. See, for example, De Regno, I, ch. 1: "Nam liber est, qui sui causa est; servus autem est, qui id quod est, alterius est. Si igitur liberorum multitudo a regente ad bonum commune multitudinis ordinetur, erit regimen rectum et iustum, quale convenit liberis." See also, Aristotle, Metaphysics, I, 2, 982b26: "for the free man is he who acts for his own sake."
13. In Book Three of the Summa Contra Gentiles, Aquinas furnishes eight reasons in favor of the claim that the human is ordered to himself, or in other words, is an end in himself. (1) Self-dominion is in accord with his intelligent nature (dominium sui actus). (2) The human does not have the instrumental character of other creatures that are ordered to the principal agent for which they act (per se non ab altero agit). (3) The human is free to act or not to act and therefore quite unlike the slave who must act for his master (liber et causa sui). (4) The ultimate end of the universe is to know and to love God, and this may only be achieved within the intellectual nature, and not in any other (Deum sola intellectualis natura consequitur in seipso). (5) The intellectual creatures are the most noble part of the universe (nobiliores sunt intellectuales creaturae). (6) The human being has affinity to the whole of the universe because through his intellect--which is in principle capable of knowing all things--he is in some way all things (quodammodo omnia, in quantum totius entis comprehensiva est suo intellectu). (7) The human being uses all things for himself (omnibus aliis utitur propter se). (8) Being to some extent incorruptible, the intellectual substances come closest to existing always (maxime accedunt ad hoc quod sint semper). (Summa Contra Gentiles, III, ch. 112.) See also ST, I, q. 96, a. 2: "Ratio autem in homine habet locum dominantis, et non subiecti dominio." For recent authoritative church teaching that man is an end in himself, see Gaudium et Spes, #24: "hominem, qui in terris sola creatura est quam Deus propter seipsam voluerit . . .".
14. See: Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1937, The Responsibility of the Artist, New York, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1960, and Creative Intuition in Art and Poetry, New York, Pantheon, 1963; and Umberto Eco, Art and Beauty in the Middle Ages, New Haven, Yale University Press, 1986 (trans. of Sviluppo dell'estetica medievale in Momenti e problemi di storia dell'estetica, vol. 1 Marzatore Editore, 1959) and The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1988 (trans. of Il problema estetico in San Tommaso, Torino, Edizioni di Filosofia, 1956.)
15. Art and Scholasticism, p. 7.
16. The Responsibility of the Artist, p. 22.
17. To describe the lack of overlap between the personal good and the common good of political society, in fashion similar to his defense of the autonomy of art and motivated by comparable comparisons, Jacques Maritain claims that the common good of political society is an "infravalent end," an intermediate, non-absolute end, subordinate to the absolute final end. To explain this subordination of the political to the ultimate, and therefore to create space to defend the individual from the potential threat of a suffocating regime, he uses the example of a runner who dedicates all of himself in the race, but not with all of his aspects and all of his aims. The example betrays the hidden tension within Maritain's political thought, a tension which he explicitly rejected but could not avoid between the individual and the person. Maritain seems not to have noticed that, because of the limited nature of athletic competition, the runner does not apply all of his faculties to the race, whereas the citizen should apply his whole self, with all of his capabilities, to the life of his community. Even when home alone, the individual ought to responsibly exercise virtue for the sake of the community. Aquinas protects the individual from the potentially suffocating domination of the political regime by indicating that when the regime makes unjust demands upon the individual he is not obliged in conscience to satisfy them. But for Thomas, the citizen may at times be excused from satisfaction of civil law, not because he extracts himself from the community, but because his aim is to fully serve the community insofar (and only insofar) as the community is directed towards its true end. See Jacques Maritain, True Humanism, trans. by M. R. Adamson, (London: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1938), p. 127.
18. See The Responsibility of the Artist, p. 22 and Jeanne M. Heffernan, "Art: A Political Good?", in Art, Beauty, and the Polis, ed. Alice Ramos, Washington, D.C., American Maritain Association, 2000, pp. 260-268.
19. Eco, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, pp. 184, 186, and 187.
20. Eco, The Aesthetics of Thomas Aquinas, pp. 183-184. John Finnis in Aquinas: Social, Political and Legal Theory, (Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1997) also refers to the prologue of the Politics to indicate that art includes voluntary action within the polis.
21. Aertsen, Nature and Creature. Thomas Aquinas's Way of Thought, p. 100. Aertsen here claims that A. Mansion's Introduction à la physique aristotélicienne, p. 229, n. 7, proposes an interpretation of the Aristotelian adage such that it would merely serve a pedagogical purpose.
22. Nature and Creature, p. 100.
23. See John Paul II, Letter to Artists, nn. 1-2: "God therefore called man into existence, committing to him the craftsman's task. Through his 'artistic creativity' man appears more than ever 'in the image of God,' and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous "material" of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him. Not all are called to be artists in the specific sense of the term. Yet, as Genesis has it, all men and women are entrusted with the task of crafting their own life: in a certain sense, they are to make of it a work of art, a masterpiece.
