O’Donovan, Oliver. Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics. 2nd ed. Leicester, England; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Inter-Varsity Press ; Eerdmans, 1986
Resurrection and Moral Order is broken down into three parts: the objective reality, the subjective reality, and the form of the moral life. Oliver O’Donovan begins in the Prologue referring to the realistic principle–“purposeful action is determined by what is true about the world into which we act;” the evangelical principle–“That truth it’s constituted by what God has done for his world and for humankind in Jesus Christ;” and the Easter principal–“the act of God which liberates our action is focused on the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.” (ix) He also refers to a church principle–“that the church is a community of moral formation, where moral practices and concepts are communicated by precept, example and (most importantly) sacrament.” (xviii)
“Christian ethics must arise from the gospel of Jesus Christ.” (11) While Natural Law sees all morality display in nature, O’Donovan points out that the Christian ethic believes a certain morality is attributable to the Gospel itself. He argues “that Christian ethics depend upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” (13) It is a promise of new life with Jesus as the one who effects what needs to be done. There is no distinction between ‘ethics of the kingdom’ and the ‘ethics of creation’ because the resurrection is the reaffirmation of creation (15).
Since the Enlightenment, Western moral thought has been ‘voluntarist’ in its assumptions–morality is the creation of man’s will (16). Kierkegaard argued Christian faith and morality must simply be chosen, but O’Donovan sees a difference between the morality which is natural to man and that which has been revealed to him. “Creation and redemption each has its ontological and its epistemological aspect.” (19)
“From the resurrection we look not only back to the created order which is vindicated, but forwards to our eschatological participation in that order.” (22) O’Donovan does not differentiate between subjective and objective freedom–we are both the subject and object of freedom, which comes from participation in Christ’s authority and the created order. It restores our Adamic authority and instills in us redemptive love. “. . . the Spirit forms and brings to expression the appropriate pattern of free response to objective reality.” (25)
“The resurrection of Christ, upon which Christian ethics is founded, vindicates the created order in this double sense: it redeems it and it transforms it.” (56) This looks backwards and forwards. ‘Historicism’ looks to teleology as historical teleology–‘ends’ are a product of historical development (58). This is opposed to the natural teleology which is generic (59). We should identify creation, not as ‘history’, but as the origin of history (63) and history as eschatology versus teleology. The birth of Christ brought with it the salvation event, while historicism is systematically interventionist–man seeking to direct cultural development.
“Morality is man’s (free and joyful) participation in the created order.” (76) Knowledge of the order of creation must be: first, “knowledge of things in their relations to the totality of things;” (77) second, “from within,” and therefore incomplete; (79) third, “from man’s position in the universe;” (81) and fourth, “ignorant of the end of history.” (82) While true knowledge is an exclusive claim, its object is inclusive of the whole order of things (85). Objections to the authority of Christian moral thought are that we 1) have left ourselves no room to say anything about the character of moral thought as a corporate enterprise of learning, which must respond to the new challenges of historical experience; 2) are charged with neglecting the role of compromise and moral understanding (91)–as in casuistry and conduct of public life (97).
The Holy Spirit enables us to participate in God’s act in Christ (101). He “makes the reality of redemption present” (102) and “authoritative to us.” (103) The world is judged and re-created through redemption. The Holy Spirit is presented in three judgments of; unbelief in Christ at the crucifixion, the father’s exaltation of Christ at the resurrection, and Christ’s judgment on the world in the parousia (105). We and our communities are subjects of our actions and the spirit “evokes our free response as moral agents to the reality of redemption.” (106) The authority of redemption and the freedom as agents determine the present world and how we act upon it (109) and the Holy Spirit moves our reality from ourselves back to God. Freedom of the will and the objective reality of reason come into conflict (116). Voluntarism falls into the trap of denying competence to reason or affection or sentiments moral judgment.
One kind of authority gives “a reason for judging or acting in the absence of understood reasons, or for disregarding at least some reasons which are understood and relevant.” (121) Another king of authority grounds action as well as an object towards which action strives (122). There are four forms of authority to which we may respond: beauty, age, community, and strength (124).
