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[St Paul's] frankness consists of saying the truth in a world dominated by appearance, even though it involves him in conflict........Joseph Ratzinger

Chapter 1

The Cultural Background

Secularization and the Church’s Teaching on Morality

Commenting on the cancellation of a pastoral visit to the USA in the Autumn of 1994, an editorial in the Irish Times, 26 September 1994, admitted that the many pastoral visits of Pope John Paul II ‘have brought to many millions of people a renewal of faith and a degree of certainty’. But the main concern of the editorial was with the Pope’s ‘profound convictions and devotion to traditional beliefs and practices’ which ‘have been widely criticized, and yet [...] have stood firm in a world in the full flood of change.’ And further: ‘When the time comes to judge how he used the influence of his office on major issues facing mankind on the threshold of the 21st century, his fundamentalism is likely to be seen as one extreme of a so far unresolved debate which will eventually help to determine the very future of civilization.’

Few will disagree with the judgement that the controversies surrounding his pontificate were and still are of decisive import for the future of civilization. Yet it should be noted that the controversies about the ‘major issues facing mankind’ alluded to by the editorial are in the eyes of the media mostly in the sexual and bioethical field. They reflect rather what seems to be the primary concern of the media in the Western world, in particular where Anglo-Saxon values predominate. In other parts of the world, it was the Pope’s social teaching, his teaching about justice, politics, economics, culture and science, which was the major source of controversy during his pontificate. At any rate, it remains true that common to all his teaching was his defence of objectivity in matters of morality, in particular that expounded in the encyclical Veritatis Splendor. The editorial alludes to this when it refers to the ‘Pope’s restatement of ethical and moral values, and his uncompromisingly absolute use of language’. Of course it was not the Pope’s use of language which offended but his defence of moral absolutes. In other words his teaching that there are certain acts, few in number, which are intrinsically wrong irrespective of the circumstances or motivation of the one who so acts.

Moral absolutes are in turn but the tip of an iceberg. The acceptance or rejection of moral absolutes characterizes two views of morality which, though predating Humanae Vitae, came to their full development within the Church in the wake of the encyclical. These two views may be briefly summarized as traditional and objective morality on the one hand and progressive or evolutionary and subjective morality on the other. Those who reject traditional morality accordingly believe more or less in the evolution of moral values, namely that they must change with the times. The future of civilization does indeed hinge on the resolution of that debate, which is not simply theoretical but affects every aspect of life – personal, communal and political. The editorial perceptively comments that those who reject the Pope’s conclusions (including many in ‘his own church’) ‘still have not been able to avoid considering his central preoccupation with the purpose of human life which can be submerged in the process of subjecting all received ideas to eclectic criti­cism and analysis’.

What is disturbing is the use of the term ‘fundamentalism’ to describe the late Pope’s teaching. The editorial writer was not being original in his usage of the word. It is more or less commonplace in the Anglo-Saxon world to describe the Church’s moral teaching. The term once described a late 19th- early 20th-century phenomenon in North American Protestantism. Now it is bandied about to describe pejoratively any strong religious conviction.1 Anyone who has studied the subtleties of the philosophical and theological thought of Pope John Paul II or observed his approach to science, politics and other religions, Christian and non-Christian (for example, the Assisi meeting in 1986), cannot fail to be somewhat astonished by the use of such a crude term to describe his teaching. All his encyclicals display a profound concern to answer objec­tions raised to the Church’s apostolic teaching – and so deepen our understanding of same. Whether he did so adequately or not is another question. It is unfair to claim, as the editorial does, that ‘debate and compromise are, by definition, inappropriate in the Pope’s context’.

It is indeed possible to mistake the radical nature of the Church’s teaching for ‘fundamentalism’ when one’s own firmly held moral convictions are being challenged, as is the case with the whole movement of secularization. Like his predecessor’s encyclical on birth control, the late Pope John Paul II in the course of his long pontificate attacked some of the fundamental assumptions of modern civilization, but this is not the same as ‘fundamentalism’. The simplistic answers offered by this modern mentality to such complex human problems as marital difficulty (‘introduce divorce’), AIDS (‘use condoms’) or the so-called population problem (‘dispense contraceptives, promote abortion’) as well as the fanaticism with which they are pursued, in particular by certain extreme feminists,2 might more appropriately be termed a type of secular ‘fundamentalism’ – should one insist on using the term.

The most fundamental assumption of modern civilization is perhaps the denial, both theoretical and practical, of the existence of God. It is one of the basic presuppositions of secularization. This denial of God in turn produces an anthropology – that is, a view of what it is to be human – which is at variance with the religious view, be it Jewish, Christian, Islamic or otherwise. Such an anthropology in turn gives rise to a view of morality which radically departs from classical morality, both pagan and Christian. Chapter One of Veritatis Splendor has as its objective to demonstrate the intrinsic relationship between moral good and God, between moral behaviour and union with God, which many ethical theories of a secularist mould, effectively deny or ignore. Without God, morality then becomes either utilitarian or motivational, that is, moral value is determined either by the calculation of the hoped-for good consequences of an action, or by the good intentions of the one who acts. Thus, for example, the act of adultery is now judged morally acceptable in certain circumstances – the famous case of the woman in a concentration camp who is offered the freedom to return to her husband and family provided she first agrees to sleep with one of the officers of the camp. The plausibility of such an argument, which would have shocked a good pagan in antiquity not to mention an early Christian such as St Cecilia, indicates how far we have moved from traditional sexual morality. We shall return later to this infamous casus

But the denial of God has further consequences for sexual morality which are equally radical. Mankind has always seen sexuality as itself something sacred, an aspect of human life that is essentially divine in some primordial sense, as compared with the profane, the world of work and business. The modern world likewise unwittingly testifies to the same when modern popular music – in particular its videos/DVDs – regularly associate pornography and blasphemy, mixing sexual motifs with religious symbols, crosses, nuns, priests, even statues of saints, not to mention the diabolical allusions in video clips accompanying the songs. That may well be an inevitable reaction to the general approach to sexuality which tends to trivialize it by reducing it to something profane, a supreme if passing pleasure that is ultimately marketable, a consumer product.

According to Christopher Derrick,3 the real significance of the difference between the traditional Catholic sexual morality and the amorality of the permissive society cannot be even vaguely appreciated if we remain on the level of morality (what is good as opposed to bad). It can only be apprehended on the level of religion (what is sacred as opposed to the profane). Religion, dealing with the sacred, concerns both God and Satan, love and hatred, whereas the profane is the realm of the indifferent. The moral codes proposed by the Church and most secular philosophers respectively are based on two different understandings of the ultimate significance of sexuality.

