How is your moral analysis?

Several contributors to the Blog emphasise the importance of examining the Church’s moral teaching in the light of personal conscience. So I thought it might be interesting to post an example, and see whether everyone would support this teaching. And, if not, why not?

I am reproducing it from Zenit ( 7 April), a high quality Catholic news source, which many will find useful.

Questions on Bioethics

3 Arguments Against IVF

Artificial Reproduction Is Not Procreation

WASHINGTON, D.C., APRIL 6, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Here is a question on bioethics asked by a ZENIT reader and answered by the fellows of the Culture of Life Foundation.

Q: The Catholic Church teaches that in vitro fertilization (IVF) is always wrong. I understand this to be the case when embryos are made and destroyed. But my doctor said that IVF could be used in a way that wouldn’t create and destroy “extra” embryos, even though it would lower our chances for a successful pregnancy. If this is true, why is IVF wrong when used by husbands and wives? K.M. — Denver, Colorado

Christian Brugger offers the following response:

The question rightly identifies the wrongness of creating and destroying (and we should add freezing) human embryos in and through the process of0 IVF. But even if IVF was chosen only by married couples, and those couples intended to create only as many embryos as they implant, and they rejected the eugenic screening and destruction of disabled embryos, IVF still would be gravely wrong.

This confuses many people. How can it be wrong to bring a child into the world, a child whom a couple intends to love and cherish and perhaps even raise as a good Christian? The answer gets at the heart of the Catholic Church’s teachings on both the dignity of human life and of marriage.

Two Vatican “Instructions” on bioethical issues address this, both published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF): “Donum Vitae” (1987), Section II, B, 4, and “Dignitas Personae” (2008), No. 12. The documents set forth three basic arguments, or sets of reasons, to explain why children are licitly conceived only through a marital act (defined in Canon law as a “conjugal act which is per se suitable for the generation of children to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh,” Canon 1061, § 1). I will refer to them as the “unity-procreation” argument, the “language of the body” argument, and the “begotten-not-made” argument.

1. The “unity-procreation” argument
The first is simple. It holds that the meaning of the marital act derives from the meaning of marriage itself. Marriage by definition is a procreative and unitive type of relationship. The marital act therefore has an intrinsic meaning which includes these two goods: unity and procreation. It follows that procreation should not be intentionally excluded from sexual intercourse (as taught in “Humanae Vitae”), nor should procreation take place outside of sexual intercourse, as takes place with IVF. (Some Catholic theologians even deny that creating a baby through IVF should not be called procreation, but rather reproduction.)

2. The “language of the body” argument
The second argument maintains that because persons are a unity of body and soul; and because marriage is the realization of a unique body-soul–two-in-one-flesh — committed relationship; conjugal self-giving is meant by God uniquely to express this body-soul reality. It has a spiritual dimension, the unitive meaning, and a bodily dimension, the procreative meaning. “Donum Vitae” (following John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”) refers to this two-fold meaning as the “language of the body.” Marital intercourse is meant to speak, as it were, the “language” of bodily self-giving and spiritual self-giving. To intentionally exclude either is to falsify the language of the body. Its wrongness lies in a kind of deception.

So just as excluding the procreative dimension of intercourse through contraceptive choices is wrong, so also excluding the unitive dimension from the choice to procreate is wrong. Procreation (bringing new life into the world) should only follow as a result of the spiritual/bodily self-giving of the spouses in marital intercourse.

3. The “begotten-not-made” argument
Finally, Catholic moral teaching holds that because of the intrinsic value of persons, children not only should be treated in a way befitting of persons after they come into existence, but that their origin — their conception — should be fully personal. Bringing children into the world through the self-giving act of marital love is treating them — in their origins — in a manner befitting of persons.

“Donum Vitae” teaches that we should “affirm the right of the child to have a fully human origin through conception in conformity with the personal nature of the human being” (DV, I, 6, note 32). In other words, children should be — and have a right to be — the fruit of the one-flesh union of marital intercourse.

This is morally different from bringing a child into the world by a technique in a laboratory. In IVF a child does not come into existence as a fruit supervening upon the one-flesh union of a husband and wife. They come into existence as the end product of a laboratory procedure: gametes (sperm and egg) are the raw materials; intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection is the (most common) technique; and a child is the product. Children are made, not begotten.

It is true that not all children conceived through IVF are treated merely as products. Many IVF parents affirm the child they create as a person; but they only do so partly; and partly they do not. Insofar as they intend to love the child and sacrifice for the child (and if Christians raise the child in the faith), to that extent they affirm the child as a person. We might say this is the end of their act.

But their means — also determining the moral species of the act — is to bring the child into the world through a laboratory technique. So by virtue of the act’s end, a child is welcomed as a person. But by virtue of its means, the child is not welcomed as a person, but treated as a product. In their coming-to-be, IVF children are treated as things, not affirmed as persons.

I would like to end by pointing to a connection between the logic of baby-making through IVF and the wide-spread problem of destroying unwanted preborn children.

All products exist for purposes beyond themselves. In this sense, products are not unto themselves, but unto ends beyond them; nor are they equal to their makers, but stand (morally speaking) in a relationship of “maker” to “thing made.”

But the logic of making, and the relation of maker to object, justifies the act of unmaking. If a thing can be made for certain reasons, it can be unmade (destroyed) for contrary reasons. When those reasons arise, the “why” of the making is negated. Moreover, products are subject to quality controls so that defective products are discarded if they do not measure up to standards: think of automobiles.

What’s the purpose for making a baby through IVF? To satisfy the parents’ desire for a child — they “want a child.” If however the parents do not want a child — if the embryo or fetus is unwanted — whether because he or she is defective, or inconveniently timed, or poses a health risk to the mother, the child can be discarded. The general logic of IVF extends to justifying “selective reduction” abortions, eugenic screening of IVF embryos, and eugenic abortions.

