We all have many identities, arranged in a kind of hierarchy. For my part, I am a Ruthenian Catholic, raised Roman Catholic in a mixed American-Slavic and Appalachian cultural context in Southwestern PA, a husband and father, a seminary professor, a translator.
Professor of Philosophy and Moral Theology, Byzantine Catholic Seminary of Ss. Cyril and Methodius
The Byzantine Catholics are an Eastern Church under the authority of the pope. To make a long story short – and such things are, to put it simply, complicated: at the time of the schism in 1054, this was an Eastern Orthodox Church. Several hundred years later, in the mid-seventeenth century, about five dozen clergy from this tradition were accepted into the Catholic Church. They continue to utilize the Byzantine rite.
A few of the questions raised and answers offered in this discussion are worth exploring.
Minerd, despite belonging to a church within the Eastern tradition, has a love for Thomas Aquinas. Fradd asks: why does the East have such a problem with Aquinas?
There are two things: first, a fundamentally different idea of what theology is. The West tends to use the word theology to refer to something like theological science – an academic theology. It has much to do with the reception of Aristotle in the thirteenth century – a huge sea-change, from a monastic idea to this scholastic model.
While there is also some of this in the East, it is not nearly as pronounced. In the East, the coin of the realm is mystical theology. Minerd sees this as an outgrowth of the university culture in the West – the West has become wealthy and urbanized by this point.
I recall something from Jonathan Pageau, citing an Orthodox deacon, who said something along the lines of: Catholics view the elements as real; Protestants view the elements as a symbol. The Orthodox view the elements as real because they are a symbol.
It is clear that, on the whole, the Orthodox Church is more comfortable with mystery than is the Catholic Church (to say nothing of most Protestant denominations).
If you ever read the later scholastics, it is so technical. This can only exist in a high-level society.
Continuing, and after saying, under his breath: “you’re going to get me in trouble”:
There is a kind of insecurity [in the Eastern Church] that you are going to get swallowed up if you start talking in a Western way. So, you have to push against Aquinas totally, or against scholasticism totally.
There is a fear of getting lost in scholastic precision, although, in his view, this is not at all a problem regarding Aquinas so much as it is a problem with later scholastics.
What neither of them mention – and this has been true of most people who I see engaged in this discussion – is the move to nominalism in the scholastics that came after Thomas. This continues to strike me as having a profound impact, but I am wondering if I am the only one who believes this…which maybe means I am wrong. But I don’t think so – many non-Catholics certainly have noted this as a significant change.
He made an interesting point – that the Eastern Church sees the Western Church as doing little more than “let’s look at what Aquinas has said.” I say interesting, because it brings to mind my recent post of Fr. Michael Butler, an Orthodox priest, speaking of the lost history of natural law in the Eastern patristics.
In this, he notes St. Maximus the Confessor, who is to the East what Thomas is to the Catholics and what Luther and Calvin are to the Protestants. I noted at the time: Per Butler, Maximus synthesized everything that came before him in the Eastern Church, and on whom everything is built after him. And he was on the scene hundreds of years before Aquinas, so the Eastern Church has been saying “let’s see what XXX says” far longer than the Western Church has.
But, to sum it up, the West is seen as too much of a thinking Church; the East is more of a feeling Church – and the Eastern Church will tell you that this is as it should be.
Some version of the standard reply is first offered:
Moral questions are how are acts should be measured, or what is the standarding of our acts – how should we be living?
But he wants to pull back from this, instead offering: are we living our destiny, the destiny for which we were created?
We are created to be graced and to live quite literally through grace the divine life of God. We are adapted in our souls to live the trinitarian life through the grace that comes to us from Christ in our life as Christians.
What does that look like? Can it be described in words? My purpose for these questions will be made clear shortly.
Fradd then asks, via a statement: I don’t see how you get objective morality if you don’t have a god (clearly, he hasn’t heard of Hans Hoppe’s argumentation ethics!). Minerd offers:
It’s hard, because you don’t have a transcendent grounding.
The source of morality must be something above, or outside, of the reach of man. Natural law certainly is transcendent, above or outside of man’s reach. But it lacks two things that seem to me as essential. First, it isn’t embodied. It strikes me as necessary that the transcendent “thing” is objectified in a being, rather than a free-floating concept. Second, there is no eternity, hence no concern about some form of reward or punishment after one departs from this earth.
The two then discuss the possibility of objective morality arising via evolutionary means. But eventually Minerd offers:
The moment you start on the path to acknowledging moral norms, you are already walking down a path that leads you ultimately only to God. Because you are presuming that there is something transcendent.
It’s a list of rules. The precepts of the Church or the precepts of the natural law or something like that. That morality is a discussion about “what are the rules that I have to follow at certain times, or the guidance that I should follow?”
Wait a minute, cowboy. The Ten Commandments are a list of rules to follow… But let’s give him a chance to expand:
Which is not wrong, but its sort of like the lowest part of morality – not to kick it away. But it’s so derivative in the fact that morality is ultimately…moral theology unpacks everything involved in the claim that all of our acts are to have as the principles these virtues, which ultimately – and in their most profound place – are the theological virtues.
Love the Lord your God; love your neighbor as yourself. Still a list, but the pinnacle of the theological virtues – I checked with the Apostle Paul.
I Corinthians 13: 13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
And once one accepts this (along with some other foundational points from Scripture), natural law can be derived.
Morality is not merely moral philosophy with a golden Christ topping on it. We take the natural law, we take some of the discussions we have been talking about now, and then we say “Christ is the model for us.” No!
Well, that pretty much blows my last several years of work….
Because it’s actually just part of theology, and theology is just one thing: the discursive unpacking of the mystery of God – God in Himself, or God with us. But it’s all God, all the way down.
But how can we understand that? Can our minds and our hearts comprehend God?
The two great things we believe: that God exists as the Holy Trinity, and that God is a merciful and provident God, and that’s most fully seen in the greatest gift that was given – the Incarnation of Christ. And everything else just falls under that.
Isn’t that “greatest gift” the point (for this discussion)? That we see, in the Incarnated Christ, something we can comprehend, something that answers the question of how we should then live?
So, to do moral theology is just to ask the question, what does God in us, in our action, look like? Because that’s what the Christian moral life is.
Isn’t Jesus the answer to that question – what God in us should look like?
Minerd states that this means the move to divinization – and this is certainly an Eastern view, but he says it is also a Thomist view, even more than happiness or beatitude. But it is deeper than that, that it is the gift of grace that we are living God’s life.
The very object of faith, hope, and charity – which are the soul, then, of every other act that we have, is God in His Trinitarian mystery. Everything else downstream of that is just changed.
Charity = love. Man’s highest purpose is beatitudo: fulfillment through other-regarding action. Or, in shorthand, love. Once man’s purpose – or as Minerd earlier put it, living our destiny – is identified, then natural law flows from this.
And people will want this put into words. Call it the precepts of the natural law.
I am only about a third of the way through this three-hour discussion, but this post is long enough. I understand what Minerd is saying, but in the end, doesn’t this still result in some recognition of how we should treat others, of our relationship with God, etc.? In other words, some rules or precepts (call them guidelines, if this is preferable)?
Do we throw out “thou shalt not steal”? Is loving our neighbor optional? Am I now free to covet my neighbor’s wife? Do we not work to fulfill our purpose on this earth? Is that a rule to follow, or merely something to consider?
Perhaps as the discussion continues, this will be further explored. If so, I will come back to it.