For years I have been writing about how those in the world steeped in psychology and psychiatry want to do away with personal responsibility for sin.
Dr. Karl Menninger’s great work, Whatever Became of Sin? was a bestseller when I was in my early twenties, and we were talking about it. The fact that the two above pseudo-sciences were refusing to acknowledge guilt and sin as realities, only explaining depression and unhappiness in terms of nurture or nature, was an idea picked up by the seminaries Several generations of priests talked people out of personal responsibility for sin both in and out of the confessional, leaving them with undetected and destructive guilt.
Ms. Carswell in her little book refers to an excellent talk by Pope Pius XII, who made many addresses to the scientific communities during his reign. The one to which Carswell refers is one given to the Fifth International Congress on Psychotherapy and Clinical Psychology, Apritl 13, 1953. As Carswell refers to this in relation to the pursuit of holiness, I, too, want to quote some of the Pope’s text.
First, on the freedom of man:
But you, psychologists and psychic healers, must bear this fact in mind: the existence of each psychic faculty and function is explained by the end of the whole man. What constitutes man is principally the soul, the substantial form of his nature. From it, ultimately, flows all the vital activity of man.
In it are rooted all the psychic dynamisms with their own proper structure and their organic law. It is the soul which nature charges with the government of all man’s energies, in so far as these have not yet acquired their final determination.
Given this ontological and psychological fact, it follows that it would be a departure from reality to attempt, in theory or in practice, to entrust the determining role of the whole to one particular factor, for example, to one of the elementary psychic dynamisms and thus install a secondary power at the helm. Those psychic dynamisms may be in the soul, in man. They are not, however, the soul nor the man. They are energies of considerable intensity perhaps, but nature has entrusted their direction to the centerpost, to the spiritual soul endowed with intellect and will, which is normally capable of governing these energies. That these energies may exercise pressure upon one activity does not necessarily signify that they compel it. To deprive the soul of its central place would be to deny an ontological and psychic reality.
9. It is not possible, therefore, when studying the relationship of the ego to the dynamisms that compose it to concede unreservedly in theory the autonomy of man—that is, of his soul—but to go on immediately to state that in the reality of life this theoretical principle appears to be very frequently set aside or minimized to the extreme.
10. In the reality of life, it is argued, man always retains his freedom to give his internal consent to what he does, but in no way the freedom to do it. The autonomy of free will is replaced by the heteronomy of instinctive dynamism. That is not the way in which God fashioned man.
11. Original sin did not take away from man the possibility or the obligation of directing his own actions himself through his soul. It cannot be alleged that the psychic troubles and disorders which disturb the normal functioning of the psychic being represent what usually happens. The moral struggle to remain on the right path does not prove that it is impossible to follow that path, nor does it authorize any drawing back.
In other words, morality must be followed and psychological problems cannot excuse this. I recently watched a video on the life of Vivian Leigh, who was manic-depressive. However, those commenting seemed to excuse her erratic sexual behavior on the illness, which, of course, was not treated well in the late Fifties. But, to excuse sin because of any disorder it to assume that a person has completely lost moral freedom.
Forgetfulness of the soul is the main problem with modern mental health care.
The Pope continues:
2. Man is an ordered unit and whole, a microcosm, a sort of state whose charter, determined by the end of the whole, subordinates to this end the activity of the parts according to the true order of their value and function. This charter is, in the final analysis, of an ontological and metaphysical origin, not a psychological and personal one. There are those who have thought it necessary to accentuate the opposition between the metaphysical and the psychological. A completely wrong approach! The psychic itself belongs to the domain of the ontological and metaphysical.
13. We have recalled this truth to you in order to base on it a remark about man in the concrete, whose internal order is being here examined. Indeed, the effort has been made to establish the contradiction between traditional psychology and ethics relative to modern psychotherapy and clinical psychology.
14. Traditional psychology and ethics, it is affirmed, have for their object the abstract being of man, homo ut sic (man as such), who assuredly exists nowhere. The clarity and logical connection of these disciplines merits admiration, but they suffer from a basic fault. They are inapplicable to real man as he exists. Clinical psychology, on the contrary, deals with real man, with homo at hic. And the conclusion is: Between the two conceptions there opens an abyss impossible to surmount as long as traditional psychology and ethics do not change their position.
We have in 2016 forgotten both the meaning of ontological and metaphysical with regard to what it means to be human.
