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Chapter 1

The Basis for Morality and Moral Theology


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    Dear Mark and Maddie —

    I always thought of myself as a good Catholic. I mean, like my family and I always go to Mass on Sunday, and we celebrate things like Christmas and Easter at home. I’m not saying I’m perfect or anything, but when I’m with my boyfriend and out with my friends, I stay away from most of what some of the other people in my class are doing . . . you know what I mean. But lately I have been wondering why. My brother went away to college last year, and he says that we need to be more open‑minded. He says that nobody really knows the truth. He learned that right and wrong depend on the feelings and experience of the individual, and that religion makes people puppets instead of independent thinkers. At least that’s what they told him in college. What if he’s right? How do I know all this Christianity stuff is true?

    Sure, I have seen a lot of my friends get into a lot of trouble with alcohol and sex. Many of them spend most of the little time they are at home arguing with their parents. I guess it’s no wonder they want to escape to the parties all the time. I want to do the right thing, but it seems I’m missing out on a lot of fun, too. How do I know what is true?

    — A Wondering and Wandering Senior


    After reading the chapter, write a response to this letter:

    Dear Wondering and Wandering:

  1. We can use the analogy of a sports team when it comes to our Catholic Faith. If we want to live a moral life in Christ, we need to study our “playbook.” In terms of our Catholic Faith, that means the Bible and the Catechism. The foundation for our Christian morality can be found in the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes.

    Write the Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes in the space provided. If you have forgotten them, you will find the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1–17 and Deuteronomy 5:6–21. The versions of the Ten Commandments from Exodus and Deuteronomy, along with the Traditional Catechetical Form, may be found in the back of this book or in the Catechism of the Catholic Church immediately preceding no. 2052. The Beatitudes may be found in the back of this book, in the Gospel of St. Matthew 5:3–12, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 1716.




  2. What is objective morality?

  3. What is subjective morality?

  4. Give an example of when you have seen people being guided by moral relativism or subjective morality. Explain it.

  5. Morality governs many human actions and choices, but the word “morality” is often associated with laws governing sexual activity and human reproduction. What are some other areas and examples of human activity where objective morality applies?

  6. What did Jesus teach were the greatest commandments?

  7. Jesus teaches that all the Law and the prophets depend on these two Commandments. Choose two of the Old Testament Commandments and explain how they are related to the Greatest Commandments.

  8. Below are some cases where the cardinal virtues might be applied. Write the name of the cardinal virtue that would be called upon to resolve each case, and then write a brief explanation beneath each as to why you think the virtue you wrote applies to the situation.

    Mike loves to play video games. The interactive games on the Internet are especially attractive to him. He can sit at the computer for hours, sometimes even losing an entire night’s sleep playing games, and, once in a while, he looks at pornographic Web sites.

    Melissa has had ambitious career plans ever since she started high school. She demands a lot out of herself and pushes herself hard. She struggles to fulfill resolutions and begins again when she slips up.

    Jorge and Carissa have been dating for a few months now. Carissa tells Jorge they should avoid being alone together. They have both talked about “not wanting to go too far,” but once they get together, neither seems to be able to control himself or herself.

    Kevin owns a T‑shirt printing business. Oftentimes he finds himself having to cut his own pay to make sure his workers are paid their full wages on time.

  9. The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity (or love) are mentioned in relation to the cardinal virtues. The theological virtues originate in the New Testament (cf. 1 Cor 13:13 and 1 Thes 1:3). The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that these virtues “are the foundation of Christian moral activity; they animate it and give it its special character. They inform and give life to all moral virtues. They are infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and of meriting eternal life” (CCC 1813).

    a. How could the theological virtue of faith influence a decision to do something difficult?


    b. How would the theological virtue of hope influence you to persevere in fulfilling a difficult decision?


    c. How would the theological virtue of charity (or love) influence your motive for making a decision?

