Click here to advertise on

Natural Law Morality Today

by Cardinal Cahal B. Daly

Featured eBook

    Document Information

  • Description:
    This paper discusses some attitudes towards natural law and the criticism of the traditional natural law approach to morality which has been expressed in the context of writing on contraception.
  • Larger Work:
    The American Ecclesiastical Review
  • Pages: 361-398
  • Publisher & Date:
    The Catholic University of America Press, December 1965

The purpose of this paper is a limited one. There would not be time, nor would this be the place, to attempt to demonstrate the validity of natural law in general, or in any of its concrete conclusions; nor even to attempt an adequate exposition of it. My purpose is simply to discuss some attitudes towards natural law, which have emerged in recent discussion. For, as everyone knows, much criticism of the traditional natural law approach to morality has been expressed lately in the context of writing on contraception. It is in the framework of this writing that my remarks will be set.1 It would not be realistic to discuss natural law morality today in any other setting. I shall not, however, be intending directly to discuss the arguments for or against the condemnation of contraception as such. Much less shall I be discussing "the Pill." The question of contraception will inevitably arise; but it will concern me only in so far as the campaign in favour of it has revealed misunderstanding of or involved misrepresentation of the traditional natural law teaching.

I shall be obliged to criticise the arguments of some fellow-Catholics and even some fellow-priests. I shall criticise their arguments, not their persons. No judgment will be intended or implied on their sincerity or their orthodoxy, I shall be concerned only with Pascal’s injunction: "Let us endeavour to think well: this is the principle of morality." I believe that in certain important respects these people have not thought or written accurately about that which they were criticising.

Pope John And Natural Law

It seems to be suggested sometimes that natural law morality is somehow "reactionary" and opposed to the great Johannine movement of renewal in the contemporary Church.2 But this is to forget that Pope John’s great encyclicals, which aroused the admiration of all men of good will everywhere, were based explicitly on an appeal to natural law.

Thus Pacem in Terris, that splendid modern declaration of the rights of man, begins with the assertion that "every human being is a person" and consequently "has rights and duties of his own" flowing directly and simultaneously from his very nature, which are therefore universal, inviolable and inalienable." Spelling out these rights in the bold detail of rights to economic justice, social security, equal educational opportunity, religious freedom, etc. Pope John at every stage grounds his claim on natural law. "By the natural law every human being has the right to freedom in searching for truth… and he has the right to be informed truthfully about public events. The natural law also gives man the right to share in the benefits of culture… Every human being has the right to honour God according to the dictates of an upright conscience, and therefore to worship God privately and publicly…"3

Clearly natural law is central to Pope John’s thinking about freedom, equality and brotherhood among men; and so far from being oppressive and restrictive, he sees it as a force for liberation and progress. But it is in virtue of the very same natural law that Pope John, in Mater et Magistra, condemns contraception as a means of population control. "The real solution of the problem is not to be found in expedients which offend against the divinely established moral order and which attack human life at its very source… The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which a man ignores and disobeys to his cost. He is not, therefore, permitted to use certain ways and means which are allowable in the propagation of plant and animal life."4

Natural Law And Human Progress

It is in the name of unalterable natural law that we condemn the events of Selma and Sharpeville, as we condemn those of Belsen and Buchenwald. A German medical authority has asserted that the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Nazi doctors stemmed from their substitution of the "biological idea" of man for the "metaphysical idea,"5 and it is on the latter that natural law is based. It is widely admitted that the natural law insistence on the inviolability of human life at every stage from conception to natural death has been a most important stimulus to the progress of medicine; and has in particular spurred gynaecology and obstetric surgery in the great progress they have made.

It is pleasant to be able to quote a Protestant medical authority in this sense. He is Mr. Harold Ian McClure, Clinical Lecturer in Midwifery and Gynaecology in the Queen’s University of Belfast. Giving an address on "The Church and Medicine" for the opening of the Winter Session of the Faculty in October 1954, Mr. McClure spoke principally of the Catholic Church and Medicine. He concluded his address as follows: "I mention these matters to show that, even where medical practice has not fully approximated to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, the advance of medical science is bringing the ideal of both bodies (the preservation of the life of both mother and child), much nearer than it once was."6

Now it may be remarked in passing—though this obviously is not an argument on the moral issue—that if the condemnation of contraception is an integral part of the natural law teaching on marriage, which has, as a body of teaching about life, sex and birth, had these favourable consequences for the advance of medical science; then there are good, objective reasons for confidence that it, too, will prove to have been a stimulus to scientific research and to human progress.

Natural Law And Moral Progress

Natural law by no means implies a static or "closed" view of morality. On the contrary, its insistence on immutable moral principles is the very condition of moral progress. Moral progress takes place within, and is made meaningful by and measured by, standards which are themselves fixed and unchanging. One cannot even speak of progress unless there is a known direction.7

Reflecting on some instances of actual progress will make this clear. Killing of the innocent is in all circumstances absolutely evil; but there can be both growing moral insight into the classification of "the innocent" and growing technical possibilities for preserving innocent life. The "closed" tribal moralities of primitive peoples tended to regard members of the tribe only as "innocent," and had little scruple in exterminating "enemies"; all but the tribal "in-group" being liable to be classified as enemies. There can be moral progress without limit in "opening" the concept of "innocent" until it includes, with ever fewer exceptions, "mankind of every description" and living human beings at every stage from conception to senility. Moral progress in this sense is never guaranteed, never unilinear, and is still, despite our heritage of civilisation and Christianity, very rudimentary. There are more vestiges amongst us than we care to admit of tribal or "in-group" morality. But the point to notice is that progress, past or future, is never outside or beyond the absolute standard of respect for human life. Progress is openness to and never beyond the absolute standard.8

Similarly natural law, reinforced by the Christian golden rule of charity, commands absolute respect and love for all other human beings without restriction, as persons in all respects equal in dignity to ourselves. Growing moral insight leads us to see more and more of our fellow-inhabitants of the planet as fellow-humans, as persons, as neighbours, rather than, e.g., as booty, slaves, "hands" "lower orders," "natives," "coloured" peoples: indeed, coming to see and striving to treat human beings as persons and not as things is another name for morality, and, in particular, for natural law. On the other hand, progress in science and technology creates new possibilities of respecting man’s absolute dignity and rights as a person and new and better ways of fulfilling our absolute duties of charity and justice towards him. But unless the conviction of the absolute dignity of the person and the absoluteness of the moral law is preserved, then the same scientific and technological advances will only create new and more terrible capacities for evil. Here again it must be noted that moral progress is possible only towards and never away from or beyond immutable moral absolutes.

Indeed the natural law, as proclaimed by Christianity, is the very paradigm of moral progress, the very condition of endless moral perfectibility. Kant’s formula: "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end," is an excellent statement of the central principle of natural law; and it is at the same time the justification for Kant’s view of morality as unending progress towards an Ideal of Perfection not wholly of this world. Kant’s ethics is a philosophical reflection on the great Christian moral concepts of absolute love of our fellow man, absolute duty to strive for perfection, unconditional law and perfect liberty. The classical natural law tradition is based on these same concepts.

It is interesting to note that Bergson, who introduced the terminology of "open" and "closed" morality, saw Christian morality as the very model of open morality.9 It is paradoxical to find modern humanists calling the absolutist morality of Christianity "closed," unconscious that the author of this term used it in the opposite sense.

The morality of St. Thomas Aquinas is pre-eminently a dynamic, an open morality. Its inspiration is much more evangelical than Aristotelian, but even at the purely philosophical level its central concepts are dynamic, not static. "Nature" in Aquinas, as already in Aristotle, is a principle of purposive action, of self-perfecting progress, rather than something fixist and inert.10 Above all, human nature in Aquinas is not something static and closed. Man is precisely the only being on the earth who is open, beyond the confines of earth, to the Transcendent. "The horizon and the limit between the corporeal and the spiritual…poised between time and eternity,"11 man is defined by his relation to God;12 which is to say that he cannot be positively and adequately defined at all; but that he shares, in his degree, in the mystery of God.13 To be capax Dei is to have a nature open to endless moral progress, committed to unending moral effort. Natural law is the expression in moral terms of man’s pilgrimage towards the Absolute.

Many of the principles of natural law are, however, couched in negative terms; many of its precepts are in fact prohibitions. This is alleged to show that natural law is static and negative, the opposite of a morality of dynamic, positive fulfilment. This view reflects an inadequate understanding of the natural law tradition. In the impatience of contemporary discussion it sometimes seems that valuable insights of traditional moral theology are being lost sight of or at least that their potential wealth is being left unexplored. Traditional theology drew an important distinction between negative and positive precepts, saying that the former obliged "always and at all times," the latter "always but not at all times." The distinction reappears in another form in Kant’s classification of duties as perfect and imperfect, or duties of perfect and duties of imperfect obligation. The force of the distinction is that the negative precept represents a minimum of obligation below which one may never fall, not a maximum of virtue above which one need not strive to rise. One must be always completely fulfilling the negative precepts because to fall deliberately beneath them is to leave the sphere of virtue and of charity. One cannot ever be completely fulfilling the positive precepts because the life of virtue and of charity is a life-long imitation of the perfection of our Father in heaven. The force of the negative precept is always ultimately positive and dynamic. Neglect of these distinctions seems to me to have led to some confused thinking on the question of growth towards moral maturity in connection with the problem of contraceptives.

Natural Law And Renewal

The impression has, of course, sometimes been given that the supersession of the natural law approach to morality, or at least the reversal of its traditional condemnation of contraception, is somehow part of the contemporary renewal of moral theology, if not of the renewal of the whole teaching and life of the Church. The recent writing on contraception is full of the language of renewal. But in so far as this creates the impression that here is one of the matters on which a large, progressive majority within the Church favours change, while a small traditionalist or reactionary minority opposes change, then this impression could not be more false. The most "progressive" theologians of the Council, the most "Johannine" bishops in the Church, have spoken and continue to speak in reiteration of the traditional teaching on contraceptives.

Bishop de Smedt of Bruges, the official relator of the Schema on Religious Liberty,14 published a pastoral letter on married love in 1963, which was unusual in the sense that it was preceded by a consultation with his people, who were asked to discuss among one another, and write to their bishop concerning the problems of Christian marriage and family life today. The pastoral letter is the bishop’s synthesis of and comment on their communications. The pastoral is notable for its firm moral guidance. It reiterates the clear condemnation of contraceptives. It gives this message to parents of large families: "As your bishop and God’s representative among you, I pay my homage to you and express my admiration for your warm-hearted love. Why don’t people leave you alone? Why should you be the only ones not to do as you like? Why are people so intolerant of you and so aggressive? Does the prophecy of the Divine Master apply here too: ‘If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you.’ . . ."15

The renewal of moral theology has nothing to do with a rejection of the natural law tradition. Vermeersch called for this renewal and laid down lines for it which are still valid, as long ago as 1929;16 but he showed that the true renewal is renewal within a tradition, not repudiation of the tradition. Here, as in so many other spheres, true renewal will include a return to, not a rejection of, St. Thomas Aquinas, who anticipated the rightful plea for "the primacy of charity in moral theology" by his doctrine of charity as the form of all the virtues. So much so that the Anglican Bishop Kirk says: "St. Thomas Aquinas shows himself to fall short neither of the thought of the New Testament nor of the highest Christian experience."17

Natural Law And Self-Evidence

But it is objected that appeal to natural law is disqualified if there is not a consensus among all reasonable men, and above all, among all Christians, about its conclusions. This argument is being repeated again and again in the contraception controversy. We are asked: "what kind of a natural law it is that is discernible only by Roman Catholics." We are told, "one does wonder about a rational faculty that seems to have been ordained for the exclusive use of theological thinkers of a certain persuasion."18

This seems to me to be naive. There are, alas, many matters about which there is no longer a consensus, even among Christians; but which, nevertheless, do clearly belong to the sphere of natural, rational morality. One could instance divorce, abortion, artificial insemination, euthanasia—without going on to name pre-marital sexual relations, etc., which have found very few, but have found some, Christian condoners.