It is important to recognize the distinction, but also the connection, between these two aspects of human activity. The distinction is clear. It is one thing for human beings to be the authors of their own acts, with responsibility for their moral value; it is another to be an artist, able, that is, to respond to the demands of art and faithfully to accept art's specific dictates."
24. See, for example, xlii. In De Div. Nom., chap. 1, lect. 3, 94: "An effect is most perfect when it returns to its source; thus...circular motion (is) the most perfect of all motions, because in their case a return is made to the starting point. It is therefore necessary that creatures return to their principle in order that the universe of creatures may attain its ultimate perfection." I follow Jean-Pierre Torrell's description of a modified neo-Platonic exitus-reditus scheme in Thomas's thought. Thomas's view of creation combines the circular, pagan, neo-Platonic model with the linear Augustinian model. For Aquinas all creatures proceed from a free and loving God and are ordered to Him as their end. Their exitus and their reditus are irrepeatable. See Jean-Pierre Torrell, Saint Thomas d'Aquin - maître spirituel, pp. 68-71 (L'alfa e l'omega) and ch. 8, and for a more detailed analysis Inos Biffi, Teologia, Storia e Contemplazione, pp. 232-312, ch. 6: "Il piano della Summa theologiae e la teologia come scienza e come storia."
25. The earliest use I know of this term is in Paul Ricoeur's, Time and Narrative, vol. 1, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1984, 31-51.
26. Jean Guitton, Le Temps et l'Eternité chez Plotin et saint Augustin, Paris, Vrin, 1933.
27. "Ego certe, domine, laboro hic et laboro in me ipso: factus sum mihi terra difficultatis et sudoris nimii. neque enim nunc scrutamur plagas caeli, aut siderum intervalla demetimur, vel terrae liberamenta quaerimus: ego sum, qui memini, ego animus."
28. See, for instance, St. Augustine, Confessions, X.22.32: "ipsa est beata vita, gaudere de te, ad te, propter te: ipsa est et non est altera. Qui autem aliam putant esse, aliud sectantur gaudium. Neque ipsum verum. Ab aliqua tamen imagine gaudii voluntas eorum non avertitur." And X.28.39: "Cum inhaesero tibi ex omni me, nusquam erit mihi dolor et labor, et viva erit vita mea tota plena te."
29. See Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, p. 33 and Aristotle, Poetics, 1447a2 and 1450a15.
30. See Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, I, 238 note 8, "For Aristotle, imitation is an activity and one that teaches us something." Ricoeur goes on to comment that with the Poetics Aristotle responds to Plato's anti-artistic Book X of the Republic, where he remarks that artistic imitation is merely concerned with that which is "thrice removed from the truth".
31. See Poetics, 50b23-25: "tragedy is an imitation of an action that is whole [holos] and complete in itself [teleios] and of a certain magnitude [megethos]."
32. See Aristotle, Poetics, "the poet should be a maker of plots more than a maker of verse, in that he is a poet by virtue of his imitation and he imitates actions. So even if on occasion he take real events as the subject of a poem, he is none the less a poet, since nothing prevents some of the things that have actually happened from being of the sort that might probably or possibly happen, and it is in accordance with this that he is their poet." (Poetics, 51b27-32)
33. Wayne Booth uses a slightly different but partially overlapping terminology. Booth distinguishes between dramatized and undramatized narrators. The dramatic narration to which I refer is even more dramatized than Booth's dramatized narrator. Of course, Booth allows for actions that are narrative in content. He refers, for instance, to "narrator-agents". But for his purposes he maintains a separation between narrators and protagonists. See The Rhetoric of Fiction, 2nd edition, Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1983, ch. VI "Types of Narration".
34. Louis Mink, "History and Fiction as Modes of Comprehension," New Literary History 1 (1970), p. 557f, where Mink also asserts: "Stories are not lived but told."
35. White Hayden, "The Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality," in On Narrative, ed. W.J.T. Mitchell, Chicago, 1981, p. 23. See also: Seymour Chatman's Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film, Ithaca, 1978, where he affirms that the beginning-middle-end structure applies only "to the narrative, to the story-events as narrated, rather than to . . . actions themselves, simply because such terms are meaningless in the real world."
36. See, for instance, David Carr, "Narrative and the Real World: An Argument for Continuity," History and Theory 25 (1986) p. 117. "narrative is not merely a possibly successful way of describing events; its structure inheres in the events themselves." See also Carr's more substantial Time, Narrative and History, Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press, 1986 and, of course, the work of Alasdair MacIntyre.
37. Poetics, 6a16-22.
38. The New Testament and the People of God, London, SPCK, 1993, pp. 109-110.
39. See Alasdair MacIntyre's, After Virtue, 204: "a quest is always an education both as to the character of that which is sought and in self-knowledge." See also his "Epistemological Crisis, Dramatic Narrative, and the Philosophy of Science," The Monist, 60 (1977) 455: "To be unable to render oneself intelligible is to risk being taken to be mad, is, if carried far enough, to be mad. And madness or death may always be the outcomes which prevent the resolution of an epistemological crisis."
