The ethics of the situation

In my last column I looked, albeit briefly, at the state of authority in the Church in the light of a new book, The Crisis of Authority in Catholic Modernity (OUP). This week I want to at least glance at Lisa Sowle Cahill’s paper on developments in moral theology, with particular focus on America. Those of us who look at these things at pew-point may rarely have a chance to examine the currents of change that are still in the making. This book gives us the opportunity.

Repetitively, I fear, I must start with Humanae Vitae. In part this is because it was the occasion of the first mass refusal by a majority of the Church to accept without questioning a grave statement of established moral teaching. But more relevantly here, it encapsulated the tension between two models of morality.

The papal commission, which had reviewed the contraception question, had studied the natural law approach which largely relied on looking at biological structures to guide us on God’s will. The proposal was that the sexual act, viewed in the light of biology, was perverted (in a technical sense) when its procreative structure was artificially denied. Analogous reasoning was used for condemning homosexual activity, or mutilation or telling lies (a violation of the faculty of speech).

But the evidence given at the commission suggested that the traditional status of contraception as intrinsically evil was at variance with the experience of married life. Indeed, it was claimed that in many ordinary situations the absolute prohibition was damaging to the expression of love in the relationship rather than buttressing it. Even the moral theologians who argued that the prohibition should be maintained had to agree that it could not be demonstrated solely through reason.

When Humanae Vitae appeared it did not abandon the structural approach, but harmonised it with a personalist approach. The reason for the prohibition, it appeared, was that the completeness of married love was damaged by contraception – and so essentially that, beyond making the expression of marriage intrinsically sinful, it nullified it as an act of love.

If this seems an over-simple description of a very important idea, then take the opportunity to study it at rather more length in Pope John Paul’s 129 lectures on the theology of the body.

But Pope Paul VI had introduced the importance of personalism. It led some theologians quickly to the idea that, without any prejudice to its fundamental procreative nature, the ends of marriage as a relationship of persons might well be better served by the judicious use of artificial contraception, in a similar way to natural contraception. Thus, in this approach, natural law was accepted, even emphasised, but could not invariably be played as the moral ace of trumps.

But the idea that high moral imperatives had to be interpreted in the light of their contexts is difficult to contain and has, in the eyes of some theologians, given respectability to what, with raised eyebrow, we used to call situation ethics. If this sounds a foreign and unacceptable idea it might be useful to consider some examples.

If mutilation is intrinsically evil than kidney donation between two living people is intrinsically evil. If taking your own life, even for a good purpose, is evil why do we not condemn Captain Oates? In the case of an ectopic pregnancy extracting the foetus from the fallopian tube is abortion, but removing the tube carrying the foetus may be fine. If you save your daughter from rape by lying to the would-be rapist, do you break the moral law? If you shoot your wounded friend at his request before he is captured and tortured by the enemy are you practising euthanasia? In fact, two of these examples are currently accepted as virtuous.

Lest you think I have needed outlandish examples to test the principles, you may want to add the case of the serodiscordant HIV married couple, who remain emphatically forbidden to use a barrier to the virus (HV, para 11).

So moral theologians have often attempted to think outside the traditional box to find consistent approaches to morality. One of the best known of these is proportionalism in which the whole human act, rather than its constituent parts, is considered. Cahill, with some reservations, approves this approach, but John Paul II emphatically doesn’t. Another is virtue ethics, which, in a sense, transcends moral argument by focusing on the truly moral life. It is an approach which Cahill and I (for what that’s worth) find very appealing. It’s not an easy idea to oppose.

There are theologians who think that moral laws can only be judged in their context, and so are necessarily relative to the culture in which they are considered. (Could stamping on the Jews have been truly moral in the context of the 13th century?) Others argue that much morality can only be seen within a theological tradition. For instance, human rights are without meaning if we are the mere results of material evolution – a point with which I think most of us would agree.

Those who are concerned about a sea of relativism will take heart from theologians of repute who not only believe the ruling of Humanae Vitae to be infallible, but may claim that no supporting argument is needed since its truth is clear to anyone who cares to look.

Space does not allow me to discuss the moral approach of American youth, with which Cahill concludes. But it does suggest that our explorations of morality have far from ended. Come and have your own three ha’pence on

About Quentin

Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald columns, Moral judgment. Bookmark the permalink.

74 Responses to The ethics of the situation

  1. st.joseph says:

    Quentin have you read ‘John F Kippley Holy Communion Eucharist and Marital.
    ‘That will come up on the web if that is typed in.
    Reprinted by permission from Ave Maria, February 25th 1967.
    If you havent read it before and it is quite long it will explain a lot about how the two are very closely related in the Sacraments.
    I will be away from tomorow until Monday.

  2. claret says:

    In the crimimal law there are what I would describe as: ‘degrees of offending.’ In other words the law recognises in the way it sentences that shoplifting a low value item is not as punishable as robbery with violence. It also mitigates on the character of the defendant. Viz. a one-off offence of shoplifting by a person that might be described as out-of-character is not as culpubable as an habitual shoplifter who ‘steals to order.’
    Whether such distinctions can apply to the moral law or the ten commandments is an open question but I think we have to hope that they do!
    Because if not then when we enter the moral maze from which there is no exit as there are limitless scenarios of when something basically evil can be justified.

  3. Iona says:

    Quentin, you describe Cahill’s work as “a paper”. Does this imply that it is something less than book length; and is it available via the internet?

    • Quentin says:

      Iona, the whole thing is a book of about 375 pages, I fear. It constitutes a collection of a dozen quite full papers on the theme of its title. You can of course buy it from — which is doubtless why they were happy to send it to me for review!