  10. What effect does abiding by the moral law have on us?

  11. What is the cause of our flawed nature that we inherit from Adam and Eve?

  12. Read the following excerpt from St. Paul’s letter to the Romans: “We know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wreched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh, I serve the law of sin” (Rom 7:14–25).

    a. St. Paul is one of the architects of Christianity. Does he claim to have mastered sin in his own life? Give an example of how your “flesh” makes it difficult to do what you know you should.


    b. Do these moral struggles take away from St. Paul’s moral authority or enhance it? Why is it edifying to see our parents or other adults struggle to do the good sometimes?


    c. What means does the Church have to aid us in our struggle with sin?

  13. Name three ways we can receive sanctifying grace.

  14. What does actual grace do for us?

  15. While we receive grace to conform ourselves to God’s will, many baptized people lead poor moral lives. Why is this so?

  16. Many today have a tendency to excuse their sins and imperfections by saying, “Hey, I’m only human,” “Nobody’s perfect,” or, “I’m just doing the things any normal sixteen‑year‑old does.” Of course, we are human. Humans are not perfect, and every human must struggle with temptation. Name some influences that make it harder to avoid sin.

  17. What is the vocation of every Christian person?

  18. How can you fulfill your calling to a higher level of holiness?

  19. How does the book define “disciple”? How does one become a disciple of Christ?

  20. How is the Christian life like training to be a good athlete or musician?

  21. In modern society, individual freedom and choice are seen as the rule by which we should all live. The mantra is to live for oneself. St. Paul, on the other hand, says in his letter to the Galatians: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). How can disciplining yourself to be more like Christ make you a freer person?

  22. Based on what you read in this section, why should a disciple of Christ read and meditate on the New Testament regularly?

  23. What is the connection between our moral dispositions and our actions?

  24. How are we helped by conforming our free will to the will God?

  25. In what ways does frequent reception of the Sacrament of Penance and the Eucharist help you to make good moral decisions habitually?

  26. We can evaluate any law as “positive” or “negative” using the same criteria as positive and negative morality. Positive law tells us what we can or should do, and negative law tells us what we may not do without consequences. The first four amendments to the Constitution of the United States (below) are the foundation for basic civil liberties. They are essentially the contract between the people and the federal government.

    Amendment 1 Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    Amendment 2 A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.

    Amendment 3 No Soldier shall in time of peace be quartered in any house without the consent of the Owner, or in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

    Amendment 4 The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

    In general, what does the United States government have to do to fulfill its end of the contract? Are they examples of positive law or negative law?

  27. List the Ten Commandments and label them “positive” or “negative.”

  28. Why does Scripture highlight both positive law and negative law? Which did Jesus emphasize?

  29. According to Matthew 25, on what will we be judged?

  30. What is the basic message preached by Christ?

  31. With what does the Christian moral message begin and end?

  32. How are acts of Christian charity and a life of holiness related to the two greatest commandments?

  33. The Greek language in which the New Testament is written has a number of words for “love.” One is eros, which describes the love of physical attraction. A second one, philia, is the love of friendship. The last one, agape, is the love that sacrifices its own wants and needs for the good of someone else. Which “love” is described in this section, and why?

  34. Discuss: How does keeping the moral law lead to holiness?

  35. Discuss: How does keeping the moral law lead to happiness?

  36. Which two extremes does Christian morality seek to avoid?

  37. What are two examples of how the Church tries to improve the condition of people here on earth?

  38. What is the relationship between moral theology and human reason?

  39. What is the relationship between moral theology and the natural sciences?

  40. Genesis 2:7 states: “The Lord God formed man of dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”

    Genesis 2:19 states: “Out of the ground, the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air.”

    Biblically speaking, what do people and animals have in common?

  41. How do human beings differ from animals?

  42. What does the text mean when it states that every spiritual soul is created at conception by God?

  43. What does it mean to be made in the image of God?

  44. God unites a soul to each human body. When will our soul be separated from our body? What does the Church say will eventually happen to our soul?

