ORDO AMORIS: FOUNDATIONS FOR DIALOGUE AND COMMUNION WITH THE LGBTQ COMMUNITY

By Sixto J. García*

“This is why it seems to me, a brief and true definition of virtue: the order of love” (“Unde mihi videtur, quod definitio brevis et vera virtutis, Ordo est amoris” –  italics mine) -– St. Augustine, “The City of God,” XV, 22

PRELIMINARY REMARKS

I intend to address what in my perception are three foundational and indispensable topics of theological anthropology which today constitute the underpinning of conciliar and post-conciliar moral theology: the “Fundamental Option,” “Natural Law,” and the “Ordo Amoris.”

My thoughts follow, and attempt to draw from Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Karl Rahner, Josef Fuchs, Marciano Vidal, and others.

THE FUNDAMENTAL OPTION 

Drawing from Karl Rahner (1904-1984), Josef Fuchs (1912-2005) has defined the “fundamental option” as “an abiding disposition arising from the human person’s acceptance or rejection of God that determines his moral standing before God” (Fuchs, “Human Values”). It a total, radical option that involves the whole person: intellect, will, affectivity – an option for something (someone!), the heart-driven “Yes”  to the encounter with a Person that comes to us – This is a sort of paraphrase of Benedict XVI’s principle: “Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (“Deus Caritas Est”, 1 – cf. “Document of Aparecida”, 243) – Such an encounter translates itself in an option which suffuses and defines the fundamental attitude of the person in his/her fullness. 

Fuchs adopts Karl Rahner’s theological anthropology – One of the “existentials” (a term Rahner adopts from Martin Heidegger) that define the human being as human is “transcendence” – As  “spirit in the world,” all our intentional activities have an inherent dynamism toward God.

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Human knowledge reaches beyond all limited objects and horizons in a perpetual search to grasp the ultimate decisive horizon of human knowing: God  – Here, Fuchs and Rahner have as their basic fundament Thomas Aquinas’ notion: “In every act of knowledge, the cognitive subject knows God implicitly, in whatever is known” (“In omnia cognoscentia cognscunt implicite Deum, in quolibet cognito” (and he adds, quoting from St. Augustine’s “Soliloquies: “Whatever (whomever) can love, loves God – implicitly” (“Deum diligit quidquid dilegere potest”) – “De Veritate,” q. 22 a. 2 

As spiritual beings, all of our intentional activities have an inherent dynamism toward God – This is a key point for our main theme: 

There is an intentionality underlying all human activity that seeks God, and through this intentionality the human person’s attempts at self-realization and self-commitment are always made before God and in reference to God as the ultimate horizon of human existence – Following Karl Rahner’s metaphysical epistemology, it can be argued that the condition of the possibility for human transcendence is “the pre-apprehension (“Vorgriff”) of infinite reality” (Rahner, “{Foundations of Christian Faith”) through which every person – Christian, Hindu, Muslim, atheist – knows God (non-thematically) as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

At this unthematic level of human consciousness, the person knows God as source and term of his love and striving, and as the presence before which his/her self-realization takes place – This self-commitment and self-disposition in humility and love of the human person, as a total and radical option, in which he accepts or rejects God, is the “fundamental option.”

KEY POINT!! – The notion of “fundamental option” displaces the center of gravity of a person’s moral life from the particular acts to his/her radical commitment and decision before God. The fundamental option does not exclude the possibility of “wrong actions” – of sin – A “good person” – that is, someone who has made a love-driven, free option for God, can act incorrectly at times – can indulge in particular actions that contradict moral law – for a number of reasons: anger, fear, inadequate self-control, disordered passions, lack of what Albert Camus called “moral imagination” – Likewise, a morally “bad person” can do “good” particular acts, motivated by a desire for self-promotion, selfishness or the need to avoid social reprobation – For our purposes, the fundamental, deepest morality of an lgbtq person (his soteriological situation, i.e., his “situation of salvation”), therefor, can never be assesses by particular acts, but by the fundamental, life-defining commitment he / she has made.

