October 8, 2007

5. True Union (3)

Pairs and Mates — Two are better than one

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? — Ecclesiastes 4:9-11

In this section of my reflection I will turn to two questions: Are men and women actually complementary on a physical basis? (we have already seen that they are not complementary on a human or moral basis) and Is complementarity a necessary component of a committed sexual relationship?

Vive la difference

In the previous section I demonstrated that there is no difference between men and women in their both being fully human. This is not, as some might think, so obvious when one looks to a tradition that had no difficulty following Aristotle in referring to women as “defective males.” (De Gener. Anim., II.3) Aquinas applies this to individual women:

As regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active power in the male semen tends to the production of a perfect likeness according to the male sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active power, or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind, which is moist, as the Philosopher observes... (ST I.Q92.1)

It is true Aquinas allows that in the collective women were not defective, but were rather “part of nature’s intention directed to the work of generation” — which he believes to have been the sole purpose for the generation of woman qua woman. As he says earlier in this same article:

It was necessary for woman to be made, as the Scripture says, as a helper to man; not, indeed as a helper in other works, as some say, since a man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in the work of generation.

At this point some might be moved to raise the question, why should we pay any attention to a moral theology based in large part on the defective science of Aristotle, enshrined in the Church’s teaching through the absurd speculations of Aquinas? It is a very good question — since if people cannot be trusted in earthly things how are they to be trusted in heavenly things? And if their moral vision is bound and confused by defective biology, why should anyone trust their theology? (John 3:12)

The reason I bring this up is the remarkable persistence such baseless notions seem to have. Even with advances in science, and a better understanding of the actual nature of human reproduction (which, contrary to Aristotle and Aquinas has nothing to do with moist south winds!) there still persists in many circles a kind of archaic folk sexuality functioning alongside scientific knowledge, and often displacing it when moral questions are brought to the fore.

To put it bluntly: Men and women are only complementary in the archaic view of an ancient world innocent of the rudiments of biological science, or at the sophomoric level of tab and slot.

The creation account in Genesis 2, in its suggestion of partial complementarity (woman being derived from man and restored to him), is a part of that archaic world view. We should no more feel bound fully to embrace a literal view of Genesis 2 on human biology than we do Genesis 1 on cosmology. To over-literalize either creation account, is to fall into the disciples’ error in thinking Jesus’ warning about the “leaven of the Pharisees” was in reference to bread; or Nicodemus thinking that to be born again he would have to enter his mother’s womb. The inability to understand mythic or figurative language as myth or figure, or to accept the fact that even in divinely inspired Scripture God’s message is conditioned and limited by human fallibility creates a huge obstacle to coming to a true understanding of the moral principles involved — and risks making the faith even more irrelevant to the world as it is bound up with notions that are demonstrably false.

We need constantly to be reminded, it seems, that the female of the human species was not created from a man’s rib. Or from a moist south wind. Reading poetry as prose is as bad as bad science, and the pre-scientific world was restrained by boundaries to the understanding of reality itself — boundaries we are no longer forced to observe; indeed we would be very foolish to observe them.

The ancient world did not know much about sexuality beyond the crude mechanics of “the way of a man with a woman.” They knew almost nothing of the actual reproductive function. The prevailing view was that the male seed (zara‘, sperma, semen) was planted in the receptive female where it took root and grew; but the seed itself was the source of the person that would be born. It was commonly believed that human semen contained miniature human beings. This erroneous concept held sway until modern times in some places, in spite of advances in microscopy, which in its early days falsely attested to sightings of miniature animals and people in the corresponding sperm! This view is reflected in Hebrews 7:9-10: “One might even say that Levi himself, who receives tithes, paid tithes through Abraham, for he was still in the loins of his ancestor when Melchizedek met him.”

Some observant naturalists of the ancient world, noting that the menstrual flow ceased once pregnancy became obvious, believed that the embryo was compacted from the menstrual blood rather like cheese curdled by rennet. This view is reflected in Wisdom of Solomon 7:2. These are just two examples of the profoundly limited archaic view of sexuality.

So, given that much of the understanding of sexuality from biblical, patristic and scholastic times was based on errors of fact — and hence must call into question some of the conclusions reached — what might a better understanding of human sexuality lead us to?

Not complementary but mutual

First of all, let me acknowledge one thing about which Aquinas is correct even if he phrases it infelicitously. Procreation is one of the reasons for the existence of the sexes as sexes. I cannot join Aquinas in proclaiming it to be the sole reason for the sexes; nor can the general principle be held as binding on particular cases, as I laid out in my earlier essay on procreation. There I demonstrated that sex and procreation are not necessarily bound up with each other — that they are, on the contrary, actually separable both by purpose and by nature. Aquinas, of course, did not know this — he was unaware, for example, of the naturally infertile period during menses — or failed to take what he did know seriously, and apparently did not read any significance into menopause, of which he was surely aware. (Gen 18:11) This ignorance in itself raises serious questions about the bulk of his conclusions, and subsequent moral theology following his line of thinking on matters sexual.

But with our better understanding of human reproduction, we can affirm that even in procreation the process is not complementary, but mutual — the man is not “completed” by the woman, nor the woman by the man, but rather each contributes an identical number of chromosomes — one from each set of pairs they possess, so that a half-set of chromosomes from each can pair up with their mates in the fertilized ovum. Thus men and women are different, but not by any means complementary — male and female do not contribute to or complete each other, but mutually contribute to the generation of the new human being. The only place complementarity enters into the picture iswithin each chromosome, in the DNA molecules themselves — but this has to do with truly complementary base pairs, not with male and female, as it is true even in species that do not reproduce sexually.

Still, in spite of this fact, people will fixate on the crude schoolboy level of tabs and slots, as if this represented the true locus of sexuality — or indeed as if these were the only tabs and slots with which the human anatomy is provided.

What, after all, are the “sexual organs”? Surely the external genitalia — the only parts of the sexual paraphernalia even remotely “complementary” in that crude sense of tab and slot — are not the source of sexuality. One might well say that the brain is a sexual organ; and when one looks beyond the clearly sexual gonads, themselves part of a larger complex of organs, one sees that between men and women there is remarkable congruence rather than complementarity, even when the function of a corresponding organ is no longer essential to procreation. The male breast or the female glans and prostate (clitoris and Skene’s glands) have functions as much geared towards the erogenous as the procreative.

There comes a time, as Saint Paul said, to “put aside childish things.” We are still not perfect in our understanding of human sexuality, but surely we do know things now that place some of the beliefs of the ancient world and the later church into the same realm as tales of the stork or the cabbage patch. Until we set aside some of the fables of the past, we will not be able effectively to address the concerns of the present.

In his likeness

Every beast loveth his like, and every man loveth his neighbor. All flesh consorteth according to kind, and a man will cleave to his like. Ecclus. 13:15-16

However, I still think much can be learned even from our sacred source material, as long as it is read as sacred text rather than as literal history or science. So I would like to return to Genesis for a moment to address another common assertion of the heterosexualist agenda: that the “difference” between men and women is crucial to the licitness of sexual love.

Although Genesis 1 (with its emphasis on procreation) partakes of the archaic and crudely anatomical distinction of the sexes (the words for male and female meaning roughly “memorable” and “has a hole in it”) Genesis 2 moves towards a more unified view of man and woman (ish and ishah). Even though this represents a folk etymology (and a folk biology) the emphasis is not on the distinction of the sexes but on the likeness of the man and the woman. It is their similarity, not their difference, that is important. One might well observe that Genesis 1 emphasizes the likeness of the couple to God, Genesis 2 the likeness of the couple to each other.

As I have noted in previous sections of this reflection, God’s “intention” in Genesis 2 seems to be at least as much based on Adam’s needs as on God’s “plan.” God’s intent, in Genesis 2, is to address Adam’s solitary condition; and God only chooses to create woman after the animals prove to be unsatisfactory companions. It is human companionship that Adam requires — the help of one like himself.

