We have Gospel accounts of what Jesus gave. Everything is summed up by loving God with all your heart and mind, and your neighbour as God loves you. Christian morality consists of the love of God and the recognition of each other as children of the same Father. Augustine said teach the Ten Commandments, and then added – there are only two commandments! He evidently could not just teach the last piece of advice on its own, without first giving instruction on the Ten Commandments. So, is there any difference between Jewish and Christian moral teaching? Some have said the Jews follow the letter, Christians follow the spirit. Nothing could be more false; there is no difference of this kind between the two. Jesus did not teach a moral theology. He accepted the Jewish Law – he obeyed everything, including ritual laws, unless there was conflict with what the Father was asking of him in his vocation.
He tried to offer the insight by which living according to God’s law is simple – to be worried about regulations rather than whole-hearted service was far from the will of God. Jesus’ basic moral demands: repentance, faith and discipleship. There is no New Testament code of morality; Christian ethic is open to the future, to new demands in new situations.
We need codes of behaviour as support and guidelines, but we also need to be alert to the invitation of God hidden in everyday circumstances. No code can predict the possibility of Grace and salvation, the opportunities for loving response to anyone at any time. There is only one occasion when Jesus says there is a New Commandment – that we love one another as he loves us.
Veronica Geurin lived and died for the truth, not to obey regulations.
What must we do to be open to Grace? There are two ways to answer this – the first seems the correct one. The effort of the whole community is involved; an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust through which we try to come to an understanding of truth and are willing to receive it – whoever it is comes to such an enlightened position. The second answer seems self-defeating. Since intellects are clouded by sin, God must have instituted a guaranteed channel – the channel Catholics adhere to is the Magisterium of the Church. If the Pope declared something to be natural law it was guaranteed to be right reason.
This second view is self-defeating because it combines two sources of morality into one. Only authority is left, for reason and common sense have been eliminated. The point of the natural law was to guarantee a place for reason to show the continuity between reason and revelation. It makes us passive in our responsibilities, leaving only an obligation to obey commands. This sort of reasoning led to the rise of Nazism.
There is something else to consider. Common sense judgments do not come out of the blue; they are formed in particular situations, from actual experience. The difference between the two is highlighted by the common reaction to Humane Vitae of Paul VI, when many understood it as infallible teaching. However, if everything is not decided by right reason, we need to ask: are all moral teachings controlled by the Church, and therefore the Church can change them; or, have some questions been decided by Jesus so that they can never be changed? For instance the issue of divorce.
Friar Austin is back, talking over what Theology has to say to us today in the area of morality and responsibility.
A similar development to that around original sin is found in Church teaching on personal sin, our understanding of morality. We have had to ask how to decide what is the right thing to do in matters as yet never experienced – organ transplants, ways of controlling the frequency of births – as well as questions concerning the morality of public life. In a society that doesn’t change much a code or commandments for people to obey suffices; even without people knowing why something must or must not be done. Obey the rules and you are in harmony with God.
In the past Christian theology compiled its code, and it became very elaborate and detailed. We had volumes of moral theology textbooks. First, they were intended for confessors, to help with actions already done. However, the manuals affected preaching. Preaching and teaching are very different from what happens in the confessional. The Church turned to two sources in compiling the manuals – one was the already existing Church teaching; the other was common sense or right reason. The reason they appealed to common sense [natural law] was because morality is not arbitrary. God doesn’t invent rules at whim. The right thing to do is what is always in harmony with the plan of creation. Life is not absurd and eventually everything will make sense. Because we have reason and practical common sense, we thereby share in the creative wisdom of God, and can figure out what to do.
What we call natural law is accessible to everyone because it is a matter of reason, but it became evident that highly intelligent people did not always agree on the right answers to moral issues. Catholic theology says that our intellects are clouded by Original Sin through our involvement with the sin of the world; an unbiased judgement is by no means always possible – uninfluenced by personal likes, convenience and sympathy. This is a matter of observation – and is another aspect of our need for redemption through Grace.
