Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Concentrated Life

I've been asked to comment on the question of whether the Catholic Church teaches (and if so whether it is correct to do so) "that only the celibate can devote himself completely to God while this is not possible for marrieds because they have other responsibilities."

Consecrated virginity has always had a place in Christian spirituality. The most obvious discussion of it in the New Testament is probably 1 Corinthians chapter 7, where Paul discussions a number of concerns surrounding marriage and said famously:
I should like you to be free of anxieties. An unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But a married man is anxious about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and he is divided. An unmarried woman or a virgin is anxious about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy in both body and spirit. A married woman, on the other hand, is anxious about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.(1 Cor 7:32-34)
Paul's discussion makes it clear that some, including himself, remained single during Apostolic times in order to concentrate more fully on the Lord's work. In the coming centuries, the great traditions of Eastern and Western monasticism would spring up, many examples of which survive down to this very day.

Paul assures his readers several times that it is not sinful to marry, and advises any who don't feel up to celibacy to get married so that they won't find themselves tempted to more freewheeling solutions to their desires. But if people are serious about holiness, their question is not "is it sinful to marry" (and really, who could imagine that it was, given that the Church constantly uses the image of husband and wife for the love between Christ and the Church) but "is it less holy to be married than to be celibate" or perhaps more indignantly, "are you saying that I'm not holy just because I'm married?"

As with any good question, the correct answer is not necessarily pat. Obviously, being celibate does not itself make someone holy, though I don't deny that at certain times and places some people may have imagined such.

Still, family life, for all its blessings and channels to holiness, can make certain approaches to spirituality difficult. Case in point: a few months back I helped get a group off the ground in our parish that says Vespers four nights a week (M-Th) at a timeslot that's basically right after work. It's a very peaceful cap to what's often a rather crazy 10 hours of my day, so I've really been enjoying going down there, and feel like it's added a much needed spiritual pause in my schedule.

However, much though I love the Divine Office (and really admire the way it structure the whole day of monastic communities) things keep happening to underline the fact that is an element of spirituality which is not always a 100% fit with family life. For instance, at first, MrsDarwin and I were trying to go together. However, this meant taking the girls (ages 5, 4 and 1.5) and this proved such an abject failure that our associate pastor (fairly tactfully) requested that we avoid it in future. It's easy to take a kid out or hush her in the middle of mass. However, when half a dozen people are reciting psalms antiphonally in an otherwise silent chapel, you can't step away, and you can't hush the kids. Much though it annoys me when people act like children don't belong in church, I had to admit to myself after those first couple tries that you just can't take kids this young to Vespers. They don't understand it, and hushing them isn't practical.

As for the sort of schedule of all eight hours of the Office, daily mass, spiritual reading, etc. that monastics do: not only would it not fit well with family life, it would be an active abandonment of your vocation as a parent to try to live like a monk or nun. As parents, we participate in God's creative power by bringing new souls into the world, but accepting that vocation means accepting an active, not a contemplative, life.

Traditionally, the contemplative life has been seen as the highest form of Christian spirituality, on the theory that it is the most like heaven: the life to come. In the last fifty years, many people have come to frown on that view, seeing both active lives (whether parenting and working or ministries devoted to active service of others) and contemplative lives as "separate but equal" means of holiness.

Personally: I'm a fairly traditional kind of guy in a lot of ways. It does seem to me that the contemplative life is more similar to the life to come, and thus a powerful road toward holiness. However, I think that understanding needs to be balanced with an understanding that we are not currently in the world to come. We currently live in an earthly realm, and as such most of us need to spend most of our time focused on basic things like food, shelter and reproduction. We're meant to do that. That's why we have bodies.

So while I think that the contemplative life lived out by celibate monastics is more a window into heaven than my own, I'm not worried about it. All of us, in our different vocations, are living out parts of the Christian journey, and I don't think it's important to worry about "higher" and "better" paths so much as to live out the path you're on as well as possible.

Once upon a time, back in college, my roommate when to a Catholic "vocations fair" where numerous orders had come to get recruits. He saw a poster that said "Are you called to marriage, the priesthood, or the consecrated life" but misread the last as "concentrated life". Seeing this, he thought, "Well, you really can concentrate on things more if you're single. Maybe 'concentrated life' is a good phrase for being single." (The mis-reading, when discovered, was less interesting. But he eventually found a "pasty white blond" to marry and didn't have to worry about the issue anymore.)

A while back when MrsDarwin and the girls went off to visit relatives for two days, I got a taste of the "concentrated life". Wow. There is a lot of time if there's no one else in your house. It could be very peaceful. You could become very, very dedicated to and good at some hobby or duty in all that time. (Personally, I wasted it all on watching anime on the computer and drinking beer.)

I think this is why the use of consecrated virginity shows a lot of wisdom. You do have a lot more time to devote to God if you aren't dealing with a career and a family. However, you also have a lot of time to fall prey to laziness or gluttony or envy or whatever other collection of vices you're prone to. Celibacy gives you a rope, but it doesn't guarantee that you'll pull a wagon with it rather than just hanging yourself. And as with all things, the more you have, the more is expected of you.


Rick Lugari said...

I read the thread where your conversation took place. I think both there and here you addressed Mr. Haynes' concerns adequately and effectively. Here's what I think the problem is - and I'm writing this in anticipation that Mr. Haynes will indeed stop by.

