Getting physical

Have you come across the term ‘physicalism’ related to moral questions? I understand it to refer to the imperatives indicated by our biology. A simple example would be the question of certain homosexual acts which stand condemned as a disordered use of our sexual plumbing.

While the Church insists that such acts are intrinsically evil, many moral philosophers argue (in line with the philosopher David Hume) that no moral significance can be deduced from the facts of biology alone. ‘No ought from is’ is the dictum which applies.

Hume, himself, believed that our moral sense arose from an emotion of beneficence rather than a judgment. Darwin and others would no doubt argue that the value of such beneficence to the flourishing of the human race would indicate its source to be evolution.

Physicalism of course plays a strong part in the condemnation of artificial contraception. The marital act is, in my view correctly, understood as being procreative in its fundamental structure. It would follow that a deliberate action which removes that aspect changes the nature of the act. It is, in physicalist terms, as much a perversion (etymologically, a ‘turning away’) as a homosexual act.

That of course leaves open the question whether or not such ‘perversion’ can be justified. The orthodox Church teaching has been that, since the nature of the act is defined by God’s creation, it must invariably be wrong, irrespective of intention. And Aquinas taught that actions contrary to the procreative nature of sexual connection were the most serious form of sexual sin, placing others such as incest or adultery at a lower level of importance.

This view was dealt something of a blow when the moral theologians who were members of the Papal Commission which preceded Humanae Vitae had to accept that the step from sexual structure to moral imperative could not be demonstrated through reason. This did not prevent Humanae Vitae from expressing its prohibition in physicalist terms. Nor did this inhibit John Paul II’s Theology of the Body in its wish to show an intrinsic connection between the outward sign of an action and its inward intention.

While of course the physicalist approach remains current in formal Catholic teaching it does not seem to be popular with the moral theologians with whom I have discussed these issues (though these may well not be representative). I am sometimes referred to the ‘new natural law’ which eschews physicalism and concentrates on the ‘goods’ towards which it is claimed human nature is intrinsically ordered. Procreation is one such good, and it is argued that any action which defies this good is ipso facto contrary to natural law. A deliberate act against the procreative nature of the sexual act would be such a defiance. I am not impressed with this line of argument, but perhaps I do not understand it well enough.

I think we would all be interested in an exchange of views about current approaches to this vexed subject. As far as I know, no current contributor claims to be a moral theologian, but the quality of our exchanges suggest that we have quite enough intellectual clout to do some useful analysis.

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57 Responses to Getting physical

  1. Patsy Stevens says:

    We, the Church, should bring back the ability/option of men who feel called to be priest to also get married. After all its not a matter of church teaching or doctrine.. It seems to b e forgotten that the father of our great saint of LOVE Aelred of Rievaulx was a married man.
    We should also do away with these fancy 1st Holy Communion & Confirmation events instead.go back to the way things were, initially, like the Orthodox Church stil lpractice
    Hows the wife and pussy cat still talking to one another? – interesting piece!

    • pnyikos says:

      The timing of the two things, matrimony and holy orders, is crucial. Neither the Orthodox (who allow married men to become priests) nor the Catholic Church (which allowed it for about a millennium and still allows it in exceptional cases) ever allowed priests to marry. Even deacons (who are allowed to marry) are not allowed to re-marry if they become widowers. This is actually based on scripture, where Paul writes that a deacon should be married only once.

      • milliganp says:

        For clarification, but not contradiction; in extremis a Deacon with a young family who is widowed MAY be allowed to remarry for the sake of the children. Having said that, few Bishops would ordain someone with significant young family commitments to the diaconate. Obviously, in the time of St. Paul, early widow(er)hood was less uncomon than it is today because women died in childbirth or of common diseases.

  2. Patsy Stevens says:

    Is one supposed to register, log in and all that crap?

  3. Vincent says:

    I have a sense that any arguments seeking to prove the rights or wrongs of artificial contraception are old hat. The Church is locked into its position and does little more than re-state the HV conclusion and to appeal to tradition. In that appeal it fails to notice that her tradition was based until quite recently on a faulty misunderstanding of the biology of conception. Meanwhile, the majority simply no longer regard it as an issue. Of course this split is immensely harmful, but the harm is slow, and so we do not see the increasing crisis. One day we will wake up.

  4. John Nolan says:

    Vincent is of course right. I feel desperately sorry for Paul VI, excoriated by traditionalists for signing off all the decrees of the Second Vatican Council (some of which were questionable both in terms of provenance and content) and encouraging Bugnini to take a wrecking-ball to the Liturgy – his address on Advent I 1969 on the subject is one of the most bizarre and contradictory utterances made by any Pontiff, which make Francis’s comments look sane and logical by comparison.