  45. Why is moral theology involved in the physical and spiritual realities of a person?

  46. How might our general temperament be affected by our physical well-being?

  47. List some of the effects of Baptism.

  48. Christian moral law is demanding. Belief in Christ obliges us to live by different standards and follow specific moral precepts. How can Christians live up to these high standards? What are the means we can use to do so?

  49. We often hear the claim, “You can’t legislate morality.” Yet, many civil laws are based upon moral laws. Our text states, “Given the social nature of man, there are certain inalienable moral norms that must govern our actions and values in our relationships with others.” For each of the forbidden acts listed below, identify the corresponding moral law from the Ten Commandments.

    a. Driving while intoxicated:


    b. Illegally downloading music or films from the Internet:


    c. Polygamy:


    d. Copying answers from a friend’s math homework or cheating on an exam:


    e. Sexual assault:

  50. What are the sources of moral theology?

  51. Some have taken a “literalist” approach to Christian morality by relying on the Bible alone for moral guidance. Yet, the text states that not all biblical teachings were meant to be binding forever. We know, for example, that circumcision, while required under the covenant that God made with Abraham, is not necessary for a male Christian’s salvation. The various dietary laws from the Law of Moses (not eating pork, for example), while explicitly commanded in the Book of Leviticus, do not apply to Christians. Prohibitions against homosexual activity are consistent throughout the entire Bible, and we still fervently believe in the Ten Commandments. How do we know, for example, “You shall not steal” is an eternal law, while whether or not to eat bacon is a purely personal decision? Describe how the following verses answer this question.

    a. Mark 7:14–23


    b. Acts 11:1–18


    c. Galatians 5:2–6

  52. Many times in Catholic writing a distinction is made between Tradition with an uppercase “T” and tradition with a lowercase   “t.” This is to say the Tradition with an uppercase “T” refers to unchangeable truths that are to be believed by all the faithful, even if they are not spelled out in Scripture. Traditions with a lowercase “t,” on the other hand, are longstanding practices in the Church that can change over time and do not directly affect salvation.

    For each of the following, put an uppercase “T” next to the beliefs or practices that describe Sacred Tradition and a lowercase “t” next to those that refer to changeable traditions.

    Mary was conceived without Original Sin
    Priestly celibacy
    The Mass is said in the vernacular
    Male or female altar servers
    Jesus Christ is truly present Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Blessed Sacrament
    Receiving Communion in the hand or on the tongue
    God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    Requirements to fast from food or abstain from meat on certain days
    A priest can never reveal what he has heard in confession
    When solemnly defining a teaching on faith and morals, the pope is infallible

  53. The word “Magisterium” comes from the Latin word magister. What does magister mean?

  54. Since the pope is endowed with the charism of infallibility, can he predict the winner of the next Super Bowl, solve complex mathematical equations, or declare that a particular brand of potato chips is better than any other?

  55. Is the pope the only entity in the Church who is infallible when it comes to interpreting the Christian doctrine and moral message? Explain.

  56. How is natural law a source of moral theology?

  57. Why was Jesus sent by the Father?

  58. How can we be certain that the Catholic Church possesses objective moral truth without possibility of error?





    Dear W and W,

    Wow! What a letter! We are glad to see that you practice your Faith with your family, and hope you keep it up. The very fact that you are asking such questions is, we think, God himself prodding you to get to know him better. Christianity is not about following a bunch of rules. It is about falling in love with God by getting to know his Son, Jesus Christ.

    As Catholics we are so blessed. We can get to know Christ by reading his words and actions in the Gospels. And he invites us into an intimate communion with him in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Although there are many beautiful and intellectually stimulating facets of our Faith, it all comes down to loving Christ, and, out of love for him, doing what he has asked us to do if we are to call ourselves his friends. That is why we learn the Commandments and the other demands of our Faith—it’s kind of hard to follow and obey something if you don’t know what it is! ­To someone who either does not know Christ or does not want to get to know him, none of this will make any sense. This is probably what your brother has been exposed to in college.

    Keep up the good fight! Christ is waiting for you, and we are praying for you.

    Mark and Maddie

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