I think where Mr. Haynes has trouble with this is not so much because the facts and reasoning don't add up, but that he is viewing it wrong to begin with. An erroneous assumption or flawed foundation, if you will. Here's an excerpt from the other thread:

Thank you!!!!. I say the catechism places virginity and celibacy above marriage. The cathechism makes it very clear that only the celibate can devote himself completely to God while this is not possible for marrieds because they have other responsibilities. Sheer logic tells me this places celibacy above the married state. I am using “The Essential Catholic Catechism” endored by Cardinal Schonborn.

Mr. Haynes seems to be viewing the whole thing from an inappropriate framework or worldview. I'm not criticizing him or putting him down when saying that, I'm sincerely trying to identify what I see as the problem. That a celibate life is more conducive to holiness (sanctity, high degree of Divine service, etc.), does not equate to "placing celibacy above the married state". It's not something about power politics or honor among men. It's about recognizing that our holiness is between us and God, and that there are things we can do of our own will that can draw us closer to God. By fulfilling your marital state in a holy and pleasing manner you are by default cutting yourself off from a certain degree or form of sanctity. You can still be holy and pleasing to God, but you can't be totally divorced from the world that way (a higher degree of sanctity).

Bottom line: The difference between celibacy and the marital vocation needs to be viewed as different avenues rather than which has more honor. Once you do that and then consider which avenue is objectively more conducive to abandonment to God, celibacy is the logical and proven answer. NB: Paul understood well. A choice for celibacy would have been disastrous for me. I'm far too worldly and weak and surely would have failed God and myself. I still do fail God, myself and my family, but the responsibility and worldly concerns actually help me keep things in check...they sort of preoccupy me from mischief and discourage giving into passions.

This brief article might be of help in understanding what holiness really consists of.

Anonymous said...

I wasn't particularly religious for most of my young life. Growing up as an only child and having LOTS of time alone, and having lived as a young single person with lots of free time spent alone, my take is that quiet time in solitude can be excruciating. Now that I am Catholic and have a bustling family, it feels very much like heaven to be at home, even though it's noisy and there are squashed grapes and broken toys in various odd places. I think monastic life and family life are just different glimpses of heaven. I think heaven will be both peaceful AND full of life. I'm not sure how God will pull that off, but I can't imagine either of those components missing.

Mark said...

When I read your post and the first comment I get a strong feeling that you agree with me but are into some "sugar coating." As I have stated I am a 'radical' catholic.

First would any one dany that the early church fathers regarded sex as somewhay demeaning?

Of the approximately 5000 saints of the church only around 200 were married and in almost all cases their sainthood had nothing to do with being married. Does this not show the high value of celibacy to the church?

The general catholic belief that Mary was a perpetual virgin, without any Biblical support say something?

Is there any empirical study that shows that celibacy is more conducive to holiness than the married? An analogy, probably poor, is there any evidence that a celibate pianist plays better than a married one?

I hate proof texts but in Jesus' goats and sheep summary is there any message of celibacy.

Is the "joyful" news that child sexual abuse is not more present among priest than the general population tells us what?. I have always argued that this abuse is NOT more present among clery. But on the other hand to be fair it certainly not a proof that celibacy keeps us more "holy."

Is there any evidence that priests are more holy than other clergy(married)? Or that they spend more time in God's work than, say, Lutheran clergy?

Is the church's position that sex is evil unless open to procreation mean anything?

On a personal level, this week my wife has spent hours at the hospital conforting a young man who was abused and needed surgery to correct his ability to father children. Would she have been more holy spending those hours saying the Rosary?

Is not the church's teaching that all sexual thought and arousal outside of marriage not a clear indication that sex is "bad"?

Is not the idea that sex is evil absent the possibility of procreation simply an effort to use the old teleological argument of Aristotle by defining something, in this case, partially, by its use, e.g.a brick is something to build a building instead of defining it by its chemical elements?

Let me close by saying I appreciate your willingness to discuss this. In my opinion the Church's attitude toward sex is very twisted. It clearly implies a holy and not so holy groups.

It sould be ,noted, of course, that all significant spiritual and secular power in the Church is reserved for celibate males ONLY. Does this say nothing? Thank you. Jack

Darwin said...


You bring up a lot of things, more than I can address in a really systematic way, so I'll hit a few that seem important in the interests of trying to shed a little light on the situation.

1) I wouldn't deny that some ascetics (including probably some Church Fathers) looked down to some extent on sex and marriage, seeing it as very "of this world". At the same time, they also looked down at eating great food, drinking good wine, pagan literature, nice clothing, etc. The nature of asceticism is to try to strip away all of the "distractions" in life in order to focus on one thing. Asceticism brings with it its own dangers, just as glorying in the good things of this world brings its own dangers.

However, while some Church writers have at times been very severe in their assessments of the pleasures of this life, others have used these as very beautiful metaphores for seeking "the Good", which we know as God. A fair reading (and fairness is key) of Church writing past and present does not, I think, give one the idea that sex and family life are "bad" or "demeaning". They are goods which, like any other good, must be kept in their proper place in relation to eternal goods.

2) The Church has always taught both that there are many paths to salvation, and that it inappropriate to get hung up on who will "be the highest" in eternal life. In that sense, I really think that it's not productive to worry about "who is holiest" when it comes to laity versus clergy.

