BASED ON THE WRITINGS OF THE SUMMA OF ST. THOMAS AQUINAS
FOR THE CONFRATERNITY OF THE PRECIOUS BLOOD, BY
FRS. WALTER FARRELL AND MARTIN HEALY, 1952
CHAPTER 5, HAPPINESS AND HABIT
MEN WALK TO GOD by their free, morally good human acts. They walk away from Him by their morally evil human acts. But the choice between moral good and moral evil is not always an easy one. Did you ever observe carefully a child's effort to be generous? How reluctantly he shares his toys or candy with someone else. How slow he is to give anything away. His internal struggle with selfishness shows itself in the slowness of his actions as he transfers a treasured possession to someone else. His hands move slowly and hesitantly. His eyes roam anxiously from his toy to the other child, to his mother and back again. As often as not he snatches the toy back or begins to cry. If every free decision in human life required as much effort, life would be an intolerable burden.
FORTUNATELY FOR MEN the difficulty of making free decisions is eased by that quality of human nature we call habit. The generous man finds it easy to be generous because he has acquired the habit of being generous. The dishonest man finds it easy to decide to steal because he has acquired the habit of being dishonest. Habits make it easy or difficult for men to be good. They also make it easy or difficult for men to be evil.
HABIT IS A QUALITY in a man that disposes him well or poorly in relation to his human nature or to his human actions. To be disposed to something means to be put in order to or for something. But only something that is composed of different parts or elements can be put in order. A single bowling pin cannot be put in order. But ten bowling pins can be put in order or properly arranged for a game of bowling. The separate parts of an automobile must be put in order or properly disposed in relation to one another before we have an automobile capable of transporting people from place to place.
MAN IS ALSO COMPOSED OF PARTS. He has a body and a soul. His body is composed of different organs or members. His soul, since it is a simple spiritual thing, has no parts in the proper sense of the word; but it has different powers---the intellect, the will, and the passions of his sense appetite.
These parts or elements of human nature must be put in proper order before we can say that a man is well-disposed or poorly disposed in his human nature or in relation to human actions.
NOW WE DO NOT CALL every order or arrangement of parts a habit. The arrangement of the parts of an automobile is not a habit in the automobile. It is the form that man imposes on the parts of the automobile. The union of soul and body in man is not a habit. It is natural to him. It constitutes his nature.
WE RESERVE THE NAME HABIT for something that is added to the nature of man. It is in this sense that we sometimes call habit a "second" nature. But not all natures are capable of habits. For habit we require first a nature that is capable of some perfection which it does not yet have. Since God is infinitely perfect, He cannot have or acquire habits. Secondly we require that a nature be capable of being determined to different things or perfections. The eye is determined by nature only to the perception of light or color. Hence it cannot acquire habits. Thirdly we require that the nature be capable of being determined to something in different ways. An animal will seem to act differently in its pursuit of good and avoidance of evil. Actually it always follows blindly the prompting of animal instinct. But man can freely choose whether to follow good or evil and what way to follow them. The dog who hears footsteps in the hall must rush to see who it is. The man can continue to read his newspaper. He can choose to learn what is new in the paper rather than what is new in the hall.
IT IS BECAUSE man's tendencies have a character of universality that man is capable of habit and needs habit for efficient action. The goals of human action in this world are many and they can be attained in different ways. Man's mind seeks all truth. Since man does not possess all truth at once as God does, man can choose which truths he will seek. Man's will seeks all good. Since man does not possess all good at once as God does, man can choose which goods he will seek. But the attainment of any truth or good requires the easy direction of man's powers. Without what we call habits man would be frequently paralyzed or frustrated in his actions. In the face of the great multitude and variety of good things in the world how could man choose efficiently which ones to pursue and acquire? His sense appetite tends indiscriminately to all the pleasures of the body. His intellect tends to all truth; his will to all good, whether real good or only apparent good. The powers of man must be determined or slanted in one direction to one object, if man is to act efficiently. It is habit which gives this determination or slant to human powers.
