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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Jimmy Akin's Response

Jimmy Akin has a response to my analysis concerning whether the Church's 20th-century Magisterial documents refer to sex within marriage (he even illustrated it with a picture of someone - himself as a youngster(?) - trying unsuccessfully to digest a copy of HV).

He argues that my analysis is too broad because:
For this argument to be sound one would have to show that the phrase "coniugale commercium" (translated in whatever language the Fathers and Doctors were writing in) was used to refer to sexual intercourse without reference to whether it was occurring in marriage.
This is the crux of his argument.
I don't think it is accurate.

Since the marital act is the normative sexual act, statements made about the normative act would also apply to all the actions which marital sex norms, i.e., all human sexual activity, as well. Every human sexual act references in some way back to the normative act, which only takes place within marriage. So, whatever is said about the general principle, the marital act, necessarily also applies to all other sexual acts. Indeed, these other sexual acts are considered unnatural precisely as they vary from the normative act.

That's how norms work.

Take, for example, statements made about the Scripture, which is normative for all theological discourse. It is a basic principle of Scripture study that, since all Scripture is true, and truth cannot contradict itself, Scripture cannot contradict itself.

Does this mean that a theologian can create a self-contradictory argument as long as the Magisterium hasn't specifically told the theologian not to attempt this?

Obviously not - what is true for Scripture will be true of every discussion that draws its strength from Scripture. Scripture is the norm that norms all other theological norms. Thus, a theological argument which is based on Scripture must be non-contradictory. Ultimately, all theological arguments find some basis in the Scriptures or in the living equivalent of Scripture which is Tradition-Liturgy.

The theologian cannot violate Scripture as he proposes his premises and conclusions - Scripture is the norm, so no Catholic principle can violate what it teaches. Insofar as any teaching DOES violate what Scripture teaches, it is not a Catholic teaching.

In an analogous way, the marital act is the normative act for human sexuality.
Insofar as any sexual act violates what married sexuality should be, it is not a fully human sexuality.

We would expect that Magisterial documents would only refer to the normative, since Magisterial documents try to lay down general principles, whereas the Fathers, who were almost all bishops, were generally addressing specific populations (their flocks) who had specific problems.

The Fathers would not be expected to use the normative phrase precisely because they were teaching their specific groups of people in these specific situations. The papal writings, on the other hand, especially those in the 20th century, are intended in no small part to be summaries of the Fathers.

Thus, there is no particular reason to think the phrase Akin is hunting for would necessarily appear exactly as such in the Fathers' writings, while we would be rather surprised NOT to see the general, or normative phrasing, used in documents intended to summarize what the Fathers wrote.

In short, papal writings (Magisterial summaries) would use the phrase while the Fathers would have no particular reason to do so. But, since the Magisterial summaries are precisely summaries of the Fathers, both sets of documents would be discussing exactly the same thing, even if the phrasing wasn't exactly the same.

Akin's analysis of HV is based on that of 20th century moral theologians whose opinions are occasionally interesting, but ultimately not relevant nor binding on anyone. I don't need to know what any 20th century theologian, moral or immoral (sorry - couldn't help myself), said about anything, much less what they said about Catholic theology, in order to understand and correctly explain Catholic theology.

Indeed, if we were to be brutally honest, 20th century moral theologians have generally not had a terribly good record when it comes to Catholic teachings on human sexuality. A good Catholic can make a strong argument that one is better off by ignoring such modern "experts" completely.

The writings of the Fathers and Doctors, however, are quite a different kettle of fish. While these writings are not infallible, their writings must necessarily be considered before a judgement can be made on any subject of Catholic Faith.

I am very grateful for Jimmy's putting together the list of Father's quotations from which I drew.

However, Jimmy's skill in compiling the list doesn't change the contents of the quotes.

That is to say, his service to us all does not change the fact that Augustine specifically pointed out conjugal acts are only conjugal insofar as they are both valid and licit.

That point has to be examined and dealt with.

If we accept the interpretation of Jimmy Akin and the 20th century moral theologians, we must conclude that the Popes have never written about the use of contraception in marriage because such an act is not a conjugal act and their encyclicals only discussed conjugal acts. We are forced to that conclusion because Augustine forces us there and neither Jimmy nor the 20th century moral theologians have adequately dealt with Augustine.

A thought experiment could, perhaps, settle the point.

We all agree a sacramental marriage can be annulled if it is not consummated - the spouses must engage in "coniugale commercium" in order to have a sacramental marriage which cannot be annulled.

If a baptized man and woman exchanged sacramental vows, but engaged in only condomized sex on the wedding night, would either one have grounds for annulment of their sacramental marriage the following day, on the grounds that the marriage had not actually been consummated?

I honestly don't know the answer to that question, but I suspect the answer is, "Yes, the marriage could be annulled on the grounds of non-consummation." The couple did not engage in a conjugal act. They engaged in a non-conjugal act, an act in which no "commercium" took place. It doesn't matter that the act appeared to be sexual and was between two baptized persons who took the vows of sacrament and are even now in the bonds of a sacramental marriage. The sacrament can be broken because the sexual act was not "coniugal commercium."

If so, then my point Augustine's point stands.

"Conjugal act" must be taken to have a broader meaning then 20th century moral theologians are wont to give it and Akins is inadvertently in error because he follows their erroneous lead.

