A young Catholic growing up in the years preceding Vatican II would find it very curious to find that scriptural teaching is the “Soul of all theology,” (Dei Verbum, from Richard Gula, p. 165, REASON INFORMED BY FAITH). My experience as a student in a Catholic elementary school during the pre-Vatican II years is that there was very little teaching of Scripture at that time. In fact, even though Vatican II caused a renewed emphasis on Scripture, many non-Catholics still look at the Catholic Church as devoid of a Scriptural basis. Chapter 12, “Scripture in Moral Theology” (Gula, p165) contains an overview of the critical use of scripture and pre-critical use of Scripture and then engages in some discussion of the Scripture as a basis for moral decision-making.
Today, Catholics nearly universally understand the need for critical analysis in the use of Scripture. However a contrary use of Scripture is to employ a method called proof-text. To understand this method, one must first accept the fact that some place a greater emphasis on the Natural law than on Scripture. Using this theory, after an issue is determined on the basis of Natural law, a review of Scripture is conducted to substantiate the Natural law position. Thus, as Gula says, it is sort of an after thought or an attempt to justify Natural law. Further, “While it gives the appearance of a Biblical grounding to moral theology, proof-texting really does not allow Scripture to enter the fabric of moral theological reflection” (Gula, p.166).
While the critical use of Scripture tends to discount the validity of proof-texting, Steven D. Cline, in his article, “In Defense of the Proof Text”, makes the argument that it is not proof-texting that is the problem but rather the misuse of Biblical text that should be at issue. Mr. Cline says, “Those among us who disdain proof-texting may not have distorting the Scriptures in mind. I have an idea that they mean that we should discard the honorable practice of giving book, chapter and verse when we undertake to teach a Bible truth”(Crane, www.bible-infonet.org). He goes further to use examples where Jesus used passages from the Old Testament to support His teaching to argue in favor of the proof-text method. He also discusses the great sermon of Peter in Acts in which the Old Testament is quoted as another validation of proof-texting. I am not sure if Mr. Cline is Catholic or not, but from some of his comments on denominationalism I get the impression that he is not. His arguments are not without merit despite this fact.
Critical use of Scripture requires an analysis of the passages from different perspectives. Gula relies on the analysis of Kenneth R. Himes to explain four related tasks in which a person must engage to relate Scripture to moral theology. They are “…(1) the exegetical task: determining the meaning of the text in its original context; (2) the hermeneutical task: determining the meaning of the text for today; (3) the methodological task: using scripture in moral reflection; (4) the theological task: explaining the relationship of Scripture to other sources of moral wisdom” (Gula, p.167).
Celia Brewer Marshall in her book, A Guide Through The New Testament, defines exegesis as, “…the term students of the New Testament use to describe what they are doing when they try to see what a New Testament passage meant when it was first written”(Marshal, p.15). Thus, criticism of the passages, not as an exercise of finding fault, but rather as analysis is our effort to find out what the text meant at the time of writing because that has a profound influence on what is should mean to us today. Ms. Marshal relates several areas of critical analysis. They are textual, source, form, redaction and literary analyses.
The textual is comparing the language used in particular passage in various translations. For example, you may find different wording in the New American Bible than you find in the Revised Standard or the King James Version. The second analysis is the source. Ms. Marshal says that, “Source critical theories are just that-hypotheses that may or may not be helpful to you in comparing the Gospels” (Marshal, p. 15). She goes further to explain that source analysis is not really an issue in the other books of the Bible, but only the Gospels.
“Form criticism tries to go back behind the written documents and see what the individual units might have been in their pre-literary form” (Marshal, p. 15). Ms. Marshal explains that redaction criticism considers the authors as editors and looks at the way the stories of the Bible are “edited”. Literary criticism simply looks at what can be learned from the text. Gula says that, “Limited though it may be, careful exegetical work is the crucial first step leading to the satisfactory fulfillment of the other tasks in using Scripture in moral theology” (Gula p.168).
Critical analysis allows us to get at the original meaning of a text and hermeneutics allows us to bridge the gap culturally between the culture of the writers and the culture of the readers. Dr. Brian Allison says, “Biblical hermeneutics is critical and foundational to the whole theological (and apologetical) enterprise”(Allison, Biblical Hermeneutics: An Alternative Paradigm). Gula asserts that this analysis is very important and uses some examples to illustrate his position. Allison on the other hand seems to say in his article that the cultural-historical differences are not as important. It is an interesting analysis and I attach it herewith for your interest. I do agree with Gula as pointed out in his example that the eschatological environment of the first century puts some of the proclamations made by Jesus in a different perspective. Once a person has done an analysis of the text he or she is in a position to use it in the decision making process.
The Methodological task is the putting scripture to use in moral reflection and decision-making. Gula relies on Gustafson to explain that there are two ways to look at the direction given in Scripture. Revealed morality is looking at the text as a directive for action. He breaks down revealed morality into four subsections, law, ideals, analogies and great variety. To me it is a sort of hierarchy where law is the fundamentalist view where the Word is the law and that’s it. From there you move to a view where the Word is a set of ideals and not simply rules to follow. Thirdly, from analogy, one can compare the Scriptural stories and apply them by analogy to present day situations. Great variety, as described by Gula is a sort of halfway between revealed morality and revealed reality, which considers Scripture as only informative and not as specifically determining morality. Great variety appears to say that Scripture is important but that it isn’t all-inclusive. It allows for intellectual reflection and for other sources as the basis for moral reflection as does the revealed reality approach.
In his analysis of the revealed reality approach, Gula discusses covenant and the reign of God. Covenant according to Gula is the response we make to God’s offer of love. God calls us and gives us some structure for the relationship. This structure is found in the rules and commandments and as Gula puts it, they are “…presumptions and burdens of proof for the moral life” (Gula, p.173). In a covenant relationship, we bind ourselves to our God by accepting his love and his way of living. Gula then discusses the reign of God as another way to look at revealed reality. “God’s reign is not a place, but a community-creating activity whereby each person experiences a strong sense of solidarity with others. Covenant with God allows us to move into relationship with others likewise in covenant with him and allows us to experience the “shalom” kind of peace. We find Jesus giving us direction in the Scriptures on how to move to this type of existence. It is more than simply rules to follow. It is a move toward a life of hope lived through reverence, conversion and responsibility. Hope “…always points to the love of God as the basis for the fulfillment of the new possibilities of human well-being, hope is the source of our energy to respond creatively to new possibilities for re-creating society” (Gula, p.177).
Contrast the revealed reality to revealed morality and you find the latter focusing on the “black and white” of it all. But if one believes that the Scriptures are given to us as a set of laws to follow blindly, then what are we to think of the radical sayings of Jesus? Are they simply figures of speech? Gula considers the message of Jesus to pluck out your eye if it causes you to sin. Jesus came to save us. He came to offer forgiveness. To “pluck out your eye” is contrary to His message. Therefore, I would suggest that they are not directives like the great commandment as much as they are attempts to get our attention and to get us to think about the relevance of the message. To blindly follow all of the passages of Scripture leaves no room for the stimulation of our creativity and imagination. It does appear to me that there are some rules to follow and there are passages in Scripture that give us those rules. Additionally, there are stories, exaggerations and other literary devices that allow us to creatively interpret the “rules” and to apply them.
In a final attempt to reconcile the difference between revealed reality and revealed morality, Gula discusses the great commandment. It would appear that there is little room to dispute what Jesus is telling us as He responds to the question from the Pharisees in Matthew 22. “He said to him, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments” (Matthew, 22:37-40). Here is a good illustration of the difference between revealed morality and revealed reality. In a revealed morality sense you take this literally and love everyone. However what is love and how are we to live in love. It requires some critical analysis to understand what Jesus means by His directive to love your neighbor. What is neighbor? Is it the person next door? Is it the person on our block? Just what is neighbor? And what is love. If our neighbor is of the opposite sex, are we to “love” that person in a man-woman sort of way? Certainly to take Jesus literally is not as easy as it appears at first reading. Thus we look to the reality behind the statement and draw direction from it and then create the reality in which we are to live from that analysis.
There are many different opinions concerning the use of Scripture in development of moral theology. The search for an absolute may be a noble one, however the better search to me would be to become educated not only in the words of the Bible but about the Bible. In learning about the bible we can gain an understanding of its place in our lives and use the messages it provides to assist us in our attempts to make moral decisions that allow us to live our lives consistent with the will of God.

