Theses and Questions concerning the Status of Fundamental Moral Theology

L. Melina - J. Noriega - J.J. Pérez-Soba

We propose a number of theses and questions concerning the fundamental approach taken by moral theology as it confronts problems currently debated and, above all, as it responds to the suggestions expressed in the encyclical Veritatis splendor concerning certain areas for further research
Paragraph No. 4 of the pontifical document indicates two causes of moral theology’s post-conciliar crisis, which have led to a global and systematic questioning of the moral patrimony contained in Catholic doctrine. These are the breakdown of the link between freedom and truth (philosophical level: Thesis 2, 3, and 4) and the breakdown of the link between faith and morals (theological level: Thesis 5 and 6).
The unitary foundation capable of addressing both levels of the problem is found in the central claim of the encyclical: "Following Christ is … the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality"(VS 19). Following Christ begins with encountering him (VS 7-8); it represents the basis of all Christian morality (thesis 1).
This new approach is a real response to the post-conciliar crisis of moral theology, which, from a technical point of view, is also the extreme crisis of the manualistic tradition and its methodology. Some of the problems with the latter were covered over by casuistic debates and thus remained concealed in their fundamental aspects. However, in the new context of secularization and ethical pluralism, these problems surfaced in all their gravity, as now a more coherent foundation of norms is required. Proportionalist theories are the legitimate heirs of the insufficient approaches taken by the manualist tradition. The two main deficiencies can be described as “legalism” on a philosophical and “extrinsicism” on a theological level. Both are the result of a voluntarism that, leaving aside the fundamental perspective of love, considers law as the mere expression of a superior will concerning individual acts, and of a rationalism that is no longer capable of thinking moral truth as something original and underived.
To remedy these insufficiencies, it is necessary to place oneself within the perspective of the Christian as an acting subject (VS 78), emphasizing both the originality of human action and the human-divine dynamism implicit in its unfolding.

1. Christian Moral Experience Originates in the Encounter with Christ and in the Call to Follow Him

“Following Christ is … the essential and primordial foundation of Christian morality” (VS 19).

Taking the experience of a personal encounter as the starting point for moral reflection, we suggest a new approach to morality that is opposed to philosophical legalism. Further specifying this encounter as one with the person of Christ, we seek to open the door to a moral reflection that is theological at its very root, standing in opposition to an extrinsicism, which considers the theological dimension of morality as a mere superimposition on the natural structure of human action.

1.1. Love as the foundational experience of morality

The human person understands the moral dimension of his acting within experience. In fact, moral sense arises when we discover something that is absolute, i.e., the person of the other, inviting us to communion.
In the event of love—which in itself is non-deducible and original—and in the encounter with the person of another, the human being discovers the necessity of affirming the other for his own sake. Thus, the universal desire for happiness is specified and concretized as an aspiration to communion among persons.
In the affirmation of the person of another for his own sake, love contains within itself the promise of fulfillment. One affirms the other person by choosing those goods that allow for the person’s fulfillment in his common nature and in his unrepeatable uniqueness.
In this way, love is the foundational experience of morality, integrating in itself both the inter-subjective and the objective dimensions of morality. Insofar as love implies the absolute acceptance of the other person for his own sake, it has an inter-subjective dimension. Insofar as love intrinsically orders desire to the good, it has an objective dimension. Integrating these two elements is the work of reason, which directs human action towards the achievement of communion: from the very beginning, love and reason find themselves intrinsically and originally united.
The experience of love reveals the ultimate meaning of life as the vocation to a communion of persons in history by means of the gift of self (GS 24). Thus, freedom acquires a meaning that goes far beyond the mere faculty of free choice: it is a vocation to the gift of self by means of excellent acts capable of expressing the person (cf. thesis 2).
Taking the experience of love as a starting point, one understands how ethical reflection does not consist in performing logical deductions from principles. Rather, ethical reflection consists in the light of a knowledge capable of guiding life. This is very different from a morality understood as a system of norms (legalism) or as a set of logical rules necessary for the formulation of these norms (rationalism). The specific modality of moral knowledge implies an intrinsic link between truth and freedom and the connection between reason and love.

