Dr. Dominic Vechoor
Faith in Christ Jesus, when it is lived, becomes the moral life of the faithful, which is the ‘life in Christ’, as clearly taught by Vatican II and the post-conciliar teachings. This life in Christ is so rich a reality that there are as many valid theological approaches to it as there are to the mystery of Christ. This article will study the possibility and characteristic features of an Eastern approach to Catholic moral theology in the light of the communion ecclesiology of Vatican II with special reference to the multi-ecclesial context of the Catholic Church in India.
2. An Eastern Approach to Catholic Moral Theology: A Recent Theological Awareness
At the first hearing, it may sound strange to speak about an Eastern approach to Catholic moral theology. The spontaneous reaction would be: since the faith and morals of the Catholic Church are one and the same everywhere in the Church, how can there be different approaches in moral theology? This short paper is an answer to this question.
The faith and morals of the Church must be studied, explained and interpreted in the light of her different ecclesial traditions and cultural backgrounds. Being faithful to the common catholic teachings on faith and morals, each individual Church develops her own ways and expressions to explain and to live the same faith and morals of the Church. This idea will be clearer in the light of the rich theological teachings of Vatican II on communion ecclesiology. When we speak about an Eastern approach to moral theology, it does not mean that we are proposing different or a new catholic moral theology but only a new look at the catholic moral theology from an Eastern perspective. It is but a newness of approach and emphasis. This does not mean that the ethical thinking and living of one individual Church is entirely different from those of another individual Church or of the universal Church.
The possibility of an Eastern approach to moral theology is a fairly recent theological awareness in the Catholic circle. Among the Catholic moral theologians, it is B. Petrà, who for the first time, has spoken extensively of an Eastern dimension in moral theology. It is a very positive sign that there is a renewed interest among theologians to bring out more of the Eastern moral perspectives. Our study is based on three basic presuppositions:
i. The ecclesial and cultural diversity in the Catholic Church
It is a fact that most of the moral concepts (human act, moral law especially natural moral law, moral conscience, virtues and sins, etc.), principles (principle of double effect, principle of totality, etc) and teachings (on sexuality, marriage and family, human life, human person, human society, common good, justice and truthfulness, social justice, etc.) in the traditional catholic moral theology are well founded on the Augustinian and Thomistic categories, in the background of Greek philosophy and Scholastic theology. Now it is high time that we familiarised ourselves with the other legitimate theological traditions, both Western and Eastern in the Church. If Catholic moral theology is to be genuinely ‘Catholic’, it must take into consideration the ecclesial reality of the communion of Churches and the plurality of human cultures.
ii. The solid theological contributions of the Eastern Churches
It is right to say that the East contributed much to the theological developments of the various branches like trinitarian theology, christology, soteriology, pneumatology, anthropology, ecclesiology, liturgy, sacraments, monasticism, mysticism, spirituality, mariology, iconography, Church discipline, etc. (Cfr. UR, 14-18, Orientale Lumen, 1-16; Instruction from the Oriental Congregation, 7-12). Therefore, it is natural that they would also have their own ‘ordering of Christian life’ and specific ethical thinking.
iii. A healthy appreciation of the theological wisdom of the East and the West
Mutual appreciation of the riches of the Western and Eastern theological traditions will result in the enrichment and organic growth of both traditions, rather than the dominion of the one at the expense of the other so that we can have a fuller understanding of the mystery of Christ and the life in Christ. Referring to the need for a balanced re-integration of Eastern and Western perspectives in moral theology, B. Häring observes: “(In the development of moral theology) after the great schism in the 11th century, the West went its own way and the East remained foreign to the three main influences that shaped modern Catholicism, namely scholasticism, the reformation and the sixteenth and eighteenth century rationalism”.
These theological presuppositions give basis and space for different approaches to moral theology from different ecclesial and cultural backgrounds. In this study, after making a very brief analysis of the theological possibility of an Eastern approach to catholic moral theology, we will make an attempt to outline some important general characteristics of the Eastern moral theological reflections. Then we will concentrate on the East Syriac tradition and its understanding of moral life as contributing to catholic moral theology. Finally we will also make a study on the moral vision, moral life and moral formation of the Syro Malabar Church
3. Ethical Dimension of Individual Churches in the Catholic Communion
Pope John Paul II, promulgating the Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches wrote: “The Church by God’s providence, gathered in the one Spirit, breathes as though with two lungs, of the East and of the West, and burns with the love of Christ in one heart, having two ventricles”. This was a historic magisterial recognition of the ecclesial reality of the Eastern and Western traditions in the catholic communion of Churches, re-iterating the need for a pluralistic approach to theology as against a monolithic approach of cultural universalism and liturgical uniformity. Recent studies go a step further. As Sebastian Brock, an eminent scholar of this century in the Syriac patristic studies, comments, unlike human beings, the Church is endowed, not just with two lungs but with a third lung as well, from which she also needs to learn to breathe once again. S. Brock in his innumerable and valuable studies has been always insisting on the relevance of a ‘tripartite approach to Christian theology’ and on the beauty of drawing from the three equally important streams of Christian tradition-the Latin West, the Greek East and the Syriac Orient. This tripartite approach to theology has now become well accepted among catholic theologians.
The Latin, Greek and Syriac theological traditions in the world of theology are not rivals, each contending for primacy; rather we should understand each theological tradition as complementing the others. All too often in the past, one theological tradition has tried to dominate the others, thus creating a serious imbalance and impoverishment of the Christian tradition. Each tradition needs to recognise the value of the other traditions and thus be enriched by them. It is an ardent desire of the Church that the ‘catholic’ character shall be expressed at all levels of her life and teachings, including the moral theology. It leads us naturally to the urgency of the need to learn also from the East in moral theology as well.
3.1. The Ecclesial and Cultural Diversity
The Easterners have their own ‘Christian ways of life’, ‘ordering of Christian life’ and ‘spiritual patrimony’, as clearly stated in the conciliar and post-conciliar documents (LG, 23; OE, 1-3, 6; UR, 14-17; Orientale Lumen, 5-6). Canon 28 of the Eastern Code states: “A rite is a liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary heritage, differentiated by the culture and the circumstances of the history of the peoples, which is expressed by each Church sui iuris in its own manner of living the faith”. Each individual Church with her own apostolic Christ experience is a particular incarnation of the Church of Christ in a socio-cultural context.
