The Catholic Church and the Inherent Dignity of Women

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American culture, through generations of inherited ignorance, perpetuates many false ideas about the Catholic Church’s teachings about women.  You can find the caricatures in almost any television series or movie with so-called Catholic characters: the crotchety ruler-wielding nun, the kilted Catholic high school student who is secretly a “bad girl,” the denim-jumper-clad homeschooling mother of a dozen who lacks personality and purpose, and the forward-thinking “cultural Catholic” who ignores almost all Catholic moral and social teaching. Modern Catholic women, at least those who genuinely believe and follow the teachings of the Church, are portrayed as backward, oppressed, or both.  While converting to Catholicism, I was astounded to realize what a grave misconception this is!  The Catholic Church’s teachings, rightly understood, uphold the inherent and singular dignity of woman’s place in creation, creating and the re-creative work of salvation history.

Probably the most popularly misunderstood Catholic teaching about women has to do with the Church’s conceptions of human sexuality.  There’s a slew of cliched misinterpretations. For instance, a certain brand of feminist claims that without recourse to birth control or abortion, women are victims of sexual repression or countless pregnancies.  Another one is that “Catholic guilt” makes it impossible for women to feel attraction, dress attractively, or enjoy a healthy sexual relationship. In reality, it is quite the opposite – it is the woman who buys into the doctrine of “sexual freedom” who is repressed, used, and trapped.

The Catholic Church teaches that every person, regardless of sex, nationality, race, or creed, has dignity because she is made in the image of God. She is created by Him and for Him and, from the moment of her conception, her life has value. A woman has a miraculous and unique role in making and nurturing life.  God made sex for this very purpose, procreation, that is, to join with Him in forming a human, body and soul.  That is why the marriage bed is the appropriate place for the most intimate union two human beings can share. That unique love is meant to overflow from the two becoming one.  Sex is not meant for one human person to use another for physical pleasure, but that is what it becomes when separated from the self-giving and creative love of marriage.

The controversial teachings of the Church on sex, including those on marriage, birth control, and abortion, respect the natural way a woman’s body works and the miracle of life which a woman is capable of carrying within her. They protect women, born and unborn, and work to prevent the sexual objectification that runs rampant when sex is “free” and “without consequence”. Furthermore, the Church teaches that sex within marriage is meant to be for the mutual happiness and enjoyment of both men and women. A woman is not the slave of her husband’s whims; she is meant to be his beloved companion and respected partner in responsibly creating and raising a family. A woman’s sexuality and  physical beauty are gifts from God, gifts which she then can choose to give to another in the sacrament of marriage or to consecrate to God.

This brings us to another unique teaching of the Church concerning women: her unique role in the Church through a vocation to motherhood, either physically or spiritually.  Perhaps when the outside world thinks of Catholic vocations or callings, they seem a particularly masculine thing. After all, only men can be priests and in many places nuns seem an antiquated, endangered species. But every Catholic, and, for that matter, every human, has a calling from God, a role to play in His Kingdom. All women are especially called and equipped to be mothers, whether they ever carry or give birth to a child or not. Catholic women may not be priests, but that is not because they are unworthy or have a lesser place. They are not created to be spiritual fathers, any more than men are created to be mothers.

The vocation to physical and/or spiritual motherhood is based in woman’s natural tendencies toward tenderness, empathy, nurturing, emotional strength, teaching, and protecting.  Whether they are married, living the consecrated religious life, or single, women have a special calling and ability to care for others, to teach them, and to help them to grow.  Women help to birth souls into eternal life, grow disciples, and walk with another toward God. This motherhood does not in any way exclude women from other pursuits, passions, or positions of leadership. A woman’s talents do not hinder her ability to mother souls, nor does being a mother prevent her from having a personality or a craft.  Devoting her life to the service of God, whether that plays out in the context of a family or a religious order, does not eliminate her identity as a woman, but enhances it by strengthening her character and purifying her soul.

The most obvious challenge to the idea that the Catholic Church does not value women lies in the person and doctrines of the Virgin Mary.  Certainly Christ is a man, but when God became man He chose a human mother. Often the world points to the story of the Fall and sees woman disgraced, but misses the story of the Annunciation and woman redeemed. Although the first woman Eve said “no” to God, chose sin, and brought heartbreak to man and womankind alike, Mary, the second Eve, said “yes” to God, chose grace, and continues to participate in God’s plan for the salvation of the human race. The Church over and over again acknowledges Mary’s role in re-creating humanity: she gives her human nature to, carries in her body, and raises to manhood the Son of God. For this, she receives titles unique among the human race: “blessed among women”, “Mother of God”, and “Queen of Heaven”.

