Sunday, Oct 19, 2008: “Ethics After Easter; Chapter 5”

St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“Ethics After Easter” by Stephen Holmgren
A Study Led By Rev. Deacon Mary Slenski
Sunday, October 19, 2008


                                            Ethics After Easter (1)


               Chapter 5 – Laws, Manners and Moral Principles


Proper 10 The Sunday closest to July 13


0 Lord mercifully receive the prayer of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Three ways of determining what one can or should do:

-what rule allows or requires
-social expectations or etiquette
-internally perceived moral good


                                  Laws – Manners – Moral Principles


“We can find ourselves unsettled about the ambiguity between social obligation and moral obligation.”


The Will of God and the Will of Human Communities


“What, if any, is the difference between needing to apologize to another person about a social lapse and needing to apologize to God?”


“Are ethics manners writ large?” or “What is the role of society in determining right and wrong?” (p. 85)


“Does our failure to conform to civil statutes and laws, or to social norms and expectations, overlap with our ‘erring and straying’ from God’s ways?” (p. 86)


To whom are we accountable when we act contrary to these laws, norms, or divinely held principles?

Review: Three sources of moral good:

     -nature or “found”
     -history or “‘received'”
     -convention or “made”


Describing and Telling: getting caught in the rules vs. the principles

Two Approaches

– Descriptive: commends a moral good –
   Invites others in reflection

-Prescriptive: commands the moral good or forbids the moral evil
   Invites others into a sense of accountability to us


Are we willing to be accountable?


Moral Accountability – To Whom?


“We can enforce what we make, whether it be civil law or social manners, but we do not ‘make’ moral principles.” (p. 94)


Principles & Policies


“Commonly held principles can give rise to widely different policies and practices. …We often disagree about policy initiatives, and by extension about laws, canons, or regulations. But if we first focus on our commonly held principles, then we can reason together as to the policies, regulation and rules that might best embody the principles we wish to afflffi1.” (p. 95-96)


“In many respects the moral theology of the church is not made, but rather found in the moral principles given to us in the Book of Nature and through the Book of Scripture.” (p. 96)


“Nevertheless, we should not confuse civil laws or canons with moral principles. Instead, our goal should be to show that moral principles are a gift that will bring life from within, a dependable leaven for action in the way that yeast serves to raise up loaves, rather than an external source of obligation. After all, what is our goal when we return to our Lord and seek amendment of Life: In the words of the General Confession, is it only to ‘walk in your ways’? Or is it also to ‘delight in your will’ (BCP, 360)?” (p. 97)


Discerning our Moral Principles


“To discern the basic lines of our church’s moral teaching, we can start with the prayer book instead of with the journals of the General Convention or the resolutions of Lambeth Conference.”


Ex: The Litany of Penitence (BCP, 267)


Holmgren’s Axioms for Moral Theology


11. The church may adopt one of two postures concerning the relationship between the gospel and the world: it may hold the world up to judgment, or it may witness to the gospel under whose judgment it also stands.

12. The church speaks best to moral principles when it speaks about them descriptively rather than prescriptively. Describing the moral good invites others to discover its beauty; prescribing the moral good may cause others to feel defensive and suspect us of hypocrisy.


13. Commonly held principles may nevertheless give rise to differing implementations in terms of policy and practice. Just because we agree on our principles does not mean we will agree on how we should live them.


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