The Development of Moral Theology

Five Strands

Charles E. Curran

"By examining five elements that make Catholic moral theology different from other Christian ethics, Curran gives an insightful understanding of how it has developed throughout history to the present day."
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Charles Curran in his newest book The Development of Moral Theology: Five Strands, brings a unique historical and critical analysis to the five strands that differentiate Catholic moral theology from other approaches to Christian ethics—sin and the manuals of moral theology, the teaching of Thomas Aquinas and later Thomists, natural law, the role of authoritative church teaching in moral areas, and Vatican II. Significant changes have occurred over the course of these historical developments. In addition, pluralism and diversity exist even today, as illustrated, for example, in the theory of natural law proposed by Cardinal Ratzinger.

In light of these realities, Curran proposes his understanding of how the strands should influence moral theology today. A concluding chapter highlights the need for a truly theological approach and calls for a significant change in the way that the papal teaching office functions today and its understanding of natural law.

In a work useful to anyone who studies Catholic moral theology, The Development of Moral Theology underscores, in the light of the historical development of these strands, the importance of a truly theological and critical approach to moral theology that has significant ramifications for the life of the Catholic church.

Table of Contents


1. Strand One: Sin, Reconciliation, and the Manuals of Moral Theology

2. Strand Two: Thomas Aquinas and the Thomistic Tradition

3. Strand Three: Natural Law

4. Strand Four: Papal Teaching Office

5. Strand Five: Second Vatican Council

Conclusion: Where Do We Stand Today?



"Curran has been a vigorous participant, comprehensive observer and courageous leader in Catholic moral theology. With this book, he shows how this theology continues to develop the riches of the past and respond to the signs of the times."—America Magazine

"By examining five elements that make Catholic moral theology different from other Christian ethics, Curran gives an insightful understanding of how it has developed throughout history to the present day."—U.S. Catholic

"Today, the field of Christian ethics is thoroughly ecumenical yet it remains true that Catholic moral theology has distinctive, even unique, roots when compared to other traditions that make up the field. In this book Charles Curran, an ecumenical theologian par excellence, focuses on his own tradition to examine the five elements that differentiate Catholic moral theology from the rest of Christian ethics. His study is a measured analysis of the development and impact of the five factors that have shaped the way Catholic moral theology has evolved. This is a mature and insightful work by one of the most respected scholars within the discipline."—Kenneth R. Himes, OFM, Boston College

"This book is a significant contribution to our understanding of the development of moral theology. By Curran's wise choice of five critical historical strands in the history of moral theology, he provides needed background, particularly for those new to the field. His presentation of the history of the various understandings of natural law alone makes the book a valuable contribution. This book will be particularly valuable for those too young to remember the pre-Vatican II church as well as the Council itself because Curran deftly presents the currents of thought that led us to the Council, through it, and to our current debates in moral theology."—Thomas Shannon, professor emeritus of Religion and Social Ethics, Worcester Polytechnic Institute

"Once again, Charles Curran demonstrates the importance of understanding developments in moral theology within their historical context. Deftly tracing the history of the discipline’s foundational concepts and authorities, Curran reveals both continuities and discontinuities in our approaches to sin, reconciliation, natural law, Thomism, and the papal teaching office. Accessible to students and to a general audience in its broader narrative, Curran’s volume also offers professionals an insightful analysis of recent history and events. This book is a valuable addition to any theological library."—Julia Fleming, associate professor, Creighton University

"This thematic history of moral theology is vintage Curran: scholarly, accessible, and enlightening. Few living moral theologians can match Curran's masterful control of the literature and communicate so clearly. A perfect text for graduate courses and scholars seeking a broad understanding of what the field of moral theology looks like today and how we got here."—Julie Hanlon Rubio, associate professor of Christian Ethics, St. Louis University


Supplemental Materials


2014 Catholic Press Association Book Award for Social Teaching, Fourth Place

About the Author

Charles E. Curran, a Roman Catholic priest, is Elizabeth Scurlock University Professor of Human Values at Southern Methodist University. He was president of the Catholic Theological Society of America, the Society of Christian Ethics, and the American Theological Society, and is the author of numerous books, including Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: A History, which won the 2008 American Publishers Award for Professional and Scholarly Excellence in Theology and Religion.

320 pp., 6 x 9

Nov 2013

320 pp., 6 x 9

ISBN: 978-1-62616-019-4
Nov 2013

320 pp.

ISBN: 978-1-62616-020-0
Nov 2013

Moral Traditions series
David Cloutier, Darlene Weaver, and Andrea Vicini, SJ

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