  4. Brian Hamill says:

    One of the fundamental fallacies about moral theology is that our actions offend God. We can no more offend God that we can touch the sun. When we talk of God as angry with us because of some thing we do or say, what we should be aware is that God is angry for our sakes because every thing we do or say affects us. Socrates put this well when at his trial he said that others could hurt him but only he could harm himself. So when we are talking about the rightness or wrongness of our actions, our main thought should be like God’s, that is, are we harming ourselves?
    There is no action in the world that can be described in its physicality as evil. I can for instance move my hand forward and that is not an evil act. If I have a knife in my hand, that is also not an evil act; but if there is someone in the way of the knife who is injured by the knife then it could become evil, but only if that person is innocent and in no way deserves my injuring them, such as an enemy in wartime seeking to kill me. Situation ethics may be old hat but it contains certain valid concepts, especially the importance of context.
    In fact we do sail on a sea of relativism; that is the human condition, at least post-Fall. What are to be our guiding stars over this sea? The Old Testament gave us the Commandments which Jesus crystalised into the Beatitudes. These are all about attitudes of mind; the way we look at life. If we have the mind of Christ Jesus, then our actions will be true to our human being as his were. It is not the actions which are right or wrong but rather the attitudes within us which are manifested in those actions. These are the signs or symtoms of our view of life.
    Perhaps a more fruitful approach by moral theologians, and the Church authorities, would be to say that artificial contraception, while having many good effects, is dangerous in that it can lead to a contraceptive mentality whereby in our lives children become an optional extra or even a fashion accessory rather than the central core of marriage. The effects of this contraceptive mentality is manifest all around us in the abrogation of any sense of responsibility for our actions. If Humanae Vitae had not shot itself in the foot by dictating how married couples were to use the technical achievements of artificial contraception but had concentrated on building up the mutual love of the couple which finds its greatest manifestation in the child, that is the creative and responsible attitude of mind, then it would have shone like a beacon in world which needed directions not dictation.

  5. Trident says:

    i fund BH’s answer very helpful. The only point I would add (and perhaps it’s implicit already) is that every sin is ultimately against love. We do not hurt God by sinning, we hurt ourselves by distancing ourselves from God who is the sole purpose and meaning of our lives.

  6. John Nolan says:

    When I saw Professor Cahill described as a ‘feminist theologian’ I thought immediately of Tina Beattie and reached for the garlic and crucifix. Then I read some of her articles and found her generally non-polemical, very readable for an American academic, and fair minded. I gather her favourite field is bioethics, and would like to read more of what she has to say on this subject. I am no theologian, moral or otherwise, but proportionalism as I understand it is a term originally used in the late 1960s to describe views advanced among others by Curran and McCormick in the USA. As a general principle it seems to raise at least as many questions as it answers, for example the problem of how we can predict or evaluate the consequences of a particular act. There is also the danger of proportionalism leading logically to consequentialism and eventually utilitarianism.

    I think we need to ask whether we are seeing a development of the Church’s traditional doctrine or a break from it. The idea that you cannot commit an evil act so that good may result is based on Scripture. ‘Et non faciamus mala ut veniant bona: Quorum damnatio justa est.’ (Rom. 3:8)

    • Quentin says:

      John, Second Sight being comprehensive has devoted a whole column to proportionalism. Search: Morals in proportion. It does in fact discuss some of the issues briefly mentioned in the latest column

      • Rahner says:

        I’m not sure there is a “sea of relativism” . Many people, including the Pope, use the word “relativism” in a rather careless manner. Accepting philosophical/moral relativism will mean that different moral viewpoints are incommensurable and that they cannot be subject to rational criticism/choice. I think few people would accept a global relativism of this kind and I can’t think of many contemporary moral philosophers who would endorse relativism. In any case it is perfectly possible for two people to disagree on a moral question and neither of them are relativists.

    • Horace says:

      ” . . the morality of an action cannot be separated from the intention of the doer (Thomas Aquinas :- Now moral acts take their species according to what is intended . . II-II, 64,7)”.

      • John Candido says:

        Can you tell me where you got that quote of Thomas Aquinas’s please? If it comes from a book or any website address, can you give me as much detail as you can so I can track them down? By the way, does anybody else have any resources on Thomas Aquinas? I need to build up my references on him. Thank you.

      • Quentin says:

        Look up “external links” on Wiki’s Thomas Aquinas. Should keep you going for the next few years.

      • Horace says:

        The quote comes from the Summa Theologica Second Part of the Second Part , Question 64, article 7.
        The translation is on the web as ” “.
        I quoted it when trying to formulate some ideas about “Double effect” see “Life, death and the fallopian tube” (click on June 2008).
        It seems to me relevant in the context above (John Nolan) where we have “. . for example the problem of how we can predict or evaluate the consequences of a particular act. . . . [is this] a development of the Church’s traditional doctrine or a break from it. “

  7. John Candido says:

    The integration of moral theology with social ethics and Catholic social thought has been a result of the social development of increased education levels of the laity. The historic development of mass education springs from the following seminal mass movements. The Italian Renaissance of the 14th & 15th centuries, the Scientific Revolution of the 17th century, the Enlightenment of the 17th & 18th centuries, and the political and industrial revolutions of the 18th century.

    All of these mass movements have conspired to bring forth the possibility of what German Sociologist Jürgen Habermas called the ‘public sphere’, and the eventual development of lay theologians. . Where such an occurrence was a rarity or non-existent in the past, it has become more commonplace today. It is from this collective social context that we have the modern phenomenon of the challenge to the magisterium of the Catholic Church, by a large cross-section of its own members. It is almost like an ecclesiastical clash of civilisations. As a stark example of how much society and authority has changed from former centuries, the burning of the English Protestant reformer, called John Rogers, in 1555, by Queen Mary I for an anti-Catholic sermon at St. Paul’s Cross in 1553, thankfully does not happen anymore.

