A Look at Catholic Higher Education and the Future of Moral Theology (Part 2)

Interview With Monsignor Livio Melina of the Lateran University

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota, MARCH 19, 2004 (Zenit.org).- The Church’s moral theology must focus on the integral liberation of the human person, not just on norms, in order to respond to the crisis of modernity.

So says Monsignor Livio Melina, vice president and professor of moral theology at the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at the Lateran University in Rome.

Here, Monsignor Melina dealt with how John Paul II has shown the direction that a renewal of moral theology should take. Part 1 of this interview with ZENIT appeared Thursday.

Q: What is the greatest challenge facing moral theology today?

Monsignor Melina: During a big congress in Rome last November, Cardinal Ratzinger said that the most important task of moral theology in the present time is not to present an organic set of moral norms but above all to deepen the mystery of the synergy between divine and human action.

Human action is a deep and real mystery in which God and man cooperate toward our final destiny of the divinization of the human person; this is the goal of our lives.

I think it is very important to understand the reason for the Church’s interest in morality. The Church is not the guardian or servant of moral norms. She is above all the community in which the integral Christian experience can be the renewal of human life.

The interest of the Church in morality is an interest in the integral liberation of the human person. If we doubt that moral action is coherent with the faith, we are losing the meaning of our daily lives, our daily tasks.

I think the main concept of moral theology is to reappropriate the mystery of action. I think that the crisis of the last decades is rooted precisely in the loss of this mystery.

When you look at human action only in a utilitarian way, you see human action primarily as an event that happens in the world and only that can change the state of affairs in the world.

You are tempted to measure the value of human action only by weighing and calculating the proportion between the good and the evil that can derive from human action. Or, you are tempted only to measure human action in a very exterior way with moral norms.

Obviously such norms are important and necessary to human life — they are a help to us to verify our relationship to Christ. But they are not the main issue of Catholic moral theology.

Catholic moral theology, in order to be faithful to the task it has in the life of the Church, must consider a much more broader context of reflection.

When the encyclical «Veritatis Splendor» spoke about the crisis of morals, it outlined two main features. The first is the separation between the freedom and truth, and, second, the separation between faith and morality. The encyclical put its finger right on this crisis.

When freedom is without reference to truth, freedom is only an arbitrary power over the world, not in agreement with our profound vocation.

When morality is not rooted in the faith, faith becomes something not useful for the world, and morals become some external commitment without the proper roots that can nourish the life of the Christian.

Q: What has been John Paul II’s most important contribution to moral theology?

Monsignor Melina: On the one hand, we can say that his main contribution is to always put the original human experience in relationship with Revelation. This happens in order to establish the kind of correspondence by which Revelation can be understood in a specifically human way, and human experience can achieve its ultimate illumination, its ultimate meaning.

The second field of contribution is the wonderful body of catechesis in the Wednesday audiences, in which the Holy Father proposed the theology of the body in a very original and new way. It is a real root for Catholic sexual moral theology.

After these, there’s his contribution of «Veritatis Splendor» in the field of fundamental moral theology. The Holy Father not only answers some big problems of moral theology today, but also shows moral theologians the direction for a renewal of moral theology.

I think that the main contribution the Holy Father makes to the understanding of Christian human action is to have shown, first of all, the personalistic context of human action.

That means that human action is action between persons and action in which the person constructs himself or herself [while] acting. It’s the personalistic concept of action. Secondly, Pope John Paul II gives us the theological context of Christian action. Christian action is to share in the action of Christ.

The Holy Father also has made a major contribution in the field of the social teaching of the Church, which is also part of moral theology.

When the Holy Father speaks about the personalistic meaning of work, when he speaks so profoundly about topics of peace and justice in the world, he makes very precious and very pertinent contributions to understanding the context in which we live.

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