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Moral Theology, History of (To 700)

MORAL THEOLOGY, HISTORY OF (TO 700)

In the primitive Church Christ's moral teaching developed out of the basic, but nonceremonial, Jewish ethic as modified in Christ's interpretation of the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes. Although neither casuistic nor ascetical, the earliest postapostolic documents, such as the letter of clement i, the didache, Shepherd of hermas, pseudo-barnabas, and the letters of polycarp and of ignatius of antioch, are primarily moral treatises. They deal with obedience; the imitation of Christ in His sufferings; family, social, and civic obligations. From the Old Testament the Christians inherited a dynamic sense of God's living presence and of His wisdom, sanctifying the man who devoted himself to God's law. The way of wisdom (h : okmâ ) was identified with the right conduct of life; it led to an experience of the divine presence. St. Paul had applied this notion to Christ, "The Wisdom of God" (1 Cor 1.24); and in the Septuagint translation of okmâ, or wisdom, sophia was used for its stress on virtue as well as knowledge; in Latin, this became sapientia used by Vergil and Cicero in a sense that implied virtue.

Hellenistic and Christian Ethic. The Hellenistic ethic was a nonreligious attempt to achieve a rationally coherent system of conduct based on man's reaction to daily experience. For the Platonists, control of passion was directed to contemplation; for the Stoics, it looked to achievement of the honestum, or good, and was extended to family, friends, and country. The Christian ethic, on the other hand, was based on conformity to the will of God as revealed in His Word through the Scriptures. On an eschatological basis, St. Paul specified the law of Christ as love of God and neighbor in the Church as the body of Christ. The early Christian teachers further adapted codes of social conduct common in both Hellenistic and Jewish teaching; and in their catechesis, or moral instruction, they employed pedagogic devices such as the "two ways" (Didache, pseudo-Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas) and catalogues of virtues (Clement I, Ignatius) that were used by Aristotle (Eth. Nic. 2.7), by Christ (Mt 5.112; Lk 6.2023), and in the Epistles. In adapting Christian moral teaching to everyday life, Platonic and Stoic anthropology, experience, and terminology played a part, particularly with the apologists. Little attention was paid in earlier documents to the psychological elements in man's evil tendencies; this interest was developed mainly in the Judeo-Christian apocryphal literature with the doctrine of the good and evil spirits. It received justification in New Testament preoccupation with diabolic and angelic influences.

The Apologists. In defending Christians against allegations of criminality, the 2d-century apologists assessed the morality of their Hellenistic contemporaries, attacked idolatry and superstition, and attempted to convince their pagan audience that Christianity alone was conformable to what is noble and valuable in the human soul. justin martyr (100 to 160) supplied a "rule of faith" and recounted the way of conversion from pagan immorality and Jewish superstition to the purity of the Christian way of life (Apol. 1.14.417.4). The letter to diognetus described the divine economy of God's revelation as an antidote to man's corrupt ways and asserted that in marriage and family life, in dress and language, in civic custom and law, Christians did not differ from their contemporaries, sin alone excepted (5.18). The author maintained that "what the soul is to the body, the Christians are to the world" (6.110). This attitude was likewise reflected in the apology of aristides (17.19). tatian (Disc. 12) and theophilus of antioch (Autoly. 2) attempted to supply a theory for the inner workings of the soul. Irenaeus of Lyons coordinated the Christian moral development; refuted Gnosticism with its pessimistic evaluation of evil as a positive reality; and returned to the Semitic, flesh-soul-spirit anthropology rooted in the Pauline concept of the Incarnation. Man was created as a child (νήπιος); his failure to follow God's pedagogic guidance has been rectified by Christ, in whom all things were created and destined for a final recapitulation. Man's freedom, however, is guaranteed by his creation in God's image, which he is to refashion within himself, under the aegis of the Holy Spirit.

Early Latin and Greek Fathers. The Greek and Latin Fathers of the 3d century continued this development. tertullian, hippolytus, and cyprian of carthage in the West and clement of alexandria and origen in the East inaugurated a detailed elucidation of such themes of Christian morality as the image of God, the imitation of Christ, the return to a paradisaical innocence or perfection. Clement described at length the full Christian day from the family meal in the evening through prayer and the care of the body, to sexual and social activities (Pedagog. 2, 3). With Origen and methodius of olympus, specific obligations such as virginity and continence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, patience and steadfastness in persecution, justice, and the Christian attitude toward the state received basic consideration. In Hippolytus the liturgical and canonical aspects of Christian life are described; and in local synods and the councils, ordinances were laid down regarding clerical and lay practice of virtue and avoidance of vice. In Tertullian a legalistic approach to salvation is expressed in terms of the debt due to sin, condign punishment, and satisfaction; and this became a characteristic of Western moral thought as expressed by popes such as innocent i, leo i, gelasius, and gregory i.

Eastern Moral Thought. In the East, with athanasius, cyril, and the Alexandrians generally, more stress was placed on the possibility of man's divinization through cooperation with the Holy Spirit. In the Antiochene school as represented by diodore of tarsus, t of cyr, and john chrysostom, man's justification was connected rather with his fulfillment in the Resurrection and with his preparation through the imitation of Christ in His sufferings. This teaching was developed in exegetical homilies on the Scripture and in catechetical and mystagogical lectures such as those of cyril of jerusalem and Theodoret of Cyr. But in an unfinished work on the nature of man, nemesius of emesa (400 to 450) supplied a psychological analysis of the human composite and vindicated man's freedom while insisting on the guidance of providence.

