Thoughts on Cardinal Coccopalmerio’s “Amoris Booklet”

Eamonn Clark, STL

I am continuing to publish some of my notes for a potential book on the various readings of Amoris Laetitia. I’m not sure it will ever see the light of day otherwise.

Bad interpretations of AL, in particular of Chapter Eight, remain a major pastoral-academic concern, despite the dust seeming to have settled. In actual Catholic life, which lies outside of seminary classrooms and the blogosphere, this is a real issue and will continue to be so until there is either sufficient intellectual conversion among the elite, both ecclesiastical and academic, or there is extremely strong papal teaching on the matter.

Here, we look at a small book put out some years ago by Cardinal Coccopalmerio, who used to be prefect of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts. We should pray for His Eminence. He is very old now, and we never really found out exactly what the deal was with that infamous party at his secretary’s residence. Really – pray for him.

On we go, then. Some small edits made from my notes.

Coccopalmerio perhaps makes a better case than Fernández regarding the question of grace but arguably ends up with an even less tolerable position on the nature of the moral law.

“Having considered the ontology of the person also in the unique elements and particularly in those that in some way limit the person in his capacity to act normally, it seems to me that the Exhortation leads to three important consequences: the so-called “law of gradualness,” the recognition of the good that is possible, the non-immediate imputability of all those people who do not fulfill the law or who fulfill it only in part, and the consequent need to refrain from judging these people as culpable and therefore as in a state of grave sin.”

“The so-called ‘law of gradualness’ recurs many times in the magisterium of Pope Francis, in the proposals of the Synod of Bishops and in the Exhortation Amoris laetitia. Let us see at least one passage: ‘Along these lines, Saint John Paul II proposed the so-called “law of gradualness” in the knowledge that the human being “knows, loves and accomplishes moral good by different stages of growth”. (Familiaris Consortio, 34). This is not a “gradualness of law” but rather a gradualness in the prudential exercise of free acts on the part of subjects who are not in a position to understand, appreciate, or fully carry out the objective demands of the law. For the law is itself a gift of God which points out the way, a gift for everyone without exception; it can be followed with the help of grace, even though each human being “advances gradually with the progressive integration of the gifts of God and the demands of God’s definitive and absolute love in his or her entire personal and social life” (ibid., 9)’ (n. 295). The so-called ‘law of gradualness’ presupposes, therefore, an incapacity or a serious difficulty for a person to put the law into practice, at least in its totality, in all its requirements, on account of a condition of weakness.”

This last statement of Coccopalmerio seems to exceed the teaching of the Holy Father when the Cardinal claims that there can be an “incapacity” in fulfilling the demands of the law. However, he goes on to say that such an incapacity could be derived from “a condition of sickness”:

“For these members of the faithful, pastors of souls should, on the one hand, state the ideal, that is, the law in its entirety and in all its demands, but they should, on the other hand, work to heal the weakness, that is, to increase ability to act, by using the normal methods of pastoral care in this work, especially preaching and the sacraments. From this case, we should distinguish another case of impossibility or serious difficulty in putting the law into practice. And, in fact, the law is given for all people, and does not take into account, nor could it, a condition in which individual persons can come to find themselves with an incapacity to act normally, and therefore, to observe the law, such as, for example, a condition of sickness.”

This is a fine position, even though his expression of the position is unclear. People who struggle with sin should be helped by preaching and the sacraments. People who cannot avoid a materially sinful act due to sickness (we assume he means mental illness) are not guilty of actual sin, and so we must use common-sense jurisprudence in our dealings with such people, taking into account their objective inability to perform human acts in a normal way. There is no problem with this suggestion. But he goes further: 

“We can recall that, by making provisions for such situations of inability with pastoral wisdom, canon law has already provided in its roots some remedies that are comprehensively referred to as “aequitas canonica” [canonical equity], and those are known as exception, dispensation, and epikeia. In the case, however, of the “law of gradualness,” the impossibility or serious difficulty to put the law into practice is caused by an incapacity to will it because of a condition of weakness of the will.”

Now we are left wondering if “a condition of weakness of the will” means something other than “a condition of sickness.” He does not clarify. Let us suppose, for his sake, that it is what he means.

“Three barely reported texts are undoubtedly of great human and pastoral value. It seems important to me to re-read three particular expressions: ‘…  what for now is the most generous response which can be given to God… it is what God himself is asking amid the concrete complexity of one’s limits.’ (n. 303) ‘… possible ways of responding to God and growing in the midst of limits….’ ‘a small step, in the midst of great human limitations, can be more pleasing to God…’ (n. 305) ‘… eventual stages of personal growth…’ ‘the Lord’s mercy, which spurs us on to do our best.’ ‘… a church … a mother … always does what good she can…’. These are expressions that speak for themselves. They are, however, [expressions] of great realism and great respect for the concrete ontology of every person. The statement should be noted that God himself requires only what is possible and He accepts, therefore, what is possible. Likewise, the Church [is] like a Mother.”

At long last, Coccopalmerio rightly draws attention to the fact that God cannot command the impossible. He is also right to imply that the careful urging of a person toward greater virtue is a role proper to the Church as a Mother, and its pastors who do this work should be attentive to the status of a person’s individual inclination towards vices and virtues, just as St. Gregory the Great indicated in the Pastoral Rule. This is his first “solution”: to say that a person cannot live up to the ideal of the law due to a weakness of will. There would be no problem with this except with the ambiguity of the words “can,” “impossible,” etc., provided he left it there: such weakness of the will we call vice, and vice produces sin.

However, he has much more in mind than this, as the next passage shows:

“The second solution: the non-immediate imputability of those people who do not fulfill the law or fulfill it only in part, and the consequent need to refrain from judging these people as culpable and therefore in a state of grave sin. We can read a pair of texts: “It is reductive simply to consider whether or not an individual’s actions correspond to a general law or rule, because that is not enough to discern and ensure full fidelity to God in the concrete life of a human being” (n. 304). “The Church’s pastors, in proposing to the faithful the full ideal of the Gospel and the Church’s teaching, must also help them to treat the weak with compassion, avoiding aggravation or unduly harsh or hasty judgements. The Gospel itself tells us not to judge or condemn (cf. Mt 7:1; Lk 6:37). Jesus ‘expects us to stop looking for those personal or communal niches which shelter us from the maelstrom of human misfortune, and instead to enter into the reality of other people’s lives and to know the power of tenderness. Whenever we do so, our lives become wonderfully complicated’ (ibid., 270)” (n. 308). We can re-read the valuable text of n. 305 already cited above (cfr. no. 4.1.). I would say that all this makes the reason complete for what we have said above regarding the person and the moral action made impossible by concrete conditions, such as that one exemplified by a woman cohabiting for years, conscious of the illegitimacy of her union, genuinely desiring to put an end to it, but however, it has been made impossible, at least at present, to put her desire into practice.”

It is no longer reasonable to give the Cardinal the benefit of the doubt. By his last words in this section, it is evident that what he has in mind is not a case of severe mental illness but instead a case of severe attachment to sexual activity in the context of an illicit union. This is clear because the Cardinal says that there are concrete conditions which make “the moral action” impossible in the case he gives of a woman living for years in an illicit union, who is aware of its illicit character, and somehow both genuinely desires to stop sinning but it is impossible to stop nonetheless. The details of the case he refers to were explained earlier in the book: 

“[Suppose there is] a woman who went to cohabitate with a canonically married man who was abandoned with three young children by his wife. However, this woman has saved the man from a state of deep despair, probably from the temptation of suicide; she has brought up the three children, not without considerable sacrifices; their union lasts for ten years now; a new child is born. The woman of whom we speak is fully conscious of being in an irregular situation. She sincerely would like to change her life, but evidently she cannot do it. If, in fact she left the union, the man would return to his situation from before, the children would be left without a mother. To leave the union would mean, therefore, not to fulfill her grave duties to people who are innocent in themselves. It is therefore evident that it could not take place ‘without a new fault.’”

The Cardinal at least realizes that leaving the union is not the only option: “she should practice continence” is the natural objection, which he is well aware of and notes. He goes on to quote Footnote 329 of AL, which quotes Gaudium et Spes 51. These passages from the Council speak about maintaining “intimacy” being important for the couple with respect to raising their children. The Cardinal explains:

“It is important to ask ourselves what the expression used by the Council exactly means: ‘the intimacy of married life’ (in the original Latin text: ‘intimata vita conjugalis’). Undoubtedly, this means the performance of conjugal acts. Beyond the meaning of the words, what is said above leads to this exegesis: ‘at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased.’ At this point, the text states: ‘… where the intimacy of married life is broken off’ (Latin text ‘abrumpitur’), and so the performance of conjugal acts is interrupted, ‘it is not uncommon that fidelity is imperiled and the good of the children may be endangered… their upbringing… the courage to accept new ones.’ One may naturally note that the opportunity to not abstain from performing conjugal acts in order to prevent that ‘fidelity is imperiled and the good of the children may be endangered’ is a directive given by the Council for situations of marriage, in other words, for legitimate unions, while it is applied by the Apostolic Exhortation to cases of unions which are at least objectively illegitimate. I believe, however, that this difference is not relevant to the correctness of this application. Having considered the preceding texts, it seems to me that it may be held: a) if the commitment to live as brother and sister proves possible without difficulty for the couple’s relationship, then the two cohabiting may accept it willingly; b) if, however, this commitment creates difficulties, the two cohabiting seem not to be obligated in and of themselves, because they will meet the case of the subject of which n. 301 speaks with this clear expression: a subject ‘can be in a concrete situation which does not allow him or her to act differently and decide otherwise without further sin.’”

