THE ELEMENTS OF MORAL THEOLOGY - By R G Mortimer MA BD., Canon of Christ Church, Oxford Regius Professor OF Moral and Pastoral Theology in the University of Oxford. First published by Adam & Charles Black, 4 5 & 6 Soho Square London W1 1947. - This edition prepared for katapi by Paul Ingram 2003.





MORAL theology is the study of human behaviour from the moral and theological points of view.
It is MORAL theology because it is concerned to judge the rightness and wrongness of human actions, an important part of the subject therefore is taken up with enquiry into the nature of a human act and into the standard of morality by which such acts are judged. But moral theology is not the same as moral philosophy. It is a branch of theology; its special province is that conduct which is enjoined on man by the law of God, in order that man may attain to the end for which he was created. Human behaviour, therefore, is judged and directed by moral theology in accordance with the law of God, and with reference to man's final end. The fundamental subject matter of moral theology is an enquiry into man's end, into the nature of human actions and their morality, into the law of God to which those actions should conform, into conscience by which man perceives that law and directs his actions, and into the virtues whereby he manifests obedience to God and the sins whereby he revolts from him.

In writing this book I have had two main objects. The first is to provide a simple introduction to moral theology and to familiarize Anglican readers with some of its methods and technical terms. I have had chiefly in mind the younger Clergy and those training for Orders in the Theological Colleges, for I have been told more than once by persons responsible for the teaching of Ordination candidates that there is great need for a book of this sort. It is my hope that I may have met this need in some measure, and that teachers generally will find some help here in their work. My second object is more ambitious. There is no Anglican manual of moral theology. There are very few Roman manuals in English. I hope that this book may afford a starting point, if only of disagreement, for the compilation of an Anglican manual. I have necessarily made great use of Roman manuals, especially of Prummer and of Merkelbach; but I have tried not to follow them slavishly and have always gone behind them to their main source, St. Thomas Aquinas. It seems to me that where Anglican moral theology would differ most sharply from Roman is in its treatment of law and of the morality of actions. I have tried to suggest an Anglican approach to these subjects, in the hope that it may cause discussion and work which will lead to the compilation of an Anglican manual. It is obvious that a great deal of work needs to be done before this is possible. This book is not itself a manual, or anything like it. It is rather a tentative sketch or framework. As such I offer it to the Church of England in the hope that it may prompt and help the production of something greater.

Those who are familiar with the writings of the Bishop of Oxford will perceive immediately how deeply I am indebted to them. It gives me great satisfaction that I am allowed to dedicate this work to him, to whose books, teaching and friendship I owe more than I am able to express.




Ends | Objective - | Subjective? | Happiness | Mankind's final end | top

A THING is said to be understood when you know its object. It is explained when the purpose for which it exists has been stated. We shall have a better idea of what man is, when we know why he is. Our first business, therefore, is to consider the end of man, or the reason why he was created.

The term END may be understood in several senses. There is, first, the distinction between an objective and a subjective end.
The objective end of an action is that to which it tends of itself and naturally, no matter who the agent may be.
For example, the objective end of delivering a lecture or writing a book is the instruction or entertainment of others.
The subjective end is the end that the agent has actually in mind.
This may or may not be the same as the objective end. The lecturer may intend the enlightenment of his audience, or he may intend to advertise his own erudition and cleverness. When a man builds a hospital, the objective, necessary, end is the relief of suffering; the subjective end may be that, or it may be the acquisition of a baronetcy.

Again, the subjective end may be subdivided into principal and secondary. This distinction is of the greatest importance in determining the morality of acts, or rather of agents. The principal end is that which the agent has principally in mind - what he chiefly intends. The secondary end is an additional intention that prompts the agent to act, but which would not be enough, in and by itself, to bring him to the point of action. When a man consents to give a lecture, his principal end may be instruction, but the fee or the pleasant surroundings in which the lecture is to be delivered act as secondary ends.

Thirdly, there is the distinction between a final and an intermediate end. A final end is that to which all other ends and actions are referred. An intermediate end is one, which, though sought for its own sake and having its own intrinsic value, is yet referred and subordinated to some further ultimate purpose. Physical fitness is a good thing, rightly sought for its own sake, yet it has a necessary relation to something beyond itself. We wish to be fit, but cannot refrain from asking, "fit for what?" In the nature of things there can only be one really final end to which everything else is accordingly subordinate, and the nature of any thing or creature is laid bare when this ultimate end is grasped. In the lives of men, however, this ultimate end is rarely grasped or pursued, and there is lacking, in consequence, that proper harmony of intermediate ends all duly subordinated to the final end. We get along as best we can with a number of intermediate ends for the most part unrelated to each other and uncorrelated with any final purpose; and we pursue them in such a way as shall create the least amount of conscious friction. Material comfort, the happiness of our families, good reputation, the achievement of creative work and such like, play the part in our lives of a number of coexistent ultimate ends; they are loosely held together by the bond of our single individuality, and they cause the most acute discomfort if ever they come into conflict with each other. Yet come into conflict they will and must, and then the only solution of the resultant discomfort is to be able to refer them and duly subordinate them to the one true final end.
It is, therefore, of the utmost importance to us
in the ordering of our lives

to know what is man's true final end;
to know what is his objective end; the reason why he exists;
and to know his subjective end, what he ought consciously to pursue and intend.


