Contra E. Christian Brugger on Intention and Intrinsically Evil Acts

E. Christian Brugger is not a faithful Catholic theologian, and his answers on any questions of faith and morals should be treated with distrust. See my previous posts explaining why this is so.

In his latest article, he continues teaching grave moral errors with the false claim that these errors are Catholic doctrine. The article, Can Contraceptives Be Taken for Therapeutic Purposes?, was published at the National Catholic Register on June 10th, 2020. The teaching of the article is abject heresy, and Brugger rejects the dogma of intrinsically evil acts, and specifically rejects the dogma that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

First, let’s review true doctrine on the topic of intrinsically evil acts. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the encyclical of Pope Saint John Paul II Veritatis Splendor teach — and as the successive Popes and the body of Bishops have taught as one position definitively to be held [Lumen Gentium 25] — an intrinsically evil act is always wrong, regardless of intention or circumstances:

CCC 1756: “It is therefore an error to judge the morality of human acts by considering only the intention that inspires them or the circumstances (environment, social pressure, duress or emergency, etc.) which supply their context. There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery. One may not do evil so that good may result from it.”:

1757 “The object, the intention, and the circumstances make up the three “sources” of the morality of human acts.”

1759 ” ‘An evil action cannot be justified by reference to a good intention’ (cf St. Thomas Aquinas, Dec. praec. 6). The end does not justify the means.”

Veritatis Splendor 81: “If acts are intrinsically evil, a good intention or particular circumstances can diminish their evil, but they cannot remove it. They remain “irremediably” evil acts; per se and in themselves they are not capable of being ordered to God and to the good of the person…. Consequently, circumstances or intentions can never transform an act intrinsically evil by virtue of its object into an act “subjectively” good or defensible as a choice.”

There are three fonts of morality: intention, object, circumstances. When an act has an evil moral object, neither a good intention, or a dire circumstance can justify the act. For the intended end cannot justify the deliberate knowing choice of an intrinsically evil means.

What makes an act intrinsically evil is not the intended end, but rather the object, which is the end toward which the knowingly chosen act is inherently ordered. Whether or not the person intends the object, it is nevertheless intrinsically evil to choose an act intrinsically ordered toward that object.

In the case of contraception, the deliberate knowing choice to use a type of contraception, for any intended end, is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Sometimes the object of contraception — to thwart the procreative end of sexual acts — is also the intended end. The person uses contraception for the intended end of preventing procreation. Other times, the object of contraception is not the intended end, as when contraception is used because a pregnancy would endanger the life of the mother, or because a pregnancy would represent economic hardship. But whether contraception is the intended end or a means to a good end, it remains intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. For the end does not justify the means.

CCC 2399 “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).”

No intention, however good, can justify the use of an intrinsically evil act of contraception or sterilization or abortion.

Consider the example of a woman whose life is endangered by her pregnancy. Direct abortion cannot be used, not even for the good intended end of saving her life. There is no higher medical purpose than the saving of life. Therefore, a good intended medical purpose does not justify recourse to an intrinsically evil act as the means to that good. And this necessarily implies that contraception is not moral as a means to a good end, such as the treatment of a medical disorder.

Suppose a woman has a medical condition, and the physician prescribes an abortifacient contraceptive as the treatment. She may take the pill as long as she refrains from sexual intercourse, for then the intrinsically evil abortive and contraceptive ends are absent. But if she also chooses to engage in sexual intercourse, while taking abortifacient contraception, she chooses an intrinsically evil act. For her deliberate knowing choices are inherently ordered toward the abortive and contraceptive ends. See my previous articles explaining this point at length.

* Direct abortion is not justified by the medical purpose of saving the mother’s life.
* Euthanasia is not justified by the medical purpose of relieving all suffering.
* Masturbation is not justified by the medical purpose of obtaining a specimen for diagnosis of a disease.
* The use of condoms is not justified by the medical purpose of avoiding disease transmission.
* Artificial reproduction is not justified by the medical purpose of treating infertility.
* The use of abortifacient contraception, while sexually active, is not justified by any medical purpose.

Intention in Morality

The human will is the source of all three fonts of morality. And each font proceeds from the will to three different types of ends: the intended end, the moral object, and the consequences (or end results of the act). Sometimes, in discussing intrinsically evil acts, the Magisterium uses the term intention to refer to the second font, the moral object. This is because intrinsically evil acts are always intentionally chosen. They are always deliberate, voluntary, intentional acts. The intentional choice of an intrinsically evil act, for any intended end, is intrinsically evil. This use of intention to specify the deliberate choice of an intrinsically evil act does not signify that a good intended end will justify an intrinsically evil means.

On the other hand, the first font of morality, the intended end, is also termed the intention. The difference is that in the first font, the end is intended by the subject, the person who acts. It is the end of the agent (the actor) — finis agentis. But in the second font, the end is of the act itself, not of the agent — finis actus. Confusing these two ends, these two uses of intention is a common error in moral theology. But it is inexcusable in any Catholic moral theologian.

