Conjugal Relations

by Jimmy Akin

in Moral Theology

A reader writes:

Thank you for your entertaining and informative blog.

I would just like to ask you why you so confidently stated that the Church hasn’t addressed extra-marital intercourse. Pitting Humanae Vitae against the CCC and Merriam-Webster doesn’t seem the best way of ascertaining what Church _Latin_ means by the word "coniugale" (even though I can tell you right now that coniugale meant "marital" in classical Latin).

Moreover, as I point out in your comments box, John Chrysostom, Clement of Alexandria, and everyone else who spoke about contraception, condemn it in any act of intercourse, not just marital. Whether you’re married or not isn’t a matter of important when speaking of contraception.

I am curious whether you have any Church sources to back up your assertion that taking the Merriam-Webster definition over the translation of Humanae Vitae is something grounded in the mind of the Church.

Let’s do this a piece at a time:

Thank you for your entertaining and informative blog.

Thanks very much. I’m glad you find it entertaining and informative, and I wanted to make sure I quoted this part so folks could see that you weren’t just being negative toward me/the blog.

I would just like to ask you why you so confidently stated that the
Church hasn’t addressed extra-marital intercourse.

The Church has addressed extra-marital intercourse. It has said that it is gravely sinful. What I said was that "as Humanae Vitae 14 is worded, it is condemning the use of
contraception within marriage and not really going into its use outside
of marriage." I also said "The same tends to be true of other Church documents."

Pitting Humanae
Vitae against the CCC and Merriam-Webster doesn’t seem the best way of
ascertaining what Church _Latin_ means by the word "coniugale" (even
though I can tell you right now that coniugale meant "marital" in
classical Latin).

I was not "pitting" Humanae Vitae against the CCC and the Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. I was pointing out a mistranslation in one English translation of HV and pointing to a correct translation of the same passage in the CCC.

The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary has no bearing on any of this except to document the meaning of the word "conjugal" in English for those English speakers who may not be familiar with its meaning (since it’s a rather uncommon word that is only used technically and people may have read it without attending to its meaning).

Perhaps I could have been clearer about this, but the citation of the MWD is not to prove anything about Latin. If I wanted to prove something about Latin, I’d cite a Latin dictionary. It’s merely to document the meaning of the English word for those who may not know it and may have always assumed that the word meant "sexual" instead of "marital."

I didn’t see the need, here, to cite a Latin dictionary because (a) the meaning of the word is the same as its Latin cognate, (b) it looks the same as its cognate, so folks should be able to see the connection, and (c) I don’t feel the need to quote a foreign language dictionary every time I explain the meaning of a foreign language term.

If I explain that una casa blanca means "a white house" in Spanish, then I don’t feel the need to start cutting and pasting or re-keying from a dictionary. If the meaning of a term is clear, there is no need for this, and if the meaning of a term is unclear then I’m not going to be building my argument based on it.

In fact, the only time that I would be inclined to cite a dictionary is when the meaning of a term is in dispute.

Since you’ve disputed the meaning of this term (though admitting that in classical Latin it means what I say it means), let’s look at Leo F. Stelten’s Dictionary of Ecclesiastical Latin, where we read:

conjugalis -is -e: conjugal, marital

conjugatus -a -um: married

conjugicidium -ii: n.; murder of one’s spouse

conjugium -ii: n.; union, connection, marriage, wedlock

conjugo -are: (1); unite in marriage

As you can see, the adjective in question, conjugalis (in blue) means just what it does in English: conjugal or marital. Even the ecclesiastical Latin cognates of this word (in black) are overwhelmingly oriented toward marriage.

Moreover, as I point out in your comments box, John Chrysostom, Clement
of Alexandria, and everyone else who spoke about contraception, condemn
it in any act of intercourse, not just marital. Whether you’re married
or not isn’t a matter of important when speaking of contraception.

This is as may be, and I would be perfectly happy if B16 or a future pope were to endorse this view. All I said was that Paul VI didn’t go so far as to do so and only addressed himself to the question of contraception in marriage as is obvious both from the term he used and the context in which he used it. (And I also indicated that recent magisterial documents follow his lead in this matter.)

I am curious whether you have any Church sources to back up your
assertion that taking the Merriam-Webster definition over the
translation of Humanae Vitae is something grounded in the mind of the

I don’t need any because I’m not reading tea leaves here. I’m explaining the plain meaning of the text in Latin, as backed up by (a) my knowledge of Latin, (b) what dictionaries of ecclesiastical Latin say, (c) the structure of the passage, (d) the concurrence of the translation of the same passage in the English version of the CCC, and (e) the concurrence of other Latinists who I know and have discussed this passage with (at least one of whom is a conservative moral theologian with an expertise in sexual ethics).

This just isn’t rocket science. It’s what the text says.

