For those who like to get to the bottom line, let me tell you that Sex and the Marriage Covenant is an important book. In just over 400 pages, it gives perspective to God’s beautiful gift of human sexuality. And, in so doing, the book provides a critique of our society’s perversions and lays bare the lie of what is called "sexual freedom." It is worthy of a place on the bookshelf of anyone who wants to understand and teach "the divine truths about human love."
My wife and I teach marriage preparation and marriage enrichment courses in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. It is very gratifying to share with couples God’s plan for marriage and family. However, it is also troubling to see how few couples will accept the full truth about marriage as taught by the Church. There is perhaps no area where the secular culture has made greater inroads among baptized Catholics than in the area of sexuality. Many couples who still claim some connection with the Catholic faith have almost no objection to cohabitation, sterilization, in vitro fertilization, and the use of contraceptive birth control. And, unfortunately, those who agree with Church teaching are often hard-pressed to give a cogent defense of that teaching.
For these reasons the newly revised edition of Sex and the Marriage Covenant by John F. Kippley is tremendously important. Kippley has given his life to the defense of Church teaching in this area. He has been active in the Natural Family Planning movement for decades. His knowledge and commitment are evident in every page of this book.
There certainly is more than one argument for, and explanation of, the Church’s teaching on sexual morality. The theology of the body, as presented by Pope John Paul II , is at present the best-known and, probably, the most complete.
Kippley, while incorporating the teaching of Pope John Paul II , makes "covenant theology" the centerpiece of his teaching on sex in marriage. In the first part of the book, Kippley describes the difference between these two approaches.
The theology of the body starts with an analysis of the human condition, the meaning inherent in the physical act of sexual intercourse, and it includes that sexual relations are a nuptial act. The covenant theology of sexuality starts with the observation that Sacred Scripture and even other sources regard sexual relations as having their full and proper meaning only within marriage. Then it analyzes what makes a couple married and concludes that sexual intercourse is intended by God to be a true marriage act, a renewal of the original marriage covenant.
There is no opposition between the theology of the body and covenant theology. In fact, an appreciation for and knowledge of both theological perspectives provides a fuller explanation of Church teaching.
Kippley not only provides the theology, he also gives a thorough presentation of many ancillary issues. For instance, he traces the consistent history of Catholic (and, until 1930, Christian) teaching. "The response of the magisterium [to the practice of contraception] and of all Catholic theologians until the middle of the 1960s . . . was constant in its emphasis that sexual intercourse is moral only within marriage and that intercourse must remain open to procreation."
Also, two chapters are devoted to a correct understanding of conscience, providing a cogent answer to those who claim exemption from Church teaching because they believe that their conscience tells them that contraception, fornication, or any number of other moral aberrations, are permissible for them. Conscience, Kippley observes, involves "a judgment made with knowledge" and "not a feeling" (emphasis in the original).
Kippley doesn’t bypass the "hard cases." He explores the moral challenge for those who embrace Church teaching only after they have been sterilized. He doesn’t sidestep questions such as how to deal with a severely irregular cycle or a demanding, even threatening, spouse.
Furthermore, Kippley is very careful to demonstrate that what he presents is not merely his thoughts. He meticulously references sources for his arguments and gives due space to opposing views. For example, he devotes 32 pages to "A Critique of Arguments for Contraception." In fact, I can’t imagine a challenge to Church teaching on sexual issues in marriage that Kippley doesn’t address.
The final section of the book, "The Historical-Traditional Teaching," presents substantial passages from biblical and ecclesial documents with helpful commentary.
Indeed, Sex and the Marriage Covenant is the most comprehensive book on marital sexual ethics and morality that is, to my knowledge, available for a popular audience. It will give all who own and use it an effective tool to answer the many objections to Catholic teaching.
- Regis J. Flaherty (from Lay Witness magazine. www.cuf.org)
You can purchase this title here.