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January 2, 2014

Catholic Morality, Part 2

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Written by: Duane Covrig
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started this series sharing stories about some Catholics I knew. They are some of the most moral people  around. They taught me a lot about sacrificial loving service. I trust them deeply and I believe they put my good even above their own good. They have shown me Christ.

Today, I look at some of the moral teachings of Catholics that may help to explain some of this good Catholic moral behavior. I list the top moral theological views that Catholics promote that I value as a foundation for doing Christian ethics. Also, I discuss some moral practices that Catholics consistently promote that I believe keeps alive a Christian moral witness in the world.

Basically, Catholics bring into moral discourse a focus on the Trinity, respect for human dignity, emphasis on natural and divine law, a willingness to call immoral behavior and attitudes as sin, and a willingness to elevate the importance of marriage, procreation and parenting. They continue to champion these perspectives and beliefs. I have argued these beliefs put into practice make for healthier and happier human living. In a secular world dominated by selfish impulses, lack of purity and sobriety, atheistic ideas, materialism and sex in almost every outlet of media, the Catholics have often been like a voice crying in the wilderness pointing people to a relationship with God. I find it hard to reject Catholic morality cart blanch given their role as a sane moral voice against the landslide of moral degradation that is making American look more like Sodom and Gomorrah.

The unity of the Trinity gives us hope for unity of humans.

Trinity.  In a world of secular strategies of success, material guided decisions, and cost-benefit analysis approaches to ethics, Catholics have a simple approach. They keep reminding us love in and between the three persons of the Trinity is the basis of all life. morality and purpose. They ground moral meaning in the Love of God. They have stood their ground in emphasizing that God is three in one for generations, even when at times, some Protestant groups lost a vision of this important doctrine. A three in one concept of God is basic to Christianity and it rightful gives authority and generative power for live and love in all members of the Trinity. The love between God the father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, creates and sustains the universe, both the physical and the moral parts of it.  Most modern people laugh at such an “other worldly” focus on God, but as a fellow believer in God, I welcome the Catholic emphasis on the Trinity.  The trinity is a justifiable and clear teaching that shows up in a hundred passages from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.

This teaching brings morality back to relationships and grounds ethics as a relational dynamic by grounding it in the Primary relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. John 15-17, from the last book written in the New Testament, we see the centrality of this teaching to early Christianity.

There is also another aspect of the Trinity teaching that creates a deeper morality.  If God as three-in-one can be loving and just and work together in love, then it should be deeply reassuring for humans that at the core of the universe there is a moral force and power of choice for good.

As we experience more and more fractured, disjointed and even chaotic experiences as humans, this reality of unity in the Three, offers yet a vivid reminder of the unity that can be found in all relationships. In other words, the unity of the Trinity gives us hope for unity of humans. It was the vision Jesus had for His church (John 15-17).

[Catholics] focus our attention on our royal heritage in God and call us to protect that belief in our actions to protect life.

Human life has dignity. If one respects the Trinity and believes the Bible’s report of the Trinity, then respect for human life is the natural outgrowth because, as Scripture notes, we are made in God’s image (Genesis 2). The Catholics have constantly talked about, stressed and campaigned for respect and preservation of human life and dignity. This is mostly done out of respect for God creation but it is a simple outgrowth of their concept of the Trinity.

This respect for human dignity shows up in debates on abortion and capital punishment and labor rights. Haidt in his book on The Righteous Mind, notes how good religions in general have been very effective at talking about the Sanctity of Life (Purity) and I believe the Catholics have led the way in this. They focus our attention on our royal heritage in God and call us to protect that belief in our actions to protect life. We are the Children of God. That is an amazingly powerful realization that gives us authority that allows us to be masters of our work, not dumb beasts and animals driven only by our passions. (Later I question why Catholics make so many images when the only image made like God was us.)

Universal law. God’s covenantal laws and the natural laws are given for us to engender moral living. Catholics say a lot about God’s revealed law—the ten commandments, the law of love, the law of service. They also are good at grounding much of their focus on natural laws, laws that govern physical and social relationships that give us universal places to find common moral ground.  They believe in a moral order organized around these laws. This can be very inspiring as it pushes us past human laws and customs to laws basic to God’s creation of humans.

