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Moral theology is a branch of theology, the science of God and Divine things. The distinction between natural and supernatural theology rests on a solid foundation. Natural theology is the science of God Himself, in as far as the human mind can by its own efforts reach a definite conclusion about God and His nature: it is always designated by the adjective natural. Theology, without any further modification, is invariably understood to mean supernatural theology, that is, the science of God and Divine things, in as far as it is based on supernatural Revelation. Its subject-matter embraces not only God and His essence, but also His actions and His works of salvation and the guidance by which we are led to God, our supernatural end. Consequently, it extends much farther than natural theology; for, though the latter informs us of God's essence and attributes, yet it can tell us nothing about His free works of salvation. The knowledge of all these truths is necessary for every man, at least in its broad outlines, and is acquired by Christian faith. But this is not yet a science. The science of theology demands that the knowledge won through faith, be deepened, expanded, and strengthened, so that the articles of faith be understood and defended by their reasons and be, together with their conclusions, arranged systematically.
The entire field of theology proper is divided into dogmatic and moral theology, which differ in subject-matter and in method. Dogmatic theology has as its end the scientific discussion and establishment of the doctrines of faith, moral theology of the moral precepts. The precepts of Christian morals are also part of the doctrines of faith, for they were announced or confirmed by Divine Revelation. The subject-matter of dogmatic theology is those doctrines which serve to enrich the knowledge necessary or convenient for man, whose destination is supernatural. Moral theology, on the other hand, is limited to those doctrines which discuss the relations of man and his free actions to God and his supernatural end, and propose the means instituted by God for the attainment of that end. Consequently, dogmatic and moral theology are two closely related parts of universal theology. Inasmuch as a considerable number of individual doctrines may be claimed by either discipline, no sharp line of demarcation can be drawn between the subject-matter of dogma and morals. In actual practice, however, a division and limitation must be made in accordance with practical needs. Of a similar nature is the relation between moral theology and ethics. The subject-matter of natural morals or ethics, as contained in the Decalogue, has been included in positive, Divine Revelation, and hence has passed into moral theology. Nevertheless, the argumentative processes differ in the two sciences, and for this reason a large portion of the matter is disregarded in moral theology and referred to ethics. For instance, the refutation of the false systems of the modern ethicists is generally treated under ethics, especially because these systems are refuted by arguments drawn not so much from faith, as from reason. Only in as far as moral theology requires a defence of revealed doctrines, does it concern itself with false systems. However, it must discuss the various requirements of the natural law, not only because this law has been confirmed and defined by positive revelation, but also because every violation of it entails a disturbance of the supernatural moral order, the treatment of which is an essential part of moral theology.
The field of moral theology, its contents, and the boundaries which separate it from kindred subjects, may be briefly indicated as follows: moral theology includes everything relating to man's free actions and the last, or supreme, end to be attained through them, as far as we know the same by Divine Revelation; in other words, it includes the supernatural end, the rule, or norm, of the moral order, human actions as such, their harmony or disharmony with the laws of the moral order, their consequences, the Divine aids for their right performance. A detailed treatment of these subjects may be found in the second part of St. Thomas's "Summa theologica", a work still unrivalled as a treatise of moral theology.
The position of moral theology in universal theology is briefly sketched by St. Thomas in the "Summa theol.", I, Q. i, a. 7 and Q. ii in the proemium and in the prologus of I-II; likewise by Fr. Suárez in the proemium of his commentaries on the I-II of St. Thomas. The subject-matter of the entire second part of the "Summa theol." is, man as a free agent. "Man was made after the image of God, by his intellect, his free will, and a certain power to act of his own accord. Hence, after we have spoken of the pattern, viz. of God, and of those things which proceeded from His Divine power according to His will, we must now turn our attention to His image, that is, man, inasmuch as he also is the principle or his actions in virtue of his free will and his power over his own actions." He includes all this in theology, not only because it is viewed as the object of positive Divine Revelation (I, Q. i, a. 3), but also because God always is the principal object, for "theology treats all things in their relation to God, either in as far as they are God Himself or are directed towards God as their origin or last end" (I, Q. i, a. 7). "Since it is the chief aim of theology to communicate the knowledge of God, not only as He is in Himself but also as the beginning and end of all things and particularly of rational creatures . . ., we shall speak first of God, secondly of the tendency of the rational creature towards God", etc. (I, Q. ii, proem.). These words point out the scope and the subject-matter of the moral part of theology. Francisco Suárez, who pregnantly calls this tendency of the creatures towards God "the return of the creatures to God", shows that there is no contradiction in designating man created after the image of God, endowed with reason and free will and exercising these faculties, as the object of moral theology, and God as the object of entire theology. "If we are asked to name the proximate object of moral theology, we shall undoubtedly say that it is man as a free agent, who seeks his happiness by his free actions; but if we are asked in what respect this object must be treated chiefly, we shall answer that this must be done with respect to God as his last end."
A detailed account of the wide range of moral theology may be found in the analytical index of Pars Secunda of St. Thomas's "Summa theologica". We must confine ourselves to a brief summary. The first question treats of man's last end, eternal happiness, Its nature and possession. Then follows an examination of human acts in themselves and their various subdivisions, of voluntary and involuntary acts, of the moral uprightness or malice of both interior and exterior acts and their consequences; the passions in general and in particular; the habits or permanent qualities of the human soul, and the general questions about virtues, vices, and sins. Under this last title, while enquiring into the causes of sin, the author embodies the doctrine on original sin and its consequences. This portion might, however, be with equal right assigned to dogmatic theology in the stricter meaning of the word. Although St. Thomas regards sin chiefly as a transgression of the law, and in particular of the "lex æterna" (Q. ii, a. 6), still he places the chapters on the laws after the section on sin; because sin, a free human act like any other human act, is first discussed from the standpoint of its subjective principles, viz. knowledge, will, and the tendency of the will; only after this are the human actions viewed with regard to their objective or exterior principles, and the exterior principle, by which human actions are judged not merely as human, but as moral actions, either morally good or morally bad, is the law. Since morality is conceived by him as supernatural morality, which exceeds the nature and the faculties of man, Divine grace, the other exterior principle of man's morally good actions, is discussed after the law. In the exordium to Q. xc, St. Thomas states his division briefly as follows: "The exterior principle which moves us to good actions is God; He instructs us by His law and aids us with His grace. Hence we shall speak first of the law, secondly of grace. "
The following volume is wholly devoted to the special questions, in the order given by St. Thomas in the prologue: "After a cursory glance at the virtues, vices, and the moral principles in general, it is incumbent on us to consider the various points in detail. Moral discussions, if satisfied with generalities, are of little value, because actions touch particular, individual things. When there is question of morals, we may consider individual actions in two ways: one, by examining the matter, i.e., by discussing the different virtues and vices; another, by inquiring into the various avocations of individuals and their states of life." St. Thomas then goes on to discuss the whole range of moral theology from both these standpoints. First, he closely scrutinizes the various virtues, keeping in view the Divine aids, and the sins and vices opposed to the respective virtues. He examines first the three Divine virtues which are wholly supernatural and embrace the vast field of charity and its actual practice; then he passes to the cardinal virtues with their auxiliary and allied virtues. The volume concludes with a discussion of the particular states of life in the Church of God, including those which suppose an extraordinary, Divine guidance. This last part, therefore, discusses subjects which specifically belong to mystical or ascetical theology, such as prophecy and extraordinary modes of prayer, but above all the active and the contemplative life, Christian perfection, and the religious state in the Church. The contents of a modern work on moral theology, as, for instance, that of Slater (London, 1909), are: Human acts, conscience, law, sin, the virtues of faith, hope, charity; the precepts of the Decalogue, including a special treatise on justice; the commandments of the Church; duties attached to particular states or offices; the sacraments, in so far as their administration and reception are a means of moral reform and rectitude; ecclesiastical laws and penalties, only in so far as they affect conscience; these laws forming properly the subject-matter of canon law, in so far as they govern and regulate the Church as an organization, Its membership, ministry, the relations between hierarchy, clergy, religious orders, laity, or of spiritual and temporal authority.