Let us suppose, with much lenience, that the Cardinal’s assertion about the meaning of the phrase “the intimacy of married life” in GS is correct in that it refers to conjugal relations, and let us suppose he is right to see AL applying this same criterion to illicit unions – even though these are not “conjugal” but merely sexual acts. (In the strict sense, the word “conjugal” implies “married.”) The direct implication is that a person who wants a good thing to happen, namely, the prevention of “further sin” (like the partner harming himself or the children), is justified in giving sexual favors to obtain it; in fact, one could easily argue that giving such favors is a duty because of the importance of maintaining a stable family environment for the sake of the children. (A similar argument, in favor of the duty to use contraception, has been recently made by an increasingly prominent Roman moralist, Father Maurizio Chiodi.) Ironically, Coccopalmerio suggests this adulterous act is part of the good of fidelity. It cannot be so.

After detailing the “concrete case” he has in mind, the Cardinal goes on to explain his opinion on the possibility of “mitigating factors” obtaining in this woman’s psychology.

The most generous reading of these passages gives us the following teaching from Cardinal Coccopalmerio: when one thinks or feels that it is impossible to fulfill the demands of the moral law due to the desire for future goods or due to present weakness of will, God does not demand that the moral law be fulfilled. There are two plain errors. On the one hand there is simple consequentialism or proportionalism – when a better good can be obtained by what is normally seen as wrong, that act stops being wrong. On the other hand there is the paradigmatic case of saying that temptation excuses from sin, seemingly proximate to heresy. (One is reminded of the famous 17th century laxist, Archbishop Caramuel, the “Lamb of God,” so named because he “took away the sins of the world.” St. Alphonsus also dubbed him the “Prince of the Laxists.” Caramuel made a similar argument about temptation removing guilt.) One could use the Cardinal’s method to justify practically any action whatsoever – “I can’t follow the moral law because I want this future good which is threatened by not violating it, and so God does not demand it,” or “I can’t follow the moral law because I am weak, and so God does not demand it,” or a combination of the two. We can and should notice that, coincidentally, that this argument is never applied for the “malefactor” in broken marriages – why could there not have been “mitigating factors” for a man who abandons his wife and children? Could it have been that he needed to do so in order to avoid some bad thing in the future? Such considerations are never made.

The less generous reading has the Cardinal falling directly into heresy regarding sufficient grace.

Principles for Chaste Relationships – Part IV

Eamonn Clark, STL

See parts one, two, and three.

We all know that romance is a risky venture.

For some more than others!

What is the risk we are concerned with here? It is the subtle movement from mere romantic feelings into “curiosity” (wanting knowledge of something – in this case, a person – which is not helpful for you to have… like certain kinds of immodest glances and even discussion, which are then “annexed” to lust) into more impure thoughts and indeliberate desire, into morose delectation (often manifested in and aided by outward motions, as already described), then often even into fornication, many or even most times in an unnatural way (viz., in a way that ensures no offspring, which character aggravates the sin even further).

Looking at people who are attractive is obviously necessary for one who is in the market for love. Of course, looking longer or looking at more than is really necessary starts the downward trajectory we have described above. One must use some discipline and honesty in these matters, without being unnaturally cold or rigid, allowing for some authenticity of expressions of affection. (Certainly, voyeurism, looking at indecent images, etc., for the pleasure of satisfying curiosity is always at least a venial sin, and if one is deliberately purposing to take pleasure in the desire to “go all the way” by means of such looks, even without self-abuse, the words of Our Lord in Matthew 5:28 have been fulfilled – it is “adultery of the heart.” The satisfaction of curiosity which simply arouses desire as an effect is not necessarily mortal sin, except if one has the wherewithal to consider or at least has the time to consider and experience to know that this is indeed a proximate occasion to mortal sin, as it is for most people before they are middle-aged, then even such acts become mortal sins on account of the treatment of one’s soul with such recklessness.)

It is very difficult to be perfect in this regard during extended courtship. There will be small slips into sin, as the desire for propagating the human race is extremely strong on account of the good that it seeks, and it is also the most corrupted desire we have (which, says St. Thomas, is due to the fact that original sin is transmitted on account of generation). But the risk of a person foregoing marriage who doesn’t have the strength to do so is far worse than the risks involved with courtship, at least in the long-term. So, there is a risk, but a proportionate reward, for most. These risks do need to be taken seriously, with clear boundaries discussed honestly between a couple – not first date conversation material, but maybe 4th or 5th date…

TL;DR: It’s okay to expose oneself to risks of some sin in romancing to avoid habitual falls into unchastity in the long-term.

But if none of this is much of a challenge, then we reach the fifth and final principle…

If you can raise your mind, do that.

Adventures in Casuistry: Episode 1 – Sanchez on the Marital Debt, Part 1

Eamonn Clark, STL

May I draw your attention to my newly expanded “research” tab, above on the top right. (Email readers, you have to go to the website itself to see). I have added many links to old manuals of moral theology. The authors are listed in no particular order, and they are mostly files accessible through Google Books. The first volume of what I think is the most relevant moral theology text is what I link to, but other volumes and works are searchable below in the “related” section. It is incredible what is available to all, for free.

Almost all of them are in Latin. And they are generally enormous books, meticulously organized, quite searchable, and, for someone whose mind is “wound tight,” they are extremely satisfying to read.

I have known of the manuals for a while, but only in the past few weeks have I really become seriously interested in working through them – in part because I discovered many of them are available for free online, but also because I have been working on some questions related to sexual ethics… I am astonished to find the wisdom on this topic in the older authors being so rich, so vast, and so entirely forgotten. It is a tragedy. (The blame mostly falls on the myriad of things going on in the 19th century, including, we must admit, the rise of neoscholasticism. The manuals in general started to fall out of favor around this time.)

Therefore, in order to make a small contribution to the recovery of the manualist tradition, which ought to be revived to some extent, and to help expose new students like myself to these treasure troves of theological acumen, I will be posting some texts from them once in a while, with a translation, maybe even a few comments.

Today, flowing from my studies on marriage and sexuality, we dive into Thomas Sanchez, SJ’s immense work on marriage, De Matrimonio, which is one of the most important texts on the topic in the history of theology. It is a HUGE work, divided into 10 books over 3 volumes, with hundreds of questions addressed. Today, we are looking at the introduction to Disputation VIII, in Book 9 (On the Marital Debt), which we find on page 193 of Volume 3.

I am working on my Latin… I start, I admit, with Google Translate, and I go from there. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of all my translations, so be aware of that. If you are a Latinist and want to help, please reach out! (NB: I also might skip over some of the citations which authors make, for simplicity’s sake. You can always just look at the text yourself if you want to know references.)

Sanchez, De Matrimonio, Liber IX, Disputatio VIII (Tomus III, 193) [“Introduction”]

Disputatio VIII: An actus conjugalis vitietur ratione finis ad quem referetur? Et specialiter si solum exerceatur propter bonum sacramenti: nempe, ad significandam conjunctionem Verbi cum carne aut Ecclesia?

Disputation VIII: Is the conjugal act corrupted by reason of the end to which it is referred? And especially if it is exercised only for the good of the sacrament, namely, to signify the conjunction of the Word with the flesh or the church?

Hactenus in genere disputavimus, qualiter sit licitus, et obliget conjugalis actus. Jam de circumstantiis, quibus vitiari solet, agendum est. Et primo de finis circumstantia, quae in actibus humanis primum locum obtinet. Et potest esse multiplex finis illius actus, nempe, prolis, reddere debitum, significatio unius Christi cum Ecclesia, aut cum carne, sanitas corporis, vitatio fornicationis, voluptas, aut alius finis extraneos. In praesentiarum disserimus conjugalis licitus est, relatus in bonum prolis, aut in fidei bonum: nempe, dum exercetur gratia prolis habendae, aut servandae fidei alteri conjugi reddendi ei debitum. Conclusio tanquam certissima statuitur a Magistro 4. d. 11 et D. Th. ili q. 2 . a. 2 et universis Theologis: et ab omnibus utriusque juris professoribus cum Gloss. e. Quidquid 31 q. 2. verb. Ab adulterio. Et constat de bono prolis. Quia cum Deus ad multiplicationem generis humani matrimonium instituerit, illo utens ad hunc finem peccare nequit: alias Deus aliquid illicitum instituisset. De bono etiam fidei constat. Quia tenentur conjuges ex justitia ad debitum sibi mutuo reddendum. Quia ergo, ut huic satisfaciat obligationi, ad conjugem accedit, tantum abest, ut peccet, ut potius opus virtutis et obligatorium faciat.

So far we have discussed in general how the conjugal act is lawful and how it binds. We shall now treat of the circumstances under which it is wont to be vitiated. First, the circumstance of the end, which takes place first in human acts. And there may be a manifold end of that act, namely, children, paying the debt, signifying Christ’s oneness with the Church, or with the flesh, the health of the body, the avoidance of fornication, the pleasure, or other external ends. In the present discussion, a married person is allowed to join in the good of the child, or in the good of faith, namely, when he exercises the influence of having a child, or of keeping the faith in return to the other spouse due to him. The conclusion is established as the most reliable by the Master 4. d. 11 and St. Thomas in q. 2 a. 2 and by all theologians. And it is clear about the good of the child. Because when God instituted marriage for the multiplication of the human race, one cannot sin by using it for this purpose: otherwise God would have instituted something unlawful. It is also evident of the good of faith. Because married couples are bound by justice to pay the debt to one another. And because, in order to satisfy this obligation, the man goes to his wife, so far from being a sinner, he rather does an obligatory work of virtue.

