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Can the Relationship between Fact and Moral Norm, as indicated in Humanae Vitae be Further Explained?

Part I:  Drawing on the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity

An introduction in the light of the dissertation as a whole

This chapter is an attempt to sketch a structure of man, such that the question about the fact-norm relationship can be asked in the context of a particular anthropology.  For just as the question itself has an origin and a history, so does our understanding of the person.  We attempt to show that a metaphysical structure to human being, manifest in human moral action, makes an extrinsic relationship of bodily fact to moral norm unnecessary.

CHAPTER 1:  The diversity of human being is an answer to the fallacy of uniformity

(i) A summary of the problem

It is commonly asserted that Humanae Vitae and other Magisterial documents are biologistic.  Veritatis Splendor summarises this objection in the following way: 'the traditional conception of the natural law ... is accused of presenting as moral laws what are in themselves mere biological laws'24.  Pope John Paul II gives an answer to this when he says we refer to these inclinations 'in order to find in them rational indications with regard to the order of morality'25.

The initial problem can be stated in a more general way.  The biological law is an example of what is a fact, whereas the moral law concerns what "ought" to be. In so far as a biological fact is different from a moral law, then it is not obvious how the one is ordered to the other26.  Notwithstanding this difficulty, because the Creator is the origin of both the biological and moral laws, this natural diversity exists in the context of a relational unity.  However, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger says with respect to the present: 'the creation account is ... nearly completely absent from catechesis, preaching, and even theology'27.  Thus Scripture does not help human reasoning as it should; and we end up unable to argue from what is made to the maker, so that what is made becomes unintelligible28.

A second factor in the development of this problem is an ancient tendency to reject what is God given.  The modern form of this tendency is to say that thought comes before a fact.  This reverses the natural order whereby what is made leads to our understanding of it.  For existence is naturally first and 'determines thought'29.  Thus what we see leads to what we call it (Gn 2: 19); and what we call a thing is not just a name but also a nature.  This is evident in the way Adam named the nature of created things in the context of looking for 'a helper fit for him' (Gn 2: 18); and he did not find a helper among the other living creatures (Gn 2: 19-20) until God made Eve (Gn 2: 21-23; 3: 20).

Thirdly, love is perfected by the virtue of chastity: the virtue which integrates30 all the sensual, emotional and spiritual elements of real love; but we find in our society an opposite tendency to disintegration.  So we see the separation of many things that belong together: thought does not follow on existence; the design of things does not lead to a Creator; marriage and procreation are separated; and, finally, there is no perception of the philosophical and theological reasons why the Creator is at work in the beginning of each of us.

What this calls for is an account of human nature which sets out the right relation between the biological and moral dimensions of the person and at the same time resolves the question of how the one can inform the other31.  This is a work of realism concerning the design of the Creator: a realism which follows on the requirement that our conversion to what is 'God-given' is a part of our conversion32 to Christ.  This makes clear what elements of man the virtue of chastity can integrate; and it depends upon the presuppostion that nature cannot be unified without the action of grace.  Finally, if Pope John Paul II and the Second Vatican Council define reciprocal self-giving33 as the law out of which we were made and which is, in a sense, the truth embodied in our making, then how does this relate to the details of our design?

(ii) God reveals man to himself

Scripture says: 'God created man in his own image ... male and female he created them.  And God blessed them, and God said to them, "Be fruitful ... "' (Gn 1: 27-28).  Adam and Eve became 'one flesh' (Gn 2: 24).  'Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying,"I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD"' (Gn 4: 1).  Finally, 'Adam ... became the father of a son in his own likeness, after his image' (Gn 5: 3).

The mystery of mysteries is the Blessed Trinity: the reality of three persons in one God.  This is the God who gives us creation, Revelation, Redemption and the Glory of Heaven.  This awesome author of Revelation is The Fact which comes before all thought.  Therefore our understanding of God will at once illuminate all that is made in the image of God.  As St. Thomas says: the 'one God is the agent, prototype, and goal of all things'35; and Fr. Richard Conrad OP says: the Blessed Trinity is 'the transcendent Exemplar of unity-in-diversity'36.  This directs one to a view of the human being in which different things are reconciled in a unity; and it is this structure of human being which is the context within which to understand a particular part of it.

