Sunday, December 6, 2009

Why Won't God Heal Amputees

In fact God has healed an amputee, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin!

See this article at Wikipedia:

The Miracle of Calanda is an event that took place in Calanda, Spain in 1640, according to 17th century documents. The documents state that a young farmer's leg was restored to him after having been amputated two and a half years earlier. This event is described in detail in the book Il Miracolo by Vittorio Messori.

The following article is based on the account in Messori's book.

* 1 Background
* 2 Restoration of Pellicer's legs
* 3 Thanksgiving and inquiry
* 4 Documentation
* 5 Bibliography
* 6 External links

[edit] Background

At the end of July 1637 Miguel Juan Pellicer, a 20 year old man from Calanda in Aragon was working as an agricultural labourer at Castellón, 60 km from Valencia, on his uncle's farm. While steering a cart by riding one of the mules that was pulling it, MIguel fell off, probably because he had fallen asleep. The cartwheel passed over his right leg, breaking the tibia. He received initial treatment at Castellón, then was admitted to the hospital of Valencia, where he stayed for five days. He then decided to leave for Zaragoza in order to receive treatment in the hospital dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar (Madonna del Pilar) to whom he had great devotion. The 300 kilometre journey took him some 50 days.

On his arrival, the doctors observed that the leg was in an advanced state of gangrene, leaving no other choice but to amputate it. In mid-Octobre two master surgeons, Juan de Estanga and Diego Millaruelo, carried out the operation. The leg was cut four fingerbreadths below the knee and then buried, as was customary at the time, in a special part of the hospital's cemetery. The stub was subsequently cauterized with fire.

Miguel Juan Pellicer stayed in hospital for a few months, until in the spring of 1638 he was provided with a wooden leg and crutches and released from hospital. For the next two years, he made his living through begging. He was provided with the necessary authorization, at the Sanctuary of the Pillar. During this time he was certainly a familiar sight for a large number of the citizens of Zaragoza. He regularly returned to the hospital for checkups and treatment through Dr. Estanga.

Every evening he would ask the servants in the sanctuary for a bit of the oil that burnt in the lamp and use it as ointment to rub in the stub of his leg, with the conviction that he would so be able to draw the aid of the Virgin upon him. In the first months of 1640, now 23 years old, he decided to return to his parents at Calanda. After about one week's travel he arrived during the second week of Lent, i.e. between March 11- 14. Unable to help in working on the fields, he once again took up begging, going around the neighbouring villages on donkey's back. Many people at the time must have witnessed that his lower leg was missing.
[edit] Restoration of Pellicer's legs

According to Messori, at about ten o'clock in the evening of 29 March 1640, Pellicer laid himself to rest. Because his bed was occupied by a soldier of a garrison that stayed at Calanda over night, he went to sleep on a provisional bed in his parents' room. Between half past ten and eleven o'clock, his mother entered the room and saw two feet appearing from below the cloak that covered her son. Thinking that Miguel Juan and the soldier must have changed places, she called her husband to resolve the misunderstanding. But while removing the cloak, husband and wife, were dumbstruck, as they realized that this was indeed their own son. They shook him and shouted at him to wake him up. Some minutes passed until Miguel Juan woke up from a deep sleep. He told them that he had dreamt of being within the Sanctuary of Our Lady of the Pillar and rubbing his leg with the holy oil, as he had done so often. Soon all three agreed that the restoration of the leg was due to the intercession of the Virgin of the Pillar.

News of the event immediately spread through Calanda. The following morning the local judge, assisted by two surgeons, examined Pellicer and set up a report which he immediately sent to his superiors. On April 1, Palm Sunday, Don Marco Seguer, parish priest of Mazaleón, a village fifty kilometres away, went to the place of the event, accompanied by the royal notary Miguel Andréu, who set up a certificate to express the testimony, confirmed by oath, of ten persons.
[edit] Thanksgiving and inquiry

On April 25 Pellicer and his parents went on a pilgrimage to Zaragoza to give thanks to Our Lady of the Pillar, and here too the young man was seen by a great number of people who had known him before with only one leg. Following a request from the city's authority, a formal inquiry was initiated in order to ascertain the veracity of the event. Legal proceedings, presided by the archbishop of the city began on June 5 and took about a year. All hearings were public and no voice of dissent was recorded. Twenty-four witnesses spoke out, selected as the most trustworthy from among the great number of people that knew Pellicer, both from Calanda and from Zaragoza.

On April 27 of 1641 the archbishop of Zaragoza pronounced a judgment, thereby officially declaring the authenticity of the miracle. At the end of the year Pellicer was also invited to the royal court at Madrid, where King Philip IV knelt down before him and kissed the leg. Recordings also show that the restored leg was the same one as that which had been amputated two and a half years before, for it could be reidentified through some bruises and scars that were there before the amputation. Also, the hole in the cemetery of the hospital of Zaragoza in which the leg had been buried was excavated and found empty.

In the appendix of his book, Vittorio Messori also reports the opinion of Landino Cugola, primary surgeon of the hospital of the University of Verona, a specialist in limb replantation. Cugola has carefully studied the testimonies given in the recordings of the proceedings at Zaragoza, which reveal that the leg, after it had only just been restored, was cold and hard with contracted toes and blue in colour. Hence, Pellicer was not yet able to put his weight on it and still had to move around on crutches. After a few days the leg regained in strength and the toes were stretched out again. Also, the leg was initially a few centimetres shorter due to the loss of bone tissue that was caused by the fracture, but within about three months it regained its original length. According to Cugola, all this is in perfect accordance with the normal development following the replantation of a leg, although the growth of tissue is usually supported by exerting a pull onto the limb. In Pellicer’s case this was not necessary.
[edit] Documentation

Vittorio Messori also lists and provides details of documents from the time which attest the miracle of Calanda, the most important ones being:

* The certificate set up by the notary Andréu. The original document, which fortunately escaped destruction in the Spanish civil war, is on display in a glass case in the town hall of Zaragoza.
* The minutes of the proceedings at Saragozza. The original document, having been kept in the archives of Zaragoza chapter house, was handed over to a Benedictine monk, Father Lambert, in about 1930, who then took it to France. Unfortunately Lambert was killed in World War II and it is unknown what has become of the manuscript since. However, before it disappeared four printed editions had been published, the first of which in 1829. Two notaries certified that these corresponded exactly with original text.
* Two certified copies of the minutes of the proceedings, set up at the same day as the original. They were signed and sealed by the same notaries. One was kept in the archives of the town of Zaragoza, but burnt in 1808 during the Napoleonic wars. The other is still extant and is kept in the archives of the Cathedral of the Pillar.
* The report of Calanda’s local judge, set up on the morning immediately after the event. It has not survived to our time, but documentary traces confirm that there was such a report.

Other documents of lesser importance:

* The certificate of baptism of Miguel Juan Pellicer.
* The registration of his admittance to the hospital of Valencia.
* A small booklet written by a Carmelite monk, commissioned by the chapter house of the Pillar, and published in 1641.
* Another book, published by a German doctor in 1642. The Jesuit father who gave the imprimatur added a declaration in which he affirmed that he personally knew Pellicer, first with one leg and then with two.
* The account of the audience of Miguel Juan Pellicer at the royal court of Madrid.
* A number of other documents which confirm the existence of other persons involved in the event.

Messori’s comment:

“By far the majority of past events (including the more important ones) is attested with less documentary proof and official warrantee. This is an objective statement of fact, not apologetic reassurance.” (p. 136-137 op. cit.).
[edit] Bibliography

* Vittorio Messori (2000): Il miracolo. BUR, pp. 272 ISBN 8817258717.
* Läpple, Alfred (1989): Wunder sind Wirklichkeit.
* Sbalchiero, Patrick: Calanda, miracle dit de. - in: Sbalchiero (ed.)(2002): Dictionnaire des miracles et de l'extraordinaire Chrétiens. Edition Fayard.

[edit] External links

* (retrieved Jan. 2009)

Documentary film from Spanish TV Channel Cuarto Milenio: (retrieved Jan. 2009)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Make the Church into a place where beauty is at home

By Joseph Ratzinger, The Ratzinger Report, p. 129.

The only really effective apologia for Christianity comes down to two arguments, namely, the saints the Church has produced and the art which has grown in her womb.

Better witness is borne to the Lord by the splendor of holiness and art which have arisen in the community of believers than by the clever excuses which apologetics has come up with to justify the dark sides which, sadly, are so frequent in the Church's human history.

If the Church is to continue to transform and humanize the world, how can she dispense with beauty in her liturgies, that beauty which is so closely linked with love and with the radiance of the Resurrection? No. Christians must not be too easily satisfied. They must make their Church into a place where beauty - and hence truth - is at home. Without this the world will become the first circle of hell.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

God's kingship: an impregnable love and an inventiveness that finds man by ways that are always new

By Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger in Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year

The Feast of Christ the King is of recent origin, but what it celebrates is as old as the Christian Faith itself.

For the word Christ is, in fact, just the Greek translation of the word Messiah: the Anointed One, the King. Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified son of a carpenter, is so intrinsically King that the title "king" has actually become his name. by calling ourselves Christians, we label ourselves as followers of the King, as people who recognize him as their King.

But we can understand properly what the kingship of Jesus Christ means only if we trace its origin in the Old Testament, where we immediately discover a surprising fact. It is obvious that God did not intend Israel to have a kingdom. The kingdom was, in fact, a result of Israel's rebellion against God and against his prophets, a defection from the original will of God. The law was to be Israel's king, and, through the law, God himself.... But Israel was jealous of the neighboring peoples with their powerful kings.... Surprisingly, God yield to Israel's obstinacy and so devised a new kind of kingship for them.

The son of David, the King, is Jesus; in him God entered humanity and espoused it to himself. If we look closely, we shall discover that this is, in fact, the usual form of the divine activity in relation to mankind. God does not have a fixed plan that he must carry out; on the contrary, he has many different ways of finding man and even of turning his wrong ways into right ways.

We can see that, for instance, in the case of Adam, whose fault became a happy fault, and we see it again in all the twisted ways of history.

This, then, is God's kingship--a love that is impregnable and an inventiveness that finds man by ways that are always new. For us, consequently, God's kingship means that we must have an unshakeable confidence. For this is still true and is applicable to every single life: no one has reason to fear or to capitulate. God can always be found.

We, too, should make this the pattern of our lives: to write no one off; to try to reach them again and again with the inventiveness of an open heart. Our most important task is not to have our own way but to be always ready to follow the path that leads to God and to one another.

