The Word of God

Christ and the Dynamism of Action: Outlook and Overview of Christocentrism in Moral Theology

Livio Melina

“Christian moral theology will . . . acquire a personalistic and responsorial character: it will arise as a response to the totally gratuitous encounter with Christ.”

Since initial attempts, dating as far back as the 1930s, to renew Catholic moral theology in relation to its post-tridentine manualist tradition, the question of christocentrism has come into contact with more innovative theological proposals, and has swung back and forth between enthusiastic programs and declarations of inconclusiveness or outright failure.1 The bold proposals for a radically new approach centered on the person of Christ,2 which marked the preconciliar and immediate postconciliar periods, were succeeded, particularly in the seventies, by drastic calls to abandon this road in light of the demands of rational autonomy and the universality of ethics. Franz Böckle’s pronouncement represents the common sentiment: “the focus on christology stands in contradiction to a normative universalization.”3

The encyclical Veritatis Splendor, for its part, has recalled that “the following of Christ is the essential foundation of Christian morality” (19). This constitutes an implicit and authoritative invitation to take up the question of christocentrism once again in moral theology as a privileged starting point for the renewal that is being called for (cf. 29). To be sure, accepting such an invitation does not mean ignoring the problems that have emerged in recent theology. The present article, therefore, intends to review, albeit in a necessarily schematic and general fashion, the principal models of christocentrism that have been proposed, paying special attention to the theoretical knots that have emerged along the way, in order to find a positive orientation for future investigation that will allow us to meet the proper demands of a truly scientific moral theology.4


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