You made Adam, and for him you made his wife Eve as a helper and support. From the two of them the human race has sprung. You said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; let us make a helper for him like himself.’ (Tobit 8:6)

In short, the man and the woman form a pair; they are mates; and it is clear that both of these words apply to two things like each other as much as to two things unlike each other. And in Genesis 2, the emphasis is on the likeness. In this sense, far from being complementary, the man and the woman are like the two blades of a pair of scissors — that work together because they are like each other.

Most importantly, the relationship they form is mutual, like joining with like — much as one joins right hand with right hand in the sociable interaction between two people, and in the marriage rite itself — the same hand, not the opposite one — in a pledge of mutual joy, in which the mutuality is as important as the joy. Their mutual union does not imply the literal disappearance of the two persons here any more than it does in the love of neighbor. (It is perhaps instructive to compare the similarity of the advice in Ephesians 5:33 and Romans 13:9.) The mutual union is the beginning, not the end, of a life-long relationship.

So it seems clear that not only is there no true complementarity between the sexes, but that the relationship of the sexes is not based solely on the differences that do exist, but at least as much upon the similarities.

Further considerations

In the following sections of this reflection I will take up the remaining “ends” or “goods” of marriage — the reflective (or symbolic) and the preventative (“as a remedy for fornication.”) I will also address the question of whether a same-sex couple can experience the mutual joy in unity enjoyed by mixed-sex couples.

It will be noticed that I have “backed into” this discussion from the point of view of marriage, rather than beginning (as is the usual course) with the alleged prohibitions on same-sexuality. I promise I will address those concerns at last, but my initial intent has been to challenge the presuppositions surrounding sexuality itself before engaging with the rather better-traveled paths of the seemingly endless discussion.

Tobias Haller BSG

The discussion continues with 6. Clash of Symbols.

Further Update: This post and those that follow, expanded and supplemented with much additional material, form part of Reasonable and Holy, published by Seabury Books and available on order from Church Publishing Incorporated.


Anonymous said...

Tobias, one would think from your essay that your opponents' problem is that we cling to that idea that the east wind is still intervening in conception.

Anyone familier with St. Thomas know that he is always at his weakest when trying to reconcile Christian doctrine with the science of his day. It is certainly an object lesson for our own attempts to reconcile the perceived differences, and to note that St. Thomas would have been truer to the Christian faith by staying with the "myth" rather than trying of reconcile the "science" that asserted the "defectiveness" of the female.

(I should note for those who continue to be shocked that the term "defective" conveys many different and far more sinister connotations in English than the original more technical use of the terms by the philosopher and theologian. But let that pass.)

"Thus men and women are different, but not by any means complementary — male and female do not contribute to or complete each other, but mutually contribute to the generation of the new human being."

Here it seems you are simply making a distinction without a difference. Men and women are "mutual" but not "complementary"? What is the difference, the point being that there is a unique necessity of the pairing of male and female for "baby to make three"?

"So it seems clear that not only is there no true complementarity between the sexes, but that the relationship of the sexes is not based solely on the differences that do exist, but at least as much upon the similarities."

Naturally. Men and women are all human beings. We don't have sex with monkeys, or beanstalks, or rocks and minerals. Men and women are alike, except with respect to sex. But I thought that that was the point.

In any case, if where you are going is the assertion that the differences between the sexes are not "essential," but "accidental," then those terms are Aristotelian. We may know what you mean by them, and you can certainly make the argument, but it is a conclusion that is far outside the realm of modern physical science.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

The problem with Thomas A lies in the fact that he uses the errors of his day as evidence in his replies to the objections raised in his scholastic argument. Thus, his conclusions are suspect. If someone bases his case on evidence later shown to have been false, then the case must fall under re-examination.

Defective, in the philosophical sense he uses it, means "lacking." This is part of his false complementarity argument -- that women "lack" something made up for by men. This is an error, as his own Christian sense should have told him.

I believe I have already addressed your objections (the same ones you keep raising without elaboration). There is a distinction between "difference" and "complementarity" that I laid out with great care earlier.

I have also addressed the limitation of sexual activity to the procreative act, and have acknowledged the need for male and female for procreation (at least until biological science permits the fusion of nuclei from two men or two women, a possibility that is not as remote as some might think, and which is theoretically possible. Not that I argue for it, I merely note that it is a possibility.) On the positive side, I have not seen anyone address the significance of the Incarnation -- the fact that God chose to enter the world as a human being apart from the normal course of procreation. The larger issue, which I've also amply laid out, and to which I still await a cogent response, is how nonprocreative sex between a man and a woman (one or both being infertile) is moral, while nonprocreative sex between persons of the same sex is immoral -- on reasonable grounds, that is, beyond simply restating the premise that same-sexuality is wrong.

And yes, the difference between men and women is accidental, in the philosophical sense. I think I have already said that. Yes, it is a matter of philosophy -- but there is a poisonous root based in Aristotle's bad science that allowed it to bear its foul fruit in Aquinas, in his supposition that the basic "humanum" is male, and that particular women "lack" something. This is, of course, heretical, since it ultimately denies the Incarnation -- in which all that is human in Christ comes from Mary (a particular and not generic woman), and if she "lacked" anything she could not bestow it upon her Son. Q.E.D.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading this since you've started it, and i have to say, the whole piece upon completion might be a good lecture series.

One thing about "complementarity." When I think of that word, I do not confine it to male/female ... i believe there is a good dose of complementarity (ie, making complete) in male/male and female/female relationships, but it takes place on a different level. Neither part of the couple is incomplete by themselves, but rather, the couple is even MORE complete when they are together...like the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, i suppose. Maybe you did mention this, and i have missed it...if so, please point it out.

The same happens, of course, in male/female couples.

I suppose my point is, that each part of the couple (whether that couple is heterosexual or homosexual) does contribute and complete the other in some way, but that contribution and completion does not mean that the "parts" of the couple are incomplete without the other.

June Butler said...

Tobias, in my sophomoric manner, I'm still somewhat fixated on and tickled by your tabs and slots description. I know. I lower the tone of your comments, but a little levity, on occasion may not be totally out of order.

We women have suffered long enough from the writings of Aristotle and Aquinas, with their tossing around of the word defective, however near to innocuous the term is defined by Rick.

Contemporaries of mine who attended Roman Catholic seminaries were taught that women were "occasions of sin". No wonder some of the priests acted strangely in encounters with women. Not all RC priests took this nonsense to heart, but enough of them did that we felt the sting.

Your mention of the Incarnation is vital to the discussion, because the man, as biological father, is totally out of the picture - not necessary - absent from the scene.

Then, too, the instances of parthenogenesis in the animal world all occur in the female of the species.

So. What then do we women "lack"?

I've gone a little off topic, but the effects of the errors have been far-reaching with respect to women.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks for the comment. My concern with "complementarity" is the way it is stated generically ("men and women are complementary") but then applied particularly.

Certainly individual people lack some things -- not everyone can play the piano. And some of the things that one person lacks may be compensated for by their partner in life. But I would prefer to see that as supplementary rather than complementary --- which is precisely why it adds up to more than just the sum of the two. to use the previous example, if both play the piano you have piano four hands!

The other problem is that the reality that all people lack something or other (since no one is perfect) gets twisted by sexism when it takes the form of a generic defect -- that is, a defect inherent in a whole class of people; in this case women. Honestly, the only thing women lack is a Y chromosome, and if they had one they would be men! Perhaps that is the ultimate solution to Prof. Henry Higgins' lament.

