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Class 4

Ideologies rather than faith

The last time we were speaking about the crisis in moral theology around Humanae Vitae and the appearance of dissent in many countries. Many heterodox moral theories have grown up since then, and there has been a displacement of faith by ideologies. Ideologies became prominent with the French Revolution, Marxism, and Communism. These ideologies err the way the two sons in the parable of the prodigal son err. There are ideologies in both of their visions, trying to impose his own ideas on God. Such an attitude closes us to a filial relationship with the Father. There is a third Son, Christ, who didn’t profit from the opportunity to be equal to the Father, the one who expresses the joy for the return of his brother, who is completely open to the mercy of the Father. The various ideologies are attempts to reorganize life according to our own project and hence block the spiritual life and the relationship with the Father. The ideologies seem to be phrased in salvific, beatific terms. The theology of liberation (which was once prominent), radical feminism, homosexualism, some types of nationalism all impose ideas on God’s plans for our happiness.

All of these programs use Christian terminology for human ends, manipulating the language of faith for a project entirely in this world. We see in this dissent a certain gnostic streak, replacing faith by science. The human sciences with their positivism become normative, instead of being assessed in terms of revelation. This nourishes an intellectual pride, allowing for the criticism of the church in terms of a Christian humanism. This is an attempt to fashion Christianity in gnostic terms. Gnosticism ultimately is an attempt to replace faith by arguments and standards taken from this world. In Veritatis Splendor, Pope John Paul II says that the Church’s teaching is addressed to the redeemed man, not to the lustful man. The Church’s teaching always include this reference to the redemption, because the moral perspective shown in the Decalogue and the Beatitudes cannot be managed without the grace of Jesus Christ. That is why we cannot cut out from moral theology a discussion on grace.

The solution to the dilemma does not lie in the abolition of the spiritual life, but the return to the challenge of the Beatitudes and the Commandments. The damage caused by the dissent has been unimaginable, but we should not lose hope. It is comparable to the time of the Reformation and Arianism. We are not promised an easy life by Christ. The Church must pass through Holy Week. There are greater graces available. There are also very hopeful signs, in new orders, the return of great devotions, etc. The Holy Spirit is giving birth to new hope all the time. The Pope is heard all over the world. The Church is the only credible institution in the world defending human rights. In the 19th century, the anti-clerical movements seemed to be defending human rights. We must have faith in the Holy Spirit. Our point of departure must be faith in Jesus.

How should we teach moral theology?

How in the light of what has happened in the history of moral theology are we to teach it? We’ve recently received the Catechism and Veritatis Splendor, which give us a certain direction in moral theology. Veritatis Splendor didn’t give us a program of moral theology, but in fact, by its Biblical reflection on the dialogue with the rich young man, shows the way to such a program, although it doesn’t give one. It focuses on burning issues causing dissent. For a general presentation of Christina morality outside of the scope of burning programs, Veritatis Splendor sends us to the Catechism, which is not entangled in the conflict. This is good, because Veritatis Splendor doesn’t close the door to further research. Veritatis Splendor gives a steady guideline for Christian moral formation in a confusing world. The Catechism is a witness of the faith of the Church for apostolic purposes. The Creed, Sacraments, Decalogue, and the Our Father ground the Catechism, arranging the principles of the Catholic faith.

We’re still left, however, with the problem of how to teach moral theology? The Jesuit textbooks followed the commandments, whereas the Dominicans used the virtues (three theological and four cardinal virtues). The Catechism chose the Decalogue as the central structure, but introduced it by something that talks about the final destiny of man, which follows very closely the prima secundae. The entire third part is called "Life in Christ" and introduced by a picture in which Jesus is giving the new law to SS. Peter and Paul standing on the head of a pagan. The Catechism intends to show the plenitude of life in Christ, in which the faith in Jesus leads to the interior guidance of the Holy Spirit. The moral teaching opens the Christian to that interior presence of God. The Catechesis[10] of the new life is one on the Holy Spirit, the master of the soul, who directs and forms our soul. This is very important. It is also a Catechesis on grace and the Beatitudes; on sin (we cannot be happy without knowing our errors) and pardon; on human virtues grasping the beauty of goodness; on the theological virtues, of the double commandment of charity; and on ecclesial importance.

Right at the end of the moral section, there’s a heading "I want to see God," from Saint Teresa of Avila. This is the last word on the Catechism’s moral formation. In the introductory section following the prima secundae, the Catechism added a section on the conscience, on social justice and the human community, and on the Church as mother and educated. The manner in which the Commandments is presented is fully in accord with a New Testamentarian perspective on the moral life. So we find clear suggestions about what themes ought to be dealt with in Catholic moral theology.