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Fuchs speaks of the “fundamental option” in clearly unmistakable terms:  
“It (the fundamental option) arises from the depths of the human heart where man (in his freedom) makes his choices not for this or that particular good or evil but where he decides to commit his entire personal being for good or for evil – that is, where he makes a choice for faith, for love and for following Christ  or where he chooses not to accept Christ’s call. This fundamental choice in freedom is the basic and genuine decision and is certainly more central than all the external and internal confessions of faith, love and the following of Christ . . . ”

The above suggests, as I will develop further, that “judgmental opinions” of the particular acts of  LGBTQ´  do not, in any fashion, determine their standing in grace or sin before God – much less the question of their “salvation.” Rather, as I remarked above, the key issue is their defining, foundational option of love for God as revealed by Jesus Christ.

NATURAL LAW: 

“Natural law” is the privileged point of reference for the theological and moral assessment of our relational attitude towards lgbtq people – No other foundational theme in contemporary theological anthropology and moral theology seems to be more misunderstood and misconceived.

St. Thomas Aquinas’ notions of “natural law” make it clear that “natural law” is never purely natural: 
“Now among all others, the rational creature is subject to divine Providence in the most excellent way, in so far as it partakes of a share of providence, by being provident both for itself and for others.
Wherefore it has a share of the Eternal Reason, whereby it has a natural inclination to its proper act and end (“per quam habet naturalem inclinationem ad debitum actum et finem”); and this participation of the eternal law in the rational creature is called natural law . . . the Light of natural reason, whereby we discern what is good and what is evil, which is the function of the natural law, is nothing else but an imprint on us of the Divine Light (“nihil aliud sit quam  impression divina lumina in nobis”). Therefore, it is evident that natural law is but the participation of the eternal law in the rational creature” (“unde patet quod lex naturalis nihil aliud est quam participation legis aeternae in rationalis creatura”) – “Summa Theologiae,” I-II q. 91 a. 2

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The definitions of the Common Doctor speak of relations (between God and humans), of participation (in the Eternal Law, in the Divine Light) and of a natural inclination towards action and its proper end – Thomas’ notion of “natural law” does not define it as something static, immutable, as the “givenness” of human nature – rather, “natural law” reveals itself as relational, dynamic, inherently oriented toward a “telos” – an end. “Natural Law,” therefore, is never purely natural, that is, never the pure gift or fruit of “human nature,” but rather it is grace, relation and teleological dynamics. 

This topic is of central importance to develop a theology that can sustain the dialogue with the lgbtq community. Natural law can never be derived, the way the old Neo-scholastics manuals did, from a “human nature” understood as something immutable and static – The traditional notion of “pura natura” – pure human nature – had a sad role in undermining a healthy moral theology – and for that matter, a healthy Christology, which is always the basis for moral theology. It appears late in the Christian theological tradition (late 15th century – mostly in the Neo-Scholastic perversions of Thomas Aquinas’ fresh, biblically-centered systems (William Norris Clarke, “Explorations in Metaphysics”)

A “pure nature,” marginal to and prior to the endowment of grace is, in the  best of cases, what Karl Rahner has called a “Grenzbegriff” – a limit concept – The concrete human being – all concrete human beings who have ever been, are, and will be – are “drenched” in grace from the first moment of their existence, with a finite capacity for infinite love and grace (This is Rahner’s notion of the “Supernatural Existential”), expressed as a desire, hunger and craving for God (Thomas Aquinas, “De Veritate,” q. 22 a. 2)

Perhaps an example might help clarify the above – we decide to percolate  some coffee – we place the coffee grains in a filter, fill the receptacle with water, and switch the whole thing on – the end result is coffee, and, in the filter, coffee grounds, fit to be disposed of, as if they were non-existent – The coffee grounds stand as an approximate image for the theological myth of “pure human nature” – It has never existed in the concrete forms of Salvation History – Hence, human nature can never be, in and of itself, a source for “natural law.

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There is a link between a person’s fundamental option (“goodness or badness”) and categorical actions (“rightness or wrongness”): it is the striving, the effort the person expends to act rightly – A key point to consider: No longer does the “rightness or wrongness” of an act immediately and directly reflect or define the moral agent’s “goodness or badness” – In many cases, actions are ambiguous and unreliable indicators of a person’s “moral standing” – The key soteriological factor is the degree of striving to discover and adhere to the demands of natural law – The application of this insight to any moral assessment of lgbtq people is self-evident.

