Church + morals = authentic Christian living
In September 2003, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith,
led by the man who later became Pope Benedict XVI, organized an
important Symposium on questions concerning anthropology, the basis of
Christian moral action according to John Paul II's Encyclical
Veritatis Splendor, whose 10th anniversary of publication was being
celebrated (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith [edited by],
L'antropologica della teologia morale secondo l'Enciclica 'Veritatis
Splendor'. Atti del Simposio promosso dalla Congregazione per la
Dottrina della Fede. Rome, September 2003, Vatican Publishing House,
Vatican City, 2006, p. 336).
This intention was pursued by establishing a context into which
several particularly important dimensions of the topic in question could
Before reflecting on the topics discussed at the Symposium, I would
like to draw attention to one aspect which stands out on reading the
Proceedings: their "pluralist" character. Indeed, they present the
contributions and dialogues of about 30 theologians from different
countries, different university environments and different disciplines.
In this same perspective, it would also be possible to stress the
fact that the interventions were conceived in the form of a dialogue
(the contribution of principles/responses), and that ample room was left
for questions and answers among the participants, whose essential data
have rightly been recorded in the Proceedings.
Like the text of the Constitution Gaudium et Spes (cf. n. 22),
which follows a route that goes from Christ to man, the Encyclical
Veritatis Splendor, in direct reference to this conciliar text,
invites us to conceive of the underlying moral action and anthropology
starting from the Person of Christ on whom they are founded, despite the
fact that in its first chapter the Encyclical follows a track that leads
instead from man (the "rich young man") to Christ.
Reflecting on anthropology, therefore, implies bringing about this
deepening in the light of Christology. This is reflected in the title of
the first intervention: From man to Christ. From Christ to man,
by Cardinal Angelo Scola and Prof. Luigi Lorenzetti as Co-Chairmen.
The second talk, given by Prof. Réal
Tremblay, focused on a fundamental if not exclusive feature of Christian
anthropology: adoptive sonship. While Fr Tremblay sought to justify this
type of anthropology and describe its features from the theological
viewpoint, in his response, Prof. Jean Laffitte undertook to trace its
connections in the humanum.
The third set of reflections was devoted to the connections between
this anthropology and what reason and moral philosophy say about the
constitution of the human being, since human beings are oriented to
moral action and regulated by certain concrete norms, of which some are
the object of heated debate today, for example, in the areas of conjugal
morality and bioethics.
It was the task of Prof. Romanus Cessario and Prof. Francisco Cristóbal
respectively, to describe these links.
Nature and grace
One element connected with these reflections is the problem of the
relationship between nature and grace, which in moral theology is echoed
by questions of prime importance.
Should we be resigned to seeing the field of moral theology divided
between the champions of "moral autonomy" and the champions of "the
ethics of faith"? Or rather, should we be oriented to overcoming
controversy? For example, by drawing inspiration from the faith of [the
Council of] Chalcedon where, by means of the divine Sonship of Jesus,
the humanum was fully respected in its coexistence with the
divinum, but also purified and raised by it?
In accordance with the dialogical formula adopted by the Symposium,
four relators explored a whole range of delicate problems absolutely
crucial for a balanced conception of moral theology and of the
evangelizing role it must play in the Church. They were Prof. Massimo
Serretti and Prof. Bruno Hidber, who explored nature's link with the
supernatural in Christian anthropology, and Prof. Eberhard Schockenhoff
and Mons. Oliviero Bernasconi, who examined the question of relations
between autonomous reason and faith in moral theology.
Following the same order of ideas, what place can be ascribed to
moral law in the context of a filial anthropology? Does it lose its
prominent place or is it seen as fully assumed due to the expansion
caused by the new context into which it is inserted?
and Prof. Graziano Borgonuovo had the task of examining this complex
question and its immense importance for Christian morality in relation
to the humanum, but without sacrificing its own specific traits.
Filial anthropology and the moral action that flows from it consider
the Church as a place for transmitting, belonging to and growth towards
the "dwelling of God... with men" (cf. Rv 21:3).
For a partial illustration of this affirmation, it suffices to think
of Baptism: through the action of Christ in the Church, in fact,
believers receive the gift of adoptive sonship. The two words "Church"
and "morals" are thus built into the very pillars of all authentically
Prof. Livio Melina and Prof. Jules Mimeault explored the problem.
Consequently, their reflections can serve as the basis for the doctrinal
whole that follows concerning the issue of the Magisterium's competence,
which is still controversial today, for moral questions in the sphere of
Prof. Paul McPartlan and Fr Giovanni Battista Sala were responsible
for working out this aspect.
Renewal of moral theology
The topic chosen, its components and the competence of the
theologians called to address them already give us a glimpse of the rich
content of this book and its significance for that continuous renewal of
fundamental moral theology desired subsequent to the Second Vatican
Council by the Encyclical Veritatis Splendor.
Furthermore, all this was pointed out in the Introduction and in the
full Conclusions of the three members of the Symposium's organizational
committee (Prof. Réal
Tremblay, Prof. Luis F. Ladaria and Prof. Angel Rodríguez
as well as by the inaugural discourse of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, then
Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and by the
presentation of Archbishop Angelo Amato, Secretary of the Congregation.
A Letter from the Holy Father John Paul II to the Cardinal
Prefect came to confirm the plan for this Symposium and indicate to its
participants certain enlightening guidelines for reflection. I would
like to point out one of them that is particularly in harmony with the
basic idea of these intense moments of reflection: "The basic reference
of Christian morals... is not human culture, but God's project in
creation and redemption. Indeed, the original dignity of humanity shines
out in its full splendour from the Paschal Mystery and from the mystery
of our adoption as sons" (pp. 23-24).
By way of conclusion, I would like to add the following. if it is
true that morals belong to the human being, in the sense that the human
being is the only one responsible for his action
the divine gift of freedom is definitive and without second thoughts
it is also true of God in the sense that this freedom is implanted in
divine soil, so to speak, from which it draws its nourishment.
The protologue of St Irenaeus suggests this thought to us. Indeed, he
speaks of man (body and soul) made in the image of the Son who is the
image of God, and he adds: "For this reason the Son appeared in the end
time that he might show the image to be like unto himself" (Irenaeus,
The Demonstration of the Apostolic Preaching, 22).
The gift of human freedom belongs absolutely to man and as such is
desired by his Creator and thus fits into this filial soil to enjoy its
As a result, in morals there is a synergy between man and God. It is
the believer who acts morally, but his action is nourished by God's
fundamental gift or, as John Paul II said, by the "original dignity" of
man, modelled and remodelled on the features of the Son.