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Tradition and Human Nature

From “The Church and the Homosexual” by John McNeill

Copyright © 1976,1985,1988,1993 by John J McNeill

Reprinted by permission of Beacon Press

The Influence of Stoicism

One important aspect of Western Christian tradition re­mains to be examined, namely, the influence of Stoicism, especially its interpretation of the natural law as regards sexual ethics. Underlying the attitude of the early Church to homosexual practices there was, as we have seen, the belief that they were specially condemned by God in the destruc­tion of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nevertheless, such practices were generally denounced mainly on the grounds that they were in themselves “contrary to nature.”

The first such reference to nature, as we have seen, occurred in Paul’s Epistle to the Romans. The Apostolic Constitutions speaks of “abhoring as unlawful, and that which is practiced by some contrary to nature, as wicked and impious.”(1) Tertullian writes: “All other frenzies of lusts which exceed the laws of nature and are impious toward both bodies and the sexes we banish, not only from the threshold, but also from all shelter of the Church, for they are not sins so much as monstrosities.”(2)

John Chrysos­tom is particularly emphatic in denouncing homosexual practices as unnatural. Commenting on Romans 1:26-27, he observes that all genuine pleasure is according to nature; the delights of sodomy, however, are an unpar­donable insult to nature and doubly destructive. They jeopardize the race by deflecting the sexual organs from their primary procreative purpose, and they sow dishar­mony between men and women, who are no longer impelled by their physical desires to live peacefully together.(3)  Michel Spanneut, an authority on the influence of Stoicism on the Church Fathers, maintains that the moral writings of nearly all the Fathers of the Church in the first two centuries of the Christian era “were domi­nated by the popular Stoicism of the milieu in which that Christian generation lived.”(4)

Stoic philosophy was primarily a moralism. Seneca de­fined philosophy as “recta vivendi ratio”(5) The fundamen­tal Stoic axiom was to “live according to nature.” Life according to nature was understood as submission to the divinely appointed order of the world. Nature itself was identified, however, not with instinct but with reason: “To the rational animal the same act is according to nature and according to reason.”(6) God, in Stoic philosophy, was under­stood as reason, or logos, diffused through the cosmos. Reason, as “soul of the world,” was given a definite biolog­ical interpretation. The law of nature was identified with the biological laws governing the physical universe. Thus the rational law of nature represented God’s material pres­ence in the universe as cosmic biological reason. To con­form to the physical laws of nature was simultaneously to achieve union with the divine. “Live with the gods. And he lives with the gods whoever presents to them his soul accepting their dispensations and busied about the will of God, even that particle of Zeus, which Zeus gives to every man for his controller and governor—to wit, his mind and reason.”(7)

The principal virtue of the wise man was understood as ataraxy, or apathy—a life of indifference. In practice Stoic ethics was largely a fight against the passions or affections. These passions—pleasure, sorrow, desire, and fear—were considered irrational and, consequently, unnatural. All forms of passion, even pity and love, were to be eliminated as irrational. The process of achieving a state of indifference was understood as a process of eliminating the influence of affection on human behavior, so that behavior would be totally controlled by reason and completely independent of all externals, even of other persons.(8) In order to escape chance and its capricious happenings, such as the death of a loved one, man must render himself indifferent to all exterior results of his actions, judging them only in terms of their interior effect, which is to be found in the intention. As Spanneut remarks: “The notion of apathy, applied to God, to Christ, and especially to the Christian, received special emphasis. Baptized from the time of Origen, it was used by all the writers [of the early Christian period], particularly in the treatises on anger, and became the ideal of the monk, the basis of his contemplation.”(9) Clement of Alexandria devotes an entire chapter of the Pedagogue to the connec­tion between good and reason, evil and irrationality.(10) Many of the Christian martyrs—Justin, for example—quote extensively from Stoic sources concerning the virtue of indifference. The Fathers of the Desert appeal to Stoic indifference as the foundation of asceticism. Basil uses the same theme in his writings concerning monastic asceticism.