Since individual Churches are the expressions of the universal Church in a given socio-cultural context, the ethos of a particular culture has its theological significance for the ethos of that Church. Each individual Church lives with the ethos of a specific culture and consequently she will have her ‘own manner of living the faith’ and specific understanding of the Christian moral life. Since the cultural situation in the East was varied and complex, we may not see a single monolithic form of Christian life among the Eastern Churches. There developed different patterns of ecclesiastical organisation and disciplines in the East (OL, 7). If the Church of Christ is a communion of different ecclesial traditions, it is natural that her deposit of faith and morals shall be explained in the light of her different ecclesial traditions and socio-cultural backgrounds.
It is in such a theological background that B. Petrà prophetically speaks of the possibility of an ‘ethical’ dimension of the Church sui iuris. As he explains, the different cultures have given and are continually giving themselves Christian forms and expressiveness, without losing their own identity but always growing towards a greater humanity and truth. This broadened understanding of ‘rite’, naturally paves the way for a particular modus proprius fidei vivendi or ethos of a Christian community. Commenting on the possibility of pluralistic approaches in moral theology, substantiated by cultural and ecclesial diversities, S. Majorano speaks along these lines in a pertinent way. He says:
The multiplicity and variety of factors, indispensable for a correctness of moral theological reflections and proposals are much emphasised in these years. This has influenced, in a particular manner, the context of moral theological reflections that make it impossible today to speak of a single model of moral theology. The inculturation of faith in diverse human groups brings out the different ecclesial emphases and specific perspectives within the communion of the universal Church.
The observation of B. Häring is also noteworthy. He says: “The Church would be unfaithful to her main mission, if she were to give any one culture, a kind of monopoly in her life, her institutions and moral teachings. She must not even dream of a ‘universal culture’, understood in terms of uniformity, where one culture would swallow up others or impose on others its language, thought patterns, symbols and so on. This would be tantamount to an abominable cultural colonialism”. Thus it is clear that there is the theological possibility of a specific moral vision according to the ethos of each Church sui iuris, using the language of its own faith tradition and culture.
3.2. Contemporary Understanding
Ethics as an independent theological discipline has not been cultivated very much in the East but is seen as an integral part of dogmatic theology in the context of a holistic theological reflection. Oriental moral theology has not assumed the same systematisation as we see in the Latin tradition. B. Petrà comments on this:
That which could be more properly said is that Oriental moral theology has assumed neither the same systematisation nor the amplitude that it has had in the Latin tradition owing to a different conception of the relationship between the Church and the world, a different penitential praxis, a different role of theology and the magisterium of the Church and finally due to the formidable influence exerted on the form of Occidental knowledge by the idea of science.
Also the different religious and devotional attitudes of the East and the West might have contributed to this. As R. Taft observes:
The Westerner tends to emphasise the moral aspects of the sacramental and spiritual life, the strength received to aid him in his pilgrimage towards the final beatitude. Grace is seen as a principle of meritorious action, restoring to man the capacity for salutary works. The Oriental, however, sees man more as an imperfect similitude of God, which grace perfects. His life in Christ is a progressive transfiguration into the likeness of God. Less is said of merit, satisfaction, and beatitude than of divinization, transfiguration and the gradual transformation of man into the image of God.
The difference in theological methodologies, seen in the East and the West (UR, 17) also might have contributed to the different theological approaches. The distinctive mark of the Eastern Churches compared to the Western Churches is the substantial difference in the organisation of theological disciplines and the lack of a distinct form of sufficiently organised moral reflection. E. Farrugia says, ethics in eastern theology is never a matter of moralisation, isolated from the faith context provided by dogma in the overall context of liturgy. On the same point, B. Griffith observes: “the Eastern Church has preserved a way of life and thought, which finds expression in its liturgy, which is quite different from the traditions of the West. It knows nothing of scholastic philosophy and theology or of moral theology and casuistry but is steeped in the tradition of the bible, fathers and the symbolic mode of thought”.
4. Characteristic Features of the Moral Reflections in the East
We have just analysed the theological possibility of an Eastern approach to moral theology. It is natural that this approach will have some characteristic features as well. The moral theological characteristics that we present below are some of the possible deductions, drawn from the general characteristics of the Eastern theological approach. This does not mean that they are exclusive to the Eastern moral theological reflections alone. They are also seen in the Western tradition as well.
4.1. The Identity of Moral Life as Life in Christ
The Eastern Churches view Christian moral life as ‘life in Christ’, a life animated by the Logos, a life which originates, grows and fulfils itself in the Christification of man, bios kata ton Logon. It is a mode of being and acting according to the ethos en Christoi kai kata Christon. This life in Christ grows through the assimilation of man into Christ and to his gospel ethos, which is the basis of all Christian moral norms. Such a life in Christ is nurtured by the sacraments of the Church, especially by the Eucharist, and manifests itself as a progressive deification of the faithful in the Church by the action of the Holy Spirit. Since the moral life of Christians is essentially a life in Christ, Christian ethics is a branch of knowledge whose proper object is ‘life in Christ’.
4.2. Biblical Freshness in the Moral Approaches
Biblical freshness is a characteristic feature of the Eastern moral theological reflections. Even when the moral theological concepts gave way to the philosophical categories in the West, the Eastern Churches have ever kept alive the biblical freshness in their moral theological reflections. In the Eastern moral refelctions, we may not find a detailed discussion either on human act or on natural moral law but more a biblical perspectives on human person and revealed moral laws (10 commandments), which are holy, life giving and make the faithful wise. The Eastern moral refelction, when it speaks about consceince, it does not make a disticntion whether it belongs to intellect or to the will but understands as the inner core and inner judgement of the whole person. More than developing any principle, the Eastern moral thought speaks about a virtue ethics. The healing imagery of repentance and forgiveness of sins also adds to the biblical freshness of Eastern moral reflections.
4.3. Continuation of the Theology of the Fathers
Eastern moral reflections are mainly said to be the continuation of the moral thinking of the fathers. Therefore it needs a minimum familiarity with their theological visions, for, the fathers accompany and penetrate into the whole life of the faithful in the East. R. Taft observes: “the East has always retained a unique loyalty to the fathers, whose vital spirit animates the Eastern piety”. The teachings of the Fathers of the Church are nothing but biblical interpretations and liturgical catechesis. As students of moral theology, if we search for a systematic moral thinking among the fathers, we may not find a systematic moral theological reflection among them as we understand it today. However, we find numerous moral teachings in the vast and complex but ever fascinating world of the Fathers of the Church, starting from the ‘two ways’ (the way of life and the way of death) of Didache ( AD 90/120).
