This book presents the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium, as well as sound theological opinion and interpretation, on the basic principles of morality and their application, in a manner that is accessible to the ordinary layperson. This catechism was written to instruct those faithful Catholics who are willing to change their lives to conform ever more closely to the moral teachings of Jesus Christ, found in the teachings of the Catholic Church.
The purpose of this book is to offer to the faithful a clear and concise presentation of the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium on the basic principles of morality, along with sound theological opinion and a multitude of examples of the application of those principles. This book does not attempt to answer every moral question. Instead, by teaching the faithful to understand and to apply the basic principles of morality, the faithful should be able to answer almost any moral question, in any area of life, by their own faith and knowledge. For all of the teachings of the Faith on morality are based on these basic principles.
It is more useful to teach the reader to understand and to apply the basic principles of ethics, than to attempt to answer a large number of specific questions on morality. No list of specific questions and answers on morality can address every possible ethical situation. But with a sound understanding of the basic principles of morality, the reader can then apply these principles in order to answer specific ethical questions and to solve moral dilemmas. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. So do not be surprised if this book does not contain a particular answer to each and every particular moral question. Instead, let this book teach you the basic principles of morality and how to apply them. Then you will be able to find the answers to your moral questions by faith and reason.
This catechism offers teachings on morality from the explicit and implicit teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium, along with that theological interpretation and commentary necessary to explain and apply those teachings, and also offers theological insights, all in order to assist the faithful in understanding Roman Catholic ethics with ever greater breadth and depth. However, this catechism is not primarily a work of theological opinion, but rather is fundamentally a work of instruction in the teachings of the Catholic Faith on morality.
Ignorance versus Knowledge
There is a dire lack of knowledge among the members of the Church on matters of morality. Many of the Church’s teachings are entirely unknown, or substantially misunderstood, by most of the faithful. They know trivial facts about their favorite entertainment shows or musical groups, but they do not know even the most basic teachings of the Church on any subject. They spend several hours a day entertaining themselves with television and other forms of media. But they seldom read the Bible, or a book by a Saint, or any book of theology. Ignorance about the teachings of the Catholic Faith prevails among most members of the Church on earth today. To make matters worse, many Catholics have confused serious doctrinal errors with the teachings of the Church. Their limited understanding of Church teaching is adulterated by many false ideas, which they mistakenly think are correct belief.
Very many Catholics today do not understand even the most basic teachings of the Catholic Faith on morality. They do not know how to determine if a sin is venial or mortal. They do not understand that some acts are intrinsically evil, and therefore never moral, regardless of intention or circumstances. They do not understand the basic terminology of moral theology. Perhaps they are able to say that the end does not justify the means, but when evaluating the morality of a choice before them, they often use the end to justify the means without realizing it. They have never heard of the three fonts of morality. They have no idea what a moral object is. They cannot distinguish between formal cooperation, immediate material cooperation, and mediate material cooperation, because they have never heard of these concepts.
They do not understand the principle of double effect, nor do they know what the sin of scandal is. They have never heard of positive and negative precepts. They do not understand the difference between direct abortion and indirect abortion. When facing a question concerning the morality of an act, they have no idea how to determine if the act is moral or not. They mistakenly think that conscience is supreme, even above Church teaching on morality. There is a widespread lack of understanding on morality among the faithful, not only on particular magisterial decisions on particular ethical questions, but more importantly on the basic principles of morality found throughout Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, and upon which the Magisterium itself relies in answering particular moral questions.
If the Magisterium has explicitly stated that a particular act is immoral, they might know that the act is immoral, but not why it is immoral. If the Magisterium has not explicitly stated that a particular act is immoral, they have no idea where to begin in order to evaluate the morality of that act. Some even think that they are free to ignore the clear and definitive teachings of Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture on morality, as long as the Magisterium has not explicitly stated a decision on a particular question. They feel bound by explicit magisterial statements, but not by the basic moral principles of the eternal moral law, not by Sacred Tradition, not by Sacred Scripture, and not by all that is necessarily implied by the explicit teachings of the Magisterium.