One circumstance must not be overlooked. Moral theology considers free human actions only in their relation to the supreme order, and to the last and highest end, not in their relation to the proximate ends which man may and must pursue, as for instance political, social, economical. Economics, politics, social science are separate fields of science, not subdivisions of moral science. Nevertheless, these special sciences must also be guided by morals, and must subordinate their specific principles to those of moral theology, at least so far as not to clash with the latter. Man is one being, and all his actions must finally lead him to his last and highest end. Therefore, various proximate ends must not turn him from this end, but must be made subservient to it and its attainment. Hence moral theology surveys all the individual relations of man and passes judgment on political, economical, social questions, not with regard to their bearings on politics and economy, but with regard to their influence upon a moral life. This is also the reason why there is hardly another science that touches other spheres so closely as does moral theology, and why its sphere is more extensive than that of any other. This is true inasmuch as moral theology has the eminently practical scope of instructing and forming spiritual directors and confessors, who must be familiar with human conditions in their relation to the moral law, and advise persons in every state and situation.
The manner in which moral theology treats its subject-matter, must be, as in theology generally, chiefly positive, that is, drawing from Revelation and theological sources. Starting from this positive foundation, reason also comes into play quite extensively, especially since the whole subject-matter of natural ethics has been raised to the level of supernatural morals. It is true reason must be illumined by supernatural faith, but when illumined its duty is to explain, prove, and defend most of the principles of moral theology.
From what has been said it is manifest that the chief source of moral theology is Sacred Scripture and Tradition together with the teachings of the Church. however, the following points must be observed regarding the Old Testament. Not all precepts contained in it are universally valid, as many belong to the ritual and special law of the Jews. These statutes never obliged the non-Jewish world and have simply been abrogated by the New Covenant, so that now the ritual observances proper are illicit. The Decalogue, however, with the sole change in the law enjoining the celebration of the Sabbath, has passed Into the New Covenant a positive Divine confirmation of the natural law, and now constitutes the principal subject matter of Christian morality. Moreover, we must remember that the Old Covenant did not stand on the high moral level to which Christ elevated the New Covenant. Jesus Himself mentions things which were permitted to the Jews "on account of the hardness of their hearts", but against which He applied again the law at first imposed by God. Hence, not everything that was tolerated in the Old Testament and its writings, is tolerated now; on the contrary, many of the usages approved and established there would be counter to Christian perfection as counselled by Christ. With these limitations the writings of the Old Testament are sources of moral theology, containing examples of and exhortations to heroic virtues, from which the Christian moralist, following in the footsteps of Christ and His Apostles, may well draw superb models of sanctity.
Apart from Sacred Scripture, the Church recognizes also Tradition as a source of revealed truths, and hence of Christian morals. It has assumed a concrete shape chiefly in the writings of the Fathers. Furthermore, the decisions of the Church must be regarded as a source, since they are based on the Bible and Tradition, they are the proximate source of moral theology, because they contain the final judgment about the meaning of Sacred Scripture as well as the teachings of the Fathers. These include the long list of condemned propositions, which must be considered as danger signals along the boundary between lawful and illicit, not only when the condemnation has been pronounced by virtue of the highest Apostolic authority, but also when the congregation instituted by the pope has issued a general, doctrinal decision in questions bearing on morals. What Pius IX wrote concerning the meetings of scholars in Munich in the year 1863 may also be applied here: "Since there is question of that subjection which binds all Catholics in conscience who desire to advance the interests of the Church by devoting themselves to the speculative sciences; let the members of this assembly recall that it is not sufficient for Catholic scholars to accept and esteem the above-mentioned dogmas, but that they are also obliged to submit to the decisions of the papal congregations as well as to those teachings which are, by the constant and universal consent of Catholics, so held as theological truths and certain conclusions that the opposite opinion even when not heretical, still deserves some theological censure." If this is true of the dogmatic doctrines in the strict sense of the word, we might say that it is still more true of moral questions, because for them not only absolute and infallibility certain, but also morally certain decisions must be accounted as obligatory norms.
The words of Pius IX just quoted, point to another source of theological doctrines, and hence of morals, viz., the universal teachings of the Catholic schools. For these are the channels by which the Catholic doctrines on faith and morals must be transmitted without error, and which have consequently the nature of a source. From the unanimous doctrine of the Catholic schools follows naturally the conviction of the universal Church. But since it is a dogmatic principle that the whole Church cannot err in matters of faith and morals, the consent of the various Catholic schools must offer the guarantee of infallibility in these questions.
Moral theology, to be complete in every respect, must accomplish in moral questions what dogmatic theology does in questions pertaining to dogma. The latter has to explain clearly the truths of faith and prove them to be such; it must also, as far as possible, show their accordance with reason, defend them against objections, trace their connection with other truths, and, by means of theological argumentation, deduce further truths. Moral theology must follow the same processive questions of morals. It is evident that this cannot be done in all branches of moral theology in such a way as to exhaust the subject, except by a series of monographs. It would take volumes to sketch but the beauty and the harmony of God's dispositions, which transcend the natural law, but which God enacted in order to elevate man to a higher plane and to lead him to his supernatural end in a future life and yet all this is embraced in the subject of supernatural morals. Nor is moral theology confined to the exposition of those duties and virtues which cannot be shirked if man wishes to attain his last end; it includes all virtues, even those which mark the height of Christian perfection, and their practice, not only in the ordinary degree, but also in the ascetical and mystical life. Hence, it is entirely correct to designate asceticism and mysticism as parts of Christian moral theology, though ordinarily they are treated as distinct sciences.
The task of the moral theologian is by no means completed when he has explained the questions indicated. Moral theology, in more than one respect, is essentially a practical science. Its instructions must extend to moral character, moral behaviour, the completion and issue of moral aspirations, so that it can offer a definite norm for the complex situations of human life. For this purpose, it must examine the individual cases which arise and determine the limits and the gravity of the obligation in each. Particularly those whose office and position in the Church demand the cultivation of theological science, and who are called to be the teachers and counsellors, must find in it a practical guide. As jurisprudence must enable the future judge and lawyer to administer justice in individual cases, so must moral theology enable the spiritual director or confessor to decide matters of conscience in varied cases of everyday life; to weigh the violations of the natural law in the balance of Divine justice; it must enable the spiritual guide to distinguish correctly and to advise others as to what is sin and what is not, what is counselled and what not, what is good and what is better; it must provide a scientific training for the shepherd of the flock, so that he can direct all to a life of duty and virtue, warn them against sin and danger, lead from good to better those who are endowed with necessary light and moral power, raise up and strengthen those who have fallen from the moral level. Many of these tasks are assigned to the collateral science of pastoral theology; but this also treats a special part of the duties of moral theology, and falls, therefore, within the scope of moral theology in its widest sense. The purely theoretical and speculative treatment of the moral questions must be supplemented by casuistry. Whether this should be done separately, that is, whether the subject matter should be taken casuistically before or after its theoretical treatment, or whether the method should be at the same time both theoretical and casuistical, is unimportant for the matter itself; the practical feasibility will decide this point, while for written works on moral theology the special aim of the author will determine it. However, he who teaches or writes moral theology for the training of Catholic priests, would not do full justice to the end at which he must aim, if he did not unite the casuistical with the theoretical and speculative element.
What has been said so far, sufficiently outlines the concept of moral theology in its widest sense. Our next task is to follow up its actual formation and development.
