Wissenschaftliche Zeitschrift für Philosophie und Theologie, ISSN 2195-173X
Humanae Vitae and Veritatis
Splendor as Expositions of
‘Natural Law’
Contrasted with Their Irrational Rejection
Carlos A. Casanova∗∗
This paper was written to be presented at the first meeting of
the John Paul II Academy for Life and the Family, held in Rome
on May 21st, the title of which was “Human Life, the Family and
the Splendour of Truth: Gifts of God, Humanae vitae 50 years -
Veritatis splendor 25 years.” The Text is available under the Creative
Commons License Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Publication date: 15.06.2018.
∗∗Carlos A. Casanova is a Catholic philosopher from Venezuela, who
now lives in Chile. PhD in Philosophy by Universidad de Navarra
(1995), he is currently Full Professor at Universidad Santo Tomás.
Epost: carlosacasanovag@XYZ (replace ‘XYZ’ by ‘’)
Mail: Ejército 146, Universidad Santo Tomás. Torre C, piso 7, Centro
de Estudios Tomistas. Comuna de Santiago. Santiago Chile
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Humanae Vitae and Veritatis Splendor
as Expositions of ‘Natural Law’
The paper holds that the encyclicals Humanae Vi-
atae and Veritatis Splendor presuppose the West-
ern and Christian view of morality as a science
(natural or supernatural) which is able to uncover
the real order of which human beings and their
actions are a part. It shows how the theological
dissidents who reject the main tenets of these en-
cyclicals are unable to explain the moral order and,
therefore, are less rational than the encyclicals and
in lesser agreement with Revelation. In order to
demonstrate the previous point, it classifies the
dissidents in four categories according to the meta-
physical views they presuppose: Kantian, Utilit-
arian, Weberian and so called post-Modern (Marx-
ist, Nietzschean, Freudian, Heideggerian, etc.). Fi-
nally, it shows that the fourth kind of dissidence,
the so called post-Modern, is the most frequent
today and that this kind of dissidence is utterly
lawless and irrational.
1 Introduction: Humanae Vitae
and Veritatis Splendor
The two encyclicals by Popes Paul VI and John Paul II
were a powerful thundering of the Holy Spirit amidst a
disoriented world. They embody God’s calling of humani-
ty to respect the dignity of their intellect, to allow Him
heal their will, to acknowledge His plan for human nature
and human persons. They proclaim once more the strength
Carlos A. Casanova
of that great discovery of the Greeks: the intellect which
for the first time Thales used for the formulation of real
demonstrations and to search for the archaí, can be used
to explore scientifically the moral order. And this science,
which flourished under the skillful minds of Socrates, Pla-
to and Aristotle, and under the Stoics and the Roman Ju-
rists, was elevated by the light of Faith and the strength of
Grace to a supernatural level and became moral theology
under the skilfull minds of the Fathers and Doctors of the
Church. Moral theology is a science which can uncover to
the extent possible to the human mind assisted by Reve-
lation and grace, the real order, the divine order in which
we as human beings, with our nature and our personalities
are integrated. As we shall see, the deep meaning of the
theological dissidence is precisely that strange breeds have
entered the Church of Christ: a breed of men who reject
the reality of the divine order and even a breed of men who
radically reject rationality.
The doctrine of Humane vitae is a confirmation of the
perennial teachings of the Church on the matter of sexu-
al morality, considering the new challenges posed by the
development of techniques used for the temporal or per-
manent sterilization of the man or the woman and / or
for the killing of the new life in the womb of the mother.
(But perhaps the document did not underline sufficiently
that Catholic parents in principle must receive the children
that God sends, unless there are grave reasons to avoid a
pregnancy.) This teaching was declared by Paul VI to be
a natural law teaching and not only a revealed teaching.
On this latter point, the Pope was entirely right and on
a previous occasion I had the opportunity of (a) showing
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that Plato, a gentile philosopher deprived of Revelation,
proves the very same doctrine in the 8th book of his Laws
(838-841); and (b) proving the depth of the Papal insight.1
Veritatis splendor is an encyclical of wider scope. There,
John Paul II endeavors to reach a clear and updated formu-
lation of moral theology’s basic tenets and to place them
within the organisms of Christian life and theological wis-
dom. The Pope makes clear that the commandments are
necessary for salvation as Christ Himself has taught un-
equivocally; that they are, however, just a necessary con-
dition for a higher state of perfection, following Christ; and
that the gift of the Holy Spirit is needed for the moral life
of the new creature (chapter 1 and nn. 28-29). But then
John Paul II confronts the subjects concerning which the-
re has been dissent among theologians with the perennial
magisterium of the Church, especially after the II Vatican
Council. And he focuses on the meaning of the law and
its relationship with human freedom; the relation between
conscience and truth; and the structure of the moral act,
including the fundamental orientation of the person to his
final end. In all these subjects, John Paul II shows a tho-
rough knowledge of Scripture and of the philosophical and
theological issues. He, very especially, grasps that the main
questions are: (a) whether there is a truth about the good
(see n. 30); (b) if the intellect [conscience] and the will
[freedom] have to conform to an order which, coming from
God, they do not create, and this precisely to achieve the
1See “¿Por qué tiene tantas dificultades la razón natural en nuestra
época para reconocer las doctrinas centrales de la encíclica Humanae
vitae?,” in Razón y tradición. Estudios en honor de Juan Antonio
Widow. Globo, Santiago, 2011, tomo II, pp. 353-377.
Carlos A. Casanova
sought end (eternal life, happiness) and freedom (“truth
will set you free”); and (c) whether there are kinds of ac-
tions which, because of their species [“object”], are always
evil and therefore forbidden and incompatible with the hu-
man good even if the agent has a “good intention” and /
or calculates that the total amount of consequences of his
action will be good.
Humanae vitae was bitterly contested by Catholic theo-
logians and clerics, not suprisingly. The issues dealt with
were too dear to the powers of this world (which nowa-
days are clearly not Christian), and too many theologians
and Catholic universities received substantial funding from
such powers and wanted to fit in with the neo-Malthusian
culture which those powers promote.2 But even Veritatis
splendor received a strong opposition and was harshly con-
tested, despite its dealing with more general issues not so
directly applied to human action: some dissident theolo-
gians grasped that the basic tenets from which they had
criticized Humanae vitae were skilfully addressed by John
Paul II. The negative critical responses against the ency-
clicals by Catholic theologians can be classified according
to the philosophical categories which theologians necessa-
rily use even if they speak very much against “metaphy-
sics” and “philosophy” and praise instead “social” or other
“sciences.” There are mainly four kinds of categories on
which an author can fall, Kantianism, Utilitarianism, We-
berianism and post-Modern. Most authors have traces of
two or more of these categories, since Kant and Marx have
2See E. Michael Jones, Libido Dominandi, Saint Augustine Press,
South Bend, 2006.
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influenced the Utilitarian, and authors with Kantian lea-
nings are affected by Utilitarian or so called post-Modern
influences. For example, a mostly Utilitarian author such as
Louis Janssens has undoubtedly Marxist influences.3 The
classification is useful, however, because it helps to reduce
the different views to their principles.
2 Four kinds of positions that
reject the real order of reality
(a) Some responses use Kantian concepts such as “au-
tonomy” (in theological jargon, “conscience”4), “op-
tion,” “choice” and the like. In Chile, for example,
Tony Mifsud claims that the Law cannot replace the
individual’s discernment because if it did, the decisi-
on would be not free and responsible, but immature
and heteronomous.5
3In “Ontic Evil and Moral Evil” he holds mainly a proportionalist
view, but he clearly adheres to some Marxist theses such as these:
the endeavours to overcome ontic evil require from us that we do
not tolerate the current structures of production; the proposal of an
utopia without ontic evil, as that contained in Marx’s Communist
Manifesto, is good; thanks to Marx in Belgium was suppressed the
work of children. See “Ontic Evil and Moral Evil”, in Proportionalism.
For and Against, Christoper Kaczor, editor. Marquette University
Press. Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 2000, pp. 100-147.
4I do not mean that in every case “conscience” is jargon. I mean
that in contexts in which what is meant is [Kantian] “autonomy” the
use of “conscience” instead is jargon.
