Letters to the Editor
Letters to the Editor

Letters to the Editor

FAITH Magazine January - February 2012


Dear Father Editor,

I welcome the letter from John Leonard (November 2011), querying the positive review in The Catholic Herald (29th July) of Maurice Casey's 2010 book Jesus of Nazareth published by T&T Clark.

In a 1991 book From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God Casey, the Emeritus Professor of the New Testament at Nottingham University, presents a subtly argued case. Jesus was a Jewish prophet who aroused so much opposition that he came to a sticky end. His followers, deeply grieving, invented all kind of wonderful stories and even imagined that he came to visit them from the dead. Rejected by the orthodox Jews they turned to the gentiles who began to revere Jesus as a god, even the "Son of God". Apparently this was a three-stage development. The third stage is succinctly recorded in Mark's Gospel, and was filled out by Luke and Matthew. John's Gospel was written much later and was largely fiction. So the exact date of the crucifixion did not matter to him, and "that the resurrectionoccurred at all is a statement of faith rather than history" (p.173). This is all part of the "re-writing of history" on which the Christian faith is based.

This general argument has been around for centuries. Casey gives it a new, twist, which is "lucidly and cogently organised - both logical and startling" (publishers blurb). It is of course most welcome to those who reject the historicity of the Gospels.

Recently Pope Benedict, aka Professor Josef Ratzinger, published two volumes entitled Jesus of Nazareth.

The publication of Casey's book with an identical title might be taken as a head-on challenge. Perhaps he is aligning himself with the anti-Pope coalition described by William Oddie (A Year of Papal Caritas, November 2011).

Yours faithfully,
Hilary Shaw
Port Navas, Cornwall


Dear Father Editor,

I would like to thank you for your work, especially the "GCSE Lessons in Catholic Marriage: A Syllabus of Errors" piece in your November issue. I am the mother of youngish children who ask me questions. I try always to give an honest answer suitable for their age. If children want more information they ask. I also have adult stepchildren. They were told and shown far too much as young children and started sexual activity very young. They, and their children, now have to deal with some of the serious traumas that commonly follow sex divorced from public commitment.

I am not afraid to promote the sexual relationship within marriage to my children, without going overboard with information. My eldest is now in senior school and knows that we can talk openly about anything. Parents need to build good relationships with their children and not leave it to teachers or the media.

Yours faithfully,
Name and Address Supplied


Dear Father Editor,

Recent correspondence concerning sexuality and love draws me to argue that, surprising as it may seem, sexual activity cannot by itself generate or increase human love. All real, stabilising bonding depends on the conversion of our confusing emotional forces.

Surprising, too, is that this conversion is utterly dependent on purifying the mind by its growth into the indelible Voice of Conscience (confirmed by the Lord, Matt 5.8) concerning the fact that sexual activity is to do with procreation.

This all means that celibate periods inside marriage, as well as the celibate state outside it, actually encourage bonding. Well-motivated abstinence is good for reasons other than birth regulation. This is truly amazing. That's why the Redeemer put a definite big tick beside the idea of living in celibacy (Mt 19.12). I can remember the late Malcolm Muggeridge's astonishment in his investigations as the TV cameras revealed the creases of contentment and love in the faces of dedicated Religious.

I lived in the same house as the late Father Holloway for a year as his student. I was also his neighbour as a curate when chairman of the Arundel and Brighton Catholic Marriage Advisory Council (1964-1971). We continued to discuss these things and occasionally corresponded over many years. Father Holloway would have been the first to admit he needed to amend some of his expressions but would maintain that the thrust of his point was correct. Indeed it was and is. Sexuality can only promote love through a procreational mentality. How incredible it is to us fallen ones that sexuality bonds through emotional purification and not through sexual activity. Married sexual activity transmits the amount of love already generated, no more and no less.

Yours faithfully,
Father Bryan Storey

Dear Father Editor,

I would like to propose that married couples who engage in sexual intercourse with recourse to infertile periods do so in no less perfection than when intending pregnancy.

I do agree that there has been a tendency toward excessive emphasis on sexual pleasure in how Blessed John Paul II's Theology of the Body has in some quarters been presented; however, I fear that the article's expressed view might represent an over-correction.

I, too, rankle at how casually the term "making love" is thrown about. Today it can mean interchangeably sex between married partners or adultery. I would see it appropriately used with the former meaning intended.

