James F. Keenan,
SJ., A HISTORY OF CATHOLIC THEOLOGICAL ETHICS, Paulist Press,
preacher's review by R. B. Williams, OP.
I was attracted to this book by reviews I saw in very diverse publications
such as AMERICA and The Wall Street Journal!!! The book is not about
preaching as such but about a subject that a preacher must sooner or later
address: SIN and how the Catholic Church has viewed it as a matter of faith
from its foundation until the present day. Since Pope Francis' work gets
attention in the section on modern day approaches, the reader may be assured
the book is very up to date. I may be unfair in saying SIN is the subject,
because the author is trying to show how, especially in the period after the
Second Vatican Council, moral theology has moved away from the "manualist"
juridical approach to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and teaching about the
bigger issues in social justice and health care to a position that
emphasizes discipleship and mercy and its demands rather than a kind of
"moral pathology" that emphasizes what to AVOID DOING. The historical
direction, much more pronounced in Europe and elsewhere than in the USA, has
been toward virtue rather than focusing on vice. The beatitudes and works
of mercy are claiming more attention than the Ten Commandments.
The historical journey in this book is fascinating. Great thinkers in
moral theology is all areas get particular attention: Augustine, Abelard,
Thomas Aquinas, Bartolomeo de las Casas, Francisco de Vitoria, Alphonsus
Ligouri, among others, receive individual attention as well as those who
have led the way since the 19th century, paving the way, at least in
academic circles, to the Second Vatican Council, and especially the
document, Gaudium et Spes. Many of these latter writers, I must
confess, were new names to me.
In preaching parish missions, at the usual penitential service, I have been
using an examination of conscience that emphasizes forgiveness and mercy
instead of the usual list of "did you do this or do that" that I see
distributed in parishes. I found in reading Keane's work that I have moved,
perhaps unconsciously, in the direction of modern Catholic ethical thinking
toward discipleship and virtue and away from sin and avoidance of
punishment. It is worth the preacher's effort to read and think about what
Keane is describing historically and ask where he or she fits in.
Just click on a
book title below to read the review.
(The latest submissions are listed first.)