Theology 101: A Little Aquinas, Part 4

Last time we looked at Aquinas’ thoughts on law and morality, as well as sex.  Today, we’re going to look at War, including Jus ad Bellum and Jus ad Bello, and how Aquinas looked at women, as well as what he night have though of some of today’s controversial issues.

Chapter 7: Just War and Double Effect

In this chapter, Renick discusses Jus ad Bellum, Jus in Bello, and double effect.  He notes that  in 1991, before Gulf War I, George Bush (41) stated the reasons for going to war against Iraq (which at the time had occupied Kuwait).  These reasons described why he felt it was a just war.  For it to be so, it needed a just cause, to be declared by a legitimate authority, to be a last resort, and to have a just intent.  Bush listed reasons why each of these criteria was satisfied.

A war, while seemingly as far from moral as it can get, can be just according to international law, if it follows the rules Bush cited in his speech.  If this is thought to be an oxymoron, it can be compared to the actions the Nazis in World War II, or perhaps the Khmer Rouge, among others.  No, “morality,” Renick writes, “places important restraints on actions even during the heat of combat.” Aquinas played a major role in codifying this.


Christians have had to reason about just war since the 4th Century, when they went from being a persecuted group to the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Before that, they considered themselves pacifists.  After, they asked themselves if standing by while innocent people were slaughtered was in line with loving your neighbor – obviously, history shows they decided that intervening was the right thing to do.

Augustine was one of the first to give an affirmative and “taught that it was acceptable, even mandatory, for Christians to use violence – if they did so in a limited fashion and in order to protect the innocent.”  As a matter of fact it was Augustine that first coined the term “Just war”.  Eight centuries later, Aquinas developed this concept to the form we see today.

He deals first with Jus ad bellum – Latin for “right or justice (at the time of) war.”  This describes the “criteria that must be met before one can rightfully go to war.”  There are three, all of which must be met in order to begin hostilities:

  1. Just cause – Aquinas: “A just war is…one that avenges wrongs, when a nation or state has to be punished for refusing to make amends for wrongs inflicted by its subjects, or to restore what it has seized unjustly.”
  2. Just authority – referring to the leaders of countries, he writes, “Just as it is lawful for them to have recourse to the sword in defending the common weal against internal disturbances…so too it is their business to have recourse to the sword of war in defending the common weal against external enemies.”
  3. Just intent – restoring justice is the correct reason, not, as Aquinas wrote, “the passion for inflicting harm, the cruel thirst for vengeance…the lust of power, and such like things.”

Next, he dealt with jus in bello, or “right/justice in war” – what you can do during conflicts.  It is here that Aquinas introduces the concept of “double effect”.  Renick writes, “Double effect is a moral concept that has found its way into our contemporary civil and criminal legal codes, has emerged as a cornerstone of medical ethics, and has become a sticking point in the modern abortion debate.  It also establishes the basic standard for determining how one must treat noncombatants in times of war.”

Writes Aquinas: “Nothing hinders one act from having two effects.”   One effect can be good and the other bad – what does one do in this situation?  A simple example in going to the dentist.  To fix your bad tooth she must cause you pain in the short term.  A bigger example is saving the baby or saving the pregnant mother, or bombing a chemical factory next to a school.

Historically, there are Christians that followed the principle of do no harm.  This Aquinas found to be impractical – consider the dentist case.  If she does no harm and refuses to pull your tooth, you will end up worse off than if she in the short term causes you pain.  Aquinas then says, if one effect is intended “while the other is beside the intention…Moral acts take their species according to what is intended, and not according to what is beside the intention, since this is accidental.”  The dentist intends good – fixing your tooth – and not evil (the pain of the drilling).  However, if she is sadistic and causes you pain on purpose, then her intent is wrong, and the act is wrong.  The result does not justify the intent.  This can also be seen in our modern concept of accidental manslaughter – your intent was not to kill anyone, versus 1st degree murder, where your intent certainly was to kill someone.