The Church with whom we think37 is a profoundly personal realization of the mystery of our salvation.  On the one hand her soul is the Holy Spirit38; and on the other hand she is compared to the mystery of the incarnation in that 'one complex reality ... comes together from a human and a divine element'39.  In other words, we define and investigate40 the subject of theology in the perspective of the three persons in one God.  This is particularly evident in the Second Vatican Council's pastoral constitution Gaudium et Spes, in which the Fathers articulate what could be called the law of personal being: 'man can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself'41.  This principle is the interpretative key of all being: God, creation in general and the person in particular; and so it has a particular relevance to the task of defining the meaning of a human inclination.  For if this interpretative key reveals a law of being, then as activity manifests being42, that law will be evident in the personal action of procreation.

In the context of his discussion on law, St. Thomas gives a "position" to our natural inclinations: a position at once within the human being and the whole of creation, and a position which is a particular participation in the unifying, but diversely expressed eternal law of God.  St. Thomas says: 'God's wisdom, thought of as the plan ... is a blueprint or model; thought of as the plan by which he directs everything to its goal, it is a law': 'the eternal law'43.  As reasoning creatures we are subject to the eternal law in two ways: 'in common with creatures lacking reason we have a natural tendency to do what the law commands'44; and secondly, 'The law we have in us by nature is the sort of product of reason propositions are'45.  There is a three-stage order to our natural inclinations: firstly 'the natural tendency every substance has to try and preserve its natural being' ; secondly, 'man naturally seeks ... whatever nature teaches all animals: mating between the sexes ...'; and thirdly, 'man naturally seeks whatever accords with the rational nature that distinguishes him as human ...'46.  Extrapolating47 on the basis of this hierarchical order48 one can say that it indicates that physical matter can be incorporated into three forms of life: plant, animal and rational life.  Secondly, it suggests human being is a unity-in-diversity.  Finally49, the progress of the person to maturity is a process which makes visible the presence of the person from conception50.  For although St. Thomas held to the view of delayed animation, except in the case of Christ, there is a suggestion, nevertheless, in the developmental and ontological order of plant, animal and rational being, that the appearance undergoes a series of changes until it begins to manifest the person.  But what actually changes is the appearance of the person and not the fact of being a person; indeed the changes in the appearance of the person express the needs of that person at a particular stage of their development51.

In Thomism: 'every form entails a certain inclination'52.  Form determines what a thing is; and so there is a difference in the form between 'beings endowed with knowledge .. and bodies devoid of it'53.  The form which co-constitutes fire makes it rise upwards; this is called its "natural appetite"54; the 'natural actions of things produced by virtue of their natural inclination execute' the eternal law unconsciously55.  However, the inclination of the form which is called the 'human soul' and which together with the body co-constitutes the person, is the context in which to understand the particular inclination which is the tendency to procreation.  The question which has now arisen is this: is there a natural inclination of the person as a whole, one in body and soul, which both takes account of the diverse inclinations enumerated by St. Thomas Aquinas and yet unifies them in a way which is radically ordered to the end of union with God?56  On the one hand the end of the person is God; and God as an end is also the mystery of the Blessed Trinity: three persons in one God, in whom the Father gives all He is to the Son and They give the whole divine being to the Holy Spirit.  The relationship of man to God is that of reciprocal self-giving: the person is called to God as to the one to whom to give himself whole and entire (Dt 6: 5); and God is the one who makes of Himself a gift to man (Jn 3: 16; 1 Cor 15: 28).

On the other hand it is a characteristic of being to communicate itself ; being is 'intrinsically active, self-manifesting and self-communicating through action'57.  Similarly it is said: activity manifests being58.  Thus the activity of a being is at the same time a communication of the being which acts; and the activities of the soul reveal the identity of the soul.  Since the design of God is that each of us is not simply a soul, but an embodied soul, then it is the total activity of this unity called the person, which reveals the total identity of the being called the person.

