IntroductionNow that we have reviewed the background, it is at last possible to address and assess the present teaching of the Catholic Church. The first thing to be said is that, in the context of Scripture and Tradition the official teaching of the Church is not definitive, given that nothing has been "defined". On the other hand, any Catholic should be very wary of setting up his own private judgement against that of the Magisterium. An attitude of filial docility is much more in keeping with a healthy Catholic mentality. This is not because one should "turn off one's mind" if one is a Catholic! Nor is it because there is some virtue in "obedience" in itself. It is because one cannot expect to be an expert in everything, not even every aspect of theology and ethics. It is generally prudent to defer in such matters to the consensus of orthodox theologians and teachers of the Faith: the Bishops in Catholic Communion. It is generally imprudent (and in fact impudent and hubristic) to try to work such matters out for oneself, independently, from first principles.
Prophetic AuthorityStill, on occasion, it is necessary and indeed a sacred duty to resist Ecclesiastical authority. St Paul stood up to St Peter, the first pope, and his hierarchical superior, over the matter of the equality of uncircumcised gentiles within the Church. St Catherine of Sienna told the Pope that he was wrong to stay at Avignon and should return to Rome.
There is a prophetic dimension to authority within the Church as well as a hierarchical one. The hierarchy has the responsibility to judge the spirits but prophets have the responsibility to admonish the hierarchy when it deviates from its sole duty of preserving and promoting the Gospel Tradition. It is just as plausible for a lay person to be a prophet as for a cleric, for a woman as a man.
The Magisterium and InfallibilityWhat exactly is the status and significance of the Dogma that we will be considering? Official Church Teaching can sometimes be infallible. This means that it is absolutely binding on every Catholic. Because it is binding, it is believed to be devoid of error. It would be contrary to justice, indeed monstrous, to demand unqualified assent to a proposition if there was thought to be any possibility of that proposition being false.
That a proposition has been taught infallibly does not mean that it is utterly accurate, the last word on the subject or even that it is (in the slightest bit) helpful. It only means that it is not wrong. So infallible teaching to the effect that "There are three persons in the Godhead" does not of itself exclude the possibility that there are in fact seven! Moreover, the fact that a doctrine has been taught infallibly does not necessarily means that it is in any sense important. Conversely the fact that some doctrine hasn't yet been taught infallibly doesn't been mean that it is somehow unimportant. As far as I know, the Physical Resurrection of Christ (i.e. the historic fact that "The Tomb Was Empty") has never been taught infallibly, and I consider this proposition to be at the heart of the Faith! In fact, only a bare skeleton of the faith has been taught infallibly over the centuries, almost always in reaction to controversy.
In a mathematical analogy, infallible teaching serves to establish "boundary conditions" that specify the set of valid solutions. To take a geographical metaphor, it is a set of warning signs saying "Danger! Unsafe and harmful delusions beyond this point". The protestant idea that Catholicism ties one down in an elaborate tangle of dogma is very far from the truth. Infallibility is not the same as "being right", or even "always being right". A book of carefully checked log tables (I show my age!) is not "infallible". The important thing about infallibility is that it is open-ended, on-call and recognizable. It is a grace given to the Church by Jesus for our benefit. It is a means of deciding crucial questions in a timely and clear manner, with the potential for a minimum of ambiguity.
The Extra-Ordinary MagisteriumThe most clear form of infallible teaching is that of the "Extra-Ordinary Magisterium". This is the action of a Church Council (subsequently ratified by the Pope) or of the Pope himself (in communion with the Church-as-a-Whole) in his most solemn and formal pronouncements. Such acts of a Council or Pope are called definitions. Very few definitions have ever been promulgated just for the fun of it. The Church has been loath to presume on the protection of Holy Spirit, instinctively knowing that the charism of infallibility has a legitimate purpose and should not be demeaned by over-use. "Take not the Name of the Lord in Vain." Finally, and very significantly, almost all definitions are couched in negative terms. Take the Council of Trent. It produced many excellent decrees, of impeccable orthodoxy and moderate tone; but none of them are taken as infallible: though they are due the highest possible regard! It is the canons (lists) of anathematized propositions appended to the decrees that are understood to be infallible: because they state that anyone who believes exactly what they specify is to be excluded from the Church.
The reason for this is clear. To say that a Catholic has to believe exactly something would be to excommunicate everyone! This is because no-one could ever be entirely sure that anyone believed exactly what was enjoined! This would be a total nonsense. To exclude from the Church those who believe exactly something as specified, by contrast, is quite harmless. This is because only those who insist on identifying with the proposition (which is bound to be ambiguous), in spite of it being condemned are excluded! They condemn themselves by insisting that they do believe exactly what is condemned.
The Ordinary MagisteriumWhile true, the fact that "if all the Bishops agree and positively teach that some proposition is a part of the Catholic Faith, then it is so" is of limited utility. This is because it can never be clear that in fact they have done so. One must beware that a consensus may be no more than "shared conventional ignorance", even on the part of the Catholic Episcopate. At present, there are many propositions that will seem self evident to almost everyone that in some distant future will be commonly known to be false. It is of no importance that the Catholic Episcopate would respond unanimously if asked about the truth of such a proposition. They might even think that (perhaps because it was mentioned in passing in the Scriptures) that this proposition was "part of the Gospel". If so, they would simply be wrong. Holy Spirit will see to it that they never get round to formally defining it, and that's all we need to be concerned about!
The obvious historic example here is "the Earth is stationary at the centre of the Universe, and the Sun orbits about it". This notion is clearly presumed in Scripture and was thought by the Medieval Church authorities, on mistaken Aristotelian grounds, to be of profound metaphysical (and so religious) importance. Even if the Catholic Bishops were unanimous in condemning the idea that the Earth orbited the Sun, that didn't make them right, or their teaching infallible! Similarly, regarding Usury and Slavery and Circumcision. Similarly, regarding the perfidy and malignity of the "Jewish Race" or the inevitable damnation of all non-Catholics! The Episcopate may well have thought that these teachings were part of the Faith and regularly implied so: but they never clearly taught that they were so. In particular, they never enjoined that anyone who held (for example) the doctrine that "Contemporary Jews are not guilty of deicide" (as we now believe!) was to be excluded from the Church.
Hence, while it is true to say that the Ordinary Magisterium can be infallible; it seems to me that this proposition is, regrettably, of limited utility. Infallibility isn't just about being right, it is about being known to be right. This requires a distinctness and clarity of proposal. It is difficult enough for mere mortals to extract from the written decrees of Church Councils those doctrines that are infallible: remember, one generally falls back on "anathematized counter propositions". It is much more difficult to discern what might be infallibly true in the teaching of the Ordinary Magisterium.
A priest friend wrote the following to me when he learnt of Rome's 2001 AD decision to recognize the validity of the Anaphora of Addai and Mari:
"Several things disturb me about the Vatican decision, apart from the fact that I believe the conclusion to be wrong. As has happened more than once during the pontificates of Paulus VI and Johannes Paulus II, a decision has been made based chiefly upon ecumenical and pastoral reasons, throwing prudence, tradition and doctrinal integrity to the wind. A basic sacramental teaching has been compromised: 'The word is added to the element, and a sacrament comes to be.' [St. Augustine].One must be wary of making of the Ordinary Magisterium a stricter master than the Extra-Ordinary Magisterium could ever be! It is possible to become an "inverse Cafeteria Catholic", picking and choosing those undefined teachings that appeal to oneself and then inflict them upon ones fellows. One should avoid laying heavy burdens on others!
Infallible Ethical teachingWhile the Church believes that She has the ability to define doctrine in the field of ethics; in fact She has never done so. I think that the closest She ever came to doing so was on the question of "Artificial Contraception" in the Papal Encyclical "Humanae Vitae" [HV (1968)], but there is no question of this being infallible teaching, though at the time of its promulgation many zealous people argued forcefully that it was.
Nevertheless, it remains true that the teaching of "Humanae Vitae", as much else that I will be discussing in this paper, is of the highest authority possible within Catholicism, short of infallibility. I say this because the Church is dealing with important issues; and doing so in a considered manner via Her most exalted organs of State: the Pope; a Council of the Church and the "Holy Office" (of the Inquisition.) Every Catholic is therefore obliged (at the risk of sinning gravely against prudence) to presume strongly that it is true, unless they have compelling experiences and or reasons that force them to question it.
Why do I resist?So what are my reasons for resisting? I believe that I have no choice. For years I accepted the Official Teaching of the Church, making as much sense of it as I was able and presuming for the rest that what difficulties I was aware of could be solved with enough effort. Subsequently, I was forced by circumstances to think and pray a great deal about these matters. I have seriously considered the possibility that I am a child of Satan and owe allegiance to the powers of darkness, as befits one whose nature is oriented towards sin. Thanks to God's grace and the help and advice of a few good friends, I am still a Catholic! I have come to know many good people who are personally affected by this teaching. It has become clear to me that the Magisterium is wrong, and also why it is wrong.
If it were some minor technical matter, then it wouldn't really matter and there would be no point in pressing the issue. Regrettably, this is not a minor matter. Many millions of people are being condemned as "intrinsically disordered". Their sexuality, a core part of their humanity (see "Famularis Consortio", [FC(1981)#11]) is being described as essentially evil. This alienates these people from the Church and the "Good News of the Kingdom" and makes it almost impossible for them to be evangelized. Even were I somehow to escape condemnation myself, in justice I have no choice but to side with those who are condemned as "samaritans, publicans and sinners" even when they are not. I think I am in good company in doing so. The best!
Moreover, as I have already attempted to demonstrate, there is a dearth of anything that might be taken as authoritative teaching prior to the era of the Second Vatican Council. This means that all contemporary teaching is open to the accusation that it is novel and outside the Tradition. For it to be sustainable, it has to be clearly founded on Scripture; the Natural Law, via Human Reason or the moral sense of the Catholic People in such a way as to be recognizably Apostolic (i.e. not just secular prejudice). In my judgement, the Official Teaching of the Contemporary Magisterium fails these tests.
