Self-Love and Augustine: Analytical Outline

This is an outline of Oliver O’Donovan’s The Problem of Self-Love in St Augustine.
Thomas Aquinas identified three different froms of self-love: friendly, hostile, neutral.

      1. Augustine’s own use of it identifies with the eudaimonist tradition (O’Donovan 2).
    1. Four Aspects of Love
      1. Dilectio and caritas are words better-suited than amor.
        1. There is no caritas about evil things; only cupiditas.
      2. The loving subject stands in a complex relation to the reality he confronts.
        1. “Order” is a teleological notion.
        2. The subject discovers this order.
      3. The final good.
        1. Augustine initially thought this meant happiness.
        2. The supreme Good can’t be below or equal to man; it is above him.
        3. Using language like finis bonum introduces a positivist note (17).
      4. Cosmic love
        1. Metaphysical/ethical realism.
        2. The love of God is a metaphysical movement of the human will towards its final cause.
          1. But this doesn’t really account for deviations.
          2. Augustine then said that the movement of each thing is “proper” in that it occurs without any exterior force as an intervening cause.
        3. Augustine’s “Neo-Platonism.”
          1. The good of each degree is identified with the degree above it.
          2. Yet Augustine the metaphysician had to admit that only one object of love was permissible.
      5. Positive Love
        1. For the early Augustine “use” was opposite of love.
        2. Distinction between things and signs
          1. Things are subdivided
            1. Objects of enjoyment: you cleave to something for its own sake.
            2. Objects of use: not all use of temporal things is love.
        3. This is classical eudaimonism: the end is something one posits (28).
      6. Rational Love
        1. Love is estimation, appreciation, approval, not appetite or movement.
        2. The lover’s response to the object of his admiration is dilectatio.
          1. The basis of this delight is rational.
          2. Love’s order is given by its comprehending conformity to the order of reality.


  • Self-Love and the Love of God


      1. The pyramidal ordo amoris supposes that every subordinate good derives its value from its final orientation to God.
      2. Knowledge: We require God’s merciful self-communication
        1. The human mind
          1. We also need subjective criteria: the mind loves itself.


  • Self-Love and Self-Knowledge


      1. Love follows knowledge.
      2. Matter and Mind
        1. To be in matter is to be in space.
        2. The intelligible realm is “in itself.”
      3. Soul and Presence
        1. Self-presence: the soul detached from the world of matter
        2. Distance-from-self: the soul in matter.
        3. Augustine identifies the inner self with conscience (71).
      4. There is a gulf between self-knowledge and knowledge of God.
      5. Commentary on De Trinitate
        1. First three-fold division
        2. Amans, amata, amor
          1. This was the Trinity of external love.
          2. The subject-object-copula only yielded two terms.
          3. New triad can yield three: mens, notitia, amor.
        3. Memoria, intelligentia, voluntas


  • The Primal Destruction


      1. Self-love is to reject the good common to all, God himself, in favor of some limited personal good.
      2. Platonic echoes: Augustine sees the soul of man occupied in the middle place of the universe.
        1. We must view the soul as expanding (reaching towards God) and contracting (sin).
      3. Your private interests should not clash with another’s, for the only true interests have to be communal because the only true goodness was God, who gives himself freely to all (103).
        1. Neglecting the common good is neglecting the transcendent good common to all.


  • Suum has become an ontological category (104).


Thesis: Self-love is notorious to define, be it pagan or Christian.  And it isn’t always clear what Augustine means by it.  O’Donovan, however, does point the way through the morass and gives us something like the following: Augustine takes classical eudaimonianism and gives a “communal” and eschatological cast to it:  self-love finds its true expression in love to God, which orders my love to others (138).

O’Donovan ends with an outstanding presentation of Christian Eudaimonism.  Such a view will have to take a positivist view of the finis bonum.

But in some ways more important than the above is O’Donovan’s wise, judicious handling of the history of ethics in the ancient world.  Among other things, he gives us an outstanding commentary on the latter half of De Trinitate.


Love your God (Moreland)

Moreland, J. P. Love your God with all Your Mind (Navpress).


Many have rightly hailed this book as a game-changer. Unfortunately, not enough have. It’s hard to put this book’s importance into words. It changed my life in college. Enough with the praise; let’s begin.

Moreland’s thesis is developing a Christian mind is part of the essence of Christian discipleship (Moreland 43). Further, since the mind is a faculty of the soul (72, more on that later), one cannot develop one’s soul in relation to God without taking the mind into account. Yet Moreland is not encouraging us to become arcane theology wonks. He places the life of the mind within cultivating a framework of virtue (104-112). Virtue is elsewhere explicated as “the good life,” the life lived in accordance with God’s design (35). A virtuous life is a free life: freedom is the power to do what one ought to do. Finally, a virtuous life is a communal life.

Indeed, for example, it is this communal aspect of the virtuous life that Aristotle sought (170). It is a view of friendship that is formed around a common vision and shared goods (shades of Augustine!). Rather, New Testament fellowship–koinonia–is commitment to, and participation in, advancing the Kingdom from the body of Christ. What relevance, then, to the life of the mind? New Testament fellowship should be guided by the good life as revealed in the gospel, which includes a life of epistemic virtue. We are to build each other up in this.

