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Chapter VII: Virtus Infusa


Religion, we have seen, differs from morality in that it is an activity of contemplation and that the object of contemplation is God. But it is not merely contemplative; it is also practical. Faith without the works that faith inspires is dead. Even in patria there is a service of God which is perfect freedom. Thus a problem arises, to which we must now address ourselves, as to the relationship between the conduct informed by religious vision and that prescribed by morality. Are they identical? Or are they different? On the one hand, we find that the higher religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, as well as the theistic faiths of the East—are at one in affirming that God is the righteous governor of the universe and enjoins a life of righteousness on his worshippers. Shall not the judge of all the earth do right? All these religions give their sanction to recognized moral obligation, incorporating them, with varying modifications, into the body of religious praxis. This is what is meant by calling the higher religions “ethical”. On the other hand, we find that the morality so incorporated is rarely left standing as it was. To define religion with Matthew Arnold, as “morality touched by emotion”, is error; not only because morality has its own emotional coefficient, distinct from that of religion, but also because religion, in appropriating moral duties, exercises a right of criticism. It selects and transforms; and the transformation may even cut deep as to provoke opposition. We shall see that the phrase “ethical religion” is, if taken literally, a terminological inexactitude. However close their affinities, religious praxis is one thing, moral praxis another.

A preliminary remark must be added. It will be said that, in limiting our discussion to the higher religions, we are ruling out of court the most glaring instances of opposition between religious and moral conduct. Do not the more primitive religions prescribe practices that are flagrantly immoral? Certainly the practices in question are condemned by the moral consciousness of a later age. But, having their origin in a pre-moral culture, when custom is all-supreme and the distinction, noted in an earlier lecture, between the “must” and the “ought” has not yet emerged, they are neither moral nor immoral, but rather amoral. Religion is far older than morality, and from the earliest times has sheltered all sorts of customs under its ægis. In due season, morality arises out of religion; as the Bishop of Durham put it in his recent Gifford lectures, “duty grows on the stock of faith”, and, since “behaviour is more variable than creeds”, tends to split from the parent-tree and declare its autonomy.1 The natural conservatism of a religious cult often insures the survival of sanctified custom long after this process of detachment has taken place. Then and only then are these practices, maintained within the static structure of religion, branded as immoral. Thus, in Bergson's words, “Primitive religions can only be called moral or indifferent to morality, if we take religion as it was at the outset and compare it with morality as it has become later on. Originally, the whole of morality is custom; and as religion forbids any deviation from custom, morality is coextensive with religion.”2 Moreover, the conflict, when it arises, is most commonly between a higher “dynamic” and a lower “static” type of praxis within the religious life of a given people. The issue is fought nut on both sides on the terrain of religion. Thus the religious vision of the Hebrew prophets inspired the Deuteronomic suppression of the licentious survivals of Canaanitish Nature-worship. The new import given by Isaiah to the term “holy” (ḳādosh), in sharp contrast to its current use to designate the male prostitutes that thronged the temple (edoseim), was the direct outcome of the vision in which he received his call. For a fair and square instance of opposition between morality and religion, we must look to that stage in their development when each has achieved a relative independence. The censures passed by the Platonic Socrates on Orphism in the Euthyphro and the Republic might serve as an illustration, though even here we find a genuinely dynamic morality in conflict with a more primitive form of religious praxis. We shall therefore confine ourselves to the developed religion and the developed morality of our own day. The contrasts and affinities between religion and morality will stand out more closely when each is granted its full measure of autonomy. We see here a further justification of our procedure in taking their distinction as the starting point of our enquiry.


I will begin by a reference to that part of religious praxis that lies wholly outside the field of ethics. Religion prescribes certain specific duties towards God, quite alien to any recognized moral duties. Such are the first four commandments in the decalogue—the observance, for instance, of the sabbath; or, again, the obligations implied in the Christian doctrine of the sacraments. Every religion has its appointed fasts and festivals, its sacrificial offerings, its ceremonial, and its forms of public worship. These are general rules of religious obligation; over and above, each individual will he moved by duty towards God to innumerable acts that defy inclusion under the rubric of morality. It must be observed that duty holds a less paramount place in the religious life than in the moral. In religion, the governing motive is the love of God; in so far as it functions directly, consciousness of obligation is absent, and the divine command is obeyed with effortless spontaneity. The action is sub ratione boni, with the specific qualification that the object of desire is God. As in all action sub ratione boni, obligation is in the background, ready to come into play whenever desire is defective or in excess. Since man's love for God always falls short of perfection, there is abundant scope for religious duty. Again, since God requires the service of man's whole personality, of his body as well as his mind and heart, religious discipline provides for the adaptation of his physical powers to his spiritual vocation. Modes of behaviour that involve repetition and routine and appear almost mechanical to an outside observer, play a necessary part in the adjustment. We have already referred to Pascal's insistence on the training, of what he calls l'automate in man.3 So many Aves and Paters are enjoined on the penitent, so many tellings of the Rosary, often to the great scandal of the uninitiated; but the easy abuse of such practices must not blind us to the validity of the principle. So the musician's exercises keep his hands in fettle for the performance of an æsthetic masterpiece. There is a further difference between religious duties performed in subordination to the motive of love towards God and ordinary acts of obligation. In the former case the effort is conditioned by theoretic vision, and the vision is more significant than the effort. To quote a living writer: “There is all the difference between the effort of striving to obey a rule or a law of duty which is ultimate, a categorical imperative which is the last word of a rational ethics, and the effort to be true to a holy love which has once taken possession, through vision, of the mind and heart.” And he goes on to point out the gulf that separates the moralist's way of repairing failure with the religious call to repentance after sin: “Whilst for the morality of duty the only thing that matters after moral failure is new creation, new effort, new doing—for religious morality the relationship of love and love's insight must be remade.”4