Now, I’d love to be able to point you to an Official Vatican Dictionary that contains technical definitions of every word ever appearing in every Vatican document, but there isn’t one. While the Holy See does maintain a list of Latin neologisms (e.g., the Latin word for "Internet" or "helicopter"), it doesn’t have an official dictionary of words whose meanings everybody already knows and has known for hundreds of years. It uses these words and expects people to know what they mean based on their ordinary meanings in ordinary dictionaries (Latin dictionaries in the case of documents whose editio typica is in Latin; dictionaries in other languages for documents whose editio typica is in another language).

Hopefully this clarifies matters.

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bearing May 10, 2006 at 1:13 pm

I want to see the list of Latin neologisms!

Anonymous May 10, 2006 at 1:14 pm

Cogito quod hic discursus stultus est.

Ed Peters May 10, 2006 at 1:24 pm

sit. stultus sit.
i would think that you would prefer the subjunctive here.
if you’re going to be mistaken, anon, get the substantive point wrong, not the grammar. :)

Anonymous May 10, 2006 at 1:29 pm

Actually, Ed, the part I was trying hardest to recall from high school Latin was the conjunctive clause “quod hic” — the grammar on the rest should be fine (est, being the verb, goes at the end in Classical Latin, even though the option here would be to insert it in the middle since it’s intransitive).

Ed Peters May 10, 2006 at 1:50 pm

ok, but it’s still indirect discourse, no? which prefers the subjunctive in the dependent clause (sit)…but it’s not an iron clad rule, if memory serves. salvo sapientiorum iudicio.

Kevin Jones May 10, 2006 at 2:58 pm

Why oughtn’t this indirect statement have an accusative subject and an infinitive verb?
Back on topic, sorta:
Michael Medved was claiming that the concept of marital consumation could be used to refute or invalidate gay marriages, even secular ones, because that concept has made it into common law from Christian theology. Any promise to that claim?

J.R. Stoodley May 10, 2006 at 3:08 pm

I have heared that an adultery case was thrown out not many years ago because homosexual relations (or at least lesbian) were not considered sex. That principle would also seem to make consumation of homosexual “marriages” impossible, but it seems more likely to me that definitions would be changed to fit the liberal agenda (and admittedly the meaning of words to most Americans).

whosebob May 10, 2006 at 7:18 pm

The question concerning the licity of the use of non-abortifacient contraceptives by a woman who has been raped, following the rape, is a very interesting one indeed.
If you’ve ever sat in on a rape-prevention class, there are a number of things that the instructor will counsel the women to do in case the case of an attack. Biting, hitting and screaming are common sense, as is an attempt to strike or yank the attacker’s testicles — but the instructor will take the opportunity to impress anew upon the attendees the effectiveness of these defensive measures. The instructor will also likely counsel that a rape-victim should to attempt, during the attack, to gouge the attacker’s eyes — no creature, not an attacking dog nor an attacking man, likes to have its eyes injured and such an injury will usually stop the attack. Another measure suggested is for the rape-victim to force herself to defecate, or at least to attempt to do so, if the man does manage to trap her — apparently statistics and anecdotal evidence indicate that the rapist will sometimes cease his attack in disgust when he encounters the fresh feces.
Why do I mention those things? While the victim’s primary motive for taking such defensive measures would certainly be to stop the physical attack, I don’t think there is a female rape-victim (potential, barely-escaped, or victim in-recovery) on the planet who would not state loud-and-clear that her motive was or would be simultaneously to, assuming the rape progressed thus far, prevent the male rapist from ejaculating inside her. Would such “premature withdrawal” guarantee that she would not become pregnant? No, of course not, but it would decrease the chances of pregnancy, and perhaps the chances of transmission of some STDs; moreover, the psychological motive would seem to be quite strong to prevent this violation of her sexual integrity from being fully realized.
But if all of the principles contained in Humanae Vitae apply to extra-marital sex, including rape, as well as to marital sex, then for a woman to directly will the rapist’s “early withdrawal” would be for her to directly will an objectively evil act of contraception, or Onanism.
Is this a case of reductio ad absurdum? Perhaps not, and I’m not suggesting that Jimmy Akin has been “absurd” for advancing the idea that HV might be declared to apply to all instances of marital and extra-marital sexual relations alike.
If we move 15 or 30 minutes, perhaps longer, into the future of the time following a woman’s hypothetical rape, we can consider her performing a clearly contraceptive act such as the thorough intra-vaginal application of a spermicide like nonoxyl-9. Let’s assume for a minute that nonoxyl-9 is not an abortifacient (is it, I’m not sure?) — would this action, intended to reduce or eliminate the possibility of the rapist’s sperm from fertilizing one of her ovums, be morally good, neutral, or evil? If rape-victim’s willing an act of Onanism is not evil, then why this later act be judged to be so? If it is wrong, then clearly the latter would be too.

mike May 10, 2006 at 8:50 pm

I reckon . . .
If we agree that a woman may defend herself from rape, it seems to me that she can defend herself from each and every part of rape. The manhandling is a violation, the penetration is a violation, impregnation is a violation and any disease transmission is a violation. She didn’t want it, she didn’t “enter into” it, and she can resist all of it. She doesn’t have to take the sex as a whole, or in part.
Normally when we enter into sex, we have to take it for what it is, and afford it all its dignity. But being raped is not “entering into sex”. I think this holds independently of whether we accept Karen’s idea that rape is not “sex”.
I’ll admit I may be wrong on this, but I don’t think it’s fair to consider stories of this being allowed in the Congo to be just “part of the liberal agenda”.
Fornication I see as something else again, but it’s still and interesting question. It’s illicit sex to begin with, so does adding a condom increase the guilt (two misuses of sex at once) or does it just exchange one form of illicit sex for another?

