Christian Life and Commitment

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Course Level:
Course Length:
1 semester

Guiding text for the course:

John Paul II, Fides et Ratio (1998), section 98

These considerations apply equally to moral theology. It is no less urgent that philosophy be recovered at the point where the understanding of faith is linked to the moral life of believers. Faced with contemporary challenges in the social, economic, political and scientific fields, the ethical conscience of people is disoriented. In the Encyclical Letter Veritatis Splendor, I wrote that many of the problems of the contemporary world stem from a crisis of truth. I noted that “once the idea of a universal truth about the good, knowable by human reason, is lost, inevitably the notion of conscience also changes. Conscience is no longer considered in its prime reality as an act of a person's intelligence, the function of which is to apply the universal knowledge of the good in a specific situation and thus to express a judgment about the right conduct to be chosen here and now. Instead, there is a tendency to grant to the individual conscience the prerogative of independently determining the criteria of good and evil and then acting accordingly. Such an outlook is quite congenial to an individualist ethic, wherein the individual is faced with his own truth different from the truth of others”. [VS, 32]

Throughout the Encyclical I underscored clearly the fundamental role of truth in the moral field. In the case of the more pressing ethical problems, this truth demands of moral theology a careful enquiry rooted unambiguously in the word of God. In order to fulfill its mission, moral theology must turn to a philosophical ethics which looks to the truth of the good, to an ethics which is neither subjectivist nor utilitarian. Such an ethics implies and presupposes a philosophical anthropology and a metaphysics of the good. Drawing on this organic vision, linked necessarily to Christian holiness and to the practice of the human and supernatural virtues, moral theology will be able to tackle the various problems in its competence, such as peace, social justice, the family, the defense of life and the natural environment, in a more appropriate and effective way.

Course Description:

This introductory moral theology course, following the lead of the guiding text above, will explore the various dimensions of moral theology in order to prepare the student for graduate level work in the field. John Paul II states that moral theology must turn to a philosophical ethics, rooted in philosophical anthropology and metaphysics, in order to fulfill its mission. We, also, will explore that basis, particularly looking for points where “the understanding of faith is linked to the moral life of believers,” who are “disoriented” today because of so many “contemporary challenges in the social, economic, political and scientific fields.” We will pursue these goals in the light of Pope Benedict XVI’s idea of a “hermeneutic of continuity”, looking to express the ancient doctrine of the deposit of faith in ways both old and new, in ways accessible to contemporary parishioners, (See BXI, “Christmas Address to the Roman Curia”, Dec. 12, 2005).

Expected Outcomes:

  1. To gain an overall grasp of the field of moral theology, preparing the student for graduate level work in the field.
  2. To gain a solid knowledge of the philosophical anthropology at the foundation of the Church’s recent moral teaching.
  3. To understand a number of recent Church documents (or sections thereof) on or related to moral theology, and how these represent prime examples of what Benedict XVI has called the “hermeneutic of continuity.”
  4. To understand how the Church engages the world on questions of morality.
  5. By means of: a brief in-class presentation; one in-class homily; and the research paper, to gain the ability to express to an interested parishioner the reasons for the Church’s moral teaching in an accessible manner which could inspire them to live according to the teaching.

Required Readings:

Peter Bristow, Christian Ethics and the Human Person, (Oxford, UK: Family Publications and Birmingham, UK: Maryvale Institute, 2009).


Pope John Paul II, Veritatis splendor, 1993.

Veritatis Splendorwill be referenced throughout the course. It is a document with which you should become very familiar. To that end, it is recommended that you read through this text twice from cover to cover during the beginning of the semester.


Pope John Paul II, Salvifici doloris, 1984


BXVI, Christmas Address to Roman Curia, 22 Dec. 2005

Learning Assessment:

Research Paper: 25%

Midterm exam: 25%

Final exam: 25%

Class participation; Discussion for Class 20; In Class homily: 25%

Grading Scale:

A +:  97 – 100 Outstanding

A : 93 – 96 Excellent

B +: 89 – 92 Superior

B: 85 – 88 Very Good

C +: 81 – 84 Good

C: 77 – 80 Satisfactory

D +: 73 – 76 Fair

D: 70 – 72 Passing

F: below 70 Failed

I: -- Incomplete

W -- Withdrawal (no penalty)


Laptops may be used for note taking in class; no other documents or applications are to be opened during class time.

Academic Honesty

As indicated in the seminary policy, “no instance of plagiarism, cheating or falsification of research work, examinations or academic records will be tolerated and will make the seminarian liable to dismissal” (Catalogue, p. 34, 74). A failing grade will be assigned where there is evidence of academic dishonesty.


Lateness to class and missing class will adversely affect your final grade.

Research Paper

Each student is required to compose and submit a research paper.