    Professor Lisa Cahill states in her Chapter Seven article, on page 194 of ‘The Crisis of Authority of in Catholic Modernity’,

    ‘Personal moral agents are better appreciated to exist in social contexts, be shaped by social relations, and be accountable within social institutions. Such contexts, relations, and institutions exist diachronically, or across time.’

    And she continues in the same paragraph with,

    ‘Revisionist moral theologians embrace these developments. Traditionalist moral theologians deny any substantial impact on magisterial teaching, but official teaching has in fact adapted significantly under their influence.’

    Both quotes underline the diachronic nature of the growing independence of the laity, their intelligence, dignity, and education, alongside the growing advent of secularism. Cahill believes that these social processes were an ongoing feature of life before Vatican II and especially after Vatican II.

    ‘The council itself already foreshadows the integration of the social, the historical, and the religious with the moral and focuses new attention on the realities of lay Catholics. Gaudium et Spes, the document most concerned with moral issues, opens by tying the mission of the church to ‘mankind and its history’’ (Cahill in Lacey & Oakley, …Page 195).

    This confirms to me the broad sweep of history, as used in my introductory paragraphs, as being a correctly summarised depiction of the problem of the contemporary magisterium of the church. Education of the laity has grown inexorably alongside their rising dignity. since the late 19th century, the church has also been effective in emphasising the dignity of work, the right of workers to join unions, that all humans are vastly more important than profit making and materialism, and the dignity of workers. This has also had its intended effect of bolstering the dignity of the laity through their participation in the economy. Since the papacy of Leo XIII, and his outstandingly seminal encyclical known as Rerum Novarum (On Capital & Labor), promulgated on the 15th May 1891, including the many anniversary contributions of succeeding popes, the same process has been faithfully replicated.

    Cahill notes that the social and philosophical backdrop of Humanae Vitae (On the Regulation of Birth) is one where

    ‘…sexual passion was considered dangerous if not sinful, women were seen as destined primarily for childbearing and as a subordinate to men, and marriage was valued primarily as a guarantor of family life socially ordered and controlled to produce heirs.’ (Cahill in Lacey & Oakley, …Page 197).

    Modern society has substantially moved away from an exclusive and singular rendition of family as presented pre-Humanae Vitae. The church, according to Cahill, has used the modern philosophical elements of what is known as ‘personalism’. Although not necessarily agreed by all proponents of personalism, it means allowing the person to determine the moral truth of a context, by using their selves and their relationships as a reference point for the examination of morality. It is a case of not being able to put the genie back into the bottle.

    Part of the rise of personalism is found in the inherent equality and freedom of all humans, and the freedom of personal enquiry of one’s own true sexuality, as an important litmus test of one’s personal dignity. Personalism is an important counter to Platonic notions of the separation of body and soul, which has forever polluted the church’s understanding of humanity. This is a huge problem for the church in its moral theology, and mainly due to the incorporation of Plato’s ancient understandings of human nature and the soul, into its theological positions, to the exclusion of a contemporary, personalist, and scientific discourse.

    ‘Plato furnishes the conceptual framework needed for saying that body and soul differ in kind, the one being perceptible and perishable, the other being intelligible and exempt from destruction.’ (‘Ancient Theories of Soul’ in …27th November 2011)

    In conclusion, I cannot agree with Germain Grisez’s position that Humanae Vitae is an infallible statement. Humanae Vitae is not an infallible statement nor does it proclaim itself to be infallible. It is authoritative because it emanates from the church’s magisterium. However, as it is an authoritative moral guide to Catholic married couples, it is an important guide to be noted by all, but nothing more. If it does not suit some married couples, then they are not beholden to it. I am not inclined to view it in absolutist terms. In this context, no amount of personalism has any sway, except by the authority of the church in its examination of extreme cases that present difficulties to some people. And this is not adequately pastoral enough.

    • John Nolan says:

      John, I fear that you are somewhat sanguine in your belief that the present generation is better educated than previous ones; it is a sobering fact that literacy levels in the present-day USA are considerably lower than those in pre-Revolutionary France. The fact that many people who are nominally Catholic adopt secularist positions on matters such as abortion does not necessarily indicate profundity of reflection – it could just as easily indicate poor catechesis. The Eucharistic theology of St Thomas Aquinas is surely lost on those whose experience of liturgy is a community-centred and subjective worship whose main aim is to make people feel good about themselves.

      Personalism, as I understand it, boils down to “I decide what is right or wrong according to my own circumstances and inclinations”. The marquis de Sade would have agreed, although he is not held in universal esteem as a moal philosopher. By the way, avoid meaningless generalizations such as “the broad sweep of history”. The best way to avoid such platitudes is actually to study the subject.

      • Rahner says:

        “The best way to avoid such platitudes is actually to study the subject.” I agree. By the way, perhaps you need to study the history of philosophy to get a better grasp of the meaning of “personalism”, which covers a range of related ideas.
        John Paul 2 drew on the personalist phenomenology of Max Scheler. There are also strong personalist themes in the work of the Catholic philosopher Marcel.

