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Ecumenical reflections on moral discernment.

I am grateful to colleagues on the Anglican-Roman Catholic Theological Consultation in the United States (ARCUSA), especially Dr. Timothy Sedgwick, for inviting me to offer a few reflections inspired by their dialogue statement, "Ecclesiology and Moral Discernment: Seeking a Unified Moral Witness" (EMD), which appeared in April, 2014. (1) I will proceed by reviewing some of the ecumenical literature, attending to the conclusions of the ARCUSA statement and two other recent statements, offering some considerations on Catholic moral teaching, and indicating a few directions for further deepening of Catholic moral reflection that may have ecumenical resonance.

Over the years I have contended that virtue ethics offers a holistic approach that has been adopted by scholars in many Christian traditions. (2) My "Prudence and the Future: An Ecumenically Shaped Ethic" appeared in this journal in the Summer of 2010. (3) Years ago I contended that virtue ethics is an ecumenical ethic. (4) I would note that the ARCUSA agreed statement, in stating four "Necessary Characteristics of Our Common Moral Tradition," cites significant concerns of virtue ethics. The statement says:

Anglicans and Roman Catholics share an understanding of Christian moral formation that includes four necessary characteristics. (1) The Christian moral vision of human flourishing begins and ends in the person of Jesus Christ. (2) Christian moral formation occurs in community where we read the Scriptures and celebrate the sacraments. (3) Christian moral formation occurs in the midst of suffering, under conditions of finitude and sin. (4) To aid in moral formation, each of our churches has specific moral teaching. In brief, these characteristics are Christ, community, suffering, and teaching. (EMD, no. 14)

In discussing the Christian moral vision, the statement goes on to say, "Rooted in grace, we develop virtues, which enable us to see and understand the world, cultivate holistic attitudes and dispositions, and act in ways that realize our life in Christ" (EMD, no. 15). These four important characteristics could be developed in different ways by different virtue ethicists, but there would be a common thread in their considerations. In proposing a virtue approach, I am very aware that this school of moral thought is a river--in recent decades one with an increasing flow of life-giving water (5)--not a single stream.

I. Recent Literature

The ecumenical literature on moral decision-making in matters of personal morality has been rather slim until recently. Two early statements stand out. The first is that of the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue (ARCIC), "Life in Christ: Morals, Communion, and the Church" (Venice, !993). (6) The second is the 1995 statement of the Joint Working Group of the World Council of Churches and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity (JWG), "The Ecumenical Dialogue on Moral Issues: Potential Sources of Common Witness or of Divisions." (7) This JWG statement offers ten specific guidelines for the dialogues that need to take place. The article by the late Jose Miguez Bonino on "Ethics" in the Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement is also helpful in situating our current discussion. (8)

More recently, articles on personal morality have begun to appear in ecumenical journals, including two important collections of essays. Several presentations given at the 2009 meeting of the North American Academy of Ecumenists are found in the Summer, 2010, issue of this journal, (9) while presentations given at the 2010 conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology can be found in The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church. (10) Both collections contain Michael Root's important overview, "Ethics in Ecumenical Dialogues: A Survey and Analysis." (11) This overview confirms that, while mention of issues of personal morality is relatively frequent, substantive work is limited to the work of ARCIC and the JWG.

Some significant articles have appeared recently as ecumenists have begun to turn their attention to moral divergences. These include Anglican priest and ARCIC II and III participant Charles Sherlock's "Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Ethics and Moral Theology: An Anglican Perspective." (12) The article "traces the path of official dialogue ... on moral life." (13) Importantly, he noted that further work is needed and that this is the current task of ARCIC III. Thus, more ecumenical work is being done and, one hopes, will add to the insights of the recent statement of ARCUSA.

Among Sherlock's many good points, two strike me as being of particular interest. The first comes in his discussion of the work of the Joint Commission on Marriage (1967-75). The Report sums up a difference in regard to law. The "Anglican accepts the authority of the Church as a moral obligation; the sense of [there] being a law to keep seldom occurs to him (sic)," and, while the Roman Catholic "might feel particular Church regulations to be irksome ..., he would hardly recognize a general separation of moral obligation from ecclesiastical law." (14) There seems to be a difference in framework for understanding. I think that such different frameworks persist into the present.

Another divergence is with regard to the consideration of moral cases (casuistry). In discussing the development of Life in Christ, Sherlock wrote "that, while both traditions employ casuistry, different relationships typically exist between moral norms and their application. For Roman Catholics, the approach is to define ideal norms ... and allow the exercise of pastoral prudence to be engaged in their application. Anglicans, on the other hand, typically seek to include prudential matters in their ethical decision-making." (15) Sherlock also contrasted ARCIC's primary concern with the sort of person the Christian is to become with Pope John Paul II's concern in his 1993 encyclical Veritatis splendor with what the Christian ought to do. I believe there needs to be further reflection on how the deed shapes the person and the person shapes the deed. One aspect of this question is the intention with which one chooses the deed.

A second significant article is by Paul Avis, former General Secretary of the Council for Christian Unity in England. In his Reshaping Ecumenical Theology: The Church Made Whole? Avis considered "Ethics and Communion: The New Frontier in Ecumenism," (16) offering some provisional conclusions to his thorough study.

