The Identity of Christian Morality (Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology, and Biblical Studies)

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The Identity of Christian Morality (Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology, and Biblical Studies)

The Identity of Christian Morality Ann Marie Mealey The Iden tity of Chr is tian Moral ity This book argues that m

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The Identity of Christian Morality

Ann Marie Mealey

The Iden tity of Chr

is tian Moral

ity

This book argues that moral theology has yet to embrace the recommendations of the S econd Vatican Council concerning the ways in which it is to be renewed. O ne of the reasons for this is the lack of consensus between theologians regarding the nature, content and uniqueness of Christian morality. A fter highlighting the strengths and weaknesses of the so-called autonomy and faith ethic schools of thought, Mealey argues that there is little dividing them and that, in some instances, both schools are simply defending one aspect of a hermeneutical dialectic. In an attempt to move away from the divisions between proponents of the faith-ethic and autonomy positions, Mealey enlists the help of the hermeneutical theory of Paul R icoeur. S he argues that many of the disagreements arising from the Christian proprium debate can be overcome if scholars look to the possibilities opened up by R icoeur’s hermeneutics of interpretation. Mealey also argues that the uniqueness of Christian morality is more adequately explained in terms of a speci.c identity (self) that is constantly subject to change and revision in light of many, often conflicting, moral sources. She advocates a move away from attempts to explain the uniqueness of Christian morality in terms of one specific, unchanging context, motivation, norm, divine command or value. By embracing the possibilities opened up by R icoeurian hermeneutics, Mealey explains how concepts such as revelation, tradition, orthodoxy and moral conscience may be understood in a hermeneutical way without being deemed sectarian or unorthodox.

ASH GA TE NE W CR ITICAL TH IN KIN G IN REL IGION , THEOLO BIBL ICAL S TUD IES

GY AND

The Ashgate New Critical Thinking in Religion, Theology and Biblical Studies series brings high quality research monograph publishing back into focus for authors, international libraries, and student, academic and research readers. H eaded by an international editorial advisory board of acclaimed scholars spanning the breadth of religious studies, theology and biblical studies, this openended monograph series presents cutting-edge research from both established and new authors in the field. With specialist focus yet clear contextual presentation of contemporary research, books in the series take research into important new directions and open the field to new critical debate within the discipline, in areas of related study, and in key areas for contemporary society. Series Editorial Board: D avid Jasper, University of Glasgow, UK James Beckford, University of Warwick, UK R aymond Williams, Wabash College, Crawfordsville, USA Geoffrey S amuel, University of N ewcastle, A ustralia R ichard H utch, University of Queensland, A ustralia Paul F iddes, R egent’s Park College, University of O xford, UK A nthony Thiselton, University of N ottingham, UK Tim Gorringe, University of E xeter, UK A drian Thatcher, College of S t Mark and S t John, UK A lan Torrance, University of S t A ndrews, UK Judith L ieu, Kings College L ondon, UK Terrance Tilley, University of D ayton, USA Miroslav Volf, Y ale D ivinity S chool, USA S tanley Grenz, Baylor University and Truett S eminary, USA Vincent Brummer, University of Utrecht, The N etherlands Gerhard S auter, University of Bonn, Germany Other Titles in the Series: Anamnesis and the Eucharist Contemporary Anglican Approaches Julie Gittoes Exodus Church and Civil Society Public Theology and Social Theory in the Work of Jürgen Moltmann S cott R . Paeth

The Identity of Christian Morality

A nn Mar ie Mealey Leeds Trinity and All Saints, UK

© A nn Marie Mealey 2009 A ll rights reserved. N o part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publisher. A nn Marie Mealey has asserted her moral right under the Copyright, D esigns and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work. Published by A shgate Publishing L imited A shgate Publishing Company Wey Court E ast S uite 420 Union R oad 101 Cherry S treet F arnham Burlington S urrey, GU9 7PT VT 05401-4405 E ngland USA www.ashgate.com British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data Mealey, A nn Marie The identity of Christian morality – (Ashgate new critical thinking in religion, theology and biblical studies) 1. Ricoeur, Paul 2. Christian ethics 3. Identity (Psychology) – Religious aspects – Christianity I. Title 241 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Mealey, A nn Marie The identity of Christian morality / A nn Marie Mealey. p. cm. – (Ashgate new critical thinking in religion, theology and biblical studies) ISBN 978-0-7546-6073-6 (hardcover: alk. paper) 1. Christian ethics. I. Title. BJ1251.M475 2008 241–dc22 2008024030

IS BN 978-0-7546-6073-6

Contents Preface   Introduction   1

The E mergence of the Christian Proprium D ebate  

vii 1 13

2 R icoeurian H ermeneutics and the R esponsible Christian S elf  

41

3

Christian Ethics and the Gospels: A Ricoeurian Approach  

61

4

Christian Identity: A Quest for Goodness and Holiness  

89

5

Toward a Hermeneutic of Christian Identity: The Role of Tradition  113

6

The L imits of a R icoeurian A pproach to Christian E thics  

139

Conclusion  

169

Bibliography   Index  

173 181

This page has been left blank intentionally

Preface The uniqueness of Christian morality is a vexed question. Traditionally, Catholic moral theologians have attempted to explain the ‘extra’ of Christian morality, broadly speaking, either in terms of ‘divine commands’ or in terms of a specifically Christian motivation or inspiration for action. Consequently, theologians have come to rally around two schools of thought, known more commonly as the ‘faith ethic’ and ‘autonomy’ schools. In recent decades, many Catholic theologians have tried to move away from these divisions and focus on the more general task of renewing moral theology according to the recommendations made by the S econd Vatican Council. H owever, this task is still unfinished largely because there is no genuine consensus between theologians as to what distinguishes Christian morality from secular morality. Y et, the Catholic magisterium continues to issue moral teachings that it claims to have discovered ‘in the light of faith and revelation’ and ‘in the light of the teachings of H oly S cripture.’ S tatements such as these indicate that the more orthodox Catholic position seems to support the faith ethic school of thought, even though Catholic scholarship indicates that most theologians believe that the content of Christian morality is identical to that of human morality. This work is an attempt to revise the debate on the uniqueness of Christian morality, in order to move Catholic moral theology away from division to embrace more fully the possibilities opened up by hermeneutics. Using the work of the F rench philosopher Paul R icoeur, it will be argued here that the apparent impasse that exists between the so-called faith-ethic and autonomy schools can be mediated if we turn to concepts such as selfhood and identity. In so doing, the work will show that Christian ethics can be offered a richer presentation, one that is more competent to carry out the tasks of renewing moral theology in light of S econd Vatican Council’s recommendations without being sectarian, secular, or disrespectful towards the functioning of the teaching office of the Catholic Church. Given that many theologians find it difficult to read and to understand the work of Paul R icoeur, I have tried to express his ideas and philosophical arguments as clearly and as simply as possible. I hope that my emphasis on clarity of expression does not lead to a superficial account of Ricoeur‘s contribution to Christian ethics, but that it will, at the very least, generate greater interest in his work amongst Catholic theologians. I owe a debt of gratitude to a number of people whose help was invaluable throughout the process of writing this book. D r William Tomkiss, a former colleague at Trinity and A ll S aints, L eeds, read the whole manuscript on several occasions, while his wife, D r Monica Tomkiss, provided much emotional support

viii

The Identity of Christian Morality

and encouragement during the final stages of writing. I am also grateful to the IRCHSS (Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences) for funding this project when it was at doctoral stage. Thanks are also owed to Sarah Lloyd, Ann Newell and Lianne Sherlock at Ashgate for welcoming my project with open arms and for supporting me throughout the process. The individuals named above are in no way responsible for the shortcomings of this book; I am. A nn Marie Mealey

Introduction Being Christian implies that we have a particular identity and that we belong to a community of people who are gathered together out of a shared belief. When we are born into the Christian tradition and raised as Christians, we turn to that tradition in order to answer the bigger questions in life, such as, ‘why should I love my neighbour?’; ‘why is it wrong to steal?’; ‘why should I not covet my neighbour’s wife?’ or ‘why should I respect my parents?’ In this sense, our tradition can help to educate us morally and to assist us in our quest to flourish as human beings in our communities. But moral decision-making is not purely determined by faith or by tradition; human reason also plays a role in the search for moral truth. This must be the case, otherwise we run the risk of suggesting that there is a Christian ethic that is reserved for Christians and no one else, and that there is a rational ethic, which may or may not be accessible to Christians. To put it simply, we run the risk of suggesting that the Christian thing to do might not be the rational thing to do, or that the rational thing to do might not be the Christian thing to do. O f course, we must admit that both positions could lead us to the same conclusions, but what is certain is that the relationship between faith and reason is a complex one. Most Christians would agree that there is such a thing as ‘Christian ethics’, but what this entails is not easy to determine. Indeed, it is not uncommon to see postgraduate degree programmes in Christian ethics, which would seem to suggest that the Christian tradition has something to say about what is good or what is human. Nor is it uncommon to find statements in papal encyclicals which claim that faith contributes in a particular way to our search for truth and goodness. F or instance, the encyclical letter Deus Caritas Est (1996) asserts that ‘being a Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction’. The teaching of Humanae Vitae (1968) is considered to be the result of the natural law but ‘illuminated and enriched by divine R evelation’. The Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974) claims that its moral principles are expounded ‘in the light of faith’, and that these may also be justified by appealing to Sacred Scripture,  ��������� Benedict XVI, ����������������������� E ncyclical L etter Deus Caritas Est, 1996, n. 1 [Vatican A rchive], www.vaticanarchive.com (12 January 2008).   ��������������������������� Paul VI, E ncyclical L etter Humanae Vitae, trans. Vatican Polyglot Press, 1968, n. 4.    Declaration on Procured Abortion issued by the S acred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (English trans. Osservatore Romano, 25/26 November 1975), n. 4. 

The Identity of Christian Morality



while Veritatis Splendor (1993) speaks of certain trends in postconciliar theology that deny some important Christian truths. In the case of Veritatis Splendor, there is explicit evidence to suggest that there are, in fact, truths that can be called Christian. Fides et Ratio (�������������������������������������������������������������� 1998) takes �������������������������������������������������������� a slightly different stance. A lthough it seems to place more importance upon the role played by reason in the search for moral truth than other papal encyclicals, it nevertheless underlines the fact that reason cannot reach the summit of its searching without faith. The document states that the theological truth about God and faith is the ‘ultimate truth about human life’ and that revelation gives to us a ‘universal’, ‘ultimate’ and ‘absolute truth’. Fides et Ratio also makes it clear that moral theology should use philosophy in a metaphysical way in the pursuit of truth and attempt to uncover a truth that transcends empirical data to achieve something absolute. In Pope John Paul II’s view, revelation can stimulate natural reason to uncover a deeper way of interpreting and living in the world as persons in community. This can be done through a reflection on the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. While philosophy can help Christians to understand the world, faith reminds philosophy that there are higher truths that we must seek which are clearly beyond the capacity of reason or philosophy. The document reads as follows: Theology’s source and starting-point must always be the word of God revealed in history, while its final goal will be an understanding of that word which increases with each passing generation. Yet, since God’s word is Truth (cf. Jn. 17:17), the human search for truth – philosophy, pursued in keeping with its own rules – can only help to understand God’s word better. It is not just a question of theological discourse using this or that concept or element of a philosophical construct; what matters most is that the believer’s reason use its power of reflection in the search for truth which moves from the word of God towards a better understanding of it.

It is not difficult to see why this encyclical or the others mentioned earlier have been debated over and over again, among other reasons, because their statements suggest that faith should make a difference to the way in which believers make moral decisions. F urthermore, they imply that the Christian story illuminates the quest for moral truth and that faith completes or improves moral reason. S ome Christians may be accepting of such claims, and seek to justify their moral decisions by saying ‘this or that was the Christian thing to do’. But the latter must  �������������������������������� John Paul II, E ncyclical L etter Veritatis Splendor (London, 1993), n. 29.  �������������������������������� John Paul II, E ncyclical L etter Fides et Ratio (Dublin, 1998), n. 42.2.   ������������ Ibid., n. 2.   �������������������� Ibid., n. 14.2–15.1.   ����������������� Ibid., n. 83.1–3.   �������������� John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 73.  

Introduction



also acknowledge that Christians live in and share the natural world with those of no faith and those of other faiths. Where does such a position leave Christians in terms of the rest of the world? A nd if Christians have access to truths that are ‘absolute’, ‘transcendent’ and ‘revealed’, how do these affect moral action? A re there specifically Christian ways of behaving? Are there any new or extra moral norms that are revealed to Christians because of faith rather than reason? If so, what are these? A nd how can we distinguish them from ‘non-revealed’ or ‘natural’ norms? The issues at stake here have crystallized around the debate on the specificity of Christian morality. Beginning in the 1940s and 1950s, this debate gave rise to a considerable amount of discussion in the area of moral theology, which now seems to have come to a halt. The result, however, is that scholars are divided into two distinct but, as we shall see, not unrelated schools: the ‘Glaubensethik’ (‘faith-ethic’) and ‘autonomy’ schools. The notion of the autonomy of morality vis-à-vis religion is a difficult one, and proponents of this view have not found it easy to state their position. There are two strands of the autonomy thesis, which correspond to two different but related concerns. O ne seeks to emphasize that we should not expect to receive our moral norms from an external authority or from revelation. Instead, we must acknowledge that we are meant by God to discover the content of morality ourselves. The other maintains that the content of Christian morality is identical to that of the humanist because it is discovered using natural law and reason. Proponents of this view claim that faith contributes to morality by providing a specific horizon of interpretation, a worldview from which to assess good and evil, or a motivation for acting morally. Proponents of the Glaubensethik school, however, contested the views of the autonomy school. Their position may be summarized by saying that they wish to preserve the idea that Christian morality has a specific content that is derived from faith and revelation. S imilarly to the autonomy school, there are two main strands of thought, called respectively the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’. Those authors who believe that there are speci.c norms available through revelation and known in faith are considered to be proponents of the former view. The weaker form, put briefly, includes those who maintain that, even if there are no specifically Christian norms or values, Christians sometimes find themselves ‘going the extra mile’ or beyond the merely reasonable because they believe it is part of being a true disciple. That there are tensions between the so-called Glaubensethik and autonomy schools is obvious. But the questions raised by writers of both positions have had a positive effect on the discipline of moral theology in so far as its primary focus is no longer merely rules and principles of conduct. It is on these grounds that E nda McD onagh can say that moral theology in the classical sense is dead, given that the interests, language and presuppositions of moral theology since the Council have undergone dramatic changes which make much of the discipline



The Identity of Christian Morality

almost unrecognizable from its manualist past.10 But as moral theology continues to live in its renewed form, there seems to be little or no sign of a consensus being reached concerning the nature and uniqueness of Christian morality. Indeed, many scholars have moved away from the debate, convinced that it has run its course. James Walter, for instance, is among those scholars who advocate that moral theologians should concentrate on the more general task of determining how the S criptures can inform and direct us morally.11 While this is an important task, the interminable debates about what constitutes Christian ethics and whether one can justify moral norms from a theological perspective are still common. These debates seem to take on a different form than they did in the 1940s and 1950s, but the central questions they raise are more or less identical to those that arose out of the post Vatican II discussions concerning the uniqueness of Christian morality. The controversies brought about by the work of S tanley H auerwas are perhaps the most obvious example of this. Although Hauerwas is not writing from a specifically Catholic perspective, or in light of the Catholic debate on the specificity of Christian morality, he shares with the theologians of the renewal in moral theology a desire to say what difference the Christian tradition makes to the search for moral truth. H e is quite explicit about the fact that his theological agenda is to ‘keep theological ethics theological’.12 Concerned about the fact that current ethical debates seem not to include explicitly theological arguments, but rely almost exclusively on philosophical and/or secular reasoning, H auerwas maintains that theologians should be able to offer theological justifications for positions arrived at through philosophical argument. Hauerwas argues further that, since the E nlightenment, theologians have devoted far too much time trying to translate theological language into terms that are comprehensible and meaningful for secularists and for those who do not believe in the story of Jesus of N azareth in the S criptures.13 ‘In short [he argues] theologians have tried to show that we do not need to speak theologically in order to “say something theological”.’14 S imilarly to the theologians of the renewal in Catholic moral theology, H auerwas also seeks to emphasize the importance of the role of the Bible in the search for truth and, in particular, in the quest to be a certain kind of person. 10   E nda McD onagh, The Making of Disciples: Tasks of Moral Theology (Dublin, 1982), p. 1. 11   James J. Walter, ‘The Question of the Uniqueness of Christian Morality: An H istorical and Critical A nalysis of the D ebate in R oman Catholic E thics’, in Todd A . Salzman (ed.), Method and Catholic Moral Theology: The Ongoing Reconstruction (Omaha, 1999), p. 170. 12   S tanley H auerwas, ‘O n Keeping Theological E thics Theological’, in John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (eds), The Hauerwas Reader (Durham and London, 2001), pp. 51–74. 13   Ibid., p. 52. 14   Ibid.

Introduction



F or H auerwas, our tradition and our narrative stories should assist us in the formation of moral character. More specifically, the biblical narratives should help us to identify who we are and enable us to identify and to learn the virtues. A lthough he believes the natural law, to which all persons have access, is central to the discovery of truth, he is unwilling to concede that faith contributes nothing to human morality. His project, to put it simply, is to encourage theologians to come to the table, as it were, as theologians, using the narratives, practices and rituals of the Christian tradition to provide theological arguments in order to establish peace and justice in all aspects of religious, political and public life. For Hauerwas, one cannot begin to speak about morality if one does not already possess a sense of what the good is. This sense of the good can only come from our tradition. O ur tradition passes onto us the virtues and the necessary training in the form of stories and rituals that will help to move us toward the good. In H auerwas’s view, ethics cannot be done in abstraction from the community, as any attempt to do such would result in an ethics that is analogous to the law. Thus he states: It is not surprising that the law becomes the primary analogue for such an ethic as law is often seen as that set of minimum principles needed to secure order between people who share little in common. E thics, like law, thus becomes the procedural means to settle disputes and resolve problems while leaving our individual ‘preferences’ and desires to our own choice. To say more about morality requires not simply a conception of the good, but a tradition that carries the virtues necessary for training in movement toward the good.15

But H auerwas is not alone in his quest to determine the precise role of the Bible in Christian ethics, or the role played by tradition in the quest for truth and meaning. Contemporary philosophers are also lamenting the ‘loss of meaning’ and the loss of a sense of the importance of tradition in our moral lives. A lasdair MacIntyre argues that the interminable ethical debates that characterize contemporary moral discourse are a direct result of this loss of tradition.16 H e argues that because there is in our society no established way of deciding between [conflicting] claims that moral argument appears to be necessarily interminable. F rom our rival conclusions we can argue back to our rival premises; but when we do arrive at our premises argument ceases and the invocation of one premise against another becomes a matter of pure assertion and counter-assertion. H ence perhaps the slightly shrill tone of so much moral debate.17

MacIntyre also expresses concern about the way in which contemporary scholars tend to consider the works of Kant, Plato, H ume and others in isolation from   Ibid., pp. 72–3.   A lasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd edn (London, 1985), p. 8. 17   Ibid., p. 8. 15 16

The Identity of Christian Morality



their historical settings. When this happens, he argues, it ‘leads to an abstraction of these writers from the cultural and social milieus in which they lived and thought and so the history of their thought acquires a false independence from the rest of culture’.18 In a similar vein, MacIntyre laments the fact that much of our contemporary ethical discourse relies on personal preferences, feelings and subjective reasoning without acknowledging the effects of history and tradition on our ability to judge. This is what he terms emotivism. In MacIntyre’s estimation, the reason our contemporary ethical debates are interminable is because most scholars have adopted an emotivist stance, which asserts that all evaluative judgements can be true irrespective of moral theory, tradition or the moral wisdom of a community. This has grave implications for the way in which questions of truth are considered. If truth is merely an expression of our personal preference at any given time, it means that our moral judgements are criterionless.19 A nything can, therefore, be justified. The self that is constructed out of the emotivist approach to moral goodness can be whatever it desires, and never encounters a limit as to what it can or cannot do. It can pass judgement on everything from whatever standpoint the agent desires. This kind of self can decide to what extent he or she wants to be a person of integrity or character because an emotivist can always find a reason for acting in this or that way. This kind of self is totally free from the demands of a moral tradition, a magisterial teaching authority or the moral norms of a community. ‘The self thus conceived, utterly distinct on the one hand from its social embodiments and lacking on the other any rational history of its own, may seem to have a certain abstract and ghostly character.’20 Moreover, this kind of self does not have any social identity, because it does not acknowledge any historical roots or possess a sense of ‘belonging’ to a particular community or share its goals. A s MacIntyre puts it, ‘[t]his democratized self which has no necessary social content and no necessary social identity can then be anything, can assume any role or take any point of view, because it is in and for itself nothing’.21 In light of these concerns, MacIntyre seeks to explain why the virtues, traditions, narratives and goals of a particular community are so important to us as moral agents. S imilarly to H auerwas, he wishes to confront contemporary culture which emphasizes the ‘free self’ at all costs, and in so doing fails to acknowledge that we are historical beings who must ‘learn’ how to be good from sources other than ourselves. F or MacIntyre, then, tradition plays a central role in the education of moral individuals. Both the writings of A lasdair MacIntyre and that of S tanley H auerwas are but two examples which highlight the growing need in contemporary moral discourse 18

    20   21   19

Ibid., p. 11. Ibid., p. 32. Ibid., p. 33. Ibid., p. 32.

Introduction



to situate the precise role of history, tradition, the Bible, the practices of the community and the virtues in the search for truth. A lthough the debate on the specificity of Christian morality took a particular form and raised questions about whether Christianity gives us any new norms or values, the underlying concerns about what tradition can offer us as we pursue the truth are still an issue for us 50 years on. Moreover, although some scholars are of the opinion that discussions about the nature of Christian ethics are futile and will never reach any conclusion, we must not presume that it is acceptable to ignore these big questions. D iscussions about what the Bible contributes to Christian ethics are essential to the future of theological discourse, especially in the public arena. If theologians fall silent about what the Christian tradition can offer to Christians and to all who seek the truth, what hope is there for the future of, and credibility of, theological discourse? A lasdair MacIntyre is correct to express concern about the emotivist tendencies that mark our contemporary discussions, but these will continue until such times as we stop and engage with some of the most fundamental theological questions of our times: what is Christian ethics? What difference does belief in Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible make to our moral lives? A re Christians expected to behave differently because they believe in God? D oes faith matter? Indeed, the controversy surrounding S tanley H auerwas’s work shows us that discussions about the nature of theological ethics are far from over. In particular the accusations of sectarianism that have been stacked against him for stating that the role of the Church is to stand apart from the world and judge it show us that, whatever is unique about Christian ethics, Christians must be able to dialogue with the rest of the world, with persons of other faiths and with those of no faith.22 This is no simple task, but it is worthy of our attention. O ther debates which are still ongoing and which also arise in the context of discussions about what is unique about Christian morality have to do with how we understand moral autonomy. Throughout the duration of the Christian proprium debate the latter term was used by those scholars who maintain that the truth is accessible to, and discoverable by, all persons of good will. In referring to the autonomy of morals, the same scholars also believe that faith does not contribute any new or ‘extra norms’ or values to the content of natural law morality. Proponents of this position refer frequently to the ‘autonomy of morality’. H owever, although this expression appeared in the specific context of discussions about what is different about Christian morality, the publication of Veritatis Splendor (1993) seems to suggest that this term is now being interpreted as a position which claims that individuals find the truth themselves, in absolute freedom, free from the constraints

  F or a full discussion of the sectarian critique and a response from H auerwas, see Stanley Hauerwas, ‘Why the “Sectarian Temptation” Is a Misrepresentation: A Response to James Gustafson’, in John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (eds), The Hauerwas Reader, pp. 90–110. 22

The Identity of Christian Morality



of tradition, the effects of history, the Bible, revelation or a teaching authority of any kind. O ne of the encyclical’s central concerns is to underline the point that the work of some theologians of the postconciliar period denies some important Christian truths.23 R eferring to the expression ‘moral autonomy’, John Paul II speaks of certain trends in theological thinking and of philosophical affirmations which he believes are incompatible with ‘revealed truths’.24 H e also speaks of a remarkable lack of harmony between ‘the traditional response encountered in seminaries and faculties of theology, with regard to questions of the greatest importance for the Church and for the life of faith of Christians, as well as for the laity’.25 S ome of the disharmonies to which Pope John Paul II refers in Veritatis Splendor are evident, in his view, from the way in which certain theologians of the postconciliar era answer the recurrent questions of context versus principle, faith versus reason, autonomous ethics versus faith-ethics and conscience versus authority. Although the aim of the encyclical is to redefine the nature of Catholic moral theology, it seems to have caused further divisions, not to mention disappointment, among scholars. S ome writers feel that although their theology does not seek to undermine the magisterium, or the Christian faith, or imply that freedom should be absolute, the encyclical suggests otherwise. In an extensive commentary on Veritatis Splendor, Joseph S elling remarks that ‘[o]ne of the more general trends that [he] found frequently repeated was with respect to theories, trends, or currents that “exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes absolute” (VS 32–53)’.26 N evertheless, S elling points out that he has not yet met anyone who believes the encyclical is addressed to them, for no Catholic theologian agrees that human beings possess absolute freedom. This is one of the reasons why he is disappointed with the encyclical: the revisionist view of moral theology is misrepresented and misunderstood.27 Those who hold a more traditional view of moral theology are also disappointed with postconciliar moral theology. S ervais Pinckaers, for instance, believes that post Vatican II moral theology is little more than a wasteland of relativism. Pinckaers expresses a concern about the place of orthodoxy in a pluralistic society which

  John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, n. 29.  ����� Ibid. 25  ����� Ibid. 26   Joseph Selling and Jan Jans (eds), The Splendor of Accuracy: An Examination 23

24

of the Assertions made by Veritatis Splendor (Kampen, The Netherlands, 1994), p. 35; cf. Joseph S elling, ‘Veritatis Splendor and the S ources of Morality’, Louvain Studies, 19 (1994): 3–17. 27   The ‘revisionists’ are those who accepted that the moral theology of the manuals was far from adequate and began the task reconstructing moral theology on the basis of S cripture and tradition, rather than on natural and canon laws.

Introduction



claims to be open theoretically to all opinions but, in fact, excludes orthodoxy.28 H is allegations are perhaps stronger than Pope John Paul II’s. They show a general dissatisfaction with the kind of moral theology which is being promoted by those who seek to encourage dialogue with the secular world – by asserting the autonomy of morality, for instance – and ensure that Christian ethics does not become insular and incompetent in the face of secularism or ecumenism. Though, of course, their reasons are different, the dissatisfaction expressed by Pinckaers and S elling is a factor which unites them. What is particularly interesting about these opposing opinions, however, is the fact that, even though these scholars are not writing in the context of discussions about the uniqueness of Christian ethics, they are still more or less embodying the divisions created by the autonomy and the Glaubensethik schools. E mphasizing the autonomy of morals, S elling seems to be taking the stance adopted by the former school, while Pinckaers, concerned about the place of orthodoxy and the role played by faith and the magisterium in the search for truth, can generally be classified as being representative of the latter school. There are, of course, many more contemporary discussions in moral theology that could be cited here that demonstrate the divisions about what constitutes Christian morality, the function of the Bible in moral matters, the role of the magisterium in the search for truth and the nature of moral freedom. H owever, the examples given above clearly show that 50 years on, the issues that arose in the context of the autonomy/Glaubensethik debate are still very much on our theological agenda, albeit in a different way. S ometimes the issues are cited directly, as is the case with Veritatis Splendor’s treatment of moral autonomy, but, more frequently, as with the publication of Deus Caritas Est, for example, the issues are mentioned rather subtly and seem to attract less attention because they appear as ‘add-on statements’ that support Catholic teachings about love, friendship and relationships. F or instance, in Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI observes that Jesus united into a single precept this commandment of love for God and the commandment of love for neighbour found in the Book of Leviticus: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ (19:18; cf. Mk 12: 21). Since God has first loved us (cf. 1 Jn 4: 10), love is now no longer a mere ‘command’; it is the response to a gift of love with which God draws near to us.29

A lthough this phrase might appear to be noncontroversial, on closer inspection it might be asked whether non-Christians have access to the gift of love of which the Pope speaks. A nd, furthermore, is the Christian required to perform actions that go beyond the merely rational, or beyond what could otherwise only be known through human reason? When we break down these statements, we can see how   S ervais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics (Edinburgh, 1995), p.

28

305ff.

 ��������� Benedict ����� XVI, Deus Caritas Est, n. 1.

29

10

The Identity of Christian Morality

they relate more directly to questions that we more commonly associate with the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate. But at first sight this is perhaps not so obvious. That the debate about the uniqueness of Christian morality has subsided is clear, but what is also clear, I think, is the need to acknowledge the after-effects. A s has been sketched above, much of what now constitutes Catholic moral theology is characterized by those who, perhaps without explicitly saying so, support either the stance taken by the autonomy school, or that taken by what is more commonly known as the faith-ethic school. These positions are evident from their treatment of topics such as the natural law; conscience; moral autonomy; the Bible and Christian ethics; grace and revelation, to cite but a few examples. What is also evident from recent papal encyclicals is the fact that the faith-ethic stance is somehow considered to be the orthodox one, while the concept of the autonomy of morals is deemed to be a dangerous one that is thought to promote absolute freedom and a disrespect for the teaching office of the Church, even though no proponent of the autonomy position believes this to be the case. Precisely how this came to be the case is not clear to me. What is significant is the need to revise the issues as they emerged in the context of the postconciliar discussions concerning what, if anything, is unique about Christian morality. This needs to be done in an open and honest way, in a way that gives equal treatment and appropriate critical engagement with the positions taken by each school of thought. My approach is not one that seeks to defend one particular position and criticize the other. R ather, what I wish to do here is to attempt to move the debate beyond the all too narrow discussions which polarize the issues into conflicting and unhelpful categories: faith versus reason; autonomy versus faith ethic and revealed truth versus natural law. These dichotomies are unhelpful because they seem to imply that what is learned or known through faith communities or the texts of a faith tradition may be adverse to what is known through reason. Moreover, the dichotomy that is often spoken of between revealed truth and rational truth seems to suggest that moral agents operate in a horizon of interpretation that is unaffected by education, the stories of our tradition, history or the horizon of interpretation which we inherit from our upbringing and from our communities. It also suggests that, if there are revealed truths, disclosed to us by God, they might not be intelligible to a rational mind or to a person of no faith. If moral truths are revealed to us, they must make sense to us if we are to be moved to action at all. F urthermore, in order to be held morally responsible for our actions, we must be able to understand and to explain why we chose this or that course of action. Moral decisions are not made in a vacuum, but in the complex process of interpreting many sources of truth. Truth, whether revealed or otherwise, is found through a complex process of reasoning about, and reflecting upon, many sources: the received wisdom of the community, our own experience, the stories of others and of our tradition, the guidance of a magisterium or a person of authority and influence in our lives.

Introduction

11

The way in which these phenomena impact on our lives cannot be predetermined. This seems to suggest that the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate was fundamentally flawed from the outset because of the underlying assumption made by some writers of the faith-ethic persuasion that we can ‘read-off’ norms from the texts of our tradition, in advance of interpreting these texts, or, as suggested by some proponents of the autonomy position, that what motivates us to act in a particular way on one occasion will motivate us in the same way on other occasions. The mere fact that individuals, including those who believe in God, arrive at conflicting moral positions shows that the search for truth involves more than a simple adherence to tradition, our own experience, our particular motivation or other sources of truth. It involves a complex process of interpretation that is carried out communally and individually. It is only when we acknowledge this that we can truly say that we are acting in conscience because we have given adequate consideration to all the possible sources of moral wisdom. The sources of moral wisdom may often conflict. There may be lively disagreement about what is right and what is wrong. But it is important to note that when an individual acts, it is an expression of all the various strands of his or her life coming together. This shows that the self, Christian or otherwise, should be understood in a hermeneutical way. H ermeneutics acknowledges that our lives are a complex web of stories, experiences and identities. It also pays due regard to the fact that the self and meaning in any sense is a project – a desire to be, a project of interpretation that can never be completed in any real sense. This assertion is of particular significance for anyone interested in Christian ethics and its specificity. It underlines the need to acknowledge not only the kind of educational factors which are necessary in order to make an informed ethical judgement, but also the complex phenomena that can come to bear on individual moral decision-making; stories, culture, community, experience and religion. It also emphasizes the fact the truth cannot be ‘read off’, in the same way by every person, in advance of the process of interpretation and reflection upon the sources of truth that are considered to be important to the individual. It is from this perspective that we will begin to reengage with the debate on the specificity of Christian morality. Using the hermeneutical method suggested in some of the works of the F rench philosopher Paul R icoeur, we will attempt to examine the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate from a hermeneutical perspective. R ather than seeking to determine whether or not the Christian tradition contributes any new material norms to the content of natural law or rational morality, this study will approach the question from a much broader perspective, one which does not seek to re-emphasize the dichotomies created between faith and reason, but which seeks to examine and explain the specific and unique hermeneutical or interpretative process involved in the Christian search for truth. In this respect, our agenda is not to set the Christian tradition in opposition to the secular world, to reason, to other faiths or to those of no faith, but to show how it functions in the life of the Christian as he or she engages in the search for truth

The Identity of Christian Morality

12

and meaning in the world. The approach is hermeneutical, which means that it will attempt to explain the Christian search for truth in a twofold way: • •

by acknowledging that the truth and the quest for self-understanding are never purely autonomous ventures carried out by the self in isolation from the world, its stories, symbols, metaphors and myths; and by acknowledging that the process of reflecting on how our lives are shaped and reshaped by these phenomena is never complete.

This will enable us to see that in the search for truth, the Christian tradition has a role to play for those who acknowledge it – a role that cannot and should not be predetermined, in the form of norms and principles or in terms of a uni-dimensional motive for action, or prevent Christians from engaging in ethical discussions with those of other faiths or of no faith. In order to see the benefits of such an approach to Christian ethics, however, we must take a step-by-step approach. We must begin by examining the historical matrices that gave rise to the debate on the uniqueness of Christian morality, in order to subsequently see how and why we must move away from the all too narrow dichotomies that are still at work in contemporary moral discourse.

Chapter 1

The E mergence of the Christian Proprium D ebate A lthough it is common to hear theologians talking about ‘theological ethics’ and the S econd Vatican Council’s recommendations to make moral theology more ‘Christocentric’, one hears much less about their desire to reengage with the debate concerning the specificity of Christian morality. Frequently, we hear theologians saying that this particular debate has ‘run its course’, or we hear them say, ‘I thought that debate was over and done with’. While the debate does seem to have been taken off our theological agenda, the recommendations made by the Council prior to the development of this debate have still to be followed and realized. We still await the Christocentric moral theology of which the Council spoke. While it is true that the work of theologians was perhaps stifled by postconciliar discussions about what is unique about Christian morality or whether there is, indeed, a Christian morality, the fact remains that moralists scarcely refer to the Bible when they write about moral theology. Moreover, biblical scholars seldom converse with moralists about the interpretation of S cripture. In essence, this means that moral theology is not following the recommendations made in Optatam Totius 16. It is not giving special care to the perfecting and teaching of moral theology in light of divine revelation. It is very rarely drawing more fully on the teachings of H oly S cripture and it seldom throws light upon the exalted vocation of the faithful in Christ and their obligation to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world. Current Issues in Moral Theology The tendency to treat the work of the moralist and that of the biblical scholar as two separate enterprises is commonplace. It is only, perhaps, when we have to teach our students about the postconciliar debate in moral theology about what is specific or unique about Christian morality that we engage with the question of why the Bible is significant in moral matters. This is disappointing. A t a very   ��������� Paul VI, Optatam Totius: Decree on Priestly Training, 1965, n. 16, www.vatican. va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651028_optatamtotius_en.html (accessed 12 January 2008).   ����� Ibid.

14

The Identity of Christian Morality

basic level it means that, for the most part, today’s moral theology can and does proceed without any reference to S acred S cripture. It goes without saying, then, that the moral theology proposed by the Council has not yet materialized. A lthough the Council wanted to bring moral theology into a closer relationship with the S criptures, and with the person of Christ revealed therein, contemporary trends in moral theology indicate that frequently the discipline has little or nothing to say about the Bible and how it should be incorporated into the search for faith and understanding, truth and holiness, goodness and virtue. It may come as a surprise to some that the words of the German theologian Josef F uchs, written more than 40 years ago, still aptly describe the situation in moral theology regarding its renewal. In his work Human Values and Christian Morality, F uchs points out that ‘moral theology has never yet – strictly speaking – attained the ideal contemplated by the Council’. O ne of the reasons for this may be because there is little or no agreement about whether there is a Christian morality and whether the Bible contains any norms, values or principles that could be considered ‘specifically Christian’. A second reason may well be because scholars often support different schools of thought, and many scholars seem only to work with those who share their particular views about how the Bible should be used in moral theology. A nother reason why the moral theology of the renewal is out of reach for us today has to do with the fact that there is little collaboration between biblical scholars and moralists about the nature of the biblical texts, how they should be interpreted and whether they should be considered as authoritative in the moral sense. The work of moral theologians is often unread by biblical scholars and vice versa. Paradigms shifts that occur in the area of biblical exegesis often go unnoticed by moral theologians, even though these shifts in method may be of vital importance to the work of moral theologians. The specialization of the disciplines of moral theology and biblical studies makes matters even more complicated. Both biblical scholars and moralists are often divided (for philosophical or exegetical reasons) into various branches or schools of theology, which often makes conversation difficult to initiate. For instance, in the area of biblical studies, one often finds that some scholars support narrative approaches to the Bible, while others believe more strongly in the merits of literary criticism or the historical critical method. Moralists, too, are often divided into schools of thought, such as the ‘revisionists’ ‘faithethic’ or ‘autonomy’ schools or, more recently, ‘the new natural law’ school of thought. This makes communication between the disciplines all the more difficult. The lack of cooperation between the disciplines of moral theology and biblical theology, not to mention any other theological area, is cause for concern for the future of moral theology. Without a continuing dialogue with biblical   ������������� Josef F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, trans. M.H . H eelan, Maeve McRedmond, Erika Young and Gerard Watson (Dublin, 1970), p. 49.

The Emergence of the Christian Proprium Debate

15

scholars about the person of Christ as revealed in the S criptures, the possibility of constructing the christocentric moral theology of which the Council spoke becomes less and less likely. What becomes more increasingly likely is that moral theology will turn to the human sciences as a dialogue partner, rather than to the sacred sciences of biblical studies, spirituality or dogmatic theology. While cooperation with the former disciplines certainly has its merits – they can provide moral theology with anthropological, cultural and biological information about the human person – the lack of cooperation with the sacred sciences means that moral theology runs the risk of conducting itself in way that scarcely refers to the person of Jesus or to the call to holiness and transcendence. If moralists continue to write moral theology without reference to the S criptures or to the person of Jesus, the discipline runs the risk of becoming overly pragmatic or legalistic to the detriment of the spiritual desires of human beings and, more importantly, to the profound message of love and hope given to us by God though Jesus. In fact, if moral theology is not connected to God in any way, the work of the moralist will be akin to the work of the secular ethicist, and will scarcely, if at all, refer to faith. The harsh reality is that if moral theology infrequently refers to the God of Jesus Christ, it can hardly be called moral theology at all. The Need to Revise the Debate on the Christian Proprium It is for this reason that I am inviting the reader to revisit the issues raised by the theologians who were calling for a renewal of moral theology as well as the Council F athers who acknowledged and recognized the limitations of preconciliar moral theology. My central argument will be that in order to follow the Council’s recommendations for renewal and to embrace the ‘new and renewed moral theology’ that was promised 50 years ago, we need to find a suitable way of expressing the nature of Christian morality that will enable theologians to move beyond their disagreements and divisions. I will not so much be suggesting that we should resurrect the debate as it arose in the fifties and sixties. Rather, I will be proposing that we need to move beyond the narrow dichotomies created by scholars who participated in this debate and to look to a more hermeneutical framework of interpretation. This will help us to embrace more fully the idea that, although they may exhibit the same behaviour as a non-Christian, Christians can legitimately claim to possess a specifically Christian identity/self that is constantly being shaped and reshaped, in part, by the story of Jesus as contained in the Bible. Using the work of the F rench philosopher Paul R icoeur, it will be suggested that Christian moral behaviour is specific in the sense that it is an expression of the Christian understanding of what it means to be a ‘self’ or a ‘human person’, worked out, in part, by using the Bible and its propositions for the forging of character and the self.

16

The Identity of Christian Morality

My argument is based around the idea that, no matter what else might or might not be said about the uniqueness of Christian morality, its content, its motivation or its vision of life, at a very basic level there is no denying the fact that there is such a thing as a ‘Christian’ and, therefore, a ‘Christian self’ or a ‘Christian person’. This is someone who acknowledges belief in the God of Jesus Christ, and, to put it in very general terms, agrees in freedom to include the person and example of Jesus, as revealed in the S criptures, in his/her deliberations about good and evil. A lthough one does not have to believe in God to be moral, when one does believe in God, this must, and does, enter into considerations about what it means to be human, to be good, to be holy, to be merciful and to be just. Precisely how God enters into the equation is the problem, of course, which we shall see later, but, in general, few can disagree with the fact that, when human beings approach moral situations, they bring with them all of their personality, both positive and negative attributes, beliefs, teachings (including those of a magisterium, for instance), values and experiences. We cannot, and do not, simply divide ourselves up into rational, emotional and religious compartments. A ll aspects of our lives and personalities combine to make us who we are today. This means that when Christians act, they are giving expression to a range of aspects of their specific identity as individuals and as a believers, even if, externally observed, the action looks the same as one chosen and performed by a non-believer. What is significant, I think, is that, although actions might look the same in terms of their material content, for the Christian person, ‘the right thing to do’ is worked out, of course, through a rational process, but also through using the resources, stories, rituals and teachings of the Christian community, that is, the resources that confirm and communicate something to each person about their own identity. This implies that, irrespective of whether there exists specifically Christian norms or principles, there is a specifically Christian identity or self, which is worked out through the pages of the S criptures and is brought to the moral arena whenever a moral decision has to be made. Precisely what this ‘self’ is in any given situation is subject to interpretation and change over time as we grow more fully into the life of Jesus as well as becoming more familiar with the tools of exegesis. In other words, it cannot be summed up merely in the form of prescriptions, norms, rules or principles or in a single unidimensional motivation or intention. That is not to say that, to become a Christian self, one can ignore principles; rather, it is to say that we must treat the concept of ‘selfhood’ with some degree of flexibility so that it can allow for the possibility of change and growth over time, as well as allowing for the possibility that a principle or norm, once held to be an absolute truth, might need to be changed in light of new information in the area of biblical exegesis or new experiences that add a different slant to what is being assessed. This kind of flexibility might enable us to make more fruitful use of the S criptures in moral theology, as well as helping us to move beyond the divisions created by the debate about the uniqueness of Christian morality.

The Emergence of the Christian Proprium Debate

17

In order to move towards embracing this understanding of the relationship between moral theology and the Scriptures, as well as the specificity of Christian morality, we need to understand the issues first. One cannot really get beyond the Christian proprium debate without stating why it began at all. O ur considerations need a context. We will proceed, therefore, by stating: • • • • •

why moral theology was in need of renewal; what the Council recommended in order for this renewal to happen; how some scholars, most notably Josef F uchs, attempted to embrace the renewal and map out the contours of a ‘new moral theology’; how these attempts were stifled and side-tracked by a new debate that arose concerning what, if anything, was different about Christian morality; what the current state of play is regarding the renewal of moral theology, as well as offering some suggestions about where we should now take the discussions about the specific character of Christian morality.

Why Was Moral Theology in Need of Renewal? O ne of the reasons why the debate about the uniqueness of Christian morality began at all has to do with a set of concerns relating to moral theology that arose during the period prior to the S econd Vatican Council. D uring this period theologians around the globe were expressing concern about the then current method used in moral theology. Moral theology, unlike its present form, was taught in seminaries using textbooks or, as they were called, moral manuals that contained what were believed to be universal moral principles. The study of moral theology involved using these principles and applying them to individual cases. It was believed that such a careful application of the principles that were neatly distilled into the moral manuals would help young seminarians to perform their duty as confessors and administer the correct penance to a believer who had sinned. As such, they were legalistic and juridical in tone, and scarcely referred to scriptural teaching or to the example of Christ. A lthough marked by a predominant emphasis on authoritative, hierarchical teaching, the manuals provided priests with clear and objective guidance so that they could be confident about the nature and gravity of a particular sin. In terms of its general method and orientation, then, moral theology had more in common with canon law than it did with the concepts that we now more commonly associate with moral theology. As Thomas Slater, author of the first manual to appear in English claimed: ‘[…] the manuals of moral theology are as technical as the text-books of the lawyer and the doctor. They are not intended for edification, nor do they hold up a high

  ������������������� Charles E . Curran, Moral Theology at the End of the Century, The Père Marquette Lecture in Theology (Milwaukee, 1999), p. 14.

The Identity of Christian Morality

18

ideal of Christian perfection for the imitation of the faithful. They deal with what is of obligation under pain of sin; they are books of moral pathology.’ The result of this deductive approach to the quest for goodness was that being moral was understood to be a matter of obedience. L ittle attention was given to the role of freedom or individual conscience in moral decision-making. Confessors scarcely referred to the dispositions necessary to live a good life. In fact, they hardly ever referred to the person of Christ in their administering of the sacrament of penance, largely because they were not, through no fault of their own, competent to do so. Matters of the heart, of a spiritual, dogmatic, biblical or pastoral nature rarely entered into discussions in the classroom where moral theology was being taught to seminarians. This meant that the priest in the confessional was better equipped to assist the lawyer in the courtroom than he was to advise the faithful on how to live out the Christian moral message. Many theologians found this approach unsatisfactory, not least because they felt that, if the primary function of moral theology was to train seminarians to administer the sacrament of penance, this ought to involve some sort of understanding of what ‘conversion’ or a following of Christ, as revealed in the S criptures, involves. F urthermore, given that the discipline was taught in the seminaries as something distinct from dogmatic or spiritual theology, many theologians expressed concern that it rarely recognized that the object of moral theology should be seen in light of the Christian’s vocation in Christ, expounded in the S criptures. It seemed to many that an essential element of the Christian moral message was kept from the future priest. A s F uchs puts it, the manuals of moral theology were ‘conceived so onesidedly as manuals for confessors that one would hardly dare to give them into the hands of Catholic lay people or of any other Christians because the sublime nature of Christian morality is scarcely recognizable from the way they present it’. There was widespread disapproval of the fact that the spiritual dimensions of Christian living were kept very much separate in the seminaries from the discipline of moral theology. D ogmatic truths or truths of faith were not taught as a part of moral theology. In fact, students often took courses in moral theology before they approached the subject of revelation or the concept of revealed truth at all. Given this, many theologians began to call for a more biblical or christocentric moral theology, which could help to transcend the narrow boundaries of casuistry and the legalism that had characterized the discipline in the years before the S econd Vatican Council. In short, the general consensus amongst theologians of the time was that moral theology was in need of greater theological resources that could help confessors and believers to make the necessary connections between faith in Christ and living a good moral life.

 ��������������� Thomas S later, A Manual of Moral Theology, vol. 1 (New York, 1906), pp. 5–6.  ������� F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, p. 35.

 

The Emergence of the Christian Proprium Debate

19

Vatican II: Recommendations for a Renewal in Moral Theology The theologians of the renewal and the Council F athers were united in the view that moral theology was in need of change. Its method, general orientation and its separation from dogmatic, spiritual and biblical theology were among the main reasons why moral theology was in need of such drastic revision. There was a sense of urgency around the time of the S econd Vatican Council that moral theology should be given special attention, not because it was considered to be the most important theological discipline, but because it was the discipline that was most in need of revision. There was widespread agreement that the moral theology that was being proposed by the Council was no longer one of commandments and sins, but one of ‘life in Christ’. It was believed that the primary vocation of moral theology should be seen in light of a belief in Jesus Christ and in his teachings, as revealed in the S criptures. This meant that moral theology would no longer be separated from dogmatic theology or from biblical theology. It was clear that, in the eyes of the Council, the discipline of moral theology should involve reflection upon themes that were normally considered as part of dogmatic, spiritual or biblical theology, such as revelation and salvation. O f course, as we will see, precisely how the Bible and dogmatic theology would be integrated into moral theology would later prove to be problematic. What is significant from the point of view of our discussion about the specificity of Christian morality, however, is that it was not the Council’s intention to discuss what faith contributes to morality. N or did the Council initiate discussions about whether there are revealed norms that are inaccessible to the non-believer. N or did it intend to set up a dichotomy between ‘revealed truth’ and the natural law. What the Council did refer to was the fact that moral theology should be focused upon the person of Christ, not merely upon obedience to laws and principles, as was the case with the manuals. It wanted a more lively approach to the search for truth, based on the S criptures and the person of Christ. The Council believed that, through pondering the S criptures, students of moral theology would learn to penetrate the mysteries of faith more deeply, and experience Jesus as a living reality, a person who invites us into a relationship of love, rather than a judge who summons us to the confessional. It was clear that the Council wanted to reestablish the links between biblical theology, dogmatics, spirituality and morality. It no longer wanted moral theology to be overly abstract; rather, it wanted moral theology to draw on the theological riches contained in the Bible so that it could nourish the spiritual and moral lives of those students who were preparing for the priesthood. There was a clear rationale for change in the mind of the Council Fathers: future priests should not only be confessors, trained in casuistic law, but they should also be able to offer spiritual and pastoral guidance to parishioners, based upon the example of Jesus in S acred S cripture. Clearly, what the Council wanted was not a long and acrimonious debate about what, if anything, faith contributes to the content of morality. What it wanted seemed much less complicated at the time. The Council wanted moral theology to

The Identity of Christian Morality

20

be presented as the ‘good news’, a joyful message that embraced Christ’s call to us. It wanted a moral theology that showed how it ‘ … is primarily concerned with “the exalted vocation of the faithful in Christ” and the obligation “to bring forth fruit in charity for the life of the world” ’. It also wanted a moral theology that was nourished by the teachings of the Bible without excluding the need for the natural law or reason in the search for moral truth. Josef Fuchs’s ‘Christocentric’ Moral Theology A mong the many theologians who attempted to embrace the Council’s recommendations for a renewed approach to moral theology was the German theologian Josef F uchs. F uchs was among those scholars who had been calling for change in the years before the Council. H e, like so many others at the time, was of the opinion that moral theology should not be taught only and primarily as a set of objective rules and principles distilled into a textbook, which should be dutifully applied by the trained cleric. F uchs embraced the idea that moral theology should be, in his own words, ‘presented as an unfolding, a revelation and explanation, of the joyful message, the good news, of Christ’s call to us, of the vocation of believers in Christ’. F uchs summarized this new approach to moral theology into four distinct but interrelated statements, all of which merit our attention here: • • • • •

Christ and our being-in-Christ are [at the] centre … [of moral theology]; the fundamental characteristic of Christian morality is a call, a vocation, rather than a law; Christian morality is … responsive in character; [Christian morality] is a morality for Christians; [and] its exalted nature must be made clear in the manner of its presentation.

