Moral Theology, History of (700 to Vatican Council I)

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This article deals with the history of moral theology from the end of the Patristic period down to the beginning of the modern era.

From the Patristic to the Scholastic Period. From the years 700 to 1100 not a single work in moral theology appears. It was considered enough, especially in Benedictine cloisters, to reread the Fathers, to make extracts from them selected according to a practical point of view, as did, for example, Rabanus Maurus (d. 859). To reconstruct the moral theology of the period, one has to have recourse to the decrees of the popes, the councils, and bishops, made in the effort to remedy abuses and thereby raise the moral level of the Christian people.

The only important development of that time was the diffusion of the Libri poenitentiales (see penitentials) and the extension of private penance. Originating in Ireland or the British Isles, the Libri poenitentiales were spread through France, Germany, Switzerland, and Northern Italy by Irish missionaries. These books are not manuals of moral theology, but rather detailed lists of sins with their penances. Complaints arose very quickly against the mechanical character of the penitential books, and after the Carolingian renaissance, they were even condemned several times by councils, and their use from that time was considerably reduced.

The 12th and 13th Centuries and St. Thomas. During the 12th and 13th centuries development took place that led up to the moral theology of St. Thomas Aquinas. The causes of this are to be sought in the general reawakening of culture. The ancient philosophers, and among them, the moralists, began to be read again. In his Moralium dogma philosophorum, William of Conches (d. 1146) adapted Cicero's De Officiis. Aelred (d. 1166) was inspired by the De amicitia. John of Salisbury (d.1180) wrote an anthology on the texts of Seneca. Soon the Nicomachean Ethics made its appearance and was frequently commented upon. Certainly all these authors did not intend to write a moral theology (the first use of the term theologia moralis is found in Alan of Lille, c. 1160). The proper subject matter of philosophy was human behavior, whereas theology treated of God. The matter, however, was being prepared for future syntheses.

Following Gratian and the Decretum (1140), canonists gave attention to moral questions: laws and contracts, offences and sins, marriage, etc. After the Fourth Lateran Council (1215) canonists also took an active part in drawing up a theology of penance and in the editing of summas for the use of confessors, the Summa de Poenitentia of St. Raymond of Peñafort (d. 1275) being the best-known effort of this kind. Abelard (d. 1142) attempted a synthesis of Christian ethics. Writers of mystical bent, the Victorines Hugh (d. 1141) and Richard (d. 1173) of St. Victor, and St. Bernard of Clairvaux (d. 1153), conceived a synthesis of Christian wisdom, taking their inspiration from the Bible and the Church Fathers. Peter Lombard (d. 1160) in his Liber Sententiarum, which for more than four centuries was the textbook for theological students, synthesized the results of these renewals in moral as well as in dogmatic theology. In his theology, moral had no special place, but unfolded itself in dogmatic questions, and there was a lively awareness of the indissoluble unity of theological knowledge, dogmatic and moral, as well as spiritual.

In the 13th century it was especially the masters of the faculty of arts of the University of Paris who treated the scientific status of ethics and elaborated a moral philosophy already solidly framed, the best part of which St. Thomas was to integrate into his theological synthesis.

The Franciscan School from Alexander of Hales (d.1245) to John Duns Scotus (d. 1308), including St. Bonaventure (d. 1274) and his numerous disciples, gave us, in theological summas, in commentaries on the Sentences of Lombard, and in particular treatises, a theological and moral synthesis centered in Christ and charity, but open to the contributions of Greek thought and the progress of the experimental sciences. As this Franciscan school taught, moral theology ought not to serve simply for contemplation, but ought to make us better. It is wisdom stimulating faith within us. All moral thought is love drawn from the very source of love, God in Jesus. The Franciscan theologians affirmed the primacy of charity, and also the primacy of the will.