The evil in unredeemed desire is far deeper than the law could engender – which is why we are told that anger = murder and lust = adultery. The way evil cannot touch is forgiveness. We need to learn to desire without the need to compete, blame or measure ourselves against. We need to be free to relish good wherever it is found – but who decides what is good?
God gave a prohibition for our protection – which we have consistently ignored – not to eat of the tree whose fruit is knowledge of good and evil. But seeing something withheld led to rivalry and envy – we’ll show him – we’ll do it our way. Paul tells us that the Law is not sinful – Romans 7.7. – I was once alive apart from the Law, but when the command came sin sprang into life and I died. Paul sees the Serpent not as the Devil but as sin. Desire is a gift of God, but not when disfigured by envy. We have victimised the Law making it an instrument of redemptive violence, and locking ourselves within the shadow of death.
Desire turned to envy made what should have been the irenic way to life into the sphere of rivalry, envy and exclusion. Now all life is infected [universality of OS] by such distorted desire – they saw that they were naked – all this through ignoring that prohibition that was there to ensure our well-being.
It is my awareness of me as “I” that results from knowing other than me. Paul insists that it is Faith that allows us access to desire redemption, to desire in ways that owe nothing to envious rivalry. Sin means my “I” is not in control but is itself controlled by distorted desire. What is needed is the way of living that Paul describes as: It is no longer I but Christ living in me [controlling my “I”] – Gal.2.20.
Jesus shows that Original Sin is not of our essence, it is simply evidence of a faulty foundational principle [way of life]. Paradoxically, what Jesus was founding was subversion of the notion founding – in the sense of achieving identity by comparison over against others. It is totally gratuitous in every way… something that existed long before our capacity for distorting desire ever happened. Before Original Sin there is Original Grace.
The tragedy of Original Sin is not that it is universal, but in the universality of the new people we discover what is possible for “I” – to become enabled to move from the universal to the particular; whereas conversion requires recognition of our equality as the foundation of human dignity; unity in diversity, equal but not the same. Original Sin is what we are leaving behind when we take new life seriously. We realise the reality of Original Sin through those who have been set free from it. As Jesus told Nicodemus – we must be born into a new way – not going back and starting again. – Jn.3.3. Death was seen as an extrinsic punishment for sin – we all sin, we all die! Death and sin are connected – distorted desire cannot bring life, since only God is life!
Sin is seen as casting out Jesus. Jesus has no problem with the so-called sin of being blind, nor with the adulteress, only with those who seek to exclude them. He is pointing out that sin is the mechanism of exclusion – sin is not why there is exclusion but the exclusion itself. Blind from birth goes to the original aspect of sin, back to human birth in the very beginning. Jesus is presented as the Light of the world. We are all blind, but blindness is compounded by complicity in the excluding; now blindness becomes culpable. Jesus is forgiveness of sin, holiness and righteousness are love made flesh in the circumstances of being victim. My first awareness of my sin [not just awareness of evil] comes through recognising my complicity. Being wrong is not the issue, being wrong can be put right, it is the insistence that we are right that shackles us in original sin.
In the first eight chapters of Romans, Paul focuses on the righteousness of God. Wrath is not vengeance in God, rather is it the handing over of God, God’s non-resistance to human evil, the handing over of the Son and our killing him. Law provides knowledge of sin, and rather than being salvific is immersed in the world of mutual judgement and recrimination. Law increases sin, is death-dealing, whereas Resurrection means that new life in Grace comes through righteousness.
Sin is forgiven through faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead. The Law is problematic in presuming that people are just through knowing good and evil. Not only does law not allow us to become just, but it locks us into judgemental attitudes as if we were among those who know themselves to be saved. The death of Jesus shows how sin is compounded by law. Christ is the end of the Law, that everyone might be justified who has faith… Romans 10.4. the Law achieved its purpose in Jesus’ death. Universal sin is linked with death: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death came to all people, because all sinned… Romans 5.12. Death was not invented by law, because sin was present pre-Law from Adam to Moses.
