The following comes from a December 11 First Things article:

Is a Thomism friendly to the gay lifestyle the wave of the future? Such is the impression given by the medieval scholar Adriano Oliva in his new book Amours.

The book has already caused significant scandal [See November 12 CalCatholic article, ‘Prominent Dominican claims Thomas Aquinas said homosexuality is ‘natural’].

In what follows, five Dominicans (three from the Angelicum in Rome and two from the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C.), respond to Oliva’s misreading of the Angelic Doctor.

[Editor’s note: we have included the second and fourth misreading. For the full article, click here.]

The Second Misreading: The Church Can Formally Allow Some Extra-Marital Sexual Acts

Oliva insists on separating marriage from children. He proposes that the Councils of Trent and Vatican II continue Aquinas’s teaching on marriage (that is, Thomas as read by Oliva). He concludes that, 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.” Therefore, the Church can use the power of the keys to dispense such couples from the obligation to live perfect continence.

Oliva’s astounding claim has nothing to do with Aquinas, the Catechism of Trent or Vatican II. Rather, it follows straight from his misinterpretation of Aquinas on marriage, a misreading that continues in his use of various magisterial texts. 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.

The Fourth Misreading: Homosexual Acts Can Be Natural & Wholesome

Oliva’s most daring “Thomistic” proposal is this: homosexual intercourse can be ethically good. His entire argument basically rests on his separation of marriage from babies (noted above) and a misinterpretation of a single text in Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae.

The passage in question (I-II, question 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. What is unnatural for most (eating earth) becomes “natural” for them, but only in a qualified way.

Aquinas then states that, due to bad “customs” or habits, some men eventually find delight in eating human beings, or in sexual union with animals or other men (coitu bestiarum aut masculorum). So for some people, cannibalism, bestiality, or homosexual intercourse can become pleasurable as quasi-natural, because past sinful acts distort their nature.

Oliva celebrates this text. He thinks it shows that homosexual acts are natural for homosexual persons. 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.

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. Why do all three vices come from the soul? Because they are especially found among human beings. Cows don’t eat cows. Thomas thinks that most animals do not practice the three mentioned vices. Olivia’s claim that, for Thomas, some persons are born with a homosexual soul, is outrageous as a matter of textual interpretation. It would mean that, for Aquinas, others are born with cannibalistic souls, and others with souls geared to practice bestiality.

(We mention cannibalism, bestiality, and homosexual acts together only because Oliva’s argument does. Nor do we hold that these three are morally equivalent. Neither does Aquinas, who thinks that they are of different moral species. But Thomas groups them together here to show that each is contrary to nature and yet is sometimes sought out by certain individuals.) The issue at hand is strictly the moral evaluation of homosexual actions. “Homosexual persons,” in contrast, “are called to chastity. By the virtues of self-mastery that teach them inner freedom, at times by the support of disinterested friendship, by prayer and sacramental grace, they can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

Fr. Bernhard Blankenhorn, O.P.
Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome
Sr. Catherine Joseph Droste, O.P.
Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome
Fr. Efrem Jindráček, O.P.
Pontifical University of St. Thomas Aquinas (Angelicum), Rome
Fr. Dominic Legge, O.P.
Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.
Fr. Thomas Joseph White, O.P.
Dominican House of Studies, Washington, D.C.