Proportionalism Neuters Moral Theology

Anthony Zimmerman
Unpublished manuscript
Sept. 18, 1989
Reproduced with Permission

If proportionalist moral theology has more validity than the invisible "clothes" which the clever tailor had designed for the emperor, we have yet to learn about it. Although proponents of this "prevalence of goods" pseudo-norm have never solved or even offered a plausible beginning of a solution of the basic problem which makes their system incoherent (cf. Grisez p. 152) they nevertheless adroitly command the stage of our hallowed Catholic institutions to peddle their supposed goods - the "invisible clothes". Our seminarians are being told that absolute moral norms are passe now. It is you, don't you know, whom God commissions to shoot holes into the ten commandments when exceptions are called for by proportionalist principles.

Proportionalist moral theology, already so prevalent in Europe, and. proposed in the USA by a coterie of no-holds-barred professional. dissenters from the Magisterium of the Church, may soon displace traditional moral theology taught in seminaries. A new text book on "Foundations of Catholic Morality" written for seminarians (Fr. Richard Gula, S.S.) should be challenged and confronted before our future. priests goose-step to the piper's flute.

Germain Grisez identifies some of the proportionalists in Chapter 6 of Christian Moral Principles where he also exposes their basic incoherence. He quotes this simple version of proportionalism as proposed by Timothy E. O'Connell:

We ought to do that action which maximizes the good and minimizes the evil. How do we discover the right thing to do? We discover it by balancing the various "goods" and "bads" that are part of the situation and by trying to achieve the greatest proportion of goods to bads. What constitutes right action? It is that action which contains the proportionally greatest maximization of good and minimization of evil (quoted in Grisez p. 1.64). The formula sounds deceptively simple: we weigh the foreseen results of the choice we are to make, and opt for that which is ahead in the trade balance of good and evil. Principles essential. to good business in trade are here applied to an accounting of our actions in the sight of God.

Or take this more advanced version of Charles E. Currran:

The newer approaches call for a weighing and comparison of all. the values involved so that I perform the action which brings about the greatest possible good. Note the obvious consequentialist calculus in such a determination. The fact that the relative importance attached to different values involved transcends the present situation and can be verified only in the context of the fullness of Christian experience (quoted in Grisez, p. 164).

To this Grisez dryly adds: "Curran did not explain how this fullness is brought to bear in setting aside norms accepted in the entire Christian tradition" (loc. cit.). But we know now what can happen when the irresistible force of the fullness of Christian experience strikes a supposedly irremovable object of Curran.

Richard A. McCormick, S.J. says that his approach does not involve considering a quantitative evaluation of all the pro and con values involved; rather, when the object of an act includes harm to a basic human good, one needs a proportionate reason for doing the act. One should do it only if it gives the "best. service" possible in the circumstances to that good. To which Grisez adds that McCormick nevertheless continues to use expressions which imply quantitative comparison, such as "overrides" and "lesser evil" (Grisez 165).

Basic to proportionalism, then, is the contention that amoral judgment about a proposed action is "based on a comparative evaluation of benefits and harms promised by the possibilities for choice; one ought to choose the possibility which offers the best proportion of good to bad ... This comparative evaluation of benefits and harms is central to all" (Grisez 1.59).

Proportionalists are correct, of course, when they assume that God bases His norms on the principle that good is to be pursued and evil avoided.They fail, however, to admit that some actions are by their very nature so evil in themselves, that we are never allowed to do them in pursuit of any good whatsoever. When we dream about capturing a good object by means of an evil action, that good eludes us; it always turns into a black evil, already contaminated by association with the evil of the pursuit. Some of the. divine norms - that multi-colored aurora streaming from Divine Wisdom, the light by which we see light - norms which He also guarantees through His Spirit to be inalienable property of His Church, admit of no exceptions. In other words, we are never permitted to be bad people in order to pursue what we think is good for us. God demands that His children be holy like Himself, always and without exception. Contraception is bad in us because it destroys the image of God that we are. Destroying God's image in us is never allowed, even as an exception. It is a mutilation of God's image which is ourselves, and may lead to final destruction of the same. As Pope John Paul II explained:

By describing the contraceptive act as intrinsically illicit, Paul VI meant to teach that the moral norm is such that it does not admit exceptions. No personal or social circumstances could ever, can now, or will ever render such an act lawful in itself. The existence of particular norms regarding man's way of acting in the world, which are endowed with a binding force that excludes always and in whatever situation the possibility of exceptions, is a constant teaching of Tradition and of the Church's Magisterium which cannot be called in question by the Catholic theologian ...

