Category Archives: Anthropology

Disorderly Conduct

It’s not always what you say, but also how you say it.  Even a man like St. Peter, characteristically known for his bluntness, recognized this and cajoled the peddlers of the Good News that while having a ready defense of the reason for their hope, it should always be done with reverence and respect for the other person.  The truth is naturally harmful to error, but it can always be presented in a manner that makes it more palatable to those who hold those errors.  This balance is at the heart of the Church’s pastoral mission.  That is why, when the self-appointed Apostle to the LGBTQ community, Fr. James Martin, says that the Church’s language regarding the homosexual condition is unnecessarily harsh, we ought to take his criticism seriously.

Fr. Martin takes exception to the use of the term disordered.  The Catechism uses the term twice within the context of same sex attraction (SSA)—once when referring to homosexual activity, calling it intrinsically disordered (CCC 2357) and then a second time calling the inclination itself objectively disordered (CCC 2358).  Many people, Fr. Martin included, are quick to point out that the term disordered refers “to the orientation, and not the person” (Building a Bridge, p.46).

Why We Use the Term Disordered

They are correct that in this context the adjective, disordered, is modifying the inclination and the action and not the person.  But this does not mean that the persons themselves are not disordered.  In fact, the Church believes that we are all disordered and those with same sex attraction are no different in that regard.  The particulars of their disorder may be different than mine or yours, but rest assured dear reader that we are all disordered.  If we weren’t then there would be no need for the Church.  The Church is given by Christ so that He might continue His ministry to disordered tax collectors and prostitutes throughout time and space.

The use of the term disordered is really meant to highlight an important aspect of human life, one that truly is Good News.  Life is not just a series of unrelated episodes, but has a specific purpose or end based upon the fact that we have an unchangeable human nature.  Those inclinations and actions which take us towards true fulfillment are said to be ordered to happiness, those which take us off that path are said to be disordered.  In short, homosexual inclinations and actions are only one of a number of things that are disordered; things such as lying and calumny are also classified as being intrinsically disordered by the Catechism (CCC 1753) precisely because they lead us away from a life of true fulfilment and happiness.

Nevertheless, the Catechism does single out the inclination as disordered and this also for a very good reason.  There is only one way in which order can be re-introduced back into our fallen nature—grace.  The Church turns her focus to this inclination rather than the many others because she wants to apply the medicine of grace to those who live with same sex attraction.  She is the lone voice crying out in the desert that SSA is a serious obstacle to the Promised Land.  That is, in their struggle for chastity and rightly ordered love, the person struggling with same sex attraction may unite their suffering with the suffering Christ, sanctifying the whole Church in the process.  This is why we should “build a bridge” to them and invite them in—not just because we want to see them healed, but because of their particular cross they might add to the holiness of all the members of Christ’s Mystical Body.

The Weight of the Burden

It is worth mentioning as well why so many people who suffer with SSA do read into the Catechism a specific condemnation of their being ontologically disordered—they read it as a noun rather than an adjective.  There is something much more fundamental to each person than their sexual inclinations.  In fact the Church, “refuses to consider the person as a ‘heterosexual’ or a ‘homosexual’ and insists that every person has a fundamental identity: a creature of God and by grace, his child and heir to eternal life”(PCHP, 16).  The truth is that no one is ontologically homosexual; there really is no such thing as “homosexuality” or “heterosexuality”.  There are only two sexual identities; male and female.  Our sexuality is the call of men and women to love as God loves in and through their bodies.  The unfortunate reality is that we live in a fallen world where there can be distortions that obscure our sexual identity.

This particular burden is especially difficult because it attacks one’s ability to relate to other people, both of the opposite sex and the same sex.  In other words, it disorders all your relationships.  This leaves the person feeling very isolated and very alone.  When they find a community of like-minded people, whose social action centers on making their inclination and actions ordered it is hard not to fall victim to wearing nothing but the homosexual label.  We are so much more than our feelings and our genitals however.  Even if the inclination were not disordered, wearing the label to the extent that many wear it, would lead to grave unhappiness.  That basket can’t hold the eggs of our identity and the Church wants those who struggle with SSA to know that.

