An academic textbook promising “directions for the journey to happiness” must be an odd outrider in a genre that typically explains bland technical subjects with dispassionate, often tedious prose. Such is the peculiar case with this introduction to Catholic moral theology from John Rziha, professor of theology at Benedictine College (Atchison, Kansas).
While it exhibits all the formal organization, diligent comprehensiveness, and (at times) even plodding language of a common school textbook, the attainment of both natural and eternal happiness really is the unerring focus of this book. Rziha defines moral theology as “the study of how humans attain eternal happiness through loving union with God by performing their proper actions with the aid of God’s grace” (2). So, throughout his nineteen carefully argued chapters, Rziha never loses sight of this ultimate goal of happiness or the essential human need for loving relationships with God and other people.
The text is organized into two parts with the second building upon the first.”Moral Theology in General” covers the subjects essential to the discipline: human nature, sanctifying grace, the four types of laws, the practice of virtue, the nature of sin, the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and other salient points.
“The Individual Virtues and Laws” takes a deeper look into the three theological and four cardinal virtues, including specific sub-virtues, related gifts of the Holy Spirit, relevant commandments, and sins that oppose each virtue.
Rziha always writes in accessible language to convey deep philosophical and theological ideas to the uninitiated, as well as explain a handful of unavoidable specialized terms. He also fills the text with friendly illustrative examples of fictitious men and women facing moral dilemmas over commonplace issues with school, work, family, faith, and vocation.
The Christian Moral Life is a sound introductory textbook on the complexities of moral theology. Despite its relatively simple language and unwavering focus on human happiness as the central subject of moral theology, the text can understandably be difficult to follow at times.
The complex interrelations among various steps of human actions, virtues, laws, gifts, and beatitudes can be challenging to piece together properly. This is, after all, a text on moral theology and not a self-help book, so readers must be ready to slow to a crawl at times to comprehend the richness of Catholic moral thought.
The Christian Moral Life will be a valuable textbook for libraries and teachers educating undergraduate and graduate students in theology, but its many grammatical errors will need to be corrected if it ever goes into a second edition.
Hans C. Rasmussen