Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: A History

Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: A History

Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: A History

Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: A History


In this magisterial volume Charles E. Curran surveys the historical development of Catholic moral theology in the United States from its 19th century roots to the present day. He begins by tracing the development of pre-Vatican II moral theology that, with the exception of social ethics, had the limited purpose of training future confessors to know what actions are sinful and the degree of sinfulness.

Curran then explores and illuminates the post-Vatican II era with chapters on the effect of the Council on the scope and substance of moral theology, the impact of Humanae vitae, Pope Paul VI's encyclical condemning artificial contraception, fundamental moral theology, sexuality and marriage, bioethics, and social ethics.

Curran's perspective is unique: For nearly 50 years, he has been a major influence on the development of the field and has witnessed first-hand the dramatic increase in the number and diversity of moral theologians in the academy and the Church. No one is more qualified to write this first and only comprehensive history of Catholic moral theology in the United States.


This book tells the story of Catholic moral theology in the United States. Those interested in the discipline of moral theology will find here the first monograph telling the story that began in the middle of the nineteenth century in this country. the title clearly indicates what the book attempts to do, but three aspects of the title need further explanation.

First, what is moral theology? Moral theology is the name the Roman Catholic tradition gives to the theological discipline that deals with Christian life and action. Protestants often call the same discipline by the name of Christian ethics. in one sense all theology is one, but to facilitate the study of the various aspects of theology, separate disciplines have come into existence. the various theological disciplines today include systematic theology (in the past often called dogmatic theology), which deals with Christian faith, moral theology, spiritual theology, pastoral theology, liturgical theology, historical theology, and biblical theology. Divisions are necessary for the study of theology, but they always remain somewhat artificial. the boundaries of moral theology are quite porous because Christian life and action are clearly connected with faith as well as with spiritual, pastoral, historical, liturgical, and biblical theologies. Thus, at times, it is difficult to discern what belongs to moral theology and what does not. This book follows the practical criterion of determining the field of moral theology on the basis of how people who call themselves moral theologians have dealt with these issues.

Within moral theology different divisions exist to facilitate the study of the subject matter of the discipline itself. This volume follows the often-used divisions of fundamental moral theology, sexual, bioethical, and social moral theology. Fundamental moral theology considers those aspects of the discipline such as the person as moral agent and subject, virtues, principles, conscience, and human actions in general that come into play in all the different areas and issues of human moral activity. the division among sexual, bioethical, and social moral theology derives from the areas and subjects considered. These divisions are certainly helpful, but there is the danger that some aspects of personal morality tend to be overlooked by this tripartite division.

Second, what is meant by Catholic moral theology? This book considers those theologians who write from the Catholic moral tradition. the ecumenical character of Catholic moral theology in the United States in the last half century, however, tends to blur somewhat the boundaries of Catholic moral theology. Catholic . . .

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