dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

The Council that might have been

On July 23, 1962, the Secretary General of the Second Vatican Council sent out to all those with a right to participate in the Council a book that contained the first draft-texts that were to be debated when the Council opened on October 11th of the same year. The following texts were included:On the sources of revelationOn defending intact the deposit of faithOn the Christian moral orderOn chastity, marriage, the family, and virginityOn the sacred liturgyOn the communications mediaOn the Churchs unity.(A second book, containing the drafts on the Church and on the Blessed Virgin Mary, would be distributed only after the Council had opened.}I offer here my translations of the first four of these texts, prepared by the Theological Commission, which expected that they would be the first ones debated. Instead, the Council first debated the fifth text, on the liturgy.One very useful way of studying the conciliar process and of its products is to compare these prepared texts with the final texts issued by the Council, to note similarities as well as differences in orientation, style, and content, and then to account for the differences.As far as I know, no other English translations of these texts are available.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

This is very helpful to see. Thank you for the work on it.

Thank you, Father! What a great resource. I remember looking at one of these (on revelation, if memory serves) back when I took your Foundations class 5 years ago. :)

Thank you. I am going to enjoy comparing the fruits of your labor with the final drafts.

JAK --Thanks. Most of this reads like a t950 catechism for adults. Useful, perhaps, but not what the Church needed most.