This is also applied to jus in bello – soldiers should never intend to kill civilians or innocents.  They may die by accident, but this is not the same as targeting them.  The example of the munitions factory by the school shows that if you bomb the factory and the school is destroyed, your intent was to stop the enemiy’s war production, not to kill children.  This is euphemistically termed collateral damage.  However, if you bomb the school to demoralize the enemy, your intent is wrong.

But, there is another dimension to double effect – the good effect must outweigh the accidental effect.  Aquinas: “And yet, proceeding from a good intention, an act may be rendered unlawful, if it be out of proportion to the end.”  If you kill hundreds of schoolchildren just to take out an enemy tank, for example, your intent was good, but the bad side was way out of proportion to what you achieved.  So, you must ask:

  1. “Do you intend the good (and not the evil) end?”
  2. “Does the good end outweigh one?”

The answer to both must be yes.

Chapter 8: Abortion, the Role of Women, and Other Noncontroversial Issues

Catholics (macengr – and most of the rest of us) see abortion as not meeting the standards of the double effect philosophy.  The end is evil – an innocent person dies, and the intent is evil – the mother doesn’t want to bear the child.  Renick then attempts to justify a certain case of abortion using Aquinas’s arguments.

This case is when the mother’s life is threatened, for example when the egg implants in the fallopian tube.  He feels that Aquinas would have said that it is morally permissible to remove the baby.  The good end is saving the mother’s life; the bad end is that the baby dies.  But here, says Renick, the intent is good – to save the mother’s life, and not to kill the baby.  The death of the baby, per the discussion above, is accidental, not intentional, and who knows, by some miracle the baby could live…Also, if nothing is done, both the mother and baby die, and if you remove the baby, only one dies, so the result is better than choosing not to do anything at all (the result is proportionate to the harm done).  Thus, Aquinas, Renick thinks, would “approve” of this abortion.

(macengr – I totally do not agree with this argument, especially because Renick uses zygote instead of baby to make his argument more convincing to the reader.)

So Aquinas, Renick thinks, is very much a modern thinker and was ahead of his time.  But there is always a catch, and Renick points out that Aquinas’ view on women were very much a product of the times, and illustrates, to Renick, a drawback of the natural law approach.

Here, Aquinas felt that women are men’s helpers by nature, and that their primary usefulness is that of childbearing.  He writes, “It was necessary for woman to be made as a helper to man; not, indeed, helpmate in other works, as some say, since man can be more efficiently helped by another man in other works; but as a helper in generation.”  Men are therefore more useful when it comes to intellectual conversation or building things, and women are bad at these by nature.  Women, Renick claims that Aquinas says, are a pale imitation of a man.  Although both genders are needed to reproduce – here Renick quotes Aquinas again: “man is yet further ordered to a still nobler vital action, and that is intellectual operation.”

Thus, Aquinas says, there is a natural hierarchy between men and women, and the male should always be in charge.  He writes, “For good order would have been wanting if some were not governed by others wiser than themselves.  So by such a kind of subjection woman is naturally subject to man, because in man the discretion of reason predominates.”  This inequality between men and women was the reason for Eve’s sin, not the result.  Aquinas is arguing that the essence of woman is to be subject to man – it’s part of God’s plan.  The sin in the garden was not only humans disobeying God’s command not to eat the fruit, but also of woman usurping the man’s authority.

Women are also, Aquinas says, only the container that human life is born in and do not contribute to their characteristics (no genetic material from the mother).  Aquinas’s views on women would go on to become very influential; although they were really a reflection of his times.  However, that men were superior to women was seen, after Aquinas, as a cornerstone of the natural law and science and it was felt to be a rational fact, even apart from the religious context.

