Prenatal Adoption of Frozen Embryos

The instruction of the CDF, Dignitas Personae, takes up the question of what could be done with the frozen embryos that are already in existence. It rejects the use of these embryos for research or for the treatment of disease because this would be contrary to their dignity as persons. It further takes up the question of their being given to infertile couples as a treatment for infertility, and rejects this as ethically wrong:

The proposal that these embryos could be put at the disposal of infertile couples as a treatment for infertility is not ethically acceptable for the same reasons which make artificial heterologous procreation illicit as well as any form of surrogate motherhood;[note: Cf. Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction Donum vitae, II, A, 1-3: AAS 80 (1988), 87-89.] this practice would also lead to other problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature.

Finally, it considers the proposal of adopting these embryos precisely to give them a chance to live:

It has also been proposed, solely in order to allow human beings to be born who are otherwise condemned to destruction, that there could be a form of "prenatal adoption". This proposal, praiseworthy with regard to the intention of respecting and defending human life, presents however various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above.

Here the document waffles, speaking vaguely about "various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above." Since the moral objections reference in Donum Vitae do not apply to this situation, the most reasonable way to understand the "various problems not dissimilar to those mentioned above" is in reference to the "problems of a medical, psychological and legal nature" rather than to a moral evil. Thus we should read this paragraph along the following lines: the document neither intends, nor in fact does condemn embryo adoption as wrong in itself, yet expresses practical concerns of prudence regarding the issue. This interpretation is supported also by the statement of the president of the Pontifical Academy for Life, Archbishop Rino Fisichella, that the issue of embryo adoption is "still an open issue," and that of the U.S. Bishops Conference, saying that "The document raises cautions or problems about these new issues but does not formally make a definitive judgment against them" (Questions and Answers on 'Dignitas Personae'). The principal of these concerns is probably that of material cooperation with those involved in illicit use of embryos, and the potential scandal linked with it, as is argued by John Grabowski and Christopher Gross in an article in the National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly, Dignitas personae and the Adoption of Frozen Embryos – A New Chill Factor?

In the end, I am inclined to think that if in fact the motive is saving the lives of persons, and known to be such, the witness provided by this more than outweighs the possible evil of material cooperation. Moreover, the resistance to prenatal adoption of frozen embryos is seen by not a few to belie the Church's own position on the human dignity of such embryos, and so is a scandal in its own right. I think, therefore, that while not ignoring the concerns alluded to by the CDF, one should see the choice of prenatal adoption of embryos that would otherwise perish as a good and positive choice.

Janet Smith wrote an article last year in favor of embryo adoption–Adopting Embryos: Why Not?–and while not rigorously argued, and lacking in precision, I think most of her instincts are correct. I also recommend a longer, more academic article by Stephen Napier, Moral Justification and Human Acts: A Reply To Christopher Oleson, which examines closely the text of Dignitas personae and Donum vitae, and argues in favor of the legitimacy of embryo adoption.

Newman and Chesterton on Original Sin

Newman, reflecting on the pervasive presence of evil in the world, "the blind evolution of what turn out to be great powers or truths… the disappointments of life, the defeat of good, the success of evil… the prevalence and intensity of sin, the pervading idolatries, the corruptions, the dreary hopeless irreligion…" (Apologia pro vita sua, 242) says that were he not certain of the existence of God, "I should be an atheist, or a pantheist, or a polytheist when I looked into the world." (Apologia pro vita sua, 241). He intends this as a statement regarding his own person, and not as a critique of arguments for the existence of God. Nonetheless he seems to take the presence of evil as objective evidence in favor of either (1) the non-existence of God, or (2) the existence of original sin:

What shall be said to this heart-piercing, reason-bewildering fact? I can only answer, that either there is no Creator, or this living society of men is in a true sense discarded from His presence…. I argue about the world; if there be a God, since there is a God, the human race is implicated in some terrible aboriginal calamity. It is out of joint with the purposes of its Creator. This is a fact, a fact as true as the fact of its existence; and thus the doctrine of what is theologically {243} called original sin becomes to me almost as certain as that the world exists, and as the existence of God. (Ibid., 242-243)

Chesterton also appears to take the manifest fact of evil in the world as proof that either (1) God does not exist, or (2) if he does, then that there is an original sin which accounts for the this evil:

Modern masters of science are much impressed with the need of beginning all inquiry with a fact. The ancient masters of religion were quite equally impressed with that necessity. They began with the fact of sin — a fact as practical as potatoes.  Whether or no man could be washed in miraculous waters, there was no doubt at any rate that he wanted washing. But certain religious leaders in London, not mere materialists, have begun in our day not to deny the highly disputable water, but to deny the indisputable dirt. Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved.  … The strongest saints and the strongest sceptics alike took positive evil as the starting-point of their argument. If it be true (as it certainly is) that a man can feel exquisite happiness in skinning a cat, then the religious philosopher can only draw one of two deductions. He must either deny the existence of God, as all atheists do; or he must deny the present union between God and man, as all Christians do. The new theologians seem to think it a highly rationalistic solution to deny the cat. (Orthodoxy, "The Maniac")

Now, Chesterton's principal intention is to argue against the position of "certain religious leaders," naming R.J.Campbell, and thus he may not directly intend to affirm that original sin may be proven in every respect from the fact of evil. Nonetheless, the question remains, in reading both Newman and Chesterton: is the existence of God in fact compatible with evil only if one postulates original sin? Or are they making an implicit, unreasoned identification between the existence of "God" and the existence of the Christian God, with the kind of providence  that Christians believe God has for man?

James Chastek made a post a few weeks ago that touched upon the same question from another point of departure, which readers of this blog may also be interested in: Who believes in the God that the argument from evil would seek to refute?

The Difference Between Truth and Error

In my previous post Is predictability incompatible with responsibility for sin? I argued that there is a difference between predictability or determination to evil and to good; since the will's first inclination is to good, a determination to or predictability of evil that comes from without (e.g., due to circumstances, etc.,) diminishes the freedom and responsibility of an act, while a determination to good need not. Another way to illustrate the same point is in terms of the classical teaching on ignorance as a cause that makes acts involuntary.

Suppose there are two persons with basically the same degree of virtue, each faced with a similar choice between a good and necessary act and an evil act, and that in normal circumstances each would be fairly likely to choose the good act. Now suppose that the first person is going to be so convincingly persuaded (by the devil, by another person, or by circumstances) to do the evil act that there is no significant possibility that he will not do it, while the other person is going to be so convincingly persuaded to do the good and necessary act that there is no significant possibility that he will not do it. In the first instance, the person acts on account of an error that is put upon him from without, while in the second case, the person acts on account of a true insight and/or opinion concerning the value and necessity of the good act. Hence the first person's act is involuntary insofar as it proceeds from an error for which he is not responsible (unless there were grave neglect involved in the process of being overwhelmed by the error), while the second person's act is voluntary.

In Aquinas's account, leaving aside the causality of original sin, the influence of other persons (human beings or the devil) reduces to making someone perceive things in a particular way, either by presenting them with an argument, concept, idea, picture, etc., or by affecting their emotions, which makes them perceive things in a particular way. This seems to imply that given someone is faced with a specific choice, temptations from without, to the extent they increase his probability of making a wrong choice, decrease the voluntariness of that choice, unless and to the degree that there is neglect involved in letting himself be affected by the temptation.

Is predictability incompatible with responsibility for sin?

Several interesting discussions developed in the comments of the post an argument against limbo. One of them revolves around the question of the compatibility of determination to sin with moral responsibility for sin? To what extent can the action of other persons make a given person likely to sin? To what extent can a person be morally responsible for an evil deed if he was practically certain to do it in the first place?

The argument was made that if a person who has a 99% chance of sinning is not held morally responsible for that sin, than a person who has a 99% chance of acting virtuously is also not morally responsible for the virtuous deed, and ultimately, no one is held morally responsible for any good or evil deeds.

There is a long-lasting argument between philosophers over a "compatibilist" or "incompatibilist" understanding of free will and determinism. The former view holds that free will is compatible with the choice's being predetermined (and in principle predictable) in the sequence of causes–even if, all things considered, there was no ultimate possibility that the person would make a different choice, the choice was free because it proceeded from his desires and deliberation–while the latter view holds that free will is incompatible with a predetermination of the choice.