When we pass from the duties of religion to the appraisement of goods, it becomes more difficult to distinguish the objects of religious and of ethical valuation. The difference lies rather in the scale of value, according as it is determined by a religious or an ethical interest. The entire content of human life undergoes transmutation when inspired by the religious motive. Yet even here there are certain forms of goodness, distinctive of particular religions, which are either ignored by morality or relegated to a very subordinate position in its hierarchy of values. The Buddhist ideal of Arahatship, for instance, involving the extinction of all desire and final emancipation from the circle of change, is the highest of three ways of life, of which only the lowest, designed for those Buddhists who remain in the world, is properly to be identified with morality.5 Platonism and medievil Christianity are at one in ascribing to the contemplative life a primacy over the practical, and in ranking the praxis, in the one case of the philosopher, in the other of the saint, above that of the virtuous citizen. The store set by Christianity on humility and joy affords a further illustration. From a purely moral standpoint, humility is a sign of weakness, of what is known elsewhere as an “inferiority complex”, the lack of a befitting self-respect. But the humility that springs from the sense of dependence upon God, so far from inducing passivity or subservience, inspires to creative effort, and veils a calm confidence in divine providence that no worldly opposition can disturb. The Christian who obeys the precept to turn the other cheek is neither a weakling nor a coward. The joy which is conspicuous in the lives of martyrs and ascetics, and of which evidence is, I believe, required for canonization, is an experience very different from what is usually understood by happiness. Not only is it compatible with physical and moral suffering, but—and here we touch the heart of Christian teaching—it includes suffering as integral to fruition, the cross as integral to the crown. In these instances we find more than a series of additions to or subtractions from the list of accepted ethical values: we find a new principle of valuation. The religious motive alters the whole scale. For morality, man is the measure, whether he be conceived, as by Kant, as a purely rational being, or, more concretely, as the member of an ideal community; for religion, the measure is God. Religious humanism is theocentric; man realizes his human capacities in so far as he strives to become like to God. The essence of sin is pride, the arrogation to himself by man of sovereignty over the objects of his preference, the enthronement of his reason—in his own person or in that of others—in the place of God. This is where Christianity parts company with Stoicism. It was a fatal misapprehension that led John Stuart Mill, after declaring that self-respect was one of the noblest incentives to a life of virtue, to claim, almost in the same breath, that his Utilitarianism was wholly in accord with the teaching of the Founder of Christianity. It is instructive to contrast the ideal of self-culture, as exhibited, for instance, in its full richness of content, in the life and writings of Goethe, with the manner in which the Christian thinkers of the Middle Ages determine the place of self-love in the scheme of the religious life. St. Bernard asserts uncompromisingly that love of self is not only the primary form of human love, but that it is indestructibly planted in man's nature.6 He indicates four stages in its development: (a) when man loves himself for his own sake—the stage of pura cupiditas, (b) when man, in order to escape from misery, first sets himself to love God—cupiditas pointing towards caritas; (c) when man loves God both for God's sake and for his own—the conjunction of cupiditas and caritas, and (d) when man loves God for God's sake and himself only in and for the sake of God—pura caritas. The last stage is consummated only in the life of Paradise. But love of self, independently of or taken up into the love of God, persists all along the line. St. Thomas, naturally, is more concerned to correlate this doctrine, by means of the inevitable distinguo, with Aristotle's analysis of φιλια in the Ethics. “Since charity,” he writes, “is a kind of friendship, we may consider charity from two standpoints: first under the general notion of friendship, and in this way we must hold that, properly speaking, a man is not a friend to himself, but something more thin a friend, since friendship implies union with another, for Dionysius says that ‘love is a unitive force’; whereas a man is one with himself, which is more than being united to another.… Hence, just as unity is the principle of union, so the love with which a man loves himself is the form and root of friendship. For if we have friendship towards others, it is because we do unto them as we do unto ourselves.… Secondly, we may speak of charity in respect of its specific nature, namely as denoting man's friendship with God in the first place, and consequently, with the things of God, among which things is man himself who has charity. Hence, among these other things which he loves out of charity because they pertain to God, he loves also himself out of charity.”7

It is clear that the new motive, the love of God, involves a transvaluation that is radical and all-pervasive. The religious man will still exhibit the ethical qualities of temperance, liberality and justice; he will speak the truth, pay his debts, and discharge his obligations to family and State. But these virtues appear now in a new light as fruits of the Spirit, and breach of the moral law appears as sin. Obedience to the law gives no warrant for self-approbation, for “merit lives from man to man, But not from man, O God, to Thee”. Save for divine grace, all alike are sinners; “the last shall be first and the first last”. Bosanquet has observed how the love which clings to the most worthless among our fellow-creatures has divined a truth beyond our common knowledge, a truth of which morality knows nothing.8 It is the consciousness of personal relationship to God that makes the difference. It leads a man to handle each situation as it arises in a temper inspired by that relationship, as a person acting towards persons, with an indifference to impersonal rules and conventional standards that gives the impression of opportunism.

