A modern dictionary of Catholic terms, both common and obscure. Find accurate definitions of words and phrases.
The science of human actions insofar as they are directed by natural reason and divine faith to the attainment of a supernatural destiny. The scope of moral theology, therefore, is human conduct precisely as human, that is, whatever people do under the influence of their free will. In this sense, it is the science of human freedom. It differs, however, from ethics or moral philosophy in that human destiny is supernatural twice over: once because heaven is a revealed mystery and once again because heaven cannot be reached without divine grace. On both counts, moral theology deals with the supernatural, since it takes into account a higher end than what reason alone could conceive, and it recognizes the need for God's grace to do what the human will alone could not achieve.
It differs from dogmatic theology, which it presumes, in that moral theology is concerned with the ethical imperatives of Catholic doctrine and how they are to be lived out in practice. Some authors also carefully distinguish moral from ascetical or spiritual theology, on the score that there are two levels of God's manifest will to humankind, one of precept and the other of counsel. Assuming the distinction, moral theology would then cover only the divine precepts, whether directly revealed or as taught by the Church with divine authority. Since the Second Vatican Council, however, the tendency is to include the whole spectrum of divine expectations for the human race under the single discipline or moral theology, not excluding the pursuit of sanctity.
All items in this dictionary are from Fr. John Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary, © Eternal Life. Used with permission.