Friday, July 1, 2011


Historical Perspective of Moral Theology.

Man, with his free will and intellect, leads a dynamic life. He has grown and developed from the primitive ways of life into a more sophisticated one, brought about by the development in science and technology. His moral life is affected by growth in knowledge and technology and the changes brought about by them.

The Bible is one of the living testimonies affirming man's development in morality. The following is a brief description of the different stages of development of moral theology as it progresses in time:

1. The law of the Jungle.

The book of Genesis gives us a very symbolic presentation of man's primal stages of development. Adam and Eve representing the first men had lived a primitive life, like at first, not wearing anything and then later on realized the use of what is available in the environment.

The story of Cain and Abel also tells us the supremacy of physical and brutal force, which is the law of the jungle. In Tagalog, we call this kind of morality as "matira ang matibay" – survival of the fittest which is true among our Filipino tribal groups and barangays, even before the coming of the Spaniards who introduced Christianity as a religion, and up to the present time. Although there were already sets of codes followed by our ancestors like the Code of Kalantiao, the law known as "an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" still pervades. Hence, the physically strong member of the community lives and survives.

The use of force and violence in man's dealing with others is the striking feature of this law.

2. The Moral Law of the Old Testament.

The Old Testament part of the Bible, gives us accounts on the beginning of what is called the "covenant morality", based on the covenant relationship between God and His chosen people. The covenant relationship was further deepened and strengthened by the giving of the Decalogue, popularly known to us Christians as the Ten Commandments.

Today, our understanding of the history and our relationship with God helps us to understand the idea of this law, which is associated with our duty to God and to our fellowmen, and in the light of relationship – our covenant with God. This is the e covenant where God unites himself in love to his people.

The main idea and value of this covenant is in its stability and its steadfastness. Moses saw this himself, and preserved this covenant. He gave the chosen people the Ten Commandments, which have been valued greatly by his people.

There are two dimensions of attachments, namely: between the Chosen people and God and among the people themselves. It comes in two tablets of stones. The first, containing the first three which requires for an undivided religious allegiance to just one God. The second, containing the other seven, requiring social unity – respect for family, sacredness of oath, conjugal fidelity, security of life and property.

3. The Moral Law of the New Testament.

The two tablets of the Ten Commandments are taken up in the New Testament by Jesus' twofold law of love, i.e., to love God and to love one's neighbor as oneself. This is presented in the different gospels as a summation of the law; however, it seems to give more emphasis on the love of neighbor. Although in the epistle of John, the love of God cannot be separated from the love of man.

"If you say, "I love God," while you hate your brother or sister, you are a liar. How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your brother whom you see? We received from him this commandment: let those who love God also love their brothers." (1Jn. 4: 20)

Those people who do all or participate in all our religious practices and who say they love God, but cheat, abuse others, hate their neighbors, unforgiving to others, etc. are liars.
This moral teaching of Jesus has reference in the different gospels in different situations. This is represented in Matthew (5: 1-7: 12 – Sermon on the Mount or Beatitudes) and in the gospel according to Luke (6:20-24 – On Treasures).

The moral message of Jesus is centered on the proclamation of God's kingdom, which requires man to repent. He was not making specific moral demands but gave importance on calling everyone to have faith in God, observe the Law but not equate it with moral probity, to love one another.

Jesus was concerned with the world but rejected to be a political figure. His concern was to affect the consciousness and behavior of the leaders.

He also had a special regard for the poor. That poverty is not an obstacle for the attainment of the Kingdom of God. In this regard, He warns us against temptations of wealth and power.

One striking topic in the Gospel according to Luke is Jesus' concern for the dignity of women, which is in contrast with the Jewish attitudes and customs. Jesus' teachings on marriage and the family suggest a strong insistence on permanence.

Jesus also criticized those who acted only for the sake of rewards.

4. The Moral Teachings of the Early Church to the 6th century.

Christian existence is an existence in a community. The law is summed up in the call to love one another.

Many of the Fathers of the Church contributed something in the development of Christian morality.

Clement of Alexandria (ca. 215) believed to have made the first attempt in systematizing moral theology. He pointed out that genuine Christian life is the imitation of God in Christ.

