The Meaning of the Words
Louis Monden, S.J.
Sin, Liberty and Law (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1965), pp. 3-18.
n recent years the question of theological language has become one of the main problems–perhaps the main problem–of theological methodology. First, much attention is given to the search for the most appropriate categories into which to translate God’s message. Theologians weigh the advantages and disadvantages of a less technical terminology, one not bound to certain philosophical schools; likewise of a wider use of images and concepts belonging to the Bible. Next there is felt a growing need, whatever the terminology used, to determine precisely the logical status of these terms, clearly to distinguish their several levels of signification and to define exactly the linguistic field within which they can meaningfully be used. There is no domain of thought where such work is more indispensable than that of Christian moral theology. For until recently the practice prevailed of treating concepts such as guilt, sin, duty, contrition, conscience as if they were univocal terms, endowed with a clearly defined, unchangeable meaning. Most of our contemporaries continue to do so, and even in present-day theological publications this vague and confusing use of language is frequent. Yet philosophical analysis, especially phenomenology and linguistic philosophy, using the discoveries of psychology and sociology, has reached the [page 4] conclusion that each one of these terms covers many and quite different meanings, irreducible to each other, which should be clearly distinguished if one is not to introduce insidious ambiguities into theological discussion, with the danger that there will be no real meeting of minds, since the same words are employed on totally different levels of signification and within quite different domains of application.
The Three Levels of Ethics
We might use the word “ethics”–somewhat arbitrarily, to be sure, but we cannot do without...