Critique of 'Free and Faithful In Christ'

Author: Fr. Augustine Mary


Fr. Augustine Mary

Totus + Tuus Maria

Dear Francis,

I researched Free and Faithful in Christ and I must advise you not to use this work to guide you in your moral deliberations. I provide the following information for you and for any who reads this. It is not that his work has no merit whatsoever, but one must sift carefully through misleading and unclear statements to find something of value.

God's Peace, Fr. Augustine Mary





Bernard Haring said, "moral theology would be absolutely unfaithful to its task if, in its whole content, it did not give particular attention to ecumenism" (General Moral Theology, 3).

Bernard Haring states emphatically that he is committed to biblical ethics, to a relational anthropology, and a defense of human historicity over against the presuppositions of a defensive legalism (cf. General Moral Theology, 7-27, 76-82, 96-101, 127-29).

Bernard Haring's work organizes various moral subjects under categories such as "truth" and "healing" in an ambiguous and non-convincing manner. There is also extensive repetitiveness in the three volumes, especially in regard to his constant attack on legalism. William Werpehowski of Villanova University says the following about Haring's work:

Disparate social, scientific and philosophical materials are considered somewhat haphazardly and, together, serve either to confuse outright or to make very general points that in effect underplay evident substantive differences in those materials. For example, in a chapter on fundamental option, Haring will survey the work of Erikson, Spranger, Kierkegaard, Maslow, and Frankl, celebrating their collective 'outstanding grasp of wholeness' without giving serious attention to deep contrasts in approach (cf. General Moral Theology, 168-81). His undefended aside that these differences are 'more a matter of complementarity than contradiction' (General Moral Theology, 219) only enhances the fear that his procedure will perplex more than enlighten, or at least leave the reader with precious little in the way of synthesis.

Furthermore, Bernard Haring's attitude of 'creative fidelity to the Magisterium' gives one pause to say the least. In his work, The Law of Christ, Haring states, 

But what shall we say of an ecclesiastical writer, theologian, or scientist who thinks he has reasons to reject the judgment of the Church's authority, particularly if his own intellectual attitude or position has been affected? . . . .He should first of all carefully study. . . . All further public defense of his position must be studiously and respectfully avoided, unless he is absolutely convinced in conscience that defense of his condemned views is of great importance for the understanding or defense of the faith and for the promotion of Christian piety. (v. 2, 52)

 This statement allows for a public defense against a decision of the Magisterium. While couching the statement amidst others such as "complete submission to the doctrinal magisterium" that which is at least tantamount to dissent is permitted.

Haring likes terms such as 'creative fidelity' and 'creative liberty.' They are ambiguous and can easily lead to misinterpretation. Also, Haring's distancing himself from natural law as a basis of moral theology, claiming a new type of biblical morality is questionable. As Lisa Cahill of Boston College states, "On concrete issues, Haring follows neither the traditional natural law method nor a detailed analysis in light of specifically relevant biblical texts or themes. He seems to prefer a commonsense approach to past and present Roman Catholic teaching." Thus we see a departure from rooting his teaching in objective sources.

Finally, Haring's treatment of fundamental option leaves much to be desired. The following quotation from Veritatis Splendor, 65-68 is very helpful in clarifying the ambiguity of Haring:

65.2 Some authors, however, have proposed an even more radical revision of the relationship between person and acts. They speak of a "fundamental freedom," deeper than and different from freedom of choice, which needs to be considered if human actions are to be correctly understood and evaluated. According to these authors, the key role in the moral life is to be attributed to a "fundamental option," brought about by that fundamental freedom whereby the person makes an overall self-determination, not through a specific and conscious decision on the level of reflection, but in a "transcendental" and "athematic" way. Particular acts which flow from this option would constitute only partial and never definitive attempts to give it expression; they would only be its "signs" or symptoms. The immediate object of such acts would not be absolute Good (before which the freedom of the person would be expressed on a transcendental level), but particular (also termed "categorical") goods. In the opinion of some theologians, none of these goods, which by their nature are partial, could determine the freedom of man as a person in his totality, even though it is only by bringing them about or refusing to do so that man is able to express his own fundamental option.

65.3A distinction thus comes to be introduced between the fundamental option and deliberate choices of a concrete kind of behavior. In some authors this division tends to become a separation, when they expressly limit moral "good" and "evil" to the transcendental dimension proper to the fundamental option, and describe as "right" or "wrong" the choices of particular "innerworldly" kinds of behavior: those, in other words, concerning man's relationship with himself, with others and with the material world. There thus appears to be established within human acting a clear disjunction between two levels of morality: on the one hand the order of good and evil, which is dependent on the will, and on the other hand specific kinds of behavior, which are judged to be morally right or wrong only on the basis of a technical calculation of the proportion between the "premoral" or "physical" goods and evils which actually result from the action. This is pushed to the point where a concrete kind of behavior, even one freely chosen, comes to be considered as a merely physical process, and not according to the criteria proper to a human act. The conclusion to which this eventually leads is that the properly moral assessment of the person is reserved to his fundamental option, prescinding in whole or in part from his choice of particular actions, of concrete kinds of behavior.

