Reviews - What do customers think about Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality?
problematic Dec 19, 2007
I read most of this work because it was assigned as part of a graduate-level theology course I'm taking at a Catholic college. The book is good sometimes in its coverage of historical developments in moral theology, but ultimately suffers from a vision beholden to proportianlism. While reading the author's discussion of the current theology and its historical rather than classical orientation, warning bells began going off in the back of my mind. It took me a little while, but I remembered that JP II had exposed the flaws of proportionalism in Veritatis Splendor, an encyclical that doesn't show up much on the syllabi of professors at Catholic schools.
On the one hand, Gula's work antedates Veritatis, so he can be cut some slack. But on the other hand, when one examines the airy analytical apparatus he proposes for the new Catholic moral theology, it irritates the sensus fidei instantly. The "natural" in natural law is shorn from the classical notion that people have the same basic nature regardless of time or place. Instead, Gula offers us a new definition for natural that means many things and nothing; it is "shorthand for the creative involvement of humans in reality." It's the "total complexity of human reality taken in all its relationships and with all its potentials," a point taken up and tossed overboard explicitly in Veritatis. The author is all verbiage encircled in a cloud of ambiguity, spreading confusion at crucial points in his discussion. It all leads up in the last chapters to proportionalism.
I won't even begin to discuss in any depth the slanderous attribution to Thomas Aquinas of a proto-proportionalist theory. The author cites one line regarding circumstances (via Josef Fuchs) while ignoring all the surrounding articles in the Summa in which the great doctor makes plain that intentionality does not determine whether acts are good or evil. What's at work here is an agenda courteous of Charles Curran, dean of immoral theology in the American Church. Ever since artificial birth control was defined as intrinsicce malum by Paul VI in Humanae, the Americans -- the last people on the planet who should be doing moral theology, whether personal or social -- have bent over backwards to distort every teaching in order to justify their denial of a common human nature. If they can wipe out life-long marriage between heteros, well, that's just one more feather in their cap. The problem is, once you deny a common nature, then all sorts of evils become theoretically possible.
Gula and those in his orbit have muddied up the stream considerably with talk of creativity, growth, freedom, cultural conditions, and historical happenstance in shaping moral decisions. Examples, including the old tried and trues like slavery and usury, are not even cited as concrete cases of the moral norms being conditioned by flawed conceptions of the natural law. (Maritain and Murray both acknowledged that it was possible to make mistakes in reasoning about what the natural law required, but they remained staunchly rooted in traditional moral theology. It's no accident that Curran severely criticized Murray's work.) Catholic students with little background in Thomistic or papal teaching are left to wonder whether Gula's airy and confused theological stance allow for the possibility of the intrinsically evil becoming good, assuming it can pass an individual's proportional calculation.
A serious concern of mine with proportionalists like Gula and Timothy O'Connell, who is cited in this book, is that they seem oblivious to the ramifications for their theologizing in areas like biblical exegesis. If things really are as confused, muddled and historically conditioned as they want us to believe, then how do we understand the words of Christ in the Gospels? Not very easily. Yes, you may pick up the New Testament, turn to Matthew 19 and read Christ's answer to the question "what must I do to gain eternal life" and think you've got a good grip on the answer, but under the historicist hermeneutic, do you? Whatever meaning you take away is fine so long as you don't make the mistake of thinking it objective.
The epistemological problem is repeated again in other areas like church/state relations and the role of natural law in multi-sectarian societies. John Courtney Murray's work in this area is made nugatory under the artificial, anti-historical construct erected by the Gula-ites.
Secondly, they introduce a new dualism. Fellow traveler Charles Curran is upset that natural law theory is so closely tied to "physicalism," the view that the natural properties of the human person are determinant in moral agency. Well, yeah. For example, eating more food than is proper for one's constitution (and becoming obese and unhealthy as a result) is against the natural law, in 10,000 BC and now. Even sins of the heart that never make it into play are unintelligible if separated from physical reality.
