Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Putting on the New Man of Christ

“Put on the new man, created after the
likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
(Eph 4:24)

The call of Jesus to be His disciples is a mandate to live the fullness of the kerygma. This kerygma is not abstract thoughts or ideologies, but a way of life that originates in the Living Word – a divine person- Jesus Christ. Moral Theology is part of this dynamic organism that transforms the very heart and life of the disciple beyond just mere human potential. For the Christian person is transfigured in Christ and truly made a new creature as he or she grows closer in personal holiness and their ultimate goal of eternal life and happiness.

Understanding this fundamental key to living a life in Christ is central to understanding Fr. Pinckaer’s distinction between fragmented and total approaches to Scripture. How can a moral person live and imitate Christ if they are not fully infused with the Living Word? Moral Theology is not an island that can stand alone from the rest of the kerygma, it must be soaked in the whole truth to be authentically lived.

For years modern ethicists have been picking apart the Living Word to prove certain norms for the moral life. This view of reducing the Word into human understanding at the most nominalist level can not but help to lead to a moral theology of obligation. Obligation only leads a person down the road of least resistance to living the moral life. Moral obligation does not challenge the believer to live fully in Christ which bears more abundant fruit beyond all human capacity.

This fragmented approach has many within the ecclesia concerned for its ramifications of the properly forming of the conscience of Christians. “In his apostolic exhortation Evandelii nuntiandi (1975), Pope Paul VI mentioned the split between the gospel and culture as “a drama of our time.” (Dulles 2004) Through the minimalist approach to moral theology there has been a wide gap formed between abstract ideologies and the reality of living a true moral life in a postmodern world.

As Monsignor Melina said, “Fragmentation means having a very deep interest in particular issues without having a vision of the whole reality… Church’s moral theology must focus on the integral liberation of the human person, not just on norms, in order to respond to the crisis of modernity.” (Melina 2004) Most recently our Holy Father spoke about this major issue facing all theology when addressing Catholic Educators he stated, “Intellectual charity upholds the essential unity of knowledge against fragmentation which ensues when reason is detached from the pursuit of truth.” (B. XVI 2008)

An ethicist that only uses the fragmented approach to scripture to explain moral theology greatly reduces the capacity for humans to truly live freely in the Truth. The ethicist using the fragmented approach to scripture seeks just the bits and pieces of the Word that are removed from any other religious or ethical traditions, thereby divorcing the Living Word from Himself. Anyone with common sense would know that fragmentation takes scripture completely out of context, which only brings moral confusion. Morality is much more complex in the fullness expressed through the Gospels and St. Paul’s teachings on the moral life. The fragmented approach has great limitations in shedding light on moral truths, because it only has part of the whole package. The truth is lost in the fragmented approach to scripture for its translations only offer shallow insights that lead to basic obligations and a nominalist approach to morality.

Fr. Picknaer explains that the Church Fathers and St. Paul had a much deeper, picture of the Scriptures and how it relates to the moral life. Their approach did not separate the deep truths to the practicalities of living a moral life in Christ.
“St. Paul’s moral teaching united dogma and morality closely and made no distinction between morality and spirituality, or even exhortation. Nor did it endorse the separation of transcendent and categorical levels. Those distinctions, as we know them, stem from a concept of morality focusing on obligation- a concept that had never occurred to St. Paul.” (Pinckaer, 133)

For these deep truths united with dogma and morality “are not simply dogmatic abstract statements; for St. Paul they are directly operative and effect profound change in the personality and life of the Christian.” (Pinckaer, 117) As our Catechism says, “Truth becomes visible in the mirror of God’s essence, because man can be rightly understood only in relation to God.” (CCC, 2052-82) Only by infusing itself with the Living Word can moral theology begin to grasp how the Truth relates to man and his actions.

“Saint Paul’s basic moral emphasis is not obligation, but happiness and salvation. Saint Paul reflects on the virtues leading to God, but he doesn’t give us a systematic lecture on morals. He’s referring to moral problems as they arise in his moral work. If the teaching of morals consists in moral imperatives, we will search for them in the Bible exclusive of faith, etc. To read Saint Paul, we should set aside modern moral categories. We also won’t discover New Testament morality by divorcing it from what is common with the Old Testament and what is obvious in Greek thought.” (Giertych 2003)

St. Paul had a deep understanding of the power of Christ to transform the very lives and personalities of the Christian person, for he had experienced it first hand. This reality poses an important question for ourselves. Do we as modern people truly experience the transformation of Christ in our lives if we are only concerned with moral obligation?