The fathers were unaware of the distinction between morality and spirituality that became customary in later periods. They saw divine revelation as a unified whole. They never separated moral theology from theology proper. A healthy integration of the various streams of theology, biblical, liturgical, catechetical, sacramental, dogmatic, moral, canonical, ascetical, spiritual, monastic, etc. are seen in their theology. The fathers always saw bios christianos as a unified entity of which Christ was the centre. S. Pinkaers calls the patristic period ‘the golden age of moral theology’ and proposes the moral teachings of the fathers, after the scripture, as a primary source for Christian ethics. He points out three characteristic features of the moral teaching of the fathers: the primacy of scripture, interaction with the Greco-Roman culture and a lived-in-spirituality with its thorough ascetic ideals as the high point of Christian ethics.
4.4. A Unified Vision of the Sources of Moral Theology
A unified vision of theology is primarily an Eastern characteristic, while compartmentalisation is that of the West. J. Meyendorff observes, “a tendency to compartmentalise, to establish borders between knowledge and spiritual experience, between doctrine and mystical vision, is seen in the Western world, in spite of all its genius”. Eastern theology, developed by the Greek and Syriac fathers, in general is committed to preserving the whole of tradition as guided by the Holy Spirit, recorded in the Bible, taught especially by the general councils and celebrated in worship and icons.
Since the Christian life is a ‘life in Christ’, moral considerations emerge from all contexts and forms of Christian experience and expressions of faith: from the commentaries of sacred scripture, collections of patristic texts, from the canons and teachings of ecumenical councils and synods of Bishops, from theological and apologetical works, apothegmas of the spiritual masters of the desert, monastic rules, the spiritual writings of the fathers, from the icons, hagiographic narrations as well as from the liturgical texts. Moral considerations are found in the entire living tradition of the Church, in the faith and life of the fathers of the Church and in the liturgical life of the whole church. Together with the divine revelation, the human reason is also a rich source for moral theological reflections, which takes into consideration the hitherto human experiences in different life contexts and the discoveries of human sciences.
Such a unified vision of the sources of moral reflections is especially seen in orthodox moral theology. Commenting on Byzantine theology, J. Meyendorff says:
Actually one can hardly find in the entire religious literature of Byzantium, any systematic treatment of Christian Ethics or behaviour but rather innumerable examples of moral exegesis of scripture and ascetical treatises on prayer and spirituality. This implies that Byzantine ethics were eminently ‘theological ethics’. The basic affirmation that every man, whether Christian or not, is created according to the image of God and therefore called to divine communion and deification was of course recognised but no attempt was ever made to build a secular (rational) ethics for man in general.
A unified vision of the sources of moral theology is gaining importance in catholic circles as well. In the words of B. Häring, ‘the reintegration of dogmatic theology and moral theology’ or ‘the oneness of theology’ would be one of the best means for our own integration and for the reintegration of the different parts of Christianity in the one Church.
4.5. The Liturgico-Sacramental Character of the Moral Life
The liturgico-sacramental character of the moral life is also an essential characteristic of the Eastern tradition. The profound unity that exists between moral life and the sacraments is now generally accepted by all. The Christian moral life, namely, life in Christ, is born of and nurtured by the mysteries (sacraments) of the Church especially by the divine liturgy, in which ‘life in Christ’ manifests itself as a progressive ‘deification’ of the faithful by the grace of the Holy Spirit. Liturgy is the expression and celebration of Christian moral living in the concrete context of day to day life, which is the fountain and summit of the Church’s activities and Christian life (SC, 9-10; VS, 21; CCC, 2031).
Besides, each liturgical celebration of the Church is also a ‘moral catechesis’ to the life of faith for the faithful. It has also a pedagogical value in forming the moral conscience of the faithful through its signs and symbols. Vatican II very strongly reminds us of the educative and pastoral nature of the liturgical celebrations (SC, 33-35). Worship and the moral life are not two distinct realities but are closely interrelated. Hence there is a liturgical foundation for the Christian moral life and there exists a ‘liturgical ethos’ and a ‘sacramental ethos’, a Christian responsibility to the salvific initiative of God. Liturgy is the paradigm of Christian identity and commitment. The Christian tradition has long expressed the profound relationship between liturgy and theology in terms of the normative principle Lex orandi, lex credendi: the law of prayer establishes the law of faith and vice versa. We can say that liturgy is the fulcrum around which the whole Christian moral life moves. Thus the traditional principle of theology could also be further expanded to include the lex vivendi; thus we can say lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi. Liturgy as the celebration of the ethos of the people of God, is the place, where theology, spirituality and ethics are contained and expressed.
4.6. The Anthropological Foundation of Moral Notions
Eastern moral theology strives to identify itself with the ontology of salvation and the personalisation of man into Christ and therefore naturally endeavours to converge decisively with anthropology as well. Its moral theological reflections present various dogmatic and anthropological presuppositions of life in Christ, the central idea of which is the concept of man as ‘icon of the Icon’ (OL, 15), as created in the image of Christ, who is the perfect image of God. Eastern theology understands moral life in terms of the image of God. Being moral means to be conformed to the image and likeness of God.
An holistic and medicinal approach to man and his salvation is also a dominant theme in Eastern anthropology and moral theology. The history of salvation is understood as a gradual process of healing, an ongoing act of divinisation. It is a progressive therapeutic process, a restorative action realised by Christ, the divine physician of body and soul. It is a gradual becoming aware of the dignity of our own human existence as the living image of God, a gradual spiritualization of both body and soul. Salvation is the integral reconstruction of man into the harmony of being. Thus, for the Eastern way of thinking, the process of salvation is a gradual therapeutic and divinising process, animated and guided by the Holy Spirit in the ecclesial and liturgical context. The deification of man (theosis) is a key concept in Eastern anthropology, spirituality and moral theology. It is the purpose of life in Christ. Each and every human being is called by God to a life in Christ, to a life of communion with the Triune God and to a participation in the divine life. Man as the moral subject of the call of God, responds personally and freely to this call in the very context of his life. Already created in the image and likeness of God, we are called by grace to share in the divine life, to become God-like. Hence we can say that in the Eastern moral theology, moral theology is closely linked to anthropology.