The Feast of Christ the King is not, therefore, the feast of those who are under a yoke but of those who are grateful to find themselves in the hands of him who writes straight on crooked lines.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

By Metacrock in Doxa

The Atheist failsafe case?

I continue to be concerned about what is happening in the atheist community. Since I'm perceived as an enemy of their community, or at least not member, they tend to not listen to me. I have hinted at the pure hatred I've found vented against me while seeking good message board discussion. Now I find a website that is so brazen in its attempt to wish away God that it realy exceeds anything I thought I would see. They have developed a real talisman which is a magic formula to wish God away. It's a magic King's X. Here is a problem no Christian can answer, and until one does, God is disproven. How? By wishing:

from "why wont God Heal Amputees?"

Think about it this way. The Bible clearly promises that God answers prayers. For example, in Mark 11:24 Jesus says, "Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours." And billions of Christians believe these promises. You can find thousands of books, magazine articles and Web sites talking about the power of prayer. According to believers, God is answering millions of their prayers every day. Prayer seems to be especially powerful in the medical arena -- God eliminates cancers, kills viruses, reverses the effects of poisons, heals internal organs, repairs injuries, etc.

The question, therefore, is simple: If God promises to answer prayers, and if God is healing cancers and solving all of these other problems in response to prayer, then what happens if we pray to God to restore amputated limbs?

It is easy to see what happens: Nothing. You can simply look at the world with a scientific eye and note that amputees' limbs are never restored through prayer. If you want to be more rigorous, you can search every medical journal electronically. You will find that there has never been a documented case of an amputated limb spontaneously regenerating.

wow, empirical proof! Right before your eyes, God is provne not to exist, and scientific experiment the whole works. Now why didn't I think to do that?

I have also ventured onto their message board. I find there a very curious thing. I was immediately attacked as a troll. All the threads are bitter attacks against Christianity. I was trying to raise civil discussion about certain issues. Now in all fairness the administration did not tell me I was doing wrong. In fact they were very fair. But the posters unanimously attacked me. I find they define troll as "sowing discord" and that means raising questions they don't want to hear. I am not making this up. They are so battered and bruised by apologists that they can't allow a contrary view. They just want to be left alone to simer in thehir juices and hate God in peace. One guy said to me, when out flanked with gobs of evidence, "you are are just raising things we've put to rest before." The issue was my temporal beginning argument. They argue that there is no such thing as cause and effect. They also argue that time is not marked by change, but change is marked by time. So causes dont' proceed effects and the future is acting upon the past. If that's the case how can they tell if amputees are healed or not? Maybe the time before they lost their limbs is their healing?

The site goes on:

Why would Jesus promise to answer prayers in so many places in the Bible, yet completely ignore every single prayer to regenerate a lost limb?

(1) The Bible promises to give us anything we want in prayer

(2) This doesn't work

(3) therefore there is no God.

The hallmark of the argument is puntuated by the "close your eyes, pray real hard fora bannan split to appear before you...did it? No. see, God is imaringary, this proves it." I prayed for a banna split, and I got one. Just my luck it as "Flegal" from the old "bannsplit" live actor saturday morning cartoon of the late 60's.

There are several fallacies involved here:

(1) Bad assumption about the nature of God

The assume is that God is big wish fulfillment machine in the sky, or Santa clause or Dr. feelgood to old grandfather just waiting to give us whatever we want. The Bible never promises any such thing.It also assumes that God is the God of the fundie, big guy on a thorne who thinks through ratiocentenation and who is just waiting for each of us as him for a pink Cadillac.

God is none of those things. Prayer and healing or not happiness dispensers. The point of healing is never just the particular individual who get's healed. The point people make "why doesn't God empty all the hospitals" is part of the general theodicy problem (the problem of pani and evil) and that is still answered by my soteriolgoical drama argument.Read the whole article. Prayer is communion with God. Petitioning and imploring God for aid are part of that process but they are not the only part. God heals out of compassion but always with a larger plan in mind. God is not seeking to empty the hospitals. Read the link and see why.

(2) Bad assumptions about the Bible.

this site takes the most literalistic approach. The bible said it, I believe, (except I don;t but to prove a point) and that settles it. what a fundie! The person who wrote that site has a narrow literalistic reading of scripture that would put the most narrow fundes to shame.

There are verses that say things like "if you believe and do not doubt you can say to that mountain be cast into the sea and it will be." But, barring interpolation, which is entirely possible I really haven't checked, these are clearly not literal passages. Why? Mountains are usually symbolic in the Bible, so moving mountains is a symbol of moving problems, moving obstructions. It's clearly hyperballie, because said moving would clearly depend upon God's purpose.

James "says why don't you get want you want when you pray? Because you pray amiss. Why? you pray selfishly and without faith. God is not a wish machine.

If I was an inerrantist and thought there could be no mistakes in the Bible that might be a point. But the Bible is not a memo dictated from the "big man upstairs." The Bible is a collection of writngs which reflect human/divine encounter. Some of these are directly inspried in vergabe, some are not. Some are mythical some are poetic some are historical. We can't just assume this say this therefore that's that. It's only a problem for an inerentist.

(3) False assumptions about healing

A lot of people assume that healing is just to cure all sickness and God isn't up to it. Or that God would heal everyone he has some petty motive, people or too sinful, or something.. The point of healing is not to end all sickness. The point is the relation between the spiritual and the way the sick person is guided in life. this sort of answer is mocked by that website because it requires subtle understanding. It's easier to mock things rather than try and understand complex subtleties. God is trying to bring together everything in our lives at a point that will give us the optimum chance to know him, to get our lives together and to find ourselves.

this process requires a lot of things. One must be "in the zone" to be healed. What is that? (my own term, not standard theological parlance). Several things have to stack up at once, not just faith, although that is one, but also being in God's timing, and other things.we don't necessarily know all the things that have to stack up. The overall point is that God uses healing like a tool toward a higher purpose, it's not just chart Blanch on healing.

(4) False assumptions about amputees

I don't know that God doesn't heal amputees. I'm sure it's rare, but then it just stands to reason that it would take a lot of faith. Jesus said you only need a little (mustard seed) but he also said you have to use it. It would take a lot of faith to equal a little at times.

Atheists complain about how one never hears of healing amputees. When I do hear of such things, or similar things (growing new lungs, revitalized and raised from the dead from skeleton) all they do is complain about the sources. I can't blame them on the latter. The lungs thing is good evidence. although not best evidence. this is a hobby we have to make due.

St. Anthony is said to have healed amputees, but of course they have a ready made "out" on that one because its' so old it must be a legond! But they can no longer say "I never hear of it." If there is some special reason why God just doesn't heal amputees, and I don't believe there is other than what I've described, it might be that there are natural structures and structures have their limits. But I don't think it wise to limit God and say "God can't do this" Or God doesn't do this. He can, maybe he does, but not often and not around reporters.

The "why doesn't God heal Amputees" site has answers that are suppossedly aimed at the kind of complex spiriutally based answer I've given. Of course they fall woefully short because the author insitss upon making everything as shallow as possilbe.

Here's one of the so called "stock answers." Most of them are not what I argued, but here's oen that's somewhat close, although like I saud, it reduces a complex position to stupidified simplicity.

Here is another explanation that you might have heard: "God needs to remain hidden -- restoring an amputated limb would be too obvious." We will discuss this idea in more detail in later chapters, but let's touch on it here. Does God need to remain hidden?

Quote That does not seem to be the case. In general, God seems to have no problem doing things that are obvious. Think about the Bible. Writing the Bible and having billions of copies published all over the world is obvious.

It would be if God really did it. But using people to do it is kind of a failsafe isn't it? If God really did that then why don't you believe/ Duh? Because he used people. See how it works? Isn't that clever?

Quote So is parting the Red Sea. So is carving the Ten Commandments on stone tables.

Except that it was so long ago and so far away, no one around today saw it. So it's like it didn't happen. what do you need to believe? Hmmm? (the "F" word right?)

Quote So is sending your son to earth and having him perform dozens of recorded miracles. And so on. It makes no sense for a God in hiding to incarnate himself, or to do these other obvious things. Why send your son to earth, and then write a book that talks all about his exploits, if you are trying to hide?

so why don't you believe? If it's all so obvious why are you an atheist?

don't you see how shallow this is? this is not the way to think about this stuff! He's taking the easy targets the stupid people the most fundie ideas, the most ignorant ideas and he's simplified the intelligent ideas so they don't mean anything anymore. playing fast and loose with the facts and just ignoring any kind of obvious refutation.

In the same way, any medical miracle that God performs today is obvious. The removal of a cancerous tumor is obvious because it is measurable. One month the tumor is visible to everyone on the X-ray, and the next month it is not. If God eliminated the tumor, then it is openly obvious to everyone who sees the X-ray. There is nothing "hidden" about removing a tumor. So, why not regenerate a leg in an equally open way? If God intervenes with cancer patients to remove cancerous tumors in response to prayers, then why wouldn't God also intervene with amputees to regenerate lost limbs?

It still has deniability. that's obvious because you deny it.

If that's so obvious what makes you think you wouldn't deny healing an amputee?

also let's be sure not to forget the way the site over simplifies the statments about "promises to work miracles." Almost all of them are figurative, metaphor. Clearly moving mountains is not literal even Jesus never did that. Mountains are often symbols in the Bible.

I will give you the desires of your heart doesn't mean if you want a milk shake to appear before you magically it will. God never promises to be a little magic genie and give you any wish you want.

Some people might say, "Everyone's life serves God in different ways. Perhaps God uses amputees to teach us something. God must have a higher purpose for amputees." That may be the case -- God may be trying to send a message. But, again, it seems odd that he would single out this one group of people to handle the delivery. To quote Marilyn Hickey once again:

My argument wasnt' God is trying to teach you something, but that God puts us in the optimum sitaution to be drawn to him. That's not quite the same. So there may be some people for whom losing a limb does this, but I woudlnt' try to hang that lable on all amputees.

Most of these arguments have to be subtle because you lable people with them and if the lable doesnt' fit you can hur them.

No matter what has happened in your past, no matter what is happening in your present, seek out your heavenly Father in prayer as often as you can. Take my word for it -- He loves you and wants to answer your prayers. [ref] You see this logic all the time in inspirational literature and hear it every Sunday at thousands of churches: "God loves you! God hears your prayers and will answer them for you!" See this article for an example. Yet, for some reason, miracles never happen when it comes to regenerating lost limbs. It does not seem to make sense that amputees would be cut off from the blessings that Jesus promises in the Bible. And it also does not mesh with all of the prayers that Jesus seems to be answering for other people.

so he's assuming that amputees are just amputees, they have no other aspects to their lives. so if they don't get the limbs regenerated its all over. But I said there may be SOME people for whom losing a limb can help them come to palce where they find God. I dont' know how I'm only asuming it for soem.

why should we not assume God loves us/ If we feel the love of God and changes our lives and makes us better, why should we not assume this is true, that God loves us?

