Robert Spaemann on “Gay Marriage”

A completely new look for me as the “objective” unity of a marital union between a male and a female is presented.


Anyone who reads Retrievals with some regularity knows that I post translations of the works of the Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann with some regularity. So far I have posted some of his articles on abortion, genetic manipulation, circumcision, and nuclear power. But according to the statistics for my blog, people occasionally visit it after Google search for “robert spaemann gay marriage.” I thought I should oblige them.

I don’t have a personal translation of anything Spaemann has written on “gay marriage,” but he does make some brief remarks on the subject in one of his books that has already been translated, Persons. The remarks occur in the course of a discussion of the phenomenon of promising–marriage being, of course, a promise of great importance. On p. 228, however, he turns to the more particular issue of the distinction between friendship and marriage:

“Yet not every friendship is a marriage. It…

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The Good, The Bad, and The Holy

It is quite often that we teach our children to be good; that we expect people to be good; that we want to be good.  Yet, it is very rare that we hear people say that they will teach their kids to be holy; that they expect others to behave in a holy manner; that they themselves are striving for holiness.  But what are we really called to?  Is there really a difference between being good and being holy? Why does it matter?

Two Stories

Before we venture to think about why being holy is preferred over being good, I want to present you with two stories from the New Testament, one of them is an account given by St. Mark and the other a parable told by Jesus from St. Matthew’s Gospel.  The account from St. Mark’s Gospel (12:41-44):

He sat down opposite the treasury and observed how the crowd put money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow also came and put in two small coins worth a few cents. Calling his disciples to himself, he said to them, “Amen, I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the other contributors to the treasury. For they have all contributed from their surplus wealth, but she, from her poverty, has contributed all she had, her whole livelihood.”

The Gospel told by Jesus in St. Matthew’s Gospel (19:16-22)

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “ ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother’; and ‘you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect,  go, sell what you have and give to [the] poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

What Do We Make Of This?

These are probably the most basic traits that we want our children to have: God fearing, responsible, and morally good.  We teach them these things by directing them to two kinds of people: good people and bad people.  We tell them that the good people are to be imitated, and the bad people are to serve as models of how not to behave.  I suspect that by any of our standards, the people from the crowd in St. Mark’s account and the rich young man can be considered good people.  We can safely assume that they earned their money justly, they tithe to God, and they keep the commandments of the Lord.  They are God fearing, responsible, and morally good people.  Yet why does it seem that this falls short?

Being good falls short of being holy because it lacks the most basic and necessary Christian virtue: love.  Most people are good people because they feel obligated to do the things that they do.  The people from the first story tithe to God because they are obliged to do so.  They take what is change from their wealthy pockets and give to God his due while keeping what they think is justly theirs.  The rich young man tells Jesus that he has done all that is required of him from the law.  Simply put, being good generally means doing good out of obligations and fear of punishment for failure.  Many Christians, myself included, have a tendency to think this way when it comes to being good vs. being holy.

However we must remember that as Christians we are called to be holy.   We are called to love, and to love abundantly.  Holiness will require that we give not only our possessions to those who need them because they are our brothers and sisters in Christ, but to pray for them and for their well-being.  Holiness requires that we not simply go to Church on Sundays because we are required to worship God, but to yearn to be there with Him because we realize that we love Him as much as He loves us.  St. Therese of Lisieux puts it so simply:

“Do you realize that Jesus is there in the tabernacle expressly for you-for you alone? He burns with the desire to come into your heart… don’t listen to the demon, laugh at him, and go without fear to receive the Jesus of peace and love…”

To be holy, my friends, is to be self-forgetting.  It is to do the right things always out of love for God and for our brothers and sisters.  To be good demands that we overlook our neighbor’s wrong against us; to be holy demands that we not only forgive our neighbor, but to love him and pray for his repentance.  This is what every Christian ought to strive for.  I leave you now with these words from St. Therese of Lisieux for some reflection:

“Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.”

Freewill And God’s Co-Causation Part III

Having established that God is the cause that holds the rational agent in existence, it is now necessary to see to it that God’s causing and co-causation insofar as He is the Prime Creator of the will does not necessitate His determination of the will.  The will is moved by an intrinsic principle belonging to the agent, viz. the intellect.[1]  This movement of the intellect towards truth and goodness directs the will because the will aims at goodness.  But the will cannot be said of as being moved by the agent if it is moved by God.  Therefore it is necessary to conclude that the will is moved by the agent and not by God:

As Dionysius says (Div. Nom. iv) “it belongs to Divine providence, not to destroy but to preserve the nature of things.” Wherefore it moves all things in accordance with their conditions; so that from necessary causes through the Divine motion, effects follow of necessity; but from contingent causes, effects follow contingently. Since, therefore, the will is an active principle, not determinate to one thing, but having an indifferent relation to many things, God so moves it, that He does not determine it of necessity to one thing, but its movement remains contingent and not necessary, except in those things to which it is moved naturally.[2]

The human will is free insofar as every act that the human person wills is a voluntary act—even acts that are under coercion.  Aquinas argues that there are two types of acts: the voluntary and the involuntary.[3]  Acts which are involuntary are intrinsic to the thing itself but are not willed by the agent since there is a lack of recognition of the good as object of the will (be this rational or irrational).[4]  On the other hand, the willing of an act is voluntary since the agent recognizes the good as known.[5]  In the human agent, the good as known directs the action voluntarily.  But voluntary does not entail freedom, for, as Aquinas notes, freedom is the object of the will and can only be understood in light of reason.

It is necessary here to consider an objection to the nature of the will as I have proposed here.  If, as argued above, the will is free and necessitated by a natural telos (end) to the Good as the intellect apprehends it, then it would mean that the will is not free to act insofar as it must act towards the ultimate Good in the face of the ultimate Good.  In this way the will, while arguably freed from the coercion of God’s will, is still necessitated by its natural inclination.  And if such a position is true then we must consider that in God’s creation of the will and its telos as such entails that God acts in the will immediately, thus negating its freedom.

The objection seems reasonable at first glance, but is invalidated at closer considerations of the objective and subjective dimensions of the will.  Aquinas writes in his reply to the seventh objection in question six in De Malo:

An active principle moves necessarily only when it overcomes the power of the passive principle.  But since the will is in potency to the good universally, no good overcomes the power of the will as necessarily moving it, except that which is good according to every consideration, and this is the perfect or complete good alone, i.e., happiness, which the will cannot will, that is, in such a way that it will the opposite; nevertheless the will can actually not will happiness because the will can turn away, i.e., avoid thinking about happiness inasmuch as the will moves the intellect to its act, and to this extent neither does the will necessarily will happiness itself, just as a person would not necessarily become warm if he could repel heat from himself when he willed.[6]

The distinction made here, and what Aquinas points to, is the particularity of the goods of the soul.  Where the objective aspect of voluntary act is the reality of the good toward which the desire of the will is inclined, the subjective dimension is the possession of such reality.  As Aquinas writes, the will is directed towards a universal good, but such goods are participations and consequently are particular.  As such, the reflective power of the intellect on the good [as particular] allows for the will to reconsider even the perfect good.

Another consideration of the freedom of the will as being caused by God only in the manner that he is the immediate cause of the agent’s being arises from the argument of evil actions.  According to Aquinas, the will is the faculty of love and desire which acts directly at the apprehension of the intellect.  The intellect, however, may at times mistake a non-good as a good.[7]  The apprehension which belongs internally to the agent is itself auto-causing, thus it is not God which is the source of this mistake.  Further, God cannot be said of as sinning for “someone is the cause of sin in two ways: in one way because he himself sins, in another way because he causes another to sin.  Neither of which can belong to God.”[8]  In the first way, God cannot be said as sinning because of the attribution of His nature free from the defect which sin requires for its existence.[9]  In the second way God cannot cause other to sin since sin is essentially the turning away from the calling to the ultimate end which is all-good.  Yet, God is the very End towards which the will is called.  Therefore, it violates the law of noncontradiction that one is both the cause of goodness and sin at the same time.

Conclusively, it seems that while human actions have as their authors both God and the human subject, the human subject acts freely.  From what has been said in the past three posts, God is said as the cause of human acts only insofar as He is the reason for the human author’s existence at any given time—contrary to Durandus’ objection.  As the cause and the One to keep the human agent’s being in existence, God is attributed with the human act, but this does not mean that he himself is the actor.  For one can speak of co-causality in two ways.  In the first, co-causation can be said of as two actors causing a certain effect in which without either one of the actors the effect cannot take place.  For example, let us consider two men who are carrying a casket.  The two are co-causes in the effect of the casket being moved, and without either one, the casket cannot move in the same way as it is moving when the two are carrying it.  In the second way, co-causation can happen in the sense that one’s being is dependent upon the other directly and simultaneously that any act one does is attributed to the other as well.  Consider for example an imperfect analogy of a human agent and a machine that is necessary to keep him living.  We can attribute the human agent’s actions to the machine only insofar as without the machine the person would cease to live and therefore no actions are possible.  Yet the human person’s actions are not dictated by the machine, but by the person himself.  It is in this latter sense that God is said as an immediate cause in human actions for it is He whom the human person is dependent on for his existence at any given time.

