This page provides a range of key resources on the history of Christian ethics with links, where possible, to online sources.Last Updated on 12 October, 2021 by Andrew Goddard
Dictionary Articles and Readers
The New Dictionary of Christian Ethics (SCM, 1986) edited by John Maquarrie and James Childress has a number of articles on particular periods or traditions including:
- Anglican Moral Theology/Ethics (22-8) by Thomas Wood
- Augustinian Ethics (46-9) by Oliver O’Donovan
- Calvinist Ethics (71-3) by James A. Whyte
- Counter-Reformation Moral Theology (133-5) by Charles E. Curran
- Eastern Orthodox Christian Ethics (166-71) by Stanley Samuel Harakas
- Ecumenical Movement, Ethics in the (176-84) by Charles C. West
- Enlightenment (194-5) by R. Gregor Smith
- Lutheran Ethics (360-3) by William H. Lazareth
- Medieval Ethics (375-7) by Vernon J. Bourke
- Mennonite Ethics (377-8) by Walter Klassen
- Modern Protestant Ethics (383-8) by Edward LeRoy Long
- Modern Roman Catholic Moral Theology (388-93) by Charles E. Curran
- Monastic Ethics (393-5) by E.R. Hardy
- Patristic Ethics (452-7) by R.A. Norris, Jr.
- Puritan Ethics (519-22) by James Turner Johnson
- Renaissance (533-4) by T.E. Jessop
- Thomistic Ethics (623-5) by Vernon J. Bourke
The New Dictionary of Christian Ethics and Pastoral Theology (IVP, 1995) edited by David Atkinson and David Field and available at The Internet Archive also has various relevant articles including:
- History of Christian Ethics (33-41) by J.E. Hare which provides a longer overview article
- Anglican Moral Theology (160-1) by Nigel J. Biggar
- Augustine (177-8) by A.G. Vos
- Calvin (209-11) by C. Partee
- Calvinist Ethics (211-2) by Allen Verhey
- Ecumenical Ethics (332-4) by David F. Wright
- Luther (559-60) by T.O. Kay
- Lutheran Ethics (560-1) by H.K. Jacobsen
- Mennonite Ethics (584-5) and Menno Simons (585) by Alan Kreider
- Orthodox Ethics (643-4) by Stanley Harakas
- Patristic Ethics (653-4) by David F. Wright
- Puritan Ethics (712-3) by Mark Noll
- Roman Catholic Moral Theology (751-2) by David Brown
- Thomas Aquinas (848-9) and Thomistic Ethics (849) by A.G. Vos
Alister E. McGrath (ed), The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought (Blackwell, 1993) has an article on “Ethics” by Nigel Biggar (164-83) most of which offers an historical overview of different Christian traditions (Roman Catholic, Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant, and Contemporary).
Ian A. McFarland et.al. (eds), The Cambridge Dictionary of Christian Theology (CUP, 2014) also has an article (“Moral Theology”) by Nigel Biggar (323-5) which approaches the subject historically.
The main reader for an overview of historical authors is J. Philip Wogaman and Douglas Strong (eds), Readings in Christian Ethics: A Historical Sourcebook (Westminster John Knox Press, 1996) which is a companion to his single-volume history (see below).
Robin Gill’s various editions of A Textbook of Christian Ethics (T&T Clark, 4th edition, 2014) include excerpts from Augustine, Aquinas and Luther. The second edition is available at The Internet Archive.
Samuel Wells’ Christian Ethics: An Introductory Reader (Wiley-Blackwell, 2010) includes a number of readings from the tradition structured to fit the chapters of his textbook Introducing Christian Ethics (see below).
Surprisingly few standard textbooks or introductions to Christian ethics have sections focussed on the history of Christian ethics but the following do:
- Stanley Grenz, The Moral Quest: Foundations of Christian Ethics (IVP, 1997) has chapters on the Greek Ethical Tradition and Model Christian Proposals (which looks at Augustine, Aquinas and Luther and the Reformers) from an evangelical scholar.
