"Fundamental Option"?

In our Moral Theology class today, our priest professor spoke about the Church’s teaching on conscience, based on Saint Thomas Aquinas. He referred to something called the “Fundamental option” or optio fundamentalis in Latin.

I may have misunderstood him, but it did sound like he was saying that Saint Thomas was in some kind of agreement with this idea.

Now, I have heard of this thing before, and from what I understand, it means that you can sin as much as you like and not lose the state of grace, as long as your “fundamental option” is for God, that is, you don’t lose faith in Him. I find it hard to believe Saint Thomas would agree with that.

Do you have any thoughts on the matter? :slight_smile:

I don’t know a lot about it, but St. John Paul II talks about the “fundamental option” idea at length in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, nos. 65-70. His writing is not the easiest to understand, but it is clear that he opposes the view in question as contrary to Church teaching and Catholic theology.

Supremacy of conscience is, I think, another issue, and from what I understand, St. Thomas’s teaching on the matter is often abused and taken out of context to support an erroneous supremacy of conscience which neglects one’s duty to form the conscience in accordance with Church teaching.

Hi CutlerB,

I believe what you’re describing is something referred to as “Fundamental Option Theory” which is against Church teaching. But the basic concept of “fundamental option” is not against Church teaching.

Your fundamental option changes as you change from a state of sin to grace and visa versa. This is the Catholic understanding. It refers to your fundamental choice in life: God or not.

However, the theory (rejected by the Church) holds that no single act can change your fundamental option.

It’s the similar wording of “fundamental option” and “fundamental option theory” that often causes confusion. Doesn’t sound like your priest said anything wrong.

Hope that helps!

Sounds good, you two! :slight_smile:

From New Advent:

According to fundamental option theory, each person makes a deep and basic choice for or against God. Individual acts we perform may or may not be in accordance with that fundamental choice. For example, when a person who has made a basic choice in favor of God sins, this choice to sin is not in accord with his fundamental orientation in favor of God.

The key claims of fundamental option theory are that individual acts do not change our basic orientation and that only when our fundamental option changes against God do we fall out of a state of grace. A person can commit particular sins without losing a state of grace.

Historic Catholic theology would say that those sins which do not change our fundamental option are venial sins and that those sins which do change it are mortal sins. Whenever a person commits a mortal sin, he has changed his fundamental option and chooses to be against God; he loses the state of grace.

But this is not the way fundamental option theorists present their system. They typically claim that one can commit acts such as adultery, homosexuality, and masturbation, which the Church has always regarded as mortal sins, without changing one’s fundamental option. Some go so far as to imply that no single act of sin one commits changes one’s fundamental option; only a prolonged pattern of sinful behavior can do so.

The effect of fundamental option theory, when it is presented this way, is to minimize people’s awareness of mortal sin and the danger it poses to their souls. It was this teaching, which undermines what the Church always has taught concerning sin, that the pope condemned (Veritatis Splendor 65-70).


That blows the “Once Saved always Saved” Philosophy to bits!
I have come to realise that the Catholic teaching about Mortal/Venial
sins is right, and that one CAN lose his/her salvation by the
gravity of his sins!

It is a great deal more difficult to exercise a “fundamental option” for God than you suppose. We tend to be too caught up in ourselves and thus our “fundamental option” is for ourselves rather than for God. Even the idea of “saving my soul” is a pitfall. Once you act in order to save your soul, you are doing it for yourself rather than for God.
I still have a long way to go get to the point of the fundamental option and I’ve been working at it for decades. I began by jettisoning the idea of “saving my soul” and living to serve others. That way I could concentrate on real life. It got me away from counting sins and looking at how well I served others. It changed what I talked about in the confessional.
Trust me; it’s not as easy as it sounds. Aquinas was on the right track.

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