We can see why then the Church might use the term disordered as a way to point out there is an ordered way of life in which things proceed in an ordered fashion towards true human fulfillment, but is the phrase “still needlessly hurtful. Saying that one of the deepest parts of a person — the part that gives and receives love — is ‘disordered’ in itself is needlessly cruel” (p. 46-47), as Fr. Martin suggests?  There might be a gentler term that could be used, but most that I can think of betray the truth.  Fr. Martin’s suggestion that we should call it “differently ordered” is problematic in that it implies that it is ordered.  It is, according to him then one different way of life that when lived out would lead to true personal happiness and thriving.  The Church cannot, as Cardinal Sarah says in referring to Our Lord’s encounter with the woman caught in adultery, be more merciful than her Lord.  The merciful call of the Church always echoes Christ’s compassionate call to conversion.  That is, it always mixes the bad news with the Good News, or rather begins with the bad news (dis) and ends with the Good News (ordered).  Come to think of it, maybe, just maybe, there is wisdom in the use of the term.  It’s not always what you say, but how you say it indeed.


***As a postscript, I would not recommend anyone spend money on Fr. Martin’s book as it is really a veiled attempt to circumvent the Church’s teaching through subterfuge and verbal gymnastics.  His unwillingness to engage any of his critics head-on always makes someone suspect in my mind.  Instead, buy Daniel Mattson’s book Why I Don’t Call Myself Gay.  For anyone trying to aid in the bridge building, this book should be one of the pillars.

On Nude Art

On May 13, 1981, a day marking the 64th anniversary of Our Lady’s first visit to Fatima, Pope John Paul II was shot by a would be assassin just prior to giving his Wednesday Audience address.  The attempt on his life, its connection to Fatima and Our Lady’s intercession has been well documented.  What has often been overlooked however is the fact that he was in the midst of giving a series of catecheses that was to become the Theology of the Body.  Had the assassin’s bullet found its mark, the Church would have been all the poorer without this great corpus on our the meaning of corporeal existence.  It was more than just a great personal love for the man Karol Wojtyla that spurred Our Lady to guide the bullet away from every major organ in the Pope’s body that day.  It was also motivated by her great love for all her children, especially those challenged by lust.  For she had told the visionaries during their “visit” to hell that “more souls go to Hell because of sins of the flesh than for any other reason.” She knew of the Pope’s plan for “creating a climate favorable to the education of chastity” (TOB May 6, 1981) and that by embracing that education many souls would be saved.  It is no mere coincidence that the Pope had just completed an extended analysis of what is perhaps the greatest modern day challenge, pornography.  It is as if the Pope’s near death was Our Lady’s exclamation point on the previous week’s teaching.

The Pope began his discussion of pornography by pointing out that the human body is a perennial object of culture.  Because sexuality and the experience of love between man and woman is so deeply imbedded in what it means to be human, art and literature always find fertile ground in those two arenas.  But the Holy Father was also aware that the world, especially in the West, was rapidly being (re)transformed form a culture of the word into a culture of the image.  This resulted in a culture in which everything—from photoshoots to movies to reality TV shows to viral videos to hacked personal sex videos— finds its way to an audience.  With virtually unlimited access, the idea that certain things should be surrounded by discretion is anathema.  The Pope commented that even the use of the term “pornography” is a linguistic addition that represents a softening for what had previously been called obscaena, from which we get the word obscene.

The Puritanical Backfire

In many ways this represents a backfire of the puritanical approach that sought to keep even artistic representations of the naked human body hidden from sight.  The Church had forgotten some of what it meant to be Catholic—embracing all that is good, true and beautiful in the world—and adopted this priggish approach instead.  Men of the Church had even gone so far as to cover over nudes in Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel with unsightly loincloths.  But John Paul II was proposing a different approach, namely learning to distinguish between the obscene and the aesthetic through the development of  the ethos of the image.  So committed to this approach was he that he would later remove those same awkward loincloths in Michelangelo’s masterpiece in order to show “the splendor and dignity” of the naked human body (Homily at the Mass celebrating the restoration of the Sistine Chapel, 1994).

