Rorate Caeli

The Church and Asmodeus - Part 3 (and the fallacy of Theology of the Body)

By Don Pietro Leone

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




The Traditional Doctrine

The Church has always warned faithful against receiving Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin. In the Maundy Thursday liturgy and in the Feast of Corpus Christi, the Church in Her Old Rite liturgy presents for our meditation the passage from chapter 11 of the First Epistle of St. Paul to the Corinthians 11 warning against the reception of Holy Communion to one’s damnation. On the latter feast, St. Thomas Aquinas himself, its author, pointedly repeats the phrase in the Communio prayer; and in the sequence Lauda Sion he unambiguously declares:

Sumunt boni sumunt mali, sorte tamen
İnaequalis, vitae vel interitus.
Mors est malis, vita bonis: vide paris
Sumptionis quam sit dispar exitus.

The good receive, the evil receive, but their destiny is different: life or death. Death is for the evil, life is for the good: see how unequal is the end of an equal reception.

The Church teaches traditionally that any-one in the state of mortal sin must make a sacramental confession before receiving Holy Communion. Otherwise, when he attends Mass, he must refrain from communicating sacramentally and receive only a spiritual Communion. It is true that an act of perfect contrition outside the Sacrament of Confession suffices for absolving a person from mortal sin, but since it is impossible to know whether the contrition in any given case is perfect, the person in question would in effect be risking committing a further mortal sin by receiving Holy Communion in such circumstances, and therefore it would be wrong to do so.

Accordingly we read in the Catechism of St. Pius X (§ 630): ‘...the person who knows that he is in a state of mortal sin must, before Communion, must make a good confession; since it is not sufficient to make the act of perfect contrition, without confession, for some-one who is in mortal sin in order to communicate properly[1]’. 

The New Doctrine

Both in the new liturgy and in recent Church Magisterium, we find that the above- described traditional doctrine has been diluted.

In the Novus Ordo [2] St. Paul’s admonition against receiving Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin has been excised from the liturgy both of Maundy Thursday and of Corpus Christi (in two instances in the latter feast, see above). Furthermore, the Sequence Lauda Sion has been made optional; alternatively a shorter version has been provided (see for example the ‘American Bishops’ Site’) which no longer contains the two verses quoted above.

As for recent Magisterium, we read in the Code of Canon Law: ‘A person who is conscious of grave sin is not to celebrate Mass or receive the body of the Lord without previous sacramental confession, unless there is a grave reason and there is no opportunity to confess; in this case the person is to remember the obligation to make an act of perfect contrition which includes the resolution of confessing as soon as possible’ ( CIC 1983 can. 916 [3]).

The Canon refers in the first instance to priests, but clearly applies to laymen as well. It justifies Holy Communion for a ‘grave reason’ but what could this grave reason possibly be? For a priest it could perhaps be the obligation to celebrate a Mass for a given congregation[4], but what could it be for a layman? What could constitute a reason grave enough to risk a sacrilegious Communion? Embarrassment at what others might think or say? Human respect? ‘Solidarity’ with the couple whose marriage he is attending for example? The thought that Holy Communion might somehow help him to overcome his sin?

We observe that this canon, already questionable enough in itself, is quoted in an abbreviated form in the Catechism of the Catholic Church as follows (§ 1457): ‘Any-one who is aware of having committed a mortal sin must not receive Holy Communion even if he experiences deep contrition, without first having received sacramental absolution, unless he has a grave reason for receiving Communion and there is no possibility of going to confession’. Here only two of the conditions listed in the canon are explicitly quoted, namely the impossibility of a sacramental confession and the ‘grave reason’; the act of contrition is mentioned, but not explicitly as a condition; whereas the fourth condition, namely the resolution to confess as soon as possible after Holy Communion, has been entirely left out.

The modern clergy seems, by contrast, typically to insist only on the fourth condition, for all too often laymen will blithely announce to a Confessor that a priest had told him that it was sufficient to confess after receiving Communion. What is most remarkable here is the lack of logical coherence on the part of all concerned.

If we still lived in the happy age and the territory and of the Holy Roman Empire, and the Emperor had expressed his intention to visit us in our home, would it be sufficient to welcome him into a stuffy apartment with curtains drawn, unmade beds, unwashed clothes and plates, dust, dirt, and piles of rubbish everywhere, and assure him that the next day we would be cleaning the whole place up for his visit? 

The more permissive stance of the Church in regard to the reception of Holy Communion is relevant to the issue of sexuality, inasmuch as belittling the gravity of Holy Communion in the state of mortal sin, it belittles the gravity of mortal sin itself, of which impurity is, sad to say, one of the most common forms. 