The religious significance of sexuality arises from the primordial experience of mankind which recognized sex as something sacred, that is, something awe-full, ‘which needs to be approached and handled in a special way’ (p. 35), symbolized by the goddess Venus. Since the sacred is, almost by definition, that which is not to be trifled with, she turns demoniac when abused.4 Venus is linked in mythology with Mars, the god of war, and in psychology with violence and death. ‘About her, at its primary and ritual level of self-expression, the Church spoke from the start, and still does speak, in the most clearly sacral idiom of veneration. She has her place in the sanctuary, close to the Christian heart of things’ (p. 75). This is because the ‘Catholic Faith is an incarnational, even a carnal thing [...]. The uniting of flesh and blood with the supremely Sacred lies at the heart of its belief and its worship too, as a bodily and even sexual emphasis recurs constantly in its self-expression’ (p. 73). The highest expression of the Church’s veneration of sexuality is her recognition of marriage as one of the seven sacraments.

The sexual revolution of the 1960s, Derrick maintains, received its extraordinary force not from any simple desire for freedom, pleasure and fulfilment – though they too were present – but rather from a revolutionary hatred of Venus (representing the sacral significance of sex, love and fertility). The desacralization of sex – removing it from the realm of the sacred and turning it into something essentially trivial – results in it becoming simply an instrument, something to be used either for pleasure (self-satisfaction) or, at the most, for the expression of personal relationships, whose object is likewise, in the final analysis, one’s own pleasure.

But one does not trifle with the sacred. Behind all the present-day frank discussion of sex lies the perennial fear and hatred of Venus to which humanity, it seems, is universally prone (see p. 164). Fear of the reality makes modern man turn to fantasy (various forms of pornography, etc.). The modern world is characterized by its ‘flight from reality not least in connection with Venus (p. 17o).5 Hatred of the flesh, in particular the female body and its generative capacity, dominates, for example, the thought of Simone de Beauvoir, the author of the modern manifesto on feminism.6 But the most violent attack has been on fertility. Contraception, according to Derrick, is a form of chemical warfare on Venus. Pregnancy is now being looked upon more and more as an illness, something to be avoided at all costs. ‘It seems to me that the secular culture of our time’, Derrick states (p. 14) echoing several writers, ‘is characterized by an all-pervading hatred and fear of sex’. Hate begets revolt: ‘what fuels revolution is the destructive power of hate’ (p. 15). On the other hand, Derrick claims, the Church is the only champion of Venus, the goddess of fertility and love. The language of Derrick is perhaps too forceful at times; in many ways he overstates his case, but his main thesis is worthy of consideration: contrary to popular opinion, the Church, almost alone in the modern world, is the champion of sex understood as a sacral reality.

The International Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo (513 September 1994)7 illustrated the point rather dramatically. But it also drew attention to another aspect of sexual ethics, its political dimension. The main issue that caught the attention of the media was abortion, but more was at stake, namely the nature of sexuality and marriage. On the eve of the Cairo meeting, the Vatican spokesman affirmed: ‘It is not a casual fact that an institution so natural, so fundamental, and universal as marriage is practically absent in the document text’, namely the Programme of Action. In an editorial column in the Wall Street Journal that same day, the writer noted that the Programme of Action which was to be presented to the Conference for approval concentrated on the ‘dangers’ of procreation and embraced the following view of human sexuality:

All essentially sterile acts [...] are said to be relatively insignificant. Homosexual or lesbian activity, contraception or sterilization, all are viewed in a positive light because they have no visible consequences. Sex becomes literally insignificant. The social and political freedom of homosexual activity is thus rooted precisely in its lack of any real existential purpose or consequence.8

However, these criticisms do not address the admittance by the USA that it wished to impose a new role for women, as defined by them, on the rest of humanity. Is this not a new form of imperialism? The assumption is that the ideal is represented by White Anglo-Saxon Protestant society and that this ideal must of necessity be adopted by the rest of the world. Such neo-imperialism was perhaps the main reason for the reaction of the Muslim countries to the Programme of Action. The so-called Third-World countries, who also showed their unease, already feel the effects of this neo-imperialism, since foreign aid granted to such countries is generally conditional on the agreement of the Government of that country to promote contraceptives – and abortion – under the guise of ‘family planning’ or ‘reproductive rights’. The Cairo conference wanted to extend the notion of family planning to include abortion as a means to this end. Amazingly, the Pope’s almost single-handed opposition prevented this from happening. The Muslim support was not insignificant. It was summed up in the words of the then Pakistani prime minister, the late Benazir Bhutto: ‘Kill not your children on a claim of want. Allah said, “I will provide”.’ She put her finger on the core issue; the acceptance or rejection of God and his providence.                                                                                      

I mention these issues at the outset to draw attention primarily to some of the political and economic implications of sexual ethics in the wake of the widespread acceptance of contraception since the 196os. Others include the one-child policy in China and the selective abortion of female embryos in India. The question is: How did such a situation arise?

Cultural Background to the Contemporary Moral Crisis

The seeds of the present situation were sown at the beginning of the last century, if not earlier. Writing before the outbreak of the Second World War, Christopher Dawson in his essay on ‘Christianity and Sex’ gives a perceptive analysis of the radical change of attitude which critical thinkers were even then articulating.9Western Civilization at the present day,’ he begins, ‘is passing through a crisis which is essentially different from anything that has been previously experienced’ (p. 259). The essential difference consists in the fact that whereas in former times societies changed their institutions or their religious beliefs due to either external forces or slow transformation from within, attempts are being made today consciously through social engineering to change the fundamental social relations and moral beliefs of society. ‘Civilization is being uprooted from its foundations in nature and tradition and is being reconstituted in a new organization which is as artificial and mechanical as a modern factory’ (p. 259).

Whereas at the centre of Western civilization (namely Western Europe, which Dawson seems to have equated with England) the process was at the time being impeded from full development by traditions of an older culture, the attempt radically to change society has been most successful in what Dawson patronizingly calls ‘the outlying territories of our civilization’ – namely North America and Russia. In Russia – or rather the Soviet Union as it was then called – the government attempted to impose these changes consciously and deliberately, meeting only passive resistance by a largely peasant society.10 In North America, the change has been produced by the unfettered development of the new economic forces. Common to both is ‘the same cult of the machine, the same tendency to subordinate every other side of human life to economic activity’ (p. 260).

In both, the individual is under pressure to conform to a standardized type of mass civilization. ‘[W]e see in both societies the breaking down of the family as a fixed social unit and the rise of a new type of morality, based upon the complete emancipation of sexual relations from the old social restrictions’ (p. 260). In the Soviet Union, marriage is primarily a voluntary arrangement terminable at will, and America, through her easy divorce legislation, is moving in the same direction. The significance of the breakdown of traditional morality is the most important of the symptoms of change, since society can undergo considerable change ‘of its economic conditions and yet preserve its vital continuity, but if a fundamental social unit like the family loses its coherence and takes on a new form this continuity is destroyed and a new social organism comes into existence’ (p. 261).