Observare tamen oportet minime sufficere, quod actus conjugalis culpae venialis immunis sit ex finis circumstantia, ipsum referre ad bonum prolis. Nam si in prole sistatur, desiderioque habendi successorem ea intendatur, culpa venialis erit: sed proles intendi debet ad cultum Dei amplificandum. Ratio est, quia alias staretur in creatura, nec bonum esset faeramenti. Natura enim bonum prolis intendit, ut in ipsa species conservetur: bonum autem sacramenti exposcit, ut referatur in Deum. Nec inde inferre licet motum naturae malum esse, sed esse imperfectum; nisi ad aliquod sacramenti bonum referatur. Sic D.Th. 4. d. 31 qu. 2 a. 2 ad. 1 Gerson. p.1 in compenio Theologiae tract. de sacramento conjugii, alphabeto 27 litera O. Tabiena Matrimonium 3 q. 2 s. 3

However, it is far from sufficient to observe that the act of a conjugal act is immune from venial guilt, from the circumstance of the end, that it relates to having a child. For if it is ordered towards having offspring, and it is motivated by an intense desire simply to have a successor, it will be a venial sin; but having offspring should be directed to enlarging the number of those worship of God. The reason is, that otherwise it would be only about creatures, and thus would not be well done. For while it is true that nature intends the good of the offspring to be preserved in the species itself, the good of the sacrament demands that it be referred to God. Nor is it lawful to infer from this that the motion of nature is evil, but only that it is imperfect unless it is referred to some sacramental good. Thus St. Thomas 4. d. 31 qu. 2 a. 2 ad. 1.

Nec tamen reminisci opus est in actu ipso conjugali alicujus ex finisbus licitis, sed satis est, si habitu referatur ad illos. Sicut juxta communem. Theologorum senten. id satis est ad meritum. Atque ita D.Th. et Tabien. num. praeced. allegati dicunt erigi, ut proles actu vel habitu referatur in Deum. Ita docent Veracruz 3 p. Speculi, art. 16. concl. 5. Matienz. lib. 5 recop.t.I.rubr.glos.I. n. 105. Led. 2 p.4.q.5 1. ad fi. Quare satis est, si a principio conjuges matrimonium inierint propter hos fines, nec intentionem ipso actu contrariam habeant, ut actus conjugalis in ipsos relatus censeatur. Ut bene docent Led. et Veracr. ibidem, qua de causa dicit Led. excusari conjuges a multis venialibus. Quod optime etiam explicuit Sylvest. verb. Debitum, quaest. 12. vers. 2 ubi dicens ut actus conjugalis meritorius si, referendam esse prolem ad Dei obsequium: subdit id esse verum, licet de obsequio divino nil cogitetur, sed solum de successore. Quia ex quo conjux est in gratia, nec malum finem intendit, virtute refert in Deum.

However, there is no need to remember anything from the lawful ends of the conjugal act itself, but it is enough if it refers to them in habit. It is approximately the general opinion of the theologians this is enough for merit. And St. Thomas and Tabien. say the same. Surely the preceding say that the procuring of offspring may be referred to God in act or habit. Therefore, it is sufficient that if couples from the beginning had entered into marriage on account of these ends, and they did not have an intention contrary to the act itself, then it would be considered related to their conjugal acts. See Veracruz, (ibid.). And it is for this reason which reason Led. says couples are excused from many venial sins. Sylvest. also explains this very well, where he says, that if the conjugal act were meritorious, that the offspring should be referred to the service of God, he adds, that it is true, even if nothing is thought of divine obedience, but only of a successor. Because since he is a partner in grace and does not intend an evil end, he refers the act virtually to God.

Next time, we will continue on with Sanchez and see what conclusions he draws from the foregoing.

Happy Easter, dear readers!

Principles for Chaste Relationships – Part III

Eamonn Clark, STL

See parts One and Two

The third great principle: the emotions are not the body.

At this point in our series, some might be thinking, “This is totally unrealistic! You are saying it’s wrong to have feelings!” No, not quite. Let’s dig into the distinctions even further.

Seeing “her” or thinking of “him” is going to cause an emotional response. This emotional response will have its physical effects – the heart, the face, the knees – and there might be an automatic sexual impulse (arousal), or even a kind of “pre-sexual” impulse or pleasure which is even more preparatory, in the body as well that comes along as a result. Insofar as it is not specifically being desired, or there is not some special reason one ought not to be having such thoughts, it is not going to be a moral problem. How to distinguish, then, between the allowance of some feelings and not others? The ego, or the psyche, has its own proper objects for pleasure in a certain way. Consider the thrills which accompany the following statements: “She wants to go out with me!” and, “Maybe he and I really could have a life together!” When mixed with the blameless perception of the good of that individual “as” masculine or feminine (what was described above as “love”), some “overflow” of the emotions into the organs is natural and normal and without blame in itself, as it is simply generally unavoidable when romancing, just like salivating and starting to feel hungry with the cheeseburger. Sometimes, just being around the cheeseburger is enough to get one going.

The emotions experienced by the hope of being paid attention to by HER, or the chance of being emotionally affirmed by HIM, let alone the actual experience of these things, is principally an experience of one’s psyche, of the other person as such, which then overflows into the body in other ways. As long as the point remains to experience the other person socially rather than to have increasingly intense physical experiences within one’s own body, leading to a sexual experience of the other person (even if not yet “physically intimate”), that is, by experiencing the person for the sake of that sexual desire which is growing, one will generally be doing alright.

Rational goods, which all of lower human powers exist to serve, are principally two: truth, corresponding to our intellect, and friendship, corresponding to our will. We will come back to this later, but it is important to note here that the pursuit of these things, in this case the special kind of friendship which romance entails, is what we are created for. All of our emotions, and even our bodies, exist so that we can pursue the truth in a community of friends. This is only perfectly fulfilled in Heaven. But for now, we have our broken world, in which we can find a slice of what is to come in good and solid human friendships, including the intense kind of friendship called marriage, which implies a preparatory and penultimate friendship of courtship or dating.

But there is risk, we should note. The distinction between the social and the sexual leads in the context of the fallen world in which we find ourselves calls to mind the risk of sin, and this takes us onward to the fourth great principle, “risks can be justified by proportionate rewards.”

The Pandemic is Over

Eamonn Clark, STL

I have held off for a long, long time on writing about Covid. It has been a difficult exercise in restraint for me. Hopefully, readers will therefore appreciate that the points I am about to make are not “shooting from the hip” or any such thing.

Because I initially committed not to writing on this at all, as it is rather boring and unhelpful to spit in the ocean, this will likely be my only real post on SARS-CoV-2, unless we are still dealing with this issue as a world in another “15 days”…

All lives matter, therefore all deaths matter. I find it awful that anyone would contract a respiratory illness and succumb to it. But this does not negate the following important points.

