Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Veritatis Splendor: Part 36-Theologus Moralis, Quo Vadis?

THERE IS NO ONE IN THE BODY of Christ, the Church, that is absolved or exempted from keeping the Gospel by the witness of his life, and in this way, all of the Church's members share in the munus propheticum, the prophetic office of Christ, and partake of the one Baptism into Christ which makes them fellow sharers of the Holy Spirit. The Church as a whole, confirmed in truth by the Spirit of Truth, is preserved from error. "It displays this particular quality through a supernatural sense of the faith in the whole people when, 'from the Bishops to the last of the lay faithful,' it expresses the consensus of all in matters of faith and morals." VS, 109 (quoting Lumen Gentium, 12).

Despite the infallibility of the whole Church in faith and morals, it would be wrong to limit that infallibility to the whole alone, and ignore the hierarchical organs in the Church, the bishops in communion with the Pope, which are part of the Lord's constitution of the Church. Similarly, it would also be wrong to forget St. Paul's understanding that there are many members to that body, and the members have special roles. 1 Cor.12:4-31. St. Paul's image is quite vivid:
As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ. [13] For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, slaves or free persons, and we were all given to drink of one Spirit. [14] Now the body is not a single part, but many. [15] If a foot should say, “Because I am not a hand I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. [16] Or if an ear should say, “Because I am not an eye I do not belong to the body,” it does not for this reason belong any less to the body. [17] If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? [18] But as it is, God placed the parts, each one of them, in the body as he intended. [19] If they were all one part, where would the body be? [20] But as it is, there are many parts, yet one body. [21] The eye cannot say to the hand, “I do not need you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I do not need you.” [22] Indeed, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are all the more necessary, [23] and those parts of the body that we consider less honorable we surround with greater honor, and our less presentable parts are treated with greater propriety, [24] our more presentable parts do not need this. But God has so constructed the body as to give greater honor to a part that is without it, [25] so that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another.
One of these parts of the body is the theologian, and, in the case of morals, the moral theologian. What is the specific contribution of the moral theologian to the life of the Church? Here, we must recall the role of reason and faith, of, in Augustinian and Anselmian terms, faith seeking understanding, or in Petrine terms the desire to give an accounting for their hope to those who ask for it (1 Pet. 3:15)

[R]evealed truth beckons reason — God's gift fashioned for the assimilation of truth — to enter into its light and thereby come to understand in a certain measure what it has believed. Theological science responds to the invitation of truth as it seeks to understand the faith. It thereby aids the People of God in fulfilling the Apostle's command (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) to give an accounting for their hope to those who ask it.

VS, 109.* "The 'vocation' of the theologian in the Church," says Pope John Paul II, "is specifically at the service of this 'believing effort to understand the faith." VS, 109. More precisely, the theologian's role "is to pursue in a particular way an ever deeper understanding of the word of God found in the inspired Scriptures and handed on by the living Tradition of the Church." The theologian does this, however, not as some sort of lone ranger, some sort of theological wildcatter, exploring for moral truths in a spirit of wild independence. The theologian performs his role "in communion with the Magisterium, which has been charged with the responsibility of preserving the deposit of faith." VS, 109.* In carrying out his important mission, a mission which the Church has no desire to begrudge him, the theologian, irrespective of whether faith or morals is involved, will recognize his "profound and vital connection with the Church, her mystery, her life and her mission." VS, 109.