Christ as the Centre A lthough the theologians of the renewal and the S econd Vatican Council sought to place the person of Christ at the centre of moral theology, they did not intend that this would exclude all considerations of the human aspects of the moral enterprise. This meant, in theory, that the Christocentric moral theology proposed by the Council was not thought to exclude consideration of the natural law, or to suggest that the object of faith should be set in opposition to reason and the philosophical tradition. When the Council F athers stated that moral theology was to be focused on the person of Christ, their concern was to give a fuller expression to the Christian’s relationship with God, through Christ. They wanted to bring  ������� F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, p. 3.  ����� Ibid.   ����� Ibid.  

The Emergence of the Christian Proprium Debate

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out the Christian’s special vocation to follow Christ in both word and action as expressed in the S acred S criptures. D rawing mainly on the work of S t Paul, the Council sought to concretize the idea of dying to sin and coming alive to God through Jesus. Belief in Christ, according to the Council F athers, meant that the Christian is now considered to be more open to the spirit of Christ which lead them away from sin and into the light of Christ. This new state was interpreted in light of the texts of R omans, where it is made clear that, because of Christ, Christians are in a new ‘state of grace’10 or ‘in the spirit’.11 These references to S acred S cripture were intended not only to make moral theology more Christ-centred, but also to reconnect the moral life of the Christian with the history of salvation. Consequently, Christ was considered to be the norm of morality for the Christian because the Christian not only had a natural being, derived from his/her humanity, but also a supernatural being, derived from his/her belief in Christ. In this way, Josef Fuchs could assert that ‘Christ is … the prototype to whose pattern we are all created and must all conform – and this applies to our “natural” being as well as to that special being through which we are awakened with Christ to the life of the children of God’.12 In order to explain in more detail the implications of this ‘supernatural’ being in Christ, F uchs went on to say that anyone who believes in the God of Jesus Christ must seek to make this relationship a living one through their actions. This means that, when the Christian acts in a loving way, he/she is, in effect, expressing his/her belief and special relationship with Jesus.13 It also indicates that, when the Christian acts morally, he/she must interpret this action as ‘an imitation of the example of Christ in history and of Christ glorified’.14 This imitation, however, should not be interpreted as mere repetition, as F uchs points out, but must relate to the individual’s humanity and situation. In this sense, each Christian must seek to bring about actions that are in harmony with the person and actions of Christ seen throughout the S criptures.15 In this way, moral theology remains responsive to reason and to experience, but also to its scriptural foundation, as each and every Christian is encouraged to see their moral actions as an expression of their unique relationship with Christ. Christian Morality Is a Call, a Vocation, Rather Than a Law The second aspect of the christocentric morality set out by the Council and interpreted for us by F uchs in his work Human Values and Christian Morality has to do with the Christian’s special vocation in Christ. Given that the moral 10

 ���������� Rom. 6:14.  ����������������� Rom. 7: 6; 8:2ff. 12  ������� F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, p. 5. 13  ����� Ibid. 14  ������������ Ibid., p. 6. 15  ����� Ibid. 11

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The Identity of Christian Morality

theology of the manuals concentrated primarily upon observance of rules and principles, and was designed specifically for the training of confessors, it seldom referred to the Christian’s call to both holiness and goodness. Thus the Council sought to show how moral theology should be reinterpreted to include in a very tangible way the fact that Christians are called not merely to obey principles and law, but to holiness in Christ. This is considered to be their specific vocation. The concept ‘vocation’ was used by the Council to denote how each Christian is called personally into the fullness of the Christian life, according to rank within the Church and according to their own specific gifts and charisms.16 But this call to holiness is not interpreted such that it excludes non-Christians, or any person of goodwill for that matter; rather, it is thought to be available to all because all are called to salvation in Christ.17 In moral terms, this means that while our vocation in Christ requires us to comply with general laws and obligations, we must also make room for the S pirit of God, and seek to express this spirit in our moral actions and in our day-to-day lives.18 In this way, it was believed both by the Council F athers and by those who sought to embrace the challenge of making moral theology more Christocentric that moral theology must include both laws and principles, but that their ‘significance and place within Christian morality must be clearly indicated [preferably through reference to the example of Christ in the S criptures]’.19 Christian Morality is Responsive in Character The third characteristic of the new moral theology proposed by the Council was directly linked to the themes of ‘call’ and ‘vocation’. It referred to fact that Christian morality was not only a morality of laws and general principles, but also a personal response to God who calls us to both goodness and holiness. To use F uchs’s words ‘[God] calls us and he has loved us first (cf. 1 John 4:10), and we personally respond to his call by the quality of our lives’.20 This means that when Christians respond to moral situations, they are effectively responding to God’s call and to God’s gift of divine grace. It is also thought to mean that when the Christian acts morally, he/she is in essence responding – whether consciously or otherwise – to God’s call to salvation. In this way, even when Christians are following what are thought to be universal moral principles, they are in fact following what is believed to be, as F uchs argues, ‘an abstract expression of God’s will, of God’s call to us’.21 16  ����������������������������������������������������������������� Paul VI, Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes, 1965, n. 2 (www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vatii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html) (accessed 20 April 2008). 17  ������� F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, p. 9. 18  ������������� Ibid., p. 11. 19  ������������������������������ Ibid., p. 12 [emphasis added]. 20  ����� Ibid. 21  ����� Ibid.

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Consequently, when the Christian acts in an appropriate way, his/her actions are thought be personal and free responses to God’s call to goodness and holiness. A Morality for Christians It follows, then, that the moral theology which the Council proposed and which F uchs and others attempted to live out is not simply one that is synonymous with philosophical or secular ethics. The moral theology that was being put forward was one which would be more in tune with those who believed in the God of Jesus Christ and the sacraments. It would be linked with the person of Christ as revealed in the S criptures and would highlight the Christian’s unique vocation in Christ. The word Christian was interpreted to mean Catholic.22 But this was not intended to mean that other Christians were not also called to this vocation of goodness in Christ. It was believed that, even if other Christians disagreed with Catholics on some points of interpretation, at the very least, this kind of dialogue would bring about an understanding of morality and a conversation about morality that really was Christian. It would also mean that the moral theology that was being taught in the seminaries would be recognized by other Christians. H owever, for F uchs none of this meant that Christians could not dialogue with non-Christians about the nature of morality. It was felt that although, through faith, Christians were considered to be in a state of grace, this grace was not confined solely to the Christian community. F uchs was of the opinion that it was possible, at least in theory, that the person of no faith could receive grace. H e even went as far as to say that ‘there are many grounds for supposing that even those who in all sincerity declare themselves atheists may encounter God, on occasion, in their inmost consciousness. They would not, of course, be reflexively conscious of any such experience.’23 Moral Theology Must Make Clear the Christian’s Exalted Vocation in Christ It is clear from what has been said already that the Council wanted a moral theology that would express the Christian’s specific vocation more fully. It was believed that, if moral theology could take stock of this, it would be a more engaging subject area for seminarians who were preparing for parish life. If they received the good news in light of the S criptures, and in light of their own vocation to serve Christ in all things, rather than merely learning how to administer the sacrament of penance as outlined in the manuals, it was believed that they would be more equipped to communicate the good news of Jesus Christ to all those who had ears to hear it! The consensus at the time was that parishioners would respond more fully to a morality that was more closely connected to the stories of Jesus found in the Gospels than to the legalistic prohibitions and sanctions found in the manuals. 22

 ������������� Ibid., p. 13.  ������������� Ibid., p. 15.

23

24

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In this way, the S criptures would be placed at the centre of Christian morality in light of the Council’s requirement of ‘sola scriptura’. F or moral theology, it meant that the discipline would be presented to seminarians in a more lively way, thereby enabling them to ponder the mysteries of the life and example of Christ more fully and connect them with their own lives, under the guidance of the Catholic Church’s magisterium. Differing Interpretations F rom what has been sketched here thus far about the renewal of moral theology, it is easy to understand why there was such widespread enthusiasm amongst theologians working and writing in the area of moral theology at that time. The prospect of change was clearly on the agenda. And this change was even ratified by R ome. E veryone wanted moral theology to become more biblical and to focus more directly on the person of Christ. It goes without saying that scholars began to write about what this new moral theology would and should look like in theory and in practice. Most were in agreement that the figure of Christ should indeed take centre stage in moral theology, in order to distinguish it from philosophical ethics and moral philosophy. But how this was the case often varied. S ome scholars emphasized the role of grace in the pursuit of Christian truth as the distinguishing feature, while others sought to show how the principle of Christian charity was the most central demand of the Christian moral life.24 O ther groups of scholars concentrated on the idea of ‘imitation of Christ’ and sought to concretize this in terms of moral demands, specifically Christian values, precepts and norms.25 What was positive about all of the discussions that took place both before the S econd Vatican Council and in the years after is that most of the themes which moral theologians tried to bring into to their deliberations on moral theology were biblical ones. But this positive use of the Bible was matched with difficulties concerning the interpretation and use of the biblical texts. F or instance, it became commonplace at conferences to invite biblical scholars to say a few words on whatever topic was to be discussed and to relate the topic to specific texts in the Bible. H owever, the problem with this approach was that moralists often used the texts that were discussed as ‘corroborative proof of already established positions’.26 In fact, moralists would regularly quote from the Bible in their 24  ���������������������������������������������������� Cf. Gerard Gilleman, ‘Théologie morale et charité’, Nouvelle Revue Théologique, 84 (1952): 806–20.; Enda McDonagh, ‘The Primacy of Charity’, in McDonagh (ed.), Moral Theology Renewed (Dublin, 1965), pp. 130–50. 25  �������������������� Cf. F ritz Tillmann, Handbuch der katholischen Sittenlehre, vol 3, Die Katholische Sittenlehre, Die Idee der Nachfolge Christi; vol. 4, Die Verwirklichung der Nachfolge Christi, 4th edn (Düsseldorf, 1953). 26  ������������������� Vincent MacN amara, Faith and Ethics: Recent Roman Catholicism (Dublin, 1985), p. 33.

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writings, but, as MacN amara points out, it was often unclear how these texts were to be used,27 other than to bolster up the respective positions taken by individual authors on a given topic. But the use of S cripture was but one issue that arose out of the renewal in moral theology. O ther, perhaps more worrying, issues arose at a later phase in the renewal when the initial enthusiasm about the proposed Christocentric morality had subsided and scholars began to reflect more intensely on the precise nature of Christian morality, and to ask how, if at all, it differed in style and in content from a natural law morality. Even Josef Fuchs began to refine his earlier position concerning the Christian’s supernatural state of grace in Christ in light of what he saw as a more mature approach, not only to the interpretation of the biblical texts, but also to the proposals for the renewal of moral theology. In the early seventies moral theologians began to write about Christian morality in a way that differed significantly from what the renewal movement had proposed. It was during this time that F uchs, for instance, began to write about the autonomy of morality. In his view this was a necessary step which moral theology had to take in order to avoid suggesting that the demands of this newly proposed Christian morality went beyond the demands of what is required by reason alone. H ard questions now had to be asked. E nthusiasm and excitement had to be replaced by a more careful and sustained theological analysis about the precise nature of Christian morality. The most central question was now: is more morally required of the Christian in visibly discernable ways than is required of the non-Christian who relies solely on the natural law in the pursuit of truth? To put it in more blunt terms, scholars needed to know now whether Christian morality was more a morality from above (revealed) than a morality from below (human). Or was it both? Those scholars who came to rally around Josef F uchs’s position, in spite of, in some cases, slight differences in interpretation, formed what is now known as the autonomy school of thought. The latter were generally of the opinion that Christian morality was, in fact, a human morality. F or the sake of clarity of exposition and brevity, we will confine ourselves to presenting a summary statement of what the movement for an autonomy ethic represented. It is not necessary or desirable to go into detail about individual presentations of this school of thought, because our intention here is to sketch the issues with a view to moving beyond them. Reaction: the Movement for an Autonomous Ethic In the early seventies, there is clear evidence that some scholars wanted to present Christian morality in a way that differed from that which was proposed at an earlier stage of the renewal and by the S econd Vatican Council. F uchs was among those who became concerned that if Christian morality was based on faith and revelation, it might hinder dialogue between the Catholic faith and other faiths, 27

 ����� Ibid.

The Identity of Christian Morality

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as well as putting an end to discussions with the secular world about the nature of moral goodness. Consequently, we find Fuchs refining his earlier stance, and making more explicit statements about his belief that the Catholic and the non-Catholic stand on the same footing when it comes to the demands of morality. H e was clearly anxious to show that all humans share in the task of discerning good from evil.In fact, he even argues that ‘there is good Catholic authority for saying that non-Christians share more than the “natural” elements of the Christian vocation’.28 The suggestion here is that, even if it is the case that divine grace causes Christians to act in specific ways, this grace might also be available to the non-Christian. H ence, it follows that, even without consciously knowing it, when non-Christians act morally, they are in effect enabling the grace of God to operate in their lives. A round the same time other scholars began to make similar statements. Gerard H ughes’s statement is perhaps one of the most poignant and helps us to get to the heart of the autonomy position. R eferring to the proposals made about renewing moral theology, H ughes claimed that We should not use S cripture or Tradition as the ultimate authority for deciding any moral issue. These sources may provide confirmation of beliefs which we form on other grounds … . We should behave as though we really did believe that we stand on essentially the same footing as secular moralists.29

This view won over the support of many Catholic theologians during the seventies, but, as we shall see, without completely doing away with the view that the proposals of the renewal should be continued in a manner consistent with its initial presentation. Those who supported F uchs’s new position regarding the nature of Christian morality set about emphasizing the fact that the content of Christian morality was the same for Christians and non-Christians alike. These scholars rallied together because they wanted to continue conversations with persons of other faiths and those of no faith about matters of social policy, state law and moral law, medical ethics, life and death issues and so on. Proponents of this view were of the opinion that the Christian must be able to come to the table as a Christian while remaining competent to reason about truth in a similar way to the non-Christian. This desire was so strong that Fuchs made the very clear and definite statement that ‘the principles and commands of moral conduct are the same for a truly human morality as for Christian morality’.30

 ������� F uchs, Christian Values and Human Morality, p. 14.  �������������������������������������������������� Gerard J. H ughes, ‘A Christian Basis for E thics’, The Heythrop Journal, 13 (1972): 43, cited in Vincent MacN amara, Faith and Ethics, p.37. 30  ������� F uchs, Christian Values and Human Morality, p. 120. 28 29

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27

In saying this, however, F uchs did not wish to undermine the Christian tradition or the significance of the person of Christ in the Christian search for goodness. We can detect clear signs from his writings that all he wanted to do was point out that if morality could be called Christian in any sense that this should not refer to its content or to specific norms or values, but to a specific motivation which moved Christians to action. F uchs distinguished the act itself from the reason for action, a point about which there would later be much discussion and counter argument, because he, along with numerous others, was convinced that Christ pervaded the moral life in such a way that leaves the content of Christian morality identical to that of human morality. It is on these grounds that F uchs and his supporters could claim that ‘the moral conduct of the Christian must essentially be human conduct’.31 This view gained considerable support. O ther scholars who aligned themselves with this school of thought explained the ‘extra’ in Christian morality as a specific horizon of interpretation, a worldview or a context from which to consider morality,32 a specifically Christian consciousness,33 and a unique identity34 which gives new ‘significance’ and ‘inspiration’ to the quest for goodness. In short, the ‘extra’ in Christian morality is thought to be a religious extra, rather than a material one. A lthough all of these scholars did not accept fully the idea that the motivation for an action could always exist in isolation from its content,35 they did support the idea that, for the most part, Christian morality was and had to be a human morality. This explains why they became known collectively as the autonomy school. Counter-reaction: the Glaubensethik/faith-ethic school Given the nature of discussions about Catholic morality at any time, either in the present day or in times past, it comes as no surprise to us that there also emerged around the same time a group of theologians who disagreed with the proposals made by F uchs and others regarding the content of Christian morality. Proponents of this new group of theologians sought to explain Christian morality in yet another way. F or this group of scholars, the autonomy school’s insistence that the content of Christian morality is identical to that of human morality constituted a reversal of the renewal of moral theology. In their eyes, the autonomy school was

31

 ����� Ibid.  ������������������������������������������������������������������������� R ichard McCormick, ‘D oes R eligious F aith A dd to E thical Perception?’, in Charles E. Curran and Richard McCormick (eds), Readings in Moral Theology No. 2: The Distinctiveness of Christian Ethics (New York, 1980), pp. 156–73. 33  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Charles Curran, ‘Is there a Catholic and/or Christian ethic?’, in Curran and McCormick (eds), Readings in Moral Theology No. 2, pp. 60–89. 34  ��������������� Cf. MacN amara, Faith and Ethics. 35  ����������������������������������������������������������������� Cf. Curran, ‘Is there a Catholic and/or Christian ethic?’, p. 76. 32

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simply undermining the attempt to ‘christianize’ moral theology and pandering to the demands of secularism. This new group of theologians could not accept that the demands of Christian morality are the same as the demands of the natural law and/or reason. F or the latter, such a view could only have the negative effect of undermining the teaching office of the Catholic Church, as well as making the human person the source, origin and justification for moral positions. In fact, some writers of what would later be called the faith-ethic persuasion were worried that the term autonomy carried suggestions of ‘emancipation’, ‘liberalism’, ‘secularism’ and freedom from religion and transcendence of any kind.36 In this respect the autonomy school’s position was considered by some to be a dangerous threat to the Catholic tradition and to the Holy Teaching office. The objections raised by the faith-ethic school had the positive effect of forcing proponents of the autonomy school to clarify their position and to present more sophisticated arguments; but they also had the rather negative effect of polarizing scholars into two different groups, for what was a battle, a period of objection and counter-objection, concerning the nature of Christian morality. So what was this school of thought that emerged in opposition to the autonomy school, and what was its central position? To begin, it is worth saying something about the name of this second school of thought. A lthough this school carries the name ‘Glaubensethik’, derived from the German verb ‘glauben’ which means ‘to believe’, it should not be presumed that supporters of the autonomy school’s interpretation of Christian morality do not believe in Jesus Christ. This name is misleading because it might also seem to suggest that the faith-ethic school is more orthodox than the autonomy school in its presentation of Christian ethics. There may well be a case to be made for changing the way in which we refer to these schools of thought. H owever, for our present purposes and for the sake of clarity we will be referring to the theologians who objected to the autonomy school as supporters of the Glaubensethik/faithethic school. The faith-ethic position runs as follows: • • • • •

The content of Christian morality is not found simply from reason reflecting on human nature. The content of Christian morality is not identical to the content of human morality. It is not acceptable to say that what is unique about Christian morality is its context, worldview or specific motivational characteristics. Christian morality sometimes requires us to do more than reason demands. S ometimes the Christian has to ‘go the extra mile’, which means that, in

36  ���������������������������������������������������������� Konrad H ilpert, ‘The Theological Critique of “A utonomy”’, Concilium, 172/2 (1984): 9–15.

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theory, Christian morality has distinctive content which sometimes goes beyond the requirements of human reason. S imilarly to the autonomy school, there were, of course, slight differences between scholars of the faith-ethic school as to the precise nature of this specifically Christian morality. It is for this reason that we often hear about a ‘strong’ and a ‘weak’ form of the faith-ethic position. The stronger form asserts that faith contributes new material norms to Christian morality that make it materially different from human morality, while the weaker form asserts that, even if there are no specifically Christian norms and principles, the Christian will sometimes find him-/herself ‘going the extra mile’ because of their faith in Jesus Christ and in divine revelation. A further concern expressed by proponents of the faith-ethic persuasion had to do with how the autonomy school interpreted the role of the Bible in Christian ethics. They felt it was not satisfactory to say that the Bible motivated the Christian to act morally, or that it provided the Christian with a specific context or worldview from which to analyse moral issues. The young Joseph R atzinger, for instance, spoke out strongly against the autonomy stance. H e wanted to show how the D ecalogue was tied to faith in God, and how faith in God involved and required a certain kind of behaviour from Christians. F or him, faith and ethics were intertwined in a very definite way, and the content of Christian morality could never be identical to the content of human morality. F or R atzinger, faith in the God of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the S criptures, gives a new dimension to morality, such that it affects moral choices and the ability to discern the truth in tangible ways.37 His position was crystal clear: Christians are called to the special task of elaborating moral norms in light of faith in divine revelation and in the person of Christ revealed in S acred S cripture. Christian morality, therefore, was unique and was biblical through and through. Those who supported R atzinger’s position simply could not accept the idea that reason alone was the means through which truth is found. They were of the opinion that faith must make a difference to the way in which we come to know the truth. It is clear why they found the autonomy school’s position so unacceptable: from a faith-ethic perspective, it is not sufficient to say that faith in the God of Jesus Christ, as revealed in the S criptures, simply motivates or encourages Christians to be good. N or is it acceptable to say that the individual discovers the truth autonomously. In the eyes of supporters of this view, such a belief not only undermines the possibility of there being such as thing as ‘revealed truths’ or the ‘truths of faith’, but it also has the effect of undermining

37  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a summary of R atzinger’s position, see Joseph R atzinger, ‘Magisterium of the Church, Faith, Morality’, in Curran and McCormick (eds), Readings in Moral Theology No. 2, pp. 174–89.

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the serious and important role carried out by the magisterium in faithfully interpreting the content of Christian morality in light of the S criptures.38 O f course it was not the autonomy school’s intention to undermine the teaching office of the Catholic Church, but to explain Christian morality in light of the signs of the times and in a way that would enable the Catholic moralist to enter into discussions with those of no faith and of other faiths in the ongoing search for answers to the moral questions of the day. The arguments were tit-for-tat. The search to renew moral theology in light of a more lively understanding of faith in Jesus as revealed in the S criptures had turned into a heated debate about the nature and use of the biblical texts in moral matters, about the nature of faith and about the magisterium’s competence to teach morals with authority and to interpret the moral content of the Bible and, most critical of all, about whether in fact Christian ethics was nothing more than human morality by a different name. The most pressing questions now seemed to be: What was specific about Christian morality? What did faith contribute to Christian morality? A nd could the demands of faith and revelation be translated into norms, values and moral precepts? But who was right? Proponents of the autonomy school? O r supporters of the faithethic persuasion? The Need to Move Beyond the Debate on the Speci.city of Christian Morality It goes without saying really that, in the aftermath of the S econd Vatican Council, Catholic moral theology had to think hard about the nature and content of Christian morality. In this sense, the exchanges and counter-exchanges that took place in the 1960s and 1970s between the autonomy and faith-ethic schools were important because they helped to clarify and to identify some of the difficulties involved in understanding and developing the moral theology proposed by the S econd Vatican Council. As to answering the question of who was right, this is more difficult to interpret. Both positions were ragged around the edges. Without giving a critique of individual authors, we will identify some general weaknesses in both schools of thought, based on their general stances concerning the specificity of Christian morality. The purpose of doing this will not be to identify who had it right or to determine which author’s position is the most convincing. R ather, our aim will be to identify the limitations of the autonomy and faith-ethic positions, in the hope of moving beyond them. Moving beyond the dichotomies created by these two schools is essential if we are to have any hope of achieving the kind of moral theology of which the Council spoke. It is also important for the future of moral theology as a discipline. A s pointed out earlier, if moral theologians are no longer required to draw upon the sources of their own 38

 �������������� Ibid., p. 183.

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tradition as part of the process of finding the truth, we can scarcely claim that the task of the moral theologian is any different from that of the moral philosopher. Moreover, if we cannot find a way of speaking about the uniqueness of Christian morality without either being accused of falling into a sectarian posture and creating obstacles to inter-religious dialogue, or being affected by the general trend towards secularism, Christians will continue to be confused about the nature of Christian morality. F ew will be able to argue convincingly that tradition has something to say to us about how we should live today. F ewer still will feel competent to use and to refer to the Bible in moral matters, and those who, perhaps, do feel confident in this regard run the run of misusing and misinterpreting the role and function of the biblical texts. F undamentalism will be more common, as will an approach to Christian ethics that seeks to define everything in terms of obedience to laws and principles found in the Bible or in the teachings of an authority, such as the magisterium, for example. This approach is undesirable, not least because it would reverse all that the renewal sought to achieve in moving away from the legalistic approach to morality found in the manuals. In short, one could say that if we do not find a way of mediating between the respective concerns of the autonomy and faith-ethic schools of thought and presenting the specificity of Christian morality in a new guise, the risk of extremist positions is great. F or instance, while some will argue that morality is something that can be done in abstraction from the community, others will support the idea that morality is simply a matter of obedience to laws and principles that are either dictated to us by tradition or by society, or, worse still, derived from our own subjective preference. Beyond the Impasse: the Limitations of Both Approaches Our first step, then, is to highlight what was problematic in the respective approaches to Christian morality adopted by the faith-ethic and autonomy schools of thought. L et us begin with the stance taken by the faith-ethic school. Proponents of this line of thinking seem to appeal directly to biblical norms in support of their claim that Christian morality has a specific content that is unavailable to the non-Christian. The problem with this view is that the faith-ethic school did little to define the content of this specifically Christian morality in any great detail. We often find that the work of its proponents involves distinguishing in general terms between biblical norms that are thought to be ‘revealed’ and those that are thought to be shared with the rest of humanity. But we find little or no evidence that might indicate how they arrived at this position from the point of view of biblical scholarship. There is no sustained analysis of texts or exegetical method at play in their work. The agenda seems to be to show at all costs what is different about the content of Christian truth. This is done by sifting through all the biblical admonitions that might seem to suggest that more is required of the Christian than

32

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is required of the non-Christian, a venture which the German theologian Klaus D emmer pointed out is futile, ahistorical and static.39 A further limitation in the faith-ethic school’s approach to Christian morality has to do with the fact that it lacks a strong central line of argument. There are stronger and weaker forms of the faith-ethic school’s central thesis. Those authors who believe that there are specific norms available through revelation and known in faith are considered to be of the former view. The weaker form, however, is more problematic. It can be summed up briefly by saying that supporters of this line of thinking maintain that, even if there are no specifically Christian norms or values, Christian are sometimes required to ‘go the extra mile’ in order to be a true disciple. This claim shows that certain strands of thought within what is commonly known as the faith-ethic school are very similar to claims made by the autonomy school. This makes distinguishing the schools very difficult, and leads one to wonder whether the tensions dividing these two schools are, in fact, pseudo-tensions that serve no purpose other than that of polarizing theologians into conflicting positions. If the faith-ethic school of thought cannot be defined along clear lines anymore, there may be a case for saying that it should not be described merely as a movement of thought that opposes the central stance of the autonomy school. O ther issues that arise with regard to the faith-ethic line of thinking have to do with how it interprets the significance of the Christ-event. For writers of this school, the figure of Christ is the norm of morality. However, it is not clear precisely what theologians intend when they say this. D o they mean that the person of Christ as revealed in the S criptures encourages or motivates believers to do the good? O r do they mean that following Christ involves definite modes of behaviour that are visible in our everyday lives? O ne has to wonder about how the faith-ethic school would explain sin. If we can know what Christ wills us to do, and if the Christevent gives us specific direction in our moral lives, how do we explain sin? Who is responsible for those actions that seem to go beyond the merely reasonable but yet cause us to sin? A re we still responsible when this happens? If not, who is? A nd where does this leave the notion of having an ‘informed conscience’? A bove all, we need to know whether we can we distinguish actions that are based on natural law and those that are specifically Christian in nature and in content. F rom this brief critique of the faith-ethic stance, it is clear that its position is far from faultless. But this is not to say that the autonomy school’s position is any less problematic or that it is to be preferred over the faith-ethic stance. It, too, has its weaknesses. O ne of the most striking weaknesses has to do with the uncertainty with which some authors of the autonomy school present their arguments. While the autonomy school claims that the content of Christian morality is available to people ‘generally’ or, at least, to those who sincerely seek to do good and to avoid evil, it is often difficult to see how this claim concretely promotes 39  �������������������������������������������������������������������� Cf. Klaus D emmer, ‘Moralische N orm und theologische A nthropologie’, Gregorianum, 54 (1973), p. 267ff.

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dialogue with other religions. Take the work of Josef F uchs, for example. H e says on quite a number of occasions that the demands of Christian morality are ‘substantially’, ‘basically’, ‘largely’ the same as those of human behaviour more generally.40 F uchs seems unsure as to whether the non-Christian really does stand on the same footing as the Christian when it comes to the content of Christian morality. A lthough he claims that the content of morality is substantially the same for all persons who seek the truth, F uchs displays a degree of uncertainty about whether human beings need revelation in order to see the fullness of truth without error.41 When referring to the need to emphasize the Christian aspect of the discipline of moral theology, he shows again that his position is somewhat ambiguous. ‘N owadays [he notes] the only moral norms that are regarded as a priori in the fullest sense are those most general ones which are demonstrated by the transcendental method.’42 H ere we are left wondering whether the autonomy position is as clear-cut as we might have thought. What does F uchs mean by this transcendental method? A nd does it require Christians to go beyond the demands of the natural law? Can he really be considered as a proponent of the autonomy of morals position when there is such ambiguity and reticence in his work? A further concern that pertains to the autonomy school’s presentation of Christian morality has to do with its understanding of the natural law. O n occasion, supporters of the latter perspective seem not to have given much consideration to the implications of adopting natural law theory as the sole basis for discerning the demands of Christian morality. It is often asked whether the natural law theory is sufficient in itself, since, in some interpretations, its reliance on the physicality of acts or circumstances seems to provide an impersonal account of human morality. We have to wonder whether proponents of the autonomy would be so confident about the merits of this kind of approach to the natural law when it is applied to the area of sexual morality. In addition, one has to ask, as Charles Curran did, whether proponents of the autonomy school have given due consideration as to how the magisterial teaching office might function in a natural law based presentation of Christian ethics. Is there a place for a magisterial teaching authority in the autonomy school’s view? O r will, as Curran wonders, this reliance on the natural law lead to the prohibition of certain actions ‘defined in nonmoral terms and sometimes defined merely according to [their] physical or biological structure’.43 A bove all else, the autonomy school seems unable to prove convincingly that the content and demands of Christian morality are always identical to those of human morality, or that one’s motivation and reasons for acting can and do exist

40  ������������� Josef F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, cited in MacN amara, Faith and Ethics, p. 43. 41  ������� F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, pp. 119, 123, 164–6. 42  ����������������� Ibid., pp. 164–5. 43  ������������������� Charles E . Curran, A New Look at Christian Morality, 2nd edn (London, 1976), p. 115.

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in isolation from the action itself. This makes its central argument seem ragged and unclear. Moreover, it seems also to suggest that the autonomy school’s position is perhaps not as clearly delineated as we might have thought at first, and that, at times, there is little dividing it from weaker forms of the faith-ethic stance. The criticisms discussed above show that the issues surrounding the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate are complex and that there is much disagreement as to the precise nature of Christian morality. It seems that even within their own schools of thought, there is little agreement among theologians as to how Christian morality should be explained. A new approach is long overdue. A lthough some would argue that the Christian proprium debate is dead, this lack of dialogue should not lead us to presume that the problems have been solved; rather, as A lfons Auer suggests, we should feel compelled to find a more modern way of putting the message across and of explaining the issues involved.44 A uer is right that an alternative is needed. But what should this alternative be? Beyond the Impasse To begin, it is perhaps important to remember that the purpose of renewing moral theology was not to polarize theologians into seemingly conflicting positions about what is distinctive about Christian morality. R ather, the aim of the renewal was to give moral theology a more lively presentation and to link it up with the person of Christ as revealed in the S criptures. Unfortunately, attempts to do this got sidetracked and culminated in a debate about the uniqueness of Christian morality, which means that the task of renewing moral theology has yet to be realized. We undoubtedly still need to link moral theology more closely with the person of Christ in the Bible, but the way in which we do this needs to take on a new and more invigorating form. O therwise, the issues separating the autonomy and faith-ethic schools will re-emerge and hinder the process of renewal again. S o what should this approach be? It is perhaps useful to remind ourselves at this point of Wittgenstein’s claim that any attempt to distinguish what is unique about the beliefs or values of any tradition is doomed to failure from the outset because it assumes that this can be done without attending to the complexities involved in the development of any community and its moral demands. F or Wittgenstein, beliefs are so entangled in other claims that a person can hardly isolate one belief or value from a tradition and claim that this emerged exclusively within that tradition or set of beliefs.45

44

 �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� A lfons A uer, ‘D ie autonome Moral im christlichen Kontext’, in Walter S eidel and Peter Reifenberg (eds), Moral Konkret: Impulse für eine christliche Weltverantwortung (Würzburg, 1993), p. 15. 45  F or a clear summary of Wittgenstein’s views, see D��������������� an R . S tiver, The Philosophy of Religious Language: Sign, Symbol and Story (Oxford, 1996), p. 202.

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A nother observation, made by the classicist Wayne Meeks, which is worth citing has to do with the fact that, although revelation is the central defining event which gave rise to the Christian community, this community was made up of converts, mainly from Judaism, who brought with them an already-established code. Meeks explains that [t]he moral sphere within which the new Christians [were] urged to think about their own behaviour is a strongly bounded space. Its symbolic shape and texture [were] formed by Jewish conceptions and stories about the one God and by their peculiar Christian story about God’s crucified and resurrected son. Its social boundaries [were] determined by the turning of those who have received these stories as their own and by separation from ‘the Gentiles’ who include those formerly their families and associates.46

Both of these observations indicate that to search for specifically Christian norms and values is perhaps not the best way to demonstrate the special nature of the Christian search for truth. In particular, Meeks’s observation points clearly towards the idea that the early Christians saw themselves as having a unique or new identity, rather than a completely new set of moral precepts or rules. Their moral code was more or less consistent with that of the Jewish community, but what was different is that this was now seen as part of their wider story and relationship with the God of Jesus Christ. Their moral actions, though identical in content to those carried out by persons of other faiths or of no faith, were seen in light of their specific identity as the chosen people of Israel. When the Christian acts, therefore, it is seen as an action that expresses the human desire to do good, as well as the Christian’s specific desire to live a life in service of God, or to live a life that is consistent with his/her new distinctive identity as a follower of Christ. The morality of the early Christians, then, was ‘christocentric’ in the sense that it was seen and interpreted by them as an expression of their ‘identity’ as the people of God. Given this, it might now be time for moral theologians to try to put the debate about the existence of specifically Christian norms to one side, and to concentrate on the more general task of explaining Christian morality in terms of a particular ‘identity’ that is formed in part through the stories of Jesus contained in the S criptures and expressed in moral action. E ven if the demands of Christian morality are the same as those of human morality, one can still claim that Christian morality has a specific and unique aspect. The mere fact that the Christian interprets his/ her life in part through the story of Jesus as revealed in the S criptures gives the Christian search for truth a different spin. This is not to suggest that the S criptures tell the Christian everything he/she needs to know about the moral life, or that the Christian does not need the natural law, or that faith does not require reason; rather, it is simply to say that, in the search for truth, the Christian will consider the 46  ������������� Wayne Meeks, The Origins of the First Christians: The First Two Centuries (London and New Haven, 1993), p. 5.

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biblical propositions on a particular matter, as well as other sources of information. F or the Christian, the Bible is a source of moral wisdom. It is not the only source. But it is a source among others that is important because it is a means through which Christians today can try to reconnect their moral actions with the person of Jesus in the S criptures. L ater in this book we will see how this view does not contravene the idea that God can reveal himself to individuals in an experiential way as well as through the Word in the S criptures. H owever, at this stage in our discussion, we need to begin by acknowledging that the whole enterprise of morality is in itself historical, embodied, mediated through the stories, practices and beliefs of the community. It does not exist in a vacuum.47 The truth about what is human is not found in a disincarnate, disencultured way, separated from the communities, practices, cultures and contexts in which we live. We cannot really expect, then, to be able to identify with any great certainty whether our values are ones which no other tradition could ever understand or discover. Nor can we expect to be able to filter out that which is distinctively Christian and that which is human without running the risk of suggesting that the Christian thing to do might, on occasion be the irrational thing to do. While it is true that we turn to our master stories and to the wisdom of our communities when we need guidance and support, it is difficult for us to say with any great certainly whether what we learn from the latter cannot be found through other means. (And why is it so important to us to be so radically different anyway?) F aith, in this sense, involves not so much sets of demands that are unavailable to the non-believer as a trust and a belief that our tradition will help us to seek the truth. A t the very least, to have a faith in a tradition means that we look to that tradition for guidance about the kind of person we need to be if we are to continue to call ourselves Christian and to express this identity in our moral choices and actions. This is not to say that the Christian cannot discuss moral issues with those of other faiths; rather, it is merely to point out that the way in which the Christian searches for truth involves the specific hermeneutical or interpretive process of looking to the Christian tradition for help and guidance. We do not have to begin from scratch. Nor do we have to rely on our emotivist or subjective preferences. Being part of a particular tradition means that we have a starting point. We have resources that tell us who we are, and suggest ways in which we should behave if we are to be worthy of that name. This indicates that, at a very basic level, Christian morality has a distinctive identity because it is worked out, in part, by using the tools of the Christian tradition. A lthough the Christian may arrive at the same moral positions as the humanist, what is significant is that the Christian reached this or that position using his/her horizon(s) of interpretation and meaning. A s we will see later in this book, these horizons of interpretation are subject to change and revision as we grow and develop and they may differ from person to person. But what is 47  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������� Vincent MacN amara, ‘The D istinctiveness of Christian Morality’, in Bernard Hoose (ed.), Christian Ethics: An Introduction (London, 1988), p. 153.

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common to all Christians is the fact that their particular process of self- and moralinterpretation includes consideration of the Christian story, the person of Christ, biblical admonitions, injunctions, the commandments and perhaps a magisterium. A bove all, it involves an acknowledgement that the way in which the Christian wishes to live out his/her present and future, and the person he/she wishes to be, is intrinsically connected to the story of every Christian’s past, that is, the story of Jesus of N azareth. This suggests, then, that when the Christian asks, ‘what should I do?’, he/ she will engage in an interpretive process which involves asking two prior questions: • •

‘Who am I?’ ‘What should I do now as that person?’

The first question is answered for the Christian by the texts of the Sacred Scriptures through which they gain an understanding of their unique history and identity now that God has disclosed himself through Jesus. But this identity is not described for us in the Bible as something which we wear like a badge or a membership card which gives us access to certain facilities. R ather, because we agree to be called Christians, we also agree to try to live in a good and holy way, in a way that reflects our particular identity as the people of God that was sealed in the Covenant on S inai. Consequently, when trying to figure out who we are and what we should do, the Bible also gives us some clues as to what the good person should look like and the kind of character traits and dispositions they should possess and display in action. The particular Christian identity that is described for us in the Bible involves not only a belief in the story of God revealed, but also a commitment to strive constantly to be moral and to do the loving thing. Being moral for the Christian, then, is not something that is imposed from beyond ourselves; rather, it is something that is implicitly ingrained in our identity. O ne cannot be a Christian in the true sense of the word and refuse point blank to seek the good. O f course, none of this is to suggest that reading the biblical texts for help in moral matters and in matters of self-development is a naïve venture or that it exists apart from the reader’s own horizon of experience and interpretation. When the believer looks to the Bible for help in moral maters, it is not taken for granted that the believer will get an instant, prêt-à-porter answer to his/her dilemma. N or is it taken for granted that the believer can simple read off what is morally required of them from the S criptures without being critical of the texts. In the search for meaning, the horizon(s) of interpretation provided by the reader and by the texts interact, conflict and question each other. This explains further why we should not try to explain the nature of Christian morality in terms of specific biblical injunctions or rules or a single motivation that is the same for all believers. When we do this, we are underestimating the power of the biblical texts to question us again and again as we search for truth and meaning. If we attempt to uncover

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specifically Christian norms and principles or one specific motivation contained in the S criptures that represents how all Christians should use the Bible, we are also underestimating our own role as critical readers of the ancient texts of our tradition. If these texts are to speak to us in every age and enable us to continue to live out our identity as people of God, then we need to be able to interpret them in new and healthy ways. We are not slaves to the texts; rather we interpret, and are interpreted by, the texts. To express the foregoing in another way, the Christian uses the biblical texts and the story of his/her past in a way that opens up new possibilities for living today. Meaning is not confined to, or dictated by, the past, but includes the possibility of innovation and reinterpretation in the present. This is what constitutes a truly living tradition. The hermeneutical process of looking back at a master story and allowing it to open up possibilities of living for us today gives Christians an identity that is unique as they search for truth.48 A s Paul R icoeur argues, when we look back at, or recount, our master story in the present, we acquire an identity.49 In fact, it is only when we acknowledge the meaning that is behind us, in the form of narrative, that we can have meaning before us.50 Precisely what this meaning will be for individual Christians is unclear. What is clear, however, is that this meaning cannot be determined in advance of the process of interpreting how biblical stories interact with the horizon of understanding provided by the reader/believer of the story. What is also clear is that the concept of identity seems to lead us quite easily away from considerations about specifically Christian norms, values, motivations or intentions, towards a more fruitful and perhaps realistic understanding of what is unique about Christian morality. The uniqueness, in many respects, is now understood as something much more fundamental than norms and principles, and brings us much closer to the christocentric morality that the S econd Vatican Council proposed. In fact, the concept of identity seems to fit in nicely with the recommendation of the Council outlined earlier that moral theology should seek to emphasize the Christian’s unique vocation in Christ. To have a ‘vocation’ is to have a sense of purpose, or a desire to live out a belief in something. In essence, one could say that to have a specific vocation is to have a specific identity which one seeks personally to live out in action. For Christians this means that they must constantly seek to give expression to their identity as God’s chosen people in their everyday actions. F ailure to do so will undoubtedly bring this vocation into question. F aith in the God of Jesus Christ, then, has to be expressed in action, even though faith does not give us the guarantee that we will always know how to do this in the best possible way.

48  ���������������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘The Creativity of Language’, in Richard Kearney (ed.), Dialogues with Contemporary Continental Thinkers (Manchester, 1984), p. 21. 49  ����� Ibid. 50  ������������� Ibid., p. 22.

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It goes without saying, of course, that this concept of identity needs further explanation and sustained investigation. We need to know, for instance, precisely how one can claim that texts give us a sense of self or a sense of identity. We also need to know whether this sense of identity carries with it specific demands or moral requirements, and, if not, how it assists us in the search for moral truth. The basis for the argument that I am putting forward here is derived from the philosophy of Paul R icoeur and, in particular, from his work on the interpretation of texts in the search for meaning and self-understanding. A closer look at R icoeur’s hermeneutical method, therefore, is necessary, as it will help us to move away from some of the uncompromising positions taken by proponents of the faith-ethic and autonomy schools in relation to the use and significance of the biblical texts in the search for truth, meaning and understanding. This will be the main focus of Chapter 2.

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Chapter 2

R icoeurian H ermeneutics and the R esponsible Christian S elf The previous chapter highlighted the limitations of approaching the question of the uniqueness of Christian morality from either the perspective of the autonomy school or that of the faith-ethic school. It was suggested that what the Bible contributes to the Christian search for meaning and understanding has more to do with what it says to the reader about himself/herself than with the mediation of specifically Christian rules and norms of conduct. The word ‘identity’ was used in a very specific way. It was used to show that the way in which the Christian interprets the truth involves giving attention to his/her master story/narrative as recounted in the pages of S acred S criptures. The reader is not a slave to the text; but the text makes certain propositions to the reader, which must be interpreted in light of the reader’s worldview or horizon of interpretation. The process of interpretation is crucial to the way in which any person, believer or otherwise, interprets, understands or uses a text. This is another way of saying that hermeneutics is at the heart of the Christian search for truth and understanding. It also suggests that the way in which readers use the texts of the Christian tradition today, as opposed to the early Church, or indeed the time of the renewal, may differ. We should expect this to be the case because our horizon of understanding has changed. Indeed, our knowledge of exegesis has changed with the many paradigm shifts that have occurred in the area of biblical studies. O ur knowledge of disease, sexuality, the body and moral conscience, for instance, has also changed over time. These changes in understanding come to bear on our ability to interpret, to use, to revise and to read a text in today’s world. L ater in this chapter we will see in greater detail how the reader/text relationship is relevant to discussions about the specificity of Christian morality. This will be done using the hermeneutical philosophy of Paul R icoeur. In order to understand more clearly what R icoeur’s method entails, we will need to explain in some depth what is meant by the term hermeneutics. The first part of this chapter will attempt to do just that. Subsequent sections will explain what Ricoeur means by the • • • •

temporal character of texts; the ethical proposals that are suggested by texts; the interaction between the world of the reader and that of the text; the ethical significance of narrative.

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When we have done this, we will conclude the chapter by showing how R icoeur’s interpretation of texts can assist us in moving away from some of the issues that lie at the heart of the divisions between the autonomy and faithethic schools. Hermeneutics The word ‘hermeneutics’ is derived from the Greek verb hermēneuein and the noun hermēneueia, which have three possible meanings: to express, to interpret/ interpretation (or to clarify) and to translate/translation. The basic meaning of the word, then, means to bring forth an understanding that, perhaps, was not available before. The word ‘mediation’ could also be used to describe all that is involved in trying to understand something, such as a text, for example. A lthough hermeneutics is not a new word, the hermeneutical method itself does not receive much attention in the area of moral theology. It is interesting to note that, when discussing moral conscience, the magisterium, sexuality or Catholic doctrine, some scholars seem to be moving towards a hermeneutical method of interpretation without explicitly saying so. Many scholars refer to ‘a dialectical magisterium’, or a ‘listening Church’ or ‘a Church that is willing to revise the truth’, in light of experience, for example. These terms show that hermeneutics attempts to understand and interpret phenomena in terms of a larger and more complete reality, taking into account all of its complexities. This is a positive step for the future of moral theology. H owever, it is often not clear whether these scholars would agree that the hermeneutical method is also relevant to discussions about the specificity of Christian morality, the use of the Bible in Christian ethics or the interpretation of tradition, for instance. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is due to the legacy of the manuals in moral theology. A s pointed out earlier, little was left to the individual in matters of truth and understanding. Being obedient to the rules and principles in the manuals was the key to good living, not the interpretation of the latter in light of concepts such as ‘personhood’ or moral conscience. A lthough the history of moral theology shows that hermeneutics has not played a central role in the search for truth, the hermeneutical problem of mediating the unfamiliar into understanding is older than the Christian tradition itself. A s D avid E . Klemm explains, the hermeneutical problem was posed in antiquity with the need to interpret messages of the gods, to deliver religious and moral commentary upon the H omeric epics, to develop a philosophical doctrine of rhetoric, and to achieve normative application of authoritative texts. Judaism was confronted with the hermeneutical problem in the task of interpreting the law through its sacred S cripture. S o too did the early Christians have to translate the kerygma into the Greek world and to express the relationship of the N ew Testament to the

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O ld. Medieval Christianity made a hermeneutical decision to bring scriptural exegesis tightly under the wing of the Church tradition with the schema of a fourfold meaning in Holy Scripture (historical, allegorical, moral, analogical) and was opposed at the hermeneutical level by the R eformation principle that the S cripture interprets itself without need of tradition as a norm.

In the nineteenth century, the term ‘critical consciousness’ was used in a bid to show that meaning could not be deciphered directly, but that it was reliant upon a process of mediation. This is another way of saying that individuals do not accept that what is true is what we see immediately or what actually presents itself through, for instance, the first reading of a text. Ricoeur’s Hermeneutical Philosophy The purpose of giving a general sketch of what hermeneutics means is to make the thought of the F rench philosopher Paul R icoeur more accessible to the general reader and to those who find Ricoeur’s work impenetrable. From what has been said already, it is clear that R icoeur’s philosophy belongs to the hermeneutical tradition because it places a great deal of importance upon the need to interpret texts, meaning, history, poetry, myths and symbols. Influenced by the German hermeneutical tradition – D ilthey, H eidegger and Gadamer – R icoeur devoted a significant amount of time to the problem of meaning. How do we know? How does meaning come into existence? What kind of meaning is given to us by texts, including the texts of S acred S cripture? What do we do when several meanings are derived from one text? H ow can new meaning be derived from old texts or from the past? A nd does this new meaning supersede the old meaning? D oes this mean that the text is not as important as the reader? O r are both text and reader of equal importance? What do foundational texts, such as the texts of Genesis and E xodus, say to us about who we are today? What do they say to us about the way in which we should live? Much of R icoeur’s work revolves around the central idea that the whole of existence is bound up in a process of constant interpretation and reinterpretation. In other words, life, descriptions of life, stories about life, history, myths and symbols interpret themselves. Unlike some of his predecessors, R icoeur does not agree that we can understand life directly, by some ontological enquiry. F or him, life is much more complicated, and it involves a long process of analysis, questioning and re-questioning in order to understand in any genuine sense. In some respects, it could be said of R icoeur’s work that it brings us to the very limits of philosophy. R icoeur seems unhappy about the fact that philosophy is often referred to as   ���������������� D avid E . Klemm, The Hermeneutical Theory of Paul Ricoeur (London and Toronto, 1983), p. 18.