At either extreme the problem remains the same.  Without a guiding ethos, erotic art and pornography remain indistinguishable and we swing from license to prohibition and back again.  The ethos of the image provides an escape from this merry-go-round, but only if we are able to grasp two important points.

True art consists in taking ideas and imprinting them in matter.  It is the idea and the beauty with which it is presented that moves us.  This excitement of our aesthetic sensibilities then moves us to further contemplate the idea.  There is a certain universality of beautiful art as the particular is abstracted away.  This power to move however can be abused when the artist attempts to move the viewer or the listener merely by exciting their aesthetic sensibilities.  Now it is no longer the idea and the clarity in which it is presented that moves us, but the direct appeal to emotions.

The second point is related to the first.  Unlike all other objects that appear as the matter of art, a person is an object that is also a subject.  This means there is always a certain dignity attached to the human body as the subject of art which can never be lost, even if it is abused.  Instead, according to the Saint, the offense comes in the intention of the artist. If the artist intends to present a nude body so as to convey some truth about masculinity and femininity then one should consider it erotic art.  If, however, their intention is to present a body so as to excite sexual desire in the viewer then this would be considered pornographic.  This may even include someone who is not fully naked.  This is a favorite trick of Social Media and sites like who like to present soft pornography in the form of “See such and such’s Beach Bod” or “Watch such and such’s Wardrobe failure” as click bait.

The Spousal Meaning

While there is a certain grey area between erotic art and pornography, there are far less than 50 shades.  In fact John Paul II thought it rather easy to discern the intention of the artist—whether or not the spousal meaning of the body is violated.  What this means practically is whether the work of art enables the viewer to more deeply understand the meaning of masculinity and femininity—of what it means to be a person.  Just as the body reveals the person in the real world, so too should the nude body reveal that there is a person (even if the model is anonymous) there.  As philosopher Roger Scruton puts it “The pornographic image is like a magic wand that turns subjects into objects…It causes people to hide behind their bodies.”  They become simply objects of desire and nothing more.

Regardless of the intent of the artist however, the Pope was realistic in that we are fallen and prone to what he calls the “look of concupiscense” in which we may look at a beautiful nude and still be moved to desire.  For that we must begin to develop what I will call a “spiritual aestheticism” as a corrective.  This means that we develop a taste for objective beauty in all arenas of our lives.  Only then will we see beauty in the human body and be moved to contemplation.  Returning to Scruton he gives what I think is an excellent tool for self-examination.  He mentions that the truly beautiful should stir our imagination (our bodily step towards wonder in our minds) and not fantasy.  The moment we find fantasy rising in our minds we know we have crossed over.

George Weigel once called the Theology of the Body a “theological time bomb” that was set to go off some time in our century.  Thanks to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary on that fateful May day in 1981, the fuse has already been lit.  Please God that the first target will be the scourge of pornography—not just to remove it from the moral landscape but to free all of us to see the beauty of the human person in and through the body.


Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve

In his 1950 Encyclical, Humani Generis, Pope Pius XII cautioned about a number of ideological trends that undermined the Faith of the Church.  Among these was a certain idea connected with the Theory of Evolution called polygenism.  For the evolutionary idea to be accepted it would require not just two first human parents, but the transition from animal to man would require a multitude of men and women.  In other words, it is a rejection of the belief that Adam and Eve were two real people from which the entire human race descended.  The Pope strongly condemned acceptance of this idea saying, “When, however, there is question of another conjectural opinion, namely polygenism, the children of the Church by no means enjoy such liberty. For the faithful cannot embrace that opinion which maintains that either after Adam there existed on this earth true men who did not take their origin through natural generation from him as from the first parent of all, or that Adam represents a certain number of first parents. Now it is in no way apparent how such an opinion can be reconciled with that which the sources of revealed truth and the documents of the Teaching Authority of the Church propose with regard to original sin, which proceeds from a sin actually committed by an individual Adam and which, through generation, is passed on to all and is in everyone as his own” (Humani Generis, 37).