When we . . . break the familial relationship with our God, we are actually doing violence to our true selves who are made in God’s image and made for a relationship with God.

Calling it Sin. Calling moral violations SIN is what the Catholics have been good at for millennia. With the abundant detail of laws also comes the potential for being very detailed about sin…and the Catholics are. They have a willingness to label moral failures as sin that is in keeping with their view of trinity and law. They call violations of a harmony with the relationship with the Trinity and with the laws sin. By calling moral failings sin they uphold the scriptures’ attempt to set sin as a willful choice and a violation of our relationship to God. It is also a violation of human dignity and human freedom.

“Sin has something to do with a personal, binding relationship with God. This relationship or covenant with God that is broken or transgressed is not so much a legal one but rather one modeled more after a family relationship that has been ruptured. When we hit the target, stay on the right road, remain in right relationships, we flourish as human beings and become the type of people we are meant to be. When we miss the target, go off the road, and break the familial relationship with our God, we are actually doing violence to our true selves who are made in God’s image and made for a relationship with God. We are made for the giving and receiving of love.” P. 87, 88 – Essential Handbook (see below) “Sin is recognized for what it is, an empty promise, an illusion, a misuse or betrayal of freedom in the vain attempt to be free of God, to be like God.” P. 89

We are left “isolated from the relationships that once sustained,” not only with God and with others but with ourselves. (This is also a fixation with some Catholics as they slice and dice the law with categories of mortal and venial, material and formal, social and more thinking sins, and commissions and omissions. Maybe a bit much as we hope to show in the next post.)

Hierarchy and Authority Catholics (like Adventists) like hierarchy, order, tradition, and the liberal West often overlooks the need for authority and structured hierarchy in modern ethical discourse. While I will criticize this penchant of Catholics in the next post, here I commend it as a reminder that God built into the human system fathers and mothers who have authority to guide and nurture children and that this human experience can be extended to church and human hierarchy. Haidt in his book on The Righteous Mind notes how Eastern cultures have a stronger appreciation for this. They have an understandable healthy skepticism for the West’s disregard for communal expectations and tradition.  (Haidt argues that Conservatives understand the moral power of Sanctity of Life (Purity) and Authority (hierarchy) and Loyalty (faithfulness to a group) (three of his six values) and the Catholics tend to be strong in the moral theology of these.)

(See my posts that review Haidt and women’s ordination and Haidt and the Sabbath or Haidt and Moral Progress)

Admirable Practices. The above moral theological ideas may also help explain what I consider five top Catholic moral exemplary practices that inspire the rest of the Christian world.

Where there are poor and needy, Catholics are nearby.

1. Frontier builders for Christ. Growing up in California, you can’t help but notice Catholic missions. The Catholics have been missionaries to thousands of places over the last millennium. They have helped to create awareness for Christ in many places. They helped tame the Wild Wild West and created centers for trade, education and early worship. Even when I moved to what are arguably the most Adventist places on the globe, Loma Linda University and Andrews University, Catholics had been there a hundred or more years earlier settling. They had helped settled Redlands and San Bernardino to create centers of peace, education and trade. I was surprised while walking through a small part in Berrien Springs, that a monument there attests the Catholics had been there a hundred years earlier with a mission. Missionaries desired to share the Christian kingdom with the world. That is an admirable process.

2. Where there are poor and needy, Catholics are nearby, helping with soup kitchens, job training, clinics and getting involved with relieving human suffering. They have shown a willingness to be among, with and alongside the outcast, poor, lepers, and sick. Mother Theresa and Father Damien have become household names of those who have served others with this sacrificial grace.

3. Sexuality, Purity, and Marriage and Parenting Promotion: Catholics take stands against same-sex marriage and for parenting. This Pro-Marriage approach is helpful in a world that seems to be slowly by-passing life commitments for more temporary arrangements and consider divorce as an easy way out of a stressful relationships. They have worked against rash marriages, sexual promiscuity, and promoted the joys and responsibilities of longterm commitment, parenting and the need for caring for the helpless family members that can be aging or newly born.

