Moral theology

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Moral theology (Latin theologia moralis or theologia morum ) is the usual name in the current structure of Catholic theological faculties for that scientific discipline that discusses the actions and practical lifestyle of individuals from an ethical point of view and in the context of Christian faith.

Concept history

Since the middle of the 12th century, the expression theologia moralis has been the common name for reflecting on morality from a theological perspective. This also corresponded to the use of the German expression “moral theology” in Catholic theology for a long time. The outsourcing of moral theology as an independent discipline was, however, only gradual.

In Protestant theology, however, the term “theological ethics” was used. This was often meant to separate it from Catholic theological reflection on morality, for example in the case of Richard Rothe , Johann Christian Konrad von Hofmann , Albrecht Ritschl , and Christoph Ernst Luthardt . Initially in the 18th, BC a. But in the 19th century, a separate discipline spun off from Catholic theology, which addresses social issues and is referred to as social morality, social ethics or Christian social teaching.

A first chair for Christian social teaching was established in 1893. The special position of social ethics was considered problematic by some theologians, especially in the 20th century, as both in questions of the justification of morality and fundamental morality in general as well as in many questions of application of special morality, individual ethics were included socio-ethical considerations are also considered necessary. The tendency to classify moral theology and social ethics as a discipline that integrates both perspectives, which is usually called "theological ethics" and which usually no longer distinguishes itself from the Protestant-theological discussion of morality, reacts to such methodological questions.

As a result, in current usage v. a. two different uses prevail:

  • “Moral theology” as an individual- ethical sub-discipline of theological ethics (starting from and related to the individual) ; The theological ethics includes social ethics in addition to individual ethical moral theology and differs from philosophical ethics through the theological perspective
  • "Moral theology" as a comprehensive umbrella term for moral reflection in theology

While the latter is the more traditional way of speaking, many advocates are currently being made in favor of the former.

Delimitations and discussion of methods

In contrast to a general philosophical ethics , moral theology presupposes a decidedly Christian image of man and an understanding of the world. Whether this should also be the basis for the establishment of certain moral norms is controversial, see the main article Theological Ethics .


In general, moral theology can be divided into two areas, one of which is so-called fundamental morality. It reflects on the basic concepts and methods of moral justifications and theological ethics or individual ethics in general. The so-called special morality (theology) discusses the demands of morality in the various concrete fields of action (e.g. biomedicine, economy, politics, media, environmental protection, peacekeeping, etc.).

Classic schooling

An agent is often in doubt about what is good and right to do, especially when the law requiring a certain alternative course of action is subjectively doubtful. Often, as a biblical reference for such dilemmas, Romans 14.23  EU is cited: "But whoever doubts [...] is judged, because [the action] does not come from his conviction". This intensifies the general moral problem, especially from a theological perspective. With regard to the suggested answers on how to proceed in the event of uncertainty, the following moral theological schools developed in the Middle Ages and early modern times can be distinguished:

  • Tutiorism : you choose the safer (tutior) alternative, which means: you obey the law and thus risk the least sin
  • Probabiliorism : you choose what seems more plausible (probabilior)
  • Equiprobabilism : if two alternatives are equally plausible , there is freedom of choice
  • Probabilism : as long as an alternative is plausible at all, it is morally permissible to choose it - even if another would be even more plausible
  • Laxism : an alternative is always allowed, the question of plausibility is misguided according to "lex dubia non obligat".


The formula lex dubia non obligat “a dubious law does not oblige” is strictly rejected by absolute tutiorism because it is safer to obey the law in force; Tutiorism accordingly requires the observance of all laws. This is based on the assumption that man must sin, justified by the influence of original sin, which is necessary for man, and which leads to a corrupt human nature. Absolute tutiorism was mainly represented by the circle around the Cistercian convent Port Royal , including Antoine Arnauld , Blaise Pascal , and Jean Duvergier de Hauranne and other Jansenists .

The moderate tutiorism, which was advocated by various professors from Löwen in the 17th and 18th centuries, recognizes the controversial formula of the non-binding doubtful law, but limits the relevant doubtfulness to cases in which the highest probability reasons speak against its validity.


Probabilism (from Latin probabilis: acceptable, probable), which goes back to the Dominican Bartolomé de Medina in a developed and educational form , represents that an action is morally permissible if it is done for acceptable reasons. Reasons are considered acceptable that (1) are supported by "wise men" and (2) are supported by "very good arguments". Later these criteria were differentiated as (1) “extrinsic” and (2) “intrinsic” probability.

If one acts against a moral law, but brings forward "credible" (probabilis) reasons of conscience, a representative of probabilism can see this as justified. This position relieves the burden of continually checking whether there are better reasons for another alternative . In case of doubt, the person's action can be judged as permitted if there are positive subjective reasons for this. One thus considers the subjective goodwill to be the decisive factor, even if there is an objective error. The background is an optimistic anthropology : the human being is basically good. A practical probabilism in a similar form represented e.g. B. Traditionally Jesuit theologians.


