Moral Philosophy

WE assume in Natural Law the preceding treatise on Ethics, and also the principal truths of Natural Theology.

Chapter I. Of Duties of God.

Section I. -- Of the Worship of God.

1. Worship is divided into Prayer and Praise. To pray, and present our petitions to the Most High, is a privilege; a privilege, however, which we are bound to use at times, as the necessary means for overcoming temptations and inclinations to evil. We praise and adore God for His sovereign excellence, which excellence, nevertheless, would found in us no positive duty if we stood free of all dependence upon God. In such an hypothesis we should lie simply under the negative duty of not thinking of God, speaking of Him, or acting towards Him otherwise than with all reverence. So we should behave to the Great Stranger, with civility, with admiration even and awe, but not with cordiality, not with loyalty, not with homage, not with love. Very different are our relations and our duties to God our Lord, "in whom we live, move, and have our being." There is nothing in us or about us, no positive perfection of ours whatsoever, that is not His gift, and a gift that He is not giving continually, else it would be lost to us. We are therefore bound in His regard, not merely to abstention but to act. And first, for inward acts, we must habitually feel, and at notable intervals we must actually elicit, sentiments of adoration and praise, of thanksgiving, of submission, of loyalty and love, as creatures to their Creator, and as vassals to their very good Lord, for He is our Creator and Lord in the natural order, not to say anything here of the supernatural filiation, by which, as the Church says, "we dare" to call God "Our Father."

2. We must also express these sentiments by outward act. All the signs of reverence, which man pays to his human superior, must be paid to God "with advantages": bowing passes into prostration, uncovering the head into kneeling, kissing the hand into offering of incense : not that these particular developments are necessary, but some such development must take place. We shall not be content to think reverential thoughts, but we shall say, or even sing, great things of God's greatness and our indebtedness and duty: such a vocal exercise is psalmody. We shall represent in symbolic action our dependence on the Lord of life and death, and also our sinfulness, for which He might justly strike us dead: such a representation is sacrifice.

3. All this we must do, first, for the sake of our own souls, minds and hearts, to quicken the inward sentiment of adoration and praise. "Worship, mostly of the silent sort," worship, that finds no expression in word or gesture, -- worship away from pealing organs and chants of praise, or the simpler music of the human voice, where no hands are uplifted, nor tongues loosened, nor posture of reverence assumed, becomes with most mortals a vague, aimless reverie, a course of distraction, dreaminess, and vacancy of mind, no more worth than the meditations of the Lancashire stone breaker, who was asked what he thought of during his work, -- "Mostly nowt."

4. Again, what the body is to the soul, that is exterior devotion to interior. From the soul interior devotion springs, and through the body it manifests itself. Exterior devotion, without the inward spirit that quickens it, is worship unprofitable and dead: it tends at once to corruption, like the body when the soul has left it. Interior devotion, on the other hand, can exist, though not with its full complement, without the exterior. So that it is only in the union of the two together that perfect worship is given to God by men as men. Upon which St. Thomas has this naive remark, that "they who blame bodily observances being paid to God, evidently fail to remember that they, themselves are men,"

Thus we pay tithe to God for soul and body, by acts of religion interior and exterior. But man is, under God, the lord of this earth and of the fulness thereof. He must pay tithe for that too by devoting some portion of it to the direct service of God, to whom it all primarily belongs. For "mine is the gold and mine the silver." (Aggeus ii. 9.) Such are the words that God spoke through His prophet to incite His people to restore his sanctuary.

6. It is therefore not true to say that the sole reason of outward worship is to move the worshipper to interior devotion. It is not true that St. Peter's at Rome, and Cologne Cathedral, and the Duomo of Milan, with all their wealth and elaborate ceremonial, exist and are kept up solely because, things of earth as we are, we cannot be depended upon to praise God lovingly within the white-washed walls of a conventicle, or according to the simple ritual of the Society of Friends. We would not, even if we could, pray habitually among such surroundings, where we could afford to better them. We have before us the principle of St. Thomas (1a 2ae, q. 24, art. 3, in corp.):

"Since man's good consists in reason as in its root, the more actions proper to man are performed under the direction of reason, the more perfect will man's good be. Hence no one doubts that it belongs to the perfection of moral good, that the actions of our bodily members should be directed by the law of reason, . . . as also that the passions of the soul should be regulated by reason."

