Sunday, July 05, 2009

Dr. Therrien

Hey, this is Jeff and I’m gonna try to use this off-shift to let everyone know a little bit about one of my favorite parts of the MOEs training week. As a future Dominican, I like books. A lot. That explains the soft, girlish hands and the frequently blistering feet. It also explains why I really loved Professor Therrien’s Q&A session with us on Thursday afternoon. Professor Therrien is a young and dynamic professor of Moral Theology at St. Vincent’s College, and he offered to sit down with us for a couple hours to talk and answer questions.
The Q&A format was substantially different from our other talks, which tended to be of the lecture/conference variety (those aren’t bad things). What this meant was that – after the obligatory slow and awkward start where no one wants to raise their hand and ask a question – we had a great conversation on the topics and issues on the minds of the individual Missionaries. The result was a discussion ranging from topics as diverse as material versus formal culpability, the importance of the virtues in the moral life, and the role of JPII’s Theology of the Body in the greater context of the Church’s teaching on both sexual ethics and the ethical life of the person.
Clearly, there’s no way I can cover, even in summary form, all of this in a between-shifts-blog. So instead, I’m gonna embrace my bias and just talk about what interested me the most: his critical account of Catholic moral theology over the course of the last couple hundred years. According to Dr. Therrien – and I think he’s right – a dangerous deontological trend in moral theology began in the 1300’s and picked up steam especially in the moral philosophy of Kant. What’s more, Dr. Therrien diagnosed a tendency in contemporary moral theology towards either of two opposing errors. On the one hand (and more closely aligned with the deontological perspective previously mentioned) there was a tendency towards case studying and the individual instances of moral dilemma. This was the error of casuistry. On the other hand, and reacting to this, we find many contemporary moral theologians – even in the Catholic sphere – turning from studying “cases” to studying “issues.” While “issues” like stem cell research, euthanasia, etc. are wildly important, Dr. Therrien contended that the reduction of moral theology to either the study of individual cases or the study of certain types of issues will miss out on the most significant part of the moral life: the flourishing of the virtues and the true vitality of the soul.
So, our august and fearless leader, Scott, asked the obvious question: How do we focus on this, and who (if anyone) in the sphere of Catholic moral theology is doing this work? In answering the first question, Professor Therrien said a lot of beautiful things about the virtues and the well-ordered soul that I don’t have time to write about. But I can’t end this entry without giving a little bit of a Dominican shout-out. The first two moral theologians recommended to Scott were both Friars Preachers: Servais Pinkairs (probably spelled wrong, but I’m on the side of the road without internet and it’s a European name, so get off me . . . ) and Romanus Cessario, the latter of whom is a friar in the Eastern Province. So fear not, the Dominicans (and Dr. Therrien) are coming to the rescue, the danger of deontological ethics is being combated, and the good side of casuistic case-studies and issue-focused moral work is being restored to its proper place as ultimately grounded in a theological anthropology of virtue. Yay!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

So it was brought to my attention that "deontological" is, apparently, not in common parlance. Get off me, Mike Dickie.

But seriously, for those who actually care about what I was saying, "deontological" basically means "duty-based," so a deontological trend in ethics would be a way of doing ethics that focuses more on a sort of external rule that you have a duty to obey, as opposed to looking at virtue (Platonic/Aristotelian ethics) which is an internal principle.

When you focus on external rules, there is often a decreased respect for the dignity of the human person, who is viewed - morally - as on object that should be configured to a set of rules. The virtue based ethic will help affirm the dignity of the human person by making ethics focus on things that make the individual flourish as a person (virtue).

Peace out.

Who we are?

Every summer we, the Missionaries of the Eucharist, are walking from Lewiston, Maine to Washington, DC to proclaim the beauty of the Catholic faith to everyone we meet, specifically through the Theology of the Body.

Conversion begins in our own hearts,which is why prayer is so important to our ministry. For this reason, everyday of our ten week walk begins with daily Mass. By receiving Christ in the Eucharist, we are given the grace to be the Love of Christ not only to those in our community but also to those we meet in the streets.

We walk throughout the day to be a witness of love. We are grounded in prayer-we pray with our lips, our hearts, and our bodies. In walking an average of twenty-five miles per day, we offer our fatigue as a gift of love to Christ and the people we meet. Our walking is both sacrifice and prayer.