4. Education focused. Like Adventists, Catholics are into starting and running schools. This pro-education approach is related to their respect for the dignity of humans, and their desire to raise them back into the honor they have in God. As the image of God, humans deserve respect. Respect for the Trinity breeds respect for humans made in the image of that Trinity.

5. They foster strong communities around their churches that creates a social network that reinforces good behavior. Co

Conclusion Way to Go Catholics. Thanks for championing these moral teachings and practices.

Coming to believe in the Trinity and that God is Love has become for me the most liberating, life-affirming, and joyous foundation from which to build a personal ethic.

Catholics correctly remind us of the Trinity that is love, live love and promote love. This supernatural viewpoint is often hidden from the thinking of those who don’t believe in life beyond what they see. This “behind the scenes reality” is losing grown in modern times as believe in God seems naive and archaic.

However, I find belief about the Trinity to be the most compelling foundation for Christian morality. Seeing the Ruler of the Universe as Three in One, and then to see these Top Leaders as our Chief Servants in Love to the Universe, creates a moral image far better than the Greeks and other world religions.

I can not say enough about this grounding of doctrine for Christian morality. Establishing morality on such a core belief, the Love of the Trinity, safeguards morality from being based on minute doctrinal points or on the frailty of national values or images or even on the created world. It suggests a more noble source of moral foundational thinking. Coming to believe in the Trinity and that God is Love has become for me the most liberating, life-affirming, and joyous foundation from which to build a personal ethic. God is good. God is love. God is at work and because I am made in His image His love can be at work in me.

Wow. This gives deep hope for my own struggles and courage against the evil that wants to sabotage my world. “Though the world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, God has willed His truth to triumph through us.” The reasons, the Love in the Trinity is given to humans and we, made in His image, can participate in that divine nature by being connected to God. Good, morality, and sanctification is possible because the Trinity of Love is engaged in helping humans.

I believe that those who abide in God’s will grow and in God’s love will demonstrate God’s love in their life. By reading and meditating on God’s word, they will be changed. Thus the engine for moral development is best summed up as staying connected to the Trinity as the source of engendering love. Love begets love and His love grows our love and such love dispels evil like light dispelled darkness.

Because there is no shadow of turning, no evil musings, no evil desires, and no selfish action on the part of the loving Trinity, then we know all will eventually be well in the universe. God, in love, is working out His divine will, which is and always will be a life-giving and come to perfection.

By beholding we are transformed. We are renewed in the inner man and our actions and attitudes show it.

Those who chose to believe this truth have a driving vision, a moral reference point, a guiding hope that generates new moral creativity and a better moral discipline than legalism or anger can ever create. Accepting the revelation of God’s love in the teaching of the Trinity is to tap into the ultimate source of morality.

As John 15-17 clearly states, love from the father shines into our hearts and works out toward others. For those struggling with sinful tendencies, behaviors, attitudes, distorted relationships, selfish ambitions, greed, and fear that simple truth that “God is love” is the hope that place human moral effort—wisdom, self-discipline, might, and power—were it can only do the good it was intended to do, as an outgrowth of Gods’ love.

This makes love a gift and as such morality a gift of God that he grows in those who have a relationship with Him. “He who began a good work in you will perfect until the day of Christ.” By beholding we are transformed. We are renewed in the inner man and our actions and attitudes show it.

I want to thank my Catholic brothers and sisters who have kept alive this core truth in their teaching of the love of the trinity for millennia. Thanks. It has given me deep reassurance that all will go well, in the end, because in the end God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit always work from love.

And for those who can’t handle such syrupy mystical reality as God is Three-in-One and God is Love, there is the Catholic contribution of natural law ethics. They have developed a finely tuned system of morality based on the natural processes that seem to govern natural and social phenomena.

Thanks, Catholics, for this strong moral contribution to Christian ethics.

Next time, I will have to talk about some of the not so nice stuff. I love Catholics, but there are some concerns I have about their moral teachings and practices and will bring that in the next blog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I started this series sharing stories about Catholics I knew who are some of the most moral people I know. They taught me a lot about sacrificial loving service. I trust them deeply and I believe they put my good even above their own good. They have shown me Christ.

