1a. Conseq., 1b. Deont., 1c. Telos;.  2. NAT. LAW 3. DBL.EF.  4. VIRTUE 5. LESSER EVIL

1.a. Consequentialism











Consequentialism and utilitarianism judge the morality of an action by the consequences of the act.

1.b. Catholic Deontology




















CATHOLIC moral theology considers the intention(s) of the agent and the many effects of the act.  Acts that are consistently performed become habits, reinforcing patterns of behavior in the agent.  There are always multiple consequences of any act, and all must be taken into consideration.

THE deontological approach considers acts to have an intrinsic moral significance, regardless of the intentions of the agent or the consequences of the action.  Actions are morally good, neutral, or evil. Intrinsically-evil acts cannot be rendered good or even neutral by the intentions of the agent or the consequences of the act.  Abortion and euthanasia are examples of intrinsically-evil actions.

1.c. Telos - Final End




IN Catholic moral theology there is another essential dimension that must be taken into consideration when judging the moral signifacence of acts: namely, the relationship of an action to the ultimate End (or Goal, Greek - telos) for which human beings were created by God.  This goal is eternal life in union with both God and the whole of redeemed humanity (salvation).




3. Natural Law



Veritatis Splendor § 39-44, by Pope John Paul II





39. Not only the world, however, but also “man himself” has been “entrusted to his own care and responsibility.” God left man “in the power of his own counsel” (Sir 15:14), that he might seek his Creator and freely attain perfection. Attaining such perfection means “personally building up that perfection in himself.” Indeed, just as man in exercising his dominion over the world shapes it in accordance with his own intelligence and will, so too in PERFORMING MORALLY GOOD ACTS, man strengthens, develops and consolidates within himself his LIKENESS TO GOD.

39. Sed non modo terrarum orbis, verum et homo suae ipsius curae et responsalitati concreditus est. Deus eum reliquit “in manu consilii sui” (Sir. 15, 14), ut Creatorem suum quaereret et libere ad perfectionem perveniret. Pervenire sibi vult per se condere in se eam perfectionem. Nam, quemadmodum mundum regens homo ad suum intellectum voluntatemque eundem conformat, sic actus moraliter bonos agens homo confirmat, explicat et stabilit in semet ipso Dei similitudinem.

Even so, the Council warns against a false concept of the autonomy of earthly realities, one which would maintain that “created things are not dependent on God and that man can use them without reference to their Creator”.[67] With regard to man himself, such a concept of autonomy produces particularly baneful effects, and eventually leads to atheism: “Without its Creator the creature simply disappears... If God is ignored the creature itself is impoverished”.[68]

Concilium tamen monet ut a falsa opinatione rerum terrestrium de autonomia caveatur, quae fatetur “res creatas a Deo non pendere, eisque hominem sic uti posse ut easdem ad Creatorem non referat” (Gaudium et Spes, 36). Quod vero ad hominem spectat, haec autonomiae sententia noxios quidem effectus gignit, cum ad Dei negationem extremo perveniat: “Creatura enim sine Creatore evanescit...Immo, per oblivionem Dei ipsa creatura obscuratur” (Ibid.).

40. The teaching of the Council emphasizes, on the one hand, “the role of human reason” in discovering and applying the moral law: the moral life calls for that creativity and originality typical of the person, the source and cause of his own deliberate acts. On the other hand, reason draws its own truth and authority from the eternal law, which is none other than divine wisdom itself.[69 STh 1,II 93 a.3 ad 2] At the heart of the moral life we thus find the principle of a “rightful autonomy”[70] of man, the personal subject of his actions. “The moral law has its origin in God and always finds its source in him:” at the same time, by virtue of natural reason, which derives from divine wisdom, it is “a properly human law.”Indeed, as we have seen,

40. Hinc Concilii doctrina humanae rationis actionem confirmat, in invenienda et usurpanda lege morali: moralis vita creativitatem expostulat sollertiamque personae propriam, quae est fons causaque eius actuum deliberatorum; illinc ratio ex lege aeterna suam veritatem auctoritatemque depromit, quae nihil est aliud nisi divina sapientia (Cfr. S. THOMAE Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 93, a. 3, ad 2, quod IOANNES XXIII rettulit in Pacem in Terris, die 11 apr. 1963: AAS 55 (1963) 271). Vitae morali igitur subest tamquam fundamentum principium “iustae autonomiae” hominis (Gaudium et Spes, 41), qui subiectum est personale suarum actionum. Moralis lex a Deo oritur atque in Eo semper suum fontem invenit: naturalem propter rationem, quae ex divina sapientia originem trahit, est eadem simul lex hominis propria.

the natural law “is nothing other than the light of understanding infused in us by God, whereby we understand what must be done and what must be avoided. God gave this light and this law to man at creation”.

Thomas Aquinas, STh 1,II 91art 2, In duo praecepta caritatis et in decem legis praecepta.
Prologus: Opuscula theologica, II, n. 1129, Ed. Taurinenses. (1954), 245). 