1.2. The encounter with Christ

The Christian moral experience is based on the existential and salvific relevance of the completely unique encounter with Christ: “People today need to turn to Christ once again in order to receive from him the answer to their questions about what is good and what is evil” (VS 8). The novelty of this encounter with Christ develops in a twofold dimension: the promise of a unique fulfillment and the invitation to conversion.

a) The encounter with Christ and human fulfillment
With the encounter with Christ a mystery reveals itself: by the gift of the Spirit, the human person discovers the absolute singularity of Christ, Son of God the Father. A human experience of the absolute reaches its ultimate height when man finds himself facing Christ and his redemptive offering on the cross. The very mystery of life is revealed here: the human being recognizes his true good in his vocation to communion with the Father in the Son through the Holy Spirit. We are called to become sons in the Son through the gift of the Spirit, living a unique friendship with the triune God and with our neighbor.

b) Conversion to Christ
The call from God in Christ and his gift of grace evoke a human response of conversion to Christ who gave his life for us. This conversion takes on the form of concrete action. This is a dimension of morality peculiar to Christianity: each human act is a response or a failure to respond to Christ. Here Christian acting finds its clearest source.
In this way, the absolute primacy of God’s gift of grace in human action is revealed: God first loved us. Love does not mean taking the initiative but responding to a call. This call itself constitutes a vocation: “precisely the awareness of having received the gift, of possessing in Jesus Christ the love of God, generates and sustains the free response of a full love for God and the brethren,” (VS 24). It is here that the beauty of the gift of self is made manifest: love expresses itself as a donation in response to God’s transcendent beauty, made manifest in Christ through the gift of the Spirit.
The experience of the encounter with Christ creates us anew. This encounter takes place in concrete history in communion with the Church, God’s family. Hence, it is necessary to see how the human response expresses itself within the framework of each individual’s personal and social life.
It is in this encounter with Christ that the sense of fulfillment and of the good life arises in the human person, directing his desire for happiness towards communion with God.

2. Towards an Ethics of the Good Life, of Virtue and Excellent Actions

2.1. The formation of the ideal of the good life

The experience of a personal encounter reveals to the human person an ideal of fullness in the communion of persons, which, by its intrinsic beauty, attracts him and shapes his aspirations and inclinations. In this way, the human person can form for himself an ideal of the good life that gives a determinate and worthy shape to happiness (G. Abbà, R. Spaemann). This specification of the ideal of the good life culminates in the choice of the beloved, who becomes the object of one’s intentionality.

2.2. The virtues and the good life

The ideal of communion concerns the totality of man’s being, corpore et anima unus, including therefore the entire human and divine dynamism. Through a superior impulse of friendship towards God, charity by itself informs reason and by means of the virtues shapes human affectivity, conferring upon it a new fullness on it.
The object of morality is found not in isolated acts or individual choices, but rather in the form of life as a whole. Thus, the moral life is ordered according to the ends and goods that characterize the ideal of the good life. It is necessary, therefore, to integrate the instinctive and affective powers in the light of the truth about the good of the person. As man’s powers are integrated and conformed to this truth, a new energy is born that produces and directs acts capable of realizing the promised ideal in the concrete: the virtues. A true morality of love is also a morality of the virtues, as is outlined in the perspective of St. Thomas Aquinas.