  8. Vincent says:

    John Nolan, you have taken us into the realm of definitions. But I do not think that “personalism” can be properly defined as “I decide what is right and wrong according to my own circumstances and inclinations”. I would take it to mean an acknowledgement that morality cannot usefully judge acts in the abstract. They must be judged in terms of the relationship between persons in which they occur. Taking one of Quentin’s examples – the plea from a wounded comrade that he should be shot before the enemy catches and tortures him – I find myself accepting that in the ordinary way taking the life of an innocent man would be very wrong, yet, in this instance, I would claim that it is an act of loving mercy. Nevertheless the idea of transferring that to euthanasia in similarly extreme circumstances concerns me.
    Rahner writes of “relativism”, and says that the Pope uses the word in a rather careless manner. I am not challenging him but inviting him to help me by writing of relativism in a rather careful manner. I think that if we could agree a definition then this important discussion would help me at least to understand things better. It would be a pity if we were to go round in circles.

  9. Rahner says:

    “Relativism is not a single doctrine but a family of views whose common theme is that some central aspect of experience, thought, evaluation, or even reality is somehow relative to something else. For example standards of justification, moral principles or truth are sometimes said to be relative to language, culture, or biological makeup.” Stamford Phil. Ency.
    See also my earlier comment that relativism seeks claims that different viewpoints are incommensurable.

  10. tim says:

    I’m not following this. I don’t understand much of what is being said. The French say “Ce qui se conçoit bien s’énonce clairement et les mots pour le dire viennent facilement”. Maybe what is said is not well worked out, or maybe it’s just too complicated to express simply. But I’d be happier if, when Rahner says:”… relativism seeks claims that different viewpoints are incommensurable” I could be confident that the word ‘seeks’ is simply there by accident.

    • Quentin says:

      Tim, there seems to be an irony in using a foreign language to make the point that an idea with merit should be easy to explain. But as a dictum it has more wit than truth. In my experience many unfamiliar ideas need a great deal of thought before they can be expressed simply. And I should know because, as a newspaper writer, c’est mon métier. Honours even?

      I am with Vincent that we are in important territory, and so should make our thinking and expression as clear as possible.

      My point of entry here would be via the natural law, as understood by the Church. This has its origins in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, surely one of the most influential books ever written. Aristotle argues that any living being flourishes when it acts according to its own nature. Thus a dog flourishes when it does dog-like things, and a human being flourishes when it acts in accordance with human nature.

      To take a very simple example, because we are social animals we cannot flourish if we do not accept that we must keep promises. This is necessary for social life to continue. As a moral principle it is only relative in the sense that it is relative to the needs of human nature. However we can visualise circumstances in which a promise should not, nor need not, be kept. For example, when the promise was extracted on false premises. However the exceptions must be accepted only with good reason and great care – for the general applicability of the principle must be preserved for all our sakes.

      Christianity then infuses this principle with love. It is so much more than just a duty when it is an expression of love for the good of the human race and the good of the person to whom the promise was made.

      The Church (and Aquinas is interesting on this) maintains that the major principles of the natural law are accessible to reason. Thus in debating a moral point with an agnostic friend we would expect to find basic moral principles in common. Our debate might be whether they applied to the case in point. If we had no moral principles in common, debate would be pointless.

      One issue which is much argued is whether absolute moral imperatives can be derived from human structure. A good example of this is at Catechism 2485, where lying is proclaimed to be against the purpose of speech. Discovering the imperatives of human nature from its structure is quite reasonable; it is analogous to an archaeologist working out the purpose of an unidentified find by examining its structure to learn what purpose its maker intended. But many argue that taking this as an absolute, allowing of no exceptions, is to overrate the importance of one item of evidence. Human nature is too complex for that.

      So a conclusion might be that moral goods are objective truth rather than personal choice. And although we must continually seek objective truth, our grasp of it must necessarily be subjective. Nevertheless, as Adrian Hastings put it, “…the all embracing principle remains… the unique requirement of love.”

      • tim says:

        Yes, I agree with much of this. I agree about the irony (it wasn’t deliberate, but I like irony). ‘More wit than truth’ – I’d put that backwards. It seems to me hardly witty at all, but very often true. (It seems to read quite elegantly in French, but to be a bit lame when you translate it ). I don’t know of an equivalent English saying (suggestions?). I agree that finding the words for ideas can often be difficult, but I would say that you clarify the idea by finding the right words for it. I am very mistrustful of obscurity. No doubt there are mysteries, but they are not to be multiplied without necessity.

        That said, the meat of what you say I (and I suppose others) find clear, plausible and helpful.

    • Rahner says:

      Tim, “seeks” was a typo and should have been deleted. I apologise for any confusion caused.
      For the moral relativist there is no single morality/moral code that is true or reasonable across all cultures and societies. I think this is an implausible philosophical position and so many criticisms of relativism are in fact attacking a straw man.

      • tim says:

        Sorry – I eventually concluded it was most likely a typo, though this took me the best part of half an hour off and on. You are hardly to blame – it was in large part that I had convinced myself that I didn’t like what you were saying, and in consequence was less willing to give it a sensible meaning. I’m glad to hear you think relativism is implausible – I hadn’t even understood that before. But again your last sentence puzzles me. Is ‘so’ to be read as ‘therefore’ – or just an intensifier (so to take it out wouldn’t alter the sense?) In either case I don’t really follow. If relativism is implausible, why are attacks on it unreasonable? Or are you saying that people tend to construct their own bogus or exaggerated caricature of relativism and attack that instead of the real thing, thereby missing the opportunity to expose its real errors (that makes sense to me, but may be a bit much to read into what you actually wrote)? I’m probably overanalysing, and should calm down and keep quiet – which I will do if you feel this isn’t leading anywhere. My point is simply that if you want to convert people to your point of view you must make your points as easy as possible to understand (pretty obvious, and clearly applies to all of us!)

