Following the publication in the Catholic Herald of the column titled “The old battleground”some letters were published commenting on my views. This week Elizabeth Price was kind enough to send me directly her response to the points made. With her permission, I am reproducing it here. I think that it contains some very interesting points for our consideration. I look forward, as indeed she does, to your comments.
I realise that this piece is rather longer than is customary on this blog, but it deserves the space...
I was most interested in the three letters published in the CH on August 5th mentioning the theology of sexuality.
I have recently been reading a superb book on this – just published by The Columba Press called An Irish Reader In Moral Theology Volume 2: Sex, Marriage and the Family edited by Enda McDonagh and Vincent MacNamara.The eleventh article in this Love in Marriage: How New was Vatican II? by Denis O’Callaghan. This article, first published in The Irish Theological Quarterly starts with the beautiful quotation from Gaudium et Spes paras 48-50 “The intimate partnership of life and love which constitutes the married life, has been constituted by the Creator…..The acts in marriage by which the intimate and chaste union of spouses takes place are noble and honourable; the truly human performance of these acts fosters the self-giving they signify and enriches the spouses in joy and gratitude…” The article goes on to quote several early theologians by name, analysing their core thinking. Till Vatican II there were two links seen in the Church: The unbreakable link between sex and procreation (still seen in Humanae Vitae). Sadly, until Vatican II there was no connection seen between marital intercourse and conjugal love. Instead the other link, still to be found in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, is that at the Fall the relationship of marriage was permanently corrupted, resulting in a new combination between sexuality and lust. Mgr. O’Callaghan’s copious quotations leave one in no doubt that the normal pattern of sexual life in marriage (making love in terms of times per week), was seen as a seriously sinful indulgence in lustful enjoyment of the physical pleasure put in the act for the good of the race. No understanding was seen in any of them that intercourse has an emotional meaning. Hence we have in Augustine, (inherited from a dictum of the Stoics and Jerome) this extraordinary charge, “A man who is too ardent a lover of his wife is an adulterer, if the pleasure he finds in her is sought for its own sake” (Against Julian II 7). This idea appears in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body p.157. “Adultery in the heart is committed no only because a man looks in this way at a woman who is not his wife, but precisely because he looks at a woman in this way. Even if he looked in this way at the woman who is his wife, he could likewise commit adultery with her in his heart.”
The Concise Oxford Dictionary defines adultery thus: voluntary sexual intercourse of married person other than with spouse. This semantic nonsense found in the writing of a modern Pope can only make the Church risible, besides being a wicked slander on innocent married folk. The look in the eye of a husband, echoing his marriage proclamation “With my body I thee worship”, is perverted and castigated! Yes there are husbands who can behave in a boorish manner, and deserve rebuke, but not accusation of adultery! I own to being an ardent lover of my husband, but not that this makes me an adulteress!
Turning now to those letters in the Catholic Herald, Fr Simon Peat quoted Pius XII: “The Creator, in effect, wished human beings to propagate themselves precisely by the natural exercise of the sexual function”. Rapists, fornicators and adulterers can all do that (sinfully!). Would it not be more accurate to say “The Creator wished human beings to propagate themselves precisely through, and only through, the relationship of marriage.”
Augustine, and all following him till Vatican II, taught that the primary purpose of marriage is procreation – proles! Fides and Sacramentum; the other ends of marriage were secondary, at all times, to procreation. As Pius XII, faithful to Augustine, said: “The truth is that marriage, as a natural institution, is not ordered by the will of the Creator towards personal perfection of the husband and wife as its primary end, but to the procreation and education of a new life. The other ends of marriage, although still part of nature’s plan are not of the same importance as the first. Still less are they superior. On the contrary they are essentially subordinate to it” (Midwives 47)
Would it not be more true to say the purpose of the sacrament of marriage is to set up and sustain a lifelong and unbreakable bond between husband and wife which should form (as said above) the correct milieu into which children should be born and raised?
