Sexual Immorality and the Objectification of the Body:    
The Old Morality and the New Morality

In his work on contraception during the 1960s, Grisez already began to suggest that the seeming justification for contraception presupposed an unsound notion of and attitude toward the bodiliness of human persons. In the items listed on this page, he began to articulate a philosophy and theology of the body. John Paul II much more fully developed somewhat similar and additional insights in his “theology of the body”—a work he wrote before becoming pope but only afterwards made public, in a series of 129 talks from September 1979 to November 1984.


“Natural Family Planning Is Not Contraception”    

On 1 May 1971, the National Guild of Catholic Psychiatrists held its twenty-second clinical meeting in Washington, D.C. One part of its crowded program, oddly labeled “sociological,” consisted of four brief presentations—on homosexuality, birth control, abortion, and overpopulation—followed by a panel discussion. Grisez, then teaching at Georgetown University, was enlisted to do the presentation on birth control.

For the occasion, Grisez decided to try to offer a psycho-moral account of the difference between contraception and natural family planning rightly chosen and practiced. The former presupposes a masturbatory attitude even toward marital intercourse, while the latter presupposes self-control that enables marital intercourse to be the free gift of the spouses to each other.

All of the presentations were to be published in the Guild’s Bulletin, but Grisez’s never appeared. So, when a new journal concerned with natural family planning was launched, he slightly revised the presentation and submitted it for publication. It was welcomed, and is made available here copyright © 1977 Human Life Center, Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota; all rights reserved.

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“Dualism and the New Morality”    

The Italian confreres of St. Thomas Aquinas organized an international congress, held in Rome and Naples 17–24 April 1974, to celebrate the seven-hundreth anniversary of his death. During the previous decade, old-fashioned Thomism had been widely rejected, and even some former Thomists of the strict observance had resorted to abusing opinions of the Angelic Doctor to support dissenting moral-theological opinions on matters pertaining to sex, marriage, and innocent life.

Wishing to participate in the congress, Grisez therefore decided to use a sound position in the philosophical anthropology of Aquinas—namely, the essential bodiliness of the human person—to demonstrate the indefensible dualism presupposed by many who had replaced authentic Christian teaching with a supposedly new morality, which, in fact, was mostly recycled, nineteenth-century, secular ethics. When Grisez arrived at the place in Naples where Section III-A (Liberté, sexualité, moralité) was to meet on the afternoon of 23 April 1974, the large lecture hall was already filling. Before the presentations began, he took chalk and wrote on the blackboard: “Foecunditas biologica in sfaerem humanam assumi debet [Biological fecundity ought to be assumed into the human sphere].” That statement, which is a quotation from the summary of the theological position of the majority of Paul VI’s birth control commission, tellingly manifests the assumption that the fecundity of human beings is of itself subhuman.

The paper was warmly welcomed by some who found it illuminating, but others were upset by it and responded with great heat. The paper is copyright © Edizioni Domenicane Italiane 1977, all rights reserved.

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“Roots of the New Moality”    

The Franklin J. Matchette Foundation funded four lectures to be presented in November 1974 by the Department of Philosophy of Georgetown University and by its then recently established Joseph and Rose Kennedy Institute for the Study of Human Reproduction and Bioethics. Grisez was invited to lecture on 12 November 1974, and chose to present a more developed and philosophically argued treatment of his understanding of the difference between the old morality and the new morality.

Grisez also was asked to do a seminar on his lecture with LeRoy Walters, then Director of the Kennedy Institute, and others involved in it. Grisez had taught philosophy at Georgetown beginning in 1957 but had resigned in 1972, and in doing so forgone a sabbatical that had already been granted for 1973–74. During the seminar, it became clear to him that he was being interviewed for a possible offer to return to Georgetown to participate in the Bioethics Institute. He responded to questions in a straightfoward way, making it clear he would not fit in, and received no offer.

Because there was no assurance that the Matchette lectures would be published—and in fact they were not—Grisez offered the lecture to the editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review, who published it six months later. So, it is copyright © Catholic Polls, Inc. 1975; all rights reserved.

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“Moral Systems: The New and the Old”    

Campion College, where Grisez taught philosophy from 1972–78, is an integral part of the University of Regina, Saskatchewan. The University operated an extension program, which, among other things, provided educational events open without charge to anyone who wished to come. An organizer of one of those events invited Grisez to defend traditional morality in a debate with a secularist philosopher from the University department who favored the new morality. That philosopher spoke from notes and had not prepared well enough to make his case understandable. Grisez, having carefully drafted his presentation, distributed copies to everyone present and went through it with them. The sizable audience responded appreciatively.

The editor of Christendom College’s new journal had asked Grisez for a suitable article. Grisez sent him the presentation. He liked it, and published it as submitted. It is copyright © Christendom Educational Corporation 1977; all rights reserved.

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“Turmoil in the Church”    

The Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, which Grisez had helped found, annually honored some scholar with the Cardinal Wright Award. John and Eileen Farrell of Chicago created and sponsored the award; they presented it at a public lecture by the honoree that they also organized. The fifth such award was given to Grisez on 18 September 1983.

Although at the time of the lecture most faithful Catholics had been greatly consoled by the first four years of the pontificate of John Paul II, many still were greatly distressed by some of the things being said and done by their own bishops and/or parish priests. Grisez attributed the turmoil in the Church mentioned in the lecture’s title to what he called Neo-Gnosticism. While that expression occurs in some of his earlier works, this lecture articulates most fully what Grisez had in mind by it.

Since the lecture would not be otherwise published, Grisez submitted it to The Homiletic and Pastoral Review, which published it the following year. It is copyright © Catholic Polls, Inc. 1984; all rights reserved.

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