629. How should moral law be defined?
“Moral law is the rule for acting rightly, which may be understood as practically distinguishing between good and evil. It is founded on the adherence to God’s law. Humankind act fairly and properly when good is the ultimate goal and rule of action, which is acting in compliance with God’s law.”
630. How can we distinguish between good and evil?
“Good complies with God’s law, and wickedness diverges from it. Therefore, to do right is to comply with God’s law, and to do wrong is to violate that law.”
631. Do humans have the means to distinguish good from evil?
“Yes, when they believe in God and truly wish to do what is right. God has given human beings intelligence to distinguish between them.”
632. As humans are subject to error, can they make mistakes in their judgments of good and evil? Can they believe to be doing right when, in reality, they are doing wrong?
“Jesus said, ‘Do to others whatever you would have them do to you, that sums up everything. You will never go wrong.”
633. We cannot apply the rule of good and evil, what we might call reciprocity and solidarity, to the personal conduct of human beings in relation to themselves. Can we find the rule of conduct in natural law along with a safe guide?
“When you eat too much, it harms you. Well then, that is God letting you know what is necessary for you and when exceed that measure, you are punished. It is the same with everything else. Natural law establishes the limit of each person’s needs, and when the limit is exceeded the resulting suffering serves as atonement for the infraction. If humankind listened to the voice that says ‘enough!’ they would avoid most of the troubles and misfortunes that they blame on nature.”
634. Why does evil exist in the nature of things? I am speaking of moral evil. Couldn’t God have created the human race under more favorable conditions?
“We have already told you that when spirits are created they are simple and ignorant (see no. 115). God leaves all human beings free to choose their own path; too bad for them if they choose the wrong one, their journey will be longer. If there were no mountains, humans could not grasp the concept of climbing uphill and descending. If there were no rocks, they could not understand the concept that hard bodies exist. Spirits must acquire experience, and to do this properly they must know both good and bad. This is why there is an union of spirit and body.” (See no. 119)
635. Different social standings create new wants that are not the same for all human beings. Is natural law not a constant rule?
“Those different standings are found in nature and follow the law of progress. They do not undermine the unity of natural law, which applies to everything.”
The conditions of the lives of human beings vary greatly depending on the time and place of existence, therefore different wants and social standings arise corresponding to those wants. Since this diversity depends on the circumstances, it must be consistent with God’s law. This law is singular in principle. Reason must distinguish between true wants and fabricated wants.
636. Are good and evil absolute for all of humanity?
“God’s law is the same for everyone, but evil resides in the people’s desire for it to happen. Good is always good, and evil is always evil regardless of what a person’s position may be. The difference is in the degree of accountability.”
637. When savages give in to their instinctive desire to eat human flesh, are they guilty?
“The essence of evil lies in the will, therefore humans are more or less guilty according to the awareness of their own actions.”
Circumstances give good and evil a relative seriousness. Humans often commit faults that are reprehensible as a consequence of the social positions in which they are placed. Their accountability is proportionate to the means they possess of distinguishing between right and wrong. Therefore, enlightened individuals who commit minor injustices are more culpable in God’s eyes than ignorant savages who surrender to their instincts.
638. Evil sometimes seems to be a consequence of circumstances. For instance, in some cases, even the killing of a fellow creature is necessary. In such cases, is God’s law violated? “Evil is still evil, despite being necessary. This necessity fades as the soul becomes purified by passing from one life to another, and human beings are all the more guilty when they do wrong, because they more clearly understand the character of their actions.”
639. The wrong we do is often the result of our position that has been determined by others. In such a case, who should be held mostly accountable?
“Those who are the cause of the wrongdoing. Therefore, persons who are led to commit wicked acts due to being in a position that others have made for them are less guilty than those who have actually caused them to go astray. All individuals have to suffer the consequences for both the wrongs they have done, and that which they have caused others to do.”
640. If we profit by another person’s wrongdoing, even though we took no direct role in it, are we as guilty as if we had participated?
“Yes, despite not participating in it, it is equivalent to committing the act. Perhaps they would have retreated before the action itself but once it was done and they then took advantage of it, it proves that they would have done it themselves if they could, or if they dared.”
641. Is it as reprehensible to want to do an evil deed as it would be to actually commit it?
“This depends on the case. Voluntarily resisting engaging in the wrong that we want to do is a sign of virtue, especially when the possibility of fulfilling that desire exists. However, if individuals who have not committed the wrong action simply because the opportunity did not arise, are as guilty as if they had actually done it.”
642. Is it enough to simply not do what is evil in order to please God and to ensure our future happiness?
“No, we must do good to the best of our abilities. Each of you will have to answer for all the evil that has resulted from the good that you have failed to do.”
643. Are there individuals who are incapable of doing good?
“There is no one who cannot do some good. Only the selfish find no opportunity of doing so. The mere fact of being in contact with other human beings provides the opportunity of doing good every day of your lives, for those who are not consumed by self-interest. Doing good is not restricted to giving to charity, but also includes being useful whenever your assistance may be needed, to the full extent of your power.”
644. Can the situations in life that human beings often find themselves in lead them into vice and crime? “Yes, but those very situations are a part of the trial that has been chosen by their spirits when free. They have chosen to expose themselves to those temptations to acquire the merit of resistance.”
645. When a person is surrounded by vice, doesn’t the impulse to commit vile acts become almost irresistible?
“The impulse is strong, but not irresistible because you can sometimes find great virtues within yourself despite being surrounded by vice. Spirits who remain virtuous in the midst of evil temptations have acquired enough strength to resist temptation, and fulfill the mission of exercising a beneficial influence on those around them.”
646. Is the merit of good measured by the conditions under which that action has been committed? In other words, are there different degrees of merit in doing right?
“The merit of good depends on the difficulty entailed. There would be no merit in doing right without self-discipline and effort. God takes more notice of poor individuals who share their only piece of bread than of the rich who give only what is superfluous to them. Jesus told you this in his parable of the widow’s mite.”