  11. claret says:

    Oh for the simplicity of the ten commandments interspersed with the works of mercy.

  12. st.joseph says:

    I was speaking to an elderly gentleman this morning and he was saying tht he had asked a priest what was the teaching on missing Mass on Sundays is it a Mortal sin now!
    The answer he gave was ‘we are asked to go regularily’ I didn’t say anything to that.
    When my children were young and we visited my parents in London for the day-the first question my father asked them was ‘did your mother take you to Mass this morning?
    I used to get very annoyed with him especially as he wasn.t that holy himself-but always went to Mass.
    If I ever had a reason to lapse it was my fathers attitude.
    I always thought to myself that I would never ask my children that or my grandchildren that question-I wanted them to love the Church and to go because of love for the Lord.Even if they did find it boring as so many say as an excuse.
    I always think that if for some reason I couldnt go on Sunday-there is always another day.
    I might be ill on a Sunday-but better in the week.

  13. John Candido says:

    I would like to tell everybody about a British website called ‘Vatican II – Voice of the Church’, which can be accessed from here, . The mission of the website is to promote and explain the teaching of the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). It does this in an admirable fashion with lots of articles by theologians, both lay and clerical. It places great store by those who experienced the Council first-hand and especially Cardinal König of Vienna, and the English Benedictine Bishop Christopher Butler OSB.

    The writings of Bishop B. C. Butler OSB are quite prolific on the website. My guess is that Bishop Butler, as well as this website, are not particularly well known in the UK, or in the rest of the Catholic world. This is a great pity. As we are touching on the teachings of the Second Vatican Council in this present topic as well as many others in future, it would be useful if as many people as possible could look at this particular website, and save it to their favourites, because it contains a lot of really good material.

  14. Gerry says:

    Whoever said ‘As against God, man is always in the wrong’ had obviously never met a Catholic moral theologian. Their method of reasoning gives them a certainty that is unchangeable, even by an angel coming straight down from heaven. For change we must wait for the next generation, or the one after that. But, I can see that the slow chiselling away at old positions as I see here is important even though I cannot understand the arguments. So, thanks everyone.
    I am not a philosopher or a legal expert, but when the result of an extremely difficult and complex argument, which few can understand, is to produce a teaching that is damaging to people and even to God’s creation, I believe that ordinary people should just dismiss it.
    (The ban on artificial contraception has caused an increase in population and an increased population may well be an important cause of global warming. Would there not be less global warming if the world population were one billion rather than seven billion? And less at seven billion than nine billion? Could Catholic moral theology be helping to make the world uninhabitable for humans?)
    Whenever trying to follow these complex arguments exhausts me, I fall back on Michael Frayn, whose article some of you I know have read.

    • st.joseph says:

      ‘The Population Controllers and their War 0n People.’
      Gerry I have been reading this and nothing will convince me,
      It can be found on, or by typing in the above!

      I dont believe that the ban on contraception has caused an increase in population.
      Children have been dying at a high rate from sickness and starvation and miscarriages.
      The problem wont be solved by artificial contraception and abortifacants.

    • Rahner says:

      Which moral theologians did you have in mind?

  15. John Nolan says:

    Thanks, John, for that link. Everyone should be familiar with the documents of the Council, while being aware of the tensions implicit in them. I would like to think that what emerged represented the ‘sensus Ecclesiae’ as she entered the second half of the 20th century. The death of Pope John XXIII early into the Council makes it difficult to conclude what was his original intention, which is why both sides of the present divide claim him as a champion for their respective causes.

    What is undeniable is that the effect of the Council was deeply divisive, and remains so. There are those who are almost apoplectic about their perception that Benedict XVI is against the ‘spirit of Vatican II’ as they understand it. The term they use, pejoratively, is ‘restorationist’. In the other camp, it is maintained that the Council caused more damage to the Church than did the 16th century protestant Reformation. I suspect that most who think about it occupy the wide middle ground.

    We have been seeing since 1978 a reaction against some of the revolutionary excesses of the period 1965-1974 which most people mean when they refer to the ‘sixties’ (the period 1960-1964 had more in common with the 1950s – decades are not always so neat). To impose a revolution on a 2000-year-old institution which claims a divine mandate is surely going to produce a reaction, whether we like it or not.

    Where I take issue with you is your idea that the Church must run headlong to embrace what you consider to be modernity, with an implied Whiggish view of ‘progress’ which was perhaps tenable in the 19th century but which the history of the 20th century has shown to be at best ambiguous.

  16. Gerry says:

    Rahner, thanks for the query, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI are the ones who come most easily to mind.
    Karl Rahner was one of the experts who I went to hear forty years ago when I was trying to find out what had gone worng. The place was packed. Of course it was all above my head, but Peter Hebblethwaite was there and I could see the admiration and affection radiating from him, and as I liked and trusted PH i’ve always thought well of Karl Rahner – he just looked like a poor old Jesuit, the best type of Jesuit. I wonder what he thought of the ban on artifical contraception?

      • st.joseph says:

        All those couples who took Karl Rahners advice and look on all their aborted babies when they meet their Maker will undoubtly regret that they didn’t listen to Pope Paul V1 .

        Did Peter Hebblethwaite take his Holy Orders seriously ?If I am right -he left the priesthood.

    • st.joseph says:

      Artifical contraception was never banned, it was never permissable in the first place to be banned.
      The Catholic Church is the only one through scientific research that has made it possible for us to understand the damage the Pill has done.
      It has kept the Truth where others have gone into error.
      I would be interested to know if anyone has read ‘Holy Communion Eucharist and Marital’ by John F Kippley.?
      The so called moral theologians may find some enlightenment in it! Then understand why Holy Mother Church continues to teach it!