But for a deeper reason this demand for an actual consensus is naive. It misunderstands the relations between revelation and reason, faith and philosophy, grace and nature. We hold, for example, that reason can demonstrate the existence of God: but there is by no means a consensus among philosophers that this is so; or that the proofs we advance are, in fact, valid. One could adapt the words I quoted above about contraception and say: "One does wonder about proofs which seem conclusive only to philosophers of a certain persuasion!"

But the relations between revelation and reason are much more complex than that approach supposes. Most historians of philosophy will now concede that Christian revelation introduced into philosophy many concepts, thought-patterns and problems, which are not to be found before or outside of the Christian sphere of influence. These ideas are clearly rational in substance, though they are religious, and specifically Christian in origin. Descartes’ God, Newton’s Nature, Kant’s Duty and his Freedom, Sartre’s Liberty, all are recognisably Christian in their origin, though philosophical in their condition. The God that Leibniz proves, Hegel secularises, Marx replaces by Society and Sartre by Man, would none of them have been conceivable without Exodus, the Prophets and the Gospels. Christianity has opened up new possibilities to philosophy, added new dimensions to human reasoning. Christian revelation has told man more about himself, his nature, needs, desires, and possibilities, than ever he could have known for himself by reason. This is not a matter of dogma alone; it is a matter of history and of fact. Modern history of ideas abundantly confirms what St. Thomas Aquinas taught that, "faith presupposes natural knowledge," but "grace does not scrap nature but brings it to perfection."19

Now the case of morality and the natural law is exactly parallel. Christian revelation and the grace of Christ have given new moral insights to natural reason; have revealed new possibilities for natural moral effort, which made possible new heights of moral achievement. These remain natural and rational, naturally knowable and rationally grounded, in their content, even though revealed in their origin and supernatural in their de facto realisation. The dichotomy, either rational or revealed, is not tenable. Most of what we hold as rational was de facto at first revealed. It is no accident that rational and moral scepticism follow decline in religious faith. Chesterton was right: without the Christian supernatural, no one has ever succeeded in being fully natural. There is a sense in which, without the supernatural, it is not possible either completely and certainly to know, or perfectly to do, the natural. It is both historically false and theologically foolish to say that if some moral proposition were taught only by the Church it would thereby be proved not to be rational or natural.

The supernatural, whether as faith or as grace, presupposes nature, manifests nature, restores nature. The human nature, which, we hold, reveals natural law and must and can fulfil natural law, is human nature as illumined by Christ and redeemed and restored by Christ. It is the nature of which we say in the liturgy that God has wonderfully formed it and still more wonderfully renewed it. I would be happy enough to accept a paragraph from an Anglican moral theologian who is not particularly sympathetic to our natural law tradition. Canon Herbert Waddams: "The establishment of the content of the natural moral law must depend too on what we learn from Christ, and not be based on universal consent. We can say that reason and the wide acceptance of moral law by men indicate the original purpose of God and, where they are confirmed by Christ, unlock the door to the true understanding of human nature."20 Canon Waddams supposes this to be a correction of our tradition; it is, in fact, a statement of it. Did not the First Vatican Council define that "it is to divine revelation that it is due that religious truths which are not, of themselves, beyond the reach of human reason, are in the actual condition of humanity, as a matter of fact, able to be ascertained by men in general, with facility, with assured certainty, and without an admixture of error."21

Nor can we forget that "proof" or "demonstration" in the sphere of morals and natural law are not identical with proof or demonstration in the spheres of science, mathematics, etc. The letters Q.E.D. never feature in moral reasoning any more than they do in, e.g., proofs for the existence of God. There has been much writing by British moral philosophers recently about what a consensus in moral beliefs means and how it may be arrived at. It does not really go far beyond St. Thomas’s conclusion, following Aristotle, that a sensible student will not look for a greater degree or a different kind of certitude, nor will he be satisfied with less, than is compatible with the subject-matter he is dealing with.22 That a particular moral judgment be rationally demonstrated, or shown to be part of natural law, it will be necessary, but it will often be sufficient, to show that it is an integral part of a coherent moral tradition which in its totality is true and right; that the principles it implies are right and are essential to the safeguarding of that moral tradition; that the principles implied in abandoning it would entail consequences that are plainly false, or would sanction practices that are clearly evil.23 It would be well if some of those who write on natural law and, say, contraception, would reflect a little more deeply on what reasoning and proof in the sphere of morality, in fact, are.

Natural Law And Consensus

But there is much more consensus and a much more ancient and explicit tradition about natural law than recent writers suggest. To confine ourselves to the question of contraception, where this consensus is most contested, there is a very strong historical tradition of which I can here give only very scattered instances.

May I quote from the Anglican Bishop Kirk, whom I shall refer to again: "Practices analogous to the modern use of contraceptives (‘venena sterilitatis’) were condemned as long ago as St. Augustine’s time; and the condemnation is repeatedly enforced, e.g., by Peter Lombard. Excuses such as those of the danger attending another confinement, or the necessity of limiting the number of children consequent upon the stringency of small incomes, were known and disallowed at least as early as the fifteenth century. (He cites Gabriel Biel.) It cannot, therefore, fairly be urged that ‘modern conditions’ merely by their novelty or greater urgency necessitate a reconsideration of the problem. St. Thomas stated a principle on which the condemnation both of coitus interruptus and of the use of contraceptives can be based, and regarded it as pertaining unequivocally to the ‘natural law.’ . . ."24

The Fathers from at least the fourth century on reveal a knowledge of contraceptive practices. A medical doctor of the second century, Soranus of Ephesus, discusses in detail a variety of techniques for rendering sexual relations infertile, including herbal preparations inserted in the mouth of the uterus; tampons, pessaries or other vaginal packs; medicines (supposedly sterilising) taken orally; observance of periods of the monthly cycle believed to be infertile.25 A Latin translation of this work was known to St. Augustine and throughout the Middle Ages. The problem of contraception, as thus posed to the early and medieval Church, was not different in moral principle from the problem as we know it today.

St. Jerome speaks of women who take sterilising medicine, and assimilates their sin to murder by anticipation.26 Thus the principle of an oral contraceptive is not unknown to early tradition. Later on, Aspilcueta (1493-1586) repeats the doctrine of St. Antoninus of Florence (1389-1459) in these terms: "Any married man or woman who takes a medicine or any other device, or offers it to his partner, in order to prevent conception, because, for example, he does not wish to have more children than he can educate, or for any other equally valid reason … commits, according to St. Antoninus, a still graver sin." He goes on, however, to say that it is commonly agreed that it is perfectly lawful for them to practise abstinence.27

Laymann, in a work published at Munich in 1625, repeating the views of Sanchez, writes: "In no circumstances whatever is it permissible to prevent the conception and birth of offspring by any medical preparation or any pharmaceutical product whatever." He was discussing the question whether such expedients would be lawful in the case where pregnancy would entail a probable danger of death.28 Sanchez (1550-1610) gives an exhaustive enumeration and detailed examination of contraceptive techniques.29

In most of the medieval authors who treat the problems there is an explicit distinction between contraceptive sexual acts and sexual intercourse at times of natural sterility; and contraceptive acts are condemned, not because they are infertile, but because they are deliberately rendered infertile by human intervention.30

There was, furthermore, a continuing consensus, in which all the Christian Churches were unanimous until the first tentative dissent came from the Lambeth Conference of 1930. In 1908 and 1920 previous Lambeth Conferences had explicitly condemned contraception. The 1920 Conference declared: "We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers—physical, moral and religious— thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching, which under the name of science and religion encourages people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing consideration of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists—namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control."31

This declaration appealed obviously to natural law. It is important to note that there is a strong and continuing tradition of natural law moral theology in the Anglican Communion. It would be hard to find, to this day, a better exposition of natural law morality in English, than that provided in Richard Hooker’s seventeenth-century Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, which was strongly influenced by St. Thomas Aquinas.32 There are notable natural law moralists, and notable Thomists, among contemporary Anglicans. Right through the 1920’s, Bishop Charles Gore, one-time Bishop of Oxford, himself a notable moral theologian, was arguing vigorously against the growing pressure for Anglican approval of contraception; and was basing his case entirely on natural law.33 One of the greatest of living Anglican moral theologians is the present Bishop of Exeter, Dr. R. C. Mortimer, formerly Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology in the University of Oxford. Dr. Mortimer is extremely close to our position on all the central moral problems connected with sex, marriage, life, and death. He leaves no doubt that he regards the use of contraceptives in general as wrong, and he argues strongly and extensively in condemnation of them. It is with unconcealed reluctance that he concedes, in deference to the Lambeth Resolution of 1930 that, "it is also really probable that in some abnormal circumstances they may be right."34

He does not stand alone. Another Anglican moralist, Dr. K. E. Kirk, formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and later Bishop of Oxford, held very similar positions and fully shared his colleague’s moral reservations about contraception.35 This view is by no means negligible in contemporary Anglicanism. It found expression at the Lambeth Conference in 1948 in the argument of a minority that "it is, to say the least, suspicious that the age in which contraception has won its way is not one, which has been conspicuously successful in managing its sexual life. Is it possible that, by claiming the right to manipulate his physical processes in this matter, man may, without knowing or intending it, be stepping over the boundary between the world of Christian marriage and what one might call the world of Aphrodite, the world of sterile eroticism? Once submission to the ‘given’ pattern is abandoned, all kinds of variations on the sexual theme which heighten satisfaction can appear to be enrichments of the sexual life."36

It is also important to note that the Greek Orthodox Church fully shares our unreserved condemnation of contraception. Thus the Orthodox delegates dissented from the main conclusions of the Mansfield Report on "Responsible Parenthood and the Population Problem";37and dissociated themselves from a pronouncement on birth control issued by the National Council of Churches in the U.S.A. in 1961.38 The attitude of the Orthodox Church is clearly very important from the ecumenical point of view.

So far as the ecumenical aspects of this problem are concerned, it should be noted that no responsible ecumenist, of any denomination, would hold that consensus is a condition of dialogue, or that consensus by doctrinal compromise or by moral dilution could ever promote dialogue.39

Biological Or Personal Values?

It is frequently charged, however, that natural law morality constitutes an appeal to biological principle, ignoring that in man, which is specifically human, his reason and his freedom. It is, therefore, infra-human, indeed, infra-moral. It is the opposite of a humanist morality of personalist values. It is contrary to a Christian morality of love and spiritual fulfilment, of response, insight, conscience and commitment. All this is a grave misunderstanding. Natural law is based on the whole nature of man, who is inseparably biological and spiritual, indissolubly nature and person.

In man we cannot separate the biological from the moral, the physical from the spiritual. Not only in the sphere of sex, but right through the whole of human existence, the biological is the bearer of morality.39a Eating is a biological process; the need to eat is animal; but most of human justice is based on man’s right to eat in liberty and dignity the food he needs biologically. Unamuno speaks of the tragi-comedy of human existence: the tragedy that men die for the want of a few pence to buy bread; the comedy that a being so noble as man can die for the want of something so miserable as a few pence. This recalls what Pascal has said long ago about the greatness and the wretchedness of man.40 There is an ethics of hunger, an ethics of scarcity;41 and it is based on the biological-spiritual nature of man who lives by bread, but not by bread alone.

Sexuality in man is never merely biological, but also inseparably personal, rational and spiritual. Human sex is never merely an instinct, but is also the symbol and the expression of the moral and spiritual values of love, faithfulness, charity and indissoluble inter-personal union. In man, biology is personalised and "moralized"; in man, sex is spiritualised by respecting moral values, or else it is brutalised and "biologised."

The greatest proponents of the natural law philosophy and morality of sex and marriage have grounded their case, not on the nature of human physiology and biology, but on the nature of human love. Their approach has been personalist and humanist throughout. It is surprising to find personalist and "existential" arguments being brought forward nowadays against natural law doctrine, when these same arguments were first and better stated precisely in defence of natural law and, specifically, in proof of the immorality of contraception.42 One is amazed to find, in recent writings on this subject, no apparent awareness of the great body of literature of Catholic personalism and humanism, which goes back some fifty years now on the continent. To name only the French, it is associated with such outstanding names as those of Maurice Blondel, Jacques Maritain, Jean Guitton, Gabriel Madinier, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Mounier, Jean Lacroix, names, which constitute a roll call of the Catholic intellectual revival in modern France. These and a host of other French lay intellectuals are unanimous in defending the traditional Catholic ethics of marriage, on the basis of the "existential phenomenology" of human love and the "being-of-the-family." But this is the same as to say, on the basis of the natural law, which is precisely the moral law reflected in the nature of the human person.

