Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Lecture Notes III: Why Are We Catholics?

Rev. J. Bryan Hehir: Reasons, Questions, Reflections

Part III

Faith and Morality

Faith should be reasonable. It takes us beyond reason, but it should never take us beneath reason.

Reasonable faith asks questions. It is through questions that we grow.

To call something a "mystery" is to say that it is infinitely understandable and inexhaustible, not that it can't be understood.

As times change, there will be debates, which will lead either to greater certititude or to changes.

Being Catholic - It has concrete characteristics:
- It makes broad claims on us
- Every dimension of life is under the search for God
- We acknowledge private and public parts of our lives, but none are outside of our claim to be faithful Catholics
- In the West, we have the the highest educational level ever. It makes debate full and fulsome. Lots of testing and inner tension.
- Recent history and the abuse crisis have seriously eroded the trust factor in the community. This makes it harder to carry on the discussion.

Follow the logic of St. Paul.
- Paul's idea is that we still have to come to know who we are
- Then we will know what to do, and what our lives should be like

Who are we?
Look at our humanity, the way God has created us. What does it mean to be a human person?
- We use reason. We are rational beings. We give reasons for the rules that we have. We read Aristotle, but we also read the scriptures.
- We have a capacity for self-determination. We are not predetermined to act in a certain way.
- We are bodily, corporeal persons, not pure spirits.

Grace: A gift of God's life given to us in Christ. It is transformative. Grace perfects nature, it does not destroy it (Aquinas). Through it, we are given a new capacity to live. We are capable of things that our humanity by itself could not accomplish. It comes to us through the Holy Spirit in Baptism. It fits us like a glove, and takes the shape of our being and capacity.

What does it mean to be fully human and fully Christian?

Doctrines concerning holiness:
- God as Creator. It is a fundamentally good world. It is a fundamentally good humanity.
- However, in counterpoint, there is Sin. Original and Personal. Through Original Sin, the world has been scarred. The world is good, but flawed. We feel ourselves tilted towards evil.
- Jesus incarnate heals the scarred universe, but the capacity for sin is still there, always possible, although we are not predetermined to it because we are gifted by grace and transformed so that we can live in the Resurrection.

How shall I live, now that I am touched by God's Spirit?

If led by Spirit, you are not under the Law (St. Paul)

There are two sources of moral wisdom:

1) Revelation (scriptures). We come to them with an attitude of faith. Spirit talks to our spirit, and we are shaped over time.

2) Reason. God, through our reason, will teach us, in our effort to find moral truth.

Scripture has different types of literature.

Creation Story:
It cannot be read literally. There is truth here, but a certain kind of truth. You read poetry, for example, for a different kind of truth. From the Creation Story:
- Each of us is created in the image of God
- God's command to us to take the world and develop it. He has entrusted the world to us. The jobs we do, our vocations, the art we make... are all important. We should think of ourselves as "co-creators" (John Paul II)

Exodus and Deuteronomy:
- God has made a covenant with us, a bond, first with Israel, secondly, with us through Christ.
- Worship and fidelity in our moral lives is expected
- The 10 Commandments. Not everything in them is self-evident (ex: Can it ever be justified to take a human life?)

Wisdom Literature:
How to think about your life in concrete terms. Personal, comforting guidance.

Demanding language that resounds down through the ages (ex: How to treat resident aliens in the immigration debate)

New Testamant:
Different kind of thruth. Jesus knew the Law and the Prophets. Jesus says "I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill... You have heard it said... But I say..."
- Jesus radicalizes them
- Jesus universalizes them
- Jesus deepens and broadens them

Unique to the Gospel of Luke, we see the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son (Father). They both have an eye to the edge of the circle of life.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son could just as well be called the Parable of the Prodigal Father, because the story is about how the father moves first. God moves first. We don't beg for forgiveness. God grants it to us. Likewise, God gives us the capacity to move first to others.

Gospel of John:
Great emphasis is laid on the Incarnation. God comes to us in the human, works through the human, and consecrates through the human. The Incarnate Christ. Jesus as Lord. The moral life is how we walk behind the Lord. "The Way".

Acts & Epistles:
Communities of disciples grappling with these stories, demands, and teachings. All of St. Paul's communities are imperfect.

Sometimes the scriptures make it hard to act specifically. That's why we believe in using reason as well, as a second source of moral wisdom.


1) Complexity. The Word of God will always be true, but it came in a given time, in a given place, in a given culture - 1st century Palestine. How do we take these laws and teachings and apply them today? With reason.

2) The necessity of going beyond the community of faith. How do we talk to a wider community with different faith or with no faith?

3) The conviction that with the use of human reason, we can develop insights into the moral life. What does it mean to be a person? Animals live, die, relate, propagate, but we are different. We look at:
- The dignity of the person
- Our rights and duties
- The fact that we are bound to each other because of our shared humanity
- Issues of Church and State

What do you get with an Ethic of Revelation and an Ethic of Reason?

Imitation of Lord Jesus Christ, in our own time and way, embodying the Spirit of Jesus

1) Revelation
- The 10 Commandments mainly tell us what not to be
- The Two Great Laws (Love God, Love one another) take us in a positive direction
- Because we have been forgiven, we learn how to forgive
- As he gave himself to us, we give ourselves to others

2) Reason
- Ethics of Character
- Ethics of Choice
- Ethics of Community

Ethics of Character:
Virtues. We are a bundle of powers. We think, we know love, speak, relate, create... How do we give direction to the capacity God has granted to us?
- Truthfulness: We don't use our talents to deceive or defraud
- Compassion: We react to the suffering of others
- Justice: We live with others in fairness. We express a preferential option for the poor

Ethics of Choice:
Rules and principles. The scripture give us the 10 Commandments, but they are not self-interpreting in many ways. Much of Catholic moral theology expands far beyond the commandments.
- Distributive Justice: How we share burdens and benefits in this society
- Interpersonal Justice
- Social Justice: The kind and character of our laws.

Ethics of Community:
For whom do I feel responsible? How wide is my responsibility? To all other humans, but there is an Order of Charity (Aquinas).

How do we decide in the concrete? Through conscience (subjectively and objectively).

A capacity, an intersection of our reason and our will. It has 3 levels:
- Potential: The capacity to know the right and the good
- Process: Formation. How you cultivate the capacity
- Action

How does conscience get tutored?

In healthy tension with law.

- The Divine Internal Law: We don't get to see it, but it exists. God's own reasons.
- Natural Law: Our ability to see our place in God's plan through reason.
- Divine Positive Law: The Commandments
- Human Law: Canon and Civil

We struggle with conscience and law all through our lives.

We also have the authority of the Church. We often struggle with it. Law taught well enhances freedom, it doesn't diminish it.

The Church authority is a learning authority.

We live it out in our vocations. Don't forget we are shaped by God (through the liturgy). God lays hands on us in the liturgy. It is not just what we've become, but how we witness.

Next, Part IV: Catholics & American Pluralism


crystal said...

More good stuff.

Reasonable faith asks questions. It is through questions that we grow .... As times change, there will be debates, which will lead either to greater certititude or to changes. :-)

Sometimes the scriptures make it hard to act specifically. That's why we believe in using reason as well, as a second source of moral wisdom .... The necessity of going beyond the community of faith. How do we talk to a wider community with different faith or with no faith?

I think this what Fr. Reese was saying about the abortion debate - religious doctrine just doesn't work for non-Christians as a reasonable argument against abortion.

Jeff said...

Right. That's why the Church often makes use of natural law arguments when engaging the broader public on those kinds of issues.