- La foi by Michel Labourdette, O.P.
Some persons may be surprised to discover that a treatment of "the Faith" forms part of a course in moral theology. According to standard Catholic theological practice however, it does. Today, we witness this inclusion in an official text such as the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC), which besides presenting the theological virtues also lists the sins against them. This "statement of the Church's faith and of catholic doctrine"—as Pope John Paul II's apostolic constitution Fidei depositum, no. 3, identifies the Catechism—traces back the practice of considering the theological virtues as moral qualities at least to the sixteenth century. Thus, the Roman Catechism (1566) [End Page 449] stipulates that "the first commandment embraces faith, hope, and charity" (3.2.4). Earlier, of course, St. Thomas Aquinas included treatments of the theological virtues in the Secunda pars of his Summa theologiae. He also found this pedagogical and theological option available to him in the earliest writings of Christian authorities. In sum, faith, hope, and charity prescribe moral obligations, not only religious ideals. In accord with the moral paradigms of the Fathers, Aquinas, and Trent, Fr. Marie-Michel Labourdette's major course in moral theology includes instruction about each of the theological virtues. The present volume contains his notes on the theological virtue of faith.
It makes a great deal of difference whether or not a moral theologian incorporates instruction on the theological virtues into his treatment of the moral life. Some contemporary models for theological curricula displace this standard instruction. For example, programs of studies in theology often include a discussion of faith within fundamental theology, that is, alongside the treatment of revelation. Others align faith with ecclesiology or are content to leave the subject with biblical accounts of faith. The latter option clearly reflects the untoward incursions into Catholic theology made by those who follow high-profile Protestant theologians, for instance, Rudolf Bultmann. Again, treatises on theological hope have wandered off into courses on eschatology or political theology. The former leaves the exposition of this virtue vulnerable to the suggestion that hope only concerns the future, whereas the latter reduces theological hope to an exercise of social reconstruction. Likewise, courses on Christian anthropology subsume the discussion of theological charity, with the result that the deep confusions of the Middle Ages about grace, charity, and the Holy Spirit can easily engulf the unsuspecting theology student. These and other displacements of the theological virtues distort the conception of the Christian life that the Catholic tradition has maintained by its inclusion of faith, hope, and charity as constituents of the "theologal life" (CCC 2607).
When a treatment of the moral life fails to include instruction about the moral obligations that each of the theological virtues imposes, the moral theologian becomes, in effect, a teacher of ethics. This means that the requirements of the Decalogue lose their living connection to the one, true, and supremely good God with whom the commandments serve to unite us. Thanks mainly to the teaching of Aquinas, Fr. Labourdette made no such error. He shows us that each of the theological virtues precisely as a virtue emerges in the everyday virtuous acts of justified Christians. Although, as St. Paul reminds us, the greatest that remains is charity (1 Cor 13:13), both faith and hope also produce their own specific virtuous acts, for example, believing and hoping. Christians therefore can sin against each of the theological virtues. They also can find their ultimate perfection in committing grace-filled acts of faith, hope, and charity. [End Page 450]
Labourdette (1908-90), a Toulouse Dominican, occupies a significant place in a long and continuous line of commentators on the thought of Aquinas. The Thomist commentatorial tradition dates back to Aquinas's death in 1274, although the formal style of commenting on the texts of Aquinas arguably begins with another Toulouse Dominican, John Capreolus (d. 1444). As this reviewer has pointed out...