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


Moral Relativism, Moral Code, and Human Freedom

In modern times it has been increasing popular to say that truth may vary by person. One person may say that murder is wrong, while another may say it is wrong depending on the scenario. Though the example given may seem outlandish is denotes a trend of moral relativism among our culture. The power to decide what is truth, and what is right of wrong is the domain of God. In the great encyclical, Veritatis Splendor, Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone” (Veritatis Splendor para 35). The ideas taught within nominalism have manifested themselves twofold within moral relativism. Furthermore, God has revealed through reason and natural law certain moral principles that man is to uphold. Sin undermines this by destroying what God had established, and in a sense, man has become their own god.

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As previously stated God has revealed in natural law, and the scriptures the moral code in which man is supposed to act. Concerning morality, or the moral order, natural law helps us discern universal and binding moral principles and precepts. God gave this gift to man to show us how to love him and how to love each other. Natural law implies that there is a moral realism, or a defined moral order that we called to uphold. When we follow natural law, seek to know the truth about God, and seek to do good we echo the words of scripture “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39 NRSV). These appetites worked together to help man have happiness.

However, man wanted to be happy at all costs, and that would eventually mean transgressing moral law. Man wanted freedom, but what man does not understand is that the moral code leads to freedom. Saint Pope John Paul II writes, “God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom” (Veritatis Splendor para 35). Sin destroys that freedom, and man becomes a slave to sin. Man tried to change morality was, and in the 14th century William Ockham said that universal ideas like truth and love were ideas and not reality . This would eventually give way to moral relativism which says that there is no objective truth. Truth is in the eye of the beholder and can change from one person to another. Through sin, man lost sight of what truth is and what would make him happy. Regarding this Servais Pinckaers writes, “With the advent of nominalism we witness the formation of the first morality obligation: The moral life will henceforth be circumscribed to obligations. The desire for happiness will be systematically set aside” (Pinckaers 72). Truth is not a concept or an abstract idea. Truth is embodied in the person of Jesus Christ.

Works Cited

Pinckaers, Servais. Morality: The Catholic View. St. Augustine’s Press. South Bend, IN: 2001. Print.

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

Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version

Christ and Theology of the Body

From the beginnings of sacred scripture, we read many prophecies about the coming of the Messiah.  This first gospel announcement can be seen as early as Genesis 3:15. After much anticipation the Savior is born of a virgin and walked among us.  In our fallen state he revealed himself as the “image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15 NRSV).  Adam sinned in the garden, but Christ is perfect in every way and comes among us as the new Adam.  As the new Adam he shows each of the human person as it was intended in the beginning.

This is an important concept when it comes to the Theology of the Body.  The body is the mystery of God revealed in human flesh, and this is one factor that makes Christianity logical (Ostrowski 201).  The human body is a study of God as it is His creation, and He created us out of love.  He wants us to share that love, and as such the marital act of spouses is the created version of His love, making visible the invisible reality of His mystery.

From the beginning God wanted his plan to be plainly visible.  Regarding this Christopher West writes, “God wanted this great marital plan of union and eternal life to be so plain to the world that He impressed an image of it right in our bodies by creating us male and female” (Ostrowski 202).  Therefore, the model for human sexuality is that which was present before the fall of our first parents.  Though we have fallen we have redemption in Christ who showed us the way as the new Adam.  We are made for union, and we long for union, but we must only be in union with our spouse.  Until then we must be celibate and rely on the grace of Christ to overcome our lustful desires.

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Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version


Ostrowski, Thaddeus ed., Primary Source Readings in Christian Morality.  Winona, MN: Saint Mary’s Press, 2008, 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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