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The splendour of truth shines forth in all the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God cf. Gen Truth enlightens man's intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord. Called to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, "the true light that enlightens everyone" Jn , people become "light in the Lord" and "children of light" Eph , and are made holy by "obedience to the truth" 1 Pet This obedience is not always easy. As a result of that mysterious original sin, committed at the prompting of Satan, the one who is "a liar and the father of lies" Jn , man is constantly tempted to turn his gaze away from the living and true God in order to direct it towards idols cf. Man's capacity to know the truth is also darkened, and his will to submit to it is weakened. Thus, giving himself over to relativism and scepticism cf.

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Rom and thus to live our moral life in a way worthy of our sublime vocation as "sons in the Son". This vocation to perfect love is not restricted to a small group of individuals. The invitation, "go, sell your possessions and give the money to the poor", and the promise "you will have treasure in heaven", are meant for everyone, because they bring out the full meaning of the commandment of love for neighbour, just as the invitation which follows, "Come, follow me", is the new, specific form of the commandment of love of God.

Both the commandments and Jesus' invitation to the rich young man stand at the service of a single and indivisible charity, which spontaneously tends towards that perfection whose measure is God alone: "You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect" Mt In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus makes even clearer the meaning of this perfection: "Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful" Lk The way and at the same time the content of this perfection consist in the following of Jesus, sequela Christi, once one has given up one's own wealth and very self.

This is precisely the conclusion of Jesus' conversation with the young man: "Come, follow me" Mt It is an invitation the marvellous grandeur of which will be fully perceived by the disciples after Christ's Resurrection, when the Holy Spirit leads them to all truth cf. It is Jesus himself who takes the initiative and calls people to follow him. His call is addressed first to those to whom he entrusts a particular mission, beginning with the Twelve; but it is also clear that every believer is called to be a follower of Christ cf.

Acts Following Christ is thus the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality: just as the people of Israel followed God who led them through the desert towards the Promised Land cf.

Ex , so every disciple must follow Jesus, towards whom he is drawn by the Father himself cf. This is not a matter only of disposing oneself to hear a teaching and obediently accepting a commandment. More radically, it involves holding fast to the very person of Jesus, partaking of his life and his destiny, sharing in his free and loving obedience to the will of the Father.

By responding in faith and following the one who is Incarnate Wisdom, the disciple of Jesus truly becomes a disciple of God cf. Jesus is indeed the light of the world, the light of life cf.

An Obedient Father

He is the shepherd who leads his sheep and feeds them cf. Jn ; he is the way, and the truth, and the life cf. It is Jesus who leads to the Father, so much so that to see him, the Son, is to see the Father cf. And thus to imitate the Son, "the image of the invisible God" Col , means to imitate the Father.

Jesus asks us to follow him and to imitate him along the path of love, a love which gives itself completely to the brethren out of love for God: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" Jn The word "as" requires imitation of Jesus and of his love, of which the washing of feet is a sign: "If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" Jn Jesus' way of acting and his words, his deeds and his precepts constitute the moral rule of Christian life. Indeed, his actions, and in particular his Passion and Death on the Cross, are the living revelation of his love for the Father and for others.

This is exactly the love that Jesus wishes to be imitated by all who follow him. It is the "new" commandment: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" Jn The word "as" also indicates the degree of Jesus' love, and of the love with which his disciples are called to love one another.

After saying: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you" Jn , Jesus continues with words which indicate the sacrificial gift of his life on the Cross, as the witness to a love "to the end" Jn : "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" Jn As he calls the young man to follow him along the way of perfection, Jesus asks him to be perfect in the command of love, in "his" commandment: to become part of the unfolding of his complete giving, to imitate and rekindle the very love of the "Good" Teacher, the one who loved "to the end".

This is what Jesus asks of everyone who wishes to follow him: "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" Mt Following Christ is not an outward imitation, since it touches man at the very depths of his being. Being a follower of Christ means becoming conformed to him who became a servant even to giving himself on the Cross cf.

Phil Christ dwells by faith in the heart of the believer cf.

Eph , and thus the disciple is conformed to the Lord. This is the effect of grace, of the active presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Having become one with Christ, the Christian becomes a member of his Body, which is the Church cf. Cor , By the work of the Spirit, Baptism radically configures the faithful to Christ in the Paschal Mystery of death and resurrection; it "clothes him" in Christ cf. Gal : "Let us rejoice and give thanks", exclaims Saint Augustine speaking to the baptized, "for we have become not only Christians, but Christ Marvel and rejoice: we have become Christ!