HABIT IS A QUALITY in man that lies midway between his powers to act and his acts. Man's will is capable of choosing to tell the truth. But before man can choose efficiently to tell the truth in any and all circumstances, he must acquire the habit of truthfulness. Truthfulness is the determination or slanting of his will toward telling the truth. A farmer has water in his artesian well and he has fields. But before the water can be brought efficiently to the fields to irrigate them the farmer must either dig canals between the well and the fields or he must lay pipes from the well to the fields. If he tries to carry the water a bucket at a time he will never succeed in irrigating the fields in time for planting, cultivating and harvesting. Similarly man is capable of acquiring many goods and avoiding many evils. But if each act of will or reason requires as much effort as the farmer who must carry water by the bucket, then man will never efficiently accomplish his ends. Habit is the secret of man's efficiency in the moral order. Habit is the canal or pipe which carries the energy of human power to human action.
HABITS ARE CONCERNED with human action. They can be related to human action directly or indirectly. It is man who acts. It is his human nature that acts. But his human nature acts through its faculties or powers. Some habits then can be found in the essential parts of his nature---his body and soul. These habits will affect his nature immediately and his action only indirectly. Other habits can be found in his faculties or powers---his reason and will---and these habits will be directly related to his actions.
HEALTH OF BODY or beauty of body are habits that affect man's nature directly and his actions indirectly. Health makes a man's body well-disposed in itself and a fit instrument of the soul and the powers of the soul in search of happiness. A healthy man can work better than a sick one.
SINCE IT IS the human soul which gives form and order to the human body, there is no habit of nature that directly affects the human soul. Rather the human soul gives form and finality to human nature itself. The soul does not have to be put in order or properly arranged to make a man human. Rather it is the human soul which informs and vitalizes the body and with it constitutes human nature.
BUT SOMETHING LIKE A HABIT can affect or modify the soul in the supernatural order. The soul is not naturally disposed to exist or operate in the supernatural order. If God calls man to the vision of Himself, the soul of man must be disposed to the Divine life in which that vision consists. God infuses this disposition into the soul when He infuses sanctifying grace. We might say---without insisting too much on the resemblance---that what health does for man's body in the natural order, grace does for man's soul in the supernatural order. Health of body enables man to live and act efficiently in the natural order. Grace of soul enables man to live at home in the supernatural world of God's own life.
HABITS SUCH AS HEALTH of body in the natural order or grace in the supernatural order are called entitative habits. This is because they are found in the very elements of human nature itself. They affect nature directly and action only indirectly. But most habits are concerned directly with action. They are dispositions modifying not man's nature itself but man's powers to act. They are qualities which direct or canalize the powers of reason or will or sense appetite to a definite kind of action. These habits are called operative or active habits because they lead directly to action.
OPERATIVE HABITS are found most properly in the powers of the human soul-intellect and will. This is because man's intellect and will are tendencies toward universal truth and universal good. Because they tend to universal objects their activity must be set in channels or grooves if they are to act efficiently. The powers of the body, such as digestion and growth through the assimilation of food, operate naturally and necessarily. They are always slanted or directed in the same way. They cannot therefore be subject to habit. The sensitive powers or passions also operate for the most part naturally. They are however subject to the control of reason and will. To the extent of this control they also can be subject to habit. But in human intellect and will there is almost an infinite possibility of action, since they are inclined to all truth and all goodness. This quasi-infinite power of reason and will needs to be canalized to specific ways of acting if the individual man is to realize efficiently the potentialities of his own human nature.
SINCE HABIT IS THE KEY to efficient action, the source of habits is important. Fortunately the causes of habit are few and easily accessible to all men. They are nature itself, human activity and God.