Today, I look at some of the moral teachings of Catholics that may help to explain some of this good Catholic moral behavior. I list the top moral theological views that Catholics promote that I value as a foundation for doing Christian ethics.  I also discuss some moral practices that Catholics consistently promote that I believe keeps alive a Christian moral witness in the world.

Basically, Catholics bring into moral discourse a focus on the Trinity, respect for human dignity, emphasis on natural and divine law, a willingness to call immoral behavior and attitudes as sin, and a willingness to elevate the importance of marriage, procreation and parenting. They continue to champion these perspectives and beliefs and have argued these beliefs put into practice make for healthier and happier human living. In a secular world dominated by selfish impulses, lack of purity and sobriety, atheistic ideas, materialism and sex in almost every outlet of media, the Catholics have often been like a voice crying in the wilderness pointing people to a relationship with God. I find it hard to reject Catholic morality cart blanch given their role as a sane moral voice against the landslide of moral degradation that is making American look more like Sodom and Gomorrah.

The unity of the Trinity gives us hope for unity of humans.

Trinity.  In a world of secular strategies of success, material guided decisions, and cost-benefit analysis approaches to ethics, Catholics have a simple approach. They keep reminding us love in and between the three persons of the Trinity is the basis of all life. morality and purpose. They ground moral meaning in the Love of God. They have stood their ground in emphasizing that God is three in one for generations, even when at times, some Protestant groups lost a vision of this important doctrine. A three in one concept of God is basic to Christianity and it rightful gives authority and generative power for live and love in all members of the Trinity. The love between God the father, God the Son, and God the Spirit, creates and sustains the universe, both the physical and the moral parts of it.  Most modern people laugh at such an “other worldly” focus on God, but as a fellow believer in God, I welcome the Catholic emphasis on the Trinity.  The trinity is a justifiable and clear teaching that shows up in a hundred passages from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22.

This teaching brings morality back to relationships and grounds ethics as a relational dynamic by grounding it in the Primary relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. John 15-17, from the last book written in the New Testament, we see the centrality of this teaching to early Christianity.

There is also another aspect of the Trinity teaching that creates a deeper morality.  If God as three-in-one can be loving and just and work together in love, then it should be deeply reassuring for humans that at the core of the universe there is a moral force and power of choice for good.

As we experience more and more fractured, disjointed and even chaotic experiences as humans, this reality of unity in the Three, offers yet a vivid reminder of the unity that can be found in all relationships. In other words, the unity of the Trinity gives us hope for unity of humans. It was the vision Jesus had for His church (John 15-17).

[Catholics] focus our attention on our royal heritage in God and call us to protect that belief in our actions to protect life.

Human life has dignity. If one respects the Trinity and believes the Bible’s report of the Trinity, then respect for human life is the natural outgrowth because, as Scripture notes, we are made in God’s image (Genesis 2). The Catholics have constantly talked about, stressed and campaigned for respect and preservation of human life and dignity. This is mostly done out of respect for God creation but it is a simple outgrowth of their concept of the Trinity.

This respect for human dignity shows up in debates on abortion and capital punishment and labor rights. Haidt in his book on The Righteous Mind, notes how good religions in general have been very effective at talking about the Sanctity of Life (Purity) and I believe the Catholics have led the way in this. They focus our attention on our royal heritage in God and call us to protect that belief in our actions to protect life. We are the Children of God. That is an amazingly powerful realization that gives us authority that allows us to be masters of our work, not dumb beasts and animals driven only by our passions. (Later I question why Catholics make so many images when the only image made like God was us.)

Universal law. God’s covenantal laws and the natural laws are given for us to engender moral living. Catholics say a lot about God’s revealed law—the ten commandments, the law of love, the law of service. They also are good at grounding much of their focus on natural laws, laws that govern physical and social relationships that give us universal places to find common moral ground.  They believe in a moral order organized around these laws. This can be very inspiring as it pushes us past human laws and customs to laws basic to God’s creation of humans.

