A novel conclusion from the CDF

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith recently published a response to a question about the liceity of hysterectomy in a very specific case.  Some responses to the new document have been decidedly negative, but there hasn’t been a lot of buzz about it. Recently, over at the Church Life Journal, thomistic theologian Taylor Patrick O’Neill offered his view that there is, in a way, no news, since “the principles governing this particular ruling are those which have governed previous rulings….” Noting that some worry that “the CDF has now endorsed direct sterilization,” O’Neill says that “a careful examination of the issue ought to be sufficient” to dissipate concerns.

I’m not so sure. I think the new CDF statement should be getting a lot more attention from moral theologians—or at the very least, it should have generated a lot of buzz. Let me explain. Continue reading “A novel conclusion from the CDF”

Share Button

Getting Wisdom (and other podcasts)

Wyoming Catholic College’s “After Dinner Scholar” podcast has published an interview with me titled: “Getting Wisdom in 2019 with Dr. Jeremy Holmes”.  If you are interested in the “wisdom books” of Scripture, have a listen for my two cents’ on the topic.

Looking through the archives, I find that the “After Dinner Scholar” has posted interviews with me quite a few times.  I haven’t always noted them as they came out, so here’s a list (in order from most recent to oldest):

“Old Testament Judges and Kings and the Question of Centralization”.  Wherein I relate the books of Judges and Kings to contemporary political and religious problems.

“The Splendor of Truth 25 Years Later”.  A quick introduction to the fundamental questions and teachings in JPII’s Veritatis Splendor.  To date, this is the most-downloaded of all “After Dinner Scholar” podcasts.

“Humanae Vitae: Contributing to the Creation of a Truly Human Civilization”.  This is an interview with me and with Dr. Kent Lasnoski, reviewing the central teachings of Humanae Vitae and talking about the usual objections.

“Hunting, Humanity, and the Liberal Arts”.  For something truly different, a reflection on the relationship between hunting and classical education.

“Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae, and the March for Life”.  Wherein we discuss the relationship between contraception and abortion.

“The Word Became Flesh: St. Athanasius’ ‘On the Incarnation'”.  An introduction to this classic little work on the central mystery of faith.

“The Philosophical Side of Theology: St. Thomas’s Compendium”.  I talk about the relationship between philosophy and theology, and I introduce St. Thomas’s often under-appreciated little overview of theology, the Compendium Theologiae.  One person contacted me after this podcast to say he wanted to read the Compendium with his son and wondered if there were anything like a companion or commentary.  I’m working on it!

“Moses and Israel: From Exile to Freedom”.  A full-length lecture on the life of Moses, one of my favorite talks I have ever given.  The “After Dinner Scholar” also published an interview with me on the topic of the lecture.

“The Pope, Authority, and ‘Religious Assent'”.  A brief discussion of how we should handle cases where the Magisterium teaches something but does not teach it infallibly.  Still a hot topic today.  I have a very rough manuscript of a book on this subject, and maybe someday I’ll at least turn it into a series of audio posts.

Share Button

Bringing Scripture back into the death penalty debate

Catholics debating the death penalty generally do a bad job with Scripture.  One side of the debate cites isolated texts, leaving themselves open to the accusation that they cannot see the texts in relation to the whole thrust of Scripture.  The other side of the debate refers vaguely to “the Gospel” as a way to avoid dealing with any particular text of Scripture at all.  Neither side appears to have a living relationship with God’s word.

I can’t work through all the relevant texts on this blog, but I would like to offer an example of what’s possible by dealing with the big text everyone mentions:  Genesis 9:6, “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.”  I have already dealt with the context of this verse at greater length elsewhere, but I was not talking about the death penalty then.  Here I’ll condense the discussion to highlight what is most relevant to the death penalty issue. Continue reading “Bringing Scripture back into the death penalty debate”

Share Button

How standards of justice can change

In a previous post, I said that what was not an attack on human dignity in one situation could be in another. I further claimed that such could be the case with the death penalty. I think I owe it to anyone reading to go back and flesh out what I had in mind.

St. Thomas has an interesting perspective on the purposes of punishment in any human community (thanks to Fr. Joseph Bolin for collecting these texts): Continue reading “How standards of justice can change”

Share Button

Justice and Punishment

A few thoughts occurred to me last night about the death penalty debate. Leaving open the ultimate prudential question of whether the death penalty can be morally used in our time, I want to examine the arguments used in the CDF’s letter explaining the recent change to the Catechism. (Please see my last post for context.)