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being a discipline which can understand itself and other phenomena directly or easily. F or him, understanding and, in particular, understanding the ‘self’ or ‘being’ cannot be ‘read-off’ using a philosophical apparatus or a theory. Instead, R icoeur proposes that we understand what it means to exist or ‘to be’ through a never-ending process of interpretation of our stories, religious heritage, history, culture, political contexts and so on. Meaning, therefore, is very much indirect in R icoeurian thought. It is hermeneutical. This means that R icoeur’s work is based on the assumption that to explain more is to understand better (‘expliquer plus c’est comprendre mieux’), however more complicated the task of understanding may subsequently become. Perhaps nowhere is this more clear than in R icoeur’s work on symbols, myths and narrative. When discussing the significance of a symbol, for instance, Ricoeur reminds his readers that its meaning is never given at the start. While a symbol may be observed by us, and we may believe that the meaning is immediately clear, R icoeur maintains that the symbol gives rise to more complex meanings as we engage more fully with it. When we reflect more fully upon the range of meanings that a symbol can generate, only then are we really engaging in the process of interpretation. A s R icoeur puts it, ‘le symbole donne à penser’ (the symbol gives rise to thought). The same can be said about myths and texts insofar as these contain many symbols which lead us to some kind of conclusion or ending: the significance of the myth or story does not lie in the text itself but beyond the text. In other words, the meaning lies in the process of interpretation. This explains why R icoeur does not accept the Cartesian expression ‘I think, I am’. H e does not agree that what it means to be human is immediately obvious to us simply because we are cognitive, reflective and thinking beings. This statement is far too abstract for R icoeur because of his belief that meaning of any kind must be mediated to us indirectly through signs, symbols, actions, works and religions. Thus he argues: [t]he first truth – I think, I am – remains as abstract and empty as it is unassailable. It must be ‘mediated’ by representations, actions, works, institutions, and monuments which objectify it; it is in these objects, in the largest sense of the word, that the ego must both lose itself and find itself.

  ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Ricoeur expresses this idea in his well-known ‘wager’: ‘I wager that I shall have a better understanding of man and of the bond between the being of man and the being of all beings if I follow the indication of symbolic thought.’ Paul R icoeur, The Symbolism of Evil (Boston, 1969), p. 355.   ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘The Hermeneutics of Symbols and Philosophical Reflection’, in Charles E. Regan and David Steward (eds), The Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: An Anthology of His Work (Boston, 1978), p. 36.   �������������� Paul R icoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, ed. D on Ihde (Evanston, 1974), p. 327.

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In making such an assertion, R icoeur does not wish to deny existential meaning in the philosophical sense. Rather, his project is to show that the interpretation of the self cannot be deciphered without interpreting that which gives it meaning. We must look around us and engage with the phenomena which make up, and make sense of, our lives: culture, religion, our life story, our history, our cultural heritage or the story of our past. By doing this, we are interpreting in a real way. A nd we may find ourselves in a position where what is proposed to us causes us to question who we are, or who we thought we were up until that point, and to reconsider the way in which we should now live on the basis of what we have discovered. It is this kind of process which, for R icoeur, allows us to understand more about ourselves, about who we are, and what we think we should do. R icoeur’s interest in the role played by texts, language, symbols, metaphors and myths makes his work congenial to discussions concerning what is specific about Christian morality. A s pointed out in Chapter 1, the early stages of the debate grew out of a desire to make moral theology more biblical or christocentric. H owever, the debate quickly took another turn which led to divisions amongst scholars about whether faith contributes any new norms to human morality. Insofar as the Bible gives us an account of the history of the Christian faith through the stories of Genesis and E xodus and through the N ew Testament stories about Jesus of N azareth, it can be said that the history of the Christian faith is largely recorded through the narrative accounts given to us by the biblical writers. In the same way as R icoeur sought to explain what it means to be human through story, the biblical writers used story to record, expound and pass on the experiences they had of the God of Jesus Christ and of Christ himself. In this sense, the texts of the Christian Bible convey something to us today about who we are. They record our Christian past so they have significance for those who commit themselves to believing in the story of the past in freedom. The texts are the means through which believers today can experience (imaginatively) what it was like to encounter the person of Jesus in the first century. But this is not to suggest that reading texts does not require tools of interpretation or acknowledgement of certain characteristics of the texts. If we are to understand texts at all, we must attend to certain fundamental attributes of the texts themselves: the temporal character of the text; the author of the text; the interaction between text and reader; and the role played by our imaginations in the interpretative process. These themes are important for our discussion on the Christian proprium debate, so it is imperative that we outline R icoeur’s understanding of the latter in simple and clear terms before suggesting how they can be used to determine what is specific about Christian ethics.



 ������������������������ Cf. Chapter 1, p. 17–24.

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The Temporal Character of Texts Although most Christians acknowledge that the Bible is significant for the continuation of the Church and the continuation of the message of Jesus, it is not as common to hear the latter referring to the role played by ‘time’ in the biblical texts. O ne hears much about the authority of the texts and their normative character, but much less is said about their temporal character. A lthough the historical critical method, for instance, has done much to emphasize the importance of analysing the historical background of the biblical texts, it is easy to assume that the time of the text exists apart from our own time. We treat it as distant and estranged from the present. The findings of the exegete who uses the historical critical method often seem to exist in isolation from the moralist who looks to the Bible for guidance in moral matters. The latter seems preoccupied with what the Bible contributes to us now, while the former seems to be interested only in the ‘time’ of the text. The irony is, however, that in order to understand what a text means today, we may need to know more about the kind of society that is being described in the text, or the events which gave rise to the story being retold or considered significant. It could also help us to make a judgement about how reliable the text is or whether it is a complete, impartial or prejudice-filled text. This would enable us to make more critical and fruitful use of the Bible in our moralizing, and to make more prudent decisions about its authority in morals. In spite of this, there is often little room for dialogue and debate between biblical scholars and moral theologians, largely because of differences in methodology and interest. The result is that the work of many biblical scholars remains unread by moral theologians and vice versa. This is disappointing because, aside from the theological interests which both biblical scholars and moral theologians share, there is another very important phenomenon linking these two disciplines: the concept of time. The exegete is working on the past and the moral theologian is trying to extrapolate meaning that is recorded in the past but must be read in the present. These could be mutually supporting disciplines if we adopted a more dynamic view of how texts work and gave more sustained consideration to the concept of time which exists in front of, within and behind the text. But why is this concept of time so important? And why is it significant for understanding the function of narrative? The concept of time features heavily in the work of Paul R icoeur, especially in his writings on narrative. R icoeur attempts to show how narrative can help us to understand more about the paradoxical nature of time. Given that ‘time is both what passes and flows away and, on the other hand, what endures and remains’, R icoeur is of the opinion that the only way to mediate between the   �James F . Keenan and D aniel J. H arrington, Jesus and Virtue Ethics: Building Bridges Between New Testament Studies and Moral Theology (Chicago, 2002), p. 13.   ����������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘Life in Quest of Narrative’, in David Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation (London and New York, 1991), p. 22.

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time of the past and that of the present is through narrative. A ll that is involved in the composition of a story – the plot, the main story line, the characters and the conclusion – contributes to the ‘freezing’ of time. The only way a human being can experience that which he/she did not see or hear in person is through a story. A lthough the experiences we gain through reading narratives are not direct and do not replace ‘real’ experiences, they are the only means of returning to events which we ourselves did not witness. R eading narrative is a means of combating the passage of time. In fact, it is a means of ensuring that significant events that took place in the past continue to be mentioned, thought about and remembered in the present. It is in this sense that one can speak of the biblical narratives as a means through which the contemporary Church can return to the story of its past and ensure some kind of continuity of identity. In his work Critique and Conviction, R icoeur explains that because human beings are limited in terms of their historicity, they cannot experience everything; more precisely, they cannot experience events which occurred before they were born or before they were of an age where these events would have meant something. H uman beings rely, therefore, on narrative accounts of the formation of their identity and the formation of their community to provide them with a coherent story of who they are that distinguishes them from other communities, religious or otherwise. In this way narratives perform a two-fold function: a) they record the past so that we may return to it and experience historically significant events, albeit in written form; and b) they allow us to look into the past which formed our identity and who we are today. In other words, narratives configure time and allow us to remember and hold on to events or stories which would otherwise be forgotten and lost from memory. It is this kind of configuration of events that, in Ricoeur’s view, founds communities. Take the example of biblical Israel; it is an historical and a spiritual community that is formed on the basis of the foundational narratives of E xodus and Genesis. The same is true of Judaism. Books and stories are the means through which these ancient societies defined themselves and ensured some sort of continuity of identity. F or R icoeur, the ‘culture of the book’ is necessary for the continuation of identities formed by particular stories or events. In fact, in his conversations with F rançois A zouvi and Marc de L aunay, R icoeur states unequivocally that historical narratives give rise to and sustain religious communities. Although he admits that there are certain specific characteristics dividing them, such as naming God as A llah or Y ahweh, for instance, R icoeur recognizes religious communities by the presence of three criteria:

  �������������� Paul R icoeur, Critique and Conviction, trans. ���������������������������������� Kathleen Blamey (New York, 1988), p. 146.   �������������������������������������� R icoeur, ‘L ife in Quest of N arrative’, p. 22.

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a) the anteriority of a founding word; b) the mediation of writing; c) the history of interpretation.10 Insofar as all of these elements are present in Christianity it could be said that the primary function of the Bible is to communicate a particular identity to Christians or to provide them with a coherent account of their community and their past as they search for meaning in their lives today. There would be no Christian community without a minimum of narration that tells Christians who did what in the Christian story, and what that action meant in the broader context of the narrative of salvation and resurrection. Of course, some will argue that the Bible gives us specific direction in terms of how we should behave, but the challenge for Christian ethics is to determine whether or not the texts of the Bible contribute ‘extra content’ or an extra motivation to the search for truth, which is unavailable to those of other religious persuasions or, indeed, to those who are of no particular religion at all. It is true that most narratives, religious or otherwise, contain something of the Rilkean summons: Change your life! Indeed, if the biblical narrative communicates something to us about who we are, it must also address who we are as moral beings. In fact, it would be difficult to see how narrative could explain what it means to be an historical being without carrying with it some suggestion as to how one should live. The crucial question, therefore, is: what does the Bible contribute to Christian ethics? A long with providing us with a sense of who we are, does it give us any rules of conduct or specifically Christian norms by which we are obliged to live? Narrative and Ethics Ricoeur believes that narratives are ethically significant because they help us to overcome the fleeting nature of time and to bring the sins and injustices of the past closer to us. In the third volume of Time and Narrative, R icoeur refers to the ‘testimonial’ role of narrative. When an author writes about atrocities that occurred in the past, the author is in fact preventing the event from passing away with time or being forgotten in the present. F or R icoeur, the historian who writes about ethically significant events that occurred in the past has a responsibility to convey the information in the present so that humanity might avoid repeating the same event again. Writing about events such as the H olocaust, for instance, helps not only to combat the passage of time, but it encourages readers to reflect on the event in the present and on the ‘debt we owe to the dead’.11 In brief, then, the function of historical narrative is closely connected to the concept of time. A s Kearney puts  ��������� R icoeur, Critique and Conviction, p. 146.  �������������� Paul R icoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols, trans. Kathleen Blamey, Kathleen McLoughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago and London, 1988), vol. 3, pp. 185–6. 10 11

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it, ‘[o]n the one hand narrative provides us with figural reconstructions of the past that enable us to see and hear things long since gone. O n the other, it stands for […] these things as events that actually happened.’12 It is R icoeur’s belief that events such as A uschwitz could be suppressed from our memories were it not for the mediating function of narrative. In this case the ethical task is that narrative responds to the need to recount and to remember the sadness and suffering of the past. N arrative acts as a way of remembering devastating events in the hope that they will not happen again, for ‘it is always through some transfer from S ame to O ther, in empathy and imagination, that the O ther that is foreign is brought closer’.13 Moreover, narrative is a means through which we may respect the individual stories of other countries and nations. Telling their story and their experience of suffering gives individual communities a voice of their own in the face of accounts of history that tell of the triumph of the powerful over the weak. R emembering takes on a new meaning: it transforms the act of recounting history into an act of justice. The reader is now invited to relive the suffering of others as if they had experienced it themselves. The tremendum horrendum is felt by the reader; it strikes him/her and the scandal of history is revealed.14 The reader becomes one with those who partake in the story.15 In this way, the oppression of others is communicated to the world, and the hope of liberation loses its fictional character. But the time of narrative is not merely confined to the past; narrative time also projects itself towards the future. In spite of the fact that a story has a conclusion, the life cycle of the story does not come to an end in the text. This is the case because the text makes proposals to the reader, some of which are intended by the author and some of which the reader interprets or sees within the text. This means that the text is not a lifeless entity that ceases to function beyond the present: it can project possibilities for the future with which the reader can imaginatively engage. F or this reason R icoeur argues that the act of reading and interpreting a text is completed by the reader and not by the author or the narrator of the story. A cknowledging the horizon of the reader in this way enables the text to go on functioning and making suggestions to the reader beyond the time of the text itself. In other words, it continues to function in future time. A s R icoeur puts it, ‘it is the act of reading which completes the work, transforming it into a guide for reading, with its zones of indeterminacy, its latent wealth of interpretation, its power of being reinterpreted in new ways in new historical contexts’.16 (Hereafter this volume of Ricoeur’s work will appear in the abbreviated form of Time and Narrative III.) 12  ����������������� R ichard Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur: The Owl of Minerva (Aldershot, 2004), p. 100. 13  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 185ff. 14  �������������� Ibid., p. 187. 15  �������������������������������������������������� Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Philosophical A ntecedents to Time and Narrative’, in D avid Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation, p. 46. 16  ��������������������������������������������� R icoeur, ‘L ife in Quest of N arrative’, p. 27.

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Clearly, this shows us how literary traditions, including religious ones, function. Texts or stories of the past are passed on to us in the form of narrative. Through the narratives we gain a sense of what events were considered to be significant in the past, as recounted by the author of the text. The texts bring us closer to the past in the act of reading, but they also project new meanings and proposals to us in the present which the reader, not the author, can live out. In this respect, the author is not the only one who emplots the story; the reader does, too. A cknowledgement of the relationships between the author, the text, the reader and the world of the text helps us to make sense of what we mean by a living tradition. The continuity (but not repetition) between what happened in the past being passed on and interpreted in the present, in order to give new meaning and to open up new possibilities in the future, is the essence of tradition. Past, present and future interact at every juncture. Neither one takes over the other; but each one completes and critiques the other in the search for truth and meaning. Reader and Text: the Fusion of Worlds F rom what has been said above, it is clear that R icoeur’s interpretation of narrative departs from the structuralist school of thought, which claims that the text and only the text is what communicates or projects meaning to the reader. This is where we see R icoeur’s hermeneutical approach to texts emerge more clearly. F or R icoeur, the distinction between the inside of the text and the outside of the text is unhelpful, as it does not consider the reader’s experience in the interpretative process. A lthough R icoeur accepts the claims of literary criticism that the structure and form of the text are important, he does not agree that the meaning of a text should reside only in the text itself. S peaking about literary criticism, he comments that the distinction between the inside and the outside is a product of the very method of the analysis of texts and does not correspond to the reader’s experience. This opposition results from extending to literature the properties characteristic of the sort of units with which linguistics works: phonemes, lexemes, words; for linguistics, the real world is extra-linguistic. R eality is contained neither in the dictionary nor in grammar. It is precisely this extrapolation from linguistics to poetics that appears to me to invite criticism: the methodological decision, proper to structural analysis, of treating literature in linguistic categories which impose the distinction between inside and outside.17

F rom a hermeneutical point of view, the text is seen as being a part of a much broader and dynamic relationship with the reader. In contrast to structural analysis, which claims that the text is the sole bearer of meaning, R icoeur’s approach seeks to expand the relationship between texts and readers so that this 17

 ������������� Ibid., p. 26.

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relationship becomes a two-way process. The reader interprets the text and is interpreted by the text. It is this relationship that helps us to understand more fully how narrative contributes to life. A s R icoeur puts it, narrative and the act of reading narrative ‘… is a mediation between man and the world, between man and man, between man and himself; the mediation between man and the world is what we call referentiality; the mediation between men, communicability; the mediation between man and himself, self-understanding’.18 N arratives, then, help us to understand the world, those around us, the stories of those who have lived and died before us, as well as communicating something to us about ourselves and who we are – a point to which we will return shortly. Based on what has been said here already, it is beginning to become clear that, in R icoeurian terms, the significance of a narrative stems from the ‘intersection of the world of the text and the world of the reader’.19 The concept of time reemerges here, too. The reader’s time differs from the time of the text. This is often construed as a problem in the area of exegesis and literary criticism, but, for R icoeur, acknowledgement of the fact that there is more than one ‘time’ at play in the process of interpretation can bring about more creative thinking and more imaginative results. It brings the reader closer to his/her identity as it was formed in the past, and enables the reader to engage with the ways in which he/she should now act in order to be faithful to, and to live out, that identity. S uch reader engagement is possible because the world of the text opens up a horizon of possible experience and meaning: ‘a world in which it would be possible to live’.20 By defining the horizon of the text in this way, Ricoeur shows his desire to push the meaning of the text into a more imaginative and dynamic realm. F or him, the horizon of the text should be such that readers can identify with it, and imagine themselves within it. When the reader unfolds the horizon of the text, he/she is brought into the world of the text, the events, the characters, the place and the time. A t this point in the interpretative process, the action of being led by the horizon of the text is more an act of the imagination than an act of the intellect, in the sense that the reader must allow him/herself to be drawn into the world of the text. But none of this is to suggest that the reader’s role becomes secondary as he/ she takes an imaginary leap into the world of the text. R ather, in the act of reading, the reader’s experience is also brought into the process in such a way that the horizon of the text and that of the reader’s real experience converge, confront and question each other. ‘A s a result, the reader belongs at once to the work’s horizon of experience in imagination and to that of his or her own real action.’21 The hermeneutical process begins here: at the intersection of the world of the text and the reader’s real experience in the world of action. S o what happens at this point? 18

 ������������� Ibid., p. 27.  ������������� Ibid., p. 26. 20  ����� Ibid. 21  ����� Ibid. 19

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And what, if anything, does narrative contribute to life? More specifically, what does it contribute to the moral life? Can narrative, including biblical narrative, supply the moral agent with specific norms and principles by which he/she should live that are unavailable outside of his/her particular tradition? Narrative and Ethical Development D rawing on the A ristotelian interpretation of ethics, R icoeur argues that narratives enable us to speak of and to understand the relationship between virtue and the pursuit of happiness. The function of narrative is not to replace reason in the search for truth but to help us to link together good behaviour with good fortune and bad behaviour with a reversal in fortune, by means of the imagination. 22 It also helps us to imagine ourselves in different circumstances, where a moral decision needs to be made. A lthough this exercise is largely a process of the imagination, we need to imagine good and bad actions before we act so that we are prepared when or if the situation actually arises/were to arise. In this respect, narratives play a part in the development of moral conscience and in the kind of imagining that is required of responsible moral agents. O f course locating the function of narrative at this level seems to raise questions about whether narratives could ever take the place of reason in the search for truth and understanding, or whether narratives operate at another level. In R icoeur’s view, narrative is a second order discourse. It does not exist in opposition to reason, but it provides human reason with a more dynamic and less abstract way of engaging with what the good life entails. H ow would one describe a virtue, for instance, if it were not articulated through a story? It may well be possible to do so, but the end result would not be as appealing to the moral imagination as a narrative story with a beginning, a middle and an end. In this sense, stories are the means through which readers gain a heightened sense of what the good life entails because they provide readers with an imaginative space in which they can try out various proposals for living. By following the development of characters in stories, readers become familiar with the kinds of character traits necessary for moral growth, virtue and maturity: mercy, forgiveness, honesty, healing and so on. We are also given a chance to engage our moral imaginations with those who experience misfortune for being immoral, and sometimes we are confronted with the injustice of a character that is unduly punished. In this way, narratives enable readers to recognize and to describe the virtues in a symbolic, rather than an abstract, way. Narrative fleshes out the contours of the virtues which would be all but incomprehensible without stories to explain their meaning. ‘To understand what courage means, we tell the story

22  �������������� Paul R icoeur, Time and Narrative, vol. 1, p. 40. (Hereafter this volume will be referred to in the abbreviated form of Time and Narrative I.)

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of A chilles; to understand what wisdom means, we tell the story of S t F rancis of A ssisi.’23 Thus Ricoeur explains: A ristotle did not hesitate to say that every well-told story teaches us something; moreover, he said that the story reveals universal aspects of the human condition and that, in this respect, poetry was more philosophical than history, which is too dependent on the anecdotal aspects of life. Whatever may be said about this relation between poetry and history, it is certain that tragedy, epic and comedy, to cite only those genres known to A ristotle, develop a sort of understanding that can be termed narrative understanding and which is much closer to the practical wisdom of moral judgment than to science, or more generally, to the theoretical use of reason.24

R icoeur’s claim is important for the way in which Christian ethicists speak about the Bible and its ability to communicate to the faithful about the nature of the search for goodness. If R icoeur is correct, it would seem that the truth contained in narratives, religious or otherwise, is not theoretical enough to provide adequate justification for considering certain norms and rules of conduct to be true or, indeed, to be true for certain religious communities. The function of ethical stories is more general; they function less in terms of the enforcement of specific rules and principles and more in terms of a familiarity with what virtuous behaviour and a good life should look like. A lthough some might argue that the biblical texts and their proposals for living in imitation of Christ are written only for Christians and therefore only make sense to Christians, R icoeur does not agree. H e believes that the ‘lessons’ contained in narratives are universals: they can be understood by all cultures, nationalities and religions. Nonetheless, Ricoeur also claims that certain narrative stories are specific to particular religious communities, which means that the way in which we explain the virtues is context-specific. In terms of Christian ethics, then, this means that the way in which the virtues are explained to Christian believers involves locating them in the broader story of the salvation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This gives them a specific presentation, as it links the pursuit of virtue with the spiritual commitment of those who have chosen in freedom to follow Jesus. This does not mean, however, that the non-religious person cannot understand the Christian stories of virtue. F or R icoeur, each story has, and must have, a horizon of universality so that it not only makes sense to the community for which it was written but also to the wider human family. What is of considerable importance for Christian ethics here is the fact that the biblical narrative forms a part of the hermeneutical search for understanding and the project to become a certain kind of person, not primarily to perform specifically Christian actions. The Christian story is concerned, in R icoeurian terms, with the idea of becoming a ‘self’ – a good (Christian) self. It is not the case that these narratives convey  ��������� Kearney, On Paul Ricoeur, p. 114.  ������������������������������������������������ R icoeur, ‘L ife in Quest of N arrative’, pp. 22–3.

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specific truths that are unavailable to all human beings; rather, these stories have considerable importance for Christian believers because they assist in the Christian search to understand and to live out their identity as people who believe in the story and person of Jesus Christ. E motions also play a part in the R icoeurian understanding of the narrative function. A long with presenting us with a vision of the world that is loaded with ethical significance, narrative also assists in helping readers to identify and to recognize emotions.25 This is of particular importance in the Christian search for moral truth and understanding: if we do not recognize our emotions, it would be difficult to see how we could become integrated and balanced moral human beings. Mature moral responses require an ability to deal with emotions in a mature and informed way. F urthermore, narrative accounts of events that convey feelings of injustice and suffering help us to remember the feelings of others in the hope that we ourselves will not cooperate in such events. The historical narrative of the H olocaust, for example, enables readers to remember the atrocities and the sufferings of the Jewish community so that the human community might avoid the reenactment of such an event in the future. The emotions that these kinds of narratives incite in the reader are vital in the formation of a responsible self. It is for this reason that R icoeur believes that narratives provide us with an immense ‘laboratory’ for ethical reflection.26 To put it another way, narratives provide readers with the means of describing the virtues that is consistent with their identity, as well as helping moral agents to become more aware of the emotions involved in moral decision-making. The Glaubensethik/Autonomy Debate: a Ricoeurian Reassessment H aving sketched in simple terms the contours of R icoeur’s hermeneutical approach to texts, we can now make some observations about the way in which the debate of Christian ethics approached the question of what the Bible contributes to Christian ethics. This will help us to see more clearly how congenial R icoeur’s work is to discussions about the uniqueness of Christian morality. F irst, the way in which both schools initially responded to the call to make moral theology more biblical or christocentric seems to have more in common with the structuralist school of thought, which R icoeur found problematic. A lthough it is clear that neither school set out to defend structuralism or a particular literary reading of the biblical texts, the fact that the debate quickly degenerated into discussions about whether the biblical texts added any new material norms to the content of human morality shows that there was an underlying belief that the biblical texts could be the author of moral meaning per se. Taken to the extreme, this view might mean that one could simply lift a rule or regulation from the pages  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative I, p. 59.  �������������� Paul R icoeur, Oneself as Another, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Chicago, 1991), p. 159.

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of S acred S cripture without attending to other sources of information that may be valid and morally significant. This would lead to a rather impoverished and static view of the whole enterprise of morality. This discussion also showed that some proponents of the Glaubensethik school were convinced that the biblical texts could generate meaning in an absolute way, whereby their meaning would always be the same and could never be reinterpreted – especially not in light of the reader’s experience, or in light of new information (perhaps of a scientific nature) – as this might undermine the authority of the biblical texts to teach moral truth. S econd, the autonomy school’s argument that the biblical texts and faith in Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Scriptures, provides reader’s with a specific worldview or horizon of meaning also seems to favour an approach to the biblical texts that is static and does not acknowledge that this horizon of meaning should be interpreted and reinterpreted in light of the reader’s horizon of expectation. The same critique may be made about those authors who claimed that what was different about Christian morality was the particular context in which the truth was discovered. While it is true that every action has a context, as we have seen, the act of reading a text comprises more than one context: reader, text, the world behind the text and the world projected in front of the text are equally significant in the task of discerning how the text should be used today and what it communicates to us about how we should live. A ccording to R icoeurian thought, it is the interaction of all of these phenomena that leads to the reader re-examining his/her life in light of what the text proposes. A nother way of expressing the foregoing would be to say that the meaning of a text is only completed in the act of reading. A nd it is only when this act has taken place that we can begin to speak of how the text should be interpreted and used to refigure, change or re-examine the reader’s life.27 Thus R icoeur argues that [t]he process of composition, of configuration, is not completed in the text but in the reader and, under this condition, makes possible the reconfiguration of life by narrative. I should say, more precisely: the sense of the significance of a narrative stems from the intersection of the world of the text and the world of the reader.28

When applied to the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate, this implies that if one endorses the view that the biblical texts and the Christian tradition in general provide believers with a special context for moral reflection, one should also admit that the way in which this context operates might differ from person to person or that it might be reinterpreted in light of the reader’s experience or interpretation. R icoeur’s work seems to cast doubt on expressions such as ‘context’ and ‘worldview’. It expects us to be more precise about our use of language and about our understanding of how we interact with texts, stories, traditions and communities.  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative I, p. 159.  ��������������������������������������������� R icoeur, ‘L ife in Quest of N arrative’, p. 26.

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The latter are profoundly dynamic entities in R icoeurian thought, and therefore cannot be defined de facto in a way that inhibits their internal potentiality or their capacity to operate beyond one horizon of meaning, one time or one context. A third criticism that can be made concerns the way in which both schools failed to acknowledge that texts can project meanings beyond what is actually said in the text itself, the significance of which cannot be calculated in advance of the process of interpretation. In other words, both the autonomy school and the faithethic schools seem to have overlooked the fact that the way in which the biblical story operates is not merely confined to the present but it also operates in future time, by opening up possible ways of living to the reader that might only become visible after rereading a text or after a significant amount of time has passed. As R icoeur argues, ‘[t]he reading is in the text, but the writing of the text anticipates the readings to come’.29 This means that every time a reader rereads a text, new or ‘hidden’ meanings may surface, which help to uncover more about the world behind and in front of the text. A lthough it might be argued that the autonomy school’s position does acknowledge that the biblical texts provide a special horizon of meaning for believers as they search for truth, its proponents do little to explain what this horizon is, whether it is subject to change over time, whether every believer will interpret it in the same way or whether it could be interpreted differently in the future, in light of new information of a scientific, historical or sociological nature, for instance. Indeed, considered in light of R icoeur’s hermeneutical approach to texts, the autonomy school’s use of the term motivation is also problematic. A lthough, as MacNamara points out, a clear definition of this term was never really issued by the autonomy school,30 there is also a question about whether the way in which one is motivated to act, perhaps in light of what one has read in the pages of S acred Scripture, for instance, is subject to change. A further issue has to do with whether one can say that what motivates one person in a particular way will motive another person in the same way. This brings us back to our earlier discussion about the interaction between the text and the reader. Both horizons fuse, question and confront each other, which means that the meaning of a text or the way it affects the reader will depend on the outcome of the hermeneutical process of interpretation. R eaders could be motivated in different ways by what texts propose to them; in fact, on occasion readers might not be motivated to act at all. When readers strive to concretize a text or to deal with the lacunae in the text, the text is much like a ‘musical score lending itself to different realizations’.31 But, similarly to the musical score, there is no guarantee that the reader will manage to extrapolate a coherent or acceptable meaning from  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative I, p. 166.  ������������������� Vincent MacN amara, Faith and Ethics: Recent Roman Catholicism (Dublin, 1985), p. 96. 31  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative I, p. 167. 29 30

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the text. When this happens ‘the reader remains on the doorstep of the work’.32 This implies that the way in which a reader will be motivated by a text cannot be read off in advance of the process of reading or that of interpretation. There is also a suggestion that different readers might uncover something different in one given text, thereby implying that there might be several possible readings of the same text – both equally valid. Narrative: the Locus of Identity and Selfhood A ll of the above serves to highlight the fact that, for R icoeur, the act of reading a text does not inhibit the reader but frees him/her from being a slave to the text, invites the reader on a journey of self-discovery, whereby he/she will be called to reflect on his/her life in light of what the text proposes. In this way, texts enable readers to look beyond themselves and their frequently narcissistic subjectivity and to engage in the critical process of self-examination and self-evaluation. R eaders are invited to ask two fundamental questions: a) Who am I? and b) What should I do now as that person? The process of answering the latter questions will involve an imaginative flight into the unknown. R isking this will help to expand our moral imaginations, giving us a space in which we can consider various courses of action, contemplate the fate of characters in stories, imagine ourselves in their position and question ourselves in front of the text. Far from reaffirming prejudice or our egotistical ideas, reading texts gives us the means through which we can become more ethically aware and less self-absorbed. A s R icoeur explains, ‘[i]n place of an ego enamoured of itself arises a self instructed by cultural symbols [and stories], the first among which are the narratives handed down in our literary tradition’.33 Thus selfhood, not subjectivity, is at the heart of Ricoeurian hermeneutics. The use of the word selfhood is significant here because it highlights the fact that the role of reading ethical stories is not about reaffirming the ‘I’ of subjectivity but the ‘me’ of personhood and of character. This self, unlike the narcissistic self of subjectivity, is the subject of constant growth and change. It is always moving towards a goal, which it never quite attains. It is constantly striving to become something more, something better or something that embodies more clearly the good life or the ‘Christian life’. In this sense, then, selfhood is not formed easily or quickly: it requires a constant conversation between who we are and what the stories of our tradition propose to us, as well as any information that may assist us in the quest to interpret the moral significance of these stories today. To examine our lives through the narratives of our tradition means that we are constantly involved in the process of being instructed and reinstructed by the narratives of our tradition. 32

 �������������� Ibid., p. 169.  ��������������������������������������������� R icoeur, ‘L ife in Quest of N arrative’, p. 33.

33

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Understood in this way, the biblical texts take on a dynamic role in the moral life, as they are believed to contribute more to moral development than to moral obedience, motivation or intention. We can now account for the fact that being moral is not merely a matter of blind obedience to one or several cardinal principles, be they specifically Christian or not. Nor is it presumed that the mere following of rules enables us to attain the ‘perfect moral state’. L ocating the role of the Bible in terms of selfhood enables us to give a more realistic account of human nature and its complexities. O wing to the fact the concept of selfhood presumes that we are always ‘on the way’ to becoming good, it enables us to account for the times when we turn away from goodness, miss the mark or ignore what the biblical texts are proposing to us. It can also provide a space in which considerations of sin might be made: becoming a self involves giving a truthful account of who we are and comparing this against the goal of that which we wish to become. A cknowledgement of sin is a vital component of the task of becoming good, as it serves to highlight our weaknesses and gives us a target for future consideration and development. In short, then, given that selfhood refers more to the kind of person we should become, rather than what we should do, it puts a more human face on the difficult task of forging character and selfhood. It also shows that the path to goodness is a slow and difficult process. There is no shortcut to finding out what the right/Christian thing to do is. Nor is there an easy route to interpreting the biblical texts and how they should be read today. A nd even if we manage to interpret them correctly on some occasions, the process does not end with one action. L iving and acting in a Christian/human way involves participating in a never-ending process of interpretation and reinterpretation, the significance of which cannot be, and should not be, read off in advance in the form of specifically Christian norms and principles or specifically Christian motives and intentions. If we are to use the texts of tradition in a fruitful way in the quest for truth, we must try not to speak in place of the S criptures or in advance of the process of interpretation. We should let the Word speak to us anew on as many occasions and in as many contexts as possible. We must allow it to call us again and again to question ourselves in light of its propositions and bring us more deeply into the kind of living that is consistent with our Christian identity. O f course, none of this is to suggest that, in the case of the biblical texts, for instance, literature does not contain rules of conduct or illustrate to us how a particular rule works. It does. But what is most important is that the individual reader understands this rule and is brought in freedom to hold this rule with integrity in his/her moral life. It is also important that the individual, having reflected imaginatively upon this rule in the pages of a text, subsequently takes responsibility for the way in which he/she will use, reuse and reinterpret it in his/ her life. This will also involve taking stock of other sources of information that may be relevant to the decision-making process or which prevent us from adopting a naïve interpretation of the biblical proposals. Ultimately, then, a R icoeurian approach to texts is one which affirms that the kind of self we choose to become is chosen by us in freedom and is one for which we take responsibility thereafter.

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In other words, the reader is responsible for the way in which he/she interprets the texts of tradition, and for the kind of self he/she subsequently chooses to become. The reader is not forced to obey a definitive set of instructions. Rather, he/she is invited to choose goodness and thereby choose to enter into a relationship with the God of Jesus Christ. What is distinctive, then, about the way in which the Christian approaches moral truth concerns not so much the norms contained in the pages of the biblical canon, as what the texts of S acred S cripture invite us in freedom to reflect upon. The texts invite us to engage with who we are at the deepest level. They make certain proposals to us, which we are free to accept or to reject, and for which we take responsibility. This suggests that the way in which the Christian arrives at moral truth is distinctive insofar as it requires us to pass through the medium of the teachings of S acred S cripture, not any other primary text, to engage with what the texts propose to us about moral living, and to make a judgement about how we are, in conscience, subsequently going to live out these proposals and take responsibility for the actions that ensue. When the Christian acts, therefore, it is an expression of his/her character as well as the kind of reflection in which he/she has been engaged through the texts of Sacred S cripture. This will, of course, involve considering other sources of information that might be relevant to the decision-making process. What is important, however, is that when the Christian acts, it is an expression of all of the various strands of his/her life coming together. The resulting actions can be described as being specifically Christian insofar as they were arrived at, in part at least, by passing through the purgatorial detour of the stories of the Christian tradition and the teachings of Jesus. The moral agent brings the biblical past and the stories of the past into the present by acting in a way that reflects what he/she perceives, in conscience, to be the right thing to do and the ‘Christian’ thing to do. (We will see in greater detail in Chapter 6 precisely how this process takes place.)34 While these actions may not look any different from the actions of a nonbeliever or a person of another faith, for instance, the latter are the result of a process that involves a sincere engagement with the suggestions for living and for the forging of the ‘self’ that are contained in the Christian story. S uch actions can be said to be expressions of a Christian identity because they are arrived at through looking back at the story of Jesus in the past, assessing what his teachings might mean in the present context and acting out what, in conscience, the individual believes is the right thing to do now. These decisions do not exist in opposition to reason; they require reason in order to discern what the S criptures are proposing to us, and in order to evaluate other sources of information that might be relevant to the decision that is to be made. Consideration of past experiences, experiences of others, new data about the human body, sexuality, ancient society or paradigms shifts in the area of biblical exegesis is also necessary if the hermeneutical process of interpretation is to be truly hermeneutical. There is a web of relationships and 34

 ����������������������������������������������������������� Cf. Chapter 6 on the ‘christomorphic’ conscience, p. 156ff.

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sources of information that constantly question and critique each other. When the Christian finally acts then, it is an expression of a genuine attempt to choose actions that are consistent with his/her Christian identity – an identity that is always changing in light of new experiences, new knowledge of phenomena, and new possible interpretations opened up by the S criptures. What is important to remember here is that the moral agent is responsible for the kind of self he/she portrays and reveals in the actions he/she undertakes. If this were not the case, or if we claimed that the way in which the Christian acts is dictated by the rules and principles contained in the Scriptures, be they specifically Christian or otherwise, we would be freeing ourselves from taking responsibility for immoral actions. We might also be guilty of falling into a fundamentalist position in our moral reflection. Indeed, we could claim that we were simply following the rules of S cripture, analogous to the way in which we would follow legal prohibitions, and avoid issues concerning moral responsibility, moral development, moral character and the formation of moral conscience altogether. This would undoubtedly lead to an impoverished view of all that is involved in making mature moral decisions, and of the significant role which the Scriptures play in moral development and selfhood. Moreover, if this kind of presentation of how the S criptures and faith in the story of Jesus Christ contribute to the moral life were adopted wholesale, the whole enterprise of morality would be akin to the style of morality presented by the moral manuals, bringing with it the whole gamut of criticisms that were made earlier in our discussions. In light of these considerations, the suggestion that the uniqueness of Christian morality should begin from the idea of identity and selfhood seems all the more attractive. Of course some will argue that one cannot simply reduce the significance of the biblical Covenant to the inauguration of a specifically Christian identity, as the Covenant itself involved the giving of certain rules and prohibitions that were considered to be essential components of the Christian moral life. Interpreting the function of the biblical stories in terms of ‘poetics’ or a ‘poetics of the imagination’, rather than the law, which is what we have been doing up to now, might seem to undermine the significance of the Covenant. We need to ask, therefore, ‘How does a R icoeurian approach to Christian ethics perceive the giving of the Covenant on S inai? A nd what implications does such an approach have for understanding the concept of faith?’ Moreover, given R icoeur’s emphasis on selfhood and becoming a Christian self, it might seem to some that his work promotes a narcissistic ethic that cannot account for the need for obligation to others. O thers might argue that it does not really matter how R icoeur interprets the biblical Covenant; the self-giving displayed by Jesus on the cross means that Christians are still required ‘to go the extra mile’. O ur next chapter will attempt to address these questions, as well as highlighting how R icoeur’s answers are relevant to the issues raised by the Christian proprium debate.

Chapter 3

Christian Ethics and the Gospels: A R icoeurian A pproach This chapter will attempt to engage with some of the criticisms that might arise in relation to an approach to Christian morality that attempts to move considerations about its distinctiveness away from the search for specifically Christian norms, values, motivations and intentions to embrace more fully the concept of Christian identity. The first issue that will be discussed concerns the nature of the Covenant. If, as we have been suggesting, the giving of the Covenant does not represent the initiation of a set of specifically Christian norms or values, then the question arises as to how the it should be explained. With reference to the work of Ricoeur, it will be argued that the significance of the Covenant has more to do with formalizing a unique relationship with the God of Israel than with the giving of an immutable code of specifically Christian commands and principles. A second issue that arises out of our approach to the Christian proprium debate concerns the role of the law. If the Covenant is interpreted in a more spiritual, rather than legalistic way, it might give the impression that the law has no place in a R icoeurian approach to Christian ethics. In fact, it might be argued, as proponents of the faith-ethic school did in response to the autonomy school’s insistence on the autonomy of morals, that our approach promotes absolute freedom and selfdetermination. In response to such a criticism, it will be argued here that, although our approach to Christian ethics is based primarily upon freedom, it does not exclude the law. In order for freedom to exist, there must be an obligation placed upon each person to ensure that the freedom of everyone is protected. There is also an obligation on us to protect the freedom of others. In this way, we can speak of a reciprocal obligation, which arises from the very concept of freedom itself. Put simply, there is no such thing as freedom without obligation. The latter point, as we shall see, is of crucial importance for those writers of the autonomy school who were accused of promoting absolute freedom because they espoused the idea that the content of Christian is identical to human morality. If R icoeur is correct, it would seem that this accusation is unjustified and that one can, in fact, claim that the content of morality is derived autonomously without promoting the idea that human beings possess absolute freedom. A third issue that arises from our discussion of the Christian proprium debate has to do with the Christian interpretation of love, and whether it ever requires Christians to ‘go the extra mile’ in certain circumstances. D rawing on R icoeur’s distinction between love and justice, this chapter will argue that both the autonomy

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and Glaubensethik schools were partially correct regarding the demands of love and justice. However, it will be pointed out that both schools could have benefited from interpreting love and justice in a mutually enhancing way. Love without justice can become violent, narcissistic or altruistic. But the opposite is also the case: justice without love can become cold, formal and rigid. It will be argued here that the love commandment, though not specific to Christianity, should not be isolated from the commands of justice as expressed in the Golden Rule. This chapter will show how the discussions between theologians of the faith-ethic and autonomy schools might be helped if we consider the difficulties associated with taking either the love commandment or the Golden R ule as the most important and/ or uniquely Christian rule. The advantage of this approach to Christian ethics lies in the fact that Christians can be present in society as Christians (identity) without setting themselves apart from the world in order to judge it, as is the case with many sectarian approaches to Christian ethics. Moreover, this approach shows that Christians do not and cannot exclude themselves from the shared responsibility to dialogue about the requirements of justice and the law. F inally, the chapter will conclude by enquiring whether there might ever be a time when, in the tension between love and justice, or between the love commandment (Lk 6:32–35) and the Golden Rule (Matt. 7:12), one could win out over the other. This could mean that moral agents might find that they are more inclined towards one particular course of action than another. S ome might be more inclined towards the loving thing, as they perceive it, and find themselves going the extra mile, while others may be more in favour of following the laws of justice. This is entirely possible. But what is important to note for the purposes of our discussion is that whatever moral agents choose to do, that is, whether they favour love over justice or vice versa, it is a matter of interpretation. This means that it is not the case that the requirements of love or ‘going the extra mile’ can be predetermined in the form of specifically Christian rules and principles. It also indicates that a person might well be swayed towards a decision of this nature. H owever, this depends on their own interpretation of what the situation requires and of what the most appropriate response might be in light of his/her specifically Christian identity. Moreover, it will be shown that, while the biblical texts can help us in the search for a moral answer by disorienting our natural tendencies towards sin and selfishness, they nevertheless do not give us clear-cut, visibly discernable, specifically Christian rules and principles by which we should live our lives. In order to see how these conclusions were drawn up, we need to begin by discussing how R icoeur understands the Covenantal agreement. This will enable us to see more clearly how and why the Covenant should not be interpreted as the source of specifically Christian norms or values or a specific motivation that underpins Christian moral action.

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The Bible: Law or Freedom? R icoeur’s work on the giving of the law is unique in the sense that it is based upon the concept of freedom. H e is brought quite unintentionally to the view that the Christian story itself grew out of freedom and that it continues to function in the same way today in the lives of those who believe in its message. I say that he is unintentionally brought to this view because I want to make it clear that R icoeur does not have an ‘axe to grind’ regarding the nature of Christian ethics. H e was not a participant in the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate. Thus his work is free from any preconceptions about what is or what is not unique about Christian morality or about what faith contributes to the content of Christian morality. Moreover, given that he sees his own work as a philosophical enquiry into the nature of the biblical Covenant and the nature of freedom in the light of faith, his writings do not show evidence of a desire to support or to defend the views of either the autonomy stance or those of the faith-ethic school of thought. A s we have seen in Chapter 1, the giving of the Covenant has been interpreted by some scholars, most notably those the faith-ethic persuasion, as the giving of specifically Christian norms and principles which are only known through revelation and which sometimes require Christians to ‘go beyond what is merely reasonable’; while others, namely, supporters of the autonomy school, tend to say that this event gives a specific horizon of meaning or worldview to Christian believers such that it does not affect the material content of Christian morality. These issues lie at the very heart of the Christian proprium debate and have been the source of much division and controversy between theologians in the postconciliar church. The divisions were such that they remain unresolved today and little is said about them, mainly because most scholars cannot agree on how or why the Covenant is significant in Christian ethics. We have been suggesting that it might be more fruitful if the specificity of Christian morality were expressed in terms of a specific identity, but we have yet to engage in any great detail as to how this view might be justified from a biblical perspective and, in particular, from the perspective of the giving of the Covenant in the Bible. Using the work of R icoeur as a platform, we now need to turn our attention to this issue and show how or why the giving of the Covenant should and can be interpreted in terms of the formation of a specifically Christian identity rather than a set of distinctly Christian rules or motivations. R icoeur’s interpretation of the law of the Christian Gospel revolves around the concept of freedom. This is because, as a philosopher, he cannot conceive of an ethic that is based solely upon commands that are imposed upon us from outside of  ������������������ Cf. Paul R icoeur, Oneself as Another, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Chicago, 1991), pp. 24–5. Here Ricoeur clearly shows that he is writing from a philosophical perspective: ‘I defend my philosophical writings against the accusation of crypto-theology, I also refrain, with equal vigilance, from assigning to biblical faith a cryptophilosophical function’ (pp. 24–5). 

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ourselves or from an institution. F or him, ethical decisions arise from our natural desire to do the good (attestation) and to do what we can to promote goodness in our lives. But this is not to say that our ethical decisions are merely based upon subjective preference; rather, in Ricoeur’s view, we also need our inner intuitions about the good to be confirmed or strengthened by a message or a story, for example, that helps us to make more sense of our lives and to orient our existence towards something meaningful. This is what he refers to as témoignange, which is often translated as witness. In this sense, then, there are two kinds of witness: one which comes from within and which we are brought to by our own inner sense of the good (conscience), and the other which comes to us from outside in the form of a message which we consider to be important and which confirms our desire to act in a particular way (tradition). These terms are important for understanding a R icoeurian interpretation of Christian ethics. They highlight the fact that believers are free to choose the good that they perceive, and that they are called to seek the good in the same way as all other human persons. But, perhaps more importantly, R icoeur’s interpretation of witness shows us that, in the process of deliberating about the good, believers also respond to the ethical proposals for living presented to him/her in the pages of S acred S cripture. This responding to what R icoeur calls ‘la chose du texte’ does not involve a naïve fundamentalism or an attempt to lift off rules and commands contained in the Bible and implement them in today’s world; rather, it involves responding imaginatively to the world that is opened up for the believer by the text. The reader responds in freedom to what is proposed in the text and frequently finds that what he/she desired to do in the first place is the kind of behaviour that is considered to be consistent with their specifically Christian identity. What is of considerable importance here, though, is the fact that the Christian responds in freedom to what is proposed by the texts; he/she is not forced to obey the letter of the law because he/she is Christian. The Biblical Covenant: Sealing the Relationship with God A n example is useful here. Take the story of the book of E xodus, for instance. When we read this story, our imaginations are immediately brought into the context of a group of slaves, Jewish migrants to be more precise, who are labouring for the E gyptians without any hope of deliverance or liberation. H owever, under the guidance and leadership of Moses, whom they trust as the bearer of God’s  �������������� Paul R icoeur, De L’esprit, Conference given at the Catholic University of L ouvain on the occasion of his acceptance of an honorary doctorate, 2 F ebruary 1994, cited in J. Van Gerwen, ‘Ethics and the Gospel’, in Hendrik J. Opdebeeck (ed.), The Foundation and Application of Moral Philosophy: Ricoeur’s Ethical Order (Leuven, 2000), p. 66.   ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Chapter 6 will show how these two interact to bring about a christomorphic ethic (p. 155–160). 

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message, the Israelites agree to journey through the unknown desert in search of freedom from slavery. The journey is described as one which will involve 40 years of wandering in the desert. There is possibly no one person in the group who is confident that he/she can complete this gigantic journey. But during the period of wandering and the trials and tribulations that occur in the search for freedom, a deeper dynamic is brought about: this group of slaves see themselves as being a ‘special people’, a people with a distinct relationship with the God of Israel who has promised them liberation from oppression, slavery and bondage. What they have shared together is so utterly unique that they form their own kind of federation (the Covenant). This Covenant is understood in terms of their relationship with God, the one who has given his message to Moses, their leader, and inspired him to continue his mission even in times of distress and selfdoubt. What the Israelites have experienced is so profound that they now wish to make this new relationship with God the foundation of their very being and identity. They also want to make God the centre of their ethical lives because they have experienced God to be a God of justice, of goodness, of love and of hope in times of suffering. In many respects, this is the beginning of what we now more commonly term Christian ethics: because it is based on the idea that Christians see their moral actions in a particular light, in the light of the Covenant formed by the Israelites during times of hopeless and utter despair. This Covenant, however, is not forced upon any person; it is formed in freedom and out of a desire to continue to serve this God who has offered protection in the desert for so long. God’s love and sense of justice are traits that the Israelites aim to embody in their own lives, even though they may never be able to love as God loves. But what is significant is that the Covenantal relationship is carried out in complete freedom. There is no mention of coercion, of the imposition of the law from an external source or of a set of specifically Christian commands that can only be known by Christians or a select few. A similar dynamic occurs in the N ew Testament. O nce again, a group of confused and marginalized people (the disciples), with no real social standing or importance, find their own identities and discover who God is by witnessing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. N ot only this; the disciples also learn about who God is by asking questions, by getting it wrong, by denying Jesus, by questioning Jesus, by asking for proof and for signs that clearly show he is the S on of God. Throughout this difficult process, however, a Covenant, similar to the one described in Exodus, is formed. The disciples find that they want to continue to live a good life because this would help them to keep their Covenantal promise. What is significant for our discussion about the specificity of Christian ethics, however, is that, once again, the disciples are not forced to comply with an abstract set of rules and principles, but they want or desire themselves to do   ������������������������������������������������������������ J. Van Gerwen, ‘Ethics and the Gospel’, in Opdebeeck (ed.), The Foundation and Application of Moral Philosophy, p. 67.

