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In this context, Catholic health care institutions need to be concerned about the danger of scandal in any association with abortion providers. Later in the document, indirect abortion is described, but the term 'indirect abortion' is not used. There is currently a contentious debate in the public sphere among Catholics about the role of intention in determining the moral object of an act.

But there should be no such debate. For this point of doctrine is not an open question. Veritatis Splendor and the CCC plainly teach that there are three fonts of morality: 1. The second font is not the moral object by itself, but the chosen act, with its inherent moral meaning i. The circumstances are evaluated by the moral weight of the reasonably anticipated good and bad consequences of the act.


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Now the intention is grounded in the subject, the person who acts. A person can choose from any of various possible intentions for any act. The intention is not grounded in the act, but in the person who acts. Of course, a person will generally choose an act that he believes will accomplish his purpose. But it is to be observed that a wide range of intended ends accompany the acts of human persons. By comparison, the moral object is grounded in the act chosen by the person.

A person can choose from any of various possible acts. Each act has one or more moral objects, inherent to the nature of the act. Each act is intrinsically ordered toward a type of end, an end in terms of morality, which is its moral object. This inherent ordering of an act toward its moral object is the moral nature of the act. It is not possible for a person to choose an act, and not be morally responsible for the nature of that act as determined by its moral object.

Example: A physician chooses an act of euthanasia for the purpose intended end of relieving all suffering of his patient. He protests that his chosen act is not murder, that murder is repugnant to him, and that he intends only the relief of suffering. But his good intended end is unable to change the moral nature of the act that he has chosen. Even though he chooses an act of murder as a means, not as an end, and even though he chooses that act of murder for a good intended end, the relief of suffering, the chosen act remains the same.

Euthanasia is a type of murder, just as abortion is a type of murder. And he has intentionally chosen that type of act. The act chosen by the human person is an intentionally chosen act. The will chooses an intended end, and the will intentionally chooses an act, and these choices are made in the knowledge of the consequences of the act.

The will is the source of all three fonts, but in different ways. If the will were the source of each font in the same way, then each font would be identical, in other words, there would be only one font. And this is the common error found today in many persons' understanding of intention and moral object.

They treat the role of the will in the second font as if it were the same as the role of the will in the first font.

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To the contrary, in the first font, the will chooses an intended end, but in the second font, the will chooses a type of act. And that act inherently possesses its own end. The will cannot change the end that is intrinsic to any particular type of act. All that the will can do, if one type of act is intrinsically evil, is to choose a different type of act, one with a good moral object rather than an evil moral object.

Neither can the intended end or the circumstances, individually or together, change the moral object at all. The moral object is independent of intention and circumstances: Pope John Paul II: "If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it.

They remain 'irremediably' evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person…. Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act 'subjectively' good or defensible as a choice. Catechism of the Catholic Church: "It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.

There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. Prior to Veritatis Splendor and the CCC and other magisterial documents, perhaps one might have argued that these ideas about the three fonts of morality were the common opinion of theologians, of classical moralists, but not doctrine.

However, Veritatis Splendor is exceedingly clear and definitive in presenting these truths as doctrine: Pope John Paul II: "The doctrine of the object as a source of morality represents an authentic explicitation of the Biblical morality of the Covenant and of the commandments, of charity and of the virtues. The moral quality of human acting is dependent on this fidelity to the commandments, as an expression of obedience and of love.

For this reason - we repeat - the opinion must be rejected as erroneous which maintains that it is impossible to qualify as morally evil according to its species the deliberate choice of certain kinds of behavior or specific acts, without taking into account the intention for which the choice was made or the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned. Without the rational determination of the morality of human acting as stated above, it would be impossible to affirm the existence of an "objective moral order" and to establish any particular norm the content of which would be binding without exception.

This would be to the detriment of human fraternity and the truth about the good, and would be injurious to ecclesial communion as well. Since all of the above is clear and definitive doctrine, why do so many magisterial documents use words such as 'intention', 'deliberate', 'voluntary' when speaking of intrinsic evil? There are two reasons. First, a sinful act always includes all three fonts of morality.