* * *
E. Christian Brugger is a Senior Fellow of Ethics and director of the Fellows Program at the Culture of Life Foundation; and the J. Francis Cardinal Stafford Chair of Moral Theology at St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver, Colorado.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
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62 Responses to How is your moral analysis?

  1. Ion Zone says:

    While I am against the deliberate destruction of Embryos, I’m not opposed to artificial implantation itself.

  2. Rahner says:

    Brugger’s argument, like many “arguments” of traditional Catholic moral theology consists of a string of assertions made without evidence – eg “Marriage by definition is a procreative and unitive type of relationship” – what about a couple 50+ can’t they get married? “conjugal self-giving is meant by God uniquely to express this body-soul reality” – how does Brugger know this? Is it a revealed truth? If so, then how can he expect anyone who is not a Catholic to accept his argument? “In their coming-to-be, IVF children are treated as things, not affirmed as persons.” Again, how does Brugger know this? Does he have any empirical evidence to support his claim? The reality is that the Church has failed to present any arguments in this area that are seen in the secular public forum as making a compelling case for its teachings.

  3. claret says:

    It has never, as far as I know, been the Church’s aims in its teachings to convince anyone who is not a Catholic, of the correctness of its arguements/ teachings. The secular mindset would balk at such a case. (As it does about artificial birth control.)
    The Church has to wrestle with the morality of things unheard of only a few decades ago. It tries to apply sound judgements based on its moral theology. There are inevitably what can only be described as ‘hard cases.’ Abortion, euthanasia, test tube babies, sibling donors and IVF all contain these elements of hard cases. Its no good looking to the Church for guidance and authorative teaching and then dismissing the answers because they don’t appeal to a wide audience on one hand or to a personal circumstance on the other. ( Eg. a childless married couple desperate to have a child.)

    • Rahner says:

      “It has never, as far as I know, been the Church’s aims in its teachings to convince anyone who is not a Catholic, of the correctness of its arguements/ teachings.” Really?? JP2 in Evangelium Vitea states that the “Gospel of Life is not for believers alone: it is for everyone…Life certainly has a sacred and religious value, but in no way is that value a concern only of believers. The value at stake is one which every human being can grasp by the light of reason..”EV 101.
      If the arguments on “life” issues are only accessible to believers then how can they hope to influence the formulation of public policy and legislation that deal with these issues? Whether the Church has in fact yet presented arguments that are persuasive in the secular, public sphere is, of course, another matter.

      • Ion Zone says:

        I think “not for believers alone” undermines your interpretation, but I could be wrong.

  4. Horace says:

    My initial reaction is that none of the three arguments adduced are persuasive. Besides they seem to be simply restating essentially the same argument in different ways.

    However to start, so to speak at the end:-
    “What’s the purpose for making a baby through IVF?”
    Presumably this is because not only do the parents ‘want a child’ but they are unable to have one in the normal way. This last clause is not mentioned in any of the arguments above, either because it is thought to be obvious or because it is thought to be irrelevant.

    I seem to remember being taught at school, for example, that the use of a ‘perforated condom’ to gather sperm for artificial insemination was morally licit (early 1940’s). I will not go into the details of the argument, which should be fairly obvious. Furthermore, I do realise that “artificial insemination” (AI) is not the same thing as ‘IVF’ but I make the point because I wonder if there is not some confusion here and in the question posed by K.M. Perhaps the statement “IVF could be used in a way that wouldn’t create and destroy ‘extra’ embryos” might refer in fact to AI rather than IVF.

  5. st.joseph says:

    Clarets comment, ‘The Church has to wrestle with the morality of things unheard of only a few decades ago etc;’
    How true is that! And thank God for it! It puts a stop to the slippery slope that a God forsaken society is inclined to fall into-whilst playing God-under the false pretences of love.!
    Perhaps a look at ‘The London Centre for NAPRO’ Technology, where one will find the place where The Lord is working through the teachings of Holy Mother Church.
    Lots of reading and insights there.

  6. Vincent says:

    It seems to me that we need to start by deciding whether the conjugal act is a mere method of biology (as, for example, the mating of non human animals) or whether there is an intrinsic dignity which is derived from the fact that Scripture in general, and Jesus through his confirmation, shows human marriage as a sacred thing, decreed “from the beginning”. And the conjugal act as the central symbol and expression of this unity.
    If the former, then clearly no problems arise provided that the intention, as in all things, is loving. If the latter, then we should be seeking the boundaries within which sexuality and the conception of an ensouled person preserve their proper dignity.
    Brugger, as far as I know, is primarily guided by the teaching of Donum Vitae where the limit is set by the principle that conception must always take place in relationship to the conjugal act. Although DV spells out a number of ways – some of them explicitly artificial – in which the ends of the conjugal act may be furthered.
    Consequently I would argue that, if we disagree, we should be prepared to state our guiding principles and to show what boundaries to proper behaviour these principles require.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      It is true that not all children conceived through IVF are treated merely as products.

      Brugger is simply wrong here and the question of intent trumps that of method. Funnily enough osteopaths occasionally treat people seeking to concieve via IVF -this because certain areas in the lumbar spine affect blood supply to the uterus for example. I treated one such lady a few months ago -she had a slipped disk at the same spinal levels that were responsible for uterine supply- I didn’t think about it much at the time but was simply happy to help this lovely married couple who were just desperate to conceive…Whether through my interventions or not they did conceive and I am still intensely happy for them and certain that the child is ‘theirs’ in the fullest and truest sense-a product of a loving marriage and union albeit via the technological intermediary of the laboratory.

