Recently, I have decided to peruse papers submitted on academia.edu on different Christian topics and post brief commentaries on our blog for discussion purposes. After taking a brief look at different papers, the title “Post Vatican II Christ-Centered Ethical Theology” really lept out at me. And perhaps, a bit of the reason is that I thought it would stir the pot a bit with Scoop—So, I couldn’t help myself.
The author of the paper is a Jesuit by the name Dr. Jean-Marie Hyacinthe Quenum. He begins his introduction quite interesting by claiming:
Christian moral theology as an academic discipline presupposes the self-actualization of Christian mystery in the community of faith called the Church. Christian moral theology draws its methodology and principles from the followers of Jesus Christ worshiping the Holy Trinity and making the fundamental option to live as recreated children of God under the process of God’s justification and sanctification in Christ through the Holy Spirit.
Honestly, I don’t really understand what idea Quenum is trying to convey in the first sentence. I would have to ask what specifically he means by Christian mystery in this statement, i.e. The Trinity, Body of Christ, Passion, sanctifying grace? It’s true that while we understand good action through the revelation of Christ’s actions and teachings in the Gospels; it doesn’t appear to follow Catholic theology of Grace, Justification, and predestination. However, when Quenum writes, “making the fundamental option to live as recreated children of God under the process of God’s justification and sanctification in Christ through the Holy Spirit.” Perhaps, it’s clarity that is missing in his state where he is speaking of our cooperation with the sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit through the practice of virtues that allows one to sustain and preserve in grace. Of course, it is through prayer, practicing the sacraments, and works of mercy where God continues to infuse within our souls His graces to live a life of holiness; to be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.
The understanding of grace and its role it plays in our actions, being the goodness of God, is formed from an understanding of classical orthodox understanding founded in the Augustinian and Thomistic traditions. As I would not be surprised if Quenum, being a Jesuit, being formed in the Molinist school of radical free will with God’s middle knowledge merely knowing our receptiveness to His grace, this may have led to these developments in Post-Vatican II thinking.
Quenum writes, “In Post-Vatican II Church Christian moral theology has become in university context a field of Christian ethics dealing with Christian living with real people in a real world of secularized societies. Appropriately called theological ethics, Christian moral theology has become an inspiring discipline, based on Scripture, reason, character formation, commitment to the reign of God, common good, virtues, social responsibility and the goal to become better people of God after the last Adam, Jesus Christ. “
Again, this begs the question, how is this idea to be played out with the traditional understanding of Catholic theology with grace and predestination? Quenum goes on, “how Christians in their intentions to become Christ-like manifest their fundamental relation to the Trinitarian God creator, savior and transformer of the world by leading a virtuous life of moral responsibility and goodness.
I am concerned with what he means by ‘intention’ our intention is to accept the grace of God by our free will; however, as God is creator, his grace actualizes our souls so the good that we do in the world comes from God. Our good actions are not our own, but rather our action within the Thomistic and Augustinian understanding of grace is to consent to the grace of God, a acquire an interior freedom that allows our heart to rest.
Quenum does speak later on in the paper about the role of prayer and the Holy Spirit. He says, “It allows the disciple of Jesus Christ to make daily decisions by seeking God’s heart. Prayer consists in listening God’s Word in faith (Hebrew 4: 2). By building human life on the rock of God’s Word, the disciple of Jesus Christ is open to the agenda of God. The human heart is the deepest part of the human person experiencing the creative presence of the Trinitarian God. From the human heart purified by the presence of the Trinitarian God flows the moral transformation of the person called to discipleship by Christ and anointed by his Spirit.”
The statement on prayer could be okay or worrisome depending on where one places the stresses on the action of the person. Prayer is in many ways initiated by God through grace. We feel a call to it, in effect, we could make decisions to cooperate with God’s call to prayer, part of this is building the habit of prayer in our lives. However, if by the last statement he makes in this paragraph that God transforms us by his grace then the statement becomes more on par. So, again, it may be a clarity issue.
