Good question: When you change language, do you change belief?

The short answer is “yes”.

We know that when you change liturgical texts, you change the belief of the people.  It takes a while, but it happens.  You know the adage “lex orandi lex credendi“.

So, Edward Pentin has a piece today at the National Catholic Register:


Much stress is being put on the fact that a change of doctrine is not up for discussion. But concerns remain that, even if that is the case, changing how the Church is presented will make it appear to have been altered.

The issue of language is a case in point: synod participants heard today of a wish to tone down the use of terms such as “living in sin”, “contraceptive mentality” and “intrinsically disordered”. The suggestion appeared to have been warmly received.

But such a change risks making it seem that the Church no longer believes, at least as strongly as she once did, the truths she is compelled to teach. It’s a concern that’s yet to be raised at the synod. Or maybe it has been.  [Since the Synod is so closed, it would be hard to find out.]

Words have meanings.  When you start playing around with words, you risk changing the concepts.

That said, in all seriousness, are there better ways to say:

  • “living in sin”
  • “adultery”
  • “intrinsically disordered”


We have to stipulate that language you use in a scholarly article is not the same as you use in a sermon or in a coffee shop.

If there are better ways to express these things, without vastly long circumlocutions or vague euphemisms, I’d like to know what they are so that I can use them.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Sonshine135 says:

    Why oh why does this scene keep popping into my head:

    God help us all. Holy Mother Mary, pray for us.

  2. Pat says:

    Speaking of the Crux and change of language, watch the video of the event the NAC,what an endorsement of the Cruz!!!!!

    [And I, for one, will believe what CRUX’s people say about being open to all sides when they invite ME to have a regular column.]

  3. TopSully says:

    Father –
    “Intrinsically disordered” sounds like my desk here at work. I don’t know that if you went around my large suburban parish you’d find more than a handful of people who’d be able to tell you what it meant in regards to matrimonial conditions.

    “Living in Sin” is probably a safe bet because it is something that EVERYONE knows what it means. And while it does impart a value judgement, after all it is in fact sin, it isn’t something that sounds overly harsh to me. Although it doesn’t quite communicate exactly WHAT sin they are living in.

    “Adultery” is another one of those terms that you may have a hard time getting agreement from the general public, even the general Catholic public. I think that for many it is a term that means you are married and are sleeping with someone not your spouse or you are sleeping with someone else’s spouse. I honestly thought the was the limits of the definition myself until I was well into my 30’s. Many people wouldn’t associate, for instance, two unmarried people sleeping together as committing adultery.

    As you said words have meaning. The failure to communicate clearly what adultery is leaves people confused. Failure to communicate what sin is leaves people confused. Leaving people confused opens them up to the possibility of horrible consequences when it comes to the “last four things”.

  4. acricketchirps says:

    “Intrinsically Disordered” probably still has some life to it but it’s secular term, subject to change.
    “Adultery” is an essential word to have–timeless–as is “Fornication”.
    “Living in Sin” sounds dated, and jargonish as well as being imprecise and subject to ambiguity. One really doesn’t need to be actually living at the same address as another to be “living in sin”. Use the words “adultery” and “fornication” in phrases in it’s place. They do not water down the teaching, and they may be less likely to produce a snigger.

    Phrases like “Living together in an adulterous relationship,” or “Maintaining an adulterous connection with”, and “In an ongoing habit of fornication with,” I think would suffice.

  5. greenlight says:

    It seems to me that the problem is not the clarity of the words we use to define concepts, but rather how they’re misinterpreted. That makes the task more difficult. Same sex attraction is intrinsically disordered. That’s less of a value judgement (as far as it goes) and more of a clinical definition. Human sexuality has complementarity as a fundamental component because it is ordered towards procreation. Sexual activity that by its very nature precludes procreation (like masturbation, homosexuality, contraceptive sex) is “dis-ordered”. But all people hear when you say ‘intrinsically disordered’ is that you’re criticizing that lovely gay couple down the road that keeps their yard so well tended and makes great cookies. I sure don’t know how to be more clear on that without using the $5 words and circumlocutions that seem to get us in trouble. Asd the quote goes: “I can explain it for you but I can’t understand it for you”.

    Although for “living in sin” and “adultery” I do like “intentionally setting oneself outside of God’s protective graces”. The first time I heard it phrased like that it sure packed a wallop.