Germain Grisez: An example of a faithful moral theologian

The moral theologian falls under these same principles. The moral theologian seeks to reflect and better understand "the Gospel as the gift and commandment of new life," a "life which 'professes the truth in love' (cf. Eph 4:15)," and "the Church's life of holiness, in which there shines forth the truth about the good brought to its perfection." VS, 110. The moral theologian will not forget the competency of the Magisterium in this area, as the "Church's Magisterium intervenes not only in the sphere of faith, but also, and inseparably so, in the sphere of morals." VS, 110. The Magisterium has a particular role in preserving the deposit of faith as it relates to morals:
It has the task of "discerning, by means of judgments normative for the consciences of believers, those acts which in themselves conform to the demands of faith and foster their expression in life and those which, on the contrary, because intrinsically evil, are incompatible with such demands." In proclaiming the commandments of God and the charity of Christ, the Church's Magisterium also teaches the faithful specific particular precepts and requires that they consider them in conscience as morally binding. In addition, the Magisterium carries out an important work of vigilance, warning the faithful of the presence of possible errors, even merely implicit ones, when their consciences fail to acknowledge the correctness and the truth of the moral norms which the Magisterium teaches.
VS, 110.*

The Magisterium's normative guidance is not limited to generalities, but also includes particulars. This is a guidance the moral theologian will not spurn; rather, he will seek to understand it, to internalize it, to give it "loyal assent, both internal and external." VS, 110. The moral theologian will, like Mary, in a spirit of faith and humility, treasure these things and ponder them in hearts. Cf. Luke 2:19. The moral theologian is not given a license to be unfaithful.

To be sure, moral theologians are not merely mouthpieces for the hierarchy. They are not the shock troops or lackeys of bishops. But neither are they the "loyal opposition." The relation is much more cooperative, symbiotic. Not everyone is called to be a moral theologian, but "[m]oral theologians, who have accepted the charge of teaching the Church's doctrine, thus have a grave duty to train the faithful to make this moral discernment, to be committed to the true good and to have confident recourse to God's grace." VS, 113.

While recognizing the possible limitations of the human arguments employed by the Magisterium, moral theologians are called to develop a deeper understanding of the reasons underlying its teachings and to expound the validity and obligatory nature of the precepts it proposes, demonstrating their connection with one another and their relation with man's ultimate end. Moral theologians are to set forth the Church's teaching and to give, in the exercise of their ministry, the example of a loyal assent, both internal and external, to the Magisterium's teaching in the areas of both dogma and morality. Working together in cooperation with the hierarchical Magisterium, theologians will be deeply concerned to clarify ever more fully the biblical foundations, the ethical significance and the anthropological concerns which underlie the moral doctrine and the vision of man set forth by the Church.

VS, 110.

Charlie Curran: An example of a unfaithful moral theologian

It is distressing that dissent among her moral theologians is so prevalent in the contemporary Church, as the Church confronts a situation where their role is of utmost importance, "not only for the Church's life and mission, but also for human society and culture." VS, 111. Those moral theologians who dissent from the Church's teaching damage not only the Church, but insult all mankind. Like some sort of vicious, mean, and sadistic father, they give us stones when we ask for bread. They feed us scorpions, when we clamor for eggs. They give us snakes, when we hunger for fish. Luke 11:11-12. Woe to those who cause the little ones to stumble. It would be better if they had been thrown in the sea with a millstone around their neck. Matt. 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2. The dissenters blithely seem to disregard these evangelical warnings.
While exchanges and conflicts of opinion may constitute normal expressions of public life in a representative democracy, moral teaching certainly cannot depend simply upon respect for a process: indeed, it is in no way established by following the rules and deliberative procedures typical of a democracy. Dissent, in the form of carefully orchestrated protests and polemics carried on in the media, is opposed to ecclesial communion and to a correct understanding of the hierarchical constitution of the People of God. Opposition to the teaching of the Church's Pastors cannot be seen as a legitimate expression either of Christian freedom or of the diversity of the Spirit's gifts. When this happens, the Church's Pastors have the duty to act in conformity with their apostolic mission, insisting that the right of the faithful to receive Catholic doctrine in its purity and integrity must always be respected. "Never forgetting that he too is a member of the People of God, the theologian must be respectful of them, and be committed to offering them a teaching which in no way does harm to the doctrine of the faith."
VS, 113.*

Which takes us to the office of bishops, a matter we will handle in the next post.
*In these sections, VS is quoting Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian Donum Veritatis (May 24,1990). AAS 82 (1990), 1552.

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