Ask a theological question (closed)

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47 Responses to Ask a theological question (closed)

  1. Matt says:

    1. Why do condoms not eliminate the unitive aspect of sex, but unnatural sex acts are non-unitive? They both close the sex act off to the gift of life (refer to CCC 2357), so why is one still unitive, but the other is not? Gay people claim their acts are unitive/ expressing love. Unitive must mean something more than “emotional affection/love,” or “willing the good of the other.” Because condoms are not the good of the other, but would be non-loving/ unitive if unitive was defined as “willing the good of the other.” So what is a better definition? The unitive component must mean “one flesh union?”

    2. Can “knowledge” or “anticipation” be in the object of an act? What is the difference between “taking a hormonal contraception pill and intending sex later that day” vs “taking hormonal contraception and anticipating sex later that day.” (I can answer the question: intentions are an “end,” so that explains the difference, but it seems like word games).

    3. If you have multiple intentions (first source of Catholic morality), must all intentions be good? And if so, can you provide a specific source that EXPLICITLY says this (besides reasoning about the object of sexual morality to say all fonts in the object must be moral)?

    4. I’ve heard Jeff Mirus say that St. Thomas Aquinas thought that lying was not “uttering a falsehood” but rather “not saying what is on one’s mind.” (So if you said something true, when you believed something false, your are lying). Is there any validity to this? (Or is lying based on the objective true/false, not what is on your mind).

    5. MOST IMPORTANT: Jimmy Akin said a few years ago, that condoms could be justified to stop HIV because they were “neither a means nor an end” to impede procreation. What exactly does that even mean? CAN AN ACT BE NEITHER A MEANS NOR AN END?

    • Ron Conte says:

      5. Jimmy Akin teaches multiple severe heresies. His understanding of ethics and the moral object is highly erroneous. The use of condoms in heterosexual sex is an intrinsically evil act, making it an evil means to the intended end of stopping the spread of a disease, or an evil means and an evil end to the intended end of preventing conception. In this context, the end is the intended end (first font), and the means is the chosen act (second font). The act is the means to attain the intended end. There is always an intended end, and an act chosen as the means to that end.
      4. Jeff Mirus teaches grave errors on morality; he is not a good source of information. Aquinas defined lying based on what the person understood to be true. That is correct. If you deliberately utter what you think is a falsehood, you commit the sin of lying, even if (unknown to you) the assertion was true. If you deliberately assert what you think is a truth, you do not lie, even if the assertion was, unknown to you, false.
      3. All intentions must be good for the first font to be good. Aquinas says that everything must be good for an act to be good, whereas any one evil makes the act a sin. I don’t have time to look up references for you.
      2. I don’t understand the question.
      1. Condoms make the sexual act non-procreative. The act in question is the same sexual act as would be done without the condoms, so it is still unitive. The Church teaches that contraception separates the unitive and procreative meanings, thereby implying that the unitive meaning is not destroyed by the use of contraception.

  2. Matt Z. says:

    How many now days, especially with the invention of the internet, find teachers and writers, some even supposedly Catholic, who want to suit their own ears and confirm their own false opinions and ideas? (2 Timothy 4:1-5)

  3. Matt says:

    1. I read an article saying preistly ordination does not have to be a requirement for being a cardinal, Pope Francis could change it. Why not get rid of the requirement of being a priest and allow women can be cardinals?

    2. Explain briefly the “formal dimension” of the object of an act. That is to say, given two acts A and B are materially the same (from an external observer): say the act of cutting open a person’s chest could be surgery or a psychopath. Putting money into someone’s hand could be lending or corruption. And a woman putting a hormonal contraceptive in her mouth could be to cure an ailment, or the act of contraception.

    Given what is externally/ materially happening is the same, how exactly does the “formal dimension,” using reason to evaluate morality, look into the mind of the actor. It cannot be “intentions” in the object.

    Therefore, is it “anticipation of future intercourse” which is in the object of hormonal birth control? (I mean, we must be “looking into the mind of the actor, since the acts are materially the same, right? And how can we distinguish what’s in the mind of the actor, from the font of intentions?)