The Mind of the ChurchThe Church's contemporary Official Teaching is that homosexual acts are "intrinsically disordered", in that they conflict with God's intended purpose for sex. They are said to "lack an essential and indispensable finality". Sacred Scripture is said to condemn them as "a serious depravity" and "to present them as the sad consequence of rejecting God". Whilst a homosexual orientation is not condemned by the Church as of itself sinful, it is judged to be an "objective disorder" since it is not consistent with what is said to be "the psycho-sexual development intended by the Creator". Rather, it is "a tendency ordered towards an intrinsic moral evil". It is said that even those who are homosexual because of some unchosen intrinsic predisposition, cannot claim that this predisposition is God's intention for them.
More widely, I think it fair to say that the contemporary Magisterium would have it that the Biblical teaching witnesses to the principle that sexual pleasure should be primarily ordered towards procreation. Strangely, as far as I am aware, this is never spelt out explicitly in any Church document - still less in Scripture! In stark contrast, Pius XI taught that:
[Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #59]
"This mutual moulding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof." [Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #24]
"First of all, nature itself by an instinct implanted in both sexes impels them to such companionship, and this is further encouraged by the hope of mutual assistance in bearing more easily the discomforts of life and the infirmities of old age." [Catechism of the Oecumenical Council of Trent: "On Marriage"]
The key concepts that emerge from even a cursory study of the relevant Church Documents are: Monogamy; Family; Sexual Complementarily; Altruism; Marriage; The Marriage Act; The Sexual Faculty; Procreation; The Natural Law; Finality and Love. I shall next discuss each of these briefly. It would be of great utility for my reader to have access to the various Twentieth Century Ecclesiastical Documents that I refer to in what follows. They are all available on the internet. Most are certainly available as "Vatican II, the Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents" and "Vatican II, More Post Conciliar Documents" both edited by A. Flannery. "The Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" [PC(1986)] is available as S392 from the CTS. "Veritatis Splendor" [VS(1993)] is available with a set of varied commentaries as "Understanding Veritatis Splendor", edited by J. Wilkins.
MonogamyWe read in the Papal Exhortation "Familiaris Consortio" [FC(1981)#19] that Polygamy is contrary to the plan of God "as revealed from the beginning". This is apparently deduced (but by implication only) from the fact that Adam and Eve were a monogamous pair. The fact that they had ex hypothesis no opportunity for multiple partnerings, as there were no other humans to marry is ignored! Moreover, if it were to be said explicitly that God only created one wife for Adam to make clear that monogamy was right and polygamy wrong, then one would equally have to conclude that incest is part of the Divine Scheme of Things (who did the children of Adam and Eve marry, after all?)
Moreover no comment is made on the facts that Scripture contains not a single negative comment on Polygamy, and that it was common during pre-exilic times! Why is there a need for an exclusive union? Abraham, Israel, David and Solomon did not find such to be necessary. How does monogamy promote the good of children and of society? Polygamy works well for some who live not so far from Salt Lake City (though it is illegal throughout the United States), and in many African countries after all! If one can have more than one friend, and more than one child then why not more than one spouse? Isn't this just a case of cultural imperialism? It is stated by the Holy Office in "Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons" [PC#5] that this style of argument is not "facile". However one describes it, it is certainly typical of many contemporary Vatican documents. They jump straight from either the naive quotation of isolated phrases from Scripture or the assertion of uncontentious premises via unjustified "therefores" to foregone conclusions [cf PC#4]. As a priest friend recently wrote to me:
"I am having to read about current moral theology on sex at the moment. It is depressing work, full of non-sequiturs, unjustified assumptions and unwarranted inferences. I could the more easily criticize your views if I could as yet see that the other established theories were absolutely coherent and correct. As it is I fear the whole structure needs rebuilding."Or in the recently published words of the Catholic moral theologian, the late Gareth Moore OP:
"If we look for cogent biblical or natural law arguments against homosexual relationships and acts in general, we will not find them: there aren't any. There are plenty which look faithful to Scripture and compelling in their logic, but none which are. We must be careful in assessing what this conclusion does and does not entail. It does not entail that it is good to be gay and that Christian moral teachers who teach otherwise are wrong. It entails only that there is no good reason for thinking otherwise. Somebody may yet discover a cogent proof for the immorality of homosexuality, but if the application of fine minds has not discovered one after all this time, we are entitled to think that there is no such argument to be found.Asserting that there is "a solid foundation of Biblical testimony" [PC#5] on some topic (whether it be the excellence of Monogamy, or the depravity of Homosexuality) does not make it so. Moreover, "the interpretation of Scripture must be in substantial accord with .... Tradition" [PC#5]. If this does not exist, or has been suppressed over time by Church authority, then Scriptural interpretation is particularly difficult. Saying that "the Church's teaching today is in organic continuity with the Scriptural perspective and her own constant Tradition" [PC#8] in such matters is simply, it pains me to say, wishful thinking.
Moreover, it is not correct to identify "The Church's living Tradition" [PC#5] with the latest document issued by the Holy Office, or even the documents of the latest Council of the Church. Quite the opposite! Such documents are not themselves Sacred Tradition, and rather have to be interpreted in the light of Sacred Tradition, as Cardinal Ratzinger (now pope Benedict XVI) himself well knows and often argues!
FamilyPope John-Paul II has identified the Family as the building block of Society and the basis of the Church [FC#15]. Equally, the Church is often (but not, to my recollection in the Scriptures) described as the "Family of God". The Pope allocates to the Family, as its fundamental task, the procreation of children [FC#28]. He has suggested that the value of a childless married relationship can be enhanced by the involvement of the barren couple in the upbringing of children other than their own, by adoption, fostering, teaching or charitable work with the sick or disabled [FC#14].
It is never clear whether Family is a children orientated concept or not. Are a couple of newly-weds themselves only a potential family? Does the actual status of being family awaits them on the birth of their first child? On the whole, I suspect that for the pope, without offspring (at least in view?) there is no family, so that for the Church family values means reproductive values, however, I'm not sure. After all, who am I to say: I have no parents, siblings or children! Can anyone really contend that parents cease to be a family on the sad death of their only child? Who would say that they then revert to being a "potential family" once more? More poignantly, do brothers and sisters cease to be family when their parents die? Surely not! Yet in the Pope's use of the word, this would seem to be true as he would certainly not see siblings as having as their "fundamental task" the procreation of children!
One should beware the dangers of working with conventional packages of concepts, constructs, as if they were things that had an independent existence of their own. Before talking about family, it is important first to reflect upon one's understanding of the word and tease apart whatever threads make up the construct. Failure to do so will soon result in confused thinking! Before asserting that "the view that homosexual activity is equivalent to, or as acceptable as, the sexual expression of conjugal love has a direct impact on society's understanding of the nature and rights of the family and puts them in jeopardy" [PC#9] one must be very clear about what one means by "family". I suspect that the Holy Office means by this statement nothing more than that "ceasing to disfavour homosexuals would have the terrible consequence that homosexuals would not be disfavoured any more!" I cannot begin to understand what harm it could do to "the family" to recognize in the law of the State, committed, caring, responsible relationships established between people of the same gender. Such recognition might even bring into being more "families", centred on loving same gender pairs, who would be able to devote themselves to "important services to the life of the human person, for example adoption, various forms of educational work, and assistance to other families and to poor and handicapped children" [FC#14].
Conservative Catholics extend the explicit teaching of the Magisterium:
"Indeed, 'homosexual love' is neither conjugal love nor can it stay on the level of love of friendship without erotic connotations. Hence, homosexuality undermines the family and social life. The family is the foundation of society, and marriage is the condition that gives rise to the family. Homosexuality undermines marriage by seeking to usurp its rights: Conjugal relationships are only possible between a man and a woman.This is so clearly arrant nonsense as to require no refutation. The anonymous authors of this scurrilous book speak only from ignorance. I only observe that I have a number of friends who are gay. Some are in monogamous long-term relationships, some are not. All would find the idea that I viewed them as "objects of desire" or "competitors in the market of passions" as pretty hilarious! It seems to me that all that one learns from reading this text is something of the personal inadequacies of its authors.
Sexual ComplementarilyTo suggest that the fact that Mankind was "Created Male and Female in the image of God" means that maleness and femaleness are reflections of God's own nature and implicitly that human reproductive life is an expression of the Life of the Trinity is at best heretical, if not downright pagan. The orthodox interpretation of the Genesis text is that Human male and female (in spite of their sexual differentiation) are both equally like God in participating in His authority over creation [FC #42]. The alternate interpretation, that sexual reproductive activity is a reflection of divine generative activity is Baalistic!
"The Bible uses spousal love more than any other image to help us understand God's eternal plan for humanity. God's wants to marry us [Hos 2:19] - to live with us in an 'eternal exchange of love'. And he wanted this great 'marital plan' to be so plain to us, so obvious to us that he impressed an image of it in our very being by creating us male and female and calling us to communion in 'one flesh'.
Thus, in a dramatic development of [or deviation from traditional -ed] Catholic thought, John Paul concludes that we image God not only as individuals, 'but also through the communion ... which man and woman form right from the beginning'. And, the Pope adds, 'On all of this, right from 'the beginning', there descended the blessing of fertility'[Nov 14, 1979].
We use spousal love only as an analogy to help us understand something of the divine mystery. God's "mystery remains transcendent in regard to this analogy as in regard to any other analogy" [Sep. 29, 1982]. At the same time, however, the Pope says thatThis is a simple reversal of a valid argument into an invalid one. God regularly uses all kinds of familiar and powerful images of common-place experience to communicate spiritual truths to us. He knows that we best understand and relate to those things with which we are most familiar. Hence He uses the image of Israel as His (oft erring) wife. The fact that God uses a fact of human existence to express some spiritual truth in no way even suggests that this aspect of human experience exits primarily in order to serve the purpose of manifesting this truth! So: the fact that Jesus says that God the Father is a gardener and the Church is a grape-vine cannot be taken to mean that God "wanted His great 'grape plan' to be so plain to us, so obvious to us that he impressed an image of it in our very gardens by making grape vines and calling us to get drunk on the wine that they produce".