European society of the past, like every other strong and healthy society, has always rested on the foundation of marriage understood as a permanent union which also can render the family possible as a permanent social unit. That unit was supported by a network of publicly recognized, strong moral and religious sanctions, which in turn both protected society from becoming mechanical and ensured that the State’s economic organization could not absorb every aspect of the citizen’s life. The transformation of marriage into a temporary arrangement to satisfy the sexual impulse and mutual companionship would, in the first place, undermine the family’s social and economic importance and prepare the way for the State to become the primary guardian and educator of the children. This, in turn, would also have a profound effect on the nature of society as such, which would no longer be seen to consist in a number of organisms, each of which possesses a limited autonomy. Instead, it will become ‘one vast unit which controls the whole life of the individual citizen from the cradle to the grave’ (see pp 2623). Hence the hostility of communist and socialist alike to the traditional code of sexual morality, since their social ideals (the transformation of society by State agencies) can only be realized if and when the old form of marriage is undermined.

This, however, does not altogether explain the strength of the modern attack on marriage and morals, Dawson recognized. At the time, the writings of such as those of Bertrand Russell were causing a stir. They advocated a ‘new morality’. The ordinary follower of the ‘new moralitywas not necessarily an admirer of the ideals of social mechanism and mass civilization but the reverse, namely ‘an individualist and a rebel who is in revolt against every kind of social discipline and external compulsion. He seeks not mechanism but freedom, and his hostility to marriage springs from a romantic idealisation of sex and a desire to free his emotional life from all social constraints’ (p. 263). The propaganda mounted by such advocates of the ‘new morality’ is, according to Dawson, but the tail-end of the great liberal assault on authority and social tradition which had its origins in the eighteenth century. At the centre of that liberal assault was the denial of God which results in the (usually implicit) claim on the part of man to god-like status. Since God is by nature unlimited and to be human is by nature to be limited, the denial of God must of necessity lead to the claim by man to be unlimited. This found expression in the rejection of all moral and social restraints apart from what was required by enlightened self-interest, such as the harm that others may do to me. Thus, for example, human rights were seen to be limited by the length of one’s arm: my rights end where your rights begin.

Today ‘[w]e have to choose between two contradictory ideals – on the one hand, that of the traditional Christian morality, which finds its most complete expression in Catholicism – and on the other, the ideal of a purely hedonist morality, which involves unrestricted freedom in sexual relations and the reorganization of marriage and the family on the model of the new Russian legislation’ (p. 264). Now the dilemma of the ‘ordinary Englishman’ is that, though he instinctively favours the traditional morality which formed both English law and society, he lacks any clear system of ethical principles which could help him justify his views. Thus the defence of traditional morality is left to the Church, especially the Catholic Church, who is recognized as Enemy No. 1 by the advocates of the new morality. The latter maintain that the Christian view of marriage and of sexual morality has no basis in natural ethics. ‘It is an irrational system of taboo created by medieval superstition and oriental asceticism. According to Mr Bertrand Russell, “those who first inculcated such a view must have suffered from a diseased condition of body or mind or both”’ (pp 2645). Advocates of the new morality paint the theology of the early Church in lurid colours, a travesty, in fact of the Patristic teaching.

In reality,’ Dawson affirms, ‘the Church has always based its teaching on marriage and sexual morality, not on ideals of asceticism, nor even on its theological dogmas, but on broad ground of natural law and social function’ (p. 265). This he demonstrates by outlining Augustine’s teaching on marriage. Despite his stress on the ascetical side of Christian ethics, Augustine, according to Dawson, was far from being the Manichaean sex-maniac that so many moderns imagine. His fundamental attitude was rational, even scientific. What food is to the conservation of the individual, Augustine wrote, that sexual intercourse is to the preservation of the species, and so sexual appetite is as good and healthy as our appetite for food. What is immoral is any attempt to separate the pleasure derived from satisfying one’s sexual appetite from the social purpose of sex. This same purpose demands a corresponding social institution for its fulfilment, namely the family, the union of man and wife. However, the institution of marriage does not rest solely on the fulfilment of its primary purpose, the procreation of children, but rather on a second good, ‘the power of friendship, which has its root in the essentially social character of human nature’ and which, through mutual help, flourished in later life in the order of charity, love in its fullness. ‘In other words marriage has a spiritual as well as a physical foundation, and it is the union of these two principles, both alike social and natural, which deter­mines the character of the family and the origin of all sexual morality’ (p. 266). Thus Church teaching condemns contraception as an unnatural attempt to divorce sexual activity from its biological function; it forbids irregular sexual intercourse because it involves the separation of sex from its proper social organ; and it is opposed to divorce and remarriage because they destroy the permanence of the marriage bond and thus break down the organization of the family as the primary sociological unit. In a word, the Church’s resistance to the hedonism and individualism of the ‘new morality’ is not based on an irrational system of taboos but on a solid foundation of ‘biological and sociological principles’.

What Dawson wanted to demonstrate here is that the Church’s teaching on sexual behaviour is based on reason not on Dogma, less still on what the moderns called irrational medieval taboos. He further comments that, for the same reason, the Church maintains the original and inalienable rights of the family against the claims of the modern State to override them, quoting Pope Leo XIII,11 who over a century and a quarter ago warned that the alteration by the State of the fundamental moral law that governs marriage and family life will ultimately lead to the ruin of society. This is due to the fact that, as the autonomy of the family declines, the instruments of the State (or rather State bureaucracy) increase in power and prestige.

Reading Dawson over seventy years later one is struck by its almost prophetic character, even if one must disagree with some of his presuppositions12 and even though his historical prognosis was incorrect. The collapse of Western civilization, for example, was manifested where he least expected it: in Europe with the rise of Fascism, the horrors of the Second World War, and, in particular, the Shoah. This was followed in the East by the equal horrors of Stalinism which in turn gave way to the post-totalitarian State’ (Havel) in the Soviet satellite States such as Czechoslovakia13 controlled by the secret police and a vast bureaucracy, which in turn collapsed completely in 1989 leaving devastation in its wake. In the West, there was a temporary respite after World War II, though the inevitable damage to the moral fabric of society caused by war would, in the long term, have negative effects. Initially, both Europe and North America saw a renewal of the faith, family, and Church life in the late 1950s as well as an attempt to re-establish Europe on a Christian basis (by such Catholic leaders as de Gaspari of Italy, Adenauer of Germany and Schuman of France) with the goal of a United Europe (Jean Monnet). At the same time, the economic doldrums after the war and the beginning of the ‘Cold War’ — the free world’s non-violent war with the Communist Bloc in the East – helped to shift the emphasis in Europe to monetary and economic factors with the resultant increase of industrialization and the growth of a more and more bureaucratic State, indeed, some would claim, a super-State. The vision of a Europe united on its ancient Christian cultural heritage was reduced to a ‘European Economic Community’ with emphasis on the second adjective – despite the removal of the term ‘economic’ in the new name, European Union. In a word, to quote Dawson, the tendency ‘to subordinate every other side of human life to economic activity’ (p. 260), re-emerged with vigour in the late 1960s. Since then society has tended more and more to give itself up passively to the machinery of modern life14 as it increasingly abandons its Christian tradition in the name of ‘progress’. Those who drew up the European Constitution – now the Lisbon Treaty – refused adamantly to invoke God in its formulation or recognize explicitly the Christian basis of European culture.