And so, in describing an intrinsically evil sin, the Magisterium may well include intention and circumstances in the description. For example, euthanasia is murder with the intention of relieving all suffering. What sense does it make to speak of a good citizen in a bad regime?

One does not need to consider the worst sorts of regimes to see the difficulty inherent in achieving good citizenship. In any regime that is less than perfect there always remains the possibility that promoting the interests of the regime and promoting the common good may not be the same. In other words, only in the best regime do the good citizen and the good human being coincide Commentary on the Politics , Book 3, Lecture 3 [].

In fact, even the best regime will fall short of producing a multitude of good citizens, since no society exists where everyone is virtuous Commentary on the Politics , Book 3, Lecture 3 []. But what is the best regime? Following Aristotle, Aquinas argues that all regimes can be divided into six basic types, which are determined according to two criteria: how the regime is ruled and whether or not it is ruled justly that is, for the common good.

As he explains, political rule may be exercised by the multitude, by a select few, or by one person.

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If the regime is ruled justly, it is called a monarchy or kingship when ruled by one single individual, an aristocracy when ruled by a few, and a polity or republic when ruled by the multitude. If, on the other hand, a regime is ruled unjustly that is, for the sake of the ruler s and not for the common weal , it is called a tyranny when ruled by one, an oligarchy when ruled by a few, and a democracy when ruled by the multitude On Kingship , Book 1, Chapter 1; Commentary on the Politics , Book 3, Lecture 6 []. Simply Stated, the best regime is monarchy. Aquinas' argument for this is drawn from a mixture of philosophical and theological observations.

Inasmuch as the goal of any ruler should be the "unity of peace," the regime is better governed by one person rather than by many. For this end is much more efficaciously secured by a single wise authority who is not burdened by having to deliberate with others who may be less wise and who may stand in the way of effective governance. In this sense, therefore, the less perfect regimes tend to imitate monarchy in which unanimity of rule is realized at once and without obstruction On Kingship , Book 1, Chapter 2. This conclusion is confirmed by the example of nature, which always "does what is best.

A hive of bees is ruled by a single bee, i. And most convincingly of all, the universe is governed by the single authority of God, "Maker and Ruler of all things. Aquinas is well aware, of course, that such a monarch is not always available in political societies, and even where he is available it is not always guaranteed that the conditions will be right to grant him the political authority he ought to wield.

Even worse, there is always the danger that the monarch will be corrupted and become a tyrant. In this case the best of all regimes has the greatest tendency to become the worst. This is why, whereas monarchy is the best regime simply speaking, it is not always the best regime in a particular time and place, which is to say it is certainly not always the best possible regime.

The regime that he recommends takes the positive dimensions of all three "good regimes. Finally, Aquinas suggests that the entire multitude of citizens should be responsible for selecting the monarch and should all be candidates for political authority themselves. To support this conclusion, Aquinas is able to cite the Hebrew form of government established by God in the Old Testament. Whereas Moses and his successors ruled the Jews as a monarch, there also existed a council of seventy-two elders which provided "an element of aristocracy. The fact that regimes may vary according to time and place is a perfect example of the fact that not every moral or political directive is specified by nature.

In fact, Aquinas is eager to point out that the natural law, while providing the fundamental basis for human action and politics, fails to provide specific requirements for all the details of human social existence. For example, whereas the natural law does provide certain general standards of economic justice which we shall consider later on , it does not give a preferred form of currency. There is no natural law that requires how often public roads should be repaired, or whether military service will be mandatory or voluntary. Whereas Aquinas argues that the natural law requires criminals to be punished for injustices such as murder, theft, and assault, there is no natural specification as to precisely what kinds of punishments ought to be imposed for these crimes.

Even though, as Aquinas recognizes, these details do not pertain directly to whether a regime is good or bad, human social life would be impossible to maintain without attention to such detail. This is not to suggest, of course, that human laws only concern those matters which may just as easily be decided one way or another.

