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John Cuthbert Ford, SJ

Moral Theologian at the End of the Manualist Era

Publication Year: 2007

John Cuthbert Ford, SJ (1902-1989) was one of the leading American Catholic moralists of the 20th century. This is the first full-length analysis of his work and influence, one that not only reveals a traditionally Catholic method of moral analysis but al

Published by: Georgetown University Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xi

For many years, John Cuthbert Ford, SJ, and Weston School of Theology were synonymous: he was the embodiment of moral theology at the Jesuit seminary in the Massachusetts town of Weston. Gracious, bighearted, and opinionated, Ford was the face of the institution....

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pp. xiii-xiv

John Cuthbert Ford, SJ, was a major figure in the history of moral theology in the United States from the early 1940s up to the late 1960s. Contemporary references to Ford’s work, however, have been limited to his writings on obliteration bombing, contraception, and alcoholism. The...

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pp. xv

I would like to thank Fr. Paul Nelligan, the archivist of the New England Jesuit Province during the time of my research. I also thank Heidi Marshall for her help in photocopying and cataloging my research and Alice Howe for her assistance in facilitating permission for publication....

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CHAPTER ONE: The Life and Career of John C. Ford, SJ

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pp. 1-4

John Cuthbert Ford was born on December 20, 1902, in Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Boston College High School and, at the age of seventeen, entered the Maryland–New York Province of the Society of Jesus. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1932.1 He received his doctorate...


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CHAPTER TWO: John Ford’s Moral Theology and the Manualist Tradition

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pp. 7-34

Richard McCormick described the manualist moral theology of the 1940s and 1950s as “all too often one-sidedly confession-oriented, magisterium-dominated, canon law-related, sin-centered, and seminary controlled.” Nevertheless, he qualified these comments, characterizing...

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CHAPTER THREE: John Ford’s Two Modes of Resolving Moral Cases

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pp. 35-76

John Ford had two ways of proceeding in resolving moral cases: a standard mode and a crisis mode. I begin by presenting his interpretation of church teaching and his use of probabilism in the standard mode; then I show how Ford made selective use of probabilism and unconventional...

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CHAPTER FOUR: The Development of Doctrine

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pp. 77-102

This chapter deals with John Ford’s approach to doctrinal development, particularly as his approach contrasts with that of historian John Noonan, who had proposed an alternative way of understanding the development of church teachings. The case of periodic continence...


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CHAPTER FIVE: Objective Moral Norms and Situation Ethics

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pp. 105-113

The manuals presented the eternal law of God as the ultimate, objective norm of morality. Since the eternal law could not be known directly by human beings, the divine law and the natural law served as the proximate, objective norms of morality that could be known by reason and...

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CHAPTER SIX: Subjective Culpability

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pp. 114-128

This chapter examines Ford’s nuanced approach to evaluating factors that can diminish subjective culpability of penitents. Ford presented moral presuppositions to assist moralists in judging a penitent in a manner that is neither too lenient nor too strict. He also investigated the...

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CHAPTER SEVEN: John Ford and Josef Fuchs

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pp. 129-156

Another way to understand and appreciate John Ford’s moral method as a manualist is to compare his approach with that of another leading moralist of his time, Josef Fuchs. Both Ford and Fuchs were appointed to the papal birth control commission; each wrote a report presenting a...


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CHAPTER EIGTHT: Opposing Totalitarianism and Protecting the Vulnerable

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pp. 159-192

We have seen how Ford encountered Noonan and Fuchs, and we have seen how different his moral method was from the contemporary mindset with regard to development of doctrine and moral objectivity. At the same time, we have seen throughout his writings and case treatments...

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CHAPTER NINE: John Ford and His Legacy

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pp. 193-197

John Ford’s legacy includes both the advance of an approach to moral theology that was falling out of favor even as he refined it, and profound human and pastoral insights that have borne fruit in the theological world and in actual human lives....

APPENDIX: Time Line of the Life and Career of John C. Ford, SJ

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pp. 199-200


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pp. 201-208


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pp. 209-217

E-ISBN-13: 9781589013513
E-ISBN-10: 1589013514
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589011816
Print-ISBN-10: 1589011813

Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2007