The end of the Law: John welcomes Mary, the Lord’s mother, after the crucifixion. St Mary’s Rye, Sussex
I am created a human being, capable of receiving God’s grace. In order to give himself freely God freely creates personal beings. Thus is there union between God and humanity in Grace – somewhat analogous to the Incarnation wherein there is communion of two natures without fusion or separation. This means that in any concrete situation it is never possible to isolate what is nature from what is Grace.
Grace is the wonder of creation as evidence of God and God’s love. It is concentrated in humanity. Human charm and beauty reflect God: “Because you love me, you make me lovable” says Augustine. The reason why love of enemy is seen as grace-full is because there is no sense of recompense in it, it is entirely gratuitous, and calls for the involvement of the will.
In speaking about his own conversion [Gal.1.13-16] Paul refers to a before and an after. Nothing suggests conversion was going to happen, it came as gift. But this gift did not “begin” on that road; it was from eternity. For Paul, Grace is the experience of God desiring him.
Tradition refers to Christ and the Spirit as the two hands of God reaching out to embrace us. Unfortunately, the elaboration of the role of the Spirit did not receive the same detailed attention as did Christ. Yet both are crucial for a proper understanding of Christianity – Easter and Pentecost.
Prior to Pentecost the Spirit was experienced as a nameless force, an invisible wind. With Pentecost the Spirit is named: the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ, and the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is deep within human experiences, rousing them to creativity and vitality.
St Aloysius, Somers Town, Euston, London.
History is not just the logical narration of events, it is about human beings fashioning themselves within the places and cultures that surround them, making choices, relating, seeking to belong. There are two aspects to this: the one [Immanence] is literally living out things as we find them; the other [Transcendence] allows us to rise above what is – I can accept or reject what is the given situation, I can be open to a future that has never happened before.
These are not separate entities, but different dimensions of one life. We are beings already fashioned yet still in the making! To speak meaningfully of God can only happen from within such experience. “Experience” is a compound of two words: “ex” [from or out-of] and periri [try, attempt, risk…], it also is associated with the Latin word peritia [knowledge gained from experience]. Experience is risk, based on some form of justifying knowledge, the radical experiences of individuals attempting to face up to life. This is how St. John talks about his awareness of Jesus: “what I have seen, touched and held in my hands, this is what I preach”.
My spirit is not a reality alongside my body. My spirit is me, the whole me, my manner of being in so far as it is open to transcendence, a yearning for the infinite. I have a natural need for “God”. But if it is natural, why is there such talk about supernatural? God created me to be one with God, and my life gives evidence of this. This is gratuitousness, it does not have to be there, and it is put there, within me. The gratuity becomes apparent from the experience itself: I long for God who is freely given, it is from love, not command or force or coercion.
Is it possible to let Grace do the talking, instead of talking about Grace? Can I know from experience that God loves me? The fact is that we live within Grace, what we are about is to seek how to know this and how to be in touch with it. Some have said that Grace comes only through the Church. First, it is not the Church that contains Grace; rather does Grace contain the Church – among everything else; though authentic grace always has an ecclesial dimension – i.e. it tends to show itself in the shape of community.
God and Christ are freely within the world and manifest themselves variously. The Church is one such manifestation – an explicit, conscious and guaranteed presence – but not the only one. Because Grace is divine nothing escapes its influence, even sin succumbs to Grace as the Resurrection shows.
How do we image Grace? Is it the loving attitude of God? Is it the means by which God liberates and justifies us? Is it some reality which surpasses all our thinking? Notice, all these turn Grace into a “thing”. It is something different, it is something freely given, it is some “thing”.