The Catholic Church respects Mary above all other created beings and teaches that she is the pinnacle of God’s creation.  Through God’s grace, she helps bring salvation to all men, both through her work on Earth and her prayers in heaven. While the head of the Catholic Church on Earth is a man, the Mother of the Church is a woman, eternally carrying mankind to God.  The honor and devotion Catholics give to the Blessed Mother is not separate from her womanhood, but entirely wrapped up in it. Only a woman could be the mother and virgin who bore Christ, only a woman could undo the pride of Eden with the humility of Nazareth, and only a woman could become the Mother of all Mankind. She alone, Virgin and Mother, teaches us the dignity of all mankind: to participate with God in the salvation of souls and the restoration of Creation.

In addition to the Blessed Virgin Mary, the holy women whom the Church venerates and holds up as examples for all Catholics are a diverse group of heroines.  Among the saints there are scholars and servants, mothers and virgins, warriors and princesses, courageous martyrs and quiet voices of love that echo down the centuries. Like these saints, real women do not fit into an easy mold, but the Catholic Church acknowledges that they are all precious human beings, instilled with dignity, strength, and purpose by their Creator who fiercely loves His daughters.

Megan Twomey

Megan Twomey

Megan Twomey studied English and History at Hillsdale College. While she was there, she converted to Catholicism and also bumped into a friend's big brother, who just happened to be her perfect match. She now spends her time as a stay-at-home mama to a superhero preschooler and his toddler sidekick, with baby number three on the way.

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56 thoughts on “The Catholic Church and the Inherent Dignity of Women”

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    This is bloody nonsense. Physical motherhood — pregnancy and lactation, because childrearing is something both me and women can do — is a purely biological process similar to sweating, digesting food, and sneezing. Human reason plays no part in it at all. In fact, humans are actually quite bad and gestation and lactation compared to most other mammals. For one thing, probably half the women who have ever been pregnant died from it. Rats never die in childbirth even though they can gestate about 12 litters per year. Lactation is another process that is quite painful and awkward for women but an entire industry is built around the ability of cattle to lactate. So, the physical process of “motherhood” cannot be the source of any unique dignity to human women.

    As for “spiritual motherhood,” what is that? In your formulation, it involves “tenderness, empathy, nurturing, emotional strength, teaching, and protecting.” Apparently the Catholic church believes men don’t have to be tender, empathetic, or nurturing. I also note that intelligence and courage are not on that list. So, are women supposed to be stupid and cowardly? Based on this, apparently that’s okay. More seriously, ‘spiritual motherhood’ simply can’t be defined in any way that doesn’t involve being deferent and submisisive to men. Agency and independence are simply denied to women in Catholic doctrine. Assigning half the human race a role as support staff to the other half is an explicit denial of dignity to the support staff side.

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        Dismissing my arguments because I’m angry doesn’t actually answer them. Do you have any real response or are you going to rely on insults?

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        What part of pointing out the obvious is an insult? You are very angry.
        Please offer proof that half of all women died in childbirth and that lactation is quite painful and awkward for women. Breastfeeding is the normal and natural way babies are fed until a mutually agreeable weaning occurs.
        All humans have dignity because we are humans created in the image and likeness of God, but women do have a unique dignity in that we bring life into the world. Priests can bring us the Sacraments, we bring life.
        Catholics believe men and women have different gifts. Can men be nurturing and tender? Of course. Watch a man and his newborn child, or toddler. Spiritual motherhood involves the capacity to nurture other people whether they are yours or someone else’s. Spiritual fatherhood involves the capacity to mentor others whether or not they are your own.We bring different and overlapping gifts to the world. Both sexes are intelligent and courageous as a matter of course, so why would you assume differently, the author wasn’t making an exhaustive list. Our various roles in life have no effect on our dignity, that is inherent in our existence.

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      I think that we disagree about what motherhood means in the case of human beings. Yes, the physical process is the same as other mammals, but God has given humans the ability to participate in the creation of a human soul. Humans are both body and soul and when a child is conceived, a miraculous new life is made. Human women, unlike animals, are rational. They have the ability to carry and raise a human soul, to care for a child’s needs: physcial, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
      I very clearly stated that motherhood is not just for women who are able to bear children. That gift is wonderful, but not necessary. Women who cannot bear children have the same dignity as women who can. There are many women not capable of bearing children who are still called to the vocation of motherhood through adoption or other means.

      As for spiritual motherhood, I hardly think my list of characteristics is meant to be the extent of women’s strengths!! Women are both courageous and intelligent! Intelligence in an incredible gift in raising children and teaching others, though I would put wisdom even higher on the list. I do not see how attributing characteristics necessary for nurturing to women excludes men from those same characteristics. That is a completely unfair argument against both me and the Catholic Church. Christ is the role model for men and women and he is both nurturing, tender, empathetic. In fact, St. Julian of Norwich compares Christ to a mother.

      Spiritual motherhood has absolutely nothing to do with deference or submission to men and everything to do with deference and submission to God, something required of all people, regardless of sex. Women are servants of God, not of men. (If you are referring to women as their husband’s helpmeet, than perhaps you should consider that the Church requires a woman to choose marriage freely. Also, men and women are considered equal partners in marriage. Although a woman is asked to submit to her freely-chosen husband, it is only as the Church submits to Christ, so that he may sacrifice himself for her. If you see serving others, which BOTH men and women are called to do when they follow Christ, as lacking dignity, then Christianity is not the religion for you.)