4.7. Ecclesiastical Economy (oikonomia) as a Moral Attitude of the Eastern Mind
Oikonomia is an important notion in Eastern theology, especially in the moral, canonical and pastoral praxis. Etymologically, it is derived from the Greek term, oikonomia, which means ‘house law’ or ‘house management’. This term in general denotes the sum total of God’s saving plan for humankind, revealed through creation and above all through the redemption, effected in Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit (Eph, 1: 10, 3: 9). In Eastern theology, it also denotes the concessions to human weaknesses made by the Church, which in particular cases dispenses the faithful from the strict observance of the canonical prescriptions. It is the canonical approach of condescendence, compassion and mercy which is different from that of akribeia that denotes precision and rigour in the application of punishments.
The attitude of oikonomia is not something exceptional or extraordinary in nature but an attitude which regulates the conduct of Church members and ministers. In view of the greater good of the faithful and without increasing the evil, the pastor is called to look at the moral norms and human frailties. B. Petrà explains ecclesiastical economy as ‘a virtuous habit, that attitude of prudence and measure, which shrinks from excess, namely from the oblivion of reality and from the forgetfulness of truth, as well as tending to come close to the ideal, as far as possible within the limits of a reality, marked by sin’. E. Farrugia calls this oikonomia ‘a practico-pastoral sense of Christian balance and a model for resolving ethical issues’. M. Arranz defines oikonomia as an ‘application of the canons together with a pastoral prudence’. In the traditional catholic moral theology, the Greek term epikeia comes closer to the idea of oikonomia. Epikeia refers to an interpretation the human law not according to its letter but according to its spirit in those border cases which have not sufficiently been taken into consideration by positive law.  Epikeia is not an evasion of the law but acting according to the spirit of the law.
Therefore it is true to say that the ethical reflections in the East are more familial rather than juridical or legal in character. It implies keeping the commandments of God and the precepts of the Church in a family spirit proper to the children of God, characterised by the generosity of heart/maximalism and longing for perfection of the heavenly Father. In the moral reflections, a master-servant model is seen in the West; whereas a father-son model is seen in the East. Hence we see in the East a love based ethics rather than a law based morality and this, we understand, is more faithful to the spirit of the Sacred Scripture.
5. The Moral Vision of the East Syriac Tradition: A Paradigm for an Eastern Approach to Catholic Moral Theology
After having made a general presentation of the relevance and characteristic features of Eastern moral thinking, we now concentrate on the East Syriac tradition, which is one of the six ecclesial traditons in the Catholic communion of Churches. Here we discuss some pertinent features of its moral theological reflections.
5.1. The East Syriac Understanding of the Christian Moral Life
Besides the general characteristics of the Eastern moral approaches that we have just seen, we now speak of some of the characteristic features of Christian life in the Syriac tradition.
5.1.1. The Bridal Imagery of Christian Baptismal Life
Syriac Churches have a rich theology of baptism. Syriac fathers usually combine both the Johannine vision of baptism as a rebirth and its Pauline symbolism of death and resurrection, thus providing a very rich understanding of the meaning of baptism. In the earliest texts, more prominence was given to the Johannine perspective and it is only from the late fourth century onwards that the Pauline perspective was given greater emphasis.
The bridal imagery, used variously to refer to baptised Christians, the human heart, the Church and heavenly paradise, is very frequent in the Syriac tradition. The Syriac tradition sees Christian baptismal life as a life of betrothal to Christ. At baptism, each Christian is betrothed to Christ, the heavenly bridegroom (Jn, 3: 29; Mt, 9: 15; Mt, 22: 1-14; Mt, 25: 1-13), the soul becoming the bride of Christ, the body and heart, the bridal chamber and each celebration of the Holy Qurbana, a wedding feast. St. Ephrem writes: “The soul is your bride, the body your bridal chamber. Your guests are the senses and thoughts. And if a single body is a wedding feast for you, how great is your banquet for the whole Church”.
5.1.2. Purity of Heart/Conscience as the Basic Virtue
The heart in the Semitic thought is the principle of human integration. It sustains the energy of all the forces of body and soul. It is the source of human acts. The Syriac tradition inherited this biblical understanding of the heart as the spiritual centre of the human person. It is the focal point of the intellect, will as well as of the feelings. Accordingly there is no dichotomy between heart and mind as we often find in other Christian traditions.
The Syriac Churches greatly emphasise ‘purity of the heart’ (šapiût lebbâ/cor purum) with a broad shade of meanings such as limpidity, lucidity, luminosity, clarity, purity, cleanness, straightness, transparency, serenity, or sincerity of heart. Purity of heart is one of the attributes of the paradisiacal state and so its attainment is part of the continual quest in the life of the Christian to effect the reality of re-entry into paradise, granted in potential at baptism. The expressions ‘purity of heart’, ‘pure heart’, ‘pure thoughts’, etc. are seen several times in the liturgical prayers of the Syriac Churches.
The interior liturgical role of the heart is also emphasised in Syriac literature. Some of the Syriac writings speak of an ‘inner altar’ of the ‘hidden Church of the heart’. For example, Liber Graduum, a late 4th century or early 5th century anonymous Syriac work,in its chapter XII discusses the three altars of the ‘Church visible, hidden and heavenly’. The interior altar needs to function in harmony with the visible altar of the visible Church and with the heavenly altar of the heavenly Church. The heart is the hidden altar, inside the sanctuary, constituted of the body and on this altar, the interior offering of prayer is being continuously made.
5.1.3. Ascetical Life Style
Asceticism was a dominant feature of Christian life in the Syriac tradition and was a power house for the flourishing of the ecclesial life. Research studies copiously done on this dimension of the Syriac tradition unanimously confirm this fact. As R. Murray says, no other characteristics are likely to strike a modern reader more immediately than its asceticism, moderate or extreme, dominating or at least colouring almost all the literature. After having made a detailed study of the various forces and structures in the development of early Syriac theology, H. J. W. Drijvers observes: “They have one thing in common: a strong emphasis on asceticism, the command of the body and its passions in order to create room for the divine spirit, truth and wisdom.”
