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User’s Guide and Preface

General suggestions

Users of this volume might find it helpful to begin by reading the entire table of contents, which includes brief summaries of each chapter. The table of contents is a map of the volume as a whole; it can be used repeatedly for orientation.

Each chapter is constructed of several levels of material. The numbered paragraphs in each question contain what is most essential. With the context provided in these paragraphs, the sentences directly answering the question are highlighted in bold type. The other paragraphs in each question include subordinate material which will be helpful for many readers—examples, further explanations, supporting evidence, and treatment of important tangential matters.

The summary, just after the questions in each chapter, provides a compact but thorough review of the chapter’s essential content. The summary may also be read as a preview before studying the questions. Readers with sufficient background may obtain a good idea of the work as a whole by reading straight through the summaries of all the chapters.

In most chapters one or more appendices follow the summary. These contain material of less urgency for the average reader, but necessary for a more scholarly grasp of the subject matter or as additional support of positions stated in the chapter.

The notes at the end of each chapter sometimes amount to small appendices. They also refer to works mentioned or used, other than the sources cited in the text itself. The notes often suggest materials for further study. No separate bibliography is provided.

Key to references within the text

The chief sources of this work are Scripture, the teachings of the Catholic Church, and the writings of certain Fathers and Doctors of the Church, especially St. Thomas Aquinas. References to these sources are provided within the text rather than in notes.

Quotations from Scripture (except those within other quotations) unless indicated otherwise are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, Catholic Edition. However, citations other than direct quotations follow the numbering of verses in The New American Bible. A few quotations, labeled “NAB,” are from that translation. References are made by means of the following abbreviations:

Acts   Acts of the Apostles
Am   Amos
Bar   Baruch
1 Chr   1 Chronicles
2 Chr   2 Chronicles
Col   Colossians
1 Cor   1 Corinthians
2 Cor   2 Corinthians
Dn   Daniel
Dt   Deuteronomy
Eccl   Ecclesiastes
Eph   Ephesians
Est   Esther
Ex   Exodus
Ez   Ezekiel
Ezr   Ezra
Gal   Galatians
Gn   Genesis
Hb   Habakkuk
Heb   Hebrews
Hg   Haggai
Hos   Hosea
Is   Isaiah
Jas   James
Jb   Job
Jdt   Judith
Jer   Jeremiah
Jgs   Judges
Jl   Joel
Jn   John (Gospel)
1 Jn   1 John (Epistle)
2 Jn   2 John
3 Jn   3 John
Jon   Jonah
Jos   Joshua
Jude   Jude
1 Kgs   1 Kings
2 Kgs   2 Kings
Lam   Lamentations
Lk   Luke
Lv   Leviticus
Mal   Malachi
1 Mc   1 Maccabees
2 Mc   2 Maccabees
Mi   Micah
Mk   Mark
Mt   Matthew
Na   Nahum
Neh   Nehemiah
Nm   Numbers
Ob   Obadiah
Phil   Philippians
Phlm   Philemon
Prv   Proverbs
Ps   Psalms
1 Pt   1 Peter
2 Pt   2 Peter
Rom   Romans
Ru   Ruth
Rv   Revelation (Apocalypse)
Sg   Song of Songs
Sir   Sirach (Ecclesiasticus)
1 Sm   1 Samuel
2 Sm   2 Samuel
Tb   Tobit
1 Thes   1 Thessalonians
2 Thes   2 Thessalonians
Ti   Titus
1 Tm   1 Timothy
2 Tm   2 Timothy
Wis   Wisdom
Zec   Zecariah
Zep   Zephaniah

“FEF” refers to The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3 volumes, selected and translated by William A. Jurgens (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1970-1979). This collection includes many important theological and historical passages from the Christian writings of the patristic period, ending in the West in the mid-seventh century and in the East in the mid-eighth century. Passages 1–910a are in volume 1; 911–1416 in volume 2; 1417–2390 in volume 3. Father Jurgens’ scholarly introductions and notes are very useful.