  17. Gerry says:

    Rahner, Thanks. Brilliant. What a wonderful thing is secondsight. I’d no idea – or had forgotten – that Avery Dulles was a cardinal. What chats he must have had with his father and his uncle.
    Karl Rahner’s view, as reported, is perfect secondsight. If only the world wasn’t suffering so much from the teaching, I’d like this slow, charitable, teasing out of the problem. But, even in 1964, four years before Human Life, Dr Jack Dominian – a knowledgeable and careful writer to the newspapers in those days – was saying in the Catholic Herald “increasing freedom from disease…has created in certain parts of the globe, a real and urgent problem of overpopulation. Real and urgent even then! There is no urgency in Rahner. Even so, what a great and good man.

    Thanks St Joseph. Yes, Peter Hebblethwaite was SJ when I came across him at talks he gave at Sacred Heart Wimbledon and Westminster Cathedral about 40 years ago. He gave it up and married, but stayed a frequent contributor to Catholic papers.

  18. Gerry says:

    Rahner, I am, as you can imagine, a fan of Charles Curran, not that I’ve ever read a book by him. In the mid-1960’s he said that the Church was in doubt and we could make up our own minds. Pope Paul (my favourite pope, we can all make mistakes) said – in a round about way – it wasn’t in doubt. I work out what goes on in the Vatican from that.
    I read recently that Archbishop Wojtyla had influenced Humanae Vitae despite attending none or very few of the Commissions meetings. How wonderful he was with communism, and how wrong about family planning and population increase.
    When a triumphant Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin received his copy of HV he called a press conference and there the Professor of Moral Theology at Maynooth “summed up 34 pages of Latin text in two words, ‘No change.’” My brain is up to understanding ‘no change’ but not to the 34 pages. That’s my difficulty with all moral theology. Still, I’ll get the book. I’ve always felt that Charles Curran was on the same side as me. Thanks again.

  19. st.joseph says:

    Rahner, do you have a problem with Humanae Vitae?

    http://www.NFP and Understanding Humanae ,will help your confusion!

    It is worth a look. By John F Kippley.

    • st.joseph says:

      Rahner I dont think you will find it in the web above, I had it in my favourites that is why it came up.
      If you go into Holy Communion Eucharist and Marital by John F Kippley you wil come across it.’nfp and more’. ‘understanding humanae vitae’
      If you understand what Pope Paul V1 is saying and JF Kippley explains it very clearly-you will always doubt.
      It will give you an insight and enlighten your mind,but you have to be prepared to learn!!
      Then you can make a judgement.

  20. st.joseph says:

    Rahner, I hope you found the above article helpful in understanding Humanae Vitae!.
    The prophetic teaching of Pope Paul V1 can be more understood why contraception is considerd to be ‘intrinsically evil’.
    We need to look at society as a whole and see how our human nature has sunk lower than the gutter with regards to the sexual reveloution.
    We can see that in the explicitness of the Channel 4 series’The Joy of Sex’How low can we get exploiting the wonderful Gift that the Lord has given us.
    One consolation being that we are the ‘people of God’.
    We can live within the rules of Gods Law and the moral teaching of the Church
    We can understand the true Covenant of Holy Matrimony. Why do we challenge that?
    We are expected to keep our virginity before marriage and fidelity after.In sickness and in health,rich or for poor.
    As Scripture tells us when Jesus spoke-‘Who can live like this-the teaching is hard’ He also said ‘choose the narrow gate. Are we also turning away?’
    It might be shorter in the long run than the wide one!

    I dont see Humanae Vitae as a dictation. We have rules in this life even traffic rules!
    God has given us a life-line with the knowledge of our fertility-and with that knowledge we have learnt the consequences of abortion-from contraception..
    As Quentin said in his post -‘No supporting argument is needed,since its truth is clear to anyone who cares to look!

    • Quentin says:

      Just in case I should be misunderstood. My phrase “‘No supporting argument is needed, since its truth is clear to anyone who cares to look” is a description of the view of certain theologians. I did not express a view.

      • st.joseph says:

        Quentin it may not be your view. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
        Perhaps if we had all folloiwed the teachings of Humanae Vitae we may now have a better moral society than what we have today.
        And if anyone would like to make an argument ‘against it’ – feel free to do so!!
        I am all ears!

      • Rahner says:

        Thank you, Quentin, I thought that was what you meant.

  21. st.joseph says:

    Rahner I must point out that the article you posted on November 29th- Karl Rahner on Humanae Vitae was written in September 1968.!
    Would he write the same thing to-day?

  22. st.joseph says:

    Good -we agree on something then.!
    So what is wrong with Humanae Vitae?
    I would love to know ‘your’ thoughts on it.

  23. Rahner says:

    Tim, “Or are you saying that people tend to construct their own bogus or exaggerated caricature of relativism and attack that instead of the real thing” . Yes – and as I said earlier, many people seem to assume, mistakenly, in my view, that if there is a disagreement on a moral issue the disagreement must have arisen in virtue of the adoption of a relativistic world view on the part of one of the participants.

  24. Quentin says:

    In discussing relativism we should perhaps recall the Greek philosopher Protagoras who is seen as the father of relativism by claiming, “Man is the measure of all things, of things that are, that they are; and of things that are not, that they are not”.”

    A difficulty about relativism is that we have, somehow, to square two facts:
    One is that our own judgment of truth must be subjective. In making that judgment we approach through our own perspective. That perspective is formed by many things: nature, nurture, experience.