Despite its apparent solidity today, such an artificial society can only collapse one day into anarchy and chaos if the forces of disintegration remain unchecked. These can be checked, Dawson maintains, only by the reintroduction of a spiritual principle into the vital centre of human life, namely into the sexual union of husband and wife, into marriage.

Western civilisation to-day is threatened with the loss of its freedom and its humanity. It is in danger of substituting dead mechanism for living culture. Hedonism cannot help, nor yet rationalism. It can be saved only by a renewal of life. And this is impossible without love, for love is the source of life, both physically and spiritually. But if physical desire is separated from its spiritual principle and made an end in itself, it ceases to be love and it no longer gives life. It degenerates into sterile lust. It is only when it is spiritualised by faith that is becomes vivifying love and participates in the mystery of creation. Love requires faith, as life requires love. The loss of faith ultimately means not merely moral disorder and suffering, but the loss of social vitality and the decay of physical life.15

According to Dawson, what presents the greatest barrier to understanding the Church’s teaching is the technological mentality characteristic of modernity. Dawson had already adverted to this mentality when he talked about substituting dead mechanism for a living culture and earlier when he characterized the modern crisis of Western civilization as the attempt consciously to change fundamental social relations and moral beliefs of society by social engineering. Today the technological mentality has developed to such an extent that human life itself, its beginning and end, is now subject to biological engineering. Many modern authors have discussed this phenomenon; as we will see, it is at the root of the crisis surrounding the acceptance or rejection of Humanae Vitae. For our purposes we will sketch and comment on the views of the Anglican moral theologian, Oliver O’Donovan, in the first two chapters of his aptly titled book Begotten or Made?16

The single most significant characteristic of our contemporary culture, O’Donovan maintains, ‘is not anything that it does, but what it thinks. It is not “technological” because its instruments of making are extraordinarily sophisticated (though that is evidently the case), but because it thinks of everything it does as a form of instrumental making’. Politics is thus conceived in terms of ‘making a better world’ while love is building a successful relationship’. O’Donovan comments: ‘The fate of a society which sees, wherever it looks, nothing but the products of the human will, is that it fails, when it does see some aspect of human activity which is not a matter of construction, to recognize the significance of what it sees and to think about it appropriately. This blindness in the realm of thought is the heart of what it is to be technological culture.’ Such a mentality is incapable of seeing how inappropriate technical intervention may be in certain types of activity such as politics, love and the begetting of children. It sees every situation or human experience as a type of raw material to be moulded according to our will or desire. ‘This imperils not only, or even primarily, the “environment” [...]; it imperils what it is to be human, for it deprives human existence itself of certain spontaneities of being and doing, spontaneities which depend upon the reality of a world which we have not made or imagined, but which simply confronts us to evoke our love, fear, and worship’ (p. 3). The result, he argues, is that we cannot understand what it means that some human activity is ‘natural’.

This has enormous repercussions for the entire realm of moral theology which is based on the very notion of natural law, that is, a moral order that arises from our nature as human beings, body and soul, communal in nature and destined for union with God, a nature which confronts us with its demands which are non-negotiable. To deny such a nature by assuming that all can be manipulated at will, even to satisfy what appears to be, or may actually be, justified desires on our part (such as an infertile couple desiring to have a baby) is ultimately to deny the existence of an objective moral order.17Human life, then, becomes mechanized because we cannot comprehend what it means that some human activity is “natural”. Politics becomes controlled by media of mass communication, love by analytical or counselling techniques. And begetting children becomes subject to [...] medical and surgical interventions [...]’ (p. 3).

The relation of human beings to their own bodies, we might say, is the last frontier of nature’ (p. 5). One of the themes of Milan Kundera’s novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being is that, when we least expect it, even in our most exalted spiritual experiences, our body imposes its reality on us, if only with a burp or the signs of indigestion. We know thatwe must defer to its immanent laws and we must plan our activities in co­operation with them [...]. If, by refusing [the laws of the body] and imposing our freedom wantonly upon it, we cause it to break down, our freedom breaks down with it. This is in fact the law of our relations with all nature, with the climate, the soil, the animal world.’ But it is especially true of our own flesh which today is under attack and has become mere raw material to be fashioned and manipulated almost at will. O’Donovan quotes St Paul: ‘No one hates his own flesh but nourishes it and cherishes it’ (Eph 5:29). ‘To hate one’s own flesh is the limit of self-contradiction to which our freedom tends, it is the point at which our assertion of ourselves against nature becomes an attack upon ourselves.’ The key term here is ‘our freedom’, as understood today, with its tendency to become absolute, to which we have already referred.

O’Donovan entitled his first chapter ‘Medicine and the Liberal Revolution’. The latter he clarifies as that ‘revolution which has at the centre of its concern the maintenance and extension of freedoms, understood in the modern and misleading sense as the abolition of limits which constrain and direct us. Technology derives its social significance from the fact that by it man has discovered new freedom from necessity. The techno­logical transformation of the modern world has gone hand in hand with the social and political quest of Western man to free himself from the necessities imposed upon him by religion, society, and nature’ (p. 6, emphasis added).

Not surprisingly, medical technique has likewise been shaped by this understanding of freedom, more specifically freedom from the necessities imposed upon us by our bodily nature. Up to recently, Western medicine bore all the hallmarks of its classical and Christian origins. It differentiated strictly between curing a sick body (its raison d’être) and interfering in a healthy one (strictly forbidden). It was free to cure the sick but not to interfere with the healthy.'8 Only recently has society dared to think that ‘medical technique ought to be used to overcome not only the necessities of disease but also the necessities of health (such as pregnancy)’ (p. 6). O’Donovan maintains that it was this change of attitude in liberal Western societies that was responsible for the victory of liberal abortion policies in most jurisdictions. The most influential ‘argument’ was the one which was philosophically and rationally devoid of meaning, namely ‘the woman’s right to self-determination in respect of her own body’, since it ‘gave voice to the profoundest political commit­ments which underline liberal society in the West’ (p. 7).,

These political commitments are summed up in the term ‘revolution’. Change, even great change, can happen in society for a host of reasons but revolution happens for only one reason, that is that a community seeks to act together en masse in such a way as to fashion its own future(p. 7). Here O’Donovan is reiterating in his own words what Dawson described in terms of social engineering. To fashion the future is to strive to direct the stream of history in a new way. ‘Revolution’ is a word which speaks of the assumption of responsibility by a community over its total future – a word which, as O’Donovan rightly points out, did not enter the vocabulary of the West until faith in divine providence was weakening. The technological revolution is not simply the work of some few researchers in a laboratory; it is, rather, a mass movement in which the public participates by means of the technology of mass communications. This was very evident, for example, in the publicity that surrounded the introduction of IVF. However, such participation of the public is necessarily passive by nature, which corresponds with the new concept of freedom in society. It is the freedom of consumers, not active participants, a freedom to be left alone to do, to think and choose as one wishes within the private realm.