    3. Finally, did the church change it’s teachings on “usary.” (Not being able to charge interest, to now being able to?)

    • Ron Conte says:

      3. usury exists in two types, one which is intrinsically evil as it is just a type of theft (the person pays a fee for the item, say, a measure of wheat, which is sufficient for its purchase; later, the person must repay the wheat as well.). the other type of usury is by the circumstances, where reasonable interest rates are moral, and unreasonable rates are usury. The church has developed its doctrine to clarify the difference between the two cases.
      1. Pope Pius 12 had a lay man who was a Cardinal. So a lay woman could be Cardinal. however, it would be a disorder to have a lay Cardinal, man or woman, who had authority over any ordained person.
      2. An act has two parts, united as one act, analogous to body and soul united as one person. The soul of the act is the deliberate knowing choice; the body of the act is the choice, let’s say, an exterior action. The two are inseparable in the evaluation of the object. The two are one act, ordered toward its object(s).

      The assault with a knife, by evaluation of the physical act combined with the deliberate knowing choice, is ordered toward harming or killing the innocent. The surgeon instead is performing an act which heals. Neither the deliberate knowing choice, nor the physical action, are the same as in the assault. The similarity is minimal. So your claim that the difference is only in the intention or the anticipation is absurd.

      The act of taking a birth control pill is ordered toward the abortive and contraceptive ends, as that is the function of the pill and the meaning of the choice. It is not merely an anticipation of a future event. The pill deprives the human body of its reproductive capability, by preventing ovulation and by preventing implantation (making the womb hostile to the embryo). It does this regardless of when the sexual act occurs. So it is not merely in the mind of the actor. However, the act includes the deliberate knowing choice as well as what is chosen. The object is the deprivation of the procreative meaning and the deprivation of life from an innocent.

    • Matt says:

      Your claims don’t appear to address my point. Sure, surgery and assault differ, like you said in the manner in which they are performed, the exterior action. But my point is to try to show that two behaviors can be identical from an alien observing from outer space, but which require what is in the mind of the actor to distinguish (you never showed birth control wasn’t an example of this). My claim is that there exist actions that are the same material exterior action (in your words physical action), that only differ in the mind of the actor.

      Your claim that without appealing to anticipation, taking a birth control pill differs materially in the physical action being performed, namely the physical act of putting a hormonal birth control pill in your mouth and swallowing, is absurd. Whether you take it while abstinent, or take it while having sex, won’t be known until hours later (then we know whether you abstained or not).

      Simply, to reiterate, the sex occurs hours apart from taking the pill (the pill may be taken in the morning, the sex occurs at night). Since they are two separate choices, they are two separate acts. But how on earth can we know at the time of taking the pill, say in the morning, whether it will be abortificant or contraceptive, without knowing whether or not sex will occur in the evening? Finally, how does the “deliberate knowing choice” help us? We still have to know whether sex occurs in the evening, to know whether the pill is therapeutic in nature or contraceptive/ abortificiant in nature, do we not?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Your version of ethics is nothing like that of the Church. You have devised your own system, which makes no sense. Then you point out that it makes no sense. What you are presenting is not Catholic ethics.

      Again, the act includes the deliberate knowing choice, in the mind and heart of the actor, as well as the exterior action. No one is saying that the exterior action stands on its own, except you. And every time I point this out, you ignore it.

      A person deliberately chooses to take a pill known to have abortive and contraceptive effects. They decide to have sex, while taking that pill. The choice to take the pill is a sin because the person knows that it will deprive sex of its procreative finality and may cause the death of an innocent. The choice to have sex, while taking that pill, is also a sin, for the same reason. A person lays out a written plan to rob a bank. That is a grave sin. At some later time, the person carries out that plan, which is also a grave sin. These are two acts, each gravely immoral. Taking the pill is a grave sin, because the person intends to be sexually active. Having sex after taking the pill is also a grave sin, because the person knows that the pill makes that act contraceptive or abortive.

      We have to know what is in the mind of the actor? Sometimes. So what? The act is a deliberate knowing choice. It always includes, in part, what is in the mind and heart. But it is not solely what is in the mind and the heart.