End And Means

It is frequently suggested in contemporary discussion that, once the end of responsible parenthood is approved, the question of the means used to attain it is secondary and morally indifferent, a matter of effectiveness rather than moral rightness, or at most of aesthetic preference, rather than of morality. The Church is adjured to leave the choice of means where it belongs, with the conscience of the couple.43

At this point, I intend only to reflect briefly on the general question of the meaning of the category of end and means in morals. In the authentic natural law tradition, end and means are not separated from one another as if either could be pursued, attained or justified in independence of the other. The end is present in the means, is willed or is refused in the choosing of the means. Every end-means relationship in natural law philosophy reflects the relationship between the Supreme End of all our willing, God, and the immediate objects of our choices, creatures. St. Augustine’s doctrine of amor Dei usque ad contemptum sui, his definition of sin, frui utendis, uti fruendis—that is, to choose creatures in such a way that God is excluded from our choice—is a classic statement of this doctrine. St. Thomas Aquinas’s doctrine of charity as the God-ward orientation, which must inform every individual choice to make it virtuous, embodies the same truth. It expresses in moral terms the doctrine of God’s immanence in the creature, of God’s goodness as the Exemplar Goodness participated in and reflected by the goodness of the creature. Augustine and Aquinas between them anticipate the concepts of "fundamental option," "commitment" and "total response," so familiar in modern moral theology. These concepts, rightly understand, are the opposite of a doctrine of the indifference of means. The "means" must be such that God’s Goodness is participated in them; else to choose them is to say No to God and opt against Him. Each "means" we choose embodies a choice of End, implies a life-commitment. Heaven and hell are not extrinsic reward and punishment consequent on our choices here; they are the deepest meaning of our choices here.

This has a very important bearing on the proper understanding of the category of end and means and of primary and secondary ends in marriage. The traditional teaching, whether expressed in the doctrine of the bona matrimonii or in the later formula of the primary and secondary ends of marriage, has always been that no one of the essential values or ends of marriage may be deliberately excluded from the physical expression of conjugal union. The bona matrimonii doctrine explicitly avers that both openness to procreation and oneness in fidelity of love for one another in Christ are equally required for virtuous and holy sexual union.44 The "ends of marriage" doctrine is simply an alternative formulation of the same tradition. The terms "primary and secondary ends" imply an order of ontological priority and moral inter-dependence, not an order of relative importance or of psychological motivation. St. Thomas recognises that the "relational" aspect of sex is essential to its procreative purpose.45 He can therefore say that for a man to have relations with his wife in the same manner or spirit as that in which he would approach a prostitute is a mortal sin.46 But the reverse applies: an act of intercourse which by human intervention excludes fecundity is a sin against the nature of marriage as two-in-oneness, as well as against the nature of marriage as procreative.47

It is therefore false to suggest that the discovery of the relational aspects of marriage is new and that it calls for a radical rethinking of the traditional doctrine. Tradition always recognised under the formulae of fides, sacramentum, mutuum adiutorium, pactio coniugalis, amicitia conjugalis, redditio debiti,48 the importance of the relational values of sex. We certainly have a fuller and richer grasp now of the psychological depth and personalist dimensions of sexuality; but the difference is not, so far as the implications for marriage are concerned, a difference of principle. Tradition even recognised a relative priority of the relational values.49 But the relational values have their meaning only in dependence on the procreative-educative ones, only in the family context. Marriage is not just sexual relationship but also procreative partnership. Indeed sex itself is not just sexual relationship but a commitment to life-long two-in-one fleshly and spiritual love, enfolding the child as the fruit of that two-fold flesh and spirit.50

The traditional doctrine never implied that the "means" of marital intercourse were indifferent, so long as the "end" of procreation was attained; it was never merely reproductionist or biologistic.51 It is, on the contrary, the contemporary "dissenting" literature which seems to regard procreation as a merely biological end of marriage.52 Aquinas untiringly affirms that human procreation is unique in being a loving bringing to life of a child and caring of him into manhood.53

The traditional doctrine never was that the physical integrity of the sexual act was enough to ensure its personal and spiritual completeness, but only that deliberate interference with its physical integrity deprived it of its personal and spiritual integrity. The physical was held to embody the spiritual; the means to contain the end; the individual act of sex to express an attitude towards sex and marriage in their totality. The traditional doctrine did not isolate the single act from its total context; it saw each fully deliberate act as expressing an attitude towards totality and ultimately towards the Totality, which is God. It saw each fully deliberate choice as a Yes or a No to God. This is the deepest meaning of our concept of the Summum Bonum. This is what is implied by our capacity for mortal sin.

The traditional doctrine did not hold that sex is sinful in itself, unless excused by the extraneous goods or ends of procreation, fidelity and sacrament.54 There is no such thing as "sex in itself"; there are only human beings in a sexual situation. This situation is good or bad according to the condition of the persons and the nature of their relationship. It is not Manichaean, it is quite simply Christian, to hold that sexual activity is good if and only if it is exercised between persons joined in monogamous marriage, and therefore if and only if it is blessed by the "goods of marriage." These goods, of course, are not extraneous to sexuality but immanent within it. Augustine and Aquinas were simply analysing the elements which make a good sex act good, not trying to isolate non-sexual good elements from a non-good sexual element.55

Celibate Theologians

It is, of course, frequently urged that, in the sphere of the morality of marriage, celibates are obviously not competent. Nothing is more frequently reiterated than this in the recent literature on contraception. The tone varies from sorrow to anger. Justus George Lawler denounces "the clerical adjudicators of human existence," products of "a celibate training which itself contained a strong admixture of false asceticism and implicit heresy," constituting a "hegemony of celibates and clerics."56 Even the celibates in these pages agree. Father Stanley E. Kutz says: "When a priest begins to speak of how the conscience of married people might function with respect to problems peculiar to their state of life, he begins to overstep the bounds of his competence."57

There are several things that must be said. The priest has the inescapable responsibility before God, as pastor, of forming and enlightening the Christian conscience of married people, and, as confessor, of binding or loosing it.

The priest is forbidden to engage in business or in politics, as he is to marry. He cannot have experience of the moral complexities and perplexities of the life of the modern business executive, or of the dramas of conscience of the modern politician. Yet no one will question his right and his duty to proclaim the moral law in these spheres. The same applies to the morality of warfare.

But, it will be said the sphere of conjugal life is different. Even so, the priest, as confessor and spiritual director, is better placed than most to know the hardships of his penitents and to sympathise with them. I have also referred already to the position of the Orthodox Church, whose priests are not bound to celibacy.

But the most pertinent reply to these criticisms of "celibate speculation" (the words are Father Kutz’s) is that the Catholic philosophy and spirituality of marriage have been developed chiefly by laymen, most of them married and parents. The various Catholic family movements in France, for example, while founded by priests, have derived their doctrinal inspiration mainly from laymen. I have named the philosophical pioneers above; but there are many others. Succeeding French congresses and symposia on marriage and the family, such as the Semaine Sociale of Bordeaux in 1957, or the Round Table on Family Planning at the Catholic Intellectuals’ Centre in Paris in 1963, found doctors, gynaecologists, psychiatrists, lawyers, sociologists, philosophers, such as Paul Archambault, Joseph Vialatoux, Gustave Thibon, Emanuel Gounot, Robert Prigent, Jean-Paul Gaultier, Dr. Henri Bon, Dr. Remy Collin, Dr. Rene Biot, Dr. Sutter, Dr. Le Moal, Dr. Chauchard, as emphatic as priest-theologians in defending the traditional teaching of the Church and in resisting any campaign for the legalising of contraceptive propaganda.58 It is a sheer mistake to suppose that educated Catholic laymen have participated in the discussion of matrimonial morality only within the last three years and only by way of dissent from traditional teaching.

It is worth noting that in countries so sophisticated and liberal as France and Belgium there is a legal prohibition of the public sale of contraceptives and of advertisement or propaganda for their use.59 In West Germany there is a similar ban on their public advertisement; and in recent weeks, 400 German doctors, including leading gynaecologists, eminent professors and university clinical heads, have drawn up a manifesto strongly resisting pressure to have this ban removed, because of the ruinous consequences this would have on public morals and social health.60

The campaign for approval of contraception is indeed a localised thing, emanating chiefly from restricted circles in Holland, England and America, and unrepresentative of Catholic opinion, and specifically lay opinion, as a whole. Because these people are so industrious, so vocal, so ubiquitous throughout the mass media, the public are likely to get a totally misleading impression of the force and character of this movement and of its probable bearing on the Church’s teaching.61

It is apposite to recall some words of Cardinal Suenens, spoken in 1962: "What was condemned as intrinsically immoral yesterday will not become moral tomorrow. No one should entertain any confused doubt or false hope on the point. The Church has not decided that these (contraceptive) practices are immoral; she has merely confirmed what the moral law already said about them."62 Similarly, at the Council, on 7 November 1964, he intervened to clarify the intent of his celebrated speech on marriage of the 29 October, and to dissipate "misunderstanding in public opinion." He stressed that he had not suggested that the doctrine of the Church had changed or could be revised; but had simply called for a study and synthesis of all the new relevant knowledge and data.63

Traditional Attitudes To Sex

Connected with the criticism of celibate speculation is the charge that the Christian tradition regarding marriage has been flawed by Puritanism. There are conflicting hypotheses about the origins of this Puritanism: St. Paul; St. Augustine’s Manichaean inheritance and his own guilty experience; the mediaeval Cathars; the Jansenists, etc. are all accused.

I believe this charge to be greatly exaggerated. It is based on a selective reading of history. The question is a vast one, which I can only touch on very sketchily here.64 No contemporary eulogy of marriage surpasses that of Tertullian, whom only Catholic orthodoxy saved for a time from his natural Puritanism, and who, when he lapsed from orthodoxy, relapsed into a nearly pathological loathing for sexuality. Here is how he describes the beauty and holiness of Catholic marriage: "Where shall we find eloquence to describe the joys of that marriage which is approved by the Church, sustained by the Eucharist, sealed by blessing, witnessed by angels, confirmed by the Father. It rightly asks the heavenly Father’s approval, for no good child even on earth will marry without his earthly father’s approval. What a union is that of two Christians, who share one single hope, one law, and one obedience. Both are brothers together, both slaves of Christ together; there is no division of soul or body between them. They are indeed two in one flesh; where there is one flesh, there must be one soul. Together they pray, together they do penance and fast; they teach one another, inspire one another, encourage one another. They are inseparable in the Church of God, inseparable at the Communion table, indivisible in trial and hardship, inseparable in consolation. Neither has any secrets from the other neither avoids the other, neither would cause the other any pain… Christ rejoices to see and hear their love, and sends down on them His peace. Where they two are, there He is too; and where He is, there is no room for the Evil One."65

For many centuries the Church fought Puritanism, in its successive waves, as vigorously as she fought licentiousness. Puritanism is combatted in the name of Genesis and the goodness of creation and especially the goodness of man, created, male and female, in God’s image. It is combatted in the name of Christ’s restoration of marriage to its pristine goodness; in the name of Cana; in the name of Paul’s invocation of the "great sacrament," symbolising Christ’s love for the Church. No one could be consecrated bishop who "belittled marriage."66 The medieval scholastics even assigned a certain priority of dignity to marriage among the sacraments.67

Married love is used by St. Bernard as a model for the loving union between the soul and God. "A great thing is love, but there are degrees in it. The bride stands in the highest… Pure love is not mercenary. Pure love gathers no strength from self-interest, nor suffers loss through distrust. This love the bride hath… In this the bride abounds, with this the bridegroom is content."68 Similarly St. Thomas Aquinas quotes the Canticle of Canticles, "One is My dove, My perfect one," to prove that married love must be like Christ’s love for the Church, "a union of one to one to be held forever."69