“All prudent counsel as to what befits

The golden mean, is lost on such a one;

The man's fantastic will is his own law.”9

So it seemed to Karshish in Browning's poem; yet Lazarus’ behaviour was determined, not by mood or circumstance, but by his knowledge of the purposes of God. Such behaviour is rational if we take the term “reason” in its full and proper scope to cover all activity of mind that makes for unity and order in our experience; but the rationality is displayed, not in uniform obedience to a formula, but in inward harmony of disposition, in insight into a man's own character and that of others, and in the efficiency with which he masters the most difficult problems of practical life. The religious man acts not by rule, but on principle. Unlike a rule, a principle allows of indefinite modifiability in application; it can harmonize contrasts that are baffling to the purely moral consciousness. The antithesis of justice and mercy, for example, is no longer ultimate for religion, which is unconcerned to reward each according to his desert; the penitent is treated with leniency as though his past delinquencies, however grave, were no longer there for reprobation, while the self-satisfied and the unforgiving are visited with a severity that strips them naked of all pretensions to moral rectitude. The personality of the saint gains in dignity and influence in precise proportion to his freedom from self-interest and the acquisitive desires.10 He speaks and acts with an authority not his own, that compels acknowledgement even from those who are most hostile to religion.

Yet he is free from any affectation of superiority; he mixes easily with his fellows, and for all his austerity and indifference to bodily satisfactions, will enjoy the good things of life in full measure, if they happen to come his way. What the world is most surprised to find is that one who reeks so little of material advantages and seems so wholly inexperienced in the rivalry of human claims and counter-claims is enabled, not only to probe the depths of human nature, but, in tranquil resignation to the divine will, to ride triumphant over tragedies that would break the spirits of more ordinary men. Moreover, man's status and interests, when judged by the standards of religion, are vested with a new significance, often the reverse of that assigned to them by morality. The sense of what Pascal termed “le grandeur et la misère de l'homme” is ever present to the religious consciousness; man's greatness, in view of the image of God stamped upon his nature and of his final goal in the divine intention; man's wretchedness, in view of the sinfulness of that nature and of his impotence to win his way to God by his own effort. The “little things” of life, when set in an other-worldly framework, take on a new importance; the “big things” vanish into nothingness. In the words of the poem already quoted:

“The man is witless of the size, the sum,

The value in proportion of all things,

Or whether it be little or be much.

Discourse to him of prodigious armaments,

Assembled to besiege his city now,

And of the passing of a mule with gourds—

‘Tis one! …

.… .…

Should his child sicken unto death—why, look,

For scarce abatement of his cheerfulness,

Or pretermission of his daily craft! While a word, gesture,

glance from that same child

At play or in the school or laid asleep,

Will startle him to an agony of fear,

Exasperation, just as Like.”

Doubtless, in the moral life, and also in lives inspired by love of the higher finite goods, such as art or knowledge, we find evidences of a similar transvaluation.11 But it is less penetrating and pervasive. Religion, by calling into play a new motive, enriches a man's life with a new form, immanent henceforth in every detail of his personality. The revolutionary effect of this transformation—I am speaking, of course, of the religious life in its full development—has not, it seems to me, been duty recognized, even by those philosophers whose writings show most understanding of religion. Let me give one instance. In a well-known chapter of the Prolegomena to Ethics, T. H. Green compares the Greek and the modern conceptions of virtue.12 With much that he says—e.g., on the extended range of application given to the several virtues by Christianity—everyone will be in agreement. But his main contention, that, despite this enrichment of content, the forms of virtue, as defined by Plato and Aristotle, have remained essentially unchanged, is in direct conflict with the view I am maintaining in this lecture.

“In the development of that reflective morality which our own consciences inherit,” he tells us, “both the fundamental principle and the mode of its articulation have retained the form which they first took in the minds of the Greek philosophers.… When we come to ask ourselves what are the essential forms in which, however otherwise modified, the will for true good (which is the will to be good) must appear, our answer follows the lines of the Greek classification of the virtues.”13 Now, this seems to me a grave distortion of the truth. Green's words hold good if we are making a comparison between the principles of secular morality and those formulated by the Greek philosophers. But it is otherwise when we pass from ethical to religious praxis. To say, as does Green, that “there can be no higher motive “to temperance” than that civil spirit, in the fullest and truest sense, on which the Greek philosophers conceived it to rest”, and “that, in respect of the governing principle of the will, the σωφρων, as they conceive him, does not differ from the highest type of self-denial known to Christian society” is to ignore the revolution effected by the presence of the religious motive. Religious conduct, as exemplified in lives inspired by the ideal of Christianity, is characterized by a new and distinctive form, the love of man for God, foreign alike to Greek moral philosophy and to the secular humanism of the present day. No one who is blind to this difference of essential principle is qualified to pass a judgement on the relationship between religion and morality.