Political authority draws from both natural authority and moral authority, but neither exclusively. It is a concurrence of might, tradition, and injured right (128). Divine authority transcends the judgment of our moral reason (131). Aquinas saw this authority solely through the Natural Law, while the voluntarist tradition made a distinction between divine command and that which man discerns within the order of creation (134). Voluntarists see the conflict between reason and revelation in man’s reason always being deficient and susceptible to divine criticism.
The relation between ‘deontic’ and ‘teleological’ moral language has been a question for generations (137). Some argue the deontological approach does not consider the subject’s welfare, while teleological ethics recognizes the ordered structures of being good (138). “The tension between the two moral languages reflects a necessary dialectic in the perceptions of moral agents for whom moral insight is still a task and not yet been achieved fact.” (139)
The Holy Spirit conforms us to the authority of Christ and there two conclusions about divine authority; “The authority of God is . . . located in the public realm in an event of history which may be told;” (141) and “God’s authority . . . may oppose the natural authorities in their rebellion and assertiveness, but is not opposed to the created order as such.” (142) Jesus is irreplaceable as the pattern we are to follow, as ordained by God and proclaimed through the good news, as a unique and significant historical event.
Our freedom is not only individual, but is found in the power to act in community (163). Angel-ecclesiology gives exclusive authority to church law and discipline as the mediator between man and God. The Protestant objections to this paradigm are that it minimizes interpretation of the moral teachings of Christ and even allows for a challenge to the authority of the recorded words of Christ, and that it alienates the individual from God (167–168). There is a distinction between the command and counsel authorities of the church, with the latter being authoritative, but not coercive.
While we may learn about a variety of formal theories of ethics, the command to love takes precedent. “The form of the moral life will be that of an ordered moral field of action on the one hand, and of an ordered a moral subject of action on the other. . . . relating to human acts and also to moral character.” (183) Human acts consist of a plurality of responses to a number of event, according to a variety of situations. Casuistry is how we respond to moral problems as quandaries, either looking at our past experience to determine our future actions or anticipating the consequences of our present actions.
“The moral agent approaches every new situation . . . equipped with the ‘moral law’ (. . . that wisdom which contains insight into the created order, when it is formulated explicitly to direct decisions, i.e. deontically).” (190) “Synderesis, . . . (is) the comprehension of the principles of moral law, and conscientia, their application to particular cases.” (191) We can then “lay down formal rules governing the subsumption of particular cases under generic moral principles.” (193) We can find ourself in a situation where the decision we make is not necessarily a moral judgments but simply wrestling with temptation. Also, is the command to love inclusive–all other commands are present within it–or does it take priority over other commands (201)
Moral thought concerns both moral action and the moral subject–each affecting or explaining the other. God looks at the heart, but Jesus did not simply substitute looking at the agent for looking at the action. “These two stipulations complement each other: (a) the subject’s character must not be reduced to a function of his acts; (b) the subject’s acts must be allowed to disclose his character.” (206) Reductionists look to reduce a subject’s character to become a prediction of future actions, With repetitive sequences pointing to a particular disposition. Others point to the foundation of character as influencing actions. Knowledge of a subject’s perspective only allows us to evaluate moral thought and not to contribute to deliberation of it.
Volunteerism and pluralism are related in that each agent interprets their situation, but that there are many agents with different intentions, all equally valid. Agents may act differently when confronted with a situation that presents a conflict between virtues. An evaluative stance does not lead to relativism. There can still be unity in a plurality of believers with various gifts, as witnessed by the unity of God, Father, Son and Spirit.
Love is “the fulfillment of the moral law on the one hand, and of the form of the virtues on the other.” (226) The love of God and the love of neighbor should not come into conflict but point to the same thing. We love our neighbor because they are fellow subjects but also because they are suitable objects of our love. This is not the same as the love of God, but yet neither is it in competition. The ordering of love relates to the ordering of creation.
The end of the moral life is found in love, faith, and hope. The latter two find their pinnacle at the end of history, while the former allows us to participate in life with God and creation. The Christian moral life must point to the resurrection with hope pointing us to it and faith moving back from it. Christian morality is therefore founded in the love of Christ pointing to his resurrection as the distinct event which reciprocates that love.