Rorate Caeli

The Church and Asmodeus - Part 2

By Don Pietro Leone

A spiritu fornicationis
libera nos, Domine
(invocation from the Litany of the Saints)



From the beginning of Her history, the Church had taught and practiced the ascetic life. In fact this is one of the features which distinguished Her from the World, and which indeed corroborates the very authenticity of Her Faith[1]. For how could She live, and convert such multitudes to, a mortified and chaste life so at variance with Fallen Nature, if the Faith which She preached were untrue?

Until the XXth century, this spirit of asceticism had prevailed in the Church: until it began to be sapped by an opposing spirit: that of the World, namely of Fallen Nature. The latter spirit had, over the course of the centuries, grown in extent and power, and was now in the course of penetrating the minds and souls of the Churchmen themselves. Vacillating Faith, poor doctrinal formation, moral weakness, lack of courage, superficiality, and sentimentality[2] on the part of the Hierarchy certainly all played a role in their subsequent endeavours to accommodate this spirit to the Catholic Faith. The moment for its official entry into the Church was marked by the Second Vatican Council.

As far as sexuality is concerned, this spirit is manifest in a new emphasis on an undefined ‘love’ at the very heart of marital ethics.

This emphasis is first manifest in recent Magisterium in the Council document Gaudium et Spes (§ 48), and was later codified by Canon Law (CIC 1983) in terms of a reversal of the order of the ends of marriage. The teaching of the Magisterium on sexuality was later notably affected and developed by official dispositions on the reception of Holy Communion, and by ‘Theology of the Body’.

Consequently we shall now proceed to examine:

1) The new conception of love in Gaudium et Spes, and then in Canon Law;
2) The relation between mortal sin and the reception of Holy Communion;
3) Relevant elements of ‘Theology of the Body’.

            1.    ‘LOVE’

A.      Gaudium et Spes

In the Second Vatican Council there was a move to place the two ends of marriage (procreation and conjugal love, see below) on the same level, contrary to the constant teaching of Tradition which had culminated in the declaration of a commission of Cardinals set up by the Pastor Angelicus, and in his own express declaration only a decade prior to the Council[3]. The Dominican Master General, Cardinal Browne, rose with the words Caveatis! Caveatis!, and warned the assembly that to accept this definition would be to go against the entire Tradition of the Church and to pervert the whole meaning of marriage[4], but his words were met with amusement by the Council Fathers [5].

After a heated debate, an obscure compromise statement was agreed upon, namely that: ‘By their very nature the marriage covenant and conjugal love are ordered to the procreation and education of children’ (GS § 48). In the light of traditional marital ethics, this statement is orthodox in maintaining that both the marriage covenant and conjugal love are ordered to the procreation and education of children; it is open to heterodoxy, by contrast, in making a close connection between marriage and love, a connection which is in fact capable of supporting the doctrine[6] that marriage is love (as in the description of marriage as ‘an intimate partnership of married love and life’ at the beginning of the same section of GS), or the doctrine that marriage has love as its primary end (as already manifest in Humanae Vitae[7], and as insinuated in the new canon, as we shall now see).

       B.    Canon Law

In the Code of Canon Law 1917 (can. 1013) we read: ‘The primary end of marriage is the procreation and education of  progeny; the secondary end is the mutual assistance and the remedy of concupiscence[8]’. In The Code of 1983 (can. 1055) we read by contrast: ‘The marriage covenant … is ordered to the good of the spouses and to the procreation and education of children[9]’.

The later canon differs from the earlier one in that:
i)                   The end previously taught as the primary end (the procreation and education of children) is placed after the one previously taught as the secondary end (the good of the spouses);
ii)                 The good of the spouses is no longer defined at all: either as ‘love’ or as anything else;
iii)               The good of the spouses is not designated as ‘primary’, nor is the good of the children designated as ‘secondary’, although the reversal of their order suggests this;
iv)               The remedy of concupiscence is no longer mentioned;
v)                  The term ‘end’ is no longer mentioned either.

We shall now briefly consider in their relation to the new canon:
  a) ‘The good of the spouses’;
  b) ‘The remedy of concupiscence’;
  c)  The notion of finality.

a)  The Good of the Spouses

We note that the term ‘the good of the spouses’, which signifies love, comes to be understood, in the absence of a definition, as emotional, and more particularly as sexual, love. The reason for this is that emotional love is the most obvious sense of  ‘love’, and in the marital context the most obvious type of emotional love is of a sexual nature[10].
   That the author of the canon intended the good of the spouses in a sexual sense is corroborated by his placing ‘the good of the spouses’ before the ‘procreation and education of children’, thereby suggesting that the love he refers to is indeed sexual love: as a means to the end of procreation.

In short, the canon, foreshadowed in Gaudium et Spes, has the eroticizing tendency that ‘sexual life... acquires in the mind and conscience of the average reader the idea and value of an end in itself [11]’. This tendency was to intensify in subsequent Magisterium. 

