- Sex, Marriage and Chastity: Reflections of a Catholic Layman, Spouse and Parent by William E. May (review)
- The Thomist: A Speculative Quarterly Review
- The Catholic University of America Press
- Volume 49, Number 1, January 1985
- pp. 151-153
- View Citation
- Additional Information
BOOK REVIEWS 151 voking speculation on theological ethics: the internalization of taking a stand outside onself ("critical ethics") requires imagination above all. Here not only the historian, artist, and novelist can help the moralist; but, in a religious morality, God can provide a focus for judging oneself and others. And He can do this not by what He commands but by His vantage-point, which takes into account all relevant interests. "This is why many people find it possible to reach moral judgments by dialogue with their God " (289). So in spite of its inflated price, its ignoring much of the current debate about the rationality of science, its belabored way of making unoriginal points during some of the first two parts, I found the book insightful and thought-pl'ovoking. I suspect that it will get frequent references in future writing, and I strongly recommend it. EDWARD LANGERAK St. Olaf College Northfield, Minnesota Sex, Marriage and Chastity: ReJflections ·of a Catholic Layman, Spouse and Parent. By WILLIAM E. MAY. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1981. Pp. 170. $9.00. In his latest book, William E. May of Catholic University has brought together the essential notes of the Catholic tradition on sexuality and marriage, along with his own penetrating insights into the basic logic behind the controversies which now rage in this vast and complex area. With the mark of May's clear and careful manner, this is a concise compendium, tightly written in a very readable and unambiguous style. It is therefore eminently suited for the wider public as well as for the theological community. The work is defensive in character, as May expectedly takes a positive view of more recent pronouncements of the magisterium on matters sexual. He is swimming against a strong current of Catholic theological opinion, which for sometime has rejected the magisterial teaching in regard to contraception, pre-marital and homosexual relations, the indissolubility of marriage, and sex therapy. Plunging headlong against this tide, May defends the long tradition of Catholic sexual norms as thoroughly reasonable and liveable. From the outset May characterizes his approach as both a " Catholic and catholic understanding" of human sexuality. That is to say it is " Catholic," as it is consistent with the constant tradition of moral reflection and doctrine in t_he Church, stretching through the Scriptures, St. 15~ BOOK REVIEWS Augustine and other fathers, St. Thomas Aquinas and other medievals, to the more recent developments in Gaudium et Spes, Humanae Vitae and the statements of Pope John Paul II. It is "catholic" as well, since May ardently and cogently defends the Church's sexual norms as both universal and objective. These norms arise not from the way we happen to perceive sexuality, nor from how we choose to use it. They are indeed " catholic" because they issue from the very constitution of man and woman as all at once human and sexual. His argument is basically rooted in the tradition of natural law, which recognizes universal precepts of behavior inscribed in an immutable human nature. This sharply distinguishes May from the vigorous strain of Catholic moral theology which has radically revised the heritage of natural law in recent years. Their arguments turn on the metaphysical .question of the mutability of human nature. They contend that cultural, environmental and technological factors have changed human nature. This is warrant for the modification of moral norms. This reasoning has proved generally convincing among theologians, philosophers, as well as among ordinary Catholic men and women. May states the basic questioIJ.s at issue, clearly draws the lines of the controversy, and offers arguments in support of the tradition from a Thomistic perspective. The purpose of this book is not to probe the complex and intricate metaphysical and epistemological underpinnings of the debate. This May has done elsewhere . His concern is rather to argue in a mode which intelligent Catholics can grasp and understand; those for whom these are not simply quodlibetal questions, but the very stuff of daily moral life. The keystone to the entire work is May's distinction between two fundamentally contradictory approaches to human sexuality among contemporary Catholic moralists. Careful attention should be paid to the boundaries he draws between the...