Monday, April 21, 2014

BkRev: Reason Informed by Faith

Richard M. Gula, S.S., Reason Informed by Faith: Foundations of Catholic Morality, New York, Paulist Press, 1989, 334 pages.

Two posts will collect notes I have made on Richard M. Gula's Reason Informed by Faith. The first post, below, is an informal book review. The next post will examine Gula's Catholic view of reason, mysticism, and their relationship. 

AUTHOR. Richard M. Gula is a Catholic intellectual activist. He disseminates his understanding of his worldview—its supernaturalism, mysticism, altruism, and statism—to other, more specialized Catholic intellectuals and particularly to the Catholics involved in "pastoral care," which means the bishops, the priests, and lay workers who make daily contact with the great flock of Catholics who look to the Church for guidance in their lives. Gula trains these trainers. 

The back cover of the book says that Richard M. Gula was—in 1989, the year of publishing Reason Informed by Faith—the Professor of Moral Theology at St. Patrick's Seminary in Menlo Park, California. A seminary is a sort of university, one reserved for training the intellectuals of the Church—the priests, the bishops, the cardinals, and the popes, as well as the Catholic intellectuals who work outside the hierarchy of the Church but in universities, "think-tanks," and advocacy organizations.

The "S.S." after Gula's name means Society of Saint-Sulpice, a Catholic organization devoted to training the intellectual leaders of the Church: Gula's central purpose in life appears to be an extension of his training. The Logos Almanac of the Christian World, at, speaks of Richard_M._Gula thus:

As a Sulpician priest, Rich has dedicated his life to the education and formation of ministers in the Church. After teaching in diocesan seminaries for twenty-three years, Rich came to [the Franciscan School of Theology] in 1996 to participate in a more diverse and ecumenical effort in preparing ministers for the Church. As a moral theologian, Rich has tried to be a bridge between the community of academic theologians and the community of pastoral ministers. Besides teaching, Rich is on the workshop circuit lecturing to clerical and lay ministers on topics in moral theology, medical ethics, and professional ethics. He is also involved in the world of health care as an ethics consultant to hospitals. His several books and many articles have addressed a variety of moral issues which pastoral ministers have to face today.

As a writer, lecturer, and teacher, Richard M. Gula is a fount of not only particular principles of Catholicism, but also, and more importantly, the conveyor of an intellectually systematized worldview. That systematization—an act of integration— makes Catholicism a potent weapon in the war between reason and mysticism.  

SUBJECT. Gula's Reason Informed by Faith is a tour of Catholic morality. It covers the fundamental principles that "inform" (shape) Catholic positions in debates over abortion, war, welfare, and other issues. It also identifies the intermediate steps, the methods of thinking about moral issues. Finally it offers guidelines for the skill of  "discernment of spirits." By "discernment" Gula means making a judgment of a particular person, action, or situation. The term "spirits" refers to Gula's belief that God is present in everyone we judge and we need to learn to seek God's presence as a guide to our judgment. 

Gula draws his information from theologians who have written since the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The theologians Gula consults are mainly Catholics, but some are Protestants.

We are experiencing a convergence of Protestant and Catholic thinking in more and more areas, especially in one of the major areas of concern in this book—the integration of the rational aspects of morality with a perspective of faith. Therefore, while the primary emphasis here is on the foundations of Roman Catholic morality, many Protestant voices will be heard throughout. (p. 3)   

What distinguishes a partucular ethics is its sources, Gula says. Catholic ethics grows from Catholic sources. Three such sources are the Catholic Bible, the Catholic Tradition, and the Catholic magisterium (the mystical teaching authority given by God to the Church). (p. 10)

Questions arise. "How does faith inform Catholic morality? What relation do religious convictions have to Catholic moral thinking which prides itself on being 'rational' and based on 'nature'?" (p. 2) Gula sets out to answer.

AUDIENCE. The book, the author says, "is written for those who are seriously interested in Catholic morality but who do not have the time to make their way through all the scholarly work which has gone on in Catholic moral theology." (p. 4) Academic teachers could use this book as a textbook because it surveys moral theology as a whole—both its foundations and the positions (and controversies) that stand on the foundations. A serious layman, given sufficient time, could work through this book and gain an introduction to the field of Catholic moral theology, both its history and its contemporary landscape. Gula says he tries to write to "the 'people in the pews'." (p. 4)

STYLE. Gula makes the structure of the text clear. He writes previews, summaries, and reviews. Unfortunately his convoluted sentence-by-sentence style is often difficult to follow. For clarity, a careful reader must often reread, parse, and restate the author's point in the reader's own simple, declarative sentences. 

THEME. A Catholic, Gula says, should strive for "discernment." This is a complex skill that leads a person to making the best possible moral judgment—of oneself, another person, or a situation—in particular circumstances at a particular time. Discernment thus is an attempt to integrate fundamental moral principles with the particulars of an individual case.

Elements of discernment include the following:  

1. One should have faith. Without faith, "discernment of spirits" is impossible. "Discernment of spirits" is the "process of discovering the presence of God in one's inclinations and choices." (p. 316). "Discernment of spirits is only possible for a person who looks on life from the perspective of one committed to God in Christ and through the Spirit. ... For the person of faith, every human experience, if given a chance, could disclose God." (pp. 317-318) 

2. One should realize that an individual's heart is the place in him where he makes contact with God. Here "heart" refers to the deepest level of one's nature. "This is the level of the human person which escapes clear conceptual knowledge."  (p. 321)

3. One should gather complete and accurate information about the subject being judged. (pp. 323-324)

4. One should confirm one's initial judgment internally (for example, by having a feeling of harmony) and externally (for example, by consulting the needs of the community). (pp. 324-326)

The four points above produce a "reasoning heart" (p. 316), that is, an integration of faith and reason, at a non-conceptual level (p. 321, with a summary at p. 328) Thus, Catholicism "integrates" faith and a crippled version of reason, basing decisions ultimately on feeling of one sort or another. 

Burgess Laughlin
Author, The Power and the Glory: The Key Ideas and Crusading Lives of Eight Debaters of Reason vs. Faith, described at

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