The laxity is the extreme opposite position to Tutiorismus: an action against a law was even allowed morally if it is only a small probability. Correspondingly, laws were viewed as doubtful, even if only very weak reasons made their validity appear questionable. The formula “Lex dubia non obligat” is not only accepted, but also interpreted in a particularly strong way. Such a position, however, is a heresiological construct. In its pure form, it was never really represented by a theologian. Laxism was introduced by Pope Alexander VII (1665 and 1666) and by Pope Innocent XI. (1679) condemned.

Soon, "laxism", in contrast to rigorism, also became the term for all those doctrines that too quickly and easily view opinions against a law as well-founded and acceptable. In this sense, for example, Juan Caramuel y Lobkowitz and Antonio Escobar y Mendoza were called laxists. Also Tommaso Tamburini (1591-1675) had to defend himself against the charge of laxity.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, the term “benignism” (from the Latin benignus = benign, benevolent) was a less derogatory term for the opposite position to rigorism than the word “lax” implies . This was intended to express that judgments are not just about the argumentation pattern, but also include differences in attitudes towards the person whose actions are being judged: from an attitude of severity to an attitude of kindness.


See also the selection bibliography in the main article Theological Ethics .
History of the subject
  • Bernhard Häring : Origin of Roman Catholic Moral Theology - Renewal of Moral Theology in the 19th Century, in: Ders. (Ed.): Free in Christ . Moral Theology for the Practice of Christian Life, Volume 1, Freiburg i. Br. 1989, 61-70.
  • Ernst Hirschbrich: The development of moral theology in the German-speaking area since the turn of the century. Klosterneuburg 1959.
  • Michael Müller: Ethics and Law in the Doctrine of Responsibility  : A Longitudinal Section through the History of Catholic Moral Theology, Regensburg: Habbel 1932.
  • Karl-Heinz Kleber: Historia docet : Zur Geschichte der Moraltheologie, Berlin-Hamburg-Münster: LIT Verlag 2005, ISBN 3-8258-9145-3 .
  • Ders .: Prolegomena to a history of moral theology. Passau: Stephanus-Verlag 1994.
  • Ders .: Introduction to the history of moral theology. Passau: Passavia University Press 1985.
  • Fritz Leist : The sexual emergency and the churches. Herder Library 1972, Volume 423, ISBN 3-451-01923-X .
  • Wolfgang Nethöfel : Moral theology after the council: people, programs, positions , Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht 1987, ISBN 3-525-56529-1 . (offers detailed descriptions of Bernhard Häring , Alfons Auer , Franz Böckle , Dietmar Mieth and places them in relation to alternative contemporary research programs)
  • Johann Theiner: The development of moral theology into an independent discipline. Pustet, Regensburg 1970.
  • Günter Virt : Art. Moral theology , 1. On the history of moral theology, In: H. Rotter, G. Virt (Hrsg.): New Lexicon of Christian Morals. Innsbruck 1990, 522-531.
  • Joseph G. Ziegler: Art. History of moral theology. In: LThK 2. A., Volume 7 (1962), 618-623.
Systematic presentations, introductions and general overview works
including classical treatises that are important for research history
  • Klaus Demmer : Moral theological methodology , Freiburg 1989.
  • Klaus Demmer: Art. Moral theology. In: Theologische Realenzyklopädie , Volume 23, 297-302.
  • Wilhelm Ernst (Hrsg.): Basics and problems of today's moral theology. Wuerzburg 1989.
  • Franz Furger : Introduction to Moral Theology , Darmstadt 2nd A. 1997.
  • Bernhard Häring : The law of Christ . Moral theology. Shown for priests and laypeople. Erich Wewel Verlag, Freiburg i. Br. 1. A. [in one volume] 1954. From April 6, 1961 in 3 volumes (Volume 1: Basic shape of Christian existence, Volume 2: Living in community with God and one's neighbor, Volume 3: Das Ja to the all-embracing love rule of God). Last 8th, thoroughly revised A. 1967. Translations into the following languages: Chinese, English, French, Italian, Japanese, Croatian, Dutch, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Hungarian.
  • Bernhard Häring : Free in Christ , moral theology for the practice of Christian life, 3 volumes (Volume 1: The foundation from Scripture and tradition, Volume 2: Man's path to truth and love, Volume 3: Man's responsibility for life ), Herder, Freiburg i. Br. 2. A. 1989, ISBN 3-451-21604-3 .
  • Heribert Jone : Catholic moral theology. 12th edition. Paderborn 1940.
  • Alphons Maria de Ligorio : Theologia moralis. (1743) Volume I ff., Paris 1874 ff., Turin 1875 ff. Etc.
  • Franz X. Linsenmann: Textbook of moral theology. Freiburg i. Br. 1878.
  • Joseph Mausbach : Catholic Moral Theology , 3rd vol., Münster 9th A. 1953–1955.
  • Karl-Heinz Peschke: Christian ethics. Foundations of Moral Theology, Trier 1997.
  • Karl-Heinz Peschke: Christian ethics. Special moral theology, Trier 1995.
  • Johannes Reiter : Art. Moral theology, Catholic. In: RGG 4. A. 2002, Volume 5, Col. 1495-1497.
  • Josef Römelt : Handbuch der Moraltheologie (Volume 1: From the meaning of moral responsibility. On the foundations of Christian ethics in a complex society, Volume 2: Freedom that is more than arbitrariness. Christian ethics in interpersonal relationships, shaping life, illness and death, Volume 3: Beyond pragmatism and resignation. Perspectives on Christian responsibility for the environment, peace and social justice), Regensburg 1996–1999.
  • Otto Schilling: Outline of moral theology. Freiburg i. Br. 2. A. 1949.
  • Otto Schilling: Handbook of moral theology. Stuttgart, 2nd August 1952.
  • Bruno Schüller : The justification of moral judgments. Types of ethical argumentation in moral theology , Düsseldorf 1973.
  • J. Stelzenberger: Textbook of moral theology. The moral doctrine of God's royal rule, Paderborn 2. A. 1965.
  • Bernhard Stoeckle : Acting from faith , concrete moral theology, Herder, Freiburg im Breisgau 1977.
  • Helmut Weber: General moral theology. Call and Answer, Graz-Vienna-Cologne 1991.
  • Helmut Weber: Special moral theology. Basic questions of Christian life, Graz-Vienna-Cologne 1999

