Sinless Morality

America - FEBRUARY 18, 1956




Contrary to much popular belief, the Church has no yearning to place books on the Index. Blatant Attacks carry their own condemnation on their face. The Church is chiefly concerned about works that combine real merit of style, even of purpose, with insidious errors that can deceive even the fairly intelligent.

Such would seem to be the case in the Index listing, announced by the Vatican's Holy Office on January 10, of three widely discussed and highly persuasive books by a French autor, Dr. A. Hesnard: Morale sans péché (Morality without sin), Presses Universitaires de France, Paris 1954; L'univers morbide de la faute (The Morbid Universe of Guilt), same publishers 1939; and Manuel de sexologie normale et pathologique, Payot, Paris, 1951.

Hesnards books deal with a very real problem, that of guilt obsession, especially in the matter of sex, and its morbid effects upon the human character. They discuss the unpleasant, sometimes dangerous, phenomenom of persons who compensate for their strong self-repression by taking it out on the rest of mankind. Says the Osservatore Romano (January 24, 1956), commenting on these works:

Many of the writer's pages could be helpful by encouraging psychiatrists to study more precisely the individual tendencies of various forms of mental illness. This is certainly evident. But it is a real pity that these reflections issue from a context that no Catholic can possibly agree to.

This "context" is none other than a complete inversion of moral values, done in the name, however, of a supposed higher morality; indeed, in the name of the only morality, as the author would see it. Dr. Hesnard, unlike many of our popular secular moralists, does not preach moral relativism. He holds certain standards: in his own mind they are very lofty standards. But they are based entirely upon the relation of our exterior acts to the rest of society. We are not to be judged by any internal tribunal of right and wrong. Man is no longer to be terrified by an unseen judge laying down the law to him in the inner chambers of his heart, and saying "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not". His judge is solely the community around him. If his action injures nobody - as by the transmission of disease through contagion - let him be released from scruples. Mental and social hygiene will correct any deviations. The author terms the doctrine of sin and inner responsability a "myth-morality", something derived first from the anxiety-ridden and ritualistic Old Testament, and later from sex-repressing monasticism. If we reduce Dr. Hesnards thesis starkly to its bare bones, we can easily show istflat contradiction of Christian teachings.

Some of the autor's popularizing suits the peculiar atmosphere of our time, absorbed as it is by questions of guilt and anxiety. Discussing Hesnards books in the Paris Etudes for January, 1955, the psychologist Louis Beirnaert, S.J., noted that they are also a reminder to Catholic writers and moralists that we need to do much more work in presenting the relation of inner life of prayer and meditation to the "outward" life of love of neighbor and cooperation with society. We need to emphasize the Church's real, sublime doctrine as to man's responsability and inner self-determination, and the way by which the knowledge of his own sins leads him humbly to the foot of the cross and unfolds to him the mysteries of God's illimitable love. This is the true basis of Christian morality. May the distortions increase in us the desire to present the full truth.



Version : 07.12.2004 - Contents : Martine Bernard-Hesnard

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