Catholic moral theology

Catholic moral theology is a major category of doctrine in the Catholic Church, equivalent to a religious ethics. Moral theology encompasses Roman Catholic social teaching, Catholic medical ethics, sexual ethics, and various doctrines on individual moral virtue and moral theory. It can be distinguished as dealing with "how one is to act", in contrast to dogmatic theology which proposes "what one is to believe".


Sources of Catholic moral theology include both the Old Testament and the New Testament, and philosophical ethics such as natural law that are seen as compatible with Catholic doctrine. Moral theology was mostly undifferentiated from theology in general during the patristic era, and is found in the homilies, letters and commentaries on Scripture of the early Church fathers. During the Middle Ages, moral theology developed in precision and scope through scholasticism.

Contemporary Catholic moral theology is developed by acts of the Magisterium, by the Pope, other bishops, and by the works of lay Catholic moral theologians, which include magisterial teachings, as well as (in some matters) theological opinions. Examples of Catholic moral theologians include St. Alphonsus Liguori, Germain Grisez (author of The Way of the Lord Jesus) and John Finnis (author of Natural Law and Natural Rights). Moral theology tends to be advanced most authoritatively through official statements of doctrine, such as papal encyclicals, which are based on the dogmatic pronouncements of Ecumenical Councils (e.g., Vatican II), Sacred Scriptures, and Sacred Tradition. In addition, moral theologians publish their own works and write in a variety of journals devoted in whole, or in part to moral theology. These scholarly journals are helpful in making the theology of the Church more clear and accessible to others, and serve as a forum in which scholarly discussion of understanding and application of issues occurs. However, these journals per se do not add or remove anything from Catholic teaching.

The curriculum for formation of priests commonly includes required and elective courses in Catholic moral theology.

Approaches to Catholic moral theology

  • In a deontological approach, morality takes the form of a studying of "how one is to act" in relation to the laws established by the faith.
  • In a teleological approach, "how one is to act" is related to the ultimate end which is again established by the faith.
  • In a dialogic approach, morality follows the pattern of faith directly, the "how one is to act" is related to an encounter with God through faith.[1] Moral living is response to the Logos or Word of God. "Faith in the Logos...understands moral values as responsibility, as a response to the Word, and thus gives them their intelligibility as well as their essential orientation." [2]

See also


  1. ^ BERNHARD HÄRING , Free and faithful in Christ. Moral Theology for priests and laity, I/General Moral Theology. For freedom Christ has set us free (Gal 5,1), Slough 1978, focus on chapter 3
  2. ^ Ratzinger, Joseph Cardinal (Pope_Benedict_XVI). Introduction To Christianity, 2nd Edition (Communio Books) (Kindle Locations 304-306). Ignatius Press.
Actual sin

According to Roman Catholic tradition, actual sin, as distinguished from original sin, is an act contrary to the will and law of God whether by doing evil (sin of commission) or refraining from doing good (sin of omission). It can be either "mortal" or "venial"

Bernhard Häring

Bernard Häring (10 November 1912 – 3 July 1998) was German Roman Catholic, Moral theologian, and a Redemptorist priest.

Catholic Church and capital punishment

The catholic Church's position on capital punishment has varied through the centuries following the Church's establishment, evolving from somewhat supportive to largely apathetic to anti-capital punishment.On August 2, 2018, the church adopted the view that capital punishment is "inadmissible" as it violates the dignity of mankind. The Catechism of the Catholic Church proclaims that "in the light of the Gospel" the death penalty is "an attack on the inviolability and dignity of the person". Pope Francis has also proclaimed that life imprisonment is a form of torture and "a hidden [form of the] death penalty".In the twentieth century, the Catholic Church generally moved away from any explicit condoning or approval of capital punishment and has instead adopted a disapproving stance on the issue. Modern Church figures such as Pope John Paul II, Pope Francis, and the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have actively discouraged the imposition of the death penalty or advocated for the abolition of the death penalty. In past centuries, the teaching of the Catholic Church categorized capital punishment as a form of "lawful slaying", a view defended by theological authorities such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Augustine felt that the death penalty was a means of deterring the wicked and protecting the innocent. In the Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas reaffirmed this position. (See also Aquinas on the death penalty).

Since the Second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church had been staunchly opposed to the death penalty in the vast majority of applications. During his papacy, Pope John Paul II appealed for a consensus to end the death penalty on the ground that it was "both cruel and unnecessary". Pope Francis also proposed the abolition of the death penalty, as well as life imprisonment, which he felt is just a variation of the death penalty.