66.1 There is no doubt that Christian moral teaching, even in its Biblical roots, acknowledges the specific importance of a fundamental choice which qualifies the moral life and engages freedom on a radical level before God. It is a question of the decision of faith, of the obedience faith (cf Rom 16:26) "by which man makes a total and free self-commitment to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God as he reveals.'" (112) This faith, which works through love (cf. Gal 5:6), comes from the core of man, from his "heart" (cf. Rom 10:10), whence it is called to bear fruit in works (cf. Mt 12:33-35; Lk 6:43-45; Rom 8:5-10; Gal 5:22). In the Decalogue, one finds, as an introduction to the various commandments, the basic clause: "I am the Lord your God..." (Ex 20:23, which, by impressing upon the numerous and varied particular prescriptions their primordial meaning, gives the morality of the Covenant its aspect of completeness, unity and profundity. Israel's fundamental decision, then, is about the fundamental commandment (cf. Jos 24:14-25; Ex 19:3-8; Mic 6:8). The morality of the New Covenant is similarly dominated by the fundamental call of Jesus to follow him — thus he also says to the young man: "If you wish to be perfect...then come, follow me" (Mt 19:21); to this call the disciple must respond with a radical decision and choice. The Gospel parables of the treasure and the pearl of great price, for which one sells all one's possessions, are eloquent and effective images of the radical and unconditional nature of the decision demanded by the Kingdom of God. The radical nature of the decision to follow Jesus is admirably expressed in his own words: "Whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the Gospel's will save it" (Mk 8:35).

66.2Jesus' call to "come, follow me" marks the greatest possible exaltation of human freedom, yet at the same time it witnesses to the truth and to the obligation of acts of faith and of decisions which can be described as involving a fundamental option. We find a similar exaltation of human freedom in the words of Saint Paul: "You were called to freedom, brethren" (Gal 5:13). But the Apostle immediately adds a grave warning: "Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh." This warning echoes his earlier words: "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery" (Gal 5:1). Paul encourages us to be watchful, because freedom is always threatened by slavery. And this is precisely the case when an act of faith — in the sense of a fundamental option — becomes separated from the choice of particular acts, as in the tendencies mentioned above.

67.1 These tendencies are therefore contrary to the teaching of Scripture itself, which sees the fundamental option as a genuine choice of freedom and links that choice profoundly to particular acts. By his fundamental choice, man is capable of giving his life direction and of progressing, with the help of grace, towards his end, following God's call. But this capacity is actually exercised in the particular choices of specific actions, through which man deliberately conforms himself to God's will, wisdom and law. It thus needs to be stated that the so-called fundamental option, to the extent that it is distinct from a generic intention and hence one not yet determined in such a way that freedom is obligated, is always brought into play through conscious and free decisions. Precisely for this reason, it is revoked when man engages his freedom in conscious decisions to the contrary, with regard to morally grave matter.

67.2 To separate the fundamental option from concrete kinds of behavior means to contradict the substantial integrity or personal unity of the moral agent in his body and in his soul. A fundamental option understood without explicit consideration of the potentialities which it puts into effect and the determinations which express it does not do justice to the rational finality immanent in man's acting and in each of his deliberate decisions. In point of fact, the morality of human acts is not deduced only from one's intention, orientation or fundamental option, understood as an intention devoid of a clearly determined binding content or as an intention with no corresponding positive effort to fulfill the different obligations of the moral life. Judgments about morality cannot be made without taking into consideration whether or not the deliberate choice of a specific kind of behavior is in conformity with the dignity and integral vocation of the human person. Every choice always implies a reference by the deliberate will to the goods and evils indicated by the natural law as goods to be pursued and evils to be avoided. In the case of the positive moral precepts, prudence always has the task of verifying that they apply in a specific situation, for example, in view of other duties which may be more important or urgent. But the negative moral precepts, those prohibiting certain concrete actions or kinds of behavior as intrinsically evil, do not allow for any legitimate exception. They do not leave room, in any morally acceptable way, for the "creativity" of any contrary determination whatsoever. Once the moral species of an action prohibited by a universal rule is concretely recognized, the only morally good act is that of obeying the moral law and of refraining from the action which it forbids.

68.1 Here an important pastoral consideration must be added. According to the logic of the positions mentioned above, an individual could, by virtue of a fundamental option, remain faithful to God independently of whether or not certain of his choices and his acts are in conformity with specific moral norms or rules. By virtue of a primordial option for charity, that individual could continue to be morally good, persevere in God's grace and attain salvation, even if certain of his specific kinds of behavior were deliberately and gravely contrary to God's commandments as set forth by the Church.

68.2 In point of fact, man does not suffer perdition only by being unfaithful to that fundamental option whereby he has made "a free self-commitment to God."(113) With every freely committed mortal sin, he offends God as the giver of the law and as a result becomes guilty with regard to the entire law (cf Jas 2:8-11); even if he perseveres in faith, he loses "sanctifying grace," "charity" and "eternal happiness."(114) As the Council of Trent teaches, "the grace of justification once received is lost not only by apostasy, by which faith itself is lost, but also by any other mortal sin."(115)