5I must clarify that Mifsud is not a Kantian. He draws from wha-
tever sources to defend lawlessness, as we will see. But one of those
Carlos A. Casanova
Some other responses use Utilitarian concepts such as
“pre-moral goods,” “well being,” simply “goods.” In
this group we have, of course, a host of philosophers
and theologians from the Anglosaxon world and from
Europe. These are the most rational and articulate
of all. For this reason we will examine here the ge-
neral type to which they belong (Utilitarianism and
its principles) but also the potentially most dama-
ging and truth-like critiques which they particularly
formulate. Louis Janssens’ reaction to the encyclical
was to claim that if John Paul II invoked Thomas
Aquinas, then he should have accepted the “teleo-
logical”, that is, proportionalist (Utilitarian) view.6
A similar reaction was that of Richard McCormick.
John Paul II teaches that the proportionalist theo-
logians have departed from the truth because they
hold that some morally wrong or evil actions accor-
ding to the moral object can become good because of
their consequences and because of a good intention.
McCormick denies this. He replies that no theolo-
gian holds such tenet. Curran’s reaction was in the
same line and also claiming for his view the support
sources is, without a doubt, Kant. Of course, he does not assimilate
Kant, he just uses the “quotable Kant.”
6Cfr. “Teleology and Proportionality: Thoughts about the Ency-
clical Veritatis Splendor,” in The Splendor of Accuracy: An Exami-
nation of the Assertions made by Veritatis Splendor, eds. Joseph A.
Selling and Jan Jans, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerd-
mans Publishing Company, 1995), pp. 99-113. Janssen’s claim is just
outrageous because there is a chasm between the Utilitarian view of
ethics and the Thomistic one, as we shall prove.
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of Aquinas by a gross manipulation of the texts and
the terms (happiness and teleology, for example).7
Some others vaguely follow Max Weber and his att-
empt to find a way which takes into account autono-
my regarding the values and calculations regarding
the consequences of an intra-worldly action.
Some others are utterly irrational and can be inscri-
bed in the tradition of the Marxian, the Nietzschean-
Freudian-Heideggerian or Kabbalistic rejection of ra-
tionality. Many of these are probably crypto adhe-
rents to the gender-ideology movement and many
others are open adherents to such movement. The
prevalent positions in our time are these of the fourth
kind. Clear examples are Víctor Manuel Fernández,
Father Tony Mifsud, s. j., and all the liberationist
theologians who write about morality. On this fourth
group we will not criticize models from which their
principles are taken, because the models which do
exist are multiple and most of them are anti-moral
(they do not have a body of moral thought, therefo-
re). We will present some of the concrete dissenting
authors’ theses and reasonings.
7“Veritatis Splendor : A Revisionist Perspective”, in Veritatis
Splendor: American Responses, eds. Michael E. Allsop & John J.
O’Keefe, (Kansas City: Sheed & Ward, 1995): 226-7. The reactions
of these three theologians were summarized by Wilson Muoha Maina
in his paper “The Shaping of Moral Theology: Veritatis Splendor and
the Debate on the Nature of Roman Catholic Moral Theology,” pp.
201-208, in Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies, vol. 12,
issue 35 (2013), pp. 178-221.
Carlos A. Casanova
What these four kinds of positions have in common is
the rejection of the real order of reality to which man has
to adhere through his intellect and will, with his freedom.
To discover the demands of such real order is what John
Paul II calls “the truth about the good” or “the truth about
moral good” (VS n. 60).The light of this truth in the human
mind constitutes the principles of moral knowledge which
guide man amidst the darkness of this world and prevents
him from incurring in the indubitable evil excluded by the
negative precepts of God’s Law. This truth is also the only
safeguard of the weak facing today’s powerful Leviathan
which yearns to usurp the place of God. That is to say,
this truth is precisely the way of freedom as the same Pope
declares with great clarity, echoing Christ in John’s Gospel:
“you will know the truth and the truth will set you free”
(Jn 8:32, VS n. 31). Indeed, none of the main moral theories
which are seen as alternatives to the classical and Christian
morality embody even the will to protect the freedom and
dignity of common human beings, as we expect to show in
this paper.
Kantianism is known as a defence of any human being vis
à vis Utilitarianism. But, is it really? The authors who
claim so fail to realize that Kant’s morality is unable to
ground a judicious conception of Law which truly grants
freedom. According to Kant, the legislative power cannot
do injustice to any person, because any decision of the legis-
lative power is a decision of us all and volenti non fit inju-
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ria8. This entails such despotism that, in reading Kant and
other enlightened authors, one can begin to understand the
anarchists of the 19th century who bluntly declared: “the
representative of the sovereign [the people] will always be
the owner of the sovereign”, and then proceeded to propose
the abolition of all governments, which is no more than an
undesirable utopia. The respect of the will of the subjects
is not and cannot be the only rule to judge the legitimacy
and justice of government. The notion of moral [or practi-
cal] truth is necessary to protect the weak from the abuse
of power.9
Beside this, as John Stuart Mill pointed out, the cate-
gorical imperative does not exclude that all the rational
agents agree in a maxim of action absolutely insane, ex-
cept if one can judge about it in the light of the objects to
which it is applied (which Kant forbids). Thus, according
to Mill, the categorical imperative could be the ground for
8See Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Law, Public Law, chapter
46. In chapter 49, general observation A, Kant also claims that the
people subject to the supreme power (the Leviathan, we could say)
may not reason on the origin of such power, which is inscrutable.
Moreover, such supreme power has no duties but only rights towards
its subjects: such would be the meaning of the maxim: “all authority
comes from God”!
9A sad confirmation of this insight is the work of Tristram Engel-
hardt who, from his negation of the political relevance of moral truth,
has come to the conclusion that the only rule which the bioethicist
should follow is that declared in the positive norms of his respective
political community. That is to say, he has become the servant of
power. See “Beyond the Principles of Bioethics: Facing the Conse-
quences of Fundamental Moral Disagreement,” in Ethic. An Interna-
tional Journal for Moral Philosophy (2012), Vol. 11, n. 1, pp. 13-31.
Carlos A. Casanova
an insane rule of action.10 This is precisely what we see
in the work of that eminent Kantian, Hans Kelsen: the “a
priory ought” commands us to obey the rules of positive
Law whatever their content.11
Kant himself realized that the merely formal imperati-
ve was not sufficient ground for any reasonable morality.
Thus, in the Introduction (section 2) to his Metaphysics of
Morals he claims that the “most elevated principles” must
be applied to the objects of experience according to rules.
In this way, we are forced to “take as an object the particu-
lar nature of man, which we only know through experience,
in order to bring to light in it the consequences which can
be deduced from the universal principles [...]”. So much
for the purity of the formality of the categorical imperati-
ve. As it turns out, the human will cannot be both right
and “autonomous.” Moreover, as we have seen, it cannot be
“free” from the demands of moral truth and at the same ti-
me free from being subject to an exterior tyranny (or to the
tyranny of passions). Here John Paul II and Paul VI were
fully prophetic: “As Cardinal John Henry Newman, that
outstanding defender of the rights of conscience, forcefully
put it: ‘Conscience has rights because it has duties’.” (VS,
34); and “responsible men can become more deeply convin-
ced of the truth of the doctrine laid down by the Church
on this issue if they reflect on the consequences of methods
and plans for artificial birth control. [. . . ] Finally, careful
consideration should be given to the danger of this power
10Utilitarianism, Capítulo I, p. 165-166; y Capítulo V, p. 216. En:
Plamenatz, John. The English Utilitarians. Basil Blakcwell. Oxford,
1949, pp. 161-228.
11See Pure Theory of Law (French edition), chapter 9, section 2.
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passing into the hands of those public authorities who care
little for the precepts of the moral law. Who will blame a
government which in its attempt to resolve the problems
affecting an entire country resorts to the same measures as
are regarded as lawful by married people in the solution of
a particular family difficulty? Who will prevent public au-
thorities from favoring those contraceptive methods which
they consider more effective? Should they regard this as
necessary, they may even impose their use on everyone. It
could well happen, therefore, that when people, either indi-
vidually or in family or social life, experience the inherent
difficulties of the divine law and are determined to avoid
them, they may give into the hands of public authorities
the power to intervene in the most personal and intimate
responsibility of husband and wife.” (HV, 17)
We need to take into account the reality, nature of things
to find moral [and political] judiciousness. But, are we to
take it into account in the Utilitarian way? Let us see.
2.2 Utilitarianism
Utilitarianism rose from John Locke’s statement of the
“good” as that which causes or increases pleasure.12 An old
English tradition had rejected the existence in reality of a
goodness which could be grasped by the intellect and which
could proportionately move the will and, for this reason,
had postulated that God’s commandments and, therefo-
re, the dividing line between [moral] good and evil, were
arbitrary. Locke laid the ground to build a new moral con-
12Essays Concerning Human Understanding II 20.