According to traditional doctrine, by contrast, the good of the spouses (conjugal love) is understood in the first place as ‘mutual assistance’ and only in the second place as ‘the remedy of concupiscence’. Since mutual assistance is designated as secondary to the ‘procreation and education of the children’, it must clearly consist above all in their collaboration for the primary end of their marriage: that is the procreation, and, in particular, the education of their offspring. The fact that ‘the remedy of concupiscence’ is mentioned after ‘mutual assistance’, signifies that the role that sexuality plays in marriage is a subordinate one.

b)    The Remedy of Concupiscence
The Church teaches that sexuality is disordered as a consequence of Original Sin. This sin was the cause, amongst other things, of the concupiscence of the flesh which is a disorder, a lack of control, and a striving of the senses and the emotions for their own satisfaction in independence from Reason. Marriage provides the ‘Remedy for Concupiscence’ in offering a suitable and honest context for the exercise of this faculty. In Traditional Church teaching, this aspect of marriage is  designated either as the third finality of marriage, or, as here, as part of the second finality.

In suppressing this aspect of marriage, the innovators seem to treat sexuality as a purely natural phenomenon and as something intrinsically good, prescinding from the doctrine of Original Sin and from the negative light which it sheds on this faculty.

    c)   Finality

We have observed that the word finis (end, or finality) is missing from the new definition (as it already was in Gaudium et Spes). This corresponds to an aversion to scholastic thinking and terminology which characterizes the Second Vatican Council and recent Magisterium as a whole [12]. The result is a lack of precision and clarity in general, and in this canon in particular. The end, or finality, of a thing determines its nature. The Church had always taught that the (primary) end of marriage is procreation. It is this that defines its nature: God instituted marriage for progeny.

What does it mean to say that marriage is ‘ordered to the good of the spouses and the procreation of children’? Are the two elements on the same level, as the innovators had wished to declare in the Council? But if so, how can the nature of a single thing be determined by two disparate ends? Or is the former element the principal one because it is mentioned first? But if so, what would it mean to say that the principal end of marriage is ‘the good of the spouses’ or sexual love, as the canon insinuates (see above)? Is sexuality not itself oriented to procreation like the stomach for digestion and the eye to sight? And does this not entail that the end of marriage is procreation after all? And in this case why not place procreation first?

In this subsection we have seen how traditional marital teaching has been obscured; and how ‘love’, and specifically sexual love, has been emphasized to the expense of concupiscence, finality, and procreation. In short, we have seen how subjectivism has gained the ascendancy over objective reality, and ‘positive’ over ‘negative’ elements. 


 Before proceeding to the next subsection, let us briefly show how the importance here accorded to sexual love has been corroborated by subsequent Magisterium. The new conception of marriage codified in Canon Law (CIC 1983) has been quoted in various papal encyclicals such as Familiaris Consortio, and in the Catechism of the Catholic Church (§ 1601).

In that Catechism we also find the doctrine that ‘sexuality is ordered to the conjugal love of the man and woman’ (§ 2360). Here conjugal love is understood as sexual love, and there is no longer even a mention of procreation.

A further novel doctrine on sexuality is found in the Catechism at § 2332: ‘Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others’.
But what does it mean to say that ‘Sexuality affects all the aspects of the human person’? How can it affect the purely spiritual aspect of the person, involved for example in his relationship with God? And how does it concern ‘the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others’? Bonds of communion can be forged or strengthened either rationally, as when I give alms to some-one, or emotionally, as when I express my affection for some-one. But sexuality certainly does not pertain to the former case, and it does not necessarily pertain to the latter either. The latter case involves sense-love, but sexual love is not the only form of sense-love that there is; there is also family love, for instance, as when a mother embraces her child.  

Here sexuality is again accorded importance, this time by universalizing it, more in accordance with Freudian psychology than to any sane, let alone Catholic, anthropology.

From the promulgation of Gaudium et Spes onwards we see, then, an ever-intensifying spirit of eroticism in marital ethics.

Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana 

Part 3 to be posted, soon.

[1] cf. the preambula Fidei in the discipline of Apologetics
[2]  - all features of Fallen Nature. Their philosophical formation in particular was coloured by Modern Philosophy, which may be described as ‘The Philosophy of Fallen Nature’. Limits of space prevent the author from expounding this notion at this point. 
[3] AAS XXVI, 1944; Address to the Italian Midwives, 1951.
[4] as reported by Mgr. Lefèbvre, cf. Pope John’s Council p.67, Michael Davies, Augustine Publishing co. 1977
[5] as reported by Archbishop Dwyer, ibid.
[6] an eroticizing doctrine, as we shall shortly see
[7]  cf. ‘Family under Attack’.
[8] Matrimonii finis primarius est procreatio atque educatio prolis; secundarius mutuum adjutorium et remedium concupiscentiae.
[9] Matrimoniale foedus… ad bonum conjugum atque ad prolis generationem et educationem ordinatum.
[10] The same may be said of the description of marriage as an ‘intimate partnership of married life and love’, see above.
[11] Pope Pius XII in his Address to Fathers of Families 1951, warning them of propaganda contrary to Church teaching
[12] Other examples are the doctrine that marriage is an ‘intimate partnership of married life and love’ (cf. GS 48), which is a psychological description rather than a theological definition in terms of the vinculum or spiritual bond (cf. the Catechism of Trent), and the doctrine that sexuality is ordered towards ‘conjugal love’ rather than towards procreation (see below).