Reviewed by Ken HOMAN , Theology Department, Quincy University, QUINCY, IL 62301
This is a text that lives up to its purpose: to develop Curran's "personal synthesis of moral theology," treating moral theology in a systematic way, in accord with the Catholic tradition (xi). This text represents an even-handed synthesis of the state of the Catholic moral tradition. This book amplifies Curran's thought within the historical developments of the Catholic moral tradition. Part of this accomplishment is due to how Curran defines the terms of the conversation.
There are four strengths to this text. First, it demonstrates the power of context. Second, it represents historical consciousness. Third, it is theologically rich. Fourth, Curran is truly catholic, putting his position and the Catholic tradition into conversations with the Protestant traditions.
Curran locates his analysis within the ecclesial context of the Roman Catholic tradition. This contextual situating exhibits Curran's recognition that church sets the tone and direction for moral theology, and it places Curran himself within this context. Curran correctly demonstrates how the history of the Catholic moral tradition has experienced a gap between ecclesiology and moral theology. The locating of ecclesial context in history strengthens Curran' synthesis, allowing Curran to delineate his understanding of the Roman Catholic church as communal, inclusive, mediating of sacramentality, and hierarchical.
Curran moves from ecclesial context to "stance," which is the "the logical first step in moral theology: it gives us a perspective on reality and is a critical source for further steps," (p. 30). This book represents Curran's stance within the historical development of an ecclesial Catholic context. Stance involves the Christian mysteries of creation, sin, incarnation, redemption, and resurrection understood within ecclesial context in history. Stance correlatively changes with historical changes in ecclesial context. This insight allows Curran to explore developments in the task of moral theology, authority in the church, natural law, and operative models of moral theology.
Drawing together the communal dynamic of ecclesial context, Trinitarian theology, a theology of grace and H. Richard Niebuhr, Curran arrives at his hallmark relationality-responsibility model of moral theology. Persons live in the midst of multiple relationships with God, neighbor, world and self for which they, reflecting the activity and being of the Trinity, are to initiate and enhance active relationality for which they are responsible. The human person, created in the image of God, is relational; persons are called to be relational as God is relational. The virtues facilitate the growth of the human person in this relationality-responsibility context. The manifestation of this relationality-responsibility for the Catholic Christian is discipleship. It is here that Curran offers balance to the conversation between self agency and objective authority. Along this avenue Curran delivers a fine critique of manualist moral theology and its failure to address adequately ecclesiology, Trinity, social ethics, personal agency, and conscience.
The heart of Curran's stance is dialogue with a stance represented by Pope John Paul II and the Vatican. Curran's analysis of ecclesial context with the tool of historical development strives to demonstrate that the Vatican has changed its stance. Curran's inference is that, if the Vatican has changed its stance on particular moral issues and on approaches to moral theology, the Vatican and the papacy, being true to their history and ecclesial context, could (should) change. Curran displays how various popes approached moral questions with differing stances, arriving at different outcomes, particularly using Aquinas and natural law. One gains a particular appreciation for the complexity of context, history, and ecclesial and papal identity. Of note is his appraisal of the recent historical arrival of papal authority as moral arbiter.
The text concludes with examination of the church's teaching office, authority, conscience and dissent. Curran concludes that hierarchical magisterial authority "is much less significant and important than the role of all God's people in the total moral formation of the community and its members," (p. 228).
This is, in sum, a rich, erudite, provocative book written by one who cares for the Catholic church and its moral tradition. Highly recommended.