3) Trying is not the same as success, in holiness as in anything else. I could quit my job and play basketball all the time, but that would be no guarantee that I'd become as good at it as Shaq. Similarly, the fact that priests and religious generally take vows of celibacy does not mean that they _are_ holier than the rest of us, it means that they have the _opportunity_ to spend more time on prayer and good works than we do. Whether they live up to that opportunity is up to them. (Holiness is not a vending machine, you don't become holy just by putting celibacy into God box.)

4) Dedication: Having got fairly involved in our parish over the last couple years, I've had the chance to watch out two priests up close. Keeping in mind that priestly celibacy is a discipline not a doctrine (in the East many priests are married, and some priests who are convert clergy from the Anglicans in the West are married), I think there's some wisdom in looking at it as a way to allow greater dedication to the work that priests are asked to do. Our two priests are out of their house, going from one thing to another from about 7am to 10pm most days. (They each have one weekday off, and obviously work all weekends.) Having a husband who worked fifteen hours a day six days a week is just something no wife would ever, ever want to put up with.

100+ years ago, it used to be much more common for people in completely secular careers to decide to be permanently single just because marriage didn't fit with what they did. (Oxford didn't allow dons to marry until around 1900, I believe.)

So even with the holiness question aside, there are some pretty good reasons for our clergy to be "married to the church".

Mark said...

First a word of commendation. I find it interesting that most 'liberal catholic'blogs will not touch this subject, while yours ,one of the most conservative(I fainted twice reading some of your posts---joke) will at least say something about it. Now here I get in trouble: I do not believe you addresed my questions adequately. I will not be offended if you desire I not use your blog for my more religiously unorthodox questions. Just let me know. Jack

Darwin said...


I can think of a few people who would get huffy if it were implied that I was more conservative than they are; but if the fainting problem continues I would recommend you avail yourself of a soft chair to cushion the body and a dose of alcohol to cushion the mind. (Besides, life is just more fun that way...) ;-)

I don't mind answering further questions if you think you would find it helpful -- or engaging in debate the doesn't stretch on indefinately. However, the marketing guy in me would suggest that you "focus your message" to 1-2 clear points in each go-round. Otherwise, the conversation just wanders too much and everyone feels like his best points got left unanswered.

Mark said...

Could you just touch on four further points? 1.Paragraph that says all sexual thought and arousal...

2. Paragraph about Aristotle.

3. Paragraph about wife and rosary.

4. Paragraph about "joyful" news.

If too much could you try paragraphs 3 and 4. Of course I would love to hear on all.

Of course any commenter is free to comment. Jack

Anonymous said...

One advantage of marriage over the consecrated life is its sacramentality. Though some question the wisdom of it, the Church verifies Christ's presence in a particular way in the relationship between husband and wife. Celibacy is a tool that can be used to achieve holiness. (It may also be misused by those who lack the charism and attempt it or those who are seduced from it.)

I know that as a husband and father I have made sacrifices to the monastic ideal of ora et labora. It may be a great mystery, but I trust that a devotion to God through my wife and child bears fruit in a particular way--and mostly unseen one.

The "competition" one sees in language that touts celibacy, marriage, priesthood, or whatever as a superior form of life is silly. It really boils down to the charism of the individual and their openness to God. For someone who lacks a charism to celibacy, for example, religious life might be such a burden that spiritual growth is stunted for the struggle. Perhaps God may work in the frustrated person's life in such a way that the stunting is itself a growth process. But for that person, perhaps marriage is a "better" calling, despite the fact that God may be able to work with a less than stellar effort.

The lack of married folks among the declared saints is a failing of the curia, not of the married state. That would be remedied if more lay people were responsible for the work of investigating saints, and the lobbying efforts of religious orders were muted.


John Farrell said...

This is an outstanding post and a great discussion. Jackjoe (if I may) brings up some good questions.

I'm probably as conservative as Darwin on most matters. But I think it is a matter of historical fact, or perhaps Christian evolution is a better word, that the Church's attitude to sex and children did indeed change over the first few centuries of its history.

What has always interested, or concerned me, is whether the Church harms the pursuit of celibacy and living the consecrated life, by too often 'selling' it to candidates for the life, as a derivative form of marriage. When the priest is consecrated, he becomes 'married' to the church; when the nun takes her vows, she becomes 'the Bride' of Christ. If I'm not mistaken, some orders actually confer a ring on the subject when they are initiated.

I can't help wondering whether this is a counterproductive approach; that is, whether the Church might be better off being more blunt and direct with candidates for the priesthood or the convent: i.e., saying, this is what you're giving up for the Church. And it will be a credit to you if you succeed. But without romanticizing, e.g., 'you are now married' in a sense that tries to be similar (derivative) of lay, married Catholics. And inevitable cannot live up to it.

For what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

To respond to john farrell: I think what the Church is trying to say with clergy/religious being married to the Church (or in the case of sisters, a spouse of Christ) is that human beings are by their very nature nuptial beings! It is not derivative of the married state, it is just a different way of living out the nuptial aspect of being human.

Because we are made in the image of the Triune God, Who is a Community of Persons, we as creatures are also meant to live in a nuptial way in some sense. Another way to put this is that femininity is about motherhood (whether spiritual or physical) and masculinity is about fatherhood (whether spiritual or physical). A priest who taught me theology once commented on what a bad idea it is to embrace celibacy so that you won't have to deal with kids. Motherhood and fatherhood are spiritually very much a part of the religious and priestly vocations.

I hope I didn't explain this too badly. I hope another commenter can do better!