    At the same time he alienated progressives with Humanae Vitae which merely restated Catholic teaching. Catholics of my generation tended to give it a broad interpretation; yes, it made sense in the terms in which it was written, but as long as there was no intention in a marriage never to have progeny, even artificial contraception could be excused. My father, an educated Irish Catholic whose views on sex were positively puritanical, once opined that it would be a good thing if the Church refrained from commenting on sex for at least a hundred years.

    Those who did practise contraception were in many cases traditionalist Catholics in every other sense. The notion that HV was the cause of ‘cafeteria Catholicism’ and the wholesale rejection of Catholic doctrine in other areas seems to me to be to be special pleading. I might be wrong , of course.

    • milliganp says:

      When the Bishops and Priests (and, indirectly Caholic Schoos) of the church chose not to support HV they not only stopped preaching HV, they stopped preaching any sort of sexual or family morality.
      When the Church stopped preaching the unique and necessary place of the Church in salvation and Christ’s unique presence in the church, religion and particularly the Mass became less necessary.
      Priests bacame consecrated social workers rather than guardians of the sacred.
      Then the people of God stopped going to Confession …….

      We’re a long way from where we started, but if a childs voice cries out “are we there yet”, the guardians of the “magical mystery tour” might say “we’re always there, because we’re not going anywhere in particular”.

  5. pnyikos says:

    There are distinctions between various kinds of contraception, and these have played an important role in the recent decision by the US Supreme Court that Hobby Lobby does not have to pay for certain forms of contraception in its insurance package for employees. Out of about a dozen kinds, Hobby Lobby only objected to four, and goes on covering the rest. These four operate not just by preventing ovulation (in fact, one IUD does not even do that) but by preventing the very early embryo (the blastocyst) from implanting. The family that runs Hobby Lobby only objects morally to this, and not to the prevention of ovulation.

    There has been a great deal of misunderstanding about this decision, leading to sometimes acrimonious debate. One source of misunderstanding is an arbitrary decision several decades ago by a small group at the head of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) to redefine “conception” to mean “implantation” rather than “fertilization,” which was its original meaning, its only meaning for over a century, and the meaning still used by the Catholic Church. It is because of this arbitrary decision that IUD’s and “morning after pills” came to be called “contraceptives.”

    On the other side, the word “abortifacient” is routinely used by pro-life groups whose leaders are aware of this ACOG decision and stick to the definition of induced abortion as being actions leading to the killing of developing humans at any stage of development beyond fertilization. ‘Fertilization’ in turn is best used to mean the moment that a sperm penetrates the oocyte and the zona pellucida becomes impervious to all other sperm. This is what is behind the use of the term “the moment of conception” routinely used by pro-life groups and, I believe, the Catholic Church as well.

    • pnyikos says:

      I found out today that the definition I gave for “fertilization,” while fine for informal conversations, is not exactly the one that is used in human embryology. There, it is a process that takes about a day. It is explained here:

      Click to access stage01.pdf

      Besides the moment I gave earlier that could serve for the informal pro-life definition of “the moment of conception” there is this, taken from the above webpage, for the moment that we have a penetrated oocyte:

      strictly, “after gamete plasma membranes have become confluent” (Zamboni et al., 1966).

      A more weighty issue is the definition of “abortion”. If one selects “termination of pregnancy” then this passes the buck to the definition of pregnancy. And a surprising number of books start it with fertilization rather than implantation. Here is a statement from Human Reproductive Biology:

      ‘In most textbooks and in legal rulings about induced abortion (see Chapter 14), pregnancy begins at fertilization: We will also use that definition in this book.’

      • Quentin says:

        Yes, the difference between sperm penetration and the confluence of parental genes (actual fertilisation) can be an important one. For instance it plays a part in the moral considerations which arise from using mitochondria from a donor. It is discussed in the post ‘Three into one won’t go”