      Spiritual motherhood is about leading souls to Christ, guiding them in their spiritual formation, giving an example of Christian charity, praying with and for them, feeding their spirits, sacrificing of them selves for the good of others, and defending their souls. All of these things can be done without men. They all require an independence and agency, and they all make real differences in the world.

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        Then why separate role by gender at all? You want it both ways; women are irreconcilably different from men and limited in the roles we can perform — please note that husbands do not submit to wives, and no husband is required in your church to be a helpmeet to his wife — but when anyone notes that this is an inherently and unavoidably unnust system, then you come back with “women are just the same as men.” So please pick one and stick with it. Your Tradition goes exclusively with the “women are defective in reason and worse than men” option, which is the only one that makes sense if you deny women the priesthood.

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        There has never been a tradition that women are worse than men. From St. Paul onward, men and women, slave and free, have been declared the same under Christ. We are all created in God’s image and are redeemed by His Son and have the same intrinsic worth as human beings.

        Yet men and women do think differently. They do have different strengths that come naturally. One is not better or worse than the other.

        It seems you assume the Church denigrates women for two reasons: 1)because of the language of submission between man and wife, and 2)because they are not priests. The first has to do with the order of the family. A woman is only supposed to submit to her husband, because he is supposed to love her as his own body and to sacrifice himself for her as Christ did. In this way, he is the “head of the family” but is meant to submit to her best interests. She is not his slave, not his property, and not his inferior. These have never been the interpretations of the Catholic Church. The priesthood is very long argument I cannot fully address in an article comment, but I will say this: the priesthood is not a sign of higher reason, greater worth, or special favor by God. Being a priest is one calling among many. Vocations are paths to heaven to which certain individuals are led by God. No man is called to be the “bride of Christ” as nuns are, nor is a woman called “the bride of the Church” as a priest is. All vocations are necessary to the church and no one is better than another.

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        No tradition in the Catholic church that women are inferior? See these quotes:

        St. Augustine, Soliloq. I 10
        “I consider that nothing so casts down the manly mind from its heights as the fondling of women, and those bodily contacts which belong to the married state.”

        St. John Chrysostom
        “The whole of her bodily beauty is nothing less than phlegm, blood, bile, rheum, and the fluid of digested food… If you consider what is stored up behind those lovely eyes, the angle of the nose, the mouth and cheeks you will agree that the well-proportioned body is merely a whitened sepulcher.”

        St. John Chrysostom, On Priesthood, VI, ch. 8
        “There are in the world a great many situations that weaken the conscientiousness of the soul. First and foremost of these is dealings with women. In his concern for the male sex, the superior may not forget the females, who need greater care precisely because of their ready inclination to sin. In this situation the evil enemy can find many ways to creep in secretly. For the eye of woman touches and disturbs our soul, and not only the eye of the unbridled woman, but that of the decent one as well.”

        St. Jerome, Commentary on Ephesians, III ch.5
        “As long as a woman is for birth and children she is different from man as body is from soul. But when she wishes to serve Christ more than the world, then she will cease to be a woman, and will be called man.”

        Petrus Cantor (d. 1197)
        “Consider that the most lovely woman has come into being from a foul-smelling drop of semen, then consider her midpoint, how she is a container of filth; and after that consider her end, when she will be food for worms.”

        St. Albert the Great, Quaestiones super de animalibus XV q. 11
        “Woman is less qualified [than man] for moral behavior. For the woman contains more liquid than the man, and it is a property of liquid to take things up easily and to hold onto them poorly. Liquids are easily moved, hence women are inconstant and curious. When a woman has relations with a man, she would like, as much as possible, to be lying with another man at the same time. Woman knows nothing of fidelity. Believe me, if you give her your trust, you will be disappointed. Trust an experienced teacher. For this reason prudent men share their plans and actions least of all with their wives. Woman is a misbegotten man and has a faulty and defective nature in comparison with his. Therefore she is unsure in herself. What she herself cannot get, she seeks to obtain through lying and diabolical deceptions. And so, to put it briefly, one must be on one’s guard with every woman, as if she were a poisonous snake and the horned devil…. In evil and perverse doings woman is cleverer, that is, slyer, than man. Her feelings drive woman toward every evil, just as reason impels man toward all good.”

        St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I q. 92 a. 1
        “Woman is defective and misbegotten, for the active force in the male seed tends to the production of a perfect likeness in the masculine sex; while the production of woman comes from defect in the active force or from some material indisposition, or even from some external influence, such as that of a south wind, which is moist.”

        St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I q.92 a.1 reply 2
        “Good order would have been wanting in the human family if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves. So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.”

        St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II q.149 a.4
        “Sobriety is most requisite in the young and in women, because concupiscence of pleasure thrives in theyoung on account of the heat of youth, while in women there is not sufficient strength of mind to resistconcupiscence.”