These included the following: (1) "... our way to understand the relation of ethics and communion, particularly in relation to human sexuality, must pass directly through Jesus Christ's words and deeds--his actions as well as his words." (17) (2) "And just as the concept of differentiated consensus has been shown to be relevant to questions of order as well as to questions of faith, it may be that differentiated consensus should be explored in relation to ethics. But this has barely even begun." (18) He went on to say that one should not pessimistically presume negative results of dialogue on these controversial moral questions. (3) "A liberal stance that merely celebrates diversity uncritically or advocates indiscriminate self-expression is morally threadbare. A conservative stance that buries its head in the sand and refuses to grapple with issues that are existentially crucial for many in the Church and in our society is lacking in integrity." (19) (4) He continued by encouraging regional and local ecumenical dialogues to "work together on the Christian ethical vision and the axioms and principles that inform it." (20)

Finally, Avis finished with four simple proposals that I would characterize as: Take the time necessary to study together and do not rush; "gather those who disagree around the Bible" and take more time for studying the Bible; practice patience, humility, and charity in the dialogue and in treatment of one another; and refrain from acting so as to shock others. (21)

II Formal Dialogues

The formal dialogues have begun to take up moral teaching and moral discernment with regard to questions of personal morality. As noted above, the ARCUSA dialogue partners explored the question of the relationship of ecclesiology and moral discernment over a six-year period:

Our principal conclusions are twofold. First, our churches draw from a common tradition that recognizes Christian discipleship as a call to holiness. Here we highlight four necessary characteristics of moral formation: Jesus Christ as the beginning and the end, the role of prayer and worship, the recognition of human limitation, and the place of the teaching charism of the church. Second, it is critical to acknowledge how differently our two communions structure and exercise authority, not only with respect to moral teaching but all forms of teaching. Our teachings do differ in content, specificity, and detail we teach in different ways that flow from our different structures of authority and the way that authority is exercised. (EMD, no. 4)

We would stress that our conclusions regarding the relationship between ecclesiology and moral discernment are not meant to be exhaustive. It may very well be that differences in moral discernment reflect differences on other important questions, such as biblical hermeneutics or theological anthropology.... (EMD, no. 5)

We hope that our different ways of teaching and learning may prove to be complementary, so that Roman Catholics and Episcopalians can address moral questions together in a way that is useful and attractive, both to Catholics and Anglicans and also to other Christians, to whom we are bound by baptism.... (EMD, no. 6)

It is important to remind ourselves of the mutual respect and attentive listening that are characteristic of dialogue, especially given the deep emotions that sometimes accompany divergent views. The JWG believes that the treasures of the moral life may be unnoticed. They call for an honest dialogue, stating, "We should never demand that fellow Christians with whom we disagree compromise their integrity and convictions." (22)

Attentive concern for the complexities of moral life should not cause Christians to lose sight of what is most fundamental for them all: The starting and ending point is the grace of God in Jesus Christ and the Spirit as mediated in the church and in creation. Our life in God is the fundamental continuing source of our movement toward deeper koinonia. Only God's initiating and sustaining grace enables Christians to transcend moral differences, overcome divisions, and live their unity in faith. (23)

A. Moral Discernment in the Churches

The 2013 Faith and Order Study Document, Moral Discernment in the Churches, offers some important points for further reflection on dialogue on moral issues. (24) In the Introduction, the authors stated:

This study text does not focus on moral questions per se, but rather on the discernment process (cf. [section][section] 9,18, 20, 23, 25). This is a necessary prerequisite for ecumenical dialogue about specific moral issues. To that end, this study identifies sources that churches use for moral discernment (cf. [section][section] 30-48) and articulates some of the causative factors of the disagreements within and between churches over moral issues as a prolegomenon to ecumenical dialogue that seeks unity (cf. [section][section] 49-85).

This study aims to be a tool to aid churches in both developing a deeper self-understanding of their own processes of moral discernment and offering a framework within which dialogue about moral disagreements can take place (cf. [section][section] 86-110). (25)

They go on to say that the text is not saying that all positions are morally equal, but they do note, "There is a general recognition of the existence of universal truths (cf. [section] 30)," (16) although this statement is not developed at any length.

Interestingly, Orthodox participants in the Faith and Order Standing Commission produced an Addendum that is included in the Introduction to the text. The Orthodox contend that, while that text could be used in Orthodox theological schools and academic circles to help with understanding the factors that divide the churches over moral issues, they have serious reservations. They list several concerns over the study process, including the "working methodology of the study leading to the relativistic approach"; an "overemphasis on the non-theological academic approach"; and their belief that "[t]he same relativistic approach is applied also to the sources." Note 1 states that "Catholics would share concerns similar to those mentioned in this Orthodox addendum." (27) This is true in large part, but I would also argue that the document is worth careful study because it captures a great deal of what is going on in the contemporary discussion of moral issues. It offers, if you will, a wide-ranging phenomenological analysis of this present moment's moral dialogue and the factors that influence it.

This Study Document offers (a) a helpful "Background" ([section][section] 1-12) of the prior discussions and documents of the Faith and Order Commission that led to the present text; (b) a "Clarification of Terminology"; and (c) a discussion of "The Challenges of Moral Discernment in and between Churches" ([section][section] 13-21) before engaging sources and influences more thoroughly in the following chapters.