The tendency of all being to self-communication, and the complementary expression of this in the goal of our being which is reciprocal self-giving, therefore constitute the particular content of our natural inclinations.  In us, the inclination of all being to self manifestation takes on two distinctive expressions59: the will as a source of deliberate actions which disclose the identity of the doer60; and the understanding as a source of words which communicate 'the inner life'61 of the knower.  The vocation to Christian marriage, within which the act of procreation finds its full meaning, is therefore situated within this perspective of words and deeds62 which reveal the full identity of the human person.  Now St. Thomas says: 'In reproduction the form reproduced is the goal only inasmuch as it is a likeness of the reproducer's form which he is seeking to communicate'63.  Thus the communication of a likeness is fundamental to the act of reproduction.  Therefore, when speaking of the natural tendency to procreation, one is speaking of a particular expression of the unifying tendency in all things to self expression; and so procreation is a singular expression of three things.

There is, first, the tendency of all being to self-expression.  For activity manifests being.  Secondly, this basic tendency to self-communication is translated into the procreative desire of being to communicate itself in the sense of imitating itself; it is in the mystery of conception that being actually imitates itself, because fertilization is the outward sign of the act of God which begins a human life.  So man communicates his image through an imitative participation in the divine act of God creating us in His image (Gn 5: 1-3); and this is itself an expression of how creation 'finds its model in the eternal generation of the Word, of the Son, who is of the same substance of the Father'64.  Human procreation is a divine-human65 interpersonal mystery in order to manifest the interpersonal mystery of the Blessed Trinity.  Thirdly, these things are taken up and are together expressed in the vocation of marriage to reciprocal self-giving; and just as the union of a man and a woman is ordered to Christian marriage, so Christian marriage is ordered to the fruit of Christ66.

(iii) An answer to the fallacy of uniformity

This final part proceeds by summarising the situation; by defining terms which arise out of this summary; and by arguing that what exists informs what is moral.

Cahal Daly sums up St. Thomas in the following way: he 'holds that marriage is naturally good (S. Theol., Suppl., 4.1); that carnal union is good because there is a natural inclination towards it, and natural inclination comes from God; and again that carnal union cannot be evil in itself because it is the natural end of bodily organs which are good and whose use is good' (S.C.G., III, 126; cf. S. Theol., 1-2, 34, 1 ad 1; Suppl. 41. 3)67.  Pope John Paul II contributes to this scheme when he says we refer to these inclinations 'in order to find in them rational indications with regard to the order of morality'68.

Good is here defined in three ways: a thing is good when it is well made (cf. Gn 1: 25 and 31); and, as such, 'the word good expresses the notion of value left unexpressed by the word existing'69.  In relation to this first sense of good we can understand truth in this way: 'each thing's truth is its possession of the being established for it'70; so that it corresponds to the model of its form in God's mind71.  Secondly, the activity of a thing is ordered to its end and can be called good in the sense of 'useful'72.  Correspondingly, the act of the will is good if it corresponds to what reason apprehends is the right thing to do.  In this way the good will is 'modelled' on what God is doing in the things He does73.  St. Thomas says of what is right: 'an act on line for its goal according to reason and the eternal law is right, while an act which goes awry is wrong and called a sin'74.  A third sense of good is that of a goal75; and good in this sense is the goal of God76.

The definiton of these terms suggests that what is good, right and true are three interpenetrating dimensions of being.  Thus they are not reducible to one another.  This shows a flaw in the naturalistic fallacy to be that of supposing that the natural law is an attempt to reduce one thing to another.  In other words, on the basis of considering what St. Thomas Aquinas means by what is 'good', what is 'right' and what is 'true', it emerges that an account more faithful to the reality of things is one in which real differences are seen both to exist and to remain.  The difference between what "is" and what "ought" to be can neither be resolved to nothing nor lack a relation of the one to the other.  The difference between these related realities is a part of the very pattern of creation as a unity-in-diversity.

The relation between what exists as good and the moral good of an action, is the model77 of the relation between what is right and the morally right action.  What exists as right in nature is not of itself and automatically a human, morally right action; however, just as what exists as good does so in relation to the goodness of the Creator, so what is right in nature exists in relation to the 'rightness' of God.  Similarly, the truth embodied in a thing exists in relation to the 'truth' of God.  In so far, however, as the 'good' and the 'truth' of being have been defined, it is now necessary to explain the meaning of what is right78.