A good intended end never justifies the intentional choice of an intrinsically evil act. The use of abortifacient contraception for a medical purpose is the intentional choice to engage in sexual intercourse while intentionally taking abortifacient contraception. The inherent end of that choice is two-fold: the deprivation of life from an innocent prenatal, and the deprivation of the procreative meaning from sexual acts.

If the woman needs to take a pill which has abortive and contraceptive effects, she can refrain from sexual intercourse while taking that medication. The decision to have sexual intercourse while taking abortifacient contraception is the decision to put the limited good of sex above the life of one’s own unborn children. It is clearly an immoral choice.

What does Humanae Vitae mean by section 15 on “therapeutic means”?

“15. On the other hand, the Church does not consider at all illicit the use of those therapeutic means necessary to cure bodily diseases, even if a foreseeable impediment to procreation should result there from—provided such impediment is not directly intended for any motive whatsoever.”

This refers to acts which are not intrinsically evil, such as a hysterectomy to treat a grave medical disorder. It does not justify contraception as a means to a good end, as is clear from another passage of Humanae Vitae:

“14. Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.”

Contraception for a non-contraceptive intended end is contraception as a means, and this is specifically condemned by Humanae Vitae. Legitimate intended ends do not justify the use of an intrinsically evil means, such as contraception or sterilization.

All intrinsically evil acts are under the same set of principles. If contraception, which the Church teaches is intrinsically evil, were justifiable for a good purpose, then all intrinsically evil acts would also be so justified, including abortion, euthanasia, theft, lying, etc. Such is not the teaching of the Magisterium.

Direct

Intrinsically evil act are termed “direct” because the knowingly chosen act is directly ordered toward its moral object. The object is the end toward which the act is inherently or intrinsically directed. In choosing any intrinsically evil act, for any purpose, the human person chooses — at least implicitly — three things: the act itself, the moral nature of that act, and the moral object. These three things are inseparable: act, nature, object. For the acts of human persons, made in the image of God, have a moral meaning before conscience and before God. And that inherent moral meaning is determined by the end, the moral object, toward which the deliberately chosen act is directed by its very nature. The moral nature of an act is nothing other than this ordering toward the object, and the object is termed “moral object” because it has moral meaning.

Intrinsically evil acts are direct when the evil is in the object of the act, for then the act itself is directly ordered toward that end. Other acts may be termed “indirect” when the evil is not a moral evil in the object, but a physical evil (an ontological evil, a type of harm or suffering) in the circumstances (the end result of the choice). Direct abortion to save the life of the mother is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral. Indirect abortion occurs when the act does not directly kill the prenatal, but treats the medical disorder, and the loss of life of the prenatal is an unavoidable consequence.

Brugger’s Errors

The fact that the loss of life of a prenatal is an unintended side-effect does not justify the act. There are three fonts of morality, Mr. Bugger, not two. The term “unintended” means that the intended end is not the death of the prenatal. This does not even tell us if the first font of the intended end is good, as all that is intended must be good for that font to be good. Then the fact that the death of the prenatal is an effect in the circumstances similarly does not tell us if the font of circumstances is good, as we must evaluate all the reasonably anticipated good and bad effects to determine whether the third font is good. Finally, the term unintended side-effect does not tell us anything about the moral object of the act, and so the act could be intrinsically evil and therefore always gravely immoral. Justifying an act by saying that a bad effect is unintended is an inherent rejection of the magisterial teaching on the three fonts of morality and intrinsically evil acts.

Note that in his entire article, E. Christian Brugger never mentions the term intrinsically evil. The closest he comes to that term is to incorrectly define direct and indirect acts by moving the meaning to the first font of intention, from the second font of intrinsically evil acts and the moral object.

If a woman’s life is endangered by her pregnancy, and she intentionally chooses a direct abortion, the act is intrinsically evil. The Magisterium condemns direct abortion to save the life of the mother. But this act fits the set of acts justified by Brugger. The death of the prenatal is not the intended end; saving life is the intended end. The death of the prenatal is an unintended side-effect of the life-saving abortion. But since the abortion is directly ordered toward the death of the prenatal, it is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

Brugger does not justify direct abortion to save the life of the mother. He justifies the use of abortifacient contraception, which in our society kills many more prenatals than abortion to save the life of the mother, to treat a medical disorder. So he justifies a much more common type of abortion, for a lesser reason.

Brugger’s definition of direct as intentional and of indirect as unintentional is false. Direct acts are intrinsically evil acts, whose with an evil moral object. But he never mentions moral object or intrinsic evil. He has removed the second font of morality from his version of ethics. And that is heresy.

Here is an example of his error:

Brugger: “Contraceptives can never be taken — if by “taken” we mean “intended as contraceptive” — for any reason. But drugs that are sometimes also used as contraceptives may be used for non-contraceptive purposes. In this case, as we have said, that drug is not — for purposes of this treatment — a contraceptive.”