The Conclusion, while calling for more "patient, careful, and sustained consideration" (28) of causal factors, indicates that there is common ground on which to build. It offers suggestions for those engaged in the moral dialogues, including affirming the value of the Case Study model used in the Study Document and offering suggestions for moving forward effectively, such as recognizing the influences of emotion, cultural norms, ecclesiology, and power on the dialogue and discernment processes. The Study Document focuses on the present moment and uses cases for illustration. The factors mentioned, such as cultural norms, are well worth consideration. In fact, these factors are regularly analyzed in the moral and pastoral literature. For a professional moralist, there are no surprises in the items mentioned for consideration, although it is helpful to have them summarized in one place.

What is curious is the lack of any historical perspective beyond a short review of the work of the Faith and Order Commission itself. The moral literature at its best tends toward extensive analysis of previous approaches to an issue over the centuries. Or, if the issue is relatively new, such as those raised by biomedical technology, there is often a search for guidance in a discussion of past approaches to cognate issues that might shed light on contemporary dilemmas. The document, while lacking in some ways, offers items that need to be considered in dealing with moral analysis and moral divergence.

B. Scripture and Moral Discernment

Given the call in Catholic and Protestant circles for further study together of the scriptural roots of moral teaching, it is interesting to examine the 2013 document of the Formula of Agreement churches (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church [USA], the Reformed Church in America, and the United Church of Christ), which recently issued "Scripture and Moral Discernment: Report on the Consultation among Representatives of Formula of Agreement Churches." In their very positive statement, they noted: "The need for this conversation involved not only issues of sexuality, but reached more broadly. The practice of scriptural interpretation in moral discernment stands at the heart of many of the controversies faced in Formula of Agreement churches, and that question had not been directly and comprehensively addressed in previous Formula of Agreement conversations." (29) They conclude in part by saying:
      We have hope because by the grace of the Triune God we are made
   members of the body of Christ and thus of one another. While
   maintaining the wisdom of our various traditions as guided by the
   Holy Spirit through the Scriptures, we are empowered by this grace
   to enter into ecumenical dialogue that enriches each of our

      We have hope because those of us who gathered in consultation
   quickly discovered that the Formula of Agreement churches and those
   other churches with whom we have consulted share significant points
   of consonance and commonalities in our ecumenical expression of
   Christian faith and practice. Together, we were able to articulate
   some of the affirmations that marked our common ground and guided
   our deliberations. (30)

They acknowledge that "Shared affirmations of Christ's Lordship do not in themselves guarantee consensus on particular moral judgments; our disagreements can be real, substantive, and painful.... Faithful interpreters relying on the Holy Spirit may reach differing conclusions, and these differences may lead to conflict. Yet we celebrate the call to read Scripture in community and in conversation with followers of Christ around the world." (31) This statement indicates that the Formula of Agreement churches can live with differences on moral issues, even though these differences maybe considerable. This stands in contrast, for example, to the position of Robert W. Jenson and others who argue that ethical disagreements can divide the church and that such matters become agenda items for dialogue. (32)

This statement also leads back to the question of God's action in history. It refers to contemporary wisdom in the reading of scripture. (33) This raises the question about ancient wisdom about the reading of scripture. Furthermore, has the Holy Spirit worked in history in ways that bind us not just in our creeds but also in moral questions? I believe that discernment of scriptural moral teaching will be a key issue needing sustained moral reflection in both formal and informal dialogues, as well as in scholarly articles.

III. Moral Systems

Thus far we have explored some conclusions and positions both in the moral literature arising from individual scholars and from official dialogue partners on issues of personal morality where the churches diverge in their discernment. This process of review yields many insights on how to proceed. It seems clear that further work will need to be done on both the ecclesiological and the moral aspects and on their relationship(s). For example, Sedgwick, in his article, "On Moral Teaching and the Church: Advances in Ecumenical Understanding," raised four questions that he then discussed in some detail but did not resolve. These are for our use in moving forward: "[A] differentiated consensus about Christian faith and the basis of unity of the church as moral teacher maybe developed in terms of four questions: (1) What is the purpose of moral teaching? (2) What are the ways of moral teaching and the ordering of ministry, which is to say, the nature of episcope? (3) What is the relationship of the church as local and universal? (4) What is the nature of tradition and the development of moral teaching?" (34)

I will proceed, in light of these questions and the foregoing ecumenical exploration, to offer some concise reflections on Catholic moral teaching and to indicate some directions for exploring and deepening Catholic moral reflection. I begin by noting that the lacuna in this review of the recent literature on divisive moral issues is the question of moral systems. There seems to be a strong tendency in the contemporary world to see moral issues in isolation from one another, so that single moral issues are sometimes resolved without consideration of their implications for other moral questions.

While the earliest church writings, such as the Didache, offered a series of moral prescriptions often seen to be in contrast with the immoral practices of the Roman Empire, there were attempts "early on" to systematize Christian moral teaching. (35) This helped with considering moral issues that were not specifically dealt with in the scriptures but that were of importance. One aspect of marking moral discernment of newer questions is to see how they relate to one's moral system and thus to other moral teachings and the arguments supporting these teachings. (36)

Benedict M. Ashley OP, and Kevin D. O'Rourke, OP, in the fourth edition of their Health Care Ethics offered a concise overview of systems of moral thinking, "The Logic of Bioethical Decisions," wherein they examined various deontological and teleological methodologies and showed some of their relationships to one another. They also began to explain their own system, which they termed "Prudential Personalism." (37) Catholic thinking is notably systematic in its approach.

