Jimmy Akin’s Rejection of the Dogma of Intrinsic Evil

The ordinary and universal Magisterium infallibly teaches that certain types of acts are intrinsically evil, i.e. wrong by their very nature, apart from intentions and circumstances. See my post: The Dogma of Intrinsically Evil Acts.

Pope John Paul II: “The whole tradition of the Church has lived and does live on the conviction” that “there exist acts which, per se and in themselves, independently of circumstances, are always seriously wrong by reason of their object.” [1]

Pope John Paul II:

Consequently, no evil done with a good intention can be excused.

If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person.

“As for acts which are themselves sins (cum iam opera ipsa peccata sunt), Saint Augustine writes, like theft, fornication, blasphemy, who would dare affirm that, by doing them for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?”. [Contra Mendacium]

Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice. [2]

The Catechism of the Catholic Church:

A morally good act requires the goodness of the object, of the end, and of the circumstances together.

It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it. [3]

There are three fonts (sources) of morality:
1. intention — the intended end, the reason or purpose for choosing the act
2. moral object — the end, in terms of morality, toward which the knowingly chosen act is inherently ordered
3. circumstances — the totality of the foreseeable consequences of that act for all persons concerned.

All three fonts must be good for any act to be moral.

Lying

The CCC teaches, in accord with Ss. Augustine and Aquinas, teaches that lying is wrong by its very nature (CCC 2485). This teaching that lying is inherently immoral and therefore always wrong is clearly and consistently taught by Sacred Scripture in both Testaments. See my post: What does Sacred Scripture say about the morality of lying?

However, many Catholics today reject this teaching, that lying is always wrong. They consider various circumstances and intentions, and they conclude that if the intention is good and the circumstance is dire, almost any act would be moral, especially a small lie. The crux of the problem here is not that these individual reject the specific teaching that lying is always wrong, but that they reject the larger teaching, as one of the basic principles of ethics taught by the Magisterium, that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral.

In fact, some Catholics ignore all the teachings of the Magisterium on the principles of ethics. They only believe that an act is immoral if the Magisterium specifically teaches that the particular act in question is immoral. And even then, they don’t accept that the act is immoral with a good intended purpose, or in dire circumstances, unless the Magisterium were to specify that intention or that circumstance in condemning the act. They treat the moral teachings of the Magisterium as if these were merely rules, rulings, or a ban on certain acts, rather than a revelation of the contents of the eternal moral law.

Worse still, some Catholics have decided to teach others the grave heresy that no act is always immoral, that an act can be justified by circumstances and intentions. Jimmy Akin is one such false teacher. Read a summary of the heresies and other doctrinal errors in his writings here. He even goes so far as to reject the dogma of the Council of Trent on transubstantiation and on Confession.

In his latest post (Pope Francis and lying to save lives), Jimmy Akin claims that the teaching of the Church that lying is intrinsically evil and always immoral is not infallible. There are a couple of problems with this claim.

First, the non-infallible teachings of the Magisterium require the religious submission of will and intellect. So even if the teaching specifically on lying is non-infallible, it cannot be treated as an open question. Second, the ordinary and universal Magisterium infallibly teaches that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, and that an intrinsically evil act is never justified by intention or circumstances. Akin rejects this teaching on intrinsic evil.

Intrinsically Evil Acts

Jimmy Akin’s rejection of the infallible teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances, is apparent from his post on intrinsically evil acts and his posts on contraception. See my posts: Jimmy Akin’s heresy on intrinsic evil and Jimmy Akin’s heresy on contraception.

Akin rejects the teaching of the Magisterium that lying is always immoral because he rejects the infallible teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. This is clear from his post on intrinsic evil, as well as his post asserting that the use of contraception is not always immoral.

As for Akin’s argument that Pope Francis, prior to becoming Pope, lied and convinced someone else to lie — that has no bearing on the teaching that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral. The lies that Akin describes are venial sins — if in fact it was lying and not mental reservation. The fact that a Pope may have committed a few venial sins prior to becoming Pope is not a basis for rejecting or casting doubt on any magisterial teaching. Pope Francis does not claim to be sinless.

Now Akin does say: “I will not be proposing any solutions to this question, and I await further guidance from the Magisterium.” But the Magisterium has already taught that lying is intrinsically evil (by its nature wrong), and that intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention or circumstances. Akin is rejecting that teaching by treating it as mere opinion.
Some say that lying is always wrong, including the Magisterium. Akin calls this “the majority view”, rather than the proper term: Church doctrine. Others say that lying is sometimes moral, and Akin offers many assertions to support their view. Akin claims that he is not proposing any solutions. But he clearly supports the view that lying is sometimes moral. And he does not believe what the Magisterium teaches on the subject. He treats the teaching of the Magisterium on this topic as if it did not require religious submission of will intellect from him, and as if it were opinion, not doctrine.

How is it that Jimmy Akin can repeatedly publicly teach one heresy after another, and yet still be considered a faithful Catholic and a reliable teacher of doctrine? And he’s not the only one. It is apparent that a large percentage of practicing Catholics have such a poor understanding of doctrine that they do not even recognize abject heresy when it is openly taught to them. This is one of the most serious problems in the Church today.