  1. Covid has a rather low mortality rate, especially among the young and healthy. The average healthy child (under 18) is more likely to be struck by lightning than to die from Covid, and the average driver/rider of average cars is FAR more likely to die from a car crash than from Covid (about 1/1,100 people). The average age for death from Covid in many places is either approximately the same or even above the average age of death from any cause. Also, everyone is going to die – the point of life is not simply staying alive, it is virtue, flourishing, preparing for and striving for Heaven.
  2. Extraordinary means, including extraordinary expenses, are generally not obligatory to save any particular person’s life, even when those means are certain to be effective. We are not so certain that much of what has been done in a rash attempt to save individually unidentifiable people has been particularly effective, and it has certainly caused much collateral damage in terms of psychological, social, economic, and even medical harm. Rightly ordered love comes only after the acquisition of knowledge.
  3. Those who claim the mantle of “Science” are often engaged in pseudoscience in the strictest sense, and often this seems to be done in the service of personal and professional gain. “If they had only locked down more/worn more masks/took more vaccines, they would have done better.” The question is begged. That’s not science, it’s irrational dogma parading as science, as is the choking of discussion about treatment options and demonizing those who dare disagree with “The Science” who are plenty qualified to write prescriptions, run clinical trials, and evaluate such things.
  4. Masks don’t really work, and neither do lockdowns – unless you are doing something really extraordinary with either. Hand sanitizer is also practically useless for Covid, which if I recall, has been known by people as unqualified as myself since late spring of 2020. (The lines and arrows on the ground… well, I guess we are still waiting on those numbers.) The typical stuff which we are now used to is just not effective to any noticeable degree. (Here is a great game to play which helps to prove the point.) I don’t know how this can even continue to be a debate at this stage. In fact, the recommendations about masks in particular were made by certain three-letter organizations back when they embarrassingly insisted that they were right and others were wrong about how Covid spread – until they realized they were actually wrong and quietly changed their position on the issue, without changing their public policy recommendations so as not to draw too much attention to their ineptitude.
  5. Even if the more perverse policies were effective, this does not answer the question of whether they are worth it. Real empirical science gives us data but does not tell us how to value goods based on that data – only “The Science” does that.
  6. It has become unreasonable to say that vaccines prevent infection or transmission in the long-term. One must wonder if this was part of a “repeat business” strategy on the part of companies standing to make hundreds of billions of dollars, a constant stream of income from taxes and newly printed currency. Maybe, maybe not. Maybe “Trump’s Vaccine” which was evil and super-scary before has become so good because people stand to benefit financially from switching teams.
  7. Perverse financial incentives plague the Covid system from top to bottom, and at this point one must really be blind not to see this. It is not for health and safety that to travel one needs a test here, another test there, a self-funded quarantine, and then another test. As Qoheleth says, “Money answers all questions.” (Ecclesiastes 10:19) One must also wonder in certain countries about coordinated efforts by organized crime and by socialist parties to bring about the end of a large private sector which they do not have a death grip on through backrooms. Desperate small businesses either close during lockdowns, or they get loans from unsavory characters…
  8. It is reasonable to have reservations about adverse reactions from the vaccines, both in the short-term and in the very unknown long-term.
  9. The emaciation of intermediary associations like clubs, guilds, unions, etc. is one of the gravest social evils of our time. Social media is no replacement for directed, organized associations with particular aims that draw people together for the sake of lobbying for those aims. Major, non-violent, credible threats “from below” are almost impossible to make in the developed world right now.
  10. The vaccines are not intrinsically evil to take or to administer, despite their distant immoral origins in abortion. However, that does not mean they are moral to take in every case, such as one being convinced of a serious danger for their own health, or having a prudential concern about supporting the destruction of the principle of autonomy, both of which derive from Catholic moral theology quite directly and could thus be appealed to reasonably in addition to one’s disgust and concern about the use of illicitly obtained cell-lines which could also be grounds for objection in view of one’s own unnecessary act of supporting an illicit industry and practice, vis-à-vis one’s own actual individual estimation of the benefit of defense against Covid. Furthermore, a conscience objection could also have the motivation that one feels compelled to speak against a particular system or program and this is the best way to do it. These considerations were almost totally missed in all of the discussions about conscience objections in the Catholic world.
  11. In my professional estimation as a moralist, it is generally mortal sin for a pastor or bishop to meaningfully exceed the demands imposed by civil authority in limiting access to the sacraments and regular worship due to public health concerns like Covid.
  12. In St. Alphonsus Liguori’s much more professional estimation as patron saint of moralists, parish priests (pastors) are specially bound to administer the sacraments to the dying during time of plague when nobody else is available when the need for the sacraments is extreme or even only grave, even if such assistance is likely or even certain to be fatal for the priest. (See Theologia Moralis, Book IV, #358 – a topic which ought to be more explored these days.)
  13. This is probably only the beginning of a long battle over social credit. If you do not know what an algocracy is, educate yourself. We are poised to begin creating one… the “Green Pass” system can now be used to include, for example, one’s carbon footprint, one’s purchases, other medical information, and so on. If you have been a “good citizen,” doing “correct things,” you will be able to do more for less money. And simply trying to avoid conflict over this kind of thing will not only mean losing the conflict which one is trying to avoid, it means inviting more conflict later on with more serious consequences. It was just supposed to be 15 days, remember…
  14. A lot of “crazies” are actually really smart. Like the so-called “Brostradamus” (video from September of 2020). I am reminded of the parable told by Kierkegaard about a clown crying out in a village that the circus is on fire and that everyone needs to hurry to protect themselves. They laugh and cheer him on, he becomes more animated, they laugh and cheer more, and then the town burns to the ground. Those who are dismissed as “conspiracy theorists” are sometimes very well-read in history and medicine etc. but are just bad at self-branding and presentation.
  15. Most of the “narratives” are partly true. There is indeed a cabal of globalist billionaires who want to control the world, but this is not sufficient to explain everything; nor is a bunch of health experts with nothing but good will sufficient to explain what is going on. The real narrative is complex.
  16. Why people disagree so fiercely over Covid and how to respond to it is a function of several factors, including the intellectual laziness of preferring a simple narrative to a complex but more accurate one. Tribalism is unhealthy for the truth-seeker, and truth-seeking is necessary for good-seeking (knowledge, then love). Of course, many serious goods are on the line and are set up as being opposed to each other as alternatives – protecting biological life and health vs. principles of liberty which are ordered toward living a good common life… so it is understandable and actually good that people are angry about the issue, as injustices against life or liberty are very bad injustices indeed. This is compounded by various exposures to differently organized data sets, and different values which interpret data sets in light of a predisposition to or away from collectivism, and all this is augmented by people’s varying temperaments.
  17. The prevalence of the daughters of lust have dumbed down public discourse in general and led many people into despair of the goods of the next world such that they are apt to fixate on biological health to the neglect of social and spiritual health.
  18. Many comparisons have been made to Nazi Germany. Most of them have been overblown. However, the 1930’s came from the 1920’s. Most interestingly, the Jews were the object of fear in Italy, but the object of disgust in Germany. Disgust is often a more powerful incentive to repulsion/suppression/aversion. Now, we have the confluence of these two forces in the “unclean” people who have not done what the regime has indicated will make them “clean.” Simply not having reached a certain point in public policy does not mean it will not or cannot come… as history shows, the future comes after the past. It is important to make sure our future is not the way the 1930’s were to the 1920’s.
  19. It is obvious that there is a pseudo-religion present in the Covid “structure.” There is a sacramental system, special clothing, prophetic and priestly castes, a protology, an eschatology, a moral system, and special language. Heretics are not tolerated publicly. This is Covidism. In this case, I encourage people to be “spiritual” but not “religious.”
  20. Ideology develops its own interior life and logic. Havel describes this in great detail in his must-read book “The Power of the Powerless.” Many who do not believe in Covidism are too afraid to “live within the truth” to ignore the social pressure to conform to a system of rules and regulations which one does not believe in. To take Havel’s example, the greengrocer who takes down the Communist sign in his shop window becomes a massive threat to the post-totalitarian regime by making others aware that they can do this too – and that is very scary indeed. Even those who seem like they have real control are often only servants of the ideology and will be dispensed with if and when they deviate, including being dispensed with by other people who do not agree with the ideology but are afraid of being dispensed with themselves…

Well, there you have it. My 2 cents. I could say more, especially about the knowledge-love paradigm (and how central planning is such a bad idea because of this dynamic being ruined), but this is probably enough for now… see you in another “15 days,” perhaps… In the meantime, the pandemic is over – it is now a worldwide endemic. Covid is here to stay forever in constantly changing forms, and there is really nothing we can do about it. So relax, go for a walk, and live your life – in the truth.

The Oratorio – Opening Speech, 2021

Below is this year’s opening speech for my men’s group which I run here in Rome, the Oratorio, which I delivered some weeks ago. Enjoy!

The Catacomb Option

Cancel culture. Safe spaces. Hate speech. Green passes. It’s enough to make one’s head spin, and that’s just a little bit of what has come in the past few years.

Just as God sows seeds, and the Evil One rips them up, as the Parable of the Sower tells us, so too it seems that the inverse holds true: the Evil One sows seeds, and God rips them up. If we are to take at face value the alleged prophecy given to Leo XIII about the 20th century being the Devil’s “free reign” or playground to do as much damage as he liked – a kind of “new Job” – then we should consider that evil not only wounds those who are its object in the moment, but it leaves poisonous traces and echoes; it plants seeds which eventually become trees that bear rotten fruit if not torn up. So, on this All Hallows’ Eve, let’s look at some demonic seeds that have been sown, and then look at how they might be ripped up – or how the trees might be cut down.

From 1900 to 2000 we find a small number of evil orchards being planted. While the obvious candidates are the world wars, I suggest that these, while terrible indeed, are a smoke screen for the “long game.” We are not to fear those who can kill the body and do no more, and wars in and of themselves take lives, not souls. Just as with possession and other extraordinary diabolical phenomena, the real point of the Enemy is to turn souls to sin. It is easy to say the Devil was in the wars, just as it is easy to say he is in a body that speaks strange languages or floats around or any number of phenomena which mimic the extraordinary actions of the Holy Spirit. It is much more difficult, for the uninitiated, to identify the Devil’s presence in sin, and even more difficult to see him in occasions to sin.

But the Devil always shows his feet, as the saying goes. Just as the proud Odysseus couldn’t help but taunt the blinded Cyclops by shouting his real name, bringing down the wrath of Poseidon upon him and his ship, so too is the Devil proud. He can never have a truly silent victory – he wants the credit, after all.

I propose that many of our troubles can be traced one year in particular: 1968. It was this year that perhaps best symbolizes the beginning in earnest of the “sexual revolution” and the onset of cultural Marxism and the habitual extension of adolescence – also known as “hippiedom.”

These are three particularly bad seeds, the final fruits of which we are now seeing before us in today’s Western world. We take them in order.

I doubt I need to convince anyone here of the grotesqueness of the sexual revolution, but perhaps it is helpful to drive the point home by sharply distinguishing natural sexual vice and unnatural sexual vice. The former consists fundamentally in extra-marital relations of various kinds, modified by the object or mode of action. It’s true that some species take in other sins which are not sexual, such as violence or sacrilege which greatly aggravate the offensiveness of the sin, but insofar as such acts are sexual, they remain of a lesser kind of disorder than those which are part of unnatural vice. Whereas the category of natural vice is immoral principally because it hurts kids, namely, those which could be conceived out of the safety of wedlock and thus be exposed to many kinds of dangers in their upbringing, unnatural vice is immoral because it hijacks the sexual faculty away from the design of God for the propagation of the human race, for which the sexual faculty chiefly exists for in the first place, and reorders it towards something at odds with that plan; in short, unnatural vice is wrong because it hurts the human race. Just as a single act of fornication might not actually result in the harm of a child, especially if no child is conceived, a single act of self-abuse or sodomy might not result in the harm of the future of humanity, especially if it is not encouraged, imitated, celebrated. And yet many children are conceived out of wedlock, and unnatural acts are now not only tolerated but glorified in the western world. It is much less evil to allow some individual children to grow up without fathers than it is to have the entire principle of human sexuality undermined by a positive campaign of encouragement, imitation, and celebration. The former leads to the search for replacements for fathers, usually meaning the creation of gangs in the case of boys and brothels in the case of girls and a self-serving welfare state with economically atrophied populations dependent upon hand-outs which over time they feel increasingly entitled to. The latter leads almost directly to spiritual sins. The former leads to its own problems with the Second Tablet – lies, promiscuity, violence, and disobedience towards and dishonoring of civil society. The latter leads to problems with the First Tablet – a complete collapse of the virtue of religion. The former is obviously and viscerally evil to the careless onlooker, just like a war would seem. But the Devil is more present in the latter.

Unnatural vice, including the use of contraceptives, which became so popular in 1968 that the Pope intervened with the encyclical Humanae Vitae, is a greater sexual disorder than natural vice. The daughters of lust, or the effects of lust on the individual sinner, are therefore more quickly and more strongly rooted in those taken in by self-abuse, contraception, and homosexual acts than in those who simply sleep around. The daughters are eight, four affecting the intellect, four affecting the will. They are: blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, self-love, hatred of God, love of this world, and despair of the next world. It would be difficult to summarize better the current state of western civilization in as few words as these. Even for those who are not themselves mired in sexual vice, the overall long-term effect of the proliferation of sexual sins since 1968 has contributed to a general dumbing down of discourse, especially spiritual discourse, and an overall de-spiritualization to our understanding and practice of the virtue of religion, especially in the liturgy, and to our understanding of how to relate with other human beings in the communal search for goodness and truth. Unnatural vice in particular creates a kind of lack of fortitude, such that Thomas calls self-abuse “effeminacy.” If we gather all these data – the daughters of lust in general having become the social milieu in the west, together with the propagation of vices which especially lead to or characterize “softness,” or a lack of fortitude, we can understand a good deal about the state of things in our world right now, including, I suggest, how and why a mild respiratory illness coupled with a bit of media hype can cause mass psychosis.