Many Catholic thinkers are attempting to integrate scriptural thinking with virtue ethics and natural law, as did St. Thomas Aquinas. Ashley (d. 2013), a contemporary Thomist with a background in science who did extensive work on scripture, (38) explicitly embraced a Thomistic virtue ethic with an emphasis on the theological and moral virtues and the work of the Holy Spirit. As Thomists, Ashley and O'Rourke looked to the Goal, the telos of our humanity: "In practical reasoning in a teleological ethics, ... these goals are the integral satisfaction of basic human needs as these are determined by human nature. By 'human nature' we mean what we now know at this point in history about the traits common to all members of our species, as this has been learned inductively from experience by common sense and scientific research and has been historically exemplified by Jesus Christ and his faithful disciples." (39)

They focused first on the character of the person, then elaborated moral principles that the healthcare worker is to apply with prudence (or a well-formed conscience) in specific cases in order to satisfy human needs. The person forms him or herself in accord with the teaching of scripture in the Christian community, seeks to live the gospel every day, and has a good share of humility. This is the context for good decision-making. "Yet one must also be a person of prudence who knows how to apply faith in the practical situations of life and work. That, of course, means that one keeps thoroughly informed of all that pertains to one's professional competence and its ethical practice. To gain God's aid in such decisions we must pray and receive the sacraments regularly so that the Holy Spirit's gifts of wisdom, understanding, and counsel (Is 11:1-3) will make us sensitive to his guidance." (40) The Spirit must ultimately guide decision-making. The Spirit can often work through our best reasoning, using the best information available, as we come to prudent decisions that are made in the gray areas of life. (41)

The Christian narrative--including scripture, the community of our ancestors, and our best reasoning--led Ashley and O'Rourke to basic moral principles to guide conscientious decision-making. They related principles and norms to the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. For example, in Chapter 8, under Norms of Christian Love, they discuss the Principle of Participation, which applies to a discussion of poverty. They put the principle this way:

Human communities exist only to promote and share the common good among all their members "from each according to ability, to each according to need" in such a way that:

1. Decision-making rests vertically first with the person, then with the lower social levels, and horizontally with functional social units.

2. The higher social units intervene only to supply the lower units what they cannot achieve by themselves, while at the same time working to make it easier in the future for lower units and individuals to satisfy these needs by their own efforts. (42)

Without plunging into a lengthy discussion, the point here is that moral systems can be quite complex and that moral issues are not isolated from one another. My further point is that there can be both clarity and flexibility. There can be a reasonable clarity about the injustice of poverty and yet variability in the local prudential judgments about how to combat poverty.

IV. Veritatis Splendor

Pope John Paul II's 1993 Encyclical Letter, Veritatis splendor (The Splendor of the Truth) (VS), was addressed to the bishops of the Catholic Church in regard to Fundamental Questions of Catholic Moral Teaching and is a benchmark in current Catholic moral theology. It marked the end of a critical phase in Catholic moral thinking after Vatican II where varied systematic attempts to renew Catholic moral theology, as called for by the Council, were declared mistaken, not consonant with traditional moral doctrine. (43)

These attempts are now grouped under the generic name "Proportionalism." Actually, the attempts were many and varied and not all in agreement with each other. A central aspect of the debate was the effort by Richard McCormick (to name the most prominent exponent in the United States) and his collaborators to redefine moral analysis to give more prominence to the consequences of the moral act. This made for significant changes across the moral system. This effort was the subject of a raging debate, with Germain Grisez, Ashley, and others offering strong critiques. Much to the credit of all, while views were strongly held on many sides, there was actually a detailed civil discussion in the moral literature in the U.S. of the arguments pro and con. In my estimation, by the mid-1980s this debate was becoming repetitive and devoting itself to minutiae.

It would be impossible to summarize the detailed arguments of the encyclical in this essay. It is important to note that attempts to revamp the whole system of Catholic moral thinking would have meant radical changes.

The encyclical makes several important points that bear on our purposes here:

* "[T]he decisive answer to everyone of man's questions, his religious and moral questions in particular, is given by Jesus Christ, or rather is Jesus Christ himself, as the Second Vatican Council recalls" (VS, no. 2). "Following Christ is thus the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality" (VS, no. 19; emphasis in original).

* The encyclical should be seen in conjunction with the Catechism of the Catholic Church and its systematic treatment of Catholic morality (VS, no. s).

* Chapter one is an extended meditation on the Rich Young Man and his refusal of Jesus' invitation. This chapter is a reflection on biblical morality. The encyclical begins with the Bible.

* Quoting Augustine: "For the one who does not love has no reason for keeping the commandments" (VS, no. 22, citing In Iohannis Evangelium Tractatus, 82,3: CCL 36, S33).

* "Certainly the Church's Magisterium does not intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one. Nevertheless, in order to 'reverently preserve and faithfully expound' the word of God [citing the Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, no. 10], the Magisterium has the duty to state that some trends of theological thinking and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth" (VS, no. 29).

* "This light and power also impel the Church constantly to carry out not only her dogmatic but also her moral reflection within an interdisciplinary context, which is especially necessary in facing new issues" (VS, no. 29, citing The Church in the Modern World, nos. 43-44).