  6. Brendan says:

    Like most Catholics I feel that what I have read and hopefully imbibed in the past i.e. Humane Vitae, the writings of Karol Wojtyla as bishop culminating in Love and Responsibility , his ” classic book on the subject of marriage and sexual morality ” – whose earlier writings I understand were very much in accord with HV – for me have somehow been overtaken and largely obscured by this ‘ physicalism ‘ in worldly thinking.
    Yes, it also seems as if some Catholic hierarchy tuned into this secular use of a physical approach to sexuality early on, hence this allowing physiology and medicine an ” almost exclusive right to speak on matters of sexuality. Psychology is allotted only a secondary role … This book puts the problem in a fundamentally different perspective. Sexual morality is within the domain of the person. ” – Thus says Saint John Paul II in his introduction to ” Love and Responsibility “.
    Now taking Quentin’s point, I am not erudite enough in Philosophy/ Theology to argue particular points , but maybe we have given too much credence to secular philosophy when applying such theories to human sexuality. I like the idea of the term ‘ new natural law ‘.and the ” good things to which natural law ( Gods Law ) is intrinsically ordered”.
    My reasoning on the basis of the above is that for the Christian, concomitant with ones natural sexual urge, is ones full understanding of Gods ( Christs ) love for us within the sexual union between man and woman, as ordained by Him. This grace – filled ( psychological state ) is I believe central to the teaching of The Catholic Church in the domain of marriage and sexual morality/ relationships to the exclusiveness of every thing else. Extraordinarily difficult to uphold against a world so set against such a moral/ ethical outlook. But it has to be if the Spirit of God is to have any effect on subsequent decisions in our sexual relations with each other. As I repeated sometime before, when I first read HV IN THE 1970’S , it gave me guidance and direction in my own understanding of my sexuality what God wanted indeed expected of me – but more importantly of what i could give back. This I believe prepared the ground for my future marriage. I contend that it is painfully obvious – if we are honest even in our own lives – what happens when the ‘ miss – use ‘ of the sexual gift is given full sway, with all its predilections, in our lives.
    Coincidental to Secondsightblog, I am rereading Love and Responsibility – I hope I am reading St. John Paul’s theology correctly or as he would like.

  7. John Candido says:

    For those who might be interested, there is an online resource from the School of History from Rice University in the United States that covers the life of Galileo. It is very much a work in progress and forthcoming articles will be placed on the resource as they become available.

  8. John de Waal says:

    “By their fruits you shall know them…” Much of the human race would appear to have ignored Natural Law Morality with regard to contraception. What have been the consequences of this? Is there much greater human happiness? Are women respected more by men? Are marriages more resilient and happy? Are people more sexually healthy? I could go on.

    The truth is, surely, that the widespread use of contraception – whilst alleviating women of a succession of frequent pregnancies – has created many more problems for society. Pope Paul VI spoke of the inherent dangers of artificial birth control in HV : “…how easily this course of action can lead to marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards …Not much experience is needed to be fully aware of human weakness and to understand that men – and especially the young, who are exposed to temptation – need incentives to keep the moral law, and it is an evil thing to make it easy for them to break that law.” ( 16,17)

    one of the main problems with Humanae Vitae was that it was not taught or supported enough by bishops, priests and teachers. The recent survey for the Extraordinary Synod in Rome has, I believe, shown a lamentable ignorance of Natural Law. That is one area which needs major attention.

    • Vincent says:

      You are surely right in drawing attention to the evils which have accompanied artificial contraception. But there is an alternative conclusion to consider. Whether the Church condemned it or not, the problems would have arisen — we are only a minority. But the Church by condemning it, has made its views on marriage irrelevant to many of the faithful, and approaching the absurd to any of the secular population who have the slightest interest in our views.

      What would have happened if we had accepted contraception for the proper planning of a family, and put our emphasis on the exclusive gift of making ‘two in one flesh’ through our commitment to a married partner? I suspect that there are many people who would respond to that message. Fidelity in relationships seems to be a natural instinct, and the damage which is caused by breakdown both to individuals and society can be demonstrated. I don’t claim that this approach would turn secular society into saints, but I think that many people would suspect that the Church had a very valuable point.

      At any rate, we would lose nothing by the approach because our current course is leading nowhere.

      • Singalong says:

        What would have happened if we had accepted contraception for the proper planning of a family, and put our emphasis on the exclusive gift of making ‘two in one flesh’ through our commitment to a married partner?

        I think that fully committed couples concerned with responsible planning of their families are the perfect candidates for fertility awareness and natural family planning. The church needs to stick to its guns on this matter, but vastly improve its presentation.

      • Vincent says:

        It seems to me that, indirectly at least, you touch on a couple of questions. The first is: are we claiming that, say using a condom, is inherently evil and can never be excused? If we take that view then even the most extreme circumstances will not be allowed. And the argument extends to risking pregnancy outside marriage, and not protecting a partner from serious infection. Would you go that far?

        Perhaps you would argue that NFP is the most wholesome way of proceeding – respecting the procreative nature of the marital act and assisting the couple in achieving a control over unruly instincts. But seeing that as a way of perfection you might accept that there are couples who, for a variety of reasons, find the process difficult to manage and in practice damaging to the marital relationship. One may not be perfect without being inherently sinful.