As R. Murray says the ascetical life style of the Syriac Churches reflects the eschatological character of the Christian life, the passionate longing for the ‘heavenly bridegroom and heavenly bridal chamber’ that had characterised most of the Judeo-Christian literature. The Church looks for fulfilment in the eschatological kingdom or paradise. This eschatological and paschal orientation is especially clear in the Oriental tradition. The very outlook of a Christian is eschatological, looking forward to the second coming of Jesus. The early Christian tradition of praying facing the East and the liturgical posture of standing that manifests the pilgrim character of the people of God, both of which are still practiced in the Eastern Churches, show the eschatological orientation of Christian life.
5.1.4. Sacramental Character of the Created World
Syriac theology expresses a profound awareness of the sacramental character of the created world and of the potential of everything in it to act as witnesses and pointers to the creator. In the Hymns on Paradise, Ephrem speaks of the natural world as standing side by side with scripture as a witness to God (5: 2, 6: 1). In the Hymns on Virginity, he says that the music of the revelation of Christ is played on three harps; the OT, the NT and nature (27-30). Nature and the Bible testify to God by means of the symbols and types, which they contain (HVirg, 20: 12). The created world and its diversities point to God the Creator.
Nothing in the universe stands in isolation. St. Ephrem considers the universe as a totum and continuum. The Syriac patristic thinking is essentially in line with the traditional teaching of the Church that God the almighty is the creator of everything and is the owner of the created world; we are only the caretakers or custodians; the world is not a property of man but a gift of God for man. Thus man’s attitude to and use of the natural world, which are to be governed by the right exercise of free will, is of fundamental importance for St. Ephrem. For him, the right attitude and response to nature and its resources are essentially one of wonder, admiration, adoration, love, respect and gratitude, whereas the wrong response will be one of greed, lust, contempt and arrogance. The right response, moreover, will always be coupled with the awareness of the divine that is inherent in the natural world as in scripture, so that the inner eye of faith can use it as a vehicle for a deeper understanding of the spiritual realities. The sacramental vision of Syriac theology on the cosmos proposes a sound theology on ecology, which is a widely discussed theme in contemporary moral theology.
5.1.5. Healing Imageries Related to the Christian life
In the early East Syriac tradition, we see a beautiful galaxy of rich biblical and theological imageries. Most important among them is that of healing. The Syriac fathers speak of the healing imagery in a multifarious sense, relating it to the various aspects of salvation history and Christian life such as revelation, faith, scripture, nature, baptism, the Holy Eucharist, prayer, moral laws and commandments, repentance, penitential acts like fasting and alms-giving, practice of virtues like purity of heart, humility, etc.
Amidst the various healing imageries, the healing imagery of repentance and forgiveness of sins is very particular in the Syriac tradition. In the Syriac patristic view, we see a thoroughly biblical view of sin and forgiveness. Instead of a juridical conceptual model, which tends to dominate the post-patristic Western tradition, the Syriac writers prefer to use a medical conceptual model, where sin is seen more as a abuse of freedom, denial of faith, spiritual wound or a state of spiritual sickness that is in need of healing; the medicine which can effect this healing is repentance and penitence. Christ the good physician of souls has transmitted the healing power of forgiveness in the Church to his apostles and to the priests after them. The emphasis on Christ as the healer is of particular significance for the early Syriac understanding of penance.
6. The Syro Malabar Church and Her Moral Ethos
After having seen the theological possibility and characteristic features of an Eastern approach to catholic moral theology and analysed the East Syriac tradition as a paradigm for an Eastern approach, we shall now focus on the Syro Malabar Church of the St. Thomas Christian tradition, which belongs to the East Syriac tradition. It is a clearly established fact that St. Thomas Christian tradition traces its origin to St. Thomas the Apostle (+AD 72), who preached the Gospel in India. The St. Thomas Christians did not have any famous theological school or organised monastic life or Fathers of the Church among them. They were not involved in any of the Trinitarian or Christological controversies or heretical movements of the early centuries. They faithfully preserved, heroically lived and integrally handed on the faith, which they had received from the apostle St. Thomas. The historical vicissitudes of this Church are also very unique. However, this ancient Christian community conserved intact the legacy and orthodoxy of the apostolic faith, which St. Thomas had left for them and has always been in the ecclesial communion with the Church of Rome.
6.1. The Way of St. Thomas (Mar Thoma Margam) as the Sum Total of the Faith and Moral Life of the Syro Malabar Church
The St. Thomas Christians have a unique ‘way of Christian living’, founded on the Christ experience of Apostle St. Thomas, which he shared in the Indian cultural context. The St. Thomas Christian community consider their Christian life as a ‘way of living’, rather than a system of rational and systematic reflections. More than a set of concepts or principles, it is a way of life (margam), a way of purity and sanctity, as we pray in the Holy Qurbana.  This margam of purity and holiness was first made known to India by Mar Thoma. Hence is the designation ‘Mar Thoma Margam’. As the marga of purity and holiness, Mar Thoma margam refers to the sum total of their ecclesial and cultural heritage. Cardinal George Alencherry, the Major Archbishop of the Syro-Malabar Church in his pastoral letter for the feast of Dukhrana (the commemoration of the martyrdom of St. Thomas), 2013 writes: “….It is through the intervention of St. Thomas that we got the fundamental revelation of Christ, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’. It is St. Thomas himself who for the first time taught the Indians the way to God through Jesus Christ. Precisely because of that the life style of Christian faith, taught by him is qualified as the way of Thomas”.
The St. Thomas Christians live the Gospel values and its moral teaching in the context of their unique faith patrimony and the Indian culture. In fact the ‘Way/Law of St. Thomas’ includes the sum total of their faith heritage, the apostolic patrimony, divine liturgy, sacraments, divine office, liturgical language and heritage, theological understanding, spiritual life, moral life style, Church discipline, ecclesiastical government, local traditions, life contexts and socio-religious customs as well. In other words, it is the whole ecclesial, spiritual, moral and socio-cultural modus vivendi of the Thomas Christians. It can be summarized in the words of Placid J. Podipara, a great theologian of our Church: “The St. Thomas Christians were Hindu in culture, Christian in faith and oriental in worship”. This well-known adage expresses clearly the nature of the ecclesial life style and the Indo-Oriental identity of the St. Thomas Christians. G. Nedungatt, speaking about the spirituality of the Syro-Malabar Church, sees the Law of St. Thomas as one of the fundamental characteristics and traits of her spirituality and it stands for the whole ethos of Church life. B. Petrà sees in this law of St. Thomas, the centre of the socio-cultural identity and religious ethos of the Syro Malabar Church. He observes: “It is in this ‘law’ that the Syro-Malabar Church seems to have her true ethos, that which can renew her identity in the present and open her to a significant future in the communion of Churches”.