St. Albert the Great (d. 1280) wrote of moral theory in philosophical terms and commented upon the Nicomachean Ethics, but he had also a moral theology that is ordained toward the life of Christian virtue and was practical and even hortatory in character. It was left to St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) to unite in one grand synthesis the contributions of philosophical ethics and those of theological tradition. Rooted in his commentary of the Sentences, the moral work of St. Thomas culminated in the Summa Theologiae. The moral theology of the Angelic Doctor is a moral theology of man, the image of God, created by God (Pars I); he returns to God (Pars II); through Christ (Pars III). The Secunda Pars includes both a general moral theology, with the great treatises on the final end, the passions, habits, virtue, sin, law, and grace; and a special moral theology in which are included comprehensive studies of the theological and cardinal virtues and the states of life. To take the Secunda Pars from the Summa would be to betray St. Thomas's concept of theology. According to him, all theology, dogmatic and moral alike, are one. In a synthesis, unique in the history of moral theology, St. Thomas adopted the best in Greek tradition, especially Aristotle, and gave to moral a choice place in his system of theology as a whole, a place that had never been given it by anyone.

Origins of Modern Moral Theology: 14th to 16th Centuries. The equilibrium reigning in Thomistic moral theology between nature and grace was broken by nominalistic dialectics. From the beginning of the 14th century, the English Franciscan William of Ockham implacably criticized the Thomistic system. According to Ockham, the good is not defined by ontological reality, but solely by the arbitrary will of God: the good is what God orders and because He orders it; evil is what He forbids and because He forbids it. God is not bound by His decrees, and He could change them at any moment. The law, revealed or natural, is simply the expression of the divine will. All morality consists in the absolutely free obedience of man to the law. What causes merit, indeed, and consequently the morality of an act of obedience to the law, is the absolute liberty of indetermination with which man performs it. The influence of nominalism was great, especially in methodology, which in moral science opened the doors to casuistry. The center of nominalism was the University of Paris; among those associated with it there were Jean Buridan (d. 1359), Pierre d'Ailly (d.1420), and Jean Gerson (d. 1429). Prague, Vienna, and the new German universities were also affected by nominalism. At the end of the 15th century Gabriel Biel (d.1495) gave Ockhamism its scholarly form that influenced Martin Luther.

Thomistic Renewal in the 16th Century. The Thomistic renewal, the first signs of which appeared in the Rhenish universities during the 15th century, emerged at the beginning of the 16th century simultaneously in Germany, with Conrad Köllin, OP (d. 1538), and his commentary on the Prima Secundae of St. Thomas; in Italy, with Cardinal Cajetan (d. 1534), who published the first complete commentary of the Summa Theologiae; and in France, where Pierre Crockaert, OP (d. 1514), replaced the Sentences of Peter Lombard as a textbook with the Summa Theologiae of the Angelic Doctor, a step of considerable importance in the evolution of moral theology. The Thomistic revival spread out especially in Spain, at the University of Salamanca, where Francisco de Vitoria, OP (d. 1546), introduced the new methods of the Parisian masters. The school of Salamanca was before all else a school of moral theology, and the Secunda Pars was the center of preoccupation for the Salamancans, who studied it with a taste for the concrete and modern adaptations inherited from the nominalists. In his Relectiones, Francisco de Vitoria, founder of international law, studied the great political problems of his time in the light of Thomistic principles. In his De locis theologicis Melchior Cano, OP (d. 1560), renewed theological method. Dominic Soto, OP (d. 1560), wrote his famous De justitia, while Bartholomeo Medina, OP (d. 1580), provided the formula for probabilism. With Dominic Báñez the Thomistic revival became more refined, but what it gained in metaphysical depth, it lost in a lessening of contact with earthly realities, and it acquired a certain aridity of style. At the end of the 16th century the great theologians of the Society of Jesus appeared at Salamanca. If Gabriel Vásquez, SJ (d. 1604), and Francisco Suárez (d. 1617) adopted the Summa of St. Thomas as a basis for their teaching, they showed a spirit of independence in its use. They accentuated the part of philosophy and law in moral theology. Showing the same juridical inclination, the Jesuit theologians, L. Molina (d. 1600), L. Lessius (d.1623), and De Lugo (d. 1660), wrote their notable treatises De justitia, and Tomas Sánchez (d. 1610) his De matrimonio, which has become a classic.

