Discipline, concupiscence and birth control

The papal encyclical Humanae vitae (HV) teaches that our bodies are not ours to do with as we please:

“In the task of transmitting life, … [married couples] are not free to proceed completely at will, as if they could determine in a wholly autonomous way the honest path to follow; but they must conform their activity to the creative intention of God, expressed in the very nature of marriage and of its acts, and manifested by the constant teaching of the Church.” 10

“[J]ust as man does not have unlimited dominion over his body in general, so also, with particular reason, he has no such dominion over his generative faculties as such, because of their intrinsic ordination towards raising up life, of which God is the principle.” 13

“[T]he Church is the first to praise and recommend the intervention of intelligence in a function which so closely associates the rational creature with his Creator; but she affirms that this must be done with respect for the order established by God.” 16

Thus, regulating births per se is not wrong. What’s wrong is doing it in a way that disrespects “the order established by God”:

“The Church is coherent with herself when she considers recourse to the infecund periods to be licit, while at the same time condemning, as being always illicit, the use of means directly contrary to fecundation, even if such use is inspired by reasons which may appear honest and serious. In reality, there are essential differences between the two cases; in the former, the married couple make legitimate use of a natural disposition; in the latter, they impede the development of natural processes. It is true that, in the one and the other case, the married couple are concordant in the positive will of avoiding children for plausible reasons, seeking the certainty that offspring will not arrive; but it is also true that only in the former case are they able to renounce the use of marriage in the fecund periods when, for just motives, procreation is not desirable, while making use of it during infecund periods to manifest their affection and to safeguard their mutual fidelity. By so doing, they give proof of a truly and integrally honest love.” 16

“[I]f the mission of generating life is not to be exposed to the arbitrary will of men [e.g. controlled by government], one must necessarily recognize insurmountable limits to the possibility of man’s domination over his own body and its functions; limits which no man, whether a private individual or one invested with authority, may licitly surpass. And such limits cannot be determined otherwise than by the respect due to the integrity of the human organism and its functions, ….” 17

“[The Church] engages man not to abdicate from his own responsibility in order to rely on technical means; by that very fact she defends the dignity of man and wife.” 18

In regard to that last quote, consider the topic of overeating and weight loss: In the not-too-distant future someone may invent a fat-burning pill that actually works, that is, enables you to eat all you want and not gain weight. Now, if someone is concerned about his weight, what method should he use to control it? Should he exercise the discipline required to eat right and exercise? or would it be just as well to take a pill that enables him to indulge his appetite without limit, and throw discipline out the window?

It’s important to understand the Catholic concept of concupiscence, as one of the fruits of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Basically, concupiscence is the tendency of the desires of the flesh to exert themselves in rebellion against the mastery of the intellect and will. In our fallen state, our ability to resist these desires is compromised, and therefore we must battle the flesh constantly. This doesn’t mean that fleshly pleasures are bad per se, but that they’re difficult to keep within proper bounds, and therefore we must exercise moderation and practice regular discipline lest they rage out of control and lead us into sin.

Presumably it is with this in mind that Pope Paul writes,

“The honest practice of regulation of birth demands first of all that husband and wife acquire and possess solid convictions concerning the true values of life and of the family, and that they tend towards securing perfect self-mastery. To dominate instinct by means of one’s reason and free will undoubtedly requires ascetical practices, so that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order, in particular with regard to the observance of periodic continence [abstinence from sex].” 21

So again, it’s fine to regulate the occurrence of conception and birth, but we must do it in such a way “that the affective manifestations of conjugal life may observe the correct order” — that is, we must keep our bodily lusts in check, and not indulge them at will. This is why it’s bad to regulate births by “technical means” (see 18 above), because in relying on such means we are “abdicating our responsibility”. That is, if you can just take a pill to keep from getting fat, then your appetite for food no longer has to be kept under control; you can let it run wild and gorge yourself at will. This may work medically, but is it a good thing spiritually? By the same token, if you can just take a pill to prevent pregnancy, then your appetite for sex no longer has to be kept under control, but is free to indulge itself at will. Is this a good thing spiritually? (Has it been good for our society?)

In summary, our bodies are not our own; we can regulate what our bodies do, but in so doing we must respect the way God made them. Therefore it’s a bad idea to suppress our natural bodily functions for the purpose of enjoying bodily pleasures without consequence; rather, we should be willing to exercise discipline in eschewing bodily pleasures at some times, and enjoying them at other times, with moderation and within proper boundaries, all the while working with our bodies rather than against them, out of respect for God’s design.

[This was adapted from a comment of mine on another blog.]

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18 thoughts on “Discipline, concupiscence and birth control

  1. When you speak about whether things are good spiritually (e.g. in one of your last paragraphs), can spiritual good be defined or summarized as that which “secures self mastery” and “dominate[s] instinct by means of one’s reason and free will”?

    Or are these instrumental to spiritual good, but not the spiritual good in itself.