“DS” refers to Henricus Denzinger—Adolfus Schönmetzer, S.I., Enchiridion Symbolorum Definitionum et Declarationum de Rebus Fidei et Morum, ed. 34 (Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder, 1967). This volume, as its title indicates, is a collection of “creeds, definitions, and declarations on matters of faith and morals.” Texts are in the original languages (mostly Latin) and in chronological order. Two sequences of numbers appear in the margins; both are indicated in references in the present text. The lower numbers are found in earlier editions of the handbook and in many publications which used it. Quotations from this collection, unless otherwise noted, are from: The Church Teaches: Documents of the Church in English Translation, translated by J. F. Clarkson, S.J., J. H. Edwards, S.J., W. J. Kelly, S.J., and J. J. Welch, S.J. (Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books, 1973). Texts in the translation are arranged topically rather than chronologically; a table (370–375) correlates with DS.

Quotations from the Constitutions, Decrees, and Declarations of the Second Vatican Council, unless otherwise noted, are from The Documents of Vatican II, edited by Walter M. Abbott, S.J., and Joseph Gallagher (New York: America Press, 1966). In some cases the Abbott–Gallagher translation has been amended to conform more exactly to the Council’s Latin text, and when minor amendments proved inadequate, a fresh translation usually has been supplied. These facts are indicated with the reference. In a few cases, marked “Flannery translation,” the translation is drawn from Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, ed. Austin Flannery, O.P. (Northport, New York: Costello Publishing Company, 1975).

References to the Vatican II documents use the abbreviations derived from the initial letters of the Latin text of each document and then the numbers of the articles into which the documents were divided by the Council itself.

AA Apostolicam actuositatem (Laity)
AG Ad gentes (Missions)
DH Dignitatis humanae (Religious Liberty)
DV Dei verbum (Divine Revelation)
GE Gravissimum educationis (Education)
GS Gaudium et spes (Church in the World)
IM Inter mirifica (Communications)
LG Lumen gentium (On the Church)
NA Nostra aetate (Non-Christian Religions)
OE Orientalium Ecclesiarum (Eastern Churches)
OT Optatam totius (Priestly Formation)
PC Perfectae caritatis (Religious Life)
PO Presbyterorum ordinis (Priestly Life)
SC Sacrosanctum Concilium (Liturgy)
UR Unitatis redintegratio (Ecumenism)

Note that in the Abbott–Gallagher edition only the italicized footnotes are part of the Council documents. The notes in Roman type were added by the commentator on each document, whose name appears at the end of the essay introducing the document. Because of the added notes, the official notes are not numbered in the Abbott edition as they are in the official texts.

“S.t.” refers to the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas. This work is cited by its five main divisions: 1 (the first part or prima pars), 1–2 (the first part of the second part or prima secundae), 2–2 (the second part of the second part or secunda secundae), 3  (the third part or tertia pars), and sup. (the supplement compiled from an earlier work after Thomas’ death). These main divisions are subdivided into questions (cited by “q.” with the question number), the questions into articles (cited by “a.” with the article number), and the articles into a body (“c.” for corpus) and replies to objections (cited ad 1, ad 2, and so forth). “S.c.g.” refers to St. Thomas’ Summa contra gentiles, which is divided into four books and these into chapters.

Many popes and Vatican II have commended St. Thomas as a model for work in theology. The reflection completed in the present book began from his work. I am far more indebted to him than the numerous citations of his works suggest. Still, the writings of St. Thomas are not theological sources on a par with the teaching of the Church herself. On some important matters, the unfolding teaching of the Church seems to require positions incompatible with those of St. Thomas. In such cases, one must be a better friend of Thomas by disagreeing with him, for he cared far more about the truth of the Catholic faith than about his own theological positions.

A few other sources and some reference works

The following works were used very frequently in the preparation of this book and are often cited in the notes.

“AAS” refers to Acta Apostolicae Sedis, the journal of the Holy See in which are published the official texts of documents issued by the popes and the Holy See’s congregations. AAS began publication in 1909; its predecessor, from 1865–1908, was Acta Sanctae Sedis (ASS).

Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique, 15 volumes (Paris: 1899–1950). This work is cited by volume and column. Although sometimes out of date, this magnificent collective work remains indispenable for theological research.

Dictionary of Biblical Theology, ed. Xavier Léon-Dufour, 2d ed. (New York: 1973).

Encyclopedia of Biblical Theology: The Complete “Sacramentum Verbi,” ed. Johannes B. Bauer, in one volume (New York: 1981).

Encyclopedia of Theology: The Concise “Sacramentum Mundi,” ed. Karl Rahner, in one volume (New York: 1975).

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 4 volumes and supplementary volume (Nashville: 1962 and 1976).

New Catholic Encyclopedia, 15 volumes and 2 supplementary volumes (New York: 1967, 1974, 1979). The original set meets high standards of scholarship and doctrinal soundness; the supplementary volumes are quite uneven in both respects.

The New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. Colin Brown, 3 volumes (Grand Rapids: Michigan: 1975, 1976, 1978).

The Papal Encyclicals (1740–1981), ed. Claudia Carlen, I.H.M., 5 volumes (Raleigh, North Carolina: 1981). The English translations of the encyclicals are cited by the numbers assigned them and their sections in this edition.

The Rites of the Catholic Church as Revised by Decree of the Second Vatican Council and Published by Authority of Pope Paul VI (New York: 1976). References are to the page numbers in this collected edition.

Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, ed. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, trans. Geoffrey W. Bromiley, 10 volumes (Grand Rapids, Michigan: 1964–1976).

The necessary foundation for theological study is sound and comprehensive catechesis. Two fine works not only supply this need but contain a wealth of historical and bibliographical information. Each has its own strengths and the two complement each other very well:

John A. Hardon, S.J., The Catholic Catechism: A Contemporary Catechism of the Teachings of the Catholic Church, (New York: 1975).

The Teaching of Christ: A Catholic Catechism for Adults, ed. Ronald Lawler, O.F.M.Cap., Thomas Comerford Lawler, and Donald W. Wuerl (Huntingdon, Indiana: 1976).

The purpose and character of this book

This book is constructed primarily as a textbook in fundamental moral theology for students in Catholic seminaries. Three drafts were used in a two-semester course I have been teaching since 1979 in Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary. However, those already ordained to the priesthood, teachers of religion, parents concerned about the catechetical formation of their children, and others may find the book helpful. As I explain in chapter one, questions E through H, the book responds to Vatican II’s call for renewal in moral theology.

Why is moral theology so important? Morality is a characteristic of human actions. Human actions are not what is most fundamental in reality or in Christian life, for more basic is the reality and work of God. Nevertheless, God has chosen to create persons who can be like himself in acting intelligently and freely. God ennobles his creatures by making them his able and effective cooperators. Our lives are not passing; they are ourselves. In this passing world we make the selves and relationships which will endure forever. For this reason, the moral quality of Christian life is very important.

The reality of God and the quality of his other works do not depend upon what we think. But the quality of our Christian lives, which also are the work of God, does depend upon what we think. Moral theology helps to improve this thinking. Therefore, moral theology is one of the most important parts of theology. Its study contributes in a unique way to the work of God.

In this book, I assume that the reader accepts everything the Catholic Church believes and teaches. This book is not apologetics aimed at nonbelievers nor is it an attempt to rescue the faith of those who have serious doubts. However, anyone who thinks has many difficulties with respect to the Church’s teaching, and I try to help resolve some of these difficulties.

Moreover, here and there notes are supplied to suggest how arguments based on common human experience can help prepare the way for the acceptance of the Church’s teaching. These indications are intended, not as proofs in any strict sense, but as helps to understand what the Church believes and proposes for belief.

For the most part I proceed in this work in a constructive way, with minimal attention to positions inconsistent with received Catholic teaching. But sometimes alternative opinions which bear directly on the subject matter could not be ignored. Such opinions are expounded and evaluated critically, using as the standard the constant and very firm teaching of the Catholic Church.