John Farrell said...

Well said. My concerns may be more reflective of the period we find ourselves in, rather than the essential truth of the celibate state as the Church defines it.

Darwin said...


I'll take a shot at a couple of these, though being off brewing for the weekend I don't know that I'll make it through the lot.

1.Paragraph that says all sexual thought and arousal...
Is not the church's teaching that all sexual thought and arousal outside of marriage not a clear indication that sex is "bad"?

First, I think there perhaps needs to be a bit of clarity on what the Church's position (no smirking please!) on sexual thoughts/arousal is. The Church teaches that the proper place for sex is in the context of marriage, and thus that having sex outside of that context is wrong.

A more Old Testament approach to this (and given that the Old Testaments speaks to a more primal human condition: an approach that continues to be all to easy to slip into for Christians) is basically that you can only have sex with a woman you "own" that and that if you aren't married, you're "stealing" sex.

Christ talked about marriage as a sacramental unity, and he also told people at one point (not having the charism of being Protestant, I'd have to look the citation up -- I don't have it memorized) that if a man lusts after a woman in his heart, he has already committed adultery with her. I think your question basically centers around: What does that prohibition (and the way the Church has developed it since) mean?

At the most basic level, I'd say that the "lusting after" in question here consists of trying to achieve a partial, one way sexual satisfaction by treating someone who is not your wife as a sexual object. (I'm sure women can do this to, but we're both men, so I'm not bothering with trying to use "him or her" language.)

So if I'm sitting outside of starbucks drinking my coffee and mentally undressing the girl at the next table and getting myself all worked up that way, the girl obviously isn't doing anything in appropriate with me, there's no physical action going on between us, but I'm trying to create in my mind the sensations of her undressing for me. And since the action I'm trying to simulate would be wrong, the simulation that I'm creating for my enjoyment is itself wrong. (In the same sense, if I'm getting all sorts of enjoyment out of imagining in great detail the torture and murder of someone I hate, I'm sinning in violence, in that I'm enjoying the feeling of doing violence to that particular person.)

For a sane and detailed take on Catholic sexual ethics as discussed by John Paul II, try just about anything by Christopher West discussing the "theology of the body".

2. Paragraph about Aristotle.
Is not the idea that sex is evil absent the possibility of procreation simply an effort to use the old teleological argument of Aristotle by defining something, in this case, partially, by its use, e.g.a brick is something to build a building instead of defining it by its chemical elements?

Yes, the Church is using a teleological understanding of sex (and other things) derived from Aristotle, developed by Aquinas, and refined by other theologians down to this day. Another approach is the personalist/phenomenologist approach of John Paul II, which is found in the relational understanding of sexuality in Theology of the Body.

While teleology doesn't tell you everything about an object (in your example: what a brick is made of) it does tell you why we see a thing as being what it is. When we call something a brick, we're referring more to the basic shape that allows it to be used for building than it's chemical composition -- other things with the same composition would not be considered a brick because they wouldn't serve the same functional purpose.

Teleology comes into the Church's understanding not just of sex, but of other virtue/vice situations. For instance, eating and drinking exists teleologically for sustenance and also serves a purpose of enjoyment. However, where you get into eating and drinking totally out of the context of sustenance, simply for enjoyment, you start to get into danger of gluttony. And indeed, eating for enjoyment without any thought to the fact you're consuming 6000 calories a day would get you into health problems pretty quickly. You're certainly not required to think only of sustenance when you eat, but completely ignoring the purpose of eating gets you into trouble pretty quickly.

3. Paragraph about wife and rosary.

I think the issue here is that there are many different things one can do that are good. Counseling someone is a very good thing. Praying is a good thing. Spending time with your husband is a good thing. Sleeping is a good thing. If your wife decided to do any one of these exclusively and stop doing all others, she'd be violating the responsibilities that she's chosen in her work as a nurse, her life as a married person, etc. Holiness should never be seen a zero sum game or one path trip. (Indeed, in regards to active charity versus prayer, the Church has historically had both contemplative and active orders of religious -- recognizing the importance of both sets of duties.)

4. Paragraph about "joyful" news.
Is the "joyful" news that child sexual abuse is not more present among priest than the general population tells us what?. I have always argued that this abuse is NOT more present among clery. But on the other hand to be fair it certainly not a proof that celibacy keeps us more "holy."

I think the issue would be seeing celibacy as making someone holy in and of itself. When it comes to sin: everyone tends to have weaknesses towards some kind of sin or another. Leaving sex aside for a moment, if there were a sin-o-meter that could measure what sins people fell victim to, I imagine you might find diocesan clergy more afflicted with excessive consumption of alcohol and food than their parishioners. Other sins are doubtless much more common among laity than clergy. Different lifestyles have different temptations.

Mark said...

Darwin. There's the old adage about overstaying your welcome. So let me pose some responses which, of course as you know, you have no obligations to respond do.

Having had the opportunity to teach and coach hundreds of boys/young men and having been one years ago myself, my position (you used it)is that having no sexual thoughts prior to marriage is so in opposition to reality as to be meaningless if not unnatural.

Is the church allied to science? If so, how can it fall back on teleology and take the position that sex is primarily defined by one of its outcome that occurs at times. (Pregnancy). Where would science be today if teleology were its basic method of inquiry?

Thanks for your time. May I ask questions on evolution and apparitions? Jack

John Farrell said...

Evolution? Did someone here say evolution?