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  2. Andrew:

    A very good question, i.e. one that I don’t have an immediate answer to but have to think about. : )

    Let’s say spirit is defined as the intellect and will. And one of the problems with using technical means to regulate births is that you’re artificially suppressing the results of indulging your lower appetites, rather than controlling your lower appetites by exercising discipline over them. That is, the proper hierarchy of goods is that the higher, or spiritual faculties are supposed to rule over the lower. The problem with not disciplining the lower is that they will then rule over the higher; and the problem with that is that the lower appetites will lead you into sin.

    Before the Fall, the lower appetites would not lead one into sin because the higher faculties ruled over them without fail. After the Fall the higher faculties, those of the spirit, were weakened, due to sin.

    The spiritual good in itself would be doing God’s will in all things (not merely avoiding sin but also doing good). This is what keeps one united to God and leads to eternal happiness. “Securing self-mastery” and “dominating instinct by means of reason and free will” are therefore instrumental to spiritual good, since they enable you to prevent your lower appetites from leading you into sin, leaving you free to do God’s will in all things, thereby preserving communion with God.

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    • Agellius,

      Well, to me, I can see the difference between regulating birth (or, in the analogy, regulating weight) via technical means vs regulating it via discipline, self-mastery, etc., Although I probably wouldn’t call the latter “spiritual,” if that is what is meant by spirituality, then at least I have a better understanding — it’s a more concrete working concept, in other words, than other more amorphous definitions of spirituality.

      (I would still have a lot of quibbles, but those would be other discussions. And we’ve discussed a bit on my blog too about how I’m not really on board with the timeline of the Fall, but again, that’s another discussion.)

      I can see how conceptually, self-mastery is necessary…but not sufficient…for achieving spiritual good. I can imagine people employing their discipline or mastery of the will for all sorts of nefarious purposes.

      But to me, it seems that what is missing is the nexus between assessing God’s will as spiritually good vs our subjective perceptions of what is good or not.

      That’s where my question comes into play. If discipline and self-mastery is the spiritual good, then the nexus would be, “Following God’s will will also make you feel more satisified/alive/fulfilled because you will feel more in control/in discipline over your passions.”

      …but I feel that even if Christian morality may stipulate that tangentially, that is not the “point”. God’s will is whatever God’s will is, regardless of your perception of its impacts, so you can’t really ever rely on your perception of impacts as a guideline. I find that to be most problematic.

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  3. Andrew:

    On further reflection, I said before that practicing discipline over your lower appetites is not a spiritual good in itself but frees you to do spiritual good. But it’s also a spiritual good in itself since in doing these things, you are exercising the virtues of fortitude and temperance, and so forth. In other words, in the very steps that you take to prevent your lower appetites from leading you into sin, you are already doing God’s will.

    You write, “But to me, it seems that what is missing is the nexus between assessing God’s will as spiritually good vs our subjective perceptions of what is good or not. That’s where my question comes into play. If discipline and self-mastery is the spiritual good, then the nexus would be, ‘Following God’s will will also make you feel more satisified/alive/fulfilled because you will feel more in control/in discipline over your passions.'”

    It’s not about how you feel, although good feelings usually do result, even in the midst of suffering, if you do it in the right spirit. Nevertheless there can also be period of spiritual “dryness”, wherein you lack feelings of spiritual joy or consolation despite fulfilling your positive obligations and having a clear conscience. The way I interpret this is that faith requires us to press on in obedience to God regardless of outward appearances. If doing the right thing always resulted in good feelings, then people would start to do it in order to “earn” the feelings, rather than out of simple obedience based on faith, or in other words, simply because it’s right.

    You write, “…but I feel that even if Christian morality may stipulate that tangentially, that is not the ‘point’. God’s will is whatever God’s will is, regardless of your perception of its impacts, so you can’t really ever rely on your perception of impacts as a guideline. I find that to be most problematic.”

    I’m not sure what it is that you find problematic.

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  4. so we’re basically having similar conversations both here and at my blog (I hope that I’ve expounded more about what I found problematic over there), but I think I can address it with one of your comments. You say that:

    It’s not about how you feel, although good feelings usually do result, even in the midst of suffering, if you do it in the right spirit. Nevertheless there can also be period of spiritual “dryness”, wherein you lack feelings of spiritual joy or consolation despite fulfilling your positive obligations and having a clear conscience. The way I interpret this is that faith requires us to press on in obedience to God regardless of outward appearances. If doing the right thing always resulted in good feelings, then people would start to do it in order to “earn” the feelings, rather than out of simple obedience based on faith, or in other words, simply because it’s right.

    So, if it were a matter of parts (like, you may have physical suffering…but you have spiritual joy), then that would be one thing. I would be OK with this. But per your comment here, you have to be obedient regardless of if you lack feelings of spiritual joy. You talk about “periods” of spiritual dryness, but I don’t think this captures that, theoretically, for some people, following God’s will could cause them personal, physical, emotional, and spiritual (and any other categories you can think of) suffering…all of the above…for extended periods of time, and they should just keep at it.

    If this is the case, it seems to me that there isn’t a way to “self-check” that one is actually going about the right path at all. Like, if doing everything right could mean suffering in all sorts of ways, then it’s difficult to say whether you are actually doing everything right…or just doing things wrong and justifying those wrong decisions. Since outward appearances and outcomes are not as important as “faith” and “obedience,” there’s no way to check.

