Jacques Maritain Center : Elements of Moral Theology



§ 1. What is man's ultimate end?

Man, as a free and rational agent, directs his actions for the attainment of some end.

Those actions are properly human which are characteristic of man as man. Now he differs from irrational creatures in having lordship of his acts. Such acts are properly human. But man is lord of his acts through reason and free will, whereby he chooses to do what he does. Other acts of his may be called actions of a man, but they are not properly human, since they do not proceed from that deliberate will which is characteristic of man as man. And since every power is directed to its appropriate object, and the object of the will is some end, some good, it is evident that human acts are for the attainment of some end. This end may be last in execution, but it is first in the agent's intention. It is therefore called the final cause.

The very action itself may be the ultimate end, but still it is voluntary. The human power called the Will may produce something objective to itself, as walking or talking for some remoter end; or it may will the action for its own sake. Then this action is the end which the will aims at.

To act for an end is peculiar to a rational creature direcling self towards that end.

Every agent in the universe in acting is directed towards some end. Otherwise, it would no more produce any one result than any other. In order that it shall produce a determined result it must have a direction (from without or from within) towards that result. But in a rational being this is done by that rational seeking of an end which is called the Will. An action or motion may tend to its end from either of two causes either because the agent moves itself towards that end, as our consciousness informs us that man does; or because it is directed by another, as an arrow moves towards the mark. Rational beings move themselves towards the end, because, through free choice, they have lordship over their own actions.

This then is peculiar to a rational being, for if the brute has not this power, he may apprehend the immediate end of his actions, but he does not, properly speaking, move himself towards it, nor know the ultimate end. Some other and a rational being is needed to direct the brute towards that ultimate end. He may, and doubtless does, seek some particular good for himself; but the notion of the good in general as the object of action he has no power to comprehend.

Human acts are moral acts.

As such they differ in kind according to the ultimate end aimed at. For this is prior in intention. Each act, indeed, is directed to some immediate end which determines the species of act. But the same specific act, the killing of a man, for example, may be directed to various remoter ends. And these remoter ends will determine the moral character of the act as good or bad.

There is an ultimate end in human action.

The end directly sought may have a remoter end for which it is the means; but it is impossible that there should be regress of this kind ad infinitum. In such a chain if you take away the first link, you annul all that follow. In ends there is a two-fold order: that of intention, and that of execution; and in both there must be a first. That which is first in intention is the mover of the desire for all, that follows from it. Take away this, and that desire is moved by nothing. The first in execution is that from which operation begins. Take that away, and no one begins to do anything. But the ultimate end is that which is first in intention; other things are willed only as means to attaining this. And the first in execution is the first of those means to attaining the end desired. On neither side is it possible to proceed ad infinitum. For if there were no ultimate end nothing would be sought, no action determined to an end, no aim would rest in anything. And, on the other hand, if there were no first in the means used, no one would begin to do anything, no plan would be determined in any direction.

All this is true, however, of a connected order only. Where there is none, there may be an indefinite number of aims or means.

One man can make, at one time, only one thing his ultimate end,

Because each one seeks that as his ultimate end which is for him the perfect good that rounds up and completes his nature. This is for him his good. It fills up his desire and leaves nothing more to be sought for. Therefore there cannot be two such objects of desire. Men may seek at once pleasure, rest, goods of nature, virtue; but all these as going to make up that one perfect good which is the ultimate end.

All things which man seeks for, he seeks on account of the ultimate end,

Because whatever man seeks for he seeks as good, if not as the perfect good which is his ultimate end, yet as tending towards that. It is not necessary that that ultimate good should be consciously in the mind at the time, but its power remains in every desire. So it is not necessary that he who is going anywhere by a road, should at every step think of the end of his journey.

Do all men seek the same ultimate end?

The question admits of two answers. If we have in mind the (subjective) idea of that end, since all seek their perfection, all agree in seeking one end. But if we speak (objectively) of that in which the notion of such perfection is found, by no means do all agree, since some make riches the perfect good, others, pleasure, and so on. So tastes differ, though all like the agreeable. Even in sinning, man seeks a seeming good. Different courses of life result from men's finding their ultimate good in different objects.

§ 2. What is beatitude?

Is it any created thing?