St. Thomas says: 'Rule in nature is a thing's natural tendency to a goal, and only those actions go right which accord with the tendency; deviation from this straight path we call a fault'79.  The 'Rule in nature' is related to the 'ruler and manager of the whole universe'80; and there are two types of correspondence between the Rule in nature and those actions which accord with it: the first is unconscious and the second is conscious.  An action can unconsciously accord with a tendency because there is an embodied relation of the one to the other which is established by the design of God.  This is the case with the natural cycle of fertility and infertility; it is an embodied regulation of the tendency to procreation.  Therefore 'in common with creatures lacking reason we have a natural tendency to do what the law commands (for we are born to virtue, as Aristotle says)'81.  Secondly, what is peculiar to us is that 'we are aware of the law'82.  Thus there is a correspondingly conscious choice of actions which express our conformity to the goal of procreation.  So the dimension of being which is called what is 'right' is really that activity of human being which is an "unintelligent" expression of the intelligent will of the Creator.  This is common to all creatures lacking reason.  This 'unintelligent' behaviour of a thing is yet an indication to us of what the right use of a thing is, because it is based on understanding what the Creator has done in making a thing do what it does.

The relevance of the human body's natural and unconscious activity, to the morally good action of the human being, lies precisely in an indication to reason of what would conform to the activity which God has already made characteristic of the tendency to procreation.  As the woman's fertility follows a natural cycle of fertility and infertility, then this is itself the indication to reason of what is constitutive of the morally good regulation of the tendency to procreation.  So it is by deliberately83 conforming to the activity which inherently regulates the tendency to procreation, that we model what is morally right on the activity by which God rightly ordered procreation.  For 'man naturally seeks ... whatever nature teaches all animals' such as 'mating between the sexes'84; and it is clear that nature teaches the cycle of fertility and infertility.  So God as the author of nature teaches the right regulation of the transmission of life.

Reflecting on the relationship between the Creator and what is good, true and right in human nature, leads to recognizing that God instantiates a divine idea in the human natures He creates.  This 'incarnation' of a divine 'idea' is foundational of the moral good that the person is.  This foundational, unitary good of a person is expressed in diverse activities.  So there is a relation between what is good at the order of being and the good of right action.  Therefore a morally good action has a number of aspects.  The goodness of an action is a manifestation of the God given goodness of being.  A person can receive an increase (cf. Mt 25: 14-30) in the gift of the moral goodness of being85.  For a right action is a freely chosen conformity to the God given relation of activity to goal.  If a goal is an origin of an action, then an action is a path to an end86.  Finally, the 'good' of human being is complex because Christ, 'by his incarnation ... has in a certain way united himself with each man'87; and this union is ordered to the paschal mystery, the Church, the sacraments and the glory of eternal life.

The doctrine of Humanae Vitae is not biologistic in that a biological law is not presented as a moral law.  A biological law is an unconscious, while a moral law is a conscious participation in the eternal law of God.  This relationship between things is the rational basis for the argument that a God-given natural activity is an indication to reason of morally right behaviour.  It is a work of Revelation and reason to know what is of God (Wis 11: 24) and good, right and true, and what is of fallen man and disordered.  In fallen nature, only what is a God-given relationship of an activity to its natural inclination, is what can be called 'right.'  In human sexuality, this relationship of activity to inclination encompasses the natural function of the sexual organs, both interior to the bodily-person and in their exterior manifestation88.  Unless a deliberate action expresses what is naturally given by God as the 'right' relationship of sexual activity to its natural inclination, then it does not possess the 'natural' foundation of a moral action.  If a human action is first 'right' when activity accords with inclination, it is then moral as it is rationally chosen to be in accord with the will of God; and, finally, it is ordered to our salvation to the extent it is perfected by grace; the grace that is required for its integration into a Christian life.  Thus the gift of fertility is ordered to the grace of hospitality89, as it is provided with the possibility of regulation as prudence would require90.  The tendency of all activity to manifest being is taken up and expressed in the law and the vocation to lovingly reciprocal self-giving.  So the sacrament of spousal love which is exclusive, faithful and open to life, is a God-given unique expression of our participation in the mystery of the Blessed Trinity.