If one looks closely at what is being questioned by rejecting that teaching, one sees that it is the very idea of the Holiness of God. In predestining us to be holy and immaculate in his sight, he created us "in Christ Jesus for good works ... that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10). These moral norms are simply the demand - from which no historical circumstance can dispense - of the holiness of God which is shared in the concrete, no longer in the abstract, with the individual human person (To Moral Theologians 12 November 1988).

Ignoring Tradition and the Magisterium, however, author Gula nevertheless suggests that the eternal and holy law which sanctifies marriage by excluding contraception, may and even ought to be broken. He presents the already tired canard of a couple who ought not to have more offspring lest they compromise the well-being of their present children; yet they feel that regular sexual expression is necessary for the growth. and development of their marital relationship. They do not feel that they can respond adequately to their own and their children's

needs, if they obey the prescriptions of Humanae Vitae. So what do they do? (p. 290). "Gula does not give an answer to his question," writes Dr. William May, who rejects the implied conclusion of Gula's proportionalism. May continues:

Readers will conclude, I am sure, that in this instance the couple could rightly choose to contracept, for by so doing they would be acting for a proportionately greater good and they would be acting contrary only to a "material norm" that must, after call, be interpreted as "containing the implied qualifier, "unless there is a proportionate reason" (Gula p 291; May's refutation, p. 7).

Dr. May rightly regrets that this "seriously flawed work, one that denies the truth set forth as a doctrine by Pope John Paul III" is now a book which will probably be used widely in seminaries and in some colleges and universities as a basic text in Catholic moral theology (May, p. 8). Will it be another self-destruct action within our Church in the USA?

The example of couples who are faced with a supposed dilemma: if you bear more children you will harm the family; if you do not contracept you harm the marriage - is served up with a ring of inevitable triumphalism, like the um-pa-pa, um-pa-pa of the rhythmic marches to which the soldiers of Mussolini and Hitler marched. That example is very popular. Almost word for word, the sophistry was printed in a popular Catholic pamphlet in the Japanese language (Neurnberger p.59) sold at Catholic book stores from Sapporo to Kagoshima during 1978 until. 1984. It was then suppressed at the request of the Congregation for Catholic Doctrine. A bishop engaged in one of the Vatican Curia's offices used the same example in a public address; he was criticized for this, and eventually lost his job at the Vatican. I sometimes used the example to test our moral theology students at the Nagoya seminary, to sharpen their wits; students sometimes fell into the trap.

What should the couple do? Every couple must KEEP THE LAW OF GOD no matter what the circumstances be; God's law is always first, and second, and third, and forever without end. The law against contraception, contrary to the beguilement of proportionalists, is made of granite, is Gibraltar, is God's irresistible force. A crash into Gibraltar wrecks a ship, a crash into God's laws can wreck people.

Grisez points out the fatal flaw in proportionalism, namely that its proponents are unable to tell how benefits and harms can be measured so that proportions can be settled" (p. 152). He also points out that a. chooser necessarily becomes part of his choice; if the choice is a forbidden object, he becomes a law-breaker (cf. pp. 155 f.). A Lilliputian god who breaks the norm of eternal. Wisdom does not become like God at all. Like Adam and Eve, he discovers only native nakedness and shame.

Msgr. Carlo Caffarra writes beautifully that humans who are an image of God, also perceive the absolute norms which are attributes of the divinity. We distort our own image of God - and our true self-image with it - when we act in discord with absolute norms:

Let us try to encapsulate the concept of absoluteness. The love with which God loves Himself and His own absolute necessity is the source from which the whole hierarchy of duties flows; this love is the archetype of every obligation. When God wills and loves spiritual subjects other than Himself, these share formally in the act of love with which God loves them for His own sake and for their sake (propter Se et propter seipsos); the two targets are not opposed and not juxtaposed. This sharing is the basis of absoluteness of moral Value. This participating in God's action also indicates the content of moral Value to be recognition of God as God and, in an inseparable act, of person as person (one's own and that of others) (Caffarra p. 189).

God approves our behavior, then, when we act as genuine children of Himself. He cannot change His own nature, nor can He love in us actions which do not harmonize with His nature and wisdom. Moral norms, then, are absolute because God is absolute. Wisdom decrees that rational creatures also act wisely - in accord with unchangeable eternal Wisdom.

Christ embodies creation's existential obedience

Was it not a proportionalist theologian who spoke to Christ on the cross: "Isn't he the king of the Jews? If he will come down off the cross now, we will believe in him! He trusts in God and claims to be God's Son. Well, then, let us see if God wants to save him now!" (Mt 27:43-44).

