Author: William Mattison

Symposium on Same-Sex Marriage: Reasonable Proxies

David Cloutier’s post on the legalization of civil marriage for same sex couples rightly raises the question of whether opposition to civil marriage for same sex couples can be grounded by reasons that are both intelligible and accessible to people who do not share Christian theological beliefs.  The paucity of such arguments in the public square, and my own experience (similar to Cloutier’s) of university students finding themselves unable to substantiate their resistance to same sex marriage, could well indicate that such resistance is founded only on a bias against same sex couples, a bias that needs to be unlearned.  How to determine if that is the case? Most people look at ways that same sex couples are similar to heterosexual couples, and conclude that there is no basis to differentiate these two sets.  I would argue that this approaches the question backwards.  Since we are dealing with civil marriage, we first need to examine why the state is involved in marriage in the first place.  There is a state purpose driving marriage laws in the U.S.  Then there are proxies (addressed below) employed to determine what occasions serve that purpose.  If either the purpose or the proxy is unintelligible or non-constitutional, marriage law should change. What is the state purpose in recognizing marriages?  A read of the groundbreaking 2003 Goodridge v. Massachusetts case in the State Supreme Court...

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New Commentary Section on!

We are kicking off the Commentary project!   As we try to grow as a resource for Catholic moral theology on the web, we thought we could provide “commentaries” on major topics in Catholic moral theology as a valuable tool for students, teachers, or other interested people seeking to learn about some specific area of moral theology.  Yet how to organize such a set of posts in a manner where the topics are both comprehensive and publicly available?  We devised a list of topics based on section III of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (on morality, or “Life in Christ”), replacing the brief list of topics there on “The Human Community” with the list of chapters from the Compendium of Social Doctrine of the Church to flesh out Catholic social thought.  We chose the Catechism (augmented by the Compendium) in order: a) to have a publicly available and comprehensive “prompt;” and, b) to model doing theology that takes seriously authoritative Church documents even while using them as a starting point (not as conversation enders) for examining theological topics in more depth. Click on the “Commentary” tab above to see the list of topics, and the posts already completed.  Our hope is to have a completed commentary by the end of 2011.  We hope they are of service, and let us know if you have any...

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Catechism Commentary – Virtue

Virtue (Part Three, Chapter One, Section One, Article Seven) William C. Mattison III, The Catholic University of America The article on “The Virtues” in Chapter One, Section One is one of the more exciting texts in the morality part (Part Three) of the Catechism. Virtue is a topic not given adequate attention in the moral manuals that served as the bedrock of moral theology between the Councils of Trent and Vatican II, and so its very appearance here is noteworthy. Furthermore, this article addresses several thorny issues at the forefront of moral theology today. The purpose of this post is first to give an overview of its claims, and then to address three successive challenging issues that are addressed in this article. Overview The opening paragraph of the article begins with the classic Philippians 4:8 passage that is commonly cited in Christian discussions of virtue since it the only place where the Greek word for virtue (arête) appears in the New testament. It then offers an outstanding definition of virtue (not directly from any prior source) indicating that a virtue is: a part of a person; stable; involving all the person’s morally relevant capacities; directing concrete actions; and, ordering the person and acts toward the good. Returning to an explicitly Christian understanding of virtue, the opening paragraph ends by claiming that “the goal of a virtuous life is to...

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Doing “What We Hate”

What Happens When We Sin Even Though We Know Better? This season of Lent is a time when we are particularly attuned to our brokenness and our need for redemption.  A common experience of our sinfulness is continuing to do sinful things we in some sense do not want to do.  The obvious Scriptural text here is Romans 7.  Yet this is not merely a Christian phenomenon.  It was a perennial question in classical ethics:  can people do things they know are bad, and if so, how does that happen?  The standard account of this question in antiquity is that Socrates thought this phenomenon was impossible.  If we do something bad, we did not truly know it was bad.  According to this account, Aristotle departs from Socrates on this matter by describing the phenomenon of incontinence.  We can indeed act against our “better judgment.”  Christians such as Thomas Aquinas follow Aristotle in explaining experiences like Paul’s in Romans 7.  This account is too simple.  This post is not the place to sort out why in any detail.  It turns out that Aristotle and Aquinas are not as far from “Socrates” as the standard account assumes.  And there are important differences between Aquinas and Aristotle.  The purpose of this post is not to sort through these questions, but to present Aquinas’ account of how incontinence occurs, and (hopefully) start a...

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