Friday, May 28, 2010

Why can there be no true love without true justice?

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.

Jesus says, in all three of the synoptic gospels, that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor (Matt. 22:37–38; Mark 12:30–31; Luke 10:27). In Matthew 22:40, He adds, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets,” a statement very similar to what he makes in 7:12: “So whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them; for this is the law and the prophets.” Love, then, is not simply an emotion or fine feeling one has toward others. It is in our actions, or as the once popular song by D.C. Talk says, “Love is a verb.” It is what one does, not merely what one feels. In addition, Christ equates these commandments to love with the whole of the Law and the Prophets, which as a whole, elucidated the commandments in terms of just behavior. The two greatest commandments reflect the two broad divisions of the Decalogue: those commandments pertaining to love and justice toward God and those pertaining to our neighbor, including those who gave us life.

True love demands that we desire what is best for the beloved, desiring their perfect happiness.[i] Their happiness, in part, depends on the respect we give to their rights. A right is something that is due to a person based on either their basic human needs (primary rights) or on their role in society (secondary rights).[ii] Ashley notes that the “formal object of justice is to render what is due to a person.”[iii] Each one of the Ten Commandments addresses something that is due to another, whether it is due to God, to our parents, or to our neighbor. When they are deprived of their rights unjustly, we deny them in part what they need for happiness. Unjust action, then, is directly contrary to the law of love. Justice is, itself, “in the service of love.”[iv]

Some Christians presume upon God’s mercy, neglecting the moral law out of a misunderstanding of the interrelation between mercy and justice. Without justice, there can be no mercy, which follows only from God’s love for us. However, likewise, without justice, there can be no true love. God’s love for us demands that we are allowed what we need for our perfect happiness. Justice requires that we give to each other what their rights demand.[v] Love goes beyond this basic requirement to give them even that to which “they have no just claims.”[vi] Justice, then, is a constituent of love.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 7b—Lesson Fourteen,” International Catholic University, 17 April 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00314.htm.
ii. Bendict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 281.
iii. Ibid., 274.
iv. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00314.htm.
v. Ashley, 272.
vi. Ibid., 274.

What is “subsidiarity”?

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.

Subsidiarity is a principle in Catholic social doctrine which holds that higher authorities should not intervene in local affairs except when those at the local level “cannot or will not make its own provisions for the welfare of its members.”[i] Subsidiarity goes hand in hand with the principle of solidarity, the notion that we are called to work and live in unity and cooperation for the common good and our shared interests.[ii] Subsidiarity recognizes the obligation of the state to seek the prosperity of the community and its members, to promote peace, morality, family life, justice and public works, as well as business, agriculture, and the arts.[iii] However, this obligation requires that the responsibility for addressing these interests directly be handled by those closest to the issue. The primary responsibility of the state, according to the Catechism, is to guarantee security “so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly” (2431).

Pius XI, in Quadragesimo Anno 80, referred to “subsidiary function” or the notion that the state should restrict itself to those functions which it alone can provide and allow subordinate authorities to address lesser matters and concerns. John Paul II reiterated this notion when warning about the over extension of state authority by intervening and depriving society of its responsibility, resulting in “a Social Assistance State.” Rather, he stated,
[A] community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. (CA 48)

The power of the state, then, is to be distributed rather than centralized to allow for local management. However, there are times when the state must assist, coordinate, or even intervene when the common good is threatened or when the authorities at lower levels are unable or unwilling to respond appropriately.[iv] In some cases, such interventions are a response to society’s failure to seek the common good. Such interventions should be short term, lest authority be assumed solely for its own sake.[v] Subsidiarity, then, protects the right and obligation of the local community to seek the common good as it deems appropriate.

i. Bendict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 343.
ii. Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church, (Washington, D.C.: USCCB Publishing, 2005), 85.
iii. Ashley, 343.
iv. Ibid., 348.
v. Ibid., 291.

Why is God closer to us in the New than in the Old Testament?

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.

The early Old Testament, to some degree, seems to show a gradual distancing of mankind from God. While we once lived in intimacy with Him, as in the Garden of Eden in Genesis 1–3, we gradually became alienated so that God only spoke on occasion to individuals such as Noah or Abraham. By the time we get to Moses, the people of Israel no longer even remember the God of their ancestors. However, God demonstrates His perpetual commitment to His covenant by speaking through intermediaries such as Moses, Samuel, and Nathan. Some books of scripture attest to this closeness. For example, the Psalms frequently attest the love of God for man and man for God, and The Song of Songs represents the relationship between God and humanity on the most intimate of human terms.[i] However, in all of this, God is completely other, Creator and Law-giver, of whom no image can be made, lest we create Him in our own image and commit idolatry. In addition, God’s ways are beyond us (Isaiah 55:8), unattainable by us under our own power. As St. Paul notes, “God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (Romans 8:3). Paul speaks in Galatians 3:24 of the law being our custodian or our pedagogue until the coming of Christ, and the Catechism speaks of this divine pedagogy (CCC 53) as a gradual revelation of God to His people, Israel.

The New Testament is about God reaching down, in the Incarnation, to share in our humanity. In Christ, we have the full revelation of God the Word. As He takes on flesh, He bridges the distance between God and Man, uniting both Divine and human natures in one prosopon or hypostasis, the doctrine developed in part by the early Church Fathers, St. Cyril of Alexandria[ii] and Pope St. Leo,[iii] and later confirmed at the Council of Chalcedon[iv]—both consubstantial with the Father in His Divinity and consubstantial with us in His humanity.[v] In the New Testament, Jesus comes to share in the experience of humanity, to be like us in all things but sin, and to suffer with us. As Ashley notes, many people think that a loving God wouldn’t allow people to suffer as they do. Yet our God demonstrates His love in that He came to suffer with us.[vi]

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 7A—Lesson Thirteen,” International Catholic University, 17 April 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00313.htm.
ii. William A. Jurgens, The Faith of the Early Fathers, Vol. 3., (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1979), 230.
iii. Ibid., 268.
iv. Ibid., 270.
v. Ibid., 207.
vi. Benedict Ashley, “The Theological Virtues: Charity,” Moral Theology: Biblical Foundations, (Catholic Educational Television, 2006).

List different meanings of the word “love.” Is hate always contrary to love?

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.