The unitive, or marital, purpose of intercourse “They two shall be one flesh, therefore are they no longer two but one flesh” is to consummate and sustain the relationship of marriage.
Responsible parenthood was first taught by Pius XII “Serious reasons, often put forward on medical, eugenic, economic and social grounds, can exempt from that obligatory service even for a considerable period of time, even for the entire duration of the marriage” (Midwives 36). He also said (and I confess I find this obscure):
“If, even at the time of the marriage, it was the intention of the man or woman to restrict the marital right itself to periods of sterility, and not merely the use of that right, in such a way that the other partner would not even have the right to demand the act at any other time, that would imply an essential defect in the matrimonial consent. This would invalidate the marriage itself, because the right deriving from the marriage contract is a permanent right, uninterrupted and continuous, of each of the partners in respect of the other.”
Quite so, the relationship of marriage is uninterrupted and continuous, whilst the duty to procreate is an occasional and isolated act within that relationship. The reason why couples reject the ban on contraception is because it suspends fertility when procreation should not occur, but enables the possible exercise of the marriage right to be uninterrupted and continuous. NFP on the other hand reverses this, making “openness to fertility” continuous, and the possible exercise of the marriage right out of bounds for the couple for possibly long periods of the month, this unless they risk the very pregnancy responsible parenthood says they should avoid.
I do not believe anyone outside the marriage has the right to make such a demand.
The question is how did the Magisterium think it has the right to make such a demand? Noonan’s Contraception gives us the answer, (alas I do not believe anyone on the Pontifical Commission read that book, even though Noonan was their Historical Consultant). Until 1845, sperm was thought to contain the whole embryo, so coitus interruptus the most common way of birth control, was the spilling and killing of something live. Furthemore, Augustine taught erroneously and unjustly that all acts of intercourse which were not procreative in intention or form were mortal or venial sin (e.g. intercourse in pregnancy was dubbed mortal sin till the 16th century, so too intercourse in any position other than with the man on top, because this was thought to impede the passage of the sperm to the uterus). St Paul’s teaching in I Cor 7 that couples should not starve each other in case they were tempted to adultery, was changed to allowing intercourse, if and only if, there were no other way of avoiding infidelity. Augustine believed that thanks to damage to human sexuality resultant upon the Fall, humans had intercourse far in excess of procreative need because they were overcome by lust causing them to seek the physical pleasure in the act, put there to ensure procreation occurred. Having lived in fornication he dared to say “I feel nothing more turns the masculine mind from the heights than female blandishments and that contact of bodies without which a wife may not be had” (Soliloquies 1 10). This is a travesty of the truth. As different as a devout communicant’s feeling on receiving the Eucharist as an unconverted cannibal!
The truth is Paul VI and John Paul II have not thought through the fact that as Pius XII says in effect: Marriage is a permanent and unalterable contract in which intercourse is intrinsic. In Christ’s words to demand that the couple should not be able to be one flesh for long periods of the month, or completely in cases of HIV/AIDS, is in a very real sense “putting asunder what God has joined together”. Conjugal chastity is not abstinence, but mutual sexual fidelity.
I hope this has been some help in showing some of the theological objections married people have to current teaching. Far from making the intelligibility of the teaching of John Paul II more clear, the job is to point out that it derives, with slight mutation, from the teaching of Augustine, which is not based on Christ’s teaching in Scripture.
One last point: In the male the procreative and unitive aspects of the act are always present. In the woman, orgasm, originating in the clitoris which brings it about, has no reproductive function whatsoever, it is entirely unitive. The procreative and unitive only occur when sperm meets ovum, then procreation for her is 9 months gestation, labour, and lactation. You may not know (which I found out through subjective experience) that a pituitary hormone, prolactin, suppresses ovulation in lactation, provided the woman feeds for at least 10 minutes for at least six sessions in 24 hours. (research was done into this in the 1980s). Thus Nature herself contracepts to space birth, and again renders the woman sterile at the menopause when she is too old to procreate – she is still capable of orgasm till she dies (her marriage is lifelong!!!) I would love an answer to these points!