I had taken note a few days ago of a Commonweal Blog post on a new site dedicated to (and simply called) Catholic Moral Theology. I was poking around at the site and find it both congenial and inviting. Let me excerpt their own statement of mission:
We are a group of North American Catholic moral theologians who come together in friendship to engage each other in theological discussion, to aid one another in our common search for wisdom, and to help one another live lives of discipleship, all in service to the reign of God. We understand our role as scholars and teachers to be a vocation rooted in the Church and so we seek to place the fruits of our training at the service of the Church, as well as the academy and the world. We recognize that we as a group will have disagreements, but want to avoid the standard “liberal /conservative” divide that often characterizes contemporary conversation, as well as the bitterly divisive tone of so much ethical discussion (particularly on the internet). We therefore endeavor to converse with each other and others in a spirit of respect, charity, and humility.
I think this is a wonderful and noble task they have set for themselves and if charges of naivete are made against such positions, as often is against those who attempt to move beyond the liberal/conservative divide, I encourage them to continue on in their attempts to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves, for this task of reconciliation is desperately needed in theology. We need more listening, especially where there is disagreement, and less condemnation.
Some of the names are familiar to me, even me a biblical scholar, and I heartily recommend the work of Jana Bennett and William Mattison, though this is not a means of criticizing by silence the work of the young scholars whom I do not know as well. One of the other contributors, Tom Bushlack, will be coming to work at University of St. Thomas this Fall, so I have some knowledge of his work and hope to know it better in the months to come. I wanted to link to one of William Mattison's posts here, though, because it is connected in theme to a class I have been teaching on the Prima Secundae of Thomas Aquinas, with Christopher Thompson, at St. Paul Seminary: why do we sin when we do not want to? Mattison takes up the connection between Romans 7 and doing "what we hate" which Thomas discusses there. It is a pertinent question at all times, but particularly during Lent.
This season of Lent is a time when we are particularly attuned to our brokenness and our need for redemption. A common experience of our sinfulness is continuing to do sinful things we in some sense do not want to do. The obvious Scriptural text here is Romans 7.
Yet this is not merely a Christian phenomenon. It was a perennial question in classical ethics: can people do things they know are bad, and if so, how does that happen? The standard account of this question in antiquity is that Socrates thought this phenomenon was impossible. If we do something bad, we did not truly know it was bad. According to this account, Aristotle departs from Socrates on this matter by describing the phenomenon of incontinence. We can indeed act against our “better judgment.” Christians such as Thomas Aquinas follow Aristotle in explaining experiences like Paul’s in Romans 7.
After reading this excerpt from Mattison make sure to read the whole post and explore the whole site.
John W. Martens
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