The distinction which has been engaging our attention, between religious and ethical praxis, is in principle the same as that drawn with so firm a hand by St. Thomas Aquinas between “infused” and “acquired” virtue. In his treatment of virtus infusa, the Angelic Doctor had, of course, in mind the Christian revelation, and especially its doctrine of divine grace. The history of religion offers no other example that so fully illustrates the distinction. The transvaluation effected by the Hebrew prophets was, we have seen, from a lower to a higher ideal of religious conduct. Buddhism, in the hands of its founder, was rather a case of the replacement of older religious by a new morality than of the incorporation of pre-existing morality into a religious way of life. Islam arose in Arabia among tribes whose conduct was still regulated by pre-ethical custom. For an adequate example of the rapprochement between a new religious faith and a pre-existing moral system, we must look to the contacts established under the æegis of the Roman Empire between Christianity and the philosophy of the Greek and Græco-Roman schools. The process of assimilation was already at work in the apostolic age; St. Paul drew illustrations of the Christian ideal of conduct from the Stoic clichés familiar to him through the university of Tarsus and the teaching, of the Pharisee Gamaliel. Its embodiment by St. Ambrose, at the close of the fourth century, in the treatise de Offciis Ministrorum, compiled for the benefit of his clergy, was epoch-making for the thought of western Christendom. Dr. Inge's assertion that “early Christian ethics were mainly Stoical” is, as the Bishop of Durham has pointed out, misleading;14 for it holds only of certain elements in the synthesis, which are rigorously subordinated by St. Ambrose to the principles of the Christian faith. As Dr. Dudden has put it, “whatever foreign features he may introduce into his ethical structure, the structure is Christian, and the foundation is Christ”.15 What St. Ambrose did in fact was to fit fragments of Stoic moral teaching into the Christian religious way of life. “This treatise of ours,” he writes in the de Oficiis, “is not superfluous, seeing that we and the philosophers measure duty by different standards.” The moral law is to obey the will of God, made known in nature, in reason, and in revelation. There are three levels of virtue: the fear of God, the love of God, resemblance to God. Mercy (misericordia) is the sovereign principle of conduct; “mercy makes men perfect, for by mercy man resembles God”. St. Ambrose here anticipates Aquinas’ position that caritas is the unifying form and the inspiration of all virtue. There is nothing analogous to this in Cicero or the Stoics.16 Their insistence on moral obligation and on the rôle of reason as regulative of the passions naturally finds full endorsement in St. Ambrose; while the distinction between ordinary and perfect duties reappears as that between pagan morality and the higher religious praxis of Christianity. The cardinal virtues, of course, are there with their accepted definitions; but the old bottles are filled with the new wine to the point of bursting, as when the meaning of justice is stretched to include the distinctively Christian quality of mercy. Above all, the Stoic gospel of the self-sufficiency of the wise man, standing four-square in his own strength against the tide of circumstance, has yielded to the Pauline ideal of the Christian saint, who can indeed do all things, but in the power of Christ. There was no room for the humility of the publican within the cadres of Stoic ethics.17 St. Ambrose's adaptation of Stoicism to Christian purposes leaves on the reader in impression of artificiality, He had been trained in youth under the traditional classical curriculum, and, like his follower Augustine, retained through life a love for the masters of Græco-Roman culture. We discern in his pious references to Cicero the note of loyalty to “the old school tie”. The concatenation of Stoic and Christian material presented in the de Officiis is, in fact, lacking in the essentials of a speculative synthesis. St. Ambrose was not a philosopher; he was primarily an administrator and a leader of men.18 For a systematic religious philosophy the world had to wait through the long twilight of the dark ages till after the rediscovery of the Aristotelian Corpus in the thirteenth century. Then the several threads of Christian theology, Christian Platonism, and Aristotelian logic, ethics and metaphysic were gathered into an unified fabric of thought by the master-mind of Aquinas.

St. Thomas's synthesis of religious and moral praxis is set in a wide metaphysical framework. Man as a being composite of soul and body is marked out by his natural constitution for a twofold destiny, with reason and revelation as regulative gifts of God in view of his temporal and eternal welfare. It looks at first as if this dualism of ends and functions implied a juxtaposition of two co-ordinate principles. But this is not the case; the ends, man's temporal and eternal felicity, are not co-ordinate, and the law of natural reason—i.e., the moral law—is the preparation for the law revealed by Christ.19 The scope of revelation, again, overlaps the field of reason; so that moral praxisi.e., the acquired virtue of the Greek philosophers—is at once appropriated and transmuted by Christianity on a higher plane. “Grace perfects nature.” The unification is effected by supernatural agency illumining the whole life by the infusion of divine love (caritas).

The relevant passages are to be found in prima secimdae and secunda secundae of the Summa Theologica. Three sections in particular attract notice. (1) In the treatise de Legibus St. Thomas shows how from the lex aeterna, the timeless judgement of the divine reason, flow two streams of absolute law: (a) the revealed law of the old and new Covenants—the lex divina, and (b) the self-evident immutable and universal principles of morality—lex naturalis, the rational law of nature.20 Only the redeemed in Paradise can know the lex aeterna as it is in God; the lex divina and the lex naturalis represent that law in forms that lie within the competence of man's intellect in the present life. Both are promulgated by God, the former by God's direct command, the latter as “instilled by God into man's mind so as to be known by him naturally”. To live in accordance with the law of nature is possible for man independently of the Christian revelation. Indeed, the concept of lex naturalis, apart, of course, from its derivation from lex aeterna, belonged to the Stoic tradition, inherited by Christian thought through Roman law.21

