i) The Gravity of this Sin
Now acts of sexual immorality and acts of abortion are immoral. Since they are immoral, they are sinful, for to transgress against the moral law is to transgress against the giver of that law, who is God.147 Moreover acts of sexual immorality and acts of abortion are not merely sinful, but gravely sinful. Sexual sins, sins against purity, are all gravely sinful: grave ex toto genere suo, whether committed in the flesh or imagination, singly or in conjunction with another, whether they involve contraception, or adultery, or any other form of immorality. All abortion is gravely sinful.
Now, for a sin to be mortal, three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is sin the object of which is grave matter, and which is committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent. This full knowledge encompasses both the nature and the sinful character of the act, so that unintentional ignorance or a temporary loss of the use of reason can diminish, or even remove, the culpability for a grave offence – although no-one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the natural law. As to the deliberate consent by contrast, it may be diminished or removed by fear or by the passions, by external pressures, by involuntary habits which have been retracted, or pathological disorders.
In relation to deliberate abortion in particular, it is not possible to appeal to unintentional ignorance, because deliberate abortion is ‘contrary to the Law of God which is written in every human heart, knowable by reason itself, and proclaimed by the Church’ (Evangelium Vitae 62). The same applies to the destruction of embryos in connection with experimentation and in vitro fertilization (Evangelium Vitae 63).
ii) The Offence against Reason
Now sin is an offence against reason and truth.
Clearly all sin offends against reason ultimately in that it runs counter to man’s ultimate good, namely his salvation. But it also offends against reason in terms of the benefit it purports to confer on the sinner. This may be seen in the area of our present consideration as follows: a person engages in immoral sexual relations in order to gain pleasure or happiness, telling himself he is ‘not harming anybody’, he seeks abortion in order to avoid pain or suffering, but pain and suffering are the inevitable outcome of both: to the extent that a party seeks pleasure in immoral sexuality he or she feels a sense of emptiness and degradation and is increasingly plagued by sexual desire; to the extent that he or she seeks love, he feels wounded and betrayed when the relationship collapses, and scornful to the other party in consequence. As to abortion, it is capable of bringing untold pain and suffering to the child (see especially chapter eight) and on occasion to the mother as well. This pain and suffering is not clearly less than the pain and suffering of proceeding with the pregnancy. Finally, if the wounds of immoral sexuality and abortion are not always patently manifest, they subsist deep within the psyche and the soul, where, until they are healed and absolved, they yield a constant dark and bitter harvest.
iii) The Offence against Truth
Sin is an offence against truth. In his letter to the Romans quoted above, St. Paul in I 18-23 identifies truth with God’s eternal power and divine nature which is revealed in His Creation and which obliges man to honour Him and to give Him thanks. St. Paul speaks of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth and who ‘became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools.’ This darkening of the mind is clearly exemplified in the failure to see that the prime purpose of sexuality is procreation; in the area of sexuality and abortion it is exemplified in the failure to appreciate the dignity of the person (cf. chapters 2 and 12). In the area of abortion particularly it is exemplified in the failure to see that the unborn is a child, even with reliance on irrefutable photographic evidence or after participation in its violent and brutal destruction.
Meaning gives way to passion, or as Cardinal Ratzinger puts it in the ‘Ratzinger Report’ the objective reason yields to the subjective reason, namely to the libido of the individual. A person engages in sexual relations irrespective of the age or gender of the other party. Where there is a possibility of conception, there is typically a recourse to contraceptive measures; if these fail, abortion is adopted as a ‘back-up solution’, as Cardinal Ratzinger notes in ‘Human Life under Threat’.
iv) The Agency of the Devil
The next two features of sin are intimately connected with the devil, so we shall introduce them by briefly examining his role in sin. The devil in his hatred of God born of pride and envy, finding himself unable to attack God directly, assails His mystical body and that creature formed in his own image and likeness who is vulnerable to his attack, namely man. His purpose is the eternal death of man, which he attempts to achieve by leading man into sin. Through him sin had entered the world, and all subsequent sin is occasioned by him, his angels, and by man himself, largely in consequence of his fallen nature. Marks of the devil’s agency may be seen inter alia in the wide scale and systematic nature of a given form of sin, as can particularly clearly be seen in the areas under consideration in this book.
Now whereas man is made for life and happiness, sin leads, as we have recalled, to death and torment. This explains why sin is an offence against reason and truth, and why an agent wishing to seduce man into sin must first deceive him, that is by the lie of temptation, the object of which appears to be good, a ‘delight to the eyes,’ when in reality its fruit is death (Gen.3.6). The deceitfulness involved in the sins of adultery and abortion is then a further mark of the agency of the devil who is ‘the deceiver of the whole world’ (Revelation 12.9), who ‘does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies’ (St. John 8.44). So let us now consider in detail the deceit involved in adultery and abortion.