Repeatedly St. Paul taught that we are made into new creatures in Christ. Through this transformation the human virtues we naturally have are divinely altered. As Picknaer explains love “deepens and strengthens [human virtues], even enhancing them with a divine dimension.” (Pinckaer, 123) This leads to a person whose interiority is divinely informed with a Christ-like morality that is active in love and charity. Because of this transformation when a Christian is empowered by Christ to be the best, they are led to a total approach of understanding the scriptures where their moral lives and spirituality are united in the Living Word.

That is why St. Paul taught morality as he went, because the Gospel is for all peoples and all times. The scriptures have something new to say to us even today, for when the Word comes in contact with the reality of modern life, it has something to say in the now. This doesn’t mean that the divine truths behind those scriptures are changed but that they are the Living Word, that breaths and lives within us. As Fr. Picknaer states best, “St. Paul’s moral theory [is a] theory of action-with-Christ, or again, action-in-Christ.” (Pinckaer, 128)

Under just obligation moral life will fail for “no rules can be made that will apply perfectly to all situations, and in any case people can be remarkably cunning in complying with the letter of the law while undermining its spirit.” (Anderson, 92) The Patristic Tradition has the full truth that we all need the divine infusion of scripture into our moral fiber to lead truly Christian Moral lives. For only in a faith infused by the Living Word can the moral life “lead the Christian to see life as a service to Christ and devotion to neighbor” (Pinckaer, 122) thereby leading them to their ultimate end of happiness fully united in Christ in the kingdom to come.

Works Cited

Anderson, Carl. A Civilization of Love: What Every Catholic Can Do to Transform the World. New York: Harper One, 2008.

Dulles, Cardinal Avery S.J. "Challenges to Moral and Cultural Renewal." Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture. September 28, 2004. http://ethicscenter.nd.edu/archives/dulles.shtml (accessed November 24, 2008).

Giertych, Fr. Wojciech, OP. "Fundamental Moral Theology." Catholic Books Online Library. 2003. http://www.cfpeople.org/Boks/Moral/moral.htm (accessed November 24, 2008).

II, John Paul. Catechism of the Catholic Church. 2nd. Vatican: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1997.

Melina, Monsignor Livio. "A Look at Catholic Higher Education and the Future of Moral Theology." EWTN Online Library. March 18, 2004. http://www.ewtn.com/library/Theology/ZEDUMOR.HTM (accessed November 24, 2008).

Pinckaer, Servais. The Sources of Christian Ethics. 3rd. Washinton, D.C.: The Catholic University of America Press, 1995.

XVI, Benedict. "Meeting with Catholic Educators." Libreria Editrice Vaticana. April 17, 2008. http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_XVI/speaches/2008/april/documents/hf_ben-xvi_spec_20080417_cath-univ-washington_en.htm/ (accessed November 24, 2008).

Copyrighted December 2008 by Janelle M Wingert

The secret is to do with Great Love

“It is not the greatness of our actions that matters
but the amount of love that we put into them.” ~Mother Teresa

A moral theology of happiness gives humanity the opportunity to live the most authentic human life possible because of the transforming power of charity. Through charity all discussion of evil, sin, suffering, and free-will is given the potential to be transfigured into the highest good, thereby pointing the way to the ultimate end of eternal happiness. Modern ethicists diminish the role of charity within moral life to the greatest peril of mankind. For a moral theology of obligation will only collapse unto itself, for without the full truth what it means to be human within the moral framework, modern morality fails to give meaning to human life.

The modern school of a moral theology of obligation reduces the definitive meaning and purpose to the most pressing questions that all humanity confronts. What is the true meaning of evil, sin, suffering, and free-will within the mystery of human life? Modern ethicists, according to Fr. Pinckaer do not even attempt to find the essential meaning of these questions and often exclude those questions all together, for their theology of moral obligation reduces the human heart to less than it is meant to be. Through this reduction of the fullest potential of a human life, modern thought leaves a great emptiness for all humanity. For instead of seeking what Man truly longs for in the depth of his heart, man looks to pleasure, power, money, or any “god” to fill the void, what Fr. Picnkaer calls the “the chasm of meaningless.”