But to say God doens't love this one group because he wonjt change this one thing (and I dont' know that he wont) is just shoallow. Those are people. God can answers any number of prayers they pray and heal them in any number of ways, Just he doens't do that one thing, if indeed he doesn't. I'm not convneced the premise is true.

I know God is real and I know that I know that I know. I've experienced the power of God and I know. I was an atheist, that's why I got saved. I was a very skeptical thoughtful atheist. But the power of God was stronger than my obstinate streak

God Heals everbody in one way or another

Thursday, November 12, 2009

When does human life begin?


A poster

Princeton Pro-life: Academic Articles

Pro-Life Academic Articles. Follow the link and you will find these articles.

Abortion and Embryo Destruction
"Embryology: Inconvenient Facts" by William L. Saunders, Jr.

"The Wrong of Abortion" by Robert P. George and Patrick Lee from Andrew I. Cohen and Christopher Wellman, eds., Contemporary Debates in Applied Ethics (New York: Blackwell Publishers, 2005)

"Acorns and Embryos" by Patrick Lee and Robert P. George

"The Stubborn Facts of Science: Human Embryos are Human Beings" by Patrick Lee and Robert P. George

"Delusions of Dualism: The Human Being is an Integrated Unit" a reply to Professor Paul Bloom of Yale University, by Patrick Lee and Robert P. George

"The Pro-Life Argument from Substantial Identity" by Patrick Lee

"Human Beings are Animals" by Patrick Lee

"Human Personhood Begins at Conception" by Peter Kreeft

"I Was Once a Fetus: an Identity-Based Argument Against Abortion" by Alexander Pruss

"I Was Once a Fetus: That Is Why Abortion Is Wrong" by Alexander Pruss

"When do Human Beings Begin?" by Dianne N. Irving

"Life Begins at Fertilization with the Embryo's Conception" quotes from science textbooks on embryonic development

More Assorted Quotes from Textbooks on Human Development

Pro-Life Feminism
"How Abortion Hurts Women: The Hard Proof" by Erika Bachiochi, JD

Stem Cells
"The Stem Cell Debate" a written exchange between Patrick Lee, Robert P. George and Ronald Bailey

"The Ethics of Embryonic Stem-Cell Research and Human Cloning" by Robert P. George

"Adult Stem Cells, Embryonic Stem Cells and Cloning" by David Prentice

"Adult Stem Cells - The Facts" by David Prentice

"Adult Stem Cells - The Facts, Addendum" by David Prentice

"Benefits of Adult Stem Cells to Human Patients" Do No Harm Fact Sheet

"Quick Scientific References: Human Cloning, Human Embryonic Stem Cell Research" by Dianne N. Irving

Congressional Testimony of David Prentice on the scientific drawbacks of embryonic stem cells and the benefits of adult stem cells

"Cast Me Not Off in Old Age" by Eric Cohen and Leon R. Kass

"Personhood, Dignity, Suicide, and Euthanasia" by Patrick Lee

"Euthanasia and the Culture of Life" by Chris Tollefsen

Religious Resources
"Jewish Views on Abortion" by Rabbi Immanuel Jakobovits

"Abortion" by Rabbi David Novak

"Abortion in Halakhic Literature" by Rabbi David Bleich

"Abortion" Compiled by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

Evangelium Vitae Pope John Paul II's encyclical on the Value and Inviolability of Human Life

Address on "Life-Sustaining Treatments and Vegetative State: Scientific Advances and Ethical Dilemmas" by Pope John Paul II

"Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation: Replies to Certain Questions of the Day" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

"Declaration on Euthanasia" from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith

"Respect for the Dignity of the Dying" from the Pontifical Academy for Life

Other Articles
National Review interviews Robert P. George on RU-486

"Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" a critique of Princeton's Peter Singer, by Jenny Teichman

Testimony of Richard F. Collier, Jr. on behalf of the proposed amendment to the New Jersey state constitution allowing for the state legislature to enact laws requiring minors to receive parental consent before procuring an abortion


Science of Embryology: Human life begins at conception

From Princeton Prolife

The following references illustrate the fact that a new human embryo, the starting point for a human life, comes into existence with the formation of the one-celled zygote:

"Development of the embryo begins at Stage 1 when a sperm fertilizes an oocyte and together they form a zygote."
[England, Marjorie A. Life Before Birth. 2nd ed. England: Mosby-Wolfe, 1996, p.31]

"Human development begins after the union of male and female gametes or germ cells during a process known as fertilization (conception).
"Fertilization is a sequence of events that begins with the contact of a sperm (spermatozoon) with a secondary oocyte (ovum) and ends with the fusion of their pronuclei (the haploid nuclei of the sperm and ovum) and the mingling of their chromosomes to form a new cell. This fertilized ovum, known as a zygote, is a large diploid cell that is the beginning, or primordium, of a human being."
[Moore, Keith L. Essentials of Human Embryology. Toronto: B.C. Decker Inc, 1988, p.2]

"Embryo: the developing organism from the time of fertilization until significant differentiation has occurred, when the organism becomes known as a fetus."
[Cloning Human Beings. Report and Recommendations of the National Bioethics Advisory Commission. Rockville, MD: GPO, 1997, Appendix-2.]

"Embryo: An organism in the earliest stage of development; in a man, from the time of conception to the end of the second month in the uterus."
[Dox, Ida G. et al. The Harper Collins Illustrated Medical Dictionary. New York: Harper Perennial, 1993, p. 146]

"Embryo: The early developing fertilized egg that is growing into another individual of the species. In man the term 'embryo' is usually restricted to the period of development from fertilization until the end of the eighth week of pregnancy."
[Walters, William and Singer, Peter (eds.). Test-Tube Babies. Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1982, p. 160]

"The development of a human being begins with fertilization, a process by which two highly specialized cells, the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female, unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote."
[Langman, Jan. Medical Embryology. 3rd edition. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1975, p. 3]

"Embryo: The developing individual between the union of the germ cells and the completion of the organs which characterize its body when it becomes a separate organism.... At the moment the sperm cell of the human male meets the ovum of the female and the union results in a fertilized ovum (zygote), a new life has begun.... The term embryo covers the several stages of early development from conception to the ninth or tenth week of life."
[Considine, Douglas (ed.). Van Nostrand's Scientific Encyclopedia. 5th edition. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1976, p. 943]

"I would say that among most scientists, the word 'embryo' includes the time from after fertilization..."
[Dr. John Eppig, Senior Staff Scientist, Jackson Laboratory (Bar Harbor, Maine) and Member of the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel -- Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 31]

"The development of a human begins with fertilization, a process by which the spermatozoon from the male and the oocyte from the female unite to give rise to a new organism, the zygote."
[Sadler, T.W. Langman's Medical Embryology. 7th edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins 1995, p. 3]

"The question came up of what is an embryo, when does an embryo exist, when does it occur. I think, as you know, that in development, life is a continuum.... But I think one of the useful definitions that has come out, especially from Germany, has been the stage at which these two nuclei [from sperm and egg] come together and the membranes between the two break down."
[Jonathan Van Blerkom of University of Colorado, expert witness on human embryology before the NIH Human Embryo Research Panel -- Panel Transcript, February 2, 1994, p. 63]

"Zygote. This cell, formed by the union of an ovum and a sperm (Gr. zyg tos, yoked together), represents the beginning of a human being. The common expression 'fertilized ovum' refers to the zygote."
[Moore, Keith L. and Persaud, T.V.N. Before We Are Born: Essentials of Embryology and Birth Defects. 4th edition. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1993, p. 1]

"The chromosomes of the oocyte and sperm are...respectively enclosed within female and male pronuclei. These pronuclei fuse with each other to produce the single, diploid, 2N nucleus of the fertilized zygote. This moment of zygote formation may be taken as the beginning or zero time point of embryonic development."
[Larsen, William J. Human Embryology. 2nd edition. New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997, p. 17]

"Although life is a continuous process, fertilization is a critical landmark because, under ordinary circumstances, a new, genetically distinct human organism is thereby formed.... The combination of 23 chromosomes present in each pronucleus results in 46 chromosomes in the zygote. Thus the diploid number is restored and the embryonic genome is formed. The embryo now exists as a genetic unity."
[O'Rahilly, Ronan and Müller, Fabiola. Human Embryology & Teratology. 2nd edition. New York: Wiley-Liss, 1996, pp. 8, 29. This textbook lists "pre-embryo" among "discarded and replaced terms" in modern embryology, describing it as "ill-defined and inaccurate" (p. 12}]

"Almost all higher animals start their lives from a single cell, the fertilized ovum (zygote)... The time of fertilization represents the starting point in the life history, or ontogeny, of the individual."
[Carlson, Bruce M. Patten's Foundations of Embryology. 6th edition. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996, p. 3]

"[A]nimal biologists use the term embryo to describe the single cell stage, the two-cell stage, and all subsequent stages up until a time when recognizable humanlike limbs and facial features begin to appear between six to eight weeks after fertilization....
"[A] number of specialists working in the field of human reproduction have suggested that we stop using the word embryo to describe the developing entity that exists for the first two weeks after fertilization. In its place, they proposed the term pre-embryo....
"I'll let you in on a secret. The term pre-embryo has been embraced wholeheartedly by IVF practitioners for reasons that are political, not scientific. The new term is used to provide the illusion that there is something profoundly different between what we nonmedical biologists still call a six-day-old embryo and what we and everyone else call a sixteen-day-old embryo.
"The term pre-embryo is useful in the political arena -- where decisions are made about whether to allow early embryo (now called pre-embryo) experimentation -- as well as in the confines of a doctor's office, where it can be used to allay moral concerns that might be expressed by IVF patients. 'Don't worry,' a doctor might say, 'it's only pre-embryos that we're manipulating or freezing. They won't turn into real human embryos until after we've put them back into your body.'"
[Silver, Lee M. Remaking Eden: Cloning and Beyond in a Brave New World. New York: Avon Books, 1997, p. 39]

Embryonic Debate

A Reply to William Saletan, liberal bioethics writer, former embryo.

