Sunday, March 12, 2017

A Comfort in Tribulation

A Dialogue of Comfort against Tribulation, by St. Thomas More, rendered in modern English by Mary Gottschalk, discusses where one can find true comfort when afflicted by tribulation (pain or sorrow).  This post will discuss More's first comfort and some related ideas of St. Thomas Aquinas, described by Peter Kreeft in Practical Theology, his book on the Summa Theologica.

More argued that the first comfort in tribulation is the desire and longing to be comforted by God.  This desire includes letting God decide how to comfort us: by removing or diminishing the tribulation or by giving us patience and spiritual consolation to endure it.  Whichever occurs is good.  Aquinas wrote that great pain can distract us and keep us from contemplating the truth, which is a great good, so removing such pain can lead us back to God. 

If the tribulation continues and God gives us patience, then we can endure it.  Aquinas wrote that some pain is beneficial, for we learn from it: we can become compassionate, courageous, and wise.  Moreover, the pain may prevent us from a moral failing or fault.  More wrote that God may "send us sorrow and sickness to make us draw toward Him" (and pray to Him) when we forget Him.
The key is to let God decide.  Aquinas wrote that we must trust God; although we can't understand the reasons for the tribulation, we can understand that God can produce good out of any evil (including our tribulations).  This "well-ordered" attitude, inspired by God, is a great comfort.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

A Well-Governed State

According to Esolen and his reading of Pope Leo XIII's writings, a well-governed state should promote its citizens' material and moral prosperity, protect private property, allow free associations, and protect the poor from the abuse of the rich and powerful.  Although there is no single solution that will work for everyone everywhere, there are four principles that should be used to create a solution:
  1. The state should be directed by objective moral law, self-restraint, and industriousness.
  2. The state should assist the poor by creating an environment that allows families to raise healthy children who can become healthy, moral citizens.
  3. The state should allow families and associations to act independently to do what is best and teach virtue.
  4. The state should ensure that the commercial world is just and respects the persons who work; economic efficiency should not trump human dignity.
Esolen notes that, in a healthy culture (not a market), everyone will act in their "truly human interest."  One has a right to property but the responsibility to use it productively by employing others (not paying taxes).  Experienced workers have a right to a living wage but also a responsibility to do good work and to teach younger ones their trade.  We have a right to spend our money as we wish but a responsibility to make the world more beautiful and more human.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Goodness of Work

According to Esolen and his reading of Pope Leo XIII's writings, work is for family, for neighbors, and for God.  But material wealth is not the goal.  God's commandments restrain "the greed of possession" and "the thirst for pleasure."  Indeed, according to Pope Leo, spending a "life in the pursuit of earthly pleasures, and in forgetfulness of the happiness which alone lasts forever" is "a waste" and "a terrible punishment."  Those who have received blessings have a duty to use them to benefit others so that they can live a virtuous life aimed at eternal life with God.

To be human, work must be a true society.  In their guilds, workers had a "genuinely human society" with a common goal.  Today, the guilds are gone, but workers and owners should respect each other as brothers.  Among other responsibilities, an owner should pay fair wages to support workers and their families so that they can live decently and virtuously.  A worker "puts himself into his work" and, as a reward, earns and possesses property, including land, which is the basis of all economic activity. And those possessions enable the worker's family to live a fully human life.

Discounting moral concerns for the greater good

On Friday, The Washington Post had an article by Sarah Kaplan about research on a chimera technique.  (Such research cannot receive federal funding.)  The article mentioned the moral and ethical concerns from different viewpoints but also included this quote from Vardit Ravitsky at the University of Montreal:
The more you can show that it stands to produce something that will actually save lives ... the more we can demonstrate that the benefit is real, tangible, and probable---overall it shifts the scale of risk-benefit assessment, potentially in favor of pursuing research and away from those concerns that are more philosophical and conceptual.

Ravitsky's argument is a utilitarian one ("it's useful, so let's do it") that prioritizes the ends over the means and ignores any reasonable bounds that reflect our values and beliefs about the dignity of human life. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Church as a Society

According to Esolen and his reading of Pope Leo XIII's writings, the Church, although full of sinners, is a perfect society because its members follow Christ and accept the responsibility to obey Christ's commandments to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength" and "love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:30-31).  This love creates a social bond, not a contract, and this bond is meant to help us achieve our end by moral improvement, for true liberty is the opportunity to attain this end, which is union with God.  The two commandments must go together, for "He who does not love does not know God; for God is love" (1 John 4:8). 

In this perfect society, where all are welcome, however, not all are equal, for "God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.  Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles" (1 Corinthians 12:28-29).  The answer is "No," but all are members of the same body: "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body -- Jews or Greeks, slaves or free -- and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
For the body does not consist of one member but of many" (1 Corinthians 12:12-14).

Despite the inequality, the love for each other creates a social bond: "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together" (1 Corinthians 12:26).