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  5. Andrew:

    You write, “it seems to me that there isn’t a way to “self-check” that one is actually going about the right path at all”

    A Catholic would check whether he is on the right path, based on whether he is obeying God’s commandments as revealed in the scriptures and through the Church.

    Where I suspect we might be missing each other is on the concept of faith. St. Thomas Aquinas contrasts faith with science as a way of knowing things***. Science refers to things that we know through the senses, or figure out using our reason. Faith refers to things that we could never know through our own powers, but believe based on trust in the source of the knowledge. St. Thomas argued that both provide certainty, albeit in different ways. See this post for more detail: [ https://agellius.wordpress.com/2012/10/30/st-thomas-aquinas-on-faith-and-doubt/ ]

    When you speak of needing ways to ‘self-check’ whether you are on the right path, you’re basically talking about judging matters of faith by the standard of science. This makes perfect sense to one who lacks faith, since for such a person science is the only source of certainty. In contrast to science, faith must appear as no more than a series of vague, subjective impressions, which of course would need to be verified by means of science. But someone who has received the gift of faith finds the things revealed by faith to be every bit as certain as those revealed by science, though from a different source.

    How people come to faith in the first place is indeed a mystery. Before you have faith and before committing to it, naturally you want to verify it by scientific means to the extent possible. But ultimately it can’t be verified by science, which is why it’s often called the “leap” of faith. However in traditional Christian terms it’s not something we achieve by leaping, but rather is something given to us, which we can either accept or reject.

    This is why faith is called in the Bible “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”. Faith is basically knowing things that can’t be seen, as certainly as you know things that can be seen. Therefore, checking matters of faith by matters of science is seen as superfluous; you don’t need to check the things of faith by the means of science, any more than you need to check the things of science by the means of faith. If you do feel the need to verify faith by science, that’s an indication that you lack faith.

    *** “Science [in this context] is not taken in the restricted meaning of the natural sciences, but in the general sense given to the word by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle defines science as a sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations. This is identical with St. Thomas’s definition of science as the knowledge of things from their causes.” New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, article on “Science and the Church

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  6. Agellius,

    I don’t think your link should have %5D at the end.

    Anyway, I was reading through a lot of your blog posts and enjoyed several of the ones addressing faith and doubt, but that one didn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense to me (and we’ve had a bit of a run-in on this…I think Aquinas is using terms like “science,” “opinion,” “certainty,” “belief,” etc., in a very foreign way and I haven’t quite figured out how to map these to my own understanding of these concepts to figure out what exactly he is saying.)

    But to summarize my issues with respect to your latest comment, it’s not that faith “appear[s] as no more than a series of vague, subjective impressions, which of course would need to be verified by means of science.” To the contrary, it appears even worse: as a commitment to blindly obey something or someone for reasons that I have not yet really discerned (but which are different than “scientific” reasons). And I so dislike the phrase “blindly obey,” since it sounds like it makes a caricature of religiosity, but when I read your posts on whether doubt can coexist with faith, etc., it really seems that faith as a commitment despite anything else to follow the church authority is blind obedience. You can’t say, “I will pick this and evaluate that other thing later” because that is precisely constitute of a lack of faith.

    I mean, I could go into detail on that, but even you yourself note that “How people come to faith in the first place is indeed a mystery,” so it seems we are in agreement there. It just seems that since how people come to faith in the first place is indeed a mystery, we don’t really have any non-mysterious ways of explaining how people come to faith in one institution or in another, and without our scientific tools, we don’t really have any non-mysterious ways of ascertaining why to have faith in one institution or in another. Because as you have written in other blog posts, even if there may be intellectual arguments around various Catholic doctrines, etc., you don’t follow those doctrines because they “make sense” (scientifically, so to speak), but because you have already committed to submit to the Catholic authority. (E.g., you have written posts differing material vs formal on this aspect)

    I mean, from reading your series on becoming Catholic, it certainly feels that the decision for Catholicism over, say, Mormonism is wrapped up in a lot of subjective elements — so that does in a way fit how *I* would view the evaluation. Like, if a religion works for you, then that really does make sense why you’d be a part of it. If you do feel the need to submit to a higher authority, and you find that is working out for you, and feel that the Catholic church best represents what that higher authority wants in your life…then that makes sense to me. But my suspicion is that even if I have understood the gist of the life details, you would disagree with my summary of that narrative.

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  7. Yeah, I fixed the link later, thanks.

    You write, “I think Aquinas is using terms like “science,” “opinion,” “certainty,” “belief,” etc., in a very foreign way”.

    The current usage of “science” to refer only to the physical sciences is a relatively recent development. Apparently it was only in the late 1880s that scientists started calling themselves “scientists” in the sense in which we use the word today [see e.g. this post:
    https://thonyc.wordpress.com/2014/07/10/the-history-of-scientist/ ].

    The Latin word “scientia” meant simply “knowledge”, and the word continued to refer to the rational study of any area of reality until pretty recently. Theology, for example, being the rational study of Christian doctrine, was always considered a science. Meanwhile what we now call “science”, at one time was the branch of philosophy known as natural philosophy; whereas what we now call philosophy used to be the branch of philosophy called metaphysics – which itself was considered a science (philosophy itself being an umbrella term covering all the sciences as a group).

