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Chapter 1: Introduction to Moral Theology and to This Book

Question H: How can a treatise on Christian moral principles provide a basis for the needed renewal in moral theology?

1. An adequate treatise in Christian moral principles needs to clarify what a Christian is and show how Christian life can be at one and the same time both fully human and fully divine. It must explain the dynamic unity of the human and divine aspects of Christian life without mixing the two. To clarify the life of the Christian, it must clarify the life of Jesus and show how the Christian is united with him. Chapters nineteen to twenty-six and thirty-four of this volume are especially concerned with these matters.

2. Such a treatise needs to explain how human goods determine Christian moral norms. It should show why a life in accord with Christian norms is, in this fallen world, the only life which is really humanly good. Moreover, the contribution of human goods and acts to heavenly fulfillment in the Lord Jesus must be explained. These matters are dealt with here, mainly in chapters five to ten, twenty to twenty-seven, and thirty-four.

3. An adequate treatise also needs to make clear how one can organize and live one’s Christian life. While taking realistic account of the fallen human condition and working toward a final resolution in the world to come, Christian life as it is lived in this world must be inherently meaningful and humanly fulfilling. The plan of such a life is described in chapters twenty-eight to thirty-four.

4. The treatise needs a forward-looking perspective. Its primary orientation should be toward preaching, teaching, and counseling, to assist the faithful in living full and rich lives in Jesus. However, it must also provide an adequate basis for studies which will help priests be sound and sensitive confessors. The primary orientation of the present treatise is forward-looking; but such topics as conscience, the principles of right and wrong, and sin are treated, especially in chapters three, eight to eighteen, and twenty-six to twenty-eight.

5. Finally, an adequate treatise on Christian moral principles must explain the authority of the Church’s teaching and show the implications of dissent from this teaching. These matters are treated in chapters twenty-three, thirty-five and thirty-six.

The reader of this work should keep in mind that the mysteries of faith are treated here from a moral-theological point of view—that is, from the point of view of human acts. Thus, the treatment of the redemptive work of Jesus, the functioning of the Church, the Christian life itself, the sacraments, and so on, will focus on the human acts involved—those of Jesus and of human persons. This emphasis by no means conflicts with the truth that everything good is the work of God (see Jas 1.17). But the point of view of even an adequate theology of Christian moral principles is limited, and the truth of faith must not be reduced to the limits of this perspective.