The two other relevant sections of the, Summa—viz., (2) the treatise on “habits”, immediately preceding the treatise on laws in prima secundae,22 and (3) the discussion of caritas in connexion with the other “particular virtues” in secundae secundae23—may be considered together. In the former Aquinas writes as a philosopher, expounding a system of morals in close dependence on Aristotle's Ethics; in the latter as a theologian, presenting, inter alia, a concrete picture of the Christian life. The severance of moral and religious praxis is no arbitrary juxtaposition, nor a merely methodological distinction; it follows logically from Aquinas’ theory of the separate provinces of reason and faith, of nature and supernature, of philosophy and theology. To discuss this theory on its merits lies beyond our present purpose. Our concern is with the distinction between acquired and infused virtue and the synthesis effected on the ground of the latter. On the one hand, there are those virtues which are habits acquired by practice in following the law of reason—i.e., the intellectual and moral αρεται, of Aristotle, with emphasis on the four cardinal virtues, prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude. As in Aristotle, a measure of unification is secured through the primacy of prudence (φρονησις, practical wisdom). On the other hand, the theological virtues, faith, hope and charity, are infused by divine grace, independently of rational habituation. Virtus infusa differs in kind front virtus acquisita, in that (1) the habits directive towards an end which exceeds the proportion of human nature—namely, the ultimate and perfect happiness of man—must themselves “exceed the proportion of human nature”, and (2) it is “formed in us by God without us”—i.e., “without any action on our part, but not without our consent”.24 Of the three infused virtues, the greatest is charity, defined as “a friendship” (even here we catch the ring of Aristotle's φιλια) “of man for God, founded upon the fellowship of everlasting happiness, and present in man neither naturally nor through acquisition by the natural powers, but by the infusion of the Holy Spirit, who is the love of the Father and the Son, and the participation of whom in us is created charity”.25 It extends, as has been already noted, to love of neighbour and of self, even of our body, in and for God.26 Charity, we are told, approaches nearer to God than either faith or hope, though these also have God as their proper object. For they “imply a certain distance from the object; since faith is of what is not seen, and hope is of what is not possessed. But the love of charity is of that which is already possessed: since the beloved is, in a manner, in the lover, and again, the lover is drawn by desire to union with the beloved.”27 Therefore, unlike faith and hope, charity persists in gloria.28 Indeed, man can only realize perfect charity in this present life under qualification, in so far as he habitually gives his whole heart to God.29

Charity is the principle of synthesis of all virtue, acquired as well as infused. “It is charity which directs the acts of all other virtues to the last end, and which consequently also gives the form to all other acts of virtue.”30 Reference is here made to St. Ambrose. “All the moral virtues must needs be infused together with charity,” which thus unifies the whole of moral conduct on a higher plane than prudence.31 An act of temperance, for instance, inspired by charity, will differ in concreto from an act of acquired temperance; “both acquired and infused temperance moderate desires for pleasures of touch, but for different reasons; wherefore their respective acts are not identical”. The motives differ in kind. “The mean fixed by reason “prescribes” that food shall not harm the health of the body, nor hinder the use of reason”; “the mean fixed according to the divine rule” ordains the practice of abstinence.32 The infusion of charity carries with it the infusion also of every acquired virtue.33 God can infuse those virtues immediately in those who have not acquired them by previous habituation.34 Moreover, as thus infused they are exhibited on a higher level of excellence, “proportionate” to the theological virtues.35 St. Thomas does not deny that acquired virtue, independently of divine illumination, is genuinely deserving of the name. But it is imperfect virtue, inasmuch as it is directed to a this-worldly end. “It is possible,” we read, “by means of human works to acquire moral virtues, in so far as they produce good works that are directed to an end not surpassing the natural power of man: and when they are acquired thus, they can be without charity, even as they were in many of the Gentiles. But in so far as they produce good works in proportion to a supernatural last end, thus they have the character of virtue, truly and perfectly: and cannot be acquired by human acts, but are infused by God. Such-like moral virtues cannot be without charity… It is therefore clear that only the infused virtues are perfect, and deserve to be called virtues simpliciter; since they direct man well to the ultimate end. But the other virtues, those, namely, that are acquired, are virtues in a restricted sense, but not simpliciter; for they direct man well in respect of the last end in some particular genus of action, but not in respect of the last end simpliciter.”36 The point of the last sentence is made vet clearer in a later passage of the Summa. “The ultimate and principal good of man is the enjoyment of God … and to this good man is ordered by charity. Man's secondary and, as it were, particular good may be twofold; the one is truly good because, considered in itself, it can be directed to the principal good, which is the last end; while the other is good apparently and not truly because it leads away from the final good. Accordingly it is evident that simpliciter true virtue is that which is directed to man's principal good … and in this way no true virtue is possible without charity. If, however, we take virtue as being ordered to some particular end, then we may speak of virtue being where there is no charity, in so far as it is directed to some particular good. But if this particular good is not a true, but an apparent good, it is not a true virtue that is ordered to such a good, but a counterfeit virtue.” He here quotes from Augustine the case of the prudent miser. But how, we wonder, about the commendation in the Gospel of the unjust steward, “because he had done wisely”? “If, on the other hand, this particular good be a true good—for instance, the welfare of the State, or the like—it will indeed be a true virtue, imperfect, however, unless it be referred to the final and perfect good. Accordingly, no strictly true virtue is possible without charity.”37

Such, in broad outline, is St. Thomas's view of the relationship between religious and moral praxis. He refers, it is true, to religion in a wider sense, as applicable to the ethnic cults, including it, by a somewhat artificial accommodation to Aristotelian cadres, under the head of acquired justice.38 Religion, thus understood, has for its object, not God himself, as with the theological virtues, but the inward and outward acts—e.g., of prayer and worship—by which men render due honour to the Deity.39 The motive of charity is not here in question. We need not concern ourselves with this usage. It is more relevant to bear in mind that Catholic theology has never dared to set bounds to the scope of divine grace, and that, for all that man can tell, infused virtue may be granted to many beyond the pate of the Christian revelation. What is of serious importance is the principle that underlies Aquinas’ synthesis of infused with acquired virtue. Grace is not contrary to nature, nor indifferent to it: it perfects nature. “The gifts of grace are added to nature in this manner, that they do not annul nature, but rather bring it to perfection.”40 Theologians have still much to learn from a study of St. Thomas.