Another key element is this: following Rahner’s intuition, the human person is not exclusively a spiritual being, but rather a “spirit-in-the-world” (cf. Rahner’s doctoral dissertation, “Spirit in the World: The Metaphysics of Finite Being according to Thomas Aquinas”) – that is, a being conditioned not only by her inherent spiritual, transcendental dynamics, but by her constitution as a worldly creature whose givenness and facticity distinguish him/her from other beings, directed him/her to particular goods, and determine natural law’s contents for him/her as a human being.

The implications of the above are central – Natural law cannot be discerned from the concrete contents of human nature – Rather, human, personal reason is the critical link between the “givens” of human nature and practical moral decisions that concretize the contents of natural law. Here Fuchs offers a key insight: “moral categories cannot be deduced from ontological categories” – the discernment of  human reason is the key factor (Fuchs, “Moral Demands”) – The “givenness” of human nature and the facts derived from observing human behavior are not determinative of natural law.

Fuchs, Marciano Vidal, James Keenan and others displaces the moral center from “nature” to “person” – Mark Graham analyzes this key point of Fuchs’ natural law theory:“The principal thrust of Fuchs’ theological anthropology is to understand the human being as a concrete aggregate developing over time for whom natural law is determined not by the universal dictates of  human nature but by whatever constitutes concrete, integral human flourishing. In contemporary terminology, Fuchs has shifted from human nature to the human person as the locus of the natural law deliberation” (Mark Graham: “Josef Fuchs on Natural Law” – italics mine)

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A concrete, specific example of how this personalism defines moral theology was the debate over the use of contraceptives. The only permissible methods of regulating conceptions – total abstinence and the rhythm method often undermined the health of marriages and resulted in tensions, frustrations and alienation between the spouses – The question was: Does natural law seek the protect the integrity of the natural end of intercourse or the well-being of concrete persons, of spouses and their families?  Fuchs and others (including biblical scholars such as David Stanley, S.J.) claimed that “natural law”) can be determined only in reference to the good of the whole person.

The specifications of “growing” and “flourishing” apply to the lgbtq community – The human being, considered in its deepest identity as a person, demands the acknowledgment that he/she is a “being in becoming,” not a being created in his/her fully developed reality – “personhood” is not the conservation and protection of natural “givens,” but the intentional and continual renovation of one’s deepest being (“esse”) that renders a person capable of acting according to natural law – (NOTE: As in the preceding quotes, I respect the text as Fuchs originally wrote it – Self-understood: “man” stands for both “men and women”)

The consequence of the above is that “natural law” must seek to enhance and promote the integral fulfillment of concrete human beings – This is a key point! – No longer are moral prescriptions or prohibitions derived from universally shared characteristics given through  “human nature,” or the natural ends of certain types of actions, but from the totality of the human person in all his/her dimensions. The preceding addresses directly the issue of options made by lgbtq people: this is a question of method. As Graham points out, if we are consistent with the –always valid – scholastic notion of agere sequitur esse (“beings act according to their nature” – or, put more literally, “action follows being”), we should hold that changes which occur in the human person’s esse warrant corresponding adjustments in the human behavior considered to be required by natural law.

KEY POINT!! – The obvious conclusion resulting from this understanding of the human person as a developing being is that changes in natural law are not be ruled out from the beginning” (italics mine:  Fuchs, “Human Values”) – We return to the same point, already argued by Thomas Aquinas, and retrieved in conciliar theology by Karl Rahner, Fuchs, James Keenan, Bernhard Häring and others – “Thus it is not the physical law that has to be considered as a moral law and invoked to regulate the free actions of humankind, but the ‘ recta ratio’  which understands the person in the totality of his reality” (Fuchs, “Personal Responsibility” – italics mine) 

Most of the moral theologians of the conciliar and post-conciliar age, follow closely Martin Heidegger’s notion of “Geschichtlichkeit” – rendered, not entirely accurately, as “historicity” (cf. Heidegger, “Sein und Zeit”) – “Historicity” is an inherently condition affecting the way we understand ourselves and the world – History, as Mark Graham points out, has become both “an epistemological pre-condition for the acquisition of knowledge and a potential epistemological limitation of our ability to interpret data correctly”    The interpretation and the understanding of the human person cannot evade its historical embeddedness –  Reason never takes place outside of history, human persons are suffused within, and by history.