For example, the following passages from "On the Christian moral order" and from Gaudium et Spes seem to correspond. Christian moral order:6. Errors are rejectedThe Sacred Synod rejoices over the great number of children of the Church who by observing the moral order and the law of the Gospel cling with all their hearts to God and to his only-begotten Son. It grieves, however, that many people are transgressing the divine law, more from weakness than from wickedness, though rarely without grave guilt. It notes with great horror that errors are being spread everywhere, errors that open the way to perdition and close the gate of salvation. There are those who deny a personal God and so deprive the natural law of its foundation;12 there are those who, repudiating the mission of Christ, reject the law of the Gospel;13 there are those who rely only on human principles in explaining the moral order and therefore rob it of its genuine and ultimate obligation and sanction;14 there are those who deny that the intellect can enjoy true certitude in moral matters;15 there are those who maintain that the moral law is subject to changes and to evolution even in fundamental matters;16 there are those who teach that the human person has been endowed with so exalted a dignity that he is not subject to any law imposed upon him by God or by the Church or teach that he can embrace and fulfill the Christian law by his own powers without the help of grace;17 there are those who claim that the moral law has no validity except by an agreement that proceeds either from the collectivity or from the "totality,"18 whether this is considered to be the majority of the citizens or the State or the people or the race or the nation or a faction or a social class. There also are those who think that the moral law proceeds merely from naked, crass, and brutal power and who put this ideology of theirs into practice.19 Although all these people disagree among themselves on many matters, they have it in common that by their views they close the gate of the kingdom of heaven and do not allow others to enter (see Mt 23:13). Creeping error has many colors and many heads; but the truth which will free us (see Jn 8:32) is one as Christ is one. But the same thing that the Founder of the Church once testified about himself, he can today profess to the Church before the world: "I came in the name of my Father and you do not accept me, yet if another comes in his own name, you will accept him" (Jn 5:43).Gaudium et Spes:19. The root reason for human dignity lies in man's call to communion with God. From the very circumstance of his origin man is already invited to converse with God. For man would not exist were he not created by Gods love and constantly preserved by it; and he cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and devotes himself to His Creator. Still, many of our contemporaries have never recognized this intimate and vital link with God, or have explicitly rejected it. Thus atheism must be accounted among the most serious problems of this age, and is deserving of closer examination.The word atheism is applied to phenomena which are quite distinct from one another. For while God is expressly denied by some, others believe that man can assert absolutely nothing about Him. Still others use such a method to scrutinize the question of God as to make it seem devoid of meaning. Many, unduly transgressing the limits of the positive sciences, contend that everything can be explained by this kind of scientific reasoning alone, or by contrast, they altogether disallow that there is any absolute truth. Some laud man so extravagantly that their faith in God lapses into a kind of anemia, though they seem more inclined to affirm man than to deny God. Again some form for themselves such a fallacious idea of God that when they repudiate this figment they are by no means rejecting the God of the Gospel. Some never get to the point of raising questions about God, since they seem to experience no religious stirrings nor do they see why they should trouble themselves about religion. Moreover, atheism results not rarely from a violent protest against the evil in this world, or from the absolute character with which certain human values are unduly invested, and which thereby already accords them the stature of God. Modern civilization itself often complicates the approach to God not for any essential reason but because it is so heavily engrossed in earthly affairs.Undeniably, those who willfully shut out God from their hearts and try to dodge religious questions are not following the dictates of their consciences, and hence are not free of blame; yet believers themselves frequently bear some responsibility for this situation. For, taken as a whole, atheism is not a spontaneous development but stems from a variety of causes, including a critical reaction against religious beliefs, and in some places against the Christian religion in particular. Hence believers can have more than a little to do with the birth of atheism. To the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than reveal the authentic face of God and religion.20. Modern atheism often takes on a systematic expression which, in addition to other causes, stretches the desires for human independence to such a point that it poses difficulties against any kind of dependence on God. Those who profess atheism of this sort maintain that it gives man freedom to be an end unto himself, the sole artisan and creator of his own history. They claim that this freedom cannot be reconciled with the affirmation of a Lord Who is author and purpose of all things, or at least that this freedom makes such an affirmation altogether superfluous. Favoring this doctrine can be the sense of power which modern technical progress generates in man.Not to be overlooked among the forms of modern atheism is that which anticipates the liberation of man especially through his economic and social emancipation. This form argues that by its nature religion thwarts this liberation by arousing man's hope for a deceptive future life, thereby diverting him from the constructing of the earthly city. Consequently when the proponents of this doctrine gain governmental power they vigorously fight against religion, and promote atheism by using, especially in the education of youth, those means of pressure which public power has at its disposal.21. In her loyal devotion to God and men, the Church has already repudiated(16) and cannot cease repudiating, sorrowfully but as firmly as possible, those poisonous doctrines and actions which contradict reason and the common experience of humanity, and dethrone man from his native excellence.Still, she strives to detect in the atheistic mind the hidden causes for the denial of God; conscious of how weighty are the questions which atheism raises, and motivated by love for all men, she believes these questions ought to be examined seriously and more profoundly.The Church holds that the recognition of God is in no way hostile to man's dignity, since this dignity is rooted and perfected in God. For man was made an intelligent and free member of society by God Who created him, but even more important, he is called as a son to commune with God and share in His happiness. She further teaches that a hope related to the end of time does not diminish the importance of intervening duties but rather undergirds the acquittal of them with fresh incentives. By contrast, when a divine instruction and the hope of life eternal are wanting, man's dignity is most grievously lacerated, as current events often attest; riddles of life and death, of guilt and of grief go unsolved with the frequent result that men succumb to despair.Meanwhile every man remains to himself an unsolved puzzle, however obscurely he may perceive it. For on certain occasions no one can entirely escape the kind of self-questioning mentioned earlier, especially when life's major events take place. To this questioning only God fully and most certainly provides an answer as He summons man to higher knowledge and humbler probing.The remedy which must be applied to atheism, however, is to be sought in a proper presentation of the Church's teaching as well as in the integral life of the Church and her members. For it is the function of the Church, led by the Holy Spirit Who renews and purifies her ceaselessly,(17) to make God the Father and His Incarnate Son present and in a sense visible. This result is achieved chiefly by the witness of a living and mature faith, namely, one trained to see difficulties clearly and to master them. Many martyrs have given luminous witness to this faith and continue to do so. This faith needs to prove its fruitfulness by penetrating the believer's entire life, including its worldly dimensions, and by activating him toward justice and love, especially regarding the needy. What does the most reveal God's presence, however, is the brotherly charity of the faithful who are united in spirit as they work together for the faith of the Gospel(18) and who prove themselves a sign of unity.While rejecting atheism, root and branch, the Church sincerely professes that all men, believers and unbelievers alike, ought to work for the rightful betterment of this world in which all alike live; such an ideal cannot be realized, however, apart from sincere and prudent dialogue. Hence the Church protests against the distinction which some state authorities make between believers and unbelievers, with prejudice to the fundamental rights of the human person. The Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world God's temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind.Above all the Church knows that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart when she champions the dignity of the human vocation, restoring hope to those who have already despaired of anything higher than their present lot. Far from diminishing man, her message brings to his development light, life and freedom. Apart from this message nothing will avail to fill up the heart of man: "Thou hast made us for Thyself," O Lord, "and our hearts are restless till they rest in Thee."(19)

The first thing that strikes me is that the final text is much longer than the draft. The draft, almost simplistic, describes atheists purely from the outside, as aliens to be looked at with horror. The final text is much kinder and more sympathetic, but more complex and much less usable. I can't help but wonder: what is the point?

What a difference in tone! No contest as to which opens hearts more.It notes with great horror that errors are being spread everywhere, errors that open the way to perdition and close the gate of salvation. There are those who deny...there are those who, repudiating...there are those who rely only on human principles...there are those who deny...there are those who claim that the moral law has no validity...Creeping error has many colors and many heads My head is aching already. versusThe Church calls for the active liberty of believers to build up in this world Gods temple too. She courteously invites atheists to examine the Gospel of Christ with an open mind.

I appreciate the document on revelation's recognition that apostolic preaching preceded the penning of Scripture but the extent to which the document characterizes Holy Scripture ought not be missed. Still, it is a skeletal draft; thank Heaven for the full, promulgated texts of the Council.

