St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“Ethics After Easter” by Stephen Holmgren
A Study Led By Rev. Deacon Mary Slenski
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Ethics After Easter (1)
Chapter 6 – Sin, Character, and Conscience
58. For Guidance
0 God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly: Grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what thou wouldest have us to do, that the Spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in thy light we may see light, and in thy straight path may not stumble; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Act and Character:
“What I do as an individual will often reflect the way that my society has shaped my character, Equally true, though more uncomfortable to recognize, is the fact that what I do will shape the society I live in.” (p. 104)
Life East of Eden:
“Our interaction with laws and manners in daily life easily creates the impression that all we have to do in order to be good is decide to follow the rules, and then act upon this resolve. Though laws like the tax codes have become exceedingly complex, and though books of etiquette contain a staggering amount of advice, both of them at least in theory can be learned, known, and acted upon. Yet we know that this is not so with morals [Rom 7:22-25] Though we can discern moral principles and know them in our hearts, we find ourselves resisting them, acting apart from them, and seeking to get around them.” (p. 110)
Acts, Character, and Virtue:
We are disposed to act out of both inherent virtue (prudence, justice, temperance, fortitude) and vice (pride, lust, avarice, gluttony, wrath, envy and sloth.) This is not unique to Christianity. Christianity adds the virtues of faith, hope and love.
Maps of the Soul
“[The] tendency to favor some aspects of human moral subjectivity over others is something to which all Christians seem-prone. We tend to choose either a reasoned approach to ethical principles or an approach that emphasized the will and the affections. In this way our view of the human person and how we see the relationship between different aspects of consciousness playa significant role in our ethics. Are reason and the affections naturally competitive in struggling for influence over our wills? Are physical and sensual feelings morally subordinate to thinking? …And what if we happen to experience a conflict within ourselves between feeling and thinking?” (p. 117)
“Perhaps even more than we recognize, thinking and feeling together inform our reflection upon past acts, as well as our process of shaping a resolve to future action. Instead of driving a wedge between the language of ‘I thought that’ and the language of ‘ I felt that,’ we might try using words that include and express both. We might say, ‘I
reflected that’ or I settled on this choice. “, (p. 118)
The Question of Conscience
Conscience has been thought of in different ways:
– the voice of God for the Christian Soul (p. 121)
– an internal moral compass always pointing true north/a moral guide
– the accumulated residue of a lifetime of teaching by parents and elders
“For [Holmgren], the most helpful way to think about conscience is to think of it as an activity rather than as a thing. Conscience is what we do rather than something we use or possess.” (p. 122)
“We must both think and feel, we must both remember and plan, and we must both hear and act. Involving all of these aspects of ourselves, conscience is the process of bringing the fullness of the Christian vision to bear upon a single choice.” (p. 123)
Freedom in Christ
“Christian freedom in paradoxical, for it is freedom discovered in voluntary service. …We have been set free to flourish in Christ, and we should not be surprised if the path toward our true flourishing involves a pattern and order. As we grow in this freedom, we discover the joy that can be found in the fulfillment of expectation and of
Holmgren’s Axioms for Moral Theology
14. Acts shape character, and character shapes acts. Character is the disposition to act in particular ways. Individual acts are the building blocks of habits, and habits are the material of disposition to act in particular ways.
15. As a gift of creation, all people share a basic disposition to seek the good, but as a result of the fall we seek to rule ourselves. These basic dispositions give rise to specific disposition we cal the natural moral virtues and the vices that shape moral action.
16. Moral conscience involves the whole person, both thinking and feeling. It also involves the interrelated acts of reflection upon, and deliberation toward, moral action. Conscience must be followed, but conscience must also be educated.
1 Stephen Holmgren, Ethics after Easter, The New Church’s Teaching Series Volume 9, (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 2000)