Moral theology, correctly understood, means the science of supernaturally revealed morals. Hence, they cannot speak of moral theology who reject supernatural Revelation; the most they can do is to discourse on natural ethics. But to distinguish between moral theology and ethics is sooner or later to admit a science of ethics without God and religion. That this contains an essential contradiction, is plain to everyone who analyzes the ideas of moral rectitude and moral perversion, or the concept of an absolute duty which forces itself with unrelenting persistency on all who have attained the use of reason. Without God, an absolute duty is inconceivable, because there is nobody to impose obligation. I cannot oblige myself, because I cannot be my own superior; still less can I oblige the whole human race, and yet I feel myself obliged to many things, and cannot but feel myself absolutely obliged as man, and hence cannot but regard all those who share human nature with me as obliged likewise. It is plain then that this obligation must proceed from a higher being who is superior to all men, not only to those who live at present, but to all who have been and will be, nay, in a certain sense even to those who are merely possible, This superior being is the Lord of all, God. It is also plain that although this Supreme lawgiver can be known by natural reason, neither He nor His law can be sufficiently known without a revelation on His part. Hence if is that moral theology, the study of this Divine law is actually cultivated only by those who faithfully cling to a Divine Revelation, and by the sects which sever their connection with the Church, only as long as they retain the belief in a supernatural Revelation through Jesus Christ.
Wherever Protestantism has thrown this belief overboard, there the study of moral theology as a science has suffered shipwreck. Today it would be merely lost labour to look for an advancement of it on the part of a non-Catholic denomination. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries there were still men to be found who made an attempt at it. J. A. Dorner states in Herzog, "Real-Encyklopädie", IV, 364 sqq. (s.v. "Ethik"), that prominent Protestant writers upholding "theological morals" have grown very scarce since the eighteenth century. However, this is not quite correct. Of those who still cling to a positive Protestantism, we may name Martensen, who recently entered the lists with deep conviction for "Christian Ethics"; the same, though in his own peculiar manner, is done by Lemme in his "Christliche Ethik" (1905); both attribute to it a scope wider and objectively other than that of natural ethics. A few names from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries may here suffice: Hugo Grotius (d. 1645), Pufendorf (d. 1694) and Christian Thomasius (d. 1728), all see the difference between theological and natural morals in that the former is also positive, i.e. Divinely revealed, but with the same subject matter as the latter. This last assertion could spring only from the Protestant view which has staked its all on the "fides fiducialis"; but it can hardly acknowledge a range of duties widened by Christ and Christianity. Other writers of a "theologia moralis" based on this "fides fiducialis", are Buddeus, Chr. A. Crusius, and Jerem. Fr. Reuss. A logical result of Kantianism was the denial of the very possibility of moral theology, since Kant had made autonomous reason the only source of obligation. On this point Dorner says (loc. cit.): "It is true that the autonomy and the autocracy of the moral being separates morals and religion"; he would have been nearer the mark, had he said: "they destroy all morals". Generally speaking the modern Liberal Protestants hardly know any other than autonomous morals; even when they do speak of "religious" morals, they find its last explanation in man, religion, and God or Divine Revelation being taken in their Modernistic sense, that is subjective notions of whose objective value we have no knowledge and no certainty.
This being the case, there remains only one question to be discussed: What has been the actual development and method of moral theology in the Church? and here we must first of all remember that the Church is not an educational institution or a school for the advancement of the sciences. True, she esteems and promotes the sciences, especially theology, and scientific schools are founded by her; but this is not her only, or even her chief task. She is the authoritative institution, founded by Christ for the salvation of mankind; she speaks with power and authority to the whole human race, to all nations, to all classes of society, to every age, communicates to them the doctrine of salvation unadulterated and. offers them her aids. It is her mission to urge upon educated and uneducated persons alike the acceptance of truth, without regard to its scientific study and establishment. After this has been accepted on faith, she also promotes and urges, according to times and circumstances, the scientific investigation of the truth, but she retains supervision over it and stands above all scientific aspirations and labours. As a result, we see the subject matter of moral theology, though laid down and positively communicated by the Church, treated differently by ecclesiastical writers according to the requirements of times and circumstances.
In the first years of the early Church, when the Divine seed, nourished by the blood of the martyrs, was seen to sprout in spite of the chilling frosts of persecution, when, to the amazement of the hostile world, it grew into a mighty tree of heavenly plantation, there was hardly leisure for the scientific study of Christian doctrine. Hence morals were at first treated in a popular, parenetic form. Throughout the Patristic period, hardly any other method for moral questions was in vogue, though this method might consist now in a concise exposition, now in a more detailed discussion of individual virtues and duties. One of the earliest works of Christian tradition, if not the earliest after the Sacred Scripture, the "Didache" or "Teaching of the Apostles", is chiefly of a moral-theological nature. It Is hardly more than a code of laws an enlarged decalogue, to which are added the principal duties arising from the Divine institution of the means of salvation and from the Apostolic institutions of a common worship in this respect valuable for dogmatic theology in its narrow sense. The "Pastor" of Hermas, composed a little later, is of a moral character, that is, it contains an ascetical exhortation to Christian morality and to serious penance if one should have relapsed into sin.
There exists a long series of occasional writings bearing on moral theology, from the first period of the Christian era; their purpose was either to recommend a certain virtue, or to exhort the faithful in general for certain times and circumstances. Thus, from Tertullian (d. about 240) we have: "De spectaculis", "De idololatria", "De corona militis", "De patientia", "De oratione", "De poenitentia", "Ad uxorem", not to take into consideration the works which he wrote after his defection to Montanism and which are indeed of interest for the history of Christian morals, but cannot serve as guides in it. Of Origen (d. 254) we still possess two minor works which bear on our question, viz., "Demartyrio", parenetic in character, and "De oratione", moral and dogmatic in content; the latter meets the objections which are advanced or rather reiterated even today against the efficacy of prayer. Occasional writings and monographs are offered to us in the precious works of St. Cyprian (d. 258); among the former must be numbered: "De mortalitate" and "De martyrio", in a certain sense also "De lapsis", though it bears rather a disciplinary and judicial character; to the latter class belong: "De habitu virginum", "De oratione", "De opere et eleemosynis", "De bono patientiæ", and "De zelo et livore". A clearer title to be classed among moral-theological books seems to belong to an earlier work, the "Pædagogus" of Clement of Alexandria (d. about 217). It is a detailed account of a genuine Christian's daily life, in which ordinary and everyday actions are measured by the standard of supernatural morality. The same author touches upon Christian morals also in his other works, particularly in the "Stromata"; but this work is principally written from the apologetic standpoint, since it was intended to vindicate the entire Christian doctrine, both faith and morals, against pagan and Jewish philosophies.
In subsequent years, when the persecutions ceased, and patristic literature began to flourish, we find not only exegetical writings and apologies written to defend Christian doctrine against various heresies, but also numerous moral-theological works, principally sermons, homilies, and monographs. First of these are the orations of St. Gregory of Nazianzus (d. 391), of St. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 395), of St. John Chrysostom (d. 406), of St. Augustine (d. 430), and above all the "Catecheses" of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386). Of St. John Chrysostom we have "De sacerdotio"; of St. Augustine, "Confessiones", "Soliloquia", "De cathechizandis rudibus", "De patientia", "De continentia", "De bono coniugali", "De adulterinis coniugiis", "De sancta virginitate", "De bono viduitatis", "De mendacio", "De cura pro mortuis gerenda", so that the titles alone suffice to give an intimation of the wealth of subjects discussed with no less unction than originality and depth of thought. A separate treatment of the supernatural morality of Christians was attempted by St. Ambrose (d. 397) in his books "De officiis", a work which, imitating Cicero's "De officiis", forms a Christian counterpart of the pagan's purely natural discussions. A work of an entirely different stamp and of larger proportions is the "Expositio in Job, seu moralium lib. XXV", of Gregory the Great (d. 604). It is not a systematic arrangement of the various Christian duties, but a collection of moral instructions and exhortations based on the Book of Job; Alzog (Handbuch der Patrologie, 92) calls it a "fairly complete repertory of morals". More systematic is his work "De cura pastorali" which was intended primarily for the pastor and which is considered even today a classical work in pastoral theology.