Rom : alive for God in Christ Jesus, they are called to walk by the Spirit and to manifest the Spirit's fruits in their lives cf. Gal Sharing in the Eucharist, the sacrament of the New Covenant cf.

Jn , the source and power of that complete gift of self, which Jesus — according to the testimony handed on by Paul — commands us to commemorate in liturgy and in life: "As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes" 1 Cor The conclusion of Jesus' conversation with the rich young man is very poignant: "When the young man heard this, he went away sorrowful, for he had many possessions" Mt Not only the rich man but the disciples themselves are taken aback by Jesus' call to discipleship, the demands of which transcend human aspirations and abilities: "When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astounded and said, "Then who can be saved?

But the Master refers them to God's power: "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" Mt In the same chapter of Matthew's Gospel , Jesus, interpreting the Mosaic Law on marriage, rejects the right to divorce, appealing to a "beginning" more fundamental and more authoritative than the Law of Moses: God's original plan for mankind, a plan which man after sin has no longer been able to live up to: "For your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" Mt Jesus' appeal to the "beginning" dismays the disciples, who remark: "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is not expedient to marry" Mt And Jesus, referring specifically to the charism of celibacy "for the Kingdom of Heaven" Mt , but stating a general rule, indicates the new and surprising possibility opened up to man by God's grace.

To imitate and live out the love of Christ is not possible for man by his own strength alone. He becomes capable of this love only by virtue of a gift received. As the Lord Jesus receives the love of his Father, so he in turn freely communicates that love to his disciples: "As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love" Jn Christ's gift is his Spirit, whose first "fruit" cf. Gal is charity: "God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us" Rom Saint Augustine asks: "Does love bring about the keeping of the commandments, or does the keeping of the commandments bring about love?

For the one who does not love has no reason for keeping the commandments". With these words the Apostle Paul invites us to consider in the perspective of the history of salvation, which reaches its fulfilment in Christ, the relationship between the Old Law and grace the New Law.

He recognizes the pedagogic function of the Law, which, by enabling sinful man to take stock of his own powerlessness and by stripping him of the presumption of his self-sufficiency, leads him to ask for and to receive "life in the Spirit". Only in this new life is it possible to carry out God's commandments.

Indeed, it is through faith in Christ that we have been made righteous cf. Rom : the "righteousness" which the Law demands, but is unable to give, is found by every believer to be revealed and granted by the Lord Jesus. Once again it is Saint Augustine who admirably sums up this Pauline dialectic of law and grace: "The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given, that the law might be fulfilled". They are possible only as the result of a gift of God who heals, restores and transforms the human heart by his grace: "For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" Jn The promise of eternal life is thus linked to the gift of grace, and the gift of the Spirit which we have received is even now the "guarantee of our inheritance" Eph And so we find revealed the authentic and original aspect of the commandment of love and of the perfection to which it is ordered: we are speaking of a possibility opened up to man exclusively by grace, by the gift of God, by his love.

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On the other hand, precisely the awareness of having received the gift, of possessing in Jesus Christ the love of God, generates and sustains the free response of a full love for God and the brethren, as the Apostle John insistently reminds us in his first Letter: "Beloved, let us love one another; for love is of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God; for God is love Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another We love, because he first loved us" 1 Jn , 11, This inseparable connection between the Lord's grace and human freedom, between gift and task, has been expressed in simple yet profound words by Saint Augustine in his prayer: "Da quod iubes et iube quod vis" grant what you command and command what you will.

One can "abide" in love only by keeping the commandments, as Jesus states: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love" Jn Going to the heart of the moral message of Jesus and the preaching of the Apostles, and summing up in a remarkable way the great tradition of the Fathers of the East and West, and of Saint Augustine in particular, 32 Saint Thomas was able to write that the New Law is the grace of the Holy Spirit given through faith in Christ.

Indeed, the New Law is not content to say what must be done, but also gives the power to "do what is true" cf. Saint John Chrysostom likewise observed that the New Law was promulgated at the descent of the Holy Spirit from heaven on the day of Pentecost, and that the Apostles "did not come down from the mountain carrying, like Moses, tablets of stone in their hands; but they came down carrying the Holy Spirit in their hearts Jesus' conversation with the rich young man continues, in a sense, in every period of history, including our own.