G.M. (and Mary Clara who commented on the earlier post) thank you both. It is horrifying to me the extent to which sexism has harmed women, quite literally, over the years. It is only in this generation that the male-dominated medical profession finally acknowledged that women suffer from heart disease in the same proportion as men. Even more appalling, though the existence of Skene's glands (the periurethral glands) have been known to correspond to the prostate in men for some time, it was apparently only recognized in the early part of this decade that women can suffer from the same sorts of conditions as men (the equivalents of prostatitis, benign prostate hyperplasia, and prostate cancer) and with much of the same symptoms --- but that these symptoms and underlying disease processes had been until recently largely dismissed as "feminine troubles"! Sexism is lethal.

And I cannot take credit for the image of tabs and slots -- that was actually suggested as a defense for the complementarity of the sexes by a commentor to this blog in response to an earlier section of this reflection.

Christopher said...

Honestly, the only thing women lack is a Y chromosome, and if they had one they would be men! Perhaps that is the ultimate solution to Prof. Henry Higgins' lament.

I might add that rather men lack a part of the X. The Y chromosome due to this lack leaves us open to a great many more genetic diseases, etc.

Anonymous said...

Tobias, to carry these thoughts a little further: The ideology of complementarity can indeed be deeply damaging to women, and today causes much suffering to heterosexual men too, as well as to same-gender lovers. We have to remember that theologies have all been propounded and enforced by men, who in just about all known societies have had the power to define reality and to dictate woman's role and identity. It is only in very recent times that women have begun successfully to assert our experience, our view of truth (both sacred and profane) and to define ourselves on our own terms.

The complementarity myth holds that woman should find her satisfaction in pleasing the male sexually, being faithful to him, bearing and rearing his offspring and so forth. It is assumed that she is built in such a way that she will be fulfilled by giving a man what he wants and receiving what he wishes to give her. Male and female are imagined as fitting together like tab and slot, not only physically but emotionally, spiritually and psychically. But this is far from being the case. Just to consider the physical level, the two sexes have different erotic rhythms, their sexual and reproductive peaks and valleys don't occur at the same ages, the female orgasm is not arrived at in the same way as the male's, and so on.

It is only when women begin to have power in the world that these facts can be acknowledged and a different basis for relationship imagined and negotiated. It has been hard for women all these millennia to be subjected to this unrealistic ideal (and to the bad science that went along with it), and it is hard for contemporary men as well as women to come to grips with the fact that we don't 'fit' perfectly, we can't (despite the ideology of romantic love) fill up all the empty places in each other. The empty places are the spaces in which we can actually grow psychologically and spiritually (the cracks where God can get in!). And we can do that partly through relationship, but it is not of the essence that that should involve a pair-bond with someone of the other gender.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid I am still unable to see what is so shocking and demeaning about the notion that women lack something necessary for reproducion. It seems quite true--a thousand women cannot produce a baby in the absence of a man. It also seems equally obviously correct that the same is true of men, that we are also lacking in that one area, and we alone are equally incapable of bringing life into the world, unless you want to count Dr. Frankenstein and his modern day wanna-bes. How this simple biological fact is offensive or oppressive is far beyond me, as is the growing contemporary insistence that it must never be considered in ordering our social arrangements or laws respecting children.

(It was no coincidence, I think, that Dr. Frankenstein was the creation of a woman. The hybris of men, our outrage that we ourselves are "defective" in that sense, finds its consequence in that cursed character.)

Here is a nice summary of St. Thomas on men and women, from the same section:

"It was right for the woman to be made from a rib of man, first, to signify the social union of man and woman, for the woman should neither "use authority over man," and so she was not made from his head; nor was it right for her to be subject to man's contempt as his slave, and so she was not made from his feet. Secondly, for the sacramental signification; for from the side of Christ sleeping on the Cross the Sacraments flowed--namely, blood and water--on which the Church was established."

I am sorry if this beginning seems undignified to some, even in a story few of us feel compelled to take literally. Was it made to put women down? Not, I would say, if we read it in context, and see that St. Thomas understands the first man to have been formed from slime.

But, returning to the main argument, how a need of men and women for each other in order to bring children into the world makes them less than human is an argument I am not grasping.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Christopher,
I meant that comment somewhat tongue in cheek; but it is quite true that one can reverse the imagery and view the Y chromosome as a distorted and deficient X missing one of its legs, and leading to testosterone poisoning!

Thank you, Mary Clara, for the further testimony. It is indeed tragic that some men (probably most) still see women as accessories or properties, and not simply as people. One of the things same-sex couples can, I hope, teach the world is that biological reality need not determine one's personal or interpersonal reality. This is probably, in fact, why so many fear or disapprove of same-sexuality: it challenges the neat hierarchies and categories that give them security.

Your ability to see will always be conditioned by your desire to learn. No one, including me, is challenging the reality of biological reproduction. What I am challenging is the degree to which that reality is amplified or hypostasized beyond its reality into a defining or mythic reality, particularly one that marginalizes all other forms of human interpersonal sexual relationship that do not fit that model.

It also amazes me that you seem to be unaware of the extent to which the Christian teachings enshrined and codified by Aquinas (based in large part on over-application of the Genesis mythology) have had actual detrimental impact on women. I invite you to read Mary Clara's comment. The fact that these arguments are still used in the RCC as a means to prevent leadership by women is just one example of the extent to which teachings such as the one you cite (what Aelred of Rievaulx called the "collateral" place of woman with man) are sidelined (or, as Aquinas would say, represent the antelapsarian ideal which is not realized in this world in which woman is "naturally" placed under man as a result of the Fall -- and so women must maintain a subservient position).

Your side-trip into Frankenstein is interesting -- you may recall that even the monster desired to have a companion, a friend, like himself. Not for the purpose of reproduction, but for companionship. This element of the story was highlighted in the two films produced by the gay director James Whale. There has been a good bit of "queer theory" examination of these films, as a portrayal of the gay male of the early 20th century: the maker's rejection of the monster as a form of internalized homophobia; the monster's first acceptance only by a blind man as a commentary on the closet; the monster as child-murderer and disruptor of marriage; the monster crucified by the ignorant mob; the monster moved by beauty but incapable of creating beauty himself -- it is a rich mine of psychosexual and psychosocial angst.

Of course, the original novel, by an unconventional and liberated woman author, also serves as a social commentary on the an earlier time -- and the fate that befalls a New Prometheus who challenges the gods of his day.

Anonymous said...

Rick Allen:

Thanks for your thoughtful comments here. The big weakness of this series of posts is the strawman arguments the host has constructed to represent the traditional Christian position. Your comments have filled in admirably for what has been missing.


Greg Jones said...


This is such an excellent series. Keep it up man.

Greg Jones

Anonymous said...

"...you seem to be unaware of the extent to which the Christian teachings enshrined and codified by Aquinas (based in large part on over-application of the Genesis mythology) have had actual detrimental impact on women. I invite you to read Mary Clara's comment."

What the effect has been of Christian doctrine on the status of women is a very large question that covers a great deal of history. I assume you consider that it has been mostly detrimental. I see the question quite differently, and, frankly, wouldn't choose to continue a Christian if I believed the faith such a harbinger of hatred and oppression.

Mary Clare's "myth of complementarity" may indeed exist out there, but, as she describes it, it has little to do with Aristotle or Thomas Aquinas or Christian doctrine per se. The Hollywood notion of perfect romantic love, the fairy tale notion of "happily ever after," the conception of the perfect "soul mate" who is one's perfect companion, are all pervasive in our culture, but they are hardly identical with Christian teaching. Indeed, the whole notion of matrimony as sacramental rests on the notion that special grace is needed for the trials, responsibilities, and difficulties of marriage--for men as well as for women.

Just yesterday I was wondering if the offending term appeared in the Catholic Catechism, and I found it used here:

"372 Man and woman were made "for each other" - not that God left them half-made and incomplete: he created them to be a communion of persons, in which each can be "helpmate" to the other, for they are equal as persons ("bone of my bones. . .") and complementary as masculine and feminine. In marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming "one flesh", they can transmit human life: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth." By transmitting human life to their descendants, man and woman as spouses and parents co-operate in a unique way in the Creator's work."