Etenim lex naturalis, ut dictum est, “nihil aliud est nisi lumen intellectus insitum nobis a Deo, per quod cognoscimus quid agendum et quid vitandum. Hoc lumen et hanc legem dedit Deus homini in creatione”

The rightful autonomy of the practical reason means that man possesses in himself his own law, received from the Creator. Nevertheless, “the autonomy of reason cannot mean” that reason itself “creates values and moral norms.”[72] Were this autonomy to imply a denial of the participation of the practical reason in the wisdom of the divine Creator and Lawgiver, or were it to suggest a freedom which creates moral norms, on the basis of historical contingencies or the diversity of societies and cultures, this sort of alleged autonomy would contradict the Church’s teaching on the truth about man.[73] It would be the death of true freedom: “But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen 2:17)

Congrua rationis practicae autonomia ostendit in se ipso hominem propriam habere legem, a Creatore acceptam. Attamen rationis autonomia non significat moralia bona normasque creari ab ipsa ratione (Cfr. IOANNIS PAULI PP. II Allocutio ad nonnullos Episcopos Civitatum Foederatarum Americae Septemtrionalis data visitationis ad limina occasione, 6, die 15 oct. 1988: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, XI, 3 (1988) 1228). Si autonomia haec negaret sociam esse rationem practicam sapientiae Creatoris et Legislatoris divini, vel si libertatem quandam creatricem suggereret normarum moralium pro historicis adiunctis diversisve societatibus culturisque, haec asserta autonomia Ecclesiae doctrinae contradiceret de hominis veritate (Gaudium et Spes, 47). Mors esset verae libertatis: “De ligno autem scientiae boni et mali ne commedas; in quocumque enim die comederis ex eo, morte morieris” (Gen. 2, 17).

Blessed is the man who takes delight in the law of the Lord
          (cf. Ps 1:1-2) 

Beatus vir ... in lege domini voluntas eius (Cfr. Ps. 1, 1-2)

42. Patterned on God’s freedom, man’s freedom is not negated by his obedience to the divine law; indeed, only through this obedience does it abide in the truth and conform to human dignity. This is clearly stated by the Council: “Human dignity requires man to act through conscious and free choice, as motivated and prompted personally from within, and not through blind internal impulse or merely external pressure. Man achieves such dignity when he frees himself from all subservience to his feelings, and in a free choice of the good, pursues his own end by effectively and assiduously marshalling the appropriate means”.[75]

42. Hominis libertas, cum sit efficta secundum Dei voluntatem, non modo non negatur sua legi divinae oboedientia, sed tantum per hanc obeodientiam in veritate manet et dignitati hominis respondet, sicut palam scribit Concilium: “Dignitas igitur hominis requirit ut secundum consciam et liberam electionem agat, personaliter scilicet ab intra motus et ductus, et non sub caeco impulsu interno vel sub mera externa coactione. Talem vero dignitatem obtinet homo cum, sese ab omni passionum captivitate liberans, finem suum in boni libera electione persequitur et apta subsidia efficaciter ac sollerti industria sibi procurat” (Gaudium et Spes, 17).

In his journey towards God, the One who “alone is good”, man must freely do good and avoid evil. But in order to accomplish this he must “be able to distinguish good from evil.” And this takes place above all “thanks to the light of natural reason,” the reflection in man of the splendour of God’s countenance. Thus Saint Thomas, commenting on a verse of Psalm 4, writes:

Ad Deum contendens, ad Eum qui “unus est bonus”, homo libere bonum facere et malum vitare debet. Hanc ob causam necesse est ut homo bonum a malo discernere possit. Hoc ante omnia fit per rationis naturalis lumen, quod est repercussio splendoris vultus Dei in homine. Hoc quidem sensu sanctus Thomas Psalmi IV illustrans versiculum quendam scribit:

“After saying: Offer right sacrifices (Ps 4:5), as if some had then asked him what right works were, the Psalmist adds: “There are many who say: Who will make us see good?” And in reply to the question he says: “The light of your face, Lord, is signed upon us,” thereby implying that the light of natural reason whereby we discern good from evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else but an imprint on us of the divine light”.[76 Sum.Theol., I-II, q. 91, a. 2]

“Cum Psalmista dixisset: Sacrificate sacrificium iustitiae (Ps. 4, 6), quasi quibusdam quaerentibus quae sint iustitiae opera, subiungit: Multi dicunt: Quis ostendit nobis bona? Cui quaestioni respondens, dicit: Signatum est super nos lumen vultus tui, Domine; quasi lumen rationis naturalis, quo discernimus quid sit bonum et quid malum – quod pertinet ad naturalem legem – nihil aliud sit quam impressio divini luminis in nobis” (S. THOMAE Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 91, a. 2).
It also becomes clear why this law is called the natural law: it receives this name not because it refers to the nature of irrational beings but because the reason which promulgates it is proper to human nature.[77 Catechism 1955] Hinc deducitur etiam quam ob causam haec lex vocetur lex naturalis: ita vocatur non ratione habita entium irrationalium, sed quia ratio promulgans propria est humanae naturae (Cfr. Catechismus Catholicae Ecclesiae, n. 1955).

43. The Second Vatican Council points out that the “supreme rule of life is the divine law itself, the eternal, objective and universal law by which God out of his wisdom and love arranges, directs and governs the whole world and the paths of the human community. God has enabled man to share in this divine law, and hence man is able under the gentle guidance of God’s providence increasingly to recognize the unchanging truth”.[78 Decl. Rel Lib 3] 

43. Concilium Vaticanum II commemorat “supremam humanae vitae normam esse ipsam legem divinam, aeternam, obiectivam atque universalem, qua Deus consilio sapientiae et dilectionis suae mundum universum viasque communitatis humanae ordinat, dirigit, gubernat: huius suae legis Deus hominem participem reddit, ita ut homo, providentia divina suaviter disponente, veritatem incommutabilem magis magisque agnoscere possit” (Dignitatis Humane, 3).

