Usus Gratiae: How Am I to Hear the Sermon on the Mount?

Studies in Christian Ethics 22 (1):7-20 (2009)
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What the moral theologian has to teach concerning the Sermon on the Mount depends fundamentally on how these words of the Lord are heard. With hearing comes understanding, and because this Sermon is considered in the tradition to be a kind of interpretative key to any understanding of the Christian life as such, the way one hears what is being said is critical to the formation and practices of faith in the believer. In an age determined by nihilism, this hearing has been overtaken by the need to reassert the moral god, in consequence of which faith is reduced to its service in propping up an otherwise endangered morality, however variously that may be described. This is illustrated with reference to John Paul II's encyclical letter, Veritatis Splendor. What is lost through such an account is the hearing of this Sermon as a word of grace, from out of whose movement the hearer is prepared for the reception of faith and is turned out toward the future with God. St Thomas Aquinas's teaching shows how each use of grace is an event of appropriation wherein the believer is conformed to Christ, so that in one's understanding and making one's own of what is being heard, God is claiming His own



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