        St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II q.70 a.3
        “The reliability of a person’s evidence is weakened, sometimes indeed on account of some fault of his…; sometimes, without any fault on his part, and this owing either to a defect in the reason, as in the case of children, imbeciles and women, or to personal feeling…”

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        I can see that you have carefully curated this list of quotations to reinforce your conception of the Church as unjust and cruel patriarchy that hates women. I will not address each one individually, because you have already made up your mind. I will say, however, that these quotations fall into two categories:
        1) those taken wildly out of context where celibate men are instructing other celibate men on how to resist lust (lust reduces women to objects, and so these quotations show men what they truly desire: flesh. The same language could be applied to men of they were the object of lust in question) and 2) quotations not on doctrine (taken from immense volumes of philosophy) which reflect the view of women established by the classical background of science and philosophy, rather than the Catholic beliefs, of the men who wrote them. Many reflect the Latin language and sensibilities, classical concepts of the sexes, and the preoccupations of men trying to avoid temptation. None reflect the teachings of the Church passed down and the doctrines revealed over 2000 years.
        I cannot convince you the Church values women if you think that is only possible through extending the priesthood or denying the differences of the sexes.
        We are at an impasse.

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        So quotes by church fathers saying nice things about women are Tradituon but the terrible things they said are from the background of Classical science and philosophy?

        And as for your general point, no you can’t convince me that the Catholic hierarchy and church care about women because there is exactly zero evidence to support that position. Your experience is lucky and a product of being otherwise very privileged.

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        And your position that Aquinas “Summa Theologica” is not Catholic doctrine is flatly absurd. Aquinas considered women to be defective men. It is simply not arguable. Until your church officially rejects Aquinas, which isn’t going to happen, the you cannot argue that Catholic doctrine treats women as equals of men.

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        Karen,
        The works of Aquinas and Augustine are not binding on Catholics and have been corrected by the Church through the centuries. Both of those men held it to be venial sin to ask for sex in marriage without explicitly willing procreation. that idea was rejected by the Church mid 19th century when the Vatican explicitly affirmed the use of the infertile times of the month. Both men thought Mary had contracted original sin but then was cleansed of it prior to birth. Rejected by the Church in 1854 in the Immaculate Conception encyclical. Aquinas affirmed killing heretics. Rejected by the Vatican II and by section 80 of Splendor of the Truth. No saint’s complete ideas are binding on any Catholic.
        No Catholic can be excommunicated for disagreeing with Aquinas unless he happened to affirm what the Church affirmed infallibly…which is a fraction of what Aquinas wrote.

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        KarenJo12, I hope you are well. I have looked at Aquinas’ interpretation of St. Augustine, S. I10 quote and Aquinas uses it in his explanation of purity and how the mind is more harmed by impurity than it is with sins against the palate. I do not think it was a quote against women as it is a warning for men to avoid impurity.

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        Correct on this point. Also…just an observation…a lot of work went into creating this ready list of quotes. They weren’t thought up on the spur of the moment while typing. Yet, during preparation of these argumentative quotes, not a single syllable is presented to provide context. Then again, it’s so much easier to lie about what is said when the circumstances around it are unknown to your audience.

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        Regarding the Chrysostom quote: again, context is key here. St. John is writing to a friend who had taken a vow and was vacating his vow to God so that he follow a woman. Chrysostom is not implicating all women or even this one woman, Hermione. He is showing the difference between beauty that is fleeting and beauty that is everlasting. His friend is leaving his vow to God (perfect beauty).

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        The list Karen gave contains many nutty observations. Nutty.
        Context is overused as an excuse. Nutty is nutty.
        Your wife is not a whitened sepulcher to you when you ponder God. Christ called the pharisees ” whited sepulchers”. He did not use it for the body as body. Nutty. We need not justify everything saints said.

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        Elijah, please don’t get me wrong here. I am not trying to justify everything a saint has said or did. But context is very important. For example, if not mistaken, this quote is from early Chrysostom. A Chrysostom that may have changed his wording if he wrote it later.

        I did not say my wife is a sepulcher when I ponder God. My vocation is married life. However, that was not the vocation of Chrysostom’s friend. If he made a vow to God to religious life then it is a temptation if a person is wanting to leave just as it is a temptation if I follow the beauty of another woman so that I leave my wife. If I leave my marriage for another woman, then I am making a whitened sepulcher of the other woman because I could never make that relationship a life of grace, it may look beautiful on the outside but it would be dead on the inside.

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        But Chrysostom’s comment is not as lofty as yours. He’s using whited sepulcher in a physical not mystical manner that fibs about the power of beauty in the one tempted. If my brother is slated to run away with Olga Krylenko or Emma Pierson, or Zhang Ziyi, it wouldn’t address his problem very much if I said that beneath their beauty was phlegm and bile…rheum and digested food. I could say their beauty is fleeting and cannot satisfy but to deny their beauty by thinking about the digested food inside them….would not work. Read Karen’s whole list ( and I know others from Aquinas and Augustine ). The saints could be nutty on women. She’s correct but wrong about what is quintessential to Catholicism to date.