  7. st.joseph says:

    Thank you for that Mike..
    The Creighton Model Fertility Care System, works to a similar system to find the problems of infertility.
    One would be surprised to learn some of the circumstances that couples thought to be infertile, were so easily corrected (even just by learning (NFP) without IVF treatment- especially when IVF failed, and they chose to contact N.A.P.R.O.

    I wish everyone and their families on the blog especially Quentin and his family a very Happy and Holy Easter.

  8. Superview says:

    It’s a pity that Christian Brugger feels he cannot start from a position of compassion for those couples who have a need to use IVF and work his way forward from there. If he had, I suggest, the contrast when he departed from this outlook to the pseudo-legalistic – with Canon Law called in aid – may have given him pause. I say this because I believe it is essential to consider why people would go to such lengths to conceive a child of their own. My thinking has been modified by personal knowledge of couples who because of physiological or medical conditions were unable to conceive, and whose lives were pre-occupied, not to say blighted, with this problem. The contrast with happy family life, extending to grandchildren, is too great for me to deny the legitimacy of their desires. While I still harbour concerns over the distortions and risks, particularly the ‘consumerist’ dimension, I do not see that they should extinguish or eliminate the undoubted good that is produced. There are a growing number of eminently good scientific and medical advances that carry the risks of exploitation – for example, organ transplants and gene therapies – but they are not, and should not in my view, be condemned on these grounds. I suspect that, theologically, I may thereby be guilty of an ‘ism’ of some kind but I am happy to stand the accusation.
    All this said, I am disappointed that such a poor piece of work should be offered up as any kind of adequate defence, and I agree with Rahner that bereft of the assertions there is little to consider. Some of what is said is unworthy. The author offers much – ‘How can it be wrong to bring a child into the world, a child whom a couple intends to love and cherish and perhaps even raise as a good Christian? The answer gets at the heart of the Catholic Church’s teachings on both the dignity of human life and of marriage.’ – but if what he delivers is it, it is no wonder that the Church’s position is unconvincing to many Catholics and the wider society. There is a naive pomposity in the language, by which I mean the assumption of authority by dictat (so common in encyclicals), for example:
    “The documents set forth three basic arguments, or sets of reasons, to explain why children are licitly conceived only through a marital act (defined in Canon law as a “conjugal act which is per se suitable for the generation of children to which marriage is ordered by its nature and by which the spouses become one flesh,” Canon 1061, § 1).”
    How bizzare is it that we have a definition of a ‘suitable conjugal act’ in Canon Law – and is mention of ‘one flesh’ intended to give Scriptural authority? Does it? Does Judaism have the same in its 614 laws? (Actually, I put money on Aquinas again on this one).
    I notice that there is a recognition that the baby is created by the doctor or lab technician and no mention of God. There is accordingly a conspicuous absence of a mention of the soul here – reference our previous blog on ‘ensoulment’. Then the curious adjunct – “(Some Catholic theologians even deny that creating a baby through IVF should not be called procreation, but rather reproduction.)” [this doesn’t make sense anyway].
    Another loosely-linked thought – Augustine saw the sexual act as transmitting original sin, so maybe one reason the Church’s approved theologians are unhappy with IVF is that it is a slippery slope to realising that these children are not born with original sin? That would upset the apple cart.
    On the whole an unimpressive response that raises more questions than it gives answers, and it doesn’t say a lot for the organisations that employ him.

  9. st.joseph says:

    Superview says, ‘it is essential to consider why people would go to such lengths to conceive a child of their own’.
    I would say that it is essential to consider why people would go to such lengths to ‘destroy’ the life of a child of their own!
    Has Superview considered how many fetuses are destroyed (with souls) even after they are placed back into the mothers womb, sometimes up to 15, even after screening.
    It is not morally right to destroy lives once created, so that one baby lives(we have had this discussion before). The ovum or sperm may not even belong to the father or mother . What has Superview against Napro, the way the church teaches, and can have much more success than IVF, or is he just obsessed against the Church!!
    He as a catholic ought to be proud to defend Her.

  10. Superview says:

    Mike Horsnall
    You seem to be a person who wants to do good, and with the courage to review your life and make changes in your direction of travel. I hope that you will bring the same courage to your experience of Catholicism. So I will briefly explain where I am currently with the concept of original sin. But first, given that your posting is hardly an evening’s work, could you say where you stand with the story of Adam and Eve – that is, is it true?

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Well you know Mr S I’m a busy man at the moment!!!
      One of the fascinating thing about catholicism (as I currently experience it )
      is the way it handles scripture. From my observations and enquiries we see the first few chapters of Genesis as truth carrying story- not a literal blow by blow account but a pointer to something. This is in marked contrast to some of my friends who-the last time I discussed such matters with them -believed that adam and eve were created instantly on the earth as adults.

      You ask me what I believe…Mostly I dodge the issue understanding the mystery of scripture to be just that -a mystery. It does seem remarkable that we can continually refer to these archetypal two as if literal while holding at the same time and awareness of their mythic nature.
      But my personal view? I think adam and eve existed in some form-I think there probably were the first two ‘fully human humans’ at some stage who raised their eyes to heaven and then turned away. What relation this bears to the scriptural figures I have no idea-yet the story is a good one and cetainly bears witness, it also provides a cogent and powerful metaphor for all our ills. In some way it is not difficult to concur that ‘all have fallen short of Gods grace and are justified freely in Christ’ or whatever the apostle precisely said-I forget now. This step taken then original sin follows hard afoot The doctrine of original sin Mr S is a powerful one not to be picked at lightly…almost a neccesary one I wasn’t trying to catch you out in yourslipping in the unbelief at the end by the way-merely marvelling at the smoke and mirrors!! (Is that at least half an evening do you think ?)
      To be honest thats the best I can do without resorting to lengthy quotes and canon law etc which I don’t think is always the best way to proceed as it tends to obscure our mutual frailty and searching- I do get a bit fed up of us trying to over convince each other -as if our august opinions really matter that much !!!