  9. milliganp says:

    That we are in a moral mire is, I would suggest, self evident. The issue is how we try to get out. One of the problems of our moral teaching is that we overstate the matter of mortal sin. Mortal sin means that a person has cut them-self off entirely from God’s grace, it requires severity, knowledge and wilful intent.. In the early church only 3 sins were considered mortal, apostasy, murder and adultery. In the pre-Vatican II church almost everything was a mortal sin and therefore people went to Confession regularly, many weekly; Certainly you had to go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion, no matter how virtuous you might be.
    Then in the 60’s with both the pill and social change, sexuality became a grey area. The problem was that the church only did black and white. Many priests realised that accusing a young family trying to delay their next offspring to space their family by using the pill of mortal sin was not a constructive approach. 2 decades later we are trying to get co-habiting couples to think seriously about marriage, but the stick of mortal sin is not the appropriate pastoral tool for this situation either.
    The simple reality is that a significant number of Catholics do not equate the voice of the Church with the voice of Christ and although Natural Law is fundamental, the thing that changes hearts and minds are the words of Christ in the Gospel – and the Gospel talks of love, healing, forgiveness and ultimately, trusting in God’s providence. It is in accepting providence that we accept the gift of our fertility – and through it children and families. We need to bring people to a true knowledge of Christ before we can ask people to accept the more challenging consequences of His teaching.

    • Singalong says:

      Certainly you had to go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion, no matter how virtuous you might be.

      I would agree with much of what you say, and have had my share of difficulties arising from the fear of mortal sin, but this is not my memory of the pre-Vatican 11 Church. I was 30 in 1965, brought up in a very devout family, but we did not think we must go to Confession before receiving Holy Communion each time. It would not have been possible to receive at daily Mass which we did along with many others.

      • Singalong says:

        Just to add, keeping the fast from midnight, which included water, was very important, and having to break it was often a reason to refrain from receiving. At one stage, I sometimes went to Mass at a church on my way to school, after a bus and tram ride, but could not receive Holy Communion as I had had my breakfast.

      • Quentin says:

        When we got married we did, of course, the fasting from midnight. My wife got to the reception feeling the worse for wear, and was revived with a large glass of brandy. It worked only too well, and our honeymoon started in the oddest sort of way. But my mother had a similar experience. She was given champagne but, not liking it, drank it quickly – whereupon her glass was immediately refilled – and again – and again. She left her reception in much the same state.

      • Singalong says:

        Thank you for that, Quentin. Such unexpected side effects, and what fun to remember them. I do not like champagne either, and it certainly does not like me.

      • milliganp says:

        I suspect, at a mere 63, I might be in the youth section of this blog! There is no doubt that, given the shape of history, I never experience the “old” church as an adult; so my impressions are that of a child / adolescent. In the Dublin of my childhood there were two frequently used expression; “it’s a mortlar” meaning something bad like using a minor expletive or leaving half a potato on the side of your plate while babies died of starvation in Africa or “it’s an unforgivable sin” which covered more major offences like being late for mass (we were devout) or throwing the heel of a loaf of bread in the bin (I didn’t know what masturbation was, but it would have exceeded the scale I’m sure). There was a strange indifference to drunkenness and marital violence, “loose women” dared not show their face in church and the Sunday church porch was full of men in 30 year old suits nursing hangovers – but all was well with the world.

      • milliganp says:

        On a lighter note, when I was about 10 I used to serve Mass at the local convent at 6:30am, on coming down from my bedroom I noticed my parents had left some nuts in a saucer on the living room table. I ate one without thinking. It was part of serving to receive communion, so I told my dilemma to the other server (now a Cannon / Dean in our Archdiocese), he told the priest and we modified the rubrics so that only one server received communion (I’m not sure what Mortal sin the nuns would have imputed to a 10 year old server who couldn’t receive communion at 6:45am (it was a quick mass!).

  10. John Nolan says:

    Paul Milligan, I’m exactly the same age as you are, and no doubt started serving Mass at the same time. After ringing the bell thrice at the priest’s ‘Domine non sum dignus’ we were told to go to the credence table and collect the Communion plate. If intending to receive we moved to the centre and knelt on the footpace after genuflecting at the foot of the altar. If not, we knelt on the first step at the epistle side facing inwards. I never remember it being axiomatic that the server received Communion.

    I do remember, shortly after my First Communion, receiving having forgotten that I had had breakfast. I felt so guilty about it that I couldn’t tell anyone, even my parents; nor did I dare to mention it in Confession. Such scrupulosity is in marked contrast to the casual way the Sacrament is approached nowadays. Old-fashioned ‘Prayer Book’ Anglicans say the same about their Church. One of them told me they only used to attend a Eucharist once a month (most Sundays it was Morning Prayer) and took the sacrament very seriously. It was also restricted to those who had been confirmed. The modern Anglican practice of inviting all and sundry to share in their Eucharist (even the unbaptized) is to them a cause of scandal.