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        Both St. John Chrysostom and (especially) St. Thomas Aquinas were thoughtful and careful men who cannot by any stretch of the imagination be tagged with making a “nutty observation” on such a vast subject as the intrinsic human nature of women.

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        I like your name. But you’re doing the senseless flattery of authority thing which is rampant on the net. Here is Augustine in a passage that Aquinas affirms twice….and if this doesn’t sound like what Freud called ideal homosexuality ( in respect to Leonardo Da Vinci) then I don’t know what is:

        ” St. Augustine, De genesi ad litteram, 9, 5-9
        “I don’t see what sort of help woman was created to provide man with, if one excludes the purpose of procreation. If woman was not given to man for help in bearing children, for what help could she be? To till the earth together? If help were needed for that, man would have been a better help for man. The same goes for comfort in solitude. How much more pleasure is it for life and conversation when two friends live together than when a man and a woman cohabitate?”

        Let’s remember that Augustine was a fornicator for over ten years but also over sexed since after he dumped the mother of his son Adeodatus, his mother found him a too young girl from a good family but Augustine would have to wait til she was older. He tells you in the Confessions that he couldn’t wait and so he got another mistress to satisfy his lust. That’s over sexed. So he at that pre repentance period had one use for women…sex. After he converted, his one use approach to women appears again but now his one use is procreation….not as part of friendship in marriage because he is telling you right above in that passage that having a male friend to live with is better as a friend than a woman is. I was so glad the media did not know about this passage in 2002 when the Globe and the Times were filled with the priest scandals.
        His continuing unresolved gender problem was why he messed up the Cana incident interpretation in saying that Christ was putting Mary in her place with his words to her when she told of the wine shortage. 9 out of ten English translations of that passage now use rude words in Christ toward Mary and homilists try to put a god face on it. The Vulgate and the Douay Rheims and James Literal are the safest places to read that passage. Christ literally said, ” Woman, what to me and to you…my hour has not come.” Mary heard a clear yes and acted immediately with the servants. Both Augustine and Chrysostom could not explain her hearing a clear yes. Long story short. Christ was referencing Mary to Eliseus who used that idiom…” what to me and to you” just before he miraculously produced water for the three kings which water appeared red to the enemy Moabites who thought it to be blood. Why would Christ and Mary have discussed 2 Kings 2-4 previous to Cana at home?
        Because within 4 is the greatest veiled prophecy of Christ’s pain…..per Augustine’s real talent…seeing through the veiled.

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        Thanks for the compliment on my internet name.

        You elaborated on the reason St. Augustine wrote what he did, but not why St. Thomas affirms it. Did St. Thomas have the same gender problems as St. A or was he just thoughtlessly parroting him?

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        Aquinas was a virgin unlike Augustine and Jerome.
        Aquinas simply repeated Augustine in most sexual questions probably thinking Augustine had experience….but it was all sinful experience. That also led to his following Augustine into their mutual immaculate conception error. Augustine believed Mary had to contract original sin temporarily because her parents enjoyed the sexual encounter. Aquinas followed. Both were incorrect but not heretical since it was defined well after them in 1854. Not until Von Hildebrand in the 20th century does a married Catholic have theological input into the sexual area…which brightened that area up quite a bit. Virtually no saint treats that area as an area in which love is expressed and humans are affirmed. A Carthusian centuries ago was a rare exception. Fleeting references to love can be found in Augustine and Aquinas but they seem to not be about a salvific love.

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        Thanks for the response EF. On the one hand St. Augustine is not to be trusted on sexual matters because he experienced a debauched life, but St. Thomas is not to be trusted either because he lived chastely all his life. Furthermore St. T was so foolish as not to recognize (as you do) that St. A’s debauchery in his past life disqualified him as to credibility in speaking on sexual matters, or that his own chastity disqualified himself, but made the double mistake of thinking he was qualified in the first place to speak on the matter at all, and then to refer to one who was also unqualified to speak on the matter.

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        Aquinas’ chastity did not lead him to follow Augustine on sex. Imprudence did. What protected Aquinas a little was Aristotle who said, ” pleasure in a rational thing is itself rational.”
        That cite by Aquinas led later theologians to veer away from Augustine and Aquinas in their holding as venial sin…asking for the debt sans explicit willing of procreation. Augustine denounced the natural methods in a letter to an old Manichaen after converting. His followers gave modern Popes the hardest time on permitting rythmn etc. Arthur Vermeersch, the prime moral theologian in the early 20th century, saw it as a lesser evil than onanism but not by much. Catholicism attracts extremists. You still see providentialists on Catholic sites who abhor what has been approved for 160 years now.

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        Let’s remember that the original charge you made was not just that they were mistaken, but that they made “nutty observations.”