Hand in hand with the virtue of indifference, the Stoic philosophers stressed a doctrine of rational determinism, according to which everything that happens in the world happens with an ineluctable necessity. “If the gods have determined about me, they have determined well; for it is not easy to imagine a deity without forethought. And as to doing me harm, why should they have any desire toward that? For what advantage would result to them from this, or to the whole which is the special object of their providence?”(11)

Particular emphasis was placed on the triumph over all fears, especially the fear of death. The Stoics denied the immortality of the individual as such; impersonal reason alone is eternal. Thus the only rational response to death was to become detached from life, including one’s own. “Be not perturbed, for all things are according to the universal, and in a little time thou wilt be nobody and nowhere, like Hadrian and Augustine.”(12) One should learn to value one’s existence rationally; that is, only in terms of the positive contribution one can make to the totality. Since the spirituality of the early Church evolved in response to the needs of the martyr, the emphasis on indifference and triumph over the fear of death received particular emphasis.

Along with stress on mind and reason went a dualistic depreciation of the body, both as the seat of the irrational passions and as the contingent element in man. “Nam corpus hoc animi pondus ac poena est, premente illo lorgetur, in vinculis est.”(13) Death is to be welcomed as the release of the mind from the chains of the body.

Seneca advised a daily examination of conscience in which one would tote up all the positive and negative aspects of one’s existence precisely in terms of one’s being able to make a positive contribution to the totality. The truly wise man will become indifferent to life itself. The day he sees his continuance in existence as more of a negative than a positive value, he will be ready to take his own life. The Stoic hero is pictured as cutting his own veins in a warm bath while discoursing in noble indiffer­ence about reason to his admiring friends. Thus Seneca himself, in obedience to Nero’s command, opened his veins in A.D. 65.

But to persevere in his indifference, the key point in Stoic doctrine was to “never fall in love,” that is, never to form a real attachment to anyone. Marcus Aurelius points out that to fall in love is to open yourself up to every misery and to lose all tranquility of soul; for lovers necessarily desire personal immortality both for their loved ones and for themselves. But such a desire is irrational. Love for another must only take the form of “love for the virtue of which this person is an example.” Similarly, in his treatise on friendship Thomas Aquinas holds: “The happy man will need these virtuous friends inasmuch as he seeks to study the virtuous actions of the good man who is his friend.”(14)

Consequently, when the Stoics turn to sexual conduct it should come as no surprise that no consideration whatso­ever is given to interpersonal love. Rather, stress is placed on the rational end of sexual activity as this end can be read in the biological laws of nature which are one with the will of God. Accordingly, the only rational motive for undertak­ing sexual intercourse is procreation. Zeno remarks that “cannibalism, incest, and homosexuality are not wrong in themselves,” his reasoning being that moral evil pertains to the human will and intention. These actions become wrong because no purely rational motive can exist for such practices.(15)

Stoicism and the Church Fathers

In order to understand the attitude of the Fathers of the Church toward homosexual activity, we must place it within the context of their attitudes on women and on sexuality in general. The early Fathers of the Church tended to accept Platonic and Stoic body-soul dualism. As Emil Brunner notes: “Through Platonic-Hellenic mysti­cism the idea penetrated into the early Church that the sexual element as such is something low and unworthy of man … an idea which … is in absolute opposition to the biblical idea of creation.”(16) The Fathers frequently repeat Aristotle’s dictum that “the woman is a mutilated male” and agree with his position that the male is by nature superior and the female inferior; the one rules and the other is ruled.(17) There is a tendency to identify the male principle with the soul and the female principle with the body. Woman is naturally subject to man because in man the direction of reason is greater. This went hand in hand with a sexual interpretation of original sin, with Eve symbolizing all women as the evil protagonist.