40. ST, I-II, 89.6: "Sed primum quod tunc homini cogitandum occurrit, est deliberare de seipso. Et si quidem seipsum ordinaverit ad debitum finem, per gratiam consequetur remissionem originalis peccati."
41. ST, I-II, 89.6.3: "primum enim quod occurrit homini discretionem habenti est quod de seipso cogitet, ad quem alia ordinet sicut ad finem, finis enim est prior in intentione." Emplotment is a life-long task, even the life-long task. As David Carr writes on p. 125 of "Narrative and the Real World: An Argument for Continuity": "we are constantly striving, with more or less success, to occupy the story-tellers' position with respect to our own lives. Lest this be thought merely a far-fetched metaphor, consider how important, in the reflective and deliberative process, is the activity of literally telling, to others and to ourselves, what we are doing. . . . narrative activity, even apart from its social role, is a constitutive part of action, and not just an embellishment, commentary, or other incidental accompaniment."
42. Book I, ch. 2, 1094a.
43. Plato, Republic, trans. Benjamin Jowett, Book X.
44. Plato, Republic, Book X.
45. ST, I.35.2.3: "imago alicuius dupliciter in aliquo invenitur. Uno modo, in re eiusdem naturae secundum speciem, ut imago regis invenitur in filio suo. alio modo, in re alterius naturae, sicut imago regis invenitur in denario. Primo autem modo, Filius est imago Patris, Secundo autem modo dicitur homo imago Dei. Et ideo ad designandam in homine imperfectionem imaginis, homo non solum dicitur imago, sed ad imaginem, per quod motus quidam tendentis in perfectionem designatur. Sed de Filio Dei non potest dici quod sit ad imaginem, Quia est perfecta Patris imago."
46. Saint Thomas d'Aquin - maître spirituel, see for example: ch. 5 sections entitled (in Italian trans.) "Imitare Dio imitando Cristo" and "Vi ho dato l'esempio" and ch. 6 "La conformità a Cristo" and ch. 14 "Il modello di tutte le perfezioni."
47. In Ionannem 13, 15, lect. 3, n. 1781.
48. ST, I-II.34.1: "in operationibus enim et passionibus humanis, in quibus experiential plurimum valet, magis movent exempla quam verba."
49. Thomas supplies various formulations of the dictum that Christ teaches by example. "Christi actio fuit nostra instructio." "Christus proponebatur hominibus in exemplum omnium." And "cuncta quae Dominus fecit vel in carne passus est, documenta et exempla sunt salutaria." See Torrell p. 138, note 49 for bibliography.
50. See In Ioannem 13.15, lect. 3, n. 1781.
51. Contemporary moral philosophers are careful to notice that to be worthy of honor presupposes accountability and responsibility for one's actions. Accountability, a necessary feature of moral agency, requires awareness of authorship of one's actions within a causal sequence which is nothing other than narrative self-awareness. Moral responsibility also entails membership in a community such that one is aware of the duty to respond to the community, or the authoritative members of the community, regarding one's free actions. As MacIntyre wrote in After Virtue: "To be the subject of a narrative that runs from one's birth to one's death is . . . to be accountable for the actions and experiences which compose a narrative life. It is . . to be open to being asked to give a certain kind of account of what one did or what happened to one."(202, ND edition)
52. Alice Ramos, "Human Dignity and Human Action," forthcoming in Acta Philosophica, 2001. See also De Ver., q. 1, a. 8: "ars est mensura omnium artificiatorum."
53. The instrument of narrative could be used to integrate the many elements of Thomas's spiritual theology delineated by Torrell in his second volume on Thomas, Saint Thomas d'Aquin - maître spirituel. The integration of these elements within a narrative theology would allow them to illuminate one another more effectively.
54. In A Father Who Keeps His Promises. God's Covenant Love in Scripture (Charis Books, 1998), and with greater scholarly precision in an unpublished paper, Scott Hahn supplies convincing argumentation to show that the Treatise on Law needs to be appreciated in its entirety. Questions 98-103 need to be read along with 90-97. The history of revelation is a story told by God through his providential actions. The divine pedagogy of the people of Israel is a history accessible to natural reason and can nourish fruitful philosophical reflection.
55. See Alice Ramos, "Aquinas and the Platonic Theme of Measure," Summer Thomistic Institute 2000, forthcoming with St. Augustine Press and her "Beauty, Mind, and the Universe," in Art, Beauty, and the Polis, ed. Alice Ramos, Washington, D.C., American Maritain Association, 2000, pp. 70-84.
56. I am indebted to many scholars who made suggestions to earlier versions of this paper and to papers that I delivered on related topics at the St. John's University and at the John Paul II Institute of the Lateran University. Especially helpful were suggestions made by Scott Hahn, Stephen Brock, David Gallagher, Alice Ramos, and Iñaki Yarza.
57. a. 5, obj. 3
58. See Ralph McInerny, Characters in Search of Their Author, Notre Dame, University of Notre Dame Press, 2001.