Peter Kreeft says sex is the world’s obsession, not that of the Church . . .
By its own admission, what our age finds most unacceptable in the Church’s perennial wisdom is her sexual morality. Almost every controversial issue dividing “dissenters” from the Church’s teaching is about sexual morality: fornication, contraception, homosexuality, divorce and most especially abortion.
The Church has always shared her Master’s holy unpopularity. But never before the “sexual revolution” did this unpopularity center almost exclusively on sex. In all eras and cultures, fallen man has never been very good at obeying any of God’s commandments. Man has always failed to practice what he preaches. But today he denies the preaching, the ideal itself, when it concerns sex.
Most other areas of traditional morality are still assumed to be rightful and attainable ideals. But traditional sexual morality is almost always assumed to be unhealthy and unattainable, and the Church is usually portrayed as obsessed with sexual morality. This obsession with sex is not the Church’s but the world’s. There is much more to the Church’s sexual morality than “just say no,” much more to the Church’s morality than sexual morality, and much more to the Church’s teaching than morality.
Each age has a different perspective. It seems incredible to most modern minds that, in the fourth century, the Church nearly endured a schism over the right date to celebrate Easter and did go into schism, in the eleventh, over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father only or from the Father and the Son. Our Catholic ancestors would be just as shocked at our preoccupation with sexual morality as we are at their very different priorities.
We should not expect the Church’s teachings to coincide with “the wisdom of the world” (1 Cor 1:20) in any age or culture, for her teachings do not come from this world but from heaven, not from man but from God. Man has gone off the track set for him by God. Sin means separation from God — so God’s track has always appeared to fallen man as “a stone that will make men stumble and a rock that will make them fall” (1 Pet 2:8), just as Christ himself did. We should expect that. Chesterton said, “I don’t need a Church to tell me I’m wrong where I already know I’m wrong. I need a Church to tell me I’m wrong where I think I’m right.”
This column is reprinted with permission from the book “Catholic Christianity: A Complete Catechism of Catholic Beliefs Based on the Catechism of the Catholic Church” (Ignatius Press, 2001). Peter Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, is the best-selling author of over 63 books.