Catholic probabilism

In Catholic moral theology, probabilism provides a way of answering the question about what to do when one does not know what to do. Probabilism proposes that one can follow an authoritative opinion regarding whether an act may be performed morally, even though the opposite opinion is more probable. (An opinion is probable when, by reason of intrinsic or extrinsic arguments, it is able to gain the assent of many prudent men.) It was first formulated in 1577 by Bartholomew Medina, OP, who taught at Salamanca.

Catholic theology of sexuality

Catholic theology of sexuality, like Catholic theology in general, is drawn from natural law, canonical scripture, divine revelation, and sacred tradition, as interpreted authoritatively by the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Sexual morality evaluates sexual behavior according to standards laid out by Catholic moral theology, and often provides general principles by which Catholics are able to evaluate whether specific actions meet these standards. Much of the Church's detailed doctrines derive from the principle that "sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive [between spouses] purposes". At the same time, the Bishops at Vatican II decreed that the essential procreative end of marriage does not make "the other purposes of matrimony of less account."The Catholic Church teaches that human life and human sexuality are inseparable. Because Catholics believe God created human beings in his own image and likeness and that he found everything he created to be "very good," the Catholic Church teaches that human body and sex must likewise be good. The Church considers the expression of love between husband and wife to be an elevated form of human activity, joining husband and wife in complete, mutual self-giving, and opening their relationship to new life. As Pope Paul VI wrote in Humanae vitae, “The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, ‘noble and worthy.’” In cases in which sexual expression is sought outside sacramental marriage, or in which the procreative function of sexual expression within marriage is deliberately frustrated (e.g., the use of artificial contraception), the Catholic Church expresses grave moral concern.

The Church teaches that sexual intercourse has a purpose; and that outside marriage it is contrary to its purpose. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "conjugal love ... aims at a deeply personal unity, a unity that, beyond union in one flesh, leads to forming one heart and soul", since the marriage bond is to be a sign of the love between God and humanity.Among what are considered sins gravely contrary to chastity are masturbation, fornication, pornography, homosexual practices, and artificial contraception. Procurement of abortion, in addition to being considered grave matter, carries, under the conditions envisaged by canon law, the penalty of excommunication, "by the very commission of the offense".

Charles Curran (theologian)

Charles E. Curran (born March 30, 1934) is an American Roman Catholic priest and moral theologian. He currently serves at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, as the Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values.

Christian ethics

Christian ethics is a branch of Christian theology that defines virtuous behavior and wrong behavior from a Christian perspective. Systematic theological study of Christian ethics is called moral theology.

Christian virtues are often divided into four cardinal virtues and three theological virtues. Christian ethics includes questions regarding how the rich should act toward the poor, how women are to be treated, and the morality of war. Christian ethicists, like other ethicists, approach ethics from different frameworks and perspectives. The approach of virtue ethics has also become popular in recent decades, largely due to the work of Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas.The curriculum for seminary formation of Catholic priests commonly includes multiple, required courses in Catholic moral theology. Required courses in moral theology or ethics are comparatively less common in Evangelical seminaries.

Christian tradition

Christian tradition is a collection of traditions consisting of practices or beliefs associated with Christianity. These ecclesiastical traditions have more or less authority based on the nature of the practices or beliefs and on the group in question.

Many churches have traditional practices, such as particular patterns of worship or rites, that developed over time. Deviations from such patterns are sometimes considered unacceptable or heretical. Similarly, traditions can be stories or history that are or were widely accepted without being part of Christian doctrine, e.g., the crucifixion of Saint Peter or the evangelistic activity of Thomas the Apostle in India, which are widely believed to have happened but are not recorded in scripture. Similarly the names of the Magi who visited Jesus at his birth are thought to have been invented much later than the events; they are not considered authentic or obligatory, but can be considered a tradition.

Tradition also includes historic teaching of the recognized church authorities, such as Church Councils and ecclesiastical officials (e.g., the Pope, Patriarch of Constantinople, Archbishop of Canterbury, etc.), and includes the teaching of significant individuals like the Church Fathers, the Protestant Reformers, and the founders of denominations. Many creeds, confessions of faith, and catechisms generated by these bodies, and individuals are also part of the traditions of various bodies.