    The second is that to debate our different grasp of a truth we have to assume that the truth exists objectively – and we are always trying, but never fully successfully, to identify it.
    So, if you and I sit apart from each other in a room, each of us will have a different perspective on the room. Yet, if the room did not exist neither of us could have a perspective in the first place.

  25. st.joseph says:

    I have being thinking about various discussions not only on second-sight but from listening to conversations with others on the validity of Humanae Vitae.
    To me and I am open to correction that the way most people see it, and that is whether it is an infallable Document or not!
    As we are discussing Situation Ethics here and would like to make a few situation I have thought about ( not just now but over a period of time.
    I did look on the second sight posts that Quentin suggested above and couldn’t find one on sexual intercourse as a whole!
    So I wondered if I could get some feedback on the following situation.
    1st.If acouple are engaged to marry and very much in love -obviousley intending to settle down and raise a family when the circumstances allows.
    They sometimes are not able to use self control and have sexual intercourse!

    This is not pre-mediated.This doesn’t happen often -not on a regular basis.
    They dont buy condoms!
    Not on the Pill.
    Any other contraceptive device.
    But the woman has been responsible and found out her fertility pattern .
    They are Catholics and can go to Confession.
    We know the teaching is hard-and who can live it.I think Jesus said that to the rich young man.
    Now I see that as not a compromise but however a better understanding of Humanae Vitae.
    I would appreciate some thoughts on this!

    • Horace says:

      The trouble here is the two statements:-

      1) They sometimes are not able to use self control and have sexual intercourse!

      2) But the woman has been responsible and found out her fertility pattern .

      No matter that the woman knows her fertility pattern this is no help if they are not able to use self control.

    • Quentin says:

      st.joseph, I don’t know quite what you are asking, but here are a couple of points.

      Rightly or wrongly, there is a large number Catholics who find that using natural family planning prevents them expressing the love of their marriage adequately. And they hold that it is enough for them to be generous in the size of their family. The method that they use (excluding abortive methods) they claim is up to them. And this, roughly, was the recommendation of the papal committee. Of course Humanae Vitae explicitly disagreed.

      This is a different issue from whether an engaged couple is wrong to have a full sexual relationship until they are married. Of course it is excellent for people to know how their bodies work before marriage, and undoubtedly for many couples NFP is far the best option. I leave aside the moral question here, because the Church does not express a view on contraception outside marriage.

      • st.joseph says:

        Quentin of course it is up to the couple to be generous in the size of the family .
        All children are a gift from God!
        The method they use is up you them. No one is denying that. God gave us free-will.
        What did the papal committee recommend as a family planning method.?
        We must remember that the knowledge of fertility was not as accurate as it is now.
        Also the papal committee would not have known about health problems or the abortfacant effect of the pill-would they have made the same decision if they could see the dangers in advance.
        Pope Paul V1 I believe could visualize the dangers of all this-and wasnt he right’.
        Cardinal Gagnon wrote to all doctors and scientists and NFP teachers to make progress in Fertility Awareness. This is what has been done regardless of the failure to recognise it by Bishops and the negative thinking of HV.
        I wasn’t thinking about the ‘ negative’ view of sex outside marriage.
        And maybe I misunderstand your comment but NFP outside marriage or in marriage is not a contraceptive . It is only a contraceptive when i t violates the fertile cycle by artificial means, Are we splitting hairs here?

  26. st.joseph says:

    Thank you Horace.
    If a women knows her fertility it does help to use self control if sexual intercourse results in a pregnancy. It is their decison-maybe they will decide .
    A women should not wait until she marries to understand how her body works-also as they say, the desire is more when she is fertile!

    I most probably became pregnant the first five days into marriage after 4 yrs of meeting my husband and 18months engaged to be married.
    I became pregnant when my daughter was 5months old, unable to breast feed, my son was born they told me his heart had stopped- after a placenta rupture , we both nealy died. And very ill afterwards from several miscarriages.
    They are both in their late 40s now and I would not change them for the world.

    The main reason I taught NFP even though I didnt want to or need to ,but felt there was a need

    • st.joseph says:

      P.S N. But not because of Humanae Vitae telling me to do so, but realised it was common sense.
      I am not able to understand that in 2011 women dont know about their body-but plenty about sex with anybody really after a few Laguers, and I saw plenty of that in the Licensed Trade. Thats why I took pregnant girls ino my home who didn,t want an abortion.
      If we cant make them listen to morals at least they can be educated in responsible living.
      But then I expect catholic couples are not permissive like that but still deserve to know how there body works.When engaged to be married.
      I am not speaking here about ‘casual acquaintences’.

      • st.joseph says:

        Another P.S.
        I was married in 1962, long before Humanae Vitae..That wasn’t what stopped me!!
        I was probably able to resist temptation-but recognise the fact that not every one can.
        I believed firmly in the marriage Covenant and not to have sex until marriage-or at least I understood that it was with the person I was marrying-even if I failed I could go to Confession!! Not saying we didn’t have our moments.!!Iam not vain enough to think I wasn’t tempted when you love someone.!

  27. st.joseph says:

    It doesn’t seem that anyone else has any opinions on Humanae Vitae- so I will take it that every one else must be in aggreemnt with the teachings of the Church.
    In that case to conclude my thinking on the subject-and maybe I will have some criticism on it, also I suppose it would not go down to well with the Holy Father but it is my opinion!