The Compendium of the Catechism defines the first font of morality in these words: “the intention of the subject who acts, that is, the purpose for which the subject performs the act” [n. 367]. The first font is the intended end, the end in view; it is the purpose for which the act is chosen; it is the reason for choosing the act.

Brugger claims that contraception, an intrinsically evil act due to its evil moral object, is justified by purpose, by intention. This claim is contrary to the dogmatic teaching of the Magisterium under the ordinary and universal Magisterium. No purpose or intention can justify an intrinsically evil act.

“No circumstance, no purpose, no law whatsoever can ever make licit an act which is intrinsically illicit, since it is contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church.” [Evangelium Vitae 62]

Brugger claims that a particular intention, such as to use contraception for the purpose of treating a medical disorder, justifies the act.

To the contrary, CCC 2399 “Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means (for example, direct sterilization or contraception).” Contraception is intrinsically evil because of its moral object, not because of the intended end chosen by the subject. You cannot morally intend abortion for the purpose of killing a prenatal, nor for a different good purpose, such as the medical purpose of saving the life of the mother. The purpose of the act is the intended end, first font. Intrinsically evil acts are condemned due to an evil object, regardless of intention or circumstances.

Veritatis Splendor: “Hence human activity cannot be judged as morally good merely because it is a means for attaining one or another of its goals, or simply because the subject’s intention is good.” [72]

“The reason why a good intention is not itself sufficient, but a correct choice of actions is also needed, is that the human act depends on its object, whether that object is capable or not of being ordered to God, to the One who “alone is good”, and thus brings about the perfection of the person.” [78]

CCC 1756: “There are acts which, in and of themselves, independently of circumstances and intentions, are always gravely illicit by reason of their object; such as blasphemy and perjury, murder and adultery.”

Brugger justifies the intrinsically evil act of contraception by intention. He contradicts the Catechism of the Catholic Church which teaches that legitimate intentions do not justify contraception [2399], and that contraception is intrinsically evil, whether used as a means to a good intended end, or as an end in itself.

CCC 2370: In contrast, “every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible” is intrinsically evil.

Brugger: “So, for example, hormone therapy might be needed to treat infertility issues, or acne, or mood disorders, or perimenopause issues; and a side-effect of this therapy might be that it temporarily renders a woman sterile. But if she is neither intending the sterility as her end or her means, but only accepting it as a side-effect of her otherwise legitimate act of hormone therapy, then her act is not, morally speaking, contraceptive.”

What he means by “hormone therapy” is the use of abortifacient contraception by a woman who is sexually active, who takes this pill knowing that it thwarts the procreative meaning of those sexual acts, and perhaps also knowing (what is a well-known fact) that such a pill is also abortifacient. This term “hormone therapy” is a reprehensible use of a euphemism to justify two evils condemned by the Church as intrinsically evil: abortion and contraception. She could refrain from sexual acts, and thereby prevent the possible death of her own prenatal children. But instead she values sex more than the lives of her own offspring. And Brugger justifies this decision.

When a human person deliberately and knowingly chooses an intrinsically evil act for a good purpose, in a dire circumstance, that person sins. The person is not merely “accepting” the death of her child, but is causing it. She does not intend the contraceptive end. But that does not justify the choice of an intrinsically evil act. For whether you intend the evil moral object or not, the deliberate knowing choice of that intrinsically evil act is objectively immoral.

Some theologians justify the use of direct abortion for the high medical purpose of saving the life of the mother. The Magisterium condemns all direct abortion, even to save life. Brugger justifies abortifacient contraception, he justifies killing the unborn, for purposes such as low as “acne, or mood disorders”. The use of abortifacient contraception is not justified in such cases because the act is intrinsically evil. But even if the act were not intrinsically evil, it would still not be justified under the font of circumstances, as the good effect of treating acne or of treating mood disorders are greatly outweighed by the deaths of innocent prenatals.

Nowhere in his articles does Brugger address the second font of the moral object; nowhere does he mention the term intrinsically evil acts. Nowhere does he address the choice to remain sexually active during the use of abortifacient contraception, though he does imply that the woman will remain sexually active as he says she is accepting temporary sterility. His article utterly rejects the teaching of the Magisterium on the three fonts of morality, intrinsically evil acts, the immorality of contraception, that the intended end does not justify the means, and that contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

E. Christian Brugger is a heretic and, as explained in my previous posts, a schismatic.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.

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2 Responses to Contra E. Christian Brugger on Intention and Intrinsically Evil Acts

  1. Matt Z. says:

    It’s sad to see this in the Register. They from what I know are usually solid. I was going to post on there a rebuttal to Brugger, but there is no where to post replies. It would do him well to read this writing. Imagine all the people who will read that article and make excuses for abortifacient contraception and how many abortions will occur because of it.

    • Ron Conte says:

      He’s not the only one on the “right” in Catholicism making this type of error. Conservative Catholics used to defend the Pope and the Magisterium, now they have become a Pope and a Magisterium unto themselves. Sad. Schism and heresy will lead to apostasy. Many will fall away altogether.

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