Aquinas and the Principle of Double Effect

Over the course of our lives we will be faced with many difficult decisions.  These decisions may be life altering and may change us forever.  In the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “Acting is morally good when the choices of freedom are in conformity with man’s true good and thus express the voluntary ordering of the person towards his ultimate end: God himself, the supreme good in whom man finds his full and perfect happiness” (Veritatis Splendor para 72).  In these circumstances there are right and wrong moral decisions, and the principles of double effect and material cooperation assist us in making the right decision.

The principle of double effect, or PDE, has its origins with St. Thomas Aquinas and is one of the best strategies in solving complex morality issues.  This principle states that it is possible to make a decision that has both good and bad effects.  Just because it has both effects does not mean that it is not morally permitted.  There are conditions that must be met for a decision to fall under this principle.  The act itself must be good or morally indifferent.  The good effect must not come from evil.  Evil is not the intended result.  If evil is the effect it should be a last resort and the good effect should be equal or greater.  This principle, along with material cooperation, help to make the best moral decision out of possibly the worst of circumstances.

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            When an individual assists in some way in wrongdoing this is called material cooperation, and there are two categories.  The first is known as immediate material cooperation an individual, though they may disapproval, assists in the act.  They may tolerate it, but do not approve.  The second in Mediate material cooperation, and consists of proximate mediate and remote mediate material cooperation.  Proximate mediate is immoral in all cases, and may consists in the manufacturing of a device, such as Sarin gas, that is only meant for evil.  Remote mediate may be permitted based on the circumstance, such as not being able to find viable employment elsewhere and having to feed your children.  In this circumstance someone may be the janitor at the factory that produces Sarin gas because employment may not be had elsewhere.  This is why moral decisions should be looked at to get all the factors.  Regarding this Pope John Paul II writes, “In this view, deliberate consent to certain kinds of behaviour declared illicit by traditional moral theology would not imply an objective moral evil” (Veritatis Splendor para 75).

A hard case when it comes to PDE is the subject of abortion.  Abortion is the termination of a human life while it is still in the womb.  Abortion being wrong is not a matter of just the church saying so.  This can be deduced by the use of reason without the aid of faith (Smith & Kaczor 29).  Imagine if a couple had six kids at home, and while pregnant with the seventh the mother is diagnosed with uterine cancer.  Removing the cancer would end the pregnancy, but not removing it the mother will perish while the child lives.  After much prayer and anguish the parents opt to remove the cancer for the benefit of the six children they have to raise.  This is an effective use of PDE since the intent was not to terminate the pregnancy, but to remove the cancer.  Conversely a woman who chooses to terminate the pregnancy because she just does not want another child does not meet the conditions of PDE.

Proponents of proportionalism reject PDE because the moral actions of the individual should be judged by the consequences that ensue.  In short, the outcome that brings the greatest good or the least bit of evil is the appropriate action.  Proportionalism does not have a set definition of what is morally upright, and it can change based on the individual.  It is because of these reasons that proportionalism is condemned by Veritatis Splendor.


Works Cited

Pope John Paul II.  Veritatis Splendor.  Accessed February 27, 2018.

Smith, Janet E and Kaczor, Christopher.  Life Issues, Medical Choices:  Questions and Answers For Catholics.  Servant.  Cincinatti, OH:  2016.  Print


Salvific Work of Christ and Human Freedom

Within the course of salvation history there have been many questions about the work of Christ and the role of the human freedom, or free will.  There has been no shortage of theories, and Church history shows that there have been many heresies from those trying find a synthesis between the two.  There seem to be two extremes when it comes to this issue:  Those who think that Christ will save us no matter what e do after coming to faith, and those who think that one must continually work to attain salvation (Pelagianism).  Saint Pope John Paul II wrote two encyclicals titled Redemptor Hominis and Redemptoris Missio that deal with this important issue.

The Pope reaffirms the teaching of Christ in John 14:6 that He is the way and the truth.  He echoes the words of God is creation where he saw the things that he created as good.  The work of Christ is expressed as an act of love, and a love that the Father had from the beginning with creation.  It was through this act of love that man was restored and made whole.  Regarding this Pope John Paul II writes, “He and he alone also satisfied that fatherhood of God and that love which man in a way rejected by breaking the first Covenant and the later covenants that God again and again offered to man” (Redemptor Hominis Para 9).  Man is unable to enter into relationship with God unless it is through Christ (Redemptoris Missio Para 5).  What Christ did for man was the greatest act of love that ever done.  It is one that our feeble minds can barely start to fathom

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            The Pope firmly establishes that it is Christ who is the only way and is the source of our salvation.  The work of Christ on the cross was an act of love that echoes back to the point of creation, and he reconciles man to himself.  How about human freedom?  The freedom of man is a source of controversy for many.  Our lives as lack meaning if we do not have love.  We were made to love and live in communion with each other.  Through His life, death, and resurrection Christ has shown us what love is.  This love changes the lives of the apostles, and they passed that on and it changed the world.  God offers this newness of life to every man, but man has the freedom to reject it.  In this regard Pope John Paul II writes, “Faith demands a free adherence on the part of man, but at the same time faith must also be offered to him” (Redemptoris Missio Para 8).  Freedom is not the ultimate end as the world teaches it to be.  Freedom is the choice to do as we ought to.

Freedom is only a gift if one knows how to use it for everything that is true good (Redemptor Hominis Para 21).  When we encounter Him that is truth we can either accept of deny what he says.  He says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 NRSV).  Once we reach this realization Christ calls us to a higher standard of living.  We are bound to regulate of lives with this truth, and we have the freedom to do so or not (Redemptoris Missio Para 8).  Human freedom is a part of the redemption.  By his work on the cross, Christ redeems us by an act of love and we are called to love others and do what Christ commands of us.

Works Cited

John Paul II. Redemptor Hominis 1979 Web. Accessed December 20, 2017.

John Paul II. Redemptoris Missio 1990.  Web.  Accessed December 21, 2017.

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