Notae bene

Theology and Worship: God is a maximally perfect being. He is not just a perfect God, but perfect in all possible worlds. From this Moreland develops his theology of worship. While not Reformed, he anticipates some like an RPW. I disagree with his “testimony” time after the sermon, but mainly because this almost always kills the flow and narrative of worship (have you ever been to the last night of summer camp in youth group? Then you know of what I speak).

Interestingly, Moreland also accepts rule by elders, if not by synod.

Ethics: happiness, following the ancients and utilizing the New Testament, is a life of virtue whic includes suffering (35).

Philosophy and the Soul: we must remember that both ancient man and the Christian tradition defined the mind (as well as the spirit) as a faculty of the soul (Moreland 70-73). While it is a true statement that the soul has contact with God, yet it is the mind that is the vehicle for the soul’s making contact with God. On the other hand, the spirit is the faculty of the soul that relates to God (Romans 8:16 and maybe Eph. 4:23).

Moreland then outlines the five states of the soul (sensation, thought, belief, act of will, and desire). What’s interesting about that is the above states of the soul cannot be reduced to purely physical categories. This means the soul/mind is not reducible to the brain, which means scientific naturalism is false. This is also what R. L. Dabney meant by “connative” powers (I think; see Dabney Discussions II: 240, 243, III: 281; The Sensualistic Philosophy, chs. 1-2).
Not only does the soul have the aforementioned five states, it also has capacities or hierarchies. Without getting too technical, understanding the soul’s capacities is key in the abortion debate.

Moreland further gives some practical lessons in logic and analytical reading. That, too, changed my life. Few things are more beautiful than a well-time modus ponens.


This is a book to be savored, meditated upon. I’ve bought it several times and whenever I see it at used book sales, I buy it to give it away. It is that important. Don’t stop here, though. Immediately transition to Kingdom Triangle.

Situation Ethics (review)

You can summarize Fletcher’s ethic as “Claim love, and then you can use it to fornicate and stuff.”

Even though this book is bad, it isn’t completely bad. The beginning of the book is fairly well-written. I will do my best to outline Fletcher’s position but I will follow with an extended critique.

While Fletcher’s ethics is formally empty, he does explain it (sort of). Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26). It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27). All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What is its method? Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).
1. Only one law, agape.
2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.

1 Pragmatism. In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem 2. in ethics. Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
3. Relativism. To be relative means to be relative to something (44).
4. Positivism. Faith propositions are posited a-rationally. “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
5. Personalism. Love people, not things (50).

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).
Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).
Third Proposition: Love and justice are the same, for justice is love distributed (87).
Fourth Proposition: Love wills the neighbor’s good, whether we like him or not (104).
Fifth proposition: Only the End Justifies the Means; nothing else (120).

*Fletcher isn’t all bad. He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics. Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past. Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such). Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

* calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84). In fact, he has a very perceptive critique of Tolstoyanism: they want love but deny order.

*Says the social gospel is “pietistic” about love (91).

*His criticism of Catholic moralism’s separation of love as a supernatural virtue but justice as a natural virtue is interesting and should have been more developed (93ff).

* He helpfully outlines Chrysostom’s ethics as not confusing ends and means. Fletcher just sinfully rejects it.

The Critique:

(1) Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27). What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules. But why not? He just asserts this. He doesn’t prove it.

(2) Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting. Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.” “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52). But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?

(3) Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation? Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments. Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.

(4) Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done. Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion: “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).

(5) When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80). Which is another way of saying, “I don’t know.”

(6) Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious. He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like. He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).

(7) Fletcher holds to utilitarianism and so his position is suspect to all of the critiques of utilitarianism. But more to the point: in his calculus do we evaluate neighbor-good qualitatively or quantitatively? Unbelievably, he even says we can use numerical factors for issues relating to conscience (118). He is actually serious. Even worse, he tells a tale of the god-demon Moloch and sides with Moloch on how many to kill!

(8) More on utilitarianism: who gets to determine what “good” means? Fletcher himself? From where does he get this knowledge? From Jesus and the Bible? Sounds kind of “literalist” to me! Even worse, his position offers no protection to minority viewpoint, since by definition they will never been in the “greater” number. Fletcher defends racial minorities. Good for him, but it’s not clear on his ethics why he can do so, since they are never “the greatest number.”

As Norman Geisler points out, “The definition of “end” is unclear. Do we mean a few years? Lifetime? Eternity? In that case, only God could be a utilitarian and he is not.”

8.1) Another problem with utilitarianism, as noted by Arthur Holmes. What does it mean to “maximize the good?” Do we take the sum of the surplus good or do we just average it across the population? If we talk about the “Greater good,” can we ignore minority rights as long as we maximize the greater good?

“If 100 people each receive 10 bens (units of benefit), then the sum total is 1000 “bens” and the average is 10. But if we increase the benefit for 10 people to 100 bens each, give the next 60 people their original 10 bens, and the remaining 30 no bens at all, then the total benefit is 100 + 600 + 0 = 1600 bens; and the average is up to 16. But the distribution is now extremely unequal. Which of these two is the morally better distribution of benefits” ?

Can the utility principle by itself tell us how to best distribute benefits?

(9) Says Paul was “obscure and contradictory” about the problem of the justice of God (122). In fact, Fletcher formally disagrees with Paul on Romans 3:8. That’s because, per Fletcher, Paul erred in seeing “good” and “evil” as properties, not predicates.

