Weekly Q and A (closed)

Please use this post to ask questions on topic in Catholic theology — faith, morals, salvation, biblical chronology, eschatology, etc. I do intend this post to be used for simple questions and answers, and not for any kind of extended debate.

Ron Conte

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52 Responses to Weekly Q and A (closed)

  1. Matt Z. says:

    What is meant by the “unitive” aspect of the sexual act in marriage. Is it just the will to love the other person, or is it the specific act of self giving in natural relations open to life, is it both? What specifically is it?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The unitive aspect of the marital act is when the two spouses become one flesh in natural marital relations. So it refers to sexual union, but this physical sexual union is a symbol and expression of the love between the spouses. Thus, it has two components, one bodily (the sexual union) and the other spiritual (love).

  2. sandyeverett says:

    Did Fear of the Lord change after the Christ event? What does it mean now? It is reverence and honor?

    • Ron Conte says:

      fear of the Lord is ever the same, for God is unchanging. Fear of the Lord is a combination of respect for authority and awe at the greatness of God. It is not the emotion of fear, but it resembles fear in that, when we consider God, we are confronted by something so great as to be overwhelming.

  3. Francisco says:

    Is heart transplant immoral? – taking in consideration that for a heart transplant to work, a ‘functioning heart’ is needed; therefore, it is (usually) taken from a ‘brain death’ person (I’m not a doctor but that’s what I understand). But a brain dead person is someone who has the rest of his organs still functioning at this point, so the soul of the person might have not separated from his body yet.

    As I understand it, for a person to be completely dead, the soul has to leave his body and this might not happen yet when the person is in ‘brain death’ state. Now, a heart taken from a completely dead person might not work at all on another person.

    • Ron Conte says:

      They do in fact take hearts from persons who are completely dead. I don’t believe they ever take a beating heart from a brain-dead person. The brain-dead person is being kept alive by machinery, which, when it is turned off, results in complete death. It would not be moral to take a heart for transplant from a person who is still alive, even if they do not have the higher functions of their brain.

  4. Alessandro Arsuffi says:

    Dear Ron,
    I have a question on Biblical historicity to propose. What about the historicity of the Book of Judith? I know that many scholars believe it to be just a work of fiction, mainly due to its very difficult historical-geographical background filled with alleged errors. Now, I believe the key to interpret this book lies in the literary genre, but I think it’s difficult to embrace a fully fictional interpretation of the work, since Judith is such an inspiring figure and since even the Jews continue to tell her wonderful story in the Hanukkah celebrations.

    • Ron Conte says:

      It is a matter of faith that Sacred Scripture contains no errors on any subject area, including history and science. When historians or researchers claim that they have understood something better than Scripture, I would put my trust in the Bible.

    • Marco says:

      Then maybe when an historical statement is proven to be false, this means that that we should take that statement as figurative, and not historical.

      In other words: the Bible’s inerrancy is absolute, but sometimes what appears to be an historical event needs to be taken as figurative, because it was figurative in the first place and we were in error when we tought that it was historical (in this way, Bible’s inerrancy is saved).

      For example, in this https://ronconte.wordpress.com/2014/03/13/how-long-have-humans-been-on-this-earth/ article you wrote

      “I’m currently working on a book that attempts to reconcile evolution (with some modifications) and the story of Adam and Eve. It is a book about the intersection between faith and science. I don’t take a Creationist point of view. Nor do I consider the first 11 chapters of Genesis to be entirely figurative. I hold that some elements of the Adam and Eve story were literal, and other elements were figurative. And I accept the immense antiquity of the earth and the universe, while still holding that God created heaven and earth.”

      And i agree with you.

      On th other hand, in 1909, Between the Pontifical Biblical Commission condemned the view that the first three chapters of Genesis weren’t ENTIRELY historical. This is the ststement that was condemned “the various exegetical systems which have been elaborated and defended by the aid of pseudo-science to exclude the literal historical sense of the first three chapters of Genesis are based upon solid arguments” .

      Now, that condemnation of the Pontifical Biblical Commission was not infallible, but it kinda proves my point: the Bible is infallible but WE CAN ERR when we take as literally historical something which is not historical in its entirety (as you said, Genesis contains both historical elements and figurative elements, otherwise we should say that the earth is 6000 years old).

    • Marco says:

      Corrige

      “On the other hand, in 1909, Between the Pontifical Biblical Commission”

      That “between” has no business being there.