With all of this intellectual darkness and weakness of will, the western youth need protection – not just from mild respiratory illnesses – and certainly not from China or from unchecked immigrants from Latin America or the Middle East – but from ideas which cause them discomfort by suggesting they are individually responsible for their own actions, that they are not owed anything just for existing but must actually earn a living by real work, that they cannot be whatever they want to be, and that “their truth” does not exist. Because of the emaciation of the intellect and will and their right interaction, or, as C. S. Lewis would put it, “men without chests,” unwelcome speech has become physical violence – because I am unable to think and process an unwelcome thought which causes me physical discomfort, “hate speech” is actually physically violent, thus it can justify physical violence in return. So goes the logic. Of course, the weak are still empowered by sufficient grace to do God’s will, so they are not therefore excused from sin on account of weakness.

Just as the welfare state serves itself by creating more patrons who are increasingly dependent, so too does “cancel culture” serve itself by taking hostage the intellect and will which are mired in the daughters of lust. The more “intersectional” one is, the more one ought to be protected and favored – race, sexuality and gender, nationality, creed, even health and bodyweight, could all remove individual responsibility. This is what “social justice” has become, a once solid neothomistic idea serving as a foil to subsidiarity which is now the method of cultural Marxism. The minorities are always oppressed, simply in virtue of being the minority, so they ought to be allowed to dominate over the majority and thus be liberated. We owe this unhappy thought to Herbert Marcuse, who was the intellectual father-figure of the radicalized youth of 1968.

The student revolt in Paris in May of that year – which became so bad that not only were sections of the University of Paris shut down, but President Charles de Gaulle actually fled France for a short time – was a reaction against what was perceived as an unjust bureaucracy plagued by “consumerism,” a system that needed reform, revolution, reconstruction by the newly allied Socialists and Communists of France, in view of a creative utopia There is perhaps some truth to there having been a depressing, machine-like malaise of 1960’s bureaucracy – let alone French bureaucracy – but an overbearing system which generally works for the right values still ought to be respected, just like an overbearing parent with right intentions. We expect little kids and teenagers to act like spoiled brats and throw a fit when they don’t get their way. We now expect college students to do the same, instead of having their minds opened to classic literature, honing professional skills, and so on. And then they complain that their loans should be paid off with tax dollars. “Jouissez sans entraves,” went one slogan of the Parisian students – enjoy without hindrance. Indeed.

And so the cycle of dependence and sin and the daughters of lust continues, on and on. Perhaps – or even probably – the deeper roots of all of this are found in nominalism and voluntarism, but we will leave aside such an analysis today.

What is the solution? Is there one, other than grace, or the end of the world? What can we sane people do to protect themselves from the cultural onslaught, and perhaps soon, espionage and even physical threats?

Ten years after 1968, a lengthy essay was written by one Václav Havel, later to become the last President of Czechoslovakia and the first President of the Czech Republic. Havel had been a major figure on the right side of Czechoslovakia’s own troubles in ’68, with the Prague Spring which was shut down by the Warsaw Pact troops from Germany and the USSR. Reflecting on all of this, in “The Power of the Powerless,” Havel describes the dynamic of ideology and dissent from ideology. A bad idea with just a little truth to it can overtake a population and a bureaucracy to such a degree that even those who seem to have power do not – they are beholden to the ideology, which has its own inner life. All are afraid of being held accountable to the ideology, including by others who do not believe in it. The greengrocer who puts up a pro-Communist sign in his window is not really a Communist, he is just “not-not Communist,” and he wants everyone to know that he is doing what he has been told so he can avoid conflict. This should sound especially familiar these days, as we endure the ideology of “Covidism,” but it holds true as well for discussing frankly in open fora the moral and religious values which we hold as Catholics, some of which we have just been exploring and would most certainly be cancelled for.

Havel’s thesis is something in between a program and a prediction. Human beings want to live in the truth, according to pre-political commitments and values. We want to be authentic, true to ourselves. We want the freedom to speak, to write, to disagree, to create art, even if it is bad art. Interestingly, Havel notes that one of the main tipping points in Czechoslovakia in the post-totalitarian regime which he is describing was not some famous dissident like himself publishing an essay like the one he was currently writing, but it was the public trial of a mediocre punk-rock group for not staying in line with the status quo. The trial woke people up to the reality of their situation, and Charter 77, one of the most significant moments in Czechoslovakian political history, came as a result, eventually leading to the Velvet Revolution, Havel’s own presidency, and finally the dissolution of the country. Havel notes how odd it is that this would come from the persecution of an underground rock band. It helps to demonstrate his thesis that the natural quest to live within the truth is the most threatening thing to the power of ideology – it declares that the emperor has no clothes, and it thus frees others to do the same.

While I doubt most of us are interested in playing punk-rock, we are interested in other activities and ideas which are increasingly viewed with suspicion and even outright hostility by those who tend the Devil’s rotten orchard. Rod Dreher’s book “The Benedict Option” presents a vision which ought to provoke deep personal and communal reflection. Is western civilization not worth trying to save anymore through traditional means? Probably not. But heading for the hills is not exactly possible, nor is imitating the life of Benedict advisable for most people. While this is not precisely the suggestion of Dreher or others who follow him, there is a group which we are well-familiar with which provides us with a model for Catholic life today. It is the same group whose old neighborhood we are now presently in, the Suburra, the original “sub-urb”; it is the early Christians of Rome.

May I present to you the Catacomb Option. The first thing to know is that Christians never lived in catacombs – anyone who has visited should be able to tell you that the air is toxic and thus is not a place to stay for too long. Instead, the catacombs, which were originally mines that were turned into burial grounds, were essentially the “side-streets of the side-streets.” Just as police in major cities know that criminals are on such streets plying their trades, as long as they are not on the main roads they are often more or less left alone. It is just too much effort to go chasing down every single lowlife down every single alley. It was likewise with our brothers and sisters in the first centuries here in the City up until Constantine. Everyone knew what was going on in the catacombs, but it was not the Forum and not even the Suburra. It was out in the graveyards by the farms. “Who cares? Just leave them alone, we will keep an eye on them.” So went the thought of most emperors. Well, as we can see, the quiet and patient pursuit of holiness in a “parallel society,” literally underground, without much energy spent trying to convert the City eventually bore fruit over and against the wild paganism of ancient Rome. They prayed, they celebrated the sacraments, they improved themselves, they kept quiet and out of sight, and God came down to help. Perhaps there is a lesson here.

Most of us cannot head out into the mountains to form monasteries like Benedict, or even form real intentional and cohesive communities of families, given the way life is today, though both of these endeavors are good. The path, then, is something a bit different. We need to be creating spaces for free exchanges of ideas, and groups which can function as intermediary associations when appropriate to keep the “system” at bay. The system needs to be bypassed, because we can’t simply face it on our own. We are worse off than Havel’s greengrocer. We need groups and clubs and networks with negotiating power, we need ways to communicate, we need space to be ourselves and to live within the truth as we wait for God’s extraordinary help in reconverting the West, if He wants to do so. We can’t rip up the Devil’s seeds, but God can and eventually will, even if this is simply by leading structures of sin to self-destruction, not so unlike the Midianite camp in the face of sudden threat from Gideon’s small but terrifying army. (Judges 7:17-22)

That is one of the goals of this group. The Oratorio is here for such things – less for intermediation, more for communication and authentic self-expression, in prayer, recreation, and fraternity. This is a “safe space” for Catholic lay men, to share ideas, to engage in masculine vulnerability, to aspire to the Greatest Good. There’s nothing toxic about such masculinity! Welcome, brothers, and I look forward to praying and playing with you.

Principles for Chaste Relationships – Part I

Eamonn Clark, STL

“How far is too far?” This is simultaneously the most popular and most wrongheaded question that star-crossed lovers can ask. And they are often given well-meaning but misguided advice based on intuitive but terrible or at least incomplete ideas. These latter are often dependent on a rightly developed sense of shame – guidelines like “Would you do this in front of x person” fall into this category.

I don’t think depending on such principles is all that bad for group talks with high schoolers, but it leaves much to be desired. It does not explain the “why” behind chastity’s concrete applications in courtship, and it is insufficient for a real examination of conscience; it is thus especially unhelpful for confessors and preachers trying to sort through these complex issues when souls are really on the line. We can do better by going to the heart of the matter, though it takes some work. Let’s take on the question in appropriate detail then, shall we?

In this series of posts, we will investigate 5 great principles for chaste courtship. They are:

  1. Distinguish between love, desire, and delight (the three positive concupiscible passions)
  2. Don’t start what you can’t finish
  3. The emotions are not the body
  4. Risks can be justified by proportionate rewards
  5. If you can raise your mind, do that

First of all, the entire idea of “courtship” or “dating” is quickly being replaced by a bizarre imitator… Nowadays, one is either “hooking up” or going around in a group or just carrying on a “relationship” by text and social media. Men don’t care for the challenge and risk of a serious “pre-commitment commitment” by asking a girl out on a proper date – and unfortunately, many women don’t care to wait around for a man willing to do this. That’s a shame. But we’ll leave this aside and assume that we have two fine young people who are seeing each other regularly, alone, with romantic intentions clearly expressed, but without “benefits” being openly offered by either.

Those who dabble in the writings of the great moralists, especially St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Alphonsus Liguori, might come away from their writings on chastity aghast – “Did he really just say what I think he did? He is SO out of touch!” Well, maybe he didn’t say what you think he said, and maybe his being “out of touch” with what is actually going on in your own life is why it’s difficult for you to grasp the point, as you are not his main audience (which was the confessors of their own times and places, though many points still stand). On the other hand, they do both lay down some hard (but freeing) truths, and sometimes being “out of touch” is just what one needs in order to get perspective on an issue – so maybe there is some wisdom to take from anyone who is “disconnected,” let alone from great saints who are geniuses of moral theology. Let’s dive in then, with these two saintly friends as guides… (I won’t quote much, but I will synthesize instead with just a few references.) NB: These are principles especially useful for courtship, but plenty would also apply for married life, albeit in a slightly different way.