By failing to address the deep need to have true meaning in life modern ethics open the human person to become a slave to sin and obligation. Without true understanding of the innate dignity that the Lord has given to man in the gift of free-will, man gives himself away when ever he misuses the gift. Thereby through the disordered use of free-will, man becoming less human. Free-will is the gift that God gave uniquely to mankind and in its truest sense, where the human heart is truly free – free-will is the gift to choose goodness, beauty, and truth. Eve eating from the tree of knowledge was her misusing her free-will to supersede the Lord’s divine authority and understanding of good. From this single act man could see that which is not good within him and others. Concupiscence, the disorder of the human passions, is where the fallen heart brought death and suffering into the world. By rejecting the true meaning of free-will man gives himself away in a disordered manner which is sin. Through the choice to sin the human heart rejects its highest good and embraces the actuality of evil. Sin becomes the lack of anything good, beautiful, or true within a person’s action or evil acts.

By rejecting the highest meaning of human free-will, the definitive goal for happiness becomes impossible to be reached. For humanity can not cross the great chasm that has grown through his actions between his extreme good and his dehumanized self. The elemental struggle between the light and darkness of the human soul is undertaken within the deficient will.

Because of sins entrance within the world, evil has found the potentiality to dwell within creation and the human heart. Evil being the absence of all that is good, beauty, and true in its fullest significance. There are several forms of evil that manifest themselves within human life. Physical evil, the deprivation of anything good, can be human suffering from the lack of good, such as physical sickness or spiritual pain. Moral evil is caused by the free-will choosing against the will of God in any context.

Ultimately that which is worst is moral evil, for it does the most harm to the human soul. Physical evil can open the human heart to turn towards God with more ease, in contrast to the moral evil that turns the heart away from the divine will of God. Physical evil can befall the innocent and malicious equally, but the heart who freely chooses an intrinsic moral evil is acting freely with offensive cunning. So moral evil is the worst a human being can do in life and leads to the mortal death of the soul. Simply put those who do evil suffer the most harm then those who suffer from their evil actions. “Forgive them Lord, for they do not know what they do.”

Human suffering is caused as stated before by physical evil. Without a definitive understanding of human life and its meaning suffering becomes unbearable and can lead to despair-- the death of the soul. Just witnessing a funeral of those who do not have any faith is excruciating for death has no meaning, no purpose. To their minds and hearts it is the final end, and pointless. The grief is overwhelming to the human heart and thereby oppresses and crushes the spirit under its weight. Going to a non-Catholic funeral can be an intense experience of deprivation and darkness. Hope ceases to be.

But Christian morality has the supreme answer to all these deep abiding questions to life. For a moral theology of happiness has the answers every heart longs for, because it directs the heart to its supreme end and good. Every suffering the human soul experiences develops “meaning, value, and wholeness.”

Moral theology geared towards the eternal happiness allows charity to manifest itself in the most distressed events and places within human life. Suffering is the opposite of happiness. But it is only in suffering that a person is able to truly recognize true happiness. Through the deprivation of happiness most people are too busy within the confines of modern life and fail to recognize it before suffering visits them. In the midst of suffering they can not help but see that it is missing in their life. Suffering opens the door for genuine desire for the ultimate good and end of eternal happiness.

Also through charity suffering actually becomes a means to enter the Kingdom of God as Christ described in his Beatitudes. Through suffering a person is given the opportunity to love in a new way, to carry their cross per say. Suffering turns the human heart upside down and causes it to concentrate on those things that really matter in life. For in suffering the distractions of life are not as freely experienced as before. Through suffering a person is given the chance to look deeply within the self. If the suffering is then seen in light of the cross of Christ the soul can allow the suffering to be offered for the supreme good of not just themselves but for others. For suffering births hope and opens the heart to be cleansed and filled with divine charity of the Lord. Through suffering the human heart grows in its capacity for love, compassion, and solidarity. Suffering opens up the possibility of looking beyond the self to the greatest good of the other.
Charity in its essential consequence is sacrificial in its essence and true nature. Through charity the human heart is able to see the radiant beauty of the persons they are relating to through out their lives. Christian charity opens the heart to recognize the divine nature and beauty within all. This opens up major possibilities in transforming the very nature of morality. For no longer are moral actions just obligations, but they are actions to draw out the greatest good for others out of love. The ultimate end of the action taken is for the ultimate good, not just because someone is obligated to do something. “God sees the heart of man.” An action maybe good and moral, but it is the root of the heart that motivates the action taken and if that root is lifeless and done without love, it is not a fertile authentic moral action. The moral action of obligation is fake and superficial. Self-love even in the act of generosity is still self-seeking and not an act of love. For true generosity does not seek any award of any kind. Christian love and charity is a call to die unto the self. A moral action should be a gift of self to the other, either to God or another person, completed out of love.

