A Roman Catholic Perspective
Monsignor Peter R. Beaulieu, M.A., S.T.L.

Classically, moral theology is understood as that identifiable part of theology, which studies voluntary human acts seen in relation to their final end, in the light of divine revelation. The focus is on morality or the rational ordering of the human act to the good and the voluntary pursuit of that good by human reason. In the encyclical Veritatis Splendor, this discipline is described as a reflection on morality, the good and evil of acts and it is considered theology in that the end and the beginning are found in God, who by sending His Son and, by Christ’s death on the cross, offers merely earthly people the real possibility of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. The morality of human acts depends upon the object of the action, the intention (or end foreseen), and the circumstances surrounding the act. On the other hand, the English word ethic comes from the Greek word ethos that means custom, habit, or usage. Ethics (in the plural) is one of the major branches of philosophy that encompasses the rational analysis of right conduct and good living. Ethics entails the philosophical study of human motivation and behavior, which can be either descriptive or prescriptive. If the analysis aims at prescribing or proscribing certain forms of human behavior, then, it purports to give direction on how to act—such an attempt is known as normative ethics.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, Part Three, Section One, Article 4: The Morality of Human Acts nn. 1749-1754.

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