9/29/2007

How Spirituality and Ethics intersect?

What is “Ethics”? Before any attempt is made at methodology, an important prior question must be settled. What are we talking about? Ethics is from the Greek word ethikos (ἦθος) which itself is derived from the Greek word ethos, meaning character. Ethics is defined as “manners” relating to morals - treating of moral questions - the moral principles by which a person is guided. “Morals” - is from the latin word moralis meaning custom with the Latin word being defined as “manners, morals, character.” The term “Christian ethics,” means ”a systematic study of the way of life exemplified and taught by Jesus, applied to the manifold problems and decisions of human existence.” From last sentence we have to recognize our supreme norm for both disciplines. The supreme norm for Christian ethics or Spirituality is Christ. His obedience to the Father's will is the starting point for moral development. Jesus Christ is the concrete, absolute, unqualified norm of all ethical actions. The Catechism of the Catholic Church also affirms this by asserting that he is the unique measure and the archetype of divine love and the response to it. ”The first and last point of reference of this catechesis will always be Jesus Christ himself, who is the way, and the truth, and the life. It is by looking to him in faith that Christ's faithful can hope that he himself fulfills his promises in them, and that, by loving him with the same love with which he has loved them, they may perform works in keeping with their dignity” (no. 1698).

But what is the relationship between the academic study of spirituality and that of ethics? Here it is necessary to quote from The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality by William C. Spohn: “The relation between the academic study of spirituality and that of ethics depends upon the relation between lived spirituality and morality. Lived spirituality, which is called “piety” in some traditions, is the affective, practical and transformative dimension of religion; it emphasizes the experience of what is believed. Morality is taken here to be the experience of moral values and development, while ethics or moral philosophy is the formal, critical investigation of the claims, dynamics and grounds of the moral life” and also let’s quote here: “ethics offers to spiritualities language to make their practices publicly intelligible.”

As we can see and experience, not just as an academic field, but also in our daily experience of the Christian life (I am only considering Christians in this reflection), one might expect that, these two disciplines are united or that there is only just one discipline. But, we have to be clear here and say that each of these disciplines are distinct and separate with their own object of study and methodologies. From this point we have to also humbly suggest that living the Christian life, it is necessary for them (as we already mentioned above)that they “ground their future development in explicit interaction with one another. Failure to attend to their relationship will cut them off from their own traditions and fail to provide the most authentic guidance to holistic growth in Christian living.”

Finally, let’s ask a question how these disciplines should contribute to our Christian life. German moral theologian, Bernard Häring, who devoted his life as priest and professor of morality and ethics, offers us possible aid for cooperation and practice toward Christian living. According to Haring, “there are two basic and inseparable forms of the human response to God’s gratuitous self-offering worship (both private and communal) and moral living.” Haring is encouraging us to see the important connection and contribution in both spheres of Christian living and importance of our personal identity and as Christians, too. But there is also another suggestion. For a study of Christian life it is not only important to understand both disciplines, but “it will be necessary to pursue an explicit and ongoing dialogue between the disciplines and mutual incorporation of the insight of each.”

In our world today I think, a proper academic training in both disciplines for all us may very well be an appropriate starting-point for any journey towards a more authentic Christian life style and also can help us on personal level for an adequate understanding of God, our self and the mystery of our being in this world.

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