The first great principle: distinguish between love, desire, and delight (the three positive concupiscible passions).

The paradigm of “love-desire-delight” is the road map for our appetites’ relationship with pleasant things that are easily achieved; love corresponds with the perception of a good, desire with the motion towards a good, and delight (also called “pleasure” or “joy” in some cases) with the possession of a good. (With unpleasant things, we have “hatred-aversion-sorrow.” And with difficult goods and evils, we have the passions of fear, despair, hope, daring, and anger, the passions of the “irascible” appetite.)

“Desire” is also sometimes called “concupiscence.” Both are words with diverse meanings. Here, by “desire” and “concupiscence” we mean the felt inclination towards a definite sensible good to be obtained by a particular kind of act.

Let’s go through these emotions – or “passions” – one by one.

I see the cheeseburger, and I know that it is a good thing to eat, full of juicy grade-A beef, fresh lettuce and tomatoes, and maybe even some bacon. “That looks so good to eat! I bet it’s delicious!” Maybe my love is so strong that my salivary glands start to work as well, and my stomach starts to make itself felt. This is love, in the sense we mean it.

Could this be true love?

When I start actively wanting to eat the cheeseburger, feeling myself impelled towards picking it up and sinking my teeth into it, I have desire, or concupiscence, towards the cheeseburger. In desire, (which passion is accompanied by pleasure St. Alphonsus calls “inchoate” to the act one is being inclined toward,) I actually begin to anticipate having its succulent and savory goodness. This desire is separate from the sensation of merely perceiving that the cheeseburger is a good thing to eat, and also even from some kind of remote preparation for eating in the future, should I be so lucky.

Finally, the glorious moment has come: I devour the cheeseburger, and I have the passion proper to possession of the good – delight. This is a unique sensation of feeling fully satisfied in relation to the cheeseburger. It is also distinct from the actual taste and feeling of the physical consumption of the cheeseburger. I enjoy the pleasures that come from eating the cheeseburger. This completes the passions’ arc.

It would also be possible to create an imaginary act of eating the cheeseburger, whether it was really in front of me or not. If I am attempting to derive the pleasures of eating the cheeseburger without actually eating it, even just by running it through my mind, I have moved into a kind of delight in its possession without actually possessing it. And I could physically mimic the act of eating the cheeseburger, even with the cheeseburger itself! My stomach will remain empty, but I have a kind of mental satisfaction nevertheless in enjoying the desire itself for the cheeseburger for its own sake, which feeling is spurred on by the imagined act of eating the cheeseburger – and this act might actually impel me even more strongly towards really eating the cheeseburger moments later, when I snap out of my food fantasy back into reality.

It’s also the case that I could simply have the pleasant experience of imagining eating the cheeseburger without feeling a real desire to eat it. This is a subtly different act, but it is important, as we will see.

Digestion deals with self-preservation. Sex deals with the preservation of humanity. So while eating is important for the individual, sex is more important for the whole community as such. As it turns out, we can map this paradigm onto sexual attraction quite easily. He sees and even feels the woman’s beauty… He feels various inclinations in anticipating the possibilities right in front of him that he is moving towards fulfilling… He obtains what he was looking for. It is certainly no problem to have love for sexual goods – in fact, it would be unnatural not to have a disposition towards the opposite sex as such, just as it would be unnatural not to want good food – but unlike food, sex is not appropriate for everyone to “possess,” or even to have the desire for (in the strict sense of the word which we are using).

Loving the cheeseburger is a good and natural act. However, when the circumstances do not call for eating the cheeseburger there could be a problem if this passion is allowed to remain very long – rather, one should move the mind away to other things, like work or study or healthy recreation. (To deny this passion’s movement entirely is typically not healthy suppression but unhealthy repression, which can cause neurosis and possibly even despair, ending not infrequently in giving in to all manner of illicit pleasures. To acknowledge that one finds the lettuce or tomatoes of the cheeseburger to look delicious could be fine once in a while simply to relieve mental pressure which keeps pulling one away from other considerations and tasks; this acknowledgement might cause an accidental and momentary swelling of love and even could begin a movement of desire. Even though an accidental movement of desire would still be venial sin if delight is taken in it without deliberation, it would not seem to be a sin to indulge in this psychological release in cases of acute pressure unless done frequently or, of course, if done for the sake of arousing desire. This is my own view on the basic dynamic of suppression vis-à-vis repression… Take it for what it’s worth. There are better ways to avoid such temptations, which should be used more frequently… of course, I am not talking about cheeseburgers.) When one starts actively “desiring” (not simply “loving”) an object of an act which is not allowed (and in this case, feeling that desire by an inclination towards an individual instance of that act), that passion needs to be suppressed or fought against somehow immediately, often by distraction, such as moving around, a short prayer, etc. When desire begins, one is already in venial sin. (See my other post on practical chastity here.) To be sure, the line between love and desire is a bit blurry, though love is mostly felt in higher parts of the body like the head and chest, while desire has a lower “center of gravity,” more around the stomach. Whatever the case, the motion of desire, which already contains a kind of “pre-delight,” can itself become the object of “delight,” namely, when one enjoys the feeling of anticipation of the exterior act, often by imagining the act or simulating it in some way.

St. Thomas calls this pleasant and deliberate attention to anticipation “morose delectation.” (See Articles 6, 7, and 8 – they are complex.) It’s one thing to take delight in the thought of a sin (a kind of “curiosity”), it’s another to delight in the sin which one is thinking of. Deliberately enjoying the “desire” for a sin is itself convertible with the commission of the sin which is being virtually enjoyed. Such a thought, to be clear, has to have been chosen with sufficient deliberation, more than a split second or two, somewhat depending on the person – and if we are honest, one can generally determine the moment when one really has the freedom to choose… it’s the moment where one has gotten over the initial intrigue or shock of the pleasant thing and realizes that he could stop if he wanted to but freely decides to simulate the immoral act as a kind of virtual-reality playground, actually wanting to do this act despite really refraining from it for whatever reason. (This arguably even extends to the reason, “Because it is immoral,” as one then shows a kind of contempt for the Wisdom of God which has ordered things thus – we are bound to want to follow the moral law because it is actually good for us. But it is a bit dubious – and this is a more complex discussion.) And given enough time, one will have forfeited the excuse for not driving away desire in the first place even without positive deliberate consent, which reduces to morose delectation. This feeling is also distinct from the actual physical preparation of the body, which means morose delectation is not the same as autoeroticism – though clearly, the one can lead to the other. It seems important also that the anticipation must be of a concrete or determinate exterior act, even if virtual (“not really going to happen”), and it needs to be considered without circumstances which would excuse the action (viz., being married to this individual). While St. Thomas balks on a strong position on morose delectation of mortal sin as being mortal sin itself (stating merely that it is the more common opinion and is more likely than not), with the distinction of determinacy and proximity to circumstance, we begin to see how to solve the puzzle. The more concrete the action is which one desires (i.e. “to go home with this person right now, and … etc.”), and the less one is concerned with remotely achievable circumstances (viz., marriage, which consideration will both quickly melt away and would not excuse from venial sin anyway), the more likely it is to be mortal sin, because the latter is more tied to the passion of desire inclined toward a real act which is (or would be) mortal sin. So, the average “impure thought” is venial sin, even if dwelt upon (barring the advertence to the danger of slipping further – which does need to be considered in a moral evaluation), as long as there is not desire which develops and then is deliberately taken pleasure in. That is my take, at least.

If you wanted a simple explanation, there really isn’t one. The passions are not simple things. But, as close to a shortcut as you can get might be to say that mere desire to sin, without deliberation, is “to want to sin,” while deliberately enjoying that desire to sin is “to want to want to sin,” and just enjoying thinking of something which would be a sin on account of its illicit pleasures is “to want to think about sin.” The first is venial, the second is mortal if it has a concrete goal and venial if it does not, the third is venial.

TL;DR: wanting sex in general is natural and good unless dwelt on too much, feeling the pleasure of anticipation of a real and illicit sexual act is venial sin, and deliberately enjoying that feeling of anticipation, especially including by simulating sexual activity, is mortal sin.

In the next post, we will explore the second great principle: don’t start what you can’t finish.

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An Abandoned Rite

Fr. Grzegorz Brodacki, O.Cist.

“Holy Mother Church holds all lawfully acknowledged rites to be of equal right and dignity; that she wishes to preserve them in the future and to foster them in every way.” We find this statement in the Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of the last ecumenical council (§4). Here many will say, not without irony, that the subsequent radical reform of the Roman rite (or rather its destruction followed by the creation of something completely new) showed very well what such “preservation in the future and fostering in every way” mean in practice. However, such an abandonment of an existing rite, even though not to such extent and not on the universal level, is not something unprecedented in the history of the Church’s liturgy. In the course of the 17th century the Cistercian Order almost unanimously abandoned its rite of the Mass so as to accept the Roman rite with few features of their own rite.

What were the reasons for which the authorities of the Order decided to stop using the proper Cistercian rite? To answer to that question, we must know something about its history and its character.

The Cistercian Order was founded in 1098 in Burgundy in France out of a desire to renew the monastic life by returning to the literal adherence to the Rule of Saint Benedict. However, while the Rule speaks much about the structure of the canonical hours, it is completely silent about the rite of the Mass. What is more, Saint Benedict does not even indicate how often the Mass should be celebrated in the monastery. So, the first generations of the Cistercian monks had to find other principles to arrange the rite of their Mass. One of the principles was authenticity; they decided to use only renowned sources. This mainly regards the textual layer of the rite. The chant books were copied in Metz which at that time enjoyed the reputation of having the purest Gregorian tradition. Also, the texts of the missal (called at that time the “sacramentary”) were taken from the most respected churches of Burgundy.