So, Renick says, we must be careful when we use natural law, because there is a “need to distinguish between what is and what should be.”  Aquinas lived in a monastery and avoided women and had little experience with them throughout his life, spending his time in primarily male environments from the time he was five years old.  At the time he lived (the 1200s) women were seen as inferior, were subject to men, and were rarely educated.  Of course, Renick says, Aquinas would think this was the natural order of things.

However, Renick says, “using the natural law demands that we do more than report on the way things are.” Just because murder occurs all the time – and scientists believes violence may have a genetic component – doesn’t mean it is natural.  “What is is not always what should be.”  (macengr – normative vs. positive). So just because women were subject to men at the time, doesn’t mean they were supposed to be that way.  Renick feels that “Aquinas should have known better.”  Still, this is a common mistake and it is very difficult to know the difference.  Thus we must be very careful in thinking about it.

One can, Renick writes, use the natural law approach “to overcome the shackles of tradition…Aquinas’s theories can be the source of liberating justice.  They allow one to say, ‘Sure, things have always been done this way, but nature (and God) demand that we do otherwise.'” And often Aquinas did use natural law to prove this and make “great strides in human justice.”  But the danger is this: “Rather than catching a glimpse of the ways of God and nature, we may be holding a mirror up to ourselves.  We may be confusing what is natural for what is familiar and comfortable” – and the latter may be unjust.

That’s enough for today.  See you next time!

FreeCodeCamp and Learning Node: My First Async I/O

Last time we looked at a synchronous program in Node that read a file, split it into lines, and then counted the number of lines using the new line character as a guide.  Today, we’re going to do the same thing, using an asynchronous function, which is a key strength of Node.  If you don’t know what any of this means, well, first, why haven’t you tried this in the Nodeschool tutorial?  Go do that first, I’ll wait.

Next, read on!

Here are the directions and hints.  Once again, remember that the link for the documentation is

MY FIRST ASYNC I/O! (Exercise 4 of 13)

  Write a program that uses a single asynchronous filesystem operation to read a file and print the number of newlines it contains to the console (stdout), similar to running cat file | wc -l.

  The full path to the file to read will be provided as the first command-line argument.



  The solution to this problem is almost the same as the previous problem except you must now do it the Node.js way: asynchronous.

  Instead of fs.readFileSync() you will want to use fs.readFile() and instead of using the return value of this method you need to collect the value from a callback function that you pass in as the second argument. To learn more about callbacks, check out:


( ).

  Remember that idiomatic Node.js callbacks normally have the signature:

     function callback (err, data) { /* … */ }

  so you can check if an error occurred by checking whether the first argument is truthy. If there is no error, you should have your Buffer object as the second argument. As with readFileSync(), you can supply ‘utf8’ as the second argument and put the callback as the third argument and you will get a String instead of a Buffer.

  Documentation on the fs module can be found by pointing your browser here:


Now, it says that we are going to do the same thing as last time, only using an asynchronous method rather than a synchronous one.  That means we can use parts of the previous program we wrote.  The first line and the second line, where we call the file system method and assign the file path to a variable, will be the same.

var fs = require(‘fs’);

var filename = process.argv[2];

Line 3 is going to be wildly different, though.  We are using a different method, an asynchronous one, namely fs.readFile().  For an explanation of how the whole asynchronous thing works, the link they gave in the hints (see above) isn’t bad.  Anyway, the readFile() function takes several arguments.  First is the name and path of the file you want to read.  We saved that in ‘filename’.  Second is ‘utf8’, which means you’ll get the info back as text, similar to how we did in the previous program.  Third is where it gets a little weird.  We call an anonymous function – we’ve done this sort of thing before, in the Front End Development exercises, so it shouldn’t be too unfamiliar.  That function is called a ‘callback’ function (see the link they gave for more), and it takes two arguments.  The first is err, so if something goes wrong it will return an error.  The second is called data here, but you could call it contents or something else if you wanted to.  This will be the actual contents of your file (as opposed to the file name and path we stored in ‘filename’).  So, here’s what we have now:

var fs = require(‘fs’);
var filename = process.argv[2];
var bufFile = fs.readFile(filename, ‘utf8’, function callback(err, data) {


Now, two questions:

What do we put into that function?