Carlos A. Casanova
ception. Helvetius and Bentham put themselves hard to
work: “good” would be that which procures the greatest
amount of pleasure not for me, the Utilitarian philosopher,
but for the greatest number of people.
Utilitarianism in all its forms, including proportionalism
and consequentialism, entails an essential paradox which,
according to Eric Voegelin, is the mark of the driving force
of the Utilitarians, the will to power.13 Indeed, according
to them, human beings are “pleasure machines” unable to
build by themselves any moral or political order. They need
the Utilitarian, who, out of his philanthropy (!) proposes a
system in which the general interest is or can be realized:
the greatest pleasure of the greatest number. So, the One
who does not seek his own pleasure is the Utilitarian. Wow!
He is a god among animals. The despotic tendencies of
Utilitarianism are very apparent in Mill’s works. He, for
example, stated:
[. . . ] education and opinion, which have so vast
a power over human character, should so use
that power as to establish in the mind of every
individual an indissoluble association between
his own happiness and the good of the whole;
especially between his own happiness and the
practice of such modes of conduct, negative and
positive, as regard for the universal happiness
prescribes; so that not only he may be unable
to conceive the possibility of happiness to him-
self, consistently with conduct opposed to the
13Cfr. From Enlightenment to Revolution. Durham, Duke University
Press: 1975, pp. 50-52.
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general good, but also that a direct impulse to
promote the general good may be in every in-
dividual one of the habitual motives of action,
and the sentiments connected therewith may
fill a large and prominent place in every human
being’s sentient existence.14
But the despotic potential of the principle was fully de-
veloped by a different author, Aldous Huxley, in his famous
Brave New World towards which we are marching at full
Some authors have pointed out the essential shortco-
mings of Utilitarianism with great acumen. And some of
them have done so despite they are unable to find an alter-
native which satisfies them. Perhaps the clearest of these is
H. L. A. Hart. Let us briefly examine his criticism to then
draw the necessary consequences.
In “Between Utility and Rights,” H. L. A. Hart has achie-
ved an important critique of Utilitarianism. He has objec-
ted that in the Utilitarian doctrine, “separate individuals
are of no intrinsic importance but only important as the
points at which fragments of what is important, i.e. the
total aggregate of pleasure or happiness, are located;” mo-
reover, Utilitarianism treats “individual persons as of no
worth; since not persons for the Utilitarian but the experi-
ences of pleasure or satisfaction or happiness which persons
have are the sole items of value;” besides, “there is nothing
self-evidently valuable or authoritative as a moral goal in
the mere increase in totals of pleasure or happiness abstrac-
14Chapter 2, pp. 179.
Carlos A. Casanova
ted from all questions of distribution;” and, lastly, Utilita-
rianism “treats the pleasure or happiness of one individual
as similarly replaceable without limit by the greater plea-
sure of other individual.”15 The most important point he
makes is that in which Hart´s agreement with John Paul II
is apparent: there is nothing intrinsecally valuable [or dis-
valuable], not even persons [much less actions], according
to Utilitarianism.
After examining the general principle of Utilitarianism,
let’s examine now the most powerful of the concrete ob-
jections against Veritatis splendor raised by the dissident
theologians who follow the Utilitarian pattern. As alrea-
dy pointed out, McCormick denies that any theologians
hold as good actions that are bad according to their mo-
ral object. Both Janssens and McCormick give the exam-
ple of stealing in extreme need, in order to try to show
that the object “broadly understood” could include as “re-
levant circumstances” the calculus of the consequences.16
McCormick added another similar example: saying a fal-
sehood to a person who asks for information he does not
have the right to obtain. In the light of these cases, Mc-
Cormick claims that in order to establish if the object of
an action is good or not, one has to use the proportiona-
list principle: whether some premoral disvalues are caused,
and whether they are caused “for a proportionate reason.”
15See “Between Utility and Rights”, pp. 829-831, in Columbia Law
Review, Vol. 79, No. 5 (Jun., 1979), pp. 828-846.
16Richard McCormick, “Veritatis Splendor and Moral Theology,”
p. 10, in America (October 30, 1993, Vol. 169 No. 13), pp. 8-11.;
Louis Janssen, “Teleology and Proportionality: Thoughts about the
Encyclical Veritatis Splendor,” pp. 108-109.
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But this equates to applying precisely the Utilitarian cal-
culus of all the consequences. He particularly applies this
view of the moral object to masturbation and sterilization
which, according to him, would be wrong or evil only when
performed against the good of marriage.17
The bottom of what is the matter concerning Utilita-
rianism in general and proportionalism in particular was
pointed out by Immanuel Kant: any pleasurable object
“pre-moral” good] is judged with the faculty of fee-
ling [pleasure] and so understood is unworthy of becoming
the source of a rule for the will.18 If this is the core of
what is wrong about Utilitarianism, as it is, moral thin-
king, therefore, must transcend the tradition that denies
that there are goods which can be grasped by the intellect
(and not by the senses) and towards which the will may
proportionately direct itself. Here is where John Paul II’s
“truth about the good” or “about the moral good” comes
in. Such truth encompasses the real intelligible good and
17Richard A. McCormick, “Veritatis Splendor and Moral Theolo-
gy,” pp. 9-10. That McCormick’s ethics is Utilitarian can be perceived
more clearly in his paper “Ambiguity in Moral Choice”, in: Propor-
tionalism. For and Against (cit.), pp. 166-214. He assumes here other
positions, close to that which Leo Strauss praises in Machiavelli, Hob-
bes and Locke: resigning to enflesh in this life the Christian “ideal,”
heoric charity which, supposedly, nobody has enfleshed [this is a way
to elliminate the saints as the measure of moral action, and, thus, it
is also the way to elliminate moral absolutes as “impossible.” See pp.
18Critique of Practical Reason, Parte I, Libro I, Capítulo I, Teorema
II, Nota 1; and Remarck II (pp. 42 and 47 of the original edition).
Notice that J. S. Mill in the copied text talks about the “sensient
existence” of human beings.
Carlos A. Casanova
its proportion to the agent. This is formulated in the first
principle of morality: “the aprehended convenient [propor-
tionate] good must be done and evil avoided.”19 The very
notion of “truth about the good” places us in the context
of a real order20 which we have to investigate rather than
technically devise by a calculus of consequences. The pru-
dential reasoning in difficult situations does not intend to
see if the harm inflicted to a premoral good is proportio-
nate to the good consequences which will follow from it. It
attempts rather to unveil whether the nature of things is
such that the action respects it. For example, if I kill in le-
gitimate self-defence, whether the killed agressors are two,
three or one is indifferent, because what is at stake here is
not a Utilitarian calculus. And, when a terrorist asks me
to kill an innocent with the promess that if I do it he will
not kill, it is indifferent whether he threatens to kill two,
three or a thousand more. What matters is the nature of
things. In the same way, when I have to consider if I can
get involved in sexual activity, I have to judge whether I
will respect the nature of my body and that of my partner
in such activity, because, as John Paul II states very ac-
curately, “the natural moral law expresses and lays down
the purposes, rights and duties which are based upon the
bodily and spiritual nature of the human person. Therefore
this law cannot be thought of as simply a set of norms on
19In De malo VI 1 c., Aquinas states that the proper object of
the will is the “bonum conveniens apprehensum”, and not just the
“bonum apprehensum.”
20In VS there are many indications that John Paul II is talking
about this real order. See, for example, nn. 60, 61, 62, 72, 73, 79, 80,
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the biological level;21 rather it must be defined as the ra-
tional order whereby man is called by the Creator to direct
and regulate his life and actions and in particular to make
use of his own body.” (VS, 50, quoting CDF) The morality
concerning moderation is rooted, as John Paul II and Paul
VI understood very well and McCormick instead refused
to understand (only God knows why!), in the order of the
natural inclinations. This was pointed out by Plato in the
Phaedrus (237e-238a) and in a superbly clear way in the
Laws (8, 838-841), as I have already pointed out.