Having broadly outlined the general progress of moral theology during the Patristic era proper, we must supplement it by detailing the development of a very special branch of moral theology and its practical application. For moral theology must necessarily assume a peculiar form when its purpose is restricted to the administration of the Sacrament of Penance. The chief result to be attained was a clear notion of the various sins and their species, of their relative grievousness and importance, and of the penance to be imposed for them. In order to ensure uniform procedure, it was necessary for ecclesiastical superiors to lay down more detailed directions; this they did either of their own accord or in answer to inquiries. Writings of this kind are the pastoral or canonical letters of St. Cyprian, St. Peter of Alexandria, St. Basil of Cappadocia, and St. Gregory of Nyssa; the decretals and synodal letters of a number of popes, as Siricius, Innocent, Celestine, Leo I, etc.; canons of several oecumenical councils. These decrees were collected at an early date and used by the bishops and priests as a norm in distinguishing sins and in imposing ecclesiastical penance for them.
The ascendancy of the so-called "penitential books" dated from the seventh century, when a change took place in the practice of ecclesiastical penance. Till then it had been a time-honoured law in the Church that the three capital crimes: apostasy, murder, and adultery, were to be atoned for by an accurately determined penance, which was public at least for public sins. This atonement, which consisted chiefly in severe fasts and public, humiliating practices, was accompanied by various religious ceremonies under the strict supervision of the Church; it included four distinct stations or classes of penitents and at times lasted from fifteen to twenty years. At an early period, however, the capital sins mentioned above were divided into sections, according as the circumstances were either aggravating or attenuating;, and a correspondingly longer or shorter period of penance was set down for them. When in the course of centuries, entire nations, uncivilized and dominated by fierce passions, were received into the bosom of the Church, and when, as a result, heinous crimes began to multiply, many offences, akin to those mentioned above, were included among sins which were subject to canonical penances, while for others, especially for secret sins, the priest determined the penance, its duration and mode, by the canons. The seventh century brought with It a relaxation, not indeed in canonical penance, but in the ecclesiastical control; on the other hand, there was an increase in the number of crimes which demanded a fixed penance if discipline was to be maintained; besides, many hereditary rights of a particular nature, which had led to a certain mitigation of the universal norm of penance, had to be taken into consideration; substitutes and so-called redemptiones, which consisted in pecuniary donations to the poor or to public utilities, gradually gained entrance and vogue; all this necessitated the drawing up of comprehensive lists of the various crimes and of the penances to be imposed for them, so that a certain uniformity among confessors might be reached as to the treatment of penitents and the administration of the sacraments.
There appeared a number of "penitential books" Some of them, bearing the sanction of the Church, closely followed the ancient canonical decrees of the popes and the councils, and the approved statutes of St. Basil, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and others; others were merely private works, which, recommended by the renown of their authors, found a wide circulation, others again went too far in their decisions and hence constrained ecclesiastical superiors either to reprehend or condemn them. A more detailed account of these works will be found in another article.
These books were not written for a scientific, but for a practical juridical purpose. Nor do they mark an advance in the science of moral theology, but rather a standing-still, nay, even a decadence. Those centuries of migrations, of social and political upheavals, offered a soil little adapted for a successful cultivation of the sciences, and though in the ninth century a fresh attempt was made to raise scientific studies to a higher level, still the work of the subsequent centuries consisted rather in collecting and renewing treasures of former centuries than in adding to them. This is true of moral-theological questions, no less than of other scientific branches. From this stagnation theology in general and moral theology in particular rose again to new life towards the end of the twelfth and the beginning of the thirteenth century. A new current of healthy development was noticeable in moral theology and that in two directions: one in the new strength infused into the practice of the confessors, the other in renewed vigour given to the speculative portion.
With the gradual dying out of the public penances, the "penitential books" lost their importance more and more. The confessors grew less concerned about the exact measure of penances than about the essential object of the sacrament, which is the reconciliation of the sinner with God. Besides, the "penitential books" were by far too defective for teaching confessors how to judge about the various sins, their consequences and remedies. In order to meet this need, St. Raymond of Peñafort wrote towards the year 1235 the "Summa de poenitentia et matrimonio". Like his famous collection of decretals, it is a repertory of canons on various matters, i.e. important passages from the Fathers, councils, and papal decisions. More immediately adapted for actual use was the "Summa de casibus conscientiæ", which was written about 1317 by an unknown member of the Order of St. Francis at Asti in Upper Italy, and which is, therefore, known as "Summa Astensana" or "Summa Astensis". Its eight books cover the whole subject matter of moral theology and the canonical decrees, both indispensable for the pastor and confessor: Book I, the Divine commandments; II, virtues and vices; III, contracts and wills; IV-VI, sacraments, except matrimony; VII, ecclesiastical censures; VIII, matrimony. The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries produced a number of similar summoe for confessors; all of them, however, discarded the arrangement in books and chapters, and adopted the alphabetical order. Their value is, of course, widely different. The following are the most important and most popular among them: The "Summa confessorum" of the Dominican Johannes of Freiburg (d. 1314) which was published a few years previous to the "Summa Astensis"; its high reputation and wide circulation was due to its revision by another member of the Dominican Order, Bartholomæus of Pisa (d. 1347) who arranged it alphabetically and supplemented its canonical parts; it is commonly known as the "Summa Pisana". This work served as the foundation for the "Summa. angelica", a clear and concise treatise, composed about 1476 by the Franciscan Angelus Cerletus, called "Angelus a Clavasio" after his native city, Chiavasso. Its great popularity is attested by the fact that it went through at least thirty-one editions from 1476 to 1520. A like popularity was enjoyed by the "Summa casuum" of the Franciscan, J. B. Trovamala, which appeared a few years later (1484) and, after being revised by the author himself, in 1495, bore the title of "Summa rosella". One of the last and most renowned of these summoe was probably the "Summa Silvestrina" of the Dominican Silvester Prierias (d. 1523), after which moral theology began to be treated in a different manner. The summoe here mentioned, being exclusively written for the practical use of confessors, did not spurn the more elementary form; but they represented the results of a thorough, scientific study, which produced not only writings of this kind, but also other systematic works of a profound scholarship.
The twelfth century witnessed a busy activity in speculative theology, which centered about the cathedral and monastic schools. These produced men like Hugh and Richard of St. Victor, and especially Hugh's pupil, Peter the Lombard, called the Master of the Sentences, who flourished in the cathedral school of Paris towards the middle of the century, and whose "Libri sententiarum" served for several centuries as the standard text-book in theological lecture-halls. In those days, however, when dangerous heresies against the fundamental dogmas and mysteries of the Christian faith began to appear, the moral part of the Christian doctrine received scant treatment; Peter the Lombard incidentally discusses a few moral questions, as e.g., about sin, while speaking of creation and the original state of man, or more in particular, while treating of original sin. Other questions, e.g., about the freedom of our actions and the nature of human actions in general, are answered in the doctrine on Christ, where he discusses the knowledge and the will of Christ. Even the renowned commentator of the "Sentences", Alexander of Hales, O. Min., does not yet seriously enter into Christian morals. The work of constructing moral theology as a speculative science was at last undertaken and completed by that great luminary of theology, St. Thomas of Aquin, to whose "Summa theologica" we referred above. Aside from this masterpiece, of which the second part and portions of the third pertain to morals, there are several minor works extant which bear a moral and ascetical character; the last-named branch was cultivated with extraordinary skill by St. Bonaventure of the Franciscan Order, though he did not equal the systematic genius of St. Thomas.