By Robert P. George & Christopher Tollefsen

In yesterday’s New York Times Book Review, William Saletan of Slate magazine reviewed our new book Embryo: A Defense of Human Life. Saletan is a deservedly respected bioethics journalist. While he is a determined defender of legal abortion and the public funding of embryo-destructive research, he is not unsympathetic to the concerns of those opposed to these practices. Unsurprisingly, then, his review of our book, though critical, was neither ungracious nor even unyielding on some important points. Saletan praised the book’s “essential and timely message.” He conceded that embryos have a certain moral standing—one that is, presumably, not enjoyed by mere gametes, tissues, or organs. “We should never create and destroy embryos lightly. We owe them our respect.” Yet the respect to which embryos are entitled, Saletan evidently believes, is not inconsistent with what he himself describes (in considering cloning) as “the mass production, exploitation, and destruction of human embryos.”

In attempting to resist our conclusion that human embryos ought not to be exploited and killed, while at the same time acknowledging their moral standing and the special respect they are owed, Saletan gets himself into a jam. To meet our argument that a human embryo is, as a matter of scientific fact, a developing human being—i.e., a living member of the species Homo sapiens in the earliest stages of development—and thus, as a matter of basic justice, a possessor of inherent dignity and a right to life, Saletan is driven to deny that human embryos are whole entities, as opposed to mere parts (such as gametes, tissues, or organs). He denies that embryos are determinate individuals, and he seems to doubt that they are organisms at all. But if these denials and doubts are warranted, then there is no rational basis for believing that human embryos “deserve our respect” or that “we should never create or destroy them lightly.” Saletan is trying to find a plot of solid ground lying between the views of radical liberal bioethicists, on the one side, and defenders of the pro-life view, on the other. The failure of his effort shows that the middle ground is nothing but quicksand.

Saletan’s denial that human embryos are human beings in the embryonic stage of development cannot be sustained in light of the scientific facts. Modern embryology and human developmental biology establish beyond any doubt that human embryos are wholes and not mere parts, that they are indeed determinate individuals; and that they are organisms that endure throughout the developmental process, that is, both during gestation and after birth.

Consider any adult human being—William Saletan, for example. He is the same whole living individual human organism—i.e., the same human being—that was at an earlier stage of his life an adolescent. And the adolescent Will was the same whole living individual human organism that was at earlier developmental stages a child, an infant, a fetus, and an embryo. By contrast, he was never an ovum or a sperm cell. The gametes whose felicitous union brought the embryonic Will Saletan into existence were parts of other organisms, his mother and father. But Will was once an embryo, just as he was once a fetus, an infant, a child, and an adolescent. From the embryonic stage forward, Will was a complete (though in the beginning developmentally immature) and distinct (both genetically and functionally) organism. He developed by an internally directed and gapless process from the embryonic into and through the infant, child, and adolescent stages and ultimately into adulthood with his organismic determinateness, distinctness, and unity intact.

Will, meet Will
The argument against our view being advanced by the adult Will Saletan is confounded by the fact that Will Saletan, like the rest of us, really was once an embryo. In telling the story of Will’s life, it would be a howler of a scientific mistake to say that once upon a time there was an embryo that was something distinct from the living human organism that is now Will Saletan, but that got transformed from whatever it was into the organism that is Will Saletan at some point after the embryo came into existence. The true story is that the organism that is Will Saletan is the same organism that, at an earlier stage of Will’s development, was that embryo.

Let’s now examine the specific claims about embryogenesis and early intrauterine human development on the basis of which Saletan tries to make his case against our position. He quotes us saying that “nothing extrinsic to the developing organism itself acts on it to produce a new character or direction of growth.” But despite having quoted us on this point in full, Saletan mistakenly argues against the quite different claim that nothing acts on the embryo at all. We do not make this claim and it is unnecessary to make in order to establish that human embryos are, as a matter of biological fact, new and distinct individuals of the human species. We did not claim comprehensively that nothing acts on the embryo. Such a claim would be false of the human embryo and perhaps every other developing organism, whether that organism is in utero, if viviparous, or in an egg, if oviparous. Developing organisms (including humans during gestation and even after birth) are dependent in various ways and often depend upon environmental cues and prompts for certain aspects of their development. In some cases, development will even stall while the organism waits for environmental signals indicating, say, receptivity for implantation, in the case of embryos of certain species.

In the early development of a human being, the embryo requires maternal signaling of receptivity for successful implantation. Yet, as every human embryology text affirms, even during the process of implantation the embryo is acting as a distinct biological unit—an organism. The embryo is not a maternal body part. No text of modern embryology even remotely suggests such a thing. As Saletan notices, the embryo acts on the mother, just as she acts on him or her. He quotes an embryology text saying that “the early embryo and the female reproductive tract influence one another.” Indeed, they do. (For example, the embryonic human secretes human chorionic gonadotropin, which helps to maintain the maternal secretion of progesterone and estrogen without which menstruation would begin and the embryo would be expelled.) But the interactions of mother and developing child in no way warrant the conclusion Saletan seems to want to draw, namely, that the embryo is not a whole, distinct, living organism.

Consider the Science
Our claim was not that nothing acts on the embryo in the developmental process. It was that nothing acts on the embryo in such a way as to “produce a new character or new direction of growth.” This is a straightforward fact fully established by embryological science. Nothing in the developmental process (certainly no action of the mother) transforms the developing organism from one kind of entity (say a nonorganismic entity or a nonhuman organism) into another kind of entity (a human). Human development is the development of an entity that comes into existence as, and remains until death, a complete, self-integrating, determinate human organism—a human being. Indeed, we can see this in the fact that the effect had by the mother on her developing child is species specific: maternal signaling, the provision of nutrition and an environment hospitable to the child’s life and development, and other maternal factors help to enable the embryo and fetus to continue along the distinctive developmental pathway determined by the embryo itself. When zebra embryos are experimentally transferred to horse mares, such trans-species pregnancies can proceed successfully to term, but invariably result in the birth of baby zebras, not baby horses or zebra-horse hybrids. The maternal environment supports and influences the development of the embryo, but does not control development. Similarly, no maternal or other extrinsic action changes the human embryo from a human being or into a human being; they merely enable it to continue to grow and develop as a human being.

Similar points could be made about another feature of embryonic development to which Saletan alludes in trying to resist our defense of the embryo, i.e., the influence of maternal RNA on early embryonic development. The RNA is “maternal” only in the sense that it is contributed by the oocyte. But as human embryologist Maureen Condic explains, “once an embryo has come into existence, the maternally-derived RNA, like the embryo’s genome, belong to the embryo itself. They are not components of the mother, somehow acting at a distance, but components of the embryo acting to further its own development.” They form aspects of the complete developmental program of the embryo and are neither extrinsic, nor distinct agents. (Nor do they cause the embryo of some early stage to become a numerically different being.) These facts discredit Saletan’s claim—central to his case against our position—that “maternal factors don’t just facilitate the embryo’s program; they direct it.” The truth is that the embryo’s development is internally directed. The embryo directs not only its own integral organic functioning, but also its development in the direction of maturity as a member of the human species.

If a human embryo were something other than a human being in the embryonic stage of development—an embryonic human being—what could it be? Saletan’s suggestion seems to be, not simply that the embryo is less than a human being, but that the mother and embryo taken together form the relevant biological unit. Writing of the mother’s relation to the developing embryo, he says that “[h]er body sustains it, guides it and affects its direction of growth. Mother and child are a system.” Later, Saletan casts an even wider net in search of the relevant unit: The biological program for humanity “doesn’t run on one body. It runs on the network of humanity. In fact, it runs on the entire Internet of evolving species.”
Here Saletan is veering away from straightforward biology toward metaphysical speculation of considerable abstraction. Human embryologists focus strictly, and rightly, on the life of a developing human, and his or her developmental program. Their business is not with the biological program for humanity. From their work, we can understand when the life of a human being begins, while fully acknowledging that “human life” is transmitted and has been transmitted from human beings to new human beings from the time of the appearance of the first members of the species.

Saletan points out (as do we, in Embryo) that “Within two weeks of conception, a female embryo’s primordial germ cells begin the assembly of her future children. Her primary oocytes are complete at birth.” But Saletan’s own words should make him pause: Who is this entity to whom Saletan (rightly) refers as “her”? Surely he is here describing precisely what we have described: a new and complete (whole) human organism—a new individual of the human species, already female, who is herself providing for her future reproductive success—not, of course, in the way of a voluntary agent (for in the embryonic stage, as in the fetal, infant, and early childhood stages, humans do not yet exercise agentic capacities), but rather in the way of a biological organism.

Three Last Things
We shall conclude by addressing three arguments Saletan tries to run against our view: The first concerns the phenomenon of twinning; the second the relationship between embryo and placenta; and the third the phenomenon of parthenogenesis.

Some people have argued that until the point at which monozygotic (i.e., identical) twinning is no longer possible a human embryo is not yet an individual member of the human species. If one embryo can split into two, then it lacks individuality. We are by no means the first writers to notice the flaws in this argument, but we provided in Embryo a highly detailed refutation of it. We were therefore surprised that Saletan proposed it in his review as if we had not answered it—and at length—in the book he was reviewing. Of course, it is possible that our answer is wrong; and Saletan is perfectly entitled to point to defects if he can find any. But he failed to do that. So we have no idea of the grounds on which he thinks the “twinning argument” remains defensible despite the points we and others have made against it.

Saletan presented the argument as a response to our claim that the cells of an embryo “function together to develop into a single, more mature member of the human species.” He pointed out that in “one of every 300 cases, the embryo splits to become two or more people, at least one of whom wasn’t a distinct organism at conception.” But that fact in no way establishes that the embryo lacks individuality. If A splits into B and C, that provides no evidence at all that prior to that splitting A was not a determinate individual. For example, a flatworm can be split and the result will be two whole flatworms: but that of course does not show that prior to that division there was not a determinate individual flatworm. With human embryos, it is clear that at fertilization, a new and complete organism comes into existence—a distinct, actively self-developing human organism—for he or she exhibits internally directed, complex development between fertilization and the last point in time at which twinning may occur. So, the original embryo A lives until twinning occurs, and at that point, either A continues to exist and a new embryo comes to be by “budding” from the original one, or (less likely, given recent findings) A ceases to be and two new embryos, B and C, come to be.

Since most twinning occurs after day 5, and since in many cases one of the twins has more qualitative likeness to the original than the other, the “budding” scenario is more likely what occurs. Twin B is a sort of natural clone of Twin A. (Of course, A and B might never know which of them is A and which is B.) Twin B comes into being as an embryo, just as twin A did, though twin B was not produced by the union of gametes. Even in the less likely possibility—that is, if the embryo “splits” and gives rise to two distinct new embryos (its material constituents entering into their composition)—the fact of twinning does nothing to show that the original embryo was not a determinate, individual human organism. Twinning in this case would be akin to what happens in the case of cells that divide by mitosis, for example, or in the dividing of an amoeba.