The paper is to be 12 pages in length (excluding title page and bibliography – that is, the textual-body of the paper is to be 12 pages in length), double spaced, 12 font, with footnotes and bibliography, done in accord with Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th edition. Electronic copies are not acceptable.

To complete this assignment:

1) Meet with the professor and discuss a topic which the student is interested in within the area of moral theology.

2) After the meeting, the student is to submit a one-page typed proposal for the research paper which includes a provisional title for his research paper and a one or two paragraph synopsis stating the goal and strategy of the research paper. The proposal ought also to include at least four (4) bibliographic references beyond Sacred Scripture and The Catechism of the Catholic Church. In composing the proposal and all sections of the research paper (including title page, footnotes, and bibliography) the student is to follow the format outlined in Kate L. Turabian, A Manual for Writers of Term papers, Theses, and Dissertations, 6th edition. The proposal is to be submitted no later than Tuesday, September 28 at the beginning of class. You may turn in your proposal earlier than this date if you wish.

N.B.:The Library staff is ready and willing to assist you with preparing this proposal and with your research. Please take advantage of these trained professionals who are there to help.

3) The proposal, either approved or disapproved, will be returned to the student; if approved, the student is free to begin work on the project. If not-approved, the student must meet with the professor again and determine a topic and resubmit a proposal in the above format.

4) The completed research paper is to be submitted to the professor on Tuesday, November 23, 2010 at the beginning of class. Absence from class on the due date is not a reason to fail to submit the paper.

N.B.A research paper is not an opinion paper per se, but is to consist of scholarly research on the approved topic. The student is free to meet with the professor on a reasonable basis during the research and composition of the paper to discuss aspects and development of the project. This is to be done on the student’s initiative. The proposal and final paper are to be typed.

Course Schedule

Class 1: Introduction

Required Reading:

Course Syllabus

JP II, Fides et Ratio, section, 98

Class 2: Suffering and Love in Christian Teaching

Class synopsis:All of the ethical theories that mankind has come up with are rooted in the attempt to deal with human suffering. Christianity is utterly unique in comparison with all of them, because of its surprising link between suffering and love: this link stands at the basis of Catholic Moral Theology. Both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have written profound and beautiful Papal documents dealing the mysterious and difficult question of the reality of suffering in this world. They express a great sensitivity to the fact that suffering is perhaps the most difficult reality to deal with in this life, especially innocent suffering, and at the same time they are able to show how the Christian understanding of love, and in particular Christ’s love on the Cross, is able to help us to see meaning in the midst of it. The Gospel, John Paul II stresses, “is the negation of passivity in the face of suffering.” He adds, “The world of human suffering unceasingly calls for, so to speak, another world: the world of human love; and in a certain sense, man owes to suffering that unselfish love which stirs in his heart and in his actions.”

Required Reading:

Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Letter Salvifici doloris (1984)

Optional reading:

Pope Benedict XVI, Encyclical Letter, Deus caritas est (2005)

Colosi, Peter J. “John Paul II and Max Scheler on the Meaning of Suffering,” in Logos, A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture, 12.3, Sumer, 2009:

Class 3: Mystery, Science and Progress

Class Synopsis:In this lecture we will explore various meanings of “mystery” and the senses in which awareness of this dimension of being is beautifully portrayed in the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, yet sadly neglected in the world of biotechnology. This lecture will also serve as a foundation for grasping later the underlying reasons for the Church’s moral teachings in the realm of biotechnology and procreation. It is interesting to point out that John Paul II has noted is a striking analogy between the oppression of the defenseless unborn and elderly in our day and the oppression of defenseless workers at the end of the 19th century. He said that just as the Church and Pope Leo XIII spoke the truth to stand with those oppressed laborers, so now the Church must speak the truth to defend the unborn, elderly and ill – see The Gospel of Life, section 5.

Required Reading:

Handout: Mystery, Science, Progress

Class 4 and 5: The Dignity of the Human Person

Class Synopsis: In these classes we will define the term “dignity”, look at the sources of human personal dignity, and show the nature of the current debate on this topic through contrasting the approach of the utilitarians/dissenters with that of one of the members of the Pontifical Academy of Life, Professor Josef Seifert. Some of the sources of human personal dignity we will discuss are: rational nature, body/soul unity, incommunicability, image and likeness of God. These points will then be deepened and expanded upon in our study of chapters 3 – 6 of Bristow.