Basil of Caesarea (d. 379) returned to the gospel precepts and concentrated on the will as the controller of virtuous conduct, while combating the rigorism of eustathius of sebaste. Man with free will is capable of love and sacrifice in striving for union with Christ through participation in the mysteries of the Church's life. Basil's regulae were directed to the guidance of monastic life, but dealt also with priestly ministration and the obligations of husbands and wives, children and servants, administrators and magistrates (70 to 79). The perfection of union with Christ is achieved in martyrdom; but the monk and lay Christian can approach this ideal in the "white martyrdom" of obedience to God's will by the practice of virtue, constant prayer, and continence. gregory of nyssa stressed imitation of divine nature, in image of which man is created, and harmonized the concept of grace with the Hellenistic ethical ideal (De instit. christ. ). The practical pastor of souls predominated in John Chrysostom's discussion of original sin and penance, and in the explicit instruction in virtuous practice that he provided in exegetical homilies and sermons for the laity, monks, and priests (De sacerdotio ).

Fathers of the West. Western moral thought is represented in hilary of poitiers' (315 to 371) exegesis of the Psalms and of St. Matthew; by zeno of verona (363 to 372) in the battle against pagan practices; by pacian of barcelona (d. 392), who wrote treatises on Baptism and Penance; and by a widespread defense against the excesses of priscillianism and the purely humanistic doctrines of pelagianism. ambrose of Milan (339 to 397) utilized Cicero's De officiis as a background for his discussion of the Christian moral teaching, but consciously directed man's final end to union with God rather than Stoic contemplation. He stressed the ideals of continence and virginity, as did jerome, whose defense of Christian morality is all-embracing in his Adv. Vigilantium, Adv. Helvidium, and Dialogi III contra Pelagium. rufinus of aquileia introduced Origen's ascetical ideals and Basil's concept of the practice of virtue for both the laity and monks in the West. John cassian (c. 360 to 430) in his De institutis and Collationes Patrum discussed the love of God and purity of heart; he advocated the avoidance of the eight capital sins as the way to perfection; and peter chrysologus (d. c. 450), maximus of turin (d. c. 420), and Pope Leo I excelled in the adaptation of moral discipline to the necessities of daily life.

With St. augustine of Hippo, Western moral thought reached maturity. His vast sweep of doctrinal disquisitions provided a defense of Christian moral theory against manichaeans and Pelagians; he turned to specific problems in his De agone christiano, De mendacio, De continentia, De bono conjugali, De nuptiis et concupiscentia, De bono viduitatis, and De virginitate. Because of his personal experiences (Confessions ) Augustine took a pessimistic view of human nature and tended to exaggerate the opposition between grace and nature. This tendency toward rigor is discernible in many of his sermons, and it affected the development of moral theology during the Middle Ages. It is notable in the sermons of caesarius of arles (d. 542), who, commenting on the Old Testament practice of continence, introduced abstention from Communion after marital relations and nocturnal pollution. Pope Gregory I (590 to 604) mitigated this tendency with his insistence that, although no good work is possible without chastity, it is useless without suavitas mentis. With his Liber regulae pastoralis, Moralis in Job, and Dialogi de vita et miraculis patrum italicorum he set the moral standard for the next 600 years.

Oriental Theory and Practice. Oriental moral theory and practice was elaborated by evagrius ponticus (d. 399), who distinguished a threefold ascent to union with God. He concentrated on the psychological process of praxis, physical theoria (contemplation), and theologia in some four or six steps that began with the moral requirement of purging the soul by struggling against passion, obedience to God's Commandments, and the exercise of positive virtue. Faith and fear of God are the foundation for continence, patience, and hope, which lead to a deliberated selflessness (apatheia ) and love (agape ). In the second stage Evagrius gradually eliminated images and phantasms in prayer; but the complicated Neoplatonic notions of the spirit world in relation to God, involved in his second and third steps, were considered Origenistic in essence and were condemned at the Council of constantinople ii (553).

Closer to the Basilian ideal of praxis, the 6th-century monastic leaders of Palestine, Barsanuphius of Gaza and John the Prophet, insisted on the monk's revelation of his inmost soul to his spiritual director, while he strove through love to obey the Commandments, suppress his willfulness, and achieve the fulfillment of God's will in humility and docility. A life so directed leads to inner peacefulness (hesychia ), which is a reward for virtue rather than a state of virtuousness. Abbot Dorotheus listed obedience, humility, temperance, patience, fraternal charity, and contemplation of the last things as the occupation of a monk; and Abbot Zosimus clothed these virtues in examples and experiences with a vividness that emulated that of John Cassian. Following this line was John moschus's Ladder of Paradise, in which he concentrated on sorrow for sin and obedience as the proper attitude in the practice of virtue; and the abbot Thalassius of Lybia (c. 650) developed the Evagrian praxis by insisting on a harmony between body and soul in the psychological activity of the nous, or spirit. In reaching for God man can attain the fulfillment of his personality. maximus confessor (580 to 655) accepted the Evagrian psychology and developed it in a humanistic sense, maintaining its propriety for both the laity and monks, whereas Theodore the Studite (759 to 826) denied an essential difference between the perfection of the monk and that of the layman, and centered on man's imitating Christ in his Crucifixion. john damascene (675 to 749), in his tract on fasting and in his work on the virtues and vices, had summed up the patristic phase of moral development. His synthesis greatly affected the scholastic development in the 12th-century renewal of theology.

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[f. x. murphy]

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