A second argument of Saletan’s concerns the placenta, a structure generated by the embryo to provide the nourishing environment needed for 8 months of the developing child’s life. Focusing on this organ, Saletan concludes “The embryo, too, is collective.” This is a bit opaque, but Saletan’s point seems to be that because the entire embryo is, or becomes, two distinct parts, one of which will eventually be discarded, the embryo is therefore not an individual. But this argument fares no better than Saletan’s attempt to revive the twinning argument. Organisms do have parts—organs, cells, extracellular matrices—the existence and functional roles of which are subordinated to the existence and needs of the organism itself. Organisms are unities of multiple structures—biological wholes which, in fact, precede the existence of many of their organic parts: organisms contain the developmental program to establish the parts they need to continue to grow and develop.

Some of these parts, such as the brain, are, once they exist, more or less permanent and co-extensive with the remainder of the organism’s life. But some parts, such as cells, are not permanent, and, indeed, in the early stages of the organism’s existence, programmed cell death is essential for proper development. Somewhat similarly, the placenta is, not just a collection of cells, but an entire organ whose role in the organism’s biological economy is temporary. The embryo generates through its own activities that organ, as it develops its other organs, but its reliance on the placenta is bound by narrow temporal conditions, and the placenta will (like baby teeth) be discarded in time.

How could this possibly demonstrate that the embryo is not an individual? It cannot—unless Saletan is holding that any form of biological complexity jeopardizes individuality. And surely he would not want to say that. As we see it, the fact that the embryo itself is capable of generating even temporary organs to foster its own growth and development strongly supports the claim that it is a distinct living organism of the human kind, precisely the same kind of organism, that is to say, as you and we are and William Saletan is. Indeed, as we’ve observed, all of us adult human organisms were once in the embryonic stage of our lives, just as we were once in the adolescent and before that in the child and infant stages. We were human organisms then, as we are now. Indeed, we were then the same human organism we are now. It is that organism that has experienced human development.

Finally, Saletan takes issue with our sharp distinction between the embryo, which, again, we claim is a whole and distinct (both genetically and functionally) biological organism of the species Homo sapiens, and the sperm and oocyte, which we claim are biological parts of the parental organisms. As we stated the case in Embryo, sperm and ova are “parts of the men and women whose gametes they are. Their union can generate another organism, an entity that is not merely part of another organism. But that organism was never itself a sperm cell or an ovum.” Saletan, however, thinks he might be able to call into question this distinction between embryos and gametes. “In some 70 vertebrate species,” he reports “unfertilized eggs have developed into offspring.” Of course, these 70 species do not include human beings, which was our subject for discussion. Nevertheless, we think our claim is true even in the unrestricted context: no organism was ever a sperm or ovum.

In parthenogenesis, embryogenesis occurs in an unusual way: there is no fertilization of an ovum by sperm. In ‘ordinary’ fertilization, one copy of the chromosomes contributed by the egg is rapidly expelled into a small polar body that contains very little cytoplasm, leaving only a haploid number of maternally-derived chromosomes. Thus, the nuclear material of the already haploid sperm and egg can combine to form a new diploid cell (one with all the necessary chromosomal material). In most cases of parthenogenesis, by contrast, whether natural or induced in a lab, all the chromosomes of the newly developing embryo are derived from one source only, the egg. The mechanisms by which the ovum is transformed into a one celled zygote are various; in some cases, haploid nuclei are duplicated; in other cases, the ova never undergo a meiotic process to become haploid, and remain diploid. But in all such cases there is a critical change from an entity that acts only as a part of the larger biological whole to which it belongs to an entity that acts in the way characteristic of an embryo.

The oocyte as such will not continue along the developmental path characteristic of its species. But a single-celled parthenote does begin the process of cell division characteristic of an embryo. There is, in other words, a transition from oocyte to embryo just as there is in fertilization by sperm (and just as there is, we should add, in cloning by use of somatic cell nuclear transfer.) Neither the egg, nor the genetic material of the somatic cell as such are an embryo. But they can be acted on (i.e., induced either by human intervention or some other cause) to produce a single, living, one-celled organism, capable of its own self-directed growth and development.

We reiterate that there is no documented evidence of this ever happening in human beings. But even if it did, our analysis would stand: parthenogenetic reproduction would involve a transformation of the oocyte from being a part of a human being (the woman whose oocyte it is), to being a new, distinct, biological individual. The “egg-embryo distinction” is not suspended, as Saletan claims.

We thank Saletan for his review of Embryo and commend him for focusing (for the most part) on just the right question: Is the human embryo a whole living member of the species Homo sapiens—a human being—in the earliest stage of his or her natural development? We say yes, that is exactly what a human embryo is; he says no. The question is not metaphysical or religious, but rather scientific. But it is a scientific question with profound moral consequences for those who believe, as we do, and as we are sure Saletan does, in the profound, inherent, and equal dignity of all members of the human family. So we urge readers to consider what Saletan has said, what we have said in reply, and to consult any of the major textbooks in human embryology to determine who has gotten the science right. It is worth the effort, for what is ultimately at stake, if we are right, is a true moral nightmare: “the mass production, exploitation, and destruction of human embryos.”

—Robert P. George is McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton and a Member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. Christopher Tollefsen is Professor of Philosophy at the University of South Carolina. They are co-authors of Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.
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Humans More Than Bodies, Bodies More Than Cells

Leader of Vatican's Health Care Council Defends Dignity

By Antonio Gaspari

ROME, NOV. 12, 2009 ( The human body -- even from the first stages of its existence -- should not be reduced to the whole of its cells, a Vatican official in the field of health care is affirming.

Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, president of the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry, spoke about human identity and dignity in an event Wednesday in Rome marking the new academic year.

The prelate stressed that "the dignity of the person must be recognized in every human being, from conception until natural death; and this principle of dignity is so fundamental that it calls for a great 'yes' to human life."

This "yes," the archbishop added, "must be at the center of ethical reflection on biomedical research, which has ever greater importance in today's world."

Archbishop Zimowski noted how medical sciences have markedly increased their knowledge on human life in the initial stages of its existence, better understanding the biological structures of man and the process of his generation.

"These developments are certainly positive and merit being supported when they serve to overcome or correct pathologies and contribute to re-establish the normal development of the generative processes," he said.

"However, and it must be said clearly, they are negative and hence cannot be shared, if they imply the suppression of human beings," the Vatican official clarified, "or [if they] use means that harm the person's liberty or are adopted for ends that are contrary to man's integral good."


Taking up the words of Pope John Paul II in "Novo Millennio Ineunte," Archbishop Zimowski declared that the Church must be radical in proclaiming the value of life.

This defense "is on the ecclesial agenda of charity," he said, and responds to the "duty to be committed to the respect of every human being from conception to his natural death."

"In the same way," the archbishop continued, "the service to man obliges us to cry out, opportunely or inopportunely, that those who make use of the new powers of science, especially in the area of biotechnology, cannot neglect the fundamental demands of ethics, by appealing perhaps to a debatable solidarity that ends up discriminating between life and life, showing contempt for the very reality of each human being."

In this context, the prelate said that man's life is at the heart of Christ's message, because "it is man, that great and wonderful living figure, more precious in God's eyes than the whole of creation."

"In the plan of God the Creator, everything has been created for man, but man has been created to serve God and to offer the whole of creation to him," he said. Because of this, the defense of life understood as charity "is necessarily at the service of culture, of politics, of the economy, of the family -- so that the fundamental principles on which the destiny of the human being and the future of civilization depend are respected everywhere."

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Benedict XVI on the Shroud of Turin: an invitation to recognize the face of God

He said that the coming exposition of the Shroud on May 2010 ""will provide an appropriate moment to contemplate that mysterious face which silently speaks to the hearts of men, inviting them to recognize therein the face of God."


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Catholic Church and science

How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization.

From the role of the monks (they did much more than just copy manuscripts) to art and architecture, from the university to Western law, from science to charitable work, from international law to economics, the book delves into just how indebted we are as a civilization to the Catholic Church, whether we realize it or not.

By far the book’s longest chapter is "The Church and Science." We have all heard a great deal about the Church’s alleged hostility toward science. What most people fail to realize is that historians of science have spent the past half-century drastically revising this conventional wisdom, arguing that the Church’s role in the development of Western science was far more salutary than previously thought. I am speaking not about Catholic apologists but about serious and important scholars of the history of science such as J.L. Heilbron, A.C. Crombie, David Lindberg, Edward Grant, and Thomas Goldstein.

It is all very well to point out that important scientists, like Louis Pasteur, have been Catholic. More revealing is how many priests have distinguished themselves in the sciences. It turns out, for instance, that the first person to measure the rate of acceleration of a freely falling body was Fr. Giambattista Riccioli. The man who has been called the father of Egyptology was Fr. Athanasius Kircher (also called "master of a hundred arts" for the breadth of his knowledge). Fr. Roger Boscovich, who has been described as "the greatest genius that Yugoslavia ever produced," has often been called the father of modern atomic theory.

In the sciences it was the Jesuits in particular who distinguished themselves; some 35 craters on the moon, in fact, are named after Jesuit scientists and mathematicians.

By the eighteenth century, the Jesuits

had contributed to the development of pendulum clocks, pantographs, barometers, reflecting telescopes and microscopes, to scientific fields as various as magnetism, optics and electricity. They observed, in some cases before anyone else, the colored bands on Jupiter’s surface, the Andromeda nebula and Saturn’s rings. They theorized about the circulation of the blood (independently of Harvey), the theoretical possibility of flight, the way the moon effected the tides, and the wave-like nature of light. Star maps of the southern hemisphere, symbolic logic, flood-control measures on the Po and Adige rivers, introducing plus and minus signs into Italian mathematics – all were typical Jesuit achievements, and scientists as influential as Fermat, Huygens, Leibniz and Newton were not alone in counting Jesuits among their most prized correspondents [Jonathan Wright, The Jesuits, 2004, p. 189].

Seismology, the study of earthquakes, has been so dominated by Jesuits that it has become known as "the Jesuit science." It was a Jesuit, Fr. J.B. Macelwane, who wrote Introduction to Theoretical Seismology, the first seismology textbook in America, in 1936. To this day, the American Geophysical Union, which Fr. Macelwane once headed, gives an annual medal named after this brilliant priest to a promising young geophysicist.