    A similar thing has happened to the word “art”. An art used to be anything that people could do or make which required a specific set of skills, whether shipbuilding, navigation, architecture, carpentry, weaving, shoemaking, or what have you; and people skilled in those things could be called artists. Nowadays art is pretty much limited to painting and sculpture, creative writing, music, etc.; whereas previously, painting and sculpting were just skills requiring learning and practice, like any other.

    The meanings of both terms used to be far more general but have become greatly constricted in our time. So to understand what St. Thomas means by “science”, you just need to think of it more broadly in terms of “rational study”, that is, things that may be observed or figured out for yourself, as opposed to things which may not be observed and therefore may only accepted by faith.

    You write, “when I read your posts on whether doubt can coexist with faith, etc., it really seems that faith as a commitment despite anything else to follow the church authority is blind obedience.”

    I think you are drawing more of a bold line between science and faith than I intended. I didn’t mean that science is science and faith is faith, and never the twain shall meet. As mentioned above, theology itself is considered a science since it is the rational study of Christian doctrine. There is no problem with studying and analyzing Christian teachings using our rational faculties (which, in fact, this very post was an attempt to do). The distinction is only meant to convey that certain things could never be observed or figured out, and therefore may only be known by faith. An example is the Trinity. No matter how long we pondered it, absent divine revelation we could never have known that God is three Persons sharing a single Nature. But possessing faith, we believe it has been divinely revealed and therefore believe it with certainty: Thus it is a knowledge not arrived at by science but solely by faith. Yet again this doesn’t mean that we can’t apply our minds and the tools of philosophy to delve into it and try to grasp it more thoroughly.

    You write, “To the contrary, [faith] appears even worse: as a commitment to blindly obey something or someone for reasons that I have not yet really discerned (but which are different than “scientific” reasons).”

    You can call it blind obedience, but it’s no more blind than accepting something that a trustworthy professor teaches you in class, or something a parent teaches a small child. If you had just met someone and knew nothing about him, had no idea how trustworthy he was or how knowledgeable, then to believe and obey whatever he told you, would be following blindly, precisely because you have no reason to trust him. Whereas if you know someone, and have reasons to believe that he has knowledge of something, and reasons to believe that he is trustworthy and would never mislead you, then believing what he tells you is not blind.

    The fact is that much of what we know in life, we have not figured out for ourselves but have learned from others and have taken on trust. It’s not blind trust unless we have no good reasons for trusting the sources that we trust.

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  8. I don’t have a problem with science between applied more broadly than it currently it. However, my problem with Aquinas’s view of science is when he says things like:

    Because science [1] is incompatible with opinion about the same object simply, for the reason that science demands that its object should be deemed impossible to be otherwise, whereas it is essential to opinion, that its object should be deemed possible to be otherwise.

    Even if you use a broader definition of science as “rational study,” it does not follow to me that “rational study is incompatible with opinion”…Rational study, IMO, doesn’t demand that its object should be deemed impossible to be otherwise. “Things that may be observed or figured out for yourself” can still be deemed possible to be otherwise. I’m totally willing to accept that it’s probably that we modern folks use terms in a much different way than they used back then, but it’s still very hard to translate and I think it goes through most of the snippets of Aquinas I’ve come across.

    You can call it blind obedience, but it’s no more blind than accepting something that a trustworthy professor teaches you in class, or something a parent teaches a small child. If you had just met someone and knew nothing about him, had no idea how trustworthy he was or how knowledgeable, then to believe and obey whatever he told you, would be following blindly, precisely because you have no reason to trust him. Whereas if you know someone, and have reasons to believe that he has knowledge of something, and reasons to believe that he is trustworthy and would never mislead you, then believing what he tells you is not blind.

    One’s accepting of what a trustworthy professor teaches or what a parent teaches is never completely “non-negotiable”. In other words, my trust can be (and often is) provisional…and it is responsive to reasons. If my reasons suggest otherwise, I can withdraw it. I can say that, ‘If I theoretically in the future experienced x, that would be a deal breaker.”

    But you have several posts suggesting that to do this with the Catholic church’s authority is antithetical to faith. (“To make provision for future doubt, is to doubt at present”) To have faith is to believe — because of faith, not because of rational study/things that may be observed or figured out for yourself — that the Catholic Church has knowledge of something, is trustworthy and would never mislead you.

    So even if you see any information to the contrary, you are not responsive to that information, because the certainty of faith precludes observed evidence from having a contrary say.

    In other words…there’s a difference between saying, “I follow the Catholic church because everything I’ve heard from it seems trustworthy to me, and I’ll keep following as long as things keep seeming trustworthy” and saying “I follow the Catholic church because I’ve committed that anything it says [on relevant domains] is trustworthy, regardless of how it seems like or feels like to me.” It seems that even if both people are lifelong members, the latter has faith, while the former is just running on a string of non-faithful “rational study”.