      “My claim is that there exist actions that are the same material exterior action (in your words physical action), that only differ in the mind of the actor.” Surgery and a knife attack are not an example of that. I don’t know of such an example, and you haven’t presented one. Taking the pill can be known from the exterior actions to be a grave sin, as the person’s sexual acts are an exterior action. However, not every sin is exterior; not every intrinsically evil sin is exterior. I don’t know why you want that to be a requirement.

      On your last point, the pill is therapeutic if the person refrains from sex (an exterior act) and has a medical disorder (which is not literally exterior, but is outside of mere intention) treated by the pill. If she takes the pill in the morning, to treat a disorder, and she intends to have sex in the evening, then the taking of the pill is a grave sin, due to her deliberate knowing choice. It is just like planning a bank robbery or a murder. I don’t see why you care that the initial act can’t be determined to be a sin from an outside observer. The observer who matters to sin is God.

    • Matt says:

      First, you have a gross misunderstanding of Catholic morality. USCCB: “For an individual act to be morally good, the object, OR WHAT WE ARE DOING, must be objectively good.” The exterior act of swallowing a hormonal birth control pill in the morning is “what a woman is doing.” The intercourse that occur 6 hours later or 18 hours prior are not part of the “concrete,” “physical,” “exterior act” of taking the pill, and you know it!!! (It is part of the exterior act of the sex itself hours later).

      You claim that I only judge acts by the “exterior act,” a blatant misrepresentation of me. I first asked whether “anticipation [knowledge in your words] of future intercourse was in the object of hormonal birth control?” Also, I’ve been studying classical authors who interpret the object consistent with what Aquinas calls the formal dimension of the object. (Reread, my reply).

      Here is why it matters. Your argument against unnatural marital foreplay is that the act cannot be “deliberately and knowingly choosing foreplay with knowledge of intercourse a few minutes later.” You then hypocritically go on to state that a woman swallowing a contraceptive pill: “deliberately and knowingly chooses to take hormonal contraception with knowledge of intercourse hours later.” MOST IMPORTANT: How can intercourse that occurs hours apart be part of the object of a woman putting a hormonal birth control pill in her mouth, but not part of the object of unnatural foreplay, which occurs mere minutes apart from intercourse? (I’m on your side, I know the answer. I want to see your answer).

      Examples of the same concerts acts, with different objects. (1) Contraception. You say: “They decide to have sex, while taking that pill.” NO!!! THEY OCCUR HOURS APART. (2) the physical act of handing money from one person to the other. One would be hard pressed without the past, future, or what’s in the mind of the actor to judge whether it’s corruption, theft, usary, or borrowing. (3) the choice to lay in bed and not move could be laziness or resting. (4) The act of tearing the wall of a house down could be construction or damaging property. Without knowing the prior act of “permission,” we can’t know, just using the snap shot in time right then and right there, what the act is. And I could go on all day!!!

    • Ron Conte says:

      Anticipation and knowledge cannot be objects. The object of taking birth control is not a later act of intercourse. You seem to have no idea what a moral object is. (The USCCB text dumbs down the three fonts to the point where it is easily misunderstood, unfortunately.) I’m not going to entertain any more of these comments and questions which are filled with misunderstandings from start to finish.

      Matt, you have a poor understanding of Catholic teaching on ethics, and you keep asking me to explain ethics in a way that will make sense based on your false assumptions and many misunderstandings. If you really want to understand Church teaching on morality, scrap your entire understanding and start over.

    • Matt says:

      I actually think I know it. Please provide quick feedback on if I have 1-5 right or wrong.

      1. Acts have three sources of morality. The intentions, the subject intended end/ goal if the perpetrator of the act, the circumstances, a cost benefit analysis of everything not in the object of the act, and the object of the act, the end an act is inherently directed towards.

      2. Each deliberate exercise of the will is inherently directed towards some end. In the case of contraception, it is directed towards depriving intercourse of its procreative capacity.

      3. The act of swallowing a hormonal birth control pill is by its very nature ordered towards depriving sex of its procreative capacity, so is wrong regardless of intention or circumstance.

      4. To perform an act in Catholic morality you have to (A) Deliberately choose the exterior (or interior), physical, concrete act. And (B) Have knowledge of the type of act, in other words have knowledge of the end that the act you willed was inherently directed towards.