In fact, Saint Augustine went so far as to identify all sexual attraction and pleasure with sin. This is Augustine’s portrayal of what sexual intercourse exclusively for the purpose of procreation would have been like before man sinned:

Without the seductive stimulus of passion, with calm­ness of mind and with no corrupting of the integrity of the body, the husband would lie upon the bosom of the wife. . . . No wild heat of passion would arouse those parts of the body. . . . The semen would have been introduced into the womb of the wife with the integrity of the female organs being preserved, just as now with the same integrity being preserved, the men­strual flow of blood can be emitted from the womb of a virgin. . . . Thus not the eager desire of lust, but the normal exercise of the will should join the male and female for breeding and conception.18

 Gregory of Nyssa in his turn, in his work On the Creation of Man, accepted the androgyne myth of Plato’s Sympo­sium, namely, that primal human beings were bisexual. Gregory believed that the male-female severance was a result of sin and a punishment for sin. As a consequence all sexual desires are a vice and have their origin in corrupted nature. John Scotus Erigena, in the ninth century, accepted Gregory’s position that humans as the perfect image of God were originally without sexual differentiation and that sin was the cause of the differentiation which ensued.(19) In such a climate of opinion it should come as no surprise that Marcion, for example, should refuse to accept into the Church anyone who refused to renounce all sexual relations permanently.

The purely rational end of sexual behavior, procreation is continuously stressed by the Church Fathers when they are dealing with sexual morality and marriage. One can clearly see the influence of popular Stoic philosophy in the insistence on reason rather than on the sacramental aspect of marriage. Clement, for example, emphasizes the irrationality of seeking only pleasure in marriage.(20) Justin Martyr reflects popular Stoicism when he writes: “We [Christians do not enter marriage for any other reason than to have children.(21) Jerome quotes the saying of Sextus with approval: “He who loves his own wife ardently is an adulterer.”

Aquinas and Stoicism

Thomas Aquinas was the only great scholastic theologian to discuss the subject of homosexual practices in any detail. Albert the Great, in a short reference, gives four reasons why this is the most detestable of practices: it proceeds from a burning frenzy; it has a disgusting foulness; those addicted to it seldom succeed in shaking off the vice; and, finally, it is as contagious as any disease, rapidly spreading from one to another.(22)

In contrast to that of Albert, Thomas’s treatment is calm and dispassionate.(23) As in the case of the Fathers, we must place Thomas’s treatment of homosexuality in the context his treatment of women and of sexuality in general. Woman he held, was “the inferior workman who prepares the material for the skilled artisan, the male.”(24) He theorizes that since every child born should be male, because the effect should resemble its cause, there must be some etiological explanation for the birth of the inferior female. Such a birth, he claims, need not necessarily be the result of some intrinsic factor—a “defect in active power” or an “indisposition of the material”—but may sometimes arise from an extrinsic accident. He quotes the Philosopher (Aristotle) to the effect that “a moist south wind helps in the generation of females, while a brisk north wind helps in the generation of males.”(25) Thomas’s attitude toward women is best expressed when he says of Eve: “She was not fit to help man except in generation, because another man would have proved more effective help in anything else.”(26)

Concerning human sexuality in general, Aquinas rejects John Scotus’s position that sexual differentiation as such is due to sin, but he agrees with Augustine’s Stoic view that all sexual pleasure is the result of sin.(27) The Stoic influence is evident in the fact that Aquinas deals with the subject of homosexuality in the course of his treatise on the cardinal virtue of temperance. He identifies the vice contrary to this virtue as lust, whose essence is “to exceed the order and mode of reason where venereal acts are concerned.” Any act which is not consistent with the proper end of venereal acts, namely the generation and education of children, necessarily pertains to the vice of lust. The lustful man desires not human generation but venereal pleasure, and it should be noted that this pleasure can be experienced by indulging in acts which do not issue in human procreation. It is precisely this which is sought in the sin against nature.(28)

