Darlene Fozard WEAVER. The Acting Person and Christian Moral Life. Moral Traditions Series. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2011. pp. x+215. $32.95 pb. ISBN 9781589017726 (1589017722); eBook ISBN 9781589017870.
Reviewed by James T. BRETZKE, S.J., Boston College School of Theology & Ministry, Chestnut Hill, MA 02467

“Corrective Vision” would be a helpful subtitle to this book since we are not so much given a synthetic account of the acting person in reference to living a Christian moral life as we are furnished with some quite helpful reflections and critiques of the work of a number of post-Vatican II moral theologians, mostly from the “Revisionist School” (Curran, Farley, Keenan, McCormick et al.) though Weaver also touches more briefly on “New Natural Law” theory of Grisez and Finnis. Weaver does not take sides or pit one school against the other, but in an irenic fashion lifts up deficiencies and anomalies wherever she finds them. For her corrective lenses for the weaknesses she discerns Weaver draws a fair amount on Karl Barth and some contemporary authors such as Hauerwas and Pinches who clearly are influenced by the Barthian tradition, yet Weaver herself could not be pinned down to any particular school. It is this theological independence that is both refreshing and a particular value of the work.

Her first chapter is given over to a summary of the development of moral theology as influenced by auricular confession which led to an overemphasis on moral actions which ultimately in turn led to a de-emphasis of the significance of those actions by Protestant ethicians and post-Vatican II Catholic moral theologians. Chapter Two looks at recent theologies of sin which she critiques for paying insufficient attention to personal sins which in turn leads to an impoverished theology of sin itself. Chapter Three centers on intimacy with God as the key dynamic in the human moral life and cautions against a prevailing misguided pastoral sensitivity that doesn’t hold individuals sufficiently accountable for their actions. This chapter also gives an extended treatment of fundamental option theory and while acknowledging many of the core insights of the theory Weaver critiques both its proponents and critics for talking past one another on key elements she feels are insufficiently grasped. Chapter Four aims to tie together the discussion in the preceding chapters by proposing fidelity to God as the core dynamic in moral action. However, as was the case in the previous chapters, Weaver spends more of her time critiquing the work of recent theologians and less emphasis on building a synthesis that would articulate in detail her own counter-position. The fifth chapter, “Truthfulness Before God and Naming Moral Actions,” though is more synthetic and Weaver concludes “naming moral actions is itself a moral practice” which “needs to reflect how they do or do not correspond with the reality of the world under God, including the reality of our created nature, corrupted by sin and redeemed in Christ” (p. 157). While it would be hard to disagree with this position, unfortunately the chapter doesn’t include enough concrete detail in how we might move beyond the partial vision and levels of self and social deception which mark our moral epistemology as it seems to this reader that sin is more polyvalent and mysterious than she allows.

The last chapter is the strongest and builds on Weaver’s earlier articles on sin and reconciliation. As with previous chapters she begins by noting deficiencies in much of the current moral theology, and here laments that much of the recent work on “forgiveness” centers on the therapeutic dimension, highlighting especially the benefits the victim receives is s/he can forgive the offender. Weaver also notes briefly some of the questions a philosophical treatment of forgiveness raises before she turns to her central concern, namely how forgiveness and reconciliation impact our moral identity and the ultimate meaning of our actions. In probing these questions she considers divine forgiveness, interpersonal forgiveness and group forgiveness. She gives a very good reflection on the 2006 Nickel Mines Amish community’s ability to forgive the family of the gunman who terrorized and murdered a number of their school girls.

For an overall assessment the book is not entirely successful in presenting a synthetic exposition of moral agents and moral actions, but does give some quite helpful and genuinely insightful reflections on some of the lacunae and deficiencies of a number of contemporary approaches which hopefully will move the entire project of moral reflection forward. The book probably would not function well in undergraduate courses, and likewise would not serve especially well as a chief text in a graduate or seminary course in fundamental moral theology, but could be helpful in more specialized courses, and certainly professional moral theologians will benefit from a careful reading of the text.


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