A different issue is whether I can intervene the human
body to really heal a really grave sickness, even if I know
that from such intervention sterility will follow. Already
Pius XII had made the relevant distinction:22 one can do
this because this would be an act of serving human nature
not of submitting it to dualistic domination. In Modern
language which I do not entirely like, one would be directly
healing and only in an indirect way sterilizing. Here one can
see that we are not speaking of “material descriptions” of
actions, but of moral descriptions. The key difference is
the acceptance of the existence of a real order to which
moral action must conform instead of a “pre-moral world”
which we shape through our designs and having as our
21This is the way in which José Arteaga, Tony Mifsud and Waldo
Romo understand “nature.” And this understanding is the reason
they give to reject it as a canon of morality. Anybody can see they
just misunderstand the magisterium of Paul VI and John Paul II. See
Pablo Concha, “Pensamiento moral en Teología y vida. Imperativo de
renovación surgido del Concilio Vaticano II,” in Teología y vida (2000)
41, nn. 3-4, pp. 10-11.
22Humanae vitae mentions this in its n. 17.
Carlos A. Casanova
North a calculus of “consequences.” But from this radical
difference rises a second one. The most important aspect
of the “real order” (besides the divine good towards which
it is directed) is the “order of the soul.” I can fail in a
technical attempt to rescue an old person in danger, but
if I do it for love of that person, and I do it prudently,
the chiefest moral good is achieved, even if the old person
As Augustine pointed out, morality is the “order
of love.” The highest practical good is the rectitude of the
will and of the whole person through the will.24 It is higher
than any “pre-moral” goods even if they pile to infinite
height. As Plato and Aristotle saw, the good which práxis
and prudence seek is not reducible to the addition of all the
goods of the techniques. In other words, a rich person, with
all the perks of technology and a perfect healthcare, even
23After careful reflection one can understand that this is what most
essentially is missing in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the pa-
radigm of a fully Utilitarian world.
24Paul VI makes reference to this good in Humanae vitae # 16 &
21. In proportionalism there is a distinction between the moral good
(which would be the “good intentions” of the agents) and the pre-
moral goods. But the “moral goods” are such because they intend
to produce the greatest amount of pre-moral goods. The difference
with classical and Christian ethics lies exactly here: the latter ones
accept the intelligible good, as we have seen, and therefore accept
a hierarchy of goods which is crowned by persons and by God as
the highest Good and Source of all goods. From here derives that
the perfection of persons is perceived as (a) a good infinitely higher
than any “pre-moral” good and (b) the main object of moral action,
besides the union with God. (On the proportionalist distinction, see
Christopher Kaczor, “Proportionalism and the Pill: How Consistent
Application of Theory Leads to Contradiction to Practice”, pp. 473-
474. En: Proportionalism. For and Against, (cit.).
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with immortality, can be a wretched. A poor person can be
happy. Happiness understood in the classical and Christian
way is not an accumulation of “pre-moral” goods; it is not
either a mountain of pleasure.25 It is being united to God
and to His images in loving contemplation.26
It is true that, according to Aquinas, circumstances enter
into the object, as McCormick holds. But only those that
are essential to define the kind of action. Other circumstan-
ces are accidental. Also the intention informs the action
and helps to constitute the moral object, but it does not
replace the intrinsic and proximate end (VS 78) of what
I really do. Because an apparently “good” intention can
really reveal itself as bad if it uses actions which do not
respect, for example, other people’s property, if it incurs in
theft. (In this case, even the intention fails to conform itself
to the real order.) Moreover, a real good intention can act
imprudently and constitute a kind of action which is bad
not for its consequences, but in its kind. It would be so if,
for example, I as a judge really want justice but through
my ignorance of the Law I pass sentence against what has
been proven in the legal procedures. In such a case, instead
of “administering justice,” I am prevaricating.
25See Nicomachean Ethics 10, 3, 1174a4-8. “there are many things
that we would be eager for even if they brought no pleasure for instan-
ce, seeing, remembering, knowing, having the virtues,” says Aristotle.
(I follow Terence Irwin’s translation: Hackett Publishing Company,
Indianapolis, 1999).
26On this point, the difference between classical philosophy and
Christianity is that [real] Christians know we are called to contem-
plate God face to face, which absolutely transcends what Aristotle
could conceive as “contemplation of God.”
Carlos A. Casanova
The examples given by Janssens and McCormick are dif-
ficult cases which they, however, fail to analyse properly.
When a man takes a piece of food which is up to that
point other person’s food and he takes it because he is dy-
ing of starvation and just in order to save his life, he is not
taking other person’s property. Christian thinkers always
said that since there is a “universal destination of material
goods” in a state of starvation that piece of food is his. All
the other titles yield to such extreme necessity. There is no
question of a calculus of consequences, but of the nature of
property over material goods and of the nature of persons.
Similarly, when Aquinas explains why lying is a sin, he says
with Cicero that it is so because social convivence is based
on faith or trust.27 But lying goes against the very core of
trust. This is why some “saying something different of what
I think to be the case” (like me telling a story or a myth
to a small child) is not morally lying, because it does not
strike at the core of social convivence, I am not destroy-
ing trust, unless the myth involves the “big lies” of which
Plato wrote in his Republic. And this also is why in some
extreme circumstances (not in everyday life as McCormick
seems to claim),28 seriously and in a statement of reality
one could say something different of what one thinks is the
case, without morally lying. For example, if an SS officer
27Cfr. In librum Boettii de Trinitate expositio q. 3, a. 1, c.
28In everyday life I may not lie. I can (a) not answer, (b) answer a
partial truth or (c) answer a truth which disorients the questioner.
Of Saint Athanasius it is said that the henchmen of Julian went to
arrest him and he met them in his barge. They asked: “Do you know
where Athanasius is located?” And he answered: “Yes, very close,
keep paddling”.
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asks me if I have some Jews hidden in my house, and I do
have them, I can say that I do not. In this case, what I am
really doing is restoring the trust from which the wretched
victims of totalitarianism have been excluded. But the rea-
son why I may do this is neither a calculus of consequences
nor the lack of “right” of the SS to the information he is
asking for, but the inner order of speech, faith and trust.29
It turns out that indeed proportionalist theologians con-
sider some actions as good despite their moral object is bad
according to a Thomistic conception. Indeed, McCormick
failed to point out that, when he denied this, he was under-
standing the moral object in a way different from that used
by John Paul II. Actually, he was understanding “broadly”
the moral object, that is to say, in a proportionalist way
in which it becomes not the Thomistic concept of moral
object to which John Paul II was referring.
2.3 Weberianism
Many dissenters talk about the “ethics of responsibility”
and speak about moral goodness issuing from choosing the
fundamental orientation of their life towards God or Christ,
on the one hand; and about the rectitude of intra-worldly
actions being measured according to the consequences, on
the other. Veritatis splendor mentions them in n. 75.30 If
29I have dealt with this problem in my paper “El bien común como
regla última de la verdad práctica,” pp. 13-14, in Cuadernos Salman-
tinos de Filosofía (2010) XXXVII, pp. 327-363.
30According to James Keenan, McCormick, Janssens, Fuchs and
others would conform to the description of Veritatis splendor. See
“Proposing Cardinal Virtues,” p. 716, in Theological Studies (1995)
Carlos A. Casanova
this set of mind escapes Rahnerianism and seeks a balan-
ce between “[Kantian] deontology” and “[Utilitarian] rea-
lism,” we are facing a Weberian kind of moral concepti-
on. But if Rahnerianism predominates, then we are really
facing one species of the fourth kind of dissenters. Many
theologians who are predominantly Utilitarian or liberatio-
nist invoke the “ethics of responsibility” just because the
expression coined by Weber is prestigious.
A careful analysis of Weber’s lecture “Politics as a voca-
tion,” however, shows that Weber acknowledged that “ra-
tionality” was at the service of a “value.” I cannot rationally
evaluate the consequences of a politico-economical action,
for example, if I do not have a measure to use when eva-
luating, and such measure comes from a “value” or “final
end.” As a positivist, he holds that the end or value is the
subject of a demonic choice, cannot be measured as “right”
or “wrong.” However, he was able to transcend this positi-
vistic view and recognize that there is an order of reality
and, therefore, there are actions which may not be done
even if they are required by the demonically chosen “va-
lue.” On this point, he is toto coelo superior to the dissident
theologians as a [social] philosopher in search for truth.31
56, pp. 709-715. But their way to determine the rightness of concrete
actions is proportionalist. Mifsud makes use of the expression “ethics
of responsibility” or similar ones, but I doubt he has ever tried to
assimilate Weber’s mind. See pp. 73-74 and 76. It is possible that in
his pen “responsibility” means just the autonomy of individual cons-
cience from restraints coming from the teachings of the Magisterium.