    • Francisco says:

      @ Alessandro:

      I have also heard regarding the apparent problems with what some incorrectly call the “Apocrypha” books. They are not apocrypha at all because they were never treated as hidden or regular books by the early Christians. You can read the Early Fathers on the subject for more information.

      Regarding the book of Judith, some of their objections is such as the following: “The book of Judith states that Nebuchadnezzar was the king of the *Assyrians* but he was actually the king of Babylon (2 Kings 24:11); therefore, Judith is not Sacred Scripture because it has such error”.

      [Judith]
      {1:5} Thereafter, in the twelfth year of his reign, Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Assyrians, who reigned in Nineveh the great city, fought against Arphaxad and prevailed over him:

      The Babylonian empire was a large *place* covering great part of what we now know as Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Whereas the “Assyrians” were *people* and it happened that this people were living within the territory of the Babylonian empire; thus making Nebuchadnezzar their king as well. Nineveh, by the way was within the Babylonian empire (north of Iraq). There is no contradiction at all, it is just a matter of how you call some people living within a specific territory.

      There are books of Scripture that *seem* to contradict with each other and even Protestant recognize them as canonical. For example: The Gospels of Mark and Luke calls one of the Apostles ‘Levi’ whereas Matthew and John never explicitly identifies this Apostle as ‘Levi’. So, are they in error? No. The answer is that Matthew was also called Levi. And there are many other examples. So the error is not on Scriptures, but on the individual interpreter. We have to remember that Jesus gave power to the Apostles to lead His Church (Matt 16:18-19) (John 20:21-23) (Acts 2:42) (1 Tim 3:15), the official interpreter. And the canon was infallibly proclaimed by His Church.

      Blessings.

  5. Eric Alcock says:

    14 Catholic senators voted against yesterday’s Pain Capable Act. Are they automatically excommunicated or is it up to their Bishops to discipline them, e.g. Canon 915?

    • Ron Conte says:

      That’s a difficult question because we are speaking about an individual law. Catholics are automatically excommunicated if they commit formal heresy. But voting against a law does not indicate any particular belief, not necessarily. Canon 915 applies to manifest grave sin, but it is not clear why they voted against it, not by the mere fact of the vote. If they publicly state that the reason was to protect “abortion rights”, then that is manifest grave sin (heresy and scandal), and they would be unworthy for Communion (915) and excommunicated for the heresy of claiming that abortion is a right. The Bishops ought to intervene in all cases of Catholic legislators who approve or promote abortion, but they do not.

  6. Tom Mazanec says:

    I run a program on my computer to try to detect signals from an extraterrestrial civilization. Is the concept of an extraterrestrial civilization allowed by Catholic Dogma?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Nothing in Catholic teaching prohibits the idea, as mere speculation. Such persons, if they exist, would be saved in the same way as persons prior to Christ, in that they would have no way to know about Him.

  7. Marco says:

    If lying is an intrinsically evil act, if i lie to a psycopath who has introduced in my house and wants to murder my family, if i lie in order to save them because i couldn’t reach my gun in time to actually defend myself and my family, i’m committing a venial sin, right?

    This means, as a logical consequence, that God would have preferred that i didn’t lie, letting my family dying in the process?

    If lying is intrinsically evil, that would be the only logical consequence. And, frankly, if i have to accept it i will accept it, but i find it totally unreasonable.

    • Ron Conte says:

      Lying is intrinsically evil. And it is only a venial sin in that circumstance. God does not prefer that your family die. But I also doubt the scenario’s premise that you only have those two options, and that lying would actually work. What if you used mental reservation? What if you distracted the mentally ill person by engaging him in conversation? What if you fought the attacker, and defeated him? But if you did lie, it is only a venial sin. But these types of scenarios are only put forward, not to argue that a person may lie in an extreme case, but to justify lying or other intrinsically evil acts in non-extreme cases. The husband and wife will not die if they cannot have intercourse, or if one of them cannot reach climax. It is not a dire circumstance. But it is true that all intrinsically evil acts remain immoral, despite a good intention or a dire circumstance.

    • Marco says:

      Yes, in that scenario it is the only option, for the psycopath has a knife and he is totally determined to use it on me if i don’t tell him where they are.

      So no, i can’t attack him or whatever else.

      In other words, you are confirming that in such a case i would commit venial sin.

      Therefore, since God cannot treat sin af it was good and desirable, the logical consequence is that, in his eyes, i would have done a better action if i told the truth, letting my family die in the process.