NATURE ITSELF is the cause of some habits. Nature alone can be the cause of health or beauty. Nature can also help in the functioning or
acquisition of other habits. Good eyesight or hearing can help a man to acquire knowledge easily. Or again all men possess by nature an understanding of the first principles of thought. Every man, once he has grasped what a whole is and what a part is, knows naturally that the whole is greater than the part. Through the senses provided by nature a man can grasp what a whole is or what a part is. Sometimes too nature provides the beginning of a habit in man's appetitive powers. The peculiar disposition or temperament of a man's body may give him an inclination to purity or anger or meekness.
THE PRINCIPAL NATURAL CAUSE of habits is human activity. It is by repeated actions of the same kind that man acquires his operative habits. It is by repeatedly telling the truth in any and all circumstances that a man acquires the habit of truthfulness. If a farmer wishes to irrigate his fields from a river nearby, he can do so by digging canals from the river to the fields. It is the steady digging, shovelful after shovelful, that makes the permanent canal through which the water will flow. So it is with human acts and habit. If a man wishes to direct the power of his will easily and permanently to acts of truthfulness, he must dig a canal which will channel that power to truthfulness. He digs this canal by acts of truthfulness. Each act is another spade of dirt out of the canal, enabling the will to flow more easily and more strongly in the direction of truthfulnes. When many repeated acts of truthfulness have dug the canal deep and strong, then the power of the will flows easily in the right direction, and it will be difficult to make it flow any other way. A truthful man finds it easy to tell the truth, but hard to tell a lie.
HUMAN ACTS are the chief cause of natural operative habits in man. But God, the Author of human nature, can infuse habits in a man. Because God is the infinitely powerful Author of human nature He can infuse even a natural habit in man, such, for example, as the intellectual habit of a particular language. In this way He might give a missionary a miraculous knowledge of some language he had never naturally learned. But this will be an extraordinary occurrence. More frequently God infuses supernatural habits into men. God calls men to lead a Divine life in this world and the next. But the natural powers of man are not in themselves capable of leading a Divine life. They must be elevated by God to this capability. This God does when, for example, He gives a man the supernatural habits of Faith, Hope, and Charity. But this point will be discussed later on.
SINCE MOST HABITS ARE acquired by human activity, it follows that they can be increased or lessened. They can grow or diminish. The more frequently a man acts honestly, the stronger becomes his habit of honesty. This will be true only when an honest act equals or surpasses in degree the intensity of the habit already established. The man who pays a debt with great reluctance does not increase his habit of honesty. We can suspect that his reluctance is a sign that he is already on the way to losing his habit of honesty.
JUST AS A MAN can increase the strength of a habit by acting in accordance with it, so, conversely, he can lessen its strength and eventually lose it either by acting contrary to it or by ceasing to use it. A temperate man can begin to destroy his habit of temperance by drinking alcohol to excess. The more frequently he drinks to excess, the weaker becomes his habit of temperance in drinking until he has lost it entirely and acquired the contrary habit of intemperance. He is like a farmer who shovels dirt back into his irrigation ditches. If he pours enough back, he destroys the canal altogether.
THERE ARE MANY HABITS which men acquire in one way or another in the course of a lifetime. Habits are distinguished from one another chiefly by their objectives. As the objectives differ, so the habits differ. Telling the truth is different from helping the poor. The habit of truthfulness is different from the habit of mercy.
HABITS CAN ALSO DIFFER in morality. If they incline a man to a morally good action, they are good habits---which men call virtues. If a habit inclines a man to actions which are morally evil, it is a bad habit---what is called a vice. Gluttony in eating or drinking is a vice. Paying one's debts is a virtue.
SINCE MAN ATTAINS OR LOSES his true happiness by his human actions, and since habits are the channels down which man's powers move efficiently to human actions, a man's habits and their morality are of great importance to him. A man with the wrong kind of habit, with those bad habits which we call vices, is moving very efficiently away from God. In colloquial language he is riding a fast express to Hell. A man with the right kind of habit, with those habits we call virtues, is moving very efficiently toward God. In colloquial language, he is flying a plane to Heaven.
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