31I have dealt with this issue in my Racionalidad y justicia. Second
edition. Globo, Santiago, 2013, pp. 254-269. The same point was ma-
de by Eric Voegelin in the introduction to his New Science of Politics,
University of Chicago Press: 1952.
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Lawlessness in moral theology
This kind of “theologian” is paradoxically the most harm-
ful and difficult to cope with.32 The reason is that, since
he has no concern for rationality, he is “free” to just play
with words and authorities in order to make his wild te-
nets appear, besides tempting to the youth and to the im-
moderate, both (1) as conformable to Christian revelation
and tradition and (2) as truly liberating and salvational.
He normally uses received authorities and formulae, but
then slowly deprives them of content until he has an em-
pty structure which he fills with his supposedly salvational
lawlessness. We will examine a few examples to illustrate
and criticize their technique.33 It seems to me that this will
32I leave aside Cardinal Kasper, since he would require a separate
33I would say that Josef Fuchs fits here. But he is a mixture of
Rahnerianism and consequentialism. Briefly, according to him, na-
tural law is given us by God in the creative light of reason (?) the
use of which never gives us direct access to the Eternal Law. The-
refore, we might never have access to God’s wisdom (and therefore
to moral absolutes). See “El acto moral: lo intrínsecamente malo”,
pp. 201 and 216, in several authors, La teología moral en fuera de
juego. Una respuesta a la encíclica “Veritatis Splendor” (Barcelona,
Editorial Herder:1995), pp. 199-217. The most elementary distincti-
ons of traditional theology would suffice to answer to this objection:
human reason is not creative; it is measured by reality and reason’s
conformity to reality is truth. In the same way as the First Truth is
the ultimate source of all truth although we do not know the First
Truth directly, thus, all practical truth (and natural Law) issues from
Eternal Law, although we do not directly know the Eternal Law. (I
have dealt with the relationship between natural law and Eternal
Law in my paper “La verdad práctica como piedra angular de la éti-
ca”, in Cuadernos salmantinos de filosofía (2007), vol. XXXIV, pp.
Carlos A. Casanova
be the most fruitful method.
2.4.1 There is no universal norm for concrete
situations The opinions and reasonings of the fourth
group of dissenters
Among the theologians of this kind that there cannot be
a general law which solves all situations has become a com-
mon place. They usually quote Aquinas on this point and
make their claim truth-like since, according to Aquinas, in
practical matters truth is what conforms to the concrete
reality rather than to abstract formulations.
Tony Mifsud, for example, quotes S. Th. I-II q. 14 a. 1, c:
“there is much uncertainty in things that have to be done;
because actions are concerned with contingent singulars,
which by reason of their vicissitude, are uncertain.” From
this point he wants to draw the conclusion that ethics must
be “of discernment” and the human agent cannot decide
just in accordance to the Law because this would be “he-
teronomous” and immature: the last criterium of action
is one’s own conscience “verified in sincerity before God,”
because, according to Aquinas (!), conscience may not be
disregarded even in extreme cases: fidelity to conscience is
fidelity to God (see S. Th. I-II q. 19, aa. 5-6; II-II q. 67, a.
2, 4 [sic]; Catechism of the Catholic Church, n. 1782).34
34“El sello conciliar de la reflexión moral en América Latina”, pp.
75-77. in Roczniki Teologii Moralnej (2012) Tom 4 (59), pp. 59-78.
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Mifsud does not dare to explicitly draw the consequence
he seems to have in mind (Humanae vitae and Veritatis
splendor can be rejected). However, he holds a doctrine
concerning conscience contrary to the explicit teachings of
Veritatis splendor,35 and he quotes praisingly other authors
who have rejected these encyclicals. In note 44 he quotes
James Keenan and precisely a passage of his paper whe-
re he claims that in Aquinas the concept of intrinsically
evil actions does not appear, but is coined much later by
a prominent anti-Thomist, Durandus.36 In p. 73 he quotes
Bernard Häring holding that a fruit of the II Vatican Coun-
cil was the spirit of dissent among theologians towards the
“dictates of the official Church.” And, in that context, Här-
ring himself and Charles Curran appear as heroes of the
new “paradigm” of “adult Christians.”
Víctor Manuel Fernández’s concrete reasoning is diffe-
rent and so are the Thomistic loci on which he bases it.37
But the goal is very similar to Mifsud’s, to open the way
for the plausibility of “righteous” (or at least not-guilty)
violations of God’s law.
He first quotes a S. Th. I-II q. 19 a. 10 c., where saint
Thomas states: “a judge has a good will, in willing a thief
to be put to death, because this is just: while the will of
another—e.g. the thief’s wife or son, who wishes him not to
be put to death, inasmuch as killing is a natural evil, is also
35See VS nn. 54-64. John Paul II’s teaching on this point, by the
way, is entirely Thomistic.
36See James Keenan, “Proposing Cardinal Virtues” (cit.), p. 720.
37“La dimensión trinitaria de la moral. II. Profundización del aspec-
to ético a la luz de
‘Deus caritas est”’, in Revista de teología,
XLIII/89, pp. 133-163.
Carlos A. Casanova
good.” From this quotation, Fernández wants to draw the
wildest conclusions. He first states that the wife or the son
wills something against justice. Then he adds that although
the wife wills something materially unjust, she conforms to
the divine Will because she wills what God wants her to
will, since that natural inclination is also God’s work.38
“Thus, willing something against justice, she conforms to
divine will ‘in the same formal and universal motive of
God’s Will”’ (S. Th. I-II, 19, 10). This fact would demon-
strate, according to Fernández, that in concrete situations
there can be diverse formulations of God’s Law, Law which
has two branches, one natural and the other evangelic. “In
a concrete situation there is no conflict of duties, but sim-
ply a conflict of ‘formulae’, formulating in limited words
the demands of nature. Because in a concrete situation the
nature created by the good God cannot ask from the be-
loved creature two contradictory things, but only one” (pp.
What Fernández means is that the lady of his example
does not will what is just, because that does not conform
to her concrete situation. She conforms, however, to the
formal motive of God’s will, which is the evangelic law, i.
e., love. As one can see in pp. 158 and 160 of his paper, he
applies this principle to homosexuals and to spouses who
38Some Jesuits in Chile use this statement as an argu-
ment to claim that God wills the homosexuals to act based
on their inclination, which for them would be
“natural.” See,
for example, Jorge Costadoat,”Hacia un concepto teológico de
la homosexualidad,” in El Mostrador
03.02.2016, available he-
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“need” to use the condom. In their concrete situation, the-
re are two laws applicable: the one of justice and the one
of love. Love demands to yield to the “natural” inclina-
tion. “This is neither a double morality nor a ‘situation’
morality, because one does not deny the permanence in all
circumnstances of an objective morality [. . . ] which must
be always proposed as the ideal of an integral fullness of
the moral good” (p. 160). Response
Already Father Bonino has dealt with the general pro-
blem of using Aquinas as an authority and with the issues
of the prevalence of the concrete in ethics and the existence
or inexistence of actions which according to Aquinas can
never be done rightly. Let us see briefly his conclusions,
and add further relevant observations concerning the gene-
ral problem and the reasonings of Mifsud and Fernández. Bonino’s observations and conclusions
What I am going to bring here from Father Bonino’s
text does not conform to his intention. He did not want
to write what he wrote in order to criticize anybody, but
just to see the conformity to the Thomistic texts of some
interpretations found in Amoris laetitia. I wish to leave
that clear from the start. I am using his observations and
conclusions with an end different from the original one, and
I assume the responsibility for doing so.
First of all, Father Bonino makes an observation which
Carlos A. Casanova
is in his paper a side-comment, but which, I think, throws
abundant light presently. Here it is:
Related to this temptation is one found among
other persons -interested very little in Tho-
mism but aware of his authority in the Church-
a temptation, also entirely “political,” of para-
doxically using this authority in order to fool
others about their discontinuous reading of pon-
tifical teachings. In placing apparent “novel-
ties” under the patronage of that paragon of
orthodoxy, St. Thomas, they think that they
can protect themselves against the reproach of
promoting a hermeneutic of rupture.39
As we will verify in a moment, the divergence between
Mifsud’s and Fernández’s theses, on the one hand, and the
real meaning of Aquinas’ text, on the other, is so big that
Father Bonino’s observation, which I and only I apply to
the present cases, is perhaps the only plausible explanation.