The question: "Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life? The Teacher who expounds God's commandments, who invites others to follow him and gives the grace for a new life, is always present and at work in our midst, as he himself promised: "Lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age" Mt Christ's relevance for people of all times is shown forth in his body, which is the Church.

For this reason the Lord promised his disciples the Holy Spirit, who would "bring to their remembrance" and teach them to understand his commandments cf. Jn , and who would be the principle and constant source of a new life in the world cf. Jn ; Rom The moral prescriptions which God imparted in the Old Covenant, and which attained their perfection in the New and Eternal Covenant in the very person of the Son of God made man, must be faithfully kept and continually put into practice in the various different cultures throughout the course of history.

The task of interpreting these prescriptions was entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles and to their successors, with the special assistance of the Spirit of truth: "He who hears you hears me" Lk By the light and the strength of this Spirit the Apostles carried out their mission of preaching the Gospel and of pointing out the "way" of the Lord cf.

Acts , teaching above all how to follow and imitate Christ: "For to me to live is Christ" Phil In the moral catechesis of the Apostles, besides exhortations and directions connected to specific historical and cultural situations, we find an ethical teaching with precise rules of behaviour. This is seen in their Letters, which contain the interpretation, made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, of the Lord's precepts as they are to be lived in different cultural circumstances cf.

From the Church's beginnings, the Apostles, by virtue of their pastoral responsibility to preach the Gospel, were vigilant over the right conduct of Christians, 35 just as they were vigilant for the purity of the faith and the handing down of the divine gifts in the sacraments. No damage must be done to the harmony between faith and life: the unity of the Church is damaged not only by Christians who reject or distort the truths of faith but also by those who disregard the moral obligations to which they are called by the Gospel cf.

The Apostles decisively rejected any separation between the commitment of the heart and the actions which express or prove it cf. And ever since Apostolic times the Church's Pastors have unambiguously condemned the behaviour of those who fostered division by their teaching or by their actions. Within the unity of the Church, promoting and preserving the faith and the moral life is the task entrusted by Jesus to the Apostles cf.

Mt , a task which continues in the ministry of their successors.

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This is apparent from the living Tradition, whereby — as the Second Vatican Council teaches — "the Church, in her teaching, life and worship, perpetuates and hands on to every generation all that she is and all that she believes. This Tradition which comes from the Apostles, progresses in the Church under the assistance of the Holy Spirit".

Lk ; she professes by the lips of her Fathers and Doctors the truth of the Word made flesh, puts his precepts and love into practice in the lives of her Saints and in the sacrifice of her Martyrs, and celebrates her hope in him in the Liturgy.

By this same Tradition Christians receive "the living voice of the Gospel", 40 as the faithful expression of God's wisdom and will. Within Tradition, the authentic interpretation of the Lord's law develops, with the help of the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit who is at the origin of the Revelation of Jesus' commandments and teachings guarantees that they will be reverently preserved, faithfully expounded and correctly applied in different times and places.

This constant "putting into practice" of the commandments is the sign and fruit of a deeper insight into Revelation and of an understanding in the light of faith of new historical and cultural situations. Nevertheless, it can only confirm the permanent validity of Revelation and follow in the line of the interpretation given to it by the great Tradition of the Church's teaching and life, as witnessed by the teaching of the Fathers, the lives of the Saints, the Church's Liturgy and the teaching of the Magisterium.

In particular, as the Council affirms, "the task of authentically interpreting the word of God, whether in its written form or in that of Tradition, has been entrusted only to those charged with the Church's living Magisterium, whose authority is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ". Indeed, "the Church has the right always and everywhere to proclaim moral principles, even in respect of the social order, and to make judgments about any human matter in so far as this is required by fundamental human rights or the salvation of souls".

Tit Our meditation on the dialogue between Jesus and the rich young man has enabled us to bring together the essential elements of Revelation in the Old and New Testament with regard to moral action. These are: the subordination of man and his activity to God, the One who "alone is good"; the relationship clearly indicated in the divine commandments, between the moral good of human acts and eternal life; Christian discipleship, which opens up before man the perspective of perfect love; and finally the gift of the Holy Spirit, source and means of the moral life of the "new creation" cf.

In her reflection on morality, the Church has always kept in mind the words of Jesus to the rich young man. Indeed, Sacred Scripture remains the living and fruitful source of the Church's moral doctrine; as the Second Vatican Council recalled, the Gospel is "the source of all saving truth and moral teaching".

