What is it about the practice of obedience to God that makes it significant for human happiness and sanctity? And how should the obedience proper to vowed religious life be understood relative to the responsibilities of conscience and personal freedom? In the present day, religious obedience is often viewed either as a negative cramping of personal autonomy by an external authority, or as a positive submission to law that somehow assures one’s fidelity, but the common thread for both perspectives is a distinctly modern approach to obedience characterized by legalism and voluntarism. In Free for Christ, Mother Mary Christa Nutt, R.S.M., proposes a different approach to religious obedience that foregrounds virtue-based moral agency rooted in metaphysics and the mystery of God, examining obedience not simply in relation to commands and laws but as a spiritual, philosophical, and theological reality—one that situates the human person in relation to God, the Church, and those others who share this religious life. Taking her starting point from Thomas Aquinas, Nutt examines obedience as a dimension of prudence and worship, that is, as a way that the human being can become relative to God as first source and final end, and thus as a way that the grace of Christ can take deeper root as a path to authentic freedom and interiority. From this ground of Thomistic metaphysics and ethics emerges a theological anthropology of obedience closely tied to Aquinas’s teaching on providence and religion.


Mother Mary Christa Nutt, R.S.M., is a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan. She entered religious life with a bachelor’s degree in history and English, and earned a baccalaureate, a license of sacred theology, and a doctoral degree in moral theology at the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas in Rome as a religious sister. She has taught Thomistic philosophy and theology at the North American College, to the postulants and novices of her own Institute, and as an adjunct professor at St. Joseph’s College in Maine. Nutt presently serves as the Superior General of her Institute.


“Does religious life have a future? Should it? Mother Mary Christa Nutt takes a serious look at the challenges posed by contemporary redefinitions of the vow of obedience and of religious life itself, vis-à-vis the universal call to holiness. In this very comprehensive philosophical and theological treatise, she draws on the recent reappropriation of St. Thomas Aquinas’s moral theology to defend the thesis that vowed obedience can contribute to the freedom and spiritual maturity of religious. She finds ample support for the distinctive value of religious life in St. Thomas’s teaching on the Beatitudes and on the saving obedience of Christ. Mother Mary Christa has done her homework. Free for Christ is a learned and eloquent defense of religious life. This should open a new conversation and give courage to all who believe religious life is a gift to the Church.”

Sr. Sara Butler, M.S.B.T. Mundelein Seminary


“Viewing moral theology from the perspective of the new law of grace, Mother Christa Nutt superbly locates religious obedience within charity, the Beatitudes, personal liberty, and Christian maturity. She shows how the fixing of the will by a vow strengthens the focus on God and reaffirms the interior balance of the person. Thus, the vow does not paralyse freedom. It enhances it.”

Fr. Wojciech Giertych, O.P. Theologian of the Papal Household


“Mother Mary Christa has written a profound synthesis of many strands of philosophical and theological truth concerning the consecrated life, always through the lens of St. Thomas Aquinas and complemented by a battery of Thomistic theological studies by many authors. She has shown that the consecrated life needs to be seen in light of metaphyics, as well as Trinitarian and Christocentric theology. A deeper appreciation of theology is necessary for an ongoing renewal and reform of consecrated institutes and persons. As St. Thomas reminds us, charity must be continually growing (for most of us in spurts due to weakness of the will, blindness of the intellect, and the sometime push of unreasonable emotions). For the will to keep choosing to follow more closely the Lord Jesus, it needs the mind to give directives from personal insights and holy contemplative wisdom to make the journey to heaven in a community of sinners amidst the interior and sometime exterior obstacles to divine love. Will power—and “won’t power”—is not enough because the will is blind faculty needing direction. Traditionally these obstacles have been called the world, the flesh, and the devil. Consecrated life then is a kind of battle, not for sissies, and is to facilitate a consecrated community manifesting a serious cluster of virtues, theological and moral, united under divine love of God and community. This book of Mother’s will provide needed intellectual inspiration and conviction to stay on course for the road to heaven with life’s many challenges.”

Fr. Basil Cole, O.P. Dominican House of Studies


“This theologically insightful and elegant book provides a much-needed Thomistic analysis of religious life and the character of religious obedience. Threading the needle between the extremes of obedience as a law-based notion of conformity to extrinsic norms and an overly subjective notion of religion as self-development, the work provides us with a realistic and profound portrait of religious life as a pathway to true happiness through union with God in a common life of virtue, mutual sacrifice, and trusting participation in community life. At once personal and collective, true religion, as Aquinas understands it, sets us free for what is genuinely good and liberates us for a life that is at once ecclesial and collective. An important contribution to the ongoing work of renewal in Thomistic moral theology.”

Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P. Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas


“A thoughtful, bracing, Christocentric, and hope-filled exploration of the consecrated life by a leader of the renewal of religious communities according to the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and Pope St. John Paul II.”

George Weigel Ethics and Public Policy Center

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