Disorientation of the ends of natural desires

Disorientation of natural loves or desires is interpreted by Anders Nygren (1953) and others as continuing the influence of the eros interpretation of love, and the neo-Platonic influences on theology and ethics. Classic statements of it can be found in the theology and ethics of Augustine and in the basic framework of Thomistic theology. Humans are by their created natures oriented towards their good, and the human community by its nature is oriented towards its common good. The fault lies in the improper ends towards which our desires are directed, and in the disproportion of the intensity of our love, i.e. in excessive or deficient love for proper objects. The trajectory of not only our eternal well-being but also our personal and historic well-being is diverted from those proper ends by sin. Thus, as Augustine says, when our love is curved in upon ourselves, our actions and orderings of life are corrupted.

In Aquinas's anthropology more precise distinctions of aspects of the human are made according to categories adapted from Aristotle; we are vegetative, sensible, and rational beings. If our inclination and actions were rightly ordered by our rational apprehension of the proper ends of the human we would also be rightly ordered as agents. The theoretical correlative of this is confidence that there is an objective moral order of nature that is human, social and also cosmic, an order of Being. The ultimate end of life is union with, vision of, or friendship with God. A properly ordered moral life keeps us oriented towards this end; our particular sinful acts keep us from this end.

The corrective of sin comes through the redemption of humans in Christ; it is only in Christ that the grace which empowers and directs human life towards its proper temporal and eternal ends is possible. Humans can cooperate with this grace; they can participate in the divine love, caritas, which is the mother and root and form of all the moral virtues. The structure of the moral anthropology makes it possible to grow, or develop, in the moral life; infused theological virtues, in a sense, penetrate, order and direct us towards our proper ends.

Thus, the remedy for sin as disorientation is the power of divine grace, known in Christ and through the Church, to direct life towards God as its true end, and thus reorder our desires and the action we choose towards proper moral ends. The fundamental theology of the Eastern Orthodox tradition provides one example of this. As in all traditional Christian theology, the chief end of the human is not properly morality, but salvation, in this case participation in the divinization (theosis) of all of life: human, social and cosmic. Theosis is the central concept which integrates the Trinitarian and mystical theology of the Orthodox tradition with the true end of humans and all creation, and with the efficacious remedial processes of human experience in the liturgical and communal life of the Church. The triune God is the good, and the goodness of the world is formed by the divine presence in the world as Spirit, as divine energies. Dumitru Staniloae writes that Spirit 'is experienced as a kind of fluid spiritual atmosphere which rises within us and raises us up towards God in ever greater understanding and love' (Staniloae 1980:25; also Harakas 1983). Love is not so much a moral principle as it is 'a total disposition toward life' (Guroian 1987:43); it is the mother of every good. It develops and enhances the capacity for self-determination in people so that they can act more in accordance with theosis. In a sense somewhat similar to classic Roman Catholic ethics, the divine love becomes the mother and root of all moral virtues, empowering them and directing them through choices that are in accord with the divine will and powers.

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