* In the midst of a discussion of conscience VS quotes Cardinal John Henry Newman, the great defender of conscience: "Conscience has rights because it has duties" (VS, no. 34, citing A Letter Addressed to His Grace the Duke of Norfolk: Certain Difficulties Felt by Anglicans in Catholic Teaching, Uniform Edition [London: Longman, Green and Co., 1868-81], vol. 2, p.250).

* "Indeed, as we have seen, the natural law 'is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation'" (VS, no. 40, citing Saint Thomas Aquinas, In Duo Praecepta Caritatis et in Decern Legis Praecepta--Prologus: Opuscula Theologica, II, no. 1129, Ed. Taurinen [1954], 245).

* We are able "under the gentle guidance of God's providence increasingly to recognize the unchanging truth" (VS, no. 42, citing the "Declaration on Religious Freedom" [Dignitatis humanae], no. 3).

* "The negative precepts of the natural law are universally valid" (VS, no. 2, later citing Mt. 19:17-18; emphasis in original).

* "This truth of the moral law--like that of the 'deposit of faith'--unfolds down the centuries: the norms expressing that truth remain valid in their substance, but must be specified and determined 'eodem sensu eademque sententia in the light of historical circumstances by the Church's Magisterium, whose decision is preceded and accompanied by the work of interpretation and formulation characteristic of the reason of individual believers and of theological reflection (VS, no. 53; n. 100, at the end of this paragraph, begins: "The development of the Church's moral doctrine is similar to that of the doctrine of the faith," then cites Vatican Council I and Pope John XXIII's speech at the beginning of Vatican II).

Thus, the church's moral system is, in principle, capable of development, but the systemic changes proposed by the varied "Proportionalists" are not seen as a positive development of the moral system. To my mind, it remains to be seen if any of the particulars in the wide-ranging discussions of the moral act over two decades leave any lasting insights. Likewise, it seems important to note a possible downside of systematic moral thinking. If several of the conclusions of moral thinking within a system are not comprehensible or persuasive to Christian believers, that whole system can be called into question. This may lead to moral confusion or to the replacement of systematic thinking by ad hoc solutions to difficult moral decisions or to the adoption of alternative or modified moral systems.

V. Directions

A. Deepening of the Moral Tradition

Catholic moral theologians can always go deeper in their understanding of moral teaching. In particular, there is a need to dwell more on the scriptural roots of morality. Vatican II in its "Decree on Priestly Training" (Optatam totius) stated, "Special care must be given to the perfecting of moral theology. Its scientific exposition [should be] nourished more on the teaching of the Bible" (no. 10). (44)

As Lucas Chan noted in his recent book, Biblical Ethics in the 21st Century: "Still, the two branches, Scripture and moral theology, as Daniel Harrington rightly observes, continue to operate separately without much cooperation, and the integration of Scripture and theological ethics is far from satisfactory: many moral theologians do not read much of what biblical scholars write, while few biblical scholars have interest in conversing with moral theologians." (45)

Chan called for continued efforts to integrate the fields. I would note with him the difficulty of mastering one field, let alone two. He writes as a Catholic theological ethicist who works with scriptural texts, examining the work of biblical scholars and ethicists who have attempted to integrate moral theology and biblical studies. His book "aims at constructing and advancing a more integrated Scripture-based ethics that is built upon the fruit of these theologians: one that demands at the same time both careful exegesis and interpretation using a sound ethical framework. I further propose the use of a particular hermeneutical tool in its construction, that is, virtue ethics." (46) Chan's book offers a very thorough and critical overview of authors and their literature, referencing the Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics (47) and the Pontifical Biblical Commission's The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, (48) to name only two of a plethora of up-to-date resources presented. Chan's is a compact and thorough work that sets some directions for future explorations.

One emerging aspect of biblical studies to which Chan does not refer extensively is the effort to situate Jesus' life and teaching in the context of the Judaism of his time. In 2011 The Jewish Annotated New Testament appeared. (49) Hailed as a great achievement, it opens the door to better understanding of Jesus, Paul, and the New Testament in general. Of course, one will have to pay attention to both the text and the critical reactions to it by Jewish and Christian scholars as we move forward.

There are, however, possibilities for deepening our understanding of biblical moral teaching in both this attention to virtue ethics as a hermeneutical tool and to Jewish commentaries on the New Testament. Perhaps we will then see convergences on moral issues that are not now apparent. Critical bible study by Christian churches working together could be fruitful and even surprising.

B. The Moral Act

Another aspect of Catholic moral theology that might benefit from sustained attention is the intention of the person performing the act. The classic analysis of the moral act speaks of object, circumstances, and intention. These aspects are interrelated. The preoccupation of the "Proportionalists" for over two decades was with the circumstances and, in particular, with the results of the moral act. Since the appearance of VS, many Catholic moralists have been preoccupied for two decades with the act itself--and particularly with intrinsically evil acts. (50)

It seems time now to turn to the intention of the act and especially to influences on personal intention. Such a turn could involve a close look at the findings of science. One area would be neurological development. Given what we now know of development of the brain, we can ask what a person is capable of knowing and reasoning about at any given phase in development, as well as when the developmental phases are normally completed. Further, what are the familial, cultural, and other influences on the person that might enhance or impede her or his knowing and willing?