Web links

Wiktionary: Moral theology  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. J. Theiner: The development of moral theology into an independent discipline. Regensburg 1970.
  2. See e.g. B. Wolfgang Kluxen : Philosophical ethics with Thomas von Aquin , Hamburg: Meiner 3. A. 1998, ISBN 3-7873-1379-6 , p. Xxii: "... today's moral theology, which now prefers to be" theological ethics " can be called ... ". Konrad Hilpert : Art. Moral theology. In: Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche , 3rd A., Volume 7, 462–467, formulated here 466 that “Moral theology” has been largely reserved as a special term for the traditional paradigm in the specialist discussion for several decades and was replaced as a discipline designation by 'theological ethics' [...]. This change in designation also proved to be sensible because it was suitable for both the denominational peculiarity of the designation that had become conscious in the meantime and the assumption of a completely different methodology compared to the as an independent discipline Theology to correct outsourced social ethics. " Herbert Schlögel : Church and theological ethics : more than teaching post and moral theology, in: Wilhelm Guggenberger / Gertraud Ladner (eds.): Christlicher Glaube, Theologie und Ethik, Münster 2002, 175–186, here 175, et passim advocates “theological ethics”. Andreas Lienkamp : Systematic introduction to Christian social ethics. In: Franz Furger, Karl-Wilhelm Dahm, Andreas Lienkamp (eds.): Introduction to Social Ethics , LIT Verlag, Berlin-Hamburg Münster 1996, ISBN 3-8258-2267-2 , 29–88, here 44f et passim. There “personal-interpersonal ethics”, “individual ethics” and “fundamental morality” of “moral theology” are subsumed and these are separated from “social ethics”. Also listed below is the - rare, u. a. Suggested by Franz Furger - extended use of "moral theology" as a generic term synonymous with "theological ethics", which can then be subsumed as a "special moral theology" social ethics. Similar to Lienkamp z. B. Arno Anzenbacher : Christian Social Ethics , Munich-Vienna-Zurich 1998, 17-19 and Marianne Heimbach-Steins : Distinguishing the Spirits - Structural Moments of Christian Social Ethics, Münster-Hamburg 1994, 10-12 (“Affiliation of social ethics with moral theology”). All three (Anzenbacher, Lienkamp and Heimbach-Steins) include z. B. explicitly to: Christoph Giersch: Between social justice and economic efficiency , LIT Verlag, Berlin-Hamburg-Münster 2003, ISBN 3-8258-6684-X , 11: "Moral theology deals with personal-interpersonal and individual-ethical questions, Christian social ethics, on the other hand, with the ethical analysis of society in its institutional and structural constitution. "
  3. Cf. on the foregoing in more detail, for example, John Mahoney: Art. Probabilism. In: TRE , Volume 27 (1997), 465-468; Karl Hörmann : Art. Moralsysteme , in: Lexikon der Christian Moral, 1976, Sp. 1097-1099.
  4. DH No. 2021-2065.
  5. DH No. 2101-2167.
  6. ^ Pietro Stella: Don Bosco . Life and work . Verlag Neue Stadt, Munich 2000, ISBN 3-87996-286-3 , p. 53.
  7. On the history of reception cf. Nethöfel 1987, 25 ff. Et passim; A. Schmied / J. Römelt (Ed.): 50 years "The Law of Christ" , Haring's contribution to the renewal of moral theology. Contributions by Klaus Arntz , Raphael Gallagher, Bruno Hidber, Josef Römelt, Eberhard Schockenhoff and Marciano Vidal. Studies of Moral Theology, Supplements 14, LIT, Münster 2005, ISBN 3-8258-9060-0 ; the older literature cited there.