When we . . . break the familial relationship with our God, we are actually doing violence to our true selves who are made in God’s image and made for a relationship with God.

Calling it Sin. Calling moral violations SIN is what the Catholics have been good at for millennia. With the abundant detail of laws also comes the potential for being very detailed about sin…and the Catholics are. They have a willingness to label moral failures as sin that is in keeping with their view of trinity and law. They call violations of a harmony with the relationship with the Trinity and with the laws sin. By calling moral failings sin they uphold the scriptures’ attempt to set sin as a willful choice and a violation of our relationship to God. It is also a violation of human dignity and human freedom.

“Sin has something to do with a personal, binding relationship with God. This relationship or covenant with God that is broken or transgressed is not so much a legal one but rather one modeled more after a family relationship that has been ruptured. When we hit the target, stay on the right road, remain in right relationships, we flourish as human beings and become the type of people we are meant to be. When we miss the target, go off the road, and break the familial relationship with our God, we are actually doing violence to our true selves who are made in God’s image and made for a relationship with God. We are made for the giving and receiving of love.” P. 87, 88 – Essential Handbook (see below) “Sin is recognized for what it is, an empty promise, an illusion, a misuse or betrayal of freedom in the vain attempt to be free of God, to be like God.” P. 89

We are left “isolated from the relationships that once sustained,” not only with God and with others but with ourselves. (This is also a fixation with some Catholics as they slice and dice the law with categories of mortal and venial, material and formal, social and more thinking sins, and commissions and omissions. Maybe a bit much as we hope to show in the next post.)

Hierarchy and Authority Catholics (like Adventists) like hierarchy, order, tradition, and the liberal West often overlooks the need for authority and structured hierarchy in modern ethical discourse. While I will criticize this penchant of Catholics in the next post, here I commend it as a reminder that God built into the human system fathers and mothers who have authority to guide and nurture children and that this human experience can be extended to church and human hierarchy. Haidt in his book on The Righteous Mind notes how Eastern cultures have a stronger appreciation for this. They have an understandable healthy skepticism for the West’s disregard for communal expectations and tradition.  (Haidt argues that Conservatives understand the moral power of Sanctity of Life (Purity) and Authority (hierarchy) and Loyalty (faithfulness to a group) (three of his six values) and the Catholics tend to be strong in the moral theology of these.)

(See my posts that review Haidt and women’s ordination and Haidt and the Sabbath or Haidt and Moral Progress)

Admirable Practices. The above moral theological ideas may also help explain what I consider five top Catholic moral exemplary practices that inspire the rest of the Christian world.

Where there are poor and needy, Catholics are nearby.

1. Frontier builders for Christ. Growing up in California, you can’t help but notice Catholic missions. The Catholics have been missionaries to thousands of places over the last millennium. They have helped to create awareness for Christ in many places. They helped tame the Wild Wild West and created centers for trade, education and early worship. Even when I moved to what are arguably the most Adventist places on the globe, Loma Linda University and Andrews University, Catholics had been there a hundred or more years earlier settling. They had helped settled Redlands and San Bernardino to create centers of peace, education and trade. I was surprised while walking through a small part in Berrien Springs, that a monument there attests the Catholics had been there a hundred years earlier with a mission. Missionaries desired to share the Christian kingdom with the world. That is an admirable process.

2. Where there are poor and needy, Catholics are nearby, helping with soup kitchens, job training, clinics and getting involved with relieving human suffering. They have shown a willingness to be among, with and alongside the outcast, poor, lepers, and sick. Mother Theresa and Father Damien have become household names of those who have served others with this sacrificial grace.

3. Sexuality, Purity, and Marriage and Parenting Promotion: Catholics take stands against same-sex marriage and for parenting. This Pro-Marriage approach is helpful in a world that seems to be slowly by-passing life commitments for more temporary arrangements and consider divorce as an easy way out of a stressful relationships. They have worked against rash marriages, sexual promiscuity, and promoted the joys and responsibilities of longterm commitment, parenting and the need for caring for the helpless family members that can be aging or newly born.