To get around the problem of the body, which screams telos in its every part and function, the proportionalist camp begins talking about the believer finding new meanings, using creative discovery, investigation, exploration and discussions in deciding what's right and wrong for this particular moment -- all without worrying about the problem of nature. Who is the agent here? A ghost disconnected from the hard constraints of natural, bodily life? Christianity was seminal in the advent of modern science because it accepted that there was an objective nature out there that worked by immutable laws. Humans cannot choose to redefine the biological operations of their bodies according to some airy conception of "self-discovery" and experiential growth. Anyone with half a brain can see how this is applied practically in the world. The body is actually being held up for ridicule by Curran and his followers, as a kind of unwanted pest that can be worked around if we just commit to a new dualism.
If you must read Gula, I recommend getting Veritatis Splendor as an antidote. Dr. Janet Smith and Marissa Johannes have papers as well available on the Internet. Where the author sows confusion, JP II brings the discussion back down to earth by going to the Gospels, particularly Matthew, and situating Christian ethics back at their starting point. The great Fathers like Gregory of Nyssa are quoted as well, often times to show that what is being taught now as new and innovative is really old hat. The new theological arguments take a sound thumping from the wonderful simplicity of Jesus's words. The late pontiff points us to these in a fatherly way, reminding us that while life is rough, it need not be made more complicated by severing the human person from natural and supernatural ends that have been made known by God through nature and revelation.
Not truly Catholic Nov 8, 2007
This book attempts to pass off Gula's modern, liberal views regarding Catholicism as true Catholic moral teaching. I would urge all people to be wary of this book, as it promotes dissent from the magisterial teachings and gives a false idea of what the Church's stance on morality is. I find Gula's opinions of sexual ethics to be especially distressing, and it truly is a shame that his ideas are being allowed in seminaries today. If you absolutely must read this book, I would strongly urge you NOT to form your opinion of Catholicism based on this book, as it is intentionally deceptive and misleading.
not really catholic at all Aug 8, 2007
This book is sneaky. It actually is not an explanation of Catholic Morality and should not be bought.It is modernist.
Dissent Jul 5, 2006
This is a book that promotes and justifies dissent from the magisterium of the Catholic Church particularly on issues of sexual morality.
Wonderful current theological read! No words of caution May 6, 2006
Someone who studies theology, quite a bit, I was impressed by this read. It is by far one of the best books I have read. In order to understand what this book is about, I have to deal with previous responses. These individuals caution others to not read it, and go straight to official documents like `Veritatis Splendor'. The best guide for Catholics is the catechism. But, sometimes, that needs to be explored in depth. This book deals a lot about conscience. Informed Catholics are `required' to explore what the church and science says; not just these official documents. Certainly the bible contains Gods truth, but in the present time, we are obliged to educate ourselves on a broader spectrum (with the bible).
I don't see how many conservative theologians could find a problem with this. Either its going to go two ways. People are going to be so conservative, they stick to these `official documents' for their morality, or there will be most people who want explanations of reason and find this book informative. I did. Perhaps, they automatically link writers like Gula with other writers (Curran, McBrien, etc perhaps?)who have been silenced on speaking out; which really doesn't bother me, because the church has a tendency to silence or quiet individuals who have beliefs that deviate (if even on the smallest level) from the norm. The fact remains that `officially' the church holds onto their Vatican 2 mindset- incorporating psychological- social- emotional- etc integration into conscience, but still doesn't like it when people dissent, based on beliefs that contradict official church teachings.
The book synthesizes current theology- reason. I liked it because I got the sense, that it explained (in depth) those issues I only had a rudimentary understanding of. I was looking for how to form my conscience on moral matters. In other words, explaining conscience (from the catechism). How do I form it? How exactly do I discern Gods will? Etc. The chapters do not indicate a general morality, where everyone should endorse or oppose abortion, suicide, birth control etc. That's not up to the writer or to us, as readers. It's not the point of the book. They contain information on a wide range of issues like proportionate reason, ontic-evils/goods, forming our conscience/discernment and ending with final pastoral judgment.
To me it just seemed like complex theology explained clearly, with the addition of certain ethics or recent morality- basing itself from the second Vatican council; I have a whole bookshelf full of books. I pull this one out often. It's a good read