This means, not merely that if the bodily members or the passions stir at all, it is a good and desirable thing for them to be ruled by reason; but further that it is a positive addition to human perfection that they should stir and be active, provided reason guide them. (Ethics, C. iv., s. i., n. 6, p. 45.) It certainly is an action proper to man to express in gesture, in voice, in concert and company with his fellow-men, and by employment of whatever is best and fairest and brightest under his command in the material creation, his inward affections of loyalty, of homage and devotion, of awe and reverence, of gratitude and love to his Creator. Good as these affections are in the heart of the worshipper, they receive an external complement of goodness and perfection by being blazoned forth in vocal utterance, singing, bending of knees, by the erection and embellishment of temples, and offerings of gold, silver, precious stones, and incense, and by men thronging those temples in multitudes for social worship, provided always that the inward devotion of the heart be there, to put a soul into these outward demonstrations and offerings.

7. Concerning these religious observances interior and exterior, it is as idle to pretend that they are useful to Almighty God as it is irrelevant to object that they are useless to Him. Of course they are useless to Him. All creation is useless to God. A Being who can never receive any profit, increment or gain, dwells not within the region of utilities. Theologians indeed distinguish between intrinsic and extrinsic glory, that is, between the glory which God gives Himself by His own contemplation of ,n of His own essence, and the glory which His creatures give Him. They say that God is thus capable of extrinsic increment, to which increment the praise and worship of His creatures is useful. But, after all, they are fain to avow that the whole of this extrinsic increment and glory is no real gain to God, giving Him nothing but what He had before in an infinitely more excellent mode and manner from and of Himself. Thus it appears that the extrinsic glory of God, to which the worship paid Him by man contributes, is valued, not because it is properly useful to Him, but because He is most properly and highly worthy of it. "Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honour and power: because thou hast created all things, and for thy will they were, and have been created." (Apoc. iv. 11.) And being worthy of this glory, He wills to have it, and does most strictly exact it, for which reason He is called in the Scripture a Jealous God. So those who reflect some sparkle of God's Majesty, and under some aspect represent His person upon the earth, as do princes, lay and ecclesiastical, have many observances of honour and respect paid to them, which are not useful as supplying a need -- for who needs a salute of twenty-one guns? Nevertheless their dignity is worthy of them, and they require them accordingly.

8. What man feels strongly, he expresses in word and action. What all men feel strongly, they express by meeting together for the purpose. So that, if strong religious feeling is an element in every good and reasonable man's character, it is bound to find expression, and that a social expression. Men must worship together according to some external form and ritual. God may reveal what He wills that ritual to be. In fact He did give such a revelation and prescription to the Jews. To Christians He has spoken in His Son, and still speaks in His Church. Any other than the one sacrifice that He has instituted, or any other public religious ritual than is approved by the religious authority which he has established, is to Him of itself, and apart from the invincibly erroneous devotion of them that pay it, an abomination: for He has "not chosen it." Still we cannot say that, in every possible state of things, God is bound to reveal the ritual that He desires, or is bound Himself to designate the authority that shall fix the ritual which alone He will accept and allow of. If the will of God is not thus expressed, a ritual must still be drawn up. In a matter that excites the mind, as religion does, and where a large field is open for hallucination and eccentricity, it will not do to have individuals parading methods of worship of their own invention. Here the Greek maxim comes in, tima to daimonion kata ta patria, "honour the Deity after the fashion of thy country." Religious authorities must be set up, in the same way that the civil power is set up. These authorities will determine, not the object, but the outward manner of worship. Every great nation, or important member of the human family, would come probably to have its own characteristic rite; and within each rite there would be local varieties.

Readings. -- St. Thos., Contra Gentiles, iii., 119; 2a 2ae q. 81, art. 4, in corp.; ib., q. 81, art~. 7 ib., q. 84, art. 2: ib., q. 85, art. i, in corp., ad I, 3; ib., q. 91.

Section II. -- Of Superstitious Practices.

1. Superstition is the abuse of religion. It is superstition, either to worship false gods, or to worship the true God with unauthorized rites, or to have dealings with wicked spirits, whether those spirits have once animated human bodies or not. Of the first head, the only avowed instance within our civilization is the Positivist worship of the Great Being, that is, of the collective Worthies of Humanity, if indeed it amounts to worship. The second head might have been meditated by Archbishop Cranmer with advantage, when he was drawing up the Edwardine Ordinal. Under the third head comes Spiritualism, which we shall here not discuss in detail, but merely indicate certain principles upon which it must be judged.