    The fact is that much of what we know in life, we have not figured out for ourselves but have learned from others and have taken on trust. It’s not blind trust unless we have no good reasons for trusting the sources that we trust.

    to the contrary, the blind trust is that reasons are irrelevant. It’s not that we haven’t figured out for ourselves, but that such an option is precluded as being unfaithful in the first place.

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  9. You write, “Even if you use a broader definition of science as “rational study,” it does not follow to me that ‘rational study is incompatible with opinion’…Rational study, IMO, doesn’t demand that its object should be deemed impossible to be otherwise.”

    You’re right, I gave a bad definition of “science” for the purpose of this discussion. I actually gave a better one in a previous comment, where I said “Science [in this context] is not taken in the restricted meaning of the natural sciences, but in the general sense given to the word by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle defines science as a sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations. This is identical with St. Thomas’s definition of science as the knowledge of things from their causes.”

    The point being that both faith and science are sources of certainty, but science gives the certainty which comes from knowledge obtained through the senses or by rational demonstration, whereas faith gives the certainty which is of things not accessible to the senses or by rational demonstration.

    You write, “One’s accepting of what a trustworthy professor teaches or what a parent teaches is never completely ‘non-negotiable’. In other words, my trust can be (and often is) provisional…and it is responsive to reasons. If my reasons suggest otherwise, I can withdraw it.”

    I understand, but that misses my point. I’m not saying that every source of knowledge which is obtained through others is completely trustworthy. I’m saying that once you determine that a source is trustworthy, then it’s no longer “blind” to trust information from that source. Obviously some sources will be more trustworthy than others: some a little, some a lot, some not at all, and, it’s at least theoretically possible, that some could be trusted completely.

    “I can say that, ‘If I theoretically in the future experienced x, that would be a deal breaker.” But you have several posts suggesting that to do this with the Catholic church’s authority is antithetical to faith. (“To make provision for future doubt, is to doubt at present”) So even if you see any information to the contrary, you are not responsive to that information, because the certainty of faith precludes observed evidence from having a contrary say.”

    Not so. It’s an axiom of the Catholic faith that truth cannot contradict truth. I have already said that we are allowed to exercise our reason, and, yes, our science, on matters of faith, where reason and science are applicable (again, as I did in this post). For example, for a long time the Bible was interpreted to mean that the earth was at the center of the universe. But when it was experimentally demonstrated that the earth revolved around the sun, the Church adjusted its understanding of things accordingly (granting that it took a while). The only areas where reason and science can’t have anything to say on matters of faith, are on matters that are not accessible to reason and science, and which are stated unequivocally in revelation. Thus it’s stated unequivocally in the scriptures that Mary was a virgin when she bore Jesus, and science can never prove or disprove it, yet we believe it with as much certainty as if it had been proven by science.

    You write, “In other words…there’s a difference between saying, “I follow the Catholic church because everything I’ve heard from it seems trustworthy to me, and I’ll keep following as long as things keep seeming trustworthy” and saying “I follow the Catholic church because I’ve committed that anything it says [on relevant domains] is trustworthy, regardless of how it seems like or feels like to me.”

    The former basically expresses my attitude, that I will keep following it as long as things keep seeming trustworthy — which I believe will be always. Of course there are things that could happen that could undermine my faith. In everything I’ve written about faith and doubt, I’ve never said that it’s impossible to lose faith. What I’ve argued is that you can’t have faith and doubt simultaneously. Even in the Newman post about “future doubt”, I don’t say that future doubt can’t happen, only that “To make provision for future doubt, is to doubt at present”. If I have faith at present, that means I lack doubt now, and I also don’t anticipate ever having any doubt. But that doesn’t mean that doubt at some future time is impossible. It just means that as soon as I start to doubt (whether now or later), I no longer have faith. The Church has never taught that faith cannot be lost.

    You write, “to the contrary, the blind trust is that reasons are irrelevant. It’s not that we haven’t figured out for ourselves, but that such an option is precluded as being unfaithful in the first place.”

    Yes, but reasons for what? You’re talking about reasons for believing individual doctrines, and I’m talking about reasons for believing in the source of those doctrines. Reasons are certainly relevant when deciding whether or not to embrace the faith. In fact we have a word for such reasons: The perambula fidei or “preambles of faith”. These are the reasoning processes that help make it easier to embrace the faith by removing intellectual obstacles. The Church has never taught you can’t use reason on matters of faith, or preparatory to faith, or to support faith or to help pave the way for faith in others. The Church understands that people need the faith to be compatible with reason, and probably more than any other religion on earth has constantly striven to demonstrate that it is.

    The only time reasons don’t enter into it, is when reasons are irrelevant because reason can neither prove nor disprove something. If reason could disprove the Resurrection, that would very likely imperil my faith, because again, truth cannot contradict truth. If they do ever disprove the doctrines of faith, then my faith will indeed be challenged, and I can’t be certain that it won’t be lost. But so far, everything I know through science has been compatible with what I know through faith (despite the constant attempts of atheists and materialists to argue otherwise), and I fully expect that to continue.