On the surface, it appears to make little difference as to whether there was an actual Adam and Eve or whether mankind traces its roots to a multitude of first humans.  Diving beneath the surface, we see that acceptance of polygenism threatens to undermine the foundations of the Christian faith.  If polygenism is true, then the Christian faith is necessarily false.

Evolutionary theory applied to man does not only mean that man was made by blind forces but is ultimately an attempt for men to remake themselves.  The creature becomes his own creator.  No Adam and Eve means no Original Sin.  No Original Sin, no need for Christ.  If we were never “in Adam” then there would be no need to be “in Christ.”  With a multitude of races at our beginning, there would be fallen and unfallen men living together and only those who are direct descendants of Adam need redemption.  Evolution eventually weeds this out through natural selection, removing any distinction and Christ becomes entirely unnecessary.  Even if this is a case of unintended consequences on the part of Darwin and his ideological descendants, we can be sure there is at least one highly intelligent person who revels in this idea.

In the mind of many Christians, this sets up a Catch-22.  If we accept a literal Adam and Eve, then where did their grandchildren come from?  To accept a belief in only first two parents means to accept that their children were incestuous in populating the earth.  With no outsiders to marry, Cain, Abel, Seth and their unnamed sisters would have married each other.  Rejecting a literal Adam and Eve seems to be better than accepting this morally repugnant option.  Or is it?

Why Incest is Wrong

When asked why incest is wrong, most of us would say because the genes of those closely related by blood are so similar that it can result in offspring with serious genetic defects.  Looked at properly however, this is a consequence of the wrong and not necessarily the reason why it is wrong.  Whether we posit that because Eve was taken from the rib of Adam they were nearly genetically identical (making their act of intercourse genetically the same as fraternal twins) or that Eve was fashioned with a different genetic code than Adam, the important point to remember is that their genetic code would have had no mutations in it.  After the Fall, their offspring may have had mutations in their DNA, but, if we accept the modern scientific explanation of these mutations as appearing at random, we should not expect identical mutations to occur in Adam and Eve’s offspring.  Without the necessary doubling of mutations in the parents, we would not see the same effects that we see with inbreeding today.  Once the gene pool has a sufficient number of these mutations present in it and the likelihood of some deleterious effect occurring on the rise, God issues a positive command that a man may not marry someone of close relation like his sister, aunt, or niece (Lev 18-20).

In short, the consequence of serious birth defects is a sign that incest is wrong, but is not what makes it wrong.  In City of God (Book XV, Ch. 16) Augustine visits this question as to why Cain, for example, committed no wrong when he married his sister.  We can borrow from his explanation to help us see past this intellectual obstacle.

The Augustinian Solution

First, he looks at the purpose of marriage and procreation and says something that most of us would not think of as a purpose today.  Augustine see this as one of the goods of marriage—marriage multiplies relationships.  In the past, especially in ruling families, marriage was viewed as a means to bring the families together, making them one.  It brings strangers together and makes them a family.  A woman’s brother becomes the man’s brother-in-law, her father, his father-in-law.  Without the marriage of the man and woman, these men would not have entered into a familial relationship.

When closely related persons married, this good is lost.  When siblings marry, their mother is both mother and mother-in-law.  This was obviously unavoidable in the case of Cain and his sister, but, according to Augustine, is a reason to avoid close marriage.