2.3. Excellent action and beatitude

Human actions are the realizations of an ideal, because they allow us to enter into communion with the other (intentio) through the choice of practical goods (electio) in conformity with the truth about the good of the person.
Christian morality therefore is a morality of excellent action, i.e., of actions that express the human person’s highest vocation to charity and that anticipate in history the perfection of communion with God and with the brethren.
This perspective sees action as “intentional basic acts” (M. Rhonheimer) and differs both from objectivistic materialism, which only considers the action’s physical and exterior aspect, and from subjectivism, which does not distinguish “what is done” from the ulterior intentions “for which it is done.”
In this way, one can surmount the perspective of the modern ethics of norms, i.e., the perspective of the external observer proper to a “third person ethics,” in which the act is considered merely as an event that occurs and has consequences. What we propose instead is the perspective of classical virtue ethics, i.e., the perspective of the acting person proper to a “first person ethics,” in which the act is understood as a choice that involves self-determination (cf. VS 71)

2.4. The object of morality and the good life

The object of morality must therefore be redefined in a broader and more comprehensive manner. The guidepost of morality is not merely the Kantian “what must I do?” but rather the question “who do I want to be?” and consequently, “how should I live in order to attain to communion in love?” The object of morality is the good life—understood from a new communal perspective—and not just the regulation of external acts by means of the law. Morality is a path towards perfection; it does not merely regard the minimum to be observed (cf. VS 17).
Within this framework, the issue of justice in one’s relationships to others, so dominant in “modern” moral philosophy, can and must be integrated (cf. J. Raz).

“Love and life according to the Gospel cannot be thought of first and foremost as a kind of precept” (VS 23).

3. Towards an Ethics Based on the Truth about the Good

“At the root of these presuppositions [which form the basis of objections to the moral patrimony] is the more or less obvious influence of currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth” (VS 4)

It is very important to surmount the legalism of the manualist tradition in which the moral law is understood as the expression of the will of a legislator and not as an intrinsic demand of the truth about the good of the person.

3.1. The primacy of truth as the foundation of freedom

“Truth and freedom either go together hand in hand or together they perish in misery” (FR 90). This “relationship between freedom and truth is complete,” and its full meaning is understood in the encounter with Christ and his words of redemption (FR 15). Hence, the relationship between freedom and truth is reciprocal: there is no freedom without truth, and there is no truth without freedom.

“Freedom then is rooted in the truth about man, and it is ultimately directed towards communion”(VS 86).

3.2. The truth about the good

The truth about which we speak here is the truth “about the good,” or better, the truth about the “good of the person”: a truth that concerns the kind of praxis or action by which the human being realizes himself as a person. In a strictly moral sense, the good of the person consists in the perfection of the person’s nature, constitutively incomplete, by means of freedom. As a practical good, it depends solely on the person’s free self-determination.
The cognitive element that aims at this truth is located within a tension of the whole person towards his own good insofar as he is a person. In the knowledge of this truth, the whole subject is involved in an original exercise of his rationality.
From a theological point of view, the truth about the good of action cannot be perceived in its exterior conformity to a precept, but rather according to its excellence, by which it anticipates and prepares for communion with God, which man merits by grace. For this reason, an ethics of virtue appears most consistent with the requirements of a scientific presentation of the “exalted vocation of the faithful in Christ” (VS 29).
The virtues do not play a merely executory role, facilitating the accomplishment of good deeds. Rather, they belong to the very structure of excellent acts, leading to an adequate knowledge of them. Within the framework of practical knowledge—especially when it is a question of particular and concrete goods—the truth about the good requires a virtuous connaturality of the whole subject with the good; it requires not only his rational but predisposition but also his affectivity to be in tune with the good. If the truth about the good concerns specifically the good of the person, then the path to its knowledge will be of an eminently personal character, both in the sense of involving the whole person in the recognition of this truth and in the sense of ultimately leading back to the truth about a singular, unique, and unrepeatable vocation within man’s common rational nature.
At this point the problem of the link between anthropology and ethics comes into play, particularly in the classical distinction between the speculative and the practical exercise of reason. The rediscovery of an authentically practical dimension of reason, forgotten in modern morality (G.E.M. Anscombe), permits a critical reflection on “Hume’s law,” giving a convincing response to the accusation of the naturalistic fallacy. This rediscovery of the practical dimension of reason allows us to avoid both the rationalistic perspective, which—deducing ethics from metaphysics— denies the originality of the truth about the good, and the irrationality of approaches that—leaving aside all foundations in truth—fall into voluntarism or emotivism.