Mark said...

Guys, thanks for the hospitality. I always told my students that when we think we have an 'original' idea we later find someone else said it hundreds of years ago. So my basic beliefs:

I believe science as a body of knowledge and a method is paramount in our world.

I believe evolution is established beyond dispute accept for religious fanatics( and a couple of little respected professors} who want to give religion a 'scientific' vaneer' ID is only a half inch above flat earth theory, if that much.

I believe children should be brought up with a religious background untill they can think it out for themselves, if interested.

My favorite philosophers are Hume and J.H. Newman.

I believe that Fatima and Lourdes are pious,if that, frauds.

In religion I believe that catholic is the best we can do.

My life is my wife, Alice, my daughter, Meg, My grandkids, Jack and Joe, my son in law, Jimmy, my deceased son, John, and my "adopted" son Frank a badly abused young man.

I follow my wife in believing that men/boys very often have a hard time because so much is expected of them.

I believe the church, great as it is, is obsessed with sex.

I think bloggers are great except those who pretend openess but really only like those who agree with them. You are not in this latter group.

My favorite pastimes are sports, classical music,older movies, and politics.

John Farrell, if you see this, it is meant for you as well as Darwin.

Thanks again guys!

Darwin said...


A couple isolated responses, with an intention to dash off a few more later:

Having had the opportunity to teach and coach hundreds of boys/young men and having been one years ago myself, my position (you used it)is that having no sexual thoughts prior to marriage is so in opposition to reality as to be meaningless if not unnatural.

First, keep in mind my what I pointed out: the Church doesn't say that "thinking about" sex is a sin, it's trying to enjoy the effects of sex by giving yourself a one person, mental experience that's a problem. Lust isn't just thinking or wanting.

But what I think probably needs a little more teasing out is this idea that just because something's so common as to be expected means it can't possibly be wrong. I mean, having been a teenage boy a mere ten years ago, I'd say it's also unrealistic to expect that teenage boys won't lie, cheat occasionally, hate each other for little or no reason, occasionally (or often) be very cruel to one another, and even occasionally steal at least in small ways. The fact that nearly everyone does most of these things at least occasionally doesn't mean that they're not wrong. It simply means that all of us do wrong things, and that if we didn't, we'd be better people.

Is the church allied to science? If so, how can it fall back on teleology and take the position that sex is primarily defined by one of its outcome that occurs at times. (Pregnancy). Where would science be today if teleology were its basic method of inquiry?

Properly understood, there's no conflict between using science to figure out how things work, and using teleology to talk about what things are for. The philosophical concepts of teleology are still highly useful for talking about the purpose of things even in a thoroughly scientific worldview.

Now, in regards to sex: It clearly has something to do with reproduction. I mean, we call it the reproductive system for a reason. As biological organisms, the reason why we have two sexes and that the two sexes have the sexual organs that they do is that evolution has produces this way of perpetuating the species. So while it's valid and important to recognize the other elements that sex plays in our lives, we also can't deny (and the Church reminds us) that the reason why sex exists in the first place is for mating and reproduction.

I believe science as a body of knowledge and a method is paramount in our world.

I agree with you that science is a very, very important method and body of knowledge. However, I think it's also important to keep in mind what science is for, and what it's not. There are a whole host of questions that simply aren't the sort of questions that science exists to answer: Does my wife love me? How should I treat other people? What is a "just" society? Is there any meaning in life? Etc.

It's fine that science doesn't answer these, because it was never meant to. Just as the Bible was never meant to tell us how old the planet is or whether the sun goes around the earth or the earth around the sun.

I believe that Fatima and Lourdes are pious,if that, frauds.

One thing worth keeping in mind: The church says that certain apparitions are "worthy of belief", as in they seem to be well verified and nothing contained in the private revelation is contrary to Church teaching. However, this means simply that there is no reason not to believe in this if you want to -- it doesn't mean that you have to.

In other words, the Church has not ruled the Lourdes and Fatima happened, it has simply ruled that there is no reason why we may not believe they happened. (In other cases such as Medjugorje the Church has pointedly declined to pronounce the apparition worthy of belief.)

Now, when young I read a book about Fatima that rubbed me very much the wrong way, and I made a big point of telling my parents and everyone else who would listen that I didn't believe in it. However, it was a book for young adults, a tertiary source at best. I haven't done the research to say with any conviction that I do or don't believe that apparitions occurred there, in part because I'm not terribly concerned about it.

I don't rub anyone's nose in anything in regard to it (in part because I don't know enough to do so anyway) but I do certainly appreciate that the Church allows and in some ways encourages a skeptical approach to such things.

Mark said...

Well, you do surprise me. I expected to get up this morning and to send to the blogs I look at a 'final' goodbye. All are "liberal" but refuse to discuss this topic.

What do you mean by "thinking about sex"? To me that involves two people in the thought of the person thinking about sex. I've tried, but I just don't see what your saying. Your second answer is , to me, simply falling back on teleology, in this case defining by what something could be used for. Is sex at my age, too old for reproduction, meaningless? If teleology is the right approach why does sex desire continue for years after reproduction is not possible. Would this not have been easy for God to design. Oh, yes, the unitive argument but if accepted are we not back to one reason for sex; or must there always be two?