Assisted by the Holy Spirit who leads her into all the truth cf. Jn , the Church has not ceased, nor can she ever cease, to contemplate the "mystery of the Word Incarnate", in whom "light is shed on the mystery of man". The Church's moral reflection, always conducted in the light of Christ, the "Good Teacher", has also developed in the specific form of the theological science called "moral theology ", a science which accepts and examines Divine Revelation while at the same time responding to the demands of human reason.

Moral theology is a reflection concerned with "morality", with the good and the evil of human acts and of the person who performs them; in this sense it is accessible to all people. But it is also "theology", inasmuch as it acknowledges that the origin and end of moral action are found in the One who "alone is good" and who, by giving himself to man in Christ, offers him the happiness of divine life. The Second Vatican Council invited scholars to take "special care for the renewal of moral theology", in such a way that "its scientific presentation, increasingly based on the teaching of Scripture, will cast light on the exalted vocation of the faithful in Christ and on their obligation to bear fruit in charity for the life of the world".

The Church, and particularly the Bishops, to whom Jesus Christ primarily entrusted the ministry of teaching, are deeply appreciative of this work, and encourage theologians to continue their efforts, inspired by that profound and authentic "fear of the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom" cf. Prov At the same time, however, within the context of the theological debates which followed the Council, there have developed certain interpretations of Christian morality which are not consistent with "sound teaching" 2 Tim Certainly the Church's Magisterium does not intend to impose upon the faithful any particular theological system, still less a philosophical one.

Nevertheless, in order to "reverently preserve and faithfully expound" the word of God, 48 the Magisterium has the duty to state that some trends of theological thinking and certain philosophical affirmations are incompatible with revealed truth. In addressing this Encyclical to you, my Brother Bishops, it is my intention to state the principles necessary for discerning what is contrary to "sound doctrine", drawing attention to those elements of the Church's moral teaching which today appear particularly exposed to error, ambiguity or neglect.

Yet these are the very elements on which there depends "the answer to the obscure riddles of the human condition which today also, as in the past, profoundly disturb the human heart. What is man? What is the meaning and purpose of our life? What is good and what is sin? What origin and purpose do sufferings have? What is the way to attaining true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? Lastly, what is that final, unutterable mystery which embraces our lives and from which we take our origin and towards which we tend?

Mt , she today once more puts forward the Master's reply, a reply that possesses a light and a power capable of answering even the most controversial and complex questions. This light and power also impel the Church constantly to carry out not only her dogmatic but also her moral reflection within an interdisciplinary context, which is especially necessary in facing new issues. For the time will come when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander into myths.

As for you, always be steady, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry" 2 Tim ; cf. Tit , The human issues most frequently debated and differently resolved in contemporary moral reflection are all closely related, albeit in various ways, to a crucial issue: human freedom. Certainly people today have a particularly strong sense of freedom. As the Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom Dignitatis Humanae had already observed, "the dignity of the human person is a concern of which people of our time are becoming increasingly more aware".

This perception, authentic as it is, has been expressed in a number of more or less adequate ways, some of which however diverge from the truth about man as a creature and the image of God, and thus need to be corrected and purified in the light of faith. Certain currents of modern thought have gone so far as to exalt freedom to such an extent that it becomes an absolute, which would then be the source of values.

This is the direction taken by doctrines which have lost the sense of the transcendent or which are explicitly atheist. The individual conscience is accorded the status of a supreme tribunal of moral judgment which hands down categorical and infallible decisions about good and evil. To the affirmation that one has a duty to follow one's conscience is unduly added the affirmation that one's moral judgment is true merely by the fact that it has its origin in the conscience.

But in this way the inescapable claims of truth disappear, yielding their place to a criterion of sincerity, authenticity and "being at peace with oneself", so much so that some have come to adopt a radically subjectivistic conception of moral judgment.

As is immediately evident, the crisis of truth is not unconnected with this development. Once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its primordial reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now.

Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein each individual is faced with his own truth, different from the truth of others. Taken to its extreme consequences, this individualism leads to a denial of the very idea of human nature.

These different notions are at the origin of currents of thought which posit a radical opposition between moral law and conscience, and between nature and freedom. Side by side with its exaltation of freedom, yet oddly in contrast with it, modern culture radically questions the very existence of this freedom.