Had Christ been a conventional proportionalist, He might have reasoned thus: "Right! To prove that I am king of the Jews I should transfigure myself like on Tabor. I should come down from the cross in a flourish of triumphant glory to show them! Then they will believe. (Besides, I will escape this pain). The ontic value of convincing and converting all these people far outweighs this obvious foolishness of the cross. I know well that 'Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom' (I Cor 1:24). So, using proportionalist wisdom, I will work the miracle of coming down from the cross, and show how wise I am to the Greeks.''

But Christ was not a proportionalist. The Holy Spirit was in Him on the cross, blazoning the Way of Eternal Wisdom in human affairs. All creatures must obey God, even to the end point of dying in recognition of the contingency of created nature's limitations. Only God is Absolute Being: "I am who am" (Ex 3:14).

Even when death is painful, created nature cannot become creative and so escape from its contingent being. The creature submits to truth by dying helplessly. Christ on the cross demonstrates the creaturehood of the entire universe, which He offers to God in His attitude of obedience. And through His resurrection and ascension He brings His obedience into heaven forever, before the throne of God. As theologian Matthias Scheeben explains:

Christ has the power to lay down His life and to take it up again, and in the resumption of His body to transfigure it by the fire of the Holy Spirit, to deliver it up to God, and to make it a temple of the divine Majesty ... He could and should in His bodily life be also the Lamb of God par excellence, 'the sacrificial Lamb which is offered to God in the most literal and perfect manner, as the tribute of perfect worship, a. worship that is worthy of God...

His resurrection and ascension actually achieve in mystically real fashion what is symbolized in the sacrifice of animals by the burning of the victim's flesh. Christ's resurrection and glorification are often conceived merely as the fruit of His sacrifice on the cross. And such. it is in all truth, but not that alone. In the idea of God and of the Church, it also a continuation and fulfillment of the first act. According to the Apostle's teaching, the carrying of the blood of the sacrificed animal into the holy of holies, whereby it was appropriated to God, was a type of the function of Christ in heaven, whereby He constantly appropriates His body and His blood and offers them to God. The Resurrection and glorification were the very acts by which the Victim passed into the real and permanent possession of God (p. 426).

Proportionalists, however, would do without absolutes, would allow exceptions to norms of morality, would blur the distinction between creature and Creator; would make themselves into little gods which hide in the shadows of a convoluted creature. But a creature which pretends to act independently of God, to make itself god, is a lie. Christ, on the cross, was expressing creatureliness existentially, authentical1y, characteristically, by His free sacrifice unto the end. And He thereby made full compensation for our transgressions, and can now give us His Spirit to also obey the Absolute: "Because ofour sins he was given over to die, and he was raised to life in order to put us right with God" (Rom 4:25). We become whole again, after our sins, when we allow Christ to express His human and created existentialism in us. It is a proper attitude of a creature's obedience to the Absolute Norm, to the Lord who is Creator. As Pope John Paul II expressed it:

(Christ) consumes this sacrifice with the fire of the love which unites the Son with the Father in the Trinitarian communion. And since the sacrifice of the Cross is an act proper to Christ, also in this sacrifice he receives the Holy Spirit. He receives the Holy Spirit in such a way that afterwards - and he alone with God the Father - can give him to the apostles, to the Church, to humanity (6 Sept. 1989).

Christ was expressing in His sacrifice the relationship of creatures to the Creator, of the universe to its Maker, of humans to their Father and God. Every attempt of creatures to fall out of the pattern of dependency upon God, out of the pattern of obedience motivated by love, is a lie. To forgive our lies, to torch them, to cleanse them out of us, Christ first allowed the Spirit to express this truth in Himself unto the end. Thereafter He can give us His inner attitude: "For their sake I dedicate myself to you, in order that they, too, may be truly dedicated to you" (Jn 17:19).

The Spirit who fulfilled Christ on the Cross is now the Spirit whom Christ gives to His followers. The Spirit dedicates us to the truth as new creatures in Christ. As John Paul II continues:

He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit ..." (Jn 1:33). "Baptizing in the Holy Spirit" means regenerating humanity with. the power of God's Spirit" (loc. cit.).

Those who act in accordance with the Spirit whom Christ gives them, will not transgress the absolute norms of the Creator. They will not transgress God's norms, which cannot change because God cannot change. Under the guidance of the Spirit, God's children make their free acts accord with their nature as God's children.