There is a famous saying about the clunched fist of logic versus the open hand of rhetoric (understood as persuasion).The original drafts as translated by Fr. Komonchak certainly represent the spirit of the clunched fist of logic.In contrast, the revised and amended texts represent the spirit of the open hand of rhetoric (understood as persuasion).

Claire: When Pope John read the paragraph from the draft you cited, he is said to have counted the number of centimeters of condemnations. In his opening speech, of course, he proposed that the Council refrain from condemnations and instead offer a positive statement of the faith. The discussion of atheism in GS is longer and more diffuse, but an effort was made to take the phenomenon seriously in all its complexity, including some responsibility Christians may have for its rise and spread. Henri de Lubac worked on these paragraphs.Teresa: The first drafts were not "skeletal" if by that you mean they were to be filled out later, as one might an outline of a talk. Those were the full texts that the Doctrinal Commission expected the bishops to approve. The drama of the first session of the Council was in good part that the bishops made it clear that these were not the sort of texts they wished to issue, and so work had to begin on a kind of "second preparation" of the Council, beginning with the intersession between the first two sessions.

My impression of the text on Sacred Scripture is that it is addressed more to Protestants than to Catholics -- it's a defense of the Church's sole duty to authoritatively interpret the texts and a defense of tradition in doing those interpretations. Not a bad project, but not what the Catholics needed. To me the "defense of the deposit of the faith" sort of starts to justify the traditional scholastic epistemology (based on reason and the acceptance of certain metaphysical principles such as 'a thing cannot both be and not be at the same time in the same respect). However, it then merely repeats the time-honored theological conclusions. What was -- and is still needed -- is a complete theological epistemology which takes into consideration the criticisms by modern philosophers of the old basic theological/philosophical assumptions. Such a project, i think, was much too vast for one document, or even a whole council. But it would have been good if the Council had supported such a project. I mean a re-statement and defense of what used to be called "the preambles of faith". Only when the Church can make clear the reasonableness of belief can it begin to talk to the unchurched. And then it must convince them to accept the faith on grounds that go past simple logic. I do see a beginning of such a project in the Court of the Gentiles project. At least some in the Vatican (Cdl. Ravasi) is beginning to talk to the non-believers themselves. And because so many Catholics have lost the faith or are in process of losing it (or at least their old understanding of it), the project can help the fading Catholics too.

What are the Vatican II documents good for?Once in a while I hear a sentence used in a homily, but it is always the same small handful of sentences that are quoted. More than 99 percent of the documents remain unquoted, and perhaps unread.I tried to use a couple of paragraphs in teaching catechism, as a way to honor the 50th anniversary: it was a complete flop.When I want a quick and trustworthy exposition of the church's official position on some topic, the simple go-to reference, the equivalent of the English dictionary, is the Catechism. Whatever may be in the council documents would instead have to first be found, then be digested. They can only be read slowly, and it takes work. If one is ready to put in that kind of effort, why not start directly with the bible, or with a text on the topic by some favorite writer instead?Perhaps those council documents have value for those who write pastoral letters or design catechism textbooks, but for the rest of us, the benefits are indirect. I am not sure that it is worthwhile to read texts that are neither concise nor particularly clear nor, it seems to me, particularly beautiful for the most part. (Except those few phrases that get quoted regularly).

Claire --If you had experienced the Church before the Council you'd appreciate what it did. It changed the minds not only of the laity but the priests and bishops themselves. Before the Council there were many Catholics who thought Protestants, etc., were going to Hell and that they should be shunned. The Jews were still insulted dreadfully as "Christ killers". Yes, a lot of those prejudices remain, but things are far, far better. Some of the hierarchy still thought that the Church should official state churches or at least favored politically. Maybe most important, 'the Church' was defined as 'the people of God" and not as the hierarchy, and we, the laity and lower clergy, haven't forgotten it.. It seems to me that the latter point has been the main cause of our subsequent polarization. The Vatican hierarchy especially does not want to accept the fact.That the documents aren't quoted doesn't mean that they have not had and are not still having their effect. We don't quote the Constitution very often either.By the way, the Pray and Tell blog about the liturgy is discussing "Bible services", some very popular services in many parishes centered on bible study and lectio divina. I don't think that would have happened without the Council, and long may that movement flourish.

Oops -- should have been: Some of the hierarchy still thought that the Church should have official status as the state Church or at least be favored politically.

Ann, I have some idea of the impact. But I have a concrete question, whose answer is not clear to me. What would be the point of requiring today's Catholic teenagers, who have never even heard of Vatican II, to read a little bit of the council documents? There might be historical interest, but is there any other reason beyond that? I wonder if those texts are not unsuitable for Catholics who do not have specialized interests.