(10) If love is to do the greatest good for the greatest number of neighbors, and Fletcher lists the situation where a group of people are hiding from murderers and a baby starts crying, which would expose the group, then the most loving thing to do is kill the baby. Okay, what if I refuse to kill my baby, did I sin? Corollary: Does Fletcher say I must kill my baby? Corollary #2: What if I refuse? Should the group make me?

(11) Throughout the book Fletcher makes a number of category confusions. This is not surprising, given his lack of ethical knowledge due to his only reading Neo-Orthodox and death-of-God theologians. For example, ethical theories like graded absolutism do not see deception in war as lying.

(12) Fletcher is guilty of circular reasoning:
P1: The end justifies the means
P2: The end does not justify itself
C1: Only love does.
Yet, how can I know the loving action?
P3: Love = greatest good to greatest neighbors. Yet, this is materially the same thing as P1.

Therefore, his argument runs:
Therefore, P1

(13) Fletcher openly ridicules Middle-Class America (137).

(14) He wants to say that “law-based” citizens would have rejected Dr King, yet on what grounds can Fletcher say that? Why can’t the evil-capitalist-white-man say, from his perspective, that the most loving thing to do is uphold segregation? Now, I believe the segregationist is wrong, but I can say, unlike Fletcher, that he is absolutely wrong.

(15) Unless there is advanced cognitive content to what “love” is, then one doesn’t really know what I am commanded to do.

(16) Let’s go back to his consequentialism in ethics. The mainline Protestant denominations more or less adopted Fletcher’s position? How are they doing today, membership-wise? The PC(usa) and TEC are losing members by the tens, if not hundreds of thousands. Seems like they failed Fletcher’s consequentialist test.


While Fletcher highlights some interesting and difficult issues in ethics, he rarely gives solutions (unless it involves extra-marital sex, in which he is always for it). This is not surprising. He cannot give solutions. He cannot give solutions because his criterion for value, “love,” is empty and meaningless.

Fletcher likes to tell “bleeding-heart” stories to show how wrong his critics are. Okay. Two can play at that game, as one reviewer notes. Fletcher tells the story:

A young woman, jilted by her lover, is in a state of great depression. A married man, with whom she works, decides to have an affair with her in order to comfort her. Some, like Fletcher, would argue that what he did might well have been a noble deed, for the man acted out of concern for his friend. What a perverted viewpoint! Here is the rest of the story. The man’s wife learned of his adulterous adventure, could not cope with the trauma, and eventually committed suicide. One of his sons, disillusioned by the immorality of his father and the death of his mother, began a life of crime, and finally was imprisoned for murder. Another son became a drunkard and was killed in an automobile accident that also claimed the lives of a mother and her two children. Now, who will contend that that initial act of infidelity was the “loving” thing to do?

At the end of the day, not only is Fletcher’s ethics morally depraved, it is logically useless. As Erwin Lutzer notes, “It’s like saying, “The only rules to the game is “Be fair!”” (less)

Situation Ethics, Part 1

Towards a full review.  Joseph Fletcher’s Situation Ethics was the theological justification (ad hoc, no doubt) of the Sexual Revolution during the 1960s.

Three Approaches

Situationism: the mean between legalism and antinomianism (Fletcher 26).  It has an absolute “norm” (love) and a calculating method (27).  All rules are contingent provided they serve agape-love.

What, then, is the place of rules?  Fletcher calls them “illuminators, not directors” (31).  There is an element of truth to this, as it echoes some wisdom literature.

What is its method?  Fletcher helpfully outlines (33).

  1. Only one law, agape.
  2. Sophia of the church and culture, containing “rules” which act as illuminators.
  3. Kairos: the moment of the responsible self in a situation.

Some Presuppositions

In this chapter Fletcher identifies his historical pedigree.  

  1. Pragmatism.  In short, he focuses on “satisfaction” as a criterion for truth (41ff). Of course, works toward what? This is the value problem in ethics.  Not surprisingly, Fletcher lists “love” as his value.
  2. Relativism.  To be relative means to be relative to something (44).  
  3. Positivism.  Faith propositions are posited a-rationally.  “Every moral judgment is a decision, not a conclusion” (47).
  4. Personalism.  Love people, not things (50).
    1. No such thing as value as inherent good.  A value is what happens to something when it “works.”
    2. Values are relative to persons and persons are relative to society.  (Dr Mengele, call your office).  
    3. If all he means by that is persons are persons in relationship—no, I am still uncomfortable with it.
    4. Fletcher says it is bad to “use people,” but what does he mean by “use”?  People are means in one sense–no person is to be loved for that person’s sake, but for God’s.  
  5. Conscience

Love is Always Good

First Proposition: Only love is intrinsically good (57).

Fletcher is a nominalist (57ff).  He continually asserts that love is a predicate, not a property or universal.  As a result, values are extrinsic to a person or thing.

Fletcher’s target in this chapter is Kant’s extreme deontological ethics.

What is a good action:  “whatever is the most loving thing to do” (65).  So what is the most loving thing to do?  Well, it depends on the situation.  Okay, so in Situation (S₁) what should I do?  No answer.  Probably fornicate.  

Love is the only universal (64).

Love is the Only Norm

Second Proposition: “The ruling norm of the Christian decision is love: nothing else” (69).

Fletcher now moves towards a definition of agape-love: goodwill at work in partnership with reason (69).   The essential spirit of many laws has been distilled into love. Fletcher points out that Christian love is not desire (79).

