Are AI-Generated Homilies Suitable for the Edification and Flourishing of the Catholic Faithful?

Approach to the Subject

Of late, many ethicists, computer scientists, and media experts have highlighted the emergence of data processing systems known as Generative Artificial Intelligence (Generative AI) not only because they promise a “game change” across science, culture, and business,1 but also because Generative AI may endanger humanity as whole by making our worst science fiction dystopias a reality.2 In fact, scientists and business leaders throughout the AI industry warned recently that mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war (Center for AI Safety).

Catholic Theology, as a human science, is not exempt from the ongoing Generative AI revolution. Generative AI is already proving to be a great tool aiding theological research, organization, and textual composition of scholarly papers. It will not be long before the use of Generative AI transcends academia. Liturgical ministers, both ordained and laypeople, are discovering how to leverage Generative AI upon their day-to-day work with the People of God.

In fact, Protestants have already done so. According to a report by the Associated Press dated June 10, 2023, more than 300 people attended an experimental Lutheran church service in Fuerth, Germany. A suite of Generative AI systems generated almost the entire 40-minute service, including the sermon, prayers, and music. The “ministers” too were generated by AI — four different on-screen “avatars” or animated images, two young women and two young men. Jonas Simmerlein, a 29-year-old theologian and philosopher from the University of Vienna, acknowledged he conceived the church service, but admitted that most of the service came from the machine. Many attendants even rated the sermon as “good.” 3

Humans being what they are, keen on new technical innovation and applications, this author expects that before long, Catholic liturgists will suggest a similar use of AI in a Catholic church context.

But would such use of AI in the Catholic Church agree with Catholic morality? Specifically, should men in holy orders use Generative AI to replace their own initiative when writing a homily? In plain words, should Catholic homilies be written in toto by a robot? The purpose of this brief paper is to explore these questions and render a moral-theological judgment on using Generative AI either as aid to, or as a replacement for, homiletics the preaching made by men in holy orders within a liturgical context.

Artificial Intelligence

Before proceeding, it will be expedient for this paper to embrace a working definition of artificial intelligence: any system capable of simulating human intelligence and thought processes is referred to as an artificial intelligence.4 It is also a science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs, but not through biological applications.5

The Church has recognized, in principle, the wide-ranging applications of AI. The Pontifical Academy for Life has recognized the ability of Artificial intelligence to address many problems humanity faces, such as evaluating and testing students; assisting visual or hearing-impaired people through better communication tools; and processing and disseminating health data, thereby improving patients’ diagnosis and treatment. To end, the Academy acknowledged the vast possibilities for using AI for the common good.6

Generative AI and Chat GPT

Generative AI is a discrete AI application, that is, a way for users to leverage AI for a particular task. It may be defined as a type of artificial intelligence technology that can produce various types of content, including text, imagery, audio, and synthetic data.7 Though Generative AI has been around since the 1960s, it was not until technological advances in machine learning through 2014 that generative AI began to create convincingly authentic images, videos, and audio of real people.8

At the time of this writing, the most accessible Generative AI tool is called “Chat Generative Pre-trained Transformer” or ChatGPT. ChatGPT uses technology called machine learning. It can find examples of a task a user wants it to do and learns to do the task itself.9

This writer is convinced that ChatGPT is, at this moment, the tool Catholic preachers can best use — and abuse — in the field of homiletics, that is, when writing and delivering sermons. The reason is simple: any modestly savvy user can install a Chat GPT client on any electronic portable device or access it through an Internet web browser. Then, by typing a few simple instructions into its text box, ChatGPT can generate a suitable sermon in seconds. The homilist then can choose to modify the sermon (or not) for delivery at liturgy.

What is Homiletics?

Homiletics has been defined as a science. As a science, homiletics is the science that treats of the composition and delivery of a sermon or other religious discourse, including catechetical instruction.10 Here, science must not be understood as the experimental sciences such as physics, chemistry, astronomy, etc. Science in this context must be understood as a discipline, field of study, or activity concerned with theory rather than method, or requiring the knowledge and systematic application of principles, rather than relying on traditional rules, acquired skill, or intuition.11 In short, homiletics is an organized body of knowledge amenable to classification and suitable for teaching.