6.2. The Moral Life of the Syro Malabar Church as a Virtue Ethics
The Thomas Christians of India had a unique standard of moral living, clearly attested by the local administrators, the foreign missionaries and by the historians. Though the Christains in Malabar were a minority, the moral credibility of their personal, social, political life was held in high esteem. They were known for their respect towards parents and elders and courtesy towards strangers. The Thomas Christians especially their women were modest in their deportment. In their social life, they were peace loving and dedicated to their wok. The Thomas Christians were engaged mainly in agriculture, trade and military service. Pepper growing was almost their sole monopoly. They were honest and just in their work and enterprises. The able bodied adults were trained for militray service and engaged in their service to the country. By their agriculture, trade and military service, they were doing real services to the country. Hence they were given certain privileges, as evidenced by the Tharisappally copper plates. The Thomas Christians, though they were warriors, they were peace loving people. Murder was very rarely heard among them. The Thomas Christians were known for their strong family bonds and marital fidelity; divorce was unheard of among them; abortion was unknown to them. They had regular prayers at home in morning, noon and evening times, when they hear the bell ringing from the parish churches.
All these reveal the high moral standard of the Thomas Christians, who were considered to be a people dear and near to God and responsible to man. Hence we can say that the St. Thomas Christians had a practical understanding of the virtue ethics rather than a rational and systematic presentation of moral concepts. Moral values were lived in the actual life and celebrated in the liturgy of the Church. We can rightly conclude that the ethical life style of the Thomas Christians was mainly a virtue ethics rather than a law based morality.
6.3. Approved Models of Moral Life from the Syro Malabar Church
St. Alphonsa, the first canonised saint from India, stands as an authentic model of Christian life from the Thomas Christian Community for the universal Church. She is a corrective force to the spirituality of the modern man by living the perennial and divine value of suffering. She was a faithful bride of Christ, the heavalnly bridegroom. Surnamed as passion flower, her fidelity to the divine bridegroom was proved in fire, tested under trials and ratified on the crucible of suffering. She always preserved her baptismal grace, original innocence and sanctity. She was like a grain of wheat, which falls to the ground and dies and sprouts to a new life. Her spirituality is thoroughly biblical. Besides St. Alphonsa, the four blesseds (Bl. Chavara Kuriakose Elias, Bl. Mariam Thresia, Bl. Euprasia, Bl. Kunjachan), Venerable Mathew Kadalikattil and many other Servants of God, whose canonization process have been already statred, are also witnesses of heroic christian life from the St. Thomas Christian tradtion.
6.4. Family Based and Parish Centered Moral Formation in the Syro Malabar Church
Family plays a vital role in the faith and moral formation of the faithful in the St. Thomas Christian tradition. The St. Thomas Christians are known for their good relgious traditions in their families. The initial faith formation such as learning to make the the sign of the cross, the invocation of the holy names of Jesus, mother Mary, St. Joseph and of other saints and learning the basic prayers etc. are done in the faimly itslef. The habit of family prayer in the evening belongs to the very blood and life and practice of the Thomas Christians. Just as the Hindus recite nama japa in the evening before the lighted lamp, the memebrs in the Christian family make their evening prayers before the image of the Lord. The custom of family prayer and the practice of giving kaikasthuri (Praise be to Jesus Christ) with folded hands at the end of the prayer is an age old custom among the Thomas Christians. Besides this, various other spiritual traditions are being practised in the family like the celebration of pesaha (breaking of a special paschal bread) on the Holy Thursday evening, ceremonies related to the birth of a child, beginning of eduaction, marriage, death, etc.. The practice of some of the vows (nerchas) like foot washing, muthiyoonu, twleve apostles nercha, etc. are also there among the St. Thomas Christians. The parish, in turn, through its ministry of the word of God, liturgy and life of communion and love continues the faith and moral formation in a more systematic way. Therefore a family based and parish centered moral formation will continue to nurture and foster the moral development of our faithful.
We have been trying to bring out the theological possibility and characteristic features of Eastern, East Syriac and Syro Malabar approaches to Catholic moral theology. Since the Church of Christ manifests herself equally in her Eastern and Western traditions, we need to appreciate the theological genius and wisdom of both East and West. We also believe that the creative theological thinking on the ethical dimension of individual Churches would enhance the quest for their identity within the Catholic communion. We have also understood that the moral life of the faithful is contextual and essentially related to their faith traditions and cultural backgrounds. We hope and pray that such a unified vision of faith and morality will be an antidote to the growing disintegration of faith and morality, a serious problem that the Church faces today (Veritatis Splendor, 88). The hidden pearls of the Eastern moral theological reflections are yet to be re-discovered. This is an area in which more theological studies are to come forward. It is a challenge and invitation to each one of us.
 When it refers to the individual Church, the Latin Code of Canon Law (CIC) uses the term ‘autonomous ritual Church’ and the Eastern Code of Canon Law (CCEO) uses the term ‘Church sui iuris’.
 The Catholic Church as a communion of different individual Churches (LG, 23; OE, 1-3; UR, 14-17) is a key to understand the ecclesiological teachings of Vatican II. In the Catholic communion, at present there are 23 individual Churches in six liturgical families, both Eastern and Western (Annuario Pontifcio, 2012). All these Churches are equal in dignity, rights and duties, adding beauty to the universal Church.
B. PETRÀ, “Church sui iuris, Ethos and Moral Theology” in Church and Its Most Basic Element, ed. P. Pallath (Rome, 1995), 161-178.
