I just saw news that the theologian Germain Grisez died today. I am sure that tributes will flow soon from those who worked closely with him. I enjoyed the blessing of meeting him a couple of times and his thought has influenced mine a lot. A couple of years ago, I carefully worked through his The Way of the Lord Jesus, all 900 pages of it, which I would have undertaken and persisted in only were I convinced that I was walking through an intellectual gold mine. Over some six decades, Grisez fashioned a moral theology that was astonishingly creative yet profoundly faithful to the Catholic magisterial tradition. More than all but a few moral theologians, he answered the Second Vatican Council’s call to account for why and how the Church’s moral norms embody well-being, happiness, and fulfillment.
What I admire most about Grisez was his uncompromising integrity and his unwavering commitment to truth. I have known few other scholars less concerned about lining up with a particular camp, faction, committee, or promotional pathway — apart from that of the Church and of the narrow road that leads to life. In the 1960s, he wrote a defining work defending the Catholic Church’s prohibition on contraception and one of the earliest and still most compelling books on the injustice of abortion. Part of the conservative camp? Well, consider his searing critique of nuclear deterrence written with John Finnis and Joseph Boyle in the mid 1980s. I have been reading ethics and international affairs for 30 years and consider this the best book I’ve ever read in the field. Even though it deals with Cold War dilemmas, I still assign it to my students as a model of ethical reasoning (and I’m convinced it still has much to say to us in a day when our president threatens “fire and fury” against North Korea). The final chapter, on how faithfulness in this life connects with eternal life, is alone worth reading and rereading.
Speaking of heaven, one of Grisez’s important theological innovations was a way of imagining heaven. If I understand it — and sorry, this rough, Grisez experts! — the idea is that heaven is more than just the beatific vision of contemplating God but is also a dynamic condition of enjoying the wide range of human goods perfected in a celestial community with many others — an eternal city of knowledge, play, health, and beauty. It is beautiful to think that now he inhabits what he described.