[1] Summa Theologiae, II, 1, 9, a1, Corpus

[2] Summa Theologiae, II, 1, 10, a4, Corpus

[3] Summa Theologiae, II, 2, 6, a1, Corpus

[4] Ibid. if a thing has no knowledge of the end, even though it have an intrinsic principle of action or movement, nevertheless the principle of acting or being moved for an end is not in that thing, but in something else, by which the principle of its action towards an end is not in that thing, but in something else, by which the principle of its action towards an end is imprinted on it.

[5] Ibid. But those things which have a knowledge of the end are said to move themselves because there is in them a principle by which they not only act but also act for an end. And consequently, since both are from an intrinsic principle, to wit, that they act and that they act for an end, the movements of such things are said to be voluntary: for the word “voluntary” implies that their movements and acts are from their own inclination.

[6] De Malo, 244

[7] This is evident in Aquinas noting that evil does not have a per se cause since no one aims at committing evil.

[8] De Malo, 104

[9] The existence of sin is not ontological per se but is only in contrast to the lack of goodness in the action itself or is an accidental effect of the action.

An Amateur’s Attempt At A Brief Rhyming Dialogue

There is a philosophical theory that is quite interesting and it is called fallibilism.  Fallibilism, while not an idea that is original to Charles Sanders Peirce, is a term coined by him, who also constructed its argument.[1]  The idea that Peirce has is not too different from the Cartesian question of the fallibility of knowledge—though Peirce does reject the Cartesian methodological doubt insofar as it takes away from positive inquiry of knowledge since “nothing new can ever be learned by analyzing definitions.”[2]  Peirce’s argument is that all truths are provisional and that any statement, or belief, made is at best probable.  Unlike skepticism, fallibilism does not demand that the subject suspends judgment; rather, through either empirical or scientific induction, the subject is able to know, but only to acknowledge that that which he knows is always revisable.  This position is made quite evident when Peirce accuses metaphysicians of being “addicted” to blockading the path towards truth by defining definitive truths.

Here, I attempt a dialogue between the fallibilist and the realist.  It isn’t the most comprehensive or academically sound dialogue, but it’s something I had going in my head for awhile that just needed to be written down:

F is for the fallibilist
R is for the realist

F: What but corrigible is our knowing
Since it is but the senses sensing
Therefore we cannot affirm definite
A knowledge which is all intimate

R: Then you must answer this inquiry:
How it is that not to be is not the same as to be?
How it is that nothing cannot be something?
Or how it is that from nothing shall come nothing?

F: How certain can we be when we affirm to be?
How certain is it always that one and two be three?
What we know this day may be viewed as definitive
Only to find the future affirms the negative.

R: But what of this being which you affirm to know?
The objects to which our knowledge owes?    
How can you affirm existence only to deny its absolute
When you affirm that corrigibility the mind pollutes?

F: The object of knowledge, I do not deny;
At the definitive claim, however, we cannot arrive
What we know at the comment can be affirmed immediately
But we cannot affirm it as always necessarily.

R: What you have not addressed is the provenance for your assertion of being
The source of things for your theory of knowing
Even to affirm corrigibility you’d still have to admit
That something exists, and to the mind submit.

F: Positionis causa that being qua being is affirmed
Knowledge still cannot reality definitively confirm
For if this desk should be pointed at later to simply not be
‘Tis that corrigibility of my knowledge that misled me.

R: I shall concede to some knowledge as being provisional
But I stand firm that some knowledge is definitively knowable
For being qua being is necessarily presupposed
Otherwise nothing to knowledge can be imposed
Since knowledge is unable to think of nothing
As it can only grasp nothing in relation to being.

[2] Robert Ackermann, Theories of Knowledge: A Critical Introduction

[3] Peirce writes that “to set up a philosophy which barricades the road of further advance towards the truth is the one unpardonable offence in reasoning, as it is also the one to which metaphysicians have in all ages shown themselves the most addicted.”

Jumbled Thoughts On Evangelizing

This past Sunday’s readings brought a couple of thoughts to my mind.  The first is how truth transcends language and culture, and secondly how we, as Christians, are called to evangelize.

Some time ago, a student from my World Religions class asked how we can evangelize without seeming like we’re “pushing our beliefs down their throats”.  This question is quite important in a culture that tends to think that faith is a private matter that we ought to keep to ourselves; and if we share it publicly, it had better be with other people who believe the same thing we do, otherwise it is considered “forcing it down others’ throats”, so to speak.