The Council refers back to the classic teaching on “God’s eternal law.” Saint Augustine defines this as “the reason or the will of God, who commands us to respect the natural order and forbids us to disturb it”.[79] Saint Thomas identifies it with “the type of the divine wisdom as moving all things to their due end”.[80] And God’s wisdom is providence, a love which cares. God himself loves and cares, in the most literal and basic sense, for all creation (cf. Wis 7:22; 8:11). But God provides for man differently from the way in which he provides for beings which are not persons. He cares for man not “from without”, through the laws of physical nature, but “from within”, through reason, which, by its natural knowledge of God’s eternal law, is consequently able to show man the right direction to take in his free actions.[81] In this way God calls man to participate in his own providence, since he desires to guide the world--not only the world of nature but also the world of human persons--through man himself, through man’s reasonable and responsible care.

Concilium ad “classicam” doctrinam de lege aeterna Dei remittit. Sanctus Augustinus eam definit: “ratio seu Dei voluntas quae iubet servare naturae ordinem et vetat turbare eum” (S. AUGUSTINI Contra Faustum, lib. 22, cap. 27: PL 42, 418); sanctus Thomas eam aequat cum “divinae sapientiae ratione, etiam ex eo quod... ad debitum finem cuncta per eam moveantur” (S. THOMAE Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 93, a. 1). Sed Dei sapientia est providentia, amor, qui curam adhibet. Deus ipse igitur omnem creationem reapse vereque curat et amat (Cfr. Sap. 7, 22; 8, 11). Sed Deus hominibus prospicit aliter ac ceteris creaturis: non “extrinsecus” per rerum naturae leges, sed “intrinsecus”, per rationem quae, naturali lumine Dei legem aeternam cognoscens, ipsi homini rectum iter libere agendi demonstrare valet (Cfr. S. THOMAE Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 90, a. 4, ad 1). Hoc quidem modo Deus hominem vocat ad providentiam suam participandam, cum per ipsum hominem, per ipsius scilicet rationem et responsalem curam, mundum regere velit: non modo mundum rerum naturae, sed etiam humanarum personarum.

The “natural law” enters here as the human expression of God’s eternal law. Saint Thomas writes: Hac in regione ponitur naturalis lex veluti humana significatio aeternae legis Dei:

“Among all others, the rational creature is subject to divine providence in the most excellent way, insofar as it partakes of a share of providence, being provident both for itself and for others. Thus it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end. This participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called natural law”.[82 Sum. Theol., I-II, q. 90, a. 4, ad 1]

“Inter cetera autem – scribit sanctus Thomas –rationalis creatura excellentiore quodam modo divinae providentiae subiacet, in quantum et ipsa fit providentiae particeps, sibi ipsi et aliis providens. Unde et in ipsa participatur ratio aeterna, per quam habet naturalem inclinationem ad debitum actum et finem; et talis participatio legis aeternae in rationali creatura lex naturalis dicitur” (Ibid. q. 91, a. 2).

44. The Church has often made reference to the Thomistic doctrine of natural law, including it in her own teaching on morality. Thus my Venerable Predecessor Leo XIII emphasized “the essential subordination of reason and human law to the Wisdom of God and to his law.” After stating that the ‘natural law’ is written and engraved in the heart of each and every man, since it is none other than human reason itself which commands us to do good and counsels us not to sin”, Leo XIII appealed to the “higher reason” of the divine Lawgiver: “But this prescription of human reason could not have the force of law unless it were the voice and the interpreter of some higher reason to which our spirit and our freedom must be subject”. Indeed, the force of law consists in its authority to impose duties, to confer rights and to sanction certain behaviour: “Now all of this, clearly, could not exist in man if, as his own supreme legislator, he gave himself the rule of his own actions”. And he concluded:

44. Ecclesia saepe sancti Thomae doctrinam de lege naturali repetiit eandemque in sua morali institutione adhibuit. Sic Decessor Noster rec. mem. Leo XIII collustravit essentialem subiectionem rationis et legis humanae Dei Sapientiae Eiusque legi. Postquam dixit “Legem naturalem scriptam esse et insculptam in omnium et in singulorum hominum animis, quia ipsa est humana ratio recte facere iubens et peccare vetans”, Leo XIII ad “altiorem rationem” divini Legislatoris remittit: “Ista vero humanae rationis praesriptio vim habere legis non potest, nisi quia altioris est vox atque interpres rationis, cui mentem libertatemque nostram subiectam esse oporteat”. Vis etenim legis innititur sua in potestate statuendi officia tribuendique iura, poenis aliqua imperata sanciendi: “Quae quidem omnia in homine liquet esse non posse, si normam actionibus suis ipse quasi summus legislator sibi daret”. Sic tandem concludit:

It follows that the natural law is “itself the eternal law,” implanted in beings endowed with reason, and inclining them “towards their right action and end,”

“Ergo consequitur, ut naturae lex sit ipsa lex aeterna, insita in iis qui ratione utuntur, eos inclinans ad debitum actum et finem:

 it is none other than the eternal reason of the Creator and Ruler of the universe”.[83]

ea est ipsa aeterna ratio Creatoris et gubernatoris universi mundi” (LEONIS XIII Libertas Praestantissimum, die 20 iun. 1888: Leonis XIII P.M. Acta, VIII, Romae 1889, 219).

Man is able to recognize good and evil thanks to that discernment of good from evil which he himself carries out by his “reason, in particular by his reason enlightened by Divine Revelation and by faith,” through the law which God gave to the Chosen People, beginning with the commandments on Sinai. Israel was called to accept and to live out God’s law” as “a particular gift and sign of its election and of the divine Covenant,” and also as a pledge of God’s blessing. [. . .]