The word “love” has several different meanings, each of which we can find reflected in the Greek words for these concepts. The notion of sexual love or desire is captured in the Greek word eros. While this captures a certain dimension of romantic love, it fails to account for love that truly seeks what is best for the beloved. It is less “love” in the sense of a desire for the good of the other than a desire for one’s own enjoyment, so it really doesn’t mean “love” in the Christian sense.[i] Also is the love of friendship—in Greek, philia. This love is that which people have for one another in a natural sense—that is, without the intervention of God’s grace. This love desires what is good for the other with or without a sense of self-interest, for example, the love of parent for children and vice versa, or the love between two people who share common interests and values. Just as eros can be expressed properly in Christian love, by itself, philia remains only a natural affinity for the other. Philia has limits and can come to an end if circumstances change.[ii]

In the New Testament, the concept of “love” is expressed in the Greek word agape. This kind of love is that which is a gift of self to the other—a generous, creative, and supernatural love only available to us through the Gift of the Holy Spirit and His grace.[iii] This kind of love goes beyond an appreciation of the values and qualities of the beloved or the filial love of parent, child, or relative, or the romantic love of husband and wife. It transcends these (while it can also incorporate them) and allows us to love by virtue of the beloved’s relationship to God or by virtue of the beloved being God (who should be the first and foremost object of our love). God’s love for us is agape love, and we in turn, by His grace, love Him and love those whom He has created, even those who wish to do us harm.[iv]

Hatred against God or neighbor is always contrary to love by definition, since God is love itself. We cannot truly love God if we do not love the image of God in His creation. So hatred of neighbor is hatred of God by proxy. Scripture also clearly states that he who says he loves God but hates his brother is a liar (1 John 4:20). However, we can hate sin and hate the sin in others. This is a righteous hatred in that it hates what harms the other. Sin, as a violation against self or other, expresses hatred toward self or other, so hatred of hatred is not contrary to love but expresses it.[v]

i. Benedict Ashley, “The Theological Virtues: Charity,” Moral Theology: Biblical Foundations, (Catholic Educational Television, 2006).
ii. Alexander Moseley, “Philosophy of Love,” 17 April 2001, The Interent Encyclopedia of Love, 17 April 2010, .
iii. Ashley, “The Theological Virtues: Charity.”
iv. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 7A—Lesson Thirteen,” International Catholic University, 17 April 2010, .
v. Bendict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 452.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

God is No Delusion

I have previously addressed my problems with Richard Dawkins' book The God Delusion. You can follow my critique beginning here. It takes little exposure to logic to see the gaps in Dawkins' reasoning, but it takes a great deal of persistence for those not already in the new-athiest choir to finish the book. I understand this is pretty typically of these currently popular diatribes.

On a recommendation I picked up somewhere in the blogosphere (possible Fr. Philip Powell, who will celebrate his patron's memorial tomrrow), I ordered the work of a fellow Dominican, Thomas Crean, O.P., from Amazon. It also is a critique of Dawkins' book, entitled God is No Delusion.

I've never had any misconception of the weakness of Dawkins' argument (singular) and his many qualms with religion. However, in the few hours I've spent with this book, I have come to a whole new appreciation for Aquinas' 5 arguments for the existence of God, and this from a discussion that only includes the first and fifth argument.

I'd like to interrupt this diatribe to affirm the impressions of first readers concerning the nature of this blog. I'm a complete theology geek. I apologize if you were looking for something more entertaining, but it's the plain truth.

Anyway, Crean takes apart Dawkins in a new way, and he also manages to impart a clear notion of Divine simplicity, of the First Cause, and of the sophistry inherent in the arguments of the New Athiests. Check it out!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Did Jesus get angry?

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.

Jesus undoubtedly displayed anger, as scripture indicates on more than one occasion. We should not be surprised at this, although we see frequent passages warning us against uncontrolled anger. When we fail to use reason to moderate feelings of anger and revenge, we commit the capital sin of anger.[i] The reason this unmoderated emotion is sinful is because it can easily lead to other sins, St. Paul warns in Ephesians 4:26. Ashley notes that such anger is wrong because the motive is not justice but revenge, because the target of such anger may not warrant it, or because the response is not moderated by any sense of meekness or clemency.[ii]

However, not all anger constitutes this capital sin. One can also exhibit righteous anger. While anger uncontrolled and unmoderated through reason is sinful, anger that is controlled and expressed properly, for example, when a parent corrects a disobedient child, can be considered a kindness in that it expresses love and desire for the child to choose well, as in Proverbs 27:5: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love”; or in the more famous adage from Proverbs 13:24, “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” In some cases, expressing anger is the best way to bring someone’s attention to wrongs they have committed or to unjust situations. Jesus’ expressions of anger fall into the latter category of righteous anger.

All four gospels recount the story of Jesus driving the vendors and moneychangers from the temple, each with a slightly different emphasis. Matthew 21:12–13 and Luke 19:45–46 share very similar, concise accounts that give just a hint of Jesus’ anger. Mark, however, adds a detail missing from the other accounts: “and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple” (11:16). While Jesus had clearly an unearthly authority, he was not a priest or Levite and had no human authority. Yet He essentially took over the temple. In John, He actually makes “a whip of chords,” (2:15) prompting His disciples to remember the passage from Psalms 69:9: “For zeal for thy house has consumed me.” These passages demonstrate a great degree of courage on Jesus’ part and show how righteous anger can prepare us with courage to fight or resist. Ashley notes that the virtue of courage uses anger as an instrument in such cases.[iii]

Another passage from Mark doesn’t just imply anger but notes it expressly. He asks the congregation in the synagogue (which we might assume to be Pharisees and scribes since they seek to accuse Him) whether it is lawful to do good or harm, to save life or kill on the Sabbath. They don’t respond. Mark tells us, “And he looked around them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart” (3:5). Jesus’ anger here comes not from an external defilement as in the temple, but at the unjust attitudes of the Pharisees—a defilement of the heart. Anger in such circumstances is virtuous if it compels us to act justly or courageously in defense of the faith, so long as we do not allow it to compel us to sin or to act rashly or disproportionally.


i. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 242.
ii. Ibid., 243.
iii. Ibid., 248.

Why is marriage good if celibacy is better?

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.

St. Paul recognizes the goodness of celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7:1–2, yet he notes that such restraint is not possible for some who may not be strong enough to resist temptation: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of temptation to immorality, each man should have his wife and each woman her own husband” and later in verse 9, “for it is better to marry than be aflame with passion.” At very least, then, we can acknowledge that Divine Revelation declares marriage to be good, at very least, for preventing immoral passions from being stirred. Celibacy is superior in that one renounces some temporal goods of this world, most namely marriage and the conjugal act, to focus one’s energy on the goods of the world to come. Marriage, though, is the very image of the Church and Christ’s love for us.

The Catechism states that “the entire Christian life bears the mark of the spousal love of Christ and the Church” (1617). Marriage itself is “an efficacious sign, the sacrament of the covenant of Christ and the Church.” The natural good of marriage sustains the Church on earth and puts the sexual appetite at its service to increase the Church. While marriage makes use of this appetite for good ends, it also creates an environment where husbands and wives must learn and practice all of the theological and cardinal virtues (CCC 1638, 1641) in the most basic social setting—the family, often called the Ecclesia domestica or “domestic church” (Lumen Gentium 11, CCC 1656). Ashley notes, too, that part of the sacramental grace is the ability to acquire the virtue of chastity, to which married people are called in a unique way. While unmarried people are called to abstinence, the married couple must practice temperance in their use of the conjugal gift.[i]

Celibacy, however, is a complementary gift to the Church. While marriage allows all to see the temporal goods of the world and how these are experienced as a sacrament (a visible means of God’s efficacious grace instituted by Christ), celibacy shows us how discipline aids us in seeing the greater goods in the next life, and how one can set aside the cares of this world to focus on the glory of eternal, resurrected life in the next,[ii] as St. Paul notes, again, in 1 Corinthians 7:32–34: “The unmarried man is anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how to please the Lord; but the married man is anxious about worldly affairs, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided.” These two ways of life are not opposed to each other but complementary, the good of one assisting and pointing to the good of the other. The value of celibacy is clearer because of its contrast to the goods in marriage.

i. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 245.
ii. Ibid., 433.