    • milliganp says:

      John, you’re probably right, the nature of memory is that we remember emotions better than facts. Also I gather from other posts that yiu’re a follower of the EF, so your memory has been “topped up”. As a child, it was presumed that one would communicate at early mass. Obviously on thiose Sundays I served at the 12 O’clock mass hardly anyone went to communion. Thanks for the refresher!
      I certainly remember, as a young altar server, that many adults did not communicate every week, indeed the Guild of the Blessed Sacrament was set up to encourage monthly communion (and it was always the 8:00am mass to reduce the temptation of breakfast). Perhaps my weekly confession was encouraged because I was a server. Although I remember harsh nuns, my childhood PP was a saint.
      I told the story before (but that’s not going to stop repetition!). A catechist visited the family of a Catholic child whose Hindu mother brought him to church. In the sitting room she discovered a shrine with all the Sacred Hosts the mother had collected at Sunday Mass. I’m sure God survived the experience of being taken home but it’s a good example of where laxity and lack of rigorous catechesis leads.

  11. Ignatius says:

    Even at the tender age of sixty one I have to say you all seem to inhabit a completely different world than mine. I frankly do no understand or even comprehend your concerns, to the degree that your seeming obsessions with sin appear to me as distasteful and your fascinations with natural law so intensely legalistic….and then you all wonder why no one appears to understand the Love of Christ or the freedom this brings. There are two reasons I have begun to frankly despair of this blog, the first is that no one seems to be able to discuss any issue in a simple unconvoluted manner at all and the second is that between you there seems to be a kind of solidarity of experience which is frankly weird to anyone not a cradle catholic……did Christ die for you once and for all or not? are you not able to discern for yourselves when you sin and need to go to confession? The gulf between the belief of your collective early days and today seems to me pretty much unfathomable and unbridgeable…and this is from someone in his third year of diaconate formation!!! Milliganp is right when he says this:
    “..We need to bring people to a true knowledge of Christ before we can ask people to accept the more challenging consequences of His teaching….”
    No one in their right minds would freely join the kind of church -steeped in fearful moral casuistry and complexity so often on display on these pages, why would they?

    • pnyikos says:

      Aren’t you forgetting where St. Paul talks about how we are all members of one body? Just as the many organs of the body behave very differently, so we talk about many things in ways that you may find off-putting; but they are part of the body of beliefs, attitudes, etc. that make up Christianity. Look at all the different ways in which Paul was “all things to all men” and the many different ways Jesus dealt with people in the Gospels.

      I’m not sure what you mean by “solidarity of experience”. Do you see us as all having started with a faith typical of the days before Vatican II and now being changed in at least as drastic a way as the Church itself has changed, at least in outward form? I don’t see it that way; I see very big differences between us, at least as big as the differences I perceive between you and myself.

      By the way, I find the “Natural Law” approach to contraception unhelpful. There are some prudential reasons for avoiding certain kinds of contraception, but that is as far as I have gone into thinking about the morality of it. On the other hand, as long as I am formally a member of the Catholic Church, I will adhere to its rules and customs. Contraception thus became off limits for me and my wife before our last two children were conceived; but we did use NFP for almost a decade, both to conceive and not to conceive, at the times of our choosing.

      • pnyikos says:

        I should add that anyone who takes seriously the possibility that God matches a soul to a body at conception cannot logically think it moral to put an end to a developing human at any stage. This is what Hobby Lobby is concerned about, while not objecting to barrier methods and those methods that only work by suppressing ovulation.

    • Singalong says:

      Ignatius, I do not really think that concern to keep the commandments and the rules of the Church, and memories of how this sometimes worked out in practice, is an obsession with sin. You are right, some of the situations which arose could be rather weird, but isn’t this part of our human nature, and doesn’t God have a sense of humour? Contemporary practices can result in anomalies too, it is inevitable.

      I knew a number of fellow students, seemingly in their right minds, who became Catholics when I was at college in the 1950’s, along with numerous other “converts” in that decade. I think they had the effect of encouraging “cradle Catholics” to appreciate the relatively easy opportunity that we had through our birth, of knowing and accepting the gift of faith.

      And going to Confession regularly, is a positive habit, so that we can benefit from a sacrament which Christ has given us for grace and strengthen to remain in God’s love, as well as to forgive our sins.

      Of course the love and service of God needs to be our main aim in life, and the heart of the message we should be spreading, “God made me to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him for ever in the next.” It is how we are to communicate this knowledge and love in the modern world, and knowing how the commandments accord with scientific and technological developments, which is so challenging, but as an evangelist, and a deacon in training you are doing this and involved more than most.