I close this chapter by noting two corollaries:

(i) The doctrine of virtus infusa is tenable only on the assumption that there is a God who reveals his will to men and assists them by grace in the doing of it. It implies a belief in a supernatural order; nature being understood to mean the process of spatio-temporal events as known and interpreted by human intellect. A distinction is posited within the whole of being between the being of the Creator and that of his creation, which lies beyond man's comprehension. At most he can but comprehend the fact of its incomprehensibility. This phrase of Kant's expresses a thought which, whether it be true or false, falls within the compass of metaphysics. I do not think that in the foregoing discussion I have trespassed beyond the bounds of Lord Gifford's trust. My purpose throughout has been expository rather than apologetic. A survey of human conduct discloses inter alia a type of life, presupposing in those who lead it certain beliefs in a supernatural reality, apart from which they would not hold it to be worth living. Whether those beliefs be true or false is another story, which concerns us only in so far as the recognition of the value of the life in question affords a rational ground for their acceptance. To maintain that it does so is legitimate philosophical argument. So also with regard to the specifically Christian revelation, On which we have mainly relied for illustration; we have not argued to its truth save in so far as its way of life exemplifies, more fully than that of any other religion, the nature and value of religious praxis. This, again, is an enquiry that comes within the province of philosophy. There are few competent thinkers, at all events in the western world, among those who reject theism who, if asked which of the various religious faiths they regard as the most serious rival to agnosticism, or which, in the event of a change in their convictions, they themselves would be most willing to accept, would hesitate to answer, “Some form of Christianity”. In the East it might well he otherwise; but even here a philosopher might claim that he could justify the Christian faith as reasonable, in face, say, of the theistic faiths of India. Nor are the ideas of revelation and grace foreign to eastern theism.41 Our point is that the problem of the relationship between religious and moral praxis has received its most adequate speculative treatment in Christian religious philosophy. Of the case against the religious way of life I shall be speaking in the concluding chapter.

Now, if St. Thomas is right, as I believe him to be, in regarding the religious way of life as on a higher level than that of acquired virtue, his teaching serves to illustrate a wider principle, set forth, if not by Plato himself, at all events by his Neo-Platonist disciples, that, namely of a hierarchy of forms of goodness, co-extensive with the whole realm of being. Without committing ourselves to all the metaphysical implications of this doctrine, by which Aquinas, in common with almost every medieval thinker, was profoundly influenced, and confining our attention to the field of human praxis, we have reached a point where it is possible to discern its application within what Croce has termed “the philosophy of practice”. Starting at the base of the ladder, with what we called pre-ethical conduct, regulated either by the “must” of social custom (on the line of duty) or by spontaneous desire for a proximate satisfaction (on the line of action sub ratione boni), we ascend, on the one line, to morality, on the other to conduct motivated by a good that is approved by reason. Above both these latter forms of praxis, though in closest affinity with action sub ratione boni, stands the religious way of life, whose informing motive is the love of God. The pre-ethical types present an obvious analogy to Croce's “economic” action.42 Moreover, subordinate forms of excellence are distinguishable within both the moral life and that sub ratione boni. It is with conduct as with art, where specification can be followed out almost ad indefinitum within the forms designated, say, as poetry or music. Professor Collingwood has shown, in treating of such a “scale of forms”, how the various classes not only “overlap”, but differ, the lower in the scale from the higher, both in degree and in kind. He repeatedly illustrates these peculiarities from the forms of goodness. He shows, for instance, in reference to the traditional distinction of iucundum, utile , honestum, that what is pleasant may also be expedient and right;43 that the cardinal and the theological virtues, while manifestly different in kind, yet differ from one another also in degree;44 and that “the lowest form in the scale when compared with the next above it, not only loses its own intrinsic goodness and acquires the character of badness, but actually becomes identical with evil in general”, thus offering a much-needed reconciliation of the negativity of evil in relation to good and its positive actuality in the world of our experience.45 The following passage is very relevant. “The higher term,” he tells us, “possesses not only that kind of goodness which belongs to it in its own right, but also the kind which originally or in itself belonged to its neighbour. It not only surpasses its neighbour in degree, but beats it, so to speak, on its own ground. The lower promises more than it can perform; it professes to exhibit a certain kind of goodness, but cannot in reality do so in a more than approximate and inadequate manner; just as it cannot wholly achieve goodness, so it cannot wholly achieve that specific and admittedly imperfect form of it which is characteristically its own; this is genuinely achieved only by the next higher term, which professes to exhibit not this but the form next above it.”46 This bears out precisely what we have been maintaining as to morality and religion: how, on the one hand, morality point forward to religion, through the concept of duty, which, as Kant saw, was both transcendent and immanent; how, on the other side, the theoria of religion enables the unfulfilled promise of morality to achieve realization. Professor Collingwood himself puts this case a little later: “If, as St. Paul believed, law is given for the better ordering of life, and grace is something of the same general kind but a higher term in the same scale, it is no paradox that grace should perform exactly what law promised to perform but did not”.47 The difference, you will observe, is primarily one of motive; which justifies our insistence, in the opening lecture, on the integration of the motive with the moral act.