"To choose someone of the same sex for one's sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the creator's sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union able to transmit life and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent. As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfilment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood." [PC #7].The idea that man and woman are in some sense (other than the merely physiological) complementary [FC#19] is highly contentious. Some conservative Catholics go so far as to assert that the anatomical and physiological differences between the male and female result in a particular spiritual affinity:
"By their very anatomic, physiological and psychological makeup, the sexes mutually attract each other spiritually and physically. This gives rise to a special form of the love of friendship called conjugal love, with its fecund and selfless plenitude that results in the begetting, protection and raising of children."This insinuates that the highest form of friendship is "conjugal love",
"Let us first of all bring to mind the vast semantic range of the word 'love'; we speak of love of country, love of one's profession, love between friends, love of work, love between parents and children, love between family members, love of neighbour and love of God. Amid this multiplicity of meanings, however, one in particular stands out: love between man and woman, where body and soul are inseparably joined and human beings glimpse an apparently irresistible promise of happiness. This would seem to be the very epitome of love; all other kinds of love immediately seem to fade in comparison."which is in fact - on the explicit authority of Christ - untrue.
"The conjugal act .... is the personal act of two subjects, husband and wife. In it they 'give' themselves to one another and 'receive' one another. They do so, however, in different and complementary ways, insofar as this act is possible only by reason of their sexual differences. The wife does not have the male sexual organ; therefore, in this act of conjugal union, she is not able to enter into the body, the person, of her husband, whereas he can and does personally enter into the body, the person, of his wife. He gives his very self to her, and in doing so receives her. On the other hand, his wife is uniquely capable of receiving her husband personally into her own body, her own person, and in doing gives her very self to him. The wife's giving of herself to her husband in this receiving sort of way is just as essential to the unique meaning of this act as is her husband's receiving of his wife in this giving sort of way. The husband cannot, in this act, give himself to his wife in this receiving sort of way unless she gives herself to him by receiving him, and she cannot receive him in this giving sort of way unless he gives himself to her in this receiving sort of way. As the philosopher Robert Joyce says, 'the man does not force himself upon the woman, but gives himself in a receiving manner. The woman does not simply submit herself to the man, but receives him in a giving manner.'
"The biblical account of creation speaks of the solitude of Adam, the first man, and God's decision to give him a helper.... So God forms woman from the rib of man. Now Adam finds the helper that he needed: 'This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh' [Gen 2:23]. Here one might detect hints of ideas that are also found, for example, in the myth mentioned by Plato, according to which man was originally spherical, because he was complete in himself and self-sufficient. But as a punishment for pride, he was split in two by Zeus, so that now he longs for his other half, striving with all his being to possess it and thus regain his integrity. While the biblical narrative does not speak of punishment, the idea is certainly present that man is somehow incomplete, driven by nature to seek in another the part that can make him whole, the idea that only in communion with the opposite sex can he become 'complete'."This is hilarious. Plato's myth suggests that the "best" type of original sphere was a double-male, which explains why some men are homosexual. I mean no offence to any females reading this. This is just the myth as Plato told it. Please be aware that generally, Plato held that men and women are equal down to the very root of their being. Moreover, the Bible says nothing of the kind. Hence the lack of a reference here. If this was true then Our Blessed Lord was not a "complete" man: which is an impious notion; and neither is any celibate - such as pope Benedict XVI! What a nonsensical and absurd idea.
Plato taught that at least the best of men should expect to fall in love with another male. Either because this man perceives that the other will teach him wisdom (and so make him intimate with God), or because he sees that the other has a mind and soul that will benefit and is prepared to benefit from his influence. For Plato, love was characterized by fruitfulness. Heterosexual love was good, because it gave rise to physical offspring; but homosexual love was better, since it yielded fruit of the spirit and intellect. Plato also taught that Love does not of itself require sexual expression; and that the deepest and best love is beyond such matters. Jesus taught that after the Resurrection, humankind will be "like the angels" and marriage will not then be part of human society, let alone its foundation! He also taught that the greatest love was that of friendship, the relationship that existed between His Apostles and Himself.
"It was also Plato who stressed that relationships should be procreative. Although the idea as now used was developed by Aristotle, it originates with Plato - and that is that love represents a human llonging for "finality". "Finality" here means, more or less, eternal reality beyond the contingent nature of this world. The notion is related to the deep Greek philosophical suspicion of change. I am not sure that such a notion has a place in Christianity, but it has in fact played a large role. With regard to sex, procreation is a tendency towards finality because it leads to a prolonging of the union through the creation, very simply, of children who live longer than you. Plato admitted that this was an aspect of heterosexual "finality". But he also observed one big problem with the theory - children die. They are not really "final". Thus Plato proposed that what should be "procreated" between United Souls was something eternal - i.e. virtue. In other words sexual union procreates, but there is no reason to restrict the idea of procreation to children. Thus Benjamin Britten and Peter Piers: two famous British musicians with a long standing gay marriage, did not procreate children, but did procreate music. On a more quotidian level, my relationship with my lover makes me a better more charitable person [well, just a little bit] than I would be otherwise." [Paul Hallsel on the "Free Catholic List" (1995)]
AltruismAs will have already been noted, the Magisterium tends to talk of romanto-erotic love as being "self-giving". Indeed, the Magisterium takes it as given that altruism is the basis and form of the authentic Christian life.
"In sum, conjugal love is a selfless or altruistic love of friendship, while also useful and pleasurable:Amusingly, this is in direct conflict with the basis of all love, as explained by St Thomas Aquinas. It should be noted in the above quotation that the words "selfless" and "altruistic" are prepended and appended to the quote from St Thomas and form no part of the Angelic Doctor's teaching. Proper love cannot exist without its object being somehow of benefit to the lover. In particular, a rational creature should love God because God is its hope for Eternal Life and fulfilment. Jesus teaches (in the parable of the Good Samaritan) that we should show benevolence to others because it is impossible to tell when one might be in sore need of another's benevolence. It is in one's own self-interest to popularize attitudes of kindness, compassion and justice by behaving in these ways so as to set an example to others and encourage them to behave similarly.'[Conjugal love] is useful insofar as it fulfils the needs of domestic life and gives pleasure in the act of procreation; and when the spouses are virtuous their friendship transcends these legitimate aspects, existing because of virtue.' [Thomas Aquinas: In Ethic., lib. 8, l. 12 n. 22]This spiritual dimension of marital love, fundamentally altruistic, gives solidity to marriage; when it falters, decays or withers, marriages often break up."
On this basis, some "loves" are not properly so called. In particular, parental love is not based on the fact that the offspring is in any sense good for the parent. In fact, if a parent's love were offered on this basis only, then it would not be authentic! The reason that parents love their children is not, however spiritual or altruistic: it is rather instinctive and genetic. It is for the good of the species, and in particular for the propagation of their own genes; not for their own personal good that they love their children. This does not make parental love in any sense more noble than other loves - like the love of a creature for God - that are based on self advantage. If anythhing, the instinctive basis of parental love detracts from its character, because it is an irrational imperative. It is more like an appetite than an affection.
In any romanto-erotic relationship, mutually advantageous friendship (not a "spiritual altruism") will eventually come to the fore. If the parties fail to perceive any mutual benefit apart from mere sexual gratification, the relationship will not last. Similarly, the child-parent relationship must evolve into friendship, if it is to survive adolescence.
Nevertheless, the Magisterium argues that because Conjugal love (given its supposed tendency towards violence) is only really altruistic by virtue of its open-ness to procreation, homo-gender affectivity can be at best mutually exploitative and at worst pathological.
"Therefore, love in its proper sense is a benevolent, altruistic sentiment guided by reason and the will. 'Homosexual love' is impossible because it seeks to transform the love of friendship between people of the same sex into conjugal love. 'Homosexual love' is only a sentimental attraction of a sexual nature or a psychological dependency due to a lack of emotional or sentimental self-control. It is, therefore, a neurotic sentimentality."
MarriageMarriage is clearly promoted by the Church as the only legitimate context for sexual activity. It is not denied to those who cannot procreate but only to those incapable of sexual intercourse. The inability for a man to establish an erection is the only physiological bar to marriage. Sterility is no such bar. The Church seems to say that penetrative sexual intercourse is an essential part of married life, but reproduction is not.
The Holy Office has taught that love must be protected by the stability of the marriage contract if sexual intercourse is to be compatible with human dignity. The contract is said to make possible an exclusive union which promotes the good of their family (in context, this seems to mean children) and society. All sexual activity outside marriage is said to be wrong because extra marital liaisons cannot in principle be faithful "Personae Humanae" [(1975) PH#7] and that an incontinent union of bodies defiles the Holy Spirit. This is a sequence of unwarranted assertions. It is quite possible to maintain stable commitments to other people in the absence of formal contracts. Friends do it all the time. So do parents towards children and siblings towards each other. What is so special about sexual intercourse (compared with other bodily functions such as breathing, drinking, hugging, kissing, dancing, eating and defecating) and why is it such a threat to human dignity?
It is simply untrue to say that "extra marital liaisons cannot" be faithful. It is equally untrue that marital liaisons are inevitably faithful! It is easy to make promises, and even easier to break them. In any case what is so excellent about "sexual fidelity" as such? I believe that there are other issues in a relationship that are much more important, such as: honesty; respect; loyalty; compassion; and financial responsibility. The idea that fornication is a heinous offence against Holy Spirit begs the question as to what constitutes an "incontinent union of bodies". This question cannot simply be answered as "sex outside marriage" without the whole issue becoming circular!
I give a fuller treatment of Marriage elsewhere.
The Marriage ActThe Church's discussion is always in terms of actions, never in terms of sexual pleasure, so one could argue that all the Church ever talks about is "the Marriage Act" (heterosexual vaginal intercourse) and as such is saying nothing at all interesting, but only that: "The marriage act is always wrong when it isn't itself", which is never.