And first, the objective end.
We may assume - for the moral theologian is not required to do the work of the dogmatic theologian, the philosopher and the apologist, -
that God exists,
that He is the sum of all perfections,
and that He is the creator of the universe.

If that is so, it is not difficult to see that the ultimate end of man is nothing less than God Himself. For man and every creature must have as his end that which God, in creation, willed that he should attain. Otherwise God would not be supreme in creating nor Lord of what He has created. But the end that God intended cannot be something outside Himself. For if it were, it would mean that there was something which God lacked, and which He sought to obtain by creation. But by definition God is the sum of all perfection and lacks nothing. Therefore the end must be in Himself. In other words, in creation He seeks neither to increase His glory nor to add to His happiness, but simply and solely to show forth His glory, to make manifest His perfection by means of the blessings which He imparts to His creatures.
The final end of man, therefore, is this manifestation of God's glory, the unveiling of His perfect power, wisdom and love.

The irrational creatures pursue their final end, of necessity. Actuated as they are, following by growth and instinct or by the interplay of forces the necessary laws of their being, they reflect the perfection of God as in a mirror. "The Heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament showeth His handiwork." It is the peculiar privilege of men, and of angels, that they pursue their final end by free choice. They are endowed with reason and freedom; they are not only mirrors, but made in the likeness of God - images. Thus they fulfil their end in the free intelligent recognition of the honour and glory of God. When man knows God and obeys Him, he fulfils the inmost law of his being, for he is then doing that for which he was created. In this way he achieves his own perfection as a free rational creature. As thus perfect, he manifests the glory of God, who is able to create and sustain such noble creatures, and to endue them with all happiness. Furthermore, man being an immortal creature, does not attain to this full perfection in this world. He continues to glorify God through all eternity, by entering into ever closer union with Him by means of the freedom and reason with which he is able to understand and to cleave to the wisdom and goodness of his Creator.
Man's objective end is to manifest the glory of God eternally by free intelligent worship.


Man's true final subjective end, that which he ought to intend,
is his eternal happiness and perfect good.

It is a part of man's being that he cannot fail to will his good and to desire his happiness. No man wills what at the time he considers to be bad. If he does will what is bad, it is only because he wrongly considers it to be good. Even a man choosing to commit suicide chooses freedom from pressing evils, thinking death to be a good thing compared with his present circumstances of life. No man wishes to be miserable nor can so wish, though he may desire present misery as a means to future happiness. The will for good and the desire for happiness are indestructible. Man's final subjective end is his true good and his perfect happiness.


Happiness consists in the possession of a desired good.
True good and perfect happiness are the same thing.
For the happiness is the possession of the good.

This possession is not mere passive enjoyment. It may consist in active creative operation, in the free and harmonious exercise of our various faculties, though this exercise must be directed towards the attainment of some end, and the attainment of that end increases the happiness. Thus the golfer or the footballer finds happiness in the skilful management of a ball and the coordination of his faculties to that end. His happiness is increased if he attain the further end, - the absence of which makes the exercise merely practice or even aimless - the scoring of a goal or the sinking of a putt. True or perfect happiness consists in the attainment of an end or the possession of a good, which can never be lost, but is permanent. For if the good be lost, the happiness is lost, and the mere possibility of losing it impairs the happiness. Moreover, for perfect happiness it is necessary that the good possessed be itself perfect, that is, capable of wholly satisfying the desire. For if the desire remains in any way or degree unsatisfied, happiness is imperfect. Man's true happiness must, then, consist in the permanent and indestructible possession of a perfect good capable of satisfying his every desire. The only such perfect good is God. Only God with His infinite truth and goodness can satisfy all man's desires for understanding and love. Only in the knowledge and love of the infinite God can man's intelligence and will find any permanent resting place.
God, then, is man's subjective end, - his good and his happiness.

Any other definition of human happiness is false: for example, the popular opinion which places the summum bonum, or highest happiness, in pleasure or the enjoyment of the good things of this life. This view is capable of many degrees of crudity and refinement. It may sink as low as to seek human happiness in the grosser pleasures of the body, or it may rise to place it in the development of artistic and intellectual power and sensitiveness, or in the cultivation and enjoyment of a human relationship - in friendship or love. But whatever form it may take it is open to two insuperable objections. In the first place it tries to find the source of human happiness in a created good; and no created good is permanent. All are transitory and perish with the lapse of time. And no transitory good can fully satisfy human longing, which is for a permanent enjoyment of that which is desired. In the second place it tries to find the source of human happiness in a particular good; and man desires not the particular but the universal. It is all good, that which satisfies the whole of man and not a part, however large, which can alone give perfect happiness. And this can be nothing other than man's sole final end - God.