Did Jesus on the Cross despair when he cried out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me”?

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.

These words of Jesus are cited in Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34. Both gospels are evoking the first verse of Psalm 22. Interestingly, the gospels of Luke and John do not quote the same verse, yet they too make reference to Psalm 22 (Luke 23:35; John 19:24). The words indeed seem to be a cry of despair, and Luke’s words indicate that those witnesses at the crucifixion even took them to be such and mocked him: “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” A reading of the text of the psalm suggests an internal struggle, alternating between cries of anguish and a sense of abandonment (“O my God, I cry by day, but thou dost not answer”) and words of hope (“Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel. In thee our fathers trusted; they trusted and thou didst deliver them”).

A long section from verses 12 through 18 seems to show the suffering psalmist succumbing to despair, describing his torments in great and prescient detail. In a sense, we can see Jesus’ words in Matthew and Mark as his continuing attempt to reach out to the Jews as if to say, “I am the suffering servant. I am the one of whom the psalmist and Isaiah prophesied.” He is still interpreting the words of scripture to demonstrate who He is, even in His last moments. Yet the psalm moves past the recounting of His suffering to a theme of hope: “The afflicted shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord!” (22:26) If despair is a sin against faith, as Ashley describes,[i] this psalm does not express despair but hope in God’s deliverance. It demonstrates the hope of the martyr who suffers and dies in the witness of truth.[ii] It relays the understanding of what Christ believed His death meant and what means today for us.[iii] Ultimately, Jesus’ words do not reveal despair but hope.

i. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 443.
ii. Ibid., 253.
iii. “The Psalms,” The Navarre Bible: The Psalms and the Song of Solomon. (New York: Scepter Publishing, Inc., 2003), 92.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Explain the first three petitions of the Lord's Prayer.

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.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church discusses the seven petitions made in the Our Father in light of their end: “The first three, more theological, draw us toward the glory of the Father; the last four, as ways toward him, commend our wretchedness to his grace” (2803). The first three petitions hallow God’s name, call for the establishment of His kingdom, and call for His will to be done on both earth and Heaven (2804). The Catechism notes the relationship of these three more theological petitions to the theological virtues:
It is characteristic of love to think first of the one whom we love. In none of the three petitions do we mention ourselves; the burning desire, even anguish, of the beloved Son for his Father's glory seizes us. . . . These three supplications were already answered in the saving sacrifice of Christ, but they are henceforth directed in hope toward their final fulfillment, for God is not yet all in all.

The first petition, “hallowed be thy name,” is meant as prayer and praise of God rather than as an action on our part, since we cannot hallow (or make holy) God. He alone is holy. However, by our hallowing his name, we demonstrate our love for Him, in a positive manner addressing the second commandment. The Catechism states that in hallowing His name, we are immersed in the mystery of the Godhead and drawn into the “drama of the salvation of our humanity” (2807).

The second and third petitions, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven” request the presence of God’s kingdom or of His reign here and now, and the enactment of His will now and in the future. God’s kingdom represents a return of the original justice of Eden and perfect relationship that humanity had with God. We have it in the here and now in that Christ has brought to us the renewal of our divine life in God. However, it is also not yet fully realized until Christ’s final coming (CCC 2816, 2818). It is both in our midst but not yet.

The third petition is God’s will to be fulfilled both on earth and in Heaven, and it is for this we hope—to see God’s mercy and His justice extended to all people, and to see all benefit from the gifts God has given us on earth. As Ashley notes, this desire is rightly expressed in Liberation Theology when purged of its Marxist elements.[i] While we Christians aim to do God’s will “on earth as it is in Heaven,” we often fall short of fully expressing his Divine mercy. One way in particular that we fail in is evangelization. In order for God’s will to be fully manifest, it must be communicated to all. Yet many of us (myself included) fail in this very basic of tasks of building God’s kingdom on earth.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 6A—Lesson Eleven,” International Catholic University, 18 March 2010, .

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Why must we love ourselves? How should we love ourselves?

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.

When Christ was asked what the greatest commandment was, He responded, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:37–39). Implicit in these two commandments is that we also love ourselves. There are several reasons we should love ourselves. First, we are commanded to love God with all of our being. We are made in God’s image, so at very least, what we love in God is also reflected in ourselves. To love God properly, then, means that we also love His image in ourselves. Second, we are commanded to love our neighbor, again, because our neighbor is also made in the image of God. So what we love in God and ourselves is also present in our neighbor and merits this love. As St. Thomas put it, “As the object known is in the knower to the extent that it is known, so the beloved must be in the lover, as loved.” Proper love desires the highest good for the beloved, so if we love our neighbor and wish them the highest good, God, it is natural to wish this highest good for ourselves as well. In this love, we find the motivation to seek what is best in life.

Ashley notes that we are made so that we seek our own happiness.[i] Proper self-love does so without placing the self above God. Citing St. Thomas, he notes that God is always to be loved above all else and that we must love the bodily good of our neighbor more than our own external goods:[ii] “Now you love yourself suitably when you love God better than yourself. What then, you aim at in yourself you must aim at in your neighbor, namely that he may love God with a perfect affection.”[iii] So self-love is both proper and necessary, but always in the proper order and to the proper degree.

i. Thomas Aquinas, Aquinas’s Shorter Summa, (Manchester, NH: Sophia Institute Press, 2002) 41.
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 5B—Lesson Ten,” International Catholic University, 18 March 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00310.htm.
iii. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 443.
iv. Ibid., 444.

What is an “informed conscience”?

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.

As with many important human endeavors, we have to educate ourselves against error and erroneous belief and inform our conscience about God’s law. As the Catechism states, “A well-formed conscience is upright and truthful. It formulates its judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the Creator” (CCC 1783). An informed conscience is one that has been shaped by the moral doctrine of the new Law of Christ. While many people claim to be listening to their conscience when they dissent from Church teaching and engage in behavior the Church says is immoral, what they are really doing is listening to their preferences or predilections. Conscience is not the voice of your instincts telling you what you would like to be true but the informed voice one gains through instruction, teaching what you ought to do. Prudence helps us to understand where our own fallibility lies and urges us to seek guidance from the Church and from those wiser than us.[i] If we do not seek guidance through the Church, we can be led astray by the predominant opinion of the times or the whims of culture.

