Spirituality And Christian Ethics

Several ways in which the person and work of Christ have effects upon the idea of Christian ethics have been noted in parts of this chapter: Christ as pattern, as teacher, earlier as redeemer whose work brings inner freedom, as mediator of grace that heals and restores nature, as empowering a theonomous conscience, as the source of specific new interiority and motivation. Other examples are now noted to call attention to the wide range of claims that may be made.

K.E.Kirk's classic study argues that 'Christianity came into the world with a double purpose, to offer men the vision of God, and to call them to pursuit of that vision' (Kirk 1931:1). The fundamental problem of ethics is 'What is humanity's true end?' As he demonstrates, there are many interpretations of how the vision is to be pursued. But various elements are usually included: transition from darkness to light, or from incompletion to completion, or from illusion to truth; joy and conformity to the divine will, and perhaps most importantly 'the sense that personal contact or intercourse with God is of the essence of that towards which the good life is directed' (ibid.: 466). Here we have a profoundly mystical element, as in Eastern Orthodoxy and other forms of Christianity, stressed as an essential part of the moral life.

The idea of vision has more recently taken a moral epistemological direction. Hauerwas and others, in part influenced by Iris Murdoch, have stressed that Christian faith provides a way of viewing life in the world which calls attention to aspects of its goods and evils and gives guidance to the ends and means to be pursued. Timothy Sedgwick develops 'sacramental ethics' that gives 'a vision of the Christian life which signifies the meaning of the paschal in relations and conflicts of daily life, and thereby enables such a life' (Sedgwick 1987:24).

Worship, liturgy, and spirituality are united to moral life in these recoveries of an ancient tradition. A contemporary interpretation of Orthodox ethics states it well: there is a unity, continuity, and commensurability of lex orandi, lex credendi, and lex bene operandi when 'the human being is, above all else, a worshipping creature whose very act of worship.is to establish or deepen belief and to do good'. There is a 'process, once worship is present, of each mode of activity informing, influencing, and strengthening the other' (Guroian 1987:52).

Moral theology influenced by the work of Karl Rahner, e.g. that of Josef Fuchs, emphasizes that 'Christian existence, and especially its vitality, is a work not only in actors of reflective consciousness but also in those nonthematically and non-reflectively conscious acts which animate and penetrate conscious moral behavior' (Fuchs 1983:27). The conduct of human ethics for Christians is 'open and related to Christian existence', to the reality of 'the person of Christ, the Spirit at work in us, the Christian community, the hierarchical Church, the sacraments, Christian anthropology' (ibid.: 63). The different 'interiority' of agents is effective in both conscious and unreflective moral activity.

Somewhat different is the interpretation of Christian ethics that is grounded in the resurrection of Christ, and develops the consequences of this both for the world in which we live and in persons as moral agents. Oliver O'Donovan's complex 'Outline for Evangelical Ethics' is based on the following, among other claims: 'Christian ethics depends upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead' (O'Donovan 1986:13). The outcome of the resurrection is a vindication, redemption, and transformation of the objective moral order (ibid.: 56), thus Christian ethics has an objective ground. The incarnation reveals the moral order, and Christ's resurrection 'publically and cosmically' vindicates it. Its 'subjective reality' is the powerful work of the Spirit, of God at work within us, which restores our access to reality, and evokes our free response to it (ibid.: 112 and 102). The emphasis of O'Donovan on the significance of the resurrection, one notes, is very different from that of J├╝rgen Moltmann, for whom it is the ground of confidence that humans are not in bondage to unchanging forms and orders of life (Moltmann 1971:102-26). Whereas other authors focus on the crucifixion of Jesus as the central event for Christian moral life, O'Donovan focuses on the resurrection.

The ways in which the person and work of Christ have been taken to affect the idea of Christian ethics have not been exhausted. The fact that those noted, and others besides, all find precedent in the New Testament points again to the 'surplus of meaning' in the Bible, and to the fact that different emphases occur in relation to particular traditions, philosophical interests, and events.

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  • layton
    How does christian spirituality and christian ethics link?
    6 months ago

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