Claire ==I see your point. As I see the "state of the Church" (a notion so simple it is bound to distort a lot) the problem with the young is that they often don't know the simplest teachings of the Church, much less the more elaborated ones of the Council. But I doubt that just telling them the catechism would be an effective form of evangelization. Unlike the problem of evangelizing the West in, say the 6th century when the European peoples at least believed in some sort of gods, people today are suspicious of any teachings about a god or gods by an organization. The Irish missionaries had an easier job at St. Gall than the bishops meeting there now do. The latter can't just go out and tell the people "This is what is best to believe, what is the best way to live a good life, the best spirituality". It's no longer a matter of people comparing, say, the Holy Spirit or God the Father with Thor or Zeus. It is first and foremost a matter of whether or not they should believe in *any* god and only following that consideration will they consider whether or not God as described by the Christians is the best description available.In other words, the pagan culture of today is different from that of the 6th century. I don't think Pope Benedict and the bishops realize that. Their notion of Evangelization is just ot go out and "tell it like it is". That won't work anymore. They have to engage the people with the people's own questions.The contemporary world doesn't want to have anything to do with dogma, that is, with what other people say about God. We live in a do-it-yourself religious dimension.

Claire,You always ask such interesting questions. I am sure there is much to be gained, but I can't grasp how to even start. What point is there to requiring teenagers to read anything?I suppose we read things to know what people think. Or thought. Historical context is important to establish meaning, but the meaning is not just history. How different reading these preparatory documents is from reading the final documents! It is the difference of a Church that dispenses truths from a Church that struggles to engage and understand. That they "are neither concise nor particularly clear nor, it seems to me, particularly beautiful for the most part" is a sign of the messiness of life; this is very different from the lesson learned by reading the preparatory documents, with their clear, precise and irrelevant answers.So one point would be to encourage people to not accept easy answers. The Church is here to share our hopes and joys, our grief and sorrow, not to wrap things into neat packages.

Claire --Some Canadian young people have started an internet site to celebrate the VII anniversary and to make it better known to the young people. It will also be at Facebook and Twitter. I wonder how it will pan out -- how much interest it will generate. It's emphasizing understanding the documents. (I also wonder if this was a spontaneous project of those kids. Cynical of me, I know.))http://www.eglise.catholique.fr/actualites-et-evenements/dossiers/annive...

Hello All,First I'd like to thank Fr. Komonchak for making these texts available.After an admittedly quick first read of some of the salient passages, I have several reatcions to the texts Fr. Komonchak has shared and some of the responses here. In my opinion, perhaps the most important condemnation in the passage from On the Christian moral order that Claire quoted from in her response is:there are those who maintain that the moral law is subject to changes and to evolution even in fundamental matters; My impression is that the final version of Gaudiem et Spes does not deal with this specific matter at length, and that the emphasis in the passages that Claire identified as parallel to th equote form On the Christian moral order focus primarily on atheism and the Church's relationship to atheism.Maybe it's because I do so much research on the possibility of evolving morality but I am struck by how in On the Christian moral order the "evolutionist" view of morality seems to be regarded as a product of atheism. I think nothing could be further from the truth, although I would concede that some of the greatest philosophers who could be fairly called "moral evolutionists", such as David Hume, were not orthodox Christians. In fact, Aquinas himself argued that the natural law can change by means of the addition of new requirements, so even he would grant that in a certain sense morality can evolve.Starting with Veritatis Splendor if not earlier we've seen a renewed series of condemnations of views from the Church hierarchy that basic principles of morality can change or evolve, but the key question always seems to be: What principle are the basic principles of morality (and what are the secondary principles that could be open to revision)? I think we badly need a real debate in the Church about this, but I am not hopeful that we'll be allowed one that will have any practical import.

Hello Claire (and All),Hust a very quick follow-up on Ann's response: I certainly agree that not many read the original documents of vatical II but that does not diminish their import. While it may seem odd some of the most influential documents are documents that have mostly indirect influence. One of my favorite examples is Sidgwick's "Methids of Ethics", which very few prhilosophers study but which has had a huge indirect impact since some of the philosophers who have had the most direct influence in recent years, from John rawls to peter Singer, were themselves influenced by Sidgwick.I'm also struck by how almost all of the influence of the so-called frenchj catechism is indirect - When I bought my copy a few years ago I was struck by the advertising blurn obn it saying "Over 7 million copies sold". I thought for a moment and realized that even if each of those copies had been purchased by different househlds (which is obviously untrue) then this boiok would be in less than 1% of Roman Catholic homes. But I would never underestimate the influence of this catechism.

I join Peter in thanking Fr K for translating those texts. Thanks to Ann for the pointer, which could be useful. Thanks to Jim for the compliment, much appreciated, and for his comment. I wish I had something interesting to say in return. "Clear, precise and irrelevant answers": ha!