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good (attestation) because God has disclosed goodness to them through Jesus (témoignage). To be more precise, the disciples will continue to practise Jewish ethics but their reasons for being ethical at all have now taken on a new meaning. E xpressions of hospitality and love are now seen, not so much as a burden imposed from the threat of sanction or punishment for failure to comply, as acts that make more sense because they are carried out to honour God and to strengthen their identity which is sealed in the Covenant. This clearly shows that, in R icoeurian terms, the moral consciousness of the Jews and Christians is not founded merely on obedience to what might be termed specifically Jewish or Christian laws and principles or ahistorical laws of any description but on a socio-historical process of spiritual growth, which is expressed and carried on in history through stories. O f course, there is no disputing the fact that the biblical texts contain references to the giving of the L aw and the Commandments. N evertheless, when viewed in R icoeurian terms, these laws are embedded in a wider context, a spiritual context in which individuals are drawn to the Covenantal relationship not out of obedience but out of freedom. The law is not the primary focus. A s Van Gerwen, commenting on R icoeur’s understanding of the Covenant, explains, The event of the giving of the L aw only appears at the end of this process of liberation and identity-formation, and as a result of it. The people are ready to obey the Law of the Covenant, because they see this as a fitting response to the many gifts they have received from their God throughout the process, including life itself, freedom, their identity as the Twelve Tribes of Israel, and a promise of land and prosperity. God has shown mercy, and they are willing to respond by accepting God’s ‘habits of the heart’ (of hospitality, justice, hope, forgiveness) as their own.

When it is placed in the context of the biblical story of liberation from slavery, the function of the law is secondary. The most important event, in R icoeurian terms at least, is not so much the giving of the law in the Covenant as the formation of a community of believers who see themselves as part of a special relationship with God. This relationship is what brings them together as a community of believers and sustains them in times of hardship and pain. This is the case because, when things go wrong, this group of believers will take heart in the story of liberation which has formed their identity as ‘people of God’. F urthermore they will try to find ways of using and interpreting that story which will make sense and provide hope for believers in contexts other than the Exodus. The formation of a specifically Christian identity, then, is at the heart of the giving of the Covenant. The Covenant is what seals and formally defines this identity: the people are ready to serve God, and God has shown his readiness to save his people from slavery and oppression.



 ������������������������������������������� Van Gerwen, ‘E thics and the Gospel’, p. 68.

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Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate When we consider the issues that arose out of the Christian proprium debate regarding the specificity of Christian morality, we find ourselves almost at a loss to say why this debate became so focused around the existence of specifically Christian rules or norms or a specifically Christian motivation for acting. If R icoeur is right, the most unique and fundamental aspect of Christian living comes from the fact that the Christian has a unique identity because of a belief in Christ, in the God of the E xodus, the Covenant, the God of Isaac, Moses and A braham, to name but a few, and that, consequently, the Christian will refer to his/her specific identity when assessing moral issues. Their unique story continues to act as a source, but not the only source, of moral wisdom. This is not to say that the Christian is excused from the laborious and often tiresome and confusing search for truth, or that he/she will easily find all the answers he/she needs in the Bible; rather, it is simply to say that, in searching for the truth, the Christian will try to make sense of moral issues in light of his/her specific story and/or identity. H e/she may well end up taking the same course of action as the non-believer or the person of another faith. But what is important is that the Christian has undergone a process of interpretation and reflection that involves consideration of what the biblical story proposes and what he/she deems to be the type of action that is consistent with his/her special identity as a person of God. In other words, the Christian story can help to confirm or witness (témoignage) what we are brought to hold in our conscience as true (attestation). This process will involve reading the S criptures in such as way as to allow them to open up possibilities for living to us today, possibilities which are proposed to our moral imaginations and which we must interpret in light of any other source or sources of information that might be relevant to the decision we are about to make. In this way, the texts of the Bible carry out a function that has more to do with the kind of person Christians ought to be than with issuing specifically Christian prohibitions or demanding obedience to the letter of the law. Understood in this way, it seems that the starting point of Christian ethics is freedom, not the law. Obligation and Christian Identity O f course this raises some fundamental questions about where the role of obligation fits into a Ricoeurian presentation of Christian ethics. As it stands, it might seem that one could criticize R icoeur’s thesis on the basis that it seems, unable to account for the role of the law in Christian ethics. F urthermore, it might also be argued that, similarly to what proponents of the faith-ethic school said about the autonomy school’s insistence on the ‘autonomy of morals’, R icoeur’s   ����������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘Life in Quest of Narrative’, in David Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation (London and New York, 1991), p. 26.

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work seems to support the idea that individuals possess absolute freedom, thereby reducing Christian ethics to relativism or subjectivism. Indeed, it might also be said that since the focus of R icoeurian ethics revolves around the idea that what matters is the kind of person we are, rather than merely the content of our actions, it promotes self-determinism and a narcissistic style ethics. If this were the case, then it might be argued that Ricoeurian ethics is nothing more than subjective relativism by another name and that it stands in opposition to the Gospel message of ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’. It might also be said that R icoeur’s presentation of biblical ethics cannot account for the need for institutional justice, in the form of rules, laws and prohibitions, as well as love of neighbour. This is an important criticism. F or if love can exist without the rules of justice, how can we claim any universal basis upon which the laws of a just society might be based? Moreover, if love can exist without the need for justice, then the ‘loving thing’ can be interpreted according to each person’s subjective interpretation. If Ricoeur is suggesting this kind of Christian ethics, then we have cause for concern. L ove without justice is dangerous simply because it can mean anything to anybody. It can promote complete altruism or complete narcissism, both of which are potentially dangerous moral positions. This concern was raised at the end of Chapter 2 and merits our attention now. Ricoeur’s Ethical Aim: Integrating Christian Identity, Character Formation and Social Justice In response to the criticisms outlined above, we need to turn our attention to the distinctions drawn up by Ricoeur between love and justice. We also need to examine in some detail what is more commonly referred to as R icoeur’s ethical aim. This will enable us to see that, while a R icoeurian approach to the Glaubensethik/ autonomy school is based primarily on the concept of freedom, it does not exclude the law in any way. In fact, if anything, it is primarily because we are free, and that others allow us to be free, that we feel an obligation to protect our own freedom as well as the freedom of others. This implies that there is no such thing as freedom without obligation. What do we mean by this? A closer examination of R icoeur’s ethical aim is helpful here. The First Person (‘I’) and the Call to Responsibility for the Other (‘Thou’) The first person of Ricoeur’s triadic ethical aim is the individual. For Ricoeur, being ethical is first and foremost a matter of freedom. We are not forced to comply with the commands of another or with an extrinsic law; rather, we are invited in freedom to search for truth. H owever, as R icoeur points out in Oneself as Another, there is no such thing as absolute freedom or freedom to do whatever we desire. S uch is

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the case because we do not live as isolated beings. We are communal beings who interact in a web of complex personal and societal relationships in which we are called to exercise our freedom in a responsible way, that is, by showing respect for the other as well as respecting the freedom of others. In this way, my freedom is guaranteed by an obligation of ‘another’ to respect my freedom, and their freedom is guaranteed by an obligation placed upon me to respect their freedom. Thus, for R icoeur, freedom must be established between persons, otherwise it becomes meaningless and subjective. Although there is an ‘option’ to be moral involved in R icoeur’s presentation of Christian ethics, this option will only lead to a moral and dignified existence if the parties involved foster their own freedom and their own moral characters as well as those of others. F or R icoeur, the fostering of self-development is as important as the fostering of the development of the other. This explains why he refers to the self as another. There is no ethical existence without recognition of the fact that I exist in relation to another, and that my desires and subjective needs must be curtailed in light of an obligation to respect the other. The recognition of individual freedom and of obligation towards the other, a concept which R icoeur borrows from E mmanuel L evinas, are correlative concepts. There is no such thing as freedom without responsibility. N or, in R icoeur’s view, is there such as thing as freedom for oneself without the obligation of providing freedom for another. Protecting the freedom of another may involve an obligation on our part. We may need to forfeit what our heart desires or to put our narcissistic tendencies to one side, in order to ensure that the other, known in biblical terms as the ‘neighbour’, has what he/she needs to flourish as a human being in love and in freedom. As Hendrik Opdebeeck puts it, ‘[w]hen one does not recognise the right of the other to exist as a person, there is no reason to restrict one’s strivings by imposing obligations on oneself’. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate This point is of considerable importance for our discussion about the specificity of Christian morality. R icoeur’s concept of freedom in relation to another shows us that the allegations concerning absolute freedom brought against proponents of the autonomy school by some writers of the faith-ethic persuasion are unfounded. If R icoeur is correct, one can claim that the content of morality is discoverable by all through reason and reflection without suggesting that individuals possess absolute freedom. The mere fact that we exist in relation to others means that our freedom is both affirmed and curtailed to enable all persons to flourish. We determine our lives in freedom, while respecting each other’s freedom at all times.

 ��������� R icoeur, Oneself as Another, pp. 180–81.  �������������������������������������������������������������������������������� H endrik O pdebeeck, ‘R icoeur’s Institutional Mediation of F reedom’, in O pdebeeck (ed.), The Foundation and Application of Moral Philosophy, p. 53. 



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O f course, as we saw in Chapter 1, no single proponent of the autonomy school supported the idea that moral agents are absolutely free to determine their lives in light of subjective or emotivist preferences; rather, they simply wanted to show that the content of Christian morality is identical to that of human morality. It might well be argued that writers of this position should have taken greater care to explain how the concept of moral obligation remained a central aspect of the autonomy of morality thesis. But it might also be argued that the scholars of each position became so polarized into their respective groups that their main agenda, at a certain point in the discussion, seems to have been not so much to show what was or was not specific about Christian morality as to defend their particular points of view at all costs. In so doing, the faith-ethic school accused the autonomy school of promoting absolute freedom, including freedom from norms and rules which might be considered to be specifically Christian, while the autonomy school accused writers of the faith-ethic school of being sectarian in their approach to Christian morality. This was the case because, in asserting that there exist some specifically Christian rules and principles, the faith-ethic school seems unable to explain fully how the rules of universal justice or the laws of a just society might apply to Christians. What if, for instance, a Christian felt he/she had to do something, in faith, that was contrary to the laws of justice? Or what, for example, would the Christian with his/her specifically Christian rules and principles have to contribute to discussions about ‘loving our neighbour’ whom we do not know, or who is not Christian, but whose freedom should also be respected by the laws of justice? Indeed, a further question which we might ask of both schools of thought is the following: how can we respect and love the other, as Ricoeur puts it, when the other is a stranger? It is one thing to show love to those whom we know intimately, such as family members, spouses or neighbours, but it is quite another thing to presume that everyone, even those whom we do not know so well, are also our neighbours. We need to ask, ‘where does love stop and become justice?’ What do we do when the relationship to our neighbour is no longer an intimate matter of ‘me and you’ but a genuinely social and/or political relationship? A nd can this view be justified from a biblical perspective? In order to respond to these questions, we need to turn now to the third element of R icoeur’s triadic ethical intention: institutional mediation. Institutional Mediation: Distinguishing Love from Justice In Oneself as Another, R icoeur explains that, in order to respect those relationships in which we find ourselves with individuals whom we do not know intimately, we need institutions.10 A n institution, in his view, consists of a set of rules regarding 

 ������������ Cf. p. 27–7.  ��������� R icoeur, Oneself as Another, pp. 199–202.

10

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acts in social life that enable everyone to exercise their freedom, even in more formal contexts with individuals who do not form part of our interpersonal relationships. If we are to flourish in society, it is essential that we can do so without damaging the freedom of other members of society. A lthough it goes without saying that most of us draw a sharp distinction between family bonds and social or professional bonds, between private life and public/political life and between personal freedom and public freedom, we ought not to disassociate them completely. The respect that we pay to our family members should be extended to others in society, whom we do not know: the stranger in the street, the beggar asking for money, the outcast or the prostitute. In R icoeur’s view, we need institutions to protect certain universal values so that each person’s freedom is guaranteed and respected. While it may be easy to see how one’s freedom could be protected in the context of the loving family, it is often not as easy to see how freedom is protected at a societal level. N or it is easy to see how we can and should be a neighbour to those who are alien to us, from a different race, nationality, gender or cultural background. This raises the question of how the kind of loving and ‘respect for the other’ that comes from the family situation can realistically be translated into a care for those who, though neighbours to us, are strangers to us. In R icoeur’s view, it is precisely because of the tendencies of human beings to abuse their freedom and presume that it is absolute that we have so many examples of terrorist behaviour in society. F reedom that is not protected by formal sanctions and institutional regulations that enforce and protect the demands of justice can lead to grossly immoral actions. When this happens, we disregard those who do not form a part of our interpersonal familial relations. In order to prevent such behaviour, R icoeur argues that the state must impose laws that protect justice.11 For it is justice, not the love that we experience in our intimate relationships, that enables us to be a neighbour to those individuals who remain anonymous to us but yet, as members of the human family, deserve our respect. In other words, owing to the fact that it is impossible to include every member of society in our intimate relationships with friends and family, or to extend the kind of love experienced in these contexts to everyone in society, we cannot simply use the language of familial love to express the respect that is owed to those members of society who are unfamiliar to us. F urthermore, most individuals would agree that they do not desire the same success for all children in society as they do for their own children. We want our friends to achieve their goals and we support them in the pursuit of their goals. But we would not want to extend this sincere desire to everyone in society. We want happiness for all of our friends and family in a way that shows a deeper

11  �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a fuller discussion on the R icoeur’s interpretation of the function of the state, see R icoeur, History and Truth (Evanston, 1965), p. 258ff.

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commitment to family relationships than to anonymous ones. A s S tan van H ooft puts it, We privilege those who are close to us because our own interests are bound up with theirs. S imilarly, living in communities leads us to privilege our fellow religionists, our work colleagues, our co-nationals and so forth. A lthough our focus upon ourselves and those close to us is reducing, our position is still partial and based on a shared sense of purpose.12

We can see here that doing the right thing for others with whom we share something in common or about whom we care deeply is often in our own interests. This is why R icoeur is anxious to distinguish between the love that we experience in our close relationships and the justice that we expect to receive in our societies. F or in societal relationships we are, to some extent, expected to put some of our personal concerns to one side, in order to establish some common understanding of the kind of social good needed for maintaining a just society. Again Van Hooft’s comments on Ricoeur’s understanding of justice are useful here. Van Hooft argues that: the virtue of justice involves a different stance or attestation of the self from the virtues of family, friendship, and community. The just person is one who does not place himself, his loved ones or his community colleagues at the centre of his concerns but rather sees himself and others impartially as so many equal units in a field of justice. This requires a stance of objectivity about oneself and others. Objectivity here means letting go of one’s own individual perspective and even the perspective of one’s community and its traditional beliefs, and adopting the stance of an impartial participant. […] Adopting a stance of justice involves this kind of move from self-preoccupation to objectivity. […] A t the social level if [sic] involves seeing oneself as no more important than anyone else. The essence of the virtue of justice then is to stop seeing oneself as the centre of the world and to attest to oneself as one among many. It is to stop taking oneself to be an exception or to be more important than anyone else. It is even to stop being the centre of a circle of philia, or care and concern, no matter how widely that circle is expanding. The just person is not the centre of anything. She is merely one among many, enjoying equal status with the man and claiming no privilege for herself. S he is an ‘each’. A s R icoeur put it in the title of his book, one sees oneself as another. To attest to this form of ethical identity is virtue indeed.13

 ���������������� S tan van H ooft, Understanding Virtue Ethics (Chesham, 2006), p. 118.  �������������� Ibid., p. 121.

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Clearly, therefore, although it is based primarily on freedom, the application of R icoeur’s interpretation of Christian ethics to the Christian proprium debate brings forth an understanding of the Gospels which does not exclude the law. In fact, the kind of freedom that R icoeur envisages is one that exists in relation to the other, both in an informal or familial context and in a formal (social) context. The former is called love; the latter, justice. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate This distinction is helpful to us when we try to understand the allegations brought against the autonomy school by writers of the faith-ethic persuasion. F or some proponents of the faith-ethic school, the movement for an autonomous ethic was promoting absolute freedom when it argued that the content of Christian morality is identical to human morality. When considered in the light of R icoeur’s work on freedom, love and justice, however, we begin to see that these allegations were perhaps unjustified. As we have seen above, it is entirely reasonable to argue that Christian ethics is founded upon freedom without this implying that moral agents possess absolute freedom from constraints, from justice, from the law, from political sanction or punishment of any kind. When viewed from a R icoeurian perspective, freedom exists alongside justice. It must be institutionalized in the form of norms, prohibitions and rules that protect the weakest in society, the vulnerable, the poor and those who do not form a part of our intimate relationships. In this sense, therefore, one can conceive of an ethics based on love without excluding justice or the law. O f course, anyone interested in the issues that arose out of the Glaubensethik/ autonomy debate will want to know how R icoeur’s triadic formulation relates to Christian ethics and, in particular, how it can be reconciled with the biblical command to love neighbour. O ur next section, therefore, will be devoted to explaining how R icoeur’s ethical aim and the distinction he makes between love and justice can be applied to the biblical texts. This will help us to gain a greater clarity about how the issues that arose out of the Christian proprium debate regarding the nature of biblical ethics and biblical love might be reappropriated and used in a more fruitful way. This might also help us to move beyond the conflict that exists between the faith-ethic and autonomy schools regarding the precise use and interpretation of the biblical command to ‘love neighbour as self’. The Biblical Command to Love: A Ricoeurian Reinterpretation Biblical Ethics: A Call to Freedom (‘I’) R icoeur’s freedom-based ethics can also be seen in his treatment of biblical texts. F or him, the Gospels describe the gradual development of a people who have

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been estranged from themselves and from God for some time. Through a series of events, misunderstanding, trials and tribulations, however, they turn back to God in freedom. In the same way as the love of God is experienced as an unconditional, free gift, the disciples choose to love God and one another out of freedom. The choice to love does not come about through obedience to an external authority, fear of the wrath of God or the threat of political sanction. R ather, the disciples wish to devote their lives to God in freedom because they have experienced the love of God themselves. They do not have privileged access to norms and values which are unavailable to those who do not wish to serve God. R ather, what they have is a commitment to live out God’s love in their interactions with their neighbours. S o in R icoeurian terms, the ethics of the Gospel is […] founded primarily on a free commitment between the master and his disciples, rather than on the respect for the rule of law. The law should serve to maintain the bonds of community of the faithful, which are built on virtues of love, hospitality and patience, justice and hope.14

Understood in this way, Jesus is not viewed as one who breaks the law and institutes a new set of norms by which the disciples should live; rather, he comes to fulfil the law, and to show people the kinds of dispositions and identities they should have prior to being obedient to the law. The law is not primary; love is.15 The Golden Rule: The Call to Love Others and To Do Unto Them as You Would Like Them To Do To You (‘Thou’) But, as we have seen in the previous section, fostering loving dispositions ought not to suggest, as it so often does, that we are absolutely free to choose how we use our dispositions and to interpret the ‘loving thing’ in a subjective manner. It is very easy to assume that we know what the loving thing is and how to achieve it. In fact, Christians might automatically assume that because Jesus’ message was one of love that they know better than most what this means in practice. But the danger with this kind of approach is that we risk reducing our moral decision-making to subjectivism. If love is really all that is required, then who is to say that immoral actions could not be loving ones if the agent deems them to be so? Indeed, taken to the extreme, the view that ‘love is all you need’ might lead us to justify Hitler’s command to kill Jews in the gas chambers because one might say it was the most loving thing to do, given that the N azis saw the Jews as an inferior race! O f course, this example is extreme. But it serves as a useful illustration of how dangerous it is to use the statement ‘love is all you need’ in the context of biblical ethics, or ethics of any kind for that matter. 14

 ������������������������������������������� Van Gerwen, ‘E thics and the Gospel’, p. 69.  ������������������������������������������������� Paul R icoeur, ‘The S ocius and the N eighbour’, in History and Truth (Evanston, 1965), pp. 98–109. 15

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It is for this reason that R icoeur’s interpretation of the function of the Golden R ule is so useful to us. We must remember that it calls us to ‘love our neighbour as ourselves’ and to treat others as we would like them to treat us. We are not simply told to love. R ather, we are told to love in freedom and to take responsibility for the other, even if we do not know him/her, and they are told to do the same for us. We are invited to remember that we exist in relation to ‘others’ and that these ‘others’ are responsible for our freedom in the same way that we are responsible for theirs. In this sense, then, the biblical command to ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ does not mean that we are free to decide how this should be done. R ather, as R icoeur tells us, ‘loving neighbour as self’ means we are called to take responsibility for the other, and the other is called to take responsibility for us. Consequently, we can see more clearly how the ethics of the Bible is primarily (though not exclusively) an ethics of freedom. But it is also an ethics of responsibility: we are called to take responsibility for the freedom and flourishing of others, while others are called to do the same for us. This dynamic is akin to the second part of R icoeur’s triadic ethical intention. The Call to Justice Given the frailty of human nature, we tend to act lovingly only to those whom we know personally. As already noted, we often find it more difficult to extend our love to those whom we do not know. In fact, we often view others in society as our rivals rather than as our brothers and sisters in Christ. We see ourselves as political and social competitors, competing for scarce goods and resources in an unjust society. In this sense, we need a logic of equivalence, as Ricoeur calls it, to regulate our behaviour so that we might give to each person their ‘due’. We need rules and principles to regulate our behaviour so that each might get what is owed to them by virtue of their humanity. A s D avid H all asserts, R icoeur’s work shows us that [a]dherence to formulated principles of justice is expected to uphold, or perhaps enforce, a dimension of social cohesion that prevents mutual disinterest in the interests of others from devolving into outright hostility or violence. That is to say, a rule of justice provides prudential grounds for recognizing the equal claim of others to liberty and opportunity. My interests are advanced to a greater extent by the equivalence that justice institutes between my claims to the distribution of social goods and those of others.16

In the Bible, we get this logic of fairness and equivalence from the Golden R ule. We are told that we must treat others in the way that we would like them to treat 16  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� W. David Wall, ‘The Site of Christian Ethics: Love and Justice in the Work of Paul Ricoeur’, in John Wall, William Schweiker and W. David Hall (eds), Paul Ricoeur and Contemporary Moral Thought (London and New York, 2002), p. 150.

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us. Consequently, we see that even the neighbourly love that is promoted by the sayings of Jesus in the Gospels needs to be institutionalized in the way that R icoeur describes, lest it fall into a narcissistic, self-serving and selective venture. A n attitude of neighbourly love needs to be limited and protected by political and economic structures, rules and laws. O therwise it is unlikely that our neighbourly attitude will last or that its meaning and essence will remain oriented towards the good. In clear and simple terms, although the ethics of the Bible is not founded primarily upon the law, it does, and must, include the law such as that found in the Golden R ule; otherwise freedom and love might be interpreted in perverse, violent and/or sinful ways. Moreover, without rules and principles, even if the latter are not unique to Christianity, there would be little or no guarantee that our idea of what the loving thing to do is would be applied to those anonymous relationships of which we are a part. We might choose to restrict our love to those people whom we know intimately and neglect the need to show solidarity and mercy to the innumerable strangers who are also our neighbours in society.17 O r, perhaps worse still, we might interpret love in a completely altruistic way and become our own worst enemies or victims of our own loving disposition. F or the purposes of our discussion about the uniqueness of Christian morality what is significant to note here is that the Christian commands to ‘do unto others’ and to ‘love neighbour’ are a consequence, not the source, of basic moral attitudes. In the R icoeurian approach to Christian ethics, attitudes precede laws, not the other way round. L aws are needed to protect basic attitudes and characteristics that enable us to be human. They are necessary to curtail and to limit freedom in the face of sin and the threat of selfishness and the promise of power and prestige. H owever, the law is secondary and comes after the basic attitude of neighbourly love. The law, then, should never stand in the way of love, hospitality, justice, good works, mercy, charity and so on. It should serve them. ‘The S abbath was made for the sake of the human being, and the S on of the human being is sovereign even over the S abbath.’18 Love and Justice in the Christian Proprium Debate A further point that deserves mention here has to do with the respective stances taken by writers of the faith-ethic and autonomy schools. The former, in general terms, espoused the view that there are specifically Christian demands that require us to go beyond what is required by reason and the natural law, while the latter, put briefly, promoted the view that the content and demands of Christian morality are identical to those of human morality. A lthough there was much discussion between both schools of thought about the nature and moral significance of Agape 17

 ����������������������������������������������������� Cf. R icoeur, ‘The S ocius and the N eighbour’, p. 98ff.  ������������ (Mc 3: 27–8)

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love, biblical love, the love commandment and the Golden R ule, much less was said about the risks associated with misinterpreting Christian love, whatever its form. Moreover, neither school seemed to raise the issue about how one might distinguish between love and justice. If we take the faith-ethic view, for instance, we might be inclined to say that the demands of Christian love take us beyond what can be known by the secularist or the humanist. H owever, if this were the case, we would have to wonder how such a view could account for the need for justice in society. Would the commands of Christianity ever cause a person to act in a way that was considered to be contrary to the laws of justice? Furthermore, does a loving disposition guarantee that we are also just? We would also have to ask questions about how Christians would see themselves in society. Would they, for instance, see themselves as being above the law, judging it, or bound by the law, like everyone else, so that all impersonal relationships might be protected? Or would Christians see themselves as being beyond justice, as it is conceived in a secular/societal sense? A nd what would happen if, for example, a Christian ended up breaking the law because he/she believed he/she was acting in a manner that characterized Christian love, not secular love?! Would he/she be exempt from punishment and political sanction? Or would a just society be one that embraced what might be considered as a specifically Christian account of justice in the form of specifically Christian rules, norms and principles? Is it just to impose specifically religious views of justice upon secularists in society? Is this a sectarian view of the Christian moral life? Issues also arise from the autonomy school’s point of view. Given that this school asserts that Christian morality is a human morality in content, it might seem to fit more comfortably with the Ricoeurian view that love needs to be protected by norms, principles and rules. The autonomy school’s position seems to be one which promotes a certain kind of neutral dialogue with all members of the human family concerning the content of morality and the demands of societal justice. For supporters of the autonomy persuasion, all are on an equal footing when it comes to the demands of the law and morality, religious or otherwise. H owever, owing to the fact that writers of the autonomy school argue that the ‘extra’ in Christian morality is the special context and/or motivation, they risk limiting the role played by the biblical texts to one motivation and one context. It might seem, as it did to some supporters of the Glaubensethik persuasion, that the Christian tradition is being compromised somewhat in an attempt to communicate with the secular world about the demands of justice. F urthermore, given that the autonomy school locates the uniqueness of Christianity in terms of its motivation and special context of reflection, it might also be argued that the autonomy school does not give sufficient attention to the role played by rules and principles of justice. It is not clear, for instance, •

whether a Christian could be justifiably motivated to do something that runs contrary to the demands of justice or the law;

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• •

whether there is ever a limit as to what actions might be carried out and justified by this specifically Christian motivation; or whether this special motivation includes a motivation to protect, not only our intimate relationships, but also our impersonal ones.

In fact, even those authors who sought to show that Christian charity was a specifically Christian virtue devoted scant attention to the issues that might arise if this specifically Christian virtue required Christians to act differently in society. Would these Christians be considered to be above the laws of justice? Or would they have to put their specifically Christian virtues to one side in order to participate with all members of the human family, religious and secular, in the search for rules that would ensure a stable and just society for all? Moreover, from the writings of many proponents of the autonomy school, it might seem as if they are at times espousing an ethics of virtue or a teleological interpretation of the Christian life, which excludes the need for formal rules and principles which help to limit what is permitted by the virtues of love, hospitality, care, kindness and so on. A s we have seen from R icoeur’s distinction between love and justice, the virtue of love, for instance, must exist alongside the rules of justice so that it does not lapse into a violent or self-serving love. Given these criticisms of the faith-ethic and the autonomy approaches, we can see more clearly why Ricoeur’s distinction between love and justice is so helpful. H is position is not one that forces us to choose between the respective positions taken by writers of either school of thought. Instead, it helps us to see that both schools are partly in the truth, but that they run into difficulties when it comes to stating how Christians are to behave in the face of the laws of justice or in the face of the shared dialogue between all human persons in the world about the nature and content of the good. Both schools seem desperate to preserve the idea that Christian love is fundamental to Christian moral behaviour – as indeed it is. We have to learn to be moral. We have to learn what love means. We have to learn how love is translated into action. We have to learn how love can be used to transform the lives of those around us, rather than inhibit them or suffocate them. Christians learn about Christian love through their parents, through the biblical stories, through the sayings of Jesus, through the practices of the Christian communities, through the reading of the S acred S criptures in acts of worship and through watching other people acting in loving ways. In fact, most Christians are of the opinion that Jesus promotes a ‘more than justice’ approach to ethics. Boundless love seems to be what is required. But the difficulties that Christians experience with this kind of interpretation of the biblical texts and the sayings of Jesus are akin to those experienced by writers of the faith-ethic and autonomy schools. If we say that Christian love goes beyond the requirements of justice, we run the risk of portraying Christians as people who are above the laws of justice or suggesting that they are people who do not know the limits. A lthough it is truly commendable to be someone who always ‘gives more’, we cannot be sure that Christians always interpret this ‘giving more’ in

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a moral way. N or can we be sure that Christians really wish to emphasize love in such a way that the whole of the Christian moral life is reduced to complete altruism. F urthermore, given that the Bible does not tell us every detail we might need to know in order to live good Christian lives, much of what Christian love entails, therefore, is open to interpretation by the individual him/herself. But this is precisely what brings Christian love into an area of potential risk. D epending on which point of view one takes, one could be accused of promoting absolute freedom (autonomy school) or of adopting a sectarian posture vis-à-vis other religions (faith-ethic school). It seems to me that these tensions about the nature of Christian love can be given a healthier framework if we move away from the divisions created by the writers of the two schools in question and embrace more fully the idea that, at least in terms of content, Christian love is similar to human love. It demands more than justice. But love without justice is open to perversion and misinterpretation. Equally, justice without love becomes impersonal, abstract, disengaged and juridical. In this sense, then, we must try to remember that: • •

Jesus did not give a new set of norms and principles by which we are to live; and that the command to love must not be isolated from the Golden R ule, which emphasizes reciprocity, mutuality, equality and justice.

These two must be taken together, not considered in isolation, as they were throughout the duration of the Christian proprium debate. If we continue to see them as separate and disconnected teachings, the criticisms about sectarianism, absolute freedom and secularism, all of which were brought against writers of the autonomy and Glaubensethik schools, will no doubt continue. H owever, if we look more attentively at how Ricoeur tries to bring together justice and love into a more mutually enhancing relationship, we might be able to move beyond the heated discussions created by the respective stances taken by writers of the autonomy and faith-ethic schools. A lthough these schools have done much to clarify for us what Christian ethics should mean in the postconciliar Church, the discussions have tended to treat love and justice as two separate issues. The Love Commandment and the Golden Rule: a Mutually Enhancing Union It is easy to understand why Christians, generally speaking, notwithstanding those who participated in the discussions about the specificity of Christian morality, are so perplexed about the love commandment and whether it requires of Christians literally ‘to go the extra mile’. It is an extreme command that is difficult to interpret in every situation. H owever, there is no disputing the fact that Jesus is advocating a radical ethic in the S ermon on the Mount. This is what makes the command so

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confusing, and what exacerbates tensions between Christians who take the view that Christian morality is identical in content to human morality and those who say that Christian morality requires more than human morality. W. D avid H all gets to the heart of the matter when he says that [t]he demands to turn the other cheek, to offer the cloak as well as the coat, to walk the second mile, to lend without expectation of return seem to contradict concern for equivalence [justice] and reciprocity. This confrontation is amplified by the verses that introduce these sayings: ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” But I say to you … (Matt. 5:38–42).’19

It is this apparent tension that exists in the Christian tradition between what the love commandment requires (Just love!) and what justice requires (Golden Rule). To put it differently, we seem to be caught between two extremes: love and justice, the former representing a more teleological approach to the moral life, while the latter promotes a deontological perspective. These extremes, it seems to me, were at the heart of the divisions between proponents of the faithethic and autonomy schools of thought. The faith-ethic school seemed more focused on a deontological approach to Christian ethics, while the autonomy school seemed to be more in favour of a teleological (virtue-based) approach to Christian ethics. H owever, as we have seen, the work of Paul R icoeur can once again help to shed some light on the problems and mediate between these two seemingly irreconcilable positions. For Ricoeur, love needs justice and justice needs love. Justice provides a limit to the altruistic tendencies that love can bring about, while love ensures that justice does not become legalism by another name. In short, the love commandment and the Golden R ule can and do exist in a mutually regulating and enhancing way. E ach provides a limit or a check and balance against which the other can be prevented from lapsing into extremism or violence of any kind. Christian Love: More Than Justice? O f course, it might be argued that Christian love still goes beyond the demands of justice, so we must say a little more here about the nature of love, as Ricoeur perceives it. Thus far, we have been arguing for the existence of a specifically Christian identity, rather than specifically Christian norms or values. We have said that the Christian search for truth is unique in the sense that the Christian will include contemplation of the Scriptures, magisterial teachings (if relevant), as well as any other sources of information that shed light upon the decision that is to be 19

 ���������������������������������������������� H all, ‘The S ite of Christian E thics’, p. 150.

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made. The Christian brings his/her identity into the moral arena and comes to a decision. H e/she subsequently takes responsibility for the decision that is made and acted upon in conscience. It is incontrovertible that the Christian differs from the non-religious person in the sense that the former believes that: • • • • • • • •

creation is a gift from God; God is a source of hope in spite of suffering; God has liberated his people from slavery; the nature of God is mediated through the teachings, life, death and resurrection of Jesus; the S criptures are a source of moral truth and provide ‘thought experiments’ which help to expand and inform moral imagination; God is merciful and forgiving; God is love; when we love others, we are giving expression to God’s love for us. This is what we mean by Christian spirituality.

Consequently, it is of course rather difficult to see how the secular person can share the same rules and norms of morality as the religious person. But, as we have already seen, it is quite naïve to assume that specifically Christian norms or values exist, or that they can be read off from the biblical texts and applied neatly to a given situation. We also have to bear in mind that Christians are also required to participate in ethical discussions that pertain to the regulation of society and to the distribution of justice in the same way as everyone else. Thus Christians must be able to give rational and sensible justifications for their moral values. But there is something quite distinctive about Christian love, as explained in the R icoeurian sense, that merits our attention here. Although Christian love, as we have seen, ought not to exclude justice or the law, it is perceived through the lens of the Christian narrative of liberation from oppression and through the story which recounts Israel’s profound experience of God’s love for humanity. In this way, Christian love has the distinctive characteristic of being an expression of God’s love. E ach time the believer performs an act of goodness, it is considered to be a good action in the normal sense of the word. It is also an expression of the Christian’s identity in a more spiritual sense. This means that moral actions are also seen as the manifestation of God’s love in human action. Christians want to love because it is part of their identity as lovers of God. God’s love has been given to them so they want to love God in return. The way to do this is through loving neighbour. In this way, Christians love because God has loved them first. This is what Ricoeur refers to as the ‘economy of the gift’.20 Put simply, because it has been given to 20  ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Paul R icoeur, ‘E thical and Theological Considerations on the Golden R ule’, in Mark Wallace (ed.), trans. David Pellauer, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination (Minneapolis, 1995), pp. 296–7.

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Christians by virtue of their special identity or story as the people of God, they want to give in return.21 Crucial to our discussion here is that what is given is an identity, a story, a narrative that founds a community on faith, not a set of specifically Christian principles. A lthough it goes without saying that the love commandment seems to ask that we go the extra mile, how this is to be done is left open to interpretation by the believer. A part from the biblical stories themselves, Christians are not given any extra help in the search for truth and goodness. N or are they exempt from considerations of the law because of this love commandment uttered by Jesus. As Ricoeur tells us, justice is essential if love is to be prevented from perversion. In short, the commandment to love without limit suspends the ethical and becomes altruism or, in some cases, violence, if it is not considered together with the law of reciprocity or justice which Christians find in the Golden Rule and secularists find in the laws of the state. As citizens we are all expected to give others their due and receive what is due to us in return. A s R icoeur puts it, D etached from the golden rule, the commandment to love one’s enemies is not ethical but supraethical, as is the whole economy of the gift to which it belongs. If it is not to swerve over to the nonmoral, or even to the immoral, the commandment to love must reinterpret the golden rule and, in so doing, be itself reinterpreted by this rule. This, in my opinion, is the fundamental reason why the new commandment does not and cannot eliminate the golden rule or substitute for it. What is called ‘Christian ethics,’ or, as I would prefer to say, ‘communal ethics in a religious perspective,’ consists, I believe, in the tension between unilateral love and bilateral justice, and in the interpretation of each of these in terms of the other.22

Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate This point is of crucial importance to discussions about the specificity of Christian morality. A s pointed out in Chapter 1, some scholars were of the opinion that the love commandment was a new commandment that required more of Christians that anyone else. O thers said it motivated Christians to ‘go the extra mile’ or gave extra encouragement to Christians to be good and to love neighbour. H owever, these discussions clearly show that both schools of thought were making valid points but that they appeared unable to account for Christian love and justice at the same time. Those who argued for the existence of specifically Christian norms and values were at a loss to explain how the Christian was to dialogue with the rest 21

 �������������� Ibid., p. 300.  �������������� Ibid., p. 301.

22

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of the world about the content of the law and of justice. Writers of this persuasion seemed to be presenting an ethics of specifically Christian rules and principles that resulted in what was often perceived as a sectarian style of Christian ethics, and which presented Christians to the rest of the world as people who had a monopoly on the truth. Those of the autonomy school, however, did not take the view that there were specifically Christian norms and values because they could see from the outset that this would stand in the way of discussions with the non-Christian and secular world about the law and justice. The problem was that this line of thinking seemed unable to state what Christian love meant and what was unique about Christian morality without being accused of undermining the story of Jesus and the truth about Christian revelation itself. In other words, this school seemed unable to say in really convincing terms how Christians are to deal with the love commandment if they are also expected to participate in secular discussions about justice and the law. The latter school was better equipped to speak about justice but less well equipped to speak about the Christian command to love. When considered in terms of R icoeur’s distinction between the command to love and the Golden R ule, a different perspective emerges. We can see that, detached from the law and the reciprocity of the Golden R ule, Christian love is at risk. We can also see that, detached from the love commandment, the command to give others their due (the Golden Rule) is also at risk. This shows us that instead of polarizing the issues into two schools of thought – one which is more competent to speak about Christians in society and the other which is more competent to speak about biblical love – these two perspectives can be viewed in a mutually beneficial way. Moreover, the divisions created by the faith-ethic and autonomy schools seem to disappear and become less important. L ove for the Christian is now no different in content from human love; rather, its uniqueness is explained in terms of the Christian story of God’s love. The uniqueness has to do with how the Christian sees his/her moral actions, that is, as a spiritual outpouring of God’s love. This does not mean that Christians are always required to go beyond the merely reasonable or beyond a reasonable limit because, as we have seen, this might, paradoxically, bring about a sinful expression of love. In spite of what we commonly hear from Christians that love has no limits, as R icoeur tells us, the opposite is in fact the case.23 L ove has limits. It needs laws and rules of justice to protect it from extremes. For Christians this is summed up in the Golden Rule (‘do unto others’), which both interprets and is interpreted by the love principle. Conceived in this way, then, we have arrived at a more balanced account of Christian ethics. This version of Christian ethics can account for the unique relationship which Christians have with the God of Jesus Christ without suggesting that Christians have privileged access to the truth, or that they are expected to ‘go the extra mile’ without attending to the demands of what is 23

 �������������� Ibid., p. 301.

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reasonable and just. This position seems to enable Christians to be present in society as Christians without undermining the unique story of Christianity or suggesting that the Christian cannot converse with the secularist about matters that pertain to justice, peace, human rights, AIDS and so on. The Role of Interpretation in the Conflict between Love and Justice A lthough R icoeur is clear about the fact that the love commandment needs the Golden R ule and vice versa, it is reasonable to ask whether there might be a time when the tension between doing the loving thing (love commandment) and doing the just thing (Golden Rule) could result in a decision that favoured one above the other. In other words, in making a moral decision one might tend more towards self-sacrifice than towards a strict following of the letter of the law, or vice versa. O n this matter, R icoeur admits that much depends on how the agent interprets the conflict between the demands of love and those of justice: I will even say that the tenacious incorporation, step by step, of a supplementary degree of compassion and generosity into all our codes – penal codes and social justice codes – constitutes a perfectly reasonable task, however difficult and interminable it may be. The golden rule is set in this way, in a concrete fashion, at the heart of an incessant conflict between self-interest and self-sacrifice. The same rule may tip toward either direction, depending on the practical interpretation it is given.24

Based on what R icoeur states here, some might argue that this point undermines any attempt to say that the Christian is not, on occasion, required or obliged to ‘go the extra mile’ or treat the love commandment as superior to the Golden R ule or the commands of the law, for instance. H owever, this need not be the case. There is no guarantee that the Christian will always prioritize the love commandment when faced with a choice between love and justice. It is also important to remember that when love and justice conflict with one another, Christians, like everyone else, must interpret what the best course of action is. They are not given the answers or the solution in advance; nor are they given the solution in the pages of the S criptures. Christians must interpret what to do based on their own experience, the dictates of their conscience, suggestions made by the biblical texts or by a magisterium, along with any other circumstantial evidence that is relevant to the case that is to be assessed. In this respect, then, it is perfectly reasonable to say that sometimes individuals might choose self-sacrifice over mere obedience to the letter of the law. However, the extent to which this happens depends on the outcome of the process of discernment. The individual him/herself must decide what to do. In addition, this going the extra 24

 �������������� Ibid., p. 301.

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mile might have to come back to the Golden R ule if a moral decision turns out to be too altruistic or detrimental to the person acting. This means that whatever an agent decides to do is not the result of a specifically Christian command to love or to be just, but is the result of a sincere attempt to interpret all relevant moral sources and subsequently decide what to do. Moreover, this freedom to interpret requires Christians to take responsibility for whatever course of action ensues. O f course, the Christian will see this action as a response to God’s love, but the action itself has not come about by chance or from a specifically Christian rule or principle which is unavailable to the secularist. R ather, it has come about through a specific process of interpretation and deliberation from which the agent discerned what to do and took responsibility for the action that followed. Biblical Texts: Disorienting in Order to Reorient The process of interpretation and deliberation is helped by the texts of the Bible, but not in the way that some authors who participated in the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate believed. The reader of the biblical texts will be swayed in one direction or another depending on how he/she is influenced by the text. But what is important to remember is that the text is not the source of the norms or values which govern the moral behaviour. N or is it the case that the text simply motivates Christians to act in ways that go beyond the demands of reason and, perhaps, justice. (And, even if this were the case, we cannot be sure that all readers will be influenced in exactly the same way.) Rather, the purpose of the text is to shock the reader and try to reverse his/her natural tendencies towards sin. R egarding the precise function of the biblical texts in Christian moral action, R icoeur turns to the biblical scholar R obert Tannehill for help. Tannehill suggests that the logic that is employed in statements which take the form of ‘Y ou have heard that it was said, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say to you …’ is to try to reverse patterns of behaviour. H e argues that these extreme statements function as focal instances that direct attention away from what we might want to do towards what we should also consider doing. Tannehill agues that the sayings in question do not propose a priori principles to guide behaviour, but that they focus attention on specific situations. To derive principles from these commands, in Tannehill’s view, is to miss their point. The same author also maintains that the purpose of the extremity of the sayings of Jesus is to bring about a radical disorientation in the imagination of the reader. This reorientation is intended to shock readers away from their own securities and the desire to protect themselves at all costs towards a different way of being.25 This different way of being requires us to give more. We are told in the Gospels to do not only this, but also that! We are frequently told to do more, to go the extra mile,  ������������������ R obert Tannehill, The Sword of His Mouth (Philadelphia, 1975), p. 72.

25

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to put our sinful ways aside. A s R icoeur puts it, ‘it is this giving more that appears to me to constitute the point of these extreme commands’.26 H owever, for the purposes of our discussion on the Christian proprium debate, it is important to note that precisely what is involved in this ‘giving more’ is left open to interpretation by the reader/believer him/herself and must take stock of the demands of justice. Of course some people might be inclined more towards the love command than to the command of justice. But this is also a matter of personal interpretation. A s such, then, it cannot be determined in advance what any Christian will decide to do in any particular circumstance that requires a moral decision. Much will depend on the individual’s character and on how they understand their Christian vocation. In many respects, it depends on how they interpret the healthy tension that exists between serving God and loving for God’s sake and giving others their due for the sake of justice and the law. Conclusion F rom what has been said here it seems that a R icoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate is helpful in a number of ways. F irst, it can account for the fact that the biblical texts recount the identity of the Christian community without undermining the significance of the Covenant. Second, it interprets the Covenant as the sealing of a relationship with God, rather than as the institution of specifically Christian commands and/or moral principles. Third, it can show us how the biblical texts are ethically formative without excluding the role played by either the love commandment or the Golden R ule. In fact, R icoeur’s work shows us how Christian ethics involves a healthy tension between the self-sacrifice that is required of the love commandment and the justice that is required by the Golden R ule. This enables Christians to embrace the love commandment without excluding the need for justice. It also helps Christians to guard against adopting a naïvely altruistic approach to ethics or a purely formal one. Both the need for love and justice, as explained by Ricoeur, form a part of what we more commonly call Christian ethics. This clearly shows us that the polarization of scholars into the faith-ethic and autonomy schools of thought was unhelpful in that it prevented Catholic theologians from making this connection between love and justice. It also prevented them from seeing how love and justice might co-exist in a mutually enhancing and mutually limiting way. The focus on norms, rules and motivation have diverted attention away from the fact that ‘going the extra mile’ is a matter of interpretation for each Christian person. Precisely what it will entail cannot be predetermined.

26  ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘The Logic of Jesus, the Logic of God’, in Wallace (ed.), trans. David Pellauer, Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, p. 281.

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This means, then, that if there are times when Christians are required to ‘give more’ or to go beyond the call of justice, it is more a result of their selfunderstanding and of their own interpretation of their spiritual relationship with God than with the following of some specifically Christian rules or norms that can be read off from the Bible. In other words, Christians interpret their actions as a response, not only to the other whom they see, but also to the ultimate O ther, God, whose revelation is recounted in the pages of S acred S cripture. Christians also use this specifically Christian story to help them in the search to become more human. They use it as a ‘laboratory of the self’. When understood in this way, Christian ethics is offered more resources than before. It can now account for the spiritual dimensions of the moral life as well as the need to be schooled in virtue. This means that if we approach the Christian proprium debate from the perspective of a specifically Christian identity, Christian ethics is given a broader interpretation, as was previously the case. It is no longer focused solely on rules and principles or respect for the letter or the law: it includes consideration of character traits, virtues or habits of the heart. In addition, it can account for the fact that Christians see their moral actions as an outpouring of, and as a response and witness to, God’s love as revealed in Jesus and recounted in the S criptures. To refer back to a point made at the beginning of this chapter, we can now show how Christian actions are a witness to God’s work in the world (témoignage) without suggesting that Christians do not need also to follow their conscience in moral matters (attestation) and consider all sources of information that may be relevant to the decision that needs to be made.27 In this way, approaching the Christian proprium debate from the perspective of identity seems to make sense: it can account for the dimensions of Christian moral action which we do not see. In other words, it enables us to put morality and spirituality back together. Precisely how this is the case needs further explanation in our next chapter.

27  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Cf. F or a more detailed explanation of how this occurs in the working of the Christian moral conscience, see Chapter 6, pp. 155–160.

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Chapter 4

Christian Identity: A Quest for Goodness and H oliness The previous chapter outlined some important distinctions that Paul R icoeur’s work can contribute to the Christian proprium debate. The distinction between love and justice is a crucial one because it enables us to see how a desire to love need not be seen in isolation from rules and principles. It also enables us to see how the divisions that were created between proponents of the autonomy and faith-ethic schools might be minimized and transcended. We can see that love and justice go together. Moreover, we can see that if there are times when Christians feel they are called to ‘go the extra mile’ and to place self-sacrifice before everything else, this must be understood as a personal choice based on a personal interpretation of the situation and the relevant moral sources. This explains why it was unhelpful for some of the participants of the Christian proprium debate to try to formulate rules and principles that might be considered specifically Christian, or rules that might require the Christian to do more than the non-believer. N ot every Christian is moved to act in the same way, and not every Christian will put love before justice. This is a matter of interpretation. Some Christians might want to place self-sacrifice above the need for justice because they see this as a fitting response to God. As Christians we believe that God loved us first. This means that we accept God’s gift of love, and we agree to love in return. In other words, we are giving back to God what is owed to God. E ach act of love is interpreted as an act of love that symbolizes our love of God. When we understand that our specific identity as people of God means that God loved us first, we want to give something back. The way in which we can do this is to love the things that God loves. This does not mean that we are given clearer directions about how to love than those that are available to non-believers; rather, it means that there is another dimension attached to our desire to be more human and moral. This dimension is a specifically religious dimension that begins in that spiritual space where we accept God’s love for us and awaken to our responsibility to care about what God cares about – bringing all people and the whole of created reality into right relationships. Without spirituality, morality is



 ������������ (1 Jn 4:10).

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cut off from its core religious experience and so loses its character as a personal response to being loved by God …

But when it is linked to spirituality, morality is seen to begin in the heart of what can be called a specifically Christian spirituality. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate The primary reason why the connection between morality and spirituality is so important in the context of our discussion of the specificity of Christian morality has to do with the recommendations of the S econd Vatican Council. The need to highlight the spiritual dimensions of the moral life was one of the items on the agenda in relation to the renewal of moral theology. R ecall what was said in Chapter 1 about F uchs’s interpretation of the Council’s proposals for a new moral theology. The Council wanted to emphasize the spiritual dimensions of the moral life and to place the person of Christ at the centre of the discipline of moral theology. It was felt that the manuals were overly geared towards obedience and the avoidance of sin, and that the proposed ‘new’ moral theology of the Council would be able to account for the need to be both good and holy. F uchs summarized the Council’s recommendations into four distinct but interrelated statements: • • • • •

Christ and our being-in-Christ are [at the] centre … [of moral theology]; the fundamental characteristic of Christian morality is a call, a vocation, rather than a law; Christian morality is … responsive in character; [Christian morality] is a morality for Christians; [and] its exalted nature must be made clear in the manner of its presentation.

