The Catholic Thing
Common Good/Uncommon Evil Print E-mail
By James V. Schall, S.J.   
Tuesday, 28 May 2013

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Of late, I have heard much about the “common good,” but little about “common evil.” The common good does not mean that some substantial form exists out there which we are trying to embody in order to perfect our dealings with one another. Such an idea is responsible for much serious evil in the modern world.

Rather the common good signifies that order in which human persons and groups of persons, bound by some common purpose, can themselves flourish because of their own reason, habits, and freedom. It does not mean that everyone does the same things or has the same tasks, talents, rewards, or burdens. It means that they do not. Thus, a wide variety of riches in every area can freely come forth.

Plato’s specialization requires our recognizing that we cannot do everything by ourselves. If we do so try, we all will be poorer. Man, as a political animal, should establish an order in which the particular goods of each person are achieved through work, through fair exchange for the goods of others. The state is not itself a common good or a substantial being, but an order in which, through action, goods can be brought forth and distributed by sensible human beings. The process is not magic.

But “common evil”? Evil, in the classic sense, is the absence of a good that ought to be there, but is not. Hence, evil is not a thing, but the lack of something that ought to be there in a good thing. Moral evil means the deliberate failure to put a right measure in our freely chosen actions or words. Evil cannot exist except in some good.

Hence, when we bring “good” out of “evil,” we do not make what is evil good. Rather, we take what is already good in the being that does evil and develop it. This is what repentance is about. It admits that the original good was indeed good. Evil, as such, can never become good, nor good evil.

Yet, as Christians, we sense that something more needs to be said. Evil is more than a philosophic concern about “lacks,” though it is that too. Evil seems personal. Someone wants to dialogue with us about it, wants to convince us evil is good.

            Calling evil good

Pope Francis has said that the Devil “hates” us. Blunt words. Francis is not talking about some inert “lack.” He is talking about a positive hating of the good because it is good. Only persons can hate. Lucifer is an angelic being who rejects God by calling good evil, by convincing other rational beings to change good into evil.

Classical ethics and moral philosophy gave us accounts of virtues and vices. Usually two vices existed for every virtue, a too much and a too little. We find in the writings of Plato a sense that our vices are not just foibles or mistakes but objects of judgment. Plato rightly worried that the world was created in injustice if the vices were not ultimately punished. This consideration led him to propose the immortality of the soul to guarantee that no one could get away with doing evil, even if he died in human glory but covered with sins.

Christianity provided a more profound explanation of evil, though one not necessarily disagreeing with Plato. Christ affirmed that the Devil’s kingdom could not stand if it had dissention within its rank. This information means, as I understand it, that we find both a logical sequence of disorders, or deviations from the good, as Aristotle understood, and an active presence. This logic works through willing human beings who find themselves assenting to a step-by-step deviation from the good, each worse than the one before.

Those familiar with spiritual literature recall that the Church Fathers warned monks that sin begins with things only slightly off-center. Yet things do not stand still. Either the evil is recognized and corrected or the next logical step away from the good is taken. Eventually this leads to calling of evil good, all in the name of pursuing some good but in a manner contrary to reason or the commandments.

What I take to be “common evil” today exists in our public order as a “hatred” of the good that is embodied in innocent human life and the way in which it ought to exist. It seems clear that the ultimate “hatred” is for innocent human life in its weakest conditions. When we look at the steps that justify this position, we cannot help but see a steady pattern of deviation that leads politicians, judges, experts, professors, and ordinary people along a deviant line.

Finally, they justify lying to themselves that they work for the “common good,” when in fact they freely promote “uncommon evil.”

James V. Schall, S.J., who served as a professor at Georgetown University for thirty-five years, is one of the most prolific Catholic writers in America. His most recent books are The Mind That Is Catholic and The Modern Age.
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Comments (11)Add Comment
written by Michael Paterson-Seymour, May 28, 2013
The Catholic Political Philosopher, Yves Simon, described the common good in this way, “The highest activity/being in the natural order is free arrangement of men about what is good brought together in an actual polity where it is no longer a mere abstraction,” a good he describes as “unique in plenitude and duration,” for human communities are “virtually unlimited with regard to diversity of perfections, and are virtually immortal.”
written by Jacob, May 28, 2013
Wonderful article.

I bet you notice a lot of uncommon evil at Georgetown. You should move to Thomas Aquinas in California. (The faculty is Catholic there.)
written by Jack,CT, May 28, 2013
The beaty of our faith to me is
the "Simplicity of it"....I love
all the Priests of late (Sarcasm)
editorializing about what
constitutes "Good And Evil" (sarcasm}
I happen to Love the Holy
Fathers simplicity.
"we shall meet in the middle..
{paraphrase} when talking about
"Athiests" and our commonalitys,
I almost feel Pope Francis is
saying 'KISS",keep it simple stupid!
I do apreciate his Frankess and the
Family or community of Fathers who look
to our Pope for Guidance can learn alot
from his simple cander....
written by Maggie-Louise, May 28, 2013
I have heard it said that Satan's red-hot fury and hatred of human beings is because God has shared his creative love in the ability to pro-create with his lowly human creatures--something Satan was never capable of doing.

