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Why Be Good?

John Kelleher

"Why Be Good?" is one of those questions that starkly reveal the poverty -- the vulnerability -- of all covenantal moral theologies. After all, one would think that any self-respecting moral theology would not merely have a ready answer to that question, but an iron-clad answer to it.

But within any covenantal moral theology, "Why Be Good?" has no answer; indeed, the question cannot even be asked. It must be refused, as a matter of theological method. For even to ask the question is to talk gibberish, non-sense; it is to place the foolishness of the world above, prior to, the radically historical truth of the Eucharistic Event.

To ask such a question as if it were 'serious', not gibberish, is to -- inadvertently and temporarily, one would hope -- assign a place for oneself extra ecclesia, outside communion, a 'place' from which the Good possessed in ecclesia by gift can be made subject -- to our evaluation.

Our mouths can babble, certainly; but to confuse babbling syllables, such as "an sit verum? (but is it true?)," or "Why be good?," or "Why three Persons in One God, and not three hundred?," with theological inquiry is to dehistoricize the faith of the Church, it is to fall prey to the cosmological gambit.

As Covenantal Theology demonstrates over and again, a 'move' of this sort inevitably self-generates contradictions, because the radically historical faith of the Catholic Church cannot be 'evaluated' by means of any dehistoricized cosmology whatever. For such 'evaluation' automatically makes the dehistoricized cosmology supposedly prior to the historical work in time of the Bridegroom and His bride; it makes the Truth which is He with His bride in sacramento, in ecclesia; which is to say, in history, wait upon something prior even to Him.

There is indeed a question that must be answered before theology is able to begin, but it is not "What is truth?", or "Why be good?" or any such question that (unconsciously or consciously; innocently or maliciously) dehistoricizes the real, and thus presumes itself prior to the Lord, Who is standing right there in front of you. It is the question that the Lord asks you: "Who do you say that I am?" [Mt 16:15].

For though He Who is Love can be loved, and He Who is Truth can be learned from, He cannot be 'comprehended' -- gotten around, put in His place, circumscribed -- in terms of any ideal or algorithm or recipe or substance or being or power supposedly prior even to Him.

For -- mark this well -- "Theology does not seek the truth." Fr. Keefe is very clear about that; he says those exact words out loud, not in some obscure place within the pages of Covenantal Theology, but in the Epilogue to the whole of Volumes I and II (the bolded word 'fides' is in the original text):

Catholic theology must then refuse the cosmological gambit, which would invite a discussion of its faith by posing the question, "An sit verum?" Theology does not seek the truth: possessing the truth in ecclesia by gift, Catholic theology seeks to understand in ecclesia ever more fully the mystery mediated there, a mystery which we cannot comprehend, but from which we may learn forever. To occupy oneself with "But is it true?" is to abdicate the office of theologian, of fides quaerens intellectum.

[ CT II, Epilogue, p. 652 ]

If we ask the Lord, "Why should we be good?" we may as well ask Him directly: why should He be good? Why should He send the Spirit? Why should He choose all things to be made through Him? Why should He choose to give up His life and die on the Cross? Why should He be born of the Virgin? Why should He give the New Covenant, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice? Why should He give the sacraments? Why should He reveal the Father? Why should He be good?

How much the manuals miss, when they are not simply left speechless by such love! But no -- sometimes the manuals 'answer'. Yet the only way they can answer is by performing some sort of reductio ad absurdum on their own priors.

For the only thing the manuals have to work with is Necessity; thus even Our most gracious Lord's "words and deeds, his silences and sufferings, indeed his manner of being and speaking" [CCC 516] occurred because -- somehow -- He had to, because it was necessary.

Because what else can the manuals say? What begins in Necessity, ends in Necessity; QED.

By contrast, covenantal moral theologies are categorically, as a matter of method, unable to say why Our Lord would love us -- why He would be good -- nor why He would be responsible to that love forever. All that covenantal moral theologies find themselves able to say is that we are utterly unable to control, let alone dictate, either His love or His free responsibility in any way.

Covenantal moral theologies can wonder about those gifts, in the way that Mary kept them in her heart; but that's all. Covenantal moral theologies are fundamentally indigent, radically vulnerable.

The personal worship that is a 'searching' for a greater understanding of the mystery and gift possessed in ecclesia is part of one's personal name; that is, it is part of one's personal history thus far within and through the radically historical One Flesh in the One Sacrifice.

Thus perforce there is no such thing as 'Theology'; there is only the 'searching' of men whose existence is in ecclesia, who write part of their history, part of their personal name, in words that mean to understand a little better, that mean to ask slightly better questions of a mystery that they possess only by grace, ex nihilo, with all believers; words that they submit to the judgment of the Church.

The personal, the historical, fides quaerens intellectum is therefore radically to be distinguished from an impersonal and dehistoricized 'seeking' for a 'truth' apart from Him with her. Theology does not seek any ideal 'truth', because it cannot: there is no such thing as that 'truth', because Truth is not a time-less 'thing' at all, but an historical Person in covenantal union with His bride, Who as raised continues His work, with her, in our own history.

Covenantal moral theologies understand the root of the worship that is the quaerens ("searching") in all its forms (only some of them intellectual) to be the trahi a Deo, the "drawing towards God," that ineradicable longing for and delight in the grace of Christ, that grace within which we -- and everything -- are created.