Obviously, this would not be a precept of the natural law, but Augustine and St. Thomas both say that marriage between a parent and a child was always contrary to the natural law because of the relationship of parent and child could never be placed on the equal footing required for marriage.  A child always owes their parents piety while spouses have no such obligation.  This is why Noah curse Ham when he “saw his nakedness” (Gn 9:20-25), which is a Hebraic euphemism for sleeping with his mother.

While not a precept of the natural law, marriage between siblings and close blood relatives is still wrong because of our fallen human nature.  For men and women to live closely together (like siblings do today or close blood relations such as cousins did in the past) with the potential for the relationship to become sexualized is a great temptation to lust and use.  This is why it would be just as wrong for Greg and Marsha Brady to get married as it would be for two blood siblings.  To make such a union illicit can serve to remove this temptation and makes it taboo.  The fact that we initially recoil at the thought of Cain and his sister means that this taboo has had its intended consequence.

Removing incest as an obstacle to belief in two first parents goes a long way in helping us to see why polygenism must be false and why we should reject any form of it.  Grandpa Adam and Grandma Eve, first parents and first grandparents.

Human Origins and the Transgender Person

“Where did I come from?”  What parent doesn’t cringe hearing those words come out of the mouth of their young child?  The parent’s mind goes to the birds and the bees while the mouth quickly intervenes saying “God put you in Mommy’s tummy.”  Although it is uttered by a mere babe, we cannot help but be struck by the profundity of the question.  Where do we come from and how are we made?  It is a question that touches deeply on both philosophy and theology and the answer can only leave us echoing the marvel of the Psalmist—“I praise you, because I am wonderfully made” (Ps 139:14).

The Platypus and Us

From our perspective, the platypus seems to be the strangest of all God’s creatures.  If we were able to step outside of ourselves, we would quickly realize that in truth humans are the oddest of His creatures.  Formed from the “dust of the ground” and “the breath of God,” we are the only creatures in which matter and spirit are wedded together.  We are neither wholly material or wholly spirit, but a morph of the two.  We must understand this point if we are to understand our origins.  We are not souls trapped in a body nor are we really smart apes.  We are both a body and a spirit.  Although this seems like common sense, it seems to have been greatly forgotten in a culture that tends to look at man in a dualist fashion.  Although the soul enjoys a certain prominence, the person is not just their soul.

What follows from this is that man is really capable of three different kinds of actions.  As a bodily being, he can operate on an animal level by which he experiences hunger and growth and the like.  As a spiritual being he can perform acts of pure spirits like abstract thought.  Man can know that 2+2=4.  What is entirely unique to man as a composite creature is that he can also perform a third type of act—one that only man can do such as appreciating beauty, proving a mathematical theorem and experiencing conjugal love.

The Origin of the Soul

Thanks to modern biology and embryology, we know where the body comes from.  But where does the soul come from?  It is created directly by God at the moment of conception.  There is no material power that can create a spiritual soul.  Being immaterial and having no parts, it cannot come from the parents the way the body does.  This leaves only one alternative, a sort of process of elimination, that leads to the conclusion that it must come directly from God.

It is not, as is often thought, as though the soul exists prior to the body.  How do we know this?  In short, it is the law of heredity that reveals this.  Children can inherit bodily traits from their parents.  A son can be the spittin’ image of his father.  But it is not just bodily traits, but also some of those traits that fall into our third class of actions that children tend to inherit.  Artists and musicians tend to rear children with the aptitude for the same.  Those gifted in mathematics tend to raise children with mathematical minds such that no mere environmental explanation exists. So widespread and common is this that it is easy to overlook the implication of it.

In short, we have to offer an account of our origin that factors in the hereditariness of these spiritual/material acts.  The only plausible explanation for this phenomena is that the soul is made for the body.  When the body is created, thought St. Thomas, God fuses a soul to it to match the body.  In that way our souls are entirely unique and thus when separated from the body (after death and prior to the General Resurrection) they still remain our soul.  He doesn’t just fuse a soul into my body, but He infuses my soul into my body.  They are a perfect match.