The Good in Fletcher’s Approach

*Fletcher isn’t all bad.  He exposes the false promises of historicist ethics.  Simply by noting the past one cannot anticipate the right action in the present, given the inevitable unfolding of the past.  Basically, Hegel is wrong.

*True, ethical decisions always take place in a situation and context.

*Fletcher reminds us that Victorian social mores are rarely biblical (even if he has the unfortunate habit of labeling his critics as such).  Further, though not always called out by him, most of the “horrid” puritanical legalism (in this book) derives not from church law but from secular ethics.

*Fletcher exposes some incoherent moments in Barth’s ethics (62, cf. CD III/4, p. 416-421).

*Fletcher notes some difficulties in Roman Catholic birth-control positions along with some difficulties in NFP (80).

*calls classical pacifism legalistic (83-84).  


  1. Fletcher says we can’t “milk universals from a universal” (27).  What he means is we can make principles from “the law of love,” but not rules.  But why not?  He just asserts this.  He doesn’t prove it.
  2. Although this is a minor point, it is worth noting.  Fletcher holds to the (debunked) “Biblical vs. Hellenistic” dichotomy (29). The Hebrew is “verb-minded” while the Greek is “noun-minded.”  “It doesn’t ask what is the good, but how to do good” (52).  But if I don’t know what the good is, rather just labeling it x, then how will I know if I am doing not-good?
  3. Can one really define agape-love without recourse to revelation?  Why can we privilege the term agape, itself drawn from revelation, while saying the rest of revelation is off-limits? The apostle John defined love by God’s commandments.  Fletcher wants to reject the idea of “unwritten rules from heaven” (30), but without any specific content to “love,” that is just what he has.
  4. Fletcher rejects legalism because of the bad things legalism has done.  Francis Kovach draws the following devastating conclusion:  “Human laws happen to have had certain undesirable effects; therefore, let’s do away with all human laws” (Kovach 99).
  5. When faced with the obvious question, “So what do I do in situation x,” Fletcher admits the best he can say is, “It depends” (80).  
  6. Fletcher’s arrogance is obvious.  He routinely scorns his opponents as “fundamentalists,” “literalists,” “legalists” and the like.  He ridicules those who “Believe in a Fall” (81).

Outline of Resurrection Moral Order

Labour of love a long time in the making.

O’Donovan, Oliver.  Resurrection and Moral Order: An Outline for Evangelical Ethics.  Eerdmans, [reprint 1994].


Easter Principle

In Christ’s resurrection creation is restored and fulfilment promised; ethics had a foundation (xv).

Difference with Hauerwas:  OO begins ethics with the Christ-event and resurrection; hauerwas with the practices of the Church.

Ethics and final redemption:  Jesus sits at God’s right hand and gives the spirit as a guarantee.  We can be confident about reconciliation because of Christ’s work on the cross.

Sub-thesis: “Love is the principle that confers unifying order both upon the moral field and the character of the moral subject” (226).

The Gospel and Christian Ethics

Resurrection and Creation

“The raising of Christ is representative, not in the way a symbol is representative, expressing a reality what has independent and prior standing, but in the way that a national leader is representative when he brings about for the whole of his people, whatever it is, war or peace, that he effects on their behalf.” (15)

Kingdom ethics/creation ethics:  no dichotomy.   God ushers in the kingdom in the raising of Jesus, which also reaffirms creation.

Natural Ethic

There is an objective reference to the God-made order.

The Spirit and Christian Freedom

The resurrection focuses our participation forward.  It allows me to respond as a moral agent to God’s order (23).   The gift of subjective freedom must be an aspect of our being-in-Christ. The coming of Christ throws off the law as pedagaigos. It makes us adults in God’s order.


Created Order

creation:  the order and coherence in which the world is composed (31).  It generates an ethical terminology:

  • end–A is ordered to serve B;
  • Creation’s being for Christ is related to being in Christ
  • kind: creates which have generic equivalence in Christ can be ordered to one another teleologically (here O’Donovan avoids the scale of being, but allows at the same time that man is probably more important than rocks).
  • Here OO (34-36) tries to navigate the problems of how creation’s subordinate ends are ordered to each other (per Hegel, Hume, etc).

St Basil’s Two Kinds of Order:  natural and deliberative (37ff).  

The attack upon kinds: the freedom of God

We must not assume a uniform pattern of God’s activity in all ages, for example before and after the coming of Christ (42ff).  

The attack upon ends: the polarity of will and nature

reality without “kinds” is nominalism.  Reality without ends is voluntarism.  Abstracting man from teleological concerns opens the danger to a mechanization of man (52).


Created order cannot be itself while it lacks the Christ-redeemed rule of man that was intended to it (55).  Eschatology answers the question of what creation’s temporal extensions mean.  The ascension is an unfolding of the significance of the resurrection (57).  This means Christian ethics looks both backwards and forwards.  

Natural Ends and History

historicism:  all teleology is time-bound, historical teleology.  It implies that the fulfillment of history is generated from within history (64). The Reformers’ insistence on sola fide/gratia cut this move off at the pass.  “Grace alone” means God is at work from the outside.   

  • Platonic form: per Pannenberg it incorporates not only the Parmenidean arche, but the Socratic arete.   The notion of the good contains an element of futurity.  
  • criticism:  when history is made the categorical matrix for understanding reality, then it can no longer be history.  For a story to be a story, it has to be a story about something (and not just a story about the idea of story).
  • The patristic response:  if creation is extended infinitely in time, then it has infinite possibilities.   By speaking of creation ex nihilo, as finite, they could say the possibilities in history were defined in terms of creation’s being God’s gift (63).  

