Wednesday, June 02, 2010

What is the relation of Christian spirituality to moral theology?

In Deuteronomy, before he went to die on Mt. Nebo, Moses set before the people of Israel the way of life and the way of death (30:15). As the Jews came to understand it, the way of life was exemplified in the Decalogue and the teaching of Leviticus and Deuteronomy, the 613 mitzvot of the Law. Minus the ritual and juridical law, what remains is the same moral teaching Christians practice today. However, the Christian way of understanding these laws involves an interiority that was missing from the Jewish understanding, or at least from the understanding of those Pharisees whom Jesus frequently castigated in the gospels. Some systems of moral theology, those which are volunteeristic or deontological and emphasize external obligation with little thought to consequences,[i] neglect the interiority of moral behavior. It was against such approaches that many people began to rebel following Vatican II, seeking a spirituality apart from the moral law.

Some people invoke the phrase “spiritual but not religious” to describe themselves. It is not uncommon to find this kind of thinking among new-age practitioners or westerners who dabble in eastern meditative practices. As Ashley points out, though, these people have missed the great riches of Christian spiritual practice.[ii] They have also emptied moral law of its life-giving aspects, focusing solely on the external observance rather than their connection with love of God and neighbor. However, spirituality is intimately tied with the way of life. Spirituality is, in a sense, the individual path we take toward God, our personal expression of the way of life. It involves our relationship directly with our maker, and as such, is the expression of our life in Christ. It is intimately tied to how we put into action the theological and cardinal virtues. All the moral law is tied to love of God and love of neighbor,[iii] which is enlivened by faith and guided by prudence. That love impels us to treat others justly. Through hope, we find the disciplines that help us to control our passions—temperance and fortitude. These virtues foster in us this love of God and neighbor and put it into concrete form. As Christians, we must live our lives in community. Through the seven virtues, the Holy Spirit grants us the ability to do so.

i. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 126.
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 8b—Lesson Sixteen,” International Catholic University, 17 April 2010, .
iii. Ibid.
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