3.3. Two moments of practical reason

Moral knowledge, the object of which is the “truth about the good,” is distinguished both from purely speculative knowledge (which concerns Being), and from technical knowledge (which concerns making and not acting). Nonetheless, the exercise of practical reason expresses itself in two distinct moments: there is a direct moment that culminates in the virtue of prudence and an indirect one that takes on the form of ethical science.
The first kind of knowledge is realized in the virtuous subject and ordered towards the performance of excellent human acts. The virtuous man, belonging to a community and a living tradition, educated by the virtues and rendered intimately connatural with the good, is capable of judging in the concrete particular what is the adequate conduct in the multiple and changing circumstances he encounters.
Ethical science, in contrast, concerns the philosopher and assumes the character of a second level reflection on the exercise of practical reason. Ethical science elaborates universal conclusions starting from the principles of natural law and from an evaluation of moral experience.
This is why practical reason achieves its perfection in a form of knowledge that is not scientific, i.e., in prudence, which knows the contingent precisely in its contingency and particularity. Prudence is the virtue that perfects practical reason and permits it to understand what is good in the concrete, overcoming the deficiencies of science.
As the perfection of practical reason, prudence is concretely realized for the Christian in the new dimension of his being “in Christ” through faith, hope, and charity. Only charity allows for the human person’s orientation towards his true final end, which is the condition for the exercise of prudence. According to Phil 1:9-11, the capacity to discern is an expansion of charity. This inflow of charity into prudence takes place through the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

4. An Ethics Based on “the Nature of the Person and his Acts”

“At this point the true meaning of the natural law can be understood: it refers to man’s proper and primordial nature, the ‘nature of the human person’” (VS 50; cf. Gaudium et spes, 51).

4.1. Person and nature

Morality concerns the fulfillment of the person as a person: ethics represents a call to perfection, to the fulfillment of self and not adherence to an external law. The self is fulfilled through an encounter with the fullness of Christ (VS 8, 83, 85).
To arrive at this fullness and to do the good, the human person must know how to distinguish between good and evil. Thanks to his reason, the true light given him by God, man can naturally distinguish between good and evil by listening to his natural inclinations. It is in this fundamental relation between reason and natural inclinations, deeply rooted within man’s humanity, that we find the foundation of natural law.
The person has a nature. This nature is the subject of its own acts in the unity of body and soul. The body is therefore bearer of moral meaning (VS 48). Practical reason discovers a number of natural inclinations towards fundamental goods for the person: first of all, there is the inclination to preserve one’s life, which expresses the goodness of Being as such and is common to all creatures. Secondly, there is the inclination to sexual union, which, although common to all animals, has a specific and spiritual dimension in man: it is open to the communion with a person of a different sex, in a stable and faithful union, orientated towards the generation and education of children. Thirdly, there is the inclination to social life, which is not restricted to a person’s need of other people’s help and the material advantages that derive from living in society, but extends to the spiritual enrichment and growth that derive from living in community. Finally, there is a specifically human inclination towards the knowledge of truth.
Practical reason discovers a relation between these inclinations and the fulfillment of the person as such, a relation that gives rise to the moral order of the will in the pursuit of these goods.
On this level, we find a relationship—intrinsic to practical reason—between anthropology and ethics. Keeping in mind this relation will allow us to avoid both naturalism, which derives the moral good from the natural dimension of the human being, and formalism, which separates freedom from any reference to the person’s nature.
In the encounter with Christ, practical reason recognizes that the natural inclinations are the first signs of a vocation to charity, inscribed as original data in man’s creaturely image.