Historicist Ethics

strong tendency to manipulate and intervene.  Nature does not have meaning from some transhistorical given, but arises from within history by natural forces.  

Western political theology was able to keep a distance from historicist conclusions (for a while, anyway).  It starts from the assertion that the kingdoms of this world are not yet the kingdoms of the Christ, since they do not reflect his judgments.  This allows the believer, who is absolutely subject to Christ, to be relatively subject to earthly powers.  This relative subjectivity opens a “space” between the believer and the powers.  Further, since politics does not have to reconcile the world, it can get along with its own God-ordained business (72).  

If there is no locus of value outside of history, then history will supply its own.  In this case the kingdom of God becomes a form without content.  


Knowledge has subjective/objective aspects.  

  • knowledge of things in their relation to the totality of things (77).  Grasping the shape of the whole.
  • The NT contrasts faith/sight, not faith/reason.  
  • subjective aspect: the more encompassing an object is, the harder it is to transcend it and remain neutral.  
  • universals:  our conception of “kinds” (genera) is always open to new particulars. However, the knowledge of the created order from within avoids the empiricist’s dilemma opposed to a knowledge of universals from above.  
  • knowledge is a human way of participating in the created order (81).  
  • knowledge is therefore tied to man’s faithful performance of a task.
  • In summary, knowledge is a knowledge-of-things from within the created order and is vindicated by the resurrection of Christ, who vindicates the created order and gives it back.  Knowledge is a knowledge hidden in Christ.  

Exclusive Knowledge

This knowledge of things in Christ is not of an ethereal Logos, but a particular human.  It is a particular knowledge of the whole order of things created and transformed (85).  

  • Natural Law: how to avoid the ambiguity which attributes universality, not only to knowledge, but to being.  First principles, for Thomas, are self-evident (ST II.I.94.2)
  • It is moral knowledge of the natural order co-ordinated with obedience (87).  It is known by participation, not transcendence.  

Moral Learning

Moral understanding is a grasp of the whole shape of things (90).   Moral learning is all the time “thinking,” the intellectual exploration of a reality (92).

Conflict and Compromise


Freedom and Reality

Goal of chapter: to show that the redeemed creation does not merely confront us as moral agents, but enables us to participate in it (101).

  1. The Spirit makes the reality of redemption present to us (102)
    1. Any doctrine of the Spirit must first be a doctrine of the Spirit in Christ if it is to avoid the problem of Montanism.  
    2. The Spirit makes the reality of redemption authoritative to us.
  2. The Holy Spirit in John 16:8-11 (105); each of these three moments of judgment is included in the one act of God’s redeeming and fulfilling creation.
    1. crucifixion: the world’s judgment on Christ
    2. resurrection/ascension: The Father’s judgment on Christ
    3. Parousia: Christ’s judgment on the ruler of the world.
  3. The Spirit evokes our free response.
    1. he restores us as moral agents, as the subjects of our actions (106).
    2. freedom is the character of one who participates in the order of creation by knowledge and action (107).  
    3. Freedom is potency, not possibility.This rejects existentialism’s “absence of limits” and libertarianism’s “infinite possibilities.”
    4. Freedom is teleological (Gal. 5.13).
    5. The Holy Spirit restores our access to reality (112).

Alienation and Conversion

  1. Augustine: knowing and willing must be entirely proportionate and coextensive.  The corrupted mind knows something without loving it, or without loving it proportionately (110).  It does not know it in order to justify its love (De Trin. Book 9). The mind in perfect possession of truth loves and wills–reason and will are one.  
  2. The problem of the relationship between reason and will: springs from a disjunction between hearing and doing
  3. Repentance cannot simply realign our will to its continuity with the past.  Something must break that continuity.

Conscience and Autonomy

  1. Guilt: a dividedness of the will with itself.
  2. Conscience:
    1. Thomas Aquinas:  it is bad for the will to be at variance with reason. If you have a mistaken conscience, anything your will does will be sin. Thomas’s larger point, even if we don’t like how he got there, is to caution against an autonomous conscience.
    2. Later 18th century moralists set up conscience as an arbitrary tyrant.


authority:  something, which by virtue of its kind, constitutes an immediate ground for acting (122).

Christian neo-Platonism: every movement of the human soul is inspired by God; mediated through a diversity of created objects

Natural Authority and the Authority of Truth (cf Ways of Judgment, pp. 131-132).

Political Authority

concurrence of natural authorities of might and tradition (128).  Political authority searches for a compromise while bearing full witness to the truth.

Divine Authority

“What is the relation of the divine command to the created order” (132)?

  • theological rationalism: God speaks through the order reason perceives.  Ps. 104:5; emphasizes the security of the created order.  Emphasizes ontological continuity, tends towards neo-Platonism.
  • theological voluntarism:  God’s command cuts across the rational order.  These psalms emphasize destability (Ps 97.5).  Tended toward immediate contingency of morality upon the revealed will of God.  

Deontic and Teleological Language

Deontic: morality is a matter of command and obedience.  The moral claim is encountered apart from any consideration of the subject’s wish or fulfillment.  

