Sunday, Nov 02, 2008: “Ethics After Easter; Chapter 7”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“Ethics After Easter” by Stephen Holmgren
A Study Led By Rev. Deacon Mary Slenski
Sunday, November 2, 2008


                                            Ethics After Easter (1)


               Chapter 7 – Love in Acts, Rules and Principles


Proper 9 The Sunday closest to July 6


0 God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor: Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“How do we connect rules and principles with unique situations and people without being arbitrary?”

This chapter looks at the role of conscience:
-discerning generic moral principles .
-applying them to particular circumstances

Leads to a “gap” between:
-what we want to affirm
-actual practice

What is the proper role of discernment and judgment in moral reasoning?
Who or what gives our acts meaning? (p.130)

Are you and I, as individual baptized members of the church, responsible for discerning moral principles as part of the workings of conscience?

When another person asks, “What should I do?” it appears as an invitation to engage in an act of conscience for them. For the question to be handled responsibly, Holmgren recommends one of two things:

-Make clear you are joining them in an act of imagination i.e. “IF I were you, this is how
I imagine it would look. ..”

-Or, “If I were in this situation, this is how I think it would look to me… .”

Alternatively, we could take a generic approach by asking “What should someone do in this kind of a situation?” which allows a broader reflection of the principles involved.


The Gap Between Principles and Practice

                                                             applied with rigor
                     Generic                                                                       Particular
             Moral principle                                                                Moral practice

                                   Laxist-rules applied maximizing freedom

Casuistry-the activity of conscience which applies generic principles to particular circumstances.

How do we address the apparent discontinuity between principles and practices in our community? “Whether we recognize it or not, most communities find themselves living in the gap between the principles that provide normative guidance and practices that fall short of full compliance. In this era many Anglican make a virtue of what we like to call our via media approach.” In articulating moral principles, we tend to be idealist or purist. In administration of structures and policies of daily life aQd pastoral practice, we take a more gradualist approach. (p. 141)


One of the most challenging questions a community will have to face is the possibility that moral principles may need to change such as when daily moral practice is discontinuous with moral principle. We need to look at the source of the discontinuity. Is the discontinuity due to sinfulness, knowledge, and/or revelation?


Two principles to explore alternatives:
   -Consensus and assurance: the greater the demonstrable consensus in the praying community of the church as it reflects on scripture over the course of time.
   -Benefit of the doubt which provides a guide for how change may best come about.

Those who depend upon fellowship and communication within a stable community .will experience frustration and difficulty especially when what has been received is believed to have divine origin. (p. 143)


Love, Discernment, and Judgment


“We are constantly learning from reflection upon our own actions and those of others as we pass through each day and week. The real issue is what we do with this insight. Do we use it to justify ourselves and condemn others? Or do we use this learning to promote our own moral growth and to help us fulfill the mission of the church ‘to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.’ ?” (p 147)


The Meanings of an Act:


          -Intentional: What was intended?
          -Generic: What is commonly understood in the eyes of others?
          -Consequential: What was the result of our act?


                              Holmgren’s Axioms for Moral Theology


17. Conscience both discerns generic moral principles, and applies them to particular circumstances. The act of applying generic principles to particular situation is called casuistry.


18. Moral principles, norms, or rules are always generic, even when they become more and more specific; they must still be individually applied to particular situations. No matter how specific moral principles or rule become, we must still engage in a personal exercise of conscience.


19. Anglican moral theology has tended to take the approach of an idealist or a purist at the level of principles, and a gradualist approach at the level of policy and practice in the church’s pastoral life. We should not water down the claims of the gospel upon us, while we should remember that Christian life involves stages of growth.


20. Principles of moral theology that are received from the tradition enjoy the benefit of the doubt when challenged by new interpretation or proposals. This does not preclude change; it only guides how change must come about if we are to honor the good of public order in our communities.


21. If the articulation of Christian ethics is limited to particular situation, it risks being based on something less than a full range of moral principles. When we focus on particular situations, we must remember to ask what kinds of circumstances these situations exemplify.


(1) Stephen Holmgren, Ethics after Easter, The New Church’s Teaching Series Volume 9, (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000).