The Jesuits were also the first to introduce Western science into such far-off places as China and India. In seventeenth-century China in particular, Jesuits introduced a substantial body of scientific knowledge and a vast array of mental tools for understanding the physical universe, including the Euclidean geometry that made planetary motion comprehensible. Jesuits made important contributions to the scientific knowledge and infrastructure of other less developed nations not only in Asia but also in Africa and Central and South America. Beginning in the nineteenth century, these continents saw the opening of Jesuit observatories that studied such fields as astronomy, geomagnetism, meteorology, seismology, and solar physics. Such observatories provided these places with accurate time keeping, weather forecasts (particularly important in the cases of hurricanes and typhoons), earthquake risk assessments, and cartography. In Central and South America the Jesuits worked primarily in meteorology and seismology, essentially laying the foundations of those disciplines there. The scientific development of these countries, ranging from Ecuador to Lebanon to the Philippines, is indebted to Jesuit efforts.

The Galileo case is often cited as evidence of Catholic hostility toward science, and How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization accordingly takes a closer look at the Galileo matter. For now, just one little-known fact: Catholic cathedrals in Bologna, Florence, Paris, and Rome were constructed to function as solar observatories. No more precise instruments for observing the sun’s apparent motion could be found anywhere in the world. When Johannes Kepler posited that planetary orbits were elliptical rather than circular, Catholic astronomer Giovanni Cassini verified Kepler’s position through observations he made in the Basilica of San Petronio in the heart of the Papal States. Cassini, incidentally, was a student of Fr. Riccioli and Fr. Francesco Grimaldi, the great astronomer who also discovered the diffraction of light, and even gave the phenomenon its name.

I’ve tried to fill the book with little-known facts like these.

To say that the Church played a positive role in the development of science has now become absolutely mainstream, even if this new consensus has not yet managed to trickle down to the general public. In fact, Stanley Jaki, over the course of an extraordinary scholarly career, has developed a compelling argument that in fact it was important aspects of the Christian worldview that accounted for why it was in the West that science enjoyed the success it did as a self-sustaining enterprise. Non-Christian cultures did not possess the same philosophical tools, and in fact were burdened by conceptual frameworks that hindered the development of science. Jaki extends this thesis to seven great cultures: Arabic, Babylonian, Chinese, Egyptian, Greek, Hindu, and Maya. In these cultures, Jaki explains, science suffered a "stillbirth." My book gives ample attention to Jaki’s work.

Economic thought is another area in which more and more scholars have begun to acknowledge the previously overlooked role of Catholic thinkers. Joseph Schumpeter, one of the great economists of the twentieth century, paid tribute to the overlooked contributions of the late Scholastics – mainly sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish theologians – in his magisterial History of Economic Analysis (1954). "[I]t is they," he wrote, "who come nearer than does any other group to having been the ‘founders’ of scientific economics." In devoting scholarly attention to this unfortunately neglected chapter in the history of economic thought, Schumpeter would be joined by other accomplished scholars over the course of the twentieth century, including Professors Raymond de Roover, Marjorie Grice-Hutchinson, and Alejandro Chafuen.

The Church also played an indispensable role in another essential development in Western civilization: the creation of the university. The university was an utterly new phenomenon in European history. Nothing like it had existed in ancient Greece or Rome. The institution that we recognize today, with its faculties, courses of study, examinations, and degrees, as well as the familiar distinction between undergraduate and graduate study, come to us directly from the medieval world. And it is no surprise that the Church should have done so much to foster the nascent university system, since the Church, according to historian Lowrie Daly, "was the only institution in Europe that showed consistent interest in the preservation and cultivation of knowledge."

The popes and other churchmen ranked the universities among the great jewels of Christian civilization. It was typical to hear the University of Paris described as the "new Athens" – a designation that calls to mind the ambitions of the great Alcuin from the Carolingian period of several centuries earlier, who sought through his own educational efforts to establish a new Athens in the kingdom of the Franks. Pope Innocent IV (1243–54) described the universities as "rivers of science which water and make fertile the soil of the universal Church," and Pope Alexander IV (1254–61) called them "lanterns shining in the house of God." And the popes deserved no small share of the credit for the growth and success of the university system. "Thanks to the repeated intervention of the papacy," writes historian Henri Daniel-Rops, "higher education was enabled to extend its boundaries; the Church, in fact, was the matrix that produced the university, the nest whence it took flight."

As a matter of fact, among the most important medieval contributions to modern science was the essentially free inquiry of the university system, where scholars could debate and discuss propositions, and in which the utility of human reason was taken for granted. Contrary to the grossly inaccurate picture of the Middle Ages that passes for common knowledge today, medieval intellectual life made indispensable contributions to Western civilization. In The Beginnings of Western Science (1992), David Lindberg writes:

[I]t must be emphatically stated that within this educational system the medieval master had a great deal of freedom. The stereotype of the Middle Ages pictures the professor as spineless and subservient, a slavish follower of Aristotle and the Church fathers (exactly how one could be a slavish follower of both, the stereotype does not explain), fearful of departing one iota from the demands of authority. There were broad theological limits, of course, but within those limits the medieval master had remarkable freedom of thought and expression; there was almost no doctrine, philosophical or theological, that was not submitted to minute scrutiny and criticism by scholars in the medieval university.

"[S]cholars of the later Middle Ages," concludes Lindberg, "created a broad intellectual tradition, in the absence of which subsequent progress in natural philosophy would have been inconceivable."

Historian of science Edward Grant concurs with this judgment:

What made it possible for Western civilization to develop science and the social sciences in a way that no other civilization had ever done before? The answer, I am convinced, lies in a pervasive and deep-seated spirit of inquiry that was a natural consequence of the emphasis on reason that began in the Middle Ages. With the exception of revealed truths, reason was enthroned in medieval universities as the ultimate arbiter for most intellectual arguments and controversies. It was quite natural for scholars immersed in a university environment to employ reason to probe into subject areas that had not been explored before, as well as to discuss possibilities that had not previously been seriously entertained.

The creation of the university, the commitment to reason and rational argument, and the overall spirit of inquiry that characterized medieval intellectual life amounted to "a gift from the Latin Middle Ages to the modern world…though it is a gift that may never be acknowledged. Perhaps it will always retain the status it has had for the past four centuries as the best-kept secret of Western civilization."

Here, then, are just a few of the topics to be found in How the Catholic Church Built Western Civilization. I’ve been asked quite a few times in recent weeks what my next project will be. For now, it’ll be getting some rest.

"If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself." - Saint Augustine

"If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself."

- Saint Augustine

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often. John Henry Newman

A great memory does not make a mind, any more than a dictionary is a piece of literature.
John Henry Newman

A great memory is never made synonymous with wisdom, any more than a dictionary would be called a treatise.
John Henry Newman

A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.
John Henry Newman

Ability is sexless.
John Henry Newman

Calculation never made a hero.
John Henry Newman

Evil has no substance of its own, but is only the defect, excess, perversion, or corruption of that which has substance.
John Henry Newman

Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather that it shall ever have a beginning.
John Henry Newman

From the age of fifteen, dogma has been the fundamental principle of my religion: I know no other religion; I cannot enter into the idea of any other sort of religion; religion, as a mere sentiment, is to me a dream and a mockery.
John Henry Newman

Growth is the only evidence of life.
John Henry Newman

If we are intended for great ends, we are called to great hazards.
John Henry Newman

If we insist on being as sure as is conceivable... we must be content to creep along the ground, and never soar.
John Henry Newman

In this world no one rules by love; if you are but amiable, you are no hero; to be powerful, you must be strong, and to have dominion you must have a genius for organizing.
John Henry Newman

It is almost a definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.
John Henry Newman

It is almost the definition of a gentleman to say that he is one who never inflicts pain.
John Henry Newman

It is as absurd to argue men, as to torture them, into believing.
John Henry Newman

It is often said that second thoughts are best. So they are in matters of judgment but not in matters of conscience.
John Henry Newman

It is very difficult to get up resentment towards persons whom one has never seen.
John Henry Newman

Let us act on what we have, since we have not what we wish.
John Henry Newman

Let us take things as we find them: let us not attempt to distort them into what they are not... We cannot make facts. All our wishing cannot change them. We must use them.
John Henry Newman

Men will die upon dogma but will not fall victim to a conclusion.
John Henry Newman

Nothing is more common than for men to think that because they are familiar with words they understand the ideas they stand for.
John Henry Newman

Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.
John Henry Newman

Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt.
John Henry Newman

The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.
John Henry Newman

There is such a thing as legitimate warfare: war has its laws; there are things which may fairly be done, and things which may not be done.
John Henry Newman

To holy people the very name of Jesus is a name to feed upon, a name to transport. His name can raise the dead and transfigure and beautify the living.
John Henry Newman

To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.
John Henry Newman

Virtue is its own reward, and brings with it the truest and highest pleasure; but if we cultivate it only for pleasure's sake, we are selfish, not religious, and will never gain the pleasure, because we can never have the virtue.
John Henry Newman

We can believe what we choose. We are answerable for what we choose to believe.
John Henry Newman

The Idea of a University (1873)

* There is a knowledge which is desirable, though nothing come of it, as being of itself a treasure, and a sufficient remuneration of years of labor.
o Discourse V, pt. 6

* Knowledge is one thing, virtue is another.
o Discourse V, pt. 9

* The world is content with setting right the surface of things.
o Discourse VIII, pt. 8

* A great memory does not make a philosopher, any more than a dictionary can be called grammar.
o Discourse VIII, pt. 10

An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine (1878)

* To be deep in history is to cease to be protestant.
o Introduction, Part 5

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Agnostic vs. Atheist

What is the difference between agnostic and atheist?

The Latin roots of these words provide some light.

Agnostic comes from a- which means no, and gnosis which means knowledge. An agnostic just says that he does not know whether God exists or not.

Atheist also comes from a- meaning no, and theos which means God. An atheist then says that there is no God.

The Catholic Catechism, the product of four centuries of theological study, further explains what I just said.


Agnosticism assumes a number of forms.

In certain cases the agnostic refrains from denying God; instead he postulates the existence of a transcendent being which is incapable of revealing itself, and about which nothing can be said.

In other cases, the agnostic makes no judgment about God's existence, declaring it impossible to prove, or even to affirm or deny.

Agnosticism can sometimes include a certain search for God, but it can equally express indifferentism, a flight from the ultimate question of existence, and a sluggish moral conscience.

Agnosticism is all too often equivalent to practical atheism.


The name "atheism" covers many very different phenomena.

One common form is the practical materialism which restricts its needs and aspirations to space and time.

Atheistic humanism falsely considers man to be "an end to himself, and the sole maker, with supreme control, of his own history."

Another form of contemporary atheism looks for the liberation of man through economic and social liberation. "It holds that religion, of its very nature, thwarts such emancipation by raising man's hopes in a future life, thus both deceiving him and discouraging him from working for a better form of life on earth."