However much these liturgical and magisterial innovations may have affected the faithful’s understanding of the gravity of impurity, we must in all honesty admit that the clergy in recent times has been far from assiduous in inculcating true Christian values pertaining to this sin and to its opposing virtue.
When, o Gentle Reader, did you last hear a sermon on the glory of purity or the abomination of impurity? When did you last hear a priest warn the congregation not to receive Holy Communion after committing an act of impurity, even alone? When did he last admonish you in the confessional on the danger of impurity for the salvation of your eternal soul or when did he ever encourage you to offer to God the sacrifice of a life of perfect chastity[5]?


Faithful attending Pope John Paul II’s Angelus discourses from September 1979 –November 1984 and hoping for catechism or pious disquisitions, would surely have been disappointed. Instead they were to hear him propound in all freedom his personal theories of sexual morality. We shall here briefly examine two tenets of the personalistic ‘Theology of the Body’, having already discussed the theory in detail in our book.

a)      The Divinization of Conjugal Love

We have seen how recent Magisterium presents conjugal love as sexual love; with Theology of the Body, we see how Pope John Paul II presents conjugal love as divine love. This he does, in effect, by designating conjugal love as ‘total self-giving’. Of this total self-giving he distinguishes two types: a ‘total personal self-giving’, which is the conjugal love in the permanent sense, and a ‘total physical self-giving’ which is the act of conjugal love, ‘the sign and the fruit’ of the former love (Familiaris Consortio). The love that he so defines is in effect divine love, inasmuch as total self-giving love is nothing other than the love that man owes to God. 

The Pope does not however stop at relating the act of conjugal love to man’s love for God, but seeks to divinize it yet further, by relating it both to the love of God for man, and to that of God for Himself.

This theory may be criticized in various ways. The first is in regard to the identification of conjugal love with ‘total self-giving’; the second is in regard to its alleged relation to God’s love.

i)                   Total Self-Giving Love in Itself

There are various difficulties with this identification. A first is that it is in fact impossible for one human person to give himself totally to another human person, whether on the metaphysical or on the physical plane. A second is that it runs counter to the Faith, for Our Blessed Lord commands us to love God with a total love (ex toto corde tuo...), but the neighbour with a lesser love, that is, ‘as oneself’.

A further difficulty of this definition is that it confuses the natural and supernatural orders. For the Pope divinizes conjugal love on the grounds of its purely natural features, that is to say, above all on the basis of its alleged ‘total self-giving’, without reference to the supernatural order, such as Grace or the conformity to the Catholic Faith.

A consequence of this confusion is that the definition is too wide in ambit for gthe Pope’s purposes, since the property of ‘total self-giving love’ (at least as the Pope envisages it) is not confined to sacramental marriage alone, as he intends, but rather is a property of every valid form of marriage, and even of certain extramarital relationships, provided that the two persons in question (who may even be adulterers) commit themselves to live together for life with the appropriate sentiments of mutual devotion. 

ii)                 Total Self-Giving Love in Relation to God’s Love for Man and for Himself

The love of God for man that the Pope has in mind is Christ’s love for His Church. He relates the act of conjugal love to this love in various ways, of which we shall mention only three.

a)       The Church’s Subjection to Christ

The Pope interprets this phrase as the spouses’ mutual subjection of total self-giving in the conjugal act. St. Paul, by contrast, understands the phrase as the model for the wife’s subjection to the authority of her husband.

b)      The ‘Union in one Flesh’ as a Sign of Christ’s Union with the Church

The Pope understands this phrase of the spouses’ carnal union. The Council of Trent, by contrast, understands the phrase of the unity of the spouses’ spiritual bond.

c)      The Expression of Agape

The Pope presents the conjugal act as ‘the most profound expression of Agape’.  Here he confuses two radically different forms of love: natural sense-love and supernatural rational love (that is to say Agape, or Charity). The former love is too different from the latter to be able to serve as its expression.

A similar objection may be made to the Pope’s vision of the conjugal act as an   expression of innerTrinitarian love.


We see how the Pope endeavours to relate conjugal love to God’s love in novel and eroticizing ways, without foundation either in Sacred Scripture or in Tradition.                           


In a general concluding commentary on ‘Theology of the Body’, we may say that in effect the Pope elevates conjugal love to the level of divine love by identifying conjugal love with the love of Charity: the Charity of man for God[6], the Charity of God for man, and the Charity of God for God. But this is illicit, for, as we have just said, conjugal love is a radically different type of love from that of Charity[7].       

