The Goodness of Adultery, Fornication and Homosex?

What is the “good” found in these three realities of our title? In the case of all three human acts, they can manifest affection, affirmation, care, physical pleasure and bonding. All of these realities can lead to deeper communication outside of sexual expression, and can be an immediate remedy of a host of psychological problems because someone can feel they are loved in an important way. In an age of the anonymous man, these acts scatter the problems of loneliness, self-alienation, depression and a sense of personal failure. In Catholic theology, all of these goods or side-effects are purposely called “apparent” goods because being contrary to human nature’s true good, they are illusory goods for a host of reasons known to most Catholics. Instead of fulfillment and virtue, the acts themselves and their alleged goods lead to a series of further evils undermining a person’s true potential dignity that comes from virtue. The side-effects of moral evil are traditionally called by St. Thomas Aquinas, the daughters of a particular capital vice. Pride is the queen of the vices and the seven capital vices are called her lieutenants, which spawn daughters (ST II-II 162, 8).

There are approximately forty-two daughters of the seven capital vices on the authority of Pope St. Gregory the Great and the common experience of the many. One of the capital vices, lust, would seem to be a kind of a moderator or secondary originator of many other sins. Its daughters are named blindness of mind, thoughtlessness, inconstancy, rashness, self-love, hatred of God, love of this world and abhorrence or despair of a future world (ST II-II 152, 5). Each is therefore like a sister. So two sisters, hatred of God, and her sister, “love of this world and abhorrence of the next” highly influence lustful persons. Both sisters in turn can foster, primarily avarice and her daughters, then secondarily vainglory, and then gluttony in third place. Another daughter of the capital vice of anger is blasphemy (uttering words against God and religious things) is her “cousin” of lust, namely, linked with hatred of God.

Pieter Bruegel, Pride

Pieter Bruegel, Pride

Avarice’s daughters are treachery, fraud, falsehood, perjury, restlessness, violence, and insensibility to mercy, which are the impulses of crime in a society. They attempt to “get” possessions as ends in themselves and since these inordinate desires for material things close one in oneself, so insensibility to mercy becomes likely. This is often influenced by lust’s daughter, “love of the things of this world.” Restlessness seems to be a disposition for doing either evil or sometimes good actions as well, but in a disorderly manner. Violence is also means to doing evil as in the case of robbery or murder, though violence may reasonably aid in defense of a good while putting down attempted evil by another. However, even in defense of good as in war, insensibility to mercy may lead to cruelty to prisoners or inflict death for wrong motives on the “enemy.”

Vainglory’s main scope is much different from lust being of the spirit and not of the flesh, yet this excessive desire to gain praise, honor and glory for self is akin to its cousin from lust, namely, self-love. Vainglory’s daughters are disobedience, boastfulness, hypocrisy, contention, obstinacy, discord, and eccentricity. Each of these are specific sinful sisters flowing from an over-exaggeration of one’s gifts and talents caused by self-love and an extravagant love of this world’s fame, honor and glory. Therefore, when people disobey legitimate authority, they claim either to know better what is truly helpful to the common good or what they feel is an imposition on their freedom to choose what they think is a good for them.  Boastful persons and hypocrites exaggerate themselves in front of others to boost their self-esteem.  Those who argue vociferously without making proper distinctions, or refuse to cooperate in a joint adventure and even introduce uncooperative factors of debilitation of an agreed upon plan leads to contention, obstinacy and discord thereby undermining charity and often justice. This too comes from an excessive self-esteem, perhaps related to the original “selfies.” They fancy themselves more insightful than others, the plebs of this world in their own minds. This is course is an effect of its cousin from lust, blindness of mind.

Finally, the vice of gluttony’s daughters are traditionally named as “unseemly joy, scurrility, uncleanness, loquaciousness, and dullness of mind as regards the understanding.” It is clear that loquaciousness and boasting are close cousins, while dullness of mind and blindness are likewise related interfering with clear thinking which is also related to lust. Contention and scurrility are close cousins together with other cousins of the vice of anger, namely: quarreling, contumely, and clamor.

People who are prone to vainglory will also become motivated by the lieutenant of envy because her daughters are: hatred, tale-bearing, detraction, joy at our neighbor’s misfortunes, and grief for his prosperity. The envious person becomes sad over the good fortunes of certain neighbors; this leads to hatred, detraction and tale bearing because these sisters spew out their venom to build their own egos in terms of vainglory from the opinions of others. To that extent, envy has a cousin in one of lust’s daughters, a disordered self-love.

Anger is strange in that it can be virtuous under certain conditions to defend, protect the good of others. Otherwise, it can manifest self-will, impatience and perceive alleged injustices that do not exist. So, its daughters are quarreling, swelling of the mind, contumely, clamor, indignation and blasphemy. Blasphemy is akin to its cousin lust, that is, hatred of God while quarreling and contumely (verbal abuse of those under a supervisor) are either the mirrors of the daughters of vainglory, that is, instigators of contention, obstinacy and discord.

As if the moral pitfalls are not deep enough, the final coup-de-gras is found in acedia, often translated as sloth or spiritual boredom, a special kind of sadness but differing from chemical depression. This particular vice is a “kind of sadness from the repugnance of human affections to a spiritual divine good…contrary to charity which adheres to a divine good and rejoices in it” (On Evil 11, 3; cf. ST II-II 35, 1-4 ). His daughters reflect the word with both translations: malice, spite, faint-heartedness, despair, sluggishness in regard to the commandments, wandering of the mind after unlawful things. This wandering of the mind, Aquinas has something insightful for the spiritual life when he says: “This tendency to wander, if it reside in the mind itself that is desirous of rushing after various things without rhyme or reason, is called “uneasiness of the mind,” and if it causes the body to move from one place to another, it is called “instability” or denoting changeableness of purpose” (ST II-II 35, 4 ad 3). St. Thomas teaches there are degrees of this final capital vice, besides causing sins is often the result of previous vices. This occurs when someone thinks that objectively good deeds are actually evil and evil acts are actually good. Malice and spite are related to envy as well as avarice’s daughters, while the lackluster approach to the commandments and thoughts of unlawful things are akin to the daughters of  lust. Faint-heartedness and despair seem to have no other sisters of the other vices, not even the sadness of other’s good fortune.