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Whether the net impact of Christianity (or many another religion) has been beneficial to humanity is indeed a very large question. However, your response does not actually answer the question, and I hope you would at least acknowledge that some Christian teaching on the role of women in society has had some detrimental effect. While it is doubtless true that the religious life provided women for centuries with a way to have a life of some independence, there were faults even there -- and for women living in the secular arena, I think it fair to say that up until very recently the net impact has been experienced as negative. Neither of us being a woman, I would defer to a woman's perspective on this.

Moreover, your citation from the Catechism rather proves than disproves my point. It is characterized by false (or at least unproven) assertions and idealized notions: that "man and woman are made for each other"; that "masculine and feminine" are "complementary" (I thought they were grammatical terms -- and they certainly aren't complementary in grammar!); that the "one flesh" has something to do with the transmission of human life (ignoring 1 Cor 6:16, and the plain fact that not all unions can or do transmit life); distorting the actual Scriptural text which does not describe the man and woman as "helpmates" to each other. Only the final clause could stand as a satisfactory statement; and even that is probably more "romantic" than strictly theological, since the parents' "cooperation" in this -- while unique -- is essentially trivial. (It reminds me of the remark sometimes made in these discussions, "Everyone who exists came about through heterosexual intercourse." That is obviously true, and I don't think anyone challenges it -- except when it is somehow transmuted into an argument against same-sex relationships; which, as I am trying to show, does not follow. One might just as well say, All of Rembrandt's paintings were painted by Rembrandt as part of his unique contribution to the creation in co-operation with the spirit that inspired him. That does not rule out either other artists, or other paintings. There are other "goods" to sexuality than the production of children -- as even the church admits.

The existence or goodness of X does not automatically rule out the existence or goodness of Not-X. If Not-X can be show to partake of some of the similar values, or participate in some of the same goods, as X, it is on that basis it should be judged. I have already demonstrated (and reminded us that the church teaches) that procreation is not the sole good of marriage, and that marriage is still allowed even when infertility is a permanent condition. If the church were to teach that procreation was the only good use of sexuality, and that sexual activity is only permitted when procreation is possible, that would be a different matter. But that is not what the church teaches. To that extent, I am simply seeking to remove one of the arguments against homosexuality (that it does not lead to procreation) from the table. If you agree that the procreation argument is specious, fine. Then let it be removed from the table. If men and women really aren't complementary (in the sense of completing each other, or one completing the other) then accept the fact that the Catechism is either mistaken or is using the word incorrectly. You seem to be saying you don't see what all the fuss is about; and frankly, neither do I. The problem is that people keep raising the arguments of procreation and complementarity when they attempt to critique same-sexuality. (Robert A.J. Gagnon relies on these to a very large extent, continually returning to them. If these are "straw men" I am not the one who is setting them up. And if you agree that these are beside the point, then let us move on.)

Finally, I must add that this "current teaching" is not quite the same as that of the earlier Catechisms, which emphasized female inferiority and subordintation. I suppose we must all move with the times.

June Butler said...

Rick, I'm sorry, my friend, but what comes to mind is, "There is none so blind as they that won’t see."

If you can't see that your own church and, to a large extent, most Christians denominations are as yet riddled with gynephobia as well as homophobia, then I don't think I can help you see. The churches have come a way, but they have a long way to go.

You say:

In marriage God unites them in such a way that, by forming "one flesh", they can transmit human life: "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth."

I'm an old lady. I can no longer transmit biological life. Am I no longer one flesh with my husband of 46 years, because I can't produce a baby?

OK, that's my last feminist word on the subject. I see my words and Mary Clara's words as not so very much off topic, as I think the prejudice against women and the prejudice against gays and lesbians are interconnected, and both are rooted in unreasonable fear.

Anonymous said...

It is, I suppose, a sign of how polarized we are that any assertion of any difference between the sexes is automatically taken to mean the "inferiority" of women, and that the chief good that Christianity is recognized to have granted women was in allowing their relative independence in monastic communities, as if the touchstone of Jesus' teaching were independence rather than love.

Nor do I find the right to be ordained the end-all and be-all of Christian aspiration, much less the touchstone of personhood. Jesus could not have been a priest in his own day; he was born into the wrong tribe. So far as I can tell he uttered not a word about it. I have the greatest respect for the clergy, and certainly recognize their necessity in the church. But becoming clergy is not what following Jesus is about.

Mimi, I suspect that the natural cessation of fertility has something to do with the normal need for us to continue to help our children until they reach adulthood (and, I suppose, to allow us the satisfaction of seeing them making all the mistakes we made). I know from your blog that you have continued to be a good mother to your children.

It does seem the fashion these days to attribute all opposition to blindness, obstinacy or fear. I think that that papers over real differences in how we see the world, and tends to blame the other for my own lack of persuasiveness.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

No one here has denied the existence of "differences" between the sexes. What is being challenged is the significance given to these differences and their portrayal as complementary. Nor am I accusing you of holding women to be "inferior" to men. But I do hope you are not denying that there was a time when that was the official teaching of your church; just as it was an official teaching that celibacy was morally superior to marriage. The problem, in case you are unaware of it, is the tendency to allow one's understanding of biology (in this case, a misunderstanding) to shape social structures that lead to a determined role in society based on sex.

I am certainly not claiming the priesthood to be a "touchstone of personhood." But one of the rationales advanced for excluding women from this office was their "natural inferiority" and incapacity for leadership. This excuse is not often advanced in these more enlightened time, but that doesn't erase the reality. So I have a simple question: do you deny this reality from the past, and its impact on the present?

What I am getting at I shall expand on in the next section -- the way in which fixed ideas about the roles of the sexes (ideas which have no rational basis but are the result of cultural attitudes) play a large part in both the status of women and the negativity towards gay and lesbian people.

Anonymous said...

"What is being challenged is the significance given to these differences and their portrayal as complementary."

I think that's right. We really don't differ as to science. We differ as to the meaning of these structures, which science is not competent to interpret for us. It can tell us what is, but not what ought to be.

"fixed ideas about the roles of the sexes (ideas which have no rational basis but are the result of cultural attitudes)"

Why do you assume that "cultural attitudes" have no rational basis? Of course culture and tradition have a role here. But why assume that they are in opposition to reason?

"Nor am I accusing you of holding women to be "inferior" to men. But I do hope you are not denying that there was a time when that was the official teaching of your church."

I am certainly unaware of any "official teaching" of female inferiority. I can't say I'm all that familiar with everything from the ecumenical councils, but I would think that the veneration of Mary suggests that there's nothing inherently "inferior" about the feminine. For myself, who was raised Protestant, I find that praying to Mary rather increases my reverence for and appreciation of the feminine.

But then I think you equate "inferiorty" with any difference in role, which I don't.

"...just as it was an official teaching that celibacy was morally superior to marriage."

I don't think that "morally superior" quite gets what was taught at Trent.

It is not a sin to have possessions. But it is better to sell all that you have and give to the poor--even though most of us are not capable of that degree of discipleship.

It is not a sin to remain free in your vocation. But it is an extraordinary sacrifice to give that up for the Kingdom, to enter into a vow of obedience.

And marriage is not a bad thing. But surely we can recognize that those who give it up for the sake of the Kingdom have done something extraordinary, and I for one don't begrudge recognizing the extraordinary sacrifice of those who taken it on, just as I give credit to those, mostly in monastic vocations, who give up wealth and freedom.

What is it, after all, that Americans prize, more than money, sex and freedom? And why is it so shocking that the Church should follow Jesus in suggesting that there is something greater to be attained, so that some small minority of Christians might give up all these things for a greater good, and that we can recognize the "superlative" in their acts without denying the goodness of the life choices of those of us who live so much closer to the ordinary?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

(Very briefly as I am between assignments and travelling):

We have narrowed our disagreement to the signification -- which is, in fact, where I have always suggested the difference of opinion lies. I will be expanding on this in the next section, which addresses the "reflective" aspects of marriage.