      5. Choosing contraception for a medical benefit while choosing to be abstinent means that although a woman chooses the concrete act of swallowing the pill, she don’t have knowledge of future intercourse. She has no knowledge of choosing off intercourse to life. So she doesn’t knowingly choose the objective act of contraception in the first place. In the case of having knowledge of future intercourse (provided she also knows what the pill does to conception), she will knowingly choose not only the concrete act, but also an act that deprives sex of its procreative capacity. So she knowingly chooses the objective act of contraception.

    • Ron Conte says:

      “The act of swallowing a hormonal birth control pill is by its very nature ordered towards depriving sex of its procreative capacity,” and ordered toward making the uterus hostile to the embryo, making it abortifacient. So you have two objects, one contraceptive and the other abortive.
      #1-4 is good.
      #5 is not correct, though. It has nothing to do with knowledge of future acts. If the pill has a medical benefit, and the benefit is in the object, it also has other objects. The act of taking the abortifacient pill still makes the womb hostile to the embryo, resulting in the death of an innocent, if she is sexually active. And that end is no less direct than it ever was (when no medical benefit was considered). If she takes the pill for the medical benefit, but chooses at any time to engage in sex, she chooses the abortive and contraceptive ends. It is the same act, and so it has the same objects.

    • Matt says:

      Act A: A woman swallows a hormonal birth control pill, with no knowledge, anticipation, or intent to have sex that night.
      Act B: The woman then has intercourse that night.

      Act A: A woman swallows a hormonal birth control pill, with full knowledge that she will have sex that night, in other words she anticipates sex.
      Act B: The woman then has intercourse that night.

      I am making the claim that in case 1, only the sex act in the evening, act B, is intrinsically immoral.

      In case 2, BOTH acts A and act B are intrinsically immoral.

      Is this correct?

    • Ron Conte says:

      Why is the woman in Case1 taking the pill? She knows it is a birth control pill. The purpose of the act is to thwart procreation. So it is still an intrinsically evil act. It doesn’t matter if she has sex that night or not. She is making a choice to deprive sex, if it should occur, of its procreative finality.
      A and B are sinful in both cases.

    • Matt says:

      Okay, I think we might be coming to some understanding. Final question for awhile if we come to an understanding!!!

      1. Repeat the reasoning of case 1, 2 above, where both cases are taking hormonal contraception to treat a condition. Is it correct that case 1 is only wrong for act B?
      The misunderstanding, is that it appears different authors use different terminology: the thing you are calling “knowingly and willingly choosing the act,” is termed “formal dimension of the object” by other authors (so the knowing is a dimension of the object).

      2. Let’s delve into the object. The object is a “good,” and procreation is a “good,” Example: the object of intercourse is “procreation.”
      Choose between these two options for the object of contraception:
      (A) “non-procreative”
      (B) “making intercourse non-procreative”
      (Basically, is the verb/ “what we are doing” part of the object? In this case is depriving included in the object?)

      3. MOST IMPORTANT: why is “intercourse” allowed into the object of contraception in part B above? (Is not intercourse a specific type of behavior, which is in the object of contraception? If yes, intercourse is in the object of contraception, how do we know it’s not in the object of unnatural acts?)

    • Ron Conte says:

      For intrinsically evil acts, the moral object is always the deprivation of a good required by the moral law. The object of contraception is the deprivation of the procreative finality from sex. For abortifacient contraception, a second object is the deprivation of life from an innocent prenatal.

      Case 1, the woman takes the pill to treat a medical disorder, knowing that if she also chooses to have sex, the pill will have contraceptive and abortifacient ends. If she takes the pill and chooses to have sex, she commits the intrinsically evil acts of contraception and abortion. Is act 1A intrinsically evil? If she plans to refrain from sex, then no, it is not. If she plans to have sex, then, yes, it is. Planning a bank robbery is an intrinsically evil act. Planning to have sex while taking abortifacients is an intrinsically evil act.

      Choosing to have sex, knowing that the sexual act is deprived of its openness to life by a deliberate act, and knowing that the death of an innocent prenatal may result due to the same deliberate act, is an intrinsically evil act. It is sinful by the type of the act, and by the circumstances. You are choosing to have a type of sex which is ordered toward contraceptive and abortive ends.