Indeed, all views, which seek to find full happiness in the possession of some created good, however refined, commit the first and gravest sin, idolatry or pride. They worship the creature instead of the Creator; they mistake the image for the reality; they arrogate to man - his body, his mind or his neighbour - that degree of sufficiency, which belongs of right to God alone. And from this pride or idolatry flow all other sins and evils, including concupiscence.


Man's final end, then, is to manifest the glory of God, which he cannot fail to do if he becomes what God intends him to be, perfect.
For then indeed he shows the power and wisdom and love of God.

And this perfection of his own nature is manifestly also his good, and the possession of this good is clearly his happiness. And because man is made in the image of God, with reason and will, this perfection is only possible in close union with and dependence on God. So far as the limits of our created nature permit we are to grow into likeness with God, receiving in ourselves that measure of His own wisdom and goodness with which He has been pleased to endow us, in giving us reason and will. So then, every way, man's end is God; the purpose of his creation is to show the glory of God. He shows it by his perfected nature. This perfected nature consists in the possession, within the limits of created and finite nature, of the qualities of God. And this possession is our happiness. God, then, is the objective end of man, that for which he exists; and God should be the subjective end of man, that which he wishes to attain if he would find his good and his happiness.

Man then is bound, by the law of his creation, to seek God.
This he does by showing towards God honour, obedience and love, for this is to recognise and strive towards God as an end.
The whole life of man, his body, mind and spirit, must be dedicated to God, in every action and at every moment.
Every action and every moment which is not so dedicated is sinful, for it constitutes a disobedience to God, Who has ordered, by the fact of creation, that man should seek always the one final end for which he was created. This sounds alarming and austere and impracticable. Nevertheless, it is the dictate of common sense that happiness lies and can lie only in the pursuit of the proper end. And it is not as alarming as it sounds, for it does not mean that man's every action and waking moment must be expressly and consciously directed towards God and referred to His will. It is enough that such conscious reference be made from time to time - that is, that we practise prayer and worship - and that our other actions be virtually referred to God.

The idea of virtual intention is derived, by contrast, from that of actual intention. An actual intention means that a man here and now consciously intends a particular end; a virtual intention means that the intention is not consciously present to the mind, owing to some accident of distraction or inadvertence, but it might well have been, since the action contemplated is perfectly consistent with the end not consciously present, and may indeed be the result of a previous conscious willing of that end. For example, a convalescent is ordered by the doctor to take a walk every afternoon as a means towards the recovery of his health. The convalescent undoubtedly and consciously wills that recovery as he hears the doctor's prescription. On the first afternoon perhaps he takes his walk with that intention present in his mind. But on subsequent afternoons he takes his walk from habit or from pleasure or from the desire of companionship, or for some other reason. But recovery of health is still his virtual intention. Should he, however, walk further than he knew was good for him or further than the doctor ordered, he would then be opposing the intention of recovery of health and would lose the virtual intention. Whenever a man chooses an act which is opposed to his final end and cannot possibly be reconciled with it, he sins, though the sin is less grave if it involves not an absolute opposition but a momentary swerving away from the end, due to some excessive desire for a lesser good, in itself legitimate and proper. Thus, in our example, the convalescent might stay out too long, entranced by the view and forgetful of the doctor's orders. This would be less grave, for to enjoy the view is in itself a legitimate accompaniment of a walk. It would be otherwise if the doctor had explicitly forbidden running, and yet, in order to keep warm or to catch up a friend, he ran.

Man's final end, then, is God.
Human nature is understood when it is recognized that man is a creature designed to know and love God. That human nature is perfected and realizes itself, as man's thoughts and actions are directed to his true end. As they tend or are directed elsewhere, it is stunted and thwarted. It is by the use of right reason that we are able to determine what actions tend towards our final end and what do not. And obedience to these dictates of right reason constitutes the duty of man. Nevertheless owing to our corrupt and fallen nature we are not able to perceive fully and clearly what tends to our true end, unless reason is aided by revelation. Nor when we perceive the right are we able always to perform it, unless the will is assisted by supernatural grace. It is a feature of our corrupt nature that the things which are perceived by the senses, and the pleasures which the senses convey, have a more powerful and immediate effect upon the will than do the perceptions of intellectual and spiritual truths and the pleasures which they afford. And the will, thus easily moved by passion, clouds and obscures the reason so that we do not easily perceive spiritual and moral truth; to the claims and clamours of the senses we easily pay attention, to the needs of the soul and to truth and right we are less alert. Thus man needs the double help of inspiration to strengthen his will for the good, and of revelation to make plain to him wherein that good consists.