St. Thomas Aquinas is frequently accused of taking an animal, biological view of women and of sex.70 This is false. Let me refer only to a couple of passages. The association of husband and wife is, he says, "an association of equals"; divorce would make it a "sort of slavery on the part of the wife." "There seems," he says, "to be the greatest friendship between husband and wife, for they are united not only in the act of fleshly union . . . but also in the partnership of the whole range of domestic activity."71

Several recent writers make play of the traditional language of the theological manuals—partes minus honestae, debitum conjugale, actus et tactus indecentes— as proof of anti-sexual phobia. There is much exaggeration here. The first two phrases have the sanction of St. Paul; the third means originally, "acts etc. which are not proper to be shown or done or discussed in public." It must be remembered that no age before our own, Christian or pagan, thought that the intimacies of married love could fittingly be discussed or described in public. This was not necessarily because former ages were more prudish than our own; but perhaps because they were, to this extent at least, more normal. There is a natural as well as a Christian virtue of modesty, which is not prudery, but "an impulse to protect what is good a fear of desecrating something holy, a reserve about a part of life as personal as prayer."72

There is evidence, in some recent Catholic writing on contraception, of an attitude of hostility towards continence in marriage. This could lead its sharers to a dangerous rejection of a fundamental principle of Christian living. It could run counter to the basic biblical fact that Revelation, both in the Old Testament and in the New, had continuously and relentlessly to combat a form of sexual mysticism which many scholars agree in finding remarkably like the sexual mystique of our own culture. One scripture scholar describes ancient Babylonian culture as one in which "the highest of all pleasures is the pleasure of sex; life offers nothing finer, nothing which so raises man to the level of the divine." He goes on: "One suspects that many modern Europeans and Americans, if transported suddenly into the Babylon of the second millennium, after an initial adjustment to inconveniences in such things as language, travel and plumbing, would find themselves spiritually at home; they would never feel at ease with the ancient Hebrews."73

The Morality Of The Situation

Advocates of a change in the traditional teaching on contraception seem to be in principle committed to some form of moral situationism; and, in fact, many of them accept this implication more or less openly. Father Kutz appeals to the context of choice. "The choice (for contraception), which, when viewed in the abstract might be repugnant (to the partners), could, in the concrete, be taken in humble joy… May we not hope that … the Council will discover a way of stating that (the values of Christian marriage) can be realised even through actions which, if viewed in isolation, might be objectionable, but which, in the total context of a given marriage, may be constructive and holy?"74 Father Kieran Conley appeals to "the moral principle of totality." "Is it really possible," he asks, "to judge a human act by abstracting from the phenomenological involvement of the persons whose call and response form the pattern of the act itself? Moreover, is it enough to apply totality only to the individual person? What might be said of the totality of the couple?... of the family or that of the community as well?" He concludes that the final question in morals will be: "is it or is it not for the good of persons?"75 Somewhat similarly, Father Baum concludes: "If the magisterium were to change its position and teach that contraception, while dangerous and not generally commendable, is not intrinsically evil and hence permissible on certain occasions," this would be perfectly compatible with legitimate development of her traditional doctrine.76

Father Bernard Haring was interviewed by Father John A. O’Brien, in connection with a Conference at Notre Dame in September 1963, on "The Problem of Population." Father Haring in this interview, reveals a very unfavourable opinion of the natural law tradition, which he connects with a biological view of sex and an animal view of man.77 But this is not my immediate interest. Two paragraphs relate to the present question of moral contextualism. "If the principle of responsible parenthood is accepted… if this principle is valid and if the couple has made its judgment in full sincerity, the biological fact of the loss of the seed cannot be considered a direct sin against the primary end of the marriage." (He had been asked whether Casti Connubii did not judge as guilty of grievous sin these couples who perform a conjugal act frustrating the purpose of procreation.)78 Later on he says: "My personal conviction is that the use of condom and diaphragm modify the personal act and almost invariably mislead the expression of conjugal love into selfishness… But it must at least be considered that some married couples assert, with full sincerity, that they made progress in an unselfish love for one another more when they used this means than in times of total abstinence and the consequent hypertension." In a footnote he adds: "Generally the couple who use this only because of a special circumstance, recognize that it hurts their own dignity and respectful love, and they give it up as soon as the worst distress has passed. Today, even the apostles of planned parenthood acknowledge that the appliance methods (especially the use of the condom) are disagreeable and that the Enovid or the Anovular steroids are more in keeping with the aesthetic feeling and dignity of the persons involved."79

The language of these paragraphs—doubtless because of the drawbacks inherent in an interview script—is not very precise and it is not always exactly clear what is being discussed or what is being approved. There seems to be a continual shift in perspective from moral to psychological considerations, and from the question of subjective imputability to the question of objective rightness and wrongness. The language contrasts with that which Father Haring, himself uses in reference to contraception in The Law of Christ. There he says: "It is a grave profanation of marriage to falsify the conjugal union by means of artificial appliances which would exclude the possibility of conception… The onanist sins first of all against God and the sanctity of marriage; but also against his partner, who is not being loved as a companion in salvation, but is used as an instrument for the satisfaction of passion. It is absurd to seek to justify this grave failing in charity by appeal to the demands of mutual love. According to St. Augustine, we should no longer speak in this case of conjugal love: it is really a question of the woman’s being degraded to the level of a prostitute."80

But what are we to say of moral contextualism or situationism in general? Clearly it proves too much. What is said of contraception could equally be said of any number of practices, which these writers would hold to be clearly immoral: divorce, artificial insemination, abortion, surgical sterilisation81…these too, it could be argued, though "if viewed in isolation, they might be objectionable, yet in the total context of a given marriage, they might be constructive and holy!" They, too, it might be claimed, "while dangerous and not generally commendable," might nevertheless, be "permissible on certain occasions."

As for the appeal to "the good of persons," this is the lynch-pin of the Reverend Mr. Fletcher’s moral doctrine; but on the strength of it, he approves of abortion, artificial insemination by a donor (even for an unmarried girl!), sterilisation, euthanasia.82 It is also the cardinal principle of the Bishop of Woolwich’s "New Morality"; and the bishop regards Mr. Fletcher as the "most consistent" exponent of the morality in which "nothing is prescribed, except love."83 The same principle is embraced by Canon Douglas Rhymes of Southwark: but for him "the deepest welfare of particular persons in a particular situation" could necessitate divorce and remarriage, and could authorise extramarital sex. "It is possible to conceive of situations where such self-giving outside of marriage might have to be judged in the light of all the circumstances rather than be met with outright condemnation."84

Qui nimis probat, nihil probat. Qui nimis approbat omnia aprobat. Father Herbert McCabe, apropos of the Bishop of Woolwich, pertinently says: "The question before us is merely how we are to know and compass the deepest welfare of persons. Is it in the end a matter of human contrivance or of the Mystery, the divine plan for human destiny?"85

The root error is, of course, a philosophical one. British moral philosophers have called it the "naturalistic fallacy." The appeal to the "good of persons" confuses the moral and the non-moral, the physical and the spiritual, senses of "good," and wrongly assumes that the two must coincide. Father Karl Rahner says: "It is an error and a heresy of modern eudemonism to believe that what is morally right can never lead man to a tragic destiny for which there is no solution in terms of this world. The Christian must literally be prepared, as something almost to be expected, that his Christian commitment will inevitably lead him, one day or another, to a situation in which he must sacrifice everything rather than lose his own soul."86

Law And Love

Another favourite theme of the new writing on contraception is that the norm of Christian morality is not law but love. Father Stanley Kutz says: "There is a decisive norm that is valid for all human conduct—the norm of open and generous love."87 Father Kieran Conley asks: "Are we not overly concerned with law and obligation and perhaps too unaware that ‘owe no man anything except to love’ means precisely that?"88 Father Baum says: "The Christian’s call to holiness is not founded upon any set of laws. God … asks for our total dedication to him in our lives, but he does so not by imposing upon us a set of laws be this the Mosaic law or any other code, but by meeting us in the person of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen, whom the living Church, especially in her liturgy, mediates to us…"89 Nor is Mrs. Rosemary Ruether the only writer in these circles to invoke St. Augustine’s dictum, "love and do what you will," as by itself a sufficient guide to conjugal morality.90

To begin with the latter, St. Augustine, as far as I know, never used these words as such, though they are closely paralleled in his teaching. But in him they are no bill of discharge from law. For him they mean, if you really love God, then His law will be your will. They are accompanied in St. Augustine by a severely exacting code of moral precepts and prohibitions, especially in the sphere of sex. To invoke them in favour of a claim that, provided spouses love one another, it does not matter in what manner they express their love, is grotesque. It is ironic to see this dictum of St. Augustine being invoked by those who on other pages accuse him of being the main and baleful source of the alleged Manichaeism in the Christian view of sex. Professor C. H. Dodd has a dry comment on the "Love and do as you please" slogan: "It has the value of a challenging epigram, but it can be seriously misleading. It is too much exposed to the danger of a barren sentimentality, which is far removed from the temper of the New Testament."91

The best-known exponent of the morality of love, seen as opposed to the morality of natural law, is, of course, the Bishop of Woolwich. Some of his strongest critics have been Protestants and, indeed, fellow-Anglicans, The Bishop of Llandaff, for example, wrote: "The chapter on ‘The New Morality’ is particularly disquieting. One feels that a careful study of the troubles that befell St. Paul in Corinth, as a result of misunderstanding of his teaching that the following of Christ means freedom from the Law, would be profitable to the Bishop. It is likely that the Apostle would prove a better guide than D. H. Lawrence, that devotee of a religion far older than Christianity, and still one of its principal rivals."92

The "new morality" way of thinking forgets the place of "the natural order," the "order of creation," or the natural law, in the teaching of Christ and the doctrine of St. Paul. It ignores the place of the Decalogue in both the Old and New Testament. It overlooks the fact that the Ten Commandments are always presented in the Bible in the context of the Covenant whereby God calls His People to be faithful to His love. They are the People of God’s response in the dialogue of love in which God has spoken the first word. They present the pattern of life, which alone is becoming to a chosen, consecrated, priestly people. The words of Christ, "If you love Me, keep My commandments"; and the answering words of St. Paul, "love is the fulfilment of the law," provide the true scriptural relationship between law and love.93

One of the best treatments of this whole question is that by the Protestant scripture scholar, Professor C. H. Dodd, in a little book, Gospel and Law, from which I have just quoted. He points out that, in certain quarters, especially in the Churches of the Reformation, there has been a strong bias against any understanding of Christianity as a new law. "This bias comes out very strongly in some forms of contemporary neo-Protestantism."94 But, he holds, the view that Christianity is a "religion of the spirit" as opposed to a "religion of authority" is "difficult to maintain in face of the New Testament."95 He shows that Jesus "more than once appeals to the established order of creation as a pointer to the law of God," e.g., in connection with divorce.96 He concludes that contemporary anti-Christian systems of ethics differ from the Christian in that "they repudiate the law of man’s creation"; and that is a way of saying that natural law is a specifying feature of Christian morality.97

To say, as Father Conley does, that to "emphasise the category of nature rather than that of person" is to be "guided more by the insights of Aristotle than by those of St. Paul,"98 is to make a hasty judgment about St. Paul.98a

Professor Dodd says the crucial question in this connection is: "Is the God of our redemption the same as the God of creation?"; and he answers that inevitably He is the same God.99 I find it impressive that Father Karl Rahner, in almost identical terms, suggests that certain forms of modern situation ethics and "mystique of sin" resemble a rebirth of the old gnostic error that the God of redemption is not identical with the God of creation.100 Such are the stakes in the debate concerning natural law.

Himself as our interior Lawgiver; of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, of grace, charity, prudence, virtue, is immensely relevant to the contemporary desire for renewal in the teaching and preaching of moral theology.

