Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Virtues and Moral Theology

For our pre-lenten and lenten study at my parish we are studying the virtues: the four cardinal virtues and the three theological virtues. After beginning with an overview of the concept of virtue in the area of moral theology and ethics in general we are moving on studying one of the virtues each week until Holy Week or thereabouts. Tonight we spent an hour talking about prudence.

The study is based mainly on the classic book by R.C. Mortimer, The Elements of Moral Theology. But it also draws significantly from The Four Cardinal Virtues, by Josef Pieper, The Elements of the Spiritual Life, by Harton, The Christian Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, by Gilson, as well as a few Peter Kreeft books on Aquinas, and, of course, Nichomachean Ethics, by Aristotle.

It is very rewarding to see the level of interest people have in this subject. Not that we necessarily have tons coming out, but the people we do have coming out are very engaged in the topic and make some excellent points as they interact with the concepts.

On my part, as I prepare each section, I am reminded of how differently moral theology was taught when I was in seminary in comparison to the classical approach, revolving in large part as it does around the concept of virtue. The texts we used in seminary did not even discuss virtue, much less any of the traditional concepts of cardinal and theological virtues. In fact, as I recall, we never studied those ideas at all in any of the classes that I took. Very strange indeed. If they were discussed it was not in any class that I attended. All of my education in this area has come from my own reading and study of classic texts such as these listed above.

Moral theology is a necessary and critical component of theological study. And quite simply in my pastoral ministry I have found the traditional categories of virtues to be much more helpful in spiritual direction, confession, and pastoral counseling situations than "freedom of choice and fundamental option," which is all we ever talked about in moral theology class in seminary.

Anyone who is interested in expanding his knowledge of this subject should read the books listed above. It is important to read several books on the subject, as each author explains things in different ways, and some do a better job than others in certain areas.

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