In plurimis

In Plurimis is a papal encyclical decreed by Pope Leo XIII on May 5, 1888 on the abolition of slavery. Using the royal we, Leo XIII addresses the bishops of Brazil on behalf of the Brazilian slaves. Leo XIII expresses his joy over the growing abolitionism in the land. He then goes on a long theological explanation, explaining how slavery is not natural but due to original sin, how Jesus came to free slaves and mankind from slavery, how the twelve Apostles taught that all men are equal before God, how the Church Fathers and the Catholic church have always been opposed to slavery, how non-Christian masters are wicked toward while Christian masters are kind toward slaves, how Christians do not enslave other Christians since they are brethern, how the Popes have always fought for slaves' rights, how Christian nations were the first to abolish slavery, and how Christian missionaries seek to introduce abolitionism to the peoples they evangelize. Leo XlII finishes the encyclical by exhorting the bishops of Brazil toward abolitionism, rejoicing over the freeing of many slaves in their land, and addressing the Brazilian slaves, offering advise on using freedom for the doing of good deeds.

Journal of Moral Theology

The Journal of Moral Theology is a journal that publishes peer-reviewed scholarly articles in the field of Roman Catholic moral theology. The journal is published semi-annually, with regular issues in January and June, that cover theological treatments of related topics in philosophy, economics, political philosophy, and psychology. Articles published in the journal undergo at least two double blind peer reviews before being selected for publication.

Karen Ann Quinlan

Karen Ann Quinlan (March 29, 1954 – June 11, 1985) was an American woman who became an important figure in the history of the right to die controversy in the United States.

When she was 21, Quinlan became unconscious after she consumed Valium along with alcohol while on a crash diet and lapsed into a coma, followed by a persistent vegetative state. After doctors, under threat from prosecutors, refused the request of her parents, Joseph and Julia Quinlan, to disconnect Quinlan's respirator, which the parents believed constituted extraordinary means of prolonging her life, her parents filed suit to disconnect Quinlan from her ventilator.

Quinlan's case continues to raise important questions in moral theology, bioethics, euthanasia, legal guardianship and civil rights. Her case has affected the practice of medicine and law around the world. A significant outcome of her case was the development of formal ethics committees in hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.

Law of gradualness

In Catholic moral theology, the law of gradualness, the law of graduality or gradualism, is the notion that people improve their relationship with God and grow in the virtues gradually, and do not jump to perfection in a single step. In terms of pastoral care, it suggests that "it is often better to encourage the positive elements in someone's life rather than to chastise their flaws". It is "as old as Christianity itself", being referred to in several New Testament passages.It is distinct from "gradualness of the law", an idea that would tend to diminish the demands of the law. It does not mean "that we compromise on the content of the law" but that we recognize our failings and strive to correspond to its demands over time.

Pontifical Academy for Life

The Pontifical Academy for Life or Pontificia Accademia Pro Vita is a Pontifical Academy of the Roman Catholic Church dedicated to promoting the Church's consistent life ethic. It also does related research on bioethics and Catholic moral theology.

Probability (disambiguation)

Probability is the measure of an event's likelihood. It may also refer to:

Probability theory, the branch of mathematics concerned with probability

Probability (moral theology), a theory in Catholic moral theology for answering questions in which one does not know how to act

Probability (Law & Order: Criminal Intent episode), an episode in the second season of the police procedural television series Law & Order: Criminal IntentImprobable (company), a British company founded in 2012 that makes distributed simulation software for video games and corporations

Improbable (novel), a 2005 science fiction thriller novel by Adam Fawer

Improbable (The X-Files), an episode in the ninth season of the science fiction television series The X-Files

Sacred tradition

Sacred tradition, or holy tradition, is a theological term used in some Christian traditions, primarily those claiming apostolic succession, such as the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, and Anglican traditions, to refer to the foundation of the doctrinal and spiritual authority of the Christian Church and of the Bible.

Christians believe that the teachings of Jesus and the Apostles were preserved in the scriptures as well as by word of mouth and were handed on. This perpetual handing on of the tradition is called the "Living Tradition"; it is believed to be the faithful and constant transmission of the teachings of the Apostles from one generation to the next. That "includes everything which contributes towards the sanctity of life and increase in faith of the People of God; and so the Church, in her teaching, life and worship [the Creeds, the Sacraments, the Magisterium, and the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass], perpetuates and hands on to all generations all that she herself is, all that she believes." The Deposit of Faith (Latin: fidei depositum) refers to the entirety of divine revelation. According to Roman Catholic theology, two sources of revelation which constitute a single "Deposit of Faith", meaning that the entirety of divine revelation and the Deposit of Faith is transmitted to successive generations in scripture and sacred tradition (through the teaching authority and interpretation of the Church's Magisterium (which consists of the Church's bishops, in union with the Pope), typically proceeding synods and ecumenical councils).