Thus the first grounds for Thomas’s condemnation of homosexual practices is his belief that they necessarily represent an inordinate selfish seeking of venereal plea­sure; and, as we have seen, Thomas believed that all such pleasure is the result of sin. What we should note with interest is that there is no mention in this passage of a third possible motive for venereal acts, whether heterosexual or homosexual, besides either lust or procreation—namely, the possibility that they might be an expression of genuine interpersonal love. There is no reason to assume that Aquinas had any more awareness than had the Church Fathers of the homosexual condition. Rather, it is almost certain that in his reference to homosexual practices he is assuming that these are merely sexual indulgences under­taken from a motive of lust by otherwise heterosexual persons. This is the conclusion drawn by Joseph McCaffrey in his study of Aquinas’s treatment of homosexuality. Hav­ing rigidly subordinated the rational and, therefore, moral use of sex in general to one end—procreation—Aquinas assumes that homosexual acts, since they cannot serve that purpose, must be motivated necessarily and exclusively by a drive toward sexual pleasure.

In a response to an objection that if no one is injured by homosexual activities, there is no sin against charity, Aquinas points out that the order of nature is derived from God. Consequently, any contravention of that order is necessarily “an injury done to the Creator.”(29) Thus the most fundamental objection Aquinas had to homosexual practices was identical to that of the Stoics: they cannot serve the exclusive divine purpose governing the use of all human sexuality, the end of procreation. It would seem that Aquinas, like his Stoic predecessors, never even considered the possibility that human sexual behavior, even in a heterosexual context, never mind a homosexual one, could be morally justified as an expression of human love.

In one relatively unknown but important passage in his Summa Theologica, Thomas speaks of homosexual prac­tices as capable of being “connaturale secundum quid.”(30) He asks the question, When is pleasure “according to nature”? He distinguishes between those pleasures that are according to human nature specifically as rational—such as the “contemplation of the truth”—and those pleasures which humans have in common with other animals—such as “venereal activity” (veneorum usus). But, he continues: “In the case of both types of pleasure it can happen that what is unnatural simply speaking can be connatural in a certain situation. For it can occur that in a particular individual there can be a breakdown of some natural principle of the species and thus what is contrary to the nature of the species can become by accident natural to this individual [per accidens naturale huic individuo].” Among other examples of this, Thomas explicitly mentions male homosexual activity (in coitu masculorum). Unfortunately he never explores this distinction further.

To deal exclusively with the passages in which Aquinas speaks explicitly of homosexual practices is somewhat un­just to his influence upon the consequent development of sexual ethics. Although Aquinas himself did not apply his new insights to practical ethical issues, he did lay the philosophical foundation for a personalist ethics. It was not until he reversed the act-potency relationship of Greek philosophy with his central idea of a real distinction be­tween essence, or nature, as potency and existence as act that a philosophical foundation was laid for understanding human beings as positively individual and unique and, therefore, incapable of being legitimately totally relativized to the ends of the species from an ethical viewpoint. Further, Thomas opened up the possibility of conceiving human nature not as a static given, but as a dynamic teleological process of growth and development. This made possible an understanding of ethical norms as ideal goals governing the development of personal community, rather than just biological nature. But this development had to await the work of philosophers true to the spirit, if not the letter, of Thomistic philosophy. It was not until the rise of modern personalist philosophies of human subjectivity and freedom that an appropriate methodology for an ethical study of human sexuality in a personalist context became available.

Homosexual Activity and Procreation

Many moral theologians grant that the older Catholic ap­proach to sexual morality inordinately placed all the em­phasis on the biological and physical aspects of the sexual act, ignoring the interpersonal context in which the act takes place. “The procreative aspect becomes the primary and sometimes the only purpose of sexuality.”(31)  However, these same moralists are of the opinion that one must maintain some connection between the personal and the procreative aspects of human sexuality: “The joining to­gether of the love union and procreative aspects does appear to be the meaning of human sexuality and marriage. There seems to be a strong presumption in favor of such an understanding which cannot be overturned without grave reason.(32)

When, therefore, they come to the specific question of homosexual behavior, these same theologians appeal to this necessary and indissoluble connection between procre­ation and human sexuality as another reason for the con­demnation of homosexual activity:

The position of the hierarchical magisterium in the Ro­man Catholic Church would argue that every single act of sexual intercourse must be open to procreation. Ob­viously, such an approach gives one a strong rule and criterion to use in condemning homosexual acts or other seemingly errant forms of sexual behavior.(33)

This is by no means as obvious a conclusion as many believe. The Church’s attitude toward the ends of marriage has undergone a definite development. Beginning with an early insistence, under Stoic influence, on the exclusive end of procreation, at a later stage the Church began to stress procreation as the primary end, but granted the existence of secondary ends, namely the mutual love and fulfillment of the marriage partners. The Church as tradi­tionally recognized the moral goodness of heterosexual relations between a married couple incapable of having children; this despite the heavy emphasis of tradition that procreation must be the primary aim of all sexual activity. For example, Pope Pius XI in his encyclical Casti Connubii (No. 59) writes:

Nor are those considered as acting against nature who in the married state use their right [to sexual inter­course] in the proper manner, although on account of natural reasons either of time or of certain defects, new life cannot be brought forth. For in matrimony as well as in the use of matrimonial rights there are also sec­ondary ends such as mutual aid, the cultivation of mu­tual love and the quieting of concupiscence which hus­band and wife are not forbidden to consider as long as they are subordinated to the primary end and so long as the intrinsic meaning of the act is preserved.(34)

 From the moment the Church granted the morality of the rhythm method, for example, as a natural form of birth control, and justified sexual activity as still fulfilling the “secondary” aims of mutual love and fulfillment, there was a serious reason to reconsider the traditional position that all homosexual activities are necessarily wrong on the ground that they cannot lead to procreation. In a relatively over­looked passage of the same encyclical, Casti Connubii, the mutual love between the partners is recognized in its own right as the “primaria matrimonii causa et ratio”:

The mutual inward moulding of husband and wife, this determined effort to perfect each other, can in a very real sense, as the Roman Cathechism teaches, be said to be the chief reason and purpose of matrimony, pro­vided matrimony be looked at not in the restricted sense as instituted for the proper conception and edu­cation of children, but more widely as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof.(35)

 In their treatment of marriage in the document Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, the Council Fathers at Vatican II go a step further in this development by dropping all reference to primary and secondary ends. As Robert McAfee Brown comments:

The document. . . goes far beyond the traditional teaching that the procreation and education of children are the primary ends of marriage. Thanks to the inter­ventions of such men as Cardinals Leger and Suenens, the document stresses the importance of conjugal love. Sexual love between men and women is clearly distin­guished from “the dispositions of lower forms of life”— where one has a suspicion it often used to linger in the thought of earlier moral theologians. Pure conjugal love “involves the good of the whole person.” In such state­ments the lie is given to the notion that sex in marriage is evil, or only a concession to concupiscence, or valid only for procreation.(36)

 The Church continues to condemn any voluntary separa­tion of the coequal purposes of sexual behavior, procreation and mutual love. However, such an argument against voluntary separation would be applicable to the homosexual only if one refuses to accept the psychological data concern­ing the homosexual condition and persists in viewing all those who involve themselves in homosexual practices as remaining free to choose heterosexual relationships. The genuine homosexuals’ situation is more comparable factu­ally to that of a heterosexual couple incapable of having children than, for example, to the situation of those who practice birth control, since it is not through a free choice within their control that homosexuals eliminate the possi­bility of procreation from their sexual life. Yet there is a considerable body of evidence that those homosexuals who have limited their sexual expression in an ethically respon­sible way have by that means achieved what Pius XI indicates as the “chief reason and purpose of sexual love within marriage looked at in a wider context “as the blending of life as a whole and the mutual interchange and sharing thereof.”

