Five Dominicans shred fellow Order member’s claim that Aquinas endorses ‘homosexual love’
December 14, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Five Dominicans, four friars and one sister, have jointly published a short but sharp refutation of the thesis of another son of Saint Dominic, Fr Adriano Oliva, who has published a book claiming that homosexual love justifies homosexual acts even though plain sodomy is still a grave sin. His sophistry is put bare by Fr. Bernhard Blankenhorn, Sr. Catherine Joseph Droste and Fr. Efrem Jindráček, all of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (the “Angelicum” in Rome) and Fr. Dominic Legge and Fr. Thomas Joseph White of the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, DC. Their text was published on Friday by First Things.
A few months have passed since Fr. Adriano Oliva, an Italian Dominican friar working in France, published his book claiming homosexuality is “natural.” In Amours (“Loves”, its French title) he claims Saint Thomas Aquinas recognized that the homosexual act, insofar as it is lived out between genuinely homosexual people in “unique, gratuitous and faithful love,” is not only morally acceptable but should be blessed and supported within the Catholic Church. The book came out simultaneously in French and in Italian – in which language, revealingly, it is called L’amicizia più grande: “The greatest friendship.” That is how St. Thomas Aquinas qualifies conjugal love…
A few months have passed but the scandal created by Fr. Oliva in Italy and in France has gone all but unnoticed: apart from an in-depth study by the French lay philosopher Thibaud Collin, published among others in the French bishops’ daily La Croix, and a few more or less critical papers in the Italian press, his book has barely stirred up any controversy. Fr. Adriano is still the president of the Leonine Commission set up by Leo XIII in 1880 to publish critical editions of St. Thomas Aquinas’ works and a week ago he presided at a colloquium on Saint Thomas and the 750th anniversary of the Summa Theologica in the Dominican order’s monumental library in Paris, Le Saulchoir: no one seems to care.
Neglecting Oliva’s outrageous claims might seem to be the best way to rid them of their importance. But the scandal he has created – in the sense that scandalizing someone means to push that person into acting sinfully by one’s bad example or teaching – surely deserves clarification. Three months on after the publication of Amours, the Dominicans’ honor has been saved by the five who decided to take on the challenge of contradicting their wayward brother. The challenge, it must be said, was objectively not an exceedingly difficult one as Oliva’s sophistry is only too crude, but it needed to be done insofar as it is widespread both in the Church and out.
They make that clear in their conclusion: “The popular genre of the book has the potential to create major confusion among the Catholic faithful. For this reason, we sense a strong moral obligation to respond to Oliva’s claims.”
The five Dominicans point out that the “Gay Thomism” Oliva is promoting is “rooted in a new interpretation of Thomas Aquinas,” first and foremost in “separating the bond of marriage from the good of children.” Where St. Thomas clearly states that “the bond of matrimony has a two-fold purpose: 1) the pro-creation and raising of children, and 2) the couple’s growth in love and mutual support through their life together,” Oliva reads something completely different: “For the heterosexual couple, each person is called to transcend him- or herself in love of the other, and this not through openness to pro-creation, which is not part of the essence of marriage, but through indissoluble love for one’s spouse.”
This is nonsense, the Dominicans show: “None of this is found in Aquinas. Instead, the Angelic Doctor insists that ‘the good of children is the principal end of marriage’.”
Adriano Oliva is a genuine specialist of the Aquinate: he cannot seriously pretend to ignore this, especially as Catholic doctrine has been traditionally very clear on this point: sexual acts should take place within a marriage that is open to procreation, and marriage can only exist between a man and a woman in a union that is not in its essence infertile (“accidental” sterility, linked to the fertility cycle, illness or old age is not an obstacle to marriage).
Oliva, on an Italian blog – Ilregno-blog – set up to accompany the Synod on the Family, wrote on October 3: “Retrieving certain elements in the doctrine of Thomas on human love, the Church, after Vatican II, has recognized the primacy of the unitive dimension over the procreative one when considering the exercise of sexuality between spouses, separating it from the necessity to procreate.” He even quotes Humanæ Vitæ in order to make that point. Any reasonably attentive reader of Paul VI’s encyclical can easily demonstrate the contrary.
The Dominicans’ article in First Things goes on to show the “second misreading” of Oliva, showing that “the pastoral consequences of this claim are far-reaching.” Separate marriage from children and anything can be okay: since “sexual union is not part of the essence of marriage, as the Catechism of the Council of Trent and Vatican II teach, consequently, the exercise of the sexual act between divorced and [civilly] remarried couples does not harm the existing sacramental bond.”
Given the premise, it is indeed true that the absence of the procreative end turns marriage into something very different from what the Catholic Church teaches: that is certainly why justifying contraception ultimately leads to justifying homosexual unions when the pursuit of pleasure and a form of unity becomes the main object of the sexual act.