Certainly the most innovative aspect of Theology of the Body is the divinization of the conjugal act, even if the Pope views that act as the ‘sign and fruit’ of a life of mutual loving commitment. Since ‘total self-giving love’ may, however, be found outside marriage, as we have observed above, this divinization becomes in the end a divinization of carnal union itself. To find such concepts, characteristic rather of the clouded vagaries of Fallen Nature and the perverse lucubrations of its mouthpiece, Gnosis, in the Catholic Magisterium and in the mouth of the Vicar of Christ himself, is testimony to the remarkable expansion of eroticism in the bosom of the Catholic Church in the twenty years  following the promulgation of Gaudium et Spes.

The overall effect of Pope John Paul II’s Personalism, and particularly of his Theology of the Body, is to substitute sanctity for sexuality at the very heart of Catholic morality. Even if the above critique were unconvincing, this fact should suffice to show the fallacy of this theory[8] to any-one of a Catholic sensibility [9].

        b)  Marriage in Relation to Virginity and Celibacy

One consequence of the divinization of conjugal love is that all that is negative in sexuality, such as its inherent disorder, or concupiscence, must clearly be suppressed. Another consequence is that it can no longer be lent a status inferior to that of virginity and celibacy.

In this vein Pope John Paul II declares that: ‘… ‘the biblical texts do not furnish a motive to sustain either the ‘inferiority’ of marriage, or the ‘superiority’ of virginity and celibacy’ based on sexual abstinence (Discourses 14th April 1982)’[10]. St. Paul, however, says precisely the opposite (I Cor 7. 25-40). We note in particular: ‘He that is without a wife is solicitous for the things that belong to the Lord’ (v.32) and ‘he that is with a wife is solicitous for the things of the world, how he may please his wife’ (v.33).

In any case, to know what Holy Mother Church teaches on any given subject, an authority higher than that of the Sacred Scripture is enjoyed by defined dogmas.  And the Council of Trent declares dogmatically in this regard (s. 24 can.10): ‘If any-one were to say... that it is not more blessed and better to remain in virginity or celibacy than in marriage: Anathema sit’. Si quis dixerit… non esse melius ac beatius manere in virginitate aut caelibatu, quam matrimonio: Anathema sit.


Before proceeding to examine the encyclical of Pope Francis, we shall briefly investigate the influence of the spirit of the World on marital ethics in the recent Magisterium, in the light of our brief synthesis of that spirit above.
In the first subsection, on Gaudium et Spes and the modified code of Canon Law, we saw how the concept of the finality of marriage was suppressed and how ‘procreation’ then moved into the background and ‘conjugal love’ into the foreground. We then observed how this love acquired an erotic content which was to intensify over the succeeding years.

In the second subsection, on the liturgical changes and on a new code of Canon Law, we saw how the gravity of mortal sins was (indirectly) belittled.

In the third subsection, on ‘Theology of the Body’, we saw how conjugal love, and particularly the act of conjugal love, was glorified, and how ‘negative’ concupiscence was left out of the account. We witnessed a complete openness, or license on the part of the Pope, in talking about such matters. At the same time we saw nothing in his words to diminish the gravity of impurity. In fact one of the great strengths of this Pontiff’s moral teaching is his upholding of the Natural Law, and his consequent insistence on purity.

Translation: Contributor Francesca Romana 

Part 4 to be posted, soon.

[1] Chi sa di essere in peccato mortale, che cosa deve fare prima di comunicarsi? Chi sa di essere in peccato mortale, deve, prima di comunicarsi, fare una buona confessione; non bastando l’atto di contrizione perfetta, senza la confessione, a chi è in peccato mortale per comunicarsi come conviene (n. 630).
[2] as observed in our booklet ‘The Destruction of the Roman Rite’
[3] (quoted in Redemptoris Sacramentum ch. 4, 81) The Code of Canon Law is not infallible, nor does a subsequent version of it necessarily represent an improvement over a previous version. In this its canons are similar to the non-infallible declarations of a Council.
[4] He is faced with a choix corneillien, but how is it that he does not have more respect for the sacred priesthood, of which he bears the indelible and eternal character in his soul. Did he never study such
doctrines? Did his seminary confessor never avert him to the gravity of such sacrileges?
[5] We mention in this connection of the suppression on the part of the Vatican Hierarchy of the initiative to make St. Aloysius Gonzaga patron of the youth. Even if this action, which we have been unable to substantiate, did not occur, it would be typical of the contemporary Church outlook towards purity.
[6] the love of man for God immediately, not his love for God mediately through the neighbour.
[7] It may amount to Charity, but only when the agent is in the state of Grace.
[8] An employee of the Propaganda of the Doctrine of the Faith informally admitted as much to the author in a conversation at the Sant’Ufficio some ten years ago.
[9] In conformity with this vision, we note Pope John Paul II’s initiatives to raise to the honour of the altar married individuals and couples.