4.2. The singularity of man’s personal vocation

The person is more that his common nature: he is not only a member of a species, who must achieve the universal aspect of his nature (VS 46-50). Rather, the person has a unique and unrepeatable call within a singular relationship with God. There is thus room for a specific personal vocation that manifests itself in concrete circumstances and contingencies. The human person’s fundamental vocation is a vocation to love, understood as an acceptance of the other and as a gift of self (GS 24); consequently, interpersonal relationships, which shape the history of each human being, possess a moral value of great significance for each person’s own vocation.
The ultimate truth of personal affectivity is expressed in the gift of self and in the acceptance of the other. In this way, both man’s spiritual potential and the unity of morality and spirituality are manifest.

4.3. The person and his acts

The acts of the person shape the person himself. According to the words of St. Gregory of Nissa, by our acts, “We are in some manner our own parents, giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice in accordance with whatever we wish to be.” Through action, the person determines himself. Overcoming any dichotomy between the “inner subjectivity” of the person and the “objective exteriority” of the act—on the basis of which a number of authors have proposed the separation between “goodness” and “rightness”—we need to locate the heart of morality in the element or moment of choice. In fact, it is precisely choice that determines intentionality—the electio of the means determines the intentio of the end—and it is choice that presents the source of external action and the key to its interpretation.
The human person was not created to fulfill a law, but to realize his personal vocation within the truth of action.

5. The Salvific Relevance of Moral Action

“An opinion is frequently heard which questions the intrinsic and unbreakable bond between faith and morality” (VS 4)

It is important to overcome the century-old extrinsicism of moral from dogmatic theology and to recover their dynamic interrelationship (without separation and without confusion).

5.1. The Incarnation and human action

The salvific Christ event, the coming of Jesus Christ into human history, assumes all of man’s historical concreteness, without divesting action of its significance or rendering it superfluous. Rather, the Christ event assumes and promotes action: it respects the human person’s freedom and furthers its growth.
The Incarnation of Jesus Christ is the point where “filial freedom” enters into the dynamism of creaturely freedom. Human action, in all its historical concreteness, is affected and renewed by the event of the Word made flesh.

5.2. Action in the world as an expression of faith

Faith animated by charity flourishes into deeds by means of the virtues. Deeds are thus the result of an operative faith, a faith that constitutes the new dynamism of Christian freedom.
Human actions are not extraneous to salvation, but necessary to it and anticipate its fullness. (Here the notion of merit comes in.) What we merit is more ours than what is only a gift: for this reason God gives us in Christ the gift of meriting.
The beatitudes are excellent acts that are, though imperfect yet nonetheless real, precursors of the first beginnings of eternal beatitude already present in human action. This eternal beatitude is the ultimate end of all human aspiration, announced by the beatitudes under the paradoxical veil of communion with Christ crucified.
The assertion of the salvific relevance of moral action must be understood in opposition to the distinction and separation between Heilsethos and Weltethos (cf. VS 37) and a secularized, “intra-worldly” morality found in some Lutheran theology (cf. B. Wald). The reception of a number of secular ethical theories, e.g., consequentialism, within the framework of Catholic moral theology was facilitated by a previous acceptance of Lutheran presuppositions concerning the insignificance of moral action for salvation. Thus, a theological mistake has led to the acceptance of inadequate ethical positions.

5.3. Revelation and moral theology

The relevance of biblical revelation for morality (VS 37) is such that we object to certain approaches that assign to Scripture a merely exhortative and transcendental value, confining it to the role of providing exemplary or normative models. The theological problem of the relation between the salvific Christ event and morality is at stake here. The action of the Christian believer becomes part of salvation history. Tradition and Sacred Scripture form the narrative context of the Christ event and become the profound inspiration for and the normative paradigm of Christian action.
It is necessary to reestablish within morality a vision of the human person that takes into account the fact that man is inserted into the divine economy. This is especially important when it comes to the concept of sin. The separation between faith and morality begins with an abstract consideration of man without grace. Christian morality, however, is a morality proper to man as redeemed by Christ (cf. VS 103). The strength of conversion arises from the gift of Christ on the Cross;    it is a gift of the Holy Spirit allowing for man’s gift of himself as an “alter Christus” (VS 23).
At this point, the decisive question of the “theological” status of moral theology arises, insofar as moral theology is seen in its specificity as a “scientific reflection on the Gospel as the gift and commandment of new life” (VS 110).
The Gospel proposes an intimate relationship between the human heart and human action, between the root and the fruit (Mt 7:15-20) and opposes any separation between interiority and exteriority. It is in acting that man truly saves or loses himself, that he confesses or repudiates the Lord: “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father” (Mt 7:21, RSV).

