Tag Archives: morality

18 February: What is Theology saying, XLIV: What is Christian morality?

What is Christian morality? In terms of content there is no Christian morality distinct from human morality. The Ten Commandments of the Old Testament and the precepts of the New Testament are simply human demands. But there is something different about Christian morality – just as people in Old Testament and New Testament times saw these human demands in the context of covenant with God and solidarity with Christ, faith today obliges us to see the demands of being fully alive as a response to the call of God.

What difference does Faith make? It puts before us the attractiveness of Christ’s life – one that bears fruit in Resurrection, and promises the same Spirit, the same energy to anyone interested. Sensitivity to his values lifts lives above the minimum of good manners – turning the other cheek, going the extra mile, foregoing legitimate rights for wider benefit. Belonging to a community of faith also makes demands – sharing a Sacramental life, which is not the case for non-believers.

Important as these differences are, the basic moral demand is to become what we are potentially – fully human: “God is praised when we are fully alive…” – Irenaeus. And we don’t grow alone. Our roots are in the earth, and life and health and growth emerge from our relationships – we are what our relationships let us be. A moral life is to be in a right relationship to all of these. Our love for God is only known via the test of service – “unless you did it to these…”!

Sin turns self into God – and pride, lust, avarice, abuse and aggression are the certain fruits. Sin is not a problem, problems can be solved, sin is an ever present mysterious reality, in the world, the Church and individuals. It is a reality to be concerned about, but not to be afraid of: “Where sin abounds, grace abounds even more” – Romans 5.20. Jesus is the forgiveness of sin, but unless we are convinced of our sinfulness, how do we recognise our need for him, or rejoice in what he makes possible?

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17 February: What is Theology saying, XLIII: Unhelpful ‘morality’.

I hope you can forgive me for looking at other chains of thought these last two months. This was only partly due to a computer putting on a hi-vis vest and going on strike. A new hard drive sorted that out. But it is good to have Friar Austin back! I’ve taken the liberty to add a couple of footnotes. Fr Rathe’s book gives something of a flavour of the Church just before the Council, when things were already beginning to change.

Can the inspiration of God ever be in conflict with the law of the Church? The whole prophetic tradition suggests that can happen. How do we test the spirit of an inspiration that suggests breaking the law? We must judge what is in line with spirit of the law. For example, the relaxation of fasting before Communion enables more people to receive the Sacrament.1

Unhelpful are: an over-simplifying notion of moral law; a preoccupation with precise measurements; disproportionate concern with sexuality; judgement of isolated bits of behaviour divorced from the whole person; punishment of sin seen in terms of an angry God; reconciliation seen as a means of shedding guilt; blind obedience praised as good behaviour by those in authority; concentrating on private morality at the expense of the social.

The perspective of Vatican II’s Moral teaching was to reject the blue-print model of the natural law – God’s plan. It presents life as gift, a fruit of the Spirit [Lumen Gentium 7.]2, and stressing personal dignity.

Conscience is not infallible, and it can be dulled by sin. Faith is conversion from sin, not once but continually; nowhere does the Church suggest that Scripture, Teaching… provide ready-made answers; we have to discern in the everyday of life. Moral challenge is not to keep the law in order to get to heaven, but to develop the full potential of what it means for me to be a human being. Gaudium et Spes 28 emphasises human development, even to loving enemies – i.e. involvement of will. [Part 2 of Gaudium et Spes3. is a treatise on values].

AMcC

1Monsignor Landru took us into the house where we enjoyed a glass of cold water before saying Mass. I wonder if the Holy Father ever thought of the tremendous refreshment he would be giving priests like ourselves, when he said: “Water does not break the Eucharistic Fast”. You have to go to the tropics, anyway, to appreciate cold water. From ‘ Mud and Mosaics – a Missionary Journey by Fr Gerard Rathe MAfr, Published 1961, available in full at http://thepelicans.org.uk/histories/history40a6.htm#top

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November 27. What is Theology saying, XLII: the Ten Commandments – there are only two commandments

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.

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Veronica Geurin lived and died for the truth, not to obey regulations.

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26 November: What is Theology saying? XLI – The point of natural law.

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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.

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26 June: What is Theology Saying XIII: Papal infallibility 4.

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The First Vatican Council attributed absolute authority only to God. It declared that the Pope possesses only that infallibility which God willed to give to the Church, whenever he solemnly and officially defines a doctrine to be held by the whole Church concerning faith or morals.

The question of morals is harder to pinpoint, because it is difficult to determine exactly what a doctrine concerning morals might be. The crucial point is that the Council recognises that the Pope, acting officially in the name of the whole Church, possesses that freedom from error that the whole Church possesses. The Council did not believe the Pope was above the Church with special access to truth, but that he could express the truth already held by the Church. The Pope is dependent on the faith of the whole Church, from which he draws his understanding of revelation. The whole Church means exactly that – the people of God along with clergy and theologians – all must be there.

If faith, as the response to God’s invitation, comes first and the attempt to formulate it in words comes second and is dependent on the uses of language and culture, then common faith can be expressed in different ways. If there is only one right answer and the others are wrong, then infallibility means someone is guaranteed to have the right answer. If there are several right answers, then infallibility has a different meaning. It can be expressed as a guarantee that with one specific formulation a belief is within the common Christian tradition, though there other ways of expressing it.

This would not mean that infallibility once formulated could never be changed. It could be rethought and restated by the same channels by which it first came about, though future generations should respect the words already used. Where the Catholic Church has traditionally used one way of expressing a doctrine, other explanations by Protestant and Orthodox Churches are not necessarily wrong. They may be expressing the same Christian faith from a difference in language, culture and society.