A reflection in the light of the dissertation as a whole

This Chapter has taken us into the complexity of human being and we have seen that the necessary anthropology is a fundamentally Christian one.  In the course of this Chapter there emerges a significance to this in that there are key points of divergence between a specifically philosophical anthropology and a precisely Christian anthropology.  The former retains a kind of reference to animal 'mating behaviour' and the latter, while not denying the created good of an animal, recognizes a specifically human dignity to procreation which is a point of radical discontinuity between animal and human behaviour (Gn 2: 18-24)91.  Procreation is a divine-human action of reciprocal self-giving.  Spouses are called to give to God what is given to them to give, and God is called upon (1 Sam 1: 19-20) to give the act of existence (cf. 2 Mac 7: 28) which is uniqely His to give.  This investigation reveals92 that the light of the Blessed Trinity93 is a light which illuminates the unity in and between the being of a person, one in body and soul94 (Ps 63: 1), reciprocal self-giving and the spousal action of procreation.  Pope Paul VI had seen that an integrated vision of man was dependent on a 'special reference' to Gaudium et Spes of the Second Vatican Council95.

24 VS no. 47.    Back
25 VS no. 48.    Back
26 Cf. David Hume, A Treatise of Human Nature, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, second edition with text revised and notes by P. H. Nidditch, 1978), page 469.    Back
27 Cardinal J. Ratzinger, In the Beginning, translated by B. Ramsey OP, (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1990), page ix.    Back
28 Cf Gaudium et Spes, art 36.    Back
29 John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, edited by Vittorio Messori, translated by Jenny McPhee and Martha McPhee, (London: Jonathan Cape) p. 38.    Back
30 John Paul II (Karol Wojtyla), Love and Responsibility, translated by H. T. Willetts, (London: Fount - an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, 1981) p. 146.    Back
31 Cf. VS no. 48:    Back
32 Cf. Bishop Angelo Scola, page 7 of a paper delivered at the Catholic Chaplaincy, Oxford, 21 March 1998, entitled, "The Nuptial Mystery at the Heart of the Church".    Back
33 Gaudium et Spes no. 24.    Back
34 Cf. Ibid. no. 22.    Back
35 ST, I, 44, 4; cf. ST, I, 45, 7.    Back
36 Richard Conrad, "Is one human person, or a community such as the family, the better image or model of the Holy Trinity?" Diss. Pontifical University of St. Thomas, Rome, May 1997 p. 3.    Back
37 Cf. Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian no. 35: "sentire cum Ecclesia".    Back
38 Cf. Lumen Gentium no. 7.    Back
39 Ibid. no. 8.    Back
40 An amendment in response to a comment by Caroline Farey, (9/04/01).    Back
41 Gaudium et Spes no. 24.    Back
42 Cf. Copleston, Aquinas, (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books Ltd, 1955) p. 158.    Back
43 ST, I-II, 93, 1.    Back
44 ST, I-II, 93, 6.    Back
45 ST, I-II, 94, 1.    Back
46 ST, I-II, 94, 2.    Back
47 An amendment in response to a comment by C. Farey, 9/04/01.    Back
48 William May says that this list is not 'taxative or exhaustive' but illustrative.  His reason for this is linguistic.  It follows on St. Thomas' use of the expressions '"and the like" (et similia) and "of this kind" (huiusmodi) in speaking about the goods that he names'. P. 48 of An Introduction to Moral Theology, (Huntingdon, Indiana: Our Sunday Visitor, Inc., revised edition, 1994).  St. Thomas' illustrations are in relation to his second and the third levels or stages of being and are naturally not exhaustive; however, this does not conflict with the view that the sequence as a whole is ordered as argued and is therefore taxative.    Back