The corollary of this new kind of freedom, namely that of consumers, is the destruction of public life and debate in the name of freedom of expression, since as O’Donovan puts it succinctly ‘opinions are no longer potent in the public realm’. He adds: ‘The freedom of conscience on which liberal society prides itself is only a private freedom [...]. To presume to exercise freedom of conscience in one’s public dealings is, as we say, ‘thrusting your private convictions down other people’s throats’ (pp 9–10). In such a society, politics is managed by technique, by the spin doctors, those who attempt to manipulate public opinion, very often by appealing to two of the most revered ‘virtues’ of modern technological society: ‘toleration’ and ‘compassion’. In the context of sexual ethics, toleration extends even to every possible combination, even those aspects of sexual behaviour that previous generations would have simply called perverse,'9 namely that which is radically subversive of the one who so acts. Now they tend to be tolerated as ‘alternative’ life styles – they are even protected by ‘Equality’ legislation – and often justified on the basis of one’s right to choose.

O’Donovan, however, concentrates on the exclusive importance of compassion among the virtues upheld by modern liberal society when dealing with developments in medical techniques. Compassion, he writes, ‘is the virtue of being moved to action by the sight of suffering – that is to say, by the infringement of passive freedom’. It simply asks: What can be done?’ but avoids asking whether or not the action chosen is morally licit. It is a virtue of motivation rather than reasoning. Roused by the plight of others, any means can be justified. ‘As such it is the appropriate virtue for a liberal revolution, which requires no independent thinking about the object of morality, only a very strong motivation to its practice. [...] Compassion, when driven to it, will arm itself with supe­rior technique.’20

Consequently, even though initially people were instinctively revolted by the idea of a ‘test-tube baby’ and even more so, when it was quite frankly pointed out to the public that, to perfect the (still largely unsuccessful) IVF-procedure, experimentation on human embryos would be necessary, the public agreed to such experimentation, reluctantly perhaps but in sufficient numbers for the Warnock Commission’s Report to be accepted by the British Parliament. Why? Compassion. People and parliamentarians hoped that such experimentation would help infertile couples in their plight. Similar emotive ‘arguments’ are again being used today to justify destructive, embryonic stem-cell research to provide cures, it is hoped, for Alzheimer’s and similar degenerative diseases.

We live not at the seed time but at the harvest of the modern age, O’Donovan claims,21 and so can see its true character better than former ages. To us is given the opportunity to sow the new seed. How then should Christians speak and think at this juncture? The Anglican theologian mentions four imperatives, three of which I would like to develop in connection with our particular topic.

(1) Christians should confess their faith in the natural order as the good creation of God. Not only does that order impose its own limits on ability, a central concern to which we must return, but it is an order that must be experienced as good, the experience enshrined in the Old Testament sabbath rest, when God rested and found all that he had made good, the source of joy and celebration. Man’s goal is not activity (work) but leisure, celebration, worship and communion.22 So too the goodness of being man or woman, the goodness of sexuality and the body, the goodness of love and life, must be rediscovered, appreciated anew, celebrated, as well as rediscovering the limits which the natural order imposes on our free will as the condition for that celebration which is sacramental by nature. This, it could be said, was the programme carried out by Pope John Paul II and his collaborators – in particular the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger – in response to the crisis sparked off by the publication of Humanae Vitae. Apart from major encyclicals, such as Familiaris Consortio, Dignitatis Mulieris, Evangelium Vitae, and Veritatis Splendor, the previous Pope devoted a series of Wednesday audiences to the theology of the body, which has been enormously influential in enabling the Church recover that appreciation of sexuality and the body which has always been at the heart of Catholic Christianity. This enormous intellectual effort found its final expression in the new Catechism of the Catholic Church, the basis of all future catechesis. Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, made its own contribution. For the moment it suffices to mention that his recovery of the human and divine significance of eros – the reciprocal, erotic love of man and woman – has profound implications for a theology of sexuality and marriage.

(2) Christians should confess their faith in the providence of God as the ruling power of history. This has more immediate relevance for bioethics but it also has important implications for sexual ethics. Man is not, to use the frightening words of the atheist French scientist, Jacques Monod, a gypsy who ‘lives on the boundary of an alien world; a world that is deaf to his music, as indifferent to his hopes as it is to his suffering or his crimes’.23 Rather, in the words of the First Vatican Council, ‘By his providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, “reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other and ordering all things well”. For “all are open and laid bare to his eyes”, even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures.’24 The Catechism (CCC, 305) reminds us that ‘Jesus asks for childlike abandonment to the providence of our heavenly Father who takes care of his children’s smallest needs’ (ref. to Mt 6:3133; see 19:2931). Sexual ethics (including bioethics) is to a great extent concerned with the future, one’s own and that of humanity whose continuation depends on the union of man and wife. Marriage is a commitment to the future. It necessarily involves a confidence that, to quote Julian of Norwich, in the end ‘all will be well’. Suffering too is part of life, including the conjugal dimension. Without love and faith in God’s providence, revealed ultimately in the Cross and Resurrection, suffering is not simply meaningless but desperate – in the sense of leading to despair – and anything, quite literally, will be justified to try to eliminate it. As already mentioned, the first section of Veritatis Splendor is devoted  precisely to recovering the intrinsic connection between morality and God. The present Pope’s encyclical on hope, Spe Salvi, contains, among other things, a vision of the place of providence in the Christian life and an extensive discussion on suffering as one of what the Pope calls the three ‘schools of hope’.25

(3) Finally,26 Christians should confess their faith in the Word which was from the beginning with God and without which nothing came to be, the Word which was made flesh. What O’Donovan wishes to stress here is that the ‘understanding upon which we discern how to act [...] is not a matter of private conscience, nor of mass consensus. It is a public and publishable understanding that claims all mankind, whether or not [the latter] compre­hends it.’27 In other words, Christian teaching on morality is not simply a code of behaviour for members of a ‘club’ only but is based on God’s Creation and Revelation and so is intended for all humanity of every time, culture and people.28 O’Donovan adds: ‘A Christianity which will bear witness to God’s Word in Jesus will be a speaking, thinking, arguing, debating Christianity, which will not be afraid to engage in intellectual and philosophical contest with the prevailing dogmas of its day.’29 It could be argued that John Paul II’s authoritative teaching reached its climax with the publication of his encyclical on the relationship between faith and reason, Fides et Ratio. His whole pontificate was marked precisely by the phrase: ‘Be not afraid’, while he himself was unafraid to engage in any debate with the prevailing ‘dogmas’ of the day. The same could be said of such world-ranking Churchmen, like the late Cardinal Lustiger of Paris, Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna, Cardinal Pell of Sydney, Archbishop Chaput of Denver, Colorado – and, above all, the then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI. But it is precisely Christianity’s universal claims which have been rejected by serious thinkers, and not without a certain plausibility.