  ������������������������������������������������������������������� Richard Gula, ‘Morality and Spirituality’, in James Keating (ed.), Moral Theology: New Directions and Fundamental Issues, Festschrift for James P. Hanigan (New Y ork, 2004), pp. 164–5.    Optatam Totius 16, D ecree on Priestly Training, proclaimed by his holiness Pope Paul VI on 28 October 1965. The text reads as follows: ‘The theological disciplines, in the light of faith and under the guidance of the magisterium of the Church, should be so taught that the students will correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine revelation, profoundly penetrate it, make it the food of their own spiritual lives, and be enabled to proclaim, explain, and protect it in their priestly ministry.’ Cf. www.vatican.va/archive/ hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651028_optatam-totius_ en.html (accessed 20 July 2008).   ������������� Josef F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, trans. M.H . H eelan, Maeve McRedmond, Erika Young and Gerard Watson (Dublin, 1967), p. 3.

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We can clearly see here that the Council wanted the proposed ‘new’ moral theology to be more spiritual in its make-up. In particular it wanted moral theology to emphasize how Christians are called into relationship with the person of Christ, rather than called to obey the letter of the law. O f course, it is not easy to express the nature of the relationship between the good and the holy in general, but this should not prevent us from making the connection whenever we can. Given all that has been said here already about the specificity of Christian morality, it may seem surprising now to remind ourselves that the Council did not call for a debate on whether faith contributed any new material norms to what might otherwise be called human morality. R ather, it called for certain changes to be made to the way in which we understand, study, interpret and live out our Christian vocation to love God and neighbour. The Council clearly wanted to make the connections between the moral and the spiritual, but this task was stifled by the debate on the Christian proprium and the need to defend seemingly opposing positions held by writers of the faith-ethic and autonomy schools regarding the uniqueness of Christian morality. This debate has clearly stunted the growth of moral theology in general and prevented scholars from linking up the visible and invisible dimensions of morality. Mark O ’Keefe takes us to the heart of the issue when he argues that the effort to affirm that moral norms are ‘in principle’ available to those without explicit Christian faith can detract from the equally important questions of how explicit Christian faith – as lived and celebrated by ordinary Christians – does, in fact, impact, form, and guide the Christian moral life. F inally, the vitally important task of dialogue on moral questions in a pluralistic society can divert attention from the essential intra-community task of helping committed Christians to make sense of their moral lives in light of their spiritual longing.

It is for this reason, therefore, that any attempt to revisit the debate on the Christian proprium must not lose sight of the recommendations made by the Council before the debate began, or of the fact that Christian morality, as the Council stipulates, ‘[…] is a call, a vocation, rather than a law’. The thesis of this chapter is: to show how a Ricoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate can help to put morality and spirituality back together in a way that might cohere with the Council’s recommendations to renew moral theology. In order to do this, we will begin by discussing R icoeur’s hermeneutical approach to revelation. This will enable us to see that the way in which the concept was understood by the contributors the Christian proprium debate was univocal, static and unresponsive to the diverse ways in which the revelation takes place, both in the lives of the ordinary faithful as well as in its biblical forms and distinct literary   �������������� Mark O ’Keefe, Becoming Good, Becoming Holy: On the Relationship between Ethics and Spirituality (New York, 1995), p. 19.   ������� F uchs, Human Values and Christian Morality, p. 3

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genres. It will be argued that, by adopting a hermeneutical approach to the concept of revelation, and moving away from any attempt to explain it in a uniform way, revelation can be seen in a more dynamic and engaging way. It offers more possibilities to us. These possibilities include the spiritual possibility of relationship with God and the invitation to become a new people who are committed to the neverending task of interpreting and reinterpreting the meaning of God’s revelation in every age. By doing this we will be able to see that the issues which arose out of the Christian proprium debate, and which seemed to polarize scholars into two seemingly conflicting schools of thought, might have been avoided if the concept of revelation had been given a more diverse and complex meaning. It will also be shown that to reduce the ethical significance of revelation to a specifically religious motivation, a single context or a set of divinely inspired truths is to limit the hermeneutical function of revelation. Moreover, it will be shown how attempts to do the latter bring about a poor understanding of the relationship between God and humanity, thereby limiting the ways in which God’s revelation in the world continues to function in diverse ways, in diverse theologies and cultures. Toward a Hermeneutic of Revelation: Mediating between the Faith-Ethic and Autonomy Schools A s we saw in Chapter 1, the divisions between the faith-ethic school and the autonomy school pertain to the question of what is unique about Christian morality. The issue can also be pinned down to one central question: does belief in divine revelation issue any new or distinctly Christian norms, also called divine commands, or values which are unavailable to the non-believer or the person who relies exclusively on reason? In essence, one of the central issues at stake in this debate has to do with how each school of thought understands and interprets divine revelation. The autonomy school seems to take the view that revelation adds new motivation to the Christian search for truth, or that it gives a specific horizon or meaning in which morals can be considered. The faith-ethic school prefers to speak of the possibility of there being ‘divine commands’ or, at the very least, ‘divinely inspired moral commands’ which Christians must obey in faith. These commands are often thought to require Christian moral behaviour to go beyond what is required by reason or the natural law. If this is true, then one could say that faith alters the content of Christian morality in a very distinct way, and that this new content, which is interpreted for us by the magisterium, is not available to everyone by virtue of their humanity. F urthermore, if one takes the autonomy stance, and argues that reason, not revelation, is the source of Christian morality, then Christian morality is akin to human morality. A central question that arises for us here is: given the differences in interpretation, how does each school understand and explain the dimensions of the moral life which we do not see? A nd are their explanations acceptable ones?

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Although it might seem that the autonomy school’s approach fits more easily with discussions about Christian spirituality – because it stresses motivation, context, horizon, worldview, the goals of the Christian life and so on – and that the faith-ethic school hinders such discussions because of its insistence on obedience to divinely inspired, specifically Christian norms and principles, both schools of thought have their weaknesses. A t no point in the discussion did either school begin by defining what it understood revelation to be. This is perhaps understandable given that such discussions traditionally took place in dogmatic or systemic theology. H owever, it is certain, as we shall see, that without a clear understanding of revelation and its various manifestations, both biblical and experiential, proponents of the faith-ethic and autonomy schools were unable to make clear the links between Christian morality and Christian spirituality. A further criticism that can be made concerns that fact that both schools failed to acknowledge, on the one hand, the possibility of each individual entering into relationship with Christ and experiencing his personal presence, while, on the other, paying due regard to the fact that the Christian God is both present and absent, concealed and revealed. Both schools of thought, although disagreeing with each other, did not attend to the fact that, irrespective of whether there are divinely revealed truths or not, it is God who decides what is revealed and whether it is to be revealed. By this I mean that what was missing from the debate on the Christian proprium was an account of revelation that included the rather paradoxical way in which the God of salvation works. S ometimes God is present to us in discernable ways, and sometimes God is not visible to us, perhaps in times when we need God most. This is also the case for the ecclesiastical authority whose task it is to protect and expound the truths of faith. E ven if we could agree that there are such things as divine commands that are only available to Christians who believe in revelation, we would still have to grapple with the fact that God decides what is revealed, when it is revealed, whether it is to be revealed and to whom it is revealed. This means that all talk of revelation ought to include an element of humility and an acknowledgement that neither the faith-ethic point of view nor that of the autonomy school can escape the fact that God reveals what God wishes to reveal. A further point that is relevant to our discussion here has to do again with the interpretation of revelation. It is not clear from the autonomy or faith-ethic schools of thought whether their respective proponents understand revelation as an event in history, that is, as God disclosed in Jesus, or whether they would accept the idea that revelation was already taking place in the prophets or in Moses. N or is it clear whether they believe, for instance, that the various literary techniques used in the biblical texts explain revelation in a univocal or a multidimensional way. Questions also arise as to whether proponents of either school would agree that the revelation of God is still ongoing, in places where we might not expect; in the lives of the poor, the marginalized, the A IDS victims, the starving, the lowly and abused, the homeless, the poor in spirit, the outcasts and the unloved in society. In short, it is not evident whether either school would agree that revelation

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points to something foundational, an experience of God that is primary and that exists before it is protected by doctrines or norms or moral principles. F rom an ontological, epistemological and an existential point of view, experience of God is first; conceptualizing or theologizing about that experience is secondary. O f course it goes without saying that the debate about the uniqueness of Christian morality was not primarily a debate about the nature of divine revelation. H owever, it was a debate about what or whether divine revelation requires more of Christians morally than might be required of the secularist, for instance. Consequently, it seems that such a discussion might have benefited from taking another look at the nature of divine revelation and the ways in which it functions and is disclosed through the media of texts, events, persons, suffering and, of course, in the person of Jesus. This is what Paul R icoeur does. H is treatment of divine revelation is extremely useful for understanding why revelation ought not to be reduced merely to the formulation of specifically Christian rules, principles or motives that are interpreted by us and for us by a magisterium. In his view, to attempt such a thing is to presume that revelation is but one event in the past and to adopt an impoverished spirituality. We cannot limit the action of God in the world into one, undoubtedly profound, event; rather, we have to see this as an event which continues to be revealed and re-revealed to the lives of the faithful. We cannot presume to know the mind of God or to say when God will reveal something of the divine nature; we are not God. This clearly shows that, in discussing what belief in divine revelation contributes to Christian morality, we need to be clear about what we mean when we refer to divine revelation. To put it simply, we need to decide whether revelation is an event, or an experience of God, or the disclosure of divine commands or a combination of the latter. This will enable us to say more clearly how and why the moral and spiritual aspects of our lives can and should go together. A closer look at R icoeur’s hermeneutical understanding of revelation will make this clearer. Ricoeur: Toward a Hermeneutic of Revelation When discussing revelation, R icoeur leaves his readers in no doubt that his agenda is to return to a more authentic understanding of revelation, one that is based upon experience rather than solely upon laws or interpretations of revelation that are decided for believers by an authority. In his view, [t]he doctrine of a confessing community […] loses the sense of the historical character of its interpretations when it places itself under the tutelage of the fixed assertions of the magisterium. In turn, the confession of faith loses the suppleness of a tradition and with the theological discourse of one school whose ruling categories are imposed by the magisterium. It is from this amalgamation and this contamination that the massive and impenetrable concept of ‘revealed

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truth’ arises. Moreover, it is often expressed in the plural, ‘revealed truths,’ to emphasize that discursive character of the dogmatic propositions that are taken to be identical to the founding faith.

In saying this, however, R icoeur does not wish to suggest that the work of the magisterium or the function of dogma in general is redundant; rather, he wishes to affirm their subordinate character. In the contemporary Church, we tend to focus on what the magisterium says about divine revelation at the expense of how this revelation has been experienced by the individual members of the body of Christ, or how it is communicated in various biblical forms that do not have Jesus as their central character. For this reason, Ricoeur sees it as fitting that his account of revelation should seek to bring us back to a more foundational or, as he puts it, ‘originary’ understanding of revelation. A mong his reasons for attempting to retrieve this more experiential interpretation of revelation is his desire to show that we ought not to consider revelation as merely one, undoubtedly magnificent and profound, event but as including other modes of revelation, such as those found in the scriptures, for example. In so doing, R icoeur wishes to show that what we encounter in the Bible, then, is not a uniform, monolithic concept of revelation but one that is ‘pluralistic, polysemic and at most analogical in form …’. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate We can see already why R icoeur’s agenda is useful for our discussion of the specificity of Christian morality because it focuses on the nature of revelation and attempts to show why revelation ought not to be considered in a univocal way. If we reflect back on the issues dividing writers of the faith-ethic and autonomy schools of thought, we begin to ask, ‘H ow did proponents of both schools understand the concept of revelation per se?’ O f course, we know that while some believed that revelation could be taken as a source of specifically Christian norms or principles, others disagreed, preferring instead to emphasize the motivation or inspirational character of God’s revelation in Christ. H owever, it seems as if both schools of thought, albeit differing about what revelation brings to the moral life, share the same understanding of the term. Both schools appear to have what R icoeur refers to as a ‘monolithic’ view of divine revelation. S urprisingly, even though the autonomy school is normally associated with a more progressive stance vis-à-vis attending to the ‘signs of the times’ and the need to engage in inter-religious dialogue, its interpretation of revelation is quite uniform. It does not really emphasize diversity, or plurality, in the way that its adversaries   ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Paul R icoeur, ‘Toward a H ermeneutic of the Idea of R evelation’, in L ewis S . Mudge (ed.), Essays on Biblical Interpretation: Paul Ricoeur (Philadelphia, 1980), p. 74.   ������������� Ibid., p. 75.

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in the faith-ethic school might have believed. In this sense, then, we come rather unexpectedly to the conclusion that both schools of thought might be helped by engaging with a hermeneutical understanding of revelation: one that can account for the fact that revelation need not be confined to a univocal interpretation, but which at the same time can include a variety of biblical forms as well as individual experiences of God. S uch an interpretation will, of course, have consequences for the way in which we will subsequently approach the question of whether belief in divine revelation alters the content of Christian morality, and whether this includes a spiritual aspect of moral striving. S o what is this hermeneutical understanding of revelation of which R icoeur speaks? A nd what forms does it take? Prophetic Discourse According to Ricoeur, the first biblical form of revelation is the prophetic discourse. This discourse is easily recognizable because the text usually begins with the prophet declaring that he is speaking, not in his own name, but in the name of the one who sent him, that is, God. A n example of this introductory formula can be found in Jeremiah 2:1, where the prophet says, ‘The word of Yahweh came to me, saying “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem …”’. Given that Jeremiah is clear that he does not have the authority to speak to Jerusalem in his own words, but only in the words of God, many exegetes, including R icoeur, believe that the idea of revelation is now linked to the idea of a double author of speech and writing. In the prophetic discourse, then, ‘[r]evelation is the speech of another behind the speech of the prophet’.10 It is interesting to note here that we confess belief in this kind of revelation when we recite the Nicene Creed: ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit … who spoke through the prophets.’ Belief in this kind of revelation is a part of the Christian faith and is therefore considered to be a legitimate, though not unique, form of revelation. H owever, although this kind of revelation is important, R icoeur advises that we should not link the concept of revelation solely to the idea of the voice of God speaking behind the voice of the prophet. To do so would be to bring about a narrow interpretation of revelation. S uch an interpretation would imprison the Word into one form of speech or discourse, as well as limit God’s work to the whispering of his wishes into someone’s ear.11 In addition, it would be difficult to account for the workings of the H oly S pirit as the pneumatological inspiration behind prophecy and the writings of the S criptures. Moreover, a merely prophetic account of revelation seems unable to account for the fact that God’s plans for the world are a secret. God does not unveil everything to the prophets.12 This explains 

 ��������� Jer. 2:1.  ������������������������������������������������������������������ R icoeur, ‘Toward a H ermeneutic of the Ideal of R evelation’, p. 75. 11  ������������� Ibid., p. 76. 12  ������������� Ibid., p. 77. 10

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why we cannot really be content with an account of revelation that describes it merely as a voice behind the voice. Narrative Discourse F or these reasons, R icoeur maintains that we should not limit ourselves to identifying revelation with prophecy alone. R ather, we should look to the other modes of discourse that can be considered to be revelatory, such as narrative discourse, for example. O f course it is true to say that, similarly to prophetic texts, narrative texts often have a double author: the writer and the spirit that inspires the text. H owever, as R icoeur points out, there are many texts in the Bible in which the author disappears and the text proceeds as though the events are recounting themselves.13 In addition, there are times when God appears in the text not merely as the one who inspires the prophet to speak in his name, but as one who is present in the story as a character in his own right. When this happens, revelation is attached to God’s bringing about events that are important for the founding of the Christian community. God intervenes and calls a character to serve him, and the character responds. The narratives that recount the election of A braham and the anointing of David, for instance, are significant: they mark and record events that are significant for the history of Israel and for the liberation of God’s chosen people. God intervenes in the story and this action contributes to the formation of God’s people. The narrative record of this story, then, is important for the believing community today because it is the means through which God’s action in the history of salvation can be remembered. R evelation here means God’s mark in history, not God speaking to or inspiring someone to act on his behalf. By distinguishing between these types of discourse, R icoeur wishes to bring about a more sophisticated and informed understanding of the diverse ways in which revelation is recounted and revealed in the S criptures. The most important aspect of narrative discourse is that the action of God in the world is seen as primary. It is seen as an historical event. God intervenes in history as God. R evelation is clearly an event before it is recounted as story. This helps to explain further why this kind of discourse differs from the prophetic kind. H owever, God not only intervenes to choose individuals to carry out his work; God also intervenes in history to give practical direction to his people. This is what R icoeur calls prescriptive discourse. It is more commonly known as Torah. Prescriptive Discourse This kind of discourse is perhaps the one that is most discussed in moral theology and, in particular, in the context of discussions about the specificity of Christian 13

 ����� Ibid.

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morality. H owever, unlike the proponents of the debate under discussion, R icoeur is of the opinion that any discussion of revelation merely in terms of one type of discourse (that is, prescriptive, narrative or otherwise) or one form of revelation is inadequate. F urthermore, he maintains that to categorize the Torah as law in the Kantian sense is to miss much of what the Jewish Torah actually signifies. For R icoeur, what is at stake in the Torah is the initiation of a relationship between God and God’s chosen people. These people are invited in freedom to do good and to love because they have experienced God as love. Put simply, they are called to care about the things that God cares about. F or the Israelites who have experienced God, it is not the case that they now find themselves pondering a new motivation or inspiration to be good or to obey newly found laws. R ather, it is a question of asking, ‘who do we want to be now that we have experienced God as loving, merciful, kind, slow to anger and rich in forgiveness? This is the question that all lovers of God are required to ask: ‘who should I be because I have had an experience that helped me to see that God loves me and wants to save me from all evil?’ Clearly R icoeur sees it thusly. F or him, the law is but one aspect of the prescriptive discourse found in the Bible. Consequently, for R icoeur, it ought not to take centre stage in our reflections on Christian morality and the significance of biblical revelation. E vidence of this may be found in R icoeur’s treatment of the Ten Commandments. R icoeur is of the opinion that all of the Commandments may be collapsed into one: the command to holiness and to life in relationship with God. This is not to imply that the prescriptions in the Ten Commandments are not to be obeyed, but to point out that, if one believes in God, one is required, first and foremost, to love God. This is primary. A nd out of this primary relationship comes what R icoeur has referred to as a ‘loving obedience’.14 This means that, because of the experience of God, believers want to do good. S o the law no longer functions in terms of an external requirement that is seen by many as a burden placed upon the shoulders of the believer, but as a symbol of the desire to serve God in all things and thereby be summoned to responsibility. The ethical requirement of revelation for R icoeur, then, is the requirement of perfection – that is, to become both good and holy. A nd the only way to do this is to love what God loves, and to finds ways of behaving that are fitting for a God who sacrificed himself out of love. Thus Ricoeur argues that: If we consider this instituting function of revelation we see how inadequate the idea of heteronomy is for circumscribing the wealth of meaning included in the teaching of the Torah. We see also in the way the idea of revelation is enriched in turn. If we may still apply the idea of God’s design for humans to it, it is no longer in the sense of a plan that we could read in past or future event, nor is it in terms of an immutable codification of every communal or individual practice. 14  ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ Cf. Paul R icoeur, ‘Une obéissance aimante’, in A ndré L aCoque and Paul R icoeur (eds), Penser la Bible (Paris, 1998), pp. 162–95.

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R ather it is the sense of a requirement for perfection that summons the will and makes a claim upon it. In the same way, if we continue to speak of revelation as historical it is not only in the sense that the trace of God may be read in the founding events of the past or in a coming conclusion to history, but in the sense that it orients the history of our practical actions and engenders the dynamics of our institutions.15

Wisdom and Hymnic Discourse A less common mode of discourse that reveals something to us about the nature of God is found in the wisdom discourse. F or R icoeur, the details that are spelled out for believers in wisdom is a kind of practical advice which leaves us under no illusion about the sinfulness of the human race, our weakness in the face of temptation, or our inability to respond to God in every instance in order to fulfil the promises made in the Covenant. A ccording to R icoeur, wisdom deals with those situations that are extreme for us. H e refers to these situations as ‘limitsituations’.16 These are situations where we are confronted with both the frailty and the greatness of humankind. We are invited to face the paradoxical nature of ourselves as human beings and to ask how it is possible that we are loveable to God in spite of our love of evil and sin. Wisdom is also a vehicle for revelation in the sense that it discusses our difficulty in accepting the fact that goodness is not always rewarded with happiness. Wisdom helps us to see that, in spite of our best efforts to live out our Christian identity, evil or injustice can still triumph.17 In other words, wisdom brings together the field of action and ethics with the field of the world as it is. It deals with issues such as unjust suffering. It forces us to consider why God would let innocent people suffer if he was able, in all his glory, to liberate the Israelites from sin and death. Wisdom literature, for R icoeur, is that aspect of divine revelation where we ask, ‘Why A IDS , L ord?’; ‘Why a tsunami, L ord?’; ‘Why cancer, L ord?’; ‘Why suffering, L ord?’; ‘Why homelessness, L ord?’; ‘Why me, L ord?’; ‘Why me again, L ord?’ In short, it is that aspect of revelation that God does not disclose to us but which causes us to suffer because God has kept something a secret from us. This is what R icoeur calls ‘active suffering’ or pathos.18 F or R icoeur, the point of the wisdom literature is to show us that love of God is not easy, and that is often entails not knowing what God’s plan really is. We must be humble, then, about revelation and what we can realistically expect to know about it because God is a God who both reveals and conceals. What is possible for us, though, in R icoeur’s view, is 15

 �������������������������������������������������������������������� R icoeur, ‘Toward a H ermeneutic of the Idea of R evelation’, pp. 84–5.  ����� Ibid. 17  ������������� Ibid., p. 86. 18  ����� Ibid. 16

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the possibility of hope: we hope that God will eventually disclose a sign to us or to an individual who is worthy of such a sign. And, finally, for Ricoeur, the hymnic discourse is also an important vehicle of revelation because it involves calling God into our lives. We cannot simply presume that God will be a part of our lives or, indeed, that there will be such a thing as Christian morality at all if we do not seek, praise, and thank God for all the joys we have received and for the trials we have endured, too. It may not be obvious at the time but suffering, misunderstanding and questioning can lead to a deeper knowledge of God and of the piercing of the heart that is required if revelation is to be understood in all its complexities. To echo the text of E zekiel, we have to ‘remove the heart of stone’ and replace it with ‘a [bleeding and joyful] heart of flesh’.19 Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate F rom what has been said we can summarize R icoeur’s stance on revelation as follows: •

R evelation as event must not be reduced to supernatural propositions; rather, it must be understood as God’s gracious gift of self-disclosure in history and God’s will to enter into relationship with humanity. God’s will cannot be reduced to a number of ethical propositions that demand obedience. Revelation has many (biblical and experiential) forms and does not simply refer to one event that occurred in the past. The experience of revelation and its meaning for our lives cannot be interpreted for us by a magisterial or ecclesiastical authority; understanding the significance of revelation might include the latter but is not ultimately determined by it. R evelation must not be reduced to the Bible alone, although the Bible is the living record or archive of God’s action in the world. The various forms of revelation contained in the Bible are expressed in specific genres. The genre must be considered in the interpretation of the text because it is the vehicle through which the revelation takes place. Revelation cannot be reduced to the disclosure of specific norms, principles or rules of conduct designed especially for Christians, as this would detract from the purpose of revelation as the manifestation of God that is experienced by human beings and examined linguistically through the medium of language in the biblical texts. R evelation is the invitation to share in the divine life of God forever. The God of revelation is one who conceals and reveals.

• •

• • •

• • 19

 ����������������������������� Ezek. 11:19 [emphasis added].

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Given that God has secrets, this means that both faith and reason are limited in terms of what they can actually tell us about the divine life of God. A long with inviting us into the life of God, revelation makes us humble about the possibility of objective knowledge or of guaranteed, life-long intimacy with God. R evelation can occur through experiences of suffering, love, friendship, heartbreak and so on. The possibilities opened for us by revelation are limitless, but our capacity to understand these possibilities is limited.

Ricoeur’s hermeneutical model of revelation is significant for our discussion on the specificity of Christian morality and its relationship to spirituality in a number of ways. F irst, R icoeur’s work on revelation begins from a point of humility. It acknowledges that, in spite of the fact that many scholars place them in opposition, or consider reason to be superior, neither faith nor reason can claim objective truth about the meaning of God’s action in the world. In terms of the Christian proprium debate, this helps us to see that the accusations hurled at proponents of the autonomy school by those of the faith-ethic school about making reason absolute were perhaps misguided. F or R icoeur, neither faith nor reason can presume to be absolute anywhere or to anyone. S econd, R icoeur’s work on revelation shows us that the desire to state what was specific about the nature of Christian morality might have been helped if it had begun with a discussion about the nature of divine revelation. N either school of thought appears to have reflected appropriately upon the various forms of revelation that exist. E ven a distinction similar to the one Karl R ahner made between natural and authentic revelation might have helped. F or R ahner, natural revelation is what gives us some insight into the divine mystery in our world, while authentic revelation has the character of an event in history.20 By drawing up this distinction, R ahner wishes to point out that there is a difference between revelation as event – that is, the event of God disclosing himself through Jesus – and revelation as experienced as a result of a relationship between God and human beings which may be expressed using language. This means that revelation is not one event that is finished or frozen in the past, but that it is something which was begun in the past, reaches a climax in the person of Jesus, but continues to be experienced today in the relationship between humanity and God. Consequently, in the R ahnerian school of thought, it is a mistake to confine revelation to one event or to obedience to a body of divine truths that are given once and for all, for to do so would be to limit the possibility of eternal relations between God and humanity. S uch a distinction might have enabled theologians who participated in the Christian proprium debate to see that the significance of revelation for the moral life cannot be summed up and contained in a set of ‘divinely inspired 20  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a full account of Karl R ahner’s understanding of revelation, see R ahner, Hearer of the Word, trans. Joseph Donceel (New York, 1994).

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rules and principles’. To do so is to clearly miss the point of revelation. It is to underestimate the fact that revelation is the profound intervention of God in human history that has founded and marked a community forever. Moreover, such a distinction might have enabled Catholic theologians of the time to steer clear of any attempt to say whether faith contributes any new material content to morality which is unavailable to the non-Christian, and to focus on the moral general task of renewing moral theology in light of the Council’s recommendations. But R icoeur’s hermeneutical understanding of revelation is also useful for our discussion on the specificity of Christian morality in another way. It helps us to see that revelation is less about what motivates Christians to act, or what inspires them to act morally or what rules might be called specifically Christian, and more about self-disclosure, about relationship, about showing forth something of oneself. E choing R icoeur’s position on revelation, the well-known biblical scholar S andra Schneiders argues that personal revelation, even in the human order, is first and foremost self-disclosure of an identity. It involves one person choosing to invite another into his or her interiority. But unless the other accepts the invitation and reciprocates, revelation does not achieve itself. R evelation, S chneiders argues, though often initiated by one person, ‘is necessarily a mutual experience of personal disclosure giving rise to a mutual treasuring of what has been shared, for the “what” is really a “who” ’.21 Understood in this way, the concept of revelation takes on a more dynamic function in the lives of believers. It is living. It is not confined to one event in the past, although it is connected to it, of course. It is based on experiences of inviting and responding, rather than obedience and conformity to rules and norms. It is a genuine relationship, which includes all of the frustrations and anxieties that we associate with human relationships. A s pointed out, one of our frequent frustrations with God is that God reveals and conceals. God is often absent from view, and God is under no obligation to reveal anything to us. This relationship of course is also experienced through reading the biblical witness of God’s self-disclosure in the Bible; but what we need to remember here is that revelation takes many forms and genres and is, in R icoeur’s view at least, polysemic, polyphonic and diverse. In this sense, it cannot be exhausted in any way. N or can it be reduced to commands or principles or adequately described by using the language of motivation or intention. This is also the case because hidden things belong to God, which cannot be disclosed or accessed for us by an institution which claims to possess divine secrets or truths.22 S o, as R icoeur puts it, ‘to dissipate the massive opacity of the concept of revelation is also at the

21  ���������������������� S andra M. S chneiders, The Revelatory Text: Interpreting the New Testament as Sacred Scripture, 2nd edn (Collegeville, 1999), p. 34. 22  ����������������������������������������������������������������� R icoeur, ‘Toward a H ermeneutic of the Idea of R evelation’, p. 95.

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same time to overthrow every totalitarian form of authority which might claim to withhold the revealed truth’.23 R icoeur’s observation is an important one for those scholars, particularly of the autonomy school, who, after contributing to the debate on the Christian proprium, subsequently went on to emphasize that the significance of Jesus for morality has to do with a divine call and a human response. This is often referred to as a ‘callresponse’ approach to the ethico-spiritual life. Undoubtedly such an approach enables links to be made between morality and spirituality, because it stresses the importance of interiority and loving dispositions in the pursuit of Christian truth. H owever, even this kind of model seems to be based on the presumption that God always calls us and that we are open to this call and capable of responding to it. While most are willing to agree that humans frequently fail to respond, it is perhaps more unusual to find scholars discussing the fact that God does not always call. This is because, as we have seen above, God is a God who both conceals and reveals. But paying due attention to the opaque nature of revelation is also useful in terms of what the faith-ethic school sought to achieve. Its proponents were, generally speaking, of the opinion that revelation did contribute something specific to Christian morality in the form of norms or in the form of an expectation to ‘go the extra mile’ when required. Discerning this specific content, in the faith-ethic view, is a task for the magisterial teaching office. The latter view brought about an understanding of revelation as something which can be condensed into norms and principles and which is to be interpreted for us by a teaching office. This explains why we frequently notice in magisterial documents the presence of the phrase ‘this teaching is has been discerned in the light of revelation and with the help of the teaching office of the Church’.24 S uch an approach to revelation shows a poor hermeneutical understanding of the concept in all of its various forms, as well as a rather frustrated spirituality. If individuals cannot experience the disclosure of God for themselves and interpret it personally, how can they really expect to become both good and holy? O r how can they preach and evangelize the reign of God to the world if the various modes of biblical, revelatory discourse are condensed into one single form: Torah? Ricoeur’s words are poignant on this issue. He writes: ‘Kergymatic reading … is multiple: I mean that it is not reduced to the call to obedience … but that it is also a call to reflection, meditation … even

23

 ������������� Ibid., p. 95.  ��������������������������� Paul VI, E ncyclical L etter Humanae Vitae, trans. Vatican Polyglot Press, 1968, n. 4;

24

Declaration on Procured Abortion issued by the S acred Congregation for the D octrine of the Faith (English trans. Osservatore Romano, 25/26 November 1975), n. 4; John

Paul II, E ncyclical L etter Veritatis Splendor (London, 1993), n. 29; John Paul II, Encyclical L etter Fides et Ratio (Dublin, 1998), n. 42.2.

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to study, as the rabbis like to say, reading, discussing, interpreting the Torah’25 in all of its various forms. In essence, then, we need to remember that in divine revelation God decides to disclose something about the divine nature – in freedom – and we respond in freedom to what is on offer: relationship with the eternal God. In Ricoeur’s view, this can happen in the world today (experience) or through reading the texts of the Bible with their various literary techniques that enable the specific revelation to achieve itself (literary experience). But crucial for our discussion here is that we must not assume that we know when and where God will act in the world, or that we can determine in advance how God’s revelation will affect the believing community when it is read about today in the pages of S acred S cripture. A lthough the religious community wagers that the texts of S cripture will help it to live a better life, the ‘putting into practice’26 what is proposed by the text cannot exclude the need for critical interpretation or for the possibility of multiple interpretations. Indeed, as R icoeur has remarked, the plurality of interpretative communities and biblical methodologies engendered by the same set of canonical books is in itself evidence of the ‘irreducible plurivocity’27 of the biblical corpus and of the modes of revelation contained in it. This clearly shows the opaque nature of revelation as event and revelation as written word. Given this, it would seem that to reduce revelation to anything less than such an opaque description would be to limit God’s action in the world and to underestimate God’s nature. In the words of Werner Jeanrond: ‘if we continue to emphasize the experiential and historical nature of revelation in a half-hearted way [or in a restrictive, Kantian way], we will bring about a half-hearted hermeneutics.28 This will undoubtedly hinder our attempt to bring the significance of revelation in all its forms into our reflections on the whole enterprise of morality. Our understanding of Christian morality will lack vigour; it will lose its mystery and become overly confident about what it can achieve. It will possibly make reason absolute. Perhaps worse still, we might conclude that only certain ecclesiastically trained and competent individuals can know what to do with the problems of the world or determine how the diverse interpretations of revelation in the Bible are to be understood by individual believers. We could also add to this that our spirituality will suffer because our relationship with God will be reduced to obedience or rules or ideologies interpreted for us and not experienced and interpreted by us. In essence, then, R icoeur’s hermeneutic of revelation enables us to see that what is on offer to us ethically in the self-disclosure of God is the possibility of  �������������� Paul R icoeur, Critique and Conviction: Conversations with Francois Azouvi and Marc de Launay, trans. Kathleen Blamey (New York, 1998), p. 149. 26  ����� Ibid. 27  �������������� Ibid., p. 145. 28  ���������������������������������������������������������������������������� Werner Jeanrond, ‘H ermeneutics and R evelation’, in Maureen Junker-Kenny and Peter Kenny (eds), Memory, Narrativity, Self and the Challenge to think God (Münster, 2004), p. 48. 25

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relationship with God. But this relationship certainly comes at a price: to become a self worthy of relationship with God. F or R icoeur, one cannot know or understand divine revelation at all unless one is prepared to undergo the onerous and difficult task of interpreting who we should be now because we know that God wants to be in relationship with us. God does not answer this for us. We have to search for ourselves. We have to be prepared to change; to admit sin and guilt; to start again; to seek forgiveness from God; to accept trials and tests; to reject evil and to embrace good when we see it or do it. In other words, when we accept God’s revelation and agree in freedom to enter in relationship with God, we agree to transform (in whatever way that we can) the ‘I’ of subjective egoism and turn it into a responsible self that has been formed through the trials and tribulations involved in interpreting who we should be. This is hermeneutics. F or R icoeur, anything less than this requirement to become a ‘self’ who sees oneself as another, and who seeks with the sincerest heart to live well with and for others in just institutions will not bring us to God. For Ricoeur, there is no direct route to either goodness or holiness, even though the two can be conceived together. A ll forms of revelation and testimonies of divine revelation in the world, textual or experiential, need to be constantly interpreted and reinterpreted. This will ensure that our view of God’s revelation is not reduced to something banal or routine, but continues to be the source of authentic Christian selfhood. F aith, then, requires not so much obedience to rules and principles or a uniform interpretation of the effects of divine revelation on our moral behaviour. Instead, it involves an agreement to invest in freedom in the process of interpretation and reinterpretation of the various modes of divine revelation in the hope we might become a self that is capable of dealing with the complexities of life with each other and with God. If we truly believe that we are created Imago Dei, then it follows that the more we are enabled to become ourselves and to undergo the necessary transformation to become ourselves, the more we become like God: good and holy. Put simply, the more we wager that God is good and that the process of reading about God’s revelation in the various modes of scriptural discourse will challenge us to become our true selves – that is, Imago Dei in every way that we can – the more we can hope that our listening and interpreting will be ‘returned a hundredfold as an increase in comprehension, valor, and joy’.29 Spiritual Practices and Moral Identity Perhaps it is at this point that we can locate the role of spiritual practices in a R icoeurian interpretation of Christian ethics. A s R ichard Gula points out,

29  ������������������������������������������������������ Paul Ricoeur, ‘Naming God’, in Mark I. Wallace (ed.), Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, trans. David Pellauer (Minneapolis, 1995), p. 217.

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[s]piritual practices should bring us a heightened sensitivity to our moral responsibilities, and moral living should return us to our spiritual practices, where we focus our lives on God’s love for us and our dependence on God. This reciprocal relationship of spiritual practices and the moral life affirms the inseparability of the love of God and love of neighbour.30

S piritual practices, then, refer to practices that help us to penetrate the mystery of revelation more fully and to connect it with our moral lives. But this is not to say that spiritual practices, such as reading the S criptures or praying, for example, automatically lead to better moral behaviour. N othing is automatic. R ather, a sincere engagement in these practices is thought to bring us more deeply into the life of Christ. They should help us to ponder the mystery and the glory of Christ in a more meaningful and personal way. We engage with these activities with the intention of bringing us closer into the Covenantal relationship which formed the identity of the people of Israel and which continues to shape who we are and how we ought to behave today. A lthough much less is said of them today, the spiritual manuals referred to the practices of prayer as ‘exercises’.31 Today, we associate exercises with a work-out or a training session in the gym. We are less inclined to link exercises to our relationship with God. H owever, engagement with the spiritual practices of meditation, worship, fasting and praying with the S criptures, to name but a few practices, are akin to personal training. They are training for the mind and the heart in the ways of Jesus and in the ways of goodness. While it is important to note that the result of prayer, for instance, is not immediate and may not give us clear-cut answers when we might need them, it does bring us more deeply into understanding our specifically Christian identity. So, once again, we return to the concepts of identity and selfhood. S piritual practices enable us to penetrate this identity more intimately, because they push us not so much to discover specifically Christian norms and principles to examine or to determine what motivates us to act, as to discover and to rediscover who we are and who God is. What is at stake is much more fundamental than norms, motives, intentions or obedience, although these have a role to play in the moral life. Spiritual practices enable us to take the first steps of self-transformation that form the very basis of Christian life in general and Christian morality in particular. The way in which this happens is not identical for each and every believer. E ach of us has strengths and weaknesses that are unique to us. This means that each of us must wrestle personally with the need for change and with the need to interpret and reinterpret our specifically Christian vocation or identity. Of course, this is not 30

 ������������������������������������������ Gula, ‘Morality and S pirituality’, p. 173.  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a detailed account of the how the spiritual or ascetical books relate to the moral life, see James Keenan, ‘Spirituality and Morality: What’s the Difference?’ in Todd Salzman (ed.), Method in Catholic Moral Theology: The Ongoing Reconstruction (Omaha, 1999), pp. 87–102. 31

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to say that we do not wrestle with the need for change and conversion of hearts in the Church. We do. But communal engagement with the spiritual practices of the Church must co-exist with our own personal engagement as God’s pilgrims. A ll of the above points up the fact that at the very heart of Christian morality is a specifically Christian spirituality. We begin asking how we ought to behave by acknowledging our unique identity as followers of Christ. This involves a conversion, a change in the way we see ourselves. It requires us to forge and reforge our identity in order to achieve both goodness and holiness. A deep interiority with God and the mystery of God brings us to humility first and foremost, and to an acknowledgement that God’s power is ultimate and that human reason and understanding are secondary. A long with humility comes the need for conversion and change, which is difficult, of course; but it is a necessary and foundational step that Christians are required to take if they are be worthy of life in union with Christ. This suggests that Christian morality begins in that personal space where we are called by God into friendship with him and called to become the selves that God ultimately wants us to be. Becoming our true selves is not easy, given the sinfulness of our human natures. N onetheless, it is a necessary step that needs to be taken if we are to, as William S pohn asserts, ‘enter into our deepest [Christian] identity so that we look at the world differently and make different choices about our lives’.32 O f course, none of this is to suggest that because Christian spirituality and its practices lie at the very heart of Christian morality that Christians can be guaranteed salvation or an easy route to discovering what is morally required of them in the face of new moral questions. N or does it mean that, for instance, in the practice of praying with the S criptures or of pondering how the action of Christ in the Gospels – by means of ‘analogical imagination’33 – should be exemplified in moral action, we can avoid the questions of exegesis. The critical tools of exegesis must inform spiritual readings of the biblical texts so that false, naïve or fundamentalist readings of the texts can be avoided. In fact, although we might presume that a spiritual reading of the Bible can lead to a more creative use of the moral examples contained within its pages, the reverse is actually the case. In order to enable the creative use of the texts of the Bible for self-formation and the forging of identity, exegesis is absolutely necessary because it enables the text to be authoritative while enabling the agent to renew him/herself in light of what the text proposes. F or R icoeur, this seemingly paradoxical use of the biblical texts can be described by three movements in the process of reading: first naiveté, second naiveté and post naiveté.

32  ���������������������������������������������������������������������� William C. Spohn, ‘Jesus and Moral Theology’, in James Keating (ed.), Moral Theology: New Directions and Fundamental Issues, Festschrift for James P. Hanigan (New York, 2004), pp. 24–42, p. 38 [emphasis added]. 33  ������������������������������������������ Gula, ‘Morality and S pirituality’, p. 173.

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First, Second and Post Naiveté: the Route to Christian Selfhood, Christian Spirituality and Christian Ethics Ricoeur’s explanation of first naiveté is similar to what we more commonly associate with a naïve spiritual reading of the texts. The subject matter of the text is read spontaneously, as if the content is immediately clear, and the interpretation of the text relies on a naïve and uninformed reading. S andra S chneiders explains Ricoeur’s first naiveté by linking it to our everyday reading. She explains that much of our everyday reading is naïve and immediate. When I see a street sign [S chneiders explains] I do not see it as sign but am simply aware, through it, that the street I am driving on is Broadway. My reception of that knowledge is unreflective and uncritical. Such reading is made possible by the reader’s and the text’s sharing the same tradition. The sign is written in English, has the literary form (one word, capitalized on a placard, at an intersection, etc.) of a street sign within the culture of the reader, is a recognizable word from the lexicon, and so on.34

O ther examples which illustrate this point are that of a child listening to a fairy tale or the person reading a novel for the sheer enjoyment of the experience. In both of these activities the text is experienced in an immediate way; it is transparent. The same may be said of the biblical texts: the first reading of a text may be naïve. Indeed, the spiritual images of God that nourish the moral life and seek to convert human hearts may be perceived immediately. We may be awestruck by the possibilities that the text opens up, and believe that we have grasped its full significance. But this kind of reading, as R icoeur explains, can be deeply misleading. It needs the tools of critical exegesis, otherwise its message cannot be heard in an authentic or credible way. To exclude the need for critical exegesis from the spiritual reading of the Bible is to fail to decode correctly its full significance.35 Critical explanation helps us to move away from any subjective, ideological or idolatrous views of the text: it facilitates a more mature and informed reading. It seeks to move away from the ‘mistaken idea that there are propositions [in the Bible] which count as “revealed truths” ’.36 It also seeks to move us away from any attempts to reduce the ethical significance of biblical texts to one meaning, for one community or one group of theologians. We can no longer claim that the ethical significance of the biblical texts can be aptly described as one context or one motivation. There are many contexts in which these texts will subsequently be used and interpreted. The  ������������ S chneiders, Revelatory Text, p. 169.  ���������������������������������������������������������������� Paul R icoeur, ‘Toward a H ermeneutic of the Idea of R evelation’, Harvard Theological Review 70/1–2 (1977): 33. 36  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������� Lewis S. Mudge, ‘Paul Ricoeur on Biblical Interpretation’, in Mudge (ed.), Paul Ricoeur: Essays on Biblical Interpretation, p. 23. 34 35

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various methods of interpretation help to develop an understanding of revelation and the moral propositions made in the text which takes into account all of the ways in which the literary forms convey sense to our self-reflection. Critical explanation helps us to decode signs of the story of the revelation of God and of our own story without imposing or inhibiting individual freedom. Exegesis ensures that the text does not intrude on the reader’s autonomy: it opens up the text for the reader and makes it a place where the reader is presented with a new way of seeing or being.37 The parabolic discourse and metaphorical language permits believers to see new connections between things, to find out more about the story of Christianity and to decode the traces of God’s presence in history. This is what R icoeur means by revelatory poesis; it does not impose itself upon the reader but presents the reader with various ways of living and gives him/her a deeper understanding of their own identity as well as that of the ultimate being: God.38 The movement from the initial fascination with texts in which testimony is preserved in poesis to the critical process of decoding the signs and symbols which bear witness to our identity is completed in what R icoeur calls the post-critical moment (post naiveté). It is at this point that we ourselves begin to testify to what is written in the texts: we become part of the history of the texts by attempting to understand our own lives in light of them. The texts do not tell us precisely what to do, but they make proposals to us for living which help in the process of asking, ‘who should I be because I believe God loves me?’ A s S chneiders tells us, without passing through the process of critical interpretation, the text cannot be considered as a space where a new self or way of seeing the world may be perceived.39 It follows, then, that the spiritual practice of praying with the S criptures and of attempting to relate the stories and example of Jesus to our contemporary situations remains inauthentic unless it is coupled with the tools of critical exegesis. It also highlights the fact that the journey to selfhood, self-understanding and Christian identity cannot avoid passing through the purgatorial detour of critical exegesis. S criptural exegesis is paramount to our understanding of Christian ethics as founded upon a specifically Christian spirituality. Parameters need to be set out as to what constitutes an authentic scriptural reading of the text or, indeed, an acceptable Christian spirituality. When we do this, Christian spirituality avoids the risk of being insular and ideological40 – characteristics which contradict an understanding of spirituality as the fount of the moral life and the well-spring of authentic self-understanding in relation to God and neighbour. 37

 ������������� Ibid., p. 26.  �������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a detailed account of how the believing community wagers that reading Scripture (or ‘submissive reading’, as Topping calls it) will enable them to live in a way that is consistent with its founding events, see R ichard R . Topping, Revelation, Scripture and Church (Aldershot, 2007), p. 183ff. 39  ������������ S chneiders, Revelatory Text, p. 169. 40  ��������������������������������������������������������������������� William Spohn, ‘Spirituality and Ethics: Exploring the Connections’, Theological Studies, 58 (1997): 123. 38

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Concluding Remarks In short, it has been argued here that a specifically Christian ethic begins in that spiritual space where we enter into a relationship (Covenant) with the God who conceals and reveals himself in history, experience, in biblical prophesy, and other modes of discourse found in the biblical texts. It has also been argued that a R icoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate, with its emphasis on selfhood, relationship with God and neighbour, and self-disclosure or manifestation, can account for the dimensions of the moral life which we do not see but which are specifically religious dimensions of Christian ethics. However, what is significant about R icoeur’s work is that it helps us to see that we cannot be happy to continue, as the writers of the autonomy and faith-ethic schools of thought did, speaking about the possibility of there being a ‘revealed morality’ or a specifically religious motivational aspect or context to Christian ethics that is provided by divine revelation without clarifying what we mean by the term revelation. F ailure to interpret what we mean by revelation results in a poor hermeneutical understanding of the latter, both as an event in history and as something which continues to be read about, felt and experienced in the lives of the everyday faithful. It also results in an impoverished spirituality because, without an adequate grasp of the various modes of revelation, we run the risk of institutionalizing the concept of revelation, handing it over to an ecclesiastical authority to interpret for us, or translating its significance once and for all in a set of what might be termed specifically Christian norms and values. Moreover, without an adequate grasp of the differences between what R ahner called natural and authentic revelation, we will continue, similarly to the contributors of the Christian proprium debate, to confuse revelation as the event of God’s self-disclosure and our participation in a new spiritual and moral identity with the biblical moral commands. In other words, similarly to writers of the faith-ethic persuasion, we will continue to argue that the moral significance of revelation is to be found in norms, rules and principles, thereby missing the kind of spiritual engagement that revelation expects, initiates and demands. There is also the risk that, similarly to proponents of the autonomy school, we will reduce the opaqueness and mystery of God’s revelation to one context, or a religious motivation that can be defined in a uniform way. Again, such a view indicates poor hermeneutics. It is precisely for this reason that R icoeur’s discussion of the hermeneutics of revelation is so useful to us, not only in the context of discussions about the uniqueness of Christian morality, but for Christian theology generally. It can account for the fact that the way in which revelation takes place and is experienced ought not to be explained in one, unidimensional, monolithic way. If it were, liberation theology, postmodern theology, ecological theology, gay and lesbian theology, confessional theology, ecumenical theology, to name but a few, would not exist. The existence of these theologies shows that the experience and

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interpretation of revelation and the action that it subsequently brings about in the hearts and minds of believers is diverse and far from uniform. Clearly, this indicates that the drive to show that the uniqueness of Christian morality could be adequately summed up in what might be called ‘revealed truths’ of faith or in a single specifically religious motivation or a single, unified context that can be defined in a uniform way for all believers was hindered by poor hermeneutics, both in the biblical sense and in the experiential sense. R icoeur’s work helps us to see the plurality of contexts and experiences that continue to offer us new trajectories and possibilities for becoming both good and holy. By showing a complex and sophisticated interpretation of revelation, R icoeur’s work demonstrates how revelation and belief in revelation includes both moral requirements, even if these are not unique to Christianity, and spiritual requirements without limiting the concept of revelation to one mode of biblical discourse or one unidimensional norm, motivation or context. In other words, it lets revelation live and enables it to continue to open new possibilities in the lives of those who hear its message, including those who have not yet embraced the Christian faith. In short, what Ricoeur ultimately shows us is that a belief in revelation is first and foremost about the disclosure of God and the invitation to become our true selves. When we agree to this invitation, we agree in freedom to engage in the ongoing process of self-formation in character and virtue that is helped by the linguistic presentation of revelation in the Bible. In short, R icoeur shows us that Christian ethics is about identity work. It is about entering into that spiritual space where we encounter the ultimate other God, and we say ‘yes’ to God’s wish for us to become both good and holy; in short, to become ourselves, created in the image and likeness of God. This means that the more we become ourselves and work on who we are, the more we become good. A nd the more we become good, the more we become holy. H owever, we must be careful not to think that there is a direct route to either goodness or holiness, or that Christians have direct access to the experience, meaning and moral significance of revelation. Understanding revelation and its opacity involves embarking on the long road of critical hermeneutics, with its plurality of interpretive paths and its reluctance to submit to any attempt to tie down its mystery or to define it once and for all. Of course, it goes without saying that some Christians will object to such a polysemic interpretation of revelation. H owever, if we ignore the plurality of meanings that revelation generates, we will suffer theologically and spiritually. In the words of Werner Jeanrond, ‘the price for the latter decision is high: the closure of self and community against further development – and hence it ultimately implies some form of death’.41 To others, however, this is the only way that we can be sure that Christian ethics, as arising out of a belief in, and wholehearted acceptance of, revelation, can prevent itself from being nothing more than secular 41

 ����������������������������������������������� Jeanrond, ‘H ermeneutics and R evelation’, p. 56.