4. Education focused. Like Adventists, Catholics are into starting and running schools. This pro-education approach is related to their respect for the dignity of humans, and their desire to raise them back into the honor they have in God. As the image of God, humans deserve respect. Respect for the Trinity breeds respect for humans made in the image of that Trinity.

5. They foster strong communities around their churches that creates a social network that reinforces good behavior. Co

Conclusion Way to Go Catholics. Thanks for championing these moral teachings and practices.

Coming to believe in the Trinity and that God is Love has become for me the most liberating, life-affirming, and joyous foundation from which to build a personal ethic.

Catholics correctly remind us of the Trinity that is love, live love and promote love. This supernatural viewpoint is often hidden from the thinking of those who don’t believe in life beyond what they see. This “behind the scenes reality” is losing grown in modern times as believe in God seems naive and archaic.

However, I find belief about the Trinity to be the most compelling foundation for Christian morality. Seeing the Ruler of the Universe as Three in One, and then to see these Top Leaders as our Chief Servants in Love to the Universe, creates a moral image far better than the Greeks and other world religions.

I can not say enough about this grounding of doctrine for Christian morality. Establishing morality on such a core belief, the Love of the Trinity, safeguards morality from being based on minute doctrinal points or on the frailty of national values or images or even on the created world. It suggests a more noble source of moral foundational thinking. Coming to believe in the Trinity and that God is Love has become for me the most liberating, life-affirming, and joyous foundation from which to build a personal ethic. God is good. God is love. God is at work and because I am made in His image His love can be at work in me.

Wow. This gives deep hope for my own struggles and courage against the evil that wants to sabotage my world. “Though the world with devils filled should threaten to undo us, God has willed His truth to triumph through us.” The reasons, the Love in the Trinity is given to humans and we, made in His image, can participate in that divine nature by being connected to God. Good, morality, and sanctification is possible because the Trinity of Love is engaged in helping humans.

I believe that those who abide in God’s will grow and in God’s love will demonstrate God’s love in their life. By reading and meditating on God’s word, they will be changed. Thus the engine for moral development is best summed up as staying connected to the Trinity as the source of engendering love. Love begets love and His love grows our love and such love dispels evil like light dispelled darkness.

Because there is no shadow of turning, no evil musings, no evil desires, and no selfish action on the part of the loving Trinity, then we know all will eventually be well in the universe. God, in love, is working out His divine will, which is and always will be a life-giving and come to perfection.

By beholding we are transformed. We are renewed in the inner man and our actions and attitudes show it.

Those who chose to believe this truth have a driving vision, a moral reference point, a guiding hope that generates new moral creativity and a better moral discipline than legalism or anger can ever create. Accepting the revelation of God’s love in the teaching of the Trinity is to tap into the ultimate source of morality.

As John 15-17 clearly states, love from the father shines into our hearts and works out toward others. For those struggling with sinful tendencies, behaviors, attitudes, distorted relationships, selfish ambitions, greed, and fear that simple truth that “God is love” is the hope that place human moral effort—wisdom, self-discipline, might, and power—were it can only do the good it was intended to do, as an outgrowth of Gods’ love.

This makes love a gift and as such morality a gift of God that he grows in those who have a relationship with Him. “He who began a good work in you will perfect until the day of Christ.” By beholding we are transformed. We are renewed in the inner man and our actions and attitudes show it.

I want to thank my Catholic brothers and sisters who have kept alive this core truth in their teaching of the love of the trinity for millennia. Thanks. It has given me deep reassurance that all will go well, in the end, because in the end God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit always work from love.

And for those who can’t handle such syrupy mystical reality as God is Three-in-One and God is Love, there is the Catholic contribution of natural law ethics. They have developed a finely tuned system of morality based on the natural processes that seem to govern natural and social phenomena.

Thanks, Catholics, for this strong moral contribution to Christian ethics.

Next time, I will have to talk about some of the not so nice stuff. I love Catholics, but there are some concerns I have about their moral teachings and practices and will bring that in the next blog.



About the Author

Duane Covrig
I teach leadership and ethics at Andrews University. I am a Seventh-day Adventist eager for the Second Coming of Christ and positive about His judgment hour work (Rev 14:6-12). I use that reality to understand morality and ethics.




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