Letters to the Editor
FAITH Magazine July-August 2006
Effects of The da Vinci Code
Dear Father Editor
Thank you for last month’s excellent Da Vinci Code editorial. It resonated with some of my own experiences as a teacher of RE in secondary schools. You well bring out how it is that educators in Catholic schools may well unwittingly foster The Da Vinci Code’s anti-Catholic suggestions. My experience is that this relativising process is indeed far advanced. So many of my pupils seem already thoroughly indoctrinated in the convictions that every historical fact prior to the advent of video cameras and mobile phones is worthy of suspicion. Such minds can dismiss the Gospel as old-fashioned irrational superstition, while simultaneously holding illogical positions presented by a shoddily researched fictional novel.
Many seem to have succumbed to the temptation of C.S. Lewis’ diabolical Uncle Screwtape, “Give him a grand general idea that he knows it all and that everything he happens to have picked up in casual talk and reading is ‘the results of modern investigation’”. As you rightly point out, the Church is no stranger to safeguarding the faithful from attacks on the divinity of Christ, even since the early days of the Gnostics and Arius. “Same heresy, different packaging”—as my former parish priest was fond of saying.
Ah well, at least God can bring good out of evil. The way in which various groups within the Church, the Faith Movement amongst them, have responded to The Da Vinci Code is commendable. Yet, as you well bring out, without a new well-founded apologetic the urgently needed ‘new evangelization’ is a very uphill task. St. Paul predicted this in his letter to Timothy, “For the time will come when people will not tolerate sound doctrine but, following their own desires and insatiable curiosity, will accumulate teachers and will stop listening to the truth and will be diverted to myths.” (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)
Problems Explaining the Church's Teaching on the Marital Act
Dear Father Editor,
In your last issue John Gallagher wrote a letter replying to my article on sexual morality and the ‘Perverted Faculty’ Argument. Mr Gallagher’s comments referred to Prof Germain Grisez and the is/ought controversy, a topic that goes to the heart of the contemporary debate about Natural Law. I would like to start by acknowledging that Grisez (and presumably Mr Gallagher) defends the conclusions of the Church’s Magisterium. However, I believe Grisez does so using an inadequate and overly legalistic moral system.
Mr Gallagher refers to the is/ ought question, ie. the notion that an ethicist cannot start his reasoning from what the world ‘is’ like (and, in particular, what human nature ‘is’ like) and deduce what a person ‘ought’ to do. However, Mr Gallagher does not mention the historical origin of the is/ought divorce: It was a thesis proposed by the sceptic philosopher David Hume. Grisez et al therefore have an unusual ally in siding themselves with Hume. (Mr Gallagher disputes my use of St Thomas, however, I would note that Grisez himself now states that his thought is not St Thomas’s.)
Accepting the Humean is/ought divorce has serious and detrimental consequences. If Grisez is correct, and moral reasoning about sexual morality cannot be based on human nature, then moral reasoning can only be based on Grisez’s ‘goods’. Grisez’s ‘goods’ are said to be self-evident. However, as has been frequently observed by Grisez’s critics, the ‘goods’ on his list seem to have been chosen arbitrarily. The choice is arbitrary because there is no appeal that can be made other than to say that they are self-evident. (This arbitrariness is all the more significant when it is claimed that they can never be sacrificed.) Further, Grisez’s list of self-evident goods has increased in number, indicating that what they are is not self-evident even to him. Thus Grisez’s system seems inadequate.However, perhaps more significantly, the separation of morality from human nature means that his ‘goods’ have no clear connection with the human person.
In contrast, the system that Janet Smith (and traditional Natural Law theorists) proposes bases Natural Law (at least in part) on human nature. In addition, traditional Natural Law theorists hold that part of the way human nature is discovered is by examining the processes and purposes of the body. This therefore proposes the ‘ought’ of the moral law to man as something that is tied to what he ‘is’; not just a law outside of him.