Since it rejects or denies the existence of God, atheism is a sin against the virtue of religion. The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances.

"Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion."

Atheism is often based on a false conception of human autonomy, exaggerated to the point of refusing any dependence on God.

Yet, "to acknowledge God is in no way to oppose the dignity of man, since such dignity is grounded and brought to perfection in God. . . . "

"For the Church knows full well that her message is in harmony with the most secret desires of the human heart."

Friday, October 2, 2009

Married Love and Contraception

Married Love and Contraception (Osservatore Romano (English Ed.), Oct. 10, 1988)
By Fr. Cormac Burke

There is a modern argument for conjugal contraception which claims to speak in personalist terms, and which could be summarised as follows. The marriage act has two functions: a biological or procreative function, and a spiritual-unitive function. However, while it is only potentially a procreative act, it is actually and in itself a love act: it truly expresses conjugal love and unites husband and wife. Now, while contraception frustrates the biological or procreative potential of the marital act, it fully respects its spiritual and unitive function; in fact it facilitates it by removing tensions or fears capable of impairing the expression of love in married intercourse. In other words - this position claims - while contraception suspends or nullifies the procreative aspect of marital intercourse, it leaves its unitive aspect intact.

Until quite recently, the argument presented by christian moralists against artificial birth-control has mainly been that the sexual act is naturally designed for procreation, and it is wrong to frustrate this design because it is wrong to interfere with man's natural functions. Many persons are not altogether convinced by this argument, which does seem open to rather elementary objections. After all, we do interfere with other natural functions, for instance when we use ear-plugs or hold our nose, etc., and no one has ever argued that to do so is morally wrong. Why then should it be wrong to interfere for good reasons with the procreational aspect of marital intercourse? The defenders of contraception in any case, dismiss this traditional argument as mere "biologism"; as an understanding of the marital act that fails to go beyond its biological function or possible biological consequences, and ignores its spiritual function, i.e. its function in signifying and effecting the union of the spouses.

Those who advance this defence of marital contraception - couched in apparently personalist terms - feel they are on strong and positive ground. If we are to offer an effective answer and show the radical defectiveness of this position, I suggest that we too need to develop a personalist argument, based on a true human understanding of sex and marriage.

The contraceptive argument outlined is evidently built on an essential thesis: that the procreative and the unitive aspects of the marital act are separable, i.e. that the procreative aspect can be nullified without this in any way vitiating the conjugal act or making it less a unique expression of true marital love and union.

This thesis is of course explicitly rejected by the Church. The main reason why contraception is unacceptable to a christian conscience is, as Pope Paul VI put it in Humanae Vitae, the "inseparable connection, established by God... between the unitive significance and the procreative significance which are both inherent to the marriage act" (HV 12).

Paul VI affirmed this inseparable connection. He did not however go on to explain why these two aspects of the marital act are in fact so inseparably connected, or why this connection is such that it is the very ground of the moral evaluation of the act. Perhaps serene reflection, matured by the ongoing debate of more than 20 years, can enable us to discover the reasons why this is so: why the connection between the two aspects of the act is in fact such that the destruction of its procreative reference necessarily destroys its unitive and personalist significance. In other words, if one deliberately destroys the power of the conjugal act to give life, one necessarily destroys its power to signify love: the love and union proper to marriage.

The marital act as an act of union

Why is the act of intercourse called the conjugal act? Why is it regarded as the most distinctive expression of marital love and self-giving? Why is this act - which is but a passing and fleeting thing - particularly regarded as an act of union? After all, people in love express their love and desire to be united in many ways: sending letters, exchanging looks or presents, holding hands... What makes the sexual act unique? Why does this act unite the spouses in a way that no other act does? What is it that makes it not just a physical experience but a love experience?

Is it the special pleasure attaching to it? Is the unitive meaning of the conjugal act contained just in the sensation, however intense, that it can produce? If intercourse unites two people simply because it gives special pleasure, then it would seem that one or other of the spouses could at times find a more meaningful union outside marriage than within it. It would follow too that sex without pleasure becomes meaningless, and that sex with pleasure, even homosexual sex, becomes meaningful.

No. The conjugal act may or may not be accompanied by pleasure; but the meaning of the act does not consist in its pleasure. The pleasure provided by marital intercourse may be intense, but it is transient. The significance of marital intercourse is also intense, and it is not transient; it lasts.

Why should the marital act be more significant than any other expression of affection between the spouses? Why should it be a more intense expression of love and union? Surely because of what happens in that marital encounter, which is not just a touch, not a mere sensation, however intense, but a communication, an offer and acceptance, an exchange of something that uniquely represents the gift of oneself and the union of two selves.

Here, of course, it should not be forgotten that while two persons in love want to give themselves to one another, to be united to one another, this desire of theirs remains humanly speaking on a purely volitional level. They can bind themselves to one another, but they cannot actually give themselves. The greatest expression of a person's desire to give himself is to give the seed of himself [1]. Giving one's seed is much more significant, and in particular is much more real, than giving one's heart. "I am yours, I give you my heart; here, take it", remains mere poetry, to which no physical gesture can give true body. But, "I am yours; I give you my seed; here, take it", is not poetry, it is love. It is conjugal love embodied in a unique and privileged physical action whereby intimacy is expressed - "I give you what I give no one" - and union is achieved: "Take what I have to give. This will be a new me. United to you, to what you have to give - to your seed - this will be a new "you-and-me", fruit of our mutual knowledge and love". In human terms, this is the closest one can come to giving one's self conjugally and to accepting the conjugal self-gift of another, and so achieving spousal union.

Therefore, what makes marital intercourse express a unique relationship and union is not the sharing of a sensation but the sharing of a power: of an extraordinary life-related, creative physical sexual power. In a true conjugal relationship, each spouse says to the other: "I accept you as somebody like no one else in my life. You will be unique to me and I to you. You and you alone will be my husband; you alone will be my wife. And the proof of your uniqueness to me is the fact that with you - and with you alone - am I prepared to share this God-given life-oriented power".

In this consists the singular quality of intercourse. Other physical expressions of affection do not go beyond the level of a mere gesture; they remain a symbol of the union desired. But the conjugal act is not a mere symbol. In true marital intercourse, something real has been exchanged, with a full gift and acceptance of conjugal masculinity and femininity. And there remains, as witness to their conjugal relationship and the intimacy of their conjugal union, the husband's seed in the wife's body [2].

Now if one deliberately nullifies the life-orientation of the conjugal act, one destroys its essential power to signify union. Contraception in fact turns the marital act into self-deception or into a lie: "I love you so much that with you, and with you alone, I am ready to share this most unique power..." But - what unique power? In contraceptive sex, no unique power is being shared, except a power to produce pleasure. But then the uniqueness of the marital act is reduced to pleasure. Its significance is gone.

Contraceptive intercourse is an exercise in meaninglessness. It could perhaps be compared to going through the actions of singing without letting any sound of music pass one's lips.

Some of us can remember the love-duets of Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy, two popular singing stars of the early "talkies". How absurd if they had sung silent duets: going through the motions of singing, but not allowing their vocal chords to produce an intelligible sound: just meaningless reverberations...; a hurry or a flurry of movement signifying nothing. Contraceptive intercourse is very much like that. Contraceptive spouses involve each other in bodily movements, but their "body language" is not truly human (The "language of the body" is of course a key expression in Pope John Paul II's writings on sexuality and marriage). They refuse to let their bodies communicate sexually and intelligibly with one another. They go through the motions of a love-song; but there is no song.

Contraception is in fact not just an action without meaning; it is an action that contradicts the essential meaning which true conjugal intercourse should have as signifying total and unconditional self-donation ("Contraception contradicts the truth of conjugal love", Pope John Paul II, Address, September 17, 1983). Instead of accepting each other totally, contraceptive spouses reject of each other in part, because fertility is part of each of them. They reject part of their mutual love: its power to be fruitful...

A couple may say: we do not want our love to be fruitful. But if that is so, there is an inherent contradiction in their trying to express their love by means of an act which, of its nature, implies fruitful love; and there is even more of a contradiction if, when they engage in the act, they deliberately destroy the fertility-orientation from which precisely derives its capacity to express the uniqueness of their love.

In true marital union, husband and wife are meant to experience the vibration of human vitality in its very source [3]. In the case of contraceptive "union", the spouses experience sensation, but it is drained of real vitality.

The anti-life effect of contraception does not stop at the "No" which it addresses to the possible fruit of love. It tends to take the very life out of love itself. Within the hard logic of contraception, anti-life becomes anti-love. Its devitalising effect devastates love, threatening it with early ageing and premature death.

At this point it is good to anticipate the possible criticism that our argument so far is based on an incomplete disjunction, inasmuch as it seems to affirm that the conjugal act is either procreative or else merely hedonistic... Can contraceptive spouses not counter this with the sincere affirmation that, in their intercourse, they are not merely seeking pleasure; they are also experiencing and expressing love for one another?

Let us clarify our position on this particular point. We are not affirming that contraceptive spouses may not love each other in their intercourse, nor - insofar as they are not prepared to have such intercourse with a third person - that it does not express a certain uniqueness in their relationship. Our thesis is that it does not express conjugal uniqueness. Love may somehow be present in their contraceptive relationship; conjugal love is not expressed by it. Conjugal love may in fact soon find itself threatened by it. Contraceptive spouses are constantly haunted by the suspicion that the act in which they share could indeed be, for each one of them, a privileged giving of pleasure, but could also be a mere selfish taking of pleasure. It is logical that their love-making be troubled by a sense of falseness or hollowness, for they are attempting to found the uniqueness of the spousal relationship on an act of pleasure that tends ultimately to close each one of them sterilely in on himself or herself, and they are refusing to found that relationship on the truly unique conjugal dimension of loving co-creativity capable, in its vitality, of opening each of them out not merely to one another but to the whole of life and creation.

Sexual love and sexual knowledge

The mutual and exclusive self-donation of the marriage act consists in its being the gift and acceptance of something unique. Now this something unique is not just the seed (this indeed could be "biologism"), but the fullness of the sexuality of each spouse.

It was in the context of its not being good for man to be alone that God made him sexual. He created man in a duality - male and female - with the potential to become a trinity. The differences between the sexes speak therefore of a divine plan of complementarity, of self-completion and self-fulfilment, also through self-perpetuation.

It is not good for man to be alone because man, on his own, cannot fulfil himself; he needs others. He especially needs another: a companion, a spouse. Union with a spouse, giving oneself to a spouse - sexual and marital union in self-donation - are normally a condition of human growth and fulfilment.