There are many "sexual acts" of which, I am sure, the Church would not approve which cannot be condemned in terms of a frustrated finality simply because they are simply not a contraceptive version of the "marriage act". For example, all forms of lesbian sexual activity. There is a sense that the Church is obsessed with the penis and with the ejaculation of semen. There is more to sexuality than this, certainly for women! It has been observed, rightly I believe, that the Vatican's perspective is pornographic.
I have given further consideration of this matter elsewhere.
The Sexual Faculty
"Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having been opposed to the body; and it is quite true that tendencies of this sort have always existed." [Pope Benedict XVI "Deus Caritas Est" (2006)]In condemning masturbation in the declaration "Personae Humanae" [PH #9] the Holy Office does bring itself to speak of the "use of the sexual faculty" (whatever this may be, after all does one "use the sexual faculty" when urinating?), but this is exceptional. The argument used to condemn masturbation is that "it lacks that sexual relationship demanded by the moral order" [PH#9], which seems to mean that it is wrong because it is wrong. The teaching of "Gaudium et Spes" [GS(1975)#51] is also applied. Masturbation is said to lack "the total meaning of mutual self giving and human procreation in the context of love", but so does eating an ice-cream! Only if the premise that "sexual pleasure must never be sought except in such a context" has been established, can it be argued that the fact that this (desirable) context is absent makes the experience of that pleasure immoral. Now this premise has not yet been established. Rather, this argument is an invalid attempt to do so.
Note also that "the total meaning of mutual self giving" does not mean anything like "tender love-making in the context of a sincere communion of life and love". This would be quite possible for a lesbian couple. No, it means no more and no less than "risking getting pregnant". It does seem that the Holy Office is hinting at (but for some reason is unwilling to say) that "sexual pleasure is only licit when obtained on the hazard of pregnancy".
It is important to note that the Holy Office admits that "it cannot be established that Sacred Scripture condemned masturbation by name" [PH#9], though it goes on to assert that "the tradition of the Church has rightly taken it to have been condemned by the New Testament when it speaks of uncleanness and unchastity". Once more, an assertion that something is the case does not make it so, except - one is led to believe - in the realm of ritual magic! It should also be noted that "nocturnal emissions" (wet dreams) used to be considered to be sinful, even though there was no intent on the part of the sleeper.
ProcreationProcreation is central to Catholic Dogma on sexuality. The conventional functionalist view of sexual activity can be traced back to Sts Augustine, John Chrysostom and Gregory the Great. For John, Gregory, Augustine and their followers, sex:
"We use the words 'stoic' or 'stoical' today to mean unfeeling, unmoved by emotion, austere, rigidly disciplined. This popular meaning comes from Stoic insistence that all things are governed by a law built into nature and that human reason can discern that law. Virtue consists in living by reason, not by emotions or feelings.Recent Popes have watered down this teaching. They have clearly stated that sexual activity has two distinct but connected purposes, "unitive" and "procreative". This would have been anathema to Augustine, Gregory and John, who knew of only one!
The best account I can give of the modern view is as follows. Given the biological need to reproduce; God chose to order it in the context of Love, as a reflection of the Generation of the Spirit in the Trinitarian Economy [PC#6, FC#11]. He made Man and Woman in such a way that the genders yearn for each other, with the purpose of encouraging them to reproduce and to see their personal fulfilment partly in terms of the engendering and upbringing of children [PC#7, FC#11]. Given the obvious importance of procreation, God has associated with it much that is of great value in human experience. Nevertheless, the prime and ultimate reason for the existence of sexual, romantic and erotic love, feelings and activity is procreation. The unitive role is secondary and exists only to support the procreative role by strengthening the reproductive pair bond.
I find this very sad. To dismiss all feelings of intense affection as a means to the end of copulation cannot be right. Manifestly, love of ones children, parents, siblings or friends cannot be accounted for by such a prescription. Moreover, the Church insists that there is no obligation to consummate a Marriage: but rather proposes an unconsummated Marriage (that of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph) as an exemplar of spousal devotion.
What purpose is served by rationalizing the love of one's life partner in such a manner? I think that very few people look for a life partner with engendering children as the prime consideration. Obviously gay-folk do not. I find it difficult to believe that many heterosexuals do either. I would expect that for most people it is more about loneliness, commitment, fun, happiness, security and so on. The Roman Catechism teaches:
"First of all, nature itself by an instinct implanted in both sexes impels them to such companionship, and this is further encouraged by the hope of mutual assistance in bearing more easily the discomforts of life and the infirmities of old age." [Catechism of the Council of Trent: "On Marriage"]The Church claims to deduce from the uncontentious fact that the primary purpose of sexual activity is for the male to fertilize the female, the conclusion that all sexual activity not open to reproduction is intrinsically and gravely disordered [FC#30-32, HV#14].
On the other hand, Paul VI sensibly taught:
"The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, "noble and worthy.'' It does not, moreover, cease to be legitimate even when, for reasons independent of their will, it is foreseen to be infertile. For its natural adaptation to the expression and strengthening of the union of husband and wife is not thereby suppressed. The fact is, as experience shows, that new life is not the result of each and every act of sexual intercourse." [Paul VI: "Humanae Vitae" #11]On this basis: strangely, and crucially, a single exception is made. This is heterosexual vaginal intercourse within marriage when either partner is unintentionally sterile. This is on the grounds that while this cannot fulfil its essential purpose (its finality is frustrated) this is unfortunate rather than sinful as there is then no question of a manipulation of nature to selfish ends.
Of course, exactly the same could be said of homosexual intercourse. There is never a "contraceptive mentality" in same-gender lovemaking. Many same-gender couples might love their loving to give rise to offspring. They have no wish or intention to "manipulate nature to selfish ends". Their "sexual activity .... is .... for reasons independent of their will .... foreseen to be infertile". Strangely, the Church condemns any medical technique that might enable same gender couples to engender children between themselves! She would say that this was (like in-vitro fertilization) "contrary to the Natural Law"!
The Church's support for and championing of "Natural Family Planning" is inconsistent. It is manifest that heterogender vaginal intercourse when the woman in her natural infertile period is no more open to procreation than when she is "on the pill". The action of the pill, and the intention of those using it, is no more than to prolong the natural infertile period.
"One is forced to ask: What rational distinction can be made, on the Church's own terms, between the position of sterile people and that of homosexual people with regard to sexual relations and sacred union? If there is nothing morally wrong, per se, with the homosexual condition or with homosexual love and self-giving, then homosexuals are indeed analogous to those who, by blameless fate, cannot reproduce. With the sterile couple, it could be argued, miracles might happen. But miracles, by definition, can happen to anyone. What the analogy to sterility suggests, of course, is that the injunction against homosexual union does not rest, at heart, on the arguments about openness to procreation, but on the Church's failure to fully absorb its own teachings about the dignity and worth of homosexual persons. It cannot yet see them as it sees sterile heterosexuals: people who, with respect to procreation, suffer from a clear, limiting condition, but who nevertheless have a potential for real emotional and
Natural LawHow do we come to know God's creative plan and the proper finality and ordering of human acts? The theory of natural law that underpins Catholic ethical teaching, as illustrated in "Personae Humanae" [(1975) PH#7], attempts to discover the plan of God by looking at the nature and purpose of the sexual faculty. Following the novel teaching of Paul VI, this is asserted to exist for two purposes: procreation and the love union of male and female. It is assumed that this twofold finality must be respected in every sexual act and it is thus deduced that only in the marital relationship can "the use of the sexual faculty" be morally good. "Personae Humanae" applies this analysis to various sexual questions: artificial contraception is wrong - even when employed by spouses - because it frustrates the procreative finality of the act, same-gender sexual activity is wrong because both finalities are missing.
Logic demands that if an act is disordered, then an inclination to that act is also disordered. Thus the 1986 Letter states:
"Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is a more or less strong tendency ordered toward an intrinsic moral evil and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder."If an inclination to an act is neutral or good, then the act is neutral or good. The hypothesis that the homosexual orientation is "objectively disordered" also underpins the position taken in the letter "Some Considerations on the legal aspects of homosexuality." In it the Holy Office asserts that many "human rights" are not absolute, but can be legitimately limited in view of objectively disordered conduct. Because, it says, homosexuality is not of the same order of being as race; gender; handedness; age or ethnic origin, but rather an objective disorder, homosexuals should be discriminated against. Such arguments have previously been used by the Church to justify anti-semitism.
Human NatureI strongly support the Church's traditional teaching that the proper order of man's nature must be observed if human dignity is to be maintained; that unchangeable objective principles operate here; and that these can be discerned by human reason. However, I believe the Church to be wrong in assuming that Human Nature is uniform: that what is natural for one is natural for all. Hence, I believe that She is mistaken in deducing first that one rule is good for all, and next that if a rule seems not to fit someone, then the nature of the individual in question is in some sense dis-ordered; and at odds with God's design and manifest intent.
So far as homosexuality is concerned, the Church on the one hand wants to say that there is no such entity as a homosexual person [PC#16], just a person who habitually acts in disordered ways. On the other hand, the Curia seems to think that some persons are incapable of or temperamentally strongly disinclined towards establishing heterosexual relationships. The Vatican seems happy to identify such people as homosexual. Personally, I find the suggestion of a "lack of capability" insulting. It isn't a question (at least for me - or Plato!) of being "incapable of anything". Are heterosexuals incapable of establishing homosexual relationships?
"Natural law teaching .... argued that the sexual nature of man was naturally linked to both emotional fidelity and procreation so that, outside of this context, sex was essentially destructive of the potential for human flourishing .... But suddenly, [following the publication of 'Personae Humanae' in 1975] a new twist had been made to this argument. There was, it seems, in nature, a group of people who were 'definitively' predisposed to violation of this natural law; their condition was 'innate' and 'incurable'. Insofar as it was innate - literally innatus or 'inborn' - this condition was morally neutral, since anything involuntary could not be moral or immoral; it simply was. But always and everywhere, the activity to which this condition led was 'intrinsically disordered and [could] in no case be approved of'. In other words, something fundamentally in nature always and everywhere violated a vital part of the nature of human beings; something essentially blameless was always and everywhere blameworthy if acted upon. The paradox of this doctrine was evident even within its first, brief articulation."