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ethics by another name; or, perhaps worst still, from becoming insular, detached, legalistic and uncompromising, devoid of mystery and the joys offered by a life of commitment to Jesus. In fact, perhaps R icoeur’s hermeneutical understanding of revelation can bring us closer to what the S econd Vatican Council was calling for when it stated that the theological disciplines, in the light of faith and under the guidance of the magisterium of the Church, should be so taught that the students will correctly draw out Catholic doctrine from divine revelation, profoundly penetrate it, make it the food of their own spiritual lives, and be enabled to proclaim, explain, and protect it in their … ministry.42

O f course, talk of a hermeneutic understanding of Christian selfhood, Christian revelation and Christian ethics raises questions about the role and function of the teaching office of the Church. Where does the role of a magisterium fit into a R icoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate? O r does it have a role to play at all, given that, in Ricoeur’s view, it is not sufficient to say that revelation can and should only be interpreted for us by an institution? A s pointed out in Chapter 1, many theologians of the faith-ethic persuasion were of the opinion that the argument for the autonomy of morals, undermined the role of the magisterial teaching office. Although not distinct from the autonomy school’s interpretation of Christian ethics, R icoeur shares the view that revelation cannot be taken as a definitive source of specifically Christian moral norms and principles: its significance for the lives of believers is more than this. However, though clearly contributing a richer hermeneutics to the interpretation of revelation, it is not clear where he might locate the role of the Catholic magisterium. N or is it obvious that the magisterium or tradition, in the Catholic sense of the word, has a place in a R icoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate. It goes without saying, then, that our next chapter must be devoted to this important issue.

 ��������� Paul VI, Optatam Totius, n. 16.

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Chapter 5

Toward a Hermeneutic of Christian Identity: The R ole of Tradition The previous chapters have shown how the work of the F rench philosopher Paul R icoeur can help to bring about a more hermeneutical approach to the issues raised by contributors to the Christian proprium debate. It has been argued that, when applied to the Christian proprium debate, R icoeur’s work is useful for a number of reasons. It: •

• • • • •

shows us how the texts of the Bible function in our moral lives. R icoeur’s argument is that, by giving us imaginative proposals for living which we must interpret, the biblical texts should be seen as a constant source of moral wisdom for the believing community; demonstrates how stories help in the formation of identity, both communal and personal; helps us to distinguish between unilateral love and bilateral justice, as well as showing us how these can and should be seen in a mutually enhancing and limiting way; enables us to see how discussions about the uniqueness of Christian morality can be helped by asking what revelation means; provides us with a hermeneutical understanding of revelation which can distinguish between revelation as event, biblical revelation in its various forms and revelation as the continuous action of God in the world; helps us to see how the Christian moral life includes the law but arises first and foremost from an invitation into an eternal relationship with God and an acceptance to change our old ways and accept new life for old. In this way, R icoeur’s work can account for the fact that Christian spirituality is the well-spring from which Christian morality flows.

H owever, given that the focus of a R icoeurian approach to Christian ethics revolves around themes such as identity, freedom, relationships, character formation, spiritual Covenant, selfhood and virtue, it might seem that the magisterial teaching authority no longer has a place in the search for moral truth. Where does the teaching office feature in such a presentation of the uniqueness of Christian ethics? Indeed, is there a place for a teaching office in this kind of presentation of Christian ethics? The central argument of this chapter, then, is quite clear: to locate the role of the magisterium in a R icoeurian approach to the debate under discussion.

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In order to do this, we will first state why such a discussion of tradition and, in particular, the magisterium is important for our analysis of the debate. S econd, we will discuss Ricoeur’s triadic understanding of tradition, that is, tradition as 1) traditionality; 2) traditions; and 3) Tradition (with a capital ‘T’). This will enable us to see that a R icoeurian approach to Christian ethics does not undermine the role of history, tradition, texts or the magisterium in any way. R ather, it facilitates a healthy dynamic between the need to preserve truth and the moral wisdom of the past, as well as questioning them in light of new information or new ethical questions. This hermeneutical understanding of tradition will show us how the respective concerns of the faith-ethic and autonomy schools vis-à-vis tradition and magisterium can be seen as two sides of one task. F or in R icoeur’s view, tradition includes that which is both closed (sedimentation) and open to revision and change (innovation). The chapter will conclude by applying this understanding of tradition to the Catholic magisterium, in order to show how, far from undermining the role of tradition, a Ricoeurian approach to Christian ethics actually affirms it and gives it a more credible function. In this way, it will be shown how R icoeur enables the concept of tradition to go on functioning in the lives of the everyday faithful while avoiding the threat of it becoming self-obsessed, irrelevant, dated or tied too closely to notions of enforcement and/or control. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate In Chapter 1, it was shown that the faith-ethic school accused the autonomy school of being influenced by the general trend towards secularism, as well as undermining the competence of the magisterial teaching authority to teach about faith and morals. These accusations came about because the autonomy school was insisting that the content of Christian morality is identical to that of human morality. While it is true that the autonomy school wanted to engage in inter-religious dialogue and avoid the threat of fideism, it did not set out to undermine the magisterium. A s MacN amara notes, the autonomy school grew out of a fear that if morality were derived from Christian faith and revelation, it might give the impression that Christianity was a ‘ghetto’ – a view which went counter to the mood of the time in E urope where there was a move towards inter-religious dialogue and discussion. If anything, then, the autonomy school was trying to prevent the magisterium from presenting itself as sectarian and unresponsive to the ‘signs of the times’. N evertheless, many theologians were convinced that the movement for an autonomous ethic was not only undermining the teaching office, but also

  ������������������� Vincent MacN amara, Faith and Ethics: Recent Roman Catholicism (Dublin, 1985), p. 43ff.   ������������� Ibid., p. 38.

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promoting absolute freedom and, perhaps worse still, secularism. Moreover, in the eyes of some proponents of the faith-ethic persuasion, the autonomy school was also guilty of reversing the central aims of the renewal and of bringing the whole fate of Christian morality into question. But this is not to suggest that the faith-ethic position was faultless in terms of its presentation of the role played by the magisterial office in the discovery and teaching of moral truth. If anything, its position is ambiguous. This ambiguity is due largely to the seemingly contradictory positions taken by this school of thought in relation to the specificity of Christian morality and the role of moral conscience. R ecall that the central argument of the faith-ethic school is that faith adds new moral content to Christian morality. If this is the case, however, it becomes difficult to see how a proponent of this school of thought could realistically assent to the teachings of Gaudium et Spes on moral conscience. The frequently quoted text states that [d]eep within their conscience men and women discover a law which they have not laid upon themselves and which they must obey. Its voice, ever calling them to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, tells them inwardly at the right moment: do this, shun that. For they have in their hearts a law inscribed by God.

S uch a statement seems to run counter to the claim of the faith-ethic position that belief in divine revelation contributes new content to what might otherwise be called human morality. If belief in divine revelation really does generate what might be called ‘divine commands’, which are interpreted for us by the magisterium, then we can no longer claim that moral conscience enables us to discover God’s law within our hearts. A similar ambiguity runs through the papal encyclical Veritatis Splendor. Here John Paul II affirms that conscience is the link between human freedom and moral truth. The relationship between freedom and God’s law, he explains, ‘is most deeply lived out in the “heart” of the person, in his moral conscience’. That the faith-ethic school’s position on the role of the teaching office is in need of some revision is clear. It needs to be adjusted in order to be more internally consistent, credible and in tune with the teachings found in other documents of the S econd Vatican Council. But this is not to say that, although its proponents agree the role of moral conscience is to discover the truth and to be committed 

 ����������������������������������������������������� F or a full account of the issues, see ibid., p. 43ff.  ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Cf. Bernard Stöckle, ‘Flucht in das Humane? Erwägungen über die Frage nach dem Proprium christlicher E thik’, Internationale Katholische Zeitschrift, 4 (1977): 312.   ������������������������������������������������������������������ Paul VI, ‘Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes’, 1965, n. 16, available at www.vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii//_vatican_council/ documents/vat-ii_cons_19651207_gaudium-et-spes_en.html (accessed 28 April 2008).   �������������������������������� John Paul II, E ncyclical L etter Veritatis Splendor (London, 1993), n. 54. 

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to bringing this about in action, the autonomy position is the superior one. If we agree with the autonomy position and say that all people of good will are called to discover the truth together, we run the risk of suggesting (perhaps inadvertently) that we have nothing to learn from what might be called the ‘received wisdom’ of the Church. Clearly, whether one takes the faith-ethic or autonomy position regarding the specificity of Christian morality, one has to admit that both stances raise important and challenging questions for all members of the Catholic Church. The central issue for us here is as follows: how can one claim that the uniqueness of Christian morality refers to a unique identity without being accused of undermining the competence of the magisterial teaching office to teach moral truth? Or to put it differently, given the difficulties raised by the autonomy and faith-ethic approaches to Christian morality, can a R icoeurian approach to Christian ethics provide us with a more fruitful, perhaps hermeneutical, account of the role of tradition and magisterium in the Catholic sense? Before we attempt to answer these questions, we must first outline Ricoeur’s understanding of tradition. We must also add a caveat at this point. It is important to remember that R icoeur did not contribute to the debate under discussion, which explains why the word tradition will not appear in R icoeur’s work as ‘magisterium’, as it is understood in the Catholic tradition. R icoeur’s work on tradition, which is influenced by the work of Jürgen Habermas and Hans-Georg Gadamer, refers mainly to the literary traditions and to tradition understood as history. N evertheless, as we shall see, when transferred to a Catholic context, R icoeur’s interpretation of tradition can offer a more inclusive, dynamic and hermeneutical approach to the concept of tradition. O nce we have done this, we will be able to see how R icoeur’s work can offer the possibility of arguing for the uniqueness to Christian morality without undermining the magisterium, either by suggesting that it should do all the thinking for us in moral matters or by claiming that we can always rely on ourselves in the search to find what is both right and good. Toward a Hermeneutic of Historical Consciousness R icoeur’s understanding of history and tradition combines aspects of H ans-Georg Gadamer’s and Jürgen Habermas’s thought. F rom Gadamerian thought, R icoeur borrows the idea that the past should not be viewed as a fossilized residue of events or facts, but as an ongoing process of reformulation, revision and interpretation. F rom H abermas, he borrows the idea that tradition must always be questioned so that it continues to provide us with an authentic view of the past. A brief sketch of

  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a more detailed discussion of the similarities between R icoeur’s work and that of Gadamer and H abermas, see S .H . Clark, Paul Ricoeur (London and New York, 1990), esp. pp. 110–19.

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both Gadamer’s and H abermas’s positions will help to show more clearly how and why R icoeur combines the works of his predecessors. L ater in this chapter, R icoeur’s H abermasian heritage will become apparent. O ur focus for the moment, however, will be upon Gadamer’s view of tradition because it will enable us to understand how and why tradition can and should be viewed in a hermeneutical way. It will also provide us with a sound basis from which to examine a specifically Ricoerian interpretation of tradition and history. Gadamer’s Interpretation of History Gadamer interprets tradition (history) as a process. He believes that history is not a closed entity because history has yet to be made. Included in our understanding of history and the past is the hope or expectation of a future. This means that history and tradition are always open-ended, never complete. Indeed, to understand history, we must acknowledge that while it might recount events that occurred in the past, these events are interpreted in the present, and may be interpreted and reinterpreted again in the future. H ence, the making of history and tradition must be considered as a process. Gadamer also makes the point that understanding of any kind is conditioned by history and the past. This is another way of saying that when we attempt to interpret our own lives, for instance, our interpretation is already influenced by history and tradition. In other words, reason itself is historical. H eidegger’s influence on Gadamer’s thought emerges here. A ccording to H eidegger’s conception of the prestructure of understanding, we are capable of understanding a given text, matter or situation because we hold an already established way of seeing these phenomena, as well as certain ‘preconceptions’ of what they mean. The fundamental consequence of this can be seen from the outset: there is no pure seeing or understanding of the present without reference to the past. N or can there be an understanding of history without a consciousness located in the present. H ence, for Gadamer, as well as for his predecessor, H eidegger, the present can only be examined and seen through the intentions, ways of seeing and preconceptions bequeathed by the past. The past must not be viewed as a pile of dead facts or meaningless events, but as a continuing force throughout history in which we move and participate in every act of understanding in the present. Tradition is not   �������������������� H ans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode (Tübingen, 1960), p. 375. For a similar statement, see Hans-Georg Gadamer, ‘Replik’, in Karl-Otto Apel and Jürgen Habermas, Hermeneutik und Ideologiekritik (Frankfurt, 1971), p. 307.   ������������������� R ichard E . Palmer, Hermeneutics: Interpretation Theory in Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, and Gadamer, ed. John Wild, James M. Edie (associate ed.), Herbert Spiegelberg, William E arle, George A . S chrader, Maurice N atanson, Paul R icoeur, A ron Gurwitsch, Calvin O. Schrag (consulting eds), Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy (Evanston, 1969), p. 176.

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something that exists over and against us; it is something in which we stand and through which we interpret our being.10 In more basic terms, this means that human beings are required time and time again to consider the horizon of meaning offered to them by the past. O wing to the fact that the consideration of the past takes place in the present, [t]he grasping of meaning cannot be understood but as an ever-provisional truthrequisition. [F or both Gadamer and H eidegger], the very idea of temporality cautions us against the presumption that a once-and-forever-established ‘fixation’ of truth is possible. In this respect, insights which have proved true in the past ought to be regarded as replaceable by other, more refined insights, in accordance with the novel circumstances of a particular epoch.11

According to Georges De Schrijver, Gadamer’s approach to history and tradition is one which attempts to understand history in a hermeneutical way:12 it locates truth in a dialectic between stagnation and fluidity.13 Viewed in this way, history is a dynamic process of value transmission and reinterpretation in the present. This means that our understanding of history lies not in totally leaving our own experience to one side, but in realizing that we ourselves are historical beings. It is for this reason that Ricoeur sees value in Gadamer’s understanding of history: it asserts that nothing can be understood apart from its historical roots or apart from the horizon of meaning in which it is located.14 10  ����������������������������������� R icoeur uses the L atin expression ‘res gestae et historia rerum gestarum’ (we make history and we are made by history (my translation)) to formulate his dialectic understanding of history. F or a clear account of how R icoeur uses this L atin phrase to interpret history and tradition, see D omenico Jervolino, Paul Ricoeur: Une herméneutique de la condition humaine (Paris, 2002), p. 61. 11  ���������������������������������������������������� Georges De Schrijver, ‘Hermeneutics and Tradition’, Journal of Ecumenical Studies, 19 (1982): 32. 12  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� When the word ‘hermeneutics’ is used here it refers to the interpretation of the self through texts or through history. The sense of the term is derived from H eidegger’s ‘hermeneutics of facticity’. This approach to both texts and history is based not on the way that the world belongs to a human subject, but on the way in which the human subject belongs to the world. S o basic is the process that it is not so much one thing among others which one does, but that process in which and through which one exists as a human being. Cf. Palmer, Hermeneutics, p. 180ff. 13  �������������������������������������������������� De Schrijver, ‘Hermeneutics and Tradition’, p. 32. 14  ������������������� Ibid.; cf. Palmer, Hermeneutics, p. 177ff. R icoeur borrows his interpretation of history and of ‘historical consciousness’ from Gadamer and H eidegger. The critique of ‘historical consciousness’ in both Gadamer and H eidegger is primarily directed at the ‘historical school’ in Germany, whose most famous representatives in the nineteenth century were J.G. D roysen and L . von R anke. The latter represented a group of thinkers who supported ‘romantic hermeneutics’, that is, as an effort to attain an objective understanding of history. The task of the historian was to enter into the world of the past and give an accurate and

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O f course, this is another way of saying that reason itself is an historical phenomenon. It is conditioned by the past. Unlike some E nlightenment philosophers who attempted to explain reason as something detached from tradition, Gadamer insists that reason is a product of tradition. Y et, this is not to suggest that reason is incapable of criticizing the past from which it developed, and in which it continues to develop. R eason also exists in the horizon of the present, which gives it the space it needs to interpret and reinterpret the past. In fact, in Gadamer’s view one cannot accept tradition at all unless one is critical.15 In his view, when we subject our notion of tradition to critical scrutiny, we gain a better understanding of our tradition. A s a result, our convictions about the past become more authentic and credible. Consequently, Gadamer believes that an individual may possess ‘legitimate prejudices’.16 The latter are legitimate because they are the result of a critical engagement with the past in the interpreting present. Gadamer’s view of history and tradition may be compared to all that is involved in the interpretation of texts. In the process of interpretation the horizon of the text fuses with the horizon provided by the world of the reader, which is another way of saying that the past and the present interact with each other, permitting the presence of the past in the present and vice versa. This is so because the act of reading takes place in the present, while the text itself was written before the reading process could take place. Even though historical texts configure events which occurred in the past, the present cannot be abandoned in order to go into the past; the meaning of a work cannot be seen solely in terms of itself.17 H ence, the Gadamerian understanding of history and tradition, whether configured in texts or considered in their own terms, is a dialectic between the horizon of the past and the present, where both are interconnected. Understanding as such is always functioning simultaneously in three modes of temporality: past, present and future. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate F rom what has been said already it is clear that, if applied to the Catholic magisterium, R icoeur’s understanding of tradition, with its Gadamerian heritage, can help in a number of ways. In particular it can help to move us away from a static view of tradition and magisterium. It encourages us to see that whatever is objective account of it. Heidegger, Gadamer and later Ricoeur are among those who believe that the interpretation of history must consider the present, and what it means to exist as historical being in the present, so that the past does not become a series of facts and dates. 15  �������������� Paul R icoeur, From Text to Action: Essays in Hermeneutics II, trans. Kathleen Blamey and John B. Thompson (Evanston, 1991), p. 280; cf. Rod Coltman, The Language of Hermeneutics: Gadamer and Heidegger in Dialogue, ed. D ennis J. S chmidt, S uny S eries in Contemporary Continental Philosophy (Albany, 1998), p. 34. 16  ��������� R icoeur, From Text to Action, p. 278. 17  �������� Palmer, Hermeneutics, p. 182.

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taken to be true in the present is derived from a process that began in the past. This is important because it shows us that, at a basic level, even magisterial pronouncements, especially those of the non-infallible variety, are derived from a process of discernment and a contrite engagement with the past, which could include the biblical past and of course revelation, that is carried out in the present (through reason and experience). In this way, Church teachings are attributed a temporal character. A cknowledging this temporal character not so much undermines the authority of Church teachings as adds to their authority. It does this by making it clear that all pronouncements and teachings have not been derived ex nihilo or from any subjective sentiments, but from a sincere engagement with the past in the interpreting present. To use the Catholic terminology, it could be said that all teachings are and ought to be the result of a sincere engagement with reason, experience, S acred Tradition and S acred S cripture. In other words, all teachings are the result of interpreting the past (Scripture and Tradition) in light of the present (experience, reason and the ‘signs of the times’). A t this early stage in the discussion, we can see the beginnings of a dialectical model of the magisterium and tradition that can be applied in a Catholic context. What is of crucial importance to us here, as we shall see later in this chapter, is the fact that truth, in the Gadamerian and R icoeurian philosophies, is always found through a dialectic between the past that is carried out in the present. In this way, truth in any sense must rely to a certain extent upon what is proposed by tradition without of course excluding the power of the interpreting present to bring about a change in what constitutes truth in light of the ‘signs of the times’. H owever, although we can see the beginnings of a useful model of tradition in the Catholic sense emerging here, it would be naïve to think that a dialectical model of tradition is free from misinterpretation. It would also be naïve to think that this model could be ever be realized without acknowledging its risks. A hermeneutical model of tradition, with it emphasis on discussion, debate, questioning and re-questioning, is vulnerable in the face of political or religious interest groups who wish to promote their own agenda or cause. F or this reason, Ricoeur’s understanding of tradition includes aspects of Jürgen Habermas’s hermeneutics of suspicion. A s we will see in the next section, he combines Gadamer’s hermeneutics of tradition and H abermas’s hermeneutics of suspicion in order to put forward a more sophisticated and realistic account of tradition as something which shapes us, but is also shaped by us, when we critically engage with what it proposes. It is this more sophisticated account of tradition that will enable us to determine how a R icoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate understands the role of tradition and magisterium in the search for moral truth.

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Paul Ricoeur: Continuity and Discontinuity in History F ollowing in the footsteps of Gadamer and H abermas, R icoeur renounces the H egelian claim to a ‘total mediation’ of history in the form of absolute knowledge. By this he means that history and its meaning are not mediated directly. Instead, he proposes that history be understood as ‘an open-ended, incomplete, imperfect mediation; namely, the network of interweaving perspectives of the expectation of the future, the reception of the past, and the experience of the present, with no Aufhebung into a totality where reason in history and its reality would coincide’.18 Ricoeur rejects the idea that the past can be understood by simply analysing the past as past, that is, as something accomplished, fixed and fossilized. Instead, he advocates an approach to history that considers it as something which has yet to be made.19 In so doing, R icoeur intends to show how history may be understood as a dialectic – which takes place in the present – between the past and the future.20 S imilarly to Gadamer, R icoeur is of the opinion that we are not only ‘affectedby-the-past’,21 but are also in the process of making it. H is intention is to move our understanding of history from being a fait accompli to being a dynamic process of interpretation, dialogue, critique and legitimation. Tradition is now to be understood as an ongoing dialectic between our past which affects us and our hope and expectation of a future.22 Thus, like Gadamer and H abermas, R icoeur reverses the traditional way of examining the past as past and replaces it with a dialectical model. ‘The immediate benefit of this reversal of strategy [he argues] is that it gets rid of the most tenacious abstraction of the past as past. This abstraction is a result of forgetting the complex interplay of significations that takes place between our expectations directed towards the future and our interpretations oriented toward the past.’23 R icoeur warns against looking at the past as a static phenomenon. H e believes that as soon as we lose or choose to ignore our anchorage in the experiences of the past, history  �������������� Paul R icoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols, trans. Kathleen Blamey and D avid Pellauer (Chicago and London, 1988), vol. 3, p. 207 (hereafter Time and Narrative III). 19  ��������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘La crise: un phénomène spécifiquement moderne?’ Revue de théologie et de philosophie, 120 (1988): 1–19. 20  ����������������������������������������������������������������������� Leonard Lawlor, ‘The Dialectical Unity of Hermeneutics: On Ricoeur and Gadamer’, in Gadamer and Hermeneutics, Continental Philosophy IV, edited and with an introduction by Hugh J. Silverman (London, 1991), esp. p. 88ff. 21  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 207. 22  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Richard Kearney, ‘Between Tradition and Utopia: The Hermeneutical Problem of Myth’, in David Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation (London and New York, 1991), p. 56. 23  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 208; cf. A lain Thomasset, Paul Ricoeur: Une poétique de la morale: Aux fondements d’une éthique herméneutique et narrative dans une perspective chrétienne (Leuven, 1996), esp. pp. 185–9. 18

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loses its direction and becomes tainted by the ideologies of the dominant political groups of our time. In an article entitled ‘La crise: un phénomène spécifiquement moderne?’ R icoeur refers to the dangers of ignoring the effects of history on our decisions and on the way in which we interpret ourselves.24 H e maintains that we cannot strive towards our ideals or goals without any reference to our past. H e also argues that when we attempt to remove ourselves from our historical ties, our goals become empty and ideological. R icoeur refers to the latter as ‘schismatic negation’.25 In fact, his warning about the risks of schismatic negation helps to strengthen his argument concerning the need to refer to history and tradition when formulating goals for the future. Tradition, argues R icoeur, makes our ideals more determinate and realistic.26 If we can accept the suggestion that the orientation of our goals arises out of history, our understanding of history becomes less static and inhibiting. This is so because, while it plays a role in telling us about our history and ourselves, it does not imprison us but offers us a sound basis for formulating goals and expectations. In fact, as R icoeur tells us, if our ideals are not grounded in our understanding of the past, they forfeit the potential to solicit responsible commitment.27 O nly by acknowledging the split character of history may we prevent our future goals from dissolving into an empty ‘dream-world’, and ground them in the history that precedes us.28 This ensures that our actions and goals are not detached from our history but are the result of a critical engagement with it. R icoeur’s interpretation of history could be seen as a struggle against the tendency to consider the past only from the angle of what is done, unchangeable and past. The aim is to reopen the past and revivify its unaccomplished and, perhaps, suppressed potentialities. It represents an attempt to prevent the future from becoming ideology-ridden and to ensure that the past does not become a lifeless fossil, which has nothing to contribute to the present or the future. Interpreting history in this way will help to 24

 ���������������������������������� Cf. R icoeur, ‘L a crise’, pp. 1–19.  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 215. ������������������������������������ H ere R icoeur explains what he means by schismatic negation: ‘If the newness of the Neuzeit was only perceived thanks to the growing difference between experience and expectations – in other words, if the belief in new times rests on expectations that distance themselves from all prior experience – then the tension between experience and expectation could only be recognized at the moment when its breaking point was already in sight. The idea of progress which still bound the past to a better future, one brought closer by the acceleration of history, tends to give way to the idea of utopia as soon as the hopes of humanity lose their anchorage in acquired experience and are projected into an unprecedented future. With such utopias, the tension becomes schism’ (p. 215). 26  ����� Ibid. 27  ���������������� Ibid., p. 216ff. 28  ����� Ibid. 25

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make our expectations more determinate and our experiences less so. F or these [R icoeur explains] are two faces of one and the same task, for only determinate expectations can have the retroactive effect on the past of revealing it as a living tradition. It is in this way that our critical meditation on the future calls for the complement of a similar meditation on the past.29

N one of this is to suggest that R icoeur’s fusion of the horizon of the past with that of the present and the future is a naïve one, for he advises that we should also be critical about the way in which we interpret the past. A s R ichard Kearney explains, R icoeur’s dialectical model of history preserves the idea that we are historical beings, who possess a historical consciousness, while ‘at the same time taking full stock of the “decentering of the thinking subject” carried out by the hermeneutics of suspicion’.30 That R icoeur combines Gadamer’s and H abermas’s understanding of history is clear: he completes Gadamer’s attempt to understand history in a hermeneutical way with H abermas’s hermeneutics of suspicion. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate A cknowledging the split character of history and tradition as a healthy dialectic between what is proposed to us by the past and what the present circumstances demand enables us to put forward a hermeneutical understanding of tradition. Understood in this way, truth is neither dictated solely by tradition or the truths of the past nor by the present. R ather, truth is seen as a process of critical engagement with the past in the present. This means that truth is neither static, unchanging nor frozen in the past, nor based on subjective preferences that are determined by cultural trends or emotivist claims of the present. When applied to the Christian proprium debate, R icoeur’s dialectical model of tradition shows that both the autonomy and faith-ethic schools only acknowledged the hermeneutics of tradition halfway. The faith-ethic school defended more forcefully the idea that tradition has and must have an important role to play in determining what the truth requires in the present. However, in rejecting the autonomy school’s insistence on the natural law and the need to engage with the ‘signs of the times’, this line of thought presented a one-sided account of tradition. Many of it supporters seemed so determined to defend the claims of the Catholic tradition and magisterium that they were unable to account for the fact that the claims of a magisterium are subject to critique and change. Many scholars of the faith-ethic school also failed to see that the truths of the magisterium have, in fact, already been subjected to this process, as can be seen in the changes in Church teachings on usury, slavery, religious freedom and divorce. 29

 �������������� Ibid., p. 216.  ����������������������������������������������� Kearney, ‘Between Tradition and Utopia’, p. 58.

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O f course, although the way in which changes in teachings have been interpreted by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, for instance, seems to reflect an older, more authoritarian view of discerning the truth,31 there is no doubt that changes in teachings, revision, dialogue and ongoing critique and questioning have taken place in clearly discernable ways in the Catholic tradition. In fact, many would agree that the latter are necessary if the Church is to continue to claim to be expounding the truths of a ‘living tradition’ and not an inert, repetitious, authoritarian or lifeless one.32 The autonomy school also has its problems with regard to acknowledging the hermeneutics of tradition. In an attempt to show that the content of Christian morality is identical to that of human morality, it seemed to overstate the importance of searching for the truth using the natural law. This led to accusations of secularism, emotivism and subjectivism, as well as to claims that the autonomy position promoted a denial of the competence of the magisterial teaching authority to teach about faith and morals. H owever, if we apply R icoeur’s dialectical model of tradition to the autonomy position, we can see a more fruitful understanding of tradition emerging. The autonomy school was correct to assert that the Christian tradition must be capable of engaging with the ‘signs of the times’, of discussing moral issues with other faiths and those of no faith, and of revising its position in light of new information, new interpretations of the biblical texts or new scientific data. However, in insisting on what might be referred to as but one aspect of the hermeneutics of tradition, the autonomy school failed to show clearly how such an interpretation of Christian ethics envisages the role of tradition or, indeed, how one can be critical of a tradition without undermining it. This is where R icoeur’s dialectical model of tradition is useful for the autonomy position: it can help to clarify the fact that new interpretations of traditional teachings do not arise from subjective preferences or emotivist claims but from participation in the critical process of reflecting on the ‘received wisdom’ or teachings of the past in light of the interpreting present. But of equal importance to us here is that R icoeur’s dialectical model of tradition shows that, similarly to the ‘faith-ethic’ school, the autonomy school only acknowledged the hermeneutical character of tradition halfway. In light of R icoeurian theory, clearly both the autonomy and faith-ethic schools were partly ‘in the truth’, so to speak, regarding their respective positions about the 31

 ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has a rather narrow view of the theologian’s role in the process of discovering the truth or revising Church teachings. A lthough it admits that ‘trustful dialogue’ between theologians and pastors is needed within the Church, especially if the work of theologians leads them to dissent from a particular official church teaching, the CDF is clear about the fact that dissent of any kind is unacceptable. Cf. Congregation for the D octrine of the F aith, ‘Instruction on the E cclesial Vocation of the Theologian (Donum Veritatis)’, Origins, 20 (1990), n. 40. 32  ����������������������� Cf. Charles E . Curran, The Catholic Moral Tradition Today (Washington DC, 1999), esp. Chapter 8.

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nature of Christian moral discernment and the role played by the magisterium in this process. However, both schools run into difficulties because they seem unable to account for the need to look back at what the truths of the past propose to us and to interpret or reinterpret these proposals in light of the present circumstances or signs of the times. F rom a hermeneutical perspective, one could say that both schools were arguing for different faces of the one task. O f course this was not evident to proponents of the respective schools during the period in which these discussions took place, largely because of a poor understanding of the hermeneutics of tradition. N otwithstanding its advantages, such a hermeneutical account of tradition also raises bigger questions about orthodoxy and what constitutes an orthodox tradition. If, as R icoeur’s hermeneutical model of tradition proposes, tradition must be questioned and reinterpreted time and time again so that it continues to answer the ‘Why?’ of who we are and what we should become, it becomes difficult to see how a tradition may be considered as orthodox in any sense. If we are constantly engaged in the process of looking back at tradition and interpreting its propositions in light of the present, how can we make an apologia for tradition? D oes a hermeneutic of tradition allow such a thing? The issue may be put as follows: How can one be critical of a tradition and still claim to belong to an orthodox tradition? A n elaboration of R icoeur’s three categories of tradition is useful here. Ricoeur’s Three Categories of Tradition Traditionality Ricoeur interprets and explains history and tradition in a triadic manner: (1) traditionality, (2) traditions and (3) Tradition (with a capital ‘T’). The first category of tradition, traditionality, accounts for the fact that we are born into history and are affected by it before we are in a position to critique it or judge it. History precedes us: the past judges us first before we judge it. F urthermore, in line with the Gadamerian understanding of history, this category of tradition suggests that tradition is something transmitted to us from previous generations. S uch transmission, however, is not carried out in a lifeless way; rather, a process of mediation carries it out ‘by the chain of interpretations and reinterpretations’.33 Traditionality is to be understood in the more general sense of a formal style which transmits the heritage of the past to us.34 This means that we should not interpret the past as a phenomenon that separates us from our ancestors and from what happened before we were born. Instead, we should look at history as being the bearer of a rich heritage of experience and knowledge which it transmits to us in the present.35  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 220.  ����������������������������������������������� Kearney, ‘Between Tradition and Utopia’, p. 58. 35  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 221. 33 34

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Traditionality, then, is a dialectic between the effects of history upon us (which we passively experience) and our response to this history (which we are in control of and actively operate).36 This first category of history invites us to consider that we are, first and foremost, heirs of our tradition.37 To put it differently, human beings are historical. They do not begin reasoning, thinking or, indeed, being who they are without any reference to the past or to an already existing tradition.38 The central suggestion here is that we cannot either completely abolish the past as an irrelevant consequence of our historical being or exclude it from discussions concerning our understanding of ourselves in the present. But this is only one aspect of R icoeur’s triadic interpretation of tradition. Traditions Whereas ‘traditionality’ is a formal concept referring to the historical transmission of meaning, the category of ‘traditions’ refers to the contents of a tradition. It is at this level that we truly become heirs of our tradition. In the struggle for meaning and understanding in our lives, we find ourselves accepting what tradition has to offer rather than attempting to create meaning ex nihilo. H ere the consciousness of being exposed to the past becomes supplemented by our interpretive response to texts, stories, symbols and truths communicated to us by our tradition. We find ourselves responding to our tradition and grappling with what it proposes to us. In this way, we can say that we truly belong to a tradition, because we accept to take what it proposes as a basis or a starting point for interpreting our lives.39 Moreover, as R icoeur argues ‘[t]he notion of tradition, taken in the sense of traditions, signifies that we are never in a position of being absolute innovators, but rather are always first of all in the situation of being heirs’.40 N onetheless, our consciousness of being exposed to the past and its effects must be coupled with our interpretative response. We must interpret what our tradition is proposing to us. For instance, just as the texts of our tradition question us about who we are, so we must question the texts of our tradition. O r, to take another example, just as the magisterial teaching authority questions us, so we must question the magisterial teaching authority. This is no less the case when we attempt to interpret the past: just as the past questions us, so we must question the past. The past and its meaning exist in a dialectical tension with the interpreting present. Various proposals of truth and meaning are put forward in this category of tradition, and 36

 ����������������������������������������������� Kearney, ‘Between Tradition and Utopia’, p. 58.  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 221. 38  ����� Ibid. 39  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols, trans. Kathleen Blamey, Kathleen McL oughlin and David Pellauer (Chicago and London, 1984), vol. 1, pp. 68–70. (Hereafter this volume will be referred to as Time and Narrative I.) 40  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 221. 37

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the struggle between past and present proceeds in the same way as an exegete struggles with a literary text. The text proposes several possible meanings to the exegete. In turn, the exegete interrogates the text and proposes several possible interpretations. In this sense, text and reader are in a constant state of being made familiar and unfamiliar.41 In brief, it could be said that Ricoeur’s second category of tradition (traditions) conceives of the past in terms of several proposals of meanings. The past proposes certain meanings and truths to us, and we propose new possible meanings of what this past might mean in the present so that our tradition remains alive, responsive and relevant in the present. But the process does not end here. There is one final category. Ricoeur refers to this final category of tradition as Tradition (with a capital ‘T’). Tradition (with a Capital ‘T’) The confrontation between the past and the present or, to use R icoeur’s terminology, the confrontation between the ‘so-called hermeneutic of traditions and the critique of ideologies … results from a shift from the consideration of traditions to an apology for tradition’.42 S uch a shift is necessitated by the activity of critical interpretation and brings us to Ricoeur’s third category of tradition: Tradition (with a capital ‘T’). Although tradition binds us to things already said in the past and proposes certain truths to us, it must be critically interpreted. Critical interpretation allows us to question the truths of tradition and revise them if necessary. In this category, therefore, we must interrogate and raise suspicions about tradition. Taking a step back from tradition – a movement known as distanciation – and critically examining the truths it proposes allows us to make an apologia for tradition. That R icoeur is proposing a hermeneutical approach to tradition is clear. The hermeneutical approach allows us to ‘sift through the dead traditions in which we no longer recognize ourselves’.43 D istancing ourselves from tradition, critically assessing it and proposing several possible meanings of tradition in the present (traditions) allows us to make a legitimate defence of tradition. Calling into question the received wisdom of the past and engaging the hermeneutics of suspicion guarantees the existence of a more authentic and orthodox version of the truth. L iterary texts may be understood in the same way. The critical interaction between the text and the reader allows various possible meanings to emerge (traditions). Subsequently, these proposed meanings are submitted to the tribunal  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 222.  ����� Ibid. 43  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 224; cf. Joseph D unne, ‘Beyond S overeignty and Deconstruction: The Storied Self’, in Richard Kearney (ed.), Paul Ricoeur: The Hermeneutics of Action (London, 1996), pp. 137–58. 41 42

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of reason and suspicion, and are taken as legitimate claims to truth so long as a stronger reason, that is, a better argument, has not been established.44 In summary then, R icoeur’s three categories of tradition – that is, traditionality, traditions and Tradition – may be mapped out in the following way: Traditionality designates a formal style of interconnectedness that assures the continuity of the reception of the past. In this respect, it designates the reciprocity between effective-history and our being-affected-by-the-past. Traditions consist of transmitted contents insofar as they are bearers of meaning; they set every received heritage within the order of the symbolic and, virtually, within a language-like and textual tradition; in this regard, traditions are proposals of meaning. Tradition, as an instance of legitimacy, designates the claim to truth (the taking-for-true) offered argumentation within the public space of discussion. In the face of criticism that devours itself, the truth claim of the contents of traditions merits being taken as a presumption of truth, so long as a stronger reason, that is, a better argument, has not been established.45

H aving outlined R icoeur’s three categories of tradition, we now need to return to the question that prompted the analysis: Can one adopt a hermeneutical approach to tradition without undermining its orthodoxy? Clearly, in R icoeur’s view, the answer is yes. Texts and traditions should be understood as the critical dialectic between past and present, text and reader. A ll traditions, be they literary or otherwise, demand critique and reinterpretation so that they remain alive and responsive to who we are in today’s world. We must remember, however, that we are not the originators of truth or history; we are born into a context of ‘presumed truth’. Truths and traditions are passed on to us. We become the heirs of our tradition. The same applies to literary texts. In texts we find a trace of history which we have not made ourselves but which has been passed on to us by successive generations. In this way, any attempt to understand ourselves, our narratives, our tradition, or the moral teachings of that tradition must begin by an acknowledgement that meaning is derived out of a process of receiving, questioning, interpreting and critiquing, as well as accepting, treasuring and inheriting. We question tradition as much as tradition questions us. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate R icoeur’s hermeneutical model of tradition as traditionality, traditions and Tradition (with a capital ‘T’) is useful for our discussion of the Christian proprium debate in a number of ways. F irst, it shows us that any search for truth and  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative III, p. 227.  ����� Ibid.

44 45

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meaning in the present is never completely free from the effects of tradition that has gone before us. This means that, although, as the autonomy position shows, the content of morality is discovered autonomously, it does not, and should not, follow that this position leads to an undermining of tradition. When applied to the Catholic magisterium, for instance, R icoeur’s triadic formulation of tradition enables us to see how one can support the central claim of the autonomy school – that the content of Christian morality is identical to human morality – and avoid the accusation that it leads to a denial of the teaching office of the Church. In fact, the opposite is the case. R icoeur’s understanding of tradition shows us that there is no seeing, or understanding, or moral reflection or teaching that is not already loaded with the wisdom of the past and with a pre-understanding that exists prior to an agent making a moral judgement. In this sense, there is no such thing as absolute freedom or self-determination because our way of interpreting moral situations and dilemmas is already conditioned by what might be termed the ‘presumed truths of the past’ (traditionality). But this is not to say either that the ‘presumed truths of the past’, which may include magisterial promulgations or teachings or scriptural teachings, for instance, always carry ultimate authority in moral matters. R ather, when understood in terms of R icoeur’s category of traditionality, the latter are seen to provide us with a starting point for moral reflection, a context of presumed truth, a community in which this reflection can begin, as well as a stock of suggestions for how we should behave in the present. But, in the R icoeurian understanding of tradition, we cannot be bound solely by the suggestions of a magisterium or those made by the ancient writers of the S criptures, for to do so is only to understate the way in which truth is discovered and brought about. Although we begin the process of moral enquiry by reflecting on the sources of moral wisdom in our tradition and taking them as true, we cannot claim to make an apologia for tradition in any real sense without scrutinizing what our tradition proposes to us. This means, then, that the truth claims of any tradition, including those made by the magisterial teaching office, should be taken as ‘presumed truth’, so long as, or until, a better argument, or a more refined insight, has not been established.46 Such a claim is significant for proponents of the faith-ethic school of thought who claim that the autonomy stance encourages a denial of the competence of the teaching office to teach about faith and morals. In particular, it shows us that the route to orthodoxy in any sense begins by sifting through what tradition proposes, critically scrutinizing it and submitting it to a hermeneutics of suspicion, before finally making a defence of the new teaching or defending the original one. S upporters of the faith-ethic school are clearly misguided when they claim that the process of questioning magisterial teachings and tradition in light of the natural law 46

 �������������� Ibid., p. 227.

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and experience undermines orthodox Church teachings and the competence of the magisterium to teach about faith and morals. Moreover, in offering such a bland description of the autonomy school’s position, the faith-ethic school seems to be ignoring the fact that the Catholic magisterium has, already been engaged in this hermeneutical process of interpretation and reinterpretation. E vidence of the Church’s engagement in this process is to be found in changes made to its teachings on slavery, usury, religious freedom and divorce. The faith-ethic school seems also to be ignoring the teaching of Vatican II concerning the ability of the individual to perceive or to hear the truth for him/herself. This makes it difficult to see how a supporter of the stronger forms of the faith-ethic position can really claim to assent to the teachings of Vatican II concerning moral conscience. O f course, it must be said that the teachings on conscience have created much division between Catholic clergy and theologians, mainly because of differing interpretations about what the documents mean.47 In spite of these interpretive difficulties, it is nevertheless the case that the official teaching claims that individuals have the ability to discern the truth for themselves. If the faith-ethic school continues to defend the idea that there are specifically Christian norms and principles that are unavailable to non-Christians, it runs the risk of making Christian morality seem unreasonable. More importantly, perhaps, is the fact that it risks suggesting that what Christians are required to do cannot be found through listening to the dictates of moral conscience or reason, but through listening to the dictates of the magisterium. Consequently, the faith-ethic school seems to be confining God’s action in the world to the magisterium alone, as well as suggesting that only members of the magisterium can discern what God is requiring us to do morally. E ven if it could be shown that there are distinctively Christian norms and principles, supporters of this position would still have to ask themselves a number of questions: • • • • •

Can these norms and principles only be perceived and discerned for us by the magisterium? H ow is the role of moral conscience now to be understood? Is obeying one’s conscience another way of saying that one is showing obedience to the magisterium? Are these specifically Christian norms and principles unchanging, or can the latter be reinterpreted in order to be deemed orthodox in every age? Is it orthodox to confine the effects of divine relation on our lives to a list of specifically Christian rules and principles?

47  ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� For a clear summary of the interpretive difficulties associated with the official Catholic teaching on moral conscience, see L inda H ogan, Confronting the Truth: Conscience in the Catholic Tradition (London, 2000), esp. Chapters 2 and 3.

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A lthough the autonomy position is less than perfect, it cannot be accused of the same failings as the faith-ethic school. What is positive about the autonomy position is that it does acknowledge the need to question values, presumed truths, scriptural teachings and magisterial pronouncements in light of new information, circumstances or experiences. Given this, the autonomy stance avoids accusations of fideism or sectarianism. The autonomy position situates the Christian abroad in the world, ready to engage with the pressing moral questions of the day, interpreting moral actions in light of the signs of the times. In addition, the stress that proponents of this position place upon the autonomy of morals, the natural law, experience and reason enables it to assent more easily to official Church teachings on moral conscience. In short, this position seems better equipped than its intellectual counterpart, the Glaubensethik school, to allow for the possibility that all human beings have in their hearts [not merely in their magisterial teachings] a law inscribed by God.48 But none of this is to suggest that the autonomy school is free from criticism in terms of the way in which it understands the role of tradition or the dialectical nature tradition as magisterium, S acred S cripture, reason and experience. It, too, can benefit from Ricoeur’s hermeneutical model of tradition. A lthough, as pointed out, the autonomy school’s insistence on the role of reason, the natural law and experience is its strength, in many ways, it is also its weakness. A s previously stated, the autonomy school did not intend to bring about a denial of the effects of tradition and magisterium on our ability to interpret moral situations in the present. H owever, its insistence on the autonomy of morals did give the impression that the magisterium has little or no role to play in discerning the truth. In this way, similarly to the faith-ethic position, the argument for the autonomy for morals is in need of a more dialectical approach to tradition. Its argument needs to be supplemented with a stronger analysis of how this thesis helps to lead the Church and the faithful towards orthodoxy, rather than away from it, as the faith-ethic school claims. R icoeur’s model of tradition is useful in this regard. It shows how criticism of a tradition is not only acceptable but necessary if that tradition is to remain a truly living one. F or R icoeur, tradition only ‘operates dialectically through the exchange between the interpreted past and the interpreting present’.49 Tradition, then, can never be reduced merely to the pronouncements of a magisterium or to the teachings of a set of canonical texts; rather, a truly orthodox and living tradition includes the latter but does not attribute the discovery of truth to these alone. Thus R icoeur shows us how the past and the teachings of the past should never be considered as a dead interval or a lifeless phenomenon, but as the starting point for the interpretative process of meaning today in light of new moral questions, experiences of God and revelation, both in the biblical sense and the experiential  ��������� Paul VI, Gaudium et Spes, n. 16.  ��������� R icoeur, Time and Narrative I, p. 221.

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sense. R icoeur’s triadic model of tradition also helps us to see that the argument for the autonomy of morals does not lead to the assumption that the past or the moral teachings of the past, as promulgated by the magisterium, do not matter. R ather, it shows us that the autonomy position needs to be bolstered up by acknowledging the fact that the past and acceptance of the ‘received wisdom’ give us our first window through which the process of interpreting the truth begins. It is not the only window. But it is an important and vital one. Without this primary window of interpretation, the discovery of truth is more susceptible to the claims of subjectivism and/or relativism. By the same token, R icoeur enables us to see that a truly living tradition is not only closed to preserved the received wisdom of the past but also open to change and reinterpretation in the present. This ‘open-ended’ characteristic enables us to go back to our moral sources and unlock their still underdeveloped potential and, where relevant, to revise what was previously thought to be the truth. Central to these processes is the activity of critical interpretation, for, in R icoeur’s view, it is only through critique that we can legitimately speak of a conviction in any sense.50 O f course talk of interpretation being a key concept in Christian ethics and in the search for truth more generally might raise concerns about dissent. F rom what has been said, it might appear to some that, in the R icoeurian understanding of tradition, anything goes so long as the individual has engaged in critical hermeneutics and taken responsibility for the moral action or stance that ensued. We need to define more clearly, then, whether questioning tradition and attributing such central importance to the process of interpretation could lead one to justify creating a completely new tradition or an anti-tradition based on subjective preference or the ideologies of political interest groups. A brief look at R icoeur’s position on the dynamic nature of literary genres and textual interpretation is useful here. Innovation and Sedimentation in Tradition F or R icoeur, the constituting of a tradition, literary or otherwise, depends on the interaction between two factors: ‘sedimentation’ and ‘innovation’. The former term is used to refer to the elements within a text or tradition that are static and fixed. One might say they are foundational elements without which the meaning of a text or a tradition would cease to be. In terms of literary texts, this fixed or ‘sedimented’ aspect is what enables the biblical scholar to classify the text as belonging to a certain literary genre. F or instance, when we speak about the prophetic genre in the biblical texts, we immediately know what to expect: a prophetic voice announcing something about God, human behaviour, or about the kingdom in general. In other words, the genre is fixed in the sense that it 50  ��������������������������������������������������������������������� Cf. Paul Ricoeur, ‘Life in Quest of Narrative’, in David Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation, Warwick S tudies in Philosophy and L iterature (London and New York, 1991), p. 24ff.

