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The Thomist 63 (1999): 425-37 THE SPIRIT AND THE LIMITS OF PRUDENTIAL REASONING1 CHRISTOPHER]. THOMPSON University ofSt. Thomas St. Paul, Minnesota HUMAN FULFILLMENT finds its fullest expression in an eternal friendship with God; such a relationship of friendship , while only completely achieved in the next life, nonetheless plays a constitutive role in moral reasoning in this one. While one might regard what is asserted in the previous paragraph as a simple truism among Thomists, it has nonetheless recently come under fire in Thomistic scholarship. The aim ofthis paper is to address that challenge. The thesis I develop here is simple and twofold: first, that our friendship with God, as spoken of under the general notion of "beatitude," is a constitutive component of the moral life; second, that it is St. Thomas's doctrine of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the specific indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the baptized individual, that completes his portrait of moral decision making. The two aspects of the thesis are related in that Aquinas's reflections on the gifts of the Holy Spirit supply a much-needed answer to those interpreters of Aquinas who wish to minimize the significance of beatitude, or friendship with Christ, in moral discernment. In sum, the central questions to be addressed here concern the nature and extent of beatitude ill Christian moral reflection. It would seem that beatitude does not play a central role in the Christian moral life, for a number of reasons. In a recent work, 1 A draft of this paper was delivered at the Missouri Valley Association of Catholic Theologians, St. Louis, Missouri (Fall, 1998). 425 426 CHRISTOPHER]. THOMPSON Pamela Hall notes that within her broader account of St. Thomas's discussion of Christian morality she hopes to argue that "human prudence cannot steer itself by referring to God as ultimate end, since this is an end of which we do not have sufficient apprehension here and now."2 Citing a Thomistic truism regarding the ineffability of the divine essence, Hall suggests that such an essence cannot function in any useful way in matters of moral reflection, for one cannot have as one's normative end something that is utterly incomprehensible. The claim that divine friendship cannot serve as an end upon which prudential reasoning might rely seems, despite its initial plausibility, to fly in the face of all of those well-known passages in which charity, as precisely that virtue of friendship with God, is the central virtue, indeed the root virtue of the Christian moral life. Hall recognizes the primacy of charity in St. Thomas's account , yet reminds her readers that charity is a virtue principally related to the will, not the intellect.3 Since charity is related to the will, and prudence is a virtue of the practical intellect, charity is unable to illuminate in any constitutive way moral decision making . As Hall says, "Thus an important problem arises: in practical reasoning we cannot use as a guide an end which we do not-and cannot-apprehend."4 And yet this thesis seems again to fly in the face of St. Thomas's insistence on the total interior transformation of the baptized person who now participates in the new law of grace-a new law that is precisely characterized as one that facilitates a reformation of the interior life. Hall recognizes this importance of the new law of grace when she says, "what the New Law [of grace] contributes uniquely to morality is a new characterization of morality's end: intimate union with God,"5 but tempers the function ofthis intimate union by noting that the life of infused virtue does not "require a 2 Pamela Hall, Narrative and the Natural Law (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994), 20. 3 Ibid., 75. 4 Ibid., 79. 5 Ibid., 88. PRUDENTIAL REASONING 427 cognitive grasp of an end higher than natural reason can provide."6 It is not readily clear, however, how infused prudence, animated by a newly discovered intimate union with God, does not require any further grasp than that supplied by natural reason. Surely the mortal sinner, though he may enjoy a natural knowledge of God's existence...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2473-3725
Print ISSN
0040-6325
Pages
pp. 425-437
Launched on MUSE
2017-04-05
Open Access
No
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