My evaluation of much that has been published by Catholics writing in moral theory since Vatican II is negative. The Council called for a Christ-centered moral theology. Too much of what has been published in recent years, far from being centered upon Jesus, is vitiated by substantial compromises with secular humanism.

My criticism of various recent works ought not to be misunderstood as a judgment upon any person. It is one thing to criticize what someone says (or even does) and quite another to judge persons themselves. When one is convinced that what others are saying is erroneous or what they are doing is wrong one hopes they are sincere and that God, who reads hearts, will find their hearts pure or that, if he does not, will make them so.

Undoubtedly, this work itself includes errors. Vatican II’s call for renewal is an overwhelming challenge. I hope no error here will be found contrary to faith and that none will seriously harm anyone. I ask that those who are more able call my attention to any error they find. In what I have written here, as in everything I write—everything I think—I submit gladly and wholeheartedly to the better judgment of the Catholic Church.

Some acknowledgments

This volume on Christian moral principles is only the first fruits of a larger project. In subsequent volumes I plan to take up the specific responsibilities of Christians and to clarify them in the light of these principles.

Three subsequent volumes are projected: the second on the responsibilities common to all Christians, the third on responsibilities proper to Christians in various specific roles and states of life, and the fourth on responsibilities of members of the Church as such toward one another. God willing, this project will be completed before the year 2000.

The antecedents of this project go back to 1968–69. The polemics which followed in the wake of Humanae vitae made it clear that classical moral theology could not adequately explain and defend the moral truth the Church teaches. Renewal along the lines called for by Vatican II clearly was urgent. My first plan was to construct a limited work, dealing with only a few questions in fundamental moral theology. Cardinal John Wright encouraged and supported that effort with a summer grant in 1970. However, my work that summer only made it clear that a more thorough systematic work was needed.

After several years, during which I hoped someone else would undertake the task, I outlined the present project in 1976–77, and articulated the conditions necessary to carry it out. These included an opportunity to teach moral theology in a Catholic seminary, a professorship with few other duties, and substantial funds for expenses.

I did not expect these conditions to be met. However, I presented the project to those whom I thought might support it—Cardinal Wright and a number of other bishops. Many responded favorably, foremost among them John B. McDowell, Auxiliary Bishop of Pittsburgh. He obtained the support of more than thirty other bishops for the project, as well as the backing of the Knights of Columbus and other Catholic organizations and individuals. The contributors established a Trust for Theological Studies.

Dr. Robert J. Wickenheiser, President of Mount Saint Mary’s College, recognized this project as one way in which the College, which has served the Catholic Church in America for 175 years, can continue to fulfill its vocation as it completes its second century. With the approval of the College’s Board of Directors, Dr. Wickenheiser established a new position, dedicated to the execution of this project and to similar work as long as the College exists. Thus the Trust for Theological Studies and Mount Saint Mary’s College cooperated as the chief sponsors of this work.

Beginning in the fall of 1980, De Rance, Inc., also supported the project. (De Rance is a foundation whose President, Mr. Harry G. John, devotes all his time and effort to the prudent use of his wealth for the apostolate of the Catholic Church.) The De Rance support made possible the purchase of word-processing equipment, much of the help I received with the research and writing of the book, and its publication by the Franciscan Herald Press.

I thank all who contributed for their generosity and confidence in me. Many persons also supported this work with their prayers, some on a regular basis. I especially thank them for this support and hope they will continue and others join them in it.

Mount Saint Mary’s College named my position The Reverend Harry J. Flynn Chair in Christian Ethics. Father Flynn returned to pastoral work in his home diocese after many years of devoted service in Mount Saint Mary’s Seminary, including almost a decade as its distinguished rector. I am honored to work under the patronage of Father Flynn’s name, and hope that this book will duly honor him.

With the help of . . .

