Thu. Nov 21st, 2019

August cerebrations

August 28 is the feastday of Saint Augustine, patron saint of the town of my birth, Cuyo, and I take this opportunity to wish my fellow-Cuyonons a blessed Purungitan Festival—the official (secularized) name of the celebration. 

August 28 is the feastday of Saint Augustine, patron saint of the town of my birth, Cuyo, and I take this opportunity to wish my fellow-Cuyonons a blessed Purongitan Festival—the official (secularized) name of the celebration.  The term means smearing/blackening of faces (and bodies), apparently to look like the aboriginal Aetas or Negritos of these shores (welcoming the arrival of Christianity), as in the Ati-atihan of Aklan, Sinulog of Cebu, and Dinagyang of Iloilo (on the feastday of the Santo Niño).  But Augustine, the Bishop of Hippo (in present-day Algeria), deserves attention as one of the brightest minds human civilization has produced (perhaps, next only to Saint Thomas Aquinas).  His best-known line, “(Lord,) You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You,” (from his Confessions) is still one of the most beautiful expressions of the meaning of human existence.

It is also to Saint Augustine that we owe the insight that the essence of “sin” is a “turning away from God and turning towards creatures,” aversio a Deo et conversio ad creaturas.  In other words, with regard to sin, the “Matter” (or “material cause”, i.e., what gives a thing the “potency” or capacity to become what it is) is the “turning towards creatures”; and the “Form” (“formal cause”, what gives a thing the “act” of being what it is) is the “turning away from God”.

Indeed, every violation of the Natural Moral Law is a rebellion against the Creator and His design.  That is where the evil truly lies.  And for me, this Augustinian insight has been crucial to seeing why the Machiavellian notion that “the end justifies the means” is wrong.

So, why is it that “the end never justifies the means”?

Of course, what Machiavelli actually wrote (in Chapter 18 of The Prince) was this:  “In the actions of all men, and especially of princes, which it is not wise to challenge, one judges by the result.  For that reason, let a prince have the credit for conquering and holding his state, the means will always be considered honest, and he will be praised by everybody.”  But yes,  contrary to the idea underlying this proposition, the end never justifies the means because, (Eureka!) if the means is morally wrong in itself, there is already a turning away from the person’s ultimate end and highest good (God), and no other (intermediate) end—no matter what “good” is sought to be achieved by the immoral act—can offset that or compensate (as its equivalent) for the loss of the highest good.

Parenthetically, the Machiavellian notion (that the end justifies the means) should not be confused with Peter Drucker’s “Management by Results”.  The latter simply refers to setting goals and keeping track of progress in attaining them.  Also, the somewhat misnomered “justifying circumstance” of “self-defense” in our criminal law is not a case of end-justifying-means but the operation of the “double-effect” principle:  a single act producing two effects:  repelling an aggressor (intended and morally good) and injuring the latter (wrong but un-intended and, therefore, not imputable to the actor).

Another cerebral saint whose feastday is celebrated in August (the 9th) is Edith Stein, a brilliant writer and teacher of philosophy who had been a collaborator of Edmund Husserl (the “father” of Phenomenology).

Edith Stein “saw” with her intellect (after having read the autobiography of Saint Teresa of Avila), converted from Judaism to Christianity, and became a Discalced Carmelite nun adopting the name, “Teresa Benedicta of the Cross”.  She died a martyr in a gas chamber of the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz (Poland) on August 9, 1942 (her dies natalis, “birthday”, in heaven).  Saint Pope John Paul II beatified Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in 1987, and canonized her in 1998.

Edith Stein, a.k.a. Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, was “caught by the head”, as Saint Josemaría Escrivá would put it: “’Follow me, and I will make you into fishers of men’. Not without reason does our Lord use these words: men—like fish—have to be caught by the head.” (The Way, No. 978)  She evokes the importance of the human intellect, of Reason, in bringing man to his ultimate end, union with God (the fullness of Truth and of the Good).  This is the theme of the Encyclical Fides et Ratio (1998) of Saint Pope John Paul II:  “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth”. (FeR, Preamble)

It cannot be by “faith alone” that man would reach his eternal happiness.  Apart from the indispensability of the other two “theological virtues” of Hope and Charity (and its “works”), Faith seeks “understanding”.  After all, it is of our human nature to “understand” the “truth” with our intelligence (and to “love” the “good” with our freedom).  Of course, Reason alone (without Faith) will not bring us far enough; but Faith without Reason “runs the grave risk of withering into myth or superstition”. (FeR, No. 48)

I end with a favorite aspiration to the Mother of God whose Assumption into Heaven in Body and Soul we commemorated last August 15: Holy Mary, our Hope, Seat of Wisdom, Spes nostra, Sedes Sapientiae, pray for us! (28.VIII.2019)

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