The Pope states:
15. The study of the constitution of real man, ought, in fact, to take as object “existential” man, such as he is, such as his natural dispositions, the influences of his milieu, education, his personal development, his intimate experiences and external events have made him. It is only man in the concrete that exists. And yet, the structure of this personal ego obeys in the smallest detail the ontological and metaphysical laws of human nature of which We have spoken above. They have formed it and thus should govern and judge it. The reason behind this is that “existential” man identifies himself in his intimate structure with “essential” man.
16. The essential structure of man does not disappear when individual notes are added to it. It is not further transformed in another human nature. But the charter, of which We spoke just now, rests precisely in its principal terms on the essential structure of real man, man in the concrete.
17. Consequently, it would be erroneous to establish for real life norms which would deviate from natural and Christian morality, and which, for want of a better word, could be called “personalist” ethics. The latter would without doubt receive a certain “orientation” from the former, but this would not admit of any strict obligation. The law of the structure of man in the concrete is not to be invented but applied.
The application of psychology and psychiatry without regard to the concepts of Original Sin and moral responsibility only bring more pain and suffering to individuals. Without the acceptance of both Revelation and Tradition, science creates its own world which actually is a fiction. The Pope continues.
28. As regards morality, for the common good in the first place, the principle of discretion in the use of psychoanalysis cannot be sufficiently emphasized. Obviously it is not primarily a question of the discretion of the psychoanalyst, but of that of the patient, who frequently has no right whatever to give away his secrets.
29. This latter aspect of man brings up three questions which We would not wish to overlook.
30. First of all, scientific research is drawing attention to a dynamism which, rooted in the depths of the psychic being, would push man towards the infinite which is beyond him, not by making him know it, but through an ascending gravitation issuing directly from the ontological substratum. This dynamism is regarded as an independent force, the most fundamental and the most elementary of the soul, an affective impulse carrying man immediately to the Divine, just as a flower opens up to light and sunshine without knowing it, or as a child breathes unconsciously as soon as it is born.
31. This assertion immediately calls forth an observation. If it is stated that this dynamism is at the origin of all religions, that it manifests the element common to all, We know on the contrary that religions, the natural and supernatural knowledge of God and worship of Him, do not proceed from the unconscious or the subconscious, nor from an impulse of the affections, but from the clear and certain knowledge of God by means of His natural and positive revelation. This is the doctrine and the belief of the Church, beginning with the word of God in the Book of Wisdom and the Epistle to the Romans, down to the Encyclical Pascendi Dominici Gregis [On Modernism] of Our Predecessor, Blessed Pius X.
32. Having laid down this principle, there still remains the question of this mysterious dynamism. On this subject one might make the following remarks. We should certainly not find fault with depth psychology if it deals with the psychic aspect of religious phenomena and endeavors to analyze and reduce it to a scientific system, even if this research is new and if its terminology is not found in the past. We mention this point, because misunderstandings can easily arise when psychology attributes new meanings to already accepted expressions. Prudence and reserve are needed on both sides in order to avoid false interpretations and to make it possible to reach a reciprocal understanding.
33. It pertains to the technique of your science to clarify the questions of the existence, the structure and the mode of action of this dynamism. If its outcome proves to be positive, it should not be declared irreconcilable with reason or faith. This would only show that, even in its deepest roots, esse ab alio [to be from another], also implies an esse ad alium [to be for another], and that St. Augustine’s words: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord. and our heart shall not rest until it rests in thee” (Confessions, Book 1, chapter 1, N.1), find a new confirmation in the very depths of man’s psychic being. Even if there were question of a dynamism involving all men, peoples, epochs, and cultures, what an invaluable help this would be for the search after God and the affirmation of His existence!
34. To the transcendent relations of the psychic being there belongs also the sense of guilt, the consciousness of having violated a higher law, by which, nevertheless, one recognizes himself as being bound, a consciousness which can find expression in suffering and in psychic disorder.
35. Psychotherapy here approaches a phenomenon which is not within its own exclusive field of competence, for this phenomenon is also, if not principally, of a religious nature. No one will deny that there can exist—and not infrequently—an irrational and even morbid sense of guilt. But a person may also be aware of a real fault which has not been wiped away.
36. Neither psychology nor ethics possesses an infallible criterion for cases of this kind, since the workings of conscience which beget this sense of guilt have too personal and subtle a structure. But in any case, it is certain that no purely psychological treatment will cure a genuine sense of guilt. Even if psychotherapists, perhaps even in good faith, question its existence, it still perdures. Even if the sense of guilt be eliminated by medical intervention, autosuggestion or outside persuasion, the fault remains, and psychotherapy would both deceive itself and deceive others if, in order to do away with the sense of guilt, it pretended that the fault no longer exists.