    Quentin says in his comment that ‘The Church does not express a view on contraception outside marriage.
    It does express its teaching on contraception-I take that as contraception is sinful at any time in or out of marriage.It is a violation of a womens fertility to be open to life , a God given Gift to be respected.
    Sexual intercourse between couples who have made a promise to get married and as I said lose self control that is to say it is not still a sin. But however we as catholics do have the Sacrament of Confession, not only for repentence but for inner strength to have self control.If we believe in the Grace we receive from the Sacrament.
    Now the other situation as I see it is that within the Sacrament -the Covenant of Marriage where we unite ourselves to the Blessed Trinity in the Body of Christ in His Church,that Covenant is abused with the use of anything that violates the fertile time of the wifes menstrual cycle ,especially abortifacant contraceptives.We are saying in a sense that we do not want to co-operate with you in the procreative Gift you have given -we want to go it on our own.
    But then we do have the Sacrament o f Confession whereby they can receive the Grace to use the infertile time and study when that is.
    I dont believe that to be a great sacrafice when we see what the Lord did for us.
    I dont know of any artificial contraceptive that does not have an abortificant effect except the condom,so how a couple can feel happier that there marriage is more fulfilled with their use baffles me.

    • Quentin says:

      St.joseph, I can easily understand why you think that the Church has condemned contraception generally — because people often speak as if that were the case. However, if you read Humanae Vitae and check the Catechism you will find that the Church only talks about marriage, and uses the nature of marriage to make her arguments. She simply doesn’t comment on contraception outside marriage.

      Of course she is against the widespread teaching and promotion of condoms in, say, schools, or in subSaharan Africa. She maintains that this normalises promiscuous sexual activity, and actually leads to more unmarried pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. And here, of course, her position is well supported by the evidence.

  28. st.joseph says:

    Thank you Quentin for you comment.
    I look to the The Lord and what I believe is His Will.
    Not only Church Laws.
    I do not have the mind of God or His Blessed Mother but as I said it is my opinion.
    Now if people want to think otherwise when they are single, that is up to them
    I would not believe that the law againt contraception or abortificants for only those who are married and not for everyone doesn,t apply.
    In that case we all could stay single then we wouldnt be commiting a sin against anything ,only I suppose living in sin as we all do even in marriage, where do we draw line.?
    People choose to be obedient to the Church as to whatever suits them!

    • st.joseph says:

      Quentin a further thought.
      If a couple who are engaged to marry and use abortive methods or any other method would not need to confess it ,only the fact that they had sexual intercourse .Do you think?

      • Quentin says:

        Abortion is a sin, married or unmarried. And, yes, one might well need to add to the sin of sexual intercourse out of marriage that one had carelessly exposed one’s partner to getting pregnant or catching a disease.

    • Quentin says:

      st.joseph let me propose a question for you. Imagine that you meet two young men who, you happen to know, are about to start a sexual affair with their casual girl friends. Lets suppose further that you also know that they may well be infected with HIVAIDs because they take drugs using old needles. You try to dissuade them without success. But one of them tells you that he is going to use condoms in order to protect his girlfriend from pregnancy and disease. The other tell you that he isn’t because his religion forbids him from using a contraceptive.

      Which young man’s attitude do you prefer? And would it make any difference if the girl friend happened to be your daughter?

  29. st.joseph says:

    Quentin, I wouldn,t prefer either one.
    I would tell the one who is using condoms that it would not be a protection ,
    and also advise that casual sex is not a responsibe relationship.
    The second is a typical example of what one chooses to do ,what suits them.

    I dont think that to be the same situation as I spoke of.

    I have taught couples engaged to be married NFP. Especially non-catholics (as we are told to evangeli ze-go out to the whole world- teach all Nations). As there is no greater Truth than a half Truth. NFP is not only for catholics .The true Spirit of Vatican 11 is that the lives of the followers of Christ are living Gospels proclaiming Christ to the world. It is called to sanctity.I dont believe that Jesus meant St Peter to only teach to catholics
    I would think that a couple who is taking responsibility for their actions and learn NFP before
    marriage in preparation for the future,is at least trying to do Gods Will even if they fail. I am not speaking about regular intercourse
    A married couple who are continually not living the way the Church teaches on family planning is a different matter all to-gether
    I would see the two young men as irresponsible regardless .

    • st.joseph says:

      The above comment is supposed to say.’There is no greater falsehood than a half Truth.’
      I beg you pardon!

    • Quentin says:

      Just as a matter of fact, condoms used properly give very high protection against conception and infection from a number of major sexually transmitted diseases. To state otherwise might deceive people into not bothering to use them. The correct facts are essential as a starting point for decisions.

  30. st.joseph says:

    As far as I would be concerned Quentin-Is how high, to what percentage is it safe. There is always human error.
    It wont be safe if it is not 100% . Is that guaranteed.
    Then of course there is always an abortion! The slippery slope.

    • st.joseph says:

      Also Quentin, forgive but I dont understand your reasoning.
      If one has doubts to its safety,then doesn’t use it-surely it is wiser for them to abstain.
      I dont think it would be safer without it. Have I misunderstood you!

  31. st.joseph says:

    Quentin to re-iterate on the subject of the Church laws.We forget that we are all capable of going against them.
    In the case of the couple with HIV you mention above where the Church forbids the use of condoms,and I think you mention Cahill saying it is ok and the Church is wrong.
    The Churches teaching is not here to lead people into error-we can do that ourselves.
    Wouldn’t it be a perfect world if we all lived our lives in strict obedience to all that the Commandments tell us, also the only two which Jesus speaks about
    I know I mentioned the Sacrament of Confession above, and it may seem unnessary to go in later years because it seems now that we may all live and choose our way of life by our conscience and what we feel is right and wrong to suit us.
    It seems to me that if the Church says to the couple with HIV ‘Yes it is Ok, then it could be open to being sued for saying it was alright.
    We do have a free wi ll .

  32. st.joseph says:

    Quentin your last comment made me smile!! True.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s