Friday, 1 June 2012
WHAT IS GOD'S LAW FOR MAN? By REV. J. C. HOUPERT, S.J. part 2
The Sanctions of the Natural Law. The Moral Law is provided with sanctions that are proportionate and adequate. A sanction is a penalty or reward attached to a law; more fully, it is the disposition in virtue of which, by the lawgiver's will, submission to the law brings about happiness in the subject but rebellion against the law, unhappiness. The perfect obligation of the Natural Law can be derived only from the acknowledgement of a personal God and so also are the perfect sanctions of that law It is not enough that God should have made known His will to bind us to lead an orderly life; His wisdom also requires that He should enforce His will by suitable rewards and punishments.
PROOFS. 1. No legislator can be indifferent in the matter of the laws he has made,—he wants to see them carried out. Indifference on his part would imply either that his laws are foolish and their enforcement of no use, or that his will lacks firmness and stability. Now, this holds still more for the all-wise and perfect legislator who is God. 2. Sanctions are of great utility. The knowledge of the good or evil consequences for the subject is a powerful motive for keeping the law, or making him law-abiding. 3. The fulfilment of the moral law benefits both the general order, which the law serves, and the person who obeys the law. Contrariwise, the violation of the moral law is detrimental to both the general order and the violator. Now, the Lawgiver is infinitely just and holy. Therefore, the good or evil consequences for the subject must be in perfect keeping with the importance of the general good and with the merit or the guilt of the subject performing the act. (a) The sanctions must be proportionate: divine justice demands that the reward promised or punishment threatened be measured by the objective importance and subjective perfection of the act in question. (b) And they must be adequate: God's holiness demands that these rewards and punishments be able to induce all men in all circumstances to obey the moral law. (c) In this life, the divine sanctions cannot be applied to the full: the pains which God may inflict for wrong done are prospective---namely, to amend the offender and deter him and others; but in the next life they will be retrospective, namely, dealing only with the past. The violated order must be vindicated and God's will must finally prevail. Wrong, it has been truly said, is a contradiction of right. Punishment is a contradiction of that contradiction. The twofold sanction, natural and divine.—The punishment for final, persistent breach of the Natural Law is failure to attain our last end, which is happiness and a consequent state of utter misery. This is at once a natural result and a divine infliction : the natural result of a soul being corrupted by sin and unable to see and love God who composes our happiness ; and also a divine infliction : whoso has withdrawn from God, from him God withdraws. Our happiness (in the natural order) consists in seeing the Creator through the veil of His works, but God will not show Himself to those who spurn His commands. Conversely, we might argue the final happiness which attaches to the observance of the Law. No true happiness but must be endless. But is punishment also to be everlasting? Solid reasons point to the conclusion that the state of misery for the wicked should be everlasting and beyond repair.
Proofs.—1. As we have seen, the natural sequel of making oneself unfit for endless happiness is the loss of that happiness ; but also behind the natural law stands God the Lawgiver and the state of endless misery must be reckoned as a punishment. Now, this punishment must be final and unending. If we assume hell to be only temporal, then heaven itself is no reward for loyal service : it would sooner or later be the possession of all; in the end, the just and the wicked would find themselves in the same state of blessedness; God's holiness and justice would in the end be overcome by evil. 2. Successive rebirths and probations are against all experience. Even if they happened, our previous argument remains. 3. In the next life the sinner has no more God's help ; he can no longer repent and, therefore, cannot get rid of his state of misery. 4. God is infinite goodness but also justice and holiness. No man will be damned who does not deserve it and none will be punished more than they deserve. It is all their own doing, their own choice, their own fault. 5. If it were possible to repent of and to expiate the sins of this life in another life, then man would be induced to put off the practice of virtue and to make little of God's commands and sanctions. The mere thought of a conversion being possible would deprive the authority of the Moral Law of all its efficacy: The perspective of a short term of punishment, followed by conversion, is no sufficient deterrent of evil. Only an absolute sanction, one in keeping with the hopes and fears of man about his final destiny, is able to keep man away from moral evil and check his inclination to evil. The eternity of hell, the endless state of utter misery for the reprobate, devoured with remorse and overwhelmed with despair, should act as a great deterrent from sin in the storm of temptation. Hell is not only everlasting, but invariable, with no glimmer of hope. Just as the blessed are confirmed in grace, in love and holiness, so the lost are confirmed or rather abandoned, in guilt, in hate and wickedness. The eternity of Heaven is the actual total simultaneous possession of, an endless life of bliss and glory, while the eternity of Hell is the actual total, simultaneous infliction of an endless agony—both physical and spiritual. Just as Heaven is in this life beyond our mental grasp, so is Hell. We easily understand that a soul passing out of this world substantially good may still have to expiate minor faults before it is received in Heaven. But it is also reasonable that a man who at the end of his probation has voluntarily turned away from God should be forever excluded from the happiness of Heaven. Keeping or Breaking the Law 1. To keep the law implies the use of the ordinary means 1. of knowing its import and 2. of executing what it orders. It implies also that we avoid the immediate impediments to its fulfilment. When a law imposes a personal duty, e.g., to worship God, it requires from us a personal human act. If the duty deals with objects, e.g., the payment of debts, the mere fact of paying is enough. In both cases the will not to obey the law would be a transgression. 