6. The Christological Foundation of Morality

6.1. Christology and Pneumatology in moral life

A Christocentric foundation of morality imposes two unavoidable tasks. In accomplishing them, we give an adequate response to most problems with and possible objections against an approach.
- First of all, there is the question of how a Christocentric morality can claim universal validity. How is reference to the historical and singular Christ event compatible with safeguarding the universal openness of moral experience to reason, particularly given the fact that this reference is understood not simply in exemplary but in ontological terms [point (a)]?
- The second question, more explicitly ethical in nature, concerns the ways in which one passes from a Christocentric foundation to a particular moral judgment. Among scholars studying the foundations of moral theology, there has been talk of an “inconclusive Christocentrism,” and rightly so [point (b)].
The approach that meets the requirements and challenges of an authentic renewal of fundamental moral theology is that of a “moral Christocentrism of the virtues.” Here, the Christocentric foundation finds its ethical mediation in the category of virtue. It is necessary, therefore, to understand the link between Christ and the Christian from the perspective of practical reason informed by charity. By the working of the Holy Spirit, the Christian participates in the dynamism of Christ, a dynamism that decisively influences the Christian’s action.

a) Through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the believer participates in the same source that moved and directed Christ in his gift of himself to the Father and to us. Given this new light, the Christian discovers his ultimate good in filial communion with the Father in the Spirit and is able to interpret the contents of the natural law—rooted in the very mystery of creation—in a definitive way:

“Christ is the ‘Beginning’ who, having taken on human nature, definitively illumines it in its constitutive elements and in its dynamism of charity towards God and neighbour” (VS 53).

The natural law and the law revealed in the Old Covenant are partial anticipations and prophecies of that “living and personal law” that is Christ. The natural law and the commandments of the Old Covenant have their original place within a Christological whole. Here they find their foundation and the key to their interpretation, insofar as they aim at charity, the fulfillment of the law (cf. A. Scola, I. Biffi).
The dynamics of charity allow us both to understand the permanent value of natural inclinations and how to go beyond them: Love for life is revealed in the perspective of the gift of self. Conjugal love is seen as a sign and sacrament of God’s love for man, of Christ’s love for the Church, his Bride. At the same time, the way is opened to transcend conjugal love in the vocation of virginity for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Virginity confirms the significance of the person’s vocation to the spousal gift but does not realize it under the earthly sign of sexuality. Sociality, with its rule of justice, is transcended in charity. While charity does not deny the natural and rational demands of equity, it inserts man’s inclination to social life within the superior perspective of a communion of which the Church is the anticipation. Finally, the human being’s search for truth finds its correspondence in the Truth made flesh. The gift offered by the Christian faith does not deny the value of research with its rational requirements, but directs it towards ever-increasing profundity.

“Jesus himself is the living ‘fulfilment’ of the Law inasmuch as he fulfils its authentic meaning by the total gift of himself: he himself becomes a living and personal Law” (VS 15)

The universality of Christ manifests itself precisely in the singularity of his person, insofar as he is the perfection of all goodness. Thus, morality takes on a unique Christological focus as a life “in Christ.” Christ is the principle of morality, its exemplary and final cause. (Man’s predestination, his creation, redemption, and elevation in Christ are all directed towards Christ.) Jesus Christ’s human existence is the perfect and insurmountable revelation of the Father’s will: it is thus the normative form of human existence (H.U. von Balthasar).