I agree 100% that science deals only with the physical world, but does not religion attempt to slip in science when it is to its advantage. ID, dancing suns, miracles etc. Since these are the physical world are they not best investigated by science? Morality is not, in most cases, amenable to science. BTW the way the 'best' analysis of Fatima, in some ways, is B16 before he became pope.With what we know of psychology today is not the overwhelming evidence that the children fabricated the story. People are in prison today based on the "eyewitness" testimony of scores of young girls who for psychological reasons swear they were molested.

Is not the criterion " no reason not to believe it" going backwards. I thought the criterion was "reasons to believe it."

Let me be crude for a minute. Is a 19 year old who has an erection committing a sin? I believe the church says it is.

What is well verified about Fatima? All the 'predictions' of Lucia were revealed years after the events she "predicted." them.

Okay, I'm in trouble again. But I appreciate you more than you know. Bad Jack.

Darwin said...

Let me be crude for a minute. Is a 19 year old who has an erection committing a sin?


I mean honestly, these things happen all the time, and I'd question where one has any control over it much of the time.

What the Church would say is immoral is that 19 year old heading over to the bathroom with a copy of Playboy with the intention of getting and keeping an erection.

Mileage may vary, but my take (having been a fairly straight-laced Catholic teenage) is that what the Church is talking about it lust is essentially intentional, mental masturbation.

In regards to the teleology: I don't think teleology (as used in philosophical discussion) need be seen strictly in terms of "likely outcome at this particular moment". So the fact that a person at a certain point in his life (or throughout his life, if he's just plain infertile) is incapable of reproduction doesn't change the fact that sex exists within the species so that the species can reproduce itself.

In regards to the Catholic understanding of sex, though: yes, it's considered to always have two meanings: unitive and reproductive. (As a side note, that's why the Church maintains that IVF is wrong: because it involves reproduction outside of sex.)

On the Fatima stuff: I'll have to go look up what Ratzinger wrote about Fatima. Like I said, I honestly haven't studied the issue mainly (to be blunt) because I don't care one way or the other.

In regards to "well verified" -- I take it that the bishops that looked into it would have interviewed a number of people in order to see if the sun dancing was in fact widely observed, and that they probably consulted scientists to see if there was some other explanation.

The reason why a cautious "no reason not to believe" statement is as far as the Church ever goes on apparitions is that it maintains that all _essential_ elements of revelation were already complete during the time of the Apostles. Any "private revelation" since is thus just a reiteration or a "nice to know" but in no sense essential addition.

ID, dancing suns, miracles etc. Since these are the physical world are they not best investigated by science?

I think ID is bosh as theology as well as science, so I'll make no attempt to defend that one.

On miracles: Since science deals with repeatable and predictable events, if it is the case that miracles happen outside the normal operation of natural laws, I think the best a scientist would be able to say on investigating the matter is, "I can't provide any explanation given our current level of knowledge."

If God is who the Church says he is, it seems clear to me that he _could_ perform miracles. Whether he does so very often, I'm not so sure.

Mark said...

Thanks again for your response. We, of course, still disagree to an extent. You're like my wife---she threatens to have me committed if I mention Fatima again! She just doesn't accept it.

One change I would make. You say sex exists within the species so that the species can reproduce itself, (teleology}. I say the species can reproduce itself because of the sexual mechanism developed in evolution.

You have been most kind and I shall return. Jack

Rick Lugari said...

You say sex exists within the species so that the species can reproduce itself, (teleology}. I say the species can reproduce itself because of the sexual mechanism developed in evolution.

Or: We have reproductive organs because we reproduce. Admittedly, I'm out of my element when discussing finer points of philosophy and theology, but it seems to me that when dealing with these matters that the nature of a thing cannot be divorced from the physical attributes. As Creator, doesn't God have authority over creation? Is not the nature of a thing determined by Him as author? If we accept the notion of a Creator, then we must admit to there being a teleological element. We might not know for sure what that is, but as Catholics we believe that God has revealed Himself to us as well as some of His designs for us, that He instituted the Catholic Church to teach these things, that the Holy Spirit will guide the Church, etc.

Mark said...

Rick, I sense from your comment that you are a sincere, good man.But I must disagree. What you are supporting is refered as ID, intelligent design i.e that things are as they are because God designed them that way. This view is held by no reputable scientist I know of, including no Catholic scientist I know of. The church does not teach this today.

But it is better to be good than knowlegable so you have much on your side. Jack

Rick Lugari said...

Thanks for your kind words, Jack. However, I'm not even really treading around evolution or ID. How we evolved is irrelevant to morality, which is really what we're discussing in the context of what the Church teaches. Personally, I don't busy myself with the mechanics of how God created the universe and us as living creatures. A lightening strike in primordial soup to spark life does not contradict the fact that there is a Supreme Being who created and set things in motion. If we don't agree that there is in fact a Creator, there is no need discussing the Church's teaching on His revelation, morality, etc. If we accept there is a Creator and that He became man in the person of Jesus Christ, that there is an objective Truth, and that Christ instituted the Catholic Church to bring that Truth to mankind, then teleology has an important part to play in the morality of actions. Otherwise there is no such thing as morality. Our actions whether caring for another or murdering them have no moral weight, they are just manifestations of our nature. IOW, whatever we do justifies what we have done by the mere fact that we did it.

Mark said...

Rick, I agree with the first half of your comment, but must part on your conclusion about teleology. The latter is completely rejected by scientist as a method of discovering the truth of our world.I'm afraid we would be living 300 years ago if teleology were stll accepted as the main tool of science. No Salk vaccine, no modern medicine, no cars, an incredibly high infant death rate etc. maybe still witch trials. Science does not deal with morality but with the physical world and why it is as it is. Good Luck. Jack

Rick Lugari said...