The opening lines of Gaudium et spes: "The joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the men [and women] of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted in any way, are the joy and hope, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Nothing that is genuinely human fails to find and echo in their hearts. For theirs is a community composed of men [and women] who, united in Christ and guided by the holy Spirit, press onward toward the kingdom of the Father and are bearers of a message of salvation intended for all men [and women]. This is why Christians cherish a feeling of deep solidarity with the human race and its history."That was News! and apparently remains News.

Hello Again All,I've had just a little more time to look at parts of Father K's remarkable translations (between writing the solutions to my latest midterm). I'll make one very general (and maybe not that helpful?) further comment: I find it truly remarkable that, given that one of these preliminary documents was dedicated to discussing morality (and titled 'On the Christian moral order'), in the end the council fathers did not produce a dedicated document on morality. (Of course, I was well aware before Fr. K's post here that the documents of Vatican II contain much that is terribly important regarding specific moral issues. But the specific council teachings on moral questions I have studied are scattered in various VII documents).I suspect that in the end there was no council document dedicated to the subject of morality, and specifically Christian morality, because the council participants (including the auditors) were probably at some point worn out from all their other work, not because they did not think such a document was needed. I can't help but wonder what they would have produced had they chosen to produce such a document.I had known the council fathers decided not to issue a dedicated document on the Blessed Virgin Mary, although I don't know the reasons for their decision. It is indeed fascinating to compare even the titles of the preliminary documents with the titles of the final VII decrees.(BTW my apologies for my somewhat garbled tying in my two earlier posts - I was writing in a great hurry during a break before class, shame on me!)

Peter --I wonder if the Council didn't do a document on morality because the foundations of Catholic morality are somewhat disarrayed at this time. Yes, the medievals did some splendid work on the very foundations (see, for instance, MacIntyre's After Virtue for the most fundamental, metaphysical principles), and they did some fine work on particular issues and in philosophy of law and political philosophy. But as you point out, there is something to be desired in the mid-range -- in the application of general principles to the secondary ones, or should I say the derivation of the secondary from the primary. In my less than well-informed opinion, there is one very fundamental problem that keeps reasserting itself in Catholic moral teaching, the problem of the principle "Never do evil to accomplish good". In the first place, there are many instances in which the Church de facto does allow us to do physical evil for a greater good, which should tell the CDF that something is drastically wrong somewhere. Neither have I ever seen how that principle, NDETAG, is derived from the more fundamental principles, and I suspect that, while generally applicable, it's not an absolute norm. Another mid-range problem concerns the need for a decision procedure in choosing which moral norms are relevant to a given set of circumstances. This problem is part of what I see as a gigantic problem with the whole notion of prudence.In other words, the whole mid-system of Catholic morality needs to be re-thought and the problems there must be recognized.

Ann: Since you admit that your opinion is "less than well-informed," permit me to say that the two issues you raise have been much, much discussed in the tradition of moral theology. I don't think any "decision procedure" (what an odd phrase!) is ever going to do away with the need for the virtue of prudence, which, of course, is simply one illustration of the Aristotelian axiom that the norm of justice is the just person. Just people recognize the just thing to do; the unjust don't. Augustine said that you had to be a lover to discern what love requires. There is no objective "decision procedure" that can substitute for personal virtue in discerning the next good thing to do. That idea of objectivity is simply a myth. E.g., how would you decide among alternative "decision procedures"?

The phrase "decision procedure" originated in modern logic and math. It is a sure, step-by-step procedure for reaching a sound conclusion. The notion was developed in math in response to the problem of "decidability", that is, the question of how to discover whether or not any given arithmetic statement is true or false. See the controversy which Godel's proof inspired. He proved that given certain axioms arithmetic is either incomplete or inconsistent -- that is, either 1) not every arithmetic statement can be proven to be either true or false or 2) the arithmetic he postulated is inconsistent. (Another mathematician, using different arithmetic axioms, proved that that his system is not inconsistent, thus possibly rescuing arithmetic but complicating the issue.)The notion of a decision procedure can be extended to moral thinking. Today such procedures might be called "sure moral discernment procedures". There is already the classic but crude decision procedure of Augustine, "Love God, then what you will", but it's too simple. I would guess that St. Ignatius must have offered at least some hints. I was to;d that Aquinas had a very general one for deciding what one ought to do. The steps were these:1. Consult the experts on the issue.2. If the experts differ, consult persons who have actually faced the actual moral issue in their own lives.3. If those who have faced the issue differ, do what you want to do.My friend didn't have a reference, but it does sound like Thomas, except that the last step sounds too simple for him. I suspect a very limited decision procedure could be expressed in the terms of Aristotelian logic\. It would not be a universal procedure -- it could be applied only to moral problems having to do with class relationships and you'd have to add the proviso that singular statements are admissible. But the real world of ethical problems extends beyond class relationships into the either-or, if-then relationships of the real, wider world, and those problems include the severe epistemological problems we find when we try to interpret what the facts of a given moral situation truly are. And, of course, there is the problem of deciding which moral principles obtain in any particular situation.You say, "Do what the virtuous person would do". And how do you discover who is in fact a virtuous person? What if the two virtuous person whom you know disagree? I bet you'd ask them *how* they reached their different conclusions -- your'd ask for their reasoning. But -- notice carefully -- what you have done is ask for their decision procedures. See? We need decision procedures. Summoning up "the virtuous man" or "prudence" is not adequate to existential situations.. Moral: the moral theologians need to learn a lot more logic than Aristotle's so they can appreciate the utility of decision procedures and get a clearer idea of just what they are. When they do they'lll have a clearer idea of which decision procedures are adequate to the moral tasks they're designed to do.What I"m talking about are called "axiomatic systems". The philosophers of math and logic have done a tremendous amount of foundational work on the subject. Since natural law theory claims to be an axiomatic system (yes, it does, though not using the contemporary vocabulary), it seems to me that the natural law moralists ignore the contemporary developments at their peril. You know that I'm an Aristotelian. But I know that a lot has been done of value in both logic and ethics since his time and since the medievals. Time for the Church to catch up and use some of these modern tools.(Peter vande

