A Good Will

Father Geiermann discusses the importance of a good will and the salutary actions which flow from it. He begins by stating: “Good will is the one great requisite to attain eternal life. Genuine good will is composed of sincerity of mind, desire of heart, and resolution of will.”

Sincerity is that honesty of mind which produces rectitude of intention and fidelity in action.”

Desire is a longing of the heart for the good perceived by the mind. ‘What wings are to a bird’ says St. Alphonsus, ‘desires are to a soul that longs for perfection.’ This desire must be efficacious, however, for the saints tell us that ‘hell is paved with vain desires.’ A desire is efficacious when the heart is anxious to make the sacrifices necessary to carry it into practice. Such a desire supplies the strength necessary for pursuit.”

“A resolution is a fixed determination of the will to realize the desires of the heart. . . . It should turn with decision from every temptation, prudently avoid the voluntary occasions of sin, and strengthen itself against those unavoidable by keeping itself intimately united to God.”

“The intention is that act of the mind whereby man directs his actions to a certain definite end. Man may have various immediate, but only one true final end. As he came from God he should ultimately direct all his actions to God. . . . When man directs his actions to God as his supernatural end he makes them meritorious for heaven. It suffices for this to have the habitual intention to act as a Christian.”

“There are two universal laws of life which man must observe if he wishes to strive successfully after any definite end. They are the laws of labor and sacrifice. If he wishes to attain the reward of heaven he must, besides, observe the law of prayer.”

Labor is the exerting of the powers of soul and body to attain a definite end. On the journey of life no one can entirely escape physical pain and mental anguish, the cause of all suffering. . . . If man rebels, and endeavors to throw off this cross, he multiplies his suffering and increases his burden without growing in virtue or enjoying contentment.”

“To persevere in opposition to the enemies of his salvation is impossible for man without God’s actual help. Though God is infinite goodness and love, He will not grant this aid unless man submits himself to His influence by prayer. Prayer, therefore, is the third universal law of a Christian life.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Human Acts

Father Geiermann discusses the conditions that make us responsible for our actions and the conditions that impede responsibility:

“A person is responsible for his actions to the extent that he has control or dominion over them. To exercise this dominion two things are requisite: (1) that he be conscious of the nature and effects of his actions; (2) that he perform them of his own free will. These conditions elevate an act above the mechanical and make it human, and as such deserving of reward or punishment.”

“Man may be impeded and even prevented from exercising dominion over an action in five ways: (1) by a lack of knowledge, through ignorance, inadvertence, or misconception, of the nature and effects of an action; (2) by a prior excitement of his passions; (3) or by a nervousness that momentarily interferes with the exercise of his reason and free will; (4) by physical violence, brought to bear on him contrary to his own will; (5) by fear induced either from within or from without, that paralyzes his reason and will for the time being.”

Next, Father Geiermann explains how one determines whether an action is praiseworthy or blameworthy. Two factors determine this: the intrinsic nature of the act and the particular circumstances surrounding the carrying out of the act. He explains:

“The nature and the circumstances of an action are the source of its morality. By its nature is meant the intrinsic tendency of an action; by its circumstances those qualities of person, time, place, thing, means, method, and especially end, or intention, that clothe the act in concrete form.”

“In the concrete every human act is either morally good or bad. The essential morality of an act flows from its nature or object; its accidental morality from the circumstances.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Delusions and Passions

Father Geiermann discusses the problems which delusions cause in the intellect and which uncontrolled passions cause in the will of a person trying to live a virtuous life.

“A delusion is an erroneous judgment regarding the condition of affairs, the end to be attained, the motives to be followed, or the means to be employed in practical life. Faith teaches that the human mind has been darkened by original sin. Unless a person be very humble and circumspect, therefore, his perceptions will easily be blurred, his judgments erroneous, and the dictates of his reason reprehensible.”

“In consequence of delusions individuals mistake in themselves (1) the desire of virtue for virtue itself, (2) confuse passion with virtue, and (3) invariably overestimate their own ability and productions while underrating the ability and deeds of others. In consequence of this same delusion man often (1) neglects to give God His due, and (2) even disregards the proximate occasion of sin, as though he were already confirmed in virtue.”

Father Geiermann asserts that “two causes combine to give permanence to delusions in the human mind.” One is mental pride, which causes a person to mistake his imagination for divine inspiration, thereby leading ”fools to rush in where angels fear to tread.” The other is unbridled self-love, which can so blind a person that he cannot see “the beam in his own eye, though he sees the mote in his neighbor’s eye” (Mt 7:3).

