Sex and the Catholic Church (2)

by Damola Awoyokun

I am absolutely pro-Chenu, pro his brilliance, his breath-taking erudition, his ingenious grasp of the facticity of history, pro the reformatio et renovatio character of his ideas, and his courage to put them forth no matter whose ox was gored. It imperative to reclaim the vibes of Chenu’s legacy from the dirt in which Prof Akinwale sunk him when he inserted him in his rejoinder, Knowledge and Awoyokun’s Fury(The Guardian, 9th January 2011).

In commenting on Giles of Rome who around 1280 rejected the claim that mind and body are in a hostile union, and that the mind must refuse the body in order to fulfil itself at the spiritual and divine level, Chenu writes: “in proposing such a philosophy of man, Giles shows himself to be the intellectual disciple of Thomas Aquinas. Like Thomas he was defining man and his place in the universe in accordance with the scientific conception of Aristotle and in opposition to Augustinian spiritualism.” Despite the fact that the supreme theological tribunal had banned that idea in the 1277 Syllabus Errorum, Giles was still affirming it because he believed it is true. Centuries after, the Magisterium accepted it too. As I stated in my rejoinder to Bishop Emmanuel Badejo, (The Guardian Sunday, December 12, 2010) the Catholic Church will accept the truth, only that it can take centuries. Couples do not need to wait that long before they use their initiative on the issue of contraceptives. Commenting also on the dialectical disputation on ideas of freedom and humanism, Chenu writes, “the choice lies between the pessimism of Augustine and the optimism of Aquinas.”

Contrary to Akinwale’s claims, I did not invent any polarity between St Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. The polarities were already there no matter how his rejoinder struggled hard to annul them. I only appropriated one of them as a valid trope to dissect the intellectual dictatorship Ratzinger exercised in the past 30 years. I respect St Augustine as the most eminent African intellectual in history who did certainly outshine St Paul in invention of dense terms and concepts. I am also aware that Aquinas’s warped opinions on contraception and sex in the economy of human sexuality are analogous to St Augustine’s. But I still prefer the Thomistic gibberish to the Augustinian one because the scholastic underpinnings of Thomism is very self-correcting sooner or later once you imbibe its spirit unlike Augustine who vested the ultimate authority of thought on the bureaucratic contraption of the church and asked us to surrender to it should it be in conflict with the findings of our thoughts. The believer who submits unreflectingly to the opinions of a particular authority is in a somewhat unfortunate position, remarked Aquinas. “If he depends on authority alone, he may indeed attain the certitude of a good listener, but his mind is empty; he has no understanding.” Though Aquinas never said so, reading Summa Theologiae and Summa contra Gentiles, one could not but sense he believed in the primacy of reason and intellect over faith whereas, then, faith was unchallengeably superior. Now they are regarded equals. As Pope John Paul says in Fides et Ratio: “Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth.” It will take a while for the church to accept that faith must bow down to reason and science.

Augustine stressed the role of divine illumination in human thinking to fathom truths. Aquinas rejected this. That is why he was able to recourse to the authority of Aristotle and even the great Islamic scholar, Ibn Rushd to buttress his insights. Then, it was revolutionary. It was like a Professor quoting Pasuma to support his theses. Chenu commented that such recourse was seen as “implying a willingness to enter into dialogue with error.” Although credit is also due to Peter Abelard who earlier on made the revolutionary recourse feasible.

And so it was not actually Nietzsche who officially declared in 1882 the death of God, it was St Thomas Aquinas by rightfully arguing divine illumination is no longer preeminent in achieving truths of thought. Hence Aquinas presupposed the enlightenment philosophers. He presupposed the scientific empiricism of Francis Bacon, he presupposed Kant, Descartes, Hume, Rousseau, John Locke, individual liberties, freedom of speech, mass education, annihilation of divine rights of kings, democracy, separation of church and state, liberté, égalité, fraternité of the French revolution, modernism and Sartre’s existentialism. All of these the Catholic Church vehemently opposed in their earliest manifestations but have now come around to endorse centuries later. Those obeying the church on issue of condoms are simply wasting their time and pieties. The church’s contemptus mundi default state would not allow her to accept easily outputs of new thinking.

Long before Galileo, when Giordano Bruno published On The Infinite Universe And Worlds that insisted on the heliocentricity of the our world rather than the biblical geocentricity, Cardinal Robert Bellarmino who supervised his trial and invigilated his murder for thinking against the bible was awarded sainthood in 1930, made doctor of the faith and patron saint of catechists in 1931! In the battle for the soul of truth, when there is a conflict between science and faith, ignore faith, embrace science; it takes time for the hierarchy and the magisterium to come to terms with the truth. Chenu too in 1942 had his book banned by Pope Pius XII and placed on Index Librorum Prohibitorum only to be reinstated 20 years later by the reforming Vatican (II) Council and appointed peritus to Gaudium et Spes. Even his progressive Nouvelle Théologie colleagues like Yves Congar, Karl Rahner who were condemned by the pope’s Humani Generis were restored. This proves that many fresh ideas currently hoary from widespread use started their life as heresies. They must be replenished.

Akinwale of course is a professor of status quo. His piece is what happens when the desire to be fidei defensor superintends over desire to make sense. None of his core arguments or his shockingly reductive definitions (A dogma is a teaching… scholasticism is scholarship…) yielded to the appetite for sharpness and crisp intelligence that ought to characterise his intervention. I asked important questions about the bizarre attitude of the church towards condoms – the most pertinent being if the Catholic Church is so militantly against condoms, mere preventer of transmission, what would she do to the medicine that eventually cure AIDS? Instead, Akinwale willed himself into ignorance and ignored the questions. He recommended Pope John Paul’s personal books Love and Responsibility and Theology of the Body which is continuation of the same old tradition (as regards contraception) but written in different font.

The Church has no more credible reason to hold on to her prohibition of condoms. Onanism, on which the prohibition rests probatur ex scriptura is a blatant ignorance of the findings of science. It is not sperm that gives human life. It is the union of sperm and ovum. If in Genesis 38, Onan could be condemned to death for redirecting the flow of his semen, what about the female eggs that waste away every month? Also, irrigating the cervix doesn’t automatically translate to pregnancy. Science has been able to tell us that the woman has to be i

n her fertile phase for there to be possibility of conception. What is more appalling, God didn’t see the sin in Onan fornicating with his brother’s widow instead he is maddened over Onan’s milk spillage and murdered him for that!

The other ground on which the church’s prohibition of condoms rests probatur ex traditione is that contraception contravenes the natural law. That an act or practice responds to natural law doesn’t automatically grant it moral approval. Even nature can be grossly immoral for its own sake (cf survival of the fittest or earthquake in a highly populated area.) Celibacy of the holy orders is highly unnatural but that does not invalidate it as an immorality. So is the use of condoms and artificial birth control methods. And they are definitely not intrinsic evils as Humane Vitae had them defined and Ratzinger had them definitively proposed. Couples should embrace them.

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