The Catechism called it a supernatural gift – but what is “supernatural”? By definition supernatural is not on the same level as natural. The Supernatural is God, uncreated, mysterious. We use the terms Grace and Supernatural as symbols of experience, meant to translate that experience for us. What kind of experience fits what is meant by Grace? Grace is not an entity existing independently on its own. Grace is related to human beings, before ever it is spoken about [and language does tend to separate the two]. Grace is a lived reality.
The Eildon Hills in the countryside where Duns Scotus was born.
From the Second Century to the time of Saint Augustine in the Fifth, Church teaching felt it imperative to defend God in the freedom of salvation against those emphasising self-perfection through sheer moral effort. The Twelfth Century saw Grace as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, emphasising God’s initiative. Duns Scotus – at the end of the Thirteenth Century – said grace is the supernatural habit of Charity, grace is a loving disposition.
What matters is that God’s grace is necessary for everyone. It is redemptive, healing grace in a broken world in which we have never seen anyone attaining natural happiness by human effort independently of God. Karl Rahner makes two points: in the historical situation in which we find ourselves we have been called by God to a life of grace. This call applies to everyone – pure nature people did not, do not and will not exist. Secondly, if grace has any meaning at all, it is God’s invitation, working at the core of human existence – working through our humanness, spontaneity and creativity – our ability to think and take possession of our being and make appropriate decisions. This means that Grace cannot be separate from the realm of experience. It can only be a change in the way we experience life. The supernatural cannot be regarded as beyond consciousness, if it were it would make no sense.
It is not necessary to suppose that God’s offer of friendship is communicated in an extra-sensory way outside our experience. It is communicated by the happening of Jesus in the world, and by the community of believers extending through history. So if we ask what difference Grace makes, it makes all the difference in the world to everything and everybody. But if we ask someone to point out exactly the effects of grace in a situation, in contrast to natural efforts alone – it is not a valid question. Grace is not parallel to nature, but transforms and sustains it. Everything that is a work of Grace is also a work of nature, there is no way of separating them and looking at them one at a time.
John Duns Scotus’ homeland in the Scottish borders.
Note what happened to Teilhard de Chardin – a Jesuit scientist specialising in Archaeology. He was captivated by the theory of Evolution and the various ways it might be tested. Because he was a deeply religious man, he felt driven to integrate what he was discovering from the natural sciences with his understanding of salvation in Christ. He meditated deeply on Paul’s writings and early Church commentaries on these. He developed a magnificent vision of the universe and all of history shot through with Jesus Christ. He saw creation, redemption and salvation woven together in the unified process of evolution.
He suggested that through time, inanimate [dead] matter is drawn into such complex patterns that it develops an inner spontaneity and there is a breakthrough into living things. At a further stage – a breakthrough into reflexive self-awareness – human beings. After this, the process of evolution becomes conscious, when we know and project the goals we are striving for and the changes they are trying to make. Looking forward, the next breakthrough must be the immense unity of mankind bound together in relationships of knowledge and love – what he terms the Omega Point.
He next made a bold suggestion – not as a scientist but as a Christian believer – that we have a pre-view of the Omega Point – that the whole world is being drawn towards the second coming of Christ – which will be the breakthrough, the outcome of evolution – the Church, because Jesus is already within history, which is striving towards its fulfilment, concluding with Paul that all things were made in Jesus Christ – who is the pattern of the world from the very beginning. The goal of evolution is the Christification of the world. [His thinking appears in his Phenomenon of Man, though is perhaps more readable in his The Divine Milieu – nature and grace].
When this first saw the light of day it raised concern because it sounded as if God’s self-gift to us is not a necessity for us but utterly free. In the Hebrew Scriptures the relationship between us and God was described in terms of a covenant, binding duties and sometimes as sheer favour shown us by God. Whatever God was bound to was always the result of his promise, having bound himself. The Jewish understanding of covenant always looks back to Creation as the setting-up of the covenant. It seems that God, having created humankind, has bound himself to bring us into his friendship.
Our Lady and the English Martyrs, Cambridge, England.