Now all human souls have the same essential qualities such as being capable of abstract thought, knowledge of first principles, and the capacity to love.  But each soul may differ in some of its accidental qualities such as taking spiritual delight in certain intellectual pursuits which coincidentally may coincide with those same bodily, hereditary tendencies that make the practice of art, music and mathematics easier.

This also confirms on one of the key concepts of St. John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, namely that the body reveals the soul.  If the soul is made to fit that particular body then this seems intuitive.  But this also means that one of the accidental qualities of the soul is sex.  In other words, gender or sex (or whatever we are now calling it) is not just a physical difference but a spiritual one too (see CCC 2332-2333).

The Transgender Soul

And now we begin to see why these philosophical musings are relevant.  There are many who claim that transgenders were born with the wrong bodies.  They claim that God “makes no mistakes” and that the biology was wrong.  But if the body is primary and God matches the soul to it, then this cannot be so.  If the body is biologically male then the soul is also spiritual masculine.  The soul is matched to the body and God “makes no mistakes.”

Further, to make biological changes to the body in the cases of someone who is conflicted will only serve to make matters worse.  They may not “feel comfortable” in their skin, but those changes will not touch their souls and will lead to an even deeper conflict.  How does a masculine soul express itself through a female body?  They will never be able to fully express themselves and thus will be forever wounded in their ability to give and receive love.  Instead we must be willing to help them discern the true source of their inner conflict without taking what amounts to a short-cut solution.

Becoming Men with Chests

In what is perhaps his most prophetic work, The Abolition of Man, CS Lewis predicts the inevitable demise of mankind once moral relativism takes hold of society.  He opens the short book with a chapter entitled Men Without Chests where he shows how once we lose sight of objective values, our emotional lives become meaningless as well. He cautions against the tendency to dismiss our emotions completely because it too can lead to the abolition of man as we know him.  He says that “[B]y starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes.  For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.”  In the interest of softening our hearts, I would like to discuss the value of emotions in our moral and spiritual lives.

It is important at the outset to state clearly what a proper attitude towards our emotions ought to be.  Prior to the Fall, mankind was perfectly integrated.  What this means is that his highest faculty, reason, governed the soul of man.  Man always acted according to reason.  The intellect identified the good, the will chose the good, and the emotions (or more broadly passions) followed the intellect and will enabling man to do the good with intensity.  In other words, the emotions only arose when they were willed according to reason.  The emotional life of Our Lord provides a good example for our understanding.  When He cleansed the Temple, Jesus was both justified in feeling anger and He willed it.  His anger followed from His reason and His will and enabled Him to tenaciously defend the purity of His Father’s House.  Because His emotions always followed from His intellect and will He felt them more intensely, not less, than we do.  Because He was unfallen and incapable of sin, every emotion was the right one to be feeling at a given time.

The Fall left man’s intellect darkened (the good no longer appeared clearly as good), the will was weakened (“I do not do the good that I know to be good” Romans 7:19) and the passions were able to run amok, no longer following reason and will absolutely.  But this does not mean that our emotions suddenly became completely unreliable and somehow bad.  Instead they still are able to serve their original purpose, even if we must work to bring them back under control.

In order to help us better understand the effects of the Fall on our passions, St. Thomas makes the distinction between two types.  There are the antecedent passions, which precede the action of the will and the consequent passions, which are caused by the action of the will.  Someone might step on my toe and my initial emotional response to the pain is anger.  Once I gain the use of my reason, I now can make a judgment as to whether I am justified in my anger (it was done on purpose) or not (done by accident).  If it is the latter then I must directly will to not be angry.

This is why it is a little misleading to say that “emotions are not sinful, it is what we do with them.”  Certainly when it comes to antecedent passions this is true.  But when it comes to our consequent passions it is more nuanced than that.  This is because even though I may not act externally on my anger of having my toe stepped on, I might still remain angry.  By willing to be angry even after reason has judged it to be an accident, I am stoking the fires of my thoughts of revenge which only in turn feed the anger more.