We as Christians are obligated to follow our consciences in all moral decisions. Going against our conscience, whether we do so for an erroneous reason or not, is sinful. However, we can be more or less culpable depending on whether our erroneous judgment is based on honest error or whether we have neglected to educate ourselves. If we make a moral error after a good-faith attempt to inform our conscience, we may be invincibly ignorant. However, if we neglect to study the moral teachings of the Church believing our conscience to be the supreme guide, and we then err morally, we can be culpably ignorant (CCC 1791). We are responsible because we neglected to follow the sure guidance of the Church. Failure to inform our conscience is itself sinful and can be a form of spiritual sloth or pride. The Navarre Bible commentary for the book of Sirach notes verse 18:19: “Before you speak, learn” and adds that this verse underscores the importance of formation before action.[ii]

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 5B—Lesson Ten,” International Catholic University, 18 March 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00310.htm.
ii. “Sirach,” The Navarre Bible: Wisdom Books, (New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2004) 446.

What is the difference between Christian Faith and a “religious experience”?

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.

Christian faith involves an act of the intellect, as well as an act of the will. We must first discern, through our personal experience and our objective observations, as well as through the guidance of authoritative parties, that there is something in which to have faith, namely God and His promise to us. We next must invest ourselves in this knowledge—entrust ourselves to His care, to the Church which He established, and to the moral instruction it provides us. Our intellect perceives both material realities that evidence God’s existence, but also can deduce realities and be taught truths about God through the Church. In this intellectual knowledge, we gain the firm footing to will ourselves into commitment.[i]

The term “religious experience” is used frequently by Protestants to talk about an internal emotional or intuitive experience of God, often in Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit. Such experiences often bring people to conversion. However, such experiences are limited in several ways. First, they are subjective. They cannot present an objective basis for faith but can stir the emotions in a way that might help people seek objective confirmation. In that sense, a religious experience can be a motivator, but as a subjective experience, it only motivates the one who receives it. Second, a religious experience is largely a material or sensible experience. We know it happens because we feel it. While again such experiences can be motivators for faith, they are fleeting and unsustainable. If we constantly chase the emotions, we lose track of the complete experience of faith as an acceptance of an objective reality rather than merely a subjective experience. Finally, a religious experience might feel good, but it is no guide for moral living and could even be a hindrance if it is not tempered by intellect and sound doctrine.[4] Christian faith also requires an objective, public witness.

i. Benedict Ashley, “The Theological Virtues: Faith,” Moral Theology: Biblical Foundations, (Catholic Educational Television, 2006).
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 5B—Lesson Ten,” International Catholic University, 18 March 2010 http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00310.htm.

Who is Lady Wisdom and who is Lady Folly in the Wisdom Literature?

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.

Lady Wisdom is the personification of the spirit of Wisdom—Hokmah in Hebrew, Sophia in Greek. According to Ashley, Lady Wisdom is presented as a beautiful mother, one who teaches her children how to live well. By contrast, Lady Folly is the prostitute, who teaches her children recklessness and shortsightedness.[i] We first encounter these two figures in Proverbs 1 and 2. Lady Wisdom speaks to warn sons away from the “loose woman” or “adventuress” whose “house sinks down to death and her paths to the shades” (2:16–18), where as the understanding that Lady Wisdom offers is like silver or hidden treasures (2:4). Lady Wisdom builds up her house, while Lady Folly tears her house down with her own hands (14:1). Each attempts to lure the simple on a different path, Lady Wisdom to the path of life, and Lady Folly to the path of destruction. Interestingly, when Wisdom speaks, it is from “the gates in front of the town, at the entrance to the portals” (Proverbs 8:3), place of judgment and counsel in ancient Israel. Folly speaks in the shadows and on the street corners (7:8–9), clearly associated with prostitution and clandestine evil.

The Navarre Bible commentary on Proverbs notes that the person of Wisdom in the New Testament is closely connected to Jesus.[ii] The Gospel According to John makes this connection most clearly in chapter 1, verses 1 through 3: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” These words seem to echo the words of Wisdom in Proverbs 8:22–30. The path of life and path of folly also find parallels in the life and death, blessing and curse in Deuteronomy 30:18. Wisdom, then, is connected with the Word and the Law, while folly, the negation of them.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 5A—Lesson Nine,” International Catholic University, 18 March 2010 http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00309.htm.
ii. “Proverbs,” The Navarre Bible: Widsom Books, (New York: Scepter Publishers, Inc., 2004), 165.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Blessed Shavuot!

I noticed that someone from Israel found my blog searching on the word Shavuot. For those of my Catholic and Christian bretheren who do not know, Shavuot is the Jewish holiday (yom tov), which in Greek is called Pentecost (fiftieth day). While the significance of Jews and Christians differs, the connection of both holidays to the passover highlight the connections between the heritage of the Jews (our elder brothers in faith) and our own history. We have many differences between us, and many painful sins and transgressions. We also have many commonalities and shared experiences. I prefer to honor the latter and do pennance for the former.

How can we be sure what Jesus taught about sexual behavior?

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.

First and foremost, we must remember that Jesus was a faithful Jew. As such, he accepted the teachings of the rabbis on the Law, except when it was clear that they were relying on casuistic arguments to twist the meaning of the Law.[i] Yet He still respected the authority of their teaching while disputing their behavior: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do” (Matthew 23:2–3). Ashley notes that Jesus carefully fulfills the Law but not always in the way expected by the Pharisees.[ii] In Jesus’ sermons, He goes beyond the letter of the Law and gets to the motivations behind sin, which invariably results in a strengthening of prohibitions rather than a weakening. One can see this process in particular with the prohibition against divorce.[iii] In this sense, He operates much in the same way as the Church when it defines moral teaching, typically strengthening it rather than relaxing it and “applying Gospel norms more consistently.”[iv]

Based on this presentation of Jesus, then, we should assume (if anything) He would also teach the same beliefs on sexual behavior as the Pharisees, with a small exception. While the Law focuses on behaviors, specifically condemning sexual actions rather than internal motivation,[iv] Jesus looks at motivations, for example, when He condemns lust in Matthew 5:28. Later in Matthew, He condemns the scribes and Pharisees not only for their actions but for the internal uncleanliness: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and rapacity” (23:25). Elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus states, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a man” (15:18–20). In this passage, fornication is presented as defiling someone from within, so Jesus clearly sees the internal inclination to desire fornication as sinful, and not merely the act. If He condemns the mere thought of such things, clearly He would also condemn the acts.

i. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 31.
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 3A—Lesson Five,” International Catholic University, 6 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00305.htm.
iii. Ibid.
iv. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 4B—Lesson 8,” International Catholic Univsersity, 27 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00308.htm.
v. Robert Kugler and Patrick Hartin, An Introduction to the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2009), 85.

Why has the Magisterium not infallibly defined all the moral norms?

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.