A number of disciplines, grouped under the name of the "behavioural sciences", have rightly drawn attention to the many kinds of psychological and social conditioning which influence the exercise of human freedom. Knowledge of these conditionings and the study they have received represent important achievements which have found application in various areas, for example in pedagogy or the administration of justice.

But some people, going beyond the conclusions which can be legitimately drawn from these observations, have come to question or even deny the very reality of human freedom. Mention should also be made here of theories which misuse scientific research about the human person. Arguing from the great variety of customs, behaviour patterns and institutions present in humanity, these theories end up, if not with an outright denial of universal human values, at least with a relativistic conception of morality.

The question of morality, to which Christ provides the answer, cannot prescind from the issue of freedom. Indeed, it considers that issue central, for there can be no morality without freedom: "It is only in freedom that man can turn to what is good".

The Council, considering our contemporaries who "highly regard" freedom and "assiduously pursue" it, but who "often cultivate it in wrong ways as a licence to do anything they please, even evil", speaks of "genuine" freedom: "Genuine freedom is an outstanding manifestation of the divine image in man. For God willed to leave man "in the power of his own counsel" cf. Sir , so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God".

Despite their variety, these tendencies are at one in lessening or even denying the dependence of freedom on truth. If we wish to undertake a critical discernment of these tendencies — a discernment capable of acknowledging what is legitimate, useful and of value in them, while at the same time pointing out their ambiguities, dangers and errors — we must examine them in the light of the fundamental dependence of freedom upon truth, a dependence which has found its clearest and most authoritative expression in the words of Christ: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" Jn Freedom and Law "Of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat" Gen In the Book of Genesis we read: "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'You may eat freely of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die' " Gen With this imagery, Revelation teaches that the power to decide what is good and what is evil does not belong to man, but to God alone.

The man is certainly free, inasmuch as he can understand and accept God's commands. And he possesses an extremely far-reaching freedom, since he can eat "of every tree of the garden". But his freedom is not unlimited: it must halt before the "tree of the knowledge of good and evil", for it is called to accept the moral law given by God.

In fact, human freedom finds its authentic and complete fulfilment precisely in the acceptance of that law. God, who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of his very love proposes this good to man in the commandments.

God's law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom. In contrast, however, some present-day cultural tendencies have given rise to several currents of thought in ethics which centre upon an alleged conflict between freedom and law. These doctrines would grant to individuals or social groups the right to determine what is good or evil. Human freedom would thus be able to "create values" and would enjoy a primacy over truth, to the point that truth itself would be considered a creation of freedom.

Freedom would thus lay claim to a moral autonomy which would actually amount to an absolute sovereignty. The modern concern for the claims of autonomy has not failed to exercise an influence also in the sphere of Catholic moral theology. While the latter has certainly never attempted to set human freedom against the divine law or to question the existence of an ultimate religious foundation for moral norms, it has, nonetheless, been led to undertake a profound rethinking about the role of reason and of faith in identifying moral norms with reference to specific "innerworldly" kinds of behaviour involving oneself, others and the material world.

It must be acknowledged that underlying this work of rethinking there are certain positive concerns which to a great extent belong to the best tradition of Catholic thought. In response to the encouragement of the Second Vatican Council, 60 there has been a desire to foster dialogue with modern culture, emphasizing the rational — and thus universally understandable and communicable — character of moral norms belonging to the sphere of the natural moral law.

Some people, however, disregarding the dependence of human reason on Divine Wisdom and the need, given the present state of fallen nature, for Divine Revelation as an effective means for knowing moral truths, even those of the natural order, 62 have actually posited a complete sovereignty of reason in the domain of moral norms regarding the right ordering of life in this world.

Such norms would constitute the boundaries for a merely "human" morality; they would be the expression of a law which man in an autonomous manner lays down for himself and which has its source exclusively in human reason. In no way could God be considered the Author of this law, except in the sense that human reason exercises its autonomy in setting down laws by virtue of a primordial and total mandate given to man by God.

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These trends of thought have led to a denial, in opposition to Sacred Scripture cf. Mt and the Church's constant teaching, of the fact that the natural moral law has God as its author, and that man, by the use of reason, participates in the eternal law, which it is not for him to establish. In their desire, however, to keep the moral life in a Christian context, certain moral theologians have introduced a sharp distinction, contrary to Catholic doctrine, 63 between an ethical order, which would be human in origin and of value for this world alone, and an order of salvation, for which only certain intentions and interior attitudes regarding God and neighbour would be significant.