In order to thwart such injustice (as Satan sees it) he promotes abortion and sterility: Abortion: to destroy the creatures who are the result of this shared creation/procreation, and Sterility: first, with contraception, and, second, in the fraudulent sex of homosexual acts--an act that mimics but can never be what it seeks to be, not even when it takes place in a state of marriage that is recognized by the state but never recognized by God and His Church, because it, too, is fraudlent.

Early in his presidency, Obama was asked why he supported abortion. His reply was that, if his daughters made a mistake, he wouldn't want them punished by babies. He apparently never realized that these babies that he was so willing to toss on the garbage heap would be his own grandchildren.

Thank you, Fr. Schall, for an excellent essay.
written by Craig Payne, May 28, 2013
The photo is truly disturbing.
written by Manfred, May 28, 2013
Anyone who finds the picture of Gloria Steinem disturbing should be glad. You see, years ago Evil was hidden. We came to believe that Satan and Evil did not exist because there seemd to be so little evudence to prove it. God, in his mercy, is allowing us to see them without the filter of taste and manners where they hid before. Now it is right out in the open. After WW II, General Eisenhower required those Germans who lived near concentration camps to visit the camps in order to see the Evil which had been done to the victims in those camps. Do you think the Gov. of PA and the mayor of Phila. and its citizens will be required to visit Gosnell's abortuary? Not as long as the fascists are ruling this Country. You see, we no longer have to wait for the General Judgement at the end of the world to know who will spend eternity in Hell. The damned will send you their pictures!
written by senex, May 28, 2013
A great article--as usual! Two observations:
1-Aristotle also was a proponent of virtue as the mean between two vices of excess and deficiency of virtue.
2. Because of the invariable division between identfying good from evil in a diverse society, doesn' the 'common good' approximate the 'tranquility of order' of which St. Augustine spoke, admittedly in the context of the just war theory, but peace, true peace is a good because it is based on the good of the community, and that constitutes the common good if that tranquility is pursued generally.
written by markrite, May 29, 2013
Fr. Schall's piece is of such brilliance as to be almost astonishing; we sure DON'T hear in this demonically confused twenty-first century EVER (that I can recall) of the "common evil", yes, ONLY the "common good", and probably because more people can be hoodwinked and continue to be demonicaly cofused by ONLY referring to the "common good". Yes, staggeringly original, creative thinking is at work here through the words of Fr. Schall. And just notice WHERE this incessant hammering of the "common good" always seems to be coming from; the increasingly totalitarian liberal radical egalitarian LEFT. Because, as one in showbiz would say, they "KNOW THEIR AUDIENCE"; the INCREASINGLY hornswoggled, hopelessly secularized "people," and obviously that's their main target. May the Most Holy and Kind Blessed Virgin, Co-Redemptrix of the human race RESCUE US! GHOD BLESS ALL, MARKRITE
written by Jack,CT, May 29, 2013
@markrite,one can tell you bearly came up for air
before you hit the Enter key!
May I suggest very often the first draft can and
usually is tossed in my experince.
Please understand i agree with the tone of
everything said,I just feel that Anger loses,
as it drowns our broader theme, respectfully
and God Bless.
written by jrf, May 30, 2013
Fr. Schall, your record remains intact; another excellent article that both clarifies and enlightens.
To your last point, "Finally, they justify lying to themselves that they work for the "common good" when in fact they freely promote "uncommon evil" reminded me of Obama's comment before Planned Parenthood at their annual meeting just weeks ago when he said, "God bless Planned Parenthood". The sacred meets evil. It sounds like blasphemy to me, an evil that is pervasive in society today.
written by anthony sistrom, June 02, 2013
Common evil exists today not only in the public order but in our ecclesial order. Bishop Vasa recently announced a required fidelity statement from all teachers in the Santa Rosa Catholic schools. He was forced to withdraw his action when the teachers cited the precedents of his Vatican II predecessors who exacted no such requirement.
"The current crisis of the Church is not the result of a mistaken application of the Council, but of an original sin committed by the Council itself. This original sin is claimed to be the abandoning of dogmatic language- proper to all the previous councils, with the affirmation of the truth and the condemnation of errors- and its replacement with a vague new pastoral language."- Sandro Magister reviewing a book by Enrico Radaelli
"During an audience Bishop Fellay found himself alone with Benedict XVI for a moment. Bishop Fellay seized the opportunity to remind Benedict XVI that he is the Vicar of Christ, possessed of the authority to take immediate measures to end the crisis in the Church on all fronts. The Pope replied thus: 'My authority ends at that door'. (Castel Gandolfo, August 2005)"- Chris Ferrara in The Remnant

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