New seminar: understanding Catholic morality

July 16, 2014   |   by Dunstan

This new seminar will address a question which asks about what is Catholic morality. What is its nature? What is its intelligibility? What are its parts and how are they all related to each other? What is the specifically Catholic element? To tackle these questions, we will work through three different texts. We will begin with an introduction that comes to us from a French Dominican, Fr. Servais Pinckaers: “Morality The Catholic View.” This text is sometimes used as a medium of instruction in Catholic secondary schools since it suits a catechetical form of instruction which seeks to introduce the Church’s teaching about what exactly is Catholic moral life. What are its requirements? We begin with an a doctrinal apprehension of meaning as our first objective. In this work and within this context, we would then shift into perusing Heinrich A. Rommen’s “The Natural Law A Study in Legal and Social History and Philosophy.” Available for about $10. Roland Krismer from Austria had recommended it to me and it was first written and published in German in 1936. Natural law remains something which is distinctly Catholic in how we Catholics should understand the nature of our moral life and I, for one, would like to know more about it. From this, we could then go into Martin Rhonheimer’s “Natural Law and Practical Reason A Thomist View of Moral Autonomy.” I have worked through large sections of it and so would not have any trouble in recommending it. In the course of our work, it is possible that other texts could come to our notice and we could decide then if we would like to work with these other texts also. In the reading project that we envisage, other persons could be interested in joining us and we could also invite persons who might want to enter into these discussions. We begin from what is relatively simple and move into discussions that could be more difficult. As a general paradigm, we can work with a general structure that comes to us from Aquinas who had distinguished between two sets of questions: why we should distinguish between dogmatic theology and systematic theology. I quote to you a paragraph from him which distinguishes between two different kinds of intellectual object:

…every act should be performed in a way that is adapted to its end. Now an argumentation can be directed to either of two ends. One kind of argumentation is directed to removing doubts as to whether something is so. In such argumentation in theology, one relies especially on the authorities… But another kind of argumentation is that of the teachers in the schools. It seeks not to remove doubts but to instruct the students so that they understand the truth that the teacher hopes to convey. In such cases it is necessary to base one’s arguments on reasons that go to the root of the truth in question, that make hearers understand how what is said is true [quo modo sit verum] . Otherwise, if the teacher settles a question simply by an appeal to authorities alone, the students will have their certitude that the facts are indeed as stated, but they will acquire no knowledge or understanding, and they will go empty away.

In our work, we would try to transition from knowing better that the Church teaches about Catholic morality (what can be said about its nature) to a further kind of knowing that would exist at a deeper level: trying to find understandings which could shed light on the wisdom of what the Church teaches about how we, as Catholics, are to try and live good lives. In doing this then, we would gradually move toward Aquinas and the kind of understanding which he tried to encourage: moving from a familiarity and a focus on proofs and certitude toward experiences of understanding that touch on how things could be related together in a way which can better reveal what our human place should be, where we stand in the order of things.

At each of our meetings, we will then determine when we will meet again. This avoids working with too rigid a structure. We will prob ably draw up class notes that we could then publish on www.lonergan.org as something that could help other readers.