Contraception clearly contravenes God's eternal Wisdom which has been decreed into law for humans. The doctrine is taught as an infallible truth by the Magisterium employing its ordinary power of infallible teaching. The couple pictured in Fr. Gula's text as confronted with a supposed dilemma of either damaging their marriage or using contraception, would reject their creaturehood if they presume to break God's law; that law which is written into their hearts and constitutes an essential part of their created wisdom. By rejecting contraception, they walk in the power of the Spirit given to them by Christ crucified and risen from the dead.

It is unforgivable that Fr. Gula does not advert to the solution of periodic (or even total) abstinence from sexual intercourse to help that couple with three children. Why does he not fall in line here with the teaching of the Magisterium? Why does he not mention this as the obvious solution to the strawman he proposes'? Why does he omit what everybody knows should be alluded to here? That omission is a very grave reason why this book, without being corrected, should not be allowed for use as a text in seminaries.

An argument "ad hominem" may be helpful: if a very clever person truly weighs objectively all the wide range of goods and evils which are foreseen as resulting from a free action, he may indeed come out with the correct answer. If he has weighed. ALL the goods and evils and assigned them their proper weights even in their incomparable categories, then his judgment should be correct. Indeed. But then it will not be different from the judgment of Eternal Wisdom who knows ALL things. If the proportionalist's answer is not the same as that of God, it is the proportionalist who made the mistake. But God has already weighed all the alternatives beforehand, and has taught us through the Church that some norms are absolute, allowing no exceptions. Then why not accept God's decision as manifested in the Magisterium, rather than rely on a Lilliputian brain trying to wrestle with a problem which exceeds its capacity? And if the answer of our little brain is other than that of God, we know we are wrong. We ask again: can any good of the here and. now be measured against the good of our personal relationship with God? Is God not our Supreme Good, against whom all other goods recede into nothingness? And contrariwise, if any "good" draws us away from our proper relationship with God, is that not a pseudo-good; is it not rather an evil? It's value is absolute zero, and negative. It is a black hole making us into an imprisoned nothing. "If your hand or your foot makes you lose your faith, cut if off and throw it away! It is better for you to enter life without a hand or foot than to keep both hands and both feet and be thrown into the eternal fire" (Mt 18:8). The good of our friendship with God is a value of a different category, from any other supposed good, and. escapes all comparison. Proportionalism is an absurd theory insofar as it attempts to compare goods which are not comparable.

Proportionalists obscure the nature of morality, which is a personal relationship between ourselves and our Creator, by making it into a kind of computer game of balancing goods against evils here and now. By using terminology such as "material" norms concerned with specific sorts of human acts, and "premoral goods and evils" they may startle us for a time; but when the smoke screen drifts away, we see they are playing a game with our genuine relations with God; they would reduce this eternal. relationship to an earthly counting of benefits and losses here and now. When convenient here and now, they would shoot holes into the ten commandments, allow exceptions to exceptionless norms; by so doing they would also topple the structure of the most valid and sacred institutions of humans under God.

The absolute prohibition against contraception identifies the love relationship of conjugal partners, and distinguishes this from a relationship of lust. The prohibition against divorce and remarriage identifies the unbreakable marriage bond. The prohibition against abortion identifies the sacredness of human life which is always in the hands of God. The absolute prohibition against dissenting against the Magisterium as such, identifies the Church which God has established for us. Were exceptions against any of these legitimate, the identity of the institutions would be mangled, to the utter harm of humankind. Were exceptions legitimate, the image of God in us would no longer be recognizable.

The. serpent tempted Eve with a lie: "You will not die. God said that because he knows that when you eat it, you will be like God and know what is good and what is bad" (Gen 3:4). A proportionalist who proposes "exceptions" to God's eternal laws, who does not mention natural family planning but hints that contraception is a valid solution for the problem - is he releasing another serpent into our paradise?

Proportionalists try to do with God's commandments what farmers do with male colts: they neuter them so that they will became tame work horses, going right and left when the farmer pulls the reins; willing to run when he slaps them, to stop when he jerks the reigns taught. Neutered horses are tame indeed, subject to our will. But they don't win horse races, nor do they have offspring. Proportionalists attempt to neuter the ten commandments, and us with them. The commandments should be re-interpreted, so they say, to suit our needs; are we not in the 20th century? The commandments must be trimmed of their absolutist spirit which is too far removed from our needs. They should become compliant to our commands, go right when we pull the rein, left when we pull the other way.

But can neutered ten commandments provide us with enough spirit to persevere in our race for the goal of heaven? That is our problem with proportionalism. No, we need the real commandments, as God gave them to Moses on Sinai. No one should empty those commandments of their absolute meaning. Paul might say about erring proportionalists: "I wish that the people who are upsetting you would go all the way; let them go on and castrate themselves!" (Gal 5:12).