This brings me to my second corollary:

(2) The religious motive of love towards God is not merely distinct from those of duty and of desire for finite goods. It possesses this further characteristic. In speaking of its sameness in kind with God's love for man, so that in both senses of the relation the term “love” is univocal, we saw that the element of identity is due to divine immanence, inspiring both the divine love and the human response. There is implied, as even Aquinas was prepared to admit, a certain participation by man in God. I am aware that such language must be used with reserve, and that Christian mystics have at times expressed their sense of “union” with God in terms that obscure the essential distinction between the Creator and the creature. But I venture, with all due caution, to put forward a suggestion that has been home in on my mind more and more strongly during the preparation of this course. You may remember how Cook Wilson, in his Notes on the Rational Grounds for Belief in God, restates the ontological argument in a new form, resting on the unique emotion of reverence.48 Such an emotion, he argues, is inconceivable unless it be directed upon a transcendent God. I fully admit that reverence is more than a mere feeling, and that “it is only possible because we actually do believe in God”. But it does not seem to me to imply the truth of God's existence. I agree with Professor Dawes Hicks that it leaves still unbridged the gulf between “subjective certitude” and “objective certainty”, and that “the irresistibility of a man's private conviction does not in itself suffice to establish its truth”. But the experience of love towards God stands on a different footing from that of reverence. There God is the transcendent object of worship: here it is his immanence rather than (though not exclusive of) his transcendence that is of moment. God is not present simply as the object of man's response, as though his love towards us called forth our love towards him; our answering love is the very spirit of God working within us. God is present, so to speak, on both sides in the reciprocal relation. The certitude is not subjective, nor is the conviction private. It is not a question of the experience being “only possible because we actually do believe in God”, as Cook Wilson says is the case with worship. That would carry us back to the traditional form of the ontological argument. Belief in God is one thing, the love of God is another; “the devils also,” we are told, “believe and tremble Belief in God's existence arises in reflection on the experience of love for him; it is not the experience itself, but is grounded on it. The experience itself is a direct participation in God's presence. Let no one object that this is to argue in a circle, that we first explain the response by assuming God's existence, and then use it as evidence for the truth of the assumption. God's existence is not presupposed as a premise; our sole premise is the experienced fact of man's love for him, and his existence is given in that datum. If it be argued that this holds only for those who share in that experience, I would reply that, though the intuition of God's presence is not, like the intuition of our own being, universal to all mankind, an appreciation of the worth of the experience to those who have it is accessible to every thinking being. No man of intelligence, who had the misfortune to be tone-deaf, would question the value of music as a factor in civilized life, or attempt to explain it away by a theory which, were it true, would destroy that value in the eyes of those competent to experience it. To question the empirical datum by maintaining that, though some people think they love God, no one really does so, and that those who think they do are victims of self-deception, would be equally paradoxical. On the other hand, when once the reality of the experience is granted, it is difficult to contest the ontological implication. The view I am here suggesting is thoroughly consonant with the great tradition of Christian Platonism. It is not the only point on which the authority of Anselm is to be preferred to the more rigid Aristotelianism of Aquinas. It certainly throws more weight than most Neo-Thomists would allow on the evidence of religious experience.49 But we have already found it necessary to appeal to that experience, if the arguments to theism from moral and other non-religious sources are to prove convincing. If the love of man for God—i.e., infused charity—be singled out as the nerve of that appeal, it offers—such is my contention—not a formal demonstration (for it always remains possible to doubt the validity of the experience), but a rational ground that is well-nigh irresistible for the belief in the existence of God.

  • 1.

    Christian Morality, p. 10.

  • 2.

    Les Deux Soures, p. 128 (É.T., p. 102). Les religions primitives ne peuvent être dites immorales, ou indifférentes à la morale, que si l'on prend la refigion telle qu'elle fut d'abord, pour la comparer à la morale telle qu'ellt est devenue plus tard. A l'origine, la coutume est toute la morale; et comme la religion interdit de s'en écarter, la morale est coextensive à la religion.

  • 3.

    Chapter 1, pp. 21–22.

  • 4.

    Prof. L. A. Reid, Creative Morality, p. 244.

  • 5.

    See Rhys Davids, Hibbert lectures (1881) on Buddhism, pp. 205 f.

  • 6.

    Epistola de caritate, at the close of the treatise De diligendo Deo. See Gilson, op. cit., p. 110.

  • 7.

    S.Th., IIa, IIae, 25a 4.

  • 8.

    Individuality and Value, p. 383 n.: Bosanquet is quoting from McTaggart.

  • 9.

    Robert Browning: An Epistle containing the strange medical experience of Karshah, the Arab physician.

  • 10.

    The religious way of life is opposed not merely to egoism, but to what is a distinct and more subtle temptation, egotism, i.e., the impulse to self-assertion. Christ explicitly condemned the ’prudent defences of the self“ against the egotism of others, which common morality sanctions and even enjoins. See Niebuhr, An Interpretation of Christian Ethics. Dr. Niebuhr confuses the real distinction between egoism and egotism, stressed (with a tendency to exaggeration) by Mr. Leon in The Ethics of Power.

  • 11.

    Compare Prof. Reid's discussion of “creative” or “expressive” morality; op. cit., ch. XIV.