The Political Context

The debate within Catholic moral theology since Humanae Vitae reflects a broader debate within philosophy, indeed society at large, which in turn finds in these newer theories an unmistakable resonance, since the denial of moral absolutes within Catholic theology seems to echo the prevailing relativism in the dominant culture. What are its roots? They are many. For one thing, a century of political ideologies that caused over one hundred million deaths and wrecked havoc on numerous peoples throughout the world has brought about a general scepticism vis-à-vis all closed systems of thought and values, especially when they make absolute claims. Few have articulated their distrust as eloquently as the humanist, Isaiah Berlin.

Following Herder, Berlin adopted a radical pluralism, namely ‘the recognition of a potentially infinite variety of cultures and systems of values, all equally ultimate and incommensurable with one another, rendering logically incoherent the belief in a universally valid, ideal path to human fulfilment sought with varying degrees of success by all men at all places and times’.30 On the other hand, Berlin stresses that ‘one of the fundamental needs of men, as basic as those for food, shelter, procre­ation, security and communication, is to belong to identifiable communal groups, each possessing its own unique language, traditions, historical memories, style and outlook’.31 But these are always unique and incommensurable, though he allows that men of learning and imagination could enter into and understand cultures and ages not their own. One might wonder about the value of such an effort, if these alien cultures have nothing ultimately significant to say to us, no contribution to the enrichment of the human condition or at least to the scholars themselves, who in turn could communicate it to those who share their own culture. But surely human experience contradicts such a claim.

The Greek culture and world of Sophocles can hardly be more different than that of modern-day Ireland and yet I have found that modern Irish students inevitably react to a reading of Antigone, for example, as though it had been written within the last decade. The same can be said about the translation of any great work of literature, be it Shakespeare, Dante, Goethe or Tolstoy, into one of the many languages of humanity. The human condition which great literature plumbs is always particular in experience and in expression but universal in meaning – and intrinsically related to Christ.32 Great poems, plays and novels touch our common humanity through the medium of a particular time, place and culture. Berlin himself seems to allow for this, since even he believed in some objective standards of judgement – albeit within the context of particular societies – and so he ‘has often asserted that too great a difference in behaviour from at least a handful of moral norms results in a denial of humanity to the agent: it is, he says, ‘clear that ability to recognize universal – or almost universal – values enters into our analysis of such fundamental concepts as “man”, “rational”, “sane”, “natural”.’33 Such an admission, though a sop to reality, is at variance with the inner logic of his position based on the uniqueness and incommensurability of different cultural communities. But, apart from that, is his position logically consistent?

The last few decades in moral philosophy have been marked by a recovery of virtue as the context for moral discourse, amounting to a major paradigm shift’ in our thinking about morality. This involves, in the first instance, abandoning the analysis of individual acts – though not their significance – as the primary concern of moral reflection, in favour of internal dispositions leading to and created by such acts. The accent thus moves from the external circumstances of the act to the question of personal integrity or character, which is formed, revealed or confirmed by each human act. It calls for a discourse that is not abstract but personal and communal. It is concerned above all with the recovery of what the Greeks called practical reason, not in the sense of pragmatic reason – indeed on occasion quite the opposite, though pragmatic reason is closely related to it – but rather principled reason tending to action. It is practical because it is acquired by moral namely, by acquiring and continually exercising the skill of judging aright what one with an upright motivation ought to do in a particular situation and in the appropriate way. Such reason is forged in the tension of searching for what one ought to do within certain given moral parameters, that is, trying to be objective, in the face of subjective preferences, possibly disordered emotions, or external pressures, and trying to be at one with the demands of natural justice (= natural law/conscience). It is what the ancients called prudence.

Like any practical reason is not something we acquire on our own, but only through others, through a community where this skill enjoys common esteem, more specifically through imitating those who have acquired this skill. And yet it remains quintessentially personal – one’s own unique judgement, which no one can replace – just as its acqui­sition is personal, very often in the recognition of having failed to make the right judgement in a particular instance and the resolution to improve the next time. Like every virtue, prudence is acquired over a period of time, mostly by trial and error within a community which values this and related qualities in people, such as honesty and fairness. But if the community sanctions cunning, lying, deceit – as in Communist countries and, more circumspectly, in the higher echelons of capitalism – then it is very difficult to acquire prudence (or indeed any of the other virtues). Communities provide the required conditions for the flourishing of virtue, but they are neither perfect nor beyond comparison with other communities.

Whereas Berlin is right in asserting that communities identified by language, traditions, and historical memories, are always unique, he is wrong to conclude that they are incommensurable. There is a standard of comparison. And it is used whenever historians judge a particular community and its vile actions, as, for example, in the case of Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union, just as we use it today to condemn human rights abuses in Communist North Korea, China, Darfur or indeed Afghanistan under the Taliban. Or we condemn certain actions in the Church’s history, such as the use of torture, the Inquisition, etc. This is the standard of our common humanity, what is shared by the entire human community and known to the Stoics as natural law or, in our day, as the conscience of humanity, or even natural justice or ‘human rights’. It transcends every particular community no matter how unique. It is not an abstraction, such as Kant’s universalized categorical imperative, for example, but is found in individual people of integrity even in the most distorted of communities, such as the so-called ‘dissidents’ in the ‘post-totalitarian’ States (the term used by Havel) that constituted the Soviet Union and its satellites. It is manifested in personal conscience, and it has profound political connotations;34 it also forms its own type of commu­nity, namely the community of those who think and act in like fashion, who provide inspiration, encouragement, and reciprocal correction for each other. They in turn make appeal to all men of good will throughout the world and are thus political activists though belonging to no political party. Theirs is an ‘anti-political politics’ (Havel). No man is an island.35

In one sense, then, all ethics is contextual, both in the narrow sense of particularity regarding the time, place and circumstances when one finds oneself confronted by a unique situation that demands a free human response, and in the broader sense of a cultural context, which is peculiar to various societies or peoples. The latter are each characterized by their own value systems, that is, priorities given to certain values, not unmixed with certain disvalues. According to Berlin, these values and disvalues can only be judged to be such by those who inhabit or are products of that cultural context. He has a point here, in so far as those who live in that society and know it from personal experience can best articulate its strengths and its shortcomings. But where do these people get their moral criteria, unless they have some kind of ‘access’ to some transcendent or objective measure? Berlin rejects the notion of the existence of an objective standard by which these values and disvalues can be measured. This allows countries whose record on human rights leaves much to be desired in the eyes of critical observers and who are publicly called to task for human rights’ abuses, to have recourse to a less sophisticated version of Isaiah Berlin’s thesis. They usually protest that other countries have no right’ to intervene in the internal affairs of their own country.

