The Christian Moral Life

Directions for the Journey to Happiness

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John Rziha
  • Bloomington, IN: 
    University of Notre Dame Press
    , June
     480 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


John Rziha’s The Christian Moral Life is a welcome offering and an excellent resource for anyone teaching moral theology at the undergraduate level. The book’s subtitle, Directions for the Journey to Happiness, suggests the guiding analogy for the content and structure of the text, namely that of a pilgrim on a journey. Using this analogy Rziha presents the Thomistic synthesis of law, virtues, and grace as perfective of the human desire for happiness and corrective of the theological history of human nature.

At certain moments the book is remarkably lucid and offers profound insights at the foundations of moral theology. The book excels in making the intelligibility of moral theology plain and is manifestly the work of an experienced teacher. The fundamental insights at the heart of the text are the providential and theonomic character of human action and the contemplative and active character of human happiness. The text is also notably thorough in its presentation of the virtues and the relations that obtain between inclinations, laws, natural and infused virtues, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

There are, however, a few infelicitous moments in the presentation. The treatment of the difference between a deontological and teleological moral system when applied to the Old and New Testaments, respectively, could be more nuanced regarding the pedagogical and already teleological character of Old Testament ethics (some of this discussion is hidden in the endnotes, see 54-58). Similarly, in treating the relation between interior and exterior acts, a student could easily read Rziha as offering an intentionalist account (though he explicitly rejects this in other places, e.g., 83-87).

One could also hope that the book would more directly treat the proper understanding of conscience. Given the contemporary confusion on the subject, students could benefit from a more direct and explicit treatment. Rziha does offer a robust account of human action and judgment, but only once links this with the notion of conscience. He also treats conscience with regard to its participation in the eternal law, but perhaps not explicitly enough to impress its theonomic character on those who implicitly hold a libertarian view of conscience.

Rziha acknowledges various saints and scholars—John Paul II, Thomas Aquinas, and Servais Pinckaers among them—who have influenced his work. This new textbook which presents their respective insights into the journey toward happiness is a faithful advance upon their work. A careful reader of this book will be instructed in practical Christian living and inspired in participatory contemplation of the eternal law.  A casual reader interested in the basic structure of Catholic moral theology will likewise be edified.  May it be widely and joyfully received.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Gideon Barr is a doctoral candidate in Theology at Ave Maria University.

Date of Review: 
February 28, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

John Rziha is professor of theology at Benedictine College and author of Perfecting Human Actions: St. Thomas Aquinas on Human Participation in Eternal Law.


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