Take and Read: The Law of Christ

Charles Curran, SMU's Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values, writes about Bernard Häring's 'The Law of Christ,' "the most important book I have ever read."

By Charles Curran

For me, Bernard Häring's The Law of Christ was the most important book I have ever read. We all recognize, however, that the most important book we have ever read depends heavily on what we were looking for at the time we read it.

Here was my situation and mindset at the time I first read The Law of Christ. I was finishing my theological studies at the North American College in Rome in the spring of 1959. I had been ordained a priest in Rome in 1958 for the diocese of Rochester, New York. In early spring, I received a letter from my bishop saying that I was to come back to Rome in the fall of 1959 to pursue a doctorate in moral theology at the Gregorian University to prepare me to teach moral theology at St. Bernard's Seminary in Rochester.

As a seminarian, I had studied moral theology at the Gregorian University with well-known and distinguished moralists such as the German Jesuit Franz Hurth and the American Jesuit Edwin Healy. I enjoyed their classes in which they basically followed the purpose of the manuals of moral theology in preparing seminarians for their role as confessors by knowing what acts are sinful and the degree of sinfulness. The ethical model was a legal one — law was the objective norm of morality. In addition, Josef Fuchs also taught me in two courses, and he pointed out that the approach of the manuals was not the only possible approach to moral theology. (In those days I did not know Fuchs very well, but later we became quite close.)

With this background in the spring of 1959, I started thinking about my future studies and how I wanted to teach moral theology. At this time a friend pointed out to me the three-volume Italian translation (La Legge di Cristo) of Häring's work which was originally published in German in 1954. The Italian translation had just been published in the period of 1957-1959. The English translation of The Law of Christ was published only in 1963.

The Law of Christ opened my eyes and my mind to see a new approach to moral theology. The very subtitle of the work -- Moral Theology for Priests and Laity indicates that the focus was on the moral life as a whole and not just on what acts were sinful and the degree of sinfulness. . .

Read the complete essay.