Within a particular socio-political context, it may indeed be a terrible mistake to make military service compulsory or in another context to punish treason with leniency, even though the natural law does not specify which situations call for which measures. Additionally, human law is necessary to enforce the moral and political requirements of the natural law that may go unheeded.

Even though the precepts of the natural law are available to human reason when it considers matters rightly, not all human beings use their practical reason to its fullest capacity and some act maliciously even when they happen to know better. And because the natural law does not simply enforce itself, the basic requirements of justice must be bolstered by an organized and civilized human authority ST, I-II, Accordingly, human laws serve two purposes. First, they provide the missing details that the natural law leaves out due to its generality.

Secondly, they compel those under the law to observe those standards of justice and morality even about which the natural law does specify. This second function of human law leads Aquinas to a crucial distinction. After asking whether human laws are derived from the natural law, he argues that, although all human laws are derived from the natural law in a certain sense, some are more directly derived than others.

The distinction he invokes is that between human laws which constitute "conclusions" from principles of natural law and those which constitute "determinations" from the natural law. Human laws are considered conclusions from the natural law when they pertain to those matters about which the natural law offers a clear precept. To use Aquinas' own example, "that one must not kill may be derived as a conclusion from the principle that one should do harm to no man. Thus, human laws must include prohibitions against murder, assault, and the like even though such actions are already prohibited by the natural law.

At the same time, however, the natural law does not specify exactly how a murderer must be punished, whether for example by means of banishment, the death penalty, or imprisonment. Such details depend upon a number of factors that prudent legislators and judges must take into consideration apart from their understanding of the general principles of natural justice. According to Aquinas, those dictates of natural reason which human beings should recognize as directly pertaining to the natural law, and which are therefore common principles of human law in many different regimes, are embodied in something called the "law of nations" [ ius gentium ].

Strictly speaking, the law of nations is a human law derived as a set of conclusions from the natural law. On the other hand, the law of nations is not the law of any particular regime and for this reason is sometimes equated with the natural law itself. Such details are the bases of human laws that Aquinas calls determinations from the natural law. It is important to note that both conclusions and determinations are based on the natural law in some way, for the question of how a murderer or a thief ought to be punished would be meaningless without the more general requirement found in the natural law itself that injustice must be met with a punishment that in some way fits the crime.

As he explains, legislators rely upon their understanding of the natural law in the same way that craftsmen must use the "general form of a house" before they build a particular house to which many architectural details may be added ST, I-II, To press the analogy further, just as all houses must be built according to certain general principles e. In the same way, just as a house under construction may exhibit a wide array of details not belonging to the "general form" of a house e. In Aquinas' view, human laws are essential for the maintenance of any organized and civilized society.

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At the same time, however, Aquinas understands human laws to be somewhat limited in scope. As he explains, the very reason why divine law is necessary pertains directly to those areas where human law and even natural law fall short. The most obvious example of this is the simple fact that human laws may be in error. Regardless of whether they are intended to be conclusions or determinations of the natural law, human laws are made by fallible human beings and may often tend to hinder the common good rather than promote it.

Secondly, Aquinas argues that, given certain circumstances, some human laws may simply fail to apply. This does not necessarily mean that such laws are unjust or even erroneously enacted. Aquinas suggests, rather, that there sometimes arise situations in which securing the common good requires actions that violate the letter of the law. For example, a law that requires the city gates to remain closed during certain times may need to be broken to allow citizens to enter as they are pursued by enemy forces ST, I-II, Thirdly, Aquinas explains that human law is unable to direct the interior acts of a man's soul.

As a result, human law has a difficult time directing people toward the path of virtue, since genuine human goodness depends not only on external actions but upon interior movements of the soul, which are hidden. It only means that the power of human law is limited by the fallible intellects of the human beings who enforce it and who only see a person's external actions.