  6. Clinton R. says:

    What can be said? The modernists/progressives/heretics are in control. What Pope Pius X warned of a century ago is here in full effect. Ever since the Mass was changed in such a radical manner, what can be considered off limits? The Church of our fathers is now a remnant, what we see now resembles a fun house mirror, the image staring back at us is distorted and unfamiliar. We are in a Bizarro world. The Catholic Church was admired because her liturgy, her doctrine and her teaching was the same century after century. And always in timeless and precise Latin. Which apparently is no longer the tongue of the Church, at least not for the Synod. We are in very uncertain and scary days. May God bless His Church and protect His Bride. +JMJ+

    [I don’t think this adequately addresses what I ask. Latin terms are great in theological manuals and articles. We don’t use Latin in counseling people or, very much, in preaching.]

  7. madisoncanonist says:

    I have often found that “intrinsically disordered” tends to create more confusion than understanding, even among intelligent audiences. People almost exclusively think of the word “disorder” in the psychological sense, and never in the sense of “lacking an ordination to a certain end.” As a result, when a Catholic says that homosexual desires and actions are intrinsically disordered, he means that “homosexual desires and actions by their very nature lack the ordination towards procreation and conjugal love, which is the fundamental purpose of sexual urges and sexual acts,” but his audience hears him saying that homosexuals are incurably mentally ill. But I don’t have a suggestion for a better term.

    Not that anyone brought up these terms, but I have also often thought that the words “natural” and “artificial” in the context of “natural family planning” and “artificial birth control” are unhelpful. People understand those terms almost exclusively in the sense that they’re used when a person contrasts a “natural” sweetener (sugar) with an “artificial” sweetener (aspartame), i.e., occurring in nature vs. made in a factory. They don’t get that the Church uses “natural” to mean “in accordance with our human nature” and artificial to mean “brought about by artifice.” This makes it seem like the Church is just a luddite that objects to the pill because it’s a product of modern medicine, made in a factory, but that some sort of herbal contraceptive would be “natural.” It also gives the impression of hypocrisy when “natural” family planning turns out to involve all kinds of medical (and sometimes technological) sophistication. But again I don’t have a proposal for better terms.

  8. Amateur Scholastic says:

    It would be great if the Church had some sort of, I don’t know, language of her own… which was no longer undergoing change. A language whose meaning was fixed, and which could be used to clarify disputed questions, draw out subtle distinctions and state hard truths without carrying any hint of ‘judgement’ (in the modern, “you’re mean” sense). A language that could denote without connoting.

    Oh wait…

  9. Significant change in the language used to express a doctrine may almost inevitably entail change in the doctrine itself, or in its belief, whether intended or not. For instance, if the word “sin” were removed from our vocabulary, how long would the concept remain in the belief and practice of ordinary people? Indeed, since the word has disappeared from typical homiletic use, is not the answer already evident in the sacramental practice of many or most Catholics?

  10. Lori Pieper says:

    It isn’t very often that I get in first in the comments, but to begin with, I would say that the first two words, “living in sin” and “adultery” are the perfect terms as far as meaning is concerned. There’s no ambiguity as to what is meant. That’s why using them stings and rightly so. There’s no way we can pretend these two words don’t mean what they mean. It’s why people in sin will reject these terms: “How dare you say our love is adultery!” (and by the way, isn’t it odd that Cardinal Kasper reacts to this terminology in the same way the sinners themselves do?). There is good reason to use the terms, since it doesn’t leave any room for ambiguity, or for people to maneuver or make excuses.

    Because since sometimes people just won’t “hear” you if you are too blunt, in some situations pastoral wisdom might dictate going about things a different way, and while acknowledging the sincerity of the person’s feelings, would nonetheless point out the consequences of their behavior for other people (abandoned spouses, children, scandal to others, etc), which might actually help change hearts. You can also go into the meaning of Church teachings on marriage. If this sort of approach is what is meant, there may be a point to it. But who knows what was actually said in the Synod, much less exactly what was meant by it?

    I do think the third term is a little different though. Most people, and not just non-Catholics, would probably not be able to understand exactly what “intrinsically disordered” means. It’s great as a technical term, but it often needs an explanation before people can grasp it. So in some cases, it might be better just to skip the term and go with the explanation, that this is something that is wrong by its very nature, and why. But in this case, the explanation will probably be blunter and potentially more “offensive,” because it will actually be understood.