Potest homo cognoscere bonum et malum illo boni malique discrimine quod ipse operatur ratione sua, nominatim ratione sua divina Revelatione fideque collustrata, vi legis quam Deus populo electo dedit, initio ducto a mandatis in Sina. Israel ad Dei legem suscipiendam et colendam est vocatus tamquam ad electionis et divini Foederis peculiare donum signumque ac pignus pariter benedictionis Dei.

45. The Church gratefully accepts and lovingly preserves the entire deposit of Revelation, treating it with religious respect and fulfilling her mission of authentically interpreting God’s law in the light of the Gospel. In addition, the Church receives the gift of the New Law, which is the “fulfilment” of God’s law in Jesus Christ and in his Spirit. This is an “interior” law (cf. Jer 3 1:3 1-33), “written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts(2 Cor 3:3); a law of perfection and of freedom (cf. 2 Cor 3:17); “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:2). Saint Thomas writes that this law “can be called law in two ways. First, the law of the spirit is the Holy Spirit... who, dwelling in the soul, not only teaches what it is necessary to do by enlightening the intellect on the things to be done, but also inclines the affections to act with uprightness... Second, the law of the spirit can be called the proper effect of the Holy Spirit, and thus faith working through love (cf. Gal 5:6), which teaches inwardly about the things to be done... and inclines the affections to act”.[84]

45. Totum Revelationis depositum grato animo suscipit Ecclesia amanterque custodit, religiosa mente observat, munus suum Dei legis authentice interpretandae sub Evangelii lumine complens. Ecclesia porro velut donum recipit novam legem, quae est “impletio” legis Dei in Christo Iesu inque eius Spiritu: est quidem lex “interior” (Cfr. Ier. 31, 31-33), ”scripta non atramento sed Spiritu Dei vivi, non in tabulis lapideis sed in tabulis cordis carnalibus (2 Cor. 3, 3); lex perfectionis et libertatis (Cfr. ibid. 3, 17); est “lex Spiritus vitae in Christo Iesu” (Rom. 8, 2). De hac lege scribit sanctus Thomas: “Quae quidem lex potest dici uno modo Spiritus Sanctus...; sed Spiritus Sanctus mentem inhabitans non solum docet quid oporteat fieri intellectum illuminando de agendis, sed etiam affectum inclinat ad recte agendum... Alio modo lex spiritus potest dici proprius effectus Spiritus Sancti, scilicet fides per dilectionem operans (Gal. 5, 6): quae quidem et docet interius de agendis... et inclinat affectum ad agendum” (S. THOMAE In Epistulam ad Romanos, c. VIII, lect. 1).

Even if moral-theological reflection usually distinguishes between the positive or revealed law of God and the natural law, and, within the economy of salvation, between the “old” and the “new” law, it must not be forgotten that these and other useful distinctions always refer to that law whose author is the one and the same God and which is always meant for man. The different ways in which God, acting in history, cares for the world and for mankind are not mutually exclusive; on the contrary, they support each other and intersect. They have their origin and goal in the eternal, wise and loving counsel whereby God predestines men and women “to be conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:29). God’s plan poses no threat to man’s genuine freedom; on the contrary, the acceptance of God’s plan is the only way to affirm that freedom.

Etiamsi in theologiae moralis vestigationibus lex quam Deus dedit vel revelavit a naturali lege distingui solet, et in oeconomia salutis “antiqua” lex a lege “nova”, non est tamen obliviscendum has aliasque utiles distinctiones ad legem usque referri, cuius lator est Idem unusque Deus, eamque semper hominibus destinari. Rationes multiplices, quibus Deus in historia hominem mundumque curat, non modo inter se non repugnant, sed contra mutuo sustentantur et penetrantur. Omnes autem oriuntur et concinnantur ex sapienti et benevolo proposito, quo Deus homines praedestinat “conformes fieri imaginis Filii eius” (Rom. 8, 29). In hoc proposito hominis libertas minime laeditur, sed contra solummodo proposito hoc accepto libertas confirmatur.

4. Double Effect













Legitimate defense

Defensio legitima



2263 The legitimate defense of persons and societies is not an exception to the prohibition against the murder of the innocent that constitutes intentional killing.

“The act of self-defense can have a double effect: the preservation of one’s own life; and the killing of the aggressor. . . . [Nothing prohibits a single act with two effects, where] The one is intended, the other is not.”[St. Thom. Aq., STh II-II, 64, 7, corp. art.]

2263 Personarum et societatum legitima defensio exceptio non est prohibitionis occisionis innocentis quae homicidium constituit voluntarium. « Ex actu [...] alicuius seipsum defendentis duplex effectus sequi potest: unus quidem conservatio propriae vitae; alius autem occisio invadentis ». 174 « Nihil prohibet unius actus esse duos effectus, quorum alter solum sit in intentione, alius vero sit praeter intentionem ». 175

2264 Love toward oneself remains a fundamental principle of morality. Therefore it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if he is forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow:

2264 Amor erga se ipsum fundamentale moralitatis permanet principium. Est igitur legitimum efficere ut proprium ad vitam observetur ius. Qui suam vitam defendit, homicidii non est reus etiamsi cogatur aggressori suo ictum ferre mortalem:

If a man in self-defense uses more than necessary violence, it will be unlawful: whereas if he repels force with moderation, his defense will be lawful. . . . Nor is it necessary for salvation that a man omit the act of moderate self-defense to avoid killing the other man, since one is bound to take more care of one’s own life than of another’s.

St. Thomas Aquinas, STh II-II, 64, 7, corp. art.

