instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Letting the hobby horse out of the barn

In a comment below, blihs asks for a citation for the "begin with the virtues rather than the commandments" concept I'd mentioned. I pointed to the table of contents of St. Thomas's Summa Theologica and of Romanus Cessario's Introduction to Moral Theology as early and recent examples within the Dominican tradition. (With Amazon's "look inside" feature, you can also read a few pages of Fr. Cessario's introductory chapter.)

I need to be a bit cautious with this, since the need for a virtue-based moral theology, rather than the rule-based one most people now living associate with Catholicism, is one of my pet themes, but I am nearly as ignorant as I am enthusiastic on the subject.

My nickel speech is that the presentation of morality was separated from virtue, and therefore moral theology separated from the other branches of theology, largely as part of the Counter-Reformation; at a time of great confusion, it can help to simply have rules to follow.

In the intervening centuries, however, the rules have come to be seen as not merely the pedagogical vehicle for morality, but as the essential basis for morality. And, importantly, an essentially arbitrary basis.

We live now at a time of great confusion, and rule-based morality is being pushed as a part of the Counter-SpiritOfVaticanTwo. But we also live at a time of great interest in our Faith, when people don't (indeed, can't) rely on Father in the confessional and the pulpit to tell them everything they should and shouldn't do. They want and need to know and live the Faith in a whole and integrated way, not in the field-surgery style developed with one eye toward maintaining the distinction between who's a good Catholic and who isn't.