Origen (Clement's successor in ca. 254) focused on the imitation of God in a more contemplative as well as the active life and reflected on free will is in virtues and the restoration of all things in God.

Ambrose (ca 397) provided the first case-approach to moral theology and insisted on the superiority of the Christian moral ideal over pagan philosophies.

Cyril of Jerusalem believes that Christian existence in sacramental existence.

Augustine (Ambrose's disciple) one of the most significant figure in the development of Christian Moral Theology, attended and discuss the fundamental problems of Christian morality like the relationship of grace and freedom, faith and work, faith and love, original sin and restoration of grace, grace and the law, natural law and revealed law, and divine love and the natural appetites. He believes that Christian morality is the way and means to eternal union with God. Hence, morality requires obedience to the law of love.

5. Moral Theology from the 7th to 12th century.

From the emphasis that Christian existence is corporate existence, Christianity became more legalized.

A remarkable change in moral theology is the appearance of the penitential books (Libri Poenitentialies) used to assist the generally uneducated clergy to be able to determine appropriate penance for a broad variety of sins. Further, this is due to influences of the Celtic monks who made the sacrament of penance as an individual sacrament.

6. Moral Theology from the 13th to the mid 20th century.

In the 13th century, systematization was the rule rather than the exception. The two great figures are Bonaventure and Thomas Aquinas.

For Bonaventure, the intellect is just a tool of the will, which is the instrument in making decisions.

Thomas Aquinas emphasized the intellectual side of human existence. His moral teaching is framed on the doctrines of creation and redemption. That a Christian concerns is to act as God's own image and likeness and on the humility of Christ as our way to God.

In the 14th and 15th centuries, individualistic ethics and ethical legalism were introduced by the nominalists like William of Ockham. They emphasized good individual acts is that which conforms to the will of the individual.

Feudalism was practiced during these centuries. Thus, there was a need to emphasize justice. Martin Luther, a prominent figure during this time, was convinced that no one is just and that the situation is focused on minimum. But Luther felt driven to perfection and that the situation cherishes good works. Luther placed his trust in faith alone.

The moral theology books were born in the 16th century to aid in the solution to moral problems and also to prepare priests for the sacramental ministry, especially the ministry of penance.

The Jansenists in the 17th century insisted that the strictest standards should be followed (a rigorist path). At the far left, the laxists favored deciding morality on a case-to-case basis that is favoring the easier course.

In the 19th to 20th centuries, Moral Theology was reconnected with the Bible giving emphasis on the themes of conversion, discipleship and the commandment of love. Noted theologians like Joseph Mausback, Otto Schilling, Frits Tulman and Theodore Steinbuechel presented a more integrated one – that the law of love, the ethics of the sermon is the heart and soul of moral theology. This theology was further disseminated by Joseph Fuchs, Bernard Haring and later by Charles Cunnan (Haring's American student).

7. Characteristics of Moral Theology before Vatican II.
a. Tendency to be monolistic or unilateral or one-track minded, more concern on the do's and don'ts.
b. Primary concern: Natural Law.
To be moral one should follow the natural law or law of nature.
c. Method: based on Natural Law.
Content: reason is the sole judge of human actions.
d. 1st law: to reason or be reasonable.
2nd law: man's primary concern is to build a community - to procreate and thus sexual faculties are ordained to procreate.
e. Characteristics: excessive emphasis on the manuals, textbooks that explains moral teachings primarily with a view on the sacrament of penance.
f. Deficiency: too legalistic – everything should be based on what the law says, and lacks spirituality.
g. Influenced greatly by a Church, which is highly institutionalized, and was strongly reacting to Reformation.

