John Cuthbert Ford, SJ

Moral Theologian at the End of the Manualist Era

Eric Marcelo O. Genilo, SJ

"This is one of the better intellectual histories of one of the major forces in Catholic theology of the twentieth century; a man who set the stage for contemporary moral discourse."
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John Cuthbert Ford, SJ (1902-1989) was one of the leading American Catholic moralists of the 20th century. This is the first full-length analysis of his work and influence, one that not only reveals a traditionally Catholic method of moral analysis but also illuminates the conflicts behind and development of Catholic moral teaching during the volatile 1960s.

Ford is best known for his influential contribution to Catholic teachings on three moral issues. His objection to the Allied practice of obliteration bombing during WWII by drawing a sharp distinction between combatants and noncombatants is still studied widely today. Ford campaigned for alcohol education for both clergy and laity and introduced a pastoral approach for assisting and counseling alcoholics. As a member of the Papal Commission on Population, Family, and Birth Rate during the 1960s, Ford was an unyielding defender of the traditional Catholic teaching on birth control that still reigns today.

Drawing on the published works and personal papers of Ford, Eric Genilo begins with a brief description of the theologian's life, career, and influence. The book is divided into two parts. In Part I, Method, Genilo offers an overview of Ford's moral theology in the "manualist" tradition—a 300-year period during which Catholic priests used manuals to instruct the faithful on matters of morality and sin. Genilo then examines Ford's two modes of resolving moral cases and presents Ford's approach to doctrinal development. In Part II, Moral Objectivity, Genilo shows how Ford confronted the growing situation ethics movement, then moves to how he understood freedom and subjective culpability, particularly in the case of alcoholism. Later chapters reveal Ford's theological conflicts with Josef Fuchs, SJ on the issue of birth control, his staunch opposition to totalitarianism, and his moral analysis of how society should treat marginalized persons threatened by the abuse of power.

Genilo concludes with an assessment of Ford's legacy to the development and practice of moral theology, leaving the reader with an in-depth portrait of an extraordinary man who dedicated his life to defending the Church and protecting the most vulnerable persons in society.

Table of Contents


The Life and Career of John C. Ford, SJ


John Ford's Moral Theology and the Manualist Tradition

John Ford's Two Modes of Resolving Moral Cases

The Development of Doctrine


Objective Moral Norms and Situation Ethics

Subjective Culpability

John Ford and Josef Fuchs


Opposing Totalitarianism and Protecting the Vulnerable

John Ford and his Legacy

Timeline of the Life and Career of John C. Ford, SJ



"In this concise, intelligent, and richly informative study of one of the last important American manualists, Genilo offers students of Catholic moral theology a sharp diagnosis of the complex mind and method of John Ford as well as a rich survey of the strengths and weaknesses of the larger moral tradition in which he operated but was ultimately unable to transcend."—Theological Studies

"This is a fascinating historical study of a key figure in a turbulent period in Catholic moral theology. The politics of the time as well as Ford's struggle with alcohol addiction add poignancy. There is also much to be learned about moral theology, its subject matter and method as well as the factors, both personal and political, that affect the application of that method."—Theological Book Review

"This work is significant contribution to the history of moral theology. The author has accessed the writings of his chosen subject and has examined them judiciously . . . this book should be required reading for any course in the history of moral theology."—CATHOLIC HISTORICAL REVIEW

"This is one of the better intellectual histories of one of the major forces in Catholic theology of the twentieth century; a man who set the stage for contemporary moral discourse."—Catholic Library World

"Students of Catholic moral theology ought to study this book carefully, since it not only offers an exacting treatment of one of the most famous twentieth century American Catholic moral theologians, but also because it provides a window into the mental world of the manualists - and the gaze it offers is ultimately one bordering on moral schizophrenia, full of inconsistencies, ironies, and contradictions . . . certainly the most informative book-length treatment of John Ford to date, and scholars, students, and interested laypeople will get a great deal from Genilo's work."—American Catholic Studies

"John C. Ford ,SJ, played a leading role in Catholic moral theology for over thirty years beginning in the late 1930s. Now, thanks to Eric Marcelo O. Genilo, contemporary moral theologians have a judicious, perceptive, in-depth, and balanced critical evaluation of Ford’s work."—Charles E. Curran, Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values, Southern Methodist University and author of The Moral Theology of Pope John Paul II

"This study leaves no stone unturned in exploring the significance of Ford's achievements in moral theology. Even those familiar with the life, times and contribution of John Ford will discover surprises here, as Genilo documents with great acuity the richness of Ford's thought and his legacy."—Thomas J. Massaro, SJ, associate professor of moral theology, Weston Jesuit School of Theology

"John C. Ford's major role in mid-twentieth century Catholic moral theology both contributed important developments and resisted new thinking other theologians regarded as essential. Genilo's study is history at its best: it tells us how the present came to be while shedding light on a wise path into the future. It makes an important contribution to our understanding of Catholic moral thought today."—David Hollenbach, SJ, Boston College

"Genilo's book brings to life the American theologian who set the course for the magisterium-centered ethics that is so prominent today."—Edward Vacek, SJ, Weston Jesuit School of Theology


Supplemental Materials


2008 Catholic Press Association Book Award for the First Time Author of a Book, Honorable Mention

About the Author

Eric Marcelo O. Genilo, SJ, is assistant professor of moral theology in the Loyola School of Theology at Ateneo de Manila University in the Philippines.

240 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

ISBN: 978-1-58901-181-6
Nov 2007

240 pp., 5.5 x 8.5

Nov 2007

240 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-58901-351-3
Nov 2007

Moral Traditions series
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