      As i said, if i have to accept it under pain of excommunication, i will accept it, but i have to reject my reason and my conscience for that, because i find it completely preposterous.

    • Ron Conte says:

      It is not under the pain of excommunication. To hold that lying is moral, only in extreme cases, is a doctrinal error, but it does not rise to the level of heresy (not even close). Also, you are not obliged to tell the murderer where your family is hiding; refusing to speak a truth is not lying. And, no, I don’t think it implies that God wants the family to die. You could remain silent. You could fight off the attacker. You could use mental reservation. You could try to talk the attacker out of his misdeed.

    • Marco says:

      “You could remain silent. “

      I can’t, for he would torture me. Does God wants me to undergo torture in order not to lie to a psycopath?

      “You could fight off the attacker”

      I can’t, for he is a 6’3 217 ibs man with a sharp knife in his hands. If i fight him, i would die. I would fight him if that was the only way to try to save my family, but since there is another way i find it hard to believe that God wants that.

      Also, if I fight him and i die, he will go to my relatives and he will torture them to discover where my daughters and my wife are located. And, since, i would never be able to put him down my bare hands, they would die too.

      “You could use mental reservation. “

      I can’t, because i’m not cold enough to do that in such a situation. In addition, it wouldn’t work, because he wouldn’t accept an elusive answer. He wants to know exactly where they are, for he wants to rape my daughters and my wife, and he wants me to be very precise about the location.

      “You could try to talk the attacker out of his misdeed.”

      I’ve already tried that, at the very beginning, after having failed to reach my gun in time. And the only result was that he nearly cut my throat.

      So no, in this case i have only two options:

      1. Lying.

      2. Letting my family day.

      If you say that it would be a doctrinal error to hold that, in this case, lying would be moral, the logical consequence would be that God prefers that my family dies, for God cannot desire sin or appreciate sin.

      Granted, i wouldn’t be punished with hell for this sin, but a sin is still a sin, and God prefers that we don’t sin. Therefore, he prefers that in such situation i speak the truth, regardless of the consequences.

      This is what i find preposterous.

    • Ron Conte says:

      You have constructed this hypothetical as a way to justify lying. It is not a common or even uncommon situation. All the usual ways that persons might try to deal with the very unusual situation you have artificially prevented by the construction of the hypothetical. I don’t believe this situation would occur, even rarely. Also, you cannot corner God, forcing him to approve of a sin, by some cleverly constructed hypothetical.

      If it is the case that you have no way to prevent the deaths of innocents, then they will end up dying. It does happen, and it is permitted by God, that evil persons commit the crimes you propose. But it is absurd to say that all this harm is prevented by a lie. So the wicked person believes whatever you say, and then he just goes away? Not realistic at all.

      Saint Augustine taught that we are not justified in lying to murderers to save innocents. You can disagree without committing any grave sin, without committing heresy. But the usual reason that persons propose extreme and carefully sculpted hypotheticals (which conveniently make every reasonable response ineffective) is to conclude that intrinsically evil acts are not always immoral, and thereby justify the acts that they wish to commit, such as the convenient lies of daily life.

    • Marco says:

      “You have constructed this hypothetical as a way to justify lying. It is not a common or even uncommon situation. All the usual ways that persons might try to deal with the very unusual situation you have artificially prevented by the construction of the hypothetical. I don’t believe this situation would occur, even rarely.”

      Have you ever read about the Mexican drug cartels? They have put people in situations even worse than the one described in my post.

      “If it is the case that you have no way to prevent the deaths of innocents, then they will end up dying. It does happen, and it is permitted by God, that evil persons commit the crimes you propose. “

      So, you are basically confirming that if the only that i have to prevent the death and torture of my family is lying, God prefers me not to lie, he prefers that i let my family die.

      But what man on the face of the earth would ever do that? What kind of man would send his family to massacre when he can save them?

      “But it is absurd to say that all this harm is prevented by a lie. So the wicked person believes whatever you say, and then he just goes away? Not realistic at all.”

      He knows that we have two other habitations and that they usually go to one of them when they are not at home. So he would believe me, for in that period of the year they usually go to one of this two habitations and he wants to know which one of them.

      “Saint Augustine taught that we are not justified in lying to murderers to save innocents. “

      If that is true, that implies what i stated above. God prefers to see my family undergo torture and rape than me saving them with a lie.

      Did Oscar Schindler sin genially when he saved the Jews with his lies? Because he lied a lot in order to save them, that’s the only thing he could have done.

      Augustine apparently would say yes, but i find this teaching completely horrible and inhuman.