Author's Bio: 

Deacon Jodi Moscona was born in New Orleans and attended Catholic schools. He graduated from St. Rose de Lima Elementary School and Brother Martin High School. He holds a BA degree in Political Science from the University of New Orleans and a Juris Doctorate from Loyola University of the South. He also holds a certificate from the Religious Studies Institute and a Diaconate Certificate from St. Joseph’s Seminary College at St. Benedict, Louisiana. He moved to Baton Rouge nearly 20 years ago where he currently lives with his wife Darlene and their daughter Alicia, a 2006 graduate of LSU.

Deacon Jodi and Darlene also have two sons, Brian a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and Matthew a graduate of the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University. Brian lives in Atlanta and works at Holy Spirit Prep where he teaches and coaches. Matthew is a radio personality in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Deacon Jodi is assigned as Deacon Associate at the Christ the King Catholic Church and Student Center on the campus of Louisiana State University. Although a public university, LSU has over 16,000 Catholic Students. In addition to his duties at Christ the King, Deacon Jodi is a retreat master and part of the Manresa Retreat Team. Deacon Jodi has delivered retreats throughout Louisiana. Deacon Jodi has also authored many articles and is currently writing a book focusing on the need to include God in our successes.

Deacon Jodi has taught classes at all levels and brings his expertise as a teacher to his role as catechist. He has taught classes on church history, sacraments and sacramentals, the Creed, marriage and marriage preparation and also heads up the Confirmation Program at Christ the King. In addition to his law practice, he is regularly invited as a guest speaker and lecturer. He can be contacted at jmoscona@ctk-lsu.org