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        Yes…they were nutty but not alone. Leonardo Da Vinci in the century of the Council of Trent called sex…” the beast with two backs.”. That’s also nutty. The earliest saints followed Stoic Musonius Rufus and he was nutty and saw sex as moral ONLY when procreation was consciously intended. I’m going to cite him first then three early saints. If you’re perspicacious, you’ll notice that Catholicism rejects this stoicism now but its saints obviously followed Musonius exactly which puts them afoul of Catholic affirmation of the use of the infertile times of the month. The Bible has no such belief as Rufus and the early saints. I Cor. 7 is about sex with no mention of procreation…so is the Song of Songs. Rufus had more influence on the early saints then the Bible did..ON SEX.

        Here’s Rufus:

        ” Men who are not wantons or immoral are bound to consider
        sexual intercourse justified only when it occurs in marriage and is
        indulged in for the purpose of begetting children, since that is
        lawful, but unjust and unlawful when it is mere pleasure-seeking, even
        in marriage.”
        ‘Musonius Rufus “The Roman Socrates”‘ by Cora Lutz
        Discourse XII: “On Sexual Indulgence”

        St. Clement of Alexandria (2nd-3rd century): ” To have coitus other than to procreate children is to do injury to nature” ” The Instructor of Children” 2:10:95:3.
        Lactantius (3rd-4th century): ” the genital [’generating’] part of the body, as the name itself teaches, has been received by us for no other purpose than the generation of offspring” (Divine Institutes, 6:23:18).
        St. Jerome (4th-5th century): ” Does he imagine that we approve of any sexual intercourse except for the procreation of children?” (Against Jovinian 1:19 [A.D. 393]).
        St. Epiphanius (4th-5th century) voices the Stoic view also: ” There are those who when they have intercourse deliberately prevent having children. They indulge in pleasure not for the sake of offspring but to satisfy their passion.” (Adversus Haereses Panarium, PG 41, 339).

        Either procreation or passion is a binary refuted by Humanae Vitae….inter alia.

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        Curiously, I read your excerpts of the saints above and, barring further context, see nothing in what they say that contradicts Song of Songs.

        St. Epiphanius, for example, is speaking against using the pleasure that comes from intercourse as an end in itself, but he appears to be acknowledging that there is a pleasurable aspect of sex that is licit, so long as it is directed toward its primary function, the begetting of offspring.

        You cannot plausibly say that the St. Clement quote proves he was against the idea of intercourse having also a pleasurable and unitive function between husband and wife without having him present to provide further clarification on that specific question. The same with St. Jerome as quoted above.

        It appears Lactantius was referring to a very limited contextual matter in the function of the genital part of the body. Surely he was aware, for instance, that the male also voids through his genital organ but wasn’t considering it sinful to do so even though it wasn’t directed toward generation of offspring. It could be that he was well aware of and approved of the good that was to be had from intercourse as a bonding function between husband and wife, but considered that aspect to be a matter entirely separate from physical genital organs.

        My point in all this is not that I’m right and your wrong in our interpretations of the Church Fathers as I’m sure on their own merits you are convinced of my interpretations that I’m reading what I want to read in them; my point is that you also are reading in them what you want to read, and I don’t think you can demonstrate plausibly that you really do know where they were coming from enough to say they flat-out contradicted the Church’s teaching as it has developed on the matter, much less to say that they were “nutty” on sexual morals.

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        Yes…I think you are doing a hermeneutic of continuity delusion on each of them. Otherwise Augustine would have permitted asking for the debt as purely innocent in all cases …him being born of these…his predecessors’ milieu. I think the West was nutty on sex in general for some reason. Just on the Augustine Aquinas nexus on the venial sin nature of asking for the debt sans willing procreation, the West had the laity feeling sin guilt about something I Cor. 7 told them to do…ask for sex within marriage rather than fornicate at a moral minimum. And it had them feeling guilt from 500 AD til 1266 AD when that guilt was reconfirmed for 6 more centuries by Aquinas. Lovely…and nothing bad happened..lol.
        The Bible didn’t matter here and in other matters..ie burning heretics was rebuked by Christ in Luke 9:55 ( burning was reserved by God for two sins of a sexual nature and theft of herem matter); interest was granted to the Jews over foreigners in Deut.23:20; Jehu was commended by God for his lying ambush of the idolaters in 2 Kings 10:30. Didn’t matter…Aquinas opposed all interest, all lies …because Aristotle did and he affirmed killing heretics which in his culture was by burning….when God had reserved burning for a threesome of man, mother and daughter Lev.20:14…and for a Levite Jewess prostituting herself…Lev.21:9…and for stealing herem matter Joshua 7:24-25. Didn’t matter. At times Aquinas chose Aristotle or his culture of burning over Scripture.

