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.”

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.

CDF Condemns LCWR for Thomas Aquinas Invitation

By The Pope’s Fool News Service
August 22, 2014

The Popes Fool News Service (We Make Stuff Up)VATICAN CITY (TPF) — The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) has issued a condemnation of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious for inviting St. Thomas Aquinas to speak at their upcoming leadership conference. Although Thomas Aquinas is a highly regarded theologian and a saint to boot, the CDF has found his work marred with errors. Specifically, the CDF objects to his concept of providence, claiming it is nothing but Conscious Evolution in disguise.  Cardinal Müller, prefect of the CDR, argued that since Conscious Evolution assumes that human beings are positioned at the crest of the ongoing evolution of the universe, any theology that mimics such an idea is flawed.

“The fundamental theses of Conscious Evolution are opposed to Christian Revelation,” observed Cardinal Müller, “and providence is just another name for it.” Cardinal Müller argued that the concept of providence is dangerous because it sees the universe in the process of a constant unfolding, with lifeforms in the physical universe gradually evolving in distinct ways in space-time, driving themselves towards greater complexity and greater consciousness. Even though Aquinas claims that this evolutionary flourishing is aimed at a Trinity-like love of God and fellow creatures in charity, Cardinal Müller feels such thought is unorthodox.

“Listen to this,” he said, “and I’m quoting here right from the Summa Theologica, Part One, Article 22. Aquinas argues that since God has provision over ‘spiritual things, and thus over the whole world as regards genus, species, and universal causes,’ so ‘to providence it belongs to order things towards an end. Now after the divine goodness, which is an extrinsic end to all things, the principal good in things themselves is the perfection of the universe.’”

“Perfection of the universe?” Mueller asked. “What kind of talk is that? And get this, from Article 47. ‘Divinity is better represented by the whole universe than by any single thing. … Not only are individual creatures images of God but so too is the whole cosmos.’ The cosmos as an image of God? Really? And don’t even get me started on Teilhard de Chardin,” he said. “I don’t know what got into Benedict,” he continued, referring to a 2009 homily in which Pope Benedict XVI referenced the great vision of Teilhard de Chardin: “in the end, we shall achieve a true cosmic liturgy, where the cosmos becomes a living host.”

Müller told TPF that he wanted to make it clear he doesn’t want to gobble up particular theologians or otherwise stifle their exercise of intellectual freedom; his intention was merely to help them recover their true religious identity.

To avoid such mishaps in the future, and in keeping with the Church’s initiative of increasing transparency and accountability, Archbishop J. Peter (Why Me) Sartain will discuss future invitations with the leadership of the LCWR in meetings behind closed doors.