St. Paul on Sexual Intercourse as Personal Act

Paul: Do you not know that the immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God? You were cleansed of all this in the name of the Lord Jesus and in the Spirit of our God.

Cor: All things are lawful for me. Now that I have become spiritual through the Spirit, these things are a matter of indifference.

Paul: I am not restrained by an arbitrary law, but not all things are helpful!

Cor: Still, all things are lawful for me.

Paul: But I will not be enslaved by anything!

Cor: Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.

Paul: And God will destroy both the one and the other! The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!

Punctuating the text this way, as most interpreters do (though one might also include the phrase "God will destroy both the one and other" as part of the Corinthians' argument why there's nothing really bad in the use of any material, corruptible thing), St. Paul seems to imply that there is a great difference between the use of the sexual organs, and other organs such as the stomach. Our body as a whole belongs to Christ, and will be raised up with Christ. In sexual intercourse one disposes of one's whole body, as an expression of one's person, in a manner far beyond that in which the use of food is a disposition of the person.

6 thoughts on “St. Paul on Sexual Intercourse as Personal Act”

  1. Joseph,

    There is a passage you did not quote from Paul in arriving at your statement: "In sexual intercourse one disposes of one’s whole body, as an expression of one’s person.."

    That seems to be an improvement over Augustine:
    “Marriage and Concupiscence”
    Chapter 14 “For why is the especial work of parents withdrawn and hidden even from the eyes of their children, except that it is impossible for them to be occupied in laudable procreation without shameful lust?”

    One problem is that Catholic writers seem to be utopianizing the sexual act now in order to step away from the old writers on sex by an immense pendulum swing to the seeming opposite and thus in modern times, Popes and others are utopianizing the sex act into its always being a full donation of self and that hardly seems to be what is implied in Paul (I Corinthians 7) when he touches on the act in those times when one partner is reluctant but should cooperate with the other:

    "1
    Now in regard to the matters about which you wrote: "It is a good thing for a man not to touch a woman,"
    2
    but because of cases of immorality every man should have his own wife, and every woman her own husband.
    3
    The husband should fulfill his duty toward his wife, and likewise the wife toward her husband.
    4
    A wife does not have authority over her own body, but rather her husband, and similarly a husband does not have authority over his own body, but rather his wife.
    5
    Do not deprive each other…"

    That is not the description of both people donating their whole person but it is showing that sex is not always taking place at an ideal level in the concrete reality of real Christian couples and that reluctance can happen on the part of one during the act but done however for the benefit of the other.

    The utopianizing is being done in other areas beside sex: husband headship you'll notice is effectively gone in Church discourse since it too is not ideal to the modern ear and yet it is 6 times commanded in the NT but absent in the catechism and in Vatican II. Ephesians alone was actually quoted verbatim on that issue by Pope John Paul II in an apostolic letter and in a lecture because actually quoting the 5 other passages negates the utopianizing of the issue wherein both members of the couple are again never reluctant about a decision… in this case of the new headship. So no spouse is now reluctant within the sex act nor reluctant in obeying the other in regard to a decision wherein they disagree. Utopia.

    The real death penalty position (1999 John Paul calls it "cruel") rather than the catechism version is now also guided by utopianizing prison safety despite constant TV shows which show the opposite. Several years ago in pre dominantly Catholic Venezuela, 2% of prisoners were killed inside of prison. But it is de rigeur to state with the catechism that modern penology is protecting them.

    1. I said that one "disposes of one’s whole body," not that one always does so perfectly, unselfishly, etc. One can dispose of one's whole body well, or one can do so badly–and again, one can do so with a greater or lesser degree of purity. St. Paul shows, that because our bodies are members of Christ, the misuse of them takes on an even graver degree of badness than it otherwise would.

      The specific nature of sexual activity means that ordered marital relations have a special value, and also means that disordered sexual activity is a special vice. "The corruption of the best is the worst."

  2. "St. Paul on Sexual Intercourse as Personal Act" – not you as well! Please! I'm getting flashbacks to a horrendous experience, a whole semester's worth of weekly seminars in which 20 adults sat around talk very earnestly about Sex. You couldn't parody it. 😀

    (Attendance at that seminar was a really good way of encouraging people thinking of choosing celibacy, I've often thought!)

  3. Joseph
    We can honor the passage you cite and honor your point in regard to the spouse being a member of Christ (and thus not to unite with a prostitute)… without utopianizing sex into a "donation" or "expression" of the whole self in each and every case. Cleaning under the bedroom dresser or behind the refrigerator for one's wife is far more a total donation of self for most of us because one is getting near zero back in return for the effort. In sex, one is most often getting something back. If every time we donated to a Catholic charity, we received a free trip to the island of St. Martin, it would be hard to convince St. Peter that we had "donated" truly.

    The concept used concerning a less than ideal priest still efficaciously performing a sacrament…"ex opere operantis"…is very applicable and covers both your passage and the Holy Spirit's other passage about reluctant sex (I Cor.7). That way we don't have to edit the Holy Spirit to support the latest theological jargon of our time.

    That is to say that no matter how reluctant one spouse may be per I Corinthians 7, two members of Christ are uniting in one flesh within the vows and neither may do that outside the vows and when they do unite within the vows…reluctantly or not….something nice is happening but also something appropo mystically is happening: two members of Christ are one whether they are intentionally expressing or donating is another question.

    And not only that but if one member of Christ has sex within the vows with an unbeliever in Church approved cases, the same thing applies according to I Cor. 7 again:

    14
    "For the unbelieving husband is made holy through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy through the brother. Otherwise your children would be unclean, whereas in fact they are holy."

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