    I have heard homosexual people react badly to the term “homosexual desires are objectively disordered” because they think it means something like “you are really messed up; you have a severe psychological disorder.” They also think it means, “Your desires (and therefore you yourself) are defective, bad, rotten.” A longer phrase or explanation would often be a better substitute. It’s much better to say that their sexual feelings are good in and of themselves, but they are directed toward the wrong object (hence objectively disordered). This is clearer and better because the the term sounds more dire than its real meaning, at least to some peole.

    This took so long to type I’m sure I’m no longer first :-)

  11. anilwang says:

    I’ll take a crack at it:
    Replace “living in sin” with “profaning the marital covenant”
    Replace “adultery” with “profaning the marital covenant”
    Replace “intrinsically disordered” with “always mortal sins”

    Fundamentally, there is no difference between “living in sin” and “adultery” and active sex in remarriage. In either case, someone is cheating on someone else’s spouse. The only difference is that in the first case, you’re cheating on your future spouse, in the later, you’re cheating on your existing spouse, and in the case of “remarriage” you’re cheating on your separated spouse. In all cases, the reason for it being a mortal sin is the same.

    As for intrinsically disordered it has two invalid connotations.

    The first is that something is chaotic (e.g. intrinsically disordered protein or you’re a rabble-rouser) or something isn’t the way it was meant to be (e.g. it’s a disability that we might have to live with).
    The second is that it’s not according to the official way “We” decide (i.e. politically incorrect). In neither case does that automatically imply that it’s evil.
    We need to call a spade a spade in a way that people understand what you’re saying.

    There’s also the issue of calling something disordered. This term is usually applied to a noun, not a verb, so when people say an act is intrinsically disordered, they automatically read into it that the person is disordered and get defensive. When you say the act is a mortal sin, it’s clear that you’re talking about the act with the implication that the person has corrupted himself.

    Granted, “intrinsically disordered” is secular language which a secular atheist can agree with and “always mortal sins” is theological language that a firm atheist couldn’t stomach, but you can always choose words according to your audience. For the secularist, I’d just say “always immoral”.

  12. donadrian says:

    This raises a very interesting point about language and religion: do people who speak different languages understand what they are talking about in exactly the same way? For example, when a Frenchman says, “le troisième jour est ressuscité des morts”, does he form EXACTLY the same mental picture as I do when I say, “the third day he rose again from the dead”? In English being resuscitated is very different from being risen, but these are both supposed to mean the same thing: Tertia die resurrexit a mortuis.
    The reason I raise this is that I am concerned that the Synod is holding its discussions in Italian, a gracious and melodic language in which it is easy to sound convincing without actually being very precise, rather than the clod-hopping and inelegant but unambiguous Latin that the Vatican has made its own. Cicero it isn’t, and sometimes a literal translation may need clarification (I am thinking of words like ‘Extraordinary’), but generally the Latin used by the Church leaves as little room for equivocation as possible. It would be very unfortunate should the Bishops end up thinking they have arrived at some sort of consensus if different language groups interpret it in radically different ways, and I feel the use of Italian rather than Latin will quite likely lead to such a situation.

  13. PaterAugustinus says:

    In honor of the request to “tone down” the Church’s terminology – which, I’m sure, is arbitrary and just as easily replaced with other terms – I might suggest the following, jazzier-sounding terms for Intrinsic Evils (an Intrinsic Evil by any other name…):

    “Living in sin” is now: “Being and Becoming in an Alternative to Salvation.”

    “Adultery” is now: “Non-Discriminatory Matrimony.”

    “Intrinsically Disordered” is now: “Interiorly Receptive to Exterior Rearrangement.”

    I look forward to the preservation of doctrine with these new, happier descriptions of infernal annihilation.

    [Glib. So, I guess that means that you can’t come up with usable language.]

  14. gracie says:

    How about “detaching oneself from God”.

  15. jacobi says:

    Pentin is absolutely right. Words and their meaning are so important. The Church, and all of us, have a duty to make the implications of actions freely carried out, quite clear, without ambiguity.