The Authority of Christ

The spirit bears witness to the Resurrected Christ’s authority.  Spontainety and tradition are dual aspects of the same error: failure to critically evaluate the Spirits.  What is tradition but spontaneity in slow motion?  They are not necessarily wrong; just not self-evident.  

The authority of God is located in the public realm (Resurrection).  Moral authority is the authority of the renewed created order where ends and kinds participate.  

Evangelical Authority

*  “When the apostle contrasted law and gospel, he was pointing to the dialectical tension in Israel’s history between the experience of God through promise and the experience of God through command” (151).

  • to experience moral command as “law” is to encounter as from a point in the history of salvation in which God has not yet given the total blessing to his people.
  • “mediated through angels” = the created authority of the community.

Jesus’s authority

  • It is “evangelical” because the moral order he proclaims is the Kingdom of God.
  • Abba prayer:  disciples are invited to share Jesus’s relationship with his father.
  • criticism of externalized morality and religion

Law is command through reciprocal bargain.

Historical Authority

The coming of Christ is the word that re-shapes the events of history (and their teloi).

The Freedom of the Church and the Believer

thesis:  Christ evokes the freedom of the Kingdom of God within us (163).  

  • however, our humanity is destined for the shared life of a city.

The difficulty in classical ethics:

  1. The call of the good, per Plato, meant a solitary and tragic opposition to society.
  2. Aristotle saw that human good always presupposed a social context.
  3. Augustine tries to solve this in City of God: eschatological transcends the tensions between individual and society.

The church isn’t simply a community that speaks to mankind, but is the community that is spoken to.

The Roman view of command and counsel:

  1. it suggested (contra Lk 17:7ff) that God’s demand was limited and less than the total claim of the Good (170).
  2. dangerous wedge between divine command and ultimate realities of good.
  3. Metaphysical ethics must be unitary.  If an act is obligatory, it is so by virtue of its relation to the good, and by virtue of that same relation the performance of it is free.
  4. Therefore, this distinction destroys the very ideas of both freedom and obligation.

Part Three: The Form of the Moral Life

The Moral Field

The form of the moral life is love, the bond of perfection (Col. 3:14).  This section deals with what St Paul calls “The fruit of the Spirit” (182).  

Thesis: The gospel tells us of agents rendered free before the reality of a redeemed universe.  The form their agency assumes will correspond both to the intelligible order which they confront and the freedom in which they act (183).

  • their moral life will be an ordered moral field of action (i.e., human acts)
  • moral ordered subject of action (I.e., human character)

An ordered moral field

Different options

  • to see the moral life as human acts is to see it broken down into a series of discrete and distinct events of human agency, a plurality of responses to the world rather than a single response (183).
  • Fletcher and situation ethics: no matter how problematic Fletcher’s proposal is, it did show the true colors of historicism.  Historicism needs a transhistorical mediation and Fletcher tries to show that doesn’t work.
  • anticipation: divorced from Christian reflection, this is a consequentialist ethic.
    • evaluate acts solely by the consequences they produce
  • Wisdom ethic: “the perception that every novelty, in its own way, manifests the permanence and stability of the created order, so that, however astonishing and undreamt it may be, it is not uttlery incommensurate with what has gone before” (189).
    • Wisdom’s re-presentation as law: declares the central point of Israel’s faith as the meeting of life-in-the-world with life-before-God.


indirect voluntary acts: similar to foresight.

direct voluntary acts: intention

the above distinction  advises us that there is a difference between directly intending  an evil effect of one’s action and merely foreesing that it will follow; b) that one may foresee an evil effect of one’s action without desiring it, and c) that one may licitly act in such a way as will foreseeably produce an evil effect (192).

This should be reframed, O’Donovan suggests: it originally arose as a way to understand the differences beween murder and other kinds of killing.  It cannot be used as an ‘analytic a priori” (194).


Aquinas’s approach: good and evil in human acts in general

  1. act-as-such
  2. object
  3. circumstance
  4. morality

This demands insight into the craeted order


The Moral Subject

Thesis: “Human morality is a series of disclosures in which reality (the heart) forces itself into the realm of appearances (deeds and words) and declares itself, tearing apart the veil of pretense” (206).


The Epistemological Priority of Act

  1. The character is known through the acts.
  2. Knowledge of an agent’s character contributes to evaluative moral thought, not deliberative.

The Plurality and Unity of the Virtues

Aristotle: all activities strive for some perceived good, happiness (eudaimion). What is the unifying virtue?  Love.  “True virtue is love for God” (223). The four cardinal virtues are manifestations of this love in typical social relations.

The Double Aspect of the Moral Life

Main point, glossing love your God/neighbor: the love by which we love reality must be twofold in the same way that the reality which we love is twofold: the secondary object derives from the primary object (227).

  • We are to love the neighbor because the neighbor is ordered to the love of God.
  • Yet, love of the neighbor is love of something that is not God (it is also affirming the genuine otherness of creation).

The Ordering of Love

The love to God is not merely one claim among many, but the claim that orders other claims.

Two loves: love to God and love to neighbor

  1. The relation of the two loves is an ordering of means to ends.
    1. Augustine’s “use” and “enjoyment.”
    2. “Res”
      1. Proper objects of “use” (utenda) and proper objects of enjoyment (fruenda)
      2. But Augustine’s reading seems to say that we “use” our neighbor, and O’Donovan rejects this proposal. 235
  2. What is a “person?”
    1. Originally classical Christian thought said that “individuality” resided in reason (nous) or soul (psyche).  When applied to Christ, this was disastrous (238). This either made him two individuals or one individual without a whole range of human attributes.
    2. The solution was to draw a sharp divide between person (hypostasis, individual existence) and nature (a set of attributes).
    3. Modern Kantianism and Hegelianism, in reducing person to “will” and self-consciousness is actually a reversion back to pre-Christian categories.