« Si aliquis ad defendendum propriam vitam utatur maiori violentia quam oporteat, erit illicitum. Si vero moderate violentiam repellat, erit licita defensio [...]. Nec est necessarium ad salutem ut homo actum moderatae tutelae praetermittat ad evitandum occisionem alterius: quia plus tenetur homo vitae suae providere quam vitae alienae ». 176

According to the principle of double effect, an agent is morally responsible for the primary effect of an action, but not responsible for unintended secondary effect(s).  However, several conditions must be fulfilled:

[1] The act itself must be MORALLY GOOD or at least neutral.

[2] The agent MAY NOT positively WILL THE BAD EFFECT but may merely permit it. If he could attain the good effect without the bad effect, he should do so.

[3] The GOOD EFFECT MUST FLOW FROM THE ACTION at least as immediately (in the order of causality, though not necessarily in the order of time) as the bad effect. In other words, the good effect must be produced directly by the action, not by the bad effect. Otherwise, the agent would be using a bad means to a good end.

[4] The good effect must be sufficiently desirable to COMPENSATE for the allowing of the bad effect. In forming this decision many factors must be weighed and compared, with care and prudence proportionate to the importance of the case.

5. Virtue as Balance





4. VIRTUE AS BALANCE (mean / midpoint)





[vice of]




[vice of]

[A] With regard to feelings of Fear and Confidence:






[B] With regard to Pleasures and Pains:






[C] With regard to Truth:



False Modesty





















 5. Choosing the Lesser Evil










POPE PAUL VI: Humanæ Vitæ (July 5, 1968)
An encyclical letter on the proper regulation of the propagation of offspring
(de propagatione humanae prolis recte ordinanda)

[...] CERTAINLY, it is sometimes permissible to tolerate moral evil -- when it is the lesser evil and when one does so in order that one might avoid a greater evil, or so that one might promote a greater good.38 It is never permissible, however, to do evil so that good might result, (39Cf.Rom. 3:8). not even for the most serious reasons. That is, one should never willingly choose to do an act that by its very nature violates the moral order, for such acts are unworthy of Man for this very reason. This is so even if one has acted with the intent to defend and advance some good either for individuals, or for families or for society. [...]

[...]  Verum enimvero, si malum morale tolerare, quod minus grave sit, interdum licet, ut aliquod maius vitetur malum vel aliquod praestantius bonum promoveatur,l’ numquam tamen licet, ne ob gravissimas quidem causas, facere mala ut eveniant bona “ : videlicet in id voluntatem conferre, quod ex piopria natura moralem ordinem transgrediatur, atque idcirco homine indignum sit iudicandum, quamvis eo consi­lio fiat, ut singulorum hominum, domesticorum convictuum, aut humanae societatis bona defendantur vel provehantur. [...]

38 Cf. Pius XII, “Address to the Fifth National Congress of Italian Catholic Jurists, Dec. 6, 1953 in AAS 45 (1953) 798-99.







The Law of Gradualness 



















see also Cat. 2343 Fam Con 34






292. Christian marriage, as a reflection of the union between Christ and his Church, is fully realized[:] 292. Matrimonium christianum, quod speculum est coniunctionis Christi cum Ecclesia eius,

[1] in the union between a man and a woman

[2] who give themselves to each other in a free, faithful and exclusive love,

[3] who belong to each other until death

[4] and are open to the transmission of life,

[5] and are consecrated by the sacrament, which grants them the grace to become a domestic church and a leaven of new life for society.

in consortio vitae inter virum et mulierem plane perficitur,

qui amore exclusivo et libera fidelitate sese mutuo tradunt,

usque ad mortem obstringunt

et ad vitam tradendam aperiunt,

 sacramento consecrati, quod ipsis gratiam tribuit sese ut Ecclesiam domesticam et fermentum novae vitae societatis constituendi.

Some forms of union radically contradict this ideal, while others realize it in at least a partial and analogous way. The Synod Fathers stated that the Church does not disregard the constructive elements in those situations which do not yet or no longer correspond to her teaching on marriage.314 Cui insigni proposito alia vinculi genera funditus repugnant, alia autem id partim dumtaxat et per speciem perficiunt. Patres synodales edisseruerunt Ecclesiam extollere bona illa elementa illarum condicionum studere, quae de matrimonio cum eius doctrina nondum vel iam non congruunt.[314]

314 Relatio Synodi, 2014, 41.






Gradualness in Pastoral Matters

Gradualitas in re pastorali





293. The Fathers also considered the specific situation of a merely civil marriage or, with due distinction, even simple cohabitation, noting that “when such unions attain a particular stability, legally recognized, are characterized by deep affection and responsibility for their offspring, and demonstrate an ability to overcome trials, they can provide occasions for pastoral care with a view to the eventual celebration of the sacrament of marriage”.315 On the other hand, it is a source of concern that many young people today distrust marriage and live together, putting off indefinitely the commitment of marriage, while yet others break a commitment already made and immediately assume a new one. “As members of the Church, they too need pastoral care that is merciful and helpful”.316 For the Church’s pastors are not only responsible for promoting Christian marriage, but also the “pastoral discernment of the situations of a great many who no longer live this reality. Entering into pastoral dialogue with these persons is needed to distinguish elements in their lives that can lead to a greater openness to the Gospel of marriage in its fullness”.317 In this pastoral discernment, there is a need “to identify elements that can foster evangelization and human and spiritual growth”.318 293. Patres etiam peculiares perspexerunt matrimonii civilis tantum condiciones vel, salvis diversitatibus, merae etiam conviventiae, ubi, «cum magnam per vinculum publicum firmitatem adipiscitur coniunctio ac summa ipsa signatur dilectione officioque erga prolem et facultate angustias superandi, tamquam occasio in itinere ad sacramentum matrimonii videri potest».[315] Ceterum tantae est sollicitudinis quod iuvenes complures matrimonio hodie diffidunt et, munus coniugale indefinite procrastinantes, convivunt, dum alii vero obligationibus sumptis finem imponunt et novas quidem protinus instaurant. Qui «Ecclesiam communicant, misericordi foventique sollicitudine pastorali indigent».[316] Nam, Pastorum est non modo provehere matrimonium christianum, sed etiam «pastoraliter discernere casus multorum, qui id iam vivunt», ut cum his dialogum pastoralibus rationibus innisum instituant et elementa eorum vitae ostendant, quae eos promptiores in Evangelii matrimonii plenitudinem efficere valeant».[317] In pastorali opere decernendo convenit, ut «ea percipiantur, quae Evangelii nuntium atque humanum ac spiritalem profectum iuvare possint».[318]