One general form of deceit is the pretence that these actions are not in fact sinful but simply morally indifferent. The former is commonly known not by its properly pejorative title of ‘fornication’ or ‘adultery’ but by such terms as ‘affairs’ and ‘cohabitation’. The latter is commonly known not by the title which most accurately describes it, namely pre-natal infanticide, but as ‘terminating a pregnancy’ or ‘losing a child’, as though this act of supreme violence and brutality, the subjection of a child at his or her most innocent, vulnerable, and defenceless to the most extreme pain and suffering, and subsequently to murder, could possibly be expressed in terms of bringing to a close a state of affairs or by a phrase denoting total passivity.
A second, and graver, form of deceit is the pretence that what is sinful is in fact morally good: so, benevolence in its negative aspect, the shallow indulgence examined above, masquerades as ‘love’ and ‘care’. A notable example of the former is the endowment of sexual immorality with the noble or sacred name of ‘love’ between ‘lovers’, despite the hedonism, abuse, degradation, and scorn with which it is characterised and despite the fact that in lacking commitment to God, spouse, and to children, it is singularly lacking both in giving and in fruitfulness, which are the two essential components of (rational) love149. A notable example of the latter is abortion which in the name of ‘care’ for the confused and traumatized pregnant woman, and in gleaming white hospitals symbolizing health and life, exposes her to extreme and sometimes fatal sufferings, pretension to youth, innocence, and constancy.
Another example is the term ‚boy/girl-friend’ with its consigns her child to destruction, and puts in danger the eternal salvation of all concerned.
Moreover sexual immorality and abortion are known as ‘love’ and ‘care’ not merely by given individuals, but are generally accepted as such by the majority of society. Pope John Paul II observes this in regard to abortion when he writes in Evangelium Vitae 58 that: ‘the acceptance of abortion in the popular mind, in behaviour, and even in law itself, is a telling sign of an extremely dangerous crisis of the moral sense which is becoming more and more incapable of distinguishing between good and evil even when the fundamental right to life is at stake.’ He goes on to quote Isaiah 5.20. ‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness.’
In most general anthropological terms it may be said of this second form of deceit that it characterizes periods of insurrection. In his account of stasis (faction) in book III 82.4 of the History of the Pelopponesian War, Thucydides states: ten eiothuian axiosin ton onomaton es ta erga antellaxan tei dikaiosei : they reversed the customary value of words to accord with deeds in conformity to their own moral judgments. He proceeds to show how they labelled good conduct as bad and bad conduct as good. What he says of stasis is equally true of apostasis.
Now as stated above, sin brings death and not just eternal death but death of the body as well, as is explained in the book of Genesis with regard to Original Sin at 2.17: ‘but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die’, and after the sin is committed at 3.19 in God’s words to Adam that he will ‘return to the ground, for out of it you were taken, you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ This fourth feature of sin, which may perhaps be expressed more generally as its violatory and destructive quality is clearly manifest in sexual immorality and abortion and gives further evidence of the agency of the devil who ‘was a murderer from the beginning’ (St. John 8.44).
Abortion is violatory and destructive in that it constitutes the killing or the murder of an innocent human being, sexual immorality in that it so often culminates in this form of killing particularly through the widespread use of abortifacient ‘contraceptives’ (cf. chapter 7), and more generally in that it exerts a destructive influence on persons in their psychological and spiritual dimensions, for in failing to respect the inestimable worth of the person (cf. chapters 2 and 12) it abuses and maltreats the person, and in failing to respect man as made in the image and likeness of God it in fact amounts to the desecration of an icon (eikon: an image).
In these ways we can see the deceit and the destructive forces of the devil in combat against Truth and the creative love of God. In former times the devil’s agency, which to-day is largely covert, was more manifest in the analogous evils of ritual fornication and human sacrifice.
We see, too, how the evils of adultery and abortion constitute a two-fold attack of the devil on mankind: on the individual; on the family in opposing the two goods of marriage; and, since the family is the very cell of which society is comprised, on the whole of society as well (as has been shown in relation to contraception in the presentation of Humanae Vitae in chapter 5, divorce in chapter 4 part 1, and murder in chapter 8 part 1).
This attack is now being underpinned on the political level by the demands of the European Union, as ‘money-changer of dead bodies’150, for the corpses of our children, for our marriages, our Faith, and ultimately our souls. It is not hard to discern who is at work here, although atheism is a specifically human form of crassness.
This same attack draws its strength not least from an attack yet more fundamental and deadly: an attack against the Church herself and conducted within her bosom, particularly in her doctrine151 and liturgy152, so that man, obstructed from attaining the Truth and from adoring God, turns away from Him towards man, whose features he no longer recognizes (see chapter 12).
And so the fabric of civilization and Christendom is being steadily destroyed, so that people already talk of a ‘post-Christian age’ (as though anything could exist after Christ Who is ‘yesterday, to-day: and the same forever’153). And yet this is no triumph of the devil over God, but God’s punishment of man, with which man collaborates with his free will and the devil with his malice: for God will destroy all nations that have turned away from Him ‘like a potter’s vessel.’See the footnote on the Cult of Man at the beginning of this chapter. Under the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI signs of hope were being seen again, although at the time of writing many former certainties have ceased to be so.
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.