Catholic bioethics: still crazy

One of the people we had to talk to us at the Templeton seminars was an official Catholic bioethicist, who was put up against two FRSs to defend or at least expound RC teaching on embryos. The session produced some real enlightenment — it turns out that the theory that life begins at conception was adopted first by Pius IX in 1869 and that his reasons had nothing to do with science or fact at all.

The old Pope was preparing to define (infallibly) the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The idea that Mary had always been sinless seemed to him to demand that her sinless soul had been present from the moment of conception rather than (as Aquinas would have had it) after eighty days. This, however, was told us by Brian Heap. The official contribution — at least what I will remember — was one phrase: “Incarnation means that God was an embryo”

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3 Responses to Catholic bioethics: still crazy

  1. Simple Country Vicar says:

    >The official contribution — at least what I will remember —
    > was one phrase: “Incarnation means that God was an embryo”


    You can’t read the nativity narratives without being aware of similar divine conception stories running around at the time. At the end of his biography of Augustus, Suetonius narrated his divine conception by the coming to his other Atia of the divine Apollo in the form of a snake.

    The key to this kind’ve language is ‘what difference does it make?’

    Paul lands in a new town and preaches Christ risen. This is not news, Julius Caesar was risen and exalted to the gods, all the coins of the empire told this story, the question is, what difference does it make and to whom?

    Caesar’s resurrection benefits the people in the Capitol or the palace, who does jesus’ resurrection benefit? The communities of food sharing that Paul plants in the capitals of Asia.

    You can’t use this kind’ve narrative as literal basis on which to build a doctrine. To do so actually subverts its original intent.

  2. That’s interesting to know. Can one pope’s infallibility countermand an earlier one’s? Imagine if one of them went crazy and started declaring all sorts of weird things, ex-cathedra. No resurrection, no virgin birth, but a priesthood only open to carpenters and fishermen. It might come to him down the hotline, that Jesus wanted the Euro to be in all countries, because he didn’t like money-changers, for example.

    Among the many absurdities in the Bible, is the genealogy of Jesus at the start of one of the gospels (I forget which one), which supposedly leads back to King David, and goes So-and-so begat such-and-such, and on and on and on, but to what purpose, because it lands on poor old cuckold to a pigeon Joseph who was the not the one who begat you know who, and it does not say at the end of the list “who begat Joseph, who begat Jesus” so I repeat, what is the point of it? (A rhetorical question.) Artificial insemination by donor celestial dove. A woman does not lose virginity upon artificial insemination nor upon childbirth but only through penetration by a man (no?) so once you accept the artificial insemination you can accept the virgin birth without difficulty (as long as you do not count accidental rupture of the hymen as loss of virginity.) yada yada yada

  3. acb says:

    There are actually quite strict rules about the sort of things on which a Pope can presume to be infallible. The Euro isn’t one of them. Even the composition of the priesthood isn’t, so far as I know.

    Pope John Paul II would clearly have liked to declare infallibly that women can’t be priests but had to settle for a slightly less authoritative statement, which will only last 500 years or so. I believe that it was the then Cardinal Ratzinger who told him he woul dhave to settle for fallibility on the issue, but I could be wrong.

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