Practical Moral Theology. From the 14th to the 16th century, the summas for the use of confessors were popular. These were arranged according to an alphabetical plan and were in fact dictionaries of casuistry. Among these were the Summa Pisana (1338) of Bartholomew of San Concordia, OP, the Summa angelica (1486) of Angelo di Chivasso, OFM, the Rosella casuum of Giovanni Battista Trovamala, OFM (1484), and the Summa sylvestrina of Sylvestre de Prierias (1514). The Summa theologica, an original endeavor by St. Antoninus of Florence, goes widely beyond the plan of the alphabetical summas and offers us a complete picture of the life of the 15th century. In a line still more strictly practical appears the Confessionalia, simple vade mecums for the priest as confessor.

The Institutiones morales. Between the great commentaries of the Summa of St. Thomas and the more practical works, there appeared, at the end of the 16th century, a new literary genre, the Institutiones morales. The Council of Trent, in fixing the norms for the Sacrament of Penance, called for a deepening of the study of moral theology. The founding of seminaries, which prepared young clerics for their ministry with a cycle of study shorter than that of the universities, and which apportioned a biennium to the study of cases of conscience, led to the writing of manuals designed for that particular purpose. The plan for such a manual is to be found in the Ratio Studiorum of the Society of Jesus (1586). With a view to practical importance of cases of conscience it treated briefly the main headings of the Prima Secundae of St. Thomashuman acts, conscience, sin, lawand then proceeded to the study of particular cases in the following order: the commandments of God and of the Church; and the Sacraments; and censures. In 1600 Juan Azor, SJ, initiated this new organization of the subject by publishing his Institutiones morales. The convenience of the plan assured its success. In the 17th century, it was used by Jesuit authors such as Vincenzo Filliucci (d.1622), Paul Laymann (d. 1635), Fernando de Castro Palao (d. 1633), Juan de Lugo (d. 1660), and especially Hermann Busenbaum (d.1668) who, in his short Medulla theologian moralis, produced the finest example of this kind of text. The plan of the Institutiones has remained to the 21th century the plan of most manuals of moral theology.

Crisis of Moral Theology in the 17th and 18th Centuries. In the Institutiones morales the treatise on conscience occupied the central place. Should not the penitent be judged according to his conscience and be left to form it? Probabilism claimed to bring a solution to this delicate problem. Originating in Salamanca, receiving its theoretical formulation from the great Jesuit theologians, Vázquez and Suárez, probabilism is immediately included in the Institutiones. But among some casuists too favorable to novelty or indulgence, it issued in laxist opinions that weakened beyond measure the demands of Christian morality. Some, unreasonably indulgent in according title of probability, came to accept the less probable opinion as a rule of conduct, provided that it was not actually improbable. Among those known for too great a laxity of opinion were Antonino diana (d. 1663), who in his Resolutiones morales examined more than 20,000 cases; Antonio de Escobar (d. 1669); Tomasso Tamburini (d. 1675); and Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz (d. 1682), called the "Prince of Laxists."

A violent movement of opposition against laxism arose in the Church, especially in France, following the Abbé de Saint-Cyran (d. 1643). Unfortunately, Jansenism was involved in the controversy. Inspired with the heretical theses on nature and grace, Jansenist moral theology fell into rigorism. In 1643 Antoine Arnauld published his Morale pratique des Jésuites; Nicole, his Essais de morale (167178). Blaise Pascal had published his Lettres provinciales in 1656.

