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Author: David Clairmont
Course Syllabus for Theo 20605 "Introduction to Catholic Moral Theology"

Course Description

The course provides an overview of the history of Roman Catholic moral theology by examining how the Roman Catholic tradition developed certain distinctive ways of speaking about moral goods, obligations, and the forms of life. It explores basic principles, values, and patterns of thinking that have formed the tradition of Roman Catholic moral theology including creation, freedom and human dignity, grace, law, virtue, sacrament, prayer, and social justice. Although the basic approach will be historical, the course will alternate between the classic Roman Catholic texts and contemporary Roman Catholic statements on particular moral issues such as economic justice, human sexuality (including discussions of marriage and family), biomedical research, and issues surrounding the use of force in warfare. The course also examines how Roman Catholic thinkers have used various literary genres to speak about the normative and practical implications of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ.

Learning Goals

Catholic moral theology can be roughly defined as the critical reflection on the divine-human relationship with respect to basic values of human life, concrete choices, the formation of character, the principles by which conflicts among human goods are adjudicated, and the norms of justice that ought to govern persons and communities. Given this tentative definition, the following learning goals will structure our study of moral theology for this course:

  • To position moral theology among the various branches of Catholic theology and to identify its social implications, namely the promotion of the common good through service to society and to the Church.
  • To develop facility in bringing the different sources for theological thinking to bear on describing and addressing concrete moral issues and to be able to identify how sources are employed in constructing moral arguments.
  • To describe the various genres of writing employed by moral theologians and to identify the kinds of moral language they use.
  • To identify trends in the historical development of Catholic moral theology and the cultural priorities in the wider society that moral theologians have critiqued and in relation to which they have positioned themselves.
  • To become familiar with the principles of Catholic teaching on social justice, the notion of the common good, and the particular moral norms that structure these commitments.
  • To discern the proper relationship between institutional authority and individual conscience, including issues about moral choice, the formation of character through habituation, and the connection between moral acts and the development of authentic personhood.
  • To examine how certain concepts such as law and virtue provide links between Catholic theology and other philosophical and religious approaches to recognizing and living a moral life.
  • To integrate the above goals through the practice of case analysis and the creation of an original case study.

Required Textbooks

The New Oxford Annotated NRSV Bible with Apocrypha, 3rd ed. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Odozor, Paulinus Ikechukwu. Moral Theology in an Age of Renewal: A Study of the Catholic Tradition since Vatican II. (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2003).

THEO 20605 " Course Packet"

Recommended Textbooks

Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (Washington, DC: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004) by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd ed. (New York: Doubleday, 2003) by the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Wogaman, J. Philip. Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction. (Lousville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993).

Case Analysis and Presentation Requirements

In many introductory ethics courses, it is customary for the instructor to ask students to analyze pre-fabricated cases in order to develop skills in deploying the variety of moral theories studied. In this class, while we will undertake an analysis of some cases, we are also going to try something different. Catholic moral theology, at its best, requires people to develop their creative and imaginative faculties, as well as their analytical skills, in order to grasp the complexity of moral problems and to come to some decision about how to act in response to them. In this class you will be asked to work in 4-7 member teams (think of them as parish councils or little conclaves) to create a fictional individual or group of people and position them in the midst of a moral problem. You will be given a list of possible issues or problems, but you should also feel free to select your own. You will be responsible for writing a four-part case, which must include:

  1. a description of the characters and their narrative leading up to their fictional present,
  2. a statement of the moral issue or problem they face,
  3. their response to this problem, and
  4. your analysis of their response to the issue with specific reference to the basic resources and themes of Catholic moral theology discussed in this course.

The characters need not be Roman Catholic (although they certainly may be) but the story should give them some reason to engage the various modes of Catholic moral teaching. The story may be set in family life, in our residence halls, in a local or magisterial church setting, in a professional context, in the midst of mission work or any number of venues. More detailed instructions for the write-up requirements will be given to you midway through the semester. In addition, you will be expected to make a presentation of your case (roughly 30 minutes, which includes leading a class discussion about your case) during the last four weeks of class.

Academic Honesty

Plagiarism and cheating are serious academic offenses and will not be tolerated in this class. Any student discovered committing these offenses will automatically receive a failing grade for the assignment and may be subject to a failing grade for the course. If you are unclear about the definition of either of these terms, please consult the University Academic Code of Honor, available for your reference online at: [specifically, see Section 4 (Student Responsibilities Under the Academic Code of Honor), §B (Personal Academic Behavior)]. If you still have questions after consulting this resource, please see me and I will explain the policy and answer your questions.


Component Percentage
Class Attendance and Participation 15%
Three Quizzes 15%
Mid-Term examination 20%
Case Analysis and Presentation 25%
Final Examination 25%
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