Our term, "the end," is equivocal, since it may mean either the thing which we desire to obtain, or the getting, the possession, use, or enjoyment of that thing.

Thus the avaricious may desire money simply for itself; the ambitious, the pleasure-seeker, for what it gives. In the first sense, the ultimate end of every man is uncreated good, even God, because He only, by His infinite goodness, can perfectly satisfy our will. But in the other sense, the ultimate end of man is something created, and existing in himself, sc., the obtaining and the fruition of that ultimate end. Men obtain beatitude by participation in the perfect beatitude of God.

Beatitude is perfect activity.

For it is the final perfection of man. But nothing is perfect in which any power remains in purely potential existence. Beatitude, indeed, is said to be eternal life (Rom. vi. 22); but life, in this sense of the word, is not mere existence; it is the fulfilment of the operations of life (S. John, xvii. 3). Such operations of the inward life are thinking, feeling, willing. Such can constitute beatitude.

Perfect beatitude is not to be found in this life; for that activity of the soul in which man may find some imperfect union with his heavenly Father cannot be uninterrupted union. There may be some participation of beatitude, but its fulness can only be found where there is one, continuous, uninterrupted union with God.

This beatitude has not its seat in the sensitive nature, sc., in the feelings and sensations by which we now attain to intellectual truth. Its seat is in spiritual reason and holy will. Yet true it is that in the resurrection this perfect beatitude may overflow into the lower parts of the perfected human nature. It is the vision of God, of which S. John spoke (1 Ep. iii. 2). This leaves nothing more to be desired and sought for. And it is reason's highest flight and final rest to know the first cause, the source of all that is.

What are the conditions of this beatitude?

(1) Joy is caused by the rest of desire in the good obtained; therefore beatitude cannot exist without the concomitant spiritual pleasure.

(2) Three things must concur in perfect beatitude, viz., perfect vision, which is perfect knowledge of the end of reason; comprehension of the object of vision, which implies its presence in the soul; fruition, which is perfect delight in the object of love known and possessed.

(3) Rectitude of will is required both antecedently and concomitantly. The first, because attaining to the end implies a due order of the will with reference to that end, and the means of reaching it; the second, because the will of one who sees God necessarily loves whatever he loves in its relations to God (Heb. xii. 14).

§ 3. On the obtaining of this beatitude.

It is the obtaining of perfect good.

Man is capable of this perfect good, for his spiritual reason can comprehend it, and his will can seek it; not perfectly under present conditions indeed, but when he has attained to the perfection of the supernatural life for which he was created.

Since beatitude is perfect and sufficient good it must exclude all evil, and satisfy all desire.

In this life all evil cannot be excluded; ignorance, inordinate affections, bodily pains all stand in the way. Neither can all desire be satisfied. For man naturally desires permanence of the good which he possesses; but the goods of this life are transitory; and so is life itself, while man naturally shuns death. Therefore perfect beatitude cannot be found in this life.

If we consider, again, that in which beatitude peculiarly consists, sc., the vision of God, of which man is in this life capable, the conclusion will be the same. In this life man can only rejoice in hope of it or in some imperfect participation of it.

This beatitude can never be lost.

For, (1) it satisfies all desire, and excludes all evil. But man naturally desires to keep the good which he has, and he cannot be perfectly happy if he thinks that he may lose it. Or if, again, he is deluded by false opinion that he will never lose it, that false opinion is itself an evil, while perfect beatitude excludes every evil.

And (2) this vision of God so satisfies the soul, is so perfectly free from every drawback to felicity, that the blessed cannot wish to lose it; God will not withdraw it, which would be penalty for fault; neither has anything the power to withdraw the soul from this vision. Man is made to participate in the eternity of God, finding his own destiny in this everlasting beatitude (S. Matt. xxv. 46).

Man, by his natural powers, cannot acquire beatitude.

For its perfection is found in the vision of God; but this is above the nature of every creature. Its natural cognition is after the manner of its being. But the Divine essence infinitely exceeds every created substance; therefore no creature can by its natural powers obtain this ultimate beatitude. It is indeed the end of man; but in this, as in other respects, man, having free will, is to use that in turning to the One who alone can make him perfectly happy. The greatness of the end makes him exalted above those irrational creatures which can attain their end, so much lower than his, by their own natural powers.

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