37. The means of eliminating the fault does not belong to the purely psychological order. As every Christian knows, it consists in contrition and sacramental absolution by the priest. Here, it is the root of the evil, it is the fault itself, which is extirpated, even though remorse may continue to make itself felt. Nowadays, in certain pathological cases, it is not rare for the priest to send his penitent to a doctor. In the present case, the doctor should rather direct his patient towards God and to those who have the power to remit the fault itself in the name of God.
The highlights are mine. Two groups of people have ruined this traditional and solid view of the need to consider the soul, not merely the mind and the body. The first are those in medical fields which deal with mental health, and the second are the Charismatics, whose emphasis on healing and even false healing took away a sense of personal responsibility for sin and only considered the emotional responses of suffering. They are still doing great damage with these sloppy moral views in some dioceses.
Pope Pius XII continues:
Respect for God and His holiness must always be reflected in man’s conscious acts.
When, even without subjective fault on the part of the person involved, these acts are in contrast to the divine model, they still run counter to the ultimate finality of his being.
That is why what is called “material sin” is something which should not exist, and which constitutes in the moral order a reality which is not indifferent.
39. From this a conclusion follows for psychotherapy. In the presence of material sin it cannot remain neutral. It can, for the moment, tolerate what remains inevitable. But it must know that God cannot justify such an action. With still less reason can psychotherapy counsel a patient to commit material sin on the ground that it will be without subjective guilt. Such a counsel would also be erroneous if this action were regarded as necessary for the psychic easing of the patient and thus as being part of the treatment. One may never counsel a conscious action which would be a deformation, and not an image of the divine perfection.
40. That is what We feel obliged to say to you. In addition, be assured that the Church follows your research and your medical practice with Her warm interest and Her best wishes. You labor on a terrain that is very difficult. But your activity is capable of achieving precious results for medicine, for the knowledge of the soul in general, for the religious dispositions of man and for their development.
What the Pope is saying, in nutshell is that as individuals, we cannot deny the soul, and we cannot as a society deny the soul and the freedom of the soul.
Some forty ago someone I knew with depression was told to go out and have sex as a step to “healing” low self-esteem—to their mental and spiritual detriment, (this person obeyed her psychiatrist). In another case, not quite as old, another person was told to take drugs for creativity. Such advice may not be so common today, but what remains is the excuses for sin based on psychology and psychiatry. How many times in a week do I hear someone say, “He is depressed and feels unloved which is why he sins.” And when I ask the person who is telling me this if that person is going to Church, the answer is always in the negative. The great commandment of keeping holy the Lord’s Day is overlooked as not being essential to this person’s sadness. Not obeying the Commandments is not seen as a step to mental well-being, but God knows this step is essential. To be human is to follow God’s law, natural law. This same story of ignoring the basic commands and becoming more and more ill, repeats itself over and over in the West.
Sin is “psychoanalyzed” away, which is cannot be. Fault cannot be excused by mental illness. M. Scott Peck’s People of the Lie, another great book from 1982, which followed on several others, including The Road Less Traveled, of 1978, are also books on the problem of evil and mental illnesses. We who read these long ago could see the rot, even the in the 1970s, entering the confessionals and the pulpits with the denial of the connection between illness and sin, and the ignoring of the work of the soul. Peck called for a scientific study of evil among his peers, which did not happen. He wanted to claim that evil was a disease–which it is, as the original disease of rebellion against God, and is, as Peck states, evil is “live” backwards, an anti-life force. His view is limited, but he wanted to look at evil square in the face and deal with it.
Peck referred to such evils as group evil, such as in, Mỹ Lai Massacre and possession. But, he states clearly that the “battle of evil starts at home.”
As we know, if evil is not dealt with by honesty and repentance, it becomes worse, and a possible way of life.
Scott was stating clearly in his books that people needed to take responsibility for their sin and sinfulness. One of his excellent point referred to a study of inhabitants in New York: 60% of people from Manhattan had some sort of mental illness. But, this could be connected to the denial of evil. There is a saying that choosing evil will lead one to insanity, because to be sane is to be a good and whole human being. Without God, of course, this sanity is not possible. We all need grace.
One cannot deny evil. One cannot deny that there are people who choose malice rather than love. One cannot deny self-destructive behavior among people.
Evil is not merely the absence of good, but part of being itself because of Original Sin. One chooses evil. Evil is also a person, Satan. And, as we all know from experience, evil is the world. So, we fight the world, the flesh and the devil. But, fight we must.