Moral theology versus theological ethics

What is moral theology? The traditional definition describes it as the part of theological research which in the light of revealed principles studies voluntary human acts in relation to their final end. Veritatis Splendor says it’s a reflection concerned with morality, of the good and evil of acts, and is theology insofar as the end and beginning are found in God, who in giving himself to man, offers him the opportunity of divine life. Moral theology studies man’s movement toward God and evil in the light of the influence of God who shows his where goodness is. The focus is above all is morality — the rational ordering of the human act to the good in its truth and the voluntary pursuit of that good by reason — the moral facts of acts. Other sciences study the fact of morality: philosophical ethics, psychology. The theological influence is both at the beginning and the end. The definition given in Veritatis Splendor, which Fr. Giertych doesn’t wholly appreciate, proposes that in moral theology attention should be morality with reference to the light of revelation, which helps us to see morality more clearly. That stream of light brings order into the observed objects, but it always remains a stream of light coming from outside. Such a field would be theological ethics, which deals not with God but with morality. The relationship between my act and the principle can be studied excluding faith as well. So faith would be supplementary.

Fr. Giertych is convinced that the fruitful approach will go a step further than theological ethics and is found in the teaching of Saint Thomas. The main focus of Saint Thomas is God. Theology is a study of God, what we know of him on the basis of what he has revealed to us. Theology is based on revelation, in which we perceive the mystery God has revealed about himself, which we try to penetrate in faith. We see a basic concordance of revelation with reason. Since God is the object of study, what distinguishes moral theology from other types of theology, is the mode of the being of God.

Saint Thomas describes three ways of the being of God. The first is his omnipresence, keeping everything in being, as their Creator. He is present in a different manner in grace in the human person. He is present finally in a different way in Jesus and in the way he is in the sacraments. The attention in moral theology is focused not on morality itself but on God who manifests himself in sanctified human activity. We look at God through the prism of a human person, how God is transforming the person, and how the image of God is visible in the person transformed by grace.

Moral theology tries to depict the deifying presence of God which manifests itself in moral acts. The overall title of the moral section of the Catechism, "Life in the Spirit," suggests this perspective. To give the picture of what grace does to the human being, we must look at Christ. Only in the mystery of the Word made man can we understand man. By his incarnation, the son of God has united himself with each man, working with human hands, thinking with a human mind, loving with a human heart. The hypostatic union doesn’t happen within us, but there is something of the grace of God in us which little by little becomes more visible. The Catechism goes further in identifying sanctification with Christ, in a text from Saint John Eudes put right at the beginning of the moral section.[11] So Jesus is the head, and our bodies, decisions, heads, are tied to Jesus, who wants to use our hands, generosity, etc. to manifest to the world the love of the Father. The fact that this is in the beginning of the Catechism points to the truly divine dimension within morality.

Norms and Invitations

So moral theology doesn’t deal just with norms, or with acts, but with the Trinity. If we mention the norm, we mention it as a signpost. Ultimately the moral law is the interior law, the movement of the Holy Spirit within us. By defining moral theology as the study of the sanctifying presence within the human person, we must encounter the problem between the descriptive and the normative, and how such a study is logically possible. A description of the sanctifying presence, received from revelation, doesn’t give us norms. So the supernatural transformation is not in the category of "must" but "want to." There is definitely a certain logic in the way we’re built which we can discern. Good in a sense is obliging because the truth about ourselves is binding. If truth is true, it binds. But in moral theology, we don’t just come up with a list of obligations. We point to the truth of the covenant of love God forms with us, with the take-it-or-leave-it loving request.

Scientific Nature of Moral Theology

Do we need a moral theology? Isn’t it enough just to have faith in God? Protestant theology is distrustful to the invasion of rational thought with revelation. Barth said that we don’t need distinctions in theology. He taught that theology was in the kerygmatic word, in the metaphors, not theological certainties. Bonhofer described that Protestant theology is crippled by a lack of a common idea of man as an agent — how does grace fit into nature, etc. Moral theology needs rational conclusions to offer answers to concrete moral issues. Faith, a humiliation of reason, is not a denial of the intellect. Faith knows the dignity of reason and appeals for an understanding, one which cannot replace faith but support it. Fides quaerens intellectum. The rational reflection on the presence of God in human activity doesn’t give us proofs for moral activity. We cannot prove in a scientifically modern way the truth of the Mystical Body.

So we have as the point of departure revelation, which has as its point of departure the Logos, the spoken word, which can be heard and reflected upon. We can study the presence of God in human actions and test rational conclusions on the basis of revelation. Moral theology can demonstrate the action of grace on human activity. We look at the saints. Moral theology also studies how the divine activity can be curbed by sin. It will describe the liberating divine fecundity in various human moral states. But moral theology is always to offer enunciation rather than moralization. Through the articulation of the principles of morality, the divine fecundity will become known. We can approach the issue of contraception from several points of view. We can certainly look from the point of view of the divine life of charity, centering on Christ and his gifts. The Church is defending the quality of love which is reduced by contraceptive practices. Moral theology is not in conflict with ethical reflections, but goes further in talking about supernatural charity.