Most moral doctrines are simply part of Sacred Tradition and have been passed down from the early days of the Church. As such, they have been assumed to be true because they have always been held and taught universally and constitute the teaching of the ordinary universal Magisterium.[i] Some doctrine is not defined formally because it has never been seriously disputed. Typically, those doctrines requiring formal definition are those that have been questioned or are at the center of some dispute. As with the heresies that sparked the early controversies of the Church, challenges to long-held doctrines force the Church to refine teaching, to justify and clarify Her stance, and to affirm the details that need to be held by the faithful. St. Augustine even commented that heretics do us a kind of favor as they force the Church to think more deeply about the doctrines it passes on.[ii] However, there are also other teachings on faith and morals which are not taught as infallible teachings because they cannot be shown to be revealed or perpetually held by the Church. For example, teachings on capital punishment and slavery have developed over time. The former, while permitted in some rare cases, has become much more restricted, while the latter, which was once permitted by the Church, has become expressly forbidden. In both instances, the developments were guided by a clearer sense of the gospel message.

A teaching that has been held from the earliest days, has never been questioned, and has legitimate support in Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition need not be defined since it is already part of revelation. This fact is lost on some theologians who seem to believe that anything not formally defined is fallible and can be contested. However, this is not the case, as any teachings handed on as part of Sacred Tradition and taught under the ordinary universal Magisterium are already considered irreformable, being revealed truth or closely tied to it.[iii] Aside from these factors, the obligation of the Catholic individual is to be guided by the teaching of the Church, not to simply decide the teachings by which one wishes to abide. We owe religious submission of will and intellect to all teachings of the Magisterium.[iv]

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 4B—Lesson 8,” International Catholic Univsersity, 27 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00308.htm.
ii. Rev. Douglas Mosey, “Patristics: Lecture 2,” International Catholic University, (Catholic Educational Television, Inc., 2006).
iii. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00307.htm.
iv. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 4B—Lesson 8,” International Catholic Univsersity, 27 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00308.htm.

What is the role of the sensus fidelium in the development of moral doctrine? Why does Vatican II prefer the term sensus fidei?

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.

Much of what Catholics believe has been handed down as part of the lived tradition. In a Catholic cultural tradition, there comes to be a sense of what is of the faith (de fide) and what is not, and what conforms to the doctrines of the faith while not being specifically defined. The “sense of the faithful” is one of the factors guiding the college of bishops and the Holy Father when they attempt to define doctrine: what has been believed always, everywhere, and by everyone. Ashley points out that many dogmas are very clear to the faithful before ever being declared: for example, the dual natures (Divine and human) of Christ defined at the Council of Chalcedon.[i] While eminent theologians such as St. Thomas Aquinas have been hesitant to accept beliefs such as the sinlessness of the Blessed Mother, the people’s devotion convinced the bishops and the Holy Father that this teaching had been held perpetually by the faithful. As with all teaching, according to the guarantee of Jesus in Matthew 29, the Counselor guides the Church in such matters to prevent her from going astray. The Vatican II constitution Lumen Gentium explains: “The whole body of the faithful who have an anointing that comes from the holy one… cannot err in matters of belief” (Lumen Gentium 12).

This is not to say that the faithful cannot be misled or that their sense of the faith cannot become distorted, particularly by the surrounding culture. While the prohibition on contraception has been consistent since the early days of the Church, the secular culture of Western Europe and North America in the 20th century inculcated a greater trust in science than in the Church, which turned many Catholics against the traditional teaching of the Church. When Humanae Vitae was promulgated in 1968 in the midst the sexual revolution, it came under widespread condemnation by many theologians in North America and Europe. The culture that informed the sense of the faithful, in this case, could hardly be described as Catholic, as it came not from the perpetual teaching of the Church but from modern secular culture. In fact, in a largely democratic sphere, the term sensus fidelium gives the impression of majority rule rather than a sense of unified faith—that what the faithful decide is correct for the time is somehow the truth. This belief, of course, is far from the true meaning of sensus fidelium and is more a symptom of Catholics in the West projecting their views on the whole Church.

Lumen Gentium employs the term sensus fidei because it more adequately captures the notion that it is the faith that unites us rather than our secular democratic culture. A citation in Lumen Gentium 12 defines the sensus fidei as “the instinctive sensitivity and discrimination which the members of the Church possess in matters of faith.” In order to have a true sensus fidei, there must be a common Catholic enculturation and faithful instruction in the teachings of the Church. Where this enculturation exists, a true sensus fidei resides.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 4B—Lesson 8,” International Catholic University, 27 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00308.htm.

Why can the Church never change the moral teachings of Jesus and the Apostles?

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.

The moral teachings of Jesus and the Apostles would be those teachings considered so closely connected with revelation that they too would have to be infallible.[i] These teachings have been taught consistently since the beginning of the Church and have been held “always, everywhere, by everyone.” As such, and as perpetual teachings by the bishops of the Church, they represent teachings of the ordinary universal Magisterium.[ii] As infallible teachings, they fall into the category of those teachings proposed in a definitive way or taught universally and perpetually by the college of Bishops in communion with the Holy Father, while dogmatic teachings are those teachings that are de fide, the very basic beliefs required of Catholics and solemnly declared as revealed truth.[iii] Ashley points out that personal opinion cannot be offered as infallible. Such teachings can only come from the deposit of faith and must be clearly held by the whole Church.[iv]

While the Church can never change the moral teachings of Jesus and the Apostles, these teachings can be developed. This development happens when the Church’s understanding of the gospel message and Christ’s intent becomes clearer. One example of this development is the Church’s teaching on slavery. The Church had always taught that all people share a common human dignity and were commanded by Christ to love brother and enemy alike.[v] Yet the Church began in an era in which slavery was commonplace. In addition, St. Paul had mentioned slavery in the “Letter to Philemon” without overtly condemning it. However, as practiced, the institution of slavery clearly denied the slave equality in law, which pragmatically also meant inequality in terms of human dignity (in treatment, not in essence). To be consistent with the gospel message, the Church had to (and did) condemn the institution of slavery.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 4A—Lesson 7,” International Catholic University, 27 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00307.htm.
ii. Ibid.
iii. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, “Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian,” 24 May 1990. EWTN Global Catholic Network, 28 February 2010, http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/
CDFTHEO.HTM.
iv. Benedict Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00307.htm.
v. Ibid.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Name some of the effects of “individualism” on morality and spirituality.

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.