    Living in sin, for instance is a term which would more accurately be expressed as living in mortal sin.
    Adultery involves having a sexual relationship with someone who already is in a valid marriage. It is therefore mortally sinful. If it is an ongoing relationship, as opposed to a one night stand, it is an inherently mortally sinful life choice.

    Yes language should be changed to make it clear and understandable to all, so that the Church’s Teaching is clear, so that people can choose to be Catholic or not to be Catholic.

  16. Charles E Flynn says:

    If the terminology is changed, and a new generation is raised with the revised terminology, then the new generation cannot read the older, orthodox books without a translation guide. If a new catechism uses evasive terminology, I will reject it as a defective consumer product.

  17. xylkatie says:

    I’ve known people who were “living in sin” who openly admitted that they were “living in sin” but with a wink and a nudge, as if it were a situation to have a giggle over. However truthful, “living in sin” lost its bite once it became a punchline. Social scientists call it “non-marital cohabitation”, but that doesn’t really capture the state of the couple’s immortal souls. “Non-marital cohabitation” also refers to the living situation of those who may be “intrinsically disordered.”

    “Adultery” is good old-fashioned word that still works because people don’t like to use it. Those who may be engaging in adultery won’t use the word to describe what they are doing (“married dating” is preferred). Other people may notice that if someone is “stepping out” of the marital boundary, but generally other people can’t bring themselves to say, “Oh, he’s committing adultery.” God was pretty clear that “thou shalt not” and for that reason alone should be retained.

    “Intrinsically disordered” is accurate but in a clinical way that disguises the situation. There are other words inspired by the Old Testament that could be used, but it is likely people will find them much more objectionable than “intrinsically disordered.” So, stet.

  18. The Cobbler says:

    I can’t speak to the others, but “intrinsically disordered” has multiple layers of confusion in the world.

    Ever hear atheist scientists argue about whether the universe is “orderly” or “chaotic”? They don’t mean what the classical philosophers meant by “ordered”. They mean predictable and/or regular. In fact, that’s more or less what everyone these days means by “order”: everything running like clockwork. But the sense used in “intrinsically disordered” has to do with what the nature of the thing is directed toward; if a classical philosopher spoke of the universe being “ordered”, he wouldn’t be contrasting it with randomness so much as with incoherence or maybe even non-being altogether.

    But then, if you tell people, “No, disordered in this sense means that what the action by its nature is directed toward is against what perfects the acter by his nature,” there’s still more confusion, because “nature” in common parlance means “that which just happens to be biologically,” whereas you meant something like “what sort of being it is” or “the essence of the being or action”.

    So, basically, there’s no point in talking about sins as disordered or unnatural in modern English… but we could, very well, try the five-second philosophical treatise for people who don’t already know the terminology: “The action is, in and of itself and not merely by circumstance, directed against what is in accord with the sort of being man essentially is.” And then if whoever you’re speaking to seems to have followed that explanation, and if you want them to be able to identify the same argument when they see it made in older texts (or hear people who quote older texts), you can add, “If you’ve ever read older philosophers talk about this, by the way, they’d have called the bit about ‘in and of itself and not merely by circumstance’ just ‘intrinsically’ for short, the bit about ‘the sort of being man essentially is’ they’d have called his ‘nature’ for short — but it doesn’t mean the same thing you and I normally mean when we say ‘nature’ — and they’d have described things that are directed against that nature as ‘disordered’ because they think of ‘order’ in terms of what a being is directed toward, not the various other sorts of ‘disordered’ we think of today instead.” Of course, actually defending the claim still takes more philosophy, but at least people would be more likely to know what the claim is rather than completely misunderstanding it so there’s no way to defend it or to direct them to further research or anything at all.

    At least, that’s a theory. I haven’t gotten myself into an actual discussion of Catholic morality in so long (my troll filter has only gotten stricter over time) that I haven’t ever actually tried it since thinking of it. But if anyone here has, I’d be interested to hear how it went.

  19. Singing Mum says:

    Perhaps I am too simple. It’s been my observation that people who dislike the three terms mentioned have a personal reason for doing so. They want to feel better about what they are doing, or what others close to them do. Lots of folks use “choice” to hide behind abortion, for example.