Sickness and CureThe obvious model is of sickness, but sickness implies cure and the Church isn't keen on this idea either, unlike many protestant groups. No mention of programmes to try to reprogram homosexuals is made in the Holy Office's document "On the Pastoral Care of Homosexuals". The Church knows very well that homosexual orientation is in no way connected with any other pathologies. The Vatican can see that to label homosexuality as a sickness is to open the door to the gas chambers!
".... it is hard to think of a precise analogy. Down's syndrome, for example, occurs in a minority and is itself morally neutral; but when it leads to an immoral act, such as, say, a temper tantrum directed at a loving parent, the Church is loath to judge that person as guilty of choosing to break a commandment. The condition excuses the action. Or, take epilepsy: if an epileptic person has a seizure that injures another human being, she is not regarded as morally responsible for her actions, insofar as they were caused by epilepsy.....Moreover, it seems to me, that one would only know that one had "cured" a homosexual when that person started lusting after members of the opposite sex. To cause someone to start having temptations to sin that they were originally free from is a strange objective for the Church to pursue! So She is caught in a dilemma. Her present teaching can be caricatured as the confused notion that some people are incapable by their nature of what ought to be natural to them.
In the past, left-handed people were thought to have deranged natures that prevented them from behaving in a proper manner. They were subject to re-education programmes intended to cure them of their handicap and make them right-handed. They were derided as "cack handed" and called "sinister" (literally "lefty"), and this term became synonymous with wickedness, a threat and danger. They were feared and held in low esteem.
"The bad are called the goats, because they wickedly climb up the rough hard rocks and advance over the steep place. By the holy on the right hand I would have you understand those who do right works and turn fully unto righteousness, which is ever on God's right hand. Therefore according to the merit of their right deeds they stand upon His right hand and receive the reward of their right conduct, even the king's right hand, where is peace and glory. But those who by their evil and left hand actions have separated themselves from His right hand unto perversity of life, take the lower place on the left, and are, that is, condemned to the misery of punishment, on account of which they stand upon His left."Similarly, Jews were thought to be essentially depraved. Now, we know better.
Some people who identify as gay may find the idea of a "heterosexual relationship" (in its physiological and/or psychological aspects) horrifying, but many do not: they just find it (extremely) unsatisfactory. Many homosexuals have close friends of the opposite sex, I certainly do. Sometimes their dearest and most committed relationship may be with someone of the opposite sex. Sometimes they are (happily) married to this person and have children with them! They still know themselves to be homosexual. They generally feel most empathy with people of the same gender as themselves, and they find the physical form of their own gender more beautiful, interesting and physiologically stimulating.
In simplistic terms such people would be viewed by the Church as normal, because they are capable of a heterosexual relationship. The "ex-gay" movement would try to portray them as cured. However, the best that conservative Catholics can claim is that:
"The incontestable fact, however, is that moving past homosexual behaviour, psychological therapy has proven successful in diminishing, and in many cases even eliminating, undesired same-sex attraction.This is a nonsense. It is not in dispute that someone who is gay can marry, have families and live happy lives. This doesn't make them heterosexual. It is not in dispute that some feelings can be suppressed: it would be amazing if a tendency that is at least partly caused and definitely modified by environmental, cultural and social factors were entirely resistant to "therapy": especially in the case of vulnerable individuals who desperately want to modify their behaviour and self-identity because of external pressures.'I have “cured” many homosexuals…. Any other researcher may examine my work because it is all documented on 10 years of tape recordings. Many of these “cured” (I prefer to use the word “changed”) patients have married, had families and live happy lives. It is a destructive myth that “once a homosexual, always a homosexual.'” [Dr Laurence Hatterer]["Defending a Higher Law", The American Society for the Defence of Tradition, Family and Property (2004)]
One isn't gay because of what one does, but because of what one aspires to; what one finds attractive. I am gay because twenty five years ago, I wanted to rest my head on my best friend's shoulder: Adrian isn't because he didn't like the idea at all.
FinalityWhose is the finality at issue here? It seems that the options are "me", "nature" or "God". Clearly, the answer cannot be the first, because if the finality of "the marriage act" was mine to determine, by my own choice: as with everything else that I do, then there would be nothing else to say. Nature won't do as an answer either, if this could be made to mean anything specific. We do not condemn as immoral interference with many natural processes which have clear evolutionary finalities. For example, a gardener dead-heads plants in order to induce a second flowering or to divert food storage to bulbs or tubers; yet this frustrates the finality of flowering, which is without doubt the production of seed. For example, oxygen is excluded when grape juice is fermented in wine making in order to frustrate the natural metabolysis of ethanol to acetic acid. The list is endless.
So we are left with the obvious answer, God. But one has to ask in what sense can God be said to wish, purpose, require or specify that every "use of the sexual faculty" should be open to procreation? What purpose (finality) would be served by such a specification? Clearly, in God's purpose, it is necessary that once every so often, human copulation should result in procreation. Just as clearly, achieving this is not a characteristic problem for humanity! As the Roman Catechism puts it:
"Now that the human race is widely diffused, not only is there no law rendering marriage obligatory, but, on the contrary, virginity is highly exalted and strongly recommended in Scripture as superior to marriage, and as a state of greater perfection and holiness."Rather, mankind has to contend with "the serious problem of population growth in the form that it has taken in many parts of the world and its moral implications" [FC#31].
Do actions of themselves have necessary purposes? According to "Veritatis Splendor", yes. I think not. The insertion of a knife into another's belly may have the radically distinct purposes of either ending or prolonging life; and thence be either murder or surgery. It is not immoral to take a few breaths of (harmless) helium gas in order to amusingly demonstrate that the tone of one's voice is raised by so doing, even though this is to divorce the occasional act of breathing from its natural purpose (finality) of supplying oxygen to the body.
Only if sexual activity is different from all others in having a single, necessary and inalienable purpose can it be wrong to ever separate it from that purpose. Quite to the contrary, it can easily be argued that the legitimate finality of many sexual acts is fun or recreation (like going to the theatre) rather than reproduction; that the "proximate end of the deliberate decision" [VS#78] to be physically intimate is to express tenderness and to share pleasure. As Pius XI puts it:
"Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right in the proper manner although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of the matrimonial rights there are also secondary ends, such as mutual aid, the cultivating of mutual love, and the quieting of concupiscence which husband and wife are not forbidden to consider so long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic nature of the act is preserved." [Pius XI: "Casti Connubii" #59]There is nothing wrong in having fun or sharing pleasure, when no-one is harmed in the process! Jesus came that we might have "Abundant Life". God didn't create us to be miserable. He didn't place us in this world of wonders to be glum or feel guilty all the time. He made us to have fun! Responsible fun, yes; but fun all the same!
LoveThe late Cardinal Hulme rightly complained of society's obsession with sex, and confusion of sex with love:
"It strikes me that in our society's .... seemingly endless obsession with sex .... what we are witnessing is the peddling of unreal fantasies about what it is to be human, false promises of what makes for human happiness ....It seems to me that the Church is complicit in this. The contemporary church has almost nothing to say about friendship or indeed any other "experience of genuine love and human intimacy" except marriage, which it simultaneously presents as essentially related to and justified by the need to procreate: that is sex. The Church is obsessed with sex, both with trying to control it as dangerous and with praising it as an extremely good and important thing.
Human love is often portrayed by the Church as a reflection of the inner life of God [FC#11]. On the one hand, its most disinterested or self-sacrificial form "charity" is often portrayed as its perfect embodiment. On the other, its most exclusive and possessive form "Married Love" is sometimes held up as an alternate epitome, just as St Paul describes marriage as an icon of the love of Jesus for His People [FC#13]. When it is said that the Spirit renders Man and Woman capable of loving each other as Christ loves His People [FC#19], it is not clear whether the thought is that erotic love is essentially excellent and apt for this purpose, or that it is essentially base and so has to be elevated by grace! The following quotation from St Alphonsus sadly suggests that the latter is intended:
"Marital intercourse also has the purpose of increasing love between the spouses and subduing concupiscence. Due to its violence, carnal pleasure tends to dominate and subjugate the mind. However, this effect is normally absent in matrimony, as St. Alphonsus Liguori explains: 'Fornication is always evil, even when, at times and per accidens, a fornicator may raise his children well. The reason is because .... it is against natural law to subject reason to the flesh, as happens in fornication, for the sake of pleasure. But in matrimony, even if the same pleasure is present, God disposes, in His special providence, that such disorder will not occur'”St Alfonso's pious assertion that God provides that carnal pleasure is dissociated from violence in marriage is perhaps as touching as it is, sadly, untrue.
The contemporary Church is eager to praise "the Marriage Act" for its power to both express and reinforce love: its "unitive purpose". I find this odd in the extreme. In my experience there are many other things one can do to express, nourish, confirm and celebrate love. For example: hugging and kissing; saying something affirmative; buying presents; going for a walk in the woods in the rain; gardening together; discussing theology or philosophy; or attending the theatre, disco, cinema, pub, or sharing a meal and a good bottle of wine: the list is endless! For me, all these are unitive (arguably more so than sex) and none exclusive to marriage!
I find it sad to think that for most people it may be the case that the closest they come to another person is in sexual activity, which is a physical act on a biological par with eating. Consider the exhilaration of shared artistic or engineering creativity; intellectual debate; scientific discovery or sporting or political achievement, and the bonding that can and should naturally flow from these.