 Cf. C. AERATH, Liturgy and Ethos: A Study Based on Malankara Lituggy of Marriage (Rome, 1995); P. KOCHAPPILLY, Celebrative Ethics: Ecological Issues in the Light of the Syro-Malabar Qurbana (Bangalore, 1999); S. KANNIYAKONIL, “The Ethical Perspectives of the Eastern Churches”, Christian Orient 21 (2000), 103-115; D. VECHOOR, The Healing Imagery of the Sacrament of Repentance in the East Syriac Tradition and among the St. Thomas Christians of India: A Study on Its Contemporary Moral Theological Significance (Unpublished Thesis, Alphonsian Academy, Rome, 2003); S. KANNIYAKONIL, ed. Ethical Perspectives of the Eastern Churches (Changanachery, 2004); D. VECHOOR, “Catholic Moral Theology from the Eastern and East Syriac Perspectives”, Christian Orient 26 (2006), 94-108; D. VECHOOR, “The ‘Faith Lived’ of the Syro Malabar Church: A Study of the Moral Vision, Moral Life and Moral Formation of the Syro Malabar Church”, Christian Orient 34 (2013), 96-112; T. SRAMPICKAL, “Moral Theology in India: A Historical Perspective” in Shaji George Kochuthara, ed., Moral Theology in India Today (Bangalore, 2013), 48-100; P. KOCHAPPILLY, “As You Celebrate, so You Live” in Shaji George Kochuthara, ed., Moral Theology in India Today (Bangalore, 2013), 192-213; K. PULIAPPALLIL , “Call to Ethical Life: An Exploration of the Relationship between Liturgical Spirituality and Virtue Ethics in the Syro-Malankara Church” in Shaji George Kochuthara, ed., Moral Theology in India Today (Bangalore, 2013), 214-232.
 B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ II (Sydney, 1980), 318.
 JOHN PAUL II, Apostolic Constitution Sacri Canones, 18 October 1990, AAS 82 (1990), 1033-1044. For details see, B. PETRÀ, “Church with ‘Two Lungs’: Adventures of a Metaphor”, Ephrem’s Theological Journal 6 (2002), 111-127.
 S. BROCK, “The Syriac Orient: A Third ‘Lung’ for the Church?”, Orientalia Christiana Periodica 71 (2005), 5.
 Cfr. International Theological Commission, Theology Today: Perspectives, Principles and Criteria (2011), nos. 5, 74-85, 99.
 B. PETRÀ, “Church sui iuris, Ethos and Moral Theology”, 164-165.
 Cf. M. KADAVIL, “Cultural Foundations of Eastern Ethics” in Ethical Perspectives of the Eastern Churches, ed. S. Kanniyakonil (Changanachery, 2004), 105-118.
T. SRAMPICKAL, “Moral Theology in India: A Historical Perspective”, 50.
 B. PETRÀ, “Church sui iuris, Ethos and Moral Theology”, 161-178.
 S. MAJORANO, “Il teologo moralista oggi”, Studia Moralia 33 (1995), 21-22.
 B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ III, (Sydney, 1981), 221.
 B. PETRÀ, “Church sui iuris, Ethos and Moral Theology”, 175.
 B. PETRÀ, “Church Sui Iuris, Ethos and Moral Theology”, 176.
 R. TAFT, Eastern Rite Catholicism: Its Heritage and Vocation (New York, 1963), 13.
 B. PETRÀ, “Moral Theology in the Orthodox Tradition”, 12-21.
 E. FARRUGIA, “Christianity as a Society of Mourners: Introducing Eastern Theology” ” in Catholic Eastern Churches. Heritage and Identity, ed. P. Pallath (Rome, 1994), 72.
 B. GRIFFITHS, Christ in India: Essays towards a Hindu-Christian Dialogue (Bangalore, 1986), 53.
 B. PETRÀ, “Moral Theology in the Orthodox Tradition”, 13.
 B. PETRÀ, “Teologia morale e scienze liturgiche”, in Liturgia: Itinerari di ricerca, scienza liturgica e discipline teologiche in dialogo (Roma, 1997), 363.
 B. PETRÀ, “Moral Theology in the Orthodox Tradition”, 18.
T. SRAMPICKAL, “Moral Theology in India: A Historical Perspective”, 54-55.
 B. PETRÀ, La Chiesa dei padri, 23-47.
 R. TAFT, Eastern Rite Catholicism: Its Heritage and Vocation, 15.
 T. O’CONNELL, Principles of Catholic Morality (New York, 1990), 12.
 D. BOHR, Catholic Moral Tradition (Indiana, 1999), 58-59.
 S. PINKAERS, The Sources of Christian Ethics (Edinburgh, 19995), 206.
 S. PINKAERS, The Sources of Christian Ethics, 207-208.
 S. PINKAERS, The Sources of Christian Ethics, 199-207.
 J. MEYENDORFF, “Theosis in the Eastern Tradition” in Christian Spirituality III: Post Reformation and Modern, ed. L. Dupré & D. E. Saliers (New York, 1989), 470.
 G. O’COLLINS & E. FARRUGIA, eds. A Concise Dictionary of Theology (Edinburgh, 1997), 61.
 B. PETRÀ, “Moral theology in the Orthodox Tradition”, 14-15.
 B. PETRÀ, “Teologia morale: identità, fonti e principi”, 754.
 For a detailed study and bibliography see, B. PETRÀ, Tra cielo e la terra, 36-42, 49-66, 263-280.
 J. MEYENDORFF, Byzantine Theology: Historical Trends and Doctrinal Themes (London, 1983), 226.
 B. HÄRING, Free and Faithful in Christ II, 317-318. This unified vision of moral theology is also in full conformity with the Indian thought. The Sanskrit rendering of ethics is interesting and illuminative. There are two terms generally employed to mean ethics. They are dharmasâstras and nitisâstras. The term dharma comes from the Sanskrit root dhr meaning ‘that which holds together’ or ‘that which supports’. The word niti comes from the root word in Sanskrit ni meaning ‘to lead’. Sâstra means ‘science’. Therefore ethics is that science which holds people together and that which leads people to their destination. We firmly believe that only a holistic approach to God, man and cosmos paves the right way for an authentic moral theology in its full sense. Cfr. M. MONIER WILLIAMS, Sanskrit-English Dictionary (Delhi, 1970), 510-513, 565; P. KOCHAPPILLY, “Christ-centred Ethics and the Celebration of the Divine Liturgy”, Ephrem’s Theological Journal 3 (1999), 99-125.
 B. PETRÀ, “Teologia morale e scienze liturgiche”, 366.
 Cfr. L.M. CHAUVET, Symbols and Sacrament: A Sacramental Re-interpretation of Christian Existence (Collegeville, 1995).
