What Heribert Jone wrote in Moral Theology

This post contains mature subject matter. I’ll try to keep the language as modest as possible.

Christopher West, in his book At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for the New Evangelization, cites Rev. Heribert Jone’s book Moral Theology as approving of a certain unnatural sexual act — anal penetration as a type of foreplay before natural marital relations.

“To cite another example, Fr. Heribert Jone wrote in his highly regarded 1956 book Moral Theology: ‘Excluding the sodomitic intention [that is, the intention to ejaculate] it is neither sodomy nor a grave sin if intercourse is begun in a rectal manner with the intention of consummating it naturally’ (section 757).” [West, p. 227]

There are many things wrong with that statement. How can a husband not have a “sodomitic intention” when he is in fact committing sodomy? The bare assertion that “it is neither sodomy nor a grave sin” contradicts the description of the act itself as “intercourse begun in a rectal manner”. That is a description of sodomy. And Jone provides no theological argument to prove otherwise. Then, as he continues to discuss the act in question, he calls it “sodimitical commerce” and, repeatedly, “the sin”. A sodomitical sin that Jone approves, as if it were somehow moral.

To the contrary, sodomy is intrinsically evil, and intrinsically evil acts are never justified by intention. So the intention to climax during a subsequent act of natural intercourse does not make the act in question no longer sodomy, or no longer intrinsically evil. Intrinsically evil acts are defined by the object, which in this case is the deprivation of the unitive and procreative ends of sexual relations. That deprivation in the object makes the act intrinsically evil. And no intention can make moral an intrinsically evil unnatural sexual act, because the intention does not cause the act to become unitive or procreative. Sodomy is inherently non-unitive and non-procreative, regardless of the intention.

The book in question was written in 1929, not 1956. Why does West say 1956? It is because he is taking this reference from a footnote in the book Catholic Sexual Ethics by Lawler, Boyle, and May (footnote 72). And, yes, Rev. Heribert Jone did write that sentence, quoted by West. However, Jone followed that sentence with this assertion, which West omits:

Positive co-operation on the part of the wife in sodomitical commerce is never lawful, hence, she must at least offer internal resistance. However, she may remain externally passive, provided she has endeavored to prevent the sin. She thus applies the principle of double effect and permits the sin to avert the danger of a very grave evil which cannot otherwise be averted; it remain unlawful for her to give her consent to any concomitant pleasure.” [Jone, Moral Theology, n. 757.]

So Jone’s actual theological position is that the husband may use his wife’s posterior for a type of “foreplay”, to prepare himself for natural marital relations, but she is morally obligated to resist and “to prevent the sin”. And, according to Jone, she would sin gravely if she consented interiorly to any pleasure that might accompany the sodomitical act. Jone thinks that this particular sexual act (anal foreplay absent male climax) is moral for the husband, but immoral for the wife! Therefore, he thinks, she must resist her husband’s sexual act, just as if she were being raped, offering “at least” passive or internal resistance. She can’t cooperate in this sexual act, as then she would be sinning gravely, he says.

There are so many things wrong with what Jone is saying, I hardly know where to begin. First, his reference to the principle of double effect makes no sense. An unnatural sexual act is always intrinsically evil, and intrinsically evil acts are never justified by the principle of double effect. That is the first rule of the principle of double effect, that the act cannot be inherently immoral. Then, too, there would seem to be no “very grave evil” that is averted to justify the wife permitting this act, supposedly under that principle.

In addition, it is contradictory for Jone to say that the act is not a grave sin for the husband, but is gravely immoral for the wife to give her consent. If it is moral for the husband, why is it, at the same time, in the same act they commit together, immoral for her to cooperate or enjoy? And to say that she must resist her husband’s supposedly moral act, or she sins, is insanity. Jone is speaking as if the wife is being raped, and must resist, but somehow also as if the husband is not sinning. If he does not sin, why must she resist? It is similarly contradictory for him to say that she “permits the sin” but also must offer resistance. And if the husband does not sin, then what sin is she permitting?

Rev. Heribert Jone’s position on this subject is both absurd and wicked. It is absurd to claim that a sexual act, to which both parties consent, is moral for one person and not for the other. Such a claim is excluded by the teaching of Saint Paul on sexual ethics in the Letter to the Romans: “and not only those who do these things, but also those who consent to what is done.” (Rom 1:32).

It is wicked for him to claim that the husband does not sin, in committing a sexual act which the wife is morally obligated to resist. He is essentially approving of the husband raping his wife anally. For he claims that she must resist and cannot take any pleasure in the act or she sins. So the situation Jone thinks is moral is when the husband performs this act, against the will of his wife. She permits it only as if under grave duress, much like a rape victim, at least in the way that Jone describes the situation.

And as if the above opinion were not enough to disqualify Jone as an expert on sexual ethics, he also makes a strange claim in another section of the book, on sex outside of marriage. Jone claims that, if any woman is raped, “to avoid sinning” she “must offer internal and external resistance” [n. 226]. Alright, let me just say something very clearly. There are no orthodox moral theologians today who would make such a claim, and the Church certainly has no such teaching. The Church does not require a rape victim to “offer internal and external resistance” in order “to avoid sinning”, as Jone says.

Rape is sex without consent. If the woman has not given her consent, then the man commits the grave sin of rape by having sex with her. She is not morally obligated to cry out, or to fight him, or to offer internal or external resistance. Of course, it is entirely moral for her to use force against her rapist, up to and including deadly force. But she is not obligated to do anything in particular. The victim is not the one who is sinning. What kind of moral theologian would make such a claim? Not one who is “orthodox” or “highly regarded”, as West inexplicably claims.