Marriage, then, is a means of fulfilment through union. Husband and wife are united in mutual knowledge and love, a love which is not just spiritual but also bodily; and a knowledge supporting their love which is likewise not mere speculative or intellectual knowledge; it is bodily knowledge as well. Their marital love is also meant to be based on carnal knowledge; this is fully human and fully logical. How significant it is that the Bible, in the original hebrew, refers to marital intercourse in terms of man and woman "knowing" each other. Adam, Genesis says, knew Eve, his wife. What comment can we make on this equivalence which the Bible draws between conjugal intercourse and mutual knowledge?

What is the distinctive knowledge that husband and wife communicate to one another? It is the knowledge of each other's integral human condition as spouse. Each "discloses" a most intimate secret to the other: the secret of his or her personal sexuality. Each is revealed to the other truly as spouse and comes to know the other in the uniqueness of that spousal self-revelation and self-gift. Each one lets himself or herself be known by the other, and surrenders to the other, precisely as husband or wife.

Nothing can undermine a marriage so much as the refusal to fully know and accept one's spouse or to let oneself be fully known by him or her. Marriage is constantly endangered by the possibility of one spouse holding something back from the other; keeping some knowledge to oneself that he or she does not want the other to possess [4]. This can occur on all levels of interpersonal communication: physical as well as spiritual.

In many modern marriages, there is something in the spouses, and between the spouses, that each does not want to know, does not want to face up to, wants to avoid: and this something is their sexuality. As a result, since they will not allow each other full mutual carnal knowledge, they do not truly know each other sexually or humanly or spousally. This places their married love under a tremendous existential tension that can tear it apart.

In true marital intercourse each spouse renounces protective self-possession, so as to fully possess and be fully possessed by the other. This fullness of true sexual gift and possession is only achieved in marital intercourse open to life. Only in procreative intercourse do the spouses exchange true "knowledge" of one another, do they truly speak humanly and intelligibly to one another; do they truly reveal themselves to one another in their full human actuality and potential. Each offers, and each accepts, full spousal knowledge of the other.

In the body language of intercourse, each spouse utters a word of love that is both a "self-expression" - an image of each one's self - as well as an expression of his or her longing for the other. These two words of love meet, and are fused in one. And, as this new unified word of love takes on flesh, God shapes it into a person - the child: the incarnation of the husband's and wife's sexual knowledge of one another and sexual love for one another.

In contraception, the spouses will not let the word - which their sexuality longs to utter - take flesh. They will not even truly speak the word to each other. They remain humanly impotent in the face of love; sexually dumb and carnally speechless before one another.

Sexual love is a love of the whole male or female person, body and spirit. Love is falsified if body and spirit do not say the same thing. This happens in contraception. The bodily act speaks of a presence of love or of a degree of love that is denied by the spirit. The body says, "I love you totally", whereas the spirit says, "I love you reservedly". The body says, "I seek you"; the spirit says, "I will not accept you, not all of you".

Contraceptive intercourse falls below mere pantomime. It is disfigured body-language; it expresses a rejection of the other. By it, each says: "I do not want to know you as my husband or my wife; I am not prepared to recognise you as my spouse. I want something from you, but not your sexuality; and if I have something to give to you, something I will let you take, it is not my sexuality" [5].

This enables us to develop a point we touched on earlier. The negation that a contraceptive couple are involved in is not directed just towards children, or just towards life, or just towards the world. They address a negation directly towards one another. "I prefer a sterile you", is equivalent to saying, "I don't want all you offer me. I have calculated the measure of my love, and it is not big enough for that; it is not able to take all of you. I want a "you" cut down to the size of my love..." The fact that both spouses may concur in accepting a cut-rate version of each other does not save their love or their lives - or their possibilities of happiness - from the effects of such radical human and sexual devaluation.

Normal conjugal intercourse fully asserts masculinity and femininity. The man asserts himself as man and husband, and the woman equally asserts herself as woman and wife. In contraceptive intercourse, only a maimed sexuality is asserted. In the truest sense sexuality is not asserted at all. Contraception represents such a refusal to let oneself be known that it simply is not real carnal knowledge. A deep human truth underlies the theological and juridic principle that contraceptive sex does not consummate marriage.

Contraceptive intercourse, then, is not real sexual intercourse at all. That is why the disjunctives offered by this whole matter are insufficiently expressed by saying that if intercourse is contraceptive, then it is merely hedonistic. This may or may not be true. What is true - at a much deeper level - is that if intercourse is contraceptive, then it is not sexual. In contraception there is an "intercourse" of sensation, but no real sexual knowledge or sexual love, no true sexual revelation of self or sexual communication of self or sexual gift of self. The choice of contraception is in fact the rejection of sexuality. The warping of the sexual instinct from which modern society seems to suffer represents not so much an excess of sex, as a lack of true human sexuality.

True conjugal intercourse unites. Contraception separates, and the separation works right along the line. It not only separates sex from procreation, it also separates sex from love. It separates pleasure from meaning, and body from mind. Ultimately and surely, it separates wife from husband and husband from wife.

Contraceptive couples who stop to reflect realize that their marriage is troubled by some deep malaise. The alienations they are experiencing are a sign as well as a consequence of the grave violation of the moral order involved in contraception. Only a resolute effort to break with contraceptive practices can heal the sickness affecting their married life. This is why the teaching of Humanae Vitae as well as subsequent papal magisterium on the matter, far from being a blind adherence to an outdated posture, represent a totally clear-sighted defence of the innate dignity and true meaning of human and spousal sexuality.

Why does only procreative sex fulfil?

Our argument so far is that contraceptive marital sex does not achieve any true personalist end. It does not bring about self-fulfilment in marriage, but rather prevents and frustrates it. But - one may still ask - does it follow that open-to-life marital sex alone leads to the self-fulfilment of the spouses? I think it does; and the reason lies in the very nature of love (cf. Covenanted Happiness, pp. 38-47). Love is creative. God's love (if we may put it this way) "drove" Him to create. Man's love, made in the image of God's, is also meant to create. If it deliberately does not do so, it frustrates itself. Love between two persons makes them want to do things together. While this is true of friendship in general, it has a singular application to the love between spouses. A couple truly in love want to do things together; if possible, they want to do something "original" together. Nothing is more original to a couple in love than their child: the image and fruit of their love and their union. That is why "the marital thing" is to have children; and other things, as substitutes, do not satisfy conjugal love.

Procreative intercourse fulfils also because only in such intercourse are the spouses open to all the possibilities of their mutual love: ready to be enriched and fulfilled not only by what it offers to them, but also by what it demands of them.

Further, procreative intercourse fulfils because it expresses the human person's desire for self-perpetuation. It expresses it and does not contradict it, as contraception does. It is only on life-wishes, not on death-wishes, that love can thrive. When a normal married couple have a child, they pass their child joyfully to each other. If their child dies, there is no joy, there are tears, as they pass its dead body to one another. Spouses should weep over a contraceptive act: a barren, desolate act which rejects the life that is meant to keep love alive, and would kill the life their love naturally seeks to give origin to. There may be physical satisfaction, but there can be no joy in passing dead seed; or in passing living seed only to kill it.

The vitality of sensation in sexual intercourse should correspond to a vitality of meaning (remembering - as we have said - that sensation is not meaning). The very explosiveness of sexual pleasure suggests the greatness of the creativity of sex. In each conjugal act, there should be something of the magnificence - of the scope and power - of Michelangelo's Creation in the Sistine Chapel in Rome... But it is the dynamism not just of a sensation, but of an event: of something that happens, of a communication of life.

A lack of true sexual awareness characterizes the act if the intensity of pleasure does not serve to stir a fully conscious understanding of the greatness of the conjugal experience: I am committing myself - my creative life-giving power - not just to another person, but to the whole of creation: to history, to mankind, to the purposes and design of God. In each act of conjugal union, teaches Pope John Paul II, "there is renewed, in a way, the mystery of creation in all its original depth and vital power" (General Audience, November 21, 1979: Insegnamenti di Giovanni Paolo II, II, 2 (1979), p. 1215).

A last point should be made. The whole question we are considering is of course tremendously complicated precisely by the strength of the sexual instinct. Nevertheless, the very strength of this instinct should itself be a pointer towards an adequate understanding of sexuality. Elementary commonsense says that the power of the sexual urge must correspond to deep human aspirations or needs. It has of course been traditional to explain the sexual urge in cosmic or demographic terms: just as we have a food appetite to maintain the life of the individual, so we have a sex appetite to maintain the life of the species. This explanation makes sense - as far as it goes. However, it clearly does not go far enough. The sex appetite - the strength of the sex appetite - surely corresponds not only to cosmic or collectivist needs, but also to personalist needs. If man and woman feel a deep longing for sexual union, it is also because they have - each one personally has - a deep longing for all that is involved in true sexuality: self-giving, self-complementarity, self-realization, self-perpetuation, in spousal union with another.

The experience of such complete spousal sexuality is filled with many-facetted pleasure, in which the simple physical satisfaction of a mere sense instinct is accompanied and enriched by the personalist satisfaction of the much deeper and stronger longings involved in sex, and not marred and soured by their frustration. If continuous and growing sexual frustration is a main consequence of contraception, this is also because the contraceptive mentality deprives the very strength of the sexual urge of its real meaning and purpose, and then tries to find full sexual experience and satisfaction in what is basically little more than a physical release.


[1] Seed is here intended to refer equally to the male or the female generative element.

[2] In this way in fact the uniqueness of the decision to marry a particular person is reaffirmed in each marital act. By every single act of true intercourse, each spouse is confirmed in the unique status of being husband or wife to the other.

[3] This still remains true even in cases where, for some reason or another, the spouses cannot have children. Their union in such cases, just as their union during the wife's pregnancy, draws its deepest meaning from the fact that both their conjugal act and the intention behind it are "open to life", even though no life can actually result from the act. It is their basic openness to life which gives the act its meaning and dignity. Just as the absence of this openness is what undermines the dignity and meaning of the act when the spouses, without serious reasons, deliberately limit their marital intercourse to the infertile periods.

[4] Obviously we are not referring here to those occasions in which, out of justice to a third party, one of the spouses is under an obligation to observe some secret, e.g. of a professional nature. Fulfilment of such an obligation is in no way a violation of the rights of married intimacy.

[5] If it is not sexuality that each spouse in contraceptive intercourse gives to or takes from the other, what does each one in fact actually take or give? In what might be termed the better cases, it is a form of love - divorced from sexuality. In other cases, it is merely pleasure, also - be it noted - divorced from sexuality. In one case or the other, contraceptive spouses always deny themselves sexuality. Their marriage, deprived of a true sexual relationship, suffers in consequence.