Mr Gallagher says that Grisez’s approach is ‘appealing’, and he is certainly entitled to think this. However, in my opinion, the arbitrariness of Grisez’s goods makes the moral deductions from them hopelessly legalistic and very un-‘appealing’. It seems to me that this legalism is a necessary consequence of having divorced reason and law from the body, and thus divorced reason and law from the person. In contrast, I find Janet Smith’s argumentation ‘appealing’ because she roots her opposition to contraception in the nature of the body and the person. I’d suggest that this is why she (and not Grisez) is being used by NFP courses across the USA.
Finally, I would note that Edward Holloway’s synthesis includes a moral vision that rejects Hume’s Law. Evolution clearly manifests a notion of the body that is purposeful and bodily organs that are purposeful (as my article argued). Accepting Hume’s Law would deprive the Faith Movement’s moral vision of its connection to these truths that science and evolution can demonstrate to us.
Nonetheless, I wish to conclude by re-iterating my opening comment that Grisez’s argument is offered to defend the teaching of the Church. If people find his argument convincing, then let them be convinced—what we want is for more people to be convinced!
Fr Dylan James
Casa Santa Maria,
Dear Fr. Editor,
Re: “Confusion Over the Meanings of Marriage” (Editorial, March 06). Unnecessary difficulty will arise in this debate if one fails to distinguish between the meanings of marriage (and of the conjugal act), on the one hand, and the ends of marriage itself on the other. The Church’s magisterium (in the Code of 1983, confirmed by the 1994 Catechism) has certainly proposed a new formulation of these ends: “the well being of the spouses and the procreation and upbringing of children” (c. 1055; CCC no. 2363). [“well-being” is not a very satisfactory rendering of the Latin original, bonum coniugum—the good of the spouses]. Certainly nothing in the magisterium countenances interpreting the “good of the spouses” in terms of “getting on well together” and less still of having a subjectiveexperience of love. During my years at the Rota and ever since I have constantly sought to indicate the biblical roots of this new phrase (“it is not good for man—or woman—to be alone”: Gen 2:18), and suggested that the true bonum coniugum, as an end of marriage, consists in the maturing of the spouses in their objective capacity to live dedicated love; i.e. preparing them for heaven, through the generous and mutual giving of themselves. In essence it has nothing to do with “feelings of love”, and can only be the result of committed love.
In a 1999 address, John Paul II stressed that “a vague feeling or even a strong psycho-physical attraction” cannot be confused with “real love for another person, which consists of a sincere desire for his or her welfare and is expressed in a concrete commitment to achieve it”. He went on, “This is the clear teaching of the Second Vatican Council, but it is also one of the reasons why the two Codes of Canon Law, Latin and Eastern, promulgated by me, declared and set forth the bonum coniugum as also a natural end of marriage” (Address to the Roman Rota of Jan 21, 1999).
In my opinion, to speak of “the unitive end of marriage” is to depart from and obscure the real meaning and intention of the new term introduced by the magisterium. No less importantly, a careless use of terms can equally obscure the application of the teaching of Humanae Vitae. The central principle laid down there of “the inseparable connection... between the two meanings of the conjugal act: the unitive meaning and the procreative meaning” (HV 12), has in itself no bearing on the issue of the ends of marriage or of any possible hierarchy between those ends.
However, just as Humanae Vitae insists on the inseparability of the two meanings of the marital act, I think the Church is asking us to grasp and insist on the inseparability or necessary connection between the two ends of marriage itself; in other words how the true good of the spouses is tied up with their openness to children, and cannot be achieved without such openness. I hold that it is not a possible restoration of a hierarchy between the ends of marriage, but a better grasp of their nature and their necessary interconnection, that can provide the most effective arguments against the current denaturalizing of marriage itself and of the marital act.
Contraceptive sex, oral or anal sex, coitus interruptus, sex with the use of condoms... do not constitute a true sexual act of union at all. And their intrinsic immorality derives not only from their contraceptive purpose (if that is there), but also from their violation of the essential nature of sexual intercourse as an act of union between the spouses.