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displays certain characteristics that enable it to be identified as belonging to a particular type of biblical discourse. But sedimentation can also refer to the text itself. We often hear biblical scholars debating about the significance of the world behind, within and in front of the text, and it can be difficult to decide which ‘textual world’ is the most important. H owever, in R icoeur’s view all three worlds interact. But this interaction must begin somewhere. Meaning and interpretation must begin from somewhere. F or Ricoeur, this initial meaning is found within the text. There is something objective about the text itself that cannot be denied or ignored. This element of objectivity (sedimentation) contained in texts enables us to speak of historical texts or ‘archives’.51 Texts are archives in the sense that they allow us to retain something which happened in the past and revise it or read about it in the present. H owever, none of this is to suggest that what is static or unchanging about the text exists over and above the need for new interpretations of that text, or that it excludes the possibility of deviation from the standard genre. In R icoeur’s view, when it refers to texts and history, the term sedimentation takes into account the idea of innovation because the sedimented models themselves came out of an innovative idea. To put this more clearly, one could say that, although sedimentation allows us to classify a text as belonging to a particular literary genre, we must not forget that this literary genre grew out of an older genre that has perhaps now been forgotten or considered out of date and archaic. Given this, our understanding of sedimented narrative should not exclude the possibility of innovation or deviation from the standard genre. The intention here is not to deny the ability of texts or of history to guide our reasoning and our interpretative capacity in the present. R ather, it is to indicate the enormous potential of a tradition, be it literary or otherwise, to generate new, innovative and fresh interpretations from its own internal resources. It also shows that the process of interpretation can lead us into new areas of biblical scholarship, textual criticism and related areas while still retaining that element of history or tradition from which this new trajectory arose. This explains why Ricoeur refers to human action, human history and tradition as ‘open works’.52 A ll of these, though fixed in a certain sense (sedimentation), have the capacity to generate new meaning, new interpretations and create new possibilities of seeing the world based on past teachings, experiences, actions or interpretations. O f course it is important to remember that, although tradition needs reinterpretation to ensure that it is protected from total degeneration and continues to answer to today’s world, changing traditional values or perspectives takes time. R eferring to narrative genres, R icoeur tells us that, while the idea of sedimentation allows for change, the rules of narrative modes do not change quickly; in fact, some even resist change.53 Clearly, what is fixed about texts and/or tradition is  ��������� R icoeur, From Text to Action, p. 154.  �������������� Ibid., p. 155. 53  ��������������������������������������������� R icoeur, ‘L ife in Quest of N arrative’, p. 25. 51 52

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subject to change, but this change does not happen easily, or without critique, dialogue and debate. The tension, then, between sedimentation and innovation is a necessary one because it keeps tradition alive by protecting what might be referred to as its received wisdom while remaining open to the possibility of questioning, revising and changing what was previously considered to be orthodox. Relevance for the Christian Proprium Debate The interaction between sedimentation and innovation described above is of considerable interest to us in our discussion of the distinctiveness of Christian morality. It shows us that, when applied to the Catholic understanding of tradition, which of course includes the magisterium, R icoeur’s dialectical mode of tradition does not lead to a disrespect for tradition or the past. N or does it encourage a complete deviation from the past when we submit its proposals to the demands of critical thinking, experience and reason. R ather, it encourages us to see how critique is a necessary function of orthodoxy, and that by its very nature tradition must include innovation and praxis so that it continues to generate new interpretations of our past, our moral teachings and our literary traditions. This ensures that our future moral projects are not founded on ideologies but on the received wisdom of the past, thereby enabling us to really speak of a ‘living tradition’. Moreover, R icoeur’s understanding of tradition helps us see that the teachings of the past, or the teachings of the magisterium, for example, that were issued in the past can now be seen as the product of past innovations in thinking and moral teachings, rather than as teachings that have been constructed by an authority that is never in need of, or prohibits, innovation or critique. Consequently, all members of the Catholic hierarchy, theologians and lay faithful are considered to be a part of the ongoing process of discerning the truth in the light of tradition (sedimentation) but also in light of the ‘signs of the times’(innovation).54 O f course, if tradition, and especially magisterium, is understood in the way that has been outlined here, it makes the process of discerning the truth much more complex. It requires us to know what our tradition is about (sedimentation), in order to critique it in light of the demands of the present world (innovation). This means that our criticisms of our tradition are not founded on a desire to promote secularism or absolute freedom, as the faith-ethic school believed the autonomy school was doing. R ather, our criticisms arise out

54  ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� E lsewhere I have used R icoeur’s understanding of tradition as ‘sedimentation’ and ‘innovation’ to refer to the documents of Vatican II. I suggest how they might be used in a more fruitful way by theologians and the community of believers whilst avoiding the threat of dissent, as it is defined by the Catholic magisterium. See ‘Vatican II and “The Signs of the Times”: A Young Theologian’s Perspective’, Bulletin ET: European Society for Catholic Theology, 17/2 (2006): 16–33.

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of a commitment to our tradition and a contrite desire to ensure that it remains responsive to the needs of the contemporary Church and all followers of Christ. Given this, a R icoeurian approach to tradition in the Catholic sense is unlikely to lead to the construction of a ‘new tradition’ or a ‘reformed’, dissident tradition, but is more likely to engage all members of the Church in the process of finding out how we should live because we know God loves us. What is also more likely is that the kind of ‘top-down’ instruction more commonly associated with orthodoxy, and certainly with the faith-ethic position, will not be as easy to implement. In this model of tradition, even the magisterium is subject to the process of interpretation (traditions) that takes place between accepting tradition (traditionality) and defending tradition (Tradition with a capital ‘T’). This could mean that what is currently considered to be dissent could in the future be considered as critical interpretation, which, in R icoeur’s view, is absolutely vital in the process of making an apologia for tradition. This shows us that a R icoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate with its emphasis on identity, selfhood and hermeneutics seems to be able to account for the fact that tradition matters without suggesting that tradition should never question itself. For Ricoeur, tradition has something which is fixed about it, but this aspect must exist in tension with that which is not fixed so that our tradition continues to support us in our desire to live well, with and for others, in just institutions. To put it another way, he shows us that the accusations drawn up against supporters of the autonomy position by the Glaubensethik school, and vice versa, were in fact rather naïve and simplistic. R icoeur demonstrates that one cannot claim that the truth is found in freedom without acknowledging the effects of history and tradition, including literary traditions upon which religious communities are founded, upon us. H e also shows us that one cannot claim that the truth is confined to an institution that decides for us what freedom and moral truth are about. Instead, R icoeur presents us with an assiduously balanced view of history and tradition and the role of critique and freedom within the latter. H is work shows how two fundamental concepts that lie at the heart of the divisions between the faith-ethic and autonomy schools of thought need to be considered together. In H endrik O pdebeeck’s words, R icoeur shows us that ‘a freedom which is not institutionalized retains a potentiality for being terroristic, while for each institution one must query whether it serves the realization and development of freedom’.55 Consequently, then, the autonomy school’s approach with its emphasis on freedom and the natural law needs to emphasis more strongly the fact that this freedom to discover the content of morality exists within an institutional context, which prevents its from becoming subjective, violent, evil or extreme. But the 55   Hendrik Opdebeeck, ‘Ricoeur’s Institutional Mediation of Freedom: A Hermeneutic Context for Economics’, in Hendrik Opdebeeck (ed.), The Foundation and Application of Moral Philosophy: Ricoeur’s Ethical Order (Leuven, 2000), p. 54.

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faith-ethic school needs to acknowledge more fully the idea that, although tradition is needed in the search for truth and for the protection of the received wisdom of a tradition, it is not beyond criticism or critique. R ather, it needs the latter. The freedom to question proposed truths performs a vital function in our search for truth and meaning because it limits and restricts magisterium, literary traditions and/or political groups from becoming self-serving or obsessed with power and dominance. When applied to the Catholic magisterium, we can see that R icoeur’s interpretation of orthodoxy allows and encourages critique and interpretation because, for him, this is the only way to orthodoxy. In this way, the magisterium is expected to provide well-reasoned answers and explanations for issuing this or that set of pastoral or theological directives. It is also expected to admit that it is engaged in the process of discernment with all members of the faithful, and that it welcomes what might be termed ‘unpopular views’. The advantage of this kind of approach to tradition is that the magisterium is called to engage in open dialogue with the Church and its members. F or the faithful should know why they are required to accept magisterial pronouncements which pertain to their identity as Christians or to their conduct as members of the human community. A s D e Schrijver notes, If those reasons are suppressed, the suspicion arises that the Magisterium, just like other lobbying officials in secular life, seek to conceal their true intentions so as to strengthen their ‘traditionally’ untouchable power position. E specially those who have been trained in the socio-critical school, Church officials cannot escape being put to the test, just like any other power group, to see whether or not they are giving their support to some influential political or financial group in society.56

F urthermore, in this presentation of tradition, the magisterium is encouraged to welcome criticism and to acknowledge that the task of discerning the trace of God in the world (revelation) is the task of the whole body of Christ, and not simply confined to one group of officials, one place and/or one time. In addition, all theologians and members of the faithful who wish to critique, change or revise their tradition must do so only after a sincere engagement with that tradition. In this way, both the magisterium and the faithful are called to be responsible and to provide well-reasoned answers that show why our moral tradition needs to be revised or why it should stay as it is. They are also called to be humble about what we can really know, given the fact that our Church is built to honour a God who both conceals and reveals.57 F or, ultimately, the Church is a holy temple for the L ord, a dwelling place for the spirit and ‘a sign under which the scattered children 56

 �������������������������������������������������� De Schrijver, ‘Hermeneutics and Tradition’, p. 46.  ����������������������� S ee Chapter 4, p. 99ff.

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of God may be gathered together (see Jn. 11:52) until there is one fold and one shepherd (see Jn. 10:16)’.58 O f course such a dialectical model of tradition raises questions about the role of conscience in Christian ethics. If the magisterium is no longer the sole axis about which the interpretation of the moral life rotates, then does conscience play a bigger role in the discovery of truth? Or does the magisterium still have the final say on the content of truth? The next and final chapter will attempt to answer these questions, as well as raising some possible objections to a Ricoeurian interpretation of the specificity of Christian ethics.

58  ��������� Paul VI, Sacrosanctum Concilium, 1963, n. 2, available at www.adoremus.org/ sacrosanctumconcilim.html.

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Chapter 6

The L imits of a R icoeurian A pproach to Christian E thics H aving delineated the contours of a R icoeurian approach to Christian ethics and demonstrated how it helps us to move beyond the dichotomies created by the so-called faith-ethic and autonomy schools, we need to turn our attention to a consideration of its limits. This chapter will raise some possible concerns about R icoeur’s work, as it has been used here, and attempt to respond to these concerns. Although readers will undoubtedly find more issues than can be dealt with here, it is nevertheless important to respond to at least the following crucial concerns. F irst, we will enquire as to whether R icoeur’s stress on the power of the imagination in the forging of Christian selfhood undermines the historicity of the Christian story as both word and event. S econd, we will ask whether a R icoeurian Christian ethic with its emphasis on a specifically Christian identity promotes sectarianism, thereby hindering inter-religious and ecumenical dialogue. Third, we will look at where the role of conscience might be located in a R icoeurian Christian ethic, and see whether it includes the idea of ‘loyal dissent’. The chapter will conclude by examining whether the position taken in this book is more at home with the virtue ethicists or the duty ethicists, or whether it brings both together in a fruitful and promising way for the future of Christian ethics. Ethics and the Power of the Imagination to Forge Ethical Character A possible criticism of a R icoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate concerns his interpretation of biblical texts. R icoeur frequently refers to the biblical texts as offering possible ways of living. By this he means that texts open up possible worlds for the reader, in which the reader can imaginatively ‘try out various proposals for living’. Clearly, R icoeur believes that narrative should be considered as an ‘immense laboratory for thought experiments’.  ����������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘Life in Quest of Narrative’, in David Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation, Warwick Studies in Philosophy and Literature (New York and London, 1991), p. 26.   ������������������ S ee Paul R icoeur, Oneself as Another, trans. Kathleen Blamey (Chicago, 1991), p. 159.   ����� Ibid. 

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Indeed, his understanding of biblical metaphor is also based on the assumption that the power of the biblical texts lies in their ability to engage the reader’s imagination, and to present him/her with new ways of imagining God and the Kingdom. Metaphors bring unrelated objects together in order to present readers with a broader or renewed vision of the world. Thus R icoeur’s point is that the biblical texts refer to a world which is appropriated imaginatively by the reader. F iction [he argues] has the power to ‘remake’ reality and, within the framework of narrative fiction in particular, to remake real praxis to the extent that the text intentionally aims at a horizon of new reality which we may call a world. It is this world of the text which intervenes in the world of action in order to give it a new configuration or, as we might say, in order to refigure it.

H owever, this raises questions about whether R icoeur intends to suggest that the biblical texts and indeed faith, insofar as it involves a belief in the story of Jesus, should be understood in an imaginary or fictive way. Where does the real or the historical come into play? Given that the story of Christianity is based on a real event, not an imaginary one, R icoeur’s interpretation of the biblical texts might be criticized because of its apparent lack of consideration for the historical reality of the story of Jesus. D onald MacKinnon summarizes the issue in a useful way. H e argues that [w]e are fudging if we allow ourselves to suppose that we do not recognize a distinction between the actual and the non-actual, between the eruption of Vesuvius and the murder of Caesar on the one side, and the birth of Venus from the foam, and the exploits of S t. George with his dragon, on the other; and it is a matter of crucial importance for Christian belief that the resurrection of Jesus belongs with the former, and not with the latter.

F aith for MacKinnon is a new dimension of experience, and what makes this new experience possible is not imaginary ways of living but real events. MacKinnon also argues that the possibility of redemption that Jesus procured cannot belong

  ������������������������������������������������������������ See Mark I. Wallace, ‘Introduction’, in Mark Wallace (ed.), Paul Ricoeur: Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative and Imagination, trans. David Pellauer (Minneapolis, 1995), p. 8.   ������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘On Interpretation’, in Alan Montefiore (ed.), Philosophy in France Today (Cambridge, 1983), p. 185; see also Kevin J. Vanhoozer, ‘Philosophical Antecedents to R icoeur’s Time and Narrative’, in Wood (ed.), On Paul Ricoeur, p. 49.   ������������������ D onald MacKinnon, Borderlands of Theology (London, 1968), p. 77.   ���������������������������������� D onald MacKinnon, ‘Introduction’, Newman’s University Sermons (London, 1970), pp. 17–18.

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to the world of ideas; it must belong to reality. F or the Christ event was an act of flesh and blood. But this sharp dichotomy between history and fiction in Ricoeur’s opinion is as misguided as the one that is often drawn up to distinguish between the real and the imaginary. For it is Ricoeur’s belief that both history and fiction ‘invent’ and ‘discover’. In fact, he argues that it is only by imaginatively appropriating real events in history that we can enter into the real significance of the event. But what does this mean? In Ricoeur’s view, there is a certain amount of fiction contained in history. Likewise, there is a certain amount of history contained in fiction. This means that while history is thought to communicate facts to us and to describe events in chronological terms, it also includes some fictive elements. Consider the historian trying to construct a picture of the past from various documents or traces of the events. H e/she is attempting to write one coherent story from the evidence available. N evertheless, since the evidence is incomplete, the historian must begin to tell stories about the event and imagine possible ways of giving the event a coherent form. In other words, there is a fictive experience at play before the writing of history takes place. If we consider all that is involved in writing works of fiction, we begin to see what Ricoeur means when he argues that history is included in fiction. Writing fiction means that we are not bound by the constraints of time or logic. Fiction is a work of the imagination. Nonetheless, fictional works depend on history and real events in order to be credible and coherent. It is not unusual, for instance, to find references to time and allusions to real events in fictional novels. Fiction needs history. O therwise it becomes useless and incomprehensible. Thus one can agree with Ricoeur that there is a certain amount of fiction contained in history and vice versa. Gerard Loughlin relates Ricoeur’s distinction between history and fiction more closely to the biblical texts. In fact, L oughlin argues that R icoeur is correct to assert that they contain both fictive and historical elements. The Gospel of L uke repeatedly seeks to locate itself in historical time, in the time of ruling successions: ‘In the days of King Herod of Judea …’; (Luke 1.5) ‘Now at this time Caesar Augustus issued a decree for a census …’; (Luke 2.1) ‘In the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign …’. (Luke 3.1). Are these examples of referring or of mentioning, of history or of fiction? The Gospel of Matthew also seeks historical location, telling us that Jesus was born ‘during the reign of King Herod’. (Math. 2.1) But it opens with a ‘genealogy of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham’, (Math. 1.1) which is not biological, unless we assume Joseph

  ������������������������ S ee Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Biblical Narrative in the Philosophy of Paul Ricoeur: A Study in Hermeneutics and Theology (Cambridge, 1990), pp. 11–12.

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to be the biological father of Jesus, but ancestral and apparently mythical. This seems to indicate that the Gospel is both history and fiction.

That the Bible includes certain fictive elements, then, is clear. These fictive elements, however, do not undermine the historical reality of Jesus. Instead, they serve to make the person of Jesus more real because they encourage us to ask more questions, to enter into the story and to ponder its significance. Without imaginative elements the biblical texts would be lifeless and prosaic. Combined with the imaginative power of symbols and myths, however, the Bible becomes intriguing – even mysterious. But of course it speaks also to the intellect and to the rational mind. A cknowledging the Bible’s power to communicate something to the intellect as well as to the imagination, then, does not serve to undermine or to distort the reality of Jesus. R ather, it makes the truth of Jesus more credible, since it can account for the fact that Kingdom is the ‘already’ and the ‘not-yet’.10 It is what happened (history) and what is yet to come, which we can only imagine (imagination), since only God knows the whole story. Thus we can conclude that R icoeur’s insistence upon the imaginative aspects of the biblical texts and the faith experience of the Christian community is not intended to deny the historical reality of Jesus, but to bring us more fully into the mystery of revelation and God’s eternal promise of salvation. This point brings us more deeply into the meaning of the term ‘living tradition’. A tradition can only be considered living if it has the power to speak to us time and time again and to challenge us with its proposals about life. If we were to confine the meaning of the biblical texts to one time or one event, we would be ignoring the power of our tradition to bring us back to its central teachings and message, and to the person of Jesus, in any living way. The only way we can continue to live out the story of Jesus in today’s world, or to speak of Christian ethics in any credible sense, is to resist the temptation to consider this story as merely historical and include in our understanding of history the possibility of giving this history a fictive and imaginative aspect. It is this imaginative aspect that enables us to unlock the still hidden potential of our biblical stories to extend our self-understanding and our reflections on the significance of human existence. Mary Mills argues that one of the dangers of ignoring the fictive elements of the  ����������������� Gerard L oughlin, Telling God’s Story: Bible, Church and Narrative Theology (Cambridge, 1996), pp. 148–9. 10  ��������������� S ee H ans F rei, The Identity of Jesus Christ (Eugene, 1997), pp. 143–4. Frei suggests that the interpretation of Christ’s identity, and of those who seek to follow and understand it, is a dilemma. This is true because the Jesus story is an already and not-yet embodied identity. But the advantage of such an approach, however, is that readers are prevented from formulating prior judgements about the identity of Christ. As has been suggested here, the uncertainty of the Gospels shows that, although it has already been established, the Kingdom has yet to come. 

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biblical texts is that we risk confining the meaning and significance of Jesus to one absolute meaning, thereby suggesting that there are no new meanings to be found in the Bible that are relevant to us today.11 Wolfgang Iser shares Mill’s view about the significance of the imagination in biblical ethics. Iser argues that ‘fictions are inventions enabling humankind to extend itself’.12 By this he means that we cannot really hope to perceive new messages in the biblical texts without referring to the power of the imagination to generate new perspectives. In his view, the act of reading a text in the present must involve transcending what is fixed about the text and the meaning which it has communicated to us so far. A cknowledging the role of the imagination in the process of interpreting texts enables the reader to be challenged again and again to further possibilities proposed by the text. Iser asserts that ‘the fictional … is an “as if” construction, which goes beyond itself in order to act as the bearer for something else. In so doing, it imposes a perspective upon what it is not but which it bears.’13 Clearly, then, far from undermining the biblical texts, the role of imagination leads us more deeply into the texts of our tradition and makes us less likely to engage in attempts to read off norms and principles from its pages or to attempt to define their uniqueness in one unchangeable, definitive or absolutist way. As we have seen throughout our study, this appears to be what many writers of the Christian proprium debate tried to do. This led to a rather impoverished view of what we mean by a living tradition and stripped the biblical texts of their power to extend constantly our self-understanding and to call us back to the central messages of our specifically Christian identity that are ever new (in spite of their character as ancient texts). If anything, R icoeur’s work enables us to see that, when we resist the temptation to determine once and for all the meaning of our biblical tradition in terms of norms, principles, a single motivation or context for reflection, Christian ethics can be offered more resources than before. These resources enable the Christian story to go on functioning in the lives of believers in diverse cultural, anthropological and social contexts. This inevitably prevents us from becoming complacent about the meaning of our tradition, the meaning of Christian ethics or the significance of the biblical texts for the believing community in every age and in a plethora of contexts and cultural settings. To use E nda McD onagh’s expression, acknowledging the fictional power of the biblical texts enables us to recognize the ‘risk of God’.14

 ������������ Mary Mills, Biblical Morality: Moral Perspectives in Old Testament Narratives (Aldershot, 2001), p. 251. 12  ��������������� Wolfgang Iser, Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology (Baltimore, 1993), p. 265. 13  �������������� Ibid., p. 252. 14  ��������������� E nda McD onagh, Vulnerable to the Holy in Faith, Morality and Art (Dublin, 2004), p. 206. 11

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R isking God is a notion that is rarely spoken of because it poses a threat to ‘would-be Christians’15 and to those who only seem content with a definitive, unidimensional understanding of God and Christian ethics. McD onagh explains the issue in profoundly astute terms. ‘Institutionalised and domesticated, ritualised and even sacramentalised, [he argues] God remains mainly undisturbing, unchallenging. The comfort-blanket God providing irrational therapy for those who refuse to grow up is a common enough distortion. The real God of creation and incarnation, of crucifixion and resurrection is seldom risked.’16 McD onagh’s words ring true, especially when they are considered in light of what a R icoeurian interpretation of Christian ethics brings to the table. In his reluctance to tie down the meaning of revelation, the biblical texts and the mystery of God to a set of divine commands or prohibitions, or to one unidimensional context or motivation, R icoeur’s work forces us away from the ‘comfort-blanket’ of a uniquely Christian ethic that can be defined once and for all. Ricoeur’s account of the uniqueness of Christian ethics expects us to know what our tradition is about, to risk investing ourselves in the hermeneutical process of being forged by its proposals and interpreting them again and again in new, energizing and ever more ‘risky’ contexts. F aith, then, in ethical terms is not about obedience to prescriptions and rules, though it cannot ignore these. R ather, it is about the painful ‘self-exposure’17 that is involved in saying ‘yes’ to God and agreeing to change, to revise and to question again and again who we are as God’s chosen people. This self-exposure enables us to get to the very core of our being, to become our true selves, and to be open and honest about sin and failure. S uch a process keeps our hope alive and our desire for absolute knowledge at a safe distance. It also reminds us that in order to be a Christian, we must come as S t Paul tells us with ‘with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the L ord as through a reflected mirror’.18 It is only then that we can really claim to be in the business of Christian ethics. A Christian ethics which begins from the perspective of identity shows more clearly that, for Christians, God is not a ‘comfort-blanket’. God is the lover of humanity who wants us to love in freedom, in the fullest possible sense, and to undergo the necessary trials and tribulations to become both good and holy. This is where Christian ethics begins. It begins in the heart of Christian spirituality, whereby we admit to guilt and agree to change and to take responsibility for the things that God loves: that is, other people. For Ricoeur, then, saying ‘yes’ to God involves a summoning of the self19 to take responsibility for others. This 15

 ����� Ibid.  ����� Ibid. 17  ����� Ibid. 18  �������������� (2 Cor. 3:18). 19  ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F ollowing in the footsteps of his predecessor E mmanuel L evinas, R icoeur maintains that the summoning of the self is central to the message of the biblical texts. Through heeding the call of God, and saying ‘H ere I am’, R icoeur maintains that we are, in effect, heeding 16

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kind of interpretation of the locus of Christian ethics cannot be contained in a dictionary, a set of rules, or motivations and contexts because the latter limit the limitless potential of the God of Jesus Christ, and of the story of God’s intervention in history, to forge us in the way of Christ. This explains why the role of the imagination, however strange and threatening it may seem to notions of orthodoxy, canonicity or institutionalization, must feature in our reflections on Christian ethics. A fter all, it is the imagination that perceives mystery in the first instance before being explained in theories of interpretations, in theologies, teachings, rituals or rites. Ricoeur and the Threat of Sectarianism But the role of the imagination is not the only concern that might arise from a R icoeurian approach to the Christian proprium debate. Perhaps the most important concern arising out of a R icoeurian approach to the Glaubensethik and autonomy debate is that it may be sectarian. This is not only the case because it shares certain characteristics with S tanley H auerwas’s work on Christian ethics and virtue, sometimes said to be sectarian, but also because it emphasizes the need to belong to a historical community which provides a master narrative through which we interpret our lives and our actions. The charge of sectarianism is made inasmuch as this argument seems to imply that there is a certain kind of politics intended for those of the Church which is separate from the world and from nonChristians. S imilarly to A lasdair MacIntyre and S tanley H auerwas, R icoeur belongs to a school of thinkers who deny the E nlightenment claim that meaning can be mediated to us directly. Instead, R icoeur argues that society cannot be organized without a narrative that gives it meaning. N or can one become virtuous without referring in some way to all that has been passed on to us by tradition. R icoeur resists the impulse to free all peoples from the chains of their own historical particularity in the name of freedom. A bsolute freedom, therefore, is not an option in R icoeur’s hermeneutics. Truth for R icoeur is not something which is found independent of any particular conception of the ‘good life’. In recent years, however, there has been much debate about the legitimacy of such claims. They have been deemed sectarian in the sense indicated above. It is also believed that such perspectives make dialogue with Christians difficult, and encourage them to withdraw from discussions concerning social justice and the politics of the community.

our obligation to the other. R eferring to the respective responses of A braham and Moses to God’s call (Gen. 22:1), Ricoeur writes ‘I see, for my part, in this figure of a “summoned subject” a paradigm that the Christian community, following the Jewish community, could make use of to interpret itself’. See Paul Ricoeur, ‘The Summoned Subject in the School of the Narratives of the Prophetic Vocation’, in Wallace (ed.), Figuring the Sacred, p. 267.

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S tanley H auerwas is in the foreground in this respect.20 H auerwas believes that theology, in its attempt to remain intelligible within modern culture, has actually emptied itself of its distinctive theological content, as modern intellectual culture is deeply antagonistic to its presuppositions.21 H e argues that those theologians who attempted to recast their moral sensibilities in philosophical (neutral) terms have failed, since such efforts only serve to disguise theology as philosophy. Citing the works of James Gustafson, Paul R amsey and R einhold N iebuhr, H auerwas maintains that these works are attempts to reshape Christian ethics so that it will become acceptable to the modern, ‘secular’ world.22 A lternatively, H auerwas appeals to theologians to stop trying to square their distinctively Christian moral viewpoint with that of secular culture, and proclaim it as a true alternative. Thus H auerwas argues that the Church must not feel pressurized to develop a natural law morality, but should develop its internal resources and beliefs about the good to provide society with alternatives that are not part of the current social and political agenda.23 O f course there is much debate as to what these alternatives are, and many have criticized H auerwas for suggesting that the Church can provide answers to all political and social issues of contemporary society. F or instance, H auerwas’s statement that ‘the church serves the world by giving the world the means to see itself truthfully’24 has caused much tension between theologians, for it seems to imply that the Church is in some way more truthful than any other institution.25 Moreover, for the Church to fulfil the fundamental role of witness to the world, H auerwas explains that ‘a certain kind of people is required to sustain it as an institution across time’ – people of virtue. F or him, this means ‘the virtues necessary for remembering and telling the story of a crucified saviour’, especially patience and hope. A s he puts it, ‘the church must learn time and time again that its task is not to make the world the Kingdom, but to be faithful to the Kingdom by showing to the world what it means to be a community of peace. Thus we are required to be patient and never lose hope.’26 In doing this, H auerwas believes  ���������������������������������������������� S ee Michael J. Quirk, ‘Beyond S ectarianism?’, Theology Today, 44/1 (1987): 78–

20

86.

21  ������������������������ S ee A lasdair MacIntyre, The Religious Significance of Atheism (New York, 1969); S tanley H auerwas, A Community of Character (Notre Dame, 1981), p. 12ff. 22  ���������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or a clear outline of H auerwas’s position, see Quirk, ‘Beyond S ectarianism?’, p. 80. 23  ������������������������������������������������������� S tanley H auerwas, ‘Will the R eal S ectarian S tand Up?’, Theology Today, 44/1 (1987): 89. 24  ������������������ S tanley H auerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics (Notre Dame, 1983), pp. 101–2. 25  ������������������������������������������������� S ee Wilson D . Miscamble, ‘S ectarian Passivism?’, Theology Today, 44/1 (1987): 71ff. 26  ���������� H auerwas, The Peaceable Kingdom, p. 103.

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the Church should be like the poor and powerless and live totally within the control of others.27 H e also argues that Christian social ethics is not to be written from the point of view of those in power, but by those who are subject to such people. In spite of the strong ecclesial claims in H auerwas’s work, however, it is difficult to see how the Church is to deal with and relate to the world. In this respect his argument remains, as he admits, very abstract.28 We are not given precise details as to how the Church that embodies the narrative of God revealed in the stories of Israel and Jesus is to conduct itself in society. Is it to ignore social policies that go against its central telos? O r should it expect others to adopt its claim to truth because it is based on the story of Jesus? Moreover, does belief in the story of Jesus mean that Christians are excluded from public discussions on social ethics because their language is incomprehensible to nonreligious persons? H auerwas’s work is provocative. H is attempt to situate the story of Jesus Christ at the heart of Christian social ethics is significant. Indeed, it is almost impossible not to be moved by his call for us to live out a truly Christian life in a divided world and help to develop the Kingdom on earth. N onetheless, his work also raises serious questions regarding the possibility of inter-religious dialogue about issues of social justice and public policy. Is the Church the sole model for contemporary society, and can the non-religious person expect to understand the values of its teachings by using the natural law? S ome scholars cannot but label H auerwas as a sectarian – a label which he rejects29 – because he sees the mission of the Church as one which stands apart from society, or which stands ‘against’ culture.30 O thers argue that, in claiming that the Christian story gives Christians a distinctive viewpoint, H auerwas excludes the role of Christians in secular politics and in the world.31 The fundamental question then is whether one can contribute to social and political discourse while remaining faithful to the narratives that inform and shape our lives. In essence, this is what is, in common parlance, thought to be at issue when one speaks of sectarianism. A ccording to Michael Quirk, ‘S ectarianism’, in its usual sense, entails the impossibility of any rational dialogue with those outside the ‘sect’, on the grounds that their episternically and morally central convictions are corrupt and diametrically opposed to those of ‘insiders.’ Trying to forge a consensus, then, would not only be difficult but

27

 ����� Ibid.  ������������������� Ibid., p. 111–15ff. 29  ����������������������������������������������������������� Cf. H auerwas, ‘Will the R eal S ectarian S tand Up?’, p. 90ff. 30  ����������������������������������������� Miscamble, ‘S ectarian Passivism?’, p. 73. 31  ����������������������������������������� S ee Quirk, ‘Beyond S ectarianism?’, p. 79. 28

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possibly dangerous, since arguing a point on ‘their’ terms might undermine ‘ours’.32

Hence there are two options available to sectarians: a) they can either proclaim their truths and beliefs to the world and risk being ignored, or b) they can retreat from public discussion altogether and limit their audience to those who share the same views. (The latter is frequently referred to as ‘consensus-building’.) Often compared to the theology of Karl Barth, this kind of sectarianism interprets the quest for truth as an ‘in-house’ affair; it is, therefore, marginal, exclusive and, perhaps worst of all, lacking in any sort of robust rational framework. O f course our intention here is not to determine whether or not S tanley H auerwas is a sectarian.33 R ather, it is to determine whether a R icoeurian interpretation of the Christian proprium debate, with all that it shares in common with H auerwas’s views, presents us with a sectarian view of the Church and the claim to truth. The question may be put as follows: given his insistence on the need to belong to a tradition that provides narratives and practices which promote virtuous behaviour and assist in the quest for self-understanding, is R icoeur’s contribution to the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate sectarian? Put more generally, how can one claim to belong to a tradition (‘of presumed truth’) and still engage with the world on issues of justice, equality, poverty and so on? It may be useful to begin by asking whether the word ‘sectarian’ includes the idea of ‘belonging to’ rather than ‘opposition to’. Wayne Meeks’s understanding of the word ‘sect’ is useful in this regard. Christianity: a Messianic Sect in Israel When we use the term ‘sect’, according to Meeks, we must recognize that we are using the term in an extended sense.34 Included in our understanding of the expression ‘Christian sect’ is the ‘sect of Judaism’. Christianity did not simply develop by itself, independent of the cultures and religions that preceded it. The Christian movement understood itself in terms of the great traditions in which and from which it developed – both negatively and positively.35 Indeed, it was considered ‘sectarian’ because its identity consisted in adopting beliefs, practices and patterns of behaviour that were not shared by other groups of Jews. It was those beliefs and behaviour patterns that determined who the 32

 ����� Ibid.  ������������������������������������������������������������������������������ F or an interesting discussion on H auerwas and sectarianism, see N igel Biggar, ‘Is Stanley Hauerwas Sectarian?’, in Mark Thiessen Nation and Samuel Wells (eds), Faithfulness and Fortitude: Conversations with the Theological Ethics of Stanley Hauerwas (Edinburgh, 2000), pp. 141–60. 34  ������������� Wayne Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians (London, 1986), p. 98. 35  ����� Ibid. 33

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Christians were.36 Similarly to other identifiable sects, such as the Essenes and the Pharisees, members of the Jesus movement adopted many practices and beliefs from the already-existing traditions, most notably Judaism. Y et, they frequently interpreted and responded to the tradition from which they emerged in deviant ways. A s Meeks tells us, ‘[the Christian sect] drew the boundaries of the sacred community differently and more narrowly than did the established leaders in Jerusalem’.37 Thus we may speak of a ‘sectarian identity’. Very soon after the death of Jesus, his followers took a major step in shaping the Christian community so that its unique identity became more obvious. R itual baptism, for instance, was used to initiate members into the sect. The ritual of the L ord’s S upper was also a distinctive practice by which Christians defined who they were and demonstrated their belief in the God of Jesus Christ. R e-enacting the L ast S upper represented a way of reminding the Christian sect of its identity and of relating it more closely with the identity of one person more than any other Jewish sect had ever done before. In this last respect, Christians were ‘messianic’ in a special sense. A ll of this points to the fact that applying the word ‘sectarian’ to the Christian community need not instantly carry negative connotations. This is the case because the term ‘sect’ carries with it the sense of a unique identity. Insofar as Christians share in the belief that Jesus is the S on of God, and take revelation as their starting point for living, Christianity is a sect. H owever, Meeks’s view on Christianity as a ‘sect of Judaism’ is also useful in a second way. It draws attention to the fact that Christianity is not something which developed from a vacuum in opposition to the world. Meeks explains that it developed from the Judaic tradition, and that many Christians did not see themselves as leaving Judaism. This suggests that there lies a certain ecumenism at the heart of the Christian identity.38 It exists ‘in relation to’ that which precedes it and that which surrounds it.

36

 ����� Ibid.  ������������� Ibid., p. 99. 38  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or an interesting discussion of Christianity as an ecumenical movement, see F rederick Bird, ‘E arly Christianity as an Unorganized E cumenical R eligious Movement’, in Anthony J. Blasi, Jean Dumaime and Paul-André Turcotte (eds), Handbook of Early Christianity: Social Science Approaches (Walnut Creek, Lanham, NewYork and Oxford, 2002), pp. 225–46. Bird offers three reasons as to why Christianity may be considered as ecumenical. The first is due to the fact that Christianity was constituted by varied and distinctly different kinds of associations, between which existed at times various disputes, disagreements and rivalries. S econd, this movement from its early stages sought adherents widely, from people shaped by multiple cultural and ethnic traditions. A nd third, Bird maintains that by referring to the early Christian community as an ‘ecumenical community’, one is acknowledging the many ways in which the members of the Christian sect expressed their inter-relatedness. S ee esp. pp. 224–5. 37

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H ence, contemporary discussions about ‘sectarianism’ would do well to note that Christianity is not something which developed over and against the world. Its distinctiveness lies in its particular story and in the particular way in which it interprets itself in light of the story of Jesus Christ. A sserting its particularity in terms of story does not, and should not, immediately suggest that Christians cannot dialogue with the rest of the world about the content of morality, issues of social justice, inequality, public policy and so forth. It has been doing all of these things since it began. To quote Meeks: ‘If therefore we are looking for some “pure” Christian values and beliefs unmixed with the surrounding culture, we are on a fool’s errand.’39 N or should the belief in a particular story imply that Christians should forget who they are when they are called to contribute to dialogue with other religious traditions or with the secular world. F or if we do not know ourselves, how can we know others or expect to find ways of living that will secure the conditions necessary for human flourishing? H aving sketched what is meant by sectarianism and related it more closely to the idea of a specific identity, we must turn now to the functioning of Ricoeur’s interpretive theory in the context of the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate and determine whether it encourages sectarianism as it is understood in common parlance – that is, as something which exists over and against the world and which makes it impossible for Christians to dialogue with the rest of the world regarding morally significant issues. Dialogue with Others as a Critique of Religion There are several reasons as to why a Ricoeurian approach to the specificity of Christian morality debate does not entice us to view Christians as superior to others in terms of their moral education or to exclude them from contemporary discussions in society. R ecall what was said in Chapter 5 of our discussion. It was argued that, although one may belong to a particular tradition and use its story as a master story, our understanding of ourselves and of our tradition (sedimentation) must always be open to critique and revision (innovation).40 This means that, whether one is Christian or not, what constitutes all traditions involves a hermeneutic between that which we have inherited and that which we do not yet know. This explains why reason and critical interpretation are so important in a R icoeurian interpretation of Christian ethics. They can provide Christians with the necessary resources to ensure that their tradition remains capable of revising itself in light of new experiences or, indeed, in light of criticisms made by other religions or atheists. It is clear from R icoeur’s work that he sees value in Christians considering the views of others: these views can serve as a critique of religion,  ������� Meeks, The Moral World of the First Christians, p. 97.  ����������������������� Cf Chapter 5, p. 132ff.

39 40

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thereby inviting Christians to reinterpret their views in light of contemporary experience. A ccording to R icoeur, interaction between Christians, atheists and nonreligious persons can help to strip away the masks which religion can create.41 F or instance, it can encourage Christians not to idolize Christ, or indeed themselves, when faced with questions from other traditions or from society in general. R icoeur also argues that when God is no longer understood as an immutable idol, superior to all others, his image may be recovered. This renewed image can help to remind Christians that God is love, not superiority or dominance. In this way, Christians will be invited to reassess their own identities in light of this loving image and be open to the criticisms of their tradition which may come out of inter-religious or inter-political discussions. But this is not to say that R icoeur is proposing that Christians should only accept criticism when engaging in such dialogue. When discussing the role of Christians in creating a new E urope, for example, he is clear that Christians may also criticize other traditions in light of what they believe to be true and just. Such discussion is thought to provide the necessary external critique needed to ensure that other religious traditions or atheists do not create a culture of superiority in society.42 In fact, in his writings about the ethos of the E uropean communities, R icoeur makes some of his most compelling comments about the role of religion in society and in the formation of a just society. It is worth mentioning his central points here because they will serve as a model through which we may gain a clearer picture as to how R icoeur views the role of Christians in society. This will also serve us for the purpose of showing that his position is not sectarian in any way. Christians in Europe and the World R icoeur’s interest in constructing an ethos for E urope stems from the unprecedented problem of how to get beyond the form of the nation state, with its particular identity, without repeating its well-known structures at a higher lever of ‘supranationality’. Put more simply, R icoeur is interested in examining how the individual identities of states can be guaranteed without hindering the common tasks of the larger society, that is, E urope. In his view, E urope cannot be fashioned after any one of its nation states, for to do so would be to undermine and estrange others from contributing in political life.43  �������������� Paul R icoeur, The Conflict of Interpretations: Essays in Hermeneutics, ed. D on Ihde (Evanston, 1974), p. 442. 42  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or an excellent account of R icoeur’s understanding of religions in society, see A lain Thomasset, Paul Ricoeur: une poétique de la morale (Leuven, 1996), pp. 600–606. 43  ��������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe’, in Richard Kearney (ed.), Paul Ricoeur: The Hermeneutics of Action (London, 1996), p. 3. 41

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Once again we see Ricoeur in the role of mediator. His project is not to determine whether national identity is more important than integration in the complex E uropean community. R ather, he attempts to mediate between these two respective points of view. Both historical difference and the right to universality are of equal importance in R icoeur’s view for the construction of a E uropean community, where the particular identities of all are protected in the common search for integration and the creation of just institutions.44 Combining ‘identity’ and ‘alterity’, then, are at the heart of the matter. What we most desperately need, according to R icoeur, are models of integration between these two poles. His own approach comprises three models: a) the model of translation; b) the model of the exchange of memories; and c) the model of forgiveness. The Model of Translation Ricoeur’s first model, translation, refers to the need for bilingual translators in E urope so that the language of one nation state may be translated into that of the others. The need for translation is also indicative of R icoeur’s position regarding the integration of individual identities in a larger community. H e does not suggest that one language should be taken as the language of E urope, but highlights the need for translation so that the particular identity of all countries, which is expressed in their language, is protected.45 Indeed, R icoeur also argues that, without adequate translation, countries will undoubtedly retreat from discussions about E urope out of a fear that their own linguistic and cultural tradition will be lost.46 But when R icoeur speaks of the need for translation, he is not simply referring to the linguistic task of literally translating one language into another. H e is also making reference to the cultural, spiritual and moral aspects of a given country or tradition. Thus he speaks of the need for cultural bilingualists capable of ‘attending to this process of transference to the mental (symbolic) universe of the other culture, having taken account of its customs, fundamental beliefs and deepest convictions; in short, the totality of its significant features’.47

44

 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘Quel éthos nouveau pour l’Europe?’, in Peter Koslowski (ed.), Imaginer l’Europe: Le marché intérieur européen, tâche culturelle et économique (Paris, 1992), pp. 107–16. 45  �������������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe’, p. 4; for an interesting discussion on the necessity of translation in a pluralistic world, see A lasdair MacIntyre, Whose Justice? Which Rationality? (London, 1988), esp. p. 370ff. 46  ������������������������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe’, p. 4. 47  ������������������������������������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘Quel éthos nouveau pour l’Europe?’����������������������� , p. 108��������������� (trans. mine). ������

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The Model of the Exchange of Memories L inked to the idea that there can be no integration between countries without translation is Ricoeur’s second model of integration: the exchange of memories. O wing to the fact that translation is understood in the broad sense of transferring both cultural and linguistic meanings from one language to another, R icoeur believes it is necessary to extend again the idea of translation to include the narrative history, customs, rituals, beliefs, norms and values of a particular culture. This means that, in the act of translating, one must be sensitive towards the particular story or identity of a given culture. R icoeur counsels that translators must exercise sympathy towards the ‘other culture’, even if this is only possible in imaginative terms.48 There is a responsibility, therefore, to respect the specific narratives and identities of other cultures and to be careful not to misinterpret or undermine their meaning when translating them into another language. Y et this is not to say that R icoeur believes that translating the story of one tradition involves translating illegitimate prejudices or unhealthy biases. For the identity of any community, he notes, is not immutable but open to revision. Included in the act of translation or in the act of interpreting another tradition is the idea that the stories of other communities may be recounted differently. A plural reading is often necessary so that countries are protected from presenting an authoritarian or false view of their founding events. Take Germany, for instance: there is little agreement among German historians regarding the significance of the criminal episodes of World War II and, indeed, of the H olocaust. In this case, a plural reading, or translation, of events carried out by another tradition can help to guard against the commemoration of an immoral event. Thus being a part of E urope and interacting with other communities can lead to a healthy revision of the ‘founding events’ upon which countries build their identities. This interaction is, of course, mutual. It is not simply a case of ‘us’ criticizing ‘them’. There is no threat of unilateral domination in R icoeur’s understanding of the wider community; instead, he proposes a mutual dialectic between countries, which can help countries to avoid being blinded about their identity and the significance of certain historical events. For Ricoeur, no tradition can survive if it fails to revise its beliefs and stories in light of contemporary praxis.49 N or can any tradition survive if society keeps reminding it of the evil it has committed in the past. E vents such as the H olocaust, for instance, should be remembered (so that they do not recur), but they should not be used as a way of oppressing countries or keeping them in an inferior position. This brings us to Ricoeur’s third model of integration: forgiveness.

48

 ������������������������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe’, p. 6.  ��������������� S ee Thomasset, Paul Ricoeur, p. 604.

49

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The Model of Forgiveness This model of tradition is connected to the tendency to commemorate and glory in the wounds inflicted on one country by another. Ricoeur advises that integration will not be possible as long as particular communities continue to commemorate events which signify profound suffering for others. If one country has been at the mercy of another in history, communication becomes almost impossible. Thus R icoeur argues that forgiveness for the ‘debts of the past’ is absolutely necessary for the creation of a peaceful and loving E urope. N evertheless, this does not mean that we should forget the suffering of others. F or other countries can learn from the narratives of suffering experienced by their neighbours and take the necessary corrective steps to ensure that similar events are not re-enacted in their community. H owever, without a move towards forgiveness and reconciliation, R icoeur believes that the communal goals of the E uropean community will not be achieved.50 The model of forgiveness goes beyond the logic of politics and brings us into the religious sphere. This is where R icoeur believes that religions can assist in the creation of a peaceful and just society. The emphasis on love of others, including enemies, reciprocity, justice and forgiveness, which are central to Christian belief, can provide the necessary resources for sustaining a peaceful community. R icoeur believes that the Christian manner of approaching the problems discussed here would begin with forgiveness as the dominant theme.51 N onetheless, R icoeur also notes that, in order to be heard, the Christian tradition must abandon the tendency to dominate or control the political sphere or to take advantage of the invitation to public life in order to increase its authority. Christians must adopt a model of fraternity so that a genuine inter-denominational and cross-cultural exchange will be possible. Thus he writes: Christian communities also pay a price for being heard. This price is two fold: they must, on the one hand, thoroughly pursue the course of relinquishing power … [in favour of] the horizontal relation of wishing to live together. [The ecclesia must assert] itself as a place of mutual aid with a view to salvation … This leads us to say – and it is the second price to pay [sic] by the Christian communities – that the primary context in which the model of forgiveness is designed to be put to the test is that of interdenominational exchanges. It is primarily with regard to each other that the Christian communities must exercise mutual forgiveness in order to ‘shatter the debt’ inherited from a long history of persecution, inquisition, repression, acts of violence which were perpetrated by some communities by other or by all of the communities against non-Christians

50

 �������������������������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe’, p. 12.  ��������������� R icoeur, ‘Quel éthos ������������������������������������� nouveau pour l’E urope?’ p. 115.

51

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and non-believers. The new evangelization of Europe is a project which carries this twofold price.52

That R icoeur’s vision of Christianity is not sectarian is clear. H e interprets the Christian’s role in society as an important one, but suggests that Christians must be willing to abandon the quest for superiority and dominance. F ailing this will make genuine dialogue with other communities impossible. F rom what has been said above it is also clear that, although R icoeur is not partisan to the Christian religion, he presents us with an account of society that respects the particularity of communities in the ongoing search for integration on inter-religious, interdenominational and international levels. In the words of Charles E . Curran written more than 30 years ago, R icoeur reminds us time and time again that ‘a truly Catholic [or Christian] … ethics is ecumenical both in terms of its relation to other Christian thought and action and in relation to all people of good will’.53 In this respect, his theory of interpretation is congenial to our discussion of the Glaubensethik/autonomy debate, for it can account for the need to dialogue with the rest of the world regarding issues of social justice, equality and public policy without undermining the specific identity of each community, religious or otherwise. F ar for presenting us with a sectarian view of the Christian community, then, R icoeur presents us with a compelling model that seems to transcend disagreements concerning ‘alterity’ and ‘identity’. F or Christians, this means that they can be present in society as Christians and contribute to the human search for justice, equality and love without being forced to abandon the narrative that continues to shape their lives. The Role of Conscience But talk of inter-religious exchange and ethical discussions with the secular world raises questions about the role of conscience in a R icoeurian approach to Christian ethics. It might seem that R icoeur’s stress on the self and the ‘summoned self’ that interprets itself through the symbolic discourse and ‘received wisdom’ of tradition is one that relies too much on its own capacity to discern the truth. The emphasis on self-development, becoming oneself, losing oneself in the process of interpreting biblical texts, in order to become a better self, for instance, might seem to many as subjective and narcissistic. Furthermore, given all that we have said about the importance of critiquing the ‘presumed truths’ of tradition, which may come from a magisterial teaching authority or some authoritative body outside ourselves, others might believe that a R icoeurian interpretation of Christian ethics should and ought to give rise to an understanding of conscience which begins by accepting 52

 �������������������������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘Reflections on a New Ethos for Europe’, p. 13.  ������������������� Charles E . Curran, Transition and Tradition in Moral Theology (Notre Dame, 1979), p. 117. 53

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truth from beyond itself. Understood in this way, truth is less a matter of listening to the dictates of interior voice (conscience) than using conscience to discern the truth of magisterial and so-called orthodox teachings. This brings us back to the conflict between conscience as an interior voice and conscience as an exterior voice. Moreover, it might also be argued that R icoeur’s understanding of the critical process of discerning truth involves nothing more than a) acknowledging what tradition has to say on moral issues; b) accepting it and c) critiquing it (hermeneutics of suspicion), in order to return to it and reaffirm it as orthodox. There is only an illusion of legitimate dissent. If this is correct, then the role of conscience is viewed as nothing more than a conversation with an external authority or magisterium that is inauthentic and dishonest. It does not permit the individual agent to take other voices, perhaps conflicting voices, into consideration. In order to clarify where the role of conscience fits into our presentation of the uniqueness of Christian ethics, then, we need to look again at what R icoeur has said about this complex issue. The ‘Inner Teacher’ In order to explain the phenomenon of conscience, R icoeur draws inspiration from A ugustine’s concept of the ‘inner voice’. F or R icoeur, conscience is not something that is derived merely from external voices. But this is not to say that it excludes them in any way. A n example is useful here. Consider all that is involved in the relationship between a student and a teacher. This relationship is based on the assumption that one knows more, and possesses more knowledge, than the other. The teacher is the one who teaches and the student is the one who listens. Traditionally, these concepts have been kept apart and considered as two separate activities. In R icoeur’s words, ‘the one is superior to the other’.54 F urthermore, ‘the teacher seems to be external to the student’.55 It is this kind of understanding that is often applied to notions of conscience, especially in the Catholic tradition: the magisterium is the teacher, or the one who is superior, and the believer is the one who listens and is obedient. A similar model might be adopted in relation to the biblical texts and the words of Jesus in the Gospels, for instance: the text teaches, or Jesus teaches, and the believer/reader listens and is obedient. F or R icoeur, as for many Catholic theologians and Christian believers, this kind of model is not acceptable, for it takes away from the individual the capacity or potential to discern the truth or meaning for him or herself. A much more sophisticated model is needed. In looking for such a model, R icoeur sees the work of S aint A ugustine as significant. According to Ricoeur, Augustine sees the teacher–student relationship as one which does not revolve around the idea of superiority and dominance, but 54

 ���������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘The Summoned Subject’, p. 269.  ����� Ibid.