The End of the Moral Life

The Christian moral life looks to the divine disclosure of God-in-Christ through the Spirit.

Love and its Reward

The idea of reward must always be clarified by something like ipse praemium.  God himself is the gift.  The present hiddenness of God’s new creation demands the public manifestation of the Son of Man in the cosmos.

Love demands that the good be actualized.

Kant downplayed the object of affections/desires/etc in favor of an inner disposition (251).

Various Terminology:

created order: “the structure of the world in its objectivity…its authority to evoke our action” (191).

moral field: “the world as it presents itself to us at any one moment as the context and occasion of our next action.”

Wisdom: “knowledge of the created order.”

casuistry: application of the moral law to action in particular cases.

historicism: the history of an idea is its reality (34). The problem is that the end of a thing is no longer a given ordering-to, which allows free response, but merely historical necessity.

universal in Christ:  his particularity belongs to his divine nature, universal to his human nature (143).  A universe of meaning


Barth and Ramsey on Political Power

This is a summary of Oliver O’Donovan’s essay of similar title, found in Bonds of Imperfection.  What’s important is not so much the conclusions reached, but how they are reached.

Ramsey: The crux of the difference between pacifists and justifiable-war Christians turns on the person and work of Christ (Ramsey, Speak up for Just War or Pacifism 111, quoted in O’Donovan 247).

  • While this sounds pious and truistic, it has a very precise meaning for both thinkers.
  • For Barth it concerns the proper location of the political order within the covenant of Reconciliation between God and man (OO 251).
  • For Ramsey it means that Christ assumed one common humanity: there is no ontological disjunction between homo politicus and any other kind of man/order.


O’Donovan summarizes Barth’s ethics in several stages:

    1. Despite some of Barth’s shifts on election, there is a stable stream of ethical reflection–grudgingly acknowledging the state’s right of force but noting the abnormality of it.


  • Romerbrief may be discounted as “anarchist” and “backwater” (O’Donovan 249).


  1. Barth’s wartime writings veered closer towards a realist use of the State’s force.  His later writings veered towards a more anabaptist view.
  2. This is because of a dialectic within Barth’s thought that is never fully settled.
  3. This is partly the case because Barth doesn’t (will not?) imagine the possibility of both a peace-state and war-state within the same framework.

Here is where possible confusion arises:  Ramsey will critique “liberals” on pacifism and note they follow Barth.  What does he mean by “liberals?”  I don’t think it is simply “those who reject the Bible.”  I think he has in mind Niebuhrian liberalism.

Paul Ramsey

Key Point: The Legitimate Use of Power

  1. The use of power, including the use of force, is of the esse of politics
  2. The use of power is inseparable from the bene esse of politics.

As a foil, Ramsey will have Barth say:

B3: War should not be seen as a normal, fixed, or necessary part of a just state (CD III/4, p. 456).

Back to Ramsey’s theses.  We may add another

R4: The use of power implies the possible use of force.

Ramsey’s argument presupposes a proper ordo of politics, the connections of iustitia, lex, and ordo.

  • Ordo = the disposition of power.

R5: The cross casts a shadow over politics, not pure light (OO 259).  

Politics, community, and the cross should meet in that area where light and shadow meet.  

R6: “The task of politics is to be a sign of the rule of Christ, disclosing right, preserving community and determining the basis of community in right” (259).

Political reflection based on the gospels should not begin with the Advent, as important as it is, but with the fact that Christ has come in history.  O’Donovan: “He [Messiah] has reached for the crown which will allow no rival crowns beside it.  Because he has come, history has divided into two, its back broken on this outcrop of rock which it cannot negotiate” (260).

Corollary: There is a disjunction within the community of election (visible/invisible church), not in the works of God as such.  

Problems with Barth’s Political Ethics

For Ramsey, God accepts Christ’s regnant new humanity.  For Barth, God rejects the old humanity.  This seems to mean that God also rejects extra-ecclesial orders as such.  When Barth comes to war as such, he does not interact with Just War reasoning but simply lists the evils of the Second World War.

Ramsey can point to “monuments of grace” in such a horror, even to legitimate uses of State force.  Barth can only suggest a delaying action (CD III/4, p. 456).  As a result, notes O’Donovan, Barth “ends up precisely in the place he intended to bypass, in a politics that can only be viewed soberly and not with evangelical faith or hope” (O’Donovan 264).

A Way Forward With Ramsey

Ramsey has what Barth needs: a way to bridge the gap between homo politicus which is redeemed in Christ and homo politicus that is in need of redemption. We are back with the distinction between esse and bene esse.  The latter terms also suggests something along the lines of goal or end. Ramsey is speaking of true political activity.  

Is Barth an Apollinarian?

Ramsey offers a model in which political power is both used appropriately and judged:  the Incarnation, homo assumptus.  This means that Christ takes on the fallen order, including homo politicus.  There is no radical “Other” realm to which Christ has no access.  As O’Donovan notes, “Only so can the homo politicus that is redeemed be the same homo politicus that was in need of redemption” (266).

