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19. Morality in Acts of the Will

1. A human act takes its morality (its character as good or evil) primarily from the act itself as object, and secondarily from those circumstances that enter the act and affect it essentially.

2. As we have seen, circumstances that affect the moral character of an act have to be more than mere circumstances or accidentals; they must somehow amalgamate essentially with the act itself. Hence, in last analysis, the act itself as object is the only determinant or specifier of morality in will-acts.

3. The intellect by its counsel and practical judgment proposes the object to the will, not only as a simple act to be done, but with its moral implications. Hence there is a dependence of will on intellect respecting the moral character of a human act.

4. Human reason (the thinking mind) becomes aware, early in life, of an order in the world. The order which reason recognizes in things is the order put there by God as eternal law. Inasmuch as this order requires right moral conduct, and is known naturally (without revelation) by sound human reason, it is called the natural law. The natural law is the eternal law as knowable in this world by right reason. When the will conforms to the natural law, it conforms to the eternal law, and thus conforms to God, and its acts are morally good. Hence the morality of will-acts depends on God, the eternal law.

5. Reason - the thinking mind - is man's only natural guide in moral matters. The judgment of reason on the morality of a proposed act is conscience. When the will acts in conformity with this conscience-judgment the act is morally good; when the will acts in contradiction to conscience the act is morally evil. Man is obliged to act in conformity with his conscience, even when reason is mistaken and the conscience judgment is false.

6. However, if error in the conscience-judgment is a man's own fault - as the result of culpable ignorance, willful negligence to learn what should be learned - the will which follows the erroneous conscience is an evil will, and the act of that will is an evil act to the extent of the fault involved in judgment.

7. We have already seen that the end of the agent, that is, the intention of the doer, enters into the essence of a human act, becoming part and parcel with the act as object, and so bears directly on the goodness or evil of the act.

8. But the degree of good or evil in the intention is not a measure of good or evil in the will itself. For an evil will may sometimes act with good intention, as, for example, when a person tells a deliberate lie to prevent friction or quarreling. And sometimes a good will is less good or noble than its intention, as, for instance, when a person prays carelessly for a great and holy purpose. Intention, therefore, while it is a determinant of morality in an act, is not a measure of the moral quality of the will which elicits the intention.

9. For a human act to be good, it must be in conformity with the sovereign good - it must conform to the will of God.

10. To be in conformity with the divine will, a human will must, in all its acts, will what God wills - it must will the accomplishment of universal good.

"Whom do you seek, friend, if you seek not God? Seek him, find him, cleave to him; bind your will to his with bands of steel and you will live always at peace in this life and in the next."
St Alphonsus de Liguori

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"Men should often renew their good resolutions, and not lose heart because they are tempted against them."
St Philip Neri

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"What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? Indeed it is not learning that makes a man holy and just, but a virtuous life makes him pleasing to God. "
Thomas á Kempis

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