The question of the responsibility for sin given that one is "very likely" to sin and given that one is "certain" to sin are not entirely the same, but are closely related. My first remark on all this is to note that in the philosophical discussions, the difference between good and evil is frequently overlooked or considered to be irrelevant. The question is reduced to a consideration of choosing A or B, and the effect of predictability or determination of the choice upon moral responsibility for that choice. If one is certain or almost certain to choose A, is one responsible for choosing A?

It seems to me fundamentally mistaken to consider the question in abstraction from the question of good and evil, or from the question of whether the action in question fulfills or harms the will's fundamental freedom and orientation.

The question of moral responsibility seems to amount to this: is the human person, as a person, the cause of the good or evil of the choice they make and the act they do? If a person hurts someone else while sleepwalking, the person is the cause of that evil, yet not as a person, since the properly human acts of reason and will are not involved in the act at all. Again, if a parent purchases medicine for a sick child and gives it to that child, unaware that a malicious person has put poison into the medicine bottle, the parent is not morally the cause of the evil of "poisoning the child," because, though they deliberately choose to given the contents of the bottle to their child, and in this sense choose something bad, the reason for the badness of the choice is not in them, but in the person who put the poison in the bottle.

What should we say about a case in which one person leads another person to an evil choice? If parents, for example, persuade their ten year old daughter to kill her child by abortion? In such a case the act proceeds from her reason and will, and in this sense is a free and moral act. However, the question remains: to what is the evil of the act, and the disorder in her reason and will to be attributed? To her, or to her parents? While God alone can judge the heart, I would say that if she was in general well disposed to life and unlikely to make that choice without the influence of her parents, and under the influence of her parents unlikely not to make that choice, then the disorder of the choice is in any case to be principally attributed to her parents, and with high probability not to be attributed to her. For, when we consider her own principle of motion, we see a tendency to good action, which in this particular case is broken, hindered from coming to actuality. Since there is a highly probable explanation of this fact in her parents, it is unreasonable and improbable to attribute the explanation to the girl herself, even though it is in principle possible.

What about when one person leads another person to a good choice? If someone persuades a woman not to have an abortion? To what extent is the goodness of this choice to be attributed to the woman herself? As in the other case, if she was otherwise inclined to have an abortion, yet under the influence of someone else unlikely to have an abortion, then the correctness of the choice can be in some sense principally attributed to the person who persuades her to keep her child. However, if she is persuaded on the basis of a fundamental will for something good (rather than through some kind of trickery), then the goodness of her choice can also be attributed to her. Insofar as she had a particular inclination that would have led her to have an abortion, which was overcome through the intervention of another person, she is not morally responsible for the goodness of her choice, anymore than the girl in the other example is responsible for the badness of her choice. But insofar as the good choice comes from a more fundamental inclination of her will to good, she is responsible for its goodness, and praiseworthy for it.

Christian Children Dying Without Baptism

One of the disputed questions Aquinas deals with is: whether a child who is born in the desert where no water is available, and dies without baptism, can be saved in virtue of its mother's faith:

It seems that a child born in the desert can be saved without baptism in virtue of its parents' faith.

1.For faith in the time of grace is no less efficacious than in the time of natural law. But in the time of natural law children were saved in virtue of their parents' faith, as Gregory says. Therefore they also are so saved now in the time of grace.

2. Further, Christ did not constrict the way of salvation for men, since he says in John 10:10: "I came that they may have life, and have it more abundantly." But before the coming of Christ some children were saved in virtue of their parents' faith. Therefore much more are some thus saved after the coming of Christ.

But against this is what the Lord says in John 3:5, "Unless one is born of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of heaven."

I respond, it should be said that no one can be freed from the damnation that the human race incurred on account of the sin of its first parent except through Christ, who alone is found immune from that damnation, that is, by being incorporated into him as a member to its head. Now this can take place in three ways.
First, by receiving baptism, according to Gal 3:27, "all you who have been baptized in Christ, have put on Christ." Secondly, by shedding one's blood for Christ, since by this someone is conformed to Christ's passion, from which baptism receives its efficacy; hence it is said about the martyrs in Rev 7:14, that "they have washed their robes etc… in the blood of the lamb." Thirdly, by faith and love, according to Prov 15:27, "by mercy and faith sins are cleansed," and Acts 15:9, "purifying their hearts by faith"; and by faith Christ dwells in our hearts, as is seen from Eph 3; hence also baptism itself is called the sacrament of faith.