“As delusions obscure and pervert the operations of the mind, so the passions hamper the will, and at times hold it captive. As a result of original sin man’s will is not only weakened, but his nature inclines inordinately to one of the eleven passions. This inclination is called his predominant passion.”

“Love is the root of all the passions. It is the great motive power of life. Even fear and desire spring from it. Owing to his selfish nature some form of self-love is always the foundation of man’s predominant passion. He should guard against it especially because the predominant passion invariably tends to one of the seven capital sins, and so may easily pave the way for vices that will hurry him to temporal excess and eternal ruin.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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Father Geiermann defines temperament and enumerates the characteristics of four general types of temperament:

“Temperament is the disposition resulting from the combination of man’s mental and physical constitution. . . . It is said there are no two creatures exactly alike in the visible world. . . . The same remark, for example, addressed to several persons, may cause one to laugh, another to weep, a third to grow angry, and make no apparent impression on a fourth.”

“Temperaments are usually divided into four general classes. They are the sanguine, the choleric, the melancholic, and the phlegmatic. There is no fixed boundary between them. They are rather like so many shades blending imperceptibly, though sometimes two or even more temperaments unite in the same individual. . . . Temperaments have their good as well as their bad characteristics.”

“A sanguine person is naturally amiable, generous, sociable, tractable, and happy on the one hand; and frivolous, vain, flighty, distracted, roguish, wanton, and desirous of pleasure on the other.”

“A choleric person is open, magnanimous, generous, sagacious, and noted for force of will; but he is also inclined to be self-willed, proud, presumptuous, obstinate, critical, ambitious, rebellious, hard-hearted, and revengeful.”

“A melancholic person is earnest, patient, methodical, and resigned when in good humor; but inclined to be morose, jealous, envious, irresolute, retiring, and dejected when out of sorts.”

“A phlegmatic person is naturally calm, patient, agreeable, and circumspect; but dull, indolent, unsympathetic, and a lover of ease, comfort, and good cheer.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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The Human Faculties

Father Geiermann gives this succinct description of the human faculties and how they interact:

“Man is the noblest creature in the visible world. He unites in himself the existence of the mineral, the life of the vegetable, and the sense of the animal kingdom, and participates in the spirit-world as well by having a soul that is made to the image and likeness of God. As a spirit the soul is naturally immortal.”

“The faculties of the soul . . . are (1) the nutritive, augmentative, and reproductive faculties of vegetative life; (2) the sensitive, appetitive, and locomotive faculties of animal life; (3) the intelligence, reason, and free-will of a spiritual being.”

“Corresponding to the vegetative and sensitive faculties of the soul are certain members of the body called organs, by means of which these faculties operate. The sensitive faculties together with their organs are called senses.”

“Man has five external senses by which he communicates with the outside world. They are: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.”

“Man has also four internal senses that serve as a medium between the external senses and the intellectual faculties. They are: central sense, instinct, imagination, and memory. The central sense impresses the sensations of the external senses on the imagination and records them in the memory. The instinct apprehends what is fit and what unfit for the needs of animal life and arouses the appetitive faculties accordingly. The imagination forms images of natural impressions and stores them in the memory. The memory retains these images indefinitely.”

“Man also has the appetitive and locomotive faculties common to all members of the animal kingdom. The appetitive faculty reaches out to enjoy, or to seek an attainable good, and to repel, or to escape from a threatening evil. It is aroused by the instinct through the imagination, or directly by the will, causes a corresponding disturbance in man’s physical nature, and easily excites his intellectual faculties. A movement of the appetitive faculty is called a passion, feeling, or emotion. The passions are divided into concupiscible and irascible, according as their object is agreeable or repugnant in itself, or apprehended as subject to some condition of difficulty or danger. There are six of the former and five of the latter. They are: love, hatred, desire, aversion, joy, and sadness; hope, despair, courage, fear, and anger.”

“The locomotive faculty is the power of moving the limbs as well as the entire body from place to place. It is set in operation and directed by the appetitive faculty, or by the power of the will.”