And why does Christopher West choose this particular author from the 1920’s, ignoring many more orthodox and more recent theologians since that time? The reason is that not many theologians approve of anal sex as foreplay. It conflicts with the teaching of the Bible on Sodom in the Old Testament, and the teaching of Saint Paul in the Epistle to the Romans in the New Testament, among other passages. It conflicts with the teaching of Saints Jerome, Augustine, Aquinas, Alphonsus Liguori, Albert the Great, as well as Peter Lombard. They are the orthodox and highly regarded theologians, not Jone.

I would also like to point out that the entire book “Moral Theology” by Rev. Heribert Jone is a series of unsupported claims. The book is a long chain of baseless assertions, with no theological arguments of any length or substance. He just tells you what he thinks is moral or immoral. He usually provides nothing to support these assertions, not even a bare citation. We are supposed to take his word for all of this. So his book titled “Moral Theology” actually contains very little theology. Is the book “highly regarded”? I don’t think so. Is the publication of the book by TAN Books and Publishers proof that the book is orthodox or reliable? That is a laughable claim. A commercial publishing company cannot exercise the Magisterium, and they do not have the role to decide what is and is not orthodox teaching.

It was intellectually dishonest for Christopher West to use that sentence from Jone’s book to support West’s own position on unnatural sexual acts in marriage, without including the subsequent assertion, that the wife sins if she does not resist her husband or if she enjoys the act. As much as West protests that he thinks anal foreplay is a bad idea and that he would shy people away from the behavior, he is the one offering quotes, citations, and arguments to make that act seem moral. He is the one everyone (including Gregory Popcak) cites, so as to justify that act.

West also cites Fr. Benoît Merkelbach in support of unnatural sexual acts in marriage. The Merkelbach book was first published in 1926, in Latin. I can find no English translation of that book, ever. It is an obscure theological manual, cited only rarely by other books on sexual ethics. The sole reason West is aware of this book, is apparently due to its inclusion in the same footnote that mentions the Jone book.

Has Christopher West read Merkelbach? No, he has not. The book is only available in Latin, and West does not know Latin. Should we turn to Jone and Merkelbach for the answers to questions on Catholic sexual ethics? No, we should not. They both wrote the cited books in the 1920’s, before many important magisterial teachings on the subject, including teachings by Pope Pius XI, Pius XII, Pope Saint John Paul II, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. They both give answers contrary to the teaching of many different Saints. The only reason they are cited is to support West’s desired justification for unnatural sexual acts in marriage.

So when Christopher West claims there is a “broad consensus of orthodox moral theologians” [p. 225], he means the authors he found in one footnote in a book by Lawler, Boyle, and May. West did no substantial research on this subject. He simply used that one book, Catholic Sexual Ethics, and a single footnote, as the basis for an intellectually lazy claim of a consensus of theologians.

Now this very footnote, used to claim a “consensus”, mentions four authors, Merkelbach and Jone in favor of anal foreplay, and St. Alphonsus Liguori as well as John Kippley against anal foreplay. So, how is that a consensus? It is two against two.

The book containing said footnote is by Lawler, Boyle, and May. And they opine in favor of unnatural sexual acts as foreplay. However, they offer no substantial theological argument, other than saying that some orthodox theologians agree with that stated opinion. In fact, there is very little offered by anyone on that side of the question, by way of a philosophical or theological argument, to support approval for such acts. They simply tell married couples they can do this, and they can do that. When a question is of grave moral weight, it is inexcusable to assertion the moral licitness of the act, without theological support, and in the face of a contrary teaching by every Saint who has considered the question.

In online discussions, this Jone book is mentioned mainly to approve of the use of unnatural sexual acts in marriage. They praise the book and its author, merely as a way to support the acts they wish to justify. In actual works of moral theology, few if any authors use Jone as a source. They are just looking for any source they can find to make their claim on marital sexual ethics seem orthodox or tenable, when it is not.

In my book, The Catholic Marriage Bed, a consensus of orthodox theologians is presented, who condemn these types of acts as gravely immoral. The teaching of Sacred Scripture is reviewed, along with past magisterial teachings. All of this supports the condemnation of unnatural sexual acts, even in marriage, even as “foreplay”. The idea that such acts could become moral, under any explanation or excuse whatsoever, is absurd, gravely immoral, and harmful to marriages and souls.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Please take a look at this list of my books and booklets, and see if any topic interests you.

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2 Responses to What Heribert Jone wrote in Moral Theology

  1. Tom Mazanec says:

    They both wrote the cited books in the 1920’s, before many important magisterial teachings on the subject, including teachings by Pope Pius XI, Pius XII, Pope Saint John Paul II, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

    WHAT!? You mean that something which has been a basic part of humanity for thousands of generations has “many important magisterial teachings on the subject” just in the last one of twenty centuries of Church history? And not regarding genetic engineering and test tube babies et al, something that I could see not being considered until recently, but sodomy? What are these teachings?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Teachings on contraception. Teachings of Pope Pius XII on marital sex and its limits. The theology of the body of JP2, as well as his teachings on the basic principles of ethics in Veritatis Splendor. The Church continually clarifies the teachings found in the eternal moral law and the deposit of faith, so recent magisterial teachings are not merely a reiteration of past teachings.

      Saints Jerome, Augustine, Aquinas, Liguori, and Albert the Great all taught on this subject, contrary to the opinions of Jone and Merkelbach. But recent magisterial teachings make it even more clear that Jone and Merkelbach are wrong.

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