Finally, human law is unable to "punish or forbid all evil deeds. By this Aquinas means that human laws must concentrate upon hindering those sorts of behaviors that are most damaging to the commonwealth. Aquinas elaborates upon this by saying that the political community would "do away with many good things" if it attempted to forbid all vices and punish every act that is judged to be immoral.

Thus understood, human legislators must remember that most of their subjects need to be governed in relation to their limited capacity for virtue. As a result, "human laws do not forbid all vices, from which the virtuous abstain, but only the more grievous vices, from which it is possible for the majority to abstain; and chiefly those that are to the hurt of others, without the prohibition of which human society could not be maintained: thus human law prohibits murder, theft, and suchlike. As we have seen, Aquinas' argument for the necessity of human law includes the observation that some human beings require an additional coercive incentive to respect and promote the common good.

By means of the law, those who show hostility to their fellow citizens are restrained from their evildoing through "force and fear," and may even eventually come "to do willingly what hitherto they did from fear, and become virtuous. During this discussion, Aquinas mentions two specific dimensions of the common good that are of particular concern to human legislation.

The first of these is "peace. Instead, he seems to have in mind the requirements for maintaining a social order in which citizens are free from the aggression of wrongdoers and other preventable threats to safety or livelihood. In addition to preserving social order at its most basic level, however, Aquinas also makes clear in the above passage that human law should strive to instill "virtue," and specifically that kind of virtue which has to do with the common good of society.

In other words, human law is interested in instilling virtues insofar as those virtues perfect human beings in their dealings with fellow citizens and the broader community as a whole. Contrary to what its name appears to signify, this virtue does not imply simple obedience to the law. It means, rather, an inner disposition of the human will by which those possessing it refer all their actions to the common good Aquinas follows Aristotle in calling it "legal" justice because the law, too, has the common good as its proper object.

Thus understood, Aquinas again following Aristotle considers it to be a "general virtue. To use Aquinas' example, fortitude is normally considered to be a virtue distinct from justice, since fortitude deals with the perfection of the irascible appetite and a person's ability to overcome fear, whereas justice deals with the perfection of the will and a person's dealings with others. However, a particular act of fortitude may be referred to the common good as its object and thus become an act of justice as well.

For example, a soldier who rushes into battle displays fortitude by overcoming his fear of death, but he also displays justice if he is motivated by a love for the common good of the society he protects. Considered specifically, his action is courageous.


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Considered generally, it is an act of justice. As Aquinas explains, "the good of any virtue, whether such virtue direct man in relation to himself, or in relation to certain other individual persons, is referable to the common good, to which justice directs: so that all acts of virtue can pertain to justice, insofar as it directs man to the common good. In addition to considering justice generally, however, Aquinas also considers it as a particular virtue of its own. Regardless of the fact that justice is a virtue that legislators would like to instill within their citizens, the law also seeks to preserve justice as a certain kind of fairness.

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Aside from making their citizens just by cultivating in them the "perpetual and constant will to render to each one his right [ ius ]," ST, II-II, In explaining the details of particular justice, Aquinas further distinguishes between commutative justice and distributive justice. It may happen, however, that something is owed to a person by the community as a whole. In this case the community distributes things according to what each individual deserves. An example of this sort of debt would be found in the realm of punitive justice. Since the punishment of criminals is not a matter pertaining to private citizens, but society as a whole ST, I-II, In addition to punishment, a political society may distribute such things as wealth, honor, material necessities, or work.

As Aquinas explains, however, distributive justice seldom requires that society render an equal amount good or bad to its members. To return to the example of punishment, it would be gravely unfair to punish a murderer with the same penalty as a shoplifter. The equality that justice requires must be considered proportionally in the sense that greater punishments for greater crimes and lesser punishments for lesser crimes do in fact constitute equal treatment Summa Contra Gentiles , III.