    Regarding the term “intrinsically disordered”, it’s not hard to understand. Yes, there well may be something defective in one’s hardware. That’s difficult, but then again we all have blind spots, struggles, and glitches of various sorts. Softening terminology only softens feeeeeeeeelings but does not change the reality of sin or tendencies to sin. And the enemy loves the soft pedaling, “don’t worry about changing your life” kind of talk. It’s not merciful, it’s not loving to use euphemisms when someone’s soul is on the line. I think we should stick to tough words for tough situations, though always be charitable in our presentation and go out of our way to help fellow sinners. I thought those marching orders were pretty clear.

    I would often prefer that my spiritual director not call me out on pride, but use a term like “reasonably suoerior”. And why doesn’t he turn away from that nasty word “anger” by softening it to something like, “understandably irritable”. No such luck.

  20. Singing Mum says:

    Lol. I misspelled “superior”.
    But then again, I’m a fallen being. That’s the harsh truth.
    If I needed everything made “nice-nice” to me, and I started to beleive I wasn’t a fallen human being, then I wouldn’t need Jesus or His grace or His Church or His sacraments. And that kinda brings us to the secular nice-nice approach we see all around us.

  21. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Fr. Z. asked:

    That said, in all seriousness, are there better ways to say:
    “living in sin”
    “intrinsically disordered”


  22. Giuseppe says:

    I would lump adultery and fornication under ‘sexual sin’.
    Sexual sins include
    1) Any genital sexual activity outside of the marriage bond
    2) Any sexual activity within marriage which violates nature (anything involving the mouth or the anus are sodomy and are never acceptable)
    3) Any sexual activity within marriage which does not have as a potential end point the possibility of pregnancy. (Therefore any use of any form of contraception is a sin)
    4) Masturbation or any form of self stimulation
    5) Any sexual fantasy (except that of one spouse to another, but with the bounds of the other rules above)

    I see no role for the words ‘intrinsically disordered’ unless is describes the state of a soul, not the state of a sin. Just remove them. I do not see how this helps things.

  23. mrshopey says:

    I don’t have any useful terms that could replace the accurate language we have already.
    From a practical point, it seems they do not want to use this all the time. If Fr Z knew I was an adulterer, from a private conversation, and every chance he got, at socials etc, he would make adultery comments and look at me while doing it, [I would?]that would be abuse and unnecessary. If the parish was, or a few ladies, referring to me as the adulterer, then that would be wrong and I would hope Fr would correct them. But, I have not seen any case, esp within my family, this was an issue. Quite to the contrary. The use of the words, “irregular marriage” seemed to make it easier to accept to them.
    I would want the gospel, when referring to adultery, fornication, etc, to prick my conscience if this is something I am doing! Even if it results in me being sad for sins of my youth because that sadness over sin is a good thing and can prevent me from doing it again!
    Our language doesn’t need to be changed. How we use it does.

  24. mrshopey says:

    There is another trend in language that I think has caused much harm. It is the trend to call a sin a mistake instead. A mistake is when I look at a recipe and read tablespoon instead of teaspoon. A sin is when I deliberately do something against God’s commandments. I have heard this in the confessional also and pondered, if he really believed I was making mistakes, why would he give me absolution? We all have faults and certain areas we are prone to sin. Unless they really want us to confess we took a right instead of taking a left.

  25. JonPatrick says:

    I would disagree on lumping adultery and fornication together. The former includes besides the sexual sin, the breaking of a vow of fidelity and the damage of the marital relationship, which the latter does not. Also using the term “sexual sin” just reinforces the impression already held by many outside the Church that the Catholic Church hates sex.

    Having said that I cannot think of a better set of terms, maybe we should just keep the existing ones.

  26. RJD says:

    I know this isn’t helpful, but yes – I’m sure there are are better phrases to use, in order to get across the meanings. I’m not entirely certain what they are though.

    Living in sin – Most people know what this means, but if it sounds “old-fashioned,” then replace it with “living together in a sexual relationship outside of marriage.”

    Adultery – Keep it. People know what it is and intuitively know that it’s wrong (even as they commit it). But even though the Church may group sex between unmarried people outside of marriage with adultery, the English language does not (see Merriam-Webster), nor does society in general. We need to take back this discussion by discussing it as a separate item

    Intrinsically Disordered – Not sure how to rephrase, but this isn’t an intuitive phrase. Start talking about a morally disordered state instead (unless people then think you’re talking about Massachusetts or New York)?