Human Nature and Homosexuality

One all-important problem remains. Even granting that mutual love and fulfillment is a coequal natural end of human sexuality as such, there seems to be a lingering doubt that this end could possibly justify homosexual activ­ities, since these activities seem so obviously to involve a perversion of the biological function of the sexual organs. As we have seen, the phrase “against nature” has retained its meaning from its Stoic origin as “contrary to reason.” One learns the purposes of nature by an impersonal and objective reading of the biological law governing the sexual operations of the human body. However, this understand­ing of nature represented in fact a rejection of what is unique in human nature as such, namely, the personal realm. Consequently, it negates any possibility of under­standing human sexual activity within the specifically hu­man dimension of interpersonal love.

Humans emerge from the impersonal forces of nature precisely as self-aware and free. What is specific about human nature is not some quality which is common to all the species, such as reason, but the fact that “every indi­vidual is more than the species.’’37 It is this personal uniqueness of every individual which forms the necessary basis for the possibility of human love. A loving action, even if it takes the form of a sexual gesture, must be directed to the other as unique, an end in himself or herself. To treat another person merely as a means to an end that lies outside the person represents a failure to love that person as unique.

From this personalist viewpoint an overemphasis on procreation can be seen as leading potentially to a seriously immoral and dehumanizing form of sexuality. Modern con­sciousness has been sensitized by the movement for wo­men’s rights to the fact that to understand the female exclusively in a functional manner as “bearer of children” is a depersonalizing and, therefore, immoral attitude. Such an emphasis can be seen as in conflict with the Gospel emphasis on the respect and love due to one’s fellow human as person. As we have seen, a general consideration of scriptural data concerning sexual behavior leads to only one certain conclusion: those sexual relations can be justi­fied morally which are a true expression of human love. The call of the Gospel is not one of conforming passively to biological givens; rather, that call is to transform and humanize the natural order through the power to love.

The overemphasis on nature, reason, and law in tradition has seriously falsified the moral question of sexual behavior in the minds of many people. The average person has associated and confused the question of the morality of sexual conduct with the question of its objective legal status. The reason for this confusion is, in part, that one finds a very easily applied objective norm: sex before marriage is wrong; sex after marriage is right. The difficulty of this norm can be easily perceived if we begin with the question of the moral quality of sexual conduct within marriage. The wife who withholds sex with a view to negotiating a fur coat is acting immorally; she is behaving like a prostitute, even if a legal prostitute. And the husband who uses his wife as a convenient instrument of masturba­tion, seeking exclusively his own egotistical pleasure, is immoral and remains so even if the act is open to the possibility of procreation. From these examples it should be obvious that there is something more to the moral quality of sexual behavior than the purely objective legal question of marriage, or even the objective rational question of open­ness to procreation. Something else ought to be present; and that something else is love. Are you using your sexual powers as a means of expressing your love? Are you centering your existence in the one you love and seeking his or her fulfillment in what you are doing? The human conforms to the divine image revealed in Christ not by acting in an impersonal, rational way, but by acting from a motive of love.

Human Freedom and Human Sexuality

It is obvious that the traditional moral theologians under­stood human sexual behavior as rationally determined by biological instinct. Thus the only freedom they believed men and women to have in the sexual realm was the freedom to conform to the rational end built into biological instinct, procreation, or to thwart that end. However, we have become progressively aware in recent times that human sexuality, like all human reality precisely as human, participates in the radical freedom that is ours. In forming their respective judgments, many moralists seem to ignore the rather obvious fact that human sexuality is not a totally instinctive and, therefore, determined phenomenon. What­ever participates in human freedom cannot receive its total explanation in terms of causal determinacy. Rather, it can be adequately understood only in terms of ideal goal or purpose. We are freed from a deterministic vis a tergo precisely because we are able to project ideal goals and, consequently, allow these ideals to be the ultimately deter­mining factor in our behavior.(38)

We do not find it “contrary to nature” that humans have taken the hands which biological evolution provided as grasping instruments and employed them in the ideal cre­ative pursuits of wielding a brush or a pen. Nor do we find it contrary to nature that the mouth with its teeth, tongue and lips, obviously intended by nature for eating, should be used in order to communicate through speech and song human­ity’s most intimate aspirations. Nor should we find it any less according to nature, if men and women should use their sexual organs, designed by nature for procreation, in order to give the most intimate expression to their drive for union in love with their fellow human beings.