What about the rest of the program from the previous exercise?

Glad you asked!  First, in the function, we want to convert the file to a string, then split it using the ‘\n’ as the separator.  We did this before, so that answers the second question.

I left out the final line, because I wanted to talk briefly about it, and that’s the line where we print the number of new lines to the console.  That HAS to go inside the function.  Why?  Because if you put it at the end, the console.log() will execute while the file is still being read and split.  You’ll get back undefined.  See, this is the whole thing about how asynchronous ops work.  The program can do other stuff while it’s waiting for time sucking operations to complete, and if you put console.log() outside the function, it will be all, “Hey, I can do this while I’m waiting”.  So, inside the function goes console.log(), and we end up with:

var fs = require(‘fs’);
var filename = process.argv[2];
var bufFile = fs.readFile(filename, ‘utf8’, function callback(err, data) {
var strFile = bufFile.toString();
var cnt = strFile.split(‘\n’);
console.log(cnt.length – 1);


And there you have it!  Our first Asynchronous I/O program!

MilSats: Afghan Nat’l Army Technicals

A Technical is, per Wikipedia, ” light improvised fighting vehicles, typically a civilian or military non-combat vehicle, modified to provide an offensive capability similar to a military gun truck. It is usually an open-backed civilian pickup truck or four-wheel drive vehicle mounting a machine gun, light anti-aircraft gun, anti-tank weapon, or other support weapon.”


DELARAM, Afghanistan–Afghan National Army soldiers conduct a patrol in western Afghanistan. (ANA photo by Sergeant Fathe Noori)

FreeCodeCamp and Learning Node: My First I/O

The first real challenge for the Node tutorial is learning I/O from files.  This one was a little more difficult than Baby Steps.  My solution is probably a little clumsy, but I think it’s easy to follow.  Let’s dive in!

So, here’s the learnyounode instructions for My first I/O.

 ## MY FIRST I/O! (Exercise 3 of 13)

  Write a program that uses a single synchronous filesystem operation to read a file and print the number of newlines (\n) it contains to the console (stdout), similar to running cat file | wc -l.

  The full path to the file to read will be provided as the first command-line argument (i.e., process.argv[2]). You do not need to make your own test file.



  To perform a filesystem operation you are going to need the fs module from the Node core library. To load this kind of module, or any other “global” module, use the following incantation:

  var fs = require(‘fs’)

  Now you have the full fs module available in a variable named fs.

  All synchronous (or blocking) filesystem methods in the fs module end with ‘Sync’. To read a file, you’ll need to use fs.readFileSync(‘/path/to/file’). This method will return a Buffer object containing the complete contents of the file.

  Documentation on the fs module can be found by pointing your browser here:


  Buffer objects are Node’s way of efficiently representing arbitrary arrays of data, whether it be ascii, binary or some other format. Buffer objects can be converted to strings by simply calling the toString() method on them. e.g. var str = buf.toString().

  Documentation on Buffers can be found by pointing your browser here:


  If you’re looking for an easy way to count the number of newlines in a string, recall that a JavaScript String can be .split() into an array of substrings and that ‘\n’ can be used as a delimiter. Note that the test file does not have a newline character (‘\n’) at the end of the last line, so using this method you’ll end up with an array that has one more element than the number of newlines.

First of all, those document addresses are useless.  Those addresses are great if you are on the Node server, but in learnyounode, you’ll get nothing.  You can actually go here to look at the cocumentation, and just search for the term you want:


For this exercise, in the column on the left, it’s File Server (FS) and Buffer that you want.

Now, if it’s not obvious, Node runs on a server.  That’s why all this stuff looks so arcane compared to HTML, CSS, and yes, writing JavaScript in the browser environment.  Node runs off a command line, too, which adds to the alien feel for Front End Developers.  I have experience with Java and this is still taking some getting used to because I did all my Java development in IDEs.  Let’s work this through.