      24. Avatar

        PS
        The now defunct guilt trip…which you’ll notice calls the unitive urge….lust…inside marriage whereas I Cor.7 is about marriage saving one inter alia from lust outside marriage…roflol…

        Augustine. On Marriage and Concupiscence
        Chapter 16 [XIV.]— A Certain Degree of Intemperance is to Be Tolerated in the Case of Married Persons; The Use of Matrimony for the Mere Pleasure of Lust is Not Without Sin, But Because of the Nuptial Relation the Sin is Venial.
        ….To escape this evil, even such embraces of husband and wife as have not procreation for their object, but serve an overbearing concupiscence, are permitted, so far as to be within range of forgiveness….
        ……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………
        Aquinas. Summa T. Supplement question 49 art.5 Reply to Objection 2.
        “If a man intends by the marriage act to prevent fornication in his wife, it is no sin, because this is a kind of payment of the debt that comes under the good of “faith.” But if he intends to avoid fornication in himself, then there is a certain superfluity, and accordingly there is a venial sin, nor was the sacrament instituted for that purpose, except by indulgence, which regards venial sins.”

        Aquinas. Supplement question 49, art.6, on the contrary…
        “If, however, he seek pleasure within the bounds of marriage, so that it would not be sought in another than his wife, it is a venial sin.”

        Supplement…question 49 art 5 “I answer that”:
        “Consequently there are only two ways in which married persons can come together without any sin at all, namely in order to have offspring, and in order to pay the debt, otherwise it is always at least a venial sin.”

      25. Avatar

        Thanks for your time EF, but I can’t understand about 80% of these last two comments. Perhaps time to call it quits? Again, thanks for the conversation.

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        A tip and a guess. You’re posting from work and never during evenings. It’s making all your posts….quick opinion…with none showing research. Don’t rule out quitting the net. Wonderfully you’re putting family first at night.

      27. Avatar

        Thanks for the tip, you’re correct about posting at work, minimally at home. A tip for you if you don’t mind reciprocation: the use of complete sentences and less ellipses would make your thoughts more complete and accessible. Research does no good in a conversation with another person if it is slapped together with rambling thoughts pasted here and there in between so that the reader is left in a fog as to the unity of the overall idea.

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        Only my last two posts were that rambling and incoherent….especially when I gave examples of Aquinas circumventing scripture on various topics.
        That was badly written. I’m an oil painter for a reason.

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        thanks for sharing.. your posts on this post are really correct and give us thoughts to reflect on.

      30. Avatar

        The history of misunderstanding Christ at Cana shows the awful side of herd/traditionalist thinking.
        There’s a good side to herd thinking. It would be nice if every human followed the ten commandments. But the Cana thing is the awful side. Go to Biblegate web site and search the Cana wine moment. Each English translation is not literal but ” sense for sense”…but that is based on Augustine’s negativity not what Christ said literally. Augustine argued with Monica alot when he was a fornicator. So he saw the Cana moment as Mary and Christ dueling…mother and son arguing. Millions of Catholics have sat through Mass for 15 centuries getting the wrong meaning from homilists. Protestants followed Augustine also….the King James ” sense for sense” words of Christ to Mary are horrible as is our NAB.

      31. Avatar

        “. . . please note that husbands do not submit to wives, and no husband is required in your church to be a helpmeet [helpmate?] to his wife . . .”

        KarenJo12, the very first verse from Ephesians that deals with the Christian household states, “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21, RSV-CE).”

        Also, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, . . . (Eph 5:25, RSV-CE).”

        Both husbands and wives are counseled to be subject to one another, not from their own perspective and demands, but out of reverence for Christ. Husbands are called to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. This is a particularly strict demand on husbands that in no way can permit abuse or dominance absent love.

        Sadly, these verses are often taken out of context and rendered individually. Read the entire pericope in context, Eph 5:21-33, and the mutual demands on husbands and wives becomes more clear.

        Peace be with you.

      32. Avatar

        @ TomD and JQ Tomanek, Gentlemen: Please, please, please consider becoming catechists this school season. I must say that I admire both of you for the ability to keep your cool…which is something I sorely lack. I get angry – especially when these “I’ve been bullied” bullies come out and try to pick a fight.

        You both know the material, both can articulate it quite well, both display an understanding of the real vocation of marriage. Our young boys NEED to see more men who meet that description…especially the Jr High School group. Sadly, there are so few who can step up and do the job of being a good example. Please prayerfully discern if this is also something that is part of your calling.

      33. Avatar

        Chick-a-dee, thank you for your kind words. I became a certified catechist shortly after I was initiated into the Church in 2009, and remained active in the RCIA program after my baptism, but am currently at a different location.

        As a catechist, I found it a challenge to be able to respond quickly and accurately to questions and issues as they arose, but I enjoyed the challenge, even as I worried about my weak foundation in the faith, having grown-up in an unchurched home. It is interesting that many of the best Catholic apologists, such as Scott Hahn and Jimmy Akin, are often converts and initiates, probably because we bring an openness and inquisitiveness with us as we come into the faith.

        As for responding to others, I try, not always successfully, to be as civil as possible, assuming that the person I am responding to may be open to new ideas if they are presented in a respectful and charitable way. I think that is the best approach.

