Theology Q and A (2 June 2011)

Q: Is Baptism by sprinkling valid?

A: Only if the water both touches the skin and flows across the skin. Pouring the water is preferred, since sprinkled water might only touch the clothing or might touch the skin without flowing; in both of these cases, the baptism would be invalid.

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Q: Does Mary have the role of Mediatrix of the graces we receive in the Beatific Vision of God?

A: Yes. Her role as Mediatrix to the Mediator is to assist Christ in all the He does as the One Mediator. But His role is not merely to mediate between the fallen sinner and God for redemption and salvation, but also to continue forever as the one who mediates the eternal gift of salvation from God to redeemed humanity, so that we may be like God forever. He is the one Mediator of the New and eternal Covenant, and so His mediation does not end in Heaven. Thus her role as Queen of Heaven is connected to her role as Mediatrix, assisting Christ in his role as the one Mediator of eternal salvation. All the graces that received by the Holy Angels and by the Elect in Heaven are mediated by Christ and Mary. They each have a unique and essential role, not only in bringing us to Heaven, but in gifting us continually with eternal happiness.

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Q: When is material cooperation moral?

A: The basic principles of ethics taught in Pope John Paul II’s encyclical Veritatis Splendor, and also found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church and other magisterial sources, teach that there are three fonts (sources) of morality. Every knowingly chosen act with three good fonts is moral; it is at least morally permissible. Every knowingly chosen act with one or more bad fonts is immoral; such an act is objectively a sin, and the knowing choice of such an act is an actual sin.

When another person’s act is a sin, when is your related (i.e. cooperative) act not a sin? When all three fonts of morality are good.

1. intention – Your act must have only good intentions, including the intended end(s) and any intended means.

Explicit cooperation occurs when your knowingly chosen act (of either formal or material cooperation) is intentionally directed at assisting the sin of the other person.

2. moral object – Your act must not be intrinsically evil. Every knowingly chosen act is inherently directed toward an end, in terms of morality, called the moral object. An intrinsically evil act is an act that is inherently directed, by its very nature, toward an evil end. Intrinsically evil acts are always immoral, regardless of intention or circumstances.

Formal cooperation occurs when your knowingly chosen act is inherently directed as assisting the other person’s act in attaining its moral object.

3. circumstances – In the totality of the reasonably anticipated good and bad consequences for all persons affected by your act, the bad consequences must not outweigh the good.

Material cooperation occurs when your act assist the act of another person only in the circumstances of the act, regardless of whether their act is intrinsically evil or not. To be moral, any act of material cooperation must have three good fonts. In particular, the good consequences of your act must outweigh the bad consequences of your act, which includes the assistance that your act offers to the sin of the other person. The more remote your act is from their sin, the less moral weight the bad consequences of their sin has in the circumstances of your act. You must also consider the danger of scandal as a bad consequences (e.g. if your act might lead astray another person by example). Remote material cooperation is usually moral, and proximate material cooperation (in which your act is closely involved in the circumstances of the other person’s sin) is usually immoral. However, in all cases, if all three fonts of morality are good, the act is morally licit (even if it is proximate).

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Q: Is the use of contraception by a married sexually-active couple moral for a medical purpose, in dire circumstances?

A: No. The use of contraception is intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral, regardless of intention or purpose, and regardless of circumstances. Intrinsically evil acts are immoral due to an evil moral object. A good intention or purpose, and dire circumstances, have no effect on the moral object; it remains evil, and the act remains always immoral.

The use of contraception is immoral because the knowingly chosen act deprives sexual union of its procreative meaning. This deprivation constitutes and evil moral object, making the use of contraception intrinsically evil. Since sexual acts involve high values of human life, the use of contraception is not only always immoral, it is always gravely immoral.

The married couple may refrain from all sexual acts, if the wife, out of medical necessity, chooses to take oral contraceptives. In such a case, no sexual acts are deprived of the procreative meaning because there are no sexual acts. But if the couple chooses to remain sexually-active, they cannot use contraception, even for a medical reason.

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Q: In Roman Catholic moral theology, are any human acts (knowingly chosen acts of the human person) ever morally neutral?

A: No. The Magisterium teaches that all knowingly chosen acts are subject to the moral law.

“Freedom makes man a moral subject. When he acts deliberately, man is, so to speak, the father of his acts. Human acts, that is, acts that are freely chosen in consequence of a judgment of conscience, can be morally evaluated. They are either good or evil.” (CCC, n. 1749)

“no human act is morally indifferent to one’s conscience or before God” (Congregation for Catholic Education)

In Catholic moral theology, an act (or ‘human act’) is a choice of the free will based on knowledge in the intellect. Every such knowingly chosen act is either good or evil. There are no morally neutral acts. Every knowingly chosen act has three fonts of morality. Every act with three good fonts is moral; it is at least morally permissible without sin. Every act with one or more bad fonts is immoral; it is at least objectively a sin before God.

The types of acts that some persons claim are morally neutral typically fall into one of two categories.

Either these claimed morally neutral acts are acts that everyone admits are moral, but not virtuous, such as eating a meal, taking a walk, etc. In this case, the acts are morally permissible. A moral act is an act that can be knowingly chosen without sin. In terms of reward and punishment, some acts are neutral. A sinful act deserves punishment. A virtuous act deserves reward. Some acts deserve neither reward, nor punishment. Such acts are morally permissible, and so they are not morally neutral. They are only neutral as concerns reward and punishment.

The other case that is often presented is an ‘act’ in the hypothetical, about which we are not given enough information to determine its morality. For example, someone may claim that killing is morally neutral, because some types of killing are moral (e.g. in self-defense) and other types of killing are immoral (e.g. murder, abortion, euthanasia). Therefore, they incorrectly conclude that killing by itself is somehow morally neutral. This conclusion is absurd. Is it ever the case that any particular real act of killing a human person is neither moral, nor immoral? Every act of killing will be either moral or immoral. What makes killing, in the hypothetical, seem morally neutral is that not enough information about the particular knowingly chosen act is given to determine the three fonts of morality.

If an act is not moral, then it is immoral; it is a sin. If an act is not immoral, i.e. not a sin, then it is moral; it is at least permissible without sin. There are no morally neutral knowingly chosen human acts.

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and Bible translator

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