Unfortunately, many Catholics have taken the attitude that all theological questions are open to discussion and disagreement, based on freedom of thought, speech, and beliefs. Some Catholics admit that certain teachings are infallible and required beliefs, and yet whenever they themselves find a teaching difficult to understand or accept, they feel no obligation. They simply assert that the teaching is not infallible, and then believe and do whatever they wish. You can see this attitude in the comments after Akin’s blog post. They discuss the topic as if the Church had no teaching and we had no obligation to believe.

Truly the great apostasy is near — at the very threshold, knocking insistently, and preparing to kick down the door.

The CCC Definition

“To lie is to speak or act against the truth in order to lead someone into error.” (CCC 2483).

Does the phrase “in order to lead someone into error” indicate the intention of the act? And if so, does this imply that lying is only immoral (or is only a lie) with that intention?

The Magisterium infallibly teaches that every knowingly chosen act has three fonts of morality: intention, moral object, circumstances. So it is not at all unusual or unexpected for any act, even one with an evil moral object, to be described or defined by the statement of more than one font. But this in no way implies that the act is moral if only one font is bad. For the Magisterium also teaches that all three fonts of morality must be good for an act to be moral. One bad font makes any act a sin.

For example, euthanasia is essentially murder with the intention of relieving all suffering (according to Evangelium Vitae). But if the same type of act, killing an innocent person, were committed with a different intention, such as to gain an inheritance, it would still be gravely immoral. The intention is stated in defining the act of euthanasia, but this does not imply that it becomes moral with a different intention.

In another example, abortion is essentially murder in the circumstance that the innocent person being killed is a prenatal. Suicide is murder in the circumstance that the innocent person being killed is also the one doing (or authorizing, in the case of assisted suicide) the killing. But regardless of those stated circumstances, murder is intrinsically evil and always immoral.

So when the CCC states the usual intended end of lying, to lead someone into error, this does not imply that performing the act with a different intention, without any intention to deceive, makes the act moral. Similarly, when the CCC defines masturbation as “the deliberate stimulation of the genital organs in order to derive sexual pleasure” (2352), this does not imply that masturbation for some other intended end becomes moral. The CCC is simply stating the usual intention.

Moreover, even apart from an intention to deceive, there is something inherently deceptive about the act of lying, by its very nature. The deliberate and knowing assertion of a falsehood, even if you do not have the intention of deceiving, is a deceptive act. All falsehoods, asserted as if they were truth, and all truths asserted as if they were false, tend to lead into error.

Now suppose that someone lies with a good intention, to save innocent lives, and in dire circumstances (great harm will occur without the lie). Does the act become moral or become non-lying? Not at all. The Magisterium infallibly teaches that intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances. Lying is wrong by its very nature, therefore it is intrinsically evil.

Pope John Paul II says, along with St. Augustine, “Who would dare affirm that, by doing them [intrinsically evil acts] for good motives (causis bonis), they would no longer be sins, or, what is even more absurd, that they would be sins that are justified?” The answer is that Jimmy Akin — and a host of other popular teachers of grave doctrinal error — dare to affirm this error. They are not ashamed to contradict the teaching of Sacred Scripture, of Jesus Christ, of Pope John Paul II, of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and of the one holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. They teach error after error, rejecting all correction. They dare the Pope to teach infallibly on the subject, and otherwise refuse to accept the teaching of the Magisterium. They praise the holiness and greatness of Pope John Paul II, but they reject his magisterial teaching whenever their own musings differ from his authoritative teaching as the Vicar of Christ.

[James 3]
{3:1} My brothers, not many of you should choose to become teachers, knowing that you shall receive a stricter judgment.

Intention and Moral Object

All three fonts of morality proceed from the human will:
1. intention (intended end) — the will chooses an end to achieve, the reason for choosing the act.

2. moral object — the will intentionally (deliberately) chooses an act, and in doing so necessarily also chooses the nature of that act as determined by its moral object (the end toward which the act is ordered by its nature). The choice of any act by the will is necessarily, always, at least implicitly, a choice of the concrete act and its moral nature and its moral object.

3. circumstances — the will makes these choices (end, object) in the reasonable anticipation of certain consequences, good and bad.

Sometimes, in describing or defining an intrinsically evil act, the Magisterium refers to the intentional (deliberate, voluntary) choice of the act itself (second font). This use of intention is distinct from the intended end (first font). The intended end is the first font of morality. The intentional choice of the act itself is the second font of morality. Every intrinsically evil act is intentionally (deliberately) chosen. However, the deliberate choice of an intrinsically evil act does not become moral if that choice is made with a good intended end.

[1] Pope John Paul II, Speeches, To participants of the International Congress on Moral Theology (April 10, 1986); translation from John Finnis, Moral Absolutes, Tradition, Revision, and Truth, (Catholic University Press: Washington D.C., 1991), p. 2.
[2] Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 78, 81.
[3] Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1755, 1756.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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