315 Relatio Synodi, 2014, 27.

316 Relatio Synodi, 2014, 26.

317 Relatio Synodi, 2014, 41.

318 Relatio Synodi, 2014, 41.

[315] Relatio Synodi, 2014, 27.
[316] Ibid., 26.
[317] Ibid., 41.
[318] Ibid.





294. “The choice of a civil marriage or, in many cases, of simple cohabitation, is often not motivated by prejudice or resistance to a sacramental union, but by cultural or contingent situations”.319 In such cases, respect also can be shown for those signs of love which in some way reflect God’s own love.320 We know that there is “a continual increase in the number of those who, after having lived together for a long period, request the celebration of marriage in Church. Simply to live together is often a choice based on a general attitude opposed to anything institutional or definitive; it can also be done while awaiting more security in life (a steady job and steady income). In some countries, de facto unions are very numerous, not only because of a rejection of values concerning the family and matrimony, but primarily because celebrating a marriage is considered too expensive in the social circumstances. As a result, material poverty drives people into de facto unions”.321 Whatever the case, “all these situations require a constructive response seeking to transform them into opportunities that can lead to the full reality of marriage and family in conformity with the Gospel. These couples need to be welcomed and guided patiently and discreetly”.322 That is how Jesus treated the Samaritan woman (cf. Jn 4:1-26): he addressed her desire for true love, in order to free her from the darkness in her life and to bring her to the full joy of the Gospel. 294. «Eo quod matrimonium civile vel, aliis in casibus, mera civilis conviventia eligitur, id non fit propter praeceptionem vel recusationem sacramentalis coniugii, sed ex culturalibus accidentalibusve rationibus oritur».[319] Hoc in rerum statu signa amoris illa aestimanda sunt, quae Dei amorem quodammodo reddunt.[320] Scimus enim «numerum iugiter multiplicari eorum, qui postquam diu una simul vixerunt, efflagitant celebrationem matrimonii in ecclesia. Mera conviventia saepe eligitur ob mentem institutis et perpetuis muneribus generaliter aversam, sed etiam ob securitatem vitae adipiscendam, laborem scilicet et constantem mercedem. Aliis demum in Nationibus coniunctiones de facto, quae dicuntur, innumerae sunt non modo propter familiae matrimoniique abiecta bona, sed propterea quod matrimonium inire, socialium condicionum causa, luxus potissimum habetur et egestas rerum proinde ad coniunctiones de facto instaurandas impellit».[321] Tamen, «haec omnia in bonam partem sunt accipienda, ut occasiones captentur itineris ad plenitudinem matrimonii et familiae Evangelii sub lumine. Quibus de accipiendis patienter sagaciterque comitandis agitur».[322] Quod fecit Iesus cum Samaritana (cfr Io 4, 1-26); eam verum amorem desiderantem est adlocutus, ab universis rebus eam expediens, quae vitam eius obumbrabant, ut ad gaudium plenum Evangelii ipsam duceret.

319 Relatio finalis, 2015, 41.

320 Cfr. Relatio finalis, 2015, 41.

321 Relatio Synodi, 2014, 42.

322 Relatio Synodi, 2014, 43.

[319] Relatio finalis, 2015, 41.
[320] Cfr ibid.
[321] Relatio Synodi, 2014, 42.
[322] Ibid., 43.





295. Along these lines, Saint John Paul II proposed the so-called “law of gradualness” in the knowledge that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth”.323

295. Hac ratione, sanctus Ioannes Paulus II illam, quae dicitur, proponebat ‘legem gradualitatis’, conscius sibi quod homo «cognoscit, diligit et perficit morale bonum secundum incrementi eius gradus».[323]

323 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 34: AAS 74 (1982), 123

This is not a “gradualness of law” but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law. For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being “advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in his or her entire personal and social life”.324 Quae vero non ad ‘gradualitatem legis’ attinet, sed ad gradualitatem libere prudenterque agendi hominum, qui obiectivas exigentias legis intellegere, perpendere atque plene perficere nequeunt. Nam, lex ipsa donum Dei est viam ostendens, donum utique pro omnibus sine exceptione, virtute gratiae experiendum, etiamsi homo quisque «pedetemptim precedit, Dei donis paulatim accedentibus necnon postulatis eius amoris cosummati et absoluti in totam vitam personalem et socialem hominis».[324]

324 Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio (22 November 1981), 9: AAS 74 (1982), 90.


















9. To the injustice originating from sin-which has profoundly penetrated the structures of today’s world-and often hindering the family’s full realization of itself and of its fundamental rights, we must all set ourselves in opposition through a conversion of mind and heart, following Christ Crucified by denying our own selfishness: such a conversion cannot fail to have a beneficial and renewing influence even on the structures of society.

