John Cuthbert Ford, SJ

John Cuthbert Ford, SJ: Moral Theologian at the End of the Manualist Era

Eric Marcelo O. Genilo
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 240
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt2tt41x
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    John Cuthbert Ford, SJ
    Book Description:

    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 also illuminates the conflicts behind and development of Catholic moral teaching during the volatile 1960s. Ford is best known for his influential contribution to Catholic teachings on three moral issues. His objection to the Allied practice of obliteration bombing during WWII by drawing a sharp distinction between combatants and noncombatants is still studied widely today. Ford campaigned for alcohol education for both clergy and laity and introduced a pastoral approach for assisting and counseling alcoholics. As a member of the Papal Commission on Population, Family, and Birth Rate during the 1960s, Ford was an unyielding defender of the traditional Catholic teaching on birth control that still reigns today. Drawing on the published works and personal papers of Ford, Eric Genilo begins with a brief description of the theologian's life, career, and influence. The book is divided into two parts. In Part I, Method, Genilo offers an overview of Ford's moral theology in the "manualist" tradition-a 300-year period during which Catholic priests used manuals to instruct the faithful on matters of morality and sin. Genilo then examines Ford's two modes of resolving moral cases and presents Ford's approach to doctrinal development. In Part II, Moral Objectivity, Genilo shows how Ford confronted the growing situation ethics movement, then moves to how he understood freedom and subjective culpability, particularly in the case of alcoholism. Later chapters reveal Ford's theological conflicts with Josef Fuchs, SJ on the issue of birth control, his staunch opposition to totalitarianism, and his moral analysis of how society should treat marginalized persons threatened by the abuse of power. Genilo concludes with an assessment of Ford's legacy to the development and practice of moral theology, leaving the reader with an in-depth portrait of an extraordinary man who dedicated his life to defending the Church and protecting the most vulnerable persons in society.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-351-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. FOREWORD
    (pp. ix-xii)
    James F. Keenan

    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.

    His decision in January 1969 not to accompany the school as it moved from Weston to the city of Cambridge resulted in a kind of a divorce. Ford did not want to see the seminary outside its Catholic setting; he was set against the decision to have Weston rent classroom space on the campus of Episcopal Theological Seminary...

  4. PREFACE
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  6. CHAPTER ONE THE LIFE AND CAREER OF JOHN C. FORD, SJ
    (pp. 1-5)

    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 in moral theology in 1937 from the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and began teaching moral theology at Weston College, the Jesuit house of formation in Weston, Massachusetts. While at Weston, he also earned a degree in civil law from Boston College Law School. He taught at the Gregorian University in Rome...

  7. PART I METHOD
    • CHAPTER TWO JOHN FORD’S MORAL THEOLOGY AND THE MANUALIST TRADITION
      (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 the moral theology of the manuals as also “very pastoral and prudent, critically respectful, realistic, compassionate, open and charitable, and well-informed.”¹

      McCormick gave particular praise to John Ford and Gerald Kelly as “the two dominant American moral theologians of the ’40s and ’50s.” He notes that they “had such towering and well-deserved reputations that most of us regarded their agreement on a practical matter as constituting a ‘solidly probable...

    • CHAPTER THREE JOHN FORD’S TWO MODES OF RESOLVING MORAL CASES
      (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 methods in the crisis mode. Case examples illustrate both modes.

      Ford approached moral cases that were neither grave nor urgent in the standard mode, using a manaulist approach to interpreting papal teaching and a straightforward application of probabilism. In this mode, he assessed the authority of papal pronouncements, weighed the probability of...

    • CHAPTER FOUR THE DEVELOPMENT OF DOCTRINE
      (pp. 77-103)

      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 will demonstrate the consistent and inconsistent aspects of Ford’s approach—aspects which can best be understood in light of the history of doctrinal consistency itself.

      Ford set continuity with tradition as a condition and a mark of authenticity for any doctrinal development. New teachings should develop gradually and organically from past teachings. Authentic doctrinal developments should take the form of a...

  8. PART II MORAL OBJECTIVITY
    • CHAPTER FIVE OBJECTIVE MORAL NORMS AND SITUATION ETHICS
      (pp. 105-113)

      Objective moral norms played a central role in Ford’s method. This chapter illustrates his commitment to an ethics based on objective moral norms by examining his comprehensive critique of situation ethics.

      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 revelation.¹ Ford’s writings affirmed the natural law and the universal objective moral norms derived from it by human reason.

      There...

    • CHAPTER SIX SUBJECTIVE CULPABILITY
      (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 nature of compulsions and their significance in the evaluation of moral culpability. After exploring Ford’s understanding of these themes, I turn to his application of them to cases involving diminished subjective culpability viewed from the confessional context. The chapter concludes with a case study on alcoholism, illustrating Ford’s nuanced consideration of the factors affecting moral culpability.

      The manualist...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN JOHN FORD AND JOSEF FUCHS
      (pp. 129-157)

      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 competing claim about the possibility of changing the Church’s teaching on contraception. The papal birth control commission provides an important historical context for comparing the moral methods of Ford and Fuchs because Fuchs underwent an intellectual conversion during the commission meetings, which led to a shift in his approach to moral theology. Analysis...

  9. PART III MORALITY AND LAW
    • CHAPTER EIGHT OPPOSING TOTALITARIANISM AND PROTECTING THE VULNERABLE
      (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 Ford’s sensitivity to the plight of vulnerable persons. In this chapter I show how Ford used his skills as a manualist to defend the rights of vulnerable persons in society from current or potential abuses of power by persons in authority. Ford’s critique of the totalitarian character of the legal philosophy of Oliver Wendell Holmes...

    • CHAPTER NINE JOHN FORD AND HIS LEGACY
      (pp. 193-198)

      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.

      Ford was an extraordinary manualist. His moral method was animated by dynamic tensions, and his commitment to defend objective moral norms was complemented by a pastoral stance that accommodated circumstances diminishing subjective culpability. His respect for ecclesiastical and civil authority allowed for critical challenges, especially when vulnerable persons were affected. He could shift between the role of...

  10. APPENDIX TIME LINE OF THE LIFE AND CAREER OF JOHN C. FORD, SJ
    (pp. 199-200)
  11. REFERENCES
    (pp. 201-208)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 209-217)