Tinkering with a theory of penance and mortification

All blogposts are in the workshop, but this one is more so than others.

1.) God desires friendship with created persons. The ordinary means of this friendship are sacraments, though the choice to accept or reject the friendship is the first properly moral act of any created person, whether human or angelic.

2.) Friendship is love of another self, i.e. to experience the success or failure, joy or sorrow of another as one’s own,

3.) Justice is the totality of persons other than ourselves possessing what is due, i.e. their right. Any destruction of this order introduces an imbalance that must be put right.

4.) Since one friend loves another as himself friendship does not fall formally under justice. Nevertheless, friends give each other what is due (or fail to do so) in an analogous sense of due or right. In fact, the due or right of friends relates to the due of justice as a transcendent whole to a less perfect part.

5.) When an inferior good conflicts with a superior good, by natural law (i.e. right reason) we must will the superior good.

6.) The divine will is a good superior to all others, and so the created will defers to it not just by natural law but by justice and by friendship.

7.) Created persons frequently sin, that is, will goods incompatible with the divine will. This sin creates an imbalance in right reason, the order of justice, and in the order of friendship.

8.) Key principle: As the imbalance consists in indulging one’s will for an inferior good too much, it is put right by the loss of an inferior good contrary to one’s will, and all such loss involves pain.

The idea is that there is a sort of economy of wills that can be visualized as though, by one trespassing into another by overindulgence, things need to be set right by underindulgence, i.e. by the loss of an inferior good contrary to will and thus painful.

9.) This pain is experienced in different ways in the order of justice and of friendship. In the order of friendship, the pain, though contrary to one’s will is nevertheless willed by the friend seeking to make amends. Though no one wills pain, when considered in abstraction from all circumstances, one who offends against friendship does will pain so far as it is material to righting what was done wrong. As the overindulgence in inferior goods was an offence, the pain of losing them is the material that can set things right.

10.) In friendship, pain is essential materially. What formally re-establishes the friendship is the reassertion of the love itself. If your friend experienced no pain at all after offending you he couldn’t make amends, but even if he experienced extreme pain it could not make amends except in union with a re-assertion of charity. Pain and charity are both essential, but the pain is material and therefore less essential.

11.) Because the friend is another self, we can in certain ways make amends for others. If I am not friends with A but B loves A in a way that is not depraved, then part of loving B is loving A. In this sense B can “make amends” for A or even “take on the punishment of A.” By “taking on the punishment” we don’t mean he suffers what is due to A, even if he is willing to do so. Scapegoating has nothing to do with this. We mean that, though friendship, the pain one person is due can be taken on by another so far as the bonds of friendship are being extended by it. This sort of thing is happening in human relationships all the time: two persons are reconciled by the mediation of one who is a common friend to both and who is pained by the rift between them.

12.) When we leave the order of friendship we fall to the order of justice. Since it is proper to friendship to love the good of another, then in the face of a rift, where there is no friendship we cannot love the pain owed to the one who is offended. We can only suffer this pain. Thus, absent the order of friendship between God and man, man merely suffers punishment but cannot do what was described in (9). The pain is not material to charity – if it were then one would have friendship ipso facto.

13.) In the absence of friendship, sin demands merely suffering pain in the order of justice. This suffering lasts as long as the sin that brings it about, not according to the duration of the work but the duration of the stain that arises from the work, a “stain” which consists precisely in the loss of the friendship (the metaphor of the stain – Latin macula – consists in an effect of an act lasting after the cause itself is over, like a blot remaining after the spill happened). Because of this, any sin committed outside the friendship of God, or which brings this about, is intrinsically eternal. This is not because eternity is proportionate to the offence, but simply because the only means of ending the macula is friendship. As Gregory puts it, if you jump in a pit you can’t get out of, then you’re stuck there forever, but not because this is a sentence proportionate to your stupidity or short sightedness or whatever.

14.) Our relationship with God differs from our relationship with other persons in that the pains of things contrary to the will can themselves play more of a role in the relationship. God experiences the human will immediately and so is immediately offended by acts of will irrationally preferring the divine will to what is inferior, and so for one in friendship with God the voluntary acceptance of the pain of losing an inferior good can be immediately pleasing to him. This pain, willed in charity, makes immediate amends in the same way that the contrary of anything offensive can be the material cause of removing the offence. So while the voluntary acceptance of pain has some role to play in re-establishing all friendships, the pain caused by renouncing inferior goods has an immediate connection to appeasing a divine friend.



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