Fr. Ashley notes that Nominalism, with highly prescriptive approach to morality and its “excessive emphasis on individual realities,”[i] diminished the sense of connectedness we share in the Body of Christ and the Communion of Saints. One can see immediately that this perspective tends to pit individuals against the rest of the world rather than helping them to see the cloud of witnesses they have urging them on to victory. In the Reformation theology of Luther, this subjective turn focused on the internal experience of the believer rather than the Communion of Saints or the community of the faithful.[ii] René Descartes would come along over half a century later and initiate a similar change in philosophy with his famous statement, “Cogito, ergo sum,” initiating a turn to the subject which would infect Enlightenment and modern philosophy and undermine the notion of objective reality.[iii] As Ashley notes, this individualism became very common in American culture, stemming primarily from this individualized Protestant spirituality.[iv]

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, National Socialism (Nazism) and Marxism would reject this notion of individualism and swing to the opposite extreme—a radical collectivism, where the individuals needs would be subservient ostensibly to the good of the people, although in practice the State benefited more than the collective people.[v] Along with a rejection of the individual as the highest good would be a suppression or rejection of faith in God with a redirection of that faith to the sovereign State or the Party.[vi]

Neither of these extremes conforms to a truly Christian morality. While individuals are responsible individually and equal in dignity to one another, we are also beings in community with one another who thrive or fail together. Living in community, individuals can meet their full potential spiritually, as well as emotionally and materially.[vii]

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 3B—Lesson 6,” International Catholic University, 27 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00306.htm.
ii. Ibid.
iii. Benedict Ashley, “Philosophy for Theologians—Lesson 3: The Intellectual Ambiguities of Contemporary Culture,” International Catholic University, 28 February 2010 http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c02803.htm.
iv. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00306.htm.
v. Ibid.
vi. Peter Kreeft, “The Pillars of Unbelief - Karl Marx,” 1988, Catholic Education Resource Center, 28 February 2010 http://www.catholiceducation.org/articles/civilization/cc0010.html.
vii. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00306.htm.

What exactly does the term "ecumenism" mean?

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.

Ecumenism is the effort on the part of the Catholic Church and other churches and ecclesial communities on addressing the various differences in doctrine and governance in an attempt to find a path to unity in one visible Body of Christ. While there are ecumenical outreaches to other faith traditions as well, in the context of the Catholic Church and Christianity, the term is used in respect to fostering Christian community, as we are called to do by Christ’s command.[i] Our Holy Father John Paul II stressed in Ut Unum Sint the need for all Christians to “profess together the same truth about the Cross.”[ii] He saw it as imperative that Christians speak together and witness together the Truth of Christ. However, in this striving together, he saw it as critical that we do not gloss over the very real theological differences that exist between communions, to “avoid a false irenicism” or a sense that somehow we can agree to disagree on matters that we consider de fide that our Protestant brethren do not think essential. We must continue to “uphold a vision of unity which takes account of all the demands of revealed truth[.]”[iii]

Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have made ecumenical outreach to the Eastern churches and to Protestant communions of utmost importance. Yet both have had to work against an entrenched view of ecumenism that sought to set aside clear differences for an air of agreement. Louie Verrecchio, reporting for the Catholic News Agency, recently pointed out this tendency in Cardinal Kasper’s call for an “ecumenical catechism” developed in cooperation with Anglican, Lutheran, and Methodist parties. Verrecchio cites Unitatis Redintegratio, pointing out the inconsistency of Cardinal Kaspar’s position with the teachings of Vatican II: “It is, of course, essential that the doctrine should be clearly presented in its entirety. Nothing is so foreign to the spirit of ecumenism as a false irenicism, in which the purity of Catholic doctrine suffers loss and its genuine and certain meaning is clouded” (UR 11).[iv] We cannot sacrifice the Truth for a cheaply bought reconciliation.

i. John Paul II, “Ut Unum Sint,” 25 May 1995, Vatican the Holy See, 27 February 2010 http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_25051995_ut-unum-sint_en.html.
ii. Ibid.
iii. Ibid.
iv. Louie Verrecchio, “‘Ecumenical Catechism’: A Jungle Book of an Idea,” 11 February 2010, Catholic News Agency, 27 February 2010, http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=1120.

Why is the moral instruction of the New Testament so lacking in concrete norms compared with the Old Testament?

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.

As with much in tradition, certain aspects are settled matters. No one debates them anymore because most people have a common understanding. Jesus in the New Testament was not debating the basic moral precepts of the Old Covenant. However, he did enter into debates about the extent and interpretation of the moral law, not dispensing from it but reaching back to its origins.[i] Jesus assumed the validity of the moral precepts but attends to their broader interpretation.[ii] What Jesus did address were those interpretations which were in dispute at the time.[iii]

We also must look at the New Testament overall as an interpretation of the Old Testament, seeing the New Testament nascent in the old, and the Old Testament fulfilled in the new. Whereas the Writings and the Prophets put the Law into practice and reflect the Jewish understanding, the New Testament represents the fulfillment of the Law and its revelation.[iv] Jesus goes beyond the letter to reveal the heart of the commandments, to emphasize the words of the prophets, and to expand the covenant to include all of humanity.[v] However, because He was extending the Law beyond the Mosaic covenant, those elements that applied only to the People of Israel had to be addressed by the Apostles and reconsidered. St. Paul was the first to come up against the dramatic differences between Gentile and Jewish culture (although Peter also came to understand this early on as well).[vi]

In the letters of Paul and the Catholic epistles, we do see some discussion of morality, particularly in terms of what one owes to members of the family and community.[vii] However, Paul frequently makes reference to activities that may have been common among Pagans but were unacceptable to Christians as well as Jews—often detailing immoral behaviors that indicated that someone has not given their life over to God. For Paul, just as for Jesus, the moral law of the Old Testament is always binding on everyone, while the ritual and juridical law applies only to the people of the Old Covenant.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 3A—Lesson Five,” International Catholic University, 6 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00305.htm.
ii. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 31.
iii. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00305.htm.
iv. Ashley, 30.
v. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00305.htm.
vi. Ibid.
vii. Ibid.

What became of the moral, ritual, and judicial precepts of the Old Law under the New Law?

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.

Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament Law (Matthew 5:17), which means that He demonstrates its true meaning, rather than rendering it null and void. The Law presented in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy elaborates on the Decalogue, mostly in regard to the ritual and juridical precepts that set the People of Israel apart from all the surrounding tribes. These precepts apply to the Old Covenant and help the Hebrews to attune themselves to holiness.[i]

If we look at the center of the Law (the Decalogue), we can see that Jesus never set it aside. However, Jesus came to fulfill and perfect the Law and to establish a new covenant. He begins by revealing the depth of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. In this action, He refocuses attention on the moral precepts of the Law, but He interprets it in such a way as to show the Father’s intention: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). It is not sufficient to conform externally only; one must conform one’s heart to the Law. His focus is on the interior morality rather than simple external conformance.[ii] In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles man but what comes out, that which proceeds from man’s heart. Cleansing the exterior of the cup does no good if “inside they are full of extortion and rapacity” (Matt 23:25).