So, the first hint they give, loading fs, does not take place on the command line – it goes in the file you are writing.  Create a new file (I covered this in the last Node Learning Node post).  Name it whatever you want – I called mine program2.js, because I didn’t want to overwrite program.js, which had my answer to the ‘Baby Steps’ tutorial.

Just copy and paste var fs = require(‘fs’), add a semicolon (hey, we’re writing JavaScript, remember?) and that will be the first line of your program.


That was the easy part.


Okay, learnyounode is GIVING us the file we need to examine – we don’t need to create one.  They are supplying it to us as a command line argument – remember from the last tutorial that the command line arguments object (process.argv) has ‘node’ as the first element, the file path as the second element, and then third (process.argv[2])and up we have whatever information we need.  So, the file information – the location of it, or path – will be process.argv[2].  Let’s assign that to a variable, and our program now looks like:

var fs = require(‘fs’);

var filename = process.argv[2];

Save early, save often.  You remember that from any word processing classes you took, right?

Next, we’ll start using the other commands given in the hints.  First is fs.readFileSync(‘/path/to/file’).  We saved the path to the file in the variable filename.  The command will return the contents of the file as a Buffer object, so we’re going to save that in another new variable we’ll call bufFile (Buffer File -I’m so original).  Here’s what our file looks like now:

var fs = require(‘fs’);
var filename = process.argv[2];

var bufFile = fs.readFileSync(filename);

We need to convert that Buffer object to a string so we can perform string operations on it.  We’ll do that with toString() and assign it to – you guessed it – yet another new variable, which we’ll call strFile, for String File:

var strFile = bufFile.toString();

Believe it or not, we’re almost there.  Using the split() method (I covered it in this post here) with ‘\n’ – for new line – as the separator, we’ll get an array back that will have each line in the file as a separate element.  We’ll save that in one last variable, called cnt (for count):

var cnt = strFile.split(‘\n’);

Now, as noted in the hints, the last line won’t have a new line at the end of it, and we subtract that line from the total since it doesn’t have one.  We can print it to the console now, and that finishes our program, which now looks like this:

var fs = require(‘fs’);

var filename = process.argv[2];

var bufFile = fs.readFileSync(filename);

var strFile = bufFile.toString();

var cnt = strFile.split(‘\n’);

console.log(cnt.length – 1);

If you’ll remember, I called this one program2.js, so I run it as:

learnyounode verify program2.js

And it comes back as passed!

And there you go.  Let me know if there any questions in the comments!

FreeCodeCamp and Learning Node: Baby Steps

So, after completing the Front End Certificate for FreeCodeCamp, the next task is learning to do the Back End!  FreeCodeCamp includes sections on Git, Node.JS, Express.js, and MondoDB.

Long ago, I started the Node.js (via learnyounode tutorial and was immediately lost.  That was back when the FreeCodeCamp curriculum wasn’t as extensively developed as it is today.  This is my second go at it, and I find that writing the programs is MUCH easier now.  The Node commands themselves are still a little mystifying, and so I decided that, why not, I will blog about my experiences again.

Now, as I’ve said before, if you haven’t tried these tutorials yourself, STOP READING AND GO TRY THEM FIRST!  Again, reading my solution may help you do the lesson and move on, but you won’t learn anything.  If you have done it, and my solution looks totally different than yours, tell me because I want to learn new things also!  I’m no expert, just a student making his way through the world of coding!


I’m going to skip the first exercise, ‘Hello World’, except to note that I didn’t find the Cloud9 interface very beginner-friendly.