    The other alternative is to retain the current terminology, but catechize about what the terms mean.

  27. Heather F says:

    I hate the term “intrinsically disordered.”

    Okay, no, I don’t. It’s a precise technical term about the specific nature of a particular expression of concupiscence. It’s fine for using when you are getting into an academically rigorous theological discussion.

    But it is a thoroughly unhelpful term to just throw around as if everyone should obviously understand its nuances, because what it actually sounds like to someone who doesn’t understand the precise technical definition is “these people are inherently defective in a special extra bad way.” Sure, we talk about everyone being broken, but it’s like there is this special category of extra super plus broken.

    Save the technical shorthand for circumstances where people are likely to actually understand what it means. There’s nothing wrong with just saying “directed towards something that can never be a morally valid recipient” instead of a confusing technical term.

  28. Gregg the Obscure says:

    Let’s give this a whirl:

    “Living in sin” could be “concubinage”, “presumptive habitual fornication” or “sacreligious parody of Holy Matrimony”.

    “Adultery” could be “grave violence against the integrity of marriage and the family”.

    “Contraceptive mentality” could be “eugenicism”.

    “Divorced and remarried” is too vague. I have a cousin who divorced and remarried the same spouse – that’s quite weird (even weirder that she did so twice), but not the same category of sin as what is usually meant by that term. I suggest “sequentially polygamous”, as it provides much needed clarity.

    I have plenty of suggestions regarding the overly-warm-and-fuzzy “intrisically disordered”, but will refrain from stirring that pot for now.

  29. mrshopey says:

    (Fr, I would never think you would do that – I used you as an example.:)

  30. TomCom says:

    The terms “intrinsically disordered” (referring to homosexual acts) and “objectively disordered” (referring to homosexual inclinations) have long presented difficulties in envangelizing those with same sex attractions, and also have caused pain to many faithful Catholics with SSA living chaste lives.

    These terms are found in paragraphs 2357 and 2358 of the Catechism, and originate in the 1976 CDF document “Persona Humana” and the 1986 CDF document “Letter on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons,” respectively. In Latin, they are “actus homosexualitatis suapte intrinseca natura esse inordinatos” and “Haec propensio, obiective inordinata, pro maiore eorum parte constituit probationem.”

    The difficulty stems from a few different areas. One is that the two terms, in English at least, are similar and placed close together in the Catechism, and so often are confused. Another is the use of the term “disordered,” which people often believe applies to the persons involved rather than the actions and inclinations.

    Because of the confusions caused by these technical terms and their particular translations, evangelization is impeded because the evangelizer often encounters a person who believes the Church is labeling him as defective. Many evangelizers lack the capacity to properly explain these terms and move past them to bringing the person towards Christ.

    In the case of “intrinsically disordered” referring to homosexual actions, it seems as if this may be a gentler way of expressing the moral theology term “intrinsece malum in se,” intrinsically evil in itself. It means that homosexual acts are by their very nature sinful and can never be made not sinful by intention or circumstances.

    I think it would be better to have the Cathechism say, “Homosexual acts are always sinful” and leave it at that. Intrinsically disordered is a term of art for moral theologians and causes much confusion when used by ordinary people in educating and evangelizing.

    Regarding “objectively disordered” referring to homosexual inclinations, this seems to be a new term introduced in the 1986 letter. Much ink has been spilled trying to determine exactly what it means. One can find a lengthy article from Communio, for instance, which plumbs the depths of it.

    I think it simply means that the object of homosexual inclinations is disordered. Sexual attractions should be directed towards an object (person) of the opposite sex. If sexual attractions are directed to the same sex, that is not the right object (person), so the object is disordered. So, “Objectively disordered.” It almost seems as much a grammatical expression as a theological one.

    Some commentators believe the term was used in the 1986 letter because of a growing view that the inclinations are a natural variation and morally neutral.

    Perhaps a better way of expressing the necessary view in the Catechism might be, “This inclination, which draws one towards sinful activity, constitutes for most of them a trial.”

  31. Imrahil says:

    Dear RJD re adultery,

    nor does the Church. That’s what the technical term “fornication” is there for, after all. In any Catechism or – if you know how to read them – Confession manual, you’ll find listed “sins against the 6th commandment: fornication, adultery, …” or the like. And in any treatise on moral theology, you’ll find it explained (if it is not taken for granted) that adultery is intrinsically worse then mere fornication. (Though both are mortal sins.)

