How important is conscience for the Christian moral life?
In this book, Matthew Levering surveys twentieth-century Catholic moral theology to construct an argument against centering ethics on conscience. He instead argues that conscience must be formed by the revealed truths of Scripture as interpreted and applied in the church. Levering shows how conscience-centered ethics came to be—both prior to and following the Second Vatican Council—and how important voices from both the Catholic and Protestant communities criticized the primacy of conscience in favor of an approach that considers conscience within the broader framework of the Christian moral organism.
Rather than engaging with current hot-button issues, Levering presents and deconstructs the work of twenty-six noteworthy theologians from the recent past in order to work through core matters. He begins by examining the place of conscience in Scripture and in the Catholic “moral manuals” of the twentieth century. He then explores the rebuttals to conscience-centered ethics offered by pre- and post-conciliar Thomists and the emergence of a new, even more problematic conscience-centered ethics in German thought. Amid this wide-ranging introduction to various strands of Catholic moral theology, Levering crafts an incisive intervention of his own against the abuse of conscience that besets the church today as it did in the last century.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Conscience-Centered Moral Theology 1. Conscience and the Bible George Tyrrell Hastings Rashdall Rudolf Bultmann C. A. Pierce Yves Congar, OP Johannes Stelzenberger Philippe Delhaye Richard B. Hays 2. Conscience and the Moral Manuals Austin Fagothey, SJ Thomas J. Higgins, SJ Michael Cronin Antony Koch Dominic M. Prümmer, OP 3. Conscience and the Thomists Benoît-Henri Merkelbach, OP Michel Labourdette, OP Eric D’Arcy Reginald G. Doherty, OP Servais Pinckaers, OP 4. Conscience and German Thought Martin Heidegger Karl Jaspers Dietrich Bonhoeffer Karl Barth Karl Rahner, SJ Josef Fuchs, SJ Bernard Häring, CSsR Joseph Ratzinger Conclusion: The Path Forward James F. Keenan, SJ Reinhard Hütter
Matthew Levering holds the James N. and Mary D. Perry Jr. Chair of Theology at Mundelein Seminary and is a longtime participant in Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Among his many other books are Dying and the Virtues and Aquinas's Eschatological Ethics and the Virtue of Temperance.
“The trenchant and compelling argument at the heart of this book is that the contemporary stress on the centrality of conscience in moral theology represents not an advance but rather a return to the tired manualist approach of pre-conciliar Catholicism. What is needed, Levering argues, is a reappropriation of Aquinas’s ethics, which places at the center not conscience but prudence and the virtues. Crisply written, thorough, and deeply insightful, this book is essential reading for anyone interested in moral theology and its relation to the life of the Church.” — Bishop Robert Barron author, speaker, theologian, and founder of Word on Fire
“What a delight! Levering, one of the most important theologians working today, has given us a magisterial book on one of today’s most important topics. Grounded in the past, the book is self-aware about how what it is doing is relevant for the future. Should be read by politically and theologically diverse audiences for years to come.” — Charles C. Camosy Fordham University
“This book offers a powerful critique of the centrality of conscience in Catholic moral thought. Matthew Levering shows beyond doubt that the post-conciliar elevation of conscience consists, ironically enough, of a spurious retrieval of earlier manualist casuistry. Levering’s alternative—a Christ-centered morality with charity at its heart—is a great deal more liberating than the heavy weight of untrammeled individual conscience. The Abuse of Conscience offers the indispensable historical narrative behind the moralism of contemporary culture.” — Hans Boersma Nashotah House Theological Seminary
“In The Abuse of Conscience, Matthew Levering offers an encyclopedic study of twentieth-century Catholic thought on the crucial yet recently under-studied topic of conscience. His comprehensive review of significant thinkers on conscience, and his ‘mapping of their thought,’ is itself an invaluable service. Yet the book also offers a case that there are two potential directions in Catholic thought on conscience, each of which is endorsed by various Catholics today, and yet only one of which is true to the Catholic intellectual tradition.” — William C. Mattison III University of Notre Dame
“Utterly concise, lucid, and fair in his exposition, Levering brilliantly presents the contributions of a selection of thinkers who have cultivated the predominance in Catholic moral theology of a conscience-centered morality that seeks to be liberated from universal norms, as well as incisively outlining the thought of various figures who have critiqued this development. Levering at once affords the reader a subtle and penetrating diagnosis of the present crisis and, without explicitly addressing the issue, powerfully suggests the way out of it. We are once again indebted to this theological master.” — Kevin E. O’Reilly, OP Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas, Rome
“In this extraordinary work, Matthew Levering guides us through a crucial thicket of intellectual history in showing how moral theology has been dominated by conscience in unhealthy ways both before and after the Second Vatican Council. After a truly encyclopedic tour of the major figures and movements involved, he proposes a clear way forward: that conscience should be situated within a wider vision of moral theology shaped by the precepts of Scripture within a virtue-centered frame that is constituted by communion with Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Abuse of Conscience is quite simply the best treatment we have of the most hotly contested topic in moral theology: a marvelous feat befitting the by-now-legendary erudition of Matthew Levering.” — David Elliot The Catholic University of America
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