The article states, "[Fr Holloway] argues that love is spiritual and is 'made' 'through the spiritual soul' 'not through the body as [the] principle of eliciting.'" I think that the Catholic principle of "not either/or, but both/and" could be applied here. There seems to be an eschewing of the bodily involvement, thereby distorting the incarnational principle that Faith so (rightly) emphasises: Christ is both divine and human, both body and soul. I perceive a trace of what might be termed an anthropological monophysitism here.

The article states: "(T)he body is not apt to be the cause of spiritual union per se." I would argue that in the marital act the union is not intended to be exclusively or even primarily spiritual, but bodily, as well (cf. the principle of "both/and). It states: "To further illustrate his point Holloway notes that angels (as spiritual but non-bodily beings) 'know love and joy, but not sex' and similarly 'God loves... but in God there is no sexuality.' Angels do not know sex because sex is a phenomenon requiring corporality. We read in Genesis 1:27: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." {RSVCE) Of course God loves without sexuality: creating man in two complementary genders accomplished the bifurcation of Hisimage. Since His being is prior to this bifurcation He is not thereby bound to love in a manner required by existence in one of two genders. What, then, does the article's statement demonstrate?

The article states: "(S)ex is a function in an office of love, namely marriage, but in itself sex 'is not a function of human love.'" By its thereby diminishing the dignity of sex within marriage is the article implying that such sex is merely an unfortunate, peripheral appendage to marital love? Furthermore, this statement seems to contradict Gaudium et spes 49: "The actions within marriage by which the couple are united intimately and chastely are noble and worthy ones. Expressed in a manner which is truly human, these actions promote that mutual self-giving by which spouses enrich each other with a joyful and a ready will" (my emphasis).

In the following paragraph Fr James points out (again, rightly) that there are expressions of love between a married couple that are "not specifically sexual", but would he therefore consider these expressions on the same level of dignity as marital sexual intimacy?

The article states: "(T)hough the body is involved it is not 'the principle of eliciting' love." I would answer that although the body may not be sufficient for eliciting love it is obviously necessary, even in his example of a domestic non-sexual activity, given that humans have a body as an integral component of their being.

It further states: "The 'spiritual soul draws the body with it in a common consent of matter and spirit.'" This statement has a bit of a dualistic ring to it, as though the otherwise unfettered spirit is required to drag its obligatory corporal burden as it seeks to love.

The article states: "Pleasure and deeper union are thus secondary ends that are part of the marriage act." However, according to Humanae Vitae 11: "The sexual activity, in which husband and wife are intimately and chastely united with one another, through which human life is transmitted, is, as the recent Council recalled, 'noble and worthy.'" Humanae Vitae, in discussing the unitive and procreative aspects of marital sex, gives no indication that, in the mind of the Church, the unitive aspect is of less dignity than the procreative. It is not described, at least therein, as secondary.

The article's discussion of what the sexual urge was like before the Fall seems to beg the question, rather than strengthen the argument. One would have to enter this part of his discussion believing the unitive aspect of marital intercourse to be of less dignity than the procreative in order to be inclined to accept this description of ante-lapsum homo's sexual urge.

Certainly disordered appetites are part and parcel of our sad post-lapsum heritage. To denigrate a given appetite in its essence post-lapsum goes well beyond saying that, while the appetite itself is still good, it is subject to excess. For example, if I go into the local restaurant hungry, having worked a long day without a meal, because I am a member of post-lapsum humanity would it be fair to describe my appetite for food as immediately/inherently excessive? To do so would seem to me to be subscribing to the old Protestant view of humanity after the Fall as being totally depraved.

If, after having had a good nourishing meal in my restaurant and topping it off with a piece of French Silk pie, I decide that the pie was so good that I want six more pieces, that would manifest a secondary, depraved appetite.

I see it to work the same for the sexual appetite. If a single person who, it will turn out, has a vocation to marriage experiences sexual attraction towards a potential spouse, need we really say that this attraction is immediately depraved? Let us say that our hypothetical couple marry. Thereafter if one or the other experience a sexual attraction towards someone else this would certainly constitute a secondary, depraved appetite.

Fr James states in the "Good, but Imperfect" section of his article, "(T)he Church teaches that a couple should only aim to space out the births of their children when there are 'serious motives' {Humanae Vitae n.16) or 'just reasons' {Catechism n. 2368) for doing so." I think the argument could be made that this Church teaching is not based upon the idea that marital sex intentionally practised during infertile periods is intrinsically "imperfect" -read, "somewhat bad" - but upon the divine command of Genesis 1:28: "Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth."