An individual spouse may not have an anti-procreative intention if a condom is used for the sole purpose of protection against HIV infection. But the condom renders the act anti-unitive in physical and anthropological fact. The unitive nature of the act is totally nullified, and the “inseparable connection” between the two aspects of the act is broken—if not on the side of procreative intent, certainly on that of unitive nature. By such an act the spouses are not “made one”, for it is simply not an act of marital union at all. The mutual dedication and belonging of the spouses, instead of being affirmed by such an act, are denied.
In a brief reply I cannot expound all the reasons for these opinions— which I have maintained in many publications over the past decades, e.g. “Marriage: a personalist or an institutional understanding?” (Communio 19 (1992)); “Procreativity and the Conjugal Self-Gift” (Studia canonica 24 (1990)); in chapter seven (“Marriage and Contraception”) of Covenanted Happiness; “Married Personalism and the "Good of the Spouses" (Angelicum 75 (1998)); “Marriage: Commitment or Experiment?” (Linacre Quarterly 63 (1996)). These and others can be found on my website at www.cormacburke.or.ke
Fr Cormac Burke
Humanae Vitae Infallible?
Dear Father Editor,
Fr. Holloway’s 1974 view that Humanae Vitae was “an ex cathedra statement” (May issue) is now obsolete, because Canon 749 para 3 makes it clear that a doctrine may not be “understood to be infallibly defined unless this is manifestly demonstrated”. It is exactly because, in spite of the widespread, nearly four decades’ opposition to the Encyclical—a “sheer heresy” to use Fr. Holloway’s phrase, no bishop or pope came up with a claim that it was an ex cathedra statement, that one cannot claim that the doctrine was manifestly defined.
The view is not unique, however: it was held for Casti Connubii by some manualists before the Second Vatican Council (Ford and Grisez: "Contraception and Infallibility of the Ordinary Magisterium", Theological Studies, 1978, 39, 258-312; they examined 41 “most used manuals”).
This, of course, doesn’t mean that the doctrine has not been infallibly proposed, but only that it
was not proposed in the form of definition. Ford and Grisez (ibid.) maintain that “there is an extremely strong case for the position that the received Catholic teaching on the immorality of contraception has been infallibly proposed by the ordinary magisterium.” Strangely enough, that was the view put forward before them by Hans Kung in his book Infallible? An Enquiry, 1970 (English translation,1971). They all agree that the doctrine meets criteria laid down by the Second Vatican Council (Lumen Gentium, 25/2); the only difference being that to Kung the latter is the “Roman” doctrine of infallibility, “not necessarily” the “Catholic doctrine” (ibid. 51-52).
Fr. Holloway is preoccupied with laying down his own criteria for a definition, but overlooks the key assertion of Humanae Vitae, which Küng brings to the reader’s attention. Referring to the findings of the Commission the Pope feels obliged to take the matter in his own hands, particularly because:
...certain approaches and criteria... emerged which were at variance with the moral doctrines on marriage constantly taught by the Magisterium of the Church. (6)
Kung comments: “That explains it” (42). The Pope refers to the constant teaching again in sections 10, 11 and 25; thus reiterating similar statements in Casti Connubii (56, CTS edition), and Pius XII’s address to midwives (24, 25, CTS edition).
Hawes Road, Bromley
Anti-Life Culture Experiences
Dear Father Editor,
Might I highlight a grotesque machine currently on display in the London Science Museum (see below). Called a "Euthanasia Machine", it killed four people in Australia while Euthanasia was legal there. The procedure was for the victims to answer ‘Yes’ to a sequence of questions on the laptop, after which the kit in the box on the left did the deed.
This is described on the big red board behind the display, which goes on to tell you that while Euthanasia was subsequently made illegal in Australia, it is now being brought in in various countries around the world, the implication being that these are enlightened countries. The display is ideally positioned for children to see (my son’s hair is visible at bottom left). The Science Museum doing its bit for the Culture of Death.
