Grisez’s Views on Marriage    

The fullest presentation of Grisez’s views on marriage is in The Way of the Lord Jesus, volume two, Living a Christian Life, chapter nine, which is available beginning here. Before that treatment was published, the first three items listed below were written, although “Fidelity and Intimacy” was revised after everything was published except the last item listed. That last item adds to and improves upon the treatment of marriage even in Living a Christian Life.


“Marriage: Reflections Based on    
St. Thomas and Vatican Council II”

Before the end of Vatican Council II in December 1965, John T. Noonan’s Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists had been published, and many people commenting on either that book, the conciliar treatment of marriage, or both were propagating the false notion that the Council had radically changed Catholic teaching on marriage and smoothed the way to abandon the Church’s teaching on contraception and perhaps also on divorce.

Grisez knew from earlier reading in the works of St. Thomas Aquinas that his views on marriage were more nuanced than those of many of the Church Fathers. Asked by the Rev. John C. Ford, S.J., to check out Noonan’s statements about Thomas’s views, Grisez found some misinterpretations in Noonan and was struck by the many similarities between Thomas’s theology and Vatican II’s teaching.

Thinking the work he had done for Ford would interest many thoughtful readers, Grisez reformulated it for publication in Catholic Mind, a journal of ideas. In doing so, he omitted references to Noonan’s book, for he planned to write a longer article dealing with it—a project he never undertook. The article is copyright © 1966 America Press Inc.; all rights reserved.

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“Fidelity and Intimacy”    

The Grisezs
9 June 2001

In 1966, St. Benedict College (now Benedictine College), Atchison, Kansas, invited Grisez to lecture to the entire college community on a topic of his choice at the beginning of its academic year. He chose to lecture on sexual ethics by accentuating the positive: faithful love in marriage. To illustrate points, he included poems that he had written to his wife, Jeannette, around the time of their marriage (9 June 1951). The lecture, “Fidelity Today,” was delivered in the college gymnasium on 11 September 1966, and was surprisingly well received.

During subsequent years, Grisez gave the lecture to various groups of Catholic young people, and revised it many times, but never published it. The last time he delivered it was 22 October 2001 at St. Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. It was his contribution to the Tollefsen Lecture Series, and on that occasion, Jeannette helped deliver the lecture by reading the poems.

Grisez publishes the 2001 version of the lecture here, copyright © 2001, and reserves the right to make and distribute copies for sale. However, he hereby grants everyone the right to print out and distribute without charge copies of the entire work provided the source is identified and this copyright information included.

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“Divorce: Rational Ethics Says ‘No’”    

By 1967, Grisez had a reputation among Catholic intellectuals and journalists in the United States for defending the Church’s teachings. Around the beginning of that year, the editors of Commonweal, a lay journal of opinion, who were already taking for granted change in the Church’s teaching on contraception, were ready to move on to divorce—but wanted at least to seem to be launching a serious and fair debate. So, they invited Grisez to supply a brief piece, not in tune with the chorus they were sponsoring.

At that time, Grisez was unprepared and unwilling to attempt a theological essay. He therefore limited himself to philosophical reflections, although toward the end of the article he declared his adherence, as a believing Catholic, to the teaching of the Church.

The article is copyright © 1967 Commonweal Publishing Co. Inc.; all rights reserved.

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“Indissolubility, Divorce and Holy Communion”    

In July 1993, three German bishops—Archbishop Oskar Saier, Bishop Karl Lehmann, and Bishop Walter Kasper—issued a joint pastoral regarding ministry to the divorced and “remarried” in which they attempted to establish a way in which those persons could obtain an admission to the Eucharist that they and others could regard as legitimate. That pastoral was translated into English and published in Origins on 10 March 1994.

Grisez, John Finnis, and William E. May were convinced that the position of the three German bishops, though appealing, was rationally untenable. Their pastoral, however, was filled with ambiguous and elusive language. So, Grisez, Finnis, and May carefully articulated the various possible meanings of what the bishops had said, and argued that none of them constituted a tenable position.

Grisez, Finnis, and May published their open letter to the three German bishops in New Blackfriars, which is both theologically respected and able to publish brief items of current interest very quickly. It was soon republished in other periodicals, including some that translated it into French, German, or Polish. The original publication, here made available, is copyright © 1994 The English Dominicans; all rights reserved.

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“The Three German Bishops”    

Grisez supplemented the preceding open letter with a brief statement of the reasons why the Holy See could not rightly allow the initiative of the three German bishops to stand as it earlier had, in his judgment mistakenly, allowed pastoral dissent from Humanae vitae to stand by the Congregation for the Clergy’s resolution of the so-called Washington Case in April 1971. Grisez’s statement was published in various places, and was submitted to the editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review before mid-September of 1994, but published there only in June of the following year—nine months after Grisez should have prevented further publication of his statement.

That publication, made available here, is copyright © Catholic Polls, Inc. 1995; all rights reserved.

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On 14 September 1994, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith sent a letter, that had been approved and ordered published by Pope John Paul II, to all the bishops of the Catholic Church concerning the reception of Holy Communion by divorced and remarried members of the faithful. In that letter, after a general description of “pastoral” proposals similar to that of the three German bishops, there is a clear teaching: “It falls to the universal Magisterium, in fidelity to Sacred Scripture and Tradition, to teach and to interpret authentically the depositum fidei. With respect to the aforementioned new pastoral proposals, this Congregation deems itself obliged therefore to recall the doctrine and discipline of the Church in this matter. In fidelity to the words of Jesus Christ, the Church affirms that a new union cannot be recognised as valid if the preceding marriage was valid. If the divorced are remarried civilly, they find themselves in a situation that objectively contravenes God's law. Consequently, they cannot receive Holy Communion as long as this situation persists.”