I wrote about: "fixed ideas about the roles of the sexes (ideas which have no rational basis but are the result of cultural attitudes)"

And you responded: Why do you assume that "cultural attitudes" have no rational basis? Of course culture and tradition have a role here. But why assume that they are in opposition to reason?

My reply: I think you are misreading what I said. It is not that culture has no rational basis, but that some of the "ifxed ideas about the roles of the sexes" do not have a rational basis, but rather derive from culture. For instance, to say that women bear children and breast-feed them is a rational statement. But to go from that to an idea that "women are naturally nurturing" and then even more to apply this generalization to individual women is a rational error. (It may well be true that some women are nurturing -- many are -- but to derive this from the biology is an example of what you correctly note we agree upon -- science will not tell us what ought to be.)

As to past church teachings on the inferiority of women, I think that material is amply documented elsewhere. It was not confined to Roman Catholics. Even Richard Hooker wrote about women being inappropriate as teachers or leaders. And literature is full of this common cultural theme, as in John Donne's advice not to look to women for mental gifts, as they are "but mummy possessed." It is certainly true that this general disregard for women was combined with an exaltation of the Blessed Virgin -- itself an interesting cultural process that kept alive a long-standing male view of women as either saints or whores. Again, there are many studies of this phenomenon, and the dynamics involved in the role of women in Judaism and Christianity.

As to Trent, the language I refer to is that celibacy is held to be "better and more blessed" than marriage. It does not say marriage is "bad" -- but it is inferior -- not just different, but inferior -- according to this teaching. It is true that this teaching is not much spoken of these days, and it was effectively downplayed in the latter half of the last century -- which had no small impact on decline in religious vocations. I know of one RC sister who rather bitterly complained, "When I was young they told me this was the 'more perfect' way -- now they're telling me marriage was just as good! I feel like I've wasted my life..."

Teachings have consequences in the lives of people.

Anonymous said...

We would probably both agree with the Anglican priest Lawrence Sterne, who placed as the motto before his "Tristram Shandy,"

"tarassei tous anthropous ou ta pragmata, alla ta peri ton pragmaton dogmata."

As best I can render it, "The things themselves don't trouble men, but opinions about those things."

Understanding the significance or insignificance of differences is a difficult and subtle task. One of the things I love about St. Thomas (and what exasperates others) is his constant recognition of the different senses of terms, of how apparent conflicts can be harmonized with a deeper consideration of their meaning.

Anonymous said...


Hello. I have been staying away from these discussions because, quite frankly, I just can't follow your arguments. Whether that's on you or me, I don't know.

I have been married almost a quarter of a century, and have both sons and daughters.

Men and women, boys and girls are different. It's really quite fascinating watching that.

What your discussion doesn't take into account is all of the studies, that, for example, talk about the need for children to have both a mother and a father? Why? Because there are generalizations (Sterotypes? Archetypes?)that can be made about each sex. Each bring something to the parenting relationship. Partly it's role models, and partly it's the inate nature of the gender.

Men and women can be civilly equal, equal before the eyes of God, and still be different and complementary to each other, complete each other. I don't know why you don't want to acknowledge that. To say that we are all the same, it's just that some of us have a uterus, isn't something I can subscriber to.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Rick, I do think we could agree on that. As "Toby" is a principle character in Sterne's novel, it is one I identify with; perhaps my interest in this present subject parallels Toby's obsession with rampart and glacis. ;-)

As to St Thomas, there is certainly a great deal to admire in him. Where I find myself most in disagreement with him, however, is in the area of sex and gender, where I think, to be fair to him, he was very much a product of his time (and the times preceding him). But surely this is where the corrective is most needed. As with Scripture itself, it is possible to carry away great truths while acknowledging the weaknesses -- and it sometimes does mean going deeper to find the root significance of something that on the surface is plainly mythological, or derives from a mistaken view of nature. That is, however, what I am attempting -- to get behind some of the shrubbery that has grown up around issues of gender and sex, many of them based on fundamentally flawed understandings of human nature, and to get to the true moral core of what it is to be a human being, and how human beings best relate to each other as moral agents. I agree with your earlier comment about current obsessions with money, sex, and power -- and see a true understanding of moral agency, based on the true worth of the human being, as a key to addressing these misuses and abuses.

Paul B., thanks for your comment. I am sure your experience with your children is valuable, but I think it is a mistake to extrapolate individual experiences to become universal truths. I could, I assure you, do the same on the other side, as I know many people who do not fit the neat "gender roles" that our society assigns or expects. But I would not apply that universally and say that no one fits, or ought to fit, the "stereotype." Many do -- but that is not the point. The issue is, does the stereotype reflect an underlying reality, or is it a product of culture? Surely you are aware that there are many cultures in the world that structure sex roles and family life very differently than we do in the United States. These are not, in short, universal human realities, but cultural patterns, and as patterns they tend to perpetuate themselves in any given culture.

As to the "studies" you cite, on the contrary I think the preponderance of sociological studies have shown that it is the quality of parenting, rather than the sex of the parents, that is most significant in healthy child development. I believe studies have shown that children (either biological or adopted) raised by same sex couples are just as well adjusted and healthy as children raised by mixed-sex couples. You might want to review this article: http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/514477. You might also want to check out the American Academy of Pediatrics report here. http://www.aap.org/advocacy/archives/febsamesex.htm This study indicates that the main problem faced by same-sex parents -- leading to difficult challenges for their children -- come from the inability to obtain legal rights and civil privileges that come with marriage. If people are really concerned about the welfare of children, it seems that they should be encouraging the legalization of same-sex marriage, as this would provide the hundreds of thousands of children being raised by same-sex parents with an additional degree of security; or at the very least legalized coparenting.

These are studies from well respected medical societies or publications. I am leery of studies funded by or promulgated by groups with an obvious agenda, though I am happy to review them. This is an area where flawed (and in some cases downright false) studies can continue to be circulated in spite of their having been rejected by the scientific community. (For example, Paul Cameron's studies of the life expectancy of gay men have been exposed as at best misleading, yet they continue to circulate as if they were sound science.) But this whole question of accurate scientific study is a topic for another time.

Again, on your closing note, I am not saying that men and women are "the same" -- I am saying that the differences between men and women as groups, or between individuals, are not complementary, by any meaningful definition of that word.

June Butler said...

Men and women, boys and girls are different. It's really quite fascinating watching that.

Paul, I have two sons and one daughter. My two sons are quite different from each other. It's fascinating to watch that, too. My daughter is different from either of my sons. Three offspring, same parents, and each one is unique.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Mimi, for cutting to the chase. Part of the problem with the reduction of people to "classes" or "categories" is that we lose sight of their worth as individuals. Everyone has something in common with everyone else, and yet each of us is a unique child of God.

Anonymous said...

"...this whole question of accurate scientific study is a topic for another time."

It probably should be, but it bears noting that, such is the prestige of science in our society, we look too often to bolster our morality through such sources.

The mere fact that such studies often come to diametrically opposed conclusions, often following the inclinations of their sponsors, should of course tell us something. Having been a lawyer for too many years I am probably needlessly cynical about how genuine scientists can in fact be lead to tenuous conclusions because it is in their interest to go a certain way.

Real science leads to real, verificable results that will be duplicated when other scientists conduct the same study. But the range of questions that real science can answer is narrow, and rarely extends directly to human questions of religion, morality and politics. That's not to disparage scientific, or non-scientific, studies. But we need to recognize their limitations.

Anonymous said...

The real difficulty with general statements about which group of people makes better parents is that they tend to compare the best and most harmonious traditional family with the more dysfunctional non conventional family structures.