Again, I don't find any indication in Humanae Vitae that the unitive aspect is in any way inferior to the procreative even in cases where there is intentional recourse to marital sex during infertile periods. There are numerous couples of child-bearing age who have discerned that God is not calling them to have more children. In parish ministry I would find it difficult to inform a couple having so discerned that it constitutes an imperfect use of their sexual faculties to engage in marital intimacy during infertile periods.

Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen says: "In married life the two are to be united. Sex is the highest expression of the love between a husband and wife" (recorded radio program, "Life is Worth Living"). Can we really assert that the noble activity of marital intimacy which indeed manifests and promotes the unity of the couple (thereby "making love") is imperfect when a couple has recourse to it in a manner consistent with their understanding that God's will is that they are not being called to have (more) children at a given point? To do so would seem to imply that the end of generating children is more noble than the end of a couple trying to maintain or deepen their love for one another. Again, I think taking a "both...and..." approach here is more balanced.

Perhaps another perspective on the question might be provided by looking at Our Lord's observation of His creation in Matthew 7:18: "A sound tree cannot bear evil fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit." With the divorce rate among couples using NFP being less than 10 per cent of that of the general population - whether NFP is used to facilitate or space births - there's no obvious indication of imperfection.

Overall, my concern is that the view propounded by the article seems to have a dualistic, Jansenistic flavour to it. I hope I have not misread the article and therefore misrepresented its thesis. I would be grateful for any correction or clarification.

Yours faithfully,
 Fr Robert Grabner
South St Paul, Minnesota


I thank Fr Grabner, and Fr McDermott in the November/December issue, for taking the time to engage with my overview of Holloway's position. They seem to me, however, to have misunderstood some of the points I, no doubt imperfectly, presented.

First, Holloway's description of Natural Family Planning's use of the marital act as "imperfect" should in no way be read as if, as Fr Grabner suggests, he thought this use was "somewhat bad". Holloway is simply intending to create a terminology to express the fact that NFP, when practised for the sake of avoiding pregnancy and precisely because it is avoiding pregnancy, involves engaging in an act that is not all that it fully could be, and is thus in this sense "imperfect". Consciously to choose to engage in an act that lacks its fullness is significant, and Holloway is attempting to articulate this, but he does not mean to suggest that the act is thereby somehow not "good". My article's comparison of the secular and religious states was intended to convey something of this, in that thesecular state is in no sense "somewhat bad".

Secondly, with respect to the notion that the marriage act is only one of many ways that a couple "make" love with their bodies, Fr Grabner asks whether Holloway would have seen such other acts as "on the same level of dignity" as sexual intercourse. Fr McDermott similarly questions whether I had adequately articulated that sex unites love and procreation in a way that other acts do not. My article might have addressed both points if I had examined whether Holloway would have seen such non-sex acts as on the "same level" of effectiveness as sex in "making" love. While Holloway did not elaborate on this point, I think it is reasonable to say that Holloway most certainly saw sexual intercourse as uniquely "the" marriage act and thus not just on the same level as other acts a coupledo together. Holloway's principal point, however, is that there is no automatic mechanism by which sex "makes" love. For sex to "make" love it must truly be an act of spiritual love. Given that love is a spiritual act it must involve, as Holloway put it, the "spiritual soul drawpng] the body with it in a common consent of matter and spirit". There is thus no reason to think that Holloway somehow "contradicts" Gaudium et spes 49's teaching that the marital act is "noble and worthy".

Thirdly and finally, Fr Grabner suggests that Holloway sees the unitive dimension of the marital act as "of less dignity" than the procreative. Holloway does not say this and I see no reason to infer this. Holloway does not speak of "dignity" since this was not the focus of his argument. What he does say is that the procreative meaning is primary relative to the unitive meaning, a point well and repeatedly made in the Catholic Tradition. Further, as my article outlined, it is precisely through the procreative meaning that the marital act has its unitive meaning. This later point is made by none less than Pope John Paul II himself who manifests how this procreative dimension, which bonds a couple together, is what makes their relationship different from other friendships. To saythis is to indicate why sex is truly "noble and worthy" rather than to imply that it isn't. Further analysis of John Paul II on this point can be found in Janet Smith's book, Humanae Vitae A Generation Later, pp. 107ff, where she also outlines how the marital act retains this "unitive through procreative" meaning even when the act is known to be infertile.

Faith Magazine

January - February 2012