      For unnatural act, the person is choosing to have a type of sex which is inherently non-procreative and non-unitive.

    • Matt says:

      Lastly, these questions will show what you mean by the “closed to life.” I’m sorry this question is long, but I will get busy again, so this will be my last question for a few weeks. But my understanding has improved, thanks for sticking with me though these questions!!!

      1. If a woman took contraception for a medical benefit, then determined that break through ovulation occurred so the pill failed in stopping the ovulation, must she still abstain from sex (would sex still be contracepted sex). I’m basically asking what is causing the closed to life of the sex: the changed hormone levels of the women, the pill stopping ovulation, or something more abstract regardless of if the pill works in stopping the ovulation?

      2. Why does contraception make sex into contracepted sex, which is immoral, but it is fine to have sex after sterilization? Why isn’t the sex equally closed to life as a result of an immoral action in the past: sterilization (which only differs because in permanent vs temporary). Is the subsequent sex wrong?

      3. You state that amplexus reservatus makes intercourse “non-procreative.” I am wondering if my interpretation is correct: intercourse by its very nature, without contraception, is procreative. Rather, it’s the act right at the end of choosing to STOP intercourse, not the preceding intercourse, that was evil.

      4. You state “planning to contracept” is an act. I agree!!! I think the case I envisioned was more a “spur of the moment,” thing, where after taking the pill for a medical benefit with no plan to have sex, the sex was a moment of passion. So perhaps a better way to say it is: the choice 30 seconds before the intercourse, when the couple finally gave in interiorly (the thought in the mind), was a sin.

      5. MOST IMPORTANT: What distinctions are relevant to determining if two acts have different objects? For example, after menopause the object is not contraception. A male who swallowed the pill has a different object: a man cannot commit contraception via the pill. Dosage may make the object different: is it still contraception if we lowered the dose by a factor of 10? Or 100? Or 1000? But aparently, knowledge in the mind cannot make acts differ in their species, why is that?

    • Ron Conte says:

      1. If she takes the pill for a medical benefit, it prevents ovulation, making it a contraceptive. If ovulation occurs, the pill also prevents conception by interfering with the sperm’s progress toward the ovum. She has no way of knowing if breakthrough ovulation has occurred. If it does, there is the danger of an abortifacient event, due to several mechanisms of action.
      2. Direct sterilization is a grave sin; having sex afterward is also a grave sin. A person might repent and confess, then be unable to reverse the sterilization. They could have marital relations, morally, only because they can’t do anything about the lack of the procreative end.
      3. “it’s the act right at the end of choosing to STOP intercourse, not the preceding intercourse, that was evil.” If the couple planned on doing amplexus reservatus, then the act is sinful from the planning stage, just like with a bank robbery. If they decide on the spur of the moment to sin, then it is sinful from that point.
      A couple plan to rob a convenience store; the act is sinful from the point they make that decisions, as all their subsequent actions are ordered toward the theft. Another couple enter a convenience store to buy something; they notice the cash drawer is open and the proprietor is in the backroom. Then they decide to commit theft. Their act is only sinful from the time they decide to commit the sin.
      4. See the case above. IF they use the pill for medical benefit, planning to refrain from sex, they do not sin until they change their minds.
      5. The object is the end toward which the knowingly chosen act is ordered. After menopause, the pill does not prevent procreation or cause an abortifacient event. It is contraception if the dose has the contraceptive effect. An overdose of a mediation is suicide or murder if it is a dose that results in that end.

  4. Marcus says:

    I’m a bit confused on the Catechism section on pornography. I read your booklet on it, but I’m not sure what exactly constitutes pornography “use”. The Catechism seems to consider the display of simulated sex acts to be pornographic — so leaving questions of prudence aside, is it objectively sinful to deliberately look at such a depiction, for whatever reason? (In a movie, for example.)

    I don’t really see why it would be, but the section in the Catechism has me unsure.