      Any case, back to you and I really am genuinely keen to know what you and anyone else thinks on this issue-or even how anyone believes we should PERMIT ourselves to think!

      • st.joseph says:

        I ‘think’- not for any reason to convince myself or others, but just thoughts.
        I think God made our first parents as the Old Testament says through prophecy ,as the beginning of the human race.
        I dont know whether this is the land that the Garden of Eden was,as Adam and Eve were ‘cast’ out, and we know why.
        They were made in the image of God- and since they sinned through disobedience ,that was lost, so we needed a Redeemer which we have in Jesus Christ True God and True Man.
        So good so far.
        We speak about evoloution-but where have we evolved since our first parents?What comes after us? Are we just evolving back again to our first parents-into the image of God?And that has become possible since Jesus Reedemed us from all sin’ closing the gates of hell and opening the gates of Heaven.
        Jesus said He is the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last-the beginning and the end-‘but of what I ask’? Did He mean unless we become like Him we cannot enter into His Kingdom.
        What about the Great Flood and Noah?
        Maybe some info was lost about our first parents-We dont know everything!
        All I know is that if we say we believe in the Immaculate Conception, the Incarnation, Resurrection, Ascension, we must really just accept everything else.
        These are just my thoughts, and if anyone else would like to say what they think I would be pleased to hear it.

  11. claret says:

    I apologise for my late response to Rahner on Church teachings who rightly corrects me that such Church moral teachings are valid for the wider world. What I meant by my remarks is that the Church cannot be guided by what is acceptable to the wider world but rather what it believes to be morally sound teachings.
    We live in a world where what is ‘popular’ and appears to have personal value to the individual is not necessarily moral. Morality and ‘hard cases’ are often diametrically opposed. I cannot recall seeing the issue of sibling donors being discussed on here but this is another case where the Church’s moral teachings would seem to be hard on those trying to give a better and longer life to a naturally born child by creating another for the sole purpose of providing some kind of donor benefit to be harvested.
    The couple would justifiably argue that they will love and cherish the second child as much as the first, and it is a ‘hard case’ to argue against but, as I understand it, embroyos devoid of the donor qualities are discarded.

  12. John Nolan says:

    Sorry, the Church is right on this (as on so much else) and I would suggest that those who dissent find a Christian denomination which better reflects their views, and there are thousands of them, rather than continually assailing the Church of Christ.

  13. claret says:

    It is unclear to me just who John Nolan’s latest remarks are aimed at and to what purpose.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Yes, it does seem rather a kind of reverse evangelism doesn’t it: Instead of
      “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest”
      we have:
      “Get lost all of you who struggle stumble and doubt …for I will clip your ear..!”
      (Sorry John but it is a bit strong don’t you think?)

    • John Nolan says:

      I would have thought that it was fairly obvious.

  14. mike Horsnall says:

    Catechism 390 is very well written on the subject of ‘How to read the fall’ It acknowledges that the language is figurative but that, nonetheless, it affirms a primeval event. This is good I think. The catechism also speaks of the way revelation works to confirm this in our hearts…this again is good-we are not tied to legalism here but nneithe forced into unanchored liberalism…this is about where I am Mr S.

    • Rahner says:

      The treatment of original sin in the CCC is one of the worst aspects of the Catechism. The idea that early human beings existed in some state of grace and perfection or near perfection, free from pain and death is simply absurd in the light of modern anthropology. The Augustinian doctrine of original sin has to be abandoned.

  15. John Nolan says:

    ” The Augustinian doctrine of original sin has to be abandoned”. So regeneration by baptism “has to be abandoned”? Would the author of the above post enlighten us as to whence he derives his authority? I know that a lot of non-Catholics and indeed non- Christians post on this website and I welcome their insights, but the use of the imperative mood in contradiction of established Christian doctrine requires something more in the way of explanation.

    • Rahner says:

      Instead of bothering about “authority” perhaps you could offer a defense of the traditional doctrine of original sin?

      • John Nolan says:

        It’s not my job to do so. Given your spelling of the noun defence I suspect you are are on the wrong side of the Atlantic.

      • Rahner says:

        So as an adult(?) Catholic you admit you cannot offer a reasoned defense of your faith?

  16. st.joseph says:

    John Nolan. Yes I would also like to know where some get their authority
    Maybe special revelations!!! Or maybe mixing science with faith!!, Or atheism with Christianity. Or maybe just confused.! A little more discussion is needed for me to understand why.

    • John Nolan says:

      st.joseph: No, they’re just heretics. Sometimes it’s fun to engage in dialogue with Jehovah’s Witnesses but you’ll never convince them of their error. Aures habent et non audient.

  17. st.joseph says:

    Rahner.I would like to know your response to my comment on the 28th April at 10.38, and yours when you say ‘in the light of modern antropology’.
    Science can not prove everything.
    How do we know that ‘when were made in the image and likeness of God-with a soul, that we were not made seperate from your ‘scientific knowledge’?

  18. John Nolan says:

    Rahner : If you want a proper defence of faith and reason, go to Benedict XVI’s Regensburg address in 2006; it is available on-line. I confess that I am somewhat annoyed by being pestered by heretics who want instant answers to questions they can easily access themselves.

    • Rahner says:

      The Regensburg address is simply not relevant to the interpretation of the doctrine of orginal sin. Like many Catholics you seem to combine a complacent ignorance of theology with a crude understanding of Papal teaching authority!

      • John Nolan says:

        I suspect that intellectually I am at least the equal of you, and would hesitate to use the terms ‘complacent ‘ ‘crude’ and ‘ignorant’ if only out of a misguided sense of politeness.