Even the orthodox theological schools began to find themselves ranged against each other. In 1656 the reaction of the Dominicans began. Defenders of a moderate probabilism up to that time (D. Báñez, John of St. Thomas), they began to support probabiliorism. Gonet, OP (d. 1681), in his Clypeus thomisticus, and Contenson, OP (d. 1684), in his Theologica mentis et cordis defended probabiliorism. At the end of the century of Louis XIV, severity prevailed in Paris as well as in Louvain and in Toulouse. Certain theologians, such as Louis Habert (d.1718) in his Theologia dogmatica et moralis and Gaspard Juenin (d. 1713), pushed their severity to Jansenistic rigorism. The Jesuits, while disavowing the extreme theses, maintained the probabilist doctrine whose classic formula H. Busenbaum gave in his Medulla theologian moralis. Within the society, controversies were waged, especially when the Superior General, Thirso González, attempted to impose probabiliorism (1694). The interventions of the magisterium of the Church only touched the extreme positions. Alexander VII (166566) and Innocent XI (1679) condemned more than 100 laxist propositions. Alexander VIII (1690) condemned both laxist and rigorist theses. But the Holy See abstained from interfering with the dispute between the probabilists and the probabiliorists.

Outside the schools, the Carmelites of Salamanca published their Cursus theologiae moralis, certainly the most important moral work toward the end of the 17th century.

The 18th Century and St. Alphonsus Liguori. Controversies waxed most vigorously in Italy. Around the years 1740 to 1745, the Dominican theologian D. Concina (d. 1756) and his confrere G. V. Patuzzi (d.1769), both probabiliorists, attacked a whole series of probabilist JesuitsSanvitale, Ghezzi, and Zacharia, among othersas well as St. Alphonsus Liguori (16961787). The latter strove the whole of his life to find a solution to the irritating problem of probabilism. In his Theologia moralis (1748), as in the Homo apostolicus and his numerous dissertations, he strove to develop, by a series of original rules, a system equally removed from rigorism and laxism, and to this he gave the name equiprobabilism. Of two opinions equally probable, one may choose that in favor of liberty or that in favor of the law. But the greatness of St. Alphonsus did not lie in his system. It consisted in his finding in the "swarm of probable opinions, more probable, less probable, certain, more certain, or less certain, some manifestly rigorist, others evidently lax, a collection of moral opinions truly certain, equally removed from extremes, scrupulously weighed in the conscience of a saint" (P. Labourdette, OP).

New Paths and Tradition in the 19th Century.

After the French Revolution in Austria and Germany new paths opened up for moral theology. J. M. Sailer (d.1832) and Johann Hirscher (d. 1865) strove to restore its evangelical purity to moral theology and to reunite dogma and moral, so as not to make a science for the confessor, but a doctrine of life. In their wake came the school of Tübingen, M. Jocham (d. 1893), Fuchs (d. 1854), Deutinger (d. 1864), Werner (d. 1888), and Probst (d. 1850), claiming that the foundation of moral theology is nothing else but grace considered as a call to perfect life.

The Institutiones morales continued their course. The controversy over probabilism was renewed (184050) around Rosmini, Antonio Ballerini coming to the defense of probabilism. The quarrel returned around 1870. The opinions of St. Alphonsus, if not his system, became the common doctrine of moralists about the time of Vatican Council I.

Bibliography: b. hÄring, The Law of Christ, tr. e. g. kaiser (Westminster, Md. 1961). t. deman, Aux Origines de la théologie morale (Paris 1951). o. lottin, Psychologie et morale aux XII e et XIII e siècles, 6 v. (Louvain-Gembloux 194260). a. g. sertillanges, La Philosophie morale de saint Thomas d'Aquin (rev. ed. Paris 1946). g. de lagarde, La Naissance de l'esprit laïque au déclin du moyen âge (new ed. Louvain 1956). t. deman, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 13.1:417619. j. diebolt, La Théologie morale catholique en Allemagne au temps du Philosophisme et de la Restauration (17501850) (Strasbourg 1926).

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Moral Theology, History of (700 to Vatican Council I)

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