Other principles were simplicity and poverty. One can say that properly these two principles shaped mostly the external layer of the Cistercian rite. The substance of the rite – taken from the existing monastic customs and from neighbouring churches – remained intact, but the Cistercians decided to remove or simplify all that they saw as accidental and superfluous.

Let us take a look at a typical conventual mass celebrated every day at a Cistercian abbey. The first difference with respect to the other rites at the time was the scarcity of ministers: for Sundays and feasts the priest was accompanied by a deacon and subdeacon, while on ordinary days even the subdeacon was unnecessary.

Just after the preparatory prayers at the foot of the altar, the ministers proceeded to the preparation of the chalice, but the pouring of the water was reserved to the priest. Once the lesson had been sung, the subdeacon could join the choir to help in singing.


Before the gospel, the deacon asked the abbot for his blessing. After the Credo, the deacon brought the sacred vessels (let us remember – these already contained the wine with water) to the altar, but there was no special offertory prayer other than In spiritu humilitatis. Then, only on feast days and only at this moment, incense was used. The way of incensing was quite curious: the priest traced a circle over the offerings with the thurible, then incensed the right side of the altar, the left one and again the right and the left side of the base of the altar. After that, he gave the thurible to the deacon who in turn incensed the right side of the altar cross and then went behind the altar to the left side to do the same there.

The Canon of the mass was substantially identical to its counterparts elsewhere. It is important however to point out two particularities: first, the elevation of the sacred species was introduced somehow reluctantly and gradually, so it became universal only in the 15th century. Secondly, kneeling was practiced to a limited degree. The community knelt down for the Canon only on ferial days, while the sacred ministers did not kneel ever.

The Pater noster was followed by a series of prayers for peace and, at least at the beginning, for the reconquest of the Holy Land. Also, the way of distribution of the Holy Communion was quite remarkable. The sign of peace was given uniquely to those who were to receive Communion. In conformity with the Rule of Saint Benedict, the monks approached the altar by seniority, they knelt on the highest degree and received the species of bread directly on the tongue. Similarly, kneeling on the left side of the altar, they drank the consecrated wine without touching with their hands the chalice held by the deacon and subdeacon. Then they passed to the sacristan standing between the altar and choir and drank a little bit of unconsecrated wine in order to “purify themselves,” probably from the possible remnants of the sacred species in the mouth.

At this point the role of the celebrant was practically over. He had only to wash his hands at the piscina (i.e. a kind of a little well placed at the right side of the altar), recite the postcommunion prayer, and then could go back to the sacristy, with no final blessing, which is noteworthy. In the meanwhile, the sacred ministers were occupied with purification of the sacred vessels, not upon the altar but at the ministerium (i.e. credence table). The rite of purification was quite complex: it consisted of several ablutions with wine and water and even of licking the paten.

Even this summary description of the Cistercian Mass gives one an idea of the extreme simplicity and sobriety of the medieval rite. However, not only this was its weak point. The situation was even more difficult, since there was no detailed and exhaustive description of its ceremonies. Actually, the medieval Usus contained special chapters speaking about various types of the mass (conventual with two ministers, conventual with one minister, private mass), but those descriptions were anything but complete and satisfying. As long as the Order was vivacious, conscious of the richness of its proper tradition, the new generations of priests were taught the rite by their elders. By contrast, after the Council of Trent, when a new generation of men joined the Order, the sense of the Order’s own identity, expressed in large part by liturgical customs, faded more and more. Those men knew almost exclusively the post-Trent Roman rite which at that time was spreading with astonishing success, enjoyed the authority of the pontiff, corresponded to the spiritual tastes and needs of the epoch and, last but not least, was meticulously described.

We can suppose that all those factors provoked a gradual abandonment of the medieval Cistercian rite. The first step towards its romanisation, made 1611, was a permission to say private masses according to the Roman missal granted to the monks of the Order. To facilitate that new possibility, in 1617 the Roman Ritus servandus was inserted into the new edition of the Cistercian missal, since there was no Cistercian counterpart to it. In the following year the general chapter formally adopted the Roman Ritus celebrandi. Liturgical unrest was in the air. Claude Vaussin, who was elected general abbot in 1645, decided to publish liturgical books that would put an end to the increasing liturgical confusion, and doubtlessly also to the fights between the “traditionalists” and the partisans of the Romeward trend. Eventually, in 1656 under his authority the Breviarium cisterciense juxta Romanum was published, and one year later came the analogous Missale cisterciense juxta novissimam Romani recognitum correctionem. Thus, the traditional Cistercian rite (with the small exception of the Congregation of Castile) ceased to exist. While the romanisation was not total and complete, as there remained, for example, several Cistercian features for the rites of Holy Week, the rite’s substance was henceforth purely Roman.

During the first half of the 20th century there was a considerable renewal of the Cistercian Order in both branches (the Strict and Common Observances) which led at least three monasteries (Hauterive, Poblet, and the now-closed Boquen) to restore the primitive rite that had fallen into disuse, but even those attempts ended in a debacle after the introduction of St. Paul VI’s Novus Ordo Missae.

As we can see, the necessity of protecting the liturgical richness of the Church has not only been urgent in our own times. Undeniably, the abolition of the traditional Roman rite was something unusual in the history of the Church; however, the abandonment of the primitive Cistercian rite shows to us a phenomenon which differed only in scope, not in quality. The lesson that we can take from this is that every liturgical tradition is worthy of protection and cultivation. Nowadays many speak about regionalization, decentralization, and the exaltation of minorities, but few are able to apply these principles to the liturgical life of the Church. If we believe that the Holy Spirit leads the Church and inspires various communities growing in Her bosom to express their faith, their charism, and their way of life, even through liturgical forms, a blind unification cannot be understood as anything other than a big mistake and a deep impoverishment.

Fr. Grzegorz Brodacki, O.Cist. is a priest and monk of the Cistercian Archabbey of Jędrzejów in Poland.

There Are Only Four Pro-Choice Arguments

Eamonn Clark, STL

Naturally, being a moralist who is active in western society, I have encountered and thought a lot about various arguments in favor of the “pro-choice” position. Summarizing all of the arguments, we find that there are really only four; while they can be mixed together, they are nonetheless discernible in basically every argument ever made in favor of the “right” to have an abortion, or that abortion is morally acceptable. And yes, they are each erroneous. Let’s go through them: they are the physical (or biological) error, the metaphysical error, the ethical error, and the metaethical error.

The Physical Error

The first error is that the fetus is not a distinct living organism. Any biologist can debunk this. If the fetus is not a distinct living organism, there is no such thing. It is true that there is a physical connection through the umbilical cord, but first of all, the zygote pre-existed this stage, and second of all, we acknowledge that the cord actually connects two organisms, each of which exhibit the standard signs of biological life: homeostasis, cellular organization, metabolism, reproductive capacity (actual in the zygotic phase when asexual reproduction can occur, potential in the fetal stage as sexual reproduction), response to stimuli, growth, heredity… There is simply no argument to be made here. The advocate of abortion who is taken by this error would be forced to admit that a pregnant woman has eight limbs, two heads, and maybe male reproductive organs, which she then ceases to have upon delivering a child. There is no point in arguing with someone who will not budge on this. However, if we say this is a distinct living organism, we admit that to abort it is to kill it.

The Metaphysical Error

The second error is that the distinct living organism is not a human (or a person). The advocate will say that eventually the organism will become a human, based on certain actions or activated capacities – cognition (but usually excluding sleepers, for reasons inexplicable), self-reliance (of a high-level, let it be noted), capacity to be a productive member of society (whatever that means)… These are signs of humanity, it is true. However, to say that these are constitutive of humanity is quite problematic. First of all, most would agree that we are human beings, not human doings – that is to say, we can do human things because we are actually humans first. (Agere sequitur esse, as the axiom goes – action follows being.) Second, if we define humanity based on certain kinds of actions, we must ask, why is it these actions which are characteristics of humanity and not other actions? And why should it be actions at all? Why not “traits,” like race or sex or eye color? Of course, some do in fact say that something as arbitrary as “3 months” or “being outside the womb” in fact turns the very same living organism into a human being. Plenty will say that it is a “capacity to feel pain,” sometimes mixed with “capacity for memory,” which typically ignores folks with congenital analgesia – the chronic inability to feel pain – and is also simply based on the emotional discomfort coming from an empathetic impulse. Strange… We can see the problem – once we detach the definition of humanity from “being,” as a substance, we are left with arbitrary values leading to arbitrary norms. (A substance is that which is not predicated of another – we do not say “human” of anything, but we do say “cognition” or “race” of a human.) So, to the point: it is the same being (the same living organism!) which is thinking and feeling and “self-relying” that is growing in the womb. What changes are traits and actions – size, strength, organ development, mental activity, mobility, etc. The “being” does not change – it is the same substance. It is a human being who is simply not doing the most human-like things at this moment. This error is the most prevalent and most difficult to get one to see the problems of. But if we admit the metaphysical reality of humanity in the fetus, we are forced to conclude that aborting the fetus is murder.

