Häring, Bernard

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Moral theologian; professor; Redemptorist priest; b. Böttingen, Germany, November 10, 1912; d. July 3,1998. It is commonly acknowledged that Häring had a crucial role in the reshaping of moral theology in the twentieth century. From 1941 to 1945, having been conscripted into the German army, he served as a medical orderly in France, Poland, and Russia. From 1949 to 1953 and from 1957 until his retirement in 1988, he was a professor at the Alphonsian Academy in Rome.

In 1964, Paul VI named a papal commission on birth control, of which Häring was a member. The pope issued the encyclical Humanae vitae in 1968. Responding to what he saw as an urgent pastoral need, Häring spoke out on the role of conscience. On other occasions also he expressed controversial views that did not escape the attention of ecclesiastical authorities. However, he was never formally censured.

Häring engaged in a critical discussion with Rudolf otto, Max scheler, and others. He developed a personalist religious ethic based on experience, feeling, and value, rather than on abstract rational analysis. The role of such an ethic is to evoke dispositions and form character, rather than enunciate principles and deduce norms.

In Häring's place in the history of moral theology depends primarily on his early work, Das Gesetz Christi [ET The Law of Christ (1961)]. Instead of a legalistic system of precepts and sanctions, Häring offered a Christian moral message founded on the Bible. The moral life is empowered by grace, that is, by a new being in Christ. Moral theology, therefore, must be integrated with a theology of the sacraments as historical events of grace. Biblical leitmotifs provide the vision, and Christian virtues the framework. Although subordinate to the Bible, the natural law is still normative. Much of the content of The Law of Christ is similar to that of the earlier manuals. What is new is the vision and the openness to dialogue with the secular sciences, sociology, and psychology. The biblical orientation provided an opening for ecumenical dialogue, which the author cultivated assiduously. His medical ethics, rather than solving dilemmas, provided a distinctive theological interpretation of life and death.

A major work, Free and Faithful in Christ (197881) developed the themes of Christian freedom and the liberty and creativity of conscience. In saying that conscience is creative he did not mean that it is autonomous or arbitrary; it is bound by fidelity to Christ. While affirming the historicity of natural law, he rejected relativism. This book contributed to developing and popularizing the idea of the fundamental option. Always alert to contemporary issues, the author discussed the ethics of ecology, the media, and peace. Häring's thinking on peace and war continued to develop. By 1986 he was arguing that we must move toward abandoning the justwar theory and replacing it with an ethic of nonviolence. Responsibility is fundamental. The "goal-commandment," as distinct from a negative limit or mere ideal, expresses a summons to organized action toward an end. "Reciprocity of consciences" indicates the way in which Christians ought to seek truth, namely through a community endeavor, governed by mutual respect. Responding to controversy, Häring held that there is an intimate connection rather than a dichotomy between a "faith-ethic" and an "autonomous ethic." For him, the deontological dimension of ethics means God's call to a loving response, and the teleological, a movement toward sanctity. Moral theology is to be pastoral, personalist, and communitarian; an embodiment of the healing role of faith rather than a system of control by law.

Bibliography: Häring has published over 80 books and hundreds of articles. The following are some of the more significant: Das Heilige und das Gute: Religion und Sittlichkeit in ihrem gegenseitigen Bezug (Krailling/Munich 1950); Das Gesetz Christi (Freiburg im Breisgau 1954; 8th. ed. 1967); The Law of Christ (Westminster 19611966); Medical Ethics (Slough 1972); Ethics of Manipulation: Issues in Medicine, Behavior Control and Genetics (New York 1975; Free and Faithful in Christ (New York 19781981); The Healing Power of Peace and Nonviolence (Mahwah 1986);No Way Out? Pastoral Care of the Divorced and Remarried (Slough 1990); My Witness for the Church (Mahwah 1992).

[b. v. johnstone]