This and the subsequent centuries produced a number of prominent theologians, some of whom contested various doctrines of Aquinas, as Duns Scotus and his adherents, while others followed in his footsteps and wrote commentaries on his works, as Ægidius Romanus and Capreolus. Nevertheless, purely moral-theological questions were rarely made the subject of controversy during this time; a new epoch in the method of moral theology did not dawn until after the Council of Trent. However, there are two extremely fertile writers of the fifteenth century who not only exerted a powerful influence on the advancement of theology but raised the standard of practical life. They are Dionysius the Carthusian and St. Antoninus, Bishop of Florence. The former is well known for his ascetical works, while the latter devoted himself to the practice of the confessional and the ordinary work of the pastor. His "Summa theologica" belongs specially to our subject. It went through several editions, and A. Ballerini's revision of it, which appeared in 1740 at Florence, contains four folios. The third volume treats chiefly of ecclesiastical law; it discusses at great length the legal position of the Church and its penal code. A few chapters of the first volume are devoted to the psychological side of man and his actions. The remainder of the whole work is a commentary, from the purely moral standpoint, on the second part of St. Thomas's "Summa theologica", to which it constantly refers. It is not a mere theoretical explanation, but is so replete with juridical and casuistical details that it may be called an inexhaustible fountain for manuals of casuistry. How highly the practical wisdom of Antoninus was esteemed even during his lifetime is attested by the surname "Antoninus consiliorum", Antoninus of good counsel, given to him in the Roman Breviary.
A new life was breathed into the Catholic Church by the Council of Trent. Reformation of morals gave a fresh impetus to theological science. These had gradually fallen from the high level to which they had risen at the time of St. Thomas; the desire of solid advancement had frequently given place to seeking after clever argumentations on unimportant questions. The sixteenth century witnessed a complete change. Even before the council convened, there were eminent scholars of a serious turn of mind as Thomas of Vio (usually called Cajetanus), Victoria, and the two Sotos, all men whose solid knowledge of theology proved of immense benefit to the Council itself. Their example was followed by a long series of excellent scholars, especially Dominicans and members of the newly-founded Society of Jesus. It was above all the systematic side of moral theology which was now taken up with renewed zeal. In former centuries, Peter the Lombard's "Sentences" had been the universal text-book, and more prominent theological works of subsequent ages professed to be nothing else than commentaries upon them; henceforth, however, the "Summa theologica" of St. Thomas was followed as guide in theology and a large number of the best theological works, written after the Council of Trent, were entitled "Commentarii in Summam Sti. Thomæ''. The natural result was a more extensive treatment of moral questions, since these constituted by far the largest portion of St. Thomas's "Summa". Among the earliest classical works of this kind is the "Commentariorum theologicorum tomi quattuor" of Gregory of Valentia. It is well thought out and shows great accuracy; vols. III and IV contain the explanation of the "Prima Secundæ" and the "Secunda Secundæ" of St. Thomas. This work was succeeded, at the end of the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, by a number of similar commentaries; among them stand out most prominently those of Gabriel Vásquez", Lessius, Francisco Suárez, Becanus, and the works of Thomas Sanchez "In decalogum" as well as "Consilia moralia", which are more casuistical in their method; the commentaries of Dominic Bánez, which had appeared some time before; and those of Medina (see MEDINA, BARTHOLOMEW, PROBABILISM).
Prominent among all those mentioned is Francis Francisco Suárez, S.J., in whose voluminous works the principle questions of the "Secunda" of St. Thomas are developed with great accuracy and a wealth of positive knowledge. Almost every question is searchingly examined, and brought nearer its final solution; the most varied opinions of former theologians are extensively discussed, subjected to a close scrutiny, and the final decision is given with great circumspection, moderation, and modesty. A large folio treats the fundamental questions of moral theology in general:
Another volume treats of "Laws": several folio volumes are devoted to treatises which do indeed belong to morals, but which are inseparably connected with other strictly dogmatic questions about God and His attributes, viz., "De gratia divina"; they are today assigned everywhere to dogma proper; a third series gives the entire doctrine of the sacraments (with the exception of matrimony) from their dogmatic and moral side. Not all of the various virtues were examined by Francisco Suárez; besides the treatise on the theological virtues, we possess only that on the virtue of religion. But if any of Francisco Suárez's works may be called classical it is the last-named, which discusses in four volumes the whole subject "De religione" Within the whole range of "religio", including its notion and relative position, its various acts and practices, as prayers, vows, oaths, etc., the sins against it, there can hardly be found a dogmatic or casuistic question that has not been either solved or whose solution has not at least been attempted. Of the last two volumes one treats of religious orders in general, the other of the "Institute" of the Society of Jesus.
In the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, there appeared a number of similar, though conciser, works which treat moral-theological questions as a part of universal theology with the genuine spirit of Scholastic science. There are those of Tanner, Coninck, Platel, Gotti, Billuart, and many others, the mere enumeration of whom would lead us too far afield. We must, however, mention one to whom nobody can deny the honour of having advanced both speculative and practical theology, and especially practical morals, John de Lugo. Endowed with uncommon, speculative genius and clear, practical judgment, he in many instances pointed out entirely new paths towards the solution of moral questions. Speaking of his moral theology, St. Alphonsus styles him "by all odds leader after St. Thomas". The works that have come down to us are: "De fide", "De Incarnatione", "De justitia et jure", "De sacramentis", viz., "De sacramentis in genere", "De baptismo et eucharistia", and "De poenitentia". It is above all the volume "De poenitentia" which, through its sixteenth disputation, has become the classical handbook for casuistical moral theology and particularly for the specific distinction of sins; to the same subject belong the posthumous "Responsa moralia", a collection of answers given by de Lugo in complicated cases of conscience. This is not the place to point out his eminence as a dogmatist; suffice it to say that many far-reaching questions receive original solutions, which, though not universally accepted, have yet shed considerable light on these subjects.
The method which Lugo applies to moral theological questions, may well be called mixed, that is, it is both speculative and casuistical. Such works of a mixed character now grow common, they treat the whole subject-matter of moral theology, in as far as it is serviceable for the confessor and the pastor, in this mixed manner, though they insist more on casuistry than did Lugo. A type of this kind is the "Theologia moralis" of Paul Laymann (d. 1635); in this category may also be numbered the "Theologia decalogalis" and "Theologia sacramentalis" of Sporer (d. 1683), the "Conferentiæ" of Elbel (d. 1756), and the "Theologia moralis" of Reuter* (d. 1762). Almost numberless are the manuals for confessors, written in a simple casuistical form, though even these justify their conclusions by internal reasons after legitimatizing them by an appeal to external authority. They are not unfrequently the fruit of thorough, speculative knowledge and extensive reading. One of the most solid is probably the "Manuale confessariorum et poenitentium" of Azpilcueta (1494-1586), the great canonist, commonly known as "Doctor Navarrus"; furthermore, the "Instructio sacerdotum" or "Summa casuum conscientiæ" of Cardinal Tolet (d. 1596), which was highly recommended by St. Francis of Sales. One other work must also be mentioned, viz., the so-called "Medulla theologiæ moralis" of Hermann Busenbaum (d. 1688), which has become famous on account of its very extensive use (forty editions in less than twenty years during the lifetime of the author) and the number of its commentators. Among these are included Claude Lacroix, whose moral theology is considered as one of the most valuable of the eighteenth century, and St. Alphonsus Liguori, with whom, however, an entirely new epoch of moral theology commences.