This has then led to an actual denial that there exists, in Divine Revelation, a specific and determined moral content, universally valid and permanent. The word of God would be limited to proposing an exhortation, a generic paraenesis, which the autonomous reason alone would then have the task of completing with normative directives which are truly "objective", that is, adapted to the concrete historical situation.

Naturally, an autonomy conceived in this way also involves the denial of a specific doctrinal competence on the part of the Church and her Magisterium with regard to particular moral norms which deal with the so-called "human good".

Such norms would not be part of the proper content of Revelation, and would not in themselves be relevant for salvation. No one can fail to see that such an interpretation of the autonomy of human reason involves positions incompatible with Catholic teaching.

In such a context it is absolutely necessary to clarify, in the light of the word of God and the living Tradition of the Church, the fundamental notions of human freedom and of the moral law, as well as their profound and intimate relationship. Only thus will it be possible to respond to the rightful claims of human reason in a way which accepts the valid elements present in certain currents of contemporary moral theology without compromising the Church's heritage of moral teaching with ideas derived from an erroneous concept of autonomy.

Taking up the words of Sirach, the Second Vatican Council explains the meaning of that "genuine freedom" which is "an outstanding manifestation of the divine image" in man: "God willed to leave man in the power of his own counsel, so that he would seek his Creator of his own accord and would freely arrive at full and blessed perfection by cleaving to God".

This has been a constantly recurring theme in theological reflection on human freedom, which is described as a form of kingship.

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For example, Saint Gregory of Nyssa writes: "The soul shows its royal and exalted character Of whom else can this be said, save a king? Thus human nature, created to rule other creatures, was by its likeness to the King of the universe made as it were a living image, partaking with the Archetype both in dignity and in name". In view of this, a rightful autonomy is due to every man, as well as to the human community, a fact to which the Council's Constitution Gaudium et spes calls special attention.

This is the autonomy of earthly realities, which means that "created things have their own laws and values which are to be gradually discovered, utilized and ordered by man". Not only the world, however, but also man himself has been entrusted to his own care and responsibility.

God left man "in the power of his own counsel" Sir , that he might seek his Creator and freely attain perfection. Attaining such perfection means personally building up that perfection in himself. Indeed, just as man in exercising his dominion over the world shapes it in accordance with his own intelligence and will, so too in performing morally good acts, man strengthens, develops and consolidates within himself his likeness to God. Even so, the Council warns against a false concept of the autonomy of earthly realities, one which would maintain that "created things are not dependent on God and that man can use them without reference to their Creator".

If God is ignored the creature itself is impoverished". The teaching of the Council emphasizes, on the one hand, the role of human reason in discovering and applying the moral law: the moral life calls for that creativity and originality typical of the person, the source and cause of his own deliberate acts.

On the other hand, reason draws its own truth and authority from the eternal law, which is none other than divine wisdom itself. The moral law has its origin in God and always finds its source in him: at the same time, by virtue of natural reason, which derives from divine wisdom, it is a properly human law. Indeed, as we have seen, the natural law "is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided.

Nevertheless, the autonomy of reason cannot mean that reason itself creates values and moral norms. Man's genuine moral autonomy in no way means the rejection but rather the acceptance of the moral law, of God's command: "The Lord God gave this command to the man Human freedom and God's law meet and are called to intersect, in the sense of man's free obedience to God and of God's completely gratuitous benevolence towards man.

Hence obedience to God is not, as some would believe, a heteronomy, as if the moral life were subject to the will of something all-powerful, absolute, ex- traneous to man and intolerant of his freedom. If in fact a heteronomy of morality were to mean a denial of man's self-determination or the imposition of norms unrelated to his good, this would be in contradiction to the Revelation of the Covenant and of the redemptive Incarnation. Such a heteronomy would be nothing but a form of alienation, contrary to divine wisdom and to the dignity of the human person.

Others speak, and rightly so, of theonomy, or participated theonomy, since man's free obedience to God's law effectively implies that human reason and human will participate in God's wisdom and providence.

By forbidding man to "eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil", God makes it clear that man does not originally possess such "knowledge" as something properly his own, but only participates in it by the light of natural reason and of Divine Revelation, which manifest to him the requirements and the promptings of eternal wisdom. Law must therefore be considered an expression of divine wisdom: by submitting to the law, freedom submits to the truth of creation.

Consequently one must acknowledge in the freedom of the human person the image and the nearness of God, who is present in all cf.

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