Concerning the bottom of the matter, Father Bonino also
demonstrates that Aquinas indeed holds that “the applica-
tion of general moral norms to action, which is always con-
textualized, admits a certain flexibility. The prudent man
does not govern his actions by contenting himself with me-
chanically applying general, common rules” (p. 515). But,
Bonino adds: “St. Thomas teaches several times that the
positive precepts (for example, ‘Honor your father and your
mother”) can be realized in multiple ways as long as the
39“Saint Thomas Aquinas in the Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Lae-
titia,” p. 501, in The Thomist 80 (2016), pp. 499-519.
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subject keeps in mind the intention of the end. They do
not oblige always and in every circumstance (semper et ad
semper ). In contrast, the negative precepts (for example,
‘You shall not kill [the innocent],’ or ‘You shall not commit
adultery’) oblige always and in all circumstances, without
any exception, because the prohibited act is directly op-
posed to the end” (p. 516). And he quotes the relevant
passages: Summa Theologiae II-II q. 33 a. 2; De Malo q.
7 a. 1 ad 8m; Super Rom., c. 13, lect. 2; Super Gal., c. 6,
lect. 1.
Finally, Bonino presents a sound interpretation of Sen-
tentia libri Ethicorum VI 6: “if only one of the two [kinds of
knowledge, general and particular] is present, it is prefera-
ble that it be the knowledge of the particular reality, which
is closer to the act.” Bonino shows that what is meant he-
re is not that there is a concrete knowledge which clashes
with the general law and that in such clash it is better to
follow the concrete. What Aquinas contrasts is rather two
ways of possessing the same knowledge, an abstract way
and a concrete one. The second way is preferable. And Bo-
nino brings the relevant text from the commentary, which
actually just unfolds a bit an Aristotelian teaching: “[. . . ]
if a doctor knows that light meats are easily digestible and
healthful but does not know which meats are light, he can-
not help people to get well. But the man who knows that
the flesh of fowls is light and healthful is better able to
effect a cure.”
One could take another step to close this point. Ethics
or morality is a discipline which uses a dialectical, topi-
cal method. This is so because the ethical reasoning moves
between two limits: the universal principle and the concre-
Carlos A. Casanova
te situation. Of these two limits there is intellection [noûs].
In principle, what one does is to apply the first premiss,
the general principle, to the second, the factual premiss.
But it turns out that, since the universals come from ex-
perience, it could happen that the situation demanded a
further general formulation. This happens sometimes be-
cause actions are concrete and the relevant formality in
ethics is the good, which is realized in concrete things.40
The intellectual ability to find the right answer to the con-
crete situation is gnome and is dealt with in the 11th chap-
ter of book 6 of the Nicomachean Ethics and in Aquinas’
Expositio. But the virtue which applies the new general
formulation to the situation is equity, epieíkeia, as Father
Bonino pointed out in note 17 of his paper. This virtue is
needed because, since human beings are mutable, the na-
tural right of human beings is mutable, as said in chapter
7 of book 5 of the Nicomachean Ethics. But this variabi-
lity does not affect the essence or nature of justice as it
does not affect the essence or nature of man. This is the
reason why there are some actions that are always bad,
as Aristotle teaches in chapter 6 of book 2 of the Nico-
machean Ethics (1107a8-13): murder, theft and adultery.
This is also why the principles of morality cannot change
and among such principles, one finds the negative precepts:
many times it is hard to know what to do, but it is clear
what the limits which may not be trespassed are. (Except
because concupiscence sees as good what is pleasurable or
40This happens neither in mathematics, which are abstract nor in
the demonstrative way of physics.
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as bad what is painful.)41 As even a gentile philosopher
like Aristotle said, there are actions which we should ne-
ver commit, even if a tyrant threatens us with a terrible
death after a painful torture (see Nicomachean Ethics III
1, 1110a26-27; and Bonino, “Saint Thomas Aquinas in the
Apostolic Exhortation Amoris Laetitia,” note 17). In the
infinity of the concrete sometimes one does not know what
one should do, but in those situations one can know what
one may not do, the limits beyond which one may not go.
Even Max Weber, coming from a positivistic mindset and
environment, came to acknowledge this much.42 Response to Mifsud’s and Fernández’s con-
crete reasonings
Mifsud’s interpretation of S. Th. I-II qq. 14; and 19, aa.
5-6 is just wild. The trumped quotation from Aquinas’ text
is a typical technique of the liberationist. If one sees the
context of the phrase, one perceives that the text is very
far indeed from grounding Mifsud’s claims. I-II q. 14 a. 1
c. says that the uncertainty of practical matters is what
requires that the election be preceded by an inquiry by re-
ason, which is called counsel. The passages are far from
claiming the sovereignty of conscience. And I-II q. 19 a.
6 precisely says that “conscience” is reason and therefore,
an erring conscience may excuse the agent only when the
41See Metaphysics Lambda 7, 1072a27-30.
42See “Politics as a Vocation” H.H. Gerth and C. Wright Mills
(Translated and edited), From Max Weber: Essays in Sociology, pp.
77-128, New York: Oxford University Press, 1946.
Carlos A. Casanova
cause of ignorance is not voluntary. So that the ignorance
about the law of God does not excuse, because the agent
ought to know it; while sometimes the ignorance of the
circumstances may excuse the agent. In this, Aquinas fol-
lows Aristotle in books 3 (chaper 1, 1110b18-1111a21; &
5, 1113b21-1114a22) and 5 (chapter 8, 1135a23-1135b3) of
the Nicomachean Ethics.
Víctor Manuel Fernández’s interpretation of Aquinas is
as subversive as Mifsud’s, but much more elaborate. The
background which Fernández does not consider is that prac-
tical truth is the conformity of a judgment or practical
proposition with the proportion between a real intelligible
good in a concrete situation and a concrete agent. This is
why for an attorney it could be wrong to lift a person who
has been ran over by a car and bring the person to the
hospital, while the same action could be a duty for a medi-
cal doctor. This is the reason why a judge must condemn
to death a defendant if the allegations and proofs point
at his been guilty of a capital crime, while the wife may
wish that her husband does not die. This is not willing an
unjust thing, because her role is neither to condemn her
husband nor to execute him. The different kinds of agents
in different situations must act differently and God expects
them to act differently. This is as well the reason why a de-
fendant’s close relative or friend must decline the office of
But this aspect of classical ethics could have been igno-
red by Fernández alright. However, there are graver misre-
presentations of Aquinas’ text. According to him, the wife,
“willing something against justice, conforms to the divi-
ne will ‘in the same formal and universal motive of God’s
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Will’ (S. Th. I-II, 19, 10).” This statement goes directly,
and one is tempted to say maliciously, against the letter of
the text. Aquinas says that the will has to conform to the
good under the apprehension of the intellect. This is why
there can be different perspectives if different persons have
different positions. Thus, a judge who has to take care of
the common good considers the good in the situation un-
der a light different from that under which the wife, who
has to consider the private good of the family, considers it.
Now, God considers all goods under the light of the good of
the universe. This is why different persons can have good
will while willing opposite outcomes. But for the particular
wills to be right they must conform formally to the will of
God even if materially they will particular goods. It is not
true that the material will is the same as the formal moti-
ve of God’s Will. On the contrary, because they could be
in disconformity, the particular will could be unjust. This
means precisely two things: that the agent may not will
something unjust; and that the agent must accept God’s
will even if it contradicts her own will. That is to say, if the
wife were forced to be judge of her own husband, she would
have to decide in accordance to what has been alleged and
proved, even if the right decision was the death penalty
and if at the same time she regrets such decision because
of the good of her family and her own love towards her hus-
band. Also, the wife cannot bribe the judge or a witness
in order for her husband to be acquitted. Moreover, when
her husband is executed, she must bear it with patience. It
is clear that the different situations do not authorize any
agent to violate the negative precepts of God’s law. It is
also clear that Fernández is in too much of a rush to draw
Carlos A. Casanova
lawless conclusions from Aquinas’ text.
Mercy vs. justice
2.5.1 The opinions of this fourth group of
The second example I want to delineate is taken also from
Fernández’ already quoted paper. There he makes use of
texts in which Saint Thomas deals with mercy in order to
radically revolutionize Christian morality. Since Cardinal
Kasper has done the same (and I am not going to analyse
here Kasper’s work), it could prove extremely helpful to
examine this acute man’s ways of proceeding.
