Tag Archives: Adriano Oliva

Is Aquinas’ Natural Law Gay-friendly?

A book in French (“Amours“) by a noted Dominican theologian, an acknowledged expert on the work of Thomas Aquinas, argues that yes, indeed it is.

The only English reports about “Amours” that I’ve seen, have been hostile responses from the right. However, there’s no doubt that a gay friendly reading of Thomas is not only possible, but quite possibly more appropriate than the usual argument that same-sex relationships are contrary to natural law, and Oliva’s book is not the first to point this out – just the first to do so at length, and with such impeccable credentials.

The problem is that the critics cling to a few paragraphs about “sodomy” in the Summa, embracing Thomas’ conclusions, based on the state of knowledge in the 13th century – and totally ignore his method, which emphasises the importance of reason, and respect for the findings of science. If he were living today, with all the knowledge from natural and social science now available, he would surely have reached very different conclusions.

But even in his own time, according to Boswell some of his writing is indeed gay friendly, Even then, Boswell writes,Aquinas recognized that for some individuals, an attraction to the same sex is natural, and so not after all “against nature”.

“Thus it may happen that something which is against human nature, in regard to reason or to preservation of the body, may become natural to a particular man, owing to some defect of nature in him. The “defect” of nature should not be taken as implying some contravention of natural laws. Aquinas compares this sort of innate homosexuality to hot water. Although it is natural for water to be cold, it may be altogether natural in some circumstances, for it to become hot.Although it may not be natural for humans  in general to be homosexual, it is apparently entirely natural.for some particular individuals.”  (CSTH, p326).

In Aquinas’ view, moreover, everything which is in any way “natural” has a purpose, and the purpose is good: “Natural inclinations occur in things because of God, who moves all things…….. Whatever is the end of anything natural cannot be bad in itself, since everything which exists naturally us ordained by divine providence to fill some purpose”.  (CSTH, 327).

There seems to be much more interest these days in more sympathetic serious theology of same-sex relationships. It’s been suggested that one of the reasons the topic was largely ignored at the family synod assembly, was a recognition that the whole subject needs greater study, with due attention to the science, and to hearing the stories of gay people ourselves. I’m convinced that as this study proceeds, this gay friendly Thomism will indeed become “the wave of the future”

 (I’ll be looking for more reports of this, from less hostile sources)

Recommended Books

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay … of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality
Oliva, Adriano: Amours : L’église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (French Edition)

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“Amours”: A Supportive Reading of Aquinas

This book by an eminent theologian and expert on Aquinas caught my attention last year. Aquinas’ presentation of natural law theory is widely used as one of the cornerstones of traditional Catholic opposition to homosexuality, but in this book, Oliva finds a supportive reading. He notes that while Aquinas is clearly against same-sex genital acts in general, he does accept that for some people, an attraction to others of the same sex is entirely natural. Being a natural part of who they are, concludes Oliva, it is also natural, and acceptable, that they should express this in sexual love. This is not the first time the point has been made: John Boswell drew attention to it in his own discussion of Aquinas in “Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality”, and Gareth Moore also touched on it in “A Question of Truth”. However, this is the first extended presentation, and the first by such a distinguished specialist on Thomas.
Oliva Amours





Continue reading “Amours”: A Supportive Reading of Aquinas

Aquinas: Homosexuality “Naturally Against Nature”

At the heart of the disordered Catholic teaching on homosexuality, is the claim that the inclination is disordered, because it is “against nature”, and idea that has its roots in Saint Thomas Aquinas’ teaching on natural law.  This understanding of the orientation is contrary to modern findings from science, and also in conflict with much of the current trends in theological and exegetical research.

In Amours : L’Eglise, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels” , the Dominican theologian Adriano Oliva shows that the traditional understanding of Thomas’ thinking may be part of that distorted tradition against which Joseph Ratzinger once warned we should be for ever on our guard.

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In the very first paragraph of the book’s section on homosexuality, Oliva sets out the core of his case:

Christian communities and the faithful manifest today diverse understandings of homosexuality, which can move away – sometimes quite radically – from the current teaching of the Magisterium. St Thomas did not develop a theory of homosexuality and, like all his contemporaries, when he discusses the various forms of lust, it includes the sin of sodomy. However, we find in his work, in a reflection not primarily of a moral order but of metaphysics, a brilliant intuition, of naturally “against nature”, that can explain the origin of homosexuality.

From the general principles of his doctrine, we will develop this intuition of Thomas to its logical conclusion, to develop new perspectives of understanding of homosexuality and integration of people and homosexual couples within the Christian community. We want to offer new answers to the questions posed today by the pastoral care of homosexual persons.  The present study, which may appear anachronistic in style, is intended to show that a welcome change from the Magisterium concerning homosexuality and the exercise of sexuality by homosexual couples not only corresponds to current anthropological, theological and exegetical research, but also to the development of an especially Thomistic theological tradition.

 By “naturally against nature”, is meant that while for humanity in general, it is against nature to have sexual relations with the same sex, Saint Thomas recognizes that for some individuals, an inclination (which we would call an orientation) to the same sex is entirely natural.  Oliva is not the first to spot what he calls this “brilliant intuition” in Thomistic teaching: Boswell pointed it out years ago, in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (pp 326 and 327, in my edition). However, he goes much further than Boswell, in reconciling this natural same-sex orientation with Aquinas’ unequivocal rejection of “sodomy”, and thinks through the implications.

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Adriano Oliva OP

Oliva shows how Aquinas distinguishes between impulses which are purely of the body, and those of the soul. The sins of sodomy (which in his thinking include much more than just same-sex intercourse), are rejected because they are purely physical, and spring from mere lust. However for people with a natural same-sex orientation, same-sex relationships are come from the soul, not from the body. As such, they are inherently good. The really important distinction in sexual ethics then, is not that between same-sex and opposite-sex activities, but between those of lust, simple physical self-gratification, and those of mutual self-giving in love.

From these observations of Aquinas, Oliva goes on to spell out the theological implications for the modern world, with our vastly expanded understanding of the nature of human sexuality, and taking account of theological developments  since the Middle Ages in which Aquinas was working. His conclusion is that for homosexual people, the Church should approve of loving same-sex  relationships (including their sexual expression), and while not equating them with heterosexual marriage, these relationships are sacramental, and should be offered Church blessings.

Recommended Books

Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People In Western Europe From The Beginning Of The Christian Era To The Fourteenth Century: Gay … of the Christian Era to the 14th Century
Moore, Gareth: A Question of Truth: Christianity and Homosexuality
Oliva, Adriano: Amours : L’église, les divorcés remariés, les couples homosexuels (French Edition)

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