Yosemite Sam Hell

This is an important thing for us to understand and is at the heart of a healthy emotional life.  Our emotions are passive (that is why we refer to them as passions) in that they need to be acted upon.  Once they cease being acted upon, the emotions themselves cease.  Once we recognize that an emotion is irrational, we should will it away by directing our thoughts in another direction.  The great spiritual masters offer us two means to do this.  The first is pursue the opposite object.  When I am angry about my foot being stepped on, I could hug the person rather than hitting them for example.  Secondly they suggest mortification.  Once pain and difficulty are presented to the passions they become quiet.

While this is very difficult initially, we train our bodies to respond differently the next time they are stimulated similarly.  When I fight the anger that arises when my foot is stepped on, I train the antecedent passions to respond less vehemently next time it happens.  Likewise with mortification.  It causes the cogitative powers (the parts of our bodies where we make associations) to associate the object with pain rather than with the pleasure the antecedent passions initially responded to.

Herein lies the issue in my opinion—most people think the emotions are something to be completely rejected.  I hear so many well-meaning Catholics speak of emotions as something to be wholly mortified (literally means killed).  While we should be suspicious of them, this approach is very dangerous.  Truly there is nothing scarier than someone who does something out of charity and shows no emotion in doing it.  Certainly we should do the good even when we cannot get our emotions to follow, but we should always strive to love God and neighbor with our whole hearts (in the Scriptural sense of the word “heart” as the seat of the will and emotions).

St. Thomas provides a great image to help us understand the role our emotions play in our moral and spiritual lives.  He likens the emotions to a wild horse.  A rider can patiently and gently meek the horse or he can beat it.  But the rider is only free to go where he wants to go when the horse is a willing servant and neither allowed to continue roam free or become a slave.  So too with our emotions.  We live a fuller life when we do everything with both our heads and our hearts in the right place.  We learn to govern our emotions through our growth in moral virtue.  In fact, Augustine says that virtue is the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is given the kind and degree of love that is appropriate to it (City of God Bk 15, Ch 22).

There is a psychological principle pertaining to governing the emotions that says one must “name it, claim it and then tame it.”  We have covered the last two steps, namely recognizing that emotions are a necessary, although damaged, part of our lives and taming them through virtue.  But no discussion would be complete without identifying the emotions themselves.

Emotion represents a response to the value we perceive in a given object.  They are essentially motors for movement as the name emotion (or Latin ex-motus) suggests.  We perceive something as a good or an evil to be avoided and our emotions act as bodily forces moving us toward or away from the object.  Not only that, but our emotions also are given in recognition of the fact that the good is arduous and evil is difficult to avoid.  With this in mind, St Thomas divides them into two main groups—the concupiscible and the irascible.

Love (St. Thomas uses amor to distinguish from love in the will) is the primary emotion.  It is the good that is the cause of all our action and love is the primary motivator.  Love really does “make the world go round” as the song goes.  All the other emotions flow from this.  Because love seeks to possess the object, desire flows from it to move towards the object.  Once the object is possessed pleasure or joy ensues.  The end of all emotion is pleasure (in accord with reason).  In recognition that is also that which in some way contradicts the good, each of these three emotions has an opposite: love—hate, desire—repulsion, and joy—sorrow.  These six comprise the concupiscible passions.

The irascible passions are those that are reactions to good or evil regarded as involving some difficulty.  In this way they are subordinated to the concupiscible passions and always follow from them.  The five irascible passions are hope, despair, audacity fear and anger.  We hope to attain that which we love.  Oppositely, we despair of attaining that which we love.  Audacity causes us to be made bold in pursuing that which we love, while fear is a result of doubts of attaining that which we love.  Finally, anger, which has no opposite, arises because we perceive a threat to what we love.

Many spiritual writers have commented on the difficulty of moving our beliefs from our head to our hearts.  This journey is made that much more difficult without understanding our emotions and their role in our lives.  Only Men with Chests, can have a heart.