Finally, Quenum’s statement on the Holy Spirit appears to clarify my concerns early on in his paper. He writes:
The Holy Spirit who prays in the human person makes the voice of Christ heard and obeyed. The Holy Spirit guides the believer in the quest of moral transformation. Christian moral transformation requires friendship with Jesus Christ who helps the disciple to appropriate and to assimilate his life, passion, death and resurrection through the work of regeneration of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit as comforter empowers the believer for a deeper relationship with the Trinitarian God that brings the fruits of a blessed life.
Naturally, I find little issues with this paragraph with my stress on grace. The Holy Spirit is what drives our desire to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and to live a life more like his that we read in the Gospels.
Quenum does have some good points about the challenges of Christian ethics in our modern world. He does articulate well that our modern societies have regressed psychological toward pagan hedonism. He writes, “The logic of desire explored by depth psychology has placed pleasure and comfort at the pinnacle of human fulfilment. To say “no” to a desire is to repress it for a law that brings frustration, dissatisfaction and depression. A person led by the logic of desire rejects rules, regulations and laws.”
I do listen to Bishop Robert Barron’s podcast from time to time. Barron does often use an interesting analogy when it comes to sports with our modern ethics. He explains that if you want to hit a baseball or a golf ball well, you have to use certain techniques that have been tried over a period of time and perfected to do those skills well. Naturally, no one objects usually and says I prefer to hit the golf ball my own way, of course, this is because they wish to hit the ball. What we’ve failed to communicate in our modern societies is that to live life well then we do have to live by some rules. These rules are not to repress you, but rather, like cleanly hitting a golf ball, to give you interior freedom to live your life well.
Quenum explains the development of Post-Vatican II ethics writing:
“Post-Vatican II theological ethics has the originality of being non- judgmental. It aims at showing God’s mercy and acceptance toward those who have not yet understood the path of salvation brought by Jesus Christ. It provides supportive and brotherly community for those who are sincerely wrong. These people are no longer blamed but accompanied by wise disciples of Jesus Christ in pastoral ministry.
In a pluralistic world post-Vatican II theological ethics is open to dialogue which is today the fruitful method of being with others in respectful way. Dialogue in a world of competing and conflicting values makes Christian vulnerable, modest and ready to learn from others.
I think it’s fair toask,, Do these ‘ethics’ actually work? On the one hand, the idea of mercy is an idea that conveys the need for it. The need for mercy is the result of sin. In the post-Vatican II theology, this idea hasn’t been conveyed with much success. If we’re sticking to the golfing analogy, it would similar to telling someone who is swinging the club poorly, “it’s okay, I know you didn’t hit the ball, but go ahead swing the club again and see if you can hit it.” If we do not spend the time to explain what needs to be corrected, how can it be expected that a correction will be made?
I will attempt to answer these question with parts of Quenum conclusion:
Fifty years after Vatican II the pilgrim people of God is thinking differently moral life. The splendor of the truth is in the person of Jesus Christ inviting human beings to share the perfect goodness of the Trinitarian God through a virtuous life of love.
Moral life is no longer about forbidden behaviors and acts which are intrinsically evil. Moral life flows from the human person whose heart is purified by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ and who makes the fundamental option to share the Trinitarian God’s values in the body of Christ led by the Holy Spirit in the renewed family of the Father.
Doing Trinitarian theological ethics implies the rejection of moralism, legalism and authoritarianism for a better approach of the human person as a discerning agent inspired by the Gospel that does Justice, Peace and fellowship in the redeemed world.
Again, I’m not entirely clear about his concluding remarks. At times in the paper, I think he admits that post-Vatican II doesn’t seem to be working, as Christian morality seems to be evaporating. However, it does somewhat appear that his focus on Trinitarian theological ethics because it relies on being led by the grace through the Holy Spirit rejects legalism, but does this imply that any form of correction is legalism? Perhaps, we merely need faith in the grace of the Holy Spirit to transform the lives. It appears this type of theological ethics is similar to a lot of the ‘accompaniment’ ‘pastoral care’ type theology that comes from clerical media personalities.
Overall the text seems vague to me. It has some theology that does make sense in it, but at times the clarity is lacking,