However, homiletics can also be understood as an art: the art of preaching; sacred rhetoric. 12 Additionally, St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Summa Theologiae: Art is nothing else but “the right reason about certain works to be made” (ST I-II, Q57, Art 3, Ad). As an exercise of right reason, it is also a virtue (Ad. 1). In fact, the good use of art is a moral virtue (Ad. 2). As constructing and performing art is unique to human beings, the only known bearers of right reason in this world of matter, the art of homiletics is a rightful subject for Catholic moral analysis.

Homiletics as Art

Homiletics is the art of sacred rhetoric. As rhetoric it means to persuade others to a certain point of view. As a Christian exercise, the orator/homilist doesn’t quest toward a mere persuasion of viewpoint, but for a turning of the hearer to Christ in mind and heart. As such, the homilist is an active participant in the chain of cause and effects from which his homily emerges.

In the fourfold division of cause13 the efficient cause of a homily — that by which the effect is produced— is the homilist himself. As an acting moral person, he directs his work of art, his words — the material cause, that of which the homily is made — toward their final cause — that for the sake of which he composed the homily — the glory of God and the salvation of all.

One cause designates the initial cause in the chain of causes and effects: the formal cause — that which tells us what the thing is. As distinguished from normal speech, discourse and oratory, a homilist crafts his homily as such to deliver it in a sacred space — a church, chapel, or oratory — at a sacred time, to a people sanctified — which means set apart — to receive the homily. The composition and delivery of the homily is thus a holy or sacred art, an object set apart from the mundane for a sacred purpose. Forging this homily’s formal cause requires the conscious, concrete intention of the homilist, as both master and craftsman, to compose the homily.

As a crafted work of art, a homily must be beautiful, and it is the homilist’s moral duty to construct it as such. According to St. Thomas Aquinas, human beings behold beauty when they contemplate the integrity, proportion, and clarity, of a beholden object. Because everything created derives its beauty from the Creator, beauty so appraised by the human intellect beckons us to truth, goodness, and unity.14 Therefore, to fully achieve its end, the homilist must endow his homily with integrity, proportion, and clarity to make his homily beautiful.

In this classical scheme, integrity speaks to the wholeness of the object of contemplation — the homily must not be a fragment, or a collection of unrelated fragments. It must have a clear internal unity and stand on its own. Proportion speaks to the order in which the various parts of the homily relate to each other. Clarity refers to the homily’s light enlightening the hearers’ intellect, giving them the principal indication that the homily is beautiful and a work of art.

In fact, this light may irradiate from the created nature of the homily itself, like the words the homilist may use in its composition, or the flow of one idea into the next, and the rhythm of its oration. Light emanates in the same way it shines from a beautiful landscape: it goes from the object into the apprehending mind in one swift movement of appreciation and enjoyment. However, because of its ends being the glory of God and the enlightenment of the hearers, this writer posits this light must be supernatural in origin, emanating from the homilist having been made in the image and likeness of God (CCC 355). To this aspect we now turn.

The Imago Dei and the Theology of Homiletics

Because they are human, the homilist and his hearers have been made in the image and likeness of God: the imago Dei. This affirmation is fundamental, because mistaken views about human beings lead to blunders in ethics and moral theology.15 The imago Dei resides in the soul’s intellective part, in the will in coordination with the intellect. The divine nature of God and of the Three divine Persons in Him signifies the imago Dei in human beings.16 This trinitarian signification grants to humankind a natural affinity to, and an unquenchable thirst for, God. As St. Augustine said: For Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in Thee (Confessions 1, 1.5). The imago Dei is the fundamental reality and ground of trinitarian communication into which both the homilist and his hearers are rooted.