The one who is truly living a moral life focused on the ultimate eternal good is a person who will bare the fruit of the Holy Spirit within their Life. Through humility the human heart can manifest the perfect self-love that truly acts in true charity towards another.

The supreme meaning of charity with moral theology is the perfect Charity, God who is love. For within the divine nature of God to be love, he can take any situation in human life and work it towards the ultimate good of man. That means evil does not have the final say in all things. God is infinite and knows and understands all things. Through His eternal self, he constantly lives within the divine moment, where everything that ever was, and ever will be is completely presence within the divine moment. He knew that in allowing free-will he was allowing the potentially of evil to be present in the world and human life. God is fully aware of every choice a human will make before they make it. Which raises a big fundamental question in regards to moral theology? If God in his divine and perfect will thought it of the utmost importance to give man free-will, then the choice man makes to do good or evil is so vital the relationship between man and the divine. God did not want automatic robots that would always do his divine will. He wanted his creatures made in his image and likeness to truly freely love him wholly and entirely through an act of free-will.

So the moral theology of happiness that is discussed within Fr. Picknaer’s book is crucial to embracing the fullness of the meaning of human life. For through God’s divine revelation within the beginning of creation -- the universal the foundation for the proper understanding of the moral life was set down and is seen within the context of charity for the ultimate goal and end of complete union with God. Mother Teresa said it best, “There are no great things, only small things with great love. Happy are those.”

Copyrighted October 2008 by Janelle M Wingert

The "Truth" will set us free!

"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (Jn. 8:32).

As Saint Paul confirmed in his letter to the Romans, “what the law requires is written in their hearts,” true morality is a movement within the heart of man enlightened through faith and reason. For all who are on the straight and narrow path of a Christian moral life have the deep abiding moral knowledge required to reach eternal happiness or finality. Any moral argument that negates this truth threatens the intrinsic nature and dignity of the human person. The interior fontal knowledge that Fr. Picknaer upholds in his book “The Sources of Christian Ethics” is a truth we must continue to defend for it is our birthright the Creator has given to all mankind created in His image and likeness.

Fr. Picknaer’s discussion within his book is a perfect fit for building a foundational understanding of the definition of ethics and moral theology. The lesson defines ethics as “the science of human conduct as known by natural reason; the activity of moral reasoning.” Moral theology is defined as “the science of human actions insofar as they are directed by natural reason and divine faith to the attainment of supernatural destiny.”

Human ethics asks the question “what should man do?” Most modern ethicists according to Picknaer only look at this question at a very shallow level which he calls positivist knowledge. Positivist sciences have a general method of analyzing behavioral actions in a way that looses the human person completely through its apersonal focus. Humanistic ethics concentrates on external actions through a rigorous observation of facts that can only be perceived by the senses—in other words only seen by the observer. Through these observations the ethicist is able to formulate laws around the actions observed. This is to be done with complete objectivity. For any human being this complete objectivity is impossible, because all humans are influenced by deeper realities then just those that are “observable facts.”

Ethics can not stand on its own if in the name of modernism it rejects the idea of truth in the fullest context. Moral theology has a more complete view of the human person and the moral actions that an individual takes. The human heart is a very deep reality and can not be negated when it comes to the influence it plays in the daily actions of human beings. Human beings can not be placed within the narrow box of just scientific knowledge, because there is an element of the human life that can not be explained through scientific or positivist knowledge.

Ethics or moral reasoning asks the single question “What should man do?” We must know “what man is?” first to truly comprehend how man should behave. Just judging morality through the lenses of moral obligation without love and full discernment endangers the human person to become a lost sheep to the world of impulses or “observable facts.” To search for just quantitative information in order to judge the moral obligations within the given context of a human life is to miss a whole other capacity of the human experience. Living a moral life within the murky waters full of the currents of relativism and “broadmindedness” in this post-modern age with this narrow minded view threatens the true freedom of the human spirit.