The Faith and Order document discussed above (51) lists a number of areas for investigation. What I have in mind is a sustained study of the subjective side of the human act and its interconnection with the object and circumstances. This could occupy scholars for at least a decade. (52)

C. Discernment of God's Will

The ecumenical movement roots itself in spiritual ecumenism. The "change of heart and holiness of life, along with public and private prayer for the unity of Christians, should be regarded as the soul of the whole ecumenical movement, and merits the name, 'spiritual ecumenism.'" (53) There has been a good bit of writing on spiritual ecumenism. Cardinal Walter Kasper's Introduction to Spiritual Ecumenism and the recent J WG statement, "Be Renewed in the Spirit: The Spiritual Roots of Ecumenism," are two important examples that include many references to the literature and practical suggestions for collaboration. (54)

These practical pastoral suggestions, the large number of ecumenical spiritual retreats/days of prayer, and the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity services in January or at Pentecost all indicate the importance of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the ecumenical movement. The role of the Spirit is essential to the discussion of moral issues. In this "Century of the Holy Spirit," more systematic attention needs to be given to the role of the Spirit, especially in discerning God's will. This, too, could be a long-term study. There has been some increased academic study of the role of the Spirit; there is the experience of Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians; and there are diverse perceptions of the Spirit's guidance in discerning particular moral issues.

Discernment of moral issues is essential to the search for Christian unity. I believe that this involves discernment of God's will both as individuals and as communities working together. (55) There is available to us a rich Christian history of discernment of God's will. Discernment is rooted in prayer and examines the internal and external signs of the movement of the Holy Spirit. Personal discernment always includes deep consultations with others, especially our spiritual friends. (56) Writing on communal discernment seems rarer. A form of communal discernment seems to be present in formal dialogues when the members develop a common statement built on their fruitful exchanges over a period of years. This dialogue process includes prayer with and for one another. (57)

One possibility is that churches in full communion or moving in that direction might engage in discerning God's will together before they make major decisions that affect one another. Joseph D. Small mentioned this in his essay, "Internal Injuries: Moral Division within the Church." Citing a 2010 statement of Le Groupe des Dombes, he noted, "When the same moral issue faces the churches, it is a denial of their expressed desire for unity in Christ that they act as independent moral agents." (58)

Archbishop Blase Cupich noted that, "instead of a minimalist approach to promoting ecumenism by healing differences and reconciling the past, the work of Christian unity becomes foremost an opportunity to look for how God is working in our separated brothers and sisters and 'recognize what the Spirit has sown in the other as a gift for us.'" (59)

A communal discernment process would certainly be a major change, though it would not be completely unprecedented. The observers at Vatican II had input into the writing of texts beyond their formal role. (60) Certainly, communal discernment and structures for it should be an agenda item for the future. Unlike some ecumenical agreements, however, communal discernment would entail some change. Discernment with its consensus-building takes more time than a system of majority voting. Any change can be difficult, as we see with small changes in local congregations. Change that might actually affect our lives together is a considerable step forward, with trust in God.

Structural change can be difficult, but it has already come to us from changes in our attendance and our culture, whether we wanted it or not. The growth of Christianity in the Global South, the presence in the U.S. of numerous immigrants (many of whom are Christians who come from the Global South), and the search of many of our contemporaries for spiritual life in Christ and for community will lead to change whether we are ready for it or not. (61)


In this essay I have explored some of the most recent literature about ecumenical discernment on moral issues, a topic that I believe requires further extended study. In my judgment this will take a decade or more, given that dialogue on matters of personal morality has been minimal until recently. I have also set an agenda for the future--at least for myself. There is a need in Catholic moral theology for deeper exploration of the biblical witness, of the role of intention in the moral act(s), and of the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our midst.

(1) This can be found in Origins 43 (May 1, 2014): 764-774. References are given in the text as EMD with the paragraph number in parentheses. Also available at http://www upload/arcusa-2014-statement.pdf.

(2) See, e.g., Joel D. Biermann, A Case for Character: Towards a Lutheran Virtue Ethics (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2014). Biermann teaches at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis.

(3.) J.E.S. 45 (Summer, 2010): 426-432.

(4) See, e.g., my articles: "Virtue as an Ecumenical Ethic," Ecumenical Trends 34 (February, 2005): 28-31; "Ecumenical Relationships and Dialogue Today: Insights from the Salesian Tradition," in Joseph F. Chopenning, ed., Human Encounter in the Salesian Tradition: Collected Essays Commemorating the 4th Centenary of the Initial Encounter of St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane Frances de Chantal (Rome: International Commission for Salesian Studies, 2007), pp. 409-424; "What Does God Want Us to Do? A Meditation on Discernment," Ecumenical Trends 36 (November, 2007): 145-149; "A Meditation on Humility," in Jack Figel, ed., We Are All Brothers-3: A Collection of Essays in Honor of Archbishop Vsevolod of Scopelos (Fairfax, VA: Eastern Christian Publications, 2007), pp. 181-191; and "The Holy Spirit: Ecumenical Reflections," in Seminary Ridge Review 9 (Autumn, 2006): 5-11 (an address given at the Opening Academic Convocation of Gettysburg [PA] Lutheran Seminary). These articles touch on topics that will be considered later in the present essay.

