Getting Natural Law and Sexual Ethics Right

By The Cranky Thomist

The Cranky ThomistFinally! From a Notre Dame professor no less. Unraveling the Church Ban on Gay Sex.

He is right. St. Thomas Aquinas made natural law a significant part of his moral philosophy. In his thought, natural law is driven by the primary principle of doing good and avoiding evil. The entire structure of morality, the intent of divine and natural law, as well as the virtues and grace, are all directed toward reasoning about which behaviors can move humans toward the love of God and toward the love of fellow creatures in charity. Morality consists of reason planning action so that good may be done and evil avoided. What is right is based upon what is good.

The primary law, upon which all other laws are based, is that good be done (i.e., flourishing into the love of God and the love of fellow creatures in charity) and evil avoided. Morality and law are thus drawn from that which makes humans grow toward the good.

“Since good is grasped as always desirable, the first premise in reason’s planning of action is that good is to be done and evil avoided. And on this are based all the other injunctions of the law in us by nature, which command us to do whatever reason, when planning action, naturally grasps to be good for man, whatever man naturally seeks as a goal” (Summa Theologica, 1a2ae. 94. 2).

Aquinas pointed out three derivatives of this natural law, seeing us first as living beings, then as physical creatures, and finally as reasoning creatures.

First, we must conserve human life and oppose death. Then, we must do whatever accords with our physical nature, which is what we have in common with other animals (e.g., having sex, raising children). Finally, we must do whatever accords with our rational nature, the thing that distinguishes us as human (“to know the truth about God, for example, and to live a social life; so the law in us by nature commands whatever is relevant to such inclinations, like avoiding ignorance and not offending those we live with” (Summa Theologica, 1a2ae. 94. 2).

Since natural law is based upon practical reasoning and our understanding of the reality around us, Aquinas believed it was knowable by all and applicable to all (with the caveat that it is humans doing the thinking).

As Gary Gutting says, “the church needs to undertake a thorough rethinking of its teachings on sexual ethics, including premarital sex, masturbation and remarriage after divorce. In every case, the old arguments no longer work (if they ever did), and a vast number of Catholics reject the teachings. It’s time for the church to realize that its sexual ethics are philosophically untenable and theologically unnecessary.”

Pope Announces New Congregation Charged with Noticing the Modern World

By The The Pope’s Fool News Service
December 1, 2014

The Popes Fool News Service (We Make Stuff Up)VATICAN CITY (TPF) — The Vatican announced today that as part of the reorganization of the Roman Curia, Pope Francis is establishing a new congregation charged with the study the modern world. Called the Congregation for Modernity, it is to be headed by Archbishop Madre del Dio Obviamente.

“Ever since the Enlightenment,” said Archbishop Obviamente, “and especially since the First Vatican Council, the Church and the modern world have had a bit of a rocky relationship. The church is slowly starting to recognize, if not outright admit, that some teachings from that time, although considered ‘doctrine,’ may have in fact been slightly flawed. This includes the papacy’s longstanding condemnations of freedom of conscience, freedom of religion for other faiths, freedom of speech, participation in elections, democracy, historical analysis, ecumenism, literary criticism of the Bible, and the study of the early Church Fathers.”

“As it says in Vatican II’s Gaudium et Spes,” he continued, “we must notice ‘the whole human family along with the sum of those realities in the midst of which it lives; that world which is the theater of man’s history, and the heir of his energies, his tragedies and his triumphs.’ Thus, it is time to consider the advancements the modern world has made, in accordance with the natural law, and in light of the actions of the Holy Spirit, who can choose to work outside the friendly confines of Holy Mother the Church.”

When asked the scope of the new Congregation’s inquiry, the Archbishop replied that it would delve into what the secular world considers “progress,” focusing in particular on issues of good governance, including democracy, fair representation, checks and balances, the rule of law, free speech, accountability, transparency, and modern standards of justice. When asked whether any lessons learned would be applied to the governance of the Church itself, Archbishop Obviamente had no comment. He also noted that while the modern world has made great progress concerning the rights of women, the question of gender equality in the Church will not be addressed, due to the special dignity in which women are held.

Other sources in the Vatican were quick to point out that while the Congregation for Modernity is studying the matter, it should not be inferred that any doctrine will ever change. Likewise, Vatican City State will continue to be governed as an absolute monarchy, with the Pope as the Head of State, holding full legislative, executive and judicial powers.

Cranky Thomist Blasts Bishops’ Toxic Natural Law Groupthink

The Fool is delighted to introduce a new voice from the peanut gallery that is The Pope’s Fool … The Cranky Thomist!

The Cranky Thomist

November 16, 2014
By The Cranky Thomist

I think therefore I am. But what a minute! What happens when I space out? Do I cease to exist? And do I exist again when I start thinking again?

Agnes cartoon by Tony CochranPhilosophy is awesome! However, unorthodox, anti-scientific pseudo-philosophy is not. Case in point—the toxic natural law idea that has gotten firmly stuck in the papal and episcopal mindset for decades now.

The groupthink goes like this: Natural law means that you look at nature and figure out morality from that. First you see that God made man and woman. And then you see that men and women make babies. And then you conclude that contraception is immoral. And homosexuality is intrinsically disordered. And in vitro fertilization is a sin (rather than a blessing that helps people create families). And then you say that all of it is based on the “observance of the precepts of the natural law.” Seriously???