Before entering upon this new phase, let us glance at the development of the so-called systems of morals and the controversies which sprang up among Catholic scholars, as well as at the casuistical method of treating moral theology in general. For it is precisely the casuistry of moral theology around which these controversies centre, and which has experienced severe attacks in our own day. These attacks were for the most part confined to Germany. The champions of the adversaries are J. B. Hirscher (d. 1865), Döllinger, Reusch, and a group of Catholic scholars who, in the years 1901 and 1902, demanded a "reform of Catholic moral theology", though all were not moved by the same spirit. In Hirscher it was the zeal for a supposedly good cause, though he was implicated in theological errors; Döllinger and Reusch attempted to cover their defection from the Church and their refusal to acknowledge the papal infallibility by holding up to the ridicule of the world ecclesiastical conditions and affairs which they thought militated against that infallibility; the latest phase of this opposition is mainly the result of misunderstandings. In order to elucidate the accusations brought against casuistry, we use the wholly unjustifiable criticism which Hirscher launched against Scholastic theology in general in his work of 1832, "On the Relation between the Gospel and Theological Scholasticism"; it is quoted approvingly by Döllinger and Reusch (Moralstreitigkeiten, 13 sqq.):
(1) "Instead of penetrating into the spirit which makes virtue what it is and underlies everything that is good in this world, in other words, instead of beginning with the one indivisible nature of all goodness, they begin with the material of the various moral precepts and prohibitions without adverting to where these originate, on what foundation they rest, and what is their life-giving principle." This means that Scholastics and casuists know only individual things, see nothing universal and uniform in the virtues and duties.
(2) "Instead of deriving these precepts and prohibitions from the one, individual essence of all goodness and thereby creating certainty in the moral judgments of their audience, they, rejecting principles, string 'shalt' to 'shalt', provide them with innumerable statutes and clauses, confuse and oppress the hearer by the overflowing measure of duties, half-duties, non-duties." In other words, the Scholastics oppress and confuse by an unnecessary multiplication of duties and non-duties.
(3) "It is more in accordance with the spirit of Mosaism than with that of Christianity when Christian morality is treated less as a doctrine of virtues than of laws and duties, and when by adding commandment to commandment, prohibition to prohibition, it gives us a full and shaken measure of moral rules instead of building up on the Christian spirit, deriving everything from it and pointing out all particular virtues in its light." Or briefly, casuistry promotes exterior sanctimoniousness without the interior spirit.
(4) "Those who treat morals from the standpoint of casuistry, assign an important part to the distinction between grave and light laws grave and light duties, serious and slight transgressions, mortal and venial sins. . . . Now, the distinction between grievous and venial sins is not without a solid foundation, and if it is chiefly based on the different qualities of the will, and if, besides, the various degrees of goodness and malice are measured by the presence, e.g., of a purely good and strong will, of one less pure and less strong, of a weak, inert, impure, malicious, perverted will, then nobody will raise his voice against it. But it is wholly different when the distinction between mortal and venial sins is taken objectively, and based on the gravity and lightness of the commandments. . . . Such a distinction between mortal and venial sins, founded on the material differences of the commandments and the prohibitions, is a source of torment and anxiety for many. . . . True morality cannot be advanced through such an anxiety. . . . The mass of the people will derive only this one profit from such a method: many will refrain from what is forbidden under pain of mortal sin and will do what is commanded under the same penalty, but they will care little for what is commanded or forbidden under pain of venial sin only; on the contrary they will seek a compensation in the latter for what they sacrificed to the grave commandments. But can we call the lives of such men Christian?" In other words, casuistry falsifies the consciences by distinguishing objectively between mortal and venial sins, leads to a contempt of the latter, and renders a genuinely Christian life impossible.
It is not difficult to refute all these accusations. One glance at the "Summa theologica" of St. Thomas will prove how incorrect is the first charge that Scholasticism and casuistry know only individual good acts and individual virtues, without inquiring into the foundation common to all virtues. Before treating the individual virtues and the individual duties, St. Thomas gives us a whole volume of discussions of a general nature, of which we may note the profound speculations on the last end, the goodness and malice of human actions, the eternal law.
The second accusation, that the Scholastic casuistry confuses the mind by its mass of duties and non-duties, can only mean that the Scholastic casuistry sets these up arbitrarily and contrary to truth. The complaint can only refer to those works and lectures which aim at the instruction of the clergy, pastors, and confessors. The reader or hearer who is confused or oppressed by this "mass of duties etc." shows by this very fact that he has not the talent necessary for the office of confessor or spiritual guide, that he should therefore choose another vocation.
The third charge, directed against Judaical hypocrisy which neglects the fostering of the interior life, is refuted by every work on casuistry, however meagre, for every one of them states most emphatically that, without the state of grace and a good intention, all external works, no matter how difficult and heroic, are valueless in the sight of God. Can the necessity of the internal spirit be brought out more clearly? And even if, in some cases, the external fulfilment of a certain work is laid down as the minimum demanded by God or the Church, without which the Christian would incur eternal damnation, yet this is not banishing the internal spirit, but designating the external fulfilment as the low-water mark of morality.
Lastly, the fourth charge springs from a very grave theological error. There can be no doubt that, in judging the heinousness of sin and in distinguishing between mortal and venial sins, the subjective element must be taken into consideration, However, every compendium of moral theology, no matter how casuistical, meets this requirement. Every manual distinguishes sins which arise from ignorance, weakness, malice, without, however, labelling all sins of weakness as venial sins, or all sins of malice as mortal sins; for there are surely minor acts of malice which cannot be said to cause the death of the soul. Every manual also takes cognizance of sins which are committed without sufficient deliberation, knowledge, or freedom: all these, even though the matter be grave, are counted as venial sins. On the other hand, every manual recognizes venial and grievous sins which are such by the gravity of the matter alone. Or who would, abstracting from everything else, put a jocose lie on a par with the denial of faith? But even in these sins, mortal or venial according to their object, the casuists lay stress on the personal dispositions in which the sin was actually committed. Hence, their universal principle: the result of a subjectively erroneous conscience may be that an action which is in itself only venial, becomes a mortal sin, and vice versa, that an action which is in itself mortally sinful, that is, constitutes a grave violation of the moral law, may be only a venial sin. Nevertheless, all theologians, also casuists, consider a correct conscience a great boon and hence endeavour, by their casuistic discussions, to contribute towards the formation of correct consciences, so that the subjective estimate of the morality of certain actions may coincide, as far as possible, with the objective norm of morality.
When, lastly, various opponents of the casuistical method object that the moralist occupies himself exclusively with sins and their analysis, with the "dark side" of human life, let them remember that it is physically impossible to say everything in one breath, that, just as in many other arts and sciences, a division of labour may also be advantageous for the science of moral theology, that the particular purpose of manuals and lectures may be limited to the education of skilled confessors and that this purpose may very well be fulfilled by centering attention on the dark side of human life. Nevertheless, it must be granted that this cannot be the only purpose of moral theology: a thorough discussion of all Christian virtues and the means of acquiring them is Indispensable. If at any time this part of moral theology should be pushed to the background, moral theology would become one-sided and would need a revision, not by cutting down casuistry, but by devoting more time and energy to the doctrine of virtues in their scientific, parenetical, and ascetical aspect.
In all these branches of moral theology, a great advance was noticeable at the time of the Council of Trent. That more stress was laid on casuistry in particular, finds its explanation in the growing frequency of sacramental confession. This is freely conceded by our adversaries. Döllinger and Reusch say (op. cit., 19 sqq.): "The fact that casuistry underwent a further development after the sixteenth century, is connected with further changes in the penitential discipline. From that time on the custom prevailed of approaching the confessional more frequently, regularly before Communion, of confessing not only grievous, but also venial sins, and of asking the confessor's advice for all troubles of the spiritual life, so that the confessor became more and more a spiritual father and guide." The confessor needed this schooling and scientific training, which alone could enable him to give correct decisions in complex cases of human life, to form a correct estimate of moral goodness or defect, duty or violation of duty, virtue or vice. Now, it was inevitable that the confessor should meet cases where the existence or exact measure of the obligation remained obscure even after careful examination, where the moralist was therefore confronted by the question what the final decision in these cases should be: whether one was obliged to consider oneself bound when the duty was obscure and doubtful, or how one could remove this doubt and arrive at the definite conclusion that there was no strict obligation. That the former could not be the case, but that an obligation, to exist, must first be proved, had always been known and had been variously expressed in practical rules: "In dubiis benigniora sequenda", "odiosa sunt restringenda", etc. The basic principle, however, for solving such dubious cases and attaining the certitude necessary for the morality of an action was not always kept clearly in view. To establish this universal principle, was equivalent to establishing a moral system; and the various systems were distinguished by the principle to which each adhered.