Authority And Conscience

There is much stress laid in recent writing on the individual Christian conscience as in itself a sure guide to holiness. Father Baum concludes that "if Christian couples seeking to follow the Gospel and constantly forming their conscience from the eucharistic life of the Church, come to the conviction that the demands of fruitfulness and love which the nature of marriage makes on them, do not always exclude and sometimes counsel the use of contraceptives … the presumption of truth is on their side, since Christian conscience guided by Christ in the Church leads into objective holiness. The burden of proof is on the side of the Church’s official position."101

But surely there is a paradox in saying that "a Christian conscience guided by Christ in the Church" can decide against the very guidance given by "the Church’s official position," Father Kutz holds that "the individual conscience may often find itself one step ahead of (or one step behind) that conscious articulation of the faith which the whole Church has attained at a particular moment in her history."102 He ends: "Must we continue to exclude from the sacraments of reconciliation and unity those Christians who, after serious thought and prayer, have come to the clear conviction of conscience that they must practise contraception if they are to make the best of a life that will never be perfect in this world?"103

Other writers keep urging that the Church should leave the question of the method of contraception entirely to the Christian conscience of the couples. This is broadly the Anglican position after the Lambeth Conferences, both of 1930 and of 1958. Some Anglican comments on the 1930 Conference are apposite.

The great Christian layman, T. S, Eliot, wrote "Thoughts after Lambeth" on this occasion. Here is what he had to say about the resolution on contraception: "I feel that the Conference was … right and courageous to express a view on the subject of procreation, radically different from that of Rome… I regret, however, that the bishops have placed so much reliance on the Individual Conscience… Certainly, anyone who is sincere and pure in heart may seek for guidance from the Holy Spirit; but who of us is always sincere, especially where the most imperative of instincts may be strong enough to simulate to perfection the voice of the Holy Spirit?"104

And here is Bishop Kirk’s reaction to the same resolution: "It seems frankly inconceivable that the bishops, feeling as strongly as they admittedly do on the point, should regard with equanimity the possibility of any half-instructed, luke-warm, comfort-loving pair of Anglicans deciding the matter for themselves, with the ambiguous phraseology of the resolution as the sole argument on behalf of a principle, against which will be thrown the full weight of the most passionate and insistent of human impulses. If this were to happen unchecked, it is as certain as anything can very well be that only the most conscientious and loyal of Church-people would refrain from regarding themselves as ‘abnormal’ and ‘exceptional’…Thus the result of the resolution would be to encourage the practice which it was designed to check and which, as every parish priest is only too well aware, stands in no need of adventitious stimuli."105

No one has spoken more gravely of the dangers of a subjectivist appeal to the individual conscience than Father Karl Rahner. He chides confessors and directors of conscience who abdicate from their role of direction by telling penitents to "follow their own conscience." "As if," he goes on, "the penitent were not precisely asking, and rightly asking, which of the thousand voices of his conscience is the authentic voice of God." It is not ultimately before one’s conscience but before God that one is responsible. "And when is the voice of God more easy to recognise than when He speaks through the mouth of His Church? It is indeed only when the judgment of conscience coincides with this word that one can be sure of hearing truly the voice of conscience rather than the voice of one’s own culpable self-deception."106

Programme For Research And Action

To adapt a famous phrase, in order that bad theology prevail it is necessary only that the good should lose its nerve. Now natural law was sometimes expounded and defended with arguments which were too simpliste, stereotyped, mechanical; which indeed in the sphere of marriage did seem sometimes to reduce the problem to one of the physiology or biology of reproduction. There is some justification for Ida Gorres’s remark in this connection: "It is indeed curious that people can present solid truth with such idiotic and wretched arguments that others—out of sheer justified contradiction—prefer to overthrow both arguments and subject rather than accept such rubbish."107

But let us not forget that the debate in the past was carried on against different opponents and that it is task enough for any generation of theologians to meet the challenge of their contemporaries. Let us not waste time in shedding facile and self-flattering tears for the sins of our predecessors; we have enough to do to weep for our own. Sufficient for us the evil of our own day. To meet its challenge will call for a vigorous programme of research, study, preaching, to renew and "resource" for ourselves and our people the great Christian moral tradition which is ours.

Much hard scholarly labour will be needed in order to bring moral theology to the degree of renewal in depth, which has been achieved in recent generations in many branches of dogmatic theology, biblical studies and liturgy. As in these latter domains, the renewal of moral theology will be before all else a return to the sources, biblical and patristic, a renewal of fidelity to the great constants of Catholic tradition. 108 To uncover these is a work of scholarship; and it is precisely scholarship which is most lacking in the generality of recent writing on contraception. Where tradition is referred to in this writing, it is too often, by means of selective citation or gloss, to illustrate a preconceived thesis or reinforce a desired conclusion. There is far too much cavalier generalisation, based on secondary and sometimes biased sources, about what the Fathers, or St. Augustine, or St. Thomas Aquinas taught concerning the body, sexuality, marriage, or the natural law. The fundamental research, which is needed on all these matters remains, for the most part, still to be done.

There are also problems within the framework of the traditional theology which need attention, and whose solution would be relevant to the moral and pastoral theology of marriage. Vermeersch pointed long ago to the need for new study of the problem of subjective imputability;109 the need is even greater since he wrote. Connected with it are the problems of the determinants of morality, object, end and circumstances; the problems of recidivi, co-operation; the acts of the penitent in the sacrament of penance, and the interpretation and interrelation of the confessor’s roles as judge, healer, counsellor and father; indeed the whole renewal, theological, liturgical, pastoral and spiritual of the sacrament of penance. On such issues, the resources of traditional theology are far from being fully deployed.

Again, Pope Pius XII, as long ago as November 1951, called the attention of Catholic doctors urgently to the duty of research on the "legitimate method" of "regulating births," the principles and conditions of which he had defined in a famous address to Italian midwives the previous October. There is here a problem of research and counselling on which Irish Catholic doctors could make a significant contribution.

In the councils of the nations, Ireland whose voice has come to be increasingly respected, could keep presenting the case for an agronomic, economic, technological attack, through internationally backed aid programmes, on the problems of world hunger and under-development; for this case is being stifled by the clamour for birth control, which enables the wealthy nations to enjoy their affluence while feeling morally superior to the under-privileged. The whole field of Christian marriage and family life, its theology, spirituality, liturgy, asceticism, is one of the great fields calling today for pastoral effort and renewal. This is not only because of the hardships that press on it in modern conditions, or the dangers that threaten it in modern culture; but above all because of the goods that could more abundantly grace it and the graces that could more copiously flow from it over spouses, children and society. A sense of urgency must now be brought to the problems of Christian marriage, preparation for it, spiritual guidance in living it, psychological and social aid in bearing its burdens. Otherwise we priests might be accused of binding heavy and unsupportable burdens and not exerting our hands enough to help people to carry them. Cardinal Suenens said to the First Catholic World Congress of Health in 1958: "We have no right to demand that men obey (the Christian law of marriage) without at the same time doing everything we can to make obedience possible, without straining all our energies to make the way clear."110

There is work for doctors, nurses, lay counsellors, social workers, for all indeed who hear the call of neighbourliness, whose other name is Christian charity. There is work above all for us priests. Our contribution will be primarily spiritual—its place the pulpit, the confessional, the pastoral visit. Our function will be to reveal the meaning and beauty of the sacrament of marriage within the proto-sacrament of the Church; to proclaim to married people the unsearchable riches of the love and pardon and peace and grace of Christ. I sometimes think that our people in future may want us, need us, less as function-organisers, drama producers, sports officials; but need us and want us more as priests, as preachers, confessors, spiritual fathers, ministers of the liturgy, examples of teachers of prayer.

* This article was originally the text of a lecture delivered at the Christus Rex Congress, Cahir, Co. Tipperary, in April 1965. It was first published in the July 1965 issue of Christus Rex Journal of Sociology published from St. Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Ireland, and is here reprinted with the kind permission of the Editor.

**Reader in Scholastic Philosophy at Queen’s University, Belfast, Ireland. S.T.D. (Maynooth); L.Ph. (Institut Catholique, Paris). Father Daly has been Chairman of Christus Rex, a society of Irish priests for social study and action, since its foundation in 1941.


1 Among the relevant items are: John Rock, The Time Has Come, Longmans, London, 1963; Leo Pyle (ed.), The Pill, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1964; William Birmingham (ed.), What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control (A Signet Book), New American Library, 1964; Ann Biezanek, All Things New, Peter Smith, Derby, 1964; Contraception and Holiness, The Catholic Predicament, A Symposium introduced by Archbishop Thomas D. Roberts, with a Foreword by Canon F. H. Drinkwater, Fontana Books, Collins, London, 1964; Michael Novak (ed.), The Experience of Marriage, 13 Married Couples Report, Darton, Longman and Todd, London, 1965; F. H. Drinkwater, Birth Control and Natural Law, Burns Oates, London, 1965. More detached analysis and comment on the problem will be found in Louis Dupre, Contraception and Catholics, A New Appraisal, Helicon, Baltimore-Dublin, 1964; Dorothy Dunbar Bromley, Catholics and Birth Control, Contemporary Views on Doctrine, with Foreword by Cardinal Cushing and Preface by John L. Thomas, S.J., Devin-Adair, New York, 1965. (This work is by a non-Catholic and owed its inception to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.) A serious and scholarly symposium is provided by the University of Notre Dame in The Problem of Population, Moral and Theological Considerations, ed. by Donald N. Barrett, University of Notre Dame Press, 1964. An important contribution is made by Germain J. Grisez in, Contraception and the Natural Law (An Impact Book), Bruce, Milwaukee, 1964.

2 One must deplore the fact that questions of "labels" should enter theological discussion at all. It is, however, the case that the present controversy has been enormously influenced by the impression that the traditional teaching is "conservative" and the proposals for change "progressive," in the sense in which these terms are commonly used of opposing tendencies at the Second Vatican Council; and the emotive force of these words is so strong that reasoning about the problems at issue becomes extremely difficult. Louis Dupre remarks: "The labels of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ which are often attached to the defendants of opposing views may be useful in the political arena—in theology they are inappropriate and can only cloud the issue" (op. cit., I, p. 13).

3 Pacem in Terris, C.T.S. edition, pp. 9 seq.

4 Mater et Magistra, nos. 189, 193.

5 See Medical Experimentation on Man, transl. from the French by Malachy G. Carroll, Mercier Press, Cork, 1955, p. 133.

6 See The Ulster Medical Journal, November 1954, pp. 89-101. Cf. C. B. Daly, Morals, Law and Life, Clonmore and Reynolds, Dublin, 1962, pp. 92-5.

7 Cf. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, John Lane, London, 1943 ed., pp. 170-210. F. H. Bradley in Ethical Studies, Oxford, 1927, p. 117, wrote: "Higher and lower are ‘relative’: they are comparatives, and they hence mean more or less of something, Higher means nearer some top, or it means nothing. Lower means nearer some bottom, or it means nothing."

8 Louis Dupre (op. cit., pp. 45-6) uses a similar example to argue that man changes and that natural law changes with him. I do not think that this formulation is valid: it does not reflect the absoluteness and immutability of the moral principle, combined with the progressive approximation to its complete fulfilment, which characterises moral progress. I think Dupre is in part misled through taking as his premise: "We all know that to kill another human being is against the natural law." But the natural law moralists never accepted this as a principle or held that killing was intrinsically and in all circumstances immoral. See also Joseph Arntz, "Natural Law and its History" in Concilium, VI, May 1965, pp. 23-32; and Jan H. Walgrave, "Is Morality Static or Dynamic?", ibid., pp. 13-22.

9 See Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion, Alcan, Paris, 1932, pp. 245-257. Jacques Chevalier quotes Bergson as saying: "My conception of morality is simple: All has been said in the Sermon on the Mount; there is nothing else to say." (See Entretiens avec Bergson, Plon, Paris, 1959, p. 212.) Cf. Jean Guitton, Dialogues avec Monsieur Pouget, Gasset, Paris, 1954, pp. 80-84; Gouhier, H., Bergson et le Christ des evangiles, Fayard, Paris, 1961, esp. pp. 156-173.

10 The late Canon D. J. B. Hawkins developed this point in his Aquinas Paper, Nature as the Ethical Norm, Blackfriars, 1950; cf. his Man and Morals, Sheed and Ward, London, 1960, pp. 54-6.

