The Specificity of Christian Ethics

Tremendous ink has been spilled since the publication of Veritatis Splendor.  It is considered to be Pope John Paul II most elaborate thinking on theological categories concerning moral judgement, the development of conscience and a host of many other far reaching issues surrounding moral theology and certain theological trends of revision.  His tackling of the ‘specificity of christian ethics’ is astonishing.  The ‘specificity of christian ethics’ is a formal question of ‘how the Cross/the Paschal Mystery adds anything to ethics?’  Ethics being the formal study of finite freedom.

I found his capacity to discover intellectual openings of reflection astonishing, for it pointed to a security to permit the Church’s sacramental experience to become an opening whereby the philosophical definition of ‘objectivity’ was opened for further development.

For Pope John Paul II, ‘objectivity’ and the philosophy of discovery of ‘the real’ was made possible in Good Friday.  The paschal mystery allows man to discover himself.  Philosophically this means that the cross opens up human freedom for further systematic development in art, politics, etc. . . What the paschal mystery permitted was a proper orientation of man’s freedom; the affirmation of realism in the discovery of truth.

Prior to Christianity, man had to manufacture a ground in idealism.  The Passion of our Lord affirms the direction of man’s gaze on a realism nuptially open to the Spirit.  Here objectivity was first made possible because man was no longer a obfuscated mess.  What the Cross adds to ethics begins with an understanding of objectivity as independence of self yet open to God’s Self.  As such, we discover in our engagement with life in the world dimensions of personal experience unbending to my desire or will yet sill affirming the singularity of an unrepeatable ‘I’.

This realism as grasped in science and demonstrated throughout the West in art, geography or any discipline worthy of effort reveals that the content of objectivity becomes known when we discover the birth or renewal of the human, the experience of supernatural life in the removal of sin or the awakening of conscience.  All of creation becomes sacramentally open to the Spirit.  Is this not the experience of John of the Cross?

What the ‘specificity of christian ethics’ adds to ethics is pronounced in dogma but experienced sacramentally.  T. S. Elliot was right, ‘the inside is bigger than the outside.’

Finally, John Paul II wrote in a vein similar to Hans Urs von Balthasar in that he did not allow his time as Pontiff to become diluted by the cult of activity.  He pursued a trilogy similar to Bathasar’s Theologic, the discovery and affirmation of how man’s wonder is inseparable from the claims of theology; Theodrama, in recognizing that for man to participate in divine life, it’s required that God first enter into the life of his creation; and Theological Aesthetics, a long tribute to acknowledging the indissoluble relation between experiencing authentic freedom and understanding the nature of being human.

Such questions were pursued after Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth) in Fides et Ratio (Faith and Reason).    In this encyclical, John Paul asserts the claim that for man to claim objectivity he must accept the truth about a nuptially ordered creation open to transcendence.  In which what is true is indissolubly linked to the nature of the human.

In taking up the theme of the ‘specificity of christian ethics’ John Paul asserted a christocentric soteriology witnessed in Paul’s Letter to the Romans.  Here, Paul displays ten effects of the paschal mystery on anthropology:

Our state is changed:  we have become children of God.

Our status is changed:  we are ushered into the presence of royalty.

We are deified:  we become the contemporary Christ.

We are reconciled:  we demonstrate changes in social/political milieu.

We are redeemed:  relax, we have been purchased at a great price.

We are free:  to pursue truth, not in licentiousness, but equity.

We are sanctified:  dedicated to awesome service.

We are transformed:  we are the new Adam.

We are a new creation:  our past is removed.

We are glorified:  All creation through man in the proper exercise of freedom witnesses an exalted Lord.

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About William Holland

Systematic Theologian/International Relations
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