Drawing from the imago Dei written on his inmost being, the homilist converses with God through the Scriptures and in prayer. From this conversation is born the homilist’s artistic skill that burnishes his work and from which the supernatural light shines forth in beauty. Furthermore, his artistic skill flows from an actual grace God grants to the homilist to, among other things, empower the homilist to proclaim the Word of God with conviction and power. This actual grace originates from the state of Sanctifying Grace in which the homilist should find himself as his composes his homily. The state of Sanctifying Grace is prerequisite for the supernatural assistance vouchsafed by the Holy Spirit to flow freely, empowering the homilist to reach his supernatural end: an excellent homily.

No machine intelligence is capable of receiving the graces needed to either pray effectively or to receive God’s assisting graces. Only human beings in general and the homilist in particular are the worthy vessels of such privileges because of the imago Dei imprinted on them.

The Moral Conflict Space Facing the Homilist

Even though Generative AI chatbots such as ChatGPT may have reached human creativity levels already,17 the space for moral conflict is obvious: Generative AI is not sentient, it is lifeless, it lacks the imago Dei. It is just a machine.18 As such, Generative AI is incapable of engaging God in a homily-building dialogue. In this, the Generative AI’s output is no different from that of a printed receipt from a cash machine. The information they both provide is useful and valued by a human user, and nothing more.

For these reasons, and despite its ability to generate text, even homilies, imbued with integrity and proportion, a minister “in a hurry” should not use a machine-generated homily and deliver it to the People of God without further prayer, thought, and effort put in it.19 Because Generative AI lacks the imago Dei, the machine’s on-demand homiletic products would lack clarity even if the homilist were to deliver it with passion and in style. The discontinuity between the mechanical homily’s origin and the homilist short-circuiting his dialogue with God falsifies the process, delivering a counterfeit product to the faithful: a synthetic product from an electronic brain. Thus, lacking clarity, such a homily should be considered ugly by classical, Thomistic standards.

The late Pope Benedict XVI stated it well: The faithful should be able to perceive clearly that the preacher has a compelling desire to present Christ, who must stand at the center of every homily (Verbum Domini 59).20 More recently, Pope Francis, addressing a Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, warned:

The inherent dignity of every human being must be firmly placed at the centre [sic] of our reflection and action. In this regard, it should be noted that the designation of “artificial intelligence”, although certainly effective, may risk being misleading. The terms conceal the fact that in spite of the useful fulfilment of servile tasks (this is the original meaning of the term “robot”), functional automatisms remain qualitatively distant from the human prerogatives of knowledge and action. And therefore they can become socially dangerous. Moreover, the risk of man being “technologized”, rather than technology humanized, is already real: so-called “intelligent machines” are hastily attributed capacities that are properly human.21

A Grave Matter, a Grave Sin

This is a good time to remember St. Thomas’ and the Church’s teaching about what makes a sin a grave or mortal sin, as applied to this inquiry. First, the matter, that is, the action itself must be grave or evil. In this case, a homilist using a source other than himself in composing the homily and then delivering it as his, is a lie an offense against the Eighth Commandment. Moreover, it seems that delivering a homily and giving the impression that his homily was a product of his dialogue with God, might also be a lie. Sharing a product of such dubious origin during a liturgical assembly where dialogue between the Lord, the homilist, and the faithful must take place, only compounds the potential evil.

Then there must be sufficient reflection. The homilist must know that what he is doing is evil, even if vaguely. Finally, the homilist must consent to this lie willfully.22 That means there should be no constraints on his freedom to choose the lie — and hurry or apathy offer no such constraints to the dutiful homilist.

All the above considerations should convince the dutiful homilist that misleading the faithful as to the origin of his homily is a grave matter that he must always avoid at the risk of falling into grave sin.

It must be said that the dilemma facing the homilist regarding the use of AI in composing homilies is a new one, posed by the emergence of new technologies. Therefore, this author gladly submits his findings to the Magisterium of the Church and seminary formators to expand the Church’s insight regarding the moral implications of using AI in various pastoral situations without violating the authenticity the Church must project when preaching the Gospel.

