Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why must moral theology be based on the Bible?

NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.

While Catholics take their guidance from both Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, we see scripture as a privileged source. It is the norma normans non normata—the highest norm that itself is not “normed.” This long-held precept is not to downplay or dismiss the importance of Sacred Tradition but to highlight the essential unity of scripture and tradition in Catholic theology. For Catholic moral teaching to be truly universal, to be truly Catholic, it must come out of the revelation entrusted to the Church—through Sacred Scripture informed and interpreted in light of Sacred Tradition. Ashley notes that scripture is the root of guidance, and in a recent address to the Pontifical Biblical Commission, the Holy Father referred to the Word of God as “the soul of theology.”

What cannot be doubted is that some precepts in scripture are materially the same as natural law. St. Thomas Aquinas noted as such. However, these precepts direct us not merely in pragmatic matters of living within human society but also in ordering ourselves toward God, which is not something we can know by reason but only by way of His revelation to us. In the Decalogue, we have principles that are more or less applied in other Levitical and Deuteronomic laws, and these in turn are fulfilled, clarified, and reinterpreted by Christ in His ministry as reported in the gospels. The meaning of Christ’s ministry comes to us through Sacred Scripture, interpreted by the early Church Fathers in light of Apostolic Tradition. While many specific applications or instances of moral teaching may be historically conditioned, the underlying precept applies in any human context. As Ashley notes, “we must always seek the moral principle that may be applied and not confuse it with the modern applications of that principle that may be quite different because of different circumstances.” Likewise, we must not attempt to apply these precepts as if the ancient contexts were still existent today.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Difficulties in Constructing a Biblical Moral Theology,” Moral Theology: Biblical Foundations, Vol. 1, (Notre Dame: International Catholic University, 2005).
ii. Benedict XVI, “Address of His Holiness Benedict XVI to the Participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Biblical Commission,” 23 April 2009, Vatican the Holy See, 6 February 2010.
iii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 1—Lesson Two,” International Catholic University, 5 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00302.htm.
iv. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00302.htm.
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