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  10. I actually gave a better one in a previous comment, where I said “Science [in this context] is not taken in the restricted meaning of the natural sciences, but in the general sense given to the word by Aristotle and St. Thomas Aquinas. Aristotle defines science as a sure and evident knowledge obtained from demonstrations. This is identical with St. Thomas’s definition of science as the knowledge of things from their causes.”

    Yeah, it just seems like a limiting definition of both faith and science…since IMO, a lot of people *I* know use both science *and* faith in ways that do not imply certainty. So, to define science or faith in such a way seems to narrow things down unnecessarily, or to make things seem a little more “extreme” (as with the “blind obedience” stuff). From reviewing this comment here, it seems like that is going to be a common thread throughout this comment. I guess I should just “bracket” that question, since really, regardless of how I use the terms, what’s more important is discussing with respect to how Aquinas, you, etc., are, but…it’s tough for me to work with.

    I think I want to jump to one thing you commented on since it wasn’t what I expected.

    The former basically expresses my attitude, that I will keep following it as long as things keep seeming trustworthy — which I believe will be always. Of course there are things that could happen that could undermine my faith. In everything I’ve written about faith and doubt, I’ve never said that it’s impossible to lose faith. What I’ve argued is that you can’t have faith and doubt simultaneously. Even in the Newman post about “future doubt”, I don’t say that future doubt can’t happen, only that “To make provision for future doubt, is to doubt at present”. If I have faith at present, that means I lack doubt now, and I also don’t anticipate ever having any doubt. But that doesn’t mean that doubt at some future time is impossible. It just means that as soon as I start to doubt (whether now or later), I no longer have faith. The Church has never taught that faith cannot be lost.

    So, with this clarification, I’m guessing that this really just means that faith is a binary to you (you have it or you don’t…and when you doubt, that means you don’t have it). So it’s not that you could not be responsive to some sort of future information…it’s that such responsiveness (if you stopped trusting the authority of the church) would constitute a loss of faith …is that accurate?

    Yes, but reasons for what? You’re talking about reasons for believing individual doctrines, and I’m talking about reasons for believing in the source of those doctrines. Reasons are certainly relevant when deciding whether or not to embrace the faith. In fact we have a word for such reasons: The perambula fidei or “preambles of faith”.

    I think that my discussion of reasons is fungible…in other words, it can apply to individual doctrines or believing in the source of those doctrines. I am not intentionally trying to discuss any particular individual doctrine.

    The only time reasons don’t enter into it, is when reasons are irrelevant because reason can neither prove nor disprove something. If reason could disprove the Resurrection, that would very likely imperil my faith, because again, truth cannot contradict truth. If they do ever disprove the doctrines of faith, then my faith will indeed be challenged, and I can’t be certain that it won’t be lost. But so far, everything I know through science has been compatible with what I know through faith (despite the constant attempts of atheists and materialists to argue otherwise), and I fully expect that to continue.

    I guess one thing that kinda trips me up is that I don’t necessarily see things in terms of “proof” or “disproof”. It seems that faith is certainty, and doubt and opinion are uncertain. So, it’s not just that reason can neither prove nor disprove something, but the idea that reason cannot even raise uncertainty into the mix. So, in this sense, it seems like “reason/science” and “faith” govern totally separate spheres…would you agree with that?

    The second thing that kinda trips me up is that this seems to be a narrowing down of science again. Now it’s science in terms of the sort that materialists might talk about…whereas when I talk about uncertainty, I’m also coming at things from a more subjective viewpoint — the phenomenological experiencing of uncertainty. To me, that doesn’t sound like something that is categorically separate from faith though. When you say everything you know through science has been compatible with what you know through faith, are you also saying that you experience certainty from a subjective, phenomenological perspective (or that that is necessary for faith)? Does that matter?

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    • You write, “Yeah, it just seems like a limiting definition of both faith and science…since IMO, a lot of people *I* know use both science *and* faith in ways that do not imply certainty.”

      Certainly people use the word “science” in a way that doesn’t imply absolute certainty, but nevertheless the vast majority of people are certain about a lot of things based on what St. Thomas would call “science”. Very few of us seriously doubt that the earth orbits the sun, or that the science behind manned air travel is reliable, to the point where we’re willing to risk our lives on it. So, generally speaking, science in St. Thomas’s sense does very often provide certainty for all practical purposes. And faith provides certainty as well, also to the extent of people sometimes risking their lives on it, but at least to the extent of millions of people changing their lives for it, that is, giving up ways of living that they were formerly attached to, sometimes at great cost to themselves (but also at great benefit).

      You write, “So, with this clarification, I’m guessing that this really just means that faith is a binary to you (you have it or you don’t…and when you doubt, that means you don’t have it). So it’s not that you could not be responsive to some sort of future information…it’s that such responsiveness (if you stopped trusting the authority of the church) would constitute a loss of faith …is that accurate?”

      Yes.

      You write, “I guess one thing that kinda trips me up is that I don’t necessarily see things in terms of “proof” or “disproof”. It seems that faith is certainty, and doubt and opinion are uncertain. So, it’s not just that reason can neither prove nor disprove something, but the idea that reason cannot even raise uncertainty into the mix. So, in this sense, it seems like “reason/science” and “faith” govern totally separate spheres…would you agree with that?”