Potential Objection to the Preceding Judgment

But what if using a machine-produced homily is no different from, say, copying a homily from the Church Fathers or from a reputable journal like Homiletics and Pastoral Review? Is the homilist also liable for grave sin in those situations?

The matter in both scenarios is not the same thing. A homilist may use such homilies because they do proceed from human authors, endowed with an imago Dei and therefore able to write homilies out of their own dialogue with God. Repurposing them does not place the homilist in a bad position if he tells the faithful, in an introduction, the true provenance of the homily he is about to deliver.

The key is for the homilist to tell the truth and deliver the truth, always.

Permitted Use of Generative AI in the Composition of Homilies

Despite the direness flowing from its potential for abuse, a homilist may use Generative AI applications such as ChatGPT without compromising his integrity and the truth he owes to God, the faithful, and to himself. As stated at the beginning of this essay, Generative AI applications can assist homilists in research, organization, and composition of his homily. However, the homilist must remain the primary author of his homily, and its form or contents must flow from prayer and contemplation. Again, they key is to avoid lying or misrepresenting a sacred task badly made or not done at all to the People of God.

Is there a future for Generative AI to Assist the Church?

The Church has been successful in her past adoption of technology to the task of evangelization and of nurturing the People of God. From adapting the book form, and then the printing press; and radio and television and now the Internet, the teaching Church invites all her children to bring all these means of communication into the service of the Word.

However, the arrival of Generative AI comes with unprecedented challenges, as these technologies mimic human creativity to such a degree that Generative AI products are often indistinguishable from human originality. Their uncritical use lacks authenticity, and compromises the preaching of the Word of God that must be found at the heart of the Liturgy.

To say that homilists should exercise great prudence and care on how they apply these technologies to their ministry should go without saying, but bears repeating.

The French Thomistic philosopher Jacques Maritain (+1973) once explained that the natural inspiration artists receive prior to executing their art proceeds . . . from the living God, this inspiration being a special impulse of the natural order.23 He adds:

This inspiration which descends from God, the author of nature, is as it were a symbol of supernatural inspiration. For an art to arise which shall be Christian not only in hope but in fact, truly freed by grace, both forms of inspiration will have to be united at its most secret source.24

The task ahead for the Church, theologians, and homilists is to protect these inspirations from technological encroachment, or even replacing, the supernatural inspiration the Church needs to save and heal the world.

  1. The beneficial impact of Generative AI extends to speeding up and maximizing benefits across the following industries: advertising and marketing, healthcare, manufacturing, data science and technology, finance, education, hospitality, and retail (James Maguire, “The Benefits of Generative AI,” 25 April 2023,, accessed 15 June 2023.>.). The list excludes all the sciences, arts, and humanities which Generative AI also will revolutionize.
  2. In fact, a recent article by Kevin Roose, the New York Times’ technology author, collected the concern of industry leaders, as these warned AI might one day pose an existential threat to humanity and should be considered a societal risk on a par with pandemics and nuclear wars (Kevin Roose, “A.I. Poses ‘Risk of Extinction,’ Industry Leaders Warn,” The New York Times 23 May 2023: 1).
  3. Kristen Grieshaber, “Can a chatbot preach a good sermon? Hundreds attend church service generated by ChatGPT to find out,” 10 June 2023, AP News, accessed 18 June 2023.
  4. IBM, “Artificial Intelligence,” 6 December 2022,, accessed 18 June 2023.
  5. John McCarthy, What is Artificial Intelligence? Questions and Answers, Stanford University (Stanford: Stanford University, 2007).
  6. The Pontifical Academy for Life, “Artificial Intelligence,” 17 May 2020, AcademyForLife.VA, accessed 18 June 2023. <>.
  7. George Lawton, “What is generative AI? Everything you need to know,” 6 June 2023,, accessed 19 June 2023.
  8. Lawton, “What is generative AI?”
  9. Chris Goswami, “ChatGPT — the biggest leap forward in AI will change everything,” 24 February 2023, 7MinutesNet, accessed 18 June 2023.
  10. Patrick Beecher, “Homiletics,” 1910, Catholic Encyclopedia |, accessed 19 June 2023.>.
  11. Oxford English Dictionary (OED), “Science,” Oxford University Press, “homiletic, adj. and n,” December 2020, accessed 19 June 2023. <>.
  12. OED, “Homiletics.”
  13. Daniel J. Sullivan, An Introduction to Philosophy: The Perennial Principles of the Classical Realist Tradition (Rockford, IL: TAN, 1992), 194.
  14. Matthew J. Ramage, “Pope Benedict XVI’s Theology of Beauty and the New Evangelization,” 29 January 2015, Homiletic and Pastoral Review, accessed 5 Jun 2023.
  15. Romanus Cessario, Introduction to Moral Theology (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 2001), 22.
  16. Cessario, Introduction to Moral Theology, 27.
  17. Jennifer Hasse and Paul H. P. Hanel, Artificial muses: Generative Artificial Intelligence Chatbots Have Risen to Human-Level Creativity, Research Paper (Berlin, Germany: Humboldt University, 2023).
  18. Without getting into philosophical speculations, this author just straight asked the ChatGPT Are you sentient? It answered:

    As an AI language model, I don’t possess sentience or consciousness. I don’t have thoughts or feelings like humans do. I’m designed to assist with providing information and engaging in conversation based on the data I’ve been trained on. My responses are generated based on patterns and examples in the text I’ve been trained on, but I don’t have personal experiences or awareness.

    And again: Do you possess or have imprinted the imago Dei, the “image of God” in your programming? It answered:

    As an AI language model, I don’t possess consciousness or the ability to be imprinted with any particular image, including the image of God.” I am a product of human engineering, designed to process and generate human-like text based on patterns and examples in the data I was trained on. I lack personal beliefs, emotions, or a sense of self. Is there something specific related to the concept of the image of God” that you would like to discuss?

    I replied: Yes, how do you understand the concept of “image of God” in the context of Catholic teaching? It answered:

    In Catholic teaching, the concept of the image of God” refers to the belief that human beings are created in the likeness of God. This belief is rooted in the book of Genesis in the Bible, where it states that God created humanity in His own image and likeness. The exact interpretation of this concept may vary among theologians, but generally it implies that humans possess inherent dignity, value, and the capacity for reason, morality, and spiritual relationship with God.

    The Catholic Church teaches that the image of God in humans is not limited to physical appearance but encompasses the intellectual, moral, and spiritual dimensions of our existence. It emphasizes the importance of respecting and protecting human life, promoting human dignity, and treating others with love, compassion, and justice.

    It’s important to note that as an AI, I don’t have personal beliefs, including religious ones. However, I can provide information and insights on various topics, including religious teachings like the concept of the “image of God” in Catholicism (“Are you sentient?”).

    Perhaps we should take the AI’s own answer seriously in this instance.

  19. This author asked ChatGPT: Generate a five point homily on John 1:1 from the viewpoints of the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. Augustine of Hippo’s work, De Trinitate, for delivery on a Sunday Catholic Mass.

    On command, the ChatGPT generated the following text:

    Homily on John 1:1

    Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,

    Today, as we gather in this holy place, let us reflect upon the profound words of the Gospel of John, specifically John 1:1, which holds great significance in our understanding of the mystery of the Holy Trinity. In this passage, we encounter the profound truth that has been expounded upon by the Catechism of the Catholic Church and St. Augustine of Hippo in his work, De Trinitate. Let us delve into this rich teaching and draw inspiration for our spiritual journey:

    1. The Word Incarnate: In John 1:1, we read, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse reveals to us the eternal existence of the Word, who is none other than Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As the Catechism teaches us, Jesus is the eternal Son, the second person of the Holy Trinity, who became flesh and dwelt among us. St. Augustine, in his work, reminds us that through the Word Incarnate, God’s eternal plan for our salvation is unveiled.
    2. The Divine Relationship: John’s Gospel emphasizes the intimate relationship between the Word and God. The Word was with God, signifying the eternal communion between the Father and the Son. St. Augustine, reflecting on this, reminds us that this divine relationship is one of perfect love and unity. It reveals to us the nature of the Holy Trinity, where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit exist in a perfect and eternal bond of love.
    3. The Mystery of the Trinity: As Catholics, we believe in the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and John 1:1 provides us with a glimpse into this profound reality. The Catechism teaches us that the Word is consubstantial with the Father, indicating their shared divine nature. St. Augustine, in his contemplation of the Trinity, helps us understand that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, yet they are inseparable, existing in an eternal and harmonious relationship.
    4. The Creative Power of the Word: In John 1:1, we learn that all things were made through the Word. The Catechism reminds us that through Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, the entire created order came into being. St. Augustine, in his work, marvels at the creative power of the Word, illustrating how all creation reflects the divine wisdom and goodness of God.
    5. Inviting the Word into Our Lives: Lastly, this verse invites us to embrace the Word, Jesus Christ, into our lives. The Catechism teaches us that through faith and baptism, we become adopted children of God, sharing in the divine life of the Holy Trinity. St. Augustine, in his writings, encourages us to open our hearts to the Word, allowing His transformative presence to guide us and lead us to eternal communion with God.

    Dear friends, as we contemplate the depth and beauty of John 1:1, let us be filled with awe and gratitude for the revelation of the Holy Trinity. May we seek to grow in our understanding and love for the Word Incarnate, and may His presence in our lives transform us into faithful witnesses of God’s love and mercy. May God bless you all. Amen.

    *  *  *

    Ironically, this writer observes that the above AI-generated homily displays more integrity and proportion on this subject than many a homilist the writer has heard during his life. This should give everyone pause.

  20. Pope Benedict XVI, “Verbum Domini: Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation on the Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church,” 20 September 2010,, accessed 20 June 2023.
  21. Pope Francis, “Audience with the participants in the Plenary Assembly of the Pontifical Academy for Life, 25.02.2019,” 25 February 2019, accessed 23 June 2023. <>.
  22. William E. May, An Introduction to Moral Theology (Huntington. IN: Our Sunday Visitor, 1994).
  23. Jacques Maritain, Art & Scholasticism (Tacoma, WA: Cluny Media, 2016), 68.
  24. Maritain, Art & Scholasticism, 68–69.
Pedro Vega About Pedro Vega

Pedro O. Vega obtained his MA in Theology from Saint Joseph’s College of Maine. He also has a BA in Theology from St. Mary's University of Texas. A retired naval officer and Afghanistan combat veteran, he lives with his wife and three dogs in the Washington, DC metropolitan area.


  1. Avatar Thien Ta says:

    Thank you Pedro for your informed insights. It is a very good reminder of how to use the tools properly.
    I’m also a graduate of SJCME. :)

  2. We have holy priests here who are anxious to spread the good new of salvation, Catholic faith, etc. but their homilies cannot be understood by us and our friends. I wish there was a class in the seminary for good delivery of homilies. Such a class would involve criticism by the listeners. We have a foreign priest who I think I would understand if he used the mike better and spoke slower. I understood him well when I happened to have him for confession, Sometimes a priest will tell his experience or a story and you regret not hearing it.

  3. Avatar ANGEL GUERRIERO says:

    Loa católicos estamos hartos de sermones estudiados, de lecciones de teología, de patrística y de lo que más se quiera agregar para “nuestra pretendida instrucción”. El sermón debe ser aplicación del Evangelio a la vida actual, a la que nos espera a la salida de la Iglesia, Eso se logra si el sacerdote dedica más tiempo a la oración para enterarse de lo que Dios quiere de su pueblo, que a los recursos humanos que solo le servirán para “dar una clase”, pero no, para acercar las almas a Dios. Lo de la IA es todo lo contrario, es una verdadera falta de respeto a lo que debe ser la”palabra de Dios” y no las respuestas de una máquina

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