Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms by James T. Bretzke, SJ

Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 35 (2):221-222 (2015)
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In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:Reviewed by:Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms by James T. Bretzke, SJJohn J. FitzgeraldHandbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms James T. Bretzke, SJ washington, dc: georgetown university press, 2013. 260 pp. $24.95The Handbook of Roman Catholic Moral Terms continues the recent sequence of concise dictionaries published by Georgetown University Press, including the Key Words volumes for various religions and A Handbook of Bioethics Terms. James Bretzke’s contribution is especially welcome as it is the first such English-language reference work in Catholic moral theology since the Second Vatican Council. The author covers fundamental, social, medical, and sexual issues while providing frequent cross-references and further readings. Special attention is also given to scripture and ethics, the history of moral theology, the nature and authority of the Magisterium, canon law, Protestant thought, and moral philosophy. The longest entries are those on dissent (67–70), Humanae vitae (111–16), infallibility (122–24), and the Pontifical Commission on Births (180–82), which in advance of Humanae vitae produced the well-known Majority Report favorable to the use of contraception. The sections on these vexed issues delve into some of the relevant arguments from different sides.Given its space constraints as a portable paperback, the Handbook covers an impressive amount of historical and contemporary ground. The eight-hundred-plus entries are generally clear and irenic, and often illuminating. Consider the page-long entry on just war theory (131–32), which succinctly summarizes its development from Augustine to the present-day Catechism, calls attention to the importance of ius post bellum alongside the traditional categories of ius ad bellum and ius in bello, and outlines four possible critiques of the theory. Particularly helpful throughout are the various examples the author provides. For instance, in the course of explaining that moral norms and human laws may not bind at all times, he suggests that it is justifiable to forgo the duty to sustain life when this can only be done through extraordinary means (140), or to exceed the speed limit in case of a medical emergency (15, 81; see also 183 and 239–40 for other relevant examples).On the other hand, a few key topics are either overlooked or not fully dealt with. This book rightly highlights ecumenical ethics (77–78 and passim), but there is essentially no coverage of Eastern Orthodoxy and very little on pre-twentieth-century Protestant thought. In addition, considering the prevalence of a “morality-of-happiness” perspective in historical and modern-day Catholic thought, and given Bretzke’s own thorough attention to law, the book might have incorporated separate entries on happiness and grace, law’s complement. [End Page 221] (To his credit, he does mention grace several times—a fact that the preface points out—and includes the beatific vision, Gloria Dei vivens homo, and Summum Bonum among his definitions.) And speaking of law, the author’s treatment of the divine law is slightly confusing; he appears to alternately conflate it with and differentiate it from both the eternal law and the law of the Old and New Testaments (70–71, 136, 138).In the end, despite Bretzke’s best efforts to remain above the ideological frays of moral theology, one’s overall evaluation of his book may depend somewhat on one’s place within them. Some will chafe at his suggestions that contraception (116), certain forms of assisted reproduction (198–99), and artificial nutrition and hydration that sustain those in a persistent vegetative state (10, 224–25) remain open questions to an extent. Others will point out, as Bretzke does, that Church doctrine has previously undergone substantial development on other issues, such as religious freedom (65–66, 151, 193, 229) and the charging of interest (107, 241). What most should be able to agree upon is that in many respects the Handbook is a valuable resource, one that will help professionals and students alike come to a much better understanding of the key terms and debates within the field. [End Page 222]John J. FitzgeraldSt. John’s University (New York)Copyright © 2015 Society of Christian Ethics...

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