   In practice, as mentioned already, people acting quasi-instinctively generally ignore such protests and reject such claims, though they are hard put to give a reasoned explanation for their good instinct. At the theoretical level, this is indeed an unresolved question. (Berlin, it seems, saw the problem but was apparently unable to resolve it.) This is due to a reluctance to consider the metaphysical level of reflection. By metaphysical, is meant the reality beneath or beyond the surface differences. Such reflection explores our common humanity, which, irrespective of every personal, racial, social, religious or cultural difference, is the source of each person’s inviolable dignity, a dignity that transcends all laws and customs and is their measure. That dignity is itself founded on the tran­scendent origin and end of each human being, which Greek philosophy first named as the immortal soul – the self as a thinking, remembering, and free agent – and which in the Judeo-Christian tradition is expressed in the belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God.

Recognition of our transcendent end, the ultimate goal of all our human actions – to which all limited or medial ends as determined by the body (both individual and communal) are subordinated – leads irrevo­cably to the recognition of certain parameters within which we must remain, if our actions are to lead us to that ultimate end and so attain fulfilment as human beings. Those parameters constitute the natural law, or better, the Tao or Dao of the ancient Chinese,36 namely the Way (Tao means way) to becoming human, to attaining our end as humans, the way to ultimate happiness, the way to God. It is our way of becoming human, by acquiring dispositions though our actions that enable us to act spontaneously in a human way, i.e. in accordance with our dignity and our ultimate goal in life – and by acting consistently in this way to the end and so achieving ultimate happiness or human flourishing.

This ‘way’ is concerned with concrete human decisions, actions, and feelings, not only in their own integrity, that is, as good and upright in themselves. It also recognizes how such individual actions and feelings reveal, confirm, and deepen those dispositions of the acting person, which are the primary concern of all morality, namely the acquisition of virtues or their opposite, vices. That is, of course, provided they are not – in the case of decisions or actions that signal a fundamental change of course in one’s life – the more or less complete rejection of such previ­ously acquired dispositions.

What concerns us here is, however, the existence of a criterion to measure such actions or decisions and feelings (as we will see), a measure that transcends all particularity of personal situation or cultural context. Take the case of the morally conscientious and upright German doctor who happened to live in Nazi Germany. The commander of the nearby concentration camp appeals to him out of a sense of nationalism and patriotism, and when that fails, orders him to participate in the medical There is, then, a measure of our actions and feelings, a criterion of what we consciously and freely do in situations that are always unique and within a community that is always specific, and a criterion of our emotional responses to these situations. That measure is both universal and distinctly personal. Natural law (the Tao) and primordial conscience are two terms that approach this measure from two different perspectives – the former articulates this objective measure, the latter recognizes it in practice (more frequently, it recognizes its violations) – but ultimately they mean the same thing. Unfortunately, conscience has today become little more than a cipher used to describe one’s personal preference, just as, in a parallel development, human rights now seems to mean little more than felt needs.39 This subjectivist understanding of conscience is justified by the dominant moral philosophical theory, namely emotivism which basically claims that morality is based ultimately on a subjective preference, and so is basically irrational. The only limits recognized by society are the extent to which one’s exercise of one’s preferences may be perceived to harm others in society, unless, that is, there is mutual consent. If that were the case, then there would be no measure to our actions, no way, for example, of condemning a doctor who assists a terminally ill patient to commit suicide. However, there is a measure that every man or woman of goodwill has within themselves, that primordial conscience, which the former Joseph Ratzinger once described as ‘the window that for human beings opens onto a view of the common truth, which establishes and sustains us all and so makes community of decision and responsibility possible thanks to the common ground of perception’.40 We will return to the subjects of conscience and natural lawexperiments being carried out on some camp inmates. His refusal, which will effectively end his career as a doctor, if not resulting in his own incarceration and death, would confirm and deepen his basic moral disposition as being just and courageous. And the more he suffers, the more patiently he suffers, the deeper those moral dispositions will be rooted in his will. Future generations will praise his actions, while now he experiences inner freedom in its fullness. But if he weakens and acquiesces, if he goes against his conscience, and takes part in the experiments, he undermines his personal integrity, and, if he does not have a change of heart, disintegrates as a human being. And this is not simply a matter of any subjective irrational preference on his part. In fact, he can so stifle his conscience that he no longer experiences guilt.37 But future generations will condemn him, just as his own submerged conscience may haunt him at some unexpected moment, which, of course is his only hope of salvation. For Milton, one of the proofs for the existence of God, he tells us, is provided by the phenomenon of conscience or right reason. This cannot be altogether asleep, even in the most evil of men. If there were no God, there would be no dividing line between right and wrong.’38

There is, then, a measure of our actions and feelings, a criterion of what we consciously and freely do in situations that are always unique and within a community that is always specific, and a criterion of our emotional responses to these situations. That measure is both universal and distinctly personal. Natural law (the Tao) and primordial conscience are two terms that approach this measure from two different perspectives – the former articulates this objective measure, the latter recognizes it in practice (more frequently, it recognizes its violations) – but ultimately they mean the same thing. Unfortunately, conscience has today become little more than a cipher used to describe one’s personal preference, just as, in a parallel development, human rights now seems to mean little more than felt needs.39 This subjectivist understanding of conscience is justi­fied by the dominant moral philosophical theory, namely emotivism which basically claims that morality is based ultimately on a subjective preference, and so is basically irrational. The only limits recognized by society are the extent to which one’s exercise of one’s preferences may be perceived to harm others in society, unless, that is, there is mutual consent. If that were the case, then there would be no measure to our actions, no way, for example, of condemning a doctor who assists a termi­nally ill patient to commit suicide. However, there is a measure that every man or woman of goodwill has within themselves, that primordial conscience, which the former Joseph Ratzinger once described as ‘the window that for human beings opens onto a view of the common truth, which establishes and sustains us all and so makes community of decision and responsibility possible thanks to the common ground of perception’.40 We will return to the subjects of conscience and natural law


1. See the apposite comments by the then Cardinal Ratzinger on the use of the term to describe certain phenomena in the Islamic world in: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Turning point for Europe? (San Francisco, 1994), pp 165–70.

2. See Germaine Greer, Sex and destiny (New York, '984), pp '98–9; Iam grateful to Professor Emeritus Dr G. Hewston of UCG for this reference.

3 Christopher Derrick, Sex and sacredness: a Catholic homage to Venus (San Francisco, 1982).

4 ‘All healthy men, both ancient and modern, Eastern and Western, know that there is a certain fury in sex that we cannot afford to inflame, and that a certain mystery must ever attach to the instinct if it is to continue delicate and sane’: G.K. Chesterton, The common man (London, 1950), p. 125, as quoted by Derrick, p. 66.