Natural law has been around since ancient Greece and was embraced in the Catholic intellectual tradition by St. Thomas Aquinas. It’s easy enough for anyone to understand, and has nothing to do with looking at nature and making stuff up.

According to Aquinas, natural law works like this. The primary natural law, upon which all other laws are based, is that good be done and evil avoided. So we figure out what makes humans grow towards the good and derive morality and law from that (with good in the Christian sense being defined as that which moves us toward the love of God and fellow creatures in charity). As Aquinas says, “Since good is grasped as always desirable, the first premise in reason’s planning of action is that good is to be done and evil avoided” (Summa Theologica, 1a2ae. 94. 2).

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Pope Francis Issues Starter Catechism for U.S. Bishops

By The The Pope’s Fool News Service
November 14, 2014

The Popes Fool News Service (We Make Stuff Up)VATICAN CITY (TPF) — The Vatican has released a short, basic catechism of the faith designed for the U.S. bishops and approved by Pope Francis.

Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church, this special Bishop’s Edition encapsulates the foundations of Christianity, walking the reader through the moral hierarchy of the New Testament by way of its parables. It starts with a meditation on the greatest commandment, “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself, there are no other commandments greater than these.” Each subsequent chapter focuses on key moral concepts and their related parables, including God’s Love, Mercy, and Forgiveness (the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son), Christian Love (the parable of the good Samaritan and the parable of the unmerciful servant), and Self-Righteousness and Humility (the parable of the pharisee and the tax collector). The Bishop’s Edition also includes summaries of the theological virtues, the cardinal virtues, and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Pope Francis

Included as well is an appendix on the natural law. A Vatican source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he is prohibited from publicly discussing the matter, explained its importance. “The bishops really have no clue about the natural law, which quite honestly, Pope Francis finds rather annoying. Look at nature and derive morality from that? Really? They need to read their Aquinas. We hope this little catechism helps.”

Cardinal Shocked that Birth Control Encyclical Lacks Natural Law Argument

By The The Pope’s Fool News Service
October 28, 2014

The Popes Fool News Service (We Make Stuff Up)VATICAN CITY (TPF) — Overheard by our source on the street in a trattoria in the Trastevere district of Rome, just down the river from the Vatican.

“Holy crap, Andy! I haven’t read my Aquinas in a while, but looking through this thing,” he said, pointing to a printout of the birth control encyclical Humanae Vitae sitting on the table between them, “I’m hard-pressed to find an actual natural law argument in it.” The speaker was Cardinal Jann Lazzamotti, newly appointed member of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican congregation responsible for promoting and safeguarding faith and morals throughout the Catholic world.

“When’s the last time you’ve read through it, Your Eminence?” asked his associate, auxiliary Bishop Andrew Blackwood.

“Probably when it came out, over 45 years ago,” replied the cardinal.

“Indeed,” said the bishop. “Be that as it may, you raise a good point, a point that was made more than once at the time of the encyclical’s release. You might recall the uproar it caused and the push-back against it, not only from theologians and the faithful, but even from the bishops. As I recall, fewer than half of the world’s bishop conferences received it without attempting to mitigate its message. The point you raise might also explain why 95% of the faithful have studiously ignored it.”

“It’s just a reiteration of previous papal teaching banning birth control, except for the Pope Pius XII carve-out for natural family planning,” he continued, picking up the encyclical and waving it in front of him. “There is no natural law argument in this, just declarations! And they don’t even make sense!”

“That is unfortunate for what is alleged to be a natural law argument,” replied the bishop, “which by its very nature is a creature of reason, and therefore must make sense. Your Eminence might reflect upon the possibility that the faithful intuitively figured this out a long time ago.”

The cardinal stared at the bishop for a few seconds, and then at the encyclical in his hand. After that, he flagged down the waiter and ordered another bottle of wine.

Smelly Sheep Claims Preaching Better on TV than from Pulpit

By The The Pope’s Fool News Service
October 23, 2014

The Popes Fool News Service (We Make Stuff Up)CHICAGO, IL (TPF) — This just in, from our correspondent on the ground amongst the cohort of the smelly sheep on the margins of the Roman Catholic faithful, speaking to Lily Lonigan, a sixty-something Catholic who works at the Polkadot Shamrock Bar, Internet Cafe and Daycare Center. “You know, I watched a rerun of the show Bones on TV last night, and I swear, it was the best sermon I’ve heard in years. Certainly better than anything I hear up there,” she said, pointing her thumb up the road to the local Catholic Church, Saints Melodius and Catheter. “So there was the usual grisly murder they had to forensically solve, but as that played out, Bones was oddly secretive about the whereabouts of her partner and mate Seeley Booth, saying only that he was at the hospital. Of course everyone was worried about the situation during the whole episode,” she continued, “but at the end Bones reveals to her friend that Booth was volunteering to help little kids with brain tumors, and had organized a carnival for them. When asked why Booth kept it a secret, Bones, who is an atheist, responded by quoting First Corinthians, 13:4. ‘Charity suffers long and is kind, charity envies not, charity brags not itself, it is not puffed up,’ she says, and explains that Booth takes that to mean that real charity is anonymous. She says Booth didn’t even want her to know. Not bad, huh?” Lily concluded. “A fine example of the natural law in action. Maybe the yokes up the road ought to take a lesson or two from the big bad secular world with its evil agendas and dictatorships of relativism. They might keep more people in the pews if they did.”