Here are the instructions for the next exercise, ‘Baby Steps’:

 ## BABY STEPS (Exercise 2 of 13)
  Write a program that accepts one or more numbers as command-line arguments and prints the sum of those numbers to the console (stdout).
  You can access command-line arguments via the global process object. The process object has an argv property which is an array containing the complete command-line. i.e. process.argv.
  To get started, write a program that simply contains:
  Run it with node program.js and some numbers as arguments. e.g:
     $ node program.js 1 2 3
  In which case the output would be an array looking something like:
     [ ‘node’, ‘/path/to/your/program.js’, ‘1’, ‘2’, ‘3’ ]
  You’ll need to think about how to loop through the number arguments so you can output just their sum. The first element of the process.argv array is always ‘node’, and the second element is always the path to your program.js file, so you need to start at the 3rd element (index 2), adding each item to the total until you reach the end of the array.
  Also be aware that all elements of process.argv are strings and you may need to coerce them into numbers. You can do this by prefixing the property with + or passing it to Number(). e.g. +process.argv[2] or Number(process.argv[2]).

  learnyounode will be supplying arguments to your program when you run learnyounode verify program.js so you don’t need to supply them yourself.  To test your program without verifying it, you can invoke it with learnyounode run program.js. When you use run, you are invoking the test environment that learnyounode sets up for each exercise.

Okay, so that was clear…as mud, at least it was to me, the first time I read it.  For an experienced programmer, I’m sure that it looked easy no problem.  But that’s not me (yet) and maybe it’s not you either, which is why you are here reading this!

Now, the assignment itself is easy – take the arguments, print out the sum.  We’ve done stuff like this back in the Front End exercises for FreeCodeCamp, and we’re going to use our old friend,l the argument object, which I wrote about in this post.  They call the arguments object process.argv here.  Also, in Node, the arguments now have some extra stuff besides numbers – namely, the word ‘node’, and the path to your program (that’s the location of it in the directory) as the the first two elements of the arguments object.  So you have to start with the third element in the arguments object (remember, that would be process.argv[2] since we start with 0, not 1!) to add up the numbers and get your sum.

Okay, so create a new file – I do it by clicking on the little green plus sign up there in the row of tabs – and we’ll start banging out the program.  This is actually a very simple JavaScript program once you get past all the verbiage above.

var sum = 0;
for(var i = 2; i < process.argv.length; i++) {
    sum += Number(process.argv[i]);


We create a variable to actually hold the sum.  Now, we know that we are adding a bunch of numbers together that are being given to us in the arguments object, so we have to iterate through them.  That calls for a for loop.  Remember, we are starting with the third element (element[2]), so our loop is going to begin with 2, not 0.  Then we just just keep updating sum by adding the next value to it.  We stop when we reach the end of the arguments.  Finally, we print the sum to the console.


Make sure you save your file, or you’ll get nothing.  Also, if you click on the run button at the top of the screen, you’ll get nothing, especially if you haven’t named your file.  You can save with control-S (I’m using a Windows machine, obviously) or you can click on the file menu and select save as. I’ve attached a graphic below to show some of these things.


To run, we enter learnyounode verify program.js at the command line (down by the $ sign).  Mind you, if you’ve named your program anything but program.js, you should put the name you called it in that command instead.


Theology 101: A Little Aquinas, Part 3

Last time we looked at Aquinas’ explanation of the problem of evil, Free Will, and Metaphysics.  Continuing on, today we’ll see his thoughts on law and morality, as well as… sex (eek!).

Chapter 5: Law and Morality

Men can fashion patterns of thought, but God himself arranged the natural order.


As noted, God has a plan for everything – every single thing – in creation.  Aquinas wrote, “The whole community of the Universe is governed by divine reason.”  This plan, the ends that all things are created for, Aquinas calls “the eternal law.”  This definition contains not only the moral law (the 10 commandments, etc.) but the physical law as well (physics, thermodynamics, and so on) as well as others.  Only God can know the whole of the eternal law.  A law is “only binding on an entity when the law is made known to that object.”  Aquinas defines the portion of the eternal law that can be known by reason (and is binding on humans) as the “natural law.”