5 Derrick argues that this is a manifestation of that powerful tendency in human nature which we identify as Gnostic and which sees the real as evil and only the ideal, even in the sense of the imaginary, as good. Christianity, by way of contrast, sees all reality as good in itself [see below]. Derrick quotes Guitton, Great heresies, p. 22: ‘Our modern literature, politics, mystiques, our conception of love and of sex are shot through with Catharist trends.’ See also the masterly study by Werner Ross, Tod der Erotik. Versuch einer Bilanz der sexuellen Revolution (Graz et al., 1986), also Tony Anatrella, Le sex oublié (Paris, 199o).

6 See Simone de Beauvoir, Le deuxième sexe (Paris, 1949).

7 Re the United Nations Conference on Population and Development held in Cairo, cf. Catholic International, 5/1o (October 1994) 46297, for various documents issued before the conference, including the study on population trends prepared by the Pontifical Council for the Family, and idem, 6/1 (January 1995), 1822, for the Final Address by the Holy See to the conference.

8 Full text is reprinted in the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Newsletter, vol. 17, no. 4, pp 34–5. Stung by this criticism, a spokesman for the US State Department – one of the main proponents of the Programme of Action – retorted that the Vatican opposition to the Cairo draft ‘has to do with the fact that the conference is really calling for a new role for women, calling for girls’ education and improving the status of women’. This statement in turn was publicly attacked by the heads of several American Catholic women’s organizations who drew attention, e.g., to the role the Church has played in women’s education and her support for the various efforts being made by women to assume new roles in society.

9 Christopher Dawson, ‘Christianity and sex’ in idem, Enquiries into religion and culture (London & New York, 1933), pp 25989.

10 This resistance was broken by the massive collectivization programme and the genocide associated with the Stalinist era when, it is estimated some 30 million died and even more people were uprooted from their place of origin and transported to other parts of the vast Soviet Union, thus among other things destroying their cultural roots.

11 Arcanum (188o) and Rerum Novarum (1891).

12 Such as his rather optimistic opinion of Europe as against North America, though perhaps he mistook England for Europe. Dawson’s chauvinism, which is not without its charm, cannot be denied.

13 See Václav Havel, ‘Politics and conscience’ in his book: Living in truth, ed. J. Vladislav (London & Boston, 1990), pp 13657. It was Havel who coined the term ‘post-totalitarian State’ to describe his own country and the neighbouring Communist States in the later stages of their historical development, once the initial terror was over and people conformed externally to the totalitarian regimes, so that the punitive measures initially needed to impose Marxism were no longer much needed; such external conformity was encouraged by an all-embracing system of neighbour spying on neighbour (even family members against other family members) organized by the secret police.

14 See Dawson, op. cit., p. 278.

15 Ibid., p. 291.

16 Oliver O’Donovan, Begotten or made? (Oxford, 1984), pp 1–30 (Chapters 1 and 2 on ‘Medicine and the Liberal Revolution’ and ‘Sex by Artifice’ respectively). O’Donovan, however, accepts the Anglican teaching on contraception and so he argues that the use of contraception has never necessarily implied the modern programme’ (p. 18, emphasis in text; see also pp 76, 78). I beg to differ, as I hope to show in Chapter 8 below.

17 See in particular the penetrating critique of the underlying philosophical assumptions in Josef Pieper, The silence ofSt Thomas (London, 1957), pp 947.

18 In other words the sick patient had a right to medical intervention and the medical profession had the obligation to provide such treatment to the best of its ability. A healthy patient had no right to treatment and the medical profession no obligation to provide the requested services.

19 From the Latin perverto, ere, meaning ‘to turn upside down, overturn, overthrow’, which means the same as revolution.

20 O’Donovan, op. cit., pp 1112. See also Basil Meeking, ‘A comment on Deus Caritas Est in Logos 10:3 (2007), 91104, esp. pp 99f.

21 Ibid., p. 12.

22 See in this context the classical work of Josef Pieper, Leisure, the basis of culture, translated by Alexander Dru, with an introductory essay by T.S. Eliot (London, 1952); the original German version was published in 1948. A new translation by Gerald Malsbary with an introduction by Roger Scruton was published in 1998 (South Bend, IN).

23 Jacques Monod, Chance and necessity: an essay on the natural philosophy of modern biology (London, 1977), p. 16o.

24 Vatican Council I, Dei Filius I: DH 3003, see Wis 8:1; Heb :13; quoted in CCC, 302.

25 Spe Salvi, 3540. According to the First Vatican Council, ‘By his providence. God protects and governs all things which He has made, “reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other and ordering all things well” (Wis 8:1). For “Everything is naked and open to his eyes” (Heb 4:13), even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free actions of creatures’ (Filius Dei I: DenzH 3003).

26 This is O’Donovan’s fourth point; his third imperative states that Christians should confess their faith in the transcendent ground of human brotherhood.

27 O’Donovan, op. cit., p. 13.

28 See also: Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger report: an exclusive interview on the state of the Church (San Francisco, 1985), pp 8391 (= Ch. 6, ‘The Drama of Morality’).

29 O’Donovan, op. cit., p. 13.

30 Against the current: essays in the history of ideas: Isaiah Berlin, edited by Henry Hardy with an introduction by Roger Hausheer (London, 1997), p. xxxv.

31 Ibid., p. xxxvi.

32 See the masterly study by Lucy Beckett, In the light of Christ: writings in the Western tradition (San Francisco, 2006), in which the author discovers the Christian vision of the good, the true, and the beautiful (God) in the great writings in the Western tradition, from the Greek tragedians to Samuel Beckett and CzesBaw Milosez.

33 As quoted by Roger Hausheer in Henry Hardy (ed.), op. cit., p. li, Berlin also stresses the need for community in order to forge a sense of belonging. Later communitarian philosophers recognize a much more profound role for local communities, namely as the matrix of morality, so many buffer zones between the individual, otherwise isolated, and the all-powerful State.

34 See Václav Havel, Living in truth: twenty-two essays published on the occasion of the award of the Erasmus Prize to Václav Havel, ed. Jan Vladislav (London, 1989), in particular pp 36122; 13658.

35 The political implications of moral action tend to be ignored by many moral theorists. ‘The tendency to internalize moral actions has been part of a more general tendency to internalize the mind, to neglect the public character of the activity of thinking’: Robert Sokolowski, Moral action: a phenomenological study (Bloomington, IN, 1985), p. 5.

36 See C.S. Lewis, The abolition of man (Oxford, 1943) and reprinted regularly since then; the version used here was published by Font Paperbacks, 1978.

37 See Ps 9b[10]:3-6; Prov 29:7; Dan 13:56.

38 De doctrina Christiana, translated from the Latin by C. Hill as quoted by Lucy Beckett, op. cit., p. 296.

39 See Mary Ann Glendon, Rights talk: the impoverishment of political discourse (New York et al., 1991).

40 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Wahrheit, Werte, Macht, Prüfsteine der pluralistischen Gesellschaft (Freiburg, 1993), p. 32 (my translation).

Copyright © D. Vincent Twomey and Four Courts Press 2010

Version: 26th April 2010

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