      34. Avatar

        Why are you so bitchy about this? Ok, we get it. You aren’t happy. We’ve got the antidote to that unhappiness but you want to pee all over it. So….what do you want, a medal for being pissy? For not embracing your role in the universe because YOU think YOU should have a better or different one? For thinking that you are more qualified than God to figure out how creation should operate? For completely rejecting humility, sacrifice, deference and worshiping God? You don’t need to come here to do that. There are lots of entities that already believe exactly as you do. Lucifer leads the parade and there are lots of folks that choose to follow that path. We choose not to.

    1. Avatar

      Thank you for pointing out my typo. Isn’t it amazing how our brains read what we want to see? I’m sorry if the fact that I made a mistake reduces my credibility. I do ask you to excuse me.
      If it’s the fact that you don’t believe women have any inherent dignity, than I am afraid I will
      have to disagree with you.

  2. Avatar
    Elleblue Jones

    Megan you hit all the salient points in your article. Unless someone has a religious belief system I think it’s difficult for them to understand your arguments.

  3. Avatar

    Another one is that “Catholic guilt” makes it impossible for women to feel attraction, dress attractively, or enjoy a healthy sexual relationship. I have to disagree with the author on this point.

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      Yep. First hand experience with the sexual revolution says that your statement is absolutely right-on. Granted, by the time we married neither my husband or I was new to the mechanics….but we were both determined to make this marriage one in which we would invite God to be the center of our lives. That, I believe, is the reason that there is peace in our household and so many of the problems others experience don’t arise. It also means that we both can be 100% open with each other and playful and that makes for great fun in the bedroom. (I know. Just filled everybody’s brain with a visual of Granny & Grandpa doing it. Try to got that out of your mind. )

  4. Avatar
    disqus_5mV05k2Jgb

    It says in your article that you converted to Catholicism. Maybe that is why you see the church’s teaching this way and it is PROBABLY the way it should be seen. But as someone who grew up going to Catholic school this is NOT how sex is taught and viewed by the Catholic schools. Catholic schools only teach guilt and self hatred. Luckily for me my Catholic parents were reasonable loving people so while Catholic school messed me up my parents helped buffer this somewhat. I came across your site because after many years not believing I am trying to figure out how to raise my son. I fear the damage that the Catholic church can do but still want to teach him to be a Christian.

    1. Avatar

      That’s not a true statement. I went through Catholic High school more than 35 years ago and even back then – in the stone age – sex was not taught with “guilt and self hatred”. The ‘sex-ed’ class we had as a graduation requirement was called “Family Living” and it most certainly did discuss both the mechanics or the conjugal act, but also the context in which it is to be performed. That dual presentation does a lot to explain why marital and potentially procreative sex is a loving and beautiful act while sex outside these parameters is at best a form of masturbation and at worst a demeaning and evil thing. People who don’t understand that very often say that anything that points them toward believing that sex is not just for personal recreation is guilt producing, self hating, unloving, and mean, mean, MEAN. These are often the same accusations a toddler throws during a tantrum about not getting his way.

      1. Avatar
        disqus_5mV05k2Jgb

        Wow thanks for reminding me why I never comment online even if I feel I have something valuable to contribute. Also thanks for reminding me why I find a lot of Christians judgemental and condescending. Did you ever think that someone might have had a different experience then you? That doesn’t make their statement untrue or mean they are throwing a temper tantrum like a toddler. Sorry but THAT WAS MY EXPERIENCE. Even when married I had a hard time not feeling guilty and horrible about having sex. Oh and I also found many of my Catholic teachers mean even when they weren’t talking about sex. Honestly many of them shouldn’t have been teaching young children. Oh and before you claim I’m just throwing a temper tantrum please note I was a straight A student who was the teacher’s pet. I never got in trouble or was ever spanked in school. But unfortunately I was born with a sensitive soul and could never understand how some teachers could be so cruel even though it was never directed towards me.

      2. Avatar

        I’m sorry that you had a bad experience in the Catholic school system. There is no reason to doubt that you had a run-in with people who give Catholics bad stereotypes. The problem with Catholic institutions is that they are run by fallible humans, not all of whom understand what they are supposed to be teaching.
        When I converted to Catholicism, it was not because of the people who called themselves Catholics (although meeting some excellent Catholics who understood and practiced their faith certainly helped!), it’s because I believed that the Catholic Church was the Church founded by Christ, guided by the Holy Spirit, and having the fullness of truth. Studying the early Church showed the continuation of doctrine that Church had today. I knew that I needed the Sacraments in my life and the Church had them.
        The Church has always had within it corrupt people, including those in positions of authority. It is sad, but true. The Catholic Church does not claim to made of perfect people, but to be the Bride whom Christ is perfecting.
        I think if you study the actual teachings of the Church, you will find the beautiful truths that were hidden by the actions of flawed human beings. Please consider real research into the things that were misrepresented to you and you might find yourself ready to bring your family home to the Church. You can show your son how to live as Christian and be the change you want to see in the Church.

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