Practical Moral Principles: Third Practical Principle
by Fr. Gerald Kelly
"It in mortal sin for one to expose oneself freely and knowingly to the proximate danger of performing a directly venereal action or of consenting to venereal pleasure."
In the first three principles we have indicated the three possible sources of mortal sins against purity: a) impure action; b) impure intention; c) wilful proximate danger of either. One who guards against these three things avoids mortal sin. However, that does not necessarily mean that he avoids all sin. It is possible to commit a venial sin in this matter by acting without a relatively sufficient reason. This statement calls for a brief explanation; then we can formulate it into a practical principle.
In the second principle, we stated that one commits a mortal sin if his intention is impure. This implies that to avoid mortal sin one must have some reason for acting which is not impure. Now evidently such "pure" reasons are very numerous and they vary in value. A school teacher who must read a mystery story that contains some sexually-disturbing passages surely has a better reason for reading than a person who reads the same story merely for recreation. Engaged people have a better reason for decent affectionate embracing than have those who are not engaged. A medical student has a better reason for reading a medical treatise than a person who is interested in medicine merely as a hobby or who is just curious to know the contents of the book.
Again, consider the third principle. In it we considered the ease of proximate danger, and we explained this as referring to a situation in which one generally loses control of oneself and commits an impure action or fully consents to venereal passion. For instance, John knows that when he reads his father's medical books, he suffers violent temptations and generally gives in. The direct opposite of proximate danger is remote danger, which may be explained as referring to situations in which one generally does not lose self-control. For example, James reads the same books, is very little disturbed by them, and they seldom or never prove a source of sin to him.
Everyone should see that between the two extremes (proximate and remote) there lies a wide zone which might be termed intermediate danger. For example, Joseph also reads the medical books. He cannot say they are a proximate occasion of sin for him, nor can he say simply that the danger of sin is thoroughly remote. In other words, he does occasionally lose control of himself.
Now, the point we wish to make here is a simple one: Joseph is obliged to exercise more caution in regard to this reading than is James. For Joseph takes some risk, James practically none. And the cases of Joseph and James are only examples. They illustrate the point that some actions or thoughts need a greater reason for perfect justification than do others. In other words, for an indirectly venereal action to be perfectly justifiable, that is, not even venially sinful, one must have a relatively sufficient reason. Without such a reason he takes a needless risk and is guilty of some negligence or insincerity.
Obviously, the determination of what constitutes a sufficient reason is not a question of mathematics. Nevertheless, the normal rule is about as follows: The more stimulating the thought or action, the stronger must be the reason, because usually the danger of sin and insincerity increases with the vehemence of passion.
Usually this lack of a sufficient reason constitutes a venial sin. Examples might be: curious and imprudent looks and reading; delaying on dangerous thoughts through idle curiosity; unduly prolonged or repeated kisses by lovers, even though they intend no passion; kissing from frivolous motives; and so forth. In such cases Were is no outright wilful impurity, and no mortal sin, but there is a lack of due caution or some degree of insincerity. These cases can all be comprised under this Fourth Practical Principle: "It is a venial sin to perform an indirectly venereal action without a relatively sufficient reason."
E-mail this page to a friend
Copyright © Gerald Kelly. Reproduced with permission of Fusion International. All rights reserved.