Symposium Proceedings: Anthropology, Moral Theology, Vertatis Splendor

Author: Fr Réal Tremblay, C.SS.R.

Symposium Proceedings: Anthropology, Moral Theology, Vertatis Splendor

Fr Réal Tremblay, C.SS.R.

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 be fitted.

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 Fernández Sánchez 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?

Prof. André-Marie Jérumanis 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 Christian morality.

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 the humanum.

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 Luño), 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 nutritional substances.

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.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
26 July 2006, page 5

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