  19. st.joseph says:

    Rahner, I as one of those catholics, would you explain in more detail your meaning of a’crude’ understanding of Papal Teaching Authority. If you can please.

  20. mike Horsnall says:

    Tsk tsk children, I go on holiday for a few days, come back and you are all at each others throats. The catechism discussion is perfectly adequate Rahner in that it sees original sin as the initial rupture between man and God by the preferrment of self over relationship. The catechism freely owns that the transmission of original sin remains a mystery though it does not have the nature of a fault but is more like a wound. I say the catechism is good on the subject of how to read the account of the fall because it wisely relates the account as a narrative but then links it to a ‘primeval event’ This seems to mean that we know something is gravely wrong,we think it had an origin somehow in flesh, we think the story in genesis comes as close as any account to describing the event. The catechism also seeks to place the doctrine of original sin within the rubric of those truths revfealed by revelation rather than inscribed on the back of a pin through the application of reason and remorseless logic…..
    Its not all that difficult really is it? Its ok to complain about the doctrine of original sin I guess-we all seem to do an unsavoury amount of complaining here- but the discussion must be entered on its own terms to be of any substance or kindness. I don’t personally find acidic one liners much help in a debate because- apart from a certain underlying rudeness to which none of us have right -they only really make sense to the sender.

    • Rahner says:

      Are you claiming that before original sin human beings did not experience pain and death and that the first human beings knowingly caused these things to be inflicted on the rest of the human race?

      • mike Horsnall says:

        Rahner if you want to have a reasonable discussion then simply lay out you thoughts and considerations rather than embellish and improvise on ideas have not neccessarily been intended or expressed by others. Also remember that here we are groping at half discerned realities rather than sword fencing with forensic logic. The defense of original sin isnt really a big deal to most of us as it is written down almost any place you care to put a bookmark in catholic theology. What is really at issue here is YOUR thoughts and attitudes on the subject so the onus is on you to write out clearly- and hopefully with some degree of humility – what it is that ails you and why.

  21. st.joseph says:

    Mike, I dont think we are at one anothers’ throats’ Just defending the Faith which is a duty of Catholics to instruct the ignorant.

  22. mike Horsnall says:

    Still replying to Rahner on claiming about sin:

    So for example Rahner you write about “knowingly” inflicting pain and suffering on the rest of the human race. If you pause for a moment and consider the sin of your own heart, your own words and your own deeds that have subsequently damaged others you will know that there is an aspect to sin which occupies the bordeline between voluntary and involuntary activity-probably the things you most deeply regret you would have pulled out your teeth to avoid-yet you did not, you became Pauls ‘wretched man’ ..like the rest of us. So when you write about ‘knowingly afflicting’ Rahner it becomes immediately apparent that what is on your heart at the time of writing is indignation triumphing over integrity-in other words you are being disingenuous about the true nature of sin in orde to triumph in debate-this isnt much use really. Sin is a profound topic Rahner-consider for a moment its ubiquity and abundance-we are not talking about a doctrine here but the reality of our state. If you scroll back up a bit you will see my thoughts on the originality of sin based upon what I have read,what I have observed in my own pitiful state (which is the human state) and what I have learned from my grafting in to the body of Christ over these 25 years and my absorbing of its teaching. Of course the way we articulate the nature of original sin will shift and move as our understanding of the world changes-but no anthropology that I am aware of -or science for that matter has changed anynessential part of the overall discourse-all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God yet somehow find justification in His grace.
    Mike

  23. Rahner says:

    To conclude this discussion , I do not think there is ANY anthropology or biology that would accept that early human beings had lives that at any stage were without pain or death. You can find a useful discussion of original sin in John Hick’s “Evil and the God of Love”.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      If you carefully examine that final flourish Rahner you will see that it is senseless. How could the question be framed in such a way as any self respecting anthropologist or biologisty could even begin to structure an answer? How could science even begin to apply itself to such a question? How could a scientist now -say a keen neurologist set about determining whether the first humans were subject to pain or death?…(thats before we even bother making the point that presence or lack of pain or death in early hominids has nothing to do with the doctrine of original sin because ,in the story Adam and eve were classed as the first ones around)

  24. Superview says:

    The tone of the exchanges over the last few days does not characterise the Second Sight blog. It is not helpful to discuss anything when there is a lack of charity when responding to a comment you disagree with, and especially to respond with equal measure if you think you have been slighted. Neither should we regard critical observations about the Church’s teaching as an opportunity to psycho-analyse the contributor. I undertook to Mike Horsnall to explain what my thinking was currently on the topic of Original Sin, and of course it has to start with the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. I did say briefly, but I’m afraid it has not come out as such. However, its length may have the merit of boring everyone into a more harmonious state.

    Over the years I have considerably modified my view of what the exercise of authority means in the Church. The greatest scandal of my lifetime has been the way those ‘entitled to speak for the Church’ have covered up the sexual abuse of children worldwide, but there were several other long-standing question marks that had laid unresolved for too long, and retirement removed all those lame excuses that had kept me from facing up to the intuitive doubts I had put to one side. As a practising Catholic I want to get as close to truth as I can, using the experience and abilities that I have otherwise employed in a varied and successful working life and as a citizen in the 21st century. In my reading (and re-reading) I have set my antenna to detect justification by authority alone, and to detect the calculating and fraudulent, and to be forensic in recognising inconsistency. But I strive to be proportionate in my judgement of the significance to be given to that which is attributable to human weakness, unless, that is, its consequences have risen to the institutional level.