OOPS Should be: Peter Vandershraaf, where are you?

JAK --Actually, I've over-simplified enormously. Merely deducing the relationships between general principles/descriptions about the world and individual facts is not the sum total of moral thinking (that is more like science). There additional general requirements concerning what ought to be done . As I understand the problems, these are related to the problem of 'deriving ought from is'. There are special logics for deriving "ought statements" and statements of permissability. They're called "deontic logics". But, from what I've read, there are still some theoretical problems with them, though maybe they've been solved. Again, I don't know a very much about this area, but I know enough to know that it's extremely important and many philosophers consider the general area to be quite useful.

Hello All,To add to some of Ann's observations, I'm seeing a rise in interest in the intersection between philosophy, politics and economics in a number of North American universities in recent years that I think is driven in large part by the promise of making some real progress on tough moral issues using both concepts from philosophy old and new and the formal methods of the social sciences. (Full disclosure: I lead a Philosophy, Politics and Economics course and I do some research in PPE, so I hope my comments don't seem to self-serving.)I'm somewhat sympathetic to Ann's views expressed here because like Ann, I think I see signs of real strain in the classical natural law tradition of Augustine and Aquinas that plays a dominant role in Church moral teaching (and which I contrast with the modern natural law tradition of Grotius, Hobbes and Locke). One example: I think Ann's observations about the traditional "do no harm to produce good" principle are related to the well-known and always controversial doctrine of double effect (which I think was first explicitly proposed by Aquinas) and is occasionally discussed in this forum. My own opinion is that the classical natural law theorists rely upon the DDE as a device meant to allow individuals to perform certain acts such as fighting and possibly killing that might be acceptable according to the natural law in done in self-defense, but would otherwise be violations of the natural law prohibitions against violence and homicide. But the DDE has always been fraught with difficulties because critics are prone to try redescribing all manner of moral offenses at as to make them "acceptable". Many contemporary philosophers a lot better than I am have argued that the DDE in the end just does not always work the way it "ought" to, and I agree with them. But without the DDE, some important moral positions endorsed by the Church would be in real jeopardy. Some of the most recent work on analyzing moral norms as defining social equilibria (and which uses the formal methods I mentioned above) opens the door to reformulating certain natural law precepts such as the prohibition against homicide so that one may still fight and possibly kill in self defense but without incorporating the controversial DDE. So I'll use this example as a small bit of evidence in support of Ann's view - the classical natural lawyers might profit from a look at some of the recent developments outside their own tradition.

Thanks, PEter. Would you like to tell us more about the modern developments, both as to theory and methods of moral thinking that you think are valuableI don't know much contemporary ethics, but do think there is some value in Rawls proposed method of surveying a population to discover what they think is fair. It seems to me that, while the method cannot yield a solid foundation for an ethical theory, it could help as a means to discover just what the are which which will make us flourish. I'm saying that a natural law theory has an empirical part, and Rawls might be relevant in it.

I don't know how that procedure works in maths, Ann, but I doubt very much that in moral discernment there's "a sure, step-by-step procedure" that doesn't require intellectual and moral virtues in the inquirer. It's not very Aristotelian to ignore this. I didn't write: "do what the virtuous person would do." It's more like: You won't know what to do unless you are a virtuous person yourself. Isn't "Love and do what you will" rather like Aristotle's justice is what just people do? I know, I know the objection: If I don't know what justice is, how do I know who the just are? But that's life, isn't it. You have to be fortunate enough to have grown up among just people, virtuous people, to be able to learn from them, but if you grow up among thugs and cheats, you're not likely to learn what justice is, or virtue. There's no logical first point at which you enter the inquiry and from which all things can be deduced by some sort of unfailing "procedure." I don't believe that there is any "objective" procedure that makes the possession of intellectual and moral virtues unnecessary. And to lob you objection back at you: What if there were more than one procedure offered, how do you choose between or among them? Is there a decision procedure for choosing decision-procedures?