      I’m not sure I’m following you. I would not agree that reason/science and faith govern totally separate spheres — I made that point specifically in an earlier comment. But there are some matters of faith that are beyond the sphere of reason/science, at least in terms of confirming or disconfirming their veracity, simply because there is no way to know about them apart from revelation. For example science can’t touch the question of whether God is omniscient. It is simply beyond science’s bailiwick, and therefore can only be a matter of faith.

      You write, “When you say everything you know through science has been compatible with what you know through faith, are you also saying that you experience certainty from a subjective, phenomenological perspective (or that that is necessary for faith)?”

      I would say that I do experience certainty from a subjective, phenomenological perspective. At first, I didn’t experience certainty of that type with regard to every doctrine of the faith, but simply made the decision to trust the Church’s judgment as to those matters. But the better I come to understand the doctrines of the faith, the more subjective certainty I have of each and every one.

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  11. For whatever it’s worth, I just got through reading your discussion with ajb here, where ajb definitely says a lot of things that I would agree with.

    To avoid rehashing that conversation so much (and maybe focus in on some key points of disagreements), I’ll will note a couple things from that previous discussion.

    There, you wrote:

    If you believe Christ is 100% trustworthy, then you must believe that nothing exists which is objectively capable of shaking your trust in him. Because if something does exist which is objectively capable of shaking your trust in him, then he is not 100% trustworthy.

    So, the “things” I talk about at the end of my previous comment could probably be reframed to respond to this quotation as follows: it doesn’t seem that “trust” is the sort of thing that is in the objective space. Trust is precisely a subjective thing. So speaking about the existence of things that are objectively capable (and dismissing the subjective as, for example, delusion, or being mistaken, etc.,) misses the mark.

    But you also wrote in that other discussion:

    Applying these three modes to revealed religion, Newman writes that a man is either a skeptic towards religion (questioning, i.e. doubting); a philosopher (inferring, i.e. conditional), having arrived at the conclusion that it is more or less probable based on logical inferences; or a believer (categorically asserting and assenting), having an unhesitating faith in it.

    It seems to me that of those three categories, you fit into the “philosopher” category: Your trust in Christ, as with anyone else, is an inference which you draw based on premises, i.e. data. Note that inference, to Newman, is conditional, which is precisely how you present your trust in Christ: It’s conditioned upon your not finding out at some point that the premisses upon which you base your trust are mistaken.

    In other words, Newman would say that what you describe is not faith but an inference. Whereas when I speak of faith, I’m talking about an all-in, totally committed, absolute assent. An analogy might be my marriage vows to my wife: Before we got married I made sure we agreed that marriage is for life: It’s an absolute promise that divorce is out of the question. I think this has made all the difference in making our marriage a happy one after 20 years, without the slightest insecurity or jealousy on either part.

    I think that this really helped me to understand the difference between how Newman uses the term “inference/philosopher” and “assertion/faith”, but to reframe my question with respect to your discussion with ajb:

    It seems very difficult to talk about ANYTHING as being an all-in, totally committed, absolute assent. As you conclude in your final comment to ajb:

    I think much of our apparent disagreement lies in what precisely is meant by “making provision for future doubt”. What exactly does that consist of? You seem to be taking it to mean “knowing that you could be wrong since you’re not omniscient.” But I think you’re looking at it from the “philosopher” standpoint: Your “faith” is an inference or conclusion and therefore conditional.

    I think I would agree with ajb. But to me, this “knowing you could be wrong since you’re not omniscient” is impossible to avoid (because in the inference process, I think that some subjective inferences can be just as valid as objective ones…especially in domains like trust, which I see as a basically subjective process), and since it is a crucial part of the trust question (IMO), it seems that any trust question must be *by definition* a “philosopher” thing. EVEN if you say “I am totally committed, and give absolute assent,” the very fact that you can say that you could lose your faith in the future (regardless of the fact that now, you think these are not “objective” things but matters of being “mistaken” or being “deluded”) means that that “total” commitment really wasn’t total.

    That is reassuring from a “blind obedience” POV (which is what I’m trying to get at), but it makes me wonder why you define faith so “certainly” anyway.

    The only way for faith to be different is if you believed there was no way — again, the distinction about objective reasons vs subjective reasons doesn’t really mesh with me — for you to lose that faith. But I’m saying even further, why define it as something categorically different (e.g., inference/not faith) just because you recognize that it is based on inferences?

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    • You write, “But I’m saying even further, why define it as something categorically different (e.g., inference/not faith) just because you recognize that it is based on inferences?”

      Because an inference is “involuntary”, so to speak, that is, if you accept the premises and the logic is valid, then you have no choice but to assent to the conclusion. Whereas the act of faith is not involuntary but is a choice, i.e. an act of the will.

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      • Responding to both messages, earlier message first

        Very few of us seriously doubt that the earth orbits the sun, or that the science behind manned air travel is reliable, to the point where we’re willing to risk our lives on it. So, generally speaking, science in St. Thomas’s sense does very often provide certainty for all practical purposes. And faith provides certainty as well, also to the extent of people sometimes risking their lives on it, but at least to the extent of millions of people changing their lives for it, that is, giving up ways of living that they were formerly attached to, sometimes at great cost to themselves (but also at great benefit).