    On Original Sin, it seemed to me from childhood that there was something wrong with the story of Adam and Eve; that, to use plain language, God’s judgement was harsh, not to say unjust (and not least to the babies who were despatched to Limbo). On the facts, I find it difficult to see how the scale of the sin against God at some point in our pre-history was so catastrophic that it justly brought down the terrible wrath of God on the human race. The Church’s absolute insistence that every word of it was to be taken as literal truth has been the case until recently, and many think it still is, referencing Leo XIII’s encyclical of 1880 instructing just that, even though the science has finally led the Catholic Catechism to accept, in paragraph 390, that Genesis is only a figurative account of the appearance of Man on earth, while insisting that, to quote, it “affirms a primeval event, a deed that took place at the beginning of the history of man.”

    However, it seems to me that such an assertion brings the subject into the realm of fact, not faith, and it is perfectly reasonable to measure it against the scientific and anthropological evidence we have of Man’s evolution. Second Sight has been here before (‘Chattering Chimps’ August 2009) and we addressed questions such as the emergence of the soul, the development of language, and the ability of our earliest ancestors to distinguish between good and evil. It seems reasonable to me, therefore, to ask which facts still stand? Presumably no slime of the earth and no Adam? No rib and no Eve? No serpent? No tree of knowledge? No apple? No Eden? And given the fundamental importance of this “primeval event” to the concept of the Fall and Original Sin, can anything be as theological important as filling the gap left if the story of Adam and Eve is not literally true? Yet there is, it seems, little other than an assertion, with no evidence whatsoever, that it nevertheless ‘affirms a primeval event’.

    If it is a matter of fact, is it unreasonable to ask what event and when, and to get an answer that references, if not is consistent with, the science? In the earlier blog I tried to envisage a stage at which our primitive ancestors – say the cave painters of 35,000 years ago – could have had a conversation with Almighty God, chose with full knowledge to disobey Him, and thus brought terrible judicially justified consequences down upon all future generations (in the words of the Catechism, paragraph 398, “…man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good.”). It is not easy to do so credibly.

    There is another intriguing aspect. Jaroslav Pelikan in his chapter on ‘The Son of Man’ in his book ‘The Illustrated Jesus Through the Centuries’ quotes Vatican II: “Only in the mystery of the incarnate Word does the mystery of man take on light.” He goes on to observe, reflecting on the chronology of Original Sin’s introduction into dogma, that ‘Rather than making the punishment fit the crime, Christian thought had to gauge the magnitude of human sin by first taking the measure of the one on whom the divine punishment of the cross had been imposed; thus the diagnosis was made to fit the prescription.’ In other words, the question that begged an answer was: ‘What had happened, what had man done, that was so awful that Jesus, the Son of God, had to suffer and die to redeem us from his Father’s Divine justice?’ St. Augustine’s answer, 400 years after Christ’s crucifixion, and based on the facts as he interpreted them, was that it was the sin of Adam that was passed by sexual procreation to all his progeny. For him, this is how evil entered Man’s nature. Not everyone agreed.

    I find the other paragraphs in this section of the Catechism are no more helpful. Take this fanciful paragraph 400, still speaking of Adam and Eve as if literally true, quoted in full:
    “400 The harmony in which they had found themselves, thanks to original justice, is now destroyed: the control of the soul’s spiritual faculties over the body is shattered; the union of man and woman becomes subject to tensions, their relations henceforth marked by lust and domination. Harmony with creation is broken: visible creation has become alien and hostile to man. Because of man, creation is now subject “to its bondage to decay”. Finally, the consequence explicitly foretold for this disobedience will come true: man will “return to the ground”, for out of it he was taken. Death makes its entrance into human history.”
    Am I, as a Catholic, duty bound to submit to the authority of the Catechism, and therefore to believe this description of the relationships between man and woman (“marked by lust and domination”), between us and the earth, and the timeline for the introduction of decay and death on our planet? As RMBlaber commented in the earlier blog, death and decay has been around since life itself began. So why is all this offered to the world as truth?

    There are lots more questions. With what we know about human evolution could there ever have been a pre-Fall idyllic state? When could early Man have a judicially competent knowledge of good and evil? Did Man have a real experience of God’s goodness but chose evil instead? Is this plausible? Some other observations – until I read of the speculation in Augustine’s time it never occurred to me to ask what happened to Adam and Eve, and all those people who one could speculate strove to live good lives in the presumably tens of thousands of years until the coming of Christ? No firm conclusions it would seem. We also have to reconcile the eschatological outcomes for Jews and other non-Christian, God-fearing people who have no attachment to the doctrine. In the days when there was no salvation outside of the Church this was an easy one. Not so now?
    According to the assertion of another Pope, Pius XII, (in Humani Generis 1950) there actually was a first man and a first woman, and we are “not at liberty” to believe or think otherwise. Again, this is an assertion of a fact. So shouldn’t we explore the findings of science, for example, genetics to help determine this question?

    • Rahner says:

      A very useful contribution which identifies some of the the fundamental problems of the Augustinian model of original sin. My own view is that this model is intellectually and morally indefensible. A possible alternative model is sketched out in Korsmeyer’s “Evolution and Eden”.

      • st.joseph says:

        One can find what they like on the web, it depends what side of the fence they are on.
        ‘Evolution Facts and Fiction.’
        ‘God All Truth and Fiction’. Look into those and one will get a clearer picture, and may change their mind. But then some people if they can challenge the churches teachings with regards to Creation-just to clear their own conscience against their other disbeliefs,it somehow gives them some comfort.
        I would prefer to sit at Our Lords feet and listen to His Word, than to worry about things unecessary!,.
        ‘The Lord said ‘Martha Martha ‘ ‘You worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed,indeed only one’ It is Mary who has chosen the better part; It is not to be taken from her.
        This blog is very good and I am pleased to take part in it for discussion, but it goes beyond discussion ,when no answers can be concluded about evolution.
        We are still suffering the pangs of original sin from our first parents.
        Superview I dont think you can blame the Church for the sins of us all, or priests or, who are not living as The Lord wants us to live.
        Pauls Letter to the Hebrews (chpt 6.1-20 ) is a very consoling thought for our souls. It would be good to read both Superview and Rahner.