Fernside Rd, London
Dear Father Editor,
I read with interest Fiorella Nash’s article on her experience of pregnancy (March issue), and it is one that I empathise with, having just celebrated the birth of our son. My husband and I were shocked by the promotion of abortion and the tests for “abnormalities” that followed the positive pregnancy result. As was the case with Fiorella, the paperwork painted a moribund picture of modern ‘healthcare’, saddled as it is with bureaucracy and the mentality that separates freedom from truth (tests recommended for HIV, leaflets about how a termination can be arranged, the test for Down’s Syndrome etc). Happily the bedside manner has not been totally lost. Our experience of ‘care’ suggested that everyone was quite aware that I had a baby inside me and not a “bundle of cells”.
At the 12 week scan we were astounded by the level of detail that you can see, i.e. a fully formed baby in miniature, and we were able to share our scan pictures with friends and family who were not pro-life. One of my friends was notably shocked when she heard that abortion still has an upper limit of 24 weeks in the UK. Our 20 week scan was even more extraordinary in detail, showing all the chambers of the heart and the flow of blood around major organs. And as Fiorella writes, when you are pregnant it is impossible to ignore the humanity that is growing inside of you.
Now that our baby has arrived I can confirm that the elements of personality that we were aware of when he was in utero are very much in evidence. Science is beginning to reveal what the Church has so vehemently taught that life begins at conception and if there is any doubt it is better to err on the side of life.
Marie-Therese and John,
Evolution and Creation
Dear Fr Editor,
Evangelical Creationists, I believe, cannot accept the theory of evolution because it appears to conflict with Genesis 1. Catholics do not normally take such a literalist approach to the Bible, so I wonder if those of us who do oppose evolution do so because it appears to make us the end product of millions of years of random events? If so, surely they forget that God is in His divine nature completely transcendent to the space-time universe.
Suppose it could be shown from past letters that my father met my mother because he missed his train, and so caught the one on which he found this beautiful young woman sitting; suppose, further, that a super-computer could show that some of my genes can be traced back to a small creature scrabbling about in the Triassic mud. My birth would appear to be the result of pure accident. Yet I am sure that even so, God knew me, loved me, and willed me into being from all eternity.
We get into difficulties, perhaps, if we think of someone whose birth was due, let us say, to rape. Yet even so, God does not will the sin, but he does will and love the baby. Yes, that is difficult to take in; but then, as I said, God is completely beyond creation and his mind cannot be totally fathomed.
To believe that men and women are the end result of a process of evolution is not to deny that at some point God had to endow them with a spiritual soul, although it would be fruitless to discuss, or even to speculate on, how and when this happened.
Incidentally, man cannot have been originally intended to remain on this earth if he had never sinned. The earth is getting overcrowded now—what would it have been like if no one had ever died?
As for original sin, to see that we are a fallen race, one has only to open any newspaper. As to how it started, the new Catechism says that the account of the Fall in Genesis uses figurative language, but it does affirm a primeval event (309). It also says (388) that we must know Christ as the source of grace in order to know Adam as the source of sin.
Sin is a mystery in the fullest theological meaning of that term, the ‘mysterium iniquitatis’, and we cannot expect fully to understand how, so to say, we as humans can stand outside God’s will. That we can and do is a fact of daily experience, in my own life as in that of others. That is where the story of redemption starts—‘O felix culpa!’ And it is a story which never ends, until God has gathered all the Redeemed into his heavenly Kingdom.
Dom Aldhelm Cameron-Brown OSB,
The Role of Men
Dear Fr Editor,
One of the ways in which some clergy are out of touch today is in their attitude to lay men. Far too many have imbibed the modern Feminist canard that women are usually good and men are usually bad.
Your publication of the not terribly inspired poem Woman in a Church is, perhaps, an example of such a view. The poem calls her sex “graceful” and her spouse “faithless”. This is an all too typically unfair caricature and yet such caricatures often pass without comment in our increasingly Feminist world.
