This week, Archpriest Alexander Webster of St. Herman of Alaska Orthodox Church in Virginia gave an edifying lecture to our seminarians entitled “To Think as a Moral Philosopher / To be a Moral Theologian.” A former army chaplain, published author, professor, and priest for the Russian Orthodox Church Outside of Russia, Fr. Webster connected the methodology of philosophy with the content of theology.
He used the words of Christ, St. Paul, and the Church Fathers to develop a concept of absolute morality derived from our final goal (teleological orientation) toward relationship with the Trinity, an ever-deepening journey from glory to glory as we try to love, comprehend, and live with our God. As Christ is the Logos of the universe, His traces are intimately felt in the reasonable order of the world that He created, and as such, we are to read the book of nature to discover the truth within it. To live according to this truth is one way of approaching moral philosophy.
From this foundation, Fr. Webster used philosophical thought puzzles to problematize simple morality with concrete, particular situations when moral solutions are ambiguous. He used the example of the execution of Socrates, who was condemned to death by the laws of the state and compelled to drink poison hemlock. Should he have drunk the hemlock of his own will? Should he have fled? Should he have fought back? Similarly, Fr. Webster invoked the famous moral question of hiding the Jews from Nazis. Should one lie to protect a life? After a lively and engaging debate with the students over these questions, Fr. Webster drew important distinctions within moral choices between motivation, the act itself (the matter/means), and the end.
With this very informative and pastorally-relevant lecture, we thank God to have had such an accomplished speaker spark intellectual curiosity in our seminarians.
Read an article by Fr. Webster by clicking the link: Transfigure or Die Trying