The central thread in this debate is justice.  Now, justice only exists between rational creatures, i.e., creatures made in the image of God.  We don’t seek to restore the scales of justice against a tree that fell on someone. We try to prevent animals from stealing, but we do not incarcerate them for it.  Justice has to do with the relationships between persons as such. Continue reading “Justice and Punishment”

Share Button

The new Catechism text on the death penalty

While I have not blogged in a long time, I have been reading and thinking.  I never did finish my series on the death penalty, because I reached a point where I needed to complete my own ethical philosophical formation.  But in light of the recent news that Pope Francis updated the Catechism to oppose the death penalty more clearly, I thought I should toss up a few comments. Continue reading “The new Catechism text on the death penalty”

Share Button

St. Thomas Aquinas on a bizarre marital situation

Amidst the Amoris Laetitia debates, one thing I have wondered about is how people find themselves in the difficult situations everyone is discussing.  How does it happen that someone (a) enters a second civil marriage and (b) is obliged to keep up sexual relations and (c) requires the Eucharist to keep going?  I don’t have the pastoral experience to rattle off examples.

But while editing a translation of St. Thomas’s Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, I came across one such case—not likely in this day and age, but a possible scenario nonetheless.  St. Thomas holds the position that exterior words expressing consent do not result in marriage if interior consent is lacking, but he raises this objection to his own view (Scriptum IV.27.1.2, quaes. 4):

Obj. 3: If someone is proved to have consented to someone else through words about the present, he is forced to have her as his wife, under pain of excommunication, even if he says that mental consent was lacking; even if he has afterward consented to another with words expressive of his mental consent. But this would not be the case, if mental consent were required for marriage. Therefore, it is not required.

Let’s pause and absorb this amazing scenario.  Billy Bob went through a wedding ceremony in which he did not intend to get married but managed to fool everyone there.  Despite all apperances, Billy Bob’s conscience requires him to admit that he did not marry that woman.  Later, Billy Bob went through a second wedding ceremony in which he did sincerely intend to get married, and his conscience requires him to admit that he is married to that woman.  But in the eyes of the law and of the Church, which can only go by what is perceptible from the outside, Billy Bob is married to the first woman and not to the second, and (at least under medieval law) he could be subject to severe penalties if he refused to live as a married man with that first wife—including physical intimacy.  He has not just a shadowy, self-judged duty to keep up his marital status with her, but an objective, legal, and ecclesially enforced obligation!

Now, surely Billy Bob is under unimaginable pressures.  The direction of today’s debates would suggest that he can arrange with his priest to receive communion while continuing in what his conscience tells him is an adulterous union:  this is the best that he can offer God in the circumstance.  But St. Thomas has a different pastoral suggestion:

Billy Bob could flee the country.  Or, if that’s too harsh, he could just submit to excommunication from the Church:

Reply Obj. 3: In such a case the Church compels him to stay with his first wife, since it judges based on what appears externally. Nor is it deceived in justice, although it may be deceived in fact. But that man should undergo excommunication rather than be intimate with his first wife, or he should flee to some other distant region.

Zowie.  I’m not sure how long the Angelic Doctor would last in today’s climate.

Share Button

Feser and Bessette: The authority of government

Feser and Bessette structure their argument for capital punishment carefully.  Their fourth general premise is that some wrongdoers deserve death, but they spell out as a fifth and separate premise the notion that someone has the authority to inflict that death upon the wrongdoer:

Public authorities have the right, in principle, to inflict on wrongdoers the punishments they deserve.

As I noted in my original post on the death penalty, the fact that someone deserves death does not of itself imply that any human being has the authority to impose it.  Accordingly, F&B devote an entire subsection of their argument to showing that the government in particular does have that authority.

However, I think there is a small gap in their case.  Continue reading “Feser and Bessette: The authority of government”

Share Button

Feser and Bessette: Surprising Omission #1

Feser and Bessette take on this moral question:  Is it ever OK to kill a human being, supposing the person is guilty?  And as we have seen, Feser and Bessette’s general approach to morality is that one must observe the teleology built into the natures of things—what a given thing is ordered toward—and then act in accordance with that teleology.  So it comes as a complete surprise that their moral argument never—not once—speaks about what a human being is ordered toward.  What would seem to be the key, namely the telos of the human person, is absent from their book. Continue reading “Feser and Bessette: Surprising Omission #1”

Share Button

Feser and Bessette: Disagreement with Aquinas

As Feser and Bessete wind up their argument about punishment as such, they note that punishment has traditionally been considered to have several purposes:  in addition to retribution, it can also serve to deter future crime or rehabilitate the criminal.  “But,” they go on, “as our discussion indicates, for the natural law theorist, retribution is not only a legitimate end of punishment: it is the fundamental end” (page 40).  Further down they make explicit what they mean: “For, all things being equal, we may punish even if we will thereby achieve no end other than retribution; but we may not punish if retribution is not at least one of the ends aimed at.”

However, still further in, F&B allow that “some traditional natural law theorists think” that we can’t “inflict a punishment merely to secure retributive justice,” and they go on to offer some citations from Aquinas (57).  It was only on my second read that I realized F&B are saying that Aquinas disagrees with them about punishment.  Perhaps one reason it was not clear to me at first is that they do not cite Aquinas’s clearest statement on the point:  “Vengeance is lawful and virtuous so far as it tends to the prevention of evil” (ST II-II 108.2). Continue reading “Feser and Bessette: Disagreement with Aquinas”

Share Button