Is there a decision procedure for choosing decision-procedures?Nice question! The answer is no, because that's an example of an undecidable problem. I think. (Not completely sure, because I'm not 100% sure exactly how to model it mathematically.) But you've seen this before, haven't you?

JAK -No, it's not ARistotelian to criticize the "virtuous man" criterion. I don't automatically agree with any philosopher. (Women, unlike men, don't seem to have a need for heroes.) I think that criterion it's a big flaw in his work. Not that it affects the his metaphysical foundations of his natural law theory. But it's an appeal to a norm that he cannot justify because it is neither an a priori given nor a justified a posteriori one.Yes, "Love God and do what you will" is a lot like the virtuous man norm. But the meaning of "love" is just as undefined as the meaning of "virtuous", and both criteria fail for the same reason -- they beg the question in the old sense of the phrase."But that's life isn't it" is not a philosophical response! Nor a theological one!! Just because we don't have the answers we think we need is no reason not to criticize our own thinking, and it's certainly no reason to ignore the help that the more recent philosophers offer. Don't be so pessimistic.Yes, there must be a logical first point from which we enter an ethical system. As I see it, ethics begins with metaphysics and psychology as axiomatic. I'm not at all convinced that there really is some universal decision procedure that can grind out perfect solutions to actual problems. But I think we're ethically bound to look for one -- or at least for a set of consistent procedures that will giv us reliable answers. You ask: "What if there were more than one procedure offered, how do you choose between or among them? Is there a decision procedure for choosing decision-procedures?"I answer: that is related to my point about the need for some way to judge which ethical principles apply to some given circumstances! Ethical principles (gleaned from the combo of metaphysics and psychology) will necessarily be part of an ethical decision procedure (that's what ethical decision procedures are -- applications of eth. principles to facts). I don't think that you can assume that there might be at best *many* of them. Neither can you assume that even if there are many that they will be inconsistent with each other, thus requiring us to decide what to use in deciding an ethical issue. (This does get us into the foundations of ethics, which I find thoroughly fascinating. But as it stands it's terribly murky.)I hope Peter tells us more. He knows all the modern stuff. Contemporary Anglo-speaking philosophy is at a very interesting point right now, I think. The neo-atheists have prompted some serious and even open-minded thinking about the possibility of the non-material dimension(s and the possibility of God/spirit, and even Thomas Nagel, who has done a lot on consciousness, has come out recently with a strong criticism of materialism, though I'm not sure he'd use that terminology. The time is ripe for the classic philosophies (or at least their questions) to be reconsidered, I think. Even the NYT's philosophy section ("The Stone") often has op=ed contributorss from the classic traditions, which is an extremely healthy sign to me. But the admirers of the ancients will have to talk the contemporary analytic language of the empiricists/materialists and will have to understand the strengths of the latter to make a dent in their thinking.

You wrote: But thats life, isnt it is not a philosophical response! Nor a theological one!! Just because we dont have the answers we think we need is no reason not to criticize our own thinking, and its certainly no reason to ignore the help that the more recent philosophers offer. Dont be so pessimistic.Yes, there must be a logical first point from which we enter an ethical system. As I see it, ethics begins with metaphysics and psychology as axiomatic. Im not at all convinced that there really is some universal decision procedure that can grind out perfect solutions to actual problems. But I think were ethically bound to look for one or at least for a set of consistent procedures that will give us reliable answers.My comment was not an expression of despair or of pessimism. It was an effort to return us to the real world. In fact, we do not enter an ethical system from a logical first point. From our first breath, we are within an ethical system, the one of the persons and communities who give us birth and rear us and who introduce us into the worldview and ethos treasured in their societies. If we are lucky, they tell us of the world as it is, urge us to the genuinely valuable, and train us in the intellectual and moral virtues needed in that world of meaning and value.Im glad to hear that your procedure will not mechanically grind out solutions to ethical problems. But I still think that its naive to expect to find a set of consistent procedures that will give us reliable answers. If this procedure is not to work mechanically or automatically in order to generate consistent answers, it will involve the use of intellectual and moral virtues, and youll be right back with Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas.

If at birth you enter a world which includes an ethical system, but you are not taught its metaphysical and scientific foundations, then the theorems of that system which you are taught become your axioms -- your initial starting point. The decision procedures you are taught (e.g., Love God and do what you will) are more less clear and more or less adequace, They are analogous to the rules of a deductive system. So you've still got a system, primitive though it might be.So long as the Church holds that our ethics must be rational, it is requiring that we treat the application of ethical norms as a deductive system. You can say that this is too mechanical, but logic *is* mechanical in a sense. It is why we cannot escape certain logical conclusions, and, I might add, why we sometimes really hate logic for leading us to unwanted moral conclusions. But that too is de facto human life.When I said that a valid decision procedure would not "grind out" conclusions mechanically, what I had in mind was the fact that sometimes the conclusions we reach contradict norms which didn't enter into our calculation. In such cases our norms and/or decision procedure(s) need revision. What to do? I say look for better norms and decision procedures, but do not abandon logic. It is our best means of discovering truth and of necessary self-criticism as we pursue what is true and what is good..