How, then, does our freedom enter into the formation of human sexual orientation? We are born male or female, biologically speaking: but biological givens never deter­mine human behavior precisely as human. We become “men” or “women” through a free human process of edu­cation. What it means to be a man or woman in any given society or culture is a free human cultural creation. Every culture has created its ideal sexual-identity images for the masculine or feminine role. Successful cultural adaptation represents the process whereby the young, unconsciously for the most part, adapt themselves to the prevalent cultural image and expectations which go along with their biologi­cal identity.

More often than not in the past, these cultural identity images contained seriously dehumanizing factors. It is only in recent times that humanity has become aware that these images are not predetermined either by God or nature. As long as the cultural process remained unconscious there was little awareness of the role human freedom played in the formation of these images. Because these images were considered as either divine or psychological givens or taboos and their true character as free human constructs was not recognized, there was no hope of liberation from their destructive and antihuman elements. Primitive cultures tended to sacralize the prevailing images, seeing them as given by the gods. However, as Thomas Driver convinc­ingly argues in his article “Sexuality and Jesus,” over against the pagan gods and the pagan religions Jesus appeared as the great neutralizer of the religious meaning of sex; and, thus, as humanity’s liberator from narrow sexual taboos mistakenly identified as divine imperatives:

I believe that the construction of a Christian ethic of sex cannot be properly attempted as long as one retains the mythology of sexuality that grew up in the ancient religions, is perpetuated in the new ones, and from which Jesus as the Christ would liberate us.(39)

 Since the sexual-identity image which concretizes het­erosexual relations at any point in human history is a human and not a divine creation, theologians who absolutize the man-woman relation as the “divine image” in human be­ings are guilty of raising a human creation to the level of an idol. The task of the theologian, true to the spirit of Jesus in the New Testament, should be to liberate humanity to “the glorious liberty of the Sons of God,” precisely by undertak­ing a critical theological investigation of sexual-identity images. As we have seen, the primary God-given ideal goal of human sexual development is that we should fashion cultural identity images that make it possible for human beings to achieve the fullness of a true personal relation­ship of sexual love in the process of conforming to the images provided by culture.

A growing body of evidence derived from cultural anthropology, sociology, and psychology indicates that in the learning process whereby humans conform to the sex­ual-identity images of their culture, a certain percentage, approximately one out of ten, fail to acculturate themselves successfully according to the acceptable heterosexual pat­tern. This appears to be a consistent and universal cultural phenomenon, the same in all cultures and in all periods of history.(40) Since it is the divine plan that humans should freely construct their cultural identity images, and since it seems to be a universal phenomenon that a certain percent­age of humans do not necessarily conform to the accepted heterosexual pattern, no matter how heavily conformity to that pattern is sanctioned by society and the Church, I see no reason to assume a priori that the human who emerges from that unconscious learning process as a homosexual is somehow alienated from God’s plan or in conflict with nature’s design. On the contrary, it would seem more reasonable to assume that the homosexual is part of the divine plan and has an intrinsic role to play in human society. What that role may be will be the object of our inquiry in the second part of this work.

Paul Lehmann, in his work Ethics in a Christian Con­text, makes the point that the concern of a Christian ethics should be to relate the intimate reality of human sexuality in all its forms to the freedom and integrity of human wholeness: “What is called for in Christian sexual ethics is an approach which accents both the fundamental impor­tance of the sexual act for the humanization of man and the setting in which that humanization of man is a concrete and achievable reality.”(41) Kimball-Jones suggests that for the true homosexual such a setting can only exist in an encoun­ter with another person of the same sex. Such an encounter is “the only sexual setting in which ‘the humanization of man’ can begin to become ‘a concrete and achievable reality’ for the homosexual.”(42)

Homosexual love, although incapable of procreation, is certainly not doomed to fruitlessness. Many homosexual couples love, and would gladly adopt, children if the law would permit it. Apart from this, it is certain that by means of a homosexual love many humans have been liberated to a truly spiritual fertility which otherwise would have been impossible. And as DeKruijf remarks in a different con­text: “In the New Covenant it is given to anyone to be fertile in the new people of God through a love which surpasses even marital love in value and therefore in fertility.”(43) We shall treat of the potentially positive aspects of homosexuality later on. First we must investigate the contribution of the human sciences to our moral under­standing of homosexuality.