Jack, I guess my point is that scientific analysis of the reproductive/sex act is not what the Church even intends to concern itself with. The Church makes no pronouncement on what happens with DNA when conception occurs or how cells multiply. The Church concerns itself with God and man, with morality. In the sphere of morality teleology plays a big part.

I don't know if this will work, but I'll try it. Let's say until I came along, there were no snap type mouse traps - that I just now invented it. As the creator, my intention was to devise a device to kill mice. I applied various principles of physics that I have witnessed and toyed around with and came up with this little board with a spring, a couple pieces of wire rod and a little platform.

Now we can scientifically describe the unit as a whole, breakdown the components and their attributes, identify the principles of physics in play, even come up with other uses for the device. That's all well and good, but that scientific analysis says nothing of it's purpose, it's purpose is what I had in mind when creating it (and to another extent, yours, if you tack it to the wall so that with it you can clip papers to hang from the wall). But let's say I have a patent and a copyright on the device and license it to others to use. I lay out the terms that it is only to be used as I intended it to be used (to catch mice) and that any other use is a violation of the license agreement. The scientific principles behind the device are irrelevant to licensed use. Likewise, when the sexual faculty is used outside the terms of the licensor, there is a violation. Either we accept that there is an Author and that he defined terms such as these or not. But it is in the framework that there is an Author and the Catholic Church is His agent so to speak. Weak and not entirely accurate analogy, I know, but i'm taking some license in trying to differentiate between valid principles concerning morality and those concerning science.

Mark said...

Rick, I'm trying but I just can't follow you(you probably think the same of me}.

Is not your argument the old Paley and the watch on the beach argument which no one accepts today.

What was God's purpose in designing polio, HIV, brain tumors, lukemia etc?. Why did he design impotency? Why did He not design the human so every act of intercourse would lead to pregnancy?What about terribly distorted fetus'
And to repeat, why do over 99.9 percent of catholic biologist believe evolution as a scientific fact and the church hierarchy itself says science is the best way to study the physical world?

I have no objection to the church's taking a position on proper sex. But such a position is not science but theology. Jack

Rick Lugari said...

Indeed, Jack.

I have no objection to the church's taking a position on proper sex. But such a position is not science but theology.

I guess I've missed something really big. I agree with the above sentence, and was under the impression that you were arguing that the Church's teaching on proper sex was erroneous because it was defined more by teleological principles based on revelation (or corruption due to celibate males) than by scientific analysis. I guess the point I was trying to make is that we are dealing with "proper sex" we're dealing with theology rather than science and that the Church and that teleology is a valid principle in that.

As far as God's purpose with disease and suffering, etc. the Church answers that in discussing original sin and the fall of creation, redemptive suffering, etc. Of those things I have a sufficient understanding to satisfy my intellect, but I doubt I understand enough or could articulate it well enough to satisfy yours. Of course, whether or not these maladies are caused due to man's fall is not something science can answer, it's something we take on faith.

Darwin said...


You seem to keep bringing up this idea that teleology is what we had before we had the scientific method, and that because we now have science, we can no longer use ideas of some physical action's "purpose" in order to discuss morality.

While some really basic History of Science texts might give this sort of summary, think it breaks down when you look at how the ancients and medievals actually looked at things. (Indeed, medieval science is not nearly the wasteland that it's popularly believed to be -- but that's a topic for another day.)

Following in the tradition of Aristotle, the Thomistic Catholic tradition generally identified four types of causality:

The material cause was what something was made of; the formal cause was the ideal form or archetype of which a given thing is an instantiation; the efficient cause was the external entity of change that caused the thing (our normal "cause and effect"; and the final cause was the "telos" or purpose.

So even when scholasticism held nearly universal sway, people didn't look only at teleology, they spent a lot of time examining material and efficient causes when they were looking into practical problems. (And indeed, came up with a number of fairly impressive technological breakthroughs, considering where they starting from.)

To this day, teleology is used in a back-door sort of way. For instance, we say that the pancreas is "supposed to" produce insulin, despite the fact that in the certain percentage of people it doesn't. That's because experimental science tells us that insulin is essential to processing sugars, and that it is the pancreas that (in a healthy situation) produces it. But in saying that the pancreas is "supposed to" produce insulin, we're making a teleological judgement based on that scientific data.

Now obviously, there's a lot that can and has been written about how we understand both God's creative role in the universe, and the findings of science in regards to the evolution of biological organisms. I would tend to hold the best position to be that God is the creator of all natural processes and laws and so we shouldn't _expect_ to see the sorts of jumps and "fingerprints" that creationists and ID advocates look for.

However, regardless of the science involved the Church (in that it holds God is the creator and order-er of the universe) is, I think, very much within its brief to talk about what human actions which have a physical aspect "mean". When it does that, it's adressing the question not at a scientific level, but at a moral and personal one.

So I've got to strongly agree with Rick on that one.

(Though I do think it's an interesting corollary to this that a fair amount of anthropological research over the years has helped to underline the Church's basic point on sex -- and most claims to have found societies in which sex was totally divorced from a family/childbearing context turned out to be based on faulty research.)

Mark said...