- Harry J. Huebner, An Introduction to Christian Ethics: History, Movements, People (Baylor University Press, 2012) opens with chapters in Part I (“Renarrating Christian Thought and Practice”) that survey Greek (13-24), Biblical (25-44), Early Church (45-56), Medieval Church (57-92), Renaissance and Reformation (93-116), Enlightenment (117-30) and Post-Enlightenment (131-54) Ethics. Parts III and IV have chapters on individual 20th century ethicists.
- D. Stephen Long, Christian Ethics: A Very Short Introduction (OUP, 2010) has a chapter on “The history of Christian ethics” (51-79) followed by one on “Christian ethics in and beyond modernity” (80-105) which both offer a helpful sense of the historical contexts and development of Christian ethics.
- Servais Pinckaers, Morality: The Catholic View (St Augustine’s Press, 2001) has a strong historical emphasis. Part One in particular (“A Richer History Than One Might Think”) looks at The Gospel Sources (7-17), The Moral Teaching of the Fathers of the Church (18-24), The Classic Period of Western Theology (25-31), The Modern Period: The Manuals of Moral Theology (32-41) and The Question of Christian Ethics After the Council (42-62). The book is a popularisation of his The Sources of Christian Ethics (T&T Clark, 1995) whose Part Two (“A Brief History of Moral Theology”, 191-323) explores the history in much more detail.
- Samuel Wells, Ben Quash and Rebekah Eklund, Introducing Christian Ethics (2nd edition, Wiley Blackwell, 2017) where Part One is “The Story of Christian Ethics” covering The Story of God, The Story of the Church, The Story of Ethics (general history of ethics) and The Story of Christian Ethics (historical survey of Christian ethics). The first edition of the book is available at The Internet Archive.
Single-Volume Histories of Ethics
There are a number of books which offer helpful histories of Christian ethics or ethics more generally including
- Michael Banner, Christian Ethics: A Brief History (Wiley-Blackwell, 2009) which in short chapters explores key themes in Christian ethics by introducing the thought of Benedict, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Butler, Kant & Kierkegaard, Nietzche, and Barth & John Paul II.
- Alasdair MacIntyre, A Short History of Ethics: A history of moral philosophy from the Homeric age to the 20th century (2nd edition, University of Notre Dame Press, 1998 and Routledge, 2002) is a classic treatment of the wider history of moral philosophy with some discussion of Christian approaches within it.
- Williams, Thomas, The Cambridge Companion to Medieval Ethics (CUP, 2018) where Part I is a history with 3 chapters covering Christian ethics in the period (“From Augustine to Eriugena” (Erik Kenyon), “From Anselm to Albert the Great” (Ian Wilks), and “From Thomas Aquinas to the 1350s” (Eric W. Hagedorn)) and Part 2 explores various moral concepts and themes.
- J. Philip Wogaman, Christian Ethics: A Historical Introduction (2nd Edition, Westminster John Knox Press, 2010) is the best historical overview and the first edition is at The Internet Archive.
There are a number of histories of Roman Catholic moral theology (in addition to Pincakers’ textbook discussions above) of which the main ones are:
- Charles E. Curran, Catholic Moral Theology in the United States: A History (Georgetown University Press 2008) opens with a brief discussion of the 19th century and then explores developments in the 20th century from the perspective of one of the leading more liberal RC ethicists of the era.
- John A. Gallagher, Time Past, Time Future: An Historical Study of Catholic Moral Theology (Paulist Press, 1990) which beings with the antecedents of the manuals of moral theology and then traces the development of the manuals and explores 20th century developments.
- John Mahoney, The Making of Moral Theology: A Study of the Roman Catholic Tradition (OUP, 1987).
A more detailed specific study of the post-Reformation period is Jean-Louis Quantin, “Catholic Moral Theology 1550-1800” in Ulrich L. Lehner, Richard A. Muller, and A. G. Roebe (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Early Modern Theology 1600-1800 (OUP, 2016), pp. 119-34.