Shibboleth May 10, 2006 at 10:10 pm

Now if someone could only define what the word “is” means….

Kevin Miller May 11, 2006 at 3:00 am

I think it’s unlikely at best that the Church will ever teach that trying to prevent fertilization after rape is morally wrong.
That said, though, there is one place I know of where a Church document addresses contraception – albeit somewhat tangentially – and seems to suggest that it’s wrong for a couple who are, say, fornicating – not only in marital intercourse. I have in mind Evangelium Vitae 13, where JPII addresses the view that contraception would help prevent abortion. He speaks of contraception per se as rooted in a hedonistic (hence, evil) mentality that helps reinforce the culture of death. But when people say that contraception would help prevent abortion, they generally have in mind non-marital sex especially. Thus, I suspect, JPII is saying that even in those cases, contraception is wrong (i.e. it adds to the gravity of the fornication or whatever).
JPII does, along the way, speak of contraception as at odds with “conjugal love” and “chastity in marriage.” But I don’t think that contradicts what I’ve said. One could argue that although fornication is something already different from marital love (and evil), contraception makes it even more different (and more evil).

Kevin Miller May 11, 2006 at 3:02 am

… All that said, though, let me repeat that I don’t think that EV, any more than HV, is addressing cases of rape, nor do I think the Church will do so (i.e. by saying that a woman can’t try to prevent rape from leading to fertilization). From a moral standpoint, there isn’t any analogy at all, I would say, between a woman suffering rape, and a woman or man choosing to engage in intercourse.

Jeff May 11, 2006 at 4:15 am

Remember the “hermeneutics of discontinuity”? Pope Benedict told his cardinals at Christmastime that we need to stop reading the Second Vatican Council and subsequent docs as if they were a “new beginning.” They need to be read in the context of earlier teaching in order to be properly understood.
Now, I haven’t reviewed Casti Connubii, the famous Birth Control of Pius XI on this matter, but I will. And I want to strongly encourage this instinct. When you’re trying to figure out what later documents mean, read the earlier ones too. That’s what the Pope is asking us to do!

JJ May 11, 2006 at 1:07 pm

Re: the Onanism argument – not quite, although that was a thought-provoking question. In such a circumstance, the rapist is already trying to commit the evil of fornication and/or adultery (if either of them happen to be married). The violence – physical, emotional and spiritual – of rape adds to its gravity. In fighting a rapist, the victim is trying to avoid the sin being consummated. In other words, the intention is not contraception or prevention of pregnancy, it’s prevention of the sin of rape, which is “most wrong” (or however you want to phrase it) when interior ejaculation occurs. Most women fighting rapists are probably thinking less about pregnancy than they are about stopping the rapist, period.
With fornicating couples and even the nuns in the Congo, the intention of contraceptive use was to prevent pregnancy. That’s a different thing altogether.
Kevin: there’s been a heated debate in the Catholic medical ethics community for years about how exactly rape victims are to be treated medically. It would take too long to go into the details, but it’s not as cut-and-dried as one might think. Try looking up the works of Dr. Eugene Diamond for an overview.

Kevin Miller May 12, 2006 at 4:59 am

I fully understand that translating the principle to which I referred in practice can be very difficult, due to the concern about whether a post-rape “contraceptive” might have abortifacient action. Thus, there are questions about how much risk of such action remains when certain post-rape protocols intended to minimize that risk (esp. the “Peoria Protocol”) are used. And there are questions about how much residual risk is morally acceptable. Hence, yes, there is debate among both scientists and moralists.
But I think the underlying principle of which I spoke – that if you know that a post-rape treatment will have a “contraceptive,” not abortifacient, effect, then it’s permissible – is cut and dried.

roya August 4, 2008 at 9:24 pm

ur texte is very interesting

Mike Petrik August 5, 2008 at 5:08 am

I agree with Kevin. As per Directive # 36 of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, Fourth Edition (2001), “Compassionate and understanding care should be given to a person who is the victim of sexual assault. Health care providers should cooperate with law enforcement officials and offer the person psychological and spiritual support as well as accurate medical information. A female who has been raped should be able to defend herself against a potential conception from the sexual assault. If, after appropriate testing, there is no evidence that conception has occurred already, she may be treated with medications that would prevent ovulation, sperm capacitation, or fertilization. It is not permissible, however, to initiate or to recommend treatments that have as their purpose or direct effect the removal, destruction, or interference with the implantation of a fertilized ovum” The principle is simple enough. Dr. Diamond’s works go to the practical difficulty of applying that simple principle in the real world given our limited understanding of how certain contraceptive medicines work.

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