    What may cause the confusion is that in nicely grouping the sins around the Ten Commandments, we group fornication under the 6th which does read “thou shalt not commit adultery”. But that does not make fornication adultery.

    Just as little as – if you pardon the digression – the fact that some take the Name of the Lord in vain in by rash, false, or irreverent oaths, some others do so by using It as an expletive, still others do not actually take It in vain at all but invoke it in some spontaneous informal prayer, and a forth group does not even use It at all but use other expletives, allows nondistinguishingly call all of this “swearing” – if we wish to treat the thing properly.

    In fact, traditional catechetics around here would replace the 6th commandment by “thou shalt not commit inchastity”, to make clear that not only adultery is forbidden.

  32. Thorfinn says:

    Is “living in sin” theological language? I always thought it was a euphemism particular to the first half of the 20th century.

    The problem with euphemisms in general is that as soon as you come up with new language to avoid negative connotations, the new language quickly acquires a pejorative connotation. But what we really want is to speak truth in charity with clarity — realizing that many people rejected Christ’s perfect teaching during His earthly ministry, and that some will always reject that teaching no matter how closely we emulate Christ.

    “Intrinsically disordered” is not ideal pastorally not because it offends some people, but because people don’t really understand what it means in the first place, and more importantly, it doesn’t address what to do about it. The core of the pastoral message is the call to holiness, in this case the call to chastity, which has the additional benefit of being universally needed and applicable. I think I heard a homily on chastity once?

  33. robtbrown says:

    I’m amazed at some of the remarks above against “intrinsically disordered”

    The regularity of movement in the universe is because of a certain principle, thus it moves in an ordered rather than choatic fashion: You can pick Newtonian Mechanics or General Relativity as the reason.

    With mankind intrinsic disorder can be physical or psychological. A man with no legs or a brain damaged by Alzheimer’s is intrinsically disordered physically.

    And psychologically, any vice that cannot be controlled or is difficult to control is an intrinsic disorder of appetite–either sensible or intellectual. As with any habit (virtue or vice) its formation is not necessarily caused by the person in in question

    I studied Abnormal Psychology under a clinician who was a Jew and an agnostic. I once asked him whether he had ever treated homosexuality. He said yes. When I asked whether he had been successful, he asked what I meant by “successful”. I replied: Successful means that if someone decided they didn’t want to be homosexual, they were able to control it. He then said yes.

    I think it’s very important that homosexual inclination be described as intrinsically disordered, simply because it gives a natural foundation to the moral argument, rather than one based solely on Scripture.

  34. robtbrown says:

    madisoncanonist says,

    Not that anyone brought up these terms, but I have also often thought that the words “natural” and “artificial” in the context of “natural family planning” and “artificial birth control” are unhelpful. People understand those terms almost exclusively in the sense that they’re used when a person contrasts a “natural” sweetener (sugar) with an “artificial” sweetener (aspartame), i.e., occurring in nature vs. made in a factory.

    IMHO, contraception is a better word than artificial birth control. Then it’s not a question of natural vs artificial.

    NB: Coitus interruptus is contraception but not artificial.

  35. PaterAugustinus says:

    Fr. Z, in answer to your question, I suppose it is possible to come up with other terms. “Living in sin” could be “cohabitation contrary to good morals.” “Infidelity” is commonly used for adultery, and I can’t imagine getting much less “judgmental” without entirely eliminating the understanding of what adultery is. When you think about it, “intrinsically disordered” is about the most technical, non-judgmental way of referring to that pathology. “Teleologically misdirected” could perhaps be an option?

    The point of what I had said, was that I disagree with the whole principle. If people are doing things that are leading them to hell, shooting straight with them is the best option. Jesus Christ didn’t berate the Pharisees as “Stricture-preferenced persons.” He called them broods of vipers, whited sepulchers, etc. When being kind to women caught in adultery, He did not say “increase your preference for marital fidelity in a family-centered paradigm.” He said, “sin no more.”

    A problem of modernity, is the way that the good have surrendered every kind of tool for justice into the hands of the wicked (whether materially or formally so-called). We live in a society where good and sane people suffer, almost silently, the constant influx of intrinsic evils and insanity.