Nevertheless, while physiologically sex is clearly for (final cause) reproduction; psychologically intercourse is for (final cause) love. Romanto-erotic love has its biological origins in the promotion of reproduction; but this fact can only be properly evaluated in the spiritual context of human life. Biology does not determine Theology. Theology comments on, interprets and reveals the underling significance of Biology. The nature of God is prior to and definitive of the human nature that He created in His own image. A yearning for physical intimacy is planted by God deep in the human psyche [GS#12, FC#11]. This is not just to promote reproduction, but much more significantly as a vocation to the Trinitarian life of Love. Humans do not rut, they get lonely. Human romanto-erotic love (as all forms of inter-personal love, for love is a continuum) reflects the Inner Trinitarian character of God, who is Love in HimSelves. This secondary psycho-spiritual purpose of (all) human loving (to manifest ever more exactly God's inner Life in the world) is theologically more significant than, and prior to its primary biological purpose. As Pius XI puts it:
"This mutual moulding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Catechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, provided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and education of the child, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof."The expression of sexuality should be judged (just as all other human actions) in terms of how well it shows the people involved as made in the image of Love. Sexual intimacy is theologically apt for the expression of mutual love and devotion: bodily worship of the beloved. In this, homosexual and heterosexual intimacy are equivalent. The legitimacy and naturalness of any degree of physical intimacy should be determined by its spiritual and emotional significance, not by its unimpeded biological functionality, if any. It is illogical to say that because sex is in its reproductive functionality a matter between a male and female, that all same-gender expression of physical intimacy is un-natural. If it seems appropriate to two people within the relationship that exists between them; if it gives them joy; if it is well ordered, an expression of mutual benevolence, respect and commitment; if it flows from a sincere communion of life: then it is natural for them, by definition of the nature of their relationship and themselves.
"How intelligible is the Church's theological and moral position on the blamelessness of homosexuality and the moral depravity of homosexual acts? This question is the one I wrestled with in my early twenties, as the increasing aridity of my emotional life began to conflict with the possibility of my living a moral life. The distinction made some kind of sense in theory; but in practice, the command to love oneself as a person of human dignity yet hate the core longings that could make one emotionally whole demanded a sense of detachment or a sense of cynicism that seemed inimical to the Christian life. To deny lust was one thing; to deny love was another. And to deny love in the context of Christian doctrine seemed particularly perverse."
Alison has argued that the official teaching in this area is in practical
conflict with the doctrine of Original Sin as defined by the Oecumenical
Council of Trent. The following text is a much abbreviated extract from
a speech that he gave in Boston, Massachusetts on November 18th 2003.
If we were heirs of the Reformed tradition we could say "Homosexuality is what you would expect in a corrupt and depraved humanity. It is merely another wave of decadence and corruption. Anyone who is saved must obey the biblical commands, however little sense they may make. The Bible clearly teaches that homosexuality is sinful, so homosexuals should seek to become straight." Catholic official teaching on homosexuality is rapidly tending to the view that there are some people to whom the Traditional teaching on Original Sin does not apply: namely homosexuals. Instead, a Protestant understanding should be applied: but only in the case of homosexuals.
In the old days, the discussion was entirely about
"acts", and you can condemn acts without saying anything at all about the
The Vatican has explicitly admitted that some people are identifiably homosexual, so the Magisterium now has a dilemma:
It is well known that the Magisterium has taken the second option. The Vatican has used the Church's teaching on marriage and procreation as a basis for determining anthropological truth, instead of turning to empirical evidence. A similar expedient did not serve the Church well in the Galileo controversy, and there is no reason to believe that it will do any better in this case.
Anyone who lives with a homosexual inclination is taught that it is in itself not a sin, but that on the other hand, it can lead to nothing starting from itself. Homo-gender intimacy can only be judged to be intrinsically evil if there is no authentically human pattern of sexual desire other than the heterosexual. In which case, the homosexual inclination is a subsection of heterosexual concupiscence.
"[According to the present official teaching of the Magisterium] Homosexuality is a structural condition that restricts the human being, even if homosexual acts are renounced, to a less than fully realized life. In other words, the gay or lesbian person is deemed disordered at a far deeper level than the alcoholic: at the level of the human capacity to love and be loved by another human being, in a union based on fidelity and self-giving. Their renunciation of such love also is not guided toward some ulterior or greater goal - as the celibacy of the religious orders is designed to intensify their devotion to God. Rather, the loveless homosexual destiny is precisely toward nothing, a negation of human fulfilment, which is why the Church understands that such persons, even in the act of obedient self-renunciation, are called 'to enact the will of God in their life by joining whatever sufferings and difficulties they experience in virtue of their condition to the sacrifice of the Lord's cross.'"At the moment, it appears from official discourse that everything to do with being gay is somehow an exception to the Traditional teaching of the Church about grace. If Traditional Catholic teaching about grace is applied to the lives of gay folk it leads to expectations of:
In particular, the Vatican should be able to show in practice that the hidden true heterosexuality of the gay person can flourish. This could be done by documenting regular and sustained witnesses to heterosexual flourishing emerging without violence from the life stories of people who had identified as gay. This is not an unreasonable standard of proof. It should be remembered that there is a huge body of documentary evidence substantiating a regular and sustained witnesses to gay and lesbian flourishing emerging without violence from the life stories of people who had been taught that they were heterosexual.
However until the Vatican comes up with such evidence
any ordinary Catholic should stick with the Traditional teaching of the
Church about grace and original sin, held uninterruptedly and reaffirmed
by the Oecumenical Council of
Trent, and learn to
Hope for the Future.So what hope is there for the future? In the short term, I fear none. The Church is so confused that it will take a good deal of agonized reflection to sort the mess out; and the Church is in no fit state to do this. It seems to me that at present wholly artificial battle lines are being drawn up between "liberal" and "conservative" forces in the Church. The field to be fought on is liberty and individualism vs authority and conformity. Given that Jesus said "My burden is light", "The truth will set you free", and "If you love me, you will obey my commandments; this is my commandment: that you love one another", any such confrontation is absurd. Nevertheless, because the area of sexual ethics is the only one in which the hierarchy has taken a stand against popular sentiment, to give ground here would be to yield up the last bastion to the enemy! So even though the Pope is fighting the wrong battle, he cannot afford (to be seen) to lose it!
In the medium term, the Magisterium's falsely woven tapestry
may just fall apart. This will happen if the Vatican's attempt to rationalize
its opposition to contraception and hatred of homosexuality forces it to
promulgate a doctrine of marriage so
In the long term, I am very hopeful. The Church has been indifferent, if not accepting, of gay people and their feelings for a longer period of time than it has been hostile to them. Jesus taught that love transcended biology and family and was the purpose and goal of life, not the means to reproduce it. Similar teaching of this character, once revealed in its true light as no more than worldly prejudice that had infected the Church rather than Gospel doctrine, has been quietly forgotten. Official teaching on usury, slavery, antisemitism and terra-centricity are the obvious examples. I believe that the present fashion to conduct ethical analysis in terms of concrete acts that are intrinsically good or evil rather than in terms of the application of objective general principles (e.g. of Compassion, Equity and Justice) in particular contexts is essentially incoherent, will eventually be revealed to be nonsense and so will fail. While the forceful reiteration of the official teaching on homosexuality is bad news for those trying to change it, the 1986 Letter as also the 2003 document on "Gay Marriage" does acknowledge the pre-eminence of the methodologies employed by those striving for change. In the end, as noted by Charles Curran, this agreement on methodology is crucial and will have more effect than the content of particular documents.
Plato observed of secular society that:
"In .... places .... which are subject to the barbarians .... the love of youths shares an evil repute with philosophy and gymnastics, because they are inimical to tyranny. The interests of such rulers require that their subjects should be poor in spirit and that there should be no strong bonds of friendship or attachments among them, which such love, above all other motives, is likely to inspire. Our Athenian tyrants learned this by experience: for the love of Aristogeiton and the constancy of Harmodius had a strength which undid their power.We must not be cowardly. We have an abundance of ecclesiastical precedent. We must use it. As a gay archbishop wrote in the Twelfth Century:
"It is not we who teach God how to love, but He who taught us. He made our natures full of love."A contemporary of his wrote,
"Love is not a crime. If it were wrong to love, God would not have bound even the divine to love."These statements come from the Apostolic Tradition. The Church must be reminded of its former acceptance.
O God, who art the light of the minds that know thee,
Appendix I : Comments on a critique of the work of Gareth Moore O.P.In a recent attack on the writing of the late Gareth Moore, Prof. Brian Johnstone CSsR, has proposed that the old official "natural law" arguments against homosexuality are at best inappropriate and at worst basically mistaken. He suggests replacing them with arguments "from symbolism"(!) and "from tradition".
I will not respond to the former proposal beyond referring again to my own thoughts on the Trinity and the character of the symbolism that the orthodox doctrine employs.
A new definition of traditionAs far as the latter argument goes, Prof. Johnstone re-interprets "Tradition" from its traditional meaning "the content of the Apostolic Message: the Gospel of Christ" (whatever that might be: we discover this by immersing ourselves in that Tradition) to mean "a historical goal-driven communication process based on a wholesome prejudice" (this is my own attempt to summarize Prof. Johnstone's meaning). The professor then asserts that the wholesome prejudice and goal that characterizes the Catholic Tradition is "self-giving is the basis of a good life in community as a reflection of the Self-Giving character of God" (again, this is my summary of Prof. Johnstone's words). This might be thought to be somewhat impertinent after having remarked, of the Tradition "how do we know which elements qualify as central, and why should a central part, or coherence with a central part, provide a criterion of truth?" (this time, I quote Prof. Johnstone exactly).
Prof. Johnstone then seeks to establish that heterosexual coitus promotes the goal that he has uncritically identified with Tradition: altruism (though he does not use this word). He seems to do this on the basis that for the Church to have people to convince of the "goal of Tradition" they have first to be procreated (which seems to me to be a non-sequitor, but I may have misunderstood his superior scholarship). As the professor himself says:
"the argument so far could give the impression the self-giving of the couple in marriage and the procreation of a child are being considered merely as ‘instrumental’ goods which serve the greater good of the continuation of the tradition. Obviously, this will not do."I emphatically agree with him on this point. He then seeks to rectify this defect by the following remarks:
The case for gratuitous sex.