(5) For an early overview, see my What Are They Saying about Virtue? (New York: Paulist Press, 1984).

(6) Jeffrey Gros, Harding Meyer, and William G. Rusch, eds., Growth in Agreement II: Reports and Agreed Statements of Ecumenical Conversations on a World Level, 1982-1998 (Geneva: WCC Publications; Grand Rapids, MI, and Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), pp. 344-370.

(7) Ibid., pp. 900-910.

(8) Nicholas Lossky, Jose Miguez Bonino, John Pobee, Tom F. Stransky, Geoffrey Wainwright, and Pauline Webb, eds., Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2002), pp. 406-412.

(9) J.E.S., vol. 45, no. 3 (Summer, 2010).

(10) Michael Root and James J. Buckley, eds., The Morally Divided Body: Ethical Disagreement and the Disunity of the Church, The Pro Ecclesia Series (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books [Wipf & Stock], 2012).

(11) Michael Root, "Ethics in Ecumenical Dialogues: A Survey and Analysis," in ibid., pp. 115-145; also in J.E.S. 45 (Summer, 2010): 357-375

(12) Charles Sherlock, "Anglican-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Ethics and Moral Theology: An Anglican Perspective," One in Christ, vol. 46, no. 1 (2012), pp. 89-107.

(13) Ibid., p. 91.

(14) Ibid., p. 94.

(15) Ibid., p. 102.

(l6) Paul Avis, "Ethics and Communion: The New Frontier in Ecumenism," chap. 9 in his Reshaping Ecumenical Theology: The Church Made Whole? (London and New York: T&T Clark International, 2010), pp. 158-184.

(17) Ibid., p. 180.

(18) Ibid.

(19) Ibid., p. 181.

(20) Ibid.

(21) Ibid., pp. 182-183.

(22) Gros, Meyer, and Rusch, Growth in Agreement II, p. 910.

(23) See ibid., p. 902. It should be noted that the Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church indicates (no. 43) that "Our consensus in basic truths of the doctrine of justification must come to influence the life and teachings of our churches" and concludes by saying (no. 44) that "We ask the Holy Spirit to lead us further toward that visible unity which is Christ's will" (Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification of the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church [Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000]). Also see my "Prudence and the Future," p. 427.

(24) Moral Discernment in the Churches, Faith and Order Paper 215 (Geneva: World Council of Churches Publications, 2013). Available at resources/documents/commissions/faith-and-order/i-unity-the-church-and-its-mission/ moral-discernment-in-the-churches-a-study-document.

(25) Ibid., p. 2; emphases in original.

(26) Ibid., p. 3.

(27) Ibid., p. 4.

(28) Ibid., [section] 86, p. 55.

(29) "Scripture and Moral Discernment: Report on the Consultation among Representatives of Formula of Agreement Churches," January 7, 2013, p.1; available at http://oga.pcusa .org/site_media/media/uploads/oga/pdf/foa_churches_scripture_and_moral_discernment_report.pdf. The 1997 Formula of Agreement is available at http://d3n8a8pro7vhmx .pdf?1418437306.

(30) "Scripture and Moral Discernment," p. 11.

(31) Ibid., p. 12.

(31) See essays in Root and Buckley, Morally Divided Body, including Robert W. Jenson, "Can Ethical Disagreement Divide the Church?" pp. 1-11.

(33) "Scripture and Moral Discernment," p. 8.

(34) Timothy F. Sedgwick, "On Moral Teaching and the Church: Advances in Ecumenical Understanding," J.E.S. 49 (Fall, 2014): 545.

(35) See Waldo Beach and H. Richard Niebuhr, eds., Christian Ethics: Sources of Living Tradition, 2nd ed. (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1973), pp. 58-61, for citations of the Didache; and George Wolfgang Forell, History of Christian Ethics, vol. 1: From the New Testament to Augustine (Minneapolis, MN: Augsburg Press, 1979), pp. 61-74, for a discussion of the first systematic moral theology of Clement of Alexandria.

(36) For an interesting reflection related to this section, see Frederick Christian Bauerschmidt, "Doctrine: Knowing and Doing," in Root and Buckley, Morally Divided Body, pp. 40-42.

(37) Benedict M. Ashley and Kevin D. O'Rourke, Health Care Ethics: A Theological Analysis, 4th ed. (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1997), pp 137-176. The fifth edition of their work is shorter and does not deal as directly with various systems of moral thinking.

(38) See Benedict Ashley, Living the Truth in Love: A Biblical Introduction to Moral Theology (New York: Alba House, 1996).

(39) Ashley and O'Rourke, Health Care Ethics, pp. 179-180; emphasis in original.

(40) Ibid., p. 180.

(41) I note here that Catholic theology seeks to be rational. This was recently affirmed by the International Theological Commission in its statement, Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles, and Criteria, November 29, 2011; available at http://www teologia-oggi_en.html. In particular, the scholars on the International Commission affirmed the importance of reason in paragraphs 72 and 73: "72.... Theology's 'source and starting-point' is the word of God revealed in history, and theology seeks to understand that word. However, God's word is Truth (cf. Jn 17:17), and it follows that philosophy, 'the human search for truth', can help in the understanding of God's word. 73. A criterion of Catholic theology is that it should strive to give a scientifically, and rationally argued presentation of the truths of the Christian faith. For this, it needs to make use of reason and it must acknowledge the strong relationship between faith and reason, first of all philosophical reason, so as to overcome both fideism and rationalism." The text then explores the relationship between theology and theologies and between theology and other sciences.