We can’t know the rest of the eternal law (the non-natural part) so there is no point in spending time on it.  It is believed that God bestows this knowledge on blessed humans when they die – the beatific vision – but this is by revelation and not by reason.  The natural law, however, is something we can know and should work to uncover, such as through science and through the moral law (for example, by theologians and philosophers).  We must discover the essence of morality.  Aquinas notes that “since God is the source of the essence of all things, one morally must pursue those actions that promote and avoid those actions that oppose an entity’s essence.” Examples are destroying an animals habitat so it cannot pursue its place in God’s plan or refusing to allow others to eat properly.  “The moral good becomes, quite simply, that which is in accord with the order created by God (and hence in accord with reason); the moral evil becomes that which opposes this order.”


Aquinas notes that yes, moral truths are in the Bible – but one can also find these moral truths by using reason. “If one, by means of reason, taps into and conforms to the moral law of God, one is morally in the right. If one acts contrary to reason and hence against the natural law of God, one is morally wrong.”

To find the moral good, both intellect and reason are needed. Intellect, “the intuitive faculty drawn to non-empirical truths, discovers the proper end in a given situation.” It establishes first principles like good should be done and evil avoided (In math, the axioms).  Reason tells us how to get to that proper end by using practical experiences.  For example, looking at lying and seeing it is harmful, you can see that not lying leads to doing good and avoiding evil.

Aquinas uses the example of community.  “Human beings only fully flourish when they live in community and…such flourishing is a good thing that should be pursued.” Both reason and intellect prove this conclusion – intellect notes that interacting with others leads to a better life than just being a hermit, and reason finds the means – treat others well, don’t be a jerk, etc.  the fact that this method seems like something we always do is evidence of how influential Aquinas was on Western tradition.  Aquinas also notes that the Bible is flawless and will never be contradicted by reason.

Aquinas is an optimist about human nature – we are programmed to seek the good, and we have reason and intellect to help us find it.  This is contrary to Augustine and many Christians today, who feel that we are corrupt and will always pursue sin.  Aquinas, though, says that even though “original sin corrupts our once pure reason so that at times we choose the wrong means to the good…the good is still the thing we seek.”  Even bad people want peace and security, they just do bad things to get them.  “That humans are good, that they can usually be trusted, and the ability to find the truth are all ideas put forth by Aquinas that would later become hallmarks of the Enlightenment.”

Another important consequence of this argument is that it provides a “common basis” for everyone to discuss moral issues. The Bible has no meaning to atheists, Jews, Muslims, and so on.  Aquinas writes, “It follows therefore that natural law in its first common principles is the same among all men, both as to validity and recognition.  It is “written on the hearts” of all people and is a way for everyone to agree on ethics no matter what their religion or belief.  This later became the basis of international law.

Finally, this gives us a way to discuss issues not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, such as nuclear weapons or cloning.  Sola Scriptura doesn’t help here.  Roman Catholics, drawing on Aquinas’ tradition, use reason and the natural law to discuss these topics.  The author uses environmental issues as an example.  Yes, animals serve a purpose as food, and it’s okay to hunt for that purpose – but not for sport.  Destroying an animal’s habitat so that it cannot pursue its role in God’s plan is morally wrong as well.  Instead, it is our job to protect and even encourage them to be able to pursue their role in creation.  (Scott note: This is what stewardship of creation really means)  Aquinas did not address this, but his framework of the natural law is flexible enough to be used for these types of issues.

This applies to human rights as well.  It is the natural law, not written laws (the positive law), that Jefferson referred to in the Declaration of Independence when he wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”  Other moral documents such as UN Declaration of Human Rights, the Nuremburg War-Crimes Codes, and the Geneva Convention, are also based on the natural law.


Chapter 6: The Ins and Outs of Sex

Aquinas’ views on sexuality are very influential even today – and this despite the fact that he was a lifelong celibate.