While the moral law of the Old Testament, which reflects natural law but is perfected in revelation, does not pass away, the juridical and ritual law is specific to the Old Covenant. Jesus, establishing the New Covenant, replaces the old ritual law with the Sacraments of the Church.[iii] The juridical authority represented by the Mosaic Law interpreted by the rabbis, then, gives way to the authority of binding and loosing given to Peter and later to the Apostles in Matthew. In this way, Jesus supplants those elements that do not apply to the Christian faithful while maintaining the moral law common to both Old and New Covenants.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 2A—Lesson Three,” International Catholic University, 6 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00303.htm.
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 3A—Lesson Five,” International Catholic University, 6 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00305.htm.
iii. Ibid.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What is a “morality of intention”?

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.

A morality of intention is a morality in which one does what is right (the law) for the correct reason (love of God and neighbor). We commonly hear about a distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Typically, these phrases are invoked when an overly literal interpretation of the words in a legal structure are applied with little consideration for the intent or the circumstances. Our situation today is not much different from the time of Christ. However, the situation was compounded by the addition of an Oral Torah—not the original written Law, but the interpretation of that law by scribes and rabbis in the Mishnah and the two Talmudim. However, as Ashley notes, the point of abiding by the letter of the law rather than the spirit was often done with the intention of finding a loophole—an excuse for not fulfilling some other obligation. Perhaps the most direct accusation Jesus makes against the Pharisees is just this: tithing mint and neglecting weightier matters, or as He also puts it, straining the gnat and swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). In Mark 7:9–13, He accuses the Pharisees of ignoring the fourth commandment to keep tradition.

This is not to say that the letter of the law is not important. Jesus Himself says that He is the fulfillment of the law and that “not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). Yet his concern is with right law rightly practiced. He wants hearts of flesh, not hearts of stone (Ezekiel 36:26); mercy, not sacrifice (Matthew 9:13, 12:7; Hosea 6:6). As Murphy points out, “The basic thrust of the Torah places the commandments and statutes in the context of divine love.” Ashley, too, underscores this point: “One must intend always the true goal of life, love of God and neighbor, and to reach that goal choose only means that will really lead to it.”

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 2B—Lesson Four,” International Catholic University. 6 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00304.htm.
ii. Roland Murphy, 101 Questions & Answers on the Biblical Torah. (New York: Paulist Press, 1996), 9.
iii. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00304.htm.
v. Murphy, 119.
Ashley, .

How do the Ten Commandments sum up all the rest of the moral Torah?

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.

The Torah is the center of the Tanakh (Jewish scripture), and it tells about the establishment of the covenant between God and the Hebrew people. Roland Murphy notes that these five books are foundational for the Jewish people and central to their identity. What is central to the Torah are the “ten sayings” (Aseret haDibrot) given to Moses as the basis for the Covenant, so the Ten Commandments are the center of the center. In the Ten Commandments, we have essentially two categories: those commandments pertaining to love of God (commandments one through three) and those pertaining to love of neighbor (commandments four through ten), as Jesus notes in Matthew 22:37–40. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees actually follows in a long line of tradition, first in alluding to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4–9), then to Leviticus 18:18 (CCC 2055). The great Jewish rabbi Hillel also responded in similar fashion and added, “All the rest is commentary.” While the Ten Commandments give us the basics, the rest of the Torah goes into detail on the practical aspects in some 613 mitzvot addressing the Mosaic moral, ritual, and judicial law, but all these laws can be subsumed under one of the Ten Commandments.

Benedict Ashley notes that each group of laws—moral, judicial, and ritual—all serve to help the People of God conform themselves in virtue to God’s service, but that they also point forward to fulfillment in Jesus. In addition, throughout the historical, wisdom, and prophetic books, we can see how these laws are presented in context. In 2 Samuel 12, Nathan condemns the adulterous actions of David at God’s prompting. In Tobit 4, Tobit exhorts Tobias to charity and justice using precepts directly from Leviticus and Deuteronomy (for example, Lev. 19:13 and Deut. 15:11). Finally, in the synoptic gospels, Jesus clarifies the teachings of the Decalogue, explaining the extent to which each law goes: that looking at a woman with lust is adultery (Matthew 5:28); that calling your brother a fool is held as liable as if he committed murder (Matthew 5:22). So in a very real sense, all of scripture interprets the Torah, and the Torah instruction is itself an elaboration and explanation of the Decalogue.

i. Roland Murphy, 101 Questions & Answers on the Biblical Torah. (New York: Paulist Press, 1996), 9.
ii. “Aseret haDibrot,” 2008, Temple Emanu-El, 7 February 2010, http://www.templesanjose.org/JudaismInfo/Torah/tencommand.htm.
iii. “Hillel,” About.com: Judaism, 7 February 2010, http://judaism.about.com/library/2_history/leaders/bldef-p_hillel.htm.
iv. Tracey R. Rich, “A List of the 613 Mitzvot (Commandments),” 2007, Judaism 101, 7 February 2010, http://www.jewfaq.org/613.htm.
V. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 2A—Lesson Three,” International Catholic University, 6 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00303.htm.

Why must the Bible be read in the context of Sacred Tradition?

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.

The fundamental teaching of the Church regarding Divine revelation is that Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition ultimately come from the same source. As Dei Verbum states, “Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out of the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal” (DV 9). We recognize that Christ, in scripture, did not guarantee that Sacred Scripture would be protected and guided by the Holy Spirit but that the Church would be (Matthew 16:18–19; John 14:16). Our trust in scripture arises through our trust in the Church and Sacred Tradition. St. Augustine himself said in his response Against the Epistle of Manichaeus called Fundamental: “For my part, I should not believe the gospel except as moved by the authority of the Catholic Church.” The biblical canon as Christians know it is dependent upon the authority of the early Church, hence, upon Sacred Tradition. The development of the New Testament scripture depends upon the Apostolic Tradition if it is to have any authority whatsoever as the message persisted for the first twenty to thirty years with no written texts but by word of mouth. One of the notable elements of Raymond Brown’s text is his deference to the judgment of the Church where scripture is either silent or ambiguous.

In addition, the Church has taught consistently that sacred Scripture must be understood in light of its literal sense—that is, the sense in which its human author intended. In order to adequately understand the literal sense, one must understand the cultural context and language. For the New Testament, at very least, this context is the very sacred Tradition that gave rise to the text. In addition, these texts present the teachings of Christ in light of His authority over the Law as the fulfillment of it. The sacred Tradition to which we refer is the tradition that preserved this teaching and passed it on with the Magisterium as its servant (DV 10). To read scripture outside of tradition is to expose it to the vicissitudes of contemporary whim.

i. Augustine. “Against the Title of the Epistle of Manichæus Called Fundamental.” Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 8 February 2010 http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf104.iv.viii.vi.html.
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 1—Lesson Two,” International Catholic University, 5 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00302.htm.
ii. Raymond Brown, 101 Questions & Answers on the Bible, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), 24–26.
iii. Pontifical Biblical Commission, “The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church,” 23 April 1993. Catholic Resources for Bible, Liturgy, Art, and Theology, 21 January 2010, http://catholic-resources.org/ChurchDocs/
PBC_Interp.htm.
iv. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00302.htm.

What is Canon Criticism and the hermeneutic circle?