Of course, no-one believes that same gender couples who spend most of their time clubbing and cruising are likely to be good parents, but neither are many heterosexual families. I suspect if same gender couples had the same documented record of “divorce” as straight couples, it would be seen as an indictment against any form of same gender parenting.

Same gender parents who do not have their own children often adopt, and often those very hard to place children who would otherwise languish in state care.

Having said that, Rick has a point. It is very important that children have role models from both sexes. This is a real problem for children from heterosexual families too, where fathers often work long hours and barely see their children. In our modern society, where nursery and primary school education is almost exclusively female, there is a huge lack of positive male role models for ALL children. I could cheekily claim that children from all male households are better off than their peers in that respect.

My own children are happily settled with me and my female partner. They also have close contact with their father and with our many male friends. They’re very good examples of well adjusted, normal children.

Ultimately, what matters is the quality of parenting, not what gender the parents are.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr Michael,

I'm not sure I follow your connection of natural infertility at a certain age with original sin. (I take your point as far as disease.) The Scripture does not appear to support the notion that Adam and Eve were immortal by nature -- hence the reference to the Tree of Life. (Gen 3:22-24; some see the Cross as the fulfillment of the Tree of Life, and source of true immortality). On the specific point, I don't think there is any Scriptural evidence that people were intended by God to be perpetually fertile, any more than innately immortal (as opposed to gaining immortality by access to the the Tree of Life). Only in the resurrection do we have an assurance of final immortality -- and in this new life there is no marriage or reproduction, according to Jesus -- this is not simply a return to Eden, but a "new creation." There is no need for procreation in the life of the resurrection precisely because, as Jesus says, "they cannot die any more." (Luke 20:35-36)

You are correct, though, that I am connecting your points 1 and 3 -- though I would leave out the discussion of Original Sin as not really related to the issue.

What I am saying is that one may well argue against same-sexuality on other grounds, but not because it is non-procreative; as other forms of non-procreative sexuality are permitted. The locus of the "sin" (if there is one) is not bound up with the infertility. I would rephrase the final sentence to say that "procreation/fertility is not a relevant factor when determining who may marry." In fact, in church law it isn't -- that is, even in the RC Canon Law prior infertility is not a diriment impediment to marriage, unless its existence is concealed. Interestingly enough, impotence (the inability to engage in sexual intercourse in humano modo -- as the Canons say) is a diriment impediment. There was an interesting case a few years ago when the Roman Catholic Church barred a quadriplegic from marriage.

Perhaps it goes without saying that I do not accept the Roman Catholic teaching on the moral status of contraception; it rests on the assumption (thereby begging the question) that the principal end of sex is procreation. On the contrary, I support the Episcopal Church's position that procreation is one of the possible ends of marriage, but not a necessary one.

Contraception itself was not forbidden under Jewish law, and opposition to it in Christianity appears to arise from a philosophical framework influenced by Stoicism, and closely related to opposition to Gnostic, Manichean and Catharist teachings. There has been continued pressure within Roman Catholicism to revise the teaching, especially at Vatican II, but also since then.

I address the "ends of marriage" more generally and particularly in an earlier section in this series: Pro-Creation, which can be accessed from the links in the side column.

Anonymous said...

Fr Michael,
I don't think I understand the difference between intrinsically infertile sexual acts during a woman's cycles of menstruation, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and intrinsically infertile acts such as masturbation and same gender sex.

Where is the moral difference, when a heterosexual couple deliberately makes use of the infertile periods?

Anonymous said...

Fr Tobias: Thanks for taking my comment seriously.

I had assumed that the Anglican belief in the loss of the preternatural gifts due to Original Sin was similar to RC beliefs. The RC belief is that sensibility to suffering and death are results of Original Sin, not simply the result of deprivation from the Tree of Life. We would point to Gen 2:17 as regards this teaching in regards to death.

If Original Sin and its effects are seen as out-of-bounds to this discussion, then certainly handicaps the RCC position. OTOH maybe I am mistaken about the nature of these posts. If this is a series of theological posts about same-sex relationships among Christians at large, then I will continue. If this series is about the same-sex relationships within the Anglican Communion, then I probably need to absent myself from the discussion and simply lark since I'm neither well-versed in Anglican theological method nor in your doctrines.

God bless,


Anonymous said...


The moral difference is that the periodic times of infertility of women are due to God's design of the human race: as they are of divine origin they are intrinsically good. The existence of these cycles don't change the fact that fertility is a fundamental part of who women are as human persons.

Masturbation and homosexual activity by their nature non-fertile. Even when conducted during a woman's fertile period, they are sterile, and thus completely divorce fertility and sexuality.

All this presupposes a sense of the natural moral law, a supposition much disputed within Christianity although central to the (Roman) Catholic understanding of morality. My take as a long-time larker on Episcopalian blogs and websites is that there is no consensus in the Anglican world on the existence of a natural moral law (that's also true on the "reasserter" TEC side as well, who seem to be sola scriptura when it comes to morality), so perhaps I'm barking in the wind to no effect here.


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Fr. Michael,

My concern with bringing in Original Sin is twofold. First, as you know, the doctrine of Original Sin is not universally emphasized in the Christian tradition — it is an essentially Western concept going back to Augustine; the Eastern Orthodox do not make much of it, and Anglicanism, which shares a good bit of its outlook and heritage (if not its polity) with Eastern Orthodoxy, while acknowledging the doctrine does not give it pride of place, and certainly not as much emphasis as it received in the Reformation.

Secondly, the doctrine of Original Sin does not advance us very far when coming to questions of actual sin. Thus I can affirm that “sin entered the world and through sin, death” — though death was not in itself “unnatural” and came about through exile from access to the Tree of Life. Thus Adam was not “naturally” immortal but rather lived so long as he did not sin and thereby come to suffer privation of the divine presence. This view is consistent with the RC Catechism paragraph 376. Thus RC theology does not, as I see it, state that human creatures had bodily immortality by nature, but rather by grace, dependent upon the presence of God.

Perhaps more importantly, I’m don’t see how the question of Original Sin relates directly to the matters of sexuality at hand, as I find your attribution of certain natural processes to Original Sin to be faulty.

For example, I cannot accept your assignment of the natural infertility that comes with advanced age as having anything to do with Original Sin. This is an entirely natural consequence of the functioning of the human body. Since menopause results from the cessation of the production of a hormone, which in itself is also key to the “infertile period” I fail to see how you can attribute one to Original Sin but the other to “God's design.” Both appear to be equally part of the “design” of the female human being.

In any case, as the number of ova formed in the ovaries is finite (and entirely formed in utero before birth, hence, before the possibility of baptism!) there is no question but that infertility eventually has to take place.

Thus, your statement that “fertility is a fundamental part of who women are as human persons” is obviously false: an average woman is only fertile for about 1/3 of her life. She possesses all the ova she will ever have before she is born, though she cannot make use of them until the onset of puberty. One might well more accurately say that “fertility is a temporary condition caused by the action of certain hormones that affect women for part of their lives.” And that is where one of the many the problems with natural law arise. So much of it depends on one’s point of view of what is “natural.” I can state as a simple physical fact that fertility is naturally separated from sexuality, as part of God's “design” of the human creature. God “intends” grandmotherhood and grandfatherhood as much as motherhood and fatherhood. This, rather than the contrary, appears to be "natural" and true.

You correctly observe that a natural law approach has been more characteristic among Roman Catholic moral theologians — though even there it does not remain unassailed, and a number even of Roman Catholic thinkers, as well as Protestants and Orthodox, have pointed out the serious weaknesses inherent in a natural law approach. The primary weakness, and this is relevant to the present discussion, is the tendency to assign perceived ends as somehow distinctively or inherently connected to certain structures or processes. Thus procreation is held to be the proper “end” of sex. This position was somewhat defensible in the period prior to the discovery of the “naturally infertile” period and other knowledge about human anatomy and reproduction — but to maintain the RC solution in the face of newer understandings seems to strain credulity.

