Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Edward Feser, Natural theology, natural science, and the philosophy of nature

James Chastek, Marriage and mortal sin

Brandon digs out a fantastic text from STA’s commentary on Corinthians:

…that the conjugal act is sometimes meritorious and without any mortal or venial sin, as when it is directed to the good of procreation and education of a child for the worship of God; for then it is an act of religion; or when it is performed for the sake of rendering the debt, it is an act of justice. But every virtuous act is meritorious, if it is performed with charity. But sometimes it is accompanied with venial sin, namely, when one is excited to the matrimonial act by concupiscence, which nevertheless stays within the limits of the marriage, namely, that he is content with his wife only. But sometimes it is performed with mortal sin, as when…

So guess: what is he going to say? Is sexual activity a mortal sin when “it is not open to procreation” (an answer that is at hand from what he says at the head of the quotation) or when “it is performed in an unnatural way”? Don’t we expect St. Thomas to mention some obvious perversion? Yet, in the casual way that he says all his revolutionary things, he says that sexual activity is a mortal sin when…
…the husband approaches the wife with the idea that he would just as gladly or more gladly approach another woman.

Aquinas has a "full" account of marriage, but some may criticze him for focusing only on the sexual act. One can start with the analysis of the external act and whether it is good or not, but one than moves "upward" and looks at the intention which may modify the act. In this case, one looks at the presence (or absence) of marital friendship/love or charity. The mistake of those who look solely at the intention is that they deny the sexual act is intrinsically moral. Elsewhere he touches upon the roles of husband and wife (citation?) - while the personalists are right to focus on the "context" of the sexual act in marriage and to talk about the married life, were they so bold as to claim that this aspect had been ignored by previous generations of Catholic theologians? Or were they blind to the limitations of their own historical situation? How many of them were reacting to atomism of mass society (or liberal society) and yet espousing some of the principles of such a social de[form]ity? While some personalists assumed a "traditional" understanding about the complementarity of the sexes and the differences in roles did others fall into the error of radical egalitarianism? Did others have a msitaken or exaggerated notion of marital friendship (borrowed from those who advocate "companionate marriage", one that failed to take into account sex differences (especially the role of the husband as leader)?

thenyssan said, raises a question about concupiscence. If one is motivated purely by carnal desire then the sexual act is a venial sin?

Mr. Chastek writes:

"[S]ense goods as sensed are peculiar to a subject as opposed to being common. But the very intensity of sexual desire is from the contact it has with the common good – we really do touch something of the divine (De Anima, 2:4). To enjoy this purely out of concupiscence is to cheat the good we touch and to act against its nature, since we want to enjoy common goods as mere particular goods. If this is right, then there is a certain mercy in saying it is only a venial sin! Shouldn’t we have a harsher judgment on someone who want to appropriate common goods to his own peculiar good?"

I don't know if I'd take this line of reasoning. I think I'd focus more on the psychological aspect behind concupiscence - how it diminishes the moral agency that should be present? Human beings are animals, but they should not be "too" carnal? Reason (and will) should operate in tandem with sense appetite? If appetite does not raise above the sense level, if it is not sublimated by reason...