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Its not that it is unreasonable to ask the questions of science but if you do ask those questions of science you will find that science cannot answer them. This is the issue that caused someone earlier to raise the name of Wittgenstein into the debate I think-simply because the Church affirms a primeval event itdoes not follow that all the biochemists can get together and find a genetic marker for sin..there is an error of application here. It is a marvellously seductive idea that somehow the chaps in white coats can peer into their microscopes for the answer but I fear it to be fantasy.
      If one follows the debate of genetics over the past 10 years or so, according to the broadsheets at least it seems that most likely there were originally two human beings and that human life did begin somewhere. The ‘somewhere’ either seems to be Africa or Iran. The reasoning runs along the lines that the development of the ‘human being’ was so complicated that the likelihood of it occurring in more than one place on earth is so remote as to be implausible-perhaps we should google around a bit to see if anything has changed.
      For several of the writers here the classification of original sin seems to involve full knowledge of the gravity of ones actions for others-yet this seems a rather stretched criteria to me though I can see that sin involves culpability which involves awareness. Yet I would come back again to the nature of sin. Sin has a fairly clear definition of being the turning away from God towards the self in the selfishness of its desires-original sin therefore being the first of such acts. It would seem to me that selfishness is almost as instinctive to human kind as breathing and so it is not unreasonable to assume that there was a point at which the exercise of that choice began-as it is not unreasonable to assume that there was somewhere long ago the first ‘primeval event’ of self consciousness emerging-somewhere something began and that beginning took place in time and space-there was a first gestation otherwise nothing is true.

      One of the great difficulties one notices with these sort of discussions is that-no matter how hard one tries one cannot avoid a subjective view, some of us find this difficult and so attempt to stick to ‘objectivity’ in the guise of ‘science’ and the formality of dogma-others argue more passionately from an interior perspective- both approaches are riddled with short comings but both as valid as the next even though what is termed ‘credible’ by each may be wildly different.
      The concern with the entry of ‘death’ into the picture is a real and genuine one but again is difficult to qualify….has anyone figured out what exactly is meant by the word in doctrinal usage? It is admittedly difficult to envision a life that did not end in death-but according to the biblical thrust all life came down to death because all sinned-there was not in the biblical picture a prior generation of humans happily living forever to compare with.

      I do not personally find the doctrine of original sin to be quite as horrendous as others seem to-in fact it seems to me quite a reasonable conclusion given the boundaries of its own discourse…one is led to ask the question-what other narrative so well describes the human connundrum? If we proceed along a so called evolutionary perspective alone then we are left quite logically with atheism. Though Mr S is right that we need to be careful about our discussion that it remains in charity I can’t help but notice that there is a strong personal bias towards our individual thinking which actually IS most likely based in our personal make up rather than in the strengths or weakness of the debates-and that on this topic especially- this is inevitable-I honestly see no great difficulty with the doctrine of original sin yet others have found it difficult for years.

      • mike Horsnall says:

        Finally and by way of a postscript I think there are one or two unspoken assertions in this debate which should not pass without comment. It is not strictly acurate that the coming of Christ was a kind of response to the fall-that is a partial slant based on a partial consideration of grace. There is a strong line in theology and scripture which sees the fall and the ressurection as integral to each other. The crucifixion of christ was not a last ditch desperate measure against the overwhelming tide of encroaching sin as evidence of mans desperation but an event in history clearly anticipated and
        ‘ designed’ in advance-ordered from prehistory if you like along the line of raising man up to a better condition than was previously otherwise possible – hence the prayerbook use of ‘oh happy fault’ Jesus Christ did not come as an answer to the fall but because it was willed that he should come as a man.

        Underlying much discussion on this site is the assumption-voiced above in relation to the catechism that an individual catholic is ‘duty bound’ to submit to every line in the catechism as if literal truth-this is a kind of infinite regress I think-we know longer believe the bible to be full of literal truth so we pass that particularl weight to the catechism, certainly the catechism is lovely but we accept its wholeness as an article of faith not as compulsion knowing also that part of its function is the transmission of the ‘story’ of God and the church-the overall warp and woof of tradition-human beings have consciences and the catechism itself states-as does the Pope that the ultimate arbiter of action is an informed conscience-not one seared by dull and tyrannised force.

    • John Candido says:

      I am just catching up with contributions that I have not read since my break from Secondsight. Superview, where are you today? The above contribution was of a very high quality and very worthwhile. I really miss your contributions to this blog. Sincerely yours, John Candido.

  25. Superview says:

    Mike Horsnall’s contributions from 5 May are very thoughtful and contain some interesting ideas. I think he offers them tentatively rather than as firm conclusions and I hope he and others will see that my reasoning, though different, is almost always followed by question marks. However, this is not true of my conclusions on the child abuse scandal, its cover up, and the moral turpitude of all those involved.

    The proposition that when the Church makes categorical statements on facts relating to the natural world, and adopts dogmas based upon those statements, it should be expected that there will be an objective evidential basis for those statements, seems to me to be a reasonable one. But because Man’s knowledge of the natural world grows continuously, and at greater speed with each generation, there is an obvious tension with the concept of dogma being immutable. Resistance to new scientific insights into the natural world will be inevitable. The fate of Galileo and his findings, and the attachment to the story of Adam and Eve as a true description of the origins of human life on earth, are examples.

    We now know more than ever about our incredible universe and it is based upon scientific knowledge, as is so much that we take for granted in our everyday lives, such as iphones, the internet, MRI machines, and antibiotics, to give some random examples. So can there be a domain of our existence that can insulate itself from the development of human knowledge? If it is faith, how does that make sense?