2. To transgress the law is an abuse of our freedom. As we have seen, all beings inferior to man are driven by an internal' impulse or instinct against which there is no resistance possible; but man's free will is drawn by, an extrinsic attraction against which there may be resistance. The verdict of conscience is presented to the will, which may accept or reject it. Such is the awful responsibility attached to our freedom that we can upset, as far as we are concerned, the divine plan in the government of the universe by deliberately refusing to obey. We have now to see—1. the wickedness of sins—2. the temptations to sin—3. the evil consequences—and 4. repentance and forgiveness. Sin is any wilful disobedience to the law of God by doing what it forbids or neglecting what it commands. We call sin any violation of the moral law, but formal, sin is any wilful violation. For a grievous violation of the divine law the matter must be grave and there must be full knowledge and consent, e.g., murder in cold blood is a grievous sin. If one of the three elements is absent the sin is not grievous, e.g., stealing two pence. Whatever obscures our judgment, such as ignorance, prejudice, mental distraction or emotional excitement also lessens our freedom of decision and consequently our guilt. There are sins of thought, word and deed (or sins of commission) but also sins of omission; they too suppose a wilful act of disobedience. The wickedness of sin is manifold. To violate the moral order established and sanctioned by God is (1). an act of rebellion against the Divine Majesty, (2). and desecration of the Divine Dignity expressed and reflected in the moral order ; (3). a desecration of man's own dignity. Man, the lord and king of creation, makes himself, by sin, the slave of inferior beings ; (4) a source of evil and harm to the sinner and often to many others both in this life and the next, e.g., parents setting bad example to their children start an ever-widening circle of evils which spreads beyond our horizon: Vice is contagious; one bad man can pervert many. It follows that sin or moral evil is the greatest and in a sense the only evil on earth. 2. Temptations and occasions to sin are many. The law of God which sin contravenes comprises not only the Natural Law but also the just Precepts of all legitimately constituted authority which make up positive laws., Now, temptation is a solicitation to transgress a law, whether by persuasion or by the offer of some pleasure. Temptations nay come from our own bad thoughts, feelings or desires. Other people also may set us bad example, or encourage. persuade; even drive us to sin. But there is no sin without our consent ; we may be attacked, but we cannot be forced to surrender. Certain evil inclinations, called the seven capital sins or vices, are a fertile source of temptations pride, covetousness, lust, gluttony, anger; envy and sloth. The movements of the sensitive appetites, called passions, often mislead into sin. Love for what is pleasant but forbidden, dislike or fear of what is unpleasant but commanded, make us shirk our duty and disobey the law. By giving way to passions we become their slaves. "Passion is a good servant but a bad Master," says a proverb. However, no matter how strong the inclination to sin, as long as there is no deliberate consent of the will, there is no fault; on the other hand, merit is won by resistance. There is no temptation which, by God's help, we cannot conquer. Even smaller sins must be avoided, because they are bad and prepare the way for grievous falls. Occasions of sin are external circumstances which by themselves or because of our own frailty incline and lead us to sin. Occasions are called proximate if the danger of sinning is certain or probable. There is a positive obligation to avoid them. 3. The evil effects of sin. We notice first that every infringement of order is followed by a penalty. The evil of wrong-doing entails the .evil of punishment. (1) If I put my finger into the fire it gets burnt. I have challenged a physical law and suffer in consequence. To violate the laws of health entails debility, disease and death, Nature always takes her revenge. (2) If I violate the laws of logic, I land in ignorance, in error or in sophistry. (3) And if I violate the moral order, if I sin against the law of God, I suffer the loss of God's favour and help, which depend on the maintenance of harmony between God's nature and will and my own actions. In all the three cases the harmony of the universal order is reestablished by some punishment, suffering or loss. What we may call the mechanical law of compensation in the physical sphere is rightly called in the moral order the work of divine Justice, which regulates the personal relations between my Maker and myself. Of all transgressions those of the moral order are evidently the most serious. A grievous sin makes us hateful to God and robs us of His friendship; it spoils our nature and breaks the condition on which final happiness is offered to us. To die in a state of rebellion against God makes the soul incapable of loving God in the next world; therefore, incapable of happiness and therefore supremely unhappy; it is deprived of its natural destiny and this privation must have a terrifying and extremely saddening effect. This state of soul is called damnation, or final reprobation. Not all transgressions are grave; some may be light, e.g., stealing a penny is not so bad as stealing a pound. So also will the punishment be apportioned to the fault. 4. Can sorrow and reparation for sin undo the harm done? God does not forgive offences without receiving satisfaction. On the other hand, no man can make adequate amends for the contempt which a deliberate, grave and flagrant violation of the moral law puts on God. The offence is in the offended person, the guilt in the offender. Here the offended Person is God of infinite majesty, so that the guilt is of extreme gravity. The first thing then which revelation has to teach us is whether, and on what terms, God is ready to pardon grievous sins. Even granted that true repentance and acts of reparation for rebellion against God's sovereignty may draw His mercy on the sinner, several things in sin remain irreparable. Even if' we repair the moral order which we have violated, it will always be only a repaired, not an unviolated order. Likewise, there is a vast difference between the forgiven sinner and the innocent person. The sinner cannot forget that he has dishonoured God and. debased himself. If then we have fallen into sin, we must tell God we are sorry and ask Him to forgive us. We must also resolve not to sin again, do some penance and be more careful in future. If we are sincerely disposed to fulfil all that God requires to grant forgiveness, if our contrition is perfect, we may hope He will forgive our guilt although some punishment may follow. God's justice and wisdom, require some penalty for sin as a reparation for the past and a deterrent for the future. We should, after every sin we commit, repent. Otherwise, each sin may lead to many others, and produce a deeply-rooted vice or bad habit from which recovery is very hard. Some sins form an ever widening circle of evils, the extent of which is lost to the eye of man but not lost to the eye of the Sovereign Judge.