9. Iniustitiae proficiscenti ex peccato, quod etiam in mundi hodierni compagem alte invasit quodque familiam saepius impedit ne in se ipsa suisque iuribus primariis plene perficiatur, omnes resistere mentis animique conversione debemus, Christum crucifixum in amoris proprii negatione sectantes: huiusmodi vero conversio non poterit quin beneficam ac renovantem vim societatis quoque afferat structuris.

What is needed is a continuous, permanent conversion which, while requiring an interior detachment from every evil and an adherence to good in its fullness, is brought about concretely in steps which lead us ever forward.

Postulatur quidem continua ac perennis conversio, quae, tametsi flagitat ut homo intus divellatur ab omni malo addicaturque bono secundum eius plenitudinem, tamen reapse efficitur, quibusdam quasi gradibus, qui ulterius semper perducunt.

Thus a dynamic process develops, one which advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of His definitive and absolute love in the entire personal and social life of man. Therefore an educational growth process is necessary, in order that individual believers, families and peoples, even civilization itself, by beginning from what they have already received of the mystery of Christ, may patiently be led forward, arriving at a richer understanding and a fuller integration of this mystery in their lives.

Ita sane processus fit dynamicus, qui pedetemptim protenditur dona Dei necnon postulata eius amoris supremi et absoluti in totam vitam personalem et socialem hominis progressione quadam inserendo. Hac de causa via paedagogica est necessaria ducens ad incrementum, ut singuli fideles et familiae et populi, quin immo ipse cultus humanus, ab iis quae de Christi mysterio iam acceperint, profecti, ad alia patienter ferantur et uberiorem cognitionem plenioremque exsecutionem consequantur huiusce mysterii vitae suae adiunctam.

pedetemptim: step-by-step, slowly, gradually  

 The Moral Progress of Married People




On stages of growth; step-by-step advancement
see also
CCC Prin. of Gradualn. in Chast'y re. Homosexuality;
 "Tolerance"-Hum. Vit. 29
   Vademecum for Confessors § 3.1 § 3.9



34. It is always very important to have a right notion of the moral order, its values and its norms; and the importance is all the greater when the difficulties in the way of respecting them become more numerous and serious.

34. Magni semper interest rectam habere notion em ordinis moralis, eius bonorum atque normarum: vel pluris hoc interest quo plures gravioresque fiunt difficultates ea observandi.

Since the moral order reveals and sets forth the plan of God the Creator, for this very reason it cannot be something that harms man, something impersonal. On the contrary, by responding to the deepest demands of the human being created by God, it places itself at the service of that person’s full humanity with the delicate and binding love whereby God Himself inspires, sustains and guides every creature towards its happiness.

Quandoquidem Dei Creatoris propositum recludit et exponit, idcirco potissimum orelo moralis non potest homini esse aliquid, quod eum offendat eiusque abiciat personam; ex contrario, cum or do moralis respondet postulatis intimis hominis a Deo creati, tum plenae humanitati illius inservit suavi et vinciente amore, quo ipse Deus movet, sustinet, ducit ad felicitatem eius omnem creaturam.

The Law of Gradualness


But man, who has been called to live God’s wise and loving design in a responsible manner, is an historical being who day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth.

Homo tamen, qui vocatur ut e sapienti amanteque Dei consilio more conscio vivat, est animans historicus, qui de die in diem quasi exstruitur pluribus cum suis optionibus: ergo cognoscit, diligit, perficit morale bonum secundum incrementi eius gradus.

Married people too are called upon to progress unceasingly in their moral life, with the support of a sincere and active desire to gain ever better knowledge of the values enshrined in and fostered by the law of God. They must also be supported by an upright and generous willingness to embody these values in their concrete decisions.

Coniuges quoque intra moralem suam vitam destinantur ad iter perpetuum, suffulti sincera actuosaque voluntate melius usque cognoscendi bona, quae custodit lex divina ac promovet, necnon voluntate recta ac magnanima quasi concorporandi illa bona concretis in suis optionibus.

They cannot however look on the law as merely an ideal to be achieved in the future: they must consider it as a command of Christ the Lord to overcome difficulties with constancy. “And so what is known as ‘the law of gradualness’ or step-by-step advance cannot be identified with ‘gradualness of the law,’ as if there were different degrees or forms of precept in God’s law for different individuals and situations.

Nihilominus legem respicere illos non licet tantummodo ut meram quandam optimae formae effigiem consequendam futuro aliquo tempore, sed eam considerent oportet ut Christi Domini praeceptum, facientes ut studiose difficultates supervadant. « Etenim sic dicta “ex gradualitatis” seu gradualis profectus idem esse non potest ac “gradualitas legis”, quasi varii sint gradus seu praecepti formae pro variis hominibus et condicionibus in lege divina.

In God’s plan, all husbands and wives are called in marriage to holiness, and this lofty vocation is fulfilled to the extent that the human person is able to respond to God’s command with serene confidence in God’s grace and in his or her own will.”(95)

Omnes coniuges in matrimonio ad sanctitatem secundum Dei cons ilium vocantur; atque huius vocationis praestantia ad effectum deducitur, quatenus persona human a praecepto Dei valet respondere, sereno animo gratiae divinae ac propriae voluntati confisa » (95).

On the same lines, it is part of the Church’s pedagogy that husbands and wives should first of all recognize clearly the teaching of Humanae vitae as indicating the norm for the exercise of their sexuality, and that they should endeavor to establish the conditions necessary for observing that norm.