11 Summa contra Gentiles, II, 68 and II, 81.

12 See De Anima, 7c; De Spiritualibus Creaturis, 2c; Summa Theologica, 1-2, 2.6, 3.1.3 ad 3; Summa contra Gentiles, II, 48-50.

13 Jean Mouroux writes: "To say that God is Spirit is not to define God, but rather to place Him beyond all definition; and to say that we are spirits, linked to Him by an indestructible likeness, is to plunge also ourselves into the mystery of God. Regarded as a living relation to God, and as signed upon forever by the light of His Countenance, man surpasses man, he slips beyond his own grasp, he is not to be understood or judged or violated in his personal secret. He belongs to God alone… In the midst of the world he is a being from beyond the world. In one word, he is sacred." "What is at stake in our civilisation," he says, "is whether man shall remain—or rebecome—a sacred thing." (The Meaning of Man, transl. by A. H. C. Downes, Sheed and Ward, London, 1948, pp. 276-279.)

14 He will be remembered in the history of Vatican II as the author of the famous fulmination on 1 December 1962, against "clericalism, juridicalism and triumphalism."

15 Married Love, Chapman, London, 1964, p. 59.

16 "Soixante ans de theologie morale," in Nouvelle revue theologique, t. 56, 1929, pp. 863-4.

17 Some Principles of Moral Theology, Longmans, London (1920), 1961, p. 183.

18 Archbishop Roberts, in Contraception and Holiness, pp. 14-15.

19 S. Theol., 1.1.8 ad 2; 1.2.2 ad 1.

20 A New Introduction to Moral Theology, S.C.M. Press, 1964, p. 56.

21 D.B.1786. Pope John frequently reiterated this teaching: see Ad Petri Cathedram, 1959, nos. 5-7; Mater et Magistra., nos. 15 seq.; Allocution to Pilgrims from Bergamo, 30 April 1961 (see Documentation Catholique, 1961, no. 1352, c. 646). See also J. Y. Calvez and J. Perrin, The Church and Social Justice, trans, by J. R. Kirwan, Burns Oates, London, 1961, pp. 36-53; J. Y. Calvez, L’Eglise et societe economique, L’enseignement social de Jean XXIII, Aubier, Paris, 1963, pp. 108-116; P. Haubtmann, in introduction to Mater et Magistra, Fleurus, Paris, 1961, pp. 45-54. This aspect of the natural law tradition is emphasized in most of the recent writing on the subject: see J. Fuchs, Le droit naturel, Essai theologique, French transl. by A. Liefooghe, Desclee, Paris, 1960; Ph. Delhaye, Permanence du droit naturel, Nauwelaerts, Louvain, 1960; E. Hamel, Loi naturelle et loi du Christ, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris, 1964; J. M. Aubert, Loi de Dieu, lois des hommes, Coll. Le Mystere Chretien, Desclee, Paris, 1964; B. Haring, La Loi du Christ, esp. t. I, Desclee, Paris, 1956; t. II, 1957.

22 In Ethic Arist. Ed. R. M. Spiazzi, Marietti, Rome, 1949, I, 3, no. 36.

23 Louis Dupre (though he argues that the traditional teaching is not infallible or irrevocable, and though he pleads for an approval of anovulants) writes: "I myself am rather inclined to believe (that the Church will not alter its basic stance)… because the Church’s basic teachings on the ends of marriage and of the marriage act are so obviously sound that only the utmost confusion in the justification of (and practical deduction from) these teachings could open them to honest doubt." (Contraception and Catholics, pp. 35-6).

24 Conscience and its Problems, Longmans, 1927, p. 291.

25 See M. Riquet, "Breve histoire de la contraception," in La regulation des naissances. Coll. du Centre d’Etudes Laennec, Lethielleux, Paris, 1961, pp. 10-14. Compare A.-M. Dubarle, "La Bible et les Peres ont-ils parle de la contraception?," in Supplement de la Vie Spirituelle, no. 63, 1962, pp. 573-610; and "La contraception chez St. Cesaire d’Arles," op. cit., no. 67, 1963, pp. 515-9.

26 P.L. 22, 401, as quoted by Riquet, op. cit., p. 14. The assimilation of "the inordinate emission of semen" to homicide is also found in Aquinas: see, e.g., S.C.G., III, 122.

27 Apud Riquet, op. cit., p. 17.

28 Ibid., p. 25.

29 Ibid., p. 19.

30 Riquet quotes several examples in op. cit., pp. 16-26. Dupre quotes Cajetan, St. Alphonsus and others (op. cit., pp. 33-4). See also St. Thomas Aquinas, S.C.G., III, 122. "It is evident from this that every emission of semen, in such a way that generation cannot follow, is contrary to the good for man. And if this be done deliberately, it must be a sin. Now, I am speaking of a way from which, in itself, generation could not result: such be any emission of semen apart from the natural union of male and female… But if by accident generation cannot result from the emission of semen, then this is not a reason for it’s being against nature, or a sin; as for instance, if the woman happens to be sterile." Cf. ibid. III, 126. In the light of all this, it is difficult to understand how some writers can claim that "the consensus concerning this doctrine has certainly not existed over a long time: it merely covers a period of a few decades." (See Father Pinxter, a Dutch Jesuit, quoted by Dupre in op. cit., pp. 31-2.) Even less impressive is the claim that "a truly open discussion between theologians and other specialists in the field has never taken place… the opinion of the bishops on this matter has never been requested… there has never been question of consulting the most interested people—married laymen…"; and the suggestion that theologians have been frightened into silence by ecclesiastical "byzantinism" (ibid., p. 32). This sort of writing seems to reveal an a priori decision to call no one convinced or courageous etc. except one who dissents. It may fairly be claimed that the situation has now been created in which it takes more courage to defend the traditional teaching than to criticise it! One of the witnesses collected by Michael Novak says: "There is terrific pressure these days on the lay theologian and lay philosopher to do his part in urging the Church to reconsider its position on family planning and the use of contraceptives"; he comments that he is "wary of the value of creating ground swells" and "doubts that it is honest." (Experience of Marriage, pp. 59-60; cf. pp. 155-7.) But the whole question of which "side" is the more "courageous," "sincere," "compassionate," "forward-looking," etc. is quite irrelevant. All that matters is, which is true and right.

31 See K. E. Kirk, Conscience and its Problems, p. 292.

32 See H, R. McAdoo, The Structure of Caroline Moral Theology, Longmans, London, 1949; J.S. Marshall, Hooker and the Anglican Tradition, A. and C. Black, London, 1963.

33 See John C. Ford and Gerald Kelly, Contemporary Moral Theology, Vol. II, Marriage Questions, Mercier, Cork, 1963, pp. 281-2.

34 The Elements of Moral Theology, A. and C. Black, London, 1947, pp. 98-9; see also pp. 177-81.

35 See Conscience and its Problems, pp. 290-306. Compare Canon Lindsay Dewar, Moral Theology in the Modern World, Mowbray, London, 1964, pp. 37-8, 130-5.

36 See The Family in Contemporary Society, S.P.C.K., London, 1958, p. 135. This is the Report, which preceded the famous Resolution 115 of the Lambeth Conference, 1958.

37 This Report was prepared by an international study group convened under the auspices of the World Council of Churches and the International Missionary Council; it met at Mansfield College, Oxford, 12-15 April 1959. (See Ford and Kelly, op. cit., pp. 1, 11-12.) The Report states that, "the Orthodox member of the group, while sharing the concern of the group and contributing fully to its deliberations, drew attention to "the different teaching and practice of the Orthodox Church, which holds that parents have not the right to prevent the creative process of matrimonial intercourse…"(ibid., p. 244).

38 Ibid., pp. 244-5; other Orthodox statements in the same sense are cited on pp. 242-3.

39 It is somewhat puzzling that people who have praised Dr. Anne Biezanek’s much publicised revolt have not adverted to the anti-ecumenical implications of her false theology. Dr. Biezanek pleads for the definition of "the dogma of the Co-redemptrix" which, she says, gives "to the woman, the mother of Christ, a status in the scheme of salvation equal to that of her son" (All Things New, Peter Smith, 1964, p. 142), This, she argues, in her incredible chapter on theology, will be the final rehabilitation of woman on the theological plane, as the contraceptive pill represents her emancipation on the biological level, and, at the same time, proves that God has finally pardoned Eve and lifted the curse pronounced upon her in the Garden! This is an extreme instance of the anti-ecumenical dangers of the campaign for the approval of contraception. But I believe that these dangers are inseparable from the whole campaign. For the implications of our doctrine on contraception are felt over the whole area of theology. Much of the literature advocating change betrays erroneous conceptions and gives misleading impressions about our ecclesiology, our doctrine of authority, of infallibility, of conscience, of development of doctrine, of reform and renewal, in short, of what the Church is and of how she teaches. This literature arouses expectations, outside the Church and within it, which will not, because they cannot, be fulfilled. Not to mention other and serious consequences, all this has gravely injurious effects for the ecumenical movement.

39a Bergson wrote: "Let us give then to the word biology the very wide meaning which it should have, which perhaps one day it will have, and let us say in conclusion that all morality, whether of pressure or aspiration, is in essence biological." (Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion, Alcan, Paris, 1932, p. 103.) Compare Paul Chauchard, Biologie et morale, Mame, Paris, 1959.

40 Pensees (Brunschvicg edition), nos. 397-424, 443.

41 Sartre proposes to construct a morality on the basis of human need and scarcity: see "Question de Methode," in Critique de la raison dialectique, t. I, Gallimard, Paris, 1960, pp. 63 seq. Maritain comments on the problem much more profoundly in True Humanism, trans. by M. R. Adamson, Bles, London, 1948, pp. 27-87.

42 Bewilderment is the only reaction a natural law moralist can have to Father Kieran Conley’s argument (in "Procreation and the Person," in Contraception and Holiness, pp. 56-64), which attempts to use against the natural law tradition the concepts of person, personal values, inter-personal communication, etc., which received their best formulation and most powerful expression within that tradition. The same applies to the argument of Father Stanley E. Kutz (in "Conscience and Contraception," ibid., pp. 25-55); of Eugene Fontinelli (in "Contraception and the Ethics of Relationships," in Wm. Birmingham [ed.]. What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control, pp. 240-243).

43 This was, of course, the conclusion of the Lambeth Conference of 1930 and especially 1958. See The Lambeth Conference, 1958, The Encyclical Letter etc., S.P.C.K., London, 1958, 1.57, no. 115; 2.146-150; The Family in Contemporary Society, pp. 143-154. Canon A. A. Luce states the same position in a Reservation to the Report of the Irish Commission on Emigration and other Population Problems, 1948-1954 (p. 231). For a similar position stated by Catholics, see Rosemary Ruether, in Contraception and Holiness, pp. 70-4; compare her contribution to What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control, pp. 233-240; Mary Louise Birmingham (ibid., pp. 226-233).

44 See Aquinas, S. Theol. Suppl. 49. 1-5. The discussion in art. 3 about the relative importance of the three bona is particularly relevant.

45 Ibid., 49.2 ad 1: "By ‘offspring’ is meant, not simply procreation of a child but also its rearing, for this is the end towards which the whole shared life" (we could say, the whole two-in-oneness) "of the couple is directed." Compare ibid. 64. 1-4; 65.3-4.

46 Ibid.. 49.6.

47 Cf. S.C.G., III, 122-124, 126; S. Theol. Suppl. 41. 1-4, 42. 1-3; 65. 3-4.

48 Aquinas has some quite remarkable reflections on the redditio debiti in S. Theol. Suppl. 64. He says, for example, that the husband is bound to respond to his wife’s invitation even when this, due to shyness, is only implicit; and that he may not refuse her except for grave reasons (ibid. 2). Both partners are equal in marriage as far as sexual relations are concerned (ibid. 3), and neither may vow continence without the other’s consent (ibid 4), For the wife to ask the debitum at times when this would be injurious to the husband’s health would be an unjust demand (iniusta exactio) (ibid. 1 ad 2). The redditio debiti is seen by Aquinas, not as part of a coldly legal contract, but as an act of fides, of mutual, exclusive, equal and faithful love. It is somewhat surprising to find Father Baum writing: "We speak of ‘the marriage debt’ which one partner owes to the other, as if the sexual act were a payment in fulfilment of a legal contract." (Contraception and Holiness, p. 273.) The words could be used in this sense; but surely the primary reason why we use the phrase is that St. Paul did.