8. Moral Theology according to the spirit of Vatican II.

The Second Vatican Council in 1961-65 called for a renewal of moral theology stressing the need to go back into the teachings of the scriptures; the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful; the need to emphasize with the mystery of Christ and the history of salvation (a Christo-centric moral theology). It clearly states that "other theological disciples should also be renewed by livelier contact with the mystery of Christ and the morality of salvation". Special attention should be given to the development of moral theology. Its scientific exposition should be more thoroughly nourished by spiritual teaching. It should show the nobility of the Christian vocation of the faithful and their obligation to bear fruit in charity for the life of the world. Moral theology according to Vatican II should have the following characteristics:

a. The relational context between God and Man should be emphasized.
Contemporary Moral Theology should be both man and God centered. It is both theo-centric as well as anthropocentric, in the sense that God's call for man to love is inseparably relative to man's response to such call. The dialogical pattern to God's free invitation in character (on the part of God), and in Christ that God invites the sinful man to turn away from sin, and go back to God.

b. Contemporary Moral Theology should be Christo-centric.
A Christo-centric Moral Theology should primarily be concern with the person of Jesus and secondarily on the earthly and sinful man. The two emphases should be together, since they are related to one another. It is necessary to emphasize the sinful down-to-earth man. A humanity which does not belong to our sinful lot would not need a savior, would not need the person of Jesus. And any theology, which would fail to give importance to the saving mission of Christ, would not be genuinely, Christo-centric. It is only through Christ, that humanity continues to be fascinated by Jesus and has something to learn from Him. But now, He is at least, on the human level, He is flesh of our flesh. With the incarnation, the problem of inequality between God and man has been resolved. We have a bridge: a loving relationship or a dialogue of love between God and man, which becomes possible in Christ Jesus.

c. Contemporary Moral Theology must be Ecclesial and Communitarian.
The Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son dwells within the church as his temple. The Contemporary Moral Theology's emphasis on the ecclesial aspect is the sequel of the Christo-centric emphases. The focus on the ecclesial aspect makes all the more necessary to take into consideration the Communitarian dimension of Christian life and morality. It should go beyond the individualistic morality of isolated acts and concern for individual perfection to a vision of building up the human community to which the church is called to be the leaven. The place of the Church's magisterium in guiding moral reflection must be understood in this context.

d. Contemporary Moral Theology must be Scriptural.
Man gains insight into God's plan for him through his human reason, which discovers certain laws in nature. Man can perceive them in the things God has made. God's revelation is more definite in the sacred Scripture or in the Bible. Human reason aided by faith in divine revelation enables man to understand better what God has called him to do in his life. The scripture is the primary source of divine revelation. The word of God in the bible is authoritative in matters of faith and morals. However we must be always be careful to discern whether a particular spiritual situation is an essential moral teaching, normative for all times, or relevant only to the particular situation or to a certain stage of salvation history. When the Vatican II speaks that Moral Theology should be "more thoroughly nourished by scriptural teachings" it meant that fundamental orientation and conception of morality should be derived from scripture.

e. Contemporary Moral Theology is Sacramental and Liturgical.
It should also be liturgical since all Christians participate in the paschal mystery of Christ, and the degree of participation of each individual Christian is determined by specific sacramental signs particularly the Holy Eucharist are powerful signs by which we encounter God through Christ in the church. The progressive sacramental incorporation into Christ's paschal mystery and into the ecclesial community brings about a dynamic and gradual transformation into Christ.

f. Contemporary Moral Theology should be Personalistic.
The second Vatican Council exalts the dignity of the human person. The existential and personalistic currents of thoughts are helped in presenting the basic Christian moral message, provided its excesses do not mislead one. There is the need for understanding the human person as a whole. It remains each man's duty to preserve a view of the whole person, a view in which the value of the intellect, will, conscience and fraternity are pre-eminent.

g. Contemporary Moral Theology should be Ecumenical.
Catholic and Protestant moral thought had gone along separate ways for almost four centuries. Now there is a move towards rapprochement. The more scriptural and theo-centric presentation of a reformed moral thought has already made its useful impact on catholic reformed moral thought has already made its useful impact on catholic moral theology. There is also a need for trying to achieve a wider understanding between the ethical systems of different religions, particularly the world's famous religions. For a Christian who realizes the universality of the gospel message, there should be no question of opposing Christian Ethics. Say to Hindu or Buddhist Ethics. Just as St. Thomas Aquinas expressed the gospel message in Aristotelian terms, there should be also a similar possibility of expressing Hindu or Buddhist terms. Hindu Christians would need to be much more familiar with the gospel message and Hindu thought, and at the same time be liberated from a western problem which is also becoming increasingly difficult.
- Emphasize actions rather than behaviors of human person.
- How to do it manuals.
- Individualistic
- "Outside of the Church there is no salvation" concept prevails.
- Church's social obligation was neglected.
- Communal aspect was disregarded.

