James T. BRETZKE, Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2013, pp 260. $24.95 pb. ISBN-978-1626160033. Reviewed by Robert MARKO, Aquinas College, Grand Rapids, MI 49506
Boston College moral theologian James Bretzke provides an up to date guide to 800 plus items in his The Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms. Arranged alphabetically, Bretzke cross references by bolding other terms and includes many bibliographical suggestions under "For further Reading" for the terms, documents, teaching and individuals cited. Very accessible to a broad and scholarly audience, this short 260 page gem places terms within historical context clarifying confusing terms without dismissing the complexity of the issues.
The first paragraph of the Preface presents Bretzke's intent − "a quick reference and starting point for further investigation of many of the key concepts and topics in both fundamental and applied Christian ethics in the Catholic moral tradition." At the same time, Bretzke places that tradition in an ecumenical context with his citing of important Protestant ethicists such as James Gustafson and Stanley Hauerwas. His entries are clearly up to date, including one on Pope Francis; however, traditional terminology is sprinkled throughout such as numerous Latin phrases and the use of "living in sin" to describe what many today call co-habitation. He does all this without sacrificing historical figures such as the medieval Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham, the early modern Francisco Suarez, or a number of the "manualists" and "revisionists" of the twentieth century. Entries that may be new to even those familiar with the discipline are included such as Minjung liberation theology of Korea or Spanish Jesuit ethicist Marcelino Zalba.
The abbreviation section is a great help for the non-expert. Not only are the Latin and English initials for ecclesial documents and classical sources specified, such as CV for Caritas in Veritate or DS for Denzinger etc., but terms unknown to some in theoretical or applied ethics are cited such as AID for artificial insemination by donor. The latter term is then cited and cross referenced.
Given Bretzke's penchant for clarity and his well received previous handbook on ecclesiastical Latin, one may rightly expect such a marvelous organized user friendly work. I have a few minor quibbles. While Bretzke includes a rather lengthy section on WWJD (What would Jesus do?), I would appreciate more attention to the relationship between spirituality and moral theology. On grace, one finds, as he notes in the preface, no special entry. Instead, the author cross references Dietrich Bonheoffer and tells us in State of Grace and state of sin to see fundamental option theory and sin items. Traditional terms such as created and uncreated as well as actual and sanctifying grace are important to understand moral life. I recognize the limits of any handbook, particularly one that focuses on moral terms, but I think Eastern Christian contributions would help in this lack. Protestant Gustafson is cited but Armenian ethicist Guroian is not.
While he generally had to sacrifice depth and even breadth in the applied areas of sexual ethics, Bretzke treats Humanae Vitae in pp. 111 to 116, his most serious analysis highlighting the distinctions between negative and positive duties. While given his treatment of Natural Family Planning, some might argue that Bretzke is pushing the tradition in a "liberal" direction; I find his treatment in sexual ethics to be quite fair whatever his bias. For example, on "masturbation," he cites for further reading, not just Curran and McCormick but Joseph Boyle, Ron Lawler and William May. This willingness to engage differing theological perspectives while outlining official teaching is a plus.Bretzke concludes with a short Selected Bibliography including other handbooks and encyclopedias. For students of moral theology, I would suggest one look no further than this handbook. The author is fair and does not allow his own perspective or “pushing the envelope” to get in the way of how the Roman Catholic moral tradition has been articulated. The Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms is indispensable in any library reference section and highly recommended for anyone interested in this ethical tradition