55

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goes beyond it in such a way that this relationship is finally shattered and brought to its limits. This is because, as R icoeur tells us, A ugustine believes that the process of learning or ‘internalization begins already with profane knowledge’.56 This means that the process of learning does not begin with the teacher but with the student. The student has profane knowledge and possesses the ability to receive other sources of wisdom from outside him/herself which he/she internalizes, interprets and eventually calls his/her own. A t this level, argues R icoeur, no one learns anything from the outside; better, one never learns anything … It is the inner person that discovers truth simply aided by the teacher. A s for the signs of language, they merely serve to ‘alert’ this person in the moment they are ‘consulted.’ It is, however, the truth of things that ‘presides’ and thus ‘governs the mind itself from within.’57

Of course, to many this assertion is nothing more than subjectivism by another name. If truths cannot and do not come from beyond ourselves, and the business of teaching truth always returns to an inner moment of contemplation, then even Jesus cannot be considered as a teacher for the Christian community in any real sense. His message remains extrinsic, almost superfluous to the Christian life and to the Christian conscience. Pre-empting such accusations, Ricoeur says that our first point of call is to reflect on St Paul’s words in Ephesians: Jesus is not just a teacher, but one who ‘can dwell in your hearts’.58 This indicates that, for R icoeur, as for A ugustine, the teachings of Jesus are not superfluous to the workings of the Christian conscience; rather, these teachings are interiorized to the extent that they belong in the heart of the believer, thereby enabling Christians to speak of Christian ethics, Christian conscience and the ‘Christomorphic self’.59 This means that, although the functioning of a Christian conscience has the person and teachings of Christ at its centre, following one’s conscience does not involve some kind of external or irrational demand. Rather, following one’s conscience, in a specifically Christian sense, involves – though not exclusively – contemplation of what we have learned from the person and example of Jesus, interiorizing this so that it becomes our own, contemplating it in the hearts of our being, before attesting to what we believe the truth is. When actions are the result of this kind of process, following the dictates of conscience can be said to be the means through which Christians give witness to the person of Christ and realize God’s will in today’s world. Thus, inspired by the work of S aint A ugustine, R icoeur explains, 56

 ������ Ibid.  ����� Ibid. 58  ��������������� (Eph. 3:16–17). 59  ���������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘The Summoned Subject’, p. 267. 57

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it is the internal teacher that we ‘consult’ when we discover within ourselves the truth of an intelligible order. H ence, to ‘consult the inner truth’ does not mean to be ‘taught’ by words: it is not ‘apprehended’ from the outside; it known through contemplation ‘in the inner light of truth which illumines the inner man and is inwardly enjoyed’ … . This theme of illumination seems to have absorbed that of teaching, to the point of abolishing it, at least to the extent that contemplation has broken free of any mediation through language of words.60

Although it may be said that contemplation is too close to subjectivism to provide a sound basis for the working of the Christian conscience, R icoeur argues that contemplation is a form of teaching in itself because ‘the discovery of truth is the reading within oneself of innate ideas and therefore of something always already there, but still requiring an inward discovery. This discovery still merits the name “inward teaching”.’61 This suggests, then, that Christians can lay claim to the existence, not of specifically Christian norms and values, motivations or inspirations, but to a specifically Christian conscience. This conscience is formed out of saying ‘yes’ to God in freedom and showing a willingness to take on an identity as a Christian. In so doing, there is a moral expectation to ‘follow the example of Jesus’, to ‘clothe ourselves in Christ’. But, as our entire discussion has shown, such expressions have been interpreted in ways that do not and cannot adequately account for the fact that although the content of morality is discovered autonomously, there is something more involved in the process of discerning truth in the Christian sense. R icoeur’s work, however, provides us with a way of speaking about Christian ethics that does not exclude rationality from the process of finding and doing the truth, or tie the truth to the demands of an external authority, while remaining faithful to the Christian’s exalted vocation in Christ. This is the case because it locates the Christian’s special relationship with Christ at the heart of Christian moral discernment. Christ’s teachings are still important, but the Christian, in order to be called such, must internalize these to the point where they are no longer extrinsic but intrinsic and located at the very heart of his/ her existence and being. They become part of the self. In this sense, we can once again speak of a Christian self or, as we have called it elsewhere, a specifically Christian identity. H owever, the act of internalizing the person, teachings and example of Jesus does not exclude the process of interpretation, critical reflection and/or contemplation. N or does it exclude Christians from the often burdensome task of listening to conflicting or secular voices. In R icoeur’s view, nothing is that simple. If it is, it is naïve. This is why he is convinced that, in order to truly receive the Christian Kerygma, we must avoid the temptation to say that this is extrinsic to us, interpreted for us by someone else, contained in a one-for-all set of rules or motivations. R ather, we must consider our 60

 ������������� Ibid., p 270.  ����� Ibid.

61

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conscience, in its human, rational and contemplative forms, as the human organ which enables us to truly receive God’s message and attest to this in the way we subsequently live our lives.62 O wing to the fact that it includes other voices and is engaged in the process of critical hermeneutics, conscience avoids subjectivism. Following one’s conscience, in the R icoeurian sense, places the self at the heart of the decision-making process, and expects that self to be capable of choosing between the choices offered by S cripture, a magisterium and secular voices. It also involves weighing up the antinomies created by conflicting moral options. For Ricoeur, good conscience, in both the secular and the Christian sense of the word, involves many conversation partners. Thus he says: ‘Wisdom in judging and the pronouncement of wise judgment must always involve more than one person. Then conscience truly merits the name conviction.’63 R icoeur’s Christian conscience, then, is one of enormous responsibility. It requires engagement with many levels of discussion – a plurality of voices. F or the Christian, this includes the biblical voice. But it is only when the self has engaged in a profound way with these external, often conflicting, voices that it can claim to have moved beyond the model of conscience that is based on a teacher–student model, towards the moment of inward teacher initiated by the act of contemplation, that it can claim to be truly following the dictates of conscience. It follows, then, that both the Christian and the person of no faith must engage in this process of discernment. But what is distinctive about the process, for the Christian, is that he/she also has to consider what the faith tradition proposes, and contemplate it along with other sources. It is only when this happens that we can say our morals are based on the example and model of Jesus. F or, as R icoeur asserts, ‘[t]he Christian is someone who discerns “conformity to the image of Christ” in the call of conscience’.64 Conformity to Christ does not, then, excuse Christians from hermeneutics, conflicting moral voices or public discussions about ethics; rather it requires them to return to the latter time and time again. Thus the Christian conscience is the site par excellence where external voices meet with the interior voice of conscience, where they indwell in each other until we are summoned to our responsibilities and claim the resulting decision as our own. Crucial for the future of Christian ethics, and in particular for theologians who continue to write about Christian morality in light of a ‘faith-ethics’ perspective, is the fact that Christian moral discernment ‘is an interpretation’.65 It cannot and should not be predetermined for the individual or merely involve conformity to what an external authority believes to be the case. To do this, in R icoeur’s view, is 62  �������������������������������������������������������������������������� F or an account of how R icoeur’s interpretation of conscience includes the imagination, thereby acting as a sort of preparatio evangelica, see Mark I. Wallace, The Second Naiveté: Barth, Ricoeur and the New Yale Theology (Macon, 1990), p. 272. 63  �������������� Paul R icoeur, The Just, trans. David Pellauer (Chicago, 2000), p. 155. 64  ���������������������������������������� Ricoeur, ‘The Summoned Subject’, p. 274. 65  ����� Ibid.

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to exercise ‘bad conscience’.66 F or those who write from the autonomy perspective, R icoeur’s work is also useful. It shows that, if we understand Christian conscience as the place where God’s word is interiorized, interpreted and becomes one’s own, one cannot continue to say that the way in which this happens can be adequately described in one, unidimensional way. To restrict the specific process of Christian moral discernment to a ‘one size fits all’ Christian motivation or intention is, in fact, to undermine all that is involved in the working of the Christian conscience. A s R icoeur argues, conforming to the image of Christ in the call of conscience involves interpretation. But, as R icoeur explains, this interpretation is the outcome of a struggle for veracity and intellectual honesty. A ‘synthesis’ is not given and never attained between the verdict of conscience and the christomorphism of faith. A ny synthesis remains a risk, a ‘lovely risk’ (Plato). To the extent that the Christian reading of the phenomenon of conscience moves from being a wager to being a destiny, Christians can say with the apostle Paul that it is in ‘good’ conscience that they stake their lives on this risk.67

The Risk of Christian Ethics It is perhaps at this point that we can locate the concept of divine grace. If God’s voice were as easy to interpret as some contributors to the Christian proprium debate assumed, then how could we account for the times when we stumble, awkwardly and in ignorance, upon the right thing to do without really knowing how or why? A s Christians we often feel a certain angst about the fact that God is as close to us as H e is distant. We do not like the fear and anxiety that comes with acknowledging that there are times when God does not seem to answer. There are times when we cannot read our own interior voice (conscience) because of sin, illusion, temptation, a lack of self-knowledge or, indeed, a lack of sincere engagement with the person Christ. In this mysterious and often terrifying space in our lives, we reach the limits of philosophy and knowledge in any sense and have to admit to the possibility of divine grace. This is why we must speak of Christian ethics as being a risk. It also explains why E nda McD onagh can say that his life in God is little more than a ‘botched love-story in search of a healing ending’.68 But acknowledgement of the risk of Christian ethics does not undermine the functioning of the Christian conscience. In fact, it carries out a vital function. If, we can ‘let go’ sometimes of the presumption to absolute knowledge and 66

 ����� Ibid.  �������������� Ibid., p. 275. 68  ��������������� E nda McD onagh, Vulnerable to the Holy in Faith, Morality and Art (Dublin, 2004), p. 207. 67

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understanding, it makes us humble. This enables us to attest more fully to the fact that God is creator, not us. But in this humility and often humiliating sense of ‘not knowing’ we also find a hope. When we acknowledge our own limits and the limits of philosophical discourse, we can enter more fully into the promises of resurrection ‘in spite of death’ and the triumph of the good in spite of evil. This indicates that the concept of Christian hope has a fixed and unfixed aspect. While it closes our presumption to always know the truth, it also opens us into a more hopeful and joyous trust in God. We are opened up to the possibilities offered by divine grace, the R esurrection and the Covenant. To use R icoeur’s words, ‘hope opens up what knowledge claims to close’.69 We are also opened up to the risk of ‘becoming assimilated into the strange universe of the biblical texts’ and to the wager that ‘a scripturally refigured self is the crown of a life well lived’.70 A Specifically Christian Hope This again brings us away from discussions of the uniqueness of Christian morality in terms of divine commands, motivations or intentions. In fact, it brings Christian ethics back to dogmatic theology by way of the concept of hope. In limiting what we can know, or what we can presume to know, R icoeur believes the concept of hope can bring us in humility closer to the eschatological reality. In moral terms, this closing point of ‘knowing’ the truth is significant because it sustains us in our quest to be both good and holy, by indicating to us that death or evil will not have the last word. This makes us joyful and hopeful. But it also brings about an ever new and energizing power to the way in which we engage with the world. We are armed with power and an ever new invigorating sense of our limits as Christian believers in a God who reveals as much as he conceals. By ‘risking God’, we are shielded from disillusionment and disengagement from the world. In R icoeur’s view, this brings about a new law. But it is not a moral law as such. It is a law which asserts that to believe in God requires a hope that, in a broken and violent world, there will always be more reason to hope than to despair. In R icoeur’s words ‘hope is both irrational, as being “in spite of” death and “beyond” despair, and rational, as asserting a new law, the law of superabundance, the superabundance of sense over non-sense’.71 Consequently, he argues that the specific task of theology ‘is to relate the preaching of hope in all fields of 69

 ����������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘Hope and the Structure of Philosophical Systems’, in Wallace (ed.), Figuring the Sacred: Religion, Narrative, and Imagination, pp. 203–16. 70  ����������������������������������������������������������������������������� Mark I. Wallace, ‘The Summoned Self: Ethics and Hermeneutics in Paul Ricoeur in D ialogue with E mmanuel L evinas’, in John Wall, William S chweiker and W. D avid H all (eds), Paul Ricoeur and Contemporary Moral Thought (London and New York, 2002), p. 92. 71  ������������������������������������������������������������������� R icoeur, ‘H ope and the S tructure of Philosophical S ystems’, p. 216.

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human experience and action – ethical or political – to the central preaching of the church, that of the R isen L ord. In other words, theology understands hope as the anticipation through history of the resurrection of all from among the dead.’72 Dissenting Moral Voices and the Conflicts of Conscience H aving discussed the concept of the Christian conscience and its hermeneutical character, some readers might be wondering how the R icoeurian conscience might deal with moral dissent in the Catholic sense of the word. A lthough hermeneutics expects moral agents to take responsibility for discerning the inner dictates of conscience and contemplating a variety of external and internal sources of wisdom, it is not clear whether dissent is acceptable. It might be helpful to begin by stating what is clear. The specifically religious conscience: • •

includes consideration of external voices; is mindful of the fact that external voices could be both secular and religious; includes consideration of the demands of a magisterium or teaching office of some kind; is not determined solely by an external authority, but by the contemplation of internal and external voices; seeks counsel from a larger sensus communis73 as a check and balance against one’s own discernment ; includes the example of Jesus in its process of discerning the truth; attests to the living Jesus when the agent is summoned to responsible action, after contemplating all the available sources of moral wisdom (conscience); is filled with the eschatological hope that evil will not get the upper hand in the face of the absurdity of life; is capable of constantly renewing itself in light of the eschatological hope or in light of new biblical proposals that question us again and again; acknowledges Christian ethics involves a risk of believing that, amidst the blindness of human sin and failure, God’s grace can lead us from darkness into light; involves a belief that, ultimately, it is in the depths of our conscience that the voice of the divine can be truly heard, that is, when we have sincerely engaged with the person and teachings of Jesus and any other available sources of moral truth.

• • • • • • • • •

72

 �������������� Ibid., p. 215.  ������������������������������������ Wallace, ‘The S ummoned S elf’, p. 90.

73

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It is at this juncture that the limitations of Ricoeur’s work in the context of Catholic theology seems to be in need of a broader application and analysis. Many of R icoeur’s commentators are of the opinion that what is lacking in his discussion of moral conscience is a more detailed treatment of the possibility of choosing (a) moral action(s) that go(es) against the dominant, external moral voices that are so vital to the process of following the inner voice of conscience. Mark Wallace summarizes the problem as follows: If practical decisions are not truly ‘wise’ apart from social mediation, then what role, if any, can an individual’s distinctive moral certainties play in calling that individual to perform actions that undermine the beliefs and values of his or her cultural milieu? The problem with Ricoeur’s social model of moral judgement is a certain tone-deafness of the importance of alterity in the formation of moral judgement. If conscience is ultimately subsumable to the larger social group, is there any place for the sometimes unique and distinctively ‘other’ voice of ‘the good within’ to question, even tear apart the fabric of one’s social relations in an effort to work out the meaning and truth of one’s ownmost, radically individualistic, and oftentimes antisocial sense of the good ? Is not conscience often the voice of a profound sense of social unrelatedness – of the totaliter aliter – that allows persons to press beyond the limited confines and orthodoxies of their communal groups in order to realize new expressions of truth and goodness? R icoeur’s consistent emphasis on the relational context for moral judgement seems unable to account for the visionary excesses of the distinctive individual whose ethical praxis appears independent from, and a comprehensive challenge to, her lived surroundings.74

Wallace attempts to address this perceived deficiency in Ricoeur’s work by referring to the work of Bonhoffer and concluding that sometimes one has, in conscience, to bear the burden of guilt if one perceives a higher good than that acknowledged by the dominant consensus.75 H owever, this kind of approach seems to neglect the fact that there may be other ways of bolstering up R icoeur’s view of conscience in light of his own work on the hermeneutics of tradition discussed in the previous chapter.76 Given what was said there about the need for the hermeneutics of suspicion in the process of defending what might be called orthodox truth, it is doubtful that R icoeur really intends to infer that one’s individual conscience could not be brought to hold a different view to an external authority. In fact, as we saw, questioning external authorities, be they literary or institutional, enables us more easily to defend tradition. A lthough R icoeur’s view tries to bring the hermeneutical circle from ‘presumed truth’ (traditionality), back to a ‘defence of truth’ (Tradition), 74

 ������������� Ibid., p. 90.  ������������� Ibid., p. 91. 76  ������������������������ Cf. Chapter 5, p. 114ff. 75

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it is doubtful that its methodology is against dissenting moral voices. What is clear, however, is that if we begin to use R icoeur’s work on tradition to speak of dissent and the ability of conscience to lead us away from an official moral teaching, this dissent is never understood in a subjective or disrespectful way. If anything, R icoeur’s work on tradition shows us that, even if we disagree with the magisterium, this disagreement is derived, first and foremost, from an acceptance of what tradition proposes as true rather than from a desire to reject or to oppose tradition. This idea could be linked more closely to what the Catholic theologian Charles Curran refers to as faithful dissent.77 In addition, it would seem that, in bringing the role of what is more commonly called dissent into the area of hermeneutics and interpretation, the term takes on a more positive meaning and function. D rawing on R icoeur’s triadic formulation of tradition, we are brought more easily around to the idea that what is at stake is not always dissent, a rejection of, or denial of particular moral teaching. Rather, what is at stake is a reinterpretation of what the magisterium describes as Tradition with a capital ‘T’. In this way, it does not undermine the magisterium but leads it to question itself again, keeping our moral tradition alive and relevant. This process is a useful one for the magisterium because it can cater for the fact that the magisterium, as a human institution, can make mistakes. It is also useful because it expects the magisterium to provide well-reasoned answers as to why a particular teaching should be accepted by the Catholic faithful. H owever, in the event that an individual is brought to disagree with what is considered orthodox, it is not clear whether R icoeur would agree that this constitutes an outright rejection of a teaching. What is clear, however, is that whatever the individual has chosen to take as truth, in the depths of his/her conscience, is only legitimate once he/she has engaged in the hermeneutical processes of discernment described in the above. This means that, when and if individuals have to dissent, they must be able to defend their decision and take responsibility for the actions that ensue. It seems to me, then, that R icoeur’s work gives us much to think about in the postconciliar Church where conscience is treasured but is often tied too closely to notions of external obedience to be considered authentic in any real sense. When considered in a hermeneutical way, conscience becomes more dynamic and personal without, as we have seen, being crudely subjective or relativistic. F rom his treatment of conscience, we can see that R icoeur expects us to take our moral responsibilities seriously. H e expects us to know what our tradition teaches on specific moral issues, such that, if we have to dissent, then it is a genuine decision of conscience. R icoeur’s conscience is not one that acts on impulse. Instead, it expects moral agents to undergo the difficult task of considering and contemplating a range of sources, both internal and external to our tradition, before arriving at a true decision of conscience. This indicates that decisions of genuine dissent are very rare but that, when and if they do occur, they are the result of a 77  ������������������������������������������������������ Cf. Charles E. Curran and Richard A. McCormick (eds), Readings in Moral Theology No. 6, New York, (Mahwah Press, 1988).

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careful and critical engagement with the hermeneutics of tradition. Therefore, if Christians cannot demonstrate a thorough knowledge of their moral tradition, then they cannot claim to dissent from it in any genuine sense. If R icoeur is correct, genuine disagreement can only come from genuine critical engagement.It follows, then, that Christians cannot claim to be ‘acting in conscience’ if they have not enabled the process of contemplation of tradition to begin in their hearts. Clearly R icoeur’s model of conscience invites the members of the hierarchy and the lay faithful back to the moral tradition in order to facilitate a genuine conversation about its content and its ability to respond to the pressing moral questions of the day. In this sense, we all have a role to play in re-reading, re-assessing and revising our tradition so that our Church becomes a place where the questioning hearts of the faithful can be reengaged rather than disengaged. N o one should feel left out. N or should anyone feel that a genuine dissenting moral voice is a voice that wants to reject tradition; rather, we should treat these voices as a sign that the hermeneutical interpretation of our moral tradition might have to begin again. Teleological and Deontological Ethics A further criticism that might be made of R icoeur’s contribution to discussions about the uniqueness of Christian ethics has to do with his focus on the self striving to become better and more attuned with its responsibilities. This emphasis on the element of striving is also found in Ricoeur’s formulation of the self’s ethical project as ‘aiming at the “good life” with and for others, in just institutions’.78 When we speak of goals and aims in the context of Christian ethics we are, generally speaking, brought into contact with virtue ethics. In this line of thinking, the acquisition of the virtues is considered to be a more essential element of the moral life than the mere following of rules and principles. What becomes central for the moral agent is ‘who should I become?’, rather than ‘what should I do?’ This explains why virtue ethics is considered to be teleological in method: it aims at the overarching goals of the Christian life, rather than at individual acts of obedience that show conformity to rules and principles. Though not all virtue ethicists exclude the need for rules and objective principles from their interpretation of virtue,79 in most cases their writings show a distinct bias towards the idea that the ethical teachings of Jesus, for instance, are best described in terms of an ethics of virtue.80

 �������������� Paul R icoeur, Oneself as Another, p. 172.  ���������������������������������������� Cf. James Keenan and Thomas A . S hannon, Contexts of Casuistry: Historical and Contemporary (Washington DC, 1995), pp. 221–331. In an attempt to move away from the negative connotations associated with casuistry, the latter argue that casuistry needs to be expressed in the teleological anthropology rather than virtue ethics promotes. 80  ������������������������������������������� Cf. James Keenan and D aniel J. H arrington, Jesus and Virtue Ethics: Building Bridges Between New Testament Studies and Moral Theology (Chicago, 2002), esp. pp. 61–89. 78

79

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Given R icoeur’s stress on the self aiming at the good life for self and others, one might be inclined to categorize his work alongside contemporary accounts of the Christian life that focus on an all important telos. In aiming towards the self becoming just and holy, Ricoeur’s Christian self is always striving towards something more. In this respect, it might be said that his approach is teleological. Moreover, one might say that it shares more in common with the autonomy school’s central thesis than it does with the faith-ethic school. H owever, this is clearly not the case. R icoeur challenges the assumption that the teleological aims of the good life are more important than the need for rules and objective principles in the search for truth. He is also against the idea that rules and universal maxims should always take priority over our values and interpretations of the good. Thus he laments that [w]e have too much emphasized the distinction and even opposition between the deontological and the teleological. I think that this opposition is not implied by the basic texts themselves. It is more or less a construction of tradition. A nd, in that sense, I would say that if there is something to deconstruct in ‘moral philosophy’, it is precisely this quickly stated opposition between the deontological and the teleological.81

O ne of the primary reasons for R icoeur’s disquiet about contrasting teleology and deontology has to do with the fact that our understanding of virtue is culturally determined. It is also subject to change and reinterpretation over time, as are the aims of the good life. This means that our interpretation of the virtues is subject to distortion and misinterpretation. It also means that our vision of the good life, whether understood in the religious or secular sense of the word, is also vulnerable. The threat of violent interpretations of the virtues is a real possibility for Christians. Misinterpretations of the significance of the biblical stories and their ability to teach us something about virtue, for instance, opens us up to this vulnerability. When this happens, we need to ask, ‘Is there a limit to what constitutes an acceptable telos and an acceptable virtue?’ For Ricoeur, the answer is ‘yes’. Thus he argues: [b]ecause there is evil the aim of the ‘good life’ has to be submitted to the test of moral obligation, which might be defined in the following terms: ‘Act solely in accordance with the maxim by which you can wish at the same time that what ought not to be, namely evil, will indeed not exist.’82

Although evil may be defined in many different ways, what is of significance for us here is that R icoeur does not see the teleological dimension of ethics as existing 81  ������������������������������������������������������������������������������� Paul Ricoeur, ‘Ethics and Human Capability: A Response’, in John Wall, William Schweiker and W. David Hall (eds), Paul Ricoeur and Contemporary Moral Thought (London and New York, 2002), p. 287. 82  ��������� R icoeur, Oneself as Another, p. 218.

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in isolation from its deontological aspect. H e sees these not as polar opposites, but as two vital, mutually enhancing and limiting aspects of the quest for goodness and truth. Thus his approach to Christian ethics is neither exclusively teleological nor deontological. It includes both. It needs both. To put this in what might be simpler terms, we could say that although R icoeur’s Christian ethic is hermeneutical, this ‘hermeneutical process itself needs normative criteria to be of practical relevance’.83 This is because we need a way of checking whether the goods at which we are aiming are the right ones. We need to know that our goals are really good ones, enabling us to realize our potential, rather than to avoid the burden of moral responsibility or self-development. But this is not to say that the interaction between teleology and deontology only works one way, that is, towards limiting the teleological aspect of ethics. The reverse is also the case. In moral dilemmas, one is often brought to an apparent impasse regarding the right thing to do. This can happen when two rules of importance conflict with each other. The question arises, then, as to what one should do when two genuine duties conflict. In the famous example of whether one should lie to a murderer who comes to one’s door asking for the person he wants to murder, deontological ethical approaches reach their limits. In R icoeur’s view, when this ‘tragic case’ occurs, the deontological must return to the teleological aims of the good life so that a more balanced and morally responsible moral solution might be found. A s R icoeur explains, it is necessary to refer back to the ‘aim whenever the norm leads to impasses in practice’.84 Clearly, then, the tendency in Christian ethics to treat the teleological and deontological approaches as separate and unrelated is misguided. O nce again, by offering us a dialectical in which these two seemingly opposing categories can be considered, R icoeur enables Christian ethicists to avoid taking extremist positions. In this way, we can speak of the goals of the Christian moral life, and of our desire to become our true selves, without lapsing into narcissism. We can distinguish immoral interpretations of the virtue from moral ones. A nd, perhaps more importantly, by referring back to our vision of ourselves and our goals and ethical aims, we can claim to be better equipped to deal with those rare but tragic cases. Hence, a Ricoeurian interpretation of the specificity of Christian ethics contributes what might be referred to as a useful corrective to contemporary approaches to Christian ethics that are one-sided. In many ways, it forces us out of the comfort of our schools of virtue ethics or schools of obligation and pushes us to risk placing the latter in conversation. In R icoeur’s view, this seems not only to be an essential step for the field of ethics to make, but one that will lead us more confidently away from evil in all its guises. 83  ������������������������������������������������������������������������������������ H ille H aker, ‘N arrative and Moral Identity in the Work of Paul R icoeur’, in Maureen Junker Kenny and Peter Kenny (eds), Memory, Narrativity, Self and the Challenge to Think God (Münster, 2004), p. 147. 84  ��������� R icoeur, Oneself as Another, p. 170.

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Conclusion This book began by referring to the dichotomies that exist between theologians of the postconciliar Church regarding the nature and content of morality. We noted Joseph S elling’s dissatisfaction with papal statements that suggest that those who take a more progressive stance on current moral issues are considered to be promoting absolute freedom. Many theologians share S elling’s frustrations. In the postconciliar Church, a large number of believers feel that they cannot discuss moral issues that show a progressive stance without being accused of dissent and of promoting absolute freedom. This presents us with a considerable challenge. But it is not a new challenge. A s we have seen from our discussion of the uniqueness of Christian morality, the autonomy school was also accused of promoting absolute freedom by insisting on the autonomy of morals. But the postconciliar Church also includes those who are frustrated because of a so-called lack of respect for orthodoxy and a failure to acknowledge the competence of the magisterium to teach faith and morals. O ur study showed that this feeling is one that was expressed by proponents of the ‘faith-ethic’ school throughout the course of the Christian proprium debate. This shows that frustrations about the place of orthodoxy and the magisterium are not new either. It seems to me that if members of the postconciliar Church do not find a way of mediating between these conflicting positions, then the promises of renewal brought about by the S econd Vatican Council have little or no chance of being realized. Moreover, the task of renewing moral theology in light of its ‘Christocentric’ nature will never get properly under way. The gap separating those who wish to defend orthodoxy and those who wish to emphasis diversity and the role of conscience in moral matters seems ever wider. It is for this reason that Paul R icoeur’s work is so important to us in Catholic moral theology. A s this book has tried to show, R icoeur’s philosophy stems from his belief that understanding in any sense, moral, physical or existential, is never direct or immediate. R ather, it involves a process of interpretation, revision, dialogue and discussion; in other words, understanding anything requires hermeneutics. Although the term hermeneutics is not new to philosophy or to the field of textual criticism, it is very rarely discussed in Catholic moral theology. H owever, as we have shown, a hermeneutical understanding of the biblical texts can lead us away from attempts to describe the uniqueness of Christian morality in terms of specifically Christian rules and principles revealed in the scriptures. It can also divert   ����������������������������������� Joseph Selling and Jan Jans (eds), The Splendor of Accuracy: An Examination of the Assertions made by Veritatis Splendor (Kampen, 1994), p. 35ff.   ������������������� S ervais Pinckaers, The Sources of Christian Ethics (Edinburgh, 1995), p. 30ff.

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attention away from describing the role of Jesus, his teachings or his story in one, unidimensional way; that is, in terms of a specific, motivation or context. When we attempt a hermeneutical understanding of the biblical texts, we are opened up to a treasury of possibilities. The significance of Jesus and his teachings are no longer confined to one space in time, one context, one motivation or one moral rule. R ather, the latter become eternal in a sense because they are now enabled to project possibilities for living beyond the time of the texts into the future. Thus the Bible takes on a more foundational role in Christian ethics. It becomes a source that is inexhaustible in terms of what it can project in front of itself. The possibilities are endless. However, each of the latter possibilities revolves around two central possibilities: 1) intimacy with God as evidenced in the Covenant and 2) the possibility of becoming a self that is shaped and reshaped by this intimate relationship. S elfhood, not merely obedience, is at the heart of R icoeurian Christian ethics. When applied to the Christian proprium debate, R icoeur’s hermeneutical approach shows us that what is at stake is an invitation to share in the life of God, who is revealed in the event of revelation and in the various modes of discourse that are adopted in the revelatory texts of the Bible. If we accept this offer of union with God, then we cannot refuse the specific identity that is brought about. By saying ‘yes’ to God, we are saying ‘yes’ to becoming a certain type of person: a Christian person. In moral terms, this does not mean that the Christian has all the answers to the moral dilemmas of the world. R ather, it means that the Christian cannot refuse to care about the world and its sinfulness. N or can he or she continue life as they were before. Intimacy with God requires transformation, renewal and change. Thus, instead of the comfort-blanket of a set of specifically Christian rules, principles or motivations, faith in revelation means a commitment to become a self that has received the free gift of love from God and is now willing to express this in subsequent relationships. The Christian is not told in every instance how this should happen, but in order to lay claim to a specifically Christian identity, a Christian is required to find out. R icoeur’s work, then, shows us that Christian spirituality lies at the heart of Christian ethics. The forging of oneself in response to the invitation to relationship with God is an essential ingredient that enables us to respond to each other, and to become both good and holy. F or these are one and the same task. In this sense, then, Christian ethics is primarily about identity work. Insofar as this is the case, we can no longer be happy to support one of two seemingly conflicting schools of thought: one that appears to be more concerned with orthodoxy; the other, with emphasizing the ‘autonomy of morals’. To say the least, the issues that lie behind such divisions are not only frequently inconsistent with other Catholic teachings, but they also stand in the way of enabling Catholic theologians to refer to the Bible as a source for the forging of the self and for reconnecting morality with spirituality. It is also worth saying here that, along with enabling Catholic theologians to begin the task of renewing moral theology, R icoeur also enables us to see that

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the current impasse that exists between theologians concerning autonomy and orthodoxy is a pseudo-impasse. A gain, by using a hermeneutics of tradition, R icoeur invites all Catholic theologians, including those who form part of the Curia, to see the Catholic moral tradition in a dialectical way. This dialectics of tradition helps us all to see that the Catholic Church has already been engaged in the hermeneutics of tradition, but it has yet to acknowledge this fully or to engage with its ramifications. As Ricoeur’s triadic explanation of history has shown, there is no orthodoxy without orthopraxy. N or is there truth without interpretation. A long with facilitating a move away from the issues about orthodoxy that arose in the context of the Christian proprium debate, a R icoeurian approach to tradition can also help to ease the general angst that exists amongst most Catholic theologians today concerning the nature of orthodoxy, assent and dissent. In fact, R icoeur enables us to see that those who take sides are losing out. Theologians cannot claim to be orthodox in any sense if they do not acknowledge the hermeneutics of tradition. A sking questions about one’s tradition, then, does not always, and should not always, lead to accusations of dissent or to a disrespect for the magisterium. The opposite is the case. A sking questions and critically engaging with the proposed teachings of our Church can lead us to reaffirm them as orthodox or to renew them in light of the ‘signs of the times’. S uch an understanding of tradition helps, not only to mediate between the seemingly conflicting stances taken by the autonomy and faith-ethic schools, but it also helps to bring about a more inclusive Church. This is the case because open dialogue is considered to be an essential part of the route to orthodoxy. But Ricoeur’s talent for mediating between conflicting positions does not stop here. A s this book has shown, his hermeneutical method also leads us away from tensions about teleological and deontological approaches to Christian ethics; between love and justice; between fiction and history; between imagining (reading the Scriptures) and doing (conscience); between affirming identity and the threat of sectarianism; and between dissent and interpretation. In bringing seemingly conflicting terms into a dialectical tension, Ricoeur sets in motion a more dynamic version of Christian ethics than was previously possible. The differences separating the autonomy and faith-ethic schools are no longer seen as obstacles but, in most cases, as two sides of one and the same task. R icoeur shows us how Christians can lay claim to a specifically Christian identity so long as this identity is not defined once and for all, but is always open to new experiences of self, others (which includes other religions) and God. He shows us how we can defend orthodoxy without closing ourselves off from the world or from the need to revise our moral positions. H e also shows us how we can speak of moral conscience without reducing the significance of the person of Jesus to a teacher that imposes moral demands upon us, such as is the case in a parent–child relationship. A bove all else, R icoeur’s hermeneutical philosophy demonstrates that Christian ethics is truly Christian when it moves away from egotistical, simplistic 

 ��������������������� Chapter 5, p 116–136.

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or authoritarian versions of conscience, selfhood and truth. F or him, Christians must not be afraid of such a movement, but should welcome it. When applied to the role of Christian moral conscience, for instance, hermeneutics expects Christians to internalize the teachings of Jesus, ponder them in the heart and bring them into dialogue with any other relevant sources of information before coming to a moral decision. If R icoeur is correct, it is only when this happens that Christians can really claim to be engaged in Christocentric ethics. This means that, because they know and believe in God, Christians are not led away from hermeneutics but are, in fact, led back to it time and time again. This also explains why, as pointed out in Chapter 3, on some occasions Christians will choose to ‘go the extra mile’ but on others they will not. It is a matter of interpretation. O f course, it goes without saying perhaps that a theology of conscience, as R icoeur sees it, remains to be done. In fact, much of what R icoeur proposes as the tasks of Christian ethics remains to be done. H owever, R icoeur’s hermeneutical method has enabled us to take a giant first step. It has demonstrated why we must move beyond the dichotomies created by the autonomy and faith-ethic schools, and which continue to influence the way in which Catholic theologians interpret the Bible, spirituality, moral conscience, tradition and magisterium today. Moreover, he invites all Christians, not simply those trained in the art of biblical exegesis, back to the Scriptures to risk being challenged over and over again by their infinite stock of stories. Consequently, each member of the body of Christ is invited to risk becoming a self that is more worthy of the title Imago Dei than ever before. This invitation is not easy for us to accept. We like God to remain at a distance – locked safely inside the S criptures. We are often more comfortable speculating about God than daring to risk experiencing the real presence of God. Given this, the question all Christians need to ask now is: ‘Am I willing to take the risk?’ F or, if R icoeur is correct, it is only by daring to be transformed continually by the biblical texts that Christians can make good the wager that a scripturally refigured self is the crown of a life well lived in relation to self, others and God. The task of renewing moral theology in light of this R icoeurian wager, then, is ever promising.

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Index

A ristotle 52, 53 A uer, A lfons 34 A ugustine, S t ‘inner voice’ 156 R icoeur on 156–7 autonomy school 3, 25–7, 29–30, 76 criticism of 114–15, 169 human morality, Christian morality 70, 76, 77, 92, 114 limitations 32–4, 55 love/justice distinction 77–8 and motivation 56 and revelation 92 and tradition 124, 131, 135 see also faith-ethic/Glaubensethik school A zouvi, F rançois 47 Barth, Karl 148 Benedict XVI, Pope (Joseph Ratzinger) 9 Bible approaches to 14 Christian identity through 37–8, 48 and Christian morality 35–6 fictive elements in142 inmoral theology, need for 19, 24–5, 31 and search for truth 4–5 selfhood, role in58–9 as source of possibilities 170 biblical texts and Christian identity 86, 87 and Christian spirituality 109 exegesis 107, 108, 109 fictional power of 143 freedom to interpret 58–9, 86, 87 infuture time 56 hermeneutical understanding 169–70 imagination, role in143 purpose 85 reader engagement 85 reading approaches 108–9

first naiveté 107, 108 post-naiveté 107, 109 revelatory poesis 109 second naiveté 107 reason, application of 59–60 R icoeur on 140 criticism 139–40 Christ, as exemplar 21 Christian beliefs 81 Christian ethics 1 Bible in4–5 and Christian spirituality 170 and Covenant 65, 110 as human morality 30 law in67–8 nature of 7 R icoeur on 82 R icoeurian approach 144–5, 150–1, 166–7, 172 limits 139 as risk 160–1 see also moral theology Christian identity and the Bible 37–8, 48 and biblical texts 86, 87 and Christian morality 35, 36–7 and Covenant 63, 66 flexibility 16 hermeneutical approach 38–9 and love 81–2 meaning 41 and obligation 67–8 and spiritual practices 106–7 as vocation 38–9 Christian love see love Christian morality 3, 4, 7, 10, 12, 116 basis inJudaism 35 and the Bible 35–6 and Christian identity 35, 36–7 spirituality 89–90, 93, 107, 113

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debate about 14, 34–5 F uchs on 25–6, 26–7, 33 H ughes on 26 human morality 35, 92 autonomy school position 70, 76, 77, 92, 114 differences 29 equivalence vii, 25, 26, 27, 61, 73, 80 faith-ethic/Glaubensethik school position 28, 76 new approach, need for 30–1 responsiveness 22–3 and revelation 94, 111 uniqueness of 35, 38, 91, 92 criticism 130 as a vocation 21–2 Christian proprium debate 7, 17, 34, 45, 60, 63 Covenant 67 freedom 69–70 issues 61–2 love commandment 82 love and justice in76–9 revelation 95–6, 100–5 R icoeurian approach 86, 89, 91, 113, 145 sectarianism, danger of 145, 148 R icoeurian tradition 119–20, 123, 124–5, 128–32, 134–7 Christian spirituality and biblical texts 109 and Christian ethics 170 morality 89–90, 93, 107, 113 Christianity development context 149–50 as ecumenical movement 149 fn38 and other traditions 151, 155 as sect 149 the Church, role 146–7 Congregation for the D octrine of the F aith 124 conscience see moral conscience contemplation, and moral conscience 157 contexts, and texts 55 Covenant and Christian ethics 65, 110

and Christian identity 63, 66 and Christian proprium debate 67 disciples 65–6 and freedom 65 Israelites 65 revelation as 102 R icoeur on 66 Curran, Charles E . 33, 155 D e L aunay, Marc 47 De Schrijver, Georges 118, 136 Declaration on Procured Abortion (1974) 1 D emmer, Klaus 32 deontolgoy, teleology, interaction 166, 167 Deus Caritas Est (1996) 1, 9 disciples, Covenant 65–6 dogmatic theology 19 emotions, and narrative 54 emotivism 6 E ssenes 149 ethics community basis of 5 and narrative 48–50, 52–4 of responsibility 75 virtue 165 E uropean community, integration models 152–5 evil 166 E xodus story 64–5 faith and human morality 5, 45 and morality 3 and philosophy 2 as self-exposure 144 faith-ethic/Glaubensethik school 3, 27–30, 76, 169 autonomy school debate 3, 9, 10, 11, 28–9, 30, 34, 41, 55–6, 70, 73, 82–3, 92 Christian morality 116 mediation 92–4 reconciliation 171 revelation 95–6 Christ-event 32 criticism of 115

Index human morality, Christian morality 28, 76 justice/love distinction 77 limitations 31–2, 54–5 on the magisterium 115 and revelation 92 tradition 123, 129–30 see also autonomy school fiction, inhistory 141–2 fictions, Iser on 143 fideism 114 Fides et Ratio encyclical (1998) 2 forgiveness model, R icoeur 154–5 freedom and Covenant 65 and institutions 71 and love 74 and obligation 61, 68–9, 73, 145 to interpret biblical texts 58–9, 86, 87 F uchs, Josef 18 on Christian morality 25–6, 26–7, 33 Human Values and Christian Morality 14, 21 on moral theology 20–4, 90–1 fundamentalism 31 the future, and narrative 49 Gadamer, H ans-Georg, on history 116–19 Gaudium et Spes 115 Glaubensethik school see faith-ethic/ Glaubensethik school Golden R ule 62, 76, 80 essence of 79 and love 82, 83, 84 R icoeur on 75, 82 Gula, R ichard, on spiritual practices 105–6 Habermas, Jürgen 116, 120 H all, W. D avid 75, 80 H auerwas, S tanley 4–5, 6, 7, 145 on importance of theology 4, 146 on role of the Church 146–7 sectarian, accusation of 147 hermeneutics and Christian identity 38–9 meaning 42–3 as process 11 of revelation 94–5, 104–5, 110

183

and selfhood 57 of suspicion 120, 156, 163 of tradition 171 history as dialectic 121, 123 fiction in141–2 Gadamer on 116–19 reinterpretation 118 R icoeur on 121–3 see also tradition the H olocaust and narrative 48–9, 54 remembering 153 hope, and role of theology 161–2 H ughes, Gerard, on Christian morality 26 human morality Christian ethics as 30 Christian morality 35, 92 autonomy school 70, 76, 77, 92, 114 differences 29 equivalence vii, 25, 26, 27, 61, 73, 80 faith-ethic/Glaubensethik school 28, 76 and faith 5, 45 Humanae Vitae encyclical (1968) 1 hymnic discourse, revelation 100 institution, definition 70–1 institutions and freedom 71 need for 71 Iser, Wolfgang, on fictions 143 Israelites, Covenant 65 Jeanrond, Werner 104, 111 John Paul II, Pope 2, 9, 115 on moral autonomy 8 justice love coexistence 86 distinction 77, 86 role of interpretation 84–5 tension 61–2, 68, 70, 80 need for 71 R icoeur on 72, 79 virtue of 72

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Kearney, R ichard 123 Klemm, D avid E . 42–3 law

inChristian ethics 67–8 and neighbourly love 76 learning process 156–7 L evinas, E mmanuel 69 L ord’s S upper 149 L oughlin, Gerard 141–2 love and Christian identity 81–2 commandment, requirements 79–80 and freedom 74 God’s love, reciprocation 89 and the Golden R ule 82, 83, 84 institutionalization, need for 76 justice coexistence 86 distinction 77, 86 role of interpretation 84–5 tension 61–2, 68, 70, 80 learning about 78–9 limits 83 neighbourly 76 McD onagh, E nda 3, 4, 160 ‘risk of God’ 143–4 MacIntyre, A lasdair 5–6, 7 on role of tradition 6 MacKinnon, D onald 140–1 magisterium 8, 92, 94 dialectical approach 120 faith-ethic/Glaubensethik school view of 115 and R icoeurian tradition 129, 134–5, 136–7 role 9, 95, 113–14, 156 meaning, R icoeur on 44–5 Meeks, Wayne 35, 148, 149, 150 memories, exchange model, R icoeur 153 Mills, Mary 142–3 moral agents 62 moral autonomy 7 John Paul II on 8 Veritatis Splendor encyclical (1993) 9 moral conscience

Christian 158, 162 and contemplation 157 ‘inner voice’ concept 156–60 R icoeur on 156–60 criticism 163–4 moral dissent 163–5 role 155–6 theology of, need for 172 and truth 156 moral decisions, context 10 moral dilemmas 167 moral dissent 163, 164–5 moral theology 3, 4 biblical teachings in, need for 19, 24–5, 31 Christocentric 20–1, 23, 169 current issues 13–15 F uchs on 20–4, 90–1 interpretations 24–30 manuals, shortcomings 17–18, 42 non-Biblical reference 15 and non-Catholic Christians 23 renewal aim 34 need for 17–18 Vatican II recommendations 8–9, 19–20, 30, 90–1, 112 see also Christian ethics moral truth, search for 1 morality autonomy of 25 context of 36 and faith 3 and interfaith dialogue 26 non-Christian 33 and obedience 18 see also Christian morality Moses 64, 65 motivation, and autonomy school 56 narrative biblical 53–4 and emotions 54 and ethics 48–50, 52–4 functions 47, 52 and the future 49 and the H olocaust 48–9, 54 and overcoming time 47

Index and reader/text interaction 55 and reasoning 52 and remembering 49 R icoeur on 46–7 testimonial role 48–9 tradition, making of 50 and virtues 52–3 see also biblical narratives narrative discourse, revelation 97 natural law 33 and search for truth 5 obedience, and morality 18 obligation and Christian identity 67–8 and freedom 61, 68–9, 73, 145 O ’Keefe, Mark 91 O pdebeeck, H endrik 69 Optatam Totius 16, on priestly training 13 penance 17, 18 Pharisees 149 philosophy and faith 2 R icoeur on 43–4 Pinckaers, S ervais 8–9 prescriptive discourse, revelation 97–9 prophetic discourse revelation 96–7 R icoeur on 96 Quirk, Michael 147–8 R ahner, Karl, on revelation 101 R atzinger, Joseph 29 see also Benedict XVI reading, and meaning, intexts 55 reason application to biblical texts 59–60 as product of tradition 119 reasoning and narrative 52 and truth 10 religion, role insociety 151 religious communities, characteristics 47–8 remembering, and narrative 49 responsibility, ethics of 75 revelation

185

and autonomy school 92 and Christian morality 94, 111 Christian proprium debate 95–6, 100–5 as continuing process 93–4 as Covenant 102 and faith-ethic/Glaubensethik school 92 hermeneutics of 94–5, 104–5, 110 human knowledge of 104 hymnic discourse 100 manifestations of 94 narrative discourse 97 natural/authentic 101, 110 opacity of 102–3, 104, 110, 111 personal 102 polysemic interpretation 111 prescriptive discourse 97–9 prophetic discourse 96–7 understanding of, need for 93 wisdom discourse 99–100 R icoeur, Paul 11, 15, 38, 39 on A ugustine 156–7 on biblical texts 140 criticism 139–40 on Christian ethics 82 on Covenant 66 exchange of memories model 153 forgiveness model 154–5 on the Golden R ule 75, 82 on Gospel ethics 74 hermeneutical philosophy 43–5, 169 on history 121–3 on hymnic discourse 100 on justice 72 on love/justice distinction 78, 86 on meaning 44–5 on moral conscience 156–60 criticism 163–4 moral dissent 163, 164 on narrative 46–7 on narrative discourse 97 on philosophy 43–4 on prescriptive discourse 98–9 on prophetic discourse 96 on revelation 94–5, 100–1, 102–3, 105, 111, 112 on schismatic negation 122 on symbols 44

186

Phenomenology and Eschatology tradition, three categories 125–8, 129, 131–2, 164 translation model 152 on wisdom discourse 99–100 works Critique and Conviction 47 Oneself as Another 68, 70 Time and Narrative 48

schismatic negation, R icoeur on 122 S chneiders, S andra 108, 109 on personal revelation 102 S econd Vatican Council see Vatican II sect Christianity as 149 connotations 148 examples 148–9 sectarianism 145, 148 self aim 165 as another 69 Christian 158 as Imago Dei 105 ‘summoned’ 144, 155 true, becoming 107 self-exposure, faith as 144 selfhood formation 57, 170 and hermeneutics 57 role of Bible in58–9 S elling, Joseph 9, 169 on Veritatis Splendor encyclical (1993) 8 S ermon on the Mount 79 S later, Thomas 17 society, role of religion in151 spiritual practices and Christian identity 106–7 Gula on 105–6 purpose 106 see also Christian spirituality S pohn, William 107 symbols, R icoeur on 44 Tannehill, R obert 85 teleology, deontolgoy, interaction 166, 167 telos, need for rules and principles 166 texts

and contexts 55 hermeneutical approach 50–1 innovation/sedimentation, interaction 132–4 meaning, inreading 55, 133 as musical scores 56 reader engagement 51–2, 64, 119 and self-discovery 57 temporality of 46–8, 51 see also biblical texts theology importance of, H auerwas on 4, 146 and preaching of hope 161–2 see also moral theology time, overcoming, through narrative 47 Tradition 127–8 tradition and autonomy school 124, 131, 135 critical scrutiny of 119, 132 as dialectic 120, 121 faith-ethic/Glaubensethik school 123, 129–30, 236 hermeneutics of 171 living 142, 143 making of, and narrative 50 reason as product of 119 R icoeurian approach 114, 116, 120, 171 R icoeur’s three categories 125–8, 129, 131–2, 164 role, MacIntyre on 6 truth claims 129 see also the past traditionality 125–6 traditions 126–7 translation model, R icoeur 152 Trinity doctrine 2 truth hermeneutical process 11–12, 118 and ‘inner teacher’ 157 and moral conscience 156 as past/present dialectic 120, 123 and reasoning 10 revealed/rational, dichotomy 10 role of Bible 4–5 search for, and natural law 5 truth claims, tradition 129 Van Gerwen, J. 66

Index Van H ooft, S tan 72 Vatican II 4 moral theology, recommendations 8–9, 19–20, 38, 90–1, 112 Veritatis Splendor encyclical (1993) 2, 7–8, 115 autonomy of morality 9 S elling on 8 virtues, and narrative 52–3 vocation Christian identity as 38–9

187 Christian morality as 21–2

Wallace, Mark 163 Walter, James 4 wisdom discourse, revelation 99–100 witness meanings 64 R icoeur’s interpretation 64 Wittgenstein, L udwig 34

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