Some Catholics almost completely ignore Catholic teaching on morality, instead relying on whatever is the common secular norm. The majority opinion in secular society, on almost any issue of morality, is often also the majority opinion among those who call themselves Catholic, in contradiction to, or in ignorance of, the teachings of the Faith. Perhaps this is one reason why so many Catholic accept and use contraception, as if this were moral, despite the definitive teaching of the Church against contraception. They have accepted secular society as their teacher on morality; they do not consider the Church to be their teacher.
Is this book for you?
I know what my fellow Catholics are like. Some are meek and humble, seeking the truths of faith and morals in all that is taught, explicitly and implicitly, in Sacred Tradition and in Sacred Scripture, and by the Magisterium. These faithful souls are willing to learn the Faith ever better, and to have their understanding of the Faith improved and corrected. They will accept a sound theological argument, based on Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium. They continually cooperate with grace as they continually strive to become more like Christ, and to grow in knowledge of the Christian Faith.
These humble Catholics rejoice whenever they find any book of sound Catholic instruction, on faith, morals, and salvation, which can help them understand their Faith in ever greater depth and breadth. Catholics such as this will be truly joyful to have this book, which presents the teachings of Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium on the basic principles of Catholic moral theology, and their application, in a manner that is accessible to the ordinary layperson. I offer this book to them, in order to assist them to understand the eternal moral law, to avoid sin, to live a moral life, and to become truly pleasing to God in every way.
This book is not for those Catholics who have decided that the Catholic Faith is nothing other than what they have already understood and accepted. This book is not for those Catholics who, after accepting the Catholic Faith, have closed their minds and hearts to any further understanding or correction. This books is not for those Catholics who assume that any idea must be false, if it is contrary to their own understanding, or if it is an idea they had not heard before. This book is not for those Catholics who condemn every theological argument contrary to their own understanding, without making any theological argument of their own. This book is not for those Catholics who judge the orthodoxy of a book, not based on Tradition, Scripture, Magisterium, but based on whether or not the book conforms to their own limited understanding, or to the majority opinion.
A partial list of sources quoted or cited in this book:
Over 1,000 verses of Sacred Scripture
Saint Thomas Aquinas, the Summa Theologica (and other works)
Saint Augustine, Saint John Chrysostom, and several other Saints
Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, Evangelium Vitae, Reconciliation and Penance, Familiaris Consortio, Redemptoris Mater, Incarnationis Mysterium, Ordinatio Sacerdotalis, Ut Unum Sint
and various addresses
Pope Benedict XII, On the Beatific Vision of God
Pope Benedict XV, Ad Beatissimi Apostolorum, Spiritus Paraclitus
Pope Benedict XVI, God is Love, and various addresses
Pope Boniface VIII, Unam Sanctam
Pope Innocent XI, Santissimus Dominus and other documents
Pope John XXIII, Sacerdotii Nostri Primordia, Mater et Magistra
Pope Leo XIII, Catholicae Ecclesiae, Providentissimus Deus, Arcanum Divinae Sapientiae, Rerum Novarum
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, Indulgentiarum Doctrina
Pope Pius X, Jucunda Sane, Lacrimabili Statu, Lamentabili Sane
Pope Pius XI, Acerba Animi, Casti Connubii, Ineffabilis Deus, Mit Brennender Sorge
Pope Pius XII, Address to Midwives, Humani Generis, Divino Afflante Spiritu, Munificentissimus Deus, Menti Nostrae
Council of Ephesus
Council of Chalcedon
Fourth Lateran Council
Council of Florence
Fifth Lateran Council
Council of Trent, Decree on Original Sin, Decree on Justification, Decree on the Sacraments, On The Sacrament of Matrimony, On Penance and Extreme Unction
First Vatican Council, Pastor Aeternus, On Faith, On Revelation
Second Vatican Council, Apostolicam Actuositatem, Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes, Lumen Gentium, Ad Gentes
Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church (1983)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church
United States Catholic Catechism for Adults, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops
Catechism of Trent
The Catholic Encyclopedia
Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (various documents)
Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace
Pontifical Council for the Family
Cardinal Avery Dulles, ‘Catholicism & Capital Punishment,’ and ‘Development or Reversal?’
and many other sources
The Catechism of Catholic Ethics: A work of Roman Catholic moral theology
by Ronald L. Conte Jr.