49 See Aquinas, S. Theol. Suppl. 49.3. Pope Pius XI in Casti Connubii resumes this tradition when he writes: "This mutual interior formation of husband and wife, this persevering endeavour to bring each other to the state of perfection, may, in a true sense, be called, as the Roman Catechism calls it, the primary cause and reason of matrimony, so long as marriage is considered, not in its stricter sense, as the institution destined for the procreation and education of children, but in the wider sense as a complete and intimate life-partnership and association." (Nos. 24-5.) Compare Pope Leo XIII, Arcanum Divinae, in "The Pope and the People," C.T.S., London, 1932, pp. 27-30, 34-5.

50 There is great depth of meaning in Aquinas’s phrase, that the care of parents provides a sort of spiritual womb for the growing child. (S. Theol. 1-2.10. 12.)

51 Pope Pius XII said, while condemning artificial insemination: "To consider the cohabitation of husband and wife and the marital act as a simple organic function for the transmission of seed, would be the same as to convert the domestic hearth, into a mere biological laboratory." (Address to Italian Midwives, 29 October 1951.) Incidentally, tradition does not speak of "reproduction" as the end of marriage, but of "procreation," which is uniquely human.

52 See William Birmingham, in What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control, pp. 81-6; Sally Sullivan entitles her paper in the same symposium, "Woman, Mother or Person?" (op. cit., pp. 204-214). It is odd that people who attach such importance to sexual union can write so unfeelingly about procreation: both are equally biological, but both are inseparably spiritual, though capable of being animalised.

53 See S. Theol. 1-2, 154. 2-3; Suppl. 41.1, 65.3, S.C.G., III, 122. Aquinas interestingly said that the reason why fornication is a mortal sin is that it gravely offends against charity towards the potential child. (S. Theol. Suppl., 65.4.) It is curious that Father Baum should write: "Catholic theologians have become deeply aware of the fact that procreation in the human family is not something biological but human. Human procreation is not just a matter of conception, pregnancy and birth; it includes the longer and more difficult process of the children’s education… Catholic theologians have come to see that the primary purpose of marriage… is the procreation—and— education of children and that the obedience to this end must find expression in a total orientation of married life" (italics ours). (Contraception and Holiness, p. 279.) (Compare Father Kutz in op. cit., pp. 47-50; and Canon Drinkwater, Birth Control and Natural Law, p. 64.) But this is a verite de la Palisse, throughout the long history of Catholic moral theology! Here, as always, as we pointed out above, the negative and prohibitive elements of traditional teaching (criticised, e.g., by Michael Novak, in What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control, pp. 115 seq.) had a force, which was ultimately positive; they should be seen as conditions sine quibus non of positive ideals in marriage.

54 This is suggested by, e.g., Daniel Sullivan, in What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control, pp. 52-60; by William Birmingham, in op. cit., pp. 86-8; compare Michael Novak in op. cit., pp. 115-123.

55 Aquinas indeed uses the language of "excusation," aslang whether marriage "needs to have certain goods by which it is excused." (S. Theol. Suppl., 49-1.) But he nonetheless holds that marriage is naturally good (ibid., 4.1); that carnal union is good because there is a natural inclination towards it, and natural inclination comes from God; and again that carnal union cannot be evil in itself because it is the natural end of bodily organs which are good and whose use is good (S.C.G., III, 126; cf. S. Theol., 1-2, 34, 1 ad 1; Suppl. 41.3). The "excusation" language is, I believe, a way of saying that the good and holy-making features of good and holy sexual acts are undying love, fecundity and indissoluble union signifying the love unto death of Christ for His Church. (Suppl. 41.2; 65.1; S.C.G., IV, 78.) Aquinas holds that sexual pleasure would have been more intense but for the Fall—because more under the control of reason. See S. Theol. 1.98.2; cf. 3.61.2.

56 Contraception and Holiness, pp. 158-9. Compare, in the same symposium, the remarks of Rosemary Ruether (pp. 77 seq.); Julian Pleasant (pp. 86 seq.); Leslie Dewart (pp. 254-5); and, in What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control, the views of Daniel Sullivan (pp. 28-73 passim); James Finn (pp. 96-7); compare Experience of Marriage, pp. 42-3, 52-3, 57, 93-4, 120-6, 136. Some of this writing is extremely bitter; and we priests should be the first to examine ourselves whether our preaching or teaching or spiritual direction has been, or has seemed to be, harsh, unsympathetic, puritanical. But one also fears that this bitterness could turn into resentment of the priest as celibate and even ultimately of the priest as priest.

57 Contraception and Holiness, p. 46. Compare Father Baum’s remarks on pp. 266 and 274.

58 See, e.g., Famille d’aujourd’hui (Proceedings of the Semaine Sociale de Bordeaux, 1957), Lyon 1958; Medecine et Mariage, Coll. "Convergences," Spes, Paris, 1952; L’amour maternel. Coll. "Convergences," Spes, Paris, 1961; La regulation des naissances. Coll. du Centre d’Etudes Laennec, Lethielleux, Paris, 1961; Sexualite et limitation des naissances, Recherces et Debats du Centre Catholique des Intellectuels Francais, Fayard, Paris, 1963, This is not true only of the French. Doctors such as John Marshall and a phalanx of lay collaborators in the English Catholic Marriage Advisory Council; lay philosophers such as the late amateur philosopher Reginald Trevett (see his The Tree of Life, Chapman, London, 1963); or the living and professional Peter Geach and Miss G. E. M. Anscombe in Britain; or Dietrich von Hildebrand, Vernon J. Bourke, Germain G. Grisez, in America; these have no celibate fixations, but agree vigorously with the traditional teaching. It is surely significant that no priest, and with one or two extremely rare exceptions, no doctor or counsellor connected with the English Catholic Marriage Advisory Council has joined the movement of protest. Conversely, none of the protestors has ever been prominently involved with the work of marriage aid and counseling, which has been going on for more than twenty years now in Britain. The same thing could be said of the great Catholic family movements all over the world; which, incidentally, followed in the wake of Pope Pius XI’s encyclical, Casti Connubii, and have done so much for the happiness and the holiness of married couples. These movements constitute a great body of doctrine, discussion, experience, spirituality, and charitable service, which stands everywhere firm in adherence to the traditional teaching. Canon Drinkwater says: "There ought to have been continual discussion of Casti Connubii during the past thirty-five years…Instead of discussion there has been a whole generation of frozen silence, the silence of intellectual death, or at least of paralysis." (Birth Control and Natural Law, p. 62.) If an author is going to redefine "discussion" as "dissent," he should surely say so. Furthermore, "intellectual death" is a curious description for the unprecedented output of Catholic writing on the theology and spirituality of marriage, which followed, and was inspired by, Casti Connubii.

59 The French hierarchy protested vigorously against a campaign for abolition of this law, in a Declaration of March 1961 (Documentation Catholique, no. 1348, c. 371-3; compare the statement of Cardinal Gerlier in ibid., c. 373-5),

60 See Herder Correspondence, II, 4 (April 1965).

61 There is some overlap of names between the various symposia which have appeared, and between the correspondents in various periodicals; and internal evidence suggests a connection between some signed articles and several of the anonymous contributions to The Experience of Marriage.

62 Love and Control, E. trans. by George J. Robinson, 2nd revised edition. Burns Oates, London, 1962, p. 103.

63 The full original text of his speech, as of those of Cardinals Leger and Alfrink, should be carefully read. They are worded with very deliberate care and are as remarkable for what they do not say or propose, as for what they do. There was serious "misunderstanding in public opinion" about all of them and about the general significance of the debate. An English translation of the text of these speeches is given in F. H. Drinkwater’s Birth Control and Natural Law. It is a pity he does not include Cardinal Suenens’ very important clarificatory remarks of 7th November. I give here a full translation of the latter. At the end of a speech on the Schema on the Missions, Cardinal Suenens said: "Allow me to take this opportunity and this method of replying very briefly to some reactions in public opinion which interpreted my speech on matrimonial ethics as if I had said that the doctrine and discipline of the Church in this matter had changed. So far as doctrine is concerned, my words made it quite clear that I was asking only for research in this whole area, not with a view to changing anything in the Church’s doctrine which has been already authentically and definitively proclaimed, but only with a view to elaborating a synthesis of all the principles which are relevant in this domain. So far as discipline is concerned, it is clear that the conclusions of the Commission to which I referred have to be submitted to the authority of the Sovereign Pontiff and adjudged by his supreme authority. I said this explicitly. It is obvious that any decisions regarding the functioning of the Commission rest exclusively with that same authority. I say these things now in order to remove all misunderstanding in public opinion."

64 A scholarly treatment of the subject is provided by Joseph E. Kerns, The Theology of Marriage, Sheed and Ward, New York, 1964; see also his "Relevant Currents in the History of Sexuality," in The Problem of Population (Notre Dame), pp. 23-41. Compare the article "Mariage" in the Dictionnaire de theologie catholique, t. IX, p. II cc. 2077-2123. See also S. de Lestapis, La limitation des naissances, Spes, Paris, 1958, pp. 170-3.

65 Ad Uxorem, II, 9.

66 Kerns, op. cit., pp. 15-20.

67 D.T.C. art. "Mariage," t. IX, p. ii, cc. 2218-9; cf. cc. 2177-2180, 2220-2219.

68 Sermones in Cantica, 83, apud V. A. Demant, An Exposition of Christian Sex Ethics, Hodder and Stoughton, 1963, p. 24.

69 S.C.G., IV, 78. Cornelius a Lapide, in his Commentary on Genesis, writes: "In creating Adam and Eve, God desired to imitate His eternal generation and inspiration. Inasmuch as from eternity, He begets the Son and the Holy Ghost out of the Son, so, in time, He created Adam in His own likeness, begetting him like unto His Son, and out of Him, He created Eve, so that she might be Adam’s love, as the Holy Ghost is the love of God." (Apud Ida Gorres, Broken Lights, E. trans. by B. Waldstein-Wartenberg, Burns and Oates, London, 1960, p. 203.)

70 Daniel Sullivan suggests he could only see woman "as an incubator"; and William Birmingham that the traditional natural law approach regarded woman "as biological beast." (He is claiming here to paraphrase Father Schillebeeckx, but the phrase is almost certainly a gloss.) (See What Modern Catholics Think about Birth Control, pp. 50, 83-4.)

71 S.C.G., III, 123; we have already referred to S. Theol. Suppl. 64 1-4 (cf. 2-2. 32. 8 and 2) on the equality of woman with man in respect to marital relations. See also S. Theol. Suppl. 41.1; 42. 1-2.

72 J. Kerns, The Problem of Population, p. 40. Compare J. de la Vaissiere, Modesty, E. trans. by S. A. Raemers, Herder, London, 1937, pp. 29 seq., 85 seq.; D. von Hildebrand, In Defence of Purity, Sheed and Ward, London, 1931, pp. 11 seq., 60-85. Three of Michael Novak’s witnesses deplore the contemporary Catholic intellectual’s obsession with the mystique of sex (The Experience of Marriage, pp. 28, 61, 156). Ida Gorres writes: "To my great discomfort, I see the very dubious attitude to the whole sphere of marriage—a curious mixture of crude realism and sloppy sentimentality. Intellectualism has utterly destroyed the taboo character attaching to the natural mysteries… Naturalia non sunt turpia—but not reverenda either… For (many) it seems the ‘proper’ antithesis to prudery is mere lack of modesty… But doesn’t anyone stop to consider the destructive effect all this is bound to have, this craze a la mode for some years past in our ecclesiastical domain… Does it occur to no one that this persistently ‘realistic and unemotional’ talk could well induce just as unemotional, merely experimental action?" (Broken Lights, pp. 204-5; compare pp. 17, 106. See also her Sur le celibat des pretres, French transl. by J. Thomas, Cerf, Paris, 1963.)