"Conjugal act" must be considered a reference to the normative act, and therefore, by implication, a reference to ANY sexual act so conducted.

If we are really forced to accept that the meaning of the phrase is to be restricted to just valid, licit marital acts then we are faced with the spectacle of encyclicals which appear to address contraception, but which actually do not, because they used the phrase "coniugale commercium" and not "sexualis".

This seems to me a much more serious context problem than any that I may have stirred up.

UPDATE:
Jimmy's case is actually worse than I initially thought.
I just noticed one of his own commentators has pointed out that the word "commercium" CAN, in fact, refer to illicit sexual intercourse (see the quote below).

So, it seems the 20th century moral theologians have struck out again.
They didn't even get the Latin right.
Schade.

From the exhaustive Latin dictionary by Lewis and Short (use here is a single citation and within fair use):

com-mercĭum (con-m- ; ante-class.; sometimes ‡commircĭum ; cf. Vel. Long. p. 2236 P.), ii, n. merx.

I. Commercial intercourse, trade, traffic, commerce: “mare magnum et ignara lingua commercia prohibebant,” Sall. J. 18, 5; Plin. 33, 1, 3, § 7; Plin. Pan. 29; Tac. Agr. 24; Liv. 4, 52, 6: “salis,” id. 45, 29, 13: “commercium hominum in locum aliquem mutui usus contrahunt,” id. 38, 18, 12: “neque Thraces commercio faciles erunt,” id. 40, 58, 1: “jus commercii,” Dig. 49, 5, 6.—

B. Meton.
1. The right to trade as merchants, a mercantile right: “commercium in eo agro nemini est,” Cic. Verr. 2, 3, 40, § 93; cf. id. ib. 2, 2, 50, § “124: L. Crasso commercium istarum rerum cum Graecis hominibus non fuisse,” id. ib. 2, 4, 59, § “133: ceteris Latinis populis conubia commerciaque et concilia inter se ademerunt,” Liv. 8, 14, 10; 43, 5, 9; cf. Dig. 41, 1, 62; 30, 1, 39; 45, 1, 34.—*
2. An article of traffic, merchandise, wares: “commercia militaria,” Plin. 35, 13, 47, § 168; for provisions, id. 26, 4, 9, § 18; cf. Front. 2, 5, 14.—

3. A place of trade, market - place: “commercia et litora peragrare,” Plin. 37, 3, 11, § 45; Claud. in Eutr. 1, 58.—

II. In gen., intercourse, communication, correspondence, fellowship; lit. and trop.: “quid tibi mecum est commerci, senex?” Plaut. Aul. 4, 4, 4; id. Bacch. 1, 2, 9; id. Stich. 4, 1, 15: “mihi cum vostris legibus Nihil est commerci,” I have nothing to do with your laws, id. Rud. 3, 4, 20: “commercium habere cum Musis,” Cic. Tusc. 5, 23, 66: “commercium habere cum virtute,” id. Sen. 12, 42: “dandi et excipiendi beneficii,” Val. Max. 5, 3, ext. 3: “agrorum aedificiorumque inter se,” Liv. 45, 29, 10: “plebis,” with them, id. 5, 3, 8; 41, 24, 16: “linguae,” Ov. Tr. 5, 10, 35; Liv. 1, 18, 3; 9, 36, 6; 25, 33, 3: “sermonis,” id. 5, 15, 5; cf.: “loquendi audiendique,” Tac. Agr. 2 fin.: “commercia epistularum,” Vell. 2, 65, 1: “hoc inter nos epistularum commercium frequentare,” Sen. Ep. 38, 1: “communium studiorum,” Suet. Claud. 42: “sortis humanae,” Tac. A. 6, 19: “belli,” stipulation, treaty, id. ib. 14, 33: “belli tollere,” Verg. A. 10, 532; so, “belli dirimere,” Tac. H. 3, 81.—Plur.: “est deus in nobis, et sunt commercia caeli,” Ov. A. A. 3, 549.—

B. Esp., forbidden intercourse, illicit commerce: “libidinis,” Val. Max. 8, 2, 2: “stupri,” Suet. Calig. 36.—Absol.: “cum eā mihi fuit commercium,” Plaut. Truc. 1, 1, 77.—
2. In law, = collusio, Cod. Th. 3, 11, 4; cf. ib. 11, 4, 1 al. [emphasis added]

Excerpt taken from:

A Latin Dictionary. Founded on Andrews' edition of Freund's Latin dictionary. revised, enlarged, and in great part rewritten by. Charlton T. Lewis, Ph.D. and. Charles Short, LL.D. Oxford. Clarendon Press. 1879.

I hate to stir things up, but lexicologically speaking, while regular intercourse within marriage is the presumed definition within the Magisterial texts, there is a weak sense, indicated in IIIB, above, in which commercium can refer to illicit sex, with the modifier coniugale acting as a modifier referring to two object types that go together (a man and a woman rather than a man and a man or a man and a beast). Thus, coniugale commercium in its weaker sense can refer to sexual intercourse outside of marriage. The context in which the Maisterial documents were written indicate the strong sense is being discussed, but outside of that context, the phrase, coniugale commercium, does not have to refer to the sexual act within a marriage. [emphasis added]

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