Accordingly, there is said to be three kinds of baptism, namely of water, spirit, and blood; for the other two take the place of baptism of water, so long as there is the intention of receiving that baptism of water, so that it is a case of necessity, rather than religious contempt that excludes the sacrament.

Now it is manifest that there cannot be a motion of faith and love in children who do not yet have the use of reason, nor can there be the intention of receiving baptism; and therefore they cannot be saved except by the baptism of water, or by the baptism of blood if they are killed because of Christ, through which they not only are made Christians, but also martyrs, as Augustine says about the innocents.

Thus it is evident that the child who dies in the desert without baptism does not attain salvation.

To the first, therefore, it should be said according to some persons, in the time of natural law the parents motion of faith alone was not sufficient, but some external protestation of faith by some sensible sign was required. And on this view the only difference between what was then required and what is now required for salvation, is that now the sensible sign is determinate, while then it was indeterminate, and was up to the choice of the individual.

The opinion of others is that just the interior motion of faith in reference to the child's salvation sufficed for childrens' salvation. Yet the power of faith has not now been diminished, but the degree of salvation has been increased; for now those who are saved by Christ are immediately introduced into the kingdom of heaven, which before was not the case; hence it is not unfitting if something further is required for this, namely baptism, as is said in John 3:5.

To the second it should be said that Christ enlarged the way of salvation for men in that he opened to them the gates of eternal life, which before were closed by the sin of the first parent.

Whose Idea was Limbo

There is a narrative commonly accepted both by theologians and by popular authors, according to which limbo is a hypothesis first invented by medieval theologians to reconcile the necessity of baptism for infants to attain grace and salvation with God's justice that does not punish people with the pains of hell except for their actual sins.

This narrative, however, seems to have a very strong Western bias and to inaccurately reflect the history. In the West, under the influence of Augustine, up until Abelard it was commonly held that unbaptized infants are punished in hell through with a milder punishment than those who committed actual sin.

But before Augustine (Tertullian being an exception), the view that unbaptized were punished with pain in hell on account of Adam's sin which passed down to them was not the common view. St. Ambrose says that the hereditary sin of Adam "cannot be a terror to me, since in the day of judgment we are not punished for another's sins, but for our own," and that whereas baptism takes away personal sins, the rite of washing the feet [a local custom] takes away hereditary sins.

When the question comes up, the Eastern Fathers do not generally allow that unbaptized infants will be positively punished in hell for original sin:

[Those who are not able to receive baptism], perhaps on account of infancy, or some perfectly involuntary circumstance through which they are prevented from receiving it, even if they wish… will be neither glorified nor punished by the righteous Judge, as unsealed [by baptism] and yet not wicked, but persons who have suffered rather than done wrong. For not every one who is not bad enough to be punished is good enough to be honored; just as not every one who is not good enough to be honored is bad enough to be punished. (St. Gregory Nazianzen, Oration 40)

The innocent babe has no such plague [of ignorance] before its soul's eyes obscuring its measure of light, and so it continues to exist in that natural life; it does not need the soundness which comes from purgation, because it never admitted the plague into its soul at all… But the soul that has never felt the taste of virtue, while it may indeed remain perfectly free from the sufferings which flow from wickedness having never caught the disease of evil at all, does nevertheless in the first instances partake only so far in that life beyond (which consists, according to our previous definition, in the knowing and being in God) as this nursling can receive (Gregory of Nyssa, On Infants' Early Deaths).

Where do children of Jews or the unbaptized go who die lacking wickedness, five years old, or four years old? To damnation, or to Paradise?

Response: Since God has himself pronounced that the sins the of the fathers do not pass to the sons, and said through the prophets that children shall not perish for the sins of their fathers, it seems to me that they do not go into Gehenna. But it is not fitting to probe the judgments of God with one's hands. (Anastasius of Sinai, Quaestiones, q. 81, PG 90:709c)

What St. Gregory of Nazianzen says is, in fact, exactly what is later expressed by the term "limbo."