73 J. L. McKenzie, The Two-Edged Sword, Chapman, London, 1955, pp. 54-5. See also A.-M. Dubarle, "Amour et fecondite dans la Bible," in Sexualite et limitation des naissances, pp. 105-121.

74 Contraception and Holiness, pp. 52-55; cf. Canon Drinkwater, Birth Control and Natural Law, p. 33.

75 Ibid., pp. 60-3.

76 Ibid., p. 286.

77 The Problem of Population, pp. 7, 10, 12.

78 Ibid., pp. 11-12.

79 Ibid., p. 14.

80 La Loi du Christ, t. III, Desclee, Paris (1959), 1962, p. 240; cf. t. I, 1956, p. 203. It should be noted that all the published participants in the Notre Dame symposium (Father Haring was not actually present at it) defend the traditional teaching and its natural law basis. Their contributions make this one of the most responsible and scholarly items in the recent dossier on birth control.

81 Archbishop Roberts seems to approve of this for India: see Contraception and Holiness, pp. 20-2; and Objections to Roman Catholicism. Ed. M. de la Bedoyere, Constable, London, pp. 171-3,

82 See Morals and Medicine, Gollancz, London, 1955. This book is examined in my Morals, Law and Life, Dublin, 1962.

83 Honest to God, S.C.M., London, 1963, p. 116; see also his Christian Morals Today, S.C.M., London, 1964, p. 33.

84 No New Morality, Constable, London, 1964, pp. 59-60, 62-77.

85 A review of Honest to God in Blackfriars, reprinted in The Honest to God Debate, J. A. T. Robinson and D. L. Edwards, S.C.M. Press, London; see p. 180. In a review of Contraception and Holiness in New Blackfriars, Feb. 1965, Father McCabe calls the contributions by Fathers Kutz and Conley "almost compulsively skippable," and says of Father Kutz’s that "there seems no basic reason why this chapter should not have appeared in a book called ‘Murder and Holiness’ …" See also J. Goffinet, Morale de situation et morale chretienne. La Pensee Catholique, Brussels, 1963.

86 Dangers dans le catholicisme d’aujourd’hui, French transl. by R. Givord, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris, 1958, p. 87; cf. pp. 88-9.

87 Conception and Holiness, p. 54.

88 Ibid., p. 56; cf. pp. 60-3.

89 Ibid., p. 271.

90 Ibid., p. 80.

91 Gospel and Law, p. 72 (see below).

92 See The Honest to God Debate, p. 117, Compare the present Archbishop of Canterbury’s Image Old and New, S.P.C.K., London, 1963, pp. 13-14; also a pamphlet issued by the Irish Religious Society of Friends in 1964, Morality New and Old? (in reply to Towards a Quaker View of Sex, London, 1963).

93 See E. Hamel, Loi naturelle et loi du Christ, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris, 1964, esp. chapter I and IV: and B. Haring, La Loi du Christ, t. I, pp. 346-416; also G. Gilleman, Le primat de la charite en theologie morale, Nauwelaerts, Louvain, 1952, pp. 237-256; J. Lecuyer, Le sacrifice de la nouvelle alliance, Xavier Mappus, Lyons, 1961, pp. 21-9, 60-1, 81-94, 131 seq., 165 seq., 181 seq.; Divo Barsotti, Spiritualite de l’Exode, Desclee de Brouwer, Paris, 1959, pp. 177-204. See also Ph. Delhaye, Le decalogue et sa place dans la morale du chretien. Coll. Le Mystere Chretien, Desclee, Paris, 1964; Permanence du droit naturel, Nauwelaerts, Louvain, 1960; Rencontre de Dieu et de l’homme, Desclee, Paris, 1956; J. Fuchs, Le droit naturel, Essai theologique, Desclee, Paris, 1960; J. M. Aubert, Loi de Dieu, lois des hommes. Coll. Le Mystere Chretien, Desclee, Paris, 1960; R. Schnackenburg, The Moral Teaching of the New Testament, Herder-Burns and Oates, London, 1965; L. Cerfaux, Le Chretien dans la theologie paulinienne, Cerf, Paris, 1962; the articles by A. Descamps, C. Spicq, F. M. Braun, and R. Flaceliere, in the First Part ("Morale neo-testamentaire et morale grecque") of Morale chretienne et requetes contemporaines, Casterman, Paris, 1954; La vie spirituelle no. 17, May 1951, "Loi et amour"; Y. Congar, "La casuistique de S. Paul," in Sacerdoce et Laicat, Cerf, Paris, 1962, pp. 65-89; G. J. Botterweck, "Form and Growth of the Decalogue," in Concilium, V, 1, May 1965, pp. 33-44. Aquinas, of course, always gives primacy to love in the partnership, which is nonetheless indissoluble, of love and law. See S.C.G., III, 116: "A man has more desire for what he wills because of love than what he wills because of fear only … It is a condition of virtue that the virtuous man must act with firmness and joy. But love is the chief producer of this result, for we do a thing firmly and with joy as a result of love." The whole of his discussion on the superiority of the New Law over the Old, of its inferiority, of the Holy Spirit Himself as our interior Lawgiver; of the Gifts of the holy Spirit, of grace, charity, prudence, virtue, is immensely relevant to the contemporary desire for renewal in the teaching and preaching of moral theology.

94 Gospel and Law, Cambridge University Press, 1950, p. 65. See also T. W. Manson, Ethics and the Gospel, S.C.M., London (1960), pp. 58-66.

95 Ibid., p. 70.

96 Ibid., pp. 79-81.

97 Ibid., p. 82: "It is a part of the mission of the Church to bear witness to this aboriginal law of man’s creation. The count against the great anti-Christian systems which are so powerful in the world at the present time is not just that they reject our ethic; the ethic we happen to prefer; not that they reject the Christian ethic as one system of morals to which they prefer another system of morals. It is that they repudiate the law of man’s creation. In Paul’s pungent words, ‘They hold down the truth by their own unrighteousness’—the truth, namely, about man as God’s creature."

98 Contraception and Holiness, p. 64.

98a See L. H. Marshall, The Challenge of New Testament Ethics, Macmillan, London and New York (1947), pp. 278 seq.

99 Op. cit., p. 79.

100 Dangers dans le catholicisme d’aujourd’hui, p. 76.

101 Contraception and Holiness, p. 285.

102 Op. cit., p. 39.

103 Op. cit., p. 55. It is passages like these, which, to my mind, justify Father Martelet’s fear of a "new prophetism" arising from the campaign concerning contraception. See G. Martelet, S.J. (of the Jesuit Faculty of Theology, Lyon-Fourviere), "Morale conjugal et vie chretienne," written at Rome, October-November 1964, and published in Nouvelle revue theologique, t. 87, 1965, pp. 245-266. Dr. Biezanek’s All Things New is, of course, the most extreme example of this.

Father Haring, in the interview I have referred to earlier, suggests that an act objectively sinful "could be considered as a way out of deeper moral misery into the full light"; and says that "if followed by those who consider it morally right, we could apply the great principle of Cardinal Newman, ‘Whoever follows sincerely his conscience, even if the conscience is erroneous, is on the way into the full light’…" (The Problem of Population, p. 19). One would be happier about this argument if it were more clearly stated to be concerned with the question of subjective imputability. In fact the discussion (on pp. 17-21) seems to hop about somewhat disconcertingly from the subjective to the objective spheres. This is probably due to the interview-style of the script, which could in the nature of things hardly do justice to the thought of the interviewee. But whatever one says about Father Haring’s use of Newman’s text, it does not seem to me that Newman could be rightly quoted as an ally if anyone were arguing in favour of liberty of conscience against an authoritative teaching of popes and bishops in possession. See Difficulties of Anglicans, vol. II, London, 1907, pp. 246-261; University Sermons, London, 1890, pp. 145-152; On Consulting the Faithful in Matters of Doctrine, Chapman, London, 1961, p. 61. The latter essay is frequently cited in the present discussion. An extract from it stands as frontispiece to the American symposium, What Modern Catholics. Think about Birth Control. I do not know if those who invoke it realise how overwhelming was Newman’s sense of authority and obedience. On p, 61 he speaks of that "true religious zeal which leads theologians to keep the sacred Ark of the Covenant in every letter of its dogma, as a tremendous deposit for which they are responsible. In this curious sceptical world, such sensitiveness is the only human means by which the treasure of faith can be kept inviolate. There is a woe in scripture against the unfaithful shepherd. We do not blame the watchdog because he sometimes flies at the wrong person. I conceive the force, the peremptoriness, the sternness, with which the Holy See comes down upon the vagrant or the robber, trespassing upon the enclosure of revealed truths, is the only sufficient antagonist to the power and subtlety of the world, to imperial comprehensiveness, monarchical selfishness, nationalism, the liberalism of philosophy, the encroachments and usurpations of science."

104 Selected Essays, Faber, London, 1932, pp. 373-4.

105 Conscience and its Problems, pp. 301-2.

106 Dangers dans le Catholicisme d’aujourd’hui, pp. 87-8. His comment is all the more significant in that he has devoted much attention to the problem of "a formal existential ethics" and recognizes the place in Catholic theology of an ethic of individual norms or of the individual Christian conscience. See Theological Investigations, II, E. transl. by Karl-H. Kruger, Darton, London, 1963, pp. 217-234, "On the question of a formal existential ethics"; compare ibid., pp. 89-107, "Freedom in the Church"; and The Dynamic Element in the Church, E. transl. by W. J. O’Hara, Herder-Burns and Oates, London, 1964, passim. Theologians like Father Congar and Father Delhaye have affirmed that the authentic postulates of an ethic of the Christian conscience are satisfied in St. Thomas Aquinas’s moral theology of prudence and the Gifts of the Holy Spirit—where, of course, they are set in a context of natural law and objective moral norms. See Y. Congar, Jalons pour une theologie du laicat, Cerf, Paris, 1954, pp. 615-9; Ph. Delhaye, La conscience morale du Chretien, Desclee, Paris, 1964, pp. 122-7, 138-141. Compare Th. Deman, appendices to La Prudence, Revue des Jeunes translation of the Summa Theologica, Paris, 1949; A. Raulin "La prudence," in Initiation Theologique, t. III, Cerf, Paris, 1955, pp. 681-721; O. Lottin, Morale Fondamentale, Desclee, Paris, 1954, pp. 363-9, 434-461.

107 Broken Lights, p. 45.

108 Father de Lubac has recently written: "A pernicious habit of speaking with contempt of ‘traditional Catholicism’ has enjoyed a certain vogue for some time past in certain Catholic circles, fortunately rather restricted ones. Doubtless what these people mean to criticise under this term is a caricature of Catholicism, a religion of routine and convention, something withered, immature, its mind closed to new situations and new problems, something which one has every reason for wishing to shake up for it would be a dead letter and an obstacle to the life of the spirit. But, in spite of all this, the manner of speaking referred to is still an abuse of language, and an abuse which can and sometimes does lead to a rejection of the best along with the bad. It is of the essence of Catholicism to be traditional. Tradition is its living soul, its strength. To place, or even to accept, an opposition between tradition and personal life, as though between the letter and the spirit, could be fatal for our faith… We can see this today in the aggiornamento of the Church, which at every point and of necessity is calling forth and will go on calling forth a deepening of Tradition." (La priere du Pere Teilhard de Chardin, Fayard, Paris, 1964, pp. 13-14.)

109 Nouvelle revue theologique, t. 56, 1929, p. 880.

110 Love and Control, p. 150.

This item 2744 digitally provided courtesy of

Subscribe for free
Click here to advertise on

Recent Catholic Commentary

Smaller Church, Bigger Faith, 3: Ecclesiastical Discipline 7 hours ago
The Holy Spirit and Evangelization: A Primer April 16
Journey to the Sun: A Strange Biography of Junípero Serra April 16
Russia's demographic recovery + US demographic decline = danger April 16
James Carroll strikes (at the Church) again April 16

Top Catholic News

Most Important Stories of the Last 30 Days