 B. PETRÀ, “Teologia morale: identità, fonti e principi”, 753; La Chiesa dei padri, 49-54.
 S. HARAKAS, Towards a Transfigured Life: The Theoria of Eastern Orthodox Ethics (Minneapolis, 1983), 179-211.
B. PETRÀ, “Le Chiese d’Oriente e la salute globale dell’uomo” in Medicina e spiritualità, un rapporto antico e moderno per la cura della persona, ed. G. Cinà (Torino, 1998), 113-124.
 B. PETRÀ, “Le Chiese d’Oriente e la salute globale dell’uomo”, 114.
 B. PETRÀ, “Le Chiese d’Oriente e la salute globale dell’uomo”, 118.
 B. PETRA, La Chiesa dei padri, 49-66.
 The Syriac equivalent of oikonomia would be m’dabrânûtâ.
 G. O’COLLINS & E. FARUGGIA, eds. A Concise Dictionary of Theology (Edinburgh, 1997), 63.
 For a detailed study see his Tra cielo e la terra, 105-135, 271-274.
 B. PETRÀ, “Moral theology in the Orthodox Tradition”, 22-23.
 E. FARRUGIA, “Christianity as a Society of Mourners: Introducing Eastern Theology”, 73.
 M. ARRANZ, Penitenza bizantina (PIO, Roma, 1999), 15.
 K.H. PESCHKE, Christian Ethics: Moral Theology in the Light of Vatican II, Vol. I (Alcester, 1997), 152-155.
 M. VELLANICKAL, “Biblical Foundations of Ethics of the Syriac Orient” in Ethical Perspectives of the Eastern Churches, ed. S. Kaniyakonil (Changanachery, 2004), 43.
 M. VELLANICKAL, “Biblical Foundations of Ethics of the Syriac Orient” in Ethical Perspectives of the Eastern Churches, ed. S. Kaniyakonil (Changanachery, 2004), 46-53.
 S. BROCK, Spirituality in the Syriac Tradition, 60-77.
 S. BROCK, Spirituality in the Syriac Tradition, 38-41.
 S. BROCK, Syriac Fathers on Prayer and Spiritual Life (Kalamazoo, 1987), xxi-xxxiv.
 HFid, 14: 15.
 T. ŠPIDLÍK, Spirituality of the Christian East: A Systematic Handbook (Kalamazoo, 1986), 103-107.
 S. BROCK, “The Prayer of the Heart in Syriac Tradition”, Sobornost 4:2 (1982), 131-142.
 S. BROCK, Syriac Fathers on Prayer and Spiritual life, xv-xxi.
 S. BROCK, Syriac Fathers on Prayer and Spiritual Life, xxx.
 S. BROCK, Syriac Fathers on Prayer and Spiritual Life, xvi.
 R. MURRAY, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, 11, 154-157.
 R. MURRAY, “The Characteristics of the Early Syriac Christianity”, 6.
 H. J. W. DRIJVERS, East of Antioch: Studies in Early Syriac Christianity (London, 1984), I, 18.
 R. MURRAY, Symbols of Church and Kingdom, 343-346.
 J. KALLARANGATT, “Dimensions and Perspectives of Oriental Theology” in Eastern Theological Reflections, ed. X. Koodapuzha (Kottayam, 1999), 103-104.
 S. BROCK, Spirituality in the Syriac Tradition, 41-42.
 For a detailed study of the theology of healing in the early Syriac tradition, see A. SHEMUNKASHO, Healing in the Theology of Saint Ephrem (New Jersey, 2002).
 S. BROCK, Spirituality in the Syriac Tradition, 41.
 The Catholic Church in India is a beautiful mosaic of the communion of Latin, Syro Malabar and Syro Malankara Churches. Therefore a pluralistic moral approach is to be developed on the basis of these three ecclesial traditions. However, in this paper I limit myself to the Syro Malabar tradition alone.
 It is an umbrella term, which includes different ecclesial traditions in Kerala, both Catholic and non-Catholic, which venerate St. Thomas as their father in faith. The Syro Malabar and the Syro Malankara Churches belong to the Catholic communion of Churches. The Assyrian Church of the East (the Surayees), the Syrian Orthodox (the Jacobite Church), the Orthodox Syrian (the Orthodox Church), the Marthoma Syrian Church are the important branches that belong to the non-Catholic section of this tradition.
P. PALLATH, “Were the St. Thomas Christians in India Nestorians at the Time of the Synod of Diamper in 1599?”, Ephrem’s Theological Journal 5 (2001), 57.
G. NEDUNGATT, “Spirituality of the Syro-Malabar Church”, 164-166; P. PALLATH, “Were the St. Thomas Christians in India Nestorians at the Time of the Synod of Diamper in 1599?”, Ephrem’s Theological Journal 5 (2001), 37-57; P. PALLATH, The Catholic Church in India (Vadavathoor, 2010).
 A. MEKKATTUKUNNEL, Legacy of the Apostle Thomas in India (Vadavathoor, 2013), 52-59
,“…May all the people know that Christ, out Lord and God, in his life giving Gospel, came and taught us the way of purity and sanctity (dakkiyusa ukadisutha) of the prophets and apostles, martyrs and confessors, doctors and bishops, priests and deacons and all the children of the holy catholic Church, who have been signed with the living and life giving seal of baptism…” (the 4th G’hanta).
 Pastoral Letter on the Feast of Dukhrana, 2013 (Prot. No. 1103/2013).
P. J. PODIPARA, “Hindu in Culture, Christian in Religion and Oriental in Worship”, Ostkirchliche Studien 8 (1959), 82-104.
G. NEDUNGATT, “Spirituality of the Syro-Malabar Church”, 162.
B. PETRÀ, “Church sui iuris, Ethos and Moral Theology”, 173.
J. PULIURUMPIL, “Practice of Mar Thoma Margam in the Day-to-day life of the Mar Thoma Christians”, in A. MEKKATTUKUNNEL ed., Mar Thoma Margam: The Ecclesial Heritage of the St. Thomas Christians (Vadavathoor, 2012), 709-719.
P. PALLATH, “Saint Alphonsa: A Faithful Bride of Christ”, Christian Orient 30.3, 102-109.
G. NEDUNGATT, “Spirituality of the Syro-Malabar Church”, 178.