    • Ron Conte says:

      The CCC is not infallible. The section on pornography is too brief; many questions are left unanswered. Accidental viewing is not a sin. A law enforcement officer or a jury might need to view illegal pornography; that would be moral. Therefore, pornography is only intrinsically evil when it is used for purposes of sexual sins or interior lust. The CCC errs slightly in that regard, by not making that distinction. If an R-rated movie has a mild depiction of sex, I don’t think watching that movie or scene is the sin of pornography. The sin must include a sexual act or lust (or something else?) to be immoral.

  5. Are these arguments against NFP valid?

    Click to access 42_NFP.pdf

    • Ron Conte says:

      No. The most holy family monastery is a notorious sedevacantist group, which accuses every Pope since John 23 of heresy, grave sin, and of being invalid Popes. The Council of Trent taught infallibly the fundamental reason that NFP is moral: that the Church morally permits “separation of bed” for many reasons for a definite or indefinite period of time.

    • I meant their arguments against NFP. I know the MHFM is sedevacantist, but even a broken clock is right twice a day. AFAIK, the MHFM believes there are Three Persons in one God, for example. What is wrong with their arguments against NFP?

    • Ron Conte says:

      The Council of Trent established infallibly the basis for NFP, refraining from marital relations for a definite period of time. Also, the Magisterium approves of NFP and teaches that it is not a type of contraception. We are not called to live by the theological arguments which seem best to our own minds, but by Faith.

  6. Steve says:

    It is understood that a couple that engaged in contracepted natural pre-marital sex have the unitive aspect…they become one flesh. This is a very serious matter. Later on in life, they marry someone else, but the unitive aspect of that former sexual relationship remains forever. They have become one flesh with someone else prior than to their spouse. How damaging is this spiritually to their current marital relationship? Repenting and confessing the pre-marital sex enough to erase the unitive aspect of the former relationship?

  7. Mark P. says:

    Can an approved apparition be “unapproved” if a later pope or bishop decides he does not agree with it for some reason?

    • Ron Conte says:

      approvals and disapprovals are matters of prudential judgment, so they are fallible and changeable. An approved apparition can be later condemned, and vice versa.

  8. Gary says:

    I suggest a post on ‘Halloween’ from a Catholic perspective and how parents should handle this secular holiday with children.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I don’t have any profound insights on the topic. I don’t see anything wrong with dressing up and going trick-or-treating. Costumes should not be too sexy, nor should they glorify evil. The focus should be family, friends, and fun, and not the amount of candy.

  9. Paul M says:

    Ron, what is your understanding of a faithful Catholic’s obligation to keep holy the Sabbath? Certainly we must attend Holy Mass. But beyond that, what do you understand to be permissible?

    For example: Having lunch with friends at a cafe on Sunday. In this case, I am not working, but I am giving patronage to an establishment that requires others to work for me. However, if I were feeding a homeless person, the cafe situation seems licit due to considerations of charity.

    • Ron Conte says:

      We keep holy the Sabbath by prayer, by avoiding sin, by helping others. Work should be avoided on the Sabbath, but under the New Covenant, we have a greater freedom in choosing how to keep holy the Sabbath. I don’t agree with a strict interpretation of avoiding work; whatever is necessary can be done. I wouldn’t be opposed to eating out at a restaurant or other leisure activities. But if some persons prefer a stricter set of practices for the Sabbath, done out of love for God, that is good also.

    • This is a problem for me. I go to Mass (almost) every weekday, so Mass does not make the Sabbath special for me. I also pray each night, do frequent spiritual reading ( especially at Eucharistic Devotion, which I do several hours a week), help others when I can, and try to avoid sin, so these do not make Sunday special. I do shopping, etc when I have to, so that is sometimes Sunday.
      I have recently taken to abstaining from websurfing on Sunday (I have long done this on Friday) to help make the Sabbath special.

  10. Grindall says:

    Have you written anything about marriage annulments? Many Catholics leave the Church rather than suffer through the process. In AL, it seems like Francis has given you permission to follow your (informed) conscience. That would make the tribunal obsolete.

    • Ron Conte says:

      I’ve not written much on the subject. It is complicated, and involves the judgment of many factors. The annulment process must be improved, but we are always going to have the problem of persons with poor judgment making the decisions. I disagree that Francis permits conscience to act as if you have an annulment, when you don’t.

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