Can this spiritual vision flowing from faith be called a science? If we have a positivist experimental understanding of science, no. Science cannot create normative sentences. Science cannot experimentally check the data of revelation. If science means knowledge, received and rationally reflected upon, we can describe what we have as knowledge, which again doesn’t create norms, but reveals them. We reveal the values of revelation which bind us in their truth and goodness. The communication of this divinely received knowledge is not chaotic, but organized, referring back to the truths we gained through reason. Our questions are certainly justified. Our reason needs to be satisfied. Moral theology can take steps that are intersubjectively justifiable. The justification of the conclusions isn’t an experimental proof; but from a deduction from premises received in faith. Without faith in the veracity of Scripture and the magisterium, there would be no theology, though there could be ethics. But we could arrive at true conclusions outside of theology, but with great difficulty.

Since theology is the communication of knowledge having its source in God, it must lead toward faith, toward God, and toward salvation. Theology leads to an ordering of grace, to be able to use it in our lives for God’s purpose. When Saint Thomas talked about the new law, there were two elements: the unwritten grace of the Holy Spirit; and the written element, the Sermon on the Mount and all instruction given in the Church. Together these two elements form the new dispensation. The Holy Spirit uses the second element to enkindle the hearts of the faithful. The second element disposes to faith and directs the use of grace in the hearts of man. This is the deepest finality of theology. Saint Thomas attributed to theology this finality, in calling it sacra doctrina. Theology has an ecclesial function, making the Church grow, when it shows how to live by grace. There is the grace of preaching to lead people to God. Saint Thomas was aware of this function in theology and his own instrumental role toward that grace. He says in the prologue, "we will try, having confidence in divine aid, to present what accords with sacred doctrine." He came without philosophy but demonstrated the power of God. This is the role of theology in the Church.

The moral theologian is not an engineer of salvation. The role of morality is secondary. Moral theology will show us the way but we ultimately must decide. Moral theology doesn’t decide for us. This was the problem with casuistry, which tried to decide in every case. In moral theology we have to be allowed to be surprised — e.g., our superiors send us where we don’t want to go, even though there might have been human influences. The words that manifest God’s power only lead to the realities. Saint Paul said that even the letter of the Gospel will kill us unless we are open to the grace of the faith of Jesus Christ. The wisdom of Vatican II was not to impose things on people, like previous Councils. Rather than add, they made things simpler, to allow the spiritual life to grow.

We cannot measure love by the intellect. So the order of the intellect must be measured by the order of love. So the intellect can only point the way, not save in itself. We are saved by Jesus, not by moral theologians.

The method of moral theology

What is the method of moral theology? How do we know what we know in moral theology? The human sciences observe phenomena with the help of instruments. They treat the human act as a fact or a series of facts. The science of morals investigates the free and intelligent actions, elucidating it in its dynamic interiority. We do not place ourselves outside of the object-person, as we do in physics or chemistry. We try to place ourselves, rather, within the acting person, to see what is involved in the action. Moral science cannot be neutral towards the neutral object. It is more akin to prudence than the methods of the positive sciences. Simply because we cannot know it in the way of physics doesn’t mean it isn’t real. The method of cognition depends upon the object that is known. We adapt the method to what we are studying. We don’t use a telescope to study bacteria. If, according to a given method, an object is unknown, it doesn’t mean it’s unintelligible. The positive sciences pertain to reason, whereas the moral sciences pertain the intellect, from within (legere intus, to look within). We have to allow the goodness to be reflected in our human experience. Psychiatry has a similar methodology; he studies the patient and the reaction the patient conjures in the psychiatrist. A patient can feel when he is being treated like an object. But if the doctor is moved by the story of the patient, and reacts within, he can read within and help the patient solve the problem.

In moral theology, faith is an absolutely necessary condition. The intellect in faith is capable of an insight of wisdom grasping the heart of the matter. It is a faith putting ourselves at our Master’s feet. Faith opens our intellect and heart to the Word of Jesus, who aids us in the grasping of the mystery.

The modern sciences require a Cartesian, judgmental approach. Moral theology requires us not to judge but to submit and to be led. Cartesian science looks at things as objects, looking from the outside. To look from the inside, faith confronts us and allows us to study the interiority of human action. Saint Thomas in the prologue of the prima secundae, has the intuition of the image of man’s mirroring God when he acts from the intellect and will and mature free choice.


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