Charles E. Curran presents the first in-depth analysis of the origins of Catholic moral theology in the United States, focusing on three significant figures in the late nineteenth century and demonstrating that methodological pluralism and theological diversity existed in the Church even then.
Curran begins by tracing the historical development of moral theology, especially as presented in nineteenth-century manuals of moral theology, which offered a legal model of morality including a heavy emphasis on canon law. He then probes the different approaches and ideas of three important writers: Aloysius Sabetti, a Jesuit who was a typical, as well as the most influential, American manualist; Thomas J. Bouquillon, first chair of moral theology at Catholic University of America, a neoscholastic who criticized the manuals' approach as narrow and incomplete for failing to address principles, virtues, and the connection to systematic theology; and clerical educator John B. Hogan, a casuist who developed a more inductive and historically conscious methodology.
Curran describes how all three men dealt in different ways with the increasing role of authoritative teachings in moral theology from the Vatican. He also shows how they reflected their American context and the views of their own time on women and sexuality.
So little attention has been paid to the development of moral theology in this country that these authors are unknown to many scholars. Curran's book corrects this oversight and proposes that the ferment revealed in their writings offers important lessons for contemporary Catholic moral theology.