Barth will not grant this.  But in not granting it, he is partitioning off a section of man’s redemption.  To be fair, Barth resists this temptation in Christology but not in politics.

Who is Ramsey’s “Liberal?”

A liberal for Ramsey is one who splits politics and military doctrine.

Liberalism for O’Donovan: the inadequacy of every human attempt to render justice.  A magistrate’s power should be limited.    Therefore, power is suspect but necessary (270).

What does Ramsey mean by Just War and International Politics?  So, O’Donovan: “The international sphere was a constitutional vacuum, but by no means a moral or political vacuum” 271). Ramsey suspects there is a continuum that links violent with nonviolent resistance. Indeed, is not democracy justum bellum (Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience, 126)?  Jesus never said to resist evil by ballot boxes.


Review of Politics of Jesus (Yoder)

Eerdmans, 1994.

While I think this book is wrong on several levels, it marked a valuable turning point in Evangelical ethical reflection. To say Jesus’s message was political is commonplace today. It wasn’t when Yoder wrote.

Thesis 1: Jesus’s ministry has a political claim that we often hide from ourselves (Yoder 2).

Yoder is against a “Creation Ethic” (8). While his primary target is natural law ethics, he also lists “situation ethics” under the same label: we discern the right be studying the realities around us (9).

Thesis 2: Because of Jesus’s “humanness,” there is the possibility of a distinctively normative, Christian ethic (10).

Yoder is against any kind of “natural law ethic,” and for him natural law = creation = nature = reason = reality. While I suspect Yoder paints with a rather broad brush, one can’t help but note a few points he scores: these models are usually “ascribed a priori a higher or deeper authority than the ‘particular’ Jewish or Christian sources of moral vision” (19).

His exegesis on “Kingdom” anticipates many of the gains found in NT Wright’s own work. Yoder’s argument concerning “Jubilee” is quite interesting, though not without difficulty. He sees Jesus in Luke 4 as inaugurating the New Jubilee. In fact, he can call the “Lord’s Prayer” a “Jubilee” prayer, since debts are wiped away (64). Bottom line: Those in the Kingdom must practice Jubilee. Corollary: to practice the Sabbath without practicing deliverance and Jubilee is not to practice the Sabbath.

(3) The point of OT violence was not violence, but that God acts to save his people without their needing to act (76-77).

(4) Jesus’s kingdom is not simply “internal” but is outward and social.

(5) The universe was made in an ordered form and is called “good” (141).

Be that as it may, Yoder insists “we have no access to the good creation of God” (141). Strong stuff. He does expand upon this language, drawing upon Paul’s words in Acts 17:22-28.

(5a) These power-structures were created by God and today provide a network for our existence (142).
(5b) They rebelled and fell.
(5c) God uses them for good.

My only problem at this point is (5b) seems to think that the powers = angels of one sort or another. That could work but the evidence is slim.

Romans 13

This is the most controversial chapter in the book. I’ll begin by noting some positives. Yoder is correct that Paul is not arguing for a positivist reading: i.e., whatever the state says is just/right by definition (this is the official position of the United States Supreme Court regarding its own rulings). Most controversially, he asserts that the sword, the machaira, is not a weapon as such but a symbol of authority. Therefore, this can’t mean that the state is just in war or taking a life.

By way of response:
>He says God did not create the powers that be, but only orders them (201). Assuming that these powers are not self-existing, then yes, God did create them.

>He says Rom. 13 cannot be used as a proof-text for police/military functions (203). But what of the soldiers who came to John the Baptist? What of the centurion whom Jesus commended so highly? In neither case were they told to quit their unjust professions.

>His claim that the machaira can’t be used for death simply won’t hold. The state is said not to wield it in vain. But if it is merely symbolic and can’t restrain my actions, then the state is wielding it in vain. Jesus reaffirms the death penalty in Matt. 15.


*Yoder does a fine job demonstrating that Jesus didn’t come to offer a Kantian kingdom and a Kantian, spiritual ethic.

~1. It’s hard to reconcile Yoder’s claim that the State is the embodied evil of the demonic powers with Paul’s claim that it is a minister of good.

~2. Yoder wants to posit a good creation with good structures (as he should), but given Romans 13 and the fact that God commanded wars in the Old Testament, how can one then critique Just War Theory and the use of the sword?

~3. Yoder almost always dismisses dissonant voices as “unaware of Jesus’s social dimension,” of whom he usually means “Christendom” (whatever that means).

~4. Yoder’s claims in (5a-c) need an additional premise: (5d) Creation has been restored and reaffirmed in the resurrection of Christ. To be fair, Yoder approaches this point (144-145). Yet, in this section he doesn’t mention the Resurrection. He does hint at it on p.239.

~5. While correctly rejecting the Enlightenment project, Yoder uses a lot of its rhetoric. He continually contrasts the “traditional” or “Constantinian” reading with a fresher reading.

~6. What’s the value of positing a good creation if we have no cognitive access to it (141)? In fact, and most devastatingly, how does Yoder even know creation is good if we have no cognitive access to it? In any case, the Bible doesn’t follow this reasoning, since it tells us to look to nature and creation for wisdom (“Go to the ant, thou sluggard!”).

Now that I think about it, this is why Oliver O’Donovan spent so much


A valuable and welcome read. His exegesis of Luke is outstanding and he doesn’t opt for easy answers, even when I think he is wrong.