Fernández quotes Saint Thomas holding that mercy is
the highest of all virtues, “qua regarding external works”
(S. Th. II-II q. 30 a. 4 ad 2m); and that mercy seeks to
succor our neighbors’ deficiencies (p. 135). From these iso-
lated phrases, Fernández draws the surprising conclusion:
“an efficient activity which endeavors to solve the social
needs and increase people’s happiness, in the construction
of a bridge [notice well!!], in the sanitizing of the environ-
ment, in the scientific research directed to solve the peo-
ple’s problems, in a communal fight for [the relief of] the
poorest ones’ needs, in an adequate economical proposal
to solve the drama of unemployment, and so on. Any of
these actions which cooperate with the construction of the
Kingdom, performed for one’s neighbour’s love and seeking
his or her wellbeing [wellbeing!], qualifies as an action of
the highest of virtues” (p. 136). Then Fernández quotes a
couple of passages from Scripture, out of context, trying
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to show that pleasing oneself or others is an act of mer-
cy: “[God] who gives us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Tim.
6:17)43; and “Son, My child, treat yourself well according
to what you have [. . . ]. Enjoy a good day, and don’t let
your share of a good desire pass you by [unfulfilled]” (Syr.
From this starting point, Fernández proceeds to turn up-
side down the Christian life and for that he quotes Aquinas
again: “We worship God by external sacrifices and gifts, not
for His own profit, but for that of ourselves and our neigh-
bor. For He needs not our sacrifices, but wishes them to be
offered to Him, in order to arouse our devotion and to pro-
fit our neighbor. Hence mercy, whereby we supply others’
defects is a sacrifice more acceptable to Him, as condu-
cing more directly to our neighbor’s well-being, according
to Heb. 13:16: ‘Do not forget to do good and to impart, for
by such sacrifices God’s favor is obtained.”’45 In the light of
43I follow the King James’ version, with an updated spelling. The
text is taken out of context. With its context, it precisely tells the
rich not to place their hope in riches, which are so uncertain, but
in God. That is to say, the text is a calling for the frugal and sober
life wich does not unduly worry about the things of this world, but
places its trust in God.
44This quotation comes from the Old Testament: see note 46 below.
But here the context changes the meaning too: it speaks of giving
offerings to the Lord, thinking of death and being generous with
one’s friends, all of which Víctor Manuel Fernández overlooks in his
use of the text.
45S. Th. II-II q. 30, a. 4, ad 1m. Notice well that Fernández, as
usual, suppresses any reference to the relationship with God entailed
in the acts of mercy. Here he suppresses the quotation from Hebrews,
which I left in the text.
Carlos A. Casanova
this Thomistic text, Fernández explains: worship is not ne-
cessary except as helpful in order to do our “merciful” acts,
because God does not need our sacrifices, while the poor
need our external works. For this reason, in mercy what
mostly matters is the external act, not “that gorgeous in-
ner movement of compassion which goes with it.” The inner
movement is not as relevant as the external acts, according
to Aquinas, says Fernández. Such inner movement belongs
to the moral virtues, while the external acts belong to cha-
rity, which is higher than the moral virtues. Moreover, the
good which one wants for other persons is not the object
of moral virtues (including moderation) but those goods
which can be achieved through the external actions, be-
cause otherwise it is not clear that there is charity, it is
not clear that we treat our neighbor as a “final end” or an
“end in him or herself” (p. 144).
The next step in Fernández’ itinerary (pp. 138-141) is to
underline that love is what matters and that it can exist in
a person who does not acknowledge the existence of God, if
the person “respects” the image of God, that is to say, man.
This is confirmed with several scriptural quotations taken
out of context (Mt 25:40; Mt 25:31-4646; I Jn 2:1047 and
46Since this passage speaks about the acts of mercy, I will not bring
here a special discussion of the same. The subject will be discussed
when we submit to criticism Víctor Manuel Fernández’s conception
of mercy.
47Fernández fails to mention, for example, that I John a few ver-
ses earlier has said: “we know we have known Him if we keep His
commandments” (verse 3), so that the perfect charity inhabits in the
person who abides by His word (verse 5). The love of neighbor is a
sign of living in the light. Fernández deals similarly with all scriptural
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3:14). His conclusion is that “under this hermeneutical light
of the primacy of mercy we must interpret all other moral
demands” (p. 141). He invokes Paul’s freedom from the law
and adds that Paul foresaw the danger of taking occasion of
this freedom to abandon charity. His texts, says Fernández,
show that “moderation must be accepted not as an absence
of sexual performances, but as a subordination of sexuality
to the ‘gift of self’ to the other” (pp. 141-142). He then
goes forward to say that love wills good for the beloved,
quotes Aquinas on this regard, and claims that such good
which the lover wills might be just the wellbeing of the
beloved, reached through the external mercyfull works (p.
144). To understand this well, one has to avoid diluting
the love of neighbor with the love of God and the search
for moral virtue. What really matters in a “Trinitarian”
morality is discernment of what the neighbor needs from
us (pp.144-147). We must keep in mind the golden rule
which is our “project” of life as Christians, so that our
decisions in different contexts never contradict the central
Christian option, mercy (p. 148). In the context of social
morality, remembering the primacy of charity and mercy
over the virtues is extremely important, because otherwise
one would love in the context of an “objective rationality,”
and then one would yield to the logic of the market as if this
were a “scientific rationality” (pp. 149-150). In the context
of sexual morality we come to the core of the matter from
the perspective of this paper.
Indeed, Víctor Manuel Fernández, in the context of se-
xual morality has the opinions most contrary to both en-
cyclicals and to the II Vatican Council, by the way. He
states that “it is the case some times that there is a sexu-
Carlos A. Casanova
al abstinence which contradicts the Christian hierarchy of
good works crowned by charity. We cannot close our eyes,
for example, to the difficulty which a woman faces when
she perceives that the stability of her family is at risk if
she unpractically subjects her husband to periods of con-
tinence. In this case, an inflexible rejection of every use of
the condom would equate to giving the primacy to an ex-
ternal norm over and above the grave obligation of taking
care of the loving community and spousal stability which
are more direct demands of charity,” of fraternal love (p.
150).48 And a bit later Fernández adds: “One should not
forget that the objectively correct decision could imply a
true egocentrical, backward movement in the path of perso-
nal growth and within the framework of a particular stage
in personal history” (p. 151). That is to say, the good de-
cision in some contexts could be contrary to God’s Law,
because the goodness of the decision is based on mercy and
48The II Vatican Council, in the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, n.
51, acknowledges this difficulty, but teaches exactly the opposite of
what Fernández states here: “this council realizes that certain mo-
dern conditions often keep couples from arranging their married lives
harmoniously, and that they find themselves in circumstances where
at least temporarily the size of their families should not be increased.
As a result, the faithful exercise of love and the full intimacy of their
lives is hard to maintain. But where the intimacy of married life is
broken off, its faithfulness can sometimes be imperiled and its quality
of fruitfulness ruined, for then the upbringing of the children and the
courage to accept new ones are both endangered.
To these problems there are those who presume to offer disho-
norable [inhonestas] solutions indeed; they do not recoil even from
the taking of life. But the Church issues the reminder that a true
contradiction cannot exist between the divine laws pertaining to the
transmission of life and those pertaining to authentic conjugal love.”
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charity, while the Law is not.
Later on, Fernández adds another aspect to his view
of sexual morality. After manipulating several quotations
from Ratizinger’s Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith,
the Catechism, and the Pontifical Council for Legislati-
ve Texts (one of which refers to same-sex intercourse), he
concludes: “There is no doubt that the Catholic Magiste-
rium has assumed clearly that an objectively wrong act,
as is the case of pre-marital sexual intercourse, or the use
of condoms in sexual intercourse, not necessarily leads to
the loss of sanctifying grace, from which originates chari-
ty’s dynamism. This is why amidst such sexual intercourse,
if it does not imply a subjective guilt, a subjective value
could be realized - with theological and Trinitarian density
- as long as such intercourse is the expression of the extatic
dynamism of love impressed by sanctifying grace. Beyond
the objective evil or imperfection, which must be clearly
stated, the subject might live that sexual performance as a
sincere and genuine search for the other person’s happiness
above his or her own interests. But, of course, this does not
imply that the person must exclude entirely his or her own
bodily pleasure, because this would imply a contradiction
between eros and agape, which Benedict XVI has rejec-
ted forcefully” (p. 158; cfr. p. 163).49 And he ends: “there
49The three or four texts which he quotes cannot be interpreted as
he does. One contained in the Catechism is a general observation of
the causes which exclude or reduce imputability; another is referred
to masturbation in young persons; the Congregation’s one says that
that issue is not the subject of the document, so that it is not solved
at all; and the Council says that the minister of Communion can re-
fuse Communion because of an objective state of sin, since he cannot
Carlos A. Casanova
is neither one only way nor a necessary way to live and
express [. . . ] the loving community which the Spirit brings
forth”, “a couple, in some circumstances, could find expres-
sions of donation and communion which do not necessarily
entail genital performances” (p. 163).50
I have not spared the audience the main tenets, and steps
of this remarkable and influential 2006 paper. It is neces-
sary to go through its folds in order to grasp the method.