(Quaestiones, q. 81, PG 90:709c)

Beatification of John Henry Newman

"Cardinal Newman's motto, 'Cor ad cor loquitur', or Heart speaks unto heart, gives us an insight into his understanding of the Christian life as a call to holiness, experienced as the profound desire of the human heart to enter into intimate communion with the Heart of God. He reminds us that faithfulness to prayer gradually transforms us into the divine likeness."

"The definite service to which Blessed John Henry was called involved applying his keen intellect and his prolific pen to many of the most pressing 'subjects of the day'. His insights into the relationship between faith and reason, into the vital place of revealed religion in civilised society, and into the need for a broadly-based and wide-ranging approach to education were not only of profound importance for Victorian England, but continue today to inspire and enlighten many all over the world" (Pope Benedict XVI, Sep 19, 2010, Beatification of John Henry Newman).

From the Holy See Press Office – Read More

An Argument Against Limbo

Though it's not used in the International Theological Commission's document The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, I think the following argument is one of the stronger single arguments against a state of limbo:

Ezekiel and Jeremiah report the Lord's word against what has become a current proverb in Israel, "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (Jer 31:29; Ezek 18:2). This saying shall no longer be valid. Particularly in Jeremiah it is clear that the time when "every one shall die for his own sin" pertains to the new covenant which God shall make, when "no longer shall each man teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, `Know the LORD.' "

This prophecy begins to be fulfilled with the coming of Christ, and is absolutely fulfilled in the eschaton. Therefore, at the end of time, no one will die (be definitively separated from participation in God's life) except on account of their own sin. In God's plan, therefore, original sin is something that is relevant only in this life in time, and does not determine anyone's definitive destination.

This argument does not, of course, attempt to give any account of how salvation in Christ is applied to an infant who dies without baptism, but only argues for the fact of its being offered.

Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue Speaks on Koran Burning

The Pontifical Council for Inter-religious Dialogue released a statement a few hours ago on the "Koran Burning Day" planned by the pastor of a small christian community for the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, which has been being talked about on the Internet for some time now. The members of the Council may have originally felt the best thing was to avoid publicizing the event any further, even by way of criticism, and decided to do so as it came to be more widely talked about anyway.

The Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue received with great concern the news of the proposed "Koran Burning Day" on the occasion of the Anniversary of the September 11th tragic terrorist attacks in 2001 which resulted in the loss of many innocent lives and considerable material damage.

These deplorable acts of violence, in fact, cannot be counteracted by an outrageous and grave gesture against a book considered sacred by a religious community. Each religion, with its respective sacred books, places of worship and symbols, has the right to respect and protection. We are speaking about the respect to be accorded the dignity of the person who is an adherent of that religion and his/her free choice in religious matters.

The reflection which necessarily should be fostered on the occasion of the remembrance of 11 September would be, first of all, to offer our deep sentiments of solidarity with those who were struck by these horrendous terrorist attacks. To this feeling of solidarity we join our prayers for them and their loved ones who lost their lives.

Each religious leader and believer is also called to renew the firm condemnation of all forms of violence, in particular those committed in the name of religion. Pope John Paul II affirmed: 'Recourse to violence in the name of religious belief is a perversion of the very teachings of the major religions' (address to the new ambassador of Pakistan, 16 December 1999). His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI similarly expressed, 'violence as a response to offences can never be justified, for this type of response is incompatible with the sacred principles of religion' (address of His Holiness Benedict XVI, to the new ambassador of Morocco, 6 February 2006)

The statement, perhaps deliberately, states the principles pertinent to respect for religion somewhat vaguely. Does the last sentence of the first paragraph provide backup for the first claim, saying in effect simply that "each religion… has the right to respect and protection" because the dignity of the person who adheres to that religion requires it? Or is it qualifying or restricting the first claim, saying that each religion has the right to respect and protection to the extent that this follows from respect for the dignity of the person (but that a religion need not be protected to the extent that it promotes murder, injustice, etc.)?

In the end there isn't all that much difference between what's affirmed according to each of these interpretations. If respect for human persons is the reason for respect for a religion (supposing that one either considers the religion incorrect or holds a neutral judgment about it), then it must also be a measure of respect for that religion.

Instead of making such distinctions at the abstract level, the statement addresses the concrete issue of violence committed in the name of religion, condemning it. In a similar vein, the Holy See is apparently also seeking to prevent the stoning of an Iranian widow convicted of adultery.