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Intention, Purity of


Freedom from the mixture of less worthy with good intention in the performance of a good act. Such a mixture of motivation occurs when a man performs an act that is good, and his predominant reason for doing it is good and has of itself force enough to account for his acting, if he is influenced in the same act by a secondary motive or motives of a venially sinful kind. In any other caseif the act is evil in itself, or if the discreditable motive is predominant, or if it is gravely sinfulone would not speak of a mixture of good and bad motives, for the total motivation of the act would be substantially corrupt. The existence of a secondary and accessory motive of a venially sinful kind detracts from the excellence of what one does and makes the act partially evil; this becomes, in effect, a virtually multiple act: a good act insofar as it is directed to a good end; an evil act insofar as its motive is unworthy.

This kind of mixture of motivation is not uncommon in human life, and a person seriously intent upon growing in holiness will be concerned to free himself from the influence of less worthy motives. This is applicable not merely to a spiritual elite but to all Christians, for no one should set limits beyond which his charity should not aspire. Thus it seems objectionable to distinguish, as did Henry of Herp, between a right intention, which is appropriate to ordinary Christians, who in the substance of their actions and the general purposes of their hearts desire and seek God's glory yet mix in less worthy designs that debase the spiritual value of what they do, and a pure intention, which is without such mixture of motive. A person with a right intention as described by Herp compromises in his heart between the love of God and one kind or another of self-love, and it seems a misuse of language to call such an intention right.

Purity of intention is sometimes identified with charity; it is active and fervent charity directing all that one does and suffers to the love and glory of God (D. A. Baker, Holy Wisdom 2.2.4). It is a proximate disposition to interior prayer, for it signifies an indivision and cleanness of heartthe clean heart being the undivided heart, as St. Augustine observed in commenting on the beatitudesand it is the clean of heart who see God (Mt 5.8).

The want of purity of intention is sometimes hidden by self-deception, as when one averts his attention from the self-love that he permits to move him. Purity of intention, however, is not rendered impossible by urges or impulses rooted in the unconscious, for these are not motives in the sense understood in moral and ascetical theology (see motive, unconscious).

See Also: simplicity, virtue of; perfection, spiritual; charity.

Bibliography: see ch. 6 in matthew. b. h. merkelbach, Summa theologiae moralis (Paris 1949) 1:148151. h. davis, Moral and Pastoral Theology (New York 1958) 1:5760. a. thouvenin, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al. (Paris 190350) 7:226780. r. baron, Catholicisme 5:186365.

[p. k. meagher]

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