A rock is not indifferent to the grace of Christ. It too searches (indeed, it "groans" [ Rom 8:22 ]) to respond to the Bridegroom and His bride. Hence, since rocks do not express their worship by means of philosophy, philosophy is the bedrock of nothing at all. The bedrock is the stone which the builders rejected: Jesus the Christ eucharistically, thus historically, and by that and that alone, substantially, present and ever re-present with his one-and-only bride, the One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, the New Covenant.

The Eucharistic Event creates, and is constitutional of, all that is. This Event, this factum, this continuing deed, this continuing act in history, this work, is inherently Trinitarian, inherently covenantal; it is free, bound by nothing, beholden to nothing: He with His bride do not love us out of any cause, but utterly gratuitously, and simultaneously, utterly responsibly. We do not control that love; nor can we, or any one or any thing, ever make Him -- or her -- unfaithful.

On our part, we can do our best; and the best we can do is to make our response similar to that of His bride's: simultaneously free, and indigent.

The Catholic faith is a free intellectual response to a free revelatory Event; neither the Event nor the response can be subsumed to any necessity whatever, whether in God or in man, nor can we furnish any antecedent account of the prior possibility of the Event or of the response: both are given ex nihilo sui et subjecti, and in their free unity they constitute the a priori of all theology.

[CT, p. 119]

The manuals -- many of them, at least -- make the answer to "Why Be Good?" a matter of teleology: we ought to be good because that is our end. However, as a matter of method, covenantal moral theologies must refuse all 'natural' teleology, for 'nature' (fallenness as normative) is no foundation, but only the facts; that is, the Eucharistic Event, One Flesh in the One Sacrifice, Him with her, historically, eucharistically, covenantally, is the sole possible prime analogate, the sole possible foundation.

But if we allow for true puns, there is a kind of teleology in covenantal moral theologies. For our 'end' will be our personal death. All of us will die in the death of the Lord, the only death that remains, for He has defeated death.

But there is nothing of Necessity in this. We are born in the grace of Christ -- which we may refuse; and we die in the death of the Lord -- which we may equally refuse. Thus our personal death, the 'end' of our life on earth, is the most decisive moment of our life.

For the Lord's death is not imposed on us. Hell is the place for those who choose to put the death of the Suffering Servant beneath them, for all eternity. They choose to make the death of the Lord beneath their notice, they wish to be apart from His death -- beyond His death. And as His final gift to those who choose this, the Lord has prepared a place for them, also.

At the moment of our death, we are like Adam and Eve, and more than like them: it is the moment in our history so far at which one single word from us is forever.

We already know of such decisive words, words that change lives: for example, changing one word in the baptismal formula, from "I baptize you," to "we baptize you," makes the sacrament invalid. So too at the moment of our death, we speak before the Bridegroom and His bride our real name, the name we really wish, the name we ourselves have chosen.

At that moment, we speak to them not only our personal name thus far, which just is our history thus far, but also the name that is our personal promise into our history forever. That one word from us then, changes everything. For whatever name we give Him then, He will ratify.

At the moment of our death, prevarication is unavailing, and as we know Him, so we have Him. Then we choose, completely freely, with the freedom of the unfallen Adam and Eve, and with even more finality. Like them, we may wish to be like gods, or, as Mary did, as all the saints have done, we may choose to be simultaneously free and indigent: free to love and follow Him who has died and been raised, He who is mighty, He who has done great things for us.

So covenantal moral theologies can warn us that this end, this decisive freedom, comes to all: we cannot evade it. They can warn us that there can be no 'takebacks' to the name we speak to the Bridegroom and His bride at that dread moment.

They can testify that nothing in our history thus far is able to 'balance' the history we make then, the name we finally take then, which is the name that decisively names our history not only with them but also with every one and every thing.

They can affirm that we have no ability whatever -- not even then -- to disavow even a single syllable of our name, our history, while at the same time affirming that if we deny Him then, if we wish our history with Him and her to be at an end then, He will give us exactly what we want: if we deny Him, He will deny us. [2 Tim 2:12]

But covenantal moral theologies have no ability to tell us why we should be good; because that question's fundament, its essence, is asking the Lord Jesus, why should He be good? If His free responsibility is meaningless, then so is ours; if His death -- His 'end' -- is meaningless, then ours certainly is.

With His one and only bride, the Catholic Church, He continues to 'breathe' his ongoing history -- His personal, Holy Name -- into our world. If His Name that He speaks is not Truth speaking truly, then we are lost, whatever we do: "Lord, to whom shall we go?" [Jn 6:68]

Through Him, and -- due to of the Fall -- therefore through His death, all things were made. The question is: in this life, and at the moment of our own death, do we choose to be enfolded in the death of the Lord and all its fruits -- in the New Covenant, in the One Flesh of the One Sacrifice?

Covenantal moral theologies may not -- because they cannot -- honestly stand before the Lord and His bride and ask, "Why be good?" That is either naive foolishness, or the question that Satan put to Eve. In order to do covenantal moral theology, covenantal moral theologians must first answer Our Lord's prior question: "Who do you say that I am?"

In other words, Love comes first. Covenantal moral theologians begin with the recognition that the cause of their particular intellectual quaerens is their personal enfolding within an uncountable, and literally unaccountable (not to be accounted for; free from control), ongoing series of free and responsible historical gifts; that their response to these gifts is free and responsible gifts of their own; and that, like the gift made by Our Lady's juggler, their activity is no gift, no responsibility, at all, unless done for her, and is ever subject to her judgment.

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