So I am perfectly happy to continue the discussion, but I am afraid that you will have to step outside a natural law framework in order to do so, as the natural law tradition — on this particular subject — has, I think, been fairly well shown to be unsound, in large part due to its having been based on insufficient, or erroneous, biological data.

Peace of Christ,

Anonymous said...

Fr Michael

thank you for your reply. I'm not a theologian, so forgive me if I misunderstood you.
But your argument appears to be saying that, because most heterosexual couples can, at some points in their lives, produce children, all married heterosexual activity is God given and lawful, even when one or two of them are infertile.
On the other hand, same sex couples can never produce children, so all of their sexual activity is never God given and therefore, at all times, unlawful.

If I understand that right, it means that, because heterosexual couples are the natural order and God willed, their sexual activity is good, whereas same sex couples are, by definition, not natural (although a certain percentage of homosexuality in all cultures and countries is the biological norm), and are therefore not willed by God and their sexual activity is sinful.

It is precisely this presupposition which Fr Tobias is examining, so the presumed morality of different kinds of infertile sexual activity can really only form part of the conversation if his argument results in accepting the presupposition.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thank you, Erika, for neatly summarizing the problem. It is exactly the presupposition that is under examination, so it does no good simply to restate it. (This is one of the weaknesses of the "reasserter" side of the discussion, as the tendency is to, well, reassert.)

It seems to me that the moral purpose of sexuality is found in mutual joy and respect, and the enhancement of society both between the couple and in the larger world. This seems to me to be a fairly plain understanding of the human moral mandate towards love and fidelity; and this is a moral value of which same-sex couples are capable.

Procreation, on the other hand, does not appear to me to have any moral value at all in and of itself, though it can be accompanied by the moral values I describe. But in itself it is a biological process, not unique to human beings.

Anonymous said...

Ah, but procreation IS a moral issue, it gives us the great privilege of cooperating in the creation of new human beings. Procreation is a natural good proper to marriage and sexuality, not simply a morally neutral biological process. God is pleased when a new human being enters the world.

So I (and the RCC) assert, as did most Christians up to the 20th century. And I would even hesitate to add, most cultures around the world up to maybe the mid-20th century maintained that marriage is for children. If we are going to have examine presuppositions, I would think that the new presupposition that separates marriage, sexuality, and procreation should first be examined.

However, either way, I'm going to continue reading this thread, since it is the only thread of its type I've ever read: trying to defend same-sex marriage through philosophical and theological reasoning rather than a simple appeal to human experience.

As it looks like a new post on the topic has arisen, I'm going to continue reading there.

Cheers and have a blessed weekend!


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr. Michael,

I think you are mistaken if you are saying that the RCC holds procreation in itself to have a moral value or to be a "natural good." It is only a moral good in relation to the context of the relationship in which it takes place. Thus, as itself, it has no moral value -- but it can be a blessing in a faithful relationship, and a tragedy in a case of rape or incest. Can you present a citation from the Catechism that shows otherwise? I think you will find that the teaching expects procreation only to occur within the context of marraige, when it is, indeed, valued and good. (But speaking philosophically, a thing which is only good in certain circumstances cannot be held to be good by nature. Thus procreation is not a natural, but a situational good.)

I have examined the "presupposition" concerning the separability of procreation and sexuality in an earlier segment of this series, "Pro-Creation." To me it is self-evident that the two are separable, though in that essay I give numerous examples. You are, even in terms of RC teaching, mistaken in saying that "marriage is for children" at least to the extent that if a marriage doesn't produce children it is no less a marriage in the eyes of the church. It would be more appropriate to say, "the procreation and upbringing of children is a particular good of marriage, although parents without children are also fully married." That, I think, reflects the doctrine a bit more accurately.

I welcome your continued input on this matter, though I suggest that some real precision will be needed about this and related questions. There are many default conclusions to which people will move, which, on closer examination are not quite completely accurate. This nuance is important if you are to follow the argument I am making -- even if you disagree with it.

A blessed weekend to you as well.

Anonymous said...

"I think you are mistaken if you are saying that the RCC holds procreation in itself to have a moral value or to be a "natural good."

There is perhaps this from JPII's encyclical The Gospel of Life:

"Aware that God has intervened, Eve exclaims: "I have begotten a man with the help of the Lord" (Gen 4:1). In procreation therefore, through the communication of life from parents to child, God's own image and likeness is transmitted, thanks to the creation of the immortal soul."

It is indeed a tragedy when a child is born out of wedlock, from rape or incest, when the child is deprived of that which he or she has a right to, loving and caring parents. But that does not make the child's life any less an inherent good, an image of God in the world, a human life of inestimable value.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Dear Rick,
Yes, I think that is certainly the direction John Paul II was heading. It is problematical, still, especially when language about "creation" comes to play -- since only God is creator, and the parents are at best the agents. Still, I think the pope is clearly thinking about Adam and Eve here -- and thus procreation within the context of the primeval marriage.

So while I agree that each human life is of supreme value, that does not necessarily mean that the act of procreation that leads to that life is in and of itself "good." I think, rather, that it is clear that a process in itself bad can sometimes lead to a good result. Thus one might regard a birth from even a rape as being a kind of felix culpa.

On the other side lies the recognition that illegitimacy was held to be an impediment to ordination; as it was to participation in the congregation of Israel. (Dt 23:2) This does seem to reflect on the nature of the procreation in question. Clearly the act of procreation itself can be a moral "evil" -- and thus at best morally neutral in and of itself.

Finally, even in speaking of the "good" of the human being in birth, it was said of at least one, "it would have been better had he never been born."

So I will stand by my statement that procreation is not a natural moral good, but rather a moral neutral.

Anonymous said...

"Thus one might regard a birth from even a rape as being a kind of felix culpa."

To someone firmly grounded in normal life and faith, and only interested in theology as a hobby, this sort of statement shows just what is wrong with convoluted theology done in the rarefied echelons of accademia.

The logic is there, I grant you. But this is just the kind of view that has led the (celibate male dominated) RC church to be seen as hostile to women, lacking compassion and lacking any understanding of the true horror of the birth of a baby whose whole existence is a daily reminder of a rape. The resulting God espoused by the church is not very appealing.

The rape can be survived, the baby even accepted eventually. And, if the woman is truly extraordinary, she may also love the child without resentment. But "felix" culpa?

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

I'm really with you on this Erika, and I that this is at the outer edge of possibility. I'm speaking here from my hope that a child born of rape would not be abandoned or burdened with the wrong of which she or he is innocent. My hope that good can come out of wrong remains, though it doesn't make the wrong itself good. I should have phrased my statement more clearly -- to clarify that it is the child who might be seen as good, not the act of forced procreation by which the child came to be. This is fundamentally why I disagree with the position that procreation is a moral good in itself. Rape is always wrong, and that it can lead to unwanted procreation makes it worse, not better. The child her or himself, though, is as a human person to be valued as good, and not blamed for the rapist's crime. Sorry I wasn't clearer.

Anonymous said...

I see Rick Allen is back in the conversation. Excellent.

The conflation of conception and childbirth made here under the term "procreation" is not how I would morally address the issue.

Rape is an intrinsically evil act.

Fornication is an intrinsically evil act.

Childbirth is a moral good, even if the act of fertilization that started the process of pregnancy was evil.

Illegitimate births are situation I encounter all the time in my particular pastoral work. In Catholic sub-cultures where illegitimacy is high (e.g. U.S. Hispanics) we make this distinction all the time: it is sinful to have sex outside of marriage, but it is good to bring the resulting baby to term.


Anonymous said...

"...this sort of statement shows just what is wrong with convoluted theology done in the rarefied echelons of accademia."

It wasn't my statement, but I have to say that the statement is hardly theoretical to many.