2. "There is nothing superstitious or unlawful in simply applying natural agencies to the production of certain effects, of which they are supposed to be naturally capable. . . . We must consider whether there is a fair appearance of the cause being able to produce the effect naturally. If there is, the experiment will not be unlawful: for it is lawful to use natural causes in order to their proper effects." (2a 2ae, q. 96, art. 2, in corp., ad 1.) But this we must understand under two provisos. First, that the fair appearance spoken of be not opposed by a considerable force of evidence, whether of authority or of reason, tending the other way: for in this matter, which is not a mere matter of legality, it is not permissible to run risks of becoming familiar with God's enemies. Secondly, that the cause, though natural, be not morally prejudicial. Not even a natural cause, brandy for instance, may be used to all its effects. Thus for the mesmeric sleep, though that should be proved to be purely natural, yet the weakening of the will thence ensuing, and the almost irresistible dominion acquired by the operator over his patient, render it imperative that such a remedy should not be applied without grave necessity, and under an operator of assured moral character.

3. St. Thomas continues in the place last quoted: "Wherefore, if there is no fair appearance of the causes employed being able to produce such effects, it needs must be that they are not employed to the causation of these effects as causes, but only as signs, and thus they come under the category of preconcerted signals arranged with evil spirits."

The modern Spiritualist is only too forward to avow his understanding with the unseen powers; but he will have it that the spirits that he deals with are good and harmless. We must prove the spirits by the general effects of their communications -- whether they be in accordance with the known laws of morality, and the assured teachings of religion, natural and revealed. Also we must consider, from what we know from approved sources concerning God, and I-lis holy angels, and the spirits of the just, either already made perfect, or still suffering for a time, whether they are likely to respond to such signs as Spiritualists commonly employ. Also we must not ignore, what revelation tells us, of an "enemy," a "father of lies," who "changes himself into an angel of light," and who is ever ready, so far as it is permitted him, to eke out curiosity, folly, and credulity, such as he found in Eve.

Readings. -- St. Thos., 2a 2ae, q. 93; ib., q. 95, art. 4, in corp.

Section III. -- Of the duty of knowing God.

1. Religious worship is bound to its object, and cannot possibly be fixed in the hearts of men and the institutions of society, if the object be doubtful and fluctuating. False religion has often been set off with elaborate and gorgeous ceremonial, which has been kept up even after the performers had come to see in all that light and lustre a mere vain and unsubstantial show. Such were the rites of Roman polytheism, as enacted by augurs and pontiffs, the colleagues of Cicero and Caesar. But though that worship was maintained, and even augmented, for political purposes, without a creed, yet never could it have arisen without some creed, however mistaken, earnestly held of, old. A firm interior conviction is the starting-point of all outward worship. But if the modern living worshipper is without creed and conviction; if he be a scoffer at heart, or at least a doubter; what a hollow, horrid skeleton thing is his religion, -- all the more horrid, the grander its dress, that is not worship, but mummery.

2. If then to worship God is a duty, as we have proved, it is a duty likewise to know God. This supposes that God is knowable, a fact which it does not lie within the province of this work to prove. To an unknown God, all the worship we could render would be to build Him an altar, without priest, prayer, or sacrifice, and so leave Him in His solitude. God is knowable by the manifestation of His works (Rom. 1. 19); and where He is pleased to speak, by the revelation of His word. Apart from revelation -- and, under a certain order of Providence, God might have left us without revelation -- we should study our Creator as He is made manifest in the world around us, in the existence of perishable things, in the order of the universe, in the region of things eternally possible and knowable, in moral truths, in the mental life and conscience of man. Philosophy would be our guide in the search after God. Men with less leisure or ability for speculation would acquiesce in the pronouncements of philosophers on things divine; and, in the hypothesis which we are contemplating, Providence would doubtless arrange for the better agreement and harmony of philosophers among themselves. Their trumpet would not send forth so uncertain a blast, were that the instrument, in the counsels of God, whereby the whole duty of religion was to be regulated. As it is, we know better than philosophy could teach us: for God hath spoken in His Son.

Readings. -- C. Gent., 1., 4; 1a 2ae, q. 91, art. 4, in corp.

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