    • Vincent says:

      Ignatius, please bear with us golden oldies. You will have received nearly all your Catholic education post Vatican II. I was married and with children before the Council even started.

      Yes we were brought up in an atmosphere where even eating meat on Friday potentially sent us to Hell. Any ‘unclean’ thought not immediately rejected did the same thing. We were of course allowed to think for ourselves. provided that our thoughts coincided with the Church. Obedience was not only meritorious, it was required. if that sounds a little like a fascist state which seeks to control what its subjects think through the threat of dire punishment. that’s what it was in fact like.

      With maturity we came to realise all the things that were wrong with this. but habit inculcated in infancy and reinforced over many years is difficult, perhaps impossible to escape.

      You say “No one in their right minds would freely join the kind of church -steeped in fearful moral casuistry and complexity”. We didn’t freely join it, we were born into it. So please tolerate us, and give us encouragement by showing how your more inspiring ideas are producing a faithful and creative Church. So far we haven’t yet seen it.

      • Singalong says:

        That’s a sting in the tail Vincent

      • Ignatius says:

        I don’t think you will ‘see it’ because “it” isn’t visible. But I do think that the way is down before it is up which is why the present contraction doesn’t worry me too much nor the thought that we might come close to running out of priests locally quite soon. It interests me that perhaps 30% plus of the diaconate candidates at Oscott seminary are converts who , like me, sense that there is something we do not share with the rest -that is the past you speak of. I don’t either think this loss of a particular past is significant unless it also signifies the dying of a particular way of praying and being-which it might.

    • Singalong says:

      I think this week’s newsletter from a parish in Southampton has a relevant article about faith now and in the past. This is an excerpt, and a link to the whole article:

      Once we were ‘given’, or ‘passed on’, the faith by a
      living, committed and convinced faith community (family, parish and
      society), and were able to walk within and with that faith community, at a
      personal and less personal level. At all levels we were sustained. In the
      past a certain cultural faith was still very powerful and could carry
      individuals through thick and thin, through struggles and doubt. In our
      current atheistic, agnostic, pluralistic, seductive and distracting society I
      don’t think that is now possible, or at least, not so easy.

      Click to access 140810.pdf

  12. Ignatius says:

    Hi Pynikos,
    Yes, just read through my post- it probably come across as stronger than it is intended. I don’t know about the texture or tenor of pre Vatican days because I never inhabited those days. But certainly the impression one gets is of a kind of deep Levitican structure of thinking and being that seems completely foreign in nature lying buried just underneath the surface. I guess thats why transparency of communication is so desperately needful. Your comments about Paul and ‘outer form’ are very apt of course – like it or not it is thee outer form that is thee most visible and the inner substance that is easily obscured by that form.

    • pnyikos says:

      Some of the newer comments in reply to you sound almost like an Alcoholics Anonymous session. I lost my faith at the age of 21 over the traditional doctrine of hell and never regained it in the form in which it was taught me, except for a brief spell when I was 23. The only way I was able to rejoin the Catholic Church at age 30 was through coming to believe that, if God and hell exist at all, hell must really be more like the picture that CS Lewis presents in The Great Divorce: people with full knowledge of the difference between hell and heaven, with both experienced as they are after death, and then freely choosing hell because they cannot let go of some vices they had while on earth.

      I have encountered people on the internet that are so addicted to lying (including copious slander) whenever it suits them, that I do believe some of them would freely choose hell just so they can cling to that habit. There may be others addicted to other vices to the same degree. This is so much more in line with the picture of a merciful (and even a just) God than everlasting torment for sins that one cannot repent of after death. Few things irk me more than people saying that “God doesn’t send people to hell, they send themselves” when what they really mean is that people’s mortal sins send them to everlasting torment because they weren’t repentant before they died.

      It also irks me to read the abstract logic that says, “Finite sins merit infinite punishment because they offend the infinite God.” On top of it being little more than a play on words, it ignores the distinction between mortal and venial sins, with the latter offending God also.

      The years I spent outside the Catholic Church impressed upon me the fact that we do not really KNOW that there is a God and a life after death, but they also gave me the HOPE that there is a God whose justice and mercy are real, and not just a kind of “might makes right” imposition on creation. I believe that this is compatible with sound Catholic doctrine that nevertheless takes seriously the possibility of a great eternal divide between those who accept God and those who reject God’s ways.

  13. Geordie says:

    You don’t seem to realise how brain-washed we were. Even when our reason tells us that something is okay our sub-conscious causes us anxiety. We probably shall never get over it.
    On a lighter tone: in the early 60’s we were having drink and a serious discussion on morals. A Catholic friend pontificate thus; “The use of condoms is murder”. Too which a non-catholic friend replied, “You’re not kidding it is”.