Such is not the case in matters of commutative justice such as buying and selling, which Aquinas says must follow an "arithmetic proportion. To observe how this teaching is applied to particular situations in the political community, it is helpful to consider Aquinas' famous discussion of usury. Usury inherently constitutes a violation of commutative justice, according to Aquinas, because it creates an unfair inequality among those private individuals in society. Aquinas' logic is extremely straightforward. Aquinas' condemnation of usury has little to do with the idea that money should only be lent from the motive of generosity even if this happens to be a consequence.

It is, rather, based on his notion of the nature of money itself. Contrary to most modern economic theories, Aquinas understands money to be nothing more than a medium for exchanging commodities and thus subject to the requirements of commutative justice. Any use of money beyond this purpose distorts its original function. If money can ever be considered a commodity in its own right, it should be compared to those commodities whose use "consists in their consumption. Its exchange value is more akin to something like food or wine than to a house or a tool.

When someone lends his house to be used, it makes perfect sense to charge rent and also to repossess the house when the allotted time for renting has expired. On the other hand, it would be quite unreasonable for a grocer to charge a fee for his food and then additionally to demand the food back after it is used.

As Aquinas explains, the exchange value of money should be considered more like food than a house: "Now money, according to the Philosopher, was invented chiefly for the purpose of exchange: and consequently the proper and principal use of money is consumption or alienation whereby it is sunk in exchange.

Hence it is by its very nature unlawful to take payment for the use of money lent. The first would be if money is lent to someone entering a business venture in which the lender shares some of the risk [ periculum ]. Secondly, I may charge an additional fee for money lent if lending causes me to suffer some loss that I would have otherwise avoided.

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The same injustice would exist if one were to take advantage of a buyer's desperation by selling a product for more than its value or to take advantage of a seller's desperation by buying something for less than its value ST, II-II, As we have seen, much of Aquinas' political teaching is adapted from the Aristotelian political science which he studied in great detail and which he largely embraced. Perhaps the most central Aristotelian political doctrine in Aquinas' view is the inherent goodness and naturalness of political society.

It is also necessary to understand, however, that in addition to being good and natural political society is also limited in several important respects, not all of which would have been pointed out by Aristotle but are unique to Aquinas' teaching. As we have already seen, Aquinas believes that the human laws governing political societies must be somewhat limited in scope. For example, the fact that something like the practice of usury is unjust does not necessarily mean that political society can or should forbid it: "Human laws leave certain things unpunished, on account of the condition of those who are imperfect, and who would be deprived of many advantages, if all sins were strictly forbidden and punishments appointed for them.

In this argument, Aquinas is making the simple point that human law is incapable of regulating every dimension of social life. Perhaps he would elaborate that attempting to police the practice of usury may in some cases hinder a society's ability to prevent more serious crimes like murder, assault, and robbery ST, I-II, This is due to the limited nature of human law and political society itself and is one of the reasons why God has wisely chosen to apply his own divine law to human affairs. In addition to its infallibility and the fact that it applies to the "interior movements" of man's soul, divine law is able to punish all vices while demanding the moral perfection from humans that God expects ST, I-II, Human law, on the other hand, must often settle for preventing only those things that imperil the immediate safety of those protected by it.

This is not to say that human law does not also look to promote virtue, but the virtues it succeeds in instilling seldom fulfill the full moral capabilities of human citizens. Secondly, Aquinas' definition of natural law as the human participation in the eternal law also indicates something emphatically trans-political about human nature that cannot be found in the Aristotelian doctrine to which Aquinas largely adapted his own. Whereas Aristotle had argued for the existence of a natural standard of morality, he never suggested an overarching human community with a supreme lawgiver, and yet this is precisely what Aquinas' teaching explicitly affirms ST, I-II, Not only is the natural law a universally binding law for all humans in all places something that Aristotle never recognized , it also points to the existence of a God that consciously and providently governs human affairs as a whole also something absent from the Aristotelian teaching.

Without such divine origins, the natural law would lose its legal character, since under Aquinas' own definition there can be no law that does not derive from someone who "has care of the community. This is also apparent by looking at the epistemological basis of Aquinas' natural law theory.