He starts, as above, by asking what is the ultimate end of sex?  In addition to procreation, Aquinas identifies two other essential purposes: To strengthen the marriage bond, and for pleasure.  He noted that man and woman seem to be designed to “fit” together physically, as well.  This was surely not an accident, he reasoned, but instead meant that it must be part of the essence of sex.

Augustine, writing earlier, had stated that before the Fall, sex was a purely rational act that brought no pleasure and was just matter of fact.  Due to original sin, passion and pleasure were introduced and sex became an act of self-love, because one did it for pleasure.  Sex is then the way original sin was passed from generation to generation – and this is why Jesus was born of a virgin (no semen involved).

Aquinas disagreed.  To not take pleasure, to him, was a sin, and is part of God’s plan for sex.  He wrote, “The exceeding pleasure experienced in the sex act, so long as it is in harmony with reason, does not destroy the balance of virtue.”  Note, however, that the other purposes of sex must be satisfied – procreation and unity with one’s spouse.  These three purposes form the basis of Catholic belief and many other Christians’ beliefs as well.

So, per Aquinas, anytime we deviate from one of these three ends of sex, we have sinned.  The seriousness of the sin depends on how far we have deviated from those ends.  The ends are ranked by Aquinas thus:

  1. Conception
  2. Marriage bond
  3. 3. Pleasure

First, the “sins against right reason”: Fornication is the least serious sexual sin.  His reasoning:  Pleasure and conception are both possible, but it doesn’t strengthen the marital bond since they are not married.  Adultery is next; it too allows pleasure and could result in conception, but it is worse than fornication in that it damages a marital bond.    Rape is worse; while it allows for conception it does not strengthen a marital bond and it does not allow for pleasure for at least one partner (note that it also commits the sin of violence).

Worse than these are the “sins against nature,” namely masturbation, sodomy, and homosexuality.  Masturbation is the least severe of these three – It cannot produce offspring, and it does not strengthen a marital bond, but at least it allows for pleasure.  (Note that though this is considered to be a more serious sexual sin than rape, rape is the worse sin because of the sin of violence it includes).  This, also, is why Catholics consider masturbation to be such a serious sin.  Because masturbation is needed for artificial insemination, Catholics are often opposed to that as well.  Cloning will be a case that will affect this belief, most likely.

Sodomy is the next worst – and not just for homosexuals, but for a man with a woman as well.  This is because it involves two people (not just one, like masturbation) both avoiding conception.  Also, Aquinas found it questionable whether or not it strengthened the marital bond.  Birth control is also considered a sin by the Catholic church because it deliberately avoids conception, one of the three Divine ends of sex. Naturally, this is a huge reason Catholics condemn homosexuality – not only because conception in not possible, but (until recently) it didn’t strengthen a marital bond because gays couldn’t marry.

Recently, though, people have used Aquinas to defend homosexuality.  Robert Wood: if homosexuality is genetic, then wouldn’t that mean it was part of God’s plan and therefore natural?  Wood argues that it may have been a built-in form of population control.


The fact that they cannot conceive is another reason, though, and this is also a challenge – can couples no longer able to conceive have sex?  They cannot meet one of the basic purposes (conception), so should they abstain?


In the 1930s, Pope Pius ruled that these couples could have sex – they can have a pro-creative intent and hope for a miracle.  As long as they want to have children, they have met the pro-creative intent.  So, Renick asks, can the same not apply to homosexuals?  Can they hope for a miracle too, and thus meet the intent and not sin?


Pope Paul, in Humanae Vitae, 1968, stated that the rhythm method was allowed to be used – and thus a procreative intent is not always necessary in every sexual act in marriage (they are using a natural method of birth control rather than a man-made form of it).  This ruling is, of course, still controversial.

So, Aquinas’ arguments continue to be influential here as well. Beyond the Bible, the laws of nature apply to sex, and thus should be obeyed.