I once knew a young woman who was conceived through a violent rape. For her this was a very important affirmation of Catholic teaching, one that she talked about, that her own coming-into-existence, though the result of a terrible crime, was in itself a good thing, and that her life was not somehow "morally neutral."

There is certainly no compassion in finding anything horrifying about her very existence. And she found very appealing the notion of a God whose compassion didn't impute to her the guilt or penalty of the terrible way she came to be.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr Michael, and Rick,
I do think you are both continuing to confuse and confound procreation and birth. They are really two entirely different things, though obviously related. I have not suggested that the birth of a human being is anything other than a moral good (although I note the testimony of Job and Jesus to the contrary). I don't know how you would reconcile this with the traditional Roman Catholic prohibition of ordination of a child conceived out of wedlock. (I think that rule may have been changed in the new code.) But I see each human being as supremely valuable, not in their procreation, but in their being. And I have never suggested otherwise.

But the act of procreation itself, when carried out in a circumstance of rape or incest cannot be conceived as a moral good. Again, I would welcome a citation in support of this assertion. To me it seems to be entirely wrong, from a moral perspective, and derive from an "ends justifies the means" sort of ethic.

I realize procreation is a major concern for Roman Catholics. But I think I have made my primary point in the earlier article, to wit: procreation is not inseparable from sexuality. The two are separable by nature, or by design (even without the use of artificial means). Marriage does not require procreation for its licitness, that is, the ability to procreate is not required for marriage. This is, I think, consistent even with current RC teaching. I can assure you it is consistent with Anglican teaching.

Anonymous said...

"There is certainly no compassion in finding anything horrifying about her very existence."

I maintain that her mother must have been the most extraordinary woman if she was able to give her daughter such a positive sense of identity.

None of us should find anything horrifying about the daughter's existence, but for the mother to find it not in the least horrifying requires a moral strength, a faith and a deep love that are truly rare and definitely not the norm for pregnancies resulting from rape.

But I'm off topic, sorry!

Anonymous said...

"I don't know how you would reconcile this with the traditional Roman Catholic prohibition of ordination of a child conceived out of wedlock."

I don't know for certain, but would guess that that prohibition came out of the Gregorian reform, to keep prelates who couldn't quite keep their vows from putting their children into rich livings. Didn't always work, of course--see Alexander VI and Cesare Borgia.

But the problem, I think, wasn't some inherent problem with illegitimacy, but a problem with church corruption, addressed with a very broad remedy. But it's a historical question that'd be interesing to check on.

Anonymous said...

"But the problem, I think, wasn't some inherent problem with illegitimacy, but a problem with church corruption"

if we're staying off topic...
whatever its origins, it certainly had a huge influence on the church.
In my own family there is an illetigimate child conceived between a married father and a woman he met briefly. The father's wife immediately made friends with the woman and introduced the child to her children who treat her has their natural sister. The father's catholic parents to date refuse to accept the child, saying that their priest agrees that the girl cannot be accepted because her conception was immoral.

Whatever you may think of this - the view itself is surprisingly common still.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps we are fighting over nomenclature here.

In RCC moral theology the fact that a moral good can be perverted to evil doesn't make the specific good in general morally neutral.

To give a simple example outside of the present topic, eating is a moral good, even though gluttony is a capital sin.

To apply this line of thought to the present argument, procreation can be considered a moral good (as opposed to morally neutral) even though some conceptions occur in immoral acts such as rape and illegitimacy.

I'm going to take a break here and reread

I'm going to reread the earlier posts of Fr. Tobias since I don't seem to understand how he so easily separates procreation, sexuality, and marriage.

God bless, FrMichael

Anonymous said...

Erika, do I understand correctly that the parents claim that there is something immoral about accepting the girl because she was conceived in an adulterous relationship that their son entered into? Seems to me tht if they really believe in shunnng sinners they've missed the obvious target. And if their priest truly believes the child culpable because of the sins of her parents, I can only say that the infallibility of priests is not an article of faith (nor, I should add, the infallibility of pontificating laity on the web).

Seriously, if there is any imputation of fault to illegitimate children, I'd be interested in knowing the source. I haven't found any, other than the old impediment to ordination, which originated, I think, with Urban II in the eleventh century, which would have been directed against the foundation of ecclesiatical dynasties by supposedly celibate clerics, not against illegitimacy per se.

Perhaps you can liven up the Thanksgiving dinner conversation this fall by asking these Catholic parents where exactly in scripture or tradition is it established that a father may be excused from his paternal responsibilities so long as he enters into them by means of adultery.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Fr Michael,

I would accept your word for what RCC moral theology says if you could provide a reference. Surely the traditional view on sexuality and procreation, at least since St Augustine, held that every sexual act was to some extent tainted by original sin --- as, indeed, in Augustine's system, it is by means of procreation that original sin is transmitted. The traditional view, then, was that sexuality and procreation itself partook "of the nature of sin." (This made it into the Anglican tradition via Cranmer's being heavily influenced by Augustine.) While it is true that the current edition of the catechism has played down this element in the tradition, you can find it amply articulated in earlier writings, in which procreation, far from being a moral good, is the means of the transmission of original sin.

As I said earlier, I do not emphasize the doctrine of Original Sin in my own thinking, though I acknowledge it's existence. I would prefer to see procreation as a moral neutral in itself, and sexuality similarly -- that is, the moral value lies in the context, the intent, and the actors -- which, I think, is the actual teaching of most contemporary ethicists, both within and outside the RCC. Same-sexuality is precisely condemned, in this case, because of the actors; birth control because of the intent; etc.

I don't know that the RCC teaches that "eating is a moral good" that can be used for ill. It seems to me, regardless of what Rome teaches, that it is rather a moral neutral, that can be well or ill used. There is more to morality than simple acts divorced from their context.

That being said, the comments here have gone rather off the thread with wanderings into the malfeasance of medieval clergy and the response of Urban II!

I think I'm going to ask that we draw the other conversations to a close, and if there is nothing more to say about symbolism, move on. Thanks for the input and thoughts.

Gary Paul Gilbert said...

This discussion seems intendedly more philosophical than biological, but I'm surprised that some striking discoveries of biology haven't figured more prominently -- given the "natural law" preoccupations of the Romanists.

I refer to the discovery that all human beings begin in female form, and some of them, those with XY chromosomes, are altered in development by hormonal action in a masculine direction. (Some texts say that homosexual males have been "incompletely masculinized," but in fact, there is no Platonic male ideal they are trying to emulate -- each person develops as they develop, and if they are functional, they live.) God didn't create human beings male and female; God created female, male, and everything between (including intersex).

Biology also shows that females carry the XX chromosome and males the XY, with the Y being a one-legged X. It's been found that females are genetically sturdier because they have two Xs as backup -- males, lacking one leg of one X, have only the resources of their one complete X. So St. Thomas was wrong -- it is the male who is lacking.

Mythologically, then, God created Woman, and seeing it wasn't good for her to be alone, gave her the Man to help and protect her and her children. But the Man, using the strength and imagination he was given for his assigned task, turned rather to domination and control. As the tribe increased, God sent individuals who would stand outside the system of male domination and mate seeking, who could contribute to the welfare of the group as a whole, who could be friends to both male and female without sexual or hierarchical tension, and who, in fact, have been the major creators of the tribe's stories (myths) and songs. Procreation continues the tribe; it is the arts that make us human.

Mudduck (as I am often called on the Web), the lawfully wedded husband of garydasein.

G said...

I quote Mr Allen: "Tobias, one would think from your essay that your opponents' problem is that we cling to that idea that the east wind is still intervening in conception."

But that's precisely the problem. You've disavowed the faulty Aristotelian and Thomistic pseudoscience in which your position originated, but you wish to maintain your position all the same. It's a matter of eating your cake and having it too: indeed, your position would be more internally consistent - and respectable - if you _did_ accept the pseudoscience.