Fundamental Moral Theoogy and Scripture

Christian Moral Principles

Christian life is far more than observance of a moral code. To become Christians is to be given, as a gift, a new life in Christ. This new life is far more than a new morality. It enables us to enter into friendship with the Blessed Trinity, to love and to forgive one another, and to taste the joy of that new life in faith and hope and love that God pours into the hearts of those who accept his grace.

Yet believers, empowered by God’s grace, are called to “lead a life worthy of God” (1 Th 2:12). There are works of love that we have a duty to do, and evil deeds that we must avoid. Being morally upright people is not sufficient to make us Christians; and, indeed, we are not able consistently to lead morally good lives without the help of God’s grace. But a life of faith is not a lawless life. If we wish to be faithful followers of Christ, we must walk freely in the ways he points out for us.

Christian’s duties in the New Testament:

  • A Christian must avoid those evil kinds of acts that the Ten Commandments forbid (cf. Mt 19:16-19),
  • every kind of act so incompatible with love that those who do such things cannot “inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 6:9; cf. Gal 5:21; CCC 2072).
  • faith teaches positive duties also: We have the duty to believe God, to trust him, and to do the works of love (cf. Jn 6:28-29; Mt 25:34-46; CCC 1965-1968).
  • we are to acquire those virtues needed to give consistency and faithfulness to our lives: “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. . . . Above all, clothe yourselves with love” (Col 3:12, 14; cf. CCC 1810-1811).
  • To grow toward the perfection of love of God and one another, we are to live lives shaped by the gifts of the Holy Spirit and by the Beatitudes (cf. CCC 1716-1717, 1830-1831).


NB: some of the moral directives of the Gospel are not precepts but counsels [CCC 1973-1975]

*to give all we have to the poor, and *to live a celibate life for the sake of the kingdom

we must suffer to guard the faith, or to keep the commandments, or to forgive

also the Gospel does promise us to make “light and easy” the saving burden of Christ’s commandments (Mt 11:28-30).


Foundational Principles:

There certain first principles from which flow all the duties faith teaches

  • The first principles of moral life: Christ teaches that the greatest precepts of all are those of love: that we should love God with all our hearts and love our neighbor as ourselves (Mt 22:37-39). He teaches, that “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mt 22:40; cf. CCC 2055). This means that all the positive and negative duties of the Ten Commandments, all the moral requirements spoken by all the prophets and by Christ himself – all express simply what love requires.
  • St. Thomas Aquinas accepts faithfully the Gospel teaching that the two commandments of love are the first principles of moral life.
  • Contemporary Catholic moralists have done creative work to show that all the basic precepts of revealed religion follow necessarily from the duty to love. but this has to be a meaningful and true love.
  • Catholic moralists set aside other moral directives as principles in Christian morality. These are also other Gospel principles basic to Christian morality which flow from the requirements of love (cf. Rom 13:9).

 ° “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Lk 6:31); that is, we should treat each person with the fairness and concern we would wish others to show us. Observance of this, Christ tells us, sums up “the law and the prophets” (Lk 16:16).

° We should never deliberately do harm to anyone, for “Love does no wrong to a neighbor” (Rom 13:10). Each person is an image of God (with rights).

° it follows that we should never injure the neighbor by murder or adultery or perjury (Rom 13:9).

° A variety of factors must be considered in determining whether a particular human act is a morally good or bad one.

*Any element that determines that an act is good or bad must be good.

*First, the kind of act done must be a good kind of act (one capable of serving love of God and of neighbor).

*The intention for which the act is done must also be good.

*the circumstances must serve the goodness of the act.

*one must not foresee that the act (however good its kind and the intention may be) is likely to produce evil effects out of proportion to the good the act is expected to realize (CCC 1749-1756).


Moral Absolutes

  • Many moral rules have exceptions. For example, we should keep our promises, but not all promises (such as promises to help another do something evil) should be kept. For such moral rules one needs to know the motive and circumstances of the individual act before one can make a final judgment on whether it is good or bad.
  • Some moral rules have no exceptions: these are the moral absolutes

°  Never directly kill the innocent; never commit adultery; never swear falsely. (such acts are evil in themselves because they are always against Love) (CCC 1756; cf. Pope John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, Veritatis Splendor, 79-83).

°  To choose freely to do a kind of deed that is evil – a deed like slaying the innocent, or committing fornication, or swearing falsely – is to do what a good person may never do. It is true that the evil brought about in such acts is only “physical” evils; but the deliberate doing of such things is a moral evil and against love

°  One may have a duty to fulfill one’s duties (or do something good) but has to do something really evil in order to achieve things that ought to be achieved (e.g. contraception or perjury). Here and now a good man has no way of achieving specific good objectives if the only means available is a bad one. It is evil to bring willingly good out of evil.

NB: martyrs are honored because they laid down their lives rather than doing something which is intrinsically evil (cf. Veritatis Splendor, 90-94).

Principles of Other Kinds

These are principles that are not themselves moral directives but cast light on the nature and meaning of moral principles. Some of these are spelled out with striking force in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor (cf. 35-45).

  • Human actions are to be free action. Free actions are truly good (especially the freedom involved in free choice): it is evil to seek to condition or manipulate people so that they do good deeds or that good results are produced. (cf. CCC 1749; Veritatis Splendor, 38-41).
  • Law is a principle of Christian morality: the divine law that gives light to our lives is not a mere act of will, not an arbitrary imposition. God does not simply command us to do or not to do certain things, without gracious concern for our freedom, our hopes, and our fulfillment.
  • Grace is a principle of Christian moral life: For God has called us and made us to become his friends, and to have inexpressible joy in sharing his divine life. Moreover, in our fallen state, grace is needed to live a moral life faithfully (cf. CCC 1996).
  • The moral law is both a natural law and a revealed law. In fact, through Moses and the prophets, and most of all through Jesus Christ, God has made known to us the ways to fulfill the requirements of love, and to come to everlasting life.
  • we are naturally inclined to the natural law, “What the law requires is written on their hearts” (Rom 2:15). The principles of natural law are indeed accessible to all. We can all distinguish what is good from what is evil.

°  The natural law itself is revealed by God. The Decalogue sums up its basic elements. The teaching of Christ presents the moral law with great clarity and attractiveness.


Christ As the Principle of Christian Morality:

  • Christ is himself the primary teacher of the way we are to live to please God, and he is the source of the light of faith by which we can grasp with certainty the truth and goodness of his paths. Moreover, he is the source of the strength we need to walk faithfully in the ways of life. He is the goodness that makes us live an excellent moral life; he is the mercy that encourages us in all trials. He is himself both the life for which we long, and the way by which we can come to life.
  • Christian moral life is clearly not a dogged obeying of rules. It is rooted in love, and therefore at its heart it calls for a willing pursuit of what is truly good, for ourselves and for all we love. The Bible celebrates the truly and deeply good depths of reality. It celebrates life and friendship, truth and integrity of spirit, beauty and living in a glad, playful spirit before the Lord. The elements of life that philosophers have recognized as the goals of human striving, the goods that make human life rich and great, are also celebrated by the Scriptures

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