    The CDC found hundreds of cases of Enterovirus in a sample size of just over 3000 illegal immigrant minors found on our side of the border last year. Now, just as they start the new school year with kids here, American children get sick and sometimes die of Enterovirus. But to think that you should side with the interests of your own people, at least when health and safety are on the line, would be “racist,” “uncharitable,” and just plain “mean.” We even have to hear this nonsense from the bishops.

    The very people who told us to panic over Swine Flu, Bird Flu, H1N1, etc., tell us that Ebola is no big deal and is very hard to catch, even as fatalities skyrocket in areas suffering from the outbreak. I understand the argument that we need to be able to get people there to help stop the epidemic in Africa; that this is used to explain why we can’t stop *inbound* flights from there, or why we couldn’t allow *only* aid workers to come and go, is so obviously a non-sequitur that it cause suspicion. And again, to suggest that siding with the interests of your own people in an abundance of caution would be reasonable, is more mean, racist fearmongering; decent people will perhaps be victimized by this fear of seeming uppity.

    We live in a society where infants are routinely murdered en masse. Cooperation in intrinsic evils such as sodomy, the desecration of marriage, murder, etc., is now being imposed upon us with increasing frequency. Through all of this, political correctness, “politeness,” the pressure to act in a “civilized” way, seems to continually betray us into deeper degrees of evil. We give people who choose to engage in evil activities an important power, when we continually blunt our commitment to justice with a “polite” desire even to concede the terms of discourse to them, to say nothing of the way we allow them to continue to act unimpeded by our protest or even direct and forceful opposition. This problem is civilization-wide right now in the West. I do not know the moral way out. I am confused myself. I am just saying that the problem is there.

    And so, when I hear that people want us to give up the already very mild terms the Church uses to describe sins objectively, I am not amoenable to the idea. We should have learned by now that any concession will simply be on the chopping block next time. If “intrinsically disordered” is offensive, even though it is so clinical and dry a term, what would be acceptable to them? Obviously nothing, short of gushing approval. I’m sick of the way we castrate ourselves before every intrinsic evil and every mismanaged public debacle, in our desire to seem accommodating and kind. Our Lord was not burdened by this, and He was meek and humble, and in His humanity is a perfect example for our imitation… so I can only conclude that being accommodating in the face of evil and stupidity is, far from being a Christian and civilized attitude, more likely to be as intrinsically evil as the evil it fosters.

  36. The Masked Chicken says:

    “This raises a very interesting point about language and religion: do people who speak different languages understand what they are talking about in exactly the same way? ”

    No. This is called linguistic relativity or the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis.

    Possible other words:

    Living in sin = sinfully living, stupid
    Adultery = Not-behaving-like-an-adult-ery
    Intrinsically Disordered = Distrinsically Inordered or Inorderly Distrinsiced or DisInsicor Allyered

    The Chicken

  37. donadrian says:

    Thank you to The Masked Chicken for the pointer to the Sapir–Whorf hypothesis. I shall have to read it up.
    Like Thorfinn, I have always thought of ‘living in sin’ as some sort of euphemism for concubinage. It also erroneously suggests that ‘sin’ refers to sex alone.

  38. Grumpy Beggar says:

    I think The Masked Chicken and donadrian may have just helped us smilingly stumble onto something .

    donadrian said : [Edit] ” . . . It also erroneously suggests that ‘sin’ refers to sex alone.”

    Well yes actually , having “sex alone” is also a sin . As a matter of fact one discovers that 2352 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that the act of having sex alone is “. . . an intrinsically and gravely disordered action.” (gasp! )

    So what’s all the moaning about ? What’s the deal here ?. . . The Church is allowed to lovingly tell us definitively, as a Mother correcting her children does, that when we behave as the , umm. . . sporadically immoral majority and have sex alone , that we commit an “intrinsically and gravely disordered” action. But the Church is not allowed to tell us lovingly, as a Mother correcting her children, that a homosexual act is “intrinsically disordered”. Go figure !

    Hark . . . suddenly the incessant roar of “Gay Equality” becomes dimmer and grows as faint as a whisper on this terminology issue.

    * “Earth to synod, earth to synod: Please try to keep it real. Thank-you for your intrinsically ordered cooperation.” *

    Here’s another revelation: God is simplicity. Let’s try and stay close to Him.

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