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.

Canon criticism is the Catholic principle that scripture must be interpreted within the context of the whole canon of scripture. Specifically, we must avoid taking texts isolated from the rest of scripture in an attempt to formulate moral principles from them—a “proof text” approach to moral theology and interpretation. Instead, we must interpret parts of scripture by the whole and the whole by the parts. Scripture is, as Raymond Brown asserts, not a book but a library of books. In it, we find a variety of works of various types: poetry, instruction, parable, history (of a sort), and other types as well. Looking at any single book of scripture, one can get a very narrow understanding of a moral law. However, throughout the books of the bible, we can see the moral precepts being applied and interpreted. Indeed, while each book has one or more human authors, scripture as a whole has one divine Author, the Holy Spirit. Because of this continuity of inspiration, what we read in one part of scripture sheds light and interprets other parts of scripture.

Canon Criticism, then, is interpreting a text in light of the whole. This approach to scripture finds modern expression in the concept of the hermeneutical circle introduced by Benedict de Spinoza, developed by Martin Heidegger in the early 20th century, and elaborated by later philosophers such as Paul Ricoeur and Hans-Georg Gadamer. In this formulation, interpretation is a process of going from part of the text to the whole and back until one can gain a proper understanding. We can detect the germ of this notion in medieval thought, particularly in interpretation by the four senses of scripture, particularly the allegorical sense. In addition, the modern hermeneutics began to recognize the necessity of the historical and cultural context in this dialogue. For Catholics who view Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as two streams from the same source, this approach follows quite naturally.

i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 1—Lesson Two,” International Catholic University, 5 February 2010, .
ii. Raymond Brown, 101 Questions & Answers on the Bible, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), 30–31.
iii. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00302.htm.
iv. “Hermeneutics,” 9 November 2005, Stanford Encycolpedia of Philosophy, 6 February 2010, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/hermeneutics/.
Ibid., sect. 1.

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.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Why is a revision of moral theology necessary today?

NOTE: This is the first of many 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.

During the period prior to Vatican II, a certain legalism seemed to predominate, where strict adherence to the rules was encouraged while the motivation for obedience often was not clearly tied to the gospel message. Such was not the case in early Christian history, when the early Church Fathers and the fathers of the Monastic Period, when homiletics, polemics, and meditations drew from scripture for inspiration. Two factors contributed to the tendency toward legalism in the earlier part of the 20th century. First, the Nominalists of the Scholastic period (1100–1600) espoused a volunteerist morality, less about the goodness of an action but its adherence to the law imposed by God’s sovereign will—beneficial or not. By the time of the Reformation, much of the legalistic mindset of the Nominalists had imposed itself on Catholic thinking. In addition, because of the emphasis that Protestants put upon scripture, particularly with their doctrine sola scriptura, Catholics became more reserved in their reliance on Sacred Scripture as the guiding principle for their moral lives, focusing more on catechisms and readings of the lives of the saints to avoid the doctrinal conflicts that could result from literalistic personal interpretation. In Living the Truth in Love, Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P., rightly warns against such fundamentalist readings.

Ashley also points out that some contemporary theologians consider the moral precepts of scripture to be so historically conditioned as to render any specific moral rules to be obsolete for us today. These theologians rely more on natural law and philosophical ethics with no scriptural foundation. Nonetheless, Vatican II stressed a return to the sources of Christian morality—scripture and tradition—noting in Dei Verbum that “[s]acred theology relies on the Written Word of God, taken together with sacred Tradition, as on a permanent foundation” (DV 24). Moral theology, a subset of sacred theology, must be grounded in revelation to provide the guidance necessary for Christians living in the relativistic secular culture of today’s western world.


i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 1—Lesson Two,” International Catholic University, 5 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00301.htm.
Ibid.
ii. Raymond Brown, 101 Questions & Answers on the Bible, (New York: Paulist Press, 1990), 43–48.
iii. Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology, (Staten Island: St. Pauls, 1996), 8.
iv. Ibid., 10.
v. Ashley, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00301.htm.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Historicity and Sacred Scripture

One of the interesting things about the New Atheists is that they take essentially the same position as Biblical fundamentalists when they read scripture. They take it word for word as if it is meant to convey facts in a literalistic fashion. Their response, of course, is different from fundamentalists. While the latter accept it as a word for word account of what happened, the former compare it to their own world view and reject the whole thing.

I'm happy that as a Catholic I am not bound to such an impoverished perspective when I read and interpret scripture. I understand that the written scripture of the Old Testament developed over a period of time and that it is not all to be taken as literal history, nor is it to be confused with a scientific presentation of the ancient world. The New Testament gospels, unlike the older scripture, is largely historical, although not in the blow-by-blow narrative form we accept as history now days.

This understanding of scripture goes back to the early Church Fathers. St. Augustine wrote several incomplete works on the literal interpretation of Genesis and in another work noted that we shouldn't present the first chapters of Genesis as if they were a scientific presentation of the creation of the world. My favorite example to illustrate the problem with reading scripture like a science textbook comes from the Wisdom of Solomon 7:1-2:

I also am mortal, like all men, a descendant of the first-formed child of earth; and in the womb of a mother I was molded into flesh, within the period of ten months, compacted with blood, from the seed of a man and the pleasure of marriage.


Scientifically, there are obvious problems with this statement. It is not a medically precise description of conception and pregnancy. However, given the understanding at the time, anything other than this description would be anachronistic and would likely cause people to raise their eyebrows. Such precise scientific language would be inappropriate in that context.

Now, none of this is to say that we should dismiss any historical relevance of Hebrew scripture. Here's a case in point. In 1 Samuel 14:4-15, Saul and his son Jonathan are facing down the Philistines at Michmash, a town on the road to Jerusalem from the north. Jonathan grows restless and takes his armor bearer through a hidden pass and attacks the Philistine encampment from behind. The camp is thrown into chaos, and the remainder of Saul's army takes advantage, putting the Philistines to rout. It's one of those stories about the glory of Israel that may or may not be factual. Who knows? However, we are free to see it as historical if we wish, so long as we don't put it at odds with another teaching of the Church, and it certainly can teach us something regardless of whether it happened exactly as it occurred.

However, it is dangerous to claim that any story is devoid of any historical accuracy. In World War I, the British under General Allenby were facing off against the Ottoman at Michmash. Major Vivian Gilbert recalled the place name from scripture and went to 1 Samuel to recall what he had read there. Using the information from scripture, he found the hidden pass mentioned in 1 Samuel 14 and used it to out maneuver the Turks, and the British took Michmash.

So it's important, then, not to assume either extreme. There may very well be much that is historical in Hebrew scripture. However, if we insist on reading Hebrew scripture as history or science, we miss the point of it, which is often to tell an edifying or instructional story (mashal or pl. meshamlim). The narrative is there to instruct us about the truth God wants us to know. That may or may not involve the military history of ancient Israel. It very likely has to do with learning to put our trust in Him.