P. Sherwin #3 : Why begin moral theology with the question of happiness? (I-II, 1)


Why begin moral theology with the question of happiness? (I-II, I) Aristotle begins his ethics, the very first thing he says is that in every activity, it’s always for a goal. And if we look at all the other animals in creation, there is… all their activities are ordered towards their flourishing. Dolphins, all the activities that they’re involved in are ordered towards dolphin flourishing. The same is true for a pack of wolves or for chimpanzees or a herd of elephants: they’re all trying to pursue their flourishing. So it’d be very strange, if… the only
animal in creation that didn’t have a goal in its life were humans. So with the ancients we begin with the question of what does it mean to flourish, what does it mean to live a successful human life. And the Lord follows a similar procedure. He begins the Sermon on the Mount, his great treatise on the Christian life, with the question of happiness, with beatitude. And of course the way of describing beatitude in the Gospel is in some ways counterintuitive, so we can begin with the question of human flourishing, and think it’s all about ourselves, what’s going to make me happy. And in pursuing that question, especially
with the aid of Revelation, we discover that we find our happiness and fulfilment in a kind of self-forgetfulness and ultimately in this life through the mystery of the Cross by being configured to Christ. So the question of happiness is the question that pushes us to understand ourselves better, and understand the Gospel call to holiness better.

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