Stanley Hauerwas has a typically provocative account of the history which has appeared in a number of forms. Originally published in Colin Gunton (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Christian Doctrine (CUP, 1997) as “On Doctrine and Ethics” (21-40) and reprinted in Hauerwas, Sanctify Them In The Truth: Holiness Exemplified (T&T Clark, 1998) a slightly edited and more historically focussed version entitled “How ‘Christian Ethics’ Came To Be” and described as “the fullest account of how Hauerwas understands Christian ethics to have evolved as a discipline in relation to the practices of the Christian faith” appeared in John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (eds), The Hauerwas Reader (Duke University Press, 2001), pp. 38-50. Both this essay and the following, also relevant essay, “On Keeping Theological Ethics Theological”, can be read in the Hauerwas Reader on Amazon.
There are a number of articles which provide helpful overviews of the ethical thinking of some key historical Christian theologians
Augustine (& Patristic Period)
- Francine Cardman, “Early Christian Ethics” in Susan Ashbrook Harvery & David G. Hunter, The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies (OUP, 2008), pp. 932-56.
- Timothy Chappell, “Augustine’s Ethics” in David Vincent Maconi & Eleonore Stump (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (CUP, 2006, 2nd edn), pp. 189-207.
- Bonnie Kent, “Augustine’s Ethics” in Eleonore Stump & Norman Kretzmann (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Augustine (CUP, 2006, 1st edn), pp. 205-33.
- Oliver O’Donovan on “Augustinian Ethics” in New Dictionary of Christian Ethic (46-9).
- Brian Davies & Eleonore Stump (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Aquinas (OUP, 2012), Part Four on “Ethics and Action Theory” comprising Chpts 15-22 on “Human Freedom and Agency” (Thomas Williams), “Emotions” (Peter King), “Happiness” (Brian Davies), “Law and Natural Law” (Michael Baur), “Conscience and Synderesis” (Tobias Hoffman), “Virtues and Vices” (Jean Porter), “Practical Reasoning” (Thomas M. Osborne, Jr) and “The Theological Virtues” (Joseph Wawrykow).
- Matthew Levering and Marcus Plested (eds), The Oxford Handbook of the Reception of Aquinas (OUP, 2020) has a number of relevant but more specialist articles: Christopher Kaczor, “The Reception of Thomas Aquinas in Moral Theology and Moral Philosophy in the Late Twentieth Century” (485-500), Angel Knobel, “The Reception of Aquinas’ Ethics” (554-64 which focusses on the theme of pagan virtue and the reception of Aquinas in philosophy) and Daria Spezzano, “Aquinas on Nature, Grace and the Moral Life” (658-72).
- Ralph McInerny, “Ethics” in Eleonore Stump & Norman Kretzmann (eds), The Cambridge Companion to Aquinas (CUP, 1993), pp. 196-216. McInerny’s Ethica Thomistica: The Moral Philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (Catholic University of America Press, 1997) is one of the best, short (only 136 pages) introductions to Aquinas’ ethics.
- Stephen J. Pope (ed), The Ethics of Aquinas (Georgetown University Press, 2014) is the most comprehensive set of articles on Aquinas’ ethics.
- Robert Kolb, Irene Dingel, and Lubomír Batka (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Martin Luther’s Theology (OUP, 2014), Part Five on “Luther’s View of Sanctified Living” especially Chpts 25-29 on “The Framework for Christian Living: Luther on the Christian’s Callings (Jane E. Strohl), “Luther on Marriage, Sexuality and the Family” (Jane E. Strohl), “Luther’s Treatment of Economic Life” (Ricardo Rieth), “Luther’s Treatment of Political and Societal Life” (Eike Wolgast) and “Piety, Prayer, and Worship in Luther’s View of Daily Life” (Carter Lindberg).
- Bernd Wannenwetsch, “Luther’s Moral Theology” in Donald K. McKim, Cambridge Companion to Martin Luther (CUP, 2006), pp. 120-35.
Calvin & Reformed Ethics
- Guenther H. Haas, “Calvin’s Ethics” in Donald K. McKim, Cambridge Companion to John Calvin (CUP, 2004), pp. 93-105.
- Philip G. Zeigler, “Reformed Ethics” in Michael Allen & Scott R. Swain, The Oxford Handbook of Reformed Theology (OUP, 2020), pp. 577-91.