Synthesis of the Human Act – 1, Mons Anton Borg, Kummissjoni Teoloġika Interdjoċesana

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10 ta’ Lulju 2013

Synthesis of the Human Act – 1

Minn din il-ħarġa, se nkunu qed inwasslulkom materjal dwar l-Att Uman. Dawn tħejjew minn Mons. Anton Borg, moralista mid-djoċesi ta’ Għawdex, u membru tal-Kummissjoni Teoloġika Interdjoċesana.

  1. Introduction

Man is a being who expresses himself through his human moral actions. In post-Vatican II Moral Theology one notices an anthropological turning point. Christian Moral Theology wants to tell man what he is and what he should do to reach his fulfilment as a human person and to be a real Christian. Christian Moral Theology implies a philosophical anthropology open to Christian anthropology which enables the Christian message to be accepted in a philosophical and reasonable way. Through his human moral behaviour the Christian strives to be truly human in a dialogue with God, the Father of Jesus Christ. The goal of this work is to analyse better the actus humanus of the Christian. This term implies the act that is the result of free willing and human reasoning on the light of God’s self-revelation and under the influence of the Holy Spirit.

  1. The Fundamental Option of the Christian


2.1 Fundamental Option and concrete moral acts.

St. Jerome quoting Ezekiel 1, 10 interprets allegorically reason as man, the irascible desire as the lion, the concupiscible appetite as the bull and conscience (called Syntheresis) as the eagle. St. Jerome identifies conscience with the spirit that guides the soul, the irascible and the concupiscible appetites, for it passes the judgement of good and evil on man’s moral acts.

Conscience is the judgement on the morality of an act ‘here and now’. In traditional Moral Theology ethical science is applied to a particular action through the judgement of conscience; it is a conclusive judgement. According to this theory, conscience applies the general to the particular, the universal to the concrete through a logical syllogism. It is the synthesis between the general principles of the “Syntheresis”, the principles of moral science (the objective moral order) and the moral experience of the act to be done (personal subjectivity and affective existentiality). It is the application of scientific knowledge to the moral act.

In personalistic Moral Theology the act of conscience is not seen as a concrete application of objective morality to a particular situation, a materiel situation of formal morality. Instead of applying the universal to the particular, moral conscience concretizes the universal in the particular. In his concrete moral act man tries to realize himself as a human person, in this concrete moral act man tries to build himself gradually. Man’s freedom is not seen in the application of the general and objective principles to a particular situation but more in its specific role as the self-realization, the free determination of the moral agent.

Before dealing with Christian Conscience, we would like to deepen the meaning of the so-called “original conscience” namely the “Syntheresis”, present in all men. On the cognitive level, before accepting or refusing God’s self-revelation, man is endowed with a conscience tending towards the “true”. Man has almost an invitation towards the fundamental moral principles – to do the good and to avoid the evil. On the volitive level this “original conscience” tends towards the “good” and tries to realize it. Man, being endowed with such an “original conscience” in front of the gift of faith, in front of God’s self-revelation, should do a fundamental option. In reality, such “original conscience” is always cultured and religious.  One finds the Christian, the Buddhist, the atheist. One never finds man as man.

The Christian in his moral behaviour tries to concretize his fundamental option, tries to live his faith: his donation to God the Father of Jesus Christ. Christian conscience is constituted by this fundamental option. The Christian allows God to transform him. It is an option that engulfs the Christian. Christian conscience is the concrete realization of a conscience under the influence of faith.

One should emphasize the interdependence between the fundamental option and the concrete human moral acts in the moral experience of the Christian. The unity between the being of the Christian and the becoming demands that all that characterizes the Christian must be realized in his concrete moral behaviour. Moreover, in one’s moral behaviour, a strict unity between motivation and material acts is noticed. In fact, to a certain extent the Christian motivation qualifies and renders “original” the material moral acts. Although the moral acts of the Christian and of the non-Christian are identical when considered on the material level as the acts placed, however, when considered on the intentional level they are different in the placing of the acts, for they concretise the Christian’s answer to God’s calling in that particular situation.

The Christian tries to realize himself, to concretize his fundamental option, his self-realization in front of God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Moreover, in his human moral act, the Christian realizes much more than what the act in that particular act shows. In the human moral act, the Christian not only fulfils a particular value but also realizes himself as a man and as a Christian. Often one does not reflect on this implicit reality of human behaviour.

2.2 Man as a unifying centre

It is opportune to stress some anthropological presuppositions that render possible man’s self-realization. Every man enjoys his personal truth, his self-understanding as a unique person and has the duty to fulfil this self-understanding in self-realization. Such self-realization takes place in series of successive decisive moments, through a series of particular decisions. Being active, man builds his life, forms his life. In such self-determination, man distinguishes himself as an active and dynamic unifying centre. Unity between his personality and his free acts is affirmed, so that there is no dichotomy between himself as a moral agent and his human moral acts. Freedom demands responsibility; activity and creativity demand unity and continuity in the Christian moral behaviour.