Required Reading:


J. Seifert, Pontifical Academy for Life, “The Right to Life and the Fourfold Root of Human  Dignity”

P. Colosi, “The Intrinsic Worth of Persons: Revisting Peter Singer and his Critics”, W-drive

Class 6 and 7: Historical Introduction: Immanuel Kant and Utilitarianism

Class Synopsis:In these classes an overview of the ethical teaching of Immanuel Kant and Utilitarianism will be presented. In order that we may fulfill the call of Pope John Paul II issued in Fides et Ratio, 98 “that philosophy be recovered at the point where the understanding of faith is linked to the moral life of believers,” we should familiarize ourselves with those dimensions within philosophy which need recovering. We should do this while keeping in mind this text of VS, 31:

This heightened sense of the dignity of the human person and of his or her uniqueness, and of the respect due to the journey of conscience, certainly represents one of the positive achievements of modern culture. This perception, authentic as it is, has been expressed in a number of more or less adequate ways, some of which however diverge from the truth about man as a creature and the image of God, and thus need to be corrected and purified in the light of faith.

Required Reading:

Great Traditions in Ethics, chapts., “Duty and       ”; “The Greatest Happiness Principle.” W-drive

Class 8 and 9: Contemporary Utilitarianism and Proportionalism

Research paper proposal due at beginning of class 9.

Class Synopsis: In these classes we will cover the basic structure of contemporary utilitarian thought – which one could rightly say, rules most legislative bodies in the world’s countries, as well as health-care ethics boards. This view also holds the most sway at the United Nations. We will then begin to explore the position of Catholic dissenters and see in what way they distinguish themselves from secular utilitarians on the one hand, and from the Magisterium of the Church on the other. We will also pick out which errors from Immanuel Kant and secular utilitarianism have been embraced by the dissenting theologians.

Required Reading:

Colosi, “The Intrinsic Worth of Persons: Revisting Peter Singer and his Critics”, W-drive

Colosi, Singer vs JP II, W-drive

Bristow, 182 – 207 (chpt. 7)

Class 10: The Moral Act in Catholic Teaching

Class Synopsis:In this class we will present Magisterial teaching on the Moral Act for the purpose of constructing the defense of Church teaching against the dissenters.

Required Reading:

Bristow, 208 – 221 (chpt. 8)

CCC, 1749 - 1761

Class 11: Ethics after Vatical II: Personalism and Renewal in an Age of Secularization

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 19 - 43

BXVI, Christmas Address to Roman Curia, 22 Dec. 2005

Class 12: The Fundamental Elements and the Distinctiveness of Rational Christian Ethics

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 44 - 74

Class 13: The Anthropological Basis of Ethics and Bio-Ethics

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs., 74 - 101

Class 14: Contemporary Personalism: Subjectivity and Self-Determination of the Person

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs., 102 – 128.

Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in Man” (Handout)


Class 16: Natural Law Protects the Goods and Rights of the Person

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 129 – 155

Optional Reading:

International Theological Commission, The Search for Universal Ethics: A New Look at the Natural

Class 17: Freedom, Autonomy and Truth

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 156 - 179

Class 18: Catholic Voices in the Public Sphere

Class Synopsis: Students will read the assigned article, and each of them will come up with responses to the article. The responses should be based on all we have studied thus far. Additionally, students should come up with two basic kinds of responses, taking care to distinguish: (1) Responses that are accessible to persons of good will, whether or not they have faith; and (2) responses that are clearly based on faith and/or revelation and directed towards the education and convincing of Christians. Today’s parishioner will have heard these arguments in the many media outlets that promote them. Can you give your future parishioners reasons why these arguments do not undermine their? Can you give them arguments that they could take with them into the workplace and make a good defense of life?

In this class each student will be asked to present one or more of their responses in relatively brief remarks. Fellow students and the professor will then comment on the strength or weakness of the responses.

Required Reading:

Peter Singer, “Voluntary Euthanasia, A Utilitarian Perspective” – W-drive

Class 19: The Biblical Foundations: Law and Evangelical Grace

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs., 224 – 247

Optional Reading:

Pontifical Biblical Commission, The Bible and Morality:  Biblical Roots of Christian Conduct, (Rome: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2008). Paperback ISBN:  978-88-209-8084-9.

Class 20: The Pursuit of Virtue and the Sermon on the Mount

Required Reading:

Bristow, 248 - 270

Class 21: The Theology of the Body Discourses on the Human Person in Genesis

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 272 – 293


Class 22: Sexuality, Gender and Feminism

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 294 – 312

Class 23: Marriage and the Renewal of the Family

Research paper due at the beginning of class.

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 313 – 335

Optional Reading:

Pope John Paul II, Letter to Families (1994)

Class 24: Humanae Vitae: A Test-Case for Christian Ethics

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 336 – 361

Pope Paul VI, Humanae vitae

Class 25: Morality and Evangelization

Required Reading:

Bristow, pgs. 362 – 372

Classes 26 and 27: In Class Homilies

Directions for Homily:

Class 28: Concluding Points, Review for Final Exam