Oh, my heavens Darwin! In most cases the pancreas produces insulin, a fact discovered by science. What's this "supposed" to create insulin. I thought we started with what the pancreas does not what it is supposed to do.The eyes receive light waves;where does it say they're "supposed" to receive light rays? So it this case I think you and Rick are going backwards. And certainly you are not saying if we had stayed with the scholastics we would know what we know today about our world? Is the scientific method just a joke?

And Rick, I hope and pray that you are not saying that a child painfully dying of lukemia is because Adam and Eve ate a forbidden fruit.You can not be that cruel. Jack

Darwin said...


What I'm saying is that teleology was never used as a substitute for what modern science does. If you look at the heights of medieval science (1200s to 1400s) you find that "natural philosophers" used something exactly like the modern scientific method to investigate the "material and efficient causes" of things, and came up with some fairly complex work on optics, gearing, water power, static electricity, etc. People didn't just sit around trying to figure out what the telos of something was.

Now, my wider point is, that in the modern world, the fact that we use the scientif method to find out how things work as a physical level does not keep us from then going off and drawing teleological conclusions about things based on that scientific information. To my example, from the scientifically derived data that most people's pancreases produce insulin and insulin is necessary to process sugar, we know that in cases where the pancreas doesn't do what it's supposed do, we need to provide the diabetic with insulin via some other means.

A _strictly_ non-teleological analysis would be: Insulin is required to process sugars correctly. In 95% of the population, the pancreas produces enough insulin for this purpose. the other 5% of the population dies.

The thing that we do in medicine, and in most applications of science, is to take what we've learned through observation and experimentation and apply it to a _purpose_. In other words, a telos. We do this so naturally we don't even think about it. But when you get down to it, what is the strictly _scientific_ reason that we should provide diabetics with insulin rather than just having them die? Science doesn't make value judgements like that, it just observes things. That's why science cannot form the _sole_ basis for a worldview.

And Rick, I hope and pray that you are not saying that a child painfully dying of lukemia is because Adam and Eve ate a forbidden fruit.You can not be that cruel.

He's saying that people die painful deaths because the world is imperfect -- because it is fallen.

Which while the Biblical story may be rather deep in metaphore for some people's understanding, certainly helps a great deal more than telling people, "You're dying of cancer because the world is cold, cruel and meaningless."

Having watch a few close friends and relatives die of cancer of the last few years, I think I can speak with a bit of experience that that particular approach would bring little comfort.

Mark said...

Gentlemen, I don't thhink we are too far apart. But Darwin your suggestion about letting the 5% die is not solved by science. That is a moral issue---use money for insulin, or for HIV research, for polio vaccines and on and on are not scientific questions they are moral questions and cannot be answered by science. Did God design cancer to kill people?

BTW I have advanced cancer. I'm looking to science to slow that down; I'm looking to religion as to what comes next.

Your answer about the child dying of painful lukemia really stunds me. God painfully kills a child because some people ate the wrong fruit. Actually or metaphorically I can't believe you would think that!!! Jack

Darwin said...

But Darwin your suggestion about letting the 5% die is not solved by science. That is a moral issue

We're in agreement, then, unless perhaps on this: I'd go just a bit farther and say that science also doens't necessarily tell you that we _should_ heal anyone at all. It just tells us (hopefully) why they die and what might prevent it. The idea that it's better for people not to die sooner rather than later seems to me a philosophical rather than a scientific judgement.

Did God design cancer to kill people?

My answer would be: No.

But the imperfect condition of the world means that there is cancer, and the fallen condition of our own minds means that we feel loss when people die, and fear to do so ourselves.

BTW I have advanced cancer.

I'll keep you in my prayers, then. My dad died of cancer a couple years ago at 58. It's a rough road.

I'm looking to science to slow that down; I'm looking to religion as to what comes next.

That's about all anyone can do.

Your answer about the child dying of painful lukemia really stunds me. God painfully kills a child because some people ate the wrong fruit. Actually or metaphorically I can't believe you would think that!!!

I think that the story of the Fall is often hard for modern people to relate to, in part because it's written in to speak to a mind and culture which is increasingly remote from us. I'd say the basics are as follows:

God desired the universe to be perfect, but through a series of falls (that of the angels and that of man) sin and suffering came into the world.

My personal opinion is that perhaps the unfallen world would not have looked very different from our own, but that if our wills were not fallen away from God, we would see perfectly that the dead were not lost to us, and the death was only a matter of leaving our bodies and going to God. With that sort of perfect "spiritual vision" disasters and diseases might be the same in a physical sense, and yet hold no fear for us.

That's just what I imagine, though.

Mark said...

I think we are in almost total agreement. I have always opposed monism and defended dualism. I am not a materialist or idealist. Christianity with its idea of dualism---the incarnation---expresses in the religious sphere this dualism, Christ as God AND man. This is not science which can only deal with the physical, but philosophy and theological can deal, not with great certainty, with that beyond the physical.

Each 'science' is built on a more basic one which is more certain but tells us less thus:
Physics is built on math,chemistry is built on physics,biology is built on chemistry,psychology is built on biology, sociology is built on biology. As we come up each step we have less certainty but more importance. Therefore the more certain we are the less importance we have. Philosophy and theology are the least certain, but the most important. Jack

Rick Lugari said...

Jack, I'm sorry to hear about your illness. I'll be sure to pray for you and your family.

Thanks for responding about our fallen world, Darwin. Your reply was better than anything I could have done.