from “Corporate Watch”, BusinessWorld
Thomas Aquinas never had sex, so how was he to know about sex and its pleasures? He was once tempted by a woman “so lovely but shameless…a very viper in human form…sent to corrupt him with wanton words and touches”. Thomas attacked her with a smoldering poker (a real one, from the fireplace, one Thomist writer jokes) as he cried out to God to grant him the “gift of constant virginity”.
When he was barely five, Thomas’ parents sent him to a Benedictine monastery as their “offering” of one of their (seven) sons to the religious life, as was expected of middle income families in Italy in the early 13th century. His total immersion in the pious life was interrupted only by baccalaureate education at the University of Naples, where he excelled in philosophy and law. After the university, he went back to the monastery, but decided to shift to the Dominican order, much to the disappointment of his family, who thought the mendicant Dominicans below the more prestigious contemplative Benedictines.
Thomas’ brothers were the ones who sent the prostitute to tempt him, in their effort to dissuade him totally from the religious life, lest he shames their middle-class pride by begging in the streets like the Dominicans did. But thanks to that smoldering poker at hand, Thomas banished all carnal desires forever in his life, and dedicated his mind, body and soul totally to the pursuit of knowledge for the greater glory of God. Tomás of the little town of Aquino, in Napoli, has become among three or four of the most influential thinkers in the history of not merely Christianity but of Western thought in general, as most theologians and philosophers, regardless of religion, acknowledge. He bequeathed to us all the timeless Summa Theologica and some 80 other treatises on God and the moral life of Man.
Thomas Aquinas believed in Reason and its manifestations in Natural Law, augmented ultimately by Faith, as the road map to that Eternity which is the end goal of Man’s existence. He espoused the concept of a Prime Mover, a God who created everything as Good according to Eternal Law and set all to motion according to Natural Law. In the exercise of free will (even before the fall of Adam and Eve) Man then devised for himself Moral Laws, adding but not subtracting empirical refinements to Natural Law in the instinctive struggle to keep the patterns necessary for the perpetuation of Good.
In the light of Natural Law, Aquinas knew much about human sexuality. “What is the purpose of sex—what is its essence?” he asks. Reason gives three answers to Aquinas, which he in turn proffers to us: first, for procreation—to perpetuate the pattern of life in the universe; second, as a language, or medium—for the manifestation of the bond of human love; and third, for pleasure—for pleasure is a legitimate enjoyment of the goods of Creation, much like one enjoys the beauty of nature or the arts.
“The exceeding pleasure experienced in the sexual act, so long as it is in harmony with reason, does not destroy the balance of virtue,” St. Thomas says in the Summa Theologica. This may sound pretty liberating for some prudish religious purists. However, St. Thomas warns of the caveat that all three motivations for sex must be present in the mind, hearts and bodies of consenting adults for the act to be truly in synch with Natural and Divine Laws.
And so must smoldering pokers be doused by the harsh realities of living a true Christian life, in this day when a crowded world seems to think we do not need more babies to feed through the uncertain years ahead. Contraception and abortion are being legitimized by many governments, claiming the urgent need to allocate rapidly depleting natural and other resources more equitably to address the inconvenient truth of a dying world. In the Philippines, almost half of 91 million Filipinos are hungry or near-hungry. At the 14th Congress of the House of Representatives, House Bill no. 5043 was presented, providing for a national policy on reproductive health, responsible parenthood and population development, among other related reproductive and population issues.
The Catholic religious hierarchy, speaking to the 72% Catholics in the country, flatly said no to HB 5043, in keeping with the very clear message of Vatican II and Pope Paul VI’s encyclical, Humanae Vitae, against artificial birth control. Moral and religious arguments have raged back and forth, with signatures being solicited, mostly against HB 5043, by pro-life groups. The pro-choice faction of Filipinos, like those in the rest of the world, are for women’s rights to “choose their own destinies” as to bearing children or not, utilizing modern contraceptive aids, or abortion in extreme cases.
But will allowing artificial birth control really give more freedom to women? Though St. Thomas was not exactly a women’s rights advocate (he had practically zero dealings with women in his 40 years in the monastery), he was sensitive to the role of women as “helpmate” and not “helper” in procreation, where Man would deposit his seed and Woman would nurture new life in the natural maintenance of order in the universe. Contrary to what pro-choice advocates would like to think, legalized artificial birth control would only falsely reinforce the chauvinistic thinking that women can be “used” for pleasure, anytime, without the fear of unwanted pregnancy. HB 5043 squarely puts the decision and the responsibility of possibly damaging her own body to provide ready satisfaction for herself and her mate. Does it somehow cross the mind that population control might be a secondary issue to the libertine “pleasure-for-pleasure’s sake” culture of these times?
It is extremely unfair and unjust for the governance of a dominantly Catholic country to throw its people into individual moral dilemma at a time when economic problems may dull judgment towards a deeper understanding of what a moral cop out at this time might mean. In the face of man-made problems of a growing population and mounting poverty, must faith in the natural order be tested and a man-made solution superimposed on the pattern set by the Prime Mover? Will artificial birth control put things right in the Philippines?
HB 5043 is like the forbidden apple in the Garden of Eden. It promises so many hedonistic “rewards” in exchange for a costly loss of the deep human essence of Life.email@example.com