Man’s personal unity is lived to the full when he becomes gradually more aware of his personal truth – man understands himself and freely chooses himself. He should be always conscious of himself as a being that is able to transform himself through freedom. Self-understanding and self-realization constitute two cognitive inseparable elements of man’s being. Knowing himself man builds himself and interprets himself. Unity and continuity are realized in his conscious self-possessing and free self-realization.

Such a personal truth is the basis for every moral decision, for every choice. It is man’s self-realization that reveals that the inseparable unity between understanding and freedom takes place in time and becomes history. All this takes place in man’s conscience, in his human moral acts. In his judgement of conscience, man experiences the human dignity and the obliging force of every personal concrete decision. In his conscience, man is much more concerned to fulfil his unifying centre than just to realize particular acts. In fact man’s moral acts are oriented to his unifying centre and to the deep fulfilment of the human person.

2.3 Conscience as self-consciousness and self-possession

Conscience is an act by which man determines himself and in such a determination he is responsible in front of the Absolute. In itself conscience is man’s personal existence in action, man’s self-consciousness, man’s self-possession. It is an act of discernment and freedom. It is an act of man as a man, an act of man as a moral being. Conscience as an act depends and functions in the name of the totality and the unity of the human person. Particular acts are decisions of the person, are partial realizations, so they are neither independent nor separated from the judging conscience.

A human moral act should be always referred to the judging person. Single acts should be integrated and incorporated in his self-realization. Conscience judges and decides how these particular realizations may help the self-realization of man. Such particular acts give expression to the human person as a moral subject and affirm the deep orientation of the person. The moral person as a self-conscious and a free self-determining person is able to perform an act of conscience. Moral conscience is the conscience of man’s destiny; man is free to build himself, to decide for himself and in such concrete decisions he builds himself.


2.4 The Theological intentionality of Christian conscience

The Christian affirms that God’s self-revelation (understood as faith and grace) is at the root of being a Christian; it reveals the deep source of the unity and the continuity of being Christian. God’s self-revelation constitutes the Christian conscience in its radical responsibility in front of God, the Father of Jesus Christ. Revelation creates a new consciousness, a new intelligibility (understanding), a new being and a new moral behaviour.

The act of faith (Christian fundamental option) is free and is a radical decision of man with which his life is referred to Christ, to that objective reality that is Christ, a reality to be interiorised by the Christian men. In Christ through this act of faith, one becomes a “new” being and has to grow into such a being. Such a decision of faith allows God to transform (change) him. His moral decisions follow and express such an act of faith. The Christian must give proof of himself as a Christian by living and concretizing such faith decisions. The development of his conscience on personal level is fulfilled in his living adherence to Christ who calls man to fulfilment of life.

We have been stressing that Christian realization is deeper and richer than the realization of any particular decision. The self-realization of the person is the essential and determining factor of the moral act. Fundamentally, morality consists in the self-realization on the human person in front of God through categorical single acts. On the other hand, such self-realization is possible only through these categorical single acts. To conclude we affirm that man through single human moral acts realizes his relationship with God, as a believer and as a follower of Christ in giving himself in freedom and love.


2.5 The right to act according to conscience

Man has to act according to the judgments of his conscience, since conscience is the norm that guides man’s behaviour. It is his duty to fulfil these judgements faithfully and if he goes against these judgements he will be going against his beliefs. The obligation to act according to conscience requires the right to follow one’s conscience. The Conciliar document Dignitatis Humanæ, remarks that: “Man must not be forced to act contrary to his conscience. Nor must he be prevented from acting according to his conscience” (D.H. 3). Therefore, the duty to act according to one’s conscience is absolute, however, this right, though fundamental, has got certain restrictions, especially when there is a conflict with the common good. The same document affirms that, in exercising his rights, the individual is bound by the moral norm to respect the rights of others and their duties towards others and the common good. (See D.H. 7)

2.6 The duty to form a conscience

While conscience is a subjective norm of man’s moral behaviour, there is a higher norm, that of the objectivity of truth. Conscience needs the light, the guide that is found in creation, in the Word of God, in the study of theology and in the teachings of the Magisterium. This is what the Constitution Gaudium et Spes states: The members of the Church must act accordingly to their conscience in conformity with the Divine law and submitted to the teachings of the church who interprets in an authentic way this Law in the lights of the Gospel” (G.S. 50). Who fails purposely to form a prudent and responsible conscience is guilty of an erroneous conscience. The formation of conscience needs that kind of humility that perceives the limitations of each person. One should never arrive at the conclusion that conscience is always infallible. When, in some situations, one feels that he must disagree with the Authority of the Church, truth is presumed to favour authority due to the presence of the experts.

“Many pressures are brought to bear upon the men of our day, to the point where the danger arises lest they lose the possibility of acting on their own judgment. On the other hand, not a few can be found who seem inclined to use the name of freedom as the pretext for refusing to submit to authority and for making light of the duty of obedience. Therefore this Vatican Council urges everyone, especially those who are charged with the task of educating others, to do their utmost to form men who, on the one hand, will respect the moral order and be obedient to lawful authority, and on the other hand, will be lovers of true freedom” (D.H. 8).

Mons. Anton Borg

Membru tal-Kummissjoni Teoloġika

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