"The mutual self-giving of the couple, as a gratuitous self gift, is an instantiation of the good of the tradition, not simply a means to a further good. Similarly, the gift of life to a child, as a gratuitous gift, embodies the good of the tradition. Only if the gift of life is given to the child gratuitously, is it a genuine gift. If the child were sought only as a means to some end, such as keeping the family going, or even keeping the tradition going, this would not be a gratuitous giving and thus not fully in accord with the logic of the tradition. The tradition, as it has been understood here, will accept and commend procreation only when it is gratuitous; that is, acting so as to make possible the gift of life to another who is loved for her or his own sake."This passage is amazing on various grounds.
The case for non procreative sexProf. Johnstone then tries to show how use of "the safe period" is compatible with this theory, and has the degree of success that is to be expected. I refer interested readers to the original article, to read if they must! He then addresses the central problem for any conservative moralist, that of sterile heterosexual couples. He asserts without any obvious justification:
"Even where the physical condition of the givers and receivers is such that procreation is not possible, the relationships have been recognized as maintaining the essential features of true giving and receiving, according to the purposes of the tradition, and so the marriage of such persons has been accepted. Where the physical and psychological expression of self-giving is still expressible in intercourse, and procreation is not excluded by an act of the will embodied in action to prevent this form of giving, living such a relationships represents a symbolic witness which is a reinforcement of the tradition and its goals.....He now seems to be reverting to the traditional use of the word tradition and arguing that this is legitimate because it has been traditionally accepted as being legitimate! Finally, Prof. Johnstone gets to the point that he has been preparing us for. After quoting the late Gareth Moore "So the fact that our sexual organs have a reproductive function has no tendency to show that non-reproductive, including homosexual uses of those organs, is in any way illegitimate." [Gareth Moore O.P., A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality (London: Continuum, 2003)] he argues:
"This conclusion would follow if we were working with a juridic framework and were concerned only with negative prohibitions. From the proposition 'Human sexual organs are procreative', it does not follow that 'non-procreative use of these sexual organs is illegitimate'."This admission is, of course, most welcome. Unfortunately, Prof. Johnstone then continues:
"But, according to the argument developed here, such 'other' uses of the sexual organs, in order to be accepted by the tradition, must be such as to positively promote the goals of the tradition. I have argued that physical, homosexual intercourse has not been demonstrated to have such a capacity. For this reason, it is not acceptable by the tradition."It seems to me that, on the contrary, Prof. Johnstone's arguments for the moral acceptability of the use of the "safe period" and the moral legitimacy of sexual congress between partners who are mutually sterile can be applied equally, with little or no emendation, to same gender couples.
The case against same-gender sexProf. Johnstone then concludes in flagrant contradiction with the ideas of other conservative Catholics:
"Finally it is important to note what this article claims to prove and what it does not. It has not been claimed that the moments of 'grace', of which Dr. Williams writes, can never occur, nor that the experience of love is not possible for persons who are homosexual. Neither is it necessary for the argument outlined here, to prove that homosexual acts are actually harmful to the persons involved."This, it seems to me, gets close to contradicting the official teaching of the Magisterium regarding homosexuals:
"when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent. As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one's own fulfilment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God." [PC #7]Prof. Johnstone then finishes by saying of his paper:
"It has been argued only that, for a community which is committed to the goals of the tradition, as explained here, homosexual intercourse cannot be coherently accepted as promoting those goals."While this conclusion has certainly been "argued" it has in no sense been "demonstrated, deduced from uncontentious premises or otherwise established as plausible."
Appendix II : Critique of an argument found in a paper by Prof. W. E MayIn a learned paper "On the Impossibility of Same-Sex Marriage" published in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly (August 2004), Prof. W. E. May - Michael J. McGivney Professor of Moral Theology in the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America - argues as follows:
".... if homosexual acts are gravely immoral they are so because they harm .... the goods of marriage and of the body's capacity for the marital act as an act of self-giving which constitutes a communion of bodily persons.... it is necessary to show that the marriage of a man and a woman is intrinsically, not instrumentally, good and that the marital act, whereby they give themselves to one another, honours this good...."This starts well, affirming the basic Catholic premise that sin is nothing other than acts against one's own objective self-interest. The view of "the marital act as an act of self-giving which constitutes a communion of bodily persons" is delightfully poetic, but by no means clearly correct. However, it is not clear why he wishes to distinguish between "instrumental goods" and "intrinsic goods" or on what basis such a distinction might be made. One might suppose that an "instrumental good" is a good that is good only because it facilitates the obtaining of another good whereas an "intrinsic good" is a good just because it is so; however Prof. May does not say this. Possibly because such a definition would expose the foundations of the edifice that he is about to construct to attack.
"St. Augustine explicitly held that marriage is only an instrumental good, in the service of the procreation and education of children so that the intrinsic, non-instrumental good of friendship of fathers with their sons will be realized by the propagation of the race and the intrinsic good of inner integration be realized by “remedying” the disordered desires of concupiscence."This serves to corroborate my suggested definitions of intrinsic and instrumental goods. It is welcome to find that Augustine believed friendship and "inner integration" (sanctification) to be basic goods.
"Had Augustine integrated the natural or companionship of the spouses into his understanding of marriage, he would, as John Finnis has noted, have recognized that in both sterile and fertile marriages:By Prof. May's admission, Augustine didn't do so. Perhaps he was right not to do so. On the other hand, if one agrees with John Finnis (and parts of Casti Connubii) that "the communion, companionship, societas and amicitia of the spouses .... is the very good of marriage", then it would seem either that all friends should be married to each other or that marriage is nothing more than a type of friendship with a particular "instrumental good" (of singular social importance) attached. To "integrate" an instrumental good onto an "intrinsic good" in order to gain for it "intrinsic status", contrary to the example of St Augustine (readers aware of my general evaluation of St Augustine may detect a little humour here), and without any supporting argument is simply invalid. Hence any further argumentation on this basis fails.'the communion, companionship, societas and amicitia of the spouses - their being married - is the very good of marriage and is an intrinsic, basic human good, not merely instrumental to any other good.' [J. Finnis "Law, Morality, and Sexual Orientation" Notre Dame Law Review 69 (1994)]"
I hardly see the point in reproducing the rest of the text of Prof. May's "learned paper", because its subsequent argumentation is so banal and devoid of all rigour as to be embarrassing. However, just for completeness and in order to entertain those readers with a sufficiently warped sense of humour, here goes!
"Vatican Council II clearly indicated this great truth, for it teaches that 'God did not create the human person as a solitary', and after citing 'male and female he created them' [Gn 1.27] explains that the two sexes’This is an inaccurate quotation. The simple meaning of the passage is just that Adam and Eve demonstrated in their companionship a basic truth about humankind. Their genders and "marital status" (if any) were extrinsic to this demonstration. The interpretation given by Prof. May would imply that the very highest or definitive form of "interpersonal communion" (what I take it he understands "primary" to signify) is grounded in and based on sex or gender. Put this way, I hope that the pernicious nature of this heretical proposition is manifest. To make this crystal clear, I need only put forward the relationship between parents and their children.
"As Germain Grisez says, in commenting on this passage,This is a wonderful example of reading something in to a passage that was never there in the first place. It is also an excellent example of argument by ambiguity. I shall explain. It is undoubtedly true that:This gloss on [Gn 1.27] implies that marriage is not merely an instrumental good: the companionship of man and woman belongs to humankind as image of God and is the primary form of one of the essential, intrinsic aspects of human fulfilment'
"That marriage is a basic good is central to the teaching of Pope John Paul II. In Familiaris consortio # 11, he identifies marriage as one way of realizing the human vocation to love and in Mulieris dignitatem # 7, declares that the communio personarum of husband and wife is an image of the Trinitarian communio personarum of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."This is too silly to be worthy of critique. I have made my own slightly less silly "declaration" on the subject of the Trinity elsewhere.
"In Veritatis splendor he explicitly refers to the communion of persons in marriage as a fundamental human good in # 13, and it is evident that he includes this basic good among the other goods of the human person that must be respected and honoured in every choice in # 48, 50, and 67."Sadly, that fact that a pope says something over and over again, is no kind of reason for believing it to be true!
"Moreover, as Finnis points out,'The Church often speaks of the goods of marriage:
This is a terrible argument, the fact that two easily distinguishable goods are "interdependent" does not justify describing them "as two aspects of a single, basic human good", except in the trivial sense that all goods are aspects of the fundamental good of "simply being", which is God!In a note to this passage, note 20, p. 99, Finnis adds:
"Marriage is consummated by the marital act, which is far more than a genital act between a man and a woman who happen to be married."This is pious nonsense. There is no doubt but that all that is required to "consummate" a marriage is simply "a genital act between a man and a woman who happen to be married" that leads to the emission of semen into the vagina.
"Men and women are capable of having genital sex because they have genitals, and thus fornicators and adulterers are able to have genital sex. But fornicators and adulterers are not capable of engaging in the conjugal or marital act precisely because they are not married...."Simply by definition, not because of any spiritual or magical or metaphysical defect!
".... and it is marriage that capacitates spouses to engage in the marital act, i.e., to do what spouses are supposed to do, to become literally one flesh in an act whereby the man personally gives himself to his wife by entering into her body person, and in doing so receives her and whereby the woman personally receives her husband into her body person and by doing so gives herself to him.This is utter gobbledegook and unworthy of discussion.