      I don’t know, Ron, the only artificial thing here seems to be this “quasi kantian” moral absolutism which crumbles under the complexity of real life.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’ve already replied to all your points. Unrealistic hypothetical. Lying is at least a venial sin, because God is truth. God does not want persons to suffer greatly, but that does happen sometimes in a very sinful world. Would you like a free copy of my book: Is Lying Always Wrong? Oh, and it is not Kantian, but the traditional teaching of Scripture, Saints, and the Magisterium. The very rare situation you describe does not prove that intrinsically evil acts are moral because of a dire circumstance.

    • Marco says:

      Also, you know that every family man would do everything to save his family. Why did Go project us in this way if he prefers that we let our family die in order that we don’t lie?

      It seems hard to believe that the will of God is so abstract and harsh that if we were to applicate it in real life we would undergo tremendous suffering, suffering which are avoidable.

      No man on the face of the earth would ever let his family die if he can prevent that. So i find it hard to believe that in the eyes of God this would be an objective sin.

    • Ron Conte says:

      God does not prefer that your family die, rather than that you tell a venial lie. You proposed a highly unrealistic hypothetical, to corner God and make it seem as if He had that preference. But it is in fact the teaching of the Church, going back to Augustine and Aquinas, also found in the Catechism, that lying is by its nature wrong (intrinsically evil). This does not imply a preference from God to suffer greatly rather than lie, and I don’t believe that it is realistic to say that a lie will save the lives of innocents, as if the bad guy will just believe whatever you tell him.

    • Marco says:

      Corrige

      “Did Oscar Schindler sin genially when he saved the Jews with his lies? ”

      Venially, not genially.

    • Marco says:

      Thanks for the answer, Ron. If you put it that way i agree expecially on what regards God. That said, i’m also glad that i’m not an heretic if i think that some form of lying can be moral.

      You said that if i hold this opinion i’m not under the pain of excommunication and that’s good to know. I’ll check your book for sure.

      Thanks for everything.

  8. Ron Conte says:

    Christopher O. Tollefsen has a new book (out soon), Lying and Christian Ethics.

    He defends the teaching that lying is always wrong, even in difficult circumstances.
    My book on lying is here:

  9. Paul M. says:

    Since I am new to this blog, I have not read your books on Adam and Eve and evolution. However, I have determined by reading this thread that you have an opinion that attempts to reconcile the two.

    How do you account for death coming into the world? For evolution to be true, death would have come into the world long before our first parents sinned.

    • Ron Conte says:

      When some of the angels fell from grace, early after the creation of the universe, God permitted creation to enter a fallen state, as a consequence, because angels have a responsibility to assist God in reigning over material creation. That is when creation fell, and as a result, when living things were created at a later time, they were subject to death.

  10. Emanuel Costa says:

    Hi Ron,
    1-Since The State is a secular one, at what bases can we, people of faith, demand it to not recognize same-sex marriage?
    2-What would be a good argument against unnatural sexual acts for people who are unbelievers?
    3-Are we supposed to be against Islam and others non-Christian faiths? Suppose that a country does a referendum on legalizing or not legalizing Islam. Are we supposed to vote “no”?
    4-Does Jesus still share man’s nature now that He is in Heaven?
    5-Who is overseeing us, God, our guardian angels, or our patron saints? What happened to them (our guardian angels and our patron saints) after we die?
    Thanks,

    • Ron Conte says:

      1. Unbelievers are still able to understand right from wrong through natural law, without the assistance of divine revelation. The State has a responsibility to outlaw or discourage any behaviors that are both gravely immoral and harmful to society. Since marriage is the basis of community and the procreation and education of children, the State has a compelling reason to protect true marriage and outlaw same-sex marriage. Legalizing same-sex marriage also causes grave scandal to citizens, especially children, harming their understanding of true marriage and true community.
      2. The main purpose of the sexual faculty is procreation; this truth is open to reason. In addition, the whole moral law can be understood from reason alone. You can find the arguments to which you refer in different Church documents on the subject. In brief, these types of acts misuse the sexual faculty as it evidently has the purpose of procreation, but unnatural acts are intrinsically non-procreative.
      3. No and no. Each person has the responsibility to seek moral and religious truth, and to adhere to what they believe to be truth in that regard. In a pluralistic society, Christians can support freedom of religion.
      4. Yes.
      5. All of them. They pray for us, if we are in Purgatory; they rejoice with us when we enter Heaven.

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