The development of this volume owes much to the help of many persons—students, librarians, and fellow scholars who have offered criticism and suggestions on various points. But the nine persons whose names appear on the title page contributed more than anyone usually does to a project of research and writing not his or her own. Of course, while I have usually taken their advice, I have sometimes ignored it and frequently tried to improve on their suggestions. Hence, while this book could not have been written without my helpers, its remaining weaknesses and defects should not be blamed on them.

Joseph M. Boyle, Jr., and I have collaborated on various projects since 1970. Our previous work together taught me much. In the winter and spring of 1977 he helped work out the very first outline of this book. His analytical ability contributed greatly to the fuller outline we developed together in the summer of 1978; at that time, we brought nearly to its present form the ethical theory embodied in chapters seven through twelve. The first draft proved too complex; it needed major reconstruction. Boyle devoted most of the summer of 1980 to intensive work with me on this task. During the summer of 1982, he helped for two more months in a thorough revision of the theological heart of the volume—chapters nineteen through twenty-seven—and to improvement of some parts of other chapters. Boyle’s work contributed greatly to the logical tightness and clarity of the book. On a project less vast than the present one, his more than six months full time work would ground a just claim to coauthorship.

Jeannette Grisez, my wife, discussed many difficulties of content and presentation with me during the course of the work, and in doing so helped significantly with it. Measured in terms of time and labor, however, her greater contribution was the secretarial work, which she carried out single-handedly. Between December 1980 and August 1981 she learned the use of an electronic typing system and put the entire manuscript on electronic media; she then reworked much of the material six or seven times as rewriting and editing proceeded. Moreover, she did most of the work of duplicating each draft and coding the final manuscript for typesetting. Thus this volume owes much which will make it easier to use to Jeannette Grisez’s skill, accuracy, and devoted labor in word processing.

Russell Shaw is a professional writer; he is Secretary for Public Affairs of the United States Catholic Conference—National Conference of Catholic Bishops. In the spring of 1981, he obtained a three-month leave-of-absence and devoted all his time and talent to the complete rewriting of the numbered paragraphs and the editing of the remainder of the manuscript. During 1981–82, Shaw did additional editorial work on the entire manuscript and composed the summaries. In the spring of 1983, he did still further editing and proposed the sentences to be set in boldface. Due to his effort, readers will find the book—especially the material on which students must concentrate their effort—much easier to use than it otherwise could have been.

During 1981-82, John Finnis, Robert G. Kennedy, Patrick Lee, and William E. May provided research assistance.

John Finnis checked every reference to and quotation from Denzinger and the documents of Vatican II, criticized the use of these materials, compared the English translations with the original Latin, and suggested amendments where necessary.

Robert Kennedy checked every reference to and quotation from Scripture, compared every New Testament reference with the Greek, and consulted reliable secondary sources where necessary. His work enhanced the book’s accuracy in the use of Scripture and supplied many helpful references to the scholarly literature.

Patrick Lee suggested many specific references to the Summa theologiae and Summa contra gentiles of St. Thomas; incorporated in the book, these references bear witness to the debt this work owes to St. Thomas and will help introduce students to his thought.

William May made many suggestions for strengthening the manuscript in reference to contemporary Catholic theology; as a result of his help, the book draws on the strengths and criticizes the weaknesses of the works of other Catholic scholars far more effectively than it otherwise could have done.

The Rev. John A. Geinzer and the Rev. Basil Cole, O.P., both read and criticized the entire manuscript in two or three of its full drafts. Reflecting their pastoral sensitivity, their suggestions enhanced the relevance of the book to its primary audience. Each of them made hundreds of suggestions for the manuscript’s improvement. Father Geinzer concentrated mainly on refinements of style and Father Cole on points of doctrinal precision. Almost every one of their comments led to some improvement.

For these helpers and all who have contributed in any way to this work, for those whose views are criticized in it, for all who will use it, and for myself, I pray: May the Lord bless us, protect us from all evil, and bring us to everlasting life. Amen.

Emmitsburg, Maryland
2 August 1983