“Oliva’s astounding claim has nothing to do with Aquinas, the Catechism of Trent or Vatican II. (…) He even appeals to Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae (paragraphs 8-10) to argue that the exercise of sexuality by a legitimately married couple is separated from the necessity to pro-create. In other words, Pope Paul VI teaches that sex need not have anything to do with babies. We find this claim to be simply outrageous. A student’s paper that contained such a conclusion would earn a failing grade at any theology faculty worth its salt,” write the Dominicans.
They then go on to criticize Oliva’s “third misreading,” that leads him to say that “divorced and remarried couples do not sin when they fail in continence”: their guilt, he says, disappears because of attenuating “circumstances” that he does not go into. “Such a proposal evidently renders any effort to promote continence among the divorced and civilly remarried useless. Oliva’s work is pastorally irresponsible,” say his critics.
But what about the “indissoluble love for one’s spouse” Oliva was talking about earlier? Well, here he is obliged to complicate his reasoning one step further, saying that in fact true “unique, faithful, gratuitous” love can be found in a second union rather than the first marriage celebrated in a church. So it’s all a question of subjective “feel-good” situations.
That being posed, the “fourth misreading” evidenced by the five Dominicans follows of itself: “homosexual acts can be natural and wholesome.” Attributing this sort of claptrap to St. Thomas who on the contrary, considers homosexual activity to be gravely sinful insofar as it makes man reject even his own animal nature.
If Oliva makes the “daring” statement that homosexual acts can be “ethically good,” it is because of a sophistic interpretation of St. Thomas’ reflections on wrongful pleasures that can under certain circumstances correspond to the personal “nature” of a given person as corrupted by habit, illness or bad “customs” – such as cannibalism.
The Dominicans set out St Thomas’ true thought:
The passage in question (I-II, quesiton 31, article 7) considers pleasure from a metaphysical perspective. Thomas takes up the question because he wants to explain how someone can take pleasure in something that, properly speaking, is contrary to the person's nature. He explains that some delights are especially tied to the body: food, sleep, etc. Such things are good for all animals, and not just human beings. Other delights find their origin in the soul, that is, they are not found among most animals, or even among none, except us. Next, it can happen that what is unnatural for human beings in general can turn out to be somewhat “natural” for certain individuals, because their nature has been altered. For example, some sick persons enjoy eating earth. This is not really natural for them, Aquinas explains, but is more properly understood as a corruption of their nature.
They then explain Oliva’s error:
Oliva celebrates this text. He thinks it shows that homosexual acts are natural for homosexual persons. And what is natural must be good! Also, for Oliva, Aquinas places the origin of the inclination for gay sex in the soul of the homosexual person. That is, this inclination comes from the most intimate part of his being, and it moves all the way to sexual union. Oliva concludes that we can distinguish between gay sex sought simply for physical pleasure, and the tender gay sex that comes from the homosexual person’s most intimate self. Indeed, homosexual persons are called to live out the inclination which is natural for them, namely, in fidelity to another person of the same sex, and enjoying sexual acts not primarily for pleasure but as expressions of love.
While St. Thomas speaks of the “bad customs” that in a way alter the soul, Oliva claims that because homosexual people don’t choose to be that way, then their homosexuality is their “nature.” The Dominicans note:
Now if, as Oliva proposes, Thomas means that the homosexual inclination comes from the most intimate part of the person’s soul, then the same reading must apply to Aquinas’s mention of cannibalism and bestiality. Yet this is clearly absurd. Aquinas cannot mean that cannibals and practitioners of bestiality are following the inclinations of their most intimate selves. That is precisely why Thomas mentions custom.
In his pre-Synod blogpost mentioned earlier, Fr. Adriano Oliva admits that St. Thomas called sodomy “a sin,” but claims that the medieval philosopher and theologian had a genius’ intuition that allows “the separation of sodomy from the expression and the exercise of homosexuality.” Oliva writes that it is enough to separate moral judgment from the “metaphysical standpoint” that an “unnatural pleasure” can exist and is “connatural” to the person with homosexual leanings even when it goes against the “general specific nature of the human being,” insofar as human nature only exists in its concrete form in such or such a person. Oliva does not deny that in his time St. Thomas went on calling sodomy a sin, but for him the argument of personal nature is enough, and “should apply to bisexualism and transsexualism,” as long as sexuality is expressed in a context of “unique, faithful and gratuitous love.”
Fr. Adriano Oliva made abundantly clear that his reflections and his book had the purpose of participating in the Synod debate. And in fact, his blog post was published on Saturday, October 3, the very same day that Msgr. Charamska, the now-former official in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, broadcast the fact that he was in a homosexual relationship, using much the same arguments as Oliva.