“By his spiritual powers man rises above the material world in which he lives. The intellect abstracts ideas from the impressions made on the imagination and recorded in the memory. Reason perceives and judges what is true, good, and beautiful, and commands the will to act in accordance with its decision. The will consults the reason in regard to the propriety and manner of action, controls the other faculties, and directs them in accordance with the dictates of reason, whenever it is not hampered by the passions.”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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To Him We Owe

The Redemptorist Father Peter Geiermann shows why we owe God our reverence, gratitude, holy fear, and love.

“If reverence is the esteem and honor due to excellence, God is deserving of the highest reverence. He is the only being that exists of Himself, and is sufficient unto Himself from eternity to eternity. God is infinitely perfect, present everywhere; He sees and sustains all things. Heaven is His throne and the earth is His footstool. . . . The infinite goodness of God prompted His wisdom to plan and His power to create all things for His honor and glory and the welfare of His creatures. God watches over His creatures with a paternal solicitude, which Jesus compared to the tender love of a mother for her child.”

“Gratitude is the obligation of giving thanks to a benefactor. God is the great benefactor of mankind. He called us into existence when He was infinitely happy, and had no need of us. He made us to His own image and likeness. . . . God has further put us under obligation by destining us for the joys of heaven, and by supplying us with superabundant means of earning the ‘reward exceeding great.’ . . . Our divine Saviour earned our lasting gratitude by freely laying down His life for our salvation, by instituting a divine Church and seven sacraments for our sake, and by sending the Holy Ghost to guide us on the sure way to heaven. . . . God put every one of us under additional obligation to Him by giving us life, health, talents, and opportunities, by giving us the priceless treasure of the true faith, and by continually giving us evidence of His goodness, love, and mercy. He is patient when we are wayward, prompt to help when we invoke His aid, generous in His grace, and paternal in His solicitude. If we appreciate His favors and do His holy will, He extends the special protection of His providence to us, predestines us to glory, and conducts us to eternal happiness.”

“God has given us all we are and have, while the future is entirely in His keeping. He may punish us any moment if we disregard His law and offend against His divine majesty. No evil escapes the Master of life and death. If He does not punish the sinner in this life, God is eternal and can afford to wait. Sooner or later He will summon every one before His judgment by death.”

“Love is attachment to an object on account of its goodness. God is the greatest Good, and as such worthy of man’s best love. . . . This infinite Good is, besides, the author of every created good. If life, health, friends, and earthly possessions are worthy of man’s love, how much more should we form an attachment to God. . . . God has also been very good to man by extending to him the countless blessings of creation, redemption, and sanctification. He has loved us individually with an everlasting love. . . . In creating us God fashioned our hearts in such a way that we necessarily love what is good. Will we then be so foolish, so ungrateful, so disobedient as not to love Him, the infinite Good?”

Quotations from Peter Geiermann, The Narrow Way (New York: Benziger, 1914).

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The Moral Virtue of Temperance – Part 5 of 5

We conclude Father Pegues’ exposition of the virtue of temperance by discussing humility, which is the species of modesty that regulates the desire of one’s own excellence.

The virtue of humility “makes man repress or regulate whatever touches his own worth in such wise that he does not seek more than is in accordance with the degree of his excellence as fixed by God. It follows that man does not esteem anything as due to him considered in himself, but that all he has and is comes from God; for of himself he has nothing at all, except sin; as regards his neighbours, he esteems that their worth is due to them according to the state of perfection in which God has placed them; and as regards the rest of creation, he wishes only that things should have the place and order such as God has disposed.”

The sin opposed to humility is pride, which is “that special and in some sort general sin which, in despisal of God and of the order He has established in His work, strives to dominate all and to make one place oneself before all others by esteeming oneself superior to all.” This “leads man to commit all manner of sins.” Pride is a capital sin and the first of all sins because “there can be no grave sin that does not presuppose the sin of pride. . . . It is pride, by reason of the contempt it implies for God, that completes as it were the essence of other sins in so far as they make man turn away from God.”

The sin of the fallen angels was pride. The first sin of Adam and Eve was not the sin of gluttony, or of disobedience, or of an empty curiosity with regard to knowledge, or of a lack of faith in the word of God; rather, it was the sin of pride, “without which no other sin could exist at all.” The reason why pride was their first sin is because “their state of integrity made all within them to be perfectly under control so long as their mind remained subjected to God; but their mind could only turn away from God for some motive of pride by wishing themselves some excellence which was not their due.”

Quotations from Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the “Summa Theologica” of Saint Thomas Aquinas, trans. Aelred Whitacre (New York: Benziger, 1922).

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