In Eastern Orthodox theology, Holy Tradition is the inspired revelation of God and catholic teaching (Greek katholikos, "according to the whole") of the Church, not an independent source of dogmatic authority to be regarded as a supplement to biblical revelation. Tradition is rather understood as the fullness of divine truth proclaimed in the scriptures, preserved by the apostolic bishops and expressed in the life of the Church through such things as the Divine Liturgy and the Holy Mysteries (Eucharist, baptism, marriage, etc.), the Creed and other doctrinal definitions of the First seven ecumenical councils, canonical Christian iconography, and the sanctified lives of godly men and women.

According to the Christian theological understanding of these Churches, scripture is the written part of this larger tradition, recording (albeit sometimes through the work of individual authors) the community's experience of God or more specifically of Jesus. Thus, the Bible must be interpreted within the context of sacred tradition and within the community of the church. That is in contrast to many Protestant traditions, which teach that the Bible alone is a sufficient basis for all Christian teaching (a position known as sola scriptura).

Sanctity of life

In religion and ethics, the inviolability or sanctity of life is a principle of implied protection regarding aspects of sentient life that are said to be holy, sacred, or otherwise of such value that they are not to be violated. This can be applied to both animals and humans or micro-organismes , for instance in religions that practice Ahimsa, as both are seen as holy and worthy of life.

The concept of inviolability is an important tie between the ethics of religion and the ethics of law, as each seeks justification for its principles as based on both purity and natural concept, as well as in universality of application.

Sins that cry to heaven

The four sins that cry to Heaven for Vengeance (or sins that cry to Heaven) (Latin: peccata clamantia) are a list of certain mortal sins in Catholic moral theology that Catholics believe demand justice from God:The expression is derived from Genesis 4:10 ("The Lord said to Cain ... the voice of thy brother's blood crieth to me from the earth").

They are referenced in the Douay Catholic Catechism of 1649.

The "blood of Abel": homicide, infanticide, fratricide, patricide, and matricide

The "sin of the Sodomites".

The "cry of the people oppressed in Egypt, the cry of the foreigner, the widow, and the orphan": slavery and marginalization

The "injustice to the wage earner": taking advantage of and defrauding workers

Ten Commandments in Catholic theology

The Ten Commandments are a series of religious and moral imperatives that are recognized as a moral foundation in several of the Abrahamic religions, including Catholicism. As described in the Old Testament books Exodus and Deuteronomy, the Commandments form part of a covenant offered by God to the Israelites to free them from the spiritual slavery of sin. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church—the official exposition of the Catholic Church's Christian beliefs—the Commandments are considered essential for spiritual good health and growth, and serve as the basis for Catholic social teaching. A review of the Commandments is one of the most common types of examination of conscience used by Catholics before receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation, previously known as the sacrament of Penance.The Commandments appear in the earliest Church writings; the Catechism states that they have "occupied a predominant place" in teaching the faith since the time of Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430). The Church had no official standards for religious instruction until the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215; evidence suggests the Commandments were used in Christian education in the early Church and throughout the Middle Ages. The perceived lack of instruction in them by some dioceses was the basis of one of the criticisms launched against the Church by Protestant reformers. Afterward, the first Church-wide catechism in 1566 provided "thorough discussions of each commandment", but gave greater emphasis to the seven sacraments. The most recent Catechism devotes a large section to interpret each of the commandments.Church teaching of the Commandments is largely based on the Old and New Testaments and the writings of the early Church Fathers. In the New Testament, Jesus acknowledged their validity and instructed his disciples to go further, demanding a righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees. Summarized by Jesus into two "Great Commandments" that teach love of God and love of neighbor, they instruct individuals on their relationships with both. The first three commandments require reverence and respect for God's name, observation of the Lord's Day and prohibit the worship of other gods. The others deal with the relationships between individuals, such as that between parent and child; they include prohibitions against lying, stealing, murdering, adultery and covetousness.

Veritatis splendor

Veritatis splendor (Latin: The Splendor of the Truth) is an encyclical by Pope John Paul II. It expresses the position of the Catholic Church regarding fundamentals of the Church's role in moral teaching. The encyclical is one of the most comprehensive and philosophical teachings of moral theology in the Catholic tradition. It was promulgated on 6 August 1993. Cardinal Georges Cottier, Theologian emeritus of the Pontifical Household and Cardinal-Deacon of Santi Domenico e Sisto the University Church of the Pontifical University of Saint Thomas Aquinas was influential in drafting the encyclical, as was Servais-Théodore Pinckaers a professor of moral theology at the University of Fribourg.

cardinal virtues
theological virtues
Seven deadly sins
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