Nowe kierunki i tendencje w etyce katolickiej

Józef Keller


Catholic ethical doctrine has for a long time encountered criticism whose source has been of a twin nature. One, was anxiousness to faithfully preserve Gospel principles – and it was there that the criticism of Catholic morality by various Christian sects and churches took its origin. The other critical trend grows out of rationalist attitudes ; its base has always been the point of view of the so-called ‚lay humanism’. The criticism, whether of this or that provenance, has inclined Catholic authors to revise their professed theories and became the source of ferment within the Church which became partly manifest as early as the beginnings of the present century, in the works of A. Koch, P . Keppler, and J . Mausbach, and which, despite pretty strong opposition was gradually gaining increased supremacy. The period between the two world wars, however , brought no significant changes. Only very shortly before the last war and after it, there began to appear publications openly demanding alterations in both the form and matter of Catholic ethics. The names of the following authors deserve mention in this context: F. Tillmann, Th. Steinbilchel, Th. Milncker, G. Thils, O. Lottin, M. Reding, J. Woroniecki, and others. It is to them that Catholic ethics owes the fact of more and more serious consideration being given to anthropological questions, and that gradually though still rather timidly, man began to be viewed as a concrete existence, and more attention was devoted to social subjects. It is to them, too, that we must attribute to a considerable degree, the ‚return to the sources of Christianity’, although they by no means ceased to refer to the ‚doctrine of Thomas Aquinus’.

Contemporary Catholic publications follow fairly widely the above-described road, while many vent even bolder and more radical tendencies. What is particularly characteristic in those publications is their attitude to Marxism. There is evident a great interest in Marxism, both in the philosophical trend, and in the social movement inspired by it. With regard to historical and dialectical materialism, a continuous strife is noticeable. With respect to ethics, the chief arguments advanced by Catholic authors are connected with the Catholic concept of personalism. On the social plane, the attitude towards Marxism assumes the form of rivalry. The former antagonism of Church hierarchy and theologians towards anything progressive has now gained much elasticity. New trends in that sphere had shown already at the time of Pope Pius XII, but were then successfully suppressed. For such ‚ogling at Communism’, their advocates were removed from influential posts where they could influence education. It is fit to cite here names such as, J. Danielou, H. de Lubac, D. Chenu, Y. Congar, K. Rahner, and others. Now, however, their influence is very considerable. Thanks to them, there has been considerable change in the Church’s attitude to such matters as the problem of property, the subject of human labour, the rule of obedience, sexual matters, and so on.

In many matters of detail, present-day Church shows evidence of a tendency to bring its doctrine nearer to life’s needs and a wish to diminish the distance dividing it from contemporary culture and science. This becomes visible not so much in the sphere of theoretical construction of Catholic ethics, but rather in its practical manifestation. It should be added, however, that contemporary Catholic ethics devotes little attention to theoretical structure of the system, bestowing main care on the practical didactic aspect. There is also an increasingly widespread mystical trend growing as an escape from scholastic rationalism.