The history of Probabilism is given under this title, suffice it to say here that from the middle of the seventeenth century when the violent discussion of this question begins, the development of moral theology coincides with that of Probabilism and of other Probabilistic systems; although these systems touch only a small portion of morals and of moral truths and nothing is farther from the truth than the opinion, so wide-spread among the adversaries of Catholic morals, that Probabilism gave a new shape and a new spirit to the whole of moral theology. Probabilism and the other systems of morals are concerned only about cases which are objectively doubtful; hence they abstract entirely from the wide sphere of certain, established truths. Now, the latter class is by far the larger in moral theology also; were it not so, human reason would be in a sorry plight, and Divine providence would have bestowed little care on the noblest of its visible creatures and on their highest goods, even in the supernatural order, in which a full measure of gifts and graces was showered upon those ransomed in Christ. The certain and undoubted portion includes all the fundamental questions of Christian morals; it comprises those principles of the moral order by which the relations of man to himself, to God, to his neighbour, and to the various communities are regulated; it embraces the doctrine of the last end of man and of the supernatural means of attaining this end. There is only a comparatively small number of objectively obscure and doubtful laws or duties that appeal to Probabilism or Antiprobabilism for a decision. However, as has been said, since the middle of the seventeenth century, the interest of moral theologians centered in the question about Probabilism or Antiprobabilism.
Just as far from the truth is the second opinion of the adversaries of Probabilism, viz., that this system induces people to evade the laws and hardens them into callousness. On the contrary, to moot the question of Probabilism at all, was the sign of a severely conscientious soul. He who proposes the question at all knows and confesses by that very fact: first, that it is not lawful to act with a doubtful conscience, that he who performs an action without being firmly convinced of its being allowed, commits sin in the sight of God; secondly, that a law, above all the Divine law, obliges us to take cognizance of it and that, therefore, whenever doubts arise about the probable existence of an obligation we must apply sufficient care in order to arrive at certainty, so that a frivolous disregard of reasonable doubts is in itself a sin against the submission due to God. In spite of all this, it may happen that all our pains and inquiries do not lead us to certainty, that solid reasons are found both for and against the existence of an obligation: under these circumstances, a conscientious man will naturally ask whether he must consider himself bound by the law or whether he can, by further reflections reflex principles, as they are called come to the plain conclusion that there is no obligation either to do or to omit the act in question. Were we obliged to consider ourselves bound in every doubt, the result, obviously, would be an intolerable severity. But since before performing an action the final verdict of our conscience must be free from doubt, the necessity of removing in one way or another such doubts as may have arisen, is self-evident.
At first there was a lack of clearness with regard to Probabilism and the questions connected with it. Conflicting definitions of opinion, probability, and certitude, could not but cause confusion. When works on moral theology and practical manuals began to multiply, it was inevitable that some individuals should take the word "probable" in too wide or in too lax a sense, although there can be no doubt that in itself it means "something acceptable to reason", in other words, since reason can accept nothing unless it has the appearance of truth, "something based on reasons which generally lead to the truth". Hence it is that opinions were actually advanced and spread as practicable which were little in accord with the demands of the Christian Faith, and which brought down upon them the censure of the Holy See. We refer particularly to the theses condemned by Alexander VII on 24 Sept., 1665, and on 18 March, 1666, and by Innocent XI on 2 March, 1679. It is not Probabilism that must be made responsible for them, but the vagaries of a few Probabilists.
As a result of these condemnations, some theologians thought themselves obliged to oppose the system itself and to side with Probabiliorism. Previous to this turn of affairs, the Jansenists had been the most pronounced adversaries of Probabilism. But they, too, had received a setback when Innocent X condemned (31 May, 1653) in the "Augustinus" of Jansenius, then recently deceased, the proposition: "Just men, with the strength now at their disposal, cannot keep certain commandments of God even if they wish and endeavour to do so; besides, they are without the help of grace which might make it possible for them", was taken from the work and rejected as heretical and blasphemous. Now Probabilism was least reconcilable with this Jansenistic thesis, which could be maintained the easier, the stricter the moral obligations laid upon man's conscience were and the severer the system proclaimed as solely justified was. Consequently, the adherents of the Jansenistic doctrine endeavoured to attack Probabilism, to throw suspicion on it as an innovation, to represent it even as leading to sin. The exaggerations of a few Probabilists who went too far in their laxity, gave an opportunity to the Jansenists to attack the system, and soon a number of scholars, notably among the Dominicans abandoned Probabilism, which they had defended till then, attacked it and stood up for Probabiliorism; some Jesuits also opposed Probabilism. But by far, the majority of the Jesuit writers as well as a vast number of other orders and of the secular clergy, adhered to Probabilism. An entire century was taken up with this controversy, which probably has not its equal in the history of Catholic theology.
Fortunately, the works on either side of this controversy were not popular writings. Nevertheless, exaggerated theories caused a glaring inequality and much confusion in the administration of the Sacrament of Penance and in the guidance of souls. This seems to have been the case particularly in France and Italy; Germany probably suffered less from Rigorism. Hence it was a blessing of Divine Providence that there arose a man in the middle of the eighteenth century, who again insisted on a gentler and milder practice, and who, owing to the eminent sanctity which he combined with solid learning, and which raised him soon after his death to the honour of the altar, received the ecclesiastical approbation of his doctrine, thereby definitively establishing the milder practice in moral theology.
This man is Alphonsus Maria Liguori, who died in 1787 at the age of 91, was beatified in 1816, canonized in 1839, and declared Doctor Ecclesiæ in 1871. In his youth Liguori had been imbued with the stricter principles of moral theology; but, as he himself confesses, the experience which a missionary life extending over fifteen years gave him, and careful study, brought him to a realization of their falseness and evil consequences. Chiefly for the younger members of the religious congregation which owed its existence to his fervent zeal, he worked out a manual of moral theology, basing it on the widely used "Medulla" of the Jesuit Hermann Busenbaum, whose theses he subjected to a thorough examination, confirmed by internal reasons and external authority, illustrated by adverse opinions, and here and there modified. The work, entirely Probabilistic in its principles, was first published in 1748. Received with universal applause and lauded even by popes, it went through its second edition in 1753; edition after edition then followed, nearly every one showing the revising hand of the author; the last, ninth, edition, published during the lifetime of the saint, appeared in 1785. After his beatification and canonization his "Theologia moralis" found an even wider circulation. Not only were various editions arranged, but it almost seemed as though the further growth of moral theology would be restricted to a reiteration and to compendious revisions of the works of St. Alphonsus. An excellent critical edition of the "Theologia moralis Sti. Alphonsi" is that of Léonard Gaudé, C.SS.R. (Rome, 1905), who has verified all the quotations in the work and illustrated it with scholarly annotations.
