Jesus and the authors of the NT, as we saw briefly in Ch. 5, maintained much of the moral teaching that they had inherited from the OT. Jesus innovated by putting together in one love-command the hitherto distinct commandments to love God (Deut. 6: 5) and to love one's neighbour (Lev. 19: 18), by teaching a love for one's enemies (Matt. 5: 43-8), and by practising an equality that was shockingly new for the culture of his time (both Jewish and Graeco-Roman) in that women belonged to the travelling band of his disciples (Luke 8: 1-3). But, in general, both Jesus and the first Christians endorsed what Judaism had taught about right and wrong behaviour. Jesus and the early Christians, however, never endorsed armed violence, as did some texts of the Hebrew Bible, and drew rather on those passages that proclaimed peace.
The Didache shows that lengthy, pre-baptismal catechesis on moral matters, as well as on doctrines of Christian faith, emerged by the end of the first century. This concern with the conduct of believers had, of course, been preceded by the moral teaching provided by St Paul and other NT writers.214 We will discuss below the Didache and the roughly contemporary Epistle of Barnabas. Here we simply want to recall that significant elements in teaching on the practice of virtue go back to the beginning of Christianity.
Subsequently such leading writers as Augustine of Hippo (d. 430) and Gregory the Great (d. 604) developed the centrality of love in their sermons and writings. Augustine addressed such particular moral issues as truth, lying, and human sexuality. Gregory spelled out the seven deadly sins or sins traditionally considered to be the root of all other sins: pride, avarice or covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger, and sloth. At this period what we call 'moral theology' was not separated from 'spirituality';
214 See F. J. Matera, New Testament Ethics: The Legacies of Jesus and Paul (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster/John Knox, 1996); R. Schnackenburg, The MoralTeaching of the New Testament (New York: Herder & Herder, 1965).
the list of the seven deadly sins, while specified by Gregory the Great, finds its origin in the spiritual instructions of the monk Evagrius Ponticus (d. 399). The penitentials, or handbooks for confessors promoted by the Irish and AngloSaxon monk-missionaries (see Ch. 7), flourished down to the eleventh century and helped to shape moral teaching and practice. In the thirteenth century Thomas Aquinas systematically reflected on many moral issues and, in particular, developed thinking about the 'natural law', the universally valid moral principles which are discoverable by human reason and should govern social institutions and personal morality. Rather than using the Ten Commandments as a framework, Aquinas elaborated his moral teaching in terms of the virtues. A little later Dante (d. 1321) brought together both doctrine and a detailed account of the moral life. His Divine Comedy remains a vivid handbook for the practical life of Christians. He constructed the long climb up the mountain of purgatory around seven terraces on which sinners were cleansed from the seven deadly sins, which began with the worst (pride) and ended with the least serious sin of lust. Thus Dante's order was: pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. Then, on the popular level, such medieval 'morality plays' as Everyman typically contrasted virtues and vices and played a major role in inculcating good Christian behaviour.
But it was only at the end of the sixteenth century that 'moral theology', or that branch of theology which studies in a systematic way the ethical life and activity of Christians, began to emerge as a distinct branch of study. One unfortunate effect of this development was to separate moral theology from spirituality, and invest the former with a rather arid and legalistic character. What was true of academic theology applied also to the Church's official teachers. For well over a thousand years, councils, bishops, and popes, while producing some important pieces of official teaching in the area of morality, in general took for granted the Christian principles for human conduct. It was not until the nineteenth and twentieth centuries that they began to develop explicitly a body of moral teaching.
The notion of human rights, as we now understand them, had medieval roots, and early intimations of them can be found in the writings of the Dominican activist and theologian Bartolomé de las Casas (d. 1566). In modern Western philosophy John Locke (d. 1704) and other philosophers found a basis for human rights in a version of the natural law, Much later official church teaching took up the theme of such rights. Pope John XXIII
in his 1963 encyclical Pacem in Terris grounded in the dignity of the human person created in the divine image an extensive treatment of such natural rights as the rights to life, to basic education, to religious freedom, and so forth. These rights, which 'the Creator of the world' has written into the natural order of things, imply a set of correlative duties (DH 3956-72, 3985; ND 2026-42, 2130, 2132-3), and apply also to the work of civil authorities and relations between sovereign states. Vatican II's 1965 Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et Spes), which took further the theme of the dignity and value of the human person, became the first far-reaching and fairly complete official document on the moral life of Christians (and, for that matter, of all human beings). Gaudium et Spes also strongly endorsed Pope John's plea for the universal common good, which demands an end to war and peaceful methods for settling conflicts between nations.
Later in this chapter we will add considerably more on the official moral teaching of the Catholic Church. Here we want only to recall that, although there was an extensive body of instruction on Christian behaviour from the very beginning, doctrinal questions dominated the attention of church councils and papal teaching. The phenomenon of lengthy encyclicals and conciliar documents (in particular, Gaudium et Spes) on moral questions is new. This is our reason for coming to such teaching only in Ch. 9. Throughout this book we wanted to track matters more or less in chronological order, as we announced at the end of Ch. 2.
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