Defined dogmas have been brought up and discussed again [the different accounts of the Holy Spirit given by Western and Eastern Churches were discussed at the Council of Florence – 1431]. As long as the Church is alive, with believers trying to live-out their faith in their own time and place, there will always be new understanding and new ways of expression. Jesus said: the Sabbath is for man, not man for the Sabbath – he would say to believers worried over dogmatic formulations that these formulations are for believers, to sustain their faith, rather than the faith of believers being for the sake of keeping formulations intact.

The freedom to reopen discussion is important, because too many believers are finding that dogmatic pronouncements no longer sustain them in their life of faith in their present form. It is important because we are not true to the Gospel unless we retain our power to communicate with non-Christians and give a fully alive witness of what the Gospel and faith in Jesus Christ means to us in terms of living in the world we share.

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June 25: What is Theology Saying? X: Papal Infallibility III.

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Theologians agree that there have been only two papal statements that fall into the infallible category – the Immaculate Conception in the Nineteenth Century and the Assumption in the Twentieth. In both case the popes claimed to be giving expression to the faith of the Church as it could be traced back to apostolic times. In neither case did they give a philosophical or theological explanation of how these dogmas should be interpreted. They simply gave voice to the faith and practice of believers. What was being said about Mary expressed the ideals for which the Christian community was striving. Believers were not asking whether Marian doctrine was to be interpreted in a particular biological sense; they knew it had nothing to do with the purpose for which the teachings were being proposed. Neither did the papal definitions answer those questions, but simply encouraged devotion through which believers expressed their desire to live the Gospel.

Because most Catholics had assumed a static and unified Church organisation, it was easy to assume that this pattern was more or less set by Christ and should never be changed. The study of history shows that it was all changing all the time, and that it looked very different at some times, so much so that we have to ask what is of the divine and necessary plan and what is simply a human attempt to organise life in community as best serves its purpose. Whatever belongs to this category can obviously be changed again when the times call for it.

There is ongoing research into collegiality and the relation between pope and bishops. When Vatican I passed the Constitution Pater Aeternus there were two issues at stake concerning the pope. His power to command and rule in dioceses other than his own, and the question of infallibility. It is not possible to assume that the pope cannot make mistakes, or even fall into heresy. Classic Canon Law says: if the pope falls into heresy he must be deposed. The law considers it most unlikely, but provision must be made for the possibility. If they had held the hot line theory they would never have considered even the possibility of this happening.

Infallibility is severely restricted; an interesting point, because some believed – including some bishops – that the Pope was always infallible and could never make a mistake in teaching Christian doctrine. The Council clearly disagreed, attributing absolute authority only to God. It declared that the Pope possesses only that infallibility which God willed to give to the Church, whenever he solemnly and officially defines a doctrine to be held by the whole Church concerning faith or morals.

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6 May: What is theology saying today? I: How to change without losing the essentials.

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Secular society changes its laws, its structures and even what it believes. Most of us have been brought up to believe that the Church did not do this. The answers given in the catechism would always be valid; God guides the Church to teach truth.

Indeed, people worry when it seems the teaching is changing. Examples: more inter-faith dialogue; greater involvement of the laity in Church matters; relaxing the laws of fasting; changes in the Mass… People are entitled to worry about these things, and are entitled to ask questions before accepting such changes. Changes are not necessarily good. We need to know what to change without losing the essentials.

Theology tells us there is only one good way to discover the criteria for change – it is the common sense way of looking at the history of Church teaching. Teaching developed very slowly and even stormily over the ages.

Jesus did not give the Apostles a catechism or creed. They didn’t explain things as they are explained now. The Apostles and generations after them would not have understood the catechism. They probably would have said it went against the teachings of Jesus, and made everything complicated. The Catechism was accepted as Church teaching on faith and morals.

Church teaching has constantly changed and will continue to do so. But if we would understand what is happening now we need to ask about the process used for changing explanations of faith and the rules of morality in the past. Newman in the 19th Century was very concerned about this. As an Anglican he pondered the claims of the Catholic Church to make pronouncements about doctrine – how would one know what was a true development of doctrine and what was erroneous? The Protestant Churches at that time accused Catholics of changing the teachings of Jesus constantly.

Newman’s basic premise for change: doctrines are ideas, ideas always change because they exist, not in books, but in people. Ideas change as people change through varied experiences and new insights resulting from them. When our experience of living in our world changes because of new inventions and the discoveries of science, our ideas about everything will be shaped accordingly.

AMcC

Roman Gate, Lincoln.

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Autumn Lectures at FISC: “What is theology saying?”

austinFr Austin McCormack has been speaking on Thursday evenings this term: only three sessions remaining! I recommend these lectures to any Christian, including those from Reformation traditions who may wonder what we Catholics are all about. Please feel free to come to as many of these lectures as interest you.
Start time 19.00. You are asked to make a donation to cover expenses.
WT.
The subject of the course is:

“What is theology saying?”

8. 01/12: What morality did Jesus teach?
9. 08/12: Should we renounce the world or change it?
10. 15/12: Is there salvation in other religions?

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Are we listening? Open Lectures at FISC.

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September 10: Interruption: Evening Talks at FISC this Autumn.

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Our writer Friar Austin (AMcC) is proposing to offer the following series of talks next term. These will be given on Monday Evenings at 7.00 from 10th October (TBC).

1.  Can Church teaching change?

2. What did God really reveal?

3. What about Papal infallibility?

4. Explain the Eucharist.

5. Who is Jesus Christ?

6. What difference does Grace make?

7. Have we forgotten Original Sin?

8. What morality did Jesus teach?

9. Renounce the world or change it?

10. Is there salvation in other religions?

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