        OK, then at this point, I’ll note that the relevant part of “science” & “faith” for Aquinas = “things people feel are reliable enough to risk their lives on”, with the relevant difference being the science is the reliability from things observed or reasoned out, whereas faith is reliability based on other considerations (e.g., “will”…but also “trustworthiness”)

        I’m not sure I’m following you. I would not agree that reason/science and faith govern totally separate spheres — I made that point specifically in an earlier comment. But there are some matters of faith that are beyond the sphere of reason/science, at least in terms of confirming or disconfirming their veracity, simply because there is no way to know about them apart from revelation. For example science can’t touch the question of whether God is omniscient. It is simply beyond science’s bailiwick, and therefore can only be a matter of faith.

        I guess I’m still maybe not seeing the meshing of the two. Yes, you mention “perambula fidei” but you still mention these are precursors to faith. You mention that truth cannot be incompatible with truth, so the truths of faith should not be in conflict with the truths of science, but still, you point out that people faith is ultimately more about trusting the source (e.g., the Catholic Church) rather than being intellectually convinced about particular claims. It is that trustworthiness that I am considering the most, and it doesn’t really seem that you can really cleanly divide “trustworthiness” between that reason/science and faith line. So, for example, when you say:

        I would say that I do experience certainty from a subjective, phenomenological perspective. At first, I didn’t experience certainty of that type with regard to every doctrine of the faith, but simply made the decision to trust the Church’s judgment as to those matters. But the better I come to understand the doctrines of the faith, the more subjective certainty I have of each and every one.

        The whole “simply made the decision to trust the Church’s judgment as to those matters” doesn’t seem quite so simple. I think you present it this way because you see faith as an act of will. But to me (in agreement with ajb whom in previous conversations you said had a “philosopher” mentality), I see that trust is something done in response to finding something trustworthy, and trustworthiness is a subjective state responsive to reasons. In other words, it’s not important if you don’t experience certainty with regard to every doctrine of the faith *if* you experience certainty in your trust of the Church’s judgment. But how did you come to experience such certainty in your trust of the Church’s judgment? That’s where it still seems like there were reasons to find it trustworthy, observations, etc.,

        This goes into your most recent comment:

        You write, “But I’m saying even further, why define it as something categorically different (e.g., inference/not faith) just because you recognize that it is based on inferences?

        Because an inference is “involuntary”, so to speak, that is, if you accept the premises and the logic is valid, then you have no choice but to assent to the conclusion. Whereas the act of faith is not involuntary but is a choice, that is, an act of the will.

        Let me go about things in a different way: do you think that, in general, “trustworthiness” is an aspect that can only be a matter of faith/will (e.g., “simply decide”)? Do you think that the perception of trustworthiness is a “mystery”? By, in general, I don’t mean just regarding, say, the Catholic church. If you were to ask yourself, “Is [insert random acquaintance] trustworthy?” what would that process look like?

        I mean, I see it could look like:

        Premise 1) I trust (verb suggesting commitment, action) things I find to be trustworthy (subjective mental state)
        Premise 2) I find my acquaintance to be trustworthy (subjective mental state)
        Conclusion) I trust my acquaintance

        This is an inference, is it not? How does faith differ from this? To me, when you talk of trusting the institution, it just puts in “the Catholic Church” as “my acquaintance.” Is finding something or someone to be trustworthy always an act of the will? Or is maybe the criticism in premise one (that we can trust by act of will even if we don’t find something or someone to be trustworthy?)

        Or is it something totally different?

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  12. You write, “But how did you come to experience such certainty in your trust of the Church’s judgment? That’s where it still seems like there were reasons to find it trustworthy, observations, etc.,”

    That’s where the preambles of faith come in. “Preambles of faith” is defined as “The main premises of reason on which the act of divine faith depends as on its rational foundation. They are mainly three: 1. the existence of God; 2. his authority, or right to be believed because he knows all things and is perfectly truthful; and 3. the fact that he actually made a revelation, which is proved especially by miracles or fulfilled prophecies performed in testimony of a prophet’s (or Christ’s) claim to speaking in the name of God.” [https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/dictionary/index.cfm?id=35712]

    Faith has to be an act of the will precisely because faith in its fullest sense cannot be demonstrated by or strictly inferred from science.

    Another aspect of “science”, not discussed previously, is that science is the mode of knowing that is natural to us (whereas faith, strictly speaking, is supernatural). It’s figuring things out in the way we are designed to figure things out, that is, by observation and experimentation — experiencing the world through our senses — and by reasoning, using our natural rational abilities. Whereas faith is belief in things not accessible to our senses and therefore not observable, and not provable by our reason. Therefore we must *decide* whether or not to place our faith in God’s revelation given through the Church. But that decision can be helped by science. Science can’t take you all the way there, but it can deposit you on the doorstep, where you must decide whether you want to enter.

    The distance that science takes you is inference; but your decision (by God’s grace) to enter transforms it into assertion, that is, faith.

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