Are there Objective Moral Truths?

It is an old religious practice in one place in Pampanga during Good Friday where some or even women are nailed on the cross as "panata" or " an act of sacrifice" emulating what Jesus did 2000 years ago. The Catholic Church discourages this old practice as well as flagellation, and condemns these practices as unchristian. It is not moral because the participants inflict pains on their bodies but the practice is more of a show than a real sacrifice for the remissions of their sins. On the other hand, some Christians will say "while the practice is antagonistic to the doctrines of the Catholic Church, who are we to judge? How can you say that what they do is proper or improper? For them the act itself makes them feel that they are united with the Lord in his suffering. And that they feel God forgives their sins. These two perspectives reflect different understanding of morality. The first one considers morality as physical science where laws are unchanging. Like the law of gravity, whether one accepts it or not still gravity exists. In other words, even if we deny the existence of moral truth does not mean such truth do not exist. For the, there are certain moral laws, which is unalterable. The second perspective considers morality as cultural anthropology. They think that the rightness or wrongness of an action or behavior is influenced by one's upbringing, culture and religion. There are actions that all rational persons know are immoral but others disagree.

The usual dress for a young man of the 70's was a T-shirt with three inches collar and a green bell-bottom double knit pants. Today, it is an oversized pastel T-shirt with 1 and ½ inches collar and below the waist "maong" pants. Just as attitudes about clothing change with the times, so do attitudes about morality. Just as there is no one definitive account of moral right and wrong.

The situation presented asks us to decide if we are "objectivist" or "relativist". The objectivist position is that moral truths are "objective" in that they exist apart from whether or not we acknowledge them. The refusal to believe in physical laws does not change the fact that the water boils at 100 degrees centigrade. In the same way, persons may say certain actions are morally acceptable, but that does not make them right in the eyes of the objectivist. These people are simply in error, as was the person who doubted the existence of a boiling point. The relativist by contrast, believes that an analogy from the physical sciences does not accurately reflect the situation in ethics. The wide diversity of moral codes as well as the rapid changes in our own cultural mores leads them to conclude that there is no one definitely correct moral code. Ethical judgments are always judgment from a certain perspective, with no one perspective necessarily any better than another.

Both approaches have their dangers. Objectivists must guard against intolerance. By seeing one and only one morally correct answer, they run the risk of failing to appreciate cultural diversity. The relativists, by contrast, run the risk of reducing all moral decisions to statements of choice rather than truth. Our moral protests and vehement debates are reduced to being the equivalent of arguing whether chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla ice cream.

Definition of Terms:

Moral: means what is good or right.

Immoral: means what is bad or wrong.

Amoral: means having no moral sense or being indifference to right and wrong.

Nonmoral: means out of the realm of morality altogether.

Moral permissiveness: allows anything and does not even care of the results of one' actions.

Relativism: does not consider the objective values, in themselves, but utilizes them simply for one's convenience according to situations.

Loss of Morals: excludes moral values in their judgment of human behavior.

Good or Right: that which involves pleasure, happiness and excellence and also leads to harmony and creativity.

Bad or Wrong: that which will involve pain, unhappiness, and lack of excellence, and will lead to disharmony and lack of creativity.

Ethics: is the study of morality, or of what is good, bad, right or wrong in a moral sense.

Aesthetics: is the study of art and the artistic, or of what is good, bad, right, or wrong in art and what constitute what is beautiful in our lives.

Psychology: discusses man's intellect and free will. It is not interested in the morality of human behavior. It is not concerned with moral obligations but studies how man behaves.

Sociology: describes the general structure and attitudes of social groups, the family government, and the working class.

Anthropology: investigates the origin of the human body and behavior of the primitive man

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