  1. Const. Apost. vi.11; vi.28.
  2. De pudic. iv.
  3. In Epist. ad Rom. iv.
  4. Michel Spanneut, Le Stoicisme des pères de l’église de Clement de Rome à Clement d’Alexandrie (Paris, 1957), 432.
  5. See F. Copleston, A History of Philosophy, vol. 1, pt. 2 (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962), 138ff.
  6. Diogenes Laertius 7.86ff.
  7. Marcus Aurelius, Med. 5.27.
  8. See “Stoicism,” New Catholic Encyclopedia, 716-21.
  9. Ibid., 720.
  10. Paed. 1, chap. 13.
  11. Marcus Aurelius, Med. 7.29.
  12. Ibid., 19.
  13. Seneca, Epist. 120, 14; 65, 16.
  14. Aquinas, Commentary on the Nichomachean Ethics, trans. C. I. Litzinger (Chicago: Regnery, 1964), vol. 2, bk. 9, lect. 10, no. 1896.
  15. Von Arnim, Stoic. Vet. Frag., 1:59—60.
  16. Emil Brunner, The Divine Imperative (Philadelphia: West­minster, 1947), 364.
  17. On the Generation of Animals, 737a.
  18. The City of God 14.26. See also On Marriage and Concu­piscence 2.5.
  19. “De divisione naturae,” PL 122, 57c.
  20. Paed. 2.10; De concept. 92.2.
  21. I Apol. 29.1.
  22. In Evang. Luc. 17.29.
  23. Summa Theol. II-II, q. 153, 3.
  24. Ibid., III, q. 32, 4.
  25. Ibid., I, q. 99, 2.
  26. Ibid., I, q. 92, 1.
  27. Ibid., I, q. 98.
  28. See Joseph McCaffrey, “Homosexuality, Aquinas and the Church,” Catholic World 212, no. 1 (July 1971).
  29. Summa Theol. II-II, q. 154, 12, ad 1.
  30. Ibid., I-II, q. 37, 7.
  31. Charles Curran, Catholic Moral Theology in Dialogue (Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1971), 199
  32. Ibid., 204.
  33. Ibid.
  34. See Seven Great Encyclicals (Paramus, N.J.: Paulist Press 1963), 93-94.
  35. Ibid., 84.
  36. “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World—a Response,” The Documents of Vatican II, ed. W. Ab­bott, 314—15. See also “The Pastoral Constitution . . .” no. 50: “Marriage to be sure is not instituted solely for procreation. Rather, its very nature as an unbreakable compact between per­sons, and the welfare of the children, both demand that the mutual love of the spouses, too, be embodied in a rightly ordered manner, that it grow and ripen. Therefore, marriage persists as a whole manner and communion of life, and maintains its value and indissolubility, even when offspring are lacking—despite, rather often, the very intense desire of the couple.”
  37. Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1941), 80-82.
  38. See John J. McNeill, “Freedom and the Future,” Theolog­ical Studies 33, no. 3 (September 1972):503—30.
  39. Tom Driver, Sex: Thoughts for Contemporary Christians (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1972), 49-62.
  40. For evidence on this point see Wainwright Churchill, Homosexual Behavior among Males (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1967).
  41. Paul Lehmann, Ethics in a Christian Context (London: SCM, 1963), 136.
  42. H. Kimball-Jones, Toward a Christian Understanding of Homosexuality (New York: Association Press, 1966), 56.
  43. T. C. DeKruijf, The Bible on Sexuality (DePere, Wis.: St. Norbert’s Abbey Press, 1966), 69.