Theological ethics, also known as moral theology, is recognized as a critical knowledge regarding the praxis of Christians. It is the part of theology that studies human actions in order to align them with the will of God. It is also a specific expression of theology that focuses on the implications of faith on the moral actions of Christians.

The Greek etymology of the word ethos can mean character and custom. However, it also means residence, dwelling. Ethos refers to a unique way of being and living humanely, one’s inner sanctuary. Something so profound transcends moral norms. Ethos also conveys the experience and wisdom of a people’s way of life, their culture.

The translation to Latin as mos-moris may encompass both Greek connotations‚ÄĒhome and character (St. Thomas Aquinas). However, in current language usage, the adjective ethical is often used synonymously with moral. Yet, contemporary thought reserves the noun ethics exclusively for the science whose object is to investigate the moral action of the individual. Nevertheless, the adoption of the term ethics to refer to the science of behavior does not prevent the use of the term moral for the same science, but from a theological viewpoint. Each religion develops its own science of human behavior, that is, it develops its moral theology.

Moral theology is not only, nor primarily, the doctrine about moral principles and precepts, but the exposition of the Gospel message and the vocation of Jesus’ disciples. Its center is the Christ event. Moral reflection, conducted in the light of Christ, also developed into a specific form of theological science, called moral theology (Veritatis Splendor n.28).

In the years prior to Vatican Council II, moral theology was reduced to manualistic moral‚ÄĒthe term for the scholastic moral that prevailed from the Council of Trent until Vatican Council II. It emerged in the 16th century with the Institutiones Theologiae Moralis, used in seminaries and directed towards clergy and the confessional. The moral sought to define what was forbidden and permitted. The exhaustion of this model gave way to the renewed moral (T√ľbingen School), with Bernard H√§ring as a reference author, and was adopted by the Church at Vatican Council II:

Special care shall be devoted to the improvement of moral theology, whose scientific presentation, nourished more by the doctrine of Sacred Scripture, should illuminate the sublimity of the vocation of the faithful in Christ and their obligation to bear fruits of charity for the life of the world. (Optatam Totius n.16).

Since then, moral theology has also come to be considered as theological ethics.

In this section of the encyclopedia, there are concise and quality articles on the specificities of the major fields of reflection in theological ethics. Each article gathers the fundamental elements according to the current state of reflection. The texts introduce the thematic field, present the main concepts, and address their main issues.

The rapid changes underway, with the emergence of new and urgent questions of various orders, characterize the approach of the various articles in this section of the encyclopedia. The various entries are interconnected through references placed within each exposition. A careful and accessible bibliography is provided at the end of each entry. A useful tool for consultation and study.

Finally, it should be noted that the reader will not find either a complete moral theology or, even less, ready answers to all current ethical problems. The encyclopedia does not intend to replace the work of theology professors. One of the main objectives is to situate theological ethics within the broader horizon of the Christ event (Ethics of Jesus). As an underlying reality to all theology, it is the understanding of the ethos of Jesus that needs to be highlighted. Theological ethics presents itself as an attempt to combine the humanum marked not by a Christ stationary in space and time, but by a Christ who walks with his followers. The Christian ethos emerges from the experience accumulated by Christians throughout history, always reflecting anew in Jesus Christ: how he positioned himself in various situations? In a reality that is constantly changing, how to articulate what remains and what evolves? Christians have a way of understanding and acting that traverses various ethos without losing their specificity: Christ, as the first norm, is the foundation of all theological ethics.

Elio Gasda