In an immediate response to that letter of the CDF, the three German bishops issued a message to their people. In it, they claimed not to have disagreed at all with the reaffirmed teaching, and to have been concerned only with its implications for pastoral practice. Still, they admit: “We must take note of the fact that as a result of the Congregation's letter, certain statements in our pastoral letter and in the principles are not accepted by the universal Church.”


“The Christian Family as Fulfilment of Sacramental Marriage”    

In the fall of 1995, the (British) Society for the Study of Christian Ethics held its annual meeting in Oxford, on the general theme, “The Family: Concept and Context.” Grisez was invited to present a paper at a session on the evening of September 9, and decided to try to present, in an ecumenically sensitive way, Catholic teaching on the sacramentality and indissolubility of marriage. The paper provoked a lively discussion, and though some participants plainly disagreed sharply, others were just as plainly intrigued by ideas expressed in unexpected ways. One participant later sent Grisez a thank-you letter, saying that the paper had led him to reconsider and change his entire pastoral approach to marriage.

The text of the article available here is copyright © T&T Clark Ltd. 1996; all rights reserved.

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“Indissoluble Marriage:    
A Reply to Kenneth Himes and James Coriden”

In September 2004, Theological Studies published an article, “The Indissolubility of Marriage: Reasons to Reconsider,” by Kenneth R. Himes and James A. Coriden, who argued that one could not reasonably regard as “definitive dogma or definitive doctrine” even the teaching that consummated, sacramental marriages are absolutely indissoluble. Reading the article, Grisez judged it to be important, because it compactly restated many of the arguments for dissolubility that various Catholics had made during the preceding four decades, and likely would be used in courses on marriage by many college and seminary professors. He thought someone should answer the article, but other responsibilities excused him from undertaking the task. Even if someone did the job, he wryly thought, Theological Studies would be unlikely to publish a reply that ran against the stream of dissenting theological opinion.

A few years later, the Rev. Peter F. Ryan, S.J.—then a colleague of Grisez at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Maryland—shared with Grisez a letter from the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith asking Ryan to prepare, for publication in Theological Studies, a response to Himes and Coriden. Grisez encouraged Ryan to undertake the task and offered to help analyze the Himes-Coriden article and outline the response. The job proved more burdensome than either of them expected it to be, but Ryan eventually submitted a response to that journal that the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had commended as a “substantive study.” That response was, however, severely criticized by the reviewers to whom the editor of Theological Studies had sent it. On that basis, in May 2009, the editor deemed it unworthy of publication in his prestigious journal.

Despite that rejection, the Secretary of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith remained interested in the project. So, in light of all the criticisms that had been conveyed as well as their own additional research and reflection, Ryan and Grisez thoroughly reworked the response. In carrying out this revision, the two collaborated so completely that Grisez became a coauthor. While adding substantially to the argumentation, they cut the length so as to use fewer words than Himes and Coriden had.

In August 2010, having received Ryan and Grisez’s final draft, the editor of Theological Studies wrote them: “I am pleased to report that my editorial consultants have recommended that we publish your manuscript, but in a substantially reduced form.” That letter included comments from two referees along with the editor’s proposed “trimmed version,” from which were excised arguments showing that much of Himes and Coriden’s case is unsound and that Piet Fransen’s interpretation of Trent on marriage, on which they rely, is based on false factual claims.

Having commissioned the response to Himes and Coriden, however, higher authority in Rome insisted that it be published in full. When Theological Studies yielded to that insistence and agreed to publish the complete and final version of the Ryan-Grisez article, the editor requested—and they provided—the abstract that usually appears just before the beginning of the text of each article published in the journal. The page proofs they received, however, replaced their abstract with an unusual editor’s note: “The article is a reply to one by Kenneth Himes and James Coriden published in our September 2004 issue. Except for minor stylistic changes, the article is published as it was received.

Ryan and Grisez were concerned about that note because the editor’s May 2009 rejection of the first draft of the article had been accompanied by his “lightly edited summary of the [three] referees’ reports,” and the changes made to meet the reported criticisms had been far more than minor stylistic ones. So, in their next note to the editor, they said: “We’re concerned that the second sentence of what appears instead is misleading, for we did a great deal of work to respond to the criticisms proposed by the first group of readers assigned by TS, and we thank them in the final note of our article. If the reason for the change is to suggest that the article is being published under duress, we think it would be well to say that straightforwardly.”

The editor replied: “As to the abstract, I decided on this briefer form because what you said in your abstract is repeated at the beginning of article, and I wanted to save space. I don’t think the abstract as it stands is at all misleading.”

Not long after the publication of Ryan and Grisez’s article, someone leaked to Thomas Fox of the National Catholic Reporter the fact that the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith had seen to it that the article was published. Fox did not contact Ryan or Grisez before publishing a story that included untrue statements about what had taken place. In defense of their reputations, Ryan and Grisez then issued a statement recounting the facts stated above.

Had Theological Studies not required a mandate from higher authority to publish the unexpurgated final version of the Ryan-Grisez reply to Himes and Coriden, publication of the article would have contributed to the journal’s credibility as a forum for fair and thorough treatment of vital theological controversies. As for the quality of scholarship, Ryan and Grisez ask only that readers of both articles set aside the irrelevant fact that higher authority had to mandate publication of the uncensored version of their article and judge for themselves.

One cannot fully understand the Ryan-Grisez article without studying the one to which it responds. To obtain it, one may follow the instructions at
The Ryan-Grisez response, available here, is copyright © Theological Studies, Inc. 2011; all rights reserved.

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