Nurture and nature do affect each one of us, of course. But, to ignore the soul and blame a person’s life of sin on psychology or psychiatry is to miss the point of God’s action in the world, both in the Old and New Testament.
The Ten Commandments are merely a repetition and reminder of natural law. Man had forgotten natural law and God was giving them the code of what it means to be human again, in a clear, highly defined and dramatic manner.
In the New Testament, the Beatitudes are the new law, the law possible with grace through the merits of Christ won on the Cross. Of course, the Church, through the sacraments, provides us all a way out of evil, as does prayer and daily focus on God.
As Peck stated in an old interview, only sinners are allowed in the Church, only those who recognize their sinfulness can be freed from sin and evil. He noted that those who are evil cover up their evil with lies, with deception. Evil disguises evil.
The call to perfection demands honesty. All the saints tell us this in some way or another: from St. Augustine:
… I wish to caution you, dearly beloved, not to enter the Church fruitlessly, satisfied with mere hearing of such mighty blessings and failing to do good works. For we have been saved by his grace, says the Apostle, and not by our works, lest anyone may boast; for it is by his grace that we have been saved. It is not as if a good life of some sort came first, and that thereupon God showed his love and esteem for it from on high, saying: “Let us come to the aid of these men and assist them quickly because they are living a good life”. No, our life was displeasing to him. He will, therefore, condemn what we have done but he will save what he himself has done in us.
We were not good, but God had pity on us and sent his Son to die, not for good men but for bad ones, not for the just but for the wicked. Yes, Christ died for the ungodly. Notice what is written next: One will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. Perhaps someone can be found who will dare to die for a good man; but for the unjust man, for the wicked one, the sinner, who would be willing to die except Christ alone who is so just that he justifies even the unjust?
And so, my brothers, we had no good works, for all our works were evil. Yet although men’s actions were such, God in his mercy did not abandon men. He sent his Son to redeem us, not with gold or silver but at the price of his blood poured out for us. Christ, the spotless lamb, became the sacrificial victim, led to the slaughter for the sheep that were blemished – if indeed one can say that they were blemished and not entirely corrupt. Such is the grace we have received! Let us live so as to be worthy of that great grace, and not do injury to it. So mighty is the physician who has come to us that he has healed all our sins! If we choose to be sick once again, we will not only harm ourselves, but show ingratitude to the physician as well.
The real physician is Jesus Christ. If we find ourselves caught in evil, the first step is to go to Christ. The second step is to get a spiritual director, and, a regular confessor, who does not need to be the same person. The third step is to surround yourself with loving, good people who support the walk to holiness because they are pursuing holiness as well. St Augustine, as do all the saints, reminds us that humility is the key to holiness.
Let us then follow Christ’s paths which he has revealed to us, above all the path of humility, which he himself became for us. He showed us that path by his precepts, and he himself followed it by his suffering on our behalf. In order to die for us – because as God he could not die – the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The immortal One took on mortality that he might die for us, and by dying put to death our death. This is what the Lord did, this the gift he granted to us. The mighty one was brought low, the lowly one was slain, and after he was slain, he rose again and was exalted. For he did not intend to leave us dead in hell, but to exalt in himself at the resurrection of the dead those whom he had already exalted and made just by the faith and praise they gave him. Yes, he gave us the path of humility. If we keep to it we shall confess our belief in the Lord and have good reason to sing: We shall praise you, God, we shall praise you and call upon your name. Sermo 23A, 1-4: CCL 41, 41, 321-323)
We are all sinners in the Church, and we all strive to break away from sin in order to become saints. Thankfully, I know some saints, who help me focus on God. That is what we in the Church all should be doing-helping each other put God and His Love first.
Learning to be holy is hard work. One of my favorite quotations used by Ms. Carswell comes from The Meaning of Holiness, by Louis Lavelle, 1954. He writes, “The saints themselves are reduced to their essential being. In the process they lose nothing of what they were before; they do not change into abstractions devoid of life. On the contrary, what is now laid bare is the principle of life within them….”
Another great reference Ms. Carswell makes is that of Thomas Aquinas, a favorite of hers. “…each thing is perfect to the extent that it is actual the the potentiality without actuality is imperfect.” We can cooperate with the graces God wants to give each one of us in order to become a saint, to be perfect. The actuality of perfection is what the saint has achieved through grace, the gift of God’s Life within. But, not without suffering….
In that stripping of all things, one finds, if one is in sanctifying grace, one finds God through the stripping of all things, to find the Indwelling of the Trinity within one through baptism.