  14. Singalong says:

    It is often said that the Church has no right to interfere in the bedroom. Why not? The Church has received a mandate from Christ, “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Sexual activity in the bedroom or any where else is so immediately connected to God’s creation of human life, that it is inevitably a particular area in which His commandments must be kept.

  15. Ignatius says:

    “The years I spent outside the Catholic Church impressed upon me the fact that we do not really KNOW that there is a God and a life after death…”
    Of course we don’t know, we hope and we trust. This state of affairs saves us from complacency and clericalism, complacency because we don’t know and clericalism because we know the clergy don’t know either!

    • Singalong says:

      Of course, most of us wonder sometimes, but fundamentally we must know that our faith is real. How can we have a relationship with God if we are not quite sure? How can a priest in particular, or you as a deacon to be, invest your whole life in what you don`t know for certain? Are all members of the Church thinking in terms of Pascal’s wager?

      • Ignatius says:

        Of course I believe my faith is real but certainty is not the same as certitude. This is a VERY important point as far as I can see. ‘Certainty’ is terribly dangerous when applied to religious faith spawning all kinds of fundamentalism. The Truth is that I have not seen and so do not objectively know, this state is the one Jesus called blessed- and it is blessed. Blessed in that humility cannot be bested by any means. My believing but not knowing allows me to follow Christ with trust and hope even in the face of own doubt, it is the still small voice in the storm. Remember Peter…”Lord, if it is you, tell me to come…”

      • Singalong says:

        Faith, belief, trust, knowing, certainty, certitude, doubts, understanding, I think we all have to steer our course through these different currents which we encounter in our lives, and use all the helpful thoughts and experiences which are passed on to us. Blessed are those who have not seen and who believe, Lord, help my unbelief, My Lord and My God, Lead kindly light amid the encircling gloom.

        Fr. Ronald Rolheiser’s article in this week’s Catholic Herald is once again very relevant.
        Starting with Peter’s floundering during his walk on the water, he goes on to quote Julian of Norwich, moving from exaltation to “sinking like a stone,” and her description of the recurring experience.

  16. St.Joseph says:

    I would like to express my thanks to everyone for all your kind thoughs and prayers..
    I enjoyed my short pilgrimage to Lourdes with my daughter and son and 17 year old grandaughter, it is the fourth time I have been since 1980,however this time has been a really wonderful blessing and I felt so well while I was there. Unfortunately since being back I had another infection in my bile duct but it was good allthough ended up in hospital for a week however it made an improvement as the proper stent has been placed in so therefore will improve the continued infection from occuring.
    After seeing the consultant on thursday they have agreed to give me chemotherapy-a new advanced one which works better-since I am medically fit and look so well. A big improvement from the 8 week statistics they gave me 3 months ago and no treatment, obviously it will not cure the cancer in the pancreas ,however may shrink it and hold it back.
    So again I thank you for all your continued prayers and most of all I thank God and His Blessed Mother for keeping me in their loving care and I will always believe in whatever their Will is for me..

  17. David Andrews says:

    If the church’s ruling on contraception is based on natural law it should be possible to examine it’s validity by examination of 1. The nature of humans; 2. The nature of Christian marriage.

    My understanding is that humans have been created partly by a process of evolution from earlier organisms and partly by direct creation of a soul for each new human – human nature involves both physical and spiritual elements.

    Christian marriage is seen as a contractual union between between a man, a woman and also with God. When intercourse takes place, if God wishes, it is natural for conception to occur, and God will create a soul for the new human. When contraceptives are employed they create an unnatural barrier which which excludes God from from the part which he may wish to play in the marriage during intercourse . It is clearly undesirable to deliberately reject God from any human activity. Is this particular exclusion significant enough for the church to condemn it outright ? .

  18. Vincent says:

    David, can you define what you mean by ‘unnatural’ here? One could for instance argue that a programme of abstention during fertile periods was unnatural, and excludes God’s wishes for the fertility of a marriage.

  19. David Andrews says:

    Vincent, I suggest that use of a contraceptive is unnatural in that it overrides the normal natural function of intercourse. It is acceptable for a married couple to control when their marriage should be fertile if they do not exclude God’s overriding wishes for the marriage. Abstention from intercourse is the natural way to avoid conception. The couple must accept that, if they do this only at times believed to be fertile, God in his wisdom is quite capable of overriding their wishes and enabling conception to occur.A good example of God overriding a normal infertile condition of a couple is given in Luke 1:5-20.

  20. Singalong says:

    My opinion, if I may, is that to refrain from an activity for a period of time, would count as quite natural, whereas to engage in it while at the same time deliberately negating one of its main consequences would be unnatural.

