Jan 25, 2005

John Paul II and Moral Theology


Why is the Pope so hard on  "teleological", "consequentialist" and "proportionalist" ethical theories?        

    John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor places emphasis on the good rooted in a divine, or eternal law.  In saying this he is advocating a moral system based on the principles of Natural Law Theory, even though in the encyclical he states that the Church does not support a particular theological or philosophical system, it is precisely natural law that he advocates in this encyclical.  The Pope doesn’t like the systems he calls “teleologismand “proportionalism”.  About Teleologism and Proportionalism, he says, “Such theories however are not faithful to the Church's teaching, when they believe they can justify, as morally good, deliberate choices of kinds of behavior contrary to the commandments of the divine and natural law.”  So, again, it seems John Paul II doesn’t like it when a moral system does not place commandment over love, for example, or personal responsibility.  It makes sense that he would argue in this manner, considering the Gospel passage he chose to set the stage for this encyclical, the story of the rich young man, which he uses to set up the standard for moral norms.  The Pope wants to place certain ethical norms in place, based on a ethics of divine commandment.  The Pope is trying to work out a system that claims certain actions are evil, because their objects, in of themselves are evil.  He claims that the so called proportionalist and teleological systems do not claim the “object” of an act -- such as contraception -- as evil in of itself, but instead attempt to examine the intention or circumstances of the act, invariably “letting people off the hook”.  For the Pope, an evil act is evil, regardless of the circumstances or intentions.   For example, contraception is evil, because the object of preventing life to form in a woman’s womb artificially is always an intrinsically evil act -- even though in Humane Vitae, Paul VI tried very hard to steer clear from such wording, the Pope seems to have no qualms in doing so.       
    It seems to me that instead of point blank condemning these moral systems the right thing to do would be able to form some kind of compromise between the two, or to discover a moral theologian that seems to be able to form a really good systems based on something rather than the  object in of itself and still remain true to Catholic teaching.  I myself do not consider myself a proponent of Natural Law.  I am too Platonic, too much of a Romantic, to get into the Aristotelian flavored ethics of Thomas.  Although, it seems to me the Pope should be more like Thomas in attempting to incorporate “pagan” ideas into Christian thought.  Maybe there is something good out there that we really have not integrated well into our Catholic moral teaching.  If Thomas could do what he did with Aristotle, why can’t we do the same with Existentialism -- or even Phenomenology.  The Pope is a Phenomenologist, I understand, but this encyclical does not seem to be written in a phenomenological vein, instead it is much more steeped in the language of law and norms, especially in regards to sexual ethics.  Wouldn’t it be okay to sanction certain objectively evil acts?  Doesn’t the church in a way use proportionalism when it attempts to justify War?  I may be wrong, but it seems that the Pope is unyielding when it comes to matters of sexual ethics, when in fact, the Parable of the rich young man is more about wealth.  There seems to be a trend in moral theology that condemns without reserve evil acts such as abortion, but allows wiggle room for War and deportation, for example.  Again, I believe we should be able to reach a compromise.

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