Scriptures and Moral Theology Essay

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Moral Theology and Scripture

The Second Vatican Council stated that scripture should be the soul of moral theology. This study will discuss and illustrate how scripture can be properly used in moral theology. According to the work of Curran (1999) Catholic moral theology "has only recently begun to ask explicit questions about the use of Scripture in moral theology. In the manuals of moral theology before Vatican II the primary source of moral wisdom and knowledge was human reasons and the Scriptures were often used in a very uncritical way primarily as proof texts to support a point that was grounded in human reason." (p.49) Curran reports as an example of this "uncritical use of Scripture" is the question concerning killing an individual when that individual threatens one's life. It is reported that it has been proposed by "some manualiststhat one could, as a last resort, kill a person who insulted on by attacking one's honor, especially if the person so attacked was a noble person." (1999, p. 49) Curran notes how "culturally conditioned realities of hierarchy and honor operate in this justification." (1999, p. 49) Justification was sought through sue of the Scripture that speaks of how the tongue is more harmful than the sword. However, it is reported that Innocent XI "without commenting on this text, condemned the possibility of justly killing the attacker of one's honor even as a last resort." (Curran, 1999, p. 49) Curran reports that moral theology today acknowledges the necessity to assign to Scripture "a greater role in its development." (1999, p. 49) Curran states that this recognition was "made explicitly at Vatican II" however, before that time, a German theologian who is very renowned by the name of Bernard Haring, who taught in Rome had posited a "more biblically centered approached in his groundbreaking systematic moral theology -- "The Law of Christ." (Curran, 1999, p. 49)

I. Two Paradigms of Catholic Moral Theology (Blankenhorn, 2007)

Blankenhorn (2007) reports that everyone is "to some extent the product" of their culture and whether they like it, or whether they do not like it they are "influenced by modern developments in theology, philosophy, science and historical studies." (p. 1) Blankenhorn notes that the older generation was raised "with a catechesis that emphasized the Ten Commandments." (2007, p. 1) However, the younger generation is reported by Blankenhorn to be raised "with a catechesis that did not emphasize the Ten Commandments, and perhaps not much else either." (2007, p. 1) Blankenhorn states that while one might believe that "these two forms of catechesis are utterly opposed in their basic philosophies" and while to some extent this is true, Blankenhorn proposes that "in one sense, both forms of catechesis spring from the same root." (2007, p. 1) According to Blankenhorn the "moral thinking of ancient Christians...was quite different from the two types just described, or that of the older and younger generation of Catholics. Blankenhorn relates that the first catechetical text known is the Didache (110 A.D.) and is reflective of the "very old traditions probably going back to the middle of the 1st century. The Didache is striking in that it combines a very rigorous set of rules that are clearly based on the Ten Commandments with numerous allusions to Jesus' Sermon on the Mount. The Didache makes it clear that murder, theft and abortion are unthinkable acts for a Christian, while almsgiving is not optional for those who are not poor. Intertwined with these precepts are exhortations to pray and fast for one's enemies. The Didache is not interested in present a list of minimum requirements for Christian behavior.." (Blankenhorn, 2007, p. 1) Blankenhorn relates that the "pattern we find in the Didache can be detected throughout ancient Christianity. Much of the catechetical instruction of ancient bishops and priests took place in the context of their Sunday sermons. This means that their ethical instructions were almost always based on biblical stories, especially the Gospels. The teaching and example of Jesus became the primary foundation of ancient Christian morality ." 2007, (p. 1) Blankenhorn reports that the resolution of hard ethical questions in the minds of ancient Christians was answered by asking rather than 'what would Jesus do?' asking instead 'What did Jesus do?'." (2007, p. 1) However, according to Blankenhorn a synthesis of the stories of the actions of Jesus "and the Old Testament precepts is not easy." (2007, p. 1) Blankenhorn reports that many of the Church Fathers and early theologians "found a very handy model in pagan phi9losophy that enabled them to integrate these distinct sources. he model is none other than the cardinal virtues of prudence or wisdom, justice, temperance and fortitude. The virtues are habitual dispositions to use the mind, will and emotions well. Prudence is the habit of finding the best means to the end, justice is the habit of treating my neighbor with fairness, temperance is the habit of enjoying the good things of life in moderation, and fortitude is the habit of overcoming fear in order to stand up to injustice." (2007, p. 1) According to Blankenhorn (2007) since Vatican II "a revolution seems to have hit Catholic moral thinking. Today, we live in the era of the primacy of conscience. "Follow your conscience" is perhaps the most used ethical advice in Catholic circles. Many appeal to conscience to excuse themselves from the teachings of the Church or Scripture. Suddenly, everything seems up for grabs. But in fact, we are still stuck in the old modern paradigm. Today's frequent appeals to conscience are often made to create a space of personal freedom outside of the moral law. Conscience and the moral law are set in opposition, not in harmony." (p. 1)

According to Blankenhorn (2007) the "fruit of conscience is freedom, the ability to do what I want. Often, the moral law is approached with suspicion" and the example stated is the prohibitions of St. Paul "of homosexual behavior sound too much like his cultural prejudice rather than the Holy Spirit. The Church's strict teachings on just war or sex outside of marriage seem too many like the idealistic dreams of Vatican bureaucrats. Today's moral climate has found the obligations imposed by the lawmaker oppressive. The real problem is the way in which we view law, freedom and conscience." (2007, p. 1) According to Blankenhorn the irony is "that post-Vatican II "progressive moral theology" is in many ways operating out of the same assumptions as pre-Vatican II "conservative moral theology." The latter often taught us to obey the Bible and the Church without asking questions. Obedience was the one essential key to being morally upright. The former tells us simply to follow our conscience and not worry about obedience. Being true to yourself becomes the key to being ethical. Instead of following the arbitrary will of the divine or ecclesial lawmaker, we follow our own arbitrary wills. The will of the individual subject simply replaces the will of the outside lawmaker." (Blankenhorn, 2007, p. 1) The work of Curran (1999) notes that in discerning the "proper role of Scripture in moral theology, the Catholic perspective recognizes the many different levels involved in the systematic study of moral theology." (p. 50)

II. Osborne (2009) On Moral Theology and the Catholic Church

Osborne (2009) writes that "the theological foundation for holiness led many pre-Vatican II Roman Catholic theologians to argue that the holiness in the church is ontological. The ontological sanctity of the church is, therefore, the foundation for the moral or lived-out holiness of the church." (Osborne,2009, p.109) From this view "Ecclesial holiness provides an ontological foundation for ethical holiness." (Osborne, 2009, p. 109) However, from this point-of-view it is clear that "any call to change major structures in the church implicitly calls into question the ontological holiness of the church itself." (Osborne, 2009, p. 109) Osborne notes that according to Salaverri "apostolicity is the church's unending identity with the mission that Christ gave his apostles when he instituted the church." (Osborne, 2009, p. 111) According to Salaverri there is a three-fold meaning to apostolicity including the following three meanings:

(1) Apostolicity of origin is not simply a general identity but rather it is an essential identity between the constitution of today's Catholic Church with the constitution that was given b y Jesus to the apostles at a definite point in history. Only accidental modifications of this constitution are possible for the benefit of their respective communities;

(2) Apostolicity of doctrine is the objective and specific historical identity of the doctrine in today's church with the deposit of doctrine received and handed down by the apostles; and (3) Apostolicity of a succession is a phrase that means that there is an historical identity between the leadership in today's church and the leadership of the apostles. This identical leadership involves the power to teach, sanctify, and govern the Church. This power has been passed on historically by a legitimate form of succession. (Osborn, 2009, p. 112)

Osborne (2009) writes that a…

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