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Analysis of the moral act. A proposal


The tendency in manuals of moral theology during the first half of the century has been to set forth the doctrine of St. Thomas Aquinas. The return to St. Thomas, after a period of essentialism or formalism, which owes much to Suárez, was realized in large measure thanks to the Popes: since Leo XII, who initiated the critical edition of Aquinas' work, every Pope has insisted in the suitability of his writings for theological inspiration and reflection.

Nevertheless, this return to St. Thomas has been undertaken by means of previous ideas. The formation of the first cultivators of scholastic philosophy to consider a return to Thomistic spirit was formalist, to a greater or lesser degree. It thus is logical that when interpreting St. Thomas' texts, these ideas would influence the manner in which the texts were understood. This influence, inevitable to a certain degree, has been decisively present in the vision of St. Thomas transmitted throughout this century.

With the passage of time the cultivators of Thomistic philosophy have become conscious of their formalist or essentialist interpretation of his work. This interpretation, the fruit of a particular mindset, nevertheless has not been limited to parts of his philosophy but extends to all those aspects in which essentialist and Thomistic interpretations differ. In some areas the essentialist vision is so subtly present as to make difficult distinguishing between the two.

Something similar to this problem occurs in the area of moral theology. Although moral theology is an area of theology apparently removed from essentialist opinions, it is not free from their influence. In this paper we want to show that studies in moral theology, which at times intermingle and at times even go back directly to St. Thomas as the initiator of reflection about a particular problem, contain ideas removed from his thought. We will subsequently show what is in our opinion the appropriate manner of interpreting the study of the morality of human acts which St. Thomas makes at the beginning of the Pars Secunda of the Summa Theologiae. The recent encyclical Veritatis Splendor has highlighted some of these genuinely Thomistic elements and will permit us to make a fruitful profundization.

The publication of this encyclical has given rise to a polemic that at times is not free of acrimony, especially with reference to the correct manner of understanding the moral object (1). Clarifying this topic is not the object of the present work. In certain moments, however, especially when we refer to the moral object and intentionality, it will be reasonable to make mention of some of the concepts which have been presented in the discussion. Nevertheless these commentaries will not be exhaustive: in order to do justice to the polemic, we would need to dedicate more space than we do here.

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