"This act is and remains a procreative or reproductive kind of act even if the spouses, because of non-behavioural factors over which they have no control, for example, the temporary or permanent sterility of one of the spouses, are not able to generate human life in a freely chosen marital act. Their act remains the kind of bodily act that alone is 'apt' for generating human life. As Robert George and Gerard V. Bradley note in answer to a homosexual apologist's question regarding the point of sex in an infertile marriage [Stephen Macedo: "Homosexuality and the Conservative Mind", Georgetown Law Journal 84 (1995)]:In as far as this means anything: "so what?"“the intrinsic point of sex in any marriage, fertile or not, is .... the basic good of marriage itself, considered as a two-in-one-flesh communion of persons that is consummated and actualized by acts of the reproductive type. Such acts alone among sexual acts can be truly unitive, and thus marital, and marital acts, thus understood, have their intelligibility and value intrinsically, and not merely by virtue of their capacity to facilitate the realization of other goods.' [R George and G. V. Bradley: "Marriage and the Liberal Imagination" Georgetown Law Journal 84 (1995)] "
"Pope John Paul II has written perceptively of the "language of the body" and the way in which the marital act speaks this language. His thought on this matter is nicely summarized in the following passage from Donum vitae, the 1987 Vatican Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origins and on the Dignity of Human Procreation:I should bring to my reader's attention the attempt to make the body a part of the person. This is a mistaken premise, that its proponents will claim to be orthodox - and in fact definitive of what orthodoxy is - to which most of the errors of the contemporary magisterium in the field of gender and sex can be traced. From a Platonic perspective - where a clear distinction is made between body and mind and spirit - it is simply laughable. Otherwise, I can only refer my reader to my previous comment about the basic invalidity of this entire "argument".'Spouses mutually express their personal love in the ‘language of the body,’ which clearly involves both ‘spousal meanings’ and parental ones. The conjugal act by which the couple mutually expresses their self-gift at the same time expresses openness to the gift of life. It is an act that is inseparably corporal and spiritual. It is in their bodies and through their bodies that the spouses consummate their marriage and are able to become father and mother.'The following passage from Finnis can serve to bring this section to a close:'The union of the reproductive organs of husband and wife really unites them biologically (and their biological reality is part of, not merely an instrument of, their personal reality); reproduction is one function and so, in respect of that function, the spouses are indeed one reality, and their sexual union can actualize and allow them to experience their real common good - their marriage with the two goods, parenthood and friendship, which (leaving aside the order of grace) are the parts of its wholeness as an intelligible common good even if, independently of what the spouses will, their capacity biological parenthood will not be fulfilled by that act of genital union.'
Prof. May next proceeds to quote a hysterical account of the dangers of anal intercourse, which he then admits:
".... does not get to the heart of the reason why the choice to engage in homosexual acts damages the nuptial meaning of the body and the good of marriage."For once I agree with the Professor, hence I have seen fit to omit it. He then continues:
"I will now offer an argument to show this. Patrick Lee and Robert George articulate a claim central to this argument:Now this becomes a little more interesting. Finnis, Lee and George seem to be arguing that certain acts are "unitary" or "honest". These are conducted for no reason other than their own intrinsic worth and the joy intrinsic to themselves. They contrast such acts with others that are "disunitary" and "dishonest". This second class of acts are executed for some ulterior motive. The first class of acts are good and the second evil, because the first class serve to enhance and re-inforce the wholeness of human nature whereas the second serve to subvert it.'if one chooses to actualize one's bodily, sexual power as an extrinsic means of producing an effect in one's consciousness, then one separates in one's choice oneself as bodily from oneself as an intentional agent. The content of such a choice includes the dis-integration attendant upon a reduction of one's bodily self to the level of an extrinsic instrument.' [P. Lee and R. George: "What Sex Can Be: Self-Alienation, Illusion, or One-Flesh Union" American Journal of Jurisprudence 42 (1997)]When one treats one's body as intrinsic to one's self, there is a unitary activity, and various bodily actions share in this activity since they are not directed to an extrinsic purpose. In activity of this kind one is freely choosing to instantiate real goods, e.g., the good of play in basketball or the good of health in exercising or the good of friendship in writing a letter or in conversing, and one's efforts to realize those goods involve, where appropriate, one's bodily activity so that, as Finnis says,'that activity is as much the constitutive subject of what one does as one's act of choice is.' [Finnis, "Personal Integrity, Sexual Morality, and Responsible Parenthood" Anthropos: Rivista sulla Persona e la Famiglia 1.1 (1985)]
Now, I suspect that there is no little utility in this classification, in as far as it can be applied to acts. In fact, I find it redolent of Plato's doctrine that the greatest duty of (wo)mankind is to play in order to entertain the gods. However, the application is not so simple as Prof. May would have us believe. The sex act described in the quote from Lee and George is - roughly speaking - an act of rape. It exhibits no concern for the well-being or contentment of the other person. In particular, the use of the word "power" should be noted. Such a sex-act is wrong for any number of reasons, including (and perhaps summarized by) the analysis presented here. However, there is no reason to believe that hetero-gender sex acts never have this character or that homogender sex acts always do. Moreover all the activities quoted by Prof. May run counter to his argument.
Prof. May continues:
"Thus in the marital act, spouses freely choose to instantiate their communion of persons in one flesh open to the gift of life in and through an act in which their bodily activity is as much the constitutive subject of what they are doing as is their act of choice.This is only true in as far as vaginal penetrative intercourse does join the bodies of persons of differing sex so that they "become one complete organism", whether or not they are married. Of course, sexual acts between husband and wife other than penetrative vaginal intercourse would fall foul of the same criticism, if it were ever shown to be valid.
"The bodies of persons engaging in homosexual acts do not contribute to a communio personarum. Although they may choose such acts as means of experiencing personal intimacy, the resulting experience cannot be the experience of any real unity between them."Why "cannot" it be so? This is simply asserted. There isn't even an invalid "therefore" in the text to make it look as if it was an argument.
"Rather, as Grisez has put it so accurately,If this is "accuracy" then I am a brain surgeon! In fact, this text amounts to no more than a sequence of unwarranted assertions. All that the Professor does in this paper is to quote approvingly from other authors with whom he is in agreement and present the fact that they make certain assertions as if this meant that the assertions made were true. This is unworthy of an undergraduate essay, let alone a published Professorial paper.'each one's experience of intimacy is private and incommunicable, and no more a common good than is the mere experience of sexual arousal and orgasm. Therefore, the choice to engage in sodomy for the sake of that experience of intimacy in no way contributes to the partner' real common good as committed friends.' ["Living a Christian Life"]"
"Thus persons choosing homosexual acts choose to use their own and each other's bodies to provide subjective satisfactions, states of consciousness. Thus the body becomes an instrument used and the conscious subject the user."If this assertion were to be granted, where would be the harm in it? Moreover, how do "homosexual" acts differ from "heterosexual" acts in this regard. I suspect that what the Professor means is that one is in danger of pursuing sexual pleasure
without any regard to the good that it is supposed to promote: so divorcing the instrumentality of bodily activity from its biological objective. In this he has some kind of point; however he is disregarding the reality of the situation. Undoubtedly, sexual pleasure exists to motivate copulation and so the procreation of children. I suspect that without it many people would simply not bother to reproduce but rather concentrate on more immediate and self-centred goods. However, it is only necessary - from this point of view - that enough procreative sexual acts take place for the preservation of the species, not that all sexual activity is orientated (whether purposefully or accidentally) to this end.
The conscious self is alienated from the body, resulting in an existential dualism between the body and the conscious subject, i.e.,This is the kind of criticism that is often levelled at Platonists by Thomists. From my point of view, much of Professor May's "argument" is based on a false essentialist monalism of body and conscious moral agent. See, it's easy to string together technical words in impressive sequences. Whether the knack of doing so indicates any particular level of expertise or wisdom is another matter entirely!'a division between the two insofar as they are co-principles of oneself considered as an integrated, acting, sexual person.' ["Living a Christian Life"]
"Therefore, to choose to engage in homosexual acts is to choose a specific kind of self-disintegrity. The self-integration damaged in this way is the unity of the acting person as conscious subject and sexually functioning body. But, as Grisez continues,'this specific aspect of self-integration .... is precisely the aspect necessary so that the bodily union of sexual intercourse will be a communion of persons, as marital intercourse is.'["Living a Christian Life"]Therefore, homosexual acts damage'the body's capacity for the marital act as an act of self-giving which constitutes a communion of bodily persons, or in other words, the "nuptial meaning of the body".' ["Living a Christian Life"]
The professor notes in passing that this last criticism of Grisez is actually directed at masturbation, not homo-gender sex acts, but he claims that this doesn't matter. He then continues:
"Homosexual acts, consequently, damage the good of the body's capacity for self-gift, its nuptial meaning. Such acts, moreover, are ones in which those engaging in them do not even encounter each other face-to-face, a uniquely human way of copulating, but rather in a way characteristic of sub-human animals."The professor now seems to be saying that the only moral form of heterosexual intercourse is "the missionary position"!
"Because homosexual acts damage the nuptial meaning of the body, they also damage the good of marriage itself."I fail to see how this conclusion follows from the premise, even were the premise to be grated as true, which I do not. The most that could be said would be that this might be true for the persons involved in the homo-gender sexual activity themselves. In that case the argument becomes the rather silly statement that it is bad for Jimmy to have sex with his boy-friend Danny because it will disincline either of them to get married.
"They do so because the great good of marriage requires that spouses recognize that their bodies are integral to their being as persons and that it is precisely their sexual complementarity, revealed in their bodily differences, that makes it possible for the man to 'give himself in a receiving way' to his wife in the marital act and for his wife 'to receive him in a giving way' in this same act, an act having two common subjects."So according to Professor May, no-one who fails to agree with his own idiosyncratic analysis of marriage and sexuality can attain "the great good of marriage". He continues, attempting to erect on the foundations just laid (on quick-sand, it might seem) an argument against same-sex marriage.
This is all true. We will pass over the question of in-vitro fertilization as excluded by the phrase "bodily act".
Note that for Professor May any sexual activity outside marriage is at best "fornication". I suspect that there are quite a few children who have been happily and well reared by parents who are not married but have stuck together out of mutual commitment and - perhaps - a concern for the well-being of their offsspring. I believe that marriage (or something like it) is a better context for the up-bringing of children, but this is not at all what Professor May is trying to establish here.
Whereas the shallowness of the Professor's thinking is shown in the quality of the papers that he authors.
This is fine and quite unexceptionable, except that I am a little unhappy with his idealized description of sexual congress. Moreover, it should be noted that the truth or falsity of this last paragraph is in no way established or supported or dependent on any of what the Professor has previously written. He then concludes as follows:
Which is a final unwarranted assertion equally unsubstantiated by his previous verbiage.