(42) Ashley and O'Rourke, Health Care Ethics, p. 217; emphases in original.

(43) (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1993), no. 4; hereafter, VS; available at http:// veritatis-splendor.html.

(44) Available at /vat-ii_decree_19651028_optatam-totius_en.html.

(45) [Yiu Sing] Lucas Chan, Biblical Ethics in the 21st Century: Developments, Emerging Consensus, and Future Directions (New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2013), p. 1.

(46) Ibid., pp. 4-5.

(47) Joel Green, gen. ed., Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2011).

(48) Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Bible and Morality: Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008). See also Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Inspiration and Truth of Sacred Scripture: The Word that Comes from God and Speaks of God for the Salvation of the World, tr. Thomas Esposito and Stephen Gregg (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2014).

(49) Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler, eds., The Jewish Annotated New Testament (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011). See also the Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Jewish People and Their Sacred Scriptures in the Christian Bible (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2002).

(50) VS, nos. 71-83.

(51) See note 24, above.

(52) I note here that the 1700th Anniversary of the Council of Nicaea in 2025 might be a proper goal for achieving some results. Pope Francis and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew have indicated a need to commemorate this anniversary.

(53) "Decree on Ecumenism" (Unitatis redintegratio), no. 8; available at http://www.vat unitatis-redintegratio_en.html.

(54) See Walter Kasper, A Handbook of Spiritual Ecumenism (Hyde Park, NY: New City Press, 2007). A June 12,2013, summary of the JWG's Ninth Report includes the statement as Appendix B; available at sions/jwg-rcc-wcc/summary-of-the-ninth-report.

(55) What follows is based on a section of a paper, "The Decree on Ecumenism and Its Effects: Past, Present, and Future," that I gave at Seton Hall University in November, 2013.

(56) See "Moral Discernment" in my Walking in Virtue (New York and Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998), pp. 61-74; arid my "What Does God Want Us to Do? A Meditation on Discernment" (see note 4, above), for more on personal discernment.

(57) My own experience with communal discernment has been in small groups that involved discernment of leadership for the group. What I learned is that, in communal discernment, we begin by seeking a consensus of all but eventually may settle for a consensus of the large majority--with a few who do not agree. This follows the example of the early church. In my experience this consensus is 80% or more. One learns to look for the classic signs--peace and joy--in the group. If all have been included in the process and have sought the guidance of the Spirit, the people I have worked with were content, even if they did not agree on everything.

(58) Joseph D. Small, "Internal Injuries: Moral Division within the Churches," in Root and Buckley, Morally Divided Body, pp. 50-51.

(59) Blase J. Cupich, "Francis as Witness," America 209 (October 21,2013): 21. For an overview of Pope Francis's thinking, see Father Thomas Rosica, "Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations in the Mind and Heart of Pope Francis," Origins 44 (November 20,2014): 416-421.

(60) See Mauro Velati, "Willebrands at the Council: A Historical Approach," in Adelhert Denaux and Peter De Mey, eds., The Ecumenical Legacy of Johannes Cardinal Willebrands (1909-2006) (Leuven: Peeters, 2012), pp. 101-106. (61) See Wesley Granberg Michaelson, From Times Square to Timbuktu: The Post-Christian West Meets the Non-Western Church (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2013).

John W. Crossin, OSFS (Catholic), has been the Executive Director of the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs, National Conference of Catholic Bishops, since 2011. Ordained to the priesthood in 1976, he has a B.S. from DeSales University, Center Valley, PA; an M.A. in Catholic theology, an M.A. in psychology, and a Ph.D. in moral theology (1982), all from the Catholic University of America, Washington, DC. He was Executive Director of the Washington Theological Consortium, 1998-2011, and a Visiting Fellow at the Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, 1997-98. He was academic dean (1986-87) and president (1987-97) of DeSales School of Theology. He has taught D. Min. courses at Wesley Theological Seminary (Washington, DC) and Master's-level theology at the Catholic University of America, Virginia Theological Seminary (Alexandria), Gettysburg (PA) Lutheran Theological Seminary, and DeSales School of Theology. Paulist Press has published his Everyday Virtues (2002), Walking in Virtue: Moral Decisions and Spiritual Growth in Daily Life (1998), Friendship: The Key to Spiritual Growth (1997), and What Are They Saying about Virtue? (1985). His articles on ecumenism, interreligious dialogue, ethics, pastoral theology, Salesian studies, and science and religion have appeared as book chapters, in online forums, and in several journals, including J.E.S., as have his reviews. He delivered the 2010 Campbell Lectures for the Lehigh Valley (PA) Conference of Churches and has been an occasional columnist for Catholic News Service. A past president of the Thomas More Society of Washington and of the North American Academy of Ecumenists, he has represented the Archdiocese of Washington for several years on the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. As an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales, he has served as Superior of communities, Provincial Council member, Assistant General Treasurer of the Congregation, and member of the Province Planning Committee, as well as engaging in a wide variety of pastoral ministries, as a Spiritual Director, retreat leader, and Parochial Vicar. He received the Consortium Service Award from the Washington Theological Consortium and the InterFaith Bridge Builders Award of the InterFaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington.
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