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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Proportionalism, Veritatis Splendor, and the Integrity of the Human Person

The ethically ambiguous road paved by nominalism, relativism, and other modern "isms" are not the only paths of unrighteousness. In the wake of Vatican II, even those who counted themselves
among the opposition to modern and freewheeling trends in moral thought could find themselves in
error.  Ever since the institution of the Church there has been the need for clarification and unity in the face of divergent arguments about the nature of faith. The prototypical council of Jerusalem was called to deal with issues of this sort as was the Second Vatican Council. Vatican II called for a rejuvenated interest in moral theology, and one of the results to arise from this appeal was an ethical concept called “proportionalism.” While the moral theologians who developed and promoted proportionalism did so with good intentions, the theory was summarily dismissed by Pope John Paul II in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, The Splendor of Truth. Ultimately, proportionalism denies the integrity of the human person, the question that remains, however, is “what leads us to this conclusion?”

Catholic moral theology, and the Church as a whole for that matter, is teleological in nature. Together, we traverse through the ages in search of the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a spiritual journey. For this reason, she is known as the “Pilgrim Church.” With all of this in mind, in conjunction with the input of Church reformists, it’s not surprising that a theory of ethical behavior divergent from classic Thomistic moral theology has emerged as of late. The issue, however, is not that moral theology is not teleological; the issue is that modern schools of thought have influenced great thinkers within the Church in a way that removes the plausibility of absolute sin. This philosophy is called “proportionalism” and, surprisingly, it resembles a sort of moral relativism. The basic gist of proportionalism is that a sin may be judged according to the end result. The severity of the sin is measured upon the good or evil produced. What proportionalism does is put the burden of deciphering the “greater good” or “lesser evil” in the hands of an individual (Veritatis Splendor 57). Deep rumination on the nature of good and evil, and our role in God’s creation is essential; however, the faulty attitudes perpetuated by “proportionalists” were in direct opposition to those of the Church. Pope John Paul II addressed this in his Papal Encyclical Veritatis Splendor: “The weighing of the goods and evils foreseeable as the consequence of an action is not an adequate method for determining whether the choice of that concrete kind of behaviour is ‘according to its species’, or ‘in itself’, morally good or bad, licit or illicit… an exhaustive rational calculation is not possible” (Veritatis Splendor 77).  One thing that proportionalism does not account for is that the nature of our decisions serves to contribute to the moral makeup and integrity of our souls. When a sin, such as murder, is absolutely off the table as a viable solution in any situation, then concern over what such an act may have on our person is of no concern. However, if we leave that door open, the possibility of faulty reasoning can lead one to commit one the most grievous sins imaginable. Just as with any act, to continue down that road becomes easier. The ability to rationalize it comes quicker and quicker.
To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behavior means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man's acting and in each of his deliberate decisions (Veritatis Splendor 67).

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