By sending the Holy Spirit, the Father saw to it that the truth he revealed in Jesus would always be present in the faith of the Church. The Holy Spirit empowers the Church to make that truth available to people around the world until the end of time. Catholic theology strives to articulate all of the truth that God revealed in Jesus, to explain it, and to defend it against challenges.
God’s revelation in Jesus is not merely information, provided to satisfy human curiosity. Rather, in revealing himself, God invites us to enter into a personal relationship with the divine family and to cooperate with him in preparing the material—beginning with ourselves and our relationships—that he will transform into the heavenly kingdom. Sound Catholic theology always concerns the living out of one’s faith, and any sound study of what the will of God is—what is good, acceptable to him, and perfect—extends to the whole truth he revealed in Jesus.
Until modern times, moral theology was not separated from the other fields of theological study, which are concerned with the Creed, the sacraments, and spirituality. After the Council of Trent (1545–63) mandated seminary formation for all future priests, however, courses in moral theology were designed almost entirely to teach seminarians how to hear confessions and help the faithful form their consciences.
Trent also definitively reaffirmed the Church’s teaching that each mortal sin must be confessed.
The prevalent methodology during the centuries after Trent encouraged the authors of textbooks for seminary courses in moral theology to codify moral norms, and they concentrated on clarifying what constituted mortal sin and how to avoid it. Thus, moral theologians hardly ever tried to explain how to live one’s entire life in light of the fundamental truths of faith, and the model of Jesus’ life played no significant role in moral theology. Moral theologians seldom used Scripture and other sources for systematic theological reflection except to show that certain kinds of behavior violate the Christian code.
Thus the Second Vatican Council (1962–65) called for a thorough-going renewal of moral theology, so that it would be centered on Jesus Christ, enriched by Scripture, and grounded in the fundamental truths of Catholic faith. The new approach was to integrate two ways of viewing Christian life—as a calling to divine intimacy, with its fulfillment in God’s coming kingdom, and as a service of love for the life of this world, even during the present age.
The Way of the Lord Jesus responds fully to Vatican II’s mandate. It presupposes and vigorously defends the truth of the Catholic Church’s moral teachings—most of which all Christians handed on until, beginning in the nineteenth century, their consensus was gradually eroded by compromises with secularism. Furthermore, The Way of the Lord Jesus is Christocentric, richly nourished by Scripture, and based on the central truths of faith. Its explanation of Christian moral teachings shows them to be, not rules, but truths about what really is good for human beings. The entire work is shaped by the teaching of Vatican II, explained and richly developed by Pope John Paul II, that God calls each and every Christian to a personal vocation uniquely his or her own—a whole, complete life of good works prepared in advance as his or her own way of holiness (see Eph 2.10).
The first volume, Christian Moral Principles, synthesizes the fundamental truths of Catholic faith with an account of the starting points of moral judgment that God causes human beings to know naturally—what St. Paul calls the law that God writes on human hearts (see Rom 2.15). The book begins with an account of free choice, conscience, moral principles, human action, and sin. It goes on to explain how integral human fulfillment will be realized in the fulfillment of all things in Christ, why everyone should follow Jesus in his redemptive work, and how the human and divine are related in each Christian’s life. It then describes the Christian virtues and shows how each Christian’s life should be shaped by prayer, by his or her personal vocation, and by participation in the sacraments. Finally, the book explains the authority of the Church’s moral teaching and deals with theological dissent from it.
Living a Christian Life, the second volume, gathers up and synthesizes what Scripture, tradition, and Church documents teach about specific moral questions. That teaching—including the norms which in recent decades have commonly been the targets of dissent—is presented accurately and explained so as to make clear its truth in the light of the Gospel and a profoundly Christian humanism. More attention is given to affirmative responsibilities than to negative ones; the diversity of personal vocations is taken into account; and the communal character of Christian life is borne in mind. Every major area of life is considered, and the treatment covers all the responsibilities common to all or most Catholic lay people (including marriage and family) and those common to clerics, religious, and the laity (including the exercise of the theological virtues).
Difficult Moral Questions, volume three, deals with the responsibilities of lay people in various specific situations and occupations. Potentially of course the subject matter is endless, so the book treats only two hundred difficult questions that are either widely asked, especially important, or usefully illustrative. Though the answers as such are not directly part of the Church’s moral teaching, they express and apply moral principles and norms taught by the Church.
The first forty-two questions concern religious and family responsibilities. The next fifty concern health care, both from the point of view of caregivers and patients. Sixty questions concern the environment, property, business, work, advertising, and public relations. The final forty-eight have to do with education, civic life, and legal and political matters. Each question and answer stands on its own, so that readers can skip those in which they are not interested; but systematic study of this volume will increase the reader's ability to think through many sorts of moral issues and his or her insight into some of the constant features of several important fields of action.
The three volumes of The Way of the Lord Jesus were written primarily for use as textbooks in Catholic seminaries and as handbooks for Catholic priests. Many others, nevertheless, have taken advantage of the books’ well-organized and clearly written treatment of topics and the many study helps—highlighting essentials, putting secondary points in appendices and notes, and providing plentiful references to sources along with crisp summaries.
A fourth volume, Clerical and Consecrated Service and Life, was planned to provide a Christian, systematic, professional ethics for celibate clerics and members of religious institutes. Although work on this volume is far from complete, all the work that was done is available by clicking on the tab for volume four in the ribbon at the top edge of this page.
Those interested in volume four will find all the work that has been done on it by clicking on the tab for that volume at the top edge of this page. Grisez does not expect to do any further work on that volume.
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Christian Moral Principles received a Nihil obstat from Rev. John F. Harvey, O.S.F.S., S.T.D., and Imprimatur from Rev. Msgr. John F. Donoghue, Vicar General for the Archdiocese of Washington, June 2, 1983, and was published by Franciscan Herald Press, Chicago, Illinois, copyright © 1983, all rights reserved.
Living a Christian Life received a Nihil obstat from Rev. Kevin T. McMahon, S.T.D., and Imprimatur from His Eminence, James Cardinal Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, 16 November 1992, and was published by Franciscan Press, Quincy University, Quincy, Illinois, copyright © 1993, all rights reserved.
Difficult Moral Questions received a Nihil obstat from Rev. Kevin T. McMahon, S.T.D., and Imprimatur from His Eminence, James Cardinal Hickey, Archbishop of Washington, 28 January 1997, and was published by Franciscan Press, Quincy University, Quincy, Illinois, copyright © 1997, all rights reserved.
In early 2008, Quincy University closed Franciscan Press, and the rights to the three volumes reverted to Grisez, who granted St. Paul’s/Alba House, Staten Island, New York, the exclusive right to market English-language printed copies of the three volumes throughout the world and appointed the same publisher as his agent to negotiate about other rights with respect to those volumes. He retained foreign-language rights and the right to publish the three volumes on this website, and he affirmed the non-exclusive right of Harmony Media, Inc., to publish the three volumes on its CD: Welcome to the Catholic Church.
(Those who wish to buy that CD or a hard copy of any of the volumes of The Way of the Lord Jesus, you will find links to the publishers by pressing the Purchase button above.)
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