Two Things About Evangelization

What every Christian ought to know is that we are called to preach the Gospel, not to convert people.  A serious mistake I made when I was younger, filled with passion and not so much reason, is to think that every battle I fought with an atheist or with someone of a different faith is a battle for conversion.  As Christians we must realize that we are directed to go out and tell people about the Good News, the truth about God and His Kingdom.  And since what we are proclaiming is truth, it is therefore also beautiful.  If you haven’t noticed yet, beautiful things attract people since we are made in a way that we thirst for beauty and find joy in it.  And because Jesus Christ is the Truth and that which is Beauty, our proclamation of him will attract those who are genuinely seeking truth and beauty.  Thus, we present the Gospel, but it is Christ who converts hearts and souls, not us!

However, in our fallen state, some of us are less likely to see truth and beauty in things that are true and beautiful.  For some, the Good News may seem like a terrible thing because its truth calls for the conversion from a “normal” way of life.  For these, the Good News must be seen exemplified.  This is not to say that some of us, as Christians, can get by with simply preaching the Gospel and not having to live it, for it is both necessary to preach the Gospel and live it; however, it is to say that for some unbelievers, our living out the Gospel will bring them to Christ better than any profound words we can ever utter.  Thus, to these others, our proclamation of the Good News must be through love.

How Do We Evangelize Today?

By living out the Gospel, not just preaching it!  For instance, how many of us who are Christians readily proclaim that all human beings are created in the image and likeness of God and yet still think that abortion is something that is morally acceptable for others?  If we refuse to be consistent in our approach to the dignity and sanctity of the lives of our brothers and sisters, then how can we expect non-Christians to receive our message of love with an open embrace.  Therefore, we must be a people who proclaim the Gospel, but, now more than ever, we must be people who live out the Gospel!

Freewill And God’s Co-Causation Part II

In the last post, I opened up a reflection regarding an agent’s freewill and the question of whether or not an agent’s action is fully and completely free given that God exists in the agent most intimately and therefore ought to be said as being a co-actor in any given action.  In this post, I would like to briefly examine what it means to say freedom and what is the nature of the will.

In my opinion, St. Augustine’s definition of freedom which is presented by Thomas Williams in Williams’ translation of On Free Choice of the Will is sufficient for the current reflection.  As regards to the will, I will present Aquinas’ position since I also think that his understanding of the will is excellent and quite sufficient.

Augustine argues that freedom can be understood in many different senses.  The three categories in which he places these different senses of freedom are physical, metaphysical, and autonomous.[1]  Physical freedom “involves the absent of restraints.”[2]  In other words, physical freedom is the freedom which allows the subject to act with nothing to hinder his actions.  On the other hand, metaphysical freedom is “the freedom to choose in a way that is not determined by anything outside my control.”[3]  The third type of freedom is autonomy.  Williams point out that for Augustine freedom of autonomy is the freedom that the subject has over himself without someone directing him to act as such; it is the freedom perceived as “I am my own boss.”  These three understandings of freedom together make up the synthesized understanding of freedom when we approach the will.  It should also be noted that this is the understanding and definition of freedom which is considered when freedom is mentioned in the rest of this reflection and its series.

With regards to the will, Aquinas defines it as a rational appetite and therefore requires reason for its operation.[4]  Aquinas notes that the will is moved by both the rational agent and also God.  Natural things have natural tendencies which are moved without judgment, e.g. a rock always moves downward.  Yet there are also things which act with judgment but also necessitated by a natural tendency, e.g., a deer will run as soon as it sees a tiger.  There is a third type of action which is free of natural necessities and uses judgment of the intellect; this is what Aquinas calls the will.  He argues that the will, because it is a power belonging to the rational appetite caused by God, is caused therefore by Him.[5]  Concomitantly, the will can also be argued as being caused by God because of its teleological tendency towards the Good as instilled by God.[6]

[1] Augustine (Williams) XI

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Summa Theologiae, II, 2, 6, a2, rep. obj. 1

[5] Summa Theologiae, II, 1, 9, a6, Corpus; note, however, that the will is caused by God does not mean that He is its immediate mover.

[6] Ibid.


Questioning the Question: Philosophy, Love, and Marriage


College students may hate a statistics class, but they rarely question its usefulness or value. They know it has “real-world applications,” even if they loathe every minute of it.

It is not so with a philosophy class. Unlike other disciplines, philosophy is faced with the task of justifying itself, of demonstrating some sort of real-world utility. This is because philosophy–when approached correctly–does not tell people anything new. It works with truths we have already achieved. To many people this seems like an absurd waste of time,  and so philosophy comes into question in a way English, History, Math, and Science never do.

Whether coming to grasp at a deeper level what one already knows, a profound under-standing I like to call “wisdom,” could truly be a waste of one’s time is a question I will leave to the side for now. Rather, I would like to offer a humbler defense…

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