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Aula 25 (29-10) - Texto Complementar CROMPTON (Capítulos 6 e 7)

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In Denmark, Aragon, and the German em-
pire, for instance, it could mean a sentence of death if the secular authorities
chose to act.35
Far more important, however, than such canons in definitively fixing
the church’s stance on homosexuality was a magisterial work, completed in
1267–1273, which sought to reconcile faith and reason by wedding Catholic
theology with Aristotle. This was the Summa Theologiae of Saint Thomas
Aquinas. Though he had earlier been suspected of heresy, Thomas was
finally canonized in the fourteenth century, and in 1879 his writings were
recognized by Leo XIII as the official philosophy of the Catholic Church.
There is, however, nothing innovative about Aquinas’s judgment of homo-
sexuality; here the Summa systematizes and rationalizes long-held opinions.
The distinguishing feature of the Summa is its attempt to justify tradi-
tional Christian morality by an appeal to natural law. Thus, Aquinas both
embraces Old Testament standards and develops a philosophical point of
view he thinks has validity quite apart from scripture. Accordingly, he classi-
fies “unnatural” sex acts into four categories according to their seriousness.
First is “solitary sin” or masturbation; second, heterosexual intercourse in the
“wrong vessel” (that is, anal or oral intercourse) or in the wrong position;
third, “sodomy,” that is, relations with the wrong sex; and finally, most sinful
of all, bestiality.36
Aquinas’s condemnation of homosexuality as unnatural rests on two prin-
ciples of natural law, both as ancient as Plato’s Laws. The first was the theory
that animals do not engage in same-sex behavior, and the second was the fact
that it is non-procreative. The doctrine of natural law had been enshrined in
Roman law by the third-century jurist Ulpian, who in a passage incorporated
into Justinian’s Digest had defined natural law as “what nature has taught all
animals.” “This law,” Ulpian declares, “is not unique to the human race but
common to all animals born on land or sea and to birds as well. From it
comes the union of male and female which we call marriage, as well as the
procreation of children and their proper rearing. We see in fact that all other
animals, even wild beasts, are regulated by understanding of this law.”37
Though Ulpian speaks only of heterosexual pairings, Aquinas, in the
Summa, turns his definition into an implicit condemnation of homosexual-
ity, declaring that some “special sins are against nature, as, for instance, those
that run counter to the intercourse of male and female natural to animals,
and so are peculiarly qualified as unnatural vices.”38
All this points to a broader question, again as old as the Greeks: is it really
appropriate to take animals as our models? Animal behavior may be admira-
t h e m e d i e va l w o r l d 1 8 7
ble or horrifying. Whatever our concern for other species, most people
would regard most human achievements as something distinct from ani-
mal behavior. Charles Curran, commenting on the use of the Ulpianic-
Thomistic conception of natural law in Pope Paul VI’s 1968 encyclical on
contraception, has suggested that “a proper understanding of the human
should start with that which is proper to humans . . . Ulpian’s concept of nat-
ural law logically falsifies the understanding of the human.”39 Obviously, an
appeal to animal behavior as a guide to morals under the rubric of natural
law is open to a multitude of reservations.
Today, modern biological science has raised another objection. Exten-
sive research has shown that same-sex behavior is quite common in the ani-
mal world. Zoologists publishing in scientific journals have documented
same-sex activity among more than 450 species “in every major geographical
region and in every major animal group.”40 These include groups as diverse
as gorillas, elephants, lions, dolphins, antelope, kangaroos, llamas, warthogs,
gulls, and turtles. Indeed, the “natural” world seems deliberately designed to
confound natural-law moralists, for not only do hundreds of species engage
in every kind of same-sex eroticism but more than one third form male or fe-
male couples, bond as devoted pairs, and on occasion feed, protect, and rear
The other route by which Aquinas arrives at his category of “unnatural
sins” is philosophical rather than zoological. It derives from Aristotle’s doc-
trine of “final causes,” that is, those ends or purposes for the sake of which
things or activities exist. According to this view, as food exists for the preser-
vation of the individual, so sex exists for the preservation of the race. Thus,
sex must always serve its proper “natural” end, and all non-procreative sexual
acts are “unnatural.”42
Aquinas, in addition, endorses Augustine’s opinion that homosexuality is
the “worst” of sexual sins.43 To make his point perfectly clear, Aquinas poses a
question: are not rape and adultery worse than unnatural acts, since they
harm other persons, while consensual sins against nature do not?44 The an-
swer is unequivocal: the four non-procreative forms of sex are worse, since—
though not harmful to others—they are sins directly against God himself as
the creator of nature. According to this logic, rape, which may at least lead to
pregnancy, becomes a less serious sin than masturbation. And what of con-
traception? Would marital intercourse using artificial birth control be an un-
natural act? Aquinas does not raise the question in the Summa, but earlier he
so classified it in his commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.45 By
this reasoning, conjugal sex with contraception must be ranked as an unnat-
ural sin only one degree less serious than homosexual behavior.
Moreover, as Curran has pointed out, natural-law theory is not “a mono-
lithic philosophical system with an agreed upon body of ethical content ex-
isting from the beginning of time.”46 The concept of natural law is exceed-
1 8 8 h o m o s e x u a l i t y a n d c i v i l i z at i o n
ingly ambiguous and has been given radically different interpretations at
different times by different thinkers. Behaviors as diverse as shaving the
beard, using anesthesia in childbirth, and flying have on occasion been la-
beled unnatural. To take one example: in the seventh circle of his “Inferno”
Dante dramatizes the punishment of men guilty of “violence against nature,”
or, as he alternatively puts, the “sins of Sodom and Cahors.”47 Readers famil-
iar with Sodom’s lurid reputation may well wonder what took place in the
Provençal city of Cahors. The fact is that Cahors was a financial center, and
its unnatural sin was usury.
Dante’s judgment rested on a well-established medieval doctrine. Aristotle
had called usury unnatural, since money should not breed money.48 Drawing
on the Levitical prohibition (25:36–37) against interest, the fathers of the
church and medieval theologians fiercely condemned usury (that is, any
charging of interest) as a mortal sin, employing the same rhetoric used
against homosexuality. Thus, a fifteenth-century canonist could write:
“Whenever humans sin against nature, whether in sexual intercourse, wor-
shiping idols, or any other unnatural act the church may always exercise
its jurisdiction. [So some have held] that the church could prosecute usu-
rers and not thieves and robbers, because usurers violate nature by making
money grow which would not increase naturally.”49 Catholic theologians did
not seriously challenge the church’s traditional view of usury until the eigh-
teenth century; and the canon law making the charging of interest a mor-
tal sin was not dropped until 1917.50 Throughout history moralists have
branded a multitude of behaviors as “unnatural.” This has sometimes meant
no more than that they disliked them on whatever grounds, serious or trivial.
Far from being an immutable, unchanging, and eternal standard, natural-law
philosophy has accommodated itself to the prejudices