No future work on practical moral theology can pass without ample references to the writings of St. Alphonsus. Hence it would be impossible to gain a clear insight into the present state of moral theology and its development without being more or less conversant with the system of the saint, as narrated in the article PROBABILISM. The controversy, which is still being waged about Probabilism and Æquiprobabilism, has no significance unless the latter oversteps the limits set to it by St. Alphonsus and merges into Probabiliorism. However, though the controversy has not yet been abandoned theoretically, still in everyday practice it is doubtful if there is any one who follows other rules in deciding doubtful cases than those of Probabilism. This ascendancy of the milder school in moral theology over the more rigorous gained new impetus when Alphonsus was canonized and when the Church pointed out in particular that Divine Providence had raised him up as a bulwark against the errors of Jansenism, and that by his numerous writings he had blazed a more reliable path which the guides of souls might safely follow amid the conflicting opinions either too lax or too strict. During his lifetime the saint was forced to enter several literary disputes on account of his works on moral theology; his chief adversaries were Concina and Patuzzi, both of the Dominican Order, and champions of Probabiliorism.
The last decades of the eighteenth century may well be called a period of general decadence as far as the sacred sciences, moral theology included, are concerned. The frivolous spirit of the French Encyclopedists had infected, as it were, the whole of Europe. The Revolution, which was its offspring, choked all scientific life. A few words about the state of moral theology during this period may suffice. Italy was torn asunder by the dispute about Rigorism and a milder practice; in France, Rigorism had received the full rights of citizenship through the Jansenistic movement and held its own till late in the nineteenth century; Germany was swayed by a spirit of shallowness which threatened to dislodge Christian morals by rationalistic and natural principles. The "general seminaries" which Joseph II established in the Austrian states, engaged professors who did not blush to advance heretical doctrines and to exclude Christian self-restraint from the catalogue of moral obligations. Other German institutions, too, offered their chairs of theology to professors who had imbibed the ideas of "enlightenment", neglected to insist on Catholic doctrines of faith and putting aside the supernatural life, sought the end and aim of education in a merely natural morality. But in the second decade of the nineteenth century the French Revolution had spent itself, quiet had again followed the turmoil, the political restoration of Europe had been begun. A restoration also of the ecclesiastical spirit and learning was also inaugurated and the gradual rise of moral theology became noticeable. Apart from the purely ascetical side there are three divisions in which this new life was plainly visible: catechism, popular instruction, pastoral work.
Though it is the purpose of catechetical teaching to instruct the faithful in the entire range of Christian religion, in the doctrines of faith no less than in those of morals, yet the former may also be conceived and discussed with respect to the duties and the way by which man is destined to obtain his last end. Hence, the catechetical treatment of religious questions may be regarded as a portion of moral theology. During the period of "enlightenment", this branch had been degraded to a shallow moralizing along natural lines. But that it rose again in the course of the past century to a lucid explanation of the sum-total of the Christian doctrine, is attested by numerous excellent works, both catechisms and extensive discussions. To these may be added the more thorough manuals of Christian doctrine intended for higher schools, in which the apologetical and moral portions of religious instruction are treated scientifically and adapted to the needs of the time. There is nothing, however, which prevents us from placing these writings in the second of the above-mentioned classes, since their aim is the instruction of the Christian people, though principally the educated laymen. It is true these works belong exclusively, even less than the catechetical, to moral theology, since their subject-matter embraces the whole of the Christian doctrine, yet the morally destructive tendencies of Atheism and the new moral questions brought forward by the conditions of our times, impressed upon writers the importance of moral instruction in manuals of Catholic faith. The last decades in particular prove that this side of theology has been well taken care of. Various questions bearing on Christian morals were extensively treated in monographs, as e.g., the social question, the significance of money, the Church's doctrine on usury, the woman question, etc. To quote single works or to enter on the different subjects in detail would exceed the limits of this article.
The third line along which we noted an advance was called the pastoral, that is, instruction which has as its special aim the education and aid of pastors and confessors. That this instruction is necessarily, though not exclusively, casuistic, was mentioned above. The scarcity of priests, which was keenly felt in many places, occasioned a lack of time necessary for an all-round scientific education of the candidates for the priesthood. This circumstance explains why scientific manuals of moral theology, for decades, were merely casuistic compendia, containing indeed the gist of scientific investigations, but lacking in scientific argumentation. The correctness of ecclesiastical doctrine had been insured and facilitated by the approbation with which the Church distinguished the works of St. Alphonsus. Hence, many of these compendia are nothing else than recapitulations of St. Alphonsus's "Theologia moralis", or, if following a plan of their own, betray on every page that their authors had it always ready at hand. Two works may here find mention which enjoyed a wider circulation than any other book on moral theology and which are frequently used even today: the Scavini's "Theologia moralis universa", and the shorter "Compendium theologiæ moralis" by Jean-Pierre Gury, together with the numerous revisions which appeared in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and North America.
We must not, however, deceive ourselves by concluding that, owing to the ecclesiastical approbation of St. Alphonsus and his moral writings, moral theology is now settled forever and, so to speak, crystallized. Nor does this approbation assure us that all individual questions have been solved correctly, and therefore the discussion of certain moral questions remains still open. The Apostolic See itself, or rather the Sacred Penitentiary, when asked, "Whether a professor of moral theology may quietly follow and teach the opinions which St. Alphonsus Liguori teaches in his Moral Theology", gave indeed an affirmative answer on 5 July, 1831; it added, however, "but those must not be reprehended who defend other opinions supported by the authority of reliable doctors". He who would conclude the guarantee of absolute correctness from the ecclesiastical approbation of the saint's works, would make the Church contradict herself. St. Thomas of Aquin was at least as solemnly approved for the whole field of theology as St. Alphonsus for moral theology. Yet, e. g, on the subject of the efficacy of grace, which enters deeply into morals, St. Thomas and St. Alphonsus defend wholly contradictory opinions; both cannot be right, and so may be freely discussed. The same may be said of other questions. In our own days, Antonio Ballerini above all made a simple use of this freedom of discussion, first in his annotations to Gury's "Compendium", then in his "Opus theologicum morale", which was recast and edited after his death by Dominic Palmieri. It rendered an eminent service to casuistry; for though we cannot approve of everything, yet the authority of various opinions has been carefully sifted and fully discussed.
Lately, attempts have been made to develop moral theology along other lines. The reformers assert that the casuistical method has choked every other and that it must give place to a more scientific, systematic treatment. It is evident that a merely casuistical treatment does not come up to the demands of moral theology, and as a matter of fact, during the last decades, the speculative element was more and more insisted on even in works chiefly casuistic. Whether the one or the other element should prevail, must be determined according to the proximate aim which the work intends to satisfy. If there is question of a purely scientific explanation of moral theology which does not intend to exceed the limits of speculation, then the casuistical element is without doubt speculative, systematic discussion of the questions belonging to moral theology; casuistry then serves only to illustrate the theoretical explanations. But if there is question of a manual which is intended for the practical needs of a pastor and confessor and for their education, then the solid, scientific portion of general moral-theological questions must be supplemented by an extensive casuistry. Nay, when time and leisure are wanting to add ample theoretical explanations to an extensive casuistical drill, we should not criticize him who would under these circumstances insist on the latter at the expense of the former; it is the more necessary in actual practice.
SLATER, A Short History of Moral Theology (New York. 1909); BOUQUILLON, Theologia moralis fundamentalis, (3rd ed., Bruges, 1903), Introductio; BUCCERONI, Commentar. de natura theologiae moralis (Rome, 1910); SCHMITT, Zur Gesch. des Probabilismus (1904); MAUSBACH, Die kathol. Moral, ihre Methoden, Grundsätze und Aufgaben (2nd ed. 1902); MEYENBERG, Die kath. Moral als Angeklagte (2nd ed. 1902); KRAWUTZKI, Einleitung in das Studium der kath. Moraltheologie (2nd. ed. 1898); GERIGK, Die wissenschaftliche Moral und ihre Lehrweisc (1910).
APA citation. (1912). Moral Theology. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14601a.htm
MLA citation. "Moral Theology." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 14. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1912. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14601a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Douglas J. Potter. Dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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