Eodem pacto interest Ecclesiae paedagogiae ut coniuges imprimis clare agnoscant doctrinam Litterarum Humanae vitae inscriptarum, perinde ac regulam sua sexualitate utendi utque ex animo studeant condiciones necessarias comparare ad eandem hanc norm am servandam.

As the Synod noted, this pedagogy embraces the whole of married life. Accordingly, the function of transmitting life must be integrated into the overall mission of Christian life as a whole, which without the Cross cannot reach the Resurrection. In such a context it is understandable that sacrifice cannot be removed from family life, but must in fact be wholeheartedly accepted if the love between husband and wife is to be deepened and become a source of intimate joy.

Omnem coniugalem vitam haec amplectitur paedagogia, ut Synodus animadvertit. Quapropter vitae tradendae munus ingredi debet universale munus omnis vitae christianae, quae sine cruce nequit ad resurrectionem pervenire. Aequabiliter intellegitur auferri a vita familiari se abnegandi devovendique studium non posse, quin immo complectendum illud ex animo esse ut coniugalis amor altius inhaerescat intimaeque fiat fans laetitiae.

This shared progress demands reflection, instruction and suitable education on the part of the priests, religious and lay people engaged in family pastoral work: they will all be able to assist married people in their human and spiritual progress, a progress that demands[:]

Commune hoc iter effiagitat ponderationem, nuntiorum communicationem, educationem aptam sacerdotum et religiosorum et laicorum in pastorali opera pro familia versantium: ii omnes auxilio esse poterunt. coniugibus in itinere eorum humane et spiritali, quod prae se fert

[1] awareness of sin,

conscientiam peccati

[2] a sincere commitment to observe the moral law, and 

ac sincerum officium servandi legem moralem

[3] the ministry of reconciliation.

necnon reconciliationis ministerium.

It must also be kept in mind that conjugal intimacy involves the wills of two persons, who are however called to harmonize their mentality and behavior: this requires much patience, understanding and time. Uniquely important in this field is unity of moral and pastoral judgment by priests, a unity that must be carefully sought and ensured, in order that the faithful may not have to suffer anxiety of conscience.(96)

Agnosci etiam debet in intima coniugum necessitudine voluntates duorum hominum implicari, vocatorum tamen ad mentium morumque convenientiam: poscere vero id permultum patientiae, lenitudinis ac temporis. Peculiaris omnino ponderis hac in re est unanimis iudiciorum moralium et pastoralium consensus in sacerdotibus: haec congruentia accurate conquiratur et custodiatur necesse est ne fideles pati cogantur conscientiae angores (96).

It will be easier for married people to make progress if, with respect for the Church’s teaching and with trust in the grace of Christ, and with the help and support of the pastors of souls and the entire ecclesial community, they are able to discover and experience the liberating and inspiring value of the authentic love that is offered by the Gospel and set before us by the Lord’s commandment.

Coniugum ergo iter expedietur, si, doctrinam Ecclesiae magni existimantes magnopereque Christi gratiae fidentes tum etiam adiuvantibus eos et comitantibus animarum pastoribus cunctaque ecclesiali communitate, detexerint illi et experti fuerint vim liberantem et promoventem veri amoris, quem Evangelium praebet ac Domini proponit mandatum.









2342 Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life (Cf. Titus 2:1-6). The effort required can be more intense in certain periods, such as when the personality is being formed during childhood and adolescence.

2342 Dominium sui est longae constantiae opus. Numquam considerandum est tamquam in perpetuum iam adquisitum. Nisum implicat in omnibus vitae aetatibus iterum atque iterum suscipiendum. 227 Requisitus nisus quibusdam temporibus potest esse intensior, ut cum personalitas formatur, in pueritia et adulescentia.





cf. also "gradualness" in acquisition of chastity:
 [1] Fam Consort. ; [2] CCC

cf. Humanae Vitae 29 on mercy, tolerance, charity





2343 Chastity has laws of growth which progress through stages marked by imperfection and too often by sin. “Man . . . day by day builds himself up through his many free decisions; and so he knows, loves, and accomplishes moral good by stages of growth” (FC 34).

2343 Castitas cognoscit incrementi leges, quae per gradus procedunt imperfectione signatos et nimis frequenter peccato. Homo castus et virtutis studiosus « de die in diem quasi exstruitur pluribus cum suis optionibus: ergo cognoscit, diligit, perficit morale bonum secundum incrementi eius gradus ». 228





2344 Chastity represents an eminently personal task; it also involves a cultural effort, for there is “an interdependence between personal betterment and the improvement of society” (GS 25 # 1). 130 Chastity presupposes respect for the rights of the person, in particular the right to receive information and an education that respect the moral and spiritual dimensions of human life.

2344 Castitas laborem constituit quam maxime personalem, ea nisum culturalem etiam implicat, quia revera « apparet humanae personae profectum et ipsius societatis incrementum ab invicem pendere ». 229 Castitas observantiam praesupponit iurium personae, praesertim iuris ad informationem et educationem recipiendas, quae morales et spirituales vitae humanae observent rationes.





2345 Chastity is a moral virtue. It is also a gift from God, a grace, a fruit of spiritual effort (Cf. Gal 5:22). The Holy Spirit enables one whom the water of Baptism has regenerated to imitate the purity of Christ (Cf. 1 Jn 3:3).

2345 Castitas virtus moralis est. Est etiam donum Dei, gratia, fructus operis spiritualis. 230 Spiritus Sanctus puritatem Christi ei concedit imitari 231 quem Baptismi regeneravit aqua.




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