49 The exact views of St. Thomas Aquinas on the conception of Christ, which accords with the view expressed here, and of the descendants of Adam Eve, which appears to diverge from that expressed here, are discussed elsewhere in this dissertation.    Back
50 Cf. John Paul II, Encyclical Letter on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life Evangelium Vitae, (London: CTS [Do 633], 1995) no. 60.    Back
51 Response to R. Conrad's comment (4/07/01).    Back
52 Etienne Gilson, The Philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, translated by E. Bullough, (Cambridge: W. Heffer & Sons Ltd., 1929), p. 284.    Back
53 Ibid. p. 284.    Back
54 Ibid. p. 284.    Back
55 R. P. Thomas Pegues, Catechism of the "Summa Theologica", adapted from the French and done into English by Aelred Whitacre, O.P., (London: Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., 1922), p. 84: XVII.- Of the Natural Law (A).    Back
56 Response to comment by Caroline Farey (9/04/01).    Back
57 W. Norris Clarke, "Person, Being and St. Thomas", published in Communio, International Catholic Review, 19, No. 4, (Winter 1992) p. 606.    Back
58 Cf. Copleston, Aquinas, p. 158.    Back
59 Cf. Gaudium et Spes no. 24: 'there is a certain parallel between the union existing among the divine persons and the union of the sons of God in truth and love'.    Back
60 CCC 236.    Back
61 Dei Verbum no. 4.    Back
62 Ibid. no. 2.    Back
63 ST, I, 44, 4.    Back
64 John Paul II, General audience of March 12, 1986, p. 212 of A Catechesis on The Creed, Vol. I: God Father and Creator, (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1996).    Back
65 Is there a relation here to the 'form' of the divine-human mystery of the incarnation?    Back
66 Cf. John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation on the Guardian of the Redeemer Redemptoris Custos, (Boston, MA 02130: St. Paul Books And Media) nos 2-3.    Back
67 Cahal B. Daly, Natural Law Morality Today, (Dublin: Clonmore & Reynolds Ltd, 1965) quotes these excerpts from St. Thomas in footnote 55, page 56.    Back
68 VS no. 48.    Back
69 ST, I, 5, 1; and I, 5, 1: 'But goodness presents the aspect of desireableness, which being does not present.'    Back
70 ST, I, 16, 1.    Back
71 ST, I, 15, 1.    Back
72 ST, I, 5, 6.    Back
73 Cf. ST, I-II, 19, 12 [sic]; and in the literal translation the same reference reads: I-II, 19, 10.    Back
74 ST, I-II, 21, 1.    Back
75 ST, I, 6, 3.    Back
76 Reply to R. Conrad's criticism (4/07/01): there is no attempt to do justice to the significance of this definition in the opus of St. Thomas.    Back
77 Cf. VS no. 10.    Back
78 Space prohibits a look at the term 'righteousness'.    Back
79 ST, I-II, 21, 1.    Back
80 ST, I-II, 21, 4.    Back
81 ST, I-II, 93, 6.    Back
82 ST, I-II, 93, 6.    Back
83 Cf. John Paul II (K. Wojtyla), Love and Responsibility p. 243.    Back
84 ST, I-II, 94, 2.    Back
85 Cf. VS no. 71.    Back
86 Cf. Aristotle, Poetics, art 6, pp. 26-27 of Jerome Stolnitz, Aesthetics, (London: Collier MacMillan Publishers, 1965).    Back
87 Gaudium et Spes no. 22.    Back
88 Cf. HV no. 10.    Back
89 Cf. Scola, "The Nuptial Mystery at the Heart of the Church", Oxford, pp. 20-22; cf. also Rom 12: 13, Tit 1: 8 and 1 Pet 4: 9.    Back
90 Cf. HV no. 16.    Back
91 This is not to claim that a 'philosophical anthropology can only incorporate the animal aspect of humanity.,' nor to 'exaggerate the discontinuity between us and the animal world' (R. Conrad [4/07/01]).  Neither does it assert that God is a bodily being; rather, it is to assert that the flesh of man (Jn 1: 14) is a significant 'part' of what, mysteriously, images the invisible existence and mystery of the Blessed Trinity; indeed, just as God was made flesh, so the invisible God is rendered intelligibly 'visible' in the whole 'image' of man.    Back
92 Re-written in response to R. Conrad's comment (4/07/01).    Back
93 Gaudium et Spes no. 24.    Back
94 Ibid. no. 14.    Back
95 HV no. 7.    Back

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