A History of Catholic Moral Theology in the Twentieth Century: From Confessing Sins to Liberating Consciences. By James F. Keenan, SJ. (New York: Continuum. 2010. Pp. viii, 248. $29.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-82642929-2.)
James F Keenan has crafted an insightful narrative reflecting the contributions of multiple theologians associated with moral theology during the past century. The classical manuals of moral theology from the first half of the century, represented by the writings of Thomas Slater, Henry Davis, and Heribert Jone, serve as the base point against which the contributions of subsequent moral theologians are assessed. The early reformers of the tradition (Dom Odón Lottin, Fritz Tillman, Gerard Gilleman, and Bernard Häring) turned to systematic theology and the scriptures to provide a more theological and/or scriptural foundation to moral theology. After a brief commentary on the manner in which Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor impacted the new directions in which moral theology was headed, Keenan turns to a series of moral theologians (Joseph Fuchs, Richard McCormick, Bruno Schuller, and others) whose writings affected the ethical theory underpinning the tradition (intrinsic moral evil, the principle of double effect).The most significant revisions of the last twenty years of the twentieth century, Keenan proposes, were new understandings of the natural law and discussions regarding the distinction between the "good" and the "right."The final chapter is dedicated to issues associated with applied or special moral theology. Slater, Davis, and Jone may well have been able to engage in discussions of the issues discussed by Keenan until the final chapter. A special moral theology focused on issues of liberation associated with indigenous cultures beset with the outcomes of colonialism and the sexual exploitation of women would have been difficult for them to comprehend.
Bernard Lonergan has written:
The historian wants to grasp what was going forward in particular groups at particular places and times. By "going forward" I mean to exclude the mere repetition of a routine. I mean the change that originated the routine and its dissemination. I mean process and development, but, no less, decline and collapse.1
Keenan seems to have written this book with such an understanding of the task of the historian of theology. He notes:
... we need now to recognize that the innovators claimed that moral truth was not realized as much in solitary,…