    It would be analogous to fasting from food for a time compared with eating for enjoyment food with no nutritional value.

  21. David Andrews says:

    Singalong, Yes, this is why the church condemns use of contraceptives, but accepts periodic abstinence.

  22. John H says:

    It must be obvious by now to the meanest (Catholic) intelligence that once you separate the unitive from the procreative components of the marital act all hell will break loose – and it has. This was predicted in Humanae Vitae which now proves to be the greatest prophetic document of the 2oth century. The rejection of the Encyclical has been accompanied by a torrent of weasel words – the most predictable being those which claim that because so few accept the teaching it must therefore be wrong and must seriously harm the Church. The greatest harm has been done by those churchmen who have not had the wit or the courage to proclaim, (and explain), the teaching. In the Diocese of Plymouth I have not a mention of Humanae Vitae from the pulpit in 27 years

  23. St.Joseph says:

    Well said, I have been saying that for nigh on 30 years!

  24. Vincent says:

    A problem here is that the prohibition of artificial contraception is derived from natural law — and natural law is accessible to human reason. However no one has been able to demonstrate the connection. I suspect that one motive for the tepidity of the Hierarchy is that they don’t believe it either.

    The Papal Commission was very strong on the connection between the unitive purpose and the procreative purpose. But they argued that neither of these was best served by forbidding artificial contraception under all circumstances. Arguably it is the incredibility of the unconditional prohibition which is the root cause of many of our current problems.

    • Vincent says:

      I should have have said how good it is to have you back, St. Joseph! Clearly you have been much missed.

      • John H says:

        Surely the prohibition of artificial contraception is based on the simple fact that it is so obviously unnatural – it is deliberately preventing the operation of nature, a slap in the face, as it were, to God Himself. How can the natural law be interpreted in any other way? (Please feel free to advise as I’m a simple soul.) The tepidity of the hierarchy is more likely explained by their lack of moral courage and their fear of the laity’s reaction were they honestly to proclaim the truth. Not to mention their terror of appearing old-fashioned and square to the highbrows of the Tablet who would ridicule them as ‘still living in the 19th century’. And why, incidentally, the wholesale refusal to encourage Natural Family Planning which is now as successful as the Pill and without its dangers? Is this in reality the key to the whole thing – a failure to accept that self-control is essential?

      • Vincent says:

        John, we humans have been controlling nature for hundreds of thousands of years. Here the champions of contraception are simply saying: there are two purposes to be expressed: the unity of the couple and procreation. When there are good and responsible reasons for avoiding procreation we control that element in sexual intercourse and get on with the other. Why did God give us free will and intelligence if he didn’t want us to use them?

  25. David Andrews says:

    John H, I agree. However,access to instruction in natural family planning is a major problem – my parish magazine directs readers to Email addresses for two centres which are located 40 miles from the parish..This is hardly conducive to the encouragement of usage of the acceptable method of planning one’s family.

    • St.Joseph says:

      You say why did God give us intelligence and free will if He did not want us to use them.

      He gave us intelligence to use our free will.properly! He also gave us free will so that He did not want to control us into loving Him by force.
      In the same way He gave Adam and Eve to eat or not to eat from the tree of knowledge.
      He give us free will to use contraception or not.
      He gives us free will to use fertility awareness to plan the size of our families.
      When I was asked in 1982 to study info by my Parish priest I said no try the Catholic doctors and nurses in the parish, I told him I knew nothing about biology or physiology as I left school at 14 in Ireland also I was busy looking after a licensed publicly house and guest house also taking in young pregnant girls who did not want an abortion until they had their babies also running a SPUC Branch.. I said no find some one was a long course then find 3 couples to teach before I could receive my certificate from the Central Board of Midwives. Definitely not I said..
      Until 3 months later visiting a Shrine of Our Lady in Yorkshire I had a certain experience from Our Lady and Child. Who convinced me that is what I had to do, I just had to do it. Whether I wanted to or not.
      I had to accept that in Faith,I could have ignored it but I Thank God I did,nth although I had many many years of pain and aggro from many Catholics also priests but thankfully not non Catholics or not all Catholics.
      When I meet Our Lord and Our Lady which maybe sooner that I expected to I will thank them. Both for giving me the opportunity of putting my small penny worth of effort to do their Will not my own for all those couples who I have helped along the way somE times we have to have faith in His Will not our own when it comes to contraception.

  26. David Andrews says:

    Vincent, Yes,God gave us free will to conform with His wishes for us , or to reject Him. In using contraceptives during intercourse, a deliberate barrier is being raised to prevent God from creating a soul for for the new life which may have resulted from this intercourse if the barrier had not been erected. The couple have rejected God from this aspect of their lives. Is this acceptable ?

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