Brute beasts, being unable to know the end of their actions, tend indeed towards their end, but do not aim at it: for to aim at a thing, is to tend towards it by intention, before tending towards it in action. They cast, as it were, their actions towards their end, but they have no forecast, simply following their instinct, without election or intention. But man is in such sort master over his human and reasonable actions, that he does them all for some end, and can direct them to one particular end, or several ends as he pleases: for he can change the natural end of an action; -- as when he swears in order to deceive another, whereas the end of an oath is, on the contrary, to hinder deceit. He can also add another end to the natural end of an action; -- as when, besides the intention of succouring the poor to which almsgiving tends, he adds the intention of inducing the poor man to do the like.
Now sometimes we add a less perfect end than is that of our action, sometimes we add an end of equal or like perfection, sometimes again an end that is more high and eminent. For besides helping a needy man, to which almsgiving specially tends, one may propose. 1°. to gain his friendship; 2°. to edify one's neighbour; and 3°. to please God. There are three differing ends, whereof the first is lower, the second not much better, and the third much more excellent than the ordinary end of almsgiving. So that, as you see, we have power to give different perfections to our actions, according to the variety of motives, ends and intentions which we have in doing them.
Be good exchangers, says our Saviour. Let us be very careful then, Theotimus, not to change the motives and ends of our actions except to profit and advantage; and to do nothing in this matter save with good order and reason. Now, look at that man who enters on some office for the public service or to acquire honour: if his design be rather to honour himself than to serve the commonwealth, or if he be equally desirous of both, he is wrong, and does not escape being an ambitious man; for he overthrows the order of reason, in either preferring or equalizing his own interests to the public good. But if, proposing as his principal end the public service, he is very glad also at the same time to advance the honour of his family, truly one cannot blame him, because his designs are not only honest, but also well ordered. Another communicates at Easter, in order to escape the ill-word of his neighbours, and to obey God: no one doubts that he does well. But if he communicate to avoid blame as much as, or more than, to obey God, who again can doubt that he acts unreasonably; equalizing or preferring human respect to the obedience which he owes to God. I may fast in Lent, either from charity in order to please God; or from obedience, because it is a precept of the Church; or from sobriety; or from diligence, in order to study better; or from prudence, to make some saving which is required; or from chastity, in order to tame the flesh; or from religion, the better to pray. Now, if I please, I may make a collection of all these intentions, and fast for them all together: but in that case there must be good management to place these motives in proper order. For if I fasted chiefly out of a sparing humour, rather than from obedience to the Church; if to study well rather than to please God; -- who does not see that I pervert right and order, preferring my own interest before obedience to the Church and the pleasure of my God? To fast in order to save is good, to fast in order to obey the Church is better, to fast in order to please God is best: but though it may seem that with three goods one cannot make a bad; yet he who should place them out of order, preferring the less to the better, would without doubt commit an irregularity deserving of blame.
He who invites but one of his friends, gives no offence to the rest; but if he invite them all, and give the chief seats to those of lower rank, giving the more honourable the bottom places, -- does he not offend both those and these? -- these, because he lowers them against reason: those, because he makes fools of them. So, when we do an action for a single reasonable motive, however slight it may be, reason is not offended thereby; but he who will have many motives, must rank them according to their quality, otherwise he sins: for disorder is a sin, as sin is a disorder. He who desires to please God and our Blessed Lady does excellently well, but he who would please our Blessed Lady as much as God, or more than God, would commit an intolerable irregularity, and one might say to him, as was said to Cain: If thou hast offered well but wrongly divided, -- stop, thou hast sinned. To each end we must give its proper rank, and consequently the sovereign rank to that of pleasing God.
Now the sovereign motive of our actions, which is that of heavenly love, has this sovereign property, that being more pure, it makes the actions which proceed from it more pure; so that the angels and saints of heaven love absolutely nothing for any other end whatever than that of the love of the divine goodness, and from the motive of desiring to please him. They all indeed love one another most ardently, they also love us, they love the virtues, but all this only to please God. They follow and practise virtues, not inasmuch as they are fair and delightful, but inasmuch as they are agreeable to God: they love their own felicity, not because it is theirs, but because it pleases God: yea, they love the very love with which they love God, not because it is in them, but because it tends to God; not because it is sweet to themselves, but because it pleases God; not because they have and possess it, but because God gives it them, and takes his good-pleasure in it.