    The idea that the bible ‘is not full of literal truth’ will be for many a pretty shocking thing to say and for others a statement of the obvious (Robin Lane Fox got a book out of it). Does that include the New Testament? Apparently so: I read a book review recently in which the statement in the book that the people never shouted back to Pilate ‘His blood be upon us and upon our children’ was endorsed as a fiction. Again, recently at a lecture a biblical scholar exposed the contradictions in the Gospels’ treatment of the relationship between Jesus and John the Baptist. And at Christ’s baptism there was no voice from heaven – it was a literary dramatisation. For me, these insights are challenging but an essential part of an adult search for the truth, in contrast to the state of ignorance that seems to be judged prudent for ‘the faithful’.

    Original Sin is a momentous subject (see the Catechism 402-412) and that is why it seems to me to be insufficient to finally accept the scientific facts of human evolution, and that the story of Adam and Eve is untrue, on the one hand, and yet on the other retort by claiming an alternative, unspecific, factual scenario without any resort to contemporary scientific evidence. It is as likely as not leading to yet another ‘revision’ of the Catechism in years to come.

    • st.joseph says:

      How would you choose which part of the catechism to apply to our faith?
      This creates a problem when it comes to doing the Will of God!
      I know as we mature we can understand what is expected of us as adults, as an example- Mass on Sundays- looking after our children first’ and other duties and responsibilities .Just to quote an example.We dont ‘have’ to use artificial contraceptives now we have Natural Family Planning etc etc etc.
      The Lord and the Church understands we are not ‘stupid’.
      Hopefully ‘here’ we are speaking as having informed consciences,
      It is always an explanation of some who would like to believe that catholics especially cradle catholics -are to coin a phrase ,’hen pecked’, I find that a little condescending to say the least.We are a bit old in the tooth not to understand the Truth by now or we never will! That is not presumption or despair! Somewhere in between.If we dont know what offends the Lord ,there has been something lacking in our faith, which Iwould put down to ignorance!

    • mike Horsnall says:

      Don’t worry Mr S I don’t think I’ve ever reached a firm and final conclusion on anything!

  26. Vincent says:

    Superview, how does this fit in to your approach? The original post related to the procreation of human beings. There is no disagreement about the science of IVF etc, the difficulty, it is alleged, is founded in the claimed dignity of the human person. Now as far as I know scientific apparatus is ill suited to measuring dignity. So the evaluation of dignity depends, as far as the Church is concerned, on God’s creation of the human person with an eternal destiny. Thus a matter of faith.

    • Superview says:

      Vincent I follow your reasoning and also the comments you made on 22 April. The discussion on Adam and Eve spun off from the final paragraph of my comment on 26 April, where I made a rhetorical conjecture that babies conceived in a test tube will not have satisfied the requirements of St Augustine’s theory of Original Sin, as they were not conceived through the conjugal act. Mike Horsnall focused on this and the blog ran off in another direction, so to speak. But there is linkage between the notion of conception in a test tube, ensoulment and human life and, of course, the conjugal act. As I understand it, it is the one thing that couples trying desperately to conceive are no strangers to. Are they dignified in this heroic attempt?
      However, consider the belief that only God can create a soul, and the belief therefore that conception following a conjugal act happened because God desired it, or didn’t happen because God desired it shouldn’t. Take it on a stage further: consider what happens when that ensouled conception does not lead to the birth of a baby, because of miscarriage etc. To be consistent, does belief have to hold that God desired the miscarriage? And is the loss, which can be at any stage in gestation, afforded a dignified response as to the loss of human life? We know the answer. In fact, and it bears repeating, even full-term stillborn babies were denied burial in Catholic cemeteries, their unbaptised souls having been despatched to an imagined Limbo, to the great distress of the parents, as one of the legacies of Augustine’s doctrine of Original Sin. Even now the matter is reserved – ‘We don’t know what happens to them!’
      So along comes medical science and it offers help with conception when that is the problem. When conception results, does it attract the belief that God desired it? If not, why not? Is it inferior in any way to the conception that would have resulted if one of the couple’s many conjugal acts would have achieved if everything worked? Where is the loss of dignity in this medical achievement? I guess what I think is that the concept of dignity can be applied to suit the argument, and I am less convinced when theologians use it in an incontestable way.

  27. st.joseph says:

    If Scripture does not tell us what Jesus actually did and taught when He walked the earth, then we are in a bad way. Preachers quote it, the Fathers of the Church cite it ,and the Catechism relies upon it. Jesus Himself assured us that it ” cannot be broken” and He wouldn’t alter a single “jot” or tittle.” Three times during His forty days in the desert, He stung Satan with the words, “Scripture has it…”Each time, Satan
    shifted tactics. But if the scene were reenacted for a modern day audience, the devil would ask Christ where He ever got the idea that Scripture could be taken literally.
    In recent years, scholars have expanded much time and energy documenting instances of alleged inconsistency and contradiction in the sacred texts.
    Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical letter, on “On the Study of Holy Scripture,” contains a bit of advice which future scholars inclined to rush into print with theses that cast doubt on the integrity of Sacred Scripture do well to ponder.;We admonish with paternal love all students and ministers of the Church always to approach the Sacred Writings with reverence and piety; for it is impossible to attain to the profitable understanding therof unless the arrogance of ‘earthly’ science be laid aside and there be excited in the heart the holy desire of that wisdom ‘which is from above.’

    • mike Horsnall says:

      St Joseph

      That encyclical is quite good, where did you dig it up from?

      • st.joseph says:

        Mike I posted this early this morning I dont know where it went. Anway. Thank you.
        Google Pope Leo XIII Encyclicals and it will come up.
        Nov 18 1893

  28. st.joseph says:

    Did I read somwhere that all our DNA was traced back to one woman.
    Maybe someone has read that too!

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