  • 12.

    Book III, ch. V.

  • 13.

    Book III, ch. V, § 256; cf. § 268 on σωφροσυνη. “We have no right to disparage the Greek ideal (of chastity) on the ground of any inferiority in the motive which the Greek philosophers would have considered the true basis of this, as of every, form of temperance. There can be no higher motive to it than that civil spirit, in the fullest and truest sense, on which they conceived it to rest… It may fairly be considered that, in respect of the governing principle of the will, the σωφρων, as they conceive him, does not differ from the highest type of self-denial known to Christian society.”

  • 14.

    Op cit., p. 139.

  • 15.

    Homes Dudden, Life and Times of St. Ambrose, II, 554. I am indebted to Dr. Dudden's book throughout this paragraph, esp. to ch. 20, on St. Ambrose's Ethics.

  • 16.

    So he sets side by side two different views as to the summum bonum, (1) that it is God, (2) the Stoic view that it is virtue.

  • 17.

    Nor for virginity, which is ranked by Ambrose high among the virtues.

  • 18.

    Philosophy is, in Ambrose's eyes, superfluous; if the Greek philosophers taught the truth, it was borrowed from Moses and David. Mathematical and astronomical speculations are pronounced to be indecorum; Moses, whose wisdom was of another order, held such enquiries to be detrimentum a stultitiam.

  • 19.

    See above, ch. VI, pp. 191–105.

  • 20.
    See my Legacy of the Ancient World, ch. XI, § 15, pp. 386 ff.

    The section referred to is S.Th., Ia IIae, qq. 90–108, forming a treatise de le legibus. The scheme is as follows:— A. Introductory (qq. 90–92); B. The several kinds of law: lex aeterna(q. 93) lex divina (q. 91, art. 4, qq. 98–108) lex naturalis (q. 91, art. 2, q. 94) lex vetus (O.T.) (qq. 98–105) lex nova (N.T.) (qq. 106–108) = lex humana (i) ius commune gentium (q. 95) (ii) uis civile (lex positiva) (q. 91, art. 3, qq. 95–97)

  • 21.

    The reference here is to the first principles of the lex naturalis. The term is sometimes used by Aquinas to cover variable rules deduced therefrom. As Niebuhr says (op. cit, p. 155), the theory of the natural law is the instrument in which the orthodox Church adjusted itself to the world after the hope of the parousia waned. Such an instrument, mediating between the perfect law of Christ and the actual conditions of society, is what is lacking and imperatively called for at the present time.

  • 22.

    Ia, IIae, qq. 49–89; esp. de virtutibus, qq. 5 5–70.

  • 23.

    Ia, IIae, qq. 23–27.

  • 24.

    Ia, IIae, 51a 4, 55a 4 (resp. ad 6a). I quote the transl. by the English Dominican Fathers.

  • 25.

    Ia, IIae, 298a 1, 242 2.

  • 26.

    Ibid., 25a 1, 4, 5.

  • 27.

    Ibid., 66a 6.

  • 28.

    Ibid., 67a 6.

  • 29.

    Ibid., 24a 8.

  • 30.

    Ibid., 23a 8.

  • 31.

    Ia, IIae, 65a 3.

  • 32.

    Ibid., 63a 4.

  • 33.

    Ibid., 63a 3.

  • 34.

    Ibid., 51a 4.

  • 35.

    Ibid., 63a 3.

  • 36.

    Ia, IIae, 65a 2.

  • 37.

    Ia, IIae, 23a 7; cf. Prof. L. A. Reid on “Agape”, op. cit., pp. 256–7.

  • 38.

    Ibid., 81 ff.

  • 39.

    See Sertillanges, La Philosophie Morale de S. Thomas d'Aquin, pp. 270 ff.

  • 40.

    In Boeth. de Trin; q. 22a 3. Gratiae dona hoc modo naturae adduntur quod eam non tollunt, sed magis perficunt. Compare von Hügel, Letters to a Niece, p. 61: “If there is one danger for religion—if there is any one plausible, all-but-irresistible trend which, throughout its long rich history, has sapped its force, and prepared the most destructive counter-excesses, it is just that—that allowing the fascinations of grace to deaden or to ignore the beauties and duties of Nature.… Why, Nature … is the expression of the God of Nature; just as grace is the expression of the God of grace.… No grace without the substrate, the occasion, the material of Nature, and (in the individuals called to the realization of the type) no Nature without grace.”

  • 41.

    See J. Estlin Carpenter, Theism in Medieval India (Hibbert lectures, 1919), Index s.v. Grace, and (especially) on Rāmânuja, PP. 401 ff.

  • 42.

    See Appendix I.

  • 43.

    Philosophical Method, pp. 41–42.

  • 44.

    Philosophical Method, p. 56.

  • 45.

    Ibid., p. 84.

  • 46.

    Ibid., pp. 86–87.

  • 47.

    Philosophical Method, p. 89.

  • 48.

    Cook Wilson (Statement and Inference, II, pp. 835 ff.) argues that we cannot have the feeling of reverence save for a superhuman spirit, and that we cannot have the conception of such a spirit “without real experience to correspond”. The feeling presupposes the conception: “we must have had experience of the reality of such a being somehow within us”. Prof. Dawes Hicks’ criticism is to be found in The Philosophical Bases of Theism, pp. 133–135.

  • 49.

    But the wisdom that springs from infused charity is experiential. See above, ch. V, pp. 151n, 178n.