In my many years of practice in the Family Courts in this country (and it is not very different in other countries) my experience has been that the behaviour of all too many women, Catholics included, has not been graceful but rather disgraceful. On the other hand, the courts have shown a tendency to oppress men, not least faithful husbands and to reward the often disgraceful conduct of too many thoroughly badly-behaved women. Too many decent men have been crushed and destroyed by a Feminist bias in our family courts. Innocent children and other women have also been left victims of this Feminist bias.
This is the result of years of Feminism and of the support of Feminism by people who ought to know better. That, alas, includes not a few clergy.
Feminism is a scourge that has cut a huge swathe through the lives of millions of families causing damage and lasting wounds, all too often of a most crushing and painful kind. Feminism’s violent legacy is also a chief driver behind the abortion holocaust that has deprived so many millions upon millions of unborn children of their tiny, innocent lives. Feminism also harms women: one of its pernicious effects in law and society has been to put a lot of men off marriage to the detriment of many good young women who would like to find a good husband to marry.
Another false assumption is that because one often finds more women than men in church that women must therefore be more holy. This is false logic on a number of heads. First, one may attend a church without necessarily having come even close to following the precepts of the Church, let alone obtaining holiness. Plenty of people attend church regularly whilst dissenting from primary teachings of the Church. Going through the motions of attending a church and even set devotions is no guarantee of holiness: one must participate with the heart not go through the motions.
Secondly, so much of modern liturgy has been “feminised” and the introduction of female altar servers has sometimes had the effect of putting off boys from service at the altar. Liturgy has often become shallow, mawkish and glib so that it appears more like a children’s party than an attempt to worship God with real sincerity and depth. That is more likely to put men off than women who perhaps may enjoy children’s parties more than men.
The Feminist sport of deriding and sniping at men seems to have taken on a life of its own and is by no means minimised by the media, by advertisers, by politicians and pundits and even by the clergy. It is a constant backdrop to many a discussion on TV and radio.
None of this must be taken as detracting from the fine example of the many very wonderful and faithful women in the Church today. Nevertheless, the time is long overdue to redress the Feminist bias against men. It is harming us all.
That too many clergy seem unaware of this problem is a classic example of being out of touch. How about a poem to celebrate the unsung heroism of many a hard-working, devout father in our increasingly Feminist world? God is a father. The priest is a father. But the layman who is a father has become a neglected figure in church and society and, in some cases, a derided figure or even, in some really perverse modern representations, a hate-figure. This cannot but be highly destructive.
Please—a little less Feminism, my fathers. Feminism is the enemy of love and we are already saturated enough in its vengeful legacy.
The Inner Temple
Pieces published in the magazine reflect the opinions of the authors, not necessarily the editorial line. We would concur with Mr Bogle about the excesses of feminism, as we expect would the poem’s author, given its traditional familial focus. In fairness to the author, the word used to describe the imagined spouse is “faithless” not “unfaithful”, with the connotation of non-Christian or non-practising rather than adulterous.
Oratory School's Geographical and Ecclesial Position
Dear Father Editor,
As the Chaplain to the Oratory School, I was both interested and delighted to read Fr Andrew Byrne’s review of Paul Shrimpton’s book The Catholic Eton. Just for the record, I wanted to make it clear that the present location of the school is not the one mentioned in the review. The school left its site in Berkshire in 1941 and that building now serves as the overseas broadcasting HQ of the BBC. The Oratory School is located at Woodcote, in South Oxfordshire—though the postcode is a Reading one! We have been here since 1942.
I am both pleased and proud to be able to report that John Henry Newman’s vision still daily inspires the religious and academic inspiration of this school of 400 boys. We have a large percentage of non-Catholics but the ethos and worship of the school remains solidly Catholic. Information also indicates that we are now the only independent, single-sex boys school of Catholic identity anywhere in the country.
Fr Antony Conlon
Chaplain to the Oratory School and the Oratory Preparatory School,