As one grows in virtue, one develops a progressive hatred for vice in the abstract, which can lead to a certain negative attitudes for people who live and promote public vice. Virtue is the consequence of overturning temptations against the commandments and right reason and following the many counsels, admonitions and commandments of Christ as found in the sacred scriptures both in the old and new testaments. However, to the extent that someone achieves a certain sexual self-mastery, it can easily become a source of self-centered pride. It is the effect of thinking that the Christian believes he is the primary cause of his or her growth in chastity. This is understandable since the conflicts that occur in life challenging one’s desires for sex are often profound and it takes a lot of “work” or struggle to overcome sexual deviations. Even though the believer in retrospect knows with faith that God is the giver of grace to overcome temptation, psychologically the person overcoming these temptations does not feel any grace at all but only his or her own efforts. Therefore, a certain secret pride easily sets in, that is, “I did it with the help fo God’s grace but it was primarily “ ‘me.’ ” As one truly progresses in the spiritual life, this erroneous pride becomes less and less. If one looks down on others because of their lack of self-control, then the judgments cast upon peers becomes more and more harsh rather than merciful. Essential to growing in perfection is the development of humility’s famous sentence,” There but for the grace of God go I” in the face of public sinners.

One’s religious life and practice is fulfilling when faith remains in the abstract, such as beautiful liturgies, going to extraordinary beautiful architectural churches, listening to inspiring homilies and spending time private devotions. Not much is asked for except that one show up, enjoy the gestures or beauty and feel the warmth of sweet prayer and human companionship, especially after worship (in a hall which serves coffee and donuts). That feeling of friendliness is truly refreshing because it bestows a sense of belonging and “delight”. However, when religion as practice urges the practicality of becoming prudent, just, brave and chaste, these challenges of virtue can repel and make one experience guilty feelings. Living in sinful situations and doing sinful acts makes one feel uncomfortable when someone in authority says clearly that some acts are always wrong and lead to damnation as St. John the Baptist did when he confronted the adultery of Herod the Great (or the not so great).

The more one becomes a repentant and merciful lover of God and neighbor, then the less judgmental one becomes of manifest sinners on the personal level.  But on the institutional level, welcoming persons in second invalid marriages, live-ins without marriage and gay lovers to Holy Communion, other than inviting them to repent and go to the confessional, causes scandal to the young and old alike since it gives the impression that one does not have to live and grow in chastity because it does not make any difference so long as someone wants to go to Mass and Holy Communion or work in a parochial setting as a reader, an extraordinary minister, become a member of a parish council and the like. Contrariwise, it is quite clear that sorrow for sin implies on-going penance (called acts of satisfaction) to sustain one’s repentance throughout life. When someone says, “I firmly resolve with the help of your grace to sin no more and avoid the near occasions of sin”, he really means to do penance or works of satisfaction to keep him from falling into grave sin.

Furthermore, the deterioration of law and order, economic chaos, lack of cooperative peace in a society also flow from the personal vices of the populace. It is not by accident that single parent families are poor, nor does the lack of solidarity occur by chance. A civilization that does not believe in moral character will not be able to produce good government encouraging virtue but simply trying to produce more jobs and income without noticing the needs of the poor and destitute. Profit becomes the end all and be all of companies, and also of families who refuse to have children because they are too expensive and time consuming which in turn interferes with one’s career. If a married couple do not believe in fidelity, indissolubility, openness to life and love, but only physical pleasure, then a country slides backwards into vice. At the heart of the Synod on the Family, the Church has to be concerned about its moral teaching as well as pastoral concern, lest future generations lose the sense of the common good of family, the workplace and society.

Father Basil Cole, O.P. is currently a Professor of Moral and Spiritual Theology, Pontifical Faculty of the Immaculate Conception, at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. Father is also author of Music and Morals, The Hidden Enemies of the Priesthood and coauthor of Christian Totality; Theology of Consecrated Life. A native San Franciscan, Father has been a prior in the Western province of the Dominicans, a parish missionary and retreat master, and invited professor of moral and spiritual theology at the Angelicum in Rome.
Articles by Fr. Cole:

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  • HowardRichards

    “Thieves respect property; they merely wish the property to become their property that they may more perfectly respect it…. Bigamists respect marriage, or they would not go through the highly ceremonial and even ritualistic formality of bigamy.” G.K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday

    “Every art, and every science reduced to a teachable form, and in like manner every action and moral choice, aims, it is thought, at some good….’ Aristotle, Ethics, Book 1

    I think it might be better to say that thieves, adulterers, and other sinners (of whom I am chief) are in fact motivated by real goods, but at the expense of greater goods. The privation of good does not demand that there be no good in place of the missing, greater good, only that the greater has been discarded in favor of the lesser.

  • Chris Ricketts

    This is an excellent article. Thank you for so clearly summarizing the progression of vice and all of the “daughters” that come with it. I will definitely share this with some friends.

  • Gloria La Bella

    Thank you for this enlightening article. God bless.

  • Charles Stiebing

    Amen Padre! As the family goes, there goes society.

  • Matt

    Thank you Fr for the timely article. You may have never known that you have changed the course of a family in a small town called Burrumbuttock in rural Australia.
    God bless