2.5.2 Response
It is hard to imagine a greater misreading of Aquinas, of
the New Testament Scriptural texts and of all authorities
in general.51 It is clear that the author does not intend to
learn from the sources. He rather uses them to present his
lawlessness in a plausible way. Not because he fears pu-
nishment, which is almost inexistent in the Church since
John XXIII, but probably because he does not want to lose
his hold on the Christian people. As with other liberatio-
nists, one clear problem is that the author is so used to
know the subjective dimension. The reason is obvious: this minister
cannot know the circumnstances unlike the minister of Penance. Con-
sidering the extension of the Catechism second text (masturbation
in young persons) to sexual intercourse, and against nature at that,
one wonders if Fernández is not deviating himself from the formal
declaration by the Council of Trent according to which a person with
sanctifying grace has the strength not to sin, so that if the person
sins it is out of his or her free will.
50In the context of lawlessness, one wonders to what other “favors”
Fernández is alluding here.
51As Aquinas says repeatedly, in the Old Testament God promises
goods of this world but in the New Testament eternal goods -plus
goods of this world but only insofar as they are needed for salvation.
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mask his views that they do not really appear here. One
does not know the full picture of Fernández’s mind. One
can see that it rejects rationality and morality properly
speaking, that it promotes Utilitarianism and a materia-
list conception of the goods which can be achieved by our
external actions of “mercy.” But one cannot see more. Is
he just a nihilist? A hedonist? Or, perhaps he follows par-
ticular anti-intelletualist world-views like the Kabbalah or
Marxism? One cannot tell. The only thing one can do is
to show the sharp contrast between his presentation of his
sources, especially Aquinas, and the real meaning of such
We can start by observing that Fernández has used not
only Aquinas, but also Bonaventure, in his initial presen-
tation of charity and mercy. Since his hermeneutic of Bo-
naventure is particularly transparent, let us turn to it first.
In page 137, Fernández copies the text by Bonaventure
and endeavors to have the reader think that the holy doc-
tor taught the following opinion: If a person has piety and
mercy, and such person falls in a sin of the flesh, “without
a doubt that person will be shaken but will not perish, ac-
cording to the Gloss, even if the fall involves mortal sin.”
In note he quotes: “IV Sent. 15, 1, 2, opp. 1 (cf. ad 1).” The
text copied by Fernández comes from an objection opposed
to Bonaventure’s thesis as it was usual among the schola-
stics. Fernández adds the parentheses to make plausible his
lawless interpretation, because it leads the reader to think
that the answer to the objection confirms the copied text.
But Bonaventure’s response to the objection says the oppo-
site of what Fernández puts in Bonaventure’s mouth: God
cannot forgive a sin if another mortal sin persists. What
Carlos A. Casanova
is true is that because of piety and mercy God can prepa-
re that sinner for receiving grace: “Concerning that Gloss,
‘that he will not perish etc.’, it must be replied that it is
understood in the following way: by the works of piety the
person is prepared to receive the grace through which he
can satisfy for everything.” He cannot be saved if he per-
sists in that sin, but God, considering his mercy or piety,
will give him the grace to quit that sin and satisfy for it.52
Regarding Aquinas, question 30 of II-II has a deeply
different meaning from that assigned to it by Fernández.
“Mercy” can originate out of a passion or out of the per-
fect love of friendship, charity, agape. In the first sense,
it is “compassion”. “Compassion” is a feeling which equal
persons experience when seeing another person, his or her
equal, suffering: the compassionate person feels with the
suffering one because he or she fears the same suffering.
This kind of feeling needs to be regulated by reason in or-
der to be a virtue. To this end, it must serve reason and
in this case one gives mercy but without harming justice,
be it in giving to the poor or in forgiving the penitent.
Aquinas quotes Augustine on this latter point. So, accor-
ding to Augustine and Aquinas, there cannot be mercy if
there is no justice.
In the second sense (mercy originated in the perfect love
52I have a cousin with this profile. She lived with a married and
divorced man; she kept praying and attending Mass and doing works
of mercy. But she was not prepared to commit to live in abstinence.
Years later, she and the man felt prepared and made the commit-
ment. They lived for years after this and had the joy to receive the
Sacraments according to Familiaris consortio 84, and to experience
the true mercy, which does not offend justice.
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of friendship), mercy can be the highest virtue, but only
as the virtue of a superior. God, towards us, can only have
mercy because He is above us all. We can have this virtue of
mercy if we are perfected by grace and from that perfection
love others not because we need them, but because they
need us.53 However, in us and towards God mercy is not
the highest virtue. We need God and therefore, in us the
highest virtue is charity which unites us to God. Mercy as
the virtue of the superior, is the highest virtue regarding
the neighbor, but not in general, and not mercy as the
virtue which regulates a passion.
In this light must be read the passage which says that
God does not need our sacrifices. He does not, but we
do. Without the redemption achieved by Christ there is
nothing we can do worthy of salvation and eternal life.
We need to be united to His sacrifice and that is why we
need the sacraments and, above all (in a sense), the Mass,
which is the very Sacrifice of Christ. We all need them to
achieve the highest goods, which certainly are not those
enumerated by Fernández, and least of all a pleasure from
fornication or from an unnatural sexual intercourse with
the spouse.
Friendship, it is true, wills the good for the friend or
the loved one. But, as Aquinas explains in Summa contra
gentiles (III, c. 153), love of self gives us the canon, rule of
the good which we want for our beloved. Now, as Aquinas
says in the very text desfigured by Fernández (S. th. II-
53The real saint does not reflect on this and with God’s light sees
him or herself as a sinner. However, because of his or her charity
and his or her infused virtues, he or she is able to care about others
selflessly, like Teresa of Calcuta.
Carlos A. Casanova
II q. 30 a. 4), our own good is union with God above all,
through charity. This is why what we want for our neighbor
is that he or she unites to God and becomes God’s friend
through charity. We also want for ourselves, if we desire
orderly, first and above all the good of the soul (virtue and
virtuous actions), then the goods of the body and then
external goods. In the same way we want the good for our
friends. This is the reason why in the book of Maccabees
that mother is praised who encouraged her seven children
to die rather than violate God’s Law, because the love and
worship of God is above everything else (see 2 Mac. 7). This
point is absolutely missed by Fernández, who says that in
the conflicts of duty one have to prioritize persons, so that
the law (which is always imperfectly formulated) can be
broken in every case in which doing so will, for example,
prevent a masacre (page 156). This is finally the reason
why the spiritual works of mercy are absolutely speaking
superior to the physical ones, although in some cases the
physical ones possibly would have to be preferred (see S.
Th. II-II q. 32, aa. 2-3).
Lastly, Fernández shows a very strange lack of under-
standing concerning the matters of spousal and romantic
love. He seems to give excessive importance to physical ero-
ticism and to conceive as true love a desire which leads to
intercourse without any commitment to take care of the
possible fruit of such intercourse. He also overlooks that
the ignorance of this kind of moral truth is never or very
rarely without guilt (see Aquinas, S. Th. I-II q. 19 a. 6).
Love is not attraction or the desire to give to the other
an extatic pleasure (as if this was an act of mercy becau-
se it gives “wellbeing” to the other). Real love is dilectio
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and must be directed by moral truth in the sense explai-
ned by John Paul II in Veritatis splendor. It is something
much deeper than the fancy flirts of disoriented youth or
immature adults.
Any person who has a minimum rational knowledge of
these subjects can judge, in the light of the previous analy-
sis, that the liberationist theologians are radically irratio-
nal and lawless, but very skilfull in presenting their tenets
as in agreement with “the best tradition” (those fragments
of tradition which they take out of context and so taken
become wild in the hands of these “theologians”) and as
salvational, if convenient to the unruled passions. None of
them can resist a comparison with Veritatis splendor or
Humanae vitae regarding their conformity to natural rea-
son or to Revelation.