Whereas these precepts may be reinforced by the political community, they are first promulgated by nature itself and instilled in man's mind by the hand of God. They owe nothing, therefore, to political society for their content. This is considerably different from the Aristotelian doctrine that includes no teaching regarding the self-evident first principles of natural morality upon which Aquinas' natural law theory stands or falls and that seems to suggest contrary to Aquinas' view that no universally binding law even exists that is not somewhat subject to change from regime to regime Nicomachean Ethics , b This difference points out in a particularly striking way the un-Aristotelian character of Aquinas' insistence that all regimes, whether they realize it or not, are under God's supreme authority and owe the binding force of their laws to the more fundamental natural law of which God is the sole author.

Finally, political society as Aquinas understands it is limited in an even further sense. We may observe this by returning to Aquinas' claim that political society is natural. In one sense, of course, this affirmation of Aristotle's teaching constitutes a very high exaltation of the political. Only by living in political society is man capable of achieving his full natural potential. Thus understood politics is no mere instrumental good as in the teachings of modern political thinkers such as Hobbes and Locke , but is part of the very fabric of the human person, and thus the individual's participation in political society is a great intrinsic good for the individual as well as for society.

On the other hand, the characterization of politics as natural also means for Aquinas that it falls short of man's ultimate supernatural end. For this reason Aquinas never ceases to remind us that, although politics is natural to man and constitutes an important aspect of the natural law, "man is not ordained to the body politic according to all that he is and has. By this Aquinas means that beyond the fulfillment of the natural law, the active participation in political society, and even the exercise of the moral virtues, human beings find their complete perfection and happiness only in beatitude—the supernatural end to which they are called.

Precisely because it is a natural institution, political society is not equipped to guide human beings toward the attainment of this higher supernatural vocation. In this respect it must yield to the Church, which unlike political society is divinely established and primarily concerned with the distribution of divine grace and the salvation of souls On Kingship , Book I, Chapters Again, to say that political society is merely natural is not to suggest that it should only concern man's basic natural needs such as food, shelter, and safety. The common good that political authorities pursue includes the maintenance of a just society where individual citizens may flourish physically as well as morally.

Politics thus promotes the natural virtues most of all justice , which are themselves the human soul's preparation for the reception of divine grace and the infusion of the supernatural virtues of faith, hope, and, above all, charity. The best one can hope from political society is that citizens will be well disposed to receive the grace available to them through the Church, which transcends politics both in its universality as well as in the finality of its purpose. Thomas Aquinas: Political Philosophy The political philosophy of Thomas Aquinas , along with the broader philosophical teaching of which it is part, stands at the crossroads between the Christian gospel and the Aristotelian political doctrine that was, in Aquinas' time, newly discovered in the Western world.

The Political Nature of Man As we have seen, Aquinas mentions that one of the natural goods to which human beings are inclined is "to live in society. Human Legislation The fact that regimes may vary according to time and place is a perfect example of the fact that not every moral or political directive is specified by nature. The Requirements of Justice As we have seen, Aquinas' argument for the necessity of human law includes the observation that some human beings require an additional coercive incentive to respect and promote the common good.

The Limitations of Politics As we have seen, much of Aquinas' political teaching is adapted from the Aristotelian political science which he studied in great detail and which he largely embraced. References and Further Reading a. Primary Sources i. Vernon Bourke. Summa Theologiae.

Fathers of the English Dominican Province. Westminster: Christian Classics. Commentary on Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. Litzinger, O. Commentary on Aristotle's Politics. Ernest L. Fortin and Peter D.

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Ralph Lerner and Muhsin Mahdi. Richard Regan. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing. On the Governance of Rulers. Gerald B. London: Sheed and Ward Publishers. Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing. Aquinas: Political Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Secondary Sources i. Books Oscar, Brown. Natural rectitude and divine law in Aquinas: an approach to an integral interpretation of the Thomistic Doctrine of Law.