John Paul II explained the struggle between human based ethics and God centered moral theology within his encyclical, Veritatis Splendor (84), “Pilate’s question: ‘What is truth’ reflects the distressing perplexity of a man who often no longer knows who he is, whence he comes and where he is going…man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation. The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil. This relativism becomes … a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, who guides man with moral law…when all is said and done, the law of God is always the one true good of man.” The danger of some post-modern thought within the field of ethics is that anything goes in the name of “freedom” which threatens morality at its core-- for then there is no true freedom—“freedom” meaning the full potential of the human person to do the good, thereby becoming the truest good.

Human beings are spiritual beings and moral theology takes the spiritual nature of the human person into perspective. This view of the moral life is explained thoroughly within Fr. Picknaer’s discussion of Christian morality and gives a strong foundation for the true intellectual and spiritual capacity of moral theology.

Moral Theology asks deep questions when looking at the actions or behaviors of the human person. As Fr. Picknaer explains that moral knowledge “comes into being through dynamic reflection on human actions.” Moral theology goes to the origin of human actions, or what could be called the heart of the matter. Moral theology is theological because it focuses on how faith enlightened by revelation and the Holy Spirit pierces the depths of the human soul. These deep internal movements of the heart have no quantitative means of measure, for these inspirations are subjective to the unique heart in relationship with the divine and their previous life experiences.

Fr. Picknaer so eloquently reveals a special type of knowledge which must be recognized by the ethicist if the source of human actions is to be fully appreciated. This knowledge he calls fontal knowledge. Fontal knowledge is that innate gift that the Lord planted in all human hearts, His “law written in our hearts.” Through this knowledge the human being is able to recognize truth, goodness, happiness, and moral reality. This fontal knowledge Fr. Picknaer says isn’t even our subconscious, he calls it “superconscious.” It is very difficult to adequately explain this knowledge because everything infinite is difficult to put into finite words. Every human being has this innate part or grace within themselves that pierces the deepest part of their being.

The simplest way to illustrate this is to watch children play a board game and then reflect upon the reaction when someone is caught cheating. They are so quick to point out that cheating is wrong and that it is not fair. They innately know when something is good or something is bad, they just can’t explain how they know. As human beings dealing with much harder decisions at times, the best thing to do is to allow our fontal knowledge direct our actions. If a person has to stop and think if they should do something, it probably means they shouldn’t. The Lord’s divine influence on the soul is giving a little warning or caution to think something through before taking an action. This fontal knowledge also comes into play in crisis situations. As in those heroic actions humans take in helping someone else in need, even when saving the other may put them into grave danger.

This fontal knowledge is rejected by Ockham and others who see human actions as being separated from any outside influences or divine interventions. Moral theology is a science of the divine in relationship with human life. This is a divine science that is enlightened by truth, beauty, goodness, and moral reality. Fontal knowledge is the source of all our moral or immoral actions is so far as the human heart can choose to follow the divine inspiration within the heart or reject it. That is where free will comes to play within the complex and dynamic movements of the heart that lead to human action.

Moral theology needs to look at all of the influences that come to play in the actions that a human being makes. Even behavioral sciences have something to offer for the full understanding of morality. For everything within a human person’s experience influences the choices they make. The harm that behavioral sciences can cause to morality is the denial of the spiritual dimension to human life. For those who follow the just the positivist knowledge of the moral reality around them, see only part of the picture.

Those who live their life based on moral obligations and “going with the flow” risks the very real danger of conditioning their hearts to stop recognizing the fontal knowledge that the Lord has planted within their hearts. Ethical relativism removes all moral reference point for mankind to follow. It rejects truth. This danger is not just for the individual but for society as a whole, for society is loosing its soul as well.

As John Paul stated “morality – founded upon truth and open in truth to authentic freedom – renders a primordial, indispensable and immensely valuable service not only for the individual person and his growth in the good, but also for society and its genuine development” (VS, 101.) If relativistic morality continues to take hold on all of society then the very moral fiber of society and true freedom with collapse. Moral theology has what all science and mankind need. Through moral theology mankind finds a focus and center that embraces the whole of human experience which doesn’t run contrary to human freedom and life.
Moral knowledge is enlightened and “supermoral” when united in love for God and for the other. Moral reality is a choice or a commitment for a person or a society who chooses to live in the Spirit, to grow in virtue and personal holiness. Moral theology looks at the choices that persons make through out their lives and becomes a living testament to the interior live within their hearts and their divine destiny. Moral theology is a necessity for all humans and all society to truly understand what it means to be a human being. If the world would look to moral theology and practiced it at its deepest sense it would find –Truth—the only reality that will set us free.

Copyrighted September 22, 2008 by Janelle M. Wingert