b) Secondly, we will examine the category of virtue. It offers the human and rational prerequisite for a Christocentric morality of charity, permitting us to overcome an ethics of obligation and to unify the natural and the supernatural dimensions.
The way the human person relates to Christ in the Spirit is best interpreted from within a perspective of the virtues. By means of charity—which is friendship with Christ—the Christian takes on the interior likeness of his Friend and participates in his feelings and operative dynamisms thanks to the Spirit. Hence, the Spirit is the “new law” by way of the virtues.
The organic unity of the Christian moral life, based on the virtue of charity and man’s orientation towards his supernatural end of beatitude, does not annul the proper workings of the moral virtues, but rather integrates and perfects them in the teleology of charity. Charity and the theological virtues transform the general meaning of how the virtues and virtuous operations are structured, enriching and crowning the virtues with the gifts of the Spirit. When morality is referred to Christ, new virtues, unknown to classical philosophy, come into play: humility, obedience, and service (cf. Phil 2 and John 13). It is through this perfection and transformation of morality that the Christian is able to give a new form to his actions, partaking of the Trinitarian communion’s law of reciprocity (EV 76). Here, the Christian’s moral life is nothing short of a participation in Christ’s filial obedience. The aporias of the historical and practical character of moral knowledge are solved from within the horizon of faith informed by charity. The believer’s practical reason is restored in Christ to its own truth, finding in Christ the ultimate reason for its universality and immutability (VS 95).
With the gift of the Holy Spirit, initially communicated in the resurrection of Christ, we have the beginning of eschatology, as the human person tends towards his definitive fulfillment, which lies beyond this life. The Christian believer should not expect another law in history. In baptism, he receives the seeds of the first fruits of the Spirit. The Spirit in turn is the origin of a new dynamism that is fulfilled in the Eucharist. Thus, the law of Christ is not an ideal to be realized in the future, but a reality already present, because infused into the human heart by charity.

6.2. The Church, the abode of the moral life

The new love offered us in the friendship with Christ, i.e., in charity, results in a visible communion in the world through the Church (VS 25). In this communion, Christ himself is present through the Spirit:

“Christ's relevance for [lit. ‘the contemporaneity of Christ with the’] people of all times is shown forth in his body, which is the Church” (VS 25).

The Church is the abode of the Christian subject (VS 119). The profound humanity and the extraordinary simplicity of the moral life are due to the fact that “Christian morality consists in ... following Jesus Christ, in abandoning oneself to him, in letting oneself be transformed by his grace and renewed by his mercy, gifts which come to us in the living communion of his Church…. ‘He who would live has a place to live, and has everything needed to live. Let him draw near, let him believe, let him become part of the body, that he may have life. Let him not shrink from the unity of the members’ [St. Augustine]” (VS 119).
The ecclesiological dimension of morality is therefore not limited to the institutional elements of the Magisterium—which teaches the Christian believer moral precepts to be observed—but extends further, going from the sacraments all the way to the concrete life of communion in which the Christian moral subject is formed by means of the moral virtues.
In conclusion, we can say that, corresponding to the primacy of the gift, the end of morality is already implicit in its beginning, i.e., in the love of the Father. “The light of God's face shines in all its beauty on the countenance of Jesus Christ” (VS 2). The love of the beauty of the Son is the reason for the creation of all things: by him and for him all of creation is drawn to the Father. It is the Son, “the fairest of the sons of men” (Ps. 45:2, RSV), who asks the Church for a spousal response. The beauty of Christ is the principle of all Christian mysticism. Captivated by this beauty, the Christian faithful can live to the praise of God’s glory.

Pontificio Istituto Giovanni Paolo II
Area Internazionale di Ricerca in Teologia Morale
Guiding Theses
L. Melina - J. Noriega - J.J. Pérez-Soba, Camminare nella luce dell'amore. I fondamenti della morale cristiana, Cantagalli, Siena 2008.
  • Il manuale di teologia morale:
  • Le ultime pubblicazioni:
J.-J. Pérez-Soba, a cura di, La famiglia. Chiave del dialogo Chiesa-Mondo nel  50° della Gaudium et spes, Cantagalli, Siena 2016.