“Person,” as Gabriel Marcel, Martin Buber and others have proposed, is a  relational term: it is the “I” that opens and gives itself to the “Thou,” forming a “We” – We can see here, as we will presently pursue, that “love” begins to emerge as an essential category to the reality of “personhood” – “Person” is a category of communion, it says that our moral life and situation can only be discerned as a perennial dynamics of historically-rooted growth, change and love.

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“Personhood,” therefore remains the defining anthropological concept required to unlock – to discern – “natural law” concretely. “Personhood,” in contrast to the commonly misunderstood notion of “human nature,” speaks of particularity, relationality, historicity, development and concreteness. This demands that moral theology regard human beings as truly “persons,” as they actually exist in concrete places and times. 

Three key points emerge from the above:
First, the members of the lgbtq community share that personhood with all of humankind.
Second, the very word “intrinsic” is exposed as indefensible in the context of the theological anthropology that underpins contemporary biblically-based, person-centered, relational, historically – rooted moral theology – “Intrinsic” belongs to the dustbin of neo-scholastic vocabularies which obscured and distorted the freshness of the biblical, personalist theology of the New Testament, the Fathers and Thomas Aquinas. “Intrinsic” is beholden to the language and categories of the insipid and boring Neo-scholastic systems, pregnant with frozen propositions, which were taught through the “manuals” and handbooks which prevailed in seminaries and university faculties since the early 18th century and were in use up to the time of the Second Vatican Council.
Third: Not to be repetitious, but, once again, the notion of “natural law”  as a “given” from (an anthropologically misunderstood) “human nature,” as an immutable, fixed, sclerotized source of moral norms becomes unsustainable – Rather, it is the concrete human person – all human persons, and that includes, obviously, the lgbtq –  in his / her particular, historically-embedded, relational situation that is the only true moral agent, responsible for his / her actions –– It is patent that to rubricate a priori the lgbtq moral agents as “living in sin,” or engaging in “intrinsically disordered acts” makes no sense – Changes in the content of “natural law” will be beholden to personhood, historicity and relationality of such a human agent.

ORDO AMORIS

We owe the LGBTQ  community, first and foremost,  the primacy of agapic love – If indeed we are – as we should be – sincere when we speak of open embrace and respect for them, if we are forthright and honest when we claim to hold them as “equals,” then true, biblically-defined, self-surrendering love is the only way: “Amor pares aut invenit aut facit” (“Love finds or makes equals”) said Plotinus, “Enneads,” V, 1, 1 (invoked by St. John of the Cross, “Ascent of Mount Carmel,” 1, 1, 4) 

 “Making and finding equals” with the lgbtq community? Yes, indeed, for love changes the ontology of relationships and moral demands – There is ample biblical support for this: “We love because He loved us first” (1 John 4: 19) – Fully respecting the demands of historico-critical exegesis, I dare say that here is a quasi-ontological meaning to the Johannine text: God’s love of origins is the pre-condition for our capacity to love.

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Love and truth are not two separate realities that can go their separate ways – This is a common misunderstanding: many people argue that we should hold fast to the truth, first and  foremost – love, in their view, is a pious “seasoning” of our commitment to truth, a comforting feeling. Nothing could do more violence to the entire Christian tradition that this misguided over-simplification – The deutero-pauline author of the Letter to the Ephesians puts it rather well:  “aletheountes de en agape” – if we wish to be pedantic about it and do a non-syntactical, very literal translation of the Greek , it would read: “Truth-ing in love” – usually translated (rather weakly) as “doing the truth in love” – Ephesians 4: 15. 

