R. Kevin SEASOLTZ. A Virtuous Church: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Liturgy for the 21st Century. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2012. 249 pages. $38.00 pb. ISBN 978-1-57075-973-4.
Reviewed by Robert P. RUSSO, Lourdes University, Sylvania, OH 43560

R. Kevin Seasoltz, professor emeritus of Liturgy at St. John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota, has previously published works dedicated to the theological foundations discovered in Christian architecture and art, and the gifts of God given through Christ and the Holy Spirit. His latest publication is extremely well-researched, wherein he seeks to provide a blueprint for the reclamation of virtues and ethics for the Church of the twenty-first century, being “primarily concerned with some of the implications that contemporary understandings of the workings of the world have for cultural sensibilities, especially for the Christian churches, and in particular for the Roman Catholic Church” (p. 1). Although he primarily focuses upon morality and its implications for ecclesiology and the Liturgy, there is much of merit to be uncovered here.

Seasoltz begins his thesis with a review of anthropology, as seen through the lens of primal, African American, Hispanic, Asian, classical, modern and postmodern cultures, before looking at the negative affects that globalization and migration have had upon the universal Church. He then returns to the days of antiquity, viewing the morality found in both the Old and New Testaments. Seasoltz also gives the reader the historical development of Moral Theology, from the Patristic era to postmodern times, effectively encompassing the voices of Augustine, John Chrysostom, Peter Lombard, and culminating with Bernard Häring. However, in presenting an historical survey of morality Seasoltz cautions against restorationism, which he rightfully sees as “an undefined but powerful movement within the church that seeks an uncritical reaffirmation and restoration of pre-Vatican II structures and attitudes in reaction to the theological and cultural upheavals resulting from the changes effected by Vatican II and in the postmodern world at large” (p. 32).

It should also be noted that Seasoltz all too briefly touches upon a topic which is in need of further examination. In his survey of the history of moral theology, he speaks of the moral theologians who were condemned prior to the Second Vatican Council. These theologians were ultimately asked to impart their wisdom for the various conciliar documents, but were later brought into conflict with the Church after Pope Paul VI issued his papal encyclical, Humane vitae. Although this is not a criticism of Seasoltz, per se, it is an issue that has continued to have an impact upon the Church in the postmodern era. However, an author of Seasoltz’s caliber would be most effective in examining the factors and forces behind this era in history.

In the chapter entitled “A Virtuous Church,” Seasoltz examines models of virtue ethics which could be applied on the parish, diocesan, episcopal, and Universal levels, further advocating that virtue ethics should be “simply concerned with the morally desirable virtues that will aid a person to live a morally good life and will facilitate the proper decisions that are appropriate to a good moral life” (p. 113). Seasoltz is most effective when discussing the parish model of virtue ethics, wherein he sees a necessity for the virtue of hospitality, claiming that it “enables people of every race, nationality, and background to feel welcome…When they are not received graciously, they may become alienated and cease to maintain any interest in the church” (p. 139).

The chapter entitled “A Virtuous Liturgy and Sacramental Practice” is particularly challenging, in that Seasoltz asks us to look at the sacraments not just through the power of their individual gifts, but through their communal power, citing that in baptism “the relationships that [are] created…must be marked by justice, by the virtue that acknowledges our basic interdependence and empowers us to give to others what is their due” (p. 173). He further advocates that the relationships arising from the sacrament of baptism should be nourished by the virtue of fidelity, which is ingrained in the virtue of self-esteem, wherein “one accepts oneself as a mysterious combination of strengths and weaknesses” (p. 173). It is within this tension, between the virtues of justice (an external manifestation) and self-esteem (an internal manifestation), where humanity realizes that God’s love is meant to transcend from the individual to the community.

Seasoltz’s latest publication is highly recommended—in fact it is one of the finest books I have encountered in recent years, especially noted for its wisdom and direct writing style. This work would be more than appropriate as a primary or secondary source for a graduate syllabus dealing with Ethics or Moral Theology. It is well-researched and sourced, providing an extensive reference list for further study, and deeper reflection.


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