The Ethical Error

The third error – and perhaps the most repulsive – is that one is never bound to suffer for another individual human being. We’ve shown that biology says that the fetus is not “my body,” but why not still have “my choice” despite that? “So, it is a human being, who cares? This person is inconvenient for my life.” Well, it could be true. However, if a mother is not bound to suffer for her own child, and, what is more, in the precise way that the woman exists as such, namely, to generate life and gestate that life within herself, one could hardly ever be bound to suffer for another. This seems to eliminate all moral responsibility of any kind, or it at least comes very close. In the case that the advocate bites this bullet, he is simply a terrible person and is unlikely to be persuaded by anything one can say. The problem with the ethical error is grasped intuitively by most – this error is therefore quite rare in its pure form. It does show up in weaker forms, however, in the context of diminishing the humanity of the fetus, as described above. It is much easier to argue that one is not obliged to suffer for a pre-human than for a human…

The Metaethical Error

The final error is the rejection of the possibility of real moral obligations altogether. (“Metaethics” is the branch of ethics which asks or studies “what do we mean by ‘ethics’ in the first place?”) The error here is to relegate all ethical norms to the dictates of individual wills (namely, one’s own, or perhaps the “will of the people/government”). The only question then is about strategy – how to get what you want. Plato’s famous thought experiment in the Republic addresses this head-on… The one who wears the Ring of Gyges could get away with anything (yes – exactly like the One Ring to rule them all). Do moral laws really apply to such a person when he is wearing the ring? Let’s say yes, it is still “good” to follow the moral law. Then we can ask with Nietzsche, “Why be good?” The entire meaning of morality collapses in on itself. “Autonomous” morality is no morality at all. This includes every kind of utilitarianism and consequentialism in the strict sense. Who gets to determine what counts as “utility”? And how would we even know how to reach maximum utility anyway? These are the first problems. (Consequentialism is worth its own post.) At the end of the day, we are left with one’s own values being imposed on others, with nothing to do but play power games to achieve what makes us feel warm and fuzzy by making “contracts” and playing nice. And the unborn are powerless.

These four arguments can be combined in various ways. But they are always there. For example, the famous “violinist” example of Thomson commits the ethical error indirectly. Perhaps we don’t have to suffer for a famous violinist who is artificially connected with our body – but a mother does have to suffer for her own child who is naturally connected with her body by the very fact of womanhood’s intrinsic order, namely, generation of new life within the body.

The point of ethics is not merely avoiding wrongdoing, it is fundamentally about achieving happiness through flourishing – which entails the faculties of human nature striving moderately in accord with the order of reason toward their proper ends. Killing innocent children does not lead to such flourishing, as we are intrinsically ordered towards life in community in a common pursuit of the truth – it is one of the primordial precepts of the natural law. Abortion is immoral, and it will never make a person truly happy. And we see this validated by the fact that so few parents regret having any of their children, while the opposite claim does not hold.

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A Mother’s Shame and Notre Dame

Eamonn Clark

There is an article at LifeSite about a controversy boiling at Notre Dame. Apparently, a mother wrote a letter to the editor of the school paper to express shock at the sartorial inclinations of some women at the basilica on campus. The letter was published, and a sensitive nerve was touched. I want to take the opportunity to sketch out the debate and offer some thoughts about deeper issues involved. For the first part, I’m going to use the quaestio format of the Summa Theologica. (You can read St. Thomas’ own blistering critique of immodest clothing here, though he is mostly talking about over-dressing.) For the second, I am just going to ramble. Bear with me.

Whether it is a sin for women to wear revealing clothing in public?

Objection 1. It seems it is not a sin. For the man who lusts after such a woman does so from his own volition which the woman does not control. Thus does Our Lord warn against adultery of the heart: “He who even thinks lustfully of a woman has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Matthew 5:28) But there is no commission of adultery by mere outward appearance. Thus, it is only the man who sins by his lust, not the woman by her attire which attracts his desire.

Objection 2. Further, modesty is a cultural norm which changes according to the tides of custom, which is easily proved by the fact that in two different nations the same attire might be looked at altogether differently. Given that more traditional restrictions of dress are more serious and burdensome for women, it is in fact laudable that these customs be gradually changed to bring about a more equal standard of modesty for men and women.

Objection 3. Further, just as it is natural for a stone to fall to the earth, so too are human beings inclined to seek what is most natural to them and thereby satisfies their God-given desires. But restrictive dresscodes contradict this tendency toward goods such as comfort, self-esteem, and the like. Therefore, whatever feels most desirable in itself ought to be licit to wear.

On the contrary, It is written (1 Timothy 2:9): “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control.” Since the Apostle identifies immodest dress with women in particular, it seems it is especially incumbent upon women to adhere to a strict standard of modesty.

I answer that, Modesty in outward attire, in the sense we are speaking of it, seeks a middle-path between two extremes – repression and vulgarity.

On the one hand, to subject women habitually to the total covering of the entire body even including the face, is illicit for at least two reasons, even though it would remove the occasion of lust. First, it is necessary for women to be able to attract husbands through means of their appearance, which is altogether impossible by such an arrangement, leaving some other method to take the place of self-determination. Second, identification of one person among many is much easier without exorbitantly restrictive coverings, especially of the face, which makes the public life of women and the men who interact with them much more efficient. Thus, the complete repression of individual identity and bodily features through extensive covering is undesirable.

On the other hand, the more one reveals the body, the more one tends to increase the occasion to lust through vulgarity. Therefore, if one is to incur the risk of scandal being taken by one’s attire, namely, lust, some proportionate good to that risk must be gained. Where there is only small potential of scandal being taken, only light reasons are necessary to avoid sin, such as serious inconvenience, moderate discomfort due to heat, and so on; where there is large potential of scandal being taken, only the gravest of reasons will excuse, such as the risk of one’s life. The offense will be in proportion to the similitude between one’s necessity and the risk of scandal. Given that men are more easily drawn to women by appearance than women are to men, women are especially susceptible to this vice and should guard against it most closely, which also promotes the common good by requiring men to seek them for their virtue and honor. Thus it is written, “Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of robes, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Peter 3:3-4) Therefore, to safeguard morals and common decency among the sexes, which are graver motives than mere pleasantries of comfort and convenience, errors ought to favor the more restrictive vice.

All of this is especially important in sacred places. As the Psalmist says, “Worship the Lord in holy attire.” (Psalm 69:6) For what is moderate in profane spaces becomes immoderate in sacred spaces due to a lack of fittingness with the outward worship of God which the space is specially consecrated to. Thus is it licit to throw darts in a pub, but it is not licit in an oratory. Likewise, dress in churches or other sacred places ought to be especially reverent and safe from occasioning sin, lest men be drawn to lower their eyes from the worship of God toward the delectation of a woman’s flesh.

Reply to Objection 1. It is also written, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believes in me to sin, it is better that a great millstone was hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” (Mark 9:42) The argument in favor of individual liberty holds to the degree of custom which reason has communally decided upon, and regarding which one should make errors on the side of safety, as said above.

Reply to Objection 2. Custom cannot eradicate concupiscence, nor can it change the greater proclivities of men to delight in the appearance of women than women do in the appearance of men. Therefore, while custom may be altered, human nature will not be altered and must be adverted to.

Reply to Objection 3. Outward attire exists primarily for three reasons. First, to protect against physical harm, such as from heat or cold or blows in battle. Second, to mark or distinguish ourselves among other people in society. Third, to protect against lust and shame, as it is written (Genesis 3:7): “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves aprons.” Therefore, these considerations hold primacy of place in the reasonable choice of outward apparel, and only afterward can other motives be evaluated.

Now on to the rambling.

Notre Dame has been plagued with “Catholic identity” troubles over the past few years. Without repeating them all, I will simply point the reader’s attention to another recent story there which broke when a large number of students asked for content filters for their internet connections to help avoid “inappropriate” content. The administration balked, and now we are seeing a rather vile backlash over a concerned mother asking young girls to dress for church better than they dress for the gym – as if it is any wonder. There are hundreds and hundreds of comments under the main story, almost all of them deeply critical.

No doubt, many of the people screeching wild accusations of bad parenting at this poor concerned mother and proclaiming the virtue of individual liberties are the same people who complain about a “rape culture” on college campuses. While there is no demonstrable systemic toleration or support of verifiable rape in universities in the West – and thus no “rape culture” – there is what one might call a “culture of promiscuity.” This is the toleration and support of every kind of sexual activity, as long as it’s consensual (with a few arbitrary exceptions, like student-teacher relationships and incest). What to say then about the high amounts of regretful sex and he-said-she-said cases of assault? One might say that it’s almost as if a climate of loose sexual mores disposes people to make dumb sexual choices, whether by not avoiding bad situations or by crossing over nearly invisible lines in the heat of already sinful passion. While wearing this or that trashy piece of clothing in public is not immediately inducing assault, the broad acceptance of such things is part and parcel of the larger paradigm of just not giving a hoot about any kind of sexual activity short of what suffices to call the cops.

What you wear (or don’t wear) in public, it should be noted, is not consensual… You make others see you as you are without their consent. It is almost never a reasonable argument to say, “They can look away if they want.” The problem with revealing clothing is precisely that many people won’t want to look away but should for the good of their souls, and for the good of your relationship with them. Heard of the phrase, “Dress for the job you want, not the one you have”? How about this: dress for the respect and real love you want, not the respect and real love you have. Those who already respect you and love you won’t care about your appearance – only new people will, who still have to be won over to a special valuation of your personhood. The better a person you are, the less you will have to compensate by flaunting your mere appearance. And if you aren’t a good person, get to work on that first.

A lot of people don’t think about this topic much for one of a few different reasons. First, they don’t understand sin in general. This is a common and large problem requiring more basic catechesis and evangelization. Second, they are so hardened by sins against chastity that they cannot even begin to see the problem with revealing a little skin. To them I say, I am sorry for you – it must be terrible to miss out on all the little joys of physicality which come along with modest courtship. (See Prof. Esolen’s wonderful article on that here.) Third, they are out of touch with how men and women actually relate with each other, both in general and in today’s particular circumstances, for whatever reason. These could even include well-meaning people who are sincerely trying to be holy but who just for the life of them can’t see why wearing skin-tight leggings to church is such a big deal. My advice to them is to accept that holiness sometimes involves giving up things that you don’t see the harm of, even if it’s simply because other people find your behavior to disturb their over-sensitive conscience. (See St. Paul’s discussion of abstaining from food sacrificed to idols in 1 Corinthians 8.)

Whatever the case, there seems to be a need to address this topic more seriously at Catholic universities. Perhaps a standard chapel dress-code, for men and women, could be implemented… Or asking some of the more committed Mass-goers to step up their fashion-game to help other people see that the church is not a gym, a dance floor, or a couch… Especially at universities named after Mary, the Mother of God!

End of rant. I didn’t even get to discuss 1 Corinthians 11!

Let me know your thoughts in the comments.