Speaking of human reason and its uses, there has been a great deal of argument among the psychologists lately about just how good people are oraren't at reasoning. Some, like Jonathan Haidt, scorns the old idea of man as a "rational animal", holding that reason was meant by the evolutionary process to confirm our biases, and it rarely is the great tool many philosophers claim it to be. Others psychologists disagree withHaidt, and Daniel Kahneman, in Thinking Fast and Slow, takes a middle position. He holds (as I understand him) that, yes, we do use reason largely to confirm our biases, but not necessarily so. It is true, he says, that "gut" reactions often reach a useful intuition quicker and even better than reason might. But he also holds that the quality of gut reactions are dependent on the slower process of getting to understand a subject, and the more we reason carefully about a subject, the better we will do, both in our reasoning about it and in our gut reactions about it. In today's NYT's The Stone, Gary Gutting of Notre Dame considers Haidt's and Plato's positions about reason's part in a good human life. Gutting points out that Plato (and many other great philosophers) was very well aware that though we are capable of reasoning, we often do not use reason, or we do not use it well. In other words, Haidt oversimplifies Plato badly. Gutting makes two pleas: 1) that Haidt pay more attention to the philosophers and 2) that the philosophers pay more attention to the fine empirical work being done by the contemporary psychologists on the nature of human reason.

Oops -- here's the Gutting op=ed article:http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/category/the-stone/

I have read Lonergan's Insight and read it carefully because I knew it might be an issue when I defended my doctoral thesis. Lonergan barely mentions Hume in that whole work. Yes, he describes how he thinks judgments are made, but he never answers Hume's powerful criticisms of all sorts of knowledge. He doesn't seem to have thought that it was necessary to engage Hume. I call that naive.As to scientists crying over epistemological problems, granted, I was really just thinking of the limited number of scientists who are interested in philosophy of science. Science students are not required to study it, so criticisms of its foundations of it is not generally an issue for them. It is only scientists like Kuhn (of The Structure of Scientific Revolution fame), who are curious about it, who know what those foundations are and aren't, and who are concerned about the strength of the foundations who see that science ain't what it's been cracked up to be.In The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Kuhn says that the greatest scientists have formed new scientific paradigms which explain scientific data, but most scientists practice what he calls "normal science". They (unlike the inventors of new paradigms) do their research without considering the justification of their own ultimate principles. Such science serves only to enlarge the current paradigm which is generally accepted as "true". But Kuhn saw that because it is theoretically possible that there are any number of possible paradigms to explain given scientific data, and because none is intrinsically preferable to any other, no one paradigm can be said to yield *the* truth in the classic sense. They are all at best hypotheses which *might* be true, but cannot be definitely known to be. It follows that no paradigm can be said to be "objective" in the ordinary sense of the term. Other theorists of science are still trying to get out of the "relativism" he is accused of establishing. Kuhn is what finally threw the theoreticians of science into fibrillation. (Previously, in the '30s, the Vienna Circle's realized there was a fundamental problem with their scientism, so logical positivism began to crack apart back in the '30s.) With Kuhn the crisis in the foundations of science was in full swing. (Not to mention the long-standing contradictions among favored physical theories.) It hasn't recovered yet -- Richard Rorty even gave up on both philosophy and science and looked to literature (fiction!) for wisdom.At this point even some scientists are willing to grant a truce between "science and religion", matter and spirit. See, e.g., scientist Steven Jay Gould's theory of "non-overlapping magisteria". I say the time is ripe for dialogue, but only if the spirit side is willing to recognize the power of the opposition -- and vice versa.Sorry to go on so long about this, but it's an old and hugely complex history.

Thank you very much, Joseph A. Komonchak. I've let people on Fisheaters and Bellarmine fora know about it.Also, what was your primary source for these translations? Was it:Vatican Council. 1969. Acta et documenta Concilio Oecumenico Vaticano II apparando. Civitate Vaticana: Typis Polyglottis Vaticanis.Thanks

Also, Dr. Komonchak, where can I find Vatican II Preparatory Commission's ~20-page draft on the authority of St. Thomas? I'm sure it's in the Acta et Documenta I referred to above, but I would need to know exact page numbers to have my library digitally deliver it to me.Thanks for the help

Thank you for providing these translations. They are a great resource for studying the Council. I would love to see a translation of the drafts on the church and the BVM.

Share

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.