St. Augustine argued – in so many other words – that love “ontologizes” truth: “Non intratur in veritatem nisi per caritatem” (“Contra Faustum,” 32, 18) – Indeed, for the Doctor of Grace, love was the precondition for accessing truth – Eight centuries later, Thomas Aquinas would define the truth accepted by the act of faith as a function of love: “The human being, having  a ready disposition to believe, loves the truths which are believed (“diligit veritatem creditam”) and he reasons out and embraces in his heart (“excogitate et amplectitur”) as many reasons as he can find to justify them” (“Summa Theologiae,” II-II q. 2 a. 10 – italics mine) 

Max Scheler (1874-1928) enters the picture here; his contribution is essential for our arguments: he held that “man, before he is an ens cogitans, or an ens volens, is an en amans” – Love, for Scheler, is always historically and dynamically oriented. Scheler adds: “Love is an edifying and uplifting action in and over the world – Love . . . was (is) always a dynamic becoming, a growing, a welling up of things in the direction of their archetype, which resides in God . . . Every love is love for God” (Scheler, ‘Ordo Amoris’, in “Selected Philosophical Essays”). Love – true, biblically-based, self-surrendering and self-abandoning love – is also love for our lgbtq sisters and brothers. 

Scheler (a self-described Augustinian spirit) defines all of this as his own understanding of the “Ordo Amoris” – the order of things that is defined as and suffused by love. In a stroke of Augustinian insight, Scheler says: “What we call ‘knowing,’ which is an ontological relation, always presupposes this primal act of abandoning self and its conditions, its own ‘contents of consciousness,’ of transcending them . . .  this One all-loving and thus all-knowing and all-willing God is the person at the center of the world as a cosmos and as a whole . . . Thus, the ordo amoris is the core of the world order taken as a divine order” (Scheler, Ibid”)

Here, we once again appeal to Augustine – in his often-misunderstood words:
“Love and do what you will – Within lies the root of charity; nothing evil can come from it” (“Dilige, et quod vis fac . . .  radix sit intus dilectionis, non potest de ista radice nisi bonum existere”) – “Commentary on the Letters of John”, VII, 8

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 CONCLUSION

A few hours before his assassination at his dwelling in Tamanrasset, in the Sahara, Charles de Foucault (1858 -1916) wrote to his cousin, Marie de Bondy: “How true it is: we will never love enough” – Indeed, can anyone love “enough” – other than the Trinitarian God, defined as Love itself? (1 John 4: 8, 16)

The “ordo amoris” is indeed, as the entire biblical, patristic, scholastic and contemporary theological tradition agree, the “order of the universe” – Self-surrendering, self-detaching love is the pre-condition for true knowledge, as St. Augustine avers – Love provides the ontological dynamics of  truth – the truth about human beings, the truth about human history, about the cosmos – “The world as it was given for love´s sake, the world for love and loving work revealed,” sings Wendell Berry (“This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems”).

Pope Francis’ remarks last October, advocating legal rights and full civil endorsement of same-sex couples (remarks that caused not a little upheaval among some US bishops, clergy and laity) surely point in that direction – Those words were an act of love and solidarity – The unfortunate declaration of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, forbidding priests to bless same-sex unions, has met with criticism among some choice prophetic spirits in the Church: Cardinal Christoph von Schönborn of Vienna countered that same-sex couples have a right to be blessed, and others – in the ever-forward-looking German episcopate, and elsewhere – have followed suit. There are some signs of openness, of a truly engaged “ordo amoris” that seeks to include, embrace, and accompany, rather than exclude, reject and isolate the lgbtq community.

The political, social, economic order of things that prevails today in our societies is most certainly in direct conflict with the Gospel. Jesus Christ came to turn things on their heads, to call to conversion – to subvert! (cf. Luke 12: 5 1: “Do you believe that I am here to bring peace on earth? No, I assure you, not peace, rather, division”) – Division! – The Gospel of justice and love does – and will always – divide. It demands the kind of love that metamorphoses mediocrity into committed passion, a tolerance of injustices into an ardor for justice, hatred and rejection into love!

Jesus Christ is found, in privileged form, in the peripheries, “in eyes not his,” in the features of the “others” – with special emphasis, those preferentially loved by Jesus: the poor, hungry, persecuted, discarded, humiliated – and the lgbtq:

“I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God´s eye what in God´s eye he is – 
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men´s faces”
Gerard Manley Hopkins

  • Sixto J. García, Ph.D; Notre Dame University Ph.D in Systematic Theology.
    Professor Emeritus  Systematic Theology (Christology and Scriptures.)
    St. Vincent de Paul Regional Theological Seminary.